Interview: Writer/director Dean Kapsalis and star Azura Skye for ‘THE SWERVE’ – now available on Digital and VOD!

Holly seems to have it all: two kids, a nice house, a good job as a teacher, and a husband with his career on the way up. But there are troubling signs that all is not right in her world. The insomnia. The medication for the insomnia. The dreams from the medication for the insomnia. The arrival of her estranged sister and a mouse invading her home doesn’t help either. Add the weight of a dark secret, and her already delicate balance collapses, sending her spiraling out of control.

Last year’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival brought a movie into my world that still haunts me. The Swerve is a film that, in many ways, made me feel seen. You can read my review here. This week, The Swerve finally comes to audiences nationwide. I was lucky enough to chat with writer/director Dean Kapsalis and star Azura Skye this week. When I say this film will stick with you longer than it should, I am not exaggerating one bit. It is unpredictable, it gets under your skin, and Skye is remarkable. Pay attention to this carefully crafted script. There is foreshadowing everywhere, the classroom especially. These are deliberate choices made by Kapsalis. They are genius.

Here is my interview with Dean and Azura…

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Firstly, congratulations to you both on an extraordinary film. There is so much amazing material to talk about in The Swerve, so let’s dive right in!

Dean, what or who inspired this script?

 

Dean – I was raised by and around strong women.  Over time, I witnessed the weight of living manifest in them as mental illnesses.  My experiences and observations became lodged somewhere deep in my psyche and coincided with (or perhaps fueled?) my appreciation for Gothic literature, Greek tragedies, Shakespeare, etc.  

 

Azura, what was the first thing in this script that made you think, “I have to tell this woman’s story.”

 

Azura – When I first read the script, I immediately recognized Holly as the role of a lifetime.  As an actor, you can only hope that you’re given something this juicy, and layered, to work with — but it’s rare. This is without a doubt the most challenging role I’ve ever tackled, but given the opportunity, how could I say no? I knew it was something I had to do, as daunting, and intimidating as it was.

 

Dean and Azura, Moms are so often pushed aside in narratives. This script highlights the weight of motherhood in such a real way. The isolation, the stress, the pressure to be everyone’s caretaker. What were you hoping the take away would be for an audience? I imagine it might be different, perhaps based on gender? 

 

Dean – My hope is that audiences feel something from it.  The reign of patriarchy over women is as powerful and relevant now as it was during the era of Shakespeare.  Different, modern pressures, surely, but it hasn’t changed much on an emotional level.  I think that’s why the characters and themes in Shakespeare are still so identifiable.

 

Azura – A big part of Holly is her silent suffering. She puts on a smile, and a brave face as she seems to adeptly juggle the various roles of wife, mother, sister, daughter, teacher — but inside she’s nearing a breaking point, as she struggles to keep it together. She’s right at that tenuous edge, where something as small as a mouse can be the tipping point that sends her spiraling downward. The straw that breaks the camel’s back, if you will.

One thing I hope audiences of all genders take from this movie is a reminder that you never know what’s going on with the person next to you at the grocery store. You have no idea what kind of day they’ve had. Maybe they’ve just lost a loved one, or are dealing with any number of possible traumas or tragedies.  Everyone’s having to cope with a lot, some more than others — especially now. I hope this film is a reminder not to assume that you know what’s going on in someone else’s life, or in someone else’s head. Often times, we don’t even know what’s really going on with our closest friends and family. Or even our partners, for that matter. Everyone suffers, in ways we often never know, so let’s try to be kind and careful with one another.

 

As a 40-year-old mom of two toddlers who used to teach high school, this obviously hit me in a personal way. The character of Paul is so impactful. Even with the inappropriate power dynamic, you understand why his presence is so consequential to Holly’s entire journey. Dean, can you talk about the decision to use him as a catalyst? And for Azura, what was your reaction to Holly’s choice to go along with such an affair? 

 

Dean – I never thought of it as an affair, but as a need for Holly to express and connect.  But there is no joy in it.  Paul has a kindness to him.  He sees Holly in a different way than the other male characters in the film, but it is absolutely an adolescent’s fantasy and is no less dangerous.  

 

Azura – Holly feels invisible most of the time. Especially at home, where she feels taken for granted, unappreciated; unseen. Paul is so pivotal because here’s someone who really sees her — and thinks she’s amazing. Thinks she’s beautiful. With Paul, Holly feels recognized, and appreciated, for the first time in far too long.

When I first read the script, this particular storyline was so interesting to me, because it was written in such a way that even though this woman is clearly behaving in an abhorrent, and inexcusably inappropriate way, I did not see her as a monster. It just made me really sad. This thread of the story is also one of my favorite parts of the film. Zack Rand, who plays Paul, was so brilliantly cast, and he gives a phenomenal performance.

 

Let’s talk about the score. It really makes the mundane feel important. The grocery shopping in the beginning, for example. It’s a melancholy that puts you into Holly’s state of mind. 

 

Dean – I noticed mothers, my own included, that seemed to take grocery shopping not as a chore, but as a respite from other activities.  However, the aura of the past and the outside world is inescapable.  It was important that the score reflect that.

 

Dean, Paul’s sketchbook is stunning. Who did the illustrations? 

 

Dean – The artist is Jocelyn Henry.  She was a recent fine arts graduate and I took a shine to her work.  Her initial sketches were a little too polished and I had her scale them back so that they were more reflective of the hand of a developing high school student.

 

Azura, had you seen the drawings prior to filming?

 

Dean – I showed them to Azura, but explained little or nothing.  I guided her to the reactions needed for the scene.

 

Azura – I don’t think I saw the illustrations until the day of filming. I definitely had a visceral reaction to the ones of myself. There’s something quite intimate and slightly jarring about it. There were a couple that I actually wanted to keep, but sadly I was denied. I was told they were done by an artist in New York, but I’ve always secretly suspected that perhaps Dean himself is the artist. I’m curious to see how he answers this question.

 

Holly’s very buttoned-up, very conservatively presented. Can you tell me how her wardrobe affected your physicality?


Azura – It affected me very much. As wardrobe always does. In some ways, I don’t really know who a character is until I put on their clothes, and it was no different with Holly. I didn’t meet the costume designer (Eric Hall) until a few days before we started filming, and as soon as I started putting on the wardrobe I started to get a really strong sense of who Holly was. She really started to make sense, and take shape, quite literally. I thought her clothes were a little sad, sometimes even a little silly. Someone who’s really making an effort, but doesn’t always get it quite right. There was a vulnerability and a self-conscious quality to the way she put herself together. I found the buttoned-up rigidity to be very informative, and it was helpful in that it was a constant reminder as to the way Holly held herself. It very much affected the way I moved. In her restrained, buttoned-up attire, she herself is contained, and restrained; even slightly holding her breath.

 

You’re really rooting for Holly when she stands up for herself but the emotional abuse from her family is endless. They are incredibly manipulative. But Dean’s script and your performance are so strong that I began to wonder if I was seeing things along with her. Azura, did you ever think that what Holly was seeing and experiencing wasn’t real? 

 

Azura – Of course I thought about it, and that was something I discussed with Dean. I like that certain parts of Holly’s experience are open to interpretation, but for me the actor, I had to play it as if it were all 100% real, because for the character it is.

 

Let’s talk about the mouse. Is the mouse Holly? 

 

Dean – It could be.  Or was it a warning?  A guardian?  Was it ever even there?  It’s more important how the viewer feels about it.  And I never discussed meaning with the cast or crew.

 

The final chapter of this film is nothing short of devastating. As a mother, as a human, it has stayed with me since I saw the film last year. It’s truly haunting. It’s a bold choice that is not only a beautiful recall to the story in the beginning but one hell of a gut-punch to the viewer. Did you both hope the audience would sympathize with Holly as the credits rolled? 

 

Dean – Yes.  Prior to the pandemic, abuse, mental illness, and suicide were on the rise across genders, and since it’s only increased.  My hope is that audiences feel something and can relate in some way to her plight.  We’re all human.  We’re all in this together.

 

Azura – It is a harrowing and haunting final act. One that in large part made me want to do the film. I think I was probably far too consumed with the task at hand to really think about how an audience might interpret it.

 

Mental illness is a hot button issue. Do you think people are now more comfortable talking about it openly? 

 

Dean – Social media is a two-edged sword, but people seem to be more open about sharing their experiences.  The world can be so overwhelming.  They want to connect.  They want to heal.  

