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

Final Girls Berlin 2021 review: ‘Time Of Moulting’ (Fellwechselzeit) will take patience.

TIME OF MOULTING

In a small town in 1970s West Germany, Stephanie is an intelligent and lively child living an insular life with her parents. She senses that something is wrong in her family, something that cannot be put into words, and she pushes against it where she can. Unspoken maladies lurk beneath the surface of everyday life and insidiously seeps into who she is. Neither she nor her parents have contact with others, and she falls into a symbiotic relationship with her mentally unstable mother Sybille. Sybille has never really left her own childhood behind and lives a life amidst objects and shadows of the past. Stephanie’s father offers neither support, love, nor normalcy. Stephanie withdraws more and more into herself and the passing years bring only ageing, but no future with them. Stephanie flees early from her life’s narrowness and hopelessness into an inner world of dark fantasies, which are nourished by traces of the past. Fellwechselzeit is a heavily atmospheric and harrowing portrait of the ways in which oppressive and repressed family dynamics can influence and infect the lives of younger generations– not tangible, not namable, but inexorable. Inner abysses form the only escape route for an undernourished soul.

You have to stick with filmmaker Sabrina Mertens‘ style choice here. TIME OF MOULTING is one of the most intentional slow-burn films establishing the cyclical nature of mental illness I’ve ever seen outside of a documentary. As the camera sits and watches these drawn-out, often silent scenes, we get a small peek inside the world of a family that has chosen isolation. The film does a 10-year time jump only to find our young protagonist worse off than before. She has been simmering in the childhood of her mother and is acting out with self-harm and increasingly violent drawings and fantasies. This film is not for everyone. You have to have the patience to make it to the end. The visual impact of Time of Moulting is massive. We hear over and over that the family cat has urinated on the furniture. We see each room accumulate more garbage/objects. Stephanie’s fascination with her grandfather’s slaughterhouse tools will make you so uncomfortable you will feel it on your bones. Performances are outstanding. This film challenges the audience to its breaking point.

DIRECTED BY SABRINA MERTENS, GERMANY, 2020

Starring Zelda Espenschied and Miriam Schiweck

Final Girls Berlin 2021 review: ‘DARKNESS’ will make your skin crawl.

DARKNESS

Stella, 17-year-old, and her younger sisters, Luce and Aria, are locked inside their house with bars on the windows. Outside is the Apocalypse: two-thirds of humanity is dead since sunlight has become too strong and only men can go outside. Their claustrophobic life is brightened up by some special games, such as the air party. But their father gets angry: he would like them to completely erase the past. The girls stay locked in their house, alone, with no food until things begin to break down and puncture the delicate shell of their cloistered existence.

Eerily the perfect film at this moment in our history, three girls wait in locked down isolation as their father scavenges for food in an uninhabitable world outside. The sisters pass the time with make-believe skits, attending to a strict schedule that revolves around their hyper-aggressive dad and reminiscing about their dead mother. But something else is very wrong here. Very, very wrong. Due to the current global pandemic, a phrase I am still not used to writing 11 months in, Darkness will resonate on a personal level, especially for parents. The film also has a similar circumstantial setup as ONLY one of my favorite films from Tribeca Film Festival 2019. But perhaps ends up more reminiscent of a certain M. Night Shyamalan film. All three young actresses giving stunning performances and they have a great screenplay to work with. If I’m being nitpicky, the runtime could be cut by 10-15 minutes as Stella pushes past her physical boundaries. The camera work puts you in the shoes of the sisters. Sometimes claustrophobic, other times disorienting. The full picture slowly reveals itself to be far more disturbing than you might think. There are clues sprinkled throughout but at the heart of it, Darkness is about emotional manipulation and physical abuse. It’s absolutely chilling. This film would easily garner a larger audience on any of the genre centric platforms. I’m excited to see where it ends up landing.

DIRECTED BY EMANUELA ROSI, ITALY, 2019

Starring Denise Tantucci, Valerio Binasco, Gaia Bocci, Olimpia Tosatto
German Premiere

Sundance 2021 review: ‘Raspberry’ is perfect short film for when words fail.

