Friday, April 29, 2016

Gravity (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

Coming off his high from seeing The Martian, my son actually picked the 2013 sci-fi drama Gravity for our movie night. It was one that I had heard mixed comments about and find people either loved it or hated it. 

"I'm going to die. I know we're all going to die. But, I'm going to die today." ~  Gravity

This film had me mesmerized from the beginning. There is a reason this film won seven Academy Awards including Best Cinematography which was beautifully done and will have you feeling like you are in space with the characters. Gravity must have been spectacular on the big screen. 

While performing routine work on a space walk, the crew of Explorer receives an emergency warning from Houston that debris from a Russian missile strike on a satellite is headed their way. Caught in a shower of high speed metal torpedoes the crew is in serious danger. When the first shower of deadly missiles passes, all that is left is Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Commander Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney).  

"It's a matter of what you do now. If you decide to go then you got to just get on with it. Sit back, enjoy the ride." ~ Gravity

In any story of survival, the human mind must find the WILL to live. Left alone with her thoughts in the deafening silence of space, Stone's fears and emotional pains are amplified. This film is emotional and intense and the difficult decisions made by the characters in a time of turmoil teaches that letting go is often the only way back to life again. 

Watch Official Trailer

The tension level remains consistent throughout the film, allowing viewers to catch their breath briefly before plunging them into another free fall.  My heart was in my throat almost the entire film. Bullock delivers a convincing performance, her best yet, and was definitely worthy of her Oscar nomination. Gravity is rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images, and strong brief language. 

Read more of Nik's Piks: After Hours movie reviews. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

THAT'S A WRAP: Personal Highlights of The Palm Beach International Film Festival

This month I had the pleasure of attending The 21st Palm Beach International Film Festival and experienced nine days and nights of fascinating films, fun events, and discussions with some of the best independent filmmakers. 

Click here to read my complete review of the festival in Beach Magazine, including all the highlights and winners.

The mission of The Palm Beach International Film Festival was originally to support local student filmmakers. Today it is also the showcase for some of the most talented emerging filmmakers in the industry.

As I mentioned in my preview of the festival, 172 films were shown, including 16 World Premieres, at this year's event. It was a challenge to narrow down which films to see and the screenings that fit into my busy schedule, but I like to think that I saw what were surely some of the festival's top films. 

The showing of the documentary film When Elephants Were Young was what initially brought me to this year's festival. The film, written and directed by Patricia Sims and Michael Clark, chronicles the life of one captive Asian elephant in Thailand and her owner as it also sheds light on the centuries long tradition of keeping elephants and their role in the culture of the Thai people. Sims, a long-time advocate for the conservation of elephants and founder of World Elephant Day, is hopeful that her film will help the cause further. And no doubt it will! The film won the festival's award for Best Documentary and opens in theaters on August 12. Look for a complete review of the film on my blog soon! 

Among my personal favorites was the dark comedy Psychoanalysis by writer/director James Raue. In this mockumentary, Raue creates the "most absurd yet tragic" character imaginable in the country's top psychologist whose unorthodox practices come under fire after five of his patients commit suicide in one week. Another emerging filmmaker to watch is Ali Askari. His film Falling had its World Premiere at the festival and was a mix of a romantic comedy and paranormal/drama with a John Hughes inspired ending. 

Read more about Psychoanalysis and Falling here

The Phoenix Incident, a horror submission, written and directed by Keith Arem, is another film worth watching. Based on actual events centered around the unsolved missing persons case of four hikers in Phoenix the night of witnessed alien activity known as the Phoenix Lights, the film contains found footage along with fictionalized interpretations of the events and makes for an exhilarating sci-fi thriller. The Phoenix Incident will be shown in select theaters and is currently available via Video on Demand.

Also, as testament to why film festivals are so amazing, I was completely enthralled by the neo-noir poetry drama, Guys Reading Poems, where filmmaker Hunter Lee Hughes tells the story of a dysfunctional family through the use of poetry. Shot beautifully in black and white, this movie resembled a modern-day silent film, at times using only music and action to create the scene. This was the unexpected surprise of the festival for me! 

Lastly, the screening and after-party of the comedy The Wedding Invitation were clearly top of my list of highlights. Written and directed by Rainy Kerwin, this film centers around three single women subjecting themselves to humiliation and grief as they try to find their "plus one" to the wedding of the year. With a great cast and hilariously funny script, The Wedding Invitation, opening in theaters in 2017, is definitely one to see!

Read my complete review of The Wedding Invitation here.

Of course, aside from the movies, meeting the brilliantly talented filmmakers that create the magic was the biggest highlight of the festival for me. There were so many memorable moments, and I am already looking forward to next year's edition of the festival where I hope to see even more films and attend more parties!

Stay tuned to my blog for weekly movie reviews and don't forget to check out my complete review of The 21st Palm Beach International Film Festival in Beach Magazine at

Read Nik's Piks: After Hours movie reviews here

Check out Family Movie Reviews here

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Jungle Book (Family Movie Review)

The Jungle Book opened in theaters on April 15 and is proving to be a huge hit, and not just with young audiences. I was shocked at the number of adults packed into the theater that were not there with kids. Perhaps because The Jungle Book is a beloved story by Rudyard Kipling that has been brought to life in several animated versions, most notably Disney's 1967 full-length animated feature.  Now using a photo-real computer generated world, which in simple terms means part live action and part animation, the popular children's classic is reaching a whole new generation of fans. The virtual world is so masterfully done you will feel like you are truly in the forests of India.

This is where I let you in on an embarrassing secret. Although I own a copy of Disney's animated version and the book, I don't recall reading it and never sat down and really viewed it with my sons. It never became one of those films that they watched a billion times. Therefore, going in I knew only basics about the story.   An orphaned boy named Mowgli played by Neel Sethi is raised by a pack of wolves after being rescued by Bagheera, a black leopard (Yes, Mr. Kipling. With all due respect, Bagheera is a leopard, not a panther!) played by none other than Ben Kingsley.  When a drought in the jungle leads all the animals to the watering hole called Peace Rock, the wolf pack runs into the feared tiger, Shere Khan (Idris Elba). Carrying more than the physical scars on his face caused by man, Shere Khan vows to kill Mowgli as he represents all the evil of men.

Instead of risking the lives of his pack, Mowgli leaves and heads for the man-village where Bagheera says he belongs. Along his journey he befriends Baloo who provides the most humorous moments in the film - and no surprise with Bill Murray as the voice behind this lovable bear.  Together Mowgli, Baloo, and Bagheera face many tense moments  as they face enemies and forces of nature. 

There are several scenes that will make small children jump. Hell, they made ME jump. There are also many intense animal fight scenes and a very scary ape, King Louie, played by Christopher Walken who may prove too frightening for young audiences. Therefore, I recommend this film only to elementary school aged children and up. 

Watch Official Trailer

The screenplay was well done by Justin Marks.  However, I wish he emphasized a few key themes more and geared them more toward younger audiences.  So here are some talking points for parents to use to discuss the film with their children, particularly the ending which, as a tiger lover, was difficult for me to watch. It is important to understand that to Shere Khan, Mowgli represents the one true monster on earth - man. Of course, the tiger's obsession with revenge leads to his demise and is another great lesson for children. Most importantly, children should use Mowgli as an example of all that is good with humankind and how people are responsible for the protection of nature and wildlife.

"For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack." ~ The Jungle Book

With that said, there are also many beautifully tender moments. For example, there is a scene where Bagheera instructs Mowgli to bow to a herd of passing elephants out of respect for the majestic animals - a truly remarkable moment that brought tears to my eyes.  The film is a visual delight and animal lovers of all ages will enjoy it. 

The Jungle Book is rated PG for some sequences of scary action and peril.

