Only the Brave

Posted on October 19, 2017 at 5:19 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic content, some sexual references, language and drug material
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs, substance abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence, many characters killed, snake bite
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 20, 2017
Date Released to DVD: February 5, 2018
Copyright 2017 Sony

They literally fight fire with fire. Unlike “structure fires,” burning buildings doused with water, wildfires in non-residential areas are contained by setting a line of fire to stop them from spreading. Sometimes it does not work. “Only the Brave” is the story of the Granite Mountain hotshots, the “alpha” team of 19 Arizona firefighters who were killed in 2013. Like “The Perfect Storm,” this is a real-life story that spends three-quarters of its time making us love the characters and then heart-wrenchingly shows us how painful it was to lose them.

Josh Brolin, who has spent some real-life time as a firefighter, plays Eric, the leader of the group that, as the movie begins, is the second team, not allowed to set the fires on “the line.” “You guys are type two and we’re hotshots so why don’t you do what deucers do best, which is stay in the back and mop up our ?” sneers the leader of the alpha team. Eric and his group want very much to be certified as alphas and they train hard, the more experienced members of the team as the newcomer, Brandon (Miles Teller), good-naturedly dubbed “Donut” by the team for his zero score when quizzed on the rulebook.

“It’s not easy sharing a man with a fire,” a wife explains. The same qualities that make these men (they are all men) good at what they do can make it difficult for them to be the good husbands and fathers they strive to be.  For Brandon, the discipline and support of the team makes it possible for him to stay away from his past life of slacking and substance abuse.  But for some of the others, the intensity of the fire fighting experience is something of an addiction and it is difficult for them to go back to normal life with their families, who can never really understand what they face and what they do.

The moments of struggle are touching, as Brandon’s discovery that he is going to be a father inspires him to change his life and Eric’s wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) tries to stay close to a husband who is not ready to share what he has been through. The movie’s greatest strength is in its presentation of the music of man-talk, indirect, mock-aggressive, often crude, but always in service of the most profound commitment and loyalty.  For a moment, we get to be a part of that group of hotshots, and it is piercingly sad to lose them.

Parents should know that this is the true story of firefighters with a lot of peril and many sad deaths, some strong language, sexual references (some crude) and situations, pregnancy, drinking, and some drug use and references to substance abuse.

Family discussion: What qualities does someone have to have to be a hotshot? Why didn’t Brendan want painkillers at the hospital?

If you like this, try: “The Perfect Storm,” “Backdraft,” and “Ladder 49″

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Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week

The Grand Seduction

Posted on June 12, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material and drug references
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, brief references to cocaine
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations, some medical images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 13, 2014

the-grand-seductionThis utterly beguiling, comfort-food remake of the French-Canadian film La Grande Seduction is about adorable residents of an impoverished fishing harbor in Canada who come up with a plan to bring a recycling factory and all of its jobs to their town. The men in the community lost more than their jobs when the fishing industry collapsed. They lost their self-respect and their sense of purpose. Also, apparently, their sense of their manhood.

But the factory will not come to town unless they have a local doctor, some cash for a side payment, and enough locals to staff the new facility. They can finesse the cash and scare up a few extra bodies.  But the doctor is a challenge.  Murray (the always-superb Brendan Gleeson) comes up with a preposterous plan.  When a handsome young doctor named Paul (Taylor Kitsch), giddy over an athletic triumph, celebrates a little too much and a small bit of cocaine is found in his luggage at the airport, a combination of a some light blackmail gets him to the harbor and a massive “Truman Show”-style fantasy is set up to persuade him that he has found paradise.  They discover that he likes cricket, so soon all of the women are dying clothes white to create cricket uniforms and the men are pretending to play a game they know nothing about and to love watching it on television at the pub, cheering whenever something may possibly have happened.  They listen to his favorite music.  They cook his favorite meals.  And when they discover he lost his father, Murray takes him fishing and tells him about his (fictional) late son.  Of course there is someone from the town under the water making sure that there’s a fish on Paul’s hook, just as Murray is skillfully baiting his metaphorical hook to reel in the doctor himself.

Director Don McKellar knows how to keep the movie sweet without becoming cloying, partly by being frank about the devastating impact of the town’s economic collapse.  The specificity of the sense of place also lends weight to the storyline, its exquisite, pristine beauty and its precariousness.  And then there is the superbly chosen cast, anchored by Gleeson, who keeps a twinkle in his eye but shows us the real pain and longing of the men who have been deprived of the essence of their sense of themselves.  He knows that sometimes crazy times require crazy solutions.  And while it may not be true that he lost a son, it is true that he has lost a great deal and that the chance to be something of a father figure to a young man heals something inside him.  The wonderful Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent  (“Away From Her”) and Liane Balaban (TV’s “Supernatural”) create warm, witty characters as well.  It is especially nice to see Kitsch get a chance to play a nice, regular guy.  Paul believes what is going on not because he is gullible but because he would really like to believe there is a place as perfect for him as this one.  And we go along because we would, too.

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references, some strong language, a brief incident involving cocaine, and pub drinking and tipsiness.

Family discussion: Why was having jobs so important to the way the people of this community felt about themselves? What was the worst lie they told?

If you like this, try: “Waking Ned Devine” and “The Full Monty,” along with the original French language version of this film.

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Interview: Don McKellar of “The Grand Seduction”

Posted on June 10, 2014 at 11:06 am

Before we talked about his charming new film, “The Grand Seduction,” I just had to ask Don McKellar about the plans to make the sensational Broadway musical he co-wrote, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” into a film. He assured me that while he wasn’t allowed to give me any details, I would be very happy with the casting. I can’t wait.

“The Grand Seduction” is an English remake of a French Canadian film about a small harbor (that is their term for a fishing village) trying to break out of its severe economic decline after the collapse of the fishing industry. Their best hope is to persuade a recycling factory to come to their community. But they will not come unless there is a doctor. So the harbor conspires, using some blackmail and some “Truman Show”-style legerdemain, to bring a handsome young doctor (played by Taylor Kitsch) and make him think that they have everything he loves and needs — including cricket players and jazz music — in their remote location.

McKellar is a lot of fun to talk to and we discussed the challenges of making a location vivid enough to be a character in the film and taking actors from the US (Kitsch) and England (Brendan Gleeson) and making them sound like rural Canadians.

How did you do that incredible job of creating that sense of place?

That was a big, big goal of mine. I really feel that for a movie like this to be successful–and you don’t see a lot of movies like this–a social comedy set in a specific locale like that, I really felt you had to convince the audience that it was real. It was real but you really had to show the people there, show the real landscape, show the real beauty. That’s a big part of the seduction. So it was all shot on location. There is no sort of CGI-ed landscapes. There is this night shot of them running from the bar to the church and it is illuminated by the moon and reflected on the water and I remember shooting it with my Director of Photography thinking, “No one would even believe that this is possible; to illuminate the scene by the moon.” We actually lit it with the moon. That’s how clear and bright it was. Yeah, I am really proud of that. I really feel that the place is the signpost of the people.

We waited for the sunsets sometimes and panicked to get them in time but it was all real. You really can’t fake that. You can never second-guess natural beauty like that and it’s so unpredictable out there. Yeah, I’m really proud of that. And it is not hard, it is a beautiful place but still I’m glad we captured it.

You have actors from all over the world pretending to be from a very specific place and the accents are as important as the setting. How did you work on that?

You are right. It’s very distinctive. And it’s actually really hard to do and certainly out there, they are really sensitive about that and they feel that it has been butchered by some very fine actors in other films. So it was really important to me and certainly to Brendan Gleeson because it really rested on his shoulders to go for that and make it as authentic as possible.

And I am happy to say that when we screened it, the first response was, “Sir, I have never seen it done by an outsider before but you pulled it off.” Brendan as an actor was actually a plus; a lot of people would just be scared away by that but some of those actors out there in the UK love that kind of challenge; they love working on accents and getting it down. He worked really hard and hung out with the locals. Almost everyone in the cast was from there so that helped a lot but that’s pretty much the way they sound.

Often when you make a film, you have a dialect coach who sort of dictates the sound and people start imitating that and everyone sounds homogenous. One of the things that gave us a little bit of freedom is that from Harbor to Harbor people sound different. The accent has a certain constants across the province but also there is this wide variety. I kept saying to Brandon, “Sometimes a brother does not sound like a sister out here.” People are distinctive.

The music was also very well chosen.TheGrandSeductionPoster

I have to admit at first, I tried to resist it. My producer and I said, “Oh maybe we should just go with the same old Celtic thing.” You can’t fight that in a way and its part of the culture, it’s so deep. Everyone out there plays a musical instrument. It is really astonishing. There is a guy in the film, the accordion player, I found him by just saying to the cast, “Does anyone here play an accordion?” And then the locals put up their hands: “Oh, he’s good, he’s better, he is the best one.” “Okay, we’ll go with him.” It was really like that. And I remember there was sort of an amusing scene in that bar scene where Brendan is playing the fiddle. At one point my assistant director was trying to tell people how to react. Maybe this one would be interested, another would be drinking, another would get up and dance. It was sort of absurd because we were outside telling the people how to respond and then they started playing and the place came alive in a second. We don’t have to tell these people how to respond to music. It’s a big deep part of the culture so I’m really happy that we evote some of that.

How did you choose Taylor Kitsch for the role of the doctor?

I have always thought Taylor was a good actor. I thought he was really very strong in “Friday Night Lights” and I have seen him on a couple of things that showed his range, like a film called the, “Bang Bang Club” where he played a South African and I thought he was a serious actor. He is certainly capable of doing those action films but I thought they never fully exploited his skills. And one of them is his charm; which is which you know is a real rare asset in a movie star these days; they don’t make them like that anymore. I really feel he has classic movie star appeal and it was really important to me that that character had an authenticity and a heart because it sort of flips around and he ends up seducing them as much as they are seducing him and they realize they have genuine empathy for him. Somehow he’s played naïve without seeming gullible. So I think it is a really skillful performance from him actually.

This is a remake of a French language film. Did you ever see the original?

I had seen it and I admired it. I admired it sort of for its classic comedy structure but I hadn’t thought of remaking it to tell you the truth. It was the producer who asked me to do it and I was skeptical just because it is always dangerous to be remaking a successful film, it was very successful in French territories. But then the idea of Newfoundland came in and I thought, “Oh, this is about something.” This is about a real problem out there in these fishing villages that are dying and I also thought it is a beautiful place and the actors out there are brilliant so all of a sudden it came to life for me and so I was on board.

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Directors Interview

Tonight on HBO: The Normal Heart (And More Movies About The Fight Against HIV-AIDS)

Posted on May 25, 2014 at 10:00 am

Larry Kramer’s searing drama “The Normal Heart” was an anguished cry for attention, for help, for respect, for change in the earliest days of the AIDS crisis. It was inspired by Kramer’s own experience as a founder of the activist Gay Men’s Health Crisis. The all-star cast includes Mark Ruffalo, Jim Parsons, Taylor Kitsch, and Mark Boner, with Julia Roberts as a sympathetic doctor. HIV-AIDS, originally identified as “gay cancer” in the US was even more terrifying because at the time the stigma and oppression faced by gay men and the large numbers who were not public about being gay made it much more difficult to get the attention of the medical authorities and the government. Then-President Ronald Reagan did not speak out about AIDS until more than 36,000 had died. Early GMHC materials carried the slogan “Silence = Death.”

More films about this era:

Longtime Companion Bruce Davison, Campbell Scott, Dermot Mulroney, and Mary-Louise Parker star in this outstanding early film (1990), brilliantly acted, sensitively scripted, heartbreaking.

And the Band Played On HBO produced this excellent film about the conflicts, failures, and early triumphs in the fight against HIV-AIDS, starring Matthew Modine, Lily Tomlin, Steve Martin, and Alan Alda, based on the brilliant reporting by Randy Shilts.

How to Survive a Plague The first reported cases of HIV-AIDS were published in the same week that the first consumer video cameras became available. Activists documented every meeting and initiative on video and this superb documentary shows how Kramer and others worked to increase funds for research and make experimental treatments available.

Angels in America Tony Kushner’s searing drama is an epic of immense scope and power.

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