Very disturbing and frightening at times, the film Split puts director M. Night Shyamalan back in movie theaters. Coming off the sinister shocker The Visit, which earned over $98 million in 2015, he’s chosen a good weekend for his new horror thriller with its only competition xXx sequel and The Founder. The trailer should drive all the thrill seekers and especially mature pre-teens to 20’s horror fans into seats this weekend, making it the top box-office winner. But except for a few of Shyamalan’s movies, it has his signature weak “how did that just happen” finale. Read more
An enlightening and poignant coming of age documentary, Do You Dream In Color? captures the inspired journeys of four courageous blind teens as they face the challenges and frustrations of living in a sighted world. There’s, Connor 14, who uses echo-location to improve his skateboarding skills so he can join a skateboarding team. Sixteen-year-old Sarah dreams of studying in Portugal, where her mother was born. Nick, 15, a gifted musician, hopes to form a punk rock band and go on tour. Carina, 17, who lost her sight at age 12, struggles to finish high school with the tireless help of her single mother. Their extraordinary stories underscore the social and institutional obstacles faced by the blind and what it takes to surmount these barriers. In this one-on-one interview, director Abigail Fuller shares her insights in making this compelling documentary.
Watching these courageous teens was truly inspiring for those of us lucky enough to be sighted. What inspired you to make this emotionally uplifting film?
Abigail Fuller: The film kind of found us. It was a journey we went on after film school. The original concept was to make an artsy, animated film about the dreams of blind people. In the process, we started connecting with different organizations, youth camps and programs that allowed us to learn about the blind on a very human level. The film morphed from examination of blind peoples’ dreams to one that explores their real-life journeys. Having never been exposed to blind people, we were astonished by their courage, as well as the obstacles they faced. So we wanted to tell their story and share it with others.
With so many blind people, what drew you to these particular teens?
Abigail: There was something special about them, their courage and wisdom, their journeys, goals and philosophies of life. We started by asking them about their nighttime dreams and they came back with things like, “I have to practice my skateboarding because I want to get sponsored.” That surprised us, and we thought maybe we should film some of that. So we were drawn into their lives very organically.
I have to admit, I was surprised by their far-reaching goals.
Abigail: Many of us don’t have high expectations of blind people, simply because we don’t know them, we haven’t experienced them or conversed with them. So we don’t really know what they’re capable of or what to expect from them. As we got to know them, we realized that we could expect just as much from them as a sighted person. So we chose teens in the film that would exemplify the fact that blind people may not be your super prodigies like Stevie Wonder or climbers that scale Mount Everest, but they’re also not homeless and helpless. They’re just like the rest of us. They have their own talents and dreams that vary from person to person.
What was it like dealing with the parents of these kids?
Abigail: They were very remarkable. In some cases, parents of blind teens can be a bit overprotective and coddling, which can stunt their ability to achieve the goals and dreams they have. But the parents of these teens were very supportive and encouraged them to pursue their dreams.
What did you find most challenging in making this film?
Abigail: We kind of went off to make this film before we were ready to take on all of the production and post-production tasks. Both logistics and financing posed obstacles. Then there was editing down all the footage and changing the narrative. We had limited resources, so we had to do many things ourselves.
How has making this film changed you?
Abigail: It made us more empathetic to the blind community. It changed our expectations of what blind people are capable of. When you’re 23 and exposed to these issues you become aware of the societal barriers blind people face. It’s an educational process and you quickly learn to overcome the challenges and roadblocks in making a film like this.
Was there one teen that affected you more emotionally than the rest?
Abigail: They are all wonderful in their own way. I personally connected, in some way, with Sarah. I participated in the same AFS program when I was in high school. So seeing the challenges she faced reminded me that I didn’t have those challenges. Her GPA was better and she was more adept at language than I was. It was also her love of food and nature, and her wisdom that I thought was really powerful.
What do you think audiences should take away from this film?
Abigail: Not to judge a book by its cover. That this human experience is very relatable, and that being different is not something to be looked down upon. They should realize that these people bring a diversity and strength to their communities, as well as different ways to navigate and solve problems. By sharing in their journey, it can inspire your own.
What have you learned about the support systems currently available to blind teens?
Abigail: Mostly inadequate. Funding and advocacy varies from house to house. So there’s a line they have to cross to be on an equal playing field. Many kids are simply shut out and if they don’t have someone to look out for them, they tend to fall through the cracks in terms of support.
The statistics at the end of the film were particularly disheartening.
