Slamdance 2021 review: ‘WORKHORSE QUEEN’ the good, the bad, and the drag.

WORKHORSE QUEEN

By day, Ed Popil worked as a telemarketer in Rochester, New York for 18 years. By night, he transformed into drag queen Mrs. Kasha Davis, a 1960’s era housewife trying to liberate herself from domestic toil through performing at night in secret –an homage to Ed’s mother. After seven years of auditioning to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Ed Popil was finally cast onto the tv show and thrust into a full-time entertainment career at the late age of 44. Workhorse Queen explores the complexities of reality television’s impact on queer performance culture by focusing on the growing divide between members of a small-town drag community – those who have been on television, and those who have not.

I was 19 years old in my freshman year at college in New York City when I entered a multileveled club in borrowed pleather pants and hair I had dyed blonde (without stripping first) when I found my way to a restroom after dancing my little suburban grown heart out. While washing my hands someone was next to me checking their lipstick in the mirror and casually asked me for the time. I glanced over to tell them, and without skipping a beat I told them 12:16. They thanked me and exited the bathroom. I had encountered my first live drag performer and I could not wait to tell my friends how much cooler I now was for it. After that, I regularly attended drag brunch, drag bingo, had a standing table at Lucky Cheng’s, and have sung on stage at Don’t Tell Mama. When RuPaul’s Drag Race began, I thought, “Yes! Now the world can experience what I’ve been so enamored with as a theater kid for so long.” To me, drag was and still is art. As for many a performance artist, the craft requires sacrifice, thankless long hours, and money for costumes, makeup, and hair sometimes just for the chance to be seen but always for the chance to live out your dream. Drag is performance at a showstopping level. And while Drag Race has certainly widened the platform, that same platform only has room enough for a small number of girls (and guys).

Slamdance 2021 audiences get to peek behind the curtain of what drag is really like. In its world premiere, WORKHORSE QUEEN gives Mrs. Kasha Davis her own time to shine, with and without the glitter and fanfare. This doc is about Ed Popil, the man under the wig and magic. His story is one that will most likely ring true for many individuals trying to find out who they are, told they are too much, and yet not enough. There is such an intriguing dynamic in this doc. Family is front and center. Not just Ed Popil’s husband and kids but his drag family. Mrs. Kasha Davis and Ed are genuinely loving and kind; everything you want and need them to be. Ed exposes his childhood trauma at the hands and words of his father, the decaying relationship with the mother he idolized, and his alcohol addiction. When you’re a queen with a catchphrase, “There’s always time for a cocktail,” how does your career survive rehab? The doc isn’t shy about the inequities faced by performers with lower profiles both on social media and among fellow performers. Drag Race is a competition, life should not be. WORKHORSE QUEEN is triumphant in its honesty. There is so much deliciousness packed into its hour and 27-minute runtime. It’s raw, celebratory, passionate, and revelatory. It honors living your true authentic self and how one person impacts people’s lives in ways you never thought possible.

WORKHORSE QUEEN
Directed by Angela Washko
USA I 2021 I Documentary I 88 minutes
SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021
Virtual Screening Information
Friday, Feb. 12
For Festival Passes, click here
Please Note: Audience caps may affect film accessibility

Review: ‘I BLAME SOCIETY’ is weird, smart, and dark as hell. I’m obsessed.

I BLAME SOCIETY

Synopsis
Gillian (Gillian Wallace Horvat) is one of those many struggling filmmakers in L.A. who just can’tseem to get the money for their first feature. Feeling like her friends and her partner (Keith Poulson) are losing faith in her abilities, she decides to resurrect her abandoned documentary based on a pseudo-compliment she once received that she would make a good murderer. But while she documents what makes “the perfect murder” a hitherto unseen dark side of Gillian emerges and grows. Furthermore the problem with being a successful serial killer, she discovers, is keeping the whole thing stealth, denying her the recognition that she craves… and that unhinges her even more. After accidentally-ish killing her best friend (Chase Williamson), Gillian goes on a killing spree culminating with a final bloody act that nobody would dare deny her credit for.

There is no female equivalent for the phrase “Ballsy”. What would that even look like? Lippy? I BLAME SOCIETY is extra lippy. Starring as a version of herself, filmmaker Gillian Wallace Horvat says all the quiet parts out loud. Then she acts on them just to make a point. And goddamnit, virtual high five from me. This script is unapologetic, bold, and genuinely hilarious. It’s the “die for your art” meets “tell me I can’t and see what happens” mashup I didn’t know I wanted. Highlighting the ridiculously misogynistic side of the industry in the smartest ways. When the phrases, “This is a really big opportunity for you!” “You’re like the female him!” “We need an ally on your side!” I died laughing and I died inside. But the film also tackles social media, communication, and ambition all inside a twisted presentation of Dexter-esque mayhem.

The pace leading to murderous activities works so well to build up a tense WTF feeling. It’s just so imaginative and absolutely terrifying. You get to a point where you stop thinking it’s funny and start genuinely worrying about everyone she encounters. Wallace Horvat is awesome. I wanna hang out with her in real-life and make fun of everything that she makes fun of in this film. She knows exactly what she’s doing even as she leads you to believe otherwise. She has an overtly narcissistic sociopath nuance to “Gillian” and nothing short of that would have worked as well. When she references makeover sequences, I laughed out loud and then immediately gasped exclaiming, “Holy Shit! That’s her actual hair!” When you see it you’ll fully understand.

The DIY look of the camerawork makes it even more relatable, especially after last week’s Twitter battle claiming “you can’t make a film with just an iPhone.” I BLAME SOCIETY is a giant middle finger to still male-dominated and faux #MeToo accountability in Hollywood. And not just the film industry. I’ve been on the other end of these conversations, yes in writing rooms and screening rooms, but also retail jobs, teaching jobs, do I need to go on? Even outside that theme, I BLAME SOCIETY is for every single person obsessed with true crime yelling at the TV, “The Husband did it,” or “You know what I would have done…” We get to sit back, relax, and watch someone else live out our darkest fantasies and that’s satisfying and entertaining.

I BLAME SOCIETY Debuts February 12th on VOD
For More Info Visit HERE

Review: Jill Sixx Gevargizian’s ‘THE STYLIST’ has a look to die for.

THE STYLIST

Everyone dreams of being someone else, but for Claire, that dream goes from an obsession to a living nightmare. Her job as a hairstylist allows her to move in and out of other people’s worlds and is about to seamlessly pursue her disturbing predilection. Her lonely life, gruesome hobby, and shocking secrets are suddenly thrown into turmoil when her regular client, Olivia, asks her to style her hair for her wedding. Could she have made a true friend?

Back in 2016, I saw a disturbing and memorable short called The Stylist. Some of those images are still burnt into my brain. It’s not often I say that about a short. Now, writer/director/ producer Jill Sixx Gevargizian has developed that very short into a feature. That’s the funny thing about hairstylists. We totally end up telling them all about ourselves. It’s this unspoken, universal rule. We trust them with our hair and our secrets. Returning in the titular role is Najarra Townsend. She has this timeless look, with her gorgeous red hair and her vintage wardrobe. Signature colors people. Bravo to the costume department here. She has incredibly low self-esteem and social anxiety. Also, she’s a serial killer. This woman hates herself and craves connection. Gevargizian’s expertise as a real-life hairstylist shines through the opening scenes. She clearly guided Townsend’s hands to perfect the realism.

Brea Grant, who can do no wrong in my book, shines as Olivia, magazine exec, bride-to-be, and the unique object of Claire’s affection. She’s a firecracker. Her energy is the perfect foil for Najarra’s (mostly) quiet demeanor. Townsend has an amazing presence. Even when the focus is supposed to be on Olivia, her silhouette looms like a ghost in the background. She lives in the complexity of Gevargizian ‘s screenplay. She is both unsettling and mesmerizing.

We have to talk about the audio. The sound editing will make you cringe. The original score will throw your brain off-kilter and feels like an ode to 70’s horror classics. The editing is smart with side by side frames showing us Claire and Olivia as they navigate what seems mundane. The more we see them together, the more we realize how different these two women are. This script is built on the need for acceptance. There was a bit of a Single White Female (1992) meets May (2002) thing happening and I was all in. The Stylist is visually striking. You are enveloped in the lighting and overall color choices. The cinematic elements combined with stellar performances and an intense script creates a wildly successful atmospheric film dripping in nuance. Your heart is in your throat, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s a very uncomfortable and bone-chilling watch. That. Final. Shot. And Cut.

See THE STYLIST first, on March 1st 2021, exclusively on ARROW.

Distributor: Arrow Video
Release date: 1st March, 2020
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Final Girls Berlin 2021 review: ‘Time Of Moulting’ (Fellwechselzeit) will take patience.

TIME OF MOULTING

In a small town in 1970s West Germany, Stephanie is an intelligent and lively child living an insular life with her parents. She senses that something is wrong in her family, something that cannot be put into words, and she pushes against it where she can. Unspoken maladies lurk beneath the surface of everyday life and insidiously seeps into who she is. Neither she nor her parents have contact with others, and she falls into a symbiotic relationship with her mentally unstable mother Sybille. Sybille has never really left her own childhood behind and lives a life amidst objects and shadows of the past. Stephanie’s father offers neither support, love, nor normalcy. Stephanie withdraws more and more into herself and the passing years bring only ageing, but no future with them. Stephanie flees early from her life’s narrowness and hopelessness into an inner world of dark fantasies, which are nourished by traces of the past. Fellwechselzeit is a heavily atmospheric and harrowing portrait of the ways in which oppressive and repressed family dynamics can influence and infect the lives of younger generations– not tangible, not namable, but inexorable. Inner abysses form the only escape route for an undernourished soul.

You have to stick with filmmaker Sabrina Mertens‘ style choice here. TIME OF MOULTING is one of the most intentional slow-burn films establishing the cyclical nature of mental illness I’ve ever seen outside of a documentary. As the camera sits and watches these drawn-out, often silent scenes, we get a small peek inside the world of a family that has chosen isolation. The film does a 10-year time jump only to find our young protagonist worse off than before. She has been simmering in the childhood of her mother and is acting out with self-harm and increasingly violent drawings and fantasies. This film is not for everyone. You have to have the patience to make it to the end. The visual impact of Time of Moulting is massive. We hear over and over that the family cat has urinated on the furniture. We see each room accumulate more garbage/objects. Stephanie’s fascination with her grandfather’s slaughterhouse tools will make you so uncomfortable you will feel it on your bones. Performances are outstanding. This film challenges the audience to its breaking point.

