Review: Thought-provoking doc ‘Life & Life’ is coming to New Hope Film Festival next Friday.

LIFE & LIFE

Synopsis:

NC Helkin’s LIFE & LIFE, which just won Best Documentary at the Brooklyn Film Festival, tracks the journey that musician Reggie Austin takes to redeem his life following a murder conviction 40 years ago. With surprising honesty and depth, the film looks at Austin’s effect on his fellow inmates at San Quentin and his efforts to reconnect with his family, as well as questioning parole and sentencing practices through his story. Ultimately, the film reveals the steep and dangerous hill ex-prisoners must climb upon release to free themselves and create a positive future. LIFE & LIFE is a story of the struggle for redemption and hope against near-impossible odds, accompanied by a soundtrack that comes straight from Austin’s heart.

Professional musician and convicted murderer. Two strikingly different resume items that Reggie Austin carries daily. In NC Helkin’s documentary Life & Life, after serving 35 years in prison for murder, Reggie Austin navigates life back on the outside. We watch his journey as he attempts to successfully balance work and the rebuilding of familial relationships. His grace is startling. His talent is undeniable. His advocacy is inspiring. The film consists of a genuinely effective combination of sit-down interviews, archival records, and Reggie’s musical stylings. Parole board transcripts give us a peek inside the complexities of releasing someone from prison. The editing of this particular section of the film deserves an award. It adds a dynamic and intentional rhythm.

But, Life & Life is not solely the story of one man. It’s a film that tackles the nuanced reach for systematic change within the prison industrial complex. It specifically addresses the “Three Strike Law” and its effects on so many still behind bars. It injects humanity into an oftentimes brushed aside section of the population. Reggie Austin is a success story. It’s not one we hear often, but I’m grateful we’re hearing it now. Life & Life is a lot of things. It’s frustrating, it’s joyful, and it’s artistic. It’s a lesson in compassion and redemption for not only Reggie but the audience as well.


NC Heikin’s Award-winning LIFE & LIFE

Screens at

2021 New Hope Film Festival (Philadelphia) JULY 30

Friday, July 30 at New Hope Arts Center (2A Stockton Ave.) Tickets are available at: https://www.goelevent.com/NewHopeFilmFestival/e/LifeLife.


Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival

Monday, August 9 at MV Performing Arts Center (100 Edgartown Vineyard Haven Road) Tickets available at: https://www.mvaaff.com/tickets/


Review: ‘HERE AFTER’ is lengthy but lovely soulmate story.

HERE AFTER

A struggling actor, Michael, dies right after a bad breakup, awakening to a singles Purgatory where he must find his soul mate in order to cross over to the other side. With limited time to find true love among other recently deceased single New Yorkers, Michael must navigate the new customs of a ghostly dating life…as if dating in New York wasn’t hard enough already. When he meets the woman of his dreams, who happens to be alive, Michael must figure out how to cheat the system to cross over with her.

Andy Karl stars as Michael, a recently deceased, narcissistic actor who takes the idea of love for granted. When forced to find his soulmate, things get more complicated than he ever imagined possible. Finding a woman he connects with that happens to be alive makes for quite the twist. There are a lot of dynamic ideas in Here After, but its runtime drags the film down. It has some GHOST similarities, including a surprisingly dark edge I was not expecting in the least. The brightest moments come in two forms. First, the genuine chemistry between Andy Karl and his love interest Nora Arnezeder. She will charm any viewer with a single glance. Her nonchalance and likeability are gold. Karl, who I adore from his work on Broadway, is equally strong. He is the perfect balance of tenacious, fumbling, and vulnerable. Arnezeder’s and his down-to-earth dialogue makes this relationship fun and relatable. These are winning scenes.
Christina Ricci is our other shining star. Each appearance puts a smile on your face. She has this innate presence about her. Ricci’s character could be a separate script, entirely. The mood changed drastically whenever she and Karl shared the screen. Writer-director Harry Greenberger had the opportunity to lighten the overall tone with a more upbeat score and tighter editing. I absolutely appreciate the risk in including an aspect of danger. It undoubtedly kept me on my toes. While the climax had a plot hole or two, I’ll give Here After a pass in this category for its beautiful message and authenticity.


Vertical Entertainment will release HERE AFTER On Demand everywhere on July 23, 2021.

HERE AFTER stars Christina Ricci, Andy Karl, Nora Arnezeder, Jackie Cruz, and Michael Rispoli. It was written and directed by Harry Greenberger and produced by Greenberger and Carmine Famiglietti. The film has a running time of 121 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA. HERE AFTER features the brand new original song “Mysteries of Life” sung by Debbie Harry.


Review: ‘Midnight in the Switchgrass’ squandered series potential.

Two FBI agents cross paths with Crawford, a Florida cop who’s investigating a string of murders that appear to be related. When an undercover sting goes horribly wrong, Crawford soon finds himself in a twisted game of cat and mouse with the killer.

This story might have fared better as a miniseries. In fact, I know it would have. With all the makings of a True Detective style, cliffhanger-filled crime-thriller, nothing quite pans out in a completely satisfying manner. Even at just shy of an hour and 40-minute runtime, there is a ton of missed opportunity and information that would have pushed Midnight in the Switchgrass into greatness territory. As it stands, it’s a bit of a rushed and disconnected mess.

The soundtrack does not help. It feels forced and somehow creates a hokey feel. The editing, particularly surrounding Emile Hirsch‘s flashes, creates a perception that you’re missing some greater storyline. It’s simply unnecessary. There are moments when the acting is so over the top it’s nonsensical. Each character needed more time to develop. We hear about their pasts only briefly. This is yet another example of where further serial development would benefit the entire narrative.

Bruce Willis is underutilized. He could have been any actor playing that role. Megan Fox wavers between totally believable and taken for granted. It’s her stunts that read fake, which is a tad baffling because we know she’s capable of action stardom. I’m not sure who to blame here. In her most recent film, Till Death, 50% of the performance is based on physicality and she owned that role. Emile Hirsch is genuinely fantastic. This is the second time this month he’s played a cop, the first being Son. That role suits him well. Lukas Haas is as terrifying as we need him to be. He, too, deserved more backstory. This is a character that’s so disturbing, but we merely get glimpses of how his mind works. He’s so strong, I would watch an entirely separate prequel going through his origin story. Midnight in the Switchgrass succeeds in Hirsch and Haas.

