TCFF 2020 Reviews: The Sound of Metal

It was only my second time back inside a theater since March, but I caught one of the Twin Cities Film Fest in-person screenings yesterday. The Sound of Metal, a film distributed by Amazon Studios, is set to be released theatrically on November 20th, and will stream on Prime Video in December 2020. The film stars Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke as Ruben, a drummer and his girlfriend Lou, a singer in the punk metal band Blackgammon. They live in their airstream trailer between gigs and make a living while on tour of metal bands. Ruben, a former heroin addict and metal head, starts out in euphoria as he furiously jams out on his drums as Lou screams the lyrics to their songs. Soon thereafter, Reuben gets a slight ring in his ears, which turns into a full blown dull roar. It leaves him only able to hear all surrounding noises muffled beyond recognition.

The situation that Ruben and Lou are in leaves them no choice but to put their tour on hold as Ruben seeks help for his newly diagnosed hearing loss. When Lou leaves in a cab to catch a flight, Ruben heads to a deaf community, headed by the calm and cool Joe (Paul Raci), who tells Ruben that he reads lips. Joe, a former addict himself, also tells Ruben that he lost his hearing in Vietnam War but he insists that he and everyone living at the deaf community believe that their deafness is not a handicap, but rather a tool to build community around. Soon enough, Ruben is immersed in this deaf community and even learns sign language and makes friends with others around his age and even some deaf kids, who are supervised and taught in the classroom by Diane (Lauren Ridloff – a deaf actress who I remember with fondness from AMC’s post-apocalyptic series The Walking Dead).

Ruben is determined to return to “being inside the sound” and is found at odds with Joe, who is a religious man. Ruben, a self-proclaimed atheist, doesn’t understand when Joe tells him “those moments of stillness, that place, that’s the kingdom of God. And that place will never abandon you.” He acts on his desires and tries to reconnect with Lou, but by that time, his ability to grasp his life-altering change has completely changed the kind of person he is. Even when he is given the chance of some hearing, he is much more at peace and relishes the stillness of his new-found life. Riz Ahmed brings inspiration and passion to his performance, but his ability to showcase the character’s vulnerabilities make this portrayal very real and believable. Olivia Cooke brings a sense of loss to her character (we learn something about her mother in the movie) and how singing in a punk rock band helps her cope with her circumstances. Director Darius Marder also does a great job putting his audience in Ruben’s head, hearing — or not hearing — everything as it happens.

The film features closed captioning throughout the film which helps us as viewers understand everything happening from start to finish. I can see The Sound of Metal competing for some awards this year, especially for Riz Ahmed’s performance as the confounded punk metal band drummer. This film adds to a growing list of strong films from Amazon Studio that will have limited theatrical releases and also stream on Prime Video in late 2020 or early 2021, including other Twin Cities Film Fest titles Herself, Uncle Frank and Sylvie’s Love.


The 2020 Twin Cities Film Fest has ONE pass available for purchase that you won’t want to miss out on. The All Access STREAMING Pass will give you access to all of our 70 films for only $50, that’s less than $1 per movie! This pass can be used as many times as you would like during the 10 days of the festival (October 22nd-31st) on our streaming platform and website.


2020 TWIN CITIES FILM FEST SCHEDULE

(Only Available to Sponsors, Donors and Members – Reservation Required)

Friday Oct 30th
Herself,
Phyllida Lloyd – 6:30pm
Uncle Frank, Alan Ball – 8:30pm

Saturday Oct 31st
Nomadland
, Chloé Zhao – 6pm and 8:30pm


To learn more about TCFF, events, film submissions or to donate, visit twincitiesfilmfest.org

FlixChatter Review – Ready Player One (2018)

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Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Written By: Zak Penn & Ernest Cline
Runtime: 2hrs 20min

Before seeing Ready Player One, I had to remind myself to judge it as a stand-alone movie rather than a book adaptation. I’ve read the book several times and thoroughly enjoyed it for the most part, and I didn’t want to ruin the experience for myself by nitpicking every little difference between the book and movie. This was a good mindset going in, because it isn’t a very faithful adaptation, but it’s a decent movie on its own.

Tye Sheridan w/ Olivia Cooke, Philip Zhao and Win Morisaki

Ready Player One takes place in the year 2045, when the world has become an economic and environmental wasteland. To escape their dreary reality, people spend their time in an incredible virtual world called The OASIS. When its creator, Halliday (Mark Rylance) dies, he challenges its users to find three keys to unlock an Easter Egg that will bestow his fortune to the winner. OASIS users Wade, AKA Parzival (Tye Sheridan), Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki) work together to find the Egg before the evil corporation IOI, led by Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), gets there first.

