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Interview: Writer Mike Jones talks “Soul”

“Soul” follows Joe (Jamie Foxx) , a music teacher who has lost his passion for music and sense of purpose. But when he is transported into another realm to help someone find their spark, he discovers a new appreciation for life. I chatted with writer Mike Jones to discuss the film, what little things he appreciates about life, the value in asking people questions, and much more.

“Soul” is available to stream on Disney+ December 25.

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Kilburn Live Teams Up with Dr. Seuss Enterprises for The Grinch’s Grotto

Fans, Families, and Who-ville Citizens Unite With Their Favorite Holiday Grump to Un-Celebrate 2020.

Select Westfield, Brookfield, Macerich, Turnberry & Oxford Properties Across North America to Feature A Santa Photo Alternative for Those Who Are Feeling a Little Bit “Grinchy” This Year.

“You’re a mean one, 2020.” It’s been a year to say the least and even as the holidays approach, some may be feeling more grouchy than usual.  If taking those traditional cheerful holiday photos with the family is exactly what you don’t feel like doing, there’s now an alternative! Kilburn Live, a market leader in the Live Entertainment industry, has announced a new partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, a global leader in educational entertainment, to create “The Grinch’s Grotto,” an imaginative take on holiday photo shoots that will give guests a fun way to show off a bit of their grumpiness during  what is still the most wonderful time of the year.

Presented in partnership with retail leaders such as Westfield Group, Brookfield Properties, Macerich, Turnberry and Oxford, “The Grinch’s Grotto” will launch on Black Friday across a limited number of flagship malls throughout North America including ones in Los Angeles, Chicago, DC, Dallas, Houston, San Diego, Miami, Toronto, Northern California and the New York Tri-State area. Guests will enter these free-standing locations for a one-of-a-kind visit with The Grinch in his special cave for a photo-shoot and other special surprises that are both intimate and in true Grinch fashion – socially-distant.

“If there was ever a year where The Grinch really would take over the holiday season, it’s 2020,” said Kilburn CEO Mark Manuel. “It’s been said even the meanest soul is moved by Christmas and at its core this Dr. Seuss story is about finding your own way to redemption which is what inspired us here. It is great to be once again collaborating with our partners at Dr. Seuss Enterprises on this project. Through these challenging times, we still wanted to find a way to give families some joy this holiday season in a lighthearted and fun way. After all, 2020 has been a tough year, but it can’t take away our ability to smile and laugh which are oftentimes the first steps of continued hope”.

Complete with a burlap sack full of presents, a Grinch stylized holiday tree and a backlit fireplace with hanging stockings just as depicted in the book, this true-to-form experience will place guests inside the classic tale in one of the most authentic ways possible. Guests will also be given the opportunity to pick a sign with their choice of a favorite 2020 slogan to be placed in their photo with the Grinch. Sample slogans include, “You’re a mean one, 2020” “2020: “Stink, Stank, Stunk,” “2020 – How The Grinch Stole, Well, The Whole Year” and some positive ones including “The Grinch still can’t steal Christmas!

“The Grinch’s Grotto” will kick off on November 27th across North America. Tickets for each engagement will go on sale on November 12th. Tickets will be limited and it is recommended guests pre-book their visits online prior to visiting. To see a list of locations and to pre-register for tickets please visit https://www.grinchgrotto.com/.

Movie Review: “Let Him Go” – A Powerful Portrayal of a Grandparent’s Love

Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are heartbroken grandparents ready to do whatever is needed to protect their grandson.

Focus Features new drama, “Let Him Go” opens with retired sheriff George Blackledge (Costner) and his wife Margaret (Lane) at their ranch in Montana spending time with their son James (Ryan Bruce), his wife Lorna (Kayli Carter), and their baby boy. Later that day, James has a fatal accident while riding a wild horse.

Years later, Lorna remarries. Her son, Jimmy, is now a toddler. On her wedding day, she seems uncomfortable around her new husband, Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain). It isn’t until Margaret sees Donnie hit Lorna and Jimmy that she recognizes the problem. When she discovers they have mysteriously taken off to go stay with Donnie’s family; Margaret and George leave their Montana ranch, and set off to rescue their only grandchild from the dangerous Weboy family.