DIRECTED BY SABRINA MERTENS, GERMANY, 2020

Starring Zelda Espenschied and Miriam Schiweck

Final Girls Berlin 2021 review: ‘DARKNESS’ will make your skin crawl.

DARKNESS

Stella, 17-year-old, and her younger sisters, Luce and Aria, are locked inside their house with bars on the windows. Outside is the Apocalypse: two-thirds of humanity is dead since sunlight has become too strong and only men can go outside. Their claustrophobic life is brightened up by some special games, such as the air party. But their father gets angry: he would like them to completely erase the past. The girls stay locked in their house, alone, with no food until things begin to break down and puncture the delicate shell of their cloistered existence.

Eerily the perfect film at this moment in our history, three girls wait in locked down isolation as their father scavenges for food in an uninhabitable world outside. The sisters pass the time with make-believe skits, attending to a strict schedule that revolves around their hyper-aggressive dad and reminiscing about their dead mother. But something else is very wrong here. Very, very wrong. Due to the current global pandemic, a phrase I am still not used to writing 11 months in, Darkness will resonate on a personal level, especially for parents. The film also has a similar circumstantial setup as ONLY one of my favorite films from Tribeca Film Festival 2019. But perhaps ends up more reminiscent of a certain M. Night Shyamalan film. All three young actresses giving stunning performances and they have a great screenplay to work with. If I’m being nitpicky, the runtime could be cut by 10-15 minutes as Stella pushes past her physical boundaries. The camera work puts you in the shoes of the sisters. Sometimes claustrophobic, other times disorienting. The full picture slowly reveals itself to be far more disturbing than you might think. There are clues sprinkled throughout but at the heart of it, Darkness is about emotional manipulation and physical abuse. It’s absolutely chilling. This film would easily garner a larger audience on any of the genre centric platforms. I’m excited to see where it ends up landing.

DIRECTED BY EMANUELA ROSI, ITALY, 2019

Starring Denise Tantucci, Valerio Binasco, Gaia Bocci, Olimpia Tosatto
German Premiere

Review: ‘The Reckoning’ – The good, the bad, and the terrifying.

The Reckoning

SYNOPSIS: Set against the backdrop of the Great Plague and subsequent witch-hunts against women, Grace Haverstock (Charlotte Kirk) must grapple with the tragic untimely death of her husband Joseph (Joe Anderson) in a society completely consumed by fear and death. Because she rejects her landlord Squire Pendleton’s (Steven Waddington) advances, she is falsely accused of being a witch and thrown in jail for a crime she didn’t commit. Grace must endure physical persecution at the hands of England’s most ruthless witch-hunter Judge Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee) and face her own inner demons as the Devil himself starts to work his way into her mind.

The Reckoning shines brightest in its performances and the attention to historic details. Firstly, without a doubt, the best aspect of this entire film is Sean Pertwee. His commitment to righteousness and torture without apology is what makes The Reckoning worth your time. Every second he is onscreen, he owns it. Watching him work is a masterclass. Charlotte Kirk does all the right things. But now for the bad… The amount of makeup on a person of her character’s social standing is completely unrealistic. It’s an unnatural amount for anyone outside of a royal court. It was genuinely distracting. This detail is a letdown considering the overall look of the film. One thing that is very clear is the amount of research that Kirk and Neil Marshall did to make The Reckoning as fact-based as possible. Kirk is stunning enough without a full face, so I am a bit baffled at the choice.

Now, the scary. This is a double-edged sword for me. While the creature makeup of The Devil is one of the most successful parts of the film visually, the ways in which he is utilized felt cheap. For me, it was a reason to exploit Kirk. It makes zero sense to have her fornicate (probably the first time I’ve used that word in earnest) with The Devil, without that being a major plot point that comes to fruition. It takes away from the overall feminist narrative of the film. I absolutely loved being terrified by the appearance of The Devil. Those moments stick in my head for their fright factor but make me cringe when used tom over sexual a character who is already sexually harrassed over and over for her appearance. This film might fair better if those scenes are cut altogether. The climax is most certainly unexpected and incredibly satisfying. Although with a runtime of 1 hour and 51 minutes, The Reckoning could lose a good 30 mins. Neil Marshall and Charlotte Kirk set out to highlight the atrocities committed against women in a time of fear, sickness, and paranoia. They are able to tell this story through the experiences of Grace and even a few ancillary characters associated with her. The real-life horrors are enough.

WATCH THE TRAILER:

RLJE Films and Shudder will release the action / horror THE RECKONING In Theaters, On Demand and Digital February 5, 2021. 

THE RECKONING stars Charlotte Kirk (Ocean’s 8, How To Be Single), Joe Anderson (Across The Universe, The Crazies), Steven Waddington (The Imitation Game, “The Tudors”) and Sean Pertwee (Dog SoldiersEquilibrium). The film was directed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent), who co-wrote the film alongside Charlotte Kirk, making her feature screenwriting debut, and Edward Evers-Swindell (Dark Signal).

Review: ‘The Funeral Home’ is a creepy place to live.

THE FUNERAL HOME

Bernardo is an undertaker. He and his dysfunctional family lives amongst coffins, wreaths and mischievous supernatural entities that visit daily. They attribute the paranormal manifestations to the dead bodies from their mortuary work. Finding the real source of all this madness will be their quest, but they might find a terrifying truth. Luis Machín, Celeste Gerez, Camila Vaccarini, Susana Varela, and Hugo Arana star.

 

The nonchalance of this tattered family living in a severely haunted funeral home is astounding. The audience goes in blind as we see a boundary of scorched earth not only in their yard but eventually, we discover it’s inside the house itself. The cinematography of The Funeral Home is eye-catching. The set dressing is filled with clues while the spectral lighting is just downright cool. The mood is heavy and frightening from the very first shot. That’s an uneasy feeling that never lets up. Performances from everyone are outstanding. There is a sadness and anger that hangs about each of the characters. The script is about betrayal and pure anguish. It has a Sinister-esque feel about it. The visual scares are jarring as hell. It’s clear that someone has made a deal with the devil, so to speak. I do mean that for more than one person. I have so many questions remaining, the revelations that do come our way are shocking and terrifying in a human way. There is so much potential in this film, I would love to see it developed into an entire series. There is a lot to unpack inside The Funeral Home and I desperately want to know more.

 

Mauro Iván Ojeda’s chilling supernatural thriller The Funeral Home comes to select virtual theaters on January 29 and digital on Feb 2.

Sundance 2021 review: ‘Luzzu’ shines in its authenticity.

LUZZU

Jesmark, a Maltese fisherman, contends with a newfound leak in his wooden luzzu boat. Barely getting by, he sees his livelihood—and a family tradition from generations before him—imperiled by diminishing harvests, a ruthless fishing industry, and a stagnating ecosystem. Desperate to provide for his wife and their newborn son, whose growth impediment requires treatment, Jesmark gradually slips into an illicit black-market fishing operation.

I have actually spent a few days on the island of Malta. When I met my husband he told me that his heritage was Scottish, Irish, and Maltese. I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. I’m half Italian and was completely unaware of the small, bustling island off the coast of Italy. Even with my little experience in the area, I can attest to the authenticity you get in LUZZU. Pre-pandemic, it was filled with tourists taking ferry boats from Sicily or to the smaller island of Gozo, where they actually filmed some of Game Of Thrones. It boasts crystal blue waters and ancient architecture. It also contains kind, hardworking locals that have been thriving in the fishing industry for a long, long, time. Now, things are changing and everyone is being forced to adapt. LUZZU takes all that local beauty and then gives us a weighty story we can sink our teeth into.

Jes is down on his luck in every way possible. He’s not catching anything that he can sell. His new son is not growing as he should. His mother-in-law doesn’t respect him. Jes dives headfirst into the black market fishing industry. While he fixes his luzzu (which is his wooden fishing boat) by hand, he snatches up any side hustle that comes his way. It’s heartwrenching to watch him struggle. You just want him to make it. As the danger grows, so do the emotional consequences.

Alex Camilleri- Maltese America filmmaker of LUZZU

To think this cast isn’t filled with professional actors is mind-blowing. They are beyond phenomenal. Jesmark Scicluna as Jes will tear at your soul. He leaves his heart in the ocean along with his family’s history. Combined with the handheld camerawork, Luzzu is immediately grounded and compelling. It puts us right alongside Jes. This story is universally relatable as the stress and anxiety that comes with being a parent, especially one with special needs, is oftentimes overwhelming. Add in circumstances beyond your control and you will do anything to protect them. The issues of identity are far more than surface level. The ending may destroy you. It felt devastating but incredibly honest. Sundance audiences will respect writer/director Alex Camilleri‘s choice to be bold in his storytelling. I cannot wait to see what comes next, especially since his upcoming film will also be set in Malta. If Luzzu is any indication, we’re just getting started.

Review: ‘PVT CHAT’ is a raw look at sex and money.

