Archive for December, 2015

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James D. Jones, Pamela Powell, Steve Benoit

Steve Benoit and James D. Jones join me as avid “Star Wars” fans to discuss the merits and credibility of the newest installment of the Star Wars saga, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”  You’ve read the reviews.  You’ve probably already seen the movie…maybe even twice.  But critics are backpedaling about the merits of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”  This week’s guests on The Daily Journal’s web series give credibility to the film’s narrative and support the reasoning behind it.

To watch the short video click  HERE.

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SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2016 PROMISES TO SHINE BRIGHTLY YET AGAIN

The Sundance Film Festival is set for January 21-31, 2016 in Park City, Utah.  This ever-expanding festival brings out every star, both big and small, to see and be seen.  Covering this festival for the past 5 years, I research the films to find the best of the best.  This year promises to have some wonderful hidden gems that might be flying under the radar at this point.  Here are Reel Honest Reviews’  40 anticipated standout films:

U.S. DRAMATIC CATEGORY:

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EQUITY

 EQUITY: As a female reviewer, (and there aren’t very many of us) I like to seek out female-centric films.  “Equity” is one of those films.   As senior investment banker Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn) climbs her way to the top, she ultimately fights for survival in this cutthroat business.  Seen through the eyes of a woman, Wall Street looks a little different.  Directed by Meera Menon, this movie finds its way to the top of my list of films to see.

BIRTH OF A NATION:  The historically significant racial events that occurred in the 1800’s are frequently buried so that we don’t look at the ugliness of those times.  “The Birth of a Nation” tells us the previously unknown story of a charismatic preacher named Nat Turner who lead one of the most successful slave rebellions in U.S. History.

OTHER PEOPLE:  Family.  It can be a dramatic topic or a comedic one.  It can even be tragic.  But “Other People” starring Molly Shannon, June Squibb, and Jesse Plemons promises to be a little bit of everything as a young comedian moves back home to care for his ailing mother.

 Additional highly anticipated  films include: “Joshy,” “Morris from America,” “Swiss Army Man,” “Tallulah,” “The Free World,” “Christine,” and “The Intervention.”

PREMIERE CATEGORY:  

CERTAIN WOMEN: Kelly Reichardt’s trailblazing film about several intersecting lives and stories, promises to reach deep inside of these characters to unearth their hidden emotions and the reality of life.  Marriage, guilt, and stress appear to all be prominent story-lines in this film.

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MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA:  Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck headline this film about coming home and facing the past.  Affleck’s character loses his only sibling and is charged with guardianship of his 16 year old nephew.  This promises to be a moving and deeply emotional film about life and the paths we choose and have chosen.

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC:  What happens to a secluded family of 6 children when they lose their choice to live in the deep forest of the Pacific Northwest and must (re)connect with society and its norms?  Viggo Mortensen plays the patriarch who must somehow redefine his role as a parent.

FRANK & LOLA:  Michael Shannon is always a beacon calling you to watch him in a film as he never disappoints.  “Frank & Lola” looks to be an interesting psychological love story full of betrayal, deceit, and trust.  Imogen Poots, Justin Long, and Michael Nyqvist round out this solid cast.

Additional highly anticipated films in this category include:  “Agnus Dei,” “Complete Unknown,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “Complete Unknown,” “The Hollars,” “Love & Friendship,” “Mr. Pig,” “The Fundamentals of Caring,” and “Little Men.”

SPOTLIGHT CATEGORY:

EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT:  In the early 1900’s, an ill German scientist seeks the cure for his ailment in the Amazon.  Karamakate, a reclusive Shaman holds the secret to a cure.  40 years later, an American follows the same path and unknowingly finds the same Shaman.  Filmed in black and white, this promises to be a realistic recreation of a time and place long forgotten.

      GREEN ROOM:  Imogene Poots finds a second film here at Sundance in this sinister and dark thriller.  Patrick Stewart and Anton Yelchin accompany her into the confines of “the green room” backstage to sort out a horrifically messy situation.

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THE LOBSTER

      THE LOBSTER:  (Screened at TIFF 2015) I was thrilled to see this film continuing on in the film festival circuit.  Starring Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly, and Rachel Weisz, the story is one of the most unusual creations about love, life, mythology, and dogma you could imagine.