Lionsgate will release the thriller MIDNIGHT IN THE SWITCHGRASS in Theaters, On Demand, and Digital on July 23, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on July 27, 2021.

MIDNIGHT IN THE SWITCHGRASS stars Megan Fox (Transformers franchise), Bruce Willis (Glass), Emile Hirsch (Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood), Lukas Haas (Inception), Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly) (The Dirt), Caitlin Carmichael (Life Itself) and Sistine Stallone (47 Meters Down: Uncaged). The film is the directorial debut of Randall Emmett (Producer of The Irishman) and the screenwriting debut of writer Alan Horsnail.

NBFF 21 review: ‘The Witches Of The Orient’ is an ace.

THE WITCHES OF THE ORIENT

Textile workers are transformed into an Olympic level volleyball team by their coach, whose unconventional techniques emphasize speed and aggression. The team has a record-setting winning streak and a triumph in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

THE WITCHES OF THE ORIENT manages to simultaneously be exhilarating and endearing. The film is a multimedia celebration of an unforgettable group of women who worked tirelessly for victory and pride. The film works its way through intimate sit-down interviews with team members, now in their 70s, to recreate the journey to the 1964 Olympics. These extraordinary women worked diligently under a coach that was deemed harsh and unconventional. To hear them speak about it now, they saw things very differently. They had respect and adoration for a man who took a chance on a group of women who had the weight of their country’s honor on their shoulders.

The soundtrack is incredible. Even though you know the outcome of the final game, watching the tape makes your palms sweat and your heart race. You’ll stand up, cheer, and cry happy tears alongside the team. It’s simply inevitable. The film could not be more relevant as we roll into this year’s Tokyo Olympics. This team paved the way for female athletes to defy the masses. While it continues to be an uphill battle of sexism and controversy for today’s athletes, The Japanese Volleyball Team in 1964 owned their naysayers. Director Julien Faraut gave NBFF 21 audiences a history lesson that charmed the pants off of audiences.

Review: ‘Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes’ debuts parts 3 & 4 tonight on HBO & HBO MAX

Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes, a six-part, half-hour documentary series, brings to life Ronan Farrow’s intimate, revealing interviews with whistleblowers, journalists, private investigators and other sources, conducted for the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s podcast and best-selling book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and A Conspiracy to Protect Predators.

Directed by Emmy-winners Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (HBO’s Carrie Fisher: Wishful Drinking), the series expands on the podcast and book with never-before-seen footage and new insights into this culture-shaking story. Interviews are interwoven with additional sound and imagery from documents, audiotapes, photos, archive footage, and illustrations. With fresh perspectives and detail — not just on the harrowing effort to expose one powerful predator, but on the systems that help cover up terrible crimes to this day — the series presents new revelations in the reporting on one of Hollywood’s most ungettable stories.

Reporters Ken Auletta and Kim Masters explore the roadblocks that stalled their years-long quests to expose Weinstein.​

Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes is set during a period of recent history when the world seemed unrelentingly bleak. The documentary demonstrates that even during those dark times, however, courageous individuals worked hard to expose the truth for the sake of justice.

Throughout six 30-minute episodes, Ronan Farrow guides viewers through a complex web of conspirators fighting against his journalistic investigation into the “open secret” of Harvey Weinstein’s rape offenses. While many may be familiar with the outlines of the case, like the many credible allegations of abuse and how Farrow’s New Yorker story helped trigger the #MeToo movement, the documentary focuses on many lesser-known aspects of the saga. 

Model Ambra Gutierrez reveals the high-stakes police sting operation that captured a chilling admission from Harvey Weinstein – and her plan to preserve the evidence after authorities declined to prosecute.

Each episode in the series uncovers a new layer in a complex web of protection, manipulation, and gentlemen’s agreements that Harvey and others have relied on to shield them from critique and consequences for decades. The thesis of this project is clear: Society should not be content with the conviction of high profile men like Harvey Weinstein alone. Instead, we must dismantle the complicit power structures that allowed Harvey Weinstein’s abuses to continue for years without repercussions. Farrow makes clear that media companies, attorneys, and literal spies worked together to shield powerful men from criminal prosecution and public contempt. 

Although I intended only to watch the first two installments, I ended up binging the rest of them in a single afternoon. Every chapter in the series is intriguing, closing on a cliffhanger that compels you to roll into the next. 

It is said that the arc of the universe bends towards justice. Although there is still a long way to go, Catch and Kill instills a sense of hope that perhaps many of the traditional systems of power that have kept bad men on top for generations are more tenuous now than they have been before.

The documentary series debuted on HBO & HBO MAX with two back-to-back episodes MONDAY, JULY 12(9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT), with new episodes airing back-to-back subsequent Mondays at the same time.

 

Review: ‘Dachra’ takes a familiar formula and annihilates it.

DACHRA

An investigation into witchcraft leads a trio of journalism students to a mysterious town marked by sinister rituals. Inspired by true events.

Dachra‘s initial formula is similar to The Blair Witch Project. Soon going off the rails into something we’d never imagined experiencing. What sets this film apart is remarkable cinematography and ghastly twists and turns. The runtime is lengthy but necessary to place you inside the shoes and minds of our three protagonists. Being thrown into a new culture is oftentimes shocking and uncomfortable. Dachra takes discomfort to the next level. The script forces the viewer to endure a deranged and prolonged experience of hospitality. As the mystery grows, so too does the terror. So many questions swirl as the film progresses. This isn’t just one story. Dachra has franchise potential, with sequels and prequels possible.

Sometimes a film has the ability to sear an image into your brain. It’s rare when one film does it over and over.  Hatem Nechi‘s camerawork is both dizzying and hypnotic. The long takes are impressive and eerily effective. There is real movie magic in Dachra. I am scarred by some of the things I saw. Performances are nuanced and skin-crawling. The practical fx are gag-inducing. The fact that this is writer-director Abdelhamid Bouchnak‘s first film is mindblowing. This story is very carefully curated to scare the hell out of the audience.  It’s the perfect storm of horror and history.

Dachra | Dekanalog US Trailer from Dekanalog on Vimeo.

DACHRA opens in theatres and virtual cinemas nationwide on Friday, July 9th.

DACHRA is written and directed by Abdelhamid Bouchnak and stars Yasmine Dimassi, Aziz Jbali, Bilel Slatnia, Hela Ayed, Hedi Majri, Rahri Rahali.

Color
Arabic Language with English Subtitles
114 minutes
Not Rated

Review: ‘DOWNEAST’ is wicked authentic.

Downeast dives into the often-ignored seedy underbelly of Maine, following Emma Maddox as she returns to her hometown, haunted by the mysterious death of her brother Mikey years ago. As she reconnects with his best friend Tommy, the two rekindle their flame and Emma begins to uncover the web of lies the town has been keeping. Will Emma get the closure she so desperately seeks, or fall victim to the town’s turbulent ways?

As a New Englander born and bred, I know where my loyalty lies. New England is comprised of small coastal town charm and great regional food. More importantly, it has an unmistakable attitude that lies somewhere between territorially standoffish and genuinely friendly. Like every small town, secrets can easily keep the locals at arm’s length or connected for life. DOWNEAST is a fantastic example of that very idea. While I grew up in Connecticut and now reside in NYC, Maine is in my blood on my father’s side. I’ve seen things, and as an adult, I understand more than I care to. DOWNEAST‘s success lies within its authenticity and smart writing. You can thank director Joe Raffa and lead actor Greg Finely for that. This crime drama has everything you want; murder, revenge, and redemption. The slow introduction of the history of each character makes for a beautiful build-up of suspense.

Performances are top-notch. Greg Finley as Tommy manages to be both powerful and sympathetic all at once. There is a familiarity to his entire being that puts the audience at ease. Dylan Silver as Emma has an inspired tenacity that makes her a gorgeous foil for Finley. DOWNEAST could almost be considered an ensemble film. While the entire cast is incredibly solid, I feel compelled to mention one actor in particular. Kirk Fox‘s performance as Marty provides the much-needed levity to a heavy-handed storyline. He’s a star.

Gravitas Ventures and APS Films have announced the Digital HD and cable VOD release of Joe Raffa’s DOWNEAST will be available July 13th on a number of digital and cable platforms, including iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, Comcast, Spectrum, and Cox.

Downeast was produced by APS Films and directed by Joe Raffa, who wrote a script based on a story by Maine native Greg Finley. Finley produced alongside Cory Pyke.  Edwin Pendleton Stevens served as executive producer.

Downeast had its world premiere at the Garden State Film Festival in March, kicking off a screening tour across North America. The film has taken home a number of awards including Best Director and Best Actor at Worldfest Houston and Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor at the Montreal Independent Film Festival. Downeast screened at the Beverly Hills Film Festival, the Phoenix Film Festival, and the Show Low Film Festival.

Review: ‘Love Type D’ is charming and unexpected.

 

Bad news. Being unlucky in love is genetic.

 How can someone love you yesterday and not today? Shortly after her boyfriend sends his 12-year-old brother to break the news that she’s dumped, Frankie Browne discovers that she has a loser in love gene. Every man she goes out with will inevitably break up with her. Facing a lifetime of romantic failure, Frankie turns to the only genetics expert she knows: her former nemesis, Wilbur, a schoolboy science prodigy. Wilbur develops a maverick theory to reverse her romantic fortunes that sets into motion an unexpected and comic journey into Frankie’s past of questionable romantic choices.

Love Type D is a quirky and completely unexpected romcom. With a mixture of flashbacks and impressive ingenuity, Frankie figures she has nothing left to lose in love. Taking the advice of 12-year-old Wilbur throws her life into chaos. But it’s all in the name of finally understanding herself and the patterns of heartbreak. Wrangling in co-workers with similar relationship woes, Frankie becomes bolder than she ever thought possible. Love Type D is anything but the typical romcom. The script, by director Sasha Collington, is endlessly fun. Maeve Dermody skillfully plays upon Frankie’s eccentricities to make her genuinely loveable. This gives the film a solid Bridget Jone’s Diary vibe. But Love Type D easily stands on its own two left feet. Dermody is pure delight.  Even though Oliver Farnworth is on the poster with Dermody, it’s the performance from Rory Stroud as Wilbur that makes this film magic. His delivery of Collington’s dialogue is like watching a 45-year-old man inside a 12-year-old’s body. He is simply darling. If he’s not cast in every single upcoming British film, I’ll be flabbergasted. He’s a star.

OPENING ON-DEMAND EVERYWHERE

ON JULY 9, 2021

LOVE TYPE D stars Maeve Dermody, Rory Stroud, Oliver Farnworth, and Tovah Feldshuh.

It was written and directed by first-time filmmaker Sasha Collington.

The film has a running time of 94 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA.  Vertical Entertainment will release LOVE TYPE D On Demand everywhere on July 9, 2021.

Review: ‘Till Death’ kills it with the ball and chain metaphor.


Presents

TILL DEATH

Emma (Megan Fox) is stuck in a stale marriage to Mark and is surprised when he whisks her away to their secluded lake house for a romantic evening on their 10th anniversary. But everything soon changes, and Emma finds herself trapped and isolated in the dead of winter, the target of a plan that gets more sinister at every turn.

Till Death is a creative story about abuse, control, and reclaiming your voice. The film stars Megan Fox as Emma. She has been held emotionally captive by her abusive and powerful husband for 11 years. Their marital turmoil reaches new heights when a weekend getaway develops into physical captivity, with a side of heist and murder. Fox is great. The small moments of both recoil and challenge establish their dynamic, making for an uncomfortable watch. The physicality of this role is only half the battle. You cannot help but watch and yell at the screen alongside her. I think, “Son of a bitch!” came out of my mouth a lot. If I can be picky for a moment, I don’t think Fox’s character is given enough time to transition from submissive to badass, but that doesn’t lessen how enjoyable Till Death ultimately is. She gives a visceral performance.

