Fly Away

Fly Away PictureWritten and directed by Emmy Award winner Janet Grillo, this 2011 low-budget independent film, shot in a mere 14 days is full of emotional punch and great characters brought to life by a bright and talented cast. 

The film opens with a close-up of hands winding a circular music box and placing two wooden ladybug figures on top. As the music plays, the two figures move in circles around the top and this works as a perfect metaphor for the relationship that drives this movie. Jeanne (Beth Broderick) is a single mother raising an autistic daughter Mandy (Ashley Rickards) who is 15 years old and having great difficulty coping with her special school. The girl has anxiety attacks in the middle of the night and is prone to violence in her classes. Jeanne is trying to make a living by doing business consulting from her home. Mandy’s father, Peter (J. R. Bourne), tries to take some of the pressure off of Jeanne by taking Mandy for an afternoon, but he is unable to cope with the daughter he so obviously loves.

As these problems develop, Jeanne meets a very nice guy, Tom (Greg Germann), a neighbor who walks his dog in the same park where Jeanne and Mandy walk their dog. He makes an effort to get close to Jeanne, who accuses him of getting close to her from pity. When Jeanne and her partner lose a very important client, the situation with Mandy becomes increasingly difficult and Jeanne must make a difficult decision to either try to continue their life or to enroll Mandy in a residential therapeutic clinic.

Broderick and Rickards both give amazing performances, so real and down-to-earth that they are completely believable in the roles. All of the supporting actors are also terrific. The script is 100% organic and on point throughout the film, developing the themes to a finely honed story. The ending is perfect for both mother and daughter.

I admit that I am an easy target for this kind of script, easily sucked in, and emotionally involved. However, I truly believe that this movie really hits absolutely every note spot-on, so well written, developed, and edited that you cannot fail to be impressed by it on almost any level. There should have been multiple Academy Award nominations and once again the Academy missed the boat.

At a mere 80 minutes, it is perfect in terms of time and development. I highly recommend this movie!

Frozen River

frozen-river-pic-melissa-leoThere are a lot of great movies that somehow never make it into the public eye and Frozen River is one of those films. It deserves to be seen–and probably deserved a lot more national attention than what it actually got.

The film is set in the fictional town Massena, New York, the Akwesasne St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, and–believe it or not–the St. Lawrence River that marks the Canadian border. Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo) is raising two sons, age 5 and 15, with a husband who is addicted to gambling. When the film opens, he has just run off to Atlantic City with their savings, intended as the balloon payment on a new double wide trailer home. The opening shot shows Ray as she sits in her car smoking and crying, the glove box where the money was kept sitting empty. The camera pans up her body to her face, the extreme close-up showing vividly how life has torn this woman apart.

She works in a discount store part time and the family is now in a desperate situation, with practically no money to survive. Dinner consists of popcorn and Tang and the film unrolls with the threat of having their TV repossessed.

When a Mohawk girl, Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham) steals the car Ray’s husband had left at the bus station, she chases the girl down. Lila tells her that she knows someone on the rez who will buy the car for $2,000, so they set off across the frozen river to the Canadian side of the Mohawk reservation. But instead of selling the car, they are passed $1200 and asked to pop the trunk. When they do, two illegal aliens jump in.

This new source of income intrigues Ray and she returns to Lila to do another transfer. And so, the two become embroiled in a life of illegal gains that make both of their lives better. And over time, an unlikely friendship develops between them.

Written and directed by Courtney Hunt, this wonderful film stars Melissa Leo a haunting, true-to-life performance that won her multiple awards. Although she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, she did not win. Courtney Hunt was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, and also did not win. Throughout the world, the film was nominated for an won a great many awards. Besides great acting and directing, the cinematography in the film is truly outstanding, presenting us with a realistic winter life on the very edge of survival.

At 93 minutes, it is nearly the perfect length. I highly recommend this movie for all to see.