The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

In a time when science is considered opinion and a political game piece, it’s heartwarming to find a film that celebrates ingenuity inspired by a love of science and learning. Marking the directorial debut from actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Children of Men, Doctor Strange), The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is the true life story of 13-year-old William Kamkwamba (newcomer Maxwell Simba), who lives with his family in the African nation of Malawi. He’s a good student in his village’s private school, but when land issues and no rain lead to a poor harvest and eventually famine, William is forced to drop out of school because his family can no longer afford to send him.

After doing the necessary research using book “borrowed” from the school library, William approaches his father (played by the director, who also adapted Kamkwamba’s book) with the idea of building the windmill in order to power and irrigation system that the village could use to kick start growing again. His father is initially resistant, but after watching many villagers starving to death (with many others opting to leave or selling their land to the corrupt government), he agrees to let the boy try his experiment with the help of many of the locals.

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One of the favorites among audiences and critics alike out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival was the made-for-Netflix dramedy Paddleton, starring (and co-written by) Mark Duplass and Ray Romano as neighbors and best friends Michael and Andy, who aren’t really great at expressing feelings but are forced to do so when Michael is diagnosed with terminal cancer and makes the decision early on that he wants to die via assisted suicide with Andy’s help. And somehow Duplass and director/co-writer Alex Lehmann (who worked with Duplass on the 2016 indie Blue Jay) make this potentially oppressive scenario into a sweet and moving comedy about male friendship.

The film incorporates elements of a road movie, a buddy picture and even coming-of-age stories, as the pair hit the road to acquire the drugs necessary to carry out Michael’s wishes. If you don’t want to know how the film ends, you may not want to read these interviews until you’ve seen Paddleton, but there’s no getting around the fact that the creative team ends things with an emotional wallop that is undeniably powerful and important, with both Romano and Duplass making it clear that just because these characters are in some way stunted in the maturity department that doesn’t mean we don’t know exactly how they feel about each other.

Just days after the film’s debut at Sundance last month, /Film spoke with Duplass and Romano to go over how the idea for the film came together, how Romano took to the largely improvised acting style, and what is so inherently funny and charming about observing two guys who barely know how to communicate with each other. And after that, we spoke with director Alex Lehmann. We’ve included both interviews below.

The film is currently playing on Netflix, as is Romano’s new stand-up special Ray Romano: Right Here, Around the Corner, which marks his first comedy special in 23 years.

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Stephen Merchant Interview

Through his years of work as a writer, director, and producer (and eventually performer) on such television series as The Office, Extras, Life’s Too Short, and Hello Ladies, Stephen Merchant has proven to be not just one of the great makers of comedy currently working, but also a craftsman of awkward moments. And few moments in life are more awkward than the ones with have with our family, which may have been one of the reasons Dwayne Johnson hand-picked his Tooth Fairy co-star to write and direct Fighting with My Family, the surprisingly engaging and moving film about real-life WWE wrestler Paige (real name Saraya-Jade Bevis and played by Florence Pugh in a career-making turn) and her journey from growing up in a wrestling family in Norwich, England to becoming one of the most successful and popular female wrestlers of all time.

Only Merchant’s second feature film as writer/director (following 2010’s Cemetery Junction), this features a note-perfect group of actors playing Paige’s family, including Nick Frost and Lena Headey as her parents and Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) as brother Zak, who also dreamed of becoming a part of the WWE, only to see his sister do so instead. As much as the film is about a young woman rising through the ranks of wrestling, at its core, it’s a family drama with a great sense of humor and solid supporting roles from the likes of Vince Vaughn, Julia Davis, and Merchant himself, as well as Johnson popping in as himself at key moments in Paige’s ascent.

/Film spoke with Merchant in Chicago, just days after Fighting with My Family debuted at the Sundance Film Festival as a not-so-secret screening to talk about how The Rock convinced him to return to feature directing, making a movie about wrestlers appeal to non-fans of wrestling, and filming the climactic match in front of an audience of thousands. The film is currently playing in limited release and opens nationwide on February 22, 2019.

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Memory The Origins of Alien Review

One of the most anticipated films at Sundance this year, certainly among cinephiles was the latest deep-div making of work from Swiss-born filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe, who previously has looked into fandom’s disenchantment with George Lucas (The People vs. George Lucas), zombie culture (Doc of the Dead), and his critically acclaimed 2017 detailed look at Hitchcock’s Psycho shower scene (78/52).

While his new work, Memory—The Origins of Alien, began as a shot-by-shot look at that film’s ferocious chest-burster sequence, it eventually became clear to Philippe that there were forces and influences that went into the creation of Alien that went beyond standard-issue science fiction and horror. The film explores its roots in everything from Egyptian mythology, H.P. Lovecraft, parasitic wasps, comic books, and the paintings of Frances Bacon, while also making it a treat for those who want a peak behind the curtain of the film of one of Ridley Scott’s most influential works (although Scott himself is not interviewed).

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black panther spin-off

To read the list of films that costume designer Ruth Carter has worked on in her 30-year-plus career is to move through the history of black cinema in that time period, having worked extensively (in some cases, almost exclusively) with such filmmakers as Spike Lee, Robert Townsend, John Singleton and Lee Daniels. This week, she received her third Oscar nomination for her groundbreaking costume designs in director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther (she was also nominated for Malcolm X and Steven Spielberg’s Amistad), and she recently completed costuming work for the Craig Brewer-directed Rudy Ray Moore biopic Dolemite Is My Name, starring Eddie Murphy.

Carter began her film career working on Lee’s School Daze in 1988, and the two worked together on upwards of a dozen features, including Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Clockers, Crooklyn, Summer of Sam, Bamboozled, Oldboy, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, and Chi-Raq, although oddly not BlackKkKlanman, because she was too busy working on Black Panther. Other career highlights for Carter include costume designs for I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, The Five Heartbeats, What’s Love Got to Do with It, The Meteor Man (her first attempt at a superhero costume), Cobb, Money Train, Love & Basketball, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Shaft (2000), Baby Bay, Four Brothers, Black Dynamite, Serenity (yes, the Joss Whedon Firefly movie adaptation), Selma, and Marshall. Some of her most recent designs were seen last year on the Paramount network’s series Yellowstone, starring Kevin Costner, which features a great deal of Western wear, something that was a first for Carter.

/Film walked through Carter’s entire career with her during this extensive interview conducted last year during the Chicago International Film Festival, during which she was honored with a tribute to her groundbreaking work. Naturally, we go into great detail about her landmark costumes for Black Panther, but we also cover her longtime collaborations with Spike Lee and discuss the places where she seeks and receives inspiration for her designs.

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state like sleep trailer

Over the past decade, actress Katherine Waterston has built up a solid filmography of work that had made her one of the most eclectic and reliable performers around. After years of theater work and taking meaty supporting roles in such films as Michael Clayton (her first film), Taking Woodstock, Robot & Frank (as well as a semi-regular role on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire), she made an impressive showing as Shasta Ray Hepworth in writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2014 marvel Inherent Vice, which effectively opened the flood gates for Waterston to take roles in Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth, Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, and in Jonah Hill’s directing debut Mid90s, in rapid succession. But it’s her work as young witch (and agent for the Magical Congress of the United States of America) Tina Goldstein in 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and last year’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald that have garnered her worldwide attention.

Between her Potterverse obligations, Waterston has managed to squeeze in a few smaller-scale movies, including her current release State Like Sleep, from writer-director Meredith Danluck (North of South, West of East), in which she plays a woman whose actor husband (Michiel Huisman) died unexpectedly a year earlier and she is only now dealing with the emotional consequences. The film co-stars Michael Shannon as an unexpectedly helpful neighbor, and Luke Evans as her husband’s oldest friend. The piece begins as a mystery but turns into a genuinely moving film about grief and coping, and it’s these hidden themes that particularly intrigued Waterston about the role.

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John C. Reilly Interview

When /Film last spoke with John C. Reilly, it was for the recent alternative western The Sisters Brothers, in which he co-starred opposite Joaquin Phoenix. At the end of that interview, Reilly did briefly discuss the narrower focus of his current film, the Laurel & Hardy biopic Stan & Ollie, which centers on a months-long tour the comedy team took throughout Great Britain and Ireland, transforming some of the classic bits (and some newly written ones) into live routines for the stage. By all accounts (including the movie), the tour was a rousing success after a rocky start, all of which is documented in the film, directed by Jon S. Baird.

With the impressive assistance of some flawlessly applied prosthetic makeup and a body suit, Reilly plays Oliver Hardy to Steve Coogan’s Stan Laurel, who shared a decades-long comedy partnership and friendship that was certainly tested by their failing film career and a fairly relentless touring schedule. Reilly and Coogan learned the routines, rehearsed the hell out of carefully crafted jokes, and their commitment to the performances is what raises the film above the level of the standard-issue Hollywood biography.

Reilly talked to /Film about his daily transformation regimen (marking his first real foray into acting with so much makeup), his partnership with Coogan, and what he hopes people take away from Stan & Ollie.

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stan and ollie review

There are few things more satisfying than having modern-day actors pay worthy tribute to their legendary predecessors, and the easily lovable biopic Stan & Ollie, from director Jon S. Baird, is almost nothing but that, with Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly (along with some awards-worthy makeup) portraying arguably the greatest comedy duo in film history, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

The movie documents a period in the later years of their career, during which the two are having less success in motion pictures, so they are forced to take their show on the road, for a series of live theater performances across the United Kingdom. The tour—as well as their advanced age and failing health—takes a toll on them and their decades-long friendship, but with the help of devoted fans and their loving wives (played by Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda), the team keeps their work alive and thriving.

/Film spoke to both Coogan and Reilly recently about the grueling rehearsal and choreography that went into playing these iconic roles, as well as their deep devotion to getting these characterizations correct, especially for the benefit of the die-hard fans. First up is the Oscar-nominated (for writing and producing Philomena) Steve Coogan, who began his long career in comedy playing the sniveling radio/TV personality Alan Partridge, but maybe most beloved worldwide for The Trip series of films (three and counting), with fellow actor Rob Brydon, during which the pair drive and eat across different exotic locations in Europe, under the direction of Michael Winterbottom. Stan & Ollie has been in limited release since late last year and is now open wide.

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Ben is Back Director Interview

Peter Hedges’ career as a screenwriter began by writing his first novel, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which he then adapted into a screenplay for the 1993 film. In the years that followed, Hedges wrote more books, plays and the occasional screenplay, including the Oscar-nominated adaptation of Nick Hornby’s About A Boy. In 2003, he took his first crack at being a writer/director with Pieces of April, followed four years later with Dan In Real Life. and The Odd Life of Timothy Green in 2012.

His latest work, Ben Is Back, is particularly important to Hedges for a couple of reasons. First, he gets to work with his son, Lucas Hedges, one of the busiest young actors working today (Ben Is Back marks his third film in the last two months, after Mid90s and Boy Erased), for the first time since Lucas was a youngster. And second, he finally gets to work with his all-time favorite actress, Julia Roberts, who plays Holly Burns, the mother of Ben, a drug-addicted teen who returns home from rehab unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, setting off a series of events that put both mother and son in great danger. The entire film takes place is 24 hours and tests the patience and resolve of everyone involved, including Holly’s new husband Neal (Courtney B. Vance) and Holly’s daughter/Ben’s sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton). Part family drama/part thriller, Ben Is Back gives the elder Hedges a chance to work his creative muscles in ways he hasn’t as a filmmaker to this point in his career.

/Film sat down with Hedges at the recent Chicago International Film Festival to talk about working with his wildly talented son for the first time as an adult actor, the importance of being able to cast his favorite working actress in the lead role, and the thrill of turning a simple mother-and-son story into something of a chase movie. The film is now playing in New York and Los Angeles, and is set to open wide on Friday, December 14.

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roma review

As much as Roma, the latest from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También), is a barely veiled account of his childhood growing up in the middle-class neighborhood of Roma in Mexico City, in truth, it is the story of the two most important women in his life — his mother (renamed Sofia in the film and played by veteran Mexican actress Marina de Tavira) and Cleo (newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), the woman who raised him full time while also taking care of the house and his three siblings (based on a real-life woman named Libo). Easily his most personal and most intimate work to date, Roma finds Cuarón (who also shot and co-edited the film) composing a lyrical, breathtaking look at childhood, as well as the tumultuous times in the city in the early 1970s, which are sometimes only portrayed as background to the more immediate concerns of the family, which was actively being let down and broken apart by careless men.

Mexico’s official selection (and leading contender) for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 91st Academy Awards, the stunning black-and-white epic is filled with love and chaos, measured melodrama, a spectacular soundscape, and breathtaking performances from both lead actresses, who were cast by Cuarón using a very mysterious process that even they don’t quite understand. And while one of them is a seasoned performer and the other has never acted before, both give performances that are moving and beautifully authentic.

/Film spoke to Aparicio (who spoke through a translator) and De Tavira at the recent Chicago International Film Festival to talk about working with the enigmatic Cuarón and how the realization that they were playing characters deeply important to the filmmaker changed their perception of the overall film. Considered to be one of the finest works of 2018, Roma is in select theaters now, eventually hitting more than 600 theaters worldwide (including 100 in the United States), before it debuts on Netflix on December 14.

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