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

KEEP SWEET

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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


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


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


Blood In The Snow (2021) review: 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!


2021 Dances with Film review: Love, religion, and identity collide in ‘OVER MY DEAD BODY’.

OVER MY DEAD BODY

 
Synopsis:

Isfahan, a Persian-Jewish woman in Los Angeles, is considered, at thirty-one, to be well past marrying age. So her conservative parents are relieved when she announces her engagement to her younger boyfriend, Kambiz. Until they learn he is Muslim. Her father immediately vetoes the marriage, her mother calls the siblings over, and Kambiz gets kicked out of the house. The situation escalates into an all-out confrontation between Isfahan and her family. As she defends her love, the family defends their traditions, demanding that she honor their religion and old-world values. This intergenerational struggle forces Isfahan to make a decision that will define the rest of her life.


At an impasse of religion and love, the title of this thought-provoking short film suggests that it’s a horror film. While not touted as such, what unfolds in 25 minutes between family members is absolutely horrific. To fully appreciate the nuance in Over My Dead Body takes an open mind. Often, we place ourselves in the shoes of the characters on screen. Here, depending on your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), the complexities are unsurpassed. Having religion forced upon me as a child backfired at the age of about 14. In a world filled with volatility caused by media corporations, conflicting gods, and traditions, Over My Dead Body hits harder in modern times. Our families are supposed to love us unconditionally. What happens when that isn’t true? The cinematography is smart and takes advantage of the lush sets and costumes. Performances from this true ensemble cast are magnetic. You know this family. It resembles your own in more ways than you might realize at first watch. With an ending that will leave you breathless, the impact of this short should echo loudly.


Meital Cohen Navarro’s OVER MY DEAD BODY, a devastating short film
about a family at war over love versus religious tradition
screens in competition at 2021 Dances with Films

Screening Information:
WHERE:                       TCL Chinese 6 Theatres (6801 Hollywood Blvd.)
WHEN:                         Saturday, August 28 at 1:30 PM


 

Review: All hell breaks loose in Shudder Original, ‘The Cleansing Hour’

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I’m not even going to lie, if The Cleansing Hour actually existed I would watch it. Shudder is a genius platform for this film, especially now. Religion is always a solid platform to skewer but add in a social media angle and you’ve got yourself one entirely engrossing genre flick. The exploitation gets flipped by a demon in a terrifying (sometimes comical) way. It’s divine justice for a con man. But there is much more to it than first meets the eye. The writing is sharp and twisted.

The performances are outstanding. Truly scary shit. Kyle Gallner as Drew is the good guy, the brains behind the operation. His dedication to Max and Lane may be his ultimate downfall. Gallner is deep in this role, which is no surprise. I am a huge fan of his eclectic body of work. This is no exception. Ryan Guzman as Max is the perfect self-obsessed asshole. Guzman plays the victim very well but walks a phenomenal line between the need for attention and contrition. But it is the performance from Alix Angelis that is fully immersed in terror and sheer brilliance. The entirety of the film’s success is driven by her insane work, and I do mean work. She must have been exhausted after every take.

The practical fx missed with the sound editing made me almost vomit. It took me way too long to catch my breath. The look of the film is spot on. The camera work is cool as hell. But it is the storyline that will suck you in. The entire plot is centered around confession. This demon is looking for something very specific and until then, it will torture and kill until it is satisfied. I could not tear my eyes away from the screen even when I wanted to. Writer/director Damien LeVeck and co-writer Aaron Horwitz know exactly what they’re doing. The social commentary is unmistakable. The Cleansing Hour is full tilt, batshit crazy. The ending… you’ll never see it coming. Stay. Through. The. Credits.

Directed by: Damien LeVeck | Written by: Damien LeVeck and Aaron Horwitz

Starring: Ryan Guzman, Kyle Gallner, Alix Angelis

Review: For ‘Them That Follow’ it’s devotion until death

Deep religious beliefs permeate an extremely small and isolated Appalachian community.  Pastor’s daughter Mara is trapped between her feelings and the expectations put upon her by her father and his followers. She is secretly pregnant. She is rightfully petrified to be found out. Blind faith and reality might just split her in two.

Olivia Colman is completely unexpected as a matron in this community. Her American accent is frighteningly good. She is nothing like you expect her character to be. She ever so slightly and quietly teeters on the brink of questioning what’s right. Jim Gaffigan plays her husband Zeke. You almost wouldn’t know he was there. He is vastly underutilized. What he does get to emote is strong. Walton Goggins as Pastor Lemuel makes your skin crawl with his piercing stare. Alice Englert as Mara is vulnerable and raw. She owns each scene she’s in and goes toe to toe with the presence of Colman and Goggins.

The film has such an ominous sense that it keeps you engrossed and totally uncomfortable as you watch.The film is shot in darkness, whether at night or overcast skies, costumes and sets are all in winter and fall browns and jewel tones. This is a story of not only religious zealots it is also quietly about the sexual awakening of a repressed young woman. Misogyny and passion clash and a sheer impending terror has a palpable effect on the audience. Something wicked this way comes.

Review: ‘THE VESSEL’ is a struggle between grief and belief.

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In Theaters September 16, 2016

Starring:

Martin Sheen (TV’s “The West Wing,” Apocalypse Now)

Lucas Quintana (Wing it, Death of an Ally)

Jacqueline Duprey (Under Suspicion, Entre Nos)

Aris Mejias (Gabi, “Incógnita”)

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Lucas Quintana; Credit: Courtesy of Outsider Pictures

When tragedy strikes, your universe can crumble. Everything you know can seem confusing or useless. Darkness takes hold. We search for the smallest meaning to turn our sadness into joy once more. In THE VESSEL, one man is burdened with being the guiding light for a small coastal town, following the sudden death of all its elementary aged children.

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Aris Mejias; Courtesy of Outsider Pictures

Martin Sheen‘s performance as a well-meaning priest is genuine and grounded as always. The Vessel was filmed in both English and Spanish, which is an incredible feat for any American actor. Once again teaming up with Terrence Malick (executive producer), the two would have the opportunity to seemingly readdress a series of meaningful conversations in Paris in 1981 in which Sheen’s Roman Catholic faith was restored. Playing our other leading man, Leo, is Lucas Quintana. His strong but never forceful presence is the perfect companion character for the audience to follow. We are 100% on his intellectual journey throughout. Both Jaqueline Duprey and Aris Mejias, as Leo’s Mother and Soraya respectively, give heart-rending performances as two women whose grief controls their daily lives and sanity.

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Lucas Quintana; Courtesy of Outsider Pictures

One thing that must be mentioned is the ethereal score of this film. It is, in itself, an entire character. The music is emotionally entrancing, at moments giving me chills. The Vessel presents a world in which religion and the supernatural collide. A town frozen in time and mourning experiences a miracle that breathes new life into its people. But disappointment leads to anger and hysteria. It’s a visually lovely film in which color plays a huge role. Bravo to director Julio Quintana for assembling a masterful piece of work.

Music, Dancing, Fireworks, Childbirth. In an unnamed coastal town somewhere in Latin America, these are just a few things that vanished from a small fishing village after a massive tidal wave crushed the local elementary school, washing forty-six children out to sea.  Father Douglas (Martin Sheen) urges the grief-stricken mothers to have more children, but they refuse, locked in a state of perpetual mourning. Until one night when a local young man slips off the pier and drowns, only to mysteriously waken three hours later.  “Could this be a sign from God?” the townspeople wonder.

Review: ‘THE CONFIRMATION’ tackles faith, family, and forgiveness.

saban films logo

presents

In Select Theaters and On Demand Friday, March 18th 

The Confirmation poster

Clive Owen shines in this irresistible comedy as Walt, a down-on-his luck carpenter tasked with entertaining his eight-year-old son Anthony while Anthony’s mom (Maria Bello) and her new husband are away. But when Walt’s prized toolbox is stolen, a quiet father-and-son weekend turns into an adventure of a lifetime. Aided by an oddball drywall repairman (Patton Oswalt), Walt and Anthony go on a wildly funny search for the thieves—and find something they never imagined: a true family connection. Also featuring performances by Matthew Modine, Robert Forster, Stephen Tobolowsky, and Tim Blake Nelson.

clive owen and jeadan LieberherOn the heels of his beautiful script for Nebraska, writer/director Bob Nelson brings heart and levity to what might otherwise seem to be a mundane scenario. The estrangement of an alcoholic father and his young son is nothing new, but by adding a religious element to the mix, it makes for a funny and honest look into the innocence of a child’s mind. Clive Owen‘s portrayal of Walt is raw and real. You empathize with his struggle to do right by his son. Speaking of Anthony, St. Vincent prodigy Jaeden Lieberher is, once again, a star. His purity in presence and intention glow as a young boy thrust into religion by his Mother. Caught in between parents of opposite end spectrum, he is an old soul, yet is constantly discovering when it is okay to push social boundaries. Owen and Lieberher are a perfect pairing. Nelson’s script allows both actors to take the reins as the story progresses. Each character has the opportunity to emotionally care for the other in a truly lovely dynamic.

LOL_0537The subtlety of the film is what makes it so successful. In an era of overblown CGI fare, Bob Nelson gives us an honest to goodness family story. The Confirmation is a joy.

The Confirmation Trailer from Saban Films on Vimeo.

