Archive for May, 2016

 

MY FATHER’S VIETNAM

Written and Directed by Soren Sorenson

Vietnam

Vietnam is just a distant memory for many of us, but for those who served, it was a crossroads in their lives or even a death penalty, effecting a myriad number of families.  Soren Sorenson is a part of one of those families.  At the age of 30, he asked his father, Peter Sorenson, how he came to serve in the Vietnam War.  ”My Father’s Vietnam” documents where Soren’s answers lead him.  We embark on the journey of discovery of  three intersecting lives: Peter Sorenson, Loring “Ring” Bailey, and Glenn Aurelios.  More than 50,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam and this is just one of the many untold stories until now.

Watch the trailer here

 

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Soren tactfully delves into his father’s history and captures Peter as he reveals details of his life in the war and why he made the decisions he did.  Peter bares his soul, allowing us to see that this man, and many just like him, are different people because of the war.  We learn about “Ring” and Glenn as Soren interviews family members and those who knew them as combat colleagues.  Many of these men had been recently married with newborns, fighting not just a political war, but an internal war of conflicted emotions.  The film allows us to get to truly know these men and the impact it had and continues to have.

Peter, the only survivor of the three, is from a long line of military men.  As a journalist, Peter saw the war from a different perspective.  That view brought him off of the front lines to a “safer” zone, reporting and photographing the events at hand.  As we hear his memories, Soren beautifully overlays his father’s news clippings to correlate with the story.  The arial footage and photographs previously buried, surface to give greater meaning to this war and to those who fought it.

“My Father’s Vietnam” is an emotionally gripping and profoundly intense film that will forever change your thoughts about Vietnam.  These brave veterans, much like the men from WWII, don’t talk about this part of their lives—unless they are asked.   Their stories must not be lost.  Let’s remember and be encouraged to ask.

As the daughter of a WWII veteran who has now passed away, I’d like to thank all who have served and continue to do so.

You can see this film on VOD (Video on Demand) now on digital platforms such as iTunes and Amazon.  For more information, go to www.myfathersvietnamdoc.com

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“X-Men: Apocalypse” is the next comic book thriller to hit the screens this early summer.  While Marvel Comic aficionados anxiously await the arrival, the rest of us roll our eyes at yet another film in this overstuffed genre.  It has an all-star cast that is sure to lure fans to the theater.  Unfortunately, the film spreads itself too thin with way too many characters, but it does get high marks in 3D technology, CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), action, and costuming.
I won’t pretend to know and convey the backstory of this superhero series.  Suffice it to say that the writers seem to understand that there are many viewers out there that need to be coddled a bit with the story and the “who’s who” of heroes.  For you fans that can discuss at great length the why’s of every character’s motivation, this on-screen tutorial may seem redundant, but it just may make your viewing partner enjoy the film a bit more.  (If you are not a fan and go see it, “Speedy Guy” is never named.  I later learned that his name is Quick Silver.)  

Check out the entire review in today’s edition of The Daily Journal:  www.daily-journal.com or SEE REVIEW DIRECTLY HERE

To watch the video of the CIFCC members talk about this film, go HERE

 

Ross McDonnell

“Love and Friendship” takes us back in time to the 1800’s where women may not have worn the pants in the house, but they most certainly spun a tangled and complicated web to set their futures.  Starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny, this adaptation from a lesser known work from Jane Austen, “Lady Susan,” is transformed from a  set of letters to a brilliantly funny screenplay and film.  Written and directed by Whit Stillman, “Love and Friendship” captures the era and the intricacies of the eloquence of language with outright hilarity.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

I had the opportunity to talk with Stillman about writing and adapting this film as well as directing it.  His insight and matter-of-fact style shone through not only our conversation, but also in the film.

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The film’s premise finds Lady Susan Vernon  (Beckinsale) as an upper-class yet penniless widow who becomes the house-guest of relatives throughout England.  As with most relatives, there comes a time that she overstays her welcome and chaos and turmoil arise forcing her to move on to the next home.  While staying at her in-laws, Lady Susan attempts to be a matchmaker for her daughter Frederica.  Of course she has her own self-serving objectives and is focused on finding her  future husband as well.Love-Friendship-Movie-Desktop-Background-800x428

 

Stillman admitted that taking this book of letters which are not written in dramatic format was a bit daunting at first.  He compared it to shuffling a deck of cards.  “You take material from one side of the correspondents and put it against the observations from the other side…”  He felt that “…it was better because everything had to be reimagined as a dramatic story.  It made me reconsititute everything in a form that would work better in a film.”  He knew that the two main characters, Lady Susan and Alicia Johnson (Sevigny) needed to be brought to life as they were very “…scheming, very funny women plotting their lives and their futures.  There’s a lot of chaos and comedy that comes straight from the letters, but I knew I had to create other characters in the story.”

