Category Archives: Movies

San Diego International Film Festival is Underway and We’re Here with Pen and Mic

The San Diego International Film Festival is underway in Downtown San Diego. Films are screening now until Sunday. Why not spend a beautiful weekend in San Diego and see some amazing independent films.

THE SAN DIEGO INTL FILM FESTIVAL is So Cal’s premier film event and one of the leading stops on the independent festival circuit. SDiFF offers a totally unique film experience; including world premieres, never before seen studio releases, the best in independent filmmaking and a full schedule of glamorous parties and intimate events with filmmakers. Join us Downtown at the Balboa Theater for opening night, Regal Cinema and the ArcLight La Jolla for screenings and featuring the beautiful Pendry San Diego as our Festival Headquarters.

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Movie Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming is in my humble opinion the best of the Spider-Man movies and arguably should sit near the top of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Release Date: July 7, 2017
Writer: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daily
Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Tom Holland, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton

Thankfully, we fans are spared a Spider-Man origins story as the events of Spider-Man take place soon after the airport battle in Captain America: Civil War. Also, this tale of Spider-Man is clearly a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Spider-Man: Homecoming is the story of sophomore high school student Peter Parker (Tom Holland).

Like any new adolescent, Peter is trying hard to find his identity. His only notoriety at school is his internship at Stark Industries, but even that is hardly the credentials he needs to be popular or land a date with his senior crush, Liz (Laura Harrier). As Spider-Man, Peter wants to impress the world by becoming an Avenger.

After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) returns Peter to his Aunt Mae (Marisa Tomei) with his new Spider suit and with instructions to lay low until he is needed again. This is pretty much a Don’t-Call-Us-We’ll-Call-You situation. Stark leaves Peter with Happy’s (Jon Favreau) phone number for any questions.

Meanwhile…in the past, clean-up specialist Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is hired to clean-up New York City after the Jitari attack. Before work can get started, Toomes is quickly fired by S.H.I.E.L.D. but not before he is able to steal some of that sweet alien technology. Long story short, Toomes begins to sell newly created alien-hybrid weapons to the New York criminal underworld. Toomes is also able to steal more technology thanks to his Vulture-like battle suit.

While waiting for the Avengers call, Peter decides to clean-up the New York crime problem. In the process, he begins to uncover the Vulture’s plans, cause more problems on the streets of New York than he can handle and inadvertently reveal his secret identity to his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon).

There is a lot to love about Spider-Man: Homecoming. Let’s first look at it from the perspective of it as a Spider-Man movie. Homecoming ranks right up there as the best Spider-Man movie right next to Spider-Man 2. Tom Holland is perfect as Spider-Man. He has the constant running mouth that the comic book Peter Parker has. He is and remains a high school student throughout the entire movie, and he struggles with the very things high school students struggle with…identity. He wants to be noticed.

There are also brilliant moments where we get to see the limitations of Spider-Man that we haven’t seen in other films. The best example is when Peter attends a party at Liz’s home in the suburbs. He chases down the bad guys, but there are no tall buildings anywhere to swing on. He, basically, runs.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is half action film and half John Hughes movie. Director Jon Watts takes us through the struggles of an adolescent, who has to save New York City from a menacing threat. The story is well grounded and the adult moments are just as effective as the teen moments.

Justin Chon’s GOOK Documents the Korean American During the L.A. Riots

Eli and Daniel, two Korean American brothers who own a struggling women’s shoe store, have an unlikely friendship with 11-year-old Kamilla. On the first day of the 1992 L.A. riots, the trio must defend the store while contemplating the meaning of family and thinking about personal dreams and the future.

Alan Ng talks with Gook writer/director/actor Justin Chon about his experience creating Gook and the art of Black and White. Alan also speaks with Justin’s co-stars David So and Simone Baker.

Baby Driver (2017) – Movie Review


From writer/director Edgar Wright, comes one of the most original and exciting action movies this year. Baby Driver is the story of a young man, Baby (Ansel Elgort), who is the best getaway driver in Atlanta. His iPod playlist is his inspiration for getting and staying ahead in any chase situation.

Release Date: June 30, 2017
Writer: Edgar Wright
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx

In hopes of paying off his debt to the crime lord, Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby drives criminal passengers to and from Doc’s target, mostly banks.

Baby Driver shines in three ways. One, the action is amazing. While the Fast and the Furious is a testament to what CGI can do with car races, Baby Driver is all real driving frame to frame. The sequences are like puzzles; Wright carefully places the pieces down to create a stunning chase sequence in cars and even on foot.

Two, the movie’s soundtrack drives the action. The film starts with the song “Bellbottoms” by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The song creates the Baby’s required intensity in the preparation of the chase and soon explodes into the actual chase through the streets of Atlanta. Then we shift to “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob & Earl, which Baby uses to get the coffee for his criminal compatriots. “Harlem Shuffle” is a visually gorgeous one-shot title sequence.

Third is the story of our young hero Baby. Soon the movie sets us that final heist, which will seemingly payoff his debt to Doc. Unfortunately, he is forced to team with Bats (Jamie Foxx), who is BAT-S*** crazy. Clearly uncomfortable with the unpredictably violent nature of Bats, Baby knows he’s just one job away from freedom.

Soon things get complicated when Baby becomes enamored with the cute waitress Debora (Lily James), who works the late shift at Bo’s Diner. Debora dreams of getting out of town with just her car and her music. Baby dreams of being the one who can make that dream come true.

Baby Driver is a film with amazing chase sequences and an equally solid story to support it. The love story between Baby and Debora is sweet and of course involved music. It is the love story that ratchets up the tension as Baby’s escape from his criminal life stays just out of reach.

Baby Driver’s success also falls on its supporting characters. Kevin Spacey manages to play the bad guy perfectly holding freedom over the head of Baby. As the irredeemable Bats, Jamie Foxx just makes you feel uncomfortable every time he is on screen. Jon Hamm and Eliza Gonzalez play Buddy and Darling. This criminal duo is spicy together and almost become brother and sister to Baby. Then there’s Joseph (CJ Jones) playing Baby’s deaf and elderly foster father. Not wanting to know what Baby does at night, Joseph is the only moral compass that Baby has left in the world.

While Baby Driver is not a perfect movie, it is a great movie. The key to any action movie is tension. Tension escalates when Baby’s world is exposed when our gang stumbles into Bo’s diner and they realize that Baby and Debora know each other. Baby Driver is fun to watch and will have you on the edge of your seat. Wright also changes things up with an unexpected U-turn to start the second act and an ending that ties up loose ends in Baby’s life.

Despicable Me 3 – Movie Review

Newly married ex-villain Gru (Steve Carrell) discovers he has a twin brother in Despicable Me 3.

Release Date: June 30, 2017
Writer: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio
Director: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin, Eric Guillon
Cast: Steve Carrell, Kristin Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Pierre Coffin

Despicable Me 3 starts a few months after the events of Despicable Me 2, but that really doesn’t mean anything other than Gru and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are married and now a crime fighting team. This introduces us to the film’s villain Balthazar Bratt, voiced brilliantly by Trey Parker. Bratt is a former child actor, who starred as a really bad villainous child. His show ended once puberty kicked in and is no longer a cute child. Now he is just a villainous villain looking to destroy Hollywood with a giant robot likeness of himself.

When Gru and Lucy fail to stop Bratt from stealing a giant pink diamond, they are fired from the Anti-Villain League (AVL) by its new leader Valarie da Vinci (Jenny Slate). Before I go one, this begins the start of four parallel plots.

The first is defeating Balthazar Bratt. Bratt wants revenge on Hollywood for canceling his show and ending his acting career. He plans to destroy the city using his giant robot and his giant laser. The giant laser can only be used with the giant diamond, he stole.

Second, the recently fired Lucy is finding it difficult to be the mother to Gru’s kids: Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith and Agnes. She gets along with them fine, but she is unable to be a parental authority to the children.

Third, now that Gru is no longer a hero or villain, the minion lead by Mel (Pierre Coffin) quit and look for a new villain to follow. This leads them to slapstick hijinks on their path to jail for more slapstick hijinks.

Fourth, Gru discovers that he has a twin brother, Dru (Steve Carrell). Dru was raised in the country of Freedonia, the world’s largest producer of pigs. Dru feels like a failure in his father’s eyes because he never became a great villain like his brother Gru, Gru tricks drew into stealing the diamond from Bratt…in a villain-like way to foil Bratt’s plan and hopefully get his job back at the AVL.

Let’s start with what’s great about Despicable Me 3. It’s funny. The minions are back with their cuteness and their adult-type humor. I laughed a lot. The kids in the theater laughed and laughed. I had to buy my daughter a minion plush after the movie. Trey Parker is also brilliant as Baltazar Bratt in his first voice role not created by him. He vocally exemplifies evil childishness. He is also accompanied by an awesome 80’s soundtrack. Like the movie, Baby Driver, he can only commit his crimes while playing songs like Michael Jackson’s Bad.

