Review: Advantageous

Advantageous is a beautiful film. Every frame is a work of art. It’s visually stunning in every possible way and worth seeing for that alone.

This science fiction drama is slow and quiet and doesn’t have a lot of exciting action. Yet, it vibrates with fear and tension in the quiet moments. It’s a film about hard choices. How does a mother give her daughter a chance at success in a world full of both extreme wealth and extreme hardship?

Spoilers ahead. Continue reading “Review: Advantageous”

Exclusive: Interview with Christian Torpe, Creator of the Danish Hit Series Rita

Christian Torpe is the creator and writer for the Danish series Rita, which is available in the U.S. on Netflix. In this exclusive interview, Torpe answered some questions about Rita and his work.

Torpe was nominated for “International Producer of the year” and “European producer of the year” at the Monte Carlo Television Festival for the breakthrough hit Rita, which began airing in Denmark in 2012. Before Rita, he wrote for the Danish shows Park Road and Maj & Charlie. He wrote the movies Får and Almost Perfect. The series Rita now has a mini-series spin off called Hjørdis.

The lead actress in Rita was nominated for and won best actress awards for her work in the series.

OAD: Congratulations on Rita. It’s a big hit on Netflix here in the US. I think the main thing on everyone’s mind is will there be a season 4 of Rita? The ending of season 3 could be either a cliffhanger or a finale. I’m hoping it’s a cliffhanger!

CT: What I like about the last episode of season 3 is that it can be both – unlike season 1 and 2 that felt less like an actual ending. When I wrote it, I had no idea if we would do a season 4 (and I still don’t), so I wanted to at least convey the feeling that while it may not be an ending it’s at least the end of a chapter in Rita’s life. If Netflix wants more, then I’m happy to open a new chapter!

OAD: Rita is a fabulous character. Did she come from someone you know in real life or did you simply dream her up? She has so many flaws, but she’s absolutely lovable. How do you see Rita?

CT: There’s a lot of anger in her. Anger is a drug, it prevents you from feeling anything else, which can be handy if you carry a lot of pain, like Rita does. She’s deeply flawed, especially as a parent, but she does the best she can, and that’s really all you can ask of a human being. I guess there’s a lot of myself in her. Hiding behind sarcasm is something I relate to a little too well and she basically says all the things I’m afraid to say out loud.

Christian Torpe with Rita star Mille Dinesen
Christian Torpe with Rita star Mille Dinesen

OAD: Mille Dinesen is so perfect in the role of Rita. How did you pick her for the part?

CT: I wish I could take credit for that, but that’s all on our director, Lars Kaalund – and on Mille of course. We had so many Danish actresses read and Lars kept suggesting Mille. I was reluctant to see her – I knew she was a brilliant actress, but she had just played the Danish Bridget Jones, and I just couldn’t imagine her making the shift from sweet and clumsy to angry and self destructive. Finally she came in and read – and as Lars had known the entire time, she was perfect.

OAD: The other characters on Rita are also wonderful in their parts. Do you have any particular characters you found especially important or really liked? I thought Ellen Hillingsø as Helle was especially compelling.

CT: Ellen is such a great actress and I love writing her character, Helle. Helle is annoying even when she is right – which she often is – and that energy brings out the best/worst in Rita. I have a soft spot for Jeppe as well. I am gay and always wanted to write a gay character where his sexuality was not a problem or a concern or something that made him a victim, but just a backdrop to do a coming of age story.

OAD: I enjoyed Jeppe’s story very much! He was well played by Nikolaj Groth. The character Hjørdis got a spin off mini-series of her own. It will continue with Lise Baastrup as Hjørdis, but no Mille Dinesen as Rita. Tell us about this mini-series called Hjørdis.

CT: It’s a 4 episode special focusing on Hjordis and a group of students who are all misfits in some way, kinda like Hjordis herself. The show is like the Hjordis character: warmer, cuter and more kid-friendly than Rita, something you could watch from age 7 or 8. For me it was such a big challenge doing something without sarcasm, something that was just fun and uplifting, but I love the result and Lise is wonderful in it.

OAD: I know Netflix supported you for season 3 of Rita. Is there anything we Americans can do to encourage Netflix to support a 4th season of Rita? Do you know yet if Hjørdis will be on American Netflix? [Note: Hjordis is now available on Netflix.]