In Select Theaters and On Demand Friday, March 18th 

ABOUT WRITER/DIRECTOR, BOB NELSON

BOB NELSON is a screenwriter, director, and producer, whose script “Nebraska” was produced in 2013 for Paramount Pictures and directed by Alexander Payne.  The film starred Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, and Stacy Keach.  It was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay, and received the Best First Screenplay award at the Independent Spirit Awards.

 In 2016 Saban Films is releasing Nelson’s directorial debut from his original screenplay, The Confirmation,” starring Clive Owen, Maria Bello, Patton Oswalt, Matthew Modine, Tim Blake Nelson, Robert Forster, and Stephen Tobolowsky.

The TV pilot he wrote and executed produced for Amazon, “Highston,” has been picked up for a full season and will premiere in 2017.  It’s directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and stars Lewis Pullman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Chris Parnell, and Curtis Armstrong.

Before screenwriting, Nelson was a journalist, talk radio producer, and wrote for Comedy Central, Fox Television, VH-1, and Bill Nye the Science Guy.  Nelson was a performer in the original Bill Nye PBS series, “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and a writer and performer for “Eyes of Nye.”

In the 1990s, Nelson was a cast member, writer, director, and segment producer for the iconic Seattle sketch show, “Almost Live!” on the NBC affiliate KING-TV.  The program was named the best local program in the United States for several years and won over 100 Emmys.  Nelson received five Emmys for writing and one for performing.  Besides a two year run on Comedy Central, “Almost Live!” was twice syndicated nationally.

Nelson was born in Yankton, South Dakota and grew up in the Seattle, Washington area.  He currently lives on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, with his wife Valerie.

 

Tribeca Film Festival review: It’s easier to squirm than to understand ‘A Courtship’, but don’t be too quick to judge.

Courtship_Press_1 TribecaWe’ve all seen The Duggar Family on television. Courting is something that has a tendency to be labeled a bit kooky. No kissing, supervised “dates”, and approval needed from the head of the household (which is a man, of course). While this may seem like something right out of the dark ages, for a percentage of the population, this is an increasingly common practice in the conservative Christian faith. In Amy Kohn‘s film, A Courtship, we meet 33 year old Kelly. At 19, she was away at college when she found out her parents were getting a divorce. This caused Kelly much strife and ultimately she loses faith in the world. So Kelly moves to Michigan, becomes a devout Christian, and embarks on a journey of courtship, led by her “spiritual parents” Ron and Dawn Wright. Ron has a website called beforethekiss.com in which he shares his knowledge on courtship, selling books that help both children and parents, and even recommending a CD called How to Evaluate a Suitor. Even though Kelly had shared kisses as a teenager, since making the decision to find her husband via courting, she is saving her next first kiss for the alter. This is essentially the first rule of courting. Kissing is meant only for a husband and wife. Courtship_Press_2 TribecaRon and Dawn believe that God has called them to find Kelly a husband, which she is 110% on board with. Kelly moves in with The Wrights and Ron meets with potential young men who he thinks might be a good match for Kelly. While on Facebook, Kelly finds a young man named Ross. He lives the courtship lifestyle and truly believes that God has a plan for everything. During the course of Amy Kohn‘s year of filming, we watch Ross, Kelly, Dawn, and the rest of the Wright family interact. Kelly is girlishly hopeful that Ross is the one sent by God. On the flip side of the coin, Kelly’s actual parents, mother Linda and stepfather Bob, think that internet dating might be a better option for their daughter. They try as hard as they can to understand where Kelly is coming from. One of the most touching moments in the film comes when Bob tears up, telling Kelly that if she were to move back to Alabama near the family, he would be her advocate. It’s a beautiful foil, each family with their own faith and views on love and marriage.Courtship_Press_3 Tribeca Ultimately, after speaking with Kohn, I’ve decided that my gut reaction to this film was far too judgmental. I was certain that there was a hidden incident in Kelly’s young past, at college perhaps, that drove her to seek such extreme measures in love and faith. Amy doesn’t there is anything that she is holding back. She is lovely, passionate young woman, who wants nothing more than to be a good wife and mother. You easily fall in love with Kelly as you watch her journey. Who are we to say what is the right way to find who we’re meant to be with. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else in the process, why should courtship be labeled any crazier than “swiping to the left” or getting a quickie divorce? A Courtship is an intriguing look into a lifestyle that may not be for everyone, but definitely works for some. We wish Kelly all the best and hope that she finds true love, sooner rather than later.

Liz’s Review: ‘As Above, So Below’

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Last year I toured the Catacombs of Paris. If you are at all claustrophobic, this may not be the tour for you. They are very deep beneath the streets of Paris and not for the faint of heart. If you don’t know, they are the resting place for over 6 million bodies; skeletal remains. Check out a few pics from my trip. Read More →