Review: Star Wars – The Force Awakens

Words: Rob DeStefano

Star Wars

My entrance into this monumental reboot wasn’t with nostalgia. I am admittedly without connection to the 1977 born space opera, but I empathize with the love of properties and characters and the unfortunate creative roller coasters that can come between them. So while excited to see the return of a galaxy thought to be far far away, I was most curious to see J.J. Abrams as resurrector. He faced a monster task – rewrite decades of infractions, from Episodes I through III to Lucas’ need to slap CGI sloths across the original trilogy. Hollywood as of late has opted to bring indie and unformed directors to helm large reboots (Colin Trevorrow for Jurassic World and Gareth Edwards for Godzilla to name just two), but for a franchise ingrained in American cinema and with such an injured trajectory, they called in the big guns. Abrams is two for two, fully reigniting the Star Trek and Mission Impossible films. Does he succeed with Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Of course he does. read more

HIFF 2015: Opening Night

Words: Rob DeStefano


The opening night film comes with a great deal of excitement. This excitement comes with a price tag. You can do the simple breakdown; the couple in front of me handed over $70. In its 23rd incarnation, the Hamptons International Film Festival gave this honor to Truth. First time director James Vanderbilt assembled a star studded cast to dramatize the 2003 events surrounding Dan Rather and Mary Mapes’ questionable discredit to George W. Bush on 60 Minutes. In the opening comments prior to its screening, Truth was pitched as a thought provoker, bound to ruminate questions for the remaining four days of the festival. The only question I found myself asking: “How terrible does that couple feel for spending $70?”

Nice thoughts first. Even a poor film can shed light on a blind spot. I was not familiar with Mary Mapes and her contribution to journalism, specifically her role as a Pea-Body awarded producer behind CBS’ cover of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. I was even less familiar with the Killian documents controversy, a story she and Rather pushed – claiming Bush was handed a National Guard Position to avoid a Vietnam Draft – without verifying the documents. The ordeal calls to attention the bullying subjectivity of the media, but also, that of big brother. read more

Review: Goodnight Mommy

Words: Rob DeStefano

Goodnight Mommy

Horror has had a solid run on small scales over the past year: The Babadook, The Guest, and It Follows. Wider releases, not so much. In 2015 alone, The Lazarus Effect, The Gallows, and Sinister 2 amassed a median critic ranking (using that fallible but convenient Rottentomatoes) of 14.3%. Naturally, we turn back to the indies and the foreign installments in hopes of satisfying our horror fix with something north of 14%. Enter Austrian film Goodnight Mommy.

During the the dog days of summer, child twins Lukas and Elias (played by the Schwarz boys) pass time by roving through their property’s cornfields, slapping each other in the face, and performing other common youth activities like collecting cockroaches and visiting underground burial plots. When Mommy (Susanne Wuest) comes home, her face concealed behind layers of gauze from an unknown procedure, she gives them explicit instructions to behave while she rests. Mommy is apparently in a feud with Lukas and sends him to bed without supper. As the days progress, Mommy’s face still obscured, the twins become increasingly suspicious as to whom this woman really is. Their real mother sang them lullabies. Their real mother didn’t hold a grudge against one. New Mommy kills their cockroaches and locks them in their bedroom. read more

Review: The Gift

Words: Rob DeStefano

The Gift

The Gift had everything working against it. A seemingly boilerplate plot. A few-screws-loose neighbor who gets off on harassing the town’s new couple. An ad campaign teasing a “What’s in the box!?” conceit. And a trailer showcasing more creepy window gazing than anyone could possibly tolerate. Lucky for us, these elements are red-herrings, because writer, director, and star Joel Edgerton has far more in mind than following a checklist of narrative cogs and familiar devices.

We intrude on Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) while they are scouting a modern California house near Simon’s hometown. Standing on opposite sides of a window, Simon etches a heart in his condensation. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t draw hearts. read more

Interview: Frank Whaley

The Maidstone. East Hampton, NY.
Interview: Rob DeStefano

Like Sunday Like Rain 2

Actor Frank Whaley has made appearances in hallmark films such as Pulp Fiction and Field of Dreams. Most recently, he had a run on the popular television series Ray Donovan, but his interest in the medium extends behind the lens as well. He completed his fourth feature film as writer/director. We sat down with him to learn more about his experience directing a child actor, a rockstar, and a wildly successful actress in Like Sunday, Like Rain.

Inflatable Ferret: You’ve appeared in so many successful films. What prompted you to step behind the camera?

Frank Whaley: In 1997 I wanted to write a script that was loosely based on my childhood. I had this idea for the character, and I saw The 400 Blows by Francois Truffaut and I thought, “I should plagiarize that script!” So I was heavily inspired by The 400 Blows. I wrote Joe the King, which is sort of my life story as a child. I sent it to every director in town. I was basically banging on doors, but nobody was interested in directing it. So I said, “I’ll just direct it myself. I’ll take my practical experiences as an actor and raise the money.”

IF: Very French New Wave of you.

