WHISKY GALORE (2017)

May 11, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. There’s good fun to be had in watching director Gilles MacKinnon’s and writer Peter McDougall’s remake of the 1949 comedy from director Alexander Mackendrick and writer Angus MacPhaill, based on the novel from Compton MacKenzie. Whew! Is that enough ‘Macs’ for you? The story takes place on an isolated Scottish island of Todday during WWII, and is loosely based on true events of 1941.

Not only is the community geographically isolated, it’s also mostly insulated from the rationing and hardships caused by the Great War. All that changes when the last bit of whisky is guzzled, leaving the locals “in terrible shape” with nothing to drink but tea (uttered with equal parts disgust and disappointment). Even though it was Irish and not Scottish, if you’ve seen Waking Ned Devine (1998), then you’ll have an idea of the comedic style – mischievous wry humor rather than hysterical slapstick.

The key locals include Gregor Fisher as Macroom, single father to two grown daughters Catriona (Ellie Kendrick) and Peggy (Naomi Battrick). Of course, where there are two lovely daughters, there is likely to be love in the air. Filling these roles are returning war hero Sergeant Odd (Sean Biggerstaff) and George (Kevin Guthrie), the son of a local ultra-Calvinist mother. Eddie Izzard plays the all too serious Home Guard Captain Wagget, while Fenella Woodgar spouts some of the film’s best one-liners as his wife.

When a cargo ship carrying 50,000 cases of whisky crashes just offshore, the locals begin plotting how to rescue the bounty and return normalcy to their daily lives … all while observing the Sabbath and gazing wistfully at the ship from dry land. There is also a funky sub-plot that ties into the story of the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Spencer, but this is mostly a story of local ingenuity and inspiration set to the beautiful music of Scottish bagpipes and violins (from composer Patrick Doyle). The quaint setting and predicament make for whimsical fun and some nice laughs … just remember to change the password if you are guarding the road.

watch the trailer:


NORMAN (2017)

May 4, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. With the subtitle, ‘The Moderate Rise and Rapid Fall of a New York Fixer’, writer/director Joseph Cedar removes one layer of the mystery that otherwise envelops the lead character Norman Oppenheimer. We find ourselves somewhat sympathetic for the obviously lonely guy, while also accepting this as Cedar’s commentary on today’s real world obsession with networking. “It’s who you know” is the call of the business world, and few stake claim to more contacts that Norman.

Richard Gere stars as Norman, and we immediately notice his usual on screen air of superiority is missing, replaced instead by a fast-talking sense of desperation … in fact, Norman reeks of desperation. Cedar divides the film into four Acts: A Foot in the Door, The Right Horse, The Anonymous Donor, and The Price of Peace. These acts begin with Norman stalking/meeting an Israeli Deputy Minister after a conference, buying him an $1100 pair of Lanvin shoes, and then tracking their relationship over the next few years as Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) ultimately becomes Prime Minister of Israel, and is embroiled in a scandal that directly impacts Norman.

It’s a terrific script with exceptional performances from both Mr. Gere and Mr. Ashkenazi (who also starred in director Cedar’s excellent Oscar nominated Footnote, 2011). Their awkward initial connection seems grounded in reality – despite the expensive gift. These are two men who dream big, but go about things in quite different ways. Other terrific actors show up throughout, including: Michael Sheen as Norman’s lawyer nephew; Steve Buscemi as a Rabbi; Dan Stevens, Harris Yulin and Josh Charles as businessmen; Isaach De Bankole as the shoe salesman; Hank Azaria as Norman’s mirror-image from the streets; and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a disconcertingly quiet and calm Israeli investigator.

There are many interesting elements in the film – some are small details, while others are quite impactful. Examples of these include the whimsical music from Japanese composer Jun Miyake, Norman’s questionable diet, the emphasis on “Unnamed US businessman”, the twist on a simple question “What do you need?”, the recurring shot of the shoes, and the creative use of split screen montage during multiple phone calls.

