Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Interview - Star and Director of 'The Falls: Covenant of Grace' - Conclusion of a Trilogy

On December 6, The Falls: Covenant of Grace was released on DVD via Breaking Glass Pictures and was also made available on digital platforms like iTunes, Amazon and Vudu. It concludes the trilogy by filmmaker Jon Garcia about two young Mormon missionaries who fall in love despite the church's stance against homosexuality and LGBT rights. The movie premiered on Saturday, October 22 at Twist: Seattle Queer Film Festival, the same venue where the previous movies in the trilogy premiered. The following week Garcia spoke about the directing of this third installment. The star of all three movies, Benjamin Farmer who plays Chris Merrill, the conflicted, gay Mormon, also spoke by phone about his experience in this final chapter four years in the making.

Garcia said after the second film was finished, he thought that that was it. He was done. Garcia originally wanted to end the second film with his two gay Mormons in love holding the baby introduced and living together. However, Farmer's co-star, Nick Ferrucci who plays the other gay Mormon, had suggested that the ending should be a question. That was 2013. Garcia admitted that a year ago that question began to itch, so he started writing in December 2015. He had a draft for this movie by January.

He said it was the hardest script to write. Given that he was rather done, he wondered how he could stretch things out into a third movie and what would get people to come. What more can be learned about the two characters?

Spoiler alert, if you haven't yet seen the film!


Garcia said he went through six iterations. One iteration or one idea was that he was going to avoid marrying the two characters in the end. Instead, he was going to have their marriage be his starting point. He was going to have the film be about the everyday relationship of these two gay Mormons married and with a child. Garcia said that upon reflection he thought that would be too big a jump from where the second film stopped. As a person who isn't married, Garcia also thought that he wouldn't be able to relate. In other words, being unmarried, Garcia felt he couldn't write the story of two people who were married.

Another iteration included a Muslim character and Ferrucci's character, RJ Smith, dealing with a life-or-death situation. Garcia also juggled the idea of a same-sex divorce. Ultimately, he thought all these other ideas were too much.

Garcia shot the movie in July of this year. He premiered the movie in October. That's only four months to put together a feature film, which isn't a lot of time. His distributor wouldn't let him push his deadline, so it was a tight production and post-production. Despite the deadline and the short turnaround, Garcia said he tried to take care of the crew. He checked on everyone and made sure they had what they needed. He even scheduled days off, which isn't something he was able to do much for the previous movies in this trilogy.

One of Garcia's most vital crew members was his Director of Photography, or DP, named Seth Whelden. Ostensibly, the DP is the person who sets up the camera, sometimes operates it and lights the scene to make sure the director's vision is captured on film or video. The way Garcia talked about his DP, Whelden was perhaps more than just camera and lights. Whelden noticed Garcia's first two films were static, all on tripod with a lot of hard cuts. For this movie, Whelden suggested more handheld shots and more movement. He also suggested transitions and other things to make the whole film smoother.

Another noticeable difference between this movie and Garcia's previous is the amount of scenes that occur outside. The first two movies mainly take place indoors. The same could be said about this one, but it seemed as if Garcia really tried to embrace the outdoors more here. There are even some Malickian shots of Ferrucci for example running through a huge forest or walking through tall grass. To that end, there are also aerials providing wide-shots of both nature and Salt Lake City. Many of which were provided by Dane Christensen, a 21-year-old Stanford student and photographer who got Garcia some great drone footage and who coincidentally is working on a documentary about the Mormon church and the intersectionality of gay rights.

Garcia also said he had to run two cameras for many scenes. He said he did so for about 30 to 40-percent of the shoot. This allowed him to get through coverage faster. It also allowed for Farmer and Ferrucci to improv some funny moments. Gacria's not much of a comedic writer. He writes subtle humor. He intended for this movie to be lighter, to have more comedy, but a lot of it comes from the performances of the two actors.

