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The 42nd Toronto International Film Festival, which took place this week and finishes Sunday, attracted the brightest stars, featured the most talented filmmakers and rolled out the red carpet to feature 11 days of world and regional premieres and festival darlings.

Tens of thousands of patrons attended this festival, which screens hundreds of films from all over the world. The Daily Journal was a part of the action, discovering new films that will be in theaters very soon for you to see. Check out the best of the fest, and be the first to know what just might be the next Oscar-winning film.

TOP TIER

“Molly’s Game”

After a sport-ending injury, a former Olympic mogul skier inadvertently falls into a career of running a high-stakes gambling game. When Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) is accused of illegal operations and associations with the Russian mob, she must find a lawyer who is squeaky clean but willing to defend her. Opens: Nov. 22.

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“Breathe”

BreatheAnother first-time director, Andy Serkis (who, incidentally, played Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy), brings the true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, disability advocates, to life. Devastated physically and emotionally from contracting polio, Robin wants nothing more than to die, but his wife won’t let him. Together and with the help of friends, they reinvent life for not just their family, but for all who are severely physically disabled. It’s a beautiful, uplifting and life-affirming film with outstanding and heartfelt performances. Opens: Oct. 13

“Brad’s Status”

Mike White (“Enlightened,” “Beatriz at Dinner” and “School of Rock”) writes and directs one of the most poignant relationship films in decades. Starring Ben Stiller and Austin Abrams as father and son, the two take a trek from California to Massachusetts to tour prestigious universities. Filled with daydreams of what could have or would have been, this exceptionally powerful and entertaining film is a raw and honest look into what we all think but would never admit.

A few other top picks to look for: “3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Shape of Water,” “Victoria & Abdul” and “Mudbound.”

DSC03585 2To read the article in its entirety, go to daily-journal.com

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Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir’s feature debut is adapted from Guðbergur Bergsson’s novel of the same name.  Set in a rural, desolate area of Iceland,  a troubled young Sól (Grima Valsdóttir) is sent to her aunt and uncle’s farm to live and learn how to be a good girl again after being caught “thieving.”  This brilliantly creative girl witnesses the realities of farm life, relationships, and nature, and discovers the beauty as well as the repugnant aspects of the world around her.  Told from a child’s point of view, visually and cognitively, “The Swan” is truly a rare beauty, that allows us to not only see, but feel the pains of growing up.

We meet Sól as she and her mother lovingly cuddle in her bed.  It’s a magical moment between the two as Sól’s dependence upon her mother is genuine and sweet.  It is also within this very scene that we hear the cutting words that this precious little girl is no longer thought to be a good girl.  The harshness of these words is stunning and from this point, the viewer is a part of Sól, feelGríma Valsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal (4)ing what she feels, and completely understanding her thoughts and actions. Sól is shipped on a bus by herself to meet her relatives where everything and everyone is foreign to her.  Her keen observational skills accompanied by the accompanying narration of her poetic thoughts and stories, create a uniquely wonderful character.

Sól is quickly introduced to the cycle of nature, human and animal, as she helps deliver a calf and then later witnesses its slaughter.  The realization of survival and the choices we make spill over into her understanding of her college-aged cousin Asta, (Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir) with whom she wants desperately to admire.   However, Asta’s selfishness and morality  make it difficult for Sól to connect for any length of time.  It is her unexpected relationship with the introspective and handsomeFarmhand Jon (Þorvaldur Davíð Kristjánsson) that allows Sól to understand what life is truly about.  There is a big brother feel to his interactions, but Sól teeters between little sister and having a crush on him.  He’s bitter and angry as he attempts to be a writer— the perfect person for Sól to look up to as she too loves to tell stories. Jon’s protective nature is at once evident, but his brutal honesty may be more than this little girl can handle.  This weakening grasp on childhood opens her eyes so she no longer is able to see the world through rose-colored glasses.  They are shattered into shards of reality, a point at which we all have gone through, but perhaps never in such a definitive way.Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal

“The Swan” is cinematically stunning as it captures the essence of Iceland as well as the graphic brutality of survival. While the beauty is evident, the situation at hand cuts deeply through the superficiality of life to reveal the underbelly of human nature and nature itself.  Grima Valsdóttir is stellar in the role of Sól.  This young girl’s understanding of her role and the ability tGríma Valsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal (1)o express such complicated emotions and thoughts without uttering a word is nothing short of remarkable.  Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir’s portrayal of the spoiled and conflicted young woman with a broken heart and sometimes heartless, is equally as powerful creating an amazing balance of personality with young Sól. Þorvaldur Davíð Kristjánsson gives a meaningfully captivating performance as he too is trying to understand life and relationships.

“The Swan” is gorgeously poetic and deeply meaningful creating one of the most powerful, haunting, and mesmerizing portrayals of transitioning between childhood innocence and young adulthood.  With stunning cinematography, deft direction, and poignant writing, the story sweeps you away, reminding us of the balance in life and the complexities of growing up.Gríma Valsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal (3)

FESTIVAL SCREENINGS:
Sun 10 Sept 1:45PM Jackman Hall, Public Screening (World Premiere)
Tue 12 Sept 11:30AM TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 4, Public Screening
Wed 13 Sept 4:45PM Scotiabank 6, P&I Screening
Sun 17 Sept 12:30PM Jackman Hall, Public Screening

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Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses never looked as beautiful as it does in “Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle.”  Oscar-winning writer and director Mike van Diem makes a comeback with this sweet and whimsical love story starring Ksenia Solo, Gijs Naber, and Giancarlo Giannini.  van Diem came to the project as a “crisis manager” after the original director left suddenly due to health reasons.  (Read van Diem’s interview here)  After a re-write and a few casting changes, van Diem creates an engaging, comedic, and oftentimes bitter sweet tale.

Upon her mother’s death bed, Anna (Solo) travels to her homeland of Italy from Canada to learn about her unknown origins.  The “madonna” is met with open arms as she learns about her father and her real mother, all the while explaining to a police detective (with her singed buttocks) how she isn’t responsible for the death of a former mafia ring leader.  “Tulipani” expertly brings us back and forth between the here and now and the days of yesteryear, recreating this complicatedly funny and downright romantic story.

We meet Gauke (Naber) early in his life as he escapes the soggy Netherlands after the historic flood of 1953, on a bicycle with a basket full of tulip bulbs, vowing to find a new— and drier— place.  As luck would have it, at the same time, he meets and falls in love/lust with Ria (Anneke Sluiters) also vowing to find her when he is established in his new home.  Gauke with Olympic speed and ability on a bicycle, lands in Puglia, Italy and, not speaking the language, somehow  puts down his roots in Puglia, Italy.  Through the kindness of others, this tall, blonde man who doesn’t foreigner who has never eaten spaghetti (properly), develops friendships and a home.  Ria, with a babe in arms (remember, I said the word “lust” in the beginning) shows up and the two seem to have the perfect little family and life.  That is, until the mob interferes.  All hell rains down, creating havoc, but again, van writer/director Diem finely balances this open display of heartbreak and tragedy with the brilliant comedic effects using his current day character actors to their fullest potential.

There’s always a surprising lightness to this story given some of the events of their lives.  The pace of the story and tempo of his characters interactions allow the film to flow effortlessly.  Solo has a fine-tuned performance as she embodies the Canadian-Italian beauty counter-balanced by Michele Venitucci as the now-grown Vito.  Their connection is palpable as they stay at arms length during their ordeal of tripping down memory lane to tie up loose ends.  Young Vito, in flashbacks, simply steals the screen and every scene he’s in.  He’s adorable as he creates this boy who admires Gauke to no ends.  The connection between the adult Vito and the young boy is absolutely real.  We truly believe this is the grown Vito with his appearance, interactions, and mannerisms.  Naber couldn’t have been cast any better and given his Dutch heritage, he fits the role perfectly.  Giannini and Lidia Vitale who plays Vito’s mother, give this film the levity it needs, accentuating that not only Italians love a good story, we all do.  Giannini, gruff initially (read the interview to find out why!) portrays another level of character itching to surface.  His comedic timing is unconventional and refreshing, setting the stage for the rest of the cast to follow and have fun.  It is their interaction and reactions that remind us that stories and history are frequently blown out of proportion for the sake of that interesting and entertaining story.  Who would have thought that Giannini had the makings of a comic actor!

van Diem pays careful attention to every detail in this film including the ability to capture Italy and the historic flood in 1953 in the Netherlands.  Coordinating with the cinematographer with precision gives this film that overall lightness to a sometimes tragic story.  And it is with this ability that we not only love the characters, we are invested in them and their home country.  van Diem said, “If there’s one feeling you get from watching this film, it’s that we do love Italy and we do love Italians.”  Grazie Sr. van Diem e salute!

“Tulipano” is the ultimate immigrant comedic love story filled with lore, exaggeration, and passion.  van Diem’s touch with stellar performances create a technicolor dream story.

 

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On the heels of “Get Out,” the racially charged science-fiction/horror film comes “High Fantasy” delving into the poignant and socially relevant race and gender issues confronting the world today.  Jenna Bass directs and co-writes this feature film, her second, capturing 4 young adults on a camping trip in the Northern Cape of South Africa.  The care-free, fun-loving group find themselves having swapped bodies and deal with the emotional impact of seeing themselves as a different race or sex.  The social implications of such a situation are immediately intriguing if not insightful as the group attempts to find meaning behind the transformation.

While South African have their own stories and history of politics, wars, and rebellions, the concept of taking advantage of groups of people and how we view one another is quite universal.  Crossing all cultural boundaries, Bass brings to the forefront the concept of land ownership and reparations as she gives each of her characters a unique platform to show their perspectives.  All of this is captured using today’s universal technology and ideas—an iPhone and selfies.

It’s a carefree time for these young adults as they joke around, ready to start their adventure of camping on Lexi’s family’s farmland.  We quickly cut to individual interviews with a stark white background as we get a glimpse into their future events.  One by one, they report that the fun and laughter comes to a screeching halt when the four wake up one morHigh_Fantasy_04ning, realizing they have switched bodies.  The story flips back and forth between the events that occurred and the individuals’ recounting of their feelings about it.  The impact and sometimes lack of impact is simply enlightening at times and maddening at others.  The story unfolds rapidly as the four seem to have lost their edit mode, truly revealing their thoughts about race and gender.

“High Fantasy” doesn’t feel rehearsed—there’s an element of “Blair Witch Project” to it, but the story goes much deeper.  And the emotional range goes from one extreme to the other as do the personal revelations.  These young people are wrestling with their histories, their ancestry, and their futures, creating a complicated portrayal of life in South Africa.  Xoli (Qondiswa James) is the most outspoken and brash of the group, never shy about her opinions, but rather unseeing from another’s viewpoint.  Her judgmental and unbending perspective is representative of many people we all know.  All of these characters seem to be a compilation of someone we know.  Tatiana (Liza Scholtz) gives us a softer and more touching portrayal of what it means to be black and female in South Africa.  Tatiana becomes Thami (Nala Khumalo) and gains an even deeper understanding of the opposite sex.  Thami becomes female and his insight is the most poignant of the group, but it is Lexi’s understanding that creates the dynamic and jumping off point of conversation about race, racism, and our future.

This is a strong cast of characters.  Responsible for portraying  not only their one character, but also another’s personality within their body, as well as acting as camera person is remarkable.  The weight of the topic and the requirements for these actors is simply extraordinary and they each carry the weight with ease.  Thami andHigh_Fantasy_05 Lexi stand out as their personalities change the most.  They portray this with body movement, voice, and mannerisms, paying careful attention to the suprasegmental features of speech.  While we are seeing Thami and Lexi, we have no question that it is actually their inhabitants, Tatiana and Xoli, respectively.

To find a film that can start a deep and honest conversation while using an initially perceived humorous body swapping concept as the vehicle driving the concept forward, is a unique gem.  Stylistically, the film feels as if we are truly privy to the group’s camping expedition and the actors sublimely take on the personality of their inhabitants.  Race and racism as well as gender discrimination and male power is as much a part of the conversation as it was 100 or 200 years ago and just as vital to understanding.  “High Fantasy,” while frustrating in that there was more to be discovered by each character, it still starts a much needed conversation long after the credits roll.

TO SEE THIS FILM AT TIFF, GO HERE

 

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The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival isn’t just for big names and big stars — it also finds and polishes the hidden gems of the film industry.

As TIFF begins next week, films from all over the world will be vying for the spotlight. In years past, several featured films have gone on to procure Oscar fame — and this year promises to have a similar outcome. One lesser-known film that I believe will shine is “Tulipani, Love Honour and a Bicycle,” a Dutch-Canadian-Italian romantic comedy directed by Academy Award-winner Mike van Diem.

I had the pleasure of talking with this talented writer and director about the tumultuous path this film and his life have taken after winning that little gold statue for his first feature film “Karakter” (1997).

To read the interview in its entirety as it was published in the Friday, Sept. 1, 2017 edition of The Daily Journal, go HERE

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Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the brothers responsible for a myriad number of films, most recently the Academy Award nominated “Two Days, One Night” starring Marion Cotillard, have brought us yet another intriguingly disturbing study of personal psychology with “The Unknown Girl.”  As a young and quickly rising general practitioner, Jenny Davin (Adele Haenel) makes a fateful decision one evening at her clinic to not answer a frantic knock at the door by a young woman.  She is found dead the next morning.  Ridden with guilt, Jenny is consumed with finding out not only what happened to her, but to also give her an identity.  It becomes a crime-thriller, but never dismisses the feeling of possible causality for this woman’s death.

The Dardenne brothers, over the course of decades in creating deeply meaningful and relatable films, sat down to talk with me at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival to discuss this film and working together.  Their light-hearted yet thoughtful demeanor immediately alerted me as to why these siblings can continue to create such beautiful works of art.  While I don’t speak French (there was an interpreter), the artistry in their communication style was wonderfully overpowering, communicating what mere words cannot.

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Reel Honest Reviews (RHR):  The psychology behind this film is intense and extraordinary, particularly as we, as humans, deal with remedying guilt.  What was the impetus for this film?

Luc Dardenne (LD):  The beginning of this film was not based on reality.  We were more interested in a situation where somebody is responsible for the death of somebody else but we don’t actually kill [that] person.  We imagined a doctor because the work of a doctor is to save lives…We took this story of a person feeling guilty for kind of killing somebody so she needs to find her name to in a way save her.

Jean-Pierre Dardenne (JPD):  We hope that Jenny’s obsession is shared by each of the [viewers].  When we made the film, the migrant crisis had already begun, so the young girl in the film dies near a river…it’s a metaphor for all those immigrants who died…and are without a name.  It is a necessity to give them a name.

RHR:  Why a female doctor instead of a male?

LD:  We never hesitated if it should be a man or a woman.  It was always a woman.  What we hesitated about was…having it be an older woman, but we couldn’t develop the film that we wanted to make [with an older woman].  We happened to meet Adele and we realized that she could be our doctor.  Her naiveté.  Her naiveté of her face.  We thought we could construct the film around her.

JPD:  The first time [we] met [Adele] was at an author’s society.  It was really her face that made [us] feel like we could film around that face…and the way she could communicate with the other characters.  She’s a French actress, but she’s not really well-known here in the Americas.  She was a child movie star [and completed] three or four movies before our movie.  Two years ago, she won the Cesar for best actress.

RHR:  Guilt is the driving force behind Jenny’s actions.  Can you tell me about this part of human psychology and how you incorporated it?

LD:  We thought that Jenny’s ability of being possessed by this dead girl, but didn’t want to show this possession by showing some kind of supernatural effects, but more by showing that she does the same gestures again and again.  [For example], she often shows on her phone the picture of the unknown girl.  She doesn’t stop that.  She doesn’t have a life anymore apart from this obsession.

RHR:  I’m not familiar with all of your films, but perhaps there are some stylistic similarities.  In this film, there is a sense of simplicity within the complexity of human actions.  The walls are stark white or orange.  There aren’t any extraneous or distracting information particularly when someone is talking.  You’re completely focused on their face and their words.

JPD:  It’s not typical.  We gave a lot of importance to the dialogue because each character must speak and the quest is to give birth to speak the truth. So to talk in silence is very important in this film.  The abstraction of the setting [augments] that.

LD:  It’s our target.  When you see her face and the wall, the white wall, the viewer goes to her head.  It’s difficult to explain that, but we felt that and we tried.

RHR:  Yes, there’s not music overlaid, is there?

JPD:  It accentuates what’s happening in the film.

RHR:  I have to ask about working together as siblings.  I know what my brother and I are like.  What is it like for the two of you when you disagree?  I’m sure you have differences of opinions.

JPD:  No, never! [laughs]

LD:  It happens that we work together and that we speak a lot and we have the same intuition.

JPD:  I believe it’s because we happen to [have met] a theater director and to start working together.  He was like our spiritual father.

LD:  Maybe it’s better not to know!  [laughs]

We continued to discuss the differences in medical care and practices in Belgium versus the United States, all of us intrigued by the other’s situation.  I’d like to thank the interpreter for her skills in communicating my questions and relaying the brothers’ responses.  I’d also like to thank Jean-Pierre and Luc for their time and for their efforts in using English which were extraordinary.

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ingrid2“Ingrid Goes West” takes psychological disorders and social media and puts them into a pressure cooker to give us a cringe-worthy and disturbing look at today’s world through the eyes of a misguided and floundering young woman, Ingrid played by Aubrey Plaza.  Written by Matt Spicer and also starring Elizabeth Olsen, the film creates a controversial message regarding mental illness and society’s unintentional reinforcement of unwanted behavior.  While it’s a dark comedy, the darkness may be too much for many.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Ingrid explodes like a volcano at her friend’s wedding, embarrassing herself and ruining much of the reception.  This outburst lands her in a psychiatric ward, giving her the tools necessary to return to “normal” life.  Upon her release, she is thrust back into the everyday occurrences complete with stares, jeers, and comments from her judgmental acquaintances.  Fleeing to L.A. to literally follow Taylor Sloane (Olsen) who is an Instagram sensation, Ingrid’s obsessive behaviors get the better of her and the following becomes more stalking until she is invited into Taylor’s inner circle.  The means to the end find her spiraling out of control as one lie after another creates a more tangled web of deceit.

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Spicer has an undeniable skill in developing intensely awkward situations making you want to look away, but you can’t.  You have to see what happens next.  While his characters certainly represent specific groups or types of people, they certainly are not one dimensional.  Plaza continues her rather bizarre persona as Ingrid, perfectly suited to her acting style.  However, there is a subtlety to her portrayal that makes us have sympathy for her situation.  The sadness and inability to change is evident behind her eyes, but on the surface, we feel and would react exactly like those she encounters.

 

Ingrid encounters and takes advantage of anyone around her to attain her ultimate goal:  to be a part of the popular group.  O’Shea Jackson, Jr. plays Dan Pinto, Ingrid’s landlord and naive drug dealing friend.  Their relationship is awkward yet sweet, but as the viewer, you always have an insider’s perspective of what will come…and it does.  Olsen is simply remarkable in her performance.  She iingridss captivating as she confidently portrays the adorable (and lucky) Taylor Sloane who is successful thanks to social media posts.  Sound familiar?  Olsen and Plaza balance each other like yin-yang, but it is Olsen’s evident innocence that endears us to her character.  This female camaraderie with the dark cloud of social pressures and mental illness give this film an entirely unexpected and oftentimes uncomfortable look into young adulthood.

 

The main character in this film isn’t Ingrid—it’s social media and the pressure it places on young people today.  The bullying that occurs as well as the superficiality of it brews a poisonous drink in which so many overindulge.  Keeping up with the Joneses has always been difficult, but when it hits you through every social media outlet, it’s impossible to stay true to yourself.  ***Here’s a spoiler so stop reading if you want!***  The acknowledgment of depression, obsessive behavior, and mental instability is wonderfully incorporated into this story, but it is the glamorizing of attempted suicide that  gives this film a huge red flag.  Suicide is not glamorous.  It should not be reinforced.  And in no way should social media be the outlet for it.

 

“Ingrid Goes West” is a unique dark comedy that delves into relationships, women, and the pressures of social media.  Olsen is a standout with Plaza honing her skills as a “different” and troubled woman.  While there is humor in this film, there is also heartbreak with a final message that cannot be condoned.  Spicer pushed the envelope on this one and perhaps he pushed it just a bit too far.

TO READ THE REVIEW AS IT APPEARED IN THE AUGUST 25th EDITION OF THE DAILY JOURNAL, GO HERE

2 Stars

WIND RIVER

“Wind River” is Taylor Sheridan’s directorial sophomore attempt, although he is a well-known writer with last year’s Oscar-nominated film “Hell or High Water.” “Wind River” tests his ability to bring his words to life, via Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, and Graham Green.  From this reviewer’s perspective, Sheridan passes the test with flying colors.  Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017, there wasn’t a dry eye in the packed Eccles Theater—close to 1500 viewers—as we were all completely blown away with the film and the performances.

Sheridan takes inspiration from real life for “Wind River.”  Although a fictional tale, the details reveal the devastating situation on Native American reservations in our country. The film depicts a young Native American girl, full of promise and hope, found frozen in the mountains and in a nightgown.  Tracker Cory Lambert is called in to investigate, but his demons surface as the investigation ensues.  FBI investigator, Jane Banner (Olsen), teams up with Cory to solve the murder which authorities deem an accident.  It’s a chilling portrayal of a culture and circumstance that is not only inexcusable, it’s unfathomable.

To say that “Wind River” takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride doesn’t do it justice.  Anger, sorrow, humor, love, disgust, and devastation are all expertly woven into the story as we get to know Cory and his situation.  We meet the parents of the girl who has died.  We have empathy for the awkwardness that Jane feels as she attempts to solve a murder and confront officials, suspects, and the dregs of society that have been created by their situation.  She’s young, inexperienced, and female…three strikes against her in this town.  We are taken on a journey of emotional growth for both Jane and Cory, connecting us even more deeply to them.

 

Sheridan has an unequivocal voice in portraying the pain that a mother and father endure after losing a child. He brings in elements of tradition in the Native Americans while recognizing the commonality among us all, no matter our background.   These intensely real characters in real situations created with the utmost of care reveals the skill and innate ability Sheridan has in bringing his words to life.   His style allows you to laugh in between your gasping and shedding of tears, captivating you like no other film.

The role was written for Renner, according to Sheridan, and it fits him like a glove.  His intensity and humility shines through with confidence.  While he portrays a man who initially seems heartless, he is anything but that.  The opening scene is reminiscent of “The Bourne Legacy” or “Mission: Impossible” films, but we quickly are brought into a completely different film with Renner’s character’s sadness and strength as he helps those around him.  Renner’s ability to portray this man is simply astounding.

Olsen finds her role as the new FBI agent equally as comfortable, giving us a stellar performance.  She could have been anyone’s daughter, being thrust into dire and dangerous situations, but the level of reality is always there.  Sheridan takes care to bring us the details of the lack of cold preparation and the need to find suitable snow suits with humor and heart and then thrusts us back into the brutally harsh cold and deadly environment faster than a blizzard.

Of course, Graham Greene brings credibility in this story along with his signature style of authenticity and humor.  Sheridan brings together all of these actors and brings out their strengths like a choreographer of a ballet—it’s precision at its best.

Cinematically, “Wind River” is stunning as it captures the starkness and harshness of the elements surrounding the characters.  We can feel the wind whipping across the plains and over the mountain tops as it slices through the bare flesh of our emotional soul.  It’s a masterpiece on every level, binding us closely with the situation and the characters.

“Wind River” is a brutally stunning story capturing the harsh realities of Native American life in a fictional crime thriller.  Standout performances, excellence in direction, writing, and cinematography create one of the best films of 2017.  Sheridan and his cast should ready themselves for the 2018 Academy Awards.

To read the review as it appeared in the Friday, August 25th edition of The Daily Journal, go here

 

 

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“Brigsby Bear” premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, but this film has yet to create a buzz.  With its unique concept, comedic elements, and heart, it’s truly a wonder why.  Flying under the critics’ radar, this endearing comedy is co-written by and stars Kyle Mooney as James, the child-abductee, now 25, having lived in total seclusion with his bizarre captors/paBrigsby12rents, played by Mark Hamill and Jane Adams and is now reunited with his biological family.  James’  entire knowledge base is exclusively based upon a television show…that only has has seen:  Brigsby Bear making the transition to “normal” a bit more complicated.  The life-sized puppet has taught James the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic as well as a skewed viewpoint of life lessons.  To say he is obsessed with Brigsby would be putting it mildly.  James’ adjustment provides uproariously funny situations while tugging at your heartstrings and even brings up some common issues in parenting.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The very beginning of the film had me wonderfully perplexed.  We see a young adult in his bedroom, surrounded by “super hero” decor watching a fantastical show.  Now, it’s time for the parent talk…James  is spending way too much time in front of the television and not devoting enough time to studies and solving world problems.  Is he precocious?  Does he refuse to grow up and get a real job?  Are his parents frustrated with him or is this a post-apocolyptic era?   These are the questions running through your mind until the FBI shows up and arrests the “parents” for kidnapping.  This perplexing situation is stellar and sets the scene for the remainder of the film as James attempts to assimilate into this unfamiliar new world that in many ways is another planet to James.

The film presents an interesting premise.  How would a 25 year-old adult who has been exposed to lies and sheltered from humanity and all outside stimulation and technology, adapt to our current world?  This innocent young man, relying on what he has known for a quarter of  a century, pieces together how to talk appropriately, respond, and interact, all the while  clinging on to the one safety mechanism he has—Brigsby Bear and all that he has taught him.  Brigsby is the core of his being.  He does finds some comfort and understanding in the local police detective, Vogel (Greg Kinnear), who is able to see beneath the oddities of this young man and appreciate his situation.  Meanwhile, James’ loving parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins)BrigsbyBear 1234 attempt to make up for lost time and recreate all the activities they should have done together.  James’ sister, Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins), begrudgingly allows him to tag along to a party.  Embarrassment isn’t even close to what she experiences, but like all teens, she’s worried more about herself than her new-found brother.  James finds a connection with Spencer, a computer savvy creative teen, with whom James begins  to assimilate using filmmaking as the tool.  The premise of the film?   You guessed it!  Brigsby Bear.

This novel concept requires just the right cast to make the story not only credible, but fun.  Mooney hits exactly the right notes in his portrayal of James with his awkwardly innocent expectations and reactions to peer pressure and his parents.  The lack of his character’s stimulation and experience is at once believable given his simple yet nuanced performance.  Watkins and Walsh are the doting parents and compliment one another, but it is Walsh’s comedic excellence that brings the “dad” role to a higher level.  Integrating a therapist played by Clare Danes creates another element that gives the film that touch of believability it needs.  This is exactly what responsible, caring, and confused parents would do.  Mooney and Simpkins could easily be siblings, not necessarily because of their looks, but because of their ability to read and respond convincingly to one another.  And Greg Kinnear appears to be thoroughly enjoying his role as the thespian police officer with a heart of gold.  This small ensemble cast works together in harmony to provide viewers with a sweet and loving story that makes you laugh throughout every situation becoming a charmingly sweet and endearing story.

It’s an aboslute pleasure to watch this genuinely sweet and charming film given its heart unique storyline.  Filled with humor and heart and a bit of silliness, “Brigsby Bear” allows you to escape into another world—or perhaps I should say “galaxy.”

 

 

 

 

blonde

“Atomic Blonde” gives us “Jane Bond,” a savvy, smart and sexy British Intelligence agent. In this high-paced action film, Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is being interrogated by her own people to explain the murder of fellow agents in the field during the Cold War in Berlin.

 

Based on the Oni Press graphic novel series “The Coldest City,” the film is filled with mesmerizing fight scenes, car chases and plenty of sexual tension. It also stars James McAvoy and John Goodman.

 

“Atomic Blonde” is reminiscent of every “James Bond” movie ever made, but with a female lead. The difference, however, is that Broughton looks as if she’s actually been in a fight. Near the end of the film, she’s a complete mess — something you don’t see with Mr. Bond. I found that, along with surprising twists and double-crosses, to be refreshing.

To read the rest of the review as it appeared in the Friday, July 28 edition of the Daily Journal, go HERE