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Today is Earth Day.  It’s  a day to celebrate our Earth and remember how we should care for it as we only get one chance.  And it’s a  perfect day to see a film that embraces this concept.  ”The River Below” is screening at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, premiering on this very appropriate date.

The film addresses the possible extinction of the Amazon Pink River Dolphin and accentuates  the power of media, television in particular.  ”The River Below” is a thrilling investigative documScreen Shot 2017-04-22 at 4.19.34 PMentary filled with gruesome and unthinkable twists and turns, shocking the viewer as it shatters our trust in television.  Mark Greico travels to the Amazon River, deep in the jungle, as he interviews scientist and researcher Fernando Trujillo and television star of Nat Geo’s Fantastico, Richard Rasmussen.  The Amazon Pink River Dolphin is on the endangered species list and these two men, while in very different arenas, fight to save this intelligent water mammal.  We witness their work and the results, discovering the ramifications of good intentions.

Like most documentScreen Shot 2017-04-22 at 4.21.03 PMaries, “The River Below” educates the viewer.  I knew nothing about river dolphins or the fact that they were being used as bait for another fish used for the local economy called Piracatinga.  Trujillo takes us along the river, explaining the great intelligence of this animal and the brutality of how it is fished and cut up to use as bait.  He equates these water-residing mammals to humans.  Over the years, the number of Pink Dolphins have decreased to a point of concern.  Extinction seemed imminent, but compounding the issue is the sheer brutality of the slaughter of such an intelligent species.  Of course, financial gains and survival by this trade are at the core, but what is the ultimate cost of this type of fishing?

We then meet superstar Rasmussen who can’t walk through an airport without gettiScreen Shot 2017-04-22 at 4.20.25 PMng stopped for selfies with adoring fans.  His show, Fantastico, takes viewers on adventures into the depths of the jungle to learn and interact with the area’s habitat.  Snakes and caymen are just a few of the clips we see Rassmussen handling.  He’s the Amazonian version of the Aussie Steve Erwin.  Rasmussen and his team used television to capture the brutality of this part of the fishing industry which helped the government put a moratoreum on using Pink Dolphin as bait as well as selling the delectable fish.  But there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

Greico and his team, through interviews and old-fashioned investigative journalism, find that something smells a little fishy about this story.  The subsequent interviews and confrontation they encounter, traveling further along the river, is nothing shy of unnerving.  Just when you thought the story was headed in one direction, it suddenly changed course, much like the river itself.  It’s absolutely jarring to watch the unfolding of this true story that takes on a Denis Villeneuve  feel to the film.

“The River Below” is a cinematically gorgeous film, taking us for a ride along the river as well as a swim beneath the surface.  The images captured are in one moment beautiful and then next moment absolutely disturbing.  Images of cruelty with no care are burned into your memory.  What makes this film even more emotionally unique is the courage it took to confront certain subjects and capture that “gotcha” moment.  The emotions from everyone involved are ascertained and depicted so that we, the viewer, are a part of the film.

“The River Below” is an artistic and educational documentary that screens like a fascinating thriller.  It also sends several messages—we must take care of our environment, but we must understand the fallout from doing so.  We have to protect our planet and ourselves—it’s a delicate balance—and to what degree would you consider appropriate to save a species?  The overfishing of one species for human sustainability cannot be justified, but I’ll let you decide after you watch this film.

For more information about seeing “The River Below” at the Tribeca Film Festival, go to TribecaFilmGuide

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“Son of Sophia” has its world premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.  Written and directed by Elina Psykou and staring Victor Khomut as the young boy, attempting to wrestle with issues of betrayal, abandonment, and love as he leaves childhood behind.  This thought-provoking and psychologically deep film about a mother and her son creates an intriguingly insightful look at growing up in less than ideal circumstances.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Misha (Khomut), a quiet and reserved 11 year-old travels on his own from Russia to Athens to live with his mother, Sofia (Valery Tscheplanowa).  The two have been separated for years and their reunion shows the unfamiliarity but obligatory connection.  The living situation is just one of the many surprises

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for Misha as he learns that he and his mother will be living with an older gentleman, Mr. Nikos (Thanassis Papageorgiou).  This man, he will discover, is also his new stepfather.  Misha still needs his mother.  He is still a boy and he clings to the comfort of fairy tales yet is abruptly pulled into the world of an older boy with no parental influence.  The struggle is palpable as Misha grows up in this foreign land, not understanding the language, and thrust into a surprising situation.  The bond between mother and son is shaken as the two sort out how to function as a family of three.

“Son of Sophia” is a complexly layered story, delving into not just the growing pains of young Misha, but of the conflicting loyalty that Sofia has.  She’s torn between the love of her son and the need for her new husband, particularly financial, as she is commanded and demanded to obey and fulfill his needs.  In addition, Sofia has a full-time job, pulling her in yet another direction.  This internal Hugstruggle is beautifully portrayed, demonstrating what many wives and mothers deal with on a daily basis.

The film gives us yet another viewpoint; that of Misha.  He longed to be only with his mother and finds Mr. Nikos to be a competitor.  It’s a classic representation of a boy with an Oedipus Complex, attempting to do away with his competition.  Misha’s new-found friend, Victor (Aremois Havalits) couldn’t be any worse of an influence, but with no parental involvement, Misha delves into inappropriate situations.  His ability to understand right from wrong seems to become less clear as do his skills in coping with losing his childhood.

Khomut is the lead actor, supporting the film completely with his nuanced performance.   Balancing on the edge of childhood’s imagination and the dark world of adults is difficult, but Khomut finds a way to do exactly this.  Tscheplanowa gives us a beautifully dramatic performance, creating a conflicted and apprehensive character.  She brings us a character who is not only real, but believable.  The interaction between the two is familiar and relatable while the cinematography gorgeously captures each and every mood and feeling.  The story-line does become disturbing, but it is required to do so in order to expertly bring the Oedipal Complex to its bitter-sweet conclusion.

“Son of Sofia” is remarkably haunting and dramatic as it captures the love between a mother and her son and his need to grow up.  Its complexities are revealed through deft direction and writing, allowing the ELINA PSYKOUcast to shine.

“Son of Sofia” is showing at the Tribeca Film Festival Friday, April 21 at 6:30 pm at the Regal Cinema.  For more information about tickets, go to Tribeca Film Guide

“Norman” Everybody knows one

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Richard Gere shows us he’s still in the game with his unusual lead role in the film “Norman.” This Israeli-American film by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joseph Cedar is a uniquely funny and charming drama with an all-star cast.  Norman (Gere) is a small-time business man who, although he tries, is always on the outermost circle of the high-powered, successful corporate heads.  That never deters him from trying to connect people and make things happen, though.  His life changes one day when he meets and buys a pair of designer shoes for the man who would, three years in the future, become the next Israeli Prime Minister (Lior Ashkenazi).

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

We meet Norman and immediately understand that he’s “a little off”—his hair needs to be cut as it sticks out over his ears, his clothes are slightly unkempt, and his slouched posture indicates that he just isn’t quite cut out to play with “the big boys.”  Undeterred, Norman pushes ahead, trying to make that next (and perhaps only) big deal happen.  He’s awkNORMAN-POSTERward in his interactions and just doesn’t seem to pick up on social cues, making the scene just that much more uncomfortable.  But there’s a certain sweetness and charm about him conveying a sense of harmlessness.  We see Norman who appears to be stalking Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), a lower level Israeli politician at the time,  befriend him.  Not wanting to lose this “connection,” Norman buys Eshel an expensive pair of shoes that will likely break his personal bank.  Three years pass and Eshel, now the Prime Minister, returns to NYC and remembers his shoe-buying friend.  Norman’s life will never be the same again, but neither would anyone else’s!

The story starts off with a slow pace, carefully setting up all of the background that we need to piece this engaging puzzle together.  Set in New York City, we get a glimpse into the superficiality of high-powered companies.  The story progresses using acts of a play as Norman’s life unfolds before our eyes.  While this is a drama filled with a certain amount of sad irony, it is also light-hearted and at times even whimsical.  The situations are frequently uncomfortable, but the music accompanying the scene is cheerful, almost playful, eliciting a completely opposing feeling.

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By the second act, we are fully invested in Norman’s success, but always cringing because we know he will do something “a little off.”  He makes promises he can’t quite keep, but is always working people to make things happen—it’s a dominoes effect of decision-making.  Norman is involved in the local synagogue lead by Rabbi Blumenthal (Steve Buscemi) which needs money to survive.  His nephew, who wants no outward connection to his uncle, needs to be married by a rabbi.  The string theory of Norman’s life becomes increasingly tangled, keeping you on the edge of your seat in Act III.

The writing and directing of this film has a certain unique characteristic to it.  Cedar is known for incorporating symbolism into his films and “Norman” is no exception to the rule.  While I am not Jewish, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with a woman who is qualified in this area—she will remain anonymous.  She explained that the concept of anonymity within the Jewish religion is for charity’s sake, to truly help someone, attaching no shame in acceptance.  The film’s central theme incorporates this concept, but there are blurred lines of the definition.  She also shared with me the legend of 36 just men who are responsible for preserving the world.  Could Norman be one of these men?  The symbolism runs deep, and as producer Miranda Bailey shared with me, “Joseph Cedar’s work is filled with symbolism and innuendo that even I—-  having made the film—am still discovering.  One thing that I love is that I discover something new re-watching every scene.”

Cedar showcases a unique style within the film, creating a split screen to show the characters located in different places talking to one another.  Initially, this is surprising, but then it becomes quite visually entertaining as it allows us to experience the conversation and emotions more fully.  Blending symbolism, unique filming style, and unexpected musical accompaniment gives viewers a refreshing and truly new film.

Gere portrays Norman with genius skill.  We see him as a nobody who wants to be a somebody.  With careful attention to the detail of mannerisms and body language, Gere conveys just the right level of awkwardness to give this character credibility.  He finds a way to capture your heart while we are always questioning his motives.  As he interacts with the characters who are at a higher social status than he, Gere’s delivery of his lines, while absolutely hilarious and completely exaggerated, are believable.  We all know at least one or two people just like Norman.