Jon Garcia, writer-director
Garcia is more serious. Nothing is more indicative than his song choice for the opening of this movie. It's Matt Alber's "End of the World," a beautiful rendition about an aching romance. Garcia also wrote the film's music, a solemn piano score. Garcia though is more hopeful a person and is also quite spiritual. He grew up Catholic. He doesn't practice regularly but he lives across the street from a church, St. Peter's. He said a Spanish band will now and then draw him into it. He doesn't pray per se. He goes inside the church more out of nostalgia because it was the way he was raised.

When Farmer was interviewed four years ago about the first film, he also talked about growing in a strong Christian family, not Catholic but in a family that was religious and strongly conservative. Without getting into too many specifics, he conveyed that a film about two gay men falling in love would not be something his family would prefer to see.

Farmer was born and raised near Portland, Oregon, where this movie is set. Yet, he and his wife moved to New York City in September 2015 to pursue bigger acting opportunities. His wife wants to be on Broadway and Farmer himself wants to be in a major TV series. Farmer attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Manhattan, graduating in 2006, so he was familiar with the city, but now he's more rooted there.

Like Garcia, Farmer thought the second film was the end but attributes the ending being changed in part to the distributor wanting to leave the door open. When he was asked to come back for this third film, he found that he could focus on it without any distractions. For both the first and second movies, Farmer was doing a stage show at the same time. During the first movie, he was doing a musical concurrently. For the second movie, he was doing a Tom Stoppard play. Incredibly, he was still able to give great performances, but this time there was nothing dividing his time or attention.

He said he felt this production was very cooperative and was open to him giving input. The title "Covenant of Grace" was even Farmer's idea. He said the eternal question for his character is if he can hold onto his church and his daughter as a gay man. As such, he has a couple of scenes with Malaya Garza who plays his daughter named Kaylee. Garza is a 6-year-old actress. Farmer said the little girl seemed shy, but when the cameras were rolling, she was incredibly present. She didn't need to rehearse or run her lines. She just knew her stuff and was such a joy. Farmer said it was easy to love her.

Farmer did have to run lines with his main co-star, Nick Ferrucci, but he said it wasn't long before he and Ferrucci got into a rhythm and trust built up. He said it was mostly a fun set with a lot of laughing. A lot of it due to the levity to the story. Farmer also discussed Bruce Jennings who plays his father in the movie. Jennings suffered a stroke and had a bicycle accident, as well as lost a lot of weight. Yet, Farmer said Jennings still had a gravitas to him, a stature and clout every time he stepped on set. Farmer said he had such deep respect for Jennings.

He acknowledged that this movie is as much about fathers and sons as it is about anything else. In fact, Farmer said his favorite scene was between himself and Jennings when they're walking on a bridge. What his character Chris says to his father had so many revelations and surprises.

Conversely, his least favorite scene was when he has to be hungover but doesn't quite maintain consistency from beginning to the end of the scene. He said he watched it and saw the inconsistency. He doesn't remain as hungover as he was at the start as he is at the finish. He said it was like an actor losing an accent in the middle of a scene.

Benjamin Farmer
Yet, Farmer seemed to enjoy the whole experience. At the October premiere, he said he was proud of what they made. The short turnaround required tireless work from everyone involved and it seems to pay off not just financially but in other ways.

Farmer and his wife now live in Brooklyn and he said he got recognized out in public for his role in these movies. He also got messages online from numerous people. Some have told him that his character has been very true to life for them because they lived that exact life for example. Yet, the role hasn't just a been a mirror. It's also been a motivator.

Farmer said this movie motivated or inspired an actual crew member from this very movie to come out as gay. The movie's Production Designer is Clifton Chandler. Farmer said Chandler would remove himself during filming. There seemed like something was bothering him while the movie was being made. It wasn't until after filming that Chandler posted on Facebook what was bothering him. For people to make those kinds of connections or declarations, Farmer said that's why they made these movies, in a way to affect positive change in people. It's not just to get people to come out but also, as his fictional father does, to love those who do. The hope is that people become more true to themselves, being who they are and start spreading love.

Up next for Farmer, he stars in the indie drama The Texture of Falling.

Up next for Garcia, he will be adapting Marty Beaudet's book Losing Addison.

The Falls: Covenant of Grace is available on DVD and Digital / VOD.
For more information about The Falls trilogy, go to the movie's website.
Or, check out The Falls Facebook page.

You can also follow Jon Garcia on Twitter @LAKEjongarcia or Instagram @jongarciapdx
Also, check out his website jongarciafilms.net.

Follow Benjamin Farmer on Twitter @Farmer503.
Also follow him on Instagram @farmer503 where you can see adorable pictures of his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named "Rocket."
Go to his website as well, benjamin-farmer.com.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Movie Review - The Falls: Covenant of Grace

This is the third movie in a series that began in 2012. Jon Garcia wrote and directed The Falls, a romance between two Mormon missionaries in Oregon. The first film is about how the two meet and realize their feelings for one another, as well as what's involved for a young Mormon on his mission. The second film was as much a typical, coming-out story where a married man has to reconcile his same-sex attraction and his specific love for another guy. This concluding chapter to the trilogy is mechanically about getting these two young men who fell for each other but who were separated back together. It's just maneuvering two chess pieces who don't have that many hurdles to their inevitable reunion. The internal and external forces related to the Mormon church, which are supposed to be challenges, don't factor too much in this equation.

Nick Ferrucci stars as RJ Smith, a writer who lives in Portland. It's a year later from the events of the second film. RJ moved to Portland from Seattle where he grew a beard and has settled into his hipster and openly gay life. He's single, and into the outdoors and nature. A diverse group of friends surrounds him and he's no longer Mormon in the practical sense, meaning he doesn't pray nor does he attend any Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) establishments.

Benjamin Farmer co-stars as Chris Merrill, a former pharmaceutical representative who is now studying to become a lawyer. Chris was married to a woman and has a daughter who's now 5 or 6. He lives in Salt Lake City, which is about 800 miles south of Portland. He's divorced but co-parents with his ex-wife. He's not committed but he does travel by plane to Portland to visit RJ. It's not clear what he hopes to get out of it or where he thinks it'll go. He obviously loves RJ whom he occasionally calls "Ricky" but he's still very much connected to the church. He does regularly pray and most likely attends LDS establishments.

Despite living relatively close, the two are worlds apart. Initially, the problem is how they will navigate their distance and religious differences. How will they bridge the gap not only geographically but also socially, or if they will at all? An added wrinkle is that the Mormon church issues a new guideline declaring that children of same-sex couples won't be baptized. This means that if RJ and Chris became a functioning couple that Chris' daughter could never become Mormon herself. Because Chris is still connected to the church and very much so, this would perhaps be a roadblock to them becoming a couple at all. Yet, the question of the mother of Chris' daughter doesn't come up. Perhaps, Chris's ex-wife could have their daughter baptized. There could be a technical way around this new guideline for Chris, but that's neither here nor there in regards to this movie.

Ultimately, Garcia is a very hopeful and optimistic filmmaker. He does grapple with the essential struggle of gay Mormons that is expressed in RJ's dialogue when he says, "Either you're gay or you're a man of faith. You can't be both." The movie shows us examples of people trapped on one side or the other. It gives voice to those gay men, young and old, dealing or stuck in this struggle. The movie also provides a glimpse into the inner-workings of the Mormon church and how it can be difficult to those with same-sex attractions. It is just a glimpse though.

Bruce Jennings plays Noah Merrill, the father of Chris and a member of the hierarchy at the Mormon church. That kind of hierarchy or authority was confronted in powerful ways in the previous two movies. For this movie, Garcia again confronts that authority, utilizing Noah this time. In fact, Noah's scenes are partially fueled by recent events like the Orlando nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016. Yes, there is a big bow put on the end, a rainbow in a sense, but the true hopefulness here is shown through Noah as he sits and confronts the Mormon authority about this issue.

Unfortunately, Garcia's film poses a question that it doesn't really answer. That question in regards to the LDS guideline comes from RJ himself to Chris. RJ asks, "How can you be a part of something that alienates parents from their children?" RJ continues to Chris, "How are you okay with the way they treat you, or the way they treat your family, your daughter?" The answer seems obvious, but the coda or epilogue to this movie seems confident that RJ and Chris have figured it out. Yet, the specifics of that intersectionality of Mormonism and homosexuality both operating in tandem and in the light of day alludes the audience. We never know how Chris is okay with it, just that he is.

As always, Ferrucci and Farmer give great performances. Their best material came in the previous films, as this movie isn't rife with the same amount of drama or tension. If anything, there's less. There was potential drama with the character of Ryan, played by Curtis Edward Jackson, a potential love triangle, but Garcia makes that a non-starter. The end is almost a foregone conclusion. The memorable moments mostly come from the protagonists' fathers. Jennings is one, but Harold Phillips who has played Tom Smith, the father of RJ, in every movie, also has a very surprising scene that makes us want to know more about him and retroactively curious about his latter scenes in the first film.

Not Rated but contains scenes of intense sexuality.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.

Available on DVD via Breaking Glass Pictures and digital platforms like iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu and VOD.

Here are my reviews of the first and second films in this trilogy: The Falls (2012) and The Falls: Testament of Love (2013).

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Movie Review - Nocturnal Animals

There are many parts of this film that feel like writer-director Tom Ford's debut A Single Man. Aesthetically and cinematically, there are parts in this film that start to carve out a noticeable style, particularly from an editing perspective. Yet, his opening is very provocative, which is something this movie in general is or is trying to be. The opening to A Single Man isn't as provocative unless one believes two men in love is provocative. Both films, however, deal with a person losing someone he loves and how he reacts. That theme is somewhat obscured because the movie is told through the point-of-view of not that man who's lost the love of his life but rather the love-of-his-life herself.

Amy Adams (The Fighter and The Master) stars as Susan Morrow, an art dealer who runs a fancy and high-class gallery. She's married to a tall, handsome, young businessman who does a lot of traveling to the east coast and back named Hutton Morrow, played by Armie Hammer (The Social Network and The Lone Ranger). Hutton is probably cheating on her. She's nervous about her career and her art representation when one day, she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield. While Hutton is away in New York or somewhere, she begins reading the manuscript and she imagines what happens in the book and reacts to it.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko and Zodiac) stars as Edward Sheffield, the former husband of Susan. He's only seen in flashback, as we're given scenes of how he and Susan met and why they broke up. He meets Susan in Manhattan around the time of college. He's an aspiring writer and doesn't come from as wealthy a background as her. Susan's mother, a Emily Gilmore-type from Gilmore Girls, looks down on Edward and calls him weak. Eventually, Susan accuses him of being that too, so after their break-up, 19 years later in fact, Edward sends Susan his manuscript, which Susan imagines to life as she reads it.

The story in the manuscript focuses on a man named Tony Hastings, also played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Tony has a wife and daughter. They're traveling across west Texas at night on a desert highway when Tony's car is run off the road by a band of criminals and Tony's wife and daughter are kidnapped right in front of him. He doesn't do much to fight back. He's of course scared. He resists as much as possible but not to the degree that shows any demonstrable strength in the stereotypical masculine way as embodied by almost all other male characters.

Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road and Man of Steel) plays Bobby Inez, a former lawman, possibly sheriff, who takes the case of finding the men who kidnapped Tony's wife and daughter. He's a little off-putting as it seems he's willing to go outside the lines in order to affect justice. He's very much an archetype from a Western. He's a Clint Eastwood-type. He's the stereotypical masculine angel on Tony's shoulder who provides a pathway for Tony to be that masculine figure of strength himself.

The problem is that this manuscript story is hackneyed. It's one that's been told and seen tons of times before. From Straw Dogs (1971) with Dustin Hoffman to Breakdown (1997) with Kurt Russell, it's a story that's been done over and over. Put within the context of this film, it adds an interesting layer to the story of Susan and Edward. Unfortunately, Tom Ford doesn't provide enough of the relationship between Susan and Edward to give us a true comparison.

Ford and his editor Joan Sobel make direct cuts back-and-forth between what's happening with Tony, the imagined character, and Susan, the real woman doing the imagining. There are even direct parallels, as if we're supposed to link the two not only physically but also emotionally or psychologically. Yet, aside from general empathy that one person might feel for someone going through a nightmare such as Tony's, even if that nightmare were fictional, I didn't feel anything much deeper happening for Susan.

Rated R for violence, graphic nudity, menace and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 56 mins.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Movie Review - Manchester By the Sea

The National Board of Review has named this movie the Best Film of 2016. NBR also gave it awards for Best Actor for Casey Affleck, Breakthrough Performance (Male) for Lucas Hedges and Best Original Screenplay for Kenneth Lonergan.

It was nominated for four Gotham Awards, including Best Feature. Affleck won Best Actor there. It was also nominated for five Spirit Awards, including Best Feature and Best Editing. The likelihood that it could get Oscar nominations in those same five categories at the 89th Academy Awards is a strong possibility.

Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James and Gone Baby Gone) stars as Lee Chandler, a handyman in Boston who is living a very lonely and seemingly frustrated or bitter life. He has to do repair work in a series of apartment buildings and he doesn't really interact with the tenants well, if at all. One night at a bar, he blows off a girl who perhaps shows a passing interest in him. He then intentionally picks a fight with a guy there for no reason, and it's a wonder why. He just seems antisocial, aggressively so at times, and the movie is about explaining why he is this way and if he can change from it.

Lucas Hedges (The Slap and The Zero Theorem) co-stars as Patrick, the nephew of Lee. He's 16. He's in a rock band. He plays ice hockey. He likes to fish and sail. He has two girlfriends. He seems like a regular teenager. The twist is that his father has just died. His father is Joe, played by Kyle Chandler (Carol and The Wolf of Wall Street). Aside from one brief moment regarding the refrigerator, Patrick barely acts like his father died. He's more concerned with getting sex from the one of his two girlfriends who hasn't given him any yet.

At first, I was reminded of the TV series Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and the episode titled "The Body" where the entire hour was dedicated to the whole cast handling the death of a person. Each one deals with the grief and the loss, and it's all about how each character reacts. This movie starts out like that. There's even a similar scene where Buffy has to go to the school of her teenage sister, Dawn, and tell her the news that their mom has died. The scene is filmed in wide-shot where we don't hear the audio but we see Dawn's reaction to the news. Here, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan has Lee go to the hockey practice of Patrick to tell the news of Joe's death. The scene is filmed in wide-shot where we also don't hear the audio but we see Patrick's reaction.

Patrick's reaction is not as big as Dawn's reaction to her mom's death, which might speak to the relationship that Patrick had with Joe. This begs the question as to why Lonergan never really shows the relationship between Patrick and Joe. This film is built on flashbacks to when Joe was still alive, so we can see him in action in certain situations. Yet, none of those flashbacks illustrate the relationship between Patrick and Joe that give us any idea as to why Patrick is rather nonchalant about his father's passing. Maybe it's a commentary on how boys are in this area of New England.

Maybe, Lonergan's point is that in reality unlike shows such as Buffy, the Vampire Slayer there are no scenes where people crawl into a ball and cry. Maybe, in reality, people just go on with their lives. However, Lee can't simply go on. In his brother's will, Joe made arrangements for Lee to move from Boston to his hometown of Manchester, so that he could be the legal guardian of Patrick.

Unfortunately, Patrick's mom Elise, played by Gretchen Mol (Boardwalk Empire and Mozart in the Jungle), had substance abuse problems and separated from Joe. She got her life together, but it was telling that she wasn't put in Joe's will. Lonergan only gives us one scene with her and the movie suffers for it. One look on Joe's face in one moment is all that is needed, but she's in a new relationship with Jeffrey, played by Matthew Broderick, which gets the shortest of short shrift here. Broderick has been in all of the films directed by Lonergan, but his presence here is only quizzical and questionable as it is brief.

In the end, none of that matters because the centerpiece is Affleck's performance. At first, he's just a man trying to deal with the conflict within himself of wanting to avoid the pain from his past and the reminders of it that come with being in this town of Manchester. He has the conflict of this responsibility of being the legal guardian of his nephew and wanting to honor his brother's wishes but not wanting to be anywhere near this place. He carries the look of devastation and confusion. He cares for and loves his nephew, but Patrick is like an anchor keeping him in Manchester when he'd rather avoid that town.

Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain and Blue Valentine) also co-stars as Randi, the ex-wife of Lee. The reasons that force Lee to leave don't compel her to leave. She stays in Manchester. It's a wonder as to why that is. Besides being the wife and mother of Lee's children, we don't get much about who she is or what she does.

The movie essentially has two tragedies. One is Joe's death, the result of congenital heart disease. The second tragedy is a surprise that's revealed in the middle of the film. The movie focuses more on the surface with Joe's death when in reality it should have focused on the tragedy that was bubbling underneath. The one on top obscures the one on bottom. Joe's death is almost superfluous to the core emotions that this movie wants to expose. It makes the movie more about Lee and Patrick, which is fine, but the better film is between Lee and Joe.

Rated R for language throughout and some sexual content.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 17 mins.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Movie Review - Elle (2016)

David Birke wrote the screenplay. Birke is best known for writing horror films. Paul Verhoeven directed the film. He's from the Netherlands and I can't speak to his films there, but in the United States he's best known for his sci-fi and action films like RoboCop (1987) and Total Recall (1990). However, he did direct Basic Instinct (1992), and if this current movie could be compared to any of Verhoeven's previous, it's that Sharon Stone shocker. The opening of that film featured a violent incident happening during a sexual act. The opening here is selfsame. Except, in 1992, it was a woman committing a violent act on a man, which in many ways was very subversive. Here, it's a man committing a violent act on a woman, which is very traditional, so Birke's screenplay, adapting a 2012 book by Armenian author Philippe Djian, has to be subversive in other ways.

Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher and I Heart Huckabees) stars as Michèle, the owner and person running a video game company in Paris, France. She's divorced and has an adult son. She lives alone in a fairly, nice house on what's probably a fairly, wealthy street. The film opens with Michèle being brutally raped in her own home in broad daylight. The story follows her over the next few months or so, as we see how she deals with that incident. What sets this movie apart from any other crime thriller is that Michèle decides not to call the police. Even when she discovers who her rapist is, she still doesn't report him to police. In that, it becomes a twisted, psychological dive and the questions of why become a constant. Sadly, there is never any satisfying answer. Birke and Verhoeven seem to indulge in a high-class, rape fantasy where the woman appears to enjoy that kind of violence. Yet, by the end, the movie wants to have its cake and eat it too with the ultimate punishment coming to the so-called rapist.

Her reason initially for not going to the police is because she's the daughter of a serial killer. Her father was caught and put into prison when she was a teenager, but apparently she still gets blowback for it, even decades later. Somehow, she thinks the police will be of no help, but her logic makes no sense. A masked man beats and rapes her, and she doesn't want to get justice for it. Many women even after the shock of rape don't want to talk about it or go through the legal process, which often results in reliving the experience.

However, there's an added wrinkle. The man who raped her starts sending her text messages threatening and taunting her that he would do it again. He even breaks into her house and leaves his visible semen on her bed. With this impending threat, still she doesn't go to the police. At that point, for her not to go to the police is just stupidity. She barely even takes any steps to fortify her house or arm herself.

