Review: ‘PIGGY’ tests morality with bloody brilliant performances and writing.

PIGGY


Morally ambiguous and brilliant, PIGGY has been making the festival rounds this year to much acclaim. Writer-director Carlota Pereda uses the backdrop of teenage bullying and dials it up to the nth degree with murder, mayhem, and lies.

The script is relentlessly chilling. Because the audience has more information than anyone else, it feels as though the characters are sitting ducks. We are right alongside Sara as she witnesses her tormentors thrown into the back of a serial killer’s van. She says nothing, both out of fear and perhaps relief. Those that have ever been on the receiving end of horrible words and despicable actions will undoubtedly wince throughout the film.

PIGGY also speaks to the weight of parental support. We find Sara’s mother to be a nagging, uncaring shrew, while her father pays attention to her with genuine love. Her woes are exacerbated by her parents owning the local butcher shop, leading vile peers to dub her “Piggy.” One of the girls, Claudia, has a deeper connection to Sara based on her delay tactics in teasing and a matching bracelet with Sara.

The stakes in the film get higher and higher as the police, the chatty locals, and Sara’s conscience drives her to the breaking point. But that’s not all that weighs on Sara’s mind. PIGGY keeps you on your toes, constantly challenging your morality. Lead actress Laura Galán gives a star-making performance. You can see the wheels turning in each deliberate beat. Raw and thoroughly vulnerable, it is one hell of a turn. PIGGY had my heart in my throat from start to finish. Audiences are in for some hard questions and emotional torture.


Release Dates: 
October 7, 2022 (Exclusively in Alamo Drafthouse Theaters)
October 14, 2022 (Theatrical/VOD)

Directed by Carlota Pereda
Cast: Laura Galán, Richard Holmes, Carmen Machi, Irene Ferreiro, Camille Aguilar, Claudia Salas, Pilar Castro
Runtime: 90 mins
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Distributor: Magnet Releasing


Review:’Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul’ is In Theaters and streaming only on Peacock now!

HONK FOR JESUS. SAVE YOUR SOUL.

To overcome a scandal, a viral pastor and his wife hire an up-and-coming festival filmmaker to revamp their image with a cinema verité documentary. Their goal is to refill their megachurch with its previous 25000 parishioners. But, it quickly becomes evident that Lee-Curtis and Trinitie are out of touch with reality. Based on writer-director-producer Adamma Ebo’s short film of the same name, Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. is gloriously biting satire to the nth degree.

As revelations of the allegations against Lee-Curtis come to light, the complex nature of the story gets stickier. The dialogue is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Ebo makes full use of righteous indignation to excuse/cover sins. The script mirrors real life so accurately it is shocking. The hidden shame, faux outrage, and especially the hypocrisy, every character in Honk For Jesus is lying to themselves.

Regina Hall plays Trinitie Childs. Doing her best dutiful wife with a plastered smile, Hall is perfection. Each beat jumps off the screen. But there are cracks beneath the surface, waiting for the precise moment to break free. Sterling K. Brown as Lee-Curtis Childs is an explosive ball of energy. It’s a powerful and physical performance. Brown’s relentless commitment to the absurd makes this film as intriguing as it is funny. The chemistry between Hall and Brown is spectacular. It is an equal partnership of fierceness. The support they give to one another in every scene is palpable.

Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. is a fight for the Childs’ last remaining shred of dignity. The balance of over-the-top farce and deep-seated issues creates a hell of a story. Blind faith is a dangerous thing. Adamma Ebo knows it, and so too shall audiences.


Written and Directed by Adamma Ebo

Produced by Adanne Ebo, Daniel Kaluuya, Rowan Riley, Amandla Crichlow, Jesse Burgum, Matthew Cooper

Starring Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown


For more coverage of Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul from AWFJ members, click here!

Review: Based on a harrowing true story, ‘Breaking’ showcases John Boyega in an award-worthy performance.

