maudie

Maudie

Written by:  Sherry White

Directed by:  Aisling Walsh

Starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke

Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis may not be a name you immediately recognize, but it soon will be.  Born in the early 1900′s with rheumatoid arthritis, a severe degenerative condition, this rather sickly and awkward looking woman struggled in every aspect of her life.  But her struggle became a story that inspired the new film “Maudie,” written by Sherry White and directed by Aisling Walsh.  The film is cinematic splendor as Sally Hawkins recreates Maud and  co-star Ethan Hawke portrays Everett in one of his strongest performances yet.  This unusual love story tells an equally unique life story filled with courage, strength, inspiration and beauty.

Maud’s physical differences have always brought judgement upon her, not only from outsiders, but sadly, from her own family as well.  She is dismissed, feeling worthless, but this bright and witty woman strikes out on her own, yearning to prove them all wrong.  There is a sense that there is another deeper, more sensitive story bubbling just below the surface, but that has yet to be revealed.  Answering an “ad” posted at the local store for a housecleaner, Maud meets Everett (Hawke), the local fishmonger.  He reluctantly hires her and the man of few words attempts to keep her at a distance.  Over the course of time, Maud is allowed to blossom which in turn creates a connection and courtship between the two.  To say it is an unusual situation and “dating” process, is to put it mildly, creating wonderful humorous moments.   The pair is odd, but the beauty from within easily becomes the only thing visible.  Their relationship, however, has some very rocky parts, as all relationships do.  As we witness this journey seen primarily through Maud’s eyes, we feel her pain and her anger, but also laugh and cry with her as well.

“Maudie” explores this creative woman’s trials and tribulations to become one of the most recognizable folk artists in the area, but it also presents what it must feel like to be judged by an outwardly different appearance.  Maud is exceptionally bright, organized, and has a wickedly sarcastic sense of humor that those around her find the verbal sword to be quite sharp.  We truly get to know who this woman is and what she has endured, particularly within her family.  While there is heartbreak, there is also laughter.  It’s an extraordinary slice of life that reaches your very soul, allowing you to experience everything that Maud feels and does.  Rarely do you find such a compelling story with well-rounded characters that you immediately understand and connect.  In fact, you are lost in their world, forgetting that you are watching a movie.

It is under the direction of Walsh that Hawke and Hawkins create such captivating characters.  Both actors seem to connect whole-heartedly with their rather unorthodox roles as they beautifully reveal their personalities.  Hawkins embodies the character of Maud, exhibiting with finesse a body riddled with arthritis.  Her ability to convey the myriad number of emotions and wounds not yet healed from past tragedies is simply exceptional.  Her delivery of parenthetical quips and demonstrating that she doesn’t buy into gender inequality as she goes against the grain of the locals just endears us to her even more.  Casting Hawke opposite Hawkins is a choice that pays off as he becomes this tight-lipped, uneducated and unsocialized loner.   Hawke exudes power not seen before in other films as he becomes this sometimes unlikeable and other times lovable very real person.  Together, Hawke and Hawkins play to one another’s strengths and catapult this story to the highest level.

The film is also cinematically stunning, bringing you through the rolling, desolate country roads near the sea.  We are transported to a bygone era that is dusty and primitive, influencing and inspiring the very art that Maud will forever be known for.  ”Maudie” orchestrates every element in filmmaking to create not just an entertaining film, but also a meaningful and  magical one.

Experience the magic of “Maudie” and travel the trails of Maud Lewis’ past, riding an emotional roller coaster ride filled with unusual and richly layered characters.  ”Maudie” is a timeless love story that will leave you breathless, speechless, and inspired.  You can’t ask for more than that in a film.

*Bring tissues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The stakes are high when it comes to the inability to have children and Amanda Micheli, Academy Awarding documentarian, explores the personal and financial toll it takes on a couple as they vie to win a chance at a round of IVF (In Vitro Fertilization).  It’s an emotionally raw journey as couples bare their souls and share personal stories of the need to complete their family…no matter the cost.

Watch the trailer here

micheli_colorheadshot-300x278Micheli spoke with me about her background and personal association with the project.  Her unique insight allows the film to unfold in an unbiased and informative way while still unveiling the emotional layers just under the surface.

Reel Honest Reviews (RHR):  Tell me how you first became interested in filmmaking.

