Michelle Williams in “Certain Women”

Kelly Reichardt, known for her previous films “Night Moves,” and “Meek’s Cutoff,” continues to break the movie mold with her newest film “Certain Women.”  Starring Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, and Lily Gladstone, we become immersed in these strong, independent, yet very typical women in a remote area of the U.S.  The surroundings and cinematography are as much of an important piece of the film as the women themselves, allowing us to gain insight into their psyche and core feelings.   The film, now released, has traveled the film festival circuit and I had the privilege of sitting down with her in Toronto and talking with Reichardt about filmmaking and being a woman in this field.  As she explains the motivations behind her creativity, you just might see a parallel between your life and hers.


Kelly Reichardt, filmmaker

Watch the trailer here

RHR (Reel Honest Reviews):  Where did the idea of “Certain Women” come from and who are these women?

KR (Kelly Reichardt):  The stories came from two collections by Maile Meloy.  The question that runs through all the films I’ve made…is about [how] are we all connected to each other and what’s our responsibility to each other; strangers that we are.  It was this idea of connecting people that are obviously living in the same kind of region. Some of the connections are actual, and others are just how close we are to each other, and right next to each other.  I hate to sum it up in any way because the movie strives not to, [but] it’s the connection to strangers.


Kristen Stewart

They’re really flawed, these characters.  They’re super flawed people (and she says as an aside,) as we tend to be.  They each have their [goals] with their corrupt things in their lives.  Also, in the information age, trying to connect and find people, it may be easier [to develop] connections with strangers than with the person you live with or have a family with or are a mother to.

RHR:  The film, although more of a drama, like real life, has moments of humor.  Tell me about balancing that in your film.

KR:  Maile Meloy does a very fine job of that in her writing, of balancing humor but with room for some pain to come in at the same time.  Laura Dern is a super physical actor and she really can locate the moment of humor and put an accent on it.  I was laughing watching Michelle because I hadn’t given her a role with any humor in it [before].  It was really fun to see how actors can bring out those moments that are there.  They really bring them to life.

RHR:  The sounds within the film beautifully augment the overall feeling and story.  Can you tell me about orchestrating this?


Laura Dern

KR:  The sound design grows.  You have a concept of it in the beginning and then getting to the place you’re shooting, new sounds appear that you weren’t aware of.  Livingston, [Montana], happens to be one of the windiest places in the country—the wind just creates this musical sound.  So our sound person was really great at giving me a symphony of train and wind sounds to work with.  Those things end up playing the way someone else would use a score in the film…I’m using trains.  Trains and wind are sonic themes that are running throughout the film.

RHR:  As a woman in a predominately male profession, do you find it more difficult because of your gender?

KR:  A long time ago, after my first film in ’93, I naively went into it without the realization [of this].  It was like finding out things like love doesn’t last.  And then, oh, this is the sexism I’ve heard about!  It played out in different ways…trying to make a movie, being on a set, certainly.   And with the release of a movie [although] I did have a lot of male support, I became aware in the truest sense.  You’re not going to be given the benefit of the doubt that you’re possibly trying something new.  It’s going to be be more like, you don’t know what you’re doing.  I took it so personally [that] it really broke my heart.  It took me a decade to stop banging my head against a wall.   Alright…you guys don’t want me, I don’t want you! I’m going to find my own way so I can live and work.  I just really wanted to keep a camera in my hands and make films.  Eventually, I was able to make “Old Joy.”  It was going to be just an art film for me and my friends.  I had no idea it would have a life.


Lily Gladstone

I feel kind of unaware of what’s happening in the industry.  I totally expect that each film that I make will be my last.  It seems a miracle that they get made.  It doesn’t have just to do with being a woman.  It has to do with making personal films.  I think that’s easy for no one.  I keep my head toward the ground and hunker down and try to find a way to keep working in whatever capacity that might be.  Knock on wood, the door has slowly opened [and] you just find your way.

Reichardt continued to talk about her teaching experiences and how the gender make up of her classes has changed significantly.  Always keeping a sense of humor about everything, she said the fact that her classes are now 75% female, “…just might be proof of how dead film is.”  I think we can all agree that Reichardt and her filmmaking are what inspires more creative women to give us films with meaning.

“Certain Women” is now playing in cities nationwide.



