Review: Christina Ricci stars in ‘MONSTROUS,’ a visually spectacular story of unresolved trauma.

MONSTROUS

***Official Selection – 2022 Glasgow FrightFest***

A terrifying new horror awaits Laura (Christina Ricci) and her seven-year-old son Cody when they flee her abusive ex-husband and try to settle into a new life in an idyllic and remote lakeside farmhouse. Still traumatized, their physical and mental well-being are pushed to the limit as their fragile existence is threatened.


The pastel-soaked costumes from Morgan DeGroff contrast perfectly with the thoughtful set and production design from Mars Feehery and Taylor Jean. The house has an era-perfect look, simultaneously possessing an eerieness that is hard to describe. The entire film is a genre lover’s dream.

Santino Barnard plays Cody with maturity beyond his years. Ultimately, Monstrous belongs to Christina Ricci. She is glorious as Laura. Navigating sexism, motherhood, and abuse, Ricci rides the emotional nuances of deep-seated trauma and grief. As a mother, her performance had my heart in my throat.

Assisted by clever editing, the final twist makes the script’s build-up more powerful. Monstrous morphs genres instantly, jolting the audience alongside Laura. This device results in a creative spin on loss and acceptance. It speaks to our coping mechanisms and unresolved trauma we all try desperately to hide.


In Theaters and On Demand May 13, 2022

Directed by Chris Sivertson (I Know Who Killed Me, All Cheerleaders Die)

Written by Carol Chrest (The Prophet’s Game)


Starring

Christina Ricci (“Yellowjackets,” The Matrix Resurrections, Buffalo ’66, Casper)

Colleen Camp (SliverClueDie Hard With a Vengeance)

Santino Bernard (8-Bit ChristmasPenny Dreadful: City of Angels, “Bing”)

Don Baldaramos (Suburbicon, “Castle”)

Nick Vallelonga (Green BookThe Many Saints of Newark, The Birthday Cake)

RT: 89 minutes


Review: ‘BALONEY’- Joshua Guerci’s documentary about San Francisco’s only Gay All-Male burlesque troupe is magnetic, intimate, and hilarious.

Baloney follows San Francisco’s wildly popular Gay All-Male Burlesque show over 18 months as the group rehearses for New Year’s Eve 2020. Told through the eyes of the group’s co-founders, as well as the larger ensemble, the film contemplates the struggles that come with being a performing artist in San Francisco, the most expensive city in North America. Through a mix of interviews, rehearsal footage, and filmed performances, Baloney captures the group’s unique combination of humor, confession, and sex positivity in ways that directly reflect the private fantasies of people who come to the show. It’s also a story of the people who choose to perform in Baloney who, like their audience, find themselves in a world that constantly silences kinky, queer, and gender non-conforming people. Finally, it spotlights that real failure in life is often not doing that thing you know you need to do or being the person you know you need to be. Even if that thing is daring to be an artist!


Equal parts sincerity, sexuality, and soul – Baloney takes a deep look behind the scenes of San Francisco’s only Gay All-Male burlesque troupe. Joshua Guerci’s documentary follows this scrappy team as they plan, practice, and perform. Led by co-creators and real-life partners Michael Phillis and Rory Davis, the troop crafts performances that delight their audiences while offering insights across the wide spectrum that is the gay and queer male experience.

I marveled at the editing of this documentary (75 minutes!) Guerci’s team seamlessly transitions from practice to performance in a way that energizes the audience while still giving a deep appreciation for the vision and artists involved.

This documentary leaves you asking a lot of questions. Some are likely to be practical and hilarious (like, how do you wash beans out of your hair, or, did you maybe miss all the queer innuendos in Star Trek?) But others are more serious. I left Baloney with one question at the forefront of my mind: what does it mean to really suffer for your art?

Nearly every member of Baloney has a substantial day job. Everyone talks about their passion for the arts and the power of this burlesque troupe and wishes that they could make Baloney their sole focus, if only they could afford it. Now, plenty of people want to quit their day jobs and take off for Broadway or the hills of Hollywood. The context here is important. Baloney’s performance venues are shown to be sold-out, sure, but always humble in size and scale. They even have a great song poking fun at themselves on this. The energy and community of the shows seem to draw the performers back, just as much as it does for the audience members. 

The performers making up the troupe are magnetic. Guerci’s candid style further breaks down walls and makes the interviews feel intimate and informal. He speaks with them as they prepare breakfast or while they lounge together in bed. I particularly loved Andrew Slade, who leverages his past education in animation and video game design to hilarious burlesque effect.

Michael and Rory, who on paper have captured that elusive dream-job as day-job balance, are still shown to wobble. They are, at once, a producer, casting expert, director, and performer. They even provide rehearsal space out of their San Francisco apartment. There is a tragic irony that San Francisco proudly celebrates its queer and artistic legacy while simultaneously making it nearly impossible for those communities to endure and thrive within its borders.

Watch Baloney, and you’ll see some flat-out great burlesque numbers. But there’s much more here that will keep you thinking long after the final curtain call.


Baloney (2021) – Official Trailer from Joshua Guerci on Vimeo.

Baloney debuts June 7 across North America and will be available on a number of digital and cable platforms, including iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, Spectrum, and inDemand.


Los Angeles, CA – 13th Gen and Gravitas Ventures are proud to present Baloney, Joshua Guerci’s no-holds-barred documentary chronicling 18 months in the life of Baloney, a mostly male, mostly naked, very erotic San Francisco burlesque troupe. The clothing-optional documentary made its world premiere at Frameline and went on to inspire audiences at Outfest Los Angeles, Seattle Queer Film Festival, Cinema Diverse Palm Springs, Winnipeg Reel Pride Film Festival, TLVFest: Tel Aviv LGBT Film Festival, Boston Wicked Queer LGBTQ+ Film Festival, and Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. At RuPaul’s DragCon Los Angeles, the film is nominated for Best Documentary.


 

Fantaspoa 2022 review: World premiere of Argentinian horror ‘LEGIONS’ is bound to delight Evil Dead fans.

