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

TONY HAWK: UNTIL THE WHEELS FALL OFF

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Debuts Tuesday, April 5 on HBO and will be available

to stream on HBO Max

Director: Sam Jones

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


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

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

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


 

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

TOPSIDE

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


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

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

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

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


RELEASE DATE
March 25, 2022

In Select Theaters and On Demand


SXSW 2022 review from Unseen Films: ‘The Thief Collector’

The Thief Collector

In 1985, Willem de Kooning’s “Woman-Ochre,” one of the most valuable paintings of the 20th century, vanished into the Arizona desert after being cut from its frame at the University of Arizona Museum of Art. 32 years later, the $160 million painting was found hanging in the home of Jerry and Rita Alter in rural New Mexico. The Thief Collector takes a deep look at how, and why, this mild-mannered couple pulled off one of the greatest art heists of a generation, exploring the complicated dynamics of family, the contours of criminality, and just how far people will go to weave their own grandiose narratives.


The Thief Collector is a film that is not what you expect. The film is nominally about the theft of de Kooning’s painting Woman Ochre from the University of Arizona in 1985. The painting was cut from the frame and carried off by a couple not long after the museum opened on the day after Thanksgiving. Where it went or who took it remained a mystery for decades…until it was rediscovered in the effects of Rita and Jerry Alter.  While that is a part of the story, the film actually is a look at the Alters and their obsessions. This is not a look at the crime but at the way people feed their obsessions and how seemingly normal people almost always seem to have another side to them.

I should point out that this is not saying that the Alters were bad in that they were secretly murdering people, rather they simply had a side where they went against the fine upstanding citizens they seemed to be to the rest of the world. As a result, the film has become a more complicated and richer film than it would have been if it had just been about the crime.

I really liked this film a great deal. It’s a film that stayed with me through an evening in which I watched three other films after it. Yes, I saw another documentary and two edge-of-your-seat thrillers, but when it was all done I found I was still thinking about The Thief Collector even as the other films were fading from my mind. Hell, I wanted to know more and I reached out to the PR person to get the press notes because I knew that they would give me even more details.

You have to love any film that takes its basic premise to hook you and then drags you into another direction and makes you think about things in a new way. It had my mind going so much that I wish I could have gone back and rewatched several other SXSW films that dealt with obsessions because it put those films into a new light.

This is a neat little film and is highly recommended.


Director:

Allison Otto

Executive Producer:

Bryn Mooser, Kathryn Everett, Tony Hsieh, Andy Hsieh, Justin Lacob, John Boccardo and Derek Esplin, Shizuka Asakawa, and Kathleen L’Esperance

Producer:

Caryn Capotosto, Jill Latiano Howerton, Joshua Kunau

Screenwriter:

Mark Monroe, Nick Andert

Cinematographer:

Rod Hassler and Matt Ryan (recreations)

Editor:

Nick Andert

Music:

Daniel Wolf

Principal Cast:

Glenn Howerton, Sarah Minnich, Scott Takeda, Matt Pittenger

Additional Credits:

Co-Producers: Mary Kay Cook, Heath Cullens, Graphics: Scott Grossman


For more of Steve’s incredible coverage of SXSW22, go to Unseen Films


SXSW 2022 review from Unseen Films: Immigration documentary ‘SPLIT AT THE ROOT’

SPLIT AT THE ROOT

When a Guatemalan mother seeking asylum was separated from her kids under Zero Tolerance Policy, a Facebook post by a mom in Queens coalesced into a movement as thousands of like-minded women across the US refused to stand by quietly. Immigrant Families Together was born; a rapid response group committed to doing what the government couldn’t – or wouldn’t do: reunite parents with their children separated by the Zero Tolerance Policy.

Families separated at the border made headlines in 2018, prompting protests and policy changes. Over 2,000 children’s reunification status are still unknown and thousands of people impacted by separations are still suffering the effects of pursuing asylum.


A look at the US policy under Donald Trump to separate illegal immigrant parents from their children. It focuses on the plight of several women who had their children taken away as well as the mothers turned activists who fought to reunite the family. The film focuses on how mothers from across America came together to create Immigrant Families Together (IFT) which was aimed at working to get the separated families together any way they could. In the case of Yeni Gonzalez, the women drove her across the country in stages in order to get her and her kids back together.

This is good but not quite my cup of tea, in that way the film kind of disappointed me. While the film tells an important story, I never really connected to the story, and the problem, for me, was that I never warmed to the women in IFT.  I also completely understand that it was impossible to really follow many of the turns in person, owing to the inability to film in various official facilities, but I kept wanting to see more.

