My Top 10 Picks from Twin Cities Film Fest

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Well, it’s been almost two weeks since the 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest wrapped. I knew the tough part would be selecting the top 10 and so I took my time posting this. I use the same criteria when selecting my top 10 films from a given year. So when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible.

So with that in mind, I present you my top 10 picks:

[Click on the title to read my full review]

10. Touched with Fire

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I really didn’t know what to expect from this, but the subject matter intrigued me. A directorial debut from Paul Dalio, the film seems to have been crafted as a love letter to bipolar artists and creative people. I was quite impressed by Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby who played poets who are manic depressive. It’s a heartfelt and sensitive tale of an unconventional love story.

9. Too Late

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This is one of those unique films in which the risky experimentative film-making style paid off in the end. It’s another feature film debut from Dennis Hauck, and it contains only five 20-minute uninterrupted takes, amounting to 100 minutes of non-linear narrative. It’d be a shame if the style was only a gimmick, but thankfully the story is intriguing and actually quite emotional in the end. Plus it’s got an amazing performance from the criminally underrated thespian John Hawkes. His 2015 Northstar Award of Excellence from TCFF is so well-deserved!

8. Remember

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As I mentioned in my review, there have been so many Nazi vengeance tales been made on screen before and yet this one manages to inject something new and different into the sub-genre. That alone is a feat in and of itself. Director Atom Egoyan made this with not much frills but the film is brimming with mystery and suspense. Boasted by an astute and heartfelt performance by Christopher Plummer, I was engrossed in the story despite not much action in the film. That finale packs quite an emotional punch, and it’ll make you forgive the generic and boring title, as it actually fits the plot VERY well.

7. It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong

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Films that contain mostly of dialog between two people is tricky because a lot is required of the chemistry two actors AND of course, the script. Well, director Emily Ting in her directorial debut certainly managed to create a compelling film thanks to those two ingredients. Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung (who I found out was a real-life couple after I saw the movie) have an effortless chemistry together. Everything flows nicely and in a natural way, the actors seem comfortable and fit the roles perfectly. But the strength of the film is in the dialog (also written by Ting), which comes to life as the night wears on.

6. A New High

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A homeless shelter in Seattle took a novel approach in helping their residents overcome their addictions, and that is to give them an epic goal to summit one of the most dangerous mountains in the country, the 14,400 ft Mt. Rainier. The film shows the residents train for that mission and the drama that happens in the group, led by former Army Ranger Mike Johnson, who spearheaded this unorthodox rehabilitation project. The film asked the question, ‘will their personal mountains be too steep to overcome?’ and it certainly made me ponder about that in my own life. It’s quite riveting to see each recovering addict face their demons head on, plus the vast splendor of the mountain is absolutely stunning to watch. Directors Samuel Miron & Stephen Scott Scarpulla also had to train for mount climbing as well in order to make this film. Their dedication and their labor of love definitely paid off on screen.

5. The Last Great Circus Flyer

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There are a ton of great documentaries playing at TCFF every year and so it’s no surprise they made up nearly half of my top 10 list. This one certainly has one of the most intriguing subject matter. In 1982, Miguel Vazguez performed ‘the greatest feat in all of circus history’, that is the quadruple somersault, during a Ringling performance. He certainly had a fascinating life journey to tell and director Philip Weyland certainly did his story justice. It’s one of the most entertaining and moving documentary that showcase not only a series of amazing–you could say impossible–physical feat, but also a portrait of a truly extraordinary and inspiring individual. Even if you’re not a fan of circus or trapeze act, I highly recommend this one.

4. Thank You For Playing

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Critics have called this film one of the most important film about video game ever made and it certainly lived up to that. It’s a tear-jerker of a film but one that’s also incredibly uplifting. The story chronicled the Green family, as Ryan and Amy deal with their son Joel who’s diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Ryan is a video game designer and he embarked on creating a most unusual and poetic video game to honor Joel’s life. Most video games deal with a lot of deaths, that is people getting shot or chopped to pieces violently. But never has a game dealt with death the way That Dragon Cancer game does it, tackling the issue of death head on in such a personal, affecting and encouraging way. This well-crafted film should encourage everyone going through a tough time in their lives, and also inspire people to channel their emotion, whether it’s grief or joy, into something truly creative.

3. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

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When I saw this on the TCFF schedule, I knew this would be one I had to see with my husband. We’re both such huge fans of Indiana Jones and we LOVE Raiders of the Lost Ark! The film has a huge dose of exhilarating fun that matches Spielberg’s adventure masterpiece, as it’s truly the greatest homage to a film fueled 100% by genuine passion and creativity. You can’t help but root for the three guys who remade the film shot for shot when they were 11 years old and reunited 30 years later to finish it. It’s also interesting to see how their families share this unusual journey over the span of three decades. Watch for some extra special surprises that would definitely make you want to get up and cheer. A must-see for Indy fans, but really, anyone who loves a good story would be entertained by this.

2. Room

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I’m thrilled that there have been a lot more female filmmakers as well as talents represented this year, one of the reasons I love TCFF! So it’s especially gratifying that two of the main gala screenings feature a strong female performer in the lead. I actually saw Room at a press screening before TCFF started, but I’m still going to include it here as this was TCFF’s opening gala.

Room is one of the most well-acted films I saw the entire year, emotionally heartbreaking but not a dour, depressing film. Featuring one of the strongest lead performances this year, Brie Larson shines as a doting mother who’s kept in captivity in a single room for years. The believable relationship between Ma and her young son Jack is crucial to the film and both Larson and Jacob Tremblay nailed it. It’s a deeply immersive film that really get you into the emotional psyche of the characters, thanks to a shrewd direction by Lenny Abrahamson.

1. Brooklyn

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It’s always wonderful when a film lives up to your already lofty expectations and then some. Saoirse Ronan is the perfect leading lady to tell the story of Eilis, a young Irish immigrant who moves to Brooklyn and becomes torn between the new city and her homeland. The story is deceptively simple, but I was swept away by the rich, engrossing human drama that’s brought to life by the nuanced performances of the cast.

This is such a gem of a movie and watching Ronan is her understated yet layered portrayal of Eilis is nothing short of mesmerizing. She’s able to convey internal battle within her with just her eyes or a subtle smile, as there’s a great deal of economy of dialog in this film but everything has a purpose. I’m also impressed by Emory Cohen, and actor I’ve never seen before but I certainly want to see more of. He has a James Dean-esque vibe here, charming but vulnerable, certainly a worthy suitor to the film’s protagonist.

No doubt this is Ronan‘s best work among her already illustrious career and I’d love to see her get major acting nominations come award season. Kudos to director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby for crafting a beautiful story that’s engaging and full of heart. I mentioned this in my review already but it bears repeating: lest Hollywood forget, well-written story is the greatest special effects of all.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in random order):

Just because these didn’t quite make my top 10, I still think these films are excellent and definitely well worth your time. In fact, I’m pretty sure Anomalisa would make a lot of critics’ top 10 of the year. I love how film festivals always offer *a cure for the common flicks* so to speak, a breath of fresh air from what you see in mainstream Cineplex today.

THANKS AGAIN Twin Cities Film Fest for the awesome lineup!


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What are your thoughts on my Top 10?
Which one(s) of these films have you seen or look forward to?

Day 3 Reviews: Raiders! The Story Of The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made doc, Remember & Counter Clockwise

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Can’t believe Day 4 is almost over and I’ve just finally got a chance to actually post my reviews of Day 3. The adrenaline rush actually helps keep me going, as I managed to write TWO reviews in one hour. That’s pretty fast for me but I’m sure more skilled bloggers/critics are used to that. The two films I saw back to back were excellent, and the same is true for Day 4 (review should be up tomorrow).

So here are two of my reviews from Day 3 and one from blog contributor Ted S.:

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Raiders! The Story Of The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

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One of the things I love about TCFF is that I get to consume more documentaries in a span of two weeks than I normally do in a given year. It really doesn’t get more exhilarating-ly entertaining than this one. Basically the premise is what it says in the title. In 1982, a trio of 11-year-old kids remade Raiders of the Lost Ark shot for shot, and they completed everything except for one scene, which is the action-packed plane scene. Thirty years later, the guys reunited to complete that very scene.

I love how the film went back to the genesis of the seemingly-bonkers idea of actually making it happen. It shows how Eric and Chris (who played Indy) went to pitch to a producer to get funding and walking away geedily with a $5000 check. The rest of the film show actual footage of the young boys filming in Eric’s family home, over the course of seven years his family house is turned into a film set! The boys’ family members are part of the ‘talking heads’ in the film, sharing their experience witnessing their kids being absorbed by their passion of making this film. It literally consumed seven Summer breaks of their lives and you just can’t help to be enraptured by their endeavor.
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I used the term ‘enraptured’ because I don’t think it’s a hyperbole. It was easy to root for these guys and see them succeed! Their little *remake* film that was titled Raiders of the Lost Ark Adaptation somehow got the attention of Eli Roth and the film ended up playing at Butt-Numb-A-Thon Film Fest, held annually in Austin TX. It was hilarious to see the audience being so excited watching this grainy, amateurish footage made by a bunch of kids and they actually booed when the film fest turned it off to show the scheduled LOTR sequel Two Towers! It was rather shocking that people would rather see this than the latest Peter Jackson’s masterpiece. But once you see this documentary, it’s easy to see why!

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I’m not gonna reveal some of the big surprises of the film as I think it’s more fun that you discover them for yourself. This is the purest form of passion for filmmaking and you can’t help but cheer that creativity and teamwork is at the heart of the project, as opposed to money & fame. A must-see for any Indiana Jones’ fans, but it will entertain anyone who loves a good documentary.

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The main draw for me to see this is definitely Christopher Plummer, and he definitely shines in yet another Oscar-worthy performance. He plays Zev, an elderly man suffering from dementia living in a Jewish nursing home. His wife Ruth just passed away two weeks prior but Zev is still calling her name when he wakes up. One night during a [party], Zev’s friend Max (Martin Landau) called him aside and gives him a letter and a great deal of cash. Later that night Zev gets into a cab with only a small black pouch as his only luggage.

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We soon find out he’s on a quest to find a former Nazi officer who murdered his family some 70 years ago is living in America under an assumed identity. It’s a plan he and Max have cultivated for years, to be executed as soon as his wife passed on. Max convinced him he’s the only one who could still recognize that man and that he must pay for what he has done. So the rest of the film follows Zev in his journey, via a train, bus, etc. all the way to Canada. Everything I expected about this film is constantly surpassed as the film gets more unpredictable and darker as time progressed. Plummer carried the film with such skill and aplomb, and you’re transfixed by him. It helps to have such a strong actor as he’s pretty much in every scene and for the most part he’s the only one on screen.

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There have been so many Nazi vengeance tales been made on screen before and yet this one manages to inject something new and different into the sub-genre. That alone is a feat in and of itself. Director Atom Egoyan made this with not much frills but the film is brimming with mystery and suspense. And that finale, wow, I certainly did not see it coming. That’s all I can say as it’s best that you know as little as possible. I’m still reeling from it and ponder about all the clues I might’ve been missing as I was watching it. I also love that the seemingly generic and even boring title actually fits the plot VERY well and I can’t imagine a better title for it.

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CounterClockwiseReview

I love time traveling stories; it’s always fun to imagine how we can change the future by traveling back in time or see the future if we travel ahead in time. There have been several films that have covered these kinds of stories and this latest one didn’t really try to come up with anything new to tell.

A scientist named Ethan (the totally miscast Michael Kopelow) and his partner Ceil (Alice Rietveld) are trying to create a time machine. But it appears they’ve failed several times, after an experiment gone bad, Ceil is upset and both left their facility. Later Ethan came back the facility and accidentally transported himself into the future where he’s being accused of killing his wife and her sister. He’s also being pursues by a bunch of thugs and who apparently knew about the time machine. In order to find out what happened and clear his name, Ethan has to travel through time again.

CounterClockwise_stillI believe had this movie been a short story, it would’ve worked much better. With a weak leading actor and shoestring budget, stretching a story to full length feature just didn’t work. It also didn’t help that the filmmakers copied every elements from other time traveling movies like The Terminator and Back to the Future. Also, I don’t get the sudden switch to Quentin Tarantino style by showing burst of violence and each character dropping the F-bombs every five seconds.

Not the worse low budget film I’ve seen but not very good either.

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Thoughts on any one of these movies? Well, let’s hear it!