Fantaspoa 2022 review: World premiere of Argentinian horror ‘LEGIONS’ is bound to delight Evil Dead fans.

LEGIONS


Antonio is a sorcerer from a powerful bloodline, trapped in an asylum against his will. After an omen informs him that his daughter will be sacrificed by an evil entity, he must use his magical skills to escape and save her.


Writer-director Fabián Forte brings the world premiere of his new film LEGIONS to Fantaspoa 2022. A family line of demon fighters is threatened by the one horror that got away. Institutionalized patriarch Antonio’s stories are written off as delusion. With the help of his fellow patients, he must escape, track down, and protect his estranged daughter, Elena, before it’s too late. 

The film’s structure creates its engrossing narrative with flashbacks. Folklore and mysticism pull you into the characters’ backgrounds. Performances are spectacular. Antonio’s hospital crew will make you grin from ear to ear. Their energy is enchanting. Bravo, to each of them. Lorena Vega as Elena is everything we need her to be. Dripping with trauma, it’s a brilliant turn. German De Silva plays present-day Antonio with ferocious tenacity and innocent charm. I will watch him in anything.

The thoughtful score from Pablo Fuu strikes a perfect balance between playful and dread. The SFX from Marcos Berta Studios and visual effects from Andres Borghi is super cool (voodoo doll, I’m looking at you, buddy.) The script has everything occult, from protection spells to full-blown possession. The dual device of a stage play makes everything more fun, adding levity to the more intense aspects of the story. The unapologetic bits of camp mixed with phenomenal practical FX is a damn delight. Legions will be pure entertainment for Fantaspoa 2022 audiences. 


LEGIONS screened as part of Fantaspoa 2022.

For more information on the festival, please visit www.fantaspoa.com.


Fantaspoa 2022 review: ‘SUBJECT’ is a uniquely mesmerizing fantasy.

SUBJECT

A famous novelist moves into a house near an isolated, strange village in an attempt to break his writers block. Soon, ideas emerge – as do strange sightings and mysterious pages, seemingly written by the former resident of the house


Attempting to ward off writer’s block, Max’s agent rents him a house in a small, isolated village. When Max finds his words in an old notebook inside the writing desk, it’s the beginning of pure chaos. Mystery compounds as the enigmatic yet cheerful townspeople come into contact with Max. Everyone in this town is slightly off-kilter. Writer-director Leo Falcão has done a splendid job keeping you on your toes, playing with language and magical realism. 

Is Max experiencing madness like Jack Torrance in The Shining? Something strange haunts this town, and Max is the only one out of the loop. Performances across the board are wonderful. I felt as if I were attending a ping pong match as I watched these fully fleshed-out characters coexist with Max. I needed to solve the complexities of the story. Falcão understands how to hold the viewer in the palm of his hand.

The costumes are like eye candy. With colors that pop, they have a strategic effect akin to Beetlejuice. The cinematic framing draws you into the already engaging narrative. The camera leads you to clues placing you inside the mystery like a passerby on the street. It’s immersive and ceaselessly intriguing. With an ending I did not see coming, Fantaspoa 2022 audiences will find themselves scratching their heads but unable to take their eyes off the screen. SUBJECT completely enchanted me. 


SUBJECT screened as part of Fantaspoa 2022.

For more information on the festival, please visit www.fantaspoa.com.


Fantaspoa 2022 review: ‘HOLY SHIT!’ is gag-worthy greatness.

HOLY SHIT!

A bloodied architect regains consciousness inside a locked portable toilet and soon realizes that he needs to find a way out of there or he’ll be blown up within the hour.


Ingenuity and one hell of a plot make Fantaspoa 2022 selection Holy Shit! one of the most fun films this year. Frank is locked in an overturned porta-potty, his forearm pierced by a thin piece of rebar. With only his wits about him, Frank must escape within 30 minutes to escape certain death by explosives outside of the four small, grotesque walls he finds himself trapped inside. Grasping anything at his disposal, Frank must MacGyver his way to safety, all while recollecting how he got in this predicament in the first place. 

The visceral tension created by writer-director Lukas Rinker is exacerbated by the superb performance of our leading man, Thomas Niehaus. He is nothing short of captivating. Together, they’ve made Holy Shit! a truly riveting story. You’ll yell at the screen in frustration, sweat as the minutes tick off, and cheer for the small victories along the way. Who would have thought a film about a man trapped inside a porta-potty would ignite that much emotion? It’s bizarrely brilliant.


HOLY SHIT! screened as part of Fantaspoa 2022.

For more information on the festival, please visit www.fantaspoa.com.


HOT DOCS 2022 review: ‘Images Of A Nordic Drama’ pits art lovers against the art world.

IMAGES OF A NORDIC DRAMA

Who would have ever guessed that the discovery of paintings by an unknown Norwegian artist would cause such upheaval in the art world? When art collector Haakon Mehren was led to a barn filled with oversized canvases, his jaw immediately hit the floor. Who was this artist? After some sleuthing, Mehren introduces the world to Aksel Waldemar Johannessen, an unapologetic alcoholic who did the unthinkable. Johannessen painted the poor, often using his image mixed with dark and twisted imagery of inner turmoil.

Self-portrait painted by Aksel Waldemar Johannessen

Art is subjective, but there is undoubtedly a most elite shroud in curating. Norway’s most coveted paintings never before depicted the lower class. Their claim to fame was Edvard Munch. If you know even a sliver about art, you can immediately conjure the image of “The Scream.” The curatorial staff at the National Museum and gatekeepers of the Munch Museum immediately pushed back on adding the works to Norway’s collective narrative. Mehren made it his life’s mission to share Johannessen’s artistic contributions, scheduling exhibitions throughout Europe. The public’s reaction was overwhelmingly delightful. That only fueled the fire from Norway’s elite.

Director Nils Gaup uses a gorgeous score while repeatedly showcasing Johannessen’s paintings. This distinctive choice brings due awe to each piece. There’s no denying that some of the work is frightening, while others are simply breathtaking. The variety of subjects is astounding. You will find yourself lost in them. IMAGES OF A NORDIC DRAMA is the perfect addition to this year’s HOT DOCS 2022 lineup. If you weren’t an art lover before, get ready for your world is about to change.

The painting “Man on a diving board” by Aksel Waldemar Johannessen. This painting was exhibited at The Met.


HOT DOCS 2022 Link to buy tickets:

https://hotdocs.ca/whats-on/hot-docs-festival/films/2022/images-of-a-nordic-drama

@hotdocs #HotDocs22


HOT DOCS 2022 FESTIVAL SCREENINGS:
PUBLIC SCREENINGS:

Saturday, April 30 at 11:30 am
Location: Varsity 8 (55 Bloor Street West)

Thursday, May 5 at 8:45 pm
Location: Varsity 8 (55 Bloor Street West)

Running Time: 71 minutes

Language: English, German, Norwegian

Country: Norway, Germany (Feature Documentary)


Fantaspoa 2022 review: ‘FOLLOW HER’ is a clever social media revenge thriller.

Director Sylvia Caminer brings her new film Follow Her to Fantaspoa 2022. It features Dani Barker as social media up-and-comer Jess as she grinds away, posting live videos about her various paid gigs. When a glitch in her facial blur app causes an online frenzy, Jess must navigate not only a barrage of new followers and mixed comments but a new job offer. A meta revenge thriller, Follow Her, will have your heart in your throat.

Luke Cook plays Tom, the man who hires Jess to assist him in writing an erotic thriller. He’s effortless suave and ceaselessly witty. It is tricky to distinguish between written dialogue and what might be improved. The script allows him to play up the maniacal angle. You’re still rooting for him as a genre fan. Cook is exceptionally enigmatic, and Dani Barker keeps up with his energy. 

Barker plays double duty as Jess and screenwriter. She bears a striking resemblance to Kate Hudson and Chloe Fineman and possesses the charm of both combined. Barker understands the complexities of social media and the myriad of baggage that can accompany the lifestyle. She’s given audiences a slick screenplay.

Follow Her would make a great triple feature evening with CAM and Spree. Overall, the meta aspect of the screenplay comes into focus at around the 38-minute mark. The innate anxiety of being a woman alone with a man is front and center. Follow Her had me in full panic mode at 45 minutes. Each consecutive beat skillfully ups the ante. It speaks to the dark side of the internet age, gigging, vulnerability, sexual control, greed, and the consequence-free world we see more and more. Barker cleverly utilizes horror tropes and acknowledges them directly. Fantaspoa 2022 audiences are in for a treat. Genre fans will go nuts for this killer film. I’d “like & subscribe” for franchise development.


FOLLOW HER screens as part of Fantaspoa 2022. For more information on the festival, please visit www.fantaspoa.com.


Fantaspoa 2022 review: ‘OX-HEAD VILLAGE’ is a frightful folktale.

OX-HEAD VILLAGE

PLOT: Having launched a social media prank about a haunted building, three girls suddenly vanish. Rumors circulate that they were victims of The Ox-Head Village curse, triggering an investigation by two of their friends, desperate to find the truth about what has happened


Sick cinematography and a killer opening bring Fantaspoa 2022 audiences into the intensely scary world of Ox-Head Village. Finding out that this is director Takashi Shimizu‘s final film in his “Village Trilogy” makes me want to seek out Howling Village and Suicide Forest Village immediately. Japanese folklore surrounding a family curse brings this horror mystery to life. Kanon seeks answers as to why she resembles a missing girl from a failed prank video. As clues slowly come to light, Kanon must confront her family’s past mistakes to make way for her future. Loaded with haunting imagery, flashbacks, and macabre superstition, Ox-Head Village becomes the consequence of trying to outwit the curse. Performances across the board are solid. The colors are lush and the kills are brutal and disturbing. Elements akin to Ringu are unmissable. But, Ox-Head Village is undoubtedly unique. Make sure you don’t move once the credits begin to roll.


 OX-HEAD VILLAGE screened as part of Fantaspoa 2022.

For more information on the festival, please visit www.fantaspoa.com.

CAST: Kôki, Riku Hagiwara, Keiko Horiuchi, Haruka Imô, Akaji Maro, Satoru Matsuo, Riko, Fumiya Takahashi, Naoki Tanaka, Rinka Ôtani

DIRECTOR: Takashi Shimizu


Review: ‘STANLEYVILLE’ is so weird it works.

An exercise in the absurd, the hit indie STANLEYVILLE opens with Maria (Susanne Wuest) walking away from her life on a moment’s whim. Found lounging aimlessly on an airport chair, an odd man named Homunculus (the absolute legend Julian Richings) informs her of her selection to participate in an exclusive competition. The prize is an orange compact SUV.

Without hesitating, Maria arrives at an apartment alongside four other contestants. In a series of eight individual challenges, the first being balloon blowing, Maria, Felicia, Manny, Bofill, and Andrew battle to be the victor. The Master of ceremonies appears equal parts confused and confident in his role. As the stakes get higher and the games get weirder, chaos ensues. Five opposite archetypes collide in one of the most bizarre films I’ve ever witnessed. 

STANLEYVILLE is so odd it works. The film’s pacing is intentionally erratic, and the personalities are strong. That is, all except Maria. She is content to play the game fairly and with an abundance of reverence. The performances of our six cast members are outstanding. This eclectic mix of actors pours their heart into a script that must have seemed outrageous when they first read it. Full disclosure, I’m not sure I walked away understanding what I watched either, but I’ll tell you this, I cannot stop thinking or talking about STANLEYVILLE.

The finale is equally enigmatic, occurring offscreen. It’s a keenly written full-circle moment that makes you think. STANLEYVILLE is like nothing you’ve seen before. Some will assume writer-director Maxwell McCabe-Lokos was making it all up as he went along. I cannot be the first to salivate at the idea of turning this into a stage play without intermission. The story is a conversation starter. What that conversation consists of is determined entirely by each viewer’s experience. It’s a one-of-a-kind film. 


Oscilloscope Laboratories is proud to release STANLEYVILLE — the quirky, dark feature debut from writer/director Maxwell McCabe-Lokos that has won festival accolades across the globe — exclusively at New York City’s Metrograph on April 22nd, with a wider rollout to follow.


Color
English Language
88 minutes
Not Rated


The pitch-black comedy, which critics lovingly call “a strange movie for strange people” and “an episode of Survivor for sociopathic miscreants”, stars Susanne Wuest (GOODNIGHT MOMMY), Cara Ricketts (FOX’s The Resident), Christian Serritiello, George Tchortov (Amazon’s The Expanse), Adam Brown (Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT trilogy), and genre legend Julian Richings (CUBE).


Cleveland International Film Festival 2022 short film review: ‘CANDIDATO 34’ chronicles the world’s most extraordinary run for public office.

CANDIDATO 34

Bryan Russell is the first person in the world with Down syndrome to ever run for public office. CANDIDATO 34 is a documentary short chronicling Bryan’s extraordinary story in the days before the 2020 congressional election in Peru, as he attempts to convince a reluctant public that he is capable of being a congressman, and an important voice for change. Candidato 34 will make its World Premiere in the FilmSlam-Spanish Language Cinema Shorts Program starting March 31st at the 2022 Cleveland International Film Festival.


As the first person in the world with Down Syndrome to run for public office, Bryan Russell represents so many marginalized groups everywhere. Bryan’s team, including his parents, pour their hearts into his campaign, supporting his dreams and ideas. Let me clarify something immediately; his parents are present as cheerleaders and coordinators. Bryan is an accomplished young man. He is charming, eloquent, raw, and relentlessly determined. These characteristics become abundantly clear in his ability to campaign like any other candidate. As someone who has worked on political campaigns in the US, Bryan does it with more honesty and savvy than many career politicians. He has an understanding and perspective of often ignored individuals. Win or lose, Bryan Russell is a passionate catalyst for change in Peru and throughout the world.

As a Mother of a neurodivergent son, Bryan is a hero. My most prevalent anxiety as a parent is the future. Bryan possesses the confidence and self-awareness I wish for my child. In 38 minutes, Candidato 34 filled me with hope and possibility. This little film speaks volumes about representation, kindness, and perseverance. Bryan Russell is an inspiration to my family. I hope this film spreads far and wide. There are a lot of people that would benefit from the experience. 

 

CANDIDATO 34 – TRAILER from Ryan Marley on Vimeo.


About the Filmmakers:

Ryan Marley (Director) is a filmmaker and television director best known for his work in documentary, factual and kids TV. He has been nominated for 3 Canadian Screen Awards and has directed over 25 series and documentaries. He most recently directed all 4 seasons of the groundbreaking documentary series “Employable Me” which tells the stories of job seekers who prove that having a physical disability or neurological condition shouldn’t make them unemployable. The series won the Diversify TV Excellence Award at MIPCOM 2017 & 2020, a 2018, 2019 & 2020 Rockie Award, an NYTVF Award and was nominated for four Canadian Screen Awards. His documentary “Sitting Tall: The Patrick Anderson Story” examines the background and career of Patrick Anderson, arguably the greatest wheelchair basketball player of all time, as he prepares for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. It was featured at the 2021 Awareness Film Festival and The 2021 New York Shorts International Film Festival where it won Best Documentary. Ryan splits his time between Toronto and Los Angeles.

Katie Lafferty (Executive Producer/Producer) has been chasing character-driven stories since graduating from Carleton University with a Journalism degree in 2002. Since then, she has produced some of Canada’s biggest shows including sports documentary series “Tessa & Scott,” and the groundbreaking series “Employable Me,” which tells the stories of job seekers who prove that having a physical disability or neurological condition shouldn’t make them unemployable. The series won the Diversify TV Excellence Award at MIPCOM 2017 & 2020, a 2018, 2019 & 2020 Rockie Award, an NYTVF Award and was nominated for four Canadian Screen Awards. Her latest feature-length documentary Candidato 34 is being produced in association with Lionsgate’s unscripted division, Pilgrim Media Group.

About Hitch Films:

Hitch Films is a creative team with extensive experience telling compelling stories about people around the world. We are a passionate team of award-winning documentary filmmakers bringing to light the amazing stories and struggles of incredible people with disabilities, and from marginalized communities, who are fighting prejudice and perception to gain independence and respect.


Credits

Ryan Marley – Director

Katie Lafferty – Executive Producer/Producer

Craig Piligian – Producer

Gretchen Stockdale – Executive Producer

Paul Boynett – Executive Producer/Writer

George Wright – Executive Producer/Editor

Michelle Asgarali – Associate Producer


37 minutes, Canada, 2021

DCP Image: 1.85:1, 4K, Color, Sound: 5.1 mix


Festival review: Kelsey Peterson’s personal documentary ‘MOVE ME’ inspires.

MOVE ME

At 27, Kelsey Peterson dove into Lake Superior, off the shores of Wisconsin, and emerged paralyzed. Now, the former dancer struggles to redefine who she is while adapting to life with a disability. At the intersection of acceptance and hope, Kelsey unexpectedly finds herself facing an opportunity to dance again, showing her a new path toward acceptance, all the while grappling with a decision to participate in a cutting-edge clinical trial that could bring her much-desired change — forcing her to evaluate the possibilities of her recovery, body, and spirit.

In Move Me, a first-time filmmaker with a disability simultaneously takes the reins behind the scenes, while revealing her inner revolution through raw storytelling onscreen.


Dancer and choreographer Kelsey Peterson was paralyzed from the chest down after diving into shallow waters. In conjunction with a friend injured in the same manner, Kelsey decides to dance for the first time since her accident by creating a unique piece of choreography. Her documentary feature MOVE ME is a portrait of a woman attempting to reclaim her identity.

The combination of home movies, rehearsals, and scenes from her daily life create a raw picture of Kelsey’s existence. Kelsey explains that after the accident, she realized that the world does not accommodate her current state. This singular statement makes MOVE ME so much more profound for able-body viewers. When you see the rehearsal restroom, the irony is exhausting. 

MOVE ME doesn’t simply tell the tale of a single dance. Kelsey navigates her father’s declining health while simultaneously researching the possibility of joining an experimental trial. She speaks with other participants, discovering that it’s not all positive outcomes. Uncertainty looms large as Kelsey weighs her options. She holds nothing back, tackling everything from bowel function to sexual sensation.

“A Cripple’s Dance” bases pieces of its choreography on Kelsey and Gabe’s moments of impact and what followed in the water. The intimacy of the camera work is visceral. Gabe’s lyrics are profoundly beautiful and hit you in the heart like a dagger. The result will give you chills. 

This film was personal for me. I began dancing at the age of three. Since then, I have competed, choreographed, and expressed myself through movement. When I lost some of my abilities from an emergency appendectomy and then years later, a neck injury, I was devastated. I remember the grief of losing those lifelong skills, talents that came without thought as they were muscle memory. Let me be clear I am able-bodied. You would not know I was in pain by the way I move through the day. I cannot begin to fathom the strength Kelsey Peterson possesses daily. Her positive outlook and relentless optimism drive her film. To me, she’s fearless. She’s sort of my hero. MOVE ME makes me appreciate my body’s movement tenfold.


Co-Directors: Kelsey Peterson, Daniel Klein

Producers: Kelsey Peterson, Daniel Klein, Madeline Brown

Executive Producers: Lois Vossen, Sally Jo Fifer, Joanna Rudnick

Cinematographer: Brennan Vance

Editor: Nico Bovat


Festival Screening Info:
Full Frame Documentary FF (World Premiere)
Streaming April 7 -10, 2022
 
Reel Abilities FF New York
Streaming April 7 -13, 2022
In-Person Screening Tues. April 12, 8:00pm
Film Info:

BUFF 2022 capsule review: Creature feature ‘HATCHING’ takes growing pains in a horrifying direction.

HATCHING


Tinja exists in a world where her mother expects perfection. Subconsciously, she seeks to replace her lack of affection. When she stumbles upon a strange abandoned egg, she decides she will nurture it. When things go awry, Mother has created a monster.

There’s no denying Hatching is a metaphor for puberty. Physical and emotional changes in Tinja are tied directly to the creature. As terror, anxiety, and jealousy intensify, so does Hatching’s horror. Our leading lady, Siiri Solalinna, is nothing short of extraordinary. She’s vulnerable, grounded, and fearless. It’s an astounding performance.

The creature design is reminiscent of something that might come out of the Wētā Workshop from Jim Henson‘s team. Its evolution is fascinating. It manages to be shockingly grotesque and yet adorable. If you’re a fan of Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal, you’ll especially appreciate the aesthetic. Hatching is a unique and terrifying journey. It’s one of the most emotionally brutal scripts of the year. BUFF 2022 fans are in for one hell of a film. 


IFC Midnight releases HATCHING in theaters April 29th and on VOD everywhere you rent movies May 17th.

Starring: Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Jani Volanen, Reino Nordin

Directed By: Hanna Bergholm

Synopsis: 12-year-old Tinja is desperate to please her mother, a woman obsessed with presenting the image of a perfect family. One night, Tinja finds a strange egg. What hatches is beyond belief.


To find out more about BUFF22, click here!


BUFF 2022 capsule review: Playground dynamics get ramped up in ‘THE INNOCENTS.’ It’s pure good vs evil.

THE INNOCENTS

Synopsis: During the bright Nordic summer, a group of children reveal their dark and mysterious powers when the adults aren’t looking.


“With great power comes great responsibility.” A group of children in an apartment complex realizes they have a strange and often dangerous bond. They possess otherworldly powers. As the connection between the children grows, so too do their abilities. The Innocents plays like a mysterious superhero and villain origin story.

The complexity of The Innocents is endless. This young cast carries a heavy emotional weight. They delighted and terrified me. The evolution of this dark sci-fi narrative gave me full-body goosebumps. The volatility of young feelings is on an entirely uncharted plain. What these characters do with their power speaks to the purity of good and evil. Look for an extraordinary turn from Alva Brynsmo Ramstad as Anna. It’s pure wow. BUFF 22 audiences, get ready for one hell of a showdown. 


US Release Date: May 13, 2022

Starring: Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Sam Ashraf

Directed By: Eskil Vogt


To learn more about BUFF 22, click here!


SXSW 2022 review from Unseen Films: ‘The Thief Collector’

The Thief Collector

In 1985, Willem de Kooning’s “Woman-Ochre,” one of the most valuable paintings of the 20th century, vanished into the Arizona desert after being cut from its frame at the University of Arizona Museum of Art. 32 years later, the $160 million painting was found hanging in the home of Jerry and Rita Alter in rural New Mexico. The Thief Collector takes a deep look at how, and why, this mild-mannered couple pulled off one of the greatest art heists of a generation, exploring the complicated dynamics of family, the contours of criminality, and just how far people will go to weave their own grandiose narratives.


The Thief Collector is a film that is not what you expect. The film is nominally about the theft of de Kooning’s painting Woman Ochre from the University of Arizona in 1985. The painting was cut from the frame and carried off by a couple not long after the museum opened on the day after Thanksgiving. Where it went or who took it remained a mystery for decades…until it was rediscovered in the effects of Rita and Jerry Alter.  While that is a part of the story, the film actually is a look at the Alters and their obsessions. This is not a look at the crime but at the way people feed their obsessions and how seemingly normal people almost always seem to have another side to them.

I should point out that this is not saying that the Alters were bad in that they were secretly murdering people, rather they simply had a side where they went against the fine upstanding citizens they seemed to be to the rest of the world. As a result, the film has become a more complicated and richer film than it would have been if it had just been about the crime.

I really liked this film a great deal. It’s a film that stayed with me through an evening in which I watched three other films after it. Yes, I saw another documentary and two edge-of-your-seat thrillers, but when it was all done I found I was still thinking about The Thief Collector even as the other films were fading from my mind. Hell, I wanted to know more and I reached out to the PR person to get the press notes because I knew that they would give me even more details.

You have to love any film that takes its basic premise to hook you and then drags you into another direction and makes you think about things in a new way. It had my mind going so much that I wish I could have gone back and rewatched several other SXSW films that dealt with obsessions because it put those films into a new light.

This is a neat little film and is highly recommended.


Director:

Allison Otto

Executive Producer:

Bryn Mooser, Kathryn Everett, Tony Hsieh, Andy Hsieh, Justin Lacob, John Boccardo and Derek Esplin, Shizuka Asakawa, and Kathleen L’Esperance

Producer:

Caryn Capotosto, Jill Latiano Howerton, Joshua Kunau

Screenwriter:

Mark Monroe, Nick Andert

Cinematographer:

Rod Hassler and Matt Ryan (recreations)

Editor:

Nick Andert

Music:

Daniel Wolf

Principal Cast:

Glenn Howerton, Sarah Minnich, Scott Takeda, Matt Pittenger

Additional Credits:

Co-Producers: Mary Kay Cook, Heath Cullens, Graphics: Scott Grossman


For more of Steve’s incredible coverage of SXSW22, go to Unseen Films


SXSW 2022 review from Unseen Films: Immigration documentary ‘SPLIT AT THE ROOT’

SPLIT AT THE ROOT

When a Guatemalan mother seeking asylum was separated from her kids under Zero Tolerance Policy, a Facebook post by a mom in Queens coalesced into a movement as thousands of like-minded women across the US refused to stand by quietly. Immigrant Families Together was born; a rapid response group committed to doing what the government couldn’t – or wouldn’t do: reunite parents with their children separated by the Zero Tolerance Policy.

Families separated at the border made headlines in 2018, prompting protests and policy changes. Over 2,000 children’s reunification status are still unknown and thousands of people impacted by separations are still suffering the effects of pursuing asylum.


A look at the US policy under Donald Trump to separate illegal immigrant parents from their children. It focuses on the plight of several women who had their children taken away as well as the mothers turned activists who fought to reunite the family. The film focuses on how mothers from across America came together to create Immigrant Families Together (IFT) which was aimed at working to get the separated families together any way they could. In the case of Yeni Gonzalez, the women drove her across the country in stages in order to get her and her kids back together.

This is good but not quite my cup of tea, in that way the film kind of disappointed me. While the film tells an important story, I never really connected to the story, and the problem, for me, was that I never warmed to the women in IFT.  I also completely understand that it was impossible to really follow many of the turns in person, owing to the inability to film in various official facilities, but I kept wanting to see more.

Frankly, the problems come from seeing a steady diet of similar films and as a result, I unintentionally have compared it to other films while not taking it entirely on its own terms. On the other hand, if you are not an insane film watcher like me you may want to give the film a try.


Director:

Linda Goldstein Knowlton

Executive Producer:

Rosario Dawson, Zak Kilberg, Amanda Marshall, Regina Solorzano

Producer:

Marti Noxon, Maria Grasso, Linda Goldstein Knowlton, Miranda Bailey

Cinematographer:

Nelson Hume, Nancy Serna-Guerrero

Editor:

Eric Torres, Alessandro Soares

Music:

Lili Haydn

Additional Credits:

Line Producer: Yasmine Gomez, Sound Recordist: Ben Posnack, Veronica Lopez, Lead Assistant Editor: Stephanie Huerta Martinez


To read more of Steve’s thoughts on this year’s SXSW22 lineup, head to Unseen Films


SXSW 2022 review from Unseen Films: ‘SPAZ’

SPAZ

SPAZ is a portrait of Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams,  one of the forces in computer animation. His work on films like the ABYSS, TERMINATOR 2, and JURASSIC PARK changed movies and the world forever. The doc is good but rather by the numbers tale for a guy who never was by the numbers. A man who loved life and loved doing things his way chaffed in the studio system, and his antics, such as often crashing George Lucas’ office made the suits want to fire him, but his abilities kept him out of trouble. The problem with the film is that much of this is standard issue bio but focused on Williams. Only when we get to Williams chaffing at the suits getting credit and awards for the work of his and other animators that the film comes to life. Legendary filmmaker Dennis Muren comes off looking like an ass since its clear that people like Williams were the real geniuses at work (Muren apparently told Williams not to do the T-rex animation that proved computers could do all the effects on JURASSIC PARK.)

While never bad it is is probably going to be best for animation junkies.


You can see more of Steve’s SXSW22 coverage at Unseen Films


SXSW 2022 review from Unseen Films: ‘CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH’

CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH

My feeling toward Cooper Raiff’s CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH is summed up by the warning one learns very early when going to or following the news out of film festivals, which is beware anything anyone tells you because it is invariably wrong. More times than not writers, myself included, are caught up in the moment and something you see produces a reaction that over-sells the film. Such is the case with CHA CHA, a film many of my friends oversold when it played at Sundance.

Director Cooper Raiff plays a young man, just out of college who is stuck working at Meat Stick and acting as a guy who can get people to have a good time at various parties. He meets Dakota Johnson and her daughter at one and is smitten. They bond despite her having a fiance in Barcelona. What will happen?

How you feel about the film will be determined by how you feel about Raiff as a leading man and his technique behind the camera. Looking like a younger David Tennant but with 50% less charm and zero weight, Raiff wanders through the film in a part that makes him seem like a gee-whiz sweet guy that everyone likes. Gosh darn it, why can’t he get his life together. Its a saccharine part of the sort that only exists in “you can’t be serious” romantic comedies. This results in moments that had they been played by any other actor or written by any other writer might have seemed remotely real instead of artificial.

And it’s a shame because Dakota Johnson and Vanessa Burghardt as her daughter are magnificent. They take roles that shouldn’t work as written and turn them into something special. They are what make the film work as well as it does.

Yes, despite my bitching the film works as disposable romance. But it should have been better. It also should have had a different ending which seems to be there just to give the proceedings weight. Forgive me, while it may be slightly logical, Johnson is engaged after all, it feels out of place. Yes I know it’s the result of the film being from Raiff’s character’s POV, but it seems wrong and out of left field like many serious works of literature that go serious in the final pages/minutes. But what annoys me is the whole thing outside of Johnson and Burghardt are not far removed from a sitcom so it didn’t have to end real. (Yes know it’s foreshadowed in conversations but it still seems wrong to me)

Worth a look for Dakota Johnson fans or those who want to have their socks knocked off by newcomer Vanessa Burghardt. Everyone else you’re on your own.


To see more #SXSW22 coverage from Steve, head over to Unseen Films


CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH will make its global premiere on Apple TV+ later this year.


SXSW 2022 review from Unseen Films: ‘DIO DREAMERS NEVER DIE’ transcends the notion of what a music documentary is supposed to be.

 DIO DREAMERS NEVER DIE

 DIO DREAMERS NEVER DIE was not one of the films I picked for the SXSW dance card. It was so low on my must-watch list as not to be on it. Frankly, I had no idea the film was playing at all. Then somehow I noticed it when I was putting things on and off my must-see list and added it simply because it fits a slot.

As with most of the films I loved out of SXSW which I just added because it fit, it turned out to be one of the best films at the festival. Actually, it may be a top three or four film of the fest for me, and possibly one of the best films of 2022.

The film is a portrait of Ronnie James Dio who was born Ronald James Padavona in 1942. He began playing the trumpet before starting in the sort of bands you’d expect in the 1950s.  Then influenced by Deep Purple he changed the sort of music he was playing before shaking the pillars of heaven in groups like Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and Dio.

This film transcends the notion of what a music documentary is supposed to be. This is a portrait of the man from birth to death with everything in between. All his music is represented, yea even the early stuff, here with a result we truly realize what the man was doing musically. It also is a lovely portrait of the man who is seen to be a guy who stuck to his guns, helped anyone on the way up where he could, even if it was a kind word, and he was a man who loved his fans. The story is told of Dio going on tour and meeting fans and blowing them away by remembering, after years, who they were and what they talked about in prior encounters. He loved his fans and they loved him.

Yes, the film is primarily full of heavy metal music, but don’t let that worry you, it’s never there just to be there. Dio’s music is not used just to play it but for effect and to illustrate what he was doing musically. They pull his lyrics apart and you realize just how stupid the religious nuts who tried to claim his work was Satanic were. Yea it was driving music but he was telling people they mattered.

This film stunned me from the first frames. I expected to like it but I never expected to fall madly in love with the film and the man. It’s so good that I want to know more.  Honestly, I am not more in love with his music, he was never one of my favorites, but I am in utter awe of the man.

This is truly one of the best music docs I’ve seen.

I can’t recommend this film enough. One of the highlights of SXSW


Directors:

Don Argott, Demian Fenton

Executive Producer:

Kathy Rivkin Daum, Wendy Dio

Producer:

Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce

Cinematographer:

Don Argott

Editor:

Demian Fenton

Music:

Nick Bassett

Principal Cast:

Ronnie James Dio, Wendy Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, Vinny Appice, Lita Ford, Rob Halford, Sebastian Bach, Eddie Trunk


To read more of Steve’s SXSW 22 coverage, head over to Unseen Films


SXSW 2022 review: ‘JETHICA’ kills it with humor and uniqueness.

JETHICA

Hiding out in New Mexico after a freak accident, Elena runs into Jessica, an old friend from high school. When Jessica’s stalker suddenly shows up at their door, they must seek help from beyond the grave to get rid of him, for good.


JETHICA contains a unique screenplay structure. After the twist comes to light, we slowly realize certain aspects were in our faces from the very beginning. And while we’re dealing with the legit issue of stalking- viewers who’ve experienced any of this behavior will shudder- you’ll simultaneously find your moral compass in knots. This feeling is 100 percent due to the relentless energy of Will Madden. His longwinded, manic dialogue is like watching a tweaker come down from bath salts, sans the eating people’s faces. 

I love how badass Callie Hernandez and Ashley Denise Robinson are together. Their teamwork is all lady power. The relationship between Elena and Jessica is breezy and genuine. Not an ounce of judgy fuckery. As for Andy Faulkner, you’ll fall in love with him. The nonchalance from the entire cast made me guffaw. Writer-director Peter Ohs‘ decision to fully collaborate with his actors makes me love it even more, going so far as giving them writing credit. It speaks volumes to Ohs’ instincts. 

Jethica is difficult to describe in the sense that what I want to say is, “Just shut your stupid mouth and watch this brilliant piece of genre obliterating magic.” (*Insert Futurama Meme “Shut Up and Take My Money”) It’s a film that speaks for itself as it progresses. It’s weird and wonderful and has “cult classic” written all over it. So yeah, I liked it a lot.


Check out  a brand new clip from JETHICA:

A supernatural dark comedy like you’ve never seen, JETHICA was shot in New Mexico in January 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, and world premieres at SXSW in the Visions section. JETHICA boldly blends and bends genres, all at once shining as a sharp comedy and dire stalker thriller with an undead edge.

The third feature from Pete Ohs, one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 2013 ‘25 New Faces of Independent Film’ and co-director of the award-winning Julia Garner lead sci-fi fable Everything Beautiful Is Far Away, the film stars Austin-raised actress Callie Hernandez (The Flight Attendant, Blair Witch [2016]), Will Madden (Beast Beast, The Wolf Of Snow Hollow), Ashley Denise Robinson (Taking Stock), and Andy Faulkner (Youngstown).

Conceived and created through radical approaches to filmmaking, Pete Ohs continues to push the boundaries of indie film, collaborating with his four leads on the script and story of JETHICA, each of whom shares writing credits, and editing the feature live last year on Twitch.


To Learn More About SXSW22 click here!


SXSW 2022 review: Gracie Otto and Krew Boylan take on Dolly Parton, big hair, and even bigger dreams in ‘Seriously Red’

SERIOUSLY RED

This infectious homage to tribute performers focuses on a quirky redheaded young woman whose passion in life has been the songs and personality of Miss Dolly Parton. While she’s has a patterned history of screwing up, Red is a bold, kind-hearted spirit determined to make it as a Dolly impersonator. As her star rises, so does her self-esteem, affecting her personal life, for better or worse. 

Flashy sequins and blonde wings aside, deep down, the film is about self-actualization. The things we try and disguise from others and ourselves. When I was younger, someone asked me why I performed. “Is it because you’re hiding behind those characters?” First, I was offended. Then I thought about it. It was the perfect opportunity to try on someone new. But, Seriously Red is also about having the bravery to do what you love. 

Bobby Cannavale, Rose Byrne, Celeste Barber, Daniel Webber, and Thomas Campbell give superb performances. Seriously Red lives and breathes in screenwriter and star Krew Boylan. She brings unbridled nuance to Red. Comedy timing from the gods, slapstick chops, and a voice for days, Boylan owns every scene. You can’t take your eyes off of her.

The energy never fades, with glorious musical numbers (live and choreographed fantasy sequences.) This film will resonate with an audience wider than Dolly fans. While we revel in the legend’s words throughout the script, the themes stand undoubtedly on their own. Seriously Red will make you smile from ear to ear.


To Learn More About SXSW22 click here!


SXSW 2022 short film review: ‘NOT EVEN FOR A MOMENT DO THINGS STAND STILL’ is a film that will imprint on your soul.

NOT EVEN FOR A MOMENT DO THINGS STAND STILL

Art as catharsis happens when we have no words. It is one of the innumerable reasons we create. In September 2021, artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenuerg made something that would stun the country. She planted a white flag on the National Mall for each person who had died of Covid-19 in America. The reaction was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

You can see the momentary panic on the faces of friends, family, and frontline workers wondering where to place their small white flag in an eventual sea of over 700,000. We hear the intimate audio, prayers, sobs, and send-offs that no person dreams of giving in this way. Beyond that, the sound design is simple, the wind blowing gently against each tribute. The result is like the sound of the ocean. The title serves as a triple entendre, echoing the relentless tragedy of the ever-evolving virus, the flapping of the flags, and the words of the Japanese Death Poem by Seiju.

Not even for a moment
do things stand still; witness
color in the trees.

Even though we’re watching on a screen, the vastness of the piece is never lost. The visual impact is visceral. Somehow, this representation is almost a better reference to those who still deny the virus existed in the first place. While those minds may never change, those living in reality can feel the massive impact of this monument. NOT EVEN FOR A MOMENT DO THINGS STAND STILL is 15 minutes of collective grief. It is one of the most powerful short films I’ve ever had the privilege to experience. And it is precisely that, an experience.


Director/Writer:                      Jamie Meltzer
Producers:                              Annie Marr, Jamie Meltzer, Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg
Editors:                                   Jamie Meltzer, Annie Marr
Cinematographers:                Mario Furloni, Melissa Langer
Sound Design:                       Dave Cerf
TRT:                                        15 min
Country:                                 USA


 

SXSW 2022 review: ‘THE PRANK’ has Rita Moreno and revenge.

THE PRANK

We all had that teacher in high school that we loathed, either because they were a terrible teacher or just plain evil. In The Prank, two students sick of an AP Physics teacher terrorizing the school come up with a scheme to frame her for murder. Can Ben and Tanner shift the power dynamic? More importantly, how will Mrs. Wheeler react?

Ben is your typical overachiever, while his best friend Tanner is a slacker. Funny thing, neither is what they appear to be. Tanner is a hacker genius. When the infamous teacher from our nightmares, Mrs. Wheeler, discovers someone has cheated on her Physics midterm, she threatens to fail everyone. Fed up with the power she holds, Ben and Tanner make a plan to take her down. A handful of ridiculous memes and embarrassingly fake “evidence” spirals out of control. But that’s just the beginning of The Prank.

Connor Kalopsis plays Ben with visceral anxiety in his attempt at a scholarship. His quiet confidence is a solid foil for co-star Ramona Young. I would be remiss to mention Meredith Salinger as his Mom. She’s quickwitted and down-to-earth and would have loved to see more of here. She’s a charmer.

Ramona Young as Tanner is a spitfire. With excitable energy, she bounces off of Kalopsis without ever getting campy. Their chemistry is akin to any series regulars on The Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. Kate Flannery plays the lunch lady with a sass that deserves a standing ovation. The scenes between her and Young, while short, are undeniably memorable.

Rita Moreno brings this Goosebumps-friendly film to life with her iconic character-building abilities. Her comic timing is legendary. Her presence onscreen and onstage is massive. She nails every beat of Mrs. Wheeler. Playing against Kalopsis and Young, her ability to outwit her scene partners is unmatched. Moreno captures the familiar sternness that made us shake in our boots when we were younger. Her acid-tongued delivery of screenwriters Becca Flinn-White & Zak White’s dialogue is chef’s kiss. You’ll love to hate her.

The Prank takes advantage of the classic rumor mill, updating it through social media. Without spoiling the film, the fallout that makes this film special. It was a surprising selection for SXSW22 but in a good way. The Prank is the most fun teen-centric comedy at this year’s festival. Stick around for the credits.


To Learn More About SXSW22 click here!