Most hustlers don’t generate a great deal of success, and Norman is often an annoying, even an unwelcome presence. However, it seems clear he is well-intentioned, and despite a proclivity for fabricating facts, his sincerity makes him a somewhat sympathetic figure … one that by the film’s end, has accomplished quite a few favors that should have delivered the recognition and influence he so craved. Norman’s “art of the deal” may not be textbook, but it makes for entertaining viewing.

watch the trailer:

 


UNLEASHED (2017)

April 29, 2017

USA Film Festival 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. Quirky is an overused word to describe far too many offbeat independent movies and unconventional actors. However, sometimes no better word exists, and that’s exactly the situation with writer/director Finn Taylor’s latest. A full moon cosmic event results in a collision between astronomy and astrology, and just like that … Emma’s faithful pet dog and cat are transformed into hunky human boyfriend material.

Adding to the high level of quirk (in the role of Emma) is the extraordinarily multi-talented Kate Micucci (“Garfunkel and Oates”) – an actress, comedian, writer, musician and artist. Plus, she is just so darn likeable and nice! In fact, “nice” may be the only challenger to quirky in how best to describe this film. Sure it’s cute and sweet and delightful, but above all, it’s a nice movie whose nice characters will leave you with a nice feeling.

Steve Howey and Justin Chatwin (both from “Shameless”) are spot on in their portrayals of Sam and Diego – the humanized dog and cat, respectively. Howey and his bleach blonde hair and boundless energy capture the devoted pooch, while Chatwin is downright hilarious with his feline tendencies that attract a public following. Given much leeway with the roles, we never lose sight of their original connection to love-lost Emma.

While the premise may offend some (though nothing else in the film will), the humor stems from this being a woman’s fantasy. Her beloved pets, with full knowledge of her likes and dislikes, and with blind commitment, take on beautiful male human form without losing the lovable pet traits. What more could a women-done-wrong desire? It’s also quite a scathing commentary on modern day dating, with the ne’er-do-well Luke (Josh Brener, “Silicon Valley”) contrasted to the too-nice Carl (Sean Astin). Hana Mae Lee (Pitch Perfect) is Emma’s spunky best bud and co-worker, and Illeana Douglas plays their boss.

There are some terrific Bay Area film locations utilized, and the music is so perfectly matched that we find ourselves saying “of course” as each new song pops up. Filmmaker Taylor certainly could have gone a bit harsher with the commentary and humor, but let’s enjoy this quirk for what it is … a really nice time.

watch the trailer:

http://themovieunleashed.com/?page_id=12

 

 


FREE FIRE (2017)

April 19, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. Searching back through more than a decade of film reviews, I can confirm that the phrase “slapstick shootout” has not previously been part of my movie lexicon … which is a relief since it could never be more accurately placed than in description of this latest from the husband and wife filmmaking team of director Ben Wheatley and writer Amy Jump (prior works include High-Rise, Kill List and a few others). The zingers are plentiful – both in bullets and dialogue. It’s unlikely you’ve ever laughed as much during such a violent/gory/graphic assault on the senses (especially auditory).

Set in 1978 Boston, which allows for added humor via music, attire, hairstyles and vehicles, the basic premise is a meet-up for the deal between an IRA faction and a gun-dealer, with the brokers and “muscle” of each side along for the ride. When cases of AR70’s are presented instead of the ordered M16’s, the deal gets a bit shaky until cooler heads prevail. That is until one of the gun-runners recognizes an IRA guy as the one who disrespected his 17 year old cousin the night before. It’s at this point that the film cranks to a frenzy that would make the Mayhem commercial guy proud. It’s the visual definition of a cluster.

A stand-off and shootout occurs (with side deals and betrayals) over the next hour and yet the early comical dialogue somehow becomes next level great despite bullets whizzing through a terrific setting in an abandoned umbrella warehouse. Unlike in some movies, these bullets inflict pain (and the subsequent cries and wails). The characters continue to banter and threaten one another, all while dragging their lead-induced injuries across the dusty floor between various forms of protective shields strewn about the warehouse.

