FILM REVIEW – Off The Menu (Silverman, 2018): USA

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Director/Producer Jay Silverman’s second feature film, the indie, romantic comedy Off the Menu made its World Premiere during the 2018 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Silverman’s first feature was the drama, Girl on the Edge, the Audience Award winner at the 2015 San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. Silverman also executive produced and co-created the A&E TV series “The Cleaner” starring Benjamin Bratt.

Off the Menu is a sweet story about family, food and love. Young, fast-food business heir, Joel, portrayed by Santino Fontana (Frozen, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Sisters), is out on the road looking for new menu items for his family’s giant chain of Tortilla Hut restaurants when he meets and falls for a regional chef, Javiera Torres, portrayed by Dania Ramirez, an actress whose star is on a steep trajectory. Not only is Ramirez easy on the eyes, she’s also capable of delivering some serious, dramatic acting chops.



Legendary Latin actress, singer and political activist, Maria Alonso Conchita, is stunning as Javiera’s, vibrant, “tell it like she sees it,” mother. Mackenzie Moss portrays Javiera’s daughter, Sophia, possessing a quick wit with timely comedic delivery. Interestingly, over half the Off The Menu cast is female and Hispanic as the filmmakers wanted to create a more inclusive experience while projecting a regional authenticity.

Off the Menu opens with a catchy non-diagetic tune, the “chile song” (included in a teaser clip at the end of this review) coupled with beautiful shots of harvesting chiles and foodie close-ups of freshly picked chiles and a skillet of multi-colored peppers. Both soundtrack and cinematography are emotionally compelling here.

The film shifts quickly with a parallel story line of Joel as a fish out of water hiding his girlfriend’s coffee maker, drinking blender-made, green smoothies and going to work on his bicycle and in cycling shorts and the passionate chef, Javiera, working magic in her kitchen. Javiera is a real home girl in a predominantly brown community and an infamous, regional chef with a wee bit of attitude. She utilizes a farm-to-table approach in making her signature dish featuring her home-grown green chiles from a secret family grow patch – a far cry from the food scientists who are responsible for creating Joel’s Tortilla Hut products. Hysterically, Javiera only makes her coveted dish once a week – temperament permitting!

The character of Joel, on the other hand, initially reminded me of the late Chris Farley’s lead character in Tommy Boy. Joel’s character arc, however, evolves once he gets to where the film is set, a small fictitious, New Mexico town, Villanueva. Villanueva is a stand in for Taos, New Mexico. As his character evolves, so does Fontana’s performance.

Throughout the film, Joel gets a few needed come-to-Jesus moments with his boss/sister, a domineering Tortilla Hut corporate executive leader. First, Joel is given marching orders to scout the Southwest for new recipes and, in particular, New Mexican cuisine. Later, Joel calls out his sister for poaching Javiera’s signature dish. Seemingly, the company’s research and development plan is to find authentic recipes and dishes throughout the United States and then mass produce them in a cost-effective manner sacrificing quality for quantity.


Ultimately, Joel realizes his family business is more about profit than creating any sense of community or personal fulfillment. And, unsurprisingly, once he gets a taste of Javiera’s home cooking, Joel feels the love and becomes smitten with Javiera….and the feeling is mutual.

Strong cinematography from Matt Edwards, some delicious mise-en-scene, on-the-mark costuming, a complementary soundtrack and solid acting performances wrapped in a traditional, Hollywood-narrative structure make Off The Menu….on the list of films to see on this Valentine’s Day. Highly recommended.

The film is currently available on VOD/DVD.


Santa Barbara Film Festival Closes With A Dose of Home-Grown Short Films

Posted by Larry Gleeson

The 33rd annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) sponsored by @UGG closed  with a cornucopia of home-grown, documentary short films at the historic Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, Calif. SBIFF Executive Director welcomed the audience and thanked the SBIFF Board, the festival sponsors and the many volunteers that make the festival possible each year. Without further adieu, Mr. Durling brought out a large volunteer group to join him onstage then proceeded to turn the microphone and stage over to SBIFF Programming Director Michael Albright and Festival Senior Programmer Mickey Duzdevich. Albright and  Duzdevich briefed the audience on the evening’s lineup of films and introduced the respective filmmakers allowing each filmmaker to say a few words about their respective film. The 2018 SBIFF Closing Night Program consisted of six films, each briefly reviewed below; A Summer Solstice in Santa Barbara, Cascaron, Soul of the City, The Tipping Point, Out of the Ashes, and Crossing the Channel.

The troupe from A Summer Solstice in Santa Barbara poses on the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Closing Night red carpet, February 10th, 2018 at the historic Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

Justin Gunn’s A Summer Solstice in Santa Barbara, with a run-time of ten minutes, led off the line-up with an insider’s view, utilizing a rich, colorful mise-en-scene of the Santa Barbara, Mardi Gras-style, summertime Summer Solstice Parade held annually on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara. Gunn provides an in-depth look at the costuming and float building with still photographs and voice-over narration. Several brief interviews with Santa Barbara locals Hathor Hammett, Nicky LaFleur, Robin Elander, Britt Nelson and Jim Sun Bear combined with archival footage of previous Solstice celebrations added special significance to Gunn’s work. Warmly recommended.

Cascaron Director, Chris Price, second from left, with Co-Director and Writer, CaseyMcGarry, on the Santa Barbara International Film festival red carpet with friends before the screening of the Closing Night Program, February 10th, 2018 at the historic Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Photo Credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

Chris Price and Casey McGarry’s Cascaron exposed the origins of the cascarones, the confetti-filled egg shells, so popular in the Santa Barbara community during Fiesta celebrations. Originally, the eggs were filled with perfume at dinner parties in the late 1800’s and provided “the great amusement of the evening when breaking them over the evening’s guets’ heads.”  Moreover, Cascaron  accentuates Santa Barbara’s Hispanic, traditional culture with an exquisite, behind-the-scenes look at the lifestyle of the Las hueveras, “the Egg Ladies,” and their role as keepers of the Fiesta tradition. Direct interviews, still photography and Fiesta archival footage are effectively used in the film’s narrative along with English sub-titles when needed. Highly Recommended.

Soul of the City Director, John Klein, takes a moment on the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Closing Night red carpet with KCOY Central Coast News, February 10th, 2018 at the historic Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

John Klein’s poignant Soul of the City focused on Francisco Aguilera, purveyor of the Cabrillo Pavillion Bathhouse East Beach Grill. Klein uses a point-of-view direct interviewing technique with Aguilera, a part of the East Beach Grill for 32 years and provides a well-researched background of the Cabrillo Pavillion with archival photographs, textual over-lays and voice-over-narration. Minor editing skips do detract from the film’s overall quality. Significant attention to Aguilera’s commitment to the community is provided with archival footage of a Santa Barbara City Council meeting on September 13, 2016 along with several interviews from local event leaders Aguilera has generously supported throughout the years. At issue in Soul of the City was Aguilera’s livelihood and the continued operation of the East Beach Grill. Warmly Recommended.


The Tipping Point Director, Danielle Cohen, right, on the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Closing Night red carpet. February 10th, 2018 at the historic Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara,

Danielle Cohen’s The Tipping Point discusses an uproar emanating from local leaders and scientists on the role of science in the Trump Administration and the potential long-term effect of slashing science research funding. Utilizing archival news reports. Archival footage of Nineteenth Senate District, California State Senator, Hannah Beth Jackson delivering an impassioned speech is one of the film’s highlights. Moreover,  with several interviews from the Long Term Ecological Research knowledge network a paradigm is highlighted in research sharing within the scientific community. Warmly Recommended.

The Out of the Ashes Producing Team from left to right; Habib Habibi, Rose Ettleson, Kevin Willefert, Hallie Brown and Zac Main on the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Closing Night Red Carpet, February 10th, 2018 at the historic Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)


Hallie Brown’s Out of the Ashes, a Blue Horizon film, peers into Wild-land Urban Interface through the ashes of the July 2017 Whittier Fire in the Santa Ynez Mountains along Highway 154 in Santa Barbara County. Brown’s film, a graduate project via the University of California-Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, uncovers the importance of defensible space in planning new construction while illuminating a sense of community at the Cold Springs Tavern in the affected area of the Whittier Fire. The filmmakers effectively utilize still photography, archival news footage and direct interviews. Diagetic music and footage from the Cold Springs Tavern are effectively woven into a timely and highly watchable story line. Highly recommended.

Open-water marathon swimmer, Rachel Horn, speaks with KEYT, Channel 3 reporter on the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Closing Night res carpet, February 10th, 2018 at the historic Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, Calif. Horn is featured in Ryan Slattery’s documentary short film, Crossing the Channel. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

Ryan Slattery’s Crossing the Channel provided an inspirational ending to the festival with the story of Rachel Horn’s 12.4 mile open-water, marathon swim across the Santa Barbara Channel – starting off Anacapa Island and finishing on the beachfront in Oxnard, California. Slattery utilizes point-of-view, first-person interviews, archival photographs and real-time footage of the swim while dividing the film into three distinct parts after a brief introduction; The Team, The Rules, and The Swim. Warmly Recommended.



The Santa Barbara International Film Festival Closing Night Marquee, February 10th, 2018 at the historic Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

The 2018 Santa Barbara International Film Festival Closing Night Film Program was sponsored by Winchester Mystery House.

