Review: ‘White Lie’ catches you in the web.

A university student who fakes a cancer diagnosis for the attention and financial gain struggles to maintain her secret.

Sir Walter Scott said it best in his poem “Marmion”, ‘Ohwhat a tangled web we weave,/ When first we practice to deceive!’ The genius of this script is the storytelling structure. Minutes in you understand that our leading lady is caught in a web so large she cannot get out now. The relentless danger he allows herself to be in is astounding. The audience is constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Now that I have had time to sit on my viewing, I am actually aghast at the pace of the film. It barrels along in its deception and doesn’t let up for a minute. While there is clearly a backstory that predates the present timeline in White Lie,  I found the lack of information all the more intriguing. I was forced to make assumptions thus leading to, perhaps, a completely different take than anyone sitting next to me. Bravo to writers/directors  Yonah Lewis, Calvin Thomas for being bold enough to make such choices.

Kacey Rohl‘s performance as Katie makes the film as enthralling as it is. Her ability to make you loathe her and sympathize with her is uncanny. You understand that the complexity of this role is massive. She absolutely nails it. White Lie will have you uncomfortable from start to finish. It will be impossible to look away even though you’ll feel as entangled in the lies as Katie. It’s quite masterful.

Rock Salt Releasing will release it on various digital streaming platforms on 1/5/2021 (DirecTV, Amazon, InDemand, iTunes, FlixFling, AT&T, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu, Fandango & Google Play).

Review: ‘The Reason I Jump’ is a megaphone for nonverbal autism.

The Reason I Jump

Based on the best-selling book by Naoki Higashida, translated into English by author David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas), The Reason I Jump is an immersive cinematic exploration of neurodiversity through the experiences of nonspeaking autistic people from around the world. The film blends Higashida’s revelatory insights into autism, written when he was just 13, with intimate portraits of five remarkable young people. It opens a window into a sensory universe that guides audiences to Naoki’s core message: not being able to speak does not mean there is nothing to say.

Based on the book of the same name by Naoki Higashida, The Reason I Jump is an emotional rollercoaster. I was already welling up listening to the opening monologue. The echolalia, the sensory overstimulation, the hand flapping, and ear covering all punched me in the gut when presented on screen. I’m a lucky Mom. At 5 years old, my child is now very verbal, he’s hyperlexic which means he’s been reading since he was two. He loves hugs, sleep, and eats well. On the autism spectrum, he would be closer to Asperger’s, if that were a diagnosis recognized nowadays. None of these facts lessen the fear, frustration, exhaustion, and pure elation in raising an exceptional human being. The Reason I Jump is tailor-made from the words of a nonverbal 13-year-old boy’s experiences from the inside out. In film form, it’s simply triumphant.

In the doc, we are introduced to 5 unique young people with autism.

Amrit (India)
Her mother realized she was using art to communicate. Her paintings are extraordinary, some visually akin to continuous line drawings. It took time for everyone to realize they are snapshots of her day.

Joss -(UK)
His anxiety is palpable. His impulses and tendency to meltdown are understandably unpredictable. Joss’s ability to show unadulterated joy is magic. His parents break down their own existence in the most relatable ways, both the highs and the lows.

Ben & Emma – US
These two have learned to spell with letterboards and keyboards to communicate. Best friends since very early childhood, what they have to say will shock you.

Jestina – Sierra Leone
With Jestina, we tackle stimming and perception by others. Stimming a sensory-driven repetition of behavior like rocking or flapping to self soothe. Sometimes it’s a visual stim, sometimes watching wheels turn or glitter shine. Culturally, her mother and other parents in her autistic adjacent community are told their children are possessed. It destroys the spirits of entire families.

The narrated excerpts from the book directly correlate with whichever child is being highlighted at that time. Voiced by Jordan O’Donegan, they have a poetic feel to their profundity. Naoki writes, “Making sounds with your mouth isn’t the same as communication.” That quote did me in. When you hear that, truly hear it, you will be taken aback. Jestina, Ben, Emma, Joss, and Amrit all communicate in a different way, we just had to learn how to listen. The heightened sound design immerses you into the world of an autistic person. We do not understand what it is like to be utterly overwhelmed not being able to be fully understood. The cinematography is breathtaking. Quick cuts, predominantly in close-up form combined with a gorgeous soundtrack put you in an alternate headspace. The editing takes all these elements and blends them into a viscerally stunning documentary.

As a mother of a child on the autism spectrum, I feel like I can see I want to broadcast this film to the world so that neurotypical individuals can understand my son and every other person on the spectrum. The label of autism, whether people realize it or not, creates implicit bias. We are missing out on the potential and impact of an entire faction of our society. It is our duty to meet each other in the middle. The Reason I Jump is a captivating peek behind the autism curtain. Don’t look away now. Thank you Naoki Higashida for writing this book. Thank you David Mitchell for translating it for your son. Thank you Jerry Rothwell for directing such an important film. Thank you to the families that shared their lives. Watch this film, then choose to listen and learn in a new way.

The Reason I Jump will be in theaters and virtual cinemas Friday, Jan 8th

**WINNER – Audience Award, World Cinema Documentary –
Sundance Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – AFI Docs 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – BFI London Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – Chicago International Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – Hot Docs Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – SXSW Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – WINNER’S CIRCLE – DOC NYC 2020**

Review: ‘Dirty God’ has power in performances and writing.

In Dirty God, a young mother from London must pick up the pieces in the aftermath of an acid attack that leaves her with disastrous scarring. Living in a looks-obsessed world, and without that as her currency, Jane must move on with her new life, personal difficulties, and the unfortunate occurrences of everyday humiliation.

Vicky Knight as Jade is a revelation. Her expression of physical and emotional pain in all its nuance makes Dirty God as successful as it is. She just wants a bit of normalcy. From the fear her own daughter displays, to the reaction of peers, to confronting her ex and attacker in court, to feel loved, the daily battle screams from the screen. One of the most impactful scenes comes when she purchases a burka. Hiding the majority of her body gives her the confidence to act with freedom. It’s an exhilarating scene to experience with her. The emotional scars are as relevant as the physical ones. Knight, who was burnt as a child in real life, can represent the undercounted number of women that have been attacked in this manner.

Jade attempts to connect with others online. Those scenes are incredibly profound in the grand scheme of her arch. The most difficult thing is watching people treat Jade in a subhuman manner. It’s positively atrocious. The entire conversation around the importance of appearance in society, ableist behavior, and kindness, in general, is one for the ages. Dirty God is inspired and important viewing where the human divide and vitriol are so wide and prevalent. It’s an awesome statement on bullying and an even bigger one for self-esteem.

OPENING IN SELECT THEATERS ON NOVEMBER 13

 Laemmle link: https://linktr.ee/dirtygodfilm

AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS ON DECEMBER 15th

Dark Star Pictures will release DIRTY GOD with a virtual release through Laemmle Theaters in LA, Gateway Film Center (Virtual) in Columbus, and more theaters to be announced on November 13, 2020. The film will also be made available on digital platforms such as iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Fandango Now, Direct TV, and through local cable providers on December 15, 2020. The film has a running time of 104 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA.

 

Review: ‘Koko-Di Koko-Da’ is a frightening grief allegory.

KOKO-DI KOKO-DA

Elin and Tobias are a happily married couple who regularly vacation with their young daughter. The family is on a dreamy holiday when an innocuous case of food poisoning derails their plans and forever alters the course of their lives.

Three years later, the once loving couple is on the road again to go camping, looking for one last chance to go back to the way things used to be. But what once was is lost, and our characters instead find themselves having to relive the same nightmarish events, as that day and the horrors it brings repeat themselves infinitely. Together, they must overcome their trauma, reconcile with their past and fight for their lives. Over, and over, and over again.

Easily one of the most out there films of 2020, Koko-Di Koko-Da is a twisted version of Groundhog Day meets The Babadook. Things aren’t going to fix themselves in any manner. Communication is everything. This is the weird parallel message of this film. I’m not sure what’s more disturbing, the fact that that these two are doomed to be slaughtered by crazies over and over or that their anger, resentment, and sadness have manifested into the death of their relationship literally and metaphorically. Koko-di Koko-da undoubtedly eludes to the cyclical nature of grief.

Performances from Leif Edlund and Ylva Gallon manage anchor this story in a harsh reality amidst the madness. They will have you yelling at the screen but also rooting for them to escape their endless nightmare. A white cat appears as a warning. I believe it represents their daughter from the beyond the grave screaming, “Fix this or this is the eternity you’ve chosen!” The bizarre but strikingly beautiful nature of the film does not end there. The shadow puppet scenes are morbid magic. The clues and visual storytelling are laid out to counter the terror perfectly. Without a doubt, Koko-di Koko-da is one of the most unique films of 2020.

KOKO-DI KOKO-DA

Director – Johannes Nyholm (THE GIANT)

Cast – Peter Belli, Leif Edlund, Ylva Gallon, Katarina Jackobson, Brandy Litmanen

 VIRTUAL THEATERS (November 6)-Including: Los Angeles and New York (Laemmle Theaters) and major cities including: Philadelphia (Film Society), Cleveland (Cinematheque), Columbus (Gateway Film Center) and Durham (Carolina Theater) and more to follow.
Link to buy tickets: https://linktr.ee/KokoDiKokoDa

VOD (US & Canada) (December 8): Including: Apple TV/ iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, Vudu, You Tube, Fandango Now, Dish Network and all major cable providers (Including: Comcast/Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox and Verizon Fios)

Official Selection: Sundance Film Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, Seattle Film Festival, Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Fantasia Film Festival 2019 (WINNER! AQCC-Camera Lucida Prize), and Fantastic Fest 2019

Nightstream 2020 review: ‘Dinner in America’ is the tits.

A punk rocker arsonist on the run (Kyle Gallner, Veronica Mars) and his number one fan embark on a series of misadventures through suburbia, finding unexpected love along the way in this absolutely electric, thoroughly anarchic, misfit stoner rom-com you didn’t know you needed.

You are all the way into this film from the opening shot. It is unapologetically in your face and does not let up. The cast is phenomenal. Performances are just shy of over the top and that’s why they are so damn good. The soundtrack is unreal with a bass that gets pounded into your psyche and it’s magic. The plot takes a hard left turn 40 minutes in and it is glorious. Writer/director Adam Carter Rehmeier has a cult classic on his hands. I’m calling it now. Dinner In America is a punk rock joyride you will not see coming.

Kyle Fucking Gallner. Ladies and gentlemen, he plays one of the most engaging assholes of all time. I could not take my eyes off of him. His intense aggression pushes the bonkers narrative forward like a freight train. His dialogue is incredibly offensive yet you’re so intrigued by what motivates him. He is smooth as hell and there’s so much more going on than meets the eye. Emily Skeggs is the perfect foil for him. She is quirky and amazing. She challenges Simon’s preconceived notions of power and relationships. It’s a dynamite performance. They are perhaps the most unlikely pair and yet they are sweetly perfect.

There is a surprising commentary about being an individual. It’s absolutely beautiful. Dinner In America is a real standout in this year’s Nightstream 2020. When the music takes over, you completely give in. I will be singing “Watermelon” forever. It’s different, it’s cool, it’s kick-ass. You’ll love it. I can easily say it’s in my Top 10 list for the year.

DINNER IN AMERICA

United States | 2020 | 106 Min.
Dir. Adam Carter Rehmeier

Review: TESLA’s unique storytelling is electric.

Brilliant, visionary Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) fights an uphill battle to bring his revolutionary electrical system to fruition, then faces thornier challenges with his new system for worldwide wireless energy. The film tracks Tesla’s uneasy interactions with his fellow inventor Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) and his patron George Westinghouse (Jim Gaffigan). Another thread traces Tesla’s sidewinding courtship of financial titan J.P. Morgan (Donnie Keshawarz), whose daughter Anne (Eve Hewson) takes a more than casual interest in the inventor. Anne analyzes and presents the story as it unfolds, offering a modern voice to this scientific period drama which, like its subject, defies convention. Winner, Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Telsa is one of the most uniquely presented biographies on film. Told from the narrative point of view of Anne Morgan and her unrequited love for Nikola Tesla, we are led into the mind of this scientifically gifted and eccentric man. Socially awkward, as many geniuses are, Telsa was responsible for changing more of history than most of us realize. His intelligence oftentimes hindering true companionship, his ups and downs can be felt through the screen by the wonderful performance from Ethan Hawke. Ever the chameleon, Hawke’s physicality and vocal dynamics force you to sit up and pay closer attention. But with the intrigue of the film’s presentation, this is an incredibly easy feat. There was a sadness to Telsa, an unending need for more success and validation of his contributions. Eve Hewson is captivating as Anne Morgan. Her sense of calm and poise put you at ease while you go on this engrossing journey. Jim Gaffigan as Westinghouse is also a complete joy to watch.

The look of this film is nothing short of stunning. Half theatrical stage play and half tongue in cheek look at technology, Telsa uses a modern scope in period dress to engage the audience. It immediately reminded me of the surprise that A Knight’s Tale utilized in 2001; music choices decades outside of the plot’s timeline. It made it all the more relatable in the coolest way. Endlessly enthralling, Tesla shines a light on some of the darker parts of one brilliant man’s life and work.

In Theaters and On Demand August 21st
TESLA is Written, Directed + Produced by Michael Almereyda

Review: ‘The Sunlit Night’ glows from every angle.

Synopsis: The Sunlit Night follows an aspiring painter (Slate) from New York City to the farthest reaches of Arctic Norway for an assignment she hopes will invigorate her work and expand her horizons. In a remote village, among the locals, she meets a fellow New Yorker (Sharp), who has come in search of a proper Viking funeral only to find that the Chief (Galifianakis) is but a re-enactor from Cincinnati. The eclectic crew ranges from “home” to “lost,” within the extreme and dazzling landscape of the Far North. Under a sun that never quite sets, and the high standards of an unforgiving mentor, Frances must navigate between ambition, desire, obligation, and risk in order to find a way forward.

If you grew up with an art teacher mother as I did, this film will resonate with you immediately. I was given my own portfolio at the age of six. To be fair, I was drawing scale recreations from the 3 foot Georgia O’Keefe book that came with it. The birthday prior my parents got divorced. The Sunlit Night is a film made or me.

Through art references and voiceover we are privy to Frances’ inner thoughts. These moments are like diary entries. Color is like its own character. Frances is always wearing red. The barn is entirely different shades of yellow. The landscape is lush green. Viking reenactments are jewel and earth-toned while Yasha is in black. Specific paintings mirror each character, according to Frances. The film is a cinephile and art lover’s dream. Everyone that arrives is there to find something or perhaps, truly, to find themselves. The relationship between all the eccentric inhabitants of this small Norwegian town is what makes this film extra charming. Every shot in the film seems to glow. It’s simply breathtaking.

Jenny Slate is extraordinary. She always shines through her humor but here she has the opportunity to explore an even more nuanced vulnerability. Alex Sharp is tender and open. More and more of him everywhere, please. Fridtjov Såheim as Nils is a perfect balance of obstinate and passionate. He’s a great foil for Slate. While Zach Galifianakis is his adorably funny self in this, I wish we had more of him. As for Gillian Anderson, her appearance is brief but I’ll never turn down a chance to watch her effortlessness. The Sunlit Night has a glorious grace to it. It’s not a loud film, by any means, but what it does it does extremely well. Take a peek at the trailer below and watch the film on VOD starting tomorrow.

THE SUNLIT NIGHT will be released on VOD on July 17th from Quiver Distribution.

Review: ‘Relic’ is a terrifying look at inevitability.

A daughter, mother, and grandmother are haunted by a manifestation of dementia that consumes their family’s home.

The terror begins from the very first scene. Blink and you’ll miss the clues laid out from the getgo. Relic crawls under your skin and chills you to the bone. The script is skillfully crafted. Not only are you inside a haunted house story but you’re also tangled up in family trauma and dementia. As someone whose grandmother passed this spring, as someone who watched her mental and physical deterioration for years from Alzheimer’s, this film felt personal and all the more upsetting. For those who have had a relative with the disease, you’re constantly asking yourself, “Do I see traces of it in my Mother? My Father? Will I feel just as helpless in the future?” Relic is an allegory that builds upon fear, much akin to Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook. If you understood the totality of that film, you’ll be spellbound once you experience this one. 

Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote, and Robyn Nevin are phenomenal. Three generations of women expose themselves to give us some of the most epic horror performances since Toni Collette in Hereditary, Lupita Nyong’o in Us, and Riley Keough in The Lodge. The specificity to age and stage development is obviously there but it the reaction to trauma both unlying and on the surface that is played with precision.  This story, outside of the horror aspect, will resonate with so many, regardless of generation. The cinematographer coupled with the story leaves so many things unanswered. I actually would love a sequel… or even a prequel. Director-writer Natalie Erika James and co-writer Christian White, they have given the viewing audience an exceptionally frightening masterpiece. Very few films still cause me to cover my eyes. Though I wished I had, I could not pull my attention from the screen. Brilliant performances, dark and lush cinematography, and alarmingly visceral storytelling make Relic completely hypnotic. It will, no doubt, paralyze you with fears beyond your understanding.

AVAILABLE EVERYWHERE JULY 10 

(SELECT THEATERS, DRIVE-INS & DIGITAL/VOD)

Director: Natalie Erika James

Writers: Natalie Erika James and Christian White

Starring: Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote, Robyn Nevin

Producers: Anna McLeish, Sarah Shaw, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker

Executive Producers: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo, Mike Larocca, Todd Makurath, Wang Zhongjun, Wang Zhonglei, Hu Junyi

Cinematographer: Charlie Sarroff

Distributor: IFC Midnight

Release Date: July 10, 2020 In Theaters and also available On Demand / Digital Rental