Friday, March 14, 2014

NEED FOR SPEED reviewed by Pamela Powell

Reel Honest Reviews is in the process of updating and consolidating its website.  Please go to the following link for the review:



Tuesday, March 11, 2014

ONE PLEASE: An Interview with Jesse Burks by Pamela Powell

Jesse Burks' short film, ONE PLEASE, which premiered at this year's Slamdance Film Festival in beautiful Park City, Utah is gaining momentum with its recent announcement that it will show at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.  I had a chance to talk with Dr. Burks, to learn about the making of this uniquely creative and eerily beautiful film.

ONE PLEASE is the first of what will, I am sure,  be many more films created by new filmmaker, Jesse Burks.  Filmmaking, however, is not Jesse's only career.  As a podiatrist who specializes in reconstructive foot and ankle surgery as part of an orthopedic group, Dr. Burks got the bug to make movies as a response to his son's acting career pursuit.  Dealing with feet, it's quite interesting to see the appendage that Dr. Burks chose to focus upon in his film!

Jesse has always needed a creative outlet.  He has written text books and articles, but he loves film and has embarked upon this new adventure.  Regarding film, he explains that he loves comedies, but he loves horror films too.  Films like "The Shining" that "toy with people's emotions" and unsettles you, is what he loves.  When he started writing ONE PLEASE, he didn't want it to scare you to death, but he did want it to be beautiful and well-shot at the same time.  Showing his son the script, Jesse decided to take it one step further and try to make this film a reality.  Knowing some key producers, Jesse's film began to come to life.

Jesse expressed nervousness as he has never worked with cinematographers or actors.  Although the two children in the movie are his nieces and the wife in the film is actually his wife, there is one actor he is in awe of and was thrilled when he accepted this role: Michael Berryman.  His nervousness was soon quelled by Mr. Barryman's easy presence.  With Jesse at the helm and his talented cameramen and actors aboard, the filming went off without a glitch.  Filming took place over one weekend and involved 42 people, a semi truck with equipment and Mother Nature cooperating nicely.  Working with children, especially novices, can be taxing, but these children were naturals.  It looks like all the planets were in alignment to make sure Jesse's film was completed.

For those who have not seen this short 6 minute film, it involves chopping, slicing, food, children and an ice cream truck.  Chopping and slicing also pertains to an appendage.  I don't want to give to much away, but  suffice it to say, there won't be 10 fingers left at the end of the film.  Asking Jesse why he chose a finger (or two), he said he wanted to shy away from the foot area---that probably wouldn't go over well with his patients!  He reminisced about an event that happened as a child, growing up in a wonderful, but poor family.  Jesse's step-dad was cutting plywood with a Skilsaw.  Hitting a knot in the wood, the saw bounced back and cut off his step-dad's thumb! They looked and looked for it, but couldn't find it until the next day.  So they decided, as anyone would, to put it in a mason jar filled with vodka.  Jesse laughingly told me that kids would come over just to see the thumb!  Jesse's childhood seems to be reinvented in ONE PLEASE!

Jesse's first film is making a mark at film festivals across the nation.  Keep checking back to learn where you might be able to see this film next!

Click on this link to read the review of ONE PLEASE   ONE PLEASE REVIEW

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Set in the countryside, down a picturesque canopied lane, nestled in the trees and overgrown gardens is a castle.  But this isn't just any castle.  With its many doors, it takes each of its guests along a personal journey to help them take down the roadblocks in their lives.

Professor William Anderson and his wife, Charlotte, are empty nesters and at a time in their lives that they should truly be living and enjoying everything life has to offer, but "Bill" has shut down.  Charlotte calls upon life-long friends of Bill's and former students, Russel, Sid and Malcolm.  She has arranged  a weekend for them all at this mysterious and ancient castle.  Aunt Zara, the reserved and slightly eerie owner, along with the beautiful niece, Emma, check the guests into the estate.  As they sign in, they have signed on for more than they realized.

