Deadpool 2 - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

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Deadpool 2


Director: David Leitch

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Zazie Beetz, Julian Dennison, and Briana Hildebrand



“Deadpool” arrived into theaters in 2016 during a time when comic book movie fatigue was beginning to settle in. It arrived at the the perfect place; the raunchy comedy, the explicit language, and the bloody bits and pieces were unlike the superhero films viewers were getting comfortable with in the cineplex. At the core of the film was a court jester with dual ninja swords and an itchy trigger finger; Ryan Reynolds, with his comedic swagger and verbal lambasting, shook up the structure of what a comic book movie could be. In the world of movie roles perfectly suited for a particular actor,  Deadpool was made for actor Ryan Reynolds.


 “Deadpool 2”, amidst the amped up gore and explicit language, is very much a comic book comedy that is funny enough that you’re bound to miss numerous jokes because of the laughter in the auditorium. The breakneck style of comedy here is also reflected in the action scenes, it’s kinetic to the point of chaos throughout the entirety of the film. But that’s what makes this franchise so much fun, it doesn’t play by the rules.


Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), aka Deadpool, has expanded his vigilante ways into global markets. But Deadpool is trying to change his deadly ways, and with the help of some superhero friends he is given an opportunity to try a new, less violent, form of justice. This introduces Deadpool to a young boy named Russell (Julian Dennison) who is trying to escape a reform school for young mutants. Unfortunately some one else takes an interest in Russell, a time-traveling mercenary named Cable (Josh Brolin) wants to destroy Russell before he grows into an unstoppable super villain.


“Deadpool 2” has a charming and mischievous quality that keeps the film entertaining from the start until the final frame. It’s also quite funny, everything from sight gags to foul-mouthed banter populate every inch of the film. The film understands exactly what it is trying to achieve, which is a playfulness amidst some of the more serious comic book movie franchises out there. Through its self-deprecating style, fourth wall breaking moments, and knowing nods to every comic book universe present and past, these qualities have been turned up to eleven, “Deadpool 2” is bound to please anyone who loved the first film.


But through all the fun and laughter it’s hard not to question why the journey feels so unsatisfying. Deadpool’s super power is regeneration, the character functions as somewhat indestructible throughout the film. While we are given a moment to see Deadpool without powers, the fact that the character can lose limbs and get riddled with bullets without much consequence never makes any of the foes in the film feel threatening. Even Cable, who shows up with a big weapon and a mechanical arm, is a non-consequential bad guy who shows up mostly for amusing banter and to introduce time travel into the narrative of the film.


Because “Deadpool 2” never functions within any set boundaries, it’s easy to forgive the obvious lapses in storytelling. Convenience becomes a narrative weapon to wield to get from one scene to the next, and when the audience begins to question the details the film takes the red suited character and turns him to the audience to express, “that’s just lazy writing”. Yes, it’s acceptable, but it’s still flimsy storytelling.


Ryan Reynolds is fantastic throughout the film, Josh Brolin should be in more of these types of films because he adds such gravity to these characters, and young Julian Dennison sells the aspect of a character on the verge.


“Deadpool 2” will please those who enjoyed the simplistic entertainment and adult humor of the first film. Unfortunately, while the character can be amusing in all his rage, violence and humor, there is far less of a complex composition to the character and more of a one dimensional aspect. While this may be what the character, and writers, are ultimately aiming for, it may also be what keeps the franchise from building this character into something more substantial. That doesn’t mean it won’t be fun to see the foul-mouthed superhero every few years.


Monte’s Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

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‘Pope Francis:  A Man of His Word’ is a great opportunity and a missed one


Directed by:  Wim Wenders

Written by:  Wim Wenders and David Rosier

Starring:  Pope Francis


“Pope Francis:  A Man of His Word” – “I think he might be the coolest pope ever.” – Conan O’Brien


O’Brien is not alone. 


With his progressive stances on climate change, gay marriage, women in the church, and more, Pope Francis is helping bridge the gap between traditional Catholicism and life in 2018.  Whether or not every individual Catholic church in the world is more accessible and flexible, well, at least this pope – whose papacy began in March 2013 - has set a new direction. 


Sensible.  Likable.  Approachable.   


These words all describe Pope Francis, at least from Catholics and non-Catholics who are not threatened by his beliefs. 


Revolutionary might be another word. 


There may have never been a pope like him, but in director Wim Wenders documentary, Pope Francis draws comparisons to a saint.  Saint Francis of Assisi.  The famous saint lived 800 years ago, and in a recent interview, Wenders said that Saint Francis and Pope Francis share three common principles:  solidarity with the poor, respect for nature and peace with other religions.


Wenders defends this observation in two ways. 


First, Pope Francis speaks right to the camera and directly explains his beliefs in a casual, relaxed setting.  Second, Wenders shows the pope traveling all over the globe and speaking on the aforementioned three principles.  Despite, this tremendous opportunity to listen to Pope Francis state his core values, this film plays loose with its narrative, and it unfortunately seems directionless and sometimes endless over the course of a long 96 minutes. 


It’s not like the audience does not receive positive messages and a direct feed from this sensible, likable, approachable, and revolutionary world leader, because we do. 


Pope Francis speaks out – with straight talk - on a number of topics.  For instance, he worries about the lack of meaningful work in economically-challenged countries which can cause havoc on individual self-esteem and intrinsic dignity.  Climate change and pollution bring him stress.  He pleads that Mother Earth is not in balance, and “the world is mostly deaf” on the issue. 


He also speaks to income inequality and greed and says, “No one can serve two masters. We either serve God, or we serve money.”


These are just a few of the many pearls of wisdom that Wenders’s film wonderfully and profoundly offers.


As much as these messages resonate, it is difficult to connect with the picture as a whole, as the film regularly volleys between a few minutes of Pope Francis’s valuable discourse and then shifts to his road trip footage that all seems to blend together without cohesive tissue.


Pope Francis travels to Brazil, Bolivia, Jerusalem, and Philadelphia, to just name a few locales, and big, smiling crowds greet him at every turn. 


We definitely feel the love! 


These individual moments inspire and simultaneously showcase the global popularity of this holy man, but collectively, these appearances feel like a repetitive concoction of his greatest hits, rather than for a designed purpose.  The many, many appearances mostly fit the same pattern:  Pope Francis looks out an airplane window, the plane lands, he walks towards a large crowd, greets some individual followers, and delivers a sermon.  Wash, rinse, repeat.


Now, organically – through the solo discussions and B-roll from the road - the picture does lay out a solid case that Saint Francis and Pope Francis share thoughtful, altruistic traits, but through the prism of the recurring said pattern.  Quite frankly, this particular Francis-Francis bond could be explained in 30 minutes, rather than an entire feature film, and when dedicating a movie to this particular pope, why not explore additional intriguing topics? 


Pope Francis is the first pope from the Southern Hemisphere and the Americas, so why not interview experts about the previous exclusion, rather than just briefly mention it?


Pope Francis’s reformist stances beget both relief and controversy, so why not explore the arguments?


What do historians say about him?  How do church leaders feel?  What are John and Jane Q. Public’s thoughts?  What makes Pope Francis tick, and what brought him to his beliefs?


“Pope Francis:  A Man of His Word” really does not address these questions, but those answers will have to wait for a future movie.  For now, we have a good opportunity and a missed one. That’s too bad, because this pope is really cool.

(2/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.

Abducted in Plain Sight (previously titled "Forever 'B'") - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell


‘Abducted in Plain Sight’ is a deeply troubling, unforgettable documentary



Directed by:  Skye Borgman


Starring:  Jan Broberg, Bob Broberg, Mary Ann Broberg, Karen Campbell, Susan Broberg, and Pete Welsh



“Abducted in Plain Sight” – “It’s such a bizarre thing, but we lived it.  It’s all true.” – Bob Broberg


“Horror is like a serpent, always shedding its skin, always changing, and it will always come back.” – Dario Argento


The Broberg family did live through a bizarre thing. 


A nightmare, actually. 


An unspeakable nightmare, but every member of the Broberg family – Bob, his wife Mary Ann and their three children, Karen, Susan and Jan – decided to bravely sit in front of director Skye Borgman’s camera and speak in great detail about a real-life horror show that forever changed their family during the 1970s in Pocatello, Idaho.  All five members of this loving family were gravely impacted, but Jan Broberg, the eldest daughter, who is now in her 50s, suffered far and away the most emotional and physical damage.


Jan was abducted in plain sight. 


In “Abducted in Plain Sight”, Borgman initially presents a warm introduction to the Brobergs, but then does not waste time announcing the real-life villain, a neighbor named Robert Berchtold.  Berchtold – who goes by Bob or B - and his wife Gayle are busy raising five kids of their own, but he somehow finds time to initiate and maintain a close friendship with the Brobergs.  In fact, Berchtold devotes much of his free time with the Broberg kids, and specifically Jan. 


Once Berchtold builds enough trust with the Brobergs, he finally executes his master plan.  On October 17, 1974, Berchtold, roughly 40 at the time, kidnaps Jan, who was only 12. 


Jan courageously reflects on the events of 44 years ago with a calm, direct and lucid demeanor, as she describes her feelings and thought processes at the time.  She trusted Berchtold, and therefore, already formed her future Stockholm Syndrome before the kidnapping.


This initial abduction is only the very beginning, as Berchtold’s said actions become infinitely more depraved, and the documentary leads the audience down his path of treachery and insidious schemes.  


The jaw dropping power of this movie – which originally was named “Forever ‘B’” and won the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival Best Documentary award along with 10 other wins from other festivals and competitions – mainly resides with two key elements. 


First, Borgman structures her picture as a slow reveal over the entire course of its 87 minutes. For example, let’s say at the 23-minute mark, we may believe that this family’s story could not possibly get worse, but five minutes later, another frank disclosure will result in a new collective gasp of disbelief.  This narrative continues to creep down a twisted and deeply uncomfortable path of deceit and perversion that raises both ire against Berchtold and his elaborate schemes and pure astonishment that he repeatedly slipped and slithered by without significant consequences.