Based on Larry Watson’s novel, the film is directed and written by Thomas Bezucha (“The Family Stone”, “Monte Carlo”). Bezucha has a way of writing compelling family dynamics. Every character has depth. The relationships between the Blackledge family isn’t picture perfect. Margaret and George have a loving and respectable marriage, but they don’t always see eye to eye. And Margaret’s relationship with Lorna is a bit rocky, as Margaret can be overbearing.

The Weboy family is a special, terrifying case; led by their vicious and abusive mother, Blanche (Lesley Manville). She controls her sons and any other man in her life. What these men lack in brains, they make up for in strength and violence. They are an odd and horrifying bunch.

“Let Him Go” is a tense journey, but the scenic drive to their destination is beautiful and adds a brief unexpected tranquility. From the tragic beginning, you’re hooked till the very end. It’s unbearable to think about the pain parents must feel after the loss of a child, but to know their is still a piece of him in their grandchild makes their mission heroic and cathartic.

The film is heavy and there is some graphic violence, but it’s a fantastic story with incredible performances. Lane and Costner are a duo that deserve a longer screen time together than they had in “Man of Steel”. The two feed off each other so naturally. And Lesley Manville is an intimidating scene stealer. You dread her character, but you anxiously await her next appearance.

“Let Him Go” is not exactly groundbreaking, but it is an engaging script and exquisitely shot. The performances alone are enough for me to recommend this watch, but there’s also thrilling action and a powerful story. It’s the perfect movie to watch with the whole family.

Rating: 4.25/5

“Let Him Go” opens in theaters November 6, 2020.

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Movie Review: “The Willoughbys” & “The Wrong Missy” Preview

This week, I review the Netflix animated film, “The Willoughbys”. It’s a dark comedy about four kids looking to get rid of their horrible, selfish parents. What follows is a wild adventure that uncovers the true meaning of family. Then enjoy a preview of the zany, new David Spade comedy, “The Wrong Missy”.

“The Willoughbys” is available on Netflix now

“The Wrong Missy” is available on Netflix May 13.

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Movie Review: “The Lost Husband” Sparks a Glimmer of Light

All is not lost in the new romantic comedy, starring Leslie Bibb and Josh Duhamel.

Based on the novel by Katherine Center, “The Lost Husband” follows Libby (Bibb), an attractive young woman, who has lost her husband in a tragic car accident. Libby and her two children (Callie Hope Haverda & Roxton Garcia) have been living with her difficult mother (Sharon Lawrence); but when they wear out their welcome, they pack up and head to her aunt Jean’s (Nora Dunn) house.

Jean lives in central Texas on a goat farm with no TV, no Wi-Fi, and no dishwasher. However, she does have an espresso maker! In order to make herself useful, Libby is forced to help out around the house and farm. Luckily, she has the conveniently handsome and single ranch hand, James (Duhamel), to guide her through the process of things.

The relationship between Libby and James is about as predictable as you would imagine. It begins with a dislike for each other. James thinks she’s too much of a city girl and can’t possibly get her hands dirty, and Libby thinks James is a jerk. Well, good thing opposites do attract. The transition from hate to love goes quick. Besides a few bickers here and there, the film doesn’t try to fight off the pair’s instant chemistry for too long. Both Bibb and Duhamel do a great job with their roles and are a fun and charming couple to watch.

The film identifies itself as a “romantic comedy”. Though it is a big element to the story, “The Lost Husband” centers more around Libby’s growth and healing over her husband’s death and mother’s mistreatment. This is not a bad thing, and it’s refreshing that the movie went this route instead of trying to make a Nicholas Sparks knock-off.

The entire cast does a solid job and there’s even a little “Popular”(1999 TV Series) reunion between Bibb and her former co-star Carly Pope that will be nice for fans of the show to see.

There’s just no high risk conflict in this movie. Little issues pop up like a child being bullied, an annoying new friend, and even a “shocking” secret. However, these issues are either resolved quickly, glossed over, or feel very anti-climactic. We never earn our resolution.

You can easily sit back, relax, and watch this mildly dramatic story unfold. Which may be exactly what we all need right now. I point out these flaws of the film not to deter you away, but to better prepare you going in. At no point will you question where the story is headed, but you can still enjoy this smooth ride.

“The Lost Husband” is a heart-warming drama about love and the family/people in our lives who truly bring us up when we’re down.

Rating: 3/5

“The Lost Husband is available to rent On Demand April 10.