We all have baggage.  No one is as they seem to be on the surface.  The older we get the more baggage we carry and sometimes we need help with that load.  It's been 20 years since these five friends have united and life has treated them all differently.  They all need help with their loads.  As they are "welcomed" into the castle by Aunt Zara and  Emma, they are also encouraged to explore the castle and open all its doors.  One by one, the guests reveal their issues, and one by one, they open the mystical and magical door they need to help resolve that issue.

What lies behind each of these personal doors is the most engaging aspect of the film.  Unique to each person's needs, the settings behind  the doors  range from an old train station to a casino.  These dream-like sequences show us complete pictures of each character as well as their deepest needs and desires.  It makes you wonder what would be behind YOUR door?

This is not only a creative tale, it is a thought-provoking one. The story unfolds naturally allowing the viewer to identify with many, if not all, of the struggles of each characters.  Malcolm has lost his love, Bill has lost his love for life, and Charlotte passionately wants her love back.  The other characters have relatable issues as well.  It truly depicts the old adage that when one door closes another one opens.  Beautifully filmed in one gorgeous setting after another, the film evokes a love of times gone by where cell phones don't dominate face to face time, and we actually see and appreciate the scenery surrounding us.

Although somewhat slow paced at times with a few stilted conversations and unnatural pauses, these flaws can easily be overlooked as the overall message is worth it.  Most importantly, this entire film was improvised.  No script.  No character preparation.  No rehearsals. And no "take 2."  Every scene filmed dictated what would happen in the next scene.  To tell a fluid story that meaningfully meanders and intertwines seamlessly is quite a feat.  These seasoned improv comedians tell a story for an audience each and every night and taking this skill to the silver screen has proved fruitful.  With improvisation, comes key highlights as well as downfalls.  However, this is a wonderful story, portrayed beautifully by talented actors.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the camera work on this film.  Outstanding shots to truly capture the beauty of the country-side in Austria as well as unique camera angles to convey meaning were impactful.  Use of perfect lighting and unique lenses to transport the viewer to the appropriate period were spot on.  The deft abilities of the camera crew enabled these actors to tell their story more skillfully.

The directors and one actor from"Another One Opens" were present to chat with the audience at the 17th Annual European Film Festival.  Their energy and passion for this film's journey is wonderfully infectious.  The unique style of improv filming and the bumps in the road they encountered were all a testament to their skills and perseverance.

"Another One Opens" is a charming, sweet, and sometimes quirky story full of creativity, imagination, and beauty.  Although, improvisational filmmaking appears to have a few flaws, the raw power that it gives a film is well worth it.  If you're in Chicago, check it out on March 13 at 8:15.

Click on the following link for a few clips from the interview with Michael Smulik and Jim Libby.  The full interview will be available on WKCC's The Reel Focus soon!
Another One Opens Interview Clips

Friday, March 7, 2014


"The Lunchbox" is a new full length feature film by Ritesh Batra starring Nimrat Kaur and Irrfan Kahn.  Using the Mumbai lunchbox delivery system which only errs in its deliveries 1 out of every 6 million times, connects two very lonely and needy people from two very different backgrounds.  As Ila attempts to win  her husband's affection back through cooking elaborate lunches, she realizes these extraordinary attempts are being delivered to someone else!  As she writes a note to this unknown and very lucky recipient.  The two begin a sort of pen pal relationship trusting in one another more and more with every meal delivered.  Through this communication, a love begins and awakens them both to live again.

Irrfan Kahn and Ritesh Batra
"The Lunchbox" is a sweet story reminiscent of times gone by brought into the current day.  Through simple communication our two main characters show that everyone needs to be needed and that we all need to be loved in some way.  This film crosses all cultural boundaries in some way.  The complexity and depth of Ila and Sajaan will strike a chord in all of us too.  Each character is real and down to earth, representing the needs in all of us.  Taking place in Mumbai, with its hustle and bustle, and capitalizing on this one improbable error of the wrong lunchbox delivered, a simple love story builds into a beautiful story.