The entire cast simply shines in “Norman.”  Ashkenazi’s confident and big-hearted performance as Eshel is the perfect balance to Gere’s awkward and unassuming one.  Sheen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, and Buscemi create more than a well-rounded cast—they create characters that tell a beautiful story about life, its ups and downs, the coincidences that occur, and the true heart of humanity.  This could not have happened without the deft direction of Cedar.  He brings this charming drama to life for us all to enjoy.

“Norman” is a gem not often found in filmmaking today.  It creates an unusually unique and entertaining story with flare that is universal to all.  In addition, there are deeper levels of symbolism allowing you to discover something new.  You can’t ask for more than that in a film.

To read the interview with Bailey, go to FF2MEDIA.COM

 

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Brian Schulz tackles the Flint, Michigan water crisis in a decidedly new and uplifting way.  We all remember hearing of this preventable atrocity affecting the area’s population, particularly the elderly and the young, in 2016.”For Flint” brings us into the heart of the city, seeing that through crisis comes a sense of community—much dflintwatereeper and more important than ever thought possible.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Schulz paints a vivid picture of where Flint is as we look through the broken windows of a factory and the view the abandoned warehouses and the sign above a water fountain “Drink at your own risk.”  Not a word needs to be spoken to understand the devastation this town has undergone.  But then Schulz counteracts this depressing scenario by introducing us to  several “ordinary” citizens of Flint who are determined to make a positive difference in the future of their town.  From ex-cons to musicians and artists, the members of the community are reaching out to the younger generation and those who remained to reclaim their city.  Their powerful statements about how this tragedy came about are equalled by their strength in moving forward, armed with the empowerment of the arts and kindness.  As one young man explained, “We’ve hit the bottom.  [There's] nowhere else to go but to the top.”

This statement is the underlying current of a new generation of hope.  Although the once vibrant neighborhoods filled with children’s voices are now hushed and vacant accompanied by a surge in crime, there are those banding together to rise above it all.  We see a variety of groups coordinating efforts to educate and stimulate the area, accentuating the positives of Flint and the people within it.  Leon, once a part of the crime and drug problem, is now a part of the solution as he reaches out to schools to educate children and encourage others like him to make a positive difference in the future.  Valorie finds the art of pottery making directly analogous to Flint.  It’s all what you make out of it and through her art and involvement, it will be positive.  And finally, Schulz introduces us to Ryan Gregory, an artist of reclaimed Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 7.17.34 PMobjects.  He’s also a social organizer, bringing together neighbors and neighborhoods through Thursday night social bike rides and “Living Room Show And Tell” painting projects.  Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 11.58.03 AM

“For Flint” beautifully portrays the meaning of community.  While the city has been hit hard, these determined and kind citizens are banding together to not just support one another, but to bring the virtues of this fine city back to the forefront.  It’s an uplifting and inspirational story as you root for this town to recover.  While it’s true that the water was poisoned and could have been prevented, this film’s focus is on the virtues of its citizens.  It’s true that their lives will never be the same again, but their resilience is unmistakable.  They are strong and they will come back…together.

I had the opportunity to talk with Schulz about making this short documentary.  Surprisingly, he had never been to Flint and had only learned of Flint’s water crisis less than a year and a half ago from then MSNBC’s news reporter Tony Dokoupil.   After hearing the report, Schulz said, “I was mad!  How could this happen?”  He decided to use his skills as a cinematographer to make a difference. He reached out to Dokoupil to begin his research and make connections in the community who opened their welcoming arms to him.  Describing himself as a “garrulous Brooklynite,” Schulz found the subjects he needed to convey the story of positivity in Flint.

Schulz’ voice was filled with optimism as he described the town, the unknown gem of the Flint Institute of the Arts, and the beauty even in the dead of winter.  He knew he could give a positive voice to the town, creating a more positive perception of Flint.  He did so much more than that.  We see the true definition of the word “community.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 12.00.22 PMSchulz’ film premieres on Earth Day, April 22, at the Tribeca Film Festival.  Beneath the media’s political coverage, lies on-going problems like Flint’s water and recovery that cannot be forgotten.

For more information about seeing this film at Tribeca Film Festival, go to TribecaFilmGuidetribecafilt

“Tommy’s Honour” An interview

 

Tommy's_Honour_PosterWhat’s the inspiration behind the film “Tommy’s Honour?”  The answer to that question is just as intriguing as the film itself.  I had the “honour” of sitting down with two of the producers, Jim Kreutzer and Keith Bank, the stars of the film Ophelia Lovibond and Jack Lowden, and director Jason Connery just a day before the film’s premiere to hear their thoughts and insights about the making of “Tommy’s Honour.”

The discovery of the book by the same name, written by Kevin Cook, is credited to Kreutzer as he and a friend who was recently diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Scerlosis (ALS), traveled to St. Andrew’s Golf Course in Scotland“…as a bucket list trip,” Kreutzer explained.  He continued, “He and I went as a part of immersing ourselves into Scottish golf.  We bought the book, read [it], and couldn’t figure out why no one had made this film yet…it was a book that had such an amazing story with universal themes and I said, ‘How in the world did this slip through the studio cracks?’”  Kreutzer then “cold called” the author, explaining that he was “…just this little guy.  I didn’t tell him I was this dentist from Wisconsin.  I thought that was a little too cheesy, so to speak,”  he chuckled at the pun.  The film took years to develop, bringing on financing headed by Bank and then Sean Connery’s son Jason to direct. Kreutzer laughed in recollection, “I cold called Jason out of the blue [and] he said to me, ‘You know this is Jason Connery, not Sean Connery.”

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Jason Connery

Kreutzer explained, “Jason, is the creative force behind the film.  [He] had the same vision that I had.  This was not a golf film.  This was a film with golf as the background.  It could have easily been tennis or bowling.  Golf [though] is a sport that transcends so many emotions and so many feelings.  I think there’s so much more to this than meets the eye.  This is a must-see love story.  And even more than that, this film has been used to promote and support other philanthropic endeavors such as raising awareness for the ALS Foundation as well as the Boys and Girls Club.  As investor Ken Whitney told Kreutzer, “There’s also an emotional return on this investment and you can’t put a number on that.”

Emotions do run very high in “Tommy’s Honour,” as both Lowden and Lovibond expressed.  Although Lowden hadn’t previously known this story, it did take place near his home in Scotland.  He said, “When I heard about it I thought it was such a lovely story.  Regardless of the fact that it was about golf, I just loved the story of this guy that achieved so much at such a young age and then disappeared at 24.  I found it tragic…and amazing and really sad that he met the woman that he fetommymegll in love with and when that was taken away from him, he self-destructed…”

Lovibond was attracted to her character of Meg as she “…was quite strident and insubordinate.”  On a lighter note, she found the costuming to truly add to the film, bringing us back to a forgotten era.  Her blue dress, she laughed, “…couldn’t fit in the train!  I couldn’t sit down in it so we had to take bits off and we had the boom operator and the camera operator all squashed because my dress was taking up so much room!  It was so impractical!”

DSC02730Lowden, quite taken with the costuming as well, found that his tweed suits were not only beautiful but also “they were surprising comfy,” he said.  “I was worried about how the hell did they play golf in three piece suits….I’m told that it affected their swing because you do get to a certain point and the suit says you’re not going any farther.”

Now you might assume that because Lowden is from the Scottish Borders and he is quite an impressive golfer on camera, that he has played the sport for years—not the case! Lowden took about 8 lessons as did Peter Mullin who plays Tommy’s father. Lowden chuckled, “And it’s also a film!  You swing the club for a second and they cut away.  It’s the look of it rather than the ability. [But] I did get quite good at it!”  Lovibond chimed in that she wasn’t a golfer either, but “I could still hit the ball really far.” The banter between the two was charming as Lowden reminded her that her swing was more like chopping.  She didn’t disagree and laughed, “It looked more like I was angry with the ball.  We took a video of it and they said it was the worst swing they’ve ever seen!”

Directing this connected young couple seemed to be quite natural with Connery who is also father. He truly understood relationships on all levels.  Recalling learning about this true story, he said he had heard of “Old Tommy,” but, “I had no idea about young Tommy at all.  I’ve played at The Old Course and I’ve seen all of the area.” Kreutzer gave Connery the book and he devoured it in a single sitting, engrossed by the passion these true life characters had for the game.  Connery said, “I’ve watched a number of golf films and they fall into this trap of this sort of reverential element…I wanted to steer clear of that…Tom was a working man.  He was worried about his son because he appeared to want to change the system and that’s always scary!”

The elements incorporated into this story are deep and meaningful as Connery explained that, “You have the church being such a powerful entity in the local community; you have the class system; and you have this father and son.  I never wanted them to question the love they had for each other.  And then you have this beautiful love story between Meg and Tommy.”  While it is tragic, Connery explains an even more complex layer to their relationship for the time period:  They considered one another equals and they loved each other very much.  It wasn’t just an economic decision to get married.  They typified the beginning of the next generation of marriages.

Feminism is yet another beautifully portrayed aspect of the film as Meg stood up for her beliefs. One of Connery’s favorite scenes is Meg confronting her mother-in-law, not backing down and speaking her mind.  Connery with some regret in his voice said, “It’s not in the film, but there was a thing that the church did with the minister of a local community that would take a woman who had a bastard child or had done something sort of ill repute, supposedly.  Not the man, I would have to say, but the woman and would name and shame them” repeatedly.  When the minister felt they were no longer evil, he would bless them.  “And she went through that!  And not only did she go through it, she put a child next to her, hoping her child would be cleansed as well.  That’s pretty brutal!” he exclaimed.

The film truly is so much more than a golf story.  It’s a complex

DSC02735DSC02731and tragic love story as it depicts the heart and soul of relationships.  Connery shared one man’s comments after a screening, “You know what you’ve done?  You’ve made a chick flick for men.”  He smiled and laughed, “I’ll take it!  I’ll take it!”

 

 

 

 

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Admittedly, when I think of watching the game of golf on television, I automatically think it’s nap time.  I will also admit that I cannot play the game to save my life.  In fact, I’ve hit a birdie or two, but the living kind…wildlife beware when I pick up a set of clubs!  While I am not a fan of the game, I am a fan of the new film “Tommy’s Honour,” starring Jack Lowden and Ophelia Lovibond and directed by Jason Connery.  The film may look to be a biopic about the origins of golf, but it is truly so much more than that.  It is a story about relationships, particularly that of a father and son as well as a beautiful love story with both stories propelled forward with golf as the driving force.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

tommydadWe meet Tommy Sr. appearing to be a gruff and less than personable old codger.  Beneath that exterior, however, lies a sad yet proud father, needing to tell his story…his son’s story.

Tommy Morris, Jr. (Jack Lowden) is a caddy’s son and that is what he is expected to be when he grows up, but he has other plans.  He’s an exceptional golfer and he wants more out of life than his father’s predetermined destiny.   Playing competitively in the late 1800′s hasn’t taken on the same life as it has in today’s world of golf.  Tommy, however, sees the potential and at every possible fork in the road, he takes the path less traveled, much to his father’s chagrin.  This path isn’t an easy one as Tommy and his father are at odds and Tommy Jr. is also, perhaps unwittingly, fighting a much bigger fight…that of inequality.  We also see this as he falls in love witommyth a woman with a disreputable past; one which his mother seems unwilling to allow and accept.  But this head-strong Scotsman will not be deterred and proves to be not just a golfer, but a pioneer in recognizing social wrongs, but most importantly, it is a bitter-sweet love story showing us the power and depth of true love.

 

The story is a complicated one, delving deeply into the muddy waters of various types of relationships.  “Tommy’s Honour” eloquently captures the stressful and oftentimes frustrating times in a father and son’s relationship.  Seeing this from both sides of the coin enables us to truly feel both empathy and sympathy for both Tommy Sr. and Tommy Jr.  A typical young man in many ways, he rebels against his parents’ wishes, yet he still maintains a certain respect and loyalty until he finds and falls in love with Meg (Lovibond).  The two, similar in many ways, compliment one another, creating a complete couple.  With disapproving parents, it is Meg’s fortitude that is inspiring.  The delicate balance among family members, new and old, is carefully crafted in this film giving it a sense of reality while it clings to the beauty of true love on every level.

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The film eloquently layers meaningful dialogue, the subtleties of non-verbal language, and  stunning visual cinematography to transport us into this world.  We understand every emotion from each of the characters and can almost feel the sea breeze or the warmth of the fireplace burning in the quaint and crowded cottage.  We learn of the harshness of this particular family and the segregations and inequities of the classes as well as that of men and women in this era.  Tommy Jr. is different and everything he touches, he changes.  While he is far from a perfect young man—he loved to imbibe a bit too much and gambling was just a source of income—he knew he wanted or actually, needed more. Buried beneath all of this we find the game of golf–its origins and development—and Tommy’s impact. And who knew that this game was once a rather raucous event!

Lowden simply shines in this lead role, paying homage to Tommy Morris Jr.’s life.  Carefully, Lowden peels back the layers of this complicated man, allowing us to know him.  Lowden’s natural Scottish accent gives us an even greater sense of authenticity, but it is his ability to embody this character that feels absolutely genuine.  The connection also feels real between he and Lovibond’s character of Meg.  As a determined and shunned woman in a less than accepting town and era, we feel her pain and humiliation and feel pride as she shows us her strength.  While the entire cast is sublime, it is Peter Mullin’s portrayal as Tommy Sr. that completes this heartfelt family story.  Together, this ensemble cast produces a convincingly earnest tale that will reaffirm your belief in love.

To create such a powerful scenario, the script must not only be strong, but the vision of the director has to be equally sound.  Given that tissues were needed is the testament to the solid writing and directing of this engaging film.

“Tommy’s Honour” cannot and should not be classified as a golf story.  It’s an exciting and emotional story about life, obligation, and love.  It’s a beautiful portrayal of the power of love and our relationships in life.  While the film centers around an exceptionally talented golfer, and we do learn a bit about the origins, at the heart of it all is love.

Watch for the interview with the lead actors, producers, and the director!

 

 

 

 

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The 18th Annual Phoenix Film Festival is well underway and what a year it has been so far!  While it’s impossible to see all of these films, the weekend has proved to be absolutely spectacular.  Check out the capsule reviews below and watch for full reviews in the coming weeks of the highlights so far.

“The Hero”

Brett Haley, the talent behind the writing and directing of “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” brings us yet another poignant commentary on life and aging with “The Hero,” starring Sam Elliott.  Lee Hayden (Elliott) finds his life’s work of acting waning as he ages, but when he receives a cancer diagnosis, his future seems dismal.  Attempting to  right therohe wrongs in his life, he finds that the future is what you make it.  Filled with introspection and humor, Hayden finds that life can still be meaningful even after the age of 70.  The humor, sometimes bittersweet, balances this beautiful story and Elliott shows us that he is the quintessential leading man, no matter his age.  (Opens in theaters June 9)  THE HERO Trailer

 

 

 

“Brave New Jersey”

Brave-New-Jersey-movie-7This quirky and star-filled spoof takes us back to the night that Orson Welles’ legendary 1938 “War of the Worlds” aired in the small farming town of Lullaby, New Jersey, just miles away from the supposed attack.  As this sleepy little town must now awaken and take heed, the true personalities of each are revealed.  It feels like a reunion of great comic television actors who have found a way to have a blast as they create new and frequently over-the-top characters in a solid and unique story.  Clark (Tony Hale) is madly inlove with Lorraine (Heather Burns) who is married to the mayor and bully, while Reverand Ray Rogers (Dan Bakkedahl) attempts to lead his congregation, but is more lost and irreverent than his followers.  And Sheriff Dandy (Mel Rodriguez) shines as the hapless law enforcer.  This sweet love story/dramedy will have you in stitches as you laugh and root for the underdog.  BRAVE NEW JERSEY Trailer

 

“Quaker Oaths”

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Divorce is never easy, but throw into the equation the Quaker rules and it becomes an almost insurmountable yet hilarious task.  Joe (Alex Dobrenko, “Arlo and Julie”) and Emily are married under Quaker tradition which includes all guests signing their marriage certificate.  The couple having lived apart for five of the six years of marriage,  decide to finally call it quits officially.  Upon Emily’s parents’ request, the two road trip across the country to get each guests’ signature crossed off.  As Emily and Joe reconnect and with each guest they  try to convince to cross off their name, they discover a little bit more about one another and themselves.  Filled with miscommunications and comedic situations as well as unusual characters, it’s an entertaining journey about life, love, and all the bumps in the road.  QUAKER OATHS Trailer

 

 

 

“The Midnighters”

First-time filmmaker Julian Fort creates a heart-pounding crime thriller taking you into the life of ex-con Victor who can’t resist one last bank heist…with his son, Danny (Gregory SimThe Midnighterss).  Victor (Leon Russom), sees that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but the Danny (Gregory Sims) is in way over his head.  This intense story will keep you guessing as the plot twists and turns and as you watch the characters’ motives unfold.  Skillful editing and cinematography add to this stylized drama.  What makes this particular film stand apart from many others like it is its ability to create sympathy and empathy for Victor.  We truly care for this man who continues to make one bad decision after another, but he is also a father who loves his son.  This is one impressive first-time feature film.

 

 

“Second Hand Hearts”

secondhandheartsYoung love.  We’ve all been through it, but what happens when you meet your true love only to find out it’s your girlfriend’s sister?  As Ben (Ben Isaacs) is in Japan as a freelance photographer, he bumps into Emily (Mallory Corinne) and there is an immediate spark and much, much more.   It’s a classic love story, but with a higher dose of reality making it much more relatable than most films in this genre. “Second Hand Hearts” is a non-linear story allowing us to be in the present as we understand what has happened in the recent past.  While there are some pacing issues and the character of Jaime seems a little inconsistent, it’s a film that is intriguing, keeping you invested in wanting to know how this ends.   SECOND HAND HEARTS Trailer

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Dave Made A Maze”

Director Bill Watterson co-wrote this extraordinarily unusual film with Steven Sears about a grown man who builds a maze out of a cardboard box in his living room whildave-made-a-maze-4e his girlfriend is away for the weekend. Upon her return, she finds that he is “lost” in this box.  Gathering a rescue team comprised of his friends, the group ventures in to a world in which they are not prepared.  It’s a gruesomely hilarious romp with exaggerated characters and a touch of charming sweetness.  The set designs will blow your mind as these creative storytellers take advantage of your childhood nightmares in this mesmerizing film.   DAVE MADE A MAZE Trailer

AN INTERVIEW WITH WATTERSON, THUNE, and KUMBHANI

 

 

“Killing Ground”

imageAustralian filmmaker Damien Power creates a chilling psychological thriller in “Killing Ground” as a young couple ventures out into the country for a weekend camping trip.  Noticing another campsite not far away with no activity for hours, the couple looks for clues as to where they might be.  As they find a toddler wandering nearby, their greatest fears don’t begin to compare to the horror that lies ahead.  Power sets up the perfect situations in this film that give you a sense of dread, pushing your every sense to a tipping point.  It is not a classic horror film; it is much more.  It’s clever and unpredictable as you face some of your own biggest fears.  The cast is stellar witha brilliant script and cinematography bringing you into the characters’ world of the “Killing Ground.  KILLING GROUND Trailer

 

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There are still many days ahead at the PFF with opportunities to see these films and many more!  Be sure to put “Norman,” “Graduation,” and “Tommy’s Honour” on your must-see list this week!  Go to www.phoenixfilmfestival.com for more information and screening times.

 

 

imageAnne Hathaway has spearheaded this unique, genre-bending film written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo in which she and Jason Sudeikis star.  Combining  biting humor with dramatic horror, “Colossal” brings us into the psyche of two friends, Gloria and Oscar, from childhood.  How powerful is our mind?  ”Colossal” answers that question in epic proportions as these two fight for survival.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Gloria (Hathaway) is a party girl, living or should I say, sponging off of her successful boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) until one day, he has had enough and kicks her out.  With just a sac on her back, appearing a bit like a hobo, she returns to her hometown to live in her parents’ abandoned house.   Resolving to quit drinking and partying, she runs into her old chum Oscar (Sudeikis) who runs a local family tavern.  As the two reconnect, a horrific event occurs half-way around the world in Seoul, Korea.  Eventually, she determines there’s a connection, but is it too late?  Wrestling the demons from within prove to be just as difficult as the ones that stand before her on the playground from her past.

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“Colossal” is one of the most unexpectedly ingenious films of recent past.  While it has the elements of a good, old-fashioned monster story, stomping buildings and scattering pedestrians, it also incorporates the most deeply human internal conflict imaginable into the story.  Initially, it feels like an ordinary break-up/love story, but I can assure you it is anything BUT that!  Gloria and Oscar appear to be old buddies, particularly as Oscar shows her his chivalrous side, helping in anymaxresdefault (1) way that he can.  But he is much more complicated, as is Gloria, both carrying so much baggage from their past.  We get to know these two, their history, and who they truly are all the while attempting to find out how they are connected to the beast wreaking havoc in Korea.

The story finds a way to incorporate horror, drama, and comedy that on the surface, the horror seems preposterous, and it is.  However, the writing and acting is so captivating that you forget that this could never actually happen.  It’s a film that you are happy to suspend all belief and just sit back and enjoy.  Initially, you’re perplexed about how and why the events are occurring, but like a puzzle, all the pieces become apparent and you have fun putting it all together.  It’s laugh-out-loud funny one moment, and thoughtfully sad the next.  And then you’re jumping in your seat and gasping at what has just occurred.  It’s truly an innovate and well-rounded story.

FullSizeRenderWhile the script is quite original, the acting is equally as inspired as we see both of these big name Hollywood stars in roles like never before.  It’s refreshing to see a female lead that is strong and independent, but has gotten there by way of a very bumpy road.  Sudeikis shines in this dark, very dark, role.  We all knew he could do comedy and if you’ve seen “The Book of Love,” you knew he easily creates a dramatic role, but his portrayal of Oscar is seriously dark and he relishes in it.

Hathaway lit the fire to start this film and her spark and energy are captured in her role, all the while being 15 weeks pregnant.  Talking with Hathaway at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival revealed that she believed in the script and in Vigalondo.  She is an advocate of female-centered films and said, “If you want to see more women in movies, support the movies that have women in them.  I try to do my part be getting them made and hopefully making them fun to watch.”  From this reviewer’s perspective, she has succeeded.

“Colossal” is such a sheer joy to watch as you become engrossed in every character and what motivates them.  Hathaway and Sudeikis give us unusual performances allowing us to see another side of these talented actors.  Under the keen direction of Vigalondo, “Colossal” creates a new genre of film with a female in the lead.  Now, that’s a giant leap forward!

For the interview with Hathaway, Sudiekis, and Vigalondo go to http://www.reelhonestreviews.com/?p=3824

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For TIFF coverage from RHR, go to FLM

 

 

 

 

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Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis star in the upcoming genre-bending film “Colossal,” the brainchild of Spanish writer and director Nacho Vigalondo.  The film finds Gloria (Hathaway), a young woman with a drinking problem, hitting rock bottom as her boyfriend kicks her out and she returns to her hometown.  Bumping into her childhood chum Oscar (Sudeikis), their friendship is renewed, but the deep, dark secrets ever so slowly are revealed as, coincidentally, a monster is wreaking havoc in Seoulmaxresdefault (1), Korea.  The ingeniously creative film is a new spin on good, old-fashioned monster films integrating psychology and horror into one amazingly entertaining movie.

I had a chance to talk with Sudeikis and Hathaway at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and Vigalondo just recently about creating this monstrously fun yet meaningful movie.
The origins stem from Vigalondo’s love of the science-fiction author Phillip K. Dick.  While the concept of the film began as a note on a scrap of paper put into a drawer for a later date, Vigalondo certainly sees the similarities in the completed “Colossal” with Dick’s books.  With larger than life backgrounds, the characters, initially seeming rather ordinary, become extraordinary.

Hathaway and Vigalondo each shared with me how she become connected with the script and while they both eventually had the same story of her agent finding him, it is Vigalondo’s fanciful recollection that was quite humorous.  “I would love to tell you an amazing story right now,” he said.  “Like I decided to go to her place and bring drinks and my guitar.  And I sang a song in front of her porch and she fell in love with me,” he laughed out loud.”  He confided with a bit of remorse, “If I was the kind of person I would want to be, that story would be real.”

nacho-vigalondo-6Being able to create this film, according to Hathaway, couldn’t have been done in her early career.  She said, “I felt ready to take on that responsibility.  I was ready to stand up and say this is my sense of humor. This is what I believe in.  This is a filmmaker I’m backing [and] this is a script I think should be made.”  Regarding women taking on more lead roles and being more proactive in the film industry, Hathaway said, “So much of it’s on the audience.  If you want to see more women in movies, support movies that have women in them.  I try to do my part by getting them made and hopefully making them fun to watch.”

In the beginning, “Colossal” appears to be the fun, light-hearted, predictably sweet reconnection between  Sudeikis and Hathaway’s characters.  Not the case.  In fact, it’s quite

FullSizeRenderthe opposite.  While the film is at all times entertaining, there are actual fight scenes between the two actors, who reportedly are very good friends off-screen.   Vigalondo recalls rehearsing these scenes, “…to shoot it so that nobody is going to be hurt.”  Sudeikis had reassuring words, “There’s a lot of movie magic…No Hathaways were harmed during the filming of this project.”  Thankfully, as she was in her second trimester of pregnancy during the shooting of “Colossal.”

Sudeikis is not his typical, funny, sweet self in “Colossal.”  He’s dark—like we’ve never seen him before.  Vigalondo said, “It’s really exciting when you are giving a talented actor the first villain of his career.  He’s not the kind of…villain that everybody wants to play in a movie.  He just acted like a real asshole that’s really scary [and gets] darker and darker.”  Sudeikis said, “I guess he (Vigalondo) saw this guy in me!”  He laughed that he wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or not.

Both Hathaway and DSC_0790Sudeikis described Vigalondo in rather unusual but very positive ways as they recalled the director took dressing up for Halloween during filming to all-time new level (picture a cat suit with ears), however, the seriousness of one of the film’s topics was addressed…abuse.  Hathaway said, “Nacho’s purpose for making this movie was showing how unnecessary toxic macho energy is.”  She continued to explain this idea, “…where it’s gone too far [and there’s a] toxic pattern of abuse and remorse.  I think we need to examine that as individuals, as a society, and we should not be afraid of doing better.”  Vigalondo said, “The movie deals with some very delicate [and] deep issues…violence in relationships” and he wanted to be sure to be respectful of these issues.

While the film deals with some deeper and very meaningful issues, there’s a lot of laughter, suspense, and fun in the film as well.  “Colossal” transports you to an impossible situation and you willingly suspend belief as the characters and the story take you on a most entertaining trip that you won’t soon forget.  Vigalondo wanted to share one last thought with potential viewers.  “To people who haven’t seen the film, don’t worry.  Even though you’ve read a lot of spoilers, the movie still has a lot of surprises for you.”

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The 17th Annual Phoenix Film Festival (PFF) is one of the biggest celebrations of film in Arizona, attracting high profile celebrities, movies from all over the world and more than 25,000 participants. This 8-day festival, taking place April 6-13, screens more than 175 films under one roof—the Harkins Scottsdale 101 Theater in Phoenix.  This easily navigable festival welcomes the public and is known as a home for independent filmmakers.

PFF has a unique personality, always striving to improve year after year.  Festival director Jason Carney said, “We want to be the best version of our festival we can be.  That means being better than the year before…”  Carney has his pulse on the film industry, recognizing the changes needed and this year, he and his team have created a new program called Unified by Film.  Carney stated, “We wanted to get unique perspectives from filmmakers from different communities [so] this year we have categories for Native American, African American, and Latino American directors.  This will give our audiences an opportunity to see some stories from other perspectives.  Additionally, we had programmers with similar backgrounds select those films to make sure it was personal.”

Carney and his 200 volunteers seem to run like a well-oiled machine, coordinating every detail to make this a premier festival.  The line-up has diverse topics by diverse filmmakers, creating films to appeal to evTommy's_Honour_Posterery palate.  From documentaries and dramas to comedies, horror, and short films, PFF has just the film for you.

Finding just the right film can be daunting, but I have several recommendations to get you started.  PFF’s opening and closing night films are not to be missed—”The Hero” and “Tommy’s Honour.”  Sam Elliott and Nick Offerman star in “The Hero,” a story about  life’s regrets and living life to its fullest.  Elliott’s compelling performance is spell-binding and Offerman’s off-beat verbal cadence and unique perspective reminds us to laugh.   THE HERO Trailer   “Tommy’s Honour” is a father-son story and a love story within the roots of the game of golf.  You’ll have  a new perspective on this once raucous game. TOMMY’S HONOUR Trailer

Sandwiched in the middle of these two exceptional films are more entertaining gems you won’t want to miss.

DAVE MADE A MAZE builds on a child-like concept of getting lost in a box in your living room, making you laugh and gasp while you are in awe of the amazing set design.

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THE KILLING GROUND

The Midnighters 3KILLING GROUND is an Australian psychological horror film that will make you think twice about that camping trip in the wilderness.  It’s gruesome yet brings you to question your own psyche.

GRADUATION is another moralistic conundrum by the famed Darden Brothers as a father attempts to protect and “help” his daughter after being physically attacked near her school.  To what lengths will a parent go to remedy his guilt and make things right again?

IN LOCO PARENTIS is yet another heartfelt journey into parenthood, but these teachers are much more than their title indicates.

The Midnighters

THE MIDNIGHTERS

NORMAN is written and directed by Joseph Cedar and stars Richard Gere as the hapless New Yorker who tries with all his heart to make connections.  It’s beautifully eloquent and meaningful yet whimsical as it portrays this one man’s life and direction.norman poster

Quaker Oaths,” “The Midnighters,” “Fallen,” and “Secondhand Hearts,” are all recommended, but check out the festival schedule and description for even more great films.  PFF Schedule   Don’t miss out on one of the best festivals in the country.

Tickets can be purchased individually or in a package.  For more information, go to PFF Tickets