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.
What happens when you’re more than ready for your next journey but life hasn’t caught up with you yet? Matt (Ed Helms) wants to have a baby. He’s 45 years old, a successful app developer, financially stable and emotionally ready for parenthood. The trouble is he doesn’t have a partner. Matt takes the next step and hires surrogate. Anna (Patti Harrison) is a 20-something barista who agrees to the arrangement so she can afford to go back to college. Parent and surrogate are supposed to remain emotionally distant but Matt wants to be involved in every step of the process. The two form a bond that crosses the boundaries they were supposed to set for each other. What will happen when the baby finally arrives?
Written and directed by Nikole Beckwith, Together Together is a sweet, quirky movie about the curveballs life throws at you and how relationships don’t always fit easily into societal molds. Beckwith was inspired by “the idea of strangers coming together in such an intimate and complicated circumstance.” The movie takes its time exploring all the nuances of Matt and Anna’s situation with all the ups and downs that come with it. Helms is fantastic as the neurotic soon-to-be-dad and Harrison is a delight as the emotionally conflicted Anna. The film suffers from an abrupt ending that will leave some viewers frustrated. Despite that, I recommend you watch this charming and heartfelt movie.
Together Together is in theaters now and releases on digital May 11th.
Elliot (Will Dennis), is an entrepreneur who is strictly by-the-book. His days are scheduled by the minute. He took a chance and gave up a career as a consultant to develop an ice cream delivery app in which users literally scream their orders into their phones. Needless to say, it’s not going well.
Kimmie (Kelsea Bauman) is a wannabe stand-up comedian who is nothing if not a free spirit. By day she works at a bakery and by night as a cam girl. Kimmie meets Elliot when she buys his van. While they say opposites attract, perhaps Kimmie and Elliot are too far apart on the spectrum and when Elliot makes a move on Kimmie, she turns him down.
But that changes soon when Kimmie’s boss has to close down the shop due to a rat infestation, she tries to sell the van back to Elliot. However, Elliot desperately needs the money for his app. What ensues is one long first date in the form of the road trip to New Orleans to sell the van.
Filmmaker Will Dennis’ Vanilla is a sweet and quirky comedy about being true to yourself. Elliot and Kimmie are well-defined characters. Kimmie is stand-offish, always trying to protect herself from being too vulnerable. Elliot is just too nice for his own good. Dennis, who directed, wrote and starred in the film, finds many ways to work ice cream into the plot. There are some quirks I found to be a bit too ridiculous including the storyline with Elliot’s mom and the I Scream for Ice Cream app. With that said, Vanilla has a lot of charm and is a tasty treat for summer.
Vanilla is available today on VOD from Gravitas Ventures.
Set in the Finnish countryside, A Moment in the Reeds follows the story of Leevi (Janne Puustinen) a college student on summer break. He’s helping his father, Jouko (Mika Melender) renovate the family’s lakeside home. The have a strained relationship made worse by the death of Leevi’s mother. This project is an opportunity for the two to bond but unfortunately they can’t see eye-to-eye on most things. Jouko hires Tareq (Boodi Kabbani), an English-speaking Syrian immigrant who doesn’t understand a lick of Finnish. Leevi serves as translator between the two. When his father’s business takes him away from the project leaving the two behind, they bond and soon discover their undeniable attraction to each other. In the Finnish summer when the days are long and the weather is more forgiving, Leevi and Tareq spend every waking moment together in each others arms. The threat of Jouko finding out about their relationship and the realization that their lives will take them in different directions prevents them from fully opening up to each other. Will what Leevi and Tareq have last for more than just a few summer days?
A Moment in the Reeds was written, directed and edited by Mikko Makela. This is his featured debut and one of the first LGBTQ films to come from his homeland of Finland. This is a quiet story with a few moments of real intensity. It’s spare, raw and poetic. More is said with a look than with words. The cinematography style with a hand-held camera gives the film a more intimate vibe. There are only four actors in the film and the majority of screen time is devoted to Leevi and Tareq’s story. Not much happens in the plot. It’s more about the connection between two people and the struggle between giving into physical attraction and protecting your emotional state when you’re scared to be hurt. The film is God’s Own Country (2017) meets Call Me By Your Name (2017) set in Finland. Some may find it a bit too quiet but others will appreciate it’s more intimate and subdued tone.
Happy Pride Month! I’ve been on a major LGBTQ film kick this year and have been discovering and re-discovering some great movies. To celebrate Pride I thought I’d share with you my favorite LGBTQ films and what I love about each.
Call Me By Your Name (2017) – To say this film changed my life is an understatement. It awakened something in me that’s been dormant in my life. It led to an identity crisis that took me a few months to sort through. I’m a card carrying CMBYN fanatic. I have the Blu-Ray, the Andre Aciman’s original novel, James Ivory’s screenplay (and yes I’ve read both) and the Mania tee inspired by Ivory’s shirt he wore for the Oscars. I talk about this film all the time to anyone who will listen. I introduced it to my friend Vanessa who fell in love with it even more than I did (read the post about her experience here). CMBYN begs to be obsessed over. Set in one of the most beautiful places on earth with two dynamic actors Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer playing two of the most wonderful fictional characters Elio and Oliver, there is little not to love about this movie. There are so many wonderful scenes that it’s hard to choose a favorite but the moment two have in a little nook as Oliver helps Elio with his nosebleed is tender, sweet and sexy in a way that makes me want to fall out of my chair every time I watch it.
