Thursday, March 1, 2018

"Nostalgia" - a lamentation on loss - opens Friday, March 2nd, in Albuquerque



“Nostalgia “ - a lamentation on loss –
opens Friday, March 2nd, in Albuquerque

“Nostalgia” (2018) explores grief, mementos, and memories in a beautiful thoughtful film.  It is the most recent film of prolific director and producer Mark Pellington (a sampling of his work includes “The Last Word” (2017), “The Mothman Prophesies” (2002), “Arlington Road” (1999), episodes of “Blind Spot” and “Cold Case”, and countless music videos). 

The screenplay of Alex Ross Perry is interpreted with care by a stellar ensemble cast that includes Jon Hamm, Ellen Burstyn, Catherine Keener, Bruce Dern, Jon Ortiz, and Amber Tamblyn. 

The story moves along at a slow pace, with long takes and a focus on dialogue.  Emotions are portrayed by carefully chosen words and silence, allowing the viewer to concentrate on nuanced facial expressions.  There is a sensibility that this is more of a stage production than a film since the prose spoken is more eloquent than day-to-day conversations we normally hear or engage in.  The camera will on occasion hold shots to the point of discomfort to emphasize the undercurrent of feelings, perhaps a bit overdone now and then.

I like the unusual structure of this film. It begins with insurance man Daniel (John Ortiz) intruding on the acerbic Ronald (Bruce Dern) as he sits in his cluttered house surrounded by dusty books, aged photos, a chess set, and piles of magazines and other household items.  Ronald’s granddaughter wants an evaluation of the worth of his property but isn’t there as it is happening. 



  
Daniel is bemused by Ronald’s blend of attachment and detachment from his things and their value (or lack of value).  Though Ronald is irritated by the intrusion, he allows the voyeuristic Daniel to take his photo and as Daniel leaves, queries, “Won’t you be coming back?”  He won’t.

Next, Daniel visits the granddaughter (Amber Tamblyn) and while we never learn of why she is alienated from her grandfather, it’s clear that she wants some sort of memento, something that will remind her of the lives lived before her: a diary, photos, perhaps love letters. 

Each character in the film is losing or has lost loved ones and, in the case of Daniel’s next client Helen (Ellyn Burstyn) - her home.  It was burned down and she had just moments to recover some things from inside: a few pieces of heirloom jewelry and an old baseball beloved by her husband.  Not only does Helen grieve the loss of her home. These few saved items resonate with memories of her life with her husband and family. 

As Daniel spends a bit of time with Helen and her neighbors he’s asked what it is like for him to be constantly dealing with losses of others.  His response:  “It never hurts me personally and it never gets old.”  He is strangely attracted to the job, always learning something new about people and their possessions.  But he admits, “Nobody wants to be talking to me. Knowing that makes my job a lot easier.”  Ovitz’s character is intriguing, but we don’t learn much more about him. After he gazes at the bleak burned remains of Ellyn’s house, he mutters, “lives lived” and then fades from the film.



Helen carries the plot on first, as she visits a memorabilia dealer Will (John Hamm), considering whether to part with her husband’s most treasured possession, the baseball.  Then we follow Will as he returns to the family home, meeting his sister Donna (Catherine Keener).  They are preparing to empty out the remaining things since their folks have retired to a Florida condo. 


 
Each character contemplates what is left behind, how they relate to these mementos and the memories they awaken, and whether there is value in keeping them. An interesting perspective is that of Millennials, portrayed by Donna’s daughter and her friends.  All their memories are captured digitally.  When they pass, will there be any physical mementos to carry on their memories?  

Each story awakens memories in the characters as they look over memorabilia, things that represent feelings, and decide whether to value them.  While the film emphasizes the meaning that people place on possessions and the stories they represent, in the end it is about facing death and what remains behind.  Love. 

“Nostalgia” evokes for me memories of Bergman’s “Cries and Whispers” (1972), although that is an entirely different film.  But both have the sensibility of acknowledging the inherent grief and pain in life.  In the end, both question, “What do we leave behind?”  In Bergman’s film, the answer is dark.  “Nostalgia” offers some solace.  The pace of each of these films also allows plenty of time to reflect and impose personal stories and beliefs into these films.  Each film also explores darkness that is faced when one contemplates the questions brought to the foreground by death.

Underscored by original music composed by Laurent Eyquem and various jazz pieces as Will and Donna look over their parents’ vinyl collection, the film overall has a contemplative tone.  Patrick Watson’s “Lighthouse” is a beautifully expressive tune and well chosen for the closing credits.

