Archive for May, 2017

D Love Poster

When a film leaves you speechless, with tears rolling down your cheeks, and you find your hand over your heart as you watch the final scene fade to black, you know you have just seen a masterpiece.  First-time director Elena Beuca and husband/writer Dave Rogers take their own life-changing experience, cast the lead roles with the actual rIMG_8151smalleal-life characters, and bring us a story filled with heartbreak and hope—hope in the meaning of life and the goodness of others in “D-Love.”

“D-Love” stars Beuca and Rogers as Stefania and Dan Michaels, a couple in the midst of a calm crisis.  Upon returning from a vacation abroad, awaiting finding their car at LAX, the two are approached by  Ditlev Dharmakaya (D-Love), a young free-spirit asking for a lift going east.   It’s apparent from the outset that Stefania and Dan are at odds with one another, their marriage struggling to stay afloat.  Inviting this young “vagabond” to stay with them is not a part of Stefania’s plan, but Dan welcomes him with open arms.  Over the next three days, Dan and StefaJQ4A1538smallnia confront their buried thoughts, feelings, and emotions, as the centered and calm D-Love appears to be the grounded force allowing them to find who they were meant to be.  ”D-Love” is simply beautiful with its powerfully emotional themes that could easily be a part of anyone’s life.  It touches upon the very core of who we are as people and how we evolve in life and relationships.

Stefania is in a thankless job with a boss who is verbally cruel and abusive.  She is the bread-winner, but is resentful of Dan’s inability to pick himself back up after losing both of his parents.  He drinks too much…way too much.  The resentment she harbors toward Dan is palpable.  While Dan’s personality seems to be more of the comedic type, he too seems lost and together, this couple isn’t on the same page.  D-Love’s easy-going, almost spiritual persona counterbalances the two, but there is always a sense of mistrust from Stefania.  All three characters reveal their inner-most secrets, regrets, and hopes, allowing us to not only understand who and where they are in life, but to empathize with them.  While D-Love’s personality may not be typical, there is an admiration for this wise-beyond-his-years young man who seems to have figured out the meaning of life.

What sets “D-Love” apart from so many movies is the unique story-line and the genuineness of the characters’ development.  Using the real-life characters to portray themselves is also quite

IMG_9341small daring, but it works.  Beuca’s performance as Stefania is wonderfully heartfelt, capturing the real emotions of life’s ups and downs until she reaches a tipping point.  Balancing this role with directing could have been a daunting task, but for her, this appears to be as natural as her performance.  Rogers as writer and lead is equally skilled as he portrays a man who deeply cares, but is struggling emotionally.  Humor paired with a complex and delicious cabernet are his tools for coping.  It is the unusual performance by Dharmakaya as D-Love that is simply breathtaking.  His ability to bring a sense of calmness to each scene makes you sit back and truly hear his thought-provoking words.  He’s beautifully unique in every sense of the word.  Together, this small ensemble cast creates one of the most well-balanced and meaningful stories about life and love.

If the powerful and real story isn’t enough to win you over to “D-Love,” then adding the gorgeous cinematography will.  Each and every shot brings you into the moment, visually and emotioJQ4A0983smallnally.  We feel the claustrophobic situations of Stefania’s work situation, the walls closing in on her home as she is unable to find freedom from the impact of her brother’s death, and the soothing and serene open areas, allow you to experience a sense of healing.

“D-Love” is an impressive directorial debut for Beuca.  This gorgeous and rich story is filled with love and heart reminding us about what is truly important in life and the connections we make.

“D-Love” premieres at the film festival Dances With Films on Saturday, June 3rd at 7:15 pm.  For more ticket information, go to DWF TICKETS

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DSC_2615The name Helen Mirren immediately brings to mind “The Queen” for most people, but she is so much more  and Cinema/Chicago recognized this at their Spring Gala last night.  Both she and her illustrious husband, Taylor Hackford, were given the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award for their respective careers, acting and directing.  The annual event raises the necessary funds for the long-running Chicago International Film Festival headed by Michael Kutza.  It was a night filled with live and silent auction items, including a guitar signed by each of the Rolling Stones and a trip to the People’s Choice Awards in Los Angeles.  The main draw for tickets, however, was the chance to see both Hackford and Mirren in person—a ticket worth every penny.