2016 is the year of brilliantly edgy and provocatively comedic period pieces centered around female literary geniuses.  Earlier in the year, we laughed along with Whit Stillman’s film “Love & Friendship” based on Jane Austen’s novella “Lady Susan,” starring Kate Beckinsale.  And now, thanks to Terence Davies appreciation for Emily Dickinson, we have “A Quiet Passion,” starring Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, and Catherine Bailey.  The film captures the essence of Dickinson’s life, allowing us to not only understand this unusually talented poet, but to love her and “ignite more interest in Dickinson and encourage people to read and perform the poems,” as Catherine Bailey, supporting actress in the film stated.


I had the opportunity to ask Ms. Bailey, who plays Miss Vryling Buffam, Emily’s best friend in “A Quiet Passion,” a few questions about her vital role in the film.  Her responses give a unique depth to her character, allowing you to appreciate her performance and the film even more.

RHR (Reel Honest Reviews):  Your character is an absolute treat!  Tell me what you loved most about playing Vryling Buffam and why did you choose this role?


CB (Catherine Bailey):Well thank you, glad you like the character! She is an absolute gift of a part, in that Terence has written her some sparklingly witty dialogue, that doesn’t shy away from rhetoric about heavy subjects including war, religion and education. She is brilliantly outspoken for a woman living in her time, and enjoys the fact that she is unusual and controversial. That is what I enjoyed most; being able to play a character that has razor sharp wit, but who can use it to stoke a conversation about big issues of the time. It was also a thrill to be playing opposite Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle, two actors I have huge admiration for.

I love Terence Davies’s work, and the thought of working with him made getting involved in this project a no-brainer. He is rightly very passionate about Dickinson’s place as a genius of 19th century poetry, so being in the film was enough, let alone being able to play a role as exciting as Vryling Buffam. I was also enticed by the way Terence describes the friendship between Emily and my character in the script. They form a firm friendship very quickly, based on intellectual ideas, as well as life choices. Often female characters spend screen time talking about male characters, but I was thrilled that my character passed the Bechdel* test with flying colours! (*a work of fiction that features two named female characters that talk to each other about something other than a man).


RHR:  Catherine, as I was watching the film, there were so many wonderful lines, many of my favorites were yours.  Are there any particular lines that you loved?

CB:  I am so pleased that the lines stand out like that. No one writes repartee like Terence Davies, in fact in conversation he is completely hilarious, often coming up with witticisms on the spot. I think one of my favourite exchanges is when my character first turns up at Emily’s homestead. Vinnie introduces “Miss Vryling Buffam” and I say: “Sounds like an anagram doesn’t it” followed by “…you see before you a life blighted by baptism”. I think that straight away you get an insight into what kind of woman she is with those comments; her irreverence and wit are the first things she wants to convey.

RHR:  Given your background in theater, I’m assuming that you were familiar with Dickinson’s work before this opportunity.  Is that an accurate assumption?

CB: She is definitely celebrated in the UK, and there are people in my business who are very passionate about Dickinson and can quote lines of her poetry, and yet others who have less of a notion of who she was. I hope this film will ignite more interest in Dickinson and encourage people to read and perform the poems.

RHR:  Is there a particular poem that resonates with you?

CB: I love “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”. It is used in a very poignant part of the film, which gives it extra gravitas for me, but also it seems to embody Dickinson’s hope and playfulness beneath the suffering. The idea of death kindly stopping for her in a courtly fashion is a brilliant conceit, and that particular way she uses levity to approach a heavy subject is very moving. I also find that “The Heart Asks Pleasure First” is often going round in my head. There is something so pleasingly straightforward about the meter, its even pattern is deployed very simply, but the message of an increasing desire to be released from pain and suffering is so powerful. The poems weave in and out of the film so deftly, I really hope they will resonate with the audience.

RHR:  The film is simply beautiful—the setting, the costuming—what changes do you feel as you don the dress and put yourself in that environment or time period?

CB:It is beautifully designed isn’t it. I think it is hard not to be affected by the setting on a film like this, it is a very immersive experience, especially as we got to shoot a few scenes in and around Emily’s actual home in Amherst. Getting into a corset and hooped skirts and wearing gloves and a bonnet takes time and effort, you need someone to help you, and once you are wearing everything you are totally different from a 21st century person. You can no longer walk, stand, sit or eat in the same way. You can’t slouch, or twist, going to bathroom takes ages – everything you would take for granted as someone living in 2016 is transformed. Wearing a corset takes some getting used to, at first it feels very restrictive but I rather like the upright posture it can give you. Taking it off at the end of a day’s shooting is a relief though! Also, if you are working with parasols, fans or even horses and carts, they are a constant reminder that you are in a different period. The design on this film is so exquisite that it is very easy to believe you are really in 19th century Massachusetts!

unnamed-18RHR:  Vryling and Emily were avant garde in their thoughts about women’s rights, intellect, and equality.  Do you think they, in any way, helped the cause for equality in the future?

CB: What a great question. I would like to think so. Emily has a few heated exchanges with her brother Austin in the film, and if they had conversations like that in real life, I like to think she challenged his way of thinking about the role of women in society. Change happens in hearts and minds, and affecting one person at a time is still progress. It seems that by being a woman who wrote prolifically and is rightly celebrated, she has helped the cause for equality by her very existence.

RHR:  What do you think your character would say of today’s women?

CB:  I think she might be conflicted about what to think. She would see that women have freedom in some respects, but I think she would be aware that they are still oppressed in various cultures, in various ways. The right to vote is still not afforded to women in some countries, and in the UK it is predicted that women will get equal pay with men in 116 years. I like to think she would have a strong sense of social injustice about such things, and be as outspoken and vehement as she is in the film – perhaps with a dash of activism thrown in. She would certainly be worth following on Twitter!

unnamed-21 RHR:  Do you feel that, as an actress, this role has helped you go grow in any way?

CB: Absolutely. Playing an American woman in the 19th century was a wonderful challenge, and Terence gave me some great reference points for that, including watching Olivia De Havilland in The Heiress, so I could find a certain vintage American accent. Also, as I mentioned, working with Cynthia and Jennifer was a masterclass in screen acting – they are effortlessly gracious and generous. It also rekindled my love for poetry, and Dickinson’s work in particular. You learn something with every project, but this one was very special indeed.

Be sure to seek and find this wonderful portrayal of an era lost but not forgotten and the women who influenced our futures.  With keen insight, delightful reparte, and memorable lines that will haunt and inspire you, “A Quiet Passion” will create a beautiful symphony of passion for language and film.



At this time in history, both politically and socially, we ask ourselves, “Where has America gone?”  Perhaps a better question to ask is, “Where is America going?”  Craig Atkinson, in his newest documentary “Do Not Resist,” gives us a glimpse into the answer to this question as he addresses the topic of violence not just in the United States as a whole, but in our small communities that comprise our country.  In a factual and seemingly unbiased portrayal, “Do Not Resist” takes us across the country documenting the militarization of our police forces while giving insight to our needs and fears.  It’s exactly the catalyst we need to start a conversation, identify problems, and come up with better solutions.


I had the opportunity to talk with Atkinson, a son of a former police officer, who shared with me his journey and hopes for future changes in how we respond to crime and violence.

Two years ago, Atkinson noted the escalation in the protests in Ferguson, MO and filmed the fateful day as an outside observer, forever documenting the fear, anger, and frustration from both the protestors and the police officers.  “Do Not Resist” takes us on this informative and eye-opening journey from Missouri to ride-alongs in South Carolina with the SWAT team, listening to community meetings in Concord, NH, and Congressional hearings about military surplus purchases.  Atkinson skillfully gleans and shares information in a non-sensationalized way, giving the viewer a neutral viewpoint about police responses in our communities and the possible future of law enforcement.


 When asked specifically about the ride alongs with the SWAT team, Atkinson shared that since the advent of shows like “Cops” in 1989, film crews tagging along to document their work was a rather common occurrence.  Capturing startling experiences seems to be quite common from the SWAT team’s perspective,  although from the viewer’s point of view, it’s devastating.  Atkinson recalls his father’s era of police work only utilizing SWAT team responses in extreme cases…today that seems to be  a different story.  The film highlights the aftermath of an erroneous response and then delves into the use of drones and taking human error and judgment out of the equation.  The rabbit hole of combating crime that we are falling into is nothing short of shocking.

Shocking is just one word that describes what we learn in this film.  In discussing the use of mildonot1itary MRAP vehicles, Atkinson saw the use of this first-hand in the Boston Marathon Bombing.  While he readily supported the need for this in some situations, small towns like Concord, NH with a murder rate of 2, isn’t one of them.  Atkinson was emotionally struck by the testimony he witnessed at a town meeting where community members expressed reasons to not take “free money” and purchase an MRAP vehicle.  Atkinson professed admiration for those that spoke up, trying to make a difference and failing in their town’s vote.  Referring to a teacher’s plea to the town’s trustees, he said, “..her testimony is still being heard three years later…” in the film and the trailer.  Her voice was not lost.

