Sundance (2022) review: ‘Meet Me In The Bathroom’ is a story of fame, friendship, and influence.

MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM

An immersive journey through the New York music scene of the early 2000s. A new generation kick-started a musical rebirth for New York City that reverberated around the world.


I was a Freshman in college in NYC when The Strokes, Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, Interpol, and The Moldy Peaches were making a name for themselves. They came about in the city pre-9/11 and the ensuing global turbulence in the following years. New York’s energy back then was a revitalized monster that has not let up since. Music and art would serve as our escape and savior and influence us forever. Based on Lizzy Goodman‘s book, directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern Sundance 2022 doc, Meet Me In The Bathroom, perfectly encompasses that rebirth. 

Meet Me In The Bathroom talks about the push and pull between art and fame. The relatable anxiety of Julian Casablancas makes the film all the more charming. The Strokes, Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, Interpol, and The Moldy Peaches‘ nonchalance and earnest wonder at their lives will enchant you. The fame facade was just that; these artists were far more interested in music than money. It speaks to the plight of the artist in general. The darker reasons we make art. It’s a deflection and/or coping mechanism. 

9/11 is still visceral for those that were here on that day. Any footage still brings cold sweats and chills from head to toe. There’s a video of these musicians walking in the ash-covered streets. The aftermath of sadness in the days and nights that followed, how we coped was through art and creation. I was a musical theatre major at the time, which means I really wanted to be a rockstar. At the time, Karen O explains, performance was our only outlet. We were not quite kids, not quite adults. Any Gen X New Yorker still has that fire 20 years later.

The editing is a whirlwind of wonderful. Their personal footage and raw confessions make Meet Me In The Bathroom a pretty riveting watch. Their bold honesty keeps you glued to your seat. (Almost) ending with one long uncut take of Karen O in “Maps” is goddam magic. It’s a real stand-out from Sundance 2022 because it just plain rocks. 


To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


Sundance (2022) review: ‘GOD’S COUNTRY’ is far beyond a feminist reclamation of power. It’s a “Hell Yes” of a film.

GOD’S COUNTRY

Based on the short story “Winter Light” by James Lee Burke, Sundance 2022 feature GOD’S COUNTRY is here to rock you to your core. Sandra Guidry is a local professor mourning the loss of her mother. She now resides alone, surrounded by memories of her past and the miles of wilderness that make up her canyon property. When she arrives home to find a red truck parked in her yard, it is accosting, at the very least. When it reappears the following day, Sandra confronts the passengers. After polite requests to desist, matters escalate, and a battle of wills begins. 

Ingenuity, culture, and passion all have you cheering out loud for Sandra. The script smartly comments on race in America. Sandra’s quiet “don’t fuck with me” attitude makes God’s Country as successful as it is. It also tackles commonality in a carefully curated way, allowing us to take breaths amongst the deep-seated hatred and ignorance. But, don’t for a second get comfortable. God’s Country is ultimately about power. 

Thandiwe Newton is spectacular. She’s fearless, vulnerable, and captivating. Sandra’s backstory adds another level of insight for the audience. Newton masterfully uses every device in her toolbox. There is a relentless simmering of anxiety that keeps you unsettled. The repetition of the rising water visual takes on an entirely new meaning as the plot progresses. 

Shaye Ogbonna and director Julian Highins’ screenplay shifts the power dynamic. It’s a reclamation of sorts, a rise above trauma, work through of grief, and obliteration of toxic masculinity. The final shot will stop your heart. God’s Country demands your attention with its complexities. It’s a tremendous highlight of Sundance 2022.


To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


Sundance (2022) review: ‘Brian and Charles’ is a hilarious and heartwarming buddy comedy.

BRIAN AND CHARLES

After a particularly harsh winter Brian goes into a deep depression; completely isolated and with no one to talk to, Brian does what any sane person would do when faced with such a melancholic situation. He builds a robot.


Brian is an eccentric inventor of creative, if not completely useless, things. After accidentally inventing a robot, he experiences the gambit emotions, the likes of which both he and the audience are not prepared for.

You have to wonder how much of the dialogue is improvised based upon David Earl‘s genius timing and rhythm. You will fall in love with this character. Earl creates a man that’s loveable, kind, and hilarious. You laugh out loud at moments that perhaps should not be funny. Ultimately, it’s Brian’s earnest care and wonder for Charles that hits you in the heart.

Chris Hayward as Charles is absolutely darling. As he is a newly created being, he possesses the whole of knowledge and yet has the social-emotional intelligence of a toddler. His unpredictable nature makes the chemistry with Earl pure magic.

 The awkward juxtaposition of Charles’ massively disproportionate body with Brian makes for quite the visual gag at any given moment. Bravo to Earl and Hayward for this one-of-a-kind screenplay. The mockumentary structure adds an extra element of levity. If you’re not grinning from ear to ear, I suggest you get your head checked. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be one of the biggest hits out of Sundance 2022. Brian and Charles is bursting with charm.


To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


Sundance (2022) review: Rachel Lear’s ‘To The End’ is a doc where planet, politics, and progressive climate action collide.

TO THE END

Stopping the climate crisis is a question of political courage, and the clock is ticking. Over three years of turbulence and crisis, four young women fight for a Green New Deal, and ignite a historic shift in U.S. climate politics.


To The End shines a light on the young activist movement that must succeed for us to survive, quite literally. This film took what was essentially a talking point to the vast majority of the country and finally gave it faces and ideas that mean something. The documentary spans a timeframe from the 2018 election cycle, the beginning of COVID, Black Lives Matter marches, to the 2020 election, the Code Red report, and most recently, the Build Back Better legislation. It clearly illustrates the inadequacies in our government and their direct connection to climate. It’s an inescapable reality for the audience. 

Heavily featured are the Sunrise Movement and their behind-the-scenes grassroots machine. They are the future of the climate movement. We know who Greta Thunberg is. We can conjure her image instantly. To The End introduces us to new faces. Varshini Prakash, Alexandra Rojas, and Rhiana Gunn-Wright should be added to our visual catalog. Another strong female household name that is also a large part of the climate narrative and the film is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I must admit, I was incredibly impressed by AOC and her resolute stance. Living in Manhattan, I’ve watched her rise to prominence through the lens of the media. To The End was the first time I got to see her unfiltered. You will not walk away from this film without newfound respect. 

