Northern Soul

Set in Lancashire England, this coming-of-age tale bursts out of a musical renaissance that takes hold of a small conservative English town in 1974 and transforms it into a hot-bed of modern dance and music. 

Filmed with intimate in-your-face intensity, Northern Soul is a fever dream of dance hall hoards moving wildly in odd spontaneous twists and turns punctuated with karate kicks and fist pumps to a musical sound that starts a massive new dance movement in England.

John (Elliot James Langridge) is a shy awkward kid who is bullied in school by his teacher and at home by his mother. He has a passion for poetry and admires a girl from a distance. He feels useless and inept until he meets Matt (Josh Whitehouse), a passionate rebellious kid who dresses in strange new fashions and moves with a wild dance style that’s more like martial arts mixed with acrobatics.

The dance floor as creative outlet of personal expression set to black American soul music transforms John into a hardcore dancer and in-demand DJ whose new found confidence lifts him out of his dull victimized existence and elevates him to rock star status within the community of his peers. 

Dressed in baggy trousers and tight shirts with wide collars in the latest 70’s fashions, the two teens start their own night club with the music they select themselves. Soon their dance club is packed with young people lining up to get in and take part in the coolest new dance fever. 

With sudden access to unlimited supplies of drugs giving them a heightened feeling of reverie on the dance floor, and his new status as the hottest DJ in town, John finally gets up the courage to talk to the girl he has been admiring for so long.

John and Matt make a pact to save up enough money to travel to America together and bring back vast untapped wealth of music that must exist there. But their intense new friendship is threatened when they are offered a shot at the big time and creative compromises creep into the equation.

Can their relationship survive the drugs and ever elusive success they seek? And where will it take them? As they struggle with authority, intolerance and their growing passion for music, there are harsh life lessons learned, friendships tested and tragic consequences.

The filmmaker’s personal love for the time period and subject matter drives this film and gives it its authentic look and feel. The intensely energetic performances are absolutely mesmerizing, and keep the film constantly captivating. 

Northern Soul exudes a nostalgic coming-of-age experience set to the music of its time that’s similar to other blast from the past films like Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) and George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973).

Part of the City to City program at this year’s TIFF40 (Toronto International Film Festival), Northern Soul is a fun exhilarating and intense uplifting experience that grabs you with its infectious enthusiasm and energy. 



The less you know about Room going in, the better. There are intense performances and disturbing revelations that make for a unique viewing experience from a story adapted for the screen by author Emma Donoghue from her award winning bestselling novel.

Filmed in Toronto, Room is an intimate psychological drama that puts us inside the mind of a 5 year-old child who has never seen anything beyond the walls of his room. He was born there and lives in Room with his mother. The room is all he knows and he is happy playing with his imagination and his Ma who is always with him. He even calls the world he lives in Room.

Room won the People’s choice award at this year’s recent TIFF40 (Toronto International Film Festival) and got overwhelming positive responses from audiences who saw it.

Jack’s mother keeps him busy with daily routines and teaches him to read and write, and about everything in the world. But Jack believes these are just made up stories that aren’t real. They couldn’t be real because he’s never actually seen any of those things in his room.

We only begin to realize what is happening when a man arrives in the room. Old Nick occasionally visits the room for a short while to bring food and toys, and takes mother with him to the bed. During this time Jack must hide in Closet until Old Nick leaves. This all seems fairly normal to Jack who has never known different.

One day when she feels Jack is old enough, Ma tells him that it’s time to leave Room, that there’s more behind the walls of Room and that the stories she told him are all true. Jack is curious but likes his room and is scared of leaving it. His mother knows that the world is much bigger because she was not always in Room. She grew up in the world and has been in Room since she was a teenager seven years ago.

Room explores the traumatic psychological effects of prolonged forced physical confinement and how as children we can adjust more easily to our environment no matter how difficult and deprived it may be. 

Abduction and its traumatic effect on the victims are not often talked about. This film delves into the issues of abduction from the victim’s point of view. Telling the story from the child’s perspective gives the film an added emotional dimension of fear and tension.

With Irish director Lenny Abrahamson’s skillful guidance and collaboration with the author/screenwriter, this Irish/Canadian production feels immediate and relevant in its portrayal of the powerful subject matter.

Ma, played by Brie Larson, and Jack who is portrayed by Jacob Tremblay, have a real intimate and honest chemistry that lends itself to a powerful and truthful performance as mother and son who in many ways need each other to survive.

