Watch This: Trailer for Frankie & Alice

Frankie & Alice stars Halle Berry, Phylicia Rashad, and Stellan Skarsgard. It’s been finished since 2011 and is just now being released in the U.S. It will appear in theaters on April 4.

The film is based on a true story. Halle Berry plays a woman with multiple personality disorder. One of her personalities is racist.

The performance we see in this brief preview looks masterful and worthy of award nominations. This film looks like an exciting showcase for Halle Berry to show once again what a powerful actress she is. I’m not sure why it took so long to be released in the U.S., but it’s coming soon and it looks good.

Image credit of Halle Berry in Frankie & Alice © 2010 – Freestyle Releasing

Watch This: Unbroken Olympics Preview

Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, is based on the true story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini. The movie isn’t due out until December, but this preview emphasizes Zamperini’s Olympic career and was released during the Olympics.

I read the book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, on which the movie is based, and found it an inspiring and amazing story of courage, determination and survival. I’m looking forward to the movie.

Indies and Unfamiliar Faces: The Second Time Around

I often have a problem with films when the faces are unfamiliar. This applies to an awful lot of indie films I see. The problem is that I have trouble keeping track of who the characters are and what their contribution to the story is because I don’t recognize the faces. It makes it hard for me to keep everyone organized in my head.

I don’t blame this on the filmmakers or on the stories they are telling. It’s probably some brain glitch on my part that takes me a while to learn to distinguish faces. Slow synapses or some such.

Last night I watched a movie that had a whole lot of female characters. (How unusual for me!) Only the main character was an actress I’d seen and heard of before. And her face only looked identifiable from certain angles, because I hadn’t seen a lot of her. I couldn’t keep her interactions with all the other characters sorted because I had trouble remembering who everyone was. It’s not like watching August: Osage County, where every person on the screen is someone I’d seen dozens of times before.

The particular indie I saw last night was a good movie about a marriage gone stale, and I wanted to get more out of it.

I found a solution. I watched the film twice. The second time through I had better luck keeping track of who was who and what their particular part of the story meant in the overall scheme of things.

Now that I’ve discovered this trick, I will used it again on indie films with cast members I might not know so well (yet) and on foreign films with unfamiliar actors, too.

Do you have a trick for keeping the characters organized in your head when the faces are all unfamiliar to you?

Photo credit: The Kheel Center via Flickr

Review: Beauty in Truth

Beauty in Truth, a film by Pratibha Parmar, is a documentary about American writer and activist Alice Walker.

Image of Alice Walker from the film Beauty in Truth
Image of Alice Walker from the film Beauty in Truth

Predisposed to love it would be a good description of my attitude toward the film. I’m a lifelong admirer of Alice Walker. I have a tendency to finish her books and turn back to page 1 and start reading again. She’s an extraordinary soul – a beautiful soul – who has given so much to the planet. I respect her, I value her brilliance, I see so much wisdom and spiritual guidance in work. Her life is an inspiration.

Everyone should see Beauty in Truth. Everyone who is cares about American history. Everyone who cares about justice anywhere on the planet. Everyone with an interest in writing and storytelling.

Indeed, my recommendation of the film is enthusiastic and heartfelt.

Pratibha Parmar wrote, directed and produced the film. She first worked with Alice Walker after the release of Possessing the Secret of Joy, Walker’s novel about female genital mutilation. The Beauty in Truth website explains,

1993 Pratibha released her most challenging film Warrior Marks, which documented female genital mutilation at a time when the subject was taboo globally. This award-winning documentary was made in collaboration with the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker. Parmar and Walker collaborated on the book Warrior Marks – Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women, which documented the making of the film.

Beauty in Truth documents Alice Walker’s life from her upbringing in rural Georgia to the present day. It uses interviews, conversations with Alice, quotations from her poems and books, historical video footage, news reports and video and personal images supplied by Alice Walker to create the story of a writer and activist who is known worldwide.

Photo by Virginia DeBolt from Wikimedia Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alice_Walker.jpg
Alice Walker: Photo by Virginia DeBolt from Wikimedia Commons
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alice_Walker.jpg

The particularities and struggles of Alice Walker’s life reflect with universal truth on the Civil Rights Movement, on the women’s movement, on the gay rights movement, and movements for justice all around the globe. Her struggles and the reaction of the American people to them are not just a story about her but a story about the American character. Her writing and her activism create change that affects us all.

Alice Walker has been honored as a writer with a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for The Color Purple as well as numerous other awards and honors for her writing and humanitarianism. This film honors the life she’s lived as a human being with an ability to understand and speak for truth and justice.

The film is available for streaming on PBS if you act soon. A screening schedule is available on the film website, and the film can be booked for showing in schools. (PBS LearningMedia provides four video-based educational components are available for teachers of grades 9-12 to download for free. University level instructors can sign up to be notified when materials for their level are available. Instructions are on the website.)

Other People’s Opinions: A Few Reactions from Twitter

I saw quite a few tweets about the film when it first aired on PBS last week. I thought you might be interested in the reactions of a few other people as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watch This: Trailer for the Short Film One Billion Rising

One Billion Rising is an event organized by Eve Ensler of The Vagina Monologues. The film is a short about the event in 2013. Another event is planned for Valentine’s Day 2014.

Watch This: Cave Digger Trailer

Cave Digger is an award-winning  documentary about an unusual artist who digs caves in the sandstone of Northern New Mexico. The caves are works of art filled with carved sculptures, furniture, rooms with arched entries and fantastic displays that range from things like flowers and leaves to abstract designs.

