Archive for April 5th, 2017

pff2017_pulp

The 17th Annual Phoenix Film Festival (PFF) is one of the biggest celebrations of film in Arizona, attracting high profile celebrities, movies from all over the world and more than 25,000 participants. This 8-day festival, taking place April 6-13, screens more than 175 films under one roof—the Harkins Scottsdale 101 Theater in Phoenix.  This easily navigable festival welcomes the public and is known as a home for independent filmmakers.

PFF has a unique personality, always striving to improve year after year.  Festival director Jason Carney said, “We want to be the best version of our festival we can be.  That means being better than the year before…”  Carney has his pulse on the film industry, recognizing the changes needed and this year, he and his team have created a new program called Unified by Film.  Carney stated, “We wanted to get unique perspectives from filmmakers from different communities [so] this year we have categories for Native American, African American, and Latino American directors.  This will give our audiences an opportunity to see some stories from other perspectives.  Additionally, we had programmers with similar backgrounds select those films to make sure it was personal.”

Carney and his 200 volunteers seem to run like a well-oiled machine, coordinating every detail to make this a premier festival.  The line-up has diverse topics by diverse filmmakers, creating films to appeal to evTommy's_Honour_Posterery palate.  From documentaries and dramas to comedies, horror, and short films, PFF has just the film for you.

Finding just the right film can be daunting, but I have several recommendations to get you started.  PFF’s opening and closing night films are not to be missed—”The Hero” and “Tommy’s Honour.”  Sam Elliott and Nick Offerman star in “The Hero,” a story about  life’s regrets and living life to its fullest.  Elliott’s compelling performance is spell-binding and Offerman’s off-beat verbal cadence and unique perspective reminds us to laugh.   THE HERO Trailer   “Tommy’s Honour” is a father-son story and a love story within the roots of the game of golf.  You’ll have  a new perspective on this once raucous game. TOMMY’S HONOUR Trailer

Sandwiched in the middle of these two exceptional films are more entertaining gems you won’t want to miss.

DAVE MADE A MAZE builds on a child-like concept of getting lost in a box in your living room, making you laugh and gasp while you are in awe of the amazing set design.

image

THE KILLING GROUND

The Midnighters 3KILLING GROUND is an Australian psychological horror film that will make you think twice about that camping trip in the wilderness.  It’s gruesome yet brings you to question your own psyche.

GRADUATION is another moralistic conundrum by the famed Darden Brothers as a father attempts to protect and “help” his daughter after being physically attacked near her school.  To what lengths will a parent go to remedy his guilt and make things right again?

IN LOCO PARENTIS is yet another heartfelt journey into parenthood, but these teachers are much more than their title indicates.

The Midnighters

THE MIDNIGHTERS

NORMAN is written and directed by Joseph Cedar and stars Richard Gere as the hapless New Yorker who tries with all his heart to make connections.  It’s beautifully eloquent and meaningful yet whimsical as it portrays this one man’s life and direction.norman poster

Quaker Oaths,” “The Midnighters,” “Fallen,” and “Secondhand Hearts,” are all recommended, but check out the festival schedule and description for even more great films.  PFF Schedule   Don’t miss out on one of the best festivals in the country.

Tickets can be purchased individually or in a package.  For more information, go to PFF Tickets

 

 

 

 

TheMidnightersPoster

First-time filmmaker Julian Fort continues to captivate audiences along the festival circuit with his crime thriller “The Midnighters” which premiered at the Phoenix Film Festival and will soon screen at Dances With Films on Friday, June 9.    (Ticket Info)  Starring Leon Russom (“True Grit”) as Victor, a 35 year ex-convict and expert safe-cracker, and Gregory Sims as his long-lost son, the two are reunited to pull of one last and very profitable bank heist.  Filled with unexpected twists and turns, this cinematically gorgeous film will leave you guessing until the bitter end.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Victor (Russom), is released from prison and is reporting to his parole officer whose rote and obligatory directives are both condescending and dehumanizing.  Victor attempts to follow the rules and walk a straight and narrow path, but finding his way and a job in this very different world is not working.   The-Midnighters-2-700x450Desperate, he visits an old friend who was to have kept an eye on the profits from his last job and finds that time has not been kind…to his friend or his money.  Vince is then approached by his son with whom he has had no contact in years as he and his 3 Russian “partners” need Victor’s unique skills to pull of this heist.  This seemingly no-fail robbery is more temptation than he can resist and the two slide down the slippery slope of greed.

hq720

“The Midnighters” creates the perfect balance of love and disdain for Vince.  As the tension builds gradually, we grow to truly care for this ex-con, but still see that he is making one bad decision after another.  His love for his son may be the ultimate crime for which he may not be prepared to pay the price.  Filled with crossing and double-crossing, it’s a wonderfully intense thriller—a roller coaster ride of drama.

The dramatic scenes creating just the right mood are captured through concise cinematography.  The dark and foreboding background, always giving the feeling of impending doom while there is still a hope of positive resolution through the dialogue.   In addition, creative editing and segues are beautifully shot, augmenting the progression of the story.

While the story’s premise may not be unique, it is the unusual sympathy Fort develops for his main character, Victor.  Russom exhcropped-slide8ibits this lovable sweetness that allows you to see who he might have been 35 years ago.  His struggle to do what’s right is palpable as the carrot of gold is dangled in front of him.  With his gruff exterior, he eloquently elicits such sympathy that you find yourself wanting someone to give this man a second chance.  Sims and Russom seem a natural fit as father and son as the two sort out years that have been lost.  Sims creates a complex character that is at times unexpected, but always understood.

“The Midnighters” is an impressive first attempt at a full-length feature film creating a true crime thriller.  Great editing, skillful direction, and a more than competent cast elevate this film to a competitive level.  Fort has a bright future ahead of him.

 

3 1/2 Stars

 

20170326030717!Gifted_film_poster

Chris Evans isn’t donning a shield or  a uniform for  his role in “Gifted.”  In fact, he’s outwardly a typical, blue collar boat repairman.  It’s what lies beneath that makes him just as strong and powerful as Captain America as he portrays Frank,  6 year-old Mary’s (Mckenna Grace) uncle and father-figure.  In a custody battle with Mary’s maternal grandmother, everyone’s motives and abilities are put into question, revealing a troubled past, debatable motivations, and regrets.  While the story may be somewhat predictable and familiar, it’s still one that captures your attention and your heart as you laugh and shed a few tears, completely invested in this struggling young mgiftedan and his precocious little girl.

Watch the trailer here

Frank (Evans) has decided to send his brilliantly mathematically gifted 6 year-old to public school to learn more than he can teach her—social skills.  From the moment Mary sits at her desk, utterly bored, she unveils her profound gift at calculating equations  (and lack of respect) as her teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate) checks the results on her calculator.  As the adults have other plans for Mary’s education, it comes down to a fight for what’s best for Mary, but those lines of right and wrong are blurred.

“Gifted” is a love story on many different levels.  It’s a father-daughter love story as well as a sweet attraction between Frank and Mary’s first grade teacher.  We also see the connection and loyalty between siblings and how a bond between a mother and child can sadly be broken.  While it is Mary and Frank’s story, these ancillary stories add a beautiful depth to the film.  gifted-2017-chris-evans-octavia-spencerFrank’s genuine and unyielding love and protection of Mary is unparalleled as he melts our heart.  He loves this little girl and is weighted with the responsibility of doing what is best for his sister’s child.  His sister would have wanted Mary to have friends her own age, not just Roberta (Octavia Spencer) and Fred, the one-eyed cat.

jenny-slate-gifted-chris-evansWhat makes “Gifted” a different take on a familiar topic is the court proceedings and allowing the viewer into the struggle that Frank is facing internally.  Every parent asks the question, “Am I making the right decision?”  We all the do the best we can with what we are given and Frank is no different.  He’s not a super hero.  He’s very ordinary, but that’s what makes him so special.  In Mary’s mind, he’s not perfect either.  We watch the two work out a few typical parent-kid issues, sometimes in very messy ways, but all very honestly.  The court process is frustrating as we find ourselves almost shouting to route for our hero, Frank.  But again, life can be very messy and unfair and we don’t know how this is going to end.

Creating a genuine bond between Frank and Mary is evident in every scene.  It feels real and it sounds real.  Roberta is the neighbor every parent would want as her maternal influence creates a wonderful balance in Mary’s life.   While Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) is our evil character in this story, she’s not just one-dimensional.  She is just as Mckenna Grace as “Mary Adler” and Chris Evans as “Frank Adcomplicated with her guilt and remorse as anyone else in the film; it’s just that her motivation isn’t inspired by love. And Bonnie and Frank’s relationship provides a bit of humor in the film, although much of it feels a bit stilted and contrived after the first humorous interactions.

Evans shines in this dramatic role, proving that he is much more than a flat comic book hero.  He can be sensitive, kind, and loving as well as frustrated and scared.  He finds the ability to portray all of these emotions without ever going over the top.  Mckenna Grace is simply outstanding, particularly at this young age.  Her eyes and expressions immediately connect you to her as she effortlessly pulls on your heartstrings.  Finding someone of this age to carry this film could not have been easy and without the skill of this talented girl, the deft direction of Marc Webb, and the connection between she and Evans, this film would have flopped.  It didn’t.

Relationships and life are sticky, particularly when you involve children and “Gifted” shows us just how tumultuous life can be. Beautifully filmed with music to augment each emotional scene makes this an engaging film  filled with love and compassion, reminding us of what’s important and how to be sensitive and compromising.

While this is a story about a child, there is some language in the film not suitable for younger ears.  The pace of the film isn’t geared toward younger attention spans either.

 

i23FN9cU0EW9037YG9-G4Gp5Z6nEaRlONvd2OrXgZuZiLVEthlLMU3Wdth0BigVq-J8I2ZvHB_BYJDcN4nsMg_ZFzQ-pWKxumBT18aQaRs5ZGrkBsm0Uu735Oa3Hxo4ApeJWGwTJkn7emzA9Vw VniK6XdkEu-ZWTRKlvgjB7qcpBbrd0U0ScRxHVGdFIitvtJ5cShnuLTxQqQX7N3EeWpoTVQovrrpv00tIz3kFfpFFZb63KUJeTPqMljXb44aXCWb52l_lLW96H9lwXrXwuKWm1n96NTXM83LVQ

The movie poster elicits thoughts of humor and while comedy is an underlying concept of the film, the message is one of grave seriousness:  democracy, human rights, and freedom of speech.  The very basics upon which our country was founded.  This film takes place in Egypt over the course of several years in the life of Bassem Youssef, cardiac surgeon turned professional comedian and talk show host—the Jon Stewart of Egypt.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

As the opening credits roll, you’re already laughing as the narrator (Youssef) is warning the audience that “…speaking out against oppressive regimes may cause side effects such as…” and the list is filled with ironically humorous possible scenarios.  Little do you know, some of these side effects are an actuality in Youseff’s future.  (He doesn’t seem to suffer from vaginal dryness, thankfully.)

pk01wEtyJHbUuplkhjLlDIetY2ucKDPSd1NN-laQzN92p__ZczAYcQlhE3bBlvGC5thMgqVvDaN3qB8yJ8nhKMBzE1EVfmRd3SlNsvwMN_T3c3QLSdtQhkaAMomRq3YsOFtzol-Kn7h43hyR3g

We meet this charismatic star of the talk show “The Show” as he strolls through the streets of Cairo during a revolt against military rule.  Donning a surgical mask, he and his cameraman interview protesters as we witness

the effects of military intervention.  It’s shocking, to say the least.  But what is even more shocking is the fact that he is documenting the truth of the events while the media spins it in a completely different way.  The parallel lines and similarities to events in our own country do not go unnoticed.

Just 10 months earlier, patients were visiting Bassem for heart surgery.  Now his slicing is one that is verbal.  Sarcasm and speaking out against the government allows him to cut “..without spilling any blood.”  His journey begins on Youtube and then on to television which garners tens of millions of viewers each week.  As his show grows over just a couple of years, we see the rise and fall of one dictator, the promise of democracy, and then the installation of another dictator.  The film captures the danger and the need for humor and truth TIcklingGiants1within any institution, but the dangerous situation he places himself, his family, and his television crew prove to be insurmountable.

While we laugh at Youseff and his antics, there’s another side to this daring, intelligent and thoughtful man.  He candidly reveals his fears and his sometimes crushing responsibility to the people who have come to depend on him.  His love of his country, his family, and his want for his daughter to live in a free world are an integral part of this man.  His comparison to Jon Stewart seems to be quite accurTicklingGiantsJonate and he is a guest on the show.  Their camaraderie is endearing to us, but more than that, it is inspiring to the people of Egypt.

Inspirational and brave individuals like Youseff don’t come around often.  “Tickling Giants” allows us to know this man and those that support and surround him.  While there is devastation everywhere, the film beautifully integrates humor and hope with its behind the scenes footage and interviews of regular people.  Counterbalancing that are the news reports, “talking heads,”  and the hatred of this man who in many ways is leading the dictator’s opponents with his hope and humor.

“Tickling Giants” is a must-see as it is perhaps a look into a crystal ball for countries who have leaders with less than admirable aspirations for its people.  It’s also a reaffirmation that the people need to be heard, democracy is needed, and above all, freedom of speech is a necessary right.  (Hundreds of journalists are still behind bars in Egypt for speaking their minds.)  Unlike many documentaries tackling serious issues, the film is entertaining and informative as it allows us to laugh while we learn about a small country in Northern Africa.  Stick around for the credits because the film starts with humor and ends that way as well.

For a list of upcoming screenings, go to ticklinggiants.com