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REELING: THE CHICAGO LGBTQ+ INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL is currently underway through September 29th, offering award-winning films including full-length features, documentaries, and shorts.  Shaleece Haas (“Old People Driving”) documentarian headlines the festival with her film “Real Boy.”  The filmmaker follows Ben over the course of 4 years as he transitions from being “Rachael,” to “Ben.”  It’s a sublime look into the emotional toll this process takes on not just Ben, but his family and his relationships.  The raw honesty of this film enables you to better understand the personal struggle a transgender individual faces.

“Real Boy” not only harnesses important moments such as a surgical procedure, but through the use of interviews, we hear from Ben, his mom, and his best friend.  Ben’s quest to become the person he has always felt he should be, connects you with him.  The film reminds us that we all have the same wants and needs in life:  to be loved and accepted.

As a part of Ben’s transition, Joe Stevens, a member of the band Coyote Grace, mentors this young man as he too went through the same process.  Depicting these two parallel lives along with some amazing music from both Joe and Ben, and you have a film that will enlighten you during a time when the LGBQT community needs all of us to understand and accept everyone.

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For more information about this festival and all of the films, go to www.reelingfilmfestival.org  or follow @reelingfilmfest on Twitter for updated info and ticket promotions.  The films are being shown at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark St., Chicago.

 

 

 

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You’re in luck! See the stars, be the first to see not-yet-released films and even ask questions of the writers and directors following. Everyone who loves movies can attend the upcoming 52nd Chicago International Film Festival, or CIFF, from Oct. 13-27.

Read the article in its entirety here as it was published in the Friday, August 23rd edition of The Daily Journal.

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Have you ever left a theater thinking, “I am so glad I spent my time and money to go see that film?”  If you haven’t, then this is the one that will make you utter those glorious words.  Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, and Liam Hemsworth star in this Australian tragedy/comedy stylized revenge film written and directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and based on the novel by Rosalie Ham.  It’s an over-the-top humorous look at Tilly (Winslet), her quest for knowledge and revenge while she attempts to reconnect with her reclusive and very feisty mother, “Mad Molly” (dressmakerredDavis).

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Set in 1951 in the outback of Australia, Tilly returns to this one-horse town comprised of just a few wooden structures.   It’s reminiscent of the “Little House on the Prairie” or the Wild West.  Tilly is a sharp contrast to her surroundings as she is gorgeously outfitted in her own designer clothing, armed only with a suitcase and a sewing machine to combat the town’s curmudgeons and busybodies.   And armed she must be as she is there to gain information about her repressed and apparent ghastly past.  As she marches up the steps to her mother’s rat-infested, dilapidated house on the hill, Tilly and Molly have a less than favorable mother-daughter reunion.  Soon the entire gossipy, caddy little town knows that “the murderess” is back, but Tilly fights back by transforming the local women into exquisite creations using haute couture.  It’s a wild ride filled with humor, love, compassion, and deep, dark secrets.  In other words, it’s a perfect combination!

This Aussie production reminds me of the recently released “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” as it creates a preposterously wonderful situation and runs with it.  Tilly is a classic beauty with intelligence and heart, but she needs to find the truth behind a tragic incident that occurred when she was a child.  As she begins to interact with the townspeople, all in need of a little Dior-esque magic, the town transforms.  With exaggerated roles, the story is rich and stunning, emotionally as well as visually.

“The Dressmaker” has the classic elements of an epic tale:  The mysterious woman, the evil doers, some slap-stick physical humor,  a few plot twists, and the deception, all in almost cartoon-like structure.  Oh!  And there’s a love story, full of dreamy romance that wdressmakerliamill make you feel like you’re being swept off your feet too!  It’s such a rich and stunning story, both emotionally and visually.

The cast is brilliant.  Who better to portray the designer wanna-be  Sergeant Farrat than Hugo Weaving? He’s an odd duck who just doesn’t fit in…he’s perfect.  Then we have Alison Whyte creating the timidly nervous Marigold Pettyman  who succumbs to the elixir her husband pours her each night.   She brings heart and compassion to the story in sublime balance.  And let us not forget the strikingly gorgeous Teddy McSwiney (Hemsworth) who Tilly yearns for, is a sheer pleasure to see on the screen.

Winslet was born to play this role with her classic beauty and innate sense of confidence.  Her character, hard-nosed with a protective armor, softens beautifully and we truly grow to love this woman.  At the heart of the story is her reldressmakergertrudeationship with her mother played by Davis who is simply spectacular.  Initially thought to be senile, she conveys a wisdom with a playful sense of humor perfectly.  Davis is a master at delivering comedic lines as well as making us laugh with her physical comedy.  With both women, make up or a lack thereof (and a blacked out tooth) allows them to portray their characters with deft skill.   Hemsworth’s character would make any woman swoon as the film captures his exquisite physidressmakerliam2cal beauty, but he also conveys a deeply thoughtful and understanding man.  He’s quite the dream.   Every character, no matter the role, is wonderfully over-the-top fun, allowing us to love, hate, or pity them.

The writing, acting, and directing all fit together with absolute precision.  It’s a film that you can escape into, laugh aloud, shed a few tears, and cheer for the heroine.  But at the heart of “The Dressmaker” is the unbreakable bond between a mother and a daughter.   When you combine love, truth, and revenge, you get a remarkably entertaining film.  It’ll make you feel like a kid again as you truly experience the film.  Who would have thought that haute couture could be so powerful?

4 Stars/10 Reels

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“After the Storm” is written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, known for recent releases such as “Like Father, Like Son” and “Our Little Sister.”  Kore-eda’s ability to tell a story that crosses all cultural boundaries is a gift that continues to be a part of his most recent film “After the Storm.”  As an impending typhoon threatens,  Ryota deals with the aftermath of his father’s death, his ex-wife and young son, his feisty and wise old mother and a gambling addiction that is affecting every aspect of his life. This sometimes funny, yet poignantly relevant film is truly as refreshing as a summer storm.

Watch the trailer here

I had the distinct pleasure to sit down with this renowned filmmaker during the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to talk about “After the Storm.”  This demur and humble man, with the help of a translator, shared with me insights into what might be his most personal film to date.  After discussing the merits of my new Zoom H2N recorder and some great new transportable technologies, we talked about some of the wonderfully rich and complex characters within the film.  How can a man of middle age write from a perspective of a troubled man, a wise older woman, and a little boy?  He looked intently as he said, “You create the character…and then you take that character and say what environment am I going to put them in.  Once I get to that point, …I just let them talk and the voices just sort of come to me.  It’s like they start talking on their own.”  He began to smirk as he said, “That’s when everything goes smoothly…”

 

The film has autobiographical elements to it as he admitted that not only did his mother actually throw out every item his father owned after he died, there are many scenes which are based on Kore-eda’s own life.  For example, the little boy is certainly his voice when he was younger. He also sees himself in parts of Ryota Abe, but he also sees his own father in Abe as well.  He continued, “So it’s sort of a bit of both of us together that create the character.”  Parental relationships are a large part of this film and with life, as the wise mother in the film states, we all have regrets.  Kore-eda recalled that he too has regrets in life, especially concerning his relationship with both his father and his mother.  With both now having passed away, he felt that “…through film, you’re trying to sort of reconcile it.  I don’t know if you can get back what you haven’t done, but in a sense, maybe you can look at it from a different perspective.  Through working on the film, I, myself can rewrite what happened a little bit.”

This therapeutic relationship with film actually goes much deeper than what meets the eye.  Kore-eda fondly recalls the feeling and the scene following a typhoon he experienced as a child.  “After the typhoon, I came outside in the morning.  I had my schoolbag on my back and the grass was so green and sparkling…it felt as if something had been purified, that something had been released in that moment.  That’s kind of the feeling in the film as well.  You have his [Ryota’s] life and it keeps going, but in that last moment….something has shifted, something has been cleaned out.  It’s refreshing and it looks different” without resolving everything.

Women in the film, no matter their role, are all very strong, wise, and independent.  Kore-eda confirmed that this is intentional and actually replicates his environment.  He also confided that a lot of men are quite helpless, much like the men in the film.  One of my favorite lines in the film made Kore-eda laugh aloud, confirming that this is typical of his male characters in “After the Storm:”  “Men can’t love the present.  They’re always chasing what they’ve lost or dreaming of what they can’t have.”

Laughter is actually one of his goals in this very poignant and touching film.  He loved hearing audiences at TIFF really laughing and responding to his humor.  He humbly said, “Certainly I don’t have some profound lesson about life.  I remember there was a group of women around the same age as Kiki [watching the film].  They laughed and cried.  You watch the film and you see a piece of yourself.  It’s very close to you and close to your life.  Seeing people responding in that way…that’s enough for me.”

