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Brad Hawkins’ directorial debut of “Roller Coaster” with daughter Sarah as the lead actress, earned them both numerous awards.  Hawkins continues to direct and gives us this new short film “Filling In” with Sarah Hawkins as producer.  This creative duo introduces us to a potential series with a temp agency placing out of work employees in various positions.  The job is no ordinary job as we see Kevin (Jared Odrick) attempting to perform his duties as the local Tooth Fairy.  While following in his mother’s footsteps, Kevin finds that perhaps those shoes are a little too big to fill.  It’s a uniquely funny concept that leaves you wanting more.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

We meet Kevin, a heavy-drinking, down on his luck kind of guy in a bar.  As a suspicious character approaches him, there’s a deal that is made.  It sounds sinister, but we quickly learn it’s anything but that.  The mood immediately changes to comedic as Kevin rides a scooter with a tutu—his version of Tooth Fairy apparel. Kevin attempts and fails to complete his job, bungling one hilarious task after another.   He’s a burly, sweet teddy bear who appears to not quite grasp concepts readily, but his big, brown eyes seem sad and lost and immediately you adore him.  His boss, Mike (Karl Holtz),  a rough and tough motorcycle riding kind of guy, is confounded by Kevin’s inability to perform his tasks.  Mike, attempting to have patience, looks like a covered pot about to boil as he explains the protocol and the huge money-making concProductionStill_FI_10ept behind this tooth collection industry.

Where this film shines is in its unique concept and creativity to drive the story forward.  The explanation of how tooth fairies make money is simply ingenious as we are taken around the world to see how these little calcified gems are used—the compound of volastibilase is something that could be out of a GProductionStill_FI_2rimm’s Fairy Tale.  Rumpelstiltskin has nothing on the Tooth Fairy!

Odrick’s portrayal of “Kevin” is endearing.  His sheer size makes him a comedic embodiment of the Tooth Fairy.  Odrick finds his pace in this film as he delivers his humorous lines with skill and timing.  His facial expressions and subtle use of body language to convey his thoughts and emotions are key in this role.  Who would have thought that the role of the Tooth Fairy could be so interesting!

Music is yet another component that adds depth to this light-hearted romp through the fairy world.  Suspense and whimsey are punctuated with the perfect musical selection layered beneath the film.  Hawkins has created yet another charming and engaging story filled with magical mystery.

“Filling In” is an inventive and imaginative film plunging us into the world of make-believe as it takes us on a fun-filled ride.  You’ll never think about the Tooth Fairy or any other mystical creature the same again.

 

 

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Science-fiction is well-represented at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival with the short film “The Escape,” written and directed by Academy Award winner Paul Franklin.  This is Franklin’s directorial debut starring Julian Sands, Art Malik, Olivia Williams, and Ben Miller, but it’s sure not to be his last.  His vision and ability to create an absolutely mesmerizing scenario that ends with a wildly realistic punch, gives us the hope that Franklin will continue writing and directing.

Watch the trailer here

In a time not far in the future, an ordinary man seeks to live out his wildest fantasy, giving him a chance to live in a different world, “a place where a man could be free.”  Lambert (Sands) finds this outlawed memory travel agency, reminiscent of “Total Recall,” and learns about the possibilities of experiences and memories he will have.  Lambert is willing to give Kellan (Malik), everything he has to experience this escapism, but the price he pays is more than just monetary.

Lambert is an ordinary man, living an ordinary life, with an ordinary family.  He’s bogged down in the routine of everyday life.  His wife and he seem to be experiencing difficulties, much like any other couple married for a couple of decades.  He is the father of two children and while you can see the love he has for them, yThe-Escape_Liam-Daniel_2-150x150ou can also feel how they zap his energy.  Life has become monotonous with nothing to satisfy him and nothing to look forward to.  In other words, he’s just like everyone else in this world.  ”In the life we live these days, there’s little hope for dreaming,” says Kellan.

This is an exquisitely complicated scenario, one that we can all place ourselves.  Franklin places this typical family in London where unprecedented flooding is taking place, perhaps a result of climate change.  He brings us inside the thoughts and emotions of Lambert as he attempts to weigh the pros and cons of taking this possible memory trip.  The dark and dank environment of Kellan’s surroundings juxtaposed with the beauty and saturated colors of life mark a symbolic representation of what lies ahead.  Franklin gives us ominous foreshadowing of what’s to come, but we don’t understand it all until the very end.

