Friday, January 31, 2014


“That Awkward Moment” opens today with mega male star power.  Zac Efron, the heartthrob with the intense blue eyes, Miles Teller from the powerful upcoming film “Whiplash,” and Michael B. Jordon from “Fruitvale” all band together to draw every type of female into the theaters.  The geared for under 30 age group movie delivers exactly what it promises---a guy’s perspective on dating and relationships.  In fact, if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve heard the jokes and have already seen many of the “awkward moments.”

“That Awkward Moment” is about three guys, two who are single and work together, and the third who is married.  When Mikey (Jordan) finds himself with divorce papers, the three make a pact to stay single.  But life happens and they each find that staying out of a relationship isn’t always a conscious choice. Ultimately, their friendship is at the heart of this movie and the importance of having friends.  Needing and wanting more than that, these three are secretly embarrassed to admit it.

These three young men seem to live the life of “Friends.”  They live in NYC and Daniel (Teller) and Jason (Efron) work together at their cool job of designing book covers; winging it and impressing their clients.  Of course, along with these hip jobs, they experience a consistent eventful night life.  On the contrary, Dr. Mikey has done things in perfect order, “checked all the boxes,” as he said.  Unfortunately, his beautiful wife has other ideas.  Now all single, the guys hang out, discuss life and love, and how to build a perfect “roster.”  You know, girls to choose from on any given night.  Jason (Efron) imparts his wisdom about love and life and “The So.”  When you hear “so...” from a girl, you know it’s over.  Jason’s viewpoint is quite skewed, but also witty.  Their take on life and their conversation feels like they were just three guys hanging out.  Yes, the film is also a bit raunchy with quite a bit of gratuitous sex as well.  I hope guys don’t think that way as they portray themselves in the dimmest of light.  

Efron, Teller, and Jordan easily fit together as best buddies.  Yes, the story has been told before.  This is just a little different take on that familiar story of trying to grow up.  “That Awkward Moment” attempts to take a comedy and place some drama into it, but fails.  It tries too hard to show you it’s teaching you a lesson in love.  The insults and situations they find themselves in, although somewhat predictable, are quite funny.  But the comedy finds itself lagging about half way through the film where it drags and becomes rather tiresome.  The Gramercy Park scene is reminiscent of a “Ferris Bueller” moment solidifying the lack of creativity on this film’s part.
Shot in NYC, it’s beautiful.  It captures the essence of the neighborhoods and the vitality of the Big Apple.  But even NY can’t work its magic on this film.  

“That Awkward Moment” is a predictable movie told from a male’s perspective.  It does have its humorous moments through the awkwardness, but just can’t deliver throughout the entire film.  The loose ends take too long to wrap up and the film tries to be more than it can be.  

If you’re under thirty, my guess is you’ll like this film.  The film will appeal to both guys and gals, but don’t get your expectations up too high.  If you go, stick around for the outtakes after the credits.  This was the funniest part of the movie!  So...

'LABOR DAY' WORKS by Pamela Powell

Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, and Gattlin Griffith
Written and Directed by Jason Reitman; based on the novel by Joyce Maynard

Written"Labor Day" is yet another wonderful film written and directed by Jason Reitman.  Starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin with the young and relative new-comer Gattlin Griffith, this small cast has what it takes to tell a meaningful and heartbreaking story through the medium of film.  Prior to seeing this, I thought it was a typical hostage situation with a runaway convict.  Never did I dream it was a love story.  I should have brought tissues.

The basic premise is quite simple.  Adele (Winslet), recently a widow, and her son Henry (Griffith) are shopping when the teen is approached by Frank (Brolin).  Wanting to help this man, Henry brings him to his mother on the other side of the store.  Adele quickly realizes that there isn't a choice in helping him.  Frank forces this depressed mother and needy son to take him home, nurse his wounds, and help him hide.  What happens in the weekend to follow surprises everyone.

An overwhelming sense of sadness is exhibited by Adele which has most definitely also affected her son.  With Henry's father gone, he portrays a lost soul; seeing the need to help and be there for his mother, but too young to really help.  Adele cannot get on with her life and the intrusion of this convict wakes her up---protecting her son is first and foremost.  Frank is, as we see through flashbacks, much more complex and his guilt comes into question.  The relationship that is established between Adele and Frank as well as Henry and Frank is so emotionally loaded and heartfelt.  They all need each other in some way.  Seeing everyday tasks such as pie baking and fixing a step were all done with love, but there was always the sinking feeling that things just aren't quite right.  I don't want to give away any more than that, but suffice it to say this is one of the best and most unique love stories I have ever seen.

Winslet is always a strong performer and this role is no different.  Brolin steps up his game and shows the complexity an actor needs to pull of this intense and multi-layered role.  Griffith plays the sombre and needy teen to a "t."  We watch him grow in his character and love who he becomes.  All three actors seem to meld perfectly together to tell a tale of chance circumstances and human nature.

Creative and strong writing are also needed make a successful movie. Thankfully, "Labor Day" has it all.  The story isn't laid out before you without question.  You are constantly wondering what actually happened in the past and why these characters are behaving in the way they are.  The direction given to all of them allows the viewer to try and glean all visual pieces of information to give a complete picture.  By the end, you understand everything perfectly and you will have gone through 5 tissues---if you were smart enough to bring them with you!

I loved this movie.  I felt completely connected  to each of the characters and it reminded me what we all want in life---to be loved and cherished.  Life is simple, but the complexities that bombard us make us forget that very important fact.  "Labor Day" truly is a labor of love.  Now, who wants to bake a peach pie with me?