DSC_2618Bill Kurtis, the iconic face and voice of Chicago, hosted the interview with Hackford and Mirren, allowing us to learn more about the life and experiences of this talented couple.  A montage of film footage characterizing their careers as well as heartfelt and comedic personalized video messages from Bryan Cranston, Richard Gere, and Ryan Reynolds, to name just a few, added a special touch to the evening for the stars as well as the audience.  Hackford fondly reminisced about his career and its origins, stating that “…it all started here”  in Chicago at CIFF.

Hackford shared his insight about directing, recognizing that “…casting is one of the most important things if not the most important thing” in creating a successful film.  He reiterated that an actor must “empathize with the character” and that “no one acts alone.”  He continued to discuss “An Officer and a Gentlemen” starring Gere and Debra Winger, his love of music and the importance it has not only in augmenting a film, but being the topic itself as he created “Ray,” the biopic drama about Ray Charles.  DSC_2621

Mirren, always stunning, seemed humbled by the kind words from her former directors and co-stars.  She and her husband both recalled her preparation for various roles, particularly that of Queen Elizabeth, honing in on what makes this actress one-of-a-kind.  Her rather soft-spoken and demure nature was unexpected, but this just added to her appeal.  As Kutza handed her the Gold Hugo Award, it was obvious that she was truly honored.

The evening concluded with a well-deserved standing ovation while the couple proudly held their awards.  For more information about CIFF, Cinema/Chicago, and upcoming events, go to www.chicagofilmfestival.com

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SIFF

“Entanglement,” starring Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley, Joshy) and Jess Weixler (The Good Housewife, Teeth), premiering at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) is a dark rom-com that never misses a beat as it explores heartbreak, our psyches, and emotional healing.  We meet  Ben (Middleditch) who is depressed and attempts to commit suicide several times, but always fails due to one little forgotten detail.  His life is a mess ever since his wife left him, but then he meets HanEntanglement-pic--200x200nah, his almost-sister, and his life takes a turn and leads him down an unexpected path in life.  ”Entanglement” always remembers that it’s a comedy while it successfully integrates deep emotional concepts and even a bit of science to keep us thinking and entertained.

Watch the trailer here

Typically, there’s nothing funny about suicide, but Ben’s failed attempts most certainly elicit laugh out loud moments.  This sets the mood for the rest of the film as we get to know this troubled and depressed young man.  After answering the door during one of his attempts, (he just couldn’t resist the call of the doorbell after slitting his wrists) he is rushed to the hospital to be saved.  Fast forward to a few months later—he’s in therapy (a friend who is a child psychologist), and finds out that his parents almost adopted a baby girl.  Looking for answers to his so-called life, Ben goes on a quest to find her with the help of his best friend and neighbor, Tabby (Diana Bang).  He not only finds his almost-sister Hannah (Weixler), but he falls in love with her.  With her, he explores what life means, how to live again, and how we are all connected.

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Initially, even with the topic of depression and suicide, “Entanglement” feels light and funny—and it is.  The delicate balance and careful understanding of the fragility of life is beautifully depicted while keeping the underlying current of humor.  It’s reminiscent of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader’s indie comedy “The Skeleton Twins,” but remains more upbeat throughout the film.   And the entire premise of the film is based upon the Entanglement Theory.  Simply put, everyone and everything is connected, always affecting one another.   Together, Ben and Hannah, express this theory with a light-hearted comedic touch.  The characters are all uniquely interesting albeit a bit over the top, but this adds to the humor as it never takes itself too seriously.  As we meet the others in Ben’s life, we begin to understand him better.  He lacks confidence and based on his interactions with his parents, we can see why.  His juvenile interactions with his therapist’s patient (Jena Skodje) indicate that he hasn’t quite matured yet, and Tabby is that misunderstood girl next door character he’s overlooking.