Ila's relationship with her husband is strained and she is trying with all her heart to win him back...through his stomach.  Her "auntie" lives upstairs with whom she if very close and tries to cook using Auntie's secrets.  As they shout to one another about their daily lives, Auntie shares ingredients with her niece below her through a pulley system, from her window to Ila's.  Day after day, Auntie gets updates on Ila's lunches and reactions to them, and Auntie shares her wisdom and life.  With each delicious meal cooked, you wait in anticipation with Ila to see what Sajaan will feel, taste, and communicate back with her.  Sajaan obviously has some issues as we see his reclusive self blocking out the world as he cocoons in the evening with an old TV set and old TV shows.  But somehow, the food and the ability to communicate with another person who is not satisfied with life during the day, actually gives Sajaan hope and the want to be involved in the world again.

"The Lunchbox" is a beautifully filmed and artistically directly movie that will capture your heart and make you famished!  The cooking is just as amazing as the unique lunch packing and delivery system.  Nimrat Kaur's performance is outstanding in her representation of many housewives.  Her performance, like the story itself, crosses all cultural boundaries.

Irrfan Kahn, who most of you will recognize from "The Life of Pi," is solid in his role; portraying a hurting, but loving man who wants nothing more than to love and be loved.  But the world is a scary place.  Kahn's adept ability elicits empathy from the viewer, carrying us along his journey of life.

"The Lunchbox" will truly entertain you (as well as make you hungry).  It captures the beauty of India, its residents, and its food.  But most importantly, it portrays  a love story in a pure and innocent way, capturing your heart.

Listen Thursday, March 13 at 4:30 pm for an interview with filmmaker, Ritesh Batra.  In the interview, I have promised the link to Batra's short film CAFE REGULAR, CAIRO so here it is!


Interview with Ritesh Batra
(Information about films showing in the Chicago area are for the week of 3-13-14)


Saturday, March 1, 2014

OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2014 by Pamela Powell

Every year, just before the Academy Awards Ceremony,  I vow to do 3 things:  1.  Have an Oscar party where everyone dresses up in their best evening attire.  2.  Predict every winner accurately, and 3.  Not be catty about what the stars are wearing and how much botox, restalin, and other additives and preservatives have been used to make them what I can't be.  Well, I got a puppy so Vow #1 is out.  Let's address Vow #2:

Let's start off with the Major Award Winner Prediction of BEST PICTURE.  First of all, my list, if I was the entire Academy Board, would have been different.  Yes, I would have included "Philomena," "Gravity," and "Nebraska" as well as "Dallas Buyers Club."  But I also would have included "August: Osage County," "Some Velvet Morning," and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."  Ok...truth be told, I couldn't limit it to just 9 or 10.  (Please reference this article RHR FILM FAVORITES OF 2013)  However, admitting and acknowledging the fact that I am not the end all and be all of those who decide who wins and who loses, I will give you my prediction and my "want" of winners in the top 5 categories of the 2014 Academy Awards.

With 9 films films up for BEST PICTURE, I would love to see "Philomena" win for so many different reasons.  First of all, it's a true story depicted well for anyone to understand and feel such emotion and in my case, empathy for the characters.  This story captured my heart and soul so completely that I cannot even talk about this film without getting choked up.  To me, "Philomena" is the winner.  However, knowing the Board for the Academy, well, not on a personal basis, but on a reputation only basis, I believe "12 Years a Slave" will win.  It's another true story that is full of wrought and desperation with unbelievable acting.  This film, to me, however, just didn't give me emotionally what I needed.  It was too much horror on all levels of humanity that I just wanted to escape.  Was it a great movie?  Sure, on many levels it was, but it just wasn't one that I would have chosen to see.

