Review: Steve Balderson’s ‘Alchemy of the Spirit’ is a crossroads of grief and art

Artist Oliver Black (Xander Berkeley) wakes to discover his wife Evelyn (Sarah Clarke) has died in their bed overnight. Brimming with magical realism, we enter a world in which the misconceptions of our belief in a solid reality are revealed. Space and time bend in a way to challenge the audience with what is real, what is illusion, and what is beyond…
This peaceful and hypnotic quiet is interrupted by the outside world and the threat of everyday, common reality, thanks to Oliver’s art dealer (Mink Stole).

Steve Balderson‘s films are rather distinctive. Their lush visual impact sticks in your brain. His newest film, Alchemy of the Spirit, is no exception. Possessing a dreamy, even otherworldly look, Balderson makes the mundane glow. The quiet becomes claustrophobic. As the film begins, the sound editing alongside the score creates an unsettling feeling. The audience resides inside the manic mind of a grieving man. At 23 mins and 10 seconds into the film, we get a shot that elicits every emotion tied to this film. The symmetry, artistic and of two souls as one, is breathtaking. You will not miss it. There is a Picasso-esque madness to it. Balderson thought about its impact as it is the current key art for the film. Very smart. That sense of panic eases once introduced to a languid score of Debussy, Bach, and other classical beauty. While the darkness lies just under the surface, the screenplay’s nuances extend beyond what I expected from the first third of the film.

Sarah Clarke, as Evelyn, is chilling and beautiful. Her voice, combined with soul-piercing imagery, is haunting. The grounded chemistry between Clarke and Xander Berkeley plays with a familiarity of real-life lovers, which makes sense as the two actors have been married since 2002. Berkeley, who I recently lauded in The Dark and The Wicked, is similarly spectacular here. He’s an actor that can capture emotion with a glance. Balderson’s screenplay allows him to live in grief in an extraordinarily imaginative way. It’s a stunning performance. Not only that, but the actual art in the film is Berkeley’s. It will wow you.

The idea of “the proper way to grieve” is front and center. How do we honor the dead? How do we mark the life we have? Oliver creates a literal death mask both as a means to stop time and keep Evelyn’s spirit alive. We get to explore the meaning of life through memory. The film easily could have been a stage play. It is dripping with theatricality. Alchemy of the Spirit is a genre-bending ode to art and romance. It’s a visual love poem.


Steve Balderson’s Gothic Love Story Alchemy of the Spirit

Streaming Now on Amazon Prime Video

Soon to Debut on All Major VOD Platforms

 
Alchemy of the Spirit: 91 minutes / United States / English

Review: One of the year’s best docs, Amazon Original ‘GOOD NIGHT OPPY’ is for every dreamer.

GOOD NIGHT OPPY

There is never a dull moment in the film. We barrel ahead with construction, testing, crunching numbers, and racing the clock because the planets literally have to align for the mission to succeed. The NASA scientists and engineers that built Spirit and Oppy speak about the emotional investment, comparing it to creating a human child. Years of work, passion, and inspiration were essentially alive in the form of two identical robots. Their survival depends on the weather, human ingenuity, and sheer luck.

The 6-month journey from Earth to Mars captured the most intense solar flares ever experienced in all space exploration, forcing the team to reboot both rovers. Angela Bassett’s voice gently narrates Spirit and Opportunity’s actions. The CGI simulations of Spirit and Opportunity are breathtaking. I’ve never seen anything like them. The footage from inside the labs and control room, combined with the tense sci-fi-inspired score, keep you on the edge of your seat. You find yourself cheering, holding your breath, tearing up, and singing along to the mission-curated soundtrack.

If the mystery of space intrigues you, if you’ve ever looked up at the night sky and wondered if we were alone in the universe, GOOD NIGHT OPPY is a film tailor-made for your imagination. It’s a shame The Academy overlooked such a crowd-pleaser. If there ever was a more appropriate “To infinity and beyond” moment in documentary filmmaking, I sure as hell can’t think of one.


GOOD NIGHT OPPY is now streaming on Prime Video


 

Tribeca Film Festival 2022 reviews: ‘The Drop’ & ‘Don’t Make Me Go’ are two different films about parenting and identity.

THE DROP

I’m a huge fan of Sarah Adina Smith‘s work. Midnight Swim, Buster’s Mal Heart, and most recently Birds of Paradise are an eclectic group of films that show her imagination and vision are one of a kind. Her latest Tribeca 2022 film is no exception. In The Drop, Lex and Mani are a vivacious married couple trying to get pregnant. Lex does the unthinkable after they arrive at a friend’s destination wedding. She allows the bride’s infant daughter to slip from her grip. The fallout from this moment sends this group of close friends into a tailspin of pretentiousness, ego, judgment, confessions, and chaos. The Drop is a proper hard R-rated adult comedy. The laughs are endless. Huge quirky personalities clash in a way that doesn’t let anyone off the hook. The film centers on parenting styles, communication, and the facade we all put up to survive. Smith and co-writer Josh Leonard skewer Millenial culture in the most brilliant ways possible. Anna Konkle and Jermaine Fowle lead this ensemble cast of your dreams. There is not a weak link in the bunch. The Drop is a crowd pleaser you’ll want to see with your closest friends. Then you can all sit around and decide which asshole character most represents you. You’re welcome.


DIRECTOR
Sarah Adina Smith
PRODUCER
Jonako Donley, Mel Eslyn, Sarah Adina Smith, Joshua Leonard, Shuli Harel, Tim Headington, Lia Buman
SCREENWRITER
Sarah Adina Smith, Joshua Leonard
CINEMATOGRAPHER
Shaheen Seth
EDITOR
Daniel Garber, Sarah Adina Smith
COMPOSER
Ellen Reid
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass
CAST

Anna Konkle, Jermaine Fowle, Jillian Bell, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Elisha Henig, Jennifer Lafleur, Joshua Leonard, Aparna Nancherla, Robin Thede


DON’T MAKE ME GO

Hannah Marks is a damn gem. Her films have insight and heart for days. Her latest Tribeca 2022 film, Don’t Make Me Go, takes on a father-daughter relationship that will shake even the hardest of hearts. John Cho and Mia Isaac play Max and Wally. When Max discovers that his headaches are a brain tumor, he takes a reluctant Wally on a road trip to his college reunion. The journey serves a dual purpose; spending time with Wally and reconnecting with his ex-wife and Wally’s estranged mother. The screenplay by Vera Herbert is overflowing with coming-of-age moments, humor, and grounded conversations about mortality. It manages to be a story of redemption through creative means. We watch Wally make one bratty and irresponsible decision after another, yet her actions are ceaselessly relatable on the journey of finding your identity. Max is chasing the clock and lies to Wally for most of the film. With the purest intentions and all the love and emotional sacrifice a parent can muster, Don’t Make Me Go is a beautiful story about vulnerability and living life to the fullest every day.


DIRECTOR
Hannah Marks
PRODUCER
Donald De Line, Leah Holzer, Peter Saraf
SCREENWRITER
Vera Herbert
CINEMATOGRAPHER
Jaron Presant
EDITOR
Paul Frank
CAST

John Cho, Mia Isaac, Mitchell Hope, Jemaine Clement, Stefania LaVie Owen, Kaya Scodelario


US Release Date: July 15, 2022