Film Review: THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (USA 2018) ***** TOP 10

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Trailer

An anthology film comprised of six stories, each dealing with a different aspect of life in the Old West.

Directors:

Ethan CoenJoel Coen

Writers:

Joel CoenEthan Coen

Made as a Netflix original movie, THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS is the title of the first of six the Coen Brothers stories set in the American frontier.  It is also the best of the six stories.

Written and directed by the Coen Brothers (the name that is synonymous with solid entertainment), the film is comprised of six chapters that present a different story with a different attitude from the wild frontier.  

The odd thing is that instead of the best reserved for the last, the first chapter, and the title of the film is the best of the anthology.  Anthology films, so popular in the past are now not so common.  Each chapter lasts about 20 minutes or so, and stars a complete different cast of actors.

The first episode – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs-  tells the story of a sharp-shooting songster played by an unforgettable Tim Blake Nelson.  It is hilarious, unpredictable and fun from moment one.  Nelson shows up as the fastest gun in the west while breaking into song and dance unexpectedly as well.  Though predictable as to what will happen to him at the end, this is one chapter that one does not want to end.  And to watch again and again!

The second is called “In Near Algodones’, in which a wannabe bank robber (James Franco) gets his due and then some.  The bank clerk the robber has to deal with is someone totally unexpected, coming out a-shooting with his armour of pots and pans.

Meal Ticket is a gothic tale about two weary travelling performers with Liam Neeson.  This is the least strong of the stories and my least favourite.

Al that glitters is definitely gold.  All Gold Canyon is a story about a prospector mining for gold, with Tom Waits as the elderly prospector.  The scenes of him panning the sands for grains of gold nuggets are priceless with Waits eagerly waiting to strike the mother lode.  The next is a wagon trail in which  a woman finds an unexpected promise of love, along with a dose of life’s cruel irony, across the prairies in the chapter entitled The Gal Who Got Rattled. 

Finally, ghostly laughs haunt The Mortal Remains as a pompous Lady (Tyne Daly) rains judgment upon a motley crew of strangers undertaking a final stagecoach ride.  This is the most talky of the stories and clearly shows the film deserving of the Best Screenplay Award it won at the Venice International filmFestival.  The monologue by the uneducated trapper, played by Chelcie Ross in simple but and the superbly well-written prose is unforgettable.  

The common thread in all the 6 movie is the unforgettable central character.  Each story has one that stands out and each are performed by a famous actor trying on something completely different.

One can only wish for more of these priceless uniquely Coen Brothers stamped  stories.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2PyxzSH1HM

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Film Review: RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET (USA 2018) ***1/2

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Six years after the events of “Wreck-It Ralph”, Ralph and Vanellope, now friends, discover a wi-fi router in their arcade, leading them into a new adventure.

Writers:

Phil Johnston (screenplay by), Pamela Ribon (screenplay by) | 5 more credits »

One can observe more and more formulaic flow in the Disney movies.  Even for their December Christmas animated features, one year features a male and the next a female young protagonist.  This year sees a young female (as it is the lady’s turn) but she dabbles in stuff that more males would be interested in – car racing.   Her character, Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman, who recently got her Hollywood Walk of Fame) is however, in a video game and her best friend is WRECK-IT RALPH (John. C. Reilly), who in this film breaks the internet.  Her dream is to win races.  The film questions the importance of friendship against chasing ones dreams.  No prizes for guessing the answer!

The film begins with something quite different.  While a lot of scripts begin with  some dream that needs to be reached from poverty, this story begins with Ralph and Vanellope having the perfect life.  They enjoy what there doing, are best friends and want nothing to change.  The film questions this status quo.

The setting is six years after the events of the first film (also in real time as the last RALPH movie was 2012).  The steering wheel controller on the Sugar Rush arcade game console breaks, forcing Mr. Litwak (Ed O’Neill) to unplug the machine.  Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz evacuate all of the Sugar Rush residents to other games before it is shut down, placing the racers in the care of Fix-It Felix Jr. and Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun.  Ralph and Vanellope then use the arcade’s new connection to the Internet to go looking for a replacement steering wheel.

The script uses fully all the quirks that can be found in the internet.  Those who are unfamiliar (maybe none in today’s audiences) will find a few things strange but the filmmakers make the solid assumption that everyone is aware of the concept of viruses, search engines and social platforms.  A few new internet characters like eBoy and  Mr. Knowsmore ( the man who knows everything in charge of a search engine) sprite up the list of characters.

The film also contains a few totally entertaining imaginative numbers like the tap dancing on the car hoods and the animated Busby Berkeley sequences.  The film’s funniest segment is Ralph’s visit to the virus Master, Double Dan (Alfred Molina in his British accent) and told never to look at his little brother, which of course, he cannot help but do, while making comments about him all the while.

John C. Reilly has an unmistakable voice and one can only expect him to do his goofy, sympathetic tones, especially in the scenes where he is pleading for Vanellope’s friendship.

Two lively songs ‘Zero’ and ‘Place Called Slaughter Race’ enliven he festivities.  (There are also a few songs in the other December Disney animated features).

RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET is no FROZEN, TOY STORY or COCO.  But it does have its moments and its inventiveness.  The most inventive of these involve the coming together at the film’s end of all the past animated movie characters (the Disney Princess lineup with The Muppets, Star Wars, Disney Animation, Marvel Comics, and Pixar characters)

together.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lX71_Jcm4po

Film Review: THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES (USA 2018)

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Trailer

The story of sister and brother, Kate and Teddy Pierce, whose Christmas Eve plan to catch Santa Claus on camera turns into an unexpected journey that most kids could only dream about.

Director:

Clay Kaytis

Before dismissing this new Christmas family Netflix original as boring fare, one should give the film directed by the director of the ANGRY BIRDS animated feature a chance.  THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES is actually surprisingly watchable though it rehashes many of producer Chris Columbus earlier films like HOME ALONE, GREMLINS and ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING.

Kate (Darby Camp) is a 10-year old who still believes in Santa.  Her brother, Teddy (Judah Lewis) is having doubts.  When they decide to cam-record Santa on Christmas eve, trouble begins when they sneak a ride on his sleigh resulting in lost toys and Santa arrested.  It is up to the two to save Christmas.

The story is cliché ridden.  The premise is that Christmas needs to be saved. The audience is led to believe that without the presents, good cheer will be lost resulting in unhappy angry people with lots more crime in the streets.

The script contains original ideas.  As the three search for the missing reindeer, they meet strangers – all of whom Santa knows (whether good or bad) since he had delivered presents to everyone when they were children in the past.  This idea provides ample opportunity for jokes and comedic set-ups.

For a silly movie based on a silly premise, THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES is quite endearing and funny, making it light and enjoyable entertainment for the undemanding moviegoer.  Take the scene where the two ids first meet Santa Clause (played amicably by Kurt Russell).  “Alive and In Person one night only!”  He jokes.  “Disappointed.  Yes, I am not what you expected?  I get fat after all the cookies I eat.”  hen asked to go; “Ho-Ho-Ho.”  His reply: “I don’t do that.  That is a myth.  Fake News!”  The notion is the that the filmmakers know wheat this film is, never aim that high and take it for what it is.  This little film has more laughs than the dismal recent DR. SEUSS’ THE GRINCH based on the Christmas classic that audiences expect much more from.

The main character is Kate played by a young Darby Camp.  Camp is sufficiently endearing and cute, delivering her one-liners like a pro.  When Santa loses his magic hat, he questions Kate: “How do you think I am able to leap from one rooftop to another?  “Pilates?” replies Kate who decides then to help Santa so that she can remove herself from his naughty list for life.  Her brother Teddy plays second fiddle to her.

The film also contains an animated segment featuring the elves in Santa’s workshop and a musical number performed in a jail cell.

What is a Christmas film without a Christmas message?   The corny message delivered by Kurt Russell’s Santa feels at least, sincere.  The best thing about this film is actually Santa i.e. Kurt Russell.  Whether crooning the song “Santa is Back in Town” in shades or trying to convince everyone that he is the real thing, this is Russell’s movie.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJajqsLrmaA

Film Review: FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD (USA/UK 2018)

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Trailer

The second installment of the “Fantastic Beasts” series set in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World featuring the adventures of magizoologist Newt Scamander.

Director:

David Yates

Writers:

J.K. RowlingJ.K. Rowling (based upon characters created by)

The sequel to FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM and the prequel to the HARRY POTTER movies, THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD sees the entire original cast here performing more of the same, or in other words, marking time with nothing really to show for it.

The film continues where the first film ends.  The powerful dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) was captured by MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), with the help of Newt Scamander (Oscar Winner Eddie Redmayne).  But, making good on his threat, Grindelwald escapes custody again and has set about gathering followers, most unsuspecting of his true agenda: to raise pure-blood wizards and witches up to rule over all non-magical beings.

The film’s best sequence is the beginning with Grindelwald’s (Johnny Depp) escape from jail custody.  Still, the action sequence is confusing with too many blurry special and CGI effects.  It sets up the beginning of events Grindelwald sets up to gain power and hopefully destroy human beings. 

It is best to get familiar with all the characters in the story before heading out to see the film, as it gets confusing and confusing very fast.  First and foremost is the main character, Newt.  

Newt is a British Ministry of Magic employee in the Beasts Division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, as well as a self-proclaimed magizoologist.  This explains his suitcase containing all his magical creatures.  The creatures are cute-weird to look at, but they do not do much to propel the story, except to provide a few of the lighter moments, which can lead to boredom fast.  He played a part in remedying the events of a violent attack on the City of New York in December 1926 (the time when the film opens) involving dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald. He is a confidante of Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), despite being an outcast from certain circles of British Wizarding society due to his checkered past.  

Newt’s on and off romantic interest is Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), a promoted MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) Auror.  Thankfully, the romance is kept to a minimum with hardly any face sucking.  One of the story’s most interesting written characters is Creedance, the disturbed adopted child of Mary-Lou Barebone, violently abused and downtrodden. Enraged by people’s treatment of him and Grindelwald’s betrayal, he set his Obscurus parasite loose on the City of New York.  Menacingly portrayed by Ezra Miller (WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN), Creedance is one character one wishes had more screen time.  On the other end of the spectrum, the most annoying character is the plumpish and goofy baker, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).  Thankfully, he is given less to do than in the first film.  His romance with Queenie (Alison Sudol) undergoes some tests in the film. 

The film has a period setting of Paris and London and the film looks great, courtesy of cinematographer Philippe Rousselot.  At least, he knows what to do with the $200  million production cost. Special effects are equally stunning.  But the problems of confused storytelling, muddled twists and turns and too many characters to keep track of, lead to an irrelevant and boring middle FANTASTIC BEASTS film, preparing for the next instalment.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bYBOVWLNIs

ARFF International Celebrates it’s 5th Year with Serious Series of Events

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Around International Film Festival will be celebrating its 5th year in 2019 with the event series in order of ARFF Barcelona, ARFF Paris, ARFF Amsterdam and ARFF Berlin as a last destination, to gather all Around filmmakers and enthusiast altogether with the Award Events. Also with an exclusive film project which all the filmmakers who submitted during 5 years, can take an active part. 

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This year’s promo films are conceptualized with the telepathic connection to emphasize that filmmakers all Around the world are able to feel beyond 7th emotions.

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ARFF International believes that any ”new born” visual creation which has been established on planet earth, generates a new dimension to enhance the human perception.

This 8th emotion will be unveiled in the videos  also refers to the cinema as the 8th and the last art form in the world.

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By following the Holly-mood concept, Around Films Network completed the promo series with 8 main characters in 8 hours with 8 one shot sequences by featuring with Timo Jacobs, Drifa Hansen, Katja Sallay, Natascha Vincenza, Mark Windsor, Lavinia Bal, Scott Grabell and Lolita Va Voom. Conceptualized scenes are captured by cinematographer Frank Schwaiger, art director Reelika Ramot and the ARFF International director Onno Mara.

Promo Series will be online in 4 countries during the ARFF 2019 season as mixed media  works to mention the all genre discipline of Around International Film Festival. 

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ARFF International Multiple City Editions are always open for submissions to serve the filmmakers 7/24 for screening all genre films, music video & animations from all Around the World.

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Best of November 2018 Film Festival Interviews

These are festivals to look out for. Read interviews with the Festival Directors and learn more about them.

 Interview with Festival Director Katie Bruce (UTAH DANCE FILM FESTIVAL)
READ INTERVIEW

Interview with Festival Director Otessa Ghadar (DC Web Fest)
READ INTERVIEW

Interview with Festival Director Rob Lobosco (MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL CINEMA EXTRAVAGANZA)
READ INTERVIEW

Interview with Festival Director Brian Hopson (LOST SANITY FILM FESTIVAL)
READ INTERVIEW

Interview with Festival Director Nina Fiore (ASTORIA FILM FESTIVAL)
READ INTERVIEW

Interview with Festival Director Martin Tran (Seattle Asian American Film Festival)
READ INTERVIEW

 

Interview with Festival Director Katie Bruce (UTAH DANCE FILM FESTIVAL)

The Utah Dance Film Festival is an international dance film festival, an arts education organization and a catalyst for movers and filmmakers to connect, collaborate and create.

Contact

 
Matthew Toffolo: How is the film scene in your city?

Katie Bruce: Utah has several amazing film scenes occurring simultaneously. We are fortunate to have professional productions filming here, like Paramount Network’s “Yellowstone,” Disney’s “Andi Mack,” and HBO’s “Westworld.” BYU also has a network, and their productions include “Dwight in Shining Armor,” “Random Acts of Kindness” and “Studio C.” Plus, we also have quite a few Hallmark features that film here annually. There are a lot of opportunities for film students to make the jump from classes to sets in all departments. Sundance Film Festival is a big part of the film scene, but that also includes their Director’s Lab and Feature Film Program which develop and foster the production of new works. Damien Chazelle is a director who participated in those programs, and they are a big part of the reason that “Whiplash” was made.

Film producers love Utah because the labor force is skilled, dedicated, reliable and hardworking, and the costs of production are low. Utah has 5 National Parks, 4 universities, and the Utah Film Commission which offers tax rebates on projects filmed in the state. There are always rad locations accessible year round, and plenty of places to rent professional gear.

The Utah Dance Film Festival is based in Utah County, where Adobe and The Void have homes, and the CW series “Outpost” built a rad set for their first season of filming. We receive a lot of films from the dance department at BYU, as well as from the film department at Utah Valley University. Dance is HUGE in Utah – Utahns have made quite the impact on dance television, and the coolest crossovers between those cultures are happening at local colleges. UDFF is right in the center of that mix!

What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Dance on camera is SO consumable on social media, but for filmmakers who are putting in the time in pre and post production, recognition can get lost. We see the widest variety of production value in our submissions – some pieces are filmed from a fixed, frontal point, almost the way you would watch a dance performed in a theater, and with one lighting setup. Other pieces are built in such a way that they are ONLY possible as a film, using perspectives and setups that would never be possible in a live performance. Our film festival highlights filmmakers from many cultures, with different skills from across the globe so that audiences can start to see a more complete view of all the ways in which human movement is unique, that the expression of that movement is an important visual communication, and that the makers of these films are worth celebrating. We are getting filmmaker’s names out there so that they can be appreciated.

What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

Global connectivity of artists, for sure. Dance is this ancient art form which disappears the moment after it is created. A dance has almost no artifacts or proof of existence on its own. That is why it is so exciting to observe the ways in which film and digital technologies are changing dance, as well as perfectly preserving an archive. Past generations of choreographers had to create detailed visual languages to write their dances down, and there really wasn’t an ideal way within those writings to capture or communicate the visceral experiences of dancers as they performed. Dance films are the only way in which a dancer can sit with his or her audience and feel what they are feeling at the moment the dance occurs. My mind never ceases to be blown at that power. It’s especially cool to see how kids and teenagers respond to that opportunity.

What will attendees experience when they attend your upcoming festival?

Our fest is so rad. We offer dance classes where anyone can participate, meaning that sometimes we have filmmakers trying dance for the first time, or a dancer holding a camera for the first time. We offer film workshops on topics like location scouting, pre and post production, and editing taught by professionals. Last year we screened 32 films from 12 countries, and then the festival culminates with a live awards show that features the winning films as well as live dance performances from notable Utah dance companies. It’s a totally unique event for the dance film scene in Utah, and our venue, the SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem, is an amazing location for the weekend.

What are the qualifications for the selected films?

Films need to feature movement. The movement doesn’t have to be refined or technical to be considered. It’s that simple. We receive narratives, documentaries, experimental animation films, the whole spectrum of works. Films can be from any time frame, of any length. We accept works by students and professionals.

We have a 24 hour film competition called MOVE which is our specialized lab for all kinds of human motion – for that, we have accepted films featuring speed walking, rock climbing, sports, alien abductions – a wide variety! This year MOVE is February 15th and 16th, 2019. Teams pre-register and can arrange, costume and plan a short film ahead of time. Then on the 15th we release a theme, and teams have 24 hours to film, edit and submit their works in conjunction with that theme. Winners will be screened at the film festival the following week. It’s a really cool way for people to get involved with our festival right when our hype is at a peak!

Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?

I do think that is true, yes. In our case, we sometimes have films that just seem a little lost. A filmmaker might have spent tons of valuable time fundraising, planning, shooting and editing only to have submitted to a festival that isn’t quite the right fit. FilmFreeway is the coolest platform because it enables filmmakers to easily shop around and find festivals with a scope that is relevant to their work. I also feel that it’s really important that festivals have fair systems, criteria and categories for judging. In our instance, we have a panel of two filmmakers and two dancers who judge our works. The judges decide on finalists, and scores determine winners. We also don’t allow for ties, which keeps our process competitive and specific at the same time.

How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?

UDFF adores FilmFreeway, and for our 2019 festival we have added a photography category for the first time! There is no way we would have considered adding photography, nor would we have known how to go about doing that, without FilmFreeway. Our directors are also on the platform as filmmakers, and it has been so stunning to see the number of dance film festivals on the rise. We handle all of our tracking, notifying, judging and ticket sales on FilmFreeway, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Where do you see the festival by 2023?

Definitely giving out grants and scholarships to support more artists at multiple stages of production or studies.

What film have you seen the most times in your life?

Either The Royal Tenenbaums or The Darjeeling Limited, possibly The Princess Bride, (specifically on VHS, recorded from a television broadcast), and perhaps Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

In one sentence, what makes a great film?

Thoughtful lighting, composed shots, good audio, clean edit and a bravery to explore.
 

 

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