Second, all five Brobergs disclosed the troubling and embarrassing specifics of their family turmoil with unselfish sincerity.  The love that Bob and Mary Ann have for their family shines through, but they also openly admit to their mistakes, naivete and blind spots to the Berchtold-red flags.  Their forthright, brutal honestly along with Jan’s courageous recount of the wickedly sorted events that plagued her childhood allows us to absorb just a tiny portion of this family’s deep and painful trauma. 


The Brobergs never asked for this trauma, but Bob and Mary Ann unwittingly opened the door to it.  At some points, their actions spur massive frustration, but enormous sympathy too.  Berchtold was a master manipulator, and remember, it was the 1970s, 30-plus years before the Internet, and they lived in a relatively pristine and unsoiled LDS community in Idaho.  Also, it’s difficult to spot a villainous snake, especially one cloaked with a gregarious, welcoming personality. 


Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger are fictitious movie monsters, but they just act on pure instinct and visceral Hollywood-scripted violence.  Not Robert Berchtold.  He’s much worse.  Berchtold constructed elaborate, deceptive traps like a James Bond villain.  Rather than setting his sights on conquering the world, he microtargeted a vulnerable, happy family and crippled it.  Of course, he accomplished this with oceans of lies, delivered with a smile.


No smiles will be found during a screening of “Abducted in Plain Sight”.  It covers incredibly troubling, difficult material, but it is also an unforgettable documentary.  Borgman’s chronicle of this story was the very best competition film that this critic saw at the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival. 


Jan Broberg’s story needs to be heard. 


Very little will comfort a movie audience throughout the film’s duration, but the fact that all five of the Brobergs are emotionally healthy enough recount the details of this period is a blessing.  A miracle, actually.  Of course, the Brobergs are so much more than the dreaded, aforementioned events of the 1970s, but yes, they lived it, and it’s all true. 

(3.5/4 stars)  


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.

Life of the Party - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

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Life of the Party


Director: Ben Falcone

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Gillian Jacobs, Debby Ryan, Adria Arjona, Molly Gordon, Luke Benward, and Maya Rudolph


Nearly every college dorm room, way back when I wandered the campus, had two posters; the John Belushi “Animal House” poster with the “college” sweater or the poster for the movie “Old School”. Higher education comedies have been around since the early days of cinema, the Marx Brothers tackled the topic with the film “Horse Feathers” in 1932 and it seems like nearly every year since the early 1990’s we have seen a school comedy in the multiplex.


“Life of the Party” is the latest, and one the tamest, college comedies to come around in some time. Most of these specific school comedies fall into the realm of raunchy subject matter with heavy levels of explicit language. And the storylines either follow a group of underdogs in some capacity fighting against the college elite or follow a character who is on the verge of getting kicked out of school. It’s seldom the stories that make these college comedies memorable but rather the way the stories compose the reality, ordinary or outlandish, of the college experience. “Life of the Party” unfortunately takes the most basic characteristics of the college comedy, throwing in a lively Melissa McCarthy to make the most of it all.


Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) is a college dropout, mother of a college senior (Molly Gordon), and recently divorced. She regrets never finishing her  degree, archeology, and decides to enroll to finish. Deanna, now going to school with her daughter, utilizes this return to campus to sow some stowed away wild oats. She goes to big parties, dance battles some bullies, and finds herself a young man to get romantic with.


Everything college movies have taught viewers over the years is on display in “Life of the Party”. The familiar college “fish out of water” storyline, the comedy setups like a wild party that ends with regrets of too much alcohol, and the obvious bullies that try to stall the progress of our protagonist throughout her journey. While the similarity to other films is immediately recognizable it’s not the problem, it’s the execution of themes that sours the experience.


Melissa McCarthy’s character is the underdog throughout the film, but her journey throughout the different college triumphs and trials are never given the attention in order for them to really mean anything pertinent for the character. Most of the young people accept her without question, the mean girls are never really that threatening, and the actual reason she returns to college in the first place is given one scene that may cause a minimal amount of distress for her journey towards the final goal. The stakes aren’t high enough, but even this could be overlooked if the film executed the comedic aspects better. Unfortunately, even though Melissa McCarthy completely owns the character, the funny parts rarely hit like they should. With the exception of one scene that absolutely killed, to the point that it was really difficult to hear the jokes that followed the big punchline because of the laughter, the other jokes were simply unmemorable.


“Life of the Party” survives because of Melissa McCarthy. The actress works overtime to make the most of the character and the jokes throughout the film. Unfortunately the familiar angles and timid comedy keep this film from becoming the new poster for the college dorm room.


Monte’s Rating

2.00 out of 5.00

Measure of a Man - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

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The ‘70s coming-of-age film ‘Measure of a Man’ stands up


Directed by:  Jim Loach

Written by:  David Scearce, based on the novel “One Fat Summer” by Robert Lipsyte

Starring:  Blake Cooper, Donald Sutherland, Judy Greer, Luke Wilson, Liana Liberato, and Danielle Rose Russell



“Measure of a Man” – “I hated summer vacation.  For me, it wasn’t about anticipation.  It was about preparation.” – Bobby Marks (Blake Cooper)


“For me, growing up and going to school and not seeing any anti-bullying posters and not hearing people talk about bullying was very desolate.” – poet Shane Koyczan


A lush, serene lakeside community – complete with canoes, a diving board attached to a dock, hiking trails sprawling in every direction, and families enjoying warm days, cool nights and plenty of laughs – sounds like a welcoming way to spend a summer vacation. 


Not for Bobby.  He dreads it.


Like many teenagers, Bobby is not comfortable in his own skin, and in his particular case, he is overweight and terribly self-conscious about it.  He feels that he should stay on “the edge of everything” rather than run in cool people-circles.  His lack of self-esteem also – unfortunately – attracts bullying like a magnet, and in director Jim Loach’s “Measure of a Man”, Bobby finds himself facing this miserable adolescent turbulence during the summer of 1976. 


The chosen time period for this coming-of-age picture (also accompanied by a terrific ‘70s soundtrack that sometimes really pops off the screen) plays a huge factor.  Life in the mid-1970s did not come with the safety nets that we enjoy in 2018.   


Dentists filled cavities with mercury, automobile passengers treated seatbelts as a nice option and smoking was allowed, um, everywhere! 


Although bullying has occurred in every era in human history, at least parents, teachers, students, and society at large now recognize it as a significant problem for kids and their emotional growth. 


Awareness and speaking out are up!


For Bobby, speaking out really isn’t his thing, and especially this summer, because much of his support system inconveniently is not present.   His best friend Joanie (Danielle Rose Russell) and her family suddenly head back home, and his dad (Luke Wilson) spends most of his time working in the city.   Not that Marty (Wilson) gives Bobby much support anyway, as he generally lays down the law, gripes about his son’s work ethic and then makes a quick exit.


The point is that Loach and screenwriter David Scearce ensure that Bobby spends much of his time alone, and they leave him to his own devices.  When the local jerk Willie Rumson (Beau Knapp) and his two buddies repeatedly snipe, tease and physically harm Bobby - other than one save at a carnival in the film’s first act - no one is really present to help. 


Even when his mom Lenore (Judy Greer) kindly probes Bobby to share his troubles, he clams up and provides no useful fodder.  Circumstances have left Bobby on his own, but he also chooses to be, as the film truly conveys his isolation.  Despite many, potentially helpful faces at his disposal, the chosen time period, Joanie’s split, and the filmmakers’ intentions, the movie leaves the audience with one conclusion:  Bobby has to face Willie man-to-man. 


Thankfully, he receives inspiration from an unlikely source, Dr. Kahn (Donald Sutherland), who needs a groundskeeper to care for his lawn and other related jobs and hires Bobby to work from 9am to 3pm, Monday through Friday.  Sutherland is a joy to watch as this aging taskmaster with oceans of life experience trains this green - but aspiring – green thumb using the cadence of some of his best work, like the mysterious X in “JFK” (1991).  The good doctor challenges Bobby by correcting his English, eliciting proper conversational responses and providing a platform for hard work with a steely, calm demeanor, and some of the best scenes in the movie contain the back and forth between master and student


At this age, Bobby is highly malleable.  Since his father’s dismissive, semi-tough love runs only one way and mainly downhill, Bobby can learn a lot through Dr. Kahn, who encourages an equal exchange, even though the end results do not immediately seem fair.  


It is fair to say that “Measure of Man” covers familiar coming-of-age ground, but the film excels (via its set design, characters, written and directed human interactions, and performances) as a time warp to yesterdecade, when we spent more time fending for ourselves.  Although the movie has some amusing moments, and many times they are engineered by small exchanges between family members and friends, it really functions as a drama, like 2009’s “Adventureland”.


Yes, this is Bobby’s adventure/journey, but Loach and Scearce ensure that all the main characters carry important threads, as they each harbor varying degrees of secrets.  Even though Lenore, Marty and Michelle do not receive substantial chucks of screen time, they have appealing depth.  After the credits roll, we hope that they communicate their internal concerns to one another more often, but then again, they do not live in 2018, a time when we probably share a bit too much.   Yes, life in 1976 was a simpler time, but as “Measure of a Man” shows, it was not necessarily easier. 

(3/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.

Interview with Jim Loach and Liana Liberato from "Measure of a Man" by Jeff Mitchell

Interview with “Measure of a Man” director Jim Loach and actress Liana Liberato



On Sunday, April 15, 2018, the Phoenix Film Festival screened the U.S. premiere of director Jim Loach’s “Measure of a Man”!   Adapted from Robert Lipsyte’s novel “One Fat Summer”, this comedy/drama centers around an overweight teen, Bobby Marks (Blake Cooper), and his struggle with bullies in 1976.  This coming-of-age movie stars Cooper, Liana Liberato, Judy Greer, Luke Wilson, and Donald Sutherland. 


Just before the April screening, Jim Loach and Liana Liberato (who plays Bobby’s older sister, Michelle) sat down with the Phoenix Film Festival, and we enjoyed a terrific conversation about Bobby’s journey, Michelle’s relationship with her brother, the groovy 70s soundtrack, and much more!


“Measure of a Man” arrives in theatres on Friday, May 11.     



PFF:  Bobby is overweight and self-conscious about his appearance.  In Lipsyte’s book, Bobby loses weight during his summer journey, but not in the movie. 


Now, Bobby could begin addressing his self-esteem issues by improving his physical appearance, but at the end of the day – regardless of his weight – he probably needs to be comfortable with himself as a person first.  His core.  Was that your thought process with Bobby’s story arc?   


JL:  I think that’s 100 percent right.  That’s why we didn’t want him to become magically thin by the end of the film, because I think that would be completely wrong.  All the characters, like Michelle and Bobby, are suffering in a way, finding out who they are and becoming aware and conscious of themselves.  


It would be really wrong if we did a film where (Bobby) ends up thin, and then he’s happy.  He (first) has to be comfortable within himself. 



PFF:  A good portion of Bobby’s support system is not available to him during this particular summer.  His dad (Wilson) is working a lot, and his best friend, Joanie (Danielle Rose Russell), left her parents’ summer cottage to go back home.  Michelle, however, is there and living with Bobby.  She seems to empathize with his plight, but was she more focused on herself?


LL:  Michelle gages the fact that their mom (Greer) was very doting over Bobby.  I feel that Michelle (was thinking), “Kid, you can do it.  Just buck up.  You got it.  If you need me, I’m here for you no matter what.  We’ll help each other out when we need to, but you can do this on your own.”


I feel that hopefully, in a way, Bobby will appreciate (her approach).  (When planning the film,) we talked about how Bobby’s age is a crucial time for a boy.  Michelle is 16 or 17 years old, and that’s a crucial time for her too.  I think that Michelle is in her own world, figuring out herself and her stuff as well.  (So,) I think it’s an equal balance.



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PFF:  This movie is also about secrets.  A lot of the characters have secrets, but did Michelle have any that were not shown in the film, but you thought about when studying the character? 


LL:  Yes, this was Michelle’s first experimentation with the opposite sex, (as she starts seeing Pete Marino (Luke Benward)).  Also, Michelle’s mom became quite the feminist and decided to take her life back.  Even though our characters – as mother and daughter - butt heads, Michelle is trying to take control of her own life too, which comes with a fair share of secrets and choices.   



PFF:  Dr. Kahn (Sutherland) put Bobby to work over the summer, and the experience helped the young man learn responsibility.  Did you have a Dr. Kahn in your life?


LL:  My dad.  He was like a friend to me and still is.  He’s just so honest, and any mistake that I made, he would say, “Hey, let’s talk about it.  What’s going on?”


His first (approach during a teaching moment) was never discipline or punishment.  It was just about listening. 



PFF:  Lipsyte’s book was set in the 1950s, but the screenplay – written by David Scearce - was updated to the 1970s.  In an interview, Lipsyte talked about the changes to his book and said that the 70s had “better music.”


The soundtrack really resonated with me, and many times, the music just popped off the screen.  One example was “Sunshine” by Jonathan Edwards, and some of the lyrics are:  “He tells me, ‘I’d better get in line.’  Can’t hear what he’s saying.  When I grow up, I’m going to make it mine.  These ain’t dues I’ve been paying.”


I think this is about Bobby’s relationship with Dr. Kahn.  Is Dr. Kahn - basically - the conduit who helps him grow up?


JL:  We tried to (construct their relationship) in such a way that it wasn’t necessarily a conscious thing.  We didn’t think that Dr. Kahn saw (Bobby) as an opportunity to have a grand hand (in sorting) this kid out.  We just thought (their relationship) was more serendipitous, (and) their paths just crossed in that moment.  That particular moment in that summer, they both give each other something, but in an unconscious or barely conscious way.  Bobby (also) helps Dr. Kahn come to terms with something, and certainly, Dr. Kahn has sage advice – if nothing else - for Bobby.  We thought that (we would rely) on serendipity. 



PFF:  Lipsyte said, “Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of mail about the book and some of it comes from 6-foot girls in Iowa who say they know how Bobby feels.”    


LL:  Wow!



PFF:  Yes, exactly!  Even though Bobby is a teenage boy, do you believe that his story is universal and why?


JL:  Obviously, (that universal quality) will be there.  Everyone remembers bullies at school.  Frankly, we are surrounded by bullies now, and they are in great positions of great power.  I think everybody who knows that feeling - who are willing to get their lives back - (can relate to Bobby’s story). 


LL:  I agree.  I think the beauty behind this film is that it appeals to all walks of life, whether you are a parent, a teenage girl, a preteen boy, or a bully who harbors a lot of anger.  It shines a light on everyone’s situation and what they are going through.  


I think it’s amazing that there is a such a diversity of people who connect to the book and hopefully the movie will too.



Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.

Tully - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie




Director: Jason Reitman

Starring: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Elaine Tan, and Ron Livingston


“How did we do it?” The common question anyone who has young children proclaim when reminiscing about those precious days, possible months depending on how lucky you are, when you slowly lose your mind trying to maintain the backwards schedule of caring for an infant. And if you are honest, you’ll understand that the answer to the question of how one gets through these arduous moments of parenting is complex, which is why most parents strip it down to simply calling it “love”. And for mom, it’s even more complicated.


In “Tully” director Jason Reitman takes a detailed analysis of what it’s like being a parent, specifically a mom, with three kids and all the responsibilities that come along with maintaining a sense of normalcy amongst the chaos of everything. Who has time to clean the house, make a well balanced meal, or exercise when one child is crying, another is asking their one hundredth question, and the third child is nowhere to be found? Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, who also wrote 2007’s “Juno”, taps into these emotions in a raw, desperate way.


Marlo (Charlize Theron) and Drew (Ron Livingston) are parents of two young children with one on the way. Drew works a busy job that leaves Marlo with the primary responsibility of taking care of every aspect associated with the children. It’s stressful and Marlo is struggling to stay above water. Help arrives in the form of a night nanny named Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a free spirited young woman who helps Marlo rest and make sense of everything that is going on around her.


“Tully” has an interesting quality of being authentically tragic while also trying to be a humorous comedy at the same time. The surprise is that it actually accomplishes this extensive balancing act early in the film. The shifting tone operates in one moment as a call of despair for the lead character Marlo then in the next moment a steadfast battle cry that the gender roles that have come to identify the responsibilities women are “suppose” to occupy are no longer pertinent.


Things operate in standard fashion in the beginning, Marlo is doing her best to spin all the plates but when she gives birth to her third child, the plates come tumbling. And as Marlo begins to come undone by everything, a savior named Tully wanders in from the night. Tully is like Mary Poppins, she takes care of the children, cleans the house, and has time to make nicely decorated cupcakes while expelling a few thought provoking ideas about life. It’s hard not to appreciate the free spirited nature of the young woman, but the arrival of the character introduces some complications to the story.


Marlo and Tully are extensively constructed characters, which unfortunately renders the remaining characters as scenery late in the film. Also, the interesting aspects that concern Marlo’s struggle to maintain her identity as more than just a mother and wife is lost for a story that focuses on female friendship with pop music in tow. It’s a strange turn considering the film makes exceptional progress towards tackling the subject matter of postpartum depression in a honest yet humorous way. A late narrative shift in the third act almost derails the entire story, it’s a choice that will undoubtedly determine whether the film works or doesn’t work for the viewer.


Still, even when the film makes the occasional odd turn, everything remains fairly enjoyable partly because Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis are so good in their respective roles.

The wave of emotion for Marlo is easily achieved by the skillful talents of Charlize Theron who completely owns the role. Ms. Theron’s comedic timing is also well utilized during moments when the mom strikes a comment or glare in the direction of those that make assumptions about her many roles. Mackenzie Davis is also very good, playing Tully with charm mixed with a little bit of attitude.


“Tully” is an interesting character piece, proving that Charlize Theron is still at the top of her game. However, the shifting quality of the tone seems to dilute the power of the message that is trying to be proposed. Still, even when “Tully” strays, the film remains engaging, honest, and humorous about parenthood and more specifically motherhood.


Monte’s Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

RBG - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell


‘RBG’ is a super documentary about a modern-day superhero


Directed by:  Julie Cohen and Betsy West

Starring:  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Gloria Steinem and Nina Totenberg


“RBG” – “I ask no favor for my sex.  All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, quoting Sarah Grimke


Ms. Grimke, a feminist pioneer, lived during the 19th century, and her feelings certainly were justified for the time.  Well, in the enlightening documentary “RBG”, we see that Justice Ginsburg took these words to heart in the 20th and 21st century, due to the state of women’s rights in the 1970s.  In the process, she became a pioneer too and a paramount champion for equal rights through her tireless work. 


“(She’s) the closest thing to a superhero I know.” – Gloria Steinem


Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West worked hard to deliver a biography of this extraordinary 85-year-old woman from Brooklyn, and they strike a nice balance between Justice Ginsburg’s personal and professional sides via a breezy and informative movie experience.


Photos from yesterdecade, friends, family, colleagues, and Justice Ginsburg dive into her past to help explain how the woman known as Notorious RBG earned her nickname.   A first generation and second generation American on her father’s and mother’s side, respectively, Justice Ginsburg was only 17 when her mom passed away.  Although her mother was strict, she was loving and gave valuable advice that stayed with Justice Ginsburg to this day.  Her mother’s specific advice will not be named in this review (because why spoil the surprise?), but it absolutely helped shape her work ethic.


She studied at the best universities (Cornell, Harvard and Columbia), met the love of her life, Marty Ginsburg, and they started a family while in law school.  Justice Ginsburg may appear serious and soft spoken, and yes, these observations are absolutely true, but the film points to several examples that Marty was gregarious and outspoken.  Despite their personality differences, they were a loving couple, who also carried mutual respect for one another.  Although Justice Ginsburg did not necessarily need Marty’s support to succeed, she had it, and her career blossomed. 


In fact, one of Marty’s daily tasks was to ensure that his wife would come home for dinner and eventually sleep.  Apparently, she does not need sleep.  Only a few hours a night is a common practice.