Monday, January 27, 2014


Although the Slamdance 2014 Film Festival has come to an end, the highlights of this festival will remain in the spotlight.  One of those highlights is the lighthearted yet dark comedy called "I Put A Hit On You."  From the writing and directing team of Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart,  this film takes the concept of "drunk dialing" to a whole new level.  Aaron Ashmore (Ray) and Sara Canning (Harper) star in this unique comedy that could have easily fit the stage or the silver screen.  The premise of the film is how a rejected woman who is drowning her sorrows in alcohol, surfs the web.  Coming across Craig's List (you can get ANYTHING on Craig's List), and still crushed by rejection, Harper puts an add on-line for a hit man to take her ex out.  As many of us have done things regretted under the influence, Harper wakes in the middle of the night with a start.  Realizing what she has done, she tries to undo it.

We have all been upset with our significant others, but hopefully have not gone to such lengths as this.  Although the concept sounds preposterous, the development of the story takes us on a believable journey.  From the moment that Harper is trying to figure out which pair of shoes to wear with her outfit as all of us women do, to the hurt and rejection she feels as her proposal is refuted, you can relate to her on an emotional level.  This ability to relate to both characters continues on as the night progresses.  Harper is full of regret and must now protect her ex as well as explain to him what she has done!  I certainly wouldn't want to be in her shoes --- either pair!

This is a wonderfully written, acted, and directed film full of twists and turns and constant suspense about the reality of an errantly hired hit man.  Aaron and Sara, perfectly cast as they seem like a couple who have been together for a while, know each others idiosyncrasies and how to push each other's buttons.  Even in the midst of possible death, the couple reverts back to nit-picky little things that drive them nuts about one another.  How much more real could that be?

The writing allows the viewer to think ahead and question what's coming.  Not every question is answered and that's a good thing.  It involves you in the film.  Never did I know what was real and what was in the couple's imagination.  Are they paranoid or is this a real situation?  Always keeping the audience guessing brings you into the film making it even more enjoyable.  Humor, even in the darkest situations, is evident.  You see that this couple loves each other, but as relationships evolve through time, there also is some resentment.  This is portrayed quite comically at times.

"I Put A Hit On You" is a creative and unique dark comedy which will captivate your imagination and help you escape reality for a while.  This film is a direct hit with this reviewer as it captivated and entertained me with its peculiar, but believable story line.  When you combine sharp writing, deft direction, and intuitive acting, you have success.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


The Slamdance Film Festival has a “shorts” program which many film festivals have.  Slamdance, however, utilizes these films prior to screening the feature film which is a wonderful way to introduce and set the mood for the upcoming film.  The standout short film this year, to this reviewer, is ONE PLEASE by Jesse Burks.  

What a sweet, serene beginning of this 6-minute short film as the loving mother chops vegetables for dinner and the father sits comfortably in his chair, reading the paper.  It’s a beautiful summer day with the sun shining and a little girl jumps rope.  And we all remember the excitement in a child’s eyes when the ice cream truck plays its music, rolling slowly through the neighborhood.  But excitement isn’t what we see in her eyes.  There’s something very uneasy about her gaze.  We soon find out exactly what that uneasy look is all about.

ONE PLEASE has not a word spoken unless you count a hiss.  But a word isn’t needed as the non-verbal communication, colors, and cinematography combine flawlessly to convey everything that is needed.  In six short minutes an entire story portraying what we parents will do for our children to make them happy unfolds before us.  The special effects are quite believable and almost too real to watch.  But that just adds to the dark and twisted nature of this rather beautiful short.  How can it be beautiful?  The use of color is sharp and bold, just as the movie.  It's appealing to the eye along with great camera angles which are unique and help to make this contrast of feelings.  On the one hand (pun'll see), it’s beautiful and on the other it’s quite unsettling!

Although no lines were memorized and delivered, the cast’s performance was impeccable.  The expressions ranged from sweet and loving to eerie and foreboding all within a moment.  The little girl was disturbingly perfect, reminding us of by-gone Twilight Zone episodes.  The sound effects or perhaps I should say, the sound accentuations, were utilized to draw your attention to the very important details within the film.  ONE PLEASE finds a way to use every aspect of movie making to give us a vision you won’t soon forget.  

As with last year’s stand out short film JOSEPHINE AND THE ROACH, this year we are lucky to have ONE PLEASE.  Check back for an in-depth interview with the filmmaker to give you, the viewer, even more insight to this film.  I will also update you when you can see this short for yourself!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014



Just hours before the premiere screening of Slamdance's COPENHAGEN, I had a chance to sit down with Mark Raso, writer and director of the film.  The Toronto native seemed unphased by the chilly outdoor interview, but did express some nervousness as to how his film would be received.  As soon as we started talking about the film, Mark's uneasiness was replaced by energy and excitement.

Mark, as many filmmakers, was passionate about this story.  Although the film began as a simple story of "boy meets girl," it developed into a more complex and realistic representation of two people trying to find their way in life.  The setting was the beautiful city of Copenhagen where Mark had lived for a short time and met his wife.  Mark was intrigued by Copenhagen for many reasons as he felt "there was a certain vibe there  [in the summer] as the sun never sets." While in this picturesque city, Mark was fascinated by the fact that 15 year olds were allowed to go to bars---quite the contrary to the US and Canada.  This sparked the idea for the movie of a young, 14 year old girl meeting and interacting with a 30 year old.

First drafts are never the final draft and in Raso's initial draft of the character William, he knew he must make some drastic changes.  Initially, William "was passive and not captivating."  Seeing that William needed more depth, the character became much more morally challenged and narcisstic.  That was the ticket Raso needed to give the film a much greater level of complexity. Once the script is right, finding the right actors is the next challenge and Mark almost abandoned this project after searching high and low for the right "William."  Mark said, "Without the right actor, the film wouldn't work." Another limitation was the fact that SAG restricted Raso from hiring US actors in a foreign country due to its low budget.  But everything seems to work out for the best.  After 4 months of auditions,   a video audition came to his attention and he knew immediately that he had found his William.  Gethin Anthony, a Brit, was eager to try a different character from the Game of Thrones role and this was the perfect fit for this versatile and talented actor.

Every writer puts a bit of himself into what he creates and Mark's story is no different.  Interestingly, he found more of his personality in that of the character Effy.  Her playfulness and youthfulness were traits he could relate to.  Explaining the "sins of our fathers" or how we all repeat mistakes as parents was another aspect of the film that typifies Mark.  He said that in order to progress and grow we must first be conscious of an action, recognize it and then we can change.  He admitted to the fact (and we all do!) that he has heard himself sound just like his own father.  "Copenhagen" allowed Mark to express his own personality as well as characteristics he sees in himself and hopes to change.

As with most independent films, financing is always an issue.  Filming in the extremely expensive Copenhagen just added to Raso's difficulty.  But where there's a will there's a way and he would not cut corners that might possibly jeopardize the quality of the final film.  Making smart choices in renting equipment and accepting the generosity of the Danish people who believed in the film, helped tremendously.  Doing little things to save money all adds up as the cast and crew recycled their bottles to collect $500 along with riding bicycles instead of renting cars to get around.  Due to his ingenuity and resourcefulness, Raso was able to push forward to give us this entertaining film.

Mark expressed that the bumps in the road and the limitations he encountered actually served him well.  The lesson was well-learned that you "don't have to go glitzy or flashy" to make a film of this quality.  As both of us were beginning to shiver in the cold, crisp mountain air, we concluded the interview.  As Mark headed back into the Treasure Mountain Inn for his first public screening of "Copenhagen," I was confident that this obviously talented new filmmaker was heading into a successful day and career.

Monday, January 20, 2014


The 2014 Sundance Film Festival has proven to be one of the best so far.  With standout films like "Whiplash," Sundance, in RHR's opinion, remains at the top of the festival list.  Below you will find my recommendations with a brief synopsis:

WHIPLASH: Written by Damien Chaztelle, Starring JK Simmons, Miles Tiller, and Paul Reiser.
      When an over-bearing and intimidating jazz band instructor stops at nothing to motivate his student, Andrew, the line between motivation and abuse is difficult to see.  How much can a student take and what will it ultimately do?
       This is the most emotionally engaging film I have ever seen.  The dialogue and music augmented one another as this visceral film unfolded.  You not only watch this film, you feel it.  Don't miss it.

     With our soon to be top heavy population of elderly, we see more and more cases of dementia and full to capacity nursing homes.  Many of these older people do nothing but retreat further and further inside themselves, having little to no stimulation.  With a simple iPod programmed with familiar and loved music, these patients come back to life.  They begin interacting with people and reconnecting.  
     This is a touching film that provides answers without using drugs.  It is truly amazing to see the changes, instantly, in these otherwise withdrawn individuals.  Isn't music a simple way to help improve the quality of life?  Don't we owe our elders this?

INFINITELY POLAR BEAR  Written and directed by Maya Forbes; Starring Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana
     Taking place during the 70's this young couple is struggling to make ends meet with their two young children.  The problem lies with Cam (Ruffalo) who suffers from Bipolar Disorder.  His inability to contribute in anyway to the family wreaks havoc on them.  As Maggie (Zoe) attempts to make life better, Cam must step up to the plate and become an involved and responsible parent.
     "Infinitely Polar Bear" paints a very clear picture of what this mental disorder can do to a family.  Ruffalo captures the ups and downs while the children act just as any child would.  This is one of the best roles I've seen with Saldana.  The story is heart-felt as well as entertaining and you find yourself having both sympathy and empathy for each of the characters.

THE SKELETON TWINS  Written by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman; Starring Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, and Luke Wilson
       Maggie and Milo had been close as they grew up.  Their father called this set of twins the Gruesome Twosome.  But something happened and the two had not seen each other for 10 years.  Milo's life had become unbearable to him and as he was taken to the hospital for attempting to commit suicide, Maggie was contemplating doing the same.  The two are thrown together again and they attempt to reconcile the past and figure out how to deal with the present and the future.
       How do you make this premise into a comedy?  They did and it worked.  It was a delicate balance between humor and drama as these complex characters were articulately fleshed out.  This was absolutely hilarious in parts and touching in other parts, but never to a point of sappy.  These main characters, known primarily for comedy, show us they are so much more than that.

LAND HO: Written and directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz; starring Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson
     This is a coming of age movie---the two retired gentlemen!  As two ex-brother in laws travel abroad to Iceland, they learn a bit about each other as well as themselves.
     Living life and not wanting to ever acknowledge his age, Mitch lives life to its fullest; full of humor and love.  Colin, a bit more reserved, starts to think outside the box and finds life after two wives.  It's a very humorous journey with a few bumps in the road of life.  You'll enjoy this trip!

     Katie Couric takes on childhood obesity in this documentary.  It will enlighten you about this American epidemic and provide the information to be a more informed consumer.  Full of statistics and heart-wrenching stories, FED UP will satisfy your need to know what is really happening to our food.  Every parent should see this.  Every school should show this.  Everyone needs to see this

COLD IN JULY:  Written and directed by Jim Mickle; starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepherd, Don Johnson, and Nick Damici
   Richard Dane (Hall) kills an intruder, but is haunted by the event as well as the recently released from prison father of the burglar.  There's more to this event than meets the eye and Dane gets pulled deeper and deeper into this tangled web.
    This was an intense thriller from the very beginning.  The story was quite riveting as you tried to figure out how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.  The complexity of the story continually kept you guessing as to who was the "good guy" and who was the "bad guy."  The stress of the story was well balanced with the  occasional humor and levity provided by the talented Don Johnson.  Hall's character, at least initially, was very unDexter-like.  His discomfort with blood and death was quite the antithesis of what he is known for.  I'll warn you...this becomes a graphically violent film.