 

NEXT CATEGORY:

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HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE A DOUCHEBAG

HOW TO TELL YOU’RE A DOUCHEBAG:  I think the name says it all, but if you need more convincing, here you go.  A blogger aka “freelance writer” gains a bit of notoriety in NYC about his topic:  “Occasionally Dating Black Women.”  In a split second, he makes a poor public choice resulting in a need to make amends to save his credibility in the media world.  In a day and age when everything is instantaneous, “How to Tell You’re a Douchebag” promises to tell a very real, funny, and relevant story.

 

 

 

WORLD DRAMATIC CATEGORY:

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MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING:  Switch gears right now as this film has nothing to do with Shakespeare.  As a college student is involved in a deadly hit and run accident, he finds himself thrown into a criminal case in a very corrupt legal system that favors the priveleged and connected.  Based on a recent and true story.

Additional highly anticipated films in this category:  “A Good Wife,” “Between Sea and Land,” and “Mammal

 

 

 

U.S. DOCUMENTARIES CATEGORY:

HOW TO LET GO OF THE WORLD:  Climate change is real and we may be past the point of no return.  Filmmaker Josh Fox (“Gasland”-2010) travels the world to deliver “a sobering portrait” of areas that have already experienced catastrophic events.

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LIFE, ANIMATED

LIFE, ANIMATED:  Imagine awakening a young non-verbal autistic adult to convey what it is like to be autistic through the use of Disney movies and puppetry.   Owen Suskind’s story allows the outside world to come in and understand a previously unexplored world.

Additional highly anticipated films in this category:  “Nuts,” “Kate Plays Christine,” and “The Bad Kids”

 

 

 

DOCUMENTARY PREMIERES CATEGORY:

 RESILIENCE:  What if childhood traumas influenced your future medical health?  James Redford documents this very real and supported research indicating that there is in fact a link.

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RESILIENCE

Additional highly anticipated films in this category:  “Norman Lear,” Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall,” “Nothing Left Unsaid,” and “Unlocking the Cage

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Living in Illinois, I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight “The Illinois Parables” from the NEXT CATEGORY.  Eleven parables are explored as they reflect a midwestern interpretation due to the areas surroundings and politics.

For more information about the festival go to www.sundance.org

Check back during the festival for up-to-date reviews and videos!

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The Force is with J.J. Abrams.  Star Wars fans, especially those of us who grew up with episodes IV, V, and VI, are going to be absolutely thrilled with Episode VII, aka “The Force Awakens.”  As the familiar music blasts through the speakers, the bold letters roll past you in space to get you up to speed as to where we are in the story…just like old times.  The epic scale scenery, reminding you not only of past Star Wars episodes, but also of the vastness of space, wonderfully overloads your senses as the ships glide effortlessly through the galaxy in the foreground as they shadow the planets.

The saga continues, seamlessly, as we see the changes in the Dark Side and the Resistance with several new characters, yet the dark, dingy, dusty and foreboding feeling remains the same. Creating this ominous environment with Nazi-like

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enemy forces, the battle of good versus evil continues.  However, before you conclude that this is all doom and gloom, let me set your mind at ease.  The humor that we saw and loved in Episodes IV, V, and VI is still there.  In fact, it’s even better as it captures the old times and makes fun of itself.  Imagine a Resistance pilot asking Kylo Ren to repeat himself because the whole mask thing is really impeding his speech! Or a thumbs up with a bic lighter from a droid?  Humor is the balancing piece that keeps the pace of the entire movie.

To read the review in its entirety as it appears in the Wednesday, December 16th edition of The Daily Journal go HERE

 

 

4 Stars!  (This is a sentimental film as Star Wars was the first new release film I ever saw in the theater, thanks to my brother, Tim!)

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The 2016 Slamdance Film Festival, celebrating its 20th anniversary, is set to blow audiences away again this year with their line-up of feature films, documentaries, and short films beginning January 22 through 28 in Park City, Utah.  Last year’s notable success with films such as “Batkid Begins,” “Ratter,” and “Body” continue to remind festival goers and cinefiles alike that this festival doesn’t play second fiddle to the Sundance Film Festival which takes place in the same town during the same dates.