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Movie Review/Interview: Set Designer Carlos Felipe Leon talks “Onward”

“Onward” is the first MUST-SEE movie of 2020. The film follows two teenage elf brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt), who are on a quest to finish a spell that will allow them to spend one last day with their father, who died when they were too young to remember him.

I sat down with set designer, Carlos Felipe Leon, to discuss the bonds with our siblings, which film’s setting/world he’d like to spend 24 hours in and more about the movie! Check out the interview w/ Carlos AND my full ICTN review of the film below!

“Onward” opens in theaters March 6.

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Put Your Hair in the Air with Trolls LIVE!

The Disco-Ball Dropping Dance Party with Poppy, Branch and All Their Trolls Friends Take Over The Theatre at Grand Prairie, February 7-9

DALLAS, TX (January 14, 2020) – Get ready for another hair-raising adventure when Poppy, Branch and all their Trolls friends come to life on stage in Trolls LIVE!, their first ever live tour! Jam-packed with epic music, glitter, humor and happiness, Trolls LIVE! will visit The Theatre at Grand Prairie, February 7-9 for six Trolls-tastic performances. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at www.AXS.com or by phone at 888-929-7849.

The journey begins when the Trolls’ Hug Time is unexpectedly put at risk. Knowing the only way to save it is by doing what the Trolls do best, Poppy hosts a toe-tapping, Trolls-tastic show! Poppy, Branch, Cooper, Cloud Guy, Smidge, Guy Diamond, Fuzzbert, Biggie (and of course Mr. Dinkles) invite you into the colorful world of Trolls Village for this interactive performance only the Trolls can create. This is one Trolls party you won’t want to miss!

The world of the Trolls comes alive in this totally interactive, story-rich musical celebration of everything the Trolls love – singing, dancing, rainbows, glitter and plenty of hugs. The extravaganza utilizes the latest in scenic projection, puppetry, media technology and features a host of special effects and interactive surprises. Trolls LIVE! includes two acts with an intermission and will enchant both children and adults with its popular Trolls show-stopping songs, as well as introduce audiences to all-new electrifying Trolls music and choreography.

What: Trolls LIVE! coming to Dallas!

When: Friday February 7 6:30 p.m. Saturday February 8 10:00 a.m., 2:30 p.m., & 6:30 p.m. Sunday February 9 10:00 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.

Where: The Theatre at Grand Prairie 1001 Performance Place Grand Prairie, TX 75050

Tickets: Tickets start at $19. Tickets are available at The Theatre at Grand Prairie Box Office, online at www.AXS.com or by phone at 888-929-7849. Prices are subject to change. Additional fees and special offers may apply. A limited number of tickets are available for the Trolls LIVE! VIP Party, starting at $150. VIP Party perks include premium show seating, a souvenir lanyard, and an after-show Meet & Greet with your favorite hosts, Poppy and Branch! Fans can get the ultimate VIP experience with the Diamond VIP Package that includes the Trolls LIVE! VIP Party perks, plus front row seating and an exclusive glitter tote. Diamond VIP tickets begin at $200.

For more information or to join Trolls Hair Mail for presale and other exclusive offers, visit www.TrollsLIVE.com. Follow Trolls LIVE! on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @trollslive, and use #TrollsLIVE.

Interview/Review: Trey Edward Shults talks “Waves”

Trey Edward Shults, Writer/Director of “Waves”

“Waves” goes from bad to unbearable within the first hour; however, the second half of the film remarkably heals itself.

Director/writer Trey Edward Shults wrote “Waves” after his critically acclaimed thriller, “It Comes At Night”. He continues to keep our tensions high with his new family drama. It’s a story he explained that, “was inspired from a number of real life experiences, including meeting my girlfriend and Kelvin Harrison Jr.”

Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Alexa Demie in “Waves”

As the film begins we meet Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). He’s a senior in high school who as it all: Popularity, a hot girlfriend (Alexa Demie), and star wrestler. Life at home isn’t too shabby either. His father Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) owns his own construction business, his mother Catharine (Renée Elise Goldsberry) is a counselor, and his sister Emily (Taylor Russell) is quiet and reserved, hiding in the shadow of her brother.

