Tolkien – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

The latest in the recent proliferation of writer-based biopics, Tolkien recounts the early life and young adulthood of J.R.R. Tolkien (portrayed by Nicholas Hoult as a young man), best known as the author of the children’s fantasy novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Like the biopics, Rebel in the Rye (also starring Hoult as J.D. Salinger), The Man Who Invented Christmas (starring Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens), and Goodbye Christopher Robin (starring Domhnall Gleeson as A.A. Milne), this film focuses on the inspiration for what would become classic stories celebrated by generations of readers (and moviegoers).

Nicholas Hoult stars in Tolkien

As the actual process of writing is mostly cerebral and therefore not inherently interesting, the film must focus elsewhere. In this case, Tolkien looks at how the impoverished young Tolkien brothers lose their father and mother before John (the “J” in J.R.R.) turns 13, and must live with an elderly matron who takes in young orphans. While there, John meets another resident, Edith (Lily Collins), who is studying to be a pianist. Their budding romance interferes with his school grades, and is soon halted by Father Francis (Colm Meaney), a well-meaning, but misguided priest who made a promise to John’s dying mother that the boy would attend college and make something of himself.    

A Fellowship of Words and Beauty

Without Edith, John turns to his three best friends for support, classmates Robert (Patrick Gibson), Geoffrey (Anthony Boyle), and Christopher (Tom Glynn-Carney), with whom he forms an after-school think tank. Together, they plan to change the world through the power of art. Their fellowship of words and beauty, however, is disrupted by World War I, which forever breaks apart their bond. The film is told mainly through flashbacks from the battlefield, as John struggles desperately to find Geoffrey in the heat of a grisly attack.  

One of the film’s chief goals appears to be laying the groundwork for Tolkien’s eventual creation of Middle Earth. We learn of his love for inventing language, his connection to “rings,” his anguished love affair with a woman he is forbidden to see, and horrific battle scenes forever seared into his memory. While providing possible connections from Tolkien’s past to his groundbreaking books, the film leaves much unsaid – merely offering suggestions of where some ideas or images might have originated.

The acting is terrific, and the transition from younger actors to older ones especially so. Music by Thomas Newman is often reminiscent of the feature films based on Tolkien’s work. Production values excel across the board, making Tolkien a must-see for fans of the books and film trilogy.

Tolkien

The adolescent and early adult years of the famed author J.R.R. Tolkien are examined in this drama that explores how his real-life experiences influenced his later books.

  • Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, Patrick Gibson, Anthony Boyle, Tom Glynn-Carney
  • Director: Dome Karukoski
  • Writers: David Gleeson, Stephen Beresford
  • Genre: Biographical Drama
  • Run Time: 112 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some sequences of war violence)

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.

2019 Florida Film Festival Awards

By Leslie C. Halpern

The 28th Annual Florida Film Festival, produced by Enzian Theater with primary sponsor Full Sail University, concluded on April 21 after showcasing 184 feature and short films from 41 countries during the 10-day event.

Winners of the American Independent Competition and The Female Filmmaker to Watch award were announced on Saturday, April 20 at the Awards Bash held at Oliver’s Classic Cars in Winter Park, Florida.

Shorts Winners

  • Audience Award for Best Midnight Short. Chowboys: An American Folktale. Directed by Astron-6
  • Special Jury Award for Innovative Storytelling. Technology Lake: Meditations on Death and Sex. Directed by Brandon Daley
  • Grand Jury Award for Best Animated Short. Las Del Diente. Directed by Ana Perez Lopez
  • Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Short.  Lockdown. Directed by Celine Held and Logan George
  • Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Short. Departing Gesture. Directed by Brian Bolster and Jonathan Napolitano
  • Audience Award for Best Short Film. The Next Edition. Directed by Alice Li and Whitney Shefte.

Documentary Features Winners

  • Special Jury Award for Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking. The Interpreters. Directed by Andres Caballero and Sofian Khan
  • Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature. Kifaru. Directed by David Hambridge
  • Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature. Roll Red Roll. Directed by Nancy Schwartzman.
Taylor Buck won a Special Jury Award for Outstanding Performance in Princess of the Row. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Narrative Features Winners

  • Special Jury Award for Outstanding Performance. Tayler Buck in Princess of the Row. Directed by Van Maximilian Carlson
  • Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. Postal. Directed by Tyler Falbo
  • Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature. Chained for Life. Directed by Aaron Schimberg.

International Winners

  • Audience Award for Best International Feature. Yomeddine (Egypt/Austria/USA). Directed by Abu Bakr Shawky
  • Audience Award for Best International Short. Nefta Football Club (France/Tunisia). Directed by Yves Piat.

Female Filmmaker to Watch Award

  • Presented by Chloe Wine Collection to Alix Lambert. Director of Edge of Daybreak and Prison Zoo.

For complete information about the Festival visit the official website.

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.

Teen Spirit – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

Set in Whiting Isle, UK, this coming-of-age Cinderella story stars Elle Fanning as Violet, an introverted 17-year-old girl who feels trapped by her circumstances. Her single mother runs a small farm, and needs her daughter to work part-time at a diner to help support them. Between school, work, singing with the choir, and dealing with her unhappy Polish mother, Violet leads a lonely, unsatisfying life.

Teen Spirit.
Elle Fanning stars in Teen Spirit. Photo copyright 2018 Bleecker Street.

In a desperate act of rebellion, she sneaks off to sing at a local bar at night (pretending to be 21 years old), and meets Vlad (Zlatko Buric), an elderly alcoholic who was once a famous opera star. After her performance, for which only Vlad claps, Violet is faced with a group of drunken men harassing her at the bus stop or accepting Vlad’s offer for a ride home. She accepts Vlad’s offer, and they form a friendship of sorts.

New Singing Sensation

When an American Idol style competition called Teen Spirit comes to town recruiting for a new UK singing sensation, naturally Violet wants to audition, but knows her mother won’t approve. Having conveniently met Vlad a couple of weeks prior to the audition, she asks him to serve as her guardian.

Not content to prevaricate without profit, Vlad says if she wins and makes it big, he will serve as her manager and take 50 percent of her earnings. As Violet inches closer and closer to winning the local competition and moving on to the regional bout in London,  they inform her mother, who reluctantly agrees to the arrangement, but tells Vlad he gets only 15 percent.

Teens Should Love It

Although Fanning sings her own songs and does a good job of it, much of this film feels overly familiar. Some scenes and characters, including a jealous nemesis at school, an impoverished home life, a fairy godmother (in this case a drunken opera singer), and schemers ready to take advantage of her at the competitions, are predictable and trite. Likewise, her emotional outbursts at Vlad and his eventual return may send jaded adults out to the concession stand for refills. Even some of the music is recycled hits from earlier times.

Teens, however, probably won’t notice or mind the lack of fresh material. They have a hero to admire. Violet’s humble beginnings, lack of poise, and complete absence of social skills make her relatable, as does her pretty girl next door appearance that while pleasing, fails to dazzle. Buric also does a fine job in his portrayal of a man who has lost most of his reasons for living until he sees the potential in a young stranger at a bar. Backstory is barely covered, or even relevant, because this film is strictly in-the-moment.

Teen Spirit

A small-town farm girl dreams of becoming a pop star in this Cinderella story.

  • Stars: Elle Fanning, Agnieszka Grochowska, Archie Madekwe, Zlatko Buric
  • Director and Writer: Max Minghella
  • Genre: Musical Drama
  • Run Time: 92 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive content, and for teen drinking and smoking)

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.

Film Selections from 2019 Florida Film Festival: Capsule Reviews

By Leslie C. Halpern

The 28th Annual Florida Film Festival, produced by Enzian Theater and held throughout Central Florida this year from April 12-21, 2019, offers nearly 200 narrative features and documentary short films from 41 countries around the world, in addition to celebrity guests, special events, film forums, film sidebars, parties, and the American Independent Competition.

