April 29, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. When one thinks of casting a farmer in a legal drama, surely Oscar winner Christopher Walken (THE DEER HUNTER, 1978) is not even on the first two pages of the casting director’s list. However, lest we forget, a great actor will make a role their own, which is exactly what Mr. Walken does here. Director Clark Johnson (known mostly for his TV acting and directing) is working from a script by co-writers Garfield Lindsay Miller and Hillary Pryor, and it’s based on the true story of Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, who fought corporate giant Monsanto all the way to the Supreme Court.

Walken as Percy admits, “I save my seeds.” If this were the story of canola seeds that some farmer saves each year for his crops, I’m guessing there would be little interest. But of course this is the story of one independent farmer standing up for the rights of all farmers against agricultural giant Monsanto. This is the age old story of “the little engine that could”, or the high hopes of ‘the little old ant who thought he could move the rubber tree plant.’ Percy and his wife Louise (Roberta Maxwell) are grounded folks – he mostly keeps to himself, and she is known locally for her pie-baking expertise. These are good folks who are working the same land that’s been passed down for generations in his family.

The lives of Saskatchewan farmers Percy and Louise get rocked when, in 1998, Monsanto sues them for the presence of a patented formula in Percy’s canola crop. He’s no dummy, and Percy knows that he has always carefully collected his own seeds each season … just as his father taught him. He’s also a fighter, so Percy enlists local attorney Jackson Weaver (Zach Braff) to handle the case against a sea of Monsanto white man attorneys (yet another battle pitting a little guy against big money). Overly enthusiastic environmental activist Rebecca Salcau (Christina Ricci) offers help to Percy from her organization, and this leads to multiple speaking engagements for him as he literally travels around the world. Their objectives are different – Rebecca wants safe crops (not sprayed with harmful chemicals), while Percy wants independence to farm. Monsanto is there to protect their patented process that increases yields and profits.

There is a 2009 documentary that focuses on Percy Schmeiser, but I have no idea where to find it. The story is fascinating, as it involves unusual characters and the safety of food crops. Supporting work is provided by Luke Kirby and Martin Donovan, though neither are given much to work with. The joy here is in watching Christopher Walken dig in to a role that demands much from him. It’s far removed from the caricatures he often plays these days. Veteran Cinematographer Luc Montpellier (CAIRO TIME, 2009) is stuck in the courtroom a bit too much, but when the camera heads outside, he does his best work. Percy died in October 2020 at the age of 89, and director Johnson includes a photo of Percy and Louise over the closing credits. He was quite a little engine that could … and did.

In Select Theaters, on Digital and On Demand April 30



June 7, 2015

hungry hearts Greetings again from the darkness. Everyone loves a good “How did you two meet?” story, and the best of these stories somehow makes the couple more interesting. It’s pretty tough to beat the meet-cute of Jude and Mina in the opening scene from writer/director Saverio Costanzo … even if it does take place in the tight and pungent confines of restaurant restroom. It’s a terrific start to a movie that has no real shot at getting better from there.

Jude (a terrific Adam Driver) and Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) fall right into bed and in love … directly from the outhouse. We catch glimpses of their romance, and quickly accept them as a well-suited, warm-yet-quirky couple. An unexpected pregnancy kicks off a gradual and troubling change in Mina. This change is turbo-charged once the baby arrives. Mina registers in the extreme of the mother’s instincts vs. modern medicine debate.  She is all about purity for her baby – food and environment. There is nothing wrong with that, right?  Well, when the baby doesn’t grow and develop, it’s understandable that the dad might freak a bit, no matter how understanding or trusting he claims to be.

The story becomes the unraveling of a once-promising relationship, as well as the unraveling of a once seemingly normal woman. With the tone of an early Roman Polanski movie, Costanzo’s film (from Marco Franzoso’s novel) has very real horror overtones, while playing out like a real life parenting drama … or a psychological thriller. The real turning point for Mina’s character seems to occur after a Psychic Reading where the Clairvoyant labels her baby as an Indigo child. Mina believes this and her psychotic actions create the intense worries of Jude and his mother (Roberta Maxwell).

With the current uproar of vaccinations, there is certainly a modern day link to the story line of mother’s instincts vs. doctor’s orders. But with a lawyer recommending kidnapping, and a triumvirate of desperate characters: father, mother, grandmother, there doesn’t seem to be much factual data here … rather it’s an effective scare tactic.

watch the trailer: