TCFF 2014 Day 4: Wild Canaries, Just Before I Go & double reviews of The Young Kieslowski

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Woo hoo! We are already halfway into the film fest… and there are still exciting films to look forward to. Stay tuned for more TCFF coverage here, there’s a dedicated TCFF tab with all the links to articles and reviews.

Here’s what’s in store today for #TCFF14 Day Six


Red Carpet Events – 21st Host – Geoff Briley

5:00pm: To Say Good Bye – Tim Torabpour/Cast/Crew
7:45pm: Solitude – Taylor Scott Olson, Livingston Oden/Cast/Crew


And here are the reviews from Day 4 …

Wild Canaries

Part “Big Brother” and part “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” the new movie from independent filmmakers Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine amiably mix the relationship problems of a group of 30-something New Yorkers with a madcap whodunit. Wild Canaries, which had its world premiere earlier this year at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, is not only written and directed by Levine and produced by Takal but also stars the duo who are married in real life.

Barri (Takal) and Noah (Levine) live with an assorted cast of characters in a Brooklyn apartment building where someone, amateur sleuth Barri suspects, has murdered their elderly neighbor who lived in a rent controlled apartment. The main plot takes awhile to get started and I began to think I was watching a stream of consciousness tale about the trials and tribulations of young people living in the big city. (“Is 8:30 too late?” Barri asks her neighbor while inviting him over for dinner.)

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Somehow Levine manages to mix a variety of story lines (a failing movie distribution business he runs with an ex-girlfriend, a neighbor’s fight over their daughter with his ex-wife and Barri and their roommate’s plans to rehab a resort are just a few) with a screwball murder comedy- something that can be tricky to pull off without getting too dark or schmaltzy. They incorporate fun tributes to “Columbo” (in one scene, Barri is running around in a tan trench coat, floppy hat and sunglasses) and New York (in another, Barri opens her neighbor’s door using her Metrocard). 

Takal and Levine shine in their roles as the slightly neurotic drama queen and the world weary, put upon husband (“Acting weird is not a crime,” Levine points out after Takal mentions a neighbor’s shady demeanor). I would say they have an easy, natural chemistry (in one scene, Takal scolds Levine while flossing her teeth before bed) but wouldn’t you hope so since they are married?

Levine also incorporates a simple technique some moviemakers forget is important after one has invested 1 ½ hours in your product: he actually tells you what happened at the end. (Yes, I know for some it’s part of their craft to leave an audience guessing… you can disagree with me for preferring a resolution.) Not to say the end is boring – a head spinning explanation in movies such as “Wild Canaries” can also leave you guessing. As Barri and Noah’s roommate Jean (Alia Shawkat) says near the end, “Wow. Some people lead such exciting lives.”

3.5 reels
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Just Before I Go

This film is the directorial debut from famous actress Courteney Cox. It centers around a man named Ted Morgan, played by Minnesota native Seann William Scott, who wants to kill himself when his wife leaves him for another man. Ted moves back home to reconnect make amends with people from his childhood before he takes his life.

Scott, who’s known for his comedic roles in such films as American Pie, takes on this role very differently and almost seems like a turning point in his careers as we finally get to see a wider range of acting skills. For most of the comedy in this movie he plays a straight man with the people around him having the funny lines and actions.

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The movie also stars Olivia Thirlby, who plays Greta, who discovers Ted’s plan to off himself and wants to document it and have it be his suicide note. Her character is the voice of the audience as she asks the questions the audience is probably thinking that aren’t addressed in Ted’s narration at the start of the film. Thrilby is great in this film as she is able to balance comedy and heart through her time on screen.

Just Before I Go is about a man wanting commit suicide but it isn’t a movie that makes light of suicide as Ted Morgan isn’t a depressed man he just doesn’t have a reason to live anymore and his journey in this film is about him finding a reason to go on living. So before you decide to skip this film because it is about a man wanting to commit suicide, do realize it really isn’t about that, it is about the people in his life, with very funny moments spread throughout all 95 minutes of it.

four reels
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The Young Kieslowski

– Josh’s Review –

A genre-bending romantic comedy, The Young Kieslowski is a quality production, one worthy of full-scale theatrical release. It details Brian Kieslowski’s (Ryan Malagrini) coming of age, both emotional and sexual, during several months of a single year in college. Throughout the film, Brian grapples with his mother’s (Melora Walters, magnificent) pending death, a complicated relationship with love-interest Leslie Mallard (Haley Lu Richardson), Mallard’s unsupportive celebrity father (James Le Gros, even better than Walters), and his own emotional immaturity.

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Insofar as he shoulders much of The Young Kieslowski’s emotional weight and an equal dose of its comedy, Brian is a challenging role for Malagrini, but the young actor proves more than capable, especially in the scenes he shares with Richardson. Of course, that has much to do with Malagrini’s co-star; Richardson’s work in The Young Kieslowski is borderline revelatory, especially when one also considers her turn in The Well (where she is equally good). Why? The two characters are very different. Playing both of them requires range, and Richardson proves she has it.

As does The Young Kieslowski’s writer/director Karem Sanga. Here Sanga proves adept at shifting genres. Early, this picture appears to be a teen-sex comedy, but then it rapidly shifts to rom-com, before changing again to be a coming-of-age tale. From there it cycles between the latter two, never straying too far from either, but also never hewing so closely as to be frustratingly predictable.

That isn’t to say the film is perfect. A fantasy sequence during a ‘key lime pie event’ is out of place. Moreover, the project loses a little energy when Mallard is off screen for extended periods.

But The Young Kieslowski, is very good, even borderline excellent, and certainly worth viewing.

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– Ruth’s Review –

One of my favorite parts about film festivals is that I get to see indie gems you otherwise might overlook. The Young Kieslowski is one of those I’m glad I got to see, and I’m certainly glad to be introduced to such talents as Ryan Malgarini and Haley Lu Richardson, the two young stars of the film.

The movie begins with Brian Kieslowski at the dinner table, getting the bird & the bees talk from his mother who’s battling cancer just before he’s off to Cal Tech. Right from the start, you know that this film imbues difficult subjects such as terminal illness and teen pregnancy, with mirth and humor. I immediately sympathize with Brian, Malgarini has such a quirky & likable quality about him that is fun to watch. But the story pretty much starts at a typical college party, where booze and hormone collides, a tricky combo bound to create tricky predicaments. Brian meets Leslie Mallard, obviously drunk even as she professes that she’s going to save herself for marriage. Alas, the two ended up hooking up, and wouldn’t you know it, Leslie gets pregnant… with twins!

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The story is nothing groundbreaking, yet writer/director Kerem Sanga presents it makes it seem fresh and delightfully engaging. The scene where Brian finds out about the pregnancy is hilarious, but it wasn’t done in a flippant way as it really made you think about how’d you feel if you were in their shoes. Apparently this topic is a personal one for him, as he and his twin brother were born when their parents were in college. He’s done well with casting young talents like Malgarini and Richardson who made their characters so easy to root for that I was quickly immersed in their journey. Oh and what a journey it was! Of course the toughest part is breaking the news to their parents, and the scenarios are played with humor as well as poignancy. Tough subjects such as abortion isn’t delivered with such heavy-handed or preachy manner, but it’s a natural progression of what both characters have to face and deal with. It seems at first that the subject of faith was to be explored, however, it was dismissed as casually as it was introduced.

I also notice how diverse the cast of The Young Kieslowski was, and the relatively inexperienced actors playing Brian/Leslie’s friends actually did a pretty decent job here. Joshua Malina & Melora Walters as Brian’s parents, as well as Minneapolis-born character actor extraordinaire James Le Gross lend a strong supporting cast. The revelatory star is definitely Haley Lu Richardson, who displays the most range as well as strong screen presence. She definitely has leading lady quality and I hope Hollywood notices her soon. Kudos to Sanga for creating such a delightful, funny and poignant story that teens and adults would enjoy. I appreciate that he’s not afraid to go into some dark moments, such as when Brian trembling at the thought of losing his mother, without having to follow that up with some silly humor. The movie also moves along at a nice pace, and at 94 min, this charming comedy never overstays its welcome.

4.5 out of 5 reels
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Check out FlixChatter’s exclusive interview w/ Haley Lu Richardson as she discussed getting her part in her feature film debut in The Well, and tidbits on filming The Young Kieslowski.


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Individual tickets are on sale now at twincitiesfilmfest.org


Have you seen any of these films? What did you think?

