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Netflix Brings a Soldiers View in the Original Film SAND CASTLE

Jeri Jacquin

Coming to Netflix on April 21st from screenwriter Chris Roessner, Treehouse Pictures along with director Fernando Coimbra comes a look at the people and place that carry the realities of war with SAND CASTLE.

The film tells the story of Private Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult), a young man who intended to serve in the reserves to pay for college. When September 11th occurs, he hurts himself hopefully to be sent home.

Instead, he is sent back to his regiment to catch up with Sgt. Chutzky (Glen Powell), Cpt. Enzo (Neil Brown, Jr.), Sgt. Burton (Beau Knapp) and squad leader Sgt. Harper (Logan Marshall-Green). Learning they are all to be sent to Baghdad, Ocre comes in close contact with insurgents and after a firefight moves into an abandoned palace.

After a few months, Pvt. Ocre and the other soldiers will be sent to Baqubah where a water station has been damaged. Their mission is to delivery water to the local residents and find a way to fix the pumping station.

They arrive to the greeting of Special Forces Cpt. Syverson (Henry Cavill) who tells them the villagers don’t want them there and that the danger surrounding them is very real. With a tanker truck to retrieve the water, almost immediately their nerves are tested when dealing with a truck that is eager to run up on them on the dirt road.

Arriving at the pumping station, it is clear that this is not an ordinary fix-it job. Cpt. Syverson and Sgt. Harper meet with the local Sheik (Salim Daw) to ask for help in getting the station up and running. His reply is since Americans destroyed it, they should fix it.

Disheartened by the Sheiks lack of help, the soldier return to retrieving water in the tank. On the way back they are hit by insurgents and the tanker is shot up. Explaining why there is no water to the residents become tumultuous at best. The local school teacher Kadeer (Navid Naghaban) tells Pvt. Ocre that they are asking for help from the wrong people.

Harper tells Syverson about his conversation with Kadeer and believes he is the key to getting help to repair the station. The next day Kadeer shows up with his brother Arif (Nabil Elouahabi) who is an engineer and now they are working together.

Celebrating that night their success in reaching the villagers, it is only met with horror in the morning. Arif tells the soldiers where they can find insurgents and a raid turns up wounded to the platoon. Returning to the pumping station, Pvt. Ocre is more determined to get the job done. They are almost finished until a bomb explodes. 

Back in Baghdad, Pvt. Ocre meets with Lt. Anthony, Sgt. Major MacGregor (Tommy Flanagan) and Sgt. Harper to discover that plans have been made about his future.

Chris Roessner is the screenwriter for the film SAND CASTLE. A former soldier who served for six years, he was based in Iraq for twelve months with the 4th Infantry Division which is part of a Civil Affairs unit. He says of his work, “Our job was to interact with the locals; the cliché is ‘win the hearts and minds of the people’.

After leaving the army, Roessner attended USC in their film school writing Sand Castle his final semester. I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Chris to learn about his time in the service, the need to write the script and how long it took to complete.

Jeri Jacquin: Hi Chris, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today about SAND CASTLE and, of course I wanted to say thank you for your service.

Chris Roessner: Hi Jeri, thank you, that’s very kind of you, I appreciate that.

JJ: I am a military mom and my son also served three tours of duty in Iraq.

CR: Well, then please tell him thank you for his service as well and give him a nice firm handshake from me.

JJ: Absolutely, I wanted to tell you that there are a couple of scenes in the film that reminded me exactly of pictures he had shown me, especially the scene inside the palace. 

CR: I feel like every young teen that came through that palace thought the same thing, take a picture of it and sliding down the banister.

JJ: I read the notes and it said you were taking from your experiences during the time there, how deep did you go with that? Is it extremely close to being autobiographical?

CR: I went as deep as humanly possible until it hurt a just a little too much. I would say that what is authentic and what I cared about most is the way I portrayed the American soldiers and how I portrayed the Iraqi people. That’s what I cared most about more than anything. I feel that I hit that goal and I feel like the actors hit that goal. Some of the events were lifted from my experience but it was more important to me that the feeling of being at war was translated. Even if that meant I had to change and fictionalize some things. When I sat down to think about it I asked myself what is the feeling of war in one sentence. What would that feel like? I came up with the feeling of pushing a rock up a hill and watching it roll back down. I wanted to portray that feeling. This film is not about a singular mission with success or failure; it’s about the feeling of being at war risking your life, dying, being hurt, and your friends being hurt or killed and for the soul purpose of taking this giant ship and shifting it half a degree. That’s the feeling of war and I don’t think I’ve seen that fictionalized in cinema before. Again, even if the events aren’t entirely true, I think they are truer than true if that makes sense. 

JJ: One thing that just really intrigued me is that you wanted to portray the truth of the Iraqi people. I have to go with that because when I was watching the film I don’t think I’ve seen that before in films about the Iraqi war.

CR: Not at all and I am as proud of that as anything else in this movie. Our job was unique but you learn early on that you can not be successful unless you have the inclusion of the Iraqi people – you just can’t. You need interpreters, you need informants and you need people joining the police force or join the Iraqi military so you can train them. To me, if you are going to make a war film you have to find out what is unique about that particular war. How was the Iraq war different from Vietnam? How was Vietnam different than World War II? For me the center of all of this is that you must work with the local population to be successful. They may get hurt and you feel that emotionally, when you get hurt they feel that emotionally. Your goal is one in the same.

JJ: I’m so glad you put it that way. I think that it is something important; you have to get into a mindset in order for things to work together.

CR: Yes, I think that’s what I learned in my Iraq experience and what I hope the audience learns is that it takes courage to remain empathetic. There are things that happen that are beyond your wildest imaginings, it takes real courage to maintain your value set. It takes real courage to maintain empathy. I feel like that is something getting lost in our culture. Since returning home I feel like people see empathy as a weakness and the opposite is true. It takes real courage to remain empathetic and indeed it’s the only way to win wars like this or even change the tide. We have to remain true to our values and our empathy even in the face of very difficult circumstances.

JJ: When did you decide that you wanted to make this film?

CR: I knew that I wanted to make a film about the Iraq war and I can remember the exact moment it happened. When I was 19 and I was in the presidential palace in Tikrit, Iraq and I was on watch all night in case there was an emergency of some kind. What that usually means is that you are up all night watching movies which is what I did. I put Oliver Stone’s movie PLATOON into the DVD player at about three in the morning. As I watched it and it was over I knew immediately what I wanted to do. I wanted to try to make a film that was as emotional as that one because I had never seen anything like it. It took me seven years to actually sit down and write it but I think that moment in the palace at 3 in the morning was the start of this whole journey.

JJ: You said it took seven years to put it together, was that due to the writing process for you?

CR: Actually I didn’t try to sit down and write it until I was twenty-seven. I think the seven year gap after returning from Iraq and sitting down to write it was me not knowing, again, why I would make this film. I didn’t want to sit down and write just anything. That question of what makes this war different and what were my experiences different took me seven years to answer those questions. I was 20 when I got back and had all this stuff in my brain, all these experiences and I was confused. I did a lot of work on myself just like anybody else. I kind of needed to be a kid a little bit because I missed this whole portion of my life with college and the like. I think I just needed that much time to get a little bit of distance so when I did sit down to write it, it wouldn’t hurt so bad. I need that amount of distance from it.

JJ: That actually was what I was going to ask about the process, you kind of have to find your place again to write something like this.

CR: Absolutely, you have to find a new sense of purpose. When you are in the military your purpose is very clear and very defined. You are what I call a single function device and have a clear goal on a day to day basis. You are pointed in a direction and that’s where you go. After living that way for several years and come home at 20 or 21 and that’s gone, you have to find that purpose again. It’s a tough adjustment.

JJ: When that time passed, is there something that said inside you to get this done?

CR: Yes, it was Christmas break in 2011-12 and I was in California going to college and I couldn’t afford to go home for Christmas. I was feeling a little off anyway and thought I’d sit down and write something. I wrote the first draft in three weeks all through Christmas break. I kind of dumped it all out and it was enough for me to recognize that it felt right. It felt like this is what I needed to do. That three week period was exhilarating but then the hard work began. I was ready to do that hard work and felt emotionally fortified like I knew I could do this and come out the other side. 

JJ: Tell me what your next step was once the script was written?

CR: Well, I was very lucky because when I finished the script I gave it to a friend of mine who worked for Mark Gordon who is one of the Executive Producers on this film. He produced SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and is a really great guy. He read it on a Friday night and by Sunday night of that same weekend my whole life changed. The script was passed around Hollywood very quickly and Mark called me Sunday night and said, ‘This is good but not good enough. I’m going to help make it good and help get this thing made’. It was ten years of not making any money, struggling, getting eviction notices to my life changing. 

JJ: When people are watching the story, what would you like them to take away from the film?

CR: A couple of things, first, that we were only successful when working alongside the Iraqi people, that is very important to know. Second, the actors in the film were cast because they were good actors but also because they looked the right age. The average age of a person in Iraq was 20 maybe 22. It’s important that people recognize that. I would say those two things are most important. I would also hope that if their humanity is touched a bit that they realize that patriotism is a very active thing. It is not a bumper sticker or crying every time you hear the national anthem. You have to make sure that the young men and women you serve are taken care of by affording education and affording healthcare. People should consider how to involve themselves in these causes otherwise it is not patriotic. You have to be passionate and involve yourself actively!

JJ: Thank you so much Chris for everything – for your service and for your dedication to getting this film made. It means a lot to me not just as a writer but as a Mom, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

CR: Thank you Jeri, that means so very much to me. 

SAND CASTLE is a film that experiences so much human in emotion on both sides of the Iraq war. The soldiers who come to understand they are not wanted in Iraq but have to be there to the villagers that do want help but to do so can decimate families and in between are insurgents who only want to destroy.

The cast, set and cinematography bring realism to viewers and into this important story. I am very sure that former and current military men and women will recognize the dilemmas and emotions of these characters. 

Roessner has shared part of himself and that makes all the difference. For me, to make a story such as this portray so much tension, danger, anxiety, sadness and hope – this young screenwriter did not hesitate to include not only the lives of the soldiers, but the Iraqi people. 

I encourage everyone to take a moment to view the film SAND CASTLE premiering on Netflix April 21st.

HBO Brings an Amazing Series with THE YOUNG POPE to Bluray

Jeri Jacquin

Coming in June on Bluray and Digital HD from HBO Home Entertainment is a mind blowing limited series from creator/director Paolo Sorrentino and THE YOUNG POPE.

Lenny Belardo (Jude Law) is now the first American Pope choosing the name Pius XIII. Immediately he begins making changes the likes of which the Vatican and its priests have never seen. Upset that he was not chosen as Pope is Archbishop Spencer (James Cromwell), his angers extends to Lenny by cutting him off.

Bringing in the big guns, Lenny chooses Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), the nun who took care of him when his parents left him at the orphanage. Knowing no one would get to him without dealing with Sister Mary, Cardinal Secretary of State Vioello (Silvio Orlando) immediately knows choosing Lenny Belardo as Pope could cost them all.

From his first speech however, everyone within ear shot knows that this is a Pope who isn’t going to be controlled by anyone. Immediately Lenny wants to know who is with him and more importantly, who is against him. That’s when Vioello tries to call in those who would want to control Lenny. 

Of course when it all is brought to Lenny’s attention, he calmly tells Vioello that excommunication is a card he has no problem playing. But the games are not over as a woman named Esther (Ludivine Sagnier) is brought in to work closely with the Pope as they all watch to see if a sex scandal can be created to rock the Vatican. 

It is clear quickly that Vioello is out of ideas as Lenny also makes it clear that he knows what everyone is up to and every dirty little secret they each have. Playing another dangerous game, Lenny makes demands of the Italian Prime Minister that could bring problems for the politician.

But closer to Lenny is his friend Cardinal Dussollier (Scott Shepherd) and in one fell swoop, the new Pope asks in a demanding way that he point out all those incoming priests who do not follow the rules both in celibacy and homosexuality. In those rules come shocks that will cause a surprising agreement between two enemies. 

A trip to Africa the Pope wants to see the works of a Sister Antonia only to discover secrets and a confession that goes haywire. In New York, Archbishop Kurtwell (Guy Boyd) has agreed to provide letters written by Lenny that end up only helping the new Pope’s cause sending the blackmailer to a colder place than he could have imagined.

In San Marco as the Basilica, after spending his time staying out of the limelight, Pope Pius XIII makes a grand gesture showing his face to followers. Believing his sees the face of the parents he has longed to find in the crowd, it leads to a finale that is spectacular!

Law as Pope Pius XIII is jaw dropping in every scene and in every frame. I have to say that I was completely riveted by everything about his performance. Seriously, this series just sends one wtf moment after another and I couldn’t be more pleased about that. It is difficult to find a storyline that is completely original and mind blowing AND get an actor to carry it but with Law as Lenny – epicness complete! This character is intense and doesn’t apologize for any of it, how can you not love that?

Keaton as Sister Mary is just a blast to watch as well. She is a no-nonsense and ‘don’t let this habit fool you’ kind of nun who I would hang out with in a heart beat. Keaton continues to surprise me in her role choices and as Sister Mary I cheered every time someone came up against her.

Orlando as Vioello puts the slap on trying to get Lenny removed and being totally creative about it. Keeping calm to his face, it is when those robes are swaying down the halls of the Vatican that you can see the wheels turning. Always appearing humble, Orlando is always on his toes and looking for any way to crack the Pope.

Cromwell as Archbishop Spencer stands tall and defiant against Lenny being chosen as the Pope. Trying to keep his divine composure, he makes it clear that a mistake has been made and he isn’t about to help make Lenny’s new post easier. I love this role for Cromwell but then again I pretty much love every role he has played. This is a role filled with bitterness and even rage of the highest kind.

Other cast include Cecile de France as Sofia, Toni Bertorelli as Cardinal Caltanissetta, Andre Gregory as Elmore Coen, Rayna Tharani as Maribeth, Tony Plana as Carlos Garcia, Gianluca Guidi as Father Federico Amatucci, Ignazio Oliva as Father Valente, Biagio Forestieri as Peter, Ramon Garcia as Cardinal Aguirre and Monica Cetti as Contessa Meraviglia.

HBO Home Entertainment has an extensive array of critically-acclaimed and groundbreaking programs found on Bluray, DVD and Digital HD. They have provided viewers with some of the most amazing programs with huge fan bases that include the shows True Blood, Sex and the City, The Sopranos, True Detectives, The Wire, Entourage and Game of Thrones. Launched in 1984, HBO is world wide in viewed entertainment in more than 70 territories around the world! For more of what they have to offer please visit 

THE YOUNG POPE is one of the most original series I have seen in a long time. What is even more amazing is that originality is only the tip of what this series brings. The storyline is fused with twists and turns that only Lenny sees coming which means all eyes are on him. 

Another fascination I had with the series is the stunning visuals that are mixed with an ethereal feeling and moments where I could not imagine where it all would lead. Between the visuals and Law, Keaton, Orlando and Cromwell not missing a beat it is clear that THE POPE is heavenly perfection. 

The Bluray includes the Special Features of The Making of THE YOUNG POPE, An Invitation to the Set and Inside the Episodes. The three disc set includes six hundred minutes of what I am calling total epicness of a series that brings shock and awe to another level.

In the end – his religion is revolution!

THE MUMMY Needs to Stay Wrapped

Jeri Jacquin with Vince Munn

Coming this week from director Alex Kurtzman and Universal Pictures is the rise of evil with THE MUMMY.

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is in the middle of the desert with sidekick Chris (Jake Johnson) looking for antiquities. With the help of Col. Greenway (Courtney B. Vance) and a well place bomb that has unearthed something huge, Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) sweeps in to take over.

Down in a cavern they find signs of an Egyptian tomb with something evil that is being protected. Nick jumps right in and with one bullet a sarcophagus rises out of a pit of mercury and the mummy of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) resides inside.

Taking the find to London, Jenny knows only one person who knows what to do. Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) is a collector of all things malevolent. The princess has other plans when the plan carrying them all comes down mysteriously.

Discovering that the dark force is looking for a knife with a special stone, Jenny and Nick (with the help of a weirdly decomposing Chris) must stop the princess from completing a ritual that started hundreds of years ago. 

Unfortunately Nick is part of that ritual that changes everything that is to come!

Jeri Jacquin: So, I once again invited my friend Vince to weigh in on THE MUMMY. I do so because although I started out giving the film a chance not wanting to be grouchy, I once again should have trusted my initial instincts. Am I right Vince?

Vince Munn: Sadly, while the film starts with great promise, it trips over the bandages of its title character on their way to the conclusion. Universal is following in the footsteps of Disney and Warner Bros, making a connected universe of characters that they own. 

JJ: So for readers who don’t like spoilers and I try not to do it normally, I feel I have to on this one. Seriously? Egypt, Iraq, the Templar’s and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Are you kidding me? Now you know I became totally disconnected when the last was brought into this film – none of these things are connected and I checked out of the film.

VM: Unfortunately the characters they are using really seem to have no reason to share a connected universe. Taking the classic Universal Monsters by bringing them in to the modern world and connecting them with a secret society of scientists and monster hunters is a ridiculous idea. 

JJ: If this is how the studios see the “Dark Universe” then we have a problem going forward. This was supposed to be an intro into the concept and it is totally a hot mess. I don’t care if you put Tom Cruise in the lead, and he doesn’t do a horrible job, it’s just a horrible script. 

VM: Tom Cruise is getting older. Mission Impossible aside, he doesn’t need to be doing this film. I am just glad that for now it’s not the Van Helsing reboot we were threatened with. The rest of the cast (Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Sofia Boutella, and Russell Crowe) do a serviceable if not forgettable job. 

JJ: Don’t put evil in the air talking about a Van Helsing reboot! I think Crowe as Jekyll/Hyde is not right for this role at all. I can’t even imagine what they were thinking. Then again I didn’t care one wit for the character and actually tried to finish the film not thinking about him again.

VM: Had he been cast as anyone else aside from Dr Jekyll I would be more at ease. He comes off too thuggish and tough as tough Hyde is the dominant mind much like Bud White in LA Confidential. 

JJ: What I came away with after the torture of watching THE MUMMY is that Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz are safe in my heart and mind of being the coolest version of THE MUMMY. The time period is fantastic and I immediately care about the characters and feel like I’m on a fun trip with tons of craziness. Going home to my DVD of the 1999 THE MUMMY, Rick and Evie made it all better.

VM: Had this been set in the same period as the 1999 reboot, this would be a better film. If you want good popcorn fodder and escapism at its minimum, this is one for you. 

JJ: Well, go to and see what the Dark Universe is. Notice there is nothing modern in this piece and yet watching every piece of this clip is just fantastic. It can not be duplicated and I wish they would stop trying. I’d rather see these films once again in theatres than any ridiculous remake, reimaging, rethinking or retelling (all words for ‘hey, lets waste millions on nothing’).

VM: I wanted more and am now nervous about what is to come in this Dark Universe.

That last statement says it all! Nervousness is being kind as I truly don’t think those in charge of creating this Dark Universe know what they are doing. Fans love their Gods & Monsters but when you mash them up and change their look – you’ve slapped fans in the face. THE MUMMY may be spectacular with its special effects and double-iris evil but it is not enough – at least not for me.

I want story, I want to care about the characters enough to cheer for them and throwing a gold book for 2.5 seconds on a library floor expecting me to be happy just don’t do it. Thanks Vince for sharing popcorn with me on this one!

In the end – ancient evil returns without Rick and Evie to save us all!

MY COUSIN RACHEL: An interview with director Roger Michell

Jeri Jacquin

In theatres this week is a novel come to screen with the period piece filled with twists, turns, love and suspicion with MY COUSIN RACHEL.

Director Roger Michell has brought his vision of the film that stars Rachel Weisz as Rachel and Sam Claflin as Philip - cousins through marriage. When Philip believes Rachel has had something to do with the passing of his beloved cousin Ambrose, he is surprised when they meet face to face.

Filled with emotion and suspicion, Philip is led on a journey of self destruction at the hands of Rachel, or is she truly responsible?

I had the amazing opportunity to speak with director Michell about how the film came to be and working with a stellar cast who brought his vision together.

Jeri Jacquin: Good morning Roger, thank you for spending time with me today.

Roger Michell: Good morning Jeri, thank you, I’m so happy to do so.

JJ: Tell me what drew you to the story?

RM: It’s a book that I didn’t know and one day I was looking for book to help me get to sleep. I found a copy that belonged to my mother, an old paperback copy high on a shelf and thought it was going to be a romantic bodice ripper. I didn’t know Daphne’s work very well except for Rebecca perhaps and I started reading My Cousin Rachel and it was dark and thrilling, sexy, confusing and I was on the edge of my bed. About half way through I thought I’d like to have a go at this. I saw how I wanted to adapt it and Fox made the film in 1952 and own the novel in perpetuity. We approached them to see if they would be interested in making the film and they said yes they would be interested and here we are. I haven’t yet seen the original film have you?

JJ: I have to tell you that yes I have and it’s mainly because I’m sort of old school in that the older the film the more I will love it. 

RM: I love old films as well and actually made a point of not watching the original thinking it would be best until I finished my film.

JJ: Well, in the 1952 version the treat is seeing a very, very young Richard Burton. One could say it is good that you didn’t see the older version so that this would be strictly your vision of the story to film.

RM: Yes, this is my take on the book. Any film you make is a version of the book. I mean the book is still there on the shelf, the book doesn’t change and it’s not harmed. So anytime you make a film from a book not only is it a version of it but you are making a film about the 1830’s and its affected by the time period in which you make it. I’m sure the ’52 version is fascinating in it’s own right partly because it documents social behavior in the early ‘50s and probably more social behavior in American than in Cornwall I would have thought. This film I’m sure in fifty or sixty years people will look at it and say ‘that’s so 2017’ and that really interests me that films, whether you like it or not, carry a staining of the time in which they are made.

JJ: Was there a particular challenge in making a period piece for you? 

RM: There is always a challenge in making a period piece. I’ve made a couple of period pieces in the past. I mean you don’t want to turn it into a fox show in that you want the fox to look nice and you want to capitalize on the excitement of being in a foreign country but that shouldn’t be the points of the film. The point of the film is the way in which human beings relate to one another and how the story unfolds. In fact the characters are modern, post-Freudian and you can’t imagine Jane Austin writing this book even thought its set in a period Jane Austin was alive. So I found all of that fascinating. It’s a book that was written before the word feminism and feminists was even current and yet you can’t help but think that Daphne du Maurier saw this current just being around the corner when she wrote this at the bottom of her garden in the very cold 1950’s. I suppose I have teased out and exaggerated some of those elements I detected or felt in her writing in my film so that the leading character is more conscious about being an independent woman and a woman who is not frightened by her sexuality or apologetic about enjoying sex. She also doesn’t want to be in a world that is owned by men.

JJ: And who better to play that than Rachel Weisz. She has this amazing ability to be strong yet scary and very feminine but not afraid to take on a man.

RM: She is also very sensitive as her character has moments filled with swings and great round abouts and great emotional conviction. This character never feel she is manipulating him or tricking him. It all feels totally real and I think that’s kind of the point of it.

JJ: That’s tricky for her character. When she gives the jewels back you are never quite sure if she is doing it because there is a plan or if she truly is that way and Rachel makes it look so convincing – either way!

RM: Exactly, what did you decide?

JJ: I don’t know if you have ever heard or seen a film called THE EGYPTIAN (1954) and there is a scene where a doctor named Sinuhe is in love with the woman Nefer. To win her love he repeats constantly that he loves and wants to know what he can give her. Nefer’s reply is consistently ‘I ask for nothing’ yet he fills up a trunk with gifts while she gets to play innocent. When Rachel gives back the jewels that’s the first thing I thought of!

RM: That’s right, absolutely right. That’s the kind of excitement through the whole film for me because you just don’t know, you really don’t know. She is either playing the longest game you can imagine or she is genuinely just trying to live her life. She is engrained into these activities by this rather impetuous and naïve young man that has really never come across a woman before.

JJ: Sam Claflin, is he just not the doey-eyed character here?

RM: He is doey-eyed and his character is like a wet nosed puppy isn’t he? He played this marvelously portraying this masculine, handsome man but he is instantly besotted and long footed by this very sophisticated woman who steps into his life.

JJ: Nothing like a little mystery to grab you.

RM: Mystery is a great aphrodisiac

JJ: Phillip has been surrounded by this dusty old house and never really had a woman in his life. 

RM: Phillip is probably a virgin and never been in the company of a woman before. We decided he is probably a virgin and he’s like he was struck by lightening with Rachel. Not only is she beautiful, funny and sweet natured but add to that exotic being from Italy. 

JJ: You have a really great supporting cast with Iain Glen and Holliday Grainger as the Kendall family trying to tell Phillip this young man what is happening. At the same time it’s interesting that the kind of stand back knowing that if they talk down Rachel to much they could make it worse.

RM: That’s so right, particularly with Iain Glen character. He is terribly, terribly sad to see this boy you helped to bring up, known him since he was a toddler and see him just throw everything away for this woman. He does that and still manages to be civil when he is in her presence. 

JJ: I love the character of Louise and let me tell you why. This girl is watching everything that’s going on and the scene where she basically is responsible for asking for the return of the necklace. Just the look on her face I knew she wasn’t to be trifled with. I was secretly applauding her.

RM: Holliday is amazing in the film as well. I think how she handles herself in the end is amazing, even when Phillip becomes distracted. 

JJ: She gives you hope in waiting.

RM: All things come to those who wait.

JJ: She is always just so lady like yet on her face the wheels are turning. You have a film with so many themes going on, how was that for you?

RM: It’s just working away at the script and then the actors and in the edit trying to keep everything balanced and keeping them in such a place that you never wink at the audience to give anything away. You compel the audience to constantly make up their own minds as the evidence slowly arrives in front of them. The timing of the letters are very important in the film. You think she has to be totally innocent and then you see she is sending letters to her lawyer in Italy or the coat pocket. It is really, really well plotted in the book and I hope that extended itself to the film in a way that is very satisfying.

JJ: You take it all to the end where you are still left wondering. By the end the craziness is with Phillip.

RM: Yes, absolutely. 

JJ: How do you stop the madness once it’s started?

RM: He ends up cursed by it and he will never be happy and rubbing his head for the rest of his life thinking ‘what the hell was that all about?’

JJ: How many of us have not had that in our lives right?

RM: Yes, we all do that.

JJ: What would you like people who see the film to take away from the experience?

RM: I would like them to really enjoy the ride of it. It is a roller coaster of did-she-or-didn’t-she and I think that’s very exciting. I think that’s one part of it and I think it’s also without doubt it is a love story whether you like it or not. It is a desperate love story and a love story that goes wrong and still beguiling as a love story. It is also a beautiful mystery and I think people leaving the theatre will be arguing with each other about who did what. People going to have a drink after the movie with ‘come on she did it’ and someone else saying ‘come on she didn’t do it’. That’s what I would like.

JJ: That’s pretty much what is still going on here after seeing the film.

RM: Oh wonderful, I appreciate that.

JJ: Thank you so much for spending time talking about the film and your vision for it. 

RM: Thank you so much Jeri!

There is nothing better than having a very cool conversation with a director about his vision for a film but even more so a director that understands the characters. That is what speaking with Roger Michell offers everyone, a deeper look at the complexity of the human condition.

This Friday in theatres it is MY COUSIN RACHEL.

MEGAN LEAVEY: Speaking with Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Jeri Jacquin

In theatres this Friday is a film about a young woman who joins the Marines looking for something to give her life purpose. Not a very social person, Megan Leavey finds a spark when she meets a dog named Rex – an equally tough nut to crack.

Through patience and training with the canine unit, Megan and Rex are sent into combat to sniff out explosives buried in the Iraqi dirt roads. This is their story of a bond that even combat can not break.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has previous brought some of the most amazing documentaries to the attention of audiences making an impact with her work. In television she has produced for the History Channel Shootout: Fallujah, Shootout: Battle Cry Ramadi and Hunt for Bin Laden. In films she directed CITY LAX: An Urban Lacrosse Story and a little film about a big whale in the still talked about piece BLACKFISH. 

Her currently film MEGAN LEAVEY has already won the Truly Moving Picture Award from Heartland Film and I suspect there will be more accolades to come. I spoke with the films director Gabriela Cowperthwaite about the many issues tackled in the film from the emotions and being a woman in war to the struggles of our military returning with PTSD. 

Jeri Jacquin: Good morning Gabriela, thank you for speaking with me this morning about the film.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite: Absolutely, thank you too.

JJ: What drew you to this project?

GC: I think it was an opportunity to really understand the war from a female Marine’s access point. That was an incredible opportunity for me as I have worked on documentaries on the Iraq and Afghanistan war and never really remember an interview with a woman. I never really got to know their thinking in these situations so for me that was a tremendous opportunity. Addition to that I never knew about the canine unit, I knew nothing about it working on those other documentaries. So suddenly I’m coming into this war on two different perspectives that I don’t think we have heard a lot from before. What a great entry point into the context of war that can maybe access more people teaching them about loyalty, friendship and sacrifice.

JJ: What was your impression when you first read the script?

GC: I thought I can do this. I think honestly because it is a true story and I’m a true story buff coming from making documentaries. It was a female protagonist and a cool one. For me it was important for me to depict a woman that I feel like I know and that represents my friends and family members. Someone who is making a brave decision and has some witty comebacks and isn’t just a wall flower that smiles on cue. I just wanted to see myself and my friends in this kind of film and this seemed like the opportunity. 

JJ: The film addresses PTSD which is an important issue for the military, was that an interest for you as well?

GC: I am very interested in PTSD and for me that was one of the most important things that I could address in the film. It is very special to me because I think trying to understand what it is like for our military to come home is something we don’t have very much experience with in the civilian world. I don’t think we can truly know what they went through and I think it’s hard to understand what they need. I think we are getting to be better listeners in that way along with the help of PTSD groups. For me to pull back the curtain on what that is like to come back physically and mentally in tact but a little bit broken is very important. Megan shows that she needs her partner back with her to help her with PTSD. For some of our military it is not that specific.

JJ: You are dealing with so many different issues here. You are dealing with a war, Megan’s character who has obviously issues of her own, dealing with the dog unit and PTSD, that had to be a challenge to focus all of those into the film to make each issue heard?

CG: I appreciate that, it was definitely a challenge and the even bigger challenge are all the things you leave out. There are so many important story threads, what about the political commentary about the war one could make or about a ton of things regarding women Marines and dealing with their situations. There are so many levels and layers so you have to have story discipline within this and to focus on this world from Megan’s perspective. You have to hone in on that relationship and how that bond gets built because that is really what the story is – loyalty and friendship.

JJ: Speaking of the relationship, everyone watching the film fell in love with Rex. How was that for you especially in this context of loud and intense?

CG: He was such an amazing animal and so sharply focused and he was treat driven. He loved doing things and a beautiful animal. I knew he was going to knock it out of the park with his performance. I mean you look at that face and look at those eyes that stare right at you and you feel the impact on an emotional level. He was going to give us the take. This is where my documentary training came in handy because it was get on your feet and get ready to film what ever Rex does because it’s going to be magic. We were not going to put these dogs through a lot of takes and not do anything that would tax them. So to get our side of things in gear was important because it was only going to happen once. 

JJ: I always think the best performances are with actors that can speak volumes with their face – Rex can totally speak with his face. He was charming and cute and very, very intense when he wanted to be.

CG: Exactly! He was amazing that way.

JJ: The challenge of working around the scenes with explosives, that had to be difficult. That scene of the firefight is particularly intense.

CG: It’s so weird to say this but it was the least challenging of all things. Having worked on the documentaries in the past I kind of knew what firefights looked like. I wanted this all to feel real and not go flashy Hollywood. It had to be gritty and look, I was not a Marine and I have never been in country so I relied on what I have seen in my own work. Making it easier for me were the pros I had there helping me which is something you don’t get in documentaries. There were heads of departments who knew how to create the base, the arms guy who knows what he is doing and they all give you what you want. 

JJ: Did you have a lot of military specialists helping?

CG: Yes, we had Megan who was in the boot camp scene as a drill sergeant but from beginning to end of production we had two Marine consultants the entire time. Specifically we had two female Marine consultants during the boot camp training and we had two canine unit Marine consultants with the canine unit. 

JJ: Having Megan there must have really been an awesome experience for you as well.

CG: She rips into Kate in this one drill sergeant scene and it’s so awesome <she laughs>. Its Megan doing what happened to her except it’s directed at Kate. Megan is so formidable and her presence is very grounding. She keeps it real and gave us amazing notes for boot camp and because there are things that the male military consultants wouldn’t know. Megan brought a whole other level of consulting with authenticity. 

JJ: Megan leaves home because she is along and goes into something she think will help but is still alone. When she is in the barracks I am waiting for her to get Rex because you start to feel that connect for her. Throughout the movie you let us go slowly into each step of Megan’s journey along with all the emotions. I appreciate you letting us go with her instead of grabbing us by the nose forcing us to go. Your cast is stellar – where do you start?

CG: Edie Falco is a cast member where I thought ‘did someone give me a Bugatti or a Ferrari or something?’ I thought someone just gave me this amazing gift and her portrayal of her relationship with Megan was more than I could have asked for. She brings it times ten and is such a consummate pro. The key to directing Edie is to just get out of her way and let her do it. Bradley Whitford is so lovely; he is such an amazing person and the roles he has played in the past, man, like being the smartest guy in the room or fast talking witty comebacks. This role for him was so different because he is a dad that doesn’t know what to do. Watching Bradley channel this whole other person is beautiful.

JJ: Until he gets to the point of telling Megan to fight.

CG: Yes, telling her that she is being a shell and to fight for what she wants was so beautiful. Common as Gunny Martin…wow.

JJ: All you can say is – I’m done!

CG: Right? I am so grateful for his performance and he is such a surprising actor. I mean he is larger than life and he’s won an Oscar so here he comes in with his crazy humility. He knows he’s depicting a Gunny Sergeant who has sacrificed and served and he does it to the best of his ability with humor. His role is so unexpected and I told him to go with that. Of course he screams and such but he cracks wit.

JJ: And there is the moment of humanity that one wouldn’t expect from a Gunny.

CG: Yes, he respects that Megan has bonded with her dog. I loved watching him in this.

JJ: And Kate?

CG: Oh please! I think my single favorite thing about watching this film is watching Kate just because I think she does things in this that I’ve never seen her do before. Understanding how far she has to emotionally travel in these 90 minutes of the film, I think she is masterful. She does so much to bring humanity to this story and you can’t take your eyes off of her.

JJ: Finally, when people, especially military, leave the theatre what do you want them to take away after seeing Megan Leavey?

CG: Thank you for your service is always there. I think we say that but I’m not sure we always know exactly what we mean when we do. I hope this film gives you an idea of what is meant when we say it as we watch all these service people doing their job. This movie specifically shows you the canine unit and their handlers and how these people are in the front of the front lines. They are clearing the way for the soldiers that are behind them and Iraqi civilians. There is this thing, this beautifully humane thing that these units are doing and these dogs are doing that just deserve our understanding and gratitude. Also, dealing with PTSD when they come home and how we can maybe look at it different and pay attention and be better listeners in that context. I think that would be a great thing.

JJ: I get that, thank you Gabriela and for making an amazing film about a difficult subject.

This Friday in theatres is your chance to experience a story that can teach us all about friendship, loyalty and what it means to say ‘thank you for your service’ with MEGAN LEAVEY.

Here is your opportunity to win a copy for your own home entertainment library from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.​

In 1939 Poland, working wife and mother Antonina Żabińska (portrayed by Ms. Chastain) became a hero to hundreds. Antonina and her husband Jan (Mr. Heldenbergh) care for animals at the Warsaw Zoo and have raised a family in an idyllic existence. Their world is overturned when the country is invaded by the Germans and they are forced to report to the Reich’s newly appointed zoologist (Mr. Brühl). To fight back on their own terms, the Żabińskis risk everything by covertly working with the Resistance and using the Zoo’s hidden passages to safeguard human life.
Here is an exclusive deleted scene from the home entertainment bonus features for MINE starring Armie Hammer which is available on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack & DVD June 13
GENIUS: The Last Chapter from National Geographic

Jeri Jacquin

In a special two-hour presentation from National Geographic on June 20th at 9/8c is the finale of an amazing story developed by Noah Pink and Kenneth Biller with GENIUS: The Last Chapter.

Albert Einstein (Geoffrey Rush) and wife Elsa (Emily Watson) are settling in America but they constantly are thinking of those they left behind in Europe. Unsettling for Einstein is that scientists in Nazi Germany continue to study the splitting of the atom. He himself continues to work through quantum physics.

That all must be put aside when Elsa becomes ill and Einstein’s life becomes even more complicated. Being rushed by all sides to help with the formula needed for the atomic bomb, Einstein continues to avoid them all. He also becomes emotionally close to Marija Ruzic-Maric (Catherine McCormack) and doesn’t realize that there are two sides to her.

J. Edgar Hoover (T.R. Knight) is one man who wants to see Einstein sent back to Germany. Feeling the scientist humiliated him, it becomes Hoover’s goal to ruin the man. In 1947, scientists come together to try and contain the use of atomic bombs. Einstein doesn’t believe their use can be contained but sees it all as a threat to humanity. 

With his lifetime of work, Einstein is brought face to face with an outburst from his son Hans that every member of the family knows he sees them as a burden. To make matters worse, Einstein is outraged when one of their scientists is forced before a committee for communism. 

Eleanor Roosevelt brings Einstein before a television audience so that he may give his view on what bombs can do and Hoover becomes outraged. Personal secretary Helene (Emily Laing) is worried about Einstein as his heath begins to wane but his voice to reach out against man’s destruction is what he has left.

When a letter to a judge falls into the hands of Congress, the papers begin to denounce Einstein much to Hoover’s delight. All of the bad press sends the scientist into a sort of quiet seclusions. That is until a young girl named Alice knocks on his door to remind him of how exciting mathematics is and it’s like an awakening for him taking on the unified theory. 

Learning of his illness, Helen encourages Einstein to reach out to his son and say the things that needs to be said between the two. It isn’t easy for him but it is a moment shared by father and son never to be forgotten. Albert Einstein would pass away in 1955.

To Einstein, every question must have an answer – and he wanted to find them!

Rush as Einstein is absolutely amazing. He might be one of the smartest men on the planet but he is equally flawed and Rush doesn’t hide that in his performance. From his frustration with his work, to the love of his wife, the constant pressure from the government and believing there was no hope for reuniting with his son – this is a performance that can only be called stunning. 

Watson as Elsa is a woman who understands the complexities of her husband. That doesn’t mean she agrees with his behaviors but she forgives him in her own way for it all. McCormack as Marija offers Einstein a chance to love again but his heart gets in the way of the realities.

Laing as Helene is the one constant and steady thing in Einstein’s life and Elsa knew that before she died. She is the backbone of his life and I personally can’t imagine Einstein being able to keep his life going without her. Well done Laing in playing a role that isn’t front and center but is one of the most important in the series.

National Geographic has brought a series that is a must-see for everyone. It is a story about the history of one man yes, but it is also the story of those around him. Knowing that it isn’t easy to being partly responsible for creating the road to destruction but Einstein tries to undue what he can.

GENIUS. The Last Chapter is from Academy Award-Winners Brian Grazer and Ron Howard which is thrilling in itself but adding Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush is nothing short of brilliant. Based on the book Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, there is so much that I never knew about this man. This finale doesn’t leave any stone unturned in telling the life of this complex man. 

In the end – he wanted to answer the secrets of the universe!