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Film Review: ‘My Voice, My Life’

If you expected class distinctions would vanish in Hong Kong after re-integrating with the Mainland, reality has been profoundly disappointing. For many, the only significant change is the undemocratic governance mandated by Beijing.
Last fall, thousands of HK students protested for the right to hold legitimate elections. Simultaneously, a group of disadvantaged HK high school students discovered potential they never knew they had when they were selected to stage a professional musical theater production.
Six of their fellow students were also recruited to document their behind-the-scenes drama. None of them were activists, but their efforts to assert control over lives and futures takes on unintended symbolic implications in Oscar-winner Ruby Yang’s “My Voice, My Life.”
The poster for “My Voice, My Life.” (L plus H Creations Foundation)
In Hong Kong, there is a rigid hierarchy among secondary schools. Underperforming students at the last chance “Band 3″ schools are often looked down upon by their peers and their elders, but their employment prospects are still better than those facing graduates of the Ebenezer School for the Visually Impaired.
Of course, the latter students recruited for the awkwardly named L plus H Creations Foundation’s production of” The Awakening” (featuring a conspicuously Les Mis-ish sounding finale) are by far the most reliable during the early days of rehearsal. There will be a pretty steep learning curve for the other kids, both musically and personally.
Frankly, it was not always clear whether the production would really come together. In Coby Wang, they had a lead with all kinds of natural talent, but her acute lack of confidence prevents her from realizing her diva potential. More problematic are the troublemakers who undermine discipline and unity with their antics. Yet, as the rehearsals progress, the hardest cases start to realize their fellow students are relying on them to get it together.
MORE:Film Review: ‘The Iron Ministry’
Yang (who was last nominated for the short David-and-Goliath doc, “The Warriors of Qiugang“) and editor Man Chung Ma are extraordinarily dexterous juggling the various students’ and their backstories. Viewers really get a fully developed sense of at least eight or nine of the cast-members, while also meeting an assortment of parents, teachers, and theater professionals, which is quite an impressive feat of screen-time management in a ninety-one minute film.
None of these kids are bad per se. Some have just been living down to low expectations. Fortunately, several are extremely charismatic, while nobody in their right mind could root against the earnest Ebenezer students.
Clearly, Andy Lau agreed. The HK superstar and former bad kid saw something of himself in the “Awakening”cast-members, so he hit the Hong Kong publicity circuit on the film’s behalf, making it an unexpected box-office success.
“Voice” gives us reason to suspect there is much more to come from its subjectsOf course, their story does not end here, but at least “Voice”gives us reason to suspect there is much more to come from its subjects (especially since they are now so well known to Lau).
Frankly, they sort of cry out for the “Seven Up”treatment. Regardless, they deserve a chance to pursue a higher education and real career opportunities. Likewise, they ought to be able to vote for the politicians of their choice. At least Yang’s documentary should help with the former.
Recommended for idealistic musical theater fans, “My Voice, My Life”opens this Friday, Aug. 28, in New York, at the Cinema Village.
“My Voice, My Life”DocumentaryDirector: Ruby YangRunning time: 1 hour, 31 minutesRelease date: Aug. 28Rated 
3.5 stars out of 5
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit

For Greta Gerwig, a Screwball Turn Before a Directing Debut

NEW YORK — Greta Gerwig is sitting in a Greenwich Village cafe trying to explain how she goes from being fully enmeshed in creating a film — co-writing it, producing it — to stepping into the story and inhabiting a character.
“My job is to almost get a bit unconscious about the whole thing,” says Gerwig. “It’s an odd paradox of completely knowing what you’re doing — the language is in you, it makes sense — and also feeling like you’re riding something but you don’t have control of the speed.”
She pauses. “I keep thinking of a jet ski. I don’t know why.”
“Mistress America,” which opens Friday, is the second film Gerwig has co-written with director Noah Baumbach, who is also her boyfriend of several years. Together with “Frances Ha,” the two movies have established a wider view of Gerwig, who was already widely seen as among the finest, most authentic actors of her generation.