LEGIONS


Antonio is a sorcerer from a powerful bloodline, trapped in an asylum against his will. After an omen informs him that his daughter will be sacrificed by an evil entity, he must use his magical skills to escape and save her.


Writer-director Fabián Forte brings the world premiere of his new film LEGIONS to Fantaspoa 2022. A family line of demon fighters is threatened by the one horror that got away. Institutionalized patriarch Antonio’s stories are written off as delusion. With the help of his fellow patients, he must escape, track down, and protect his estranged daughter, Elena, before it’s too late. 

The film’s structure creates its engrossing narrative with flashbacks. Folklore and mysticism pull you into the characters’ backgrounds. Performances are spectacular. Antonio’s hospital crew will make you grin from ear to ear. Their energy is enchanting. Bravo, to each of them. Lorena Vega as Elena is everything we need her to be. Dripping with trauma, it’s a brilliant turn. German De Silva plays present-day Antonio with ferocious tenacity and innocent charm. I will watch him in anything.

The thoughtful score from Pablo Fuu strikes a perfect balance between playful and dread. The SFX from Marcos Berta Studios and visual effects from Andres Borghi is super cool (voodoo doll, I’m looking at you, buddy.) The script has everything occult, from protection spells to full-blown possession. The dual device of a stage play makes everything more fun, adding levity to the more intense aspects of the story. The unapologetic bits of camp mixed with phenomenal practical FX is a damn delight. Legions will be pure entertainment for Fantaspoa 2022 audiences. 


LEGIONS screened as part of Fantaspoa 2022.

For more information on the festival, please visit www.fantaspoa.com.


Fantaspoa 2022 review: ‘SUBJECT’ is a uniquely mesmerizing fantasy.

SUBJECT

A famous novelist moves into a house near an isolated, strange village in an attempt to break his writers block. Soon, ideas emerge – as do strange sightings and mysterious pages, seemingly written by the former resident of the house


Attempting to ward off writer’s block, Max’s agent rents him a house in a small, isolated village. When Max finds his words in an old notebook inside the writing desk, it’s the beginning of pure chaos. Mystery compounds as the enigmatic yet cheerful townspeople come into contact with Max. Everyone in this town is slightly off-kilter. Writer-director Leo Falcão has done a splendid job keeping you on your toes, playing with language and magical realism. 

Is Max experiencing madness like Jack Torrance in The Shining? Something strange haunts this town, and Max is the only one out of the loop. Performances across the board are wonderful. I felt as if I were attending a ping pong match as I watched these fully fleshed-out characters coexist with Max. I needed to solve the complexities of the story. Falcão understands how to hold the viewer in the palm of his hand.

The costumes are like eye candy. With colors that pop, they have a strategic effect akin to Beetlejuice. The cinematic framing draws you into the already engaging narrative. The camera leads you to clues placing you inside the mystery like a passerby on the street. It’s immersive and ceaselessly intriguing. With an ending I did not see coming, Fantaspoa 2022 audiences will find themselves scratching their heads but unable to take their eyes off the screen. SUBJECT completely enchanted me. 


SUBJECT screened as part of Fantaspoa 2022.

For more information on the festival, please visit www.fantaspoa.com.


Fantaspoa 2022 review: ‘HOLY SHIT!’ is gag-worthy greatness.

HOLY SHIT!

A bloodied architect regains consciousness inside a locked portable toilet and soon realizes that he needs to find a way out of there or he’ll be blown up within the hour.


Ingenuity and one hell of a plot make Fantaspoa 2022 selection Holy Shit! one of the most fun films this year. Frank is locked in an overturned porta-potty, his forearm pierced by a thin piece of rebar. With only his wits about him, Frank must escape within 30 minutes to escape certain death by explosives outside of the four small, grotesque walls he finds himself trapped inside. Grasping anything at his disposal, Frank must MacGyver his way to safety, all while recollecting how he got in this predicament in the first place. 

The visceral tension created by writer-director Lukas Rinker is exacerbated by the superb performance of our leading man, Thomas Niehaus. He is nothing short of captivating. Together, they’ve made Holy Shit! a truly riveting story. You’ll yell at the screen in frustration, sweat as the minutes tick off, and cheer for the small victories along the way. Who would have thought a film about a man trapped inside a porta-potty would ignite that much emotion? It’s bizarrely brilliant.


HOLY SHIT! screened as part of Fantaspoa 2022.

For more information on the festival, please visit www.fantaspoa.com.


HOT DOCS 2022 review: ‘Images Of A Nordic Drama’ pits art lovers against the art world.

IMAGES OF A NORDIC DRAMA

Who would have ever guessed that the discovery of paintings by an unknown Norwegian artist would cause such upheaval in the art world? When art collector Haakon Mehren was led to a barn filled with oversized canvases, his jaw immediately hit the floor. Who was this artist? After some sleuthing, Mehren introduces the world to Aksel Waldemar Johannessen, an unapologetic alcoholic who did the unthinkable. Johannessen painted the poor, often using his image mixed with dark and twisted imagery of inner turmoil.

Self-portrait painted by Aksel Waldemar Johannessen

Art is subjective, but there is undoubtedly a most elite shroud in curating. Norway’s most coveted paintings never before depicted the lower class. Their claim to fame was Edvard Munch. If you know even a sliver about art, you can immediately conjure the image of “The Scream.” The curatorial staff at the National Museum and gatekeepers of the Munch Museum immediately pushed back on adding the works to Norway’s collective narrative. Mehren made it his life’s mission to share Johannessen’s artistic contributions, scheduling exhibitions throughout Europe. The public’s reaction was overwhelmingly delightful. That only fueled the fire from Norway’s elite.

Director Nils Gaup uses a gorgeous score while repeatedly showcasing Johannessen’s paintings. This distinctive choice brings due awe to each piece. There’s no denying that some of the work is frightening, while others are simply breathtaking. The variety of subjects is astounding. You will find yourself lost in them. IMAGES OF A NORDIC DRAMA is the perfect addition to this year’s HOT DOCS 2022 lineup. If you weren’t an art lover before, get ready for your world is about to change.

