Four Days, Four Films. And the Winner is…Movie Pass!

Movie Pass



What a wonderful gift. My sweet sister gave me 3-months of Movie Pass. Are you a fan? Or have you been hearing about it and wondered if it was a good deal? Yes, yes, it IS!

There are drawbacks: not all theaters accept Movie Pass. If you’re a big fan of art-house cinemas (Hello, Lyric Cinema Cafe in Fort Collins), you’ll still need to support them. And you can’t book in advance for most theaters; though the app notes that there are some theaters for which that’s available (both E-tickets and Advanced Booking haven’t been available at any local theater in my area–the Front Range of Colorado). Which means fewer screenings at the smaller lounge-type theaters.

Here’s how it works: you receive your “credit card” in the mail, download the app to your phone, go to the theater (you need to be within 100 ft), select your theater in the app, then select your film screening. You have 30 min to purchase your ticket at the box office or kiosk. Bingo, a free movie every day. How often you use Movie Pass will depend on you and your location. Even a film fanatic like myself…well, I’ve only used my Movie Pass five times in the last 3 weeks. Still, 5 FREE films out of the eight I’ve seen in a theater is awesome!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2 Cosmic Kool-Aids out of 5): Big fan of all the women characters kicking butt, making decisions and ruling the Universe…now if only the story had been compelling. Did we need a bunch of silly CGI characters to populate the different planets? The film does have some visually stunning vistas: I loved how the rebel planes’ flight paths scratched blood-red tracks through the white sands on Caint and the escape on the fathiers (those loping horse/camel/dog/cat creatures) revealed amusing scenes of destruction on the gambling planet Canto Bite. As much as I enjoyed seeing Luke and Leia reunited, discovering that one of them had mastered The Force enough to project a solid, touchable (and impervious) body left me questioning other aspects of the story. Once I left the fantasy, I was no longer involved in the film.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (3 ½ island margaritas out of 5): Now this is a fun ride! Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan are delightful as they portray teenagers that have been morphed into video game characters. The story is fun, the acting, stunts (and dance fighting!) and the way the production portrays the interactions of being in a game are inspired. The camaraderie that develops between the characters will have you laughing and there’s even a few touching moments. Jumanji is a great family film and if you’re looking for silly and heart-warming, this is your film.

The Greatest Showman (4 bar room shots, consumed while dancing, out of 5): Hugh Jackman is a wonder. Singing, dancing and sweeping us off our feet in this simplified story of PT Barnum’s life. The story sprinkles star dust and aims to convince us that showbiz can be a haven from the cruel world. The sets have an Old World Hollywood feel and suit this behind-the-scenes look at carnival life. Michelle Williams is luminous as the supportive wife who doesn’t need the glitz and glamour to be happy. Zac Efron is particularly charming as the High Society boy who must choose between his standing and class and his heart. He has two great duets; exciting song & dance numbers with Hugh Jackman and later, Zendaya. The choreography in those scenes and the timing; WOW. Rebecca Ferguson’s gorgeous opera star wins your sympathy and her song, dubbed by Loren Alfred, “Never Enough” is a show stopper. The cast of “freaks” lead by the bearded woman, Keale Settle, give exuberant performances and are the heart of the film and a modern nod to diversity and acceptance.

Call Me By Your Name (3 1/2 glasses of expensive Italian wine out of 5): Having missed two film festival screenings, I was excited to finally see this film. I find Luca Guadagnino‘s films to be lush, lyrical and a little over-the-top. Spending a summer in rural Italy in the company of Armie Hammer is a pleasure for the audience as much as for the young Timothée Chalamet. Who doesn’t enjoy watching young people explore their sexuality in gorgeous settings (and what an innovative use for a ripe peach)! There were some eyebrows raised due to the age discrepancy between the two young men but I think it’s more to do with Armie Hammer, a handsome American scholar who comes across as confident and assured and looks like a man.  Where Timothée Chalamet’s character seems so much younger and in his hapless romance with a young woman, shows the audience his inexperience.

