It’s 1967 in Ballygar, a community in Dublin, where three friends of three different generations gather to mourn the death of one of their own. Lily (Maggie Smith), Eileen (Kathy Bates) and Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) soon come face to face with the friend’s daughter, Chrissie (Laura Linney), who fled Ballygar for the United States and hasn’t been back in nearly four decades. When the church wins a contest for a pilgrimage to Lourdes, Lily, Eileen, Dolly and Chrissie travel to the holy site. Each of the women must confront their individual problems and help each other while searching for the miracle that can possibly change their lives for the better.
Directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan, The Miracle Club is a heartfelt story about societal expectations when it comes to relationships and life choices.
The film has a gentle message of acceptance as the characters try to connect with Dolly’s non-verbal autistic child. Despite the title and the characters’ journey, the film isn’t all that religious. The pilgrimage to Lourdes seems more like a cultural milestone than an event sprung from any sort of religious fervor. This movie will appeal to both Catholics and non-Catholics who are seeking tender story delivered without a heavy hand.
The four leads shine and Smith, Bates and Linney in particular continue to prove their star power. We need to continue to embrace stories about older women and intergenerational relationships. This film is one example about how these stories can be told and told well.
The Miracle Club reminded me of two movies in particular. The story line about an exiled woman returning to her small town after a big scandal drove her away reminded me of The Dressmaker (2015) starring Kate Winslet. If you’re interested in a more dramatic piece about the Sanctuary of Our Lady Lourdes pilgrimage site, I highly recommend Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner’s excellent film Lourdes (2009) starring Sylvie Testud. If you want to learn more about that film, check out the article I wrote about Lourdes for the Turner Classic Movies website.
The Miracle Club is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics and is currently in theaters.
Set in 1960s Boston, Eileen stars Thomasin McKenzie as the title character, an assistant working at a juvenile detention center. Eileen spends her days taking care of odds and ends at the prison and her nights by taking care of her alcoholic and emotionally abusive father. When psychologist Rebecca (Anne Hathaway) joins the prison staff, Eileen is smitten. Rebecca is blonde, well-dressed, well-mannered and speaks in a lilting Mid-Atlantic accent. Eileen and Rebecca form a close bond that turns sinister as they take an interest in a local criminal case.
Directed by William Oldroyd and based on the novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen is a solid drama with two very captivating leads. McKenzie and Hathaway play off each other much like Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett do in Carol (2015). There are somethings about the film that worked and some things that didn’t. The LGBTQ storyline is left ambiguous which is a bit of a disappointment. There is a tonal shift that takes this from dramatic love story to murder mystery. Earlier scenes hint at something being afoot but the story’s twist will still catch viewers by surprise. New Zealand born actress Thomasin McKenzie really nails the Boston accent. She doesn’t overplay. Instead it’s a bit more subtle and natural which Massachusetts locals, like myself, will appreciate.
Eileen premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Update: Eileen has been acquired by NEON and will be released theatrically in Fall 2023.
In February 2027, the Martin Luther King Jr. surveillance tapes recorded by the FBI will be unsealed and made available to the public. These tapes are the result of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI’s extensive harassment of MLK. Hoover sought out sordid details of MLK’s extramarital affairs hoping that the information would ruin his public image and in turn weaken MLK’s leadership. What Hoover didn’t anticipate is that ultimately no one cared. The movement was full speed ahead and even one of the most powerful men in America couldn’t stop it.
Directed by Sam Pollard, MLK/FBI is both a compelling look into one of the darkest times in the history of the FBI and a brilliant portrait of a charismatic leader who was able to mobilize a community into peaceful action despite all the challenges that faced him. The documentary is comprised of photographs and archival footage as well as clips from newsreels and relevant classic movies. It was based on recently released documents made available by way of the Freedom of Information Act.