“Mistress,” an ’80s-movie inspired farce, and “Frances,” a French New Wave-inspired tale of 20s struggle, prove that Gerwig is as deliberate as she is intuitive. Though her sincere, confused characters have the messy blurred lines of life, that doesn’t mean they aren’t finely drawn.
“She’s broadening the scope of what she’s doing,” says Baumbach, who first cast her alongside Ben Stiller in “Greenberg” before the two became closer while making “Frances Ha.” ”She’s a real voice. It wouldn’t be wrong to say she has an authorial voice before she’s actually directed a movie.”
In this July 28, 2015 photo, actress Greta Gerwig poses for a portrait in promotion of her film “Mistress America” in New York. (Photo by Brian Ach/Invision/AP)
But as Gerwig said in her recent interview, “That, sir, is in the works today.” She’s finalizing plans to direct a screenplay she wrote called “Lady Bird” that’s set in her hometown of Sacramento, California. She’ll shoot it in March, with Scott Rudin producing.
So, by jet ski or whatever watercraft metaphor you like, Gerwig is on the move. Up until now, her career, which began in the low-budget “mumblecore” films of Joe Swanberg (some of which she co-wrote) and has dabbled in failed sitcom pilots and larger studio films like “Arthur” and “No Strings Attached,” has often been depicted as a pinballing between indie and mainstream.
But in films of any size, working either in front of or behind the camera, Gerwig’s aesthetic — awkward, funny, without artifice — is remarkably consistent. It’s kind of like the reverse of “The Purple Rose of Cairo”; instead of a movie character stepping off screen, she’s like a real person stepping onto it — and one happy to join any genre.
For “Mistress America,” the template was movies like Jonathan Demme’s “Something Wild” and Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours” — comedies of unexpected adventures propelled by domineeringly charismatic characters.
It was conceived around Gerwig’s character, Brooke, a 30-year-old whirlwind of truly felt but poorly planned ambitions. She does interior design, teaches spin classes and is trying to open a Manhattan restaurant called Mom’s.
Her intoxicating orbit draws in Tracy (Lola Kirke), her stepsister to be, a freshman and budding writer at Barnard College (where Gerwig also went, with playwright aspirations). The two fall in together in New York before, with a car-full of characters in tow, a trip to Connecticut yields a lengthy, manic screwball set piece.
“We wanted to emulate those movies where things go crazy. Maybe our investors would prefer we did not make movies that way,” says Gerwig, chuckling. “But I don’t know. Nobody was going to make any money, anyway. It seemed pointless not to amuse ourselves.”
At the heart of the film in the friendship between Brooke and Tracy, who’s infatuated by the larger-than-life Brooke. She begins writing stories glorifying but also humbling Brooke, who has been moving too fast to notice her youth slipping away.
Like Baumbach’s last film, “While We’re Young,” and “Frances Ha,” much of the drama comes from characters growing into or accepting their place in life.
“I don’t know many people who are like: ‘I’m 36 and feeling awesome with that, and not trying to be older than I am or younger than I am,'” says Gerwig, 32. “I perpetually always feel old and older than I should be and am slightly embarrassed about that. The first time I ever lied about my age I was seven and I said I was six. It was somehow feeling like I was already behind.”
Gerwig is quick to note she’s more Tracy than Brooke, but her personality seems wholly infused in both “Mistress” and “Frances” — both exuberant New York movies that celebrate the lives of young creative strivers not so unlike Gerwig.
“It’s one of the great triumphs of my life that I get to live here,” she says, looking toward the street. “I feel like I’m one of those characters that they date for an episode of ‘Sex and the City’ who says, ‘I’ll never leave Manhattan,’ and they’re like, ‘She’s crazy.'”

Chicago Locals Love Their Startup Ecosystem

Chicago, it goes by many names: The Windy City, Chi-Town, and Chicagoland. I’ve even heard some people on the West Coast Best Coast call it the Los Angeles of the Midwest. Alternatively there are those on the East Coast that call it the New York of the Midwest.
This celebration of the Chicago ecosystem is brought to you by @properties, the leading Chicago real estate brokerage serving both the city of Chicago and North Shore through dynamic marketing and innovation. Follow the full content series here!
However, regardless of where you hail from, I think we should move past the small potatoes here and give Chicago some much deserved love. Sure, they have amazing museums, great pizza, and winning sports teams, but that’s not why they deserve our recognition today.
Rather, Chicago has one of the strongest crops of entrepreneurs who put the entirety of their being into building companies which elevate the people, the city, the region, and ultimately America. To that end, I went out and talked with some of the embedded, local entrepreneurs who know the ins and outs of Chicago better than most.
I asked them all one question: what makes Chicago’s landscape so awesome? I think you’ll find their answers inspiring and interesting.
Here are 9 entrepreneurs who love their city, and they’re not afraid to show it:
Abby Ross – COO – ThinkCERCA
“There are three main points: collaboration, physical spaces, and a supportive community. I work hand in hand with my CEO Eileen Murphy Buckley, who has decades of education and administration experience. But this isn’t the only opportunity I have to collaborate with people outside of traditional entrepreneurial spaces though – Chicago’s open and inclusive startup ecosystem affords an opportunity to collaborate with people from a number of different backgrounds.
And when it comes to places to work, Chicago houses coworking spaces across the city that give entrepreneurs the space they need to jumpstart their company without the headache of finding a place and furnishing it alongside running the actual business. Great example: ThinkCERCA started off at 1871, a collaborative space where entrepreneurs can focus on the work and less on the office administration.
There are also startup accelerators like Impact Engine, which gave me the confidence to create a company that would have a meaningful impact. Because of this support, I was able to scale ThinkCERCA to reach more students, and help schools achieve the only thing in this business that matters the most: student outcomes.”
Robert Haidari – Founder – Hot Emu
“Chicago is a big city with a small town feel: I love it. Business is done the traditional way, based on trust and respect. If a business wants to operate it has to try its best to satisfy clients, employees, partners, and investors. And everyone knows each other, whether they’re inquiring about someone’s work history, getting in touch with a potential business partner, or finding a mentor – everyone is within reach.
We also have a lot of great talent. Chicago universities are top ranked and produce a lot of graduates, which gives the startups here a wide range of potential employees. Not to mention we’re surrounded by various industries, many of them ripe for disruption.
In the middle of a highly concentrated pool of businesses, with money to spend and appetite to get ahead, I’m often asked if I would ever relocate to either coast. Never. Chicago has a very special feel to it, and I owe this city everything I have accomplished.”
Hazem Dawani – Cofounder – OptionsCity
“As a trading technology company, there is no better city in the world than Chicago. Obviously this is a market center, and the home of the world’s largest futures exchange, huge hedge funds, major trading firms, and other global companies that are active in the markets.
But the key is that when you combine that environment with a deep, talented, and stable labor pool, particularly of tech talent, it becomes an even better place for a business like ours. Every day I’m reminded of just how lucky we are to be in Chicago.”
Craig Vodnik – Cofounder – Cleverbridge
“Our first office was a 300 square foot space that cost about $600 a month. Today, the 1871 offers something even more attractive than what we had, but to start out, that was a very reasonable cost. Once we started hiring, we were finding really motivated and sharp people that wanted to work for an ecommerce company, not only for the job, but also for the career path that we would set them on. In California, companies are competing with Facebook, Twitter, and Google for the best talent and that free market thinking results in more outrageous costs all the time.
Obviously, being a Chicagoan, I had a support structure that I could call on in a pinch to help out, whether that was one friend answering phones for a week while I was in Germany or another friend shipping boxes from my house while I was at a tradeshow for three days.
Also, while there’s a 7 hour time difference to Germany, there’s a big difference in having two hours of workday overlap each day versus having none, which is what would have happened had we been based in California.
Not to mention I’ve seen what goes on in California, and Midwestern attitudes towards hard work, loyalty, and trust are intangibly important for an entrepreneur to build a successful business. Does your key salesperson come to you and talk about the recruiters hunting him down, or does he stay silent, always listening for the best offer and then jump ship after a year?”
Joseph Collins – Cofounder – Markr
“It’s all about the community. The 1871 is a great example of this: when the City of Chicago passed a law on SaaS companies that was going to hurt a lot of Chicago startups, 1871 was able to get in the ear of the mayor. Further, they were instrumental in influencing the Mayor to change the law and help the startups. I don’t know if there are many other cities that do that, or places that will help small startups in that way.”
Stephen George – Cofounder and COO – IndiCard
“Chicago’s diverse service economy gives IndiCard the perfect market to truly build a brand that we can then roll out to any city in the country. I’ve found that when Chicagoans get it, they get it and they love it. Businesses and individuals are inundated with so much technology here in Chicago that we really have to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the pack. Since we have a proven brand and product here in Chicago, we have a great foundation for success in our other live market like Denver and Las Vegas.”
Darren Guccione – CEO – Keeper Security
“I was born in Chicago, have lived here most of my life, studied Engineering at the University of Illinois, and have built my companies here. My family and I love living here – except when it’s 30 degrees below zero :).
The tech startup ecosystem has grown into something I would describe as amazing. There are so many creative entrepreneurs here that are challenging the ways we interact with technology, innovating, and creating environments to help each other succeed with organizations like 1871, Matter, TechStars, and Catapult.
Despite being a big city, we know how to stay both humble and grounded – this city is all about a no-BS attitude and disposition focused on execution. People are cool, friendly, and in the sincere Midwestern way, welcoming to newcomers. My team in Chicago is an extension of this, and they are some of the most dedicated, smart, and creative people I’ve ever worked with.”
Adam Fridman – Founder – Mabbly and Meet Advisors
“Chicago’s entrepreneurship community is exploding and the growth is daily and visible. It’s driven partly by the energy of the city itself but also by a wave of young people who are highly motivated to create their own spaces, both personally and outside the shadows of New York and San Francisco.
The good news is that Chicago’s startup community and culture are evolving so quickly that there are overwhelming events and opportunities like 1871, Technori, and SBAC. Finding the right one can be a challenge, so trying many different things and keeping an open ear are keys to getting the most of what’s happening in Chicago now.”
Greg Fenton – CEO and Tim Haitaian – CFO or RedShelf
“We think the Chicago tech ecosystem is the perfect place to be. Because we have team that is majority made up of individuals under the age of 30 that live downtown, it provides the best atmosphere to get to and from work. We love that our office is surrounded by art galleries, pubs, and bars to enjoy a few cold ones after working hard all day.
Greg considers working in Chicago and being a part of the tech startup ecosystem like summer camp for adults. There are so many different pieces of Chicago that one or a group of people can experience and do together, whether it’s after work on a Thursday night or getting together as team on a Saturday to go sailing.
​Having a team full of different personalities, we chose Chicago as our headquarters because it has something to offer everyone’s personal tastes and preferences. And our office is pretty sweet, too!​”

Film Review: ‘I Am Chris Farley’

For reasons of girth, Chris Farley was often compared to his hero John Belushi when he joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” Perhaps for the same reason, we too readily accepted his tragic early demise. As iconic as Belushi might be, Farley had a good-hearted Chaplinesque appeal that none of his contemporaries could match. Viewers get a sense of how genuine his aw-shucks persona really was in Brent Hodge & Derik Murray’s documentary, “I Am Chris Farley.”
Farley grew up in a loud, loving family in Wisconsin, with a garrulous father much like Brian Dennehy’s character in “Tommy Boy” (a much more autobiographical film than casual fans may have realized). For a while, Farley was a reasonably successful salesman for his dad’s company, but a chance encounter with semi-professional theater changed the trajectory of his life. His stints in regional theater led to a residency with Chicago’s famous Second City Theatre improvisational comedy troupe, which at the time was practically the farm team for “Saturday Night Live” (SNL)(a sketch comedy show that once aired on NBC after the Saturday night local news—and who knows, maybe it still does, but nobody has seen it since 2004).
Logically, Hodge, Murray, and screenwriter Steve Burgess devote the lion’s share of the film to his SNL period (1990-1995). That is what people will be most interested in—and sadly, Farley would tragically die soon after in late 1997. Arguably, Matt Foley, the motivational speaker with unfortunate living arrangements, represents the last truly classic SNLskit. As written, the humor of the situation is quite funny, but Farley’s efforts to break-up his buddy David Spade and guest host Christina Applegate made it legendary. Yet, the best part of the story comes when “I Am Chris Farley”identifies who the real Matt Foley is, because it reveals so much about Farley.
Hodge & Murray paint a comprehensive portrait of Farley as a devout Catholic and a devoted friend and brother.Indeed, Hodge & Murray paint a comprehensive portrait of Farley as a devout Catholic and a devoted friend and brother. Fortunately, they secured the Farley family’s participation, because his brothers’ reminiscences really help fill out the picture of someone so easy to caricature. They also scored sit-down on-cameras with many of Farley’s famous friends and colleagues, including Spade, Adam Sandler, Jon Lovitz, Jay Mohr, Bo Derek (who still looks fantastic), and Dan Aykroyd.
“I Am Chris Farley”hits theaters shortly after the release of Bao Nguyen’s SNLdoc “Saturday Night,” but it is by far the superior film. One could say the Farley profile is one hundred times better than the shallow, smugly self-congratulatory, slavishly PC bore that quickly exited theaters, but that would still unfairly imply it is a bad film. In fact, “I Am Chris Farley”is quite a good film, because it is so surprisingly endearing. Basically, it gets right everything that “Saturday Night”gets wrong.
Ultimately, “I Am Chris Farley”will increase viewers’ appreciation for Farley as an individual and the value of his work. Recommended for fans of Farley and Second City, “I Am Chris Farley”opens July 31 in New York at the AMC Empire, in advance of its August 10 premiere on Spike TV.