My biggest issue with this film is its heavy reliance on narration, especially at the beginning. I understand that it’s difficult to fit a lot of pertinent information from a novel into a film adaptation, but the rule “show, don’t tell” is important to remember, and this movie had plenty of opportunity to do so. It opens showing people in their homes in The Stacks (mobile homes literally stacked like high rises), escaping their dreary surroundings by wearing high-tech VR goggles and accessories, then shows the detailed, fantastical, hyperrealistic virtual world of the OASIS- all of which is then explained with nearly ten minutes of narration. It’s completely unnecessary. The movie has plenty to work with visually to establish the background information, and what they can’t do visually they could set up through dialogue (which, to be fair, they do sometimes); it would have felt more natural and less lazy.

Despite this, Ready Player One is still an enjoyable movie. The CGI is impressive, and there are a lot of great 80’s and 90’s visual references, some subtle and some obvious, that will appeal to nostalgia geeks. The action is beautifully animated and really sucks you in. The soundtrack is a nice blend of 80’s rock music and original orchestration that is all the sweeping schmaltz one would expect in an 80’s adventure movie from Spielberg.

The acting is excellent as well. Despite the character of Parzival/Wade being about as bland as an un-toasted slice of white bread lightly seasoned with tap water, Tye Sheridan does well with what he’s given. I was thrilled to see Olivia Cooke as Art3mis/Samantha, especially after seeing her in another film, Thoroughbreds, earlier this year. She gives a fun, genuinely passionate performance. I don’t think she and Tye have great romantic chemistry, but that might just be a writing issue, as it isn’t very well-developed. Both TJ Miller as I-R0k and Lena Waithe as Aech have several great comedic moments. Mark Rylance is delightful as the awkward but sweet Halliday. Ben Mendelsohn is satisfyingly sleazy as Sorrento, although he’s not a particularly intimidating villain; again, though, that might be a writing issue, as Mendelsohn usually pulls off villainous roles well.

If you’re hoping for a good film adaptation of the book, Ready Player One will probably disappoint you. But if you go into it expecting a fun, well-animated adventure flick, you’ll probably enjoy yourself. Despite its problems, this movie is still entertaining.

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Have you seen ‘Ready Player One’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – Thoroughbreds (2018)

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Directed By: Cory Finley
Written By: Cory Finley
Runtime: 1h 32min

In Thoroughbreds, high school friends Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) rekindle their friendship after going through their own personal crises. As their friendship grows, the girls hatch a plan against Lily’s unpleasant stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks), enlisting the help of drug dealer and local deadbeat Tim (Anton Yelchin).

I had high hopes for this film going in after seeing the cast list, and I was not disappointed. I was already impressed with Anya Taylor-Joy‘s performances in 2015’s The Witch and last year’s Split, and seeing her in this cemented her as one of my new favorite actresses. She goes from being relatively sweet and naive to ruthless and unhinged seamlessly throughout the movie, so gradually that it doesn’t seem forced or over-the-top. Olivia Cooke is excellent as well, making the cold and emotionless Amanda funny and surprisingly sympathetic. Lastly, Thoroughbreds is a reminder of the talent and charisma we lost in the late Anton Yelchin; he makes a character who is completely infuriating and sleazy hilarious while maintaining a sinister undertone.

Despite the strong acting, Thoroughbreds is not a particularly memorable movie. I’ve seen a few ads and reviews hailing it as the new Heathers, but besides the fact that both films are dark comedies with teenage girls as the leads, the two aren’t that similar. While the writing isn’t bad, and the cast delivers the deadpan, rapid-fire dialogue deftly without making it sound like a Gilmore Girls script, it’s not as enduringly quotable as the 1988 film it’s being compared to. It’s still a suspenseful story, and it could be an interesting exploration into mental illness, given a little more time and focus, but it’s just not strong enough to be iconic.

While Thoroughbreds isn’t a film you need to see in theaters, it’s a good showcase of some serious young talent. It’s only an hour and a half long, so if you’re bored, scrolling through Netflix and want to see some impressive performances, give it a watch.