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Certainly, her celebrity is quite unique, and the film covers fun and healthy doses of current pop culture references, including “Saturday Night Live”, which the Supreme Court Justice appreciates and embraces.  These deserved accolades originate from her work on the Supreme Court, including her famous dissenting opinions, but her work during the 1970s truly defines her. 


Her landmark wins from 40 years ago are now mainstream views.


One of the documentary’s big surprises is the level of inequity (under the law) between men and women during that time, but Justice Ginsburg, as a persistent trial lawyer, pushed the right arguments and - more importantly – convinced the courts to agree with her.


The film begins with Frontiero v. Richardson (1973), and it chronicles several more cases that deserve applause and standing ovations.


Hey, “RBG” deserves applause and standing ovations too, because in just 97 minutes, this documentary successfully chronicles the personal and professional life of a superhero, one whose superpowers have lifted - and will continue to lift - countless feet off of women’s necks for generations.  

(3.5/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.

The Idea of Manhood - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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The Idea of Manhood


Directed by Serge Kushnier

Written by Serge Kushnier

Starring Jeremy Kushnier, Karl Bury, Thomas Sullivan, Meg, McCrossen, Elizabeth Masucci, Melanie Merkosky


“Life finds a way.” Leave it me to find a way to tie a deeply moving, life-altering buddy dramaedy into one of the most oft repeated lines from a movie that is turning 25 this year. God, I feel old.

But, you know what? Serge Kushnier’s “The Idea of Manhood” reminded me that it is okay to question our choices, to make a right turn when a left turn might be the right thing to do. Still with me?


Kushnier’s award-winning dramaedy features two college buddies chumming it up one weekend; Jacob, a married man whose wife and kids just happen to be up north for the summer at camp is a bachelor, footloose and fancy-free in his Brooklyn Brownstone when his buddy, Sandy shows up unexpectedly. Their reunion is a bit awkward at first, as Jacob tries to pry out of Sandy why he’s suddenly on his doorstep.

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There is a simplicity in Kushnier’s approach to his script, to the staging of his characters and their environs. As he related to us at the Phoenix Film Festival, he shot the film in the NYC area over a nine-day period. The simplicity pays off as the script slowly builds to its thunderous crescendo as two friends, who seemingly had drifted apart find one another in a moment of . . . well . . . manhood.

Jeremy Kushnier is sublime as Jacob, a man who we can tell at the beginning of the film is just exhausted. We don’t necessarily know why, but the idea of a sorely needed bachelor’s weekend is slowly worked into our vantage point by actor and director Kushnier, respectively. Kushnier plays low key throughout the course of the story as he is suddenly put on the spot to entertain Sandy.

Karl Bury gives one of the most emotionally-driven performances I’ve seen this year. Through the early phases of the film, Sandy is very awkward, trying to grab attention from Jacob. Yet, nothing he shares with Jacob is surprising, given the state of affairs in this country. It is only when Sandy is introduced to people in Jacob’s life, outside of Jacob’s family, that we start to see Sandy finally peel himself out of his shell, creating a really nice twist on what would seem another downtrodden character.

Before I touch on that twist, there’s a moment where Jacob is entertaining his friends, bringing Sandy in to his personal environment. Jacob states that he enjoys hanging out with people younger than he is. As such, his guests spend most of their time on their cell phones, leaving an uncomfortable silence. Sandy suggests Beer Pong, which they all agree to, and in the middle of a match, Sandy recites a story, which at first will sound familiar, but the way its told, the audience will think twice about it (I know I did) and when he’s finally done reciting the story, the reactions of the guests is priceless.

It is this afternoon’s activities that cause a monumental shift in the way the characters are perceived. The way Kushnier builds the story, the way select scenes are staged and shot by DP John L. Murphy, you know that something is brewing and the reveal is finally delivered. There’s a sense of relief and calm, that all is right in the world. Yet, there’s an air of mystery still left when all is said and done,

 Writer/Director Serge Kushnier

Writer/Director Serge Kushnier

And, that’s the beauty of Serge Kushnier’s story. It’s a simply executed story full of witty and dramatic dialog, allowing Jeremy and Karl to deliver two of the most complex and diverse characters I’ve seen in independent cinema since “Black” reconnected with Kevin in “Moonlight”. That’s the level of craftsmanship that Jeremy Kushnier and Karl Bury brought to their characters:  we have little pieces of a puzzle to put together both men’s lives, and yet, when the story is over, the script is flipped and you’re left with a desire to know more. Subtly though, you really don’t need anymore. As I said at the beginning life does indeed find a way through all the chaos.

So too does Serge Kushnier. And brilliantly so.

4 out of 4 stars

Disobedience - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell


Weisz, McAdams and Nivola cope with ‘Disobedience’


Directed by:  Sebastian Lelio

Written by:  Sebastian Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz

Starring:  Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola


“Disobedience” – After zero contact with her family for years and years, Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns to England under gloomy, gray skies to attend her father’s funeral.  Almost everyone treats Ronit with strange, icy disdain and distance, except for her old friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), as she wanders through his home during shiva, a time of mourning.


Esti (Rachel McAdams) greets Ronit as well, but not warmly.  Instead of a hug or embrace, she looks at Ronit and - with a cadence of an overworked Walmart greeter at the end of a 12-hour shift - recites, “May you live a long life.”


Formalities over feelings.


While Ronit has been away, much to her surprise, Dovid and Esti are now married, and she asks if they are happy. 


Dovid replies, “Yes, we are very happy.”


Esti noticeably responds, “Goodnight.”


Esti again speaks with formalities.


This telling moment in “Disobedience” sets the tone for a riveting drama wrapped in mystery and compromise, but ultimately, director Sebastian Lelio’s picture purposely dives into a tug of war between religious traditions and the desire to break from them.  He introduces the audience to a London Orthodox Jewish community, one steeped in rituals that also treats family with the highest importance.  Sure, many other formal social circles do as well, but in this case, one particular person delivers instructions of fidelity and virtue that everyone is expected to follow. 


Ronit’s father, Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser), was this person.


The film establishes that Ronit - sometime in the distant past – became disgruntled with her faith, and her subsequent estrangement is the consequence.  Her family and friends are fully aware of the circumstances surrounding her disobedience, and the screenplay’s slow reveal effectively raises our curiosity about her unexplained truth.


The truth is that Ronit, Esti, Dovid, and others like Uncle Moshe (Allan Corduner) and Aunt Fruma (Bernice Stegers) carry a specific burden, shame or disappointment, and this uncomfortable silence rings loudly, while Lelio’s camera tightly winds through the temple’s hallways and various homes. 


While maneuvering through several indoor locations, it becomes impossible not to notice the director’s fixation on several doors.  Doors open, close and swing back and forth, as they seem to symbolize new possibilities, restrictions or reveal unexpected consequences of unwise actions, respectively.


Although the action moves through familiar constructs, Weisz, McAdams and Nivola drive the narrative with truly exceptional performances in two ways, defined by each half of the film.    During the first 45 minutes, Ronit, Esti and Dovid cope with secrets from the past, as these characters earn our collateral and respect.  We become invested in them, and once light shines on the mystery, our attention is surely steadfast, because their endings are deeply uncertain.   


Ronit’s initial defiance - from so many years ago – certainly engendered a chilly homecoming during her time of bereavement, and a second present-day disobedience clearly is the right path.  Of course, under the weight of family and religious rigors that trump freewill, the right path is not always the easiest choice.


Feelings over formalities.

(3.5/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.


Godard Mon Amour - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

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Godard Mon Amour


Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Starring: Louis Garrel, Stacy Martin, Micha Lescot, and Bérénice Bejo


Trying to understand the mind of an artist, of almost any capacity, is a difficult task. Art is subjective and the determination of whether the artistic creation is worthy of praise can be contentious ground. Film critics, on a weekly basis, provide criticism of the artistic digital medium that is used for both pure entertainment and philosophical engagement. And everyone is right, even when they are wrong, no matter what their opinion is, because art is subjective and the connection an artist makes with their creation is a complicated vessel. This aspect is one of the primary reasons art is so beautiful and why the artist is so fascinating.


Filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, also a film critic in his early career, is one of the masters of cinema and an icon of the French New Wave form of filmmaking. Godard’s catalog is littered with masterpieces, “Contempt”, “Breathless”, “Weekend”, “Alphaville”, “Pierrot le Fou”, and “Band of Outsiders” are just a few of the classics. But the filmmaker, now in his late 80’s, has never stopped utilizing the film medium to express his passion for politics, America, racism, media, religion, and numerous other themes; in fact the director has a film coming later this year. Mr. Godard is an artistic force; defiant, arrogant, confident, compassionate, romantic, stubborn, eccentric; all the terms used to describe the complicated yet also the captivating aspects of art.


Filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius, who directed the Oscar winning film “The Artist”, tackles the complex artist in the new film “Godard Mon Amour”. This film is less about the highlights of Godard’s career and more about the few years when the director was transitioning away from the popular dramas and comedies that had come to define him and more towards films dealing with the uprising happening around the world.


Jean-Luc Godard (Louis Garrel) is living in Paris in 1967, he is idolized by critics, intellectuals, and movie fans for the films that made him an international film icon. During the filming of “La Chinoise”, a film detailing the political tract of Maoism, Godard falls in love with actress Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin) who is sixteen years younger than the director. Anne admires Jean-Luc, she’s as much of a fan of the artist as she is desperately in love with him. As the revolution happening around them begins to consume Jean-Luc, Anne becomes less of a priority.


“Godard Mon Amour” is at times a fascinating and frustrating experience. Godard is an intriguing character study, an artist struggling with the foundation that has come to define his artistic work while also breaking free of preconceptions and making an impact with the artistic tools at his disposal. Calling Godard eccentric is an understatement, the director understands that he was instrumental in revolutionizing cinema and his focus on starting another revolution will not be challenged by any barriers, person or otherwise. This makes Jean-Luc a difficult personality, he seemingly despises anyone who brings up his past work, argues with his critics in public forums, and ridicules his girlfriend Anne when she is not worshipping at his feet.


