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2020 Director’s Close Up: Week Five

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

The final week of Film Independent’s five-week-long Director’s Close Up focused on one of the most crucial aspects of cinema, an aspect that easily makes up half of the movie-going experience, an aspect that the viewer rarely notices, but exists across nearly the entire run time of every film ever made. That aspect? Sound design and scoring. Benh Zeitlin, director of Wendy, and Dan Romer, composer of Wendy, unveil the massive impact of cinematic sound. 

Sound design involves the process of creating naturally occurring noises anyone would hear in the real world. This can include footsteps, creaking floors, squeaking doors, rustling leaves and far more. Even though such additions may seem minuscule in the long run, they have a tremendous impact on how realistic the cinematic world feels. Imagine watching Star Wars without the wooshes of TIE fighters, the hums of pod racers, or the buzz of lightsabers? The film would lose many of its immersive qualities. So, director Benh Zeitlin puts careful attention into sound design. As an example, in his previous film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, the sounds of Hurricane Katrina can be heard with the growling wind, the shrieking shaking shutters and the pounding rain. While very little rain or lightning appears on the screen, the audience feels terrified by the audible aspect of the hurricane. Such elements can also help keep the budget to a minimum as rain machines and lightning visual effects can increase the cost of production dramatically, but taking out a microphone and recording a thunderstorm has a near-zero price tag.

Composer Dan Romer does a similar job with the score of a film, a lengthy musical work that helps guides the emotional tone of certain scenes as well as the entire story. For Wendy, because it re-imagines the classic Peter Pan story of children who never grow up, the score mimics a child’s perspective. That means that it must be epic and orchestral when the children do seemingly minor things, like play in the mud or chase each other. Zeitlin stated that he took inspiration from his own childhood when he would mentally play the grand Indiana Jones soundtrack while he did the small task of looking for an ant in the grass. Dan Romer also tried to mimic a local band in the instrumentation of the orchestra, by having a mix of traditional symphonic orchestral instruments and instruments found in smaller bands such as steel drums. This gives it a grounded feeling that agrees with the world the children come from. Music can also reflect tone shifts in the film. In the beginning, when the story takes place in the normal world, the music has a searching, almost wanting quality. Yet, once it goes to the magical world of Neverland, it explodes in triumph. At times, assembling an entire orchestra can be outside of a film’s budget. So, Romer hired and recorded individual musicians and combined their performances on a computer. This allowed the entire film score to require only nine musicians and a small room, versus a dozen or more musicians and a symphony hall.

Sometimes, score and sound design merge as it does in Wendy, when the audience meets a large sea creature called Mother. This involved so many layers of sound design that the production of Wendy hired a sound designer from Animal Planet to create whale noises for the creature. On top of the sound design, Romer composed an ambient score that adds to the grandeur of the creature being displayed on the screen. Such challenges can require unconventional methods. For example, the score utilizes whirly tubes, a children’s toy that makes a humming sound when spun. This, on top of the whale sounds, creates a mysterious but peaceful atmosphere around the sea creature.

While it receives little attention in award shows, critiques or from the average moviegoer, the sound and score of a film make up half the experience. Benh Zeitlin said it best, “it’s impossible for the film to speak in any way” without the sound to assist in communicating the character’s perspectives, emotions and tone.

Wendy opens in theaters on February 28, 2020. For more information on Film Independent, go to https://www.filmindependent.org/

If you are interested in more information on sound in cinema, check out my interview with Midge Costin, director of the documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound at https://youtu.be/zvlChCb138Y

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17 

Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17
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2020 Director’s Close Up: Week Four

Friday, February 7th, 2020

How does a director make a film? How has filmmaking changed? Week Four of Film Independent’s Director’s Close Up answered those very questions. The panel featured Lorene Clermont-Tonnerre (Writer/Director of The Mustang), Alma Har’el (Director of Honey Boy), Lorene Scafaria (Writer/Director of Hustlers), Lulu Wang (Writer/Director of The Farewell) and Olivia Wilde (Writer/Director of Booksmart). All films share one common feature, a visible passion for the story being shown. Yet, to get to that stage requires dedication and painful patience.

The Farewell

Filmmakers must first choose what topics to bring to the big screen. Many take inspiration from the real world. Scafaria’s The Hustlers transforms an article on a criminal ring into understandable and relatable individuals. Wang’s The Farewell shows Wang’s true family tragedy and Har’el’s Honey Boy visualizes Shia Lebouf’s dark and painful past as a child actor.  

Whatever the topic may be, filmmakers must also ensure that investors feel the passion they do. For Wang, this took many, many years as The Farewell features a runtime almost entirely in Mandarin and a set almost entirely in China. This made any investor believe the film should be produced by a Chinese company, despite being from the perspective of an American. Scafaria had other issues in making Hustlers. After Scafaria’s script had been approved for production, it took close to a year to convince executives to even consider allowing Scafaria to direct the script she wrote. 

Booksmart

The challenge of making a motion picture has only begun once production begins. Wilde’s Booksmart featured many Steadicam shots with very few cuts. That meant every actor shown on camera had to recite as much as “four pages of scripts” at once, as well as every aspect of blocking and rhythm. For The Farewell, the problems only begun at long shots. Because the film’s production took place predominantly in China, many cultural contrasts became quickly apparent. China had no way to shut down streets, meaning production had to occur in public as individuals walked in and out of frame. Assistant directors (ADs), who traditionally keep production on schedule, have different roles in China. The film features scenes in Mandarin and English, so most actors and most of the production crew needed to speak both languages fluently. Other productions may have to struggle with animals – with The Mustang featuring dozens of horses and a lead actor who could not ride horses. Other films have to cast and write children into highly adult-oriented scenes, as Honeyboy did.

After editing, coloring, VFX, sound editing and so much more has been completed, the director sits down with the composer to create the music for the film. Some films create stunning original soundtracks, others license them from modern artists. Some filmmakers decide to go to the music of centuries ago, as Scafaria did by having the The Hustlers score consist of music composed by Frederic Chopin, the 1800s pianist and composer. Sadly, Chopin’s genius requires the most talented pianists and, because of that, few recordings exist. So, production went on a copyright-riddled Easter egg hunt of trying to hunt down Chopin pianists to acquire rights for his treasured pieces. Wang’s The Farewell has classical pieces as well, which made sense as Wang then revealed she has a background in Classical piano – specifically Chopin.

Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

While cinema has always had the passion and talent seen today, change can be seen in every way. The process of production has become faster and faster, with some panelists quoting 60 day production schedules or even 29 day production schedules. The lengthy steady-cam shots seen in every film featured would not be possible without modern stabilization technology. Har’el’s Honeyboy incorporates Wi-Fi-powered lighting setups, allowing the gaffer to turn on and off lights while a scene occurs, giving far more flexibility to the cinematographer and director.

Most of all, filmmaking has changed socially. This panel consisted entirely of female directors, a sight that could never be seen twenty years ago, and a sight that shall become increasingly common as the next generation of filmmakers make their first films. 

For more information on Film Independent, go to https://www.filmindependent.org/

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17

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Variety Boys & Girls Club of Boyle Heights’ New Family Resource Center

Thursday, December 19th, 2019

On December 18, 2019, the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Boyle Heights dedicated their new Gonzalez Family Resource Center to Patricia (Pat) Gonzalez.

Pat has long been a supporter of the community. Her achievements include raising over $2 million from silent auctions for Variety, the Children’s Charity of Southern California, where she is co-chairperson. She is also on the board of directors for the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Boyle Heights. Her work led her to receive Studio Movie Grill’s Opening Hearts and Minds Award earlier this year.

The neighborhood, Boyle Heights, nestled east of Downtown Los Angeles, has long struggled with providing resources for families, with only 5% of residents in the neighborhood having earned four-year degrees. To improve conditions for families, many film executives support the club including Pat Gonzalez, Senior Vice President of In-Theater Marketing at Paramount Pictures; Scott Forman, Executive Vice President and General Sales Manager of Warner Brothers; and Studio Movie Grill, known for their in-dining movie theaters across the country.

Brian Schultz, founder and CEO of Studio Movie Grill once said, “I don’t like calling it charity, we like to actually support sustainable causes.” This philosophy can be seen in action at the Variety Boys and Girls Club, where children receive assistance with education, college preparation and much more. Outside, the club has gardening sites where children not only learn to grow fruits and vegetables but also receive training in the culinary arts, just two examples of the many activities that children may participate in. 

Beautiful murals created by the children themselves fill the walls around the gardening site. Elsewhere, the club’s encouragement of creativity can also be seen. In the art space, children learn art styles ranging from the Renaissance to Postmodern art. The kids’ accomplishments can be seen in sports as well; the entrance to the club is lined with dozens of trophies.

The Family Resource Center will go beyond helping the children and help entire families with career and college assistance. By doing so, “we break the cycle of poverty by ensuring that our parents and our members’ parents have access to resources so that they are able to secure higher-paying jobs and be able to provide for their family,” explained Patricia Siqueiros, Executive Director of the Variety Boys and Girls Club. The center also contains the club’s brand-new library where children can read books ranging from Dr. Seuss to literary classics such as the works of Jules Verne. Plans in the future include potentially forming a partnership with the University of Southern California to provide dental care for residents.

The film industry has begun giving back in many ways to ensure the health of their local communities. Outside the glamour and shine of Hollywood, many residents of Los Angeles still lack access to base necessities. The work done by Pat Gonzalez, Studio Movie Grill and others can only build a better future if every individual helps improve their communities whether it is in the form of monetary donations, donations of goods or volunteering. 

You can support the Variety Boys and Girls Club at http://vbgc.org/ and you can support the Variety Children’s Charity at https://varietysocal.org/.

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17

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The Two Popes * Fascinating Topic, Filled with Humor and Great Performances

Tuesday, December 17th, 2019

Offers an intimate story of one of the most dramatic transitions of power in the last 2,000 years. Frustrated with the direction of the church, Cardinal Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) requests permission to retire in 2012 from Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins). Instead, facing scandal and self-doubt, the introspective Pope Benedict summons his harshest critic and future successor to Rome to reveal a secret that would shake the foundations of the Catholic Church. Behind Vatican walls, a struggle commences between both tradition and progress, guilt and forgiveness, as these two very different men confront their pasts in order to find common ground and forge a future for a billion followers around the world. Inspired by true events. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Katherine S. comments, “I love this movie. Even though the subject of this movie is based on a religious story, it is filled with humor, sport and a fascinating storyline. The acting is also magnificent and the best part of the movie.” See her full review below.

The Two Popes
By Katherine Schell, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

I love this movie. Even though the subject of this movie is based on a religious story, it is filled with humor, sport and a fascinating storyline. The acting is also magnificent and the best part of the movie.

The Two Popes is inspired by true events telling the story of Pope Benedict being elected following the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 and Pope Francis being elected in 2013 when Pope Benedict resigned.  During this time, the Catholic Church is losing followers and is in the midst of various scandals.  Cardinal Bergoglio, who ultimately becomes Pope Francis, is one of Pope Benedict’s harshest critics as he is frustrated with the Catholic Church and wants to retire.  Pope Benedict invites Cardinal Bergoglio to Rome not to discuss his retirement, but to discuss other matters, including a scandal that the Catholic Church is facing that could ruin its stability.

I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would and I learned a lot about the Papal election process. Even if you are not Catholic, you will still like it. The movie also uses real footage of some of the events.

Jonathan Pryce (Pope Francis) and Anthony Hopkins (Pope Benedict) are absolutely brilliant playing their parts.  As a bonus, they even look like the real life popes that they are playing. My favorite character is Pope Benedict because he slips a joke in whenever he can – even if the joke is not funny.

The message of The Two Popes is that it’s okay to have different opinions and if you work hard enough together you can find common ground. This movie has some bad language, some disturbing violent images and some discussion of child abuse.  It is rated PG-13.

I give this movie 5 out of 5 stars. I recommend this for ages 12 to 18, and adults will really like this movie. This movie is on Netflix December 20, 2019.

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Reflections on Infinity Festival 2019 By Gerry O.

Saturday, November 16th, 2019

The 2019 Infinity Festival, celebrating “Story Advanced by Technology,” took place November 7 – 9th at Goya Studios in Hollywood, culminating with the 2019 IF Monolith Awards ceremony, presenting awards for technology and narrative arts to the best in the industry. Voted on by a body of professional peers, the Monolith Awards recognize excellent accomplishments in narrative arts and technology that showcase the concept of storytelling. These unique awards are prestigious in that they are given to companies and individuals that are paving the way in the ever evolving film and technology industries. The winners are innovative and have utilized new and futuristic technology to create content that can be experienced at a whole new level.

“Advancements in technology have enabled artists to tell their stories in new, exciting and often unexpected ways,” said Hanno Basse, Chairman, Infinity Festival. “The Infinity Festival Monolith Awards celebrate new versions of content enabled by technology and the inventions  that make them possible. Selected from a panel of their professional peers, these awards truly honor those who showcase the future of technology in storytelling and its incredible impact on how audiences will enjoy content. These awards are unique, because they recognize new ways of storytelling which may not fit into more traditional categories.”   See Gerry O.’s commentary below.

Reflections on Infinity Festival 2019 
By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17  

It seems what can be done with technology never ceases to stop changing as society continues to innovate. While the masses marvel at what becomes capable, the entertainment industry monitors on how to implement these new inventions into the art of storytelling, and the Infinity Festival showcased just that – the new possibilities in cinema.

Creators have been experimenting with the new format of virtual reality for several years now, with impressive results. Gloomy Eyes Vol. 2, an animated short film that can be seen on the HTC Vive feels nothing like a traditional film that can be watched in theaters but in its unique way, manages to tell a whole, well-designed story. Structured like a diorama, the animated film happens around the viewer in a series of scenes that carefully guide the viewer where and how to look. While the experience can still be improved, the immense detail and rich storytelling serve as an example that virtual reality movies can be made, in some capacity.

Simulated Reality showed an educational use of this technology with 7 Miracles which allows the user to travel back in time to ancient Jerusalem and experience the life of Jesus Christ. The experience, however, fails in its limited video quality –  in standard “flat” cinema, cameras have delivered crisp video since the 1960s; virtual reality, on the other hand, looks grainy and the user can see individual pixels, to the point where it distracts from the experience. Looking in the future however, the possibilities of physically traveling to historic faraway locations have profound educational opportunities. Students can travel to different planets to learn about our solar system, or to different wars in history. They can take tours of the Louvre for art class, or walk among a Viennese symphonic orchestra for music class.

Intel attempted yet another strategy for films in virtual reality. This experience combines virtual reality with a moving chair to create “virtual reality theaters,” which allow someone to both see and feel the digital world. In an experience set in the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, the viewer gets carried by a dragon through a beautiful and exciting adventure, but at the end one feels as if they experienced a carnival attraction that belongs in a theme park, not a film that belongs in a theater.

Outside of virtual reality, other technologies promise to help streamline the filmmaking process. Lenovo presented demos of their augmented reality headset, Think Reality, which attempts to use advanced glasses to project objects on walls around the user. In concept, this can be a beautiful tool for productions – the Assistant Director could have schedules and shot lists on their display. The Assistant Camera Operator could use augmented reality to help keep shots in focus. Yet, this technology exists in its infant stage today – the demo scarcely worked and, in a complicated environment like that of a film set, it would be far too unreliable due to the current dimness of the projections. 

In post-production, one technology keeps being referenced – machine learning. One concept called AuVive, part of the Immersive Media Challenge at the Entertainment Technology Center at USC, theorizes a system in which machine learning can scan a video and produce an auditory description for those with impaired vision. While the concept sounds like the work of science fiction, many aspects of the technology already exist today, most notably with Adobe VoCo that can synthesize human speech from very small samples.

As the boom of technology continues to amaze and dazzle, one must remember that each new advancement does not mean revolutionary change. While virtual reality has created a whole new sector of the entertainment industry, its capability in storytelling remains limited. Augmented reality exists in mere infancy and requires years of development to be anything close to usable for individuals. While the Infinity Festival may have presented the newest hallmarks in the entertainment industry, it also shows just how much more development is needed before these new advances surpass their status as exciting gimmicks.

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The Farewell – Everyone Can Relate To This Film in Some Way

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019

A headstrong Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Jolleen M. comments, “This film rocked everyone’s emotions. Although there are multiple instances where the film is a bit slow, the overall emotional impact is great. There are moments of comedic relief throughout. I think that everyone can relate to this film in some way. I made connections with some of the ideas and scenes even though I am not Chinese.” See her full review below.

The Farewell
By Jolleen Mejia, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

This film rocked everyone’s emotions. Although there are multiple instances where the film is a bit slow, the overall emotional impact is great. There are moments of comedic relief throughout. I think that everyone can relate to this film in some way. I made connections with some of the ideas and scenes even though I am not Chinese.

The Farewell is about Billi and her family’s reunion in China. They reunite because their grandma has developed lung cancer and the doctor says she only has weeks to live. The family chooses not to tell Nai-Nai (grandma) that she has lung cancer. Instead, they tell her that they are reunited for a wedding. Billi’s family tells her that the reason for not telling Nai-Nai is that it’s not the cancer that kills, but the fear. The film is all about appreciating the time you have on earth and with your family. There are many moments of stillness, included watching the wind blow through the trees, for 30 seconds or more. I find this aspect of the film beautiful, as it reminds me of the phrase, “stop and smell the roses.” But others might interpret these moments as filler scenes and pointless.

Awkwafina, as Billie, is an exceptional actress. You can feel the emotion she conveys through the screen, even if she doesn’t say anything. For her role she needs to show the audience that she is deeply troubled, but also show that she tries to hide her feelings from her grandma. That is very difficult to do and she does it perfectly. Without this, the film would lose a lot of its emotional impact.

The music sets the mood very well for some scenes, but in others silence and black screens are  set the mood. Sometimes it’s the noise of nature, like the wind blowing through the leaves. Scenes like these are what makes the film divergent.

The message of this film is about being appreciative of all aspects of life. Billie begins to realize that while she spends time with her family in China. Every moment is a gift. I love that the film is quite simple yet it has such a powerful effect.

I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 11 to 18, as well as adults. There are innuendos, use of alcohol, cigarettes and some bad language. Despite this, the film will move you to tears so check it out! It comes out July 12, 2019 in theaters!

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Toy Story 4 Annie Potts Interviewed by Katherine S.

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019
Annie Potts (Anne Hampton Potts), and Katherine S., Toy Story 4

Anne Hampton Potts  is an American actress. She was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Corvette Summer(1978) and won a Genie Award for Heartaches (1981), before appearing in  GhostbustersPretty in PinkJumpin’ Jack FlashWho’s Harry Crumb? and Ghostbusters II. She also voiced Bo Peep in the Disney and Pixar animated films Toy StoryToy Story 2 and Toy Story 4.

Toy Story 4 is an American computer-animated comedy film produced by Pixar Animation Studios for Walt Disney Pictures as the fourth installment in Pixar’s Toy Story series, and the sequel to 2010’s Toy Story 3. Annie Potts stars as the voice of Bo Peep and is joined by the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Tony Hale, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Joan Cusack and more. Toy Story 4 will be theatrically released in the United States on June 21, 2019, in RealD 3D, Dolby Cinema, and IMAX.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Katherine S. attended a special Disney event in Orlando, FL June 7 and 8 where she got to screen the film and meet some of the talent. A highlight of the weekend was having the delightful opportunity to interview film star Annie Potts about her role in Toy Story 4! Here is what she learned.

KATHERINE: How was your preparation different for  Toy Story 4, compared to a live action movie?

ANNIE POTTS: In a normal movie, I get the chance to read the script ahead of time.  But for this movie we read the script at the studio and we never had the full script.  We normally record alone in the studio but this time I spent a lot of time with Tom Hanks in the studio recording our scenes.

KATHERINE:     That’s interesting. Do you change your voice when you play Bo Peep?  Can you give us an example?

ANNIE POTTS: Yes, I do change my voice a little bit.  I try to make it more “breathy,” like “Hi, Woody” and “Oh, Woody.”

KATHERINE: What is your favorite song from this movie?

ANNIE POTTS: “You Got a Friend in Me.”  It always makes me a little teary.

KATHERINE: Yes, I love that song too! What would you like people to take away from this film?

ANNIE POTTS: First, love is so important.  Second, you have to be able to move on in life.

Later at the Press Junket with Mark Nielson, Jonas Rivera, Josh Cooley, Christina Hendricks, Tim Allen, Keanu Reeves…

KATHERINE: It’s amazing that the first Toy Story movie came out 24 years ago and yet there are a core group of actors and characters that star in all the Toy Story movies.  This question is for all of you, what do you do to help make new actors and new characters feel like they belong?

JOSH COOLEY, DIRECTOR: That is a great question. With the new toys in this film, we looked at the toys we grew up and played with.  If you look at the original Toy Story some of those toys are more classic toys like Slinky and Mr. Potato Head.  So we went more to the 70s and 80s in terms of toys and then we just tried to figure out characters that weren’t there on the screen just to be characters, but actually helped the story move along and supported Woody as much as possible.  And overall, entertaining as well.  So it’s a great question because it’s really hard to do if you loved Toy Story already and then tried to introduce new characters and hope you like these characters just as much. Hopefully you do.

JONAS RIVERA, PRODUCER: You don’t do it just for the fun of it.  Gabby Gabby for example –  the story would not work without Gabby Gabby.  She’s an echo of Woody and we needed her to be this legit and real and truthful human character.  Same thing for Duke Caboom and Giggle and everybody new.  They’re not just for fun, although we love them, but this movie would not work without them.  And that’s kind of our metric.

Later at the Press Junket with Mark Nielson, Jonas Rivera, Josh Cooley, Annie Potts, Tom Hanks, Tony Hale

KATHERINE: For Mr. Tom Hanks, thank you for photo bombing me. 

TOM HANKS: Oh, you’re Katherine.  Stand up so I can see you.  Now was that actually, did I photo bomb you when you were presenting?  Sorry I photo bombed you. 

KATHERINE: (blushes) I just want to know if you think Woody and Bo Beep will get married because they are the cutest couple.

TOM HANKS: Awwhhhh.  Well… 

ANNIE POTTS:  Wait, this could be [Disney] talking points. 

TOM HANKS:  I will say that Woody has known since 1994 that Bo was the figurine for him.  He just always knew.  And let me check these talking points.  (Audience laughs) (Tom Hanks pulls out paper with Disney provided talking points) 

ANNIE POTTS: They’re getting harder and harder to find. 

TOM HANKS: (Reads from paper) Toy Story 4 reunites Woody and his long lost friend Bo Peep who’s become an adventure-seeking free spirit.  They discover that they are worlds apart when it comes to life as a toy and yet, they know that fate is an odd thing and there is no substitution for love in this crazy kooky confusing world.  “Come on gang!”

Here’s Katherine’s summary of her awesome visit to the event…

And here’s her review of Toy Story 4 which opens nationwide June 21, 2019.

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Tolkien – An Incredibly Heartwarming Film Telling How J. R. Tolkien Drew Inspiration for His Books

Friday, May 10th, 2019

Tolkien explores the formative years of the orphaned author as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a group of fellow outcasts at school. This takes him into the outbreak of World War I, which threatens to tear the “fellowship” apart. All of these experiences would inspire Tolkien to write his famous Middle-Earth novels. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Rohan F. comments, “Tolkien is an incredibly heartwarming film telling the story of John Ronald Tolkien’s life and how he drew inspiration for his books. This film is extremely entertaining for a biopic. It tells his life story in a way that shows how events throughout his life fueled his imagination to create his incredible fantasy stories.” Calista B. adds, “A mind like Tolkien is very intriguing. I was interested in how creativity and imagination are the central focus of the movie. As I writer, I get very excited when I hear how “creativity can change the world,” because that is something I believe in very deeply. So, I enjoyed that very much. “ See their full reviews below.

Tolkien
Reviewed by Rohan Foxe, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 13

Tolkien is an incredibly heartwarming film telling the story of John Ronald Tolkien’s life and how he drew inspiration for his books. This film is extremely entertaining for a biopic. It tells his life story in a way that shows how events throughout his life fueled his imagination to create his incredible fantasy stories. It brilliantly represents how people make connections with other people and events that inspire creativity.

Tolkien begins with J.R.R. Tolkien in a small camp in a WWI trench, where he is having visions of mythical creatures battling. It then cuts to him as a child and shows how he always loved these mythical creatures that he wrote about. Suddenly, due to a lack of money, his family is forced to move to the city where he has no friends. He and his brother are admitted to a prestigious school on scholarships where he makes some lifelong friends.

The use of imagery in this film is incredible. Lots of normal things are transformed by John’s imagination into incredible creatures from myths and legends. Many of the things that John experiences over the course of his life are mirrored by the events in his books. The film excels at showing that Tolkien was really passionate about his writing and the use of language. The war scenes in the movie are quite graphic and hard to watch, but show the inspiration for Tolkien’s epic battle scenes in his writings.

(From L-R): Nicholas Hoult, Anthony Boyle, Patrick Gibson and Tom Glynn-Carney in the film TOLKIEN. Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

One thing I disliked is the way the movie starts. It begins with a scene of two CGI horses being ridden into battle. The CGI used isn’t that great and is a terrible choice for the opening scene, because it instantly turns down the audience and makes it just a little bit harder to get their support. However, the story is strong enough to compensate for that and you become quickly lost in the world of Tolkien’s imagination.

The moral of this film is that you should try to accomplish your goals and overcome obstacles. This is told throughout Tolkien’s journey. He constantly tries to accomplish different goals and is incredibly dedicated to finishing them. There is also an integral message about dealing with loss. This is shown in how he deals with the many devastating losses in his life.

The music in this film is great. It is exciting and conveys a strong tone that matches the film incredibly. It is very interesting and has a lot of variety. I give this movie 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 11 through 18, because it covers some heavy topics that are unsuitable for younger viewers. Any fan of the writings of JRR Tolkien will love this. It is one of my favorite films and I am certain I will watch it again. It opens in theaters May 10, 2019 so look for it.

Tolkien
By Calista Bess, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 15

At this point, it’s hard not to know about J. R. R. Tolkien. Given that The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings are behemoths in pop culture, you’ve no doubt heard of the author. Even though I’m not a Tolkien fan, I’ll admit this movie is quite interesting.

This movie is a biopic about the early life of J. R. R. Tolkien showing his high school years, him building his strong friendships, falling in love with Edith Bratt – all culminating in the creation of The Hobbit.

A mind like Tolkien is very intriguing. I was interested in how creativity and imagination are the central focus of the movie. As I writer, I get very excited when I hear how “creativity can change the world,” because that is something I believe in very deeply. So, I enjoyed that very much.

