TCFF Day 2: Nowhere Boy Review

The Twin Cities Film Fest continues!

I didn’t sign up to volunteer Wednesday night, so right after work, hubby and I headed downtown to see the John Lennon childhood biopic Nowhere Boy. Playing at the same time on AMC Theater 1 was Phasma Ex Machina, which was attended by its director Matt Osterman. Machina is Osterman’s feature film debut, the film explores the gray area between life and death and how science may be the bridge between the two. From the film’s official blog, we’ve got a quick snippet from the Star Tribune’s film critic Colin Covert who had some real nice things to say about it: “Stephen King would love “Phasma Ex Machina” (“The Ghost in the Machine”). This sharply intelligent Minnesota-made sci-fi drama centers on a young technical savant and the device he builds to enable his late parents’ spirits to return home. Unaware that they have passed, several ghosts enter into complicated emotional and ethical relationships with the orphans and widowers they left behind. Writer-director Matt Osterman neatly combines creepy effects with understated details (the tinkerer gets most of his apparatus from the Ax Man). A few inconsequential rough edges aside, this is a winner.

Check out the trailer from the official TCFF page, definitely something worth checking out once it’s out on dvd.

Nowhere Boy


I was pretty excited to see Nowhere Boy. Partly because I was intrigued by the story of music legend John Lennon, as we both share an unconventional upbringing without a father and inconsistent presence of our real mother. The other reason was Aaron Johnson, who impressed me in Kick-Ass that I pretty much wanted to see everything else he’s in from now on. I had no idea he was in The Illusionist until my friend Ted pointed out to me afterward, apparently he played the young version of Ed Norton’s character in the flashback scenes. In any case, I don’t know if this movie ever played here in the Cities, as it was released late last year in the UK.

Well, the film—and Aaron—definitely didn’t disappoint, even the slight projector snafu at the beginning of the film didn’t dampen the great experience of watching this movie. I’ve done a bit of research about the movie to know this isn’t a Beatles biopic, and though there were scenes of the teenage John and Paul McCartney playing music together, this is really a story about John’s childhood (roughly from 15-18 years old) when he was living with his aunt Mimi, played brilliantly by the always-reliable Kristin Scott Thomas.

John with Mimi and with his real mother Julia

The movie focuses on the ‘nowhere boy’ who’s lost as to where he really belongs. Mimi is so strict and seemingly devoid of emotion, though in the course of the movie you realize the opposite is true. Contrast that with the character of John’s real mother, the bohemian and tempestuous Julia who seems like the ‘perfect’ mother. She didn’t mind that John was suspended from school, instead she took him to an amusement park, introduce him to music and dance, basically living the good life, homework and responsibilities be darned. Now, what kid wouldn’t want to have a mother like that? Plus, Julia seemed to be the perfect ‘substitute’ for the jovial uncle George whom he was closest to.

Sam Taylor-Wood & Aaron Johnson

First-time director Sam Taylor-Wood depicted the opposite personalities with aptitude, and as the audience we can’t help but sympathize with both characters despite their flaws. The only thing that made me uneasy at times is the way Taylor-Wood filmed the scenes between Julia and John. If I had just come into the movie blind without knowing what the movie is about, I’d think that Julia was John’s cougar lover and not his mother! Especially the part when she laid down on her back on top of John in the couch, there was definitely that creepy Oedipus complex thing going on. I’m sure I’m not the only one as my hubby thought the same thing!

All around performances are terrific, especially Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff as Julia (a bit of trivia, Duff is James McAvoy’s real-life wife). They portrayed such complex characters with finesse and effortlessness, making them much more than one-dimensional roles. But the movie truly belongs to Aaron Johnson, who carries this movie with his melancholic blue eyes and endearing swagger. Taylor-Wood shot so many dreamy close-up shots of the then 19-year-old it could equal a personal home video 😉 Johnson’s definitely got movie star quality, he possesses the kind of screen presence so magnetic it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. I can’t judge whether he delivered an accurate portrayal of Lennon as I don’t really follow the singer’s career. For that I turn to my pal Becky who’s a huge Beatle fan:

Ok, so keep in mind these thoughts about Nowhere Boy are coming from someone who’s favorite Beatle was John Lennon, seen a Hard Day’s Night over and over (see it if you haven’t), and it was just five years after the movie ends when I was scream ing for the Beatles like the Elvis fans were screaming for him just like the scene in the movie (I was 10.) I really was looking forward to seeing this time in John’s life because I had heard he was raised by an aunt, but that’s really all I knew. The film fills in all the blanks.
I was totally blown away by Aaron Johnson’s performance of John. He so resembled him in looks, speech, body language and attitude that he is in the same league as Jamie Foxx (Ray), Joaquin Phoenix (Johnny Cash in Walk the Line) and Will Smith (Ali). I’m afraid he won’t get the same kind of recognition, but certainly deserves it for his role here.
And at the very end of the film, a caption said that John didn’t forget to call his Aunt Mimi from Hamburg, and called her every week for the rest of HIS life. And after seeing this film, I truly believed he really did.

As I talked to a few people after the movie’s done, everyone unanimously praised this movie. Lennon definitely has a story worth-telling and it’s nice to learn how the boy became the legend he’s known today. My colleague Laura’s boyfriend Marcus regards the movie “emotionally exhilarating… just like Lennon’s music.” Here’s a quick snippet of his ‘review’: Joy, sadness, sympathy, humor were just some of the emotions you will feel from the beginning of the film to it’s end. It’s amazing that John Lennon was such an advocate of peace when he experienced so much sadness  Whether you’re a music fan, a Beatle fan or a film buff, you will enjoy the untold visualization of John Lennon. This movie is a must see!

Indeed, I’m glad TCFF screens this one as this movie was totally worth going to the cinema for!

Have you seen Nowhere Boy? What did you think of the movie?

Counting down to TCFF: Watch the films, meet the filmmakers

The Autumn Equinox has arrived for us in the USA and the rest of the northern hemisphere! Fall is my favorite season and this year there’s something else to be excited about Autumn here in Minnesota! In four days, Tuesday, September 28 will mark the debut of the annual TWIN CITIES FILM FEST, premiering with documentary Waiting for Superman, followed by Q&A with its director, Davis Guggenheim. Have you secured your ticket yet?

When I was at TIFF back in 2005, I got a chance to watch a couple of movies with the director in attendance: a Norse warrior adventure tale Beowulf & Grendel (Sturla Gunnarsson) and a quirky musical comedy Romance & Cigarettes (John Turturro). In fact, at the world premiere of Beowulf & Grendel, the entire cast were also in attendance (just a few rows behind me!), including my personal fave Gerard Butler. Good thing I didn’t realize it until after as I’d have a real trouble concentrating on the movie! 😀 It’s a really cool feeling to be able to watch a film knowing the people involved in making the film are watching it with you. Even better if you can actually ask questions about it afterward!

Well, Guggenheim isn’t the only filmmaker who will be attending the five-day festival. Check out the list below of who else will be in attendance for the premiere of their films:

  • Night Catches US
    Tanya Hamilton (Director) Confirmed with Q & A
  • Sin Retorno
    Guillermo Ivan (Director and Actor) Confirmed
  • Worlds Largest
    Amy Elliot (Director) Confirmed with Q & A
  • A Good Day to Die
    David Mueller and Lynn Salt (Directors) Confirmed with Q & A
  • Phasma Ex Machina
    Matt Osterman (Director) Confirmed with Q & A
  • Nature of Existence
    Roger Nygard (Director) Confirmed with Q & A
  • Man Made
    Vaughn Juarez (Director) Confirmed with Q & A
  • Channel News
    Jacob Kindberg (Director) Confirmed with Q & A
    Sarah Kindberg (Actor) Confirmed with Q & A
  • Fanny, Annie and Danny
    Chris Brown (Director) Intended with Q & A

Minnesota Shorts Directors Attending:

  • AS BREATH ON GLASS – Maria Bias (Screening with Channel News)
  • DINNER DATE – Paul Von Stoetzel (Screening with Fanny, Annie & Danny)
  • ESSENSE – Katie Mac (Screening with Night Catches Us)
  • FLOURTOWN – William Slichter  (Screening with Secretariat)
  • PER BIANCA – James Snapko (Screening with Nowhere Boy)
  • PHOTOS AND DRAWINGS – Jon Maichel Thomas (Screening with Conviction)
  • SOMEONE, SOMETHING – Matt Joyer  (Screening with World’s Largest)
  • THE ACTIVIST – Phillip Montgomery (Screening with Toxic Soup)

Check out the official website for descriptions of each of the film and get your tickets!