PVT CHAT

 
Jack is a lonely internet gambler living in New York City. He quickly becomes fixated on Scarlet – a cam girl from San Francisco. As Jack learns more about Scarlet, he discovers her unrealized talent as a painter and begins to fall hard for her. His obsession reaches a boiling point when fantasy materializes in reality and Jack sees Scarlet on a rainy street in NYC Chinatown. While Scarlet is clearly hiding her whole truth, milking Jack’s wallet in the process, she also seems to develop genuine feelings for him. Jack has to find out – is their emotional connection real or is he just being taken for a ride?
This is a fearless film. There is nothing shy about it. Writer/director/editor/DP Ben Hozie has given us an unapologetic look at sexual impulse, gratification, and all the complex feelings that come along with it. It’s not often we see an actor do full-frontal nudity. Leading man Peter Vack is not just full-frontal but masturbates (a lot) in PVT CHAT. And so he should. His character Jack has zero stability in his life with the exception of his need to connect with other humans. This is mostly achieved through cam sessions. While sexual gratification is s short-term goal, he’s really looking for companionship. He’s a great online gambler, that’s how he survives monetarily. At the heart of it, he has fallen in love with a girl he doesn’t completely know is real. Vack is excellent. His vulnerability pours off the screen. His portrayal of a seriously flawed and real human being is stunning.
Scarlet, played beautifully by Julia Fox, gives an equally nuanced performance. She brings power and presence to the screen, especially in cam-girl mode. Slowly, Scarlet’s walls tumble to reveal a sad and used woman. Fox’s gives us everything we need from her. The role also required her to perform sexual acts. She does so with abandon. It’s bold of both our leads to take such a risk and I applaud them for it. The overall aesthetic of the film is very Clerks; gritty, low-budget, 90s feel, from the sets to the costumes. We get to focus on the dialogue and Scarlet and Jack and that’s exactly what this story needs. That final scene sums it all up. And while what happens after the screen goes black remains a bit ambiguous, that’s entirely the point. Love is messy and complicated and I respect that. The relationship between love, money, sex, and emotional abuse are fine lines. It’s all explored in PVT CHAT. It’s a film worthy of your time and intellect.
Darkstar Pictures will release the psycho-sexual thriller PVT CHAT in Theaters February 5, 2021 and On Demand & Digital on February 9, 2021.
PVT CHAT is written and directed by Ben Hozie (The Lion’s Den, Annunciation) and stars Peter Vack (HBO Max’s “Love Life”), Julia Fox (Uncut Gems, Puppet), Buddy Duress (Good Time, Beware of Dog), Keith Poulson (Mercury Plains, Little Sister), Kevin Moccia (Unbound, Snitches), David J. White (This Side of Heaven, Required Field).

Sundance 2021 review: ‘The Pink Cloud’ is closer to reality than fiction.

The Pink Cloud

Giovana and Yago are strangers who share a spark after meeting at a party. When a deadly cloud mysteriously takes over their city, they are forced to seek shelter with only each other for company. As months pass and the planet settles into an extended quarantine, their world shrinks, and they are forced to come to terms with an accelerated timeline for their relationship. With all their other interactions governed by screens, and with the strain of isolation setting in, Giovana and Yago struggle to reinvent themselves and reconcile the differences that threaten to tear them apart.

The film opens with a disclaimer that catches you off guard. Pretty quickly you realize it’s not a ploy, it’s necessary. The parallel to our current global situation is astounding. It’s as if the writer/director Iuli Gerbase got a glimpse into the future. It’s confounding.

This is a relationship film in lockdown circumstances. Yago and Giovana experience all the normal stresses of dating in a compressed timeline. Children or no children, work/life balance, philosophy, regrets, keeping it fresh. There’s humor in the darkness, but the darkness is much deeper.

The visual juxtaposition of how beautiful the clouds are and the fact that they’re deadly is not missed. The montages of how they pass the time are fantastic. Technology, like our present real-life, makes almost all things possible from learning and entertainment. But, obviously, the downside of social media comes into play. From conspiracy theories and depression, it’s all there. The Pink Cloud is frighteningly familiar and yet completely unique. Sometimes it’s just all too much. This film isn’t shy and I respect that. This is one of my favorite films from this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

 

Sundance 2021 review: ‘Doublespeak’ portrays the very real downside of reporting sexual harassment.

Doublespeak

A young woman grapples with the aftermath of reporting sexual harassment
in the workplace.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Watching this short physically hurt my soul. Having been in this exact scenario I understand the stress this story produces. The need to apologize, the need to reassure loved ones of our mental state, the gaslighting from co-workers, it’s all there in this 9-minute film. Angela Wong Carbone nails the anxiety of a never-ending cycle of patriarchal oppression. You can feel it all emanating off of her. The meaningful closeups and partially off-kilter shots put you inside Emma’s mindset of having to reiterate the circumstances of her complaint. This is often why women don’t come forward with reports. The trauma of reliving incidents is not fun. Writer/director Hazel McKibbin has given a voice to too many. It’s an incredibly effective short. It speaks volumes.
___________________________________________________________
Section: Shorts Program 4
Director: Hazel McKibbin
Screenwriter: Hazel McKibbin
Cast: Angela Wong Carbone, Tony Costa, Tricia Merrick,
Ken Driesslein, Frank Lewallen, Reece Ennis
Producers: Stephanie Fine
Cinematography: Allison Anderson
Editors: Jordan Anstatt, Hazel McKibbin
Country: United States Run Time: 10 minutes
________________________________________________________
**2021 Sundance Film Festival: Shorts Program**
**Vimeo: Best of the Month Staff Pick**
**Short of the Week: Official Premiere**

Review: ‘DAVID’ is hilariously layered.

DAVID

David needs help. So does David.

If you tell me Will Ferrell is in it, I’ll watch it. If you say it also stars William Jackson Harper, umm, yeah I’m there. I’ve seen Ferrell in a few roles that require him to play the straight man. Stranger Than Fiction, Everything Must Go, and Winter Passing being the closest. Here he is tasked with portraying a therapist to a suicidal patient played by Harper. The two exchange incredibly powerful (if not brief) back and forth before they are interrupted by someone else in Ferrell’s life. Bursting into the session and causing nothing but chaos, three people trapped in a room against, perhaps, their better judgment, are simply trying to navigate boundaries and the consequences of crossing them. Harper is exactly what we need him to be here. He’s always solid with an ability to connect with a viewer. Ferrell is exceptional. He is charming and helpful and honest. The surprise performance comes from Fred Hechinger. His manic energy bursts off the screen and really wreaks physical and emotional havoc. It’s fantastic. The awkward dynamic writer/director Zach Woods places us in the middle of is comedy gold. But underneath is an honest message of love. This short will surprise you with its charm.

Cannes Film Festival – Short Film Competition 2020
Toronto International Film Festival – Official Competition 2020

USA / 2020 / 11 / Fiction

CAST
Therapist – Will Ferrell
David – William Jackson Harper
David – Fred Hechinger
Andy Doan – Corey Jantzen
Referee – Sebastian Vale

CREW
Director – Zach Woods
Screenplay – Brandon Gardner & Zach Woods
Production – Freestyle Picture Company, Ways & Means
Producers – Kevin Chinoy & Francesca Silvestri, Zach Woods, Andrew Porter
Cinematography – Andre Lascaris
Editing – Nick Paley

Sundance 2021 review: ‘Raspberry’ is perfect short film for when words fail.

Raspberry

Synopsis:

“Undertakers wait on a family’s final farewells as one son struggles to say goodbye to his dead father.”

There are 5 stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Everyone has their own style. No one can tell you how to process the death of a loved one. Raspberry is a fantastic example of the nuanced responses. From inspirational speeches, well wishes, to tears… and even perhaps an inside joke. It doesn’t feel like a natural process to the living. Raspberry confronts this in the most honest way. I had to watch this short twice and it was even more brilliant the second time around. It’s the specifically subtle reaction to the climactic moment that got me. Oh, and that final line. The look and cinematography are great, but writer/director Julian Doan‘s script combined with stellar performances make Raspberry as impactful as it is. I hope anyone who has ever lost someone close to them gets to live in this film for its 7-minute runtime.

RASPBERRY  Directed and Written by Julian Doan

Short Films Program — Acquisition

Starring Raymond Lee, Alexis Rhee, Joseph Lee, Gihee Hong, Molly Leland, and Matt Kelly

Produced by Turner Munch and Brianna Murphy

To access Raspberry in the Shorts Program you can click here!

Sundance 2021 review: ‘Prime Time’ is a ceaselessly thrilling lesson in media manipulation.

PRIME TIME

New Year’s Eve 1999. Twenty-year-old Sebastian, armed with a gun, hijacks a TV studio and takes two hostages—a famous TV presenter and a security guard. His plan? No one seems to know, including Sebastian himself. His demand to deliver his message, whatever that may be, via live broadcast is repeatedly thwarted by an uncertain police force and an egotistical network chairman. As the night wears on, Sebastian and the hostages bond in unexpected ways, while those in power fumble to restore order.

Who is manipulating who? The immediate idea that this situation can be directed is stunning. Producer Laura is like Oz. She initially sees and hears everything that’s happening from the booth. But she only controls as much as Sebastian reveals in slow spurts. Once the police arrive, all hell breaks loose. Can the hostage negotiators find out what Sebastian wants? It will be a long New Year’s Eve. Prime Time is remarkably compelling. There is no time to take a breath as the mystery unfolds in real-time. The handheld camerawork adds to the chaotic nature. But the real drama lies within the “Why?” Sebastian’s backstory is devastating. Performances are phenomenal from the entire cast. We live in their fear and their ceaseless frustration. Bartosz Bielenia will blow you away.

The juxtaposition of what all other networks are airing during this incident is rattling. No one, outside the studio, knows what is occurring. Everyone is nonchalant or celebratory so when the danger escalates, seeing the calm on ancillary characters is unnerving. It’s fantastic. This script manages to tackle class structure and emotional trauma, with media profits as the underlying force of everything that goes awry in Sebastian’s “plan”. Prime Time does an incredible job of keeping you on the hook until the screen goes black. In a present era where every second of media is either controlled or completely reckless, Prime Time taps into every viewer’s own fear of being lied to. Sundance audiences will love this film.

You can purchase access to PRIME TIME’s second showing by clicking here!

Sundance 2021 review: ‘Ma Belle, My Beauty’ confronts the complexities of life and love.

Ma Belle, My Beauty

Newlywed musicians Bertie and Fred are adjusting to their new life in the beautiful countryside of France. It’s an easy transition for Fred, the son of French and Spanish parents, but New Orleans native Bertie grapples with a nagging depression that is affecting her singing. Lane—the quirky ex who disappeared from their three-way relationship years ago—suddenly shows up for a surprise visit, bringing new energy and baggage of her own.

An already messy relationship between three individuals is challenged when they’re thrown back together after two years. As they one-up each other, passive-aggressively, boundaries are pushed to their breaking points. The film has a nonchalant pace that will either be up your alley or not. The settings will undoubtedly dazzle the Sundance audience. Bertie is played by Idella Johnson. Her acting warms up as the plot rolls along. She hits her stride once we hear her sing. Not warm up, but really SANG!.  Her performance around the fire is explosive. Broadway-quality, touch your soul kind of stuff. Lucien Guignard as Fred is as complicated as this script needs him to be. He is charming and perhaps even underutilized. There was so much more to his story that I wanted to hear about. Hannah Pepper as Lane is the most relatable character for the masses. We don’t see a lot of polyamory portrayed in film. It’s often left as a punchline in romcoms. Here, Pepper opens her veins on screen. The idea of not sharing a lover but running when things get hard is very grounded. She walks a line that keeps the story honest and grounded in a reality we can sink our teeth into. Wine, adventure, confession, disappointment, you get it all in a visceral way. Ma Belle, My Beauty a fantastic feature debut for writer/director Marion Hill. She and the entire cast and crew should be proud.

To purchase tickets to Ma Belle, My Beauty’s second screening click here.

Review: ‘#LIKE ‘ will shock you to your core.

Synopsis
Woodstock teen Rosie (Sarah Rich) is mourning the first anniversary of her younger sister Amelia’s death, when she discovers that the mysterious man (Marc Menchaca, ALONE, “The Outsider”) who sexploited and bullied her sister into committing suicide, is back online trolling for new victims. After the authorities refuse to get involved, Rosie discovers a darker side she never knew she had as she takes justice into her own hands.
Rosie is trying to figure out who is responsible for the death of her sister, Amelia. A year afterward, she is obsessed with watching her old YouTube diaries for any sort of clue. The darkest side of the internet comes to light in this unapologetically raw indie. We live in a world where a single tweet can incite violence. But since the beginning of the internet and chat rooms, pedophiles have stalked kids, acted like peers, and lured them into unsafe situations. People don’t seem to grasp the permanence of posting online. The consequences can be life-altering. #Like delves into all these things and in the #MeToo era. Writer/director Sarah Pirozek gives us a revenge thriller that will punch you in the gut.

Marc Menchaca stars in another unsettling role, post ALONE. Here, he is allowed to explore the nuances of his own fear. He is captivating to watch. Sarah Rich is outstanding. You are rooting for her every step of the way. You live in her anger and grief. She gives a fearless performance.

#Like a great companion piece for Promising Young Woman and Hard Candy. The writing is fantastic. The complexity of this screenplay will blow any expectations you have out of the water. The scenes with her closest friends allow them to discuss toxic masculinity in an approachable way. Rosie is balancing teenage life with a vigilante life. She does the police work that the adults have stopped doing. We follow along with her investigation and remain on pins and needles as she digs deeper. Her boldness steers the emotional journey of the viewer. You will not see the twists coming. And that spotlighted song choice? Let’s just say it perfection in its skin-crawling nature. #Like is shocking and brilliant. You’ll walk away slightly traumatized. People will be talking about this film for a long time.

#LIKE will be available on TVOD January 26, 2021 on iTunes,
Amazon Prime, Vudu, FandangoNow, and Microsoft Store
Running Time: 95 min
Country: USA
Language: English

Review: ‘Identifying Features’ is devastating and captivating.

IDENTIFYING FEATURES

Directed by Fernanda Valadez
Written by Fernanda Valadez & Astrid Rondero
Middle-aged Magdalena (Mercedes Hernandez) has lost contact with her son after he took off with a friend from their town of Guanajuato to cross the border into the U.S., hopeful to find work. Desperate to find out what happened to him—and to know whether or not he’s even alive—she embarks on an ever-expanding and increasingly dangerous journey to discover the truth. At the same time, a young man named Miguel (David Illescas) has returned to Mexico after being deported from the U.S., and eventually, his path converges with Magdalena’s. From this simple but urgent premise, director Fernanda Valadez has crafted a lyrical, suspenseful slow burn, equally constructed of moments of beauty and horror, and which leads to a startling, shattering conclusion. Winner of the World Cinema Dramatic Audience and Screenplay Awards at the Sundance Film Festival.
Every once in a blue moon a film comes along that pushes you past your own emotional boundaries. The heaviness of the stories in Identifying Features swallows you whole. You are forced to confront the realities that are far too often swept under the political rug here in the US and are dreaded in Mexico. With a score that vibrates your already unsettled soul, the handheld cinematography puts you in the shoes of any one of these individuals getting shoved back across the border… And those who don’t ever make it. The alternating scenes from a mother to a son build up a visceral tension to an ending that is beyond shocking. The intimacy of the sound editing and long lingering beautifully shot close-ups force you to remain engaged no matter how badly you’d like to look away. Identifying Features is brilliant in its unyielding honesty. You will sink so far into the depths of these families’ grief, digging out will take more time than you’ll realize. It’s nothing short of captivating.
This film is now playing in virtual cinemas. Click here to find a Kino Marquee virtual cinema supporting a theater near you.
Mexico /In Spanish with English subtitles / 94 min

Review: ‘White Lie’ catches you in the web.

A university student who fakes a cancer diagnosis for the attention and financial gain struggles to maintain her secret.

Sir Walter Scott said it best in his poem “Marmion”, ‘Ohwhat a tangled web we weave,/ When first we practice to deceive!’ The genius of this script is the storytelling structure. Minutes in you understand that our leading lady is caught in a web so large she cannot get out now. The relentless danger he allows herself to be in is astounding. The audience is constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Now that I have had time to sit on my viewing, I am actually aghast at the pace of the film. It barrels along in its deception and doesn’t let up for a minute. While there is clearly a backstory that predates the present timeline in White Lie,  I found the lack of information all the more intriguing. I was forced to make assumptions thus leading to, perhaps, a completely different take than anyone sitting next to me. Bravo to writers/directors  Yonah Lewis, Calvin Thomas for being bold enough to make such choices.

Kacey Rohl‘s performance as Katie makes the film as enthralling as it is. Her ability to make you loathe her and sympathize with her is uncanny. You understand that the complexity of this role is massive. She absolutely nails it. White Lie will have you uncomfortable from start to finish. It will be impossible to look away even though you’ll feel as entangled in the lies as Katie. It’s quite masterful.

Rock Salt Releasing will release it on various digital streaming platforms on 1/5/2021 (DirecTV, Amazon, InDemand, iTunes, FlixFling, AT&T, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu, Fandango & Google Play).

Review: You will fall in love with ‘The Wake of Light’.

THE WAKE OF LIGHT

 

Mary (Rome Brooks) has spent her entire life caring for her widowed father after he suffered a stroke when she was a little girl. One day Mary meets Cole (Matt Bush, from TV’s “The Goldbergs”), a young man passing through her small town on a cross-country road trip, who falls for Mary and asks her to join him on his journey. Now Mary must choose between her deep-felt responsibility to her father or a chance at love.

Mary and her father survive by the clock. They thrive in routine. Cole is the opposite. He’s chatty, vivacious, and a traveler. Mary feels bound by the obligation to care for her father. She’s never allowed herself to grow. The anxiety that is palpable on Mary’s face is something I know all too well. Then this burst of energy comes barreling into their lives and it the best medicine they could have ever happened upon. Cole challenges everything she’s come to rely on. But she is not the only one who needs awakening.

Beautifully scored, with sharp and glorious cinematography, The Wake of Light is like nothing I expected to see. There is something about the intimacy of the handheld style that feels like the viewer is just out of frame. Boasting stunning and meaningful close-ups. alongside the slightly heightened audio, there is a familiarity that feels lived in.

The screenplay is so charming you will lose yourself in the genuine connection between two strangers. The rhythm of their dialogue is lovely and grounded. Performances are outstanding. Rome Brooks as Mary has the most intentional beats. Her emotional journey is written on her face. There is a complexity that sneaks up on you. Matt Bush as Cole is an open book, as well. Behind his manic but infectious energy is loneliness as thick as Mary’s. He nails this role with shades of unexpected nuance. William Morton as Mary’s father is wonderful. His ability to communicate without dialogue is hypnotic. The chemistry between all three actors is beautiful to watch. Writer/director Renji Phillip has given audiences a special film. It encompasses fear, regret, human connection, and finding peace. It’s an enchanting, must-see.

THE WAKE OF LIGHT has won over 20 Film Festival Awards during its festival run. The film is written, directed, and produced by Renji Phillip and stars Rome Brooks and Matt Bush (“The Goldbergs”).  The film has a running time of 80 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA.  The film will have its virtual theatrical release on January 15, 2021 by Laemmle Theaters.  It will open on digital platforms on February 15, 2021.

Laemmle Virtual site:

https://watch.laemmle.com/videos/thewakeo/5fb872b7e6c07b00011dcd0d

Shudder Original review: ‘HUNTED’ proves the big, bad wolf is real.

HUNTED

Directed by acclaimed French filmmaker and comic artist Vincent Paronnaud (co-director of Cannes Jury Prize and Academy Award nominee PERSEPOLIS), HUNTED is an exhilaratingly ferocious take on survival horror that blends primal violence with grindhouse pleasure in a predator-prey riff on Little Red Riding Hood. The film follows Eve (Lucie Debay), a woman who encounters a seemingly charming man at a bar, only to uncover his true sociopathic nature, sparking a dire, life-or-death chase through the wilderness. A Shudder Original Film.

Little Red Riding Hood becomes snuff film bait. HUNTED is a survival horror with a fairytale familiarity. The scariest part of this film is the fact that’s it’s completely plausible. There’s a reason women are told to park under street lights and carry their keys between their fingers. We are not allowed to lulled into a false sense of security because then we become targets. But buyer beware, when animal instinct drives survival, don’t f*ck with a woman. Writer/director Vincent Paronnaud understands this dynamic. This is made abundantly clear in the most glorious ways.

While being absolutely terrifying, HUNTED is beautiful to watch. Wooded landscapes look like a magical fairytale as they surround Eve in the quiet moments. That’s the false sense of security subconsciously. It’s pure genius. The visual juxtaposition throughout of wild and innocent animals alongside our leading lady, Eve, is a striking metaphor. Her wardrobe of an iconic red coat and hoodie says all you need to know as she is hunted by the biggest, baddest wolf I’ve ever seen. He is grossly manipulative emotionally and ceaselessly violent. He’s an incel with the balls to back it up. When we meet the classic Huntsman character we’re offered another twist in the plot. I literally went from exclaiming, “Oh, hell yes!” to, “Oh, shit,” in minutes. Performances from every single cast member are outstanding. The cinematography is nothing short of breathtaking. The last third of HUNTED is unhinged. It’s absolutely unpredictable and a complete WTF. SHUDDER’s audience is going to go nuts during the final scene. It’s a visceral satisfaction.

HUNTED premieres on Shudder January 14th in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand