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Sneak Peek

A Hijacking | Review

How many times have you asked yourself the question “How much is a Life worth” and have you ever considered how that would change if you had to pay for it?  Tobias Lindholm’s movie A Hijacking elegantly captures the process of negotiation between a large Danish corporation with much on the line and Somali pirates who seem to have nothing to lose.

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 When the cargo ship MV Rozen is hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean as it is heading for harbor the ship’s cook Mikkel and the engineer Jan who, along with the rest of the seamen, are taken hostage in a cynical game of life and death. With the demand for a ransom of millions of dollars, a psychological drama unfolds between the CEO of the shipping company and the Somali pirates.

The movie stars Søren Malling (“Borgen,” Talenttyven, A Royal Affair), Johan Philip Asbæk (Spies & Gilstrup, “Borgen,” A Family, ), Dar Salim (“Game of Thrones,” “Borgen,” The Devil’s Double, Submarino ), and Roland Møller (Northwest, R)

Lindholm (“Borgen,” The Hunt, Submarino, R) creates tension and raises the stakes without overdoing the action.  This is as much psychological thriller as it is a narrative of the perils faced by cargo ships on the open seas.  As the film unfolds slowly, tension builds to unbearable levels as we become totally enthralled and invested in what will happen to the crew.   Lindholm manages to keep us on the edge of our seats as we hope and pray that they will see their families again.  This film is gritty and realistic and whilst we experience the wonder of being on the open seas on a cargo ship to start with, we quickly get a sense of the claustrophobia experienced not only by the hostages as they are locked in a small space but also by those negotiating for their lives who also become hostages themselves.  Good acting and direction allow us to witness the journey of a smart business man who quickly learns that the same tricks that help you win in the business world do not help when you are trying to negotiate with psychopathic sociopathic hijackers

This film is a fascinating look at the things that bond people together and the relationship that hijackers and hostages often build with each other.

A HIJACKING be opening in select cities including New York, Los Angeles, Irvine (in Orange County) and San Francisco on Friday, June 21, 2013.  Check link below and local listings for play times

 

http://www.magpictures.com/dates.aspx?id=e0b17d74-6d43-44f7-8c91-802ed0d7e7a4

 

2012 Toronto Film Festival (Official Selection)

2012 Venice Film Festival (Official Selection)

2012 Tokyo International Film Festival (Official Selection)

2013 New Directors/New Films (Official Selection)

2013 Palm Springs International Film Festival (WON- Director to Watch)

2013 Robert Festival (WON- Best Film, Best Actor, Best Editor, Best Screenplay, Best Sound)

2013 AFI Fest (WON- Audience Award)

2012 Thessaloniki Film Festival (WON- FIPRESCI Prize, Golden Alexander Award)

Downloaded | SXSW 2013

Back in the year 2000, when the rest of the world for worrying about the Y2K bug, we were making the decision to get a broadband connection to enable us faster access to the worldwide web.  A big driver of this decision was a new service we had discovered called Napster which enabled us to share music that we had purchased with our friends.  More importantly it gave us access to a world of music we had never been exposed to.  Imagine my delight then when at this year’s SXSW, the movie Downloaded was playing.   Welcome to one of my favorite films of the SXSW 2013 Film festival.

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Downloaded written and directed by Alex Winter (yes, that Alex Winter of Bill S Preston fame – Bill and Ted) focuses on the advent of digital media sharing, including the rise of game-changing company Napster and controversial pioneers Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. The digital revolution ultimately created a technology paradigm shift and upended the music industry.   This great documentary has insights from well known music artists and figures within the music industry including: The Beastie Boys’ Mike D, Noel Gallagher, Henry Rollins, former Sony Music Chairman, Don Ienner, former record producer and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell and Hilary Rosen, former CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America.

Alex Winter masterfully documents an account of a time and events that in my mind changed history.  More importantly he has shared the profile of a young Sean Fanning who has previously been portrayed as an anarchist as a thoughtful and rather lonely young boy who just wanted to push and understand the boundaries of the technology of the time.  In addition, we see a very different Sean Parker to the one portrayed in last years hit The Social Network.  What particularly resonated with me through the entire movie was the story of the genius young minds behind Napster and what motivated them and it’s not always what you may think it was.

Watching a group of brilliant young minds come together and create something that not only changed the public perception of what they were willing to pay for and which ultimately brought the music industry as it had been for years to it’s knees but also how these young men defend themselves against corporations is fascinating.  This is a David vs. Goliath story that is definitely worth a watch.

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The biggest treat for me came during the Q and A after the movie when we got to meet Alex, Winter and both the Seans in person.  The interaction between the three and especially the Seans just solidified how brilliantly Winter had captured the essence of these incredibly talented young men.  If you have any interest in music, entrepreneurialism, dot com or milestones in history, this is a must see documentary

 

 

Much Ado About Nothing | SXSW 2013

Is it already time for yet another rendition of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing I hear you ask?  Well, when that version is a slick and stylish black and white contemporary one directed by Joss Whedon (yes, the same JW who just directed last year’s blockbuster The Avengers), one should take note and take note we did on day 2 of SXSW 2013. The lines were long for this one and despite the fact that there was a torrential downpour in Austin; we waited patiently in a line that wrapped multiple times outside the building and around a long corner.

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I wasn’t disappointed by this exquisitely directed light and frothy, bubbly and joyful movie, which at its core remains a romantic comedy that explores barriers that stand in the way of love.  Shot in 12 days at Whedon’s own house that was designed by his architect wife and co producer Kai Cole, (whilst he should have been on vacation with his family following the wrap of Avengers), I was drawn into the modern day world where Beatrice and Benedick hate, question and then fall in love with each other.

William Shakespeare’s words from yonder year come alive quickly and although I think one could be easily distracted by Ye Olde English and some may even find the juxtaposition between non-relevant language (anachronisms to the hilt) a little jarring and non believable, once you allow yourself to be immersed into the story and the great acting by a terrific cast, you will quickly see that this latest edition of Much Ado is a testament to the fact that the human condition stays the same even though time and technology move on.

My only criticism of the movie (and I had to dig deep for this mind you) is that at times, some scenes (especially those at the “Police station”) came across a little too much like an SNL skit and at times the movie felt a little precious and over stylized.

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Much ado About Nothing Panel at SXSW2013

Following the movie, we were treated to a Q and A with a panel of 13 of the cast members and Mr. Whedon himself.  As you can imagine, most of the audience were die hard Whedonites who asked questions about how the movie was cast and shot and how much they love his work and so on, but it was most touching when a young lady stood up and nervously stated that she had promised herself that if she ever got to talk to the man himself, she would tell him how thankful she was for all his work through the years and how much watching his movies through some hard times had helped and inspired her personally.  She really tried to hold it together but was extremely emotional and remarkably, even though I rolled my eyes to start with, I along with most of the room felt a little lump in my throat as she sat down having shared a very heartfelt and very personal outpouring; aahh, the power of film.  Yes, Joss Whedon, I too am thankful that a new generation of moviegoers will get to experience Shakespeare albeit in a non-conventional way and even if one of them is inspired to pick up an original version of this wonderful play, that would be an achievement.  PS I loved the women’s wardrobe so if you are reading this Joss, please let me know where it came from.

Much Ado About Nothing stars the talented Amy Acker and the very charming Alex Denisof in the lead roles with a superb supporting cast.  Release is planned for June 2013

Visit the official movie site  to watch the trailer

 

We Cause Scenes | SXSW 2013

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I don’t think that we have discussed it on the show, but all three Moviewallas have been doing a bit of Improv lately. So it was rather serendipitous that upon arriving at SXSW 2013 today, a young man walked up to me and stuffed a flyer into my hand for the world premiere of We Cause Scenes on opening night of the film festival.

Needless to say, Rashmi and I are very excited and will be sure to post back with thoughts after the movie.

Downloaded – An exclusive clip | SXSW 2013

One of the highlights of this year’s SXSW festival in Austin is going to be the movie Downloaded.

DOWNLOADED is directed and produced by Alex Winter and co-produced by Maggie Malina.

Several years in the making, DOWNLOADED focuses on the advent of digital file sharing, including the rise of game-changing company Napster and its controversial pioneers Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. The digital revolution ultimately created a technology paradigm shift, upended the music business and musical artists and changed the world.

Winter filmed many participants in this saga besides Fanning and Parker, including artists such as Noel Gallagher, DJ Spooky (who also did the music for the film), Mike D from the Beastie Boys and Henry Rollins to name a few; label heads including Don Ienner, Chris Blackwell, Seymour Stein and other industry executives, government officials and leaders in the world of civil and digital rights, such as Grateful Dead lyricist, poet and essayist and “cyberlibertarian” activist JP Barlow and Harvard law professor and political activist Lawrence Lessig.

A Place at The Table | Review

A good documentary should both educate and entertain and Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush fulfill both of these criteria in their newest movie A Place at The Table.

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If Participant Media’s exceptional 2008 documentary Food Inc. asked us to take a closer look at where our food comes from then their new documentary A Place at the Table, takes a look at the issues that face an estimated 50 million men, women, and children — described by policy makers and advocates as “food insecure.”  Hunger is not just a third world problem. One in four children in the US don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  This issue is examined through the lens of three people struggling with food insecurity: Barbie, a single mother who grew up in poverty and is trying to provide a better life for her kids; Rosie, a fifth-grader who often has to depend on friends and neighbors to feed her and has trouble concentrating in school; and Tremonica, a second-grader whose asthma and health issues are exacerbated by the largely empty calories her hardworking mother can afford. In addition, we have the benefits of insights from sociologist Janet Poppendieck, author Raj Patel and nutrition policy leader Marion Nestle and activists such as Witness to Hunger’s Mariana Chilton, Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio and Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges.

This documentary manages to infuriate the viewer at the lack of action being taken and ask the larger question about how hunger poses serious economic, social and cultural implications for our nation.  More importantly it makes one wonder how this can be happening in 2013 in a first world country.  Although not a highly political movie, this does make you question politics and the use of hungry people as pawns in a complicated chess game.

The movie is well constructed and well paced and manages to stay focused on the hunger issue versus opening up the larger can of worms around why poverty even exists in this century in the US.  Any movie that can succeed at making a crowd want to take action is one worth watching and I certainly felt roused enough to at least check out the website and find out more at www.takepart.com/place-at-the-table

 

A Place at the Table opens in theaters 1st March 2013.  Check local listings for showtimes

Starlet | Review

What would you do if you found a stash of cash and you thought you knew who it belonged to?  This is the moral question that is explored in Sean Baker’s Starlet (follow-up to the acclaimed Prince of Broadway),

In this movie we meet 21-year-old Jane (Dree Hemingway) who strikes up an unusual friendship with an 85-year-old Sadie (Besedka Johnson).   The two women’s worlds collide in California’s San Fernando Valley when Jane buys a thermos from Sadie’s yard sale.  When Jane gets the thermos home, she uncovers a significant hidden stash of money inside this relic from Sadie’s past. Jane attempts to befriend the caustic older woman in an effort to solve her predicament about whether she should return the money or not and as their relationship grows, secrets emerge.

http://www.impawards.com/2012/starlet_ver2.html

This movie does a reasonable job of exploring the moral question at the core of the movie and begs the viewer at times to pass judgment and even question our own morals.  However when it comes to the exploration of the cross-generational friendship between these two unlikely women, the relationship simmers a little too slowly for the first two thirds of the movie and never really comes to a boil.  There is little payoff at the end and not much to hold on to along the way with respect to the friendship which seems at times a little contrived and even marginally overacted

As the movie progresses, we get to see how Jane really earns her money and meet her dysfunctional roommates, Melissa (Stella Maeve) and Mikey (James Ransone) along with other salacious characters along the way.  I give props to Baker for attempting to explore the underbelly of the sex industry, however this seems in complete dichotomy to the core theme of the movie and hence makes for a movie which seems all too choppy and uncohesive.   Overall the viewer is left not knowing what the goal of the movie is or how we should be feeling about what is going on at any given time.

Hemingway (daughter of Mariel and great-granddaughter of Ernest) gives a satisfactory performance but clearly is still green.  The tenderest moments of the movie come from the adorable relationship between Jane and her delightful Chihuahua Starlet who is clearly the star of this movie and worth watching for.

Starlet is Directed by Sean Baker and written by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch
 and Stars Dree Hemingway, Besedka Johnson, Stella Maeve and James Ransone

Starlet opens in theatres on November 9th 2012 at the Sundance Cinema Sunset 5 in West Hollywood, Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, Laemmle’s Town Center 5 in Encino, and the Regal University Town Center in Irvine.  Check local listings for availability and showtimes

The Ambassador | Review

Picture this – secret meetings, corruption and the business of selling diplomatic titles in one of the most dangerous places on the planet: the Central African Republic (CAR).  How many of you would be tempted to enter this danger zone for the sake of your art?  Not so may I think – enter Filmmaker/journalist/provocateur Mads Brügger (Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner for The Red Chapel) who has developed a new documentary style that he calls “Performative Journalism” in which he creates an absurd caricature of a corrupt diplomat and arms himself with a phalanx of hidden cameras, black-market credentials and razor-sharp wit.  It’s part performance art and part investigative journalism resulting in humor, shocking revelations and above all a tragic picture of a failed and corrupt state.

“I want to show an Africa stripped of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), Bono, child soldiers and kids with bloated bellies, to show the kind of people you never see in the documentaries: white businessmen and diplomats, the fat cats in the urban centers, all the people who are in post-colonial Francafrique (French Africa) having a great time.”

The Ambassador is less fly on the wall and more immersive journalism as Brügger disguises himself as a rich white business man with diplomatic credentials pursuing all the perks that follows this title (reckless diamond hunt, practicing power misuse etc.), and became a respected member of their society.

This is a dark, intriguing and very funny documentary that has you on the edge of your seat as you watch Brügger go from one absurdly terrifying and hilarious situation to the next as he pulls back the curtain on ongoing corrupt practices that infiltrate many countries and levels of power.  At times you could be mistaken for thinking that you are watching a seventies era Bond movie.

Overall, I found myself oscillating between scared for Brügger as the walls often close in on him to shock as he uncovers the craziness of what is going on in war torn Africa.  One thing is for sure; I was definitely entertained and even educated.

The Ambassador is now playing VOD and out in theaters 29 August.  Check local listings:

 

 

Words of Witness | Review

How many of you exercise your right to vote?  How would you feel if this right were taken away; perhaps you would be relieved because you always thought that there weren’t really any great candidates anyway? You may be devastated that you now no longer have a choice to make even though you didn’t necessarily choose to do anything about it? You may even possibly think that a single voice, your voice doesn’t make a difference?  One thing is for sure however, in the free world, we DO have a right to vote for those who we wish to be governed by and watching Mai Iskander’s latest and first-rate documentary “Words of Witness” will certainly make you feel this way.

Not so long ago, people in Egypt had no choice except to vote for one candidate and for all intents and purposes they were ruled by a dictator.  For decades, people neither had the right to free elections nor were allowed to vote for any other candidates other than Hosni Mubarak.  Inspired by the uprising in Tunisia in the spring of 2011, protests in Egypt began on 25 January and ran for 18 days.  Despite the government’s best efforts to curtail these protests, the people prevailed and finally on 10 February, Mubarak ceded all presidential power to Vice President Omar Suleiman.

Overthrowing a dictator took Egyptians from all walks of life—many of them in their twenties and thirties to come together and social media such as Facebook and Twitter were powerful tools in allowing them to gather to call for universal human rights such as dignity and freedom.  “Words of Witness” tells the powerful and touching story of 22 year old Heba Afify, a newly minted passionate and driven journalist at the English edition of Almasry Alyoum, Egypt’s leading independent newspaper.

Iskander manages to expertly merge Heba negotiating the boundaries of her life with her sympathetic – yet overprotective – mother whilst all around her the boundaries of her country are shifting both societally and politically.  “I know you are a journalist, but you’re still a girl!” Heba’s mother reminds her every time she leaves the house.  We watch Heba take to the streets to report on an Egypt in turmoil, using tweets, texts and Facebook posts. “During the Revolution, all the rules were broken,” Heba exclaims.  “My mother needs to understand that the rules that were broken during the Revolution will remain broken”.

This is an effective documentary that takes us right into the heart of the action where change is occurring and shows us the heart of this amazing young and inspiring journalist who wants to make a change not only for her country but more importantly to the life that is expected of her by her family.  In speaking with the director, it is also clear that this story is not a million miles from her own, I think this is why the viewer is left with such a powerful and inspiring message of being the change you want to be

“Words of Witness” is currently playing in Los Angeles Laemmle Noho 7 week of 27 August 2012 but check local listings for other screenings.

Words of Witness Trailer

Kumare – a Film by Vikram Gandhi | Review

One could be forgiven for thinking that you are watching yet another Sacha Baron Cohen stunt on celluloid but, dare I say it, this is much better.  As part of a social experiment, filmmaker Vikram Gandhi dons an orange robe, grows a beard, and transforms himself from a Jersey boy into a wise Indian guru by the name of Kumare.  As Kumare, he then sets out to convince and indoctrinate a group of followers in the west that he is the real deal.  The aim? To challenge one of the most widely accepted taboos: that only a tiny “1%” can connect the rest of the world to a higher power. Concealing his true identity from everyone he meets, Kumare forges profound and spiritual connections with people from all walks of life.  At the same time, in the absurdity of living as an entirely different person, Vikram is forced to confront difficult questions about his own identity.

Gandhi manages to create an engaging documentary that holds a mirror up to his own questions about religion and beliefs and shines the reflection on the unenlightened.  This starts off comical and cliché making us laugh at the directionless new agers but quickly transforms into something deeper as he takes us on a journey of transformation, his own, the people he touches and us the audience.

The story unfolds admirably rather like the message Kumare the great guru is developing as he goes along and has you sweating towards the end when at the height of his popularity he contemplates revealing his true identity to a core group of disciples who are knee-deep in personal transformation. Will they accept his final teaching? Will he be able to prove that no one really needs anyone else to make them feel better about themselves?

Kumare delivers on all counts.  It is educational, informative, funny and entertaining.

Kumare” opens in Los Angeles at The Cinefamily on Friday, July 26th and will have a full week run from August 3rd through August 9th.  In addition, it was voted the AUDIENCE AWARD WINNER – Documentary Feature: SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2011