Actor Louis Garrel is provided the unenviable task of portraying all of this emotion and angst, his performance is over-the-top in argumentative moments yet subdued with glances and glares during moments of self-examination. Stacy Martin plays Anne and does a worthy job of keeping pace with Mr. Garrel, her performance shines brightest in moments when it is just the couple exploring the outlets of their relationship. In one of the best scenes Ms. Martin speaks volumes with her body language during a disastrous car trip.


Godard fans may find frustration with some of the simplistic, lighthearted bits concerning the character composition of the director. While the film is based on the book “Un An Après” written by Anne Wiazemsky during her time with Godard, some of the aspects just never hit the mark. Moments of comedy and drama playing together feel forced and some of the stylings concerning the filmmaking elements, which tries to emulate some of Godard’s more unique touches, comes off pretentious. Conversations about the exploitive nature of nudity while two characters are nude doesn’t connect the way it should and aspects concerning the struggle of the artist, which could have propelled this film into something more meaningful, are never completely examined.


“Godard Mon Amour” may be a treat for those new to the auteur, but those familiar with the works of the cinematic groundbreaker will be left wanting to revisit the original works from the acclaimed director. That may not be a bad outcome.


Monte’s Rating

3.00 out of 5.00

Locating Silver Lake - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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Locating Silver Lake


Director: Eric Bilitch

Writer: Eric Bilitch

Starring: Josh Peck, Amaury Nolasco, Valerie Cruz, Aubrey Peeples, Finn Wittrock


“There’s a world outside every darkened door

Where blues won’t haunt you anymore

Where brave are free and lovers soar

Come ride with me to the distant shore.” ~ ‘Life Is a Highway,’ Tom Cochrane

We understand so very little about the human brain, yet one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves is the ability to begin again; to start over. This is not a religious statement, but a statement about the human condition that allows us the mental freedom to reset ourselves.

In the case of writer-director Eric Bilitch’s “Locating Silver Lake,’ Daniel (Josh Peck, “Red Dawn (2012)”) is forced to begin again as life is just supposed to be starting. As friends are starting college in different cities or taking a job and moving on with their lives, Daniel finds himself on a road trip to Los Angeles.

As a writer, Daniel moves forward with a sense of purpose, but has no real destination in mind. Yes, I mentioned he physically ends up in Los Angeles, but a writer needs inspiration to create something, otherwise the blank white screen of a Microsoft Word document looks very, very lonely. Mr. Bilitch is keen to bring Daniel into LA as a virgin, which is important because Daniel doesn’t believe he can make friends, or start over.

To that end, Mr. Bilitch surrounds Daniel with people from all walks of life. One of the most critical is Jose (Amaury Nolasco), who has a unit available in his two-unit bungalow. The catch is that the bungalow is in the barrio, something that makes small-town Daniel uncomfortable. As Daniel’s journey progresses, Mr. Bilitch’s witty dialog and the interactions between Mr. Nolasco and Mr. Peck make you feel as if Daniel is a part of la familia.

The next door neighbor is Luisa (Valerie Cruz). She is a divorcee with two young boys. This is the second layer on Daniel’s journey. Between Luisa and Jose, Daniel learns to accept who he is; something that he could not do on his own. Together, they force him out of his enclave and into the real world, to socialize.

There’s a scene after Daniel establishes himself in which Jose and his crew are sitting around a fire pit, enjoying carnitas. They invite Daniel to join them on the condition that he play them a tune on his guitar. Whether it was Mr. Peck’s performance or Mr. Bilitch’s story and direction, in that poignant moment, we see Daniel’s soul poured out.

This is all in service of the third layer in Daniel’s journey. On his first night out, he awkwardly tries to order a drink at a bar, but to no avail. In a flash of brilliance, the noble laureate poet Seth swoops in, his eyes on fire with wild abandon, but also a purpose. Finn Wittrock plays Seth with a playfulness that matches Daniel’s forlorn nature. Mr. Bilitch imbues both characters with a sense of purpose, one driven towards an ultimate goal, the other with more focus.

In each of his journey’s layers, Daniel meets someone who could potentially be a love interest or a friend. It takes a spark to ignite the senses, especially in matters of love. There’s no greater spark for love than danger, and Mr. Bilitch inserts Talya (Aubrey Peeples) into this equation.

It is this balance between the characters and the layers of Daniel’s journey that make Mr. Bilitch’s story so appealing and earned the film a place in the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival’s Narrative Feature Film competition.

Ultimately, Mr. Bilitch’s story is about finding oneself and acknowledging our faults as a way of moving forward. Daniel’s resolution is as much about himself as it is the world and the people around him. As he’s locating Silver Lake, he’s finding himself.

And that’s a journey well worth taking.

3.5 out of 4 stars


Wildling - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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Directed by Fritz Bohm

Written by Fritz Bohm and Florian Eder

Starring Bel Powley, Brad Dourif, Liv Tyler, Collin Kelly-Sordelet, James LeGros, Mike Faist, Troy Ruptash


I am in the middle of a quandary. On one side, coming of age stories are a dime a dozen. It’s not to say that there aren’t good coming of age stories, but they are far and few between. On the other side, I grew up not liking horror films, so I actively avoided most of them. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate the stories they tell, but the younger version of me is still apprehensive.

Fortunately, movies provide a safe environment in which storytellers can explore the genre and I can safely watch them (and let my wild imagination go., well . . . wild.) What I didn’t expect was an effort to combine the two genres together in Fritz Bohm’s “Wildling”.

What caught my attention with this film was its premise. Anna has spent most of her life locked in an attic and attended to by a man she refers to as “Daddy.” As the story begins, we know that her captivity is not normal nor is “Daddy’s” treatment of her. She is prone to nightmares of something called the Wildling that lives in the forest surrounding their house and “Daddy” does his best to keep her fears at bay.

As the story progresses Anna, who is played by Bel Powley knows there is a symbolism to her dreams. Horror favorite Brad Dourif plays “Daddy.” The script by Bohm and Florian Eder establishes their relationship, but also provides a counterbalance for the end of the film. As Anna breaks out of her prison, she is introduced to modern life, having been taken in by a local sheriff, Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler).

It is as she learns to integrate into society that Anna learns her true nature. Bohm and Eder are careful to transition the caretaker role from a father figure, who you might say was abusive beyond the captivity aspect, to a mother figure who tried to nurture Anna. A nice counterbalance to this nurture theme is the inclusion of a rebellious teenaged son, Ray (Collin Kelly-Sordelet). For Anna, her emotions and bodily functions start to take hold, with murderous consequences.

This transition period sets us up for a fantastical third act in which Anna battles the old guard, who were meant to protect Anna from herself. It was a bold choice to allow Anna to develop as the character did, both in exposition and in terms of special effects. As stunning as her transformation becomes, the story falters, leaving the third act to be more of an afterthought than a satisfying conclusion.

I give props for Mr. Bohm and Mr. Eder for even trying something like this. It’s themes parallel society’s struggles for equality and its disdain for torture. I appreciated the performances and the camerawork, especially when Brad Dourif was on screen.

As I write this and I think about it, some of the best coming of age stories use the horror genre and successfully. This is a bold attempt at telling the story from a female protagonist’s point of view, one that I’m happy was screened at the recently concluded International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival, part of the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival. It doesn’t entirely succeed, and it didn’t need to either. It makes its statement successfully enough that we are entertained by its themes.

2.75 out of 4 stars

The Rider - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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The Rider


Directed by Chloe Zhao

Written by Chloe Zhao

Starring Brady Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lane Scott, Cat Clifford


Chloe Zhao’s second film, “The Rider” is as much an examination of family dynamics as it is the drive of the human spirit. It premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival where Sony Pictures Classics acquired the film.

Ms. Zhao’s film is centered around a young man, Brady Blackburn who is driven to be a rodeo champion. An accident during a rodeo causes him to fall off of his horse resulting in a serious injury to his brain. His recovery from that injury is the basis for this compelling story.

There are many compelling reasons to watch this film. None is more remarkable than the fact that Ms. Zhao was able to cast untrained actors in their respective roles. Brady’s struggle to recover and his desire to get back into the saddle is a compelling enough reason to watch this story unfold. Ms. Zhao layered in Brady’s real life family members into the film in an effort to heighten the drama and the emotional impact of Brady’s story.

As he is recovering, his family is suffering. His dad, Wayne is an alcoholic and is barely making ends meet. Wayne is played by Tim Jandreau, Brady’s real-life dad. Brady’s sister Lilly is in need of constant support as she lives with Down syndrome. Lilly is played by Brady’s real-life sister, Lilly Jandreau.

Ms. Zhao’s story is full of many poignant moments which characterize his internal struggle as well as his physical struggle. One of the side effects of the brain injury is uncontrolled spasms. We are witness to one such event during the course of the film; the physicality of the spasm is so visceral.

On the other side of the spectrum, family and friends are as important to his recovery as they are to the story. There’s a scene in the middle of the film where Brady and his friends are sitting around a campfire, under the open night skies. The scene concerns itself with his friends’ desires to see the best for him. But Brady has other ideas. Cinematographer Joshua James Richards and Ms. Zhao exemplify Brady’s desires with brilliant night sky full of stars.

The campfire scene is a turning point in the story as Brady realizes that he must take action for the family. And that’s the crux of the story – his struggle to adapt between his desires and his responsibilities.

The ever vibrant Lilly questions something at one point and Brady responds. As this interaction occurs where you can see a fiery spirit in Lilly; her eyes say so much and I wanted nothing more than to hug her as I watched the film. I appreciated her independence and her thirst for knowledge. More importantly, he recognized that he needed to take care of himself so that he could be there for his sister in the future.

I had a chance to sit down with Brady at this year’s South by Southwest. His demeanor is as fiery in person as it is on screen; we’re getting the real Brady. Knowing this, his struggle to want to recover so that he can get back into the saddle is so much more personal. Ms. Zhao’s confidence in this story and her cast also serve to paint an authentic picture of life in South Dakota’s Sioux community.

Brady’s story is the very essence of humanity and humility and Ms. Zhao perfectly captures that essence through desire, responsibility, struggle and ultimately, family. During this hero’s journey, you are empathetic, but you never pity Brady’s struggles because his indomitable spirit and his courage to persevere represent the best human traits.

4 out of 4 stars

Backstabbing for Beginners - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell


‘Backstabbing for Beginners’ lacks advanced nuance


Directed by:  Per Fly

Written by:  Per Fly and Daniel Pyne, based on the book by Michael Soussan

Starring:  Theo James, Ben Kingsley, Jacqueline Bisset, and Belcim Bilgin



“Backstabbing for Beginners” – “It’s like a surprise party without the cake.”


A character in the big screen adaptation of Michael Soussan’s memoir of the same name utters the aforementioned line during the third act, but this particular quote might sum up one’s experience with this 1-hour 48-minute movie.  Actually, that is not accurate, because “Backstabbing for Beginners” – a recounting of Soussan’s experience with the United Nation’s Oil-for-Food Programme just prior to and also during the 2003 Iraq War - does not include many surprises, and it does not feel like a party.  


Theo James – probably best known as Four from the “Divergent” trilogy -  plays Michael Sullivan (not Soussan), a highly competent 24-year-old upstart who interviews for and then lands a special assistant position, reporting to a United Nations undersecretary general named Pasha (Ben Kingsley) who oversees the famous or infamous (depending upon your point of view) programme.


Sullivan, an idealist who aspires to make a difference, dives - straight away - into the job but quickly learns his boundaries from Pasha, whose frequent and curt curses straighten the new diplomat’s spine.  Although Sullivan needs to hear tough talk, because Pasha places him on a plane to Baghdad to help ensure Oil-for-Food continues its funding for the next 180-day cycle. 


Pasha bends rules and ignores pleasantries but admittedly stays within the lanes of acceptability, relatively speaking.  Certainly, the programme distributes food to hungry Iraqi people but also includes litters of kickbacks along every stop in a silent case of whatever happens in Baghdad stays in Baghdad.


The film centers around Sullivan’s moral compass and how far will it remain north, as he experiences corrupt commerce in the Middle East. 


Now, a few specific personalities enter his life - a questionable Russian irritant, Rasnetsov (Brian Markinson), a beautiful local ally, Nashim (Belcim Bilgin), and Pasha’s rival, Christina Dupre (Jacqueline Bisset), who wishes to see the programme end - but from the moment that each character steps into the audience’s view, their individual story arcs become painfully obvious. 


This 20-something wonderkid - who can whip up a 75-page report in less than a day and speak in front of the United Nations like the leader of the free world - sometimes successfully cuts through the designed smokescreens, but then completely misses others.  Meanwhile, any novice “Law & Order” fan can repeatedly predict the various backstabs 20 minutes before they strike.  Rather than claim victory for every correct guess, an air of boredom may unfortunately enter your personal space. 


Even though the events may be true via Soussan’s book, the conversational pacing does not translate very well on-screen.  Sure, diplomats do not usually concoct the thrills of your everyday secret agent, but typing up reports, inspecting food containers and navigating through very few key characters - who telegraph their every move to the audience - are not exactly ingredients for cinematic success. 


Writer/director Per Fly does not really give James much to do either.  Then again, although the actor’s eyes are wide with curiosity throughout Sullivan’s journey, his monotone energy does not help lift the film.  An even keel temperament may be a great skill for a diplomat, but not necessarily for a lead protagonist delving into bureaucratic corruption.  For some unknown reason, Fly decided that James should also narrate the picture, but the frequent guided expositions feel unnecessary.


Well, at least we know Michael’s name, because James – as the narrator – states, “My name is Michael Sullivan,” about three times.  Hey, if we had any doubt, right?


“Backstabbing for Beginners” does offer insight into a regrettable period in Iraq, but as a film, it is rightfully named.  The predictably-written characters and their conflicts never come close to raising the material into intriguing advanced nuance, and given the subject matter, they really should.  


Maybe I’ll buy the book.

(1.5/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.




Avengers: Infinity War - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

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Avengers: Infinity War


Director: Anthony and Joe Russo

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlet Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo, Chadwick Boseman, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Dave Bautista, Anthony Mackie, and Josh Brolin


In 2008 Marvel Studios released “Iron Man” and the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was launched. The film, directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey Jr. as the eccentric Tony Stark, can be seen as the movie responsible for changing the landscape of the modern superhero franchise. What Marvel has done over the last 10 years is craft a series of films that have brought solo hero stories to the screen while also supplying films for all the heroes to interact. These stories and characters have always been treated as puzzle pieces, “Avengers: Infinity War” is the final piece of a ten year puzzle of world building.


Anthony and Joe Russo are the directors behind this superhero extravagance that features nearly every hero that has graced the screen since 2008. It’s an amazing sight to see so many characters interact with one another, especially during the big action sequences that offer prime opportunity for the characters to display what makes them “super”. With so much going on in the near 150 minutes of film here, “Avengers: Infinity War” does its best to tie up loose ends and open a new chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Earth has seen its fair share of threats from villains both local and intergalactic, however at every turn of near world destruction, The Avengers have been the force to reckon with. But things have become more complex for the team. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and outlaw Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) are still at odds, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) are working together somewhere in space, and in other hero news Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is still in high school, King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is making changes in Wakanda, and the Guardians of the Galaxy are trying their best to make an honest living. What ties all these heroes together is a common foe, the evil titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) who is making his way to Earth with a powerful weapon that could destroy half of all existence.


In the 10 years that Marvel has been crafting storylines for all these characters, the constant through line seen with small clues or post credit scenes has been aimed at tying the worlds together and bringing all these characters into one story. The villain Thanos serves as the key tie that binds. Marvel has always had a difficult time crafting villains, however the CGI constructed Thanos provides some interesting characteristics that serve in creating a troubled humanity for the dominating antagonist. Thanos, voiced with bravado by Josh Brolin, has come to the conclusion that he is the weapon of balance for all existence, it’s a concept that Thanos has accepted wholeheartedly. Thanos is the most complicated character in this story.


While this composition of the adversary is important, especially for this film, it’s equally as important for the heroes to have the same detail. Tony Stark has been struggling for some time with the ultimate threat that he knows is coming to Earth, Steve Rogers understands that war comes with consequence and sacrifice, and Thor has lived lifetimes guarding realms fighting against their own demise. This quality of making humans out of superheroes is what Marvel has done best, which makes it somewhat surprising that “Avengers: Infinity War” struggles with finding that balance of emotion and spectacle in the film. Viewers know that this film is the changing of the tide; the heroes we have grown to love over the last 10 years may not be standing at the end of this film. The emphasis on Thanos as a legitimate threat is present from the beginning but the emotional turmoil for the lives of these characters never comes through with the kind of impact that it should have. With so many characters to find space for, the emotional punches seem pulled, or better yet, glazed over. With the exception of one scene which helps to further shape the idea of Thanos’ purpose, characters are here one moment and simply gone the next.


All the previous movies have established a foundation, one that firmly allows “Avengers: Infinity War” to build upon. This is especially clear in the maneuvering of characters throughout the film; it all fits so nicely when Thor meets the Guardians or when Iron Man meets Dr. Strange. Every character is nicely paired with the attitude and charisma that allows for good banter and interesting contrast of skills. Add Thanos’ serious demeanor to the mix and the heroes shine even brighter when forced to compete with the villain.


The highlight for this film is the undeniable spectacle taking place, it’s exciting and breathtaking watching your favorite Marvel characters fight together on the screen. The Russo Brothers have been building bigger action moments with every film that they compose, this film is their pinnacle for action.


“Avengers: Infinity War” is big and boisterous in all the ways one might expect, unfortunately the drama of all the chaos doesn’t add up towards as satisfying of an emotional finale as one might expect. There is more to come from the Marvel Cinematic Universe of course, and maybe the pieces left unsatisfied here will all be corrected when the saga continues. Still, this is a summer blockbuster movie that is sure to please dedicated fans.


Monte’s Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

An interview with the team behind "The Best People" by Jeff Mitchell

Interview with “The Best People” writer Selina Ringel and director Dan Levy Dagerman by Jeff Mitchell


 From Left PFF Exec Director Jason Carney, The Best People writer Selina Ringel, The Best People Director Dan Levy Dagerman, PFF Program Director Greg Hall

From Left PFF Exec Director Jason Carney, The Best People writer Selina Ringel, The Best People Director Dan Levy Dagerman, PFF Program Director Greg Hall

The 2018 Phoenix Film Festival proudly screened “The Best People”, a comedy/drama about a couple’s engagement that frustrates the bride-to-be’s sister and the groom-to-be’s friend.  The minds behind this intriguing festival competition film are writer Selina Ringel and director Dan Levy Dagerman, who founded a production company, Two Hands Productions, and are also happily married!


Selina and Dan are keeping a busy schedule these days.  "The Best People" is stopping at WorldFest-Houston on the festival circuit.  Shoreline Entertainment (a sales agent) picked up "The Best People" for worldwide sales, and Selina and Dan graciously found time to speak with the Phoenix Film Festival!  


We discussed the film’s tone, insight into the characters, Selina’s and Dan’s wedding song, and much more!


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PFF:  “The Best People” is a comedy, but it definitely weaves darker themes too.  How did you settle on the film’s tones?


SR:  Comedy comes from real pain, so we really wanted to be honest with everybody’s pain place.  I think the funnier comedies that we enjoy come from honest pain places, and the characters (need) to figure out how to (overcome them).



PFF:  The cast did a great job, especially Anna Evelyn who plays the older sister Anna.  She has terrific comedic gifts but also handles the dramatic moments in a very believable way. 


SR:  Our cast was phenomenal, and the actors were named after their own names, because I wrote the parts with them in mind, not (the actors’) personalities, (but) their voices.  So, I wrote (the screenplay) with how I think they speak, because I knew I wanted those actors to play those roles.  



