Archive for January, 2017


Cullen Hoback, filmmaker

Safe drinking water should be a given—for all.  But it’s not.  Not even in the United States.  Filmmaker Cullen Hoback takes us on a disturbing journey of discovery in his new film “What Lies Upstream” which premiered at the 2017 Slamdance Film Festival.  Hoback sat down with me to talk about the making of the film, what was most shocking to him, and how he has changed his thoughts and actions after directly witnessing the effects of the chemicals dumped into a small town in West Virginia’s drinking water.


“What Lies Upstream” is a riveting and shocking film about the safety of our water.  Documentaries like this give viewers an opportunity to not only learn, but also empowers us to make changes and protect ourselves.

Check back for a full review of the film soon.


“Truth is stranger than fiction,” producer David Permut said about the new film “The Polka King” starring Jack Black, Jenny Slate, and Jackie Weaver.  And he’s absolutely correct.  In the 1990’s, a well-meaning, hard-working immigrant from Poland, barely making ends meet, devises an investment scheme that makes him millions.  The problem?  It’s a Ponzi scheme…A Polish Ponzi scheme.  The first of its kind and probably the last.

Jan Lewan (Black), living in Pennsylvania, with his wife (Slate) and astute yet meaner than a junkyard dog mother-in-law (Weaver), wants nothing more than to make a living and play music to Polka lovers everywhere.  The cost of doing this is greater than he can afford and more than his tchotchke gift store can fund.  So he takes on a few investors in his “company,” eventually swindling trusting elderly members of the community out of approximately $5 million.  If he sounds like a low-life criminal, you’d be wrong.  This guy, as Black portrays him which according to the documentary “The Man Who Would Be Polka King,” (Documentary Trailer Here)  is anything but that.  He’s sweet and devoid of malice.  He puts his family first…even that mother-in-law of his.  The film takes us through the years of Lewan’s misdeeds, giving us an absolutely charming and hilarious look at a man who digs a deeper and deeper hole until there’s seemingly no escape.  His escape, however, is even more hysterical!  There is no way anyone could make this stuff up…truth is truly stranger than fiction.

The husband wife team of Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky (“Infinitely Polar Bear”), create and direct one of the most unusual and entertaining comedies of the last few years. There’s not a dull moment in the film as we watch Lewan and his family’s life unfold.  Reportedly, Black, who jumped on this ship before Forbes and Wolodarsky had a single word written, had a hand in bringing Lewan to life on the screen.  This combination of writing talent is the jackpot.

The role of Jan Lewan was made for Black.  After his portrayal of “Bernie” in the film of the same name, Black seems to have a knack for playing unassuming criminals with no malice.  His sense of comedic timing and physical comedy augments his situations with sublime simplicity.  Slate finds a certain rhythm in her role as Lewan’s focused wife, making this odd couple one of the most unusual and entertaining duos to hit the screen.  It’s difficult to think that anyone could be more well-suited to a role than Black as Lewan, but Weaver is simply stellar.  She embodies the all-knowing, suspicious, Mrs. Kravitz-gone-bad relative, never trusting that son-in-law.  She’s scary and hilarious all wrapped into one.

“The Polka King” is 95 minutes of complete entertainment, full of unexpected twists in turns that only real life could provide.  It’s a roller coaster of a ride that you don’t want to end that somehow creates sympathy for a sweet man who happens to be a swindler as well.  When you’re not laughing, your jaw is dropped as you just can’t believe what you’re seeing.  And seeing is believing as this is a true story; albeit one that has the comedic genius of Jack Black behind it.

For more about this film, go to an interview with producer David Permut


RH“Rubber Heart” is one of the many wonderful short films premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festivals.  This dark comedy shows a women’s perspective on life, sex, and vulnerability.  Lizzy Sanford co-wrote this very open and revealing film with Anna Cordell who also stars in “Rubber Heart.”   Sanford, who directed the film, took time out of her day to talk with me about the meaning behind the film.  Check out the link below to hear what she has to say about how pornography has influenced our sexual perceptions and what our expectations are when we are single.