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Stillman did just that.  The additional cast members are all very rich and were actually not fleshed out until they began actual filming.  It was definitely a work in progress.  Using well-known British comedic actors brings humor into each and every scene.  Tom Bennett, as Stillman said, “…can make the answer to ‘How are you’ incredibly funny.”  It’s quite true.  Bennett’s character of Sir James Martin is awkwardly charming with unexpected timing and physical reactions that will make you laugh aloud.

 

Beckinsale as comedic actor isn’t what one would typical categorize her.  However, she masterfully takes this complicated and dialogue heavy role and runs with it—every so gracefully.  Her character is insightful and honest yet so terribly narcissistic that you can’t help but love her as you abhore her behavior that is really all very justified.  Stillman knew that he wanted Beckinsale to play this role after working with her in a previous film, “The Last Days of Disco,” and after seeing her in a Jane Austen mini series.  He says, “This is exactly Kate Beckinsale’s cup of tea.”

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The women in this film appear to have puppet strings on the men as they orchestrate their futures.  I asked Stillman if this is typical of Austen’s book and that era to portray women in this way.  He laughed as he responded,   “It’s typical of the world for all time.  I don’t  think women have been quite so powerless as is sometimes alleged.”  I’m sure there’s a story behind that, but we stuck to the topic of the movie.   Writing the complicated dialogue exchanges, particularly between the two best friends, pleasantly pushes the viewer to hang on every spoken word.  It’s lyrical and poetic yet powerful and eloquent.  The description of Lady Susan  as a “demonic genius” or one of Stillman’s favorite lines, “Facts are horrid things,” are just two examples of the numerously brilliant utterances.  Stillman continues to explain why he loves that particular line. “I think people are more sympathetic if they acknowledge their badness rather than denying it.  That is sort of admitting that everything said is true and just how inconvenient that is.”

 

In closing, I asked Stillman what he thought Ms. Austen’s reaction to his film would be if she was still around.  After he gasped, he said, “I think it would be all fine with her.  Except I’m not sure if the twist at the end might have been too risqué.  But she’s pretty risqué to have written this text so she might remember her youthful point of view when she wrote this.”  I’m sure she would be more than pleased with how Stillman not only brought this novella to life, but also with how this film will bring a love of literature to readers not yet familiar with Austen.

“Love & Friendship” is currently playing in the Chicago area at the following locations:  AMC River East, Landmark Century Centre Cinema, and Century 12 Evanston

 

 

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Shaken Baby Syndrome is a term with which we are all familiScreen Shot 2016-05-13 at 11.25.04 AMar.  Widely known and accepted as a violent shaking of an infant, causing brain damage and/or death, we  intermittently hear about it in the news, seeing testimonies of those accused of such crimes.  To think that a new life has been snuffed out because of a parent or caregiver’s frustration is unthinkable.  We all shake our own heads in disbelief that someone could do such a thing, readily accepting the guilt of those adult faces.  But according to this new documentary, “The Syndrome,” by Susan Goldsmith and Meryl Goldsmith, the “facts” are false.  The film brings us into the science behind this phenomena as well as the common sense about this syndrome, allowing us to come to our own conclusions.  It’s a heart wrenching and unbelievable story of lives lost and those punished for a truly impossible crime.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

“The Syndrome” thoroughly investigates the history behind the “discovery” of this syndrome, those responsible for coining the term, and the on-going research to easily disprove it.  Within the first 10 minutes of the film, we see the writing on the wall as easily as reading a neon sign in the dark.   Common sense and science do not support the diagnosis.  So how could this continue to be a relevant issue in today’s society?  ”The Syndrome” gives us just the answer to that question in shocking and horrifying detail.  As a parent watching this film, it is almost beyond comprehension that this witch hunt could occur in the current day.Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 11.25.37 AM

Interviews with leading pathologists, pediatricians, and neurosurgeons point out a few key factors that show us how we put doctors in the position of reporting suspected cases.  About 40 years ago, Dr. John Caffey, a radiologist, stated that if you saw three specific signs in a baby, it could be nothing other than Shaken Baby Syndrome.    In the following 40 years, the research actually shows that these three symptoms are indicative of over 30 other possible causes such as vitamin K deficiency, Reye’s Syndrome, or sudden respiratory distress, for example.  Unfortunately, laws dictated doctors to report suspected abuse if they saw the three symptoms.  Many times, these children were already sick.  Additionally, Dr. Ayub Ommaya proved with solid scientific research that this “whiplash” type of brain damage must co-occur with cervical or neck damage as well.  As medical pathologist Dr. John Plunkett stated, he has never seen neck damage in a “documented” case of Shaken Baby Syndrome.  Never.    This all seems like common sense, but as you learn in this film, common sense has no place with huge money-making corporations that benefit from this syndrome.