FW: Very French New Wave of me. I was lucky at that time because very few big studio actors were doing independent films. It’s different now. Everybody does. At that time though, it was hard to draw actors to small films. It’s a whole different business now – actors do television and commercials. I was lucky at that time because I got Val Kilmer, Ethan Hawke, and John Leguizamo. With those three guys attached, I was able to go out with this very small, dark material and get funding.

IF: Is it hard switching into the different gears of each medium you work in?

FW: At this point it’s easy. The hardest part is that when I’m in this mode [independent filmmaking], I’m broke. I spend my own money. And that’s when I’m offered the acting gigs. We’ve been traveling a lot with this film to different festivals like Raindance in London, then Mill Valley, and now we’re here, with two or three more to go to. And of course now is when all the acting roles come out. My agent wants to kill me. It’s hard because I’m not terrifically satisfied with the acting work I’m getting, unfortunately. Most of the interesting acting work is in television these days, but everybody wants those roles. read more

Interview: Margaret Brown

The Maidstone. East Hampton, NY.
Interview: Rob DeStefano

The Great Invisible

Sifting through the perspectives surrounding the worst oil spill in American history is no easy task. Documentarian Margaret Brown tackles the events at the Deepwater Horizon in her aptly titled and accoladed film The Great Invisible.

Inflatable Ferret: The Great Invisible covers a local event with national implications. Did growing up in Alabama make this story more personal for you?

Margaret Brown: Yes. I grew up there and it was happening in my parent’s backyard, at their house, which is on the water. You know the orange booms that BP put out to prevent the oil from coming in? Those were all around my parents’ house. My dad sent me all these pictures. It was just really oppressing. I made two other movies and I was working on something entirely different, but I decided to switch gears and do this movie.

IF: What was the tipping point that made you change projects?

MB: My parents seemed so upset. It wasn’t just them. Everyone in the region was asking, “What’s going to happen?” I didn’t know what I could do. I felt really powerless, so I thought I could create something that addresses this. When I started the film I thought it was just going to be about my community, but it became a lot bigger. It became about the oil industry and how we’re all connected to the consumption of oil. My story is still focused through the lens of the BP spill.
read more

Interview: Keva Rosenfeld

The Maidstone. East Hampton, NY
Interview: Rob DeStefano


In between jogging from screening to screening, I sat down with director Keva Rosenfeld to discuss his fresh and thoroughly enjoyable documentary All American High Revisited. Aptly compared to a non-fictional John Hughes trip, Keva’s camera follows exchange student Rikki Rauhala through her senior year at a California high school. He returned to his work, now nearly thirty years since its creation, to check in on these “characters.”

Inflatable Ferret: Your film has a clear cinema verite style. Any specific filmmakers of this nature who inspired you?

Keva Rosenfeld: I was partially inspired by Frederick Wiseman, who made the classic film High School (1968). He has a very distinct style and has worked that way for years. He goes in and imbeds himself into a social institution – mental hospital, airport, public housing – and he just parks himself there with a small crew, and he films everything. There were a handful of pioneers who did this, the Maysles brothers for example. read more

HIFF 2014: Day 4

Words: Rob DeStefano

Foxcatcher (2014)

Foxcatcher (2014)

Bennett Miller has directed some knockout roles: Truman Capote as played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) and Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Billy Beane (Moneyball). These are larger than life individuals with clearly defined traits rather than nuances, but Miller presents them with a sense of understatement. He continues now with Foxcatcher, an all too real tale of John du Pont and his relationship with the Schultz brothers. Miller tends to the facts in his adaptation, allowing the audience to integrate their own personal interpretations and reflections. Regardless of how this pans out for the viewer, there is no denying the cold darkness that lurks at the heart.  read more

HIFF 2014: Day 3

Words: Rob DeStefano

Two Days, One Night (2014)

Two Days, One Night (2014)

Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, Une nuit)
The Dardenne Bros did not arrive at their current success by creating easily digestible characters. Their camera stalks said subject, keeping the audience at an uncomfortably close vantage point. Like Cyril in The Kid With A Bike, Sandra (another winning performance by Marion Cotillard) is two parts alienating, one part sympathetic. Her world comes to a sudden hault – she seems to have faced a similar crisis in the past – when she learns her employment is contingent on an office vote: distribute company bonuses or layoff Sandra. Empowered by her devoted husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) and a package of Xanax, the mother of two visits her co-workers over the course of a weekend to solicit their support.  read more

HIFF 2014: Day 2

Words: Rob DeStefano

Nightcrawler (2014)

Nightcrawler (2014)

All American High Revisited
Film is a perfect weapon for studying time, the trivial actions of a day or the progression over decades. Boyhood framed this into a beautiful fantasy, but documentaries have long been fascinated with this. All American High Revisited is actually two movies. The first, a cinema-verite observation of High School. We enter into the Fall of 1984 through our conduit, Rikki, a Finnish exchange student. Director Keva Rosenfeld and his camera listened in on class discussions, attended keg parties, and honored the usual ceremonies throughout these suburban Californians’ senior year. Rosenfeld returned to his subjects, at least the ones he was able to track down, which was the surprising majority, to learn how their aspirations panned out roughly thirty years later. Rikki remains the focus in his Revisited section; we gaze at her family as they play the original film, the effect of which is expectedly tender. read more

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