Archive for February, 2016

 

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Jesse Burks has done it again.  First there was “One Please” starring Catherine Burks, Michael Berryman, and Sailor Holland, that gave you a whole new outlook on the ice cream man.  Now we have “Cured” as he brings back Berryman and Holland in this new razor sharp short horror film about hospitals and surgeons…everyone’s nightmare without the cutting irony that Burks inflicts upon his viewers!  It’s a journey into the unknown that would give Rod Serling a run for his money.

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In “Cured,” we find  a young woman fighting for her life, strapped to a wheeled gurney.  As she is abruptly pushed into the eerily stark surgical suite, the real terror looms ahead.  Anesthesia anyone?  The barbaric surgical strategies that this maniacal master of the scalpel deliberately and emotionlessly performs is disturbingly perplexing.  But even more perplexing is the fact that there is a sweet and beautiful young girl who is not effected in the least by what is happening right before her eyes!  The missing piece of the puzzle isn’t revealed until the very end, but then it’s too late…the goosebumps have burst through your clothes.

 

Berryman, known for just about every horror film from “OneFlew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”  in 1975 to “Tales from the Crypt” and “Kill or Be Killed” in 2015 and everything in between, portrays the cool as a cucumber surgeon in “Cured.”  His face

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and determined expression say it all—without a single word uttered.  There’s a juxtaposition between his actions and what emotions he elicits from the viewer.  We want to trust him, but should we?  Holland appears to play the an angelic surgical assistant.  She’s sweet, but there’s something off.  Again, all of this conveyed without a word.  The tension is palpable as the story is stripped away, layer by layer, always asking, “Why?”

 

Filmed in black and white, the clarity and depth of each and every move is captured.  There is no escaping what unfolds before you.  The deliberate movements and pacing with not one word spoken, is captivating both visually and intellectually.  You are always guessing and assuming—the wrong thing.  This dark film brings to light a brutally realistic horror story complete with just the right sound effects that will send some viewers running.  It makes a trip to the dentist for a tooth extraction look like a visit to a pastry tasting.  The special effects are mindbogglingly disgusting and real to give you a complete experience of horror.

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Burks’ ability to tell an unnerving story in just a few short minutes is masterful.  If you thought “One Please” was disturbing, “Cured” is in its own category of creepy.  With precise edits, remarkable physical acting, and attention to every possible detail, Burks’ filmmaking skills may just allow him to give up his day job as (are you ready for this?) a surgeon!

 

 

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The Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, February 28th.  Viewership will be high with Chris Rock hosting during a very controversial year regarding diversity.  I’ll leave that issue to the talented Mr. Rock and I’ll tackle predictions based on who I WANT to win and who I THINK will win—two very different stories!

Best Picture:  

Pam’s Pick-SPOTLIGHT (or THE BIG SHORT)

spotlight-one-sheet       Pam’s Prediction- THE REVENANT

Best Directing:

Pam’s Pick-Tom McCarthy (SPOTLIGHT) (or Adam McKay for THE BIG SHORT)

Pam’s Prediction- Alejandro Inarritu (THE REVENANT)

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

image     Pam’s Pick-Leonardo DiCaprio (THE REVENANT)

Pam’s Prediction- Leonardo DiCaprio (THE REVENANT)

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Pam’s Pick-Brie Larson (ROOM)

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Pam’s Prediction-Brie Larson (ROOM)

Best Supporting Actor:

Pam’s Pick- Mark Ruffalo (SPOTLIGHT)

Pam’s Prediction- Mark Rylance (BRIDGE OF SPIES)  (I’d be good with this one too!)

Best Supporting Actress:

Pam’s Pick- Rooney Mara (CAROL)

Pam’s Prediction – Alicia Vikander(THE DANISH GIRL)

Best Animated Film:

Pam’s Pick- INSIDE OUTinside-out_banner

Pam’s Prediction- ANOMALISA

Pam’s Oscar Snubs:

99 HOMES, starring Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield

GRANDMA, starring Lily Tomlin

THE LADY IN THE VAN, starring Maggie Smith

For the entire list of Oscar nominations and a chance to make your predictions, go to The Official Oscar Challenge

 

 

 

 

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“Triple 9” has  “…a very formidable cast of bad characters,” as Casey Affleck, one of the stars stated in a very awkward interview with Stephen Colbert (Watch the interview here), but his character remains the one and only good guy.  In this intensely violent cops and robbers thriller, the question of who’s bad and who’s worse is constantly at hand as is the film’s adrenaline pumping, nerve-racking mind game full of moral dilemmas and graphic brutality.
A militaristic group is wreaking havoc on the city of Atlanta with bank robberies.  As we discover that this band of thieves is comprised of corrupt police officers and ex-military, the lines of good and bad are forever blurred.  The leader, in order to have a chance of seeing his son again, must pull off a nearly impossible task and a cop must go down, aka a “999.”
There are two separate worlcaseyds existing in “Triple 9” that will ultimately collide.  The relationships among the men and the double lives they lead captivate and intrigue you, as you witness the well-orchestrated corruption and brutality, cringing and gasping in your seat.  From a dental nightmare making “The Marathon Man” scene look like a cake walk, to a leg blowing up, this is an anxiety and special effects masterpiece.  Just as you remember to breathe again, the next blow hits.  This sine wave of emotions is non-stop throughout the film.
The ominous tone is set immediately with the lack of lighting and the gritty texture to the scenes.  The pulsating base chord continually heard and felt, intensifies the foreshadowing of the darkness that lies ahead.  There is no question that violence and a lack of remorse is at the core of all of these characters.  With plenty of explosions, realistic gun fights, as well as fist-to-cuffs, there is never a dull moment.  The plot thickens with unexpected twists and turns, and the ability to see right and wrong is done in shades of grey.
With so many talented stars, skilled direction by John Hillcoat, and a succinct story by Matt Cook, the film delivers exactly what it promises—riveting action.  Affleck’s understated style suitably fits the role of upstanding Officer Chris Allen.  Chiwetel Ejiofor is the leader of the pack and exudes confidence and complexity as he struggles between the love of his son and his moral boundaries, if they exist at all.  Norman Reedus, Aaron Paul, and Anthony Mackie round out this gritty group, but the standout is Kate Winslet as the heartless Russian Mafia mastermind.  Woody Harrelson also knocks it out of the park with an unusual display of creativity and heart in the role of Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen.   Kate Winslet
“Triple 9” is a gripping and gruesome thriller, not for the faint of heart.  Outstanding performances with an interesting and unpredictable story create a high-paced film, but be warned that this is graphically violent and disturbing.
3 Stars

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“The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” That’s what Jim McKay famously stated in a broadcast of the Wide World of Sports many years ago, and accurately sums up the endeavors of Eddie in the new family-friendly film “Eddie the Eagle,” starring Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman.

 

England, known for its mountains, cold weather and ski jumpers … wait — that’s completely inaccurate. However, one of the most endearing, memorable and motivated ski jumpers did come out of the temperate flatlands of England: Eddie Edwards. Against all odds, Eddie made it through the qualification process and proceeded to become part of the Olympic team to proudly represent his home country in the Calgary games. In this story, Eddie won over the world while experiencing a lot of the agony of defeat, but never enough to thwart his ambitions.

To read the review in its entirety as it appears in the February 26th edition of The Daily Journal, go HERE

resilience

Think back to your childhood.  Memories of ice cream cones, skipping rope, making mud pies and climbing trees come flooding back.  But not all children have such wonderful experiences and memories.  Many are subjected to repeated and never-ending stress.  This “toxic stress” as documentary filmmaker James Redford has found, effects these children’s biology leading to adult disorders such as heart disease, cancer, and obesity and potentially decreasing life expectancy by as much as 20 years.  His new film, “Resilience,” educates and enlightens the viewer not only to the well-documented science behind the problem, but also to the easy solutions that have been proven to work.

Listen to the interview with James Redford and Pamela Powell here

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Dr. Robert Anda

“Resilience” is the result of Karen Pritzker’s discovery of statistics correlating high ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) scores to increased medical problems in adulthood.  Redford explored the findings and those responsible for developing ACE’s to give us all further knowledge and insight into a $3 Trillion issue effecting the U.S. healthcare system.  With in-depth interviews with the originating doctors to pediatricians like  Dr. Nadine Harris from San Francisco who is implementing her knowledge to make a difference, Redford succinctly brings us not only the facts and figures about ACE’s, but also the solution to help  children and prevent serious medical consequences later in life.

Watch the trailer here

The information could resilience graphic arthave been truly overwhelming in “Resilience,” but with graphic art conveying the science and math that supports the concepts and well-balanced interviews, the film is entertaining too.  We hear what medical professionals across the country are discovering in succinct and direct interviews.  We visit and learn what home health workers are seeing.  We discover programs such as Miss Kendra’s List that are being implemented in school systems.  Programs like this give children who are experiencing “toxic stress” the necessary information, strength, and coping mechanisms with which they can strive toward a healthier future.

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Dr. Nadine Harris

The solution seems mind-bogglingly simple.  Community outreach and school programs giving these at-risk children a consistent and caring adult can make all the difference in the world.  The film shows us the tools with which to work, potentially decreasing healthcare costs and creating a happier and healthier environment for children and adults.

“Resilience” is a fascinating documentary that eloquently explains the healthcare issues that confront us directly and indirectly on a daily basis.  But more than that, “Resilience” gives us the solution to this problem.  It is empowering as it educates and enlightens you to the issue of childhood toxic stress and how to overcome it.  Rarely do you find a documentary that highlights a problem and gives  a solution.  It’s a film every educator, healthcare provider, and lawmaker should see.

For more information about the film “Resilience, go to their website HERE

For links to resources about ACE’s, check out the resources link

 

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Terry Martin joins me to talk about DEADPOOL…his knowledge of the comic book hero blew me out of the water!  Listen and learn…I did!

Watch the video here (published in The Daily Journal, February 19, 2016)

 

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“Touched with Fire,” starring Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby, and written and directed by Paul Dalio, addresses the little talked about topic of Bipolar or Manic Depressive Disorder.  Affecting approximately 5.5M people over the age of 18 with more than half going untreated, it seems a very relevant film that warrants discussion.  I had the opportunity to sit down with Dalio and Kirby to get an inside perspective on the making of “Touched with Fire.”

 

 Bipolar Disorder is rarely seen in the medium of film being portrayed as anything other than “…a lunatic looking up at the sky with crazy bloodshot eyes,” as Dalio says, but what happens when you see life through their eyes?  In “Touched With Fire,” we meet Marco (Kirby) and Carla (Holmes) independently in their manic and out of control worlds as their parents hopelessly attempt to help them gain restraint as young independent adults.  The two meet and fall in love in a psychiatric ward only to further heighten their manic behaviors.  Finding a way to live life and experience love is difficult, but their situation creates an altogether more dangerous world for each other.

To read the rest of the article as it appeared in the Friday, February 19th edition of  The Daily Journal, go HERE

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It’s supposed to be a haunting story of 1600s New England, one family’s obsession with witchcraft and religion and the battle between the two. But this beautifully crafted and artistic feature creates fist-clenching tension only to disappoint. It’s a horror film that isn’t scary, with a dull story line and missing many chances to redeem itself.

But it’s not a total loss.

The family is outcast from the town for transgressions we never know. The parents load their wagon with all of their possessions and four children ranging in age from newborn to teen. They head far, far away to start a new remote and lonely life. Time passes as the family builds shelter, erects outbuildings for the animals and attempts to farm.

On an otherwise typical day, Thomasin, the oldest daughter, takes the baby out to the field to play. With eyes covered for mere moments, the baby disappears without a trace. The family is obviously devastated and begins to doubt one another. With the disappearance of another child, fingers begin pointing. Paranoia, anger and hatred override love.

To read the rest of the review as it is printed in the Friday, February 19, 2016 edition of The Daily Journal, go to The Daily Journal

 

Do Over

Think back to high school (or maybe even college for some of us) to your first time. That’s right.  Go ahead and take a few moments to reminisce, pleasantly or comically, but hopefully not tragically, to when you lost your virginity.  Are you back?  Ok, now imagine you had the opportunity to re-do that first encounter…and do it better!  That’s the premise of the new film written by Gina Field, Kevin Foxe, and Ryan Francis called “Do Over.”

WATCH DO OVER TRAILER

In “Do Over,” the ultra-successful Sean (Drew Seeley) moves back home to reconnect with his friends in L.A. 13 years after graduation.  All of the friends are in different places in their lives, trying to move forward, but just not progressing.  When a friend suggests having a “do over,”  they all plunge head first as they look back to their high school encounter, to right some wrongs and perhaps allow themselves to move on with their lives.  Each young man has a very different personality making their journey backward in time quite the comedic and at times, sweet adventure.

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Sean has never gotten past Gina (Field) and his regrets go much deeper than the superficial exploits of his pals.  From the Cougar-loving Anthony (Jonathan Bennett) to the misadventures of Ryan (Zack Lively) and everything in between, we find humor and empathy as well as sympathy for each of them.  The conversations among the friends are realistic and open, exactly what you might encounter with your friends, sitting back and drinking a beer.  Although this is probably intended for theScreen Shot 2016-02-18 at 8.06.08 PM 20- 30- somethings, we’ve all had a first time and memories come flooding back as you watch this film, making it an enjoyable watch for any age.

Seeley creates a likable character that we can all identify with…he’s searching for more meaning in his life which brings us closer to him.  His endearing charm and intelligence balances some of the entertainingly quirky aspects of his friends as they all grow and learn about who they are and what’s important in life.  The strong female characters portrayed in this film are truly refreshing with Gina, the mature beyond her years young woman who, against all odds, has become successful given her hurdles.  Then we have Angela, the typical girl buddy who flies under the radar with the guys, but to the viewer she is a bright light, ever pulling the strings on these puppets before her, aka “the guys.”

Having a chance to talk with Field who starred in as well as co-wrote the film,  her passion for story-telling is immediately evident with the enthusiasm in her voice.  She couldn’t believe this topic hadn’t already become a film.  Coming up with the concept began by following her rule of always keeping her eyes and ears open.  Just a couple of years ago, while at a hair salon, Gina was conversing with her Australian hairdresser who had just returned from vacation in his homeland.  While there, the Aussie told Gina,  he hooked up with a girl that he had dated when he was younger to make things right as he “…kind of regretted how things went the first time.”  Gina continued, “…things went much better the second time around [for him].”  And that was how this ingeniously funny film was consummated.  Wearing so many hats within this film seemed quite natural for Field who is also a mother as multi-tasking is a prerequisite in motherhood as well as filmmaking.  It’s quite apparent that she juggled each role wonderfully.  (To listen to the entire interview, go  HERE   )

“Do Over” brings us back to one of the most memorable times in our lives, no matter our age at this point in life.  Using humor and insight with very unique, but realistic main characters, we see resolution, acceptance, and growth while we laugh.  Like so many of us, when we were young we made mistakes, but how many of us get to try to make things right?  “Do Over” allows us to imagine the possibilities as we live vicariously through the characters in this entertaining and inventive story.

Josh Kim makes his feature film directorial debut with “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time).”  Kim graciously answered many of my questions about the making of this beautiful and emotionally loaded film.

“How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) is based on a Brotherscompilation of two short stories from the book Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap.  The film is a journey of two orphaned brothers growing up in current-day Thailand with their aunt.  As the older Ek must partake in the nation’s military draft day, 11 year old Oat attempts to intervene to save his brother from picking the wrong color in the draft.  The consequences impact him and his small family more than he could have predicted— after all, he’s still just a child.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Ek  has a boyfriend and a job in the corrupt little town to help support the family.  Exactly what Ek is involved in becomes more apparent, but the relationship between the two brothers is the focal point.  Oat idolizes his big brother, as many younger siblings do, but perhaps even more than most as he has no father-figure.  Ek teaches his little brother life-long lessons, at times begrudgingly, but always lovingly.  The adoration, especially from Oat, truly endears us to him.

Seen through Oat’s eyes, we are privy to his fears and his needs, but just as importantly, we hear the adult version of Oat narrating, allowing us to know the end of the story, the regrets, and the clarity of hindsight.  Even with this knowledge, we are still captivated by the story with all its complexities of a far away land.  The unexpected similarities are what attach you to the character as every family has tragedy and hardship, reminding us that we are all really the same; especially siblings—fighting one moment, yet protecting one another the next. The richness of the characters and the volatile world in which they live create a somber and sweet story of the bond of brothers.

Ingkarat “Ryu” Damrongsakkul (Oat) and  Toni Rakkaen (Ek) have a wonderfully natural connection creating a realistic sibling Motorcyclerelationship.  Kim explains that Ryu was the first boy to audition, “…and he nailed it.”  20-40 more kids per day for two weeks were auditioned, but in the end, it was Ryu’s performance that was “the one.”

Creating an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance toward those whose differences fall outside the “norm,” is a marked aspect of this film.  Ek is gay.  His friend is a transgender male.  It is refreshing to see that the community embraces them, making no judgements, treating them no differently.  Kim explained that this opeKittyJaiandEknness isn’t an accurate portrayal of Thailand…yet.  He wanted to “…create a world that showed people what could be possible.”  Kim continued, “I remember watching the films of Thomas Bezucha…and realizing how films could be a vehicle for change.”

“Checkers” is written with an emotional depth that impacts your soul.  Anger, sorrow, dread, and child-like happiness wash over you as you get to know each of these characters.  But most unforgettable is witnessing draft day.  It is almost as if you are participating in this tension-filled day.  You feel a slow burn as you witness the corruption, sitting on the edge of your seat, willing the future to go in a certain direction.  Kim confirms that this corruption is still evident within the draft in Thailand today.  This fictional story could perhaps represent many young men in Thailand.  Kim, after reading the short stories, “…felt that the characters were people I knew, my brother, my neighbors, my friends.”  This is the reality of this fictional film.

“Checkers” is a story that is far-reaching while at the same time bridging the cultural boundaries as it focuses on two brothers and their love.   The filming technique allows us to also feel grittiness  of the environment as well as the complexity of love and family.  It’s a striking story that leaves an impression long after the final scene.

HOW TO WIN AT CHECKERS (EVERY TIME) can be seen through digital platforms such as iTunes beginning February 2, 2016.