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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.

 

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.

Benched

“This is about the playing. Not the winning or losing. It’s about having fun.”

Michael (Garret Dillahunt) is eager to work as assistant coach for his son’s little league baseball team. But he gets more than he bargained for with head coach Don (John C. McGinley). These two are as different as could be. Michael was a curling champ in his youth and fondly remembers the spirit of the game and has long forgotten any wins. Don, on the other hand, remembers every game and holds personal grudges when circumstances led to a catastrophic loss. Their coaching styles clash, confusing the kids who don’t know who to listen to. Should they buy into Michael’s brand of everyone-is-a-winner mentality? Or should they listen to coach Don who believes every game is a fight for glory? As the season progresses we learn more about the complicated histories of these two coaches. Michael is a recent widower starting fresh in a new town. Don is having marital issues causing him to put more of his focus on the game. Will the two find a way to work together to help the team make it to the championships?

 

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Benched is the feature film directorial debut for Robert Deaton and George Flanigen. Unlike other movies about elementary school sports, the focus here is not on the kids but on the adults. I thought this was a curious choice for the filmmakers. Besides some scenes singling out a couple of the kids in particular and a thorough introduction to each team member, we really don’t know much about them as characters. They’re not who were rooting on. Instead it’s the two coaches, both of whom are navigating through a transitional period in their lives.

Adding just a touch of estrogen to the film is Jlynn Johnson who plays Carolyn, a love interest for both Michael and Don. I wish her character was more complex but there wasn’t much room in the film for her part to bloom and blossom.

The clash between Michael and Don is a sort of metaphor for a divided America. Michael is the stereotypical lazy liberal, accepting of many, encouraging of any effort and sees all the kids as equals in their field. Don is the hard-nosed conservative with a winners-versus-losers mentality who is very vocal about the team’s hierarchy. They learn from each other and ultimately have to compromise. Perhaps the message here is a political one rather than one of personal motivation.

If you’re looking for a positive sports movies featuring kids overcoming obstacles, then look elsewhere. Benched is a much different movie. It’s a complex study of disparate individuals, in this case, two adults. The film starts off a bit cheesy and awkward but once it picks up I found it quite engrossing. The baseball scenes were fun to watch and I found myself rooting on the team. If you like sports movies and want to try something a bit different, give Benched a shot.

 

 

Benched is screening in select theaters today and also available on VOD.

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