aliveALIVE INSIDE: A STORY OF MUSIC AND MEMORY is a scientifically emotional film about our basic abilities as humans:  communication and connections.  Over a three year period, filmmaker Michael Rosatto-Bennett followed Dan Cohen as he visited various nursing facilities.  What takes place on the screen seems almost impossible.  It is truly magical.  Patients with little connection to people and their environment, some with no recognition of their own adult children, put a set of headphones on, plug into an iPod programmed with songs of their generation and PRESTO! they come to life.  They talk about what they are listening to; they reminisce about the time period; and they talk about their feelings. But most importantly, they are connected to people.  With music, they come back to the world around them and are living again.
I know this sounds like magic, but neurology actually supports this observation.  With the disease of dementia, the hippocampus or memory area of our brains, is affected.  It looks a bit like a bunch of spider webs throwing off the pathways in our brain, making it impossible for proper connections to take place. But music memory isn’t stored here.  Music reaches all the different areas of our brain and stimulates synapses or fireworks of communication so that we “wake up!”  Music touches us all on so many different levels, and Dan Cohen with his endeavors has helped to bring life back into these older folks who had given up and recoiled within themselves.

We baby-boomers will be inhabiting this earth, growing exponentially over the next 2 decades.  Don’t we want to help our own parents age more gracefully as well as set the precedent for our own care in the coming years?  See this film and empower yourself.




I’ll admit that I was dreading seeing “Sex Tape.”  I had a choice to review “Begin Again” or “Sex Tape” for  the Friday edition of ‘The Daily Journal.’  I chose the former, thankfully!  With “Sex Tape,” just the title and the cast more than hinted at the fact that it was going to be crass and brain-numbing.  Don’t get me wrong.  There was a part of me that had hope.  I’ll admit that I found parts of “Bad Teacher” starring the same two actors, quite funny in parts, but I think that was due to Lucy Punch.   “Sex Tape,” however, was lucky to get a couple of mild chuckles from me.

The basic premise of the film is this:  A married couple, Annie (Diaz) and Jay (Segel) with two kids lead a hectic life and no time for each other, including no time for sex.  Yeah, no great shakes so far.  In an attempt to spice things up, the two create a sex tape which magically gets uploaded to “the cloud.”  In an effort to stop the tape from being seen


by all their friends and the entire world, the two go to great lengths to get it back.  That’s it.  In a nutshell.  Tell you what, check out the trailer and save yourself $7-$10 because if you see the trailer, you see the film.  You also see all the funny parts and hear all the mildly humorous lines.  Yes, I find “the cloud” to be quite mysterious myself.  My daughter and I were on the same cloud for a while and I kept telling her to get off of it (insert Rolling Stones tune here).  Neither one of us was sure how to do it, but I know I don’t like sharing clouds.  I now have a very bizarre music playlist on my iPod that I find difficult to use while running.  Justin Bieber’s musical skills  just don’t do it for me.

sextape65Back to the movie.  I’m all for a good escape movie withno depth whatsoever.  But the key word in that last sentence is “good.”  ”Sex Tape” has to rank as one of the worst movies I’ve seen this year.  And I’ve seen some dogs.  The film is  truly boring.  I can only see Jason Segel’s ass so many times in a movie before I’ve seen enough.  I’m sure you men out there will enjoy the partial nudity from Cameron Diaz.  There are two possible saving graces in this film:  Rob Lowe and Rob Corddry.  I fsextaperobind these two men funny in whatever they do…until now.  Lowe played the millionaire CEO of the company proposing to buy Annie’s mommy blog.  His deadpan style of humor is poorly written and the direction he received couldn’t carry out any humor.  Corddry is totally underutilized and gives no additional comedic sextapelowevalue to the film.  Now let’s toss in Jack Black and we have complete raunchy, idiotic humor.  Thankfully, he only appears near the end of the film and in only one scene.  

What more can I say?  Crass, raunchy, dull, and predictable are words to describe this waste of time film.  But really, what did you expect?  I got what I expected.  A waste of a beautiful evening when I should have been on the deck drinking a glass of wine and chatting with friends.  See what I do to save all of you readers your time and money?  (Please send thank you’s in the form of red wine.)



1 Reel because I liked “the cloud” joke


John Carney has done it again.  What?  You don’t recognize that name?  Don’t feel bad.  I didn’t recognize the name either, but “once” I did, I saw why I loved his new film “Begin Again” so much.  He is also responsible for the brilliantly written and  musically rich film “Once” that went on to be a live musical stage production.  “Begin Again” continues along the same astounding  musical pathway to entertain, captivate, and satisfy all who watch and listen.  The unusual pairing of Kiera Knightley and Mark Ruffalo bring life and love to Carney’s new words and vision.


Gretta (Knightley) is a bitter and angry transplanted Brit, living inDSC_4019 NYC with some obvious musical talents.  As she sits on the couch of a dive bar listening to her friend demonstrate his not-so-talented musical skills, she is cajoled into performing an original song with a Nora Jones overtone.  Surprisingly, there’s only one other person in the room who seems to be aware of this raw talent—Dan (Ruffalo), the rather drunken, hapless looking bum who is spellbound.  Quickly, the film changes gears and gives us the needed information of what happened earlier in the day to bring both of our lead actors to the point at which we are currently seeing them.  You see, they both have baggage.   They both have hit their own rock bottom and are looking to escape in one way or another.  


The story captures you from the opening scene.  Overall, Dan and Gretta’s stories are quite similar, yet separated by youth and middle age.  Dan and his wife have issues and are separated and Dan seems disconnected from his tbeginagain3eenage rebellious daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld).  Gretta skipped happily across the ocean from the UK with her boyfriend only to have love issues envelop her; suffocating her to a point of almost no return.  But together, Dan and Gretta find hope in one another.  With Dan’s past skills in running a record label and Gretta’s raw talent, they work together to find themselves and help each other.


Dan and Gretta are familiar characters as we can all relate to many of their situations and feelings.  But there’s a refreshing aspect to this story as there are no good guys or bad guys: it’s just about life.  In any life there is sadness, anger, love, and occasional triumph and humor. The multiple story layers in this film give it complexity without confusion.  Each character is completely developed so that you understand their decisions and thought processes.

beginagain2Mark Ruffalo, continues to amaze me with his more daring and risky roles.  “The Kids Are Alright,” the upcoming “Infinitely Polar Bear” and now “Begin Again” truly highlight his rich acting skills.  Kiera Knightley is also so much more than a pretty face and the counterpart to Johnny Depp’s pirate.  She shows heart and depth, not to mention an extraordinary singing voice!  And who knew Maroon 5’s Adam Levine had acting talent as well as exceptional vocal chords.  Steinfeld has played the rebellious teen daughter in other recent films (“3 Days to Kill), but this film is the calibre that suits her best.  The remainder of the cast perfectly augments  Dan and Gretta so there is absolutely no dischord in the harmony of this film.  That phrase brings me to the music.  Wow!  Rarely am I truly pulled in to feel the music in a film. With each and every original song, there is pure emotional delight.  Using songs from many generations, songs such as Dooley Wilson’s “As Time Goes By” and Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be A Lady Tonight,” among many others, NYC was painted in a beautiful light.  You will absolultely lose yourself in every song, original and familiar.

“Begin Again” is a winner on all fronts.  The writing and directing of an initially non-linear story, is beautifully poetic and lyrical.  When you combine stunning original music, NYC as a backdrop, and an engaging and complex story, the film not only stands out, it enthralls you.  It’s a different kind of love story; it’s a love of life, relationships, and learning from our past mistakes.  It’s the best kind of love story.  levine

This film is suited for all ages (older teens and on up) and both genders.  It will definitely appeal to music lovers and make music lovers out of the rest of us.  This is the first film I didn’t want to end.  It could have been a 3 hour movie and I’d have been happy.  It’s also a film whose soundtrack I will be purchasing.  Maybe for a buck.  See the movie and you’ll understand that last sentence!


9 Reels




The Kankakee area is hosting the Off-Color Theatre Company’s production of THE OUT OF TOONERS all week long!  This troupe, set for Italy, will be performing at the Kankakee Public Library, free of charge, to its residents.  Thanks to the connections and inspiration of our Artist in Residence, Brandi Burgess, we, the audience, over the next several days will get a chance to not only laugh at the comedy sketches, but to also have input in the changes in the production.  This troupe is entrusting us to give them feedback to tweak the show to a perfect state!

DSC_5732As I went in for a sneak peek at the first rehearsal this morning, the crowd of performers ran off the stage to greet me.  No, actually, they ran off the stage to greet my puppy.  He has that effect

DSC_5756on people.  But don’t get me wrong, they were very welcoming to me too!  The troupe graciously allowed me to get a glimpse of the skits and jokes that will ensue over the week’s time.  But comedy is serious business too.  Every few moments, the directors and actors would stop to change just a little detail in the delivery or the line.  These subtleties made a huge impact upon the overall performance.  I was laughing already and it was early in the development process.



Be sure to attend the FREE (yes, it’s free!) comedy shows taking place throughout the week.  It all starts tonight at 7 pm!  And keep coming back as each and every show will change based upon our input!DSC_5741Give the Off-Color Theatre Company your feedback to help them represent the area in their travels to Italy.  It’s sure to be a fun evening of entertainment and laughter.  For more information, check out their Facebook page under Off-Color Theatre Company.



Toni Collette truly has a thousand faces. She can be the insecure divorcee or the frumpy mum in A LONG WAY DOWN.  And now she is  this character of the hip music critic who is still gorgeous at 40-something and can shag a twenty-something with a just a flash of her smile as bait. I’m not sure who has had more fun in the roles she has had recently:  Toni Collette or Julianne Moore.  Ms. Moore starred in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT with Mark Ruffalo and in DON JON with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  Whew!  Let’s hear it for women my age snagging awesome, fun, and sexy roles that are still emotionally intelligent with depth of character.

Collette’s character, Ellie, is a music critiLuckySearchc who has been in the business for a lifetime.  As a youngster, she met and fell in love with an up and coming rock star, Matthew Smith, who made a significant impact upon the music scene.  Unfortunately, he disappeared; an apparent suicide, but never found.  Ellie, a good decade later, still trying to find the next upcoming star, is floundering in her job.  She is assigned to investigate and find Matthew Smith who has been “spotted” performing not far from her location.  Reluctantly, and under the “promise” of getting fired if she didn’t conform, Ellie takes on this assignment…with the a little help from her friends.

Ellie is a very complex character who wants nothing more than to be loved and to give love in return, but she has been burned too badly by Matthew.  In her bar hopping search, she happens upon someone with promise, but her want of luckyhotlove supersedes her intellectual side.  She begins a relationship with the unplugged guitar hero Lucas.  But Ellie is Ellie:  older, not necessarily wiser.  And we watch as she makes one decision after another that are not necessarily good ones.  With an old acquaintance who has more time and money on his hands than the Elton John, Ellie receives a bit of help with strings aLuckyLucasttached: Charlie is allowed to begin his documentary filmmaking career with the search for Matthew Smith.  As Ellie is at her rope’s end, she agrees.  The story follows Ellie along this path of discovery with interesting side stories of love for herself as well as Charles’ eccentricities.

This is a very entertaining film with such depth and  creativity that I was captivated from the very beginning.  Collette is wonderful.  She is rock-solid gorgeous and believable as the hip music critic who has been jaded by love.  Thomas Haden Church is a character I’ve not seen before.  He is a pretentious, rich nerd who is rather desperate in the love department.  In fact, he is rather blinded by love, but so innocent about it that his pretentiousness becomes endearing.  Throw into the mix, Oliver Platt as the ever-loving editor and the film is perfectly set.  With the self-discovery of our two main characters this film is completely satisfying.  LUCKYChurch

The film, co-written by Huck Botko and Emily Wachtel with the original idea by Caroline Sherman, is directed by Megan Griffiths.  It’s a bit of a quirky film, tackling a familiar story in a unique and interesting way.  Collette is an extremely versatile actress who continues to show her range of abilities and I’m guessing, is having a lot of fun doing it!  The music is enticing and even enchanting at times to match the mood and fluctuations of the movie perfectly.

LUCKY THEM is a movie that will appeal to music lovers and film lovers alike.  It’s a strong cast with an equally powerful story.  The surprise ending will definitely “wow” you.  This film is recommended for over 20′s as I don’t think the teen population would understand or relate to the topics.  And if you’re my age and female, you are going to love it!  Cheers to Toni Collette!


8 1/2 REELS



The concept of “The Planet of the Apes” back in 1968 was rather revolutionary apofagesnd truly jump-started careers for actors such asapesbeach Roddy MacDowall who played the lovable Cornelius.  Although the special effects have changed, the story remains the same: Ape vs. Human.  The novel, ‘Planet of the Apes,’ originally written by Pierre Boulle, was the impetus for the 1968 film as well as the 2001 version, the 2011 “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” starring James Franco  and now the 2014 “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”  No worries here for you fans as there is yet another Untitled Planet of the Apes sequel slated for 2016.  


This next installation of the “Ape” series has a different human cast of characters as it is set ten years after “Rise.”   With no sign of human life, the ape population grows steadily as they live in harmony with Caesar as their leader.  As a small group of surviving humans located in San Francisco tread through Ape territory, the rivalry begins all over again.  Human vs. Ape.  Who can trust whom?  It all boils down to how different are these apes from humans and vise versa.


“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is truly a sequel of epic proportions with the amount of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) and the cast and crew involved in making this film.  Although James Franco’s character of Will is no longer in the picture, another “good man” and his family are there to take his place.  The interacdawn1tion between humans and apes is constantly on the brink of disaster as trust of each other has been broken in too recent of memory.  The evolution of both species hasn’t yet gotten to the point of using reason and logic to coexist peacefully and the majority of the movie centers on this fact.  


The story is quite intriguing with compelling characters.  Malcolm (Jason Clarke), Ellie (Keri Russell) and Caesar (Andy Serkis) are beings for whom you immediately have compassion and empathy.  Both humans and apes have their intelligent members and the evil counterparts.  That “wow” factor exists when seeing these various apes express love, sadness, and anger as well as frustration with teens.  Are we really that different?


“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a high intensity film fluctuating back and forth between tension  and common understanding as well as compassion for others during the first half of the film.  The use of CGI continues to develop to bring these creatures to believable life.  But that is also the downfall of the film.  When throwing in the requisite “awww, isn’t that cute” moment with the baby ape, the new crew in CGI must have been in charge of that scene.  The obvious later addition of the image was so distracting that it takes you out of the moment.  The entire second half of the film is also so overloaded with CGI, CGI ape stunts, explosions, and gun fights that I wouldn’t have been surprised if in one scene the “bad ape” had shouted, “Yippee ki-yay” as he strode on horseback with two machine guns in hand.


Clarke and Russell do a fine job in their roles as the understanding humans—not a huge stretch for acting abilities. Gary Oldman is the nerdy, yet tough survivor and leader of the human group and his performance is nothing short of flawless for his role.  Serkis and Kebbell (Koba) play the two main ape characters exhibiting night and day personalities typical of any hierarchy in a group.dawn4


“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” continues the saga of this series with great intensity, setting us up for the next(and final?) film.  While the story is good, the constant bombardment auditorily and the overuse of CGI becomes monotonous and creates disinterest in the second half of the film.  If you enjoyed the last “Planet of the Apes” movie, you’ll want to see this one as well, but be warned that the CGI department was waging bets on who could out-do the other computer programmer.  The up-charge of the 3D glasses is worth it, if you enjoy 3D films however, my recommendation is to wait for the DVD.


Don’t forget to listen to Reel Honest Reviews’ show The Reel Focus on WKCC today at 4:30 pm CST!  Dave Green, director, and Teo Halm, actor, will be joining me to talk about this new family film.  Don’t miss out on some behind the scenes stories!  Listen live at or check it out after the air time right here on under the WKCC tab!DSC_4868



earthto“Earth to Echo” opens this weekend for kids and adults alike to enjoy.  Starring Teo Halm, Reese Hartwig, and Astro, this film is reminiscent of Spielberg’s 1982 classic film E.T. The Extraterrestrial.  Any adult over the age of 30 will always be able to place the phrase “ET phone home” and most assuredly Reece’s Pieces have a secondary meaning to you as well.  ”Earth to Echo” has the potential to be this next generation’echo3sextraterrestrial teen adventure story.


Alex (Halm), Tuck (Astro), and Munch (Hartwig) are best buddies spending one last night to spend together before they move to different parts of the country.  Their neighborhood has been slated for demolition under the auspices of the dreaded “eminent domain” for the sake of highway construction.  The kids, however, have found a strange phenomenon occurring in the area—their cell phones have all “barfed.”  There appears to be a map within this scattered technological barfing and the boys decide to forego the video game scenario in lieu of an adventure on their last night together.  What lies in store for them is an adventure of epic proportions.


Earth to Echo is told wonderfully from the kids’ perspective.  As a viewer, we are a part of their adventure; tagging along for all the bumps and thrills that lie ahead.  With their GoPros attached, their cell phones in hand, and many other techie gadgets, the boys talk, scheme, and problem solve their night ahead.  The entire film is told from the kids’ perspective and the sense of adventure never wanes.


As the boys follow the map, traveling miles on their bicycles, finding more pieces of the puzzle, the danger increases.  They find out who they really are and how important friendship is. The conversations lilt from goofy, typical boy stuff to serious family issues, and of course, girls.

Halm, Astro, and Hartwig are three very different young teens who give a performance beyond their years. The relaxed mode and natural movement of the conversation portrayed a seemingly real friendship giving credit to not only the actors, but to the writing and directing of this script as well.   Is the movie predictable?  Ofecho course, but there’s still a magical element in the story that forgives any predictability.


“Earth to Echo” is an updated version of “E.T.” complete with all the electronic gadgets kids have command over these days. The special effects using  CGI  again bring this “E.T.” type of movie into the 21st century and create an adorable creature called Echo. It’s a true adventure story utilizing technology, but it is not consumed by it.  This film is full of excitement, suspense, and humor reminiscent of films of a bygone era.



“Earth to Echo” is a refreshing movie that will appeal to all ages.  We “older” people will enjoy it because we grew up with “E.T.,” “The Goonies,” and “Stand by Me.”  The kids will enjoy it because it’s a great adventure film.   “Earth to Echo” is a family film full of fun, action, special effects, and most importantly, friendship.







“Arlo & Julie” is an entertaining look at a typical couple, caught up in the mystery and intrigue of putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  Each day, the young pair receives a few pieces of a puzzle in the mail.  When the number of pieces in each envelope doubles every day, the two find themselves obsessed with not only solving the puzzle but determining the meaning behind it.  As they begin to piece it all together, their work and social lives begin to unravel.  Will solving this puzzle be the end of them or will there be a pot of gold for them?

Arlo and Juliearlo are hardworking young adults with money issues.  Their jobs get them by, but that’s about it.  As Arlo learns of a valuable painting of Julie’s hanging on their wall, his curiosity gets the better of him.  Adding the pieces of the puzzle to mix as well as several interesting characters, the film takes on a life of its own.  Their snoopy mailman, with his need to know what’s in the envelopes and the dysfunctional couple who have answers for everyone but themselves, take up precious puzzle-solving time.  The clever conversation, quick-paced with off-beat comments interspersed, keeps you on your toes.  Throw in some historical stories about Grant and the film has everything you could want.  If only there actually was a college course called “Whiskey & War!”

“Arlo & Julie” is a truly creative film with its quick banter, striking camera angles, intriguing use of larlo3ighting, and old-time music accentuating each dramatic scene.  With a feel of the 1920′s, each day is depicted with a black screen and simple writing of “Day 1.”   As the old victrola plays songs from by-gone eras, this film captures and successfully blends the old with the new for a beautiful result.  The attention to detail is extraordinary as this film had me believing there was an artist by the name of Comstock.  

Alex Dobrenko and Ashley Spillers carry this film with the deft skill of seasoned actors.  The subtleties in their expressions and body language make their characters completely believable.  Mallory Culbert and Chris Doubek have stellar performances bringing their own quirky characters to life.  The remainder of the cast augmented the overall feel of eccentricity with an outstanding sense of comedic timing.

arlo2“Arlo & Julie” is an unusually funny film that will entertain you on every level.  With its ingenious writing and outstanding acting execution, “Arlo & Julie” can’t miss.  Don’t be the missing piece of the puzzle…be sure to see “Arlo & Julie!”







image 5Rob Reiner swept into the Windy City on Wednesday night to screen his new film “And So It Goes” starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton.  As luck would have it, I was asked to introduce, interview, and moderate the question and answer session following the film.  Rob Reiner needs little introduction as he is an icon in the movie industry.  His versatility in creating films of different genres is unparalleled.  The classic movies “Stand By Me” and “When Harry Met Sally” are still used to this day in comparing films of those genres.  How do you introduce this calibre of filmmaker?  Could I possibly do him justice?  With my introductory speech in hand, I stood in front of the packed theater, and the microphone was handed to me to introduce one of the most celebrated writers, actors, and directors in Hollywood—and then the mic cut in and out.  The speech was tossed out the window, the actor/writer/director took the stage as the applause enveloped him.

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From the moment Mr. Reiner began to speak, he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.  He began to riff about a prior comedic sketch with intermittently working microphones.  From that point on, it was obvious that the actor was comfortably in his element.  Reiner answered my questions as well as those from the audience as he brought us all back and forth between side splitting laughter to insightful aspects of life.  He punctuated the fact that there is no end point in life except for that final one.  Life is a process and you need to be in the moment and enjoy each image 2and every experience.  


Mr. Reiner continued answering questions regarding the impetus for the film, his mother’s influence upon his career, as well as describing the completely undetectable hair piece he wore.  He also shared behind the scenes stories as we all hung on each and every word.  From Frankie Valli and Liberace references, acknowledging that woman are far more evolved than men, and that he makes the same romantic comedy each time, just set in a different phase of life, Reiner’s ease of delivery made us all feel that he was telling these stories for the first time and just for us.  At the close of the session, he graciously stayed to take photos, sign autographs, and answer even more questions. He and the audience members were most definitely in “the moment” and all tremendously enjoyed the process.


Rob Reiner is truly one of the greats in Hollywood today.  But from my viewpoint, what truly makes this man great is not just his talent, but his genuineness and love of life.   With a hug and a thank you from him to me, I couldn’t have been any more charmed.    This opportunity will always be remembered and cherished. So how do you introduce one of the most talented men in the film industry?  Simple.  Here’s Mr. Rob Reiner.