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.


 

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

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


 

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: Who’s sorry now? ‘THE APOLOGY’ will be in theaters and streaming simultaneously on Shudder and AMC+ this Friday.

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THE APOLOGY

Anna Gunn plays Darlene, a woman whose daughter went missing 20 years ago. After a long day of preparations to host Christmas Day with the help of her adoring neighbor and best friend, Gretchen, a knock on the door changes the trajectory of her night and life. Darlene enters a fight for truth and revenge. Writer-director Alison Star Locke challenges audiences to contemplate grief, unresolved trauma, and guilt in an explosive confrontation of a survivor’s deepest fantasies.

Locke’s script sets a solid pace, with details of her daughter’s disappearance slowly revealing themselves, unrequited love, past regressions, and secrets boiling over. Darlene’s ex-brother-in-law lands on her doorstep under the guise of a surprise family reunion, but his ulterior motive involves a revelation in Sally’s case. The information he’s been sitting on as Darlene relentlessly searched for Sally, became an advocate for other families, and got her alcoholism under control. The rage and fear evolve into a knockdown, drag-out fight between redemption and revenge. 

Compounded by the raging snow outside, any turmoil coming from the house is more than muffled. This simple device proves to be a wonderful segway for Gretchen to reenter the story. Janeane Garofalo nails this role. She’s funny, down to earth, and perfectly wonderful. Her iconic snark lies underneath the surface of a woman whose love for Darlene surpasses all things. Linus Roache plays Jack with a presumptuous air that comes off as slimy immediately. His arrogance and bulldozing persona make him punchable, which is how Locke meant for him to come off. The smugness makes your blood boil. Anna Gunn‘s turn as Darlene is rife with hurt and drenched in melancholy. Her scenes with Roache are tense. 

Here is where I felt like The Apology missed the mark. The film hinges on Jack and Darlene’s dynamic. Locke gives them a juicy backstory. Somehow the level of intensity from Gunn and Roache was at an 8 when it needed to be at a 10. That extra oomph of passion and terror (or lack thereof) kept me with one foot in disbelief and one foot firmly intrigued. I wanted to jump over that threshold, but I never got there. The screenplay had all the makings of the success of films like An Eye For An Eye. I’m not sure why this happened. We all know Gunn is a spectacular actress, but it didn’t go far enough. I hate it when my bullshit meter lights up.

THE APOLOGY will surely capture your attention. Those who live and breathe true crime these days will undoubtedly wish this scenario on every family member left to wonder what happened to their loved one. Hopefully, the story is enough to keep audiences satisfied.


THE APOLOGY will be in theaters and streaming simultaneously on Shudder and AMC+ on December 16th.



DIRECTOR: Alison Star Locke
WRITER: Alison Star Locke
CAST: Anna Gunn, Linus Roache, Janeane Garofalo
SYNOPSIS: Twenty years after the disappearance of her daughter, recovering alcoholic Darlene Hagen (Anna Gunn) is preparing to host her family’s Christmas celebration with her best friend Gretchen (Janeane Garofalo). Late Christmas Eve, Darlene’s estranged ex-brother-in-law, Jack (Linus Roache) arrives unannounced, bearing nostalgic gifts and a heavy secret. Soon, Darlene finds herself caught between reason and ruthless instinct. Trapped together by a dangerous storm, a battle of wits escalates to a violent game of revenge.
RUN TIME: 91 minutes
RATING: Not Rated
GENRE: Thriller
DISTRIBUTOR: RLJE Films/Shudder


 

Review: ‘THE MEAN ONE’ is merry and murderous holiday horror.

THE MEAN ONE

Hokey Hallmark meets children’s classic in the new holiday horror THE MEAN ONE. Director Stephen LaMorte and writers Flip and Finn Kobler tell a twisted tale of trauma and small-town secrets through one of our most beloved and iconic holiday villains. A familiar story, but make it merry and murderous.

Twenty years after the Xmas Eve death of her mother in 2009, Cindy returns to her hometown to face the demons of her childhood. When history begins repeating itself, she vows to take back the night and the holiday spirit, no matter how much blood she has to spill.

Clever Seussian signage appears throughout the film, as do homage character names. The sometimes quippy dialogue works around what I can only assume would be a massive copyright infringement case.
The noteworthy turn comes from Cindy’s neighbor Doc Zuess. John Bingham, whose character is reminiscent of Roberts Blossom from Home Alone, is brilliant. His performance legitimizes The Mean One, bringing it out of its Hallmark moments.

Krystle Martin is Cindy. Her professional stunt work shines. From traumatized to trigger-happy, Cindy’s exposure therapy becomes a plot for revenge. Let us not forget our titular character brought to life by none other than “Art The Clown” himself, David Howard Thornton. His mannerisms are glorious. The film would be less memorable without him.

Christopher Sanders‘ narration adds a fantastic touch. The CG blood is straight up over the top. Is The Mean One ridiculously tropey? Yes. Will it be appearing on our eccentric holiday viewing list next week? Also, yes.


THE MEAN ONE is opening exclusively at Regal Cinemas nationwide on December 9th, with special advance screenings taking place everywhere on the evening of the 8th.
Additional details about where to see it on the big screen can be found at TheMeanOneMovie.com.

 

Directed by LaMorte with a script by Flip and Finn Kobler, THE MEAN ONE stars David Howard Thornton, Krystle Martin, Chase Mullins, John Bigham, Erik Baker, Flip Kobler, and Amy Schumacher. A co-production between A Sleight of Hand Productions, Amy Rose Productions, and Kali Pictures, the feature is Produced by Schumacher, LaMorte, and Martine Melloul. Executive Producers are Jordan Rosner, Gato Scatena, and Zach Stampone.


 

Review: Shudder and RLJE release ‘CHRISTMAS BLOODY CHRISTMAS’ – sex, gore, and rock ‘n roll for the gods.

When Tori closes her record shop on Christmas Eve, her plans include getting drunk with coworker Robbie. After the news breaks that repurposed military AI dressed as Satanta Claus reverted back to its aggressive state, things do not go as planned. So much for a silent night. CHRISTMAS BLOODY CHRISTMAS is neon-soaked rock ‘n roll merry mayhem.

The gruesome kills are juxtaposed with a sick soundtrack (and one brilliant oral sex scene), top that off with a particularly shocking choice of violence. When Tori witnesses the act, our killer Santa goes ham on the house. The words, “Oh! That’s fucking nuts,” poured out of my mouth as he breached the threshold. I would be surprised if you didn’t end up saying the same.

Riley Dandy and Sam Delich give spectacular performances. Given writer-director Joe Begos‘ meaty fandom-laced dialogue, they look like they loved every minute. The discussion about horror sequel superiority had me cheering out loud.

Delich brings that eager nice-guy energy to their will- they-won’t-they dynamic. Abraham Benrubi is unstoppable as our killer Santa. Simply put, he slays it. Dandy is fiery and punk rock in a tangible way. You want to be her best friend but probably cannot keep up. Once shit goes sideways, Dandy has the chance to champion her final girl realness and nails it. This performance kicks all the ass.

Steve Moore‘s original music is bitchin’. The practical fx are a gift. The pyrotechnic work keeps things merry and bright. The special makeup and Animatronic robot effects from Josh and Sienna Russell are a Christmas miracle. Will everyone compare it to Silent Night Deadly Night meets Terminator? Probably but who cares. CHRISTMAS BLOODY CHRISTMAS is a holiday horror treat. So, spike your eggnog, get as lit as your tree, and rock the hell out of this film.


Shudder and RLJE Films will release CHRISTMAS BLOODY CHRISTMAS in Theaters and it will stream exclusively on Shudder on December 9, 2022.

Starring Riley Dandy, Sam Delich, Abe Benrubi, Jeff Daniel Phillips

Directed by Joe Begos


Starring Riley Dandy, Sam Delich, Abe Benrubi, Jeff Daniel Phillips Directed by Joe Begos It’s Christmas Eve and fiery record store owner Tori Tooms just wants to get drunk and party, until the robotic Santa Claus at a nearby toy store goes haywire and makes her night more than a little complicated. Santa Claus begins a rampant killing spree through the neon drenched snowscape against a backdrop of drugs, sex, metal and violence, ultimately forcing Tori into a blood splattered battle for survival against the ruthless heavy metal Saint Nick himself.


 

Review: Blake Jenner shines alongside Bruce Willis in ‘Paradise City’

PARADISE CITY

SYNOPSIS:

Movie icons and Pulp Fiction costars Bruce Willis and John Travolta face off in this action-packed thriller. When bounty hunter Ian Swan (Willis) is shot and presumed dead after disappearing in Maui waters, Swan’s son, Ryan (Blake Jenner), his ex-partner (Stephen Dorff), and a local detective (Praya Lundberg) set out to find his killers. After being threatened by a ruthless power broker (Travolta), it appears Ryan and his team are out of options — until an excursion to the closely guarded island community of Paradise City unites them with an unforeseen ally.

John Travolta plays island crime boss Buckley. His eccentricity is evident through costume choices and dialogue. Thank goodness he is who he is because the character leans heavily into caricature territory. He is at his best in high-stakes action sequences.

Stephen Dorff is Ian Swan’s former bounty-hunting partner. He has a bit of an ambulance-chaser energy to him. He vibes well with Jenner, and his chemistry with Willis is chef’s kiss.

Bruce Willis plays Ian Swan with that legendary, effortless swagger we love. He is funny, charismatic, and a total badass. He is everything you want him to be.

I’ve been a fan of Blake Jenner since his turn on GLEE. He stands out from the crowd in every role. In PARADISE CITY, he plays Willis’s son, Ryan Swan. He possesses a natural fearlessness. No matter who is his opposite onscreen, your eyes stay on Jenner. He deserves more leading roles. Frankly, he has the charm of a young Bruce Willis. It was spectacular casting. He is magnificent.

Somehow, PARADISE CITY makes Jenner’s character impervious to automatic rifle bullets and, somehow, possesses the ability to survive a 10th-floor header into a shallow koi pond. It is unbelievable. No, literally, even for an action film, it is far-fetched. And this pains me to say that every female performance is downright atrocious, except for Mary Ann Perreira as Auntie Kona. She is a treasure. The dialogue from director Chuck Russell and co-writers Corey Large, and Edward John Drake, is mostly eye-roll-inducing. The already sped-through, convoluted plot also jumps in time, but not enough. It is messy.

Here is what works. The fight choreography is undeniably entertaining. (Extra points for having Savannah kick off her heels for brawling.) Overall, the tightest scenes occur when Savannah and Ryan arrive in Paradise City proper. There is genuine yet surprising humor and a grounded backstory. That’s all I’ll say to avoid spoilers. I could see this story maybe working better in serial form. But that’s a big maybe. Jenner is the only one that sustains authenticity. He deserves better, and so does Bruce Willis’s legacy.

**Stick around for the credits**


In Theaters, on Digital, and On Demand November 11, 2022

DIRECTED BY:

Chuck Russell

WRITTEN BY:

Corey Large, Edward Drake and Chuck Russell

STARRING:

John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Blake Jenner, Praya Lundberg, with Stephen Dorff

RATING:

R for violence and language

RUN TIME:

94 minutes

GENRE:

Action


 

In theaters and on VOD today, Andy Mitton’s ‘The Harbinger’ is a waking nightmare.

THE HARBINGER

Mo is taking every precaution possible in lockdown with her father and brother. When summoned to the city by an old friend, Mo’s loyalty takes precedence over her protesting family. She arrives to find a strung-out Mavis claiming something is controlling her dreams. When Mo then begins to have her dreams invaded by a hooded figure in a plague mask, things go from bad to downright terrifying. Writer-director Andy Mitton, who brought The Witch In The Window to Fantasia in 2018, dives headfirst into his new supernatural horror and extra creepy Fantasia 2022 entry, The Harbinger

The script slickly combines historic iconography from the plague to mirror current events and builds upon the concept of mass hysteria and mental health. Mitton introduces demonology and then mixes in the idea of viral internet posts, an issue directly addressed in Jane Schoenbrun‘s brilliant film, We’re All Going To The World’s Fair. Combined with the rapid spread of misinformation, internet challenges like Momo, and urban legends like Slenderman, the spread of evil becomes exponential. But this is really simplifying the fear in The Harbinger

Gabby Beans gives us every ounce of herself as Mo. She is the heartbeat of this plot. Beans brings a grounded vulnerability, and I cannot imagine any other performer in this role. The film has everything and then some. Jarring imagery, thoughtful camera work, cool-as-hell production design, and meticulously placed jump scares keep your pulse pounding as this story unfolds. On top of the authentic terror we all experienced at the beginning of the covid lockdown, The Harbinger is a masterfully crafted, waking nightmare. 


Andy Mitton’s THE HARBINGER opens in cinemas and on VOD today from XYZ Films


DIRECTOR

Andy Mitton

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER

Cassidy Freeman, Clark Freeman

PRODUCER

Jay Dunn, Richard W. King

WRITER

Andy Mitton

CAST

Gabby Beans, Cody Braverman, Emily Davis, Ray Anthony Thomas, Myles Walker

CINEMATOGRAPHER

Ludovica Isidori

COMPOSER

Andy Mitton

EDITOR

Andy Mitton

Netflix review: Rian Johnson’s ‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery’ is an immensely satisfying sequel.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

The biggest mystery facing the Glass Onion is not the true identity of a murderer. You don’t have to peel the layers of this proverbial onion to know there’s a far broader question being asked: would Netflix somehow screw this sequel up? I’m delighted to report that Rian Johnson’s follow-up to Knives Out will make the transition to streaming without so much as a scratch. The central mystery remains gripping, the pacing taut, and the cast suitably stellar. This whodunnit is fresh, smart, and most importantly fun.

Daniel Craig returns as Benoit Blanc, the debonair southern detective. This time around, Blanc is invited to an isolated Greek island by billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton, giving Elon Musk post-burning man vibes.) Bron has invited several of his closest friends for a weekend getaway that just happens so happens to include a murder-mystery game. Things go wrong faster than you can say “bad idea.”

I was worried that Glass Onion would suffer from an overreliance on Craig’s detective. Knives Out benefited immensely from a core focus on Ana de Armas’ fish-out-of-water character. The film smartly employs him as a foil for its many new cast members. The new faces are stellar across the board. Janelle Monae shows incredible versatility. Leslie Odom Jr. and Kathryn Hahn have the tough job of playing the respective sticks in the mud while the rest of the cast gets to have fun. Kate Hudson and Dave Bautista really let it rip. We’re used to this from Bautista, but it is a particularly welcome departure for Hudson. As I reflect back on the past years of the pandemic, her character provides particular hilarious relief. There are also several delightful cameos. I won’t spoil them for you, but suffice it to say it seems like nearly everybody wanted in on this thing.

Whodunit films seem to be light work for Rian Johnson. His 2005 debut, Brick, was an exceptionally hard-boiled film noir that just happened to be set in a high school. Despite their common director, Brick and Glass Onion could not be more different. Where Brick was pitch black noir down to its very bones (even down to the dialogue), Glass Onion is a sun-drenched delight inspired by holiday mysteries such as Evil Under the Sun and The Last of Sheila. It provides necessary effervescent support as we head into the cold winter months. I can’t wait for the next chapter!


Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Theatrical: The film released in select US theaters on November 23rd, 2022

Film releasing on Netflix (US) on December 23rd, 2022 at 3:00 AM EST


 

Review: In Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson’s ‘Manifest West,’ Milo Gibson goes off-grid to escape family turmoil.

MANIFEST WEST

Dave moves his wife, Alice, and two young daughters, Riley and Mary, to a remote cabin in the American wilderness. Where guns and boredom meet the desire to push society away, MANIFEST WEST sees tensions rise when Dave’s new way of living shirks the norms.

Tim Heidecker plays against type as gun-wielding hyper-conservative neighbor Steve Danik. Michael Cudlitz counters Heidecker with his performance as neighbor Eric Lind. He is kind and thoughtful with his actions and words.

Annet Mahendru gives Alice palpable manic desperation. Her ability to jump from one emotion to another in the same breath is impressive. It is one hell of a turn. Milo Gibson is Dave Hayes. His character arc almost feels like the audience is witnessing a slow-motion car crash. Gibson brings not-so-subtle anger and protective alpha energy.

Lexy Kolker plays Riley with perfect corruptable innocence. She gives a performance that is nothing short of captivating. Kolker takes in each beat with precision. Her slow burn of resentment is a ticking time bomb.

MANIFEST WEST addresses a myriad of current and alarming themes in America. The score is melancholy and ominous. Writer-directors Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson use the girls’ history text as a smart foreshadowing device. Antigovernment sentiment compounds the simmering chaos. Add Alice’s deteriorating bipolar disorder, and you have a powder keg. Children learn from their parents, for better or for worse. MANIFEST WEST runs head-on with its relevance to a shocking conclusion.


Trailer: 

Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Release Date:  The film is now in theaters and VOD/Digital!
Writer/Directors: Joe Dietsch, Louie Gibson
Starring: Annet Mahendru, Milo Gibson, Lexy Kolker, Tim Heidecker, Michael Cudlitz