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!

3halfReels


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.

4Reels


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.

3Reels

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!

TCFF Day 7: Review of ‘Silver Linings Playbook’

There has been quite a lot of buzz around this movie, so I’m thrilled that it’s showing at TCFF about a month before its wide release! As I’ve mentioned on this post, this movie has won the coveted People’s Choice Award at TIFF and there’s been some Oscar buzz on Jennifer Lawrence’s performance, deservedly so.

This dramedy is written and directed by David O. Russell, his first film since his Oscar-nominated The Fighter, adapted from a novel of the same name by Matthew Quick. Instead of his usual muse Mark Wahlberg, we’ve got Bradley Cooper as former teacher Pat Solitano, who’s coming home from an 8-month stint at a mental institution and moving back with his parents. He refuses to take his medication, which no doubts creates some issues for his parents, such as waking them up in the wee hours complaining about the bleak plot of an Ernest Hemingway book, amongst others. Pat’s bipolar meltdowns are done in a delicate mix of pathos and hilarity that makes you laugh as well as sympathize for him. He still pines for his wife Nikki who has left him after he nearly beat her lover to death when he found them making love in the shower.

At home, things aren’t so simple for Pat either, especially in regards to his dad’s obsessions with the Philadelphia Eagles and how the extremely superstitious Pat Sr. thinks his son brings good luck if he watches the game with him. I tell you, I think he’s perhaps more of a nutjob that his son! But all Pat wants to do is reconcile with Nikki. One of the ways to get to her is through Nikki’s friend Veronica (nice to see Julia Stiles again albeit in a small role), and during dinner, he ends up meeting Veronica’s sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl who’s recently lost her husband in a car accident. Life takes an unexpected turn for both Pat and Tiffany, who initially has their own agenda for befriending each other. It’s apparent that they’re drawn to each other and the loss of their spouses makes them able to relate to one another more than they otherwise would, even if on the surface they bicker like cats and dogs.

The eccentric family dynamics remind me of those in The Fighter, Russell has a keen eye to frame these kinds of scenes and he’s also got the skill to get the best from his actors. The Solitanos are played by thespians Robert De Niro and Aussie Jacki Weaver, who nabbed an Oscar nomination for Animal Kingdom a few years back. The scenes between all three of them are mostly comical, though there are times where it got very intense during Pat’s mental breakdown. There’s also a hugely heart-wrenching scene between DeNiro and Cooper that showcase one of De Niro’s best performances in years.

The stars of the film are definitely Cooper and Lawrence here, especially the latter. I have to admit I’m not usually fond of pretty boy Cooper, but he’s made up to look very plain here and shows that he’s got some dramatic chops. He’s certainly come a long way from his TV days in Alias. I’ve always loved Lawrence, and her scene-stealing turn here makes me like her tenfold in this movie. Her screen charisma is undeniable, at only 22 she has the maturity and panache of an actress twice her age. The supporting cast is excellent all around, Julia Stiles, John Ortiz, and Anupam Kher as Pat’s therapist are all wonderful in their roles. There’s also Chris Tucker, who made a come back of sort as his last movie Rush Hour 3 was 5 years ago. He’s still the comic relief but though he still talks pretty fast, his role is a bit different from the typical irritating wisecracks we often see him play.

This is definitely a comedy with a heart, the laugh-out-loud parts are well-balanced with the some profoundly moving scenes. The dancing parts are a lot of fun to watch as well, that was a pleasant surprise for me as I had no idea it was integral to the plot. What I like most is the theme of finding a ‘silver lining’ no matter how dire you life is, it’s an uplifting message that any of us could relate to in one way or another.

I agree with my TCFF blogger friend June that this one is a ‘dark comedy with true heart strings.’ It’s nice that an all-star cast actually delivers, I think fans of any of the actors here won’t be disappointed. Silver Linings Playbook definitely lives up to the hype, easily one of the highlights of TCFF for me so far.

4.5 out of 5 reels


Also check out June’s review of MN Shorts: The Darker Side


Thoughts on this film and/or any of the actors?

TCFF: 6 Films. 2 Days. 1 Programmer’s Personal Picks

Call it the Ultimate Film Fest Experience. With only 2 more days to go, there are still a bunch of great films playing at the ShowPlace ICON Theatre through Saturday. If you haven’t been able to catch any of the films during the weekdays, but you’re ready for a TCFF movie marathon this weekend, then you’re not too late!

Earlier today I sat down with Steve Snyder, TCFF’s Artistic Director—who’s also TIME.com’s Assistant Managing Editor—to list his recommendations for the last stretch of the film fest. After screening about 200 submissions including a mix of features and shots, and circling other film festivals around the country with executive director Jatin Setia, here are Steve’s picks are that you can still catch at TCFF.


Get your tickets now before they sell out!  Oh and check out this
Amazing Ticket Deal of Saturday Movie Marathon.


FRIDAY:

6pm – Things I Don’t Understand (independent)

I’ve mentioned this on yesterday’s post when I met with director David Spaltro. Well, this film has won Best Feature Film and Best Actress for Minnesota-born actress Molly Ryman in various film festivals. Steve calls Molly a ‘MN star is born’ and this is one of the films that he’s most thrilled about that he was able to get it screened at TCFF. Both David and Molly will be in attendance for a red carpet spotlight and Q&A after.

