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Showing posts from 2016

Atlanta Film Society Announces First 14 Selections from 2017 Atlanta Film Festival

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After the 40th annual Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF) in April of 2016 saw record-breaking numbers of works submitted, festival attendees and media impressions, the Atlanta Film Society (ATLFS) immediately put plans in place to maintain the momentum. In preparation for the 41st ATLFF next spring, the organization is pleased to announce a first slate of programming comprising feature length and short films, narratives, documentaries, pilot episodes, music videos, animation, puppetry, experimental and virtual reality. “We are really excited to release a first wave of films that represents every category of our festival programming,” said ATLFS Executive Director Christopher Escobar. “ATLFF isn’t just one thing, and by including short films, pilots and virtual reality alongside features, we are presenting a greater picture of what to expect this year.” This group of fourteen films represents the first selections out of a new ATLFF record of 6,085 submissions. Hailing from Austria, Brazil, C

"American Pastoral" Review (***)

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Ewan McGregor and Jennifer Connelly star in “American Pastoral.” Ewan McGregor made a bold choice in his directorial debut with “American Pastoral.” Phillip Roth is easily one of the best American authors of the past 25 years. His work is beastly. McGregor attempted to tame the beast. “American Pastoral” is simply a convoluted story about a man, his family and America during the tumultuous Vietnam era—and then some. The film boasts an all-star cast including Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Uzo Aduba, and Dakota Fanning. Like most actors turned directors, McGregor gets a great performance from everyone. Jennifer Connelly is absolutely amazing throughout the entire film. The best part of the movie is the acting—Connelly, specifically. The rest of the film leaves something to be desired. The something missing is cohesiveness. “American Pastoral” feels like it is trying to be several different movies at the same time. There were so many things happening during the 1960s and 1970s. It is

"Lion" Review (***½)

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Editor’s note: I’ve been begging Alexandra James to write for Reel Georgia for months and months. Recently, Alex joined the team down at the Savannah Film Festival for a few days and I was able to coax her into finally writing a review. I think you’ll find that both the writer and her work are equally as charismatic and approachable as they are thorough and accomplished. I am thrilled to add Alex to the Reel crew. -CM Dev Patel stars in “Lion.” Familiar themes of displacement, familial dysfunction, a desire for resolve, and great cast performances all help Garth Davis’ debut feature film, “Lion,” evoke all the feels at all the right times. “Lion” is a poignant drama that takes viewers on a laborious personal journey that, fortunately, lands in inspiration and the aforementioned resolve. Though the film successfully plays on its viewers’ emotions, it does have its shortcomings in other areas. Are these shortcomings so prominent that they distract from the truly remarkable story that t

"Loving" Review (****½)

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‘Tell the judge I love my wife.’ Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star in “Loving.” Jeff Nichols shows a solemn, moving picture of Richard and Mildred Loving’s life together. Richard and Mildred Loving lived in Virginia in the 1950s. They loved each other immensely. They married in Washington D.C. shortly after discovering they were expecting a child. Despite the marriage license—a binding legal document—cops entered their home in the middle of the night and put the Lovings in jail. Mildred spent five nights in jail; she was eight months pregnant. The law enforcement in their small country town prosecuted the Lovings because at the time, interracial marriages were against the law in Virginia. The judge forced them out of Virginia for the next 25 years, against the threat of a prison sentence. The film spans from 1958 to 1967. The audience gets to see the racism the couple experienced from both sides. The movie isn’t violent; it focuses more on the psychological threat the family faced. Nic

"Tower" Review (***½)

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“Tower” mixes animation with archival footage. “Tower” follows the tragic story of the 1966 University of Texas at Austin sniper shooting. This documentary brilliantly juxtaposes live action film, radio archives, and animations to parallel the narration of both survivors and witnesses to the event. One thing I had difficulty remembering was how unheard of school shootings were at the time. It’s almost an unsettling blast from the past into just a relevant presence, but one important aspect of this film is that it does not ‘glorify’ the killer. “Tower” truly focuses on the heroes and survivors, while honoring the victims. “Tower” makes curious artistic choices in its visuals. The roughly 80-minute runtime is full of historical footage, new animation, and live action interviews—all intriguing and well-balanced. However, the neat difference is in the decision to layer live footage with animation. A few of the scenes mesh reality and ‘cartoon’ to fill the gaps lost in the time it took cam

"Arrival" Review (****½)

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Amy Adams stars in “Arrival.” Denis Villeneuve, one of our most consistent filmmakers, has crafted one of the best sci-fi movies of the decade with “Arrival.” A slow-burn, intellectual approach keeps the story front and center—and what a story it is. Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguist whose skillset becomes invaluable when mysterious spacecrafts land around the world—twelve different ones to be exact. Hovering quietly above random locations across the globe, humanity has to make the next move. Do we attack? What do they want? Why are there twelve? These questions are only the beginning of the mystery that falls into the hands of Louise and her physicist partner Ian (Jeremy Renner). The two of them board one of the giant floating pods in search of answers and are face to face with the aliens themselves. Giant, 7-tentical beings engulfed in white mist, the aliens spray a black substance against the wall that separates them as if writing in their language. Buried in hazmat suits, Lo

"Attack of the Killer Donuts" Review - Rome International Film Festival (***)

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Justin Ray and C. Thomas Howell star in “Attack of the Killer Donuts.” Grab a beer and few friends because “Attack of the Killer Donuts” is all kinds of bizarre fun. This low-budget horror/comedy has all of the trappings of a late night, nothing-else-to-watch good time and what it lacks in actual scares it makes up for in more than a couple of laugh-out-loud scenes. A chemical mix-up involving a mad scientist (Michael Swan) and a donut shop causes several pastries to come to life in the form of flesh eating, growling little monsters. The donuts—who are mostly animated (a few times we’re blessed with actual prosthetic donuts and they are hilarious)—reek havoc around suburban Los Angeles. Our leads, Johnny and Michelle (played by Justin Ray and Kayla Compton) are at the center of the plot but it’s the supporting characters that help to offer up most of the laughs. There’s even a goofy cop duo! Unfortunately, there is the lack of actual scares. It’s clear that scaring people wasn’t first

"Cruiser" Review - Rome International Film Festival (**)

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Lori Beth Sikes and Shuler Hensley star in “Cruiser.” The found-footage horror film “Cruiser” explores a lot in its 80 mins—human suffering, predestination, evil and the perverse power of God. Sam Hensley Jr. wrote the film that stars his Tony Award-winning brother Shuler. The film starts as most any horror film, with an average guy living an average day. Rookie Officer Chip Tate’s cop car has just been outfitted with several cameras and he begins what appears to be a regular day on day on the job. Every day is typical, until it becomes the day you die. A routine traffic stop introduces our nameless villain. When Officer Tate (Hayes Mercure) asks his name, he merely replies that it doesn’t matter. Within moments our Cruiser murders Officer Tate and assumes his identity; a kidnapping and a series of traffic stop murders follow. The movie is slow to start, but it grew on the audience to a point. The Cruiser is a compelling character. He stops Tara Kirkland (Lori Beth Sikes), who assumes

Pablo Larraín's "Jackie" to Open Up Savannah Film Festival

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Natalie Portman stars in “Jackie.” Pablo Larraín’s highly-buzzed Jackie Kennedy Onassis biopic, “Jackie,” is slated to open the 19th annual Savannah Film Festival on Saturday, October 20, 2016. “Jackie” recently had its world premiere at TIFF, where it was bought by Fox Searchlight. The arthouse distributor is set to provide the film with a robust awards campaign, with Natalie Portman’s lead performance sure to receive the most attention. In addition to Portman, the film also features Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Beth Grant and John Hurt. The screenplay was written by Noah Oppenheim. Pablo Larraín is also keeping busy with a second film, “Neruda,” also seeing a release and awards push this winter.

Security in "Insecure:" Issa Rae Set for World Domination

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BronzeLens Artistic Director Deidre McDonald and “Insecure” creator and star Issa Rae. On Friday, August 26, a crowd gathered in Atlanta’s Georgia Pacific Auditorium for the Bronze Lens Film Festival’s First Glance Friday, awaiting the much anticipated HBO series “Insecure” from star-on-the-rise Issa Rae. The show opens with iconic LA spots and the extremely appropriate “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar. As the show played, it was quite evident that Issa Rae and “Insecure” will be ‘Alright.’ The show was funny, but it was more than just a series of one-liner laughs. “Insecure” is really real. The show centers around the ‘aggressively-passive’ Issa and her best friend Molly, who are navigating their late 20s in Los Angeles. Faced with the issues of the unmarried, educated black female, Issa and Molly entertain with their quick wit and unbridled truth. “As a black woman, the more educated you are, the less likely you are to get married.”  “Insecure” is reminiscent of Rae’s wildly successful w

The Problem with—and Promise of—Donald Glover's "Atlanta"

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Editor’s note: It is my privilege today to introduce you to Christina Nicole, our newest Reel Georgia team member. I’d safely describe Christina as a junkie—a film festival junkie—and a finely tuned barometer of what’s good. She’s got excellent taste, a fantastic demeanor and a clarion way with words. -CM “Atlanta” is not a comedy, but it is still good.   I have to shoot straight from the hip with this review. I didn’t like “Atlanta” the way I wanted I to. To quote “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit,” “It was cool for what it was, but it wasn’t all that.” I am a Donald Glover fan. I like Childish Gambino, too, but I didn’t like the show. “Atlanta” is subtle. It is almost too subtle. You have to pay attention to catch all the political and topical references. I appreciated the intellect displayed in the writing, but the show as a whole fell short for me. The show is marketed as a comedy, but it wasn’t very funny. I barely chuckled. There don’t have to be back-to-back jokes or gimmicks to

"My Blind Brother" Review (***½)

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Jenny Slate, Adam Scott and Nick Kroll in “My Blind Brother.” Adam Scott, Nick Kroll and Jenny Slate star in this brutally honest comedy about disability. “My Blind Brother” dives head first into the subject and puts a fresh spin on the ‘slacker comedy.’ Adam Scott plays Robbie. He’s a star athlete and a local icon whose blindness only pushes him to do better. His brother Bill, on the other hand, is not quite as motivated. We get everything we need to know from our two leads in the opening scene, where we see Robbie—rocking sun glasses and a tracksuit—running along side his sweat-drenched little brother, Bill. The two are strapped together as Bill guides Robbie to the finish line. The surrounding crowd goes wild as they celebrate Robbie and completely ignore Bill as he collapses in an effort to catch his breath. Though the two brothers’ love for each other is obvious, Robbie’s endless determination is draining Bill. Kroll plays the constantly annoyed Bill perfectly and Adam Scott’s Rob

"The Light Between Oceans" Review (***)

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Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander star in “The Light Between Oceans.” Derek Cianfrance has brought us two of the most heartbreaking films in recent memory with “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines.” The writer/director’s previous works have proven him to be an auteur with an eye for realism and a nag for telling sprawling stories about complicated people in complicated situations. And while his latest, “The Light Between Oceans,” seems to be right in his wheelhouse, the film is never quite able to be much more than a gorgeous oil painting filled with award-worthy performances. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, “The Light Between Oceans” begins by introducing us to Tom (Michael Fassbender), a hardened and all-together numb war vet who has come back to Australia in search of peace and quiet. Tom, who resides on the coast and works the lighthouse, soon meets the adorable and impossibly hopeful Isabelle, played by Alicia Vikander. Tom and Isabelle quickly f

"Cheerleader" Review (****)

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Catherine Blades stars in Irving Franco’s “Cheerleader.” The title “Cheerleader,” without knowing much about the film beforehand, might encourage misplaced ideas or associations about New York writer-director Irving Franco’s small and beautifully deliberate debut feature. That word alone makes me think of films like “Bring It On” or “The Replacements,” or any movie of similar vanity and flippancy. “Cheerleader,” however, is another thing entirely. It’s a film that moves in small waves. It’s a film that moves almost in slow motion. It quietly works its way into your emotional subconscious—in the way that you might walk from the shallow end of a pool to its deeper, thicker parts, without realizing it, until you feel yourself being hugged by the water. “Cheerleader” seems to take place sometime during the 1980s (though it is never addressed) at a severely average high school, and Mickey (a fantastic Catherine Blades) inexpertly navigates both her high school halls and interpersonal social

21 Films to See at the 2016 Sidewalk Film Festival

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Sidewalk Film Festival turns 18-years-old and I am pleased as punch to be attending for my fourth year. This is easily one of the best festivals in the world, from the picture-perfect program to the intensely smooth operations that are stretched across 12 venues throughout Downtown Birmingham, Alabama. I gush every year, and I’ll continue to gush this year—do not miss this festival. I’ve highlighted 21 films you should catch this weekend. I know, 21 is a high number, but don’t blame me—blame the programming team led by Rachel Morgan and the filmmakers that hear great things every year and submit good works to this wonderful showcase. Four films are marked as Can’t Miss —”Cheerleader,” “The Arbalest,” “Contemporary Color” and “Fraud”—and once you see them, you’ll know why. Check out the full list after the jump! Opening Night:  In a Valley of Violence A drifter with nothing to lose aims his sights on the thugs who killed his dog and receives unlikely assistance from a young woman who ru

"Sausage Party" Review (***½)

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Editor’s note: Christopher Escobar is probably the busiest man in Georgia. In addition to his duties as Executive Director of the Atlanta Film Society, Executive Director of the Plaza Theatre Foundation, Filmmaker/Owner of Escobar Pictures and Vice President of Georgia Production Partnership—plus his roles as a father and husband—he is also making his film review debut here at Reel Georgia. We are lucky to have him on board to share his thoughts with us. -CM  “Sausage Party” provides a thematic foil to the animated offerings of Pixar. Until now, I haven’t been—by any stretch—a film reviewer or someone who considers my opinion about films all that important. But I know that a lot of people are curious about “Sausage Party” and are on the fence about seeing it. To cut to the chase—yes, it’s worth seeing if you can handle really crude humor. Should you see it in the theaters? I’ll let you decide. As for the film’s chief strengths, there are some really funny puns, moments and character re

"Suicide Squad" Review (*½)

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Margot Robbie stars as Harley Quinn in “Suicide Squad.” “Suicide Squad,” Warner Brothers’ latest attempt at furthering the DC Extended Universe, is the most profoundly disappointing film of 2016. Ever since we saw the first image of Jared Leto’s neon gangster Joker, we’ve been, at the very least, curious. Like many, I thought it was a strange choice but held out hope—hope that felt justified as soon as that amazing first trailer dropped. It seemed like Warner Brothers was willing to take creative risks and do something we haven’t yet seen in the rapidly expanding superhero space. Unfortunately what we ended up with is a convoluted, underwritten mess that, like too many blockbusters these days, basically boils down to giant CGI blobs fighting each other. David Ayer wrote and directed the film and was either given too much freedom by the studio or not enough. The film is choppy and poorly constructed. There’s even some weirdly obvious editing mistakes. There is definitely some striking i

"Nerve" Review (****)

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Dave Franco and Emma Roberts star in “Nerve.” Vee Delmonico (Emma Roberts), your average, quiet yearbook photographer from Staten Island, gets challenged by her adrenaline junkie BFF to play the hot-new thing: NERVE. Watcher or Player, Vee declines until insult is added to injury in front of a crush. Fast forward three minutes and Vee is logging in as a player, ready to accept her first dare and receive her first payment. An easy $100 for kissing a stranger; not bad for a down-on-her-luck girl trying to save money and go to college. Though the dares start small, the risks take off and Vee finds herself in a whirlwind of life threatening challenges alongside the mysterious, tall, dark, and handsome Ian (Dave Franco). “Nerve” is a movie that questions what it means to live behind your computers, and how far people will go with an anonymous screen name. As Vee’s friends watch her new daredevil lifestyle from the comfort of a house party, the stakes are raised, jealousy ensues, and a hin