CAGED NO MORE

Opens tomorrow (1/22/16) in NYC. Review coming soon…

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IP MAN 3

Opens tomorrow (1/22/16) in NYC. Review coming soon…

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MONKEY UP

monkey-up-1-sheet-w-rating-From the creators of Air Bud, writers Kirsten Hansen, Anna McRoberts, and Robert Vince, bring us Monkey Up. A tale about an entitled monkey who believes he deserves better acting roles than the commercial spot he has been given. Monkey Up has the potential to be another great children’s movie, but sadly, this one is no Air Bud. (JEP: 2.5/5)

Review by Contributing Editor Jessica E. Perry

“Monty” the monkey (voiced by Skylar Astin), is stuck doing commercials for the energy drink Monkey Up. But Monty believes he is destined for greatness, and an Oscar is in his future. When he learns that big time Hollywood director “Angelino Cappello” (Danny Woodburn), plans to use a CGI monkey in his new film instead of casting a real one, Monty takes this as his chance to crossover from commercials into the world of film. Because a real life, talking acting monkey, what director wouldn’t jump at the chance to work with him?

Turns out … this one. Cappello insists that his film is about family and human relationships, and Monty is far too self-centered and entitled to know the value of family. Carted out of Cappello’s office, Monty finds himself momentarily discouraged, but still refuses to go back to his commercial deal with Monkey Up.

So Monty proceeds to sneak into a toy store, deciding to sleep in a giant dollhouse for the night. This specific dollhouse, however, is scheduled to be delivered that night to the young “Sophie Andrews” (Kayden Magnuson).

When Sophie spots Monty the next morning in the dollhouse, she anmonkeyup1d the monkey become fast friends. As payment for Monty to “rent” out the dollhouse for a few days while he hides out, he agrees to help Sophie conquer her fear of the balance beam for her gymnastics performance.

Monty proceeds to have interactions with other members of the family, but they all keep his presence a secret from one another. Monty helps Sophie’s brother “Ethan Andrews” (Caleb Burgess) with his audition for a Shakespeare play in return for unlimited jellybeans. And he helps the children’s father “Jim Andrews” (Jonathan Mangum) write his screenplay. But of course, Monty demands to be the star of the film once it gets made.

Thought it all, Monty begins to learn the value of family and friendship, and becomes (only slightly) less entitled. When the owner of Monkey Up “Stan” (Chris Coppola) demands Monty be returned to him because of a contract deeming the monkey to be his property, the Andrews family must help save Monty from falling into Stan’s clutches so he can follow his dream of becoming a movie star.

Now, my brother and I loved Air Bud as children, and with the same team that brought us that film, one should hope that Monkey Up may just live up to its predecessor. But what can I say? This film is riddled with plot holes, bad acting, and filmic shortcuts.

At one point in the film, the little boy gives the monkey his phone number, which is 555-6789. Really? 555-6789? Okay then… This one instance sums up the entire film. Simply put, Monkey Up lacks originality. It is a formula we have seen many times before, and done better. At best Monkey Up is passible as a watchable family film, but with the creative team behind it, it had the potential to be more.

© Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (1/31/15)bottom

Top Photo: Monkey Up poster.

Middle Photo: Monty helps Ethan learn his lines to land the part in the school play.

Bottom Photo: Ethan and Sophie listen to Monty's speech on why bananas are good for you.

Photo Credits: Freestyle Releasing

Q: Does Monkey Up pass the Bechdel Test?GreenA2016

Yes.

Sophie and her mom “Clare Andrews” (Erin Allin O’Reilly) have an extremely brief conversation about how she said she was going to take Sophie to school. But when work calls Clare drops everything and runs off to the office.

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HO MANN JAHAAN

topHo Mann Jahaan is a 3-hour dramatic Pakistani coming of age story, delivered by a directing team that includes filmmaker Shehrazade Sheikh. Three friends seek to pursue music together once they graduate from college. But outside pressures build, and pursuing their dream of music within a conservative culture may not be as easy as planned. (JEP: 3.5/5)

Review by Contributing Editor Jessica E. Perry

“Manizeh” (Mahira Khan), “Nadir” (Adeel Hussain), and “Arhan” (Sheheryar Munawar) have formed a band. They practice and play sets in between studying for their final college exams. Each member is passionate about music and expresses intent to pursue it as a career after university. But each faces their own outside pressures to pursue a career in another field.

Nadir and Manizeh have grown up together, and their friendship has turned to romance. Nadir proposes and Manizeh happily accepts. Arhan remains the good-natured third-wheel, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

As Nadir and Manizeh study hard for their exams, Arhan can’t seem to focus. And when the results come in Manizeh is overjoyed by her top scores, while Arhan faces fallout with his father because he has failed all of his.

Meanwhile, Nadir—who comes from a prominent family—faces immense pressures to take over the family business as soon as his scores come in. He is resistant at first, but eventually gives in to familial pressure … Especially, when taking the job comes with its own ultimatum. Nadir’s parents are not accepting of his relationship with Manizeh because she comes from a family of vastly different status. So Nadir’s mother agrees to the wedding if and only if Nadir will give up his foolish dream of pursing music and take his rightful place at the head of the family business.middle

As a woman, Manizeh faces other pressures in her dream to pursue music. Manizeh’s estranged father (Jamal Shah) comes to her and insists that in their society, and in their religion, a woman pursuing music will not be accepted. But Manizeh is the most passionate out of the three young adults, and will let nothing stand in her way.

Things begin to unravel as Nadir watches his friends succeed in a dream that he gave up. At its core Ho Mann Jahaan is a coming of age story. We watch as these three friends pursue what some say is an impossible dream. But we also watch as they learn to navigate the adult world and the pressures that come with it.

Beware reader, Ho Mann Jahaan is three hours long. I was not aware of this little fact going into the film and I wish I had been (I would have brought more snacks, maybe a coffee). Too much of this time is filled with repeated montage music video like sequences—dialog free and filled with slow-mo, silent laughter, and longing looks. But that is not what got me. Instead, it was the overbearing and heavy-handed soundtrack that makes every normal scene unnecessarily dramatic.

Ho Mann Jahaan is longggggg, a bit corny, and unsurprising in that it makes sure to tie up each and every loose end before the credits role. Every. Single. One. But overall it is quite entertaining and relatable across cultures as a coming of age story and the pressures young adults often find themselves facing.

© Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (1/21/15)Bottom to use

Top Photo: Ho Mann Jahaan poster.

Middle Photo: Arhan and his older (and wiser) love interest "Sabina" (Sonya Jehan)

Bottom Photo: The three friends dance at Nadir and Manizeh's wedding.

Photo Credits: ARY Films

Q: Does Ho Mann Jahaan pass the Bechdel Test?GreenA2016

Yes!

Manizeh and her mother sit together awaiting Manizeh’s final college test scores. The two women rejoice when it is revealed that Manizeh not only passed, but excelled, receiving top scores in her courses. Her mother assures her that this will open up many doors in her future.

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IN THE SHADOW OF WOMEN

Opens tomorrow (1/15/16) in NYC. Review coming soon…

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Transition to Bechdel-Wallace Test!

FF2 Media is proud to announce the launch of The Bechdel-Wallace Test!

Formerly known as “The Bechdel Test,” based on the 1985 comic strip by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, the measurement of female significance in film is now “The Bechdel-Wallace Test.” The change honors Liz Wallace, a friend of Alison Bechdel and the originator of the test.

GreenA2016

How does a film pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

It must include:

1) A scene with two women

2) A scene with two women talking to each other

3) A scene with two women talking to each other about something other than a man

 

With fewer films reaching wide audiences and many Hollywood blockbusters failing to pass The Bechdel-Wallace test, author Emma Eden Ramos tells FF2 Media, “When we know that films affect people's actions, dreams and views of each other, we can see that the stereotyped world Hollywood show us isn’t doing any good. The statistics aren’t showing us any hope.” Ramos is referring to the speaking roles in films, 30 percent of which belong to women.

One of Ramos’ suggested solutions for change? Start with the men, specifically those with privileges and power. “We launched a way to spread awareness through Bechdel-Wallace Test. Actors, journalists, directors and the film industry itself seem to be addressing gender equality as a big issue. Of course, that makes me feel hopeful.”

Click HERE to watch the video celebrating the 30th Anniversary of The Bechdel-Wallace Test.

The video includes commentary from:

Ellen Tejle (Cinema Rio and A-rate in Sweden), Imogen Grace & Joella Chricton (Bechdel Bill, Canada), More Raca (Arena, Kosovo), Windy Borman (DVA Productions, US), Hauk Heyerdahl (Actor, Norway) Pamela Pianezza (Journalist, France), Kate Kaminski (Bluestocking Film Series, US)

© Brigid K. Presecky FF2 Media (1/12/16)

Photo Cred: Bechdel-Wallace comic strip from "Dykes to Watch Out For"

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THE FOREST

The_Forest_PosterGame of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer stars in a dual role as twin sisters, successful blondie “Sarah” and gothic, anxiety-ridden “Jess.” When Jess disappears in a Japanese forest (known for their infamous suicide rates) Sarah sets out on a journey to save her sister. Taylor Kinney co-stars as her hunky forest guide, the only highlight in a script more horrifying than its plot. (BKP: 2/5)

Review by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

"If you see something bad in the forest, it's not real, it's in your head."

In that case, The Forest must have been all in my imagination.

The story follows "Sarah" (Dormer) in pursuit of her lost, free-spirited sister "Jess” (a brunette Dormer) into the titular “suicide forest,” specifically the Aokigahara forest at the base of Mount Fuji. In an extremely drawn-out exposition, Sarah and her guides, “Aiden” (Kinney) and “Michi” (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) stumble through the woods, searching the woodlands as fruitlessly as the writers (Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell and Ben Ketai) search for a plot line.

For the first hour, Sarah's journey is slow The Forestand riddled with scare tactics in the form of whispering voices and hanging corpses. Any attempts to instill fear in the audience are feeble, from Sarah dramatically stepping over the "No Entry" sign to hokey dialogue about her freaky twin connection. The most frightening aspect of The Forest is how uneventful it actually is.

When Michi warns that the forest makes you see things, Sarah quickly starts to question her surroundings: What's real? What's a hallucination? Or, the most important question of all: Who cares? The mystery is not about Jess’ whereabouts, it is about how Sarah’s iPhone battery lasts for 48 hours straight.

There are very few - if any - reasons to invest in Sarah's search. Both she and her twin sister lack any sort of dimension, despite the attempts to provide details about their traumatic back story. Taylor Kinney (of Chicago Fire, or as the loud whisperer sitting behind me in the theater identified as “Lady Gaga’s fiance!”) does provide some relief as the American turned Australian turned Japanese journalist who wants to write a piece on Sarah's search.

Before Sarah enters the dreaded forest, she is warned multiple times, “Do not stray from the path.” Clearly, Director Jason Zada and the writers did not stray from the path of tired horror movie cliches.

© Brigid K. Presecky FF2 Media (1/09/16)

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Middle Photo: Taylor Kinney as lovable forest guide/reporter, “Aiden”

Bottom Photo: Natalie Dormer as scared, gullible “Sarah” in the suicidal woods

Photo Credits: SuppliedGreenA2016

Q: Does The Forest pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Barely.

“Sarah” and “Jess” share very few, fleeting scenes together. Not recommended.

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WAZIR

topWritten by a team of writers including Natasha Sahgal, and directed by Bejoy Nambiar, Wazir is quite an odd combo—part action film, part Chess playing drama.

