As fans flock to their local AMC Theaters and buy popcorn for the big budget films, there is a small place in Palatine, Illinois known as Cutting Hall Performing Arts Center. This is where the 5th Annual Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival takes place. It is at festivals like this where the true art of film takes place. Every film in the lineup has a shoestring budget and most of the directors or documentarians are just trying to get their work noticed by other people who love film as much as they do. This is where the romance lies. It’s easy for fans to go see the X-Men or the recent Planet of the Apes movie up on screen, but for one week AMovieGuy.com gets back to the reality of filmmaking. Here are some of the highlights from the fest:
Sunday July 20th- Opening Night
Opening night was held at the Star Cinema Grill in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Although there was no talent in person for Q&A’s, the opening films at the Blue Whiskey got things started on the right note. We began with two interesting Short films titled “Sorry About Tomorrow” and “Lapsus”. Both films had unique short film styles. “Lapsus” was a dream-like murder mystery set in a laundry matt. Director Karim Ouaret even woke up from Paris, France in the middle of the night for a Skype Q&A. But, the feature film was what stole the show. Director James Ward Byrkit’s film “Coherence” could be one of the better films of 2014. It is a perfect mixture Independent film and Sci-Fi.
STARRING: EMILY BALDONI; MAURY STERLING; NICHOLAS BRENDON; ELIZABETH GRACON
DIRECTED BY: JAMES WARD BYRKIT
A MOVIE GUY’S RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
It starts with a dinner party in the Los Angeles hills where friends gather. On this night, a meteor is passing over the earth. During this party, weird things start to happen. Cell phone screens crack, power goes out, and relationships may be fractured. But those are not the real problems that are at hand. “Coherence” stars a large cast of character actors who are said to have improvised almost the entire film. After the power goes out in their house, they notice that the meteor is passing by, and there is only one house on the block with power left. Is this just a coincidence? Or is this a house that could also be an alternate universe with the same dinner party guests inside? It is a smart Sci-fi film from Director James Ward Byrkit. It reminded me of films such as Director Mike Cahill’s Another Earth and even John Carpenter’s The Thing. It made it tough for the other Independent films that would follow. Read AMovieGuy.com’s 3 ½ Star Review of “Coherence” right HERE.
Monday July 21st- Night #1
The highlighted film of Monday night at the Blue Whiskey Film Fest was a Documentary that tackled the issue of gay marriage in the United States. It followed many woman in the homosexual communities of North Carolina who fought for marriage equality and also told their stories.
MOVIE: ONE: A STORY OF LOVE AND EQUALITY
STARRING: BECCA ROTH
DIRECTOR: BECCA ROTH
A MOVIE GUY’S RATING: 2 ½ Stars (Out of 4)
One: A Story of Love and Equality is about the vote in North Carolina called Amendment One, which would make marriage only between a man and a woman. Director Becca Roth shows some strong documentary work covering her subject. Roth is a lesbian herself who gets into the thick of the issue when she films a Christian Church rally that promoted and cheered on the people of their church for being against gay marriage. It is the most intense and well documented moment in the film. She also interviews many homosexual men and woman who have been in long and loving relationships showing no matter what your sexual orientation is, all people deserve equality. Where the film falters is that Roth begins with an unnecessary explanation of herself and she also has 4 or 5 scenes too many with the same subjects. Roth has great moments with an elderly woman and revisits her 5 or 6 times and does not move the film along enough. It is a great message of love and equality, but some editing needs to be done and this could be a great documentary.
Tuesday July 22nd- Night #2
On Tuesday night the true nature of the fest began to show. Writer and Director Tim Driscoll arrived for the screening of his feature film “The Lengths”. Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s “The Road”, Driscoll took his 3 actors on a journey from the midwest to the west coast.