A big focus of this movie is about how friendships we build in school can push us and help us ascend to become better artist. Early in the movie, Tolkien befriends three boys – Robert Gilson, Christopher Wiseman and Geoffrey Bache Smith. They form The TCBS Club which created such a strong brotherhood that it probably would have lasted a lifetime, if not for the war. Most of the scenes in this movie focus on their relationship and the performances really bring their friendship to life. Speaking of which, I really enjoyed the performances in this film. The two leads, Nicholas Hoult as Tolkien and Lily Collins as Edith Bratt, work really well together. Not only do they have a lot of charm, but they also have a lot of chemistry. There’s one scene where they’re in a restaurant and talking about Tolkien’s stories and languages. The dialogue feels very natural. Something about the whole scene is very immersive and charmingly romantic, without being cheesy, which is very rare in modern cinema.

I like how references to Tolkien’s future works are sprinkled throughout the film. From he and Edith going to see an opera about a magic ring, to a very well shot scene from Tolkien’s time in World War 1 where he sees fantasy creatures throughout the battlefield, it reminded me of how I picture scenes for my own stories.

I give this movie 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 13 to 18, plus adults. It comes out May 10, 2019. Look for it, especially if you are a fan of his literature.

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Fighting With My Family – Captures Your Heart With Big Family Values

Friday, March 22nd, 2019

Born into a tight-knit wrestling family, Paige and her brother Zak are ecstatic when they get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try out for the WWE. But when only Paige earns a spot in the competitive training program, she must leave her loved ones behind and face this new cutthroat world alone. Paige’s journey pushes her to dig deep and ultimately prove to the world that what makes her different is the very thing that can make her a star. KIDS FIRST! Adult Reviewer Kimbirly O. comments, ” When I heard about this film, I thought, “What a crazy title!” Well, it is not so crazy; it is enchanting.” See her full review below.

Fighting With My Family
By Kimbirly O., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

Florence Pugh stars as Paige in FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY, . Credit: Robert Viglasky / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

When I heard about this film, I thought, “What a crazy title!” Well, it is not so crazy; it is enchanting. This film is based on a true story and follows the antics of a former wrestler and his family, as they make a living wrestling in small venues in northern England. The family is in the business, and the kids dream of making it in big in the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).

While wrestling is not my jam and the film is slow at times, it captured my heart with big family values – life lessons about believing in oneself and each member of one’s family. The sibling wrestlers Saraya (Florence Pugh) and Zak Knight (Jack Lowden) have trained for the big stage of wrestling since they were young. In fact, Zak reminds us that this was his dream since he was three. When they get the call from a WWE scout named Hutch (Vince Vaughn), it is a dream come true. On the other hand, is it?

Nick Frost as Ricky Knight and Jack Lowden as Zak Knight in FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY. Credit: Robert Viglasky / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Florence Pugh is fantastic and I cheered for her throughout the film. Her family brings a lot of comedy and grit to their roles. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is in all the trailers and has some key scenes. He will definitely help sell tickets! It is great to see Vince Vaughn in a positive and upbeat role.

I give this film 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to 18, as well as adults. The stunts are detailed and outstanding. The choreography is flawless. The casting is great. The costumes are authentic and there are many laugh-out-loud lines. You do not have to be clan of grapplers in Norwich, England to like this film! The film screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and opens in theaters nationwide February 22, 2019. Look for it!

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See Jane Salon – Gotta Keep on Tryin’!

Sunday, March 10th, 2019

Shining A Spotlight on Women in Literature and Hollywood
Hosted by 72andSunny & LAI Communications

The 2nd Annual Black History Month celebration once again shines a spotlight on women and girls of color in Hollywood and media using literature as its entry point. The evening featured dramatic readings from the works by New York Times best-selling authors, Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant, along with the newest release of the novel, Blurred Lines, by Courtney Parker and Mona Scott Young. An empowering panel discussion followed on the current state of women of color in Hollywood and media. The panel also highlighted recent research studies by Baylor University as well as Creative Artists Agency and shift7. The former study found that movies starring women of color had strong staying power (which equals profitability) in movie theaters on an average of 20 weeks. The latter study looked at movies, from 2014 to 2017, and found that films with female leads earned more than their male-led counterparts. With all of the great successes and progress for women in 2018, there is still more work to do. We “Gotta Keep on Tryin!”

Moderator: Madeline Di Nonno, CEO, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; Panelist: Yolanda Brinkley, Founder, Diversity in Cannes; Kellee Edwards, Travel Expert & Television Host; Sharon Liggins, PR Strategist; Tyrha M. Lindsey-Warren, PhD/MBA, Business Executive, Artist, Entrepreneur; Courtney Parker, VP Alternative Programming, Adaptive Studios and Co-author, Blurred Lines; Actors: Joni Bovill, Napiera Groves, Benita Krista Nall, Fredericka Meek

Gotta Keep On Tryin’!
By Samantha Marcus, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 19

I absolutely loved attending the stage reading and panel discussion about gender in media. It left me feeling empowered, driven and motivated. While there aren’t as many women in media as there are men, we can change that. After hearing about five successful women finding their voices and making a difference in the world, I can’t wait to do the same.

Hosted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, this event highlighted the dynamics of gender in media, shining an immense spotlight on women of color in literature and Hollywood. Women of different races, backgrounds and lifestyles gathered to view stage readings from two pivotal novels: Gotta Keep On Tryin’! by Virginia Deberry and Donna Grant, and Blurred Lines by Mona-Scott Young and Courtney Parker. Both novels illuminate the power of women and recognize how women need to be a driving force in changing the way they are represented in society today. The panel discussed their career paths and struggles within our ever-growing and diverse society

The panel consisted of Yolanda Brinkley, Keller Edwards, Sharon Liggins, Dr. Tyrha Warren and Courtney Parker. Each woman emphasized how never giving up is imperative in making your dreams come true. I admire how Courtney Parker, co-author of Blurred Lines, personalized her writing passions by sharing how she questioned Goldilocks and the Three Bears, when she was only four years old. Kellee Edwards developed her own show Travel Channel after she filmed herself traveling the world on YouTube.

My favorite part was meeting Geena Davis. She is such an inspiration to me and she was so happy to take a picture with me. I aspire to be like her when I grow up. The message of this event is to find your voice. It wasn’t easy for these women, but once they did, nothing was impossible. This event was appropriate for ages 13 to 18, as well as adults. Teenage years are divine in a young woman’s life, so make the most of them. To learn more about the Geena Davis Foundation, become a member and attend their monthly events, go to www.seejane.org. To all the young women reading this, promise me you’ll let nothing stop you. If men can do it, so can we!

Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made
Shining A Spotlight on Women in Literature and Hollywood
By Jordan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12

On February 20, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media hosted a See Jane Salon celebrating the 20th anniversary of Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made by New York Times best-selling authors Virginia Berry and Donna Grant. Held in honor of Black History Month, the event was a lively discussion about the state of people of color in media.

Founded by Academy-Award winning actor Geena Davis, the Institute is a research-based organization in the media and entertainment industry focused on eliminating bias, highlighting gender balance and challenging stereotypes.

The event featured dramatic readings from some of the authors’ most popular books including Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made, Gotta Keep on Trying, What Doesn’t Kill You and Far from the Tree. Readings featured actors Roseanne Currry, Magaly Coleman, Lisa Wilkerson and Harry Lennix.

Each of the performances took the audience through a range of topics from friendships to a troubled marriage to young womanhood. Some of the scenes were humorous and others were more traumatic and emotional. It was interesting to see all of the books portrayed live, a much different experience than just reading them. It was like watching a play in action with each book a different scene.

The readings were followed by a panel discussion on the state of people of color in the media. The panel was moderated by Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Madeline kicked off the discussion by asking each of the panelists to share their journey to success, including challenges, and then provide advice for breaking into the industry and share their thoughts on where media is now. It was a lively discussion filled with humor and honesty.

Authors Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant shared their journey to becoming best-selling authors and the challenges of breaking into the literary industry as women of color. They discussed their journey from meeting as plus size models in the fashion industry, to becoming best-selling authors. Tyrha Lindsey-Warren discussed her experience working in television and film development with the Creative Artists Agency and Edmonds Entertainment. Actor Harry Lennix, currently on NBC’s hit show The Blacklist, discussed his process to becoming a successful actor from stage to screen. He noted that in order to become an actor, you need to study the work of those that you admire. Entrepreneur Yolanda Brinkley, discussed founding Beyond Borders: Diversity in Cannes. The goal of her program is to highlight diversity in independent film at the international festival each year. Yolanda discussed the importance of people of color in Hollywood having a seat at the table. Because Beyond Borders is not yet an official part of the festival, Yolanda stressed pushing hard to advocate for what you are passionate about doing. She is still striving to make it an official event, but shared how she works to reach out to actors and filmmakers of color to get the word out and the event is growing each year.

Talking with author Virgina DeBerry about the direction of women and people of color in the media, DeBerry stated “We need to continue to get better representation, especially for women in the media. We are so interesting and have so many facets and the media tends to pigeon hole people. We need to be able to break out of the slot and show all that we have to offer.”

The event and the panel discussion was inspiring. It was good for the audience members to not only hear the journeys of the panelists, but get their advice on how to begin journeys of their own.



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