Sands is the star of this film, giving an emotional performance of a nearly broken man.  We feel his pain and empathize with his fears.  His interaction with his wife, his empty reassurances to his son, and his lost soul pours from his heart.  It is the final scene that we can put this hauntingly disturbing yet realistic puzzle together where we find guilt and terror—emotions worth escaping.  Supporting Sands is Malik’s portrayal of Kellan.   His almost sinister yet somehow caring and sincere affect create aThe-Escape_Liam-Daniel_1-150x150 compelling combination with Sands character.  Williams embodies the role of wife and mother with natural skill and together, this cast gives us a memorable film.

As it is with many short films, “The Escape” could easily (and should be) a full-length feature film.  The characters’ development, while complete for the short, could add another level of interest and complexity.  Alas, I cannot give away any spoilers to this intellectually stimulating and imaginative story, but the possibilities for a feature film are definitely there.

For more information about seeing this film at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, go to Tribeca Film Guide

 

 

 

 

giving where brings Kellan (Malik)

 

“A place where a man could be free, free from the life from which you are chained.”

 

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Finally, audiences can see what will be one of the best love stories this year.  (“Maudie” is a close rival.)  Premiering at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival and then the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, “Their Finest” is getting a wider release in theaters this week.  Starring Gemma Arterton (Catrin), Sam Claflin (Tom), and Bill Nighy (Ambrose Hilliard), and directed by Lone Scherfig, this movie-making love story set amidst the bombing of WWII as it pushes the envelope of women’s equality will capture your heart as you shed a few tears and have a few chuckles.  While the entire cast shines, Nighy finally gets a chance to show us the depths of his talents.  ”Their Finest” is truly one of the finest films to see this year.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Catrin (Arterton) and injured war veteran and aspiring artist Ellis Cole (Jack Huston) live in cramped, dingy quarters in the center of London.  Making ends meet in this environment is difficult as Ellis’ career just isn’t taking off.  In search of a new job, Catrin lands a screenwriter’s position, initially unbeknownst to her, in order to write “the slop” aka women’s dialogue.  Accepting the position, at significantly less than a man would be paid, Catrin discovers a new-found sense of independence and influence, but there is a price to be paid.

Of course, in this time period, women are not considered equals and working twice as hard with just as much talent (if not more), proves to be exactly what Catrin needs.  Her eyes are opened to the possibilities and opportunities as she brings a new perspective to the silver screen—women as the heroes.  Her eyes are also opened to love in its true their finestmoviesense as she and the reluctant co-writer Tom Buckley (Claflin) work side by side.  Catrin’s ability to understand people allow her to gain the confidence of the waning star Ambrose Hilliard (Nighy).  While it is a subdued and period-appropriate love story, it is Nighy’s character that brings out the laughs.  Hilliard is the aging actor who denies what he sees in the mirror.  He’s high-maintenance and condescending, but as the story develops, we find that pretentious exterior melting away thanks to Catrin’s cleverness.  Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy) also gives us reason to laugh aloud with his All-American good looks but no ability to act in this made for London film.

Clever is exactly the word to describe “Their Finest.”  The novel upon which the screenplay is based is written by Lissa Evans, “Their Finest Hour and a Half.”  Gaby Chiappe developed the screenplay and Lone Scherfig found a way to bring this dramatic, charming, and often-times funny love story to life.  Written, directed, and starring women, the film gives viewers a new perspective on female-driven films.  ”Their Finest” has heart and depth allowing the humorous aspects of life to perfectly balance the tragedies experienced.  It’s some of the best “slop” in any love story I’ve ever heard.  While the film centers upon Catrin, that’s not to say that the remainder of the cast lacks depth and development—quite the contrary.  Every role augments one another and the viewer gains a complete understanding of the time, the characters, and truly connects with each of them.

Arterton’s reserved performance creates the subtleties expected for the 1940′s.  She portrays a woman who is smart yet still learning her way amidst a changing and very dangerous world.  She is simply captivating in every scene as we find empathy and understand each and every emotion.  Claflin isn’t your typical leading man, however, he too finds a way to gain your trust and your heart.  In this old-fashioned love story, we are transported into the film, rooting for the two to allow their feelings to be revealed to themselves and live happily ever after.  Nighy’s performance is incomparable.  His character is complex and superficial all together.  It’s a difficult role that only someone as seasoned and talented as Nighy could possibly pull off.  His off-kilter humor creates a sense of love for this initially rather pompous man.  While he is a supporting character, he is vital to the film.

“Their Finest” is a film that had I not have seen, I would have missed out on one of the best films of the year.  How often do you find a beautiful love story with a female lead filled with tempered romance and humor set in a time of war?  Never…until now.  This cinematically brilliant film allows the story to shine among extraordinarily talented actors.  Of course none of this would be possible without an equally brilliant script and direction.  ”Their Finest” is our finest in theaters now.

