Review: ‘MASS’ is a stunning master class in writing and performance.

MASS

Years after an unspeakable tragedy tore their lives apart, two sets of parents (Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney and Ann Dowd) agree to talk privately in an attempt to move forward. In Fran Kranz’s writing and directing debut, he thoughtfully examines their journey of grief, anger and acceptance by coming face-to-face with the ones who have been left behind.


In Mass, indie genre actor Fran Kranz steps into the writer-director role with an ease that is mind-boggling. It’s one of the most stunning feature debuts I’ve ever witnessed. The script is impeccably researched. As a mother who shakes each time a breaking news headline pops up on my phone, as a senior in high school when Columbine occurred, Mass hits on an entirely different level. Kranz helps us see the unseeable. He carefully weaves small pieces of information into a quilt so heavy we are left breathless. There is nothing sugarcoated about Mass. It’s one of the most intimate and emotionally accosting films I’ve ever experienced.

Jason Isaacs takes a logical approach as Jay. The arc of Kranz’s writing allows Isaacs to break this role wide open. It was akin to watching a teapot slowly come to a boil. Ann Dowd plays Linda. She is gentle, hesitant, and genuine in her grief and guilt. It feels like she’s trying too hard to appease and remain compassionate. Dowd’s best moments are when she’s in tune with Reed Birney. As Richard, Birney counters Dowd’s apologetic energy. He is defensive at every turn, to the point of unlikability. It’s his survival mechanism. Birney wears an air of toxic masculinity like a badge of honor. Martha Plimpton plays Gail with thoroughly justifiable guarded anger. She is seeking ownership and responsibility from Linda and Richard. Her pointed line of questioning makes her intentions clear as day. Plimpton owns every glance, sigh, and raw syllable uttered in Mass. It’s an entire emotional journey right before our eyes. It’s a performance that captivates. The chemistry between these four actors is something so rare. They understood the assignment, as they say.

The quiet, lingering moments in the first 20 minutes of the film are meticulously crafted to keep you stewing in anticipation of the inevitable storm to come. The entire film has a low registering hum and a palpable heaviness. As the plot is slowly revealed, politics seep into the conversation. The aftermath of trauma and grief are front and center. The discussion of mental health will echo in many households. The included social pleasantries on either end establish a grounded aspect, but it is that final unexpected 10 minutes that hit hardest. It’s a visceral catharsis. This is a master class in writing and performance. I would watch this on stage in a heartbeat. Mass is a portrait of four parents dealing with unthinkable loss. The most powerful aspect is the understanding that this conversation could be happening any day of the week nowadays. This is an emotional rollercoaster you cannot be prepared for. Mass brilliantly challenges the perspectives of cause and effect, blame, acceptance, forgiveness, life and death, and what parenthood means, deep in your soul. You will walk away changed.


Written & Directed by: Fran Kranz
Starring: Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, and Martha Plimpton


Mass is currently playing in select cities.

Review: ‘SURGE’ is a portrait of human implosion and an awards vehicle for Ben Whishaw.

SURGE

Joseph (Ben Whishaw, PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER, the upcoming James Bond film NO TIME TO DIE) is trapped in a soulless job, living a life devoid of emotion and meaning. After an impulsive act of rebellion, Joseph unleashes a wilder version of himself. He is propelled on a reckless journey through London, ultimately experiencing what it feels like to be alive. Whishaw won the Special Jury Award for his role in the film at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.


SURGE feels like watching a powder keg about to explode. For a film that might seem to begin with inane tasks, the simmering tension becomes consuming. Once that fuse is lit, SURGE is a relentless display of emotional pyrotechnics. The handheld camera work is dizzying, placing the audience in Joseph’s physical frenzy. There are entire scenes without cuts. This is what a master class in performance looks like. Director Aneil Karia, cinematographer Stuart Bentley, and Ben Whishaw had to have established absolute trust to pull this off.

There is underlying violence that feels inevitable as Joseph begins to break. There may be a suggestion of hidden trauma. Ben Whishaw plays every beat with his whole body. His minute idiosyncrasies create an entire backstory. Compounding micro-aggressions lead to ticks, and then ultimately, a total breakdown in civilized behavior. He becomes manic. This is the epitome of base instinct. Whishaw will have you teetering on the brink of terror and awe. He is sensational.

Your heart will be your throat, unable to comprehend how this film could get any more intense. And yet, the stakes just keep getting higher. It felt like a panic attack. The end of the film is only cathartic in the physical sense. A mysterious sadness still hangs over Joseph’s fate. It’s such a bold choice. The combination of this script, Ben Whishaw’s performance, and Karia’s direction make SURGE an unstoppable force.


Debuts September 24th In Theaters
On-Demand Everywhere October 25th

Director: Aneil Karia
Written by: Rita Kalnejais, Rupert Jones
Story by: Rita Kalnejais, Aneil Karia, Rupert Jones
Produced by: Julia Godzinskaya, Sophie Vickers
Co-Producer: Scott O’Donnell
Director of Photography: Stuart Bentley, B.S.C.
Editor: Amanda James
Genre: Thriller
TRT: 105 minutes


 

Review: ‘PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND’ sees Nic Cage paired up with director Sion Sono in some fantastic weirdness.

PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND

PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND is set in the treacherous frontier city of Samurai Town where a ruthless bank robber (Cage) is sprung from jail by wealthy warlord The Governor (Moseley), whose adopted granddaughter Bernice (Boutella) has gone missing. The Governor offers the prisoner his freedom in exchange for retrieving the runaway. Strapped into a leather suit that will self-destruct within three days, the bandit sets off on a journey to find the young woman—and his own path to redemption.


Is this another out-of-this-world Nic Cage movie? Duh. Is it like watching a graphic novel and an episode of MST3K, all at once?! Yup. Overall, the screenplay features the smallest bit of backstory, and perhaps an homage to films like Return To Oz, Mad Max, and even The Wiz. There is so much happening in this wild story. I would not be angry if sequels popped up sooner rather than later. I have so many questions about this world that I’d even love a prequel! Give me all the whacked-out colorful silliness that is Prisoners of The Ghostland. I demand a franchise.

Bill Moseley is a genre giant. While my favorite role happens to be from Repo! The Genetic Opera, he’s undeniably awesome as The Governor. It is no surprise that his iconic voice makes for an entrancing watch. I love everything about this man. Sofia Boutella, who was fantastic in Settlers, absolutely holds her own against the chaos of the film and Cage. Her presence is glowing, and this performance is phenomenal. How is Nic Cage so effortlessly cool? This is one of life’s great mysteries. He’s in his element among the strange that is Prisoners of The Ghostland. This might as well be a double feature with Willy’s Wonderland. Hell, it could be the same character in an alternate dimension. You’re either a fan of Cage, or you’re wrong.

This film’s visual is all about vibrant color. Your eyes dart everywhere in an attempt to take in every detail. Joseph Trapanese’s score is gorgeous. You will not be able to ignore it. The costumes are wild, and the set dressing is bewildering. Prisoners of The Ghostland is a genre-defying spectacle. It’s captivating in its eccentricity. It deserves to be viewed on the largest possible screen. You’ve never seen anything like this film. The story is completely disjointed at times, but that’s not a reason to write this off. Will I watch this again because it’s destined to be a cult favorite? You know it.


RLJE Films will release PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND on September 17, 2021, in theaters, on VOD, and Digital.

The film made its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.


Directed by the acclaimed Japanese director, Sion Sono (Why Don’t You Play in Hell), the film was written by Aaron Hendry and Rexa Sixo Safai (Western Wonderland).  The film stars Nicolas Cage (Mandy), Sofia Boutella (The Mummy), Nick Cassavetes (Face/Off), Bill Moseley (Texas Chainsaw Franchise), Tak Sakaguchi (Tokyo Tribe), and Yuzuka Nakaya (The Forest of Love). Joseph Trapanese (Tron: Legacy, The Raid: Redemption, The Greatest Showman) composed the original score.


vhjv bleeper

Netflix review: ‘Misha and The Wolves’ documentary reveals victim and villain.

presents

Misha and The Wolves

Misha and the Wolves is the dramatic tale of a woman whose holocaust memoir took the world by storm, but a fallout with her publisher – who turned detective – revealed an audacious deception created to hide a darker truth.


I’ve never trusted wolves. You could argue this is because I’ve always been raised around ultra-docile dogs, but I think my 20+ years of watching movies are really to blame. The ratio just doesn’t hold water. For every domesticated wolf acting as Kevin Costner’s sidekick, there are countless more stalking our hero through a snowy tundra, howls echoing through the night.

So you could imagine my skepticism when faced with the story of Misha Defonseca. Here is the supposedly true story of a young Jewish girl who evaded the Nazis in the woods of Europe during WW2 by falling in with a pack of wolves. In Netflix’s stirring documentary, we hear Misha describe being taken in as a Mowgli-esque family member – traveling with the wolves and surviving on scraps from their hunts. It’s one of those “you have to hear it to believe it” type stories – I mean, these are wolves we are talking about!  It’s crazy to believe that Misha would be seen as family instead of a feast.

And yet, aren’t all stories of Holocaust survival are to some degree impossible? At their core, they are all linked by showcasing the triumph of the human spirit against overwhelming circumstances.  So it is not surprising that we are swept up in Misha’s story, just as the world was in the early 1990s. A book deal, publicity tour, and movie option are a natural fit for such a fantastical tale.

Sam Hobkinson’s smooth direction compels the audience forward. There’s a charming and particularly modern manner to the way that Hobkinson features key figures in Misha’s journey to stardom – their whole essence summarized into a single characteristic (“The Publisher”, “The Journalist”) We are not really meant to get to know these people (although “The Survivor” radiates winking humor with deep emotion in her few minutes of screen-time) – they are here to feed us the facts we need to drive the narrative forward, to build momentum towards the film’s core question. Which is, of course, can we believe Misha?

If you want to play detective, you’ll find the answers to Misha and the Wolves questions pretty quickly. A quick Google search will do the trick. The affirming or refuting of Misha’s story is only one part of the equation. Hobkinson’s film stumbles slightly on this follow-through: the film concludes with finality on the situation but left me wanting more on the motivations beneath the surface. A more rigorous interrogation would have been appreciated, but it is also fair to acknowledge that it might not have been possible.

Whether it be based on truth or lies, this is ultimately a story of family, legacy, and survival. Philipp Larkin once summed this story up a little more quickly:

“They f*ck you up, your mom and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.”

Larkin was more to the point, but there weren’t any wolves.


 *Streaming on Netflix on August 11th*

Written and Directed by Sam Hobkinson

*Official Selection Sundance Film Festival 2021*

Review: ‘STREET GANG: How We Got To Sesame Street’ is a nostalgic hug of legacy and love.

STREET GANG: HOW WE GOT TO SESAME STREET

STREET GANG: HOW WE GOT TO SESAME STREET reintroduces this visionary “gang” of mission-driven artists, writers, and educators that audaciously interpreted radical changes in society and created one of  the most influential and impactful television programs in history.

This eclectic documentary traverses from the inception to the nuance of programming this iconic television show. Everything from the production design to intimate interviews with the actors, from the musical guests to the writers’ room is in this film. It hits on the social, racial, and educational impact of the show. The show’s schedule was one of the most intense I’ve ever heard of. 100 episodes per year filled to the brim with original sketches (both muppet and street scenes), animation, and original songs, Sesame Street has changed the lives of countless families across the globe.

John Stone isn’t a household name in the way that Jim Henson and even Frank Oz are. Stone was the director chosen by television executive Joan Ganz Cooney. His passion and work ethic combined with an extraordinary group of artists made Sesame Street the beloved program we know today. Street Gang doesn’t sugarcoat the naysayers. It does not ignore the internal conflict. It’s an honest look at bringing it to life. The conversations between the curriculum creators and the writers were key to reaching the audience, making learning both fun and engaging.