Though Tyler is pretty well off, we come to discover his father is constantly pushing him both physically and mentally. He puts a lot of pressure on Tyler to be the best; pointing out that because the family is African American they don’t have the luxury of being average. So when Tyler learns of his shoulder injury, which would end his wrestling career, he decides to hide it and self-medicate. Matters only get worse when his girlfriend reveals she is pregnant.

You might think you know what happens from there, but you don’t. And you’re going to find out here.

By the second half of the film the family is barely keeping it together, and suddenly we’ve gone from Tyler’s movie to Emily’s. She is even more introverted, and doesn’t seem to have any friends at school. That is until she meets Luke (Lucas Hedges), an awkward, but nice boy who also wrestles.  The film completely shifts in tone as we see love blossom in a steady and beautiful manner. Emily and Luke’s relationship is the cure we need after an unnerving first half. 

Taylor Russell and Lucas Hedges in “Waves”

Shults wanted to essentially split the film in two and show the dichotomy of our lives. “I wanted audiences to see, in it’s structure, separate views from a male and female. How different they handle conflict, and what are their highs and lows,” Shults elaborates.

Both Tyler and Emily continuously use Instagram in a way that make us question our own use of the app. It’s a way to track a significant other’s location, stalk a crush and, of course post lots of pictures. “I was trying to make it real and honest. I don’t have social media anymore, but I can imagine how it would feel to have one. I’ve even followed crushes, but in an appropriate way (Laughs).” explains Shults.

At the core, “Waves” is a film about family. The parents are connected to both Tyler and Emily’s stories, especially their father. Ronald is more invasive in Tyler’s life and almost absent in Emily’s. This raises the question, what is the right balance of a parent’s involvement in there children’s lives? Shults went on to answer, “It’s hard to say what’s the right amount of involvement, but for this movie communication is big. It’s important that parents make their kids feel like they can always come to them for anything.  It sounds easy, but it isn’t.”

As the film comes to an end, a shattered family struggles to put themselves back together. What you witness will make you want to embrace your own family and loved ones. Shults’ hope is that audiences will “connect with the complex characters, and have a lot to think about. And maybe even give them hope in their own lives”

“Waves” is a tough start. But if you allow yourself to stay on this emotional roller coaster, it will be a ride worth taking. 

Rating: 4/5

“Waves” opens in select theater November 27 (Playing at Landmark Magnolia)

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Fantastic Fest Reviews: “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” & “Homewrecker”

Martin Krejci’s “The True Adventures of Wolfboy”

The True Adventures of Wolf Boy

“The Adventures of Wolfboy features an all-star cast including Jaeden Martell, Chris Messina, and Chloe Sevigny. The film is about Paul (Martell), a young boy with Hypertrichosis – a disease that causes him to have hair all over him, making him look like a wolf. Paul is bullied and feels alone in this world, even though he has a supportive and loving father (Messina) who only wants to make Paul happy.

On Paul’s 13th birthday, he receives a mysterious gift from his estranged mother. He sneaks out of the house on a journey to find her, and hopes she has an explanation for his condition. In an attempt to make money, he stops at the local circus. He ends up gaining an enemy in Mr. Silk (John Turturro). While on the run, Paul eventually makes some new friends, including Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore). This adventure quickly turns into a wild ride.

The film is far from original, and it’s a pretty basic story. Luckily, there are one or two surprises in there that make up for its predictability. And even though the premise is familiar, “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” finds a sweet way to portray the message of self-acceptance.

Side note: This film’s soundtrack was the best of the fest!

Rating: 3.5/5

Zach Gayne’s “Homewrecker”

Homewrecker

Lifetime should pick up this movie right way. It is basically made for TV gold.

“Homewrecker” follows Michelle (Alex Essoe), a young woman who has clearly been stalked by a slightly older and unhinged Linda (Precious Chong). After a “chance encounter” at a cafe, Linda persuades Michelle to stop by her house for a business opportunity. What was supposed to be a quick visit, turns into a nightmare.

There are a lot of problems with this movie. The editing is questionable. Mainly the bath bomb transitions that throw off the flow of the film. The script is hardly original or good, and everyone besides the two leads are weak actors. At the same time, there’s a lot to like!

Essoe is a terrific actress; quite possibly too good for this movie. Chong does a fantastic job at playing a deranged stranger whose blank stares are enough to freak anyone out. It’s actually these two who make the film a pleasure. Watching these two go from one extreme to another is a lot of fun. Bouncing from a friendship, to jealousy, to hate, to sympathizing with one another, and the emotions go on.

This is honestly a ridiculous film and an avoidable situation. But somehow, Essoe and Chong make it work. So much so, that I didn’t want their madness to end. If you like the typical Lifetime movie formula, then you’ll enjoy the hell out of “Homewrecker”.

Rating: 3/5

Interview: Director/ Writer Lulu Wang talks “The Farewell”

After seeing the trailer for “The Farewell”, I was hooked into the idea of seeing this original movie. A Chinese family lying to their grandmother, who only has months to live, and deciding to not tell her. As a way to gather before Nai Nai’s (Shuzhen Zhao) final months, the family schedules an impromptu wedding.

I can tell you now, the anticipation was warranted as the film delivers in performances, emotion and overall story.

The film is based on a real lie that director/writer, Lulu Wang, and her family came up with 6 years ago. Audiences are invited into this family gathering, and will feel as though they are sitting in on private conversations.

Lulu Wang (Writer/Director of “The Farewell”)

I sat down with Wang while she was in Dallas to promote “The Farewell”.  She explained why she wanted to share this story. “I think the set-up, first of all was so ridiculous. I felt like I needed to share it; in a way like “this is so crazy can you believe it?” It was also the humor and joy that’s juxtaposed with the grief. And how this family has such a light-hearted wonderful perspective on life, that even in the darkest moments they’ve certainly taught me to not focus on the negative and to find the joy and humor in whatever levity you can.”

No matter what culture or background you come from, anyone will be able to relate to the characters in “The Farewell”. Wang described how she wrote with such authenticity. “The key is to make them (the characters) complex and not one-sided. I didn’t set out to make anyone good or bad. I just found the things that I love about them; the things that are kind of irritating sometimes and frustrating and explored all of that.”

Though we are used to seeing Awkwafina (“Crazy Rich Asians”, “Oceans 8”) in comedic films, the actress shines in a more dramatic role as Lulu Wang’s character, Billi. Awkwafina had expressed interest in the role after reading the script, and sent Wang an impressive audition tape. “In the tape she did a couple scenes, and it was really the moments where she wasn’t even talking. She was reading with this woman off screen. And when this woman was delivering lines, Awkwafina was listening. But sometimes with actors, when they’re just listening it feels like they are just waiting for their turn to speak. I mean in real life, too, sometimes people are just waiting for their turn to speak (laughs). But with Awkwafina, you could really tell on screen that she was just listening, and processing, and she had all of this conflict just going on internally. And it was amazing that she was able to do that without saying a word,” explained Wang.

There’s a line in the film about how, “If it’s for good it’s not a lie. It’s a good lie.” Wang expressed how she felt about that quote. “I think the one thing I’ve learned from working on this film is; I set out to find an answer, but I came out on the other side realizing that it’s not about the answer. It’s really just about asking the questions. I think that I’ve just come to really respect my family’s decision (to not tell Nai Nai about her illness) and recognize that it’s not my decision to make. And I feel fortunate that it’s not my decision, because it is not an easy one to make.”

Though “The Farewell” can be sad at times, there is a lot awkward laughs throughout the film. A fun moment of comic relief is seeing different family members karaoke during the not so typical wedding scene. Wang discussed her love of karaoke and her favorite songs to perform. “I have a lot. Awkwafina has been talking a lot in the press about my Bloodhound Gang song (laughs). Which like, I didn’t start singing that until my producer started singing that, and it became like an inside joke. But I have quite a few. I really like Day Dream Believer by the Monkeys. I like some good oldies. I’ll also once in a while do like Halo by Beyonce. That’s a very good karaoke song!”

The movie expresses a powerful message recited by Nai Nai, “Life is not about what you do, it’s how you do it.” Wang discussed how she’s currently living life the way she’d hope, by trying to get the most out of every moment. “I recently watched Aziz Ansari: Right Now, which was such a great show and such great title. But in the stand-up, he says that “the only thing that matters is this moment and the people that we’re with”. I was really moved by that, because after everything he’s been through and the state of the world that were in right now. I just don’t want to make work, or do anything that continues to cause divide. Like, I don’t want to spend time fighting, and so just trying to stay level headed and enjoy the moment.”

Audiences will enjoy every moment spent during “The Farewell”. It’s a must see for the entire family.

“The Farewell” opens in select theaters on July 26!

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