MOVIE: THE LENGTHS
STARRING: CORY DRISCOLL; JOSHUA MIKEL; CORSICA WILSON
DIRECTED BY: TIM DRISCOLL
A MOVIE GUY’S RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Director Tim Driscoll has put together a film using a Kickstarter campaign and a beat up ugly van for a road trip film. It is a story about Tom (Played by Driscoll’s brother Corey), he recently receives a wedding invitation from his ex-girlfriend with a note that says “Save me”. He embarks on a journey with his stoner, jobless, homeless friend Charlie (Joshua Mikel) to get to the wedding and save the day. As they travel on they run into the road trip obstacles. An angry shotgun wielding father whose daughter hooks up with Charlie, dirty cheap hotels, and meet the lovely Hanna (Corsica Wilson) who needs a ride to Arizona. It turns into more than just a trip to get back Tom’s ex, as the three of them become closer, but also push each other farther away. It is a film that grew on me as I watched the three of them. Driscoll creates a natural sense of a road trip film. At some point all three characters can get on your nerves and yet you are with them for the ride. Are they great performances? Not exactly, but it is believable. What is not missing from “The Lengths” is a richness of characters. It’s not groundbreaking cinema, but Dricoll has talent and I enjoyed this more than the recent movie version of “On the Road” with Kristen Stewart, so take that for what its worth.
Thursday July 24th- Night #4
The festival takes a break from short length and feature films on Wednesday to allow everyone to sit back and enjoy live music at the local Paletine watering hole. Then they are right back at it on Thursday night. Unfortunately, this was the weakest night for the Blue Whiskey.
STARRING: MARK HORVATH
DIRECTED BY: SUSANNE SUFFREDIN
A MOVIE GUY’S RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
It all started with a promising documentary about homeless people across the U.S. called “@Home”. The film documents the work done by Mark Horvath, a man who was at one time homeless himself. He set out across the country to help those who were homeless. It is an up close and personal documentary about others who we as people tend to just pass by in life. These are people who need our help every day. It is too bad that a documentary like this still will not fixe or entirely help this problem.
What followed were some excellent short films such as Kristof Hoornaert’s film The Fall and Ryan Ovadia’s desert drama Black Water. Then came one of the weaker films of the festival, Director Myles Sorensen’s Plato’s Reality Machine.
MOVIE: PLATO’S REALITY MACHINE
STARRING: CAROLINA BARTCZAK; TRIESTE KELLY DUNN; DOUG ROLAND
DIRECTED BY: MYLES SORENSEN
A MOVIE GUY’S RATING: 1 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Sorensen seems to have a brain that is always thinking about the complexities in life, which is a good thing. His film “Plato’s Reality Machine” is commenting about our distractions from relationships and reality with video games and drugs, but the narrative of his film is never clear. In fact what I just described could be way off base. I believe this Director has the skills to be better than his first feature efforts. He films a relationship drama between characters including Actress Trieste Kelly Dunn (United 93), who plays an exotic dancer that gets in a deep conversation with a paying customer. What confuses the viewer (and especially this critic) is Sorensen’s mixing of a video game animation storyline that ends and does not relate to much of anything in the film. With a smaller budget then a lot of films, the effort and work done is appreciated, but the silent confusion from the fans in the theater said it all when this movie ended.
Friday July 25th- Night #5-
As Friday comes along the festival seemed to be making its way to a grand finale and the feature on this night was a film doing its best to tug on your heartstrings. Before that was a sweet short film about a guy who juggles, plays cards, and falls in love in the wee hours of the morning, appropriately called “Four in the Morning” by Director Alexander Jeffery. And then we got the box of Kleenex for the feature film. Entirely shot in Chicago “NightLights” is the story of a sister and her highly autistic brother, and her struggle to make the decision to continue to care for him or live her own life.
STARRING: SHAWNA WALDRON; STEPHEN LOUIS-GRUSH; JEFF GARRETSON; KATE BLACK-SPENCE
BEST DIRECTOR: DAVID MIDELL
A MOVIE GUY’S RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Director David Middell’s film NightLights is a film that is close to his heart. Midell has dealt with children who have autism and the subject of his film is a tough subject to not feel the emotions of our main characters situation. Filmed entirely in the city of Chicago, it tells the story of Erin Logan, a woman who spends her days working and taking care of her brother Jacob (Stephen Louis-Grush) who has a severe case of autism. Since both of their parents have passed away, taking care of Jacob lies solely on Erin. There has been no time for any relationships outside Jacob’s care and when Erin coincidentally meets a charming man named Tim (perfectly played by Jeff Garretson) she must confront the fact that she may have to put herself ahead of her brother for her happiness and the right amount of care for Jacob.
Collectively, this film has excellent performances from the entire cast, unfortunately it is also a bit contrived. Waldron is a veteran actress who is remembered for her child acting performance in “Little Giants” and I give credit to Stephen Louis-Grush for his effort of playing an autistic adult. Its hard to not notice his desperate effort to lay on the sickness thick and get the audience to feel saddened or downright depressed. The shots of Chicago are great to see in neighborhoods of Wrigleyville and I did enjoy the sweetness of a film that deals with a realistic issue. Its a nice film with great efforts, but maybe the topic has been done so many times that it was hard not to feel it was contrived.
Saturday July 26th- Night #6-
On the night before the finale of the festival, the collection of excellent short films continued. It was started off with the winner of Best Short Film of the fest, the simple and quite perfect film “The Hero Pose”. It starred the adorable and possible new star Nikki Hahn as a wise for her age daughter who has a conversation with her father about life, vegan food, and her relationship with her Dad.
It was followed by the well shot and well done special effects in Director Matt Landry’s film “Lost in the Sky”. It was a film that asked questions about how we deal with death and loss. It shows a son and his mother escape through their own unique ways. Wether it be the son’s escape into a reality simulation or the mothers escape through art.
The last short film of the fest was Canadian Director Ben Petrie’s ode to his mother in his short film “Nice is Cool”. It tells the story through an older man playing a younger child and how his forging of his mom’s signature to attend a school dance led his mother to going along with it to protect him. Its a nice message, but it was also at times not 100% clear as to what an interjected puppet character was meant to the message.
The final feature of the fest was a celebration of family and music. Director Jill D’Agnenica’s Life Inside Out is a film co-written by star Actress Maggie Baird about a mother and her son’s strengthening relationship through their passion for music.
MOVIE: LIFE INSIDE OUT
STARRING: MAGGIE BAIRD; FINNEAS O’CONELL; LORI NASSO; DAVID COWGILL
DIRECTED BY: JILL D’AGNENICA
A MOVIE GUY’S RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
What I can say best about the film Life Inside Out is that it is a film that will surprise anyone who watches it. Like the last song you hear on the radio, it will stick with you all day after watching it. It is the story of Laura (Maggie Baird), a mother of three who at one point had the potential to be a great singer and songwriter. Like most of us, life can get in the way of the dreams we once had, but as life gets tougher for Laura’s youngest son Shane (Played by Baird’s actual son Finneas O’Connell) as he gets older the two of them create a bond through music, and Shane could quite possibly be the next best thing. What hinders Life Inside Out is a bit of the slow start before we get to the films core of great music and a great mother/son relationship. We must get through some slow plodding scenes before what is a “Once”-like moment where Shane and Laura share a beautiful duet of the films title song. It all does come to a close with an excellent solo performance from O’Connell who sings and plays all his own songs. If one thing comes from this film it is that O’Connell is a potential star.
Sunday July 27th – Closing Night
Closing night put the final stamp on what was a very successful fest with some lows, hidden gems, highs, great short films, and a perfect celebration of Independent films. The big winner of the weekend for the festivals signature “Blue Glass Awards” was NightLights which cleared the acting categories for features and was in many ways deserving of the acclaim. The closing night film is the much anticipated comedy Life After Beth starring an all-star cast of Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, and Anna Kendrick. Be sure to come back to AMovieGuy.com for the full review when the film hits theaters worldwide!
Overall, The 5th Annual Blue Whiskey Film Festival was another hit. Although not all the films were perfect, the efforts and love for film from all the actors and directors was there. That is what is so special about this film festival. It is the true nature of what filmmaking is all about. Directors like Michael Bay and Brett Ratner can thank the people who make films at a festival such as this because they are the ones who keep the real passion of the film industry going. For those reasons these filmmakers deserve the attention. Keep doing what you do Blue Whiskey Fest, the next round is on AMovieGuy.com.