This sci-fi drama is loosely based on the bizarre true story of Lisa Nowak, (aka “The Diaper Astronaut,”) a married naval flight officer and NASA mission specialist, who in 2007 drove from Houston, Texas (reportedly wearing a diaper to avoid stopping) to Orlando, Florida where she attacked and attempted to kidnap her former lover’s new girlfriend at the Orlando International Airport.
The strangeness of a highly respected astronaut who flew on Space Shuttle Discovery suddenly losing her mind over an extra-marital fling gone wrong made international news and inspired enormous interest in the all-astronaut love triangle.
Also dubbed, “The Astro-Nut,” Nowak also inspired the new film Lucy in the Sky, starring Natalie Portman as Lucy Cola (the Nowak character) and Jon Hamm as womanizer Mark Goodwin (her illicit love interest). Zazie Beetz plays Erin, the target of Lucy’s jealousy, and Dan Stevens portrays Lucy’s self-righteous and completely oblivious husband.
The Diaper Astronaut
In addition to names being changed, this fictionalized version of reality makes other curiously random alterations, such as conjuring hallucinations of Lucy’s dead grandmother (Ellen Burstyn), adding a niece to her cross-county ride, changing the location from Orlando to San Diego, having Lucy attack Mark instead of Erin, and eliminating any mention of adult diapers. If the filmmakers wanted to make Lucy a more likable character with these changes, they weren’t particularly successful as she come across as self-centered, obsessive, and cold-blooded (and that’s before she completely goes off the rails following a tragedy).
Liberties taken with the story, however, pale in comparison to liberties taken with the cinematography. Apparently used as a metaphor, the edges of the screen are blurry after Lucy returns from her mission, as if her experience in space has figuratively altered her view of reality. This technique also literally changes the way the audience views her reality.
As she drifts further into mental illness, the blurriness expands beyond the outer edges of the screen. While this artful idea may have sounded great in pre-production, it’s a headache-inducing mess onscreen. Likewise, the inexplicable aspect ratio shifting back and forth from widescreen to full-screen throughout the movie is jarring, confusing, distracting, and unnecessary.
Exciting Scenes of NASA
Inspired by true events (but not based on true events) and subjected to the aforementioned ill-conceived cinematic metaphors for mental illness, this film also suffers from uneven pacing (long, dull scenes of home life and exciting scenes of NASA) and stereotypical characters (eccentric, foul-mouthed grandma) that blatantly show Lucy’s mental breakdown was a combination of internal and external factors.
Despite two beautiful co-stars, intriguing behind-the-scenes glimpses of the space program, and good intentions, this filmed fiction is surprisingly less interesting than the reality on which it’s based.
Lucy in the Sky
Inspired by true events, this fictionalized story describes astronaut Lucy Cola, who loses touch with reality after returning from a mission in space.
Stars: Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens, Pearl
Amanda Dickson, Ellen Burstyn
After watching nearly 30 minutes of the Downton Abbey staff go into a cleaning, polishing, and food-planning frenzy in anticipation of a royal visit, this period piece pulls the metaphorical imported rug out from under us.
What begins as a rather stuffy beginning that introduces the inner-workings of the estate and the central and supporting characters shifts into an entertaining combination of interconnected stories about the devoted servants and high-falutin residents of Downton Abbey (based on the famous Crawley family from the PBS television series of the same name.)
Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How
So once the first quarter of the film establishes who (the Crawley family and their
extensive staff), what (dinner,
dance, and parade for the royal family), when
(1927), where (Downton Abbey, of
course), and why (why not?), the
final three quarters of the film tells us how
(with considerable planning, preparation, work, and subterfuge). And how the Crawleys
and their staff navigate the visit from Queen Mary (Geraldine James) and King
George V (Simon Jones) proves to be enormous fun—even for those unfamiliar with
the television series.
Under the sarcastic command of Violet Crawley,
Dowager Countess of Grantham, (Maggie Smith) and her tough granddaughter, Lady
Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery), servants scurry and family members (for the
most part) tow the line to keep the two women happy. The problem is with so
many people living, working, and visiting one enormous estate, something will
always go wrong—a comical state of affairs that rattles the characters, but
should delight most audience members.
Stellar Production Values
The chuckles keep coming throughout the film, as do the unexpected plot developments. The costumes (by Anna Mary Scott Robbins) are exquisite, the acting terrific, and the cinematography (by Ben Smithard) an artistic blend of establishing longshots, tight close-ups, and everything in between. Downton Abbey is an immersive film that sweeps viewers back to the past and into the opulent estate where titles, positions, and roles must always be maintained—except when they aren’t.
on the popular PBS television series of the same name, this film looks at
before, during, and after a royal visit to the family estate in the English
countryside in the early 20th century.
Stars: Matthew Goode, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Tuppence Middleton, Elizabeth McGovern, Allen Leech, Joanne Froggatt, Laura Carmichael, Imelda Staunton
Director: Michael Engler
Writer: Julian Fellowes
Run Time: 122 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic elements, some suggestive material, and language)
Contrived quirkiness is the main ingredient in this love story about two dysfunctional hoarders: one prepares for a future world disaster and the other hangs onto everything from the past (and then some).
Ed Hemsler (John Lithgow) is an aging, divorced
retiree who blogs about doomsday conspiracies on the internet. His son (Derek
Cecil) considers his father to be a paranoid ass—a highly annoying paranoid ass
who can’t stop blabbing about an impending disaster for which we should all
Isolated and Lonely
One day, Ed sees an attractive woman in his age range at the grocery store where he buys his bomb shelter supplies. Despite his isolation and awkwardness, he strikes up a conversation with Ronnie (Blythe Danner) and the two misfits spark an attraction. Ronnie is loaded with quirks—simultaneously shy and outspoken, a bad dresser but stylish in her own way. We soon learn that Ronnie’s only child died as a youngster, and she holds onto memories and physical items as a means of finding connection to something.
During their sweet, but rocky, relationship, the two learn secrets about each other. Old habits die hard, especially among the well-over 60 crowd. Both need to make adjustments to fit into society a little better, and more importantly, maintain their newfound relationship.
Too Many Quirks
Sometimes it feels like the script tries too hard
for cute comments, offbeat humor, and general quirkiness. For instance, Ed has
an absurd passion for ball bearings, geeky Ronnie works at a very hip gift
shop, and Ronnie’s 20-something boss (Eve Harlow) dishes out advice on sex,
love, and dating to her much-older employee as if she were a child. When Ronnie
sings “Muskat Love” (Ed’s favorite song) on the car radio, he screeches the car
to a halt and bolts out the door because it’s all just too perfect.
Although acting and production values are solid, the
shaky script provides an interesting story that suffers slightly in the
implementation. A few less quirks and a little more authenticity would have
helped The Tomorrow Man see a
The Tomorrow Man
man obsessed with the future and a woman stuck in the past find love in a small
Stars: John Lithgow, Blythe Danner, Derek Cecil, Katie Aselton, Sophie
Thatcher, Eve Harlow, Wendy Makkena
Writer-Director: Noble Jones
Time: 94 minutes
Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and some suggestive material)
The latest in the recent proliferation of writer-based biopics, Tolkien recounts the early life and young adulthood of J.R.R. Tolkien (portrayed by Nicholas Hoult as a young man), best known as the author of the children’s fantasy novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Like the biopics, Rebel in the Rye (also starring Hoult as J.D. Salinger), The Man Who Invented Christmas(starring Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens), and Goodbye Christopher Robin (starring Domhnall Gleeson as A.A. Milne), this film focuses on the inspiration for what would become classic stories celebrated by generations of readers (and moviegoers).