PFF:  Claire (Claire Donald) and Johnny (Johnny Cannizzaro) probably had one of the most miserable engagement announcements in recent movie-memory, no thanks to Anna and Johnny’s friend, Art (Arthur Napiontek).  Claire and Johnny are nice people, and they treat each other with respect.  They are not too young to get married, but Anna and Art definitely have a problem with this future union.  What makes their relationship such a threat to Anna and Art?


SR:  Anna and Art are both very lonely people who are having a really hard time figuring out their own lives.  Claire and Johnny are the last thread of what is working (for them).  For Anna, Claire is the one relationship that she can count on.  In Anna’s and Art’s minds, (these two) getting married is the loss of one thing too many.  They just can’t handle one more thing to not be working for them.




PFF:  Instead of present day, if the film took place in the 1950s, would Anna and Art be more outwardly supportive of Claire and Johnny?


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DLD:  They would have to be supportive on the surface (to) fall into the norms (of society).  Here in this world, they were sort of rushing into a (marriage), so Anna and Art were able to pick at (Claire’s and Johnny’s) relationship more.  (In the 1950’s), they couldn’t take such an issue, at least externally.



PFF:  Claire and Johnny seem like a healthy couple, with the possible exception of their pet names for each other (in which other characters in the film find them difficult to listen to).  Although, I’ve thought up pet names as well.  Most of us have.


Conversely, Anna is running through men a bit, starting – in the opening scene - with a guy at the bar who was labeled Prison Break Guy.  Is there truth to positive energy attracts positive energy and negative energy attracts negative energy?


SR:  First, all the pet names are real.  So, every single pet name between Claire and Johnny is a real one that we (Selina and Dan) have for each other.  The names are pretty crazy, there’s “Goosemonster”, there’s “Egg Nog Latte”.  There’s really, really weird stuff in there, (and it’s) definitely all real.  


As far as energy goes, I definitely think that where you are in life energetically attracts (likeminded) people.  Always.  Anna is attracting a certain kind of person.  She (doesn’t wish) to sit with herself, because she is having such a hard time with her feelings.  She also (takes) a lot of different types of drugs, sleeps with different men, drinks when she can, so she is (practicing) escapism (whenever) possible.  (These behaviors take) different forms throughout the movie, until she can come to terms with the fact that she doesn’t want to live like that any (longer).



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PFF:  If friends or family aren’t supportive of a marriage, should they just go along with it, or should they step up and make their opinions known?  What’s the right approach?


SR:  Oh, that’s really tough.  It depends on the situation.  If one person is cheating on the other, and you know that, it might be a situation (where) it is your (place) to say something.   On the other hand, a lot of couples fight all the time, and that’s how they live, in a dramatic up-and-down (way).  It’s tough to watch your friends get married in that situation, but at the same time, that might be (their) lifestyle choice. 


It depends on how close you are to the people getting married and if your actions are selfless or selfish.  If you are stepping in to help, then I think it’s sometimes okay to (speak up) without saying that you shouldn’t marry this person. 


It’s (better) to say, “Look, this is what’s happening. You should just really think about it, but I’m here to accept whatever decision (that) you make.” 



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PFF:  Is an older sister’s jealousy over a younger sister’s impending marriage a real thing with sisters in general?


SR:  I think that it’s really, really hard when the younger sister gets married before the older sister in most situations, but it depends upon the degree of the older sister’s journey in what she wants her life to be.  For example, if Anna had a great job, a great boyfriend and was probably going to get engaged soon, Claire’s engagement would be a little weird, but it wouldn’t be the same.  In this film, Anna is really lost in all aspects of her life, so Claire’s engagement makes it a lot harder for her to (cope). 



PFF:  Did you play with lighting to track Anna’s mood during the film?


DLD:  For sure.  We played with lighting and Anna’s wardrobe.  In the beginning, she was more disheveled, and then as the story evolves, she got herself more put together. 



PFF:  Anna has a conversation with her father.  Was this a moment when she begins to see clarity?


DLD:  Yea, that is definitely the turning point with Anna, and she starts to understand others’ perspectives and (begins) to mature a little bit.



PFF:  Do you think that Anna will straighten out her life in the future and could she look to Claire for help?


DLD:  I think she will and will use Claire.  The story brings them together.  Anna feels that she can count on and trust Claire, and they will get closer.  Will Anna change?  She learns a lot and changes a little bit, but it’s a question of how long that will last.



PFF:  “99 Luftballoons” is a notable song in the film.  Is that one of your favorites, and did you have a favorite song at your wedding?


DLD:  We had a couple different wedding songs.  “Home” (by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros) and “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley.  


For “99 Luftballoons”, we wanted a really recognizable song, and we thought it really fit, however we only have festival rights for (it).  We had to replace it, when we got into the distribution-mode.  Now, we have a great song called “Romanticise” by Chela. 


SR:  The festivals will still have “99 Luftballoons”.



Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.

Super Troopers 2 - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

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‘Super Troopers 2’ is worth the wait


Directed by:  Jay Chandrasekhar

Written by:  Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske, Kevin Heffernan

Starring:  Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske, Kevin Heffernan, Brian Cox, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Rob Lowe, Will Sasso, and Lynda Carter


“Super Troopers 2” – More often than not, comedy sequels are not as funny as the originals, and one can point to many, many examples.  This is not a universal law, like the inevitability of death, taxes and hitting every red light when running late, but the list of films is lengthy. 


“Airplane II: The Sequel” (1982), “Ghostbusters II” (1989), “Grumpier Old Men” (1995), “Meet the Fockers” (2004), and “The Hangover Part II” (2011) are just a few that semi-infamously stand out.


Regardless of the script, movie audiences can still give these films a chance, because they offer golden opportunities to experience additional adventures of beloved celluloid characters, like Ted Striker, Dr. Peter Venkman, Max Goldman, John Gustafson, Jack Byrnes, and Alan, respectively.   Then again, if the actors – who play these characters – don’t return for a second appearance, disaster can strike.  “Caddyshack II” (1988) – minus Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray - is one of the best-known fiascos.    


“Super Troopers 2” is no fiasco, and in fact, quite the opposite.  Seventeen years after “Super Troopers” (2001), these five slacker Vermont Highway Patrol officers – Thorny (Jay Chandrasekhar), Mac (Steve Lemme), Foster (Paul Soter), Rabbit (Erik Stolhanske), and Farva (Kevin Heffernan) – and their misadventures are back with “Super Troopers 2”.  Yes, the gang, including Captain O’Hagan (Brian Cox), Governor Jessman (Lynda Carter), and Ursula (Marisa Coughlan), return to the big screen, and yes, their sequel is funnier than the first movie.


Even though almost two decades have come and gone in real time, the film takes place only a few years after “Super Troopers”.   We discover that the boys have collectively found a very different career after a “forced retirement”…due to an unfortunate off-screen incident.  Their time away from law enforcement, however, is short-lived, because Governor Jessman asks them to help manage a border dispute between Vermont and the Province of Quebec.


Naturally, the five and Chief O’Hagan clash with a rival police force, the Canadian Mounties, and comedic mayhem and mischief ensues. 


Since the Troopers enjoy a built-in audience, Chandrasekhar’s, Lemme’s, Soter’s, Stolhanske’s, and Heffernan’s challenge was to write a funny script while also balancing the familiar quirks of their characters without the gags becoming overly repetitive.  Four of the five officers – Thorny, Mac, Foster, and Rabbit – still banter like close high school buddies, who look for the next prank or bout with foolishness. 


The fifth, Farva, continues his lone irritant persona, like a porcupine on speed. 


His rapid-fire – but sometimes strangely innocent – social commentary pokes and pricks everyone in his path, and he delivers the most quotable lines in both movies.  As much as Farva aggravates his colleagues, his chief and Canadians in general, Heffernan’s seminal character and his associated adolescent buffoonery are comedic joys to watch.  When he is not on-screen, you might find yourself anticipating and hoping for Farva’s latest analysis on dating, Canadian culture and liters of cola.  Chandrasekhar – who also directed the film –  includes enough of Heffernan’s antics without making it “The Farva Show”.   Trooper fans will leave the theatre more than satisfied with Farvaisms and not overwhelmed by them.  What is that old saying?  Leave them wanting more. 


Speaking of more, the U.S. vs. Canada ethos entanglement truly is the new and key element that delivers a freshness to the sequel.  Complaints about the metric system, pronunciation of basic words, debates about universal healthcare, and obsessions with hockey are constant sources for humor.  The five Vermont Highway Patrol officers plus Chief O’Hagan dive headfirst into the lowbrow fun, but they absolutely meet their matches with a local Canadian mayor (Rob Lowe) and three Mounties hilariously played by Hayes MacArthur, Tyler Labine and Will Sasso. 


The laughs are not exclusively reserved for American law enforcement, as the Canadian Mounties deliver equal amounts of funny barbs and insults towards the Troopers.  In the first film, the rival police officers from Spurbury were a faceless collection of jerks, sans Ursula (Coughlan), of course.  Here, the Mounties are petulant, but also deliver entertaining one liners, including a bit about Danny DeVito that will leave television aficionados very amused. 


No, “Super Troopers 2” will not win any Academy Awards.  It will not please your grandparents and has no aims to split the atom, but that’s not the intention here.  The Broken Lizard comedy troupe (Chandrasekhar, Lemme, Foster, Stolhanske, and Heffernan) – who met in college in the 1980s – stay within their lanes and deliver a sidesplitting adventure for their fans and/or anyone who enjoys movie experiences like the “Jackass” films, “Dumb and Dumber” (1994) and “Airplane” (1980).   This film is the best effort from the Broken Lizard team yet, with “Beerfest” (2006) and the original “Super Troopers” (2001) rounding out the top three.   Although Heffernan’s Farva does mow down the audience with the biggest belly laughs, all of the guys certainly get their moments in the sun too. 


These old friends are also friendly faces for their fans (full disclosure: including this film critic), and “Super Trooper 2” offers an aforementioned golden opportunity to see your favorite Vermont Highway Patrol officers wrapped in 1 hour and 40 minutes of American and Canadian flags and beautiful absurdity.   This movie is worth the wait, but here’s hoping that “Super Troopers 3” arrives sooner than 2035.  No pressure.  

(3/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.


Final Portrait - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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Final Portrait


Directed by Stanley Tucci

Written by Stanley Tucci

Starring Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Clemence Posey, Tony Shalhoub, James Faulkner, Slyvie Testud


Searching for the meaning in life affects us all, especially artists who are always trying to capture something at its best. For famed painter Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), it is about finding just the right stroke of the paintbrush. No better place exists to do that than in Paris where in 1964, Giacometti convinces his old friend, American critic James Lord (Armie Hammer) to delay his return to the United States to model for Giacometti’s latest portrait.

Stanley Tucci’s touching story of friendship, love and most of all, art, sees an audience exercising as much patience as Lord must have exerted while he modeled for Giacometti in 1964. Or Hammer for this film. The beauty is in the humanity between two old friends, as we explore Giacometti’s idiosyncracies and his drab, slate grey surroundings. This is perhaps the starkest, yet calming reminder of the chaos and patience each friend had to express during the creation of the artist’s last masterpieces.

Even those in his life, his wife Caroline (Clemence Poesy) have trouble working through Giacometti’s chaos. His biggest champion and biggest disappointment is his brother, Diego (Tony Shalhoub). Yet, they share a common humor; they see the world for what it is, not what they want it to be, ultimately causing Lord to see the painful beauty of the chaos.

I got the sense that Stanley Tucci enjoyed torturing Armie during the production. I’ve seen Mr. Hammer speak publicly and he is very poised; the perfect subject for an extended painting. Where I think Mr. Hammer delivers on his performance is in his roguish humor or cheekiness. As Giacometti constantly utters profanities when he messes up, Mr. Rush and Mr. Hammer have glints of humor in each of their eyes: each is enjoying the others idiosyncratic nature.

There’s a scene early in the film where they are dining together and, Mr. Rush plays an ‘older character’, rough around the edges. As such, he plays “rough-around-the-edges” so very well, while he imbibes exceptionally fast while shunning his meal. All the while, Mr. Hammer is enjoying is bottle of Coca Cola. Through this interaction, we get a sense of where each of the friends stands; the level of commitment each has to the other. They find one another frustrating, but they realize they need each other.

There is a purpose in the flow of the film, adding a layer of frustration while watching the film. Like a fine painting or a glass of wine, it takes time to come to mature. I actually enjoyed seeing two friends enjoy one another’s company, a family that cares for one another even if they cannot stand one another as they use humor to diffuse the frustration; Geoffrey Rush is a genius at swearing at the right tempo. It’s not enough to distract you, but it will make you laugh.

I saw this at SXSW and it played to a sold-out crowd at the recently-concluded Phoenix Film Festival. It isn’t for everyone, but the cast, the deliberate pace and the comradery caught me up in the films’ charm.

3.5 out of 4


Interview with the cast of Super Troopers 2 by Jeff Mitchell

Interview with the “Super Troopers 2” cast



Your five favorite Vermont Highway Patrol officers are back!  Yes, Thorny (Jay Chandrasekhar), Mac (Steve Lemme), Foster (Paul Soter), Rabbit (Erik Stolhanske), and Farva (Kevin Heffernan) return to the big screen in “Super Troopers 2”, the sequel to the 2001 cult comedy hit. 


In this film, Governor Jessman (Lynda Carter) pulls the guys out of their “forced retirement” to help manage a border dispute between Vermont and the Province of Quebec, and they inevitably clash with three Canadian Mounties. 

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The Troopers stopped in the Valley for a “Super Troopers 2” screening, and the next day Lemme, Soter, Stolhanske, and Heffernan sat down with the Phoenix Film Festival and two other movie critics for a fun and lively group interview. 


These personable comedians – who met in college and formed the Broken Lizard comedy troupe - talked about American/Canadian banter, wanting to make a great sequel, their writing process, and Heffernan’s law degree.  Yes, the man who plays Farva is a lawyer!


“Super Troopers 2” also stars Brian Cox, Will Sasso, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Rob Lowe, and the film arrives in theatres on Friday, April 20.



Q:  Do you believe that “Super Troopers” fans have a stake in wanting the sequel to be great?


KH:  There’s a lot of pressure.  Are people going to like this movie or not?  There are so many fans of the first one, (they don’t want us) to screw it up.  It’s like a wedding toast situation.  They want you to succeed.  They are on your side.  They are like family, so we can (put ourselves out there) and hopefully not screw it up. 


PS:  Our fans have never been shy about saying what they feel.  We’ve shown (this) movie a few times, and people are so positive, so I really believe that they (are/will be) satisfied. 


SL:  You feel a sense of relief.  (Our fans) say this across the board: “I just didn’t want it to suck.”  Thankfully, it doesn’t.  A lot of people are saying that it’s as good as the first one, maybe better. 


PS:  Certainly, we spent a lot of time on both scripts, but what I like here is we spent more time thinking about what makes a good story.  You look at the first (film), and I think that we all admit, it was an excuse (to create) set piece after set piece, but we really wanted (the sequel) to be an interesting story.  We have this cool hook about a chunk of Canada (involved in a border dispute).  


SL: Let’s face it, we made a great movie!



Q:  Canadian culture is a predominant topic in the film.  Did you research what it means to be Canadian?  


KH:  There are times we’d go (to Canada) to have fun, like Montreal for the Just for Laughs Festival and (observe) the funny (cultural) elements.  French Canadians don’t want to speak English to you.  There are (others) who are gruff, and you think of Canadians as nice people.  So, we thought it would be a cool area to (explore) and have some fun.


SL:  Plus, (The U.S. and Canada) are neighbors, and we know nothing about each other, truthfully.  We were in Calgary and met a Canadian guy.  We asked him, “How many states do we have, and he responded, ‘I don’t know, 48?’” 


We thought, “That’s a ridiculous answer, and he asked, ‘How many provinces are in Canada?’” 


I said, “I don’t know.  What’s a province?”


In the movie, we are the ones who come over the border and make fun of them, but (the script) gets flipped immediately, and we become the bad guys.   Our philosophy is (to) never be mean-spirited.  So, we joke about how silly Canada is, but we set ourselves up intentionally to have Canadians smear us all over the place. 



Q:  What do you enjoy about playing these characters?


KH:  A lot of our (work) is based on being friends first.  (Our) philosophy is:  we are going to (tap into) this world, and you (will) hang out and be happy.  We’re having a good time and so (will you).    


SL:  We’ll write a scene where (our characters) are joking around and having fun with each other, and then there’s the one assh*le who everybody has in their workplace.  (The person who will) ruin everyone’s time.  That’s this guy (Steve points to Kevin).  So, (if we have) any obnoxious, non-PC lines, we just pop them into Farva’s mouth.


KH:  But you still like me!


SL:  But we still like you.


PS:  You’re loveable.


SL:  And now we (also) have a French-Canadian version of Farva!  (Paul Walter Hauser - who played Shawn Eckardt in “I, Tonya” (2017) - appears in “Super Trooper 2”.)


KH:  I did a live comedy show with (Paul), and we were trying to cast a Canadian Farva.  (Paul) is fantastic and (put him in contact) with our casting director.  We did “Super Troopers 2”, and then “I, Tonya” was casting their movie.  We had the same casting director, and he got the part!



Q:  So, Rabbit gets a love interest in “Super Troopers 2”. 


ES:  It’s about time, right?



Q:  Did you all draw straws to determine who gets a movie-girlfriend?


ES:  No, I demanded it!


SL:  You know, when we made our first movie, all of the guys wanted to do a love scene.   Now, it’s the last thing that I want to do. 



Q:  Is there a girl out there for Farva?


KH:  I don’t know, we talked about that.  Maybe in “Super Troopers 3”, Farva finds love.  In this movie, I locked lips with Lemme, so I’ll stay with Mac.


PS:  If you are going to (be) romantic, sure, why not with a guy who you know?



Q:  How does the writing process work?  How do you bring it all together?


PS:  In “Super Troopers 2”, the world was already built.  In every phase of the writing, (we) are always throwing out bits or comedy that (are kept) off to the side.  When we build the structure of the storytelling, then we (add) as much comedy as we can.


SL:  The French-Canadian Farva is a good example.  He first existed in dialogue, but we wanted to actually see this guy, (so) we wrote him into one scene.  We loved (Paul’s) audition tape so much, we (thought that) American Farva and Canadian Farva should (also) meet up at some point.  Each draft, you come up with three, five, ten new jokes that make the script better.


ES:  You have to form an alliance, because you (need) “three of the five” on your side to get a joke approved.  Sometimes, you have to act it out.  If you are really passionate about a joke, you have to (perform it) and sell it.  


PS:  You can also sabotage a joke, by reading it in a sh*tty voice. 


(Paul then recites a line in a whinny voice for us.) 


Then the (writer) will say, “Well, when you read it like that, Assh*le, of course it’s not funny.” 


ES:  That’s the best way to sabotage!


SL:  When you get into these creative disputes, you (sometimes) just want to win a fight.  (Two guys) get (their) heels dug in and go toe-to-toe, while the (other) three will just sit back, watch and smirk.


PS:  There’s nothing more fun than watching two guys fight (over a bit).  You don’t want to get involved.  Just sit back and eat popcorn. 



Q:  Now, Kevin, you have a law degree and passed the bar in two states.


KH:  I did!  Yea, two states.



Q:  If you pursued a legal career full-time and never joined Broken Lizard, how would you feel about watching the other guys in these movies?


KH:  I’d feel like they needed a Farva!


PS:  Everybody needs a Farva!



Q:  Did you guys think about other careers before joining Broken Lizard?


SL:  I don’t know what else I’d do.  I had a desk job for one month.


ES:  I’m not qualified for anything else.


PH:  You guys could come work for me at the law firm, if you want.  Make some copies!



Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.