That brings us to BEST ACTOR.  What a category it is this year!  Every single male nailed his part perfectly.  Although I am not a DiCaprio fan (I generally hope his ship sinks more quickly so I can go have a glass of wine somewhere), I do think he did an outstanding job.  But just for the sake of narrowing the field, let's throw him overboard, er I mean, out.  Now we are down to 4.  Dern was great although I
think the script has some essential flaws with the knowledge of dementia.  Bale was good, but I don't think the film in and of itself was Oscar Worthy.  Wow, I can't believe I'm down to 2!  Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey.  Both were outstanding in their roles.  They were both passionate about their roles and they both were uncannily believable.  However, I am appalled that McConaughey would jeopardize his health and future welfare by losing that much weight just for a movie.  Can't you find a "skinny lens?"  I have a skinny mirror at home which is why I only shop on-line.  Put me in a dressing room in a department store and they buy harsh fluorescent lights and "fat mirrors."  Not buying anything there! So Chiwetel Ejiofor is who I would like to see win.  But I think the Board will chose Matthew.

BEST ACTRESS is the next category and truly one of the toughest categories this year to choose a winner.  Of course, I have my prejudices.  Cate, Sandra, Judi, and Meryl (Yes, I know them on a first name basis.  HA!  C'mon, what are the chances that they will read this???) are all winners and any one of them could win and I would be happy.  What about Amy Adams you ask?  Yeah, she was great, but I just don't think the entire film was an Oscar calibre film.  Don't get me wrong.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I would have put the film RUSH on the list instead.  So that brings us to 4. 4 winners, truly.  I would love to see Meryl Streep win just because this, to me, was her best role ever.  But I think Sandra Bullock will win.  Honestly, and this is Reel HONEST Reviews, any of the four would be fine with me.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR is a hands down easy pick for this film reviewer:  Jared Leto.  Wow!  He was amazing in his role.  This gorgeous man transformed himself into something quite the opposite to tell an important story from the not so distant past.  Those of us from the 80's remember it all quite well.  Well-done, Jared!  (Yes, I can call him by his first name.  We go way back!)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS is another category that is hotly contended!  If you've seen all of these films (and if you haven't, you're truly missing out!), then you can understand my conundrum.  There are no losers in this category.  Any one of these women, young and old and in between, are talented and had the performance of a lifetime.  But alas, I must chose one.  My winner, in my book is Julia Roberts.  Her acting has become better and more skilled; honing this ability to near perfection.

I know, I know.  I said I would limit my predictions to 5, but these silly, random numbers are just that...silly.  So here's who else I would like to win in the following categories:

There you have it in black and white and published for all to see.  No changes can be made.  Well, actually, this is a blog site on the internet, so changes really can be easily made, but I promise I won't.  What are your picks?   Do you agree?  Disagree?  Tell RHR!

Enjoy and keep your computer or phone nearby for instant updates during the ceremonies.  Regarding Vow #3, I will try my hardest not be be catty, but no promises!

Friday, February 21, 2014


“Three Days to Kill” focuses on the life of Ethan Renner, CIA agent, who is diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Upon learning this information, he decides to try to reconnect with his estranged wife and teenage daughter living in Paris.  Unfortunately, he is coerced into completing one last task which may in turn, save his own life.  But the consequences may be more than he bargained for.

“Three Days to Kill’ starts off with a BANG! Literally.  Many bangs, actually, as we see several dead bodies, gun blasts and at least one explosion within the first five minutes of the film.  Ethan Renner (Costner) is the aging agent whose time in the Agency is coming to a close, but he can still out-shoot, out-run, and out-smart 10 “bad guys” at one time.  Ethan agrees to continue to search for “The Albino” and “The Wolf” not to be confused with the Wolverine which I believe is a completely different absurd movie series.

But Ethan’s real troubles start when he returns to his wife and daughter after being the absentee dad for the last 5 or more years.  Balancing a career and a kid is a tough act, but balancing being a CIA hit man and a 16 year old daughter is even tougher.  Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) never lets Ethan, as she calls him, forget that he’s been gone.  But alas, there is always time to do those father-daughter moments like teaching his daughter to dance and ride a 2-wheeler.  