Some of the most charming bits in the film are the blooper reels. The genius, off-the-cuff moments between cast members staying in muppet character will slay you. One very poignant time in the show’s history was anything but unscripted. The death of Mr. Hooper was a carefully curated scene. It sticks with me still today. In 1990, when Jim Henson passed at the age of 53, the world mourned alongside the cast and crew of Sesame Street. Caroll Spinney as Big Bird singing “It’s Not Easy Being Green” at Jim’s funeral is heartbreaking and eternal.

I grew up with this show. As a 40-year-old moth of a 4 and 5-year-old, my children are now growing up with this show. I’m not ashamed to say I sit and watch with them. I’m just as enthralled with Sesame Street as I ever was. Their ability to grow with the times is what keeps them relevant and brilliant. Each scene in Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street held me with its nostalgia as it peeked behind the curtain. It left me with the hope that the show will continue its legacy long after we’re gone.

THE CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED DOCUMENTARY WILL OPEN IN THEATERS ON APRIL 23, 2021, AND ON-DEMAND MAY 7, 2021

Directed by Marilyn Agrelo (Mad Hot Ballroom) and produced by Trevor Crafts (Experimenter 2015) and Ellen Scherer Crafts, the documentary chronicles the improbable origins and expansion of the groundbreaking show that not only changed children’s television programming, but had real-world effects on equality, education, and representation worldwide. The film is inspired by Michael Davis’ New York Times best-selling book of the same name.

About Screen Media Ventures, LLC

Screen Media Ventures, LLC, a Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment (Nasdaq: CSSE) company, acquires the rights to high-quality, independent television series and feature films. Screen Media Ventures acquires worldwide rights for distribution through theatrical, home video, pay-per-view, free, cable and pay television, video-on-demand, and new digital media platforms. The company acquires AVOD rights for third-party networks and is the main supplier of content for Crackle Plus and other Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment properties. With a library of over 1,500 television series and motion pictures, Screen Media Ventures is one of the largest independent suppliers of high-quality tv series and motion pictures to U.S. and international broadcast markets, cable networks, home video outlets, and new media venues. For more information, visit: www.screenmedia.net

About Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment

Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, Inc. (Nasdaq: CSSE) operates streaming video-on-demand networks (VOD). The company owns Crackle Plus which owns and operates a variety of ad-supported and subscription-based VOD networks including Crackle, Popcornflix, Popcornflix Kids, Truli, Pivotshare, Españolflix, and FrightPix. The company also acquires and distributes video content through its Screen Media subsidiary and produces original long and short-form content through Landmark Studio Group, its Chicken Soup for the Soul Originals division, and APlus.com. Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment is a subsidiary of Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC, which publishes the famous book series and produces super-premium pet food under the Chicken Soup for the Soul brand name.

 About Macrocosm Entertainment

Trevor Crafts and Ellen Scherer Crafts created Macrocosm to bring dynamic engaging content to global audiences by building and showcasing unique worlds. Films include Sundance Film Festival World Premiere Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street (2021), 7 Splinters in Time (2018) Manson Family Vacation (Netflix, SXSW 2015 premier), and Experimenter (Magnolia, Sundance 2015 premier). In publishing, they created Lantern City, one of UPROXX Top Ten Comics of 2015, and The Not-So-Secret Society (2017) the first original children’s graphic novel for KaBOOM! an imprint of BOOM! Studios. For more information visit: www.macrocosm.tv.

SXSW 2021 review: ‘HOW IT ENDS’ tackles reconciliation with laughter and tears.

HOW IT ENDS

On the last day on Earth, one woman goes on a journey through LA to make it to her last party before the world ends, running into an eclectic cast of characters along the way.

After watching How It Ends, I feel a physical yearning to create a list of people that I would talk to if I had one day left to live. The entire structure of How It Ends revolves around Liza making peace with or confronting people in her life. Every encounter is unique. Some crazy, some touching, some heartbreaking, but all accompanied by the physical manifestation of her younger self. Who wouldn’t love to be forced to deal with your past… or not. What would you want/need to do on your last day?

