Review: Thought-provoking doc ‘Life & Life’ is coming to New Hope Film Festival next Friday.

LIFE & LIFE

Synopsis:

NC Helkin’s LIFE & LIFE, which just won Best Documentary at the Brooklyn Film Festival, tracks the journey that musician Reggie Austin takes to redeem his life following a murder conviction 40 years ago. With surprising honesty and depth, the film looks at Austin’s effect on his fellow inmates at San Quentin and his efforts to reconnect with his family, as well as questioning parole and sentencing practices through his story. Ultimately, the film reveals the steep and dangerous hill ex-prisoners must climb upon release to free themselves and create a positive future. LIFE & LIFE is a story of the struggle for redemption and hope against near-impossible odds, accompanied by a soundtrack that comes straight from Austin’s heart.

Professional musician and convicted murderer. Two strikingly different resume items that Reggie Austin carries daily. In NC Helkin’s documentary Life & Life, after serving 35 years in prison for murder, Reggie Austin navigates life back on the outside. We watch his journey as he attempts to successfully balance work and the rebuilding of familial relationships. His grace is startling. His talent is undeniable. His advocacy is inspiring. The film consists of a genuinely effective combination of sit-down interviews, archival records, and Reggie’s musical stylings. Parole board transcripts give us a peek inside the complexities of releasing someone from prison. The editing of this particular section of the film deserves an award. It adds a dynamic and intentional rhythm.

But, Life & Life is not solely the story of one man. It’s a film that tackles the nuanced reach for systematic change within the prison industrial complex. It specifically addresses the “Three Strike Law” and its effects on so many still behind bars. It injects humanity into an oftentimes brushed aside section of the population. Reggie Austin is a success story. It’s not one we hear often, but I’m grateful we’re hearing it now. Life & Life is a lot of things. It’s frustrating, it’s joyful, and it’s artistic. It’s a lesson in compassion and redemption for not only Reggie but the audience as well.


NC Heikin’s Award-winning LIFE & LIFE

Screens at

2021 New Hope Film Festival (Philadelphia) JULY 30

Friday, July 30 at New Hope Arts Center (2A Stockton Ave.) Tickets are available at: https://www.goelevent.com/NewHopeFilmFestival/e/LifeLife.


Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival

Monday, August 9 at MV Performing Arts Center (100 Edgartown Vineyard Haven Road) Tickets available at: https://www.mvaaff.com/tickets/


Review: ‘HERE AFTER’ is lengthy but lovely soulmate story.

HERE AFTER

A struggling actor, Michael, dies right after a bad breakup, awakening to a singles Purgatory where he must find his soul mate in order to cross over to the other side. With limited time to find true love among other recently deceased single New Yorkers, Michael must navigate the new customs of a ghostly dating life…as if dating in New York wasn’t hard enough already. When he meets the woman of his dreams, who happens to be alive, Michael must figure out how to cheat the system to cross over with her.

Andy Karl stars as Michael, a recently deceased, narcissistic actor who takes the idea of love for granted. When forced to find his soulmate, things get more complicated than he ever imagined possible. Finding a woman he connects with that happens to be alive makes for quite the twist. There are a lot of dynamic ideas in Here After, but its runtime drags the film down. It has some GHOST similarities, including a surprisingly dark edge I was not expecting in the least. The brightest moments come in two forms. First, the genuine chemistry between Andy Karl and his love interest Nora Arnezeder. She will charm any viewer with a single glance. Her nonchalance and likeability are gold. Karl, who I adore from his work on Broadway, is equally strong. He is the perfect balance of tenacious, fumbling, and vulnerable. Arnezeder’s and his down-to-earth dialogue makes this relationship fun and relatable. These are winning scenes.
Christina Ricci is our other shining star. Each appearance puts a smile on your face. She has this innate presence about her. Ricci’s character could be a separate script, entirely. The mood changed drastically whenever she and Karl shared the screen. Writer-director Harry Greenberger had the opportunity to lighten the overall tone with a more upbeat score and tighter editing. I absolutely appreciate the risk in including an aspect of danger. It undoubtedly kept me on my toes. While the climax had a plot hole or two, I’ll give Here After a pass in this category for its beautiful message and authenticity.


Vertical Entertainment will release HERE AFTER On Demand everywhere on July 23, 2021.

HERE AFTER stars Christina Ricci, Andy Karl, Nora Arnezeder, Jackie Cruz, and Michael Rispoli. It was written and directed by Harry Greenberger and produced by Greenberger and Carmine Famiglietti. The film has a running time of 121 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA. HERE AFTER features the brand new original song “Mysteries of Life” sung by Debbie Harry.


Review: ‘Midnight in the Switchgrass’ squandered series potential.

Two FBI agents cross paths with Crawford, a Florida cop who’s investigating a string of murders that appear to be related. When an undercover sting goes horribly wrong, Crawford soon finds himself in a twisted game of cat and mouse with the killer.

This story might have fared better as a miniseries. In fact, I know it would have. With all the makings of a True Detective style, cliffhanger-filled crime-thriller, nothing quite pans out in a completely satisfying manner. Even at just shy of an hour and 40-minute runtime, there is a ton of missed opportunity and information that would have pushed Midnight in the Switchgrass into greatness territory. As it stands, it’s a bit of a rushed and disconnected mess.

The soundtrack does not help. It feels forced and somehow creates a hokey feel. The editing, particularly surrounding Emile Hirsch‘s flashes, creates a perception that you’re missing some greater storyline. It’s simply unnecessary. There are moments when the acting is so over the top it’s nonsensical. Each character needed more time to develop. We hear about their pasts only briefly. This is yet another example of where further serial development would benefit the entire narrative.

Bruce Willis is underutilized. He could have been any actor playing that role. Megan Fox wavers between totally believable and taken for granted. It’s her stunts that read fake, which is a tad baffling because we know she’s capable of action stardom. I’m not sure who to blame here. In her most recent film, Till Death, 50% of the performance is based on physicality and she owned that role. Emile Hirsch is genuinely fantastic. This is the second time this month he’s played a cop, the first being Son. That role suits him well. Lukas Haas is as terrifying as we need him to be. He, too, deserved more backstory. This is a character that’s so disturbing, but we merely get glimpses of how his mind works. He’s so strong, I would watch an entirely separate prequel going through his origin story. Midnight in the Switchgrass succeeds in Hirsch and Haas.

Lionsgate will release the thriller MIDNIGHT IN THE SWITCHGRASS in Theaters, On Demand, and Digital on July 23, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on July 27, 2021.

MIDNIGHT IN THE SWITCHGRASS stars Megan Fox (Transformers franchise), Bruce Willis (Glass), Emile Hirsch (Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood), Lukas Haas (Inception), Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly) (The Dirt), Caitlin Carmichael (Life Itself) and Sistine Stallone (47 Meters Down: Uncaged). The film is the directorial debut of Randall Emmett (Producer of The Irishman) and the screenwriting debut of writer Alan Horsnail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NBFF 21 review: ‘TALIGATE’ is heart stopping terror.

TAILGATE

A cocksure, road-raging family man finds himself pursued and terrorized by the vengeful van driver he chooses to tailgate.

The villain in this film initially appears completely unassuming. That’s the bait and switch that is Tailgate. A simple premise of road rage produces one of the evilest monsters of all time. The level of fright this film provides will blow your mind. My palms were sweating, my heart pounding from start to finish. The terror is relentless. Performances are all top-notch. I give extra credit to our youngest cast members, Roosmarijn van der Hoek and Liz Vergeer. Their keen ability to keep up with the adults is outstanding.

Our very good friend Steve Kopian, from Unseen Films, pointed out an important device in Tailgate that heightens its entire concept. This story occurs entirely during the day. In fact, it essentially happens in real-time. But it’s the daylight factor that makes it the most sinister. Every atrocious act occurs both in broad daylight and before innumerable witnesses. It is baffling and infinitely exciting. Congratulations to writer-director Lodewijk Crijns. Tailgate is one of the best films at this year’s North Bend Film Festival, without a doubt.


Showings – select to order tickets:

NBFF 21 capsule review: Udo Kier leaves it all on the screen in ‘SWAN SONG’

SWAN SONG

SWAN SONG follows retired hairdresser and local bar performer icon Pat Pitsenbarger (Kier) who has given up on life from the confines of his small-town Sandusky, Ohio nursing home. But when Pat gets word that a former client’s dying wish was for him to style her final hairdo, he sets out on an epic journey across Sandusky to confront the ghosts of his past – and collect the beauty supplies necessary for the job. SWAN SONG is a comical and bittersweet journey about rediscovering oneself, and looking gorgeous while doing so.

Udo Kier is a cinematic treasure. In Swan Song, his specificity and nuance make this an unforgettable viewing experience. He is elegant, funny, and simply entrancing. Jennifer Coolidge gives her most understated performance yet.  As Patrick’s former apprentice hairdresser, she gives the audience a fantastic combination of disgruntled diva and grounded humanity. Her chemistry with Kier is vital. The script smartly delves into regret, spite, loss, and redemption. It’s genuinely hilarious and endlessly touching. The soundtrack is beautifully thought out. And no, YOU started crying when “Dancing On My Own” played. Swan Song is a literal walk down memory lane. Kier deserves the Oscar for this role. I’m starting his official campaign right here, right now.


  • Director: Todd Stephens
  • Screenwriter: Todd Stephens
  • Producer: Stephen Israel, Tim Kaltenecker, Todd Stephens, Rhet Topham
  • Executive Producer: Jay Michael Fraley, Rhet Topham
  • Cast: Udo Kier, Jennifer Coolidge, Linda Evans
  • Cinematographer: Jackson Warner Lewis
  • Editor: Spencer Schilly, Santiago Figueira W

Showings – select to order tickets:


 

NBFF 2021 review: ‘AYAR’ is a genre-defying self-discovery.

AYAR

Ayar, a first-generation American Latina, returns home to reunite with her daughter. But when her mother, Renata, refuses to let her see her due to Covid, Ayar is confronted by the many roles she’s been forced to play, including the role in this film.

A thoughtful, meta film about cyclical history and emotional growth. AYAR is without genre. Flawlessly playing our titular character is Ariana Ron Pedrique. Her vulnerability, particularly alongside actress and screenwriter Vilma Vega, makes this film as intriguing as it is. These two women together become Ayar as a character. The script is part intimate confessional with a touch of magical realism. The integration of each actor’s audition and brief life story dismantles any preconceived notions about what AYAR intends to convey. This is a film like no other and, yet because of its structure, has an unexpected tangibility. AYAR is about mistakes, redemption, loss, and so much more. NBFF 21 audiences are lucky to experience something so unique.


Starring: Ariana Ron Pedrique, Vima Vega, Henry Foster Brown, Simon Haycock
Director: Floyd Russ
Writers: Vilma Vega, Ariana Ron Pedrique, Floyd Russ

Showings – select to order tickets:

Review: ‘Dachra’ takes a familiar formula and annihilates it.

DACHRA

An investigation into witchcraft leads a trio of journalism students to a mysterious town marked by sinister rituals. Inspired by true events.

Dachra‘s initial formula is similar to The Blair Witch Project. Soon going off the rails into something we’d never imagined experiencing. What sets this film apart is remarkable cinematography and ghastly twists and turns. The runtime is lengthy but necessary to place you inside the shoes and minds of our three protagonists. Being thrown into a new culture is oftentimes shocking and uncomfortable. Dachra takes discomfort to the next level. The script forces the viewer to endure a deranged and prolonged experience of hospitality. As the mystery grows, so too does the terror. So many questions swirl as the film progresses. This isn’t just one story. Dachra has franchise potential, with sequels and prequels possible.

Sometimes a film has the ability to sear an image into your brain. It’s rare when one film does it over and over.  Hatem Nechi‘s camerawork is both dizzying and hypnotic. The long takes are impressive and eerily effective. There is real movie magic in Dachra. I am scarred by some of the things I saw. Performances are nuanced and skin-crawling. The practical fx are gag-inducing. The fact that this is writer-director Abdelhamid Bouchnak‘s first film is mindblowing. This story is very carefully curated to scare the hell out of the audience.  It’s the perfect storm of horror and history.

Dachra | Dekanalog US Trailer from Dekanalog on Vimeo.

DACHRA opens in theatres and virtual cinemas nationwide on Friday, July 9th.

DACHRA is written and directed by Abdelhamid Bouchnak and stars Yasmine Dimassi, Aziz Jbali, Bilel Slatnia, Hela Ayed, Hedi Majri, Rahri Rahali.

Color
Arabic Language with English Subtitles
114 minutes
Not Rated

Review: ‘DOWNEAST’ is wicked authentic.

Downeast dives into the often-ignored seedy underbelly of Maine, following Emma Maddox as she returns to her hometown, haunted by the mysterious death of her brother Mikey years ago. As she reconnects with his best friend Tommy, the two rekindle their flame and Emma begins to uncover the web of lies the town has been keeping. Will Emma get the closure she so desperately seeks, or fall victim to the town’s turbulent ways?

As a New Englander born and bred, I know where my loyalty lies. New England is comprised of small coastal town charm and great regional food. More importantly, it has an unmistakable attitude that lies somewhere between territorially standoffish and genuinely friendly. Like every small town, secrets can easily keep the locals at arm’s length or connected for life. DOWNEAST is a fantastic example of that very idea. While I grew up in Connecticut and now reside in NYC, Maine is in my blood on my father’s side. I’ve seen things, and as an adult, I understand more than I care to. DOWNEAST‘s success lies within its authenticity and smart writing. You can thank director Joe Raffa and lead actor Greg Finely for that. This crime drama has everything you want; murder, revenge, and redemption. The slow introduction of the history of each character makes for a beautiful build-up of suspense.

Performances are top-notch. Greg Finley as Tommy manages to be both powerful and sympathetic all at once. There is a familiarity to his entire being that puts the audience at ease. Dylan Silver as Emma has an inspired tenacity that makes her a gorgeous foil for Finley. DOWNEAST could almost be considered an ensemble film. While the entire cast is incredibly solid, I feel compelled to mention one actor in particular. Kirk Fox‘s performance as Marty provides the much-needed levity to a heavy-handed storyline. He’s a star.

Gravitas Ventures and APS Films have announced the Digital HD and cable VOD release of Joe Raffa’s DOWNEAST will be available July 13th on a number of digital and cable platforms, including iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, Comcast, Spectrum, and Cox.

Downeast was produced by APS Films and directed by Joe Raffa, who wrote a script based on a story by Maine native Greg Finley. Finley produced alongside Cory Pyke.  Edwin Pendleton Stevens served as executive producer.

Downeast had its world premiere at the Garden State Film Festival in March, kicking off a screening tour across North America. The film has taken home a number of awards including Best Director and Best Actor at Worldfest Houston and Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor at the Montreal Independent Film Festival. Downeast screened at the Beverly Hills Film Festival, the Phoenix Film Festival, and the Show Low Film Festival.

Review: ‘Love Type D’ is charming and unexpected.

 

Bad news. Being unlucky in love is genetic.

 How can someone love you yesterday and not today? Shortly after her boyfriend sends his 12-year-old brother to break the news that she’s dumped, Frankie Browne discovers that she has a loser in love gene. Every man she goes out with will inevitably break up with her. Facing a lifetime of romantic failure, Frankie turns to the only genetics expert she knows: her former nemesis, Wilbur, a schoolboy science prodigy. Wilbur develops a maverick theory to reverse her romantic fortunes that sets into motion an unexpected and comic journey into Frankie’s past of questionable romantic choices.

Love Type D is a quirky and completely unexpected romcom. With a mixture of flashbacks and impressive ingenuity, Frankie figures she has nothing left to lose in love. Taking the advice of 12-year-old Wilbur throws her life into chaos. But it’s all in the name of finally understanding herself and the patterns of heartbreak. Wrangling in co-workers with similar relationship woes, Frankie becomes bolder than she ever thought possible. Love Type D is anything but the typical romcom. The script, by director Sasha Collington, is endlessly fun. Maeve Dermody skillfully plays upon Frankie’s eccentricities to make her genuinely loveable. This gives the film a solid Bridget Jone’s Diary vibe. But Love Type D easily stands on its own two left feet. Dermody is pure delight.  Even though Oliver Farnworth is on the poster with Dermody, it’s the performance from Rory Stroud as Wilbur that makes this film magic. His delivery of Collington’s dialogue is like watching a 45-year-old man inside a 12-year-old’s body. He is simply darling. If he’s not cast in every single upcoming British film, I’ll be flabbergasted. He’s a star.

OPENING ON-DEMAND EVERYWHERE

ON JULY 9, 2021

LOVE TYPE D stars Maeve Dermody, Rory Stroud, Oliver Farnworth, and Tovah Feldshuh.

It was written and directed by first-time filmmaker Sasha Collington.

The film has a running time of 94 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA.  Vertical Entertainment will release LOVE TYPE D On Demand everywhere on July 9, 2021.

Review: ‘Till Death’ kills it with the ball and chain metaphor.


Presents

TILL DEATH

Emma (Megan Fox) is stuck in a stale marriage to Mark and is surprised when he whisks her away to their secluded lake house for a romantic evening on their 10th anniversary. But everything soon changes, and Emma finds herself trapped and isolated in the dead of winter, the target of a plan that gets more sinister at every turn.

Till Death is a creative story about abuse, control, and reclaiming your voice. The film stars Megan Fox as Emma. She has been held emotionally captive by her abusive and powerful husband for 11 years. Their marital turmoil reaches new heights when a weekend getaway develops into physical captivity, with a side of heist and murder. Fox is great. The small moments of both recoil and challenge establish their dynamic, making for an uncomfortable watch. The physicality of this role is only half the battle. You cannot help but watch and yell at the screen alongside her. I think, “Son of a bitch!” came out of my mouth a lot. If I can be picky for a moment, I don’t think Fox’s character is given enough time to transition from submissive to badass, but that doesn’t lessen how enjoyable Till Death ultimately is. She gives a visceral performance.

It’s a harrowing script. The tension is constantly being ratcheted up. I was not expecting such a cat and mouse game when it first began. It’s the ingenuity that grabs you. I was genuinely surprised by Jason Carvey‘s screenplay. It’s undeniably clever, gruesome, infuriating, and fun. Till Death is essentially the worst anniversary scavenger hunt ever. (Which is actually the best compliment.)

Available In Theaters And On Demand July 2

Starring Megan Fox (Jennifer’s Body)
Co-staring Callan Mulvey (Russo Brothers’ upcoming The Gray Man), Eoin Macken (George RR Martin’s Nightflyers), Aml Ameen (HBO’s “I May Destroy You”)
and Jack Roth (Medici)
Directed by S.K. Dale 
Screenplay by Jason Carvey 

Review: ‘Too Late’ takes the appetite for success to the next level.

TOO LATE

This cozy horror comedy set in the Los Angeles indie comedy scene features Violet Fields who works a thankless job as the assistant to Bob Devore, famed comedian and host of the live variety show, Too Late. But what only Violet knows is that Bob is a monster both literally and figuratively. Resigned to her fate, Violet is caught by surprise when she meets aspiring comedian Jimmy Rhodes and sparks fly. But as her feelings for Jimmy grow and Bob starts to doubt her loyalty, she and Jimmy could end up as Bob’s next meal.
Violet toils away curating her smaller comedy show all while taking the abuse of her boss, Bob. Taking back control is the name of the game, but things get a bit messy along the way. Bob Devore, whose name (I’m assuming) is intentionally close to the word “devour,” is the accomplished late-night figurehead on the comedy scene in L.A. He’s a real monster of a boss. No, like, he’s an actual monster. Under his thumb and in the shadow of his longstanding career, Violet longs to cut ties and make her own way. When love unexpectedly arrives, she must navigate everyone’s appetite for success and take matters into her own hands.
Too Late really digs into the idea that Hollywood is an all-consuming industry. Alyssa Limperis as Violet has that “seasoned pilot actress just waiting to hit it big” kind of energy. She’s a damn natural and I want to see much more of her in the future. Her chemistry with Ron Lynch is sheer perfection. His smarmy, oftentimes flat-out gross, glad-handing demeanor catapults this entire narrative. One of the funniest things about Too Late is the fact that it could be a franchise based on Devore’s origin story. He cannot be the only monster lurking. You could do an entire riff on agents and vampires. That’s comedy gold. The possibilities are endless. On the condition that you bring Limperis back into the fray, of course. With stand-up not only as a major plot point but using actual sets to keep the laughs going, Too Late is a breezy, sometimes gross, definitely unique film. Also, anything with Fred Armisen gets my eyes on it.

 

OPENING IN SELECT THEATERS & ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS ON JUNE 25
STARRING ALYSSA LIMPERIS, RON LYNCH, WILL WELDON, MARY LYNN RAJSKUB, & FRED ARMISEN
TOO LATE is the debut feature film from director D.W. Thomas and writer Tom Becker. It stars Alyssa Limperis (Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun), Ron Lynch (Bob’s Burgers, Adventure Time), Will Weldon (Comedy Central’s This Isn’t Happening), Mary Lynn Rajskub (24, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Fred Armisen (SNL, Portlandia), Jenny Zigrino (Bad Santa 2, 50 Shades of Black), Jack De Sena (Avatar: The Last Airbender), and Brooks Wheelan (SNL).
TOO LATE has a running time of 80 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA. Gravitas Ventures will release TOO LATE in select theaters and on digital platforms including iTunes, Google Play, Fandango Now, and all major cable/satellite platforms on June 25.

Tribeca Festival 2021 review: ‘Werewolves Within’ will leave you howling.

Werewolves Within

SYNOPSIS:
After a proposed gas pipeline creates divisions within the small town of Beaverfield, and a snowstorm traps its residents together inside the local inn, newly arrived forest ranger FINN (Sam Richardson) and postal worker CECILY (Milana Vayntrub) must try to keep the peace and uncover the truth behind a mysterious creature that has begun terrorizing the community.

If you hate comedy, Werewolves Within is not for you. Also, if you aren’t a fan of whip-smart social commentary wrapped in a genre film about werewolves, stop reading now. Director Josh Ruben brought one of the best films to Tribeca Festival this year. Written by Mishna Wolff, the screenplay plays off the paranoia and politics of small-town USA. The pairing of Milana Vayntrub and Sam Richardson is pure comic genius. Wolff’s dialogue gives this duo a chance to shine and the audience nonstop belly laughs. In fact, this ensemble cast will blow you away. Everyone has their time to shine. Not a single actor is forgettable. This is the kind of witty banter that occurs when there is genuine chemistry between cast members. It’s so successful you’ll question whether there was improvisation on set. That’s a compliment to everyone involved with the film. The mystery aspect of Werewolves Within will keep you guessing until the very end. The practical effects perfectly progress from suggestive to full-on gagworthy. This film is so nuanced it will surprise you. Werewolves Within is the perfect reason to return to the theaters.

**In Theaters on June 25th & On Demand July 2nd**

DIRECTED BY
Josh Ruben (Scare Me, “You’re The Worst”)
WRITTEN BY
Mishna Wolff (I’m Down)
STARRING
Milana Vayntrub, Sam Richardson,
Cheyenne Jackson, Michaela Watkins, Harvey Guillen, Michael Chernus, George Basil, Sarah Burns, Catherine Curtai, Rebecca Henderson, Glenn Fleshler

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

The Legend of the Underground

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airing on HBO and HBO Max June 29th, 2021

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

Tribeca Festival 2021 review: ‘False Positive’ is horrifyingly twisted and now available on HULU.

FALSE POSITIVE

Lucy and Adrian find their dream fertility doctor in the illustrious Dr. Hindle. But after becoming pregnant, Lucy begins to notice something sinister behind Hindle’s charm, and she sets out to uncover the unsettling truth about him.

It took 8 months to get pregnant with my son. In the grand scheme for a lot of women, that isn’t long at all. Since I turned 35 in the first month of my pregnancy, it was deemed a “geriatric pregnancy.” That felt about as awesome as you might imagine. Growing a human being is stressful enough without the constant barrage of opinions. People telling you what you can and cannot eat, how you should parent, and what you should be feeling. It’s super fun. And by that, I mean it sucks, just in case you didn’t catch the heavy-handed sarcasm. Tribeca Festival 21 film FALSE POSITIVE takes all of that anxiety and cranks it to 11. Ilana Glazer and Justin Theroux play Lucy and Adrian, a couple that has a personal connection with a famed fertility doctor. From the moment Lucy gets a glimpse of her baby on the sonogram, she knows something is very, very wrong.

The script does a solid job setting the stage with the misogyny and gaslighting thrust upon pregnant women. While the internet can be their worst enemy (for the love of God, stay away from WebMD) a mother has instincts that she should never ignore. False Positive smartly plays upon those anxieties and adds highly macabre stakes. You’re not quite sure what is real. It’s intensely dark. Ilana Glazer is pitch-perfect at every turn. Cast her in every genre, right now. Justin Theroux is a fantastic foil. You feel the skin-crawling vibe he unleashes once the audience is placed in Lucy’s shoes. His straight man act makes him all the more unsettling. Dr. Hindle is played brilliantly by Pierce Brosnan. His charm and calmness are grossly offputting even through his perfect smile.

False Positive will hit differently for women with or without fertility issues. It will also have a unique reaction from genre fans. It’s a multifaceted feature from director John Lee, who also wrote the script with Ilana Glazer. While the finale is so batshit crazy it may make your head spin, I can attest that you will not be able to get the images out of your head. They are seared into my brain. I’m still shuddering a week later.

Hulu & A24 will release

FALSE POSITIVE

as a Hulu Original Film on

June 25, 2021

Netflix review: ‘Sisters on Track’ Proves that You’ve Got to Work for Your Dreams, They Don’t Just Come.

Sisters on Track chronicles the coming-of-age story of the Sheppard sisters: Tai, Rainn, and Brooke who were propelled into the national spotlight in 2016 with their first-time wins at the Junior Olympics. The resulting media storm landed the trio on the cover of Sports Illustrated Kids as “SportsKids of the Year” and they were able to move from shelters into their own home. The film offers a rare intimate glimpse into a tight-knit Brooklyn family’s journey to recover from trauma and tragedy. With the support of their mother, Tonia Handy, and the guidance of coach Jean Bell, the Sheppard sisters aim to beat the odds, dream big, and aspire to higher education as they are finding their voices as athletes and students – all while processing the growing pains of adolescence. At the heart of the story is the bond between sisters and an entire community of women, passing the baton of self-empowerment and hope through track and field, from one generation to another.

“You’re not the only one raising these girls,” Coach Jean Bell says to Tonia Handy, mother of the Sheppard sisters Tai, Rainn, and Brooke in a heartfelt moment that perfectly articulates the thesis of this story. Although the sisters have faced the kind of adversity that makes their success all the more inspiring, the magic of the film is in watching a village pull together to prepare these young ladies for bright futures of their choosing. 

The sisters’ meteoric rise in the track world is only amplified by the challenges they have faced. When they exploded onto the track scene in 2016 with first-time wins at the Junior Olympics, the family was living in a homeless shelter. The resulting media storm landed them on the cover of Sports Illustrated Kids as “SportsKids of the Year” which caught the attention of director Tyler Perry. Inspired by their story, Perry generously secured the family a furnished apartment in their Brooklyn neighborhood and committed to paying the rent for two years. 

The documentary picks up in the aftermath of these exceptional events as the girls navigate the demands of high-level competitive sport and more universal trials like coming-of-age. In the hands of a different group of filmmakers, the documentary may have focused gratuitously on the tragedy and hardship of the girl’s early lives or the precariousness of what they have now. Sisters On Track, however, is a joy to watch. Although the reality of the girls’ home lives is apparent, it is not exploited for pathos. Instead, the bulk of the film is watching a group of talented young women train and compete at the highest levels amid a continuous stream of motivational pep talks from Coach Jean Bell who is an inspiration in her own right (I could write an entire piece on the Jeuness Track Club where they train).  

The documentary is extremely heartfelt and honest, bolstered by the Sheppard sisters themselves who are blessed with vibrant personalities in addition to their clear athletic talents. Middle sister Rainn says it best, “You’ve got to work for your dreams, they don’t just come.”

Watch the Official Trailer:

SISTERS ON TRACK launches on Netflix on Thursday, June 24th
Directed by: Corinne van der Borch & Tone Grøttjord-Glenne
Producer: Anita Rehoff Larsen & Tone Grøttjord-Glenne
Executive Producer: Sam Pollard
Story Consultant: Shola Lynch
Run Time: 94 minutes
Featuring the Original Song:
“The Dream”
Performed by: Mark Batson featuring Tarriona “Tank” Ball
Written by: Mark Batson and Tarriona “Tank” Ball

Review: ‘Chasing Childhood’ is essential viewing for parents and policymakers, alike.

CHASING CHILDHOOD

Overprotected and over directed, American children are wilting under the weight of well-meaning parents. In the pursuit of keeping them safe and creating an impressive resumé of extracurricular activities to wow admissions boards, over-parenting smothers children across socioeconomic classes. This thoughtful film follows education professionals and reformed helicopter parents who seek and offer solutions for developing more confident, independent young people while restoring some joy and freedom to childhood.

I grew up in Simsbury, Connecticut. Getting less than an “A” on an assignment my entire childhood was, shall we say, frowned upon. When I struggled with pre-Algebra in 7th grade, my parents got me a math tutor. I loathed it. To be clear, this was triggered because I had a “B+” grade point average. That pretty much sums up the pressure I felt to excel. I was in dance classes 5 days a week until I aged out of the studio, performing En Pointe at age 9 with girls 4+ years my senior. I was an overachiever born and, most definitely, bred. Once high school began, my anxiety hit new heights. Silently struggling with dyslexia, believing that my peers would hear the millisecond long pause when I had to read a date out loud was panic-inducing. Starring in every school play, managing boys Cross-Country & Track, maintaining a social life, and prepping for college were all-consuming. This was in the late 90s. That disquieting grew exponentially over the years. I used to be fearless, attending a performing arts conservatory in Manhattan, moving across the country to audition for Disneyland on a whim. But social pressure from my parents for not following the “traditional” educational path weighed on me like an elephant on my chest. I never felt like any of my success was enough. I’m 41 now, and that sense of inadequacy remains. Despite the incredible stories I have from living abroad, making movies, writing, teaching, creating a small business, the list is obnoxious, I have been trained to think I can be better.

Chasing Childhood is a film that could not have arrived at a better time. After the year we’ve had in lockdown, it’s time to confront some harsh realities. Chasing Childhood is tailor-made for parents, educators, and policymakers of every age. I have a 4 and 5-year-old living in an apartment we own on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. By all measures, life is great. What you don’t see is the aura of tension that surrounds the admissions process when applying to preschool. Now, we’re entering Kindergarten with my son. The questions of, “Where are you all applying?” have been swirling around me since he was 2. The idea that the school we picked for our 2-year-old would somehow determine what tax brackets my children would fall under in 20 years is exhausting. Filmmakers Margaret Munzer Loeb and Eden Wurmfeld clearly explain how we’re stifling kids. They are exhausted. This trend of micromanaging their futures kills their present joy. The doc talks to parents, teachers, experts, and kids about how we can change this negative trend. With stats about recess and play Vs. standardized testing will undoubtedly move your needle in terms of curriculum and quality of life. Wilton, Connecticut is featured quite heavily, alongside Patchogue, NY, and of course, Manhattan. Wilton is actually one of the towns we’ve considered in making our city exodus. The irony of how I stumbled upon Wilton should not be surprising. I googled, “Top School Districts in Connecticut.” Simsbury was always in the Top 5. I should have guessed that any town along what Connecticut calls “The Gold Coast” would be the other top districts. After watching, Wilton is looking better and better. What makes Chasing Childhood so successful is the film’s honesty. The interviews with every participant are authentic. The implementation of more play is key to a well-balanced life. The film is not preachy. It does not judge. It does explain how we’ve become wired this way. How seemingly small societal shifts went from ripples to tidal waves in policy and parenting. It’s nothing short of fascinating.

I have a greater understanding of my own parents now. We all want better for our kids. I try to keep this in mind when signing up my littles for activities. They are few and far between on purpose. Besides the logistical and monetary commitments involved, it’s because I vividly remember the years before high school. Playing outside until it got dark, riding my bike across town, exploring the woods, jumping off things that most definitely should have broken my bones. I retain the joy and excitement and calm from those moments. If nothing else, Chasing Childhood is a perfect reminder to stop, take a breath, and realize that success in life doesn’t come from the longest resume. It’s time and memories. Let’s step back and honor childhood. Let the kids be kids. Happiness comes first.

Virtual Live Premiere on June 24, 2021, and

Nationwide Watch Now @ Home Cinema Release on June 25, 2021

Directed by: Margaret Munzer Loeb, Eden Wurmfeld

Produced by: Lisa Eisenpresser, Eden Wurmfeld

FeaturingGenevieve Eason, Savannah Eason, Julie Lythcott-Haims, Peter Gray, Lenore Skenazy, Dr. Michael Hynes

 

World Premiere in the American Perspectives section at the 2020 DOC NYC Film Festival 

Official Selection of the 2020 Annapolis Film Festival

Official Selection of the 2021 Portland International Film Festival

Official Selection of the 2021 Cleveland International Film Festival

Official Selection of the 2021 Julien Dubuque International Film Festival

Official Selection of the 2021 Sonoma International Film Festival

Review: ‘The Birthday Cake’ is a slice of revenge.

The Birthday Cake

Gio brings a cake to a memorial celebration for the 10th anniversary of his father’s mysterious death, hosted by his uncle (Kilmer), a Brooklyn mafia boss. His life begins to change as he pieces together what really happened to his father.

Everyone in the city seems to know Gio’s name. He hears it from every street corner as he walks about Brooklyn, from virtually every kind of person imaginable – hipster bar owners and priests, mentors and murderers. If Gio (Shiloh Fernandez) always seems surprised to hear his name, it’s because the objective of his walk is pretty intense: bringing a birthday cake to a party thrown by his mob boss uncle (Val Kilmer) to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Gio’s father.

If Gio himself is unknown to us, the archetype of his story certainly is more familiar. First-time director Jimmy Giannopoulos is acutely aware of the weight mob movies hold, especially in New York City. Every aspect of the production seems to shine with reverence for mob movie history: a crooning Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons open the film; Lorraine Bracco and Paul Sorvino appear in supporting roles that nod vigorously to their past magic in Goodfellas. Moves like these make us feel at home in the story, nostalgic for its themes even though the setting is modern.

Shiloh’s Gio is friendly, but reserved – an earnest blank canvas. Robbed of his father at an early age, he relies on his cousin Leo (Emory Cohen) and the kindly priest Father Kelly (Ewan McGregor). On paper, it’s hard to find two more polarizing father figures than a priest and a mobster, but just wait – the film doesn’t take the easy way out.

Giannopoulos’s background in music videos is well served – music anchors complements and drives the narrative forward at all times. The early joyous do-wop tracks gradually give way to modern rock and rap as the night goes on and Gio gets himself in more and more trouble. It’s supposed to be  Christmastime, but the soundtrack makes clear there is barely any Christmas cheer to speak of. I was impressed by the way Giannopoulos’ camera mirrored this descent, gradually taking the audience from bright Bensonhurst streets into a perverse night of neon bakeries and bars.

If The Birthday Cake has one major weakness, it is its inability to fully leverage its broad, talented cast. Aldis Hodge flits on and off the screen so fast you wonder if he stumbled onto the set by accident. Though they seem to represent Gio’s moral compass, Leo and Father Kelly barely cobble together 15 minutes of combined screen time. Only Luis Guzman truly capitalizes on his short cameo, driving a spark of pure comedy into an otherwise dark narrative.

Adult men in the world of The Birthday Cake seemed to be defined by their absence, their silence, by time cut short. Gio’s cousin Leo spends the majority of the film off-screen, his presence only hinted at through phone calls or text messages. Even fearsome Angelo, hobbled by a past shooting, is unable to truly speak, with a raspy squeak the only trace of what must have once been a fearsome roar. Over it all hangs the specter of Gio’s absent father.

I wish the film had done some heavier lifting to build on that central theme for a story so preoccupied with memory. I left the film wishing I had been given the opportunity to see more of these men, these memories, through Gio’s eyes. Instead, I left feeling like I’d seen a film that still had more to say.

In Theaters and On-Demand on June 18, 2021

Directed by: Jimmy Giannopoulos
Written by: Jimmy Giannopoulos, Diomedes Raul Bermudez, and Shiloh Fernandez
Director of Photography: Sean Price Williams (Good TimeThe Color Wheel)

Starring:
Shiloh Fernandez (Evil Dead, Red Riding Hood)
Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!, Trainspotting, August: Osage County)
Val Kilmer (The Doors, The Saint, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)
Lorraine Bracco (Goodfellas, “The Sopranos,” Medicine Man)
Ashley Benson (Spring Breakers, “Pretty Little Liars,” Her Smell)
 Aldis Hodge (One Night in MiamiHidden Figures, Straight Outta Compton)
 Penn Badgley (“Gossip Girl,” “You”, Margin Call)
Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond the Pines, “The OA”)
Vincent Pastore (“The Sopranos,” Revolver, Shark Tale)
Jeremy Allen White (“Shameless,” Movie 43, The Rental)

Tribeca Festival 2021 Review and Interview: Director Nick Moran talks ‘Creation Stories’

CREATION STORIES

Creation Stories tells the unforgettable tale of infamous Creation Records label head Alan McGee; and of how one written-off young Glaswegian upstart rose to irrevocably change the face of British culture.

I was immediately charmed by director Nick Moran after congratulating him on Creation Stories. “Oh, Thank You! I was very concerned about whether it would work with American audiences, ya know because Trainspotting didn’t work as big as it did over here. And ya know, Lock, Stock, (and Two Smoking Barrels) didn’t work as big as it did over here. So I’m like, are they gonna get this sort of Brit Pop-tastic film. And I’m really excited that everyone I’ve spoken to has really, really liked the film.” I assured him that any cinephile in the US knows what those Trainspotting and Lock, Stock are. I was hard-pressed to find a wall in college without one or both of those posters plastered on them. It was a cultural phenomenon in the late 90s. These films opened the minds of countless fans and future filmmakers.

Creation Stories is of a similar ilk. The film’s pace is like a runaway freight train, easily identifying itself as an Irvine Welsh script. In an early scene, young Allen discovers the Sex Pistols. There is joyous, visceral energy to the editing. Moran was the perfect choice for director. After having spoken with him, it all makes even more sense now. This matches Nick’s personal energy. The entire viewing experience of Creation Stories brought me back to when I was in high school and got riled up on the way to live shows or just listening to bands like Oasis. Having to wait in front of the radio for a song to play, that buzzy anticipation isn’t something today’s generation experiences.

Allen McGee was a hustler and a dreamer. But also an addict. His vices were drugs and alcohol, but also risk. His innate ability to take risks on bands changed the face of music. His influence reached beyond the music industry. McGee had his hands in more than the music scene. His stories are so wild you’d almost believe that they were total BS. Ewen Bremner nails this role. He captures Allen McGee‘s dizzying aura. Allen went from a kid excited about music to establishing an inspired empire. Bremner leaves it all on the screen surrounded by a cast of brilliant players like Jason Isaacs, Suki Waterhouse, Leo Flanagan, and many more, including a brief but memorable appearance from Nick Moran as Malcolm McLaren. The way Moran harnesses Welsh and Dean Cavanagh‘s script melds so well with the era. Bringing on Danny Boyle solidified the film version. The drugs, the parties, the hair, and clothing. The entire look of the film has the impression of what I imagine a really great acid trip feels like. It’s a whirlwind. I cannot begin to imagine what was shot and not used! I would not be mad at an eventual director’s cut version.

Let’s talk about the music. The soundtrack is nothing short of a hit. Combining tracks from The Jesus and Mary Chain, David Bowie, Sex Pistols, and yes, Oasis, Moran explains how he chose what would be featured in the film. “It wasn’t much of a learning curve for me, It was more of a case of going through the record collection I’ve already got, brushing the dust off a few of them, and going, ‘Well, what about this?’ ” He perfectly sums up Creation Stories by saying, “If you don’t know that music, then it’s a great discovery!” It’s a celebratory history lesson in a way.

You can watch Creation Stories through Tribeca At Home beginning tonight. Check out the trailer for a taste of what’s to come.

Available Starting

Wed June 16 – 8:00 PM

At Home

$15

Streaming Tribeca at Home is not available outside the USA

Purchased films remain available to stream on-demand from the above date through June 23

 

Tribeca Festival 2021 review: ‘P.S. Burn This Letter Please’ is a joyous history lesson.

P.S. Burn This Letter Please

A box of letters, held in secret for nearly 60 years, ignites a 5-year exploration into a part of LGBT history that has never been told. The letters, written in the 1950s by a group of New York City drag queens, open a window into a forgotten world where being yourself meant breaking the law and where the penalties for “masquerading” as a woman were swift and severe. Using original interviews, never-before-seen archival footage and photographs and stylized recreations, P.S. BURN THIS LETTER PLEASE reconstructs this pre-Stonewall era as Lennie, Robbie, George, Michael, Jim, Henry, Claude, Tish, and Terry—former drag queens now in their 80s and 90s—reveal how they survived and somehow flourished at a time when drag queens were both revered and reviled, even within the gay community. The government sought to destroy them, then history tried to erase them, now they get to tell their story for the first time.

There’s something both nostalgic and tangible about handwritten letters. With technology at our fingertips, they are few and far between and nearly nonexistent to certain generations. In P. S. Burn This Letter Please, a box of letters from the 50s chronicles the lives of a small LGBTQ circle of friends. Through sit-down interviews with the authors, immaculate archival footage and photos, we delve into history. This documentary is phenomenally compelling. If it doesn’t make you grin from ear to ear, you’re out of your mind.

Happiness isn’t the only reaction this film elicits. It is a lesson in oppression, one that sounds all too familiar. We hear about biological family dynamics, the difference between those who accepted and those who broke these beautiful souls down. The majority of the doc is celebratory and juicy. Oh honey, the exquisite fashion. The delicious stories. Hearing the truth from those who lived it is priceless.

I learned an entirely new vocabulary. I learned about the “who’s who” of drag and female impersonators in those years. What was it like to be a performer? Who was actually running the gay clubs? That answer will shock you. To say I was fascinated would be an understatement. The dramatic readings of the letters are to die for. To think what wasn’t included in the film leaves me wanting more. Outside of its Tribeca Festival screening, you can watch P.S. Burn This Letter Please streaming on Discovery +. You will not regret jumping into its fabulousness.