Frankly, the problems come from seeing a steady diet of similar films and as a result, I unintentionally have compared it to other films while not taking it entirely on its own terms. On the other hand, if you are not an insane film watcher like me you may want to give the film a try.


Director:

Linda Goldstein Knowlton

Executive Producer:

Rosario Dawson, Zak Kilberg, Amanda Marshall, Regina Solorzano

Producer:

Marti Noxon, Maria Grasso, Linda Goldstein Knowlton, Miranda Bailey

Cinematographer:

Nelson Hume, Nancy Serna-Guerrero

Editor:

Eric Torres, Alessandro Soares

Music:

Lili Haydn

Additional Credits:

Line Producer: Yasmine Gomez, Sound Recordist: Ben Posnack, Veronica Lopez, Lead Assistant Editor: Stephanie Huerta Martinez


To read more of Steve’s thoughts on this year’s SXSW22 lineup, head to Unseen Films


SXSW 2022 review from Unseen Films: ‘SPAZ’

SPAZ

SPAZ is a portrait of Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams,  one of the forces in computer animation. His work on films like the ABYSS, TERMINATOR 2, and JURASSIC PARK changed movies and the world forever. The doc is good but rather by the numbers tale for a guy who never was by the numbers. A man who loved life and loved doing things his way chaffed in the studio system, and his antics, such as often crashing George Lucas’ office made the suits want to fire him, but his abilities kept him out of trouble. The problem with the film is that much of this is standard issue bio but focused on Williams. Only when we get to Williams chaffing at the suits getting credit and awards for the work of his and other animators that the film comes to life. Legendary filmmaker Dennis Muren comes off looking like an ass since its clear that people like Williams were the real geniuses at work (Muren apparently told Williams not to do the T-rex animation that proved computers could do all the effects on JURASSIC PARK.)

While never bad it is is probably going to be best for animation junkies.


You can see more of Steve’s SXSW22 coverage at Unseen Films


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.


SXSW 2022 review from Unseen Films: ‘DIO DREAMERS NEVER DIE’ transcends the notion of what a music documentary is supposed to be.

 DIO DREAMERS NEVER DIE

 DIO DREAMERS NEVER DIE was not one of the films I picked for the SXSW dance card. It was so low on my must-watch list as not to be on it. Frankly, I had no idea the film was playing at all. Then somehow I noticed it when I was putting things on and off my must-see list and added it simply because it fits a slot.

As with most of the films I loved out of SXSW which I just added because it fit, it turned out to be one of the best films at the festival. Actually, it may be a top three or four film of the fest for me, and possibly one of the best films of 2022.

The film is a portrait of Ronnie James Dio who was born Ronald James Padavona in 1942. He began playing the trumpet before starting in the sort of bands you’d expect in the 1950s.  Then influenced by Deep Purple he changed the sort of music he was playing before shaking the pillars of heaven in groups like Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and Dio.

This film transcends the notion of what a music documentary is supposed to be. This is a portrait of the man from birth to death with everything in between. All his music is represented, yea even the early stuff, here with a result we truly realize what the man was doing musically. It also is a lovely portrait of the man who is seen to be a guy who stuck to his guns, helped anyone on the way up where he could, even if it was a kind word, and he was a man who loved his fans. The story is told of Dio going on tour and meeting fans and blowing them away by remembering, after years, who they were and what they talked about in prior encounters. He loved his fans and they loved him.

Yes, the film is primarily full of heavy metal music, but don’t let that worry you, it’s never there just to be there. Dio’s music is not used just to play it but for effect and to illustrate what he was doing musically. They pull his lyrics apart and you realize just how stupid the religious nuts who tried to claim his work was Satanic were. Yea it was driving music but he was telling people they mattered.

This film stunned me from the first frames. I expected to like it but I never expected to fall madly in love with the film and the man. It’s so good that I want to know more.  Honestly, I am not more in love with his music, he was never one of my favorites, but I am in utter awe of the man.

This is truly one of the best music docs I’ve seen.

I can’t recommend this film enough. One of the highlights of SXSW


Directors:

Don Argott, Demian Fenton

Executive Producer:

Kathy Rivkin Daum, Wendy Dio

Producer:

Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce

Cinematographer:

Don Argott

Editor:

Demian Fenton

Music:

Nick Bassett

Principal Cast:

Ronnie James Dio, Wendy Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, Vinny Appice, Lita Ford, Rob Halford, Sebastian Bach, Eddie Trunk


To read more of Steve’s SXSW 22 coverage, head over to Unseen Films


SXSW 2022 review: ‘JETHICA’ kills it with humor and uniqueness.

JETHICA

Hiding out in New Mexico after a freak accident, Elena runs into Jessica, an old friend from high school. When Jessica’s stalker suddenly shows up at their door, they must seek help from beyond the grave to get rid of him, for good.


JETHICA contains a unique screenplay structure. After the twist comes to light, we slowly realize certain aspects were in our faces from the very beginning. And while we’re dealing with the legit issue of stalking- viewers who’ve experienced any of this behavior will shudder- you’ll simultaneously find your moral compass in knots. This feeling is 100 percent due to the relentless energy of Will Madden. His longwinded, manic dialogue is like watching a tweaker come down from bath salts, sans the eating people’s faces. 

I love how badass Callie Hernandez and Ashley Denise Robinson are together. Their teamwork is all lady power. The relationship between Elena and Jessica is breezy and genuine. Not an ounce of judgy fuckery. As for Andy Faulkner, you’ll fall in love with him. The nonchalance from the entire cast made me guffaw. Writer-director Peter Ohs‘ decision to fully collaborate with his actors makes me love it even more, going so far as giving them writing credit. It speaks volumes to Ohs’ instincts. 

Jethica is difficult to describe in the sense that what I want to say is, “Just shut your stupid mouth and watch this brilliant piece of genre obliterating magic.” (*Insert Futurama Meme “Shut Up and Take My Money”) It’s a film that speaks for itself as it progresses. It’s weird and wonderful and has “cult classic” written all over it. So yeah, I liked it a lot.


Check out  a brand new clip from JETHICA:

A supernatural dark comedy like you’ve never seen, JETHICA was shot in New Mexico in January 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, and world premieres at SXSW in the Visions section. JETHICA boldly blends and bends genres, all at once shining as a sharp comedy and dire stalker thriller with an undead edge.

The third feature from Pete Ohs, one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 2013 ‘25 New Faces of Independent Film’ and co-director of the award-winning Julia Garner lead sci-fi fable Everything Beautiful Is Far Away, the film stars Austin-raised actress Callie Hernandez (The Flight Attendant, Blair Witch [2016]), Will Madden (Beast Beast, The Wolf Of Snow Hollow), Ashley Denise Robinson (Taking Stock), and Andy Faulkner (Youngstown).

Conceived and created through radical approaches to filmmaking, Pete Ohs continues to push the boundaries of indie film, collaborating with his four leads on the script and story of JETHICA, each of whom shares writing credits, and editing the feature live last year on Twitch.


To Learn More About SXSW22 click here!


SXSW 2022 review: Gracie Otto and Krew Boylan take on Dolly Parton, big hair, and even bigger dreams in ‘Seriously Red’

SERIOUSLY RED

This infectious homage to tribute performers focuses on a quirky redheaded young woman whose passion in life has been the songs and personality of Miss Dolly Parton. While she’s has a patterned history of screwing up, Red is a bold, kind-hearted spirit determined to make it as a Dolly impersonator. As her star rises, so does her self-esteem, affecting her personal life, for better or worse. 

Flashy sequins and blonde wings aside, deep down, the film is about self-actualization. The things we try and disguise from others and ourselves. When I was younger, someone asked me why I performed. “Is it because you’re hiding behind those characters?” First, I was offended. Then I thought about it. It was the perfect opportunity to try on someone new. But, Seriously Red is also about having the bravery to do what you love. 

Bobby Cannavale, Rose Byrne, Celeste Barber, Daniel Webber, and Thomas Campbell give superb performances. Seriously Red lives and breathes in screenwriter and star Krew Boylan. She brings unbridled nuance to Red. Comedy timing from the gods, slapstick chops, and a voice for days, Boylan owns every scene. You can’t take your eyes off of her.

The energy never fades, with glorious musical numbers (live and choreographed fantasy sequences.) This film will resonate with an audience wider than Dolly fans. While we revel in the legend’s words throughout the script, the themes stand undoubtedly on their own. Seriously Red will make you smile from ear to ear.


To Learn More About SXSW22 click here!


SXSW 2022 short film review: ‘THE VOICE ACTRESS’ is an elegant ode to the unseen legends.

Kingyo, a veteran voice actress working in Tokyo, possesses a unique ability to see the soul in all things, living and inanimate. The voice acting world is changing and she must find a way to reconcile her way of living with the modern industry. As Kingyo prepares for an upcoming audition, she seeks inspiration from the world around her and from her pet goldfish, Asatte. In the face of professional and personal adversity, Kingyo looks decidedly inward for strength through empathy and kindness.

Urara Takano plays Kingyo, a voice actress whose passion for her work is clear to the audience from the very beginning. In 15 minutes we get an emotional journey worth every second of screen time. Competing with a new generation proficient in self-promotion, how does a dedicated veteran compete? The Voice Actress gives us a peek behind the curtain that is the boys club of entertainment, while simultaneously putting us inside the mind of an accomplished performer. Writer-director Anna J. Takayama gives Takano space to bloom. I would happily watch a feature on this character. There is a purposeful beauty to the costumes, especially the use of the color red. The undeniable quirkiness from Takano makes you fall in love with her. It’s no wonder the short garnered SXSW22’s Mailchimp Support the Shorts Award.


 

SXSW 2022 short film review: ‘NOT EVEN FOR A MOMENT DO THINGS STAND STILL’ is a film that will imprint on your soul.

NOT EVEN FOR A MOMENT DO THINGS STAND STILL

Art as catharsis happens when we have no words. It is one of the innumerable reasons we create. In September 2021, artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenuerg made something that would stun the country. She planted a white flag on the National Mall for each person who had died of Covid-19 in America. The reaction was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

You can see the momentary panic on the faces of friends, family, and frontline workers wondering where to place their small white flag in an eventual sea of over 700,000. We hear the intimate audio, prayers, sobs, and send-offs that no person dreams of giving in this way. Beyond that, the sound design is simple, the wind blowing gently against each tribute. The result is like the sound of the ocean. The title serves as a triple entendre, echoing the relentless tragedy of the ever-evolving virus, the flapping of the flags, and the words of the Japanese Death Poem by Seiju.

Not even for a moment
do things stand still; witness
color in the trees.

Even though we’re watching on a screen, the vastness of the piece is never lost. The visual impact is visceral. Somehow, this representation is almost a better reference to those who still deny the virus existed in the first place. While those minds may never change, those living in reality can feel the massive impact of this monument. NOT EVEN FOR A MOMENT DO THINGS STAND STILL is 15 minutes of collective grief. It is one of the most powerful short films I’ve ever had the privilege to experience. And it is precisely that, an experience.


Director/Writer:                      Jamie Meltzer
Producers:                              Annie Marr, Jamie Meltzer, Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg
Editors:                                   Jamie Meltzer, Annie Marr
Cinematographers:                Mario Furloni, Melissa Langer
Sound Design:                       Dave Cerf
TRT:                                        15 min
Country:                                 USA


 

SXSW 2022 review: ‘THE PRANK’ has Rita Moreno and revenge.

THE PRANK

We all had that teacher in high school that we loathed, either because they were a terrible teacher or just plain evil. In The Prank, two students sick of an AP Physics teacher terrorizing the school come up with a scheme to frame her for murder. Can Ben and Tanner shift the power dynamic? More importantly, how will Mrs. Wheeler react?

Ben is your typical overachiever, while his best friend Tanner is a slacker. Funny thing, neither is what they appear to be. Tanner is a hacker genius. When the infamous teacher from our nightmares, Mrs. Wheeler, discovers someone has cheated on her Physics midterm, she threatens to fail everyone. Fed up with the power she holds, Ben and Tanner make a plan to take her down. A handful of ridiculous memes and embarrassingly fake “evidence” spirals out of control. But that’s just the beginning of The Prank.

Connor Kalopsis plays Ben with visceral anxiety in his attempt at a scholarship. His quiet confidence is a solid foil for co-star Ramona Young. I would be remiss to mention Meredith Salinger as his Mom. She’s quickwitted and down-to-earth and would have loved to see more of here. She’s a charmer.

Ramona Young as Tanner is a spitfire. With excitable energy, she bounces off of Kalopsis without ever getting campy. Their chemistry is akin to any series regulars on The Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. Kate Flannery plays the lunch lady with a sass that deserves a standing ovation. The scenes between her and Young, while short, are undeniably memorable.

Rita Moreno brings this Goosebumps-friendly film to life with her iconic character-building abilities. Her comic timing is legendary. Her presence onscreen and onstage is massive. She nails every beat of Mrs. Wheeler. Playing against Kalopsis and Young, her ability to outwit her scene partners is unmatched. Moreno captures the familiar sternness that made us shake in our boots when we were younger. Her acid-tongued delivery of screenwriters Becca Flinn-White & Zak White’s dialogue is chef’s kiss. You’ll love to hate her.

The Prank takes advantage of the classic rumor mill, updating it through social media. Without spoiling the film, the fallout that makes this film special. It was a surprising selection for SXSW22 but in a good way. The Prank is the most fun teen-centric comedy at this year’s festival. Stick around for the credits.


To Learn More About SXSW22 click here!


SXSW 2022 review: ‘DEADSTREAM’ is a horror-comedy fan’s dream.

DEADSTREAM

After a public controversy left him disgraced and demonetized, a washed up internet personality tries to win back his followers by livestreaming himself spending one night alone in an abandoned haunted house. When he accidentally pisses off a vengeful spirit, his big comeback event becomes a real-time fight for his life (and social relevance) as he faces off with the sinister spirit of the house and her own powerful following.


Joseph Winter plays Shawn, a delightful douchebag. Or, as we regularly refer to this type of personality, a YouTube star. He promises his audience he’ll spend the night in an infamously haunted location. As the evening unfolds, Shawn’s backstory slowly comes to light. Is this stunt an act of redemption or a money grab? Whichever it is, we win with Deadstream.

Shawn interacts with the livestream comments ranging from rude to fangirl, skeptical to genuinely helpful. Some of those comments come with videos making the narrative feel immersive for the audience. The Host was a huge indie hit in 2020. The plot occurs over a Zoom seance, where the audience is also a participant on that call. Dreadstream benefits from this similar format because it will feel like you’re part of the action. It’s only the second film I would recommend watching on a laptop.

The cinematography is a collection of Go Pro and infrared cameras, giving Deadstream a first-person gamer experience. While Shawn performs promised acts of silliness, he also tells the history of each room and its associated ghost. The majority of the set is lit from Shawn’s headlamp, enhancing the scares. I constantly anticipated a jump scare. But, it’s the brilliantly written buildup of tension that kept me on the edge of my seat. 

Joseph Winter abandons every ounce of his dignity in Shawn. He’s fearless in his slapstick and could not care less how absurd he looks. The way he screams is comedy gold. Winter nails that manic energy and the over-the-top vocal nuance of any YouTube star or influencer. I cannot imagine anyone but Winters doing Shawn justice. 

Deadstream is an ode to horror fans. It is a film Sam Raimi would be proud of. As for us genre nerds, don’t act like you didn’t watch Paranormal State, Ghost Hunters, or Ghost Adventures whenever Evil Dead wasn’t available to rent, again. Deadstream takes all the elements of those staples and melds them together with modern-day social media and cancel culture. If you’re not laughing out loud, check your pulse. Writing and directing team Vanessa Winter & Joseph Winter let SXSW22 audiences in on the joke. Deadstream gets me to hit “Like & Subscribe.” These filmmakers just earned a new fan. 


To learn more about SXSW22 click here!


SXSW 2022 review: ‘THE CELLAR’ begins with great source material.

THE CELLAR

Filmed on location in Roscommon, Ireland, The Cellar tells the story of Keira Woods (Elisha Cuthbert), whose daughter mysteriously vanishes in the cellar of their new house in the country. Keira soon discovers there is an ancient and powerful entity controlling their home that she will have to face or risk losing her family’s souls forever.


Shudder original The Cellar made its debut at SXSW 2022 in the Midnighter’s section. Elisha Cuthbert helms this haunted house film alongside Eion Macken. As a husband and wife team working on a new Gen X influencer platform, their strangely inexpensive Irish mansion comes with more than some old furniture. With Mom and Dad busy pitching their ideas, kids Ellie and Steven are home alone when the power goes out. As Ellie descends the creepy stairs of the pitch-black basement in search of the fuse, she mysteriously disappears while on the phone with Kiera. 

Writer-director Brendan Muldowney made a short film in 2004 titled The Ten Steps (which you can find online.) The short film is horror perfection. The Cellar is a feature expanded from that story. The Ten Steps captured all the fear in 10 minutes. The Cellar takes a lot of cliches that genre fans will love, and frankly work well, and becomes an overlong and dimly lit film. As a mom, I felt Cuthbert’s sense of urgency was missing. These parents are the least panicked Mother and Father I’ve ever seen. Where are the missing posters? No tears of distress? 

As Kiera investigates the house’s history, we are introduced to everything from Jewish mysticism to quantum physics. I wasn’t expecting math to be a thing, yet here we are. I thought the record player that coaxed the family members into all sorts of trouble was clever. But, not so much the characters googling Latin quotations. It’s a lot. There are fleeting moments of greatness, such as an ancient abacus moving on its own, air blowing from underneath the cellar door as if a creature were heavily breathing. The classic scares worked best for me. The final 20 minutes is where the real action occurs, a clear nod to The Beyond. This is what I was waiting for, and it is genuinely satisfying. The visual change-up was an honest “Hell, Yes” moment, no pun intended. The Cellar is ultimately a film Shudder audiences will dig. So, simply sit back, don’t overthink it, and enjoy the devilish chaos.

 

*Perhaps ignore the fact that it will remind a few of you of Krampus.


Official Selection, SXSW 2022. If you miss its Shudder release, you can catch The Cellar in theaters on April 15 from RLJ Films.


To learn more about SXSW 22 click here!


SXSW 2022 short film capsule reviews: ‘Roommates,’ ‘Gay Haircut,’ & award winner ‘Glitter Ain’t Gold’

Roommates


Synopsis: Students Izzy and Sophia get placed as dorm-mates because they’re both disabled. They reach common ground via vodka shots and getting personal, christening their first day of college with a night of adventure.


Simultaneously awkward and natural, this is an awesome and important ten minutes about accessibility, perception, and power. Stay for the credits!

·      Writer/Director: Ashley Eakin

·      Writer: Kelsey Johnson

·      Cast: Kiera Allen (RUN), Kelsey Johnson


Gay Haircut

Synopsis: For a stand-up comic, a drastic life change can mean losing one’s entire act. Bisexual comedian Krista has decided her relationship with a trans woman is worth coming out over—but will she commit to an entire rebrand with one gay haircut?


A seemingly simple change with a lot of weight attached. In 7 minutes we get an entire journey about identity filled with some quirky weirdness.

·      Director/Producer: Jude Harris

·      Writer/Producer: Krista Fatka

·      Cast: Krista Fatka (Shaky Ground, Night of the Living Karens), Zach Holmes (JACKASS FOREVER, Too Stupid to Die, Tosh.0Ridiculousness)


GLITTER AIN’T GOLD

*Winner*

SXSW 22 Special Jury Recognition for Directing and Community Filmmaking

     Synopsis: Sixth-grader Jibril and his reluctant best friend Tawanda hustle up some cash and journey to the flea market to buy Jibril’s first chain, in hopes that it will catch the eye of his crush Marlana and divert her attention away from his sworn enemy Rashad.


Writer-director Christian Nolan Jones brings to life a coming-of-age short that dives into the universal feeling of acceptance. Set in the 90s, two best friends Jibril and Tawanda are on a mission to purchase an item that will catch the eye of his crush. Glitter Ain’t Gold perfectly captures middle-school angst. The costumes and overall aesthetic were spot on. Our two young leads Alfred R. Lewis III and Priah Ferguson are stellar. This might as well have been a documentary with their natural ability to captivate the audience. Each beat is authentic. Glitter Ain’t Gold is a tight treatment for s feature or series.

·      Writer/Director: Christian Nolan Jones

·      Executive Producers: Common, Corey Gamble

·      Cast: Priah Ferguson (Stranger Things, THE OATH, Atlanta), Alfred R. Lewis III (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Bunk’d)


 

SXSW 2022 short film review: Is ‘RADICAL HONESTY’ merely an expression or a way of life?

Radical Honesty

At the tail end of a great date, Jack and Rachel bond over a shared interest in deconstructing traditional relationship structures. When Jack reveals the reality of his “radical” open relationship, things take a turn for the absurd in this short film about the co-option of the language of liberation for means of manipulation and control.


At 41, I cannot imagine navigating a new relationship at this precise moment in time. I remember when Match.com first became a thing and how weird I thought it sounded. Then I recall attending four weddings in the years that followed, each couple had met through Match. RADICAL HONESTY, a 7-minute short film, tackles the complexities that Gen Z and Millenials face day-to-day. Performances are natural and the opening camerawork is fun. It is no surprise that the idea of radical honesty is something we experience more and more now. With the push of social media platforms, everyone is encouraged to share an opinion. Yes, this leads to awareness, self-discovery, and connections across the globe, if we’re talking upsides, only. My Xennial self also understands this to be a potential trap. C’est la vie.

I am excited to see this short get an expansion into series form (which is currently in the works). I anticipate having further investment into the world of Jack and Rachel, and whomever they intend to take along on their “journey of truth.” It’s bound to be a hot mess, in the best way possible. Radical Honesty is a great pairing with Hannah Marks‘ film Mark, Mary, and Some Other People. Modern dating is complicated by a lot more than just email and actually showing up these days. Director Bianca Poletti, and actress and screenwriter Allison Goldfarb nail this idea.


Check out the teaser trailer for the film’s aesthetic.

To learn more about how you can watch Radical Honesty and SXSW22 in general, click here!


Director: Bianca Poletti

Screenwriter: Allison Goldfarb

Principal Cast: Allison Goldfarb, John Hein, Melanie Alexa Buenrostro

Executive Producers: Jacki Calleiro, Mindy Goldberg, Bianca Poletti

Producer: Shayna Gianelli

Cinematographer: Corey C. Waters

Editor: Nina Sacharow

Production By: Epoch Films, Disco Pants Inc

SXSW 2022 review: Winner of Best Cinematography ‘A VANISHING FOG’ is spellbinding journey of whimsy and warning.

A VANISHING FOG

Facing the imminent return of an unnamed social and ecological violence, F – played by the emblematic and commanding newcomer Sebastián Pii in his debut cinematic role—yearns to overcome his human limitations and plan his escape, knowing all too well that his departure will come with a heartrending goodbye to the only world he has ever known.


It should be no surprise that A Vanishing Fog won the SXSW22 film festival award for Best Cinematography. This film not only speaks to the race against the climate crisis, but The Vanishing Fog also specifically tackles the helpless human aspect. The film follows a young man named F. He appears to be the last protector of an enormous and lush hidden landscape. As capitalist outsiders seek to buy his home, F’s internal struggle between escape and loyalty is palpable. Caring for his ailing father, attempting to communicate with any possible remaining ally by yelling out into the abyss, F understands the end is nigh, whatever that form may take. 

First-time cinematographer Gio Park shot A Vanishing Fog in the mysterious and formidable Páramo of Sumapaz—the largest swath of alpine moorland in the world. It is the first feature film to be shot in this location. You won’t believe such a place exists. It is so incredible that it looks to have been created on a soundstage or green screen. It will take your breath away. 

A Vanishing Fog is a film that deserves enormous screens. Imagine sitting in a room surrounded by IMAX-sized walls. The film begs this experience. I could easily see this becoming a staple at any museum. Lead actor Sebastián Pii leaves every ounce of himself in this role. He’s charming, innocent, desperate, endearing, and determined. You are right alongside his emotional journey. Visual grandeur aside, Pii captures your heart with his wonder and physical fearlessness. A Vanishing Fog is unlike anything you’ve experienced before. It’s a must-see.

 


A VANISHING FOG (Entre la niebla). Colombia/Czech Republic/Norway, 2021, 76 min. In English and Sunapakún with English subtitles. Director / Writer: Augusto Sandino; Producer: Augusto Sandino; Executive Producer: Alejandro Santo Domingo, Munir Falah and Nubia Stella Cubillos; Cinematography: Gio Park; Editor: Augusto Sandino; Production Designer: Constanza Romero; Sound Designer: Emil Nygård Olsen; Music: Emil Nygård Olsen; Principal Cast: Sebastián Pii, Mario de Jesús Viana, Christian Ballesteros; Worldwide Sales: Pluto Film.

About the director:

Augusto Sandino is one of the outstanding names in Colombian contemporary cinema. Winner of over 30 international accolades and the National Cinema Award 2000-2005 given by the Ministry of Culture of Colombia for his short Aniversario. His feature debut Gentle Breath (Suave el aliento) won the Special Jury prize and the FIPRESCI award at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in 2016. Founding Director of the Auteur cinema symposium manifesto with Carlos Reygadas, Lisandro Alonso and Amat Escalante in 2014, Sandino has also been the producer of his films plus the works La forma del presente (The Shape of Now) at DOK Leipzig Next Masters 2018; La torre (The Tower) at IFFR Bright Future 2018; and Karen llora en un bus (Karen Cries on the Bus) at Berlinale Forum 2011. A Vanishing Fog (Entre la niebla) is his second feature film.


SXSW.com


SXSW 2022: ‘HYPOCHONDRIAC’ is a disturbing journey towards self-actualization.

HYPOCHONDRIAC

A young potter’s life devolves into chaos as he loses function of his body while being haunted by the physical manifestation of his childhood trauma.


Will has created a facade of mental wellness. As the past comes back to haunt him, can he keep himself together? Hypochondriac tells the story of a man unraveling and coming to terms with what hides inside. 

Marlene Forte as Mom is a thing of manic beauty. If you want to talk about personality? Forte has it in spades. Zach Villa is a star. His wildly nuanced, fully fleshed-out performance as Will leaps off the screen. He will not be ignored.

The camera work is an entire entity. Editing wise, reflection, double vision, echoing of dialogue all build as the story progresses. These devices slowly place us into the mindset of Will, forcing us to question reality. There are bizarre and jarring references to films like Donnie Darko and Ghost. If you enjoy squirming, Hypochondriac‘s sound editing is a bonus. 

Hypochondriac creatively addresses very real mental health issues. From stress to anxiety, unresolved trauma to potential schizophrenia, it is in this script. It also touches on gaslighting from both family members and medical professionals. Writer-director Addison Heimann brings SXSW22 audiences something unique and incredibly frightening. 