Normally I would concentrate on the major characters, but most everyone involved in the deal-gone-bad has at least a couple of memorable lines and moments. The gun-runners are led by Sharlto Copley as Vernon, a cocky, mouthy South African whose dialect sounds an awful like New Zealander Murray in the classic TV gem “Flight of the Conchords”. In a movie that seems impossible to steal, Copley comes the closest and his Vernon would make a perfect Halloween costume and annoying party guest. His cohorts are Marion (Babou Cesay), Gordan (Noah Taylor, Max 2002) and Harry (Jack Reynor, Sing Street, 2016). The IRA group is led by uptight Chris (Cillian Murphy), Stevo (a hilarious Sam Riley, Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Frank (Michael Smiley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti). The two deal brokers are the ultra-debonair Ord (Armie Hammer) and the lone female Justine (Brie Larson). It’s a terrific cast having a ridiculously good time with a creative and rollicking script.

Know going in that the film is a very hard R-rating for violence, drug use (in the middle of the shootout), and a bounty of flowing F-words. It’s neither for the faint of heart nor those who take their standoffs too seriously. Director Wheatley employs a vast array of unusual camera angles to ensure the action never looks boring, and his use of secondary and tertiary sound (especially with dialogue) is expert and dizzying at times. Don’t expect too many layers or sub-plots. It’s simply a shoot ‘em up romp capitalizing on black comedy to the nth degree. John Denver might not have approved of the use of his song, and just remember, “We can’t all be nice girls”.

CAUTION: this is the RED BAND trailer and is NSFW or Kids:

 

 


DIFF 2017: Day Five

April 6, 2017

The Dallas International Film Festival runs March 31 – April 9. 2017

 

It’s “Two For Tuesday” and I welcome the first of two straight evenings with only two films on my schedule. Addtionally, neither Tuesday nor Wednesday features a documentary, so my odds of re-gaining faith in humanity are increased a bit. The two movies I watched on Tuesday April 4 are recapped below:

 

A QUIET PASSION

We open with a young woman standing strong during a critical moment at seminary school. It’s kind of a clunky start in an overly-dramatic and stagey sense for the film, but Emma Bell sets the standard for the future behavior of Emily Dickinson. What follows is a period drama with minimal costuming effects, but rather a fitting onslaught of language and words – much of which comes courtesy of Ms. Dickinson’s mighty pen.

I’ve often viewed Emily Dickinson as an early feminist whose beliefs and intentions were stifled by the era in which lived, as well as the depression that seemed to cloak most of her days. She clearly stood for women’s equality at a time when her own poems were published anonymously to avoid scandal and backlash for the paper. Writer/director Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea, 2011) has no interest in glamorizing either the times or the writer, and Cynthia Nixon seizes the opportunity to capture the essence of a gifted woman who at best, could be described as a societal misfit.

The terrific cast also includes Keith Carradine as Emily’s proud father, Jennifer Ehle as her sister Vinnie, and Duncan Duff as brother Austin. Emily’s rare forays beyond familial boundaries are mostly via garden strolls with her wise-cracking friend Miss Buffum, played with zeal by Catherine Bailey. There is also a tremendous 3:00am scene between Emily and her sister-in-law Susan (Jodhi May), which provides the best possible self-analysis by Ms. Dickinson (outside of her writings). She confesses to her new family member, “You have a life, I have a routine.” This insightful line seems to carry no sadness for Emily.

The first third of the film features some low-key zingers that rival anything from Whit Stillman’s superb Love & Friendship, though the balance of the film takes a turn towards the serious and focuses more on Faith and Death and Emily’s controversial stances. She embraces the description of “no-hoper” and continues on with her observations of a life she barely leads. While the language and words are the stars here (along with Ms. Nixon), there is a very cool effect as the characters seamlessly age before our eyes in a series of portraits, vaulting the timeline headfirst into Emily’s descent into self-imposed isolation. It’s a very well done biopic that requires your ears be in prime form.

MR. ROOSEVELT

The most pleasant surprise of the festival so far comes courtesy of writer/director/actress Noel Wells (“Master of None”). It’s a wonderful little gem filmed in Austin, Texas and it somehow only gets better after an excellent and very funny opening sequence.

Ms. Wells plays Emily, a Los Angeles-based editor who receives an emergency call from her ex-boyfriend Eric (Nick Thune) requiring her to return to Austin. Her lack of liquidity, and still-simmering flame for Eric, result in her accepting an invitation to stay at the home of Eric and his seemingly perfect and passive-aggressive girlfriend Celeste (Britt Lower). Varying situations and interactions lead to some uncomfortable and awkward moments that deliver a new style of humor.

Support work and additional fun is provided by Andre Hyland and Bina Chauhan as Emily’s new friends and support system. Their hijinx include time at Hippie Hollow, a rowdy house party, and some sexual freelancing jumpstarted by the phrase “You’re funny” … Emily’s ultimate turn-on.

The film is shot on 16mm Kodak film (announced pre-credits) and it clearly establishes Ms. Noel as a filmmaker to watch, reminding a bit of the underrated Miranda July. Not only does she have skills as a director and actress, the line “You’re a good person with bad execution” proves she has a real knack as a comedic writer. Good stuff from an exciting new face.

 


DIFF 2017: Day Three

April 4, 2017

The Dallas International Film Festival runs from March 31 – April 9, 2017

 This was my first 5 movie day since last year’s festival, and it comes on the heels of the four from yesterday. Sometimes a film festival can be an endurance challenge, but the Dallas International Film Festival offers such a diverse selection of films, it feels like a mistake to miss an opportunity to view unique films, some of which might struggle to get distribution. Below is a recap of the five films I watched on Sunday April 2, 2017:

SCORE: A FILM MUSIC DOCUMENTARY (documentary)

Admittedly, this is one of the films that jumped off the schedule when first going through the programming for this year’s DIFF. The magic of music in movies has always fascinated me, and many movies and their scores are so inter-connected that you simply can’t think of one without the other: Jaws; Star Wars; The Magnificent Seven; The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; Psycho; Gone with the Wind; James Bond; Batman; Titanic; Chariots of Fire; Jurassic Park … chances are, just reading that list caused you to hear the themes!

Director Matt Schrader, in his directorial debut, takes us back to the beginning to explain that silent films weren’t ever really silent. There was invariably live or recorded musical accompaniment to help muffle the sound of the projector. But it was Max Steiner’s score for King Kong in 1933 that really changed the game. His music transformed the film from schlocky special effects B-movie into a tense, thrilling cinematic experience.

This is so much more than a history of important and beautifully written scores. Director Schrader interviews most of the well-known film composers working today. He gains insight into their writing process, commentary on the ground-breakers who came before them, and a look at how technology, new instruments, new styles, and a different approach are always in the works.

Some of those interviewed include Rachel Portman (the only female included here), Randy Newman, Danny Elfman, Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor, and Thomas Newman (son of Alfred). There is also a well-deserved segment reserved entirely for the great John Williams, and we get reminders of the revolutionary composers like Jerry Goldsmith (Planet of the Apes, Chinatown) and Bernard Hermann (Psycho), as well as Henry Mancini (The Pink Panther), Monty Norman (Bond), and Ennio Morricone (westerns). A quick segment that proves quite entertaining is Mark Mothersbaugh (formerly of Devo) telling the story of how he used a toy piano for the score of Rugrats, but somehow no longer has possession of the little piano anymore.

Oscar winning composer Hans Zimmer is a recurring voice throughout and provides some structure to the numerous interviews and segments. It’s pretty funny to see this highly accomplished, world-renowned composer in his early days as a keyboardist for The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” (the first video played on MTV). More importantly, Mr. Zimmer discusses the insecurities and pressures that go along with the job, and how change (such as his aggressive sounds) isn’t always welcomed openly.

The technical aspects of creating the score are certainly not ignored. We get a glimpse inside Abbey Road Studios, and how thrilling it is for the composer to hear the live orchestra bring the music to life that first time. It also serves as a reminder that film composing employs a significant number of the live orchestral musicians working today, and that we all hope technology doesn’t replace that imperfect beauty of the real thing.

If there is a disappointment in the film, it’s that the recently deceased James Horner seems woefully short-changed, with only a brief post credits segment featuring director James Cameron who, as usual, spends the time talking more about himself than the impact of Horner. Adding a scientific perspective was a nice touch. Hearing that our brains respond to movie music in a similar manner to chocolate and sex made a great deal of sense; as I’ve often wondered if film scores are more manipulative or complementary in nature. This documentary is a must for movie lovers, and on a personal note, made me miss my friend Adam very much. He would have certainly enjoyed this one and had a great deal to say about it.

 

THE SECRET LIFE OF LANCE LETSCHER (documentary)

Most documentaries with an artist as the subject offer little more than a retrospective of the work. It’s rare that we get to explore the mind and creative process in a way that brings us a little closer to their world, while also magnifying the gap. This is Sandra Adair’s first foray into directing, though she is an Oscar nominated Film Editor (Boyhood), and she works wonders in getting Lance Letscher to open up and share his ideas, insecurities and reactions.

The first question we might ask is, why does he do this? Working in solitude with an Exacto knife and surrounded by piles of books, album covers, board games, signs and magazine pages, Mr. Letscher creates some amazingly detailed collages out of everyday materials – most of which have been discarded by previous owners.

Much of the film revolves around a commissioned project for a large outdoor piece to hang on the building that houses a book store on South Congress Avenue in Austin. Having not typically worked with metal, Letscher lets us in on some of the frustrations he has – which leads to a form of artistic procrastination. When things do finally click, it’s enthralling to see how quickly his vision comes to life.

Also fascinating is seeing how his right brain and left brain work in conjunction to create these diagrams of thought. He claims his subconscious mind is responsible for much of his creations, but we slowly come to realize Letscher is a rare blend of art and engineering. This blend results in such unusual projects as gliders/planes and motorcycles, in addition to his customary collage work.

Director Adair does not limit the framework to art. We get to know part of what makes Letscher the man tick. He jokes about his childhood nickname “Trance”, while later coming clean on his father’s depression and suicide – and how that has impacted him as a father, husband and artist. He acknowledges his tendency to take the “path of greater resistance” even during the process of layout-revision-glue-press. The use of music and intimate camera work create a polished documentary on a man who is doing more than keeping Austin weird – he is keeping it beautiful and interesting.

 

A BAD IDEA GONE WRONG

With all of the documentaries I have scheduled during the festival, it was important to mix in a comedy here and there. This little indie shot in Ft Worth is directed by Jason Headley and stars Matt Jones (“Breaking Bad”), Will Rogers, and Eleanore Pierta. It’s a pretty humorous look at a couple of bumbling house burglars with different objectives, who find themselves in what looks like a no-win situation.

Mr. Jones has a certain stoner quality that makes most everything he says seem like a punchline – even when it’s kind of brilliant. Mr. Rogers captures the essence of guy who is stuck holding on to a past relationship and being unable/unwilling to let go. He finds meaning to seemingly innocuous details that lead him to believe his ex-fiancé still pines for him.

The real fun begins when these two doofuses manage to set the house alarm that effectively locks them in the house they are robbing. Oh, and then they stumble on sleeping Darcy, the housesitter/pet taxi driver who may or may not be as welcome in the home as are the boys themselves.

Niagara Falls and a hide-a-key rock are key players in this comedy that’s good for a few laughs, while also providing a bit of romance-under-stress.

 

BERLIN SYNDROME

A well-made intense, suspense-filled thriller is about as much fun as one can have watching a movie. Director Cate Shortland (Lore, 2012) delivers just that with this hostage-psychopath saga based on the novel from Melanie Joosten. It also features a best-yet performance from Teresa Palmer.

Clare (Ms. Palmer) is touring Berlin alone (with her camera and backpack) as she seeks life experiences away from her Australian homeland. She spends her days enjoying the culture and architecture of the city and one day crosses paths with Andi (Max Riemelt). He charms her through broken English and they end up with a passion-filled evening. Of course, thanks to the film score, we know something is rotten in Berlin – and in particular with Andi. His innocent looks mask a true psychopath, and he ends up imprisoning Clare in the remote apartment while he goes about his daily life as a teacher. In fact, his outside-the-apartment life could have used a bit more definition. How does this guy fit in? We get only glimpses.