For me, the real standout is Michael Stuhlbarg. He plays such a warm, non-judgmental father and the relationships within the family are loving and supportive of each other. It’s a treat to see a family on screen that’s not played for laughs or full of dysfunction. The story was well-told but I would’ve enjoyed a little prudent editing. The entire last scene set in winter with Timothy’s character mourning as he stared (and stared…and stared) into the fire didn’t seem necessary.


And the winner is…”Liyana”

Festival Hub: The McNichols Building

DFF Festival Hub: McNichols Civic Center Building

The 40th Denver Film Festival wrapped on Sunday, Nov 12th. An Awards Brunch celebrated the filmmakers that won jury and audience awards. It was wonderful to see that one of my favorite films at the festival, Liyana, not only won the True Grit Award… the filmmaking team was also awarded Peoples Choice Award for Documentary feature (a tie with the documentary, Hondros).

Liyana is not really a documentary, nor would I call it an animated film (though there are a few moments of animation). Amanda and Aaron Kopp’s film could be classified as a  triumph in raising awareness. The 10-year-long project was a creative way for the filmmakers to give a voice to the many delightful young children that live in an orphanage in Africa. Like an extended therapy session: as the children create the story and drawings for the film, they work through the traumas they’ve suffered: abuse, loss, terrors of war. They tell their stories through this fictional brave girl, Liyana, who is illustrated by the amazing Nigerian artist, Shofela Coker.

This is no pity party. The film is an unusual amalgam combining footage of the children creating the story and the hero’s journey that their character makes. All the elements, the editing, the beautiful illustrations, the children’s voiceovers, an amazing soundtrack and the final dancing scene of the children celebrating…make this film a heart-warming experience. What a wonderful film and deserved win for the filmmaking team!


Drinks with films rating: 5 glasses of milk served at a communal table of cheerful, chaotic kids enjoying life. (out of 5)

People’s Choice Awards
After conclusion of the Festival on Sunday, November 12, the following films were recognized as the People’s Choice Award winners for the 40th Denver Film Festival by a tally of ballots.

Narrative Feature:
Director: Martin McDonagh

Documentary Features (tie):
Director: Greg Campbell

Directors: Aaron Kopp and Amanda Kopp

Short Subject Film:
Director: Abi Damaris Corbin

Music Video:
Polo & Pan – Coeur Croisé
Director: Pablo Maestres

True Grit Award
The following Colorado-made feature film was selected as the winner of the True Grit Award by a jury of members of the Denver Film Academy, which is comprised of dues-paying alumni board members.

Directors: Aaron Kopp and Amanda Kopp

The jury statement reads:
Liyana, directed by Aaron and Amanda Kopp, is a documentary that juror members called bold, amazing, enchanting, tender, compassionate, empowering, heart-breaking–a triumph of the human spirit. As one jury member said: I couldn’t help but want to give that wonderful storytelling coach a big hug and a kiss … and some funding!”

Special mentions:
Director: Scott Takeda

Director: Greg Campbell

“The jury also cited two films for Special Recognition: The short film The Outsider, directed by Scott Takeda, a touching film about the need to belong and the beauty of finding beauty in other family cultures, and the feature documentary Hondros, directed by Greg Campbell. Hondros is a powerful and eloquent documentary that pays tribute to the late photojournalist Chris Hondros’ courageous and compassionate career documenting the wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan Liberia and Libya.”

Krzysztof Kieślowski Award for Best Narrative Feature Film
The following narrative feature film was selected as the winner of the Krzysztof Kieślowski Award by a jury of international film industry members.

Director: Michał Rosa

The jury statement reads:
“Since the pre-selection was excellent, it gave us a hard task with the diversity of choices and with different values in each film. We unanimously agree to give the Krzystof Kieszłowski Award in 2017 to a film that tells a uniquely complex and layered story, created with artistic integrity and consistency in its cinematic language: The Happiness of the World (Szczęście Świata), written and directed by Mr. Michał Rosa. The filmmaking team created on screen a unique sensual cinematic experience including exceptionally good performances. The Happiness of the World treats painful historical themes, addressing the guilty consciousness of contemporary audiences in a non-didactic and tactile manner.”

Special mention:
Director: Haffstein Gunnar Sigurðsson

“The special jury award goes to Under the Tree (Undir trénu), directed by Haffstein Gunnar Sigurðsson. We were impressed by the portrayal of the dark sides of human behavior through powerful tragic farce. The combination of erratic conducts and suburbia absurdity melted into a delightfully complex cinematic language. We don’t really believe in competition between films, in our choices we were looking for inventiveness in storytelling. We believe that the awarded films merit the attention of broader audiences and the support of the Denver Film Festival.”

Krzysztof Kieślowski Award Jury: Gyula Gazdag, Christopher Kamyszew, Clémence Taillandier

Maysles Brothers Award for Best Documentary Feature Film
The following documentary feature film was selected as the winner of the Maysles Brothers Award by a jury of national film industry members.

Director: Greg Kohs

The jury statement reads:
“The documentary jury awards the top prize to Greg Kohs’ AlphaGo for its riveting and thought-provoking account of a programming team’s attempt to master the ancient Chinese board game Go. The film chronicles the week-long tournament between the A.I. program AlphaGo and the game’s world champion Lee Sedol as a sporting event with global-historical significance. It does so with the vigor, suspense, and emotional stakes of a great sports film while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of the genre. In the end, AlphaGochallenges our allegiances and our assumptions, demonstrating that the measure of technology is not just whether it can outperform us, but whether it can deepen our humanity and expand human possibility.”

Special mention:
Director: Stefan Avalos

“The jury awards special mention to Stefan Avalos’ Strad Style, a film as singular and charming as its subject, a young Ohio man who promises to build a world-class violin for a renowned European concert violinist but who encounters countless obstacles in his quest to fulfill his promise. The film is a sincere and loving tribute to anyone who has ever known commitment in isolation or passion against the clock.”

Maysles Brothers Award Jury: Shane Boris, Justine Nagan, John Van Wyck

American Independent Award
The following narrative feature film was selected as the winner of the American Independent Award by a jury of national film industry members.

Director: Nathan Silver

The jury statement reads:
“For us, this film was a unique vision and one that is informed by the story consistently. Despite its dark themes, it maintains levity and a prism of complex portraits of each character. Bold editing, cinematography and sound design, coupled with an endlessly believable performance from Lindsay Burdge show that this is an impressive leap forward for director, Nathan Silver.”

American Independent Award Jury: Meredith Alloway, Matt Grady, Will Morris

Short Film Awards
The following short films were selected by a jury of national film industry members.

Liberty Global Domestic Student Filmmaker Award

Director: Daniel F. Pfeffer

The jury statement reads:
“The Liberty Global Domestic Student Filmmaker Award goes to While I Was Gone, written by Lucas Monroe and directed by Daniel Pfeffer. From the start, this emerging voice struck an unmistakably compelling tone. A first film that is all the more impressive for its subtleties.”

Liberty Global International Student Filmmaker Award

Directors: Bahram Ark and Bahman Ark

The jury statement reads:
“The Liberty Global International Student Filmmaker Award goes to Animal, by Bahram and Bahman Ark, for its raw and violent depiction of the struggle for freedom. The spirit of accomplishment is met with the ultimate sacrifice in the devastating and surprising resolution of this film.”

Best Animated Short

Director: Chintis Lundgren

The jury statement reads:
“The best animated short goes to a film that whimsically evokes many emotions because it touches on such themes as the loss of a male figure in the lives of a mother and son, the self discovery of a sexually repressed boy, and the reconciliation of unmet fantasies.”

Special mention:
Director: Niki Lindroth von Bahr

“We are giving a jury special mention to The Burden, directed by Niki Lindroth von Bahr. As a jury, we cannot believe this film exists because of its craft, its pure vision, and its ability to usher the audience into a dark, animalistic, and wildly mystical realm.”

Best Documentary Short

Director: Charlie Lyne

The jury statement reads:
“As a jury, this film unanimously struck us as not only a beautiful exercise in craftsmanship, but also hilarious and compelling. The original voice of the director speaks to the core of documentary filmmaking in a refreshing and genuine tone – turning a simple memory into a fascinating story.”

Shorts Jury: Christine Davila, Mallory Martin, Adam J. Minnick









March on over to the Lyric!

1510251593592_Openingday-coverphotoYes, my days and nights have been spent in Denver for the last two weeks, and while I was away, my favorite local Cinema opened it’s doors for business! The Lyric, once crammed into an old laundromat with two tiny screening rooms and great programming, has now moved into their new digs.

This Tuesday night, Nov 14th @ 6pm, you can join the Guerilla Fanfare Marching Band and make the one mile journey from Old Town to the new location on College Avenue. There’s now parking, a restaurant & expanded bar, plus THREE screening rooms. This light-filled building is like a big blue and silver cruise liner ready to sail you into your next cinematic adventure.

Free admission to the Grand Opening party. There will be live bands, a DJ and even live video streaming. Come play pinball, enjoy some crazy delicious Porky Pop (bacon AND caramel?!) popcorn and other culinary treats and celebrate your new local art house cinema. Sign up for Space Camp, the Lyric rewards program, and you’ll get to come to select screenings for free.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here is the schedule of events for the GRAND OPENING on November 14th:

          6:00pm – Parade Starts in Old Town Square lead by Guerrilla Fanfare
          7:00pm – Parade Arrives at The Lyric/The Alcapones, HYZENBORG, Live Video Art
          9:30pm(ish) – Wes Watkins & Grumpy Uncle begin playing
Make sure to put this event on your calendar and get ready for the same great programming of art house cinema, festival favorites, and live events here in Fort Collins.

Not all films are fabulous…some can be flawed or pretentious or downright irritating!

Bravo to the Denver Film Festival programming team for being adventurous in their programming. There are so many wonderful films and undiscovered gems in this year’s programs. There are also some that I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on…


Yes, this cabin was parked in front to SIE for the Premiere of “Walden”

Walden…oh Walden.  How much did I want to love you?! A Colorado narrative feature with a big name actor and lots of local crew and local supporters (including DFF!), Walden, Life In The Woods is an amazing short film. Trapped in a feature.

Three narrative threads attempt to illustrate three lost souls struggling through one day.  A man working at a senior center, played by Demian Bichir (Academy-nominated) is trapped in a spiral of financial woe. Will he have a nervous breakdown over the endless choices of bbq grills at the massive warehouse store? An egocentric young man is troubled by his boyfriend’s lack of support in his work. Is he losing his soul to corporate America? Or will he join his lover in the wilderness in a poorly-constructed cabin? Yes, I’m trivializing their plights but they are are the weak links in this saga.

While the two men struggle along on their literal paths thru the stores and streets and over rivers and rocks…the heart of the film is unfolding in the beautiful portrayal of an elderly woman (Lynn Cohan) overwhelmed by her dementia. Using drawings, stop motion animation and intricate camera work, the audience is shown a window into her world. Laura Goldhammer, also a producer on the film, created the wonderful animation. If only the rest of the film matched the vibrancy and uniqueness of this section…really wonderful.

Drinks with Films rating: 2 slugs out of a whiskey flask while sitting by a Colorado lake (out of 5)

A team of Colorado filmmakers, including director Alex Harvey, producers Mitch Dickman (Hanna Ranch, DFF37; Rolling Papers) and Shane Boris, writer Adam Chanzit, and musician-animator Laura Goldhamer, shot Walden on location. T.J. Miller (Deadpool, Cloverfield, Silicon Valley), Chris Sullivan (This Is Us) and Demián Bichir (The Hateful Eight; Alien: Covenant; Weeds; Un Cuento de Circo & a Love Song, DFF39) co-star.  They even brought the cabin to the World Premiere!

A Chiambra is Italy’s submission for next year’s Academy Award for Foreign Film. If you like gritty, down-on-their-luck tales of familial love, despair and crime; this is the film for you. There are no beautiful vistas of scenic Italy. This is car-jacking, children-smoking slice of ghetto life captured with too much handheld camerawork. Co-executive-produced by Martin Scorsese, there isn’t a lot of violence but there’s a lot of shouting and table pounding.

Rating: 1 glass of cheap Italian red, sipped from an unclean glass in a cluttered kitchen


Sometimes it’s my own anticipation that does me in…I was so thrilled to get to see Sally Potter’s new film, The PartyWhat a cast! Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Timothy Spall. I’m thinking witty bon mots, sparkling British dialogue, something of a farce but brutally funny…

Instead, it’s a black-n-white bore with stilted dialogue, frenetic acting, and a plot that even your dottiest aunt would never believe. Patricia Clarkson is the only one who seemed to have made friends with the cinematographer; she looks glamourous. Emily Mortimer wandered in from another movie in her overalls…she’s the only one who isn’t speaking the dialogue as if reading from a cue card. This was one Party I was glad to leave.

Rating: 1 glass of champagne tossed right out the balcony of the well-appointed London flat!

DFF40-Day 2 and is it too late to buy tickets?


Day Two of Denver Film Festival was an evening of Sold Out screenings at the Sie Film Center.  Many of the Film Society members have grown used to strolling into their films here as it’s managed by DFS year-round. There was a lot of grumbles from folks having to stand in long lines that snacked thru the lobby. Wait till they hear that my recommendation: put those patrons OUTSIDE! It was utter chaos for the seating of “The Party” as it was at RUSH and the only screening! Granted, this was the only night that there weren’t other screenings at the Pavilion movie theater to thin the crowd.

Humor Me — Starting off with an odd soundtrack (who puts clapping in the mix) and what seemed like a very worn premise, this tale of one man’s redemption had to work hard to win me over. I quickly grew weary of the corny stories pretending to be jokes told by Elliott Gould‘s character. And haven’t we seen a grown-up having to retreat to a parent’s home in a Senior Community? Why yes, and it starred Cameron Diaz and Shirley Mclaine!

Once our long-suffering dad (his only redeeming quality at first), Jermaine Clement learns some humility and begins to direct a local production at the Senior Center, the story had become more endearing. His character becomes less obnoxious and more-likeable and a near-tragedy finally redeems him. It may be a story you’ve seen many times but the warts-and-all performances and the delightful older actresses will make you want to cheer!


Drinks With Films rating: 3 glasses of sake while wearing a revealing kimono (out of 5)

Tickets, get your tickets! There are still plenty of delightful films waiting for you at the Denver Film Festival. Buy them here. The Festival runs from Nov 1-12, 2017

And remember, films at RUSH can often be seen if you’re willing to wait in line!

I witnessed two film tickets being gifted to folks waiting to purchase them–one of them was me!





Denver Film Festival 40 — Day One, “Lady Bird”


Opening Night is an exciting, exhilirating time at a Film Festival. The program has launched, guests are arriving, everyone’s getting on their party shoes…and the scene is set. SThere may still be a hundred thousand details for the staff to check and double check, but there’s a feeling of pride…and relief…once the first feature is one the screen.

Opening Night Video of the Fun

One terrific thing that Denver Film Festival does is to give filmmakers and talent from the entire program the chance to walk the Red Carpet on this big night…and many others. Whether you’ve made a short film, a student work or it’s your masterpiece documentary, everyone can share this moment to strut their stuff for the cameras.

I was fortunate to see Ladybird at the Telluride Film Festival with both the director, Greta Gerwig and her talented stars, Laurie Metcalf and Tracie Letts in attendance. The question and answer session was warm and lively.  The three of them seemed relaxed and enjoyed teasing each other.  All of them praised Saoirse Ronan.  She is so natural in the role and gives another intriguing, nuanced performance as the main character.  This journey from adolescent angst to eager college freshman feels distinctly personal.  Based on Greta Gerwigs’s own upbringing in Sacramento, there are so many moments that ring true and make you cringe or cry.

Each character is infuriating real.  I loved that the Mom is so emotionally distant and the Dad is helpless to heal the fractured relationship between the daughter and mother. The costumes, settings and language brought me right back to high school.  I identified with this stubborn, ballsy gal with a yearning for a future that seems so out of her reach. A wonderful directorial debut by Greta Gerwig, Ladybird  is a film I highly recommend.

Drinks With Films Rating: 4 glasses of pretentious wine while trying to act sophisticated out of 5

#DFF40 #feminist #comingofage

UPDATE: November 16, 2017 (DENVER) – The Denver Film Society (DFS) is excited to announce a collection of films from the 40th Denver Film Festival (DFF40) to open for special engagements at the Sie FilmCenter. Among those slated to open is the recently wrapped DFF’s Opening Night Red Carpet Premiere
title, LADY BIRD.

“Lady Bird – a film for the ages – explores all that is weird and wonderful about growing up,” says Festival Director, Britta Erickson. “Greta Gerwig, who we have long admired for her acting and writing, proves she’s a triple threat with a directorial debut as sure-handed and genuine as any we’ve come across. Featuring stellar performances from Saoirse Ronan, as the feisty angst-ridden eponymous teen, and Laurie Metcalf as her loving but opinionated mother, Lady Bird earns its awards buzz. For only the second time in history, Denver Film Festival was proud to open the Festival with a film helmed by a female director. We believe it is important to continue to showcase voices underrepresented in cinema, not only at the Festival, but at our year-round home, the Sie FilmCenter.”

LADY BIRD opens at the Sie FilmCenter on November 22, with an early preview on November 21.

Click to purchase LADY BIRD tickets


I Am Not Your Negro (obviously)

James Baldwin, The Last Interview.jpgUnsparing as history and enthralling as biography. It’s an evocation of a passionate soul in a tumultuous era. —Joel Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal

There was something so odd, yet so fitting in watching the Oscar-nominated documentary,  I Am Not Your Negro, on a rainy weekend at the Masonic Temple. Sitting in a meeting hall on mismatched padded chairs with Masonic tapestries and a domed ceiling around us, the crowd included mostly couples, (many over 50) and one family with pre-teen boys. All of us white. Many of us, likely unfamiliar with any of James Baldwin’s writings. The screening had the feel of a town hall meeting where we’d all come together to get political.

Sadly, the sound was rather muffled in this temporary screening hall. It was hard to distinguish between James Baldwin’s voice and the narration by Samuel L Jackson. It’s a powerful film, in part because his words are still so relevant today. Sadly. Pairing his narrative about the lives and deaths of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King Jr with contemporary video of the sad state of affairs in race relations in America today creates such a resonance that I heard members of the audience actually gasp out loud.

As the crowd quietly filed out of the hall and down the stairs, there was a shared silence and many people were glancing at strangers to see their reactions. It was a thoughtful silence and I didn’t see the usual rush to turn on cellphones. The idea of crowds of mainly white folks gathering to hear a lecture on why we need to stop thinking Black Lives Matter and start thinking how to heal our country as preached by a gay black activist that died in 1987…what a remarkable achievement.

If you’re like me, and you’ve only read James Baldwin’s poems and a few essays, you may be inspired to go pick up a few of his books. Here’s a few suggestions: Four books by James Baldwin. I’ll be headed to the library to find The Last Interview.

Rating: PG-13 for violence and a few swear words

Drinks With Films: 5 glasses of French wine out of 5 — a toast to Baldwin’s time in Paris

Release date: February 3, 2017 (USA)