Ulee's Gold,a major feature film from Orion Pictures about a Florida beekeeper and his family. The powerful drama centers on Ulee, a quiet tupelo swamp beekeeper who's jailed son and troubled grandchildren bring him out of isolation. An aging Vietnam Vet, Ulee is forced to care for his two grandchildren who have been left by their imprisoned father and abandoned by their drug-addicted mother. The beekeeper's neighbour, a nurse, helps Ulee's estranged daughter-in-law and falls for the beeman.
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A Beekeeper's Review
Beekeepers should see this film. Everyone else must see it! In addition to being a powerful drama about the sort of situations too many families fall into, Ulee's Gold portrays the beekeeping lifestyle with clarity, accuracy, and compassion. From a beekeeper's perspective, movies just don't get any better. If you want to look inside a beekeeper's life a little, or introduce the beekeeping world to friends or relatives who don't seem to quite understand it, this movie provides the perfect vehicle to make that connection happen. Peter Fonda, in the role of Ulysses Jackson, acts as if he had kept bees for thirty years. This strong, inward-looking character is so completely believable that Siskel and Ebert have declared that Fonda should be remembered at Oscar nomination time. The Florida Beekeeper's Association has already given Peter Fonda their highest recognition - he was named Beekeeper of the Year last year.
The plot is entirely plausible, at times a bit measured, but the slow pace is necessary to build the drama and to keep the tale believable. A wayward son, an addicted daughter-in-law, a wild teenaged grand-daughter, an introverted younger grand-daughter, a divorced (twice) neighbor, and more bee work than he can manage, make up Ulee's immediate world. His internal world is haunted by friends he lost in Viet Nam and a wife who died six years earlier. The story becomes rough, with some crude language, as Ulee faces his son's accomplices in crime. Parents may feel the language and some of the scenes - especially of the drug withdrawal - are too graphic for younger audiences. Despite these minor caveats (by today's standards, the movie is tame and there are no gratuitous scenes of violence or sex) it is an excellent, powerful drama.
I was pleased to see Ulee's Gold has opened among the top ten films in North America last week, with gross weekend ticket sales of almost one million dollars. The movie has not been heavily advertised, so we might assume that many of the audience attended because of the absolutely stellar praise the media has lavished on this work. IN Jersey says the movie is Pure Gold. Variety describes this movie as 'A gem of rare emotional depth and integrity... graced by a completely unexpected performance from Peter Fonda that is by far the best of his career.' Entertainment Weekly also says 'Peter Fonda gives the performance of his life... playing with almost biblical rectitude...with a hint of tenderness that can wrench your heart out.' Among Entertainment Weekly's praises are a nod to Van Morrison's closing credits tune Tupelo Honey, which the reviewer describes as a gift to the audience.
As a beekeeper, I was especially enamored by some of the dialog:
When describing his work to his neighbor lady-friend, Ulee says, 'What with moving bees, pulling honey. chasing bears... it's pretty hard work. Most young folks wouldn't be bothered. But don't get me going talking about bees...'
In a scene where you would expect Ulee to crack someone's skull, Ulee's nemesis, Eddie Flowers, says, I always thought it was a stupid business, messin' with bees.'
When his imprisoned son asks how the bees are doing, Ulee says, 'Mites are choking them, pesticides are killing them, the drought's starving them... they're fine.'
All photos provided by Orion Pictures
This movie is written and directed by Victor Nunez, who won the Sundance Film Festival director's award for Ruby in Paradise, and produced by Peter Saraf, John Sloss, and Sam Gowan.
A few links with a bit of Ulee:
IMBd Movie Site Rates Ulee 8 out of 10
Austin Chronicle Interview
Nashville Scene Review of Ulee's Gold
Tupelo Honey - Van Morrison's Lyrics - Ulee's Theme Song
Peter Fonda Biography
Patricia Richardson (Jill, on Home Improvement; Lost Angels)
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