As the actual process of writing is mostly cerebral and therefore not inherently interesting, the film must focus elsewhere. In this case, Tolkien looks at how the impoverished young Tolkien brothers lose their father and mother before John (the “J” in J.R.R.) turns 13, and must live with an elderly matron who takes in young orphans. While there, John meets another resident, Edith (Lily Collins), who is studying to be a pianist. Their budding romance interferes with his school grades, and is soon halted by Father Francis (Colm Meaney), a well-meaning, but misguided priest who made a promise to John’s dying mother that the boy would attend college and make something of himself.
A Fellowship of Words and Beauty
Without Edith, John turns to his three best friends
for support, classmates Robert (Patrick Gibson), Geoffrey (Anthony Boyle), and
Christopher (Tom Glynn-Carney), with whom he forms an after-school think tank.
Together, they plan to change the world through the power of art. Their
fellowship of words and beauty, however, is disrupted by World War I, which
forever breaks apart their bond. The film is told mainly through flashbacks
from the battlefield, as John struggles desperately to find Geoffrey in the
heat of a grisly attack.
One of the film’s chief goals appears to be laying
the groundwork for Tolkien’s eventual creation of Middle Earth. We learn of his
love for inventing language, his connection to “rings,” his anguished love
affair with a woman he is forbidden to see, and horrific battle scenes forever
seared into his memory. While providing possible connections from Tolkien’s
past to his groundbreaking books, the film leaves much unsaid – merely offering
suggestions of where some ideas or images might have originated.
The acting is terrific, and the transition from
younger actors to older ones especially so. Music by Thomas Newman is often
reminiscent of the feature films based on Tolkien’s work. Production values
excel across the board, making Tolkien a must-see for fans of the books and
adolescent and early adult years of the famed author J.R.R. Tolkien are
examined in this drama that explores how his real-life experiences influenced
his later books.
Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, Patrick Gibson,
Anthony Boyle, Tom Glynn-Carney
Director: Dome Karukoski
Writers: David Gleeson, Stephen Beresford
Time: 112 minutes
Rating: PG-13 (for some sequences of war violence)
The 28th Annual Florida Film Festival, produced by Enzian Theater and held throughout Central Florida this year from April 12-21, 2019, offers nearly 200 narrative features and documentary short films from 41 countries around the world, in addition to celebrity guests, special events, film forums, film sidebars, parties, and the American Independent Competition.
Special guests this year include cast and film crew from The Blair Witch Project (1999) on Sunday, April 14th from 8:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. at Enzian Theater, and Richard Dreyfuss on Friday, April 19th from 7:30 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. at Enzian Theater for a screening of the Herbert Ross-directed romantic comedy, The Goodbye Girl (1977).
A sample of capsule film reviews appears below.
Roll Red Roll
Documentary Feature. Screens April 13,
2019 at 8:30 p.m. and April 18, 2019 at 4:00 p.m., both at Regal Winter Park
At the center of this disturbing documentary is a rape case
where a drunken underage girl was attacked by two teenaged football stars of
their high school team, and the crime was photographed and videotaped by their
friends. While the details of the rape are heinous, the case is even more
shocking by the photographs of the barely conscious victim, derogatory comments
about her, and macho posturing on social media by the perpetrators and their
friends. When true-crime blogger, Alex Goddard, starts writing about the case,
the locals of Steubenville, Ohio, where the crime occurred, rally behind the
boys and work to discredit the victim. As a police detective, attorneys, a
newspaper reporter, and school officials also get involved, the insidious
small-town rape culture is exposed.
Directed by Nancy Schwartzman
Stars Alexandria Goddard
Run Time: 80 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
4 / 5
Narrative Feature.Screens Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 11:30 a.m.
at Enzian Theater and Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. at Regal Winter
Based on true events, this story set in 1920’s New Jersey
concerns young women (particularly two sisters) who work hand-painting glow-in-the-dark
watch dials at a factory called American Radium. The radioactive paint is
sickening and killing these women at alarming rates, yet the company hides the
truth and perpetuates the myth that radium is good for health. The two Caballo
sisters (with the help of the local Consumer League) take on the fight against
injustice and callous disregard for human life. Beautifully filmed with
archival footage blended with original fictionalized footage, the main story is
echoed in a subplot about police brutality and racism.
Directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher and Ginny Mohler
Stars Joey King, Abby Quinn, Cara Seymour
Run Time: 95 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
International Shorts Program #1: Never Let Me Go
Shorts. Screens Friday, April 19, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park
Village and Sunday, April 21 at 2:30 p.m. at Enzian Theater.
This curious mix of narrative and documentary shorts, placed
together by Florida Film Festival programmers, includes an assortment of films
about letting go. Sometimes it’s letting go of rules, roles, animals,
relationships, or preconceived notions. Although with such a diverse collection,
audience members are sure to have favorites, there’s not a clunker in the
bunch. Autumn Waltz (directed by
Ognjen Petkovic) is a Serbian suspense story about karma set in a surreal environment.
Tungrus (directed by Rishi Chandna)
is a funny mini-documentary about a Mumbai family being terrorized by their
cantankerous pet rooster. The Role
(directed by Farnoosh Samadi) is a satisfying, if somewhat predictable,
multi-layered look at role playing. All
These Creatures (directed by Charles Williams) presents a boy’s trauma
surrounding his unstable father and his connection to nature. All Inclusive (directed by Corina
Schwingruber Ilic) is a 10-minute documentary about working and vacationing on
a cruise line. In its North American Premiere, the highly entertaining Happiness (directed by Maciej Buchwald)
follows three people entrenched in the world of self-help as they navigate
speed dating, group therapy, and motivational presentations.
Total Run Time: 106 minutes
Overall program: 4/5
The Blair Witch Project
An Evening with The
Blair Witch: A 20th Anniversary Celebration on Sunday, April 14,
2019 at 8:00 p.m. Talent in attendance.
This groundbreaking horror film from 1999 is a fake
documentary about three student filmmakers who go deep into the woods to search
for the legendary Blair Witch. Sleep-deprived, unnerved, and shooting their own
verite-style camerawork, the adventurous actors unwittingly aided the filmmakers
in seamlessly blending fact and fiction so well that it’s often difficult to
tell the difference. How much was improvised and how much scripted? How scared
were the actors and how much was acting? (Audience members screaming in terror,
fainting, and vomiting were real enough.) Now 20 years later, many aspects of
this film remain a mystery, although “An Evening with the Blair Witch” may
reveal some of the secrets which made this a huge hit, social media sensation,
and highest-grossing film in Enzian Theater’s 34-year history.
Directed by Dan Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
Stars Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, Joshua
Run Time: 81 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (for language)
Ode to Joy
In Spotlight Films.Screens Saturday, April 20, 2019 at 9:30
p.m. at Enzian Theater and Sunday, April 21, 2019 at 4:45 p.m. at Regal Winter
Charlie suffers from cataplexy, a rare neurological disorder
that causes loss of muscle control under extreme emotions, and in his case, feelings
of joy. He lived a careful life avoiding babies, puppies, weddings, and romantic
love until one day an exceptionally beautiful and spontaneous woman walks into
his library and causes a scene. After this strange initial meeting, they begin
a short-lived romantic relationship because of his conflicting desires to be
happy and miserable at the same time. The closer he gets to happiness, the more
misery he inflicts upon himself (in the form of horrible entertainment choices,
unstimulating conversations, and physical pain to damper excitement). His
brother and sister complicate the situation further, as does the woman’s quirky
co-worker. Sweet, sad, and humorous, this film includes an unusual story, an
eclectic cast, and truly funny scenes depicting human frailty to which all of
us can relate.
Directed by Jason Winer
Stars Martin Freeman, Morena Baccarin, Jack
Lacy, Melissa Rauch, Shannon Woodward, Jane Curtin
Run Time: 97 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some language and sexual
Click here to read more capsule reviews of Spotlight Films in the Florida Film Festival. For a complete list of films, ticket information, and to learn more about the Florida Film Festival, visit the official website.