About Britni Rillera

Britni Rillera grew up in Los Angeles but spent many years in D.C. where she worked in politics for as long as humanly possible before moving back to the west coast. Although by day she now works in Big Tech, by night she is a writer and film enthusiast. Fun fact: Britni is still riding the high of a viral Tweet she made in 2018.

Review: ‘MK Ultra’ is a Dark Moody Dreamscape  


Mind control. CIA operatives. Clandestine government operations. MK Ultra has it all in this slow-burning thriller written and directed by former intelligence officer Joseph Sorrentino. The film artfully explores a real CIA program that ran illegal human experiments on American citizens on the fringes of 1960s society. Hoping to discover a way to weaken individuals during interrogations, the CIA administered a range of drugs like LSD, hoping to find a way to secure confessions through brainwashing and psychological torture. Are these MK Ultra experiences cutting-edge science? Or needless unethical torture? Where is the line? Who gets to make the call? 

 Highly stylized and set in a moody mid-century dreamscape, the filmmakers tell an intriguing story that raises questions of medical ethics, informed consent, and the responsibility of a government to its citizens. Notably, the film weaves fascinating facts about the program into the darkly compelling narrative through a series of voiceover explainers that may have felt choppy or disjointed with a less skilled hand. Here, the background and context of the program within US history are spliced in seamlessly through beautiful cinematography and creative accents that keep the film from coming off as merely a documentary. Impactful performance across the board– and by Jen Richards in particular– raise the stakes to a startling crescendo in its final act.

Cinedigm To Release The Mind-Bending Thriller,
MK ULTRA
In Theaters & On Demand October 7

 Starring Anson Mount, Jaime Ray Newman, Jason Patric, Jen Richards
Alon Aboutboul and David Jensen
Written and Directed by Ex-Intelligence Officer Joseph Sorrentino


Based on the infamous CIA drug experiments from the early 1960s, this psychological thriller follows a brilliant psychiatrist (Anson Mount) who unknowingly becomes entangled with a dangerous government entity fixated on mind control.

Under Project MK Ultra, the CIA ran an illegal human experimentation program intended to develop procedures and identify drugs such as LSD that could be used in interrogations to weaken individuals and force confessions through brainwashing and psychological torture.


Review: ‘DR. DELIRIUM & THE EDGEWOOD EXPERIMENTS’ Premieres Exclusively on discovery+ June 9th

SYNOPSIS: From 1955 to 1975, the United States Army Chemical Corps conducted classified human subject research on thousands of soldiers at the Edgewood Arsenal facility in Maryland. The purpose was to evaluate the impact of potent, mind-altering chemical warfare agents on military personnel as an alternative to traditional mortal combat. Today, many of those soldiers believe that the military broke the law and engaged in a decades-long cover-up to hide the truth about what really happened to them at Edgewood Arsenal. Through shocking, never-before-seen footage of the drug experiments, along with exclusive, first-hand accounts from both the mastermind behind the research and the soldiers who participated in it, DR. DELIRIUM & THE EDGEWOOD EXPERIMENTS will uncover the true story of one of the most bizarre and controversial chapters in recent American history.


What if scientists could discover a non-lethal method to neutralize or prevent an enemy attack? And what if the answer to these questions was just one more highly experimental test away? Over several decades during the Cold War, military scientists explored these questions while frequently pushing the boundaries of medical ethics and military codes of conduct.  

 In “Dr. Delirium & the Edgewood Experiments,” investigative journalist Tara Palemeri and her team of expert researchers explore how far the military went to bring a compelling idea to fruition– and the complicated ethics they used to get there. With stirring, heart-felt testimonies from the veteran survivors of these experiments and exclusive never-before-seen interviews with the lead research director of the psychochemical program, the documentary pull back the curtain on a secret government program that until very recently was entirely classified. 

 History buffs, Cold War enthusiasts, and truthers of all kinds will enjoy this nuanced exploration of a chilling government operation complex enough for a spy novel and still shrouded in mystery.


DR. DELIRIUM & THE EDGEWOOD EXPERIMENTS | Premieres Exclusively on discovery+ June 9th


HBO Max Season 1 review: ‘JULIA’ cooks up drama and delight.

JULIA

JULIA is inspired by Julia Child’s extraordinary life and her long-running television series, “The French Chef,” which pioneered the modern cooking show. Through Julia’s life and her singular joie de vivre, the series explores a pivotal time in American history – the emergence of public television as a new social institution, feminism and the women’s movement, the nature of celebrity and America’s cultural evolution. At its heart, the series is a portrait of a loving marriage with a shifting power dynamic.


Before finishing the screeners, I told friends they had to start the new HBO series “Julia.” The most common response I received was, “Didn’t they do a movie on this?” To be honest, the answer is “kind of!” Have we seen this story before? Yes. Do I care? NO! 

Witty and full of complex cultural commentary, HBO’s “Julia” is an absolute joy. Exploring Julia Child‘s iconic rise with a sharp eye on how it fits into the rapid societal change of the midcentury period, “Julia” succeeds in presenting complex ideas while keeping the show fun. The series is a visual feast of charming period settings, costumes, and sumptuous footage of Julia’s home cooking, recipe creation, and inspirational fine dining. An example is a luxe scene where Julia and her editor Judith strategize in a crowded Boston bar — the only women in sight– dirty martinis in one hand and casually finishing a dozen icy oysters each with the other. Ultimately the chef brings out two whole Maine lobsters served on a large plate accompanied only by ramekins of melted golden butter just at the resolution of their brainstorming– perfection. 

 While the series naturally focuses on Julia’s story and the unique power dynamics shifting within her marriage,  I  found the character studies on the tribe of women that made up her inner circle most fascinating. Fiona Glascott, Brittany Bradford, and Bebe Neuwirth shine in showcasing their own stories as they build the iconic culinary brand together. 

While “Julia” doesn’t shy away from issues you expect for a series set in this period (i.e. egregious workplace sexism), I was intrigued when they also made room to explore more complex ideas about what Julia Child’s success means within the feminist agenda. Despite her own accomplishments, what does it mean to build an empire by motivating homemakers to prepare more elaborate home-cooked meals than ever and raising the bar for what it means to be an ideal wife? Late-breaking cameos from iconic figures of the time play a unique role in bringing many of these factors to light in a way that is bold to incorporate into essentially a tribute piece. 

 My recommendation: Mix yourself a proper cocktail, add a flourish whether the drink deserves one or not, and watch this series.

The eight-episode Max Original comedy series, JULIA is now available to stream in full.


Cast: The eight-episode series stars Sarah Lancashire as Julia, David Hyde Pierce, Bebe Neuwirth, Brittany Bradford, Fran Kranz, and Fiona Glascott. Guest stars include Isabella Rossellini, Judith Light, Robert Joy, Erin Neufer, Jefferson Mays, James Cromwell, and Adriane Lenox.


About HBO Max:

HBO Max is WarnerMedia’s direct-to-consumer offering with 10,000 hours of curated premium content. HBO Max offers powerhouse programming for everyone in the home, bringing together HBO, a robust slate of new original series, key third-party licensed programs, and movies, and fan favorites from WarnerMedia’s rich library including Warner Bros., New Line, DC, CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, Looney Tunes and more. #HBOMax #WarnerMedia

SUBSCRIBE TO HBO MAX http://bit.ly/HBOMaxYouTube

GET HBO MAX https://itsh.bo/ways-to-get


 

Review: ‘Inventions that Changed History’ is a Palette Cleansing Delight’ streaming on discovery+

Inventions that Changed HistoryInventions That Changed History reveals the wild and often unbelievable stories behind many of pop culture’s most impactful inventions. Historians, Scientists, Pop Culture Experts and Hollywood Celebrities take us on this wild ride full of information and incredible tales.


Ready to dominate at the next Trivia Night? “Inventions that Changed History” is a light, silly romp that is likely to help your team win a free round. With a mix of historical exposition on familiar inventions– Mr. Potato Head and waterbeds make silly and fascinating segments– it is the perfect palette cleansing alternative to more serious documentaries (or the news). 

Filled with surprising celebrity cameos from fan favorites like Guillermo from “What we do in the Shadows,” Meredith from “The Office,” and Amanda Seals from “Insecure” candidly riffing on a nostalgic parade of core memories for Gen X/ Millennials, the show is a good time all around. In particular, I was locked in learning the origins of the Easy-Bake Oven while simultaneously trying to remember if and how severely I  burned myself– not enough to stop it from being one of my favorite toys. Oh, the 90s! 

A fun concept with plenty of options to explore, this could quickly become a niche favorite. What a treat!


Episodes 1 & 2 Streaming on discovery+ on March 31st

Two episodes premiering weekly through April 14


Executive Producers: Tom Forman, Chuck Dalaklis, Jenny Daly, and Jon Beyer

For Discovery, Wyatt Channell and Howard Swartz serve as executive producers

Scores of Hollywood celebrities like Richard Kind (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Lance Reddick (“The Wire”), Nicole Sullivan (MADtv), Haskiri Velazquez (“Saved By The Bell”), Amanda Seales (“Insecure”), Flula Borg (Suicide Squad), Yeardly Smith (“The Simpsons”), Jeff Ross (Comedian), Eric Griffin (Actor/Comedian), Harvey Guillen (“What We Do in the Shadows”) and Rachael Harris (The Hangover), join in on the fun as they take a hysterical and insightful hands-on approach to the inventions that molded their youth and stayed with them into adulthood.


Episode 2 Inventions:

Mr. Potato Head 

Pop Rocks

Corn Cob Holders

Easy Bake Oven 

Box Wine

Rubber Chicken

Listerine

Vending Machines

 

Episode 1 Inventions:

Waterbeds

Barf Bags

Big Mouth Billy Bass

Flushing Toilet

Super Soaker 

Sea-Monkeys

Pool Noodle

Slip ‘N Slide 


 

Review: English language version of animated charmer ‘POUPELLE OF CHIMNEY TOWN’ is coming to VOD, Digital, Blu-ray, & DVD in May.

POUPELLE OF CHIMNEY TOWN

Poupelle of Chimney Town is the story of young Lubicchi living among the thick smoke from the chimneys of his isolated town, yearning to see the “stars” — to know the truth — his father always told him about. One Halloween night he meets Poupelle, a man-made of garbage, and together they look to the sky as their adventure begins. Spectacularly beautiful, filled with inspiring performances and splendid music and sound effects, and produced at Tokyo’s famed STUDIO4ºC, Poupelle of Chimney Town brings laughter, tears, and joy.


Perfect for audiences that like their cartoons dramatic and dark, Poupelle of Chimney Town uses polished Japanese animation to tell a complex story of friendship, acceptance, environmentalism, and– the folly of authoritarian states? 

 While many American audiences are familiar with gripping emotional narratives in animation thanks to Pixar’s penchant for powerful tearjerkers, this film elicits a similar pathos but doesn’t pair that with anything cute or cuddly. Instead, the main character is a lonely, friendless child that befriends a foul-smelling creature literally made of trash. Together, the pair adventure around a smog-blanketed city on a mission to open the hearts and minds of Chimney Town and defy the dystopian mind police roving the neighborhoods and assassinating free thinkers. 

To be honest, I found these all to be heavy concepts for a kids’ movie! My most generous comparison is to the subgenre of dark cartoons from the 1980s like “The Secret of Nimh” or “All Dogs Go to Heaven” which– full disclosure– gave me nightmares for most of my childhood. Like those films, “Poupelle of Chimney Town” has many moments of lighthearted fun, comedic dialogue, friendship, and ultimately a ragtag group of kids fighting to do what’s right. The action sequences borrow visuals from beloved video games with nostalgic effects and are loads of fun in particular. Overall, more sophisticated kids and adults will probably find it all charming; I may be a wimp.


The rights in the U.S. and Canada are controlled by Eleven Arts which has appointed Shout! Factory to handle distribution. The film’s home entertainment release will kick off with a premium VOD outing on May 3, 2022,

Digital download availability from May 17,

and  Blu-ray and DVD combination from May 31.


The English-language voice cast of Tony Hale (“Being the Ricardos,” “Veep”), Antonio Raul Corbo (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), Stephen Root (“Finding Nemo,” “King of the Hill”), Misty Lee (“Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order,” “Ultimate Spider-Man”), and Hasan Minhaj (“The Daily Show,” “The Morning Show”).


Review: ‘Pasang: In The Shadow of Everest’ Showcases a National Hero with Tenacity to Spare

Pasang: In The Shadow of Everest

Pasang: In the Shadow of Everest brings to life the untold and inspiring story of Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, the first Nepali woman to summit Mt. Everest who, in her quest, awakened her country to the entrenched inequalities confronted and endured by women and in Nepal.


Why do people climb mountains? What is it that drives a person to climb to the peak of the highest mountain on earth? As a person afraid of heights and generally risk-averse, I, for one, will certainly never understand. But whatever it is that lights that kind of internal fire within a person, it is certainly not a male instinct alone. 

 Although not intentional, it was ultimately very appropriate that I watched Pasang: In The Shadow of Everest on International Womens’ Day. The film tells the story of Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, the first Nepali woman to summit Mt. Everest in 1993. Succeeding in a sport dominated by men and traditionally an elite pastime of the western world, Pasang also battled ethnic discrimination, cultural gender norms, and even political opposition to become a national hero. Filmmaker Nancy Svendsen does a lovely job presenting Pasang’s tenacity and determination, which boldly shines through as she pushes back against skepticism and critique at every turn.

 Just in time for Womens’ History month, this film is a poignant example of the many untold tales of female heroism that are frequently under-recognized. Pasang: In The Shadow of Everest is an inspiring story that deserves the attention and recognition of international audiences.


Pasang: In The Shadow of Everest premiered at SBIFF on March 3rd.


Director: Nancy Svendsen

Writer/Producer: Sharon Wood

Producer: Christy McGill

Executive Producer: Ang Dorjee Sherpa

TRT: 72 minutes

Country: USA

Year: 2022

Language: English, French, Nepali


Review: Explore a Riveting Doc with ‘Dead Man’s Switch: A Crypto Mystery’ on Discovery+ tomorrow!

DEAD MAN’S SWITCH: A CRYPTO MYSTERY

$215 million dollars disappeared in 2018 when Gerry Cotten, CEO of one of North America’s largest crypto exchanges, died suddenly – or did he? Journalists, regulators and crypto enthusiasts are determined to discover what happened to Gerry and the fortunes of 115,000 creditors. Dead Man’s Switch: A Crypto Mystery tracks a tantalizing unsolved story of deception, greed, corruption, and the potential of unregulated currency to be used for both good and evil.


A mysterious death abroad, $215 million missing, and a deep dive into the murky world of cryptocurrency– what else could you wish for? 

 Dead Man’s Switch is a captivating watch where viewers can’t be sure if they’re diving into the story of a heist, fraud, or perhaps even a murder mystery. Exploring the meteoric rise and dramatic fall of Quadriga CX, one of North America’s largest crypto exchanges, the documentary examines fascinating possibilities about what happened to its charismatic leader Gerry Cotten and– potentially more important for the many investors– where did all that money go? 

 A sharp group of journalists, crypto enthusiasts, and once-friends of Gerry provide detailed commentary on the allure of cryptocurrency and the tight-knit community that cultivated Cotten’s success. While the tales from the early years of Quadriga CX sound similar to many other tech startups– fun, fratty, communal– when the crypto markets start to slip, cracks in the facade begin to show. But it is not until Gerry Cotten dies suddenly in 2018 that the true mystery begins. 

 This doc is a fun watch for those intrigued by true crime or big tech, and also serves as an excellent primer for anyone itching to join in on fiery crypto-conspiracy Reddit boards.


Streaming on discovery+ on December 23rd


Written and Directed by Sheona McDonald (When Dreams Take Flight)

*Official Selection – Hot Docs 2021*
*Official Selection – Calgary International Film Festival*
*Official Selection –  DOXA*
*Official Selection – Melbourne Documentary Film Festival*
*Official Selection – Gimli Film Festival*


Review: ‘Keep it Secret’ Gives us a Glimpse but Maintains the Mystery

KEEP IT SECRET

Keep It A Secret recounts the inspiring true story of the dawn of Irish surfing and how the sport’s brave pioneers found the peace in the surf during the most violent years of The Troubles conflict.


Most people probably don’t even know about Irish surfacing culture, but perhaps that is exactly the point. In “Keep in Secret”, founding members of the Irish surfing community share a treasured history of bringing the ocean sport born and developed on the sunny shores of Hawai’i to the chilly white-tipped waters of the Irish coastline. A fascinating exploration into what was once just a curiosity sparked from 1960’s travel magazines, Irish surf culture grew into a close-knit community a continent and an ocean away. 

Anchored by charming first-person narratives from a crew you’ll wish you could keep up with, “Keep it Secret” is a total gem. Their tales of surf safaris around the Irish coastline are scrappy and steeped in the complex history of the 20th century. They crafted their first boards by hand and surfed the icy waters without wetsuits bolstered by a sense of exploration, camaraderie, and good Irish whiskey. 

The documentary hits the mark of gloriously showcasing a unique surf culture that should be celebrated but it also draws a line. Among local fears that these treasured surfing locations might soon be swamped with international tourists forcing the locals out, the documentary does keep some secrets close to the chest leaving the best of them for the insiders.



DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘Come Back Anytime’ is a Visual Feast with Charisma to Spare

Come Back Anytime

For more than forty years, ramen master Masamoto Ueda has been serving his legendary Tokyo-style ramen to a community of regulars who are not only his customers, but true friends.


Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best: good food, great friends, and a cold glass of sake. “Come Back Anytime” is a lovely tribute to Bizentei, a cozy ramen noodle restaurant located on a quiet corner of suburban Tokyo. Within this neighborhood gem, ramen master Masamoto Ueda has served comforting bowls of noodles for over thirty years while cultivating a cast of charming regulars that return week after week. While the lush cooking scenes bring to mind the much-heralded “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” Bizentei has a relaxed communal atmosphere much more akin to “Cheers.” Serving a ramen style considered somewhat old-fashioned but with seriously upgraded ingredients, the regulars cherish the nostalgic qualities of the food as much as Master Ueda’s company, and if you have employees in this company the use of  instant paystubs generator free is useful to manage this. Through first-person interviews with the patrons, viewers gain privileged access to a cozy hub, and it quickly becomes apparent why it holds such a special place in the community. 

The film opens with the subtle ASMR of Chef Ueda opening his shop for the day. Beautiful cinematography captures both art and skill as Chef prepares delicate broths that simmer gently in the background forming swirls of quiet steam, then sharpens glistening knives on a dark stone before chopping picture-perfect vegetables into neat symmetrical rows. I was captivated less than five minutes in. 

“Come Back Anytime” grabs your attention with a stunning presentation of traditional Japanese cuisine, but it is the intimate portraits of friendship forged over crispy fried gyoza or melt in your mouth chashu that will capture your heart.


For more info on DOC NYC 2021 click here!


DOC NYC (2021) short film reviews: ‘Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker ‘ & ‘Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma’

Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker  

This is what most short films aspire to be– a brief 30 minutes that conveys a story so completely it feels like a much longer narrative. An exposition on the homoerotic imagery within the art of J.C. Leyendecker, Coded excels at blending what is essentially an art history lesson with its present-day significance and with a deeply romantic love story to boot. As someone who is always here for a story about true love, this one left an impression that is unlikely to fade.


Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma

Overflowing with cool-kid energy, this short film dazzles and delights. A tribute to the Black ABCs and growing up in New Jersey, Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma excels in quickly establishing a sense of place. This is a film about black people that is made for black people, i.e. Art that deeply respects its subject. The colors and angles of the shots are gripping, trippy, and mesmerizing. Viewing was akin to walking through an art exhibit: what do all the disparate clips mean? You get the sense of it but it’s mostly vibes.


For more info on DOC NYC 2021 click here!


DOC NYC (2021) review: Questlove Flawlessly Mixes Music + History in ‘SUMMER PF SOUL’

SUMMER OF SOUL

In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was largely forgotten–until now. SUMMER OF SOUL shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present. The feature includes concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and more.


Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s directorial debut is simply brilliant. It might almost be a given that as a world-famous and beloved D.J., every musical and visual choice in Summer of Soul masterfully cultivates a vibe and maintains that dazzling energy for the length of the entire film. In addition to showcasing a great party, Summer of Soul provides viewers with the essential historical and cultural context to fully appreciate what they are witnessing. Through passionate first-person narratives from attendees, the film balances what in less experienced hands might have become merely a history lesson with one hell of a show. 

 Piecing together recently discovered footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, Summer of Soul is a celebration of black culture as it transitioned from the tumult of the 1960s into the black liberation movement of the 1970s. In a time of great uncertainty and political unrest, the concert series set in Mt. Morris Park was a time for black pride and celebration. The film includes never before seen live performances by a young Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, and many more. Every shot is colorful, powerful, and tells a story. The music is phenomenal. The costumes are dazzling– maybe men should reconsider brightly colored ruffle shirts?– the Black Panthers provided security in full regalia, including the berets. Each shot is a wonder and a visual feast. 

 Summer of Soul is a vital inclusion to narratives around the Summer of Love and essential addition to understanding the complete history of the era.


SUMMER OF SOUL premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. It is streaming on Hulu in conjunction with Disney General Entertainment’s Onyx Collective; Searchlight Pictures released it theatrically.


Review: Survivors & True Believers Look to the Future in ‘KEEP SWEET’ 

KEEP SWEET

Warren Jeffs was the Prophet of the FLDS, an offshoot of Mormonism. Jeffs demanded absolute loyalty, and instituted complete adherence to the religion, requiring strict dress codes, banishing community celebrations, and casting out followers who didn’t fall in line.

His controversial reign ended with a conviction for sexual assault with underage girls, landing him in jail for life. Jeffs’ downfall sent shock waves throughout the community, with some continuing to pledge their loyalty to him, while others turned their backs on Jeff’s and the FLDS religion altogether.

Ten years after his arrest, those left behind attempt to rebuild their community. KEEP SWEET is an allegory for the unsettling reality we are living through in America. Can we learn how to live with one another despite our different ideologies, or are we destined to live apart?


 

As the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) prophet, Warren Jeffs controlled every aspect of public and private life for his sheltered religious community. Now serving life plus twenty years for a litany of abuses, “Keep Sweet” explores what happens next for the town Jeffs reigned over and the true believers that he left behind. 

 In many ways, “Keep Sweet” feels like the second installment of a trilogy, where once the main antagonist is defeated, those that remain must sort through the detritus to find a way forward in an altered reality. Once a walled, isolated and semi-autonomous religious town, Colorado Springs is no longer only a haven for the FLDS. The influx of new arrivals is shaking up the traditional land use, politics, and mores that have remained stagnant for generations. The film seeks to discover if the community will survive this influx of diversity (using the term loosely) or if one culture will ultimately overwhelm the other. 

Director Don Argott excels in bringing humanity to both the survivors who left the FLDS and the sect’s steadfast believers that are now left adrift after its collapse. Though many choices by those portrayed in “Keep Sweet” are baffling to the extreme, the filmmakers treat everyone gently and take care that none of the subjects are made a mockery. 

By its end, I was rooting for everyone to make it past this transition period, and I am fascinated to learn which version of this town will ultimately take hold.


Streaming Exclusively on discovery+
Beginning This Wednesday, November 24, 2021


Directed by Don Argott (Believer, The Art of the Steal, Kurt Vonnegut: American Made)
Executive Produced by Rasha DrachkovitchStephanie Noonan DrachkovitchGlenn Meehan, and David Hale for 44 Blue Productions and Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce for 9.14 Pictures


Review: ‘Alice is Still Dead’ Grapples with the Limits of Justice

In an intimate and unflinching account dealing with grief, ‘Alice is Still Dead’ tells the story of a murdered loved one from the victim’s family perspective. From the detective’s notification to her family to facing the killer in court, we see the pain, anger, and heartbreak a family must endure while the nightmare is investigated.


In most true crime stories, the mystery of “what really happened” carries the narrative. Viewers are invited to reconstruct timelines and decipher motives, then try and solve the crime simultaneously with the professional investigators. Alice is Still Dead turns that formula on its head. For instance, what if there is a brutal murder, but the facts– while devastating– are relatively straightforward? What if the central protagonist is tragically incidental to the killer’s motive? What if the police and justice system function exactly as society intends them to do? This film illustrates that even without the standard narrative hooks of true crime, a shocking senseless death is still a story. There is still a family that must find a way to carry on despite their grief and try to find contentment with the limits of justice.  

 This documentary is a fascinating portrait of a family grappling with the shock and aftermath of the death of Alice Stevens, a young woman murdered in Thunderbolt, Georgia, in 2013. Through touching interviews with those that knew Alice best, Director Edwin P. Stevens (Alice’s older brother) tells the story of a murder from the perspective of the victim’s family. In this tribute, the filmmaker ultimately asks how and if it’s possible to move forward after such a traumatic event.

 Important viewing for true crime fans, this film explores angles that many projects in the genre leave unaddressed.


Alice is Still Dead will be available on Digital and VOD globally beginning November 5 from Global Digital Releasing.


Written by Meredith Mantik, Joe Raffa, and Edwin P. Stevens. Produced by Cory Pyke, Joe Raffa, and Edwin P. Stevens. Executive Produced by Edwin and Cecilia Stevens.


 

Indie Memphis Film Festival (2021) review: ‘Sisters With Transistors’ hits all the right notes.

SISTERS WITH TRANSISTORS

Filmmaker Lisa Rovner follows the story of electronic music’s female pioneers, composers who embraced machines and their liberating technologies to transform how we produce and listen to music today.


Sisters With Transistors beautifully brings to life a niche history that you didn’t know you were missing but will surely recognize. The film seamlessly weaves together the personal stories of innovative composers like Clara Rockmore, Daphne Oram, Bebe Barron, Pauline Oliveros, and Suzanne Ciani through live performances, archival footage, and visual interpretations of their music. Some pieces are moody and atmospheric; others are challenging and experimental. Yet, all of them reverberate with unique genius, creativity, and passion. The overall effect is a captivating documentary on an unsung history that is endlessly engaging to watch.

The documentary excels in exploring each composer’s source of inspiration and the theory behind her music. Delia Derbyshire, for example, was trained as a mathematician and drew inspiration from air sirens after surviving the London blitz. Using equipment borrowed from other departments while working at the BBC, she worked after hours shaping, molding, altering the speed, and adding new layers of sound to sirens, ultimately creating unique, futuristic scores. Iconically, Derbyshire is most well known for creating the original electronic music theme for Dr. Who. 

 While every featured composer drew from different points of inspiration, they all continually pushed the boundaries of what can be called “music” and who gets to create it. A mesmerizing opus into electronic music theory and the underappreciated role of women within it, Sisters With Transistors hits all the right notes.



Review: In ‘Pharma Bro’ Martin Shkreli Lives Up to His Reputation as “The Most Hated Man in America”

PHARMA BRO

Martin Shkreli, the 38-year-old financial entrepreneur and pharmaceutical tycoon from Brooklyn, New York, was dubbed “the most hated man in America” by the media after he rose to infamy in 2015 for price gouging the prescription drug Daraprim by 5500% overnight depriving patients of the life-saving medication. That same year, Shkreli purchased the Wu-Tang Clan’s single copy of “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” for 2 million dollars, and was arrested for securities fraud, eventually resulting in the subsequent forfeiture of the album and recent reselling of it by the U.S. government to an anonymous buyer to pay off Shkreli’s debt. He has gained notoriety for his unchecked online presence, which was ultimately his downfall and sent him to prison, where he continues to provoke the public with bombastic declarations about finding a cure for the virus which has upended the world, Covid-19.


This was hard to watch. The documentary PharmaBro: An In-Depth Look at “The Most Hated Man in America” is exactly what it sounds like– an approximately 90 minute deep dive into a man so profoundly unlikeable that despite filmmaker Brent Hodge’s best efforts to develop a nuanced character study, Martin Shkreli remains a nihilistic cartoon until the end. Shkreli is the rare kind of person that is who you think he is: a prolific online troll that thrives off of controversy, leans into his worst impulses, and utilizes notoriety as a springboard to fame. 

Martin Shkreli – AKA Pharma Bro
Credit: Nigel Parry

Martin Shkreli’s utter lack of redeeming qualities, unfortunately, makes the rest of the film fall flat. It is impossible to care that his Livestream fans think he’s the victim of a witch hunt, particularly because the same community aided and abetted such severe harassment of Teen Vogue journalist Lauren Duca that Shkreli became one of the first high profile accounts permanently banned from Twitter. Trump-era horror show Milo Yiannopoulos, a personal friend of Shkreli’s, has multiple confessionals in a bizarre and distasteful addition. Somehow, even the feud with the Wu-Tang clan misses the mark.

The most interesting parts of this film confront and analyze what Shkreli did. While renowned for his ethically vapid pharmaceutical drug pricing, ultimately, he was convicted of securities fraud stemming from multiple Ponzi schemes. I would love to know more about the actual crime that caught up to him at last, and I am fascinated by the concept of an “orphan drug” hedge fund market. What under-the-radar mad capitalist is leading that industry now? Has the government conducted subsequent investigations or drafted new regulations? Is there an activist movement? Alas, those questions are left unanswered.


Available On Digital Platforms For Rent or Purchase Tomorrow, October 5, 2021


Directed by Brent Hodge (A Brony Tale, I Am Chris Farley, Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary)
Produced by Blumhouse Television and Hodgee Films

Featuring:
Martin Shkreli

Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah
Musical artist and friend of Shkreli, Billy The Fridge 
Journalist Christie Smythe
Shkreli Defense Attorney Ben Brafman

Review: ‘Small Engine Repair’ Explores Toxic Masculinity with Thrilling Effect.

SMALL ENGINE REPAIR

Frankie (John Pollono), Swaino (Jon Bernthal), and Packie (Shea Wigham) are lifelong friends who share a love of the Red Sox, rowdy bars, and Frankie’s teenaged daughter Crystal (Ciara Bravo). But when Frankie invites his pals to a whiskey-fueled evening and asks them to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore, events spin wildly out of control. Based on Pollono’s award-winning play, Small Engine Repair is a pitch-black comedic drama with a wicked twist and a powerful exploration of brotherhood, class struggle, and toxic masculinity.


Frankie (John Pollono), Swaino (Jon Bernthal), and Packie (Shea Whigham) are working-class men that share a friendship bond going back to childhood. That bond is strengthened further by their co-parenting of Frankie’s beloved daughter Crystal, who has spent a lifetime being raised by a loving– if raucous– male collective. This sets the scene for a fascinating character study of a group of men raised in a culture steeped in toxic masculinity who struggle to push back against it but often fall incredibly short. 

At first, Small Engine Repair seems like a dark family drama with a comedic edge. However, it is not until the second act that the viewer realizes that they are in the midst of a thriller. Complex performances by the entire cast gradually build tension through sharp looks, quick words, and complicated histories until the atmosphere on screen is so thick with menace that suddenly, every word and movement is a threat. It is hard to say more without giving away the shocking twists that a seemingly ordinary whiskey-fueled night in a garage would unleash. So instead, I will say that the tightly directed and brilliantly acted Small Engine Repair had me holding my breath through the finale.


In Theaters September 10, 2021


Written and Directed by

John Pollono

Starring: Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham, Jordana Spiro, John Pollono, Ciara Bravo, Spencer House


Review: ‘CONFETTI’ Raises Awareness with Heart & Charm 

CONFETTI

How far would a mother go to reverse her child’s fate? Based on writer/director Ann Hu’s story, that’s the question facing Lan (ZHU ZHU), who travels with her 9-year-old daughter Meimei (HARMONIE HE) from their small town in China to New York City.

Inflicted with a learning disability, Meimei is considered a strange and dumb girl, an outcast in her school and community. What no one recognizes, however, is that she possesses a gift waiting to be unlocked. The world seen through her eyes is unique and filled with magic. When her mother learns that Meimei suffers from dyslexia, as do 1 in 10 people worldwide, she will stop at nothing to help her, including leaving her life in China behind and venturing alone with Meimei to New York City, braving a place she knows nothing about and speaking not a word of English.


Confetti is a heartfelt film that aims to tackle complicated issues of immigration, dyslexia, and the barriers that parents will overcome to provide a better life for their children. 

While the story centers on a dedicated mother (Zhu Zhu) leaving her small town in China on a quest to find the best education for her daughter (Harmonie He) with learning disabilities, it morphs into an analysis about social norms, expectations, and conformity. What is the likely fate for a child who is different? What if the standard model of education shouldn’t be “one size fits all”? In Confetti, tenacity and radically good luck make all the difference. But what about children that are even less fortunate? 

Confetti is a refreshing insight into the Asian American immigrant experience that is not frequently centered. Director Ann Hu should be commended for elevating complex intersectional stories like this one, even if some plot points feel a bit disjointed or unfinished. Charming performances by Zhu Zhu and Harmonie He animate a touching story of perseverance and sacrifice. 

The film will be released in theaters on August 20, 2021, and stars Zhu Zhu (Cloud Atlas, Marco Polo), Amy Irving (Crossing Delancey, Yentl)Helen Slater (Supergirl), and Harmonie He.


Writer, producer, and director Ann Hu’s 35mm debut Shadow Magic was one of the top box office hits in China and won both the Chinese Academy Award and Presidential Award in China for Best Film among other international prizes. The film premiered at the 2000 Sundance film Festival and was released by Sony Classics in 2001. Following the success of Shadow Magic, Ann Hu directed and produced Beauty Remains.  After a successful festival run, the film was released theatrically by Emerging Pictures in 2005 and was also a top performer in China.

Zhu Zhu is an acclaimed and award-winning Chinese actress who is up-and-coming in the US. Zhu Zhu made her U.S. theatrical debut in the Wachowski’s film CLOUD ATLAS, appearing opposite Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, and can also be seen in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS opposite Russell Crowe. She then went on the play the female lead in Netflix’s original series MARCO POLO and starred in the Indian film TUBELIGHT directed by Kabir Khan alongside India’s most popular actor Salman Khan, which made her the first Chinese actress to star in a Bollywood film. She also recently appeared in box office hit, PACIFIC RIM UPRISING.


Review: ‘Not Going Quietly’ Documents the Hope, Grit, and Sacrifice of Activism

NOT GOING QUIETLY

A rising star in progressive politics and a new father, 32-year-old Ady Barkan’s life is upended when he is diagnosed with ALS. But after a chance encounter with powerful Senator Jeff Flake on an airplane goes viral, catapulting him to national fame, Ady and a motley crew of activists ignite a once-in-a-generation movement for healthcare justice. Launching the Be A Hero campaign, Barkan travels across the country educating and empowering others to confront elected officials with emotional, personal stories intended to directly impact legislation. Continuing today to inspire others to use the time they are given and speak truth to power, Barkan continues to fight for a brighter and more just world for his son to inherit. He was featured as one of the 100 Most influential people of 2020 and has most recently been credited with pressuring President Biden to make the recent decision to waive the COVID-19 vaccine patent. Barkan is referred to as “The Most Powerful Activist in America,” because when he speaks, people listen.


A special kind of courage is required to devote your life to a cause and lead an activist movement, particularly in an era when it is easy to be cynical about politics. In “Not Going Quietly,” filmmaker Nicholas Bruckman takes us behind the scenes of the “Be a Hero” campaign for healthcare justice in America and wrestles with the question, “What are you willing to give for a cause?” 

The film’s heartbeat is an intimate portrait of political activist Ady Barkan, who leads the campaign effort even while grappling with increasingly advanced stages of ALS. Barkan came to prominence in a viral video of a chance encounter with former Senator Jeff Flake on a plane, where he passionately advocated for healthcare protections for himself and others. Forcing elected representatives to confront the consequences of the laws they support would become the cornerstone strategy of the “Be a Hero” campaign. Activists hope to push past glib political narratives and force a reckoning that will change hearts and votes– or at the very least, record the interaction and make sure the hostile indifference of Congressional Members and Aides is on public display.

The film excels at telling the story of this kind of work by juxtaposing powerful political rallies– including a cameo from Bernie Sanders– with the harsh realities of ALS and heartwarming scenes with Barkan’s supportive wife and young son. In addition, moments of humor and fun with the campaign’s inner circle present another side of the fight– the deep friendships that bind people working for a cause greater than themselves. 

Within the first fifteen minutes, it becomes clear why “Not Going Quietly” won the Audience Award and Special Jury Recognition for Humanity in Social Action at SXSW. This film is guaranteed to pull at all of your emotions. So what is it that moves you? I am confident this documentary has it in spades.


In Theaters on August 13, 2021

Directed by: Nicholas Bruckman (La americana)

Co-Written by: Nicholas Bruckman, Amanda Roddy

Produced by: Amanda Roddy

Executive Producer: Bradley Whitford (Get Out, “The West Wing”), Jay Duplass (“Transparent”), Mark Duplass (Creep, Safety Not Guaranteed), Mel Eslyn (The One I Love, Horse Girl), Sam Bisbee (The Truffle Hunters, Farewell Amor), Nina Tassler, Joan Boorstein, Jackie Kelman Bisbee, Wendy Kelman Neu, Nicholas Bruckman, Ryder Haske

Featuring: Ady Barkan (co-founder of the Be a Hero PAC, organizer for the Center for Popular Democracy), Rachael King, Liz Jaff, Nate Smith, Tracey Corder, Ana Maria Archila, Helen Brosnan

With special appearances from:
Vice President  Kamala Harris
Senator Bernie Sanders
Senator Elizabeth Warren
Senator Cory Booker
United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg


Review: ‘Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes’ debuts parts 3 & 4 tonight on HBO & HBO MAX

Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes, a six-part, half-hour documentary series, brings to life Ronan Farrow’s intimate, revealing interviews with whistleblowers, journalists, private investigators and other sources, conducted for the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s podcast and best-selling book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and A Conspiracy to Protect Predators.

Directed by Emmy-winners Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (HBO’s Carrie Fisher: Wishful Drinking), the series expands on the podcast and book with never-before-seen footage and new insights into this culture-shaking story. Interviews are interwoven with additional sound and imagery from documents, audiotapes, photos, archive footage, and illustrations. With fresh perspectives and detail — not just on the harrowing effort to expose one powerful predator, but on the systems that help cover up terrible crimes to this day — the series presents new revelations in the reporting on one of Hollywood’s most ungettable stories.

Reporters Ken Auletta and Kim Masters explore the roadblocks that stalled their years-long quests to expose Weinstein.​

Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes is set during a period of recent history when the world seemed unrelentingly bleak. The documentary demonstrates that even during those dark times, however, courageous individuals worked hard to expose the truth for the sake of justice.

Throughout six 30-minute episodes, Ronan Farrow guides viewers through a complex web of conspirators fighting against his journalistic investigation into the “open secret” of Harvey Weinstein’s rape offenses. While many may be familiar with the outlines of the case, like the many credible allegations of abuse and how Farrow’s New Yorker story helped trigger the #MeToo movement, the documentary focuses on many lesser-known aspects of the saga. 

Model Ambra Gutierrez reveals the high-stakes police sting operation that captured a chilling admission from Harvey Weinstein – and her plan to preserve the evidence after authorities declined to prosecute.

Each episode in the series uncovers a new layer in a complex web of protection, manipulation, and gentlemen’s agreements that Harvey and others have relied on to shield them from critique and consequences for decades. The thesis of this project is clear: Society should not be content with the conviction of high profile men like Harvey Weinstein alone. Instead, we must dismantle the complicit power structures that allowed Harvey Weinstein’s abuses to continue for years without repercussions. Farrow makes clear that media companies, attorneys, and literal spies worked together to shield powerful men from criminal prosecution and public contempt. 

Although I intended only to watch the first two installments, I ended up binging the rest of them in a single afternoon. Every chapter in the series is intriguing, closing on a cliffhanger that compels you to roll into the next. 

It is said that the arc of the universe bends towards justice. Although there is still a long way to go, Catch and Kill instills a sense of hope that perhaps many of the traditional systems of power that have kept bad men on top for generations are more tenuous now than they have been before.

The documentary series debuted on HBO & HBO MAX with two back-to-back episodes MONDAY, JULY 12(9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT), with new episodes airing back-to-back subsequent Mondays at the same time.

 

HBO Documentary films review: ‘The Legend Of The Underground’ Invites You to a Party and a Movement

The Legend of the Underground

This film is a searing and timely look at the struggle against rampant discrimination that exists in Nigeria today, as seen through the lens of several charismatic, non-conformist youth who fight to live life out loud. Through social media, celebrity and bold creativity, they spark a cultural debate that challenges the ideals of gender, conformity and civil rights in Nigeria.

The Legend of the Underground overflows with an unshakable optimism in the face of oppression that is mesmerizing to watch. Told by a tremendous ensemble cast, the film depicts the reality of a new generation of LGBTQ+ youth in Lagos, Nigeria, as they bravely push past a conservative cultural landscape in a quest for freedom and happiness. 

The film shows both the fight against rampant discrimination in Nigeria today and the LGBTQ+ community’s response– a defiant, dynamic, and endlessly creative counter-culture. While honest about the realities that these youth face, the film is not a slog through trauma and hardship. Instead, it is a fascinating deep dive into an in-crowd that is invite-only by necessity. Filmmakers Nneka Onuorah and Giselle Bailey excel in contrasting exciting and brilliant underground club scenes with intimate portraits of human connection so much so that at times it feels like being immediately thrust into a deep friendship with the coolest kids you know. 

The dynamic is magnified by how the film spotlights naturally magnetic real-life characters like “World Famous James Brown”, or WFJamesBrown on his Instagram account (that I now follow). James’ snappy and legally sound retort to aggressive police brutality during a birthday party that local police condemned as a gay orientation(?!) went viral and helped to bring an international social media spotlight to the struggle of Nigeria’s LGBTQ+ community. 

No one can articulate what this film is about and who it represents better than the courageous individuals that make up its cast. Honestly, it was tempting to make this review solely pull quotes from the documentary itself because they are spectacular. There is local underground podcaster Tomi smartly setting the scene: “Lagos is not for vanilla cakes. Mm mm, no way. If you’re born with vanilla, keep those flavors in your house.” To James’ sincere hopeful mantra, “One thing about life is that you have to be extremely happy because happiness is the key to all things.” 

Although many may be familiar with what is happening in Nigeria from international headlines, the film aims to personify bland statistics by introducing faces, names, and stories to the discourse. Primarily, however, it portrays a group of brave young people relying on each other to create the community they need to survive.

Airing on HBO and HBO Max June 29th, 2021

Directed by Giselle Bailey and Nneka Onuorah
Cinematography by Stephen Bailey
Edited by Rabab Haj Yahya
Executive Producers John LegendMike Jackson, and Ty Stiklorius