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

The Thief Collector

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


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

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

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

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

This is a neat little film and is highly recommended.


Director:

Allison Otto

Executive Producer:

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

Producer:

Caryn Capotosto, Jill Latiano Howerton, Joshua Kunau

Screenwriter:

Mark Monroe, Nick Andert

Cinematographer:

Rod Hassler and Matt Ryan (recreations)

Editor:

Nick Andert

Music:

Daniel Wolf

Principal Cast:

Glenn Howerton, Sarah Minnich, Scott Takeda, Matt Pittenger

Additional Credits:

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


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


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

SPLIT AT THE ROOT

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

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


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

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

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


Director:

Linda Goldstein Knowlton

Executive Producer:

Rosario Dawson, Zak Kilberg, Amanda Marshall, Regina Solorzano

Producer:

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

Cinematographer:

Nelson Hume, Nancy Serna-Guerrero

Editor:

Eric Torres, Alessandro Soares

Music:

Lili Haydn

Additional Credits:

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


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


SXSW 2022 review from Unseen Films: ‘SPAZ’

SPAZ

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

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


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


SXSW 2022 review from Unseen Films: ‘CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH’

CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH

My feeling toward Cooper Raiff’s CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH is summed up by the warning one learns very early when going to or following the news out of film festivals, which is beware anything anyone tells you because it is invariably wrong. More times than not writers, myself included, are caught up in the moment and something you see produces a reaction that over-sells the film. Such is the case with CHA CHA, a film many of my friends oversold when it played at Sundance.

Director Cooper Raiff plays a young man, just out of college who is stuck working at Meat Stick and acting as a guy who can get people to have a good time at various parties. He meets Dakota Johnson and her daughter at one and is smitten. They bond despite her having a fiance in Barcelona. What will happen?

How you feel about the film will be determined by how you feel about Raiff as a leading man and his technique behind the camera. Looking like a younger David Tennant but with 50% less charm and zero weight, Raiff wanders through the film in a part that makes him seem like a gee-whiz sweet guy that everyone likes. Gosh darn it, why can’t he get his life together. Its a saccharine part of the sort that only exists in “you can’t be serious” romantic comedies. This results in moments that had they been played by any other actor or written by any other writer might have seemed remotely real instead of artificial.

And it’s a shame because Dakota Johnson and Vanessa Burghardt as her daughter are magnificent. They take roles that shouldn’t work as written and turn them into something special. They are what make the film work as well as it does.

Yes, despite my bitching the film works as disposable romance. But it should have been better. It also should have had a different ending which seems to be there just to give the proceedings weight. Forgive me, while it may be slightly logical, Johnson is engaged after all, it feels out of place. Yes I know it’s the result of the film being from Raiff’s character’s POV, but it seems wrong and out of left field like many serious works of literature that go serious in the final pages/minutes. But what annoys me is the whole thing outside of Johnson and Burghardt are not far removed from a sitcom so it didn’t have to end real. (Yes know it’s foreshadowed in conversations but it still seems wrong to me)

Worth a look for Dakota Johnson fans or those who want to have their socks knocked off by newcomer Vanessa Burghardt. Everyone else you’re on your own.


To see more #SXSW22 coverage from Steve, head over to Unseen Films


CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH will make its global premiere on Apple TV+ later this year.


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

 DIO DREAMERS NEVER DIE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Directors:

Don Argott, Demian Fenton

Executive Producer:

Kathy Rivkin Daum, Wendy Dio

Producer:

Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce

Cinematographer:

Don Argott

Editor:

Demian Fenton

Music:

Nick Bassett

Principal Cast:

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


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


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

This Much I Know To Be True

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

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


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


SXSW 2022 review from Unseen Films: ‘The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See The Titanic’ (2021)

The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See The Titanic

One of the great finds at SXSW, this is the story of Jaakko a  blind movie fan who has a long-distance relationship with a disabled woman he has never met in person. Because he is also in a wheelchair Jaakko’s mobility is limited so they have been unable to work out meetings. When circumstances take a turn Jaakko decides he has to make the trek to his lady love.

Beautiful romance turns thriller as we worry how this is all going to go. Things are made tenser thanks to director Teemu Nikki shooting the film to simulate blindness. Anything outside of our focus is blurry we can’t really see around Jaakko. It’s a genuine claustrophobia that heightens everything.

What makes this film work are the people. Everyone is wonderful. Actually, Petri Poikolainen as Jaakko is magnificent. This is an Oscar-worthy performance. It’s stunning. Poikolainen is so good that I want to see him in more films,  he’s so good that he makes it clear that we need to hire more people with disabilities. (Poikolainen is blind and has MS)

Highly recommended. This is one of the great finds of the festival


To read more of Steve’s coverage of SXSW22, head to Unseen Films!


SXSW 2022 is coming. Here are some films to add to your watch list in this year’s hybrid festival.

It’s here and boy is it happening. This year’s hybrid edition of SXSW 2022 has it all. Here are a handful of films we’re excited about this year.


Linoleum

When a satellite falls from orbit and crashes into the home of a dysfunctional family in suburban Ohio, the father seizes the opportunity to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut by re-creating the machine as his own rocket ship. While his wife and daughter believe he is experiencing a midlife crisis, surreal events begin to unfold around him, forcing him to reconsider how interconnected their lives truly are…

We’ve been living through hell these past few years and could all use a bit of whimsy. Linoleum provides us the opportunity to reconnect with our inner child while simultaneously dissecting the family dynamics. Plus, I think a lot of people forget how incredibly talented Jim Gaffigan is as an actor. Look out for this one.


The Cellar

A woman must confront an ancient and powerful entity after her daughter mysteriously vanishes in the cellar of their new home.

Shudder has already picked this title up before its SXSW22 premiere. Becoming the best streaming platform for all things genre-related, when they see potential in a film they snap it up ASAP. An old mansion, a new family, a disappearance, The Cellar has my attention.


DIAMOND HANDS: THE LEGEND OF WALLSTREETBETS

It was the perfect storm. A global pandemic. An app aspiring to democratize trading. A group of Reddit users stuck at home with stimulus dollars to burn. And a video game company on its last legs. DIAMOND HANDS is the incredible true story of how an army of retail traders rallied around GameStop to rock our financial system. This is the legend of r/WallStreetBets.

Everyone watched in awe and confusion as GameStop stock began to skyrocket. The fallout was disastrous, but the idea that a bunch of dudes on Reddit were able to completely disrupt the market is pretty much my favorite (anti)capitalist giggle from 2020.

MSNBC Films and NBC News Studios will premiere “Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets,” on MSNBC Sunday, April 10 at 10:00 p.m. ET, following the global premiere at SXSW on March 13. “Diamond Hands” is produced by NBC News Studios and ZCDC Films. The film is set to stream later this Spring on Peacock. 


Hypochondriac

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

If you’re looking for some kick-ass casting, look no further than Zach Villa in Hypochondriac. Unrecognizable from his American Horror Story seasons, Villa plays the writer-director Addison Heimann‘s words with care. The film is based on Heiman’s own experience with mental health.


The Cow

Synopsis: Upon arriving at a remote cabin in the redwoods, Kath and her boyfriend find a mysterious younger couple already there — the rental has apparently been double-booked. With nowhere else to go, they decide to share the cabin with these strangers until the next morning. When her boyfriend disappears with the young woman, Kath becomes obsessed with finding an explanation for their sudden breakup— but the truth is far stranger than she could have imagined.

If you go to IMDB the plot for the film is still under wraps, so SXSW22 fans are in for a treat. I’ve always been a Winona Ryder fan and with Stranger Things revamping her genre status, I cannot wait to see what is in store in this mysterious-sounding plot.


Mickey: The Story of a Mouse

Mickey Mouse is one of the most enduring symbols in our history. Those three simple circles take on meaning for virtually everyone on the planet. So ubiquitous in our lives that he can seem invisible, Mickey is something we all share, with unique memories and feelings. Over the course of his nearly century-long history, Mickey functions like a mirror, reflecting our personal and cultural values back at us. “Mickey: The Story of a Mouse” explores Mickey’s significance, getting to the core of what Mickey’s cultural impact says about each of us and about our world.

When I was 19 years old, I moved to California on a whim in hopes of working at Disneyland. During my amazing time performing there (those details are top secret via the stack of NDA’s you sign as a cast member), I had the extraordinary pleasure of meeting a special individual. When Walt Disney opened Disneyland he presented the world with Mickey Mouse, live and in person. I met that man backstage and had my photo taken with him. The impact Mickey Mouse has had on generations of children and adults is unfathomable. Mickey: The Story of a Mouse will undoubtedly touch a massive audience. As I share Mickey with my own small children now, I can still picture my first meeting with a character so magical I was overwhelmed with joy and excitement. He never gets old, pun most definitely intended.


The Prank

Synopsis: Ben is your typical high-school overachiever. He’s organized, careful, goal-oriented and extremely dedicated to school. His best friend, Tanner, couldn’t be more opposite. She is a lackadaisical, messy, slacker, who lives in the moment. They aren’t popular, but they don’t seem to care that much because they have each other. Ben has a stern, mean and cruel physics teacher, Mrs. Wheeler. She has been teaching at the school for decades and has a reputation for being the hardest, coldest, strictest faculty member. She fails Ben’s entire class unless a student who cheated comes forward. When no one does, Tanner and Ben hatch a plan to ruin he life and frame her for murder on social media.

Social media is such a catalyst for action, terror, and weirdness these days that anything is possible when it is involved. But, it’s this cast that caught my eye. Rita Moreno, Connor Kalopsis, Ramona Young, Keith David, Kate Flannery, and Meredith Salenger will get my butt in a seat. Also, who didn’t have a teacher in high school everyone loathed?


The Unknown Country

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

I was first introduced to Lily Gladstone in Certain Women. Her ability to captivate with but a glance is something that is rare. The Unknown Country tackles a beautiful mix of anxiety, grief, and identity, all in a unique road trip movie. It’s a film we’ll be talking about all year.


Sissy

**WORLD PREMIERE**

WRITERS/DIRECTORS: Hannah Barlow, Kane Senes
STARRING: Aisha Dee, Hannah Barlow, Emily De Margheriti, Daniel Monks, Yerin Ha, Lucy Barrett, Shaun Martindale, Amelia Lule, April Blasdall, Camille Cumpston

Synopsis: Cecilia and Emma were tween-age BFFs who were going to grow old together and never let anything come between them, until Alex arrived on the scene. Twelve years later, Cecilia is a successful social media influencer living the dream of an independent, modern millennial woman… until she runs into Emma for the first time in over a decade. Emma invites Cecilia away on her bachelorette weekend at a remote cabin in the mountains, where Alex proceeds to make Cecilia’s weekend a living hell. #triggered

Listen, girls are mean. We hold grudges and we play dirty, those are just the facts. When friendships are disrupted, those scars last a lifetime. With social media affecting the way we lead our daily lives, SISSY sounds like a perfect storm for great horror.


SOFT & QUIET

Playing out in real time, Soft and Quiet is a runaway train that follows a single afternoon in the life of a female white supremacist as she indoctrinates a group of alt-right women, and together they set out to harass two mixed-raced sisters.

Any film that has the audacity to play out in real time has my attention. I am hardwired to loathe these main characters so I am hoping that some horrible fate befalls them. The plot is socially relevant even if I wish it weren’t. I’ll be paying close attention to how writer-director Beth de Araújo brings her first feature-length film to life.


Radical Honesty

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

At 41, I cannot imagine navigating a new relationship at this precise moment in time. I remember when Match.com first became a thing and how weird I thought it sounded. Then I recall attending four weddings in the years that followed, each couple had met through Match. RADICAL HONESTY, a 7-minute short film, tackles the complexities that Gen Z and Millenials face day-to-day. I’ll be watching with popcorn in hand knowing that it’s one hell I don’t have to keep in check these days. (*knock on wood) Check out the teaser trailer for the film’s aesthetic.

Radical Honesty Teaser from Bianca Poletti on Vimeo.


Slash/Back

Synopsis: Pangnirtung, Nunavut: A sleepy hamlet nestled in the majestic mountains of Baffin Island in the Arctic Ocean, wakes up to a typical summer day. No School, no cool boys (well… except one), and 24-hour sunlight. But for Maika and her ragtag friends, the usual summer is suddenly not in the cards when they discover an alien invasion threatening Pang. But these teenagers have been underestimated their whole lives, and using makeshift weapons and their horror movie knowledge, they show the aliens you don’t fuck with the girls from Pang.

Slash/Back is an unexpected coming-of-age film. With some Stranger Things vibes, it tackles tradition, boredom, boys, and aliens. Wait until you see this young cast kicking ass and taking names.


Pirates

New Year’s Eve 1999. Three life long friends drive through London in their tiny Peugeot 205, pumping a UK Garage set from the stereo and arguing about their Avirex jackets and Naf Naf imports. As the eighteen-year olds step into adulthood, they know their lives and friendships are on the brink of change. Determined to end the century on a bang, they drive from place to place in a desperate search for tickets for the best millennium party EVER. In their efforts to end up somewhere, they end up closer together.

I know I’m aging myself but I was 19 on New Year’s Eve 1999. I lived this chaos and hopefulness. Anything was possible during the course of one evening. I’m here for the nostalgia and some solid shenanigans.


Jethica

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

Wild and collaborative filmmaker, Pete Ohs brings an exciting edge to the indie scene with Jethica. Shot during the pandemic in 2021 and edited live on Twitch, SXSW22 audiences are surely in for some unexpected twists and turns.


The Voice Actress

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

A peek inside the recording booth and inside the mind of a working voice actress. Urara Takano puts a face to the performers we don’t talk enough about. Written, directed, and edited by Anna J. Takayama, we are invited into the world of a veteran voice actress and how she copes with forces beyond her control.


For more information on this year’s SXSW Film Festival click here!

Stayed tuned for Reel News Daily coverage as well as guest posts from Steve Kopian at Unseen Films. We’re making our schedules and doing all we can to bring you everything we’ve got. Stayed tuned!


Review: ‘THE LONG WALK’ is an ever-evolving entity of grief.

THE LONG WALK

The Long Walk is Laotian director Mattie Do’s third feature, and centres around an old man, who discovers that he can travel back in time and speak with the dead. The film stars Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy, Noutnapha Soydara, Vilouna Phetmany, Chansamone Inoudom and Por Silatsa.


Do not take your eyes off the screen for a second.m The Long Walk has an enigmatic script that obliterates genre norms. When a colleague and trusted friend Steve Kopian, at Unseen Films, told me that I had to make sure to watch without distraction, he was not exaggerating. Blink, and you might miss pertinent information. Part sci-fi and a lot of ambient horror, The Long Walk is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Spirits and time manipulation are the tips of the iceberg.

Performances are mesmerizing. As the plot evolves, each actor runs the emotional gambit. The lush Laos countryside becomes a haunting backdrop for a story you won’t see coming. The trickiest part about writing a review is not wanting to spoil the experience for the audience. There are rare occasions where going into a film blind is in your best interest. The Long Walk is one of those films. This film will take your breath away as you move from fear to heartbreak, confusion to awe. The Long Walk is one of the year’s most intriguing films. It bears repeating, do not look away. 

The Entrancing Time-Travel Ghost Story — Out Now In Select Theaters + On VOD March 1

The first Lao film to screen theatrically in the US, from Laos’ first and only women director:

ABOUT MATTIE DO:

Mattie Do is Laos’ first, and only, female filmmaker. Born in California to recent refugees of Laos’ Communist Revolution, Mattie was raised in Los Angeles, but returned to Laos a decade ago after her father retired in Vientiane.

In 2012, Mattie directed her first feature film, Chanthaly. The film was the ninth feature film produced in the country of Laos since the 1975 revolution, the first feature film to feature a female protagonist, and the first Lao feature film to be directed by a woman. Chanthaly also challenged Laos’ strict censorship which at the time mandated that Lao women only be depicted in traditional dress speaking formal Lao, and restricted any depiction of supernatural or superstitious beliefs. The film premiered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas becoming the first Lao film to screen outside of SE Asia. Chanthaly’s success at festivals led to Mattie’s selection for the Cannes’ Fabrique des Cinemas du Monde, TIFF’s Directors Talent Lab, Berlinale Talents, and BIFAN’s Fantastic Film School. Afterward, Mattie worked with the Ministry of Culture to create the infrastructure necessary to introduce foreign co-production to Laos, including a framework for managing the country’s rigid censorship. In 2015, Mattie produced Laos’ first American and Japanese co-productions, which later respectively premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and Locarno Film Festival.

Mattie Do’s second feature, Dearest Sister, premiered at Fantastic Fest before screening at BFI’s London Film Festival, Singapore International Film Festival and nearly two dozen other film festivals. The film received Special Jury Mentions at the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival, Lund’s Fantastisk Filmfestival, and Fantasporto Film Festival. The film was later selected as Laos first official submission to the 90th Academy Awards.


Unseen Films Sundance (2022) review: ‘NAVALNY’ (coming to CNN and HBOMax in the spring.)

NAVALNY

Follows the man who survived an assassination attempt by poisoning with a lethal nerve agent in August 2020. During his months-long recovery he makes shocking discoveries about the attempt on his life and decides to return home.


My final film for Sundance was  NAVALNY about the Russian opposition leader whom Putin had poisoned with a nerve toxin that if administered correctly shuts off all of your nerves, killing you in a way that looks like a natural death because it dissipates quickly from the body.  The film is an examination of the poisoning by various places including the excellent Bellingcat coupled with a look at Navalny’s career.

Coming into the film after several days of my friends talking it up, I was initially rather disappointed. The early part of the film was kind of dull and run-of-the-mill. The film wasn’t doing anything bad, rather it was hitting the typical points of a story like this. It wasn’t until the poisoning happened that the film clicked and we were off to the races as the story of trying to find a smoking gun link to Putin gave a serious shot of adrenaline into the proceedings. Suddenly there was not only a mystery to be solved but also there was a real danger to the proceedings because other than a stupid person can see clearly how evil Putin is.

I really liked this film a great deal. It’s a compelling story with a connection to current events (the Russian threatened invasion of Ukraine).  You really get a sense of how bad Putin is for his country and the world.

If I have any reservations is that watching the film doesn’t always give us an entirely clear-eyed picture of Navalny. The filmmakers clearly love him, and there’s is no denying he’s at least a seeming better choice than Putin, but there are still questions about his past (links to ultranationalists) and he is a bit too smooth for me to entirely take the word of one film.

Reservations aside the film is highly recommended, if for no other reason than it’s a hell of a story.



To read all of Steve Sundance 2022 coverage, head over to Unseen Films!


Unseen Films Sundance (2022) Midnight review: ‘PIGGY’

PIGGY

An overweight teen is bullied by a clique of cool girls poolside while holidaying in her village. The long walk home will change the rest of her life.


Laura Galán will probably become an international star after people see PIGGY because she gives the role everything and then some. Truthfully if Oscar noticed films like this she would be a front runner, but the Academy never does, so her Oscar will no doubt come for some other, lesser performance.

I probably shouldn’t say this but PIGGY made me laugh. This tale of Sara, a heavy girl who ends up tied to the crimes of a serial killer, struck me as exceedingly funny. The reason for my chuckling was that everything was so overdone. For me, it played like an uncomfortable comedy where lots of bad things happened and a lot of blood flowed.
While I admire Laura Galán’s work, I have to wonder if writer Carlotta Pereda likes the character. She abuses the shit out of Sara and has her running around in such a way that she always seems to be on the verge of being completely naked both physically and emotionally. It never struck as believable because she is never given a respite, even for a second. What’s worse, the ending, which I guess is supposed to be cathartic, just didn’t make sense.
Then again much of this film doesn’t make sense, with so much of the film seemed to provoke a reaction either in the audience or the characters, with the result that some of the turns had me scratching my head-beginning with why in the hell the killer would leave a body underwater where he does- I mean it was clearly going to be discovered ASAP.
Yes, the film provokes a reaction, but I don’t know if it does more than that. The plot doesn’t make much sense and as a portrait of bullying, it’s so over the top and so incredibly cruel, especially to its main character, that on its own terms it isn’t one that should be preaching.

Worth a look for Laura Galán’s performance, I’m not too sure of the rest.


To read the rest of Steve’s Sundance 2022 footage head over to Unseen Films!


Unseen Films Sundance (2022) review: ‘FIRE OF LOVE’

FIRE OF LOVE


This is the story of volcanologists  Katia and Maurice Krafft who met and fell in love with each other and the earth’s firey mountains.

Made up mostly of the words and images of the Kraffts the film is many things. It is one of the most visually stunning films of the last few years. It is a history of volcanology over the life of the Krafft’s. It is one of the grandest love stories of our times. And the film is a philosophical examination of life and man’s place in the world. I was moved to tears.

What I love about the film is that the film doesn’t try to tell us everything, and in so doing does. Nominally it is about these two people, but the telling makes it into a myth. Not in the untrue sort of way, but the myth that gets at the hidden truth of human existence. It’s exactly the sort of thing that Werner Herzog strives for in his films where he will bend things toward the fantastic to give us a great truth. I don’t think anything was bent, I just think the shaping was a bit more mythic than the reality. And this is fine because it puts the love story on the level of the massive and overpowering volcanos

I can’t say this enough, the film moved me to tears.

A must-see, this is one of Sundances and 2022’s truly great films


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!


Unseen Films reviews: Sundance (2022) feature ‘Leonor Will Never Die’

LEONOR WILL NEVER DIE

Leonor is an older woman who can’t pay her bills. Her plan to sell an old script to a movie producer goes awry when she is clonked on the head by a TV and put into a coma. As her family deals with her medical issues she is living her script for real. It a one of a kind movie that mashes together genres into a film that is unlike any other, If you want a film that isn’t Hollywood but is entertaining look no further. This is one crazy film that mixes drama-comedy and 1980s action films into a story that grabs you and pulls you along.

I don’t know how to discuss this film. Then again I don’t know if I should. The film is just starting out on its journey to get to your screen and I don’t want to take the specialness of it away by telling you everything. I say this because I’m pretty certain this is going to hit a number of festivals in the coming months.

I will say that some of this doesn’t work. I was a bit lost at times, on the other hand, the film is so good that the bumps don’t matter.

Recommended, especially if you like off Hollywood one-of-a-kind gems.


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


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!