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The Rainbow Experiment

Rainbow Experiment

“The world you see is just a movie in your mind.”

Matty (Conor Siemer) is just an ordinary high school student. Like his fellow classmates in class, he acts out, challenges the faculty and puts on a show for his friends. When his chemistry teacher gives him a task, things go horribly awry as a fireball explodes in his face, sending him, in critical condition to the hospital. This is a catalyst for events that follow, as the authorities, the faculty, the parents and the students all try to make sense of this tragic event and come to terms with their own demons.

The Rainbow Experiment studies the way people react to trauma. The film is raw, powerful and experimental. The motley crew of characters, all connected to the protagonist Matty in some way directly or indirectly, range from the most level-headed to borderline insane. They employ defense mechanisms, placing and displacing blame. The movie breaks the fourth wall with Matty appearing as a somewhat ghostly figure, examining the events at the high school, while his still living body remains at the hospital, and relates his observations to the viewer. Inventive cuts and split screens help depict the divisiveness of the situation and the ensuing chaos. As the movie progresses and the characters try to make sense of what happened, it becomes less and less about the victim and more about everyone’s own struggles.

“People make choices and those choices affect other people.”

The Rainbow Experiment expertly explores the failure to communicate between adults and teens. The us against them mentality, evident on both sides, reaches a boiling point after this tragic event and the film deconstructs the ramifications of that toxic mindset. This film is bold, unsettling and should be required viewing. And for those of you who quit a movie at the very sight of the end credits, you’ll miss the inventive dual ending.

Written, directed and produced by Christina Kallas, The Rainbow Experiment premiered in January at the Slamdance Festival. I look forward to seeing more from this innovative filmmaker.

Gravitas Ventures is releasing The Rainbow Experiment in theaters, DVD and digital on December 7th.

 

 

Swiped

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 “One day I will code an app that will make a difference.”

Coding genius and all-around tech nerd James (Kendall Ryan Sanders) is off to a bad start in his first semester in college. Upon arrival, he’s confronted by a trio of bullish classmates who don’t want to do any work in Professor Barnes’ (Kristen Johnston) introduction to computer science course. This trio includes James’ lady killer roommate Lance (Noah Centineo) and his two knuckle-headed friends Dylan (Christian Hutcherson) and Daniel (Nathan Gamble). Matching their desire for anonymous campus liasons and a cover for their course workload, Lance convinces James to create a hook-up app called Jungle. In this app, men and women find matches but are not allowed to learn names or to commit to future dates or any sort of relationship. For James, anonymous and purely physical hook-ups hold no appeal. Instead he’s looking for a lasting connection with Hannah (Shelby Wulfert), the girl he embarrassed at prom and with whom he’s still hopelessly smitten. When the app spreads like wildfire and cannot be contained, it starts negatively affecting users, especially women who are looking for a more lasting connection. The final straw for James is when he learns that his mother Leah (Leigh-Allyn Baker) is using the app. It’s time for some major disruption!

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Directed by Ann Deborah Fishman, Swiped is a tender-hearted comedy about the importance of face-to-face connections in an increasingly disconnected world. The story has many layers. It’s a examination into the changing landscape of modern dating. It’s also a celebration of what makes us all different. As a self-proclaimed nerd, I love any movie that lifts us up rather than bringing us down. My favorite part of this movie is the multi-generational comedy with the college age youth in James’ world, his relationship with his high school age sister who is showing signs of emotional disconnect and James’ divorced parents who are navigating the dating world as middle-aged singles. Perhaps the most poignant of all is James’ grandparents Phil (George Hamilton) and Sunny (Alana Stewart), who serve as an example of a long-term relationship completely void of the technology that is complicating the lives of their children and grandchildren. I was drawn to this film as a fan of George Hamilton and I loved his scenes, especially those with Sanders who plays his grandson James. There are some funny and touching moments where we see grandpa Phil trying to get his family to reconnect with the people around them. I especially enjoyed the speech Phil gives to James when James asks what he should be looking for and Phil replies “you have to face people face to face to find it.”

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When we discuss how female filmmakers have the potential to positively affect the representation of women, this can be seen in Swiped. Ann Deborah Fishman not only directed but also wrote and produced this movie. The female characters, even those who have small roles, are multi-faceted. And in general, every character in this story has the potential to be a caricature but instead they all defy their own stereotypes. I found this incredibly refreshing.

Swiped is available on digital. You can watch it on Amazon Prime, Vudu, FandangoNow, iTunes and Vimeo On Demand.

 

DOC NYC: Family in Transition

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Transgender people do not exist in a vacuum. Not only does the transition mean a painful rebirth for the individual but its also a harbinger of big change for the people in their lives. And when there is a spouse and children to contend to, how will this major life shift affect them?

The Israeli documentary Family in Transition tells the story of the Tsuk family living in a conservative Jewish community in the coastal city of Nahariya. Amit and his wife Galit have been married 20 years and known each other for 27. They’re incredibly close bond deepens when Amit reveals to Galit that he is a woman and wants to transition. Galit and their four children are supportive of Amit as he transitions. We follow their journey from Amit’s birthday party, to daughter Agam’s Bat Mitzvah to Galit and Amit’s ceremony as they renew their vows and remarry as women. It’s a two year process from Amit’s revelation, to the hormone treatment, to the gender reassignment surgery in Thailand and to the wedding vows. This is a portrait of a beautiful marriage and a close knit family supporting their own through a difficult time.

But the Tsuk family’s story doesn’t end here. Something shifts for Galit when she feels taken for granted and can’t find the emotional balance in her marriage with Amit that she craves. You can only give so much of yourself before you’re going to need to take something back. This is where life for the Amit and Galit takes a sharp and unexpected turn. Their journey begs the question, who do you want to be?

Family in Transition was directed by Ofir Trainin and premiered at this year’s DOC NYC. This fascinating documentary is not afraid to tackle some harsh truths about gender dynamics within the family sphere. The sudden shift in the Tsuk’s journey was surprising and revelatory. Going into it in more detail would spoil the film for those unfamiliar with the story. Trainin had this to say about the film in the official director’s statement:

“The main goal of Family in Transition is to expose a unique family that can teach us all how to accept the difference in one another. The Tsuk family breaks social conventions and helps change what we though we knew about gender, partiy, parenthood and transgender issues… By embracing the different, I hope we can work towards creating a world where transgender people can live a normal life and be accepted by their community.”

Family in Transition will open in Los Angeles on November 16th and in New York on November 23rd.

I encourage you to read transgender film critic Danielle Solzman’s excellent review of this film.

 

 

Lez Bomb

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When is the best time to come out to your family? As Lauren (Jenna Laurenzo) is about to find out, Thanksgiving is NOT one of those times.

Lauren has been dating Hailey (Caitlin Mehner) and when things get serious she decides its time for her family to meet her girlfriend. The problem is Lauren’s family doesn’t know she’s gay. When Lauren arrives ahead of Hailey at her family’s home for Thanksgiving, she surprised by her roommate Austin (Brandon Micheal Hall). He’s been invited to celebrate the holiday with the family and Lauren’s mom Rose (Deirdre O’Connell) and dad George (Kevin Pollak) are convinced Lauren and Austin are a couple. Austin, who doesn’t quite mind the confusion, gives a few half-hearted attempts to rectify the situation but caves when confronted by an irate George. When Lauren tries to tell her parents the truth things start to spiral out of control. And that’s when the rest of the members of this wacky yet lovable family arrive.

And what a motley crew of characters they are. Lauren’s loser brother John (Davram Stiefler) has the hots for Hailey and won’t be persuaded to leave her alone. Lauren’s Grandpa (Bruce Dern) is the first to find out that Lauren and Hailey are a couple and Grandma Josephine (Cloris Leachman) is convinced Hailey is Lauren’s side dish and Austin is her main course. Aunt Maggie (Elaine Hendrix)  just wants everyone to appreciate her artichoke dip, cancer survivor uncle Ken (Rob Moran) is just happy to be there and their overly-hormonal daughter Jessica (Jordyn DiNatale) is hot for Austin. And pothead uncle Mike (Steve Guttenberg) sets the basement on fire and the whole family is uprooted to Rose’s motel for Thanksgiving dinner. And all the while poor Hailey is stuck in an awkward limbo of staying hopeful but losing faith that Lauren will make her big announcement. In the chaos, Lauren must come to terms with her sexuality and face some harsh truths about herself.

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Lez Bomb is written and directed by filmmaker Jenna Laurenzo who also stars as Lauren. This is her feature film debut and her first film, a short called Girl Night Stand, went viral. This multi-generational comedy is quirky, off-beat and all around charming. There are plenty of side-splitting moments and the humor is perfectly paced. The story itself would be ridiculous if it wasn’t grounded in some very real emotions. This film has a lot of heart. I loved the tender, somber moments in the film. For example, when its revealed Grandpa promised to pray with the rosary daily if his son Ken survived cancer was particularly touching. I also appreciated the scene when Lauren talks to her mom Rose about how she struggles with her sexuality and the inconvenient truth that it’s just easier to live a lie than to come out. In an interview with Gravitas Ventures, Laurenzo said,

“The mother-daughter story for me is the heart of the movie… Telling my mom that I was gay was one of the most challenging things because she knows me the best, and while I was afraid of disappointing her, I was equally afraid she’d be upset with herself, for missing it. But it was really me, who was not ready to be honest with myself… We often assume it’s the external pressures that make coming out difficult, and while that is also a factor, sometimes it’s the inner struggle that needs to be reconciled. That theme extends beyond sexuality.”

The film’s resolution happens a little too quickly and cleanly. I felt like there needed a few more minutes of drama before it wrapped up. Otherwise this was an incredibly enjoyable movie. Highly recommended!

Lez Bomb releases in theaters tomorrow November 9th and on VOD.

Bohemian Rhapsody

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“Fortune favors the bold.”

Bohemian Rhapsody was the first song I ever tried to memorize. As a deeply misunderstood and lonely preteen, there was something about this six minute rock opera and other songs by Queen that spoke to my soul. What I didn’t know then was that Freddie Mercury was a champion for misfits like me. He had a self-assured persona, always holding his head up high and never apologizing for being himself. We won’t know the extent of his inner world but his outward confidence gave us license to be ourselves. If you’re a true misfit, you know the pain of being misunderstood and the intense loneliness that comes with being different from everybody else. But when you find another misfit who gets you… it makes all the difference in the world (source).

Freddie Mercury’s story needed to be told.

Bohemian Rhapsody stars Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. We follow Freddie’s journey from his humble beginnings as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport to his meteoric rise as the lead singer of Queen culminating with their historic performance at Live Aid in 1985. Along with Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and John Deacon (Joseph Mazello), these four totally different personalities, each with their own brand of talent, come together to shake up the world of rock ‘n roll. On the road to success they must work with a team of record executives who either don’t believe in them, Ray Foster (Mike Myers), who see an opportunity to manipulate, Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), or who stick with them, John Reid (Aiden Gillen) and Jim Beach (Tom Hollander). However the film’s focus remains solely on the biggest star, Freddie Mercury and how he navigates his music career, his relationships with his disapproving father, his supportive mother and sister, his first true love Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and his partner Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), coming to terms, or not, with his sexuality and his eventual AIDS diagnosis.

Many have criticized Bohemian Rhapsody for softening some harsh truths about Freddie Mercury. Because this is a biopic and not a documentary, some changes were made for entertainment value. However because the story deals with a real life figures, filmmakers risk painting these characters in a harsher-than-necessary light in order to serve the movie’s plot. For example, Paul Prenter, based off the real life manager of Queen/Freddie Mercury, is the clear villain in the movie but his involvement with Mercury was conflated for the story’s benefit. Prenter died of AIDS related complications in 1991, the same year and circumstances that led to Mercury’s death, and can’t defend himself. Biopics have always bent the truth to some extent but should the filmmakers continue to do so? This is an evergreen debate that will always plague biopics.

If we can’t have the absolute truth, what will audiences get out of Bohemian Rhapsody? As close to the essence of Freddie Mercury without having Mercury himself in the picture. And that’s what Rami Malek’s outstanding performance gives us. Malek painstakingly acquired every single mannerism and made it his own. He got every move and every look spot on. Where Malek shines is in the musical performances and he channels Mercury’s unique and flamboyant on stage persona. Malek even perfects Mercury’s voice as it got more gravely as the AIDS began to take a toll on his body.

The film struggles to gain ground but it hits its stride about half way through. There were too many scenes at the beginning that were just plain cheesy or pretentious. The second half had a lot more depth, diving into Mercury’s inner world and struggles and I felt more connected to the story then. I loved the little touches especially the Queen inspired rendition of the 20th Century Fox theme. Peppered through the movie were some humorous moments and some pop culture references. The most notable one is Mike Myers, whose Bohemian Rhapsody scene from Wayne’s World re-introduced the song to a whole new generation, makes the following remark, much to the delight of anyone who will get the reference:

We need a song teenagers can bang their heads to in a car. Bohemian Rhapsody is not that song.

Malek’s prosthetic teeth took some getting used to. They went for realism (Mercury had an overbite and four extra incisors) but it seemed more artificial. I was worried that there was too much to put me off until the film sent me on an emotional roller coaster I was not expecting. I spent the last 30 minutes of the film just sobbing. I was quite moved by Mercury’s story and was angered by how AIDS took him from us too soon. As a self-declared misfit, I found some truths about myself that I wasn’t quite ready to process.

Bohemian Rhapsody has its problems but Malek delivers an engaging performance that channels the true essence of Freddie Mercury. This one is sure to please fans. Rock on.

 

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