Middleditch and Weixler create an unusual yet perfect pair in this film.  Middleditch has a unique skill in portraying a lovable loser contrasted by Weixler’s confident and rebellious “Hannah.”  Middleditch’s mannerisms and timing demonstrates  that he’s a talented comedic actor.  It’s a strong ensemble cast, but Skodje stands out as the back-talking, insolent adolescent ready to set Middleditch’s “Ben” straight.  The astute and insightful writing, clear direction, and talented cast give us a wonderfully entertaining dark comedy with heart.

“Entanglement” will screen on May 24th at the SIFF and will also be a part of the Brooklyn Film Festival.  For tickets to see it at SIFF, go to SIFF TICKETS

 

 

 

 

s—a tangled mess that has a few kinks along the way, but we’re always trying to unravel the meaning of it all.

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First, the good news: You don’t have to see the other six “Alien” movies to understand the newest, “Alien: Covenant.”

Now, the bad news: If you’ve seen the original, you don’t have to see this one. While the characters’ names have been changed and technology has improved the special effects, it’s the exact same story.

This second prequel (“Prometheus” was the first) to the other “Alien” films, directed by Ridley Scott, catches the audience up — for those who didn’t see “Prometheus” or whoaliena fell asleep.

To read the review in its entirety as it appeared in the Friday, May 19th edition of The Daily Journal go to www.daily-journal.com

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Nicola Yoon’s best-selling, young adult novel “Everything, Everything” is now a major motion picture, and it’s YA audience might be the only one it can appeal to.

Stella Maghie directs this film targeting 13- to 18-year-olds, with a script that’s slow-moving, texting-heavy and ridiculous, followed by a repetitive musical overlay in an emotionally (and visuallyeverything) sterile environment.

To read the rest of the review as printed in the Friday, May 19 edition of The Daily Journal, go to  www.daily-journal.com

 

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Change.  It’s vital to our growth as a nation.  Over the course of the last 50 years, one woman has been an integral part of momentous historical changes,  addressing injustices pertaining to women and minority groups.  Her name is Heather Booth.  While she is not a household name, she is the backbone of social change.  She is an organizer who has inspired, mentored and taught others to create programs and strategies for change.  From rallies on the National Mall to the Women’s Liberation Movement, Booth is at the center.  Without her, our world would be a different and most likely, a more inequitable place.

 

Lilly Rivlin highlights this extraordinary woman in the documentary Heather Booth:  Changing the World.  Rivlin introduces us to Booth and takes us back in time to her roots in New York City and Chicago through personal interviews with this leader and those who know her best.  These interviews are seamlessly stitched together with archival footage, photographs and an audio diary to create a beautiful tapestry depicting a woman who not only changed the world, but continues to do so.

Read the article in its entirety here, published on May 18, 2016 FF2 Media

 

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“The Lovers,” starring Debra Winger and Tracy Letts opened to rave reviews from Rolling Stone Magazine and RogerEbert.com as well as yours truly.  It’s written and directed by Azazel Jacobs whose previous work includes “Terri” and “Momma’s Man.”  Sitting down and talking with this meek and soft-spoken filmmaker allowed me to gain insight into this evocative and socially relevant film about love and marriage.

Pamela Powell (PP):  You appear to be rather young, but your topic matter is more fitting to someone a bit older and in a different stage in life.  From where did you draw this topic matter?