Raspberry

Synopsis:

“Undertakers wait on a family’s final farewells as one son struggles to say goodbye to his dead father.”

There are 5 stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Everyone has their own style. No one can tell you how to process the death of a loved one. Raspberry is a fantastic example of the nuanced responses. From inspirational speeches, well wishes, to tears… and even perhaps an inside joke. It doesn’t feel like a natural process to the living. Raspberry confronts this in the most honest way. I had to watch this short twice and it was even more brilliant the second time around. It’s the specifically subtle reaction to the climactic moment that got me. Oh, and that final line. The look and cinematography are great, but writer/director Julian Doan‘s script combined with stellar performances make Raspberry as impactful as it is. I hope anyone who has ever lost someone close to them gets to live in this film for its 7-minute runtime.

RASPBERRY  Directed and Written by Julian Doan

Short Films Program — Acquisition

Starring Raymond Lee, Alexis Rhee, Joseph Lee, Gihee Hong, Molly Leland, and Matt Kelly

Produced by Turner Munch and Brianna Murphy

To access Raspberry in the Shorts Program you can click here!

Sundance 2021 review: ‘Prime Time’ is a ceaselessly thrilling lesson in media manipulation.

PRIME TIME

New Year’s Eve 1999. Twenty-year-old Sebastian, armed with a gun, hijacks a TV studio and takes two hostages—a famous TV presenter and a security guard. His plan? No one seems to know, including Sebastian himself. His demand to deliver his message, whatever that may be, via live broadcast is repeatedly thwarted by an uncertain police force and an egotistical network chairman. As the night wears on, Sebastian and the hostages bond in unexpected ways, while those in power fumble to restore order.

Who is manipulating who? The immediate idea that this situation can be directed is stunning. Producer Laura is like Oz. She initially sees and hears everything that’s happening from the booth. But she only controls as much as Sebastian reveals in slow spurts. Once the police arrive, all hell breaks loose. Can the hostage negotiators find out what Sebastian wants? It will be a long New Year’s Eve. Prime Time is remarkably compelling. There is no time to take a breath as the mystery unfolds in real-time. The handheld camerawork adds to the chaotic nature. But the real drama lies within the “Why?” Sebastian’s backstory is devastating. Performances are phenomenal from the entire cast. We live in their fear and their ceaseless frustration. Bartosz Bielenia will blow you away.

The juxtaposition of what all other networks are airing during this incident is rattling. No one, outside the studio, knows what is occurring. Everyone is nonchalant or celebratory so when the danger escalates, seeing the calm on ancillary characters is unnerving. It’s fantastic. This script manages to tackle class structure and emotional trauma, with media profits as the underlying force of everything that goes awry in Sebastian’s “plan”. Prime Time does an incredible job of keeping you on the hook until the screen goes black. In a present era where every second of media is either controlled or completely reckless, Prime Time taps into every viewer’s own fear of being lied to. Sundance audiences will love this film.

You can purchase access to PRIME TIME’s second showing by clicking here!

Fathom Events review: Movie musical ‘STAND!’ only in theaters tonight, December 1st.

STAND!

In Theaters Only on December 1, 2020

Directed by: Robert Adetuyi (Stomp The YardBring It On: Worldwide #Cheersmack)

1919. Stefan and his father Mike fled Ukraine for the New World, where they struggle to earn enough to reunite the family. Stefan is instantly smitten with the Jewish suffragette neighbour, Rebecca – but Rebecca’s brother Moishe and Mike oppose the would-be Romeo and Juliet. Returned soldiers, angry at the lack of jobs after the war, violently threaten the city’s immigrants, including Emma, the refugee from racist violence in Oklahoma. When a movement develops for workers to leave their jobs in protest, AJ Anderson, a wealthy lawyer, pits all against each other in a dramatic and inspirational final stand.