“After the Storm” will touch your life and open your eyes to see things in a new and perhaps a fresh way.  The film will be a part of the upcoming Chicago International Film Festival, playing October 19 and 20.  For more information about getting tickets, go to www.chicagofilmfestival.com

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“The  41st Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was a dazzling star-studded event with famous actors and an endless number of films, presentations, and parties. This charming city bursts at the seams with action, glamour, live music performances, outdoor dining, and more than 500 films and events to attend.  Unlike other industry insider festivals, here all are welcome to dine, listen to jazz, and see a few films.  TIFF is the place to see and be seen without all the pretension of Hollywood.  But in true Hollywood style, the red carpet action sizzles as onlookers get to see some of their favorite stars looking their absolute best.

To read the article in its entirety, go to FETE LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE

 

 

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When you think independent film, you envision a creative filmmaker scraping together funding, asking friends to borrow homes or other settings for a day of filming, and even enlisting talented friends who might know sound engineering or those that can act.  I think this wonderfully written and well-executed production just might fit this rather romanticized version of an indie film.  Shot in North Carolina over a 23 day period for a mere $25,000, Michael Howard brought his words from the page to full living color with the help of talented individuals who believed in his project.  With the cooperation of the town to use churches, warehouses, and even the police department to shut down streets and use squad cars, Howard shows us that you don’t need a multimillion dollar budget to have a quality production.

“Where We’re Meant To Be” is a series of several vignettes which all overlap in seemingly random ways.  It is this coordinated “randomness” that brings to the forefront of our thoughts how meaningful those smallest of moments in life just might be.  As we find ourselves watching Charlie (Blayne Weaver) and Anna (Tate Hanyok) interact on a blind date, their journey sets the ball in motion, if you will.  Their actions reverberate like ripples in the ocean, setting the scene for the next story.   The domino effect of actions continues to stitch together several more stories revolving around death, God, happiness, murder, and even a first sexual experience.  All of these lives are intertwined, sometimes marginally, but always beautifully and powerfully to send home the message that our actions have a lasting impact.

The stories are all very poignant, but the two that stand out, because of the incredible acting, are the blind date and the kidnapping.  Weaver (“Favor”) and Hanyok (“Shameless”) portray that natural chemistry and awkwardness of a blind date that’s going quite well.  Their cowwmtb-film-shot6mmunication, both verbally and non-verbally, brings you to the table to experience their thoughts and feelings, always with a smile on your face.  It would be easy to listen to the two talk for hours as we learn about their lives and their older and wiser take on what the future holds.  The film then takes a darker turn as we witness a kidnapping and crime with an undercover cop.  It’s a brutal and harsh scene that will quite literally take your breath away.  Howard takes on the role of John, revealing that this talented filmmaker is comfortable both behind and in front of the camera.

While there are some pacing issues, particularly as the sister deals with the guilt and aftermath of her brother awwmtb-film-shot3nd nephew dying,  the heftiness of the topic may deserve the time allotted.  The musical score in this film augments the stories perfectly, creating hopefulness as well as emphasizing some of the more dire situations.  Overall, this film allows you to not only see the value in your actions and your words, but in the serendipitous nature of all the positive things in our world.

“Where We’re Meant To Be” is a thoughtful, beautiful film full of love and emotion.  Creating such a philosophical and entertaining film on this budget should be lauded as a true accomplishment.  Be sure to catch this film…it might just change how you see the world.

 

 

 

 

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I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with the energetic and truly lovely cast and writer/director of the film “Katie Says Goodbye” at the Toronto International Film Festival recently.  Olivia Cooke, Mireille Enos, Chris Lowell, and Wayne Roberts openly and eagerly talked about the intensity of the story, its origins, and how they brought this film to life.

“Katie Says Goodbye” was the brainchild of Roberts who conceived of this character during his college days, over a glass or two of “…cheap wine in a cafe in some little dive that no longer exists, listening to music and I just had this image of Katie.  [She] touched me in some way and selected me to tell her story.”  The story is a harsh, yet beautiful and inspiring one, as Katie waits tables at a truck stop and prostitutes herself to raise money to support her mother and to ultimately escape this life.  Her coping skill is her positivity, but as she falls in love with a newcomer, her reputation catches up to her, challenging her seemingly eternal resilience.

