Review: ‘THE HUMANS’ is a living, breathing tableau of the American family.

THE HUMANS

Erik Blake gathers three generations of his Pennsylvania family to celebrate Thanksgiving at his daughter’s apartment in lower Manhattan. As darkness falls and eerie things go bump in the night, the group’s deepest fears are laid bare.


I wish I had seen Stephen Karam‘s stage version of The Humans. As a theatre major/lover, I could immediately feel the weight of the dialogue; subjects that feel mundane, long pauses fill the air, then the delicious, sharp back and forth. Karam developed his Tony-award-winning script for the screen and every single second of it is authentic. The most magical part of The Humans for a kid that grew up in the Connecticut burbs and then attended a theatre conservatory on the Upper West Side is the specificity to every detail of the sets and sound editing. Now 41, owning a co-op a block away from school, I realize how immune I’ve become to the sounds of a clanking and hissing radiator or the banging footsteps of the neighbors overhead. It is only when I visit home for the holidays that I notice the birds chirping or the silence of a neighborhood with picket fences. And yet, The Humans taps into a universality of the American family. There is something so familiar about the generational divides that appear around a dinner table; the brazen backtalk of the youngest adult, the words of wisdom, often misconstrued, from the parental units. Relationships are rubbed raw by alcohol or exhaustion. It’s a visceral discomfort that is highlighted brilliantly in this film. 

Karam’s use of sound, in particular, makes The Humans a genre-bending ride. Don’t be confused when your heart sounds and you think you’ve mistakenly turned on a horror film. The deliberate panic-inducing score and sound editing exacerbate buried secrets in The Humans. Karam’s carefully curated script is a masterclass in storytelling. He clearly understands the natural rhythm of familial banter. Each character experiences an arc over a few hours. The Humans plays in real-time. The blocking is coordinated chaos, and I mean that in the highest regard. The camera sits quietly, like an observer in an adjacent part of the apartment. Speaking of, in seeing photos of the two-story unit set from the Broadway run, I am even more impressed at the similarities in the film. With the cramped spaces down to the water stains on the walls, the production team deserves all the awards. 

The cast is superb. Amy Schumer stuns in the role of eldest daughter Aimee. The quiet anguish in her eyes and understanding tones of an adult kid attempting to maintain peace resonates immediately. Her performance has an authenticity that will make you take notice. Steven Yeun is a gentle pleaser as youngest daughter Brigid’s (Beanie Feldstein) boyfriend. He is attentive and honest, with perfectly played outsider energy. It should be no surprise to anyone paying attention to Yeun’s roles since leaving The Walking Dead. His talents are limitless. Dementia takes hold of matriarch Momo, played by the legendary June Squibb. While she technically has little dialogue, each syllable has weight. You’re fully aware of her importance. 

Beanie Feldstein as a musician and wide-eyed optimist, Brigid gives us the know-it-all baby of the family, please treat me as an adult vibe we need. You know her character. Feldstein’s delivery is chef’s kiss. Reprising her Tony Award-winning role as Deirdre is Jayne Houdyshell. The underlying pain is precisely masked by good humor and sass. This behavior comes with a breaking point. I could have sworn I was listening to my mother tell stories about her day. Houdyshell doesn’t take any shit. She’s loving but refuses to be a doormat.

Richard Jenkins‘s performance is immaculate. Karam tapped into the plight of the middle-class white man. From working the same job for decades, sending his kids to college, and entering the next phase of life feeling like the rug has been pulled from underneath him. What you aren’t expecting is the PTSD aspect to loom so large. As someone who experienced 9/11 in college and was downtown two days prior, that day hits differently, more so if you lived through it here in Manhattan. That trauma is key to who Erik has become. It is part of his very essence. Jenkins’s physicality is a story unto itself. He is outstanding. 

The Humans is the perfect film to watch with your family. Its nuance will bowl you over. The Humans is timeless and completely relatable. It’s a snapshot of what kitchen tables have looked like for years. Do not overlook this one. 


RELEASE DATE: In Theaters November 24 and on Showtime


From writer/director Stephen Karam and starring Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell, Amy Schumer, Beanie Feldstein, Steven Yeun, and June Squibb.


Review: Ethan Hawke stars in ‘Zeroes and Ones,’ a creatively shot political thriller.

presents

ZEROES AND ONES

Called to Rome to stop an imminent terrorist bombing, a soldier desperately seeks news of his imprisoned brother — a rebel with knowledge that could thwart the attack. Navigating the capital’s darkened streets, he races to a series of ominous encounters to keep the Vatican from being blown to bits.


Zeros and Ones is a surrealistic mash-up from Abel Ferrara – a political and pandemic thriller that is simultaneously thoughtful and baffling. This is a film that invites the viewer in while still keeping them at a distance. The film is bookended by two videos featuring start Ethan Hawke, who speaks candidly to the audience about his excitement and experience relating to the film. Hawke freely admits that he didn’t understand Ferrara’s script when he received it, but that he really liked it. Having just finished “Zeros and Ones”, Hawke’s point resonated.

The film’s achievements are especially impressive given it was filmed in Rome during a rigid COVID lockdown. By nature of these restrictions, the majority of the action is restricted. The camera is limited to claustrophobic rooms and empty nighttime streets, but cinematographer Sean Price Williams makes the most of it. The outdoor scenes, in particular, are quite striking: sanitation workers clad in PPE decontaminating a subway car, mist mingling with the glow of the street lights.

Our protagonist (Ethan Hawke’s “J.J.”) is an enigmatic military man, his face hidden beneath a black mask even when he’s in plain sight. He’s on a journey through Rome, but his objectives (and destination) are murky. He’s trying to locate his twin brother (also Hawke), an imprisoned revolutionary who may hold the key to thwarting a terrorist plot on the Vatican. While this may sound like the plot of a multi-million dollar action film, Ferrara’s vision is wisely more conservative. He is more interested in backroom deals and shadowy government priorities than big explosions.

Hawke offers a game performance in the dual role – although he seems to have far more fun playing the revolutionary brother than the military one (after all, who doesn’t want to spit lines like, “Why is nobody setting themselves on fire?!”)

J.J.’s encounters with other characters throughout the film are always one layer removed – he’s always speaking to them through a phone screen, from behind a layer of glass, or filming them using his own camera. It’s a strong artistic choice, but also puts much more emphasis on the dialogue to drive the action of the film, and contributed to an overall lack of visceral connection to the material.

Ultimately, Zeros and Ones is a wonderful example of artistic vision flourishing under restrictive circumstances. One has to wonder how we will look back historically and evaluate these films against history once the pandemic finally recedes (fingers crossed.) I’m glad Hawke and Ferrara were still willing to act up despite having to mask up.


Zeros and Ones – In Select Theaters, On Demand and Digital on November 19, 2021. Ethan Hawke, Valerio Mastandrea, Cristina Chiriac.


Review: ‘The Pebble and the Boy’ is a sweet coming-of-age road movie.

THE PEBBLE AND THE BOY

Written and directed by Chris Green, The Pebble and the Boy is the story of a son attempting to honor his recently passed father. Riding from Manchester on his dad’s scooter to Mod mecca of Brighton, John gets more than he bargains for in his attempt to scatter his father’s ashes. The film is structured like a walk down memory lane for Phil’s mates and a history lesson for John. Ultimately, The Pebble and the Boy morphs into a way to navigate grief and regret.

Patrick McNamee as John is everything we need him to be; vulnerable and a little lost. I must give mention to John’s would-be sidekick, Nicki. Sacha Parkinson is funny, brash, and fills the screen with her vibrant presence. As the script progresses, the one character we never physically hear from becomes the most intriguing. Phil is an enigma for John. Unraveling the mystery of the man takes center stage and is undoubtedly the most successful aspect of the script. Filled with surprises, The Pebble and the Boy is like a warm hug. It’s a breezy, coming-of-age road movie with one hell of a soundtrack.


Inspired by Mod-culture, The Pebble And The Boy will be released on digital in the US and Canada on November 16.


The film was written and directed by Chris Green (Me, Myself and Di) and stars Patrick McNamee (Our Girl), Sacha Parkinson (Coronation Street), Max Boast (Sex Education), Patsy Kensit (Lethal Weapon 2, Shelter Island), Ricci Harnett (Rise of the Footsoldier) and Jesse Birdsall (Hollyoaks).


The film features tracks from Paul Weller, The Jam, The Style Council, Secret Affair, and The Chords. The title of the film is taken from the final track on Weller’s eighth studio album, As Is Now.


 

Soho International Film Festival short review: ‘KLUTZ.’ is a creative and thought-provoking meditation on grief.

Zowie lost her sister and is falling down on the job of life. Can’t love. Won’t go out. Refuses to work properly. But she stumbles upon an accidental superpower: when she falls, when she feels pain — gravity bends so that she can see her sister again. However, the space-time-continuum giveth, the space-time-continuum taketh away, and the next time she hurts, her sister is gone. Frustrated and depleted, Zowie is torn between moving on or withering on the vine. So, in a whiskey-fueled dream-state, she makes a choice: to fall one last time. On purpose.


Grief is a personal journey. When your person gets ripped from your orbit, all bets are off. “Coping” can mean destructive behavior in the form of alcohol, binge eating, even self-harm. Or, grief can manifest itself into the most creative outlets. In Zowie’s case, pain and darkness are where she’s become comfortable. It’s also where her sister appears to her, bringing her momentary joy. In Klutz, Zowie must learn to evolve within her preconceived notions of sadness.

Grief has no timeline. No one can tell you how to process it. It’s not their place. Klutz manages to pull you into Zowie’s emotional orbit. The dialogue is dynamic and thoughtful, at times mired in anguish, while others were playfully silly. I was lucky enough to watch Klutz three times, catching more and more cleverly repeated images each viewing. I adored this short on a personal level. As someone who has lost one of my people, I lived inside this narrative. Klutz is relatable and poetic. It’s a beautifully insightful little film.


Showings – select to order tickets:
  • Runtime:
    14 minutes
  • Language:
    English
  • Country:
    United States
  • Premiere:
    NEW YORK Premiere
  • Note:
    Death
  • Director:
    Michelle Bossy
  • Screenwriter:
    Elizabeth Narciso
  • Producer:
    Malka Wallick, Mara Kassin, Howard Wallick & Freda Rosenfeld, David Selden & Julie Wallick, Elizabeth Narciso, Scott & Susan Shay
  • Cast:
    Malka Wallick, Mara Kassin, Sanjit De Silva, Geneva Carr, Angel Desai, Wai Ching Ho, Florencia Lozano, Geoffrey Owens



Review: ‘IDA RED’ – a family crime drama where performances rule all.

Crime boss Ida “Red” Walker (Oscar® winner Melissa Leo*) turns to her son, Wyatt (Josh Hartnett), to pull off one last heist to get out of prison. But with the FBI closing in, Wyatt must choose between family and freedom in this high-octane thriller.


IDA RED opens up with honest to goodness tense action. Come to find out, half of it is a whole lot of bait and switch. The script has plenty of surprising revelations. It is undeniably engaging, from the shocking violence to the keen character building.

Frank Grillo, as Dallas Walker, is as epic and as he is evil, with an IDGAF aura. It’s one hell of a performance. Melissa Leo is Ida. Her uncanny ability to own the screen with nothing but a look gets me every time. This crime family matriarch rules from prison with an iron fist and favoritism. And, damnit, the fact that it’s a woman makes my heart skip a beat. More of this, please.

Sofia Hublitz, who is fantastic on Ozark, plays Darla Walker. She’s the youngest troublemaker of this family unit. Hublitz walks the perfect line between innocence and passionate anger. Josh Hartnett, as Wyatt Walker, is the unwaveringly loyal son. Hartnett’s multiple-year hiatus from the big screen was noticed, especially by those of us who grew up alongside him in movies like The Faculty, Pearl Harbor, and Sin City. Whenever I do see him nowadays, I am reminded immediately of his immense talent. He’s got a coolness to him that you can’t teach. As Wyatt, his familial devotion is palpable, to a fault. IDA RED allows him to play the full spectrum of emotions. 

The soundtrack boasts some of the coolest (and strangest) choices. I was obsessed. IDA RED could have been a limited series. As it stands, it’s a solidly done family crime drama, possessing fully fleshed-out, massively flawed characters with incredible actors breathing life into them. I recommend a watch.


Watch the trailer:

Saban Films will release the action/crime/thriller IDA RED in Theaters, On Digital, and On Demand on November 5, 2021.


IDA RED is written and directed by John Swab (Body Brokers, Let Me Make You a Martyr) and stars Josh Hartnett (Wrath of Man, “Penny Dreadful”), Sofia Hublitz (“Ozark”), William Forsythe (The Devil’s Rejects, Raising Arizona), Deborah Ann Woll (“True Blood”), Frank Grillo (Boss Level, The Purge franchise), and Academy Award winning actress Melissa Leo (The Fighter, Prisoners, Frozen River).


 

Review: Hannah Marks explores the growing pains of modern love in ‘Mark,Mary, and Some Other People’

Synopsis:

Mark and Mary, acquaintances from college, run into each other at a drug store as Mary is buying a pregnancy test. The test is negative and the two wind up dating and rapidly falling for each other. Mark has a more traditional view of relationships and Mary’s view is more modern and progressive. They try “ethical non-monogamy” at Mary’s request, and create their own version of an open relationship, while also trying to balance their fledgling careers and friendships. Through a series of ups and downs, Mary starts to realize she’s more traditional than she thought whereas Mark starts to open up and see the world differently through Mary and a polyamorous lens.


“Traditional” relationships structures were created by, well, who knows. Love is weird and complicated, no matter how hard we try. We’re only human. We have urges that are as basic as they come. Anyone who claims to not be attracted to a person outside of their monogamous relationship is a liar. Love is messy and ever-evolving, and writer-director Hannah Marks gets that. Marks popped onto my radar with Banana Split. Her writing is laugh-out-loud-funny and relatable as hell. In her sophomore film, Mark, Mary, and Some Other People, we get the entire emotional spectrum in an hour and a half.

Hayley Law, as Mary, is equal parts bold and down-to-earth. Ben Rosenfield, as Mark, is the definition of charming. I’m not sure he could be more adorable if he tried. Their chemistry with each other, and the rest of this cast, is electric. You have to wonder if any of the dialogue is improvised. It is abundantly clear making this film was a good time.

Mark, Mary, and Some Other People has both nonchalance and honed in emotional palpability. It tackles big issues like communication, the evolution of relationships, and growing up, all with humor and honesty. It’s not pretty or tied up with a bow. Marks understands why that’s important. It’s a peek inside the complexities of human nature. Mark, Mary, and Some Other People is yet another successful notch in her filmmaking belt.


In Theaters and On Demand:

Friday, November 5


Written & Directed By:
Hannah Marks
Produced by:
Stephen Braun, Jon Lullo, Brendan Walter, Jonathan Duffy, Kelly Williams, Pete Williams, and Hannah Marks
Executive Produced By:
Stephen Braun
Starring:

Ben Rosenfield, Hayley Law, Nik Dodani, Odessa A’zion, Matt Shively, Sofia Bryant, Maggie Wheeler, Joe Lo Truglio, Haley Ramm with Gillian Jacobs and Lea Thompson


Apple Original Film review: Tom Hanks stars in ‘FINCH,’ a post-apocalyptic road film for the entire family. Premiering globally on Apple Tv+ on Friday, November 5th.

