Archive for February, 2017


The 20th Annual Chicago European Union Film Festival (CEUFF) is about to begin at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.  Running March 3-30 and presenting 62 new feature films from all 28 EU Nations, this festival will broaden your film-appreciation horizons.  From romantic comedies such as the opening night film “20,000 Reasons” to intense psychological dramas such as “The Unknown Girl” from the famed French Dardennes brothers, the CEUFF has it all.

As Malta presides over the EU, the opening night film “20,000 Reasons” hails from this small Mediterranean island.  It’s a romantic comedy that bursts with culture and connects you with two young people falling in love, ever so reluctantly.  While the film is absolutely humorous and sometimes downright silly, it also  expertly intertwines social issues of class boundaries and family commitments and expectations.


Sophie (Maria Pia Meli) owns her own small company.  She’s remarkably driven and eschews her family’s wealth, committed to making her own way in life, even though her company depends on the family’s money.  Her grandmother, the matriarch of the family, wants nothing more than to have her t20,000wo granddaughters well taken care of financially when she passes away.  Grandma thinks that marriage is a must in life and places a caveat on her will—both Sophie and her sister, Juliana (Taryn Mamo Cefai) must be married before they turn 30.  For Sophie, that is only three months away and she has just caught her Lothario of a boyfriend with another woman.  Making Grandma happy might be a little more difficult than Sophie bargained for as she makes a deal with a desparate man, Ramon (Aldo Zammit), the groundskeeper who has a few skeletons in his closet.

200001 Meli creates her character of Sophie beautifully.   Sophie is a little jaded in her outlook on love and focuses intensely on her work.  She’s a perfectionist and her personality collides with Ramon, but we can truly see her falling ever so slowly in love with him.  Zammit’s portrayal of Ramon, the sweet and unlucky chap who never gets a break and is always in over his head is remarkable.  Finding that balance of being a nice guy, but always making the viewer guess about his true motives is not an easy task.  Zammit gives us exactly this with absolute ease.

2000003 While Sophie and Ramon are quite relatable, it is the supporting cast with their hilariously exaggerated personalities, that make this a fun romp at the theater.  Steffan Busuttil’s portrayal of the handsome but wandering boyfriend Jonathan is sublimely superficial and narcissistic.  He wow’s us with his embarrassingly comedic proposal to Sophie in the opening scene, alerting the viewer to the fun that lies ahead.  Grandma Domenica (Marylou Coppini) is the epitome of what we envision a wealthy, controlling woman to be.  With a few bad guys to round out the schemes that create comedic confusion, it is Christopher Dingli’s Father Norbert character that stands out.  He’s awkwardly sweet, charming, and somehow is a guiding force despite his lack of Fatherly skills.  Each and every character has their own story to tell with a personality that will bowl you over.

“20,000 Reasons” is everything a romantic comedy should be.  It’s a throw-back to what makes us laugh out loud—communication mix-ups, greedy but not too bright bad guys, and a few over-the-top characters.  The pace is fast with never a dull moment giving the viewer everything it wants in a romantic comedy.

To see “20,000 Reasons,” go to


Budgets vs. Oscar Predictions


Can a film’s budget predict the winner of Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards?  Let’s take a look at that along with the other awards to see if we can accurately predict who will take home the Best Picture Oscar tonight!

9 films have been nominated, ranging from futuristic alien invasions to real life history coming out from hiding and everything in between, but there will only be one winner.  This year, the budget to complete these films are as varied as the films’ topics; $5M to $47M.  “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea” were both completed for around the $5 million mark, bringing in approximately $21M and $46M, respectively.  The bigger budgeted films, “Arrival” and “Hacksaw Ridge” required $47M and $40M, respectively and pulled in $100M and $66M, respectively.  The winner with the greatest bang for their investment buck so far, however are the Hollywood darlings, “La La Land” ($30M to produce and grossing $343M) and “Hidden Figures” ($25M to produce and grossing $148M).  That leaves “Fences,” “Lion,” and “Hell or High Water” smack dab in the middle of production and income.  Looking at the profit margin, it looks like “La La Land”  is the front runner.