BREAKING

*A version of this review originally appeared on AWFJ.org. To see more of their coverage of Breaking click here!*


Director Abi Damaris Corbin brings to life the true story of Brian Brown-Easley. John Boyega plays the real-life ex-Marine who, in a last-ditch effort to get the money the VA owes him, threatens to blow up a Wells Fargo with two female managers inside with him. Breaking is an intense thriller that keeps your heart in your throat from beginning to end. It is one of the most extraordinary stories of principle I’ve ever seen.

Performances across the board are magnificent. The women in the film elevate the complexities. Connie Britton is Lisa Larson, a news producer with whom Easley speaks in great detail. Like all of her roles, she is a solid addition to the cast. Olivia Washington plays Cassandra Easley, Brian’s ex-wife. A woman in an unthinkable crisis attempting to protect their daughter, Kiah, Washington is fantastic.

Selenis Leyva plays bank teller Rosa Diaz. She is the audience. Her fear is palpable. Coming from her role on Orange is the New Black, Leyva swaps prison sass for an entirely different brand of vulnerability. Nicole Beharie is a grounding force in Breaking. Her calm strength reminds you to take a breath between scenes. Her arc is breathtaking.

In one of his final roles, Michael Kenneth Williams plays Sargent Eli Bernard, the police negotiator. Williams’ relatable nature is of utmost importance. His chemistry with Boyega is imperative.

John Boyega presents the audience with a masterclass of human desperation. Each beat screams off the screen, even in his silence. This man has clear signs of PTSD, but his sincerity and circumstance have you rooting for him. The emotional nuance blew me away as Boyega is simultaneously patient and commanding. This performance deserves every award possible. You cannot ignore it.

Abi Damaris Corbin and cowriter Kwame Kwei-Armah understood the stakes in telling this story with urgency and respect. The social commentary about this country’s despicable treatment of our veterans could not be louder. Breaking is a story of one man’s dignity, but it is also an undeniable megaphone for tens of thousands of men and women being placed on the back burner every day. The system is disgraceful. Shockingly, these incidents aren’t more frequent.

Equally as relevant is that this story did not need to play out this way. Beharie’s character speaks directly to this issue, asking Easley how long she has to keep her son away from the news stories. Suspects of color are never treated the same way as white individuals. Breaking is yet another glaring example of racism. The final minutes of the film will rattle your soul.


In Theaters August 26th, 2022

 

HBO Original review: Heed the warning and relive the trauma as never before seen footage in Ed Perkins’ stunning doc ‘THE PRINCESS’ flags the danger of history repeating itself.

‘The HBO Original documentary film THE PRINCESS is an intimate and immersive look at the life of Princess Diana, directed by Academy Award® nominee Ed Perkins (“Black Sheep” “Tell Me Who I Am”) and produced by Lightbox, Academy Award®-winning Simon Chinn (“Man on Wire” “Searching for Sugar Man”) and Emmy®-winning Jonathan Chinn (“LA92” HBO’s “Tina”). The film debuts on SATURDAY, AUGUST 13 (8:00-9:50 p.m. ET/PT) on HBO, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of Princess Diana’s tragic death, and will be available to stream on HBO Max. THE PRINCESS had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. HBO Documentary Films presents THE PRINCESS, in association with SKY, produced by Lightbox. Directed by Ed Perkins; produced by Simon Chinn and Jonathan Chinn; editors, Jinx Godfrey and Daniel Lapira; co-producer, Vanessa Tovell. For HBO: coordinating producer, Anna Klein; executive producers, Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller.


The precise moment I realized what was happening in the opening footage of The Princess, my blood ran cold. The tragedy of Diana, Princess of Wales is something I’ve always held close to my heart. I remember the morning of her death like it was yesterday. My mother entered my bedroom, speechless, holding up the headline on the front page. I had Princess Diana paper dolls as a child. The booklet contained a replica of the crown she wore at her wedding. I mourned her like so many across the globe, understanding her cultural impact even more as my father and I watched her funeral live. I’d never seen him weep before that day. 

