Movies

Quik Flix Hit

Video review

Kept Boy (2017)

Unrated

Breaking Glass Pictures

Kept Boy steadily endeared me to its character as it rolled along. The gay romantic comedy is definitely funny, and its breezy pace kept me involved despite my initial reservations with the clichéd characters: the rich, aging sugar daddy; his buff mindless kept man-child; his brash male housekeeper; and the new stud who lobs himself into the mix like a live grenade.

Out now on DVD and VOD, the film, director by George Bamber (a veteran assistant director, moving to the big chair here), won me over despite its expected love triangle; it gets a mighty lift from humor and his actors.

We meet Farleigh (Thure Riefenstein) and Dennis (Jon Paul Phillips) during what must be a routine house party. We sense they’ve been living this way for years: the swimming pool fetes, limitless bottle of wine and champagne, flashy name-dropping guests. The men seem tired, disconnected, and suspicious that something’s changing between them.

Farleigh is the celebrity breadwinner, the aging host of a once-popular home-design reality TV show. In his tailored suits, deliberate speech and accoutrements of importance, Farleigh plays his role of parent/husband/alpha male in a house of flighty men. Dennis is the kept boy of the title, having long been faithful in his role of eye candy companion (his skills are working out and pouring drinks). Not to be forgotten is Javi, the multiple hyphened helpmate who, Dennis learns belatedly, was the previous kept boy. Javi (Deosick Burney) could be the stereotypical funny black guy, but the script gives Java a couple of nice scenes to discuss his role in Farleigh’s life and Burney elevates the character.

How long was this makeshift family going to last? Fading youth and stagnant routine have a way pecking at longtime lovers, doesn’t it? When Farleigh urges Dennis to get a job and announces he’s selling the Porsche (ostensibly Dennis’ car) Dennis draws out of his lover that their halcyon days may be waning. Farleigh’s carrying massive debt and his ratings-challenge TV show appears to be in its final season.

More troubling to Dennis, who’s completely without job skills, is Farleigh’s interest in the younger, handsome Jasper (Greg Audino), Farleigh’s pool boy turned sudden assistant for the TV show.

Farleigh and Jasper seem to flirt in plain sight, which Dennis absorbs with brutal dignity. But Dennis is not without weapons in this battle. He knows Farleigh’s weak spots and can intuit his sugar daddy’s reactions like nobody’s business.

The film grows interesting because Farleigh, Dennis and Jasper are as self-aware of their roles as we are. Farleigh and Dennis each seem to realize what they had for years is coming to an end—or a transition neither wants to face. They’re playing their roles, but also preparing for life without each other. Beefcake Jasper, more calculating than we initially expect, has sincere motivations. The lovers’ triangle is put through its sexual paces; each combination gets a shot at getting busy.

Bamber’s film has a couple of surprises up its sleeve. A getaway island trip—make or break, as far as Dennis is concerned—teeters fascinatingly between slapstick and drama, culminating in abrupt violence and gunplay. A sweet, quiet, honest long-in-the-coming discussion between Farleigh and Dennis ends with a turn that deepens the proceedings. The island drama notwithstanding, much of the film flows by on strong currents of humor, aided by the likability of the characters. Speaking of likable characters, let’s give shout-outs to Dennis’ lonely-hearts kept-mates, Lonnie (John-Michael Carlton) and Paulette (Toni Romano-Cohen): he, hanging on to his rich-widow sourpuss; she, bemoaning her lot as an aging trophy-gal. The trio slurps mixed drinks in various lounges while strategizing—with well-timed, hilarious dialogue—their next moves as the users who have become the used.

Dennis, most importantly, takes on unexpected dimensions from Phillips’ assured performance, and final scenes between he and Javi, then he and Jasper, really feel authentic, taking the film farther away than expected from its opening scenes of debauched cliché.

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Talking with director Elina Psykou

AWARD-WINNING DIRECTOR ELINA PSYKOU TELLS UNIQUE STORIES

There’s a clear-eyed focus concerning Elina Psykou filmmaking outlook. Yes, she a female director—underrepresented, lauded—and as a Greek director she’s gaining ground on her auteurs peers like legends Theo Angelopoulos and Costa-Gavras, and rising-star Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth and The Lobster). But she seems less interested in being analyzed as a female or Greek director than telling insightful stories not confined to one country or nationality; she’s busy honing her craft.

When making films, Psykou says, “I prefer not see everything as black or white. Everything depends on the point of view.”

Her latest film, Son of Sofia, had its U.S. debut in April at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it received the prize for the Best International Narrative Feature. Her sophomore effort is set in 2004, but its clash of Russian and Greek cultures seems acutely timely as current immigration issues provide searing headlines around the globe.

CHECK OUT MY REVIEW OF THE FILM HERE

Son of Sofia is the tale of 11-year-old Misha, a Russian boy who arrives in Athens during the 2004 Olympics in Greece. Two years prior, his mother relocated to the country following the death of her husband and now Misha joins her. There reunion, to say the least, is awkward. Attempts by mother and son to reconnect are hindered by bitterness, deception and culture clash. Misha’s faced with many changes, including gaining an unexpected stepfather.

To hear Psykou talk is to hear her appreciation for cultural variety.

“It makes no difference wherever you are from,” she says. There’s a commonality in our yearning, our fears. Whether it’s a Russian kid or Greek kid. “When you are a kid you are the same,” she says.

Steficon SA

Psykou is an alchemist of sorts: she mixes Greek sensibilities in with Russian folklore, then stirs in a bit of dry humor, social commentary and suspense.

Particularly, it’s the fantasy elements that subtly, then boldly run through the film. “I believe kids love fantasy,” she said. So it made sense that Misha turns to fantasy in the face of his confusion. It is a way for the quiet, isolated boy to give voice to his fears and anger. But, Psykou notes, Misha isn’t the only character who looks to fantasy. Each of the main character—Misha, his mother and his new stepfather—use some level of fantasy to cope.

“The film is an opportunity to explore fantasy,” Psykou says. “The three main fantasy scenes in the film all occur during turning points in the film.”

Like her awarding-winning “New Wave” first film, 2013’s The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas, Son of Sofia invests in clever observation, off-beat characters and deliberate pacing. Son builds upon Psykou’s eye for detail and steadicam work and her abilities to mesh the surreal and the concrete.

She finds influence in Austrian auteur Michael Haneke (Funny Games, Amour) and American indie great Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette). Haneke’s cold, creepy intellect is evident, and so is Coppola’s doggedly atonal uniqueness.

What’s next for the talent director? A planned documentary that features people who travel to other countries to receive services—abortion, cremation—not available to them in their native lands. A third film will follow the documentary.

It’s all about staying focused on her craft. Ultimately, Psykou wants to be in a position to create films on a regular basis.

“I’d like to make films every three years,” she says.

 

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Quik Flix Hit

Tribeca Film Festival

Son of Sofia (2017)

Unrated

Steficon SA

The little Russian boy is grief-stricken, seemingly abandoned, deceived and brought to a country whose language and people he doesn’t understand. It’s not surprising that he gradually retreats into fantasy, which is at first cute, then grows disturbing and possibly dangerous.

Writer-director Elina Psykou (The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas, 2013) sets her sophomore film during the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece, a time of clashing cultures, and of civic pride and competition.

Misha (Viktor Khomut) arrives with the Russia Olympic team to Athens and reunites with his mother Sofia (Valery Tcheplanowa), who has been settled in Greece for more than two years. Details of their separation are vague, but involve the death of Misha’s father and his mother establishing residency to provide for herself and her son. It’s an awkward reunion. Sofia seems to be trying to muster up joy with forced affection and a ridiculously large stuffed animal in tow. Misha immediately regards her tightly rolled-up hairstyle as foreign. He tells her his mother wears her long, beautiful hair down.

READ MY INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR ELINA PSYKOU

Things get more awkward as 11-year-old Misha learns he shares his new home with an elderly Greek man, Mr. Nikos (Thanasis Papageorgiou), who Misha is lead to believe is in the care of his mother. Mr. Nikos doesn’t speak Russian and doesn’t want it spoken in the home. Quickly, of course, Sofia’s deception is foiled. Misha discovers her sleeping in the same bed as Mr. Nikos. By the time Sofia belatedly confesses to being married to the man, an irate Misha has sealed himself in the bathroom. To be sure, Sofia has also kept Mr. Nikos in the dark, leading her husband to believe Misha was informed of gaining a stepfather.

The entire film seems populated by characters trapped within themselves, despite being surrounded by colorful culture and an influx of immigrants and opportunities. It’s a sad, quiet tale of people unable to make connections beneath the surface, which inevitably reinforces fantasy and delusions. Misha, often cloaked in a bear costume, finds strength and aggression in his imaginary world filled with moving, growling stuffed animals; the self-important Mr. Nikos longs again for the magical era when he possessed fame; Sofia seems adrift in the space between a past happy life in Russia and this makeshift family in Greece. A quiet scene of the family eating together while watching television hints at a domesticity that will never be.