The talking heads narrate but are not seen until the end of the film. The narrators include Civil Rights leaders, historians and former FBI employees including former director James Comey. The greatest value of this documentary is the amount of quality archival footage of MLK himself. I have seen several documentaries about the Civil Rights movement but none have included this much actual footage of MLK. The film is based on recently released documents made available by way of the Freedom of Information Act.
MLK/FBI is a priceless documentary that sheds light on the past and serves as a warning for the future.
MLK/FBI recently screened at the 2020 virtual Double Exposure Film Festival. It will be released by IFC in January 2021.
Representation matters. When a young Edward Dwight Jr. saw a photo of an African-American jet pilot in the newspaper, everything he dreamed about suddenly became a possibility. That one photo sparked something inside him and Dwight set out to achieve his dreams. He proved to be an excellent pilot and served as a captain in the Air Force. Dwight was selected as a NASA astronaut trainee by the Kennedy administration, the first African-American to be chosen. And while he was an exceptionally trained pilot, he never made it passed phase two of the training. It’s clear that the world wasn’t ready for a black astronaut. Dwight could have let this disappointment drag him down but instead he reinvented himself.
Directed by Ben Proudfoot, The Lost Astronaut is an intimate short documentary that profiles an extraordinary man. This 14 minute film is part of The New York Times series Almost Famous while profiles subjects in similar circumstances. The extreme close up on Dwight’s face as he recounts the story of his life makes the viewer feel like Dwight is an old friend that we care deeply about. What’s so exceptional about Captain Edward Dwight Jr.’s story is that his career happened during what the director refers to as “collision of the space race and the civil rights movement.” Had he been born a few decades earlier he may never have become a pilot. Had he been born a few decades later he might have become a NASA astronaut.
The Lost Astronaut was screened as part of the Meet the Press program for the 2020 virtual AFI Fest.
“For a cop things are black or white. In the middle there’s nothing.”
The year is 1975. In a small province of Argentina, a group of people are quietly emptying a house of its most valuable possessions. It’s rumored that the family who lived there were the targets of a government raid and have since fled the country. This introduction tells us what we need to know about mid-1970s Argentina and the government corruption that endangers its own people.
Claudio (Dario Grandinetti) is a town counselor and lawyer. A tense confrontation with a stranger, later known as El Hippie (Diego Cremonesi), at a restaurant escalates and ends in tragedy. Claudio leaves this unfortunate event behind him and transitions back to his normal life with his wife Susana (Andrea Frigerio) and teenage daughter Paula (Laura Grandinetti). Corruption lurks around every corner as friends go missing. After arranging an underhanded deal with his friend Vivas (Claudio Martinez Bel) to buy the aforementioned house, Claudio discovers the true identity of El Hippie and that Vivas has hired former cop turned celebrity detective Sinclair (Alfredo Castro) to investigate. It’s only a matter of time for things to unravel for Claudio as Sinclair zeroes in on what really happened.
Written and directed by Benjamin Naishtat, Rojo is a moody and atmospheric drama that explores how government corruption enables the worst in human behavior. I found this film deeply unsettling. Right from the very beginning I got a sense of dread. As though danger were lurking at every corner. Why is the camera so still? Why is it looking at this house for so long? Is the house going to explode? It didn’t but that was the palpable tension that made me so engrossed in the film.
Rojo means red in Spanish and the film utilizes the color in many ways. The most interesting use of the color comes from the scene when a solar eclipse casts a red glow. This is a pivotal point in the film as detective Sinclair has just entered Claudio’s life, stirring the pot and making Claudio very uncomfortable. Claudio and his wife escape to the beach where they witness the eclipse and this moment the beginning of an end of sorts.
Naishtat was inspired to make Rojo from his fascination with the 1970s and “the symbolic burden” the political persecution and exile of the Argentine people had on future generations. The overall theme of a greater evil threatening the personal freedoms of citizens is compelling and universal but really gives the viewers a sense of one of the darkest times in Argentina’s history.
Rojo opens in New York City at Quad Cinema and the Film at Lincoln Center on Friday and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal on July 19th.