When a cop loses his young daughter from the bullet of criminal he was after, he befriends an old man who also lost his daughter at the hands of another. The two men find common ground in their grief, and use strategy from the game of chess to take their revenge. (JEP: 3/5)

Review by Contributing Editor Jessica E. Perry

Wazir opens with a slow motion montage painting the picture of a happy family. Police officer “Daanish Ali” (Farhan Akhtar) is happily married to his beautiful wife “Ruhana Ali” (Aditi Rao Hydari). They soon welcome a baby girl into the world, and as their daughter grows they remain a tight-knit and loving family.

Until one day, when everything abruptly changes…

Daanish is in the car with his wife and daughter and they are running late for an engagement—presumably a dance performance—that Ruhana is eager to get to. But part of her outfit breaks and they must make a quick stop to have it repaired.

“I’ll just be two minutes,” Ruhana assures her husband. So Daanish and their young daughter sit in the idling car waiting for Ruhana. Suddenly, Daanish spots a criminal in a black SUV, who was thought to be out of the country. Daanish pulls away from the curb, deciding to pursue the disappearing vehicle. He makes a call to his superiors, reporting the find and continues to speed through the streets as his daughter calls out for him to slow down.

Now the whole time this is happening, you will want to yell at the screen, “Why is he going on a car chase in pursuit of an extremely dangerous man, with his young child in the back seat?” And alas, the little girl gets caught in the crosshairs once guns are drawn, and it is her passing that serves as a catalyst for the rest of the film.

Daanish blames himself for his daughter’s passing and Ruhana is unable to forgive him. Having lost both the women he loves, Daanish is ready to take his own life. Until a car in the night flashes its lights at Daanish, momentarily breaking him from his all consuming sorrow.middle new

Daanish finds a wallet on the ground that was presumably dropped from the car. The contents inside lead him to the house of an old man, “Pandit Omkarnath Dhar” (Amitabh Bachchan) who runs a school teaching young children chess.

It just so happens that Daanish’s daughter came twice to learn from Pandit. Moreover, Pandit has also lost a daughter. The two men find common ground in their shared sorrow, and take up a mission to exact revenge for their daughter’s deaths.

Okay, what can I say? This is an action movie … about chess. Chess. Action films and chess are not usually one in the same. Now, culturally I’m sure chess holds more significance for Indian audiences, since the game is said to have originated there, but for American audiences I fear it turns an action movie into a complete bore.

Now, if you have an affinity for chess, I suppose the chessboard metaphor that comes in towards the end of the film may be quite exciting. Me? I found it a bit too on the nose. Wazir opens as an action film and closes as such, but the whole hour in the middle is a boring drama about two men sitting over a chessboard. Snooze.

However, I will applaud director Bejoy Nambiar and the writers—including Natasha Sahgal—for two successful plot twists that their viewers may not have seen coming. Aside from the muddled second act, Wazir is an exciting action drama about two men on a revenge mission to get justice their fallen children … But of course, there is that second act.

© Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (1/12/16)Bottom

Top Photo: Wazir poster.

Middle Photo: Ruhana and Daanish lean on each other to cope with the loss of their daughter.

Bottom Photo: Pandit teaches Daanish the game of chess.

Photo Credits: Mind Blowing Films

Q: Does Wazir pass the Bechdel Test?GreenA2016

 No.

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OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN

GreenCropDiane Marshall-Green stars as "Samantha Trassler," the daughter of a famous artist whose recent death kicks off the plot. After blowing off her respectable friend Josh--who may or may not have been the father's assistant but definitely aspires to be the daughter's lover--Sam takes up with a family of street people headed by a patriarchal junkie named P.K.

Alas nothing in this story written by Adrienne Harris and directed by Liz Hinlein makes any sense before P.K.'s arrival on the scene. But Chad Michael Murray is so charismatic as P.K. that I was still glad they gave me the chance to meet him. (JLH: 3/5)

Review by FF2 Managing Editor Jan Lisa Huttner

"Samantha Trassler" (Diane Marshall-Green) is the daughter of a famous artist named "Frank Trassler" (Scott Patterson). When we first meet her, Samantha--aka Sam--is mourning Frank, whose recent death kicks off the plot.

Sam is an aspiring filmmaker and she had hoped to make a documentary film about Frank, but he refused to cooperate and now it's too late. We see Sam in flashback scenes trying to interview Frank while he is in the middle of laying huge swathes of red paint on stark white canvases. Was he drunk or just pissed at the interruption? Who knows? All we know for sure is that Frank is now dead and Sam is at loose ends.

Behind the introductory credits, we see Sam returning home to LA after a trip of approximately four months. Where has she been in the interim? Who knows? Her return appears to be timed to the opening of a new exhibit honoring Frank's work. Apparently "important people" expect her to attend, so she does. But even though she arrives somber and stylishly dressed to impress, Sam quickly gets drunk and starts acting slutty... at which point she stumbles home to drink even more--alone--in her funky apartment.

Someone named "Josh" (Michael Mosley) also has keys to this apartment, but it's not clear why. Is this was Frank's place? Had Josh been Frank's assistant? Who knows? What's clear is that Josh wants a relationship with Sam--and perhaps Josh even thought he had a relationship with Sam before Frank's death--but Sam does not intend to have a relationship--old, new, or otherwise--with Josh. MurrayCrop

One morning before the exhibit, Josh takes Sam to a coffee place in the 'hood where they encounter a ruffian named "P.K." (Chad Michael Murray). After the exhibit, Sam has a second meet-up with P.K. Perhaps she's even been on walkabouts around the hood hoping to find him again? One way or the other, she grabs hold of the "coincidence."

P.K. has a street "family," so Sam convinces him to help her make a documentary film about them. And before you can say "Wow! I didn't see that coming!" PK's street family is living in Sam's apartment and PK is sleeping in Sam's bed.

This is director Liz Hinlein's first feature film, and screenwriter Adrienne Harris's second. So I wish I could say positive things to encourage them. But Other People's Children only has one thing going for it: a charismatic performance by Chad Michael Murray as P.K.

Murray already has many TV credits on IMDb--and he has already won several Prism and Teen Choice awards for his acting--but to me he was a new and exciting presence. So forget about how he is much too buff to be the person Sam thinks he is; it all comes right in the end.

© Jan Lisa Huttner FF2 Media (1/5/15)

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Top Photo: "Samantha Trassler" (Diane Marshall-Green) returns home drunk--and then just keeps on drinking--after the opening of a new exhibit honoring Frank's work. The gallery is not only in walking distance from the apartment, it's also in stumbling home drunk in heels proximity (another reason why I think this was Frank's place rather than Sam's even though she obviously has a room there).

Middle Photo: Chad Michael Murray as "P.K." Yowza! But be honest now: Does this look like the body of a junkie to you???

Bottom Photo: Sam and P.K. play kissy face on a trip to pick up supplies for the "family" that is now housed in her apartment.

Photo Credits: OPC Film

Q: Does Other People's Children pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test? GreenA2016

Yes.

Before P.K. arrives at the coffee shop, Sam has a stilted conversation with one of her old film school classmates. This woman appears to be doing well in her new carer as some kind of PR person, and makes condescending comments about Sam's determination to make it in as a filmmaker. Harris and Hinlein give this woman a name, but I didn't catch it, so I can't tell you the name of the actress who plays her.

More significantly, Sam interviews several of P.K.'s family members for her documentary, and one of the women--a Latina woman named "Trina"-- gives a short but very affecting monologue about her life. Alyssa Diaz--the actress who plays Trina--has also had a recurring role on the Showtime series Ray Donovan, so I recognized her.

JanRants

As my continued snarky use of the term "who knows?' reflects. I had a difficult time figuring out some of the basic who/what/when/where details in Other People's Children.

Was the funky place in LA Frank's studio or Sam's apartment? Did Josh have a relationship with Frank--presumably in some sort of administrative capacity--that he tried to turn into a personal relationship with Sam? Why is Josh living in such a nice suburban place at the end if he had lived in the apartment with Sam just a few months before?

Nothing in Sam's life before P.K.'s arrival on the scene made sense to me... and then every plot point that revolved around P.K. was totally obvious.

Suddenly P.K. is sent off to Rehab by his wealthy family--"Wow! I didn't see that coming!"--followed by a brief denouement in which Sam--newly possessed of a drivers license--heads off alone into the unknown.

But where is Samantha supposed to be at the end of the film? I thought maybe she had gone to her mother's place. (Sam's mother--who is also the author of a well-know book about Frank's work--is mentioned several times in the film, but never seen. When Sam gets to wherever she is at the end, there are many photos of young Samantha on the kitchen fridge. Mmmm? The Frank in the flashbacks hardly seemed like the type of guy to have pix of his kid on his fridge...)

But the people in front of me said Sam was Frank's place, so maybe so...

Suffice it to repeat that beyond Sam's perfectly understandable lust for P.K., I could make no sense of this story :-(

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YOSEMITE

Story2Three kids who share the same 5th grade classroom have portentous coming-of-age adventures vaguely connected to the growing presence of mountain lions on the outskirts of their upscale suburban community.

OK, I get it: Boys will be boys... And filmmaker Gabrielle Demeestere--who both wrote and directed a screenplay based on stories by James Franco--doesn't need permission from me to make a film with almost no women in it...

But me? I was bored to death. (JLH: 3/5)

Review by FF2 Managing Editor Jan Lisa Huttner

In the opening moments of Yosemite, a National Public Radio host--in an unmistakably NPR voice--introduces a story about mountain lions. It seems the mountain lion population in the western USA--once thought close to extinction--has come roaring back, endangering people who have built homes close to their habitat.

And so, the air is filled with foreboding as the driver of the car--a man named "Phil" who is played by one-time heart throb James Franco--heads off for a hike in Yosemite National Park with his young son "Alex" (Troy Tinnirello) and his somewhat older son "Chris" (Everett Meckler).

But surprise! Just when we start to care about Alex, Chris, and Phil, the screen goes black, and a new story begins--this time about a kid named "Joe" (Alec Mansky)--and then just when that one starts to matter, the screen goes black again before a third story begins--this one about a kid named "Ted" (Calum John). 

It turns out that the unifying element in the screenplay--written and directed by Gabrielle Demeestere based on short stories by James Franco--is a 5th grade classroom where the three boys--Chris, Joe and Ted--spend their mundane hours in between portentous coming-of-age adventures... Oy! Story3

Although the first story has some lovely moments which allow James Franco to play a grown-up man rather than an arrested adolescent, the best story is the second one about Joe. Alec Mansky is a wonderfully expressive child actor, and he made me care about this kid who is trying so hard to process the sudden illness and death of his younger brother. (Sorry, no mountain lions required.)

Henry Hopper also does a great job as a guy who befriends Joe, even though Demeestere never bothers to close the loop. (Why does this older guy invite a mini-sad sack into his life? No clue!)

But by the third story, I was out of patience. Already thwarted twice, I had no energy left to invest in a third set of characters even when I saw the possibility of some overlap.

James Franco is almost forty years old now, and although he's still very handsome, he is no longer the heart throb of days gone by. So I wish him all best as he continues to find himself as an artist. And I also think it's great that he's investing some of his power in developing new talent.  In addition to playing Phil, Franco also served as one of Yosemite's Executive Producers and I doubt Demeestere could have pulled this film off without Franco playing the three critical roles of author, producer, and [nominal] star.

So yes, I am applauding in principle... But applauding this film? Sorry, no :-(

© Jan Lisa Huttner FF2 Media (1/5/15)

Story1

Top Photo: Alec Mansky as "Joe."

Middle Photo: Joe, Chris, and Ted (Calum John) head off in search of the mountain lion... (Click on photo & you will see that Ted is holding a gun. Oy!)

Bottom Photo (from left): Troy Tinnirello as "Alex," James Franco as "Phil," and Everett Meckler as "Chris."

Photo Credits: Monterey Media

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