Abigail: It’s sad that 70 percent of the blind are unemployed. It’s a complex issue. These problems start early when teachers allow blind kids to pass classes because of the extra effort it takes to work with them and get the special materials they need. So when these kids graduate, they’re not prepared with the same skill sets and education level as sighted students. They face the issue of literacy with Braille and attitudinal barriers. There’s also the fact that many blind kids are told at an early age that they can’t handle the workload, that geometry is visual so it’s not for them, and that they can’t play sports. They also don’t see other blind peoples’ success stories. With all of that, they start to believe what they’re taught. So after they repeatedly try and fail to get a job, they become complacent with their SSI checks and just sit at home.
Do you plan a follow-up film so we can see how these teens grow into young adults?
Abigail: Not at this point. We are in the process of organizing a screening series through the National Federation for the Blind, which would allow us to have young adults in the film who would interact with blind kids. We’ve done some of that already with the Camp for Blind Youth.
Do You Dream In Color? will be shown in select theaters during the first quarter 2017 and VOD February 10th.
Weird and silly the stoner film Doobious Sources has been released on Digital HD and VOD. The film makes a stab at being like the movie Up in Smoke, but without Cheech and Chong it just doesn’t make the grade. That said, if you like wacky movies that exaggerate situations for the comedy value, then this little gem is right for you. Read more
An edge of your seat thriller, the true story Patriot’s Day left me breathless. The movie takes you through the steps following the heinous and senseless bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. Filmed with of tight hand, director Peter Berg grabs you by the collar and glues you to the screen for two plus hours of the incredible action packed reenactment. The planned cowardice act is a wake-up call for all adults and students that need to be alert that America is vulnerable to terrorism. Read more
Known for Krampus: The Reckoning and Blind People, in The Covenant, Monica Engesser is Sarah Doyle, a troubled woman who returns to her childhood home with her estranged brother Richard (Owen Conway) after the tragic deaths of her husband and daughter. When Sarah begins to experience violent and hostile supernatural phenomena, Richard enlists the aid of a paranormal investigator who confirms that Sarah has become possessed by a powerful demon. Together, the three men fight to save Sarah’s soul. In this one-on-one interview, Engesser reveals what attracted her to the role and the challenges she faced in making this chilling film.
This film draws us in slowly, then hits you between the eyes with haunting, disturbing images. What attracted you to the role of Sarah?
Monica Engesser: Creating two characters for the same project, which was very cool for an actor. There’s this very realistic portrait of a woman grieving, and then there’s the possessed woman, who was completely taken over by a demonic force. When I read the script, it sounded like a fun project. They say actors are a little crazy. I thought it would be an opportunity to really develop two characters and try to make it uniform, so you could still see at least a little bit of Sarah when she’s a full blown demon.
Did you audition for the role? What was that like?
Engesser: I had worked with Robert (Conway) before. He sent me some sides and I believe the full script. I like getting the script because you can add so much if know the whole story. First I sent him a tape of Sarah having a fight with her brother, Richard, then a tape of the demon scene where there’s lots of Latin. And that got me the role.
Sarah lost her child and her husband. What did you draw from to get into the role of this tragically disturbed, possessed woman?
Engesser: It’s very hard to imagine that scenario. I’ve been lucky in my life that I haven’t had any close family members or friends go through a terminal illness. I also haven’t lost anyone close to me through suicide. But some of my friends have lost children and parents, or have lost people through suicide. So a lot of it is really listening to other people and what that experience is like for them. I do have a son, who is just over a year old, and I was away from him while we were filming. So I was able to draw on missing him and experience that kind of hole in your heart when you’re not there or when I might never see him again. There is real suffering in the world that people have to deal with, so you want to bring as much authenticity as possible when portraying that, just out of respect for people who have lost a child or loved one.
What was it like seeing yourself in that Linda Blair bed scene where you’re covered in scars and blood?
Engesser: (laughs) It was a little surreal. Catherine (Cat Bernier) is a fantastic make up artist and she had this vision of this biblical, pestilence-covered leprous demon. It was quite a process to get all that makeup on. But it was very helpful, for if you see what’s looking back at you in the mirror, it definitely gets you in this evil, creepy mindset.
For some actors, a film like The Covenant would be emotionally draining. What did you find most challenging about being in this film?
Engesser: It was draining, and I would say more physically than emotionally, especially for the exorcism scenes. When you’re in makeup like that, you need to let go, but you also have to be aware of this piece of latex glued here and that you’re wearing silicone, so you can’t really twist your neck a particular way. There are many levels of awareness when you’re filming scenes like that. Also, a lot of grieving scenes for Sarah were emotionally draining. Again, you want to be as authentic as possible, so I had to make myself really sad for several days of shooting. It’s funny, the scene where I see Elizabeth’s ghost outside is kind of weird because to the audience, you can see that she’s not really there and that Sarah’s actually crazy. Yet for Sarah, it was one of the happiest moments because she was seeing her daughter again.
Was the film shot as scripted or did you or directorRobert Conway make any changes during shooting?
