TCFF Roundup – Part 2: Reviews and Top Five Favorite Films Screened at the Film Fest

Well, I’ve said last week that October would be the best movie-watching month of the year and it certainly is! The most awesome thing about covering a film festival is that you get to watch films that you otherwise might not even know about. I wish I had more time to see more films but I think more than a dozen films in a week whilst juggling my full-time job might be too overwhelming for me. Plus the movies would start to become a blur and blend in together, ahah.

Before I get to my top five, here are my mini reviews of the Saturday showings:

Lumpy

How well do you really know your friends? And can a friendship change your life? This feature film debut from writer/director Ted Koland will makes you think about those things after you see Lumpy. The title refers to a nickname of an obnoxious, party-animal best man who unexpectedly dies on the wedding night, forcing the bride and groom to cancel their honeymoon and fly to the snowy Minnesota to arrange his funeral.

The first part of the film starts out with the newlyweds (Justin Long & Jess Wexler) coping with this tragic and very unusual circumstances. Their relatively comfortable lives are contrasted with that of a 15-year-old girl living in a small, northern MN town who lives with her junkie mother. The film alternates between the present and the past, using flashbacks of the unexpected connection between Lumpy (Tyler Labine) and Ramsey (Addison Timlin). Ramsey lives a tough and forlorn life, not only does her mother neglects her, her mom’s boyfriend also makes her steal drugs to make meth. All this makes her unlikely friendship with Lumpy all the more moving.

I must say that I’m most impressed with Addison Timlin in this film, she is definitely a promising young actor and based on the LUMPY panel on Saturday, her career is just taking off with multiple TV and movie offers. I also love Frances O’Connor who plays Ramsey’s mother (I love her in Mansfield Park), it’s quite an unusual role that I don’t normally associate her with. Though Long is the most popular actor here, I don’t see him as the star of the film, though this film shows that he’s capable of tackling a dramatic role.

I’m glad that Koland chose to shoot the film in his native state here in MN, it’s fun to see the locations that I recognize throughout the film. I love the uplifting message about the power of kindness and the transformative power of friendship.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Dead Dad

If Lumpy illuminates the power of friendship, then Dead Dad would make you evaluate the strength of family. This is the quintessential indie that focuses on a very human story in which the performances are the ‘special effects’ of the movie.

As the title should tell you, the film opens with a young man discovering his alcoholic dad lifeless body in his home. His death brings three estranged siblings to the funeral. Russell is the oldest who’s been taking care of their dad, Alex is the adopted Chinese son and Jane is the youngest. Right away you realize that the three siblings haven’t seen each other for a while and they haven’t been in good terms either.

The main plot of the film involves finding an appropriate place for the siblings to spread their dad’s ashes, inevitably bringing the three together in the process, even if the journey isn’t always smooth or pleasant. It’s important to note that the three main actors playing the Sawtelle siblings are relatively inexperienced, yet they have a believable chemistry. The relationship between the three of them sometimes remind me of my own family, as I’m also the youngest of three and my two brothers and I don’t always get along. It’s interesting to see how their dad weren’t always there for his children, but he ends up bringing them together in his death.

Kudos to director Ken J. Adachi for creating a real portrayal of family, it doesn’t feel forced or emotionally manipulative but the story definitely pull your heartstrings. The production values are pretty good as well for a tiny-budgeted film, filled with innovative shots and close-ups. I’d be curious to see what Adachi would do with a bigger budget, he’s certainly a talent to watch.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


 

Take Care

This one is another compelling look at the friendship in our lives, this time it involves two estranged friends from college. Erin (Ryan Driscoll) is unemployed and is living with her long-time boyfriend. All of a sudden, Kaylie (Elise Ivy), her former college BFF shows up at her door, wanting to rekindle their friendship. Soon we finds out that Kaylie’s marriage is over and she travels from Grand Rapids Iowa all the way to L.A. Reluctantly Erin lets her stay in the house she shares with Ian (Armand DesHarnais).

At first I was a bit apprehensive that this is going to be one of those home-wrecker story, I was dreading the inevitable seduction that happens between Kaylie and Ian. Fortunately there’s none of that here, in fact, the complications that arise between Erin and Kaylie reveals that nothing is what it seems, and my preconceptions of the two women gradually shifts as the film progresses.

Glad to see not one but two strong female roles here, thanks to Scott Tanner Jones, another talented writer/director who was present at the TCFF screening. Both Driscoll and Ivy did a wonderful job conveying the emotional complexities of their characters. The scene towards the end where they open up their deepest secret to one another is quite heart-wrenching and I did not see that revelation coming. The message of forgiveness and acceptance amongst friends is already very inspiring, but the filmmaker also has an encouraging message of a woman standing up to herself and striving for her independence. At the same time, I appreciate the fact that the men in the story aren’t depicted as monsters either, it’s great to see when a filmmaker doesn’t resort to portraying one-dimensional caricatures.

The pacing is a bit slow for me however, I think the editing could’ve been a lot tighter. It’s a small quibble however, as overall I think it’s a well worthy effort from Jones in his first feature film.

3 out of 5 reels


The Story of Luke 

The premise is that Luke (Lou Taylor Pucci) has a is believed to be a form of autism, for the majority of his life he has lived with his grandparents, but his grandmother recently past. This leaves Luke and his grandfather (Kenneth Welsh) in the care of his aunt and uncle – who are reluctant to take care of them. The family is wealthy, but unhappy; it is rapidly unveiled that they are on the cusp of divorce. This new family dynamic is a rude awakening for Luke, but his grandfather provides him with a form of life direction for this new period in his life.

He goes on a mission to “become a man,” and the first step towards this is to get a job. His rationale is that once he gets a job, he will get a girl, become independent, and he will cease to be “special”. Luke wishes to accomplish this as fast as possible; Seth Green, who plays Luke’s first boss, embarks on this journey with him. Although they are afflicted with the same problem (yelling when overwhelmed, panicky, trouble with reading peoples emotions, etc.) they have completely different personalities.

The Story of Luke rapidly becomes a lesson on the trials and tribulations of life. Just like I Am Sam, many harsh realities are darkly comedic, dulling, in its own way, the how painful these types of disorders are (this movie is much more uplifting and uses a more stable camera). Lou Taylor Pucci appears to have been inspired by the Jack Sparrow/Raoul Duke/Johnny Depp character. Using intense eyes and matter-of-fact way of speaking, but it felt appropriate here.

This was a great choice for the second-to-last film of TCFF, I would definitely put it up there with The Sessions, in terms of quality, although the attendance wasn’t as spectacular. There is no rush to see this in theaters, but it couldn’t hurt.

– review by Emery Thoresen

3 out of 5 reels



Well, out of the 13 films I saw at TCFF, here are my top five favorites:

5. The Sessions
4. A Late Quartet
3. Quartet
2. Silver Linings Playbook
1. The Sapphires

Honorable Mentions: Things I Don’t Understand and Lumpy.

It’s funny that most of the films I love have musical themes in it, it’s not really a ‘requirement’ for a great film mind you, but hey, great music in an excellent film is definitely icing on the cake!

I don’t think you’d go wrong with any of these, so I recommend that you check these out when it’s released in your city. As for the two smaller films in the honorable mentions, I will add the info here when I learn about their release dates, whether on VOD or in theaters.


Well, that concludes my reviews of TCFF films this year. It’s been a blast covering for the film fest, thanks everyone for reading and commenting!

Let me know your thoughts on any of these films above.

TCFF Roundup – Part 1 – A Late Quartet, Things I Don’t Understand & Problem Solving the Republic Reviews

Whew, this week has been quite a whirlwind! I saw a total of 13 films and attended four educational panels in the last nine days. Most of the films have been good to excellent, so even with a couple I didn’t really enjoy, it’s still a nearly a perfect record.

TCFF certainly has a super packed schedule all the way down to the homestretch. The nine-day film fest has come to a close last night with LUMPY, the Minnesota-shot dramedy by MN-born writer/director Ted Koland, starring Justin Long and Addison Timlin who were present at the panel earlier in the day. I didn’t get a chance for a one-on-one interview with Long, though I did meet briefly with Ted Koland and congratulated him on his film.

Justin Long & Ted Koland at the LUMPY panel – photo by James Ramsay

Below is a recap and review from Friday,

FRIDAY

Saw two very good films today, they couldn’t be any more different from each other yet both have intriguing stories about people dealing and coping with a dark chapter in their lives.

Things I Don’t Understand

Written/directed by David Spaltro and starring Minnesota-born Molly Ryman. I was very impressed with the character-driven story and also Molly’s excellent performance. June and I had the pleasure of interviewing David to talk about his film and also listened to Molly talk about her character Violet during the ‘Strong Women in Independent Films’ panel.

Thanks to David for sitting down with June and I at the ShowPlace ICON lounge to give us some insights about his film. Check out the full interview.

Meeting both David and Molly are easily one of the highlights of covering the film fest for me. David told me TCFF is the 16th point of their film tour all over the country, going to one film festival to the next. In fact, right after the panel, David was off to the airport to the the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita Kansas. They’re both so talented with so much going for them in their careers, yet they’re so down to earth and so fun to talk to.

Congrats to both David and Molly on the success of Things I Don’t Understand. Here’s my review of the film:

This film centers on grad student Violet who’s studying near-death experiences which led her to actually attempt suicide. After her failed suicide attempt, Violet becomes withdrawn and somewhat morose, plus she also has to deal with being evicted from the Brooklyn loft she shares with her two roommates. At the advise of her therapist, Violet reluctantly visits a terminally ill girl in a hospice and their unlikely friendship becomes her catharsis to start appreciating life again.

I sympathize with Violet right away though she’s not exactly likable at first. She’s sardonic and lacks self control, but you know deep down she’s a good girl. Spaltro frames her story well and surrounds her with interesting characters. Her two room mates, artist Gabby (Melissa Hampton) and a gay French rocker Remy (Hugo Dillon) also have personal issues of their own, but you could say they’re the comic relief of the movie. And then there’s the cute but mysterious bartender Parker (Aaron Mathias) who befriends Violet but refuses her advances.

It’s intriguing to watch Violet’s journey throughout the film, how her relationships with Parker and Sara (Grace Folsom) who’s dying from bone cancer changes her as the film progresses. Despite the dark theme though, director David Spaltro peppers the film with fun and lighthearted moments, so it’s definitely not a complete downer.

Like many of us who seek to figure out the basic questions of the meaning of life and what happens when we die, it’s certainly a thought provoking film that David has explored with care. One thing though, I feel like the themes of faith and spirituality aren’t explored as deep as I’d like, it merely scratches the surface and lacking conviction. That said, I appreciate that it’s at least being talked about and I’m also thrilled that David has crafted a compelling and multi-layered female character in Violet, something we need to see more in Hollywood.

I’m not surprised that this film has been winning all kinds of awards in various film festivals. It’s a bummer that somehow the movie appears very dark in the theater screens, as the cinematography in NYC looks beautiful. The day after the film screening, David told me that it wasn’t supposed to be so dark, and he gave me access to re-watch the film again.

Kudos to David once again and to Molly and Grace for their affecting performances. The scenes between Violet and Sara are very moving without resorting to overt sentimentality. I look forward to David’s upcoming film Wake Up in New York, hopefully it’ll be shown at TCFF again!

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A Late Quartet

When people think of Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s films this year, they’re likely going to think of Seven Psychopath and The Master, but I’m glad I’m able to see both of them together in this smaller independent drama. The story centers on members of the world-renowned string quartet Fugue, comprised of Peter (Walken), Robert (Hoffman), Juliette (Catherine Keener) and Daniel (Mark Ivanir). Soon we learn that the oldest member of the group, Peter, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which inevitably shakes the group in ways none of them could imagine.

In the wake of Peter’s medical revelation, the rest of the members deals with their own turmoil. Robert and Juliette faces a marital stride due to infidelity, on top of Robert’s pent-up rivalry with Daniel, as he’s no longer content with being the second violinist. To make matters worse, Daniel suddenly discovers his once-repressed passion involving a romance that certainly brings even more complication to the already-fragile group. One thing for sure though, the group wants to stay together as Fugue has been an integral part of their lives for more than 20 years.

This is director Yaron Zilberman‘s first feature film and what a great venue to display the fantastic acting prowess of the talents involved. Nice to see Walken in an understated role, he’s the most ‘normal’ guy in the group (imagine that), but he plays his part brilliantly. Hoffman’s role is much more explosive as Robert deals with unbridled ego and lust that threatens to break his marriage. Keener is always wonderful to watch, she definitely has the elegance and grace to play Juliette though her character is the most enigmatic of the four to me. Last but not least, the Ukranian actor Ivanir also plays his part of the über perfectionist violinist who’s been so obsessed with his music that he hasn’t had time for love. Imogen Poots has quite a memorable part as Hoffman & Keener’s daughter, she definitely holds her own against her much older, more experienced co-stars. Her scene with Keener in particular is quite gut-wrenching.

Though both contains beautiful classical music and also has a similar name, A Late Quartet is quite different in tone from Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet. This one feels like it’s got more depth in terms of character development and deals with such raw emotional situations that stays with you long after the credits. It shows that beneath such flawlessly-played music, there are real and flawed people behind them, struggling through change and relationships like the rest of us. It’s a compelling picture of humanity, and it’s such a treat for the senses not only for the musical arrangements, but also the lovely cinematography. I adore the gorgeous scenery of New York City in the Winter time, everything just looks so romantic! I highly recommend this for any fan of the actors involved, I sure hope this won’t get lost in the shuffle when it opens in limited release sometime in November.

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Problem Solving the Republic

Unfortunately I couldn’t see this one as it’s showing at the same time as A Late Quartet, but I’ll definitely try to see it when it’s available on VOD. It’s a Minnesota production and shot on location in Minneapolis, even just looking at the bizarre genre-bending tagline made me curious enough to see it. You can check out the TCFF interview with writer/director Elliot Diviney on TCFF Youtube Channel.

Below is the review by Emery Thoresen:

Problem Solving the Republic is a Minnesota-made political satire, that uses musical numbers and slap stick humor to tell its story. The humor turned out to be more entertaining commentary than knee slapping jokes. The movie had a charm akin to the campy-horror-movie genre, in that it isn’t for everyone, or, it doesn’t try to appeal to everyone, but viewers who do subscribe to the genre will have a good time watching this. It reminded me of Super, both movies incorporated  superheroes and animated inserts – like a comic book. They both share a similar sense of humor, but Problem Solving the Republic isn’t nearly as violent, super natural, or sad as the Rainn Wilson feature.

I started to get restless in the last couple minutes, it could have been because I had been seeing so many films all day, but it was more likely due to how long it took to wrap the story up. Overall it was a charming movie, the bloopers before the credits were memorable, along with the snap shots of the cast that rolled with the credits. I really enjoyed the characters and actors they chose.

During the discussion afterwards, the director and producer talked about the difficulties they encountered in creating a local film with a small budget, in less than a year. Through their brief explanation they kept pointing to people and mentioning names of contributors, it turned out that a surprising number of people in the audience have had a hand in making this film – which made the laughter and reactions much more genuine.

The TCFF was the premiere, it will be showing at The Riverview Theater in November, but in the mean time pre-ordering a copy online is always an option. Remember, it is always good to support local talent, and this could be a warm-up to election day.

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Check out the trailer below:


Stay tuned for Part II with reviews of Saturday films
and also my Top Five Favorites from the film fest!


Thoughts on any of the films above? Well, I’d love to hear it!