Jury Coordination and Notes

The Book of Henry – Surprisingly good with excellent writing and performances

June 16th, 2017

Sometimes things are not always what they seem, especially in the small suburban town where the Carpenter family lives. Single suburban mother Susan Carpenter works as a waitress at a diner, alongside feisty family friend Sheila. Her younger son Peter is a playful 8-year-old. Taking care of everyone and everything in his own unique way is Susan’s older son Henry, age 11. Protector to his adoring younger brother and tireless supporter of his often self-doubting mother – and, through investments, of the family as a whole – Henry blazes through the days like a comet. Susan discovers that the family next door, which includes Henry’s kind classmate Christina, has a dangerous secret – and that Henry has devised a surprising plan to help. As his brainstormed rescue plan for Christina takes shape in thrilling ways, Susan finds herself at the center of it. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Willie J. comments, “However, I was pleasantly surprised by this under-the-radar film and am sure general audiences will as well. The Book of Henry is an emotionally affecting film with a few fine messages about parenthood and altruism.” See his full review below.

The Book of Henry
Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 18

I had no expectations going into this movie. I knew I like the director, the leading actress and it has an interesting premise. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this under-the-radar film and am sure general audiences will as well. The Book of Henry is an emotionally affecting film with a few fine messages about parenthood and altruism.

The movie actually surprised me. Perhaps it’s because I had no prior knowledge about it, but the twist (I don’t think it’s supposed to be a twist per se) in the movie is reminiscent of Psycho, in that the seeming protagonist has an interesting cinematic journey. That provides the basis of our catharsis. It’s actually very solid writing. We become invested in this character who has a charm and wit about him that’s irresistibly likable and we fall for him. We become invested in his relationships with his mother, his little brother and his neighbor. The plot is already in motion and then the twist happens.

After this twist, the true protagonist comes to the forefront and we become invested in her because we feel for her and root for her cause. The only issue – her cause happens to be literally unbelievable and predictably improbable. However, we find ourselves nearly believing it. I mean, there’s a sequence that’s utterly Hitchcockian, when there’s cross editing between two separate scenes. One scene is used as the musical background for the other and the tension is palpable. It’s reminiscent of the concert scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much. It all comes to a satisfying ending that we all knew was coming and yet, isn’t any less smile inducing.

The performances are very good. Naomi Watts is one of our generation’s most consistent actors and the youngsters Jacob Tremblay and  Jaeden Lieberher hold their weight and then some. However the score and direction deserve a lot of credit. The film is very well paced and switches between tones so seamlessly. Never are we pulled out of the film because it gets boring or it goes too quickly or it switches between genres.

A lot of reviews are bashing the film. Don’t get me wrong, it has its flaws. The foundation of the character is never told and is a glaring hole. A few plot elements are improbable, definitely. However, those are forgivable in the grand scheme. This film has charm and intrigue. I believe it’ll go down as one of those films where critics and general audiences just don’t agree. With that said, I give this movie 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 10 to 18. It can be seen at a local theater when it opens June 16, 2017.

 

Holden On – A remarkable film about a teen’s struggle with mental illness

June 12th, 2017

No longer your average boy-next-door, Holden Layfield weaves audiences through his harrowing tale in this film set in the early 1990s. After succumbing to a secret battle with mental illness, Holden evolves from a beloved, small town Georgia football player to a lost, self-medicating prophet. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Samantha M. comments, “I don’t remember the last time I laughed and cried within minutes of each other…This film helped my heart grow bigger and make me more empathetic towards others.” See her full review.

Holden On
By Samantha Marcus, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17

This exceptional film brought out all of my emotions, which is why it is one of my new favorites. I don’t remember the last time I laughed and cried within minutes of each other. I’m glad I was able to express my emotions, because that is what makes me relate to a film. This film helped my heart grow bigger and make me more empathetic towards others.

Based on a true story, Holden On is about a 17-year-old boy named Holden Layfield, who lives in a small town in Georgia and is a star athlete. Playing football like a professional, Layfield receives multiple college scholarships and is ready to begin a new chapter in his life. But, he has a big secret: he is battling a mental illness. Over a two year period, Layfield tries to keep his illness to himself and transforms from a fantastic football player to a prophet who believes he can save the world.

Matthew Fahey portrays Holden in a remarkable fashion. He acts very humble, which illustrates how kind-hearted Holden truly is. However, because of his humility, it is difficult for Holden’s family to decipher his thoughts. Fahey makes you believe that Holden is completely fine and, because he isn’t, it makes the plot even more intriguing. Steve Ellis’ portrayal of Zinte, Holden’s best friend, is humorous. Zinte truly cares about Holden and it is evident through their five year friendship. Ellis characterizes Zinte as comical, joking around with him to cheer him up. But, he is unaware of Holden’s issue. These lead actors left me on the edge of my seat for the entire film.

 I love the music in this film because which is from the 80s, opening with “It’s the End of the World” by R.E.M. The film is set in the 90s, but the music is from an older era and includes bands such as Suzie Rose and Tommy McCarthy. My favorite parts of the film are when Holden is in a situation and the camera shifts towards his point of view. For example, Holden tackles another team player on the football field before the game begins. The camera cuts to Holden’s thoughts, displaying a visual of what is going on in his brain. I enjoyed how Holden narrates his thoughts when this occurs, because I could empathize more with him.  

The message of this film is that you are not alone, even if you’re battling mental illness. Talk to your friends, family or a professional about your feelings, because there is someone who is always willing to help. Mental illness is common and not many people are aware of the help available to those who are suffering. That a movie has been created to address the issue touches my heart.  

Be forewarned that Holden resorts to drugs to cope with his illness yet, this film has such an impactful message that I wish every kid could see it. We can all help those who are dealing with mental illness. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to ages 16 to 18 as well as adults. Go to Iamholdenon.org to read about the nationwide movement supporting treating mental illness through artistic expression. Also, catch this film when it comes out June 7, 2017. It is one that you don’t want to miss.

My Cousin Rachel – Suspense, passion and psychological intrigue

June 10th, 2017

A young Englishman plots revenge against his mysterious, beautiful cousin, believing that she murdered his guardian. But his feelings become complicated as he finds himself falling under the beguiling spell of her charms. KIDS FIRST! Juror Juanita L. comments, “The detail and beauty of the 19th century in the settings of the house and grounds captivated me. The suspense and mystery of finding out just who Rachel (Rachel Weisz) is and what will happen with Phillip (Sam Claflin) kept me on edge of my seat.” See her full review below.

My Cousin Rachel
By Juanita Seon Leary, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

I like this film for several reasons. The detail and beauty of the 19th century in the settings of the house and grounds captivated me. The suspense and mystery of finding out just who Rachel (Rachel Weisz) is and what will happen with Phillip (Sam Claflin) kept me on edge of my seat. Expect candles, beds with draperies, bonnets, bumpy wagon rides and scything — as well as a modern-minded female character who may or may not be up to no good in pursuit of money.

My Cousin Rachel, adapted from a book set in the 19th Century and written in 1951 by Daphne du Maurier, is a combination of suspense, passion and some psychological glimpses of men and women in often intriguing and obsessive relationships. The story is about a rather naïve young bachelor who struggles to decide if his deceased guardian’s charming widow is the woman of his dreams or a cold-blooded killer and gold-digger seeking an inheritance. Among those disturbed by Phillip’s sudden obsession with Rachel is Louise (Holliday Grainger), his confidante since childhood who has long harbored her own unrequited crush on him.

There a moment of sexual violence when Phillip holds Rachel’s arms, demanding her to “kiss me!” and she forcefully tells him to stop and let her go. He briefly chokes her. We also see the couple having sex with their clothes on.

I recommend it for ages 14 to 18 as well as some adults. I give this film 4 out of 5 stars.  It opens nationwide June 9, 2017 so, be sure to go check it out and discover for yourself the mystery of Rachel!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Megan Leavey – Explores the emotional bond between a human and an animal

June 9th, 2017

I really enjoyed this film. It explores the emotional bond between a human and an animal.

The film is based on the true story of marine corporal who forms a unique bond with a bomb-sniffing dog. Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) enlists to get away from what seems to be a hopeless civilian life. She is an aimless young woman with a deadbeat mom, Jackie (Edie Falco). Megan struggles to fit in as a Marine and, after a disciplinary hearing due to misappropriate behavior, is caught urinating outside of the Provost office after a night of drinking. She is assigned to clean up the K-9 unit under the command of Gunny Martin (Common).  Gunny Martin is a commander who uses tough love while being a mentor.

My favorite scene in the movie is when Megan finds out that she will get a dog to train and it turns out to be a can.  It seems that newbies practice training a dog with a can. It is a bit humorous but shows Megan’s determination to get a real dog. Megan bonds with an aggressive German shepherd name Rex and is given the opportunity to train him. Megan and Rex end up completing more than 100 missions, but an IED explosion injures them both and puts their fate in jeopardy.

Megan Leavey has lots of wartime violence, strong language and intense themes including trauma and grief. It also shows the strength of women and their accomplishments while not focusing on the brutality of war. This is an inspiring film that I believe is most suited for ages 13 to 18 as well as some adults. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars.  It opens nationwide June 9, 2017 so, be sure to go see it and learn what happens to Megan and Rex.

The Mummy – Adventure, Action, Fantasy and Horror Combined

June 8th, 2017

Though safely entombed in a crypt deep beneath the unforgiving desert, an ancient princess, whose destiny was unjustly taken from her, is awakened in our current day bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia, and terrors that defy human comprehension. KIDS FIRST! Juror Juanita L. comments, “The story is not a new – disturbing an ancient evil which comes back to wreak havoc on everyone. However, the visuals are very exciting and explosive with a hint of suspense.” See her full review below.

The Mummy
By Juanita Seon Leary, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

I enjoyed watching this updated version of the classic 1932 film, wearing 3D glasses and starring one of my favorite actors, Tom Cruise. The film combines adventure and action with a sprinkling of fantasy and horror.

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), along with his partner Chris Vale (Jake Johnson) are soldiers of fortune who steal timeless artifacts from ancient sites and sell them to the highest bidders. While in the Middle East, the duo accidently uncover Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient princess awakened from her crypt beneath the desert after thousands of years. She uses her powers which evolve throughout the film to bring her revenge and furious rampage to the streets of London. 

The story is not a new – disturbing an ancient evil which comes back to wreak havoc on everyone. However, the visuals are very exciting and explosive with a hint of suspense. My favorite scene is when Ahmanet is held captive by chains, ropes and other devices to keep her from escaping. It shows her strength and power and, is the first time we’ve seen The Mummy as a woman.

You can expect strong, very loud fantasy action and violence with some blood spatters, guns and shooting, stabbings, fighting and punching, crashes and explosions, jump scares, zombies and a lab full of gross things. There are several mildly suggestive sexual references as well, including partly naked and somewhat obscured male and female bodies, kissing, a couple in bed together and other sensuality.

I recommend it for ages 13 to18 as well as some adults. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars.  It opens nationwide June 9, 2017 so, be sure to go see it and enjoy the action!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monterey Pop By Terry Solowey

June 5th, 2017

I was catapulted back in time watching the classic rockumentary Monterey Pop.  In celebration of its 50th Anniversary, D. A. Pennebaker, the original director supervised, restored and re-mastered this amazing documentary with vibrant color and sound.   Ushering in the 1967 Summer of Love, he captures the beginning of a new era of rock n’ roll music as well as a counterculture life style. This was just the beginning of the big concert formats.

Legendary performances introduce us to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding along with a diverse cast of more known artists at that time – Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas & The Papas, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Hugh Masekela and Ravi Shankar.

We observe behind the scenes’ preparations, hear concerns about crowd size, expecting 50 to 55,000 (a small number compared to the legendary Woodstock Festival of 500,000).  We must remember that this concert set a precedence for what was to come, including other charitable music events such as Live Aid and Farm Aid.

I was a teenager in the 60s and remember seeing the original film when it came out in 1968. Legendary moments of Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire and Pete Townshend destroying his are captured along with the facial expressions of an audience in amazement, shock and awe!  Janis Joplin’s performance is mesmerizing in both her stage presence and her voice.  Mama Cass’s reaction to her performance is captured in posterity and lives on. This was just the beginning of my concert going years and I enjoyed reminiscing and singing long with classic songs like “Feeling Groovy” by Simon and Garfunkel and “Today” by Jefferson Airplane among others.

Two performances really stuck out to me. Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” captured in a silhouetted camera shot, engaged the audience to sing along with him and the amazing close of the film and concert featuring Ravi Shankar, who introduced us to the sitar, the tabla and Indian ragas.  It was in this close that the director truly captured the audience’s reaction in a meditative state to a different style of music. As I looked at the audience, I related to the counter-culture clothing, hats and painted flower-power faces. The standing ovation of appreciation at the conclusion is quite remarkable and inspiring.

I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and highly recommend it to baby boomers to reminisce as well as the generations that followed from age 8 to 18 and beyond. This film allows you to witness and enjoy a remarkable and classic time in music and the beginning of a new consciousness. It opens in New York on June 14, in Los Angeles on June 15 and across the country on the weekend of June 16, alongside a new celebration of the festival in Monterey, California!

 

Hooray For OLD Hollywood By Clayton Pickard

May 18th, 2017

Last month, while visiting a college, I came upon a film on TCM called The Best Years Of Our Lives.   It’s a post WWII film about the difficulties soldiers faced in acclimating back into society after being in combat. Directed by William Wyler, it was released in 1946 and stars Myrna Loy, Fredric March and Dana Andrews. While watching the film, I had an epiphany that older movies flow much better than many current films. There isn’t any rush to change scenes, which allows the viewer to better comprehend what they’re watching. The pace also gives the actors and directors more breadth. I was really able to appreciate the humor of Myrna Loy.

This weekend, I watched Casablanca for the third time (one of my mother’s favorite films). Released in 1942, it is directed by Michael Curtiz and stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. Casablanca is a WWII film taking place in French Morocco.  What I really love about this film and other old movies is that they have amazing close-ups, which allow the viewer to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of the stars’ faces. In this film, they show close-ups of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman that are heavenly.  Casablanca reveals the ambiguous complexity of right and wrong, unlike most movies of today. It shows the flat out truth of life, that there are no easy answers.

I also screened North By Northwest, which I’ve seen on DVD and at Film Forum. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it stars Cary Grant, Angie Dickinson and James Mason. It is a thriller/ adventure film made in 1959 about a clueless advertising executive who is mistaken for an American spy. The most extraordinary aspect of this film is that everything is shot on location, without any special effects or CGI. The iconic crop duster and Mount Rushmore scenes are done on location. This creates a real sense of verisimilitude, whereby the viewer feels as if it’s happening to them.

While I used to have a prejudice against old movies. Now, I am gaining an appreciation for them and starting to slowly move away from all the typical Hollywood blockbusters.

 

 

American Black or British Black: Why the Discussion? By Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

May 11th, 2017

 

Samuel L. Jackson recently spoke about how British black actors have recently been heavily cast in roles that he feels would have benefited more had they been filled by American black actors. He was referring to actors such as David Oyelowo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Naomie Harris and Daniel Kaluuya. Jackson stated that while these actors are doing fine jobs, the roles of Martin Luther King or Chris Washington could have been more judiciously played by American black actor. Let’s evaluate this.

As of late, yes, black Brits have been coming to the U.S. and taking roles in American films. They give stellar performances as Americans and create memorable cinema. Is that bad? Not necessarily so. After all, they’re still within a minority and represent an underrepresented community. Their country of origin shouldn’t matter. However, there is a reason behind their recent surge in Hollywood.

Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson are noted thespians. They’ve been trained and have experience on the stage and that translates in their screen performances. The problem is that, they’re beginning to be a part of a minority. The likes of Ejiofor and Oyelowo are trained in England, a very theatrical country. Film is still secondary to theater there and so, actors in Britain get classical theatrical training. For the most part, thespians still garner more respect than film actors (excluding Jack Nicholson). Having theater experience is essential to be respected as an actor and Americans increasingly ignoring that. They start in film and never venture into theater until after they’re established such as Jake Gyllenhaal or Leonardo DiCaprio.

When these thespians come to the U.S., they’re cheaper than American black film actors, have more respected training and can speak with impeccable American accents. Why wouldn’t they be hired? And why does that create a rift within the entertainment community? It should inspire American black actors to seek more theatrical training. And while Sam Jackson meant no harm with his statement, there’s a rather large debate over whether or not Hollywood should keep hiring black actors from overseas and not support more American black actors. All I can say is: it’s a business. A very cutthroat business, that’s all about survival of the fittest. If a group of actors comes into Hollywood better trained, does that mean another group of actors should complain about their roles being taken away? No. It means they should sharpen their skills and advance their training.

So before this becomes a bigger issue than it should, let’s just acknowledge that, what matters in the end is good cinema. So whether Martin Luther King’s story is told by a Brit or American, as long as it’s told well, it doesn’t matter. Movies are about stories and the imagination. Those don’t see color or nationality.

Finding Oscar – A Reflection on a Horrific Story from Not That Long Ago by Gerry O.

May 4th, 2017

Finding Oscar tells the heartfelt story of the small village of Dos Erres and it makes you feel inspired and outraged at the same time. There were many horrific events humanity witnessed in the last century – many wars, and lots of innocent people suffered. One event in Dos Erres, Guatemala was a terrible genocide that killed the entire village.

Finding Oscar is a documentary that reflects on historical events and educates people, especially the younger generation. The story that Finding Oscar delves into may seem unrealistic until the viewer realizes that these events really happened and that families were broken apart and young lives were cut short. The events were devastating and the tone of the film reflects that.

In the 1980s, Guatemala was in the midst of a horrendous civil war. In October 1982, the rebels, or guerrillas, attacked a convoy near a small farm village called Dos Erres. A special ops team of the Guatemalan government, very similar to the special ops of US, called Kaibiles, dressed as rebels and infiltrated the village, thinking there were weapons there. They divided the men into one building and women and children into another. Throughout the night, they tormented the entire population of the small village, especially the women and children. In the morning, the Kaibiles killed almost every person in the village, including the children. Only a few kids survived the entire massacre by accident. Two of them were then raised by the soldiers who killed their families.

In parallel, the documentary tells the story of people attempting to bring people responsible for committing the war crimes to justice. To do so and prove their involvement, they must find witnesses of the event, both the surviving kids and the soldiers who participated in the genocide. On top of that, the film looks into the neglectfulness of not only the Guatemalan government, but also the United Sates, which supported the Guatemalan government during the civil war, despite having intelligence about the Dos Erres Massacre and many others similar to it.

Finding Oscar takes a very complex situation and dissects it perfectly. Ryan Suffern (director, producer and co-writer) really tells this story in a masterful way. One aspect I absolutely love has to do with the story. Despite being filmed in the modern world, it talks about the events that happened in chronological order. Finding Oscar doesn’t look at the information as a documentary, but instead tells a story about people who either were connected to this tragedy or feel passionate about uncovering the truth and f inding justice. It begins with explaining the civil war and its causes. It goes on to explain the massacre and its immediate results. Another part that really adds to the effect of the story is the camerawork.

The scene I found the most impactful in this film has to be when one of the survivors gets reunited with his father more than thirty years later. At this point, the boy is grown and has a family of his own. His father, however, thought that the boy and the rest of his family, including eight children, had died in the genocide. The father realizes that he not only has a son and daughter in law, but grandkids as well. The scene is beautiful and so powerful that the entire audience cries.

The message and the story of Finding Oscar are important, but it has many mature elements. I recommend this to ages 13 to 18. The dark aspects of the genocide are rather impactful and unsuitable for younger children. However, I believe this is one of the films that everyone should watch so history doesn’t repeat itself. It is scary to think that these events took place in 1980s – not that long ago. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars for its inspirational story and superb cinematography that add to the power of the plot.

Plastic is Forever – An Interview with filmmaker Dylan D’Haeze by Juanita Seon Leary

April 27th, 2017

The Philadelphia Environment Film Festival, the first of its kind in the city of Brotherly Love played Earth Day Weekend, April 21 through 23, 2017 at the historic Prince Theater in downtown Philadelphia. The festival opened on Friday night, honoring Fisher Stevens, director of the critically acclaimed climate change documentary, Before the Flood and closed on Sunday with James Cameron’s classic award-winning film, Avatar. The festival showcased dozens of new shorts and features from international and domestic filmmakers celebrating the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement, Earth Day.

Despite the rainy day and the March for Science rally, film, environmental and art enthusiasts of all ages attended the festival.  Festival founders Debra Wolf Goldstein and Alexandra Drobac Diagne said “We are extremely passionate about combining powerful moving imagery on the silver screen with educational and inspirational knowledge about the current state and future of the beautiful planet we all call home.”

My favorite part of the festival was viewing the Youth Block of Films and having the opportunity to interview the award-winning young filmmaker Dylan D’Haeze and his mother Dawn D’Haeze. Dylan’s film, Plastic is Forever was featured at the festival. Here is an excerpt of my interview with filmmaker Dylan D’Haeze and his mother and producer, Dawn D’Haeze.

Juanita: Welcome Dylan and Dawn D’Haeze to KIDS FIRST! Thank you for the opportunity to talk with me and share with our KIDS FIRST! audience points about your wonderful documentary Plastic is Forever.  Congratulations on being the youngest winning filmmaker at San Francisco Ocean Film Festival and winner of its 2017 Environmental Award. Dylan, what sparked your interest in plastic pollution?

Dylan: Thank you, Juanita. I am home schooled and it started as a project for school and, as I researched and answered the questions about plastics I became concerned about how plastic can damage the earth.

Juanita: Why did you did decide to create this documentary?

Dylan:  I made this documentary because I’ve learned about plastic pollution and how it’s affecting the planet in a very bad way. As a kid, it scares me and I feel powerless. So, I decided to make a documentary about plastic pollution and teach kids how they can help solve the problem.

Juanita:
Do you have a favorite filmmaker of director?

Dylan:  Yes, my favorite director is Kip Anderson, director of Conspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.

Juanita: What challenges did you face in bringing your son’s ideas to life?

Dawn:   Our biggest challenge was getting interviews. People were reluctant because they did not know us. However, as we continued it got better.

Juanita: Describe how you felt when you went to the beach in Hawaii.

Dawn:   The beach we shot is a two-hour drive from the city. The road is very rough and very rocky.

Dylan: The beach is covered with plastic and they had a clean-up before we visited. So much plastic, it has in the past reached almost 10 feet high. The broken pieces are becoming part of the beach. It was awful.

Juanita: What is your next step to realize your goal of showing kids they are not powerless and that their daily actions affect our future?

Dylan:  This documentary is one in a series of films I’m making called Kids Can Save The Planet. The next film will be about climate change and I’m really looking forward to start filming again soon!

Juanita: Dylan and Dawn, thank you very much for speaking with me today. I want to mention that Dylan’s film, Plastic is Forever is playing now at KIDS FIRST! Film Festivals nationwide so, be sure to check with your local festival to see if it is playing there. We look forward to your continuing series, Kids Can Save The Planet and wish you the best in your filmmaking endeavors. It’s heart-warming to see a young person such as yourself tackling this important issue.               

 

 

 

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