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“Killing Ground” is the first feature film from the Australian filmmaker Damien Power.  As a sweet, young, and in-love couple decides to get-away for the weekend to camp in the wild, they notice a tent not far from their area.  After quite some time, the inhabitants are nowhere to be seen.  Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) begin to investigate, but after finding a toddler wandering nearby, their greatest fears don’t begin to compare to the horror that lies ahead.

This is not your classic horror film.  It’s clever and unpredictable using perfect timing of situations and clues to lead you on this “treasure hunt.”  Immediately, you have a sense of dread which is contrary to the sweetness that exudes from this couple.  The intensity is off the charts, but it is the thought-provoking puzzle that makes this a wonderfully creative spin on the classic horror in the woods.

Power sets up all the right situations, pulling you into the story and making you jump and scream out loud as he catches you off guard. Balancing deeply disturbing situations with smart writing that makes you think is a work of art.

Watch for a full review and an interview with Power and two of the actors in this small ensemble cast in the coming week.  In the meantime, if you’re at Sundance, don’t miss this film.  If you loved “Don’t Breathe,” you’re going to love this intense psychological thriller that will cut you to your core.

 

The horror film genre seems to be exploding, but finding a unique spin on the genre is a difficult task.  Rob Savage, director of “Dawn of the Deaf” has found just that much sought after unusual view as an inexplicable apocalypse hits a community which creates zombies of all those affected.  Now that’s unusual, wouldn’t you agree?

We meet a young adult who is hearing impaired, communicating soley through the use of sign language.  There’s a certain sadness deep within her eyes that we can feel, but we initially attribute it to the fact that she can’t communicate like the rest of us.  Nothing could be further from the truth and there is no way that you would even begin to imagine the truth behind her eyes.

This short film is amazingly captivating and creative, taking the viewer on a roller coaster ride of emotions; from sadness and pity, to empathy and understanding, but within the last several minutes of the film, the emotions are utter rage and horror.

The story is quite complex to say the least, with several unexpected layers within the story not to mention a few twists and turns.  And here is another unusual twist—several of the cast members are truly hearing impaired or deaf.  In many ways, this film is a blended language film which will be thoroughly enjoyed by any horror film lover, hearing or deaf.  And trust me, you’ll see this particular group in a new light thanks to this movie!

As with many short films, it has the ability to communicate so much in such a limited time frame.  And again, with wonderful short films, it leaves us wanting more.  Each relationship we see, the father-daughter, the mother-daughter, and the two friends, have so much more to share with us.  Perhaps a full-length feature is in this film’s horizon?

Catch this film at Sundance!

 

“Beat Beat Heart” comes to the Slamdance Film Festival by way of Germany from writer and director Luise Brinkmann.  Kerstin (Lana Cooper) lives in an idyllic area as we find her enjoying a lovely day with her significant other.  Things aren’t always as they seem as we find that we are lost with  Kerstin in her memories.  She is heartbroken and trying to put her life back in order to accomplish her goal: to renovate an old playhouse into a movie theater.

While this may seem an ordinary tale, the supporting cast of characters add a very unique perspective with their own inherent stories.  We meet Kerstin’s roommate who is rather overtly promiscuous to say the least.  And then, drum roll please, we meet her mother who apparently is coming to stay with her, unexpectedly, for an indeterminate period of time.  It’s obvious there is discomfort between the two, but they are experiencing similar traumatic experiences of the heart.  The way they deal with it is just as polar opposite as the two women.

“Beat Beat Heart” in some ways feels very surreal as we are taken back to Kerstin’s memories.  The stylized cinematography is gorgeous as it transports us back and forth between reality and the past.  The generally unspoken difficulties in a mother-daughter relationship are still unspoken, yet are boldly portrayed for us to see.  There’s jealousy that is very unintentional, but felt, with Kersstin watching her mother recover in her own way.  And we also see that deadly sin rear its ugly head when her mother and roomate become friends.  While this is a drama, there are truly laugh out loud moments as her mother  attempts to use Finder (Tinder) and how this is portrayed as it is explained.  Imagine a forest of trees and those trees are all men…I’ll let your imagination take it from there.

Lana is simply beautiful to watch on the screen as she gracefully glides through each scene.  But it is her very subtle expressions and slight facial movements and eye gazes that create a genuine and real character.  We know exactly what she is thinking when her mother comes to visit without her saying a word.  Although what she actual does say is simply hysterical!  (Note to self:  Do not show up on my daughter’s doorstep with a lot of luggage in tow.)  And we know how her heart longs for the touch of her love and the feel of his lips.  We find hope in her eyes when she’s drawn to another, but her personality may not allow her to truly heal.  And then we have Saskia Vester’s portrayal of Kerstin’s mom.  As a mother, I could truly relate to much of what she said and felt as she spoke with her daughter.  The dialogue between the two could not have been more natural or real.  Then the risque and truly funny roommate  beautifully balanced the emotionally heavy parts of the film.

“Beat Beat Heart” is an unusual love story focusing upon the heart and dreams of three different women.  It’s engaging story filmed with gorgeous style draws you closer to the characters as you relate to them all in some way. Finding humor within our lives is the reality of this film while affirming our own life’s choices and the consequences.

You can see “Beat Beat Heart” at the Slamdance Film Festival.  For more information, go to www.slamdance.comimage

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The Sundance Film Festival is well underway as opening night is officially over.  6 full-length feature films were shown and RHR has a capsule review for 3 of them.

POP AYE:  As a middle-aged man whose personal and professional life is waning, he stumbles upon an elephant in captivity who he recognizes as a childhood family pet.  He sets out on an adventure with Pop Aye to return him to his homeland.  It’s  a journey of self-discovery filled with humor and bumps in the road.  The unique individuals he encounters add such emotional beauty, driving the story forward.  This coming-of-age (middle-age, that is) film, gorgeously shot, depicts a certain human quality that we can all relate to.  Think about it as a grown-ups version of a boy and his dog…substitute “man” and “elephant” and you’ve got the concept.

AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL:  Former Vice President Al Gore gives us a follow up film to the original “An Inconvenient Truth,” made 10 years ago.  This newest film depicts the rapid progression of the detrimental effects of global warming and the path that we are on.  While most documentaries that tackle this topic are all doom and gloom, “An Inconvenient Sequel” is inspiring as we learn about the technological advances in renewable energy and how the entire world and its leaders are not only recognizing the problem, but addressing it.  Where the doom comes in is how the U.S. is failing in leading the world in helping to solve this global issue.  Mr. Gore takes us on his journey to Paris to the summit where it came down to the ingenuity of his problem solving skills and his ability to work together with others for a greater good.  To say he is passionate is not a strong enough word.  He is truly inspiring and if he can help convince the leader of India to reconsider, perhaps he can convince the U.S. nay-sayers as well.

THE LITTLE HOURS:  The cast including Aubrey Plaza, Nick Offerman, Allison Brie, Dave Franco, John C. Reilly, and Molly Shannon would make anyone go see this movie about three nuns placed in a situation of temptation.  Unfortunately, the plot never really got anywhere although there were plenty of laugh out loud moments.  Overall, a bit of a disappointment.

Stay tuned for Day 2!

 

 

There is no denying climate change, but what can be denied is whether or not the US will be a leader in one of the most important issues facing our world today. Former vice president Al Gore’s  newest documentary, a follow-up to an inconvenient truth, brings us up to date nearly 10 years after his first film.

The significance statistics are there.  The educational aspects are there, but most importantly the humanity is there. And it comes through on so many levels. But it is Al Gore’s dedication, determination, and passion that comes through that is truly inspiring as well as instill hope for our future.

Also Watch for the thorough and supporting documentary by Jared Scott and Kelly Nyks, “The Age of Consequence.”  It’s a perfect film to give a complete picture augmenting “An Inconvenient Sequel.”

 

You can see “An Inconvenient Sequel” at the Sundance film Festival.