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Have you seen ‘Thoroughbreds’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

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There’s something so refreshingly frank about this movie right from the start. Though it deals with a difficult subject of terminal illness, the movie is both heartwarming and genuinely funny. The ‘Me’ in the title is Greg (Thomas Mann), who spends most of his free time making parodies of classic films with his friend, whom he refers to as his co-worker, Earl (RJ Cyler). One day his mom tells him that one of his high school mates has cancer and she basically pesters him to spend time with her. His constant protests prove to be futile, so Greg reluctantly visits Rachel (Olivia Cooke) and frankly tells her that he’s there because his mom told him so. He practically begs Rachel to let him hang out with her as his mom would ‘give him hell’ if he doesn’t.
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I was sold on this movie right from this very scene. It reminds me of the 2011 dramedy 50/50 with Joseph Gordon-Levitt which also deals with cancer in a lighthearted-yet-profound way. But Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a smaller, more intimate film and it’s also a lot quirkier. Greg and Earl made for a rather unlikely duo but they’re a hoot to watch as they watch classic movies together and then make a whole bunch of parody movies of them in their spare time. Both of them are a bit of a social outcast and so this movie-making hobby is sort of a release for both of them to channel their frustration as well as creativity. So when one of Rachel’s friends found out that they like to make movies, they’re tasked with making a film about her.

There’s a laid-back vibe to this movie that adds to its indie charm. From the way the characters interact with each other to the seamless way things unfold, it’s a journey that’s rather easy to digest and one that doesn’t feel emotionally manipulative. That last part is tricky given the subject matter, yet director Alfonso Goméz-Rejón stays away from clichés or cloying over-sentimentality that could threaten to weigh this movie down. Also props to Jesse Andrews who wrote both the novel AND the screenplay. I love that the film doesn’t ask us to pity Rachel, and the character is adamant about that in her initial conversation with Greg. She faces her illness head on just as this movie also doesn’t sugar-coat Rachel’s illness and how she, as well as those around her, deals with it.

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I like that there’s mostly unknown in the entire cast. The most famous cast member is Nick Offerman, who along with Connie Britton as Greg’s parents add a dose of eccentricities to the movie. Initially I felt that Molly Shannon as Rachel’s mom was perhaps a bit miscast here as you just kept expecting her to do something totally bonkers, but in the end it turns out to be a rather restrained performance from her. It’s also a bit odd to see Jon Bernthal here as Greg’s history teacher who let the two boys have lunch and watch movies in his office. I guess I just never saw him in this kind of role before but I like his understated performance and his character is integral to the moral of the story.

MeEarlDyingGirl_pic4The stars of the film however, is Mann, Cooke and Cyler as the three unlikely friends. The three young actors embody their roles pretty well and Cooke especially had the difficult task of convincing us that she’s indeed ill. The friendship theme run deep in this film, and it’s truly the heart of the film. The scenes ofMeEarlDyingGirl_SockworkOrange Greg and Earl talking about their parody movies are genuinely funny, so are the titles they come up with, i.e. A Sockwork Orange, Senior Citizen Kane, Rosemary Baby Carrots, The 400 Bros, etc. The movie incorporates some animated sequences which gives it a surreal vibe, but it never detracts us from the friendship storyline.

The third act proved to be the most emotional and I find myself tearing up quite a bit towards the end. I suppose you could say the ending is pretty predictable, yet the scene of Greg coming to terms with the situation hit me harder than I thought it would. There have been a lot of dialog throughout the movie up until the finale, but there’s no words necessary to convey the sentiment of the finale. I think it’s fitting that the filmmaker let the scene speak for itself, which made it feel all the more poignant.

Overall though, I like this movie but I wouldn’t say that I’m in love with it. There are some high-school moments that don’t resonate as well with me, and at times some of the supporting characters felt too cartoonish. Strangely enough, I also don’t feel as much an emotional connection with Rachel as I thought I would, but perhaps the story is more about Greg than about her. That said, I do think it’s an outstanding feature film debut from Goméz-Rejón and he’s certainly a director to watch for.

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I listened to an NPR’s Fresh Air interview with Goméz-Rejón who talked about how losing his dad shaped his approach to the film. It’s apparent that this film was a personal project for him and I think his personal experience made this film feel more authentic. He also talked about working as Martin Scorsese‘s personal assistant in his early 20s so he’s definitely learned from the best. The Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize is well-deserved and I have a feeling this would stand as one of the best high school films of this generation. If this is playing near you, I hope you go out and check this one out folks, a refreshingly original story that’d make a great antidote to all the sequels/reboots of the Summer and beyond.

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Have you seen this one? Curious to hear what YOU think!