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Tribeca Film Festival

Son of Sofia (2017)


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The little Russian boy is grief-stricken, seemingly abandoned, deceived and brought to a country whose language and people he doesn’t understand. It’s not surprising that he gradually retreats into fantasy, which is at first cute, then grows disturbing and possibly dangerous.

Writer-director Elina Psykou (The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas, 2013) sets her sophomore film during the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece, a time of clashing cultures, and of civic pride and competition.

Misha (Viktor Khomut) arrives with the Russia Olympic team to Athens and reunites with his mother Sofia (Valery Tcheplanowa), who has been settled in Greece for more than two years. Details of their separation are vague, but involve the death of Misha’s father and his mother establishing residency to provide for herself and her son. It’s an awkward reunion. Sofia seems to be trying to muster up joy with forced affection and a ridiculously large stuffed animal in tow. Misha immediately regards her tightly rolled-up hairstyle as foreign. He tells her his mother wears her long, beautiful hair down.


Things get more awkward as 11-year-old Misha learns he shares his new home with an elderly Greek man, Mr. Nikos (Thanasis Papageorgiou), who Misha is lead to believe is in the care of his mother. Mr. Nikos doesn’t speak Russian and doesn’t want it spoken in the home. Quickly, of course, Sofia’s deception is foiled. Misha discovers her sleeping in the same bed as Mr. Nikos. By the time Sofia belatedly confesses to being married to the man, an irate Misha has sealed himself in the bathroom. To be sure, Sofia has also kept Mr. Nikos in the dark, leading her husband to believe Misha was informed of gaining a stepfather.

The entire film seems populated by characters trapped within themselves, despite being surrounded by colorful culture and an influx of immigrants and opportunities. It’s a sad, quiet tale of people unable to make connections beneath the surface, which inevitably reinforces fantasy and delusions. Misha, often cloaked in a bear costume, finds strength and aggression in his imaginary world filled with moving, growling stuffed animals; the self-important Mr. Nikos longs again for the magical era when he possessed fame; Sofia seems adrift in the space between a past happy life in Russia and this makeshift family in Greece. A quiet scene of the family eating together while watching television hints at a domesticity that will never be.

Psykou’s film is filled with characters you don’t know whether to like or dislike. Sofia seems disconnected as a mother, sneaky and deceptive in ways that seem unnecessary. She leaves Mr. Nikos to do much of the caretaking while she’s away working at a textile company, making stuffed animals. In addition to deceiving her son about being married, she also lies about watching a beloved TV series Misha intended to watch with her, and for good measure keeps a secret stash of candy hidden in the toilet tank. She seems unhappy at her job and in her roles as a parent and a wife.

Mr. Nikos, a former host of a once-popular children’s television show, initially seems controlling and lost in his arrogance. Portraits of himself adorn the walls of his home. His insistence on having only Greek spoken in a household where two-thirds of the occupants are Russian seems selfish, and yet understandable. While he is a man of pride, he also wants to leave a legacy. Late in the film, when he shares his secret room of memorabilia with Misha, Mr. Nikos come alive and Psykou effectively captures the feel of a bygone time and place. Mr. Nikos becomes as much of a dreamer as Misha.

But the film exists in reality even when the characters don’t. Misha meets Victor, a sixteen-year-old emigre from Russia who immediately takes to the boy. At first Victor seems to be a welcomed friend for a boy whose mother is disengaged and whose stepfather is completely out of step with Misha. Victor takes the boy shopping, to the park and surrounds him with other youths. Unfortunately, Victor also shoplifts, offers lousy advice and engages in a highly disturbingly activity. Psykou presents Victor so matter-of-factly it shocks us when we get the full measure of the character.

Finally, there’s Misha. Wonderful portrayed by Khomut. We feel trapped with the boy thrown into a life he can’t bear, unable to find any external means—language, environment, friendship—to express himself so he turns inward. His actions late in the film, after Mr. Nikos suffers a setback, unnerves as we wonder if fantasy will save or corrupt the boy.

The film will challenge American audiences needing things tied up in a bow and directly spelled out. It’s a delicate balance that Psykou achieves: characters that intrigue us but we can’t say we like them, somber and raw scenes colliding with fantasy, an enticing mixture of Russia and Greek cultures. Her film is a sonic wonder, with animal sounds creeping onto the soundtrack in unexpected, subtle ways. Ands it often seems to be lit naturally, shot simply, harkening back to the Dogme 95 movement. Its deliberate pacing keeps us on edge, waiting for a shoe to drop, seemingly influenced by director Michael Haneke. Its denouement, a fusion of fairytale triumph and Olympic fanfare, is all her own.

The film debuts today at the Tribeca Film Festival.



| Marvin Brown’s Movie Review Archive


On a New Quest

I met Phife Dawg in the ancient fandom of my twenties as he helped lay down the Scenario in ’92; I met him in person at Sundance 2011, where the legendary rapper from legendary A Tribe Called Quest promoted a documentary film about the group.

toonMarvinBlogMalik Isaac Taylor, what his momma named him, seemed to enjoy the crowd and was hopeful the documentary, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, would lend clarity to his plight and legacy. I enjoyed the doc (see my review here) but the ensuing years didn’t really bring the Tribe back together.


Malik Isaac Taylor, aka Phife Dawg

Nevertheless, it’s a film worth seeing, made all-the-more relatable by Phife’s participation. His presence (in the film and at Sundance) underscored the human element in the often ethereal, mythologized landscape populated by our idols. Candid about ongoing health issues, Phife couldn’t defuse obvious regrets about and hope for the Tribe, and seemed moved by the outpouring of love from the crowd.

Phife died March 23 at age 45.

I shared a walk with The Five Foot Assassin and the doc’s director Michael Rapaport after the screening and found Phife easy to talk with and pretty humble for a fellow who helped reshape late ’80s/early ’90s hip hop.

His passing on Wednesday burnished that memory, and is another after-the-fact reminder of how greatness is somehow fleeting and everlasting.

He kicks it still.


Campus MovieFest 2014

Campus MovieFest 2014

Universal Studios


DAY 3: The Films

I’ll let my brother John Brown handle this:

“So seven hours later 71 short films seen. Lots of laughs, incredible cinematography, great writing and story lines some touching moments and all with the best movie watcher in the world — my big bro!”


John Brown, left, and Marvin Brown at the 2014 Campus MovieFest at Universal Studios. Photo credit: John Brown


Campus MovieFest 2014

Campus MovieFest 2014

Universal Studios


DAY 2: Workshops


Producer-writer-actor Grant Heslov (Argo, The American) details the struggles and successes of the collaborative process. (Credit: Marvin Brown)












Tom Shadyac, with Marvin Brown. Shadyac, director of hits Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty and the Nutty Professor remake, shares his experience of walking away from commercial films. Shadyac, seriously injured in a bike accident, would reevaluate his life and career, culminating in his life-affirming documentary I Am.



















Director Jake Kasdan (The Zero Effect, Bad Teacher) fields question concerning his career, while promoting his upcoming comedy Sex Tape. (Credit: Marvin Brown)












Up next: Day 3, The Films


Campus MovieFest 2014

Campus MovieFest 2014

Universal Studios


DAY 2: Bloodcast

Clarke Wolfe of and Ryan Turek of participated in the Bloodcast workshop during the 2014 Campus MovieFest at Universal Studios.

The humorous duo can whip up engaging discussions out of thin air. That fact that they know their stuff, horror-wise, made this one of the best workshop sessions of the festival. Horror topics ran the gamut, from old school flicks to torture porn gross-outs to meta-rrific genre classics like Scream.

Great stuff.


Clarke Wolfe, left, of and Ryan Turek of

Up next: Workshops



Campus MovieFest 2014

Me, with Tom Shadyac, director of Ace Ventura, The Nutty Professor, Patch Adams and Bruce Almighty.


Writer/director/producer Grant Heslov (Argo, The Monuments Men)



Campus MovieFest 2014

Film Review
Very Good Girls (2013)
Rated R


Groundswell Productions

Very Good Girls is an uneven coming-of-age drama featuring Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla, Martha Marcy May Marlene). The ingredients are here—two skilled actors, a summer of sexual awakening, a lovers’ triangle, a sudden death—but the film never gels.

The BloghouseBest friends, college-bound Lily (Fanning) and earth-child Gerry (Olsen), make a pact to lose their virginity before summer’s end. Things get complicated when they fall for the same fellow, David (Boyd Holbrook, looking indistinguishable from actor Charlie Hunnam).

The film immediately engages with an impressive cast, then, strangely, begins to falter, scene by scene. The problem, I think, resides at the screenplay level.

Writer/director Naomi Foner Gyllenhall’s secondary characters are wasted in snapshot scenes. Gerry’s Bohemian parents—Richard Dreyfus and Demi Moore—are the expected hippy-attired, folk-music-playing cutouts. Lily’s folks—Clark Gregg and Ellen Barkin—are standard middle-class, middle-aged, boozy professionals. To be fair, Gregg has a couple of father-daughter scenes he attempts wrangle from cliche.

Every time a scene arrives—a death, an infidelity—it’s blunted by pacing or odd character responses. One exception is a gentle first-time love-making scene that is effective in its use of music, framing, acting and tone.

The film might have held together better, been more impactful, if balance had been brought to the main characters. This is Fanning’s show, and she can act. But Olsen, who can also act, is wasted. If equal measure had been brought to each girl, the conflict—both girls falling for the same artsy bad boy—might have moved us.





| Marvin Brown’s Movie Review Archive


Campus MovieFest 2014

Up first:
Very Good Girls, starring Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen.


John Brown at Universal Studios Cinema (Credit: Marvin Brown)


Universal Studios Cinemas

Read review

Next: Day2: Bloodcast


Campus MovieFest 2014

Campus MovieFest 2014

Universal Studios


DAY 1: Galavanting around the parkway




Next: To the movies


Campus MovieFest 2014

Campus MovieFest 2014

Universal Studios


Day 1: Setting Up


The CMF bills itself as the “world’s largest student film and music festival.” In its 13th year of doing what it does best, the event brought together college and university students from around the globe to screen their films, workshop and network with each other, and walk the Red Carpet for the culminating awards ceremony.

The affable cofounder and Vice President ViJay Makar and his skillful team undertook what must have been (but didn’t feel like) a daunting task of corralling hundred of students and managing dozens of workshop hosts, celebrity presenters and an untold number of film screening.

How this thing works: Students at participating colleges and universities are supplied with Apple laptops, Panasonic HD camcorders, and training–all for free. The students are given one week to create their own short movies, with each school hosting red carpet finales to showcase its top movies. The movies must be five minutes or less, and use music created by the students themselves or contributed by independent artists.

This thing can only get bigger by the year.




Next: Galavanting around the parkway