Cailee Spaeny as younger Liza is fantastic. She’s grounded, relatable, and a total natural. Her character is crafted in the spirit of the unspoiled young mind but carries the weight of adult curated anxieties, fear, and regret. She’s a star. Zoe Lister-Jones is one of my favorite people, generally speaking. After Band Aid, I started following her on social media. I vibe with her humor, aesthetic, writing, singing, and overall attitude of goodness. Her comic timing is everything. There’s just something about her that puts you at ease and yet continually keeps you on your toes. She can do no wrong.

Written and directed by Lister-Jones and her husband Daryl Wein, this script is phenomenal. The conversations with her younger self go from fun to revelatory. Oh, the things I would tell my younger self if given the opportunity! We’re all just hurt kids deep down. I also adored the fact that Liza walks everywhere. It gives the day an actual sense of time. Alongside Lister-Jones and Spaeny, the ancillary cast is packed with household names like Whitney Cummings, Bradley Whitford, Helen Hunt, Colin Hanks, Olivia Wilde, and Fred Armisen. Ultimately, How It Ends is about self-acceptance, resilience, and forgiveness. You will laugh and cry. It’s as fun as it is important.

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

LUZZU

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

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

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

Alex Camilleri- Maltese America filmmaker of LUZZU

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

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

The Pink Cloud

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

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

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

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

 

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

Doublespeak

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

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

Raspberry

Synopsis:

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

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

RASPBERRY  Directed and Written by Julian Doan

Short Films Program — Acquisition

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

Produced by Turner Munch and Brianna Murphy

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

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

PRIME TIME

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

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

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

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

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

Ma Belle, My Beauty

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

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

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

Review: ‘Identifying Features’ is devastating and captivating.

IDENTIFYING FEATURES

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: ‘The Reason I Jump’ is a megaphone for nonverbal autism.

The Reason I Jump

Based on the best-selling book by Naoki Higashida, translated into English by author David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas), The Reason I Jump is an immersive cinematic exploration of neurodiversity through the experiences of nonspeaking autistic people from around the world. The film blends Higashida’s revelatory insights into autism, written when he was just 13, with intimate portraits of five remarkable young people. It opens a window into a sensory universe that guides audiences to Naoki’s core message: not being able to speak does not mean there is nothing to say.

Based on the book of the same name by Naoki Higashida, The Reason I Jump is an emotional rollercoaster. I was already welling up listening to the opening monologue. The echolalia, the sensory overstimulation, the hand flapping, and ear covering all punched me in the gut when presented on screen. I’m a lucky Mom. At 5 years old, my child is now very verbal, he’s hyperlexic which means he’s been reading since he was two. He loves hugs, sleep, and eats well. On the autism spectrum, he would be closer to Asperger’s, if that were a diagnosis recognized nowadays. None of these facts lessen the fear, frustration, exhaustion, and pure elation in raising an exceptional human being. The Reason I Jump is tailor-made from the words of a nonverbal 13-year-old boy’s experiences from the inside out. In film form, it’s simply triumphant.

In the doc, we are introduced to 5 unique young people with autism.

Amrit (India)
Her mother realized she was using art to communicate. Her paintings are extraordinary, some visually akin to continuous line drawings. It took time for everyone to realize they are snapshots of her day.

Joss -(UK)
His anxiety is palpable. His impulses and tendency to meltdown are understandably unpredictable. Joss’s ability to show unadulterated joy is magic. His parents break down their own existence in the most relatable ways, both the highs and the lows.

Ben & Emma – US
These two have learned to spell with letterboards and keyboards to communicate. Best friends since very early childhood, what they have to say will shock you.

Jestina – Sierra Leone
With Jestina, we tackle stimming and perception by others. Stimming a sensory-driven repetition of behavior like rocking or flapping to self soothe. Sometimes it’s a visual stim, sometimes watching wheels turn or glitter shine. Culturally, her mother and other parents in her autistic adjacent community are told their children are possessed. It destroys the spirits of entire families.

The narrated excerpts from the book directly correlate with whichever child is being highlighted at that time. Voiced by Jordan O’Donegan, they have a poetic feel to their profundity. Naoki writes, “Making sounds with your mouth isn’t the same as communication.” That quote did me in. When you hear that, truly hear it, you will be taken aback. Jestina, Ben, Emma, Joss, and Amrit all communicate in a different way, we just had to learn how to listen. The heightened sound design immerses you into the world of an autistic person. We do not understand what it is like to be utterly overwhelmed not being able to be fully understood. The cinematography is breathtaking. Quick cuts, predominantly in close-up form combined with a gorgeous soundtrack put you in an alternate headspace. The editing takes all these elements and blends them into a viscerally stunning documentary.

As a mother of a child on the autism spectrum, I feel like I can see I want to broadcast this film to the world so that neurotypical individuals can understand my son and every other person on the spectrum. The label of autism, whether people realize it or not, creates implicit bias. We are missing out on the potential and impact of an entire faction of our society. It is our duty to meet each other in the middle. The Reason I Jump is a captivating peek behind the autism curtain. Don’t look away now. Thank you Naoki Higashida for writing this book. Thank you David Mitchell for translating it for your son. Thank you Jerry Rothwell for directing such an important film. Thank you to the families that shared their lives. Watch this film, then choose to listen and learn in a new way.

The Reason I Jump will be in theaters and virtual cinemas Friday, Jan 8th

**WINNER – Audience Award, World Cinema Documentary –
Sundance Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – AFI Docs 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – BFI London Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – Chicago International Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – Hot Docs Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – SXSW Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – WINNER’S CIRCLE – DOC NYC 2020**

Review: ‘Dirty God’ has power in performances and writing.

In Dirty God, a young mother from London must pick up the pieces in the aftermath of an acid attack that leaves her with disastrous scarring. Living in a looks-obsessed world, and without that as her currency, Jane must move on with her new life, personal difficulties, and the unfortunate occurrences of everyday humiliation.

Vicky Knight as Jade is a revelation. Her expression of physical and emotional pain in all its nuance makes Dirty God as successful as it is. She just wants a bit of normalcy. From the fear her own daughter displays, to the reaction of peers, to confronting her ex and attacker in court, to feel loved, the daily battle screams from the screen. One of the most impactful scenes comes when she purchases a burka. Hiding the majority of her body gives her the confidence to act with freedom. It’s an exhilarating scene to experience with her. The emotional scars are as relevant as the physical ones. Knight, who was burnt as a child in real life, can represent the undercounted number of women that have been attacked in this manner.

Jade attempts to connect with others online. Those scenes are incredibly profound in the grand scheme of her arch. The most difficult thing is watching people treat Jade in a subhuman manner. It’s positively atrocious. The entire conversation around the importance of appearance in society, ableist behavior, and kindness, in general, is one for the ages. Dirty God is inspired and important viewing where the human divide and vitriol are so wide and prevalent. It’s an awesome statement on bullying and an even bigger one for self-esteem.

OPENING IN SELECT THEATERS ON NOVEMBER 13

 Laemmle link: https://linktr.ee/dirtygodfilm

AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS ON DECEMBER 15th

Dark Star Pictures will release DIRTY GOD with a virtual release through Laemmle Theaters in LA, Gateway Film Center (Virtual) in Columbus, and more theaters to be announced on November 13, 2020. The film will also be made available on digital platforms such as iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Fandango Now, Direct TV, and through local cable providers on December 15, 2020. The film has a running time of 104 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA.

 

Review: ‘Koko-Di Koko-Da’ is a frightening grief allegory.

KOKO-DI KOKO-DA

Elin and Tobias are a happily married couple who regularly vacation with their young daughter. The family is on a dreamy holiday when an innocuous case of food poisoning derails their plans and forever alters the course of their lives.

Three years later, the once loving couple is on the road again to go camping, looking for one last chance to go back to the way things used to be. But what once was is lost, and our characters instead find themselves having to relive the same nightmarish events, as that day and the horrors it brings repeat themselves infinitely. Together, they must overcome their trauma, reconcile with their past and fight for their lives. Over, and over, and over again.

Easily one of the most out there films of 2020, Koko-Di Koko-Da is a twisted version of Groundhog Day meets The Babadook. Things aren’t going to fix themselves in any manner. Communication is everything. This is the weird parallel message of this film. I’m not sure what’s more disturbing, the fact that that these two are doomed to be slaughtered by crazies over and over or that their anger, resentment, and sadness have manifested into the death of their relationship literally and metaphorically. Koko-di Koko-da undoubtedly eludes to the cyclical nature of grief.

Performances from Leif Edlund and Ylva Gallon manage anchor this story in a harsh reality amidst the madness. They will have you yelling at the screen but also rooting for them to escape their endless nightmare. A white cat appears as a warning. I believe it represents their daughter from the beyond the grave screaming, “Fix this or this is the eternity you’ve chosen!” The bizarre but strikingly beautiful nature of the film does not end there. The shadow puppet scenes are morbid magic. The clues and visual storytelling are laid out to counter the terror perfectly. Without a doubt, Koko-di Koko-da is one of the most unique films of 2020.

KOKO-DI KOKO-DA

Director – Johannes Nyholm (THE GIANT)

Cast – Peter Belli, Leif Edlund, Ylva Gallon, Katarina Jackobson, Brandy Litmanen

 VIRTUAL THEATERS (November 6)-Including: Los Angeles and New York (Laemmle Theaters) and major cities including: Philadelphia (Film Society), Cleveland (Cinematheque), Columbus (Gateway Film Center) and Durham (Carolina Theater) and more to follow.
Link to buy tickets: https://linktr.ee/KokoDiKokoDa

VOD (US & Canada) (December 8): Including: Apple TV/ iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, Vudu, You Tube, Fandango Now, Dish Network and all major cable providers (Including: Comcast/Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox and Verizon Fios)

Official Selection: Sundance Film Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, Seattle Film Festival, Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Fantasia Film Festival 2019 (WINNER! AQCC-Camera Lucida Prize), and Fantastic Fest 2019

Nightstream 2020 review: ‘Dinner in America’ is the tits.

A punk rocker arsonist on the run (Kyle Gallner, Veronica Mars) and his number one fan embark on a series of misadventures through suburbia, finding unexpected love along the way in this absolutely electric, thoroughly anarchic, misfit stoner rom-com you didn’t know you needed.

You are all the way into this film from the opening shot. It is unapologetically in your face and does not let up. The cast is phenomenal. Performances are just shy of over the top and that’s why they are so damn good. The soundtrack is unreal with a bass that gets pounded into your psyche and it’s magic. The plot takes a hard left turn 40 minutes in and it is glorious. Writer/director Adam Carter Rehmeier has a cult classic on his hands. I’m calling it now. Dinner In America is a punk rock joyride you will not see coming.

Kyle Fucking Gallner. Ladies and gentlemen, he plays one of the most engaging assholes of all time. I could not take my eyes off of him. His intense aggression pushes the bonkers narrative forward like a freight train. His dialogue is incredibly offensive yet you’re so intrigued by what motivates him. He is smooth as hell and there’s so much more going on than meets the eye. Emily Skeggs is the perfect foil for him. She is quirky and amazing. She challenges Simon’s preconceived notions of power and relationships. It’s a dynamite performance. They are perhaps the most unlikely pair and yet they are sweetly perfect.

There is a surprising commentary about being an individual. It’s absolutely beautiful. Dinner In America is a real standout in this year’s Nightstream 2020. When the music takes over, you completely give in. I will be singing “Watermelon” forever. It’s different, it’s cool, it’s kick-ass. You’ll love it. I can easily say it’s in my Top 10 list for the year.

DINNER IN AMERICA

United States | 2020 | 106 Min.
Dir. Adam Carter Rehmeier

Review: TESLA’s unique storytelling is electric.

Brilliant, visionary Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) fights an uphill battle to bring his revolutionary electrical system to fruition, then faces thornier challenges with his new system for worldwide wireless energy. The film tracks Tesla’s uneasy interactions with his fellow inventor Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) and his patron George Westinghouse (Jim Gaffigan). Another thread traces Tesla’s sidewinding courtship of financial titan J.P. Morgan (Donnie Keshawarz), whose daughter Anne (Eve Hewson) takes a more than casual interest in the inventor. Anne analyzes and presents the story as it unfolds, offering a modern voice to this scientific period drama which, like its subject, defies convention. Winner, Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Telsa is one of the most uniquely presented biographies on film. Told from the narrative point of view of Anne Morgan and her unrequited love for Nikola Tesla, we are led into the mind of this scientifically gifted and eccentric man. Socially awkward, as many geniuses are, Telsa was responsible for changing more of history than most of us realize. His intelligence oftentimes hindering true companionship, his ups and downs can be felt through the screen by the wonderful performance from Ethan Hawke. Ever the chameleon, Hawke’s physicality and vocal dynamics force you to sit up and pay closer attention. But with the intrigue of the film’s presentation, this is an incredibly easy feat. There was a sadness to Telsa, an unending need for more success and validation of his contributions. Eve Hewson is captivating as Anne Morgan. Her sense of calm and poise put you at ease while you go on this engrossing journey. Jim Gaffigan as Westinghouse is also a complete joy to watch.

The look of this film is nothing short of stunning. Half theatrical stage play and half tongue in cheek look at technology, Telsa uses a modern scope in period dress to engage the audience. It immediately reminded me of the surprise that A Knight’s Tale utilized in 2001; music choices decades outside of the plot’s timeline. It made it all the more relatable in the coolest way. Endlessly enthralling, Tesla shines a light on some of the darker parts of one brilliant man’s life and work.

In Theaters and On Demand August 21st
TESLA is Written, Directed + Produced by Michael Almereyda

Review: ‘The Sunlit Night’ glows from every angle.

Synopsis: The Sunlit Night follows an aspiring painter (Slate) from New York City to the farthest reaches of Arctic Norway for an assignment she hopes will invigorate her work and expand her horizons. In a remote village, among the locals, she meets a fellow New Yorker (Sharp), who has come in search of a proper Viking funeral only to find that the Chief (Galifianakis) is but a re-enactor from Cincinnati. The eclectic crew ranges from “home” to “lost,” within the extreme and dazzling landscape of the Far North. Under a sun that never quite sets, and the high standards of an unforgiving mentor, Frances must navigate between ambition, desire, obligation, and risk in order to find a way forward.

If you grew up with an art teacher mother as I did, this film will resonate with you immediately. I was given my own portfolio at the age of six. To be fair, I was drawing scale recreations from the 3 foot Georgia O’Keefe book that came with it. The birthday prior my parents got divorced. The Sunlit Night is a film made or me.

Through art references and voiceover we are privy to Frances’ inner thoughts. These moments are like diary entries. Color is like its own character. Frances is always wearing red. The barn is entirely different shades of yellow. The landscape is lush green. Viking reenactments are jewel and earth-toned while Yasha is in black. Specific paintings mirror each character, according to Frances. The film is a cinephile and art lover’s dream. Everyone that arrives is there to find something or perhaps, truly, to find themselves. The relationship between all the eccentric inhabitants of this small Norwegian town is what makes this film extra charming. Every shot in the film seems to glow. It’s simply breathtaking.

Jenny Slate is extraordinary. She always shines through her humor but here she has the opportunity to explore an even more nuanced vulnerability. Alex Sharp is tender and open. More and more of him everywhere, please. Fridtjov Såheim as Nils is a perfect balance of obstinate and passionate. He’s a great foil for Slate. While Zach Galifianakis is his adorably funny self in this, I wish we had more of him. As for Gillian Anderson, her appearance is brief but I’ll never turn down a chance to watch her effortlessness. The Sunlit Night has a glorious grace to it. It’s not a loud film, by any means, but what it does it does extremely well. Take a peek at the trailer below and watch the film on VOD starting tomorrow.

THE SUNLIT NIGHT will be released on VOD on July 17th from Quiver Distribution.