THE GUEST:  Written by Simon Barrett; Directed by Adam Wingard; Starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, and Brendan Meyer
      As the family is struggling with coping with the death of their son Caleb who was killed in Afghanistan, David knocks on their door.  Having served with Caleb in the military, David is fulfilling his fallen brother's wishes; to visit his family and give his love.  David is welcomed into the family, but there is more to David than meets the steely blue eyes.
    I will admit that I accidentally went to this screening.  I mixed up my venues and attended this, but I'm glad I did!  This was definitely fitting of a midnight screening for Sundance.  Plenty of tension, violence, and humor---a perfect fit.  It was quite gruesome in parts which means there was  a lot of violence.  There was also some pretty funny parts where I truly laughed out loud.  Here's another thing I'll admit.  Dan Stevens was so fun to watch on the screen and he was the main character:  his intense blue eyes were smoldering; his asymmetrical smile was magnetic; and his body was, well, you'll have to see for yourself.  I was glued to the screen for the entire movie and it was WAY past my bedtime!

COOTIES: Writers Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan, Directed by: Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnian; Starring:  Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson and Alison Pill
     When a processed chicken nugget school lunch infects one elementary school girl, an epidemic quickly ensues resulting in cannibalistic children.  The teachers must somehow band together to ward off these little monsters.
     What an odd-ball group of teachers who have many different issues to deal with let alone surviving this onslaught of raging rug-rats.  The opening scene will be enough to make you promise to never eat chicken nuggets again.  "Cooties" is one of the most disgustingly grotesque and hilarious movies I've seen in a long time.  The director said that with all the scenes, he didn't back off---he went into the gruesome scenes 100%.  It worked.  Many elementary school teachers were in the audience who confessed that this movie was quite cathartic!  The kids in the film were wonderful; special effects were quite effective; and the story was laugh out loud funny.  What a great combination all the way around!

THE LUNCHBOX: Part of the SPOTLIGHT SERIES is "The Lunchbox" written and directed by Ritesh Batra and starring Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kour.
    In Mumbai, wives make hot lunches in stackable cylindrical containers which are then delivered to their husbands.  But what happens when a lunch gets delivered to the wrong husband?  As the mistake is made evident, Ila begins corresponding with this stranger.
    The entire concept of the movie is ingenious.  The story is sweet and believable with writing to make you empathetic to each of the characters.  Combining humor, love, and situations married couples frequently deal with, this foreign film crosses every border.  Love and the need to be loved is something everyone can relate to no matter where you live in the world.

THE TRIP TO ITALY: If you haven't seen THE TRIP with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, go rent it before you see the one and only sequel I think is actually better than the original.  ("Godfather" fans, I don't want to hear it from you!)  As Steve and Rob continue their writing for a travel and food book, the antics continue as well.  Their conversations are somehow believable as they take a bizarre topic like Who's Legs Would You Eat to Survive If You Had To which then morphs into a film analysis complete with impersonations.  There's a bit more to it than their conversations as we learn a little about the two men.  This just adds the depth to the film that you need.  You will leave the film hungry and wanting to call your travel agent to book a trip to Italy for yourself!  With Sundance, you are frequently lucky enough to hear the Q&A's after the film.  "Italy" was no exception as the director and stars were on hand to continue to entertain the audience.  It was a stand-up improv show for us!  What a bonus!

I didn't make it to all 35 films, but I hit close to 50% plus several Slamdance movies that I'll post in a separate article.  If you're still in Park City, this should give you an idea of what to see and what to avoid.

Here's a list of films I did see.  If you don't see a synopsis of a film that's listed, that's my polite way of not recommending it.
The Lunchbox
Alive Inside: The Story of Music & Memory
The Guest
God's Pocket
Infinitely Polar Bear
The Skeleton Twins
Land Ho!
Fed Up
A Most Wanted Man
Jamie Marks Is Dead
Listen Up Philip
The Trip to Italy

And finally, there are still several films that I just couldn't squeeze into my short stay that still look quite promising.  These include:
I Origins
The One I Love
Little Accidents
The Voices
They Came Together
Wish I Was Here
White Bird in a Blizzard

The Double
Blue Ruin
Happy Christmas
Lock Charmer

Rich Hill
Web Junkie
and, of course Life Itself.  I think it's only proper that I screen that one in Ebert's hometown of Chicago, though.

So there you have it.  Reel Honest Reviews' Sundance recommendations.Check us out on facebook for more photos and links!


Sunday, January 19, 2014


Sleep and time is at a minimum at this year's Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals, but that's ok because the films and entertainment here this year is well worth sleep and down-time deprivation.  Here are the highlights of both festivals so far.  If you're here, be sure to try and catch these films.  If you can't make it out here, then you'll be the first to know what films will be worth seeing when they come out this year!

Whiplash, Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory, The Guest, Cold in July, Infinitely Polar Bear

Copenhagen, I Put a Hit on You, One Please

Stella Artois Cidre is a perfect beer for us non-beer lovers!

The new Moto X phone was a blast to play their new BUGGIE NIGHT!

Check back for more updates and recommendations!


Saturday, January 18, 2014


ALIVE INSIDE: A STORY OF MUSIC AND MEMORY is playing at the Sundance Film Festival.  It's a scientifically emotional film about our basic abilities as humans:  communication and connections.  Over a three year period, filmmaker Michael Rosatto-Bennett followed Dan Cohen as he visited various nursing facilities.  What I saw on the screen seemed almost impossible.  It was truly magical.  Patients with little connection to people and their environment, some with no recognition of their own adult children, put a set of headphones on, plugged into an ipod programmed with songs of their generation and PRESTO! they came to life.  They talked about what they were listening to; they reminisced about the time period; they talked about their feelings. But most importantly, they were connected to people.  With music, they came back to the world around them and were living again.