The painting “Man on a diving board” by Aksel Waldemar Johannessen. This painting was exhibited at The Met.


HOT DOCS 2022 Link to buy tickets:

https://hotdocs.ca/whats-on/hot-docs-festival/films/2022/images-of-a-nordic-drama

@hotdocs #HotDocs22


HOT DOCS 2022 FESTIVAL SCREENINGS:
PUBLIC SCREENINGS:

Saturday, April 30 at 11:30 am
Location: Varsity 8 (55 Bloor Street West)

Thursday, May 5 at 8:45 pm
Location: Varsity 8 (55 Bloor Street West)

Running Time: 71 minutes

Language: English, German, Norwegian

Country: Norway, Germany (Feature Documentary)


Fantaspoa 2022 review: ‘FOLLOW HER’ is a clever social media revenge thriller.

Director Sylvia Caminer brings her new film Follow Her to Fantaspoa 2022. It features Dani Barker as social media up-and-comer Jess as she grinds away, posting live videos about her various paid gigs. When a glitch in her facial blur app causes an online frenzy, Jess must navigate not only a barrage of new followers and mixed comments but a new job offer. A meta revenge thriller, Follow Her, will have your heart in your throat.

Luke Cook plays Tom, the man who hires Jess to assist him in writing an erotic thriller. He’s effortless suave and ceaselessly witty. It is tricky to distinguish between written dialogue and what might be improved. The script allows him to play up the maniacal angle. You’re still rooting for him as a genre fan. Cook is exceptionally enigmatic, and Dani Barker keeps up with his energy. 

Barker plays double duty as Jess and screenwriter. She bears a striking resemblance to Kate Hudson and Chloe Fineman and possesses the charm of both combined. Barker understands the complexities of social media and the myriad of baggage that can accompany the lifestyle. She’s given audiences a slick screenplay.

Follow Her would make a great triple feature evening with CAM and Spree. Overall, the meta aspect of the screenplay comes into focus at around the 38-minute mark. The innate anxiety of being a woman alone with a man is front and center. Follow Her had me in full panic mode at 45 minutes. Each consecutive beat skillfully ups the ante. It speaks to the dark side of the internet age, gigging, vulnerability, sexual control, greed, and the consequence-free world we see more and more. Barker cleverly utilizes horror tropes and acknowledges them directly. Fantaspoa 2022 audiences are in for a treat. Genre fans will go nuts for this killer film. I’d “like & subscribe” for franchise development.


FOLLOW HER screens as part of Fantaspoa 2022. For more information on the festival, please visit www.fantaspoa.com.


Fantaspoa 2022 review: ‘OX-HEAD VILLAGE’ is a frightful folktale.

OX-HEAD VILLAGE

PLOT: Having launched a social media prank about a haunted building, three girls suddenly vanish. Rumors circulate that they were victims of The Ox-Head Village curse, triggering an investigation by two of their friends, desperate to find the truth about what has happened


Sick cinematography and a killer opening bring Fantaspoa 2022 audiences into the intensely scary world of Ox-Head Village. Finding out that this is director Takashi Shimizu‘s final film in his “Village Trilogy” makes me want to seek out Howling Village and Suicide Forest Village immediately. Japanese folklore surrounding a family curse brings this horror mystery to life. Kanon seeks answers as to why she resembles a missing girl from a failed prank video. As clues slowly come to light, Kanon must confront her family’s past mistakes to make way for her future. Loaded with haunting imagery, flashbacks, and macabre superstition, Ox-Head Village becomes the consequence of trying to outwit the curse. Performances across the board are solid. The colors are lush and the kills are brutal and disturbing. Elements akin to Ringu are unmissable. But, Ox-Head Village is undoubtedly unique. Make sure you don’t move once the credits begin to roll.


 OX-HEAD VILLAGE screened as part of Fantaspoa 2022.

For more information on the festival, please visit www.fantaspoa.com.

CAST: Kôki, Riku Hagiwara, Keiko Horiuchi, Haruka Imô, Akaji Maro, Satoru Matsuo, Riko, Fumiya Takahashi, Naoki Tanaka, Rinka Ôtani

DIRECTOR: Takashi Shimizu


Review: ‘STANLEYVILLE’ is so weird it works.

An exercise in the absurd, the hit indie STANLEYVILLE opens with Maria (Susanne Wuest) walking away from her life on a moment’s whim. Found lounging aimlessly on an airport chair, an odd man named Homunculus (the absolute legend Julian Richings) informs her of her selection to participate in an exclusive competition. The prize is an orange compact SUV.

Without hesitating, Maria arrives at an apartment alongside four other contestants. In a series of eight individual challenges, the first being balloon blowing, Maria, Felicia, Manny, Bofill, and Andrew battle to be the victor. The Master of ceremonies appears equal parts confused and confident in his role. As the stakes get higher and the games get weirder, chaos ensues. Five opposite archetypes collide in one of the most bizarre films I’ve ever witnessed. 

STANLEYVILLE is so odd it works. The film’s pacing is intentionally erratic, and the personalities are strong. That is, all except Maria. She is content to play the game fairly and with an abundance of reverence. The performances of our six cast members are outstanding. This eclectic mix of actors pours their heart into a script that must have seemed outrageous when they first read it. Full disclosure, I’m not sure I walked away understanding what I watched either, but I’ll tell you this, I cannot stop thinking or talking about STANLEYVILLE.

The finale is equally enigmatic, occurring offscreen. It’s a keenly written full-circle moment that makes you think. STANLEYVILLE is like nothing you’ve seen before. Some will assume writer-director Maxwell McCabe-Lokos was making it all up as he went along. I cannot be the first to salivate at the idea of turning this into a stage play without intermission. The story is a conversation starter. What that conversation consists of is determined entirely by each viewer’s experience. It’s a one-of-a-kind film. 