4/4 Stars

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Photojournalist Kate Brooks makes her directorial debut with “The Last Animals,” a devastating documentary revealing the illegal and large scale ivory and rhino horn trade originating in Africa.  It’s a heart-wrenching film, difficult to watch at times, but eye-opening so that perhaps in some small way we can all make an effort to help save these now-endangered animals.

“The Last Animals” takes us on safari to meet park rangers and those who volunteer to train these rather unprepared soldiers charged with protecting the elephants and rhinos from poachers.   Fallen co-workers is a common occurrence with the price of these animals’ tusks and horns seemingly worth more than gold…and apparently human life.  According to Brooks’ website,  ”Ivory has been dubbed the white gold of jihad and rhino horn now has a higher market value than cocaine. With the expansion of radical Islamist and independent militias in Africa, along with criminal syndicates, the daring groups carrying out these bloody ‘harvests’ are killing these animals at unprecedented rates.”  And the Pejeta Conservancy reports that there are only 3 Northern White Rhinos left in the world!

Brooks also takes us to Asian marketScreen Shot 2017-04-24 at 9.25.30 AMs who sell the ground matter to “cure” all types of ailments.  And even more disturbing is the fact that the United States is one of the largest markets which in essence supports and drives this illegal trade.  With all of this devastation, Brooks counters this with images of and information about sanctuaries and zoos, both helping to regenerate the population of these endangered animals.

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 9.25.18 AMThe film, through interviews with rangers and scientists, allows us to gain a significant amount of knowledge to quickly understand these animals and the daunting task ahead of ill-prepared rangers.  We hear the fears from these men whose sole purpose is to protect the gentle giants and the sense of loss they encounter on a daily basis.  But what is most striking is the visual imagery that is seared into your memory.  Piles and piles of rhino horns immediately equate to the tens of thousands of actual animals slaughtered.  It’s a difficult film to watch, particularly for anyone who loves animals and appreciates these large, graceful mammals’ intelligence.  Brooks’ capable direction allows the story to unfold using this combination of memorable cinematography and emotional interviews.  This, in turn, makes “The Last Animals” a brilliantly powerful and impactful documentary.

“The Last Animals” tells a disturbing yet necessary story about two vital animals and their relevance in our world.  The knowledge we gain from this film enables us to have the power to change what’s happening.  We can make a difference in our world, but first we need to open our eyes and understand the extent of the situation.  ”The Last Animals” is just the eye-opening film we need.

For more information about the film, go to thelastanimals.com  To see this film at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, go to Tribeca Film Guide

 

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Today is Earth Day.  It’s  a day to celebrate our Earth and remember how we should care for it as we only get one chance.  And it’s a  perfect day to see a film that embraces this concept.  ”The River Below” is screening at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, premiering on this very appropriate date.

The film addresses the possible extinction of the Amazon Pink River Dolphin and accentuates  the power of media, television in particular.  ”The River Below” is a thrilling investigative documScreen Shot 2017-04-22 at 4.19.34 PMentary filled with gruesome and unthinkable twists and turns, shocking the viewer as it shatters our trust in television.  Mark Greico travels to the Amazon River, deep in the jungle, as he interviews scientist and researcher Fernando Trujillo and television star of Nat Geo’s Fantastico, Richard Rasmussen.  The Amazon Pink River Dolphin is on the endangered species list and these two men, while in very different arenas, fight to save this intelligent water mammal.  We witness their work and the results, discovering the ramifications of good intentions.

Like most documentScreen Shot 2017-04-22 at 4.21.03 PMaries, “The River Below” educates the viewer.  I knew nothing about river dolphins or the fact that they were being used as bait for another fish used for the local economy called Piracatinga.  Trujillo takes us along the river, explaining the great intelligence of this animal and the brutality of how it is fished and cut up to use as bait.  He equates these water-residing mammals to humans.  Over the years, the number of Pink Dolphins have decreased to a point of concern.  Extinction seemed imminent, but compounding the issue is the sheer brutality of the slaughter of such an intelligent species.  Of course, financial gains and survival by this trade are at the core, but what is the ultimate cost of this type of fishing?

We then meet superstar Rasmussen who can’t walk through an airport without gettiScreen Shot 2017-04-22 at 4.20.25 PMng stopped for selfies with adoring fans.  His show, Fantastico, takes viewers on adventures into the depths of the jungle to learn and interact with the area’s habitat.  Snakes and caymen are just a few of the clips we see Rassmussen handling.  He’s the Amazonian version of the Aussie Steve Erwin.  Rasmussen and his team used television to capture the brutality of this part of the fishing industry which helped the government put a moratoreum on using Pink Dolphin as bait as well as selling the delectable fish.  But there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

Greico and his team, through interviews and old-fashioned investigative journalism, find that something smells a little fishy about this story.  The subsequent interviews and confrontation they encounter, traveling further along the river, is nothing shy of unnerving.  Just when you thought the story was headed in one direction, it suddenly changed course, much like the river itself.  It’s absolutely jarring to watch the unfolding of this true story that takes on a Denis Villeneuve  feel to the film.

“The River Below” is a cinematically gorgeous film, taking us for a ride along the river as well as a swim beneath the surface.  The images captured are in one moment beautiful and then next moment absolutely disturbing.  Images of cruelty with no care are burned into your memory.  What makes this film even more emotionally unique is the courage it took to confront certain subjects and capture that “gotcha” moment.  The emotions from everyone involved are ascertained and depicted so that we, the viewer, are a part of the film.

“The River Below” is an artistic and educational documentary that screens like a fascinating thriller.  It also sends several messages—we must take care of our environment, but we must understand the fallout from doing so.  We have to protect our planet and ourselves—it’s a delicate balance—and to what degree would you consider appropriate to save a species?  The overfishing of one species for human sustainability cannot be justified, but I’ll let you decide after you watch this film.

For more information about seeing “The River Below” at the Tribeca Film Festival, go to TribecaFilmGuide

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“Son of Sophia” has its world premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.  Written and directed by Elina Psykou and staring Victor Khomut as the young boy, attempting to wrestle with issues of betrayal, abandonment, and love as he leaves childhood behind.  This thought-provoking and psychologically deep film about a mother and her son creates an intriguingly insightful look at growing up in less than ideal circumstances.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Misha (Khomut), a quiet and reserved 11 year-old travels on his own from Russia to Athens to live with his mother, Sofia (Valery Tscheplanowa).  The two have been separated for years and their reunion shows the unfamiliarity but obligatory connection.  The living situation is just one of the many surprises

Misha & Misha

for Misha as he learns that he and his mother will be living with an older gentleman, Mr. Nikos (Thanassis Papageorgiou).  This man, he will discover, is also his new stepfather.  Misha still needs his mother.  He is still a boy and he clings to the comfort of fairy tales yet is abruptly pulled into the world of an older boy with no parental influence.  The struggle is palpable as Misha grows up in this foreign land, not understanding the language, and thrust into a surprising situation.  The bond between mother and son is shaken as the two sort out how to function as a family of three.

“Son of Sophia” is a complexly layered story, delving into not just the growing pains of young Misha, but of the conflicting loyalty that Sofia has.  She’s torn between the love of her son and the need for her new husband, particularly financial, as she is commanded and demanded to obey and fulfill his needs.  In addition, Sofia has a full-time job, pulling her in yet another direction.  This internal Hugstruggle is beautifully portrayed, demonstrating what many wives and mothers deal with on a daily basis.

The film gives us yet another viewpoint; that of Misha.  He longed to be only with his mother and finds Mr. Nikos to be a competitor.  It’s a classic representation of a boy with an Oedipus Complex, attempting to do away with his competition.  Misha’s new-found friend, Victor (Aremois Havalits) couldn’t be any worse of an influence, but with no parental involvement, Misha delves into inappropriate situations.  His ability to understand right from wrong seems to become less clear as do his skills in coping with losing his childhood.

Khomut is the lead actor, supporting the film completely with his nuanced performance.   Balancing on the edge of childhood’s imagination and the dark world of adults is difficult, but Khomut finds a way to do exactly this.  Tscheplanowa gives us a beautifully dramatic performance, creating a conflicted and apprehensive character.  She brings us a character who is not only real, but believable.  The interaction between the two is familiar and relatable while the cinematography gorgeously captures each and every mood and feeling.  The story-line does become disturbing, but it is required to do so in order to expertly bring the Oedipal Complex to its bitter-sweet conclusion.

“Son of Sofia” is remarkably haunting and dramatic as it captures the love between a mother and her son and his need to grow up.  Its complexities are revealed through deft direction and writing, allowing the ELINA PSYKOUcast to shine.

“Son of Sofia” is showing at the Tribeca Film Festival Friday, April 21 at 6:30 pm at the Regal Cinema.  For more information about tickets, go to Tribeca Film Guide

“Norman” Everybody knows one

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Richard Gere shows us he’s still in the game with his unusual lead role in the film “Norman.” This Israeli-American film by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joseph Cedar is a uniquely funny and charming drama with an all-star cast.  Norman (Gere) is a small-time business man who, although he tries, is always on the outermost circle of the high-powered, successful corporate heads.  That never deters him from trying to connect people and make things happen, though.  His life changes one day when he meets and buys a pair of designer shoes for the man who would, three years in the future, become the next Israeli Prime Minister (Lior Ashkenazi).

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

We meet Norman and immediately understand that he’s “a little off”—his hair needs to be cut as it sticks out over his ears, his clothes are slightly unkempt, and his slouched posture indicates that he just isn’t quite cut out to play with “the big boys.”  Undeterred, Norman pushes ahead, trying to make that next (and perhaps only) big deal happen.  He’s awkNORMAN-POSTERward in his interactions and just doesn’t seem to pick up on social cues, making the scene just that much more uncomfortable.  But there’s a certain sweetness and charm about him conveying a sense of harmlessness.  We see Norman who appears to be stalking Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), a lower level Israeli politician at the time,  befriend him.  Not wanting to lose this “connection,” Norman buys Eshel an expensive pair of shoes that will likely break his personal bank.  Three years pass and Eshel, now the Prime Minister, returns to NYC and remembers his shoe-buying friend.  Norman’s life will never be the same again, but neither would anyone else’s!

The story starts off with a slow pace, carefully setting up all of the background that we need to piece this engaging puzzle together.  Set in New York City, we get a glimpse into the superficiality of high-powered companies.  The story progresses using acts of a play as Norman’s life unfolds before our eyes.  While this is a drama filled with a certain amount of sad irony, it is also light-hearted and at times even whimsical.  The situations are frequently uncomfortable, but the music accompanying the scene is cheerful, almost playful, eliciting a completely opposing feeling.

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By the second act, we are fully invested in Norman’s success, but always cringing because we know he will do something “a little off.”  He makes promises he can’t quite keep, but is always working people to make things happen—it’s a dominoes effect of decision-making.  Norman is involved in the local synagogue lead by Rabbi Blumenthal (Steve Buscemi) which needs money to survive.  His nephew, who wants no outward connection to his uncle, needs to be married by a rabbi.  The string theory of Norman’s life becomes increasingly tangled, keeping you on the edge of your seat in Act III.

The writing and directing of this film has a certain unique characteristic to it.  Cedar is known for incorporating symbolism into his films and “Norman” is no exception to the rule.  While I am not Jewish, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with a woman who is qualified in this area—she will remain anonymous.  She explained that the concept of anonymity within the Jewish religion is for charity’s sake, to truly help someone, attaching no shame in acceptance.  The film’s central theme incorporates this concept, but there are blurred lines of the definition.  She also shared with me the legend of 36 just men who are responsible for preserving the world.  Could Norman be one of these men?  The symbolism runs deep, and as producer Miranda Bailey shared with me, “Joseph Cedar’s work is filled with symbolism and innuendo that even I—-  having made the film—am still discovering.  One thing that I love is that I discover something new re-watching every scene.”

Cedar showcases a unique style within the film, creating a split screen to show the characters located in different places talking to one another.  Initially, this is surprising, but then it becomes quite visually entertaining as it allows us to experience the conversation and emotions more fully.  Blending symbolism, unique filming style, and unexpected musical accompaniment gives viewers a refreshing and truly new film.

Gere portrays Norman with genius skill.  We see him as a nobody who wants to be a somebody.  With careful attention to the detail of mannerisms and body language, Gere conveys just the right level of awkwardness to give this character credibility.  He finds a way to capture your heart while we are always questioning his motives.  As he interacts with the characters who are at a higher social status than he, Gere’s delivery of his lines, while absolutely hilarious and completely exaggerated, are believable.  We all know at least one or two people just like Norman.

The entire cast simply shines in “Norman.”  Ashkenazi’s confident and big-hearted performance as Eshel is the perfect balance to Gere’s awkward and unassuming one.  Sheen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, and Buscemi create more than a well-rounded cast—they create characters that tell a beautiful story about life, its ups and downs, the coincidences that occur, and the true heart of humanity.  This could not have happened without the deft direction of Cedar.  He brings this charming drama to life for us all to enjoy.

“Norman” is a gem not often found in filmmaking today.  It creates an unusually unique and entertaining story with flare that is universal to all.  In addition, there are deeper levels of symbolism allowing you to discover something new.  You can’t ask for more than that in a film.