Director:

Addison Heimann

Executive Producer:

Martin Richards

Producer:

Bay Dariz, John Humber

Screenwriter:

Addison Heimann

Cinematographer:

Dustin Supencheck

Editor:

Mike Hugo

Production Designer:

Nicholas Faiella

Sound Designer:

Steven Avila

Music:

Robert Allaire

Principal Cast:

Zach Villa, Devon Graye, Madeline Zima, Yumarie Morales, Marlene Forte, Chris Doubek, Paget Brewster, Adam Busch, Michael Cassidy, Peter Mensah, Debra Wilson

Additional Credits:

Casting Director: Michelle Lewitt, Costume Designer: Jessyca Bluwal, Makeup Department Head: Angie Davis, VFX Supervisor: Zach Moore, Post Sound: Kyle Tilbury, First Assistant Director: Lizzy Walker, Stunt Coordinator: Laurence Todd Rosenthal, Intimacy Coordinator: Carly D. Weckstein


 

SXSW 2022 review: Lily Gladstone stuns in reflective road movie, ‘THE UNKNOWN COUNTRY’

THE UNKNOWN COUNTRY

An unexpected invitation launches a grieving young woman on a solitary road trip through the American Midwest as she struggles to reconcile the losses of her past with the dreams of her future.


THE UNKNOWN COUNTRY is a snapshot of all the people we pass on a journey; the waitress, the motel manager, or the convenience store clerk. It’s a picture of America. The sound editing is a flurry of sounds from a car radio, local and national news reports, music, and whatever Tanna stumbles upon on her way.

Lily Gladstone‘s ability to captivate an audience is something I first noticed in Certain Women. There’s an effortless, tangible quality about her presence that invites the audience. As Tanna, she allows us to join her anxiety and reflective thoughts. It’s a beautiful turn. Ancestral pull, traveling alone as a woman, and her place in the world all swirl around Gladstone, and the audience sits on her shoulder the entire ride.

A meditation on grief, familial roots, and perhaps unresolved trauma? From Gladstone’s raw state to the striking cinematography, the final moments are like a cathartic breath. THE UNKNOWN COUNTRY taps into the universal internal struggle to find our place in the world. The film shines in its humanity. After years of being bombarded with negative energy from politics, the environmental crisis, the pandemic, nationalism, war, social media, and everything in between, THE UNKNOWN COUNTRY gives us permission to grieve the life we thought we’d live and allows us to take a collective breath. SXSW 22 audiences will be talking about this film all year.


sxsw.com


Director:

Morrisa Maltz

Executive Producer:

Miranda Bailey, Rachel Crouch, Veronica Nickel, Natalie Whalen, Gill Holland, Matthew Mills, Steve Malouf

Producer:

Laura Heberton, Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux, Katherine Harper, Vanara Taing, Tommy Heitkamp

Screenwriter:

Written By Morrisa Maltz, Story By Lily Gladstone, Morrisa Maltz, Vanara Taing, Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux

Cinematographer:

Andrew Hajek

Editor:

Vanara Taing

Sound Designer:

Liz Marston/Skywalker Sound

Music:

Alexis & Sam (Alexis Marsh/Samuel Jones), Neil Halstead (Slowdive)

Principal Cast:

Lily Gladstone, Raymond Lee, Richard Ray Whitman, Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux, Devin Shangreaux, Jasmine “Jazzy” Bearkiller Shangreaux, Pam Richter, Dale Leander Toller, Florence R. Perrin, Scott Stampe

Additional Credits:

Drone Cinematography: Will Graham, Production Coordinator: Will Malouf, Production Coordinator: Tracy Mailloux, Production Sound Mixer: Codi Putman, First Assistant Camera: Andrew Newton, Production Sound Recorder: Randal Iverson


 

SXSW 2022 review from Unseen Films: ‘This Much I Know To Be True’

This Much I Know To Be True

THIS MUCH I KNOW TO BE TRUE is Nick Cave & Warren Ellis performing songs from the albums Ghosteen and Carnage. It’s a performance film shot over five days before they took it on tour.

If I told you this film is a religious experience, you would think I was daft, unless you’ve ever seen Cave in concert. I’ve seen him twice and this film is kind of like that. It’s the point at which music transports one to another place without the need for drugs. The visual tricks are simply the space, lighting changes, camera moves, and the performers. Yes, there are a few interstitials where they discuss what they are doing, but they are merely points to collect ourselves. In all seriousness moments in this film moved me to tears-the beauty of the sound and image took me to somewhere beautiful. The reason was somewhere beyond words.
What stays with me is the soundscape. This is a film I know I will watch hundreds of times in the time I have left simply so I can have the music swimming around inside me. This is a space occupied by very few films, the closest is the Sigur Ros documentary HEIMA which creates a sonic space that is pure magic.
I apologize but this film lives in a place beyond words. I can’t explain it I can only feel it. And I feel it deeply in the bottom of my soul.
You must see this film with as good a sound system as possible. (I am cursing myself for not putting on headphones.)
One of the best films at SXSW and 2022 as well.


For more of Steve’s thoughts on SXSW22, check out Unseen Films!