The potential in this story is obvious. Catchy numbers and an intriguing premise based on a true story. Unfortunately, it needs to stage to fully bloom. As someone who graduated from a musical theatre conservatory in Manhattan, I recognize the over-the-top gesture and intonation that is needed to reach the back row. But because the audience is experiencing it from a screen, it comes off as forced at times. The energy is lost in translation and it feels uneven. Theater broadcasting LIVE in a movie theater is different. Here, it’s actually the camera that ruins that genuine connection. Performances are outstanding so they deserve that give and take electric feeling. It also lacks in one major area where most musicals thrive; choreography. With a large and varied immigrant ensemble, this was a lost opportunity leading to momentary lulls in pacing. I kept hoping something was coming, some big number highlighting the different facets of people coming together. The moments definitely presented themselves over and over and not a single number. I think it could have pushed STAND! across the finish line.

The issues in the stage play turned screenplay is still incredibly relevant. This is the most successful aspect. Taking pages from Ragtime, Newsies, Parade, and Hamilton, stories of immigrants, race, religious persecution, classism, and the right to strike are all still ripe for vibrant storytelling in 2020. STAND! shines brightest when it sings. By far the best numbers belong to Lisa Bell. Get this girl on Broadway the minute it’s officially back. The Romeo and Juliet aspect between Rebecca and Stefan is charming enough but not as powerful as Emma or Mike Sokolowski’s emotional journey, whom the original stageplay STRIKE! is based upon. STAND! needs an Off-Broadway run and a workshop. But be the first movie theater audience to get chills while Lisa Bell belts out the theme in the final moments of the film, for sure. It’s worth the ticket price.

Music, Lyrics and Score: Danny Schur (Made In Winnipeg: The Terry Sawchuk Origin Story)

Featuring Lisa Bell’s show-stopping performance of the protest song Stand!

Starring:
Marshall Williams (“Glee”, “How to Build a Better Boy”)
Laura Wiggins (“Shameless”, 20th Century Women)
Lisa Bell (No Time Like Christmas, “Canadian Idol”)
Gregg Henry (“Guardians of the Galaxy”, “Scandal”)
Erik Athavale (Fractured, Breakthrough)
Paul Essiembre (“Covert Affairs”, “Silver Surfer”)
Hayley Sales (Deadpool 2, “The Good Doctor”)

Tickets and a list of participating theater locations will be available at www.FathomEvents.com.

RT: 110 Minutes

DOC NYC 2020 review: ‘CRUTCH’

SACHI CUNNINGHAM and CHANDLER EVANS’ 

CRUTCH

AT DOC NYC

Two decades of exclusive access, plus a lifetime of archival footage depict Shannon from his early years to his rise as an award-winning dancer and cutting-edge performance artist. CRUTCH examines Shannon’s controversial street performances as he exposes a myriad of prejudices disabled people encounter in public on a daily basis.

Crutch is about Bill Shannon‘s extraordinary life. Shannon wants to be recognized as a performance artist, and rightfully so. As a dancer since the age of three, I can attest to how the physical and emotional energy toll performing can have. Like many dancers, my body is ravaged from the work I asked it to do when I was younger. But I wasn’t faced with the challenges that Bill Shannon faced from childhood. Bill Shannon is on another level from us all. He is a relentless artist and it’s magic.

He grew up making home movies, being a daredevil, skateboarding, and creating a new language for dance, all while having a rare degenerative hip condition. He is a provocateur. Exploring his own pain and emotional hurt by placing others into his realm. He essentially created “What Would You Do?” scenarios before it was mainstream. As a breakdancer and choreographer, he presented the world with evolutionary milestones in thinking and accepting. But this is only a sliver of what he deals with and tries to effect. This doc tackles ableism at its core. He uses his filmed setup moments to organically teach an audience about the human mind. It’s a refreshing perspective that will grab your attention. He never lets up. His innovation is astounding. That’s true artistry. Crutch pushes past cynicism to teach and entertain and delight.

www.docnyc.net

 

HBO’s four-part Original docuseries review: ‘Murder on Middle Beach’ episode one airs tonight.

HBO Documentary Films’ MURDER ON MIDDLE BEACH, a four-part documentary series directed by first-time filmmaker Madison Hamburg, presents Hamburg’s complicated journey as a young man determined to solve an unspeakable crime and absolve the people he loves, while looking for answers within his fractured family and community.