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David Permut, Producer

Move over King of Rock ‘n’ Roll because there’s new royalty in town—at least in Park City, Utah at the Sundance Film Festival.  ”The Polka King” will premiere to tell audiences the bizarre yet hilarious story about Jan Lewan, the “King of Pennsylvania Polka” starring Jack Black.   The film is based upon the 1990′s  true story about a Polish immigrant who creates a Polka Ponzi scheme in order to support his love of Polka playing, and as the prolific producer, David Permut explains, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

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I had the opportunity to talk with Permut not only about his new film and his other widely talked about film vying for Oscar’s attention, “Hacksaw Ridge,” but also about how he finds these “gold nuggets” and the other unique films currently in production.  Permut’s energetic and upbeat vocal cadence had me on the edge of my seat as I hung on every word.

 

Permut attends the Sundance and Toronto International Film Festivals every year possible, seeing upward of 45 films in 10 days, and says it’s all about discovery.  “If I don’t have a film in a festival, I’m just going as you are, watching movies…I’m just discovering new talents.”  While casting Jack Black to play the role of Jan Lewan in “The Polka King” doesn’t seem like a discovery in its outward appearance, the story behind it certainly is.

Permut recalls, “I saw this documentary called ‘The Man Who Would Be Polka King,’ and I’m laughing! I’m just hysterical!  I can’t believe what I’m watching!”  The documentary captures the life story of Jan Lewan, a Polish immigrant who owns a chain of gift stores.  He also lives for playing and traveling with his band, but financially is in over his head.  His solution is the creation of a Polka ponzi scheme.  Permut explains that  he and his team acquired the rights from Jan Lewan and the documentary filmmakers three years ago.  Permut then sent the documentary to Ben Stiller’s company and to Jack Black.  Permut, laughing aloud as he reminisces, says, “Jack called up a few days later and said, ‘I was born to play Jan Lewan.’”  Black, a major star, was on board before a word of the script had been written.

Permut’s discovery process continued as he brought on writers Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarksy, a husband and wife team who created the brilliant film “Infinitely Polar Bear,” from Sundance in 2014.    Permut loved their first film and ultimately they not only wrote “The Polka King,” they  directed it.   While “The Polka King” and “Infinitely Polar Bear” are very different movies, “…they are both inspired by true stories.”  He continued, “What I loved about it was the humanity of it. The humanity needed to be there and I knew that Wally and Maya were the people to do that.”

Permut confided that he and Stuart Cornfeld, a co-producer, along with Black, were all very hands-on in the development of the script for “The Polka King.”  He said, “We honed the script, working hand in hand with Maya and Wally [and] tailored the script for [Black]” since he was on board before it was even written.

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Permut promised me that it’ll be “…the craziest ride you’ve ever seen…”  He continued to express the need for not only original content in films, but the need for films to keep the audience guessing.  “I think we underestimate audiences.  I think that most audiences know where they’re going in the third act. This is a movie that you’re always in back of the story, not in front of it.  You’re on this journey and you have no idea where you’re going,” he said.

“The Polka King” is more than just a comedy, however.  Permut feels that, “It’s fun and hugely funny, but I think there’s humanity to it.  There’s a redemption quality, and a quality of his humanity.”  Permut finds that the character fits Black “like a glove” as he “embraced the character musically and in every other way too.  There’s a heartfelt nature as Jack portrayed him.”

Jenny Slate portrays Jan’s wife and Jackie Weaver is the mother-in-law who moves in with them.  Jason Schwartzman rounds out this comedically talented cast as Jan’s best friend and bandmate.  Given the creative cast and the financial backing of executive producers Shivani Rawat and Monica Levinson who gave us such stellar films as “thepolkaking3Captain Fantastic” and “Trumbo”, “The Polka King” has all the markings of a Sundance hit.

 

Permut and I discussed festivals (and favorite seats at theaters), but how does he discern what will make a great story within a film as Permut is responsible for beautiful and unique movies such as “Juno,” “Struck By Lightning,” and “Charlie Bartlett” coming to film life.  Permut reiterates that he loves true stories “…because truth is stranger than fiction.  To me, it’s usually what hits me emotionally.  If it’s supposed to be funny, am I laughing out loud?  If it’s dramatic and heartfelt, am I moved emotionally?”  But it has to have “ a hook” much like the unusual story-line of “Hacksaw Ridge,” the medic without a gun.  He says, “The Polka King is such an original idea [and] I thought it had an inherent hook…but how do you rise above every weekend with 10 movies opening at the box office?  Casting a major star and a true story helps to elevate a movie, [but] I think it’s originality, making something distinctly different.”

Permut can’t wait to be surrounded by the beauty of Park City’s ski slopes and walk through the doors at the Eccles theater, finding his favorite seat (and perhaps mine) and to show his film to an audience.  Until this film is picked up for distribution for all to see, which I am going to bet will be very soon, you can look forward to seeing “Punching Henry,” a sequel to the off-beat Slamdance Film Festival discovery “Punching the Clown” opening in March, 2017.  Permut is also working on “Russ and Roger Go Beyond,” a story about a young critic whose name you might recognize, Roger Ebert, and his relationship with the “maverick rogue filmmaker Russ Meyers.”  Will Farrell is set to star in this film.

I’m sure Permut will be discovering even more new great talents at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  I’ll be sure to save that aisle seat for him.  For more information about the film and how to see it at Sundance go to www.sundance.org/projects/the-polka-king

 

 

 

 

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What is FLM? Check out this video and find out!

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What to see at Sundance 2017!

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And the winner is…

 

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Stanley Nelson, MacArthur “genius” Fellow and member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has completed his newest documentary which will premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival this week.  The film, “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities” isn’t his first Sundance film.  Just 2 years ago, the remarkable and award wiUnknown-1nning film “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” educated and entertained audiences.  This newest film, still quite literally in the color-correcting stage of production, will premiere on Monday, Jan. 23rd. Nelson, not worried a bit about finishing in time, shared with me his hopes for the film and the inspiration behind it.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Nelson, the father of 3, a 27 year old and a set of twins setting off for college soon, grew up in New York City, specifically, Manhattan.  He recalls, “My father was a dentist and my mother was a librarian so there was not choice about whether or not to go to college.”  He added, “I got out of high school during the Vietnam era and that was another reason I went to college.”  Initially, although he liked movies as much as the next person, he wasn’t focused upon filmmaking but then he noticed the influx of Blaxploitation films.  He observed that there“…were black people in front of the camera and few behind the camera, [and] I felt like I can do that!  Those films are really bad.  I can make a bad film too,” he chuckled aloud.  Nelson then transferred to Fordham’s film department.

Why did Nelson focus upon this particular topic for his new film?  His mother who attended Talladega College and his father who attended Howard University, while their choices were limited back the 1930’s to black schools only, it did, as he says,  “…make a huge difference in their lives and down through the generations in my family’s lives.”  He continues, “I felt it was a story that

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hadn’t been told.  Black colleges and universities were instrumental in forming black communities and being foundations for black middle class and nobody had ever really done a film about [it].

With a team of 3 researchers and a number of interns, Nelson found archival footage, old photos, and yearbooks to depict the history of several institutions.  Creatively, Nelson uses reenactments and graphic art to help fill in the blanks where photos and footage couldn’t be found.  He said, “So much of the film, maybe half of the film, takes place before 1930, before there was a lot of footScreen Shot 2017-01-17 at 8.44.23 AMage and we wanted to make the film come alive.  As we get later into the film, we don’t have to do recreations, but early on we do.  The film really starts out during slavery when African Americans were not allowed to learn to read and write and it was against the law for a white person to teach a slave how to read and write.  It shows you how scary the idea of education was.”

Nelson hopes that by telling this important part of history using film as the medium, that first and foremost people are entertained by it.  He says, “The next thing you want is for them to learn something.  I think that part of the idea of the film is that you see the great lengths that African Americans have gone through to secure eduction and…to control their own education.  I think it’s important to understand that education has the same importance that it did 170 years ago that it does today.  Why was the white slave holder so afraid of education?  It was a way to freedom.”

Why would someone choose an all black school for higher education?  Nelson explained that, “It’s one of the only times you’re in the majority, especially if you’re living a middle-class life.  A lot of times you’re going to all white schools.  In your work life if you’re moderately successful, you’re in a white majority setting so this is a chance to be in a black majority setting and I think that builds great value.”

Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 8.44.02 AMGiven our current political environment, I asked Nelson about whether or not we were taking a few steps backward and how he thought we could avoid repeating the ugliness of our history.  His answer was sound and confident as he shared, “I think that societies will always tend to, in the long run, move forward.  It’s a roller coaster ride.  I think that’s what we’ve seen recently.  If we don’t constantly regroup and push forward, we go backward.”

As his youngest children head to majority white universities in the fall, not following in their grandparents’ footsteps of all black universities, Nelson hopes that they can both attend an all black university for a semester….it’ll be really interesting for them and they’ll enjoy it.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed. I want them to make their own choices and be happy in college.

Nelson has an amazing upcoming week with not only his Sundance film premiere, but his special on BET called “Through the Fire: The Legacy of Barack Obama” airing on Thursday, January 19 at 7pm EST.  The show explores President Obama’s two terms in office blending archival footage with interviews with some rather extraordinary guests:  Samuel L. Jackson, Common, Usher, and narrated by Jesse Williams.

Nelson’s passion not only for filmmaking, but for portraying life shines through with every film he makes.  Sundance will be yet another shining example of his work and he says, “I’m really excited to see the film with an audience and see the reaction!”

 

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THE BOOK OF LOVE

Starring: Maisie Williams, Jason Sudeikis, and Jessica Biel

Directed by: William Purple

“The Book of Love” formerly  ”The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” premiered  at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and is now available on VOD (video on demand) starring Jason Sudeikis, Jessica Biel, and Maisie Williams.  Directed by William Purple, the film addresses loss and the grieving process in a realistic and rather poignant way.  Its message will resonate with anyone who has suffered a loss or tragedy in life—in other words, everyone will find the ability to relate to the subject.

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Henry Herschel (Sudeikis) is an introverted, up-and-coming, young architect who tragically loses his carefree and loving pregnant wife, Penny (Biel), in a car accident.  Upon honoring his promise to his deceased wife, Henry finds himself helping a streetwise teen, Millie (Williams) who is attempting to build a raft to sail across the Atlantic in search of her long-missing father.  This father-daughter type of relationship between Henry and Millie delves deeply into how they each navigate the waves of emotional healing.

“The Book of Love” is steeped in reality.  From the moment we meet Penny and Henry with their care-free and happy marital banter, the familiarity brings you back to an early time in a marriage.  It’s a time when you look forward to the future together—smooth sailing.  But just like real life, tragedy can strike at any time.  Henry is truly crushed; swept away by the sea of uncertainty ahead.  Within this tragedy, however, there is still a well-balanced element of humor—just like real life.

Set in Louisiana, the unusual surrounding seems to beautifully augment the depth of each character as does the soulful soundtrack.   Williams’ portrayal of Millie as a rough and wise-beyond-her years street teen touches an emotional chord of sympathy within each of us.  Although we may not relate to her situation, we do relate to her needs as a child and understand her reactions or walls that she has built to protect herself.  Her ability to consistently portray a true Creole accent is questionable, but given the depth of her character, this is easily forgiven.

Sudeikis, known primarily for his comedic roles,  shines in this dramatic endeavor.   He creates a lost soul that is devastated, giving a range of emotions that swing like a pendulum allowing us to feel what he is feeling.  In addition, there is an organic and natural interaction between he and Williams.  They each peel away the layers of their true selves to find a new self.  It’s simply beautiful.

Biel is a light and comforting sight as the expectant mother.  Her whimsical ways are heartwarming and we immediately identify with her love of life.  The comedic element is spearheaded by Paul Reiser as Henry’s boss with additional humor brought to us by the two workers, Pascal and Dumbass.  The unintelligible Creole  and his buddy’s interaction is exactly the levity that is needed in this film to give it a balanced feel.

You never know who will have an effect on your life or perhaps what effect you may have on others.  ”The Book of Love”  reminds us that people come in and out of our lives for a reason.  With profoundly eloquent narration, expressing the deepest thoughts in an almost poetic way, the film will captivate your spirit, mind, and perhaps most importantly, your heart.

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Chris Cordone

“Stevie D,” an unusual crime drama full of ironic humor is now available on demand via all digital platforms.  Chris Cordone, writer, director and dual-role star of this film sat down to talk with me about how he went from a baseball playing athlete at Wake Forest University, to Wall St., to Hollywood.  It sounds bizarre, but with his calm and reassuring voice filled with a reflective chuckle, Cordone’s path in life makes complete sense.

Cordone, growing up in small town in Fairfield County, just outside New York City, had always been drawn to the allure of Wall St.  But baseball was his first love and he was able to play for Wake Forest University.  He reassured me that he was an very good student but it was his minor in Italian that continued to light the film spark within him.  His professor  was a film fanatic, much like Cordone’s father, and introduced him to all the film artistry and beauty within this rich culture.  But after college, Cordone refocused himself and shared,

“I thought I’m not going to play baseball anymore.  It’s time to stop playing and do something serious.  I tried to get the best job that I could and I was very lucky.  I got a very highly coveted job as an investment banking analyst.  I was really enticed by the idea of being a young man living in NYC with a great job.  [Then] I quickly realized that life was happening now.  You can talk about your plans and your dreams in high school and college, but then when you’re getting up every morning to do it, there’s no more dreaming.  I have to figure out if I’m doing the right thing.”

 Cordone completed his tenure on Wall St. and left NYC after toying with the idea of going back to film school.  He opted to become an actor and follow the paths of greats like Cassavetes who were first actors and then writers and directors.  While NYC was still suffering the devastating financial and emotional fallout from Sept. 11, acting jobs were far and few between.  Cordone moved to L.A. and after a few bit roles here and there, he decided to start writing “Stevie D.”  Cordone recalls, “I didn’t want to be an actor waiting for a phone call,” which ironically happens in the screenplay of “Stevie D.”  With the help of friends who stayed on Wall St., Cordone brought the film to life.

Kevin ChapmanKevin Chapman plays Lenny, the “enforcer” in the “family.”  Cordone felt that finding the right actor to play this role was key.  “That character was the core, the most important in the film.”  While the film really is about father-son types of relationships, “Lenny” needed to be believably tough yet funny.  Cordone recalls how Chapman came aboard:

“His agent read the script and I’m thankful to her for doing that.  A lot of bigger agents won’t do that because they know there’s not a lot of money associated with it.  He just wanted to do something different.  He wanted to feel the passion of a smaller production.  He had to be believably tough and then he also had to be funny.  What I liked about Kevin is that he didn’t try to be funny!  The jokes came out of the situation.  The more he tried to do what he does, the [funnier he is]. The scheduling worked out and it was really just perfect.”

Cordone not only wrote and directed “Stevie D,” but he also starred in it as the leads Stevie D and Michael.  Cordone shared with me some of the logistics of taking on a dual role and filming an independent film.

 ”I didn’t have a whole lot of time to think on set.  I had to set the two apart and trust my impulses.  We needed to differentiate the characters a bit and Stevie fit the scruffy kind of guy.  The beard for Stevie is fake and she (the make up artist) had to put it on me every time.  I have no problem growing a beard…I’m Italian!  But I often had to film the two characters on the same location on the same day.  She’d take it off and I’d be Michael.”Stevie D Chris

Cordone shared that the two characters have a little bit of him in each.  He admitted that he’s got a temper and then laughed that perhaps his wife should weigh in on his other attributes of each character.  He enjoyed the fact that there’s even a joke about auditioning and always bringing your other character, the wrong one, to the audition.  “That’s the way Hollywood is,” he sighed.

While the pre-production and filming went off without a hitch, the post-production seemed a bit more stressful as Cordone and his wife had become new parents.  Balancing being a new dad and attempting to edit with post-production personnel long distance while being sleep deprived was a bit challenging.  The pride and love in Cordone’s voice could be easily heard as we chatted about kids growing up.  “He’s my little guy.  I’ll change his diapers forever if he just stays like this.”

Cordone continues to work on new screenplays which don’t feature him as one of the actors.  He said, “It was really liberating to not have to write for myself.”  Currently he is “shopping” these scripts around.  Cordone and his wife, co-owner of Cake Monkey Bakery in L.A., are “…supportive of one another, but we don’t live in each other’s worlds” which sounds like a delicious and perfect balance.

You can read the entire review here