The only reason is because the movie wants to build to an even more shocking revelation. Michèle discovers who her rapist is. His identity is uncovered, literally. She pulls his mask off and sees who he is. She recognizes him and knows exactly who he is. He runs away. She's safe, yet she still doesn't go to the police. It makes no sense, except that the movie wants to pave the way for the jaw-dropper that Michèle then starts having a secret affair with her rapist. It's not so much of a jaw-dropper if one is a fan of General Hospital and know the history of Luke and Laura. It's forced seduction or a perverse version of Stockholm Syndrome.

What makes it difficult is the brutality involved. Michèle's rapes go beyond the rape scene in Straw Dogs (1971). Michèle allows her rapist to beat her up rather viciously and then invites him to parties where they socialize like nothing happened or is wrong. It could be some strange sadomasochism between them, but Michèle exhibits no other signs of that sexual behavior anywhere else. It's just a weird dalliance where a woman finds herself attracted to her rapist. It's a shame that the movie treats it so stupidly.

There's also a bizarre subplot involving Michèle's son, Vincent, played by Jonas Bloquet. The antics with him could almost make this movie into a quirky comedy. I can't even begin to make heads or tails of it, aside from being another layer of ridiculousness like Michèle's mom dating a man much younger named Ralf, played by Raphaël Lenglet who gives some full-frontal nudity.

The film premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival where it was nominated for the Palme d'Or. Isabelle Huppert has been nominated for Best Actress at both the Gotham Awards and the Spirit Awards, as well as the European Film Awards. France submitted it to the 89th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. If it gets the nomination, it will be the second film adapted from a Djian book to be up for an Oscar.

Rated R for violence, sexual assault, disturbing sexual content, some grisly images, brief graphic nudity and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 10 mins.

Movie Review - Loving (2016)

Writer-director Jeff Nichols seems to operate better when he has a central character through which a dynamic performance can shine. Michael Shannon was that shining performance in Take Shelter (2011) and Matthew McConaughey was that shining performance in Mud (2013). Joel Edgerton could have potentially been that shining performance here, but Nichols, in an attempt to be faithful to the true story and real-life person, really keeps Edgerton understated and mostly mute. Despite the film being about a married couple, the majority of the movie is tipped toward the male character's point-of-view. The movie favors his emotions as restrained as they are.

He is given moments where he's affectionate and even laughing. He spends most of the movie worried and anxious. Edgerton plays Richard Perry Loving who ends up impregnating and marrying Mildred Delores Jeter, a black woman living in Caroline County, Virginia, which is about two hours southeast by car from Washington, DC. Ruth Negga (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Preacher) plays Mildred. There is genuine affection between the two of them, but the reason for marrying might as well have been at shotgun. It's suggested that the particular area where Richard and Mildred met is a colorblind and liberal area, but it's a shame that Nichols doesn't show the two of them actually meeting and building their relationship. The opening line is instead Mildred saying she's pregnant, so we have to accept their relationship as something established off screen.

The beats that lead to the real-life, Supreme Court decision on June 12, 1967 that started with Richard and Mildred being arrested for miscegenation, or interracial marriage, are beats that are obvious and boring to watch after the couple decides to go forward with the case. Nichols could have drummed up some drama for that stuff in the third act, the inexperience of their lawyer, Bernard Cohen, played by Nick Kroll, for example, but Nichols doesn't do much with that, aside from a couple of brief, comedic moments.

More drama is suggested in the physical threat that Richard feared would come to him and his family. Richard and Mildred had three children, and Richard was scared some racist would come to do them harm. Yet, nothing really comes of that either. It provides some minor tension, but not enough to make the movie rise out of its tedium. More drama is suggested when members of the black community push back and remind Richard that his whiteness and quite frankly maleness allow him more privilege and an out that black people around him don't have. Yet, not much more of that is made of this push back.

The movie is just boring. I wish Nichols had expanded the film and given us more about other people's reactions or other interracial couples affected. Despite the arrests themselves, the hardship and scope aren't readily felt here. Aside from the issue inherent in this story, what this movie becomes is a kind of pastoral that pushes the idea that life in the country is better than life in the city and Nichols pushes this idea rather unfairly.

Mildred argues against life in the city. She comments that there's no grass for her children in which to run. Her evidence are the hard streets of Washington, DC to where they move after their arrest for miscegenation, and in front of the house where they stay is a pathetic patch with some weeds sprouting out. This is unfair. DC like many cities has plenty of parks and green space. As a matter of fact, the L'Enfant plan, which was the basis for the city's design called for numerous parks. The East Potomac Park is one such example, but we get the impression that Mildred never at any point explored the city or saw any of DC's landscape.

Though it might have been true-to-life, the film depicts the children of Richard and Mildred as being in perhaps more danger in DC than in the country. Yes, while the likelihood of them being run over by a car is less, there are other perils to the country. After all, Virginia was a confederate state and it was a Virginia Ku Klux Klan leader that endorsed Donald Trump earlier this year, so obviously the KKK existed in the Old Dominion back in the 50's and 60's. Even though the couple wins their court case, that doesn't mean people with racist beliefs automatically stop believing or feeling what they do.

Rated PG-13 for thematic materials.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 3 mins.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Movie Review - Tower (2016)

This year, the United States saw its deadliest mass shooting in an Orlando nightclub. It was one of a dozen mass shootings in 2016. Over the past decade, the U.S. has had at least four mass shootings a year. Several of which have been horrifying school shootings. Unfortunately, the notable ones are when ten people or more died. The Columbine High School massacre in 1999 is one of the most notorious. There's also the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 and the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012.

Within the past fifty years, there has only been one school shooting, which resulted in more than ten deaths or even more than Columbine. That more deadly shooting was on August 1, 1966 at the University of Texas at Austin. That day, around lunchtime, Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old engineering student, brought a large arsenal on campus, got to the 28th floor of the Main Building and from the observation deck began firing at random people. He shot 49 people. 16 died. 33 were wounded.

Numerous songs have been inspired by this incident, as well as several movies. Various references have been made to this crime in films and TV shows. An episode of A Crime to Remember in 2014 was dedicated to the incident, but this movie here is possibly the first and only, full-length documentary specifically on the University of Texas massacre.

Yes, this movie is a documentary. It premiered at the SXSW Film Festival where it won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Award, both as Documentary Feature. It's also nominated at the Gotham Awards and the PGA Awards as Best Documentary. It wasn't on the list of 27 submissions for Best Animated Feature at the 89th Academy Awards, but, in reality it could have been.

Director Keith Maitland is as much an animator as he is a camera operator and editor. His last project was for PBS' Independent Lens, which incorporated animation. He does the same thing here. He shoots and gets interviews, as well as archival footage, but the majority of this story is told through animation. There have been several, recent, Oscar-nominated works that have straddled the line between documentary and animated feature or short. I Met the Walrus (2007), Waltz With Bashir (2008) and Last Day of Freedom (2015) are some examples. This movie can join that list.

Sometimes, the animation looks like it's rotoscoped over the archival footage. Most of the time, it's purely Maitland's team recreating beat-for-beat the hour and a half that was the real time of this shooting. Unlike Peter Bogdanovich's Targets (1968) or Kurt Russell in The Deadly Tower (1975), this movie never gives us the perspective of the shooter. It remains on the ground with the victims. Out of the thirty-plus survivors, Maitland puts us in the shoes of about a half-dozen or so of them.

He perfectly captures the terror of that day and even the heat. Despite sitting in a well air-conditioned theater to see this, I felt the heat of that day. The constant sound of gunshots is particularly rattling. It really is like rolling thunder. Even the best action or horror films of the year won't be able to top what Maitland accomplishes here. It is truly thrilling and heart-pounding.

What comes through in the end are these incredible moments of bravery and even cowardice. Each person has their own point-of-view. A pregnant woman in particular has the scariest point-of-view. Maitland immerses us, makes us feel them and get to know them. He even takes time to tell a love story, and it works. It all works wonderfully here.

Not Rated but for language and violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 36 mins.