Thirty-three years ago, renowned actor Robert Redford created what would become one of the premier film festivals in the U.S., if not the world — the Sundance Film Festival. Taking place in the sleepy little ski town of Park City, Utah, the town wakes up with the convergence of tens of thousands of people, many of whom are big-name Hollywood actors like Jack Black, as well as entertainers such as John Legend.

While films are the focus, there are plenty of other things to keep you busy, such as special awards events, parties and panel discussions. I watched a lot of films, and here are several recommendations to put on your radar for the coming year. Without further ado, here are the best from the fest!

To read the rest of the article as it appears in today’s edition of The Daily Journal, go to



Climate change is much more of a threat to our lives than we may have initially understood.  “The Age of Consequences” by filmmaker Jared P. Scott, directly addresses how climate change is “an accelerant of instability or conflict.”  Using footage of conflict in areas such as Syria, graphic art, and interviews with high level military personnel creates a very clear picture of what climate change means in terms of world peace.  The film succinctly deconstructs how our environment with ever-increasingly more harsh conditions create climate change refugees and social instability and famine to name just a couple. These  situations promote or allow organizations such as ISIS to take advantage and increase in strength.  What will our military do?  How is the U.S. going to act or react?  Will we continue to be a world leader?  These are all questions that this film delves into deeply, allowing you to learn and to probe further into your current knowledge base.

Before the inauguration, I had the opportunity to talk with Scott about making this film.  Scott talks about the upcoming Trump administration and where we are headed.  While it clearly paints a rather gloomy picture, Scott gives us his wisdom and with that wisdom, there is hope.  The link to the interview is available to stream now.


LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW with Jared P. Scott here

To find out how you can see the film, go to



WALKING OUT, starring Matt Bomer and Josh Wiggins, opened at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.  This beautifully dramatic film, addressing father-son relationships and how we cope in extreme environments and situations is one of the top films at Sundance this year.  It’s also, along with Taylor Sheridan’s “Wind River,” one of the most chilling…literally.  I had the opportunity to interview the cinematographer, Todd McMullen about what it takes to film in the extreme cold and remote areas of Montana.  The film is as much about the environment as it is the characters dealing with it.  McMucllen and his team capture it in the most extraordinary way. To listen to the interview, go to www.archive.orgWalking Out Snow




It’s tricky — with all the clever and beautiful marketing and packaging strategies — to really know if what we are feeding our beloved buddies is good for them. It might even be potentially lethal.


“Pet Fooled,” a new documentary directed by Kohl Harrington, lets the proverbial cat out of the bag when it comes to finding out what’s actually in dog and cat food. Harrington breaks down the facade, revealing what the major pet food companies really are selling us. Shockingly, their pocketbook seems to be more important than Fido or Skipper’s well-being.


The film features former Bourbonnais resident and wellness veterinarian, Dr. Karen Becker, who opened Natural Pet Animal Hospital in Bourbonnais in 2005. Becker sold the hospital in 2013, but still works at the clinic. She also is a writer and lecturer, splitting time between Chicago, Arizona and Canada.

To read the article in its entirety, go to


“Hold On” premiered and continues to screen at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival as a part of the Short Film Program 4.  Writer and director Christine Turner tackles the communication divide not only between the generations, but between a young man and his elderly grandmother who suffers from dementia.  The film stars the up and coming actor Jimmie Jeter and the fashion activist Bethann Hardison.  “Hold On” is a film that will certainly resonate with viewers of any age and just might open your eyes to your own interaction with family members.


I had a chance to talk with Turner, a filmmaker with a documentary background, who finds that although this is a fictional tale, it brings light to this real social issue within our society.  Here’s what she had to say:


Reel Honest Reviews (RHR):  What inspired you to create “Hold On?”


Christine Turner (CT): I was very much inspired by my experience as a hospice volunteer here in NY.  Over the course of about a year and a half I came to know an elderly woman who suffered from dementia. It was really my experience and serving as a caregiver that inspired me to make this film.


RHR:  Tell me about your time with this woman.


CT:  I visited her once a week for an hour at a time so it was very limited, but in that small window, over a considerable amount of time, I did start see and start to observe some of the effects that Alzheimer’s has on individuals and their families.  I was touched by her and discovered that I had to adjust to her way of being.  The storyline and characters are fictional [in the film], but there are moments in there that are true to life.  I think it will be familiar to a lot of people whether they have a parent or grandparent suffering from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s


RHR:  Your film brings to light how much our cell phones interfere with everyday communication, not just with someone who has dementia, but with everyone.


CT:  I’m technically a Millennial, but also a Luddite in some ways as I have trouble communicating with my own friends and my own family because of cell phones.  One of the things in the film that I wanted to explore is the generational difference.  On the one hand you have this young man and he uses the language of Twitter, Instagram and Tinder and you have this grandmother that is 50 years older.  Not only is she of a different generation, but she also suffers from dementia and no longer is able to express herself verbally…at least until the very end of the film when he sings that song to her.


RHR:  Tell me about casting Bethann Hardison in this role.  Her background is quite extraordinary.


CT:  I came to learn about her through her activism and advocacy in the fashion world.  She has advocated for several decades now for the inclusion of women of color and African American women on the runways.  And she herself broke barriers in the 1970’s as a runway model.  She’s very much an icon in the fashion world.  I was thinking about who I would want to play this woman, take on this non-speaking role and she was one of the first people that came to mind, but I didn’t know if she acted or was interested in acting. I reached out to her [and] we clicked immediately on the phone.  She invited me over to her apartment in NY and we talked about the film and we talked about life. I think she was intrigued about the challenge of the role and taking on a new experience in life. I’m certainly honored that she wanted to participate in the film.  I think she has a presence not only as a model, but as a human being.  She has this very radiant, warm quality to her and I thought she’d be right for the role.


RHR:  In 9 short minutes, your film and the actors give us such emotions: loneliness, frustration, anger, humiliation and such a need for interaction.  How do you do this in such a short time?


CT:  As a filmmaker, I’m always trying to say as much as possible in the least amount of time.  I hope the film resonates beyond its 9 minutes.  It’s also about being able to say things without being able to say them because she is unable to speak.  It does become all about the gestures and the nonverbal communication that happens between them or doesn’t happen between them.  The film is all about these subtle misunderstandings.  Troy is not attuned to her needs so he misses a lot of clues.  Ones to you and I might be obvious, but to him he doesn’t see that. And part of that is because he is wrapped up in his phone and he’s distracted and multitasking.  We see him struggle with that.  And then we see, in his own way, him attempt to connect with her.


RHR:  Jimmy is a perfect representation of the Millenial.  How did you find him?


CT:  Jimmy is a recent graduate of Juliard.  2 weeks prior to graduating, he came in for an audition.  He was the first person we saw and auditioned for the role.  I knew immediately he was going to be our Troy.  He could not be more unlike Troy.  He is an incredibly warm, and thoughtful and perceptive human being.  Initially he had played Troy in that manner.  When I asked him to do an adjustment in the audition, he was able to take it the complete opposite direction so I  knew immediately that he had incredible range.


RHR:  Where does the song at the end come from?


CT:  The film is heavily scripted, but I had not identified specifically what the song would be at the end of the film.  I just called it a lullaby. Jimmy and I talked about it on the phone…I asked him if he would bring in some ideas in rehearsal.  He came up with about 5 different songs, a mixture of lullabies and African American spirituals.  He grew up in the church and so the idea of the spiritual really resonated with him as well as with me.  In the end, he proposed the very song ‘Hold On Just A Little Bit Longer” which the film closes with.  The three of us all agreed that was the most fitting.  And of course I retitled the film to reference that song…It was very collaborative [which] made it really fun.


RHR:  What message do you hope this film will send home with the viewer?


CT:  Some feeling of understanding what that feels like whether you’re standing in the shoes of Troy or the grandmother…that feeling of recognition; not being alone in that experience.  I think it would be wonderful if it opened a conversation amongst family members about these challenges.  In some ways the film is really about everyday ordinary experiences, caring for ones’ parents or grandparents.  I hope it’s something that resonates with people [and] prompts them to think and communicate better.