Azura – It does seem like we’ve started to talk about it a lot more in recent years, which is so great. You have people like Michael Phelps doing commercials encouraging people to seek help, and so many other public figures speaking candidly about their struggles, which makes it so much more accessible, and perhaps even acceptable. It definitely seems like something we’re discussing more and discussing more openly.

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Massive thanks to Dean and Azura for their very generous time with this interview. THE SWERVE is now available on Digital and VOD

 

THE SWERVE celebrated its world premiere at the 2019 Cinepocalypse Film Festival, and screened at the 2019 Panic Film Festival; winning both awards for Best Actress for Azura Skye. The film will be releasing on major VOD/Digital platforms beginning Tuesday, September 22, 2020.

Fantasia 2020 review: ‘Fried Barry’ is twisted commentary of the dark side of humanity.

Fried Barry is about an abusive drug addict who gets abducted by aliens. An alien then takes his form on a jaunt through Cape Town. Spectacularly edited from the opening to the end credits, Fried Barry is a drugged induced terror trip. The imagery is stunning, using color like a character of its own. The score and sound design by Haezer is menacing and intense. This is genre madness at its finest. This is why Fantasia 2020 audiences show up.

Do not watch this film while high. It’s fucked up enough as it is. Writer/director/producer Ryan Kruger does not need you to tell him you had a complete and total mental breakdown while watching. Or perhaps that would be a compliment. Our leading, Gary Green is unreal as a man clearly effed up by aliens. His physical performance is so bizarre it’s perfection. The film is a study in human behavior from an outside perspective. It’s an actor’s dream. Green’s work is award-worthy. With very little dialogue on his end, Kruger’s screenplay allows for him to be totally weird but somehow completely believable in experiencing the complexities of the human race. Sex, drugs, people talking at one another rather than listening pretty much sums it up.

Halfway through it goes from strange to utterly dark, but you’re so far down the rabbit hole it only makes sense. There is a childlike innocence to Green at this point that will freak you out. A sick turn in the plot will throw you for yet another loop. Fried Barry‘s unpredictability is what makes it so arresting. It’s not the alien that’s frightening, it’s people.

To find out more about Fantasia 2020 and how to watch Fried Barry

Review: ‘Elizabeth Blue’ is Gold!

Elizabeth Blue

Theatrical Release: September 22, 2017

Guest review from Reel Reviews Over Brews

Recently released from a psychiatric hospital, Elizabeth (Anna Schafer) returns to her Los Angeles apartment where she lives with her fiancé, Grant (Ryan Vincent). With the guidance of her new psychiatrist, Dr. Bowman (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and the unfaltering support of Grant, Elizabeth works at regaining control of her mental stability and her life as she begins to plan their wedding. Struggling to navigate daily voices, hallucinations, anxiety, failing medications and her judgmental, unsupportive mother, Carol (Kathleen Quinlan), Elizabeth fears that Grant will leave her as she clings to hope that love will truly conquer all – even mental illness.

Wow… Give Elizabeth Blue all the awards. For Vincent Sabella’s first film, he absolutely nailed it! Mental illness is no joke and Elizabeth Blue shows you that. This is an intimate look into struggling with a mental illness like never seen before. We always see/hear stories about people not taking their medications because they “feel fine and healthy” and this brings us face to face with that struggle through the eyes of Elizabeth. It was very powerful and left us moved by the performances. Anna Schafer as Elizabeth was excellent! She had us completely caught up in her story and her struggle with schizophrenia and OCD. This movie will definitely put her on the map. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Kathleen Quinlan were also great in their selective roles! Everyone knows someone who is, or is themselves, affected by mental illness so this movie will impact everyone in a different way. There are a few scenes we felt could have been cleaned up a bit because they were dragging on, but all in all, that is just nit picking for complaints. It is a must see for everyone. Our jaws are still on the ground! Elizabeth Blue is GOLD!

*Anyone can experience mental health problems. Friends and family can make all the difference in a person’s recovery process. If a friend or family member is showing signs of a mental health problem or reaching out to you for help, offer support.*

Reel ROB Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

Post Credits Scene: No

We want to thank our friends at Reel News Daily for allowing us to do this guest review for them!