Engesser: There were a couple of changes, but not much. There’s a necklace that Elizabeth and I wear, which I thought would be kind of cool in that there was something we saw that was hers as a tangible part throughout the film. There were some little things that Owen and I added in our sibling relationship—like when I found an old picture of us in the house. Robert is incredibly generous as a writer and director.
Looks like you have a full plate of upcoming thrillers for 2017–Possession Diaries, JackRabbit 29 and Breakdown Lane–what attracts you to these types of films?
Engesser: I’m not sure exactly. I think that bizarre roles are a lot of fun. I’ve always played creatures and aliens, and I think much of that is because I’m 5’ 11”—taller than your average girl—so early on, I tended not to get cast as the ingénue, love interest, or your basic leading lady. I got more creature-esque or alien roles. As an actor, I really enjoy exploring all the various facets of humanity. It’s not that I go out of my way to do these horror films; it’s just what happens to find me.
I keep hoping to see you in a rom-com where you get a chance to laugh a bit.
Engesser: (laughs) I would love to do a comedy. I did stand up comedy when I first moved to L.A. I love making people laugh.
The movie Silence gets its story from Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo who wrote the book. His novel has a connection with real life Catholic Father Cristóvão Ferreira who was sent to Japan as a missionary to convert the Japanese people to Christianity. Director/Filmmaker Martin Scorsese has spent many years developing the film from the novel and it’s terrific. If you like historical films that are poignant and powerful with excellent production value, then do not miss Silence now in theaters. Read more
Drama, comedy and action films on DVD/Blu-ray and 4K. Most of the releases are of films that were released in theaters and should include some of the most wanted. The most notable Homeland: Season Five in January, Doctor Strange in February and Disney’s Moana in March. Most of the films may also be available on VOD so check with your favorite download site. We will be reviewing select titles so check back to get opinions from our writing staff. You might also discover a gem that you didn’t know existed or a hilarious comedy to brighten your day. Whether you’re on the lookout for horror, action-adventure, drama, comedy, thriller, crime or lifestyles— the list below has a lot to offer. Read more
The drama A Monster Calls has a story that becomes magical as it works on your heartstrings. Entering the mind of a young boy we explore his feelings, fears and desperate attempt to save his mom. Excellent acting, solid direction and a story that will be remembered well after you leave the movie theater. It’s a heartfelt experience for you and your mature children. Read more
The important true and historic film Hidden Figures reveals the many African American women behind America’s success in space exploration during the 1960’s. The struggles with racial equality during that period was at a high point, yet it took a specialized group of African American women to make huge strides in our countries ability to send a man into space. The movie opens yet another significant window in the continuous struggle for equality in America. Read more
There’s a creed that protects the world from evil. This creed is defended by assassins who will stop at nothing to guard us from things we do not understand. Throughout the generations theses assassins roam this earth in search of their identities so that one day they’ll find their self-worth. They are the Assassin’s Creed. Read more
A heartfelt account through the eyes of Jackie Kennedy following the assassination of her husband John Fitzgerald Kennedy, this mini biography Jackie opens this weekend. The film includes her televised White House tour and her interview with American political journalist and historian Theodore Harold White. The film documents the emotional struggles she endured and how she was able to withstand the smothering sympathy. Read more
Most foreign films are sidestepped in the United States for various reasons especially due to having to read subtitles. Because of this some excellent films are avoided by many and they lose the experience of outstanding stories. I am hoping that this will not be the case for the movie Lion that will be in theaters around America starting on December 21.
The film outshines many of the movies made here in USA and the heartfelt true story of Lion delivers amazing acting, direction and cinematography. It’s not about the jungle animal, but refers to the strength of a young boy who tries to survive alone in a threatening world. Read more
Probably the most silly of animated films this year, and that’s good thing for Sing. Enjoyable, very funny, touching and oh incredibly wacky the family film targets children, but the adults will enjoy it a lot more than the average toon. I’m surprised the filmmakers waited so long to put the film in theaters, but with no children’s anime to stop it from becoming a blockbuster, it’s a very possible chance it will. Read more
Filling in with a prequel to Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, the first in a series by Lucas Films that started the Star Wars franchise, comes Disney’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The set-up starts a new series for Star Wars that brings new adventures in between continuing episodes that follow Star Wars the Force Awakens. It’s quite a challenge for the team at Disney/Lucas and I’m very glad they came up with the idea. Read more
The sci-fi horror thriller Morgan turns brutal when a scientific experiment goes awry turning a lab into a blood fest. Now on Blu-ray and DVD in a combo pack that includes an HD download, the film has all the trappings for a nighttime couple’s shocker. You will not want to see this one alone, especially if you want to get the best out of your video choice. So turn the lights down, get the popcorn ready, maybe your favorite beverage and expect the unexpected. Read more