Oscilloscope Laboratories is proud to release STANLEYVILLE — the quirky, dark feature debut from writer/director Maxwell McCabe-Lokos that has won festival accolades across the globe — exclusively at New York City’s Metrograph on April 22nd, with a wider rollout to follow.


Color
English Language
88 minutes
Not Rated


The pitch-black comedy, which critics lovingly call “a strange movie for strange people” and “an episode of Survivor for sociopathic miscreants”, stars Susanne Wuest (GOODNIGHT MOMMY), Cara Ricketts (FOX’s The Resident), Christian Serritiello, George Tchortov (Amazon’s The Expanse), Adam Brown (Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT trilogy), and genre legend Julian Richings (CUBE).


Review: ‘Marevelous and The Black Hole’ is a family film with heart and pizzazz.

MARVELOUS AND THE BLACK HOLE

A teenage delinquent (Miya Cech, ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE) befriends a surly magician (Rhea Perlman, “Cheers,” MATILDA) who helps her navigate her inner demons and dysfunctional family with sleight of hand magic. A coming-of-age comedy that touches on unlikely friendships, grief, and finding hope in the darkest moments.


After losing her mother, Sammy lashes out physically and emotionally. When her dad forces her to take a business class in summer school, she encounters a magician by happenstance. Under the guise of a final project, Sammy trades anger for magic. 

The score heightens the film’s charm. Cartoon animation and black & white fantasy sequences create playful transitions whenever Sammy feels rage. The costumes are meaningful. Sammy is in black the entire film, while Margot dons lush colors adorned with embroidery or applique. 

Rhea Perlman plays Margot, AKA The Marvelous. Perlman’s cheery disposition is a brilliant foil for Miya Cech‘s Sammy. She brings a motherly quality that Sammy so desperately needs. Cech is outstanding. She possesses a fierce attitude that’s relatable. Cech levels up the typical teenage angst with grounded sass and genuine vulnerability underneath. Together, their chemistry is like a warm hug. If I’m being honest, I would gladly watch an entire series about these two characters.

Marvelous and The Black Hole is nothing short of darling. This family-friendly flick is about navigating grief. Writer-director Kate Tsang gives audiences a sweet ode to storytelling and healing. 


MARVELOUS AND THE BLACK HOLE
Opens in Select Theaters on April 22, 2022


Written + Directed by: Kate Tsang
Produced by: Carolyn Mao
Co-Producers: Allison Avery Jordan, Christa Boarini
Director of Photography: Nanu Segal, BSC
Production Designer: Yong Ok Lee
Edited by: Cyndi Trissel, Ryan Denmark
Costume Designer: Amanda Bujak

TRT: 81 minutes


 

Cleveland International Film Festival 2022 short film review: ‘CANDIDATO 34’ chronicles the world’s most extraordinary run for public office.

CANDIDATO 34

Bryan Russell is the first person in the world with Down syndrome to ever run for public office. CANDIDATO 34 is a documentary short chronicling Bryan’s extraordinary story in the days before the 2020 congressional election in Peru, as he attempts to convince a reluctant public that he is capable of being a congressman, and an important voice for change. Candidato 34 will make its World Premiere in the FilmSlam-Spanish Language Cinema Shorts Program starting March 31st at the 2022 Cleveland International Film Festival.


As the first person in the world with Down Syndrome to run for public office, Bryan Russell represents so many marginalized groups everywhere. Bryan’s team, including his parents, pour their hearts into his campaign, supporting his dreams and ideas. Let me clarify something immediately; his parents are present as cheerleaders and coordinators. Bryan is an accomplished young man. He is charming, eloquent, raw, and relentlessly determined. These characteristics become abundantly clear in his ability to campaign like any other candidate. As someone who has worked on political campaigns in the US, Bryan does it with more honesty and savvy than many career politicians. He has an understanding and perspective of often ignored individuals. Win or lose, Bryan Russell is a passionate catalyst for change in Peru and throughout the world.

As a Mother of a neurodivergent son, Bryan is a hero. My most prevalent anxiety as a parent is the future. Bryan possesses the confidence and self-awareness I wish for my child. In 38 minutes, Candidato 34 filled me with hope and possibility. This little film speaks volumes about representation, kindness, and perseverance. Bryan Russell is an inspiration to my family. I hope this film spreads far and wide. There are a lot of people that would benefit from the experience. 

 

CANDIDATO 34 – TRAILER from Ryan Marley on Vimeo.


About the Filmmakers:

Ryan Marley (Director) is a filmmaker and television director best known for his work in documentary, factual and kids TV. He has been nominated for 3 Canadian Screen Awards and has directed over 25 series and documentaries. He most recently directed all 4 seasons of the groundbreaking documentary series “Employable Me” which tells the stories of job seekers who prove that having a physical disability or neurological condition shouldn’t make them unemployable. The series won the Diversify TV Excellence Award at MIPCOM 2017 & 2020, a 2018, 2019 & 2020 Rockie Award, an NYTVF Award and was nominated for four Canadian Screen Awards. His documentary “Sitting Tall: The Patrick Anderson Story” examines the background and career of Patrick Anderson, arguably the greatest wheelchair basketball player of all time, as he prepares for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. It was featured at the 2021 Awareness Film Festival and The 2021 New York Shorts International Film Festival where it won Best Documentary. Ryan splits his time between Toronto and Los Angeles.

Katie Lafferty (Executive Producer/Producer) has been chasing character-driven stories since graduating from Carleton University with a Journalism degree in 2002. Since then, she has produced some of Canada’s biggest shows including sports documentary series “Tessa & Scott,” and the groundbreaking series “Employable Me,” which tells the stories of job seekers who prove that having a physical disability or neurological condition shouldn’t make them unemployable. The series won the Diversify TV Excellence Award at MIPCOM 2017 & 2020, a 2018, 2019 & 2020 Rockie Award, an NYTVF Award and was nominated for four Canadian Screen Awards. Her latest feature-length documentary Candidato 34 is being produced in association with Lionsgate’s unscripted division, Pilgrim Media Group.

About Hitch Films:

Hitch Films is a creative team with extensive experience telling compelling stories about people around the world. We are a passionate team of award-winning documentary filmmakers bringing to light the amazing stories and struggles of incredible people with disabilities, and from marginalized communities, who are fighting prejudice and perception to gain independence and respect.


Credits

Ryan Marley – Director

Katie Lafferty – Executive Producer/Producer

Craig Piligian – Producer

Gretchen Stockdale – Executive Producer

Paul Boynett – Executive Producer/Writer

George Wright – Executive Producer/Editor

Michelle Asgarali – Associate Producer


37 minutes, Canada, 2021

DCP Image: 1.85:1, 4K, Color, Sound: 5.1 mix


Review: HBO Documentary Film: ‘TONY HAWK: UNTIL THE WHEELS FALL OFF’

TONY HAWK: UNTIL THE WHEELS FALL OFF

Centering around intimate new interviews with Tony Hawk himself, the film is an all-encompassing look at the skateboarder’s life, legendary career, and relationship with the sport with which he’s been synonymous for decades. Hawk, a pioneer of modern vertical skating who is still pushing his limits at the age of 53, remains one of the most influential skateboarders of all time.


Tony Hawk kicks off his big HBO documentary by falling down. A lot. Like, 5 solid minutes of eating it all over the ramp. It’s a bold, remarkably human way to start a documentary about a 53-year-old icon who many in the non-skating community would still consider the most famous skateboarder of all time (this reviewer raises his hand). Heck, my wife knows more about Tony Hawk than I do.

The complete list of things I knew about Tony Hawk before watching this documentary:

  • He was (probably) the most prominent skater in the world
  • He was the first skater to land a 900 (a crazy trick where you shoot off a ramp and spin 2.5 times in the air before landing)  I also learned this from his video game series, Tony Hawk Pro Skater
  • He has a hilarious Twitter feed

And yet, I left Sam Jones’ Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off feeling pretty invested in skateboarding. Jones’ documentary benefits not only from extensive access to Hawk and his skating peers but also from a wealth of archival footage and clips that help these interview recollections resonate. Sure, you learn about Hawk’s upbringing in San Diego, and his dynamic with his strict father – but what really resonates is the sense of purpose uniting these passionate young skateboarders. You really get the spirit of the community. Tricks and success in this sport are the product of individual inspiration, yes, but also due to watching and learning from both your rivals and teammates. Hawks’ contemporaries are real unique characters, too. I particularly loved hearing from Rodney Mullen, who applies the principles of Nietzsche to the act of launching yourself off a skate ramp without a hint of irony.

I also appreciated the documentary’s balanced romanticism surrounding skateboarding. There are the obligatory skating montages, but there’s also a blunt assessment of the risks (and honestly, the near foolishness) of Hawk refusing to set aside his board at 53 years old. We’re talking about guys for whom broken bones and near-constant concussions seem to always be part of the deal – it takes a lot to make these folks nervous. Hawks’ peers speak frankly and graphically about the risks he’s taking on. Given Hawks’ prominent association with this documentary, I was surprised he didn’t push to edit some of those comments out of the final product. I appreciated that Jones included them.

Ultimately, this feels to be an honest portrait of a complicated legend who became a pro athlete before he had his learner’s permit. It strives to connect viewers to the deep connection skaters have with their art, it clues you in on Tony Hawk’s countless contributions to the sport, and acknowledges that most guys in their 50s shouldn’t be on fast-moving, narrow objects.

You see Tony Hawk falling down a lot. But he also executes tricks that seem to scratch the surface of immortality. Unless you’ve skated a mile in his shoes, can you really pass judgment? One thing’s for sure – after seeing this documentary, I’ll be firing up my wife’s copy of Pro Skater.


Debuts Tuesday, April 5 on HBO and will be available

to stream on HBO Max

Director: Sam Jones

Executive Producers: Mel Eslyn, Jay Duplass, and Mark Duplass


ABOUT SAM JONES
Sam Jones is a director of documentary films and narrative television. He most recently directed an episode of “Ted Lasso” and a film in post-production: “Running With Our Eyes Closed, A Film about Jason Isbell,” which is being co-produced by the Duplass Brothers and Jones.

Jones is the creator and host of the documentary series “Off Camera with Sam Jones,” which had a 219 episode run on DirecTV’s Audience Network from 2013-2020. Jones is also an acclaimed commercial director and recently wrote and directed a series of commercials for OnePlus featuring Robert Downey Jr. He directed the Showtime series “Roadies,” created by Cameron Crowe, and also directed and produced the feature-length Showtime documentary “Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued,” a film that reexamines Bob Dylan’s “The Basement Tapes.” In 2002, Jones started his documentary career with “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” which chronicles beloved indie-rock band Wilco’s tumultuous recording of their acclaimed fourth album, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” Rolling Stone named “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” one of the best rock films of all time.

Jones began his career as a photographer and quickly gained acclaim for his seminal portraits of cultural icons. His work has appeared on the covers of Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, Time, and many others, and he has had several books published. Jones lives in Los Angeles with his daughters and still loves to skateboard.


 

Festival review: Kelsey Peterson’s personal documentary ‘MOVE ME’ inspires.

MOVE ME

At 27, Kelsey Peterson dove into Lake Superior, off the shores of Wisconsin, and emerged paralyzed. Now, the former dancer struggles to redefine who she is while adapting to life with a disability. At the intersection of acceptance and hope, Kelsey unexpectedly finds herself facing an opportunity to dance again, showing her a new path toward acceptance, all the while grappling with a decision to participate in a cutting-edge clinical trial that could bring her much-desired change — forcing her to evaluate the possibilities of her recovery, body, and spirit.

In Move Me, a first-time filmmaker with a disability simultaneously takes the reins behind the scenes, while revealing her inner revolution through raw storytelling onscreen.


Dancer and choreographer Kelsey Peterson was paralyzed from the chest down after diving into shallow waters. In conjunction with a friend injured in the same manner, Kelsey decides to dance for the first time since her accident by creating a unique piece of choreography. Her documentary feature MOVE ME is a portrait of a woman attempting to reclaim her identity.