An Apple Original Film

FINCH

In “Finch,” a man, a robot and a dog form an unlikely family as Tom Hanks stars in a powerful and moving adventure of one man’s quest to ensure that his beloved canine companion will be cared for after he’s gone. Hanks stars as Finch, a robotics engineer and one of the few survivors of a cataclysmic solar event that has left the world a wasteland. But Finch, who has been living in an underground bunker for a decade, has built a world of his own that he shares with his dog, Goodyear. He creates a robot, played by Caleb Landry Jones (“Get Out,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), to watch over Goodyear when he no longer can. As the trio embarks on a perilous journey into a desolate American West, Finch strives to show his creation, who names himself Jeff, the joy and wonder of what it means to be alive.


The environmental inevitability of our planet is the backdrop of Finch. Tom Hanks plays the titular role. He’s a scientist surviving with his dog and his rover pet Dewey. His goal is to create a robot with the capabilities of protecting Goodyear when he passes on. This rag-tag crew attempts to outrun a superstorm by escaping St. Louis to San Francisco in a 1980s RV. Finch becomes a hilarious and heartwarming road movie you never saw coming.

Tom Hanks has an undeniable ability to play grounded humor in the simplest moments. We all know his talent in the drama department. You’ll always get every last ounce of life from him. But it is his quiet hope that holds your heart captive. Hanks keeps getting better and better with every role. Finch is another notch in his brilliant career.

Caleb Landry Jones as Jeff is brilliant. His performance has a childlike quality that melts your heart. The script smartly allows Jones to explore every human emotion for the first time. The savant aspect combined with its innocence reminded me of my five-year-old autistic son. The linear and literal way of expression was something so familiar. Jones’s energy will undoubtedly speak to every single parent. His physical performance is through motion capture, and it alone is award-worthy. Hanks and Jones’ chemistry is the stuff of movie magic.

The visual grandeur of Finch places you in the desolate environment and squarely in the sadness of its isolated reality. The sets are astounding. Post-apocalyptic buildings covered in dust and graffiti, cars strewn across freeways, debris of all kinds scattered as far as the eye can see, the set dressing and visual FX teams nailed every inch of the landscape. The created technology is retrofuturistic. The design and personality of Jeff are comforting, lying somewhere between The Iron Giant and Big Bird. His intricate workings are impressive but never distract from the audience bonding with him.

Humanity, knowledge, legacy, and friendship, and family; these universal themes set Finch apart as a film. It encompasses the full spectrum of human experiences in just under two hours. Finch is an instant classic. You’ll feel good sitting down and viewing this with everyone in your family. It’s extraordinary.


Premieres globally on Apple TV+ on Friday, November 5

Cast:

Finch: Tom Hanks

Jeff: Caleb Landry Jones

 

Director: Miguel Sapochnik

Screenplay By: Craig Luck and Ivor Powell

Produced By: Kevin Misher, Jack Rapke, Jacqueline Levine, and Ivor Powell

Executive Producers: Robert Zemeckis, Craig Luck, Miguel Sapochnik, Andy Bermanand, and Adam Merims

 

ABOUT APPLE TV+

Apple TV+ is available on the Apple TV app in over 100 countries and regions, on over 1 billion screens, including iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, popular smart TVs from Samsung, LG, Sony, VIZIO, TCL and others, Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices, Chromecast with Google TV, PlayStation and Xbox gaming consoles, and at tv.apple.com, for $4.99 per month with a seven-day free trial. For a limited time, customers who purchase and activate a new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac or iPod touch can enjoy three months of Apple TV+ for free*.

 

For more information, visit apple.com/tvpr and see the full list of supported devices.


 

Blood In The Snow (2021) review: Mark O’Brien’s ‘THE RIGHTEOUS’ brings an unpredictable darkness.

THE RIGHTEOUS (Dir. Mark O’Brien) (96 mins)
A burdened man feels the wrath of a vengeful God after he and his wife are visited by a mysterious stranger.


Former man of the cloth Frederic has a crisis of faith triggered by the death of his young daughter. When a mysterious injured young man named Aaron appears in their yard late one night, questions swirl as to his true identity. The young man’s intentions and intensity grow with each passing hour. Aaron slowly ingratiates himself with Frederic’s wife, Ethel, turning her sullen and suspicious mind into a gracious one overnight. His relationship with Frederic proves the most complicated.

Is The Righteous a parable? You’re constantly second-guessing any theory that pops into your head. The screenplay leans on its cast with brilliant storytelling. Stunning black and white cinematography compound a visceral sadness from the very opening shots. You cannot help but be swept away by the camera work. It’s so intentional, creating a timeless and unsettling hum from start to finish. The score is yet another brilliant element. It gave me goosebumps.

Mimi Kuzyk as Ethel is grounded and loving. You’ll hang on every word. Henry Czerny as Frederic is as skeptical as we need him to be. His pensive moments reel you in. You’re right along with him at every turn. Writer-director-star Mark O’Brien, as Aaron, is nothing short of captivating, as each beat is an entire journey. You will be mesmerized by both this performance and the script. You’ll want to watch it again and again.

Religion, redemption, and revenge all take center stage. As one forced into eight years of Catholic school attendance, this one got under my skin on another level. Nothing will prepare you for the reveals in this story. The escalation of terror is much like a rollercoaster that never seems to want to descend. It will make your heart race. Do not get comfortable. The Righteous is one hell of a feature debut. How can O’Brien possibly top such an epic introduction? I’ll be damned if I’m not here for whatever that may be.


You can check out the second half of BLOOD IN THE SNOW (2021) in person

November 18-23 at The Royale Theatre

Tickets are on sale now!


Review: ’13 Minutes’ is a pulse-quickening ensemble piece that will echo in every corner of America.

13 Minutes

Synopsis: The day starts out as usual for residents in the small Heartland town of Minninnewah. It’s springtime and big storms are just part of life. Nothing to get worked up about…until they are. Inhabitants will have just 13 Minutes to get to shelter before the largest tornado on record ravages the town, leaving the inhabitants searching for their loved ones and fighting for their lives. In the wake of total devastation, four families must overcome their differences and find strength in themselves and each other in order to survive.


This ensemble film is about a small town in the path of a brewing storm. Racism, homophobia, religion, and small-town politics swirl around the inhabitants as they prepare for anything. Stories collide, and relationships are put to the ultimate test. 

So, here is the breakdown of characters for 13 minutes: Trace Adkins and Anne Heche play a couple named Rick and Tammy, whose far is in dire financial straights. Tammy is also a local OB at the woman’s clinic. Their religion keeps their son Luke (Will Peltz) between a rock and a hard place. Adkins and Heche never fail to blow me out of the water with each beat.

Thora Birch, oh how I have missed you. Birch plays mechanic and single Mom, Jess. Sofia Vassilieva plays her 19-year-old daughter Maddie. Maddie’s future is in flux, and the decision she makes is one her mother understands all too well. These two women have a genuine report with each other. I adored their scenes.

Amy Smart is an ambitious Mom, Kim. She’s the regional emergency manager for the county. Husband Brad, played by Peter Facinelli, is the local tv weatherman. Their elementary school-aged daughter Peyton happens to be deaf. Shaylee Mansfield, as Peyton, is a highlight of this film. Her innocence shines off the screen.

Paz Vega plays Ana. She and her fiance, Carlos (Yancey Arias), are attempting to buy their own home as Ana works at the local motel as the maid. Carlos works on Rick’s farm as a newly hired mechanic. Vega is a hero in 13 minutes, in more ways than one. This character is carefully curated. Vega lives in her. 

Every single member of this cast is outstanding. They understood the assignment. This script is a snapshot of the country, plain and simple. It is just under an hour into the runtime when the tornado hits. These scenes have a visceral impact. They are pure terror. Writer-director Lindsay Gossling taps into the essence of human nature and the spirit of a small-town America. 13 minutes navigates different beliefs, prejudice, and fear, with flawed and fully fleshed-out characters. It’s not simply a disaster film, it is a reflection of the best and worst of humanity in crisis.


In THEATERS October 29th, on DIGITAL and ON-DEMAND, November 19th


Director: Lindsay Gossling

Writer: Lindsay Gossling

Cast: Trace Adkins, Thora Birch, Peter Facinelli, Anne Heche, Amy Smart, Sofia Vassilieva, Paz Vega, Will Peltz, Shaylee Mansfield

Producers: Travis Farncombe, Lindsay Gossling, Karen Harnisch

Cinematographer: Steve Mason ACS, ASC

Language:  English

Running Time: 108 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Indie Memphis Fil m Festival (2021) review: ‘I Was A Simple Man’ is a gorgeous ghost story and ode to Hawaii.

I WAS A SIMPLE MAN

I Was A Simple Man is a ghost story set in the pastoral countryside of the north shore of O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. Revealed in four chapters, it tells the story of an elderly man facing the end of his life, visited by the ghosts of his past. Incorporating familial history and mythology, dream logic, and surrealism, I Was a Simple Man is a time-shifting, kaleidoscopic story of a fractured family facing the death of their patriarch that will take us from the high-rises of contemporary Honolulu to pre-WWII pastorals of O‘ahu and, finally, into the beyond.


Masao is coming to terms with his mortality in a quietly epic fashion. They say your life flashes before your eyes when you are about to die. In Masao’s case, we are a party to the type of man he was years ago. He is ushered into death by the ghost of his wife Grace, who takes him on a journey through time. There is a bit of a Christmas Carol quality, as Grace brings him into the memories of different and defining times. We come to learn his shortcomings, self-sabotage, doubt, adoration for his wife, and finally, acceptance of his fate. 

Constance Wu, as Grace, exudes elegance and patience. She’s part ghost and pure angel. Our leading man, Steve Iwamoto, playing the present incarnation of Masao, is captivating. He fills each frame with pensive presence. He is unafraid of the physicality of Masao. 

It’s clear from the opening scene that I Was A Simple Man isn’t merely Masao’s story but also a commentary about the colonization of Hawaii. The lush landscape split in two; the top half is nothing but untouched flora, while the bottom half of the city frames are shiny highrise buildings. In quiet moments, we hear the sounds of nature; the wind, crickets, birds, waves, and even some waining dialogue. This film is an ode to the island. The stillness choreographed into many scenes feels meaningful.

Experiencing the juxtaposition of generational reckoning with Masao’s condition is meaningful in a way that will resonate with those who’ve ever watched a loved one pass. It brings feelings of disdain, sadness, confusion, and grief. I Was A Simple Man is a gorgeous catharsis on film. 



 

Here are 8 films at Indie Memphis Film Festival 2021 that we’re looking forward to before it’s hybrid addition arrives October 20th-25th!

INDIE MEMPHIS FILM FESTIVAL 2021

So much to see we have to plan out our schedule now! Here are 8 wildly different films we’re looking forward to seeing and why…

JUJU STORIES (Dirs. Abba Makama, C.J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi, Michael Omonua) – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
A three-part anthology film exploring juju (magical) stories rooted in Nigerian folklore and urban legend, written and directed by the Nigerian new wave cinema collective known as Surreal16.
2021, 84 min, Drama/Fantasy/Horror

Give me horror based on folklore, any day. Written and directed by C.J. Obasi, Abba Makama, and Michael Omonua. The film features three stories: “Love Potion” by Omonua, “YAM” by Makama, and “Suffer The Witch” by Obasi. Anthologies as a horror subgenre definitely continue to be successful. Watching the teaser alone gave me chills.


THE PILL (Dir. Franco Clarke) 
An African-American family indulges in the use of a secret pill that helps them cope with their day-to-day stressors of racism outside of their home.
2021, 81 min, Comedy, Theater/Virtual

A story that is, perhaps, hundreds of years in the making, The Pill might not be so hard to swallow. What if this pill existed in the real world? Would families of color indulge in such an option? This seemingly small idea amounts to something much bigger than most of us can imagine.


WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR (Dir. Jane Schoenbrun) 
Reality and fantasy begin to blur when a teen immerses herself in a role-playing horror game online.
2021, 86 min, Drama/Horror, Theater/Virtual

This has been making the rounds at festivals for the past year. I have not stopped hearing about it. As someone who grew up when the internet and chatrooms first became a thing, We’re All Going To The World’s Fair has an eerie hold on my psyche. Anna Cobb commands the screen in her first-ever feature. This will continue to Wow audiences when it hits theaters and streams on HBOMax next year. Indie Memphis audiences can be “in the know” way beforehand.


QUEEN OF GLORY (Dir. Nana Mensah) 
Ghanaian-American Sarah is all set to abandon her Ivy League doctoral program to follow her married lover across the country. Her plans are derailed, however, when her mother’s sudden death leaves her the owner of a neighborhood bookshop in the Bronx.
2021, 75 min, Comedy/Drama, Theater

We do strange things for love. Take it from someone who moved from NYC to India for 6 months with my boyfriend (now my husband). The sacrifices we make, the people we leave behind, are all tricky choices when it comes to matters of the heart.


I WAS A SIMPLE MAN (Dir. Christopher Makoto Yogi) 
As Masao (Steve Iwamoto) gets sicker, he is visited by ghosts of his past, including his wife, Grace (Constance Wu), who helps shepherd him into the beyond. Merging dream, family history, romantic period piece, all bridged by gently psychedelic observations of nature.
2021, 101 min, Drama, Virtual

Facing our mortality puts things into perspective. You cannot help but assess your life and whether or not it had any impact. I Was A Simple Man plays with time and memory in a beautifully eclectic manner. While writer-director Christopher Makoto Yogi’s second feature thoughtfully tackles death, it is simultaneously an homage to Hawaii.


BUNKER (Dir. Jenny Perlin) – WORLD PREMIERE
The debut feature film of renowned filmmaker Jenny Perlin investigates the lonely lives of American men who have decided to live in decommissioned military bunkers and nuclear missile silos, and follows the process of building and selling these structures to the wealthy and not-so-wealthy alike.
2021, 92 min, Documentary, Theater/Virtual

As a child playing in my grandparents’ home, I stumbled upon a small room that was normally locked. I came to learn that it was a fallout shelter. This perplexed and fascinated me. As a genre film fan, I have often thought about the number of narrative fictions that involved these bunkers. As an adult who has a relative that is a “Prepper” this doc intrigues me to no end.


LISTENING TO KENNY G (Dir. Penny Lane) 
Penny Lane’s documentary takes a witty and provocative look at the easy-listening saxophonist’s story while asking: what makes music good or bad?
2021, 97 min, Documentary, Theater/Virtual

If you’re not a Kenny G fan, the mere mention of his name can be satire. His record sales tell you another story with over 52 million albums sold. Being the butt of the joke is a double-edged sword for G, over his 40-year career he’s changed musical culture, whether we “get it” or not. Penny Lane gives us an intimate insight into Kenny G. He’s going to slay you with his charm. Good luck.


KILLER (Dir. A.D. Smith, 90 min) 
After a pandemic strikes the nation, ten friends decide to quarantine under the same roof. Unfortunately, one of them is a killer.
2021, Horror, Theater/Virtual

The longer you’re in close quarters with someone, the more likely you want to kill them. That’s simply human nature, right? I laugh, in hindsight, thinking that lockdown was only going to be two weeks. Lucky for me, I didn’t have an actual killer in my house. But, I did have two toddlers, and that’s sort of the same thing. A.D. Smith takes a group of college friends and places them in a game of life or death. High stakes for pandemic films right now. Fingers crossed for some creative kills, because what else can a genre fan hope for?


More information on tickets and virtual screenings for
Indie Memphis Fim Festival 2021
HERE

 

 


 The 24th Annual Indie Memphis Film Festival, Ft. Sean Baker’s RED ROCKET as Opening Night Film, World Premieres of FERNY & LUCA and BUNKER, and More

Image from Andrew Infante’s IMFF2021 World Premiere, FERNY & LUCA

 Indie Memphis Film Festival, presented by Duncan Williams, Inc., for its 2021 incarnation runs from October 20th – 25th. This year’s festival promises to be a very exciting and wildly varied one, featuring films ranging from new discoveries to beloved classics, from festival hits to experimental wonders, and everything in-between.

“I am incredibly excited by what we are offering this year with the festival,“ says Indie Memphis Executive Director Knox Shelton, “The programming is stellar and, in terms of how we’ve planned the festival, we hope that we have found ways for people to celebrate independent filmmaking based on their comfort level. We understand that there is no perfect way to do this, but we’ve taken steps to ensure the health and safety of our filmmakers, attendees, volunteers, and staff.”

In the quest to reach a large audience while taking staunch COVID-19 precautions, this year’s festival will be a hybrid of online and in-person screenings and events. For in-person Memphis screenings and events, proof of COVID-19 vaccine is required for all staff, volunteers, contractors, and attendees, and masks are required at all times indoors. Venues for screenings are now focused on larger theaters to better accommodate social-distanced seating; these include Crosstown Theater, The Block Party will be delayed until a year in which we can better protect the health of our attendees, partners, and staff. Circuit Playhouse, Playhouse on the Square, and the Malco Summer Drive-In. Festival parties will be limited to outdoor celebrations on Opening and Closing Night.

The 2021 festival features work from up-and-coming filmmakers, as well as festival hits such as Jonas Carpignano’s A CHIARA, Jane Schoenbrun’s WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR, Penny Lane’s LISTENING TO KENNY G, Céline Sciamma’s PETITE MAMAN, and many more.

The festival also features exciting premieres, such as the World Premiere of Andrew Infante’s FERNY & LUCA. The film is a look into the on-and-off relationship between Ferny, a sweet and naive pretty boy, and Luca, a rough and tumble disco queen, who is more concerned with chasing her dreams than chasing boys. There’s also the World Premiere of Jenny Perlin’s BUNKER, a documentary that investigates the lonely lives of American men who have decided to live in decommissioned military bunkers and nuclear missile silos, and follows the process of building and selling these structures to the wealthy and not-so-wealthy alike.

The Opening Night film is Sean Baker’s Cannes favorite RED ROCKET, starring Simon Rex as a pornstar who returns to his Texas hometown that barely tolerates him, the Centerpiece Presentation is Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s DRIVE MY CAR, and the Closing Night is Pablo Larrain’s SPENCER. Some additional standout titles include Robert Greene’s PROCESSION, a documentary about a group of survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests battle for justice, and Rhayne Vermette’s STE. ANNE, a drama that traces an allegorical reclamation of land through personal, symbolic, and historical sites.

“We’re honored to be introducing these titles to Memphis audiences,” said Indie Memphis Artistic Director Miriam Bale. “I’m confident many of these are classics that will be talked about for a long time to come. We aim to have a collection of films that is winnowed down to the best of year, and I think this line-up reflects that.”

The festival continues to feature live music performed in the theaters before every screening. The Black Creators Forum also returns for a fourth year, this time in a hybrid format, both online and with an outdoor in-person component. This festival programming continues to reflect diversity in all areas, with a special focus on films from the African Diaspora and Africa. Indie Memphis is privileged to present the North American premiere of JUJU STORIES, an anthology film from the Nigerian new wave cinema collective known as Surreal16, after its World Premiere at Locarno.

Additional upcoming announcements will include the Black Creators Forum program, virtual IndieTalks Panels, Live Music Lineup, and more.


2021 Indie Memphis Film Festival Slate
Alphabetical by Category

OPENING NIGHT

RED ROCKET (Dir. Sean Baker)

In a magnetic, live-wire performance, Simon Rex plays a pornstar who returns to his Texas hometown that barely tolerates him.

2021, 128 min, Drama, Theater


CENTERPIECE

DRIVE MY CAR (Dir. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi)

Adapted from a Haruki Murakami short story in which an aging actor can no longer drive, so he hires a quiet 20-year-old girl as his chauffeur.
2021, 179 min, Drama, Theater


CLOSING NIGHT

SPENCER (Dir. Pablo Larraín)

An imagining of one weekend in the life of Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart), as she spends the Christmas holiday with the royal family at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, and decides to leave her marriage to Prince Charles.
2021, 101 min, Drama, Theater


NARRATIVE COMPETITION

FERNY & LUCA (Dir. Andrew Infante) – WORLD PREMIERE

A look into the on-and-off relationship between Ferny, a sweet and naive pretty boy, and Luca, a rough and tumble disco queen, who is more concerned with chasing her dreams than chasing boys… mostly.
2021, 70 min, Drama, Theater/Virtual

JUJU STORIES (Dirs. Abba Makama, C.J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi, Michael Omonua) – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
A three-part anthology film exploring juju (magical) stories rooted in Nigerian folklore and urban legend, written and directed by the Nigerian new wave cinema collective known as Surreal16.
2021, 84 min, Drama/Fantasy/Horror

THE PILL (Dir. Franco Clarke) 
An African-American family indulges in the use of a secret pill that helps them cope with their day-to-day stressors of racism outside of their home.
2021, 81 min, Comedy, Theater/Virtual

WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR (Dir. Jane Schoenbrun) 
Reality and fantasy begin to blur when a teen immerses herself in a role-playing horror game online.
2021, 86 min, Drama/Horror, Theater/Virtual

QUEEN OF GLORY (Dir. Nana Mensah) 
Ghanaian-American Sarah is all set to abandon her Ivy League doctoral program to follow her married lover across the country. Her plans are derailed, however, when her mother’s sudden death leaves her the owner of a neighborhood bookshop in the Bronx.
2021, 75 min, Comedy/Drama, Theater


DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

LARRY FLYNT FOR PRESIDENT (Dir. Nadia Szold) 

Assembled from never before seen footage shot in 1983, this film documents controversial Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt’s unlikely bid for the White House after a gunman’s bullet left him partially paralyzed.
2021, 90 min, Documentary, Theater/Virtual

ONE OF OURS (Dir. Yasmine Mathurin) 
After a Haitian-born youth is racially profiled at an Indigenous basketball tournament, he wrestles with his shaken sense of belonging in his Indigenous adoptive family while attempting to heal from his past.
2021, 88 min, Documentary, Virtual/Theater

WE STILL HERE (Dir. Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi) 
An introduction to the incredible youth activists of Comerío, Puerto Rico, who navigate the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, a disaster that brought an unprecedented level of devastation to an island already in economic and political crisis.
2021, 100 min, Documentary, Virtual

YOU DON’T KNOW ME (Dir. Jon Kent) 
A documentary film about Tennessee death row inmate Abu-Ali ‘Abdur Rahman and the celebrated attorney and justice system that failed him following one of Nashville’s most notorious crimes.
2020, 100 min, Documentary, Theater/Virtual


NARRATIVE SPOTLIGHT

A CHIARA (Dir. Jonas Carpignano)

A 15-year-old girl doggedly searches for the truth behind her adored father’s sudden abandonment in Calabria.
2021, 121 min, Drama, Theater/Virtual

C’MON C’MON (Dir. Mike Mills) 
Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and his young nephew (Woody Norman) forge a tenuous but transformational relationship when they are unexpectedly thrown together in this delicate and deeply moving story about the connections between adults and children, the past and the future.
2021, 108 min, Drama, Theater

MEMORIA (Dir. Apichatpong Weerasethaku) 
From the extraordinary mind of Palme D’or winning director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and starring Academy Award-winner Tilda Swinton, comes a meditative mystery about a Scottish woman who begins experiencing a mysterious sensory syndrome while traversing the jungles of Colombia.
2021, 136 min, Drama, Theater

PETITE MAMAN (Dir. Céline Sciamma) 
8-year-old Nelly has just lost her beloved grandmother and is helping her parents clean out her mother’s childhood home. While exploring the surrounding woods where her mother used to play, she meets another little girl who seems eerily familiar. Nelly’s new friend takes her to a house that is a mirror of her own.
2021, 72 min, Drama, Theater/Virtual

I WAS A SIMPLE MAN (Dir. Christopher Makoto Yogi) 
As Masao (Steve Iwamoto) gets sicker, he is visited by ghosts of his past, including his wife, Grace (Constance Wu), who helps shepherd him into the beyond. Merging dream, family history, romantic period piece, all bridged by gently psychedelic observations of nature.
2021, 101 min, Drama, Virtual

SECRET SCREENING
One of the most daring and moving films of the year! You won’t want to miss this.
2021, 142 min, Theater


DOCUMENTARY SPOTLIGHT

ALIEN ON STAGE (Dirs. Danielle Kummer and Lucy Harvey) 

Bus Drivers from Dorset, England stage a homemade homage of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, with special effects needing “more luck than judgement.”
2021, 86 min, Documentary, Theater/Virtual

FLEE  (Dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen) 
Recounted mostly through animation to director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Amin Nawabi tells of his extraordinary journey as a child refugee from Afghanistan.
2021, 90 min, Documentary, Theater/Virtual

MAURICE HINES: BRING THEM BACK (Dir. John Carluccio) 
An intimate portrait of an outspoken showman who with humor and grace navigates the highs and lows of a seven-decade career, and a complex relationship with his superstar brother, Gregory Hines.
2021, 95 min, Documentary, Virtual

THE MUSHROOM SPEAKS (Dir. Marion Neumann) 
A film about the fungal reign explores the theme of renewal, and questions what connects us when the world seems to be falling apart.
2021, 89 min, Documentary, English, VirtuaL

SISTERS WITH TRANSISTORS (Dir. Lisa Rovner)
Beautifully narrated by Laurie Anderson, this documentary is about electronic music’s women pioneers, including Clara Rockmore, Daphne Oram, Bebe Barron, Pauline Oliveros, Delia Derbyshire, Maryanne Amacher, Eliane Radigue, Suzanne Ciani, and Laurie Spiegel.
2021, 86 min, Documentary, Virtual


DEPARTURES
Films That Depart from Expectations

BUNKER (Dir. Jenny Perlin) – WORLD PREMIERE

The debut feature film of renowned filmmaker Jenny Perlin investigates the lonely lives of American men who have decided to live in decommissioned military bunkers and nuclear missile silos, and follows the process of building and selling these structures to the wealthy and not-so-wealthy alike.
2021, 92 min, Documentary, Theater/Virtual

MANY FIRES THIS TIME WE THE 100 MILLION (Dir. Jason R.A. Foster)
A poetic docudrama about the 1 in 3 Americans living in economic insecurity. It follows the journey of poet and activist A Scribe Called Quess? as he connects with fellow activist poets and the communities they represent from Oakland to Chicago to Kentucky to his hometown of New Orleans.
2021, 70 min, Documentary, Virtual

NORTH BY CURRENT (Dir. Angelo Madsen Minax)
A family death spurs a first-person study on the nature of grief, time, and origins.
2021, 86 min, Documentary, Theater/Virtual

PROCESSION (Dir. Robert Greene)
A group of survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests battle for justice.
2021, 119 min, Documentary, Theater

STE. ANNE (Dir. Rhayne Vermette)
Shot over the course of two years, Ste. Anne traces an allegorical reclamation of land through personal, symbolic and historical sites all across Treaty 1 Territory, heartland of the Métis Nation.
2021, 80 min, Drama, Virtual


SOUNDS
Films That Celebrate Music

ELDER’S CORNER (Dir. Siji Awoyinka)

ELDER’S CORNER is a historical music documentary showcasing the lives and work of Nigeria’s pioneering musicians.
2021, 97 min, Documentary, Theater/VirtuaL

LISTENING TO KENNY G (Dir. Penny Lane) 
Penny Lane’s documentary takes a witty and provocative look at the easy-listening saxophonist’s story while asking: what makes music good or bad?
2021, 97 min, Documentary, Theater/Virtual

POLY STYRENE: I AM A CLICHE (Dirs. Celeste Bell and Paul Sng)
The life and work of X-Ray Spex singer-songwriter and punk icon Poly Styrene is explored by her daughter in this dynamic yet delicate personal film. There are also explorations of Styrene’s identity as a half-Somali woman in the largely white punk scene.
2021, 96 min, Documentary, Theater/Virtual

REZ METAL (Dir. Ashkan Soltani Stone)
A documentary about the metal band I Don’t Konform and the vibrant heavy metal scene throughout the Navajo reservation.
2021, 75 min, Documentary, Virtual


HOMETOWNER FEATURES
Films From Memphis Filmmakers

A BALLET SEASON (Dirs. David Goodman, Steven J. Ross)

A year in the life of Ballet Memphis, a southern dance organization dedicated to putting diversity on the stage while challenging preconceptions about regional ballet. This predominantly observational documentary follows the many individuals and artists who collaborate together as a community over the course of a dizzying pre-pandemic season (2018-2019).
2021, 56 min, Documentary, Theater/Virtual

THE LUCKY ELEVEN (Dir. George Tillman)
A group of eleven young men from the south side of Memphis began their journey in Jr High and made their way to the NFL.
2021, 66 min, Documentary, Theater/Virtual

KILLER (Dir. A.D. Smith, 90 min)
After a pandemic strikes the nation, ten friends decide to quarantine under the same roof. Unfortunately, one of them is a killer.
2021, Horror, Theater/Virtual

LIFE AIN’T LIKE THE MOVIES (Dir. Robert Butler)
An awkward 16 year old black teen comes of age and learns about love, bullying, tragedy and how to connect to his father who he’s extremely different from.
2021, Drama, Theater/Virtual

REEL ROCK: BLACK ICE (Dirs. Peter Mortimer & Zachary Barr)
A crew of aspiring ice climbers from the Memphis Rox gym travels to the frozen wilds of Montana, where mentors Manoah Ainuu, Conrad Anker and Fred Campbell share their love of winter adventure in the mountains.
2021, 45 min, Virtual/Theater


REVIVALS/ RESTORATIONS

CHAMELEON STREET (Dir. Wendell B. Harris Jr.)

In this seminal work in African-American independent film, William Douglas Street is bored with his life. Working for his father is getting to him, his wife wants more money, and he’s had enough. His solution is to re-invent himself. He becomes a chameleon, taking on whatever role suits the situation.
1989, 94 min, Comedy/Drama, Theater 

DEEP BLUES (Dir. Robert Mugge)
Music critic Robert Palmer narrates the insightful story of Delta blues and North Mississippi hill country blues.
1992, 91 min, Documentary, Theater

RADIO ON (Dir. Chris Petit)
Set in 1970’s Britain, a man drives from London to Bristol to investigate his brother’s death. The purpose of his trip is offset by his encounters with a series of odd people.
1979, 104 min, Drama, Theater


SPECIAL SCREENING
Don Meyers Memorial Retrospective

A collection of some of the notable films by actor, filmmaker, artist, and Memphis legend, Don Meyers.
2021, 180 min, Theater

Review: ‘South of Heaven’ showcases Jason Sudeikis in a new way.

SOUTH OF HEAVEN

SYNOPSIS: After serving twelve years for armed robbery, Jimmy gets an early parole. Upon his release from prison he vows to give Annie, his childhood love, now dying from cancer, the best year of her life. The best last year of her life. If only life were that simple.


South Of Heaven is a film that takes many unexpected turns from drama to crime thriller. Newly released from prison, Jimmy makes good on a promise to long time girlfriend, Annie. He wants to marry her before she passes from cancer, live a clean life, and then figure it out from there. Obstacles get in his way at every turn. South Of Heaven proves the old saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Frankly, that’s only half of it.

Mike Colter, known to me as the glorious Luke Cage, is as commanding as ever. He plays Whit Price with an even amount of villain and softness. Evangeline Lilly plays Annie with a grace and ease that is beautiful to watch. She’s got a sass that slowly reveals itself. She’s truly wonderful. The chemistry between Lilly and Sudeikis is overflowing with genuine adoration.

Jason Sudeikis‘s work in Tumbledown led me to realize the extent of his talent. I’d been so used to seeing him make me laugh on SNL that I never expected for him to make me cry in such a drastically different role. As Jimmy Ray, his earnest and quiet charm reel you in and make you feel incredibly comfortable. What we learn along the way is what a badass he is. Not in a showy, John Wick kind of way, but as a man desperate to keep a lifelong, and literal, blood oath to Annie. It’s a surprising performance.

The film, as a whole, is uneven. Part of me believes this would fair far better in series form. The beginning is a slow-burn relationship story. The upside of that is our genuine investment in the love between Jimmy and Annie. When the crime element appears, you think you know where this is going. Suddenly, we are thrown an extreme curveball halfway through. The final 30 minutes is another entirely new act. It’s a darkness I did not see coming. If you can get comfortable being uncomfortable, South Of Heaven will be right up your alley.


RLJE Films will release SOUTH OF HEAVEN in theaters and on VOD and Digital on Oct. 8, 2021.


Directed by Aharon Keshales (Big Bad Wolves), he co-wrote the film with Kai Mark and Navot Papushado (Gunpowder Milkshake). The film stars Jason Sudeikis (“Ted Lasso,” Colossal”), Evangeline Lilly (Ant-Man, Avengers: Endgame), Mike Colter (Extinction, Girls Trip), and Shea Whigham (Joker, F9).


Grimmfest (2021) capsule review: ‘Seagull’ captivates with deep trauma.

SEAGULL

After 8 years survival on a beach, Rose returns to her home town to settle unfinished business.


A portrait of mental health, gaslighting, and abuse, Seagull exposes one family’s dark secrets. The script is a slow-burn mystery with a creative, physical manifestation of grief and betrayal. Rose has exiled herself for eight years; her family disowned her. As the plot reveals itself, this dysfunctional family unit must confront its part. While I predicted the overall arc, this does not lessen the emotional impact of writer-director Peter Blach‘s choices. The best performances come from Gabrielle Sheppard as Rose and Adam Radcliffe as Geoff. Sheppard gives power to Rose. Her vulnerability and strength shine off the screen. With James Abbott and Blach’s script, Radcliffe is allowed to play the entire spectrum of emotions. He is terrifying. The cinematography by Rami Bartholdy is breathtaking. The film gets under your skin and lingers there. Seagull has an ending so satisfying, Grimmfest audiences will get their catharsis, and in true genre fashion.




Grimmfest (2021) review: ‘The Free Fall’ lands a win with unexpected storytelling.

THE FREE FALL

Sara wakes from a coma to a life she doesn’t remember; a fragile, slippery reality that spirals into a nightmare where nothing is as it seems.


Boasting a bloody good opening, Adam Stillwell‘s The Free Fall is brimming with sinister intent. The set is a genre fan’s funhouse. During the title sequence, the camera explores the rooms with sweeping POV shots, placing the viewer on a haunting tour of the space. The house is vast, dark wood from ceiling to floor, art, and jewel-toned furnishings create both a warm and eerie feel. You know this house, and you anticipate evil in its halls.

Shawn Ashmore and Andrea Londo have a chemistry that remains at arm’s length. Londo plays Sarah with an overwhelming sense of anxiety shared openly with the audience. She commands with her innocence. Shawn Ashmore, as Nick, is cocksure and manipulative. There’s something off about his behavior. Ashmore makes you just as uncomfortable as Sarah. His commitment to the arc of Nick’s character is awesome.

Screenwriter Kent Harper‘s use of gaslighting and genre tropes keeps the audience guessing. You’ll need to understand what the hell is happening. There is a dinner party scene that has a cultish overtone. The transitions in this scene, score in particular, change the dynamic of the entire film. From that moment on, theories will wrack your brain. You will not see where this is going. When all is said and done, The Free Fall is a twisty mindfuck.



[Available October 16, 2021, 1:30 – 11:30 PM] Watch now online…


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


 

TIFF 2021 review: ‘THE WHEEL’ is a raw portrait of devotion.

THE WHEEL

Synopsis: 

Albee and Walker, a young couple on the brink of divorce, rent a mountain getaway to save their fledgling marriage. Before long, their personal drama creates tension between their newly engaged AirBnB hosts — Ben & Carly — leaving us to wonder if either couples’ relationships will survive the weekend.


When you’re in love, real-world consequences and logic quickly fall by the wayside. Add in trauma to that sequence, and almost all bets are off. TIFF 2021 audiences got to ride an emotional rollercoaster, or perhaps, in this case, a literal Ferris Wheel. The film focuses on an attempt to repair the marriage of Albee and Walker. In doing so, Ben and Carly confront issues lurking within their impending nuptials. As secrets are revealed, reality comes knocking.

Nelson Lee, as Ben, gives us a slick, and a tad aloof, performance. He’s the backboard we need for Albee’s ceaseless attitude. Trent Atkinson‘s smart script allows Lee to play many sides of a perfectly flawed man. Bethany Anne Lind, as Carly, is the bright savior figure. Lind wears her heart on her sleeve in an attempt to get to the root of her guests’ issues. Perhaps, to her own relationship’s detriment. Amber Midthunder plays Albee with a fire that is accosting. Breaking through her wall is precarious and revealing. Midthunder walks a thin line between entitled Gen Zer and trauma survivor. You’ll be captivated by her interactions with every cast member. Taylor Gray breathes life into Walker. His vulnerability drives this story like a freight train. He’s so committed to making Albee and Walker’s relationship work. Their pain is palpable. Gray evokes a visceral response. I could not fathom someone being so unequivocally devoted to what appears to be a toxic relationship.

There’s an honesty to this script that will be a gut-punch for viewers. It will undoubtedly force you to confront your relationships. Atkinson wrote the characters of Albee and Ben to have more similarities than at first glance. He did the same with Carly and Walker, creating engrossing dynamics. There are some profound moments between these cast members. Their overall chemistry is the stuff of dreams. Ignoring all else in THE WHEEL, the final scene is one 10 plus minute take of raw emotion. It is the culmination of everything we think we know and we watch as Gray and Midthunder process those feelings in real-time. I hope people take notice of this feat. It’s a bold and beautiful choice by director Steve Pink. I think it pays off in spades as an extraordinary catharsis.


 

THE WHEEL — Directed by Steve Pink | Written by Trent Atkinson

Contemporary World Cinema — Acquisition

Produced by Amber Midthunder, Taylor Gray, Steve Pink, Josh Jason, Molly Gilula

Executive Produced by Josh Jason, Jeremy Hartman

Starring Amber Midthunder, Taylor Gray, Nelson Lee, Bethany Anne Lind, Kevin Pasdon


Review: ‘BEST SELLERS’ shares the beauty between truth and fiction.

BEST SELLERS

Lucy Standbridge (Aubrey Plaza) has inherited her father’s publishing house, and the ambitious would-be editor has nearly sunk it with failing titles. She discovers she is owed a book by Harris Shaw (Michael Caine), a reclusive, cantankerous, booze-addled author who originally put the company on the map decades earlier. In a last-ditch effort to save the company, Lucy and Harris release his new book and embark on a book tour from hell that changes them both in ways they didn’t expect.


Aubrey Plaza plays against type as Lucy. She’s a type-A editor on the verge of bankruptcy. She’s got a lot to prove. On the surface, this is the least brooding role she’s ever played. Unsurprisingly, that’s all a rouse, and Plaza is up for the challenge. Lucy is given a beautiful arch. Her backstory, like Harris’, is slowly revealed. This allows us to fall in love with both of these characters. Sir Michael Caine gives one of his career’s best performances. As curmudgeonly and reclusive writer Hariss Shaw, he has settled into a lifetime of secrets and sadness. At times, Caine is raucous and crass. Others, he is docile and pensive. The chemistry between Plaza and Caine feels like an honest-to-God mentorship onscreen. This is generational genius, and we are the witnesses.

Voracious readers will connect with this script. The film flows like a novel with its complex characters and ever-evolving nuance. The screenplay unfolds in three distinct chapters, befitting the subjects and full story. Both Lucy and Harris straddle the line between saving face and redemption. The passages from Harris’ fictional work touched my soul. I could feel my chest well up hearing them read by average folks along the book tour. By the finale of Best Sellers, I was in full tears. The totality of Anthony Greico‘s award-winning script has so much heart. It’s incredibly cathartic. These two people were meant to change each other. The messaging of identity and grief are undeniable. In the words of Harris Shaw himself, “Be brief, be brave, be truthful. ” Director Lina Roessler has done just that. Best Sellers is not to be missed.


Available In Theaters & On-Demand
This Friday, September 17, 2021


Starring:
Sir Michael Caine (The Dark Knight, The Prestige)
Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed, “Parks and Rec”)
Ellen Wong (Scott Pilgrim vs the World, “GLOW”)
Scott Speedman (Underworld, The Strangers)
Cary Elwes (“Stranger Things”, The Princess Bride)

Directed by Lina Roessler (Little Whispers: The Vow, Mustard Seed)

Written by Anthony Greico the screenplay won a 2015 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting Award

Gala Presentation – 2021 Berlinale Film Festival


TIFF 2021 review: ‘ALL MY PUNY SORROWS’ is a soulful navigation of familial darkness.

ALL MY PUNY SORROWS

Based on the international best-selling novel by Miriam Toews, All My Puny Sorrows is the poignant story of two sisters-one a concert pianist obsessed with ending her life, the other, a writer, who in wrestling with this decision, makes profound discoveries about her herself.


Depression, religion, and feminism uniquely intersect in All My Puny Sorrows. Flooded with grief and emotion, two sisters are forced to confront their devastating past and come to terms with the inevitable future. Yoli is a writer steeped in her own perceived mediocrity and exists in the shadow of her renowned concert pianist sister. Elf has money, a supportive husband, and fame. Not yet recovered from their father’s suicide, she is determined to take her own life, with or without Yoli’s assistance. Two different paths emerge from the same childhood experiences. Is it too late to save each other?

Director Michael McGowan‘s screenplay pays full tribute to novelist Miriam Toews‘ original text by keeping these characters unapologetically demonstrative and smart. The film swiftly takes an ax to the patriarchal religious structure. That’s really the smallest part of deconstructing preconceived notions in this story. All My Puny Sorrows is about the reclamation of power and what that looks and feels like for each of the Von Riesen family members: dad included. Well-read audiences may connect on a different level. Ironically, the heavy literary aspect might also be the film’s downfall, with some viewers unable to discern between quotes and original dialogue. It will either win or lose audiences in its verbosity. I’m hoping that’s not the case, as those moments are akin to poetry.

Amybeth McNulty, who I adored as the titular character in Netflix’s Anna With an E, shows us a completely different side of her nature. She plays Yoli’s unfiltered teen daughter. She’s an exceptional scene partner for Alison Pill. Mare Winningham, as matriarch Lottie, is a spark plug. The no-nonsense, tongue-in-cheek way of communicating is refreshing and funny. Sarah Gadon, as Elf, is determined to convince Yoli to assist in her suicide. Gadon is soft, resolute, and somehow totally powerful. Alison Pill plays Yoli with the fierceness she deserves. She’s a writer with grand notions of rescue, and yet also a pragmatic understanding of the familial darkness. Her sporadic narration gives us insight into their Mennonite upbringing. Pill’s vulnerability and volatility make All My Puny Sorrows a massive success. The nuance of this performance is captivating. Gadon and Pill’s scenes are electric. There is a palpable sense of sadness and honesty in this film that will surely be a gut-punch for many. People will be talking about this one.


You can find out more about TIFF 2021 at

https://www.tiff.net/

Review: ‘Small Engine Repair’ Explores Toxic Masculinity with Thrilling Effect.

SMALL ENGINE REPAIR

Frankie (John Pollono), Swaino (Jon Bernthal), and Packie (Shea Wigham) are lifelong friends who share a love of the Red Sox, rowdy bars, and Frankie’s teenaged daughter Crystal (Ciara Bravo). But when Frankie invites his pals to a whiskey-fueled evening and asks them to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore, events spin wildly out of control. Based on Pollono’s award-winning play, Small Engine Repair is a pitch-black comedic drama with a wicked twist and a powerful exploration of brotherhood, class struggle, and toxic masculinity.


Frankie (John Pollono), Swaino (Jon Bernthal), and Packie (Shea Whigham) are working-class men that share a friendship bond going back to childhood. That bond is strengthened further by their co-parenting of Frankie’s beloved daughter Crystal, who has spent a lifetime being raised by a loving– if raucous– male collective. This sets the scene for a fascinating character study of a group of men raised in a culture steeped in toxic masculinity who struggle to push back against it but often fall incredibly short. 

At first, Small Engine Repair seems like a dark family drama with a comedic edge. However, it is not until the second act that the viewer realizes that they are in the midst of a thriller. Complex performances by the entire cast gradually build tension through sharp looks, quick words, and complicated histories until the atmosphere on screen is so thick with menace that suddenly, every word and movement is a threat. It is hard to say more without giving away the shocking twists that a seemingly ordinary whiskey-fueled night in a garage would unleash. So instead, I will say that the tightly directed and brilliantly acted Small Engine Repair had me holding my breath through the finale.


In Theaters September 10, 2021


Written and Directed by

John Pollono

Starring: Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham, Jordana Spiro, John Pollono, Ciara Bravo, Spencer House