Review: ‘GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM’ documentary is a tragic look at mental illness.

In January 2008, the body of a homeless woman is found in an abandoned New Hampshire farmhouse. Beside the body, lies a diary that documents the last months of her life. The woman turns out to be Linda Bishop, a well-educated mother and sister who suffered from bipolar disorder with psychosis. What starts as a whodunnit quickly evolves into a poignant exploration of sanity and systemic failure within the mental health system to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

This insightful doc is has a gorgeous structure. Including sit-down interviews with local police, Linda’s family, and narrated passages from Linda’s diary entries, the impact of God Knows is massive. It’s heart-wrenching as you slowly realize that this poor woman’s death could have easily been prevented. The system failed her in an atrocious way. As Bishop descends into starvation and deeper mental state, we already know the writing on the wall, but that does not make the outcome any less shocking. While difficult to watch on many levels, it’s an important and timely film in many ways in our national discussion of how we treat mental illness as a nation. I highly recommend you catch God Knows Where I Am this Friday, March 31st. Check out the trailer below for a peek into this sad true story.

GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM (Trailer) from Brian Ariotti on Vimeo.

Premiers March 31st at Lincoln Plaza NYC Followed by National Roll-Out 

Directed by Todd Wider and Jedd Wider (Producers of Emmy Award-Winning Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God and Academy Award-Nominated Kings Point)

RT: 97 Minutes

http://godknowswhereiam.com/

https://www.facebook.com/godknowswhereiamfilm

https://twitter.com/god_knows_where

Review: ‘NASTY BABY’ is a labor of love.

PRESENTS

NASTY BABY posterAs someone who tried to get pregnant for 8 months, I understand the frustration reading “Not Pregnant” on the test screen each month and the angst that follows. For some women, 8 months is nothing. I understand that, but at 34, time was of the essence. I am lucky enough to have a wonderful and supportive husband, and now at 35, we’re expecting a baby boy in January (or December, the pool is growing). What happens when you’re unattached and reaching an age where it might be now or never? Who do you turn to if you want to build a family? A sperm bank? Or perhaps, you approach someone you love and ask for the ultimate favor. Building a family is not the easiest thing in the world. In NASTY BABY, Kristen Wiig walks through hell and back for the lives of the ones she loves.Nasty Baby 2 Director/screenewriter Sebastián Silva brings this heartfelt and bizarre tale to the screen, also starring as Kristen’s best friend in the film, Freddy. Freddy and Mo are partners. When Freddy’s sperm count comes back low, Polly (Wiig) approaches Mo to step in as potential daddy alternative. The decision is not one anyone takes lightly. Opinions fly at the three friends left and right as the clock winds down the drama heightens. The film is really about a relationship between three people. People who are accessible emotionally and completely terrified to face the realities of their choices. Nasty Baby 1The script takes an unexpected turn near the end, really throwing the viewer for a loop. This didn’t deter me from loving it. In fact, for me, it got me even more involved with these people. I thought, “What would I have done?!” Wiig, once again, bouncing from mainstream comedy to brilliant indie, is flawless. I encourage you to seek out her work in films like The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Welcome To Me, and The Skeleton Twins. Wiig’s range will blow you away. Silva as Freddy and Tunde Adebimpe as Mo might as well be a real couple living in NYC. The performances are entirely organic and totally believable. We know these people. Other notable and important performances come from Reg. E Cathey and Mark Margolis. Nasty Baby tackles issues like mental illness, homophobia, crossing personal boundaries, and what it is that makes a family. With handheld camera work making you feel like a fly on the wall, Nasty Baby is funny, charming, chilling and wonderful. 

NASTY BABY is available on VOD today!! Check it out.
Synopsis:
An award-winning festival favorite by Sebastián Silva (“The Maid”),
NASTY BABY centers on Freddy (Silva), a Brooklyn-based artist who, with his boyfriend, Mo (Tunde Adebimpe), and their best friend, Polly (Kristen Wiig), is trying to have a baby.  As this trio deals with the complications of conception and creating the “new normal” family, their bliss is clouded by a series of confrontations with an annoying neighbor who just might be a madman.

