Sundance 2023 Unseen Films capsule review: ‘Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)’

Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)

Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey “Po” Powell, are the men behind the art design studio, Hipgnosis. Named by Syd Barrett when he scrolled the name across a door, the studio went on to create hundreds of record covers for all of the great bands and performers.

One of the great films of the year this is going to be an absolute delight to anyone who loves the great art that accompanies great music. Not only do we get to see how the art was created but we also get to hear all sorts of magnificent stories from the creators, but also the musicians themselves Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, Dave Gilmour, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Peter Gabriel, and others are here telling stories.

I smiled from ear to ear for 100 minutes.

This is exactly what you hope the film will be except it’s even better.

I can’t say more than that except this is on my best-of-2023 list.

Highly recommended.


Screening Times

In Person

  • PREMIERE
    Jan. 20 8:30PM MST

    Egyptian Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 21 3:30PM MST

    Megaplex Theatres at The Gateway 8/9

    SALT LAKE CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 25 3:00PM MST

    Park Avenue Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 26 1:00PM MST

    Redstone Cinemas – 2

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 28 6:45PM MST

    Rose Wagner Center

    SALT LAKE CITY

Online

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 24 8:00AM MST

    Available Until Jan. 29  11:55PM MST


     

Review: Devotion and deceit go hand in hand in Liz Fania Werner and Carlos Montaner’s ‘WAKING KARMA’

WAKING KARMA

High school senior Karma and her mother Sunny are on the run from her father, an infamous cult leader. Trapped inside a remote wooded compound, her already complicated reality is about to crumble.

The film begins with intriguing flashbacks of a cult murder, newspaper clippings, and a hauntingly saccharine song. The setup immediately captured my attention. A sudden shift in style and time reveals Karma and Sunny living in fear and relying on the kindness of former cult members for protection. Small crumbs of cult life are just enough to keep you invested in Karma’s fate.

Michael Madsen is vile. His iconic voice serves him well as Paul, giving him an effortless presence. He could have been made more menacing with a few tighter shots overall. Kimberly Alexander plays Sunny with extraordinary nuance. This roller coaster ride of a role spans every emotion; adoration, cruelty, and unadulterated honesty. Alexander goes for it.

As Karma, Hannah Christine Shetler is the definition of wide-eyed vulnerability. She navigates chaos and confusion with equal parts innocence and fearlessness. Waking Karma is a terrific vehicle for her talents. 

It takes a solid 25 mins to get to any action, but then it is pretty much maniacal from there on out. The plot gets more sick and twisted as we roll along, both physically and psychologically. WAKING KARMA shines brightest in the scenes between mother and daughter. The shockingly devastating dialogue by director Liz Fania Werner with co-director Carlos Montaner‘s DP work almost demands an in-depth prequel. I have so many questions, and I’d love to see more about the beginnings of this cult. That’s the story we need now.


WAKING KARMA is now available on VOD

 

Sundance 2023 capsule review: Anna Hints’ profound documentary ‘SMOKE SAUNA SISTERHOOD’ is a collective sigh of womanhood.

SMOKE SAUNA SISTERHOOD

The ancient Estonian ritual of sauna building is a physical and spiritual cleansing. Women gather to share everything from funny childhood stories to earthly, almost guttural chants to intimate confessions with unfiltered honesty. Anna Hints‘ Sundance 2023 documentary Smoke Sauna Sisterhood is a visceral and profoundly deep film.

Mesmerizing closeups of body parts beading with sweat captured with static and handheld camerawork beautifully complement the conversations and place the audience inside the room. Haunting vocals during transition moments captivate the audience. Images of south Estonian matriarchs are projected on the sauna smoke as their voices recall tales from their lives. It is another stunning addition to an already visually sumptuous film.

Topics like cancer, women’s rights, body shaming, unresolved trauma, sex, and sexuality swirl freely. It is a safe space I envy. Smoke Sauna Sisterhood brings a contagious joy. There is a raw elegance I think Sundance 2023 audiences, specifically female viewers, will welcome. This film is a celebration of our complexities, highlighting the tender care we take with one another. It is revelatory to rediscover the interconnectedness of women and our shared experiences, good and bad. It is an astonishingly rewarding emotional catharsis.


Screening Times
In Person
PREMIERE
AddFAVORITE
Jan. 22 6:00PM MST
Prospector Square Theatre

PARK CITY

SECOND SCREENING
AddFAVORITE
Jan. 23 8:30PM MST
Megaplex Theatres at The Gateway 6

SALT LAKE CITY

SECOND SCREENING
AddFAVORITE
Jan. 25 11:45AM MST
Egyptian Theatre

PARK CITY

SECOND SCREENING
AddFAVORITE
Jan. 26 4:00PM MST
Redstone Cinemas – 2

PARK CITY

SECOND SCREENING
AddFAVORITE
Jan. 27 12:00PM MST
Screening Room

SUNDANCE MOUNTAIN RESORT

Online
SECOND SCREENING
AddFAVORITE
Jan. 24 8:00AM MST
Available Until Jan. 29 11:55PM MST


Anna Hints is an Estonian film director with a background in contemporary art and experimental folk music. Having deep roots in the distinct culture of South Estonia, Hints’ second home is in India. As an active dumpster diver, Hints’ short documentary For Tomorrow Paradise Arrives initiated public discussion and growth of new grassroot movements against food waste in Estonia.


 

Sundance 2023 capsule review: ‘BAD PRESS’ is a striking microcosm of tribal oppression and corruption.

BAD PRESS

Imagine a scenario, if you will, where the federal government controlled the entirety of the media. Ask North Korea and China’s citizens how well that works for them. Native American tribes are sovereign nations. They do not have freedom of the press. In the Sundance 2023 documentary from Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler, BAD PRESS exposes the crushing actions of tribe leaders to remain in power. MVSKOKE MEDIA journalists are under attack while the Chief manipulates the Muscogee community with misinformation. Who will protect the truth?

Bad Press describes the hierarchy of tribal media. Money and politics rule, making a constitutional Free Press amendment vital to every nation. The film follows the journey to change, from new candidates for a new chief to election fraud allegations, and boy does it mirror national shenanigans. MVSKOKE MEDIA journalist Angel Ellis and her colleagues report everything in real-time, fighting against fear, false claims, threats, and connected politicians who wish to silence them.

The biggest question becomes, “What do you have to hide?” BAD PRESS is the perfect Sundance 2023 companion to watch with Fantastic Machine. It’s a heart-pounding, sweaty palm viewing experience. The emotional gravity of this story is shocking. BAD PRESS is a microcosm of tribal oppression and global journalistic reality. Those in the film are brave as hell for speaking out. National news, take note. Transparency is key.


Screening Times

In Person

  • PREMIERE

    Jan. 22 8:40PM MST

    The Ray Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING

    Jan. 24 3:30PM MST

    Redstone Cinemas – 1

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING

    Jan. 25 12:00PM MST

    Screening Room

    SUNDANCE MOUNTAIN RESORT

  • SECOND SCREENING

    Jan. 26 12:40PM MST

    Holiday Village Cinemas – 2

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING

    Jan. 27 9:45PM MST

    Broadway Centre Cinemas – 3

    SALT LAKE CITY

Online

  • SECOND SCREENING

    Jan. 24 8:00AM MST

    Available Until Jan. 29  11:55PM MST


Sundance 2023 documentary review: ‘FANTASTIC MACHINE’ is a gasp-worthy watch.

FANTASTIC MACHINE

Memory preservation, emotional resonance, exploration, and exposure of truth, FANTASTIC MACHINE explores the history of capturing the first image to the deliberate curation of media content through the ages.

The swiftness of the manipulation of images shocked me. From the beginning, the film is ruthless in its takedown of perceived truth. It is what we don’t see changes everything. Fantastic Machine has outtakes from a 2017 ISIS propaganda video, Eurovision’s use of the green screen in their scoring reports, how-to YouTube videos, and viral video reactions. At one point, I exclaimed, “What The Fuck,” louder than I intended. 

The power of curated messaging in politics is something we know well. The film features a breathtaking 1993 interview with a filmmaker that changed the face of WW2 and modern-day filmmakers. In 1934, The Nazi Party hired Leni Reifenstahl to show the movement as powerful and attractive. She speaks about the entertainment factor, how a two-hour speech must be compressed to five minutes with a beginning, middle, and thrilling middle, despite the subject. As I witnessed the pride in her technical work, my mouth was agape. Juxtapose those images with the Sidney Bernstein footage from the final day of the war in 1945. Charged with proving the atrocities of war ever existed, Bernstein brings humanity, suffering, and truth. In the end, it is a product. In most cases, it is void of morality.

Maximilien Van Aertryck narrates with a profound statement: “A lack of perspective can distort what the world looks like.” There is such a fine line between propaganda and truth. We are all too familiar with this tactic. The results of media manipulation are monumentally dangerous but immensely lucrative. Instagram is rewiring young brains in a similar manner fashion magazines impacted our self-esteem in the 90s. It, quite literally, changes brain chemistry. The editing from Mikel Cee Karlsson and writer-directors Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck is award-worthy. As the saying goes, they understood the assignment.

FANTASTIC MACHINE is ceaselessly fascinating and undeniably disturbing to experience. As a commentary on entertainment, it is both a celebration and a condemnation. Sundance 2023 audiences are in for something absolutely brilliant. 


Screening Times

In Person

  • PREMIERE

    Jan. 23 3:00PM MST

    Prospector Square Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING

    Jan. 24 6:55PM MST

    Broadway Centre Cinemas – 3

    SALT LAKE CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING

    Jan. 25 2:45PM MST

    Egyptian Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING

    Jan. 26 3:00PM MST

    Park Avenue Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING

    Jan. 27 9:30AM MST

    Redstone Cinemas – 1

    PARK CITY

Online

  • SECOND SCREENING

    Jan. 24 8:00AM MST

    Available Until Jan. 29  11:55PM MST


Slamdance 2023 review: ‘A Perfect Day for Caribou’ is a captivating character study.

A PERFECT DAY FOR CARIBOU

We find Herman with a tape recorder in hand, giving estranged son Nate life tips and recalling snippets of random stories from his past. When his phone rings, he finds Nat on the other end, requesting a visit. Nate arrives with his six-year-old son Ralph in tow. Three generations in the same place for the first time, Herman and Nate swap stories as they play catch-up with one another as Ralph explores the cemetery with his soccer ball. Midway through the film, Ralph goes missing. Father and son search the surrounding area far and wide, with Nate explaining this is a habit of Ralph’s. Their talk continues along the way, Herman toting a mysterious box with them and Nate chainsmoking as a coping mechanism. A Perfect Day for Caribou catches Slamdance 2023 audiences off-guard with honesty and reflection.

The film opens with Jeb Berrier and a glorious 10-plus minute monologue of stories and advice. His delivery lands somewhere between stoic and hypnotizing. It is an extraordinary turn. Charlie Plummer never ceases to amaze me with his grounded portrayals. It’s like watching a documentary. Plummer settles into Nate without missing a beat. His calming demeanor, similar to Berrier’s, grabs you instantly. Rutherford’s script allows Plummer to break free as the story progresses, and again, he nails it. There is a purity to the performance.

Cinematographer Alfonso Herrera Salcedo‘s work is beautiful. The combination of black-and-white and thoughtful framing captures your attention immediately. I adored the stationary swings. Long takes allow the audience to focus on the dialogue, heightening the emotional investment. The location is a cemetery and the surrounding open plains. Something about this choice speaks volumes on a metaphoric level. Short intercut scenes surprise and delight.

The film is a perfect fit for Slamdance 2023. Writer-director Jeff Rutherford offers an intimate portrait of attempted redemption and connection. Complete with full-circle moments, A Perfect Day for Caribou is a mesmerizing character study brimming with complexity.


A Perfect Day for Caribou – Festival Trailer from Jeff Rutherford on Vimeo.

A PERFECT DAY FOR CARIBOU, starring Charlie Plummer (Lean on Pete; Looking for Alaska) and Jeb Berrier (First Cow; Shrill), premieres at Slamdance Film Festival on Saturday, January 21. 

And from January 23-29, watch from anywhere with the Slamdance Channel.

A PERFECT DAY FOR CARIBOU follows an estranged father and son who spend the day ambling, wandering, searching, and stumbling through disharmony and heartache. This heartfelt yet unconventional narrative is filmed in the nostalgic 4:3 aspect ratio and evocative black and white by cinematographer Alfonso Herrera Salcedo.


 

Slamdance 2023 review: The weird and wonderful world of ‘Who’s Annie?’

Slamdance 2023 Premiere of

WHO’S ANNIE?

After jail-time, 12-step programs and five marriages, Annie begins her acting career in her mid-fifties with the help of a young director she met at a Burger King. In this show within a show, Annie tackles both her gigs as an actor and the role of herself in her own life story.


A farcical meta delight, Slamdance 2023 episodic WHO’S ANNIE skewers the absurdity of Hollywood, but that’s only the beginning. Annie Pisapia plays herself and doesn’t. Yup. You read that correctly. This “series within a series” is wildly entertaining and wholly bizarre. 

Writer-director Sophia Peer plays “herself,” a television director with awkward and quirky energy. Peer bears a striking resemblance to Rhea Pearlman. It’s a head-scratching role, and I could not look away. Sofia Dobrushin plays the “series” version of Peers. Wide-eyed and perfectly cast, Dobrushin appears both afraid and at home in coordinated chaos. I adored her. Annie Pisapia owns the screen, as her comic timing is something to behold. Her rough exterior feels part false flag, part true identity. She is so convincing it is genuinely tough to discern between Annie’s real life and the script. That is the entire point of the series, and Peer has succeeded with flying colors. Adding in Peer’s manic confidence and Dobrushin’s “yes, and” attitude, these three women exquisitely complement one another.

Because the show jumps in style, so does the cinematography. It is eye candy that never gets boring. It is pure silliness, and I’m dying for more. It’s Comedy Central meets Mad TV. There is a lot of meat on the bone for series development. Everyone has enough (or a lot) of backstory to expand upon and plenty of weirdness to start. WHO’S ANNIE is unique in this Slamdance 2023 episodic lineup.


WHO’S ANNIE? – 30 Minute Scripted Comedy Series – Trailer from sophia peer on Vimeo.


2 Screenings at Treasure Mountain Inn: 255 Main St, Park City, UT 84060
Sunday 1/22: 9:45pm- Ballroom 
Thursday, 1/26: 11:30am- Crescent Room
Ticket Link Here

 

CREDITS:

Creator/Director: Sophia Peer

Written by Sophia Peer & Annie Sicherman

EPs: Ryan Cunningham, Troy Thompson

Co-Executive Producer: Randy Stulberg

Produced by: Manon Carrié

Cinematographer: Adam Uhl

Production Designer: Erica Magrey

Editor: Matt Posey

Starring: Annie Pisapia, Sofia Dobrushin, Sophia Peer


BIOS:

Creator and Director: Sophia Peer (she/her) was born and raised in Flushing, Queens, where she began her career as filmmaker, directing her parents in scripted/doc hybrids before she knew that was even a thing. She was awarded the NY Foundation for the Arts ‘Made In NY’ grant, a finalist for the ScreenCraft Film Fund, accepted into The Gotham’s Episodic Lab, and invited to Gotham Week, for WHO’S ANNIE?, a series she’s creating, co-writing and directing. Sophia is currently pitching a doc/scripted hybrid series created in collaboration with Jigsaw Productions. After years of working on series for Nike, Super Deluxe, Nylon, Genius, and Pitchfork, Sophia is now also directing a surreal cooking show, DANNY’S FOOD CORNER, starring queer comedian Lily Marotta (Celebrity Book Club). Sophia’s work has been screened at the Whitney Museum of Art, Hauser & Wirth, Abrons Art Center, the Giphy Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, Contemporary Arts Center, The Queens Museum, Indie Memphis Film Festival, and MoMA. She has directed music videos for artists such as Paramore, Julien Baker, Paramore, The National, Interpol, Yeasayer, and Junior Boys. 

Co-Writer: Annie Sicherman (she/her) is an award-winning queer screenwriter from Queens, NY.  She is the co-writer of WHO’S ANNIE?, a pilot that was awarded the NYFA “Made in NY” Grant, accepted into The Gotham’s Episodic Lab, and a finalist in the ScreenCraft Film Fund. Recently, Annie’s comedy pilot DOCTOR BABIES advanced in the Austin Film Festival.

Executive Producer: Ryan Cunningham (she/her) is an Emmy and Peabody award-winning producer who launched the development company Running Woman, with projects set up at FX, Party Over Here, and Swimsuit Edition. She has 20 years experience producing 25 different comedy TV series. TV producer credits include BROAD CITY, INSIDE AMY SCHUMER, SEARCH PARTY, THE LAST O.G., and stand-up specials for Comedy Central, Showtime, Amazon, Netflix, and HBO. Ryan was also the Director/EP on specials for Ilana Glazer, Alan Cumming, and the docuseries EXPECTING AMY.

Executive Producer: Troy Thompson (he/him) started Running Man in 2009 with his business partner Ryan Cunningham as a place to inspire creativity, and over the last 14 years has seen it turn into one of New York’s premiere post houses. He has been working in television and film for 25 years now as both an editor and colorist with an unending attention to detail. Credits include PATRIOT ACT with Hasan Minhaj, ZIWE, FLATBUSH MISDEMEANORS, AT HOME WITH AMY SEDARIS, BROAD CITY, IINSIDE AMY SCHUMER, SEARCH PARTY, THE DETOUR, and THE CHARACTERS. He has worked on stand-up specials for Chris Rock, Hasan Minhaj, Amy Schumer, Mike Birbiglia, Roy Wood Jr., Atsuko Okatsuka, Aida Rodriguez, Yvonne Orji, and music specials for Apple Live for Alicia Keys and Mary J. Blige. His work in feature films include the HBO documentary THE TRANS LIST; co-productions of 3RD STREET BLACKOUT, CLAIRE IN MOTION, KEEP THE CHANGE, winner of the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival; and BECKS, winner of the US Fiction Prize at the LA Film Festival. Troy’s most recent goal is to be a part of content that will someday inspire his 11-year-old daughter. 

Co-Executive Producer: Randy Stulberg (she/her) is an award winning creative EP/ showrunner from New York. Most recently she has been working on episodic development for various clients in TV and digital including Jigsaw Productions, The New York Times,  Refinery29, Vice, Apple/ JV8inc. and VOX/New York Magazine. She was the showrunner for Viceland TV’s highest rated show Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, helping reimagine the series from its original digital format for an international TV audience and executive produced 2022 Sports Emmy nominated series “Golden” featuring Olympic gold medalist Sunisa Lee for LeBron James’ SpringHill Company and Peacock streaming. 

Producer: Manon Carrié (she/her) is a French/Filipina-American writer and producer with a multitude of innovative work in docustyle branded content, television and narrative film for award-winning companies such as Vice, Hearst, Condé Nast, HBO Max, Freeform, Jigsaw, Hulu and The New York Times. Her projects playfully experiment with unexpected hybrids of form and genre, and aim to probe the peculiar nuances of characters, cultures and structural conflicts, which can be glimpsed in her 2020 mockumentary webseries ABROAD and bilingual dream-doc short OISEAUX DES ÎLES. She currently has three narrative scripts and several docu-projects in development, one of which plans to take place in her mother’s birth-village in the Philippines. She splits her time between Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Paris.

Cinematographer: Adam Uhl (he/him) is a cinematographer based out of New York. His first film MALA MALA, was produced by Christine Vachon and Killer Films and received an Audience Award at the 2014 TriBeCa Film Festival. In 2017, his second film, DINA, produced by Dan Cogan, Impact Partners, and Killer Films, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it received the Grand Jury Prize. He has also lensed several series including UNTOLD and LOSERS, THE FIX, and PANIC for Netflix and HBO. 

Production Designer: Erica Magrey (she/her) is a Brooklyn-based production designer, prop stylist, and interdisciplinary artist with a particular interest in examining female tropes, high/low-brow culture blends, and the future of the past. Working with commercial and editorial clients on scripted series, music videos, and still life photography, she creates work that examines the performance of identity. Erica has had screenings, performances and exhibitions at art spaces such as Socrates Sculpture Park, The Sculpture Center, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Kaskadenkondensator (Basel), The Kitchen, 106 Green, Klaus von Nichtssagend, Magic Pictures, Freight + Volume, and Storefront for Art and Architecture. 

Editor: Matt Posey (he/him) is an editor based in NY and LA. In addition to features, shorts, and award-winning commercials, he has edited music videos for Depeche Mode, Metallica, Rob Thomas, and many others.

The Star and inspiration for the series: Annie Pisapia (she/her) is an award winning actor born and raised in Queens. She can be spotted in many of the big series you’ve seen for the past six years playing roles such as Inmate, Police Officer, Drug Addict, Bartender and Janitor. Annie was the recurring character “Smoking Woman” in HIGH FIDELITY, scene partners with Bobby Cannavale in THE WATCHER, and held the role of “Agitated Woman” on NEW AMSTERDAM. Other shows include INVENTING ANNA, BETTY, MANIFEST, BILLIONS, BLUE BLOODS, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, CRASHING and THE OA. Annie’s swagger, charm, and New York attitude make her very hard to miss, even when she’s playing a background role. There are more than ten projects that are about to premiere in which Annie plays a major role including “Senior Biker Chic” in AWKWAFINA IS NORA FROM QUEENS, “Sister Joseph” in Jennifer Esposito’s directorial debut FRESH KILLS, and “Cathy” in the Netflix A24 comedy series SURVIVAL OF THE THICKEST.

Co-Star: Sofia Dobrushin (she/they) is Bicoastal, Biracial and Bisexual. They love to be at the intersection of many things and we see that reflected in their craft as an actor, director, comedian and musician. Acting credits include HIGH MAINTENANCE, César Alvarez’ ELEMENTARY SPACETIME SHOW, and On the Rock’s EDELWEISS at Ars Nova. Sofia was recently in Apple TV’s WECRASHED where she yelled at Anne Hathaway and got to wear fake glasses.


 

Sundance 2023 doc review: ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ is an unexpectedly badass victory cry

IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?

In search of someone else with the same physical condition, Ella Glendining takes us on a thoughtful journey in Sundance 2023 documentary IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?

The editing combined with the score creates a charming and deeply affecting quality. Confessional diary logs place us in Ella’s headspace. She uses home videos and sit-down chats with her Mum and Dad about what it was like to raise her. Seeking specialists and families with the same disability offers Ella more questions than answers. We follow Ella through an unexpected pregnancy. Her gorgeous son River and the Covid 19 pandemic change how she views potential surgery options. As she speaks to others via Zoom, she contemplates the appreciation of her body.

The discussion of ableism is paramount to understanding Ella’s life and any family with a differently abled member. I am the mother of a seven-year-old son with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I suspect that with his off-the-charts cognitive abilities, the more precise diagnosis is Aspergers. I appreciated Ella and her best friend Naomi’s honest discussions about her autism and the challenges of an invisible disability. Each admits they cannot fully understand the inner workings of one another’s feelings and worry they have inadvertently said horrible things to one another. Understanding the staring, judgment, and how it pierces the heart cannot be ignored. That is also why the conversations with Ella’s parents resonated with me. Like Ella seeking someone to connect to, her Mum and Dad were touchstones for me.

IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE? tackles outdated stereotypes and deep-seated trauma, but also optimism. I hope Ella Glendining understands the gravity of her film. I have to thank her for sharing her life, and I look forward to sharing her story with my son when he is a bit older. IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE? celebrates individualism and isn’t that the ultimate goal?


Screening Times

In Person

  • PREMIERE
    Jan. 22 3:00PM MST

    Prospector Square Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 24 3:00PM MST

    Park Avenue Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 25 12:00PM MST

    Park Avenue Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 26 5:30PM MST

    Megaplex Theatres at The Gateway 6

    SALT LAKE CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 27 2:30PM MST

    Holiday Village Cinemas – 1

    PARK CITY

Online

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 24 8:00AM MST

    Available Until Jan. 29  11:55PM MST


     

Sundance 2023 review: ‘TALK TO ME’ is visually horrifying and ready for a franchise .

TALK TO ME

When an unusual object allows a group of teens to not only speak with the dead but allow them to enter their bodies, things get violent and personal when Mia’s mother reaches out from beyond the grave. The veil has lifted, and secrets will spill over the threshold, whether Mia and her friends like it or not. Directors Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou bring Sundance 2023 audiences TALK TO ME.

The thrill of taking the otherworldly hand becomes like a drug to the group. This shockingly dangerous behavior throws me back to my teen years, forcing this horror fan to wonder if I would suffer the same fate. A goody two shoes concerning drugs and alcohol does not negate my risky excursions in the New England woods in the pitch black of summer nights. As Mia and her friends battle the typical parental control and need to fit in, their heightened chase of danger spells nothing but doom. Writers Bill Hinzman and Daley Pearson, with concept by Danny Philippou, give us all the background we need to get sucked into this wild scenario, leaving just enough mystery to keep us salivating.

The practical fx are solid. The film’s special effects makeup team does a remarkable job of creeping the audience the fuck out. The work becomes more elaborate as the story progresses. It is spectacular.

This ensemble of young actors wowed with the complex task of playing “multiple roles” (without spoiling the action.) Sophia Wilde as Mia astounded me. The specificity of this performance rocked my world.

TALK TO ME almost demands a franchise. I have so many questions. I’d love a sequel and a prequel! TALK TO ME serves up Sundance 2023 audiences enough to chew on while filmmakers dig deeper into the film’s canon.


Screening Times

In Person

  • PREMIERE
    Jan. 21 11:55PM MST

    Egyptian Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 22 9:45PM MST

    Broadway Centre Cinemas – 3

    SALT LAKE CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 25 9:45PM MST

    Library Center Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 27 9:00PM MST

    Park Avenue Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 28 10:00PM MST

    Megaplex Theatres at The Gateway 8/9

    SALT LAKE CITY

Online

THIS FILM IS NOT AVAILABLE ONLINE.


 

Sundance 2023 review: ‘MAMACRUZ’ is a bold reclamation of sensuality.

MAMACRUZ

In Patricia Ortega‘s Sundance 2023 film MAMACRUZ, devout seamstress Mari Cruz spends her days dutifully attending to the needs of her church community and caring for her grandchild while her daughter tours with a dance troupe. But, quite by accident, we discover her longing for touch. What begins as an accidental discovery of internet pornography and then unexpected sexual fantasies of a statue of Jesus lead her down a path of exploration.

After her husband shuns her advances, Mari Cruz is undeterred. Nor does the righteous gossip at church stop her. Pushing aside shame, with her sewing skills and newfound knowledge, she heals herself and those around her.

The film looks beautiful. Fran Fernández Pardo‘s cinematography highlights the rich colors in fabrics and paint and captures extraordinary angles in fantasy sequences. The commentary on religious oppression and desire is unmissable. The performances are outstanding. Kiti Mánve breathes vulnerability and quiet ferocity into the role of Mari Cruz. It is a stunning, award-worthy turn.

The film drips with visual innuendo and lust. The audience must leave judgment at the door. MAMACRUZ permits the audience to embrace intimacy, pleasure, and the complexities of womanhood. Life is short. Choose fearless happiness.


Screening Times

In Person

  • PREMIERE
    Jan. 20 9:15PM MST

    Library Center Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 21 12:00PM MST

    Broadway Centre Cinemas – 6

    SALT LAKE CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 22 12:30PM MST

    Redstone Cinemas – 1

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 24 8:30AM MST

    Egyptian Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 27 8:30AM MST

    Holiday Village Cinemas – 1

    PARK CITY

Online

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 24 8:00AM MST

    Available Until Jan. 29  11:55PM MST


     

Sundance 2023 review: ‘PIANOFORTE’ earns a standing ovation for director Jakub Piatek.

PIANOFORTE

Four stages. 21 straight days. Since 1927, The Chopin Competition has been held in Warsaw. Featuring the most elite piano players in the world, Sundance’s 2023 documentary film PIANOFORTE follows a small group of contestants vying for the illustrious title.

The competition does not occur annually, making it all the more exclusive. Here is how it works: Stage One: 87 participants, Stage Two: 46, Stage Three: 23, Stage Four: 12. The film bounces from the competition to our pianists’ hometowns before competing. A peek beyond the bench, we witness rehearsals, family life, and personal confessions.

Eva (17) is an unsure but internationally acclaimed phenom. She is a sponge for the technical perfection demanded by her instructor. Marcin goes from a confident swagger to an anxious mess as the rounds progress. It is devastating. Alex utilizes yoga and meditation to focus, and his calm demeanor catches you off-guard. He has a surprising swagger as the ladies flock to him throughout the film. Hao (17) is quiet and intensely focused. In Stage Three, one moment of forgetfulness could be his last. Michelle is a delight, confessing her dog is her biggest fan. She also openly talks about the fear of competition and the reality of pursuing anything but piano. Leonora is a spitfire. She beams with each breath.

An undeniably shocking level of emotional investment comes with experiencing PIANOFORTE. The amount of pressure is unimaginable. The film’s final edit is a masterpiece. Undoubtedly, the audience may suddenly find themselves unexpected piano enthusiasts.


Screening Times

In Person

  • PREMIERE
    Jan. 20 2:30PM MST

    Egyptian Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 21 2:55PM MST

    Screening Room

    SUNDANCE MOUNTAIN RESORT

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 22 3:45PM MST

    Broadway Centre Cinemas – 3

    SALT LAKE CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 24 12:00PM MST

    Redstone Cinemas – 7

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 26 6:00PM MST

    Park Avenue Theatre

    PARK CITY

Online

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 24 8:00AM MST

    Available Until Jan. 29  11:55PM MST


    In 2021, Jakub Piatek’s feature fiction debut Prime Time premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. (Now available on Netflix in all regions.)


 

Sundance 2023 short film review: ‘AirHostess- 737’ is a delicious descent into chaos.

AIRHOSTESS-737

In AirHostess- 737, we meet Vanina, a 39-year-old flight attendant trying to hold it together. Self-conscious over her new braces, her anxiety rises as the film progresses, exacerbated by a passenger, the pilots, and strong turbulence. But there is far more on Vanina’s mind than her newfound hardware.

The choreography of the scenes is spectacular. The audience serves as pov, and Vanina speaks just over the shoulder of the camera lens the entire film. It takes your average walk-and-talk to another level as she juggles casual conversation with her duties down the aisle. Writer-director Thanasis Neofotistos and co-writer Grigoris Skarakis implement a subtle and perfectly placed visual gag in Vanina’s makeup. It is a physical manifestation of her turmoil.

As a frequent flyer, I instantly grinned at actress Lena Papaligoura‘s deadpan demonstration of safety protocols. Her performance hits every note. She is funny, manic, dedicated, and pitch-perfect.

AirHostess- 737 is a descent into the depths of unresolved trauma hidden inside a sharp comedy. I laughed, gasped, and marveled at this short film’s ability to surprise me in fifteen minutes. It is undeniably impressive work from everyone involved. Sundance 2023 audiences will love it.


Screening Times

In Person

  • PREMIERE
    Jan. 20  9:00AM MST

    Prospector Square Theatre

    PARK CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 21  3:45PM MST

    Broadway Centre Cinemas – 3

    SALT LAKE CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 22  9:30PM MST

    Megaplex Theatres at The Gateway 8/9

    SALT LAKE CITY

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 25  12:00PM MST

    Redstone Cinemas – 7

    PARK CITY

Online

  • SECOND SCREENING
    Jan. 24  8:00AM MST

    Available Until Jan. 29  11:55PM MST




Synopsis:
AIRHOSTESS-737 completes Filmmaker Thanasis Neofotistos’s award-winning short film trilogy
(Patision Avenue, Route-3, AirHostess-737) about a road, a journey, a route – traveling this time in a
Boeing-737 with 39-year-old flight attendant, Vanina, accompanying her mother back to her hometown
while seeking, as one does, a reconciliation which her mother appears least able to provide.


 

Sundance 2023 short film review: ‘TROY’ is a New York rite of passage with a twist.

TROY

Living in New York has its ups and downs. No matter how expensive your apartments are, the walls are always paper thin. You come to know your neighbors for better or for worse. Director Mike Donahue and writer Jen Silverman give Sundance 2023 audiences so much in their 15-minute short film TROY.

Thea and Charlie share a wall with Troy. He has very loud sex 24/7. When the moans turn to arguments and tears, Thea and Charlie’s emotional investment in their mysterious neighbor’s life takes on a life of its own.

Adina Verson, Michael Braun, and Florian Klein dazzle. Klein’s physicality speaks volumes. It could have easily wandered into a goofy territory but remained wholeheartedly sincere. Verson and Braun have a grounded chemistry that I bought instantly. I found myself in their delightful shenanigans again and again. The film also includes recognizable faces from television.

There is a visual gag with bleach that is perfection. Turning up the music and elevator run-ins become an all too familiar activity. Couples’ internet snooping is also an indulgent pastime. It’s funny because it is so relatable. In this city of over 8 million, most of us never meet. But we still protect our own with small gestures of kindness every once in a while. TROY is one of those stories you tell your friends back home during the holidays and a stellar proof of concept for an entire series of building-wide encounters.


TROY is screening in person at Sundance on January 20th, 21st, 23rd, and 25th.

Writer/director Mike Donahue is a graduate of Harvard University and the Yale School of Drama. Prior to making this, his debut film, he’s worked extensively as a theatre director in New York and Los Angeles. Just some of his extensive credits include the world premieres of Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride (MCC, The Geffen and Denver Center, Joe A. Callaway Award, Outer Critics Circle Nomination, Ovation Award Nomination); Jen Silverman’s Collective Rage (MCC, Woolly Mammoth, Drama League Nomination); The Moors (Playwrights Realm – NYC premiere; Phoebe in Winter (Clubbed Thumb); Ana Nogueira’s Which Way To The Stage (MCC); Ethan Lipton’s Red-Handed Otter (Playwrights Realm); the LA premiere of Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance (Geffen Playhouse); and Little Shop of Horrors with MJ Rodriguez, George Salazar, and Amber Riley (Pasadina Playhouse).

Starring Adina Verson and Michael Braun as Thea and Charlie, the stellar cast also features Emmy Award winner Dana Delaney (Desperate Housewives, China Beach), Emmy Award nominee Dylan Baker (The Good Wife), Billy Carter (Apple + The Crowded Room, HBO’s The Plot Against America), Kristin Villanueva (Gossip Girl), Max Jenkins (High Maintenance + Special) and Samantha Sherman (Showtime’s Billions).



Review: ‘ALICE, DARLING’ finds Anna Kendrick in a role that vibrates.

ALICE, DARLING

Anna Kendrick plays Alice, a woman at the end of her emotional and physical rope. Her toxic relationship comes to the forefront when she lies to attend a week-long vacation with her best friends. As her personality becomes increasingly manic, her secretive behaviors and stories of Simon raise red flags for those closest to her.

Simon’s psychological manipulation appears in many forms. The constant beratement, the gaslighting, the incessant need to control Alice’s appearance, her whereabouts, what she eats, and when she communicates with him.

Simultaneously frightening and punchable, Charlie Carrick plays Simon with loathsome energy. Kaniehttio Horn, as Tess, brings tough cookie energy. It’s a wonderful balance for Wunmi Mosaku playing Sophie. She arrives with a genuine mother-hen vibe. As tensions rise, Mosaku serves as a mediator and mender. These three women complement each other perfectly. It was a joy to watch such grounded performances.

Anna Kendrick is captivating as Alice. Writer Alanna Francis hands Kendrick a gift by giving the character the hair-pulling disorder, Trichotillomania. She is the physical embodiment of anxiety. Her naturally petite frame and stature lend themselves to heightened physical frailty. But it is Kendrick’s idiosyncracies that place you inside the mind of a woman consumed by terror.

The script’s structure occurs in three distinct acts. The subplot of a local missing woman presents the viewer with a myriad of emotional and narrative possibilities. The gravity of female friendship and the innate protective instincts we carry loom large. The fear women face on a day-to-day basis feels weighty in the narrative. ALICE, DARLING is a keen reclamation of power through the love and support of their fellow sisters.


 

 ALICE, DARLING will be exclusively in AMC Theatres Nationwide January 20, 2023. 
 
 
DIRECTOR: Mary Nighy
WRITER: Alanna Francis
CAST: Anna Kendrick, Kaniehtiio Horn, Charlie Carrick and Wunmi Mosaku 
SYNOPSIS:  In the taut thriller ALICE, DARLING, Oscar® nominee Anna Kendrick (Best Supporting Actress, Up in the Air, 2009) stars as a woman pushed to the breaking point by her psychologically abusive boyfriend, Simon.  While on vacation with two close girlfriends, Alice rediscovers the essence of herself and gains some much-needed perspective. Slowly, she starts to fray the cords of codependency that bind her. But Simon’s vengeance is as inevitable as it is shattering – and, once unleashed, it tests Alice’s strength, her courage, and the bonds of her deep-rooted friendships.
RATING: R
GENRE: Thriller 
RUN TIME: 90 minutes
DISTRIBUTOR: Lionsgate

Review: Ric Maddox’s directorial debut ‘THE STALKING FIELDS’ arrives on VOD today.

A group of civilians runs for their freedom when they find themselves caught in the middle of a Black Ops program designed to cure PTSD.


First-time director Ric Maddox, alongside writers Sean Crampton and Jordan Wisely, brings the story of an elite ex-Navy seal with PTSD placed in a top-secret government rehabilitation program. Using criminal civilians as bait, can our soldier in question be saved? A twist on The Most Dangerous Game (1931) meets Universal Soldier (1992), THE STALKING FIELDS is an action-packed entry into a potential new franchise.

The dialogue has a uniquely poetic perspective at times but quickly becomes contrasted by innumerable F-bombs. I say this as a person who has a sailor’s mouth, and this felt excessive. The quick-take editing has all the horror genre elements. From the lighting to the angles, it is visually intriguing. I must applaud the creativity in location design. Besides the woods, the military behind the scenes could easily take place in a cleverly lit warehouse walled off entirely with plastic sheeting. That budget must have been astronomical. I have to hand it to the CG team for some legit graphics on each monitor. They had my eyes darting from screen to screen. Bravo for the detail.

Performances are solid as hell. Angela Nordang, Adam J. Harrington, and Rachel Markarian all impress. Jake Davidson plays an eager young soldier, Jason Rawlings Jr. He brings a firey spirit, and I wanted to see more. Michael King nails the role of Price. He is naturally alpha but has ceaselessly charming energy to his delivery. He is a true standout. I think Sean Crampton needed more dialogue. I’d love to see more of his backstory in a second film. Taylor Kalupa‘s delivery is solid, as well. I invite Crampton and Wisely to explore more of her past, as well. These two need a weightier redemption. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention William Gabriel Grier’s performance. I could not take my eyes off him. There is another story worth exploring in flashbacks or a spinoff. The final moments of the script have a classic franchise set up as there is not one twist but two. Overall, THE STALKING FIELDS has all the elements you look for in an action thriller; intrigue, fight sequences, guts, and glory.


Gravitas Ventures will release THE STALKING FIELDS on digital platforms on January 17, 2023.

 

The film has a running time of 90:27 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA.

THE STALKING FIELDS was written by Sean Crampton and Jordan Wiseley and directed by first-time filmmaker and Army veteran Ric Maddox. The film stars Crampton in a breakthrough performance, as well as Taylor Kalupa, Adam J. Harrington, Rachael Markarian, Jordan Wiseley, and Richard O. Ryan.

Drawing from personal experience, both Crampton and Wisely grew up in military families and felt it was important to make a film about the ramifications of PTSD.


 

NYJFF 2023 capsule review: ‘SHTTL’ is already one of the year’s best films.

SHTTL

Written and directed by Ady Walter, SHTTL takes place in a secluded imaginary Yiddish Ukrainian village on June 21st, 1941. The audience thinks they are watching a film about small-town politics. In actuality, SHTTL highlights a real moment in history. New York Jewish Film Festival 2023 is lucky to have such an extraordinary piece of cinema to share with audiences.

Cinematographer Vladimir Ivanov captures the film in one single take. A technical wonder, SHTTL pulls a visual bait and switch made famous in The Wizard of Oz. In this instance, the use of color distinguishes the past and present. This device is emotionally consuming and undeniably dazzling.

This enormous cast gives us some of the most gut-wrenching performances of the year. Keep in my the film is entirely in Yiddish. Do not let this scare you aware! Star Moshe Lobel starred in the critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway Yiddish version of “Fiddler On The Roof.” As Mendele, Lobel carries you in his pocket in this captivating tale of religious ideology, family, love, and loss. Boasting an ending that will have your heart in your throat, SHTTL is a gem. It is a film that deserves a viewing on the loftiest screen available. This film left me breathless.


SHTTL
Ady Walter
Ukraine/France, 2022, 114 min.
Yiddish and Ukrainian with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere

Monday, January 16, 5:30pm
Tuesday, January 17, 1pm


NYJFF 2023

THE 32nd ANNUAL 
NEW YORK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL,
 PRESENTED 
JANUARY 12-23, 2023


 

ID original series review: ‘THE PRICE OF GLEE’ – Crew and friends talk behind-the-scenes drama and tragedies surrounding one of the most iconic shows in television history

 

THE PRICE OF GLEE

GLEE premiered the week of my 30th birthday. I was a musical theatre nerd in high school who graduated from a Manhattan conservatory that has churned out Tony winners and Oscar nominees. Watching GLEE made me feel seen for the first time through the storylines of these young adults. The attachment was real, and the show became a cultural turning point for millions. Because of that emotional investment, the drama surrounding the show still affects so many. Nothing is off the table in the salacious ID (Investigation Discovery) docuseries THE PRICE OF GLEE.

As a self-professed Gleek, the series contains so much information I didn’t know. Safety issues, money, and around-the-clock nonstop work, from the mouths of friends, crew members, and entertainment reporters, The Price of Glee pulls the curtain back on all the behind-the-scenes drama and addresses the all too familiar internet rumor that the show may be cursed. Episode one concludes with Cory Monteith’s death and ends on a cliffhanger. Episode two picks right back up where we left off, focusing mainly on the aftermath of Monteith’s passing. Delving into Mark Salling’s child pornography conviction and subsequent suicide, this episode melds into the third with Naya Rivera‘s father speaking about her tragic death.

Transitions between conversations feature video clips and cast photos. My main gripe with episodes two and three is the repetition of said images. A show that spanned six seasons deserved fresh photos. It was a glaring amateur mistake. Is THE PRICE OF GLEE a touch like an E! True Hollywood Story? Very much so, but as a fan, I was endlessly intrigued, hoping for any new information. While the cast has come forward to say they were not involved, hearing crew members that genuinely cared for them and with (mostly) kind words, their insight is vital to understanding the immense pressure this phenomenon created.

courtesy of ID


All three parts of THE PRICE OF GLEE premiere back-to-back Monday, January 16 starting at 9/8c on ID and will be available to stream the same day on discovery+


Synopsis: The cultural phenomenon and hit musical series, “Glee,” catapulted a cast of relative unknowns into international superstardom and literally rocked pop culture. But, the show that sparked a new era of acceptance was also saddled with extreme devastation on the inside. Endless scandals, tabloid gossip, and fatal tragedies plagued the rising stars on what was supposed to be the most joyful show on television. Now, ID pulls back the curtain on “Glee” to explore the harsh reality of fame with the three-part limited series, THE PRICE OF GLEE.

 

Review: ‘BEAUTIFUL BEINGS,’ Iceland’s submission for THE 95TH ACADEMY AWARDS®, opens TODAY in New York and Los Angeles next week from Altered Innocence

BEAUTIFUL BEINGS 

A perpetually bullied young teen named Balli gets invited into a circle of aggressive classmates by Addi, a boy whose mother is a clairvoyant. BEAUTIFUL BEINGS is an enigma befitting The Academy’s attention. Initially, the film tackles familial dysfunction and violence. Midway, the narrative adds the supernatural element in earnest, changing the film in ways that gave me goosebumps.

Beautiful Beings

As we witness Balli’s emotional torture and beatings, Addi grows a conscience by entering Balli’s debris-ridden home. The boys have more in common than at first glance. Siggi and Konni complete this group of boys known for starting fights. Addi’s narration adds depth as he explains each boy’s tumultuous home life. The cyclical nature of violence is front and center. BEAUTIFUL BEINGS is often intense and grueling to watch. But the performances captivate so thoroughly the audience pushes on. Once Addi begins to feel the power his mother passed onto him, the story takes another visually stunning turn.

The exploration of toxic masculinity is countered with the study of male friendships. The emotional highs and lows swing wildly during the two-hour runtime. The film appears to take place in the early aughts. I assume this is key in including the term “retarded,” which echoes nearly a dozen times. As a mother of a child on the spectrum, I cringed each time I heard it. That is my only complaint with BEAUTIFUL BEINGS. As a whole, this film is unique, fearless, and crucial viewing.


Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s Crushing and Surreal, Multi-Award-Winning Coming-Of-Age Drama — Opens 1/13 at Quad Cinema in NYC & 1/20 at Laemmle Glendale in L.A.

Original title: Berdreymi
Starring: Birgir Dagur Bjarkason, Áskell Einar Pálmason, Viktor Benóný Benediktsson, Snorri Rafn Frímannsson, Aníta Briem, Ísgerður Gunnarsdóttir, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson
Written and Directed by: Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson
Produced by: Anton Máni Svansson
Specs: 2022 / 123 Minutes / In Icelandic w/English Subtitles / DCP / 1.85:1


World Premiere: Berlin International Film Festival – Panorama 2022 — Europa Cinemas Label Winner 
Off Camera International Festival of Independent Cinema — FIPRESCI Jury Award Winner
Taipei Film Festival — International New Talent Competition – Special Jury Prize Winner
Thessaloniki Film Festival — Open Horizons Audience Award Winner 
Stockholm Film Festival — Best Screenplay Winner


ABOUT ALTERED INNOCENCE
 
Altered Innocence was founded in 2015 with a focus on bringing international and cutting-edge LGBTQ and Coming-of-Age cinema to North American audiences. Notable releases have included the Cannes Competition film KNIFE+HEART and the U.S. premiere of Spain’s previously unreleased cult title ARREBATO (RAPTURE).


 

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