The pleasing cinematography of Matt Sakatani Roe offers a meaningful backdrop to the loosely connected stories. Shades of blues and greens predominate, signifying to me the juxtaposition of loss and hope. Transitions between scenes are unique, abstract flickering and colorful lines that could be the visions one has while falling asleep as a passenger in a car.  Nature is captured as splendid and at times lush - mighty trees, vast stretches of mountain ranges, sunsets, starry nights, vast open lands - a serene contrast to the raw human emotions.  Perhaps these inclusive shots of the natural world put everything into perspective.

Here is a link to the trailer: https://youtu.be/DRKEHT263gI

“Nostalgia” opens in downtown Albuquerque on March 2nd at Cinemark’s Century 14, 100 Central Ave SE.  You can call (505) 243-9555 for information or check out the website: https://www.cinemark.com/new-mexico/century-14-downtown-albuquerque



Tuesday, January 23, 2018

42 Grams - At What Price, Fame?



Culinary shows abound in films and on television. Chefs are on pedestals.  We watch, fascinated, TV shows like “Top Chef,” Anthony Bourdain on his culinary adventures or films like “Julie & Julia” and “Burnt.”  The story of Jake Bickelhaupt, underground chef, as he and his wife  - Alexa Welsh - create  an outlaw restaurant in their apartment and then move onward, is the story of the documentary “42 Grams” (2017)(82 min.).  

Jake, an experienced and creative chef, opines that chefs don’t know how to cook and criticizes others as robots working on assembly lines, painting by numbers. He, on the other hand, creates something that doesn’t really exist,  unique combinations of ingredients, exquisitely designed and clearly one-of-a-kind.  They start up “Sous Rising,” their home-based restaurant, under the watchful eye of filmmaker Jack C. Newell.  Jake creates and Alexa manages and also serves 15-course tasting menus to the delight of customers lucky enough to know of this place and get a coveted seat.  Alexa remarks: “You’re crazy to think people will pay money to come to your house.” But they do, day after day.  

After 18-months of success, they open a brick-and-mortar restaurant - named 42 Grams - based on the belief that the soul weighs 21 grams and combined, totals 42.  With a rotating number of assistants, Jake creates 3- or 4-bite food items after great reflection and experimentation.  An incredible amount of work goes into planning each tasty creation.  For example, he labors over a dessert with these ingredients:

roasted banana
brown butter crumbles
tamarind gelato (maybe a teaspoonful)
shaved hazelnut
canelĂ© (itself resulting from experimenting with ingredients and cooking   methods)
bubblegum hyssop (a minty plant - I had to look this one up)

Jake passionately creates “a feeling” each time he succeeds in designing a unique food item.  He relishes that he is cooking by combining science and art.  He seeks to find his own voice, “trying to make a new language,” in his words.  He brings on and trains staff, usually just one at a time, but it is a revolving door most likely due to his abrasiveness and occasional short temper.

And what are the results of this intensive focus?  After being open just 10 months, 42 Grams receives the coveted nod from The Michelin Guide,  receiving not just one star, but two, virtually unheard of for a new restaurant.  This two (out of three) star rating is defined as noting “excellent cooking, worth a detour.”    Chicago, at this time, had just 20 one-star restaurants, 3 two-star, and 1 three-star; in fact, in the entire U.S. there were only 18 two-star restaurants then.

The film is written and directed by Jack C. Newell, the Program Director of The Harold Ramis Film School at The Second City Training Center and also co-creator of The Wabash Lights, a light installation on the underside of train tracks in downtown Chicago.  Newell captures an unfiltered look at this complex food genius and his supportive wife and business partner.  The personal strain on each of them and their marriage is evident without being overstated.  During this rise to acclamation, they realize they only have 42 Grams - no friends, no travel, no real marriage.

In the end, is the validation that resulted from the two-star rating worth it?  Is connecting to strangers by producing truly unique food selections fulfilling in a lasting way?   These are the questions with which I was left as I viewed 42 Grams.  This film offers a thoughtful, engaging and compelling look at a unique chef and his partner.  Taking a risk to pursue a dream is always a leap, and 42 Grams allows us to share this journey.