The problem with Despicable Me 3 is the sweetness of the relationship he has with the kids is now passed on to Dru, which is not as sweet. Also, the fact that there are four plots in this movie means that sufficient time is not available to adequately address each plot. Every conflict is resolved quickly we are unable to connect emotionally. That was the charm of the first two Despicable Me film, Gru trying to win the hearts of the three girls.

Despicable Me 3 is a great film for kids and a good time will be had. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the emotional punch behind it that made us love the previous films.

Cars 3 – Movie Review

The third installment of the Cars saga follows Lightning McQueen at the twilight of his career. McQueen’s ego is challenged with younger, more efficient cars invade the racing tour.

Release Date: June 16, 2017
Writer:  Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, Mike Rich
Director: Brian Fee
Cast: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Christ Cooper, Bonnie Hunt, Armie Hammer, Nathan Fillion

For years, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) has dominated the Piston Cup racing series. Life is good. He is still the hero of Radiator Springs and loved by all including Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Things take an ominous turn with the arrival of Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). Storm is the latest product of 21st century efficient and aerodynamic design as well as state-of=the-art cyber training.

With Storm’s arrival, more and more old racers are being replaced with newer cars and McQueen is struggling to stay relevant. In the final race of the Piston Cup season, McQueen’s attempt to beat the younger Storm results in a horrific accident. This forces McQueen to reflect with his friends at Radiator Springs and face the ghost of Doc Hudson’s past.

Deciding to give it one last try, McQueen finds himself at the new training facility run by the new owner of McQueen’s sponsor Rust-eze, Sterling (Nathan Fillion). He introduces McQueen to his new trainer Cruz (Cristela Alonzo). The two don’t quite see eye-to-eye.

Cars 3 is a fun and poignant member of the Cars trilogy. It focuses directly on McQueen’s personal journey, instead of the comic adventures of Mater in Cars 2. From the very beginning fans are rooting for Lighting to win and throughout the film, they root for his journey back to the top.

Cars 3 also introduces us to a lot of new characters, almost to the film’s detriment. There is his new trainer Cruz, who wanted to be a racer but the sexism of the racing circuit dashed her dreams instantly. There are also Doc Hudson’s mentor Smokey (Chris Cooper), who along with River Scott (Isaiah Whitlock Jr.) and Louise “Barnstormer” Nash (Margo Martindale) serve as Doc Hudson’s voice and motivation for McQueen.

One thing that stood out in Cars 3 were its visuals. A lot of effort from Pixar animators went into making the world of Cars look real. There were moments in its numerous outdoor and forest settings that the backdrop looked real and not like a photo mural behind the action. The scenery is breathtaking and beautiful.

There is a demolition segment in the middle of the film that is fun to watch, a source of great humor and beautiful to look at. It was real talking cars, in a real mud pit and really wrecking each other up using real car physics.

Cars 3 has heart. It is the story of coming from behind and never giving up. In the first movie, Lightning was a victim of his own grand view of himself. In Cars 3, he is a victim of age and better technology. The only downside is that it can be a little predictable. As the movie progresses, you realize that every misadventure and mishap is just another lesson to winning in the end. The ending itself is revealed a little too soon and its explanation was a little clunky. Can’t say much more without giving it away.

The only other problem is too many characters old and new. The gang from Radiator Springs feel like cameos, the two villains, who never meet, are almost carbon copies of each other and Doc Hudson’s friends are just too much. By the way, Lightning meets them in a “biker” bar with a ton of other characters. It’s just too many characters that we’re required to follow.

Cars 3 is a fun movie with a simple lesson to tell for the kids. The quality of animation continues to cement Pixar as the best in the business. It has enough heart to make you feel good about yourself and buy a lot of Cars merchandise.

Imitation Girl – 2017 Dances with Films – Natasha Kermani – Writer/Director Interview

Imitation Girl is the story of a young woman and her alien doppelganger. It screened as part of the narrative competition at Dances With Films and we spoke with its writer/director Natasha Kermani.

A mysterious young woman materializes in the middle of the Southwestern desert, where each step teaches her about her new world and her new body. As she assumes her new life, she discovers she has a twin with whom she shares more than just an outward appearance.

Alan Ng spoke with Natasha about her film and the filmmaking process at Dances with Film 2017.

http://www.illiumpictures.com/imitation-girl-feature-film/