Reel Honest Reviews has had the  privilege  of covering both Sundance and Slamdance for the past 5 years.  As the films at Slamdance have just been announced, I have come up with my list of “must see films” this year.  Without further ado, here they are:

HONEY BUDDIES, written and directed by Alex Simmons, tackles a canceled wedding and therefore a canceled bachelor party, but the party must go on!  Taking place in the backcountry of Oregon, this comedy looks to find humor in man and nature.

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LAST SUMMER promises to be a heart-wrenching tale of a mother who must say good-bye to her 6 year old son after losing a custody battle.

THE LESSON sounds reminiscent of “Whiplash” as it delves into the horrors that a teacher can inflict upon his troubled teen students.

MAD creates the familiar scenario of mother-daughter relationships.  This dark comedy promises to bare all emotion and resentment with no edit mode.  Sounds like the perfect holiday film!

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THE ART OF THE PRANK showcases comedian Joey Skaggs pulling his ultimate hoax.  The target?  Ironically, it’s “film festivals!”

 

ALVIN’S HARMONIOUS WORLD OF OPPOSITES takes the neurosis of agoraphobia into a a new realm of hidden secrets and maybe a bit of horror!

EMBERS stars a favorite of mine, Jason Ritter, about a favorite topic, memory!  A bit of an apocalyptic film meets the meaning of life and relationships film appears like a memorable trip to the theater.

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DIRECTOR’S CUT looks to be a psychological thriller about a film fan who kidnaps his favorite star just to be in his movie.  Hmmm, is there any precedent in reality for this one?

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Additional feature films on my list include:  THE TAIL JOB, ALL THE COLORS OF THE NIGHT, LET’S BE EVIL, EXCURSIONS, and HOW TO PLAN AN ORGY IN A SMALL TOWN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short films are always a pleasure and even more so at Slamdance as each feature film is preceded by a topically appropriate short film—a little something to get you primed for the feature, if you will.  “The Beast,” “Goodnight Birdy,” “Nasty,” “The Panty Symponic,” and “Red Folder” are all on my list of short films to see.

 

For more information about the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival, go to www.slamdance.com

Check back after January 22 for up to date reviews and current information about the festival!

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“The Tainted Veil” appears to have multiple meanings, especially in light of recent events around the world.  Judgment, ridicule, and a recognition of choice within a culture are all depicted in this film portraying women who wear the “hijab.”  Beautifully explained from a multitude of perspectives, “The Tainted Veil” enlightens you to understand the symbolism and meaning behind this headdress. It paints the portrait of women who make a choice, the history of these choices, and how the world perceives them.  What you learn, just might make you look at things a little differently.

VIEW TRAILER HERE

“The Tainted Veil” succinctly documents the history of the hijab with interviews from religious leaders as well as academic historians.  Women, both old and young, are also interviewed to express the cultural pressures felt to wear this garment.  As with any younger genetaintedwomanration, there are those that question the cultural norms and rebel, and those that attempt to understand it and then make an educated choice that fits them best.  In this story, there are shocking pieces of information of prejudice in the university settings that you might not expect.  Independence and freedom to practice and express your religion isn’t as free as you think.

It’s unusual to find a documentary that doesn’t have a skewed viewpoint.  “The Tainted Veil” is one of those unusual finds.  Presenting information from all sides gives you, the viewer, the diversity of knowledge to not only educate yourself, but make your own decision on what it means for women to wear the hijab.  Beautifully filmed around the world, “The Tainted Veil” captures the passion and conviction of those who have an opinion about this topic.

“The Tainted Veil” is a beautifully educational film about perceptions within a religion and culture.  In recent history, never has the world been so judgmental about an article of clothing. There is discrimination and ridicule experienced in school, work, and in the community due to a lack of understanding and information.  “The Tainted Veil” eloquently provides the information the world as a community needs to understand this prejudicial topic.

 

 

 

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“The Lady in the Van” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival just a few months ago and stars Maggie Smith.  Need I say more?  Well, I shouldn’t but I will.  This quintessential actress can do it all and now she has in the new role of Miss Shepherd, odiferous transient who insinuates herself and her equally lovely vehicle upon an upper class neighborhood in London.  The prim and proper residents bear with her, but would prefer her spectacle of a vehicle to not be parked in front of their fine abode.  Traveling a mere 5 feet, Miss Shepherd has found her next parking spot in front of Mr. Bennett’s new home.  Promising to stay just a few weeks, the curb-side accommodations become holadyvanme for Miss Shepherd for the next 15 years.

Watch the trailer HERE

“The Lady in the Van” is a story of human compassion, selfish needs, and the antagonistic pressure to do what is right.  The film opens with a black screen and an audible crash.  We then see in bold print, “Based on a (mostly) true story.”  We get back to the crash and its origins at the end to bring this story and film in a full (and fulfilling) circle.

 

ladyguyMr. Bennett is a successful playwright epitomizing the stereotypical prim and proper Brit.  But Mr. Bennett has two roles:  one of the “writing self” and one of the “living self.”  And really, “writing is merely talking to oneself.”  The two Mr. Bennett’s carry on conversations as if roommates living under one roof.  There is a fine line between reality and fiction, which is first very blurred and humorously confusing.  As Miss Shepherd and Mr. Bennett begrudgingly get to know one another, the two find a certain comfort and need which parallels other aspects of their lives.  In fact, the entire neighborhood is pulled together by this common ground of a cantankerously charming and malodorous woman with a suspicious past.  And that’s all I’ll say as the twists and turns are more than delightful and I would hate to ruin the surpise.

 

“The Lady in the Van” is one of those rare gems full of creativity, ingenuity, and a wit that far surpasses any “comedy” of late.  It’s genuine and simple, yet taps into the complexities of people and their need for compassion and understanding.  It touches upon our judgments of others without knowing one’s past, but does so in a whimsical way that is neither too serious nor too lighthearted.  It’s perfectly balanced.

 

Mr. Bennett narrates the piece as well as playing the roles of the “writing self” and the “living self” creating such colorful statements reminiscent of what Gene Shepherd might have written had he have been British.  Alex Jennings plays Alan Bennett with such endearing finesse that allows us to truly know him and understand his emotional tug of war within himself.  He’s quick and sharp with his rather stuccato rhythm of speech, yet there is a certain softness that allows his rather rigid personality to become more malleable.  Maggie Smith is simply superb.  But didn’t you know that would be the case already?  This is an unusual role, but allows her to shine brilliantly as the talented actress that draws us to see her in any film.  Her delivery of her lines are intricately complicated as they are showered by thoughtfulness and subtle nuances in her voice as well as her actions.  To state it more clearly, she is glorious in this less than beautiful role.

 

“The Lady in the Van” will be the talk of the Oscars this year.  Unfortunately, its release occurs only in NY and LA prior to January 15.  When it does grace your town or city, put it on your list to see.  You’ll be disappointed come the end of February if you haven’t seen it—you won’t know why this film is gathering all these little gold statues!

 

4 STARS!

 

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Steve Benoit, a high school English teacher, joins me on The Daily Journal’s web series Reel Talk to discuss the movie “Victor Frankenstein” and all this Frankenstein!  I learned quite a bit from this animated and knowledgable teacher!

To watch the video, click HERE

 

 

 

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Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is left for dead by his team of trappers/explorers after being mauled by a bear.  He then witnesses his son’s murder by one of these same men as he lays there helplessly.

Revenge gives Glass the will to survive and the strength and determination to enact it.

Based only in part on Michael Punke’s novel of the same name, “The Revenant” is a riveting and brutal portrayal of life in the early 1800′s.  Mother Nature, warring Indians, and greedy, selfish men create a dangerous environment in which only the strongest can survive.  It’s never fair to compare the book with the movie, so let’s just say the book is different and well-worth reading.

Wear your parka, gloves, and scarf because you’re going to be cold no matter the temperature in the theater.  Between the cinematography and the evident misery of the actors in these cold conditions, you will experience an empathetic involuntary chill.

To read the rest of the review as it appeared in the Friday on-line edition of The Daily Journal,  go here and click on the movie tab

“Arlo & Julie” is now available to see via iTunes, Amazon.com, and Google Play. This quirky and uniquely fun film will have you putting the pieces of the puzzle together to solve the mystery, laughing the entire time!

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“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?

READ THE ENTIRE REVIEW HERE

Watch the trailer herearlo2