As we sat around the banquet conversing about how each exceptionally rich character came to life, the cast resoundingly credited Roberts.  Everyone appeared excited to tell me how Roberts, in his atypical style of directing, helped them perform to their potential.  Enos, in her sweet, soft voice with a huge smile on her face, said, “The script spoke for itself, but then this man has such clarity of vision…everything he said was so compelling and it was so clear.”  Lowell  chimed in to explain that Roberts gave each of the cast members “…a list of extremely specific details about moments in our life that helped shape the people that we became.”  For example, Enos said, “I once hitch hiked with Katie when she was a baby.”  And Lowell, playing the evil character of Dirk said that his list included, “Dirk has more than once taken advantage of a woman who has had too much to drink.  He’s crossed the line in certain ways…never to the extent that we see in the film.  It’s like a monster is lurking.”  He and Roberts talk over one another as they recall that Dirk is his mother’s favorite and that she still does his laundry.  It was this attention to detail, the cast agrees, that allowed the creation of, as Lowell explained, such “multifacted and three dimensional” characters.

It was obvious that the cast was more than comfortable with Roberts “at the helm,” as Enos described.  He exhibited the ability to find the right dialogue, no matter the character.  Roberts admitted that he is an intense observationalist, truly listening to everyone around him and their style of conversation.  He thoughtfully shared, “I try to connect with every single character that I do write…and if I’m lucky, then the character will speak to me and I simply tell their story and don’t interfere.”  Having seen the film, I wholeheartedly agree that these characters spoke through Roberts.

This interview felt more like friends or family, sitting down to chat about their shared experiences.  Even given the dark nature of this drama, they all had fun.  Lowell said, “The subject matter was so intense that you were spent at the end of every day.  You had to shake it off…we laughed a lot.  We joked a lot.” However, Roberts broke in, “The day of the assault was different.”  Cooke then reminded everyone that they all went out for dinner that night and had a wonderful evening.  Like her character of “Katie,” Cooke is the one to find the positive in that day.

It was quite obvious to me that this family of actors were not only proud of the film they have completed, but they were better for it.  Before I left, I wanted to know how they each have grown from this experience.  Cooke felt that Roberts allowed a part of herself to shine through “Katie” and Enos, although her character is never going to receive the Mother of the Year Award, expresses deep appreciation to the lessons her own mother taught her and that she hopes to teach her children.  Lowell felt empowered to know that he could play such a dark role and because of Roberts’ nurturing leadership, he is now able to trust his instincts more.  “It was all the things that you hope a project is going to do for you…this project did.”

Roberts response?  “Very damn sweet…I gotta keep it together,”  he chuckled, but beneath the laugh, you could hear that he was truly touched by what they all had to say.

 

 

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First-time feature filmmaker Wayne Roberts executes an extraordinary story about a young woman’s quest to have a better life while dealing with the continual harsh realities of her circumstances.  With an all-star cast including Olivia Cooke, Jim Belushi, Mary Steenburgen, Chris Abbott, Chris Lowell, and Mireille Enos, the story comes to full life, delving deeply into the human psyche, relationships, and hope.

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Wayne Roberts, Olivia Cooke, Mireille Enos, and Chris Lowell

Katie (Cooke) is a waitress and part-time prostitute in a desolate desert town, but she has dreams of one day escaping this life she leads.  Her circumstances, to most, would seem overwhelming, as her boss (Steenburgen) verbalizes in a motherly and protective way, but Katie never loses her positive spirit and goal of leaving…until she meets and falls in love with Bruno (Abbott), a newcomer to town.  Establishing a relationship in a small community filled with gossip and cruelty, is more difficult than she could have imagined.  The consequences and challenges she must face and endure begin to smother her, and Katie’s emotional survival is at stake.

“People need to appreciate things more…life is so amazing,” says Katie even as we see her worthless mother take complete advantage of her and men doing the same.  Your heart breaks as you see this young woman not only survive, but attempt to break free of the chains that hold her here.  The spark of positivity is always shining…her goal of leaving always the focal point.

Relationships are complex and the story brings us deep within all that Katie experiences.   She supports her mother who is more than physically capable of doing so.  We see the disappointment in her face as she puts on the facade that everything is ok.  Maybelle (Steenburgen) is wise, acting more like a mother than Katie will ever have, but again, Katie protects others from experiencing her atrocities.  Surprisingly, although Katie’s father is missing in action, she prays each night to him, wanting him to be proud.  The most unlikely man in her life, Bear (Belushi) is a “regular,” but is also a sweet father-figure to her, giving her guidance in life.  This character opposition is unusual, but in its own way, very loving.  The relationships that are most disturbing are with other males in town, from the teacher who “visits” to the young men who are brutal and harsh beyond words.  There are scenes that will leave you speechless and take your breath away while tears stream down your face.