It screens on Saturday, January 27th at 1 PM at The Guild Theater in Nob Hill, 3405 Central Avenue NE Albuquerque, NM.  You can call (505) 255-1848 or check The Guild’s website for more information. http://www.guildcinema.com/   Here is a link to the trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvnm2jRyQR0



Tuesday, August 15, 2017

New Mexican-Shot Film - "Shot Caller" - Opens Friday, Aug. 18th - In Albuquerque

NEW MEXICAN-SHOT FILM - "SHOT CALLER" - OPENS FRIDAY, AUG. 18th - IN ALBUQUERQUE

 An ordinary life, albeit one of a wealthy stockbroker, a “money man,” comes to a screeching halt when Jacob  accidentally kills his best friend while driving under the influence.  His life, and that of his family and the victim’s family, is shattered and he enters prison.  His life up to this point has been sheltered, privileged, and far removed from the world of prisons and gangs. 

While in the real world it’s highly unlikely an upper middle-class white man would end up in a maximum security prison for a first time offense, disbelief has to be suspended for the story to work. And it does work.

“Shot Caller” (2017) - directed by Ric Roman Waugh -  opens not with the idyllic life of Jacob (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)(“Game of Thrones”) but with his prison release with a bit of cash, an ID card, and a ride to the station.  This man is hard as nails, tattooed, eyes with a glint of steel. 

The film flashes back to his gilded past, forcefully contrasting it with the harsh and cruel present.  The director’s use of intercuts from the past to the present particularly highlights the acting abilities of Coster-Waldau since Jacob and “Money” (his prison moniker) have distinctly opposite personas.

Will any of Jacob’s humanity return? That’s the question.

In prison, his first lesson is a hard one.  He has to stand up for himself in a milieu dominated by gangs or he’ll be brutalized.   In the yard, he fights someone who bumps him, leading to being thrown in the hole but gaining that curious macho respect one gains by being violent.

Violence incrementally escalates in him when he’s coerced into a drug transaction, then amplifies when he’s ordered to kill someone. He is told, “a place like this forces us to become angels or victims.”  On the outside he was a high-end money-maker. On the inside, he begins the rise to the top.  He has made his choice.

His heart shows briefly when his wife - despite his wishes - brings his son to prison for a visit.  He tells him to stay away.  “Some things just don’t go back together again.”  Alone later, he cries.

Crime as entertainment is not the reality of crime and punishment. It is a way the filmmaker works through mythologies - good and evil, redemption, punishment, life and death, a morality tale, the hero journey.  “Shot Caller” shows the dehumanizing process people go through when thrust into harsh environments filled with desperate people with no hope. While the film visualizes an extreme, the fact is that the prison experience damages people who already are damaged. Utilizing this setting to tell a story acknowledges that reality to an extent, then moves into the mythology to entertain the audience.

(One personal aside, if you will: It would be a better world if Hollywood would donate some of the profits it makes off of crime stories to prison reform and prison re-entry programs).

“Shot Caller,”  like other crime films, brings out in the audience all the contradictory thoughts and feelings we have towards crime.  We empathize with the need for protecting one’s family and oneself and put aside our abhorrence at the violent means to ends portrayed in these films.  We fear crime and criminals yet strangely root for some of them in films and television.  


Walter White is another prime example of how the entertainment industry creates an anti-hero whom we love.  How many people admired him while at precisely the same time were appalled by his expanding sociopathology?

Likewise, this is how we view Jacob / “Money.”  Through his choices, we see his true character, and it’s repulsive.  He is a warrior, a gangster, and once released kills without remorse.   He tells his family once and for all, “It’s over.  Forget I exist.”

Until.... Yes, there is a more than satisfactory twist to the story. 

Most of the other characters are not well-developed with the exception of Omari Hardwick (“Saved,” “Dark Blue”), who plays Jacob’s beleaguered but street-wise parole officer. Again, suspend disbelief because his duties as parole officer go above and beyond those of parole officer in the real world.

Lake Bell (“In A World,” one of my favorites) is underutilized in this film portraying his wife Kate. More of a contrast between who Jacob was and who he became could have been developed had there been more scenes between Jacob and Kate.  Co-stars also include Jon Bernthal (“Sicario”) and Jeffrey Donovan (“Burn Notice”), the latter in a role completely opposite the Michael Weston character.
 

Ric Roman Waugh wrote, produced, and directed this film. It is the third of a trilogy of his films, “Felon,” and “Snitch” preceding “Shot Caller.”  I commend him for drawing the viewer into the story with compelling action scenes and a different perspective on the crime story.  Cinematographer Dana Gonzales is also to be commended for the stunning visuals that show the claustrophobia of both prisons and the post-prison world where one surrounds oneself with other ex-cons and furtively hides from law enforcement and normalcy.