The film chronicles Diana’s life in the media from the days before her engagement until her horrific death. There are no talking heads, no overarching narration, simply thousands of hours of archival footage edited together with care and great intention. Studying the body language of Diana, Charles, and the royal family is fascinating. The commentary comes in the form of media voiceovers that are equally adoring and scathing. Feeling as if we know Diana and understanding the revelations that have since come to light, I was seething as I witnessed the treatment of an uncaring husband and the fickle media. 

The score is breathtaking. The editing is an award-worthy triumph. Watching the downward spiral of a young woman thrown to the wolves is daunting. I found myself shaking my head, filled with sadness and anger at those who failed spectacularly to protect her. And therein lies the double-edged sword of this film. Our obsession with a woman so special and fascinating makes us accomplices. The Princess is a cautionary tale as relevant today as it was then. Maybe more so. Harry and Meghan deserve more respect than we ever showed his mother and equal parts adoration for the change they are trying desperately to implement in a family stuck in the dark ages. We, the audience and fellow human beings, must remind ourselves to take a step back and let them live their lives in peace. 

HBO ORIGINAL DOCUMENTARY THE PRINCESS 
Debuting SATURDAY on HBO & HBO Max (8:00-9:50 p.m. ET/PT)

Review: Rebecca Hall stars in ‘Resurrection,’ a terrifying portrait of trauma and control.

RESURRECTION

Written and directed by Andrew Semans, Resurrection is the story of one woman’s decades-long torment. When a man from Maggie’s past appears, her perfectly buttoned-up life turns upside down. Maggie’s hyper-structured existence hides severe unresolved trauma. Resurrection is a sick and twisted story of psychological damage and revenge.

Grace Kaufman is Abbie. As a college student, she possesses a casual abandon to her behavior. Her age-appropriate nonchalance is perfectly balanced with Hall’s ever-evolving intensity. Tim Roth is a master manipulator as David. He’s downright frightening. His backstory as a groomer is beyond upsetting. Roth gives off a slimy aura that makes the viewer’s full body cringe. Rebecca Hall‘s performance is immaculate. Hall’s idiosyncrasies are impeccable. Anyone familiar with PTSD will recognize the guarded physicality, the body at attention in a millisecond, and the sudden, sharp tone change in the voice. Panic attacks are all-consuming, and Hall lives inside them throughout the film. But it is her confessional monologue that will split your soul in two. It’s simultaneously heart-wrenching and matter-of-fact.

The heightened sound editing chills the senses. It’s a palpable stress-inducing choice that accosts the audience. You’ll have to remember to breathe while watching Resurrection. Andrew Semans‘ writing astounds me. He understands the fear and gaslighting so many women live with daily, then takes it to the nth degree. It’s also about telling your story. Resurrection is relentlessly terrifying and grossly relevant. Believe women.


RESURRECTION will be released by IFC Films in theaters on July 29th and on Demand on August 5th.  Shudder will be the exclusive streaming home in November 2022.

Screenwriter and director Andrew Semans’ jaw-dropping sophomore feature, RESURRECTION had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Margaret (Rebecca Hall) leads a successful and orderly life, perfectly balancing the demands of her busy career and single parenthood to her fiercely independent daughter Abbie. Everything is under control. But that careful balance is upended when an unwelcome shadow from her past, David (Tim Roth) returns, carrying with him the horrors of Margaret’s past. Battling her rising fear, Margaret must confront the monster she’s evaded for two decades who has come to conclude their unfinished business.


 

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


 

SXSW 2022 review from Unseen Films: ‘CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH’

CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH

My feeling toward Cooper Raiff’s CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH is summed up by the warning one learns very early when going to or following the news out of film festivals, which is beware anything anyone tells you because it is invariably wrong. More times than not writers, myself included, are caught up in the moment and something you see produces a reaction that over-sells the film. Such is the case with CHA CHA, a film many of my friends oversold when it played at Sundance.

Director Cooper Raiff plays a young man, just out of college who is stuck working at Meat Stick and acting as a guy who can get people to have a good time at various parties. He meets Dakota Johnson and her daughter at one and is smitten. They bond despite her having a fiance in Barcelona. What will happen?

How you feel about the film will be determined by how you feel about Raiff as a leading man and his technique behind the camera. Looking like a younger David Tennant but with 50% less charm and zero weight, Raiff wanders through the film in a part that makes him seem like a gee-whiz sweet guy that everyone likes. Gosh darn it, why can’t he get his life together. Its a saccharine part of the sort that only exists in “you can’t be serious” romantic comedies. This results in moments that had they been played by any other actor or written by any other writer might have seemed remotely real instead of artificial.

And it’s a shame because Dakota Johnson and Vanessa Burghardt as her daughter are magnificent. They take roles that shouldn’t work as written and turn them into something special. They are what make the film work as well as it does.

Yes, despite my bitching the film works as disposable romance. But it should have been better. It also should have had a different ending which seems to be there just to give the proceedings weight. Forgive me, while it may be slightly logical, Johnson is engaged after all, it feels out of place. Yes I know it’s the result of the film being from Raiff’s character’s POV, but it seems wrong and out of left field like many serious works of literature that go serious in the final pages/minutes. But what annoys me is the whole thing outside of Johnson and Burghardt are not far removed from a sitcom so it didn’t have to end real. (Yes know it’s foreshadowed in conversations but it still seems wrong to me)

Worth a look for Dakota Johnson fans or those who want to have their socks knocked off by newcomer Vanessa Burghardt. Everyone else you’re on your own.


To see more #SXSW22 coverage from Steve, head over to Unseen Films


CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH will make its global premiere on Apple TV+ later this year.


Netflix documentary review: ‘DOWNFALL: The Case Against Boeing’- Shareholders over safety.

DOWNFALL: The Case Against Boeing

A searing investigation of a once-iconic company and its tragic failures, DOWNFALL: The Case Against Boeing exposes how Wall Street’s influence and Boeing’s crumbling internal culture resulted in two historic plane crashes, 346 fatalities, and a shocking cover-up. Directed and produced by Rory Kennedy. Produced and co-written by Mark Bailey. Executive produced by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard.


In 2012, I became friends with a couple who were both mechanical engineers at Boeing. I recall a conversation in which they nonchalantly explained that the only thing holding a Boeing aircraft together were some bolts, and the likelihood that a crash didn’t occur more often was surprising. Everyone in the room immediately hushed, and I think they got the hint that we were terrified by those statements, especially considering a vast number of our spouses traveled on a plane twice a week. In the new Netflix documentary DOWNFALL: The Case Against Boeing, I came to realize just how haunting these seemingly off-the-cuff comments would become. 

After 346 people died on Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29, 2018, the ensuing blame game began. Their PR coming from Boeing was suspect. Then a second crash months later with Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019. Wall Street Journal writer Andy Pasztor started digging into the facts. What the hell is an MCAS? What did they know and when? Could these tragedies have been prevented?

The film uses heart-wrenching footage of recovered luggage and personal items, like small children’s shoes. Recreations show the viewer precisely what occurred based on the black box’s digital information. The film puts faces to those on board the two flights. We hear from family members about who they were. They each recall how they found out their loved ones had been on those planes. We see internal memos and hear from, you guessed it, former employees. It’s nothing less than stunning. 

I sat shocked while watching this film and having heard the same concerns from former employees’ mouths… six years prior. Boeing makes its morals very clear. Speed over safety. Profit over people. When you see and hear about these shortcuts, you will gasp. DOWNFALL: The Case Against Boeing is now streaming on Netflix. I highly encourage you to watch and ask yourself, “Should I trust a company like this?”


 

Final Girls Berlin (2022) review: ‘KNOCKING’ vibrates with tension.