Azazel Jacobs (AJ):  I’m younger, but I’ve always felt older.  I’ve always felt connected with different people, whether it was my parents or my parents’ friends.  I wound up when I got to my 40’s, hitting this wave for the first time of real divorces and splits even though my parents are still together and I’ve been married now for 16 years.  So this is not my story, but I got hit with a wave of people breaking up suddenly…This film was in some ways trying to make peace with the idea that these couples that I knew as couples…were suddenly no longer together.  Where did that love go?  HOW could that love go?  It didn’t have much to do with age as that feeling of getting to the place that you stop talking.

I’ve had a good marriage and at the same time, definitely have hit those points where you [think] this is not who I wanted to be…I think that’s what’s so interesting about marriage is that we’re saying, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow even though I’m not sure I’ll be who I am tomorrow’…And that’s a challenge which I understand when it doesn’t work out.

PP:  And you see that change in connectivity and identity with Michael and Mary when Michael sings a song at the piano.

AJ:  Both Michael and Mary have trouble expressing themselves so it made sense to me that they wound up, especially him, expressing himself using someone else’s words.

PP:  Tracy Letts is incredible in anything and everything he does.  Tell me about casting him in this role.

AJ:  I cast Debra Winger first and I felt like that laid down the gauntlet of what type of film and what kind of skill…and level I was looking for.  There were three things:  the script which he responded to; Debra Winger [and] the chance to work with [her]; and also I know A24, he told me on our first phone call that every time he and his wife were watching a film and they liked it, they’d see the same logo at the end and they started realizing A24 was going to be one they would like.  Those three things were what made him willing to give [“The Lovers”] a try.

PP:  Debra Winger has proven herself as an actress, but I think that it’s difficult for women to get great lead roles like this as they get older.  Did you discuss this at all with her?

AJ:  I think that she saw that it wasn’t avoiding age, but it was acknowledging it in a way where it wasn’t a joke…Tracy’s had been saying that  in movies, from the point of 50 on, well…life has kind of ended.  But we know that that’s just not the case.  And I think that’s something that she responded to as a person that’s been long-married and also as somebody [who's] trying to keep things going and interesting.  All relationships are changing.  We’re changing as people so she connected to that and she connected to the fact that A24 was giving me such freedom.

PP:  The music is as much of a character as Michael or Mary.  Would you agree?

AJ:  I do see it as a character.  I see it as a way to talk about how [Michael and Mary] could have wound up in this place….since there’s such little back story and there’s such little dialogue in the first third of the film.  Besides just harking back to the movies that inspired this film, these classic romantic comedies, it’s what happens when those romantic comedies end and the music keeps playing all these years later.  Where is the contrast?  Where does it sync up?  I knew I was getting great actors, [but] I didn’t know what would happen until they were together and what I have is way beyond what I could have hoped for…but then on top of that, the music…it was cool to bring in something that was not totally in sync.  It rubs it in another direction.  Since music is a key character and actual music as a part of their history, it opened up and changed things.

PP:  I must say that the ending was a complete surprise!  Did you play with the ending at all?

AJ:  It’s great to hear that!  It was the only ending.  I was surprised by the ending when I was writing it!  I didn’t see any other ending that felt truthful.

 

Jacobs also talked about his admiration of Letts’ work in “Bugs” and “Killer Joe” as well as Winger’s want and need for rehearsal which turned into more of a reading of the script with Jacobs allowing the two to really understand each other.  Allowing creatively daring writers and directors like Jacobs to fully express their thoughts gives us genuinely unique films not of the Hollywood format.  Bringing on talent the likes of Letts and Winger beautifully augments Jacobs’ original endeavors and we are the lucky recipients as we watch and are fully engaged in “The Lovers.”

The Lovers

What’s more powerful, the written or the spoken word?  In the case of “The Lovers,” the answer is neither.  It’s the lack of communication that is as deadly as a tightening noose around the neck.  Azazel Jacobs writes and directs the emotionally loaded film “The Lovers” starring Tracy Letts and Debra Winger as a couple nearing the end of their marriage.  Michael (Letts) and Mary (Winger), both fully involved in affairs, are ready to call it quits, but inexplicably, a small spark is ignited between the two, putting into question their impending marital demise.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

the-lovers-aiden-gillen-debra-wingerMichael and Lucy (Melora Walters) are in a dramatic affair as we witness in the opening scene.  This is paralleled in the next scene as we meet Mary and Robert (Aiden Gillen) in an equally emotionally evocative situation.  And then we see the awkwardly uncomfortable interaction between this married couple.  The inability to communicate that comes after years and years of comfort and complacency; the distance that is created after years of raising a child and going in two different directions; and the point of apparent “no return” at which many 50-somethings end up is portrayed in each and every scene with precision in “The Lovers.”

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As pressure to leave from both Mary and Michael’s lovers builds, each of them places a date on telling their spouse that it’s over.  Their son, Joel, and his girlfriend are visiting and this seems an appropriate point at which to tell one another.  How this unfolds is nothing like what was planned, revealing the innermost feelings of loss, fear of change, and remorse for dying and dead hopes and dreams.

Simply put, “The Lovers” is remarkably daring and poignant for the Baby Boomer generation.  Addressing a situation that occurs in many marriages in such a relevant and timely manner creates an updated version of any relationship film.  We find these characters looking back at the paved and bumpy road many miles behind them, unable to see where the potholes and forks began. And Michael and Mary’s life couldn’t be any more routine, but the excitement of their affairs seem to give them that spark they need to live, laying the path of hope ahead of each of them.  However, as they rekindle their own spark, the guilt of their situations as well as the love that was buried is now revealed.  It’s complicated—just like real life.

This is a visual and visceral film, using emotional building blocks augmented by orchestral creations to give extraordinary depth to each and every scene.  It feels much like a live theater play as we discover who these two main characters are and how they have come to this state.  While the dialogue is sparse, it is the action and reaction that is more powerful than any spoken word could possibly be.  And we become a part of what might be the final act in the marriage of Mary and Michael.

Letts, a stage actor who has proven himself to be a great talent no matter the medium, does not disappoint.  He easily portrays the typical 50-something year old husband and father who is disengaged in all things pertaining to family.  His regrets he wears on his sleeve.  His lack of inspiration is palpable.  And his want to feel alive “without the drama” is immediately  relatable.  Winger shines in her role, and again, with very little dialogue, we are able to completely understand her every thought and feeling.  She’s dismayed with life; she’s pulled in several directions; and she is also lonely and needs more in her life.  The two actors are always on the same page, their familiarity as a long-married couple believable, and their chemistry, when needed, is just as real.

Aiden Gillen’s “Robert” and Melora Walters’ “Lucy” are Mary and Michael’s lovers, respectively.  Their characters are not as well developed, but this isn’t really needed as it’s Mary and Michael’s story.  Robert and Lucy are just the conduits to conduct the story’s electricity through to the very surprising and unexpected end.

“The Lovers” is a rather complex story about a very typical situation in today’s marital society.  Extraordinary performances from Letts and Winger carry the film, engaging the viewer completely.  Its ironic humor blending seamlessly with realistic situations elevates this film to a level of filmmaking that we just don’t see enough of.  In other words, it’s not your typical Hollywood film…and that’s a good thing.

4 Stars

 

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VonnegutRenowned and critically acclaimed author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., over the span of his life, published 14 novels and 3 short story collections along with a number of plays and works of non-fiction.  His signature style, as one commentator stated, is “caustically sarcastic,” but the short film “The Foster Portfolio” is anything but that.  While he looks at human nature and what drives us, this story unfolds like a colorful mystery, steeped in tones of sepia.  Directed by Danielle Katvan and starring Roe Hartrampf as Jim Crane, the young, ambitious, but still wet behind the ears investment banker, the story takes place many decades ago.  Crane visits a possible new customer, Herbert Foster (Joel Nagle) in his tiny and very unassuming home.  Hesitant, Crane begins a conversation that quickly becomes cloaked in secrecy.  What he reveals has the potential to change everyone’s lives…but will it?

