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

SUMMER OF SOUL

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


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

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

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


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


Review: ‘THE HUMANS’ is a living, breathing tableau of the American family.

THE HUMANS

Erik Blake gathers three generations of his Pennsylvania family to celebrate Thanksgiving at his daughter’s apartment in lower Manhattan. As darkness falls and eerie things go bump in the night, the group’s deepest fears are laid bare.


I wish I had seen Stephen Karam‘s stage version of The Humans. As a theatre major/lover, I could immediately feel the weight of the dialogue; subjects that feel mundane, long pauses fill the air, then the delicious, sharp back and forth. Karam developed his Tony-award-winning script for the screen and every single second of it is authentic. The most magical part of The Humans for a kid that grew up in the Connecticut burbs and then attended a theatre conservatory on the Upper West Side is the specificity to every detail of the sets and sound editing. Now 41, owning a co-op a block away from school, I realize how immune I’ve become to the sounds of a clanking and hissing radiator or the banging footsteps of the neighbors overhead. It is only when I visit home for the holidays that I notice the birds chirping or the silence of a neighborhood with picket fences. And yet, The Humans taps into a universality of the American family. There is something so familiar about the generational divides that appear around a dinner table; the brazen backtalk of the youngest adult, the words of wisdom, often misconstrued, from the parental units. Relationships are rubbed raw by alcohol or exhaustion. It’s a visceral discomfort that is highlighted brilliantly in this film. 

Karam’s use of sound, in particular, makes The Humans a genre-bending ride. Don’t be confused when your heart sounds and you think you’ve mistakenly turned on a horror film. The deliberate panic-inducing score and sound editing exacerbate buried secrets in The Humans. Karam’s carefully curated script is a masterclass in storytelling. He clearly understands the natural rhythm of familial banter. Each character experiences an arc over a few hours. The Humans plays in real-time. The blocking is coordinated chaos, and I mean that in the highest regard. The camera sits quietly, like an observer in an adjacent part of the apartment. Speaking of, in seeing photos of the two-story unit set from the Broadway run, I am even more impressed at the similarities in the film. With the cramped spaces down to the water stains on the walls, the production team deserves all the awards. 

The cast is superb. Amy Schumer stuns in the role of eldest daughter Aimee. The quiet anguish in her eyes and understanding tones of an adult kid attempting to maintain peace resonates immediately. Her performance has an authenticity that will make you take notice. Steven Yeun is a gentle pleaser as youngest daughter Brigid’s (Beanie Feldstein) boyfriend. He is attentive and honest, with perfectly played outsider energy. It should be no surprise to anyone paying attention to Yeun’s roles since leaving The Walking Dead. His talents are limitless. Dementia takes hold of matriarch Momo, played by the legendary June Squibb. While she technically has little dialogue, each syllable has weight. You’re fully aware of her importance. 

Beanie Feldstein as a musician and wide-eyed optimist, Brigid gives us the know-it-all baby of the family, please treat me as an adult vibe we need. You know her character. Feldstein’s delivery is chef’s kiss. Reprising her Tony Award-winning role as Deirdre is Jayne Houdyshell. The underlying pain is precisely masked by good humor and sass. This behavior comes with a breaking point. I could have sworn I was listening to my mother tell stories about her day. Houdyshell doesn’t take any shit. She’s loving but refuses to be a doormat.

Richard Jenkins‘s performance is immaculate. Karam tapped into the plight of the middle-class white man. From working the same job for decades, sending his kids to college, and entering the next phase of life feeling like the rug has been pulled from underneath him. What you aren’t expecting is the PTSD aspect to loom so large. As someone who experienced 9/11 in college and was downtown two days prior, that day hits differently, more so if you lived through it here in Manhattan. That trauma is key to who Erik has become. It is part of his very essence. Jenkins’s physicality is a story unto itself. He is outstanding. 

The Humans is the perfect film to watch with your family. Its nuance will bowl you over. The Humans is timeless and completely relatable. It’s a snapshot of what kitchen tables have looked like for years. Do not overlook this one. 


RELEASE DATE: In Theaters November 24 and on Showtime


From writer/director Stephen Karam and starring Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell, Amy Schumer, Beanie Feldstein, Steven Yeun, and June Squibb.


Blood In The Snow (2021) review: ‘Woodland Grey’ is a mesmerising tale.

WOODLAND GREY

A man living alone in the deep woods finds Emily, a hiker, unconscious and laying on the forest floor. He brings her back to his home and helps her get back to health so she can leave the forest and get home. After a few tense days coexisting, Emily makes a discovery. She finds a crudely built shed behind the man’s home. When she opens it, she unleashes something truly haunting. As Emily and the man come to terms with what has been released, they also attempt to find a way out of the forest which isn’t exactly what it seems.


Writer-director Adam Reider establishes isolation beautifully in the opening of Woodland Grey. With the sensory engulfing rustling of fall-colored trees, we watch William empty his trapped food and cook it over a campfire in front of his trailer. What appears to be a solitary existence is interrupted when he discovers Emily unconscious in his woods. His attempts to keep a dark secret and his controlled environment are about to go to hell.

The tension between actors Jenny Raven and Ryan Blakely is palpable. Reider, alongside writer Jesse Toufexis, gives these actors opposite personalities to the extreme. But this device keeps things interesting. Each brings a fire and nuanced perspective to the story. When you see it, you’ll understand how meaningful that becomes. They are truly spectacular.

The score helps to build a simmering unease from the very beginning. The structure of the script does not let you get comfortable. You cannot miss the references, directly and indirectly, to “Hansel and Gretel”. It’s all a bit maddening in the most brilliant ways. Could this film be a metaphor for purgatory? Completely possible. Could it be about the emotional stronghold of regret? Easily. I have so many questions and I don’t even care about the answers. I was too mesmerized to care. Woodland Grey is one of the most unique horror films of the year.


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


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

THE CHAMBER OF TERROR

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


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

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

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


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


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

FLEE THE LIGHT

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


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

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



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


Blood In The Snow (2021) review: ‘PEPPERGRASS’ is a compelling thriller.

During a pandemic, a pregnant restaurateur tries to rob a priceless truffle from a reclusive veteran.


Peppergrass is a slow-burn thriller that ultimately turns into a survival film. It builds a similar tension that Alone did. Not exactly the horror I was expecting from Blood in The Snow, but it is, nonetheless intriguing as hell. You must have patience for the first third is heavy character building. As our two protagonists botch their unusual robbery, the camera continues its handheld intimacy. Forced into the dark woods, Eula attempts to make it to the car in one piece. This becomes more complicated a task as the landscape is unkind to a pregnant person.

Chantelle Han gives it her all as Eula. As the plot roles out in a mostly real-time fashion, the audience watches her physically and emotionally tap out at certain points. But it is when she barrels through the cold, darkness, and imminent threat that makes her a total badass. Han is the driving force of Peppergrass.

At times, the score is this curious mix of ominous whimsy and borderline grating organ tones. It refuses to be ignored. Peppergrass is nothing like I expected. It places you inside the action because there is literally nowhere else to go. The danger and isolation are palpable. It’s a solid film.


For more info on BITS 2021 click here!


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


 

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

GO HEAL YOURSELF

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


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

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

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

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


Online Dates

Sunday, November 14 – Sunday, November 28, 2021


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


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

THE PEBBLE AND THE BOY

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

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


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


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


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


 

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

ANKLE BITERS

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


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

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

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

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


ON DEMAND/DVD NOVEMBER 16


Director: Bennet De Brabandere

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


 

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

JAGGED

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


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

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

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


For tickets to JAGGED click here!


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

Year: 2021


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


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

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


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

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

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


Streaming on discovery+ on November 12th

Directed by Scott Gawlik

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


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.


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

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


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

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


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



Review: ‘IDA RED’ – a family crime drama where performances rule all.