TCFF Day 6: Nobody Walks Review

Day six at TCFF has come and gone. So far I’ve seen over a half dozen films, on my way to completing the 11 movies I set out to do. I think that’s about hit the maximum number of films I could handle in a week before things become a blur and I’d have a hard time reviewing each of them.

Before I get to my Day 6 review, I just want to share that my highlight of the day was chatting with director David Spaltro, whose sophomore film Things I Don’t Understand will have its Minnesota premiere@ TCFF on Friday at 6 pm. It stars Minnesota-native Molly Ryman as Violet Kubelick, a brilliant young grad student studying near-death experiences, is now withdrawn and closed-off after a mysterious, failed suicide attempt. Check out his film’s official site for more info, it’s been winning all kinds of awards in the film festival circuit.

I’m thrilled that David has agreed to an interview with me and fellow blogger June later this afternoon, yay! He’s the nicest director you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet. Stay tuned for my interview post!

Now on to the review:


NOBODY WALKS

Confession: This is the kind of film I normally don’t gravitate towards because of the subject matter. But hey, sometimes as a film blogger, stepping out of one’s comfort zone once in a while is a good thing and a film festival is a perfect venue for that.

Nobody Walks centers on Martine (Olivia Thirlby), a young New Yorker traveling to L.A. to finish her film with the help of Peter (John Krasinski), a married 30-something living in the Hollywood Hills area. It’s not a good sign when within the first five minutes I’ve got a dreadful inkling that I would not like this movie. The way Martine is introduced at the airport, making out with some guy she just met on the plane sets the tone of the rest of the film and also about her character. Later on we learn that she’s an artist, though it’s unclear what kind of artist she is and it’s never fully explained why she came all the way to L.A. to finish her movie.

One thing for sure, the tomboy-ish Martine is effortlessly seductive. She gives such a sensual vibe that men just can’t help being drawn to her. Peter is no exception, within a couple of days working with her, it’s inevitable that the start getting physical. Neither of them seems to have much remorse over this, not the husband who’s married with kids, nor the seductress on the brink of ruining someone’s family. The sexual tension practically ricochets off the screen, not just between Martine and Peter but everyone else in their circle: Martine and Peter’s assistant David, Peter’s wife Julie with her therapy patient and Julie’s 16-year-old daughter Kolt discovering her sexuality.

I don’t know if ‘glorifying’ is the right word but I feel like the writers and director Ry Russo Young puts so much emphasis on sexuality that the characters feel so one-dimensional. My impression of this family is that they’re a bunch of well-off, self-absorbed people who live such a comfortable existence that life is all about instant gratification. There is barely any nuance in any of the characters, save for Julie (played by the immensely likable and talented Rosemarie DeWitt) who still has some scruples left in her when temptation comes her way like a storm. But even so, her conversation with her young daughter about men and relationship leaves me scratching my head. Let’s just say if I were Kolt, I’d be even more confused about what I’m supposed to think or do.

To be fair, I think there are some interesting ideas here and the cinematography has that intimate sense that makes it atmospheric. There are also some fun scenes in relation to sound effects towards the beginning of the film. The performances are pretty good overall. This is the first time I’ve seen both Olivia Thirlby and John Krasinski in a feature film and I think both have screen charisma as lead actors. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always liked DeWitt and it’s nice to see her get adequate screen time here and she’s perhaps the most likable character in the film for me. Dylan McDermott and Justin Kirk also have a memorable supporting part. Unfortunately, none of the characters are well-developed. In fact, up until the end of the movie, I still have no clue just who Martine is and why she does what she does. Enigmatic is one thing but vacant is another and I feel that the protagonist falls under the latter, and she is impossible to root for.

It’s unfortunate that I got my first intro to the co-writer, Lena Dunham through this post on Cinematic Corner, at the time I hadn’t seen any of Dunham’s work but now I realize that some of the characters on her HBO show GIRLS are similar to Martine. Needless to say, I did not enjoy this movie. The whole thing just rings hollow existentialism to me, it communicates nothing of value and the film has a ‘cooler than thou’ vibe that really puts me off. The topic of infidelity is already so dismal, it certainly doesn’t help that in this one, there’s barely any redeeming quality to enliven it.

2 out of 5 reels


Has anyone seen this film and/or film by the filmmakers/writers? What are your thoughts?