 

Liz’s Review: ‘WELCOME TO ME’ takes on mental illness with heart and humor.

welcome to  me poster
Mental illness is a touchy subject. Certainly putting a pretty face to it makes us more comfortable to talk about it. Films like Gabriel and Silver Linings Playbook have since tackled these issues, on two very opposite ends of the spectrum. A new film starring Kristen Wiig, Welcome to Me, looks at both sides of  something that can be hard to discuss. The story revolves around a young woman with borderline personality disorder who wins 86 million dollars in the lottery. Obsessed with being the next Oprah, Alice approaches a local TV station and pays a great sum of money for them create a talk show just for her, about her, and only, her. Believing that her new found wealth can solve anything in her recently unmedicated surroundings, Alice’s behavior spins out of control as she becomes an internet sensation. The show becomes an inappropriate arena for her to air all the emotional hurt in her head. The station is owned by two very different brothers, Rich and Gabe. The first is desperate for the checks to keep rolling in from Alice, while the other, has his own issues and a thing for his new host. Can Alice pull her life together in time to save any of the relationships in her life?

Welcome to Me Wes Bentley and James MarsdenThis film is filled with a crazy talented cast. James Marsden plays the smarmier of the two brothers, while Wes Bentley is the odder, more lovable one. Marsden is a real dick, while Bentley is sensitive and interesting. The two are totally believable as siblings. Alan Tudyk, who I can never get enough of, is Alice’s gay ex-husband and charming and adorable as always. Joan Cusak, funny lady extraordinaire, plays Welcome To Me’s director so  think Gelman à la Live with Kelly and Michael. Her sincerity is what makes her so effortlessly hilarious. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the more realistic producer who spends most of her time face palming and attempting to interject reason to this insane scenario. Linda Cardellini is Gina, Alice’s best friend since middle school. Cardellini is loving, quiet, and the ultimate caretaker. Tim Robbins plays Alice’s therapist. He puts his foot down when it comes to Alice pushing boundaries, and I would hire him as my real life Dr. in a heartbeat… is that weird?Welcome to me, Alan Tudyk, Linda CardeliniBut let’s get to our leading lady, Kristen Wiig. Famous for her SNL characters like “The Target Lady”, “Penelope”, “Judy Grimes” (Just Kidding Lady), “Babe” (One-of-Two A-Holes), and “Junice Merill” (Slightly-Off Laurwence Welk Performer) but since her departure we’ve seen her take on some truly challenging indie roles. She was a delight in Hateship Loveship, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and The Skeleton Twins. She, of course, has impeccable comic timing, but is exceptionally gifted in the dramatic. Also, on aside note, she is a pretty woman, no doubt, but there is something altogether gorgeous about her in Welcome To Me. The character of Alice Klieg is incredibly damaged, but if I’m being honest, she is just acting in the ways we all wish we could if they were socially acceptable. This is yet another performance in a long line of impressive ones for Kristen. For the love of all that is holy, go see her in this!Welcome to Me Kristen Wiig

Synopsis: A woman with borderline personality disorder (Kristen Wiig) wins the Mega-
Millions and—much to the dismay of her parents, therapist, gay ex-husband and local TV station—uses the winnings to fund her lifelong dream of becoming the next Oprah.

Starring:

Kristen Wiig, Wes Bentley, Linda Cardellini, Joan Cusak, Loretta Devine, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Thomas Mann, James Marsden, Tim Robbins, Alan Tudyk

Written by Eliot Laurence

Directed by Shira Piven

WELCOME TO ME comes to theaters May 1st.

Liz’s Review: I hear ‘THE VOICES’ , and I like it

1214378Poster_r2.pdfAs a child I watched Tom & Jerry cartoons. Cat chases mouse, and on rare occasions, Tom would be presented with a small angel on one should and a small devil on the other, telling him to do things. In Marjane Satrapi‘s new horror comedy, THE VOICES, a man life is being controlled by good and evil. Though it’s not an angel and a devil but ironically, a cat and a dog.

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Liz’s Review: ‘Rocks In My Pockets’ – The extraordinary weight of sadness and madness.

rocks in my pockets poster

Mental illness is a hot button issue these days. We pretend to address it but if we’re being honest,  we continue to sweep it under the rug. In a brand new film by writer/director Signe Baumane, we follow the true story of her familial heritage, specifically with undiagnosed bouts of severe depression. Read More →