“Hold On” can be seen tomorrow, Thursday, January 26 at 4 pm at the Holiday Village Cinema as a part of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival’s Short Program 4.







“Kate Can’t Swim” a feature film at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, is co-written by Josh Helman and Jennifer Allcott.  Helman also directs and stars alongside Allcott, Celeste Arias, and Grayson DeJesus.  This first-time director and writing pair gives us a striking, complex and provocative film that brings relationships and sexuality issues into clear and sometimes harsh view.

Kate (Arias) and Pete (DeJesus) seem the happy, young couple, living the life in NYC.  When Kate’s best friend from childhood, Em (Allcott) returns from living abroad with her new beau by her side, Kate finds extreme difficulty in accepting Em’s very different choice. Nick (Helman) is an extremely successful photographer,  but Kate also questions him about his subject choices and moral boundaries.  In an effort to get to know one another better, Nick and Em invite Kate and Pete to a remote lake house in Upstate New York.  This peaceful backdrop promotes anything but peace amoung the group, giving way to a dramatic weekend for everyone.

“Kate Can’t Swim” is a visually striking film that cinematically captures the atmosphere even when the story and the environment are in complete opposition.  Cinematographer Tommy Agriodimas brings you into the cabin, making you the 5th guest.  You witness the unraveling, the questioning, and the evisceration of emotions.  Helman and Allcott’s  script is succinct with tight dialogue and pacing that runs parallel to the emotion of the scene.  And the dialogue is simply daring and bold, yet still maintaining a sense of reality.

The story tackles the concept of love, sexuality, fear of the future, relationships of many types, and expectations within our society as well as within ourselves which sounds like a lot, but it is never overwhelming.  With the story-line focused upon Kate, the supporting cast adds their story, augmenting the main focus beautifully.

This is a phenomenal ensemble cast.  There is a natural chemistry between not only the two couples, but between Arias and Allcott.  Their gestures and unforced laughter creates a feeling of truly having grown up together.  Arias has a standout performance, skillfully portraying a very complicated character.     While we may not always agree with her decisions, we understand them as we observe them and feel her pain and internal conflict. Her character development,  a testament not only to the writing and directing, but to Arias’ skills, unfolds beautifully.  Helman finds a way to express such subtle nuances in his performance, creating a very intimidating person in one moment, and in the next a very insightful and caring one.  It is this subtly in each actor that brings a level of genuiness to the entire story.  This cohesive group could easily be any one of us in our 20’s or 30’s.

“Kate Can’t Swim” is a standout film this year.  With skillful direction, creatively honed writing, beautiful cinematography, and an amazing cast, the film is one not to be missed.

Check out the interview I had with Josh and Jennifer RIGHT HEREFullSizeRender

Sent from my iPad



“Killing Ground” is the first feature film from the Australian filmmaker Damien Power.  As a sweet, young, and in-love couple decides to get-away for the weekend to camp in the wild, they notice a tent not far from their area.  After quite some time, the inhabitants are nowhere to be seen.  Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) begin to investigate, but after finding a toddler wandering nearby, their greatest fears don’t begin to compare to the horror that lies ahead.

This is not your classic horror film.  It’s clever and unpredictable using perfect timing of situations and clues to lead you on this “treasure hunt.”  Immediately, you have a sense of dread which is contrary to the sweetness that exudes from this couple.  The intensity is off the charts, but it is the thought-provoking puzzle that makes this a wonderfully creative spin on the classic horror in the woods.

Power sets up all the right situations, pulling you into the story and making you jump and scream out loud as he catches you off guard. Balancing deeply disturbing situations with smart writing that makes you think is a work of art.

If you loved “Don’t Breathe,” you’re going to love this intense psychological thriller that will cut you to your core.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Damien Power, Maya Stange, and Aaron Glenane to talk about the terrifying premise, the unusual storytelling technique, and what it was like to play these disturbing characters.