Psykou’s film is filled with characters you don’t know whether to like or dislike. Sofia seems disconnected as a mother, sneaky and deceptive in ways that seem unnecessary. She leaves Mr. Nikos to do much of the caretaking while she’s away working at a textile company, making stuffed animals. In addition to deceiving her son about being married, she also lies about watching a beloved TV series Misha intended to watch with her, and for good measure keeps a secret stash of candy hidden in the toilet tank. She seems unhappy at her job and in her roles as a parent and a wife.

Mr. Nikos, a former host of a once-popular children’s television show, initially seems controlling and lost in his arrogance. Portraits of himself adorn the walls of his home. His insistence on having only Greek spoken in a household where two-thirds of the occupants are Russian seems selfish, and yet understandable. While he is a man of pride, he also wants to leave a legacy. Late in the film, when he shares his secret room of memorabilia with Misha, Mr. Nikos come alive and Psykou effectively captures the feel of a bygone time and place. Mr. Nikos becomes as much of a dreamer as Misha.

But the film exists in reality even when the characters don’t. Misha meets Victor, a sixteen-year-old emigre from Russia who immediately takes to the boy. At first Victor seems to be a welcomed friend for a boy whose mother is disengaged and whose stepfather is completely out of step with Misha. Victor takes the boy shopping, to the park and surrounds him with other youths. Unfortunately, Victor also shoplifts, offers lousy advice and engages in a highly disturbingly activity. Psykou presents Victor so matter-of-factly it shocks us when we get the full measure of the character.

Finally, there’s Misha. Wonderful portrayed by Khomut. We feel trapped with the boy thrown into a life he can’t bear, unable to find any external means—language, environment, friendship—to express himself so he turns inward. His actions late in the film, after Mr. Nikos suffers a setback, unnerves as we wonder if fantasy will save or corrupt the boy.

The film will challenge American audiences needing things tied up in a bow and directly spelled out. It’s a delicate balance that Psykou achieves: characters that intrigue us but we can’t say we like them, somber and raw scenes colliding with fantasy, an enticing mixture of Russia and Greek cultures. Her film is a sonic wonder, with animal sounds creeping onto the soundtrack in unexpected, subtle ways. Ands it often seems to be lit naturally, shot simply, harkening back to the Dogme 95 movement. Its deliberate pacing keeps us on edge, waiting for a shoe to drop, seemingly influenced by director Michael Haneke. Its denouement, a fusion of fairytale triumph and Olympic fanfare, is all her own.

The film debuts today at the Tribeca Film Festival.

 

 

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Quik Flix Hit

bwoy (2016)

Rated R

Breaking Glass Pictures

 

While press materials describes it as “a slow-burning LGBT thriller,” bwoy is more of a heartbreaking character study, a psychodrama really, with brief touches of suspense. Nevertheless, it’s purposefully challenging, skillfully understated and gets a mighty boost from its lead actors.

We open with shots of a beautiful little boy heading into a beautiful swimming pool. We think we know where things are going, and we’re pretty much on target, but director John G. Young (Parallel Sons, 1995) effectively establishes a timeless dread which looms over his story entire.

Anthony Rapp (“Star Trek: Discovery,” Rent) is Brad, an early-forties employee whose call-center day job drains joy from him and he drifts through his after-hours life like a ghost. Young’s camera and pacing are sly in the early-going. We can’t immediately connect Brad with a solemn black woman (De’Adre Aziza) quietly intercut into his daily routine. Slowly we come to realize Brad, who we’ve taken as gay and single, is actually married to the woman, Marcia. We take him as gay and single because he spends his evenings (and eventually, days) on a dating website seeking buff black men.

Brad isn’t having any luck on the website until he spices up his profile, grabbing the interest of Yenny (Jimmy Brooks), a young, humorous and handsome Jamaican. Yenny comes on strong, but Brad is bowled over by the attention. Indeed Yenny has the gift of gab, a high-watt smile, six-pack abs and, let’s face it, who isn’t won over by a Jamaican accent? Yenny brings color to Brad’s gray life—literally: Young contrasts lush Jamaican landscapes and photos with the muted palette of Brad’s limbo life in Schenectady, New York.

Online chatting begets iPhone texting, which begets photo-sharing, which begets video conversations, which begets cyber sex. The progression is not unexpected. Befitting this era of social media excesses, much of the film consists of screenshots—phone and computers. Things are clearly presented through Brad’s point of view; when he’s offline, so is Yenny. Rapp never falters in building bland Brad out of quiet desperation. Stoic behind thin-framed glasses and a locked jaw, Brad often seems on the verge of tears or about to implode with embarrassment, convincing both in his willful naivety and risk-taking. Brad stereotypically targets muscular black men, has a black wife and yet his cultural examination seems to begin and end with search-engine image lookups and a CD of generic Jamaican jams. Is it pure lust, or revived hope that drives him forward, even as he begins to doubt Yenny’s intentions?

Marcia is key to the backstory. Broken and guilt-ridden into shocking submission, the deeply sad character is deserving of her own story. I’m of two minds concerning the handling of this subplot: the sparse development and dialogue between her and Brad speak to their devastating loss; it also seems undercooked, repetitiously vague. How much of this could Marcia really accept? Nevertheless, her quiet despair is devastating. Aziza is powerful in her final scenes with Rapp.

As the tragic past finally comes into focus, story proper has methodically guided us toward the inevitable in-person meeting between the online lovers. Now we flirt with suspense as Brad cuts free of the past that binds him and goes all-in for love. I expected a twist of “Catfish” proportions, but must admit I didn’t see a softer denouement coming. It certainly points us back to an understated theme of the potent pull of parenting.

 

 

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Quik Flix Hit

Get Out (2017)

Rated R

Blumhouse Productions

Get Out has the suspense, creepiness, violence and jumps scares one would want from a good horror film. Written and directed by Jordan Peele (half of the “Key & Peele” sketch comedy duo), the film’s also insidious with its coiling use of racial themes to enhance its effect.

A chilling opening sequence evokes the Trayvon Martin tragedy as we watch a young black man walking lost in the suburbs at nightfall. Peele immediately establishes a knack for tone and subtext. A character walking alone in the dark is a horror film trope, but certainly the specificity of a lone black man in a white neighborhood adds another dimension of dread to the scene. Notice, in quick, quiet cellphone dialogue, that the man knows how he looks and where he’s at invites danger.

Next we’re introduced to engaging interracial couple Chris and Rose (Daniel Kaluuya, “Black Mirror,” and Allison Williams, “Girls”) preparing for a weekend trip to Rose’s parent’s palatial estate deep in the exurbs. Rose seems nonplused that her mom and dad are unaware Chris is black; Chris is obviously more concerned about the oversight. Peele plays with racial notions of Rose’s privilege vs. Chris’ realistic concerns here, and in a later scene on the road when they are visited by a police officer. Rose doesn’t hesitate to cut into the officer for what she perceives is racist treatment of Chris, while Chris simply wants to deescalate a situation he’s likely experienced on more than an occasion. The opening sequence, police encounter and an accident en route cleverly set the viewer on edge even before the anticipated visit with the parents.

Said parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) are welcoming in their liberal righteousness. Rose’s father, a successful neurosurgeon, declares he’d vote for Barack Obama for a third term if he could. Her hypnotherapist mother says all the right things but they land with a disingenuousness not lost on Chris. And what to make of Rose’s brother (Caleb Landry Jones, Antiviral), a disheveled rich kid quaking uneasily, speaking inappropriately, like he’s always on the verge of blurting out spoilers?

Back home, Chris’ best friend Rod (LilRel Howery), a TSA officer, is a Greek chorus of sorts, humorously braying about Chris’ naivety of race relations. But Chris—and the audience—isn’t naïve, simply hopeful for the best while laughing at Rod’s over-the-top rantings. You see, Rod says all the things black movie-goers say about white horror movies. He can smell a setup a mile away. Peele, working so effectively as a director of horror, here reminds us he made his bones in comedy.

Over the course of the weekend, Peele quietly but assuredly reels the viewer into a delicious web paranoia. Suddenly there’s an annual gathering of friends and family. The winding driveway his lined with black, expensive SUVs, the expansive lawn is a sea of gawking white faces. Chris’ and our time in exurbia grows curiouser and curiouser. His solo trips around the huge house and vast grounds bring unease. The way he’s regarded and how he reacts as the lone black man amongst throngs of old-money white people is a master’s class on how black folks navigate—sometimes moment to moment—competing worlds of racial divide. Chris’ intriguing hypnosis session with Rose’s mom—fantastically visualized as Chris floating in the cosmos with the real world hovering on a big screen TV just out of reach—sets the plot on a course not fully understood until the finale.

Most interesting is the portrayal of the other black faces Chris meets at the house. Every time he talks with or bumps into Stepford-like persons of color, Peele intrigues with the interactions—are they friends or foes, captives or themselves commanding some scheme? In this cauldron of supposed post-racial ennui, we nervously and giddily wait for the shoe to drop. Does Peele’s mixed race heritage inform the proceedings? Perhaps. The film, in my view, knowingly winks at both sides of the racial coin. What an assured directorial debut!

If there’s a wobbly spot in an otherwise outstanding film, it’s a half-realized backstory concerning the death of Chris’ mother. The moment seems to exist mostly to justify an unlikely act of kindness late in the movie.