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

While the story takes place perhaps in the 1950′s it could be today as people and their motivations really don’t change over the decades.  Crane is a go-getter, but his bubble begins to burst as he takes one look at the modest home he is about to enter.  Meeting the reserved couple to discuss “bonds” and investments, Crane becomes dismissive.  Foster pulls him aside, behind closed doors, and reveals a great wealth.  Crane looks at him a bit differently as he fords ahead to manage his funds.  But there’s something pFosterHerbertuzzling.  Why must this remain a secret and why does Foster continue to work several jobs?   Crane sets out on his own personal journey of detective work to solve the mystery before him.  The film expertly peels away the layers of human nature to expose our inner-most wants and desires as Crane must find out what makes this man tick.

Taking the complexities of a Vonnegut story and translating it to the screen is a daunting task, but KatvanFosterAlma  expertly handles this.  The characters are extraordinarily rich as they find nuanced ways of expressing their thoughts and emotions.  This small ensemble cast of three balances one another like an equilateral triangle.  Crane’s innocence and drive are at the opposite end of Foster’s personality spectrum as he harbors so many emotions lying just beneath the surface.  Foster’s wife, Alma (Rebecca Watson) is the stereotypical 50′s housewife, doing what her husband asks of her, darning socks, and constantly nagging him about money.  And together, the story unfolds as beautifully as a blooming rose.

Cinematically, this film is simply gorgeous.  The set design, costuming, and camera work accentuate each and every thought, feeling, and spoken piece of dialogue.  Even in silence, the images and emotions are strikingly vivid.

“The Foster Portfolio” brings Vonnegut’s brilliant written word to full living color, completely saturating the screen and our minds to tell an extraordinary story about a seemingly ordinary man.  While the characters seem a bit off-kilter, they typify a part of us all as we tend to judge a book by its cover.  In this case, it’s a Vonnegut book.

 

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As we draw to the close of the Asian Pop Up Festival in Chicago, viewers will have the opportunity to witness the exquisitely beautiful work of Park Heung-sik with his newest film LOVE, LIES at the AMC River East on Wednesday, May 3 at 7 pm.  The story captures the essence of human nature in its glory and its less desirable traits, specifically jealousy and envy.  As two young girls raised together during the Japanese occupation of 1943 create a bond and pact to always stay together, they find that love and life have different plans.

So-yool and Yeon-hee meet as youngsters in a school for girls.  They quickly become best of friends relying on and supporting one another until graduation day.  As artists, they have a particular role within Korean society—a role not always looked upon favorably.  Both girls are extraordinary singers as they have been trained in all the classics.  But it is Yeon-hee’s exceptional voice and talent that So-yool’s songwriter boyfriend is drawn to.  With success and opportunities, the two girls travel along different paths, each portraying the disappointments and guilt associated with growing up, falling in love, and feeling betrayed.

“Love, Lies” is a testament to the fact that no matter where in the world or when in time we are, love is the same.  Relationships, whether they are friendships or love interests,  are also experienced the same no matter who we are.  ”Love,  Lies” takes us into the heart and mind of So-yool and Yeon-hee where we are brought into their earnest innocence and the pain of growing up.  Watching and feeling the pain brought on by envy and jealousy of not just love, but of another’s success is the ultimate emotional experience.

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The cinematography and costuming are equally beautiful to the story as it captures us visually.  While the story is one to which we can all relate, the singing talent of these young women is simply breathtaking.  Again, music is yet another boundary easily crossed from culture to culture, bringing us closer together.

“Love, Lies” is a cinematically gorgeous film crossing all cultural boundaries with love and music.  Skillful performances connect us to these women as they navigate the difficulties of love and growing up.

*Lifetime Achievement Award Night Thursday, May 11, 5:30 pm at the Chicago History Museum (1601 N. Clark St.). Honoree Teddy Robin Kwan will be attending this event.