Filmed in New Mexico in 2015,  this film is opening on August 18th at Icon Cinemas in Albuquerque - located in the Four Hills Shopping Center.  Contact the theater at 505-814-7469 or check out their website for more information. http://albuquerque.iconcinemas.com  “Shot Caller” also opens that date in 17 other U.S. markets and is available as premium video-on-demand.   Here is a link to the trailer:  https://youtu.be/Xm157yQ7g1E


Sources aside from the film:  Press material from Saban Films (including photos), IMDb, Variety Magazine

Thursday, May 11, 2017

“A Quiet Passion” reveals a resounding voice

When Emily Dickinson died, only a few of her poems had been published by a family friend, who had voiced his opinion that women’s writing was inferior to men’s, emitted “through a mist of tears.” When after her death, Emily’s family discovered 40 volumes of nearly 1,800 poems, several volumes of her poetry were published.  Today, of course, she is revered as one of America’s most significant and unique poets.

The film - “A Quiet Passion” (2016) - explores Dickinson’s cloistered family life, giving a glimpse at her strong views on social justice, women’s rights, religion, and family.  Directed by Terence Davies (“House of Mirth,” “The Deep Blue Sea”), this film reveals a strange and driven writer, seeking permission from her father to write, then arising at 3 AM to perfect her craft and tuck most of her work safely away in private books. She is brilliant, independent and occasionally funny, but she also harbors sadness, irony, and a sense of deep alienation.

This rebel is only quiet in the sense that she has limited her life to her family home, rarely venturing out. Her life is parallel to her reclusive, depressed mother’s life, who rarely leaves her bedroom.  But, as said, Dickinson is passionate and now and then loudly expressive about religion (not an atheist, but questioning), slavery, adultery (leading to a loud, angry disagreement with her brother), and truth.

This film has the sensibility of a stage production.  Words are uttered with care, sometimes just murmured. There is no talking over of one person by another. Background distractions are minimal.  Mostly we are inside the Dickinson home, though there are a few forays through lush flower gardens and other outdoor settings.  There is even a moment in a musical theater at the beginning of the film that in retrospect is in sharp contrast with how physically confined Emily’s world becomes.

Cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister has created a dream-like mid-19th century New England setting, shot in both Belgium and the Amherst area.  When indoors,  a painterly-like setting is evoked with muted cool colors, light entering through windows or by gas lamps so that the foreground focus on Emily and her family or friends fades gently into darkness.  At times, the camera pans the room, silhouetting family members and displaying opulence and beauty while highlighting the estrangement of Emily as she listens to the goings-on from beyond, hidden in the shadows.

Outdoor shots portray bright sunlit gardens, extravagant gowns, and pastel parasols.  On the other hand, the formality of manners and with rare exceptions subdued expressions of emotion emphasize the contrast between the possibility of truly free and honest behavior and rigid standards of behavior.  Only through her secret writings could Emily express her passionate feelings and questions about life.
 
Emma Bell as young Emily and Cynthia Nixon as the adult both intuitively portray her brilliance and depth.  With an uncanny resemblance to photos of Emily Dickinson, Nixon also subtly captures nuances of her personality, intelligence, and passion that is tamped down most of the time by social conventions.

Kudos to Terence Davies (who had Nixon in mind as he wrote the script) and the casting department since also superbly well cast are Jennifer Ehle as her loyal sister, Duncan Duff as her complex brother, and Keith Carradine as Emily’s stern but supportive father.

This film opens tomorrow, May 12, in Santa Fe at the Violet Crown Cinema and in Albuquerque on Friday, May 19 at Regal UA High Ridge 8.  Here is a link to the trailer:  https://youtu.be/eKJpx8FYp54

“A Quiet Passion” has been highly acclaimed, chosen as the Modern Masters Selection at the 2017 Palm Springs International Film Festival and the Official Selection at three recent film festivals, including the 2016 New York Film Festival, the 2016 Chicago International Film Festival, and the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.

One of the joys of “A Quiet Passion” is that Emily Dickinson’s poetry washes over us, her words meaningfully interspersed throughout the film. Because “A Quiet Passion” celebrates Dickinson’s life and words, it seems only fitting to conclude this review with a a few of her words.  This is her poem, “Because I could not stop for Death.”

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me – 
The Carriage held but just Ourselves – 
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring – 
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – 
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed us –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –


Photo credit: used with permission - Cynthia Nixon in A Quiet Passion. © A Quiet Passion/Hurricane Films/Courtesy of Music Box Films.

Sources:  http://www.musicboxfilms.com/a-quiet-passion-movies-153.php ,  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2392830/combined , https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/because-i-could-not-stop-death-479


Friday, April 28, 2017

To be - or not to be
In Arkansas, there have been 4 executions in 8 days because the Governor didn't want to lose the opportunity to use drugs for lethal injections that were to expire on April 30, 2 days from now. The individual killed last night lurched and jerked and it took a while. China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq and the United States have capital punishment. 140 countries nave never had the death penalty, or have abolished it.

Maryland (where I lived most of my life) abolished it in 2013. New Mexico (where I live now) abolished it in 2009. A total of 18 states and DC do not have the death penalty. 

Here is why: (from nodeathpenalty.org, and I am directly quoting from their website).
"Six Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty
The death penalty is racist.
The death penalty punishes the poor.
The death penalty condemns the innocent to die.
The death penalty is not a deterrent to violent crime.
The death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment.
The death penalty fails to recognize that guilty people have the potential to change, denying them the opportunity to ever rejoin society."


If you have read all of this, and disagree because people should pay for their crimes, or there must be vengeance, or it gives families of victims peace or resolution or closure, I suggest you read more about it. At the very least, consider that there are innocent people on death row.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Pierre Niney and Paula Beer in Frantz

REVIEW: Frantz subtly reminds of the consequences of war, both redeeming and brutal

Frantz (2016, Germany and France) is a pensive reflection on warfare, loss, revenge, despair, truth, love and forgiveness.  Set at the conclusion of World War I, it opens with a young woman named Anna (Paula Beer) placing flowers at a grave in Quedlinburg, a small German town. She is startled when she sees fresh flowers already there and the next day observes a mysterious stranger crying at the grave.  She’s mourning the loss of her fiancĂ©, Frantz (Anton von Lucke), and soon learns that this French stranger was Frantz’s friend when Frantz was studying in Paris before the war. 

This friend - Adrien (Pierre Niney) - is first rebuffed by Frantz’s family, with whom Anna lives, and despised by the local Germans.  Anna convinces Frantz’s parents to open their hearts to him despite him being French.  Gradually, Adrien becomes beloved by Anna and Frantz's parents, Hans (Ernst Stotzner) and Magda (Marie Gruber), as he recounts his days with Frantz in Paris on various excursions.   In a later scene in a bar, Hans criticizes his German friends who scorn Adrien.  Hans blames himself and all the fathers - French and German - for their sons’ deaths.  They sent them to battle to do their duty, to serve their fatherlands.

When Adrien first speaks of his days in Paris with Frantz, the high contrast black-and-white film shifts into muted colors, then later back to black-and-white as the setting returns to the Hoffmeisters’ home. These shifts happen various times in the film.

Director Francois Ozon and assistant
Director Ozon comments on his blending color into a predominantly black-and-white film: 

“Working in black and white for the first time was an exciting challenge, but it was also heartbreaking, as my natural tendency is to emphasize color and technicolor. It was thus difficult for me to give up color in certain locations and scenes. Especially the scene in nature, where they walk to the lake, which is a reference to German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. So I decided to use color as a dramatic element in flashbacks and certain scenes of lying or happiness, to suggest life bleeding back into this gray period of mourning. As blood runs through veins, color irrigates the black and white of the film.”

As Anna and Adrien become closer, the darkness she sensed initially when he spoke of Manet’s painting of a pale boy with his head thrown back becomes more apparent.  Later, Adrien swims in a nearby lake as Anna watches wistfully. She notices he has a war wound and when asking him about it, he responds, “My only wound is Frantz.”  The foreshadowing leads to the real reason for his gloom, and ultimately he and Anna part as he returns to France and Anna realizes her burden.

The Hoffmeisters are sorry to see him go since his musicality and his demeanor - shy yet stormy - remind them of their son.  Anna holds onto a secret, not wanting to break the hearts of this family.  After she confesses to her priest, he remarks, “What would the truth bring?  Only more pain.  Only more tears.” 

I am reminded of Erich Remarque’s brutal novel, “All Quiet On The Western Front,” as I put my thoughts together about Frantz. The message is the same.  War has savage consequences and in the end it is simply one human being fighting against another human being, with all the complexity, heart, faith, fear and sorrow of his or her opponent.  The consequences ripple outwards and can damage permanently.  Or lead to wisdom.  There is an element of choice in the consequence, as Anna realizes.

Directed by Francois Ozon - who is also known for earlier works such as In The House (2012), Swimming Pool (2003) and 8 Women (2002) -  adapted Frantz from the 1923 film, Broken Lullaby, by Ernst Lubirtsch. 

Nominated for close to two dozen awards, Frantz has won the Spotlight Selection at this year’s Sundance Festival, the Director’s Choice Award for Best Foreign Feature Film at the Sedona International Film Festival, the Best Young Actress Award for Paula Beer at the Venice Film Festival and Best Cinematography at the 42nd Cesar Awards.

The cinematography of Pascal Marti is extraordinary, with sharp shadows, clean lines, bright whites, and scenes evocative of paintings of villages, bars, battlefields and the countryside.   Here is a link to the trailer:  https://youtu.be/oop8_CgSgmo   The film is in German and French with English subtitles.

In New Mexico, this film opens TODAY - Friday, April 14 - at Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA), 1050 Old Pecos Trail Road in Santa Fe (phone: 505.982.1338).  In Albuquerque, it is screening at  Regal UA High Ridge 8, 12921 Indian School Rd NE  (phone: (844) 462-7342).

Sources: IMDB, the Film website:  http://www.musicboxfilms.com/frantz-movies-152.php
Photos are copyrighted.  Jean-Claude Moireau - Foz/Courtesy of Music Box.

Thursday, March 23, 2017






MacLaine’s “Last Word” as a curmudgeon offers some unexpected moments




Harriet (Shirley MacLaine)  is not a happy soul.  She lives alone in a house that exudes wealth and boredom. She is snobby to her staff, always knowing better than them and everyone else for that matter.  A half-hearted suicide attempt lands her in the hospital briefly where she dismisses the doctor’s advice and heads back to her solitude.  

As Harriet skims the paper that next night, she notices an homage to a “beloved teacher” who has died “surrounded by her loved ones,” written by obit writer Anne (Amanda Seyfried).  Harriet decides she needs a legacy before she passes, her “Last Word,” if you will, the title of the film directed by Mark Pellington.

She heads to the newspaper offices and confronts Ann, dismissing her recent obits as flat out lies.  Recently deceased Louis Shenken was “a bitch”  and Eugene Baker sang all the time because he was “a drunk,”  but Ann’s obits make them look magnificent.  

Harriet browbeats Ann into working for her so she’ll get her own brilliant write-up.  She wants the four elements of a good obit: a great headline, loved by family, admired by co-workers, and having touched someone’s life unexpectedly (preferably a “minority” or “a cripple” - her words).

Predictably, none of these elements exist as Ann does her research, but Harriet won’t go away quietly, and when Harriet goes to a center for at-risk kids and picks out precocious and somewhat vulgar Brenda (AnnJewell Lee Dixon) as her do-gooder project, Brenda quips that she must be doing community service for drunk driving like other white folks who show up there.

What is unexpected is Harriet’s love of vinyl and her ability to talk herself into a DJ job. That foray gives this film distinction and broadens the stereotypes.  

Of course, the ice thaws between Brenda, Ann and Harriet and this motley crew goes on a road trip, complete with a not-so-nice luncheon with Harriet’s estranged daughter (Anne Heche) and a hike in the night woods complete with a jump in a lake (sort of). In the end this buddy film leaves the viewer with a warm and fuzzy glow.

Says director Pellington about Harriet:  “She’s showing Anne and Brenda—and herself—what kind of life that she wants to lead,” notes Pellington. “She is encouraging them to figure that out for themselves. Open yourself up. Don’t be afraid to fail. … She takes what could be sentimental, greeting-card life lessons and makes them completely human and grounded.” 

What stands out to me about veteran actor MacLaine is how nuanced her acting is: just a slight lift of an eyebrow, turn of the corner of her mouth, a shift in her posture speaks volumes.  While I love her earlier films much more (especially “The Apartment” (1960) and “Terms of Endearment” (1980)) - I’m always happy to see her still shining brightly.  More films are in the works according to IMDb.  Here’s a link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXMP4ptVdKI

Sources: 
http://www.bleeckerstreetmedia.com/editorial/women-united   
IMDb  
the film