Having recently chatted with him, I’m even more intrigued by his film and can’t wait to see it. I will post the transcript of the interview when it’s ready, but check out the trailer below:

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9pmA Late Quartet

This is also on my most-anticipated list. I mean the cast alone should get you to rush to see it. Christopher Walken + Philip Seymour Hoffman + Catherine Keener playing members of a string quartet struggling to stay together in the face of death, competing egos and in-suppressible lust. Great thespians making beautiful music together? Steve said you can’t miss this, and I tend to agree. You can view the trailer here.

SATURDAY:

10:45Bay of All Saints

Winner of Audience Award, Documentary at SXSW 2012: In Bahia, Brazil, generations of impoverished families live in palafitas, shacks built on stilts over the ocean bay. Steve said that not only is the subject matter intriguing, but the incredible access director Annie Eastman was able to get to shoot this film gives it a uniquely intimate portrait of the individual stories of poverty shown in the film.

12:45 After I Pick the Fruit

This is a documentary that follows the lives of five immigrant farm worker women over a ten-year period as they labor in the apple orchards and fields of rural western New York, migrate seasonally to Florida, raise their families, and try to hide from the Bush-era immigration raids that were conducted in response to September 11, 2001. This doc is more of an investigative journalism of sort, which illuminates a community that is nearly invisible to most Americans. Director Nancy Ghertner will be in attendance.

These two documentaries are also my picks I’ve listed on this post.

3 pm Take Care

Two estranged women tread cautiously into each other’s lives and their newfound friendship creates a mirror of self-discovery in this character-driven indie drama. I actually have had the pleasure of seeing this one earlier this month and I absolutely agree with Steve that this one is definitely worth checking out. It’s rare to see a meaty role written for a woman, let alone two in one film. Both Ryan Driscoll and Elise Ivy are both fantastic here, and the revelation for both characters are quite intriguing to watch. Don’t miss Ryan Driscoll and director Scott Tanner Jones in attendance for Q&A.

5:30 Dead Dad

When their dad dies unexpectedly, estranged siblings Russell, Jane and their adopted brother, Alex, come home to tend to his remains. Don’t be put off by the title, even though it deals with the loss of a loved one, it’s also about a celebration of family and how they come together to achieve a proper goodbye. Steve said he’s very impressed how the actors could pull off such complex characters. He even went so far as calling it some of the best acting performances of this year. Trailer below:


So, what are you waiting for? Get your tickets now »


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?

TCFF Day 4: Review of Minnesota Feature ‘Finding Home’

We’re exactly in the halfway mark of our 9-day film fest! Today TCFF is featuring a Minnesota feature that’s filmed in just 10 days in Minnesota and Wisconsin, with a location crew of 13 (including the Director and Producer – all from Minnesota) and 1 camera (RedCam) and a budget of under $50K. During the Educational Panel: MN Filmmakers last Saturday, director Chars Bonin shared some insights into his experience shooting in an absolute remote location, and how they were blessed with good weather and no rain as it would’ve wrecked havoc on their schedule and budget.

I don’t know how to categorize Finding Home, it’s the kind of film that starts out as one thing and in the end it sort of shifts to become something else entirely. Wesley (Brian John Evans) & Katie (Lindsay Marcy) seems like a happy couple who’s going on a camping trip on a remote island in the Boundary Waters area in Northern Minnesota. Right away you get the sense that Katie isn’t as excited about the trip as Wesley is, and as time goes on, it’s obvious that something is bothering her.

Once they get to the camp site, it doesn’t take long before they start bickering and the more Wesley prods his girlfriend and find out what’s on her mind, the more Katie pushes him away. It’s an intriguing character study of two people who are on two different state of mind, seems that even though they’re physically together, they’re not moving in the same directions. Wesley is the picture of a perfect boyfriend, not only is he gorgeous but he’s unbelievably patient with the testy Katie and her mood swings. The tormented Katie can’t seem to get out of whatever it is she’s going through, and I must admit I became irritated with her and wants her to just snap out of it already.

This simmering conflict is set against the backdrop of an absolutely gorgeous Autumn scenery. It’s as if the peaceful setting of the tranquil lake and serene woods is contrasted with the tumult that Wesley and Katie is going through. For 90% of the 90-minute film, we are only seeing these two people interacting with each other on screen and nothing else except nature that surrounds them. So it’s key that we actually care for the characters and want to know just exactly what’s going on between them. Fortunately the two lead actors managed to do just that. I found out later that Evans and Marcy have not acted before in a feature film, that’s quite impressive given that both of them have to carry the movie only with their performances to rely on.

As I’ve alluded to before, the film shifts its tone in about the last third of the film and I feel that it’s a bit too abrupt for my liking. I saw this film before watching/reading anything about the film and I was quite taken aback by it. I think the less you know about it the better so I’m not going to delve into the plot any further other than it deals with quite a dark and controversial topic that would understandably make or break even the closest of relationships.

