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

SALT IN MY SOUL

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

 


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

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


SALT IN MY SOUL

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

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

 

VOD Platforms: 

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

Cable Platforms: 

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



ABOUT THE BOOK

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

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


 

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

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

&

Nocturna: Side B – Where the Elephants Go to Die

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


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

 

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


Nocturna: Side B – Where the Elephants Go to Die

 

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


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


 

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

THE SHEPHERDESS AND THE SEVEN SONGS

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

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


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

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

will be released on VOD in North America in spring 2022

from Deaf Crocodile, Gratitude Films, and Grasshopper Films.


THE SHEPHERDESS AND THE SEVEN SONGS

Original title: Laila aur satt geet

Genre: Drama

Country: India

Runtime: 96 min

Year: 2021

Languages: Gujari and Hindi; English subtitles

Rated: NA


IFC Midnight trailer debut: ‘A BANQUET’ dishes out family and fear this February.

A BANQUET

Directed by Ruth Paxton
Starring Sienna Guillory, Jessica Alexander, Ruby Stokes,
and Lindsay Duncan

Synopsis
Widowed mother Holly (Sienna Guillory) is radically tested when her teenage daughter Betsey (Jessica Alexander) experiences a profound enlightenment and insists that her body is no longer her own, but in service to a higher power. Bound to her newfound faith, Betsey refuses to eat but loses no weight. In an agonizing dilemma, torn between love and fear, Holly is forced to confront the boundaries of her own beliefs.


Opens in Select Theaters, on Digital Platforms
and VOD on February 18th


About the Director
Ruth Paxton is a Scottish filmmaker who graduated in 2007 with an MA in Film and TV from Screen Academy Scotland having gained her honours degree at Edinburgh College of Art. Her award-winning shorts have been exhibited and nominated in competition at numerous international events and prominent film festivals. Winner of Best Woman Director at the 12th London Short Film Festival for her film PULSE, and nominated one of Canongate Books 40 Scottish Storytellers of The Future; artists anticipated to dominate the next 40 years of creative life in Scotland. In 2019 Screen Daily featured her as one of ‘Six emerging Scotland based Directors you need to know.’ A BANQUET is Ruth’s debut feature, a psychological horror produced by Tea Shop Productions and Riverstone Pictures. The film is represented by HanWay Films, and was recently acquired by IFC Films for North America. It was selected for the Great 8 showcase at Cannes Marche presented by BFI, BBC Films and the British Council, and will have its World Premiere at Toronto International Film Festival 2021, in the Discovery section.


Directed by: Ruth Paxton
Written by: Justin Bull
Produced by: Leonora Darby, Nik Bower, James Harris, Mark Lane, Laure Vaysse
Director of Photography: David Liddell
Edited by: Matyas Fekete
Starring: Sienna Guillory, Jessica Alexander, Ruby Stokes, Kaine Zajaz, Lindsay Duncan
Runtime: 97 mins


IFC MIDNIGHT
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#ifcmidnight


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

WHO IS AMOS OTIS?

SYNOPSIS

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


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

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

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

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


Official Trailer for Who is Amos Otis? on Vimeo.


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


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


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

THE JINKX AND DELA HOLIDAY SPECIAL

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


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

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

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


JINX AND DELA HOLIDAY SPECIAL is available :

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

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

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


 

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

DEATH OF A TELEMARKETER

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


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

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


DEATH OF A TELEMARKETER

In theaters and VOD December 3, 2021


Directed by Khaled Ridgeway

Starring Lamorne Morris, Jackie Earle Haley, Haley Joel Osment

Release Date: 12/3/21


Review: 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


 

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: ‘Alice is Still Dead’ Grapples with the Limits of Justice

In an intimate and unflinching account dealing with grief, ‘Alice is Still Dead’ tells the story of a murdered loved one from the victim’s family perspective. From the detective’s notification to her family to facing the killer in court, we see the pain, anger, and heartbreak a family must endure while the nightmare is investigated.


In most true crime stories, the mystery of “what really happened” carries the narrative. Viewers are invited to reconstruct timelines and decipher motives, then try and solve the crime simultaneously with the professional investigators. Alice is Still Dead turns that formula on its head. For instance, what if there is a brutal murder, but the facts– while devastating– are relatively straightforward? What if the central protagonist is tragically incidental to the killer’s motive? What if the police and justice system function exactly as society intends them to do? This film illustrates that even without the standard narrative hooks of true crime, a shocking senseless death is still a story. There is still a family that must find a way to carry on despite their grief and try to find contentment with the limits of justice.  

 This documentary is a fascinating portrait of a family grappling with the shock and aftermath of the death of Alice Stevens, a young woman murdered in Thunderbolt, Georgia, in 2013. Through touching interviews with those that knew Alice best, Director Edwin P. Stevens (Alice’s older brother) tells the story of a murder from the perspective of the victim’s family. In this tribute, the filmmaker ultimately asks how and if it’s possible to move forward after such a traumatic event.

 Important viewing for true crime fans, this film explores angles that many projects in the genre leave unaddressed.


Alice is Still Dead will be available on Digital and VOD globally beginning November 5 from Global Digital Releasing.


Written by Meredith Mantik, Joe Raffa, and Edwin P. Stevens. Produced by Cory Pyke, Joe Raffa, and Edwin P. Stevens. Executive Produced by Edwin and Cecilia Stevens.


 

Review: ‘Isolation’ horror anthology is pulse-pounding genre goodness.

ISOLATION

As a narrative framework, Director and Producer, Nathan Crooker created a fictional world many months into the future that is based around the current global pandemic. All eleven filmmakers used the same unifying framework in creating their stories. The filmmakers were tasked with how to stay creative using only what was available to them at the time. They were not allowed to use Zoom or any other video conferencing services and were only allowed to use the equipment and resources they had with them when they entered into lockdown, including cast and crew, adhering to their respective COVID-19 protocols.


As Fil Eisler‘s opening credits crawl across the screen, and you hear his eerie score, you already feel you’re in for something unsettling. Nathan Crooker is behind the concept of Isolation. His instructions to fellow filmmakers? Solely use what you have at your disposal in lockdown. Each sequence transition utilizes Eisler’s animation to highlight a new city and story. It’s sheer perfection.

Larry Fessenden‘s piece “Fever” is precisely that; a wildly dark, creatively shot, fever dream. It nailed the undying spirit of New York and hit me square in the chest. Andrew Kasch‘s film “5G” takes a conspiracy theory angle. It’s that online alt-right anger we know all too well. But how they communicate with our man Chad is altogether something new. Cody Goodfellow‘s script is clever. Paranoia takes hold in Dennie Gordon‘s “The Dread” as a husband and wife hole up in their Los Angeles hillside home. Are their fears so unfounded after all? 

Bobby Roe‘s “Pacific Northwest” broke my heart into a million pieces. What would happen if my kids had to survive on their own? It destroys me to let my mind go to that place. Co-written by Zack Andrews, this one kept my pulse pounding. Written and directed by Adam Brown and Kyle I. Kelley, “Meat Hands” was unexpected. Loneliness is a killer, but so is interacting with people in a pandemic. Physical intimacy is vital to survival. Cleverly connecting back to “5G,” Alix Austin and Keith Siewert‘s “It’s Inside” takes place in London. Pushing 5G and chemtrail theories, YouTuber Paige believes someone is inside her flat. Bravo for the practical FX and sound editing because it all makes you cringe. 

The palpable sadness of Zach Passero‘s film “Gust” is unavoidable. Outside of the pandemic, it touches the monotony of motherhood and its emotional isolation day in and day out. “Homebodies” by Alexandra Neary sees an investigative journalist come upon a horror he did not expect. The film taps into the sensationalism that’s crept into the media. If you weren’t waiting for Cuomo’s daily updates last year, you were seeing the same images of empty streets and not much else. I was not expecting this more traditional turn. It was awesome. Finally, we find ourselves in Berlin with Christian Pasquariello‘s “Comfort Zone.” If this doesn’t scream governmental and scientific transparency to viewers, I don’t know what will. It’s a super slick cherry on top of Isolation‘s overall storytelling. 

Isolation taps into authentic fears. For anyone unfamiliar, what a fantastic introduction to the work of these filmmakers. The length and uniqueness of styles keep you hovering on the edge of your seat. You don’t have a moment to get settled.


*Available on VOD Tomorrow, November 2nd, 2021*


Produced by Nathan Crooker
Directed by:
Dennie Gordon (Jack Ryan, Legion, Hunters, Waco)
Larry Fessenden (“The Last Winter,” “Habit,” “Depraved”),
Bobby Roe, (“The Houses October Built 1&2”)
Andrew Kasch, (“Tales Of Halloween”),
Zach Passero (“Wicked Lake”)
Christian Pasquariello (“Alien Invasion: S.U.M. 1”)
Alexandra Neary (“The Innocent”)
Alix Austin & Keir Siewert (“Retch”)
Kyle I. Kelley & Adam Brown (“The Music Lesson”)


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

13 Minutes

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Director: Lindsay Gossling

Writer: Lindsay Gossling

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

Producers: Travis Farncombe, Lindsay Gossling, Karen Harnisch

Cinematographer: Steve Mason ACS, ASC

Language:  English

Running Time: 108 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Brooklyn Horror Film Festival (2021) capsule review: ‘The Feast’ is deliciously gory folklore.

SYNOPSIS

IFC Midnight’s THE FEAST follows a young woman serving privileged guests at a dinner party in a remote house in rural Wales. The assembled guests do not realize they are about to eat their last supper.


Brooklyn Horror Film Festival 2021 audiences were in for some magic with The Feast. Meticulous sound editing and sharp cinematography create a tense and frightening environment right off the bat. Strikingly framed shots envelop the audience as this house filled with extremely flawed residents prepares for an important dinner. Cadi’s assistance is requested. Her awe and anxiety resonate immediately. But as the day progresses, Cadi has a mysterious connection to the land this family is mining. Superstition, tradition, greed, and revenge clash in The Feast, making for a jarring watch. Performances across the board are outstanding from overtly creepy, pathetic, nouveau riche, prideful, eccentric, gluttonous, and entitled. The Feast is a delicious mix of excellent storytelling and sharp visual composition. It should not be missed.


Nationwide audiences can experience the film when IFCMidnight brings it to theaters on November 19th


DIRECTED BY
Lee Haven Jones
WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY
Roger Williams

CAST Annes Elwy, Lisa Palfrey, and Caroline Berry


#thefeast #ifcmidnight

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

SOUTH OF HEAVEN

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


Review: The Extended version of ‘CLEANIN’ UP THE TOWN: REMEMBERING GHOSTBUSTERS’ is a franchise fan’s dream.

CLEANIN’ UP THE TOWN:
REMEMBERING GHOSTBUSTERS

CLEANIN’ UP THE TOWN: Remembering Ghostbusters is the definitive documentary charting the making of the iconic film that inadvertently changed the film industry forever. Featuring interviews with Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, and Ernie Hudson and including never-before-seen footage. The documentary hallmarks the extraordinary achievements made for the era, and emphasizes just how ambitious an undertaking the making of Ghostbusters really was.


Born in 1980, my entire childhood revolved around Ghostbusters. Ecto-cooler was in my lunchbox. Ghost traps were created from tissue boxes. When I received the elusive Ecto 1 for Christmas, I was the envy of the neighborhood. The extended version of Anthony Bueno’s documentary Cleanin’ Up The Town: Remembering The Ghostbusters takes you into the minds and personalities that created the iconic film. It is overflowing with behind-the-scenes footage and stories, and it’s all to die for. When you find out who the original cast was meant to be, your head will spin.

The film utilizes animation to illustrate what these first ideas and meetings looked like. The sketches of the ghosts are insanely impressive. We’ve got the standard talking-head interviews, but it’s a franchise fan’s dream. The late, great Harold Ramis is included, in all his glory. Ghostbusters was made with a group of the most elite talents of the time. The photos of the team building the technology to create the film are pretty amazing. The FX from Steve Johnson gave us the iconic characters of The Librarian, Slimer, and The Stay Puft Marshmellow Man.

When Sigourney Weaver landed the role of Dana, it changed everything. She pushed the boys to not only be better actors, but she is also responsible for a huge aspect of Dana’s arch. Weaver and Ivan Reitman discuss her audition, which will forever remain unseen by the public. Ernie Hudson’s role looked very different from the original script to the final incarnation. He talks about the dynamics of the entire cast. Even with a runtime of 2 hrs, you won’t want the film to end. It’s a cinephile’s dream. The wealth of information, the access to cast and crew, and the sheer love that emanates from everyone involved make Cleanin’ Up The Town: Remembering The Ghostbusters a nostalgic joyride.


Extended Version In Theaters &
On-Demand Today


Directed by Anthony Bueno (Beware the Moon: Remembering An American Werewolf in London)
Produced by Claire Bueno


Featuring the cast and crew of the original Ghostbusters including
Dan AykroydHarold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts
Director Ivan Reitman
Producers Joe Medjuck and Michael C. Gross
Visual Effects Crew Members Richard Edlund and John Bruno
Creature Design Consultant Terry Windell
Editor Sheldon Kahn


Review: ‘Eye Without A Face’ is a twisted psychological thriller.

Eye Without A Face

Henry, an agoraphobic and anxious young man living in Los Angeles, hacks into the webcams of various selected young women who inhabit the city. He watches over them in their daily lives, seeing himself as their guardian angel. When his new charming roommate Eric, a Youtuber and struggling actor pushes him to get out into the real world, he unknowingly puts Henry in danger. And as Henry starts to suspect one of the women he watches, Laura, of being a killer, everything starts to spiral out of control.

 


Luke Cook as Erik is the perfect foil for Shapiro’s Henry. He’s narcissistic and raunchy but also genuinely a good friend. I could not take my eyes off of him. I found myself cringing and doubled over at his antics. Cook provides the much-needed lightness to the dark of this film. Dakota Shapiro as Henry is simply astounding. He lives in the skin of a trauma victim. His idiosyncracies are spot on. Shapiro’s vulnerability is the backbone of Eye Without A Face. The cinematography from Tara Violet Niami is striking. Thoughtful use of color and lighting make for some extraordinary close-ups, especially of Adam’s eyes.


It’s clear to see the Rear Window inspiration in writer-director Ramin Niami‘s screenplay. The tiny flashes of Henry’s backstory heighten the tension. So does Charlie Clouser‘s score. If you think you know where this is going, think again. There is a reason we’re told to put tape over our laptop cameras. We love online these days, much to our own detriment. The key to Eye Without A Face is Henry’s largely unaddressed trauma. It is the complexity of his nature that makes this film so killer.


ON-DEMAND AND DVD AUGUST 10


Featuring stunning cinematography by Tara Violet Niami, and a mesmerizing score by Charlie Clouser, Eye Without A Face is written and directed by Ramin Niami, director of the acclaimed films Somewhere in the City, Babe’s & Rickey’s Inn and Shirin in Love.

Starring hot young actors Dakota Shapiro (“The Affair”), Luke Cook (“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”, “Katy Keene”), and Vlada Verevko (“Beauty and the Beast”), Eye Without A Face will be available On Demand and Digital August 10 from Gravitas Ventures.


Review: ‘RIDE THE EAGLE’ is endlessly charming, authentic, and funny.

RIDE THE EAGLE

When Leif’s (Jake Johnson) estranged mother Honey (Susan Sarandon) dies she leaves him a ‘conditional inheritance’. Before he can move into her picturesque Yosemite cabin, he has to complete her elaborate, and sometimes dubious, to-do list. Leif and Nora, his canine BFF, step into Honey’s wild world as she tries to make amends from beyond the grave in this hilarious and heartfelt comedy.


Ride The Eagle is a one-of-a-kind film. The script is written by director Trent O’Donnell and star Jake Johnson. Tackling regret, forgiveness, and everything in between, there’s an honesty that stings and inspires. Mostly, Ride The Eagle makes you smile.

The script is filled with quirky characters. J.K. Simmons is fantastic in his manic energy. His delivery makes you involuntarily grin. Susan Sarandon, who we only see in her videotape to Leif, gives us warmth, and wisdom, and a boatload of snark. Her dialogue is yet another example of the care taken by O’Donnell and Johnson in their writing. There is a specificity that allows us to sit in Leif’s emotional shoes.

I want D’arcy Carden to be my new best friend. The scenes between her and Johnson are pure gold. Their chemistry is off the charts. Made even more impressive by the fact that they speak exclusively over the phone. It’s like watching a masterclass in scene partnering. Their report nudges the script into rom-com territory. But, in truth, Ride The Eagle is consistently genre-defying. Jake Johnson owns every frame he appears in. He has this innate ability to put you at ease while simultaneously making you giggle. He keeps you on your toes, always making you wonder what is scripted and what might be improvised. He’s just that talented.

The score is vibrant and incredibly thoughtful. Ride the Eagle shines with heart and charm. It has a palpable vulnerability that makes it undeniably relatable. Of the nearly 200 films I’ve seen in 2021, Ride The Eagle easily soars onto my top 10 list.

DECAL will release comedy RIDE THE EAGLE In Theaters, On Demand, and Digital on July 30, 2021. 

RIDE THE EAGLE is directed by Trent O’Donnell (“New Girl,” “No Activity”) with a screenplay by O’Donnell and Jake Johnson (“New Girl,” Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse), who also stars alongside Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise, Dead Man Walking), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Juno) and D’Arcy Carden (“The Good Place,” “Barry”).


Review: ‘Enemies of the State’ takes the courtroom drama into the digital age.

ENEMIES OF THE STATE

ENEMIES OF THE STATE is a documentary thriller that investigates the strange case of Matt DeHart, an alleged hacker and whistleblower, and his former Cold War spy parents who believe they are at the center of a government conspiracy and are ready to do anything to save their son from prison. This stranger-than-fiction story takes audiences on a wild ride of unexpected plot twists and bizarre discoveries in an artistic and cinematic documentary that blurs the line between reality and paranoia. With extraordinary access to all lead characters and key sources, this film presents many contradicting viewpoints as it attempts to solve a mystery that has kept attorneys, activists and journalists occupied for over a decade.


If an innocent man was sitting in front of you, would you even know it? This is a question I asked myself several times throughout Enemies of the State, Sonia Kennebeck’s propulsive new documentary. Years ago, movies made these kinds of questions easy on us: there’s that old western stereotype of the gunslinging hero wearing the white hat, staring down a villain dressed in black. These days, our digital lives have complicated that confrontation. In a world where stories of hackers, deep fakes, and police corruption flood the headlines, who can truly be trusted?

Enemies of the State’s subject is Matt DeHart. Through one lens he is an online activist, presumed hacker, whistleblower, and WikiLeaks courier. Through another, he is a convicted felon, guilty of soliciting child pornography from multiple victims. We will meet Matt’s supporters – family, friends, and online activists who all suggest these charges amount to little more than a government cover-up. We also see the case from law enforcement and hear the testimonials of the alleged victims. Who to believe?  This is Law and Order meets Mr. Robot.

In a film where nothing is certain, Kennebeck’s balanced direction is welcomed. Pains are taken to give equal air time to protagonists on each side of the conflict, to keep the viewer in check. I naturally found myself empathizing with DeHart’s family early in the film. In the immediate next scene, the camera lingers on the variety of medals on Detective Brett Kniss’ walls – as if to say, “You don’t want to believe this guy? He’s an Eagle Scout!”

I found the re-enactment scenes, featuring actors supported by authentic audio clips, robotic and less compelling. While robotic may indeed have been Kennebeck’s intention, sections in which the audio played simply over a black background were more resonant and unsettling.

Ultimately, the question of DeHart’s guilt or innocence depends on trust. Do you trust Matt’s family, his friends, or the FBI? Enemies of the State doesn’t take it easy on you – that answer is probably going to change a few times over the course of 103 minutes. I won’t give away where I landed – I’ll just say the image of the empty chair at the end of this film stuck with me long after the screen faded to black. Don’t understand? Just trust me.


In Theaters and On-Demand
July 30, 2021

Directed by: Sonia Kennebeck (National BirdUnited States vs. Reality Winner)
Produced by: Ines Hofmann Kanna, Sonia Kennebeck
Executive Produced by: Errol Morris


*OFFICIAL SELECTION – 2020 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL*
*OFFICIAL SELECTION – 2020 DOC NYC*

*OFFICIAL SELECTION – 2021 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL*


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

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

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

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

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

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

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