If this sounds like Brie Larson’s Room without the kid, you would be on the right path. The difference being, Clare has only herself to think of – along with survival and escape. In Room, the mother had the well-being of her son to consider. This makes for a more mano y mano situation – a true battle of wits. It’s brutal to watch at times, and is one of those films that forces you to ask, what would you do? At what point do you give up hope of escaping and concentrate on making the best of a situation? The frustrations and anger are palpable, and it shows how difficult it is to use rational thought when combating psychotic behavior.

 

MUSTANG ISLAND

This low budget Texas indie from director Craig Elrod is based on his 2014 short film Molly. The unorthodox pacing and deadpan delivery provide some quirky and funny moments, in spite of what seems to be a film full of sad characters.

Bookend close-up shots of the two female characters who are key to the story open and close the film. What happens in between probably seemed kind of lame on the written page, but actually works in the hands of a cast that executes most every scene.

Macon Blair plays Bill, and when we first see him, he’s crying while driving his car right into a parked boat. Bill’s a bit of a sad sack and there isn’t much grace to how he handles Molly (Molly Karrasch) breaking up with him. In fact, he’s a bit irrational when he talks his brother John (John Merriman) and simpleton friend Travis (Jason Newman) into tracking Molly to her family beach house on Mustang Island.

Of course, Molly isn’t there, so the boys break in and make themselves at home. What follows is more wrecks, a stolen truck, and an encounter with a bizarre and hilarious “Dance Party” dude (Byron Brown). More importantly, a connection between Bill and a local waitress named Lee (an excellent Lee Eddy) helps him forget the original reason for the trip … at least until Molly shows up!

The movie is plodding at times, but the good parts make up for it – provided you are a fan of deadpan humor and offbeat pacing. Shot in Galveston rather than Mustang Island, the local feel of the beach community is evident and crucial to the tone of the film – as is the spot on score from composer Benjamin Prosser.


DIFF 2017: Day Two

April 3, 2017

The DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL runs March 31- April 9, 2017

It’s the first weekend of the festival and that means two full days of movie watching, and a breakfast that must hold me all day. It also means very little writing time, so the updates will be slightly delayed. Below is a recap of the four movies I watched on Saturday April 1 (no April Fools jokes here):

 

 

44 PAGES (documentary)

Most of us were first introduced to Goofus and Gallant while trying to mind our parents stern direction to “be still” as we sat in the sterile doctor or dentist waiting room as kids. Highlights Magazine was our only tangible hope for entertainment in a world before smart phones ipads. Filmmaker Tony Shaff captures the vital role played by this publication as he documents the 9 month process of putting together the magazine’s 70th anniversary edition.

The first surprise is that filming doesn’t take place in some Madison Avenue skyscraper, but instead in a turn of the century mansion in tiny Honesdale, Pennsylvania (pop 5000). That’s right, the creative folks work in the same little town where the Myers founded Highlights so many years ago … and some of those in the bloodlines remain involved with the business.

If you are imagining a scene that’s a throwback to a Norman Rockwell painting, you wouldn’t be far off. Their mission is: For the benefit of children, and the motto is “Fun with purpose”. The job of the staff is to think like kids, and I challenge you to avoid even a touch of envy as you feel the spirit of editor Judy Burke and her ever-present smile as she enthusiastically tackles every task of every day.

No Santa Claus and no witches are just some of the parameters that give structure to the general content aimed at ages 6 to 12. You won’t find a single advertisement in an issue, and that brings up the viability of a publication business that is dying on the vine in many market segments. We see how the Highlights group is evolving into apps and the digital world, and even a new Robotics section, while still holding tight to the paper page.

The music was a bit loud and distracting at times, but mostly director Shaff succeeds at providing a blend of nostalgia and contemporary as we get to know the staff and witness their efforts to stay relevant and true to their belief that the magazine does indeed matter.

 

DEALT (documentary)

One of the sub-genres of film documentaries involves profiling those folks who are doing extraordinary things in life. Sometimes these people are changing the world, sometimes they are sharing their talents, and other times they are overcoming challenges that most of us don’t have. Richard Turner of San Antonio, Texas is one of those who checks all three boxes.

Mr. Turner is the world’s best card mechanic … a magician, if you will – although he doesn’t much like that word. Now you might be asking how a card trickster is changing the world, and it’s a fair question. The answer becomes clear when we see him sharing some card secrets with a young visually-impaired girl late in the film. That’s correct, Mr. Turner is himself blind, and if you assume that a blind man cannot possibly execute highly complex and entertaining card tricks, you are encouraged to learn more about this remarkable man.

Director Luke Korem expertly provides the necessary background for us to understand how Turner has become the star he is, and equally fascinating is how he simultaneously delivers a personal profile of the family man – the flawed man – who has slowly, but surely come to accept his weaknesses after a life of denial. “Blind” was another word he spurned for years, as he was driven to let his skills stand on their own against all others. So while we “ooh and ahh” and gape in amazement at his card skills, our hearts are touched by the relationships he has with his wife Kim, his son Asa, and his self-reflective drive that allowed him to reach 5th degree black belt. Mr. Turner likely practiced his card skills for 16 hours today … how was your day?

 

CITY OF JOY (documentary)

Bukuvu in the Democratic Republic of Congo is an area you may or may not be familiar with. Would you be surprised to learn that the area is among the richest in the world for highly sought-after natural resources (conflict metals) for use in many global products such as computers and smart phones? This peaceful and happy community was rocked in 1996 when the war over these resources began.

Filmmaker (and Editor-extraordinaire) Madeleine Gavin takes us inside a brutal and horrifying world that is controlled by militias hired by governments and multi-national governments in an effort to protect territories and resources. These local militias are the local power and care little for the citizens of these areas. Their strategy is too much to watch: they move into a village and rape the women of all ages, thereby breaking down the family structure, causing locals to move out, leaving the village to the militia to patrol.

Rape is the main weapon of this economic war, and these survivors are broken women. Enter a remarkable woman named Christine Schuler-Deschryver and a courageous Dr. Mukinege. In 2007, the City of Joy organization was founded and the compound opened in 2011. Their mission is to turn these rape survivors into community leaders.

Dr. Mukinege runs the Panzi hospital where the women come to get healed physically. Ms. Schuler-Deschryver is the director of the City of Joy where the women stay for 6 months to gain emotional strength by telling their stories and transforming the pain into leadership. We learn of Christine’s ambivalence towards celebrity photo opps, and contrast that with Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues) who is actively involved with the center. This is an incredibly important and powerful documentary that educates us on the horrible atrocities, as well as the inspirational side. By the end of 2017, more than 1000 women will have graduated from City of Joy. The real hope is that one day the center is not needed.

 

THE RELATIONTRIP

I just need to simply accept the fact that I’m too old to ever really understand the new world of hipster relationships and dating. Getting to really know someone, and all the nuances and time and effort that go with that, has been replaced by speed-dating events and apps designed for swiping away any connection based on a profile pic. Still, I should be able to find the humor in this bass-ackwards new world of courting.

Co-directors C.A. Smith and his real life partner Renee’ Felice Smith open up the film with a clearly disgruntled and discombobulated couple in a car – and without a word, we flashback to “four days earlier”. Beck (Ms. Smith) and Liam (Matt Bush) are seemingly proud independent loaners who have their meet-cute at a late night concert of Liam’s band named The F*** Dragons. What follows is a hyper-speed relationship development that starts out as a ‘friendship friend trip’ and ends according to the film’s title.

Along the way, the audience shares the discovery of personal baggage with Liam and Beck. Liam is weighed down by past girlfriends, a devotion to video games, and mommy issues taking directly from a Woody Allen movie (kind of funny thanks to massive Sally Struthers ankles). Beck has body-insecurity and lacks personal confidence, personified through a funky, wise-cracking muppet and a swimsuit habit that is a bit extreme.

The film uses some surreal elements and effects to make some interesting points, and a creative peanut butter and jelly metaphor that provides hope that this is the beginning of a filmmaking partnership to keep an eye on. In the meantime, I’ll try to view this new relationship world as evolution and not disappointment.