I know this sounds like magic, but neurology actually supports this observation.  With the disease of dementia, the hippocampus or memory area of our brains is affected.  It looks a bit like a bunch of spider webs throwing off the pathways in our brain, making it impossible for proper connections to take place. But music memory isn't stored here.  Music reaches all the different areas of our brain and stimulates synapses or fireworks of communication so that we "wake up!"  Music touches us all on so many different levels, and Dan Cohen with his endeavors has helped to bring life back into these older folks who had given up and recoiled within themselves.

This is a very abridged review, but a more detailed one will follow after the festival.  I would be remiss if I didn't let everyone know about the power of this film.  We baby-boomers will be inhabiting this earth, growing exponentially over the next 2 decades.  Don't we want to help our own parents age and live as well as set the precedent for our own care in the coming years?  See this film and empower yourself.

Friday, January 17, 2014


"Copenhagen" is sure to turn some heads just based on the topic matter of a younger, much younger girl, and an older man who has not yet truly grown up.  But don't let that deter you from seeing this beautiful film which captures the life and personal growth of two complex and realistic people.  As William, a reluctant American citizen, travels through Germany and Copenhagen to find answers about his father's past and his own familial history, he happens upon the young Effy who for some reason, befriends him.  Together they travel the local roads as well as an emotional path which enables them to discover who they are.

Set primarily in Copenhagen, this film captures the beauty of this city.  With the colorful buildings set among the cobblestone streets frequented by bicycles, William (Gethin Anthony) sets out with only a letter in hand accompanied by several old photographs to find his grandfather.  The letter, written in Danish, is addressed to William's paternal grandfather.  We quickly learn that William and his father had "issues."  William seems to need closure to his past and he is hopeful that finding his grandfather will give him just that.

William is not a likable fellow.  He drives his friends away with his acerbic words.  He seems hateful to others and self-loathing all at the same time.  He is the representation of the most adolescent adult.  The world must revolve around him and his needs and he seems completely unaware of others' feelings and emotions---that is until he meets Effy.  Effy is a young, but wise beyond her years student completing a type of internship mandated by her 8th grade class.  Effy and William's first meeting elicits a verbal lashing from William.  Her kindness and generosity, however, overcome that anger and the two travel along together to find William's grandfather.

This journey is an emotional one.  William struggles with many issues ranging from anger toward his father's abandonment to finally connecting with someone.  Effy, who seems older and wiser than her years, struggles with her own issues of wanting to still be a child and unfortunately due to her family, must be an adult.  Their deep connection paired with the dilemma of their age difference is constantly tugging at each of them.

"Copenhagen" explores the moral boundaries of love, attraction and age.  It delves even deeper into the complexities that make us each individuals trying to be at peace within ourselves.  The writing is smart, realistic, and succinct.  The cinematography accentuates the emotion of the film.  Pairing all of this with skilled acting and directing and the film comes to life.

The journey these two character take, strikes a chord in all of us.  Watching this slice of life, this 24 hours, fulfills the need for a complete story.  Both Gethin and Frederikke take these roles and flesh them out into reality.  The multiple layers of each of them is extraordinarily executed.  Gethin's character, completely unlikable at the start, unfolds the layers from within to explain his behavior and you find compassion for him.  Frederikke's young character is the epitome of how this generation is viewed:  growing up too fast.

Is this a story of an attraction between a much older man and girl?  Yes.  But it is so much more than that.  It is a story of personal growth and acceptance.  "Copenhagen's" adept skill to tell a story, develop characters that one can relate to, and pull you into the story is amazing.  The complexity of the characters and the story is straight forward and poignant.  Every moment, every word, and every nuance within the film is important.  Rarely do you find a film that captures the essence of love, growth and reality.  "Copenhagen" does just that.

Reel Honest Reviews had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Raso, writer and director of "Copenhagen."  Please check back soon for an inside look into the making of "Copenhagen."

Thursday, January 16, 2014

WHIPLASH NEVER MISSED A BEAT: Opening Night Film of the Sundance Film Festival by Pamela Powell

WHIPLASH opened to a packed house at the Eccles Theater located at the Park City High School for the beginning of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  This huge venue was sold out and with good reason.  As Robert Redford walked to the podium, the audience quickly rose as he received a standing ovation.  Never have I attended an opening night film where Mr. Redford began the introductions.  He joked that he and his staff wanted to do something special for the 30th anniversary and he suggested getting a huge birthday cake and he could jump out of it.  Apparently, that idea was quickly nixed.  John Cooper then came to the podium defending himself and the fact that he had voted FOR the birthday cake stunt.  I concur, John.

As I gazed around the audience, I saw Katie Couric in front of me who was here not only for the premiere of this film but for her film FED UP which I can't wait to see.  Behind me was the Tribeca Film Festival Director Geoffrey Gilmore who has a long standing relationship with Sundance.  There were many more stars surrounding me, but apparently I was blinded as I couldn't recall their names.  That being said, the real star of the night was WHIPLASH.

WHIPLASH is a film that was originally a short that appeared at Sundance just last year.  Now upon its return just one short year later as a full length feature film, it wowed the audience.  Please come back for a full review of this spectacular film about passion for what you do, how far can you push the limits, and how strong are you emotionally.  J. K. Simmons and Miles Teller's performances are unbelievably intense.  The writing is strong and the music cuts through your very core.

I am sure this film will be picked up probably as I type these words.  It's an emotional roller coaster that you hope your child will never experience; although you want him or her to be the very best.  But at what cost?

When this film comes out, and it will, see it.


The official beginning of the Sundance Film Festival, in my mind, doesn't start until Robert Redford holds his press conference at the Egyptian Theater on Main St.  This is the third year of covering this festival and each year, the press conference gets bigger and bigger.  Robert Redford, John Cooper,  Carrie Putnam, and Sean Means,  the day's mediator, spoke to a packed theater.  Press from all over the world attended this conference,  both big and small.  Of course, the first topic of business was the oversight of the Academy to nominate Redford or his film ALL IS LOST.  His response after allowing the boos from audience to die down was that Sundance is more important to him.  He is very proud of his independent film and it conforms to why we are here [at Sundance].  It gave him a chance to go back to his roots, but unfortunately it did not cross over to the mainstream and into the more commercial parts of the film industry.  He reiterated that Hollywood is a business and he has nothing but respect for it.  ALL IS LOST suffered from little to no distribution.  Was he upset about not being nominated?  No.  He was just happy to be able to do this film because it was independent.  Concluding this topic he firmly stated with a smile on his face, "I'm fine."

Yes, Robert Redford is truly fine as this year marks the 30th anniversary of this film festival.  What started not as a retaliation to Hollywood, but an add on, continues to be at the forefront in helping filmmakers realize their dreams: to tell a story through film.  Mr. Redford stated that the product speaks for itself.  Many of those recipients of Golden Globes [this year] have come through Sundance and that is more satisfying than anything.  Redford added, "We've done something right and good."

In 1980, Redford saw a need for a filmmaker workshop.  At that time, there was no place for these emerging filmmakers to showcase their films.  This was the start to Sundance.  It was meant  to be a community; a place for filmmakers to safely create and find out who they were and what they could do.  Looking back just two months ago, Redford was honored with a tribute by the state of Utah.  "That was a surprise!" he said.  It was also an honor, but an unexpected one.  30 years ago when Redford created this space and gave filmmakers a voice and a platform for that voice, he had no idea where it would go.  Now here we are 30 years later.  Yes, Mr. Redford could have done this in LA or NY, reasonable choices, but he wanted " make it weird."  In essence, he thought, let's throw a film festival in Utah in the middle of winter and see what happens.  We have seen what happens and it's all good!

Discussing the goals and mission of the Sundance Film Festival a little further, Mr. Redford stated that independent film is at the mercy of distribution.  "It's our hope but not our business for making money," said Redford.  Mr. Cooper supported Redford by adding that films such as BLACKFISH, helped to change awareness and that's even more important than the dollar.  In addition, because our film world is changing, more independent films are being seen by a greater audience.  Sundance supports artists, creatively, and helps guide them in how to navigate the distribution process.  Their department called "Artist's Services" does just that.

The audience was then allowed to ask several questions having to do with other aspects of this years's festival including the special architectural feature developed with technology.  Check back for photos of this amazing spectacle of combining art with technology.  Redford's festival will always be cutting edge and unique as he and his crew are at the forefront and in touch with what filmmakers are doing and what they need.

Sundance not only gives first time filmmakers chances, but smaller film critics the opportunity to do exactly what the larger media outlets do.  I am living proof of that.  As I stood next to photographers at the red carpet from NYC and sat next to reporters from Variety magazine, for the first time, I was not intimidated, but felt lucky to be a part of this experience.  Sundance truly is for everyone.  Thank you, Mr. Redford.

T'was The Night Before Sundance by Pamela Powell

T'was the night before Sundance and all through the streets, all the signs have been changed and the people send tweets.  Park City transforms itself one time each year in January to host the premier film festival of the country if not the world.  This sleepy, quaint little ski town bursts at the seams to accommodate actors, directors, filmmakers, and fans.  Hotel rooms go for $500/night and restaurants are packed.  There's music in the streets and such a bustle that it feels like a completely different town.  But it's not everyone's cup of tea.  Some residents pack up and hightail it out of here, but others volunteer and relish in the glory of filmmaking in its most pure form.  These two weeks can make or break a business and some even pack up their entire business to lease it to Sundance.  As I walked down the street some of my familiar and favorite restaurants like The Flying Sumo have become the CNN Media Lounge.  This festival brings in millions of dollars of revenue for Park City and Utah.  

Wednesday night the town was alive with traffic, both cars and pedestrians.  The restaurants were bustling, but tomorrow night there will not be a reservation to be found.  If you're here and thought you'd wing it for dinner, I recommend going to  the grocery store.  

A favorite watering hole with locals and visitors is the No Name Saloon.  Tonight it was standing room only.  Tomorrow I can only imagine how it'll look!  The entire town will be packed with people trying to spy a movie star or director.  The usual friendly atmosphere of residents walking casually along Main Street with their perfectly well-mannered off-leash dogs will be replaced by women trying to walk up a mountain street in 4 inch stilettos scoping out each passerby to identify a "somebody."  What won't be crowded are the ski slopes!  No fast pass needed as there won't be any lines.  So if you're an avid skier, come on out!

It's now past midnight, the dawn of Sundance is upon us.  The filmmakers are all nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of Oscars dance in their heads.  Merry Sundance to all and to all a good night. 

Friday, January 10, 2014


The Slamdance Film Festival takes place in the same beautiful, quaint town of Park City, Utah during the same week in January as the Sundance Film Festival.  Slamdance, over the years, has gained quite a bit of momentum in showing innovative, quality films from around the world.  Their motto By Filmmakers, For Filmmakers showcases the fact that this festival is run entirely by filmmakers.  It is a place for independent artists to share their talents and possibly launch their careers.  In fact, the founders of this festival, including Dan Mirvish, began Slamdance in answer to being rejected by Sundance.  Many other legendary filmmakers began right here at Slamdance. You might recognize the name Christopher Nolan ("The Dark Knight") or Jared Hess ("Napoleon Dynamite").  Perhaps Seth Gordon, Lena Dunham, Lynn Shelton or Benh Zeitlin rings a bell.  All of these artists and many more were initially discovered through the Slamdance Film Festival.