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews

Friday, April 22, 2016

Creed (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

I recently sat down and watched the film Creed starring Sylvester Stallone as the iconic Rocky Balboa, and Michael B. Jordan who plays Adonis Creed, the son of the late boxer and former Rocky opponent turn trainer, Apollo Creed, whom he never met. Creed was the first film in the Rocky series not written by Stallone indicating that not only was Rocky passing the torch to Adonis, but Stallone himself was passing the torch to writer Ryan Coogler. 

First, let me say that I recommend this film to just about anyone who grew up in the Rocky era based solely for nostalgic reasons. It was nice to see Stallone as Balboa again. Of course, if you are a die-hard fan of the franchise, you'll definitely want to see it.  I know I saw the first three, maybe four, Rocky films - certainly not all 6 of the previous films. This was not a problem. In fact, even if you never watched a Rocky film before, you can dive right into this 6th sequel. Creed is a perfect story to introduce another generation to one of the most famous characters in the history of film.

After starting off as a troubled youth, Adonis is taken in by Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), Apollo's widowed wife, who raises him. As an adult, he competes in some amateur boxing matches, but aches to be taken seriously and to live up to his legacy. He seeks out Balboa who eventually agrees to train him. 

The remainder of the film has some familiar (and predictable) scenes as Adonis and Rocky train. Like Rocky had, Adonis has a love-interest, Bianca, played by Tessa Thompson who was my favorite character in the film. All this leading up to - you guessed it - a boxing match finale which, although paved the way for further sequels, was anti-climatic.  

Watch Official Trailer

Overall, the story was average, the acting was mediocre, and personally I didn't think Stallone deserved his Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. I suppose the Academy was feeling sentimental too. One highlight of the film was the music. Original pieces for Creed were mixed in with modernized versions of the famous soundtrack (most notably the Rocky theme song) we all know and love. Again, this is a worthwhile watch if you are a Rocky fan or simply grew up during the heyday of this franchise. 

Creed is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and some sensuality. 

Read more of Nik's Piks: After Hours movie reviews or Family Movie Reviews

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Big Short (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

For me, what enhances any movie experience is if I leave the theater (or my couch) feeling some type of emotion, whether it's happiness, inspiration, or pure thrill. Hell, I'll even take shock, sadness and disbelief. However, anger to the point of being nauseated, which can be translated into powerlessness, is not a feeling I want to have when the final credits of a film roll.  With that being said, I was so infuriated watching The Big Short and even more so at the end, that I almost regretted watching it. I said ALMOST

"This level of criminality is unprecedented even on fucking Wall Street." ~ The Big Short

The Big Short, a biographical drama/comedy, is based on the polarizing true events leading up to the collapse of the housing market and the big banks in 2008. It is considered the worst financial crisis in modern times.  After all, the housing market was traditionally stable and low-risk.  So what happened?

Greed happened. Greed and corruption (with a dose of stupidity) on such a massive scale that this crisis not only took down the American economy and threatened the very existence of capitalism, it, in essence, crushed the American dream. We all remember the headlines. Millions of Americans lost their jobs and their homes, and in the end, the American taxpayers had to bail out the system. But the damage didn't stop there. The collapse had a ripple effect that spread to economies all over the world. 

"I want you to walk back in there, and very calmly, very politely, tell the risk assessors to fuck off." ~ The Big Short

The Big Short was adapted from the nonfiction book by Michael Lewis and received numerous industry nominations including 5 Oscars, among them Best Picture, and was the winner for Best Adapted Screenplay. While I realize the topic alone may make some viewers shy away from this film, the script and the performances were so riveting, die-hard movie fans of any genre will like it despite the very technical subject matter and jargon.  Plus, the film goes out of its way to provide explanations when needed and even tutorials by celebrity cameos that not only help clarify terms, but are entertaining. I know that sounds a bit odd, but trust me. It worked!

The script successfully offers comic relief, even if subtle at times, amid a very serious view of a corrupt system and took me by surprise. Christian Bale who portrayed Dr. Michael Burry, the man whose financial predictions and warnings fell on deaf ears for years, was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. However, it was Steve Carell who delivered a brilliant performance as Mark Baum, another eccentric Wall Street outsider, that stole the movie for me.

Watch Official Trailer

I am no stranger to this news story that rattled our nation, yet I still couldn't help but watch in utter disgust at the level of fraudulence depicted in the film. Most will find it is worth the watch not only for the high level of filmmaking it produced, but also as a lesson into one of the most important stories of our country's modern history. However, I would not recommend it to those that have zero interest in the film's subject. The Big Short also stars Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei, Finn Wittrock, and John Magaro. This film is rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity.

Read more of Nik's Piks: After Hours movie reviews or Family Movie Reviews

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Wedding Invitation (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

The Wedding Invitation was one of the films at this year's Palm Beach International Film Festival that I was really looking forward to. The theater was packed and the energy high for the World Premiere of this romantic comedy due to be released in theaters in February 2017.  This film will undoubtedly be declared as one of the best Girls' Night Out films of the year. However, the men at the screening were equally enthusiastic about the film, making this the perfect comedy for date night too. 

The film was an arduous effort on the part of writer and director Rainy Kerwin. In her directorial debut, Kerwin also took on the role of the film's main character Lucy.  After dating the wrong man for three years, Lucy suddenly finds herself single again. And, with the RSVP of the wedding of the year staring her down, she decides, along with best friends Ryann (Camille Guaty) and Nectar (Christina Ulloa), not to wait around for Mr. Right any longer. They are going to take control of the reins and find their "plus one" to bring to the wedding. 

The result is a series of very funny, and some mildly heartbreaking, mishaps as these three women try to find love. In the end, Lucy, who was in control of all other aspects of her life, finally learns to let go so love can find her. 

Watch the Offical Trailer

It is no secret that Hollywood is short on good female roles. Kerwin, a longtime actress turn acting coach, recognizing the need for more quality female roles, especially lead roles, decided to write a script for herself.  When asked if she liked both directing and acting in the same film, Kerwin commented that it allows a director to "skip a step. You don't need to translate to the actor what you want." Kerwin also used an all-female crew making The Wedding Invitation a huge step for women in filmmaking. 

Rainy Kerwin (right) with co-star and 
producer Narmar Hanna (left) and co-star Chris Triana at World Premiere

In addition, the film is donating 5% of all net profits to ten women's groups as a way to give back and help other women achieve their goals.

Overall, this film was definitely one of the highlights of this year's festival and I strongly recommend it to ALL fans of romantic comedies. The Wedding Invitation also stars Eoin MacKen, Alex Sanborn, Chris Triana, and Nick George. The film is not yet rated but based on content, language and sexual references will earn a R rating from the MPAA when it hits theaters next year. 

                            PBIFF Complete Preview

Read more of Nik's Piks: After Hours movie reviews. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Emerging Filmmakers to Watch: News from the Palm Beach International Film Festival

I am in the midst of the fun and excitement of the Palm Beach International Film Festival and, unfortunately, there aren't enough hours in the day, between traffic and, well, life, to see even a fraction of the 172 films being featured at this year's event. Choosing my schedule has been a bit of a challenge.

Here are just two of the not-to-miss films I've screened so far, both from emerging filmmakers with promising futures.

Psychoanalysis is a dark comedy / drama written and directed by James Raue and features a very talented cast led by Benedict Wall as Paul Symmonds, the country's top suicide prevention psychologist. When five of his clients kill themselves in one week, Paul is convinced they were murdered by a rival doctor, Andrew Fendell (Ryan O'Kane) who is out to prove Paul's methods are detrimental, if not unethical, to patients. Paul hires a documentary filmmaker to chronicle his investigation. 

Watch Official Trailer

Not only was the screenplay highly intelligent with a creative and unsuspecting story line that grabs viewers instantly, Raue's use of a mockumentary style was perfect and only added to the uniqueness and cleverness of the film. One other noteworthy performance is by Michael Whalley who plays Ryan, one of Paul's clients. Psychoanalysis is making its rounds on the film festival circuit and is getting quite a bit of recognition and awards.  Local readers can catch the second screening of this film on Monday, April 11 at 11:30 at the Cinemark Palace in Boca Raton.

Today's highlight (and a film NOT included in my original preview) was unquestionably the World Premiere of Falling by director/writer Ali Askari. In his first feature length film, Askari proves he is an up-and-coming filmmaker to watch!  

Malcolm (Josh Helman) has it all - a great career, a beautiful home and a loving wife, Sarah (Yael Stone). The perfect life until one day a tragic accident leaves him a young widower. Just when Malcolm is about to hit rock bottom, he is pulled back into reality by his tenacious sister-in-law, Dee (Yvonne Cone) who insists he must move on. Things begin to look up for him when he meets the charming Nya (Jennifer Allcott) and begins a new chapter of his life with a new love. Problems arise when Malcolm begins to visualize his deceased wife who seems set on destroying her husband's new relationship. 

This is a romantic psychological thriller - if there isn't such a genre, Askari just created it - that will warm the hearts of audiences one minute, and have them biting their nails the next. The film also stars film-great Paul Sorvino. Local readers can catch the second screening of Falling on Tuesday, April 12 at noon at the Cinemark Palace in Boca Raton.  

The festival runs through April 14. Visit for a complete schedule of film and event times and venues as well as to purchase tickets. Tickets can be purchased for multiple screenings or individual showings and events on the website or by calling 561.362.0003.

Read my complete PREVIEW.

Spotlight (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

Based on the actual events and Pulitzer-prize winning investigative report that rocked a city and threatened to crumble a centuries-old institution, Spotlight is a gripping, must-see film. Nominated for multiple industry awards, including six Oscars, Spotlight was the 2016 Academy Award winner for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. 

"If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one." ~ Spotlight

Unless you live under a rock, you will recall the story that shook the city of  Boston, our nation, and the Catholic Church in 2002. Spotlight is based on the four investigative journalists from The Boston Globe that were determined enough to ask unthinkable questions and the brave survivors and advocates that helped them expose decades of cover-ups, secret settlements, and a system gone terribly wrong. 

In 2001, it took a Boston outsider, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) as the new editor for the Globe, to re-examine prior allegations against a couple of Boston priests.  What Baron did not realize is that Boston is a big-city with small-town fundamentals, with little to no separation between church and state. A city, in essence, being unofficially run by the Catholic Church.  What he and the others also didn't realize is how deep this scandal would go. 

However, with print readership already dropping thanks to the Internet, and with 53% of subscribers being Catholic, does the Globe have the courage to shake the foundation of the largest institution in the city and one of the most powerful in the world? And in so doing, what effect will that have on the paper and their community?  They can merely make noise, or they can make changes. 

Watch Official Trailer

Despite pressure to stay quiet, Baron assigns the story to his investigative team called Spotlight led by Walter "Robby" Robinson played by Michael Keaton.  Together with journalists Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James), the years of child molestation and abuse by Catholic priests was about to be revealed. More frightening was the extent to which the entire city and all its officials were involved. 

"Sometimes it's easy to forget that we spend most our time stumbling around in the dark. Suddenly a light gets turned on and there's a fair share of blame to go around."  ~ Spotlight

By the end of this film I was visibly shaken and numb at the same time. Spotlight is a chilling story and one that is often difficult to hear, but is one of the most important films of our time. McAdams' performance earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Ruffalo has never been better, also receiving a nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The film also stars John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, and Billy Crudup.  

Spolight is rated R for some language including sexual references. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Bitter Sweet Moments of Parenting

Last Friday local parents and students anxiously awaited the results of the lottery for the magnet programs in our school district. The results were delivered simultaneously via email to thousands of families throughout the county. Within five minutes of receiving the email notifying us of which high school program my oldest son got into, his phone kept going off - texts from friends excited to share the news of which high school they would be attending.

My son received a spot in his first choice program and was ecstatic. I immediately followed the instructions, went online and officially accepted the seat.

