To Live and Write in LA

Family Film Fest: Zane and Eastwood Help Producer Pull-off Hat Trick

(Originally published on Blogcritics.org)

Two famous Hollywood names, Zane and Eastwood, helped producer Jeffery Patterson score a hat trick (the hockey kind, not the cowboy kind), winning two awards at the International Family Film Festival this month in Hollywood, California. Patterson won the Best Feature Drama award for Hot Bath an’ a Stiff Drink, and the Pearl Award, given to the film that “best exemplifies the purity and enduring strength of the family bond” for Finding Harmony.

Hot Bath posterHot Bath an’ a Stiff Drink is a western in the classic Hollywood tradition, pre-Wild Bunch and Unforgiven, which tells a tale of twins torn apart at an early age and reunited 30 years later. That reunion reveals that one is a marshal and the other an outlaw, but they both have something they have to take care of as a family. The marshal, played by Jeffery Patterson, finds himself torn between loyalty to the law and loyalty to family.

The film has all the classic elements of old-time westerns – train and stagecoach robberies, a rowdy bar, shootouts in the street, a colorful band of outlaws, and a heartless villain. It also included a bit of a libertarian streak, with a corrupt governor and a secret service agent, played by CSI: Miami’s Rex Linn, more interested in getting an arrest than seeing justice done.

I particularly enjoyed watching the character Sence Soto, a sharp-shooting bandita, played with attitude and flare by Mirelly Taylor (Lost). Her character, and most of the others in this film, cried out for a little more backstory. Screenwriters Terry Luce, Dustin Rikert, and Matthew Gratzner should re-watch all the Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino films. Maybe we’ll see that in Hot Bath an’ a Stiff Drink 2, currently in post.

Bottom line, if you miss John Wayne, you’ll want to see this film.

Patterson’s second award winner, Finding Harmony, succeeds on several levels. Story, acting, music, and cinematography all combine to create a compelling and entertaining experience.

Finding Harmony PosterThe story’s protagonist, Samantha Colter, is played by Alison Eastwood, (Midnight in the Garden of Good and EvilTightropeAbsolute Power) daughter of cinema legend Clint Eastwood. Samantha is a harried, middle-class Mom with a rebellious, if extremely talented daughter named Harmony, played by model-singer-actress Anna Margaret.  Samantha is divorced from Harmony’s father, country music superstar Casey Colter, played by Billy Zane (Twin Peaks, The Phantom, Titanic). She is also estranged from her own father, a country music mogul, played by Ed Bruce. And, she has a boyfriend that Harmony doesn’t like.

Samantha’s family is a mess.

If this is beginning to sound like a soap-opera, the excellent writing and acting keeps it from going that way.

Eastwood’s character is a tortured soul, cut off from her father, the father of her daughter and rapidly losing touch with her little girl. She was a country singer, but rejected that life when she rejected her husband.

Billy Zane’s portrayal of singer Casey, might have easily slipped into a caricature, but Zane goes beyond a smooth-talkin’ man with a southern drawl. He artfully portrays a father who cares about his daughter, even if he did miss her last birthday, and a man who misses the love of his youth, despite the groupies on the tour bus.

Ed Bruce, a singer-songwriter-actor, also does a good job as the grandpa. Bruce plays an extremely successful music producer and music legend who is a lonely king on his palatial ranch, missing his daughter and granddaughter. This was a natural role for Bruce, who has written and recorded songs I had only heard cover recordings of, such as “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” “Tell ‘Em I’ve Gone Crazy,” and “The Last Cowboy Song.”

The role of Harmony is played by newcomer Anna Margaret (Be Good to Eddie Lee, Brother White). She is an excellent actress, beautiful and an amazing singer. Her musical performances in the film were so good that I had to fight the urge to applaud when she finished singing. The other performances and the soundtrack in general were also enjoyable.

The cinematography adds to the story, using angles and objects in the background, to suggest the presence of a character not in the scene.

Even if you are not a country music fan, Finding Harmony has enough warmth and heartbreak to pull almost anyone in to this charming story.

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