“The Journey” A Memorable Trip

 

The Journey

What happens behind closed doors of political conversations is always anyone’s guess.  Writer Colin Bateman and director Nick Hamm create the possible conversation between two warring political leaders which eventually resulted in a peace agreement which holds today.  The leaders?  Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness.  During an unusual circumstance, the two are forced into the closed quarters of a car trip, giving them an opportunity to not just dispute political positions, but to understand one another.  It’s an insightful and entertaining situation with stellar performances by Timothy Spall as Paisley and Colm Meaney as McGuinness.  Who knows?  This may have truly been what happened.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The film gives us an historical overview of the constant warring and turmoil between the Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland, not long ago.  The two political party leaders could never discuss anything, creating this long and on-going volatile situation to remain.  Lives were lost and no hope for reconciliation seemed to be on the horizon.  Miraculously, the two buried the hatchet and hammered out a peace accord, and even became friends.  It was an unlikely story that unfolds in the new movie, “The Journey.”

Blurring the lines between fact and fiction creates a remarkable tale delving into the psychology of two very diverse men.  Their history and personalities couldn’t be any more different and their journey, both physically, emotionally, and cognitively, finds a way to paint a clear picture of the strength and resilience they have both counted on to lead their followers.  The cinematic style creates a passenger seat in the car in which the viewer sits.  We watch with anxiety and anticipation as the two, always at an impasse and stubborn as mules, break down the wall, brick by brick, to actually see the possibilities that lie ahead.  Their legacy is at the forefront of these aging men, realizing that they could each do what was deemed the impossible.

The entire film is about these radically different two men.  Finding the right men to portray Paisley and  McGuinness was crucial to the success of the story and movie—there is no question that Meaney and Spall BECAME their characters, using  not only their physical similarities, but capturing their speech patterns and mannerisms.  Spall’s body stiffness corresponds directly to the character’s mental inflexibility and his rigid personal beliefs.  His speech, almost unrecognizable, is a perfect impersonation, right down to the pauses and cadence.  Meaney’s portrayal is everything we think of as Irish.  His personality is larger than life, enjoying every aspect of it, yet recognizing the importance of his role.

Spall allows his character’s thick skin to be slowly buffed away, but only for moments.  It’s the twinkle in his eyes that reveals so much more.  The two actors are stellar together, recreating the personalities and what may have actually occurred.

Creating tension and the real-time feel of conversation between the men is attributed to the deft direction and insightful writing.  When you know the end of a story, it’s difficult to capture this, but “The Journey” is simply gripping.  The irony of the situation along with the willing spectators who concocted the situation are sitting on the precipice of peace, giving even more anxiety to the unfolding situation.  Their amazement becomes the viewers’. The uneasy laughter and the frustration each men exhibits strikes a chord from within, allowing you to identify with each of them, even if it is only in some small way.  But most importantly, this film gives you a glimpse into the human aspect of negotiations, mediation, and compromise within the world of politics.

“The Journey” is a wonderful amalgam of history and fiction, giving us food for thought and greater understanding for what happened to bring peace to Northern Ireland.  Spall and Meaney are splendid as they bring these men to life thanks to intriguing  and succinct writing and skillful direction.

“The Journey” is opening at the AMC River East and the Landmark Theaters in Chicago.  It’s a trip worth taking!

 

 

 

