Archive for category Film

Lifetime TV news: Grace of Monaco, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe coming in May

Lifetime has several movies this spring with impressive casts that fit right in with Lifetime’s roster of movies about broken women, struggling women, mentally ill women and women who give up careers. Wonder how Nicole Kidman feels about her film airing on Lifetime? Wonder if she’ll promote it.

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Grace of Monaco
premieres May 25
starring: Nicole Kidman; Tim Roth; Paz Vega; Frank Langella; Parker Posey

Originally screened at Cannes Film Festival, Grace of Monaco will see a small-screen release in May. Academy Award® and Golden Globe® Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman stars as Grace Kelly. The film covers the professional and personal struggle for the former Hollywood actress as she contemplates her decision to retire from acting forever while the future of Monaco hangs in the balance.

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The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe
premieres May 30 and 31
starring: Susan Sarandon; Kelli Garner; Jeffrey Dean Morgan; Emily Watson

Based on J. Randy Taraborrelli’s New York Times bestseller of the same name, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe begins with a portrait of a young Norma Jeane Mortenson as she battles a lonely and loveless existence with an absent mother. She soon reinvents herself as Marilyn Monroe to become the symbol of an era. A complex woman quite different from her public persona, Monroe faces mental illness as well as failed marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller and a complicated relationship President John F. Kennedy.

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Claudia Myers

Michelle Steely Eyed

Fort Bliss, written and directed by Claudia Myers, came out in December. It’s the second feature film for Myers. She also wrote and directed Kettle of Fish starring Gina Gershon and Matthew Modine. She’s made lots short films and documentaries for the military such as ones about combat stress and PTSD and severely injured soldiers returning from Iraq and the impact to their personal lives.

Fort Bliss movingly and effectively shows the difficulties that a single mom in the military faces in balancing her career as a medic and her home life. Michelle Monaghan turns in a strong, edgy and multifaceted performance as Maggie. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and iTunes and absolutely a must-see.

After some back and forth on twitter, Claudia Myers and I spoke on the phone a few weeks ago.

Amy Steele: You live in DC– outside the Hollywood scene but close enough to New York. How is that for you as a filmmaker?
[Claudia is a professor at American University so has that stability and commitment.]

Claudia Myers: Positive is that I wouldn’t have written Fort Bliss. That first assignment to work with the military with a local company. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity in another city. It sparked my interest in the military stories. I like the Wash DC film community. It’s much smaller but it’s very supportive and I receive a lot of support from American Univ.

DC is a diverse city in terms of its interest. It’s not dominated by film and it can be a positive.

writer/director Claudia Myers

writer/director Claudia Myers

Amy Steele: Do you think you can live anywhere and be an independent filmmaker?

Claudia Myers: Depends on what you want to do. If you want to work in TV or film it helps to work in NY or LA but there’s also more competition but to write and direct your own project it helps to be in places where there’s smaller film industry.

Amy Steele: You’re a professor of film at American University. What do you like about teaching? What influence does it have on your film-making?

Claudia Myers: I’ve been teaching for seven years. Being a teacher and being a filmmaker simultaneously forces me to keep thinking critically about what I do. So I feel like with every new class I learn something from my students. They challenge me to look at things differently or explain things better. It keeps me engaged and sharp and more current.

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Amy Steele: Where did you get the idea to write Fort Bliss?

Claudia Myers: Working on a training film for the army at the actual Fort Bliss. Was doing a focus group with infantry soldiers and one was a single dad who had deployed twice to Iraq and I remember being surprised by that. I never thought about a soldier facing multiple deployments as a single parent. As a mother it piqued my interest. Was something I’d never thought about.

Roughly 40% of women in the military are moms. As I developed the story, I felt like telling the ultimate working mother story. As any parent trying to balance with a career they think is meaningful and important with raising a child.

There was a story to be told that hadn’t been told from a female perspective. I found it wasn’t such an unusual circumstance. I would hear “my sister is in that situation” or “I know someone just like that.” It is gratifying that it is a projection of this and interesting to get people thinking about how women are perceived.

People would connect in a way that they hadn’t thought about.

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Amy Steele: Why did you make Maggie a single mom?

Claudia Myers: That was a side of the story I hadn’t seen told and a side of the story I could relate to as a mother and get a strong sense of connection. A real empathy and curiosity for women in the military balancing career and being a parent. To make an independent film there has to be a reason to do it and I hadn’t seen that story told.

Amy Steele: I didn’t think it all that unusual for a woman to serve in the military with a young child at home but I browsed a message board and people thought it strange. This was Maggie’s job. I don’t think she was trying to get away from her son at all but she liked what she did and was trying to secure a better future wasn’t she?

Claudia Myers: I’ve had some conversations with people who don’t understand that she re-enlisted and then got caught in a set of circumstance. As in life there are no right solutions and people do the best they can under the circumstances. Everyone just does the best they can. I wasn’t trying to demonize anyone or make anyone a villain.

As a filmmaker and viewer I have empathy for Maggie but she makes some questionable choices and that’s fine. We sometimes recognize ourselves in a character’s flaws. I wasn’t interested in making her perfect.
Why is it cool for a guy to go off and fight and leave his family but for a woman she’s abandoning her family, she’s a terrible mother.

Claudia Myers: Such an emotional response to the story is a good thing. It gets people to think about their feelings about these things. Things have been changing for a while. Can it ever be completely equal. I don’t know that I have an answer. That’s why I wrote the movie. I was happy when I was writing the script and I wasn’t sure how I could resolve this in a way that was honest.

Amy Steele: How long did it take from script to screen?

Claudia Myers: I got the idea about five years ago. I was intrigued by this character who was a soldier and a mother and was balancing these two sides of her life in an extreme situation. Worked on [the script] on and off for years. It took time to get funding. We had a leisurely editing process. It was good in that it was always on my mind but I wasn’t working on it constantly. The shoot itself was quick. We shot it in 21 days.

Amy Steele: By choice or necessity?

Claudia Myers: It’s never a choice. We always want more time. It was a very intense shooting schedule. It gave the whole process an energy. Everybody wanted to be there. Everyone on our team was really dedicated. That included a number of veterans on the film itself and active duty soldiers. That grounded the production. It helped creating a greater sense of authenticity. The army supported the film so we had subject matter experts. Michelle [Monaghan] was trained by a medic. The army was tremendous in their support.

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Amy Steele: Did you screen it at Fort Bliss?

Claudia Myers: It opened at Fort Bliss and in NY and LA in December.

Amy Steele: And what was the reaction?

Claudia Myers:The reaction has been very positive. Also we had a Los Angeles screening by Veterans in Film and TV [VFT]. 400 veterans at LA premiere. The film got a standing ovation. it was a special night.

Amy Steele: What kind of director are you?

Claudia Myers: I love the whole process. I love working with actors. I just have a lot of respect and admiration for the actors’ craft. I see my job as being as clear as possible about what I’m trying to achieve. What the story’s about, what I’m fundamentally getting to and I work with the various departments to help me bring the story to life. I welcome their input so it’s a real collaboration.

Amy Steele: What were the greatest challenges for this film?

Claudia Myers: So many intense or logistically different scenes on a short time frame and budget. I think that was the overall production challenge. Michelle was so committed and so passionate about the script. As preparation she did an abbreviated medic course. She was a great collaborator. I felt that she understood all the sides of this character which I wanted to bring out. She didn’t hold back and she gave an incredible performance.
The weather was another challenge. It was very hot. We shot in the desert in 100 degree weather. We felt the importance in sharing this story.

Amy Steele: I’m going to remind readers of some statistics of women filmmakers from Indie Wire, 2014:

• 29.8% of filmmakers (directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors) were female.
• Women were 16% of the directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films.
• Women directed 6% of the films.
• Women wrote 10% of the movies.

Amy Steele: What are the barriers facing female filmmakers today? What do you think needs to change? Is it getting better?

Claudia Myers: It is getting better. Maybe a little bit outside the studio. I think there are a lot of independent women directors/writers working. It isn’t a level playing field. There’s a lot of progress needing to be made. People can support films written and directed by women. They can seek them out and watch more of them. I think the more attention we pay it is a positive thing. I hope the trend keeps developing. It’s slower than it should be for sure.

Distributors are still trying to figure out revenues with all these distribution strategies. It’s not what it used to be. We aren’t quite at the place optimally.

In terms of female films being less lucrative, it’s demand driven. If people make a point of watching those films and more films about female protagonists. More films about women. The vast majority of mainstream films feature male protagonists. Some stories need to be told the way they need to be told. You need multi-layered complex women in film. Actresses are eager for more meaty roles.

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Black History Month: must-see documentaries

black power mixtape

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011)
96 min
Rating: A-

–filmed from 1967 to ’75, this is previously unreleased footage of major figures in the Black Power movement, creating hours of footage that remained unreleased for decades. Stokely Carmichael, Huey P. Newton and Angela Davis discuss the movement’s evolution. Truly moving and powerful film.

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Dark Girls (2011)
71 min
Rating: B+
Director: D. Channsin Berry, Bill Duke

–examines prejudices dark-skinned women face throughout the world, includes the roots of classism, racism and the lack of self-esteem within a segment of cultures. Thoughtful, provocative and detailed.

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Soundtrack for a Revolution (2009)
82 min.
Rating: A-

–celebrates the intersection of a political movement and music. Featuring new performances of freedom songs by artists such as Mary J. Blige, Wyclef Jean and John Legend, the film also includes archival footage and interviews with civil rights leaders.

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Good Hair (2009)
95 min
Rating: A
Directed by: Chris Rock

–in this amusing, warm and touching documentary, Chris Rock travels the world to understand African-American women’s hair. He contemplates women’s self-esteem and their looks and the application and purpose of the weave. Rock wanted to understand what his three daughters would go through.

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4 Little Girls (1997)
102 min.
Rating: A
Directed by: Spike Lee

–a member of the Klu Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham, Ala. church and killed four young girls: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair. He put the bomb there to “send a message.” The tragedy served as a catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement. Another sad senseless act of violence in the name of white supremacy.

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The Murder of Emmett Till (2003)
53 min
Rating: B+

–PBS “American Experience” documentary examines the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the subsequent acquittal of his killers. While visiting the Deep South, Till whistled at a white woman, an act which led to his brutal killing. Activists organized after Till’s mother let national newspapers run pictures of her unrecognizable son. A disgusting and disturbing act of racism. Extremely upsetting and unbelievable.

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STEELE PICKS: 12 BEST FILMS of 2014

I’ll choose indie, quirky and dark over anything else anytime. Also quite clear that I support women screenwriters and directors and women in film. I also immensely like Kristen Wiig, Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss. THREE films from Knightley make the list. Themes running through my list: depression; finding oneself; feeling wayward; and musicians.

For two years while I worked at Harvard Business School I was a film critic for the newspaper The Harbus. I wrote reviews for several other publications but I’ve always been primarily a music critic. I’ve also become a book critic. I appreciate great films but don’t write about them.

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1. Whiplash

incredible film about the power of music, redemption and perseverance.

starring: Miles Teller, JK Simmons
written and directed by: Damien Chazelle

BEGIN AGAIN

2. Begin Again

promising singer-songwriter gets her shot at recording an album.

starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Catherine Keenar, Adam Levine
written and directed by: John Carney

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3. Under the Skin

a weird mesmerizing film. stunning cinematography.

starring: Scarlett Johansson
written by: Walter Campbell and Jonathan Glazer
directed by: Jonathan Glazer

Gugu Mbatha-Raw Sarah Gadon

4. Belle

In 19th century England, a young black woman gets brought up alongside her white cousin. She learns that she’ll never be treated equally despite their similarities. Belle [Gugu Mbathal-Raw] battles racism and joins the fight for equality under the law.

starring: Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Gugu Mbathal-Raw
written by: Misan Sagay
directed by: Amma Asante

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5. The Skeleton Twins

touching film about estranged twins with depression and stagnant lives. perfectly played by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader.

starring: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader
written by: Mark Heyman and Craig Johnson
directed by: Craig Johnson

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6. Nightcrawler

didn’t expect to like this film as much as I did and I was blown away. it’s riveting and disturbing. Gyllenhaal outstanding in every scene.

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton
Written and directed by:Dan Gilroy

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7. Laggies

loved this film about not being quite an adult and no longer being a teenager either. That point where you just don’t know what to do with yourself anymore but know that you can’t remain in a stagnant life.

starring: Keira Knightley, Sam Rockwell, Chloe Grace Moretz
written by: Andrea Seigel
directed by: Lynn Shelton

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8. Frank

sometimes the best (or most memorable) artists are eccentric, sad or both. Frank is about such a musician leading an indie group who makes it to perform at SXSW.

starring: Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Domhnall Gleeson, Scoot McNairy
written by:Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan
directed by: Lenny Abrahamson

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9. The Homesman

Not generally a fan of westerns this one got me. a feminist Western with a strong, uncompromising woman [Hilary Swank] at its core.

starring: Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto
written by: Tommy Lee Jones and Kieran Fitzgerald
directed by: Tommy Lee Jones

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10. The Imitation Game

amazing story about the small group of mathematicians led by Alan Turing [Benedict Cumberbatch] who broke the Nazi’s Enigma Code during WWII. what happens to Turing in the 50s– getting prosecuted for being gay– is horrific. The film is wonderful. Keira Knightley excellent as the lone female in the group.

starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Good, Allen Leech, Mark Strong, Charles Dance
directed by: Morten Tyldum
written by: Graham Moore

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11. Selma

An important film about civil rights. So moving. I cried. Martin Luther King Jr. works to secure equal voting rights during the 1960s with a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

starring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Lorraine Toussant, Tom Wilkinson
written by: Paul Webb
directed by: Ava DuVernay

Listen Up Philip (2014) Jonathan Pryce and Jason Schwartzman

12. Listen Up Philip

starring: Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Jonathan Pryce, Krysten Ritter
written and directed by: Alex Ross Perry

Acerbic wit. Arrogant self-centered writer (aren’t most writers?). Highly quotable and darkly amusing film.

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BOOK to FILM: Get Reading!

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Recently watched The Drop. It’s just like the book as Dennis Lehane wrote the screenplay for the film based on a short story and then wrote the novel based on the screenplay. It stars Noomi Rapace, Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini and a cute cute cute puppy! Plenty of Dennis Lehane novels have been adapted to film– Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone.

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Even though I’m not an avid mystery/thriller reader, I’ve sought out a few Dennis Lehane because he’s a local author and many of his books take place in Boston.I took Live By Night out of the library because Ben Affleck will be directing the film version of that one this summer. Read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout when it came out many years ago [Strout is also a lively speaker] and am delighted to see such a quality miniseries on HBO with Frances McDormand. I don’t read a lot of mystery/thrillers so if they’re adapted to film I’ve likely not read all that many of them.

Like most people I read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars as well as The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins before I saw the wonderful film versions. Sometimes the film version is better than the book but often the book is better than the film. Sometimes it’s a good story either way. I’m a bibliophile but not a literary snob that must read every book before seeing its cinematic adaptation. Most Nicholas Sparks, fantasy, romance or YA I’ll give a pass.

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Damian Lewis as Henry XIII

Damian Lewis as Henry XIII

It’s usually best to read the book a while before the film comes out or cast announcements unless you want to envision certain actors in the role. I read Shutter Island right before I saw the film so I pictured Leo DiCaprio the entire time. Not a bad thing. I plan to read Wolf Hall in the next month before the BBC mini-series starring Damian Lewis as Henry XIII.

some 2015 film releases and the source material:

casual vacancy

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
starring: Simona Brown; Hetty Baynes; Lolita Chakrabarti
release date: February on BBC One

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Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
starring: Carey Mulligan; Tom Sturridge; Matthias Schoenaerts
release date: May 1

child 44

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
starring: Tom Hardy; Gary Oldman; Noomi Rapace; Paddy Considine; Dev Patel and Charles Dance.
release date: April 17

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Serena by Ron Rash
starring: Jennifer Lawrence; Bradley Cooper
release date: March 27

dark places

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
starring: Charlize Theron; Chloe Grace Moretz; Christina Hendricks; Nicholas Hoult and Corey Stoll.
release date: TBD

price of salt

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
starring: Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara
release date: TBD

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The Mordecai Trilogy by Kyril Bonfiglioli
starring: Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow; Ewan McGregor
release date: January 23

me before you

Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes
starring: Emilia Clarke; Sam Claflin
release date: August 21

black mass

Black Mass by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill
starring: Johnny Depp; Benedict Cumberbatch; Kevin Bacon; Juno Temple
release date: September 18

secret scripture

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
starring: Rooney Mara; Vanessa Redgrave; Eric Bana; Jeremy Irons
release date: TBD

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The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
starring: Jessica Chastain
release date: TBD

A WALK IN THE WOODS

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
starring: Robert Redford; Nick Nolte
release date: TBD

Books books books

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Choice Quotes: Listen Up Philip

Listen Up Philip (2014) Jonathan Pryce and Jason Schwartzman

“You’ll need a country retreat if you want to get anything done.”

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“It’s a very impulsive decision and I’m pleased with myself for that.”

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“I’m glad he’s replaced himself with a younger surrogate for forlorn moping.”

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“I can’t process how grossly dissatisfied I find myself feeling. Things I’ve coveted for years are mine now and all I feel is miserable.”

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Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B movie review

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Aaliyah, the young, determined teen with a magnetic style and powerhouse vocals rose to fame quickly at 15 with her multi-platinum album Age Aint Nothing But a Number. It sold 3 million copies. The niece of Gladys Knight [Elise Neal], her uncle Barry Hankerson [Lyriq Bent] worked at Jive Records and started his own label Blackground Records. Aaliyah had connections but also talent or she wouldn’t have sold millions of albums. She dated and married R. Kelly who produced her first album. He was nearly twice her age at the time. She insisted on developing her own style which was a crop top, baggie low-ride pants and a thick headband. Very Gwen Stefani. Later she dated Damon Dash [Anthony Grant], eight years older than her but at that time Aaliyah was 21. She died in a plane crash while filming a video in the Bahamas at age 22. Lifetime’s Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B skims over everything. There’s no depth and not much to care about.

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The R. Kelly [Cle Bennett]/ Aaliyah romance races past. One minute they’re in the studio, the next minute they’re married. Kudos to the production team for showing her parents horrified reaction to the union. Her father says: “I can’t understand that a grown man would be with a young girl. It’s statutory rape.” Her father forbids them any further personal or professional connection or he’ll have R. Kelly arrested. I wonder how many other young woman would’ve been saved from R. Kelly’s predatory actions if that had happened 20 years ago. Someone as driven and confident as Aaliyah certainly possessed qualities making her seem older than her 15 years but there’s no excuse for R. Kelly’s actions. She was still 15. This knocks Aaliyah into a funk for a while. But then for her second album Aaliyah insists on working with producers Timbaland [Izaak Smith] and Missy Eliot [Chattrisse Dolabelle]. Then unknowns. “It’s my career. It’s my album and I think it should be my decision,” Aaliyah stresses when her label balks at this request.

Alexandra Shipp turns out a vibrant, heartfelt performance as Aaliyah. She sinks into the role. It’s a treat to watch the potential. Everything falls flat outside her believable and invested portrayal. My top complaint is a typical one for Lifetime movies: it’s written and directed by men. A biopic about a young woman always turns out better with a female screenwriter and female director.

Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B premieres Saturday, November 15 on Lifetime.

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