Maurice (1987) – Think CMBYN but released three decades earlier and set in the beginning of the century and you have Maurice. Directed and co-written by James Ivory, the story is based on E.M. Forester’s posthumous novel by the same name. It explores the story of Maurice (James Wilby), a young man at university who falls for fellow student Clive (Hugh Grant). When a fellow classmate goes to jail for indecency, homosexuality was illegal back then, Clive tries to go straight. Maurice then finds love with Clive’s groundsman Alec (Rupert Graves). You can see the parallels between Maurice and CMBYN down to the picnic scenes and train station farewells. Maurice has a much more satisfying ending though and lifted me up when CMBYN got me down.
Below Her Mouth (2016) – When I first watched this movie I wrote it off as an overly erotic lesbian drama. I’m glad I gave it a second shot because it quickly became one of my favorite LGBT movies and it rivals CMBYN for the #1 spot. Below Her Mouth is about a roofer Dallas (Erika Linder) and a fashion editor Jasmine (Natalie Krill) who develop an intense physical attraction for each other. The problem is Jasmine is engaged to a man. Linder and Krill have the best on screen chemistry I have ever witness in a movie EVER. It’s so palpable. They’re a perfect match. This film is nothing if not erotic. There are several graphic sex scenes and one could say not enough relationship building. But the sex comes from a female gaze and is more real than anything I’ve ever seen. The production team consisted of an all-female crew (a true rarity!) led by director April Mullen and producer Melissa Coghlan.
Carol (2015) – Set in the 1950s, Carol is based on Patricia Highsmith’s story The Price of Salt. I was worried because of the period that this would break me but lucky for me it didn’t. It stars Cate Blanchett as the title character Carol. On the outside she seems like the perfect rich housewife, but wipe off the veneer and you see a struggling woman in the middle of a divorce and dealing with a society that won’t accept her sexuality. One day Carol meets and falls in love with shop clerk (Rooney Mara) and the two set off on a road trip together. The story is so good at building up the sexual tension that when the two finally have their love scene it was such a welcome relief. The costumes and set design are fantastic. While the film holds the viewer at a distance emotionally, I still felt that this was a sweet love story and depicted the reality of being a lesbian in mid-Century New York City.
Moonlight (2016) – This coming-of-age film is beautiful and stark and relentless in its portrayal of the principal character Chiron in three different stages of his life. All three actors who played Chiron, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex Hibbert brought so much to the role. I’m fascinated that although they didn’t work with each other their own interpretations of Chiron were consistent with each other. Moonlight is haunting and raw and its a story that needed to be told. It’s an example of why representation matters. The final scene when adult Chiron has a tender moment with the only man who ever touched him, Kevin (Andre Holland), is powerful. When I watched this for the first time it was at home and I replayed that final scene over and over and over again until I finally convinced myself to let it go. I also loved the scene when Mahershala Ali’s Juan explains the word f***** to child Chiron. It’s what earned Ali his Oscar that’s for sure.
Brokeback Mountain (2005) – Directed by one of my favorites, Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain stars Jake Gyllenhaal and the late great Heath Ledger as two ranchers who fall in love but have to hide their relationship and live on as straight men. The title has become synonymous with gay romance. I love the famous line “I wish I knew how to quit you.” And that sad final scene with Heath Ledger embracing the shirt on a hanger left me sobbing and gasping for air. I avoided LGBT films for a long time because this one shattered my heart into a million pieces.
Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013) – This is a long film, told in two parts and clocks in at 3 hours. The story follows a teenager named Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) as she blossoms into womanhood and falls in love with the older Emma (Lea Seydoux), a sensual woman with a shock of blue hair. The story is about finding yourself and losing yourself and it is so relatable in many ways. It’s a problematic film, caught in the male gaze of director/producer Abdellatif Kechiche, who was said to have treated his cast and crew poorly. I question the lighting for the sex scenes between two women. If it wasn’t for Adele and Emma, two fascinating and dynamic characters, this film might have been a wash for me. Watch it for those two and the talented actresses who play them.
Princess Cyd (2017) – While the lesbian love story between Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) and Katie (Malic White) is just a sub-plot, it’s also the only interesting part of the whole movie. Cyd is a teenager whose family suffered a traumatic loss and when her father can’t deal with the aftermath she spends a summer at her aunt Miranda’s house. The two initially butt heads, Cyd an opinionated and free-spirited teen and Miranda, a famous author who needs to live a little, but soon come to learn from each other. Miranda’s story is depressing and hard to watch and on repeat views I found myself fast forwarding just to get to Cyd and Katie’s beautiful little love story. Malic White is a punk rock star turned actress and I love the on screen chemistry she has with Pinnick. Watch it once for the whole story and again just for Cyd and Katie. In fact I wouldn’t mind a sequel where these two are reunited.
All of these films are available on Netflix streaming or on DVD Netflix for rental.