But it’s not just box office receipts and cost of production of the film that weighs into this.  This is a serious game of cat and mouse— the winner has boasting rights of saying their company produced and/or distributed an Academy Award winner.  The cost is much higher than you might realize.  Oscar campaigns, according to E! Online can cost as much as $25M with an average cost of $10M for the coveted little bald man.  This is a costly game comprised of special dinner and cocktail parties, press junkets and sending every Academy voter and anyone with a voice to create buzz, a DVD.  “Crash” spent over $250k just in DVD mailers a few years ago!  The question is now, which film had the money to back this type of buzz?  Distribution companies are very tight-lipped when it comes to revealing how much they have spent in marketing and publicity just for Oscar, but the deep pockets appear to be Lionsgate with “La La Land” and Amazon with “Manchester by the Sea.”

Winning awards from the big organizations such as the BAFTA, Golden Globes, and SAG also help create buzz.  Where does each film fall in this category?  So far, the big budget films haven’t even gotten on the scoreboard:  “Arrival,” and “Hacksaw Ridge” = 0.  “Hell or High Water” couldn’t make the cut either with these three awards events. “Hidden Figures” sneaks in with 1 win (SAG) and both “Lion” (BAFTA) and “Moonlight” (Golden Globe, SAG) have a score of 2. “Manchester by the Sea” has 3 (Golden Globe, BAFTA) and “Fences” has 4 (SAG, BAFTA, Golden Globe).  The clear winner with this is “La La Land” with 12, winning 1 SAG Award, 5 BAFTA Awards, and 6 Golden Globes.

When you put it all together, all three prediction techniques point to “La La Land” as being the clear winner.  While there have been 683 new members to the voting membership of the Academy (46% female, 41% non-white), it’s still quite clearly lead by older, white males.  “Moonlight,” given its topic matter may not have even made it to the Oscar consideration table prior to this change, but given the statistics, it is certainly an underdog.  Time will soon tell as the Academy Awards ceremony is just a couple of hours away!


With snow in the forecast for those of us in northern climes, here’s a stellar reason to head to the Tampa, Florida area—the Gasparilla International Film Festival!  If you’re lucky enough to be a snow bird, then you’ve got an amazing film festival right in your own backyard.  The festival hosts 35 feature-length films and 70 shorts— a film for everyone in this year’s lineup.  GIFF’s president, Rachel Marks Feinman, feels that these films “entertain, educate, and inspire” the community.  Taking a look at all the world premieres and films currently traveling the festival circuit with a lot of buzz, Feinman is most assuredly correct.



“Burn Your Maps,” the festival’s opening night film starring Vera Farmiga (“Up in the Air”), Virginia Madsen (“Sideways”), and Jacob Tremblay (“Room”) and “Unleashed,” starring Justin Chawin (“Shameless”), a fantasy comedy about the “perfect man,” bookend documentary, international, and narrative feature films such as “The Architect,” “Disturbing the Peace,” and Florida focused films “Turtle Tale,” “King Charles,”and more.  It’s an exciting array of films not to be missed.  Here’s how you can get tickets and enjoy the festival to its fullest degree:


If you think film festivals are just about seeing movies,  you’d be mistaken.  Parties, panel discussions, red carpets, and special events are every bit as much of a film festival as the films themselves.  Attend panel discussions to  learn how to pitch a film or find out how to get that film distributed.  These are just two of the many  topics addressed in the panel discussions.  Check out GIFF Panel Discussion Schedule for a complete listing.  Parties (Hey, it can’t be ALL work and no play!) and watching the stars walk the red carpet are all a part of GIFF too.  Unlike many festivals, GIFF invites you to participate in these events. ( GIFF Party Schedule) GIFF also remembers to include the kids in their festival.  “Family Fun Day” takes place on Sunday, March 5 from 11 am – 3 pm.  Live entertainment by Mr. Tommy, free t-shirts, activities by the Tampa Bay Rays and DJ Kitty, and a petting zoo are all a part of this fun-filled day! Family Fun Day


GIFF celebrates its 11th year in style at the Tampa Theatre, Muvico Centro Ybor, and HCC Ybor.  Don’t miss out on being the first to view great films from all over the world, seeing your favorite stars, and participating in the spectacular events and panel discussions.