In the finale, with the curtains pulled back, the film burst with absurd conflict and straight-up horror and humor. The dangers are far afield from where we would have imagined, and yet with clever insight Peele suggests cultural appropriation is always hiding in plain sight.

This is the second “black” film in a row I’ve seen that, while presenting pointed issues on race, nevertheless with topical, effective storytelling and capable acting and directing taps into American commonality and manages to connect more broadly. Like Hidden Figures, this film seems to have admirers across the board.

 

 

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Quik Flix Hit

Hidden Figures (2016)

Rated PG

Levantine Films/Chernin Entertainment

That Hidden Figures rights a wrong by dramatizing the little-known history of brilliant African-American women, whose work proved instrumental in putting Americans into outer space, is enough to make this essential viewing. But I was surprised the film isn’t content to quit while it’s ahead.

Directed by Theodore Melfi, the film also inspires and entertains with its unabashed appreciation of science and intelligence, and with the heady competition between the U.S. and the Russians to reach the stars—the space race. I was surprised again when it took another lap around the screenplay to explore the gender inequality of the era.

Figures even finds time, briefly but pointedly, for romance, parenting issues, and marital concerns, giving particular space to black men as providers for, supporters and admirers of these intelligent women. I love movies that celebrate intelligence and imagination. I reflect that despite the film’s risk of biting off more than it can chew, it succeeds because it’s well-written (from strong source material), directed and acted.

At so young an age, Katherine’s (Lidya Jewett) fluency with numbers grants her stamina and opportunities against the liabilities of her era: being black and female. Katherine G. Johnson’s beautiful mind ultimately leads her to NASA where as a widowed mother (now marvelously portrayed by Taraji P. Henson) she joins other black women with dazzling intellect (they are called human computers by their NASA bosses). It’s refreshing that the film takes their intelligence as a given. We know they’re smart, everyone in the building knows they’re smart, their families and friends know it too.

These women and others like them work in the far reaches of the intellectual caste—rocket scientists, physicists, mathematicians and engineers—yet they live in a time of segregated restrooms and eager suspicions. Katherine’s colleagues and carpool mates include Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer, The Help) and Mary Jackson (singer Janelle Monaé). The commute to and from work allows the women time to let down their hair and air grievances to each other.

Dorothy is a mathematician and supervisor in all but title, while Mary is an aspiring engineer, capable enough, but held back by her gender and race. Katherine’s undeniable gifts lead her to become the first “colored” woman on the Space Task Group charged with sending an American astronaut into space.

At work, it’s all business all the time, with little room for error, having at least as much to do with NASA’s exacting standards as it does the discriminatory practices of the day. Just as I’m wondering how such smart, analytical folks could waste time with petty, irrational racism, Kevin Costner’s hardnosed task force leader Al Harrison grows furious that his ace computer, Katherine, has to waste time daily running across campus to use the “colors only” restroom instead of the one right down the hall.

The women’s work intensifies with news that Russians have successfully launched a satellite into space—and then a cosmonaut. America’s history of being first, best, a global leader is on the line. The nation is stirred by the possibilities of touching the stars. It’s an era of racial shame, sure, but also a unique one in which astronauts (Ohio’s own, John Glenn!) were superheroes. At some point, the united cause to be the first nation to blast off the planet brings temporary racial reprieve. I’m reminded of how a champion sports team or Olympic squad can unite a city, state, nation of racially diverse people for the common cause of victory. The outcome of the space race might be celebrated history, but not the legacy of these amazing women. Their place in NASA and American history is equally impressive. The film gets that on the record.

The cast is a balancing act of great performances. The lead actors are, of course, exceptional—Henson and Spencer build on solid careers; Monaé emerges as a talent to watch. And note Kirsten Dunst’s (The Virgin Suicides) subtle but impactful portrayal of a tired subjugated white women who has more in common with her subjugated black subordinates than she can say. The men shine as well. Costner’s stern, all-business egghead never breaks character, but we find his humanity in the growing respect he gains for Katherine’s intellect and determination. Jim Parsons (TV’s The Big Bang Theory) gives a shaded performance as a mathematician growing bitter in the shadow of Katherine’s gifts, torn by his respect and jealousy. Mahershala Ali, who’s having a good year with this film and the acclaimed film Moonlight (which also features Monaé), is wonderful as a stereotype-busting upstanding veteran who pulls Katherine back to a long-abandoned world of romance.

Hidden Figures is entertaining, informative, a bit suspenseful and important. It’s rare to see a “black” film not involving sports that so personifies the American spirit. It’s hard to see anyone not finding elements that hook them into this outstanding film.

 

 

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Age of Consequences Interview

DOCUMENTARY PRODUCER SEES PURPOSE IN DIRE WARNINGS

Sophie Robinson, executive producer of The Age of Consequences/PF Films

It is not your father’s global warming documentary, or even your former vice president’s. The Age of Consequences is a stark analysis of the faltering care-taking of the planet and of the resulting horrific consequences that have occurred and that lie ahead.

Director Jared P. Scott’s film positions itself outside the expected framework of liberal lecturing and scientists’ admonishments as it reaches for a broader audience by using hard-hitting visuals, unnerving data and, most critically, support from military experts. To be sure, its tone is bleak. While introducing the doc at a screening, executive producer Sophie Robinson warned viewers that they were about to see a horror film.

CHECK OUT MY REVIEW OF THE DOCUMENTARY HERE

Professionally assembled, Scott’s film doesn’t simply highlight the environmental hazards from climate change, but also examines dangers that cascade from them.

“It’s called a threat multiplier,” Robinson says. There term, used in the documentary by military officials, explains how a cluster of catastrophes—international conflicts, mass population migration, resource scarcity and even terrorism—emerge from the escalating threat of global warming.

Before she spent a year and a half producing the searing documentary for PF Films, Robinson got her start as a grassroots climate change organizer in Massachusetts. She was involved in a statewide network battling the environmental crisis. She also spent time as a science teacher.

A catalysis for her work on The Age of Consequences was another PF Films: Do the Math. That 2013 documentary, directed by Scott and Kelly Nyks, detailed the hazards of the fossil fuel industry. Its against-the-grain style got noticed, Robinson says.

“It got people excited.”

The film drew Robinson to PF Films, where she worked with Scott and his team fashion a unique take on the issue of global warming.

“We decided to make a film for people sick of seeing the same climate change films,” she says. “We wanted a ‘conversation opener.’ We asked ourselves what are some new angles?”

PF Films

A new angle was to seek a bipartisan one. Along with scientists and environmentalists, Age looks to admirals, generals and veterans to bolster its theme that environmental abuses and neglect can spiral into civil conflict, migration catastrophes, food shortages, terrorism recruitment—all while overwhelming humanitarian efforts.

Does Robinson think the matter-of-factly scary tone will be a liability for the film? She laughs. “Luckily, people don’t know how scary it is before they watch it.” It’s frightening stuff, she says, but that’s necessary to convey the seriousness of climate change.

One could think such a documentary would receive pushback in conservative circles, but interestingly the film’s strong representation of the military ruffled some feathers in liberal corners, Robinson says. “Some environmental groups thought we were too soft on the military.” But the military and security community are strong believers in the importance of taking serious climate change and its consequences. Those experts lend gravity to the film in a way a dozens of scientist cannot.

Despite its bleak presentation, the film’s ultimate aim is to encourage a positive change.

“We try to leave people with hope,” Robinson says. “There is an opportunity to change things. I actually feel lucky: I can make a difference in the outcome of our future. This is an opportunity to step up.”

The film debuted on Jan. 27.

 

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Quik Flix Hit

The Age of Consequences (2016)

Unrated

 

PF Films

We’ve seen climate change documentaries that present us with the unnerving prospects of global environmental dangers, real and theorized, pushing our ecosystem past a bleak point of no return. Have we seen one arguing that a cluster of catastrophes—international conflicts, migration, scarcity of resources, even terrorism—emanate out from the epicenter of a man-made ground zero: global warming?

I might be slightly exaggerating when I say The Age of Consequences edges into the realm of a horror film.

The new documentary, professional and smartly directed by Jared P. Scott from PF Films, arrives Jan. 27 in an intense political season that either amplifies the stakes of its dire message, or will work against the film just as its call for cultural and legislative action is needed most. You know where you stand on the issue of climate change.

READ MY INTERVIEW WITH EXECUTIVE PRODUCER SOPHIE ROBINSON

Age works to tilt viewers away from partisan perspectives, hoping that fact-of-the-matter, up-to-moment catastrophes will speak louder than political talking points. The doc gets a big lift by featuring military experts speaking convincingly of their beliefs and, more importantly, experiences in the real cause-and-effect of environmental destruction. We’ve heard environmentalists and left-leaning politicians’ pleas for action, but Scott’s film mostly looks to admirals, generals, veterans to bolster an overarching theme that environmental abuses/neglect can cascade into civil conflict, migration catastrophes, food shortages, terrorism recruitment, and overwhelm humanitarian efforts.

What was once laughed off as “tree-hugger” hyperbole has been termed in some corners of the military as a “threat multiplier.” The film follows the dominoes as they fall: Climate change exacerbated one of the worst droughts in Syrian history. The three-year drought begun at the end of 2006 ultimately triggered 1.5 million Syrian men to leave their farmlands and move to city locations, seeking jobs and food. Additionally, Iraqi refugees were at the time migrating into Syria. These two factors alone spurred a 30 percent population growth in urban areas, which in turn drove up food and apartment prices, as well as drained the health-care system. Such strife is cited by officials in the film as a factor giving rise to civil war. Broken social structures leave openings for terrorist recruitment. The film suggests climate-change hazards will increase such migrations and their consequences.

And look at the threat multiplier from a financial perspective: A 2010 Russia-China drought, the film states, lead to wheat shortages in those countries. The countries responded by purchasing wheat on the global food market, which drove up prices across the planet, spurring economic chaos.

And from a humanitarian perspective: When global warming wreaks havoc on populated regions, getting aid to displaced millions increasingly is becoming a logistical nightmare, and soon, the film suggests, an unsustainable effort. The U.S. military alone spends increasing amounts of time exclusively on humanitarian and recovery efforts. It would take but a small cluster of these catastrophes occurring simultaneously to break the back a nation or create a devastating domino effect across the globe.

Scott and his cameraman Michael McSweeney keep the film moving by using sharp visuals. A reoccurring radar chart graphic works well as a visual interpretation of the tangled arms of environmental and social threats across the globe. The film makes good use of archival footage from current conflicts and catastrophes. Hurricane Katrina footage still chills to the bone. A technique of placing a subject center frame and at a distance (to highlight beautiful corridors and staterooms of power) subvert the common method of using standard shots of talking heads.

The Age of Consequences left me wrung out and the solutions belatedly offered—better stewardship of the planet, alternative resources, a more aggressive timeline to confront environmental hazards—are of the stripe we’ve heard before and don’t completely mitigate all the dread it previously piled on. Perhaps they can’t. Maybe the film hopes to shock the viewer out of complacency. What remains to be seen is how it lands in an era in which those in seats of power and their supporters don’t exactly seem like cheerleaders for climate-change activism.

 

 

 

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Apparition Hill Interview

EXPERIENCES ON THE HILL KEEPS BRINGING DIRECTORY BACK

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Sean Bloomfield

Before he made a film that follows seven strangers as they travel to a spiritual village in Bosnia-Herzegovina to investigate its miracles, Sean Bloomfield made the journey himself. “Something there moved me,” he recalls.

The filmmaker and author has explored religion and spirituality in previous works, but his experiences in the village of Medjugorje remained with him. In 1981, the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared before six local youths there. In the years since, thousands seeking miracles and enlightenment walk the village’s jagged hillside to the spot marked with a statue of Mary.

“It was either the biggest hoax or a miracle,” Bloomfield remembers thinking. He would make more trips there.

In returning last year to Apparition Hill—the name given the sacred spot and the title of his new documentary—Bloomfield wanted to make the experience as authentic as possible for viewers.

READ MY REVIEW OF THE DOCUMENTARY

Bloomfield, a Florida native, selected his cast from a slew of video submissions. He settled on seven from the United States and London: two atheists; a widowed father of nine; a Catholic latecomer; a terminally ill wife and mother; an on-and-off drug abuser; and a man suffering from the debilitating disease ALS.

Bloomfield’s camera watches these volunteers as they embark on a two-week pilgrimage, each seeking something—a renewal of faith, a pull into something beyond secular security, self-awareness, a life-saving miracle.

Besides peeking into the lives of the cast, Bloomfield’s camera allows us to peer into a specific place, this small village, which seems to glow in its spirituality. As we watch, we get accustomed to the village’s geography and the rhythms of the community—priests, tourists, visionaries and filmmakers alike move through Medjugorje with a sense of intimate purpose.

“There are so many stories there,” Bloomfield says. “There’s something about this place, but more so the people.”

In addition to the cast, the documentary weaves in a tapestry of locals: an area physician who begins to believe in a power beyond her medical training; a recovering addict who makes the place his home and now helps others; a tour guide and mentor who lends a sense of history; and of course the “visionaries” who first claimed to see the Virgin Mary.

One such visionary, Mirjana Soldo, is significantly featured in the documentary. Sixteen at the time of her visitation, Soldo has devoted her life to her pilgrimages and to bringing a message of hope to the world-weary. Her story captivated Bloomfield.

“As a teen she was persecuted,” he says.

apparition-hill

Stella Mar Films

It wasn’t easy being a person claiming to have met the Virgin Mary, much less so when that person is a teenager. In the documentary, as Soldo communes with Mary, a look overtakes her, tears stream down her cheeks, she begins to smile like she’s tapped into something profound. She has told her story in a book; Bloomfield feels there is more to tell. “I would like to continue her story,” he says.

How will a film so unapologetically spiritual be received?

“We tried to make it objective,” Bloomfield says. “We just tried to record the story. We didn’t want to impose on the audience what to take away from the film.”

Audiences seem to be responding positively. It’s gaining a word-of-mouth following on social media and is selling out limited screenings.

And what about his cast? Most seem changed by the experience.

“We stay in touch,” Bloomfield says. The group maintains a private Facebook page to stay abreast of each other’s lives. “We’re like family,” he adds.

Up next for the director are plans to document the experiences of a youth festival on Cross Mountain in the same village. It was shot by a second crew at the same time Bloomfield was filming Apparition Hill.

In this time of a bruising presidential campaign and a divided nation Bloomfield believes the film is timely.

“There are things that transcend human problems,” he suggests.

Check here for screening dates and locations.

 

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Quick Flix Hit

Apparition Hill (2016)

Rated PG-13

apparition-hill

Stella Mar Films

Apparition Hill, the site where the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared before six local youths in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina, is without doubt a place of inspiration. Is it also a place of healing, enlightenment and miracles? Well, every year, thousands seeking those rewards trek up a jagged hillside in the village of Medjugorje to the spot marked with a statue of the Blessed Mary.

Director Sean Bloomfield joined seven strangers on a two-week trip to Medjugorje and up so-called Apparition Hill to document experiences filled with urgency and desperation, curiosity and skepticism, hope and joy—ultimately providing the cast, and possibly viewers, with multiple levels of insight.

READ MY INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR SEAN BLOOMFIELD

Bloomfield selects his cast from a potpourri of video submissions: two atheists, Pete, who prefers finding life’s meaning in science and logic, and Mark, who craves knowledge beyond understanding but can’t get there through spirituality; Rich, a widowed father of nine; Jill, a Catholic latecomer needing to strengthen her weakening belief; Holly, a terminally ill wife and mother whose husband Matt decides to join her on the trip; and Ryan, a sad on-off drug abuser who’s been in and out of prison. There’s an eighth participant, Darryl, who suffers from ALS. His condition confines him to a wheelchair, necessitating a separate, earlier journey to Medjugorje for him that serves as a side story in the documentary. He has a video chat with the rest of the gang to express his views on the journey he’s taken as it prepares to trace his steps.

Along the way we meet Ben, a former addict who now resides in the community, and Miki Musa, a local guide who was featured in a previous Bloomfield documentary.

We take several pilgrimages with the cast—to the weeping Statue of the Risen Christ that resides behind the town’s St. James Church, to the Blue Cross at the base of Apparition Hill, to the sacred spot itself and still further up to the hilltop where we find a holy site honoring Christ Himself—and we learn more about each along the way. The members seem to approach the experience with open minds, I must note. Certainly, our attention is drawn to the two atheists and Holly, who has Stage 4 cancer.

We regard Pete and Mark closely because we sense if they change, if they believe, there is something powerful going on here. They’re both presented as skeptical but fair-minded enough to give the pilgrimage a chance. We regard Molly, who comes dangerously close to missing the trip due to her health, as the ultimate test case for these proceedings because of her bright smile, because of her relentless optimism, because she seems to be a wonderful wife and a loving mother. With her, as she smile through tears, we truly hope for miracles (even as Holly claims she’s seeking only peace and enlightenment). Her struggle gives the film an undercurrent of suspense and sadness that might not have been the director’s intentions.

The documentary attempts to take a nonjudgmental look at the cast and the community, but it’s a hard sell. Peeking into these lives is personal, and you just can’t move through Medjugorje without being swept along on its spiritual current. Catholicism runs deeply in this village. The cast attends Mass repeatedly, prayers are spoken, rosaries are counted, novenas are undertaken.

Of the six Herzegovinian children who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary in 1981, the documentary focuses most on Mirjana Soldo. Sixteen at the time of her visitation, Soldo has basically devoted her life to her pilgrimages where she communes with Mary. We watch this visionary immerse herself in prayer and are simultaneously perplexed and moved. She is in a place beyond us as tears stream down her cheeks, her eyes look through this world and a knowing smile overtakes her. And yet, she later expresses what she sees, hears and feels is not beyond us.

The film’s ending, powerful and raw, brings a journey to its inevitable conclusion, then Bloomfield tags on a sweet coda as a salve.

Lives have been challenged and changed, and clearly, the film hopes, not just for the cast we’ve observed.

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