During my first year of covering Sundance, I happened upon a couple of films at the Slamdance festival at the top of Main Street.  Enjoying these films, I decided to look more carefully at what this festival had to offer the following year and I am so glad I did.  The feature films, documentaries, and shorts all blew me out of the water.  The accessibility in the intimate theaters enabled everyone to really feel a part of the film and its creative powers.  Films such as BETWEEN US, VIPAKA with Forest Whitaker,  MY NAME IS FAITH, and JOSEPHINE AND THE ROACH were all a part of Slamdance last year.  (Check out this site for reviews on all of these films!)  And this year promises to be just as fulfilling.  Here are my picks for the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival.

ROVER with the short ONE PLEASE

Waiting for Mamu
One Please
Three Night Stand
I Put a Hit On You

These are the feature films and documentaries that captured my attention.  Although it will be impossible to screen everything in the short time I am in Park City, I am confident that my choices won't disappoint me.  Another fun part of the Slamdance Film Festival that mirrors the Waterfront Film Festival (another favorite festival of RHR) is its use of shorts shown prior to the featured film.  Shorts are very near and dear to me.  Last year, "Josephine and the Roach" was one of my top picks by Jonathan Langager.  This film ended up winning an award through the Academy.  This year, the number of shorts available to screen is great and I trust the quality will be as well.   I was lucky enough to view the short "One Please" ahead of the festival and trust me, you won't want to miss this one!  Beautifully shocking and eerie is the perfect description of this short film.  You'll have to see it for yourself, though.

If you have the opportunity to attend the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival, you won't be disappointed.  The down-to-earth and welcoming attitude from everyone involved accompanied by the excitement in sharing their creative work is absolutely inspiring.  Check out their website for tickets and more information.  (SLAMDANCE WEBSITE)   If you can't jump on a plane and find accommodations in town, then just check back with RHR for updates and release information.  I'll be posting things daily!



Aging parents and the family dynamics are at the crux of this movie.  There is an overwhelming responsibility among children when they have to become caregivers and deal with the death of a parent.  But what happens when this situation is placed upon a very dysfunctional family full of emotional scars and secrets?  Chaos.  Chaos in a controlled form full of drama, humor, and cutting emotional interactions.  That's what happens.  AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY was originally a play performed at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre.  Both the play and the screenplay were written by Steppenwolf's Tracy Letts ensuring the integrity of the film compared with the play.  For those who were lucky enough to see the play, I am sure you will find this to be true.

To say that this is an engaging film is far too understated.  From the moment Bev (Sam Shepard) and Violet (Meryl Streep) verbalize the first lines of the film, you are hooked.  You realize this couple has more issues at hand than the average couple.  The dialogue between them is cutting, slicing like razors until Bev just can't take it anymore.  You see the pain he has endured and the sickness of the relationship between the two of them.  As the family arrives for Bev's funeral, you see that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  Each and every daughter has issues and their interactions with their mother tell it all.  There is a guilt complex that every child has, but again, this goes much deeper here.  Then there is prescription drug use and alcohol to cope with so many levels of guilt, anger, and regret.  Even as the siblings try to come to some terms with their mother and each other along with recognizing the need for family, each one of them learns about one another.  And it's not always a pleasant experience.  But within all of this there is such humor!  Every level of humor you can imagine.  From sarcasm to relatable experiences, to embarrassing situations, AUGUST has it all.  The film couldn't have relayed a better, more complete story than this.

This is truly one of the best casts I can imagine.  Meryl Streep is, of course, outstanding as the bitter, angry mother and newly widowed wife.  With all the daggers she throws, both visually and verbally, you can't help but be angry with her.  She will definitely not win Mother of the Year.  However, as the secrets and "truth telling" continues, you find empathy for her.  With Streep's extraordinary acting skills, she brought Violet to life.  As the matriarch of the family, she showed strength and determination utilizing her powerful language---wielding it like a sword and beheading anyone who dared challenge her.  Streep was truly powerful in this role.  And there wasn't a weak link in the cast.  Julia Roberts, however, was another standout as her character seemed to have had the biggest issues with her mother.  This is by far the best role Roberts has had.  What talent she possess and has now been able to share with an audience!  She was real and emotional yet guarded.  She was hurt and pushed away those around her, but again by doing so, proved that apple-tree adage.  Every actor played their part to its fullest which is what made this play-turned-film work.  The acting in this is so much more than just delivering lines.  It is the ability to use nuances.  These actors all give such depth to their characters to make this an outstanding film.

How do I describe the writing?  It's superb.  It's quick-paced tempo placing importance on each and every line is amazing.  Dare I say it borders on brilliance.  There are so many unexpected twists and turns that you must pay careful attention or you will miss something.  Then to have to take a 3 hour play and turning it into a 2 hour movie is a daunting task, but Letts doesn't let us down.  As Dermot Mulroney relayed after the premier at the Chicago International Film Festival, much can be conveyed visually in a movie that cannot be done in a play.  For those of you who have seen the play, the dinner scene is exactly as it was in the play.  Not a word was dropped.  Your jaw will also drop as you watch and listen to the dialogue.  This scene truly gave each character a chance to show how they fit (or didn't) into this family.

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is  ultimately a powerful film with skillful performances, deft directions, and impeccable writing.  The style of cinematography allowed you to feel as if you were a fly on the wall watching these people wrestle with their demons.  Every family is dysfunctional, but this family takes it to a whole new level.  It's full of irony, humor, and even love.  This may sound contrite, but you will laugh, be aghast, even get a little choked up in parts as you watch this outstanding film.  Rarely can a play be transformed to the silver screen and bring the story to life.  AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY does.

9 1/2 STARS

Thursday, January 9, 2014


The cast of “The Book Thief” attended the Chicago Premier of the film as they graciously answered questions for The Daily Journal.  Brian Percival, Director, and Karen Rosenfelt, one of the producers, were both passionate about this endeavor.  Ms. Rosenfelt shared that she had the opportunity and pleasure of reading the book’s manuscript even before publication.  She immediately knew that this could become a movie.  Taking this 600 page book and condensing it into a 120 page screenplay was an arduous task and perfection was her goal.  As it took 7 years to “get to that time for it to be magical,” it was worth it in finding just the right cast and director.  She stated, “You make a film once and you have to wait till it’s ready.”  

Brian Percival in his quick paced British accent concurred with Ms. Rosenfelt about timing.  Although he wasn’t aware of the book, he read the screenplay and “was completely bowled over.” He knew he “just had to make this film.”  Adapting a book into a film can be a daunting task, but Percival was most definitely up for the challenge as he had done many adaptations by greats such as Shakespeare and Dickens to a British audience.  In bringing “The Book Thief” to life, Percival emphatically stated that he was aware of the author’s intentions at every crucial point.  He perceived the book as a “580 page reference document.”  Using this guide, everyone was able to “look far deeper into the background material to see what was actually meant.”  

Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush plays Liesel’s father in the movie.  In comparing the book to the movie, Rush pointed out that “the novel is the novel and the film is the film.”  Although his character has a slightly different background that the character in the book, the overall affect is the same.  Rush used his own experiences as a father of a now 21 year old to bring reality and love to his character.  He felt that he needed to “delve into some little secret chambers in the back of your brain that you are in an imaginative world.”  In looking closely at his character, Rush expressed that “...what really personally attracted me to Hans is how seemingly ordinary he is.  He’s a housepainter, he’s working class.  He doesn’t seem to have any elaborate adjectives that you would use to describe him.  I’ve played quite a number of quite eccentric or slightly crazy or flamboyant roles.  I wanted to challenge myself” with playing this part.  

The lead actress, 12 year old award wining actress Sophie Nelisse embodied the poise and sophistication of someone at least 10 years older.  With “The Book Thief” as her third major role in an many years, Sophie articulated how she, a young German girl, prepared for this role.  Not surprisingly, she “watched a lot of movies” ranging from “Schindler’s List” to “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.”  History regarding WWII is not taught in school in Germany so this talented actress relied upon family connections to learn more about the era.  Her grandfather was in Chili in a concentration camp during this time.  Stories relayed about the atrocities and conditions were then permanently imprinted upon her, making her performance even better.  

It was quite apparent that these actors, directors, and producer have a passionate connection with this film.  Their insights and motivations behind the material will make this an even more enjoyable film to see.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

FILM FAVORITES OF 2013 by Pamela Powell

I know, I know.  Everyone has The Top Films topic at this time of year, but you might find my list to be a little different than other reviewers.  First of all, I can't limit myself to a number like "ten."  Also, I like to think that with the variety of festivals that I attend, I am able to bring to you many different films you might not otherwise know about.  So read on and don't judge me till then end...than have at it!

So here we are at the beginning of 2014.  What a fast and furious road 2013 was to get here!  As we look in the rear view mirror, we can clearly see the good, the bad, and the ugly of films this year.  It was truly an entertaining year as the types of films varied as much as the landscape from Chicago to Colorado.  There were comedies, documentaries, thrillers, dramas, horror flicks, and sometimes a combination of these genres!  Whether the film was from a large studio, an independent or foreign film, the film road was an exciting one to travel this year.   Everyone’s must-see or top list varies, and the criteria by which it is judged also swings a wide arc, but I am sure there will be a few consistent films at the top of everyone’s list.

2013 was a profitable one for the film industry world wide.  According to Variety Magazine on-line, final totals are estimated to be more than 10% up over last year.  What exactly does this mean?  It means over $10 billion!  With films like “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” skyrocketing with over $391 million just in the US, it’s a big boost to the overall bottom line. Let’s not forget all the prequels, sequels, and pre-sequels as well as the “reboots” made this year.  These films are low risk and automatic audience draws.  Films such as “Iron Man 3,” “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,”  “Man of Steel,” Thor: The Dark World,” and others were huge box office hits raking in a ton of greenbacks for the studios.  But money doesn’t always equate with top quality films.  

As many smaller towns appear to be hosting more and more independent films, it’s refreshing to see that we are able to view these types of movies as well as the mainstream blockbusters.  But what truly allows everyone to see all movies out there is Video on Demand, aka VOD.  With amazon, iTunes, and Netflix among many other outlets, you can see what a film reviewer sees, almost.  Luckily, I have the good fortune of attending film festivals both big and small.  From Sundance to the Waterfront film festivals and everything in between, a more complete list of top quality films from the year can be compiled for your reference and enjoyment.  The criteria used to produce this list is quite simple:  1.  Is it a good story? and 2.  Is it entertaining?  Now, that’s not to say that all of these movies will appeal to everyone.  For example, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is on the list, but I know that this one will not appeal to teens.  That being said, the list has a little bit of everything for every type of movie fan. Complete reviews can be found on Reel Honest Reviews website at

 Here’s the list you’ve all been waiting for.  Even if you haven’t been waiting for it, here it is anyway.  According to Reel Honest Reviews, The Top Films of 2013 are (in no particular order):







It’s been a fun and fast-paced ride along the movie highway.  (Although, it does concern me that I only have one Romantic movie on my list!)  With many of the films being big money makers, there were an equal number of films that did not have a huge profit margin (or one at all), but were wonderfully entertaining.  When you get frustrated and think that Hollywood doesn’t seem to produce quality films anymore, take a little closer look.  There are a lot of fantastic films out there that perhaps didn’t get as much press.  2013 was a great year in film with both small and big budget films.  And with a record breaking income for studios’ bottom lines, the year just got even better for some.   Enjoy these films and be sure to stay tuned for the next adventure along the 2014 Film Highway.  

Cheers to another wonderful year ahead!