Room grapples with some difficult and disturbing subject matter in a positive way that feels uplifting and inspirational. Audiences have come away from the experience of the film with appreciative and emotional reactions, which is a testament to the dedicated cast and filmmakers and attests to its status as the People’s Choice award winner in Toronto.


El Clan (The Clan)

In Argentina, The Clan caused a sensation. People there still remember well the incredible true events depicted in the film of a seemingly normal well-to-do upper class family who made a business out of kidnapping and torturing members of wealthy families in their own neighborhood and holding them for hefty ransoms.

The horrifying stories struck fear into citizens as the victims were killed after the ransom was paid. Argentina was still struggling to throw off the curse of a dangerous military dictatorship and people could not resolve criminal issues by appealing to the police or government as they were just as likely to be involved in the kidnappings and killings. 

As it turns out, the man responsible for these horrific crimes was a seemingly upstanding citizen and family man, Arquímedes Puccio, a former high ranking official in the government intelligence agency, along with his wife, three sons and two daughters. 

Taking place over the course of four years from 1982 – 1985, The Clan reveals the strange family dynamics of the infamous Puccio clan. Living quietly in San Isidro, a wealthy suburb of Buenos Aires, their father’s illicit activities were a dark family secret that was kept hidden from the outside world.

Their athletic son Alejandro played for the country’s successful Rugby team, and when he wasn’t working in his surfing equipment store he was helping dad to kidnap his next victim. The victims were kept in the basement of the house they lived in, but the family seemed oblivious to what was happening right under their noses.

Argentine actor Guillermo Francella plays Arquímedes, a silver haired, steely eyed fox stalking his prey with a cool obsessive intensity. He has his meticulously planned extortion routine worked out like a pro with years of experience and is careful not to leave anything to chance.

Arquímedes also makes sure his family trusts him and understands the importance of what he’s doing. He makes sure that no one feels uncomfortable, but that doesn’t stop one of his sons from figuring out that daddy is bound to get caught eventually and when he does, it would not be beneficial to be anywhere near him. When he leaves on an overseas school trip he tells his older brother he’s not coming back and that he also better get away soon.

When Alejandro meets a girl that he wants to marry, the family business becomes an obstacle to his plans that can no longer be overlooked. And when a newly elected democratic government comes to power, Arquímedes can no longer rely on the old regime to protect him.

Using the popular music of the time, director Pablo Trapero skillfully edits between brutal kidnapping footage and the outer façade of a happy family life being portrayed to the outside world. It’s a surreal experience that’s as gripping and mesmerizing as it is disturbing.

Well researched, slickly filmed and powerfully performed with surgical insight, this intensely shocking tale has been winning awards at major film festivals around the world, including the Silver Lion for best director at the Venice Film Festival and has been selected as Argentina’s official Oscar entry for this year’s 88th Academy Awards. 



Dheepan is an unusual story that mixes the immigrant experience with rogue military guerrilla war elements within an urban gang turf war environment, and it works. 

Dheepan, a former Tamil soldier has had enough of war after a lifetime of violence and killing, and just wants to fit in and start a new peaceful, quiet life. He’s a mild-mannered newly hired immigrant, learning to work as a building superintendent in a suburb of Paris. He also has some secret hidden talents. 

Trained to fight a guerrilla war in the jungle since childhood, against government military forces, destroying army bases in an effort to create their own separate homeland, Tamil soldiers have been fighting a civil war against the Sri Lankan government since 1983 to protect their citizens and culture from ethnic marginalization by the majority Sinhalese government. These dedicated soldiers were known as Tamil Tigers. 

When their leader was killed in Jaffna, the government army wiped out many Tamil citizens living in the North of Sri Lanka in violation of international human rights laws. Many escaped to India, Canada and elsewhere in Europe.

Beginning at the end of this long brutal civil war, Dheepan follows one Tamil warrior as he tries to settle into a housing block community outside of Paris, France. After picking up a young Tamil woman and a girl who both lost their families in the final days of the war, they pass themselves off to the French Immigration officials as a family fleeing the civil war chaos of Sri Lanka.

What seems immediately obvious to the audience is unknown to the newly arrived refugees who believe they are living in a normal apartment community with normal, if poor French citizens. We quickly realize that they are in fact living in the middle of a drug gang community where there is an imminent threat of turf war.

Our new refugee family tries to fit in as best they can while also getting to know each other for the first time. It’s difficult to say the least. Not only are they dealing with culture shock in a strange new country, but they also grieve for their lost families while trying to start a new life with total strangers. 

The story grapples with the personal issues of the three main characters as they go about their daily struggle to set up a household, find work and learn the new language. As they eventually gain the trust of the locals, this new family begins to feel some hope and start
to grow more intimate with each other.

But when the inevitable power struggle breaks out, threatening to destroy the safety of their precarious family unit, Dheepan’s guerrilla tiger training kicks in and he’s forced to fight the only way he know how to defend his new family from harm.

The climax is bloody and somewhat reminiscent of the climax in Taxi Driver (1976), as Dheepan is again caught in the middle of a violent war. Deciding he cannot stand by while his Tamil girlfriend is in danger, he surprises everyone by taking matters into his own hands with brutal and violent consequences.

Winner of the Palme D’Or prize at this year’s Cannes film festival, Dheepan is a powerful and personal story of the immigrant experience in Europe that shines a harsh light on the plight of Sri-Lankan Tamils.



Young, wild and free-spirited teen girls just want to enjoy life playing on the beach, going out with boys, cheering at soccer games and dancing to music. It all seems so natural and innocent, unless you happen to live in a small town in Turkey dominated by religious and cultural oppression, where girls are seen only through a veil of sexuality and as domestic slaves to a male dominated society.

Mustang is a powerful and imperative film about the injustices of strict tribal and religious societies and their treatment of women in particular. The message is loud and clear, giving voice to issues of female oppression increasingly being echoed in powerful personal films like Dukhtar (2014), Wadjda (2012), Circumstance (2011), Offside (2007), Head-On (2004) and a recent new film from Tunisia, As I Open My Eyes (2015).

Five young orphaned sisters living with their grandmother in a small coastal village in Turkey have just finished the school year. It’s a bittersweet moment as they say goodbye to their favorite teacher but also look forward to an exciting and playful summer. 

But what the sisters of differing ages thought would be a fun filled summer, suddenly turns into a nightmare when the small town community they live in turns on them, deciding that they can no longer tolerate their freewheeling irreverent behavior which is getting the local boys all excited. 

Too much for the grandmother to handle, she is forced by the community to marry off the girls as soon as possible in the traditional ways of the Turkish culture. As their home turns into a school for domesticity they are told that girls must be pure, soft-spoken and well mannered, and they’re forced to spend their time learning how to cook and clean. 

Soon bars, gates and fences are erected all over the house to stop them from sneaking out to parties and having fun. Their home suddenly turns into a fortress of chastity to protect their virginity. But the girls will not be broken so easily. They are young and will not be bartered off to complete strangers who come around with their sons.

The situation however becomes increasingly dire for the girls as one by one they are forced to accept marriage proposals and leave the house with their new husbands. Lale, the youngest of the sisters, is particularly disturbed by the sudden violent turn of events as she witnesses her older sister’s suffering.

This scathing film is not without humor and irony and the genuine camaraderie between the girls who play the sisters translates beautifully and naturally on screen, giving a sense of the tight sisterhood bond they share as they support each other when faced with this crisis for which they are unprepared. The vibrant spontaneous performances by the children make this film a joy to watch even as they fight for their freedom.

We feel for them as their initial shock turns to desperation or resignation. We want them to somehow escape the horrors of their plight, so when Lale makes a sudden bold decision and takes matters into her own hands, we are fully on her side as she battles age old traditions and the wrath of not only family but also the entire community.

A moving heartfelt gem of a film, Mustang has been chosen as France’s official Oscar entry for the 88th Academy Awards. They certainly have my vote.


The Martian

From visionary director Ridley Scott - Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Gladiator (2000), and Prometheus (2012), comes the latest in the Astronaut in jeopardy genre that’s lately been gaining velocity, The Martian

Realistic space exploration films featuring isolated astronauts in life threatening situations have been around for years but were always considered to be cerebral speculative procedurals, of interest only to the hard-core Sci-fi fans. But with the success of films like Apollo 13 (1995) Gravity (2013) and Interstellar (2014) with their visually innovative spectacular images, and suspenseful scientifically accurate stories, astronaut films have become much more entertaining and popular.

A bold blend of Apollo 13 (1995) and Cast Away (2000), The Martian follows Mark Watney (Matt Damon), a stranded astronaut on an uninhabited planet Mars, some 401 million kilometers from earth, trying to survive long enough using only his wits and his considerable science knowledge, until he can find a way to communicate with NASA and come up with a plan to get home.

Mark is presumed dead during the evacuation of their Ares III site after a storm forced the crew to abort their mission and return home. When Mark discovers he is not dead, he quickly realizes that even if his crew and NASA knew he was alive, it would take four years for another mission to reach him, by which time he would have surely starved to death - assuming that he doesn’t die by any number of grisly means that could expose him to the hostile Martian environment and kill him instantly.

The Martian puts the science back into Sci-fi. It’s all about the science of surviving in space and the suspense of living in a place where small miscalculations can result in catastrophic accidents. We are constantly reminded that doing the math right can save your life. But above and beyond the math and science, you still need the courage and conviction to take risks.

Mark is seriously in danger of dying the longer he stays on Mars, but he has a healthy sense of humor which helps him get through some of his most difficult ordeals and keeps us interested in him and his predicament. As the obstacles mount his chances of survival quickly diminish. Not only is his food supply running out but he has to make his own water and oxygen, which are all in limited supply.

Based on the novel by Andy Weir, which started as a self-published e-novel, The Martian is quite a complex technical read, presumably limiting its audience to the hard-core Sci-fi fans. But the humanity of the story and characters is so compelling, it actually reached a far wider readership than anticipated and was eventually bought by a publisher and picked up for adaptation into a major Hollywood film.

This film has it all; a risky complex mission to Mars in jeopardy, space travel, science, suspense, a great ensemble cast of actors and a brilliant director at the helm, all coming together to give heart to this triumphant epic story of survival that’s inspirational and educational. 

If you choose to see The Martian on a big screen in 3D, prepare to be blown away.



Sicario is a powerful well written and visceral depiction of the horrors and ambiguities of America’s war on drugs that harkens back to similarly excellent films in the Mexican drug war genre like Miss Bala (2011) and Traffic (2000).

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is a fearless young female FBI agent, who wants to make a difference but is growing frustrated by the system. She volunteers to help a black-ops mission that promises to find and stop the people at the top, responsible for the terror and deaths on both sides of the border.

What Kate soon learns is that no one is playing by the rules anymore and in order to catch the kind of rabid individuals for whom life and brutality go hand in hand, she may have to give up everything she believes in. One mysterious brooding character on the team played by Benicio del Toro tells her; “You will not survive here. You are not a wolf. This is the land of wolves now.” 

French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, Incendies (2010), Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2013), is at the top of his game with this latest crime thriller about Mexican drug cartels and the war on drugs that continues to claim the lives of thousands of innocent people. 

The lawless desert wasteland between the US and Mexican border is scarred with corpses both human and vehicular. Nothing lives there for long and aerial vistas of this devastated no man’s land look like satellite images of an alien planet, testament to the changing landscape that has resulted from the increasing violence of the drug war.

Sicario, which means hit man in Mexico, gives us a searing sense of unease that we know something evil is lurking beneath the surface unseen, like the pulse-pounding opening sequence in which a police raid on a seemingly normal house from the outside hides horrific bone-chilling secrets on the inside.

Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) who head the black-ops team are tasked with stirring up enough chaos and fear to flush out some of the bigger fish that will lead them to the men who are orchestrating the violence from the top.

Visually striking and authentic looking in every way as filmed by master cinematographer Roger Deakins, Sicario is haunting in its disturbing depiction of a dark underground world of death and fear as seen through the eyes of Emily Blunt’s relatively new agent who has many questions that cannot be easily answered.

The paralyzing suspense is palpable as we follow Kate deeper into hostile territory and we’re constantly kept in the dark about who can be trusted and who is operating with their own agenda.

This is an in-your-face hard hitting action drama that pulls no punches as it executes its objective by any means available. The film asks difficult questions about how far we are willing to go to make a difference and how far will we follow the path that may lead us astray and destroy our own moral compass.

Watch for Denis Villeneuve’s next collaboration with Roger Deakins, which is reported to be the much anticipated sequel to Ridley Scott’s cult classic Sci-fi film Blade Runner (1982), scheduled for release in 2017.



With today’s headlines filled with stories of mass migrations of people from Syria pouring into Europe, leaving their homelands to flee hardship and find a better life, we would do well to remember the story of our own ancestors who once faced similar journeys and prospects when they came to America by the boatful from their ancestral lands in Europe.

Based on the award winning historical novel by Irish author Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn is director John Crowley’s beautifully told, if traditionally staged epic film adaptation of this captivating coming-of-age tale that follows a journey across the sea to a new world.  

Brooklyn focuses on an Irish girl in her early twenties, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), who lives with her widowed mother and older sister in the town of Enniscorthy, Ireland. At a time when work is extremely scarce, Eilis grows frustrated with her prospects in this small town existence and the mentality of its folk, especially the young men who all dress the same and just want to get drunk.

Visually, the production is sparing and conservatively filmed but well researched and beautifully costumed with 50s fashion. The real strength of the film though is in its powerful heartfelt performances and tightly focused story of Eilis Lacey, exquisitely performed by Saoirse Ronan from Hanna (2011), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).

Encouraged by her sister and a local Catholic priest who has sponsored her and arranged for a job waiting for her, Eilis reluctantly agrees to venture out and board a boat headed for New York City, leaving behind the only family she has. After a difficult journey she arrives in a strange new land of modern ideas and a large community of Irish workers. 

While staying in a boarding house for Irish women, she starts working for a high-end department store as a sales clerk but becomes increasingly unhappy and homesick until she meets a charming young Italian-American plumber who is totally taken with her. Their relationship grows as she takes night classes to become an accountant, when she gets devastating news from back home that forces her to return.

What she finds upon returning to her hometown in Ireland is that she is treated very differently now. Having grown into a woman with experience from abroad she now has many more prospects than she did before but some things have not changed. Eilis must now make a life changing decision that will determine her future happiness and identity.

The film delves into strong themes of letting go of our past and embracing the uncertain future. Poignant themes of identity are touched upon and the struggles we face when torn between two places and two communities, and the frightening prospect of deciding where we belong and what we want. 

Deciding between our responsibility to ancestral family or the excitement and possibilities of a new modern life, Eilis’ predicament is universally relatable and will tug at the heartstrings. As many of our own ancestors must have done, she must make the difficult decision to return to her old life and family in Ireland for good or embrace a new one in an exciting but uncertain new world far away across the sea.

Brooklyn is an emotionally satisfying straight forward old fashioned romantic film that manages to leave a lasting impression without any fancy editing or camera effects. A must see.


This Changes Everything

This Changes Everything is a powerful passionate new Canadian climate change documentary made by people who don’t like climate change documentaries, and asks the question, “Why don’t we like these kinds of movies? “

Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein’s new documentary answers this question by telling us that it’s because we are often told that climate change is caused due to our greedy selfish human nature. That’s just the way we are so we can’t change it. But what if climate change is due to something else? What if it’s due to a story we’ve been lead to believe is true but isn’t. That, we can change.

They argue against the long and commonly held belief that the earth is a machine to be used, shaped and dominated by people. And that the current political/economic model of continued unsustainable growth and deregulation, which gives Corporations free reign to extract resources out of the earth at any cost to land and people, is linked directly to our current climate crisis and only benefits the few at the top of that system.

Five years in the making, the film shows the devastating struggles by people on the front lines whose lands and livelihoods are directly affected by today’s global economic policies and make convincing connections between our unsustainable destructive economic system and the rapidly changing climate.

The filmmakers take us to all corners of the earth where similar stories are playing out, of regular folks living in rural communities who are forced to go to extraordinary length and risking their lives to protect their families and stop brutal practices inflicted on them by their governments and multi-national corporations. 

Greek villagers living on generations-old pristine unspoiled paradise are being forced to abandon their way of life by a Canadian gold mining company who wants to completely annihilate it by constructing toxic chemical plants with bulldozers and drilling equipment.

Indigenous people in Alberta and elsewhere are being killed and forced off the land they subsist on, despite ages old treaties that promise the land will be protected and can be used only by them. There are many more examples of ever increasing violence against people and the effect these government and corporate practices are having on our environment all over the world.

The film also points to positive ways we can change these practices and continue to provide secure jobs for people by putting our efforts into safe renewable energy and technology that has already been successful in other countries. But greedy governments won’t adopt these ways on their own. They need people to demand change. 

The film shows examples of communities that, after rising up and long struggles, have been successful in bringing attention to their plight and have affected change in their government’s short sighted policies. Many communities have now created local governments that have their best interest at heart with the power to stop these global companies from taking over and destroying their land and homes.

This is an important eye-opening film that deals with issues that affect everyone and is well worth seeing. It should be shown in schools everywhere. As someone in the films says “it’s not just an Indian issue. If you drink water and breathe air, it will affect you.”

Premiering soon at the TIFF Toronto International Film Festival, make sure you take the opportunity to watch it when it comes in theaters later this year.


The Second Mother (Que Horas Ela Volta?)

You will fall in love with The Second Mother, a charming honest and hilarious Brazilian drama. Regina Casé – from the award winning film Me You Them (2000), is a hoot as a gruff lovable nanny working for a wealthy middle upper class family. 

When her estranged teenaged daughter comes to stay with her at the home of her employer where she works to search for an apartment in the city of São Paulo while studying for the entrance exam to a prestigious school, a tense social drama begins to unfold, exposing the social divide between generations with comic results.

The Second Mother accurately reflects our current social media obsessed society with a keen observant eye that allows us to see the absurd humor in our unconscious behavior. The film is a scaled down modern version of Downton Abbey, showing us the vast psychological disparity between the servant class and the household’s wealthy family.

While revealing conflicting class values, filmmaker Anna Muylaert gives us a sensitive truthful story of a mother who must come to terms with her guilt and angry teenage daughter who she hasn’t seen in ten years while working far away from her family.

Regina Casé’s performance as Val the nanny is so convincing and charming that she dominates the screen with her large spontaneous personality and exuberant energy. She clearly enjoys her work and loves the family she works for, but she knows her place and has no illusions about her station in life as a servant. 

She knows her limits but that’s not to say she doesn’t enjoy being around the things she can never have. To Val this is just the natural way of life and she just feels lucky to be trusted enough to be a part of the lives of such grand wealthy people.

When Val’s daughter Jéssica arrives for a short stay, her employers are more than happy to accommodate her seeing how happy it will make Val. But Val’s world is quickly turned upside down when it becomes shockingly clear that Jéssica has no such illusions about life that her mother was born with. 

Jéssica has much bigger ambitions than her mother and her attitude is that if she studies hard she will have the same opportunities in life as anyone. She thinks it perfectly normal to be treated as an equal guest in the house regardless of her mother’s employment as a house maid.

It’s fascinating and entertaining to observe the tense conflicts between mother and daughter as well as how the wealthy employer, who wants to seem gracious but also preserve the status quo, suddenly feeling threatened by the less fortunate but more determined and expressive lower class guest.

This movie is well worth seeing for its amusing social commentary and its wonderful ensemble performances which won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting for its two lead actors at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The film also won the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. 

Brazilian cinema has steadily been gaining world attention with such powerful, insightful and artful contemporary films as The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (2008), Neighboring Sounds (2012) and Brazilian Western (2013).


American Ultra

American Ultra is a sweet tender puppy that becomes Cujo the raging killer dog. It’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) meets Jason Bourne with the ultra-violent tactics of The Raid: Redemption (2011). 

With the recent slew of spy films, this is a refreshing humorous comic book take on the military sleeper agent experiment gone rogue film. A Cohen Brothers Raising Arizona (1987) inspired take on secret agent films.

It’s a hilarious and unexpectedly touching love story about a young pot smoking couple, Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) and Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) who are trying to make their relationship work despite the personal issues that threaten to keep them from maturing and fulfilling their dreams. 

Mike is an imaginative nerdy timid guy who leads a mundane dull existence while living out his fantasies through his drawings of a comic ape astronaut superhero called Apollo Ape. His girlfriend encourages him to come out of his shell and wants him to succeed at something he loves doing.

But Mike struggles with a panic disorder that prevents him from traveling outside of his small town existence. Wanting more for himself and Phoebe he decides to take her on a trip to Hawaii but is unable to go through with it when he has a panic attack at the airport.

He wants to make it up to her by proposing marriage but can’t decide on the right moment because, unknown to him, he suddenly becomes the target of a top secret government operation to eliminate him from existence.

American Ultra is destined to be a cult classic with moments of delicate romance and reflection punctuated by sudden absurdly funny action and violence. Throughout the mayhem the film never loses sight of the couples’ relationship problems. 

We are treated to typical arguments between two people who love each other and we want to see their relationship succeed against seemingly overwhelming odds, when Mike’s alter-ego is activated by a hypnotic password he receives from a customer in the store where he works.

The film is done in a way that feels perfectly logical, as if this could happen to anyone and Mike has no idea what is happening to him or why. As the bad guys relentlessly come after him, the humor never lets up as the crisis explodes around them. 

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are brilliantly funny and convincing, playing it totally straight as the confused couple at the center of the storm while the supporting cast of John Leguizamo, Topher Grace and Tony Hill are enjoyable to watch in their over-the-top performances.

Some of The Raid: Redemption inspired graphic violence using everyday household items as weapons adds to the bizarre hilarity of the situations and keeps us on the edge of our seats. The cast and the filmmakers were clearly having a great time making this film and it shows.

This is a fun action packed movie if you don’t take your spy films too seriously and would make a great double bill with Raising Arizona, with which it shares many comic elements.


Marriage Italian Style

Virtuoso director and actor Vittorio De Sica, who crafted such all-time Italian neorealist classics as Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Umberto D. (1952), using keenly observed melodramatic Italian behavior and characters, pulls us into a hilarious darkly comic story in 1960s Italy. 

When Filumena (Sophia Loren) has collapsed on the Neapolitan bakery floor where she works and is rushed off through the streets of Naples by a distraught close-knit community of supporters, they call for the shop owner who is also her lover, Domenico (Marcello Mastroianni). While seemingly on her death bed, she asks him to summon the priest. Worried that she may die, Domenico now reflects on their turbulent love affair. So begins Marriage Italian Style (1964), now in a gorgeous newly restored 4K print.

De Sica has subtly shaded this classic romantic comedy with a strong humanist message. Its potent and honest observations about how the wealthy, who feel superior and entitled, getting away with unethical behavior, ignoring society’s moral code and looking down on those less educated while treating them with disdain, is still relevant today.  

The story of a wealthy vain businessman, Domenico, and a beautiful illiterate country girl, Filumena, is pure operatic romance. When they first meet in a brothel during a W.W. II air raid in German occupied Italy, it’s a tender moment heightened by fear and danger that they will never forget. After the war they meet again and become occasional lovers while she continues to work as a prostitute. Eventually she convinces him to buy her an apartment so she can leave the sex trade and he puts her to work in his bakery as she becomes his mistress. 

When years later she catches on that the man she loves is about to marry someone else and is using her while continuing to have younger lovers, she, backed by supporters, schemes a revenge plot that will trick him into marrying her. But when the plot fails she reveals to him that she’s had three kids that he never knew about.

Fearing another trick, he refuses to believe her story and callously sends her away after annulling the marriage. But soon he becomes curious about her children and discovers that one of them is his son, but Filumena will not tell him which one for fear of alienating the other two children. She believes they must be treated equally and he must accept all or none if he wants to be with her.

Based on the 1946 play Filumena Marturano by celebrated Italian poet, author, playwright and actor Eduardo de Filippo, the message becomes clear; all children must be equally loved by their parents who often unfairly favor one with privileges not extended to the others. This dictum can also be applied to the treatment of people in general under the law, the state and by people like the conceited Domenico. 

Power and money corrupts absolutely. It’s an age-old problem that no one is immune to no matter how charming they may seem. But the power of the Italian matriarch to keep moral and family ties strong under the most difficult circumstance eventually triumphs over the selfish male ego. 

Marriage Italian Style masterfully blends plenty of playful humor between one of the greatest onscreen chemistries of Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni with cutting political critique, achieving a stimulating memorable film experience. 

The final scenes are poetically depicted and precise. Finally taking responsibility, inspired by her strength and moral convictions, Domenico’s eyes and mind have opened and he agrees wholeheartedly to do the right thing.



AMY, Asif Kapadia’s devastating new documentary about UK’s silky voiced, troubled jazz diva Amy Winehouse is a revealing eye opener and disturbing look at a genuine natural born talent.  

The first revelation when watching the story of Amy unfold, is when we realize the truly extraordinary musical ability coming out of this happy spontaneous teenage girl from a broken home with big eyes and a broad smile.

Amy was gifted with not only a soulful sultry voice but music just seems to radiate from her body. Whatever came into her head manifested itself spontaneously into natural poetic lyrics that seemed to be coming out of a much older and seasoned professional.

The public was instantly turned on to her haunting smoky voice and soulful lyrics which were deeply affecting and mirrored the struggles in her personal life. Watching Amy as she grows as an artist and gains in fame, it seemed she was living a dream that quickly turned into a nightmare.

The second shocking revelation from watching this documentary is how fast Amy descends into a downward spiral due to her extremely obsessive personality and volatile emotional issues, reacting strongly to problems that start to surface in her dysfunctional relationships with her father and boyfriend. 

The very traits that made her such an exceptional artist are the same traits that also brought about her self-destruction. As the money train continued to gain velocity, no one, including the people closest to her, was willing or able to put on the brakes when a crash seemed imminent. 

Powerful and heartbreaking, this is a must-see documentary that gives insight into a huge vocal talent and how our toxic dollar driven, celebrity obsessed society allowed such a young vulnerable life to be cut short in such an untimely and uncaring manner. She was like a modern day Mozart who was unaware of the effect her genuine creative ability had on people and was taken aback by the overwhelming reaction of the media and her fans. 

Even if you’ve never heard of Amy Winehouse, you will be captivated by this authentic passionate young gem caught in a turbulent sea of bad influences. Her father Mitch, who abandoned her mother after a longtime affair with another woman when Amy was very young, and her cocaine addicted boyfriend Blake were among her biggest influences; both were getting a free ride on the runaway success of Amy’s early albums and were blind to Amy’s emotional needs and psychological problems.

British born director Asif Kapadia, who also produced the celebrated documentary SENNA (2010) about Brazilian Formula One race car driver Ayrton Senna, and grew up in the same North London area where Amy lived, insisted on full creative control over the project. 

With access to some very personal and intimate archival footage of Amy he skillfully blends interview footage of her friends and family into a visually innovative chronicle of the deeply troubled singer/song writer as she rises from fun loving local prodigy to an international sensation. 

Amy like Ayrton was a singular talent, a mesmerizing young sensitive individual who could live no other way than where her heart and ability lead her. Their greatest strength also became their greatest weakness. They both died tragically. Amy was a great loss and her voice will live on in her songs but there are important lessons to be learned here about the negative effects of too much fame too soon.


Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

This is the review that tells you about a new film that doesn’t suck. In fact it’s exceptionally good, but where do I start? Do I tell you about the Sundance Film Festival awards it has won (Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award) and the enthusiastic audience responses, or should I just tell you to go see it and be wonderfully surprised and moved?

It’s true that judging by the title, the film will make you smile, feel like laughing and sad at the same time. This assessment is not far off, in fact beneath all the funny feel-good stuff lays a raw honesty and intense personal experience that strikes deep into the heart.

Greg Gains played by Thomas Mann, a teenager with commitment issues, narrates the story of the worst time of his life, and the best. He’s an awkward kid who dreads high school social life and tries his best to blend in without being noticed. 

Living with his parents on the outskirts of sub-urban Pittsburgh, Greg is raised on a diet of obscure foreign films thanks to his eccentric father. When his classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with Leukemia, Greg’s mother nags and guilts him into spending time with her to show that he is not the insensitive anti-social creep that he pretends to be.

When he’s not avoiding people, Greg and his buddy Earl (RJ Cyler) secretly make horrible parodies of classic films for their own enjoyment. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a festival favorite because it makes reference to so many classic foreign films. Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams (1982), a documentary about the making of Werner Herzog's jungle epic Fitzcarraldo (1982) is especially singled out with hilarious effect. 

Like the kids in Son of Rambow (2007), Greg and Earl enjoy making fun of their favorite cult classics by videotaping themselves with improvised costumes and dialogue. And like Oliver Tate in Submarine (2010) Greg finds himself ill prepared to deals with the distress of spending a lot of time with a girl and dealing with emotional issues relating to death and terminal illness.

Gradually, as Greg and Rachel spend more time together, even through the chemo treatments, their clumsy friendship grows. Reluctantly Greg and Earl decide to put their film making talents to use to produce a movie for Rachel in hopes that it will make her, if not better, at least temporarily forget about her dire situation. But making the film proves more difficult than expected as Greg must now confront his feelings for Rachel.

Based on the novel by Jesse Andrews who also wrote the screenplay, this charming coming-of-age tale with a powerful message has a truthful voice that feels authentic, relevant and in touch with current adolescence.

The sometimes unusual framing by Korean cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung emphasizes the awkwardness and the uncomfortable situations the characters find themselves in.

In the competent skillful hands of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who has worked as a second unit director for films including Babel (2006), assisting celebrated directors such as Martin Scorsese and Alejandro González Iñárritu, he elevates the quirky coming-of-age comedy material to unexpected level of emotional depth and insight. 

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl marks the arrival of a major new talent in cinema. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has put his considerable talent and heart into a personal film experience not to be missed and is already garnering Oscar buzz.