Santa Barbara Film Festival Announces 2018 Winners

Posted by Larry Gleeson


The 33rd annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival announced its award-winning films over breakfast this morning at the Fess Parker Double Tree Resort’s Rodney Grill. In addition, volunteer recognition was made.

Skid Row Marathon was the Audience Choice Award winner. Other winners included:

Best Documentary Short Film Award: Kyle Morrison’s MOTT HAVEN
Bruce Corwin Award – Best Live Action Short Film: Richard Van’s AUDITION
Bruce Corwin Award – Best Animated Short Film: Randall Christopher’s THE DRIVER IS RED
Best Documentary Award: Grant Korgan and Geoff Callan’s THE PUSH
Jeffrey C. Barbakow Award – Best International Feature Film: Gjorce Stavreski’s SECRET INGREDIENT (Iscelitel)
Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema: Molly McGlynn’s MARY GOES ROUND
Nueva Vision Award for Spain/Latin America Cinema: Pablo Solarz’s THE LAST SUIT (El último traje)
Special Mention: Denny Brechner, Alfonso Guerrero and Marcos Hecht’s GET THE WEED (Misión no oficial)
Valhalla Award for Best Nordic Film: Antti-Jussi Annila’s THE ETERNAL ROAD (Ikitie)
ADL Stand Up Award: Talya Tibbon and Joshua Bennett’s SKY AND GROUND
Social Justice Award for Documentary Film: Ludovic Bonleux’s GUERRERO

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts and educational organization dedicated to discovering and showcasing the best in independent and international cinema. Over the past 32 years, SBIFF has become one of the leading film festivals in the United States – attracting 100,000 attendees and offering 11 days of 200+ films, tributes and symposiums, fulfilling their mission to engage, enrich, and inspire the Santa Barbara community through film.

Sponsors of the 33rd SBIFF include: UGG®, Belvedere Vodka, Toyota Mirai, City of Santa Barbara, Amazon Studios, Dom Pérignon, ADL, Montecito Bank & Trust, Visit the Santa Ynez Valley, IMDBpro, Santa Barbara Foundation, Union Bank, Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation, Patagonia, Winchester Mystery House, Pacific Standard, Riordan Foundation, Lynda Weinman & Bruce Heavin, Volentine Family Foundation, and many more supporting through trade.

SBIFF continues its commitment to education and the community through free programs like its 10-10-10 Student Filmmaking and Screenwriting Competitions, Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies, National Film Studies Program, AppleBox Family Films, 3rd Weekend and educational seminars. In June of 2016, SBIFF entered a new era with the acquisition of the historic and beloved Riviera Theatre.  The theatre is SBIFF’s new home and is the catalyst for program expansion and marks the first time that Santa Barbara has had a 24/7 community center to expand their mission of educational outreach.





SBIFF 10-10-10 Program Announces Winners

Posted by Larry Gleeson


The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) sponsored by @UGG announced the winners of its annual 10-10-10 (Ten Directors – Ten Writers – Ten Films) Screenwriting and Filmmaking Competition. For the last five months students were paired with mentors from the filmmaking industry and professions culminating in professional-quality produced short films.

Santa Barbara International Film Festival Education Director, Amanda Graves, addresses the audience at the historic Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, Calif., Saturday, February 10th, 2018 before the film screenings of the 2018 10-10-10 Screenwriting and Filmmaking Competition. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

SBIFF Educational Director, Amanda Graves, poignantly stated, “Even with the fires, the evacuations and the mudslide all teams delivered films.” Graves read off all participants including cast and crew members by name including founders the 10-10-10 Competition Co-Founders, Guy Smith and Michael Stinson and thanked Mary Beth Riordan for sponsoring the competition every year since its inception.

Winners of the 2018 Santa Barbara International Film Festival 10-10-10 Screenwriting and Filmmaking Competition from right to left: Jack Lent, College Screenwriting; Josh Bevan, College Filmmaking; Sponsor, Mary Beth Riordan; High School Filmmaking, Camila Lemere; and, High School Filmmaking, Josh Bevin. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)





Santa Barbara Closing Night Film

Posted by Larry Gleeson

This year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Closing Night Film will highlight a diverse and impressive line-up of documentary shorts – each making their World Premiere at the Arlington Theatre on Saturday, February 10th at 8:00pm. The lineup features local Santa Barbara filmmakers: Chris Price and Casey McGarry’s CASCARÓN, Ryan Slattery’s CROSSING THE CHANNEL, Hallie Brown’s OUT OF THE ASHES, Justin Gunn’s A SOLSTICE IN SANTA BARBARA, John Klein’s SOUL OF THE CITY, and Danielle Cohen’s THE TIPPING POINT.

The selection of films represents the beauty, warmth and vitality that are quintessential Santa Barbara. The films cover a wide range of local events, people, and places, including Fiesta, the Summer Solstice Parade, the East Beach Grill, and Cold Springs Tavern, as well as local activism to combat climate change and an extraordinary swimmer who crosses the Santa Barbara Channel.

Everyone is encouraged everyone to attend this very special evening to gather together and celebrate local filmmakers and the wonderful community of Santa Barbara.

Special thanks to Closing Night Film sponsor Winchester Mystery House for supporting this evening for the 2nd year in a row.


Margot Robbie and Allison Janney Receive Santa Barbara Outstanding Performers of the Year

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Last night at the historic Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, Calif. Alison Janney and Margot Robbie electrified the audience at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s (SBIFF) Outstanding Performers of the Year Tribute. Both Janney and Robbie are nominated for Oscars for their work in the film, I, Tonya. Janney is up for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, while Robbie is up for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. The evening was sponsored by Belevedere Vodka and was moderated by The Hollywood Reporter Award Columnist, Scott Feinberg.

SBIFF Executive Director, Roger Durling, made introductory remarks thanking the SBIFF Board, Board President Lynda Weinman, and the 700 volunteers who make the festival possible each year. And without further adieu, Mr. Durling turned the evening over to Feinberg, his tenth consecutive year participating in the festival.

Feinberg Allison Robbie-1

Feinberg in his trademark, affable form introduced each actress’s work with a montage of images set to music. A warm Santa Barbara welcome was given and the evening’s main event transpired.

Interestingly, Janney’s father managed an ice rink in Ohio, providing Janney untethered access to skating time. While admitting she was proficient in both ballet and modern dance, Janney jabbed she could not complete the triple axle jump that Robbie did in the film. Janney attended Kenyon College where she was bitten by the acting bug. Fortuitously, she met Joanne Woodward and shared an interesting interaction she had with Paul Newman regarding her experience driving a Volkswagon Scirocco.

Meanwhile, Robbie was on the Gold Coast of Australia working as a “sandwich artist” at a local Subway shop while holding a position at a retail surf shop. A call from a talent agent led to her auditioning for a recurring role in “Neighbors,” a popular daytime television series in her hometown of Melbourne.

From these somewhat humble and inauspicious beginnings, two wildly different and highly successful careers were launched. Janney went on to win six Emmy’s and recently won a Golden Globe for her role as LaVona Golden, Tonya Harding’s mother, in I, Tonya. Robbie, on the hand, left Melbourne to seek fame and fortune in Hollywood. After her initial audition for “Charlie’s Angels Reboot,” fizzled, Robbie scored a coveted spot on the critically-acclaimed though short-lived “Pan-Am,” television series.

As fate would have it, Robbie managed to parlay her early experiences into a reel that first caught the eye of Wolf of Wall Street Casting Director, Ellen Lewis, and then the eye of Director Martin Scorsese for the role of the sexiest blonde on the planet. Robbie got the role. She proceeded to have a similar “hottest blonde” cameo appearance in Adam McKay’s The Big Short. Not wanting to be typecast, Robbie and a few friends started a production company, LuckyChap Entertainment from which I, Tonya is released.

Dreams really do come true.

Outstanding Group-1.jpg
The 2018 Santa Barbara International Film Festival Outstanding Performers of the Year, Allison Janney and Margot Robbie with award presenter and I, Tanya Director, Craig Gillespie .(Pictured from right to left; Margot Robbie, Craig Gillespie and Allison Janney. Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)



2018 SBIFF Outstanding Performers Award Tonight at the Arlington

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Critics’ Choice Award winners Allison Janney and Margot Robbie will be honored with the 2018 Outstanding Performers of the Year Award, presented by Belvedere® Vodka, for their remarkable performances in I, Tonya. Both actresses have also received nominations at the BAFTAs and SAG Awards for their respective roles, and Allison Janney was awarded with the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. The tribute, which will take place at Santa Barbara’s historic Arlington Theatre, tonight, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, will be moderated by Scott Feinberg, Awards Columnist for The Hollywood Reporter.

“Allison and Margot bring biting humor and an emotional resonance to their real-life characters in I, Tonya,” stated SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling. “We are proud to celebrate them and their incredible contributions to cinema.”

Janney and Robbie will join a recognized group of previous Outstanding Performer Award recipients, including Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan, Steve Carell, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Viola Davis, Colin Firth, Penelope Cruz, Angelina Jolie, Helen Mirren, Heath Ledger, Kate Winslet, and Charlize Theron.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 9.00.52 PM


Film Review, Marketing & Distribution

%d bloggers like this: