“ The Miseducation Of Bindu”

The 2019 Heartland International Film Festival’s premiere of “ The Miseducation Of Bindu” was the fastest sell-out in Heartland’s history. A comp ticket from a college friend, who also happens to be the producer’s ( Ed Timpe ) mother set me up for a prime seat. Her daughter-in-law, Prarthana Mohan, is the director and, along with Kay Tuxford, co-writer. There is reason to be proud.

The film’s premise has a bright, but home-schooled and protected 15 year-old “drowning in every possible way” as she attempts to negotiate the vagaries of high school, U.S.A. style.

Barbarous assaults of racial taunts, gossip and slander combine with shaving cream and coin-stack pranks, lunchroom-tripping, and pool-pushing to keep the innocent Bindu painfully treading water. Actress Megan Suri is stunning as she brings her Indian culture to the forefront. Bollywood dancing and spice heavy food prep are lauded; her protective mother ( Priyanka Bose), not so much. Suri is in every scene, but one. Her eyes and head shots are memorable for both their innocence and their determination.

Bindu has a plan: she will test out of high school. This is possible if she can come up with the $57.00 fee for the Spanish exam by the end of the school day. Sam ( Gordon Winarick ) and Trenton ( Logan Scholfield) are the film’s bullies. Peter ( Phillip Labes ) is her stalwart friend, whom she protects with her own reputation in my favorite scene.

The serious topic of making a place for oneself in the world is replete with chuckles and some nostalgia for a simpler time, though there were always “Holly the Heads” ( Hannah Alline ) in our lives. Kudos, also, to David Arquette who plays a step-dad who really tries. Tonight, at Newfields catch “The Miseducation Of Bindu”. Many will learn what today’s high schoolers deal with without a principal’s mandate for inclusive, building-culture oversight. Timely, and a microcosm for us in this era.

“ The Nightingale”

“The Nightingale” is set in early 19th century Australia. Our protagonist, Clare, ( Aisling Franciosi ) is a Irish convict who is trying to get released from a penal colony where she lives with her loving husband , Aiden, ( Michael Sheasby ) and three-month-old daughter. The British officer in charge ( Sam Claflin) rapes her in front of her husband, shoots him, and tells his sergeant to silence the child. When the underling can’t, he throws the baby against a wall. Clare somehow survives the rifle butt to her head, swaddles her dead child and carries her through the colony. Clare calls on friends to place the baby in her father’s arms and bury both under a designated tree. Then, Clare is off to seek revenge.

Brutal, yes. But brutality in director and screenwriter Jennifer Kent’s hand is different from the Quentin Tarantino variety. Violence in “The Nightingale” is emotional. It is not violence for violence’s sake, nor is it being made fun of. Unlike a pornography expunger collecting his own cache of filth, Kent documents historical, sadistic viciousness rather than make fun of a culture that seems to vicariously enjoy viewing it.

On Clare’s revenge quest, vivid dream sequences swirl around her. Through crazed and in shock , she does take her friend’s advice and hires a black tracker, Billy, ( Baykali Ganambarr) to lead the way through the aboriginal forrest. The dripping fern and rain sounds are glorious, the mud and leeches less so. The high river, the lack of food and its procurement add adventurous scenes while bonding Billy and Claire as two oppressed souls: blackbird and nightingale.

Billy calls himself ” Blackbird” and he tells us that he doesn’t wish to be a white devil. The English have killed off most of his tribe. Billy is astounded by Claire’s own violence. When she stabs and pummels the ensign who killed her daughter, Billy turns his back on her. ” What did he do to you to turn you into a mad devil? ” More dream sequences follow and Billy stays. In one sweet scene, he offers a recipe for paste to dry-up Claire’s painfully milk-full breasts. ” None of your hocus-pokus on me” is her initial retort, but soon smokey ceremonies prove Billy’s ancient wisdom.

Though much of the film consists of 1700 style revenge, the themes of racism, colonial power, and freedom ring true. Some normal acts of kindness show when an elderly couple see Claire dazed and seemingly alone on the road. ” You look a fright. Come for a wash and a feed” , the man says. He later asks Billy to get up from the floor and eat at the table with them. Billy’s appreciation and tearful rage of ” This is my country” is understated acting at its best.

Expect raw emotional experience, and the most callous British officer ever depicted.

“Luce”

The film “Luce” highlights what a provocative tale and fine acting can do. Luce Edgars is the central mystery. He is a high school stand-out. The soon-to-be valedictorian is also cagey and at times too smart for his own good. Kelvin Harrison, Jr. is marvelous in this role. Both like Lucifer and a lucent angel.

His white , adoptive parents ( Naomi Watts and Tim Roth ) have nurtured the seven-year-old former Eritrean child soldier to succeed ~U.S. middle-class-style. He partakes in athletics, debate, and leadership positions. He is the principal’s “poster child”. When an intuitive and stern teacher, Mrs. Harriet Wilson, ( beautifully rendered by Octavia Spencer) sees an alarmingly violent tone in one of Luce’s assignments, she calls Luce’s parents, but not before she has checked his locker. Illegal fireworks are found, not an AK-47. Still the musical score heightens the tension. Mrs. Wilson has previously found weed in Luce’s friend DeShaun’s locker and he has lost his scholarship. Confrontations ensue that suck the air out of every room your mind may enter.

The history and government teacher is savvy to Luce’s mind games and subtle threats. Spencer does not over act here. She is a marvel of restraint even if her language slips in passionate caring. She tells his parents: “He can’t fuck this up. Talk to him.”

Watts and Roth are superb, too, in their back and forth dance with their son’s guilt. Did he orchestrate the vandalizing of his teacher’s home? We know he set-up his Asian girlfriend to retract her previous statements. There are numbing scenes of manipulation by Luce around shared lockers; Wilson’s mentally ill sister, Rosemary; and a bouquet of flowers. When Spencer’s Harriet poured a stiff drink, I wanted one, too. She is this film’s tragic figure~so like our times.

Naomi Watts’ Amy is perfect as the liberal parent, who wanted to use her infertility to do something praiseworthy. Tim Roth’s Peter delivers his “ missed babyhood and diapers” speech to deepen the psychological fray. Amy does all the wrong things out of fear: “ I won’t risk the trust we built”, she intones. One of the most chill-producing events was to hear how Amy could not forget the pet goldfish that Luce threw across the room like deli-meat. This mom will lie for her child, and ironically his knowing this may save him. The fireworks have been both symbolically and literally hidden!

Kelvin Harrison,Jr. is impressive as Luce. We want him to be perfect, but he isn’t. Has America put him in a box where he can’t breathe? When he says, “ I haven’t been my best self”, we cringe at his understatement. Questions like “ Do you hurt people to prove a point?” surface. In his valedictory speech, Luce tells us that he was renamed because his adoptive mother could not pronounce his African name. In America, resilience is a virtue, too. As a “ war zone pull-out”, is Luce allowed to define himself ? When Luce asks his teacher “ What if you are what I need protected from?, we understand. Is reading and championing Frantz Fanon’s violence scary from a revolutionary stand point?

When Luce tells Mrs. Wilson , “ I’m sorry if I scare you, I just hope you know me better than that”, is he taunting or conforming? Are both equally bad? It will depend on who you think Luce is. What is behind the smile? What is behind the tears? Viewers only know that Luce gets a second chance, and that Mrs. Wilson may not. A stunner of a film.

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”

The photography of ice bergs in Antarctica and Cate Blanchet may be the only reasons to see the Maria Semple novel put to screen. Likewise, the movie was enjoyable only in that it reminded me of the pleasure I had in reading ” Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” Director Richard Linklater missed most of the social satire that I found “laugh out loud” funny in the book. Some of this may have been because much of the novel entails memos, e-mails, blog entries, and blue-tooth phone conversations. These are hard to incorporate with a narrator daughter and the use of flashbacks. Present and past get emotionally distorted.

Blanchet is a cooler batty than the Bernadette Fox of the novel. Yet, the subjects of women adrift in the pressures of family and workplace are touched, as is the need for creative endeavors. Her “genius grant” 20 mile house has been demolished for a parking lot. This event has kicked her to the curb.

Bernadette is not a people person. Having once been an esteemed, prize-winning architect, we now find her housed in an unkempt Victorian where she breaks stained-glass windows to rescue the family lab ( cutely, named Ice Cream) from a stuck closet. She cuts their carpet in star-shaped-flaps and staples them to see if the floor is wet from the constantly dripping ceiling. She is an eccentric insomniac. She pours all her depression meds. in a jar like jelly beans for the taking. “Colorful, but hard to remember what is what!” Her psychiatrist, hired by Bernadette’s husband ( Billy Crudup ), tries a psychological intervention once it appears that Bernadette has enabled a scammer in stealing her identity. ” We’d like to present you with the reality of your situation”, she announces. Bernadette’s former colleague, Paul, ( Laurence Fishburne ) does a much better job at quelling Bernadette’s ” irrational chain of anxiety”, he listens.

Blanchet is fun to watch in her marabis with turquoise toes and her Hermès scarves. She naturally absorbs Bernadette’s wit in berating her neighbor , Audrey, ( Kirsten Wiig ) for using the word ” connectitude”. ” Audrey went to a grad school that ” thinks outside the dictionary”.

Bernadette’s identity crisis may begin with a literal mud slide of instability, but her daughter Bee ( Emma Nelson ) does not drift, as her husband does in the book. Daughter and husband present Bernadette with the namesake locket of her visionary saint, and her world is no longer mad.

“Sword of Trust”

Fans of the British television series ” The Detectorists” ( 2014) will love Director Lynn Shelton’s comedy ” Sword of Trust”. Wry, understated humor meshes with life’s little veracities.

Marc Maron plays Mel, a Jewish pawnshop owner in small town Alabama. Along with his slow-to-move helpmate Nathanial ( Jon Bass ), Mel parlays a living our of silver-tongued guitars and worn cowboy boots. When a lesbian couple ( one a former Israeli soldier) presents a Civil War sword with ” prover” documentation that the Confederates won the War, Mel pipes up with ” What do you think this is an Antique Road Show for racists”!

Word travels fast while cash register trays are drying out: “a prover-item” is for sale. ” Delta Pawn” and this unlikely foursome are accosted by some crazy, dangerous sword seekers, one who believes that the state of New Mexico does not count because it ,well , has ” Mexico” in it. Strumming music is apt, as it was in “Deliverance”.

” Sword of Trust” is low-budget fun. We slowly learn of our cast’s dreams and histories. Cynthia ( Jillian Bell ) hopes to use her split of the take for an “Escape Room” enterprise, sort of like the locked, padded van they find themselves in, except people pay for the fun of trying to get out. Mary ( Michaela Watkins) enjoys negotiating for Cynthia as her warrior in kind. Conspiracy theorists join cult members, and flat-earthed theories are even broached by Nathaniel. Toby Huss as ” Hog Jacks” stills one’s heart.

“Muscle Shoals” tee-shirts, tablecloth arguments, puppet-dancer and pie-maker epithets add to the fun. One scene mimics the “who’s on first” routine of Abbott and Costello.

Mel’s old-drugged-out flame, Deidre, ( Lynn Shelton , also director ) sells her on-the-spot poems when Mel will not pawn her rings. The warm tussle of their exchange from a 15 year-free druggy to a never-quite-beat-it user is perfect. The film’s ending where Mel leaves a sack of groceries on her door step is warmer still.

“The Art of Self-Defense”

“The Art Of Self-Defense” opens with Jesse Eisenberg sitting on his hands. As Casey, a thirty-five-year-old auditor, Eisenberg does his outlander-thing in a one-seater coffee booth. He listens to a couple talking about sex in French-which just happens to be his new language of choice. He returns to work to hear his colleagues talking about sex, and he photocopies images of female breasts from his boss’ porno magazine, and staples the pack for later use in the privacy of his home.

His dachshund greets him from a gramma-crocheted throw on the couch. Director Riley Stearns knows how to contrast Casey’s pet choice with an article of a man with a wolf as his companion.

The set-up has Casey walking alone at night to get dog food. A motorcycle gang of three stop and ask if he has a gun. When he says “no”, he is kicked to a pulp. We next see Casey in a hospital bed with one week of paid leave. The critical care ward means that he will have to use all his vacation time to recuperate. We have a loser in our midst. Eisenberg is good at playing wimps. As in “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004), Eisenberg has a plan to toughen up. Casey purchases a hand gun and enrolls in karate class.

Alessandro Nivola may be the reason to see this dark and violent comedy. Nivola is terrific as Sensei, the suave psycho who tells Casey that “macho” is the way. He is to become what he fears. It is here that the script turns very dark. One earns a red stripe for taking a life.

Animals and humans are killed, a disenfranchised blue-belt takes his own life, and henchmen still roam the streets to slaughter undercover policemen and unsuspecting bicyclists. A German Shepherd is trained to attack the face. Bodies are secretly cremated. Nivola is cult-like, yet dead-pan funny. He would rather be a black-mailer and a killer than a guy named Leslie, his given name. My favorite part may be the end, where we see the dachshund’s picture framed next to the grand master’s. A bow to the bow-wow if ever there was one.

This may become a cult-classic, but not for my age group. We know what it means to be a man. Men can eat quiche and cry, and still be manly.

“Wild Rose”

Julie Waters is who shines in this mother/daughter film, “Wild Rose”. Waters is Marion, the mother of a dreamer. Our dreamer, Rose-Lynn finds herself with two children at 24 and with a deep yearning to make it big as a country singer. Rose-Lynn is also hard to immediately like. As an ex-con from Glasgow, this Scottish lassie is both mistake-laden and selfishly driven. Her children suffer emotionally, but gramma saves them from abject neglect.

Jesse Buckley as our wild Rose sings with a raspy truth that deserves the stage and the recording studio. Her lyrics make us forget the ankle bracelet hidden by her cowboy boots. Her perennial headset and forays of shagging in the park leave her mother aghast. Honing her craft means gramma takes over, and Rose-Lynn has no compunction about asking others to help with her responsibilities.

Buckley, 27, is an accomplished Irish musician and actress. Her arc in “Wild Rose” goes from delinquent to “star” easily. Her stomping and screaming do not pay off, nor does her anger management sessions and her nine to five job. We root for her. And her employer Susannah, the lovely Sophie Okonedo, roots for her and networks, too. Susannah’s smiling eyes let Rose-Lynn know that the BBC expert on country music has agreed to hear her. A surprise denouement keeps the film interesting. Rose-Lynn’s tatoo of “three chords and the truth” takes on symbolic intent. Director Tom Harper and writer Nicole Taylor are to be lauded for giving this comedy/drama a moral turn. For it is the redemptive power of Marion’s love that causes her daughter’s most enduring rise.