KNOCKING

A woman (Molly) who has just experienced a traumatic incident is unnerved by a haunting knocking sound from upstairs in her new apartment building. As the noises become more desperate and increasingly sound like cries for help, she confronts her neighbours but it seems no one else can hear them. In an unsettling quest for truth, Molly soon realises that no one believes her and begins to question if she even believes herself – a realisation that is perhaps even more chilling.


Is this some extensive gaslighting or is Molly still experiencing PTSD from her previous loss? The marrying of these two concepts is here perfection. For Molly, the idea of sitting idly by will drive her mad. A slow-burn mystery with striking cinematography, Knocking will make your head spin. The use of a go-pro-style camera during a climactic confrontation puts you in the manic state of Molly’s brain. It’s a wildly effective choice. Cecilia Milocci‘s performance is truly compelling. You are right there with her on this tumultuous emotional journey. It’s absolutely award-worthy.

I first saw Knocking at Sundance 2021. The film still haunts me, as I continue to second guess the ending. To me, that ultimately makes it a success. It is genuinely unforgettable. Final Girl Berlin 2022 audiences are sure to eat up the tension that director Frida Kempff has curated in her feature-length debut. This can only mean the beginning of a long and successful genre career.



https://www.finalgirlsberlin.com/


Unseen Films Sundance (2022) review: ‘NAVALNY’ (coming to CNN and HBOMax in the spring.)

NAVALNY

Follows the man who survived an assassination attempt by poisoning with a lethal nerve agent in August 2020. During his months-long recovery he makes shocking discoveries about the attempt on his life and decides to return home.


My final film for Sundance was  NAVALNY about the Russian opposition leader whom Putin had poisoned with a nerve toxin that if administered correctly shuts off all of your nerves, killing you in a way that looks like a natural death because it dissipates quickly from the body.  The film is an examination of the poisoning by various places including the excellent Bellingcat coupled with a look at Navalny’s career.

Coming into the film after several days of my friends talking it up, I was initially rather disappointed. The early part of the film was kind of dull and run-of-the-mill. The film wasn’t doing anything bad, rather it was hitting the typical points of a story like this. It wasn’t until the poisoning happened that the film clicked and we were off to the races as the story of trying to find a smoking gun link to Putin gave a serious shot of adrenaline into the proceedings. Suddenly there was not only a mystery to be solved but also there was a real danger to the proceedings because other than a stupid person can see clearly how evil Putin is.

I really liked this film a great deal. It’s a compelling story with a connection to current events (the Russian threatened invasion of Ukraine).  You really get a sense of how bad Putin is for his country and the world.

If I have any reservations is that watching the film doesn’t always give us an entirely clear-eyed picture of Navalny. The filmmakers clearly love him, and there’s is no denying he’s at least a seeming better choice than Putin, but there are still questions about his past (links to ultranationalists) and he is a bit too smooth for me to entirely take the word of one film.

Reservations aside the film is highly recommended, if for no other reason than it’s a hell of a story.



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


Unseen Films Sundance (2022) Midnight review: ‘PIGGY’

PIGGY

An overweight teen is bullied by a clique of cool girls poolside while holidaying in her village. The long walk home will change the rest of her life.


Laura Galán will probably become an international star after people see PIGGY because she gives the role everything and then some. Truthfully if Oscar noticed films like this she would be a front runner, but the Academy never does, so her Oscar will no doubt come for some other, lesser performance.

I probably shouldn’t say this but PIGGY made me laugh. This tale of Sara, a heavy girl who ends up tied to the crimes of a serial killer, struck me as exceedingly funny. The reason for my chuckling was that everything was so overdone. For me, it played like an uncomfortable comedy where lots of bad things happened and a lot of blood flowed.
While I admire Laura Galán’s work, I have to wonder if writer Carlotta Pereda likes the character. She abuses the shit out of Sara and has her running around in such a way that she always seems to be on the verge of being completely naked both physically and emotionally. It never struck as believable because she is never given a respite, even for a second. What’s worse, the ending, which I guess is supposed to be cathartic, just didn’t make sense.
Then again much of this film doesn’t make sense, with so much of the film seemed to provoke a reaction either in the audience or the characters, with the result that some of the turns had me scratching my head-beginning with why in the hell the killer would leave a body underwater where he does- I mean it was clearly going to be discovered ASAP.
Yes, the film provokes a reaction, but I don’t know if it does more than that. The plot doesn’t make much sense and as a portrait of bullying, it’s so over the top and so incredibly cruel, especially to its main character, that on its own terms it isn’t one that should be preaching.

Worth a look for Laura Galán’s performance, I’m not too sure of the rest.


To read the rest of Steve’s Sundance 2022 footage head over to Unseen Films!


Sundance (2022) review: In ‘DUAL’ writer-director Riley Stearns wades into emotional darkness through deadpan sci-fi.

DUAL

 After receiving a terminal diagnosis, Sarah commissions a clone of herself to ease the loss for her friends and family. When she makes a miraculous recovery, her attempt to have her clone decommissioned fails, and leads to a court-mandated duel to the death.


The minute I realized the deadpan nature of most of the cast’s delivery, I exclaimed, “Oh shit, this has to be by Riley Stearns!” In 2019, I saw The Art Of Self-Defense, and the stylized nature of the dialogue has stuck with me ever since. Festivals can be a blur. I usually enjoy going into a screening blind. Either that or I can’t remember a damn thing by the time I’ve consumed 20+ films. Lucky for me, DUAL was my final watch. It was on my dance card immediately because of Gillan and Paul. I’m a big fan of Doctor Who and Westworld, and this plot sounded like a combo of the two worlds. I wasn’t necessarily wrong from a storyline and humor perspective. 

There’s a blunt absurdity to it everything in this film. The indifferent nature of this emotionally complex scenario makes it cringe-worthy in the best way possible. There is no filter on anyone. Aaron Paul is Trent, Sarah’s Death Dual coach. He’s so zen and focused you cannot help but smirk every time he speaks. Could I watch him dance every day of the week? You’re damn right. Would I hire his character to teach me to disassociate violence and be a badass? Every time. Karen Gillan plays both original and clone Sarah. They are two distinct but equally fascinating characters. As original Sarah, her dispassionate personality is jarring. Once her training begins, Gillan’s past roles come in handy. As her clone, she gets to play Sarah with a bit more uppity finesse. Besides her tone, Gillan’s physicality made me laugh out loud. The 110% commitment by these actors makes DUAL so damn entertaining. Beyond the sci-fi aspect, it’s the emotional depth and darkness that hits me harder a day after watching. Riley Stearns, you wily bastard. You got me again.

Cast: Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale.

World Premiere.


To find out more about tickets and the full lineup for Sundance 2022, click here!


Sundance (2022) reviews: ‘The Cathedral’ & ‘Framing Agnes’ are two very different films retelling the past.

THE CATHEDRAL

An only child’s account of an American family’s rise and fall over two decades.

Fascinatingly stylized look at the memories that compromise our childhood, The Cathedral is a unique entry in the Sundance 2022 NEXT section. Writer-Director Ricky D’Ambrose uses static camera work to capture angles a child might see, either themselves or from physical photographs from an album. Interspersed with news clips and commercials from the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, the sets, and costumes nail the eras. The Cathedral is narrated by an unknown female voice, recalling the family history in a frank, rather emotionless manner. There are jarring moments due to the lack of sensitivity. They speak volumes and, they make you squirm. There’s something about a multigenerational household that can ruffle feathers. The awkward exchanges from grandmother to grandson, the one-sided conversations from volatile phone calls, and those infamous family gatherings are all things we can relate to from our childhoods. 

Performances run the gambit between harsh, exuberant, uneventful, and that is what makes them so realistic. Our memories are but a collection of random references. The anxiety we carry as adults may stem from events such as divorce and/ or prolonged exposure to familial toxic masculinity. At least for many in my generation. The Cathedral shows us D’Ambrose’s ability to captivate an audience in the most unexpected ways. I’m eager to see what comes next.


Cast: Brian d’Arcy James, Monica Barbaro, Mark Zeisler, Geraldine Singer, William Bednar-Carter.

North American Premiere. Fiction.


FRAMING AGNES

After discovering case files from a 1950s gender clinic, a cast of trans actors turn a talk show inside out to confront the legacy of a young trans woman forced to choose between honesty and access.


If you think trans history is something new, Sundance 2022 documentary Framing Agnes is about to blow your mind. Director Chase Joynt, sociologist Kristen Schilt, historian Jules Gill-Peterson, and trans actors Zachary Drucker, Angelica Ross, Silas Howard, Jen Richards, and Max Wolf Valerio all play dual roles. The doc is structured in reenactments of the 2017 discovered files from Dr. Harold Garfinkel’s UCLA gender health study in the 1950s. Christine Jorgensen‘s glamourized story plays as a backdrop for the media. In many ways, trans women find it difficult to avoid. Through the UCLA transcripts, we learn about the varied physical and emotional difficulties they endure daily. The interviews are presented in a 50s era talkshow format, spotlighting the sensationalized platforms of the past all the way to the Katie Couric interview with Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox. This experimental mesh of styles would also present well in a live stage format. It’s an important film that further enlightens us of the plight of the trans community. Framing Agnes melds past and present in a beautiful way. While it’s a personal film for the cast and crew, it will also hit home for a wide range of viewers.


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


Sundance (2022) capsule reviews: ‘The Dark Heart’ series & feature ‘Leonor Will Never Die’

THE DARK HEART

Sweden: in a mythological landscape, search parties roam through forests of spruce, secret conversations are whispered in open fields, and verbal duels fought on narrow country roads. A story of family feuds, inheritances, and forbidden love.


Sweden’s true crime game is above and beyond. The US had already remade series like The Killing and The Bridge. Sundance 2022 audiences can dive headfirst into The Dark Heart. The series is a five-part psychological drama-thriller about how an old family feud clashes with a young, forbidden love story, leading to a tragedy with a deadly outcome, ultimately solved by a private investigator who gets obsessed with the case. The series is based on journalist Joakim Palmkvist’s book “The Dark Heart: A True Story of Greed, Murder, and an Unlikely Investigator”, which delves into the story about how a mysterious missing person’s case is investigated and solved by a local Missing People-volunteer involved in the searches. Think Broadchurch and Mare of East Town vibes. Small town politics and mystery with enough breadcrumbs and insinuation to keep you guessing. You will not be able to look away.

Cast: Aliette Opheim, Clara Christiansson Drake, Gustav Lindh, Peter Andersson.

World Premiere. Fiction. 


LEONOR WILL NEVER DIE

Fiction and reality blur when Leonor, a retired filmmaker, falls into a coma after a television lands on her head, compelling her to become the action hero of her unfinished screenplay.


As a writer, this script is essentially a dream, pun intended. Leading lady, Sheila Francisco is an absolute joy to watch and her energetic narration/script reading is a blast. In her coma, she is living inside her story. The recreations of 80s action films are astounding from the perfectly hokey score to the fight sequences. The visual jumps from these, to real-life, to memories, keeps you on your toes. The semiautobiographical nature of Leonor’s writing makes for a haunting present circumstance. The nonchalance in which her son and ex-husband converse with their lost loved one is bizarre. But that’s only half of the wackiness that ensues. Leonor is weird meta fun. You cannot help but adore the heart behind it.

Cast: Sheila Francisco, Bong Cabrera, Rocky Salumbides, Anthony Falcon.

World Premiere.


For more information and the complete lineup for Sundance 2022 film, click here!


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

MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

GOD’S COUNTRY

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

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

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

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


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


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

BRIAN AND CHARLES

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

TO THE END

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


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

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

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


For more information on Sundance 2022 click here!


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

SPEAK NO EVIL

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


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

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

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



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


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

FIRE OF LOVE


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

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

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

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

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


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

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