This extraordinary cave artist is Ra Paulette. Most of his work is on private land and not open to the public. Catching this film may be the only chance you will have to see his amazing sculptures.

The film Cave Digger is the work of Jeffrey Karoff. The documentary will show at The Guild Cinema in Albuquerque on February 17 – 19. It will be at the Sedona Film Festival on February 22 – March 2. You can learn about future screenings at cavediggerdocumentary.com.

The film has won numerous award for its exploration of Ra Paulette and his unique artistic obsession. It was nominated for an Oscar in 2014 in the documentary short subject category.

Vimeo Tries Out a New Video On Demand Idea

Vimeo is moving into a new area of video on demand that may change the way films are released. If you are a member of Vimeo PRO ($199 a year) you can see certain films released there long before they are in wide release.

In VOD for Everyone? Vimeo’s Blake Whitman Tells Us About Opening Up Self-Distribution With Vimeo On Demand, Blake Whitman, Vimeo’s VP of Creative Development, is quoted as saying,

I think it’s a natural progression — we’ve been a platform for video creators to share and distribute their work. Distribution has different meanings for different people — and for filmmakers that means actually selling and seeing revenue for work that they’re making. Vimeo on Demand, that’s the next step of self-distribution. We make tools for individual creators — how can we help them make money for what they do? We think we’re in a great place now with the platform we’ve created and the audience that we built to really take a step into that arena and hopefully help filmmakers all over the world.

That was where Vimeo started with the VOD idea back in March. This is still true with Vimeo. Anyone can distribute a film there.

Cinemanovels poster

Vimeo has taken its business model to a new level by actively seeking films to add to its video on demand library.

An independent film I supported on Kickstarter and am interested in seeing is Cinemanovels, directed by Terry Miles and starring Lauren Lee Smith and Jennifer Beals. Recently it was announced that Cinemanovels and 9 other films from The Toronto International Film Festival will premier on Vimeo VOD.

According to Vimeo Offers TIFF World Premieres $10,000 Advance for Digital Rights, this is a boost to the indie filmmaker as well as an opportunity for the eager viewer to get in on a film before it makes it to a general release. Buying first rights to films is a new step since the announcement in March that filmmakers could put their work on Vimeo VOD.

At $199 a year, Vimeo PRO isn’t going to compete with YouTube, but it certainly can be competition for Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime. This new business model from Vimeo really opens things up for independent filmmakers by giving them a distribution channel that didn’t exist before.

Review: August: Osage County

There are many films that can make you feel as if you’ve been assaulted by life, by pain, by damage and abuse, by hurt. August: Osage County is one of these. It peers into the way abuse and pain carries down, almost intact, from one generation to the next. In this particular story, the damage is inflicted by the women.

The drive to the funeral in August: Osage County
The drive to the funeral in August: Osage County

The story begins with a father’s death. Sam Shepard as the Oklahoma poet Beverly Weston dies. The family gathers. Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, the not-exactly-grieving widow and mother to Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis.

Violet Weston has cancer of the mouth, both physically and metaphorically. She’s addicted to about 11 different prescription drugs, which she pops with malicious intensity. The drugs do not have pleasant effect on her behavior.

Julianne Nicholson as Ivy is the daughter who stayed in Oklahoma, near her parents. Julianne Nicholson’s performance in this part is quiet and nuanced and complete perfection, especially when contrasted with the overblown emotionalism of some of the other characters. Okay, not some of the other characters; Meryl Streep’s character. She seemed too big somehow, too much.

I’m sure Meryl Streep intended her to be too big and too much. The woman doesn’t make mistakes. Violet Weston was too big and too much on purpose, I’m guessing.

Eating on the porch
Eating on the porch

Julia Roberts drives in with her husband, played by Ewan McGregor, a buttoned down kind of man, and her 14 year old daughter, played by Abigail Breslin. Her marriage is breaking up. Julia Roberts is simply wonderful in this part. She’s the eldest daughter – strong and bitter and angry. She’s the wronged wife with a cheating husband. She’s the protective mother whose 14 year old daughter attracts the attentions of her sister’s smarmy fiancé, played by Dermot Mulroney. She’s a wounded lioness, just like her mother, with sharp teeth and powerful claws.

Juliette Lewis has her own coping mechanisms for dealing with her family. Get as far away as possible, pin all sorts of unrealistic hopes and wishful thinking on a man, and pretend the realities of her upbringing never happened.

Add to this menagerie of family Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae, played expertly by Margo Martindale. She’s married to Chris Cooper. Like Violet’s husband, Mattie Fae’s husband is a kind and tender man. How did these two sisters manage to find such good men to marry? They have a mother-whipped cowering mess of a son played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Bring all these characters together for a funeral, make them stay together for several days, and all hell breaks loose.

I want to give a particular mention to Misty Upham, who plays a Native American woman hired by Beverly to cook and clean just before he goes missing. (Perhaps you remember her from Frozen River, where she had a bigger part.) Misty Upham needs to be pulled out of the Native American niche and put into other roles. She’s terrific and should be given parts that aren’t so bound by ethnicity. Hey, Jinji Kohan, how about giving her a part in Orange is the New Black where actresses are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their characters?

This story is brilliant in its specificity. It’s filled with outstanding performances. Any awards that go to August: Osage County are deserved. Like a lot of movies that deal with harsh reality, it’s hard to watch at times, even though it has moments of redemption and beauty.

I recommend August: Osage County wholeheartedly. It’s not the kind of movie you want to watch more than once, but it is the kind of movie that should be watched.