I think Bonin did a decent job in his first feature film, and he’s certainly got talent in getting good performances out of actors, though I have to admit it drags quite a bit in parts. Overall it just wasn’t gripping enough to keep my interest so I think the editing could’ve been a whole lot tighter than it is. I feel that there are far too many indulgent scenes, if you will, andthe overly s-l-o-w pace threatens to grind the film to a halt.

Still I think it’s a worthwhile effort and the cinematography is beautiful! I’m certainly glad TCFF hosts its world premiere here in town. Hopefully this will inspire other filmmakers to shoot their films here in my neck of the woods!

2.5 out of 5 reels


Check out fellow TCFF blogger Mitch’s review of Finding Home

Here’s the behind-the-scenes video at the end of the review with filmmaker Chars Bonin who wrote and directed the film:



Thoughts on this movie? Do share your thoughts in the comments.

TCFF Day 2 Continued: Reviews of ‘It’s A Disaster’ & ‘Bro’

It’s been a ton of fun watching more than 1 movie a day on the big screen. Thanks to TCFF, October is surely going to be my best movie-going month this year! Before I go to the reviews, I just want to say the film fest is going really well, nice to see the ShowPlace ICON Theatres abuzz with people coming and going all day long. Just want to give a shout out to Ingrid Moss, TCFF’s social media director for continuing to get the buzz out, and Lee Jordan and Don Stoltz who did a great job coordinating all the volunteers, and Lee actually doubles as a merchandise sales guy. You go guys!!

TCFF has a big red carpet area right next to the ticketing booth, and my blog friends and I couldn’t help posing in front of it 🙂

Ok, on to the reviews:

It’s A Disaster

I knew I wanted to see this movie as soon as I saw Julia Stiles‘ name in the cast, and the premise sounds like a good recipe for an oddball comedy. Set in a suburban house in California, the story centers on four couples who meet periodically for Sunday brunch. It seems like a ‘normal’ group thing, that is until they soon discover that the world may be about to end and they’re stuck in a house together.

You could call this a relationship comedy as we meet a bunch of quirky (read: crazy) characters all gather in one room together trying to attempt a civil brunch together. Stiles plays a doctor who’s bringing history teacher Glen (David Cross) on their third date to meet her friends.  The hosts are married couple Emma (Erinn Hayes) + Pete (Blaise Miller), and the guests are free-spirited married couple Lexi (Rachel Boston) + Buck (Nic Cage-lookalike Kevin M. Brennan), and the long-engaged Hedy (America Ferrera) + the alien conspiracy-obsessed Shane (Jeff Grace).

I think the less you know about the plot the better, as the joy is in discovering just what in the world is going on with each character. Most of the couples know each other for some time—Glen is the only ‘outsider’ if you will— but all of them create a bizarre dynamics that makes you wonder just how could they survive a brunch like this without killing each other in the end!

Todd Berger assembled a pretty good cast and arm them with sharp dialog filled with off-the-wall dry humor. He also has a cameo as the neighbor in the biohazard suit and his appearance is one of the funniest parts of the movie. The comedy isn’t slapstick or forced, I mean the situation themselves just lend to thigh-slapping laughter. These couples are so absorbed in their own universe that they’re so blatantly oblivious of what’s happening all around them, and even when they do find out, the way each of them cope with it is just hilarious. I think the sharp script and the dead-pan delivery is key here, and despite it being set in just one house the entire time, it doesn’t feel at all boring. The feeling of claustrophobia and isolation is intentional however, and it just adds to the whole zaniness of the whole thing.

Beneath all that craziness though, there are some moments of poignancy, even something a bit profound, that life is short and one really can’t take things for granted. It definitely makes you think that when doomsday looms, just what would you do with your last few hours of your life, and what’d happen to the relationship between you and whoever you happen to be stuck with in that given moment.

4 out of 5 reels


It’s a Disaster is playing again at TCFF this Wednesday Oct 17 at 9:15pm
Get your tickets now »


BRO

Bro was okay as far as movies go, but for it being the director Nick Parada’s first major film, it was pretty solid. For me, the cinematography was the shining attribute, then came the story.

The narrative falls almost into a Trainspotting formula, where people get involved with the wrong crowd, get in over their head, hit rock bottom, but ultimately they are able to regroup and learn valuable life lessons from their own mistakes. Instead of it being centered around English youth, it takes place in the Motocross subculture, where Cocaine, sex, and alcohol are the drugs of choice.

This is similar to movies like the ones in the Step Up series, where the acting and story aren’t as valued as the the athletic performances. Danny Trejo does have a minor role, but Beau Manley, a professional motocross racer, was the most interesting as far as actors go. The movie comes out for home viewing in December, and I was told that the deleted scenes and interviews that are included on the disc are worth a watch.

Maybe too many expletives were used, and the rhythm that the lines were delivered felt, well, like lines being delivered. Some of the scenes felt extraneous but all in all, this felt like a first attempt at directing and acting – but not unsuccessful by any means.

– review by Emery Thoresen

2 out of 5 reels


Read what fellow TCFF blogger June Neely thought of It’s A Disaster


What are your thoughts on either one of these films?