Check back for continuous updates on reviews and recommendations!



get out

Get out and go see “Get Out,” the hilarious new mystery/horror film written and directed by Jordan Peele of the famed dynamic comedy duo Key and Peele. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) who is African-American will meet his Caucasian girlfriend’s (Allison Williams as Rose) parents for the first time.  He expects some racial issues, but what he discovers is much more than that!  It’s a Twilight Zone meets “The Stepford Wives” thriller and a touch of “Trainspotting” tripping that will make you jump, scream, and laugh!  “Get Out” is total fun, particularly as we look at our world through a different racial lens right now.


The opening scene plunges us right into the core of the movie as we see a black man (LaKeith Stanfield) walking in an unfamiliar neighborhood, attempting to find an address.  He’s out of place, muttering nervous and funny comments as a car pulls up along side of him.  BAM! He’s abducted.  Cut to the sweet couple, Rose and Chris, preparing for a trip.GetOutHorrorMovie-640x480

Chris is hesitant about visiting Rose’s parents, but she assures him that they aren’t at all racist.  In fact, she says they would have voted for Obama for a third time if they could have.  Best buddy and TSA Agent Rod Williams (LilRel Howery) doggie-sits while the two go off and have their adventure.

The story sets the viewers up to see and question what we observe through Chris’ eyes.  The tension increases with each ticking moment, delving more deeply into the bizarre behaviors of the black people who just happen to be overly happy working for this family and the rich white people whose comments are utterly inappropriate, but realistically hilarious!  The tables are turned with the portrayal of white stereotypes which gives us a truly refreshing perspective in this off the wall story.

“Get Out” has an all-star cast and while you might not immediately recognize Kaluuya and Williams, you will after this movie.  Kaluuya shines as the lead, giving us a memorable performance and creating a connection with the audience to truly root for him.  Williams gives us the All-American girl next door performance and the two of them together are a perfect match.  Whitford and Keener are brilliant as the loving and manipulative parents.  I can’t tell you any more about them as that would ruin the fun of discovery.  Suffice it to say, they are both stellar and you’ll stir your tea with a new understanding.  But it’s LilRel Howery that steals the comedic show in “Get Out.”  As the TSA Agent and best friend, he embodies the cop-wanna-be persona with the innocence of protecting his best friend.

“Get Out” is a unique film, blending genres of comedy, horror, mystery, and thriller.  Accent on the comedy!  When you’re not laughing, you’re gasping and while there are some rather gruesome parts, they are justified in the storyline.   Peele is no new-comer to writing and now he has proven himself in the director’s chair with “Get Out,” his directorial debut.

“Get Out” is total escapism and fun in a wonderfully mind-bending, hilarious, and thrilling story that revolves around racism.  To pull off that combination is absolutely extraordinary.

Please remember that this is rated R for some extreme violence!



3 1/2 Stars


Music reviews aren’t typically a part of Reel Honest Reviews’ coverage, but when I get a CD on my desk, pop it in to listen, and find myself hitting the “replay” button over and over again, I  need to write about it and share my new discovery.  The Black Market Trust is an American pop/jazz band comprised of 5 musicians, lead by Jeffrey Scott Radaich, songwriter and jazz guitarist.  Chris Irwin (vocals, rhythm guitar), Brian Netzley (vocals, upright bass), Nick Coventry (vocals, violin) and Brandon Laws (drums, percussion) round out this well-balanced and fine-tuned quintet.  Their first album was released in 2012, giving listeners a taste of “gypsy jazz.”  Now, their sophomore CD, “Just One of Those Things,” transports us back in time to the 30’s and 40’s while we get a glimpse into the influence of music from around the world.

Watch a video interview here

You’ll find yourself romanticizing about slow-dancing as you hear the soothing song “That’s All” first recorded by Nat King Cole, and snapping your fingers as you listen to “Dream of You.”  Each and every song is a familiar one, borrowing from some to the greatest songwriters from decades past, but all of them becoming something just a little different, allobmt2wing you to enjoy them in a new way.

The songs incorporate rhythms and syncopated beats such as the sounds you might find in Jamaica in “Please Stay,” or the percussion from a Hawaiian luau in “Paper Moon” first popularized by the great Ella Fitzgerald.  Combining these unique elements create a symphony of sound that you can’t resist.  The lead vocals for each song are reassuringly familiar and rich allowing your imagination to take you away, walking arm in arm with your love.  The use of strings, violins and guitars, percussion, and their harmonious voices all blend together to transport you into their musical getaway.

Listen Here to “It’s Only A Paper Moon”

The Black Market Trust is spinning old songs in new ways, reviving not only these classic harmonious treasures, but reminding us of the style and sophistication of music that’ll make you want to sing and dance right along with them.

For more information, go to






Written by Luis Camara and Roberto Sneider

Based on the book by Jose Agustin

Directed by Roberto Sneider

“You’re Killing Me, Susana” (Me, Estas Matando Susana) is based on the book of the same name by Jose Agustin.  The screenplay by Luis Camara is brought to life under the deft direction of Roberto Sneider creating a lively and humorous representation of the differences between men and women and their ever-changing relationships.  Having Gael Garcia Bernal (Eligio) as the lead elevates any film and this is no exception as we are immediately drawn to this character’s boyish narcissism.  Taking everything for granted, including his gorgeous, bright, and talented wife, Susana (Veronica Echegui), Eligio is blindsided when she leaves him.  While the audience doesn’t blame her as we see his antics, Eligio is completely baffled which adds a wonderful comedic charm to the story.  Not willing to surrender his machismo, he searches and finds Susana’s hiding place—Iowa in the winter—following her to win her back.  He might just wind up wishing he had waited till spring.

Watch the trailer here

Bernal is one of those actors that drives you to see a movie just because he is in it.  Following this rule has lead me to see outstanding films such as “Desierto”  and “Neruda” (2016) as well as “No,” a docudrama bringing the Chilean dictator and the rebellion of the people into clear focus.  Bernal is the perfect choice as the charming ladies’ man who is a struggling actor in a Mexican soap opera.  He seems to havYou're Killing Me Susana - Gael García Bernale never grown up, yet that is his appeal.  His basic disbelief that his wife could possibly not love him anymore is beyond his comprehension and his actions suggest this at every turn in the road.  While his heart is breaking, he is unwilling to acknowledge it and goes to great lengths to win Susana back.

“You’re Killing Me, Susana” is an eloquent amalgam of comedy, drama, and romance creating a beautiful gem of a film.  There are characteristics of the writing that have a Shakespearean flare to them with the well-balanced combination of these genres and the portrayal of the characters.  Seldom do I recall exact lines from a movie, particularly comedic lines, but this film is different.  I won’t spoil the fun for you so you’ll have to see this for yourself.  To create a romantic comedy that is smart and quick witted  is a very unusual thing to see.  Thankfully, intelligent humorous films are still being made, but you have to go south of the border to find it—Mexico.

Echegui’s performance equals Bernal’s performance as she allows any woman to her empathize with her situation.  Her words and her actions, in a woman’s mind, are completely justified.  The subtlety of her performance allows you to feel her continuous draw to Eligio while she is concurrently angry for his male possessiveness and embarrassing outbursts.  While Echegui’s character isn’t the comedian, Bernal inadvertently is by virtue of his character’s flaws and the situations he finds himself.  Bernal is an extremely versatile actor who gives us a robust and simple portrayal of a man in love, motivated by love, yet too immature to appreciate it.