As “Three Days to Kill” begins quite violently and at some points disturbingly so, it takes a completely different turn about a third of the way through the film.  What direction you might ask?  Why, the comedic direction, of course.  Seriously, this film truly attempted to be funny.  It actually bordered on silliness in parts.  Yes, those of us with teenagers can relate to all that Zoey put her dad through, which definitely lightened the mood. If you have a teenage daughter, you can all relate to the fact that a bad hair day truly IS the end of the world!  The funny moments between the Zoey and Ethan are really quite humorous which make this rather predictable movie a bit more enjoyable. And everyone can use some Italian cooking tips in making sauce, right?  (Capers and white wine are the secret ingredients!) 

However, as daddy-daughter time loses the focus of the film and the lens is pointing back toward finding these two really awful bad guys---I’m still not sure why they were bad---more explosions, death, and gun fire ensue.  The film seems to just continue on and on so that more explosions and gun fights can occur.  Even with the gun fights and chases, the pace seems to drag.

The “bad guys” are stereotypical and almost comic-book in stature with their shaved heads, a limp, and wearing all black.  The film has all the requisite car chases including careening around corners while shooting expertly out the window with the precision of a neurosurgeon. There are plenty of cliches knocked around even with Costner’s monotone voice, he can still relay humor.  

“Three Days to Kill” should be taken for face value although, ironically, the title actually has a couple different meanings.  This is a typical and predictable CIA vs. Bad Guy movie complete with gun fights, car chases, and explosions.  Where this movie attempts to be different is with the father-daughter issues and trying to make the most of the time this agent has left.  With humor, sentiment, and plenty of killings, it is a combination that only mildly succeeds.  It would have done better to just make fun of itself and the concept and take the comedic part all the way through.  The father-daughter aspects of this film are truly the best parts.

5 reels

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Ahhh, romance.  What better day to release a romantic movie than on Valentine’s Day.  That’s what the marketing company for “Winter’s Tale” must be thinking as well.  Even my hardened, cynical heart has a soft spot yearning for a romantic movie reminiscent of Christopher Reeves’ movie “Somewhere In Time.”  Unfortunately, “Winter’s Tale” just made that soft spot a little smaller.

As I sat down to enjoy my wonderful pour of wine and watch "Winter's Tale," the couple next to me began to bicker about who is more negative.  As the accusations continued on, I wondered why the couple even wanted to see this film.  Thankfully, the movie began which quelled the verbal jousting.  Unfortunately, the husband loved having a running commentary of the preposterous aspects of the film and when there was just a smidge of tenderness, a loud snort and "HA!" blasted my left ear.  I think it's going to take more than a romantic movie to set this couple straight.  By the way, Mr. Whoever You Are, you are the more negative one in that relationship!

“Winter’s Tale” has promise.  It’s stars Colin Farrell and centers on a love that lasts forever.  The basic premise of the movie is that Peter Lake (Farrell), an orphan, becomes a thief to survive.  He angers his “boss” which means he’s on the run.  His “magical” horse saves him and convinces him to do one last heist.  During this robbery he meets and falls in love with Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) who has been diagnosed with Consumption and has only a short time left to live.  The two spend every moment together as Peter helps Beverly make the most of every day.  As Beverly dies in his arms, he somehow awakens almost 100 years later to try to find his purpose in life and to perhaps be reunited with Beverly. 

