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

LIFE & LIFE

Synopsis:

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

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

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


NC Heikin’s Award-winning LIFE & LIFE

Screens at

2021 New Hope Film Festival (Philadelphia) JULY 30

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


Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival

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


NBFF 21 review: ‘The Witches Of The Orient’ is an ace.

THE WITCHES OF THE ORIENT

Textile workers are transformed into an Olympic level volleyball team by their coach, whose unconventional techniques emphasize speed and aggression. The team has a record-setting winning streak and a triumph in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

THE WITCHES OF THE ORIENT manages to simultaneously be exhilarating and endearing. The film is a multimedia celebration of an unforgettable group of women who worked tirelessly for victory and pride. The film works its way through intimate sit-down interviews with team members, now in their 70s, to recreate the journey to the 1964 Olympics. These extraordinary women worked diligently under a coach that was deemed harsh and unconventional. To hear them speak about it now, they saw things very differently. They had respect and adoration for a man who took a chance on a group of women who had the weight of their country’s honor on their shoulders.

The soundtrack is incredible. Even though you know the outcome of the final game, watching the tape makes your palms sweat and your heart race. You’ll stand up, cheer, and cry happy tears alongside the team. It’s simply inevitable. The film could not be more relevant as we roll into this year’s Tokyo Olympics. This team paved the way for female athletes to defy the masses. While it continues to be an uphill battle of sexism and controversy for today’s athletes, The Japanese Volleyball Team in 1964 owned their naysayers. Director Julien Faraut gave NBFF 21 audiences a history lesson that charmed the pants off of audiences.

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

TAILGATE

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

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

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


Showings – select to order tickets:

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

SWAN SONG

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

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


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

Showings – select to order tickets:


 

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

AYAR

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

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


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

Showings – select to order tickets:

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

DACHRA

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

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

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

Dachra | Dekanalog US Trailer from Dekanalog on Vimeo.

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

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

Color
Arabic Language with English Subtitles
114 minutes
Not Rated

Review: ‘DOWNEAST’ is wicked authentic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tribeca Festival 2021 capsule reviews: ‘Settlers’, ‘Glob Lessons’, and ‘7 Days’

Settlers

Mankind’s earliest settlers on the Martian frontier do what they must to survive the cosmic elements and each other.

Undeniably riveting, Settlers pits one family unit against another. Brooklynn Prince, who burst onto the scene in The Florida Project, captivates as a child whose survival depends on the lies she’s been fed by adults. Sofia Boutella skillfully plays her mother and ardent protector. As the reality of the situation of humanity is slowly revealed, the peril grows for everyone involved. Settlers is a film about trust, through and through. As time passes, Remmy’s role is taken over by Nell Tiger Free. She must navigate loneliness, and more importantly, the advances of the man who keeps her both alive and captive. Settlers’ unique script by director Wyatt Rockefeller allows us to question what we would do when faced with extreme circumstances. The landscape beautifully mimics the surface of Mars. Its desolate surroundings create palpable isolation and ceaseless desperation. The addition of a robotic character is the only thing that brings levity. Ismael Cruz Córdova as Jesses walks a precarious line between savior and villain. His beliefs steer the story into the darkest regions of human nature. Settlers is worth the watch for extraordinary performances and one hell of a feature debut from Rockefeller.

DIRECTOR
Wyatt Rockefeller
CAST

Sofia Boutella, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Brooklynn Prince, Nell Tiger Free, Jonny Lee Miller


Glob Lessons

Two mismatched strangers confront their fears of intimacy and inadequacy as they tour low-budget children’s theatre out of a minivan across the frozen Upper Midwest.

Nicole Rodenburg and Colin Froeber give us every emotion on screen. As a theater major, I know Jesse and Alan. But as a human being, everyone will know them. The concept of pouring your soul into your passion with little in return is universal, be it children’s theatre or any other occupation. There is a fine line between love and loathing. The laughs are plenty lying within awkward non-conversation and road movie tropes. Tension and tolerance levels eventually come to a head with creativity as their savior. In Glob Lessons, the moments of genuine intimacy between Froeber and Rodenburg grab hold of the viewer. Jesse and Alan are fleshed-out characters. At times they are pathetic, other times endearing. The chemistry between Froeber and Rodenburg is the stuff of movie magic. Glob Lessons isn’t flashy and that’s the point. Life is messy. Let’s own it. I am excited to see what comes next from a voice like Rodenburg’s. If Glob Lessons is any indication, we’ll be seeing more very soon.

 

DIRECTOR
Nicole Rodenburg
SCREENWRITER

Colin Froeber, Nicole Rodenburg


7 Days

As if their pre-arranged date, organized by their traditional Indian parents, wasn’t uncomfortable enough, Ravi and Rita are forced to shelter in place together as COVID-19’s reach intensifies.

This film snuck up on me. Filmed during lockdown and using COVID as a major plot point, 7 Days turns the concept of traditional arranged marriage on its head. Geraldine Viswanathan brings the laughs as Rita. Breaking the mold of the dutiful would-be bride, she begrudgingly comes to Ravi’s rescue with little to no hope of being his match. Karan Soni, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Roshan Sethi, plays straight-laced, Ravi.  As boredom sets in and guards are let down, a genuine connection slowly develops. The chemistry between Viswanathan and Karan feels grounded and made for some incredibly memorable moments. 7 Days is funny and heartfelt. I was not expecting the darker turn in the script. It was a bold move that paid off in spades. Filmed mostly in one room created the tension and awkwardness we needed to experience alongside Rita and Ravi. It takes the idea of close quarters to the extreme. 7 Days is a true gem from this year’s festival.

DIRECTOR
Roshan Sethi
SCREENWRITER
Karan Soni, Roshan Sethi
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass, Roshan Sethi, Karan Soni, Geraldine Viswanathan

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

Werewolves Within

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

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

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

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

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

The Legend of the Underground

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airing on HBO and HBO Max June 29th, 2021

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

Tribeca Festival 2021 review: ‘Ultrasound’ is a mind-melting film.

Ultrasound

Synopsis: Driving home late at night during a heavy rainstorm, Glen experiences car trouble. Near where his car gets stuck, he spots a house, knocks on the door and is greeted by an oddly friendly middle-aged man, Arthur, and his younger wife, Cyndi. The strange couple pours him a drink, and then more drinks, followed by an unexpected offer that Glen can’t refuse. Elsewhere, a young woman, Katie, is feeling emotionally weighed down by a secret romantic arrangement that feels like a textbook case of gaslighting. And at the same time, in a nondescript research facility, medical professional Shannon begins questioning her role in a bizarre experiment, fearing that she’s doing more harm than good.

When I tell you you’re not ready for Ultrasound, I mean that as a huge compliment because this film is a sci-fi mind melt. Boasting an outstanding cast and incredible writing, this is a film that you’ll want to tell everyone about. Three different stories, all equally mysterious, will reel you in with smartly laid-out breadcrumbs. Between exclamations of “Huh?” and “Wait, what?!” I have no doubt you will be hungry for more.

Vincent Kartheiser plays Glen with both a sense of an “everyman” quality and someone with long lingering PTSD. Chelsea Lopez brings a naivete to Cyndi that is spot on. Breeda Wool as Shannon allows the audience a small window into the insanity of this film. Alongside Bob Stephenson’s nuanced performance as Art, Ultrasound is a ping-pong match of converging stories and characters that will confuse, excite, and melt your brain.

The editing becomes increasingly important as the mystery unravels. Ultrasound is relentlessly twisted. There is so much happening in this script, you have to pay careful attention to it all. Ultrasound is best viewed with no preconceived notions. Throw out everything you think you know and take the ride. Tribeca audiences will eat this up. Ultrasound will keep you baffled long after the credits roll. It demands repeat viewing.

Check out the clip below for a preview:

**WORLD PREMIERE**
CAST: Vincent Kartheiser, Chelsea Lopez, Breeda Wool, Tunde Adebimpe, Rainey Qualley, Chris Gartin, Bob Stephenson
DIRECTOR: Rob Schroeder

Tribeca Festival 2021 reviews: ‘See For Me’ and ‘Shapeless’ feature women battling different inner demons.

SEE FOR ME

When blind former skier Sophie cat-sits in a secluded mansion, three thieves invade for the hidden safe. Sophie’s only defense is army veteran Kelly. Kelly helps Sophie defend herself against the invaders and survive.

See For Me takes the home invasion genre and adds a surprising element; the leading lady’s morality. Rightfully bitter, having lost her sight, Sophie pushes everyone away in hopes of remaining independent. Part of that behavior also includes sticky fingers during her cat-sitting gigs. When trouble arises, Sophie begrudgingly takes her mother’s advice. She downloads an app allowing another person to look through the user’s cell phone camera to assist them in tasks. This comes in handy when Sophie is confronted with home invaders. Although, her best chance of survival comes with a moral caveat.

Skyler Davenport as Sophie is outstanding. Her temperament and ability to put the audience in her shoes make this as successful as it is. Alongside Jessica Parker Kennedy‘s confident performance, the two have unshakeable chemistry, even if they never meet face to face. See For Me is a thoroughly engaging thriller. You’re immediately hooked by the premise. Director Randall Okita invites us into Sophie’s world. With wide-angle shots, we experience immediate terror. Slowly lumbering killers in the same frame, all unbeknownst to Sophie, gives the film energy akin to the Friday The 13th franchise. Plus, two women fighting in tandem in a completely fresh way enhanced the home invasion trope. See For Me has a solid feminist vibe.  A thriller with a side of morality? That’s good stuff.

(**World Premiere**) – Tribeca Online Premieres

Director: Randall Okita
Cast: Laura Vandervoort, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Skyler Davenport, Kim Coates, Pascal Langdale, Joe Pingue, George Tchortov

 


SHAPELESS

Ivy, a struggling singer in New Orleans trapped in the hidden underworld of her eating disorder, must face her addiction – or risk becoming a monster.

A huge aspect of eating disorders is the idea of control. What happens when that obsession changes who you are? Perfectly titled, Shapeless creates a slow-burn dread that consumes the viewer. If you can stomach the content, good for you. I mean this quite literally. Director Samantha Aldana adds a precise feminine touch. Ivy’s physical and emotional self-destruction is incredibly familiar. Seemingly small moments, like secretly borrowing clothes or the careless nature of her personal relationships, reveal a fuller picture.

Kelly Murtagh is outstanding in the role she wrote alongside Bryce Parsons-Twesten. Her exhaustion and frustration are palpable. This certainly comes from Murtagh’s own experiences with an eating disorder.  Admittedly, as a genre fan, the most intriguing aspect of Shapeless is the progressive body horror. I yearned for more. The prosthetic makeup lands somewhere between grotesque and whimsical. It captures the essence of Shapeless at every turn. The final scene is nothing short of heartbreaking, honest, and terrifying. Bravo.

(**World Premiere**) – Midnight

Director: Samantha Aldana
Writers: Kelly Murtagh, Bryce Parsons-Twesten
Cast: Jamie Neumann, Marco Dapper, Kelly Murtagh, Bobby Gilchrist, Erika Ashley, Gralen Bryant Banks, Zardis Nichols

Tribeca Festival 2021 review: ‘My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To’ proves blood is thicker than water.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To

Two mysterious siblings find themselves at odds over care for their frail and sickly younger brother.

Isolation, survival, depression, organized chaos. These are heavy-hitting words to describe a film with a blunt force trauma of an opening. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is a film that’s been on everyone’s lips for a year now. It’s been killing it on the festival circuit, and rightly so. This slow-burn horror puts three siblings at odds due to one’s unique affliction. Jesse has become the taskmaster Mamabird, driving the survival of her family. Dwight is stuck between resentment and loyalty as his patience is running out. Youngest brother Thomas just wants to break free of his physical and emotional prison. Stunted in every way possible, what would life look like without his elder siblings? Is blood thicker than water? My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To begs that very question, quite literally.

Patrick Fugit as Dwight is heartbreaking. The cracks are evident from the very beginning. His conscience weighs on him as his desire for normalcy and peace are all-consuming. Ingrid Sophie Schram as Jesse is everything we need her to be. Focused and utterly exhausted. The survival of this family unit is driven by her sense of duty and not necessarily by love this many years in. She and Fugit are brilliant scene partners. Owen Campbell as Thomas is a nuanced mix of childlike and monster. You simultaneously sympathize and loathe him. These are striking performances.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To has a finale that will first crush you then slowly, you’ll start to breathe again. It’s the perfect catharsis. Writer-director Jonathan Cuartas gives us every single emotion in this script. It’s meticulously thought out. To think that this is a feature debut sends shivers down my spine in anticipation of what’s next. How this story manages to walk the line between horror and morality tale is simply genius. You never really know what’s going on behind closed doors. Some are better left closed.

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

FALSE POSITIVE

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

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

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

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

Hulu & A24 will release

FALSE POSITIVE

as a Hulu Original Film on

June 25, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the Official Trailer:

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

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

CHASING CHILDHOOD

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

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

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

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

Virtual Live Premiere on June 24, 2021, and

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

Directed by: Margaret Munzer Loeb, Eden Wurmfeld

Produced by: Lisa Eisenpresser, Eden Wurmfeld

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

 

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

Official Selection of the 2020 Annapolis Film Festival

Official Selection of the 2021 Portland International Film Festival

Official Selection of the 2021 Cleveland International Film Festival

Official Selection of the 2021 Julien Dubuque International Film Festival

Official Selection of the 2021 Sonoma International Film Festival

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

CREATION STORIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available Starting

Wed June 16 – 8:00 PM

At Home

$15

Streaming Tribeca at Home is not available outside the USA

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

 

ICYMI: Tribeca movie reviews so far

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

P.S. Burn This Letter Please

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

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

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

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

 

Tribeca Festival 2021 review: ‘No Running’ has tailwind for larger storytelling.

No Running


NO RUNNING | JUNETEENTH PROGRAMMING

Online World Premiere

Synopsis: When high school student Jaylen Brown finds himself under suspicion after his classmate’s mysterious disappearance, prejudice quickly begins to bubble up to the surface of his small town. Working quickly to clear his own name, he begins to unravel a massive web of secrets that all point to otherworldly forces at play.

A smart, biting screenplay by Tucker Morgan takes us into the world of a young black man in very unfriendly territory. No Running has a twist to the social relevance. It’s a sci-fi film that leaves more questions than answers and that just fine by me. The story has all the makings of a franchise. No Running is Jaylen’s story but the door is left ajar for an entirely expanded world of who and why. In a town riddled with missing posters, No Running could be the beginning of something much larger. The suggestion of an otherworldly savior has endless potential.

Skylan Brooks, coming off an extraordinary performance in Archenemy, proves his star power. His ability to convey truth, relatability, and vulnerability is a gift. Each cast member elevates his performance. As you watch, you’ll easily be wrapped up in the local hostility weighed upon Jaylen. You’ll be infuriated and compelled to solve the mystery alongside this talented young man. Morgan’s script gives us a beautiful example of black excellence with Jaylen. No Running is a gem at Tribeca Festival 2021. Genre fans will connect on a multitude of levels. Congratulations to director Delmar Washington for a unique entry in this year’s lineup.


Available Starting

Fri June 11 – 8:00 PM

At Home

$15

Streaming Tribeca at Home is not available outside the USA

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

Director: Delmar Washington
Written by:  Tucker Morgan
Cast: Skylan Brooks, Taryn Manning, Shane West, Diamond White, Rutina Wesley, Bill Engvall
Producer: Eric Fleischman, Maurice Fadida
Co-Producer: Chris Abernathy
Editor: Adam Tyree
Cinematographer: Juan Sebastian Baron