Unseen Films reviews: Sundance (2022) Midnight feature ‘FRESH’

Fresh

(Spoilers Ahead)


I have to do this review in two pieces. The first is going to be a no-spoiler review and the second will have more details for those who don’t care about spoilers 

Part 1- No Spoilers

FRESH is the story of Noa, a young lady who is unlucky at love. She bemoans the fact to her friend that she can’t meet anyone nice online. She then meets Steve, a charming doctor in the supermarket. sparks fly and they are soon heading off to a quiet weekend getaway, where Steve reveals his appetites.

Without giving anything away this is a not bad little thriller that suffers from our having been here before and a pace that stretches things to almost two hours.

Part 2- Spoiler filled discussion

FRESH is a really well-made film with great performances, I just wish that the script and the pacing were up to everything else.

No, wait I wish going in the promotional material didn’t use the term “appetites” since it pretty much tells you someone is getting eaten. I suspect that the copywriter thought they were being clever, but the fact is it’s not, and coupled with the film’s love of food you know how this might go.

The real problem here is that after a leisurely first 35 minutes during which things are set up and we aren’t quite sure where this is going to go, the film turns and suddenly we’re in the “heroine is chained in a room genre” that has been done so many times that we can largely figure it out where it’s going. I mean the filmmakers gave Noa a plucky friend who wasn’t certin the trip was a good idea, so you know help is on the way. I felt no suspense while watching the film, other than curiosity about what condition the other trapped girl was going to be in.

It doesn’t help that the film runs almost two hours for no really good reason other than to have some sequences play out to 80’s songs in a “clever” way.  Despite what the film thinks it is not reinventing the wheel, and while entertaining it never really does anything to stand out from an overcrowded subgenre.

While I freely admit the fact that I see way too many films, especially horror/thrillers, every year influenced my feelings for the film, I can’t imagine anyone other than a non-horror film fan being over the moon about this film. (Additionally I also freely admit that the fact I had seen 30 Sundance films before I got to this did influence my feelings)

Then again the cast is so good that I could be wrong.

Ultimately worth a look for the curious.


Fresh will stream exclusively on Hulu starting on March 4.


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

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


Review: ‘Salt In My Soul’ is inspiration through posthumous eloquence.

SALT IN MY SOUL

Based on the bestselling posthumously published memoir of the same name, SALT IN MY SOUL is a documentary and classic coming of age story about a young woman figuring out how to live while dying. Mallory Smith was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of three. In her twenty-five-year battle with the deadly disease, she carved out a life that most of us don’t come close to. Using Mallory’s posthumously published 2500-page secret diaries, hundreds of hours of newly discovered footage, and audio recordings, the film offers Mallory as the narrator of her own extraordinary chronicle.

 


Mallory Smith‘s physically and emotionally fraught journey is equal parts heartbreaking and extraordinary. How does a person come to terms with death a such a young age? That’s the ultimate question as we delve into the mind of Mallory in her own intimate, raw, and eloquent reflections. Mallory’s parents, Diane and Mark, her brother Micah, friends, and doctors tell stories in sit-down interviews. A mix of photographs, home movies, cellphone videos, online and handwritten journals tell Mallory’s story and of those around her. Diane and Mark tasked themselves with different end goals. Mom took to fundraising and awareness while Dad researched relentlessly for new treatments. Mallory lived her life with a vigor you don’t often see or feel from a person twice her age. Her drive and determination to be present is an inspiration. No one treated her like a fragile object. It was the opposite.

Be warned that the film does involve scenes of surgery. They can be a bit intense if you are squeamish. Salt In My Soul predominantly shows Mallory and her family teaching us to celebrate and fight for life. The timing of this doc is more impactful given the current state of the world. The importance of masks for the immunocompromised has never been more relevant. An unfathomable number of us have been closer to death in the past two years than we ever thought possible Mallory’s message of living each moment to its fullest could not resonate more than in this moment in time. Salt In My Soul is a unique film. Undeniably intimate and relentlessly moving, it’s a film that stays with you.


SALT IN MY SOUL

A Feature Documentary Film by Will Battersby
Run time: 96 Minutes (USA- Feature Documentary)

SALT IN MY SOUL will be released theatrically in New York (Cinema Village) and Los Angeles (Laemmle Royal) on January 21 followed by the VOD Release in the US, Canada, and UK & Ireland and key territories worldwide on January 25.

 

VOD Platforms: 

US- Apple TV/iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Microsoft/Xbox, Vudu
Canada- Apple TV/iTunes, Microsoft/Xbox
UK- Apple TV/iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Microsoft/Xbox
Ireland- Apple TV/iTunes, Google Play

Cable Platforms: 

US- InDemand TVOD (Comcast, Spectrum, Cox), DirectTV/AT&T, and more 



ABOUT THE BOOK

SALT IN MY SOUL: An Unfinished Life, by Mallory Smith, is a powerful, intimate, and inspiring portrait of a brave young woman living with chronic illness. Mallory understood that patient voices need to be amplified in order to improve healthcare, that the intersection of human behavior and nature is critical to environmental sustainability, and that love and friendship give life meaning. As Mallory’s body deteriorated, she sharpened her mind, crystallized her thinking, and honed her writing skills. In her 2500 pages of private journal entries, she created poetry out of prosaic experiences.  Beautifully written, provocative, and peppered with insights, SALT IN MY SOUL reminds us to follow Mallory’s mantra and “Live Happy.”  

For more information about the book SALT IN MY SOUL: An Unfinished Life please go to: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/607965/salt-in-my-soul-by-mallory-smith/


 

Double Bill Review: Gonzalo Calzada’s ‘Nocturna: Side A – The Great Old Man’s Night’ & ‘Nocturna: Side B – Where the Elephants Go to Die’ are where the theatrical and experimental meet.

Nocturna: Side A – The Great Old Man’s Night

&

Nocturna: Side B – Where the Elephants Go to Die

“Nocturna: Side A – The Great Old Man’s Night” follows a nearly 100-year-old man who, on his final night on earth, fights for redemption from his life’s misdeeds. In “Nocturna: Side B – Where Elephants Go to Die,” Calzada embarks on an aesthetically opposite experimental twist of the same story.


Nocturna: Side A – The Great Old Man’s Night

 

Visual representations of grief, love, and regret make for a unique movie experience in the first of these two films. An extraordinarily haunting score adds to the emotional pull of the film. It’s a genre-defying film. There are brilliant clues along the way, but you have to stay sharp-eyed to notice them from the beginning. The added device of Alzheimer’s creates a perfect dance of deception and mystery. The cast is outstanding. Not a performance is out of place. Nocturna: Side A will break your heart as it inspires you to make peace with your shortcomings. Somewhere between memory and longing lies an enchanting storyline.


Nocturna: Side B – Where the Elephants Go to Die

 

This film has an entirely different approach and aesthetic. Audio and narration give it an almost accosting opening that prepares you for a drastically stylistic approach to more in-depth stories of the souls in the building. Nocturna: Side B is perhaps questionable as a stand-alone film. But it is undoubtedly a rich, nightmarish addition to the Nocturna: Side A.


Nocturna: Side A – The Great Old Man’s Night and Nocturna: Side B – Where the Elephants Go to Die will be released January 18 on iTunes/Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Xbox, Vudu, Vimeo, DirecTv, local cable & satellite providers, and on DVD.


 

Review: ‘The Shepherdess and The Seven Songs’ screening at MoMA this week.

THE SHEPHERDESS AND THE SEVEN SONGS

Following an impressive global film festival run that began with the 70th annual Berlinale and included in MoMA’s 2020 New Directors/New Films festival, THE SHEPHERDESS AND THE SEVEN SONGS (Laila aur satt geet) returns to New York on January 12th, 2022 for a week-long run at The Museum of Modern Art, courtesy of Deaf Crocodile Films and theatrical partner Gratitude Films.

Laila Aur Satt Geet is part allegory, part ethnographic study, and part feminist fairy tale, using the narrative device of local folk songs – seven, to be exact – to describe the protagonist – Laila’s inner and outer worlds.


Laila uses her beauty as her weapon. While navigating misogyny, tradition, indifference, and desire, Laila embarks on a physical and spiritual journey. THE SHEPHERDESS AND THE SEVEN SONGS (Laila aur satt geet) is a genre-defying film. With dazzling cinematography, the camera tends to linger (sometimes stationary) and allows the viewer to experience a cinema verite effect during some scenes. Juxtaposed with sweeping shots of the lush locations and closeups of our leading lady’s face. The pensive moments are weightier when stillness consumes Laila. We watch a young woman reclaim her power through poetic song. Some selections are metaphorical and others literal. Writer-director Pushpendra Singh (The Honor Keeper, 2014; Ashwatthama, 2017; Pearl of the Desert, 2019) guides Navjot Randhawa along the emotional spectrum. She is a fully fleshed-out, flawed woman. It’s a brave performance that hit me in the gut. THE SHEPHERDESS AND THE SEVEN SONGS (Laila aur satt geet) never fails to keep you engaged, culminating in a gorgeous cinematic gem.

Following the run at MoMA, THE SHEPHERDESS AND THE SEVEN SONGS

will be released on VOD in North America in spring 2022

from Deaf Crocodile, Gratitude Films, and Grasshopper Films.


THE SHEPHERDESS AND THE SEVEN SONGS

Original title: Laila aur satt geet

Genre: Drama

Country: India

Runtime: 96 min

Year: 2021

Languages: Gujari and Hindi; English subtitles

Rated: NA


Review: ‘SHATTERED’ mixes ‘Fatal Attraction’ and ‘Misery’ into a thriller for the tech era.

SHATTERED

In the tradition of Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct comes this dazzling action-thriller starring Academy Award® nominee John Malkovich (RED) and Frank Grillo (Avengers: Endgame). After lonely tech millionaire Chris (Cameron Monaghan, “Shameless”) encounters charming, sexy Sky (Lilly Krug), passion grows between them – and when he’s injured, she quickly steps in as his nurse. But Sky’s odd behavior makes Chris suspect that she has more sinister intentions, especially when Sky’s roommate is found dead from mysterious causes.


Tale as old as time: Boy is lonely, boy meets girl, girl is bad for him. At first, that’s hot. Later, it’s not. Michael Douglass and Glenn Close taught us these dance moves in 1987’s Fatal Attraction. Prieto’s Shattered takes this formula, adds a helping of 1990’s Misery (James Cann plays an injured writer, and Kathy Bates is the nurse who happens to be an obsessed fan. Great movie – don’t watch if you’re squeamish about ankle torture) and gives it all a glossy high-tech setting.

Chris Decker (Shameless’ Cameron Monaghan) is our lonely boy this time around. Chris created and sold a high-tech security app while he was at MIT. Now’s he’s flush with cash, but he’s also peaked too early. That’s how he finds himself divorced, bored, and lonely in his massive Montana home. His only solace seems to be an impressive wine collection. During a late-night bottle run, he meets the mysterious and sexy Sky (Lilly Krug). She looks like trouble, but she needs a ride home, and she likes his taste in wine. What’s a guy to do?

Things get hot and heavy fast and then go wrong even faster. As in, deliriously bonkers fast. This movie is not interested in slow-burning anything – it turns the gas all the way up. Sky, of course, is not who she claims to be, and Chris finds himself in grave danger. Some films would tease this uncertainty out over many scenes, but Shattered stamps down on the gas pedal. This film burns through the plot faster than it can produce it. There’s probably another version of this film where Chris uses his own security app to slowly turn the tables on Sky – a nuanced vision of cat and mouse for the App generation. I would have also loved exploring more of the film’s snowy Montana setting.

But that film probably would have been a whole lot less visceral fun! Lilly Krug struggles a bit with the good-girl half of the film, but gamely brings Sky’s more psychopathic tendencies to life. Decker is dealt a tough hand here, his character reserved and introverted when he’s not being actively tortured. There are hints of past trauma and obsessive paranoia that I wish the film had spent more time drawing out. John Malkovich, playing a greedy landlord dressed exclusively in pastel ski jackets, chews scenery like he just finished a hunger strike.

Coming in at a tight 92 minutes, the pacing and pleasures of Shattered are more than enough to make up for any glitches in its application. You’ll double-check your password security after watching this one.


CHECK OUT THE RED BAND TRAILER: 

Lionsgate will release the thriller film SHATTERED in Select Theaters and On Demand on January 14th! Available on Blu-ray and DVD on February 22nd!

SHATTERED stars an ensemble cast of Academy Award® nominee John Malkovich (RED), Cameron Monaghan (Shameless), Frank Grillo (Avengers: Endgame)Sasha Luss (Anna), and Lilly Krug (Every Breath You Take). The film is directed by Luis Prieto (Kidnap) and was written by David Loughery (Fatale).


 

Review: From stage to screen, the verdict is in for ‘Who is Amos Otis?’

WHO IS AMOS OTIS?

SYNOPSIS

After assassinating the President, Amos Otis pleads self-defense and must convince the jury that America was not only under attack by its unhinged ruler – but that his actions saved the country and the world. The assassin’s provocative testimony and ingenious defense turns the proceedings upside down and puts our country on trial. 


A wow of a film, Who Is Amos Otis? is like a swift punch in the throat. Written, produced, and directed by Greg Newberry, the story has us follow the President’s assassin and his subsequent trial. If you think this is a mere courtroom drama, think again. You’re in for one of the year’s most surprising and controversial films. It’s a hell of a way to end the year. 

Rico Reid as Amos’ court-appointed attorney Jason, is confident and brave. He brings a levelheadedness that superbly matches the ever-evolving energy in the room. Josh Katawick, as Amos, has a presence reminiscent of the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He’s three steps ahead of everyone. It is an incredibly nuanced performance.

The script possesses inklings of The Life of David Gail and The Terminator. The writing is whip-smart. It keeps you guessing, all while prodding you with a steady stream of information. The script is thick with wordplay, snark, and wit. It dares to ask the questions many of us have been thinking over the past five years. You immediately recognize the theatricality of Newberry’s dialogue. The project moves from stage to screen, with Reid and Katawick starring in their original roles. It explains the perfect chemistry between them. I would have loved to feel that live energy in which the audience was the jury during its 2019 run. I am formally requesting a New York run. Everyone I know would vie for a chance to be a jury member.

Without spoiling anything, Who is Amos Otis? takes a sharp left turn roughly 45 minutes in, obliterating the genre you think you’re consuming. Compounding the political thriller are the hottest and most controversial topics front and center. It is a film that people will either love or hate, but the brightest viewers will respect it for its audacity and artistry. Who is Amos Otis? is a fearless and enthralling film. It’s not only a conversation starter. Who is Amos Otis? is a conversation igniter.


Official Trailer for Who is Amos Otis? on Vimeo.


WHO IS AMOS OTIS? a searing, mind-bending, SCI-FI political thriller based on the Pulitzer Prize nominated play from Cincinnati playwright and award-winning filmmaker GREG NEWBERRY (Beemer Baby, Homefree) will be released by Gravitas Ventures on Digital | VOD on December 28th.


Starring an ensemble cast of strong characters JOSH KATAWICK  (“Glengarry Glen Ross” “A Few Good Men”), RICO REID (ToleranceAll Wars),  MICHAEL G. BATH (Miles Ahead, Healing River, Notzilla)A.J. FORD (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Of Mice and Men, All The Way), CHRISTINE BRUNNER (The New Detectives, The Life Project), DEREK SNOW (The Shawshank Redemption, The Old Man & the Gun, Extremely Wicked, Shocking Evil and Vile), CHRISTINE JONES (Carol, Healing River, Promises to Keep)MIKE DENNIS (Carol, Miles Ahead, Surviving Compton), DONALD VOLPENHEIN (Gotti, “The Kill Point”), PEGGY ALLEN (Hourglass – A Smallville Story, Sphragida,  2 Mars), DENISE DAL VERA (Dark Waters, “Tell Me a Story”), CAROL BRAMMER (Hands Down).


Review: Explore a Riveting Doc with ‘Dead Man’s Switch: A Crypto Mystery’ on Discovery+ tomorrow!

DEAD MAN’S SWITCH: A CRYPTO MYSTERY

$215 million dollars disappeared in 2018 when Gerry Cotten, CEO of one of North America’s largest crypto exchanges, died suddenly – or did he? Journalists, regulators and crypto enthusiasts are determined to discover what happened to Gerry and the fortunes of 115,000 creditors. Dead Man’s Switch: A Crypto Mystery tracks a tantalizing unsolved story of deception, greed, corruption, and the potential of unregulated currency to be used for both good and evil.


A mysterious death abroad, $215 million missing, and a deep dive into the murky world of cryptocurrency– what else could you wish for? 

 Dead Man’s Switch is a captivating watch where viewers can’t be sure if they’re diving into the story of a heist, fraud, or perhaps even a murder mystery. Exploring the meteoric rise and dramatic fall of Quadriga CX, one of North America’s largest crypto exchanges, the documentary examines fascinating possibilities about what happened to its charismatic leader Gerry Cotten and– potentially more important for the many investors– where did all that money go? 

 A sharp group of journalists, crypto enthusiasts, and once-friends of Gerry provide detailed commentary on the allure of cryptocurrency and the tight-knit community that cultivated Cotten’s success. While the tales from the early years of Quadriga CX sound similar to many other tech startups– fun, fratty, communal– when the crypto markets start to slip, cracks in the facade begin to show. But it is not until Gerry Cotten dies suddenly in 2018 that the true mystery begins. 

 This doc is a fun watch for those intrigued by true crime or big tech, and also serves as an excellent primer for anyone itching to join in on fiery crypto-conspiracy Reddit boards.


Streaming on discovery+ on December 23rd


Written and Directed by Sheona McDonald (When Dreams Take Flight)

*Official Selection – Hot Docs 2021*
*Official Selection – Calgary International Film Festival*
*Official Selection –  DOXA*
*Official Selection – Melbourne Documentary Film Festival*
*Official Selection – Gimli Film Festival*


Review: ‘You Mean Everything To Me’ is the personification of relationship red flags.

YOU MEAN EVERYTHING TO ME

Synopsis:

Still reeling from getting kicked out of her sister’s apartment, Cassandra (Morgan Saylor of HomelandWhite Girl and Blow the Man Down) falls hard and fast for Nathan, a local DJ (Ben Rosenfield of 6 Years, Boardwalk Empire, Mrs. America, Twin Peaks).  After a whirlwind romance, he convinces her to quit her job and enlists her to dance at his club. As his coercive control increases and his demands grow darker, Nathan soon isolates her from her friends and family. Confused and desperate, she must figure out how to save another from the same fate and decide what her own freedom is worth.


You Mean Everything to Me is a whirlwind of scary energy. Lost soul Cassandra gets quickly reeled into a relationship with a master manipulator named Nathan. Writer-director Bryan Wizemann brings to the screen a story that most women would categorize as their worst nightmare. Some of us might even say it’s less of a drama and more of a horror.  It’s a film that will take your breathe away.

Ben Rosenfield plays the opposite of his last role in Mark, Mary, and Some Other People. As Nathan, he pours on the charm. Rosenfield is also keenly aggressive in a way that is so slick, the more experienced viewers take notice. What might seem like confidence is a divisive and dark power dynamic from the first breath. All of this further proves Rosenfield is a top-notch talent.

Morgan Saylor, as Cassandra, gives us a beautiful balance of naive and bold. I adored her in Blow The Man Down. I, You Mean Everything to Me, Saylor’s Cassandra is under Nathan’s spell. He sniffed out her insecurities in a heartbeat and pounced. You can see the wheels turning as she battles her instincts with immediate emotional gratification. It’s a heartbreaking performance and one you will not soon forget.

The writing is sharp and nuanced. The initially sly gaslighting is infuriating because it’s so familiar. You could throw a rock and hit any other woman who has experienced similar behavior. When the rush of oxytocin kicks in, all logic goes out the door. The plot moves like a freight train, and because of this, you feel just as trapped as Cassandra. You’ll want to rescue her. You’re on a rollercoaster ride of emotional terror. You Mean Everything to Me is challenging to sit through, but Rosenfield and Saylor compel you to keep going. The final third of the film is nothing short of heart pounding. I was shaking. You Mean Everything to Me is a must-watch.


The film is opening in NYC on December 17th at Cinema Village (with an in-person and virtual theatrical rollout in other cities)


Written and Directed by Bryan Wizemann
Produced by Matt Grady
Cinematography by Mark Schwartzbard
Edited by Michael Taylor

Cast: Morgan Saylor, Ben Rosenfield, Lindsay Burge, Tom Riis Farrell, Jacinto Taras Riddick, and Nicholas Webber


Review: ‘THE JINKX AND DELA HOLIDAY SPECIAL’ is my newest holiday tradition.

THE JINKX AND DELA HOLIDAY SPECIAL

Created by and starring drag superstars BenDeLaCreme & Jinkx Monsoon, “The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Special” is the story of two queens who set out to create a classic Christmas TV variety show, but just can’t agree on how.


If you like involuntary fits of maniacal laughter, look no further than The Jinkx and DeLa’s Holiday Special this December. Listen, Christmas and camp go together like eggnog and arguing with your crazy uncle over dinner. Ah, the holidays.

These two magnificent drag stars are the perfect pairing in personality and visual aesthetic. BenDelaCreme and Jinkx Monsoon are two of my favorite performers. If you know the drag world, they are household names. DeLa is perky sunshine personified while Jinkx is more dark, tawdry, and sardonic. Their comic timing is a thing of the gods. The overall mid-century vibe that these two carry with their brand works in tandem with the classic holiday specials from Bing Crosby and friends. As someone who grew up in Connecticut, the regional-specific jokes are spot on. Everything just works in spectacular fashion.

The Jinkx and DeLa’s Holiday Special is a celebration of inclusivity, told through the destruction of the ridiculousness that is Christianity, and damnit, it is chef’s kiss. The musical numbers are friggin bops. These ladies have the pipes to back them up. The lyrics are snarky, innuendo-filled treats. And, my god, the decadent costumes are delicious. Does The Jinkx and DeLa’s Holiday Special make me want to host a booze-soaked watch party shindig? You bet your sweet ass it does. I found my new holiday tradition.


JINX AND DELA HOLIDAY SPECIAL is available :

In theaters from December 13 (North America): Showing in Alamo Drafthouse theaters across the country. Click here for participating cities.

On Digital Globally: Amazon Prime, iTunes, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu

On DVD and Blu-ray: Available from the official site


 

Review: MLM promise and chaos ‘THE RISE AND FALL OF LULAROE’ now on Discovery+

THE RISE AND FALL OF LULAROE, a film that pulls the curtain back on the multi-level marketing company and features interviews with retailers, warehouse workers, designers and others whose lives were profoundly impacted by the organization. Through a partnership with BuzzFeed Studios and journalist Stephanie McNeal’s in-depth investigation, THE RISE AND FALL OF LULAROE uncovers parts of the story that haven’t been heard before, including recent developments and first hand accounts from sources who are speaking out for the first time. It includes authorities such as cult expert, Rick Ross, Cultish author Amanda Montell, and blogger Christina Hinks, who was one of the first to expose LuLaRoe’s innerworkings. The film will world premiere December 13th on discovery+, the definitive non-fiction, real-life subscription streaming service.

The film shines a light on present day LuLaRoe at the company’s most recent incentive trip in Cancun, Mexico called LuLaRoe D.R.E.A.M 2021. Here, we meet LuLaRoe’s first ever retailer and see that the company is still going strong, despite the growing community of Facebook activists, including former customers and retailers, who are determined to stop at nothing to take down the organization. Experts in the documentary reflect on how LuLaRoe seduced thousands of recruits, some of whom ended up risking their homes, their bank accounts, and their relationships with close family and friends – all in an effort to be their own boss by selling LuLaRoe leggings. The film explores the psychological techniques used by multi-level marketers, and how the company harnessed the full power of social media to onboard a massive pool of retailers.


I’ve watched one close friend become involved with three MLMs since we were both pregnant seven years ago. I cannot explain how many random messages I receive on Facebook from people I knew in high school (mostly women) asking if they can talk to me about a great business opportunity. I quickly learned that I was going to be pitched some sort of MLM scheme. In my early twenties, I was caught up in one myself. The amount of anxiety this caused me and money out of my pocket is indescribable. I get the notion of monetary freedom and a sense of community that these companies promise. In a lot of cases, they end up being overwhelming money monsters. In the new documentary, The Rise and Fall of LulaRoe, former and present consultants and employees talk about their personal experience with the company. If you don’t know about LuLaRoe by now, their claim to fame is leggings. But, not just any leggings, “buttery soft” leggings. In truth, because my friend started selling them, I started buying them. In 2015, I owned more pairs of leggings, Irma tops, Julia, and Carly dresses than five women needed. I started joining Facebook groups on the hunt for “unicorn prints,” and man, was I pissed when a co-worker bought the pizza leggings 10 seconds before in a group filled with 10K+ members. It wasn’t until my first pair arrived with a hole in them that I stopped and thought, “Oh Boy, this is what I’ve been hearing about lately.” My beautiful consultant friend told me that she’d swap them out and send those back to the company. A few months later, she quit. She and her husband were the lucky few to get reimbursed for their inventory. 

In the film, MLMs are clearly defined with colorful graphics. The promises LuLaRoe makes its consultants are plastered on social media. They get reinforced at conventions, cruises, and weekly webinars. “You gotta spend money to make money!” is a phrase repeated ad nauseam. The toxic positivity is glaring. Founders Deanne and Mark Stidham took the prosperity bible and saw an opportunity to make money. You’ll learn that the pyramid scheme dynamic is in their blood. The connection between Mormonism and mid-level marketing is no coincidence. As a stay-at-home Mom, who wouldn’t want to work less, make more money and spend time with their families? The doc features depositions from Deanne and Mark, and damn, they sound guilt as hell. You shake your head as you watch them not answer simple questions. When you hear the same stories, again and again from former consultants, it is clear that the company did more harm than good in the end. Knowing that there are countless lawsuits across the country and that the company continues to operate is nothing less than infuriating. The Rise and Fall of LuLaRoe is eye-opening. It should scare CEOs of MLMs everywhere. 


THE RISE AND FALL OF LULAROE is produced by Left/Right, A Red Arrow Studios Company, in association with BuzzFeed Studios for TLC.

Follow discovery+ on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter, and follow TLC on Facebook,  InstagramTwitterTikTok, and YouTube for the latest on all things THE RISE AND FALL OF LULAROE. Join the conversation using #TheRiseAndFallOfLuLaRoe.


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Review: Family sci-fi ‘PORTAL RUNNERS’ is now Streaming & On Demand worldwide.

When 15-year-old Nolan (Siegel) discovers a secreted family legacy and a portal that enables him to travel to parallel worlds, it’s a young boy’s dream come true … until it becomes a nightmare when he realizes he’s being pursued across the ages by an evil force. When he becomes stranded on Christmas in an alternate timeline with his quirky family and a rebellious and petulant older sister he’s never met before, he realizes Mae (Eberle) may be the key to defeating his adversary and must enlist her help fast … before it’s too late for them all.


Science fiction and Christmas are an odd pair (more Machine Gun Kelly / Megan Fox than Meg Ryan / Tom Hanks), but Cornelia Duryée’s Portal Runner is out to prove they can be a match made in movie heaven. If you were a child of the 90s, this film has everything that could possibly be on your Christmas list: multiple dimensions, a plucky young hero pursued by a shadowy evil force, a missing father figure, and booby traps (can I get a “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal?”) There’s even sibling rivalry and some Y2K references for extra yuletide cheer. Mix it all together and you’ve got fun for the whole family.

Nolan (Sloane Morgan Siegel) is the Portal Runner, your average normal 15-year-old. Oh, except he can use mirrors to travel between dimensions. And he’s being chased by an otherworldly monster that murdered his whole family. Just in time for Christmas, Nolan finally finds what he believes to be a safe dimension. Only, in this dimension, Nolan suddenly has a sister (Elise Eberle).

At this point, you might be asking yourself… is this really a kid’s movie? Duryée wisely spoons out the action in small doses. Most of the narrative is wisely focused on Nolan adjusting to his new sibling dynamic with Eberle’s Mae. Their dynamic is fresh and easygoing, and by the end of the film, you believe the lengths they would go to protect each other.

The film also gets as much juice as possible out of its 1999 setting. I loved the infomercials playing in the background of many scenes, and the Y2K-fearing Uncle Boon (Brian Lewis) steals scene after scene. You’ll never take your dishwasher for granted again.

While moments of Portal Runner may indeed be too dark for younger children, its compelling themes of family and bravery make it well worth adding to your Christmas watching list.



  A nail-biting, action-packed, sci-fi adventure for the entire family, Portal Runner begins streaming and is available On Demand Dec. 10 from Kairos Productions and Terror Films.

Portal Runner can be seen worldwide on Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play, Kings of Horror, TubiTV, Roku, Film Freaks, Microsoft Movies & TV, and Jungo+.

Starring Elise Eberle (Mae), Shameless, Salem, The Last Tycoon, Tiger Eyes, Lemonade Mouth, The Astronaut Farmer; Sloane Morgan Siegel (Nolan), Dwight in Shining Armor, The Call, Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street, Partners and as the voice of Time Drake/Robin in the Gotham Knights video game; Carol Roscoe (Mom/Klara), Language Arts, If There’s a Hell Below, West of Redemption, The Dark Horse and Joanna in The Gamers trilogy; and Brian S. Lewis (Uncle Boon), The Gamers series, Dwight in Shining Armor, JourneyQuest.

Portal Runner was directed by Cornelia Duryée (Language Arts, West of Redemption, The Dark Horse, Camilla Dickinson) from a screenplay by Tallis Moore (JourneyQuest, The Gamers: Dorkness Rising), based on a story by J.D. Henning.


Review: ‘Death Of A Telemarketer’ is a cleverly written double entendre.

DEATH OF A TELEMARKETER

Ace telemarketer Kasey (Lamorne Morris) is in a close sales contest with newbie employee, Barry (Woody McClain), and must score a big sale by midnight or he’ll lose the largest commission to date. Out of desperation, Kasey waits until everyone leaves the office and finds the Do Not Call list. He thinks he’s found the perfect mark, but instead finds himself held hostage and at the mercy of Asa (Jackie Earle Haley), the man he tried to swindle. Now Kasey must pass Asa’s twisted test on ethics if he wants to live to sell another day.


The title alone makes your ears perk up. Death Of A Telemarketer is revenge porn for all those dinnertime phone calls. Half the time, a caller doesn’t even get your name right. Or, maybe they’ll ask if your husband is home. Really? You have to respect the people who work these jobs. I cannot imagine anyone choosing this as their life’s passion, but as this film’s leading man Kasey comes to explain, when you’re good at something, it makes you feel accomplished. But, knowing that their goal often involves a scam makes things a bit more complicated. On the other hand, life is never as simple as we want it to be. Death Of A Telemarketer tackles all that and more. It’s a surprisingly nuanced story and funny as hell. 

Haley Joel Osment makes everything better. I have loved watching his career spring back to life through meaty indie roles. He is meant to do this for a long time. Jackie Earle Haley, as Asa, knocks it out of the park. Haley’s career is eclectic, and his talents never fail to shine. As Asa, you kind of love to hate him. Lamorne Miller, as Kasey, is a bonafide star. You’re buying what he’s selling, pun 100% intended. His comic timing is something you can’t teach. He begs your attention in every frame. Death of a Telemarketer is a whirlwind of jokes and an unexpected emotional rollercoaster. Writer/Director Khaled Ridgeway draws from personal experience, and it shows. He nails the absurdity that accompanies this profession but never lets the genuine humanity of his characters slip past the audience. It’s a breezy watch that will make you laugh and maybe make you want to call your Dad.


DEATH OF A TELEMARKETER

In theaters and VOD December 3, 2021


Directed by Khaled Ridgeway

Starring Lamorne Morris, Jackie Earle Haley, Haley Joel Osment

Release Date: 12/3/21


Review: Survive holiday hell and hilarity in Camille Griffin’s ‘SILENT NIGHT’

SILENT NIGHT

 

SYNOPSIS: In true British fashion, (while the rest of the world faces impending doom), a group of old friends reunites to celebrate Christmas in the comfort of an idyllic country home. Burdened with the inconvenience of mankind’s imminent destruction, they adopt a stiff upper lip, crack open another bottle of prosecco and continue with their festivities. But no amount of stoicism can replace the courage needed for their last night on earth.


Writer/Director Camille Griffin gives audiences the gift of holiday hell and hilarity. Think The Big Chill meets Love Actually and sprinkles in Melancholia, as Silent Night finds us rocking around the Christmas tree for, perhaps, the last time. A group of friends makes a pact to spend their Christmas together, with one huge and horrifying caveat. The eclectic holiday soundtrack amps up the energy tenfold. But it’s all a bit of bait and switch. Therein lies the genius that is Silent Night. You think the film is one thing when suddenly BAM. This genre-destroying film will shock you.

Silent Night has an ensemble cast that’s to die for. Keira Knightley strikes the perfect balance of overly stressed host and mother, bringing that quirky charm we know so well. Lucy Punch has the innate ability to be funny without a single word and her talents are elevated by Griffin’s cheeky dialogue. Matthew Goode gives us the gambit of emotions. He’s a solid anchor amongst the spiraling chaos. A standout performance comes from Griffin’s real-life son, Roman Griffin Davis, as Art. After his incredible turn in JoJo Rabbit, it should come as no surprise that he knocks it out of the park here. His fearless honesty spills off the screen, and you will be unable to take your eyes off of him. He steals every scene. 

Even as these chic adults reminisce about what could have been, their children attempt to come to terms with impending doom. Every scene featuring a child is perfection. That is what kids are like, and thank you, Camille Griffin, for including these gems. If you didn’t know she was a parent beforehand, you would as you watched the film play out. The complexity of parenting lies within the overall arc of the film. In truth, this is one of the darkest films I’ve ever seen. If I said I wasn’t shaking from anxiety and crying in the end, I’d be lying. The writing is soaked in acerbic wit. It’s a punch to the face, over and over, all while it begs existential questions of privilege and morality. I could easily see a prequel, sequel, or series in which we follow other locations simultaneously. This is a formal request for such a creation.


AMC+ and RLJE Films will release the darkly comedic drama/horror SILENT NIGHT in Theaters and streaming exclusively on AMC+ on December 3, 2021.


Marking writer Camille Griffin’s feature directorial debut, SILENT NIGHT features an all-star ensemble cast including Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise), Matthew Goode (Downton Abbey), Roman Griffin Davis (Jojo Rabbit), Annabelle Wallis (“Peaky Blinders”), Lily Rose-Depp (Voyagers)Ṣọpé Dìrísù (“Gangs of London”), Kirby Howell-Baptiste (“The Good Place”), Lucy Punch (Into the Woods), Rufus Jones (”Flack”) and Trudie Styler (Filth, Moon).


Shudder original review: ‘THE ADVENT CALENDAR’ is the holiday horror gift that keeps on giving.

THE ADVENT CALENDAR

Eva (Eugénie Derouand, Paris Police 1900), an ex-dancer, is now using a wheelchair, unable to walk. When her friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier, Tomorrow is Ours) gives her an old wooden antique advent calendar before Christmas, she realizes each window contains a surprise that triggers repercussions in real life. Some of them are good, but most of them are bad, really bad. Now Eva will have to choose between getting rid of the calendar or walking again – even if it causes death and destruction to everyone she holds dear around her.


Writer/Director Patrick Ridremont gives Shudder audiences enough horror to rude into the holidays with The Advent Calendar. Think of it as a Christmas-themed Pandora’s box. Eva’s life is pretty sad. Isolated by the insensitivity of people who only see her wheelchair, combined with the declining health of her beloved father, Eva trudges through day-to-day life. When given a unique birthday gift, each day brings the unexpected. For better, and most certainly, for worse.

There’s an immediate and visceral Wow factor that occurs when the box first appears. The design is intricate. It’s simultaneously inviting and terrifying. It also allows for a brilliant screenplay structure as we know there are more surprises to come counting down the days with Eva. The Advent Calendar could have been an entire series on Shudder. 

Eugénie Derouand, as Eva, is outstanding. You can see the gears turning as her moral compass disintegrates. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. Derouand makes it look easy, and you cannot help but root for her. 

The practical fx and makeup are unsettling and grotesque. I found myself unable to look away, quite frankly. The tropes are consuming, and they’ll send a shiver down your spine. They are relentless. Overall, The Advent Calendar is a gift that keeps on giving, whether you like it or not. Add this one to your annual holiday horror lists immediately. 


Shudder, AMC Networks’ streamer for horror, thrillers and the supernatural will premiere writer/director Patrick Ridremont’s ornate and elegant French horror fantasy The Advent Calendar exclusively on Tuesday, December 2nd. Combining Faustian themes and allusions with European folklore and tense, chilling terror, the Shudder Original film provides some highly original holiday season horror.

The Advent Calendar world premiered earlier this year at London’s Frightfest and was produced by Alain Benguigui, Virginie Ogouz, Jean-Yves Roubin, and Cassandre Warnauts.


HBO original documentary review: ‘ADRIENNE’ lets us peek inside the life of the immensely talented Adrienne Shelley.

ADRIENNE

As the muse of Hal Hartley’s indie classics and as writer/director of the critically acclaimed Waitress, Adrienne Shelly was a shining star in the indie film firmament.


Indie film darling, writer, and director Adrienne Shelley‘s tragic death in 2006 sparked immediate action by her husband, Andrew Ostray. His new documentary explores Shelley’s childhood, her artistic talents, and her legacy. What happened that fateful day? How would he explain everything to their then 2-year-old daughter? Andy sets out to let people into Adrienne’s world, her career, and to help his own family navigate their grief.

Adrienne’s rise to fame seemed written in the stars. Certainly in her diary entries. Her daughter Sophie, who bears a striking resemblance to her mother, reads passages from the diaries through the years. Andy talks to Adrienne’s childhood friends, co-stars, and former directors as they recall her talents and loyal friendship. He documented conversations he had with Sophie about Adrienne. Richard O’Connor creates beautiful line-drawn animation with Sophie and Andy’s voiceovers that become great transition moments. 

Adrienne was so self-aware. It’s inspiring to watch the interviews where she expresses her values. Her uniqueness and vision allowed her to make a space for herself in the entertainment industry and quickly. She was also making a doc herself about happiness. There is so much insightful footage of Adrienne being Adrienne. A repeating theme is a sadness that she carried with her for a great deal of her life. It’s a heaviness that hovers over the entirety of the film. But she and Andy’s love story is never diminished. It’s the reason we have Waitress; this glorious celebration of a woman breaking free and understanding unconditional love. 

The doc swells to the gut-wrenching moment when Andy confronts the man who murdered Adrienne. It is a powerful interaction that had me trembling. But, most likely, you’ve already wept while watching ADRIENNE. You cannot sit through Jessie Mueller’s rendition of “She Used To Be Mine” from Waitress: The Musical and not be a complete emotional wreck. It’s not physically possible. This film is partly a gift to his daughter and Adrienne’s fans. It’s undoubtedly a physical catharsis, leaving the human experience of how one single person can impact everyone around them. It’s a legacy of an extraordinary woman and her story. ADRIENNE will touch your soul. 



Director: Andy Ostroy
Executive Producer: Marc Levin, Nancy Abraham, Lisa Heller
Producer: Andy Ostroy; Co-Producer: Jillian A. Goldstein; Supervising Producer: Daphne Pinkerson
Cinematographer: Trish Govoni
Editor: Angela Gandini, Co-Editor: Kristen Nutile
Music: Andrew Hollander
Language: English, Spanish
Country: USA

Year: 2021


So many stories left to tell. Adrienne, an HBO original documentary about the life and legacy of actress, director, and screenwriter Adrienne Shelly, premieres December 1 at 8 pm on HBOMax.


DOC NYC (2021) review: Questlove Flawlessly Mixes Music + History in ‘SUMMER PF SOUL’

SUMMER OF SOUL

In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was largely forgotten–until now. SUMMER OF SOUL shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present. The feature includes concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and more.


Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s directorial debut is simply brilliant. It might almost be a given that as a world-famous and beloved D.J., every musical and visual choice in Summer of Soul masterfully cultivates a vibe and maintains that dazzling energy for the length of the entire film. In addition to showcasing a great party, Summer of Soul provides viewers with the essential historical and cultural context to fully appreciate what they are witnessing. Through passionate first-person narratives from attendees, the film balances what in less experienced hands might have become merely a history lesson with one hell of a show. 

 Piecing together recently discovered footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, Summer of Soul is a celebration of black culture as it transitioned from the tumult of the 1960s into the black liberation movement of the 1970s. In a time of great uncertainty and political unrest, the concert series set in Mt. Morris Park was a time for black pride and celebration. The film includes never before seen live performances by a young Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, and many more. Every shot is colorful, powerful, and tells a story. The music is phenomenal. The costumes are dazzling– maybe men should reconsider brightly colored ruffle shirts?– the Black Panthers provided security in full regalia, including the berets. Each shot is a wonder and a visual feast. 

 Summer of Soul is a vital inclusion to narratives around the Summer of Love and essential addition to understanding the complete history of the era.


SUMMER OF SOUL premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. It is streaming on Hulu in conjunction with Disney General Entertainment’s Onyx Collective; Searchlight Pictures released it theatrically.


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: Survivors & True Believers Look to the Future in ‘KEEP SWEET’ 

KEEP SWEET

Warren Jeffs was the Prophet of the FLDS, an offshoot of Mormonism. Jeffs demanded absolute loyalty, and instituted complete adherence to the religion, requiring strict dress codes, banishing community celebrations, and casting out followers who didn’t fall in line.

His controversial reign ended with a conviction for sexual assault with underage girls, landing him in jail for life. Jeffs’ downfall sent shock waves throughout the community, with some continuing to pledge their loyalty to him, while others turned their backs on Jeff’s and the FLDS religion altogether.

Ten years after his arrest, those left behind attempt to rebuild their community. KEEP SWEET is an allegory for the unsettling reality we are living through in America. Can we learn how to live with one another despite our different ideologies, or are we destined to live apart?


 

As the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) prophet, Warren Jeffs controlled every aspect of public and private life for his sheltered religious community. Now serving life plus twenty years for a litany of abuses, “Keep Sweet” explores what happens next for the town Jeffs reigned over and the true believers that he left behind. 

 In many ways, “Keep Sweet” feels like the second installment of a trilogy, where once the main antagonist is defeated, those that remain must sort through the detritus to find a way forward in an altered reality. Once a walled, isolated and semi-autonomous religious town, Colorado Springs is no longer only a haven for the FLDS. The influx of new arrivals is shaking up the traditional land use, politics, and mores that have remained stagnant for generations. The film seeks to discover if the community will survive this influx of diversity (using the term loosely) or if one culture will ultimately overwhelm the other. 

Director Don Argott excels in bringing humanity to both the survivors who left the FLDS and the sect’s steadfast believers that are now left adrift after its collapse. Though many choices by those portrayed in “Keep Sweet” are baffling to the extreme, the filmmakers treat everyone gently and take care that none of the subjects are made a mockery. 

By its end, I was rooting for everyone to make it past this transition period, and I am fascinated to learn which version of this town will ultimately take hold.


Streaming Exclusively on discovery+
Beginning This Wednesday, November 24, 2021


Directed by Don Argott (Believer, The Art of the Steal, Kurt Vonnegut: American Made)
Executive Produced by Rasha DrachkovitchStephanie Noonan DrachkovitchGlenn Meehan, and David Hale for 44 Blue Productions and Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce for 9.14 Pictures


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: Marc Brener’s ‘The Rumperbutts’ is a musical comedy for the indie loving audience.

Selling Out… Isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

A married couple and indie band duo, who never reached the success that they had always hoped, decides to stop pursuing their dream when a financial opportunity arises for them to perform on a new children’s program called “The Rumperbutts.” In spite of all the money and newfound success, the two of them are miserable and have spilt up. However, on one magical evening, a mysterious stranger comes into their lives and gives them a second chance.


Holy shit, it’s Mates of State starring in a musical rom-com! Filmed in 2013, 5 months after my husband and I left Yale, The Rumperbutts shot in downtown New Haven at the legendary Toad’s Place and the surrounding streets. The plot is amusing; married bandmates sell out to become the faces of a children’s show. They now fill arenas with children and parents dressed as the fictional creatures, The Rumperbutts. Also, they loathe each other. They are contractually stuck on a tour bus and jaded as hell. When a mysterious invitation appears, it offers to change their lives forever. 

Richie might be a modern-day, pot-smoking Puck/guardian angel? Josh Brenner‘s magical role is an in-your-face, witty character that will undoubtedly make you laugh out loud. His energy with Kori and Jason is wildly organic. I would watch a spinoff featuring Richie’s escapades in a hot minute. As for Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, Mates of State are huge on the indie scene. Their marital and musical chemistry translates perfectly onto the big screen. Their comic timing is delightful. If you’re already a fan of the band, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy the stoner comedy mixed with marital and money woes. If you’re unfamiliar, this is a brilliant, tongue-in-cheek, introduction to their whole vibe.  

Where has The Rumperbutts been hiding all these years? Be still my heart. It’s essentially an album wrapped in a rom-com. Frankly, I’m a sucker for a solid musical, so this ended up being right up my alley. Writer-Director Marc Brener has no direct link to Yale. None that I could find via Google, at least. Toad’s Place is such an iconic venue, and for those of us watching with the local connection, the choice was an added warm hug. (Especially because I’ve performed there.) The Rumperbutts speaks to the lengths we’ll go to become famous and remain famous at the cost of our relationships. But, all the dramatic undertones aside, the film is a good time with friggin amazing tunes and comfort comedy. I’d watch it again, and I might even buy Rumperbutts merch for my kids. 


Writer/director Marc Brener’s hilarious new comedy The Rumperbutts, featuring “Blue Bloods” star Vanessa Ray and Josh Brenner from “Silicon Valley”, premieres on Digital November 19 from Global Digital Releasing.


Starring Kori Gardner, Jason Hammel, Josh Brener, Arian Moayed and Vanessa Ray, and featuring music by “Mates of State”