“Winter’s Tale” requires the viewer to suspend belief in great proportions~too great of proportions.  For example, in 1916 as the baby Peter is set off from Ellis Island in a model boat that his soon-to-be deported parents placed him in, the NY Harbor gently washes him ashore.  (Flashback to Charlton Heston in “The Ten Commandments.”)  Now fast forward to adulthood where we learn that Peter fraternizes with the wrong kind of people.  We then have the appearance of the mythical or magical white horse to save Peter from certain death. And still those romantics out there will want to think, “It’s ok.  I can still buy into this movie for romance’s sake.”  We want to believe, as they say in the film, that “we are all connected and are part of a moving plan.”  It’s the introduction of Good vs. Evil that brings this film over the top of ridiculous.  Pearly Soames (Crowe) is the Devil’s right hand man who is hell bent (pun intended) on making sure Peter’s miracle doesn’t happen.  It is the obvious costuming in black and white to make sure we know who to root for and the overlay of the Disney classic Snow White or Sleeping Beauty that truly makes this film a fairy tale of ludicrous proportions.

Colin Farrell, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly, and Will Smith are all a part of this live action fairy tale film.  Farrell is his usual charming, big, brown-eyed sweetheart wooing any woman who crosses his path with his non-NY accent.  At least they explain why Bev has a British accent in the film, but there’s no explanation for Peter’s Irish accent.  Will Smith has an unusual role, rather small, but quite important to the plot.  He does justice to his evil role.  The rest of the cast including Hurt, Connelly, and  Findlay, play their roles with as much depth as is possible with the writing.  

Overall, the writing is just too far-fetched to bring any believability to this film.  Anyone going to a romance movie understands that this stuff just doesn’t happen in real life, but there has to be some level of reality.  After all, that’s one reason we “girls” like to go to these films; we like to imagine ourselves in it.  The film lost me with the white horse with wings.  It is a continuous downward spiral as the lines from the narrator tell you to believe in magic (Isn’t that a Disney line or the Lovin Spoonful’s song?) and that true love never dies.  The never-ending coincidences which are meant to pull at your heartstrings, just make your eyes roll back in your head. 

Unless you think you can completely suspend all belief and can allow yourself to watch a live-action film that should have been an animated feature marketed to 10 year old girls, I’d skip this one.  If you’re looking for a good date movie for Valentine’s Day, the believable, heart-breaking, and wonderful film “Labor Day” will be just the ticket you’re looking for.

2 REELS (1 Reel for Smith's performance and 1 Reel just because I like Farrell's brown eyes and Irish accent)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

'VIOLET' HAS HEART by Pamela Powell

Starring:  Junio Valverde and Leticia Dolera
Written and Directed by Luiso Berdejo

VIOLET is a sweet story of serendipity written and directed by Luiso Berdejo and starring Junio Valverde and Leticia Dolera.  This film, quite a departure from the horror genre Americans might recognize the writer and director for, captures the essence of youth, love, and family.  

The story begins as Alex (Valverde) happens upon a polaroid photo at a flea market while living in Santa Monica.    He becomes obsessed with finding the woman in the photograph.  With the help of his girl friend and the guidance of his grandfather’s words of wisdom imparted on him before he passed away, Alex begins his journey.  Along the way, he discovers much more than he anticipated.

Alex and 5 (Dolera) seem to be inseparable best friends.  As Alex searches for this mystery woman, you see the conflict of emotions within 5 who absolutely adores Alex.  Their conversation and interactions let you know that they know each other well, but there is a boundary there that 5 does not cross.  They are friends.  She obviously will do whatever Alex needs to make him happy; including finding an unknown woman in a photo he has fallen in love with.  Alex seems to be a free spirit---young and happy without many worries.  With the luck of a mishap, even money isn’t an issue. As Alex follows his intuition, you see how he honors and holds his grandfather and his wisdom in high regard.  Alex follows “the signs” and all the coincidences that occur, trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together.  While you know the chances of Alex finding this woman are slim, and you root for 5, you still want him to find this woman...or do you?  

VIOLET is a sweet, lighthearted film with a message about life.  What a wonderful combination.  The film is shot entirely on film which gives the movie even more of a feeling of real life.  It’s grainy, but colorful, especially when 5 is in a scene.  The innocence it captures immediately transports the viewer back to his or her own youth when anything is possible.  Berdejo’s writing fully represents that innocence along with humor and Valverde brings it all to life.  Dolera’s performance is skillful as she conveys so much with her expressions.  You have empathy and truly care about this character.  With creative writing and talented acting, the story succeeds not only in entertaining you, but reminds you of what is important in life.  Sometimes, if we just listen, the answers are right in front of us.

VIOLET is a sweet and simple story about self-discovery as a young man follows his heart and intuition.  It’s also a story about love and being open to really seeing what’s around you.  Coincidences are truly serendipitous in this emotionally satisfying film full of words of wisdom to live by.

Watch for the broadcast of Reel Honest Reviews' interview with Luiso Berdejo on WKCC's The Reel Focus!

Thursday, February 6, 2014


“The Monuments Men” opens today with an unrivaled cast consisting of George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, and Cate Blanchett.  The film, based on true events and the book by the same name depicts a time near the end of WWII when a special task force of art historians, curators, and architects from around the world collaborated to find and return art stolen by Nazi Germany.  This group of special men and women had not only a keen understanding and love of art and culture, but understood that once artwork is destroyed it can never be replaced.  They were “fighting for culture and achievements.”  

“The Monuments Men” silver screen version is written and directed by George Clooney to tell this important part of not just American history, but world history.  Frank Stokes (Clooney) leads the band of art brothers and easily convinces these seasoned civilians to join the army, go through basic training and set off to save the art world.  Granger (Damon), the curator at the Met in NYC is key in his knowledge and connections in helping to recover the art.  With a little bit of luck, persistence, and grit, the group helps in not changing history, but keeping it.  However,  it’s not without a high price to pay.

“The Monuments Men” tells a very important story about our history.  This is a piece of our past that many don’t know.  Unfortunately, this big screen version doesn’t do history justice.  The film is flat.  It feels as if it is all part of a sound stage and perhaps Bing Crosby will soon come out on stage and grace us with a little song and dance.  It transports the viewer (for those of us old enough to remember this) back to the 1950’s version of a WWII movie complete with campy music.  The film also attempts to insert humorous aspects into the film, but that too falls flat.  Overall, the film gives you an unreal or disingenuous feeling to what should be a significant and powerful story.

The cast comprises some of the best actors in film today and you expect nothing but the best from them.  Credit is given for portraying real people who fought for our country, but their characters were never really developed.  This leaves you feeling unsatisfied as you really don’t get to know them.  With 1 hour and 58 minutes, you would think you have enough time to explore who these people are, where they come from and what truly motivates them to put themselves into harm’s way for the sake of art.  Unfortunately, they all just jump on the band wagon without more than a second thought.  There is  the potential for delving a little more deeply into their past and how they know each other, but that aspect is just briefly touched upon, again, not realizing the full potential.  For example, Campbell (Murray) and Savitz (Balaban) are quite antagonistic, but we never learn why.  And Stokes knows a lot about Jeffries “mistakes” in the past, but again, we are never given the full story. With all the characters, perhaps too many, there are only brief brushings with real personalities which just punctuates that feeling of insincerity.

“The Monuments Men” is an amazing story which, unfortunately, is not well-told.  It is an important part of history, but the film falls flat leaving you uninspired.  What could have been an exciting and intense film turns out to be a very mediocre movie complete with a musical score to accentuate that yes, folks, this is Hollywood.  The predictability of events becomes weary. If you know nothing about this part of history and are curious, there is a lot of information on the internet. You could also pick up the book The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter.  Or you can wait for the DVD.


Monday, February 3, 2014

WARREN Reviewed by Pamela Powell

Starring:  Alex Beh, John Heard, Jean Smart and Sarah Habel
Written and Directed by:  Alex Beh

"Warren" is a film we can all relate to.  Whether we are a parent or a twenty-something trying to figure out where life will take us, there is something for everyone to enjoy in "Warren."  Written and directed by, as well as starring Alex Beh, this film captures the turning point in one young man's life and how it affects those near and dear to him.  As quoted from the film, "There's what you're supposed to do and what you have to do."  The choice is Warren's.

Warren, the main character, has given up on his dream of being a comedian and now works as a barista at a coffee shop in Chicago.  Frustrated by his spinning wheels and lack of forward progression, he bumps into his lost love.  Old feelings come rushing back, but this woman is now engaged to be married.  Warren must now decide where his life will take him. Will he "follow the fear or forever be stuck in neutral?

"Warren" has such a talented cast and is set in the perfect city---Chicago.  Yes, I'm biased, but that's ok.  Watch the film and I am sure you will understand my prejudice.  "Warren" captures Chicago's lake, its neighborhoods, and its vibrancy.   Along with Alex Beh, John Heard, Jean Smart, and Sarah Habel star in this "slice of life" film.  The first scene sets the tone of the entire film.  Jack (Heard) is talking to his son, Warren (Beh), 10 feet away...using a megaphone. This is exactly the embarrassingly funny stunt many fathers would do if they had a megaphone in hand.  As the neighbor looks casually over to see today's antics, Warren sits dreamily in the old Porsche stored in the garage, key in the ignition, ignoring his father for just a few more moments.  Immediately, you see that dreams have been either lost or put on the back burner.  In the film, we discover that the father-son connection is very close and that trying not to have the apple fall far from the tree is a conscious choice.

Warren is like many other twenty-somethings trying to fulfill dreams and seize the moment when they can. Regrets at an early age are a hard topic to deal with and when Emma (Habel), Warren's former love, bumps into Warren working at the coffee shop, the disappointment and embarrassment is palpable.  Warren's support system as he works out his thoughts and feelings about Emma are comical, yet real.  With stand-up comics for friends, there is no lack of humor in dealing with this situation.  This well-rounded film also incorporates Jack and Warren's relationship, both past and present.  Jack has never given up on loving his soon-to-be ex wife, Claire.  Jack and she have been working on getting those final divorce papers signed for 5 years.  Unfortunately, Warren gets caught up in the havoc that occurs when you still live near your parents and don't pursue your own dreams.

This strong cast brought life, love, and family to the screen.  John Heard and Jean Smart are the perfect North Shore separated parents who still share two children together; one adult and one in high school with some rebellion issues.  The film has two focal points:  Warren and Emma, and Warren and his father.  While Warren's feelings of love and loss with Emma are evident, an equally heart-felt part of this movie is his relationship with his father.  The connection between these two men is not only seen, but felt by the viewer.  Watching Heard's character sitting and eating pizza with his boys is so natural and realistic that you truly feel like this is a family.

Heard transforms himself into Warren's father, Jack.  But his character is much more complex than just being Warren's dad.  Jack has his own struggles, professionally and personally, that are so subtly revealed that you can empathize with his every emotion.  But at the end of the day, you realize that this father wants exactly what every parent wants for his child---to be happy.

While the entire cast is compelling, I would be remiss if I didn't mention one other standout in this wonderful cast:  Marc Grapey.  A Chicago area native (Kankakee), Marc's character of the obnoxious cell phone user/customer at the coffee shop becomes increasingly funnier with each scene.  I know we have all encountered such a person and he completely embodies that character.  Well-done!

It's so refreshing to see a young writer and director take on a film and successfully tell an entertaining and emotional story.  The keen direction and intelligent writing pulls you immediately into this story, reeling you along and allowing you to laugh at irony and look at your own life by comparison.  There are even a few words of wisdom you might want to take to heart.   Beh brings this tale home, deftly tying up all loose ends that you are supposed to know.  He leaves a few things to your imagination which makes you think and come up with your own back story about things like why the house is slated for demolition.  "Warren" is a slice of life full of emotion and reality.  Again, well-done!

Watch for the interview with Alex Beh or catch it soon on WKCC's The Reel Focus!