To read the interview with Bailey, go to FF2MEDIA.COM

 

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Brian Schulz tackles the Flint, Michigan water crisis in a decidedly new and uplifting way.  We all remember hearing of this preventable atrocity affecting the area’s population, particularly the elderly and the young, in 2016.”For Flint” brings us into the heart of the city, seeing that through crisis comes a sense of community—much dflintwatereeper and more important than ever thought possible.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Schulz paints a vivid picture of where Flint is as we look through the broken windows of a factory and the view the abandoned warehouses and the sign above a water fountain “Drink at your own risk.”  Not a word needs to be spoken to understand the devastation this town has undergone.  But then Schulz counteracts this depressing scenario by introducing us to  several “ordinary” citizens of Flint who are determined to make a positive difference in the future of their town.  From ex-cons to musicians and artists, the members of the community are reaching out to the younger generation and those who remained to reclaim their city.  Their powerful statements about how this tragedy came about are equalled by their strength in moving forward, armed with the empowerment of the arts and kindness.  As one young man explained, “We’ve hit the bottom.  [There's] nowhere else to go but to the top.”

This statement is the underlying current of a new generation of hope.  Although the once vibrant neighborhoods filled with children’s voices are now hushed and vacant accompanied by a surge in crime, there are those banding together to rise above it all.  We see a variety of groups coordinating efforts to educate and stimulate the area, accentuating the positives of Flint and the people within it.  Leon, once a part of the crime and drug problem, is now a part of the solution as he reaches out to schools to educate children and encourage others like him to make a positive difference in the future.  Valorie finds the art of pottery making directly analogous to Flint.  It’s all what you make out of it and through her art and involvement, it will be positive.  And finally, Schulz introduces us to Ryan Gregory, an artist of reclaimed Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 7.17.34 PMobjects.  He’s also a social organizer, bringing together neighbors and neighborhoods through Thursday night social bike rides and “Living Room Show And Tell” painting projects.  Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 11.58.03 AM

“For Flint” beautifully portrays the meaning of community.  While the city has been hit hard, these determined and kind citizens are banding together to not just support one another, but to bring the virtues of this fine city back to the forefront.  It’s an uplifting and inspirational story as you root for this town to recover.  While it’s true that the water was poisoned and could have been prevented, this film’s focus is on the virtues of its citizens.  It’s true that their lives will never be the same again, but their resilience is unmistakable.  They are strong and they will come back…together.

I had the opportunity to talk with Schulz about making this short documentary.  Surprisingly, he had never been to Flint and had only learned of Flint’s water crisis less than a year and a half ago from then MSNBC’s news reporter Tony Dokoupil.   After hearing the report, Schulz said, “I was mad!  How could this happen?”  He decided to use his skills as a cinematographer to make a difference. He reached out to Dokoupil to begin his research and make connections in the community who opened their welcoming arms to him.  Describing himself as a “garrulous Brooklynite,” Schulz found the subjects he needed to convey the story of positivity in Flint.

Schulz’ voice was filled with optimism as he described the town, the unknown gem of the Flint Institute of the Arts, and the beauty even in the dead of winter.  He knew he could give a positive voice to the town, creating a more positive perception of Flint.  He did so much more than that.  We see the true definition of the word “community.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 12.00.22 PMSchulz’ film premieres on Earth Day, April 22, at the Tribeca Film Festival.  Beneath the media’s political coverage, lies on-going problems like Flint’s water and recovery that cannot be forgotten.

For more information about seeing this film at Tribeca Film Festival, go to TribecaFilmGuidetribecafilt

“Tommy’s Honour” An interview

 

Tommy's_Honour_PosterWhat’s the inspiration behind the film “Tommy’s Honour?”  The answer to that question is just as intriguing as the film itself.  I had the “honour” of sitting down with two of the producers, Jim Kreutzer and Keith Bank, the stars of the film Ophelia Lovibond and Jack Lowden, and director Jason Connery just a day before the film’s premiere to hear their thoughts and insights about the making of “Tommy’s Honour.”

The discovery of the book by the same name, written by Kevin Cook, is credited to Kreutzer as he and a friend who was recently diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Scerlosis (ALS), traveled to St. Andrew’s Golf Course in Scotland“…as a bucket list trip,” Kreutzer explained.  He continued, “He and I went as a part of immersing ourselves into Scottish golf.  We bought the book, read [it], and couldn’t figure out why no one had made this film yet…it was a book that had such an amazing story with universal themes and I said, ‘How in the world did this slip through the studio cracks?’”  Kreutzer then “cold called” the author, explaining that he was “…just this little guy.  I didn’t tell him I was this dentist from Wisconsin.  I thought that was a little too cheesy, so to speak,”  he chuckled at the pun.  The film took years to develop, bringing on financing headed by Bank and then Sean Connery’s son Jason to direct. Kreutzer laughed in recollection, “I cold called Jason out of the blue [and] he said to me, ‘You know this is Jason Connery, not Sean Connery.”

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Jason Connery

Kreutzer explained, “Jason, is the creative force behind the film.  [He] had the same vision that I had.  This was not a golf film.  This was a film with golf as the background.  It could have easily been tennis or bowling.  Golf [though] is a sport that transcends so many emotions and so many feelings.  I think there’s so much more to this than meets the eye.  This is a must-see love story.  And even more than that, this film has been used to promote and support other philanthropic endeavors such as raising awareness for the ALS Foundation as well as the Boys and Girls Club.  As investor Ken Whitney told Kreutzer, “There’s also an emotional return on this investment and you can’t put a number on that.”

Emotions do run very high in “Tommy’s Honour,” as both Lowden and Lovibond expressed.  Although Lowden hadn’t previously known this story, it did take place near his home in Scotland.  He said, “When I heard about it I thought it was such a lovely story.  Regardless of the fact that it was about golf, I just loved the story of this guy that achieved so much at such a young age and then disappeared at 24.  I found it tragic…and amazing and really sad that he met the woman that he fetommymegll in love with and when that was taken away from him, he self-destructed…”

Lovibond was attracted to her character of Meg as she “…was quite strident and insubordinate.”  On a lighter note, she found the costuming to truly add to the film, bringing us back to a forgotten era.  Her blue dress, she laughed, “…couldn’t fit in the train!  I couldn’t sit down in it so we had to take bits off and we had the boom operator and the camera operator all squashed because my dress was taking up so much room!  It was so impractical!”

DSC02730Lowden, quite taken with the costuming as well, found that his tweed suits were not only beautiful but also “they were surprising comfy,” he said.  “I was worried about how the hell did they play golf in three piece suits….I’m told that it affected their swing because you do get to a certain point and the suit says you’re not going any farther.”

Now you might assume that because Lowden is from the Scottish Borders and he is quite an impressive golfer on camera, that he has played the sport for years—not the case! Lowden took about 8 lessons as did Peter Mullin who plays Tommy’s father. Lowden chuckled, “And it’s also a film!  You swing the club for a second and they cut away.  It’s the look of it rather than the ability. [But] I did get quite good at it!”  Lovibond chimed in that she wasn’t a golfer either, but “I could still hit the ball really far.” The banter between the two was charming as Lowden reminded her that her swing was more like chopping.  She didn’t disagree and laughed, “It looked more like I was angry with the ball.  We took a video of it and they said it was the worst swing they’ve ever seen!”

Directing this connected young couple seemed to be quite natural with Connery who is also father. He truly understood relationships on all levels.  Recalling learning about this true story, he said he had heard of “Old Tommy,” but, “I had no idea about young Tommy at all.  I’ve played at The Old Course and I’ve seen all of the area.” Kreutzer gave Connery the book and he devoured it in a single sitting, engrossed by the passion these true life characters had for the game.  Connery said, “I’ve watched a number of golf films and they fall into this trap of this sort of reverential element…I wanted to steer clear of that…Tom was a working man.  He was worried about his son because he appeared to want to change the system and that’s always scary!”

The elements incorporated into this story are deep and meaningful as Connery explained that, “You have the church being such a powerful entity in the local community; you have the class system; and you have this father and son.  I never wanted them to question the love they had for each other.  And then you have this beautiful love story between Meg and Tommy.”  While it is tragic, Connery explains an even more complex layer to their relationship for the time period:  They considered one another equals and they loved each other very much.  It wasn’t just an economic decision to get married.  They typified the beginning of the next generation of marriages.

Feminism is yet another beautifully portrayed aspect of the film as Meg stood up for her beliefs. One of Connery’s favorite scenes is Meg confronting her mother-in-law, not backing down and speaking her mind.  Connery with some regret in his voice said, “It’s not in the film, but there was a thing that the church did with the minister of a local community that would take a woman who had a bastard child or had done something sort of ill repute, supposedly.  Not the man, I would have to say, but the woman and would name and shame them” repeatedly.  When the minister felt they were no longer evil, he would bless them.  “And she went through that!  And not only did she go through it, she put a child next to her, hoping her child would be cleansed as well.  That’s pretty brutal!” he exclaimed.

The film truly is so much more than a golf story.  It’s a complex

DSC02735DSC02731and tragic love story as it depicts the heart and soul of relationships.  Connery shared one man’s comments after a screening, “You know what you’ve done?  You’ve made a chick flick for men.”  He smiled and laughed, “I’ll take it!  I’ll take it!”

 

 

 

 

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Admittedly, when I think of watching the game of golf on television, I automatically think it’s nap time.  I will also admit that I cannot play the game to save my life.  In fact, I’ve hit a birdie or two, but the living kind…wildlife beware when I pick up a set of clubs!  While I am not a fan of the game, I am a fan of the new film “Tommy’s Honour,” starring Jack Lowden and Ophelia Lovibond and directed by Jason Connery.  The film may look to be a biopic about the origins of golf, but it is truly so much more than that.  It is a story about relationships, particularly that of a father and son as well as a beautiful love story with both stories propelled forward with golf as the driving force.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

tommydadWe meet Tommy Sr. appearing to be a gruff and less than personable old codger.  Beneath that exterior, however, lies a sad yet proud father, needing to tell his story…his son’s story.

Tommy Morris, Jr. (Jack Lowden) is a caddy’s son and that is what he is expected to be when he grows up, but he has other plans.  He’s an exceptional golfer and he wants more out of life than his father’s predetermined destiny.   Playing competitively in the late 1800′s hasn’t taken on the same life as it has in today’s world of golf.  Tommy, however, sees the potential and at every possible fork in the road, he takes the path less traveled, much to his father’s chagrin.  This path isn’t an easy one as Tommy and his father are at odds and Tommy Jr. is also, perhaps unwittingly, fighting a much bigger fight…that of inequality.  We also see this as he falls in love witommyth a woman with a disreputable past; one which his mother seems unwilling to allow and accept.  But this head-strong Scotsman will not be deterred and proves to be not just a golfer, but a pioneer in recognizing social wrongs, but most importantly, it is a bitter-sweet love story showing us the power and depth of true love.

 

The story is a complicated one, delving deeply into the muddy waters of various types of relationships.  “Tommy’s Honour” eloquently captures the stressful and oftentimes frustrating times in a father and son’s relationship.  Seeing this from both sides of the coin enables us to truly feel both empathy and sympathy for both Tommy Sr. and Tommy Jr.  A typical young man in many ways, he rebels against his parents’ wishes, yet he still maintains a certain respect and loyalty until he finds and falls in love with Meg (Lovibond).  The two, similar in many ways, compliment one another, creating a complete couple.  With disapproving parents, it is Meg’s fortitude that is inspiring.  The delicate balance among family members, new and old, is carefully crafted in this film giving it a sense of reality while it clings to the beauty of true love on every level.

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The film eloquently layers meaningful dialogue, the subtleties of non-verbal language, and  stunning visual cinematography to transport us into this world.  We understand every emotion from each of the characters and can almost feel the sea breeze or the warmth of the fireplace burning in the quaint and crowded cottage.  We learn of the harshness of this particular family and the segregations and inequities of the classes as well as that of men and women in this era.  Tommy Jr. is different and everything he touches, he changes.  While he is far from a perfect young man—he loved to imbibe a bit too much and gambling was just a source of income—he knew he wanted or actually, needed more. Buried beneath all of this we find the game of golf–its origins and development—and Tommy’s impact. And who knew that this game was once a rather raucous event!

Lowden simply shines in this lead role, paying homage to Tommy Morris Jr.’s life.  Carefully, Lowden peels back the layers of this complicated man, allowing us to know him.  Lowden’s natural Scottish accent gives us an even greater sense of authenticity, but it is his ability to embody this character that feels absolutely genuine.  The connection also feels real between he and Lovibond’s character of Meg.  As a determined and shunned woman in a less than accepting town and era, we feel her pain and humiliation and feel pride as she shows us her strength.  While the entire cast is sublime, it is Peter Mullin’s portrayal as Tommy Sr. that completes this heartfelt family story.  Together, this ensemble cast produces a convincingly earnest tale that will reaffirm your belief in love.

To create such a powerful scenario, the script must not only be strong, but the vision of the director has to be equally sound.  Given that tissues were needed is the testament to the solid writing and directing of this engaging film.

“Tommy’s Honour” cannot and should not be classified as a golf story.  It’s an exciting and emotional story about life, obligation, and love.  It’s a beautiful portrayal of the power of love and our relationships in life.  While the film centers around an exceptionally talented golfer, and we do learn a bit about the origins, at the heart of it all is love.

Watch for the interview with the lead actors, producers, and the director!