400 Days from SyFy Films: Twin Cities Film Fest Insider Series

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Opening this weekend as part of the Twin Cities Film Fest Insider Series will be 400 Days directed by local resident Matt Osterman.

The film is released by SyFy Films and will have both theatrical releases as well as direct to video/streaming which begins today, January 12th.

Director and writer Matt Osterman lives in Roseville, Minnesota which is just north of St. Paul and just east of Minneapolis. Yes, this is a true Twin Cities suburb. The film will screen at Theatres of The Mall Of America in Bloomington, as well as other theaters across the country.

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400 Days is a psychological sci-fi film centering on four astronauts who are sent on a simulated mission to a distant planet to test the psychological effects of deep space travel. Locked away for 400 days, the crew’s mental state begins to deteriorate when they lose all communication with the outside world. Forced to exit the ship, they discover that this mission may not have been a simulation after all.

Somewhere between Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, Deliverance, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey lies this film, 400 Days. While TZ, 2001, and Deliverance were produced long ago, these seem to be important influences for Matt Osterman.

As the film begins, one man is being released from prison, and then we are whisked to a press conference somewhere. The Director of Mission Control, Walter, is introducing the four ‘astronauts’. Just keep in mind that there’s no physical Mission or Ground Control, and we are not supposed to be anywhere near Houston or Cape Canaveral. And there’s no rocket/space craft.

As they say, this is a simulation.

There’s the Captain of the mission Theo, who is played by Brandon Routh. On this day, when the mission will launch, he complains of having just broken up with his girl friend who has backed out of a planned marriage. Consequently . he’s severely hung-over.

Caity Lotz plays Emily the Medical Officer.

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The Last Great Circus Flyer – Bonus Coverage from The Twin Cities Film Fest

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There’s been plenty of movies about circuses. I’ve even been to an actual circus, albeit back in the last century. The Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus may not have set up their tents on Long Island, at least that I know of.

But they did take their version of The Greatest Show on Earth to Madison Square Garden. right in the heart of New York City.

Aside from seeing a live circus, I’ve managed to take in a few circus films. Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) heads the list.

Next would be Trapeze (1956), and the smallest of the three,

and oldest would be Marx Bros. At The Circus (1939).

Even though I’ve already departed Minneapolis, and the Twin Cities Film Fest, today we have some bonus coverage. The Last Great Circus Flyer is a documentary about Miguel Vazquez, who certainly can be called the last great circus flyer.

I met the film’s director Phil Weyland at the fest. He had been given my name by Anahita Ahrar (above), of Mediahrar, a PR firm.

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It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong: Day Six at the Twin Cities Film Festival

Roll Credits!

That usually signifies the end of the show, be it TV or movies. For me, right now, it means that I am departing Minneapolis and heading home to sunny Sarasota, Florida, later this morning,

While the TCFF will roll on for five more grand evenings (it closes on October 31st), I am so happy to have had an opportunity, for my personal closing night, to watch a super film called It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong.

The film was written and directed by Emily Ting. This was her first time at helming a narrative feature film. Her five other directorial credits were for Shorts, Documentaries, and Documentary Shorts.

In a nutshell, an American born and raised Chinese woman goes to Hong Kong on a business trip, In a fast and easy ‘meet cute’, she gets lost somewhere in the Midlevels – small streets, lots of people, and a tad confusing to a newbie like her. An American expat, who has lived and worked in Hong Kong for 10 years, happens to overhear her phone conversation as she’s telling another party that she’s not sure where the particular place she was to meet a group of friends is. He offers her the directions and, after a bit of hesitation offers to walk her to that place.

Of course she declines, and heads out on her own. Moments later she’s back and admits to being lost and unsure. Once again he offers to escort her there. After an initial and repeated refusal, she relents and off they go.

He’s Josh and she’s Ruby. Josh is played by Bryan Greenberg and Ruby is played by Jamie Chung. Josh works for a multinational financial services company, and Ruby designs toys. Likely there’s a lot more to each of them – but hey, they’ve just met – and he’s only helping out a person under the broad heading of How Do I Get To…

So the walk and talk begins – Hollywood Road, the Man Mo Temple, Ladder Street, the Mid Level Escalators all come into view. As Ruby and Josh do their thing, Director Ting is doing her thing which is to treat we viewers to the excitement and thrills of just walking around in Hong Kong at night.

Emily told me that she had lived in Hong Kong for five years and that she didn’t speak the local language called Guangdongwa, or Cantonese. But Hong Kong is a city that doesn’t present a language issue for English-speaking visitors.  I had met with her for more than an hour before the screening, which was before she had to do the meet and greets and the red carpet and other things that filmmakers must do at a film festival.

If you’ve never been to Hong Kong, then you’re in for a treat. But if you are an old Hong Kong hand, like me, the film brought back a ton of warm memories.

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Finding Noah: Day Five at the Twin Cities Film Fest

MV5BMTQ4Nzg4NDA1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODAxODI0NDE@._V1__SX1037_SY469_Thomas Edison: I have not failed, I just found 10,000 ways that did not work.

That’s one of Edison’s most well-known quotes, and it is repeated in the Brent Baum documentary film called Finding Noah.

Anthropologists, religious scholars, biblical students, adventurers, archeologists, people of strong faith, and scientists of many stripes have been kicking around the question of Noah’s Ark for literally centuries.

Did God really warn and give Noah specific instructions about how to build an ark because he was going to flood the earth, and destroy every living being excepting those on this vessel.

As we hear in this terrific documentary, if God did that, then he did intervene and change the course of human kind. For a number of reasons, over the many years, it has been thought that the final resting place of the Ark was on Mt. Ararat in what is now Eastern Turkey.  At one point this Mt was part of the Ottoman Empire, and was also a part of Armenia. Because of shifting political alliances and warfare, this Mountain now is a part of Turkey.

So a trek is organized. Funding, permits, equipment, and weather all come into play. On top of that there is only a specific time of the year when authorized expeditions can be allowed to set forth. The plan is that on Day One, they will hike to 3200 feet and stay in Base Camp. Actually base camp is not a formal or structural presence or location. It is mainly a piece of a plateau big enough and relatively flat enough to sustain about a dozen tents going up.

Day Two’s distance traveled will be up to 4200 feet. That is only about a thousand feet above Base Camp. But the grade is much steeper, so the going is harder, slower, and more grueling. They will stay at this level for two nights to acclimatize themselves to this altitude.

Don’t forget that while at this level, while you are doing more of mountaineering than rock climbing, you are dealing with the cold weather, the thinner oxygen, and you are carrying everything necessary to reach the summit on your own backs. And yes there is a deep gorge in the area as well as many deep crevasses. This is not Nepal, and Ararat goes only to 17,000+ feet. But there are no Sherpas here.

Eventually, the summit is reached – but that is just a part of the story. Now common sense dictates that if the Ark was to be found, the likelihood is that it would have been found long before. In today’s world, there are technologies available to assist in finding the remnants of the ark. Satellite imagery, sonar listening devices that can send out sound waves that can detect the differences in the returned signals that are bouncing off ice or bouncing off a different kind of material.

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Leaves of The Tree: Day Five at the Twin Cities Film Fest

Revelation 22:2

…and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Which tree is it might be the question you are asking because as we can clearly see, by the clothes on their bodies, the actors and actresses in this film are not costumed for a biblical epic.

That said – we are talking about cuttings from the original tree that was used for Christ’s Crucifixion. These cuttings were planted in Castellammare del Golfo, Trapani, Sicily, Italy ,

In that idyllic location a tree grew and over the years, centuries and centuries to be exact, the leaves of this tree have shown remarkable curative, restorative and mystical healing powers. At the very spot of the tree’s location, a ramshackle chapel has been in use over all those years.

There’s a bit of brief background about the story’s origin and set up. While the visual aspect of the film doesn’t take us back to the time of Christ, the film opens with a British Naval Commander, one Lord William, possibly circa late 18th – early 19th century who had been wounded in Sicily and was near death, when he is found by a local sheep herder and his son. In relatively short order, bordering on miraculous, his wound is healed by the shepherd administering a salve.

