BAKER’S MAN Movie Review

Baker's ManFor a filmmaker, the ‘birth’ of their fist feature film is just like that of a child, but perhaps even more expensive and painful. Often shot on a shoestring budget, using crowd-funding and calling in favors, tirelessly convincing investors of your project’s worthiness as you also repeatedly convince yourself. To say it is hard is a vast understatement. That is why story, direction and casting matter so greatly; There are few if any special effects or fancy sets to distract from those critical elements which make a good film. BAKER’S MAN, the first feature film from writer/director/actor Maurice Hall has the those key elements and has made the most of a very slim budget.

Hall has numerous recognizable acting credits to his name and, to be honest, is a great looking guy. In addition to that he has that ‘thing,” that intangible quality of charisma. Those assets always help. Often cast playing a ‘heavy’ or an athlete, which he was in real life, he wanted to do a completely different kind of project, a romantic comedy. Now, there are people, myself included, who want to run screaming into a burning house at the mere mention of a rom-com. All too often formulaic, not funny, predictable…I could rattle off a hundred mediocre forgettable movies. While BAKER’S MAN has many of the common elements necessary to be a romantic comedy, it has enough unique and charming elements, to have won me over. It also has good actors, genuine humor and most importantly, a strong story.

At the helm of a foundation which awards grants, Hall plays Thomas Stevens a wealthy former athlete turned philanthropist. One candidate for the grant is Alyssa Stock a bakery owner, played by the irresistibly pretty, charming yet approachable Danielle Caley Anderson. Approachable is important because not one of us really believes that we could get Cameron Diaz to fall in love with us and have a relationship with her. She’s too…awesome. Dating Cameron in real life would be terrifying. Anderson is like that one girl from high school whom everyone loved, male or female. An infectious quasar of light and kindness without being a dumb-ass. Stevens travels to her bakery to assess her business and her, and because I don’t give spoilers, there is a story behind the story which includes threads about loss, legacy, racial tension, and of course, love.

The chemistry between Hall and Anderson feels real. They demonstrate an affection, a rapport and tenderness which is believable. It should also be noted that Hall is African-American and Anderson is Caucasian. Their courtship does not beat us over the head with that difference, quite the opposite, it feels like a non-issue. But it is part of a cast which is diverse and well rounded in multiple ways, and feels remarkably true to life for most of us. Rounding out the main cast are the two best friends; hers played by Alyssa Gabrielle Rodriguez, and his played by Andy Cohen. More than merely supporting characters, Rodriguez and Cohen beautifully amplify Hall and Anderson. Rodriguez as Bella, is ‘that’ girlfriend who is loud, brash, utterly oblivious to social customs an manners, and pushes our tolerance right to the edge but never steps over. I found myself realizing that I had been and done things just like her, small seemingly insignificant actions, expressions and quips that help make her a whole person. Cohen is truly, a shining star. Our first glimpse of him is so funny, so perfectly Los Angeles that I guffawed for minutes. His character Nick is so stereotypically LA that you anticipate cringing at his every word, and yet he is irresistibly endearing. I want to be friends with Nick. More notable is that the friendship and chemistry between he and Hall feels like they have been real life friends since childhood, which is actually not the case.

BAKER’S MAN lacks many visual elements of studio films, and its shoestring budget will be noticeable to the viewer. However, it has so much more, in so many ways, than films with 10 times its budget, that expensive flourishes would only feel like unnecessary padding. With a realistic and genuinely funny screenplay, strong acting, and moments we have all had in our own lives, both sorrowful and happy, this film is a skilled example of knowing how and where to use limited resources and the power of a well written film. BAKER’S MAN is an great example for all first time filmmakers facing the gestation of their dream.

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Director: Maurice Hall and Van White
Cast: Maurice Hall, Danielle Caley Anderson, Andy Cohen, Alyssa Gabrielle Rodriguez, Caren L. Larkey, Taja V. Simpson
Rating: No rating
Running Time: minutes

BAKER’S MAN Movie Review

Interview with RAINY KERWIN

Rainey Kerwin BTSRainy Kerwin’s first directorial project, THE WEDDING INVITATION, is available on VOD June 6, 2017. Kerwin also wrote and stars in the film which chronicles three best friends’ mission to land dates for a 1980s themed wedding. Please read my review here.

Cinemynx:  It’s really a pleasure to speak with you and I know we don’t have a lot of time so I want to make the most of it.  I do a lot of interviews with film makers, particularly around their first feature film. Sometimes it’s a really difficult task because a first feature can be very variable, but in your case I want you to know it was an absolute pleasure.  I thoroughly enjoyed your film in every way.  It is so genuine; your dialogue is so authentic and I found myself laughing, thinking, ‘My god, that exact same thing has come out of my own mouth with my best friends.’

Rainy Kerwin: You couldn’t be nicer!  That’s exactly what I want – for people to be able to relate to it, and not everyone does, but if you have those friends and you do, and I do, and a lot of people do, and those are conversations you really have.

C:  They absolutely are conversations you really have. So the obvious question is, was the story based around something that happened to you or to someone you’re close with?  Is your circle of friends shaped the way it was in the film?

RK:  Well, yes, completely 100% it’s shaped that way.  Those are my friends, those are my people.  I had written this story a long time ago because I was trying to create this vehicle for myself back when there were so few good comedic roles for women.  But, by the time I was actually making it… Ok, so I’ll tell you a bit of behind the scenes of what happened…

C: Great!

RK:  I started making this film years ago and it kinda grew. It got so big that we were looking at a $10M dollar budget, a big director, cast, a producer, a foreign film casting director making offers to A-listers for the role of Lucy, the role I play, and her best friends.  And it basically we couldn’t get it past the money men.  It fell apart at that number.  Women meant nothing for our market.  It was really frustrating.  The foreign market is 60% of sales and it fell apart and I got dumped in the most tragic way possible.  Maybe you can relate to this because you have dogs [my dogs had been barking furiously at the beginning of our interview until I exiled them].  I had an 11 year old dog at the time, she was my baby, we didn’t have children together.  I had a boyfriend with two young kids.  My dog was a biter.  And she was lovely to me and my friends but she could not be around kids. I thought we were moving, so 6 months later we made the decision to give our dog to my Mom in Canada. The day after that he breaks up with me in an email.

C: OH MY GOD.

RK:  It’s a sad story and if you don’t know me and think I’m a sane person, this sort of thing has never happened to me.  This is not my normal, I’m not a hard person to whom this happens all the time…this was it.  This was me on-the-ground crying in the fetal position for a very long time.

C:  I can imagine.

RK:  When I got back I went on a yoga retreat and after that I was totally fearless and decided I was going to make this movie.  So I did.  I didn’t have the fear of failure anymore because I felt like… this is terrible to say… I felt like what had happened was the most tragic thing in the world. In retrospect it was not. Death, cancer, other things are much more tragic, but in that moment I was like, “I can’t go on.”  I had lost two little kids in my life.

C:  That is huuuuuge. A huge loss…

RK:  At the moment, we only really ever have the moment…but throw all that shit like that, in that moment…

C:  Right, we do.  But it gives you perspective.

RK:  Yes, which I did not have. So we shot.  We had 23 locations in 19 days in the film.  The house that Lucy is in…. That is my house.  That scene in my bed where I’m lying there catatonic and my friends are above me going, “You wanna go for a hike?”  That is word-for-word what happened.  I was just lying there…I could not process, I could not do it.  That’s actually my bed, those are actually my good friends now…then they were cast in those roles.  That scene is like a mini documentary for in the middle of the film.

C:  The women who play your friends, Camille Guaty, and Christina Ulloa, are just phenomenal, just absolutely phenomenal.  Camille in particular has really skilled, comedic timing and all three of you are so believable and real.  One of the things that really jumped out at me in the course of watching this film…and I think about these things as I do in a marriage – it’s not the birthdays and Christmas that make a good marriage, it’s the million little things.  The small touches and seemingly insignificant actions that make it good. You have these elements that are so true to life and so funny that we laugh because we completely understand and experience them ourselves. When your friends try to motivate you by saying that you’ll get rewarded by a trip to Staples…that.   I was thinking you should get an endorsement from 3M Post-it Pads!  The gentlemen who plays Hugo (Chris Triana) is just beyond description.  I loved all those millions of little pieces.

RK:  What I love about him is he’s based on a real life person.  We shot that for free at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse house because I worked their for 29 years.  I always imagined it happening there.  He actually plays one of my good friends who I am still good friends with named Hugo, and he still works there so many years later.  The actor that came to us, came in like in character like a lot of actors do, and it was heavily character driven.  I had no idea until we cast him and he showed up to rehearse that he has kind of an accent, but he’s not that character.  He’s not effeminate in any way.  To see that side of him is a hit on the head of how good of an actor he is.

C: Rainey I want to go back to something you said earlier about when was a bigger budget film and ultimately you couldn’t get the money because they said that it was an issue of women not selling in the foreign market. We find ourselves now, I think particularly in the last year or two, having a broader conversation about the lack of female film makers. Of course WONDER WOMAN opened this weekend which is directed by Patty Jenkins and is smashing all kinds of records, so I’m thrilled for us…for women! What was that like to hear then, and consequently how do you think that information you were given at that time spurred you to action? What kind of emotional reaction did you have that finally got you to make it, to manifest it…and ,I love all the manifestation mantras!

RK:  THANK YOU.  Definitely, to answer your question, you only really write what you know, and on some level all of these characters are me, I am sort of that person who is driven by mantras.  When it fell through and they said financially…and I understand that, it’s a business, and it’s a bad investment in terms of making your money back. But what really frustrated me at the time, and in retrospect I can see it a bit more clearly, what frustrated me is why they were not willing to take the risk on this proven content.  It has been proven and has emerged in recent years on a massive scale and will continue. The more female directors we get, the more content, and the investors are taking notes that these female driven films are rocking it at the box office.  It is changing and it will probably change more exponentially, but at the time I thought, “What do you mean?!?”  Let’s put the film out there with three female leads and see what it does.  Female driven comedy, female buddy comedy, was not in the vernacular.

C: True – at that time.

RK:  So, it just fell apart.  I was devastated but I take notes from people because I know I don’t know enough.  I know there are always people that know more than I do.  But I’ve suffered by how creative efforts are thwarted before they’re ever seen through, I’ve suffered in that way.  I won’t change what I think is possible because someone says that’s not how it’s been done before.  That’s not how creativity works.  The problem with romantic comedy – I don’t know if we are romantic comedy, we are partly, but we are also female driven comedy – the problem is it got formulaic during the last decade, and I think it sort of died a little bit.  But when you look at some of the great romantic comedies from back then, they didn’t follow this formula, they were taking risks and stuff.  That’s what I wanted to do with the three female lead at the helm of this project.

C:  To address that point, when you talk about the formulaic nature of female driven comedy, something that has become almost omnipresent is the one female character who is somewhat physically at some horrible disadvantage – I think of Melissa McCarthy being a big woman and how much of the comedy is based on that. There’s always some sort, for lack of a better word, suggested affliction, and each of your three main characters is wonderful, women whom most women can relate to, and they have a great synergy together.

RK:  Awwww.  Thank you!  I just now had a review that calls us the ‘Modern Jane Austin for modern times.’  We’ve been on the festival circuit and we had reactions from the audiences, the film has packed houses and we’ve won a bunch of awards, and nothing you’re saying is falling on deaf ears.  I really appreciate it and it means a lot to me – this is my first film and I don’t know what this process is like.  Thank you.

C:  You are so welcome and thank you.  I think the way that you framed the film and how wonderful it is that we never see the bride’s face until the end at the wedding when there’s this wonderful reveal about Denise. And for your information I happened to screen the film with a young woman who just graduated from high school whom I have since she was in kindergarten. She is a gay woman, and she started, like many younger people, farting around on her phone, and she became more engaged in the film, and more engaged, and more engaged, and in the end she looked at me with this look of affirmation because there was so much about the film that she accessed as female, but other pieces she’ll never be able to access because she’s a gay woman. I think you handled the balance of all those factors just beautifully.

RK:  Thank you.  When I wrote it I was in Canada and I’ve been down here (Los Angeles) for a long time now.  Being there and being here for a lot longer, and when I wrote it, it (same sex marriage) wasn’t legal.  Denise was having this wedding but it wasn’t going to be recognized by the state. I get emotional about this idea that somebody says ‘no’ to love, and that was always my huge problem with saying no to gay marriage.  It was such a crazy idea to me that we would say no to love.  So no to war, but why say no to people bonding and getting together? So at the time I wasn’t trying hit anyone over the head, I wanted to gently put it in a film so that people who were ‘anti-that’ could see it as the norm it should be.  It meant a little more when I had written it than it does now since it’s legal, but hopefully it still has that momentum that says, “this is love, let’s celebrate love.”

C:  I think that comes through equally and effectively in the inevitability of Nectar and Ed, where there is a connection that completely makes sense.   So natural and endearing.   I’d like to know about the casting process.  Did you cast it yourself?  Did you go in knowing who were going to be your leads and what sort of ratio did you have in terms of having people in place as your linchpins, your leads, versus opening yourself to the casting process like with the actor that played Hugo — happening upon someone who was IT, who embodied the character in front of you?

RK:  I will say I did cast someone at every audition but the bulk of this cast was friends – say 75% to 80%.  Every single person auditioned but I had someone in mind and if I thought someone was right for me as it was for them, they nailed it, they got it.  Hugo I didn’t know but the guy who played Ed I did know – we did  an improv show for two years together so I knew what he was capable of but for his role in particular we brought in a lot of ‘Eds’ and he was just right.

C:  I love that you brought in a lot of Eds but he nailed it.

RK:  He had that thing about him that he was charming enough to be sexy but still in his weird way.  You could fall in love with him still.

C: I have two final questions I ask everyone, my own Proust Questionnaire! First, what was your favorite film from 2016?

RK: I’m bad at favorites. So I’m picking two. “Manchester By the Sea” blew me away. Casey Affleck’s struggle just tore my heart out.  And “LA LA Land” was the most beautiful and tragic love story. I’m a big fan of the old Hollywood musical and for 2 hours, I got to live there again. Plus to cap it all off, it showcased the LA that I know and love in such a beautiful light.

C: Second, what film is your absolute favorite, or the one which made you want to be a filmmaker?

RK: ”Dirty Dancing”. I saw it during my formative years and was mesmerized by it. I couldn’t believe that I could feel so much watching someone else’s journey. I’m always attracted to truth on the screen. Whether it be drama or comedy, it must be rooted in truth.

C:  Rainy I just can’t tell you enough how much I enjoyed your film as well as our conversation. I look forward to seeing your next project because you’ve made me a fan.

RK:  Oh thank you so much.

 

 

THE WEDDING INVITATION Movie Review

6I like to think of myself as a champion of first time feature filmmakers. It’s not that short films are easy to conceive of or create. But to tackle one’s first feature film is a Herculean task. It is an undertaking filled with blood, sweat and all too many tears. While in no way do I anticipate screening a first time feature with a sense of mediocrity, rather I am far more forgiving of roughness around the edges or the inevitable consequences of a constrained budget. I stark contract to so many first time features, THE WEDDING INVITATION, the first feature film written by, directed by and starring Rainy Kerwin, is such a delight that I hardly know where to begin.

Kerwin has taken on the difficult trifecta of writing/directing/starring, and has created a film that is charming, authentic, legitimately funny and one which every woman, in one way or another, will identify with. When I hear the phrase “chick flick” it makes  me want to run screaming to the first dive bar I can find and drink something manly. All to often films about women aimed at women are formulaic, unintelligent and demeaning. In the recent past I have mercifully found a few which have broken that pattern and THE WEDDING INVITATION is among them.

Kerwin plays Lucy, a pretty, approachable and pathologically organized woman who has been in a relationship with her boss for the last three years. Her home and work space are shingled with a collage of different colored post-it notes, color coded by task, goal or inspirational message.When things don’t go as Lucy anticipates with her boss, professionally or personally, she is thrown into a maelstrom which is quickly made more lethal by her apparent exclusion from the wedding of the year. Her two best friends, Ryann and Nectar, played brilliantly by Camille Guaty and Christina Ulloa respectively, have received their invitations and are burning with feverish excitement to attend the wedding of the coolest prom queen from their high school class. After twists and turns, drunken outbursts, and a sprinkling of wonderful supporting characters, the three women challenge themselves to invite ‘hot’ dates for the wedding within a four day period.

Keriwn’s screenplay is not just believable, it is endearing. As a character prone to bows and bright colors, she pulls off a convincing mix of girlish propriety with modern attitude. Her running dialogue of  ‘law of attraction’ mantras is hilarious and never redundant. Guaty and Ulloa are well crafted and multi-dimensional characters. Guaty in particular has enviable comedic timing and is such an ‘every-woman’ that you will identify with her throughout the film. The humor is smart with gestures that reveal so much of what women do when no one is looking. Pay close attention to what Lucy does when she finally does locate her invitation. The three women expose their insecurities, their deepest needs and dreams in the intimate way that close female friends do. All too often in film, I feel those scenes of insight to be belittling of women; I am embarrassed for them instead as opposed to being them. IN THE WEDDING INVITATION you laugh at yourself as you laugh with the characters.

The wedding of the year has a 1980’s theme and the cinematography by Alicia Robbins and art direction by Katie Dulleakellegrew work seamlessly to cast a saturated, somewhat day-glo palette o through the entire film. It is refreshing and visually reinforces the focus of the film. I will admit to being a high school graduate of the ’80s, and there are scenes involving clothing that practically gave me a PTSD shoulder-pad flashback! The supporting cast is excellent and while the film centers on the women it in no way minimizes the male characters to one-dimensional stereotypes. On the contrary, you love all the men, save for one, because they are whole. They are also exceptionally cute. The charcters are well rounded full people and kudos to Kerwin for being able to give us them in a tidy 90 minutes which never drags or bores. THE WEDDING INVITATION is an exceedingly well made, well written, well acted film. It is also clearly a film made with joy and that shines through even the most terrifying 1980s outfit.

4 Stars (4 / 5)

Director: Rainey Kerwin
Cast: Rainey Kerwin, Camille Guaty, Christina Ulloa, Eoin Macken, Nick George, Alex Sanborn
Running Time: 90 minutes

Make sure to read my interview with filmmaker, write and star of THE WEDDING INVITATION Rainy Kerwin here!

THE WEDDING INVITATION Movie Review

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