Short film review: ‘Shadow Bird (Sonsi)’ enchants from beginning to end.

SHADOW BIRD (SONSI)

Every morning, eight-year-old Nadi wanders somewhere between the conscious and the unconscious, to meet her dream-etched Shadow Bird. A second character unfailingly follows – the mysterious Timekeeper, who has a clock fitted inside his heart. Every day upon his arrival, the sleepy village would wake up. But one morning neither the Shadow Bird nor the Timekeeper arrive…and Nadi ventures alone into the deep, mysterious woods in search of them.


If you’re looking for something akin to the world of Guillermo Del Toro films, look no further than the Indian short film Shadow Bird (Sonsi). Boasting twenty-four minutes of extraordinary lighting, lush colors, and dazzling cinematic dynamics. These elements are carefully curated by writer/director/cinematographer Savita Singh. I was immediately consumed by Shadow Bird’s glorious sound editing from Ajit Singh Rathore and Anmol Bhave. The score from Tajdar Junaid tops off this elegant folklore tale. The cast is phenomenal. We’re plunged into this dreamlike world with the calming narration from Rasika Duggal. Young actress Aarohi Radhakrishnan portrays Nadi with the perfect amount of precociousness and innocence. Jameel Khan, as Time-Keeper, brings yet another magical element to Shadow Bird. There’s something so whimsical about his facial expressions and voice. What a stunning treatment for a feature. I could watch this over and over, it’s simply that enchanting. This is one of those films that reminds us of why we go to the cinema. It is art.


Shadow Bird, the latest film by groundbreaking director Savita Singh has qualified for the 2022 Academy Awards and is in consideration for nomination in the ‘Best Short Film’ category.

This builds on the National Award the film received in India for Best Cinematography (Non-Feature Film), the highest recognition for cinema in India. ‘Shadow Bird’ qualified for the Oscars by virtue of winning the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival, the only Oscar-qualifying film festival in India. It also won ‘Best Short Film’ at the Lady Filmmakers Festival in Beverly Hills, CA.


WINNER: BEST FILM

Bengaluru International Short Film Festival 2021

WINNER: BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

67th National Film Awards

WINNER: BEST SHORT FILM

Lady Filmmakers Festival 2021

 

NOMINEE: BEST SHORT FILM

NYIFF New York Indian Film Festival 2021

 

OFFICIAL SELECTION

Montecatini International Short Film Festival 2021

 

IFFSA Toronto 2021

Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival 2021

Dharamshala International Film Festival


Shudder original review: ‘THE ADVENT CALENDAR’ is the holiday horror gift that keeps on giving.

THE ADVENT CALENDAR

Eva (Eugénie Derouand, Paris Police 1900), an ex-dancer, is now using a wheelchair, unable to walk. When her friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier, Tomorrow is Ours) gives her an old wooden antique advent calendar before Christmas, she realizes each window contains a surprise that triggers repercussions in real life. Some of them are good, but most of them are bad, really bad. Now Eva will have to choose between getting rid of the calendar or walking again – even if it causes death and destruction to everyone she holds dear around her.


Writer/Director Patrick Ridremont gives Shudder audiences enough horror to rude into the holidays with The Advent Calendar. Think of it as a Christmas-themed Pandora’s box. Eva’s life is pretty sad. Isolated by the insensitivity of people who only see her wheelchair, combined with the declining health of her beloved father, Eva trudges through day-to-day life. When given a unique birthday gift, each day brings the unexpected. For better, and most certainly, for worse.

There’s an immediate and visceral Wow factor that occurs when the box first appears. The design is intricate. It’s simultaneously inviting and terrifying. It also allows for a brilliant screenplay structure as we know there are more surprises to come counting down the days with Eva. The Advent Calendar could have been an entire series on Shudder. 

Eugénie Derouand, as Eva, is outstanding. You can see the gears turning as her moral compass disintegrates. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. Derouand makes it look easy, and you cannot help but root for her. 

The practical fx and makeup are unsettling and grotesque. I found myself unable to look away, quite frankly. The tropes are consuming, and they’ll send a shiver down your spine. They are relentless. Overall, The Advent Calendar is a gift that keeps on giving, whether you like it or not. Add this one to your annual holiday horror lists immediately. 