CT: You can write them and tell them you want more! If you succeed, beer is on me. Hjørdis will be on Netflix at some point, not sure when though.

OAD: Both these series are set in a Danish school. Do you have a particular interest in schools as a source of stories? Were you trying to say something about Danish schools with the series Rita, or were you more interested in the characters? Some of the themes you included brought up issues about homosexuals, immigrants, family relationships, women’s health, politics, drugs and more. With Rita as the perpetual iconoclast in the school, you made many important points through her.

CT: For me, it started with the character. As I developed Rita, I fell in love with the idea of a grown woman who was basically still a child. Once I had her, I started looking for an arena where the themes that are present in her – childhood, upbringing, authority, identity – would resonate, and the school was a perfect fit. Then I started looking for school stories and themes I wanted to explore through that arena, but it started with the character.

OAD: You’ve been writing for Danish TV since 2002. With Rita and Hjørdis, you’ve been executive producer as well as writer. Writing is your first love. Are you looking to expand your options in the future? I saw in one of your tweets that acting is definitely out for you.

CT: I’m a firm believer that it takes about 10 years of hard work to master any craft and I have too much respect for the craft that goes into acting or directing to venture into that. Also, acting is up there with flying and sharks and flying sharks when it comes to my biggest fears. Writing is what I love, but when it comes to that, I am curious by nature and want to try out different genres and formats. I did a movie last year with Bille August in a totally different genre and loved it, and I am currently writing a couple of pilots for some US cable networks, which is a lot of fun.

OAD: Ah, best of luck with that. It would be wonderful to see you work directly for the American audience. Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. Is there anything else you’d like to mention about Rita?

CT: Thanks for watching! And hmm. No, nothing except that I am thrilled that Rita resonates with audiences in the US as well! When we did the first season we were sure it was a distinctly local show, from the Danish school system to Rita’s sense of humor, her sarcasm, her sexuality, her sometimes offensive nature – all things we thought we handled in a very Danish way. It’s been so much fun to see that what we thought was Danish was in fact universal.

See also: the Old Ain’t Dead review of Rita.

Featured image of Christian Torpe via BT.

Last Tango in Halifax, season 3 episode 1

Last Tango in Halifax begins season 3 on Valentine’s Day. Several important things happen on Valentine’s Day that require a lot of processing on the part of the characters in Last Tango in Halifax.

I’m changing the way I recap Last Tango in Halifax for series 3. I’m going to be much briefer and rely more on images to tell the story. I’ll leave out most of the details and only hit the high points. Hope you like this way of doing it. Continue reading “Last Tango in Halifax, season 3 episode 1”

Watch This: Trailer for Grandma

Grandma stars Lily Tomlin, which is all anyone needs to know before laying their money down at a theater box office. The film release date is August 21.

Tomlin plays Elle Reid, who just lost her longtime partner, Val. Her 18 year old granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) appears one day asking for help. The two embark on a money gathering journey together which is mind expanding for both of them. Continue reading “Watch This: Trailer for Grandma”

Rita: A Danish Series about a Teacher

Rita premiered 2012 on Danish TV and has run for three seasons so far.

The poster for Rita

The series stars Mille Dinesen in the lead role as Rita, a free-spirited teacher and single mother. Netflix in the U.S. currently has all 3 seasons of Rita available. Season 3 was actually funded by Netflix!

Rita is a 40-something woman with 2 adult children and another still in his teens. She’s a rebel, an anarchist, and a wonderful teacher. She’s a pretty good parent, but is sometimes more of a mess than her children are. She’s a train-wreck in the personal realtionships department. Her sex life is a disaster, she’s a bitch to her mother, she does absolutely everything she can to break every rule put before her. She smokes, something that was highly criticized in Denmark as being unsuitable for the children who watched. I would think watching her sex life would be more unsuitable for children. But that’s my American brain thinking, I’m not up on Danish moral standards.

I love Rita. She’s a well developer character with many moving parts and a wonderful charm about her. Other characters in the story including her children, her lovers, her ex-husband, her mother and many teachers at her school are less developed but no less interesting. Each of them do have their moments when we see into who they are in more depth.

Lise Baastrup as Rita’s fellow teacher Hjørdis, for example, grows through the 3 seasons from an unsure new teacher to a woman who is in command of her job and effective with the kids.

Writer and Director Christian Torpe created a 4 part mini-series featuring Hjørdis, which is now available on Netflix.

Themes addressed in the series include acceptance of gay children, treatment of immigrants, integrating “inclusion” students (we call it “mainstreaming” in the U.S.) in the regular classroom, abortion and pregnancy, priorities in education, sexual mores, parenting, drug use and other topics. Rita does something in regard to standardized testing (a big topic here in the U.S.) in season 3 that creates a wonderful cliffhanger at the end of the season.

Unless you are an educator like me, you probably won’t be as interested in the Danish school system as I was. I found it really fascinating to peek into how the school ran, what the students did, and how the teachers (and students) dressed. I realize it’s TV and not “real” school, but the differences were interesting.

The series has accumulated over 17 nominations for best drama, best actress and actor, best production and more. Mille Dinesen scored one win as Best Actress in the Golden Nymph awards. Watch the Facebook page for updates and to check out dozens of photos from the show.

Related:

Watch the trailer

Here’s a season 3 preview. Sorry there are no English subtitles.

Images from IMDB

Watch This: Trailer for GTFO

[Ed. This post is reprinted from Web Teacher.]

GTFO, the movie, premiered at SXSW in 2015 and is now available from a number of outlets. Created by Shannon Sun-Higginson, the documentary takes a look at sexual harassment in gaming.

The description of the film is,

Sparked by a public display of sexual harassment in 2012, GTFO pries open the video game world to explore a 20 billion dollar industry that is riddled with discrimination and misogyny. In recent years, the gaming community has grown more diverse than ever. This has led to a massive clash of values and women receive the brunt of the consequences every day, with acts of harassment ranging from name calling to cyber vandalism and death threats. Through interviews with video game developers, journalists, and academics, GTFO paints a complex picture of the video game industry, while revealing the systemic and human motivations behind acts of harassment. GTFO is the beginning of a larger conversation that will shape the future of the video game world.

You can buy or rent GTFO on iTunesVimeo, BitTorrentGoogle Play, Xbox, Playstation, and Vudu. The film is available for educators at the movie web site, which has resources for women who are being harassed.

Time Magazine interviewed Sun-Higginson in Meet the Woman Helping Gamergate Victims Come Out of the Shadows. It’s worth reading.

Watch This: Trailer for Sicario

This drugs-on-the-border war story stars Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. Emily Blunt as Kate Mercer is an FBI agent. The action moves back and forth across the border between El Paso and Juarez and shows a world of brutality and murder.

Emily Blunt claims a part many argued should be played by a man. Personally, I’m in favor of action heroes being played by women, especially women as talented as Blunt.

I’m also eager to see women get roles that are not violent and action oriented, but are stories about women living more normal lives – especially women played by actors as talented as Emily Blunt.

When Variety reviewed it after it showed at Cannes, they wrote, “A blisteringly intense drug-trade thriller that combines expert action and suspense with another uneasy inquiry into the emotional consequences of violence.”

The film opens September 18.

3 Themes in Season 3 of Orange is the New Black

Season 3 of Orange is the New Black returns again and again to several themes. My big 3 are the difficulties of maintaining a family while in prison, the need for some sort of spiritual hope, and the need for love.

If you haven’t watched all of season 3 yet, there are spoilers ahead.

Parents in Prison

Elizabeth Rodriguez and Dascha Polanco in Orange is the New Black

Pregnant prisoner Dayanara Diaz (Dascha Polanco) struggled for most of the season with what to do with her baby. Her mother Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is in prison, too. Aleida is a terrible parent – the worst! – but she tries to guide Daya to a good decision.

Daya hopes the baby’s father, Correctional Officer John Bennett (Matt McGorry), will step up and take the baby, but Bennett isn’t up to the challenge.

Daya reported another Correctional Officer, the horrible “Pornstache” (Pablo Schreiber) as the rapist who got her pregnant. Now she’s living with the lie.

Mary Steenberger in Orange is the New Black

Pornstache’s mother Delia (Mary Steenburgen) wants to adopt the child. Alida loves this idea because it means money. Even after Daya tells Delia the truth about whose baby it is, Delia wants it. Daya wobbles back and forth between wanting to give her baby to Delia and wanting to keep it in the family. The decision she finally makes feels right, but ends in disaster.

In other story lines about families, the character Maria (Jessica Pimentel) is dealt a painful parenting blow from her little girl’s father. Gloria (Selenis Leyva) struggles to keep her teen on the straight and narrow. Sophia (Laverne Cox) has some especially hard parenting problems.

The fact is, most women in prison have children, over half of them under the age of 18. Because of changes in sentencing laws during the war on drugs, the number of parents of minor children in prison increased by 79% between 1991 and 2007. Orange is the New Black can’t take us through story lines about the long term effects of so many mothers being locked away, so many broken families, but the series does its best to bring the problem to the front.

Think about Big Boo’s (Lea DeLaria) comments on the book Freakonomics about the number of unwanted children being reduced by Roe vs. Wade resulting in fewer neglected and abused children turning to crime 20 years later. Flip that on its head and ask yourself what the result of harsh drug sentencing laws that sent thousands of mothers to prison for minor drug crimes will be in 20 years.

Faith & Religion

Annie Golden as Norma annoints an inmate played by Danielle Herbert.

Norma (Annie Golden) is at the center of one of the crazy rumor-driven stories in the prison. Some of the prisoners decide she is holy. Since she doesn’t speak, she simply smiles and pats them on the shoulder when they suggest this. They think she’s blessing them, and eventually she starts enjoying the attention and begins to act like the guru she followed as a younger woman. Everyone wants something to hang on to, some spiritual hope, and Norma is it for the moment.

A second plot line around religion involves the discovery that if you ask for a kosher meal, you get better food. Many of the inmates start asking for kosher food. Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) wants to learn enough about being Jewish to pass the test when they ask her why she should be eating kosher.

Cindy starts off on her Jewish experience watching Woody Allen movies but soon turns to an actual study of the faith. By the last episode, she has been accepted as Jewish by other Jews and even experiences a mikveh, or total immersion in water, as a symbol of her new identity as a Jew.

The Need for Love

Taylor Schilling and Laura Prepon in a scene from Orange is the New Black

Was it love that made Piper (Taylor Schilling) rat on Alex (Laura Prepon) in season 2, so she would be back in Litchfield Prison in season 3? Whatever the case, they reunite with hate-sex that involves lots of slapping, shoving and biting. Piper eventually asks Alex to be her official girlfriend. Alex says yes. Then the new inmate Stella (Ruby Rose) catches Piper’s eye and official girlfriends don’t seem so important.

Uzo Aduba and Emily Althaus in Orange is the New Black

They had to burn all the books because of bedbugs. Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) fills the gap in reading material when she writes crazy sci-fi porn and passes it around the prison. She gets fans! She has readers! Prisoners are desperate for any kind of love and/or romance they can find, and Suzanne provides them with a semblance of a love story. One fan in particular, Maureen (Emily Althaus), really wants to connect with her idol Crazy Eyes. Suzanne doesn’t know how to act around the idea of having a real girlfriend, not a dandelion. In the last episode, Suzanne and Maureen make tentative but thrilling contact.

Samira Wiley and Kimiko Glenn in a scene from Orange is the New Black

Poussey (Samira Wiley) is so lonely and love-starved that she stays drunk on her homebrew most of season 3. Soso (Kimiko Glenn) is lonely, rejected, friendless, and depressed most of season 3.  Something happens that brings these two closer and may be the much needed relationship they both lack.

The loyalties, the friendships, the “families” that form inside prison help people retain their sanity. Maria points out in the first episode, “Mother’s Day,” once people get released, they forget their prison friends. Yet, while inside, the need to feel connected, to be seen and understood by at least one other human being, does not go away. Crazy Eyes even says it out loud, “People need love.”

In addition to this big 3 list, season 3 of Orange is the New Black also deals with the idea of for-profit prisons and the lack of mental health care for inmates. It does all this while still managing to be funny, character driven drama of the highest order. It’s changing American culture, one story at a time.

Note: This post was syndicated at BlogHer.com.