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…

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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

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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!

“Flags of our Fathers” — DFF, Day 3

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Richard Linklater‘s ode to fatherhood and brothers-in-arms is a long road trip with many diversions.  Last Flag Flying features outstanding performances from the cast; the quiet, soulful man that sets the plan in motion, Steve Carell (reminding us that he’s more than a comedian), to the grandstanding, hard-drinking man covering up his shame with booze and broads played by Bryan Cranston.  Laurence Fishburn is a solid straight man who’s found his way and isn’t keen to be tempted off the path. These three men bicker and bound as they go on a journey of redeemtion and brotherhood.

The horrors of war but the joy of war-tested friendship, the deep sadness of not trusting your leaders and fighting for a lost cause, the military’s hypocrisy and easy lies and the state of men’s souls — complex themes for a movie that keeps company with men still recovering from the Vietnam War. Linklater is no stranger to themes of manhood and his work here is a brilliant study in why a lie can change your life, or sooth a weary soul. This is a long journey and the side-trips are a welcome reprieve with some comedy moments that had the audience laughing through their tears.

Drinks with Films Rating: 3 beers and a shot in an Irish bar trying to drown your sorrow

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

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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!

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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!

#DFF40

 

 

 

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

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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

 

“Corbin Dallas Multipass”

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Still looks amazing at 20!

A throwback film that feels FRESH and a current film that is full of references to the past but already feels STALE!

Today there’s a good chance you can catch a screening of The Fifth Element at your local cineplex. Fathom Events is releasing the film May 14th and 17th as the studio is getting out the press for the next Luc Besson film, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

This has been a favorite film of mine for many years and I wasn’t worried that the special effects would look cheesy…I’ve seen it many times since that first awesome experience at the movie theater. I still found the story engaging, the cityscapes and costumes (Jean Paul Gautier!) fantastic and found myself on the edge of my seat at the ending with a tear in my eye. It was so fun to hear the crowd cheer at the end of the film and hear the exiting crowd exclaim at how well the movie still holds up.

In comparison, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 is a far weaker film. Yes, there are some wonderful set pieces and a few emotionally-resonant moments between the characters, but what was with that convoluted origin story? Wow, was I bored with the 70’s-themed side trip down memory lane, and any time the film stopped at Planet Ego, the story stalled. It made a gazillion dollars on Opening Weekend and will continue to gross the big bucks, but amid the flash and throwback tunes and the snappy dialogue, where was the story? Why did we care about the gold-dipped aliens and their plan for vengeance?

It felt as if they built all these cool sets and created all this cool SGI, and then added story elements to use them. How many scenes of battle till you create battle fatigue in your audience? The best moments on Guardians, were short scenes away from the action with our central characters…too brief to sustain any goodwill toward the overblown film.

Go see The Fifth Element instead. You’ll be glad you did.

Drinks Rating

Fifth Element: 4 cups of bad coffee (Corbin Dallas can’t get the coffee pot to work) out of 5

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2:  2 kiddie cups of bright-colored Kool-aid, a sugar rush but a let-down, out of 5

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)

ACT at Odell Brewery…or Do you want VR with your beer?

 

ACT Human Rights Film Festival

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ACT Human Rights Film Festival held a Kick-Off Screening at the SIE Film Center in Denver.

Filmmaker Beth Murphy was there for the Q & A for What Tomorrow Brings.

The festival is put on by the Communication Studies Department at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO.

I was there, hot toddy in hand…to support the festival!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Odell Brewing Company hosted the Schedule Release Party on Thursday, March 28th, 2017. Odell is brewing a special beer for the ACT Film Festival called Screening Sessions IPA!

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The 2nd Annual ACT Human Rights Film Festival will bring 16 films to the CSU campus and the Lincoln Center Theater in Fort Collins, many with filmmakers in attendance. Stay tuned for a Very Important Guest Appearance…to be announced Monday!

The program covers both national and international human rights issues, and includes humor and beauty to sweeten your educational experience. Topics range from the first South Indian female taxi driver (Driving with Selvi) to Tehran’s underground techno scene (Raving Iran), from solitary confinement in American prisons (Solitary) to a flamboyant drag queen in Ireland who fought for marriage equality (Queen of Ireland).

Two documentaries that I recommend are Jackson, a stirring tale of staff and patients in the only abortion clinic in Jackson, MI and What Tomorrow Brings, highlighting how education can change communities in the first all-girls school in a remote Afghan village.

The lively event at Odell brewery was packed on a rainy Spring evening. There were program listings to read through, tickets to be purchased on iPads and live music by the lead singer of The Seers, Brian Collins. There were announcements and trailers and a moving virtual reality short film.

Who Am I  was produced by Blueshoe Media — Kyle Rasmussen (CSU alumni) and Amy Hoeven. The short film immerses you into the encounters of first-generation CSU college students with immigrant high school students from Fort Morgan, CO. I was amazed to learn that there’s been Somalian refugees coming to this conservative town for a decade. It’s a bit of a sweaty (and occasionally, nauseous-inducing) experience once you’ve got the VR headset and headphones on but the VR film is both memorable and thought-provoking. Check it out during the Opening and Closing Night programs.odell-poster2.jpg

Purchase your Festival tickets now! And stay tuned for an exciting announcement on Monday, April 3, 2017! There’s an actor/singer/activist coming to Fort Collins!