The film continues to delve more deeply into the fight to make judges, police, lawyers and the general population aware of what the truth so blatantly seems to be.  Unfortunately, as “The Syndrome” points out, hundreds of innocent caregivers are still being charged with child abuse or homicide due to Shaken Baby Syndrome.  We hear from the accused and how it has impacted their lives, some being incarcerated.  Imagine losing a child AND being convicted for the murder of this child, unjustly so.  The consequences of following inaccurate information are truly horrific.

Creatively using interviews as well as graphics to educate the viewer, “The Syndrome” succinctly conveys all the necessary information without making us feel we are part of a Ph.D program.  Relevant documents, newspaper clippings, and footage from interrogations make this documentary come to life, allowing us to not only understand the material at hand, but to also emotionally grasp what’s being presented.  Skillful editing creates a linear story that is both artistic and educational.

“The Syndrome” is a thorough and intelligent look at our criminal justice system, medical science, and Shaken Baby Syndrome continues to be a part of our society.  Seeing the dedication of those behind fighting this worthy fight is inspirational.  It’s a film that is enlightening, maddening, and thought-provoking, but most importantly, it gives us awareness and educates us.  Rarely do you find a film that can do all that, but when you do, you must see it.

For more information about this film go to www.thesyndromefilm.com

If you are a lawyer or part of a law firm and would like to bring this film to your office, go to www.resetfilms.com/hostascreening/

See this film now on VOD (Video On Demand) through digital platforms such as Amazon and iTunes!

moneymonster

“Money Monster” opens in theaters this weekend, giving us a much needed break for the onslaught of comic book hero films.  In “Money Monster,” the television host of an investment show, Jim Cramer style, is taken hostage by an irate viewer  who actually listened to host Lee Gates’ (George Clooney) investment advice and lost his life savings.  Posed to blow Gates  to kingdom come, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) Not only holds Gates hostage, but takes over the airwaves of live television, demanding answers to his questions.  As the heat rises, it appears that this low-life kidnapper may actually be on to something.  The stakes are high, lives may be lost, keeping us captivated with high intensity drama.  Thankfully, the film also delivers plenty of sarcasm and humor to lighten the heavy load.

45019856-Lady-Gaga-Craziest-Costume-Ideas-Jim-Cramer-Cover.600x400It may be a bit preposterous, but it does continue to make the viewer think about that 1% controlling the 99% and how we allowed and continue to allow that to happen.  For the most part, this is just sheer entertainment  that makes the 1 hour and 38 minutes fly by.

MONEY MONSTER TRAILER

There’s not a lot of originality in this film as it opens with Budwell, disguised as a delivery person, sneaks into a live broadcast of a television show, armed with a gun and two explosive vests.  As the entire station and building are evacuated, the skeleton crew of director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) and Lenny (Lenny Venito) remain to keep the cameras rolling.  Barring the lack of originality and allowing for the predictability, that’s not to say the rest of the movie isn’t total enjoyment.  It is.  As the information about the “crash” is slowly divulged, and fingers are being pointed thanks to investigative journalism, the dialogue and a few surprises here and there will make you jump and gasp as well as truly laugh aloud.  Each of the characters are fully developed, creating a complete storyThe preposterous situations snowball, allowing you to just enjoy tmoney2he entertainment value in this film.

Clooney is finally cast in a role that suits him to a “t.”  He excels as the over-the-top TV host, enjoying the gimmicks and the game of fame.  And when the role demands the need for sincerity and intensity, he’s got that covered too.   His portrayal of Lee Gates brings him back to the stature he seems to have lost over the last few years with roles in “The Monuments Men” and “Tomorrowland.”  Julia Roberts seems to be that gem of a star that continues to shine brightly no matter her role.  As “Patty,” Julia gives us a realistic and heartfelt performance as she struggles with her career choices and her loyalty to Gates.  It’s O’Connell’s performance as Kyle, the loser who has gone off the deep end, but still has a heart.  He’s angry, hurt, and confused, but most of all he’s angry.  It’s a tough role full of emotional situations that skyrocket then plunge to the darkest depths, but O’Connell, like Clooney, delivers exactly what we need to see.

On the social reflection of this movie, there are definitely messages to see and hear.  It makes many statements about greed and investments and that horrid 1% that seems to rule our world.  But it also poses a few questions that you might not like reflecting upon such as why don’t we see the moral issues when we are making money?  Do we only become morally just when it’s our turn to lose?  And why are we so intrigued by the horrors in life to stop everything and watch?  And does it truly have any impact?  These are just some of the underlying issues that briefly surface during this otherwise fun and thrilling film.

The writing and directing in a film is just as much as  a star as Clooney, Roberts, and O’Connell, although we don’t overtly see these aspects.  When it’s poorly executed, we certainly do, but it’s more difficult to pinpoint in a film like this.  Jodie Foster exhibits a keen sense of people and their reactions in high stress situations and portrays this beautifully  as she expertly directs the actors performing their roles.  The script is tight, nothing wasted, usimoney-monster-jodie-foster-jack-oconnell-slice-600x200ng humor to balance the intensity of the drama.  And because the entertainment value on this one is high, we can forgive the predictability of the overall story and some of the preposterous situations—it is a fictional movie, after all.  Editing is key in a film like this as well to bring us suspense and surprise us every now and then.  It seems that “Money Monster” has all the key ingredients in just the right proportions to keep our interest rising, making this a film worth spending a few bucks in the theater to see.

“Money Monster” is a breath of fresh air after surfacing from the suffocating amount of super hero movies as of late.  This isn’t “The Big Short” or “99 Homes,” but it is delving into similar issues that effect us all.  Great acting, a fun script, and drama balanced with humor make this a film worth seeing.

3 STARS

8 REELS

 

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Check out the review as it appeared in this week’s edition of The Daily Journal or read the unedited version below!  Captain America Review in The Daily Journal
The newest super hero movie, “Batman v Superman,” um, I mean “Captain America: Civil War” is truly just a duplicate plot with different faces.  This begs the questions, “Are DC (Detective Comics) and Marvel writers actually friends?  Do they hang out and pitch ideas to one another?”  One would think so after seeing both of these rather dull comic book representations.  There is, however, a quantitative difference with “Captain America: Civil War.”  The film has a dizzying number of super heroes to keep track of and include in the story-line.  Clocking in at 2 hours and 26 monotonous minutes, it seems the end will never be in sight as we are bombarded by non-stop nauseating hand-to-hand combat and 3D special effects.
      “Captain America: Civil War” finds an ethical barrier to crime fighting and protecting the world.  As the Avengers band together to “get the bad guy” an errant fire ball tossed by “Scarlet Witch” (Olsen) kills hundreds of people.  Well, it seems that this isn’t the first time these crime fighters have killed a few dozen innocent people in their attempts to protect the world from evil doers.  Now, the United Nations feels compelled to put their foot down and reign in this out of control group of human weaponry by providing some supervision.  Captain America (Chris Evans) wants nothing to do with being told who to kill and who to save, but Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) sees the logic.  The two part ways with their minions scurrying behind them until the two teams are pitted against one another all due to a lack of communication between the two leaders.  (Sound familiar?  See “Batman v Superman” review, a DC movie).       
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     From the opening scene, there is non-stop action.  It’s not high intensity action though. It’s slow motion, frame by frame action that creates a visually disturbing blurring of images. The feeling is similar to stop-motion, but in live-action form. As you watch the fighting, it sometimes becomes confusing as to who’s fighting for whom and why unless you are an avid fan.  You must also know which heroes make up the Avengers and who they have battled together and independently in the past.  Doom in gloom is the dramatic and repetitious story-line in “Civil War.”   Unfortunately, there is very little levity in the dialogue except when Iron Man is allowed to show a bit of his personality.  Alas, there is just not enough of that.  The writers do address the absence of Thor and The Incredible Hulk, giving them an acceptable excuse for not being apart of this film.  For all you Johanssen fans, you won’t be disappointed as she has her typical backside shots and mugging for the camera. As the minutes tick by accumulating into hours, it isn’t until Ant Man (Paul Rudd) and the new Spider Man (Tom Holland) enter the scene with some snappy dialogue that wakes you up.  Overall, the lack of ingenuity and the propensity to wrap up all the loose ends in the final 20 minutes, makes for a lack-luster story in need of major content editing.                                   
This film is definitely geared toward the comic book fans.  The cinematography, although creating discomfort to me, does give the feeling of the graphic art work coming to life.  The precision editing creates action and combat scenes that are out of this world.  Pairing this with spectacular stunts and meticulous choreography will catapult graphic novel fans into stratospheric happiness.  The special effects are also quite mesmerizing as you witness the hyper-lapsing metamorphosis of Iron Man’s body armor or a teen Tony Stark, and the zipping and whirring of flying objects.
It’s no secret that in general I am not a comic book film fan.  However, “Thor,” “Ant-Man,” “Iron Man” and “Deadpool” are exceptions.  Conceding this, I would guess that  “Captain America: Civil War”  will completely entertain fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  There’s plenty of action, (in my mind too much as I became desensitized to it), many of your favorite heroes are in this film, and the special effects and choreographed fight scenes are innumerable. Fans, go see it.  The rest of us can find better things to do with our time and money.