Amanda Micheli (AM):  I started out in still photography.  In high school, I was the photo editor of my high school newspaper.  That’s where I cut my teeth and learned to navigate the somewhat terrifying world of high school .  But it was great because I was able to be the photojournalist and cut though a lot of cross sections of that culture.  I just really felt comfortable with a camera.  It gave me license and a purpose.

RHR:  You went to Harvard for film studies—I don’t usually associate Harvard with filmmakers.

AM:  I’ve always loved movies and have had that desire to lean that direction, but I wasn’t sure what it meant.  I never would have expected to go to Harvard for film, for undergrad.  It’s not a department that gets a lot of notoriety.  Most of the professors focus on documentary work. It’s a hidden jewel, a well-supported program that’s not really known and you’re able to make a movie as your undergraduate thesis.  So I dove in and made an hour long documentary as my undergrad thesis called “Just for the Ride.”

RHR:  Your film went on to win a Student Oscar, travel film festivals, and have distribution on PBS!

AM:  I don’t think I realized at the time how amazing that was!  I thought that was what happened when you made a film.  My sophomore effort was a lot harder when I woke up to the reality of what it costs to make a movie in the real world and how hard it is to get distribution.

RHR:  What drew you to the topic for your film “Vegas Baby?”

AM:  Unfortunately, I came to the subject matter through my own personal experience. My husband and I have been struggling with our own infertility story for about 5 years now.  When we first started [trying], I waited until later in life…we were both older when we got married and I would say woefully ignorant about our fertility. Then, unfortuantely, once we got a diagnosis that my husband had a low sperm count and nobody knew why,  everybody said we don’t have time to figure out why you just have to get moving because Amanda’s getting up there.  Then we found out that after our first failed IVF that my husband had testicular cancer so that kind of compounded everything for obvious reasons and derailed us because we were focused on health and his mortality…and that just intenisfied the experience to the “n”th degree.

We spent our savings on a round of IVF.  We were told that that was the only way we could have a biological child.  We wanted to give it a shot. We never thought we would be in that position. I think we had a lot of stereotypes and judgments around IVF ourselves.  We’re not THOSE kind of people.  I think when we stared trying, we were like if it works it works, and if it doesnt it doesn’t… all of sudden you have to get real and [think] what would I be willing to do to make this happen.  When it didn’t work and we were faced with the expense— over $20,000, getting our hopes up, and feeling invested and doing something outside our comfort zone, and just realizing that I was really uneducated about the odds of success [and] the costs— the emotional physical and financial cost of reproductive medicine.  As a filmmaker, I felt compelled to do something with that experience. It was actually when I was researching funding options for our second round of IVF … I came across an article in the New York Times about these clinics that were having raffles and contests for people who couldn’t afford treatment.  My first reaction was, this is insanity.  But when I sat and thought about it and what I had been through, I felt for these people and I felt like there was something to it.  If there was this many people who were willing to bare their souls on the internet for the hope, for the shred of a hope, to have a child, it felt like it was speaking something, it was like a zeitgeist.

RHR:  Your film addresses many issues about IVF.  What do you hope this film will accomplish?

AM:  I think for me there’s hope in starting the conversation around it and raising awareness about it and also education.  Hopefully the millenial generation is already more educated than I was.  I think I was specifically a post-feminist generation where my mom didn’t want me to feel pressured about having a family.  She wanted me to feel independent and free to pursue my dreams.   Even for people with medical diagnoses that aren’t age related, we have a lot to learn about this. Also just to raise awareness about the odds and the cost of what people are getting into…you have to go in with your eyes wide open and be your own advocate. And also… get really good mental health support.  That’s one of the things I really rallied about with the film is this is a medical problem, but it’s also a social problem and it’s also really a psychological problem.  It’s something that needs counseling to make an informed decision around and I don’t think that IVF doctors are necessarily the best person to advise you…

RHR:  Your film touches on many different adjacent topics using  a unique style.

AM:  There are so many layers to it and I hope that my film brings up questions that the audience can continue to think about and discuss…This isn’t pure “cinema verite,” but it certainly has an element to it…you’re observing as it’s unfolding.  You don’t have the filmmaker speaking, [but] you run the risk that people think you’re not being critical enough…It’s just a different approach where you’re asking the audience to think critically based on what you’re putting in front of them.

RHR:  The style also allows you to remain impartial, balanced.  Was that difficult to do given how personal of a topic this is to you?

AM:  It wasn’t hard to have a balanced point of view.  To me, that was critical to reaching our audience in the most authentic way.  People need to be educated, but it’s not for me to say how someone should choose this path or that path to build a family….[This] film uses the provocative premise of the contest as a way to make people look at the deeper issues beyond the topic.  What are the human desires and emotions that lead people to go to the lengths and move beyond the black and white, the good guy and the bad guy, who do we blame. I don’t think the world is that simple.

RHR:  Speaking of simple, it must not have been easy to gain access to the Dr. Sher’s infertility clinic to film.  Was it?

AM:  I made the pone call and I thought for sure they would say no, especially because the New York Times article was very critical.  They just said, ‘Sure.  Come on down.’  I was flabbergasted.  I would never usually do this, but I said, ‘You’re not concerned about getting negative press?  I want to be clear that you know that I’m going to have full control over this film.’  And they said they had nothing to hide.  I thought they were very courageous.  I really credit them…And I think I really lucked out that they were willing to take that risk to let me in.  I can tell you we tried to film in a lot of other clinics…and we didn’t have that success at any other location.

RHR:  With your personal connection, did you have difficulty in becoming attached to the subjects of the film?

AM:  It’s always an issue when you’re making a film…and I think in this case, even though we had similar experiences, we had pretty different backgrounds.  I don’t think that means being detached or aloof, but for me, the primary thing was making the film and trying, of course, to see their experience as empathetically as I could, but also with the eye of an observer…

RHR:  What surprised you most about making this film?

AM:  It’s the toll this can take on a marriage…it’s already hard enough to have a relationship and when you’re having something that’s affecting your most intimate [part] with your partner, your self esteem, your confidence, your sexuality, it’s incredibly layered and complicated what that can do to a relationship.

RHR:  What have you learned from making this film that you hope others will as well?

AM:  I just don’t want anyone to take their fertility for granted nor do I want people to quickly pass judgment on people…I hope the film will open people’s eyes to seeing [infertility] in a slightly different way.

FOR MORE INFORMATION GO TO vegasbabyfilm.com

“Vegas Baby” is now available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, and Vudu.  On June 27th, see it on PBS World Channel and on Netflix,  July 4.

 

 

 

 

 

“Maudie” a timeless love story

 

 

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(From the June 16, 2017 edition of Fete Lifestyle Magazine)

Obviously, every film has a location, but some films not only explore a story, they also take you on a scenic adventure into the land or setting.  “Maudie” is one of those films that creates a meaningful story based on the folk artist Maud Lewis while tempting you to visit the coastal fishing town of Nova Scotia, Canada.

 

Nova Scotia is located in the Canadian Maritimes, the French calling it Acadia, was first settled by the Paleo Indians more than 11,000 years ago.  The Brits called it New Scotland with the Scotts immigrating there in 1745.  Rum-runners, rogues, and rebels reportedly called it home, but then in the 1900’s, it became more of a fishing and maritime community.  In fact, the area recognized Bessie Hall as the most notable female mariner of the century.  The area appeared to be ahead of its time as it lead the way for  equality in race and gender—from 1894-1918, the Local Council of Women of Halifax worked to gain the right to vote;  and in 1945, Minister William Pearly Oliver founded the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

 

The art world was also well-represented as it is home to Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis.  She was no ordinary artist.  Born in the early 1900’s with degenerative rheumatoid arthritis, Maud spent much of her life being overlooked due to her outward differences.  “Maudie” written by Sherry White and directed by Aisling Walsh, stars Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke, tells Maud’s incredible lifetime story of pain, alienation, but most importantly love.  “Maudie” is in one of the most vivid and beautiful love stories of all time.

Go to Fete Lifestyle Magazine to read the article in its entirety

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BEATRIZ AT DINNER

Written by Mike White

Directed by Miguel Arteta

Starring Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, and Connie Britton

Mike White’s (“Enlightened”) eloquence and intelligence shines like a beacon in his newest film “Beatriz At Dinner” starring Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, and Connie Britton.  It’s a complicated feature delving

beatriz-at-dinnerinto class distinction, “the 1%,” and the environment.  Beatriz (Hayek) is a holistic massage therapist, helping cancer victims with alternative treatments.  Her sense and intuition create powerful insight with everyone she meets.  After her car breaks down, she is stranded at a wealthy client’s home and she is reluctantly invited to stay for a high-powered and intimate dinner party.  The disparity between she and this group keeps you on edge as the evening devolves into a moralistic and ethical battleground.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Beatriz is more than compassionate and kind, she understands the very nature of the balance of our world.  She is connected to the soul of the Earth, animals, and people, but when she encounters Doug Strutt (Lithgow), it takes everything in her to not speak her mind.  A few glasses of wine, however, releases the edit mode button and she begins to cross the border of being a gracious guest and attempting to enlighten one of the most disgustingly self-centered, greedy, and judgmental corporate leaders.

 

conniebThe film creates such stress and tension as we watch the story unfold.  Her relationship with Cathy (Connie Britton) is  a delicate balancing act as there is a feeling of gratitude and indebtedness from Cathy.  It boils down to employee, employer versus friendship—these are the lines that are balancing like spinning plates.  With the unknown variables of people’s responses, especially after drinking, the plates inevitable tumble.  The mess that is left is quite unexpected.

 

The characters in this film are wonderfully complex and layered.  The emotional performances tease out the subtle as well as the blatant differences among the guests with absolute precision.  Britton’s portrayal of Cathy as the conflicted yet  gracious hostess who has a  moral obligation to Beatriz, is exceptional.  She is pulled in two different directions—she is the middle ground upon which the remaining characters find their sides.  The gluttonous characterizations of those that have so much is beautifully and realistically rendered in “Beatriz At Dinner.”  The marginalization of our world and the effects of mankind upon it from this group’s perspective is at once revolting and enlightening.  But it is the complexity of the situation that drives this film forward.  Beatriz isa guest in someone else’s home, but she cannot allow Strutt to get away with such narrow-mindedness and selfishness.  It’s an intrinsically high-paced dinner with high stakes.

 

Lithgow has a perbeatrizlithgowformance to remember as Strutt.  He is the epitome of an egomaniacal power-monger.  He elicits a burning resentment and anger as he utters his self-aggrandizing viewpoints.  While Lithgow could have easily taken this role to the extreme, it is his skillful performance that gives Strutt a realistic persona.  We know this individual exists and his pride in killing big game is reminiscent of a dentist not too long ago.  His condescension paired with the remaining guests feelings of entitlement and total disregard for humanity is deplorable…but real.

 

Interspersed within the dialogue that is succinct and revealing is Beatriz’ spiritual connection as we are privy to her mindful images.  The symbolism portrayed is poetic as we see the world, her past, and her future through her eyes.  Hayek’s performance is magnificent.  Her gentle nature comes through to her character as she carries a very heavy burden.  The weight of the world rests on her shoulders and we feel her struggle to forge ahead, making this world a better place.

 

“Beatriz At Dinner” is one of the most eloquent and articulate films depicting our social issues and the consequences of greed.  The internal and external turmoil represented reflects our current political and environmental standing, poured out for all to see.  We get a real glimpse into the mindset of power, money, and the delineation of class.  It’s a tension-filled, gripping and magnificent story with exceptional performances that will impact you long after the credits roll.  Watch this and your next holiday family dinner will seem like a piece of cake.

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THE HERO

Written by Brett Haley and Marc Basch

Directed By Brett Haley

Starring:  Sam Elliott, Nick Offerman, and Laura Prepon

Brett Haley, the daring and brilliant man behind the curtain of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” is back in action with “The Hero,” starriSamElliottHerong the renowned actor Sam Elliott.  The film is a character study of Lee Hayden (Elliott), a man waning in his career as he ages and is diagnosed with cancer.  Lee  wrestles with the legacy he will leave behind and attempts to reconcile broken relationships.  It’s a self-reflective, heartfelt, and often-times humorous film showing us how we are connected as we witness Lee looking out over the horizon of life.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Haley and Offerman spoke with me at the SXSW Film Festival a few months ago.  The inspiration for the  film is all Sam Elliott, Haley gushed.   After working with him  in “I’ll See You in My Dreams” he said, “I’m inspired by him not only as an actor, but as a human being.  He deserved his own movie where he was in every scene and it was about him and he got to show off what an amazing actor he really is.”  He and co-writer Marc Basch came up with Elliott’s character as something “…he could sink his teeth into…and a non-Western where he’s not on a horse.”

Elliott’s character of Lee is incredibly real with the most raw and believable emotions that are true to life.  ”The Hero” reminds us that time zips past us as we have neglected aspects of life that are most dear.   Haley identified with “Lee” even though he admits he’s still quite young.  “We are always looking back on our lives and what it means to make a mark.  He ends up really thinking about his personal reheroemotoinlationships which, at the end of the day, are what really matters.”

“The Hero” allows us to see the world from Lee’s perspective—his hopes, his dreams and his failures—but most importantly it takes us inside his heart.  We feel the regret and the pain it has caused, but we also see the glimmer of love and life, never wanting to be extinguished, no matter how old the candles on the cake say we are.

Meeting and falling in love with a much younger woman, Charlotte (Laura Prepon), takes Lee on a fast-paced ride that he wasn’t quite prepared for.  Their relationship is simply beautiful as they both allow each other to see things differently.  Relationships are at the heart of this film and none is more painful than that of Lee and his adult daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter).  As they bare their souls, the open wounds have obviously not healed, the resentment and remorse heartbreakingly shine theropreponhrough.  However, as in life, there is also humor in “The Hero.”  It’s more situational humor thanks to social media and Offerman’s character.  Haley added,  “He’s way more than Ron Swanson.  I wanted to give him something that he could do that was way outside of that box.  I didn’t have him do any woodworking or steak eating.  He plays a pot dealer and a very unique one!” Offerman and Elliott, on screen, are as comfortable with one another as two brothers as they live, reminisce, and support one another.

Elliott is simply extraordinary.  His small, yet vital roles in “Grandma,” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams” tipped us off as to this man’s true skills, but never have I seen such a passionate and powerful performance—certainly Oscar-worthy.  Offerman confided, “The ‘business’ would say to you, ‘Why don’t you have some younger, better looking people?’  And I would say to them, ‘There’s no one better looking than Sam Elliott.  People over 45 also have lives that we are interested in.”   Haley’s instinct to cast him as the lead truly allows this remarkable actor to show his depth of skill.  Elliott brings you directly to him, looking you in the eye, making you a part of the scene.  His emotions are palpable as you are connected with him and his situation.  We all have regrets in life, crossroads where we perhaps took a left turn instead of the right one and Elliott conveys this understanding with expert skill.

IMG_1346Offerman creates a  ”unique” character with skill and charm.  There is no doubt that his character and Lee are long-time friends.  While he adds the comedic lift to the film, Offerman shows us he has the depth and understanding to give us this meaningful performance.  Prepon’s portrayal of “Charlotte” is equally as layered and complex, one that you don’t typically see for women her age.  Yes, she’s beautiful, but her character is also smart, well-read, creative, and wise beyond her years.  Seeing Katharine Ross, Elliott’s real-life wife, in this film as well as Ritter with her small but sublime performance as a dejected and hardened daughter gives “The Hero” the golden touch.

“The Hero” is a beautiful and sincere look at life, regrets, and the spark that flickers from within, wanting to continue to shine.  Haley has done it again.  He has created a film with heart about a character that is real and, get ready for this, is over 40.  In fact, he’s over 70.  My sincere gratitude goes to daring filmmakers like Haley who write films for older actors and then remind us of what’s truly important in life—our relationships.

To watch the interview at SXSW with Offerman and Haley check out YOUTUBE INTERVIEW

 

4/4 Stars

 

 

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(Published in FF2 Media, June 12, 2017)

Now in its 20th year, the Los Angeles-based film festival, Dances With Films (DWF), lives up to its words of conception: a festival where ‘who you know’ doesn’t matter, but the quality of your work does. First-time writer and director of a narrative short film, German-born Monika Petrillo jumps into the filmmaking waters with Wink. Her film’s topic sounds a bit unusual—a frustrated and lonely suburban housewife and a goldfish—but Petrillo laughingly said, “How can you go wrong with a beautiful woman and a goldfish?”

The inspiration behind not only this film, but Petrillo’s decision to become a filmmaker was her godmother, Li Erben.  Erben’s late husband, Russian-born French film director Victor Vicas had written a story about a blonde, a winking goldfish and a bath.  After hearing that description, Petrillo could see the whole film. “I came home…and before I knew it, I had written the whole 12-page script.”

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE IN FF2 MEDIA

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(As published in the June 12th edition of FF2 Media)

Now in its 20th year, the Los Angeles-based film festival, Dances With Films (DWF), lives up to its words of conception: a festival where ‘who you know’ doesn’t matter, but the quality of your work does. To the Moon and Back by Susan Morgan Cooper is a heartbreaking look at two intersecting narratives about the Russian Adoption Ban leaving approximately 259 children, 75% disabled, stuck in limbo in their adoption process to American parents.  The reason?  Politics.

It’s a “chess game between Obama and Putin,” Cooper explained.  Cooper hopes that her film can help make changes in the lives of these children and in Miles and Carol Harrington’s lives, the blame upon which Putin placed this ban.

Cooper didn’t start out directing impactful and life-changing documentaries.  She began as an actress and had a small role in a Clint Eastwood film.  However, she says, “I just never had the passion for acting and one day someone took me into an editing room and all of a sudden, the lights turned on! You can manipulate an actor’s performance with timing and a reaction shot.  So I started being involved in editing.”

To read the interview in its entirety, go to FF2 Media

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Listen to the entire Audio interview

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Jim O’Heir, the lovable loser from the hit television series “Parks and Recreation,” takes on a dramatically different role as Lenny Freeman in Ned Crowley’s dark, dark comedy “Middle Man.” It’s set to open at the AMC River East in Chicago this weekend.

 

Lenny (played by O’Heir) is a throwback to a bygone era. He is a 50-year-old accountant who lived at home with his mother until her death. Inheriting a mound of debt and her antique ’53 Oldsmobile, Lenny pursues his dream of being a stand-up comic. The problem? He is not funny. Traveling to Las Vegas to compete on the television show “Stand-Up Stand-Off,” Lenny befriends hitchhiker Hitch (Andrew J. West) and finds himself caught up in a killing spree.

 

It’s a homage to the comic greats of the past.

 

I had the pleasure of sitting down for a casual conversation with O’Heir near Loyola University, his alma mater. At Bar 63 where we met, he couldn’t make it 3 feet without being recognized, but he readily stopped to take selfies with patrons.

To read the entire interview in the June 10, 2017 edition of The Daily Journal, go here

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Ken Loach directs the off-kilter comedian Dave Johns in “I, Daniel Blake,”  a beautiful depiction of healthcare and bureaucracy in England.  Daniel (Johns) suffers a heart attack and wants nothi_daniel_blake2_h_2016ing more than to go back to work, but due to the State’s red tape and edicts regarding fitness to return, he winds up fighting the system in order to receive his deserved Employment and Support Allowance.  It’s a familiar exercise in frustration not limited to healthcare abroad, but the story delves more deeply into humanity as Daniel befriends a young, single mother trying to make ends meet…by any means possible.  The two work through their situations with the support from one another—a father-daughter type of relationship—reminding us all about the importance of connections and love.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Daniel, a 59 year-old carpenter, suffered a heart attack.  Not yet cleared to go back to this type of work, he must find alternative work and times have changed.  Disability compensation is due to Daniel from the State, but the hoops he must jump through are counter-productive and make absolutely no logical sense.  As his frustration understandably builds, as does ours from watching, Daniel sees yet another injustice occurring.  Unlike State workers, he readily sees that no common sense whatsoever is being used.  He winds up in even more trouble as he seeks a little misdemeanor revenge.  This incident bonds Katie (Hayley Squires) who seems to be running I-Daniel-Blake-Full-Widthaway from life and starting anew with her adorable daughter Daisy (Briana Shann) and son (Dylan McKiernan) who has some issues.  Daniel becomes an integral part of their lives, but as in everyone’s life, there are a few bumpy sections along the way.  The story is simply sublime, taking us on a journey through the eyes of another yet allowing us to intimately relate to each of the characters.

Johns’ portrayal of Daniel is extraordinary.  He easily represents a man who has worked hard all his life, but in the end, the lack of what he has to show in tangible form is disheartening.  Johns creates a character who is complexly beautiful on the inside.  His performance in frustration and acting out appears to be one that he identifies with readily, allowing viewers to immediately connect with him.   While the dialogue is frequently light, what is said visually is loud and clear.  He also creates a fatherly connection with Squires who demonstrates what many single mothers must experience.  Together, they are an absolute delight as we invest our energy in needing to know how things end.  Shann is exceptional as Daisy.  Finding child actors who understand the situation that they are in and who they must portray is exceedingly difficult, but Shann is a natural.

The talent of screenwriter Paul Laverty to tell such a seemingly simple story with touches of humor and irony, bringing out the subtle but poignantly significant aspects of life to the forefront is genius.  With Loach directing the talented actors, it’s no wonder there is an immediate attachment to each of the characters.  ”I, Daniel Blake” is a film that tells a familiar and meaningful story, reminding us of how important we can be in one another’s lives if we take the time to look.  Films like this resonate personally with us and stay with us long after the final credits roll.

“I, Daniel Blake” opens on June 9, 2017 at the Musicbox Theatre in Chicago.  For more information, go to www.musicboxtheatre.com or Facebook www.facebook.com/IDanielBlakeUS/

 

MIDDLEMANEXCPOSTERPICSNEWS1

Written and Directed by Ned Crowley

Starring:  Jim O’Heir and Andrew J. West 

The dark comedy “Middle Man,” written and directed by Ned Crowley, gives Jim O’Heir a very different look as Lenny Freeman, a stand-up comic who isn’t very funny—until he meets “Hitch” (Andrew J. West).  The two travel toward Las Vegas in the hopes of winning a stand-up comedy competition, but Lenny finds himself on a bloody journey; one that actually makes him funny.  The film bodes the question, “What is the price of fame?”

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Lenny is in a dead-end job when his mother passes away. Learning that she has left him nothing but mounds of debt and a ’53 Oldsmobile, he packs his bags and hits the road to become a contestant on the Stand-Up Stand-Off show in Vegas.  Coincidentally (or not), Lenny meets and eventually befriends Hitch who has experience in managing “talent.”  The two couldn’t be any more different and Lenny finds himself, at the very least, an accessory to murder.  Never giving up on his dream of becoming a stand-up comic, he goes up on stage in blood-soaked clothing only to find that his “material” is quite entertaining.  Always the gentleman and yearning for love, he also falls head over heals with Grail  (Anne Dudek) who is in an abusive relationship with T-Bird (Josh McDermitt).  Winning the girl and the contest while somehow dodging the policmm1e creates a wonderfully twisted, bloody, and entertaining mess.

Lenny is the perennial loser who has a certain sweetness and innocence about him.  You know he’s never had a girlfriend.  He’s a mama’s boy who spent every evening listening to the old time comic greats like Gracie Allen and Charlie Chaplin and the guy is stuck in a time warp.  Venturing off on his own is going to be very dangerous and it’s obvious from his first encounter with the wise-cracking waitress Evelyn (Jocelyn Ayanna) that he is ill-prepared for what’s ahead.  Hitch is the ultimate danger as he attaches himself to Lenny.   There are ulterior motives and driving forces behind Hitch that we later learn about creating a truly awful human being.  Their relationship spirals out of apparent control, plummeting Lenny into a murderous abyss while it catapults him to buzz-worthy local fame.

“Middle Man” is more than foreboding and dark—it’s ironic, shocking, and truly funny.  It doesn’t take long before you rid yourself of all preconceived notions that O’Heir is the lovable character from “Parmm2ks and Recreation.”  He quickly devolves into a self-serving murderer who somehow you still root for to win.  The situations are as desolate as the environment and every character augments that same inhospitable feel.  Grail, T-Bird, and Father Ricky (Tracey Walter) are all in the desert equivalence of hillbilly hell.  It’s as if once you enter, there is no escape.  Emotions run high, but the end zone of fame is never out of site for Lenny.

O’Heir shines in this pitch black comedy as the straight man.  His reactions to the surrounding gruesome and gory incidents somehow create sympathy for him.  Without seeing a single scene of Lenny’s life before his mother dies, we know this sad sack.  He was doomed from the beginning, but human nature makes us root for the underdog.  West is simply stellar as the slimy sociopath who slithers his way into the mind of innocent victims like Lenny.  His exterior is convincingly just as dirty as his soul.  With both West and O’Heir, it’s all very subtle—nothing is over-the-top, keeping all the events in the realm of possibility.  The cast is in perfect harmony with one another which produces a stylized dark comedy.  While O’Heir and West lead the troupe, Ayanna is also a stand out in the film.  Her quick-paced delivery of remarkably witty material is jaw-droppingly and surprisingly funny!

The sharp dialogue, quick-wit, and unusual story-line with remarkable character actors give this film the life it deserves.  ”Middle Man” is a wonderfully gruesome pitch black comedy the likes of Alice Lowe’s “Prevenge” and “Sightseers” or Pat Healy’s “Take Me” and “Cheap Thrills.”  It’s not for the faint of heart, but neither is getting up on stage and performing stand-up!

Jim O’Heir talks about his film MIDDLE MAN

I had the pleasure to sit down and talk with O’Heir about his film and his life.  Be sure to check back for the interview soon.FullSizeRender