 

On March 3, 2010, single mother Barbara Hamburg was found violently murdered near her home in the upper-middle-class enclave of Madison, Connecticut. Investigators speculated her murder appeared to be a crime of passion, but without enough evidence, the case grew cold.

Over the course of 8 years, Barbara’s son, Madison Hamburg, interviewed his family members and many others, longing to learn more about his mother and gathering evidence in hopes of solving her murder, sending him into a deep web of buried familial secrets, connections to shadowy criminal figures, and the uncovering of years-old resentments in his deceptively serene hometown. While Madison wrestles with troubling revelations about his mother, the most unsettling conflict comes from Madison’s obligation to bring into question those inside his community and members of his own family.

Madison Hamburg wants to know what happened to his mother in 2010. Growing up in an affluent Connecticut town myself, I found it shocking that I had not heard about this case. Who would want to kill a stay at home mother? What are the motives for such a brutal act? The theories seem straight forward until you’re steered down another road due to lack of evidence. The things that went wrong in this initial investigation will frustrate you to no end. You have to give Madison credit for having the courage and, for lack of a more eloquent way of putting it, balls for putting his entire childhood and now adulthood on the line to solve this mystery and deal with his trauma.

Creative editing places you inside the family dynamic of the Hamburgs. Not just Madison’s odd relationship with his estranged father, but his aunt’s and uncles, grandparents, and his sister Barbara, the 4th of that namesake on his mother’s side. Madison uses home videos and still photography to invite you into the years he had with his Mom. Some of the most unique moments come in the form of vintage voiceovers from what seems like those creepy 1950s classroom movies. It is eerily effective. Intimate sit-down interviews play the largest part as the mystery grows. There are constant hints of family secrets but we only get a tease in the final moments of episode one. You’re so invested in this story, it’s frightening. There is no doubt Madison Hamburg wants the truth. I know I’ll be watching the final 3 episodes on HBO to find out if he gets it. Murder on Middle Beach will air episode 1 tonight at 10:00-11:00pm ET/PT.

Stream on HBO Max: http://itsh.bo/hbo-max

MURDER ON MIDDLE BEACH debuts on November 15 on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max.

DOC NYC 2020 review: ‘A Crime on the Bayou’ is required viewing.

 

A Crime on the Bayou

It’s 1966 in Plaquemines Parish, a swampy strip of land south of New Orleans. A young Black fisherman, Gary Duncan, tries to break up a fight between white and Black teenagers outside a newly integrated school. He gently lays his hand on a white boy’s arm and the boy recoils like a snake. That night, police arrested 19-year-old Gary Duncan for assault on a minor.

I wish I didn’t have to call a film timely, but I do. It’s only fitting in this case. A Crime on the Bayou highlights the enduring systemic racism in America. This is Gary Duncan‘s story. This is Richard Sobol‘s story. Duncan’s case is one of the most egregious to come to court. A simple touch of the elbow became a civil rights case that would blow up a small Louisiana town and make its way all the way to the Supreme Court. Civil rights lawyers worked hand-in-hand with the community to fight for fairness. They’re still trying. Local Plaquemines Parish leader Leander Perez was the epitome of white supremacy. When you discover the extent of his sick ideology, it will make your head explode. It sounds like what we’ve been hearing from The White House since 2016… A lot like it. The film is comprised mostly of footage from the 1960s, readings of court transcripts, and present-day sit-down interviews with almost all of the key players in this unprecedented case. But in truth, it’s the same old story; racist white men asserting control over the black population (and anyone that is their ally). In one particular interview with Lolis Eric Elie, son of famed civil rights lawyer Lolis Elie, he recalls never having “the talk” about how to handle being questioned by a police officer. “How often do you talk about humidity? Well, it’s always there.”

Has anything changed since then? It certainly doesn’t feel like it. A Crime on the Bayou might as well be titled “Sleeping in an Ivy League Common Room”, “Sitting in Starbucks”, or “Count My Vote”. This was revenge for Gary Duncan standing up for himself. Pure and simple. It’s infuriating and inspiring. It’s exhausting but important. Gary Duncan should be a household name. So should Richard Sobol’s. A Crime on the Bayou should be shown in every classroom in America.

You can get tickets for A Crime n the Bayou at DOC NYC 2020 here

Directed by: Nancy Buirski
Featuring: Gary Duncan, Richard Sobol, Leander Perez, Lolis Eric Elie, Armand Derfner
Executive Produced by: John Legend, Brenda Robinson (President of the IDA)

A Crime on the Bayou is the third film in director Nancy Buirski’s trilogy profiling brave individuals who fought for justice in and around the Civil Rights era, following The Loving Story and The Rape of Recy Taylor. Together this trilogy demonstrates that regular people standing up for their values are the root of progress. Mildred Loving, Recy Taylor and Gary Duncan did not set out to change history. But they remind us that anyone can.

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

KOKO-DI KOKO-DA

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

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

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

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

KOKO-DI KOKO-DA

Director – Johannes Nyholm (THE GIANT)

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

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

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

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

Nightstream 2020 review: ‘An Unquiet Grave’ digs deep into grief.

A year after losing his wife in a car crash, Jamie convinces her sister, Ava, to return with him to the site of the accident and help him perform a strange ritual. But as the night wears on, it becomes clear that he has darker intentions.

As someone who understands grief, An Unquiet Grave hit me on a much deeper level. But, on the other hand, as a horror and occult fan, I understand that bringing back the dead never goes as planned. Would I wish nothing more than to bring back my loved one? Yes. Do I understand what a terrible fucking idea it would be to attempt such a thing? Also, Yes. The same cannot be said about our leading man, Jaimie. He misses his wife so much he’s willing to lie to her twin sister in order to feel her again. Poor Ava is in the dark in more ways than one. She is not going to sit idly by in any form or fashion.

In the beginning, the outstanding atmospheric score lulls you into a sense of safety all while letting you know something is amiss. As the film progresses, it is its own character, always lurking, and most certainly representing what we cannot see. The majority of the film takes place in the dark, which in itself leads to unsettling thoughts. I was constantly seeking things just out of frame or in the background. Bravo to the sound editors, as well. I got goosebumps with each deliberately placed effect. Jacob A. Ware is phenomenal as Jaime. You absolutely understand where he is coming from but ultimately are equal parts terrified of him and furious with him. Christine Nyland, who also co-wrote the script with director Terence Krey, gives a breathtaking performance. Her emotional nuance from beat to beat is stunning. She and Ware are brilliantly paired. There is the perfect amount of uncomfortable tension, making An Unquiet Grave a visceral watch. Krey has cultivated the complexities of grief in a truly upsetting but engrossing film. It will stick with Nighstream 2020 audiences for longer than they’re comfortable with.

AN UNQUIET GRAVE

World Premiere
USA | 2020 | 72 Min.
Dir. Terence Krey

Happy Huluween! 20th Century Digital Launches 30 Halloween Film Shorts featured on Hulu, Freeform and FX

Launches Halloween Short Film Series
Created by 30 Emerging Filmmakers
 Airing During October 2020
Bite Size Halloween will be featured on Hulu, Freeform and FX

20th Digital Studio will premiere a series of 30 diverse, genre-bending short films for Halloween 2020. Bite Size Halloween ranges from horror comedy to psychological thrillers and everything in between. Created by up-and-coming filmmakers, these films will screen across digital and broadcast platforms Freeform,  FX, and Hulu’s Huluween platform hub and YouTube channel.

David Worthen Brooks, EVP of 20th Digital Studio, says, “20th Digital Studio and the Bite Size series provide a platform for emerging storytellers and give them the resources needed to realize their vision. Each short episode can also act as a low-risk proof-of-concept for a feature version of the short, providing the filmmaker concrete steps toward their larger ambition. This energy and excitement in short form horror provide a global arena for a community of diverse filmmakers.”

Bite Size Halloween 2020 features 30 exciting new filmmakers, amplifying their voice in the film community. This year’s cohort includes a well-rounded group of filmmakers representing different countries, identities, and backgrounds. The long term goal of 20th Digital Studio’s short film programs is to continue to guide and finance the growth of these artists’ careers.

Featured writers and directors include Naledi Jackson (ANNE WITH AN E), Aislinn Clarke (THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY), John McPhail (ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE), Matthew Irving Epstein (ZOEY’S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST), and Sofia Alaoui (Sundance Grand Jury winner SO WHAT IF THE GOATS DIE?). On-screen, featured actors include Charlie Barnett (RUSSIAN DOLL), Hari Nef (YOU, TRANSPARENT), Dalmar Abuzeid (DEGRASSI: THE NEXT GENERATION), acclaimed Off-Broadway thespian Kara Young, and Samm Levine (FREAKS AND GEEKS).

Formerly Fox Digital Studio, 20th Digital Studio’s short film series formerly-titled Bite Size Horror was released during the 2017 Halloween season and aired on broadcast and online, winning the “Best of the Best” in Short-Form Fiction by the 2018 Brand Film Festival. This cinematic collaboration of adrenaline-raising shorts developed a platform for brands and advertisers to work with creative filmmakers.

ABOUT:

20th Digital Studio focuses on funding and producing award-winning short-form genre content together with up-and-coming filmmakers from the digital and film festival worlds. 20th Digital develops select shorts into longer-form content, packaging new voices with established producers and offering opportunities for growth and representation; always with a goal to create innovative character narrative, voice-driven filmmaking with a social message, cultural impact, and box-office success. Set up in 2008 as a nimble entrepreneurial group within Fox Filmed Entertainment, 20th Digital Studio is now a part of Walt Disney Television.

Visit: @20thDigital on Instagram & Twitter, or facebook.com/20thdigitalstudio

Harlem International Film Festival 2020 review: ‘The Subject’ is powerful from every angle.

Jason Biggs plays Phil, a documentary filmmaker whose conscious ways heavy on him. The Subject is aptly named. Phil made a film about a black 15-year-old whose murder is caught on tape, by him. It’s been two years, he’s worried that Malcolm’s death means nothing back in Harlem. He’s onto his next project but cannot shake the guilt of possible exploitation, nor can the press. His girlfriend wants him to get over it, but Phil tries really hard to do the right thing. After finally attempting to move forward, the other shoe drops. Someone begins filming him.

Bringing on a new assistant and managing his new project, we gain insight into his trauma. But it’s the social commentary about Harlem that strikes the loudest tone, recognizing that Phil cannot ultimately be the “white savior”. Writer Chisa Hutchinson has written a fully fleshed out, flawed man who is trying to keep levelheaded through success and the reality we currently reside in. The performance from Biggs is captivating and genuinely layered. He has great material. Once Marley enters the scene, she is privy to some new information. Manipulation and a clear underlying agenda appear. You get the feeling that something truly else, something larger is coming our way.

Anabelle Acosta as girlfriend Jess is very compelling. There is a lot to learn from their relationship dynamic and it comes into play heavily. Carra Patterson as Marley is quite the catalyst for chaos. She gives off a Maya Rudolph vibe and I dug her energy throughout. Nile Bullock’s performance as Malcolm is exactly where the audience needs him to be; balancing the line of an arrogant teen and an innocent child. Jason Biggs is better than ever. He plays Phil with an understanding of power and guilt. It’s stunning. Aunjanue Ellis plays Malcolm’s mother, Leslie. The scenes between her and Biggs are explosive. She represents so many mothers who lose their children to violence. Her performance is the culmination of everything in this film. Cutting through mansplaining and truth, everything leads up to these moments. The Subject is phenomenal in its storytelling. It’s a must-see film. Harlem International Film Festival was a fitting home for its Manhattan premiere. The film has an ending you will not see coming. Congratulations to director Lanie Zipoy and everyone involved in making this film.

Harlem International Film Festival review: Narrative short ‘Steve’ is an entire journey.

If grinding in the bustling streets of NYC isn’t enough for a Broadway actress, an uninvited guest in her apartment might be just the thing to put her over the edge.

As someone who went to school for musical theatre in the city, short film Steve spoke to me in a very specific way. Star and writer, Amber Iman, is the “private me” on film. I have never felt more “seen”, as the kids say, as watching an extroverted, fellow theatre kid in her element. In real life, Iman is a Broadway star and it shows. Living in Manhattan is its own experience. Everyone, at least once, has had a mouse in their apartment. It’s basically a right of passage. We all react in pretty much the same way, with few exceptions. Amber Iman takes all of that energy and translates it into the funniest short I’ve yet to see. My husband had headphones on while I was watching this film. I was laughing so loud he took them off and laughed with me having no knowledge of what I was watching. Iman’s chemistry in her brief scenes that include other cast members is downright hilarious. But, for the majority of the film, she is speaking directly to her unwanted guest. It is the full range of emotions and then some. Who needs a professional reel when you have this short to show casting directors? The simplicity and relatable nature make Steve a brilliant treatment for Iman to have her own series, even if that was not the intention. I would not be mad at that notion. Director Jason Hightower‘s resume is massive. Great call on connecting with this script and Amber.

Review: ‘An American Pickle’ has you seeing double on HBO Max.

AN AMERICAN PICKLE

AN AMERICAN PICKLE, directed by Brandon Trost, is based on Simon Rich’s New Yorker novella and stars Seth Rogen as Herschel Greenbaum, a struggling laborer who immigrates to America in 1919 with dreams of building a better life for his beloved family. One day, while working at his factory job, he falls into a vat of pickles and is brined for 100 years. The brine preserves him perfectly and when he emerges in present day Brooklyn, he finds that he hasn’t aged a day. But when he seeks out his family, he is troubled to learn that his only surviving relative is his great grandson, Ben Greenbaum (also played by Rogen), a mild-mannered computer coder whom Herschel can’t even begin to understand.

The simple wonders of experiencing something for the first time is essentially the purest form of comedy in An American Pickle. Seth Rogen plays two distinctly different versions of “himself”. Having met Seth in real life, his Ben character feels very much like him. Down-to-earth, genuinely sweet, and very funny. As Herschel, he is truly astounding. The magic in his eyes, the reverent and tender respect for history and his family. I fear Rogen gets lumped into a certain category when you mention his name. While I love all his films, An American Pickle is different in a good way for him. It’s an engaging script with a funny concept. But really, the film is about family loyalty and pride. The jokes are whipsmart and insanely relevant to the absurdity of social influence and 2020 in general. This film lives and dies by the performances from Rogen. He needs more opportunities to show his acting chops in earnest. While the film has a lot of hilarious moments, as a whole it’s a little meandering for its roughly hour and a half runtime. Come to think of it, it might have fared better as a serial sitcom. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth your time. If you’re a Seth Rogen fan you will not be disappointed. An American Pickle premieres tomorrow exclusively on HBO Max.

“An American Pickle” begins streaming on HBO Max on August 6

Review: We Are One – A Global Film Festival short film ‘CIRCUS PERSON’ is an emotional high wire act.

Synopsis:
Left by her fianceì for another woman, a grieving painter (Britt Lower) abandons the life she knew to join the seemingly chaotic, yet invigorating world of a one-ring circus. Intermingling live-action circus arts and animated body paint, CIRCUS PERSON follows an introspective artist through the often humorous landscape of heartbreak to reclaim her forgotten wildness.

 

 

 

 

This mixed media, sometimes stop animation, twist on a “Dear John” letter is simply amazing. Vibrantly colored, engrossingly shot, Circus Person is a little bit of every visual storytelling treat you didn’t know you needed. It’s poetic and cathartic and funny. Watching it literally makes me want to join a circus for my own set of personal reasons. The script is easily about grieving, changing, and accepting the fact that we cannot control a damn thing. I first met Britt Lower at the premiere of Beside Still Waters (which if you haven’t seen, do yourself a favor and experience some more great storytelling). This feat of acting, directing, and writing is ripe for further development. (Hint, hint) I want to know what happens next. It is smart and touching from every angle. I highly recommend you catch it while you can! You can watch Circus Person on YouTube now as part of Tribeca’s contribution to the We Are One – A Global Film Festival.

TRT:                                      17 min
Country:                               USA
Curated by:                          Tribeca Film Festival

Screening information:
CIRCUS PERSON will be available to view for 10 days at
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioS4X7O2sZA&feature=youtu.be

Creative Team:
DIRECTOR/WRITER:                          Britt Lower
CREATIVE PRODUCER/EDITOR:      Alex Knell
PRODUCERS:                                     Sam Fox, Desiree Staples
CO-PRODUCERS:                              Alexandre Naufel, Jasmine Dickens
ASSOCIATE PRODUCERS:               Elsa Gay, Tricia Lee
CINEMATOGRAPHER:                       Alexandre Naufel
COMPOSER:                                       Jason Lesser
BODY-PAINTING:                                Christopher Agostino
CAST:                                                   Britt Lower, Philip Smithey, Jess Marks, Ramona Young

Tribeca Film Festival 2020 review: Angela Bettis clocks in for ’12 Hour Shift’

It’s 1998 and over the course of one 12 Hour Shift at an Arkansas Hospital, A Junkie Nurse (Angela Bettis), Her Scheming Cousin (Chloe Farnworth) and a group of black market Organ-Trading criminals (Mick Foley, David Arquette, Dusty Warren) start a heist that could lead to all of their demises.

Angela Bettis is horror royalty in my book. Watching her interpret Brea Grant’s script is heaven. During this uncertain, weird, and exhausting time in our history, watching an overworked nurse with vices for days adds an extra element of terrifying WTF. Bettis is a revelation. The weight of desperation and the constant barrage of emotional abuse is palpable. It is written on her face. There is so much backstory bubbling under the surface. I would watch an entire series developed from 12 Hour Shift. (Hint, Hint)

The opening scene is divine in establishing the attitude of Bettis’ character. It’s a symphonic white trash word vomit. The attention detail of Y2K paranoia and the late ’90’s in general land perfectly between over-the-top and completely legit. If you lived through it, you’ll laugh and nod. But it’s the delicious moral dilemma that Grant has given us that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. We’re definitely rooting for bad over worse and it is fun as hell. The climax is so batshit crazy it’s like watching a ping-pong tournament; super fast and just as fantastically absurd. Performances all around are stellar. Practical FX are gagworthy and wonderful. The final scene is actually the most frightening. Brea Grant, I’ll be looking forward to a sequel to 12 Hour Shift, ASAP.

Tribeca Film Festival 2020 review: Short films, ‘I Can Change’, ‘Beyond Noh’, ‘Grey Zone’, ‘Look At Me’.

Beyond Noh

Beyond Noh rhythmically animates 3,475 individual masks from all over the world.

The transitions are meticulously crafted. The specific choices of masked on a downbeat are no accident. Even though you are experiencing over 3 thousand masks in under 3 and a half minutes, each one make an impact much larger than you can immediately process. I actually spotted one we inherited years ago. The story behind it makes us fearful to toss it. It presently lives in a closet. Beyond Noh is a simply stunning short.

 

I Can Change

The night before his wedding, an underachiever (John Hoogenakker) receives the power to stop time, so he attempts to make major life changes his fiancé (Lucy Cudden) wants him to make, all before morning.

The transitions are meticulously crafted. The specific choices of masked on a downbeat are no accident. Even though you are experiencing over 3 thousand masks in under 3 and a half minutes, each one make an impact much larger than you can immediately process. I actually spotted one we inherited years ago. The story behind it makes us fearful to toss it. It presently lives in a closet. Beyond Noh is a simply stunning short.

Look At Me

On a winter night in New York City, a young, intoxicated boy’s (Connor Vasile) fate is determined by his brief encounters with strangers, and a deeper American truth is exposed.

This poignant short puts a mirror up to society, especially here in New York City. We want to believe we’d do right by own fellow city dwellers, but the longer you live here the thicker the protective armor becomes. The writing and editing lead you to out yourself in multiple character’s shoes. It’s incredibly well done from every single angle. This is one of the festival’s best this year.

 

Grey Zone

On an urban crosswalk, Neta (Rachel Yaron) finds herself following a man (Udi Pers) who touched her abruptly and without her consent.

In the era of #MeToo, this short is incredibly powerful. From the specific dialogue choices to women empowering other women, to the recapturing of your own narrative. All this in just 10 minutes. It’s a brave film.