Review: ‘Some Kind of Heaven,’ starring Dennis Dean, Barbara Lochiatto, Anne Kincer and Reggie Kincer

January 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dennis Dean in “Some Kind of Heaven” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

“Some Kind of Heaven”

Directed by Lance Oppenheim

Culture Representation: Taking place in the retirement community of The Villages, Florida, the documentary “Some Kind of Heaven” features an all-white group of mostly senior citizens who live in The Villages, with a few people of color shown who are non-residential employees.

Culture Clash: Some of the people in the documentary aren’t entirely comfortable with the self-contained “bubble” lifestyle of being in this retirement community.

Culture Audience: “Some Kind of Heaven” will appeal primarily to people interested in seeing how people in a Florida retirement community live, but don’t expect to see any real diversity in this community.

Barbara Lochiatto in “Some Kind of Heaven” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

The first few scenes of “Some Kind of Heaven” almost look like an infomercial for The Villages, Florida—the retirement community that is the subject of this documentary. Residents gush about how close to perfect their life is in The Villages, which had a population of about 120,000 to 130,000 people in the 2010s decade, according to various statistics. This movie was filmed from 2018 to 2019. But as the documentary goes on to focus on four people in particular, it’s revealed that things aren’t quite so rosy as they first seem to be at The Villages.

“Some Kind of Heaven” is the first feature-film from director Lance Oppenheim, who mixes whimsical travelogue-type shots that look like idyllic recreational group activities for senior citizens and contrasts these scenes with the harsh realities of what some of these residents are dealing with in their private lives. The four people who get the spotlight are:

  • Anne Kincer and Reggie Kincer, a married couple who celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary during the filming of this documentary.
  • Barbara Lochiatto, a widow whose husband Paul had died about four months before she was filmed for the documentary.
  • Dennis Dean, a homeless bachelor who was living out of his van and illegally squatting at The Villages.

The Villages, located in central Florida’s Sumter County, was co-founded in the 1970s as a development for mobile homes. However, business was slow and didn’t flourish until Harold Schwartz and his son Harold G. Morse (who took his stepfather’s last name) began developing The Villages as a middle-class retirement community in 1983. Schwartz and Morse wanted The Villages to be self-contained and marketed as a “Disney World of retirement communities.” There are no amusement park rides in The Villages, but there are numerous activities that are typical of what’s offered on cruise ships.

The documentary includes archival footage of Morse (who died in 2014) explaining that the idea was to make The Villages a place so full of activities and conveniences, that residents would feel like they didn’t have to leave The Villages borders for anything else. It’s technically not a gated community, but it has security people who patrol the area, to give it an “exclusive” and “protected” ambience. Morse also mentions that the retro architecture and landscaping of The Villages were made to remind retirees of the places where they grew up.

And apparently, that includes reminders of a racially segregated America, since there are almost no people of color who seem to live in The Villages, based on what’s shown in the documentary. The few people of color who are featured in the documentary are those who work in this retirement community, but don’t live there and certainly aren’t shown in the myriad of residential group activities (such as dancing, swimming or playing golf) that get considerable screen time in the documentary.

As an example of how people of color are mostly relegated to submissive “servant” roles that are meant to comfort the residents, there’s a scene where Lochiatto gets her nails done at a salon, and the Asian female manicurist gives Lochiatto some sympathetic advice on being a widow. The manicurist says that she was a widow and is now remarried. The documentary shows that the people in The Villages don’t seem to care about having racial diversity in their community, since they never talk about it and they readily admit that they like to live in this community “bubble” that has been manufactured for them. What they don’t say in the film is this reality: People tend to move to areas where they feel welcome, which is why some communities are racially diverse and others are not.

It should come as no surprise that The Villages is most definitely a community that believes in the “Make America Great Again” political slogan originally made famous by Ronald Reagan and later used by Donald Trump. It’s a known fact that most of The Villages residents are conservative-leaning Republicans. However, “Some Kind of Heaven” goes out of its way to erase this big part of The Villages’ identity. It’s as if the filmmakers didn’t want to alienate potential viewers of this documentary by even mentioning that The Villages is a hub of conservative political activity.

In the production notes for “Some Kind of Heaven,” director Oppenheim explains: “I saw an opportunity to tell a story that went beyond partisan politics and spoke to something that I found more existentially interesting and unsettlingly relatable: the absurd lengths that many Americans go to—especially those nearing the end of their lives—to live inside of a fantasy. The Villages—by design—offers a decidedly conservative vision of the American Dream, and my goal in making this film was to inhabit that fantasy and call it into question. By documenting the experiences of those who didn’t fit into the community’s advertised way-of-life, I was able to explore something more honest, open and universal about how the human struggle—no matter how much you try to evade it—continues throughout the rest of life.”

Despite the questionable decision to exclude any mention of The Villages’ identity as a mostly conservative Republican community, “Some Kind of Heaven” is more entertaining than not, even if several scenes look staged. The dialogues often look semi-rehearsed. That’s not to say that people in the documentary had lines of dialogue fed to them. But “Some Kind of Heaven” is the type of documentary where you get the impression that the people being filmed were asked to repeat their words and actions, so that the filmmakers could choose the best versions for the movie.

The film’s editing is at times haphazard and random. One minute, the documentary is showing viewers a roomful of women who all say, one by one, “Hi, my name is Elaine,” as they all wear “Elaine” name tags. The next minute, something else is shown, and these women are never seen in the documentary again. There’s no explanation of who these Elaines really are and what kind of group discussions or activities they have. The documentary has scattershot, brief introductions to other groups of people, who are then also never seen again.

The beginning of the movie features a montage of The Villages residents giving various praise about their community. There are comments such as, “Everything is so positive,” “This is nirvana,” and “When you live here, you kind of become younger.” People are shown in various polished and playful settings, looking as if they’re always in the middle of a dream vacation. Throughout the film, there’s some impressive work from cinematographer David Bolen, who sets up some very scenic, colorful and eye-catching shots.

Anne Kincer says, “When you move here, it’s kind of like going to college.” Dean observes, “Where else can you party seven days a week? It’s a great place.” Lochiatto explains why she moved with her husband Paul from Massachusetts to this Florida retirement community: “The Villages seemed like a magical, beautiful place. I decided that I would sell my house, and we decided that we would move down here and start fresh.”

But slowly, the cracks of discontent begin to show with the documentary’s four main subjects. The passion has dwindled in Anne and Reggie Kincer’s marriage, and they mention that they feel more like “roommates” than a married couple. To make matters worse, Reggie (who says he feels like a misfit in The Villages) has become hooked on illegal drugs in his quest for “spiritual enlightenment.” He’s shown smoking what looks like hashish, and he admits that he also regularly indulges in marijuana. And later in the documentary, he has to go to court after being arrested for possession of marijuana and cocaine. (His arrest is not shown in the documentary.)

Dean, who says he was 81 years old when this documentary was made, is a self-admitted hustler. He somewhat brags that the only reason why he’s hanging out at The Villages is so he can find an attractive, financially generous woman whom he can date, with the hope that she will financially support him and let him move in with her. Dean hasn’t had much luck in finding a “sugar mama” by going to the community’s nightclubs and churches, but he says he’s been having better luck at the community’s main public swimming pool. The documentary shows him making moves on a few women, who see right through his act and don’t fall for his pickup lines.

Lochiatto’s storyline is the least interesting of the documentary’s four main subjects, simply because her situation of being a lonely widow isn’t that unusual in a retirement community. Lochiatto, who often looks sad and rarely has a genuine smile, gripes that she wishes she could go back to Massachusetts, but she can’t afford to do that because all of her savings are gone. She also seems self-conscious about still having to work full-time (she answers phones in an office job), compared to most of The Villages residents who are comfortably retired.

Later in the documentary, Lochiatto shows more of a personality when she takes a group acting class and gives an impressive dramatic monologue. She also has a mild flirtation with a golf cart salesman named Lynn Henry, who tells her up front that he’s “playing the field” by dating more than one woman. However, it’s clear that Lochiatto is starting to develop a crush on him, based on how she finally starts to smile and appear more light-hearted after meeting him.

Henry is a big fan of singer Jimmy Buffett (whose fans are nicknamed Parrotheads), so he invites Lochiatto to a Parrothead outdoor party. However, Lochiatto pouts and looks hurt when Henry spends time dancing with a pretty blonde at the party. It’s as if the documentary wants to show that even in old age, someone can still feel like an awkward teenager when it comes to dating.

The drug addiction drama with the Kincers isn’t as explosive as it could have been, mainly because Anne is a stoic, non-confrontational spouse who prefers to be in denial about the problem for too long. Reggie is the type of person who believes that his spiritual health should involve doing a lot of tai chi and doing a lot of mind-bending drugs. Even when Reggie is clearly hallucinating and seeming to lose touch with reality—at one point, Reggie says that he’s died and has been reincarnated as God—Anne still doesn’t really want to deal with it.

Anne comments with a weary tone on Reggie’s escalating drug addiction and its damage to his mental health: “I don’t understand it and I don’t like it, because I think it’s a dependency on something that just is not good for you. But I can respect what he found and what he’s looking for.”

Anne eventually admits that she thought about leaving Reggie, but she decided against it because she believes in her wedding vows to stay married in sickness and in health. Reggie’s arrest seems to have shocked her out of denial about how bad his drug problem is and how it could have long-lasting, negative effects on both of their lives. Reggie decides to be his own attorney in the court proceedings, and this decision leads to unintentionally embarrassing results for him. The documentary uses the courtroom’s closed-circuit camera footage to show what happened.

In court, Reggie talks too much and talks out of turn, prompting the judge to remark in open court that Reggie is the rudest person he’s even dealt with in court—even ruder than rapists and murderers. Reggie then tries giving smarmy compliments to the judge, which doesn’t work. Reggie then tries to appeal to the judge’s sympathy by claiming he has health issues, such as getting a recent MRI and experiencing mini-strokes. The judge’s decision in this court case is not a surprise, considering that there’s an obvious racial difference in the U.S. criminal justice system when it comes to punishment for drug possession and other crimes. If Reggie had been a person of color, his punishment most likely would’ve been very different.

The documentary shows that Dean, whose background is very vague, also has a criminal record, and he moved to Florida to avoid something from his past. He’s obviously a skilled liar/con artist, so whatever he says about himself is questionable. The filmmakers definitely were not concerned with fact-checking anything he said. It’s pretty obvious that Dean was chosen to be in this movie only to liven up the film, because a lonely widow and two emotionally conflicted elderly spouses look kind of boring in comparison.

While Dean illegally squats on The Villages property, there are hints that the community’s security people and some other residents know that Dean is homeless and shouldn’t be there, but no one bothers to kick him out. Dean outright denies that he’s homeless when certain people tell him that they know he’s living out of his van. Dean also shows an anonymous note that was left on his van that said, “I know that you don’t live here. If you want to avoid trouble, don’t come back.”

However, Dean doesn’t take this note seriously and he continues his hustling games. How does he get money? He says he has a background in handyman work, so he does occasional odd jobs. For food, he often gets free food at churches and at places that serve buffet meals. And he takes showers in his swim trunks in the swimming pool areas that have public showers. He deals with other hygiene issues (such as brushing his teeth and shaving) in public bathrooms.

Dean’s low point in the movie comes when he completely runs out of money, and there’s a montage of him making desperate phone calls to people he knows and asking to borrow money from them. After a series of rejections, he starts dropping hints to the people he calls that if he doesn’t get the money he needs, he’ll kill himself. It’s quite the display of emotional manipulation.

Finally, an ex-girlfriend of his named Nancy Davis comes to Dean’s rescue (what she does won’t be revealed in this review), but even that’s not enough to satisfy him. During his “I’ve run out of money” point in the movie, Dean comments on his life: “I said from the get-go that I would live fast, love hard, and die poor. I’m right there now. I’m poor.”

Although Dean is the most memorable person in the documentary, he’s also the most mysterious. Any background information about Dean is only told by him, and even that information is dubious because he seems to be a pathological liar. He vaguely mentions a past marriage and a string of bad relationships with women. He doesn’t mention having any living relatives, except for his mother.

And it’s clear that he doesn’t go to church for religious reasons but to see how he can get money or favors from people he meets in church. Dean has a private counseling session with one of the church ministers named Rev. Norman Lee Schaffer. This scene is almost comical because it’s obvious that Dean doesn’t care at all about religion or spiritual beliefs but wants some kind of handout.

Rev. Schaffer is a middle-aged man who mentions that he had a wild past as a touring musician. But at around the age of 40, Rev. Schaffer says he changed his ways because he didn’t want to end up having the kind of life that Dean has. After they pray together, Dean seems disappointed that the reverend didn’t give him any money, food or other donations. And so, Dean continues trying to hustle women.

One of the odd things about this documentary is that there’s no mention of Dean, Lochiatto and the Kincers having any children or grandchildren, nor are they visited by any relatives. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to convey a sense that The Villages is a place that “disconnects” people from the real world. But this family omission also makes the people in this documentary less relatable, almost like they’re playing a part in a movie, instead of truly letting a documentary crew show all aspects of their lives.

Surprisingly, the homeless and rootless Dean is the documentary’s only featured person who’s shown having a connection, albeit a brief one, to a family member who lives outside of The Villages. There’s a short scene of Dean talking to his mother on the phone and lying to her about being employed and saying that his life is going very well. Dean’s mother must’ve given birth to him when she was very young, because Dean says more than once in the movie that he’s 81. But given all the lies he tells in the movie, who really knows if that’s true?

“Some Kind of Heaven” has enough moments where people will be curious to see what happens and how the movie is going to end. That curiosity will keep viewers engaged, but this documentary has a tendency to treat people more like plot devices and photo opps instead of as well-rounded human beings. The Villages retirement community might want to be a bubble removed from reality, but “Some Kind of Heaven” ultimately made a very safe and passably entertaining attempt to burst that bubble.

Magnolia Pictures released “Some Kind of Heaven” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on January 15, 2021.

Review: ‘The Infiltrators,’ starring Maynor Alvarado, Manuel Uriza, Chelsea Rendon, Dino Nicandros, Marco Saavedra, Viridiana Martinez and Mohammad Abdollahi

May 1, 2020

by Carla Hay

Manuel Uriza and Maynor Alvarado (both pictured leaning forward, at far left) in “The Infiltrators” (Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories)

“The Infiltrators”

Directed by Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra

Partially in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Broward County, Florida, the docudrama “The Infiltrators”—about a group of young Dreamer activists who want undocumented immigrants to be set free at a detention center—has a cast that is predominantly Latino, with some representation of white people, African Americans and Asians.

Culture Clash: The activists, who are part of group called the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, have an underground network to free undocumented immigrants from a U.S. detention center in Broward County, and they have conflicts with immigration officials to achieve their goals.

Culture Audience: “The Infiltrators” will appeal mostly to people who are sympathetic to the plight of undocumented immigrants and Dreamers, but the movie’s “split personality” of being a documentary and a scripted drama ends up being a distraction to the overall message.

Chelsea Rendon and Dino Nicandros in “The Infiltrators” (Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories)

At what point does a movie that tries to be a documentary end up being a docudrama? When the scripted re-enactments with actors take up most of the screen time instead of actual interviews with the documentary subjects. It’s why the “The Infiltrators” (directed by Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra), although well-intentioned, has an uneven tone that dilutes and muddles what could have been a more impactful film if it let the real people involved tell most of the story, instead of actors.

About 65% of the screen time in “The Infiltrators” consists of scripted re-enactments of what are said to be true events. About 25% of the movie consists of archival footage, while the remaining 10% consists of interviews with the actual people who went through the experiences that are depicted by actors in the movie. It would be inaccurate to call this movie a “documentary,” because the movie is really a docudrama or a scripted dramatic movie with some documentary elements. “The Infiltrators” co-director Rivera wrote the movie’s screenplay with Aldo Velasco.

“The Infiltrators,” which takes place mostly in 2012, tells the story of how members of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) formed an underground network to get undocumented immigrants (or illegal aliens, depending on your viewpoint) released from Broward Detention Center in Florida. NIYA consists primarily of Dreamers: people who came to the U.S. as children of undocumented immigrants.

Three of the NIYA members, who were in their early 20s at the time, get the spotlight in “The Infiltrators”—group leader Marco Saavedra, Viridiana “Viri” Martinez and Mohammad Abdollahi. Saaverda and Martinez are of Mexican descent, while Abdollahi is of Iranian descent. Because they were underage when they immigrated to the U.S., they are in a gray area of not being legally responsible for breaking immigration laws themselves, since they were brought into the U.S. by adults.

However, Dreamers are still not eligible to become legal U.S. citizens. There are very divisive and heated debates on what should be done about undocumented immigrants who are working, productive members of society, and what should be done about Dreamers who want to work or go to college after they turn 18. Should they be deported or should they be given a path to citizenship?

“The Infiltrators” undoubtedly takes the side of the immigrants getting a path to legal citizenship, since NIYA’s goal is to prevent deportations of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who are productive members of society. In order to get immigrants at detention centers released, NIYA members who are Dreamers got themselves deliberately put into the detention center to contact certain immigrants whose families enlisted the help of NIYA.

While at the detention center, NIYA got the targeted immigrants to sign privacy waiver forms that allowed NIYA members on the outside to get petitions signed on the behalf of the detained immigrants. The movie shows that the waiver forms could be smuggled out by detention-center people who had access to the visitor area (such as people on cleaning duty), and then the waiver forms could be given to pre-planned visitors. Because the detention centers are overcrowded, someone can be released without being deported, if enough political pressure is put on people in the U.S. Congress or other influential politicians who represent the region where the detainee usually lives.

“The Infiltrators” shows scripted re-enactments of experiences that Saaverda (played by Maynor Alvarado) and Martinez (played by Chelsea Rendon) had in deliberately getting themselves locked up in Broward Detention Center. Saaverda and Martinez (at separate times) just walked up to a local U.S. Border Patrol Office, revealed their immigration status by playing dumb, and were then taken to the detention center. Meanwhile, the movie (through some archival footage, but mostly through re-enactments) shows that Abdollahi spearheaded the NIYA efforts outside the detention center to get petitions signed and garner media attention for their detention cases. In the movie, the Abdollahi character’s name is changed to Radam Berlinger, and he is portrayed by actor Dino Nicandros.

In “The Infiltrators,” the detained undocumented immigrants who get help from NIYA include Claudio Roja (played by Manuel Uriza), a middle-aged married father who was detained after he reneged on his promise to voluntarily go back to Mexico. Emiliano, Claudio’s oldest son (played by Orlando Peña), also received NIYA assistance when he was in the detention center for three months. Another immigrant named Beni (played by Juan Gabriel Pareja) also gets help from NIYA.

Viewers would be mistaken to think that “The Infiltrators” will show a lot of abuse by detention workers. No one gets beat up or called racist names. The worst “abuse” shown in the movie is when a guard gets angry at a detainee for loitering while on janitor duty. The guard yells at the detainee to keep mopping the floor, and then angrily kicks the detainee’s mop bucket away. The movie is obviously a very toned-down version of how people are treated in facilities such as this one.

And the detention center looks like an unrealistic movie version of a detention center, considering the horrific conditions of real immigration detention centers, which are basically jails under a different name. And the movie unrealistically avoids showing any fighting or unsanitary conditions in the detention center. It’s hard to believe that an overcrowded, incarcerated population would be this peaceful and clean. It’s one of the reasons why the dramatized, scripted parts of the movie don’t look very authentic and does a disservice by not showing people the grim and disturbing realities of what really go on in these detention centers.

The main “detention tension” shown in the movie is when Marco and Claudio get paranoid that the detention center’s “frogs” (the word used for detainees who snitch to the guards) will find out about their plans. And toward the end of the film, Marco convinces a group of detainees to join him in a protest by fasting. But aside from Claudio showing some signs of weight loss, the movie glosses over the impact of fasting, and it’s treated in a way that’s almost glib. One of the detainees quips that the reason why he immediately agrees to fasting is because the food in the detention center isn’t very good anyway.

The movie also does an inadequate job at addressing how racism plays a role in how people are treated in the immigration system. A lot of viewers probably won’t notice that there are no white people shown as detainees in the detention center. The racial disparity is not mentioned at all in the film. It’s necessary to point it out to make people aware that white undocumented immigrants (and a lot of them do exist, contrary to what’s shown in the media) are not rounded up and put in detention centers to the same degree that people of color are targeted for this type punishment.

The majority of the detainees in this detention center are Latino, while the rest are African or Asian. Think of how many white immigrants in the U.S. are undocumented or have expired visas, but they’re usually not yanked out of their homes or jobs and taken to detention centers. And considering that the majority of immigration officials are white, it’s no wonder that immigration is a hot-button racial issue in the United States.

And there’s another level of racial preference that’s glossed over in the film: As depicted in the movie, NIYA members give priority help to Latinos, since most of the NIYA members are also Latino. There’s a scripted scene that shows Martinez somewhat befriending an African immigrant named Neema Mukun (played by Délé Ogundiran), who shares a cell-room with her, and the African woman shows interest in having the NIYA help her. But in the end, the only people in the movie who get freed with NIYA’s help are people who “remind them of their families” (as the actress portraying Martinez says in the scripted portion of the movie)—in other words, people who are Latino.