It’s a harrowing script. The tension is constantly being ratcheted up. I was not expecting such a cat and mouse game when it first began. It’s the ingenuity that grabs you. I was genuinely surprised by Jason Carvey‘s screenplay. It’s undeniably clever, gruesome, infuriating, and fun. Till Death is essentially the worst anniversary scavenger hunt ever. (Which is actually the best compliment.)

Available In Theaters And On Demand July 2

Starring Megan Fox (Jennifer’s Body)
Co-staring Callan Mulvey (Russo Brothers’ upcoming The Gray Man), Eoin Macken (George RR Martin’s Nightflyers), Aml Ameen (HBO’s “I May Destroy You”)
and Jack Roth (Medici)
Directed by S.K. Dale 
Screenplay by Jason Carvey 

Review: ‘Too Late’ takes the appetite for success to the next level.

TOO LATE

This cozy horror comedy set in the Los Angeles indie comedy scene features Violet Fields who works a thankless job as the assistant to Bob Devore, famed comedian and host of the live variety show, Too Late. But what only Violet knows is that Bob is a monster both literally and figuratively. Resigned to her fate, Violet is caught by surprise when she meets aspiring comedian Jimmy Rhodes and sparks fly. But as her feelings for Jimmy grow and Bob starts to doubt her loyalty, she and Jimmy could end up as Bob’s next meal.
Violet toils away curating her smaller comedy show all while taking the abuse of her boss, Bob. Taking back control is the name of the game, but things get a bit messy along the way. Bob Devore, whose name (I’m assuming) is intentionally close to the word “devour,” is the accomplished late-night figurehead on the comedy scene in L.A. He’s a real monster of a boss. No, like, he’s an actual monster. Under his thumb and in the shadow of his longstanding career, Violet longs to cut ties and make her own way. When love unexpectedly arrives, she must navigate everyone’s appetite for success and take matters into her own hands.
Too Late really digs into the idea that Hollywood is an all-consuming industry. Alyssa Limperis as Violet has that “seasoned pilot actress just waiting to hit it big” kind of energy. She’s a damn natural and I want to see much more of her in the future. Her chemistry with Ron Lynch is sheer perfection. His smarmy, oftentimes flat-out gross, glad-handing demeanor catapults this entire narrative. One of the funniest things about Too Late is the fact that it could be a franchise based on Devore’s origin story. He cannot be the only monster lurking. You could do an entire riff on agents and vampires. That’s comedy gold. The possibilities are endless. On the condition that you bring Limperis back into the fray, of course. With stand-up not only as a major plot point but using actual sets to keep the laughs going, Too Late is a breezy, sometimes gross, definitely unique film. Also, anything with Fred Armisen gets my eyes on it.

 

OPENING IN SELECT THEATERS & ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS ON JUNE 25
STARRING ALYSSA LIMPERIS, RON LYNCH, WILL WELDON, MARY LYNN RAJSKUB, & FRED ARMISEN
TOO LATE is the debut feature film from director D.W. Thomas and writer Tom Becker. It stars Alyssa Limperis (Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun), Ron Lynch (Bob’s Burgers, Adventure Time), Will Weldon (Comedy Central’s This Isn’t Happening), Mary Lynn Rajskub (24, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Fred Armisen (SNL, Portlandia), Jenny Zigrino (Bad Santa 2, 50 Shades of Black), Jack De Sena (Avatar: The Last Airbender), and Brooks Wheelan (SNL).
TOO LATE has a running time of 80 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA. Gravitas Ventures will release TOO LATE in select theaters and on digital platforms including iTunes, Google Play, Fandango Now, and all major cable/satellite platforms on June 25.

Tribeca Festival 2021 capsule reviews: ‘Settlers’, ‘Glob Lessons’, and ‘7 Days’

Settlers

Mankind’s earliest settlers on the Martian frontier do what they must to survive the cosmic elements and each other.

Undeniably riveting, Settlers pits one family unit against another. Brooklynn Prince, who burst onto the scene in The Florida Project, captivates as a child whose survival depends on the lies she’s been fed by adults. Sofia Boutella skillfully plays her mother and ardent protector. As the reality of the situation of humanity is slowly revealed, the peril grows for everyone involved. Settlers is a film about trust, through and through. As time passes, Remmy’s role is taken over by Nell Tiger Free. She must navigate loneliness, and more importantly, the advances of the man who keeps her both alive and captive. Settlers’ unique script by director Wyatt Rockefeller allows us to question what we would do when faced with extreme circumstances. The landscape beautifully mimics the surface of Mars. Its desolate surroundings create palpable isolation and ceaseless desperation. The addition of a robotic character is the only thing that brings levity. Ismael Cruz Córdova as Jesses walks a precarious line between savior and villain. His beliefs steer the story into the darkest regions of human nature. Settlers is worth the watch for extraordinary performances and one hell of a feature debut from Rockefeller.

DIRECTOR
Wyatt Rockefeller
CAST

Sofia Boutella, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Brooklynn Prince, Nell Tiger Free, Jonny Lee Miller


Glob Lessons

Two mismatched strangers confront their fears of intimacy and inadequacy as they tour low-budget children’s theatre out of a minivan across the frozen Upper Midwest.

Nicole Rodenburg and Colin Froeber give us every emotion on screen. As a theater major, I know Jesse and Alan. But as a human being, everyone will know them. The concept of pouring your soul into your passion with little in return is universal, be it children’s theatre or any other occupation. There is a fine line between love and loathing. The laughs are plenty lying within awkward non-conversation and road movie tropes. Tension and tolerance levels eventually come to a head with creativity as their savior. In Glob Lessons, the moments of genuine intimacy between Froeber and Rodenburg grab hold of the viewer. Jesse and Alan are fleshed-out characters. At times they are pathetic, other times endearing. The chemistry between Froeber and Rodenburg is the stuff of movie magic. Glob Lessons isn’t flashy and that’s the point. Life is messy. Let’s own it. I am excited to see what comes next from a voice like Rodenburg’s. If Glob Lessons is any indication, we’ll be seeing more very soon.

 

DIRECTOR
Nicole Rodenburg
SCREENWRITER

Colin Froeber, Nicole Rodenburg


7 Days

As if their pre-arranged date, organized by their traditional Indian parents, wasn’t uncomfortable enough, Ravi and Rita are forced to shelter in place together as COVID-19’s reach intensifies.

This film snuck up on me. Filmed during lockdown and using COVID as a major plot point, 7 Days turns the concept of traditional arranged marriage on its head. Geraldine Viswanathan brings the laughs as Rita. Breaking the mold of the dutiful would-be bride, she begrudgingly comes to Ravi’s rescue with little to no hope of being his match. Karan Soni, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Roshan Sethi, plays straight-laced, Ravi.  As boredom sets in and guards are let down, a genuine connection slowly develops. The chemistry between Viswanathan and Karan feels grounded and made for some incredibly memorable moments. 7 Days is funny and heartfelt. I was not expecting the darker turn in the script. It was a bold move that paid off in spades. Filmed mostly in one room created the tension and awkwardness we needed to experience alongside Rita and Ravi. It takes the idea of close quarters to the extreme. 7 Days is a true gem from this year’s festival.

DIRECTOR
Roshan Sethi
SCREENWRITER
Karan Soni, Roshan Sethi
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass, Roshan Sethi, Karan Soni, Geraldine Viswanathan

Tribeca Festival 2021 review: ‘Werewolves Within’ will leave you howling.

Werewolves Within

SYNOPSIS:
After a proposed gas pipeline creates divisions within the small town of Beaverfield, and a snowstorm traps its residents together inside the local inn, newly arrived forest ranger FINN (Sam Richardson) and postal worker CECILY (Milana Vayntrub) must try to keep the peace and uncover the truth behind a mysterious creature that has begun terrorizing the community.

If you hate comedy, Werewolves Within is not for you. Also, if you aren’t a fan of whip-smart social commentary wrapped in a genre film about werewolves, stop reading now. Director Josh Ruben brought one of the best films to Tribeca Festival this year. Written by Mishna Wolff, the screenplay plays off the paranoia and politics of small-town USA. The pairing of Milana Vayntrub and Sam Richardson is pure comic genius. Wolff’s dialogue gives this duo a chance to shine and the audience nonstop belly laughs. In fact, this ensemble cast will blow you away. Everyone has their time to shine. Not a single actor is forgettable. This is the kind of witty banter that occurs when there is genuine chemistry between cast members. It’s so successful you’ll question whether there was improvisation on set. That’s a compliment to everyone involved with the film. The mystery aspect of Werewolves Within will keep you guessing until the very end. The practical effects perfectly progress from suggestive to full-on gagworthy. This film is so nuanced it will surprise you. Werewolves Within is the perfect reason to return to the theaters.

**In Theaters on June 25th & On Demand July 2nd**

DIRECTED BY
Josh Ruben (Scare Me, “You’re The Worst”)
WRITTEN BY
Mishna Wolff (I’m Down)
STARRING
Milana Vayntrub, Sam Richardson,
Cheyenne Jackson, Michaela Watkins, Harvey Guillen, Michael Chernus, George Basil, Sarah Burns, Catherine Curtai, Rebecca Henderson, Glenn Fleshler

Tribeca Festival 2021 review: ‘Ultrasound’ is a mind-melting film.

Ultrasound

Synopsis: Driving home late at night during a heavy rainstorm, Glen experiences car trouble. Near where his car gets stuck, he spots a house, knocks on the door and is greeted by an oddly friendly middle-aged man, Arthur, and his younger wife, Cyndi. The strange couple pours him a drink, and then more drinks, followed by an unexpected offer that Glen can’t refuse. Elsewhere, a young woman, Katie, is feeling emotionally weighed down by a secret romantic arrangement that feels like a textbook case of gaslighting. And at the same time, in a nondescript research facility, medical professional Shannon begins questioning her role in a bizarre experiment, fearing that she’s doing more harm than good.

When I tell you you’re not ready for Ultrasound, I mean that as a huge compliment because this film is a sci-fi mind melt. Boasting an outstanding cast and incredible writing, this is a film that you’ll want to tell everyone about. Three different stories, all equally mysterious, will reel you in with smartly laid-out breadcrumbs. Between exclamations of “Huh?” and “Wait, what?!” I have no doubt you will be hungry for more.

Vincent Kartheiser plays Glen with both a sense of an “everyman” quality and someone with long lingering PTSD. Chelsea Lopez brings a naivete to Cyndi that is spot on. Breeda Wool as Shannon allows the audience a small window into the insanity of this film. Alongside Bob Stephenson’s nuanced performance as Art, Ultrasound is a ping-pong match of converging stories and characters that will confuse, excite, and melt your brain.

The editing becomes increasingly important as the mystery unravels. Ultrasound is relentlessly twisted. There is so much happening in this script, you have to pay careful attention to it all. Ultrasound is best viewed with no preconceived notions. Throw out everything you think you know and take the ride. Tribeca audiences will eat this up. Ultrasound will keep you baffled long after the credits roll. It demands repeat viewing.

Check out the clip below for a preview:

**WORLD PREMIERE**
CAST: Vincent Kartheiser, Chelsea Lopez, Breeda Wool, Tunde Adebimpe, Rainey Qualley, Chris Gartin, Bob Stephenson
DIRECTOR: Rob Schroeder

Tribeca Festival 2021 review: ‘My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To’ proves blood is thicker than water.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To

Two mysterious siblings find themselves at odds over care for their frail and sickly younger brother.

Isolation, survival, depression, organized chaos. These are heavy-hitting words to describe a film with a blunt force trauma of an opening. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is a film that’s been on everyone’s lips for a year now. It’s been killing it on the festival circuit, and rightly so. This slow-burn horror puts three siblings at odds due to one’s unique affliction. Jesse has become the taskmaster Mamabird, driving the survival of her family. Dwight is stuck between resentment and loyalty as his patience is running out. Youngest brother Thomas just wants to break free of his physical and emotional prison. Stunted in every way possible, what would life look like without his elder siblings? Is blood thicker than water? My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To begs that very question, quite literally.

Patrick Fugit as Dwight is heartbreaking. The cracks are evident from the very beginning. His conscience weighs on him as his desire for normalcy and peace are all-consuming. Ingrid Sophie Schram as Jesse is everything we need her to be. Focused and utterly exhausted. The survival of this family unit is driven by her sense of duty and not necessarily by love this many years in. She and Fugit are brilliant scene partners. Owen Campbell as Thomas is a nuanced mix of childlike and monster. You simultaneously sympathize and loathe him. These are striking performances.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To has a finale that will first crush you then slowly, you’ll start to breathe again. It’s the perfect catharsis. Writer-director Jonathan Cuartas gives us every single emotion in this script. It’s meticulously thought out. To think that this is a feature debut sends shivers down my spine in anticipation of what’s next. How this story manages to walk the line between horror and morality tale is simply genius. You never really know what’s going on behind closed doors. Some are better left closed.

Tribeca Festival 2021 review: ‘False Positive’ is horrifyingly twisted and now available on HULU.

FALSE POSITIVE

Lucy and Adrian find their dream fertility doctor in the illustrious Dr. Hindle. But after becoming pregnant, Lucy begins to notice something sinister behind Hindle’s charm, and she sets out to uncover the unsettling truth about him.

It took 8 months to get pregnant with my son. In the grand scheme for a lot of women, that isn’t long at all. Since I turned 35 in the first month of my pregnancy, it was deemed a “geriatric pregnancy.” That felt about as awesome as you might imagine. Growing a human being is stressful enough without the constant barrage of opinions. People telling you what you can and cannot eat, how you should parent, and what you should be feeling. It’s super fun. And by that, I mean it sucks, just in case you didn’t catch the heavy-handed sarcasm. Tribeca Festival 21 film FALSE POSITIVE takes all of that anxiety and cranks it to 11. Ilana Glazer and Justin Theroux play Lucy and Adrian, a couple that has a personal connection with a famed fertility doctor. From the moment Lucy gets a glimpse of her baby on the sonogram, she knows something is very, very wrong.

The script does a solid job setting the stage with the misogyny and gaslighting thrust upon pregnant women. While the internet can be their worst enemy (for the love of God, stay away from WebMD) a mother has instincts that she should never ignore. False Positive smartly plays upon those anxieties and adds highly macabre stakes. You’re not quite sure what is real. It’s intensely dark. Ilana Glazer is pitch-perfect at every turn. Cast her in every genre, right now. Justin Theroux is a fantastic foil. You feel the skin-crawling vibe he unleashes once the audience is placed in Lucy’s shoes. His straight man act makes him all the more unsettling. Dr. Hindle is played brilliantly by Pierce Brosnan. His charm and calmness are grossly offputting even through his perfect smile.

False Positive will hit differently for women with or without fertility issues. It will also have a unique reaction from genre fans. It’s a multifaceted feature from director John Lee, who also wrote the script with Ilana Glazer. While the finale is so batshit crazy it may make your head spin, I can attest that you will not be able to get the images out of your head. They are seared into my brain. I’m still shuddering a week later.

Hulu & A24 will release

FALSE POSITIVE

as a Hulu Original Film on

June 25, 2021

Netflix review: ‘Sisters on Track’ Proves that You’ve Got to Work for Your Dreams, They Don’t Just Come.

Sisters on Track chronicles the coming-of-age story of the Sheppard sisters: Tai, Rainn, and Brooke who were propelled into the national spotlight in 2016 with their first-time wins at the Junior Olympics. The resulting media storm landed the trio on the cover of Sports Illustrated Kids as “SportsKids of the Year” and they were able to move from shelters into their own home. The film offers a rare intimate glimpse into a tight-knit Brooklyn family’s journey to recover from trauma and tragedy. With the support of their mother, Tonia Handy, and the guidance of coach Jean Bell, the Sheppard sisters aim to beat the odds, dream big, and aspire to higher education as they are finding their voices as athletes and students – all while processing the growing pains of adolescence. At the heart of the story is the bond between sisters and an entire community of women, passing the baton of self-empowerment and hope through track and field, from one generation to another.

“You’re not the only one raising these girls,” Coach Jean Bell says to Tonia Handy, mother of the Sheppard sisters Tai, Rainn, and Brooke in a heartfelt moment that perfectly articulates the thesis of this story. Although the sisters have faced the kind of adversity that makes their success all the more inspiring, the magic of the film is in watching a village pull together to prepare these young ladies for bright futures of their choosing. 

The sisters’ meteoric rise in the track world is only amplified by the challenges they have faced. When they exploded onto the track scene in 2016 with first-time wins at the Junior Olympics, the family was living in a homeless shelter. The resulting media storm landed them on the cover of Sports Illustrated Kids as “SportsKids of the Year” which caught the attention of director Tyler Perry. Inspired by their story, Perry generously secured the family a furnished apartment in their Brooklyn neighborhood and committed to paying the rent for two years. 

The documentary picks up in the aftermath of these exceptional events as the girls navigate the demands of high-level competitive sport and more universal trials like coming-of-age. In the hands of a different group of filmmakers, the documentary may have focused gratuitously on the tragedy and hardship of the girl’s early lives or the precariousness of what they have now. Sisters On Track, however, is a joy to watch. Although the reality of the girls’ home lives is apparent, it is not exploited for pathos. Instead, the bulk of the film is watching a group of talented young women train and compete at the highest levels amid a continuous stream of motivational pep talks from Coach Jean Bell who is an inspiration in her own right (I could write an entire piece on the Jeuness Track Club where they train).  

The documentary is extremely heartfelt and honest, bolstered by the Sheppard sisters themselves who are blessed with vibrant personalities in addition to their clear athletic talents. Middle sister Rainn says it best, “You’ve got to work for your dreams, they don’t just come.”

Watch the Official Trailer:

SISTERS ON TRACK launches on Netflix on Thursday, June 24th
Directed by: Corinne van der Borch & Tone Grøttjord-Glenne
Producer: Anita Rehoff Larsen & Tone Grøttjord-Glenne
Executive Producer: Sam Pollard
Story Consultant: Shola Lynch
Run Time: 94 minutes
Featuring the Original Song:
“The Dream”
Performed by: Mark Batson featuring Tarriona “Tank” Ball
Written by: Mark Batson and Tarriona “Tank” Ball

Review: ‘The Birthday Cake’ is a slice of revenge.

The Birthday Cake

Gio brings a cake to a memorial celebration for the 10th anniversary of his father’s mysterious death, hosted by his uncle (Kilmer), a Brooklyn mafia boss. His life begins to change as he pieces together what really happened to his father.

Everyone in the city seems to know Gio’s name. He hears it from every street corner as he walks about Brooklyn, from virtually every kind of person imaginable – hipster bar owners and priests, mentors and murderers. If Gio (Shiloh Fernandez) always seems surprised to hear his name, it’s because the objective of his walk is pretty intense: bringing a birthday cake to a party thrown by his mob boss uncle (Val Kilmer) to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Gio’s father.

If Gio himself is unknown to us, the archetype of his story certainly is more familiar. First-time director Jimmy Giannopoulos is acutely aware of the weight mob movies hold, especially in New York City. Every aspect of the production seems to shine with reverence for mob movie history: a crooning Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons open the film; Lorraine Bracco and Paul Sorvino appear in supporting roles that nod vigorously to their past magic in Goodfellas. Moves like these make us feel at home in the story, nostalgic for its themes even though the setting is modern.

Shiloh’s Gio is friendly, but reserved – an earnest blank canvas. Robbed of his father at an early age, he relies on his cousin Leo (Emory Cohen) and the kindly priest Father Kelly (Ewan McGregor). On paper, it’s hard to find two more polarizing father figures than a priest and a mobster, but just wait – the film doesn’t take the easy way out.

Giannopoulos’s background in music videos is well served – music anchors complements and drives the narrative forward at all times. The early joyous do-wop tracks gradually give way to modern rock and rap as the night goes on and Gio gets himself in more and more trouble. It’s supposed to be  Christmastime, but the soundtrack makes clear there is barely any Christmas cheer to speak of. I was impressed by the way Giannopoulos’ camera mirrored this descent, gradually taking the audience from bright Bensonhurst streets into a perverse night of neon bakeries and bars.

If The Birthday Cake has one major weakness, it is its inability to fully leverage its broad, talented cast. Aldis Hodge flits on and off the screen so fast you wonder if he stumbled onto the set by accident. Though they seem to represent Gio’s moral compass, Leo and Father Kelly barely cobble together 15 minutes of combined screen time. Only Luis Guzman truly capitalizes on his short cameo, driving a spark of pure comedy into an otherwise dark narrative.

Adult men in the world of The Birthday Cake seemed to be defined by their absence, their silence, by time cut short. Gio’s cousin Leo spends the majority of the film off-screen, his presence only hinted at through phone calls or text messages. Even fearsome Angelo, hobbled by a past shooting, is unable to truly speak, with a raspy squeak the only trace of what must have once been a fearsome roar. Over it all hangs the specter of Gio’s absent father.

I wish the film had done some heavier lifting to build on that central theme for a story so preoccupied with memory. I left the film wishing I had been given the opportunity to see more of these men, these memories, through Gio’s eyes. Instead, I left feeling like I’d seen a film that still had more to say.

In Theaters and On-Demand on June 18, 2021

Directed by: Jimmy Giannopoulos
Written by: Jimmy Giannopoulos, Diomedes Raul Bermudez, and Shiloh Fernandez
Director of Photography: Sean Price Williams (Good TimeThe Color Wheel)

Starring:
Shiloh Fernandez (Evil Dead, Red Riding Hood)
Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!, Trainspotting, August: Osage County)
Val Kilmer (The Doors, The Saint, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)
Lorraine Bracco (Goodfellas, “The Sopranos,” Medicine Man)
Ashley Benson (Spring Breakers, “Pretty Little Liars,” Her Smell)
 Aldis Hodge (One Night in MiamiHidden Figures, Straight Outta Compton)
 Penn Badgley (“Gossip Girl,” “You”, Margin Call)
Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond the Pines, “The OA”)
Vincent Pastore (“The Sopranos,” Revolver, Shark Tale)
Jeremy Allen White (“Shameless,” Movie 43, The Rental)

REVIEW: ‘An Unknown Compelling Force’ Takes You Deeper Into the Mystery

An Unknown Compelling Force

An Unknown Compelling Force is the True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, known as Russia’s greatest unsolved mystery. In 1959 a group of student hikers were attempting a difficult winter expedition in the remote Ural Mountains of Russia when an unknown event lead to the mysterious deaths of all nine. When the team failed to report back, search parties lead by the Soviet Government and fellow students uncovered the grizzly remains of the hikers. Found a mile from their shredded tent, they seemingly fled into the freezing temperatures without their winter clothes or boots. Adding to the mystery, many of the bodies had suffered brutal and inexplicable injuries, and some even showed traces of radiation.
                                                            
The case was closed by investigators at the time, stating that the hikers died from “An Unknown Compelling Force.” For more than 60 years the story has been shrouded in mystery and conspiracy theories, suggesting everything from UFOs, murder to a Soviet Government cover-up. British adventure filmmaker Liam Le Guillou travels under the radar to Russia in search of answers. Braving the dangerous conditions and hundreds of kilometers in sub-polar conditions, the documentary team attempts to reach the very location of the incident, a place the locals call “The Dead Mountain.”

About two minutes into watching this documentary, it occurs to me that I may be its exact target audience. As a lifelong fan of Unsolved Mysteries (the old school 90s version with Robert Stack, naturally), the opening montage with talking heads spouting their pet theories had me instantly hooked. For the next two hours, I was engrossed in Director Liam Le Guillou’s exploration into the unknown events that caused the mysterious deaths of nine student hikers in Russia’s remote Ural Mountains.

The Dyatlov Pass incident is a topic that regularly pops up in true crime and history podcasts because of the many bizarre and cinematic elements at play. A group of experienced young hikers goes on an adventure, something terrifying and inexplicable happens, and no one makes it back alive. More than a week later, the search and rescue team discovers a tragic tableau– the hikers had fled their tent only partially clothed and their bodies were discovered a mile away from the campsite riddled with violent, inconsistent injuries. After an initial investigation, the Soviet government quickly buried its findings and the records were sealed for sixty years.

With a team of journalists, eyewitnesses, and researchers, the documentary sorts through many common theories about what may have happened to the hikers ranging from the scientific and rational (avalanche) to the more whimsical and outrageous (alien abduction/ Russian yeti), and intriguing geopolitical angles (Cold War military experiment gone wrong). The documentary adds color to the historical narrative by bringing a crew into the Ural Mountains to complete the same trek as the doomed hikers, which adds striking visuals into the bleak and unforgiving landscape. 

However, what sets this film apart from other retellings is that the Director has a favorite pet theory that he builds a case for throughout. In the final minutes, there is a bold closing argument to explain the fate of the hikers that I had never heard and seems to not have been fully explored. Although I am not convinced, the argument is compelling and as good as any other put forth to explain this mystifying series of events. 

If the title or synopsis of this project makes you want to spend the next half hour on Wikipedia doing a deep dive, then this film is for you.

 Available Digitally on June 15, 2021

 Order Now: https://geni.us/Watch_UCF

Directed by Liam Le Guillou

Tribeca Festival 2021 review: ‘No Man Of God’ will get inside your head.

No Man Of God

The complicated relationship that formed between the FBI analyst Bill Hagmaier and serial killer Bundy during Bundy’s final years on death row.

Amber Sealy‘s breaking the mold of our image of Ted Bundy. No Man Of God does not romanticize Bundy’s personality, but it does somehow humanize his intellect. This is the most unexpected story of friendship and trust. It just so happens to involve one of the most prolific serial killers of our times. Of all the Bundy films, this is the one we’ve been waiting for and we didn’t even know it. Through letters that progressed to sit-down interviews, Hagmaier built a bond with Bundy no other person was ever able to attain. It’s extraordinary.

Elijah Wood is a phenomenal foil for Luke Kirby. There is a measured and genuine tone to his delivery that is completely believable. You’re just buying what he’s selling. I think this might be his best dramatic performance since Set Fire To The Stars. Luke Kirby is a genius. He is slick as hell. Kit Lesser‘s dialogue allows for poetic moments, philosophical ones, as well as pure terror. It’s his manner of nonchalance that keeps you off-kilter. It is undeniably an award-winning performance.

Wood and Kirby’s incredibly natural back and forth holds your attention every single second. The emotional electricity builds to a pitch-perfect finale. This is a masterclass in scene partnering, writing, and directing. No Man Of God is nothing short of riveting. It is a must-see.

Spotlight Narrative

World Premiere

Available Starting

Sat June 12 – 6:00 PM

At Home

$15

Streaming Tribeca at Home is not available outside the USA

This purchased film will remain available to stream on-demand from the above date through 6/14 at 6 PM EST

Review: ‘La Dosis’ explores who we are in the shadows.

La Dosis

Synopsis:
Marcos is an experienced nurse who works the night shift of a private clinic. He is successful and professional, though it is soon revealed that he uses his position to help suffering patients find early peace. A new nurse in the clinic, Gabriel, shakes the sector: he is young, intelligent, beautiful, and seduces everyone. He soon deciphers Marcos’ secret and the clinic becomes a battle of wits and seduction. Marcos retracts until he discovers that Gabriel also dabbles in euthanasia, though for different reasons. This revelation forces him to confront Gabriel and Marcos knows that only by exposing his own true identity will he be able to stop him. 

La Dosis is a dark psychological thriller that from the very first scene pushes viewers to consider the harsh and subjective balance between life and death. At its center is Marcos, the lead overnight nurse of the ICU unit in a private hospital. By now, audiences are accustomed to anti-hero protagonists, so it is not hard to find compassion for Marcos even as he makes the ethically murky decision to euthanize critically ill patients that are suffering in their final days. In a nuanced and complex performance, Carlos Portaluppi excels in infusing Marcos’ actions with compassion. Through the many moody silent stretches of the film, the audience watches Marcos alone in shadowed rooms and backlit hallways as the weight of his actions plays across his face. 

The fragile morality of Marcos’ world is shattered, however, by the arrival of Gabriel (Ignacio Rogers), a young charismatic nurse that immediately charms patients and hospital colleagues alike. Gabriel understands Marcos’ impulses at once, but it soon becomes clear that he has his own darker code. The discovery compels Marcos to reexamine the complex web of justifications that he has been telling himself for years. When is it mercy? When is it just power? Is there a difference? It also pushes Marcos toward action, even if he is putting himself at risk by exposing more egregious crimes. 

The most compelling scenes in the film are interchanges between Gabriel and Marcos as they confront, coerce, and ultimately conspire for and against each other. In one tense nihilistic exchange, Gabriel exclaims to Marcos, “We are the only ones who care about what we do. Have you realized that?” 

At its core, La Dosis is a complex meditation on power, the balance of which shifts subtly from scene to scene. It is not until the final shot that it is revealed who comes out on top.

LA DOSIS, the sharp slow-burn thriller from distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films, will be released on-demand and digital on June 11, 2021. The film world premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2020, and also played BFI Flare, the Fantasia Film Festival, and others.

Release Date:                        On VOD/digital on June 11, 2021
Directed by:                           Martín Kraut
Cast:                                       Carlos Portaluppi, Ignacio Rogers, Lorena Vega
Genre:                                    Thriller
Specs:                                    93 min
Distributor:                            Samuel Goldwyn Films