The combination of home movies, rehearsals, and scenes from her daily life create a raw picture of Kelsey’s existence. Kelsey explains that after the accident, she realized that the world does not accommodate her current state. This singular statement makes MOVE ME so much more profound for able-body viewers. When you see the rehearsal restroom, the irony is exhausting. 

MOVE ME doesn’t simply tell the tale of a single dance. Kelsey navigates her father’s declining health while simultaneously researching the possibility of joining an experimental trial. She speaks with other participants, discovering that it’s not all positive outcomes. Uncertainty looms large as Kelsey weighs her options. She holds nothing back, tackling everything from bowel function to sexual sensation.

“A Cripple’s Dance” bases pieces of its choreography on Kelsey and Gabe’s moments of impact and what followed in the water. The intimacy of the camera work is visceral. Gabe’s lyrics are profoundly beautiful and hit you in the heart like a dagger. The result will give you chills. 

This film was personal for me. I began dancing at the age of three. Since then, I have competed, choreographed, and expressed myself through movement. When I lost some of my abilities from an emergency appendectomy and then years later, a neck injury, I was devastated. I remember the grief of losing those lifelong skills, talents that came without thought as they were muscle memory. Let me be clear I am able-bodied. You would not know I was in pain by the way I move through the day. I cannot begin to fathom the strength Kelsey Peterson possesses daily. Her positive outlook and relentless optimism drive her film. To me, she’s fearless. She’s sort of my hero. MOVE ME makes me appreciate my body’s movement tenfold.


Co-Directors: Kelsey Peterson, Daniel Klein

Producers: Kelsey Peterson, Daniel Klein, Madeline Brown

Executive Producers: Lois Vossen, Sally Jo Fifer, Joanna Rudnick

Cinematographer: Brennan Vance

Editor: Nico Bovat


Festival Screening Info:
Full Frame Documentary FF (World Premiere)
Streaming April 7 -10, 2022
 
Reel Abilities FF New York
Streaming April 7 -13, 2022
In-Person Screening Tues. April 12, 8:00pm
Film Info:

Short film review: John Stuart Wildman’s ‘SWEAT OF HIS COW’ is the sexy absurdity we all secretly desire.

SWEAT OF HIS COW

From the depths of someone’s lost VHS tapes is this story of an impossibly gorgeous doctor lawyer who runs out of gas next to a barn where an impossibly sweaty man is milking a cow. A sexy relationship ensues where they learn that gas is just the beginning, milk is always the end.


Thoughts I had while watching the award-winning short film, SWEAT OF HIS COW...

“Is this a lost VHS from someone’s basement? Oh, this score is very softcore porn goodness. Does this film star Milky White from Into The Woods?! Amazing. These hair flips are luscious, and now I’m laughing. Wow, this is a softcore porn-inspired rom-com! And also, WOW! John is really sweaty and also a proper beefcake. Should I be watching this? Am I allowed to watch this? My god, this is hilarious wordplay.”

Celena Rea nails every line with total commitment. She has a commanding presence, accentuated by specific hair, make-up, and costume choices. Also, she does her own stunts. Her chemistry with writer-director John Stuart Wildman as Sweaty Man is electric. He knocks it out of the park. I knew John was charming, but, damn. Casting directors pay attention. John could easily carry leading roles in literally every genre. Shout out to Chris Gardner for his comic timing as Saxophone Player.

I couldn’t love this weird, little film anymore. There’s not a dull moment in its 5-minute runtime. Sweat Of His Cow is easily something you’d see produced by Funny Or Die or SNL, but better. I want a series of Sweaty Man shorts about his sexual encounters. And, I’m not sorry about it. This film is now burned into my brain forever.


You can watch Sweat of His Cow screening virtually at the Sarasota Film Festival now!

(And you should.)

https://www.sarasotafilmfestival.com/film/sweat-of-his-cow/


Cleveland International Film Festival 2022 review: Anna Baumgarten’s ‘DISFLUENCY’ speaks volumes. #CIFF46

DISFLUENCY

SYNOPSIS:
After unexpectedly failing her final college class due to a traumatic personal event, Jane, an aspiring speech pathologist, retreats home to her parent’s lake house in the hometown she grew up in. Her older sister and friends, as well as an old high school crush, soften the burden of failure, inspiring her to embrace the carefree summer as she tries to sort out what to do next. She also rekindles an old friendship with her neighbor Amber, a single mother with a difficult toddler, utilizing her skills and knowledge to help her connect with her son. Jane, however, fights through PTSD and imposter syndrome as she attempts to piece together what exactly happened in order to unravel the emotional and psychological tangle that’s been haunting her as she finds a path forward toward the never-ending process of healing.


Writer-director Anna Baumgarten has a way with words. In her new film Disfluency, their weight is unfathomable. After flunking her final college course, aspiring speech therapist Jane navigates her next steps at her parent’s lake house. Struggling to reveal her motives for failure, she makes her friends and family her test subjects, studying how others use language. Jane slowly works her way to catharsis over the summer months, wearing every possible emotion on her sleeve. Disfluency is the perfect title for a film that’s bound to captivate a massive audience. Words have power and how we express them is life-changing.

Beautifully grounded performances make you fall for these characters. Discovering that actress Ariela Barer is Libe’s real-life sister makes so much sense now. As Lacy, she is hilarious, and I would be remiss not to mention her. Their chemistry is electric. Don’t assume for one second she only exists for comic relief. Lacy is a catalyst for healing.

PTSD is something that never truly leaves you. As a sexual assault survivor, I can attest to the flashbacks and how my trauma affected my relationships moving forward. It’s a permanent piece of my psyche. I understand why women don’t come forward, even to family. Not until #MeToo became mainstream did I reveal my hurt to family, and even that occurred via social media. Jane’s functionality in Disfluency mimics mine. PTSD is often an unseen burden.