The balance between performative politics and passionate change is a thin line. The open disdain for President Biden feels unproductive. It’s comparative to 2016 with Hillary Vs. Bernie Bros. Quite frankly, it’s borderline dangerous. Perhaps, this perspective has everything to do with my age and political exposure. I’ve worked on campaigns. I know how the legislative process works and how it doesn’t. Do I wish President Biden would use the power of the Executive Order more? Absolutely. I share the frustration and understand the urgency. I am terrified as I witness the destruction of the Earth at such a rapid pace. I do not want my young children to grow up and think that I say idly by as my parents’ generation has done for long enough. That is where the importance of To The End becomes crystal clear. There is a way forward through action and persistence, and the film is a successful blueprint on the real steps towards tangible progress. This passionate, up-and-coming generation of activists believes they can move the dial. I sure hope they do, for everyone’s sake. 


For more information on Sundance 2022 click here!


Sundance (2022) Midnight review: ‘SPEAK NO EVIL’ annihilates the notion of a gracious host.

SPEAK NO EVIL

A Danish family visits a Dutch family they met on a holiday. What was supposed to be an idyllic weekend slowly starts unraveling as the Danes try to stay polite in the face of unpleasantness.


After meeting on an Italian holiday, two young families spend a weekend together in the Dutch countryside. Cultural misunderstanding and language barriers aren’t the only things creating tension, as guests become increasingly uncomfortable with their host family. 

The ominous score puts your frame of mind into peril immediately. Performances across the board will have you hanging on every word. The sly dialogue combined with increasingly cringe-worthy behavior keeps your skin crawling and your pulse elevated every second of the film. You are humming with anticipation of something terrible. Speak No Evil is the epitome of psychological horror. 

These people are not unfamiliar; the manipulation, the overly opinionated, the inappropriate, and overtly abusive. Boundaries are crossed and outright obliterated. As if that weren’t enough, the ultimate reveal of this odd couple will absolutely terrify you. Speak No Evil’s final third had me digging my nails into my palms so hard they almost drew blood. If that is not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.



To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


Unseen Films Sundance (2022) review: ‘FIRE OF LOVE’

FIRE OF LOVE


This is the story of volcanologists  Katia and Maurice Krafft who met and fell in love with each other and the earth’s firey mountains.

Made up mostly of the words and images of the Kraffts the film is many things. It is one of the most visually stunning films of the last few years. It is a history of volcanology over the life of the Krafft’s. It is one of the grandest love stories of our times. And the film is a philosophical examination of life and man’s place in the world. I was moved to tears.

What I love about the film is that the film doesn’t try to tell us everything, and in so doing does. Nominally it is about these two people, but the telling makes it into a myth. Not in the untrue sort of way, but the myth that gets at the hidden truth of human existence. It’s exactly the sort of thing that Werner Herzog strives for in his films where he will bend things toward the fantastic to give us a great truth. I don’t think anything was bent, I just think the shaping was a bit more mythic than the reality. And this is fine because it puts the love story on the level of the massive and overpowering volcanos

I can’t say this enough, the film moved me to tears.

A must-see, this is one of Sundances and 2022’s truly great films


To read all of Steve’s coverage of Sundance 2022, be sure to head over to Unseen Films!

To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


Sundance (2022) review: ‘WATCHER’ is a slow-burn story of gaslighting and daily dread.

WATCHER

Julia joins her husband when he relocates to his family’s native Romania for a new job. Having recently abandoned her acting career, she finds herself frequently alone and unoccupied.


Maika Monroe has solidified herself as a genre darling. If you somehow missed her It Follows or Villains, she’s a captivating performer. In Watcher writer-director, Chloe Okuno introduces us to a young couple’s international move to Bucharest takes a terrifying turn. A string of local murders haunts Julia as she spends her days alone and becomes aware of a neighbor staring at her from his apartment each night. Watcher takes you on a journey of cultural clash, instinct, and terror.

The film echoes the ingrained fear that women endure daily. We constantly live in a heightened state of awareness and anxiety that is exhausting. But it’s not only that aspect; it’s the gaslighting that might be more impactful than anything else and, its ensuing isolation can feel all-consuming. Monroe is in almost every frame. Her mindset will be all too familiar for the female audience. The sense that someone is a bit too close, looking at you a moment too long, and in many cases, we are helpless. What Monroe brings bravery to Julia that allows the viewer to be cautiously optimistic about her safety. Okuno and Zach Ford‘s script gives her a sense of action while maintaining fragility. It’s the moments of courage that we get to root for while simultaneously biting our nails. It’s a beautiful balance. Benjamin Kirk Nielsen‘s cinematography combined with Okuno’s blocking also put the viewer in Julia’s state of peril. Accompanied by a string-heavy score is everything we need it to be. The emotional manipulation in this film is sheer brilliance. While it’s not necessarily a new storyline, it is the bold approach that sets it apart. Watcher will have you maniacally screaming at the screen in terror and frustration. Sundance audiences are in for a ride.


To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


Unseen Films reviews: Sundance (2022) feature ‘Leonor Will Never Die’

LEONOR WILL NEVER DIE

Leonor is an older woman who can’t pay her bills. Her plan to sell an old script to a movie producer goes awry when she is clonked on the head by a TV and put into a coma. As her family deals with her medical issues she is living her script for real. It a one of a kind movie that mashes together genres into a film that is unlike any other, If you want a film that isn’t Hollywood but is entertaining look no further. This is one crazy film that mixes drama-comedy and 1980s action films into a story that grabs you and pulls you along.

I don’t know how to discuss this film. Then again I don’t know if I should. The film is just starting out on its journey to get to your screen and I don’t want to take the specialness of it away by telling you everything. I say this because I’m pretty certain this is going to hit a number of festivals in the coming months.

I will say that some of this doesn’t work. I was a bit lost at times, on the other hand, the film is so good that the bumps don’t matter.

Recommended, especially if you like off Hollywood one-of-a-kind gems.


To read all of Steve’s coverage of Sundance 2022, head over to Unseen Films!


Sundance 2022 short film review: ‘Long Line of Ladies’ is an intimate look into celebrating tradition and womanhood.

Long Line of Ladies

A girl and her community prepare for her Ihuk, the once-dormant coming of age ceremony of the Karuk tribe of Northern California.


A journey of tradition and self-discovery, Long Line of Ladies is a Sundance 2022 short film that allows us to peek behind the curtain of a once lost ceremony in the Karuk tribe.

The openness of the Karuk culture and the lack of toxic masculinity are so refreshing to witness. The entire community comes together to support each young lady as an individual. They are gentle and ceaselessly encouraging. The deep connection to traditions and nature is mirrored in the ceremony. After fasting, a young lady is blindfolded on a journey through the woods for 4 days, then emerges to perform a dance. The meaning and emotion behind it made my heart swell. It symbolizes her journey into womanhood so perfectly. This intimate portrait of cultural tradition will live with me for a long time. As a mother of a little girl that will soon be five, Long Line of Ladies inspires me to seek out a way to honor what has mostly been deemed an embarrassing or awkward transition. It makes me want to do better for the next generation. 

Long Line of Ladies – Teaser from Rayka Zehtabchi on Vimeo.


Directed by:
Rayka Zehtabchi & Shaandiin Tome

Produced by:
Garrett Schiff, Pimm Tripp-Allen, Rayka Zehtabchi, Sam Davis and Dana Kurth

Run Time: 
22 minutes


ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS: 

Rayka Zehtabchi 
is an Academy Award-winning director and producer working in both documentary and fiction. In 2019, Rayka became the first Iranian woman to win an Oscar for her film “Period. End of Sentence.,” which can be seen on Netflix worldwide. In all her projects, she brings a naturalistic approach to her storytelling, striving for honesty and intimacy on screen.

Shaandiin Tome is a recognized writer, director, and cinematographer from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her award-winning break-out short film Mud (Hashtł’ishnii) premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018. She aims to bring resonating imagery in a blend of convergence with story, illustrating her perspective as a Diné woman.



Online Screening
Thursday, January 20 @ 8:00 AM PST to Sunday, January 30 @ 10:59PM PST


To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


 

Unseen Films reviews: Sundance (2022) Midnight feature ‘FRESH’

Fresh

(Spoilers Ahead)


I have to do this review in two pieces. The first is going to be a no-spoiler review and the second will have more details for those who don’t care about spoilers 

Part 1- No Spoilers

FRESH is the story of Noa, a young lady who is unlucky at love. She bemoans the fact to her friend that she can’t meet anyone nice online. She then meets Steve, a charming doctor in the supermarket. sparks fly and they are soon heading off to a quiet weekend getaway, where Steve reveals his appetites.

Without giving anything away this is a not bad little thriller that suffers from our having been here before and a pace that stretches things to almost two hours.

Part 2- Spoiler filled discussion

FRESH is a really well-made film with great performances, I just wish that the script and the pacing were up to everything else.

No, wait I wish going in the promotional material didn’t use the term “appetites” since it pretty much tells you someone is getting eaten. I suspect that the copywriter thought they were being clever, but the fact is it’s not, and coupled with the film’s love of food you know how this might go.

The real problem here is that after a leisurely first 35 minutes during which things are set up and we aren’t quite sure where this is going to go, the film turns and suddenly we’re in the “heroine is chained in a room genre” that has been done so many times that we can largely figure it out where it’s going. I mean the filmmakers gave Noa a plucky friend who wasn’t certin the trip was a good idea, so you know help is on the way. I felt no suspense while watching the film, other than curiosity about what condition the other trapped girl was going to be in.

It doesn’t help that the film runs almost two hours for no really good reason other than to have some sequences play out to 80’s songs in a “clever” way.  Despite what the film thinks it is not reinventing the wheel, and while entertaining it never really does anything to stand out from an overcrowded subgenre.

While I freely admit the fact that I see way too many films, especially horror/thrillers, every year influenced my feelings for the film, I can’t imagine anyone other than a non-horror film fan being over the moon about this film. (Additionally I also freely admit that the fact I had seen 30 Sundance films before I got to this did influence my feelings)

Then again the cast is so good that I could be wrong.

Ultimately worth a look for the curious.


Fresh will stream exclusively on Hulu starting on March 4.


To read all of Steve’s coverage of Sundance 2022, be sure to head over to Unseen Films!

To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


Sundance (2022) short film review: ‘Warsha’ is pure cinematic joy.

WARSHA

Warsha follows Mohammad, a Syrian migrant working as a crane operator in Beirut. One morning he volunteers to take on one of the tallest and notoriously most dangerous cranes in Lebanon. Away from everyone’s eyes, he is able to live out his secret passion and find freedom.


Circumstance drowning out his authenticity, Mohammad takes a risk at his construction job in the short film Warsha. Handheld and tight cinematography force the viewer into the vibrating chaos. But it’s the wide shots that astound in their scale and shared panic and awe. You will not see where this short is going.

Khansa plays Mohammad with a captivating vulnerability. Warsha introduces the entire world to Khansa, a multi-disciplinary artist redefining masculinity in the Middle East. I had chills watching his transformation. What brilliant casting. Writer-director Dania Bdeir has given Sundance audiences a short film that defies gender stereotypes. Its celebratory nature will leave you breathless.


To find out more information on Sundance 2022, including screening times, click here!


Sundance 2022: Some of what we’ll be watching at this year’s festival, and it’s a lot.

Having switched from in-person to completely virtual, audiences of Sundance 2022 will have the opportunity to see a plethora of entertainment that will terrify, tantalize, and remind you of why we love storytelling so much. From horror to drama, television series to shorts, documentaries to VR experiences, we’ll be watching as much as our eyes can consume from January 20-30th. Things are finding distribution left and right, with is always great news. That means even if you miss something during the festival, it will most likely be coming to a theater or streaming platform very soon.

There is something for everyone. Genre favorite filmmakers, writers, actors, and wearers of all the hats,  Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, are bringing their latest film Something In The Dirt. Cooper Raif‘s newest Cha Cha Real Smooth is one we’re stoked for. His debut feature Shithouse was one of the most accurate films about college life I’ve ever seen. The shorts lineup this year is bound to blow you away. Do not overlook them, I beg you. There are feature documentaries on Kanye West and Princess Diana, the rise of TikTok, and Slave to Sirens (the first and only all-woman thrash metal band in the Middle East).

Without further ado, here is a list of some of the amazing content we’re excited about this year.


 U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Cha Cha Real Smooth / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Cooper Raiff, Producers: Dakota Johnson, Ro Donnelly, Erik Feig, Jessica Switch, Cooper Raiff) — A directionless college graduate embarks on a relationship with a young mom and her teenage daughter while learning the boundaries of his new bar mitzvah party-starting gig. Cast: Dakota Johnson, Cooper Raiff, Vanessa Burghardt, Evan Assante, Brad Garrett, Leslie Mann. World Premiere.

Besides Raiff being an obvious phenom, I suspect this one will hit harder for those with children on the spectrum. I’m particularly excited for Vanessa Burghardt’s performance, as she is on the spectrum herself. Representation matters, across the board.

Dual / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Riley Stearns, Producers: Nate Bolotin, Aram Tertzakian, Lee Kim, Riley Stearns, Nick Spicer, Maxime Cottray) — After receiving a terminal diagnosis, Sarah commissions a clone of herself to ease the loss for her friends and family. When she makes a miraculous recovery, her attempt to have her clone decommissioned fails, and leads to a court-mandated duel to the death. Cast: Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale. World Premiere.

This plot sounds like something out of West World and Doctor Who. Did I just mention those because of Paul and Gillan? Happy coincidence.


U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

I Didn’t See You There / U.S.A. (Director: Reid Davenport, Producer: Keith Wilson) — Spurred by the spectacle of a circus tent that goes up outside his Oakland apartment, a disabled filmmaker launches into an unflinching meditation on freakdom, (in)visibility, and the pursuit of individual agency. World Premiere.

I fell into advocacy for those with disabilities when my son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. I have a feeling that this film will give me a deeper understanding of not only my son’s perspective on society but the ever-present need for awareness and empathy.


WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Brian And CharlesU.K. (Director: Jim Archer, Screenwriters: David Earl, Chris Hayward, Producer: Rupert Majendie)  — A story of friendship, love, and letting go. And a 7ft tall robot that eats cabbages. A comedy shot in documentary format. Cast: David Earl, Chris Hayward, Louise Brealey, Jamie Michie, Lowri Izzard, Mari Izzard. World Premiere.

Prediction: Brian And Charles will be one of the most endearing films of the entire festival. This unlikely buddy comedy is sure to capture everyone’s heart.

 

Leonor Will Never DiePhilippines (Director and Screenwriter: Martika Ramirez Escobar, Producers: Monster Jimenez, Mario Cornejo)  — Fiction and reality blur when Leonor, a retired filmmaker, falls into a coma after a television lands on her head, compelling her to become the action hero of her unfinished screenplay. Cast: Sheila Francisco, Bong Cabrera, Rocky Salumbides, Anthony Falcon. World Premiere.

As a writer, I’m selfishly looking forward to this. There’s always a bit of myself in my fiction, and who wouldn’t want to become an action hero?


WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

Calendar GirlsSweden (Directors, Screenwriters, and Producers: Maria Loohufvud, Love Martinsen) — A coming-of-golden-age look at Florida’s most dedicated dance team for women over 60, shaking up the outdated image of “the little old lady,” and calling for everyone to dance their hearts out, while they still can. World Premiere.

Dancing since the age of three, this 41-year-old is looking for a few new role models.

 

Nothing Compares / Ireland, U.K. (Director: Kathryn Ferguson, Producers: Eleanor Emptage, Michael Mallie) — The story of Sinéad O’Connor’s phenomenal rise to worldwide fame and subsequent exile from the pop mainstream. Focusing on Sinéad’s prophetic words and deeds from 1987 to 1993, the film reflects on the legacy of this fearless trailblazer through a contemporary feminist lens. World Premiere.


NEXT

Something In The Dirt / U.S.A. (Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Screenwriter: Justin Benson, Producers: David Lawson, Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson)  — When neighbors John and Levi witness supernatural events in their Los Angeles apartment building, they realize documenting the paranormal could inject some fame and fortune into their wasted lives. An ever-deeper, darker rabbit hole, their friendship frays as they uncover the dangers of the phenomena, the city, and each other. Cast: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead. World Premiere. Fiction.

Genre fans will recognize these household names for their spellbinding skills. I’ve yet to watch away from their films without chills or an audible “WTF.”

The Cathedral / Italy, U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Ricky D’Ambrose, Producer: Graham Swon) — An only child’s account of an American family’s rise and fall over two decades. Cast: Brian d’Arcy James, Monica Barbaro, Mark Zeisler, Geraldine Singer, William Bednar-Carter. North American Premiere. Fiction.


MIDNIGHT

Hatching / Finland (Director: Hanna Bergholm, Screenwriter: Ilja Rautsi, Producers: Mika Ritalahti, Nico Ritalahtit) — While desperately trying to please her demanding mother, a young gymnast discovers a strange egg. She tucks it away and keeps it warm, but when it hatches, what emerges shocks everyone. Cast: Jani Volanen, Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Saija Lentonen, Reino Nordin, Oiva Ollila. World Premiere. Fiction.

 

PIGGY / Spain (Director and Screenwriter: Carlota Pereda, Producers: Merry Colomer, David Atlan-Jackson) — Sara deals with constant teasing from girls in her small town. But it comes to an end when a stranger kidnaps her tormentors. Sara knows more than she’s saying and must decide between speaking up and saving the girls or saying nothing to protect the strange man who spared her. Cast: Laura Galán. World Premiere. Fiction.

Speak No Evil / Denmark (Director and Screenwriter: Christian Tafdrup, Screenwriter: Mads Tafdrup, Producer: Jacob Jarek) — A Danish family visits a Dutch family they met on a holiday. What was supposed to be an idyllic weekend slowly starts unraveling as the Danes try to stay polite in the face of unpleasantness. Cast: Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja van Huêt, Karina Smulders, Liva Forsberg, Marius Damslev. World Premiere. Fiction.


KIDS

Maika / Vietnam (Director and Screenwriter: Ham Tran, Producers: Jenni Trang Le, Duy Ho, Anderson Le, Bao Nguyen) — After a meteor falls to earth, 8-year-old Hung meets an alien girl from the planet Maika, searching for her lost friend. As Hung helps her otherworldly friend search, the alien inadvertently helps Hung make new friends and heal a broken heart. But danger lurks everywhere… Cast: Phu Truong, Diep Anh Tru, Tin Tin, Ngoc Tuong, Kim Nha. World Premiere. Fiction.


INDIE EPISODIC PROGRAM

The Dark Heart / Sweden (Director: Gustav Möller, Screenwriter: Oskar Söderlund, Producers: Anna Carlsten, Caroline Landerberg) — Sweden: in a mythological landscape, search parties roam through forests of spruce, secret conversations are whispered in open fields, and verbal duels fought on narrow country roads. A story of family feuds, inheritances, and forbidden love. Cast: Aliette Opheim, Clara Christiansson Drake, Gustav Lindh, Peter Andersson. World Premiere. Fiction. 

Sweden’s true crime game is above and beyond. The US had already remade series like The Killing and The Bridge. Sundance 2022 audiences can dive headfirst into The Dark Heart. The series is a five-part psychological drama-thriller about how an old family feud clashes with a young, forbidden love story, leading to a tragedy with a deadly outcome, ultimately solved by a private investigator who gets obsessed with the case. The story is based on journalist Joakim Palmkvist’s book “The Dark Heart: A True Story of Greed, Murder, and an Unlikely Investigator”, which delves into the story about how a mysterious missing person’s case is investigated and solved by a local Missing People-volunteer involved in the searches.


INTERNATIONAL LIVE ACTION SHORT FILMS

Warsha / France/Lebanon (Director and Screenwriter: Dania Bdeir, Producer: Coralie Dias) — A Syrian migrant working as a crane operator in Beirut volunteers to cover a shift on one of the most dangerous cranes, where he is able to find his freedom. Cast: Khansa. World Premiere.

Once in a blue moon, a short film takes your breath away and Warsha might be that film in 2022.


U.S LIVE ACTION SHORT FILMS

Huella / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Gabriela Ortega, Producers: Helena Sardinha, Rafael Thomaseto) — When the death of her grandmother unleashes a generational curse, a disenchanted flamenco dancer resigned to a desk job is forced to experience the five stages of grief through a visit from her female ancestors. Cast: Shakira Barrera, Denise Blasor, Carla Valentine. 


U.S. NONFICTION SHORT FILMS

Long Line of Ladies / United States (Directors: Rayka Zehtabchi, Shaandiin Tome, Producers: Garrett Schiff, Pimm Tripp-Allen, Rayka Zehtabchi, Sam Davis, Dana Kurth) — A girl and her community prepare for her Ihuk, the once-dormant coming of age ceremony of the Karuk and Yurok tribes of Northern California. World Premiere. DAY ONE


For Sundance 2022 full line-up, tickets, and more click here!


 

Review: ‘You Mean Everything To Me’ is the personification of relationship red flags.

YOU MEAN EVERYTHING TO ME

Synopsis:

Still reeling from getting kicked out of her sister’s apartment, Cassandra (Morgan Saylor of HomelandWhite Girl and Blow the Man Down) falls hard and fast for Nathan, a local DJ (Ben Rosenfield of 6 Years, Boardwalk Empire, Mrs. America, Twin Peaks).  After a whirlwind romance, he convinces her to quit her job and enlists her to dance at his club. As his coercive control increases and his demands grow darker, Nathan soon isolates her from her friends and family. Confused and desperate, she must figure out how to save another from the same fate and decide what her own freedom is worth.


You Mean Everything to Me is a whirlwind of scary energy. Lost soul Cassandra gets quickly reeled into a relationship with a master manipulator named Nathan. Writer-director Bryan Wizemann brings to the screen a story that most women would categorize as their worst nightmare. Some of us might even say it’s less of a drama and more of a horror.  It’s a film that will take your breathe away.

Ben Rosenfield plays the opposite of his last role in Mark, Mary, and Some Other People. As Nathan, he pours on the charm. Rosenfield is also keenly aggressive in a way that is so slick, the more experienced viewers take notice. What might seem like confidence is a divisive and dark power dynamic from the first breath. All of this further proves Rosenfield is a top-notch talent.

Morgan Saylor, as Cassandra, gives us a beautiful balance of naive and bold. I adored her in Blow The Man Down. I, You Mean Everything to Me, Saylor’s Cassandra is under Nathan’s spell. He sniffed out her insecurities in a heartbeat and pounced. You can see the wheels turning as she battles her instincts with immediate emotional gratification. It’s a heartbreaking performance and one you will not soon forget.

The writing is sharp and nuanced. The initially sly gaslighting is infuriating because it’s so familiar. You could throw a rock and hit any other woman who has experienced similar behavior. When the rush of oxytocin kicks in, all logic goes out the door. The plot moves like a freight train, and because of this, you feel just as trapped as Cassandra. You’ll want to rescue her. You’re on a rollercoaster ride of emotional terror. You Mean Everything to Me is challenging to sit through, but Rosenfield and Saylor compel you to keep going. The final third of the film is nothing short of heart pounding. I was shaking. You Mean Everything to Me is a must-watch.


The film is opening in NYC on December 17th at Cinema Village (with an in-person and virtual theatrical rollout in other cities)


Written and Directed by Bryan Wizemann
Produced by Matt Grady
Cinematography by Mark Schwartzbard
Edited by Michael Taylor

Cast: Morgan Saylor, Ben Rosenfield, Lindsay Burge, Tom Riis Farrell, Jacinto Taras Riddick, and Nicholas Webber


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘Come Back Anytime’ is a Visual Feast with Charisma to Spare

Come Back Anytime

For more than forty years, ramen master Masamoto Ueda has been serving his legendary Tokyo-style ramen to a community of regulars who are not only his customers, but true friends.


Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best: good food, great friends, and a cold glass of sake. “Come Back Anytime” is a lovely tribute to Bizentei, a cozy ramen noodle restaurant located on a quiet corner of suburban Tokyo. Within this neighborhood gem, ramen master Masamoto Ueda has served comforting bowls of noodles for over thirty years while cultivating a cast of charming regulars that return week after week. While the lush cooking scenes bring to mind the much-heralded “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” Bizentei has a relaxed communal atmosphere much more akin to “Cheers.” Serving a ramen style considered somewhat old-fashioned but with seriously upgraded ingredients, the regulars cherish the nostalgic qualities of the food as much as Master Ueda’s company. Through first-person interviews with the patrons, viewers gain privileged access to a cozy hub, and it quickly becomes apparent why it holds such a special place in the community. 

The film opens with the subtle ASMR of Chef Ueda opening his shop for the day. Beautiful cinematography captures both art and skill as Chef prepares delicate broths that simmer gently in the background forming swirls of quiet steam, then sharpens glistening knives on a dark stone before chopping picture-perfect vegetables into neat symmetrical rows. I was captivated less than five minutes in. 

“Come Back Anytime” grabs your attention with a stunning presentation of traditional Japanese cuisine, but it is the intimate portraits of friendship forged over crispy fried gyoza or melt in your mouth chashu that will capture your heart.


For more info on DOC NYC 2021 click here!


Blood In The Snow (2021) review: ‘PEPPERGRASS’ is a compelling thriller.

During a pandemic, a pregnant restaurateur tries to rob a priceless truffle from a reclusive veteran.


Peppergrass is a slow-burn thriller that ultimately turns into a survival film. It builds a similar tension that Alone did. Not exactly the horror I was expecting from Blood in The Snow, but it is, nonetheless intriguing as hell. You must have patience for the first third is heavy character building. As our two protagonists botch their unusual robbery, the camera continues its handheld intimacy. Forced into the dark woods, Eula attempts to make it to the car in one piece. This becomes more complicated a task as the landscape is unkind to a pregnant person.

Chantelle Han gives it her all as Eula. As the plot roles out in a mostly real-time fashion, the audience watches her physically and emotionally tap out at certain points. But it is when she barrels through the cold, darkness, and imminent threat that makes her a total badass. Han is the driving force of Peppergrass.

At times, the score is this curious mix of ominous whimsy and borderline grating organ tones. It refuses to be ignored. Peppergrass is nothing like I expected. It places you inside the action because there is literally nowhere else to go. The danger and isolation are palpable. It’s a solid film.


For more info on BITS 2021 click here!


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘YOUNG PLATO’ dares kids (and audiences) to use their words.

YOUNG PLATO

An inspiring documentary from the filmmakers of School Life (Released by Magnolia Pictures), YOUNG PLATO charts the dream of Elvis-loving school headmaster Kevin McArevey – a maverick who is determined to change the fortunes of an inner-city community plagued by urban decay, sectarian aggression, poverty and drugs. YOUNG PLATO hums with the confidence of youth, a tribute to the power of the possible. 


Teaching is hard. It’s also perhaps one of the most underappreciated careers. You cannot fully comprehend the emotional and physical burdens if you’ve never been in a classroom. In Belfast, a headmaster named Mr. McArevey teaches Philosophy to his primary school students. He makes it approachable. He creatively breaks down ideas to facilitate communication and critical thinking. Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School could be a blueprint for schools all over the globe.

Dealing with their anger is a running theme. Considering the neighborhood’s history, this is vital for these boys’ survival. I’m 41 years old, and until watching Young Plato, I don’t think I truly understood the chaos of religious politics in Ireland. Directors Neasa Ní Chianáin and Declan McGrath juxtapose volatile footage from 2001 with present-day footage of those same streets, now lined with school-age children. It’s a chilling effect.

 Holy Cross’s methods of discipline, under the guidance of McArevey, are fantastic, as the students actively and knowingly utilize philosophical strategies. The social-emotional impact that this could have in every school would be mind-blowing. In an area where violence is so prevalent, using the power of words is priceless. These young boys, even during reprimand, are unafraid to express their feelings. The intimacy and care that Young Plato takes in showcasing the children are beautiful. As a former teacher, this is a school that has all the tools. As a mother of a Kindergartener on the spectrum, focused, individual attention can change a child’s life. Holy Cross is a shining example. 

As the kids learn about their area’s recent violent past, the profound thoughts of peace from these youngsters give me hope. McArevey makes kids accountable for their words and actions. The staff does not let them off the hook while simultaneously extending consistent praise. Watching these lads progress through the school year, seeing the unique brand of teaching should inspire us all to do and be better with one another. Young Plato is a guide to a better world. 


For tickets to see Young Plato click here!


Director: Neasa Ní Chianáin, Declan McGrath
Executive Producer: Lesley McKimm, Justin Binding, Andrew Reid, Catherine LeGoff, Grainne McAleer
Producer: David Rane, Co-Producer: Hanne Phlypo, Jackie Doyle, Céline Nusse, Declan McGrath
Writer: Neasa Ní Chianáin, Etienne Essery, Declan McGrath
Cinematographer: Neasa Ní Chianáin
Editor: Philippe Ravoet
Music: David Poltrock
Language: English
Country: Ireland, UK, France, Belgium

Year: 2021


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘The Business of Birth Control’

The Business of Birth Control

Sixty years after the pill revolutionized women’s emancipation, THE BUSINESS OF BIRTH CONTROL examines the complex relationship between hormonal birth control and women’s health and liberation. The documentary traces the feminist movement to investigate and expose the pill’s risks alongside the racist legacy of hormonal contraception and its ongoing weaponization against communities of color.  Weaving together the stories of bereaved parents, body literacy activists and femtech innovators, the film reveals a new generation seeking holistic and ecological alternatives to the pill while redefining the meaning of reproductive justice.


Is “the Pill” killing us? Perhaps not, according to the innumerable doctors who prescribe it to 11 million women. 35% of which are for reasons other than preventing pregnancy. Anytime I heard about my girlfriends going on birth control in high school or college, it was the same complaints; weight gain, mood swings, depression, and suicidal ideation. I never went on the pill because I was terrified by the side effects. In The Business of Birth Control, get ready to have your mind blown because everything you think you know about contraceptives and The Pill is about to change. The entire FDA approval study was based on only 132 women in Puerto Rico. What?! Under the auspices of body autonomy, the side effects were hidden or swept under the rug by the medical industry. Not a damn thing has changed. Profit and politics and old white men making decisions for women. Follow the money. Why fix a $17 billion industry? 

The Business of Birth Control utilizes doctors, educators, activists, and people passionate about giving you as much information as possible. We also hear about the fatal links to products like Yaz and NuvaRing. Director Abby Epstein introduces us to a group of parents who lost their daughters to the side effects of these hormonal contraceptives. They have become activists and not by choice. They wonder why there aren’t clear visual warnings on the front of contraception packages, much like cigarettes. I always pause when I watch drug commercials, and they rattle off the giant list of potential side effects.

I struggled to get pregnant for eight months. Every month I cried when the pregnancy test was negative. Then someone turned me onto an app very similar to the method discussed in the doc. I tracked my temperature each morning and some other information because you cannot get pregnant every day of your cycle, but that’s not what has been drilled into our heads since Sex Ed class in 5th grade. Within three months, I was pregnant, and I knew because of my spike in temperature. I knew before taking a test because I had learned the natural cycle of my body. 

Abby Epstein and Executive Producer Ricki Lake (The Business of Being Born) have given us so much to consider with this doc. There are more ways to maintain reproductive autonomy than I ever imagined. The fight continues to bring these options to every corner of the country, and much like the battle to keep abortion safe and legal, we cannot slow down in educating the masses. This film is not strictly for cis-gendered women who menstruate. The Business of Birth Control is knowledge every person should consume. Let’s keep talking to each other because that is empowerment. 


November 10th – November 18th

For tickets to watch The Business of Birth Control click here!


Directed by: Abby Epstein (The Business of Being BornWeed The People)

Executive produced by: Ricki Lake (Hairspray)

Producers: Abby Epstein, James Costa (Lunch HourWelcome to Chechnya), Holly Grigg-Spall, Anna Kolber (Chasing the Present)


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘OBJECTS’ taps into our tangible sentimentality.

OBJECTS

Why do we sometimes save objects for years that seem precious to us, yet have no intrinsic value? For some, these mementos are the root of clutter and materialism, but for others, they are a treasured record of their lives. A way to hold on to time and life itself. A tangible nostalgia.

OBJECTS explores a very different kind of ‘collector.’ Through the lives of three unique individuals who have held onto a seemingly meaningless object – a fifty-year-old clump of grass, a sweater that once belonged to a French actress, and a forty-year-old sugar egg – the documentary explores how we find meaning. These objects are not things to be flaunted, rather they are items that profoundly touch their owners in ways that few others can understand.


Vincent Liota taps into our inherently sentimental human hearts. As someone who has a box of objects dating back to at least age 5, as someone who married a man with his own small chest of treasured things, and a mother that fills her home with memories (including a broken flamingo ornament that I would hide in the Christmas tree to avoid its demise), OBJECTS speaks directly to me.

While looking through the memories hidden inside his bookshelf, Robert Krulwich, former host of RadioLab and current NPR correspondent, says something that struck me, “That’s time travel.” Objects are stories. Objects are history. As for the doc, OBJECTS features items spanning from a clump of grass to a sugar egg. Hearing the meaning of these things directly from the people who keep them moves you. You are instantly invested in their safety and fascinated by their existence. The walkthroughs of spaces filled with memories create an emotional gravity that is undeniable. We all know the old saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” OBJECTS proves just that.

I adored the time focusing on the methods of Marie Kondo. Like everyone else, when her series hit Netflix, I started to rummage through my drawers, cabinets, and boxes of things. I pulled all my clothes out of the closet and threw them onto my bed to decide what sparked joy. It was much more difficult than I could have ever imagined. In the end, I think I tossed things based more on logic and not at all on sentimentality. When it comes to my children, well, that is another story. I have a box filled with their sweetest baby outfits. 

OBJECTS captivates you with its ceaseless charm. Items that seem to have zero connection to the viewer go from innocuous to deeply meaningful. As we bounce from one unique narrative to the next, you cannot help but think about what is most important in your life. Perhaps it is not the object itself but the memory it envokes that we cherish so much. Regardless, OBJECTS reminds us that we are all connected, how a passing moment affects an entire lifetime. To quote Doctor Who, “We are all stories in the end, just make it a good one, eh?”


https://www.objectsfilm.com/trailer

For more information and tickets to watch OBJECTS click here!


Director: Vincent Liota
Executive Producer: Sally Roy, Vincent Liota
Producer: Vincent Liota
Writer: Vincent Liota
Cinematographer: Sam Cullman, Vincent Liota, Jason Longo, Bryan Margaca
Editor: Vincent Liota
Music: APM Library, Mark Orton
Language: English, French, Italian
Country: USA

Year: 2021


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘JAGGED’ is everything you oughta know about Alanis Morissette and Jagged Little Pill.

JAGGED

JAGGED, directed by Alison Klayman, takes viewers to 1995 when a 21-year-old Alanis Morissette burst onto the music scene with the first single off her ground-breaking album, “Jagged Little Pill.” With a rawness and emotional honesty that resonated with millions, and despite a commercial landscape that preferred its rock stars to be male, she took radio and MTV by storm and the album went on to sell 33 million copies. Featuring an in-depth interview with Alanis, as well as never-before-seen archival material, JAGGED explores her beginnings as a young Canadian pop star, the rocky path she faced navigating the male-dominated music industry, and the glass ceiling she shattered on her journey to becoming the international icon and empowered artist she is today.


I went to rehearsal one night only to have my Mom hit play on the kitchen cd player to find my Jagged Little Pill album spinning. She’s cooking dinner and suddenly hears the lyrics, “Would she go down on you in a theatre?” That was an interesting conversation when I got home, mainly because I’m not even sure I knew what that meant at that point in my high school life. I was a pretty sheltered kid. Maybe that’s the reason Alanis’ music spoke to me. It was raw and emotional. JAGGED is Alison Klayman‘s new doc about one of my first feminist heroes, Alanis Morissette. As soon as the film begins, so do my goosebumps and unadulterated, joyful belting. That album gave me the confidence to be unabashedly me. I’ll be eternally grateful. 

JAGGED is a mix of sit-downs with industry greats, behind-the-scenes footage, and concert performances. The concert footage is so crisp you’d think it was filmed yesterday. As Alanis’s handwritten lyrics crawl across the screen in real-time, it remains clear that her writing is brilliant and forever relevant. The sit-down interviews with Morissette are insightful. Like her lyrics, she’s brutally honest, fearless, and funny. Alanis has a great laugh. It’s genuine and from the diaphragm. Watching her tell her own story feels incredibly relatable. In some ways, it adds more weight to Jagged Little Pill‘s lyrics. Twenty-five years later, screaming these songs with the knowledge of the emotion and experiences behind them, I love them even more. How could you not?

The juxtaposition of the bullshit from critics is glorious and pointed. Morissette flashes a middle finger to every single one of them. At the height of her fame, empowerment was not welcome. Certain critics don’t enjoy female artists talking about their love lives. It becomes misogynistic fodder. Ask Taylor Swift, who gets featured in the film. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? Jagged Little Pill was, and continues to be, an anthem for so many women. Her audience spans generations. Because of her, women continue to cultivate and hold female artists in high esteem because their music represents the masses. Alanis a goddamn icon. Anyone who claims differently is wrong. I’ll die on this hill. 


For tickets to JAGGED click here!


Executive Producer: Bill Simmons, Jody Gerson, Marc Cimino; Co-Executive Producer: Geoff Chow, Sean Fennessy, Noah Malale
Producer: Jaye Callahan, Alison Klayman, Kyle Martin
Cinematographer: Julia Liu
Editor: Brian Goetz
Music: Ilan Isakov, Tom Deis
Language: English
Country: USA

Year: 2021


#JaggedHBO, the second film in the #MusicBoxHBO series premieres November 18 at 8 PM on HBO Max.


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘The Bengali’ breaks cultural and physical barriers.

THE BENGALI

Fatima Shaik, an African-American author (Economy Hall) from New Orleans, and whose family has lived in Louisiana for four generations, embarks upon an unlikely quest from The Big Easy to a part of India where no African-American (or American) has ever gone. Her search for the past is fraught with uncertainty as she looks for her late grandfather Shaik Mohamed Musa’s descendants, the land he claimed to own, and the truth behind the stories she grew up with. Her incredible journey is told in New York City-based award-winning filmmaker Kavery Kaul’s (Cuban Canvas, Long Way From Home) new feature documentary THE BENGALI.


In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, people lost homes, heirlooms, family, and stories. In The Bengali, African American writer Fatima Shaik leaves her birthplace of New Orleans to follow the path of her grandfather, Shaik Muhamed Musa. His history becomes the mystery Fatima seeks to unravel. Director Kavery Kaul was born in Kolkata. These two women travel to India on a mission of recovery and emotional enlightenment.

I lived in India from the end of 2008 into the beginning of 2009. In many cases, I was the first Westerner many of the locals in Hyderabad had ever seen. Most certainly, the first white woman. I was fascinated by the lush history of my surroundings. I watched as the landscape changed around me, sometimes quite literally. I witnessed the erection of modern malls and office buildings, as tent cities surrounding the community we initially lived in were simultaneously bulldozed over. The difference in culture was overwhelming. But unlike Fatima Shaik, I had no familial connection to the country. In The Bengali, Fatima and Kavery are there to seek answers and validate the stories passed down from Fatima’s grandfather. The greater the roadblocks, the more she questions. The locals are suspicious, and rumors begin to fly about her presence. Is her entire family history a lie?

Watching The Bengali is like a time warp for me. Fatima is just as lost and overwhelmed in the country’s bureaucratic ridiculousness. It’s a palpable frustration I know all too well. Merely attempting to travel from point A to point B is a challenge. Never mind the daunting sense of direction within street signs and, in many cases, house numbers. The handheld camera work immerses you into the chaos. In most cities, the people speak at least a few English words. In a small village, that was always less likely. Thankfully, Fatima had Kavery to assist in translation. Attempting this journey without her aid would be near impossible. But, like my own experiences, the most intriguing conversations occur between her and the village women. Discussions of gender roles, education, arranged marriage vs. love marriage give us insight into rural Indian culture. Religion becomes a point of contention, but that should not be of any surprise. But it is the often forgotten story of immigrants that rings the loudest. There is an entire history of Indian and African American culture in America that I had never heard of. The documentary became a new page in our history. 

Finding roots changes a person, no matter the outcome of information. The Bengali is a candid and revelatory dive into past and present, and thus the future. It breaks social and physical barriers, showing the viewer we’re all part of a much larger community than we could imagine.


Director: Kavery Kaul
Executive Producer: Deborah Shaffer
Producer: Kavery Kaul, Lucas Groth
Writer: Kavery Kaul
Cinematographer: John Russell Foster
Editor: Lucas Groth
Music: Nainita Desai
Language: English, Bengali
Country: USA
Year: 2021

Winner of the Special Jury Award at Roxbury Film Festival and the International Humanitarian Award at Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival, The Bengali will make its New York Premiere at DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival. The film will screen in person on Saturday, Nov. 13th at 4:45 pm at IFC Center with additional virtual screenings from Nov. 14-28. For tickets, visit https://www.docnyc.net/film/the-bengali/.