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SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Jonathan Goldstien, John Francis Daley (8 more credits)
Starring:  Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, and Robert Downey, Jr.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” snuck up on me as quietly and quickly as a brown recluse in a dark cellar.  Although this newest version of the oh-so familiar story of Spider Man isn’t as deadly as a brown recluse, it was at times mind-numbing. From the 2002, 2004, and 2007 adventures of the Tobey Maguire version of Peter Parker aka Spider Man to the 2 versions that Andrew Garfield gave us in 2012 and 2014, we now have Tom Holland portraying the infamous web-hurling Avenger.  While it’s a different spin on an old tale, it’s not enough to engage and hook a new crop of viewers into the land of Marvel.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” picks up right after his last appearance in “Captain America: Civil War” where the self-assured and mouthy young protege kept pace with his mentor, Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.).  Not yet ready to be a full-fledged evil fighting machine, Peter (Holland) is sent back to Queens to live with his Aunt Mae and finish high school while attending his “internship” with Stark Industries.  The young spider boy is itching to be an Avenger, but for noTom-Holland-Movie-Set-Spider-Man-Homecoming-Costumes-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-6w he’s just a nerdy outcast, crushing on a gorgeous older woman (a senior at his math and science academy).  Peter attempts to navigates his way through the awkwardness of adolescence in high school while hiding his true identity.    Peter, not yet ready for prime time Avenger work, stumbles upon Vulture (Michael Keaton) whose dastardly plan needs to be stopped.  Kicking off his “training wheels,” the young Spider Boy learns a few lessons not only in life and love, but in becoming Spider Man.
The story has obviously been told at least 5 times before for the silver screen from different viewpoints, but this spiderironversion takes a fresh approach to the same old, same old.  Set in today’s society with a few futuristic concepts, Peter experiences the ups and downs of attending school.  His adolescent angst, while allowing us to see another aspect of Spider Man/Peter Parker, initially feels charming and sweet, but unfortunately, this just becomes dull and repetitive.  His side-kick, Ned (Jacob Batalon) provides a bit of comic relief in the film, but there’s just not enough to endear us to either of them.  The sporadic “guest appearances” via gym class and detention videos from Capt. America are a welcomed light in the darkness of this film.  And Keaton just can’t seem to shake the wings off his back as he will always be known as Batman and/or Birdman to all of us, and now he takes on the metallic wings of Vulture, Spider-Man’s newest nemesis.
While Keaton can easily be seen as Mr. Mom, Beatlejuice, or Ray Kroc, he can also just as readily become a heartless evil character.  Keaton adds depth of interest to any role and any film he’s in.  Unfortunately, his screen time is relatively minimal in this 2 hour and 13 minutes endeavor.  But when he’s a part of the film, you’re completely glued to what’s happening.  For you “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad” fans, you’ll be thrilled to see Michael Mando as “Mac Gargan,” a character sure to be a major part of Spider-Man’s next installment.
I was hopeful that the classic Iron Man/Tony Stark sarcastic sense of humor and banter would be utilized in this film given the fact that Downey, Jr. had a part in the film.  This was not the case.  His role was even smaller and given his lines, I’m not even sure he left his house to be filmed—it could have all been “green screened” given the lack of interest and interaction he had with the other characters.  Jon Favreau portrayed Happy Hogan, Tony Stark’s right hand man (after Pepper Potts) who was also completely underutilized and whose personality was simply crushed.
So, that leaves the weight of the film on Holland, the new kid on the block.  Can he carry it?  With a stilted and poorly edited script, I’d say, no.  Not even the special effects and the incredible splitting of the Staten Island Ferry can keep the interest level high enough in this film.  The film needed a backstory and the characters needed a bit more complexity.  And what happened to Marisa Tomei’s character of Aunt Mae?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.
Sorry, super hero/Marvel Comic fans.  This new Spider-Man film just can’t seem to catch the interest of film goers who want a well-told story.  Try spinning a new web for the next sequel.

 

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THE BEGUILED

Written by: Thomas Cullinan (novel), Albert Maltz and Irene Kamp (original screenplay), Sofia Coppola (screenplay)

Directed by:  Sofia Coppola

Starring:  Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, and Kirsten Dunst

 ****SPOILER ALERT****

It’s difficult to review a remake of a film, but if filmmakers are going to do it, the comparisons are going to come.  I’m going to start at the end for this review.  I left the packed theater of the Sofia Coppola 2017 version of “The Beguiled” feeling confused and somewhat dissatisfied.  Having heard such rave reviews, I assumed I was missing something—I The Beguiled 4was and so was the new version.  I decided to watch the 1971 Clint Eastwood film to compare.  This endeavor filled in all the missing pieces of information; character development in particular. While this older version lacked in stylistic cinematic artistry and suffered from the overblown and typical 1970′s musical overlay, the overall story and character motivations were much clearer and, more importantly, much more interesting.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE 2017

WATCH THE 1971 VERSION TRAILER HERE

The overall story design remained the same:  Set in Virginia during the civil war, a wounded confederate soldier, Corporal John McBurney, is happened upon by a young girl who guides him back to her boarding school to be helped.  The women who reside here, comprising all ages and lead by Miss Martha, are all very fearful of Northerners and are attempting to survive during very difficult times.  Their Christian upbringing forces them to heal this man before he is turned over to the Confederates to his imminent  incarceration and death.   As the women get to know him, they become attached, thwarting their initial desire to turn this Union supporter over to the Confederates.  However,  when the Capt. makes an error of judgement, let’s just say hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned.

the-beguiled-sofia-coppola-movie-image-stills-trailer-1Coppola creates a beautiful yet dark and hazy image of this time period, reflecting, perhaps unintentionally, the unclear character portrayals of not only McBurney (Colin Farrell) , but of the young women at the seminary.  She ominously creates the opening scene filled with the feeling of impending doom as the camera follows little Amy (Oona Laurence) from behind, collecting mushrooms in the forest.  With the surprise encounter of the soldier, Amy’s good nature is at once revealed as she takes pity on this “Blue Belly” from the enemy side and assists him back to the seminary.  Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) is the no nonsense and resilient leader here. The girls follow her unquebeguiledcolinstioningly as many quake in their boots, particularly Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst).  With the precision of a surgeon, Martha repairs McBurney’s badly injured leg using a little liquor as disinfectant, tweezers, and sewing implements.  Regarded as a prisoner, McBurney stays behind a locked door.  He is visited by each of these women, all with different personalities and all are quite smitten with this kind and gentle Northern soldier, giving them a new perspective on the “enemy.”   The healing process is slow, as is the overall pace of this film, never truly allowing you to get to know any of the characters’ motivations or background.  It isn’t until McBurney makes his fateful blunder, temptation getting to the best of him, and then uses intimidation to try to get the women to do as he says, waking us from a peaceful slumber.beguiled elle

While the story is almost identical to the original, it is truly the character development that lacks in this newest version.  Farrell portrays a very kind and gentle man until his leg amputation—quite understandably.  He is polite, grateful, and gracious with each of the women.  Unfortunately, try as he may, he does succumb to the wily ways of Alicia (Elle Fanning).  The very name of the film, “The Beguiled,” invokes images of manipulation and deceit, none of which Farrell’s McBurney exhibits.  Eastwood’s rendition of McBurney immediately gives a sense of mistrust of him as we see his lies unfold and read his subtle looks as he exploits each of them.  He is a con artist of the most ultimate sort, taking advantage of the goodness of others to his advantage.  And his use of sexual attraction, tampering with young women’s mental well-being, is truly unforgivable.  Kidman’s Martha is a nuanced portrayal of an inflexible yet lonely woman, but there is no indication of her past as is unveiled in the original.  The relationship between she and Edwina is also unclear, never truly seeing the pain they each experienced in the not so distant past.  Fanning finds a way to be rebellious and antisocial, looking more like a Goth-type character than the original role of a floozie.  Together, these woman seem to  float around one another, emotions ready to collide and explode, but always softly avoid detonation.  The original film allowed us to be privy to each of these women’s hopes and hurt, particularly as it related to their relationships with men, and then devilishly become beguiling themselves.

Coppola’s visual and stylistic story can’t carry the weight of the psychology of the story.  The anger and competition among women is never really fulfilled which left me baffled and unfulfilled.  And, ironically, no one was beguiled by anyone in the 2017 version.  Had the screenwriters stuck more closely to the original script, updating the musical score and cinematic capabilities, “The Beguiled” would have been well-worth remaking.

 

 

 

 

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The stories from WWII are limitless and screenwriter Simon Burke brings Alan Judd’s novel “The Kaiser’s Last Kiss” to life in “The Exception,” starring Lily James, Jai Courtney, and Christopher Plummer.  As Capt. Stefan Brandt (Courtney), a young and rebellious German soldier, is assigned to protect Kaiser Wilhelm (Plummer),  he meets and falls in love with a woman who may be a Dutch spy.  It’s a classic love story which pits a man’s love for a woman against his loyalty to his country.  His decisions are never easy, keeping you on the edge of your seat awaiting the story’s end.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

“The Exception” brings us into the world of war seen from a different perspective, giving humanity and insight to characters previously only known in clear black and white viewpoints.  While the story is fictional, the realistic components are beautifully portrayed in both the situations and real characters.  The unexpected love story between Brandt and Mieke (James) creates an unorthodox encounter in the beginning.  As the connection intensifies, the two expose themselves for who they really are, to not only one another, but also to Wilhelm.  Trust and loyalty are in opposition and only then do we really understand these complexly beautiful characters.

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Plummer, although beingexception2 type-cast in his later years, is exquisite in this role.  Giving a deeply thoughtful performance, we understand his character’s background and grow to truly care about “Wilhelm.”  He’s filled with regrets, longs for more, yet understand his part in life.  His interaction with “Meika” is genuine and sweet, yet cautious.  Courtney’s character is initially unlikeable, but he allows  ”Brandt” to grow, shedding the layers to reveal a conflicted yet caring young man.  James shines in her role creating a strong yet shattered woman who fears for her life and seeks revenge.  Eddie Marsan has a small, yet vital role as the visiting “Heinrich Himmler” and it is his chilling and menacing performance that gives greater credibility to the story.

Directed by David Leveaux, “The Exception” skillfully weaves together truth and fiction to give us a gripping love story filled with mystery and intrigue.  Emotional components within these aspects provide the background stories that complete each character, allowing us to know who they truly are.   It’s a finely tuned romantic thriller that transports you back in time through cinematic genius, a rich story, and stellar performances.

You can see “The Exception” on VOD (Video On Demand) on Amazon.  Go to Amazon

BABY DRIVER: A wild ride

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Edgar Wright’s (“Shaun of the Dead”) much-anticipated film “Baby Driver” which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival has crashed into theaters everywhere this week.  This fast-paced, high intensity crime thriller takes you on the ride of your life with every moment accompanied by an amazing and fitting song.  While it’s not a musical, it frequently comes close.  There’s even a sweet love story amidst the shooting, killing, and robbing.  In other words, this movie has it all!

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Doc (Kevin Spacey) is the intimidating leader of the pack, employing “experts” to carry out bank robberies with the getaway car driven by a young and very talented boy affectionately known as “Baby” (Ansel ElBaby-Driver-Baby-with-Sunglasses-at-Tablegort). His unique style isn’t endearing to the rest of the team, but while plugged into his music playlist, he proves himself irreplaceable.  Doc’s impeccable care and coordination of his constantly changing teams brings him a situation to reunite Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Elza Gonzalez), and Bats (Jamie Foxx) with Baby to pull off the ultimate heist promising to release Baby from his debts to Doc.  With trust always an underlying issue, things go awry as the crossing and double-crossing for money and love keep the story going at warp speed.

 

“Baby Driver” is breathtakingly captivating from the very first scene as Baby plugs in his music and we are privy to his world as he perceives it.  Driving the getaway car, being chased by a myriad number of police cars, his flawless maneuvering of the stick shift sports car makes you slide in your seat as he careens around every corner.  The music is as much of a character in this film as the actual people.  Wright carefully selects songs from decades past to present to add to the tension or to do the exact opposite—make you laugh.  It’s truly odd, but in the best way possible.

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The story centers around Baby and his hearing impaired grandfather who Baby cares for.  Their relationship is absolutely endearing, particularly as we get to know Baby and his background.  On the other end of the spectrum are the degenerates Buddy and Bats whose intellect is compromised as are their morals and scruples.  This makes for hilariously disturbing banter and dialogue among this strange group of thieves.  This type of humor interwoven into astonishing chase scenes that make your pulse skyrocket and action-packed fighting that is as gruesome as a Tarantino film is what makes this movie so different from any other crime thriller.

 

“Baby Driver” has plenty of car chase scenes, but they never become repetitive.  In fact, you not only anticipate the next one, you look forward to it.  And you can’t wait to hear what song will be played next!  The pacing of the interaction is just as remarkable particularly when Spacey’s “Doc” is in the scene.  He’s menacing and unpredictable, using sarcasm to cut quickly and deeply while making you laugh at another’s expense.  The film is filled with juxtaposing concepts and stories and it is Baby’s innocent infatuation with Debora (Lily James), the waitress, that creates yet another interesting component to this mind-blowing film.

 

The cast of “Baby Driver” is stellar.  Elgort’s portrayal of “Baby” is going to make him one of the most recognizable rising stars in Hollywood.  This kid can act.  Hamm, Spacey, and Foxx have a chemistry together that is explosive and James’ understated performance is exactly what this film needed for balance.  Wright writing and direction of these talented actors along with amazing cinematography to bring the viewer into the action and tension gives the film heart.  We actually care about the criminals and root for the bad guys, although there are levels of “bad.”

 

“Baby Driver” is an impressive and highly stylized love story/crime thriller, combining  music, violence, action, and unique characters that will have your heart racing as fast as the Subaru Impreza WRX STI.

 

*Warning—it’s very violent

 

4 Stars

limbo

LIMBO

Written by:  Will Blank and Richard Kaponas

Directed by Will Blank

Starring Raul Castillo and Sam Elliott (voice)

“Limbo,” co-written by Will Blank and Richard Kaponas and directed by Blank, is based on the comic  by Marian Churchland. The story  delves deeply into one man’s innermost feelings of regret and what’s truly important to him.  Blank sets his story in the dry, hot, and desolate desert where a young man has stopped his car to hurl a phone blinking with a text message not yet opened at a Renaissance painting on a billboard.  The irony of where the phone will remain for eternity is not lost.  The man wanders, leSHORT-FILM-LIMBO-2016-Will-Blank-Richard-Kaponas-5aving his car and his phone, and recollects his recent past and the decisions leading to this regrettable journey.  When he stumbles upon a dying dog who will grant him a single wish, only then does he realize what is truly important in life.

“Limbo” is a type of film that takes a while to sink in as it is filled with so much more meaning than initially meets the eye.  Blank’s attention to detail is extraordinary—visually and auditorily—to create an environment that completely envelops you.  We hear the wind whistling, the fly buzzing, the sizzling of the hot pan, aLimbo-e1497273975274nd the labored breathing of a distressed dog.  The sounds are frequently the primary focus, accentuating his experiences.  Blank balances this cinematically as he captures the desolate, lonely, and unwelcoming desert with the utmost skill.

“Limbo” is rather unusual as it uses a talking dog, voiced by the unmistakable deep and gravely voice of Sam Elliott.  It is this voice that immediately gives depth and credibility to this strange and meaningful character.  Raul Castillo’s understated performance as the man captures the myriad number of emotions in a short time period.   With little dialogue and his thoughts conveyed through voice-overs, Castillo finds just the right pace.

Blank’s ability to create such power and meaning in an 8-minute film is exceptional.  He portrays the beauty in life through the recreation of death and desolation, the backdrop of the story.  Conceptually and cinematically, “Limbo” is a film to watch several times, paying close attention to every detail Blank has so painstakingly painted for us.  It’s an ironic tale that reminds us of what we should cherish in life.

To watch this film go to LIMBO on Vimeo.

 

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

 

 

maudie

(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

Beatriz-at-Dinner-poster

 

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.