Atkinson looks more deeply into the recent increase in police shootings and has found that the trainining our officers receive may have a significant impact on recent events.   Dave Grossman, a retired lieutenant colonel who trains thousands of officers each year about fighting violence with greater violence, glorifies this technique.  Atkinson shared that police departments in NYC and Dallas have seen this film and attempt to “…distance themselves from Grossman’s training.”  Atkinson wondered if some of the shootings could have been averted with a different training system.davegrossman

“Do Not Cross” creates an opportunity to question our current system and discuss other options for solutions regarding violence and police reaction.  Atkinson hopes that his film can open the eyes of not only the public, but those responsible for enforcing the law.   The future roads for increasing safety, and decreasing violence and police brutality are being paved as we speak.  The direction we are headed brings to mind images of a war zone and a lack of safety and peace.  Together we can pave a more peaceful road.  Be sure to check out “Do Not Resist” and ask those questions that matter to our future.

“Do Not Resist” will be playing at the Chicago International Film Festival and the Gene Siskel Film Center.  Atkinson will be on hand to answer questions after the Siskel screening on Saturday, November 5.  Go to www.siskelfilmcenter.org for more information.



Toronto is known for TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), but it also hosts one of the most socially important film festivals in North America.  Reelworld Film Festival  focuses on “harnessing the power of film as a force for social good.”   Now in its 16th year, the festival takes place at the Harbourfront Centre from Wednesday, October 12 through Sunday, October 16 showcasing full-length feature films, visual reality (VR) presentations and interaction, and gaming options.  It is the first year to solely address social issues and will continue to do so in future years.  And this festival promises to be no ordinary one.  Each film will be followed by the opportunity to sit down with leaders and various organizations to discuss and implement the next step for a positive change.  Watching, learning, and making a direct difference puts this festival into a category all its own.


I spoke with Gave Lindo, Executive Director of the Reelworld Film Festival, to discuss the festival’s programming, goals, and opportunities.  Although Lindo’s background is not in filmmaking,he has always “…been interested in storytelling and using media to do that regardless of the format…”  He felt that social change happens by using a variety of media or being “medium agnostic.”  The festival’s use of VR and gaming delivers information or stories to the viewer in yet another unique format. The festival even has a game to help young ones learn about the importance of our natural resources called “Save the Park.”







As the panel discussions and meetings following the screenings  set this festival apart from all the rest,  Lindo explained that this is a “…launching pad for filmmakers and films to actually create impact and change in communities.”   Each film has a representative organization “…for deeper engagement.”  For example, “Almoalmostsunst Sunrise,” a Chicago based film, addresses PTSD.  The Wounded Warriors will then discuss with viewers how they can  continue to make a difference and help veterans.  “Naledi: A Baby Elephant’s Tale” tells the story of the connection between this majestic animal and her caretakers.  The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) will be on hand afterward to sit down and brainstorm with the viewers what they can do together to help stop poaching.  It’s an amazing opportunity to not only see a film, but to be changed and motivated by it.


Lindo has seen a dramatic increase in the number of films available which address social issues.  “In a way,” he said, “it’s a scary thing.  The more troubled the world seems to be, the more filmelephantmakers are responding to what’s happening.”  Several film submissions for the Syrian refugee crisis and police brutality as well as civil rights have been noted.  Those films chosen for this festival will “…create community engagement…and inspire action among those in the audience.”


Whether your passion or interest is in the environment, women’s issues, politics, or aging, to name a few, this festival will spark a drive in you to make a difference in this world.  From full-length feature films, documentaries, games, and visual reality experiences, Reelworld Film Festival has it all.   Watching together and learning together  leads to making a difference together.  Film is the catalyst for change.  Be a part of that change.


For more information about the festival and films, go to www.reelworld.ca


“The Man Who Was Thursday” is based on the book of the same name by G.K. Chesterton in 1908.  Balazs Juszt has recreated this chilling psychological thriller, directing his stars, Francois Arnaud (Father Smith) , Ana Ularu (Saturday), and Jordi Molla (Charles) to give us the classic Good vs. Evil scenario, but with unusual and unexpected twists that will keep you guessing until the bitterly shocking end.


Father Smith is struggling with his faith, but when a gorgeous and voluptuous temptress enters his life, seemingly intent on shocking him in the confessional, he questions his faith to its very core.  His past a sordid one and now the temptations that present themselves shake him to a point that he can no longer lead his flock.  Spiritual rehabilitation is the only path he can follow as a long-time friend, Charles, has a special assignment for him.  He accepts his new task, attempting to find the

covertthursdaywoman group of anarchists in Rome.  Dreams, hallucinations, and reality become blurred, requiring Father Smith, now named “Thursday,” to plunge deeper into this group as he becomes one of them.   His task?  To find “Sunday.”

Is it just a chance that the goal is to find “Sunday?”  No.  The religious symbolism is quite gloriously used in each and every scene, from colors and numbers to the Biblical stories themselves.  The film creates tension and a perfect amount of confusion to pull you into the story, pushing you forward to solve the puzzle before you.  What’s real and what’s not?  Who is good and who is evil?   With gorgeous cinematography, editing of dream-like scenarios, and perspective, the viewer sees the world and is allowed to know only what “Thursday” knows.  We are on the journey together.

This provocative and tantalizing tale is a visceral experience into supernatural horror and religion.  The characters are just as striking, andthursdaycharlie Arnaud and Ularu are sublime.  Ularu’s character is a complex one, to say the least.  She easily toys with everyone she encounters, including the viewer, challenging us as she reveals a bit more about her personality and intentions.  Arnaud’s performance is (dare I say?) heavenly.  We hear his pain and feel his struggle as we witness his doubts about God.  The chemistry and base human instinct that Arnaud portrays is palpable.  Molla’s character of “Charles” is wonderfully elusive, and he plays it to a “t.”  Together, these three main actors convey the level of complexity and interest using natural chemistry and a true understanding of their characters’ purpose.

“The Man Who Was Thursday” takes the viewer on a sometimes gory and provocative trip as a priest questions his faith in God.  It’s intensely thrilling, both psychologically and emotionally, as you try to solve the mystery of Good vs. Evil.  Be ready to be shocked.

If you’re in Austin, you can see this film’s North American premiere on October 15 and then again on the 19th.  For more information, go to www.austinfilmfestival.com





Directed by:  Robert Kenner

Written by:  Robert Kenner, Eric Schlosser, Brian Pearle, and Kim Roberts 

When does a documentary about nuclear arms feel like a full-length fictional feature film?  The answer:  When Robert Kenner (“Merchants of Doubt”) and Eric Schlosser (“Fast Food Nation” “Food, Inc.”) are in the control center of filmmaking.  Their newest documentary tackles the topic of nuclear armaments and accidents in a gripping narrative form, re-creating the true story of  a devastating explosion in Arkansas in 1980.  Using interviews from those whose job it was to trouble-shoot and solve problems in the silo where the missile was stored and former military personnel who were directly involved in dealing with a potential nuclear blast on our soil to real footage and incredible reinactments of the day, we not only educate ourselves about the bombs waiting to accidentally explode, we experience the day as if we were there.


ccmissileIt’s truly mind-blowing to learn about a situation so close to home that you had no idea ever occurred.  My presumption is that that’s the way the U.S. Government wanted it to be.  ”Command and Control” seems to know that I’m not the only one who is uninformed in these matters.  The film takes us back in time to the 1960′s to the development of nuclear weapons to protect ourselves from Russia.  The statistics are unnerving as we discover the fact that 32,000 nuclear missiles were built:  ”It was a huge missile building binge,” as one former government employee stated.  Now, with more than 7000 nuclear weapons buried on U.S. soil and less supervision and maintenance, the possibility for an accident substantially increases.  Schlosser explains that we just don’t worry about it now.  Thanks to the bravery of those who developed these weapons, their intuitive knowledge of safety mechanisms, and luck nothing has happened to a catastrophic degree.  But we all know, luck eventually runs out.

“Command and Control” takes us on the day long journey, inside the missile sight, deep below the earth in Arkansas to truly understand what happened on that fateful day in September.  It was a day that nothing went right.  As specialized teams attempted to find what was going wrong, a wrench was dropped into the hole containing the missile.  Luck wasn’t on this poor, young worker that day as he watched the wrench fall and perfectly strike a point to puncture a hole in the fuel tank.  Dave Powell is this unlucky soul who then had to report what happened.  As we listen to him recall this event in an interview, voicing over a realistic re-enactment, we immediately understancc_trailer_0416-crop-c0-5__0-5-820x460d the thoughts and feelings of all those involved.  And to learn yet another incredibly disturbing fact that the men that comprised this team were barely out of high school—they were boys.  Imagine charging boys with the responsibility of maintaining and trouble-shooting a nuclear war head.  It’s emotionally devastating.  

The filmmakers expertly weave together a compelling and spellbinding story reminiscent of “The China Syndrome”—but it’s real.  It is a minute by minute capture of the day in Damascus with the Titan II nuclear war head.  You’ll be sitting on the edge of your seat with your heart racing, not knowing the outcome of this one day all the while learning about our history.  But what is and should be most disturbing is that it could happen again.  Let me rephrase that.  As Bob Puerifoy, former military arms developer succinctly explained,  it will happen again.  It’s just a question of when.

Ignorance is bliss, this is true, but knowledge is power and “Command and Control” gives us the knowledge we need to start a conversation about the current nuclear arms in our country.  Forewarned, as they say, is forearmed.

Be sure to see this enlightening and riveting documentary at the Gene Siskel Film Center beginning, Friday, October 7 through October 13.  Eric Schlosser will be in attendance to discuss the film on Friday, October 7 at 8 pm.  For more information, go to www.siskelfilmcenter.org/comandandcontrol  To listen to an interview with Schlosser about “The Bomb,” go to  Closing Night Film at Tribeca, THE BOMB



In a town ravaged by tragedy, a prospect of moving forward and living again is a daunting one for this fragile community.  Ten years ago, a tsunami wiped out an elementary school with all the children inside, creating a constant state of mourning for those left behind.  Written and directed by Julio Quintana, this Malick-esque type of film creates a beautiful portrayal of life and death deeply layered in religious symbolism.

vessellucasWe meet Leo, who wants to escape this town and the memories it holds. Narrated in his calming voice, we are allowed inside his thoughts and feelings, as we learn about the past and heavy burden of the present and possible future.  Leo’s brother is one of the young boys swept away by the tsunami resulting in his mother’s bizarre and rather catatonic state.  Leo’s obligation to his mother and her care is touching, yet sad, especially as we learn about their relationship and favoritism.  On the eve of Leo’s adventure to leave this town, he and a friend celebrate a little too much resulting in both of them drowning…Leo, however, miraculously rises from the dead, three hours later.  The town grasps on to this “sign” and now Leo must rise to be their perceived savior.  The story unfolds in striking brilliance, keying into the town’s priest and Leo’s burden.


The overt and subtle symbolism create an extraordinary visual representation of story telling.  The Terrence Malick influence in the cinematography is obvious, but in many ways more refined and cohesive to tell a linear story.  Superimposing narration into the film, allows us to gain such insight into the emotional state of all of the characters through Leo’s eyes.

Religion plays a large role in this story with Martin Sheen as the priest.  Sheen’s understated portrayal creates a believable character, vesselsheenshowing us his depth of character.  Lucas Quintana’s (Leo) has a powerful performance as the struggling and possible savior.  He, too, possesses an understated ability to find just the right way to convey his every thought and feeling.

Creating this complex and multilayered story complete with Biblical references and parallel story lines, is not only intellectually stimulating, it is also relatable on a human level.  The love and bond between a mother and a son, the challenge and responsibility of a priest as community leader, and the anger at the unfairness of life all are extraordinarily portrayed.   The characters are rich and equally intriguing as they interact, needing one another, and carrying the burden of guilt and sadness differently.

“The Vessel” is a an artistically beautiful film portraying the effects of guilt and how we heal from a catastrophic tragedy.  The overwhelming need to live and where we find hope merge beautifully, in “The Vessel.”




Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is celebrating its 25th anniversary this fall, and Robby Benson, the voice behind the Beast, was in Chicago to help celebrate this mile marker for the beloved children’s classic.


Throughout his remarkably varied career, Benson found notoriety not only in acting in films, but directing hit television shows such as “Friends” and writing two best-selling novels.


What has this actor and once teen heartthrob been doing since his iconic roles in films like “One On One,” “Ice Castles” and the beloved role as the Beast?


 As I listened to that signature Benson voice, soft-spoken yet rich and melodic, he told me his career centers around his love of his family — a truly refreshing perspective from a successful Hollywood star.



“Deepwater Horizon” recreates the devastating environmental oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico so expertly that you can almost feel the heat from the flames burning on the water.  This intense action film based on true events, starring Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson, Kurt Russell, and Dylan O’Brian brings you behind the scenes leading up to this monumental disaster.  Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand, and directed by Peter Berg, you will not only learn the inside story of what happened that day, but perhaps you’ll take a closer look at our environmental policies and fuel consumption.  But if that’s not your thing, you’ll love the high action and suspense this film brings.


The story is true.  On April 20, 2010, British Petroleum’s oil rig, the Deepwater Horizon, drilled 3.5 miles down into the ocean’s floor.  Due to human error, greed, and negligence, the rig blew, killing 11 crew members and creating negative environmental consequences that still effect us today.  The film doesn’t preach this aspect of the story.  In fact, at the surface (pun intended), this is just a suspenseful, high action, sometimes gory movie with lots of explosions and daring attempts to rescue and/or escape from the situation.  We are also briefly privy to the meaningful family relationships of Mike Williams (Wahlberg) and Felicia (deepwaterheaderHudson), allowing us to more readily identify with the characters who are in peril.  It’s truly a dual level story that is mesmerizing, and if you allow it to be (and necessarily so), it’s also angering.

Wahlberg plays the everyday man: hard working, loyal, dedicated husband and father.  His integrity and honesty with an ability to be liked by everyone, shines in the face of disaster.  Wahlberg seems a natural fit for this role, carving out this ordinary, yet extraordinary man who could be your neighbor.  Russell portrays the real life Jimmy Harrell, the operations manager of the rig.  He has that experienced and rugged look that makes you immediately trust what he says.  Knowing that these actors are portraying real men, brings their performances to an even higher level.  John Malkovich shines as the BP head honcho whose inexperience in the field ultimately jeopardizes lives.  He is the consummate wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Using expressions and a manner of speaking only Malkovich could utter, he creates a very unlikeable bad guy.  His “Malcovich-Louisiana-speak” is the icing on the cake to make him a condescending, pompous blockhead.

“Deepwater Horizon” lays the foundation for what’s to come in obvious yet creative ways.  The impending doom is visual and visceral as wdhkurte see everyone filling their cars with gas, the deafening, muffled banging of the drill into the ocean, and the push and pull between the characters and their knowledge.  Although we all know the end result of this “accident,” we don’t know the details and that’s what makes you catch your breath and hope for the best for each of the characters in the film.  Harnessing the fear and the courage of each of them is what “Deepwater Horizon” does best.  With amazing stunt work, realistic explosions, and a script that is captivating, this film has it all.

“Deepwater Horizon” is a film that is a must-see.  Yes, there is a message here, and a strong one, if you want to hear it.  Bringing this message to the masses in the form of a blockbuster Hollywood movie is a genius move for those who love intense action films and for those who want to know about just one monumental environmental disaster.  Stay for the credits as we get to meet the real heroes, some who lost their lives, and others who lived to tell the story.

4 STARS because we need to care about our Earth!


REELING: THE CHICAGO LGBTQ+ INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL is currently underway through September 29th, offering award-winning films including full-length features, documentaries, and shorts.  Shaleece Haas (“Old People Driving”) documentarian headlines the festival with her film “Real Boy.”  The filmmaker follows Ben over the course of 4 years as he transitions from being “Rachael,” to “Ben.”  It’s a sublime look into the emotional toll this process takes on not just Ben, but his family and his relationships.  The raw honesty of this film enables you to better understand the personal struggle a transgender individual faces.

“Real Boy” not only harnesses important moments such as a surgical procedure, but through the use of interviews, we hear from Ben, his mom, and his best friend.  Ben’s quest to become the person he has always felt he should be, connects you with him.  The film reminds us that we all have the same wants and needs in life:  to be loved and accepted.

As a part of Ben’s transition, Joe Stevens, a member of the band Coyote Grace, mentors this young man as he too went through the same process.  Depicting these two parallel lives along with some amazing music from both Joe and Ben, and you have a film that will enlighten you during a time when the LGBQT community needs all of us to understand and accept everyone.


For more information about this festival and all of the films, go to www.reelingfilmfestival.org  or follow @reelingfilmfest on Twitter for updated info and ticket promotions.  The films are being shown at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark St., Chicago.