The ensemble cast expertly creates deep and realistic characters, some of whom you truly despise.  Cooke’s performance is simply sensational.  She develops a complex character  so well that we feel as if we know her.  We understand her reactions, her disappointments, and her actions.  Even though we don’t approve of her choices, we are endeared to her personality and positive energy.  Cooke creates a character we truly care about.  She is one of the most promising young actors to hit Hollywood.

Belushi is one of the few actors that could portray “Bear.”  He creates the kindness in a male character that the story needs for balance.  The goodness he exudes, even though he is using Katie for sex, melts your heart.  Enos portrays  the epitome of a bad mom, but she too has depth and reasons for her situation.  Enos conveys this expertly, allowing us to dislike her, yet understand her at the same time.

Lowell shines just as brightly as someone we immediately hate.  We get a sense from him that he’s bad to the bone.  His look, his body language, and his tone all create a truly despicable character as “Dirk.”  Together, the entire cast tells this beautifully  intimate story of life and desperation, but most importantly hope.

To know that this is Roberts first attempt at screenwriting and directing is truly shocking.  The expert skill he exhibits in creating this heart-wrenching story that will strike a chord deep within you is simply astounding.  The characters he creates are extraordinarily real and not only compliment the story, but complete it.  Bringing the words that are written on the page to life, casting just the right actors, and then extracting the perfect performance from them is an arduous task, but Roberts confidently does so.  His style of directing and communication, according to the cast during an interview, is unusual and allows the actors to give their best performances.  (Check back to read and listen to the entire interview.)

“Katie Says Goodbye” takes us on a remarkable emotional journey of life, filled with hope and countered by reality.  It’s a powerfully evocative story with outstanding performances, beautiful dialogue, and most importantly, a lasting effect of optimism.

 

 

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Finding an indie gem is like discovering gold, except you really want to tell everyone about it.  ”Katie Says Goodbye” is truly one of those golden film festival gems.  First time writer and director Wayne Roberts enters the festival arena with this polished story, eloquent and heartbreaking, yet still inspiring, starring Olivia Cooke, Jim Belushi, Chris Abbott, Chris Lowell, and Mirielle Enos.  This is the culmination of talent and dedication this film requires to give it the life it deserves.

Katie (Cooke) is living in a trailer park wasteland with her rather worthless mother (Enos).  Katie, the epitome of positivity, waits tables in a diner and for a little extra cash in order to escape this town, she sells herself to the local men.    But when she meets and falls in love with a newcomer, Bruce (Abbott), her reputation in town catches up with her, challenging that youthful resilience and positive outlook.

“Katie Says Goodbye” is one of the most evocative and heartwrenching dramas of the Toronto International  Film Festival.  Cooke displays the acting skills of someone more than double her age, giving a grippingly complex and layered performance.  We are taken along Katie’s journey, watching her mistakes, and wondering just how much more this young girl can take before she breaks.  The supporting cast is stellar, working in perfect harmony to bring this spellbinding story to the appropriate end.

If you see one dramatic film here at TIFF, see “Katie Says Goodbye.”  It’s powerful, inspiring, and will leave you with a sense of appreciation because “life is so amazing.”

For more information, go to www.tiff.net

Be sure to check back right here for a full review of this stellar standout as well as an audio interview with the cast.

4 STARS

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Be sure to see the emotionally profound short film “Half A Man” tonight at TIFF.  The writer and director will be on hand to answer questions about the making of this film.  If you can’t make it, check back soon for a complete interview with these talented filmmakers!

“Half A Man,” part of the Toronto International Film Festival ‘Short Cuts’ program, packs in full-length emotion in under 20 minutes.  In this beautifully shot film directed by Kritina Kumric and written by Maja Hrgovic depicting her personal story about the effects of war in a very different way.  It’s the impact upon the family seen from a child’s perspective which is not typically acknowledged let alone portrayed in film.  We see how war changes everyone in a family,  how you look at life and how you live it.  ”The short film is the winning project of the competition ‘One picture from the Homeland War,’” a part of the Croatian Adiovisual Centre and the Ministry of Veterans’ Affairs.  It is also a part of the book ‘Zivjet cemo bolje’ (‘We Live Better’) authored by Hrgovic as well.  ”The film is a result of a nationwide competition seeking to address the traumas sustained by war veterans and their loved ones.”

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Read the full review at www.reelhonestreviews.com

For tickets to see the film, go to www.tiff.net