Beverly Hills Film Fest 2017 – Eight Feature Film Reviews

So many amazing film fests – so little time!  The recent star-studded 17th Annual Beverly Hills Film Festival happened this past week (at the famed TLC Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood!) and it was a massive five day movie event indeed.  Not only were there amazing docs and features, but also a slew of short films in various genres guaranteed to please every moviegoers.  (There were a whopping 87 competition films!)  Of course it’s impossible to check out everything (again, I’m only a single movie geek!), but the power of a passionate one still prevails as I managed to check out eight feature film hopefuls.  From flicks about the pleasure of dream life and not giving up to docs about tigers, underdogs, former movie moguls and Aussie hotshots, we’re hitting the films of the BHFF fest hard and fast to provide some cinematic insight into what to possibly seek out in the future.  Check out the Encapsulated Movie Reviews of Zen Dog, The Girl Who Invented Kissing, John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs, Mable, Mable, Tiger Trainer, Golan A Farewell To Mr. Cinema, Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches, Gun and Legendary AD below!


And now on with the reviews!


In what can only be described as David Lynch filtered through the eyes of Richard Linklater, Rick Darge’s debut Zen Dog is one utterly unique film that never ceases to amaze.  Going on the adventures of a seemingly mundane young man (played by the fantastic Kyle Gallner who was in last year’s Top Ten selection Band Of Robbers – he knows how to pick ‘em!) who after a traumatizing event begins to experiment with everything from hallucinatory herbs to controlled lucid dreaming to escape the day to day makes for one terrific trip.  Complete with wacky side characters (creepy couple Devin and Wendy are right out of Slacker!), psychedelic visuals and fittingly featuring the voice of famed British philosopher Alan Watts as a tour guide of sorts, Zen Dog goes beyond being enlightened entertainment and achieves five-star status.


Moving drama about a free spirit female (played by the vibrant Suki Waterhouse) that stops in a small town and has a dramatic effect on everyone she comes into contact with.  Love the Of Mice And Men story influences between the two lead brothers and even the smaller players bring memorable character color.  (Luke Wilson hits a home run as a small town record shop owner!)  But the real five-star turn in this one is the tear inducing turn by Dash Mihok as the slower older brother Victor.  So layered, so effecting and so wonderfully nuanced is his performance that it both deeply devastates and captivates – brilliant is an understatement.


This doc chronicling the cinematic exploits of seasoned Rocky Director John G. Avildsen proves to be not just entertaining but surprisingly candid.  There are of course telling childhood tales alongside detailed dissection of various big hits (viva The Karate Kid!), but also bold examinations of mistakes (he got taken off both Serpico and Saturday Night Fever!) and regrets (he should have made Rocky 2 but a passion project with a girlfriend took priority at the time!) right from the filmmaker himself.  It’s a moving, real and raw, yet at times sad doc that reminds us what a masterful storyteller can accomplish when left alone – and why such a visionary doesn’t work in Hollywood today.


This grand and engaging doc on renowned 1920’s tiger trainer Mable Stark – the first female tiger tamer – is as salacious and fantastical as the woman herself.  From her early days as a girl with spirit (her cut family ties solidified her as a gal of serious strength!) to the height of her fame with Ringling Bros. (she trained through non-violent means!), but not skipping her tragedies both inside (she was mauled by the cats on many occasions – and came back for more!) and outside (she was married multiple times but true love eluded her!) the cage, filmmaker Leslie Zemeckis paints a complete and honest portrait of a feisty female fully in touch with her inner animal.


This doc featuring former Cannon Films movie mogul and Israeli filmmaker Menahem Golan in his final days wonderfully shows the two sides of the fast flick hustler.  Witty filmmaker Christopher Sykes, who has a pinch of Nick Broomfield wryness, uses his all access pass to show both a passionate movie-loving gent, who understood and appreciated the escape films provided, as well as an unrealistic and caustically curt pitchman who refused to stop even in the face of death.  (Even in his eighties he wanted an Oscar!)  Gotta say this about old Menahem – his flicks may have been B-movies, but in the class of unwavering determination Golan gets an A+.


While this expose of Aussie acting sensation Rod Taylor is definitely not short on fun (Taylor himself is a wonderful ham!), the cheesy Beach Blanket Bingo vibe of the piece definitely feels like something you would expect from the E! Network.  Meaning there is little in terms of sincere and thoughtful personal stories (his childhood is merely touched upon!), instead focusing its upbeat surface style wares on everything from his various film exploits (he scoffed at being James Bond!) to his famed friendships (John Wayne kept all his checks due to losing at poker in a frame!) for a fluff flick that your mom would love.


The saddest thing about the highly emotional film Gun is the raw potential it possesses.  Meaning the turn by leading man Sam Upton as a down and out former boxer turned alcoholic father is so rich, raw and real that it kneecaps all who watch.  Problem is Upton also takes up duties as writer and director and both areas lack the proficiency of his on-screen stuff.  His characters’ bottoming out comes way too late in the film, his recovery way too quick and there’s an abundance of distracting side plots and characters that just aren’t needed.  With Upton seemingly biting off more than he can chew, Gun feels like a shiny lethal weapon that’s not loaded.


Originally I thought this was a doc about creating ads for films and they savvy that goes into movie marketing, but turns out this one is all about the second in command assistant directors (hence A.D.) and sadly it’s about as exciting as it sounds.  An important but not exactly captivating job, the various folks here describing the ins and outs, new technologies and advise to future hopefuls makes for a ho-hum watch.  Things do get better mid way when the subjects start to talk in detail about specific films (love the David Fincher shooting Se7en story!) and people (anything De Palma gets me excited!) but sifting through the multitude of mundane movie rocks to get to the tall tale gold in Legendary AD is a thankless task.


I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

1 Response to “Beverly Hills Film Fest 2017 – Eight Feature Film Reviews”

  1. Michael Coleman

    5 star flicks are rarer than hen’s teeth these days so I gotta see Zen Dog when I get a chance-thanks J.