‘I Am Chris Farley’Directors: Brent Hodge, Derik MurrayStarring: Adam Sandler, Bo Derek, Christina ApplegateRunning time: 1 hour, 38 minutesRelease date: July 31Rated 
3.5 stars out of 5
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit

Why your City May not Be a City At All

Earlier this week I was privileged to sit in the audience of a panel entitled “The Best City in the World May not Be a City At All” at SXSW V2V. As someone who’s lived in multiple cities and yet hasn’t really found one geographic location I ADORE this as a topic. I believe that the reason I live or stay in a city is due to its people and its opportunities. Apparently I’m not alone in this thinking. But first let me tell you why I feel this way.

Feeling those geographic limitations
I’ve lived three places (so far); Suburban Minnesota, Downtown Chicago, and Downtown Dallas. I knew from a very young age that I was not fit for the suburban culture and probably would never be. (Sorry future kids – you’re not getting a backyard). This has nothing to do with the dislike of mowing lawns or hordes of kids but rather it’s the sounds and energy. When I moved from Chicago to Dallas I moved to the loudest area of town possible. And it was still dead to me. But I got my high off the people and environments I was working around. One of the very first people I met in Dallas shared an energy just like mine. (His name is Trey Bowles in case you’re curious). We both had “get it done now” & “there is always more time in a day” attitudes. I liked that. I soon met a few more people like this who shared the energy and sass I needed to thrive.
However, as I’ve now been a resident for over a year I’m craving a higher high. This has lead me to travel more. In the past month I’ve been in Chicago, Nashville, Miami, Las Vegas. Next month I will travel to Minnesota (Hi parents!) and Chicago. And in the month after, Las Vegas and NYC. The environment and the high I get from Dallas is still there; I’m just going through a “rejuvenate & build bigger” stage. This leads me to work on projects for Dallas which will bring it national attention. (announcing soon….) Because although Dallas to me isn’t SUPER geographically exciting, it’s home (for now) and I want to pump as much energy into it as I can. Which is one of the major reasons I recently took the position as VP of Programming at the Dallas Entrepreneur Center. This position gives me the opportunity to build the culture up, interact with hundreds of people and connect with those, like me, working for the high that cannot be provided by a typical city.
Finding a fit in your city
Now, back to this “the best city may not be a city at all” feeling. To me, and to a huge population of people, we don’t need to be tied down to a specific geographic location; our lives are digital. Our cities, rather, are phones, computers, people, conversations, laughter, music, noises, etc. It’s the components that make up a city or culture, instead, that we are attracted to.
While watching this panel made up of three New Yorkers – Jey Van-Sharp, Helen Todd, and Jim Hopkinson— I felt at home. (no offense Martin Waxman – Toronto just isn’t my jam but holla!) They had the energy and drive I needed. They are my city. New York has the lights and sounds and geographically would work for me yes – BUT it doesn’t have other key components I need in “my city”. That’s why I don’t actually live there, but the people – oh do I love them. I’m sassy, I’m loud and I’m a get it done person – sounds a little like NYC huh?
So the bottom line to this whole rant of an editorial is that your city may not be a city at all. Rather, you should find the items, people, and noises that make you tick – assemble those and call that your city.
If you’re curious, my ideal geographic city combines water with skyscrapers (and a lot of both). What’s yours?

‘A Most Violent Year’ offers up more intrigue than actual violence


It’s 1981 — one of the most violent years in the history of New York. Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is attempting to buy a new piece of land that will expand his oil heating business. Scrambling to get the money together, Abel is in a tough position because his trucks are being stolen and he’s losing business.

His best-friend and gangster buddy Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks) suggests that he take action, but Abel doesn’t want to resort to violence. His wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), is even more inclined to take action because her family’s safety is being put at risk. Her father owned the company before Abel bought it, but he left many things to be investigated by the district attorney (David Oyelowo). The shady world around Abel makes running an honest, clean business difficult.

“A Most Violent Year” is a slow-build that yields incredible rewards in terms of acting, storytelling and film-making. The film depicts the intricacies of running and maintaining a business in crime-ridden New York City, and emphasizes the dangers of business when you have something everyone else wants. Focusing on morals and the drive that compels men to act, “A Most Violent Year” highlights the immense struggle of trying to take care of matters in a clean and efficient method.

Director J.C. Chandor clearly and effectively transmits his thoughts to the screen. In “A Most Violent Year,” Chandor gives us what feels like an inside look into the gasoline business in a time where crime is running rampant. His use of dialogue immediately piques the audience’s interest, and his ability to tell a story without having to be eccentric is admirable. He turns what would be a dreary story for other filmmakers into a compelling film.

In terms of direction, Chandor stylistically employs many techniques which help clue the audience in to what’s going on, while retaining some mystery about what will happen next. The scenic backgrounds are rightfully used as props, which these characters effectively use. There’s a lot of focus and buildup surrounding the deal and everything that it means.

Chandor doesn’t focus only on his lead characters. He provides input from the workers, the bankers, the District Attorney and even the competition. This inclusion gives us a sense of all the factors going into Isaac’s decisions and how he moves forward, hoping to secure the deal.

Oscar Isaac should change his name to Oscar-worthy Isaac, because he yet again provides us with a phenomenal performance that stands out in an already competitive year. His performance takes time to appreciate; he’s the golden boy in a group of gangsters. He offers up many great speeches, and his calm, controlled interactions with most of the business men are electric. When he erupts with rage, he becomes frightening and intimidating, commanding the screen and chewing up all his lines. More than anything, his non-violent demeanor and attempts to stay peaceful contrast the world he inhabits.

Jessica Chastain isn’t as involved as you’d think or like, but she uses her screen time well. She may seem like a subjugated housewife, but Chastain makes it clear that she’s holding all the cards in the family with the looks she gives, the plays she makes and the few words she needs to make things clear to Isaac. She’s ruthlessly graceful, and her New York accent makes her all the more appealing.

“A Most Violent Year” is perhaps the most quietly brilliant films of this year. More of Chastain’s character and more about her character’s past would be helpful, but neither of those make this film worse. J.C. Chandor offers up his most accessible film here, and it’s not crazy to imagine it ending up on many “Best Of” lists. This is the perfect film for someone seeking something a bit different.

“A Most Violent Year” is now playing in Houston.

‘A Most Violent Year’ offers up more intrigue than actual violence” was originally posted on The Daily Cougar

She’s Green to the Extreme

“I think of myself as a canary in the coal mine,” said Veronica Mainetti, the unlikely real estate scion of owner and developer The Sorgente Group of America.

The 36-year-old design school graduate was born in Rome, where her firm, which is on its fifth generation of Mainetti rule, is based. When she was 1 and a half years old, she was diagnosed with epilepsy. Years later, after she had moved to New York and begun scouting properties and developments for her family to invest in, she began connecting the frequency of her seizures to her environment.