Crime boss Ida “Red” Walker (Oscar® winner Melissa Leo*) turns to her son, Wyatt (Josh Hartnett), to pull off one last heist to get out of prison. But with the FBI closing in, Wyatt must choose between family and freedom in this high-octane thriller.


IDA RED opens up with honest to goodness tense action. Come to find out, half of it is a whole lot of bait and switch. The script has plenty of surprising revelations. It is undeniably engaging, from the shocking violence to the keen character building.

Frank Grillo, as Dallas Walker, is as epic and as he is evil, with an IDGAF aura. It’s one hell of a performance. Melissa Leo is Ida. Her uncanny ability to own the screen with nothing but a look gets me every time. This crime family matriarch rules from prison with an iron fist and favoritism. And, damnit, the fact that it’s a woman makes my heart skip a beat. More of this, please.

Sofia Hublitz, who is fantastic on Ozark, plays Darla Walker. She’s the youngest troublemaker of this family unit. Hublitz walks the perfect line between innocence and passionate anger. Josh Hartnett, as Wyatt Walker, is the unwaveringly loyal son. Hartnett’s multiple-year hiatus from the big screen was noticed, especially by those of us who grew up alongside him in movies like The Faculty, Pearl Harbor, and Sin City. Whenever I do see him nowadays, I am reminded immediately of his immense talent. He’s got a coolness to him that you can’t teach. As Wyatt, his familial devotion is palpable, to a fault. IDA RED allows him to play the full spectrum of emotions. 

The soundtrack boasts some of the coolest (and strangest) choices. I was obsessed. IDA RED could have been a limited series. As it stands, it’s a solidly done family crime drama, possessing fully fleshed-out, massively flawed characters with incredible actors breathing life into them. I recommend a watch.


Watch the trailer:

Saban Films will release the action/crime/thriller IDA RED in Theaters, On Digital, and On Demand on November 5, 2021.


IDA RED is written and directed by John Swab (Body Brokers, Let Me Make You a Martyr) and stars Josh Hartnett (Wrath of Man, “Penny Dreadful”), Sofia Hublitz (“Ozark”), William Forsythe (The Devil’s Rejects, Raising Arizona), Deborah Ann Woll (“True Blood”), Frank Grillo (Boss Level, The Purge franchise), and Academy Award winning actress Melissa Leo (The Fighter, Prisoners, Frozen River).


 

Review: Hannah Marks explores the growing pains of modern love in ‘Mark,Mary, and Some Other People’

Synopsis:

Mark and Mary, acquaintances from college, run into each other at a drug store as Mary is buying a pregnancy test. The test is negative and the two wind up dating and rapidly falling for each other. Mark has a more traditional view of relationships and Mary’s view is more modern and progressive. They try “ethical non-monogamy” at Mary’s request, and create their own version of an open relationship, while also trying to balance their fledgling careers and friendships. Through a series of ups and downs, Mary starts to realize she’s more traditional than she thought whereas Mark starts to open up and see the world differently through Mary and a polyamorous lens.


“Traditional” relationships structures were created by, well, who knows. Love is weird and complicated, no matter how hard we try. We’re only human. We have urges that are as basic as they come. Anyone who claims to not be attracted to a person outside of their monogamous relationship is a liar. Love is messy and ever-evolving, and writer-director Hannah Marks gets that. Marks popped onto my radar with Banana Split. Her writing is laugh-out-loud-funny and relatable as hell. In her sophomore film, Mark, Mary, and Some Other People, we get the entire emotional spectrum in an hour and a half.

Hayley Law, as Mary, is equal parts bold and down-to-earth. Ben Rosenfield, as Mark, is the definition of charming. I’m not sure he could be more adorable if he tried. Their chemistry with each other, and the rest of this cast, is electric. You have to wonder if any of the dialogue is improvised. It is abundantly clear making this film was a good time.

Mark, Mary, and Some Other People has both nonchalance and honed in emotional palpability. It tackles big issues like communication, the evolution of relationships, and growing up, all with humor and honesty. It’s not pretty or tied up with a bow. Marks understands why that’s important. It’s a peek inside the complexities of human nature. Mark, Mary, and Some Other People is yet another successful notch in her filmmaking belt.


In Theaters and On Demand:

Friday, November 5


Written & Directed By:
Hannah Marks
Produced by:
Stephen Braun, Jon Lullo, Brendan Walter, Jonathan Duffy, Kelly Williams, Pete Williams, and Hannah Marks
Executive Produced By:
Stephen Braun
Starring:

Ben Rosenfield, Hayley Law, Nik Dodani, Odessa A’zion, Matt Shively, Sofia Bryant, Maggie Wheeler, Joe Lo Truglio, Haley Ramm with Gillian Jacobs and Lea Thompson


Blood In The Snow (2021) capsule review: ‘Tin Can’ is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

TIN CAN (Dir. Seth A Smith) (99 mins)
As the world enters quarantine, a front-line parasitologist is imprisoned in a life-suspension chamber. To escape she must destroy the last of her kind.


Tin Can immediately throws you off-kilter. The camera work can be disorienting at times. Mostly, it is claustrophobic as hell. We are in the dark just as much as the characters, quite literally. Our view becomes quietly less obstructed as the film progresses. Do not confuse that with plot clarity. The strangeness continually grows, no pun intended. This sci-fi body horror film will be a hit with Doctor Who fans for a multitude of visual reasons. The special fx makeup has a visceral impact. You’ll be so engrossed in the mystery of it all, as breadcrumbs drop, you’re hungry for more. Fair warning, do yourself a favor and do not eat while you watch. Tin Can’s complexity is endless. There’s an interesting argument about the god complex in science. I can guarantee you’ve never seen anything like Tin Can. Leave your expectations at the door and sit in this experience.



Round 2 of BITS 2021 is coming in November. You can purchase tickets now!


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”)


Blood In The Snow (2021) review: Mark O’Brien’s ‘THE RIGHTEOUS’ brings an unpredictable darkness.

THE RIGHTEOUS (Dir. Mark O’Brien) (96 mins)
A burdened man feels the wrath of a vengeful God after he and his wife are visited by a mysterious stranger.


Former man of the cloth Frederic has a crisis of faith triggered by the death of his young daughter. When a mysterious injured young man named Aaron appears in their yard late one night, questions swirl as to his true identity. The young man’s intentions and intensity grow with each passing hour. Aaron slowly ingratiates himself with Frederic’s wife, Ethel, turning her sullen and suspicious mind into a gracious one overnight. His relationship with Frederic proves the most complicated.

Is The Righteous a parable? You’re constantly second-guessing any theory that pops into your head. The screenplay leans on its cast with brilliant storytelling. Stunning black and white cinematography compound a visceral sadness from the very opening shots. You cannot help but be swept away by the camera work. It’s so intentional, creating a timeless and unsettling hum from start to finish. The score is yet another brilliant element. It gave me goosebumps.

Mimi Kuzyk as Ethel is grounded and loving. You’ll hang on every word. Henry Czerny as Frederic is as skeptical as we need him to be. His pensive moments reel you in. You’re right along with him at every turn. Writer-director-star Mark O’Brien, as Aaron, is nothing short of captivating, as each beat is an entire journey. You will be mesmerized by both this performance and the script. You’ll want to watch it again and again.

Religion, redemption, and revenge all take center stage. As one forced into eight years of Catholic school attendance, this one got under my skin on another level. Nothing will prepare you for the reveals in this story. The escalation of terror is much like a rollercoaster that never seems to want to descend. It will make your heart race. Do not get comfortable. The Righteous is one hell of a feature debut. How can O’Brien possibly top such an epic introduction? I’ll be damned if I’m not here for whatever that may be.


You can check out the second half of BLOOD IN THE SNOW (2021) in person

November 18-23 at The Royale Theatre

Tickets are on sale now!