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In the present, a Doctor Ferramonti (played by Federico Castelluccio who appeared as Furio on 28 Episodes of The Sopranos), shows up in Houston, Texas to offer a giant pharmaceutical firm an opportunity to research and possibly develop a specific medical breakthrough based on studying the leaves.

While the President of the firm is skeptical,  Senior Department heads, played by Eric Roberts and Marisa Brown are intrigued and soon a trip to Sicily is organized. Also apparently interested is another Senior Executive of the firm, and he’s played by Armand Assante.

Meanwhile we are told that a certain Spanish and  Sicilian order of Monks, led by Don Diego – The Conquistadores de Christos, is losing favor in the Vatican. Apparently they have learned of this tree, and the leaves, and the chapel, and will go to any lengths to acquire either legitimately, or by cash under the table – the rights to this tree. And not unexpectedly, the Vatican itself has designs on this very same site in Sicily.

Okay, there’s your setup. Yes, the same wheels turned in my own head. Surely, you might be thinking, I know I was – we are heading into Dan Brown territory – The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and church secrets guarded zealously by warrior priests called the Illuminati, or in this case the Conquistadores de Christos.

Not so fast. This is a faith-based story, and it is more about the healing powers of the tree than any willingness to go to war over it. There are no gangsters, no Mafia, no Sicilian cops, and no chases. There’s some implied sexual activity but there’s no nudity.

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Youth: Day Four at the Twin Cities Film Festival

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In my last review (Brooklyn) I posed a question: Who says size matters? I was referencing a small film with a huge heart. Here in Youth, the latest opus from Paolo Sorrentino, we have a film on a grand scale, a big film but without a heart.

Sorrentino, as he did in his last film, The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza), once again riffs on his favorite themes: Age and the Hollowness and Emptiness of Success.

Here, Michael Caine plays a retired composer and symphony conductor Fred Ballinger, and Harvey Keitel plays his best bud,

Mick Boyle, a famous Hollywood film director. They are set up in one of those elegant Swiss Alpine Hotels/Spas where you’re pampered beyond belief.

This particular time, Ballinger’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz)  has arranged for the trip,

Lena: You’ll be getting the best of care. Sauna, Massage, and daily check ups by the doctors to get you back in shape.
Fred: At my age, getting into shape is a waste of time…

At this time, Lena is also in a relationship with Mick’s son Julian, who is about to walk out of the relationship. Fortunately for Lena, she’s already in a place that can help with depression as well as being good for one’s body.

So Mick and Fred spend their days walking through lush Alpine meadows,

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Brooklyn: Day Four at the Twin Cities Film Festival

Father Flood: Anyway, we need Irish girls in Brooklyn…
Eilis: Wish I could stop feeling that I want to be an Irish girl in Ireland.
Father Flood: All I can say is that it will pass. Homesickness is like most sicknesses. It will make you feel wretched, then will move on to somebody else…

Who says size matters? This may be a small film, but it has a huge heart. Brooklyn is the tale of a young Irish girl in County Wexford, circa the early 1950’s. She wants more out of life than what she has there. The small town of Enniscorthy offered provincialism, gossip, dreary small lanes, and a lack of opportunity and all of those were wearing her down.

Eilis worked just two hours a week, on Sunday mornings at Ms Kelly’s Bakery. Besides that being her only employment, Eilis had to deal with Kelly who was a cold-hearted and spiteful woman. So immediately you knew that this young woman, Eilis Lacey wanted more from life.

Her Dad has passed on a decade ago, and Eilis (pronounced as Ailish), her older sister Rose, and her Mom, were all the family that remained.

Rose, wanting her younger sister to have the life she’d never have, contacted a priest in Brooklyn who had roots in the same Irish town. He would sponsor Eilis to come to America and when she did she’d have more than just having her feet on American soil. He would be able to arrange housing in a respectable boarding house for Catholic girls, and secure a job in a downtown upscale Brooklyn department store for young Eilis.

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The thing of it is, that by boarding a steamship bound for New York, Eilis would be leaving her family, possibly forever. And when the day of departure came, the faces we saw on the dockside and the steamship represented the contrasting  two sides of one event – the happy and cheerful faces of those looking down from ship’s decks, and the tearful and sad faces of those who remained.

Eilis’s journey begins with an initially rough crossing of the Atlantic. Cramped quarters and shared bathrooms, often unfairly locked, when added to sea-sickness can almost take the joy out of a new beginning for anyone. But Eilis was fortunate to have a savvy and experienced woman traveler sharing her room. With plenty of advice, both sage and sound, the crossing went far better as it went ahead than when it began.

Immigration Official: Exit through that blue door Miss. Welcome to the United States.

Eilis is played by Saoirse Ronan. Her performance as a homesick immigrant, a young woman coming of age, and as a stranger on American shores, is just spectacular.

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Counter Clockwise: Day Three at the Twin Cities Film Festival

Counter-Clockwise

This is the second film I saw today, my third day at the Twin Cities Film Fest. They call it a Sci-Fi Thriller/Dark Comedy and the title is Counter Clockwise.

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Here is the blurb from the TCFF Film Program Guide:

Counter Clockwise is sci-fi thriller/dark comedy about a brilliant scientist named Ethan Walker on the verge of inventing teleportation. But something goes wrong and he accidentally invents time travel. Ethan is hurled 6 months into the future where he finds a sinister upside down world. People are trying to kill him, he’s entangled in corporate espionage, and, worst of all, he’s the prime suspect for the murders of his wife and sister. In an attempt to change history and save his loved ones Ethan must travel back in time to uncover the mystery surrounding their deaths.

And here is the film’s trailer –

Unfortunately, as well made as this trailer is – it actually does lead one to believe that this film could be pretty good, the film itself cannot live up to the promise offered by the trailer. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this trailer completely hides the fact that this is a dreadful film. And that’s being kind.

Let’s set the stage for you with some other stuff that you will know – I’m assuming you won’t know much about this film. Have you seen the Sprint Commercial where a guy builds a time machine so he won’t have to wait 17 months for his next I-phone 6s.

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His friend comes in, and yadda-yadda, with Sprint, you’re eligible for an upgrade as soon as the phone is made available to the public. Above are  the two guys talking.

You know how this ends right: a bell goes off and the guy in the yellow jacket says, What’s that? The bearded guy in the coveralls says, Oh that’s lunch – leftovers from tomorrow night.

Now here’s the guy the movie:

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Pocha: Manifest Destiny – Day Three at the Twin Cities Film Festival

Day Three in Minneapolis marked the end of sunny and warm, and the beginning of rainy and cold.  My first film of the day at the Twin Cities Film Fest 2015 was the 1:00 PM screening of Pocha: Manifest Destiny.

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In case you were wondering, Pocha is a derogatory term used by Mexicans to describe Mexican-American girls who have little or no understanding or fluency in Spanish – and have major communication difficulties with Spanish-speaking Mexicans. The term is derived from the word pocho which means rotten or discolored fruit. Said in a broader context – both pocha and pocho are intended to mean – useless.

As the film opens – we meet a young Mexican American woman who will be known as Pocha. She’s got major financial problems, the home she lives in with her mother is facing foreclosure. The loan officer at the bank tells her she must come up with 20k to become current.

So she connects with some people she knows whose major business is credit card fraud and debit card fraud. With the aid of sophisticated equipment, they can rob you blind. It works until it doesn’t work. She’s busted.

As an undocumented person while in custody, her info has been sent to Immigration. They give her two choices: 1) Plead guilty and be immediately sent back to Mexico as a free person with no rights to ever re-enter America again, or 2) Plead innocent, take your chances in court (against a very strong case) – do your jail time – then be deported.

Your basic situation of being between a rock and a hard place.

Not much of a choice. Her estranged father lives in Mexico, and our girl figures she can avoid doing time in jail, and eventually she’d find a way to cross back into America.

So there’s Pocha arriving at her father’s ranch. He is a cattleman, and NOT what you’d called a gentleman farmer.  He’s a working guy and his hands and his clothes get dirty every day.

But he’s got a big ranch, and as Pocha finds out, she’s got to help out. She can’t be allowed to spend all day in bed. Her Dad says the pay is $10. An hour?, she asks. No, a day.

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