December 13, 2016

Click past the “Godfather” trilogy. Punch around “Rocky.” And, really, even though it is Christmas, do you really need the sugar-coated ingestion of “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “Love Actually” again?

Shop local when it comes to the movies.

And thanks to Carroll High School alum Towle Neu, a son of the late Art Neu and brother of Magistrate Eric Neu, you can do just that on Amazon.

The video streaming service on Dec. 2 began carrying “Heart of Wilderness,” a movie Neu produced, wrote and directed. For each hour an Amazon Prime member watches the film, Neu’s crew collects a nice royalty. Those who aren’t Amazon members can use the service nonetheless to rent the movie.

“We’re very excited,” Towle Neu said. “This is where we wanted to land and live online. It’s cool to see it up there.”

The expansive, seemingly borderless roam of Northern Minnesota is the setting for “Heart of Wilderness,” an independent film that explores a claustrophobic blue-collar marriage strained by broken promises, deception and sheer isolation.

Travis Wallien, a grit of a man, finds himself on the wrong, but winning, end of a drug deal at a casino. He takes his wife, Aimee, from their small-town life of easy beers with pool-shooting friends and morning Pop Tarts to the wild lakes and forests of rural Minnesota. There we see the collision of love and hate — the thin line between the two — being crossed and recrossed in piercing scenes on icy lakes.

“When you grow up in a rural environment, or spend time in a rural environment, it’s a little more about one-on-one experiences, and I think that’s what his film really had,” said Craig Laurence Rice, a movie industry veteran and the programmer for a Twin Cities film event.

The full-length, 84-minute movie premiered last spring to a full house at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, the largest spring arts event in the region, exhibiting more than 200 films from some 70 countries each year and drawing audiences of 40,000.

Shot in Ely, Minnesota, and the Twin Cities, the film, dedicated by Towle Neu to his late father, a former lieutenant governor of Iowa, also landed  at the RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Patrick Mulvey, a native of Joliet, Illinois, played Travis. During filming, Muvley, who has appeared on television shows such as “Mob Doctor,” “NCIS,” “Chicago Fire” and “CSI: New York,” turned down a brief role as a rescue pilot in the blockbuster “American Sniper” so he could continue with the lead in Neu’s film. Mulvey also owns a recurring role in the hit FOX TV series “Empire.”

“I stayed and Towle and I spent six days in a cabin by the lake going through the script,” Mulvey said. “He’s probably the most considerate and generous director that I’ve ever met. We changed lines. They fit well in my dialect and coming out of my mouth. He told me quite intimately the parts of Travis that were him, and the parts that were not. We came to an agreement how we saw this character.”

As he sought inspiration for the character, Mulvey said, he looked to Neu.

“I always remembered that this part was essentially in some aspect him,” Mulvey said.

Mulvey said the script from Neu and co-writer Kevin Byrnes shows a journey of the workaday American in the Midwest, which he understands.

“That’s why I think a lot of people will like this film,” Mulvey said. “It’s for the everyman. You know, it’s not this movie that’s like ‘300’ or even ‘American Sniper’ where it’s a soldier or a hero. It’s a man who loves his family.”

Bottom line, Mulvey said, “Heart of Wilderness” is quintessentially Midwestern.

“I think the last thing the world needs is another thing that romanticizes the West or the East or anything like that,” Mulvey said.

“I think the Midwest is a place that is real America. In my opinion, the Midwest has the best Americans you can find.”

Sarah Prikryl, who played Aimee, said Neu, a Minneapolis filmmaker and attorney, showed passion for the story.

A native of Austin, Texas, Prikryl, who has lived in Los Angeles for the last decade, spent considerable time with Neu on the backstory of her character — a working-class beauty who affected an air of perennial dissatisfaction, disappointment.

“There’s so much truth in this story, which I feel came out of Kevin and Towle’s heart, that they wanted to tell a story about this small-town everyday man,” Prikryl said.

As for Towle Neu, his focus now is on raising two children, Katie, 5, and Lucas, 7, with his wife, Cassie, and developing his legal career with the Sapientia Law Group in Minneapolis.

He’s still writing scripts in his off time and is eyeing Netflix and Hulu, other popular streaming services, for “Heart of Wilderness,” along with the pay site, iTunes.

For now, the more people watch the movie, the more it rises in the Amazon promotional system.

“The crucial part is this first four to five weeks,” Neu said.