That night he couldn't wait to tell his dad and grandmother. After months of vetting different schools and their various programs, touring campuses, and drilling other parents of currently enrolled students, the wait was over. The decision was made. And where my son would be starting high school in the fall was settled. 

All these months - years, actually, if I am to be honest - of research, worry, and paperwork were over. And all of this with little to no emotional response.

Until this afternoon, that is. 

At noon I checked my email and staring back at me was his official welcome letter into the school and his program. It was addressed to the "Class of 2020." 

That is when it hit me. My baby was going to high school in August. I held back tears as I read the information, then closed the email. Then....just sat there. In silence. 

I recalled the little boy who cried when I dropped him off at preschool and would insist on bringing his stuffed bear with him. Bless his preschool teacher (who I hope is reading this) for allowing him to hold Bear Bear (at least for the first five minutes before putting it in his cubby) while he watched me from the window drive off, a boy so tiny he had to stand on his tippy toes to see out. 

I recalled his first day of middle school and how I watched him walk into a brand new school and become lost in a sea of classmates. Just like preschool, I worried about him all day and couldn't wait to pick him up and ask how his day went. 

A flood of other memories, and along with them tears, overwhelmed me as well. Like the time he learned to swim, had the lead in his elementary school play, and passed his black belt test. 

A young boy now becoming a young man who has never let a day go by without challenging me on some level. I'll admit, I don't always come out smelling like roses after these incidents.

Unfortunately, the first day of high school will come faster than I want it to and once again I will smile, tell him I love him, and wish him a great day before watching him disappear into a crowd.  And only after the car door is shut and his back is toward me, will I allow a tear or two to escape and roll down my cheek. 

You can bet I'll be one of the first parents in car line when the last bell rings on that first day, and I will once again greet him with a smile and excitedly wait for him to tell me all about his day. Little will he ever know how I cried on this day in April when I received the welcome email and wrote this blog post. 

When the day comes for his own child to go off to school for the first time, and I see the emotion in his eyes, I'll share this post with him and hug him and thank him for being my son and giving me so many amazing moments in life.  Most importantly, I'll tell him that no matter how difficult these bitter sweet milestones in parenthood are, they are the ones that make it all worth while. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Bridge of Spies (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

Bridge of Spies starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance was released in the fall of 2015 and was one of those "quiet" films that attracted a certain audience but ended up walking away with countless industry award nominations (including SIX Oscar nominations) and wins. In other words, Steven Spielberg did it again! 

Bridge of Spies

Inspired by true events and other works of literature including the novel Strangers on a Bridge by James Donovan, Bridge of Spies takes place during the height of the Cold War in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a time that had a very distinct feel. Those that remember it will identify with this film very much.  There was the constant threat of nuclear war, the drills in school, the sirens, the hate fueled by fear and the building of the Berlin wall. This was a war not of soldiers, but of information - and spies. 

"Nothing about this is narrowly legal. There are bigger issues." ~ Bridge of Spies

In 1957, Rudolf Abel (Rylance) is arrested in Brooklyn for being a Soviet spy. The American Bar Association gives insurance lawyer, James Donovan (Hanks), the difficult task of defending Abel. Difficult not only from a legal standpoint, but because public opinion already had Abel tried and hanged before he even stepped foot in the courtroom. However, while Donovan feels strongly that it is his duty as an officer of the law to give the accused the best defense possible and in turn represent the American justice system, the U.S. government and its citizens think otherwise. 

In a true act of heroism, Donovan's passion for civil liberties trumps the orders of his country. And, with his negotiation tactics, this insurance attorney finds himself in the forefront of political warfare. 

Hanks delivers another stellar performance and Rylance (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) was magnificent giving a heartfelt and touching portrayal of a man guilty of only serving his country. 

Watch Official Trailer

Bridge of Spies is a fascinating historical fiction. I enjoyed it much more than I anticipated. The film touches not only on the reality of our past political practices, but raises questions that remain in the midst of controversy today - the right of due process for those here illegally and the treatment of political prisoners. 

The film is rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language. 

Read more of Nik's Piks: After Hours movie reviews.