That racial preference might also be a function of how racially segregated detention centers can be, but the movie could have been a lot more honest about this racial preference instead of using an African woman as a token character.  If the NIYA made equal efforts to help detainees of non-Latino races, it’s not shown in “The Infiltrators,” which is another reason why the movie’s over-reliance on scripted re-enactments ends up short-changing what could have been more of a well-rounded picture.

When the movie cuts to scenes of the real people (not the actors) in archival footage or in interviews, it’s a reminder of how much better the movie would have been if the majority of the scenes were in documentary format. That’s because the real people tell the story in much more compelling ways. They actually lived these experiences and can tell eyewitness  details that would be more impactful, as opposed to a second-hand interpretation of events.

If the interviewees were dull or awkward on camera, then it would be understandable for the filmmakers to rely so heavily on re-enactments. But Saavedra, Martinez and Abdollahi are not only charismatic, they also have a great sense of humor. And the former detainees who got assistance (such as the real Claudio and Emiliano Rojas) have a lived-through trauma in their eyes and demeanor, which can’t be faked by actors. The actors in this movie do an adequate job, but they’re not as memorable as the real people.

The NIYA “infiltrators” ended up getting a lot of media attention, which kind of defeats the purpose of keeping things “underground” in order to operate without detection from authorities. Because the identities of the “infiltrators” were exposed in the media, they had to stop what they were doing because immigration officials now know about it. And since their tactics have been revealed to the public, it would be much harder for other people to try the same methods.

The problem with putting all of this in a dramatic, scripted format while trying to pass this movie off as a nonfiction is that the viewers don’t know how much of the script was exaggerated or fabricated for dramatic purposes. Toward the end of the movie, it flashes forward to Election Day in 2016, to show documentary footage of the real Saavedra (not the actor) watching on TV, to his dismay, the impending results of the U.S. presidential election. The film ends very abruptly on another scene of the real Claudio Rojas on his way to a required check-in appointment with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). But the Election Day 2016 footage in the movie is a reminder that when it comes to current ICE policies and issues, “The Infiltrators” is not just an overly scripted film but it’s also an outdated one.

Oscilloscope Laboratories released “The Infiltrators” in virtual cinemas on May 1, 2020. The movie’s digital and VOD release date is June 2, 2020.

Review: ‘Diving With Dolphins,’ starring Roger Horrocks, Didier Noirot, Tad Luckey, Joe Mobley, Laura Engelby, Angela Zillener and Paul Atkins

April 3, 2020

by Carla Hay

Roger Horrocks in “Diving With Dolphins” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

“Diving With Dolphins”

Directed by Keith Scholey

Culture Representation: This Disneynature documentary is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Disneynature documentary “Dolphin Reef,” with an all-white crew of filmmakers who worked in French Polynesia, Hawaii and Florida to make the documentary.

Culture Clash: The film crew sometimes had to battle the weather and unpredictable nature of ocean life.

Culture Audience: “Diving With Dolphins” will appeal mostly to people interested in documentaries about ocean animals, but it’s not essential viewing for people who see the “Dolphin Reef” documentary.

Didier Noirot in “Diving With Dolphins” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

Disneynature’s “Diving With Dolphins” is a “making of” documentary about the Disneynature documentary “Dolphin Reef.” And just like “Dolphin Reef,” the movie gives almost as much screen time to humpback whales as it does to dolphins. People who’ve seen “Dolphin Reef” don’t really need to see “Diving With Dolphins” because it seems more like a series of outtakes strung together by narration rather than a documentary with a fascinating storyline.

Directed by Keith Scholey (who co-directed “Dolphin Reef”) and narrated by Celine Cousteau (granddaughter of Jacque Cousteau) has a lot of the same gorgeous cinematography that “Dolphin Reef” has, but the movie doesn’t really give much insight into the filmmakers’ personalities. It’s kind of a tedious repeat of “get to a location, set up cameras, shoot some film, and then go to the next location.”

The documentary takes place in three main areas: French Polynesia, Hawaii and Florida. There are also separate shoots for the dolphins and the humpback whales. “Dolphin Reef” focuses on two bottlenose dolphins bottlenose dolphin mother named Kumu her 3-year-old son Echo), as well as two humpback whales (a mother named Moraya and her newborn female calf Fluke.

The people on the film crew include cinematographers Roger Horrocks, Paul Atkins, Didier Noirot and Jamie McPherson. They are accompanied by scientists Angela Zillener, Laura Engelby and Joe Mobley. And there are some skippers shown in the movie, such as Tad Luckey (whose Luckey Strike boat is in a lot of the humpback whale footage), Carl Ellington and Paris Basson, who’s a jet ski skipper.

Horrock has a clear preference for dolphins, which he’s been filming for decades. He says, “Dolphins are the probably most charismatic mammals that you can get in the ocean. They have a mammalian conscious, so we feel a kinship to them.” Horrock believes that dolphins are the “most welcome” animals he’s ever filmed and adds, “filming dolphins is the most physical because they’re constantly on the move.”

Meanwhile, Noirot, who used to be part of Jacque Cousteau’s crew, is described as someone who’s has more than 30 years of experience of ocean filming. He’s shown in the humpback whale film shoots. Noirot comments, “Hawaii is a good location to film humpback whales because of the whale population. You’re sure to see whales [and] crystal-clear water.”

Most of the filming was underwater, and the scenes that were film outside the water was done mainly by bot, by jet ski and by helicopter. Underwater, a scooter was used with a torpedo-like propeller to get some of the fast-moving shots. But there was a lot of down time during the film shoots, since it took several weeks to get close enough to a humpback whale and a calf to film for the movie.

Although scientist Zillener says that the crew got to know amore than 200 dolphins during the film shoot and that “to understand the animals, you have to be one of them,” there’s no effort made to single out any of the other animals (besides the four main stars) by describing their personalities in “Diving With Dolphins.” The movie would have benefited from more anecdotes about some of the animals who had standout personalities. In the movie, all of the animals appear to be generic. In “Dolphin Reef,” the some of animal personalities of the “supporting characters” seem to be crafted through creative editing.

The narration of “Diving With Dolphins” also tends to take on dramatic, hyperbolic tones, such as the description of the humpback whale courtship competition to become a female humpback’s chief protector: “It’s the most spectacular battle in nature.” Given all the wild animals in the world, that statement seems a bit too broad and subjective for a nature documentary.

One of the strengths of “Diving With Dolphins” is that it calls attention to the coral-reef crisis that desperately needs protection from human plundering and pollution that can cause climate change. The ocean is the foundation of almost every animal’s food chain, so it’s alarming that so much of the essential coral reef is disappearing due to climate change.  “Diving With Dolphins” mentions that in the three years it took to make this documentary, one-third of the film locations’ coral reef died. (More on this subject can be found in the excellent 2017 Netflix documentary “Chasing Coral.”)

“Diving With Dolphins” places a lot of emphasis on tiger sharks toward the end of the film, by saying tiger sharks are “misunderstood” and have an “overblown reputation as frightening and deadly predators.”  One of the reasons why French Polynesia was chosen as a location to film was because it’s one of the few countries that have laws protecting sharks, which are necessary for the food chain.

And cinematographer Atkins, who has more than 30 years of experience filming in the ocean, calls sharks “extraordinarily beautiful and graceful.” Atkins shows through a demonstration while being surrounded by tiger sharks, that giving them a gentle nudge on the face should do the trick in preventing them from attacking you. (It’s a lot easier said than done, and there should’ve been a caveat that only professionals with animal experience should try this tactic.)

Overall, “Diving With Dolphins” is kind of a scattered film that doesn’t reveal anything surprising about the making of “Dolphin Reef.” And the movie is much more than about diving with dolphins, since the filmmakers’ interactions with humpback whales and tiger sharks also take up a great deal of screen time.

Disney+ premiered “Diving With Dolphins” on April 3, 2020.

Review: ‘Dolphin Reef,’ narrated by Natalie Portman

April 3, 2020

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Dolphin Reef” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

“Dolphin Reef” 

Directed by Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill

Culture Representation: This Disneynature documentary chronicles some of the coral-reef life in French Polynesia, Hawaii and Florida, with an emphasis on dolphins and humpback whales.

Culture Clash: The dolphins and humpback whales are in danger of being killed by orcas.

Culture Audience: “Dolphin Reef” will appeal primarily to people who like movies about ocean animals.

A scene from “Dolphin Reef” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

Disneynature’s “Dolphin Reef” is a beautifully filmed and unevenly edited documentary about coral-reef life in oceans. Viewers should know in advance that the movie isn’t just about dolphins. Humpback whales get almost as much as screen time in the movie as the dolphins, but since dolphins are “cuter,” that might be why dolphins are made the selling point in the movie’s title. The documentary is a pretty good lesson on the ocean’s ecosystem, but it also serves as a warning that much of the ecosystem is in danger of becoming extinct by the end of the 21stcentury if environmental protections aren’t implemented.

Narrated by Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman, “Dolphin Reef” focuses on a bottlenose dolphin mother and child, as well as a humpback whale mother and child. (They’re the only animals in the movie that have names.) Kumu is the dolphin mother of 3-year-old son Echo, a mischievous, playful child with a short attention span. Echo has reached a point in his life when he has to learn to be independent from his mother, but he lets other things easily distract him. Echo becomes fascinated with Moraya, a 40-foot humpback whale and her newborn female calf Fluke. The dolphins and the whales sometimes cross paths with each other, as they mingle with other ocean life and try to dodge the deadly jaws of orcas.

Without question, the best thing about “Dolphin Reef” is the gorgeous, immersive cinematography, which is usually the case with Disneynature documentaries. (And the atmosphere of “Dolphin Reef” might look kind of like a real-life version of the Pixar animation classic “Finding Nemo,” but without animals talking like humans, of course.) The vibrancy of the colors and animal life in the documentary’s coral reefs will give viewers the feeling of experiencing the beauty and dangers of the ocean firsthand.

However, unlike Disneynature films, which tends to focus on only one kind of animal, the story in “Dolphin Reef” isn’t as focused and could have benefited from tighter editing. Soon after viewers are introduced to dolphins Kumu and Echo, it veers into an educational narrative about other ocean life. The corals are the foundation, and they are kept from overgrowing by the ocean’s “gardeners”—the animals that feed on the corals. The gardeners are food for meat-eating ocean “predators” (such as dolphins, humpback whales and sharks), who are in turn eaten by “superpredators,” such as orcas.

The movie explains that Moraya the humpback whale has arrived from a cold polar location to give birth in warmer, tropical climate of the Pacific Ocean. A good deal of the documentary then shows how her whale calls attract the attention of male humpback whales, who sing and dance and then compete to become her protector. One only whale can emerge victorious.

There’s also a lot of screen time given to some of the memorable ocean residents who come in contact with the dolphins and whales. Razorfish are popular dining options for dolphins, which look for food by using a highly sophisticated sonar called echo location. It’s a skill that takes dolphins years to develop. Even though razorfish can hide in the sand, they can be detected if a dolphin has a highly attuned echo location.

Other fish who get a spotlight in the movie are humphead parrotfish, which are described as “the single most important protectors of the reef,” since they are essentially the “garbage collectors” of the ocean. In turn, the humphead parrotfish, whose enormous teeth can start to rot if not cleaned enough, are groomed smaller fish and other animals, in a ritual that goes back eons. If you ever wanted to know that humphead parrotfish excrement looks like sand, and they excrete about five tons a year, then you have this documentary to thank.

Cuttlefish are cast as the mysterious “villains” to smaller creatures, since cuttlefish have the ability to disguise themselves by changing the appearance of its scales. Cuttlefish can also transfix its prey by making its scales glow in the dark. It sounds like the kind of villain that you’d see in a Disney cartoon movie.

Also part of this ocean community are peacock mantis shrimp (notable for their obsessive grooming), crabs and sting rays. The editing of “Dolphin Reef” is clearly inspired by “Finding Nemo,” since these different ocean animals are sometimes made to look like they have cartoonish personalities, such as when the camera focuses on a wide-eyed fish that looks around and ducks when predators get into a fight. That footage might not actually be of the fish reacting to the fight, but it’s edited to look that way.

There’s even a “Finding Nemo” moment in the movie when Echo gets separated from his mother, is stuck with a friendly turtle in a very deep crevice. There’s a race against time for the Echo and the turtle to try to find an opening in the crevice, so they can rise to the ocean surface to breathe in much-needed oxygen. Moraya and her daughter Fluke also have a scary moment when they’re surrounded by orcas. Viewers can watch the the movie to find out what happened in both situations.

“Dolphin Reef” (directed by Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill) gives the impression that it was filmed mainly in the Pacific Ocean (including French Polynesian islands and in Hawaii), but Disneynature’s behind-the-scenes documentary “Diving With Dolphins” shows that filming of the movie spread all the way to the Atlantic Ocean coast of Florida. Therefore, there’s a lot of editing that looks manipulated to appear that things are happening in the same general location, when in fact they are not.

Portman’s narration is much like a the conversational tone of an elementary school teacher when she has to say lines describing the Polynesian islands’ as providing a “backdrop of an amazing story, with characters as fantastical as a fairy tale, but as real as you and me.” And she has a dramatically ominous tone when she says of the ocean: “This world operates under a different set of rules.”

Because the movie spreads the storyline across two types of ocean mammals—dolphins and humpback whales—as well as various “supporting characters” of ocean life, a more accurate title for the movie would be “Coral Reef,” even though it’s not as eye-catching as “Dolphin Reef.” Although dolphins and humpback whales are very different in many ways, they both have striking similarities, since they are each very intelligent, group-oriented animals that have distinctive languages and show affection through touching.

“Dolphin Reef” is not the best Disneynature documentary, but it can be enjoyed by people looking for a family-friendly film that gives some eye-popping views of ocean life.

Disney+ premiered “Dolphin Reef” on April 3, 2020.

Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida opens after $100 million in renovations

April 3, 2017

The Diplomat Beach Resort
(Photo courtesy of The Diplomat Beach Resort)

The following is an excerpt from a Diplomat Beach Resort press release:

A new icon has officially taken center stage in Hollywood, Florida, The Diplomat Beach Resort, Curio Collection by Hilton. Emerging from a $100 million transformation, The Diplomat Beach Resort is an oceanfront, experiential destination resort offering a fresh new take on vacationing. From the Atlantic coast to Intracoastal, the reinvented resort pays homage to the hotel’s storied past as a social hub, which began in 1958, with a modern take on design and amenities, including more than 10 new culinary concepts. As part of Curio Collection by Hilton, a global set of remarkable upper upscale hotels handpicked for their unique character, The Diplomat Beach Resort redefines comfort and style with 1,000 re-imagined guestrooms and suites and indoor and outdoor public spaces, bringing the resort’s sunny, beachfront location to life. And, the property’s variety of culinary offerings and programming creates a central hub for the surrounding community, giving locals a new Hollywood destination to call home.

 The Diplomat Beach Resort’s all-inclusive mindset and offerings provides travelers and locals with the ease they seek, whether visiting for business or pleasure, by bringing a collection of experiences together in one place, all set around the resort’s pristine footprint between the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway.

The Diplomat Beach Resort
(Photo courtesy of The Diplomat Beach Resort)

Nestled between the aquamarine shores of the Atlantic Ocean and the peaceful Intracoastal Waterway, The Diplomat Beach Resort stands at the very heart of Hollywood, Florida. With an ideal location, the property’s transformation caters to those looking for seamless travel and local experiences with easy access to key destinations.

  • 10 minutes from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport
  • 30 minutes from Miami International Airport
  • 5 minutes from Hollywood’s historic oceanfront Boardwalk
  • 10 minutes from world-class shopping at Aventura Mall
  • 20 minutes from Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale
  • 30 minutes from South Beach


The Diplomat Beach Resort
(Photo courtesy of The Diplomat Beach Resort)

With more than 1,000 guest rooms—including a Presidential suite, 515 king rooms and 484 double rooms, with 96 being suites—The Diplomat Beach Resort is the largest hotel in Broward County, offering sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean or Intracoastal Waterway with an abundance of natural light. Designed by the world’s leading hospitality interior design firm, Hirsch Bedner Associates, the resort’s stylish and thoughtfully designed rooms offer refreshed spaces, befitting the prime beachfront location in Hollywood.  A strong sense of place is weaved throughout, reflecting a sophisticated oceanfront design that nods to the storied history of the Diplomat Hotel of the 1950s. Carefully selected artwork throughout the property highlights the local-regional lifestyle, with modernized spaces harkening back to the hotel’s vibrant past.

All rooms feature unobstructed ocean or Intracoastal vantage points, while most suites boast 180-degree views of the tropical surroundings including a variety of premier suites, the Governor and Presidential suites, each with an individual identity delivering on guest’s needs.  Suites exude a mix of midcentury elements with refreshing ocean tones, creating the perfect backdrop to relax and recharge complete with hand tufted rugs, natural wood furnishings, crisp white bedding backed by driftwood headboards and nautical touches that speak to the location.

Guestrooms at the property depict two separate design schemes: Sunrise and Sunset. Sunrise rooms are modern, vibrant and refreshing with earthy tones that provide a soothing, calm atmosphere accented with blue ocean colors. Tactile rope accents are weaved into bedside lighting and deckchairs, while custom designed carpets recall the organic coral and sand patterns found locally. Vintage artwork reflects the region’s history and streamlined furniture lend to the spacious room layouts. Sunset rooms present a more subtle, modern and organic design scheme with views overlooking the famous South Florida west horizon, giving guests a front seat view to famous and stunning sunsets.


The Diplomat Beach Resort
(Photo courtesy of The Diplomat Beach Resort)

The Diplomat Beach Resort has a new and simple approach to food: whatever you want, wherever you are. Helmed by Howard Wein of Howard Wein Hospitality, whose expertise in the culinary world brings knowledge and creativity, the resort now offers 10 innovative and surprising culinary destinations.

Unique dishes and drinks highlight ingenuity and variety, using locally sourced ingredients and fresh mixes for cocktails created on-site. Each destination is rooted in strong culinary sensibilities and exudes brand individuality, creating distinct spaces and experiences:

  • Bristol’s BurgersSouth Florida’s best burgers, salads and shakes in a fun, playful space.
  • Candy & Cones – Sweets parlor that makes candy dreams come true, offering candies and innovative house-made ice creams.
  • Counter Point – An extension of Point Royal offering gourmet grab-and-go options, with coffee drinks, juices, house-made pastries, sandwiches and light bites.
  • Diplomat Prime – 1950s inspired, sophisticated steakhouse with steaks aged in-house and a chef driven, seasonal menu with an extensive wine list.
  • Monkitail – Famed Chef and Restaurateur Michael Schulson’s modern Izakaya, coupling sharable Japanese-inspired fare with craft cocktails, sake, and a hidden karaoke bar.
  • Playa – Beachfront Nuevo-Latina restaurant and bar featuring an extensive rum and tequila selection.
  • Point Royal – A Coastal American restaurant featuring Chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s approachable American cuisine complete with indoor/outdoor seating, a large center bar for drinking, and a grand yet modern raw bar.
  • Portico Beer & Wine Garden – Beer, wine and cocktails on tap, and a menu of light Italian fare situated on the Intracoastal Waterway.
  • The Canteen – Supply & trading company offering convenience food and beverage items for hotel guests.
  • The Hotel Bar – A modern take on the classic hotel bar, featuring signature upgraded cocktails from hotels around the world.


The Diplomat Beach Resort
(Photo courtesy of The Diplomat Beach Resort)

The Diplomat Beach Resort is perfect for family-focused guests, providing a variety of activities and amenities meant to create happy, genuine and memorable vacation experiences. Guests and smaller travelers will find unique offerings throughout resort:

  • The Water Works: With two beachfront pools, jet skiing, ocean kayaking, paddleboard rentals, and the property’s newest addition, the Dip + Slide water play area, The Diplomat Beach Resort Hollywood is the ideal destination to cool down. Designed with an interactive water bucket that playfully tips over when full, the area entertains small travelers and is strategically located to give parents a direct line of sight from the lagoon pool, allowing them to relax poolside.
  • Kids Only: From sand castle building and poolside games to bounce houses and behind-the-scenes resort tours, younger guests ages 4-12 are always entertained and supervised at the fun-filled, Diplomat Kids Club.
  • Relax and Recharge: Guests can recharge by melting stress away at the expansive 24-hour fitness center or get pampered at the new, full-service spa overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Designer Luxury Pool Cabanas by Trina Turk: Exclusively designed for The Diplomat Beach Resort, specialty cabanas created by fashion designer Trina Turk are available for rent on the second floor of the pool deck, providing a relaxing and stylish oasis for the day.


The Diplomat Beach Resort
(Rendering courtesy of The Diplomat Beach Resort)

With 209,000 square feet of flexible function and meeting space, The Diplomat Beach Resort, Curio Collection by Hilton continues to serve as the premier location for business travel and large-scale conferences, weddings and milestone celebrations. With recent upgrades in comprehensive technology, transportation services and unbeatable ocean views, travelers and locals can expect thoughtfully designed and unique spaces meant to create memorable meetings, events and weddings:

  • 50,000-square-foot unobstructed Great Hall
  • Four ballrooms, including 20,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom overlooking the Atlantic
  • 39 breakout rooms, ideal for smaller events
  • Outdoor special event areas including the pool deck and 33rd floor lounge space
  • On-site IT and audio-visual support
  • Specialty packages, rates and programming