Shudder, AMC Networks’ streamer for horror, thrillers and the supernatural will premiere writer/director Patrick Ridremont’s ornate and elegant French horror fantasy The Advent Calendar exclusively on Tuesday, December 2nd. Combining Faustian themes and allusions with European folklore and tense, chilling terror, the Shudder Original film provides some highly original holiday season horror.

The Advent Calendar world premiered earlier this year at London’s Frightfest and was produced by Alain Benguigui, Virginie Ogouz, Jean-Yves Roubin, and Cassandre Warnauts.


HBO original documentary review: ‘ADRIENNE’ lets us peek inside the life of the immensely talented Adrienne Shelley.

ADRIENNE

As the muse of Hal Hartley’s indie classics and as writer/director of the critically acclaimed Waitress, Adrienne Shelly was a shining star in the indie film firmament.


Indie film darling, writer, and director Adrienne Shelley‘s tragic death in 2006 sparked immediate action by her husband, Andrew Ostray. His new documentary explores Shelley’s childhood, her artistic talents, and her legacy. What happened that fateful day? How would he explain everything to their then 2-year-old daughter? Andy sets out to let people into Adrienne’s world, her career, and to help his own family navigate their grief.

Adrienne’s rise to fame seemed written in the stars. Certainly in her diary entries. Her daughter Sophie, who bears a striking resemblance to her mother, reads passages from the diaries through the years. Andy talks to Adrienne’s childhood friends, co-stars, and former directors as they recall her talents and loyal friendship. He documented conversations he had with Sophie about Adrienne. Richard O’Connor creates beautiful line-drawn animation with Sophie and Andy’s voiceovers that become great transition moments. 

Adrienne was so self-aware. It’s inspiring to watch the interviews where she expresses her values. Her uniqueness and vision allowed her to make a space for herself in the entertainment industry and quickly. She was also making a doc herself about happiness. There is so much insightful footage of Adrienne being Adrienne. A repeating theme is a sadness that she carried with her for a great deal of her life. It’s a heaviness that hovers over the entirety of the film. But she and Andy’s love story is never diminished. It’s the reason we have Waitress; this glorious celebration of a woman breaking free and understanding unconditional love. 

The doc swells to the gut-wrenching moment when Andy confronts the man who murdered Adrienne. It is a powerful interaction that had me trembling. But, most likely, you’ve already wept while watching ADRIENNE. You cannot sit through Jessie Mueller’s rendition of “She Used To Be Mine” from Waitress: The Musical and not be a complete emotional wreck. It’s not physically possible. This film is partly a gift to his daughter and Adrienne’s fans. It’s undoubtedly a physical catharsis, leaving the human experience of how one single person can impact everyone around them. It’s a legacy of an extraordinary woman and her story. ADRIENNE will touch your soul. 



Director: Andy Ostroy
Executive Producer: Marc Levin, Nancy Abraham, Lisa Heller
Producer: Andy Ostroy; Co-Producer: Jillian A. Goldstein; Supervising Producer: Daphne Pinkerson
Cinematographer: Trish Govoni
Editor: Angela Gandini, Co-Editor: Kristen Nutile
Music: Andrew Hollander
Language: English, Spanish
Country: USA

Year: 2021


So many stories left to tell. Adrienne, an HBO original documentary about the life and legacy of actress, director, and screenwriter Adrienne Shelly, premieres December 1 at 8 pm on HBOMax.


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!


DOC NYC (2021) short film reviews: ‘Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker ‘ & ‘Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma’

Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker  

This is what most short films aspire to be– a brief 30 minutes that conveys a story so completely it feels like a much longer narrative. An exposition on the homoerotic imagery within the art of J.C. Leyendecker, Coded excels at blending what is essentially an art history lesson with its present-day significance and with a deeply romantic love story to boot. As someone who is always here for a story about true love, this one left an impression that is unlikely to fade.


Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma

Overflowing with cool-kid energy, this short film dazzles and delights. A tribute to the Black ABCs and growing up in New Jersey, Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma excels in quickly establishing a sense of place. This is a film about black people that is made for black people, i.e. Art that deeply respects its subject. The colors and angles of the shots are gripping, trippy, and mesmerizing. Viewing was akin to walking through an art exhibit: what do all the disparate clips mean? You get the sense of it but it’s mostly vibes.


For more info on DOC NYC 2021 click here!


DOC NYC (2021) review: Questlove Flawlessly Mixes Music + History in ‘SUMMER PF SOUL’

SUMMER OF SOUL

In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was largely forgotten–until now. SUMMER OF SOUL shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present. The feature includes concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and more.


Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s directorial debut is simply brilliant. It might almost be a given that as a world-famous and beloved D.J., every musical and visual choice in Summer of Soul masterfully cultivates a vibe and maintains that dazzling energy for the length of the entire film. In addition to showcasing a great party, Summer of Soul provides viewers with the essential historical and cultural context to fully appreciate what they are witnessing. Through passionate first-person narratives from attendees, the film balances what in less experienced hands might have become merely a history lesson with one hell of a show. 

 Piecing together recently discovered footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, Summer of Soul is a celebration of black culture as it transitioned from the tumult of the 1960s into the black liberation movement of the 1970s. In a time of great uncertainty and political unrest, the concert series set in Mt. Morris Park was a time for black pride and celebration. The film includes never before seen live performances by a young Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, and many more. Every shot is colorful, powerful, and tells a story. The music is phenomenal. The costumes are dazzling– maybe men should reconsider brightly colored ruffle shirts?– the Black Panthers provided security in full regalia, including the berets. Each shot is a wonder and a visual feast. 

 Summer of Soul is a vital inclusion to narratives around the Summer of Love and essential addition to understanding the complete history of the era.


SUMMER OF SOUL premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. It is streaming on Hulu in conjunction with Disney General Entertainment’s Onyx Collective; Searchlight Pictures released it theatrically.


Review: ‘THE HUMANS’ is a living, breathing tableau of the American family.

THE HUMANS

Erik Blake gathers three generations of his Pennsylvania family to celebrate Thanksgiving at his daughter’s apartment in lower Manhattan. As darkness falls and eerie things go bump in the night, the group’s deepest fears are laid bare.


I wish I had seen Stephen Karam‘s stage version of The Humans. As a theatre major/lover, I could immediately feel the weight of the dialogue; subjects that feel mundane, long pauses fill the air, then the delicious, sharp back and forth. Karam developed his Tony-award-winning script for the screen and every single second of it is authentic. The most magical part of The Humans for a kid that grew up in the Connecticut burbs and then attended a theatre conservatory on the Upper West Side is the specificity to every detail of the sets and sound editing. Now 41, owning a co-op a block away from school, I realize how immune I’ve become to the sounds of a clanking and hissing radiator or the banging footsteps of the neighbors overhead. It is only when I visit home for the holidays that I notice the birds chirping or the silence of a neighborhood with picket fences. And yet, The Humans taps into a universality of the American family. There is something so familiar about the generational divides that appear around a dinner table; the brazen backtalk of the youngest adult, the words of wisdom, often misconstrued, from the parental units. Relationships are rubbed raw by alcohol or exhaustion. It’s a visceral discomfort that is highlighted brilliantly in this film. 

Karam’s use of sound, in particular, makes The Humans a genre-bending ride. Don’t be confused when your heart sounds and you think you’ve mistakenly turned on a horror film. The deliberate panic-inducing score and sound editing exacerbate buried secrets in The Humans. Karam’s carefully curated script is a masterclass in storytelling. He clearly understands the natural rhythm of familial banter. Each character experiences an arc over a few hours. The Humans plays in real-time. The blocking is coordinated chaos, and I mean that in the highest regard. The camera sits quietly, like an observer in an adjacent part of the apartment. Speaking of, in seeing photos of the two-story unit set from the Broadway run, I am even more impressed at the similarities in the film. With the cramped spaces down to the water stains on the walls, the production team deserves all the awards. 

The cast is superb. Amy Schumer stuns in the role of eldest daughter Aimee. The quiet anguish in her eyes and understanding tones of an adult kid attempting to maintain peace resonates immediately. Her performance has an authenticity that will make you take notice. Steven Yeun is a gentle pleaser as youngest daughter Brigid’s (Beanie Feldstein) boyfriend. He is attentive and honest, with perfectly played outsider energy. It should be no surprise to anyone paying attention to Yeun’s roles since leaving The Walking Dead. His talents are limitless. Dementia takes hold of matriarch Momo, played by the legendary June Squibb. While she technically has little dialogue, each syllable has weight. You’re fully aware of her importance. 

Beanie Feldstein as a musician and wide-eyed optimist, Brigid gives us the know-it-all baby of the family, please treat me as an adult vibe we need. You know her character. Feldstein’s delivery is chef’s kiss. Reprising her Tony Award-winning role as Deirdre is Jayne Houdyshell. The underlying pain is precisely masked by good humor and sass. This behavior comes with a breaking point. I could have sworn I was listening to my mother tell stories about her day. Houdyshell doesn’t take any shit. She’s loving but refuses to be a doormat.

Richard Jenkins‘s performance is immaculate. Karam tapped into the plight of the middle-class white man. From working the same job for decades, sending his kids to college, and entering the next phase of life feeling like the rug has been pulled from underneath him. What you aren’t expecting is the PTSD aspect to loom so large. As someone who experienced 9/11 in college and was downtown two days prior, that day hits differently, more so if you lived through it here in Manhattan. That trauma is key to who Erik has become. It is part of his very essence. Jenkins’s physicality is a story unto itself. He is outstanding. 

The Humans is the perfect film to watch with your family. Its nuance will bowl you over. The Humans is timeless and completely relatable. It’s a snapshot of what kitchen tables have looked like for years. Do not overlook this one. 


RELEASE DATE: In Theaters November 24 and on Showtime


From writer/director Stephen Karam and starring Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell, Amy Schumer, Beanie Feldstein, Steven Yeun, and June Squibb.


Blood In The Snow (2021) review: ‘Woodland Grey’ is a mesmerising tale.

WOODLAND GREY

A man living alone in the deep woods finds Emily, a hiker, unconscious and laying on the forest floor. He brings her back to his home and helps her get back to health so she can leave the forest and get home. After a few tense days coexisting, Emily makes a discovery. She finds a crudely built shed behind the man’s home. When she opens it, she unleashes something truly haunting. As Emily and the man come to terms with what has been released, they also attempt to find a way out of the forest which isn’t exactly what it seems.


Writer-director Adam Reider establishes isolation beautifully in the opening of Woodland Grey. With the sensory engulfing rustling of fall-colored trees, we watch William empty his trapped food and cook it over a campfire in front of his trailer. What appears to be a solitary existence is interrupted when he discovers Emily unconscious in his woods. His attempts to keep a dark secret and his controlled environment are about to go to hell.

The tension between actors Jenny Raven and Ryan Blakely is palpable. Reider, alongside writer Jesse Toufexis, gives these actors opposite personalities to the extreme. But this device keeps things interesting. Each brings a fire and nuanced perspective to the story. When you see it, you’ll understand how meaningful that becomes. They are truly spectacular.

The score helps to build a simmering unease from the very beginning. The structure of the script does not let you get comfortable. You cannot miss the references, directly and indirectly, to “Hansel and Gretel”. It’s all a bit maddening in the most brilliant ways. Could this film be a metaphor for purgatory? Completely possible. Could it be about the emotional stronghold of regret? Easily. I have so many questions and I don’t even care about the answers. I was too mesmerized to care. Woodland Grey is one of the most unique horror films of the year.


For more info on Blood In The Snow 2021 click here!


Blood In The Snow (2021) review: ‘The Chamber of Terror’ is half torture and half terrific.

THE CHAMBER OF TERROR

Nash Caruthers is on a deadly collision course with the people that tore his world apart…along with something unexpected. Something far more sinister.


If you’re going to call a film The Chamber of Terror, then you better be prepared to scare the hell out of people with insane torture devices. Instead, this Blood In The Snow film festival feature initially comes off as a half-baked schlocky mess. The room itself looks like a local haunted house, with red uplighting and blood spatter that could have been made by a giant spin art machine. The Chamber of Terror is not short on blood flow. Here’s a breakdown of the plot, sort of: Purposely getting captured by the crime family who killed his wife and daughter, Nash Caruthers has revenge on his mind. Things get weird. Time jumping, zombies, and a witch whose got her own agenda becomes a bit WTF. 

The acting, for the most part, is pretty cheesy. Although, the Giallo monologue is a genre treat. Two specific cast members understood the assignment. First, Robert Nolan, as the crime family patriarch, is batshit fantastic. I wanted to see more of his shenanigans. And finally, our machete-wielding, mustachioed antihero is the best part of this movie. Timothy Paul McCarthy, as Nash, is some brand of wild. He is the reason to watch The Chamber of Terror

Fifty minutes in, and we’re rolling into what the entire film should be; a tongue-in-cheek, laugh-out-loud gorefest. Now the film shines. Ultimately, if you can stick around until that point, you’ll enjoy the wackiness that is coming your way. Now, two final words on Nash Caruthers; Franchise potential.


For more info on Blood In The Snow 2021 click here!


Blood In The Snow (2021) review: ‘FLEE THE LIGHT’ understands the power of the past.

FLEE THE LIGHT

A mystical horror-thriller where reincarnation, demons and sorceresses intertwine to tell the story of a spiritual search gone wrong. A psychology student (Annie Tuma) delves into her sister’s (Ariana Marquis) psychosis, exposing herself to an ancient predator who hunts souls. Also stars Jane Siberry.


Blood in the Snow 2021 screened Flee The Light last night, a classicly structured folk horror where two sisters with a witchy lineage choose between good and evil. Delphi and Andra become consumed by visions that turn more sinister by the hour. Can they save one another from pure darkness? Flee The Light has an evolution that you won’t see coming. The Wicca research is clear, beautifully shot, and carefully intertwined. I would watch a prequel in a hot minute. Props to the set dressers and location scouts for doing their homework. There is an ethereal quality in certain scenes that grab your attention. 

Screenwriter Jennifer Mancini uses childhood flashbacks to establish the sisterly bond. These are precisely what the audience needed to feel emotionally invested in their relationship. Annie Tuma and Ariana Marquis give fully committed performances. You believe their chemistry. The final scene genuinely brings everything together. I would be remiss if I did not mention actress Jane Siberry for her beautiful turn. With glorious cadence changes, she knocks it out of the park. Flee The Light has a final shot that is a whole lot of Yes. Alexandra Senza gives us a solid B-movie. But the potential for Senza and Mancini to develop an entire franchise is magical.



For more info on Blood In The Snow 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!


Review: ‘Black Friday’ a hilarious and gross entry into the holiday season.

On Thanksgiving night, a group of disgruntled toy store employees begrudgingly arrive for work to open the store at midnight for the busiest shopping day of the year. Meanwhile, an alien parasite crashes to Earth in a meteor. This group of misfits led by store manager Jonathan (Bruce Campbell) and longtime employee Ken (Devon Sawa) soon find themselves battling against hordes of holiday shoppers who have been turned into monstrous creatures hellbent on a murderous rampage on Black Friday.


Is there a more perfect analogy for Black Friday shoppers than crazed zombie-like beings looking to consume? If you’ve never worked retail for the holidays, you have no idea what it’s like to deal with monsters. It honestly prepares you for any weird or crazy behavior from people the other 11 months of the year. Black Friday writer Andy Greskoviak must know a little something about the experience. His script is hilarious, tongue-in-cheek, and wholeheartedly captures the love-hate relationship between co-workers. Director Casey Tebo has given audiences a gory yuletide gift.

Bruce Motherf*cking Campbell, ladies, and gentlemen. Like Sawa, you tell me Campbell is to appear in a film, give it to me, you don’t have to ask. This guy is the poster boy for horror-comedy. He is a legend. As store manager Jonathan, he nails every beat. Stephen Peck gives life to Floor Manager Brian. He is the embodiment of second-tier management and the power that comes with that role. His shitty attitude makes the dynamic between the workers laugh out loud funny.  Ivana Baquero is a nice foil for all the masculine energy. She’s sweet and caring and unafraid to keep up with the boys club. Her presence is a necessary grounding. Michael Jai White is the hero we all want him to be. If you’re not rooting for this man, shame on you. I wanted much more of him.

Ryan Lee, as Chris, is just as impeccable as Sawa and the rest. A germaphobe whose anxiety looms large, Lee gets the opportunity to shine here. I did not realize this is the same kid from Super 8 and Goosebumps! More of him, please, and thank you. Devon Sawa is a bonafide horror icon. Seeing him alongside Bruce Campbell feels right. Sawa never fails to bring the comedy. He’s so damn natural. I am so stoked to see him working nonstop in genre films over the past few years. Black Friday is yet another role for him to kick some ass. In truth, Black Friday is an ensemble piece. The chemistry is incredible.

If I’m being picky, there are minute pacing issues as some innocuous shots felt long. On the upside, the use of the swipe transition is a throwback I wasn’t expecting. The practical FX are cool as hell. The special fx makeup progresses with the plot, and the intricate creature design becomes creepier and more visceral. Slow clap for SFX master Robert Kurtzman and his entire team. Black Friday is a little Color Out of Space meets Dawn of the Dead. Am I obsessed with the ending? You know it. Do yourself a favor, sit back, relax, and enjoy this film until the real-life stress of the holiday season eats you alive. 


Available In Theaters November 19th
& On Demand November 23rd


Directed by Casey Tebo
Written by Andy Greskoviak
Music by Patrick Stump (Fall Out Boy)
Starring Devon Sawa, Ivana Baquero, Ryan Lee, Stephen Peck, Michael Jai White, and Bruce Campbell


 

DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘GO HEAL YOURSELF’ takes a deep dive into alternative medicine.

GO HEAL YOURSELF

Against the wishes of her family, Yasmin sets out to find a treatment for her
epilepsy via alternative medicine. Meeting inspiring people all around the
world, she learns that this route is not as easy as simply taking a pill.


My aunt has always used homeopathic remedies. She’s beaten breast cancer twice. As someone with chronic pain from a neck injury caused by a car accident, anxiety since childhood, severe dance injuries, and phantom pain and diastasis recti from two C-sections, I would love to find ways to heal myself. You hear testimonials constantly on the internet or get messages on social media from women in health and wellness, aka the newest pyramid scheme. In Go Heal Yourself, filmmaker Yasmin C. Rams goes on a mission to explore alternative medicine for her epilepsy and her father’s Parkinson’s. It is a journey fraught with emotion. 

The argument of western vs. eastern medicine will never fade. Alternative medicine is a rare topic in my house. We believe in science, but that never discounts the science we aren’t familiar with yet. Although, my neck injury was so painful that I did my first and only session of acupuncture. It did not move the needle (pun intended) on my pain scale. I’ve since watched two aunts go through breast cancer treatments. Neither of their stories is the norm. While one used homeopathic medicine, the other did chemotherapy but never got sick. I’ve never heard of that before. 

In Go Heal Yourself, Yasmin’s father is skeptical. Her attempts to change his diet or convince him that his medication isn’t helping fall of deaf ears. Her epilepsy seems to reach a point of no return as CBD and herbal supplements become too expensive. In her search for answers, Rams reaches out to those individuals across the globe who claim their sickness wained due to a drastic lifestyle change and not medication. You cannot help but become emotionally attached to the people featured in Go Heal Yourself. You’d be hardpressed not to know someone in your life that isn’t afflicted similarly. While some of them heal, others struggle. Each believes that holistic medicine will lessen their ailments in the end. It’s the mental aspect that seems the most powerful. With mindfulness becoming more mainstream, those who practice may feel vindication from this doc.

We are fully invested in Yasmin’s journey. It’s a personal, oftentimes dark, diary of sorts. Undoubtedly, we’re hoping to find our miracle cure as we watch. Go Heal Yourself is going to rattle people, and there’s no getting around it. But if it causes us to stop and think for a moment about what our health means in our souls, then it has succeeded wholeheartedly. At the very least it opens up the dialogue.


Online Dates

Sunday, November 14 – Sunday, November 28, 2021


Director: Yasmin C. Rams
Producer: Yasmin C. Rams, Rodney Charles
Cinematographer: Vita Spiess, Nic Smith
Editor: Kirsten Kieninger
Music: Patrick Puszko
Language: English, German, Spanish, Mandarin
Country: Germany
Year: 2021


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.


Discovery + review: ‘SET!’ invites you to take a seat at one of the weirdest and most wonderful competitive sports you’ve never heard of.

Once a year, a group of feverishly determined table setters vie for the “Best of Show” ribbon at the Orange County Fair table setting competition. Often referred to as “The Olympics of Table Setting,” contestants can spend over 6 months preparing their table to compete and ultimately be judged. A merely misplaced soup spoon can mean the end for an otherwise perfect table. But like any competition, it is not without its dramatics. Old rivalries, controversy, and eccentric personalities come to a head as SET! explores topics far beyond the silverware.


Competitive tablescaping? Yes, you read that correctly. What, praytell, is competitive tablescaping? Well, it’s only the most amazing, strange, imaginative, cutthroat sport you’ve probably never heard of. Each year, under the guidance of a specific theme, competitors create place settings that will either wow or ward off a panel of judges and their fellow contestants. In SET!, director Scott Gawlik documents the six months leading up to the annual Orange County Fair table setting competition and its coveted “Best In Show” ribbon. 

Every inch and angle of cutlery and drinking glasses amounts to a point total. Scores are a cumulative system where one tiny mistake could cost you the top prize, which I think is bragging rights and not the 50 cent ribbon. What makes this sport so massively entertaining comes down to the interpretation of the theme and the competitors’ personalities. In SET!, featured competitors are not shy about sharing their opinions. More often than not, they’re downright catty. 

The judging is rigid. The rules are clear, but that doesn’t mean some of the comments aren’t questionable. Gawlik presents this aspect with glorious tongue-in-cheek energy through the film’s editing. But the drama pervades the entire process. A mostly female-dominated pastime, SET! also features a male competitor, Tim, who made his Dr. Suess-themed table on a literal dime. Others spend thousands on a single display. The snark, the tears, and the infighting make SET! something akin to Christopher Guest‘s Best In Show and The Real Housewives. The eccentricities of our featured contestants make SET! popcorn-worthy, high-stakes drama. The final displays vary in size, tone, and unconventionality. Some tables are complex, while others are simple and clean. But it’s the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of SET! that holds you captive. I never thought I’d be so invested in the placement of a water glass, and yet, here I am wondering what my holiday table will look like a month from now. 


Streaming on discovery+ on November 12th

Directed by Scott Gawlik

*Official Selection – Hot Docs 2021*
*Official Selection – Newport Beach Film Festival*


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/.


 

DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘MR BACHMANN AND HIS CLASS’ is a lesson in compassion and kindness.

MR BACHMANN AND HIS CLASS

Where does one feel at home? In Stadtallendorf, a German city with a complex history of both excluding and integrating foreigners, genial teacher Dieter Bachmann offers his pupils the key to at least feeling as if they are at home.


When children get caught in the crosshairs of sociopolitical complexities, it’s rarely a good thing. In one specialized German school, an extraordinary teacher treats his students like his own children. Through language, history, German, and music, Dieter Bachmann breaks down the walls of his classroom and the industrial landscape in which they reside. Their families mostly hail from Turkey, having left to find work at the local factories. They must learn to adapt to new languages and ideas, thus breaking a cycle for their generation.

Director Maria Speth immerses the audience in the cinema verite style, and the choice is perfection. As a former teacher, placing the camera inside the action gives the viewer a real sense of the minute-to-minute chaos of a classroom. Kids are laughing, rolling their eyes, struggling, learning, expressing opinions all at once. Their anxiety is palpable as we watch parent-teacher conferences. The heart of Bachmann is the purest. You are invested in these children as they navigate challenges in and outside of school. You get to experience the aha moments that are some of the most rewarding times as a teacher. The kids are bright and thoughtful. Their opinions often differ, but the conversations sparked from those differences are brilliant. Mr. Bachmann and His Class reminds us that the human spirit needs encouragement. We cannot do it alone. While it does take a village to raise a child, Stadtallendorf is lucky to have Dieter Bachmann. 


For Tickets to Mr. Bachmann and His Class click here!


Director: Maria Speth

Producer: Maria Speth
Cinematographer: Reinhold Vorschneider
Editor: Maria Speth
Music: Oliver Göbel
Language: German
Country: Germany

Year: 2021


DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, runs in-person November 10-18 at IFC Center, SVA Theatre, and Cinépolis Chelsea and continues online until November 28.