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Nashville Film Festival: Alta Valley

Lupe (Briza Covarrubias) is a hard-working Mexican-Navajo Diné woman just trying to make ends meet and support her family. When her mother Adamina (Paula Miranda) is hospitalized, Lupe will go to any length to acquire the funds needed for a possible life-saving procedure. Her quest to meet her father Carl (Micah Fitzgerald) and ask for his help leads her on a treacherous journey. Along the way she meets Maddy (Allee Sutton Hethcoat), a gun-toting cowgirl who is on the run from a dangerous cartel. The two form an unlikely bond as they join forces on a roadtrip through the Alta Valley.

Written and directed by Jesse Edwards, Alta Valley offers viewers a classic western style thriller as a platform to share the important story of the Diné people (given name: the Navajo). In his director’s statement, Edwards writes “this project is an honest and heartfelt attempt to make an action film, that starts an essential conversation around colonization, land ownership, and reparations toward Native American people.”

Alta Valley can at times be melodramatic and overwrought. However, its bolstered by interesting characters and its effectiveness as a message film. It explores themes of family, greed, language  and land ownership with great respect for the Diné people. It flips the script on westerns of the past while also offering fans of the genre plenty of shoot outs and beautiful cinematography of the vast Utah landscape.

Alta Valley is having its world premiere at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival. Visit the official website for more details on the film.

Nashville Film Festival: Wannabe

Jada (Margo Parker) and her friends Sky (Daisy Lopez) and Bianca (Victoria T. Washington) are ready to take the music world by storm. It’s the 1990s and girl groups are all the rage. The Space Girls, as they call themselves, are preparing for an audition in front of an important music exec. They take the stage to perform their newest song and everything is going fine until Jada spots the exec. It’s Landon (Peter Zizzo), the man who raped her at a party months earlier. Jada must face the decision of whether to work with her assailant or to give up the dream she has long worked for.

Written and directed by Josie Andrews, Wannabe is a powerful short film, primed for the #MeToo era while also giving viewers a window into the past. It’s a reminder that these situations have been going on for far too long. The power dynamic in the aftermath of an assault has always favored the man and what Wannabe effectively demonstrates is how rape victims face impossible decisions for how they should live their lives moving forward. The film is a personal project for director Josie Andrews. In her director’s statement she says:

“Wannabe is not just a plea to believe those who have come forward, but a cry to consider the thousands who have not.”

Josie Andrews

I would love to see Wannabe developed into a full-length feature. But it’s also quite potent as a 13 minute short film. The three lead actresses are fantastic and by the end you’ll want to continue following their characters’ journey, wherever it may take them.

Wannabe is part of the 2022 Nashville Film Festival. Visit the director’s website for more information about the film.

Jon Hamm in Confess Fletch

Confess, Fletch

The best kept secret in movies these days is the new mystery-comedy  Confess, Fletch. Directed by Greg Mottola and based on the novels by Gregory McDonald, Confess, Fletch stars Jon Hamm as a traveling journalist turned rogue detective who tries to solve a murder, an art heist and a kidnapping all while dealing with a cast of eccentric characters along the way.

Jon Hamm in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)
Jon Hamm in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)
Ayden Mayer and Roy Wood Jr. in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)
Ayden Mayer and Roy Wood Jr. in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)
Annie Mumolo in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)
Annie Mumolo in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)
John Slatterly and Jon Hamm in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)
John Slatterly and Jon Hamm in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)

Fletch (Jon Hamm) has been traipsing about Europe covering the tempestuous world of art. He’s been hired by the Italian Count De Grassi (Robert Picardo) to solve an art heist and meets and falls for the Count’s daughter Angela/Andy (Lorenza Izzo). When he gets word that Harvard art professor Ralph Horan (Kyle MacLachlan) has recently sold two of the Count’s pieces, Angela helps Fletch out by booking him a luxury apartment in Boston so he can further investigate. Upon arrival, Fletch is greeted with a dead body at the apartment and police detectives Monroe (Roy Wood Jr.) and Griz (Ayden Mayeri) immediately suspect him as the murderer. Fletch takes it upon himself to solve the murder, the art heist and the Count’s kidnapping. He takes on numerous aliases and is always one step ahead of the detectives . Fletch must contend with the lustful Countess (Marcia Gay Harden), the drug addict apartment owner Owen (John Behlmann), the pot smoking airhead neighbor Eve (Annie Mumolo), his old boss Frank (John Slattery) and many other quirky characters.

“I loved Mcdonald’s writing — the books are witty, surprising, full of lively, oddball characters and crackling dialogue. And a great, original protagonist: an irreverent, smart-ass investigative reporter as the stand-in for a detective in a murder mystery plot. Between the banter and the investigations, there’s also incisive social commentary.”

director Greg Mottola
Confess, Fletcher poster art

Confess, Fletch is pure delight. Jon Hamm is utterly charming as Fletch. He gives the role just the right dose of eccentricity without going too far. In fact, the entire movie does a great job balancing the comedy elements with the unfolding mystery. There are so many funny moments but it never feels cheesy. The supporting players all have excellent roles with their own story arcs and quirks. This really adds richness to the story. My favorites were Annie Mumolo’s Eve, a free spirit who is constant danger because she doesn’t take precarious situations all that seriously. Spotting the quirks is half the fun. These include Fletch’s penchant for taking off his shoes, Horan’s germophobia and love of EDM, Frank’s constant cursing, Griz’s bad luck and Monroe’s grogginess from too much work and being a new dad.

I wish there was more of Angela’s character and perhaps a bit less of the Countess. I felt that balance was a bit off. And of course we could have used even more scenes between Hamm and Slattery (a delight for hardcore Mad Men fans like myself). 

As a native Bostonian, I thought the film made great use of on location shooting. The living quarters shown are very luxurious, out of budget for someone like Fletch, but it is adequately explained given the fact that he’s being funded by rich patrons.

Overall, Confess, Fletch is pure comedy gold. Solid storytelling, a great lead, full realized quirky supporting characters and a fun murder mystery plot. And it’s even better on second viewing.

Confess, Fletch is currently in theaters and available to rent or purchase on VOD.

Watch on Apple TV

Carmen

Eat Pray Love (2010) meets Corpus Christi (2019) in this tender drama about a middle-aged woman reclaiming her life after years of service in the church.

Set in Malta during the 1980s, Carmen stars Natascha McElhone, the sister of the local priest. Per Maltese customs, when a priest is ordained, his oldest sister must make the sacrifice of abandoning any hopes of a career, relationship or family of her own in order to take care of her brother in service. Carmen has done since from the age of 16 until 50. When her brother passes away, she creates a new life for herself. With her newfound freedom, she pretends to be the new priest and takes confessionals in secret. She spends her days people watching and connecting with the locals. She forms a romantic bond with Paulo (Steven Love), a young Maltese-Canadian man to whom she tries to sell stolen goods from the church. Soon enough, Carmen’s new-found joie de vivre starts to have an effect on the community around her.

“Carmen is inspired by an old Maltese tradition… Many women’s voices were squashed, and their spirits dampened. This happened to my Aunt, now 95 years old… This film is for my Aunt and all the women who’ve suffered this tradition under the patriarchy.” — director Valerie Buhagiar

Directed by Valerie Buhagiar, Carmen is brimming with optimism despite the trials and tribulations endured by its protagonist. Natascha McElhone is absolutely charming as Carmen. She imbues the character with a sense of curiosity and wonderment that is quite fetching. When Carmen comes out of her situation, she receives a makeover and we see a raven haired beauty dressed in bright red emerge from her cocoon. Malta is its own character depicted both with a sense of beauty and a sense of social injustice. The plot can get a bit murky but doesn’t take away much from the overall experience.

Carmen is currently in theaters and available to rent on VOD.

Charcoal/Carvão

Set in the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil, Charcoal/Carvão tells the story of an impoverished family who make an almost Faustian bargain to lift themselves up out of their situation. Irene (Maeve Jinkings) cares for her ailing father but between that, raising her son Jean (Jean Costa) and dealing with her husband Jairo’s (Romulo Braga) reckless behavior, she is overwhelmed. When a nurse, Juracy (Aline Marta), offers Irene a shady deal to help the family, after much consideration Irene agrees. The plan involves getting rid of Irene’s father and secretly replacing him with  Miguel (César Bordón), an Argentine drug lord who faked his own death and is now in hiding. Irene and her family keep up appearances. Jean goes to school, Jairo continues to work harvesting charcoal and Irene sells her chicken dinners. But the influx of cash and the looming danger that hangs over this volatile stranger, threatens to push the family over the edge.

“Charcoal is my attempt to understand how violence, religion and hypocrisy have taken over our lives and bodies in a way that we don’t’ even notice any more.”

Carolina Markowicz

Written and directed by Carolina Markowicz, Charcoal/Carvão is an unrelentingly brutal film about the lengths people will go to escape their situation. The film is deceptively quiet which makes certain scenes all that more shocking. Bookended with religious scenes and music, the story aptly explores how desperation takes away our morals and basic humanity. The performances came across so natural that it’s easy to forget we’re watching actors playing roles and not real people living their lives. Markowicz does a brilliant job enveloping the audience in the world of her characters that it feels like we are right there with them. 

Charcoal/Carvão is emotionally devastating and draining. It’s a film to watch. But only once.

Note to add: both Portuguese and Spanish are spoken in the film.

Charcoal/Carvão premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

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