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


Blood In The Snow (2021) review: ‘The Chamber of Terror’ is half torture and half terrific.

THE CHAMBER OF TERROR

Nash Caruthers is on a deadly collision course with the people that tore his world apart…along with something unexpected. Something far more sinister.


If you’re going to call a film The Chamber of Terror, then you better be prepared to scare the hell out of people with insane torture devices. Instead, this Blood In The Snow film festival feature initially comes off as a half-baked schlocky mess. The room itself looks like a local haunted house, with red uplighting and blood spatter that could have been made by a giant spin art machine. The Chamber of Terror is not short on blood flow. Here’s a breakdown of the plot, sort of: Purposely getting captured by the crime family who killed his wife and daughter, Nash Caruthers has revenge on his mind. Things get weird. Time jumping, zombies, and a witch whose got her own agenda becomes a bit WTF. 

The acting, for the most part, is pretty cheesy. Although, the Giallo monologue is a genre treat. Two specific cast members understood the assignment. First, Robert Nolan, as the crime family patriarch, is batshit fantastic. I wanted to see more of his shenanigans. And finally, our machete-wielding, mustachioed antihero is the best part of this movie. Timothy Paul McCarthy, as Nash, is some brand of wild. He is the reason to watch The Chamber of Terror

Fifty minutes in, and we’re rolling into what the entire film should be; a tongue-in-cheek, laugh-out-loud gorefest. Now the film shines. Ultimately, if you can stick around until that point, you’ll enjoy the wackiness that is coming your way. Now, two final words on Nash Caruthers; Franchise potential.


For more info on Blood In The Snow 2021 click here!


Blood In The Snow (2021) review: ‘FLEE THE LIGHT’ understands the power of the past.

FLEE THE LIGHT

A mystical horror-thriller where reincarnation, demons and sorceresses intertwine to tell the story of a spiritual search gone wrong. A psychology student (Annie Tuma) delves into her sister’s (Ariana Marquis) psychosis, exposing herself to an ancient predator who hunts souls. Also stars Jane Siberry.


Blood in the Snow 2021 screened Flee The Light last night, a classicly structured folk horror where two sisters with a witchy lineage choose between good and evil. Delphi and Andra become consumed by visions that turn more sinister by the hour. Can they save one another from pure darkness? Flee The Light has an evolution that you won’t see coming. The Wicca research is clear, beautifully shot, and carefully intertwined. I would watch a prequel in a hot minute. Props to the set dressers and location scouts for doing their homework. There is an ethereal quality in certain scenes that grab your attention. 

Screenwriter Jennifer Mancini uses childhood flashbacks to establish the sisterly bond. These are precisely what the audience needed to feel emotionally invested in their relationship. Annie Tuma and Ariana Marquis give fully committed performances. You believe their chemistry. The final scene genuinely brings everything together. I would be remiss if I did not mention actress Jane Siberry for her beautiful turn. With glorious cadence changes, she knocks it out of the park. Flee The Light has a final shot that is a whole lot of Yes. Alexandra Senza gives us a solid B-movie. But the potential for Senza and Mancini to develop an entire franchise is magical.



For more info on Blood In The Snow 2021 click here!


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”

Review: ‘Black Friday’ a hilarious and gross entry into the holiday season.

On Thanksgiving night, a group of disgruntled toy store employees begrudgingly arrive for work to open the store at midnight for the busiest shopping day of the year. Meanwhile, an alien parasite crashes to Earth in a meteor. This group of misfits led by store manager Jonathan (Bruce Campbell) and longtime employee Ken (Devon Sawa) soon find themselves battling against hordes of holiday shoppers who have been turned into monstrous creatures hellbent on a murderous rampage on Black Friday.


Is there a more perfect analogy for Black Friday shoppers than crazed zombie-like beings looking to consume? If you’ve never worked retail for the holidays, you have no idea what it’s like to deal with monsters. It honestly prepares you for any weird or crazy behavior from people the other 11 months of the year. Black Friday writer Andy Greskoviak must know a little something about the experience. His script is hilarious, tongue-in-cheek, and wholeheartedly captures the love-hate relationship between co-workers. Director Casey Tebo has given audiences a gory yuletide gift.

Bruce Motherf*cking Campbell, ladies, and gentlemen. Like Sawa, you tell me Campbell is to appear in a film, give it to me, you don’t have to ask. This guy is the poster boy for horror-comedy. He is a legend. As store manager Jonathan, he nails every beat. Stephen Peck gives life to Floor Manager Brian. He is the embodiment of second-tier management and the power that comes with that role. His shitty attitude makes the dynamic between the workers laugh out loud funny.  Ivana Baquero is a nice foil for all the masculine energy. She’s sweet and caring and unafraid to keep up with the boys club. Her presence is a necessary grounding. Michael Jai White is the hero we all want him to be. If you’re not rooting for this man, shame on you. I wanted much more of him.

Ryan Lee, as Chris, is just as impeccable as Sawa and the rest. A germaphobe whose anxiety looms large, Lee gets the opportunity to shine here. I did not realize this is the same kid from Super 8 and Goosebumps! More of him, please, and thank you. Devon Sawa is a bonafide horror icon. Seeing him alongside Bruce Campbell feels right. Sawa never fails to bring the comedy. He’s so damn natural. I am so stoked to see him working nonstop in genre films over the past few years. Black Friday is yet another role for him to kick some ass. In truth, Black Friday is an ensemble piece. The chemistry is incredible.

If I’m being picky, there are minute pacing issues as some innocuous shots felt long. On the upside, the use of the swipe transition is a throwback I wasn’t expecting. The practical FX are cool as hell. The special fx makeup progresses with the plot, and the intricate creature design becomes creepier and more visceral. Slow clap for SFX master Robert Kurtzman and his entire team. Black Friday is a little Color Out of Space meets Dawn of the Dead. Am I obsessed with the ending? You know it. Do yourself a favor, sit back, relax, and enjoy this film until the real-life stress of the holiday season eats you alive. 


Available In Theaters November 19th
& On Demand November 23rd


Directed by Casey Tebo
Written by Andy Greskoviak
Music by Patrick Stump (Fall Out Boy)
Starring Devon Sawa, Ivana Baquero, Ryan Lee, Stephen Peck, Michael Jai White, and Bruce Campbell


 

DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘GO HEAL YOURSELF’ takes a deep dive into alternative medicine.

GO HEAL YOURSELF

Against the wishes of her family, Yasmin sets out to find a treatment for her
epilepsy via alternative medicine. Meeting inspiring people all around the
world, she learns that this route is not as easy as simply taking a pill.


My aunt has always used homeopathic remedies. She’s beaten breast cancer twice. As someone with chronic pain from a neck injury caused by a car accident, anxiety since childhood, severe dance injuries, and phantom pain and diastasis recti from two C-sections, I would love to find ways to heal myself. You hear testimonials constantly on the internet or get messages on social media from women in health and wellness, aka the newest pyramid scheme. In Go Heal Yourself, filmmaker Yasmin C. Rams goes on a mission to explore alternative medicine for her epilepsy and her father’s Parkinson’s. It is a journey fraught with emotion. 

The argument of western vs. eastern medicine will never fade. Alternative medicine is a rare topic in my house. We believe in science, but that never discounts the science we aren’t familiar with yet. Although, my neck injury was so painful that I did my first and only session of acupuncture. It did not move the needle (pun intended) on my pain scale. I’ve since watched two aunts go through breast cancer treatments. Neither of their stories is the norm. While one used homeopathic medicine, the other did chemotherapy but never got sick. I’ve never heard of that before. 

In Go Heal Yourself, Yasmin’s father is skeptical. Her attempts to change his diet or convince him that his medication isn’t helping fall of deaf ears. Her epilepsy seems to reach a point of no return as CBD and herbal supplements become too expensive. In her search for answers, Rams reaches out to those individuals across the globe who claim their sickness wained due to a drastic lifestyle change and not medication. You cannot help but become emotionally attached to the people featured in Go Heal Yourself. You’d be hardpressed not to know someone in your life that isn’t afflicted similarly. While some of them heal, others struggle. Each believes that holistic medicine will lessen their ailments in the end. It’s the mental aspect that seems the most powerful. With mindfulness becoming more mainstream, those who practice may feel vindication from this doc.

We are fully invested in Yasmin’s journey. It’s a personal, oftentimes dark, diary of sorts. Undoubtedly, we’re hoping to find our miracle cure as we watch. Go Heal Yourself is going to rattle people, and there’s no getting around it. But if it causes us to stop and think for a moment about what our health means in our souls, then it has succeeded wholeheartedly. At the very least it opens up the dialogue.


Online Dates

Sunday, November 14 – Sunday, November 28, 2021


Director: Yasmin C. Rams
Producer: Yasmin C. Rams, Rodney Charles
Cinematographer: Vita Spiess, Nic Smith
Editor: Kirsten Kieninger
Music: Patrick Puszko
Language: English, German, Spanish, Mandarin
Country: Germany
Year: 2021


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘YOUNG PLATO’ dares kids (and audiences) to use their words.

YOUNG PLATO

An inspiring documentary from the filmmakers of School Life (Released by Magnolia Pictures), YOUNG PLATO charts the dream of Elvis-loving school headmaster Kevin McArevey – a maverick who is determined to change the fortunes of an inner-city community plagued by urban decay, sectarian aggression, poverty and drugs. YOUNG PLATO hums with the confidence of youth, a tribute to the power of the possible. 


Teaching is hard. It’s also perhaps one of the most underappreciated careers. You cannot fully comprehend the emotional and physical burdens if you’ve never been in a classroom. In Belfast, a headmaster named Mr. McArevey teaches Philosophy to his primary school students. He makes it approachable. He creatively breaks down ideas to facilitate communication and critical thinking. Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School could be a blueprint for schools all over the globe.

Dealing with their anger is a running theme. Considering the neighborhood’s history, this is vital for these boys’ survival. I’m 41 years old, and until watching Young Plato, I don’t think I truly understood the chaos of religious politics in Ireland. Directors Neasa Ní Chianáin and Declan McGrath juxtapose volatile footage from 2001 with present-day footage of those same streets, now lined with school-age children. It’s a chilling effect.

 Holy Cross’s methods of discipline, under the guidance of McArevey, are fantastic, as the students actively and knowingly utilize philosophical strategies. The social-emotional impact that this could have in every school would be mind-blowing. In an area where violence is so prevalent, using the power of words is priceless. These young boys, even during reprimand, are unafraid to express their feelings. The intimacy and care that Young Plato takes in showcasing the children are beautiful. As a former teacher, this is a school that has all the tools. As a mother of a Kindergartener on the spectrum, focused, individual attention can change a child’s life. Holy Cross is a shining example. 

As the kids learn about their area’s recent violent past, the profound thoughts of peace from these youngsters give me hope. McArevey makes kids accountable for their words and actions. The staff does not let them off the hook while simultaneously extending consistent praise. Watching these lads progress through the school year, seeing the unique brand of teaching should inspire us all to do and be better with one another. Young Plato is a guide to a better world. 


For tickets to see Young Plato click here!


Director: Neasa Ní Chianáin, Declan McGrath
Executive Producer: Lesley McKimm, Justin Binding, Andrew Reid, Catherine LeGoff, Grainne McAleer
Producer: David Rane, Co-Producer: Hanne Phlypo, Jackie Doyle, Céline Nusse, Declan McGrath
Writer: Neasa Ní Chianáin, Etienne Essery, Declan McGrath
Cinematographer: Neasa Ní Chianáin
Editor: Philippe Ravoet
Music: David Poltrock
Language: English
Country: Ireland, UK, France, Belgium

Year: 2021


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

THE PEBBLE AND THE BOY

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

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


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


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


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


 

Review: Terrifying tots take aim at Mommy’s new boyfriend in ‘Ankle Biters’.

ANKLE BITERS

Sean, a pro hockey enforcer, has fallen in love with Laura, a widowed mother of four young daughters. When Laura’s children mistake an act of lovemaking as an attack, they plot to protect their mother at all costs and with horrific results.


Poor Sean and Laura just wanted a little bit of rough sex, but his soon-to-be stepkids are seriously killing the vibe. Thinking the bruises on their mother’s body are from abuse, four menacing little monsters take matters into their own hands.  Ankle Biters, a new Canadian horror-comedy, lands somewhere between The Bad Seed (1956) and The Crush (1993). “What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice, and everything nice; That’s what little girls are made of.” Maybe, not so much. 

Sean was an extremely violent hockey player, so perhaps this is merely a case of karma by kids? Zion Forrest Lee plays Sean with an overly friendly stepdad vibe. It falls somewhere between sweet and super creepy. The appearance from Colin Mochrie, as Detective Morton, made me laugh out loud. It makes the last third of the film brilliant.

Genre fans, let me introduce Rosalee, Violet, Lily Gail, and Dahlia Reid. These sinister sisters are bonafide stars. Their genetically boosted chemistry is the stuff of movie magic. They are downright frightening, giving us four fearless performances. They scared me, and I’m a mom and former teacher! Sheer perfection. 

The camera work often hovers on the girls’ level. Panning closeups in slow motion add to the eerie feeling you get from this gruesome foursome. It’s a carefully thought-out choice. While the pacing drags a touch, overall, it’s a dark and wild ride. The climax boasts some of the most gagworthy FX. I even screamed out loud at the same time as Sean. The final scenes completely caught me off guard. Well played, Ankle Biters. Well played. 


ON DEMAND/DVD NOVEMBER 16


Director: Bennet De Brabandere

Cast: Zion Forrest Lee, Marianthi Evans, Lily Gail Reid, Violet Reid, Rosalee Reid, Dahlia Reid


 

DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘The Business of Birth Control’

The Business of Birth Control

Sixty years after the pill revolutionized women’s emancipation, THE BUSINESS OF BIRTH CONTROL examines the complex relationship between hormonal birth control and women’s health and liberation. The documentary traces the feminist movement to investigate and expose the pill’s risks alongside the racist legacy of hormonal contraception and its ongoing weaponization against communities of color.  Weaving together the stories of bereaved parents, body literacy activists and femtech innovators, the film reveals a new generation seeking holistic and ecological alternatives to the pill while redefining the meaning of reproductive justice.


Is “the Pill” killing us? Perhaps not, according to the innumerable doctors who prescribe it to 11 million women. 35% of which are for reasons other than preventing pregnancy. Anytime I heard about my girlfriends going on birth control in high school or college, it was the same complaints; weight gain, mood swings, depression, and suicidal ideation. I never went on the pill because I was terrified by the side effects. In The Business of Birth Control, get ready to have your mind blown because everything you think you know about contraceptives and The Pill is about to change. The entire FDA approval study was based on only 132 women in Puerto Rico. What?! Under the auspices of body autonomy, the side effects were hidden or swept under the rug by the medical industry. Not a damn thing has changed. Profit and politics and old white men making decisions for women. Follow the money. Why fix a $17 billion industry? 

The Business of Birth Control utilizes doctors, educators, activists, and people passionate about giving you as much information as possible. We also hear about the fatal links to products like Yaz and NuvaRing. Director Abby Epstein introduces us to a group of parents who lost their daughters to the side effects of these hormonal contraceptives. They have become activists and not by choice. They wonder why there aren’t clear visual warnings on the front of contraception packages, much like cigarettes. I always pause when I watch drug commercials, and they rattle off the giant list of potential side effects.

I struggled to get pregnant for eight months. Every month I cried when the pregnancy test was negative. Then someone turned me onto an app very similar to the method discussed in the doc. I tracked my temperature each morning and some other information because you cannot get pregnant every day of your cycle, but that’s not what has been drilled into our heads since Sex Ed class in 5th grade. Within three months, I was pregnant, and I knew because of my spike in temperature. I knew before taking a test because I had learned the natural cycle of my body. 

Abby Epstein and Executive Producer Ricki Lake (The Business of Being Born) have given us so much to consider with this doc. There are more ways to maintain reproductive autonomy than I ever imagined. The fight continues to bring these options to every corner of the country, and much like the battle to keep abortion safe and legal, we cannot slow down in educating the masses. This film is not strictly for cis-gendered women who menstruate. The Business of Birth Control is knowledge every person should consume. Let’s keep talking to each other because that is empowerment. 


November 10th – November 18th

For tickets to watch The Business of Birth Control click here!


Directed by: Abby Epstein (The Business of Being BornWeed The People)

Executive produced by: Ricki Lake (Hairspray)

Producers: Abby Epstein, James Costa (Lunch HourWelcome to Chechnya), Holly Grigg-Spall, Anna Kolber (Chasing the Present)


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘JAGGED’ is everything you oughta know about Alanis Morissette and Jagged Little Pill.

JAGGED

JAGGED, directed by Alison Klayman, takes viewers to 1995 when a 21-year-old Alanis Morissette burst onto the music scene with the first single off her ground-breaking album, “Jagged Little Pill.” With a rawness and emotional honesty that resonated with millions, and despite a commercial landscape that preferred its rock stars to be male, she took radio and MTV by storm and the album went on to sell 33 million copies. Featuring an in-depth interview with Alanis, as well as never-before-seen archival material, JAGGED explores her beginnings as a young Canadian pop star, the rocky path she faced navigating the male-dominated music industry, and the glass ceiling she shattered on her journey to becoming the international icon and empowered artist she is today.


I went to rehearsal one night only to have my Mom hit play on the kitchen cd player to find my Jagged Little Pill album spinning. She’s cooking dinner and suddenly hears the lyrics, “Would she go down on you in a theatre?” That was an interesting conversation when I got home, mainly because I’m not even sure I knew what that meant at that point in my high school life. I was a pretty sheltered kid. Maybe that’s the reason Alanis’ music spoke to me. It was raw and emotional. JAGGED is Alison Klayman‘s new doc about one of my first feminist heroes, Alanis Morissette. As soon as the film begins, so do my goosebumps and unadulterated, joyful belting. That album gave me the confidence to be unabashedly me. I’ll be eternally grateful. 

JAGGED is a mix of sit-downs with industry greats, behind-the-scenes footage, and concert performances. The concert footage is so crisp you’d think it was filmed yesterday. As Alanis’s handwritten lyrics crawl across the screen in real-time, it remains clear that her writing is brilliant and forever relevant. The sit-down interviews with Morissette are insightful. Like her lyrics, she’s brutally honest, fearless, and funny. Alanis has a great laugh. It’s genuine and from the diaphragm. Watching her tell her own story feels incredibly relatable. In some ways, it adds more weight to Jagged Little Pill‘s lyrics. Twenty-five years later, screaming these songs with the knowledge of the emotion and experiences behind them, I love them even more. How could you not?

The juxtaposition of the bullshit from critics is glorious and pointed. Morissette flashes a middle finger to every single one of them. At the height of her fame, empowerment was not welcome. Certain critics don’t enjoy female artists talking about their love lives. It becomes misogynistic fodder. Ask Taylor Swift, who gets featured in the film. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? Jagged Little Pill was, and continues to be, an anthem for so many women. Her audience spans generations. Because of her, women continue to cultivate and hold female artists in high esteem because their music represents the masses. Alanis a goddamn icon. Anyone who claims differently is wrong. I’ll die on this hill. 


For tickets to JAGGED click here!


Executive Producer: Bill Simmons, Jody Gerson, Marc Cimino; Co-Executive Producer: Geoff Chow, Sean Fennessy, Noah Malale
Producer: Jaye Callahan, Alison Klayman, Kyle Martin
Cinematographer: Julia Liu
Editor: Brian Goetz
Music: Ilan Isakov, Tom Deis
Language: English
Country: USA

Year: 2021


#JaggedHBO, the second film in the #MusicBoxHBO series premieres November 18 at 8 PM on HBO Max.


Discovery + review: ‘SET!’ invites you to take a seat at one of the weirdest and most wonderful competitive sports you’ve never heard of.

Once a year, a group of feverishly determined table setters vie for the “Best of Show” ribbon at the Orange County Fair table setting competition. Often referred to as “The Olympics of Table Setting,” contestants can spend over 6 months preparing their table to compete and ultimately be judged. A merely misplaced soup spoon can mean the end for an otherwise perfect table. But like any competition, it is not without its dramatics. Old rivalries, controversy, and eccentric personalities come to a head as SET! explores topics far beyond the silverware.


Competitive tablescaping? Yes, you read that correctly. What, praytell, is competitive tablescaping? Well, it’s only the most amazing, strange, imaginative, cutthroat sport you’ve probably never heard of. Each year, under the guidance of a specific theme, competitors create place settings that will either wow or ward off a panel of judges and their fellow contestants. In SET!, director Scott Gawlik documents the six months leading up to the annual Orange County Fair table setting competition and its coveted “Best In Show” ribbon. 

Every inch and angle of cutlery and drinking glasses amounts to a point total. Scores are a cumulative system where one tiny mistake could cost you the top prize, which I think is bragging rights and not the 50 cent ribbon. What makes this sport so massively entertaining comes down to the interpretation of the theme and the competitors’ personalities. In SET!, featured competitors are not shy about sharing their opinions. More often than not, they’re downright catty. 

The judging is rigid. The rules are clear, but that doesn’t mean some of the comments aren’t questionable. Gawlik presents this aspect with glorious tongue-in-cheek energy through the film’s editing. But the drama pervades the entire process. A mostly female-dominated pastime, SET! also features a male competitor, Tim, who made his Dr. Suess-themed table on a literal dime. Others spend thousands on a single display. The snark, the tears, and the infighting make SET! something akin to Christopher Guest‘s Best In Show and The Real Housewives. The eccentricities of our featured contestants make SET! popcorn-worthy, high-stakes drama. The final displays vary in size, tone, and unconventionality. Some tables are complex, while others are simple and clean. But it’s the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of SET! that holds you captive. I never thought I’d be so invested in the placement of a water glass, and yet, here I am wondering what my holiday table will look like a month from now. 


Streaming on discovery+ on November 12th

Directed by Scott Gawlik

*Official Selection – Hot Docs 2021*
*Official Selection – Newport Beach Film Festival*


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘MR BACHMANN AND HIS CLASS’ is a lesson in compassion and kindness.

MR BACHMANN AND HIS CLASS

Where does one feel at home? In Stadtallendorf, a German city with a complex history of both excluding and integrating foreigners, genial teacher Dieter Bachmann offers his pupils the key to at least feeling as if they are at home.


When children get caught in the crosshairs of sociopolitical complexities, it’s rarely a good thing. In one specialized German school, an extraordinary teacher treats his students like his own children. Through language, history, German, and music, Dieter Bachmann breaks down the walls of his classroom and the industrial landscape in which they reside. Their families mostly hail from Turkey, having left to find work at the local factories. They must learn to adapt to new languages and ideas, thus breaking a cycle for their generation.

Director Maria Speth immerses the audience in the cinema verite style, and the choice is perfection. As a former teacher, placing the camera inside the action gives the viewer a real sense of the minute-to-minute chaos of a classroom. Kids are laughing, rolling their eyes, struggling, learning, expressing opinions all at once. Their anxiety is palpable as we watch parent-teacher conferences. The heart of Bachmann is the purest. You are invested in these children as they navigate challenges in and outside of school. You get to experience the aha moments that are some of the most rewarding times as a teacher. The kids are bright and thoughtful. Their opinions often differ, but the conversations sparked from those differences are brilliant. Mr. Bachmann and His Class reminds us that the human spirit needs encouragement. We cannot do it alone. While it does take a village to raise a child, Stadtallendorf is lucky to have Dieter Bachmann. 


For Tickets to Mr. Bachmann and His Class click here!


Director: Maria Speth

Producer: Maria Speth
Cinematographer: Reinhold Vorschneider
Editor: Maria Speth
Music: Oliver Göbel
Language: German
Country: Germany

Year: 2021


DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, runs in-person November 10-18 at IFC Center, SVA Theatre, and Cinépolis Chelsea and continues online until November 28.


Review: The kids are not alright. In fact, in Jesse P. Pollack’s ‘THE ACID KING’, the kids are very screwed up.

Dan Jones and Jesse Pollack’s powerful The Acid King, the story of Ricky Kasso, an American teenager who murdered his friend, Gary Lauwers, in an alleged “Satanic sacrifice” during the summer of 1984, premieres On Demand.


Pollack’s gritty documentary takes the viewer through the story of Ricky Kasso, a disaffected teen who took the media by storm in 1984 when he stabbed a friend to death in an alleged “satanic sacrifice.”

You can see why the media sniffed around. The few glances of Kasso the viewer gets are thoroughly terrifying – he’s got a wide-eyed stared frazzled by drugs and years of neglect. Add in some heavy metal, debts, and even more drugs? You’ve got a recipe for a sensational murder that added fuel to the “satanic panic” bonfire of anxiety that plagued the Regan-era suburbs.

Pollack seeks to paint with a broad brush; interviews range from friends and acquaintances to artists who were later inspired by Kasso’s story. While this shows how influential and far-reaching this tragedy became, it also results in an incoherent narrative.

The documentary can’t decide if it’s about a kid who was repeatedly failed by his parents, about mental illness, or about the start of the satanic panic. It gives you a little bit of everything. Rather than bringing a voice to the victim behind this story, it focuses much more on the myth and legacy of Ricky Kasso. This documentary makes clear that the satanic elements of the case were sensationalized but simultaneously give a platform to some interviewees to further perpetuate these very myths.

The Acid King definitely reinforces the twisted legacy of Ricky Kasso, as well as giving some insights into the tragedies that may have supported his downward spiral. I just wish it had gone a little further, been a little more decisive, and left me with a few more answers.


On Demand November 9 from Wild Eye Releasing.


Review: ‘See You Next Christmas’ is a charming and naturally evolving love story.

SEE YOU NEXT CHRISTMAS

Annie and Tom Clark throw a holiday party every year, “Clarkmas.” Over the years, it’s become the go-to holiday event for their ragtag group of friends. When chronically single Natalie and Logan continue to run into each other at the party year after year, they begin to wonder if maybe they’re meant to be together…


Opening with a mix of holiday home videos, the vibe sets itself in See You Next Christmas. The dialogue is quippy, relatable, cringeworthy, and funny. You know these characters. Our leading lady, Natalie, is overachieving, high anxiety, self-aware woman. Logan is a slightly abrasive, emotionally stunted bro. The combination of these two personalities leads to genuine grounded interaction. Their chemistry swings from breezy to volatile in an instant. That’s real life. 

See You Next Christmas allows us to not only follow Natalie and Logan but another couple in a completely different stage of their relationship journey. The clever juxtaposition of Annie and Tom as an established married couple creates a strong anchor. They are, as they say, couple goals. Through the years, we also get updates on other guests’ lives. You become attached to them and eagerly await their arrival. They’re all charming in their way. The large ensemble cast provides those laugh-out-loud moments.

Elizabeth Guest, as Natalie, brings energy I remember from my 20s and my 30s. Ambition and sass with a bit of uncertainty. A J Meijer has a quiet vulnerability that creeps up on you. His emotional journey feels the most concise and revelatory. Christine Weatherup gives Annie a warmth that balances Natalie beautifully. It’s the life experience and familial relationship that resonates. Vin Vescio, as Tom, wins you over. He tries so hard to be the best husband. He’s a caregiver. You want to put him in your pocket and take him home. 

Writer-Director Christine Weatherup creates an honest evolution of relationships. See You Next Christmas won’t solely be pigeonholed into a specific time of year. I must admit it’s a breezy step into the holiday season after all the craziness of the past two years. 


 

Available on Demand Nov 9th: https://geni.us/SeeYouNextChristmas


SEE YOU NEXT CHRISTMAS was written and directed by Christine Weatherup and produced by Beatriz Chahin and Matt Enlow.  The film stars Elizabeth Guest (AP Bio, Superstore), AJ Meijer (Heathers the musical original Broadway cast, Sneaky Pete), Christine Weatherup (Watchmen, Grey’s Anatomy, Bread and Butter), and Vin Vescio (Chicago Med, For the Weekend).  Giant Pictures will release SEE YOU NEXT CHRISTMAS on digital platforms on November 9, 2021.  The film has a running time of 99 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA.


Review: ‘That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes’ is genre-destroying madness.

Synopsis

Leonard is about to lose his girlfriend, home, and job. Upon that, he’s having strange hallucinations. Is it stress or an after effect of new technology installed all over the city? He must figure it out or he’ll be trapped in this nightmare forever.


I got the email and all I saw was the director’s name. You had me at Onur Tukel, send me the film. If you aren’t familiar with the genre of weird and wonderful that Tukel has put forth into the world of cinema, you’re seriously missing out. From titles like Applesauce to Black Magic for White Boys, if you ever think you know where one of his scripts is headed, you’re sorely mistaken. Enter his newest creation, That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes.

Leonard blew up his life by cheating on his girlfriend. She is kicking him out. In the meantime, her photographer father that she so clearly adores is visiting at an inopportune time, leaving Leonard to play an awkward host. Dennis is loathsome. He regards himself very highly and cares little for the opinion of others. He’s brash and his attitude seems to be contagious. Leonard is spiraling in every aspect of life. His cooking skills are garbage, he’s running out of money, what’s left of his personal space has been invaded. The entire film seems to be one bashing extravaganza of Leonard, or is it? There is a sadness that consumes him. Maybe it’s the strange new technology that begins appearing around the city. There’s a 5G joke in here, perhaps, and it isn’t subtle. 

Franck Raharinosy as Leonard is just as helpless as you need him to be. Put this man out of his misery in some form or fashion. That’s probably the oddest compliment I could give him. He plays such a convincing sad sack of a man, you feel bad for him. Alan Ceppos is magnificent in his ability to make you cringe. He just doesn’t give a f*ck, for lack of eloquence. This is a performance akin to watching a car crash. You want to look away but you cannot. You are transfixed by Ceppos’ nonchalance. He’s unreal.

The decision to use color for the past and black and white for the present threw me. It became a revelatory choice. Unsurprising for Tukel, whose films tend to center on relationships. You’ll always be taken aback by whatever comes out of his brain next. Tukel can make the mundane hilarious. In Cold Dead Look, we get everything from gaslighting to buffoonery, cruelty to madness, and depression with a side of hideous hallucinations. The film feels like one lengthy Twilight Zone episode in French. Do I have any inkling of what the hell happened once the credits rolled? No, I do not. But, That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes is unlike anything you’ve seen before, while simultaneously, very obviously being an Onur Tukel film.


The newest film from acclaimed director Onur Tukel (Catfight, Summer of Blood), and featuring Nora Arnezeder (Army of the DeadUpcoming series “The Offer”) and Max Casella (“The Sopranos”, The Tender Bar), THAT COLD DEAD LOOK IN YOUR EYES will release On Demand 11/9.


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

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


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

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


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