The grand tradition of the dramatic road trip movie, so splendidly rendered in films such as Rain Man and Y Tu Mamá También, can add a new sentimental two-hander to its ranks in Sheridan O’Donnell’s Little Brother (A-), an intimate and inspiring indie that world premiered at the Atlanta Film Festival. Jake, portrayed by Daniel Diemer, has been tasked by his father (J.K. Simmons) to reluctantly transport his suicidal older brother Pete, played by Philip Ettinger, home for a family intervention. The dynamic between the central brothers in motion through a brittle journey to face their sometimes fractured bond, is thoroughly captivating, alternately heartbreaking and hilarious; and their pathway through the gorgeous West in locations such as Albuquerque and Twin Falls makes for an enjoyable and enlightening ride. As Pete, Ellinger diffuses the effects of mental illness with humor and regression to juvenile highjinks to mask his inner tumult. He’s consistently absorbing and magnetic in the tricky part. As the sometimes stoic straight man, Diemer has a tough role too and slays it with steely restraint. His tender depiction of abiding brotherly love is also sublime. When the siblings come to breakthroughs in how to confront and reconcile mental distress that’s not likely to vanish from looming large, O’Donnell continues to nourish the story with direction and dialogue which is rarely reductive or overly sentimental. This is the kind of movie that can save lives, and its notions of making the most of one’s lived experience and savoring the familial bonds to lift us when most needed have the power to deeply move.
Tag Archives: Atlanta Film Festival
Industry News: Atlanta Film Festival Features 27 World Premieres, April 21 – May 1, 2022
The 46th annual Atlanta Film Festival + Creative Conference (ATLFF) revealed key programming highlights, including Opening and Closing Night presentations and the full lineup of selected works from a record-breaking nearly 10,000 submissions. Highlighted by the Opening Night presentation of 892 and Closing Night film Mija, 11 Marquee screenings will combine Hollywood star power with the best of independent film. The 155 total announced creative works from submissions will feature diverse filmmakers who continue to uplift voices and stories from around the world. The film festival and educational conference will take place Thursday, April 21 through Sunday, May 1, 2022, at multiple venues in Atlanta and virtually.
“We’re particularly excited about this year because we are not only back to in-person screenings, but our hybrid format will provide even more opportunities for audiences to participate around the globe,” said Christopher Escobar, Executive Director of the Atlanta Film Festival. “A huge part of our ethos is advocating for diverse voices, which is why it’s even more important that we continue to evolve and connect with communities everywhere in new and innovative ways.”
Kicking off a robust slate of Marquee programming that will be presented throughout the 11-day festival, the Opening Night presentation of Bleecker Street’s dramatic thriller 892 will take place at the Plaza Theatre on Friday, April 22. Starring John Boyega, the late Michael K. Williams, Nicole Beharie, and Connie Britton, the film follows a Marine war veteran who faces mental and emotional challenges when he tries to reintegrate back into civilian life. Director Abi Damaris Corbin will be on-hand for the red carpet screening.
The Closing Night presentation of the Disney+ documentary Mija will be held on Saturday, April 30, at the Plaza Theatre. Directed by Isabel Castro, the film follows Doris Muñoz, who began a career in music talent management and met Jacks Haupt, an auspicious young singer, and both share the ever-present guilt of being the first American-born members of their undocumented families.
Some highlights of the Marquee programming from celebrated filmmakers and Hollywood studios announced today include narrative features Cha Cha Real Smooth starring Dakota Johnson and written and directed by Cooper Raiff (the triple threat behind one of this site’s favorites, the comedyShithouse), Emily the Criminal starring Aubrey Plaza and Theo Rossi, and Summering, a coming of age story directed by Georgia-native and celebrated ATLFF alumni James Ponsoldt. Documentary feature highlights include Look At Me!, an inside look at a gifted young rapper’s tumultuous rise to fame before his death at the age of 20, with never-before-seen footage as XXXTentacion’s inner circle speaks out, and REFUGE, a story about fear and love in the American South from local Atlanta directors Erin Levin Bernhardt and Din Blankenship.
The 12th annual Creative Conference, ATLFF’s popular educational programming extension, returns with in-person panel discussions and one-on-one in-depth virtual conversations focusing on screenwriting, showrunning, pitching shows, podcasting, directing, producing, cinematography, and editing with industry experts from Georgia to NY and LA. The entire Creative Conference lineup of over 25 events will be announced in the coming weeks.
ATLFF 2022 will be more accessible than ever, offering a mix of in-person and virtual screenings, as well as virtual Q&A sessions with filmmakers. Screenings will be held at three venues, including Plaza Theatre (1049 Ponce De Leon Ave NE), Dad’s Garage (569 Ezzard St SE), and The Carter Center (453 Freedom Parkway), with more to come. All virtual screenings and events will be presented via Eventive.
The full schedule of films and events is available atwww.AtlantaFilmFestival.com and through the ATLFF 2022 app. Festival passes are on sale now on the site. Tickets for individual events will be available at the beginning of April. In-person screening tickets range from $12-50; virtual access is $9.99 per film/panel with an unlimited virtual all-access pass for $85 for both films and Creative Conference. Virtual all-access pass will increase to $100 after Friday, April 1.
Movie Review: Blindspotting (2018)
Oakland is woke-land for a duo of friends looking to flip the script on clean living and justice in Carlos López Estrada’s Blindspotting (A-). Daveed Diggs of Hamilton and Rafael Casal parlay rap, poetry and spoken word into a creative indie about two blue collar bros trapped in conflicting narratives after a late-night shooting. The humor is sweet and the drama sobering as the co-stars (also co-writers) address race, identity and gentrification in a brisk and frisky production. The film’s frantic pace, bubblegum colors and lyrical landscapes lure viewers into an eccentric and exquisite singular urban atmosphere. Diggs is superb and rises to the challenge of one iconic sequence in particular that truly tests the charismatic chops he showcased on NYC stages. Casal channels a young De Niro as his fierce foil, balancing rage and tenderness in grand doses. Wonderful actresses Janina Gavankar and Jasmine Cephas-Jones are highlights in the supporting cast, balancing all the testosterone in some clever conversations. A split second or two that are too on-the-nose, including split screens, threaten to make some of the motifs a bit too obvious; but overall, it’s a stunner. Come for the buddy comedy, and stay for the message. Despite the timely topics and hefty themes, it’s optimistic and will become a talked-about touchstone.
A hit at Sundance, the film was the opening night presentation at the Atlanta Film Festival. It premiered everywhere July 20, 2018 and is now available for purchase or rental.
Blindspotting review published 4/13/18
Movie Review: Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
The “some” of all things that Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! (A) purports all people desire is becoming part of a loving and supportive community. Not really a spoiler if you admire this writer/director like I do! For the Texas student athletes hazing each other in the random days before university classes start, you’d never guess that this oft-imbibing tribe is an enduring community; but leave it to Linklater to capture a note-perfect ode to love and friendship. Blake Jenner is superb as the wide-eyed protagonist freshman, always equipped with a quip and the grip of an all-star baseball pitcher’s outstretched arm of gratitude. Glen Powell is a standout among a perfectly cast cavalcade of jocks as the wise, witty and literate ring-leader. And Zoey Deutsch scores one for the ladies’ team as a compelling theatre major love interest and perfect foil for all the frat-tactic acting out. Linklater’s fluid, episodic and unforced structure is just dandy for the lazy last days of summer as the college kids put on their different hats and try out different roles, quite literally in the dance clubs, country watering holes, house parties and dugout. The characters are sharp and funny and just vulgar enough to still be charming; and the through-line of tender acceptance and blossoming connections is a delight. The nostalgic ’80s vibe is perfectly evoked and the dreadful bro-couture consistently hilarious. Oneupmanship as the ultimate bond of brotherhood is carried out in sequences involving bongs, ping pongs and ’80s songs, often to revealing effect. The film is being billed as a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused, but it is really a continuation of the art of new love explored in the Before trilogy, the coming of age encountered in Boyhood and the rag-tag ensemble shenanigans of School of Rock. It’s a lark with lots of heart, and that’s quite an art.
Here on the Atlanta Film Festival red carpet premiere junket, I ask two of the film’s stars – Will Brittain and Blake Jenner – about on-set pranks and whether they like the performing arts or sports parts of the movie best:
Industry News: 40th Anniversary Atlanta Film Festival 2016
The 40th Annual Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF) has announced the full lineup of film, educational and special programming and events that will take place from April 1 – 10, 2016.
Of the nearly 5,000 film submissions for the 2016 festival, the final lineup includes 51 feature length films and 100 short films representing 37 countries. The ten-day event will be highlighted with Opening and Closing Night presentations and galas, eight Marquee screenings events, 37 Creative Conference events and over a dozen unique Special Presentations and events.
Scheduled talent appearances, including director Rob Burnett (The Fundamentals of Caring), actors Tyler Hoechlin, Blake Jenner and Ryan Guzman (Everybody Wants Some!!), director Chad Hartigan (Morris from America) and actor Wendell Pierce (HBO’s Confirmation), will also take place throughout the festival.
From more than two dozen films with production or filmmaker ties to Georgia to anniversary-themed editions of beloved annual ATLFF events such as “Food On Film,” the 2016 fest will celebrate more than four decades of film and educational programming in the state of Georgia.
The Atlanta Film Festival is the annual centerpiece of educational and enriching film programing that is provided year-round by parent organization, the Atlanta Film Society.
Christopher Escobar, ATLFF Executive Director said, “We’re working harder than ever to hold our festival in places unique to Atlanta. In everything from retro film presentations to special homecoming guests and original branding, we’re paying homage to the last four decades. And like our founders set out to be in 1976, we’re especially committed to creating an opportunity for independent voices to be heard and celebrated.”
For more information about the Atlanta Film Festival and full schedule of film screenings and events, visit www.atlantafilmfestival.com. Passes for the festival are available for purchase now on the website. Individual screening tickets are now on sale.
Movie Review: I Am Michael (2015)
Justin Kelly’s I Am Michael (B+) is a gripping true story about a gay magazine editor who has a series of revelations that lead him to attempt to alter his sexual orientation. Fully realized by James Franco, the title character is complex and sympathetic as he wrestles with issues of faith and identity. The quirky actor should be commended for courageousness in a mature and layered performance and in behind the scenes work to get this fascinating story told. The film’s reverse coming out story with a main character who transforms from player to prayer coupled with the filmmakers’ unwillingness to be reductive leads the narrative down unexpected and rewarding paths. As the protagonist’s love interests, Zachary Quinto and Emma Roberts are effective foils for what seems like a folly. It’s all sensitively handled and executed with earnestness. What could have fallen into a Reefer Madness style propaganda film about the ex-gay movement actually lifts up nuance as a core asset and provides fodder for thought.
Movie Review: Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
Jon Avnet’s Fried Green Tomatoes (A) offers a whistlestop whirlwind into the universal truths of friendship, sisterhood and possibly a whole lot more under the surface of women in the South. Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy are appealing in the framing modern-day empowerment story, but it’s the flashbacks centering on rascally restaurateurs played by Mary-Louise Parker and Mary Stuart Masterson that really take hold of the imagination. Several subplots that aren’t fully sketched are eclipsed by the overall emotional impact of a journey that showcases the power of secrets and sacrifice.