Special guests this year include cast and film crew from The Blair Witch Project (1999) on Sunday, April 14th from 8:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. at Enzian Theater, and Richard Dreyfuss on Friday, April 19th from 7:30 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. at Enzian Theater for a screening of the Herbert Ross-directed romantic comedy, The Goodbye Girl (1977).

A sample of capsule film reviews appears below.

Roll Red Roll. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Roll Red Roll

In Competition Documentary Feature. Screens April 13, 2019 at 8:30 p.m. and April 18, 2019 at 4:00 p.m., both at Regal Winter Park Village.

At the center of this disturbing documentary is a rape case where a drunken underage girl was attacked by two teenaged football stars of their high school team, and the crime was photographed and videotaped by their friends. While the details of the rape are heinous, the case is even more shocking by the photographs of the barely conscious victim, derogatory comments about her, and macho posturing on social media by the perpetrators and their friends. When true-crime blogger, Alex Goddard, starts writing about the case, the locals of Steubenville, Ohio, where the crime occurred, rally behind the boys and work to discredit the victim. As a police detective, attorneys, a newspaper reporter, and school officials also get involved, the insidious small-town rape culture is exposed.

  • Directed by Nancy Schwartzman
  • Stars Alexandria Goddard
  • Run Time: 80 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: Not Rated
  • 4 / 5
Radium Girls. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Radium Girls

In Competition Narrative Feature.  Screens Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 11:30 a.m. at Enzian Theater and Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village.

Based on true events, this story set in 1920’s New Jersey concerns young women (particularly two sisters) who work hand-painting glow-in-the-dark watch dials at a factory called American Radium. The radioactive paint is sickening and killing these women at alarming rates, yet the company hides the truth and perpetuates the myth that radium is good for health. The two Caballo sisters (with the help of the local Consumer League) take on the fight against injustice and callous disregard for human life. Beautifully filmed with archival footage blended with original fictionalized footage, the main story is echoed in a subplot about police brutality and racism.

  • Directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher and Ginny Mohler
  • Stars Joey King, Abby Quinn, Cara Seymour
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: Not Rated
  • 4/5
Autumn Waltz. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

International Shorts Program #1: Never Let Me Go

In International Shorts. Screens Friday, April 19, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village and Sunday, April 21 at 2:30 p.m. at Enzian Theater.

This curious mix of narrative and documentary shorts, placed together by Florida Film Festival programmers, includes an assortment of films about letting go. Sometimes it’s letting go of rules, roles, animals, relationships, or preconceived notions. Although with such a diverse collection, audience members are sure to have favorites, there’s not a clunker in the bunch. Autumn Waltz (directed by Ognjen Petkovic) is a Serbian suspense story about karma set in a surreal environment. Tungrus (directed by Rishi Chandna) is a funny mini-documentary about a Mumbai family being terrorized by their cantankerous pet rooster. The Role (directed by Farnoosh Samadi) is a satisfying, if somewhat predictable, multi-layered look at role playing. All These Creatures (directed by Charles Williams) presents a boy’s trauma surrounding his unstable father and his connection to nature. All Inclusive (directed by Corina Schwingruber Ilic) is a 10-minute documentary about working and vacationing on a cruise line. In its North American Premiere, the highly entertaining Happiness (directed by Maciej Buchwald) follows three people entrenched in the world of self-help as they navigate speed dating, group therapy, and motivational presentations.

  • Total Run Time: 106 minutes
  • Overall program: 4/5 
The Blair Witch Project. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

The Blair Witch Project

An Evening with The Blair Witch: A 20th Anniversary Celebration on Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 8:00 p.m. Talent in attendance.

This groundbreaking horror film from 1999 is a fake documentary about three student filmmakers who go deep into the woods to search for the legendary Blair Witch. Sleep-deprived, unnerved, and shooting their own verite-style camerawork, the adventurous actors unwittingly aided the filmmakers in seamlessly blending fact and fiction so well that it’s often difficult to tell the difference. How much was improvised and how much scripted? How scared were the actors and how much was acting? (Audience members screaming in terror, fainting, and vomiting were real enough.) Now 20 years later, many aspects of this film remain a mystery, although “An Evening with the Blair Witch” may reveal some of the secrets which made this a huge hit, social media sensation, and highest-grossing film in Enzian Theater’s 34-year history.

  • Directed by Dan Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
  • Stars Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, Joshua Leonard
  • Run Time: 81 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R (for language)
  •  4/5
Ode to Joy. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Ode to Joy

In Spotlight Films. Screens Saturday, April 20, 2019 at 9:30 p.m. at Enzian Theater and Sunday, April 21, 2019 at 4:45 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village.

Charlie suffers from cataplexy, a rare neurological disorder that causes loss of muscle control under extreme emotions, and in his case, feelings of joy. He lived a careful life avoiding babies, puppies, weddings, and romantic love until one day an exceptionally beautiful and spontaneous woman walks into his library and causes a scene. After this strange initial meeting, they begin a short-lived romantic relationship because of his conflicting desires to be happy and miserable at the same time. The closer he gets to happiness, the more misery he inflicts upon himself (in the form of horrible entertainment choices, unstimulating conversations, and physical pain to damper excitement). His brother and sister complicate the situation further, as does the woman’s quirky co-worker. Sweet, sad, and humorous, this film includes an unusual story, an eclectic cast, and truly funny scenes depicting human frailty to which all of us can relate.  

  • Directed by Jason Winer
  • Stars Martin Freeman, Morena Baccarin, Jack Lacy, Melissa Rauch, Shannon Woodward, Jane Curtin
  • Run Time: 97 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R for some language and sexual references
  • 5/5

Click here to read more capsule reviews of Spotlight Films in the Florida Film Festival. For a complete list of films, ticket information, and to learn more about the Florida Film Festival, visit the official website.

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.

2019 Florida Film Festival Opening Night Film: Woman in Motion

By Leslie C. Halpern

The Opening Night Film and Party for Florida Film Festival 2019 sold out early, but in an unprecedented decision, the Festival added a second screening of Woman in Motion on the same night at a different theater. That screening sold out as well, so a third screening was added. This is the first time in the Festival’s 28-year history that three screenings of the same film have been included in the program.

Woman in Motion. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Florida Film Festival, which runs from April 12-21, 2019 throughout Central Florida, opens with Woman in Motion (film and party at Enzian Theater and two additional screenings at Regal Winter Park Village). The film is a first look at the documentary by Central Florida-based director Todd Thompson about Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols’s tremendous influence in recruiting women and minorities to the field of space exploration.

Board of Directors for the National Space Institute

Best known for her role as Lieutenant Uhura, the communications officer on the Starship Enterprise on Star Trek, the original series and movie franchise, Nichols was appointed to the board of directors for the National Space Institute where she worked tirelessly to recruit a diverse group of men and women for the new space shuttle program. The film includes interviews with Nichols and other Star Trek cast members, including George Takei, Walter Koenig, and Michael Dorn, in addition to scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, singer Pharrell, and other entertainers, politicians, and astronauts.

Tickets are still available for the third screening at Regal Winter Park Village at 8:30 p.m. for $25.00 each. Q&A sessions with the filmmaking team are planned for each screening. Woman in Motion is preceded by the short film Bavure by Italian animator Donato Sansone.

Opening Night Film Tickets Still Available

The Festival also offers 184 feature and short films from 41 countries, plus the American Independent Competition with 20 narrative features and documentaries vying for jury awards and audience awards. Festival attendees can choose from a variety of additional programming, such as celebrity guest events, special screenings, spotlight films, sidebars, international showcase, Florida films, family films, midnight movies, parties, avant garde films, and the popular film forums offered free to the community.

For a complete list of films, parties, events, and ticket information, visit the Florida Film Festival website.

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.