The film takes us to the brutal cold tundra of Iowa as Eligio travels to save his Susana, like a knight in shining armor, except the armor is a bit tarnished and Susana doesn’t want to be saved.  The cinematography beautifully captures the opposing environments of Mexico City and Iowa, compounding the passion of the warmer climate.  The subdued and refined interactions of the students in the writing class, while passionate in their own way, create a less desirable atmosphere as we internally struggle for Susana.  Finding a way to create this outwardly simple, yet complexly layered stoGael García Bernalry takes extraordinary skill and Sneider finds a way to do this without muddying the water.

“You’re Killing Me, Susana” is a masterful creation of what dramatic/romantic comedies should be.  Intelligent writing, skilled direction, and  two exceptionally talented lead actors capture your attention and make you truly care for both of them.  You’re on this journey with them, figuring out their lives and what decisions they should make.  You are a part of this film, completely invested in the outcome while laughing along the way.

“You’re Killing Me, Susana” is playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center beginning February 24th.  For tickets, go to





Key historical figures, many whose backgrounds and importance have been neglected or even covered, continue to make their way to Hollywood to be told via the silver screen.  David Oyelowo has portrayed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Katende (“Queen of Katwe”), and now Prince Seretse Khama in “A United Kingdom.”  Written by Guy Hibbert and directed by Amma Asante, the film also stars Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”), Jack Davenport (“The Good Wife”), and Tom Felton (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”).


The story takes us back to the late 1940’s, post-World War II in Great Britain where the young Prince Kahma is completing his education in preparation to become the King and leader of his homeland, Botswana.  One fateful evening, he meets and falls in love with Ruth Williams (Pike),  a white girl from a middle-class family.  Interracial relationships such as this were more than frowned upon and the fallout from both families and the countries’ politics are far more grand than either could have predicted.  At its core is a love story, but this film is also a testament to politics and the lengths to which a country will go to protect itself.  The film beautifully blends the passion of love and the fight for what’s right amidst political chaos.

“A United Kingdom” sublimely captures the love and immediate connection between Ruth and Seretse.  You can feel their bond and as their relationship develops, they are truly interconnected, needing one another to succeed and live.  Creating a script that brings this love to life is rarely seen, but to expertly portray the high-stakes politics and cut-throat antics that weigh upon the relationship and the countries’ futures is quite remarkable, to say the least.  This, however, cannot be conveyed without the expertise of the director and exceptionally talented actors.  Oyelowo finds a certain regal grace to portray Seretse, quite fitting for the role.  He blends an overt refinement and emotional passion that one would expect from a man in his character’s position.  We feel his strength in his words and our heart breaks as we see him suffer the loss of being separated from the love of his life.  Pike isn’t the stereotypical superwoman leader that saves the day—she’s real.  She’s in love, she cares, and she creates a sense of empathy in a situation while you and I may not be in, we can still relate to.  Pike and Oyelowo create a chemistry that is palpable and weave this into an historically significant story that is still relevant to today.

While the story, acting, and directing create a compelling story, I must also comment, even briefly, on the costuming and cinematography.  This completes the story as we are transported not only back in time, but also to England and Botswana.  We feel the dust and dirt swirling around our feet and our heads.  Our breath is taken away from the exhaustion and heat.  And emotionally, we identify with each and every character and group, seeing things from their perspective.

“A United Kingdom” is an exemplary film, telling an untold part of world history.   It’s a heartfelt love story that believably weaves together the importance of love, doing what’s right, and fighting for our liberties.  The political decisions while unsettling, balance the story, driving it forward.  A fictional tale couldn’t have been created any better than this true story.

To hear David Oyelowo talk about his film, go to



a-united-kingdomDavid Oyelowo stars in another biographic drama, this time taking place in Great Britain, post-World War II as he deftly portrays Prince Seretse Kahma.  Completing his education in England, the Prince  is about to return to his homeland of Botswana and take the thrown to govern his people.  He meets and falls in love with Ruth Williams, a white woman from a working-class family.  The two cannot bear to be apart and defy the current day’s rules and marry.  The fall-out is much more than they bargained for and their love is used as a political pawn.  It’s a love story at its core, but the social and political heart of this film is simply gripping.

Oyelowo was recently in Chicago and I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with this talented and insightful actor.  Listen to thDavid-Oyelowoe entire interview  here


If you were wondering whether or not Charlie Day can carry the lead in a movie — or if Ice Cube can play anything but an angry and intimidating character — their new movie “Fist Fight” indicates that they can’t.

This insipid, repetitive and stilted “comedy” takes us back to the last day of a rough high school where Prank Day is out of control. Inadvertently, Mr. Campbell (Day), gets himself into a scheduled after-school fist fight with Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube). The antics and high jinks that fill the ticking clock’s minutes are excruciatingly mind-numbing.

To read the rest of the review as it was published in The Daily Journal on Friday, February 17, 2016, go to


Films written and directed by women in the horror genre is so frighteningly rare, it’s truly scary!  “XX” features 4 separate short stories to send shivers up your spin and make you jump in your seat.  While each film, “The Box,” “The Birthday Cake,” “Don’t Fall,” and “Her Only Living Son,” are all very different, they share one commonality besides the female component—they are simply chilling!


Melanie Lynskey finds a comfortable role as “Mary,” a wealthy, but disorganized mother attempting to put together a birthday party in “The Birthday Party” co-written by Roxanne Benjamin axx melaniend St. Vincent (Annie Clark) and directed by St.Vincent as well.  Mary’s disorganization is the least of her worries when she finds her husband in a state that is less than desirable.  The humorous cover up leads to shocking  results that would traumatize any child for life. Lynskey, as always, finds just the right tone to convey as she elicits chuckles of disbelief and believe it or not, sympathy, from the viewer.




xx box“The Birthday Party” gets you ready for the rest of the films that have much more disturbing and unnerving situations.  While the story “The Box” is by Jack Ketchum,  Jovanka Vuckovic is credited with writing the screenplay and directing this film reminiscent of a “Twilight Zone” episode.  As an exasperated mother of two typical young kids are riding home on a train from the city, the inquisitive little boy pushes his boundaries by inquiring about the contents of the box in an older man’s hands.  His reaction is nothing short of intriguingly shocking.  This is the premise that drives the film forward, as the consequences of knowing the contents are dire.  Slowly, appetites are lost and frustration is seen with the parents and a shocking and bizarre course of events unfold.  The story is truly gripping and disturbing as you want, no, as you need to know what was in that box!

“Don’t Fall” finds that innate fear of the outdoors and taps into your inner-child fears of dead spirits and monsters.  Written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin, we find several young friends out in the remote desert just camping and having a good time.  The suggestion of ghosts plants the seed of creepiness that blossoms into real fear and danger.  You’ll gasp out loud with the classic timing and set up in this good old-fashioned gory fright fest.

If gore doesn’t bother you and gxx don't fallhosts don’t raise the hair on the back of your neck, wait till you see “Her Only Living Son.”  Yes, there is a biblical reference with this and yes, there’s a menacing suggestion of satan.  As a mother seems to have been running from an abusive husband and father to her son, she begins to see changes in her boy.  He doesn’t seem to be the sweet little guy she thought he was as he’s doing things like pulling fingernails off of other children.  Not exactly typical teenage behavior.  Bizarrely, the administration doesn’t see anything wrong with that.  Her entire world is caving in and somehow she must fight for “her only living son.”

“XX” has it all…horror, gore, satan, but most importantly, it portrays every aspect of what a horror film should have.  This strong group of women writers and directors have proven that gender doesn’t matter when it comes to types of filmmaking.  If you don’t believe me, see “XX” for yourself.  And then I dare you to go camping or not think twice about asking to see what’s inside a present.

3 1/2 Stars out of 4