Chelsea Alden‘s portrayal of Amber was also personal to me. From the sadness on her face to the eagerness to learn, I felt that performance and the care Alden brings to Amber. As a Mother of a neurodivergent son now in Kindergarten, his language delay was something I suspected early on. I remember the fear in my body when he failed his initial hearing test in the NICU. In the end, that wasn’t the issue after all. Lucky for us, his pediatrician flagged him at 18 months. Two weeks after his second birthday, he had five days a week of ABA and speech services. Now he’s a thriving, sweet, curious, and brilliant little boy. The screenplay utilizes sign language. Featured in an emotionally climactic scene that tears your heart out, it’s one of this year’s most impactful cinematic moments. 

Libe Barer, as Jane, nails every single beat, working through gaslighting, second-guessing, victim-shaming, depression, anger, and everything in between. The script gives Barer the space to explore all the complexities accompanying trauma. In a breathtaking monologue, Barer says it all, quite literally. It’s a wave of emotional nuance that packs one hell of a punch. 

With tight visual flashbacks and accidental therapy sessions in the form of slick dialogue, Baumgarten provides a conversation starter for many. It’s easy to see why it won Best Narrative Film at Oxford FF. Disfluency tackles the boundless intricacies of communication. It’s a must-see.


Screening information (VIRTUAL):
Sunday, April 10 at 11:00AM
Sunday, April 17 at 11:59PM

Ticketing information:
https://www.clevelandfilm.org/films/2022/disfluency?fbclid=IwAR0J0cyFMWDN56qzc0YXuzE-UtazQi9SWpwlxX_RmgDve9SJyMyxEZ3a6mU

ABOUT THE FILM:
Based on the 2018 award-winning short film, DISFLUENCY just won the 2022 Oxford Film Festival Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature, which followed last year’s 2021 Austin Film Festival Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature Film.

Director/Writer:                      Anna Baumgarten
Producers:                    Danny Mooney, Elaine Hastings Edell
Executive Producers:           Ben Wiessner, Jim Cummings, Alex Rudolph, Chicago Media Angels
Editor:                       Kevin Birou
Cinematographer:                 John Fisher
Music:                                     Nathan Alexander
Cast:                         Libe Barer, Ariela Barer, Chelsea Alden, Dylan Arnold,
Travis Tope, Kimiko Singer, Molly Hagan, Ricky Wayne,
Diana De La Cruz, Wayne David Parker
TRT:                                      95 min
Country:                      USA

Capsule review: Inspired by actual events, ‘NITRAM’ is a gripping tale of inevitable violence.

NITRAM

SYNOPSIS: Nitram (Caleb Landry Jones) lives with his mother (Judy Davis) and father (Anthony LaPaglia) in suburban Australia in the Mid 1990s. He lives a life of isolation and frustration at never being able to fit in. That is until he unexpectedly finds a close friend in a reclusive heiress, Helen (Essie Davis). However, when that relationship meets a tragic end, and Nitram’s loneliness and anger grow, he begins a slow descent that leads to disaster.


Witness the downward spiral of an already unwell young man as he slowly travels down the rabbit hole of complete darkness. When Nitram finally connects with a reclusive heiress named Helen, his world appears brighter. Helen provides the comfort and emotional shelter his parents could not. When the sadness becomes too much, his anger and anxiety manifest in violence and unfathomable tragedy. Inspired by actual events, NITRAM tells the story of one man’s undoing, changing Australia’s history forever. 

Caleb Landry Jones embodies the mentally fragile Nitram with his entire being. It’s no wonder he won Best Actor when the film premiered at Cannes last year. Jones’ uncanny ability to live in the skin of his character is something you don’t see often. He’s on another level, whether that be his voiceover work in Finch or his haunting performance in Antiviral. Alongside stellar performances from Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia as Nitram’s emotionally exhausted parents and a breathtaking turn from Essie DavisNITRAM is an eerie chronicling of inevitable implosion.


IFC Films will release the thriller/drama NITRAM in Theaters, on Digital Rental and AMC+ on March 30, 2022.

Directed by Justin Kurzel (TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG, SNOWTOWN MURDERS, MACBETH) and written by Shaun Grant (TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG, BERLIN SYNDROME), NITRAM stars Caleb Landry Jones (THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI, GET OUT, HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT), Essie Davis (THE BABADOOK, TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG), Oscar Nominee Judy Davis (HUSBANDS AND WIVES, BARTON FINK, NAKED LUNCH), and Anthony LaPaglia (EMPIRE RECORDS, WITHOUT A TRACE).


 

Review: Feminist horror ‘THE YELLOW WALLPAPER’ available today on Digital release.

THE YELLOW WALLPAPER

The debut film THE YELLOW WALLPAPER from creative duo—Alexandra Loreth and Kevin Pontuti—is a chilling and boldly original vision of madness. Jane, a writer and young mother, is prescribed a rest treatment by her physician husband John, who takes her to a remote country estate for the summer. She becomes obsessed with the peculiar yellow wallpaper in the bedroom he has chosen for her. In her isolation, she secretly writes about a woman trapped in the wallpaper—that she must free.


Opening with a disturbing turn, The Yellow Wallpaper is a slow burn horror about Postpartum Depression and gaslighting. New mother Jane and her physician husband rent a summer home in hopes of settling Jane’s nerves after giving birth. Jane becomes obsessed with the wallpaper in the couple’s bedroom. As her behavior becomes more and more erratic, she is less understood by all those around me. Perhaps, it is because they are not truly listening. 

The score from Robert Coburn haunts with heavy, ear-piercing strings, oboe, and maybe even bagpipe? I almost wish there were more music for me to contemplate. Era records, perhaps, to contrast such a purposeful and grating score. The slow, lingering closeups of the titular wallpaper are chilling. The costumes and set are outstanding. Bravo, to the hair and make-up team for their meticulous work. It did not go unnoticed. 

Alexandra Loreth evenly plays Jane with the nuance of PPD topped off with gaslighting. Postpartum depression was not yet a diagnosis in the Elizabethan era. Nor is it acknowledged as much as it should be today, quite frankly. Loreth’s voiceovers are a nice reprieve from the predominant silence. Her performance hits its peak as her isolation and writings increase. The faster editing and closeups help greatly. 

While the film opens with a bang, that same energy feels sapped in the one hour and forty minutes runtime. The Yellow Wallpaper would benefit from a 20 to 30-minute cut. I found myself glancing at the clock more than once. The final 20 minutes are, by far, the most intriguing. The variation and mounting intensity make The Yellow Wallpaper meaningfully upsetting. Loreth and director Kevin Pontuti penned the screenplay together. There’s a lot of depth and potential. You could easily make this a franchise with some tweaking. 


 

THE YELLOW WALLPAPER is a dark and disturbing contemporary adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s well-known and controversial gothic feminist horror story about patriarchy and mental health. The film is a collaboration between partners Alexandra Loreth and Kevin Pontuti and stars Alexandra Loreth, Joe Mullins, Clara Hart, and Jeanne O’Connor. The film was written by Alexandra Loreth and Kevin Pontuti and directed by Pontuti. THE YELLOW WALLPAPER has a running time of 99 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA. The film World Premiered at Cinequest followed by a successful festival run. Mutiny Pictures will release the film on March 29.

BUFF 2022 capsule review: Creature feature ‘HATCHING’ takes growing pains in a horrifying direction.

HATCHING


Tinja exists in a world where her mother expects perfection. Subconsciously, she seeks to replace her lack of affection. When she stumbles upon a strange abandoned egg, she decides she will nurture it. When things go awry, Mother has created a monster.

There’s no denying Hatching is a metaphor for puberty. Physical and emotional changes in Tinja are tied directly to the creature. As terror, anxiety, and jealousy intensify, so does Hatching’s horror. Our leading lady, Siiri Solalinna, is nothing short of extraordinary. She’s vulnerable, grounded, and fearless. It’s an astounding performance.

The creature design is reminiscent of something that might come out of the Wētā Workshop from Jim Henson‘s team. Its evolution is fascinating. It manages to be shockingly grotesque and yet adorable. If you’re a fan of Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal, you’ll especially appreciate the aesthetic. Hatching is a unique and terrifying journey. It’s one of the most emotionally brutal scripts of the year. BUFF 2022 fans are in for one hell of a film. 


IFC Midnight releases HATCHING in theaters April 29th and on VOD everywhere you rent movies May 17th.

Starring: Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Jani Volanen, Reino Nordin

Directed By: Hanna Bergholm

Synopsis: 12-year-old Tinja is desperate to please her mother, a woman obsessed with presenting the image of a perfect family. One night, Tinja finds a strange egg. What hatches is beyond belief.


To find out more about BUFF22, click here!


BUFF 2022 capsule review: Playground dynamics get ramped up in ‘THE INNOCENTS.’ It’s pure good vs evil.

THE INNOCENTS

Synopsis: During the bright Nordic summer, a group of children reveal their dark and mysterious powers when the adults aren’t looking.


“With great power comes great responsibility.” A group of children in an apartment complex realizes they have a strange and often dangerous bond. They possess otherworldly powers. As the connection between the children grows, so too do their abilities. The Innocents plays like a mysterious superhero and villain origin story.

The complexity of The Innocents is endless. This young cast carries a heavy emotional weight. They delighted and terrified me. The evolution of this dark sci-fi narrative gave me full-body goosebumps. The volatility of young feelings is on an entirely uncharted plain. What these characters do with their power speaks to the purity of good and evil. Look for an extraordinary turn from Alva Brynsmo Ramstad as Anna. It’s pure wow. BUFF 22 audiences, get ready for one hell of a showdown. 


US Release Date: May 13, 2022

Starring: Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Sam Ashraf

Directed By: Eskil Vogt


To learn more about BUFF 22, click here!


Review: ‘TOPSIDE’ asks ambitious questions about society and parenthood.

TOPSIDE

SYNOPSIS- Underneath the streets of New York City, a five-year-old girl and her mother live among a community that has claimed long-abandoned subway tunnels as home. When the pair is forced to flee above ground into a cold winter night, mother and daughter are plunged into a challenging world of chaos and tragedy that makes their uncertain underground life seem idyllic in comparison. TOPSIDE deftly weaves escalating suspense with sharp bursts of humanity in a nocturnal urban tangle.


TOPSIDE is a dark and dispiriting portal into the literal underbelly of New York City. The film follows a suburban community hidden amongst the subway tunnels of the city, and the struggles a mother and daughter face when they are suddenly evicted from this home. They are forced to venture up onto the city streets, but even there, there’s no real light to be found. Powerful but stomach-turning, this stuff is bleak with a capital B.

Logan George and Celine Held’s vision is unflinching and brutal. In addition to directing, Held also acts in the film as Nikki.  Zhaila Farmer (in an amazing, subdued performance) co-stars as her daughter, Little; the first half of the film is told largely from Little’s perspective. We know little about Nikki and the other adults in the tunnel, and we aren’t meant to.  Through Little’s eyes, life in the tunnels is magical. The first shot of the film lingers on particles of dust dancing in a sunbeam – the kind of simple beauty we all forget to appreciate as we age into job searches, mortgages, and all the other pleasures of adult life.

By contrast, Little’s first experience in the sunlight is traumatic and saturated with new noises and fears. The narrative moves behind Nikki, and here the film began to lose me.  Where Little’s view is full of naïve wonder, Nikki’s is laid low by the crushing reality of her circumstances. However wonderful life in the tunnels may seem to Little, there’s no romancing Nikki’s reality. But it also quickly becomes clear that those dark, dirty tunnels below Manhattan are in fact far safer than what lies ahead.

I couldn’t look away during the film’s final coda. TOPSIDE asks ambitious questions about society and parenthood. At times, I found it to be brutal and uncaring. I was repulsed by several of Nikki’s choices. But I am grateful to have watched it, and for the questions I’ve asked myself since.


RELEASE DATE
March 25, 2022

In Select Theaters and On Demand