Harlem International Film Festival 2021 review: ‘My Fiona’

MY FIONA

 New York State Premiere
Director: Kelly Walker
Country: US, Running Time: 86 min
Following the suicide of her best friend, Jane finds purpose in helping her friend’s wife with their child. In doing so, she becomes inadvertently drawn into an intimate relationship bound by grief that’s potentially catastrophic to the healing for all those involved.

Jeanette Maus‘s final feature role is impactful beyond words. She plays Jane, a woman whose best friend commits suicide and must address her own grief within the complexity of her newfound family dynamic. How close is too close when all are have left are the ones left behind? The cast’s chemistry is immaculate. Maus leaves it all on screen. Every moment is an emotional gut-punch. Suicide is a loaded subject. The script tackles its all-consuming confusion with a carefully crafted hand. In an attempt to discover Fiona’s “Why” and to find her place without Fiona, Jane must come to grips with the messy aftermath of loss. MY FIONA is an intimate look at grief from the perspective of a best friend. It’s a fresh take on something that is so relatable. It’s okay to not be okay. Writer-director Kelly Walker has given Harlem International Film Festival audiences a true gem. MY FIONA is a different kind of love story. Do not miss this film.

Audiences in New York can access the film now!

16th Edition
May 6-16, 2021 Extended Dates!

BAM Kino Polska 2021 review: ‘SUPERNOVA’ makes your heart race and your head spin.

SUPERNOVA

Three men, one place, and one event that will change the life of each one of them. A universal tale, kept in a realistic style, tells the story of a few hours in the life of a rural community. The film raises questions about the essence of chance and destiny. A bloody story, oscillating on the edge of drama, thriller, and disaster cinema.

Up close, hand-held camera work intensifies the manic energy that radiates from this cast. This tragic and explosive story stems from a hit-and-run. With the world in upheaval over police action, this film focuses on the reactions of a small town department. When the mysterious driver flees on foot, chaos reigns when the incident becomes personal. The performances are astonishing. The screenplay is genius. You’re getting multiple narrative stories by watching the reactions of family, coworkers, and onlookers all at once. A naive rookie, a Chief close to retirement, hooligans in the crowd, a female officer’s first day, those connected to the victims, and a villain so loathsome your head will spin. These characters simultaneously clash in Supernova as events play out in real-time. There is not a moment to breathe. The quietest moment is the opening shot. Once the actors enter the frame the energy ramps up and become increasingly intense. Writer-director Bartosz Kruhlik plays with empathy and power dynamics in such an intelligent way. The complexity of the story just keeps growing. Your heart will race, you’ll seethe with anger, Supernova is that good.

SUPERNOVA
Dir. Bartosz Kruhlik
2019, 78min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles

From Friday, April 30th through Thursday, May 6th BAM presents the fourth edition of *Kino Polska: New Polish Cinema*, bringing together the best new works from Poland’s boundary-pushing filmmakers. The series is presented in partnership with the Polish Cultural Institute New York and co-programmed by Tomek Smolarski. Kino Polska features seven feature films, including the New York premiere of Poland’s Oscar submission *NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN* (2020). Director Malgorzata Szumowska (whose Berlinale prizewinner Mug screened in the 2018 iteration of *Kino Polska*) partners with longtime cinematographer and co-writer Michal Englert’s for this Venice Film Festival hit about an enigmatic healer (Alec Utgoff, “Stranger Things”) who casts a spell over a rich Polish community. This year’s series also includes Mariko Bobrik’s touching debut feature *THE TASTE OF PHO* (2019) about a Vietnamese father and
daughter dealing with grief and the immigrant experience in Warsaw; the bittersweet coming-of-age drama *I NEVER CRY* (2020) from Piotr Domalewski whose previous film SILENT NIGHT won major awards in Poland; Bartosz Kruhlik’s edge-of-your-seat thriller *SUPERNOVA* (2019); Piotr Adamski’s *EASTERN* (2019), a tale of revenge set in a dystopic Poland; Mariusz Wilczynski’s deeply personal, hand-drawn animated film *KILL IT AND LEAVE THIS TOWN* (2020)—winner of the Grand Prize for Feature Animation at the Ottawa International Animation Festival and a FIPRESCI Award at the 2020 Viennale; and Agnieszka Holland’s Soviet Union thriller *MR. JONES* (2019) starring James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, and Peter Sarsgaard.

*All films will screen April 30th – May 6th on BAM’s virtual streaming platform at BAM.org .

BAM Kino Polska 2021 review: ‘NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN’ wows with mystery and misery.

NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN 

On a gray, foggy morning outside a large Polish city, Zhenia (Alec Utgoff), a masseur from the East, enters the lives of the wealthy residents of a gated community. Using hypnotic, almost magical techniques to get a residence permit, he starts working. The well-to-do residents in their cookie-cutter homes seemingly have it all, but they all suffer from an inner sadness, some unexplained longing. The attractive and mysterious newcomer’s hands heal, and Zhenia’s eyes seem to penetrate their souls. To them, his Russian accent sounds like a song from the past, a memory of their seemingly safer childhoods. The latest from writer/director Malgorzata Szumowska (ELLES, IN THE NAME OF) and her longtime collaborator Michal Englert is an unclassifiable meditation on class, immigration, and global warming with touches of magical realism and moments of sober beauty and subtle humor.

Simply beautiful cinematography and one hell of a leading performance consume the audience in BAM’s Kino Polska’s New York premiere of NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN. Alec Utgoff as Zhenia gives an intoxicating performance. There’s something about his gaze that puts you at ease. You’re fully aware there’s a complexity tied to his childhood in Chernobyl. The dialogue from his clients never lets you forget. The nuance of this role is enthralling. The darker mystery slowly makes its way to light as he does his massage and, unbeknownst to them, hypnosis on his clients. They reside in a wealthy, gated estate outside the city. From the outside, each house essentially a replica of the next. Inside, the residents gossip and confess their trauma and innermost thoughts. Sinister undertones always linger. Zhenia’s unique ability to connect with people is merely the beginning of his capabilities. That talent isn’t something that can be hidden indefinitely. The score is haunting and meaningful, heightening this carefully crafted film. Trust me when I say, this movie is special. You’ll be as hypnotized as Zhenia’s clients. NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN is bursting with endless intrigue. It’s a journey that you will never see coming.

NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN 
Dirs. Malgorzata Szumowska & Michal Englert
2020, 113min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles
With Alec Utgoff, Maja Ostaszewska, Agata Kulesza

From Friday, April 30th through Thursday, May 6th BAM presents the fourth edition of *Kino Polska: New Polish Cinema*, bringing together the best new works from Poland’s boundary-pushing filmmakers. The series is presented in partnership with the Polish Cultural Institute New York and co-programmed by Tomek Smolarski. Kino Polska features seven feature films, including the New York premiere of Poland’s Oscar submission *NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN* (2020). Director Malgorzata Szumowska (whose Berlinale prizewinner Mug screened in the 2018 iteration of *Kino Polska*) partners with longtime cinematographer and co-writer Michal Englert’s for this Venice Film Festival hit about an enigmatic healer (Alec Utgoff, “Stranger Things”) who casts a spell over a rich Polish community. This year’s series also includes Mariko Bobrik’s touching debut feature *THE TASTE OF PHO* (2019) about a Vietnamese father and
daughter dealing with grief and the immigrant experience in Warsaw; the bittersweet coming-of-age drama *I NEVER CRY* (2020) from Piotr Domalewski whose previous film SILENT NIGHT won major awards in Poland; Bartosz Kruhlik’s edge-of-your-seat thriller *SUPERNOVA* (2019); Piotr Adamski’s *EASTERN* (2019), a tale of revenge set in a dystopic Poland; Mariusz Wilczynski’s deeply personal, hand-drawn animated film *KILL IT AND LEAVE THIS TOWN* (2020)—winner of the Grand Prize for Feature Animation at the Ottawa International Animation Festival and a FIPRESCI Award at the 2020 Viennale; and Agnieszka Holland’s Soviet Union thriller *MR. JONES* (2019) starring James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, and Peter Sarsgaard.

*All films will screen April 30th – May 6th on BAM’s virtual streaming platform at BAM.org .

Polish Cinema comes to your living room courtesy of BAM’s film program ‘Kino Polska: New Polish Cinema’

From Friday, April 30th through Thursday, May 6th BAM presents the fourth edition of *Kino Polska: New Polish Cinema*, bringing together the best new works from Poland’s boundary-pushing filmmakers. The series is presented in partnership with the Polish Cultural Institute New York and co-programmed by Tomek Smolarski. Kino Polska features seven feature films, including the New York premiere of Poland’s Oscar submission *NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN* (2020). Director Malgorzata Szumowska (whose Berlinale prizewinner Mug screened in the 2018 iteration of *Kino Polska*) partners with longtime cinematographer and co-writer Michal Englert’s for this Venice Film Festival hit about an enigmatic healer (Alec Utgoff, “Stranger Things”) who casts a spell over a rich Polish community. This year’s series also includes Mariko Bobrik’s touching debut feature *THE TASTE OF PHO* (2019) about a Vietnamese father and
daughter dealing with grief and the immigrant experience in Warsaw; the bittersweet coming-of-age drama *I NEVER CRY* (2020) from Piotr Domalewski whose previous film SILENT NIGHT won major awards in Poland; Bartosz Kruhlik’s edge-of-your-seat thriller *SUPERNOVA* (2019); Piotr Adamski’s *EASTERN* (2019), a tale of revenge set in a dystopic Poland; Mariusz Wilczynski’s deeply personal, hand-drawn animated film *KILL IT AND LEAVE THIS TOWN* (2020)—winner of the Grand Prize for Feature Animation at the Ottawa International Animation Festival and a FIPRESCI Award at the 2020 Viennale; and Agnieszka Holland’s Soviet Union thriller *MR. JONES* (2019) starring James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, and Peter Sarsgaard.

*All films will screen April 30th – May 6th on BAM’s virtual streaming platform at BAM.org .

I NEVER CRY
Dir. Piotr Domalewski
2020, 98min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles
With Zofia Stafiej, Arkadiusz Jakubik, Kinga Preis

Seventeen-year-old Ola sets off to Ireland to bring her father’s body back to Poland after he dies in a building site accident. But never mind her dad, Ola wants to know if he had saved the money for a car he had promised her. Dealing with a foreign bureaucracy in her own streetwise way, Ola finally gets to know the father who had been largely absent in her life. A bittersweet coming-of-age drama that explores the perplexity of family bonds, illustrating the gloomy landscape of today’s Europe.


MR. JONES
Dir. Agnieszka Holland
2019, 119min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles
With James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard

Agnieszka Holland’s thriller, set on the eve of world WWII, sees Hitler’s rise to power and Stalin’s Soviet propaganda machine pushing their “utopia” to the Western world. Meanwhile an ambitious young journalist, Gareth Jones (Norton) travels to Moscow to uncover the truth behind the propaganda, but then gets a tip that could expose an international conspiracy, one that could cost him and his informant their lives. Jones goes on a life-or-death journey to uncover the truth behind the façade that would later inspire George Orwell’s seminal book Animal Farm.


NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN 
Dirs. Malgorzata Szumowska & Michal Englert
2020, 113min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles
With Alec Utgoff, Maja Ostaszewska, Agata Kulesza

On a gray, foggy morning outside a large Polish city, Zhenia (Alec Utgoff), a masseur from the East, enters the lives of the wealthy residents of a gated community. Using hypnotic, almost magical techniques to get a residence permit, he starts working. The well-to-do residents in their cookie-cutter homes seemingly have it all, but they all suffer from an inner sadness, some unexplained longing. The attractive and mysterious newcomer’s hands heal, and Zhenia’s eyes seem to penetrate their souls. To them, his Russian accent sounds like a song from the past, a memory of their seemingly safer childhoods. The latest from writer/director Malgorzata Szumowska (ELLES, IN THE NAME OF) and her longtime collaborator Michal Englert is an unclassifiable meditation on class, immigration, and global warming with touches of magical realism and moments of sober beauty and subtle humor.


SUPERNOVA
Dir. Bartosz Kruhlik
2019, 78min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles

Three men, one place and one event that will change the life of each one of them. A universal tale, kept in a realistic style, tells the story of a few hours in the life of a rural community. The film raises questions about the essence of chance and destiny. A bloody story, oscillating on the edge of drama, thriller and disaster cinema.


KILL IT AND LEAVE THIS TOWN
Dir. Mariusz Wilczynski
2020, 88min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles

Fleeing from despair after losing those dearest to him, the hero hides in a safe land of memories, where time stands still and all those dear to him are alive. Over the years, a city grows in his imagination. One day, literary heroes and cartoon childhood idols, who in the consciousness of the successive generations are forever young and wearing short pants, come to live there, uninvited. When our hero discovers they have all grown old and that eternal youth does not exist, he decides to return to real life. And the amazing characters living in his imagination lead him back to the real world.


EASTERN
Dir. Piotr Adamski
2019, 78min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles

In a dystopian world regulated by an inexorable, patriarchal code, the Nowak and Kowalski families have been embroiled in a vendetta for years. When the Nowaks’ son dies at the hand of Klara Kowalska, his sister, Ewa, is faced with a choice between carrying out revenge in the name of honour on the one hand and her own life and freedom on the other.


THE TASTE OF PHO
Dir. Mariko Bobrik
2019, 84min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles

A Warsaw-based Vietnamese cook struggles to fit into the European culture, which his ten-year-old daughter has already embraced as her own. A story about love, misunderstanding and food.

Fantaspoa 2021 reviews: Two neon-soaked films about unresolved trauma in ‘Bloodshot Heart’ & ‘Playdurizm’

Fantaspoa 2021

BLOODSHOT HEART

At 44, Hans still lives with his mother. When Matilda, a tenant half his age, moves in, Hans relives old memories and is infatuated. To win her love, Hans comes up with a dangerous plan.

Writer-Director Parish Malfitano has given Fantaspoa audiences a hallucinatory, Giallo-inspired mindfuck with Bloodshot Heart. As if our leading man Hans (Richard James Allen) weren’t quirky enough, we learn that his mysterious ex and his domineering mother have the ultimate power over his perceived reality. When Matilda enters the picture, Hans hatches a plan to win her over that has dire and violent consequences for everyone involved. We’re never completely sure what we’re seeing is real or not. The bait and switch of characters are abundant. Color, score, and costumes become all-consuming. Richard James Allen‘s portrayal of Hans is something you must experience. His lovesick puppy act masks all the mysterious and deeply troubling emotions inside his head. The nuance he brings to Hans is astounding. Bloodshot Heart will leave you in a dizzied state. It is wild.


PLAYDURIZM

When a teenager finds himself caught in a glitchy-glitzy reality with his onscreen male idol, he does all he can to be possessed by this man and ignore the violent clues of how he got there.

I’m not going to lie. Playdurizm is extremely difficult to watch. You have no clue what the hell is going on until the finale. But damn it’s cool to look at. Eccentric costumes, neon-soaked production design, bright green vomit, all make your head spin. This is the perfect entry for the festival circuit. Brave Fantaspoa audiences will either eat it up or turn away and gag. With all the WTF that occurs in this film, it pays off in the end. Trigger warning: The amount of sexual violence in this film is jarring. Director Gem Deger (who also stars as D) definitely takes a colorful approach to PTSD. Playdurizm is a striking, LGBTQA+ foray into the genre realm.


Brazil’s long-running Fantaspoa Fantastic Film Festival is currently celebrating its seventeenth edition online and completely free of charge. The 2021 edition of the beloved South American genre festival is supported by a special grant from the Brazilian government, which is offered to relevant cultural events amidst the pandemic. Running through April 18th, the seventeenth edition of Fantaspoa features more than 100 shorts and 50 feature films from more than 35 countries. All festival screenings will have a cap of 3,000 views, and all will be geo-blocked to Brazilian viewers.

These films are part of Fantaspoa 2021, which runs for free on the streaming platform Darkflix, from April 9th through the 18th. All film screenings are geo-blocked to Brazil, with additional details available at www.fantaspoa.com.

SXSW 2021 reviews: ‘The Lost Sons’ & ‘United States Vs. Reality Winner’ are two mind blowing docs from this year’s virtual fest.

THE LOST SONS

1960s Chicago, a baby is kidnapped from a hospital. Fifteen months later, a toddler is abandoned. Could he be the same baby? In a tale of breathtaking twists and turns, two mysteries begin to unravel and dark family secrets are revealed.

When my son was born in 2016, I remember the extreme level of security on the floor we were staying on. We all had bracelets on with his name, while he also had an electronic ankle bracelet which would beep if he were taken past a certain threshold. The idea of some stranger coming in and taking my child terrified me. I hoped to God that I never heard that alarm go off while we stayed in the hospital. Reenactments, newspaper clips, photographs, archival footage, home video, and sit-down interviews with witnesses all make up the massively intriguing and mystery-laden doc. Who is Paul Fronczak? This is a loaded question. The Lost Sons attempts to answer this question and so many others. The editing is mesmerizing. You don’t have a moment to catch your breath as this story unfolds. The twists and turns will shock you. They are relentless. I found myself shouting at the television more often than usual in one true crime sitting. It unravels like a James Patterson novel. If you are a homegrown detective, The Lost Sons at SXSW21 will be a true highlight for you.


UNITED STATES Vs. REALITY WINNER

A state of secrets and a ruthless hunt for whistleblowers – this is the story of 25-year-old NSA contractor Reality Winner.

Reality Leigh Winner saw something that she thought the entire country should know. She decided the public had a right to evidence the government was keeping secret. For this act, she was severely punished. The line between right and wrong can be blurry, but in this instance, it feels clear as day that Reality Winner was right. The film follows Reality’s mother, Billie J. Winner-Davis, as she tracks the public and the court’s response to Reality’s case. We learn about the kind of person Reality is through diary entries and jailhouse phone calls. She’s funny, talented, with a sharp wit. With the full understanding that most documentaries have an agenda, I cannot imagine someone walking away from the film without a ferocious sense of injustice. Including never-before-heard audio from Reality’s FBI  initial interview, sitdowns with her attorneys, family members, and fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden, you will finally learn what was in the document in question. Understanding the content is key to grasping the fact that Michael Flynn was pardoned and Reality Winner was given the harshest sentence in history for any whistleblower. I cannot stress this enough. I am thankful that United States Vs. Reality Winner is being shown to audiences when Joe Biden is now President. I join in the urgent call for justice. #FreeRealityWinner

SXSW 2021 reviews: ‘Nuevo Rico’ & ‘The Thing That Ate The Birds’

Nuevo Rico

A brother and sister stumble upon a celestial secret that propels them into Reggaetón stardom, but at what price?

This mixed media animation is a literal bright spot in the shorts program. It’s a little Adult Swim, a dash of video game, part music video, all drenched in neon-colored deliciousness. Twins Barbie and Vico find out about the trappings of fame and dismissing their culture the hard way. In 16 minutes it manages to touch on socio-economics, politics, and identity, just to name a few relevant issues. Writer-director Kristian Mercado uses voice-over, songs, and dialogue to communicate this unique short.  Angélica Agélviz‘s character designs are striking. I could easily watch an expanded series about these characters. There’s enough content to warrant more in-depth episodes. Plus, you won’t be able to get enough of the distinctive look of Nuevo Rico. It’s just plain cool.”


The Thing That Ate The Birds

Set on the North Yorkshire Moors, the film follows Abel, the Head Gamekeeper as he discovers the thing that is eating his grouse. His blunt and violent response brings the menace back home shattering his already crumbling relationship with his wife.

The short has its SXSW premiere from Gunpowder & Sky’s horror brand, ALTER – The Thing That Ate The Birds by writer and director duo Sophie Mair (Ella, And the Baby Screamed) and Dan Gitsham (Ella, And the Baby Screamed). If this is meant to be a treatment for a feature, I want to see that feature. The score is classic Hitchcock strings. The cinematography is gorgeous and that last shot is pure Ari Aster, unapologetic horror. It’s one hell of an introduction to those who are unfamiliar with Mair and Gitsham. Someone, please give them a huge budget and the freedom to scare the crap out of us in a longer form.

ABOUT ALTER

ALTER is a horror brand for novel and grounded stories exploring the human condition through warped perspectives.

Giving voice to emerging, diverse, and established filmmakers, ALTER’s owned and operated channel is distributed across YouTube and Facebook, with more than 15M monthly uniques,  where three short films or series are released each week. In addition to curating and distributing award-winning content, ALTER develops unique stories with some of the most innovative minds in the genre through its ALTER Studio projects – which are not bound to a particular platform or format.

In October, ALTER, along with Executive Producer Sam Raimi (Evil DeadSpider-Man), premiered Part 2 of the horror series “50 States of Fright”, starring Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), Travis Fimmel (“Vikings”, Warcraft: The Beginning) and Christina Ricci (“Monster,” “Z: The Beginning of Everything”). In 2019, the BAFTA-nominated horror short, The Blue Door starring (Gemma Whelan – Game of ThronesThe End of the F***ing World) premiered on ALTER, and earlier this year it was also announced that “Moreau”, a sci-fi TV series that puts a modern spin on the classic novel, “The Island of Dr. Moreau” by H.G. Wells has gone into development and will be written by Zack Stentz (X-Men: First Class, Thor, Rim Of The World). In addition, the psychological thriller “Horror Accidental”, based on the Japanese TV drama series, ‘Horror Accidental 1&2’, will be brought to life by writer and director Evan Daugherty (‘Divergent,’ ‘Tomb Raider’).

Additional releases include the brand’s first unscripted podcast series, “ALTER Weekly”, which gives its audience a deep dive into the past, present, and future of the horror genre; short film La Noria, directed by Carlos Beana, that won best-animated film at The Webby Awards; CAM, winner of Best Screenplay at 2018’s Fantasia Festival and was acquired by Netflix; the official 2018 Sundance Film Festival selection, Summer of 84, the thriller directed by RKSS (Turbo Kid); and the  SXSW selection, Villains, starring Bill Skarsgard (It) and Maika Monroe (It Follows).

ABOUT GUNPOWDER & SKY

Gunpowder & Sky is an independent studio that creates and distributes feature films, series, short-form content, podcasts, and channels, bridging digital and traditional entertainment.

Since its inception in 2016, Gunpowder & Sky has released more than 30 feature films and series, more than 750 short films in theatres, on TVOD, and leading platforms such as HBO, Netflix, MTV, Hulu, Sky, Showtime, Spotify, Amazon, YouTube, Quibi, Audible and Discovery.

Notable films and series include 69: The Saga Of Danny Hernandez, Her Smell, Everybody’s Everything, Prospect, Sea Fever, The Little Hours, Cam, Hearts Beat Loud, Lords of Chaos, Tragedy Girls, Betting on Zero, Summer of 84, Villains, Survive, 50 States of Fright and Drawn & Recorded.

With a collective audience of more than 65M monthly unique viewers, Gunpowder & Sky also owns and operates content brands that include DUST, the number one free sci-fi channel; ALTER, a leading horror brand, and CUT, an unscripted & comedy brand that is home to the successful formats “Truth or Drink” and “Fear Pong”. DUST, ALTER, and CUT are distributed on all major streaming platforms including Apple, Amazon, Comcast, Facebook, Peacock, Roku, Samsung, Sinclair, Sling, Vizio, Xumo, and YouTube.

Gunpowder & Sky also recently launched its premium audio studio, and in less than one year has established a leading position in music and sci-fi, claiming #1 fiction podcast on Apple and the #1 podcast on Audible.

With offices in Los Angeles and New York, Gunpowder & Sky was founded by Van Toffler and Floris Bauer, in partnership with The Chernin Group and AT&T.

SXSW 2021 reviews: ‘Stuffed’, ‘Don’t Peek’, ‘The Moogai’ are all chilling and unique shorts.

STUFFED

A musical film about a taxidermist who dreams of stuffing a human and a man she meets online so afraid of ageing he volunteers to be her specimen. An unexpected romantic spark between them complicates their plans.

Honestly, you had me at the categories “Musical, Horror”. This is the perfect short for genre fans who are clamoring to get back into theatres of all kinds. The score is wonderfully quirky. It will strike a chord with Sondheim fans. It’s is very Sweeney Todd inspired in sound and darkness. Written by Joss Holden-Rea and Theo Rhys, directed by Rhys, and music and lyrics by Holden-Rea, these two make one hell of a creative team. (I’m begging for a feature-length version of this story) Actors Anthony Young and Alison Fitzjohn have gorgeous voices. Their ability to connect with one another and the audience is a thing of beauty. The cinematography is carefully curated. The practical FX are outstanding. STUFFED is a unique experience you do not want to miss out on. This is the magic that audiences of SXSW salivate over.


DON’T PEAK

A young woman discovers a frightening video game character intent on crossing into the real world.

It’s rare that I jump and feel the need to cover my eyes these days while watching horror. I’ve consumed so much I can usually predict what’s eventually going to happen. In this hair-raising short, a game of Animal Crossing becomes a nightmare when an invited entity crosses from gameplay to real life. I found my heart in my throat. To be that successful in terrifying me in under 7 minutes, I say, “Bravo, writer-director Julian Terry. You got me.”


THE MOOGAI

An Aboriginal psychological horror, THE MOOGAI is the story of a family terrorized by a child-stealing spirit.

Whether a literal interpretation of an actual demon or not, so many theories swirled in my mind as I sweat through my t-shirt watching this short film. This feels like an intense form of gaslighting. Or maybe it’s a product of sleep deprivation. Perhaps it’s Postpartum? The terror is seen and unseen and in this short, the performances take you to the darkest parts of your mind. As a parent, it’s beyond unsettling.

 

SXSW 2021 reviews: Two of our favorite comedies from this year’s virtual SXSW fest ‘Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break’ & ‘Recovery’ bring the belly laughs.

PAUL DOOD’S DEADLY LUNCH BREAK

A weedy charity-shop worker is set on winning the big national talent show. But when the actions of 5 selfish people cause him to miss his audition, he sets out to seek deathly revenge. It’s 1 lunch break, 5 spectacular murders.

Paul and his enthusiastic Mum have stars in their eyes as they audition for their most famous talent show. The audience can feel Paul’s frustration as he deals with imbecilic behavior from every person that crosses his path. You’ll be screaming with laughter while you seethe on his behalf. Poor Paul is the victim of hilarious and slow-moving circumstances. People are wrecked but Paul is a saint until he reaches his limit. This film is hilariously what we’d all love to do to horrible people. Tom Meeten as Paul is brilliant. He’s vulnerable, funny, sweet, and pushed completely past his breaking point. The performance becomes so nuanced. The script allows Meeten to not only establish his character acting ability but to dive headfirst into madness. It’s relentlessly weird and wonderful. Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break is a genre-bending ride for SXSW21 audiences. You will go through the wringer of emotional turbulence while watching this film. You get everything in this film. Every single ancillary performance is a knockout. The editing is thoroughly engaging and the practical FX are gruesome. The soundtrack is triumphant. Reminiscent of last year’s Spree, in that it utilizes live social media to motivate the protagonist. But it’s not that simple. Paul Dood succeeds in its lovable lead. You’re just rooting for him to have anything go right. It’s irreverent, clever, and endlessly fun. Stay for the credits.


RECOVERY

Two directionless sisters brave a cross-country road trip to rescue their grandmother from a COVID outbreak at her nursing home.

Crisp cinematography and genuinely laugh-out-loud situational comedy make RECOVERY a real gem at this year’s virtual SXSW. It’s an appropriate way to watch a film that directly deals with the pandemic with completely relatable hilarity. If you’re not doubled over watching this movie, I will be shocked. The soundtrack is kickass eclectic. The writing and performances are most likely so hilarious based on the fact that writers/stars Whitney Call and Mallory Everton have been best friends forever. It would be impossible to determine what is scripted and what is improvised. I thought a film directly dealing with COVID would drive me bonkers. In this instance, it was just the opposite. Whitney Call and Mallory Everton manage to find levity in the ways (albeit necessary) we have been forced to adapt. Dealing with those who are, shall we say, less than committed to other’s safety, finding ways to keep ourselves motivated, coming to the rescue of our loved ones. This is a classic road movie on crack. It is everything you need it to be and a million tiny things more. I could have easily watched an entire series based on this script. As it stands, RECOVERY will more than satisfy my funnybone. I formally request to be their third best friend when this thing is over.

 

SXSW 2021 reviews: ‘I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking)’ & ‘Sound Of Violence’

I’M FINE (THANKS FOR ASKING)

When a recently widowed mother becomes houseless, she convinces her 8-year-old daughter that they are only camping for fun while working to get them off of the streets.

Women have been trained to be pleasers. Asking for help has not been hardwired into our DNA. It takes a lot for most of us to ask for help. In I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking) we follow Danny over the course of one very long day. She is desperately trying to earn the last $200 she needs to secure a new apartment for her and her daughter Wes. It is not going well. As she pounds the pavement to get them out of this tragic position, the reality of her situation slowly takes hold. I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking) boasts a genuine screenplay about grief and struggle. Kelley Kali‘s performance, direction, and writing are feminist-driven and incredibly honest. From comical to heartfelt, it was refreshing to hear the juxtaposition in dialogue. There are scenes where Kali allows herself the express exasperation. Others in which she pleads for leniency. Each encounter is equally important. This character is a fully fleshed-out woman with flaws and determination. Kali shows us she’s got the “it” factor. In fact, her performance is so down-to-earth to earth you might think this was a documentary. It’s raw and revelatory. So much about this film feels like the representation we need to see more of. 


SOUND OF VIOLENCE

Alexis recovered her hearing during the brutal murder of her family when she was ten. The visceral experience awakened synesthetic abilities in her and started her on an orphaned path of self-discovery through the healing music of brutal violence. She goes on to pursue a career teaching and experimenting to find new sounds. She is supported and loved by her roommate Marie who is unaware of the dark secrets behind Alexis’ unique music and the part she unknowingly plays. Faced with the likelihood of losing her hearing again, Alexis escalates her pursuit of her masterpiece through gruesome sound experiments and devastating designs. She won’t let anything stop her not even love.

This film is definitely about trauma. That’s undeniable. Alexis is dealing with synaesthesia (the ability to see sound) and intermittent bouts of losing the hearing she has regained. Yes, it’s a lot. Her PTSD coping strategy goes off the rails faster than anticipated. The sound editing in this film is key to its success. Color is another factor that helps the audience immerse themselves into Alexis’ mindset. To auditorily and visually understand her euphoria is important here. This is the film’s most successful aspect. It is truly glorious. But something stalls the overall flow of the film. What I think is off is the order in which we see her unusual “Experiments” occur. The nonchalance is of it all needed to be explored more. I would have loved to see some scenes with a psychotherapist juxtaposed with the behavior. Is it fair to assess this film as one woman’s perfect form of torture porn? Maybe not. It’s certainly more complex. The beginning had so much potential but it really jumps the shark about 30 minutes in. Jasmin Savoy Brown as Alexis is as committed as they come, but I think the material fails her. Detective Fuentes’s dialogue is so over the top it reads farcical.  There is a lot to work with but Sound of Violence ultimately becomes silly. Alexis’s journey begins as extreme commitment and mutates into complete disassociation.

SXSW 2021 review: ‘HOW IT ENDS’ tackles reconciliation with laughter and tears.

HOW IT ENDS

On the last day on Earth, one woman goes on a journey through LA to make it to her last party before the world ends, running into an eclectic cast of characters along the way.

After watching How It Ends, I feel a physical yearning to create a list of people that I would talk to if I had one day left to live. The entire structure of How It Ends revolves around Liza making peace with or confronting people in her life. Every encounter is unique. Some crazy, some touching, some heartbreaking, but all accompanied by the physical manifestation of her younger self. Who wouldn’t love to be forced to deal with your past… or not. What would you want/need to do on your last day?

Cailee Spaeny as younger Liza is fantastic. She’s grounded, relatable, and a total natural. Her character is crafted in the spirit of the unspoiled young mind but carries the weight of adult curated anxieties, fear, and regret. She’s a star. Zoe Lister-Jones is one of my favorite people, generally speaking. After Band Aid, I started following her on social media. I vibe with her humor, aesthetic, writing, singing, and overall attitude of goodness. Her comic timing is everything. There’s just something about her that puts you at ease and yet continually keeps you on your toes. She can do no wrong.

Written and directed by Lister-Jones and her husband Daryl Wein, this script is phenomenal. The conversations with her younger self go from fun to revelatory. Oh, the things I would tell my younger self if given the opportunity! We’re all just hurt kids deep down. I also adored the fact that Liza walks everywhere. It gives the day an actual sense of time. Alongside Lister-Jones and Spaeny, the ancillary cast is packed with household names like Whitney Cummings, Bradley Whitford, Helen Hunt, Colin Hanks, Olivia Wilde, and Fred Armisen. Ultimately, How It Ends is about self-acceptance, resilience, and forgiveness. You will laugh and cry. It’s as fun as it is important.

SXSW 2021 reviews: ‘Language Lessons’ translates universally, and ‘Violet’ silences the voices that haunt us.

LANGUAGE LESSONS

A Spanish teacher and her student develop an unexpected friendship.

Unique, shocking, insightful, complex, beautiful, these are a few words that describe one of the best films from this year’s SXSW virtual festival. Two strangers become connected through chance and a gift of Spanish lessons. Cariño and Adam communicate through zoom, voicemail, genuine human connection. Mark Duplass plays Adam. Unsurprising that he is completely natural and down to earth. You’re instantly enamored with his performance. Natalie Morales is charming and honest. She’s funny and relatable. Their chemistry is the stuff of movie magic.  I would love to see them paired up again and again. They completely work around the entire subject of Covid. This could be happening at any point in time and that’s nice to feel right now. Ultimately, this screenplay is about the human spirit without a filter. Written by Morales and Duplass, and directed by Morales, Language Lessons is profound and revealing. It will touch you in ways you won’t expect.

 

VIOLET

A film development executive realizes that “guiding voice” inside her head has been lying to her about everything.

I don’t know if a film could be any more relatable to everyone. My husband used to point out how negatively I spoke about myself. Once I noticed the self-deprecating behavior, I started noticing my mother doing the same thing. It’s a learned behavior. One we permit to exist. Olivia Munn, who wowed me back in The Newsroom, represents so many of us. This issue is ageless, ingrained, suffocating. Her vulnerability and honesty shine and we’re better for it. Justin Theroux‘s voice acting is the dickheaded tone we all know too well. What a fantastic choice. The internal battle of never feeling like we’re enough is universal. In Violet, the visual juxtaposition of handwritten thoughts, like a right-brain/left-brain battle, and Theroux as “The Voice” is perfection. When you finally catch onto the overall picture, it’s really quite genius. It’s telegraphed without our knowledge early on. Writer-director Justine Bateman nails her feature debut. What a complex and carefully curated script. Women, in particular, are going to be locked into this film.

SXSW 2021 review: ‘JAKOB’S WIFE’ gives us everything to sink our teeth into.

JAKOB’S WIFE

Anne, married to a small-town Minister, feels her life has been shrinking over the past 30 years. Encountering “The Master” brings her a new sense of power and an appetite to live bolder. However, the change comes with a heavy body count.

Casting two of the biggest horror legends in Larry Fessenden and Barbara Crampton was pure genius. Fessenden gets his comeuppance as a misogynist minister and clueless husband when he stumbles upon the reason his wife is so different as of late. Witnessing him bungling around is extremely satisfying. His chemistry with Crampton is perfection. Barbara plays Anne; a woman who is not allowed to have a point of view, let alone shine. She is the dutiful wife who puts her dreams aside for stability. Her initial sadness is palpable. Once circumstances change, Crampton gets to play a new completely new role. She is fierce as hell. I loved every second of this character’s second chance at life. Her performance is borderline camp and I could not get enough of her. Crampton never seems to stop working.  After this role, I can imagine she’ll be even more overwhelmed with offers.

Travis Stevens does an incredible job of highlighting the mundane and oftentimes loathsome trappings of marriage. The result of 30 years of oppression that Anne tolerates is infuriating but creates the perfect backdrop for her arc. This script is about the restructuring of power. Even the title is genius, subconsciously telling you that Anne isn’t in charge of her own identity. I laughed out loud and cheered audibly when Anne begins to stand up for herself. The pure, unadulterated sass is magic. After Girl On The Third Floor, I expected a lot from Stevens. Boy, does he deliver the goods. (Keep an eye out for CM Punk to make a quick appearance, btw.) Jakob’s Wife has kick-ass music from Tara Busch. Yvonne Reddy‘s costumes are carefully curated to reflect the vibrance of Anne’s newfound confidence. Based on Girl On The Third Floor, where bodily fluids were aplenty, I assumed the gore factor would be high. In fact, the amount of blood is glorious and over-the-top to the point of giggle fits. Stevens’ dialogue maintains its wit and unfiltered outbursts. Perhaps my favorite bit comes in the form of Crampton telling a little girl to, “Fuck Off.” But his would not be the only time I guffawed during Jakob’s Wife. A scene that has Anne rearranging her living room furniture is anything but ordinary. It’s revelatory. There’s a Death Becomes Her wackiness to it all. As one of the all-time great genre films, this is a huge compliment. Visually, the Master is clearly inspired by Salem’s Lot and the classic Nosferatu. This film is not just a vampire movie, it’s a complex look at relationships. It’s a feminist awakening. There is much to love about Jakob’s Wife. It’s one of the best films from this year’s SXSW virtual fest. It’s destined to be a massive hit, breaking the genre molds to make Crampton, Fessenden, and Travis Stevens household names.

SXSW 2021 review: ‘Broadcast Signal Intrusion’ and ‘Alien On Stage’

BROADCAST SIGNAL INTRUSION

In the late 90s, a video archivist unearths a series of sinister pirate broadcasts and becomes obsessed with uncovering the dark conspiracy behind them.

Harry Shum Jr was one of the most underutilized actors on GLEE. With a true leading man role in Broadcast Signal Intrusion in the Midnighters section, he was up against genre fans’ huge expectations. I think he definitely delivered. He gave us brooding vulnerability and a badass attitude that played well against the jarring imagery of the tapes. They were truly skin crawling. The film’s score has a throwback feel. It’s pure noir thriller deliciousness. The cinematography is certainly noteworthy. There is no denying the inspiration from Brian De Palma‘s ‘Blow Out.’ Gentry’s finale leaves a lot of unanswered questions but Shum holds his own in an inspired by true events screenplay. I was fully invested as he went down the rabbit hole of mystery and obsession. Please cast him in more roles with the complexity of Broadcast Signal Intrusion. A few things that stuck out like a sore thumb; James’ newly acquired detective skills get him further than any FBI agent, and the mystery of his stalker breaks late then peters out to less of an impact. Aside from a few script tweaks, this is a solid entry from this year’s lineup and well worth being disturbed by.


ALIEN ON STAGE

Alien On Stage is a Documentary about a unique crew of Dorset Bus Drivers whose amateur dramatics group decides to ditch doing another pantomime and try something different. Having never done anything like it before, they spent a year creating a serious adaptation of the sci-fi, horror film, Alien; finding ingenious homemade solutions to pay homage to the original film. The show is a crushing flop but fate gives them a second chance to find their audience. Whilst still adjusting to the idea that their serious show is actually a comedy, the group finds out they’re suddenly being whisked from their village hall to a London West End theatre to perform this accidental masterpiece for one night only.

This charming doc is the perfect family watch. More specifically, it is theatre nerd deliciousness. It’s Waiting For Guffman in real life. The rehearsals are almost painful to watch. I felt director Dave’s anxiety as his cast muddled through forgotten lines, missed cues, and disastrous blocking. You’re just rooting for it all to come together in the end. Each actor has a genuine love for the show. Most of them are completely clueless about dialogue delivery, making it a laugh riot for a hyped-up, tuned-in, sold-out audience. The amount of work these bus drivers and their family and friends put into this stage production of Alien is astounding. Every set piece, prop, and costume is made by hand with more love than a Broadway play. You will absolutely fall in love with them all. You’ll be cheering along with their live audience. Bravo to directors Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer for having the foresight to nurture this local charity production and turn cameras on them. Everyone involved in Alien On Stage deserves a standing ovation.

SXSW21 review: ‘Lily Topples The World’

LILY TOPPLES THE WORLD

WORLD PREMIERE – Documentary Feature Competition

LILY TOPPLES THE WORLD follows 20-year-old sensation Lily Hevesh – the world’s most acclaimed domino toppler and the only girl in her field – as she rises as an artist, role model, and young woman.  Filmed for over 3 years across countless cities and featuring appearances by Jimmy Fallon, Katy Perry, Will Smith, YouTuber Casey Neistat, and a steady stream of Gen-Z creators, LILY TOPPLES THE WORLD is a coming-of-age story cloaked within a unique portrait of an artist, a story of how passion and artistry can make dreams come true, and an unlikely American tale of a quiet Chinese adoptee who transforms into a global artistic force with over 1 billion YouTube views.  From director Jeremy Workman (The World Before Your Feet) and from executive producer Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), in her first film in a producing role.

I accidentally stumbled upon domino toppling videos on YouTube with my 3 and 5-year-old. We went down a rabbit hole of competition and exhibition videos and haven’t looked back. Little did I know that one of the best domino artists in the world was already on our radar. Lily Hevesh builds mesmerizing creations. SXSW21 doc Lily Topples The World follows Hevish on a journey of self-discovery and entrepreneurship.

After her freshman year, Lily decides to leave college to pursue dominoes full-time, despite finally feeling like she’s made real friends. When you step back, it’s easy to see the metaphor from this choice in respect to her artistry. This was the first domino in what would become Lily’s journey to conquer her own goals, both through social media, business, and personal growth. Patience, creativity, and engineering are only a few attributes it takes to master domino toppling. There’s real math involved, but Lily also manages to make it accessible through classes and her lovely disposition. She is incredibly generous and humble with her fan base. Her male peers respect the hell out of her. It was so refreshing hearing the way they spoke of her talents. Her goals are huge. Lily wants her own brand of toppling domino. She and her father pound the pavement to find a partner to make the best product that’s ever existed. Can she hustle the corporate world and navigate her artistry at the same time? Lily might be small in stature but she is a huge force to reckon with. She knows her stuff. You’ll be in awe of her ability to own a room, regardless of who is around her, all while maintaining grace, poise, honesty, and ambition.

In the doc, we learn about her adoption, her childhood, and during the course of filming, we watch her grow into a fully self-aware young adult. Mixed with her simply stunning domino displays, Lily Topples The World gives parents and kids hope that nonconforming is still magical. You’ll find your niche in the world and they’ll always be people who want to be part of it. Happiness begets happiness. Kelly Marie Tran executive produces for the first time. After experiencing her own racist backlash from her role in Star Wars, backing a project about a Chinese American girl who also receives vile troll comments feels right. Lily Topples The World is triumphant. Lily Hevesh is the kind of role model we need on screen.

Directed by Jeremy Workman

Produced by Jeremy Workman & Robert J. Lyons

Executive Produced by Kelly Marie Tran

Edited by Jeremy Workman

Cinematography by Michael Lisnet & Jeremy Workman

SXSW21: What we’re excited to dive into at this year’s virtual fest.

SXSW21 is virtual, allowing it to reach a wider audience. Screenings begin Tuesday and we’re already salivating at the lineup. Here are just a few films we’re excited to watch.


NARRATIVE:

RECOVERY

Directors: Mallory Everton, Stephen Meek, Screenwriters: Whitney Call, Mallory Everton, Producers: Scott Christopherson, Stephen Meek, Abi Nielson Hunsaker
Two directionless sisters brave a cross-country road trip to rescue their grandmother from a COVID outbreak at her nursing home. Cast List: Whitney Call, Mallory Everton, Anne Sward Hansen, Julia Jolley, Baylee Thornock, Jessica Drolet, Stephen Meek, Tyler Andrew Jones, Noah Kershisnik, Justin Call (World Premiere)

It’s officially been a year since we locked ourselves in our homes. If anyone can make pandemic humor relatable, it’s Whitney Call and Mallory Everton with their improv and sketch comedy background. Also, the fact that they’ve known each other forever, I’m guessing that will only help make this the most believable chemistry between co-stars. 

WITCH HUNT

Director/Screenwriter: Elle Callahan, Producers: Eric B. Fleischman, Maurice Fadida
In a modern America where witches are real and witchcraft is illegal, a sheltered teenager must face her own demons and prejudices as she helps two young witches avoid law enforcement and cross the southern border to asylum in Mexico. Cast List: Gideon Adlon, Elizabeth Mitchell, Abigail Cowen, Nicholas and Cameron Crovetti, Christian Camargo (World Premiere)

I know women who practice witchcraft. To think their wellbeing could ever be put in jeopardy is a terrifying thought. Originally slated to screen at SXSW2020, it’s time to share this film with the masses. The synopsis alone gets the gears turning on possible political parallels from the past few years.

PAUL DOOD’s DEADLY LUNCH BREAK

Director: Nick Gillespie, Screenwriters: Brook Driver, Matt White, Nick Gillespie, Producer: Finn Bruce
When Paul’s chances of winning a national talent contest are ruined and his dreams of fame are slashed, he plans a deathly revenge rampage!! 1 lunch break, 5 spectacular murders! Each wrongdoer dispatched in a fitting manner by the sparkly suited Paul! Cast List: Tom Meeten, Katherine Parkinson, Kris Marshall, Alice Lowe, Mandeep Dhillon, Johnny Vegas, Steve Oram, Craig Parkinson, Kevin Bishop, Pippa Haywood (World Premiere)

Here is another cast list that grabbed my attention right away. Plus sequins and murder aren’t usually synonymous. British humor gets me every single time.

JAKOB’S WIFE

Director: Travis Stevens, Screenwriters: Travis Stevens, Kathy Charles, Mark Steensland, Producers: Barbara Crampton, Bob Portal, Travis Stevens, Inderpal Singh
The disappearance of a young woman threatens to change the beige and banal lives of Anne Fedder (Barbara Crampton) and her pastor husband Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden) forever. Cast List: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Bonnie Aarons, Mark Kelly, Sarah Lind, Robert Rusler, Nyisha Bell, Phil Brooks (World Premiere)

Travis Stevens gave me one of the most gagworthy practical FX-filled films in 2019 with GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR. Starring genre queen (and Timelord in my own mind) Barbara Crampton and the legendary Larry Fessenden, the buzz around this newest work is electric. Crampton’s uncanny ability to own the screen with a glance will undoubtedly captivate audiences, yet again. Also, knowing that Stevens is a huge horror fan himself (his producer credits give him away as does his totally down-to-earth Twitter feed) gives me the warm and fuzzies knowing that he’ll take care of audiences in all the ways we need.


DOCUMENTARY:

LILY TOPPLES THE WORLD

Director: Jeremy Workman, Producers: Jeremy Workman, Robert J. Lyons
Lily Topples The World follows 20-year-old Lily Hevesh — the world’s most acclaimed domino toppler and the only woman in her field — in a coming-of-age story of artistry, passion, and unlikely triumph. Executive produced by Kelly Marie Tran. (World Premiere)

My kids (and I) have become obsessed with toppling videos on YouTube. Once you go down that rabbit hole, you’re not coming out. The sheer patience it must take to build these feats is something I cannot even fathom. Knowing that this entire doc centers on a young woman at the top of her game encourages me to watch with my kids. I have a feeling SXSW audiences may do the same.

THE LOST SONS

Director: Ursula Macfarlane, Producer: Gagan Rehill
1960s Chicago, a baby is kidnapped from a hospital. Fifteen months later, a toddler is abandoned. Could he be the same baby? In a tale of breathtaking twists and turns, two mysteries begin to unravel and dark family secrets are revealed. (World Premiere)

This is a story I was slightly familiar with from its 20/20 broadcast. Since we’re all true crime junkies now, The Lost Sons should garner a sold-out audience.


SHORT FILMS:

THE THING THAT ATE THE BIRDS

Directors/Screenwriters: Sophie Mair, Dan Gitsham
On the North Yorkshire Moors, Abel, Head Gamekeeper, discovers the thing that is eating his grouse. (North American Premiere)

Gunpowder & Sky’s horror brand, ALTER will be premiering the horror short film by writer and director duo Sophie Mair (Ella, And the Baby Screamed) and Dan Gitsham (Ella, And the Baby Screamed), The Thing That  Ate The Birds. They had me at the title. Since horror is my jam, and the name alone instills a sense of fear and anxiety, I have to know what “The Thing” is!

NUEVO RICO

Director: Kristian Mercado, Screenwriters: Kristian Mercado, Juan Arroyo
A brother and sister stumble upon a celestial secret that changes their lives forever and propels them into Reggaetón stardom, but they soon discover that their newfound fame comes at a deep price. (World Premiere)

Animation with edgy social commentary will catch my attention every time. Filmmaker Kristian Mercado Figueroa is known for this skill. With the voice talents of Orange Is The New Black alum Jackie Cruz, this one caught my eye from its press still alone.

STUFFED

Director: Theo Rhys, Screenwriters: Theo Rhys, Joss Holden-Rea
Stuffed is a short musical about a taxidermist who dreams of stuffing a human and the man she meets online, so afraid of aging he volunteers to be her specimen. An unexpected romantic spark between them complicates their plans. (North American Premiere)

You had me at the categories Horror and Musical. Since Sweeney Todd, Repo: The Genetic Opera, and Anna and the Apocalypse, I’ve been dying for more genre musical goodness. STUFFED may just fill that void even in short form.

MARVIN’S NEVER HAD COFFEE BEFORE

Director: Andrew Carter, Screenwriters: Andrew Carter, Kahlil Maskati
Marvin Wexler tries coffee for the first time and desperately tries to talk about it with anyone who will listen.

I grew up a tea drinker. I loathed just the idea of coffee until I was in my 30’s. Now I have 10 bags in different flavors and roasts and an obnoxious coffee maker in my apartment. I remember the joy of discovering this drink that fuels my days and some of my nights as a writer and a Mom.


You can find the full lineup of events and grab yourself tickets at

SXSW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SLO Film Fest 2021 review: ‘BLEEDING AUDIO’ rocks.

BLEEDING AUDIO

Told through the eyes of quirky, charming and humble bandmates Shawn, Jon, Matt and Justin, BLEEDING AUDIO is an intimate portrait detailing The Matches’ promising career, defeating break up, and inspiring reunion, as they reflect on what success truly means for musicians in today’s digital industry. Their story overlaps with the drastic changes the music industry has undergone in the past several years. From declining record sales, to excessive touring, to illegal downloading and streaming, this film digs deeper into the challenges the average musician faces in the digital age and how artists can navigate their careers today

How do I not know about The Matches? Their sound is right up my alley. The minute I heard their songs in the introduction, I was hooked. Shawn, Justin, Matt, and Jon have distinct personalities and styles, and together they are unbelievable. This is the most badass entrepreneurial band I’ve ever heard of. The things they did to become known were geniuses. This was pounding the pavement in its truest form. Members Justin and Shawn made all the band’s art. Their parents worked the door, security, snack bar while they slowly wracked up fans.

Huge names in the industry like Mark Hoppus of Blink-182,  Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman, Tom Higgenson of Plain White T’s (just to mention a few) all wonder why the hell these guys aren’t one of the biggest bands in the world. Their consensus is they had everything they needed to be massive; catchy songs, genuine talent, an ambition that blew people away. Why aren’t they household names?! Bleeding Audio breaks down the music industry. Literally explaining where the money goes and why. I think we all sort of understood this concept when Taylor Swift took Spotify to task over streaming but I don’t think I ever thought about what happens to get to the album itself. The money comes from publishing. The Matches didn’t necessarily go searching for a label. Once they were popular the labels came to them. Epitaph was their dream. They got it. Warped Tour was next. Meeting other bands who became their fans opened even more doors. These guys were loved. Their creativity surpasses anything I’ve ever seen from a single band. Then… Napster happened. Music was about to change forever.

After their third album, they were burnt out. The band played one final beautifully, raucous show. 2 years later, they find out that their overbearing manager Miles didn’t register their songs, with the exception of 4. The amount of money they lost because of this was ultimately the reason they broke up. It was a brutal blow. In 2014 the guys meet up for pancakes. This leads to a show that sells out in 2 minutes. Then another. Then another. The Matches were inexplicably back for what would become a sold-out world tour.

The doc has an unreal amount of footage, art, interviews, it’s pretty magical. If you’ve never heard of The Matches, there’s no way you’ll walk away from Bleeding Audio without needing to go find their music. Thank you to director Chelsea Christer for introducing me to my newest musical obsession.

Bleeding Audio – Official Trailer from Chelsea Christer on Vimeo.

You can get tickets to a watch BLEEDING AUDIO here

 

Review: What is ‘Fire Bones’? It’s almost gleefully indescribable.

We’re all stuck at home, binge-watching crime doc, reading books, listening to music and podcasts like fiends. What if we could take all of those things and combine them into one incredible immersive theatrical experience? Enter FIRE BONES, a multi-media project utilizing film, music, audio, visual art, and even poetry as it tells a whimsical Southern Gothic tale via a road trip to solve a crazy mystery. The project was created by poet and Director of Creative Writing at SMU, Greg Brownderville, and features the narrative directorial debut of Bart Weiss, the Founder of Dallas Video Fest and a Professor of Film at University of Texas, Arlington. FIRE BONES is a visual feast. The Chapter pages have small, striking mixed media tags that are strung as clues. I would hang each one of them on my walls. When you click through, each numbered to avoid confusion, you are treated to something unique that pushes this mystery along.

The story revolves around the disappearance of an extraordinary woman named Amra. She was a pilot, a leader of the town’s Pentecostal church “Fire Bones”, and a local legend that everyone knew… or so they thought. We follow Greg and Bart’s search for answers as accusations fly and information slowly comes to light in this unusual town filled with eccentric residents. The commitment to this unique format by this cast is magic. It’s weird and wonderful and I guarantee you have never seen or heard anything like it. Each clue gets better and better. Two standouts from the first half of this journey are Chapter 4: Clue #13 – Trainbow – Poetric dialogue set against breathtaking swamp and train imagery. And Chapter 5, Clue #15 Sign of the Times –  A hilarious song with a tongue-in-cheek take on church board messaging.

If the pandemic had never happened, this could have easily been one of the most popular in-person attractions in immersive theatre history. If you’ve ever experienced a show like Sleep No More, which is an intense, live walkthrough of Macbeth in which the scenes play out from room to room as the audience wears masks and is encouraged to interact with the cast, you’d understand what I mean. FIRE BONES could easily adopt this presentation. It could be a permanent exhibit at MoMA. In our current circumstances, it’s a fun thing to do with family members. Fare warning, if you are listening with younger ears, there is a bit of profanity from time to time. While it is ultimately 4 1/2 hrs of content, you easily breeze from one piece to the next. The audio style wavers between true crime and radio drama. The videos are stunning to look at. Sharply shot and puzzling in content, you cannot help but we swept up in the mystery. Because each chapter is short, you never have time to get distracted. And because the format changes, you’re constantly engaged. FIRE BONES has massive expansion potential, but in its current form is undeniably entertaining. In an unpredictable world, some predictable fun is welcome.

Fire Bones trailer from Fire Bones on Vimeo.

 

Slamdance 2021 review: ‘WORKHORSE QUEEN’ the good, the bad, and the drag.

WORKHORSE QUEEN

By day, Ed Popil worked as a telemarketer in Rochester, New York for 18 years. By night, he transformed into drag queen Mrs. Kasha Davis, a 1960’s era housewife trying to liberate herself from domestic toil through performing at night in secret –an homage to Ed’s mother. After seven years of auditioning to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Ed Popil was finally cast onto the tv show and thrust into a full-time entertainment career at the late age of 44. Workhorse Queen explores the complexities of reality television’s impact on queer performance culture by focusing on the growing divide between members of a small-town drag community – those who have been on television, and those who have not.

I was 19 years old in my freshman year at college in New York City when I entered a multileveled club in borrowed pleather pants and hair I had dyed blonde (without stripping first) when I found my way to a restroom after dancing my little suburban grown heart out. While washing my hands someone was next to me checking their lipstick in the mirror and casually asked me for the time. I glanced over to tell them, and without skipping a beat I told them 12:16. They thanked me and exited the bathroom. I had encountered my first live drag performer and I could not wait to tell my friends how much cooler I now was for it. After that, I regularly attended drag brunch, drag bingo, had a standing table at Lucky Cheng’s, and have sung on stage at Don’t Tell Mama. When RuPaul’s Drag Race began, I thought, “Yes! Now the world can experience what I’ve been so enamored with as a theater kid for so long.” To me, drag was and still is art. As for many a performance artist, the craft requires sacrifice, thankless long hours, and money for costumes, makeup, and hair sometimes just for the chance to be seen but always for the chance to live out your dream. Drag is performance at a showstopping level. And while Drag Race has certainly widened the platform, that same platform only has room enough for a small number of girls (and guys).

Slamdance 2021 audiences get to peek behind the curtain of what drag is really like. In its world premiere, WORKHORSE QUEEN gives Mrs. Kasha Davis her own time to shine, with and without the glitter and fanfare. This doc is about Ed Popil, the man under the wig and magic. His story is one that will most likely ring true for many individuals trying to find out who they are, told they are too much, and yet not enough. There is such an intriguing dynamic in this doc. Family is front and center. Not just Ed Popil’s husband and kids but his drag family. Mrs. Kasha Davis and Ed are genuinely loving and kind; everything you want and need them to be. Ed exposes his childhood trauma at the hands and words of his father, the decaying relationship with the mother he idolized, and his alcohol addiction. When you’re a queen with a catchphrase, “There’s always time for a cocktail,” how does your career survive rehab? The doc isn’t shy about the inequities faced by performers with lower profiles both on social media and among fellow performers. Drag Race is a competition, life should not be. WORKHORSE QUEEN is triumphant in its honesty. There is so much deliciousness packed into its hour and 27-minute runtime. It’s raw, celebratory, passionate, and revelatory. It honors living your true authentic self and how one person impacts people’s lives in ways you never thought possible.

WORKHORSE QUEEN
Directed by Angela Washko
USA I 2021 I Documentary I 88 minutes
SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021
Virtual Screening Information
Friday, Feb. 12
For Festival Passes, click here
Please Note: Audience caps may affect film accessibility

Review: Jill Sixx Gevargizian’s ‘THE STYLIST’ has a look to die for.

THE STYLIST

Everyone dreams of being someone else, but for Claire, that dream goes from an obsession to a living nightmare. Her job as a hairstylist allows her to move in and out of other people’s worlds and is about to seamlessly pursue her disturbing predilection. Her lonely life, gruesome hobby, and shocking secrets are suddenly thrown into turmoil when her regular client, Olivia, asks her to style her hair for her wedding. Could she have made a true friend?

Back in 2016, I saw a disturbing and memorable short called The Stylist. Some of those images are still burnt into my brain. It’s not often I say that about a short. Now, writer/director/ producer Jill Sixx Gevargizian has developed that very short into a feature. That’s the funny thing about hairstylists. We totally end up telling them all about ourselves. It’s this unspoken, universal rule. We trust them with our hair and our secrets. Returning in the titular role is Najarra Townsend. She has this timeless look, with her gorgeous red hair and her vintage wardrobe. Signature colors people. Bravo to the costume department here. She has incredibly low self-esteem and social anxiety. Also, she’s a serial killer. This woman hates herself and craves connection. Gevargizian’s expertise as a real-life hairstylist shines through the opening scenes. She clearly guided Townsend’s hands to perfect the realism.

Brea Grant, who can do no wrong in my book, shines as Olivia, magazine exec, bride-to-be, and the unique object of Claire’s affection. She’s a firecracker. Her energy is the perfect foil for Najarra’s (mostly) quiet demeanor. Townsend has an amazing presence. Even when the focus is supposed to be on Olivia, her silhouette looms like a ghost in the background. She lives in the complexity of Gevargizian ‘s screenplay. She is both unsettling and mesmerizing.

We have to talk about the audio. The sound editing will make you cringe. The original score will throw your brain off-kilter and feels like an ode to 70’s horror classics. The editing is smart with side by side frames showing us Claire and Olivia as they navigate what seems mundane. The more we see them together, the more we realize how different these two women are. This script is built on the need for acceptance. There was a bit of a Single White Female (1992) meets May (2002) thing happening and I was all in. The Stylist is visually striking. You are enveloped in the lighting and overall color choices. The cinematic elements combined with stellar performances and an intense script creates a wildly successful atmospheric film dripping in nuance. Your heart is in your throat, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s a very uncomfortable and bone-chilling watch. That. Final. Shot. And Cut.

See THE STYLIST first, on March 1st 2021, exclusively on ARROW.

Distributor: Arrow Video
Release date: 1st March, 2020
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes