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Berlinale 2021

03 Mar 2021

BERINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Though this website is NOT press-accredited with Berlinale, the site has managed to access a few of Berlinale’s exclusive film slates. 

These films are capsule reviewed below, with the embargo dates duly respected.  Many of these films will eventually be viable on various streaming platforms, so keep a lookout.

Berlinale is a first class film festival that showcases the best of films internationally.

Capsule Film Reviews:

ALL EYES OF ME (Israel 2020) **

Directed by Hadas Ben Aroya

The film opens with a party.  Danny is looking for Max through the party to share that she’s pregnant with his child.  Danny is female but looks like a boy and makes out with another girl before she finds Max.  There is a lot of kissing with tongue in the making out and nudity in this scene.  The film then shifts to Max as has sex with Avishag, who like it S & M style.  It is a lengthy sex scene with lots of kissing, agin with tongue.  If one likes this sort of soft-porn sex in the name of art, then this film, which is quite well shot would be appropriate.  But director Aroya’s film feels aimless - as in an unrelated scene where Avishag sits in a dog park while watching a video performance.   But Max just started a new relationship with Avishag and attempts to realize her rough sexual fantasy.  Truth is, Avishag actually has someone else in mind.  And truth is, there are probably more interesting films at Berlinale that do not deal with empty sexual encounters.

AZOR (Argentina/Switzerland/France 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Andreas Fontana

Shot primarily in French and Spanish and set in Argentina during the midst of a dictatorship, the first scene shows two teens with their hands facing the front of a building, while interrogated by soldiers, as observed by a couple in a car.  The couple are Swiss tourists - the tension set during the first scene that lingers throughout this absurd political thriller.  Yvan De Wiel is a private banker from Geneva who is there to replace his partner who has mysteriously disappeared.  The two bankers discuss business amidst the unseen but present merciless terror of the country’s surroundings. The film is a slow burn but there are lots to read between scenes.  Fontana never reveals the entire story - of what is happening or who is doing business under the radar.  A lot of wealth is on display among the banker and his clients, which does not not sit we’ll with the political climate.  Director Fontana's AZOR plays like the best of the 70’s political thrillers like Costa-Gravas’ Z and THE CONFESSION.

Trailer: (unavailable) 

THE WORLD AFTER US (France 2021) ***

Directed by Louda Ben Salah-Cazanas

An earnestly told tale of youth balancing his new found romance and his ambition to be a writer.  When Labidi gets his first break with a deal to write his first novel within 6 months, he also finds romance at the same time, which diminishes his desire.  Labidi is Tunisian from a family that owns a small brasserie.  Labidi also has to work for ‘Deliveroo” cycling to deliver meals in order to pay for groceries and his apartment which he shares with a chubby sad sack but good friend.  This story rings authentic as this is what director Salah-Cazanas went through himself when directing his first feature while also falling in love.  A light going film but with the drama also existing for Labidi in this sort of coming-of-age story of a young writer.  The film is a tough watch to see how a generally good person has to struggle to make ends meet in life.  Veteran actor Jacques Nolot lends an acting hand playing Labidi’s father.

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This Week's Film Reviews (Mar 5, 2021)

01 Mar 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

AU POSTE! (KEEP AN EYE OUT) (France/Belgium 2018) ***1/2

Directed by Quentin Dupieux

(emabargoed Marcg 3rd)

Trailer:

BOOGIE (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Eddie Huang

(embargo March 3rd)

 

Trailer:  

THE END OF THE STORM (UK 2020) ****
Directed by James Erskine

Director/Writer Erskine (THIS IS FOOTBALL, ONE NIGHT IN TURIN) is fortunate to be given exceptional access to Liverpool Football Club that enables him to make this excellent authentic sports documentary drama.  THE END OF THE STORM is the gripping inside story of the club’s 2019/20 Premier League winning season, despite the huge hiccup of Covid-19 lockdowns.

The doc plays as exciting as any fictional sports drama.  With archive footage of games played with Liverpool scoring the goals, director Erskine captures the euphoria of many a match., around a dozen or so exciting ones captured on camera.  Then most monumental is Jordan Henderson’s replacement of the goalie midway during the 2018 Chelsea match.   His saving of the goals is nothing short of phenomenal.  Henderson went on to become the team’s captain and was the one finally honoured to receive the trophy cup after winning the Premier League.

The film is also pretty much Jurgen Klopp’s success story.  This is the man that has devoted his entire life and love for the game - the manager of the Liverpool Football Club.  Klopp says he does nothing but football and even if they did not pay him, which they do, quite handsomely, he confesses, he would still do it.  He says his wife considers I’m a workaholic, but it is what he loves doing. With a tactical mind, he is shown analyzing every game, training and inspiring his players and blaming himself if a game is lost.  Klopp is in pretty much the majority of the film’s scenes and can always be seen on the side of the field prancing up and down , guiding his team on.  The film also focuses on a  ew of its eclectic layers like Mohamed Salleh from Egypt, Sadio Mané from Somalia and Roberto Firmino from Brazil.  But what is football without its fans?  The camera again focuses on a ew from other countries, a diehard who watches a Liverpool Club latch every week from Wuhan where the Corona Virus initially hit, an Indian father and two  football loving daughters and of course, a Liverpool fan and his young son.

The film is shot from all corners of the globe from the U.K. to New Zealand, China, Africa and Brazil.

The film is bookmarked by the club’s anthem, the beautifully rendered song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” performed by Lana Del Rey from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CAROUSEL, where the words END OF THE STORM form part of the lyrics and the title of the film.  The lyrics are particularly meaningful as football binds the world together as the doc filmed in many countries attest.

THE END OF THE STORM is a timely doc, that ties in the effects of Covid-19 as well as the police killing of Rodney King as can be seen with the Black Lives Matter T-shits won many times by fans in the film.  THE END OF THE STORM is one of the year’s most entertaining docs, even if one is not a football fan.  One can see, from the film, the reason football is the world’s most popular sport.

Trailer: 

FTA (USA 1972) **

Directed by Francine Parker

This week sees the arrival of the new 4K IndieCollect restoration of F.T.A.  The film will be released in virtual cinemas through Kino Marquee on March 5.

The first question is what the abbreviation FTA stands for.  As one of the songs in the documentary goes, FTA does not stand for Free the Albanians nor Friends and Teachers Association.   Though it generally stands for FREE THE ARMY, the song goes with the lyrics ‘Fuck the army, and the marines and Navy as well.’

In 1971, at the height of the Vietnam War,  Academy Award-winning actor and activist Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and fellow performers mounted the F.T.A musical comedy tour across Southeast Asia as a response to Bob Hope's USO tour.  They redubbed the original Army recruitment slogan “Fun, Travel, Adventure” to “Free The Army or F*** The Army”.   After the Army tried to limit the troops' access to performances, it became known as “The Show the Pentagon Couldn’t Stop!”

Fonda and Sutherland’s co-stars include writer/actor Michael Alaimo, singers and activists Holly Near, Rita Martinson, Len Chandler, and comedian Paul Mooney.  Despite being highly controversial, the show was a huge success amongst enlisted men and women, many of whom appear in the film expressing their disillusionment with war, imperialism and racism.

FTA is a Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda idea and realization way back when.  The film was released and pulled out of circulation after a week, likely more due to censorship than anything else.  Sutherland and Fonda had just worked on Alan J. Pakula’s KLUTE, which won Fonda her Oscar for Best Actress.  The doc begins with a spirited introduction by Jane Fonda herself.  It is clear too that the film could not have been made without the influence of the Hollywood Foreign Press.  Fonda herself, was recently honoured during the last Golden Globes for the lifetime achievement award.  From her speech, it is clear that this lady deserves our respect for doing what she believes is right.  And it is right - not to send Americans to bomb the hell out of a foreign country for the likes of then President Nixon.  Personally, there is only one ex-President that is worse than Donald Trump, and that is Richard M. Nixon.  The most important segment in the doc is when a soldier, puzzled, tells the camera that when the Americans landed in Vietnam, they were greeted by the throwing of rocks and bottles.  When the Vietcong arrived in the village, they were greeted with cheers instead.  He says how the Americans can be told that they are fighting this Communist monster when it is seen differently in Vietnam.

The doc shows part of the variety performances played to the troops, with Sutherland and Fonda participating.  Fonda says then the show is for underground disagreeing G.I.s that do not support the Vietnam War.  But the variety show on display in the doc is ok and watchable but nothing exceptional.   It is either you had to be there to enjoy it or the show is already rather dated.  But kudos to all the effort put in.

Trailer:  

 

JUMP, DARLING (Canada 2020) **
Directed by Philip J. Connell

Nothing really new or insightful in the Inside Out opening movie JUMP, DARLING that moves like a limp.  A rookie drag queen, reeling from a break-up, escapes to the country, where he finds his grandmother in steep decline yet desperate to avoid the local nursing home.  The drag queen, Russell is played by Thomas Duplessie who was hired for the role for his two drag performances on video that he had sent to the casting director.  Acting-wise he delivers an ok performance, especially in the company of Hollywood legend and Oscar Winner Cloris Leachman (now at the age of 94) as the grandmother.  It looks like Duplessie was hired based on his drag performance rather than his acting ability.

The film contains two of Fishy Falters (Russell’s drag name) performances which are not bad, but the lightning is pretty dim for what is supposed to be a breakout performance.  The predictable story goes on as expected and the humour could have been better.

JUMP, DARLING is a sad last film for Cloris Leachman who recently passed and will surely be missed by movie fans everywhere.  If only this film would have been as good as her last farewell swan song. The film is just horrid though one can see Cloris Leachman trying her best to up the film another notch.

Point to note is that I previewed the film at the INSIDE OUT’s drive-in opening, which is not the best surroundings to watch a film.  The car ahead had his back light on the full time causing a whole lot of distraction before an usher came and told the idiot to be more mindful of others.  I would likely have had a better critique of the film if I had previewed it normally in a theatre.

Trailer:  

 

 

LUCKY (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Natasha Kermani

In the new horror outing that premiered at last year’s SXSW Film Festival, LUCKY finds its debut on Shudder March the 4th.  The film is almost a one-hander in which a suburban woman, called May (Brea Grant) fights to be believed as she finds herself stalked by a threatening figure who returns to her house night after night. When she cannot get help from those around her, she is forced to take matters into her own hands.

The film begins with the home invasion of an intruder (Hunter C. Smith) wearing a mask, while May and her husband, Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh) confront him.  Ted’s remarks surprise May.  “He is here again, we better go down before he kills us.”  Ted implies that the home invasion is a recurring thing nightly but May does not appear to recall it.  The police arrive but the unconscious man disappears.  After an argument the next morning, Ted leaves abruptly only to return many days later after the intruder keeps attacking May every night despite a police watch.  May is angry and wonders, like the audience, what is going on.

LUCKY depends fully on the performance of its lead actress Brea Grant as she is in almost every scene.  She has to show both the strength of a female self-help book author as well as vulnerability as the victim of a serial slasher.

Though advertised as a thriller/horror, LUCKY  comes off more as a neat little satire thriller on female issues.  During the book signing segment of the film, a reader asks May whether there is a difference at the way males and females deal with a big threat in their lives.  The answer is forwarded that females usually huddle together compared to their male counterparts.  In the  story, May tries her best not to seek outside help but to solve the recurring problem on her own.  The irony is that she does not seem able to deal with the problem on her own.  Perhaps women need to work together, if not huddling together, which could be the hidden message.

The marriage is on the rocks.  One had committed infidelity, and it is the woman and not the man for a good change.  May is  sorry and takes responsibility but it is a problem that is difficult to resolve for them or any couple.

The script is written by actress Brea Grant.  To her credit, it is quite an ingenious story, that few can guess where it would lead.  Commercial filmgoers expecting the typical horror slasher flick will be disappointed at the somewhat open ending.  It is odd that there is hardly any humour in LUCKY.  After this outing, Grant went on to write and direct another horror little satire called 12 HOUR SHIFT which she does not act in.  I have seen 12 HOUR SHIFT during the Fantasia 2020 Film Festival and that movie is a hilarious send up on the medial system and the opioid epidemic.  LUCKY is not too bad but watch for the upcoming 12 HOUR SHIFT where Grant proves her worth as a writer and director. 

Trailer: 

MY SALINGER YEAR (Canada/Ireland 2020) ***
Directed by Philippe Falardeau

J.D. Salinger or Jerry, which is what the film’s protagonist refers to him as, is the too-well respected, famous but reclusive author of the young adult rebellious best-seller THE CATCHER IN THE RYE.  The film’s protagonist is Joanna Rakoff (Margaret Qualley) who spends a year taking a job as an assistant to the literary agent for J.D Salinger, and hence the film’s title.  The agent is no-nonsense Margaret (Sigourney Weaver, reprising her bitch boss role she made famous, in Mike Nichol’s WORKING GIRL where she received one of her 3 Oscar nominations).

MY SALINGER YEAR  is based on Raokff’s memoir of the same name, a notably poignant, keenly observed, and irresistibly funny tale.  Canadian director Philippe Falardeau’s film is more on the lines of serious drama as in his Award winning MONSIEUR LAZHAR and with less humour than his notable CONGORAMA.  Falardeau gets his message across in the film about a coming-of-age writer who does write and follows her dreams with more seriousness than humour.

The film begins with Joanna at twenty-three, after leaving graduate school to pursue her dreams of becoming a poet.  Joanna moves to New York City and takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent for J. D. Salinger.   She only meets him (Tim Post) at the very end, but spends much time speaking to him on the telephone when he calls while inspiring her to write.  She spends her days in a plush, wood-panelled office, where dictaphones and typewriters still reign with no computers.  At night she goes home to the tiny apartment she shares with her socialist boyfriend, Don (Douglas Booth).  Joanna’s main job is answering Salinger’s voluminous fan mail.  But as she reads the candid, heart-wrenching letters from all his fans, she finds herself unable to type out the agency’s decades-old form response. Instead, drawn inexorably into the emotional world of Salinger’s devotees, she abandons the rules and begins writing back.  One of these devotees is played by rising star Theodore Pellerin (LEAN ON PETE), who she risks being fired by communicating with him.

Falardeau makes it clear at several points that the film is about emotions. One character even asks: “What should we do with emotions?” to which Falardeau gives the answer: “if not to reveal these (emotions) to the world.”

Falardeau uses the famous Claude Debussy’s piece “Clair de Lune” in a segment.  This is a tune, wonderful as it is but already too often used in too many films, here again to evoke the audience’s feeling for quiet emoting and peace.  Joanna as well as Margaret go through almost the entire film suppressing their emotions.  It is as if this piece frees them to express their emotions.

Of course, the film also emphasizes, as the script is written by director Falardeau, the obvious which is the testament to the universal power of books to shape lives and to inspire.   MY SALINGER YEAR is not bad, not the best of Falardeau’s films, but one that could have had more surprise and humour.

Trailer: 

 

NOMADLAND (USA 2020) ****
Directed by Chloe Zhao

The film opens with the date setting of January 21, 2011.   The plant that operated for 88 years in Empire, Nevada has been closed because of the low demand of gypsum sheetrock.  A lot of people in the town are out of work and by the month of July the town’s postal code, the audience is no longer existent. 

The film focuses on one affected woman.   Fern (twice Oscar Winner Frances McDormand), now out of a job, takes to the road in her van like a nomad.  She manages to secure a bit of work at an Amazon facility packing deliveries until work runs out.  What is Fern to do?  What are the options for similar people who have run out of money and with no job?

NOMADLAND does not necessarily offer the answers but examines the plight of the unfortunate.  Based on the novel by Jessica Bruder and adapted to the screen and directed by Zhao, best remembered for her excellent THE RIDER,  Zhao captures the difficulty of living on the road like a nomad (the 10 commandments of stealth parking ; how to shit on the road) with some humour while dishing out a charming, heart-warming (including songs and line-dancing) and moving film with several messages on life to boot.  “Home is something you take with you.”  or “Don’t waste anytime waiting.”  But it is not the messages that make Zhao’s film but the observations of the nomads in the film.  They might not have plenty, just sufficient to survive, but they are happy.  The resilience to survive and to be free and to enjoy America are all these people need.  Director Zhao is Chinese born who went to boarding school in London before studying in the U.S. where she made films.

McDormand delivers an excellent performance totally different from FARGO and 3 BILLBOARDS IN EBBING, MISSOURI - that of a tired sixty-something woman who has lost everything including a loving husband.  As Fern says: “I am not homeless but helpless.”   She might not be loveless, as she discovers the possibility of another romance (David Strathairn) in the works.  McDormand is brave enough to pose with full frontal nudity in one scene where she relaxes in the water by a waterfall.  She has Fern in one scene with really bad hair.

The script also tells a bit of Fern’s background - her sister, who is quite different from her.  The sister settled down with her husband.  Fern moved away with hers, and continued moving around after his death.

NOMADLAND features real nomads Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells as Fern’s mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West.  One can see Fern or McDormand for that matter, impressed by their way of living and with reason.

Joshua James Richards serves as the d.p. capturing some magnificent scenes of rural America.

NOMADLAND was one of the most anticipated films at TIFF.  It is bound to take in a few Academy wards on the way, maybe even a third Oscar for McDormand.

 

Trailer:

 

 

 

STRAY (Turkey/USA 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Elizabeth Lo

The film opens with a 360 b.c. quote from poverty Turk philosopher Diogenes. “Human beings live artificially and hypocritically and the world would do well to study the dog.

STRAY is a documentary on start dogs, concentrating mainly on one female dog aged around two years, as she moves around the city of Istanbul.

The film is dotted by several other quotes by Diogenes.  Diogenes was a controversial figure.   After being exiled, he moved to Athens and criticized many cultural conventions of the city.  He modelled himself on the example of Heracles, and believed that virtue was better revealed in action than in theory.  He used his simple lifestyle (reflected by the life of stars in this doc) and behaviour to criticize the social values and institutions of what he saw as a corrupt, confused society.  Director Lo, similarly uses stars to criticize society.  There are shots of Turks protesting on the streets on February the 14th, an annual protest day.  The film also follows a few homeless Syrian refugee kids, who sleep on the streets and who have taken a few strays to own. Diogenes had a reputation for sleeping and eating wherever he chose in a highly non-traditional fashion, and took to toughening himself against nature.  That is likely the reason director Lo uses his quotes.

Turkish authorities have tried to annihilate stray dogs since 1909, leading to mass killings of Istanbul’s street dogs for the last century. But widespread protests against these killings transformed Turkey into one of the only countries where it is now illegal to euthanize or hold captive any stray dog. Every free-roaming dog today is an emblem of resistance — living manifestations of compassion in the face of intolerance.  The Turks appear kind to the strays int he doc, never abusing them but treating them well.  The strays look quite healthy.

Among the few dogs director Lo’s camera follows, the main focus is the female dog, named Zeytin.   Zeytin is often joined by Nazar, another street dog.   They are shown to be on the heels of a group of young men from Syria — Jamil, Halil and Ali — who were living on the streets as refugees in Turkey.  Together the humans and canines find shelter in construction sites and quiet sidewalks. Despite the harshness of their circumstances, the dogs and boys had formed a makeshift family unit. The warmth and love emanating from their interdependent bond is deeply moving.

Director Lo’s doc will inevitably be compared to the doc on farm animals. GUNDA that follows a pig, chicken and cows on a farm with the sole purpose of discouraging meat eaters.  START has no such divine purpose, but Lo’s camera following a start fro 90 minutes is such as affecting a film, where he draws parallels between the canine and human species.

Credit to Lo for her creation of an emotional journey.  Following  Zeytin around the city must have been an arduous task, she must be crouching down at pooch level, most of the time as her camera films at pooch-eye level.  An unforgettable documentary revealing the life of poverty stricken strays, both canine and human. 

Trailer: https://www.slashfilm.com/stray-trailer/

 

UNDERPLAYED (Canada 2020) **
Directed by Stacey Lee

UNDERPLAYED features women (and women of colour) in the electronic music scene. DJs like Alison Wonderland, Sherelle, and Canada’s own REZZ are featured with much emphasis on REZZ.  There is a segment on her in her Canadian home in Niagara Falls working very hard in the basement before getting famous and becoming a headliner in music festivals and clubs.  But the emphasis of the doc is to highlight the under-representation of females in the industry. 

One wishes the doc has more music on display more than the artists complaining about females being underrepresented in the electronics music world.  The fact is obviously true as 5% of the top 100 DJs were women, in a survey recently, but the film just goes on too much about it. 

Director Lee’s doc is quite shallow without going into the depth of the problem and perhaps a possible solution.  The doc is a series of one complaint after another and this gets really tiresome and boring.  Myself, going to the clubs weekly and partying in my younger and prettier days, it made no difference to me whether a DJ is male or female as long as they play good, cool tunes, whether with vocals or without, electronic or non-electronic.   I am sure the public, like myself could not care less of the DJ.’s gender.  In fact, me and my mates have two favourite female DJ.’s but the doc is right in that the clubs never hired that many females.  The doc does not examine the issue - if 5% of the top DJ’s were women, what is the real percentage of female to male DJ’s?   

At its best, the doc shows the realistic 2019  summer festival season, criss-crossing around the world.

The doc premiered this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and is available on demand March the 8th, Monday.

Trailer: 

 

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This Week's Film Reviews (Mar 5, 2021) (2)

01 Mar 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

AU POSTE! (KEEP AN EYE OUT) (France/Belgium 2018) ***1/2

Directed by Quentin Dupieux

(emabargoed Marcg 3rd)

Trailer:

BOOGIE (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Eddie Huang

(embargo March 3rd)

 

Trailer:  

THE END OF THE STORM (UK 2020) ****
Directed by James Erskine

Director/Writer Erskine (THIS IS FOOTBALL, ONE NIGHT IN TURIN) is fortunate to be given exceptional access to Liverpool Football Club that enables him to make this excellent authentic sports documentary drama.  THE END OF THE STORM is the gripping inside story of the club’s 2019/20 Premier League winning season, despite the huge hiccup of Covid-19 lockdowns.

The doc plays as exciting as any fictional sports drama.  With archive footage of games played with Liverpool scoring the goals, director Erskine captures the euphoria of many a match., around a dozen or so exciting ones captured on camera.  Then most monumental is Jordan Henderson’s replacement of the goalie midway during the 2018 Chelsea match.   His saving of the goals is nothing short of phenomenal.  Henderson went on to become the team’s captain and was the one finally honoured to receive the trophy cup after winning the Premier League.

The film is also pretty much Jurgen Klopp’s success story.  This is the man that has devoted his entire life and love for the game - the manager of the Liverpool Football Club.  Klopp says he does nothing but football and even if they did not pay him, which they do, quite handsomely, he confesses, he would still do it.  He says his wife considers I’m a workaholic, but it is what he loves doing. With a tactical mind, he is shown analyzing every game, training and inspiring his players and blaming himself if a game is lost.  Klopp is in pretty much the majority of the film’s scenes and can always be seen on the side of the field prancing up and down , guiding his team on.  The film also focuses on a  ew of its eclectic layers like Mohamed Salleh from Egypt, Sadio Mané from Somalia and Roberto Firmino from Brazil.  But what is football without its fans?  The camera again focuses on a ew from other countries, a diehard who watches a Liverpool Club latch every week from Wuhan where the Corona Virus initially hit, an Indian father and two  football loving daughters and of course, a Liverpool fan and his young son.

The film is shot from all corners of the globe from the U.K. to New Zealand, China, Africa and Brazil.

The film is bookmarked by the club’s anthem, the beautifully rendered song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” performed by Lana Del Rey from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CAROUSEL, where the words END OF THE STORM form part of the lyrics and the title of the film.  The lyrics are particularly meaningful as football binds the world together as the doc filmed in many countries attest.

THE END OF THE STORM is a timely doc, that ties in the effects of Covid-19 as well as the police killing of Rodney King as can be seen with the Black Lives Matter T-shits won many times by fans in the film.  THE END OF THE STORM is one of the year’s most entertaining docs, even if one is not a football fan.  One can see, from the film, the reason football is the world’s most popular sport.

Trailer: 

FTA (USA 1972) **

Directed by Francine Parker

This week sees the arrival of the new 4K IndieCollect restoration of F.T.A.  The film will be released in virtual cinemas through Kino Marquee on March 5.

The first question is what the abbreviation FTA stands for.  As one of the songs in the documentary goes, FTA does not stand for Free the Albanians nor Friends and Teachers Association.   Though it generally stands for FREE THE ARMY, the song goes with the lyrics ‘Fuck the army, and the marines and Navy as well.’

In 1971, at the height of the Vietnam War,  Academy Award-winning actor and activist Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and fellow performers mounted the F.T.A musical comedy tour across Southeast Asia as a response to Bob Hope's USO tour.  They redubbed the original Army recruitment slogan “Fun, Travel, Adventure” to “Free The Army or F*** The Army”.   After the Army tried to limit the troops' access to performances, it became known as “The Show the Pentagon Couldn’t Stop!”

Fonda and Sutherland’s co-stars include writer/actor Michael Alaimo, singers and activists Holly Near, Rita Martinson, Len Chandler, and comedian Paul Mooney.  Despite being highly controversial, the show was a huge success amongst enlisted men and women, many of whom appear in the film expressing their disillusionment with war, imperialism and racism.

FTA is a Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda idea and realization way back when.  The film was released and pulled out of circulation after a week, likely more due to censorship than anything else.  Sutherland and Fonda had just worked on Alan J. Pakula’s KLUTE, which won Fonda her Oscar for Best Actress.  The doc begins with a spirited introduction by Jane Fonda herself.  It is clear too that the film could not have been made without the influence of the Hollywood Foreign Press.  Fonda herself, was recently honoured during the last Golden Globes for the lifetime achievement award.  From her speech, it is clear that this lady deserves our respect for doing what she believes is right.  And it is right - not to send Americans to bomb the hell out of a foreign country for the likes of then President Nixon.  Personally, there is only one ex-President that is worse than Donald Trump, and that is Richard M. Nixon.  The most important segment in the doc is when a soldier, puzzled, tells the camera that when the Americans landed in Vietnam, they were greeted by the throwing of rocks and bottles.  When the Vietcong arrived in the village, they were greeted with cheers instead.  He says how the Americans can be told that they are fighting this Communist monster when it is seen differently in Vietnam.

The doc shows part of the variety performances played to the troops, with Sutherland and Fonda participating.  Fonda says then the show is for underground disagreeing G.I.s that do not support the Vietnam War.  But the variety show on display in the doc is ok and watchable but nothing exceptional.   It is either you had to be there to enjoy it or the show is already rather dated.  But kudos to all the effort put in.  And the troupe's spirit is catching!  

The doc’s greatest achievement is not the display of the Variety Show, but the demonstration of the power of protests - and how they can be used to send messages that change the world.

Trailer:  

 

JUMP, DARLING (Canada 2020) **
Directed by Philip J. Connell

Nothing really new or insightful in the Inside Out opening movie JUMP, DARLING that moves like a limp.  A rookie drag queen, reeling from a break-up, escapes to the country, where he finds his grandmother in steep decline yet desperate to avoid the local nursing home.  The drag queen, Russell is played by Thomas Duplessie who was hired for the role for his two drag performances on video that he had sent to the casting director.  Acting-wise he delivers an ok performance, especially in the company of Hollywood legend and Oscar Winner Cloris Leachman (now at the age of 94) as the grandmother.  It looks like Duplessie was hired based on his drag performance rather than his acting ability.

The film contains two of Fishy Falters (Russell’s drag name) performances which are not bad, but the lightning is pretty dim for what is supposed to be a breakout performance.  The predictable story goes on as expected and the humour could have been better.

JUMP, DARLING is a sad last film for Cloris Leachman who recently passed and will surely be missed by movie fans everywhere.  If only this film would have been as good as her last farewell swan song. The film is just horrid though one can see Cloris Leachman trying her best to up the film another notch.

Point to note is that I previewed the film at the INSIDE OUT’s drive-in opening, which is not the best surroundings to watch a film.  The car ahead had his back light on the full time causing a whole lot of distraction before an usher came and told the idiot to be more mindful of others.  I would likely have had a better critique of the film if I had previewed it normally in a theatre.

Trailer:  

 

 

LUCKY (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Natasha Kermani

In the new horror outing that premiered at last year’s SXSW Film Festival, LUCKY finds its debut on Shudder March the 4th.  The film is almost a one-hander in which a suburban woman, called May (Brea Grant) fights to be believed as she finds herself stalked by a threatening figure who returns to her house night after night. When she cannot get help from those around her, she is forced to take matters into her own hands.

The film begins with the home invasion of an intruder (Hunter C. Smith) wearing a mask, while May and her husband, Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh) confront him.  Ted’s remarks surprise May.  “He is here again, we better go down before he kills us.”  Ted implies that the home invasion is a recurring thing nightly but May does not appear to recall it.  The police arrive but the unconscious man disappears.  After an argument the next morning, Ted leaves abruptly only to return many days later after the intruder keeps attacking May every night despite a police watch.  May is angry and wonders, like the audience, what is going on.

LUCKY depends fully on the performance of its lead actress Brea Grant as she is in almost every scene.  She has to show both the strength of a female self-help book author as well as vulnerability as the victim of a serial slasher.

Though advertised as a thriller/horror, LUCKY  comes off more as a neat little satire thriller on female issues.  During the book signing segment of the film, a reader asks May whether there is a difference at the way males and females deal with a big threat in their lives.  The answer is forwarded that females usually huddle together compared to their male counterparts.  In the  story, May tries her best not to seek outside help but to solve the recurring problem on her own.  The irony is that she does not seem able to deal with the problem on her own.  Perhaps women need to work together, if not huddling together, which could be the hidden message.

The marriage is on the rocks.  One had committed infidelity, and it is the woman and not the man for a good change.  May is  sorry and takes responsibility but it is a problem that is difficult to resolve for them or any couple.

The script is written by actress Brea Grant.  To her credit, it is quite an ingenious story, that few can guess where it would lead.  Commercial filmgoers expecting the typical horror slasher flick will be disappointed at the somewhat open ending.  It is odd that there is hardly any humour in LUCKY.  After this outing, Grant went on to write and direct another horror little satire called 12 HOUR SHIFT which she does not act in.  I have seen 12 HOUR SHIFT during the Fantasia 2020 Film Festival and that movie is a hilarious send up on the medial system and the opioid epidemic.  LUCKY is not too bad but watch for the upcoming 12 HOUR SHIFT where Grant proves her worth as a writer and director. 

Trailer: 

MY SALINGER YEAR (Canada/Ireland 2020) ***
Directed by Philippe Falardeau

J.D. Salinger or Jerry, which is what the film’s protagonist refers to him as, is the too-well respected, famous but reclusive author of the young adult rebellious best-seller THE CATCHER IN THE RYE.  The film’s protagonist is Joanna Rakoff (Margaret Qualley) who spends a year taking a job as an assistant to the literary agent for J.D Salinger, and hence the film’s title.  The agent is no-nonsense Margaret (Sigourney Weaver, reprising her bitch boss role she made famous, in Mike Nichol’s WORKING GIRL where she received one of her 3 Oscar nominations).

MY SALINGER YEAR  is based on Raokff’s memoir of the same name, a notably poignant, keenly observed, and irresistibly funny tale.  Canadian director Philippe Falardeau’s film is more on the lines of serious drama as in his Award winning MONSIEUR LAZHAR and with less humour than his notable CONGORAMA.  Falardeau gets his message across in the film about a coming-of-age writer who does write and follows her dreams with more seriousness than humour.

The film begins with Joanna at twenty-three, after leaving graduate school to pursue her dreams of becoming a poet.  Joanna moves to New York City and takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent for J. D. Salinger.   She only meets him (Tim Post) at the very end, but spends much time speaking to him on the telephone when he calls while inspiring her to write.  She spends her days in a plush, wood-panelled office, where dictaphones and typewriters still reign with no computers.  At night she goes home to the tiny apartment she shares with her socialist boyfriend, Don (Douglas Booth).  Joanna’s main job is answering Salinger’s voluminous fan mail.  But as she reads the candid, heart-wrenching letters from all his fans, she finds herself unable to type out the agency’s decades-old form response. Instead, drawn inexorably into the emotional world of Salinger’s devotees, she abandons the rules and begins writing back.  One of these devotees is played by rising star Theodore Pellerin (LEAN ON PETE), who she risks being fired by communicating with him.

Falardeau makes it clear at several points that the film is about emotions. One character even asks: “What should we do with emotions?” to which Falardeau gives the answer: “if not to reveal these (emotions) to the world.”

Falardeau uses the famous Claude Debussy’s piece “Clair de Lune” in a segment.  This is a tune, wonderful as it is but already too often used in too many films, here again to evoke the audience’s feeling for quiet emoting and peace.  Joanna as well as Margaret go through almost the entire film suppressing their emotions.  It is as if this piece frees them to express their emotions.

Of course, the film also emphasizes, as the script is written by director Falardeau, the obvious which is the testament to the universal power of books to shape lives and to inspire.   MY SALINGER YEAR is not bad, not the best of Falardeau’s films, but one that could have had more surprise and humour.

Trailer: 

 

NOMADLAND (USA 2020) ****
Directed by Chloe Zhao

The film opens with the date setting of January 21, 2011.   The plant that operated for 88 years in Empire, Nevada has been closed because of the low demand of gypsum sheetrock.  A lot of people in the town are out of work and by the month of July the town’s postal code, the audience is no longer existent. 

The film focuses on one affected woman.   Fern (twice Oscar Winner Frances McDormand), now out of a job, takes to the road in her van like a nomad.  She manages to secure a bit of work at an Amazon facility packing deliveries until work runs out.  What is Fern to do?  What are the options for similar people who have run out of money and with no job?

NOMADLAND does not necessarily offer the answers but examines the plight of the unfortunate.  Based on the novel by Jessica Bruder and adapted to the screen and directed by Zhao, best remembered for her excellent THE RIDER,  Zhao captures the difficulty of living on the road like a nomad (the 10 commandments of stealth parking ; how to shit on the road) with some humour while dishing out a charming, heart-warming (including songs and line-dancing) and moving film with several messages on life to boot.  “Home is something you take with you.”  or “Don’t waste anytime waiting.”  But it is not the messages that make Zhao’s film but the observations of the nomads in the film.  They might not have plenty, just sufficient to survive, but they are happy.  The resilience to survive and to be free and to enjoy America are all these people need.  Director Zhao is Chinese born who went to boarding school in London before studying in the U.S. where she made films.

McDormand delivers an excellent performance totally different from FARGO and 3 BILLBOARDS IN EBBING, MISSOURI - that of a tired sixty-something woman who has lost everything including a loving husband.  As Fern says: “I am not homeless but helpless.”   She might not be loveless, as she discovers the possibility of another romance (David Strathairn) in the works.  McDormand is brave enough to pose with full frontal nudity in one scene where she relaxes in the water by a waterfall.  She has Fern in one scene with really bad hair.

The script also tells a bit of Fern’s background - her sister, who is quite different from her.  The sister settled down with her husband.  Fern moved away with hers, and continued moving around after his death.

NOMADLAND features real nomads Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells as Fern’s mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West.  One can see Fern or McDormand for that matter, impressed by their way of living and with reason.

Joshua James Richards serves as the d.p. capturing some magnificent scenes of rural America.

NOMADLAND was one of the most anticipated films at TIFF.  It is bound to take in a few Academy wards on the way, maybe even a third Oscar for McDormand.

 

Trailer:

 

 

 

STRAY (Turkey/USA 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Elizabeth Lo

The film opens with a 360 b.c. quote from poverty Turk philosopher Diogenes. “Human beings live artificially and hypocritically and the world would do well to study the dog.

STRAY is a documentary on start dogs, concentrating mainly on one female dog aged around two years, as she moves around the city of Istanbul.

The film is dotted by several other quotes by Diogenes.  Diogenes was a controversial figure.   After being exiled, he moved to Athens and criticized many cultural conventions of the city.  He modelled himself on the example of Heracles, and believed that virtue was better revealed in action than in theory.  He used his simple lifestyle (reflected by the life of stars in this doc) and behaviour to criticize the social values and institutions of what he saw as a corrupt, confused society.  Director Lo, similarly uses stars to criticize society.  There are shots of Turks protesting on the streets on February the 14th, an annual protest day.  The film also follows a few homeless Syrian refugee kids, who sleep on the streets and who have taken a few strays to own. Diogenes had a reputation for sleeping and eating wherever he chose in a highly non-traditional fashion, and took to toughening himself against nature.  That is likely the reason director Lo uses his quotes.

Turkish authorities have tried to annihilate stray dogs since 1909, leading to mass killings of Istanbul’s street dogs for the last century. But widespread protests against these killings transformed Turkey into one of the only countries where it is now illegal to euthanize or hold captive any stray dog. Every free-roaming dog today is an emblem of resistance — living manifestations of compassion in the face of intolerance.  The Turks appear kind to the strays int he doc, never abusing them but treating them well.  The strays look quite healthy.

Among the few dogs director Lo’s camera follows, the main focus is the female dog, named Zeytin.   Zeytin is often joined by Nazar, another street dog.   They are shown to be on the heels of a group of young men from Syria — Jamil, Halil and Ali — who were living on the streets as refugees in Turkey.  Together the humans and canines find shelter in construction sites and quiet sidewalks. Despite the harshness of their circumstances, the dogs and boys had formed a makeshift family unit. The warmth and love emanating from their interdependent bond is deeply moving.

Director Lo’s doc will inevitably be compared to the doc on farm animals. GUNDA that follows a pig, chicken and cows on a farm with the sole purpose of discouraging meat eaters.  START has no such divine purpose, but Lo’s camera following a start fro 90 minutes is such as affecting a film, where he draws parallels between the canine and human species.

Credit to Lo for her creation of an emotional journey.  Following  Zeytin around the city must have been an arduous task, she must be crouching down at pooch level, most of the time as her camera films at pooch-eye level.  An unforgettable documentary revealing the life of poverty stricken strays, both canine and human. 

Trailer: https://www.slashfilm.com/stray-trailer/

 

UNDERPLAYED (Canada 2020) **
Directed by Stacey Lee

UNDERPLAYED features women (and women of colour) in the electronic music scene. DJs like Alison Wonderland, Sherelle, and Canada’s own REZZ are featured with much emphasis on REZZ.  There is a segment on her in her Canadian home in Niagara Falls working very hard in the basement before getting famous and becoming a headliner in music festivals and clubs.  But the emphasis of the doc is to highlight the under-representation of females in the industry. 

One wishes the doc has more music on display more than the artists complaining about females being underrepresented in the electronics music world.  The fact is obviously true as 5% of the top 100 DJs were women, in a survey recently, but the film just goes on too much about it. 

Director Lee’s doc is quite shallow without going into the depth of the problem and perhaps a possible solution.  The doc is a series of one complaint after another and this gets really tiresome and boring.  Myself, going to the clubs weekly and partying in my younger and prettier days, it made no difference to me whether a DJ is male or female as long as they play good, cool tunes, whether with vocals or without, electronic or non-electronic.   I am sure the public, like myself could not care less of the DJ.’s gender.  In fact, me and my mates have two favourite female DJ.’s but the doc is right in that the clubs never hired that many females.  The doc does not examine the issue - if 5% of the top DJ’s were women, what is the real percentage of female to male DJ’s?   

At its best, the doc shows the realistic 2019  summer festival season, criss-crossing around the world.

The doc premiered this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and is available on demand March the 8th, Monday.

Trailer: 

 

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This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 29, 2021)

20 Feb 2021

FILM REVIEWS FOR THE WEEK:

 

BILLIE EILISH: THE WORLD’S A LITTLE BLURRY (USA 2021) ***

A film by R.J. Cutler

Apple TV+ Announces BILLIE EILISH: THE WORLD’S A LITTL BLURRY Live Premiere Event on February 25.  The Event will include an exclusive and intimate performance and conversation with Eilish, discussion with director R.J. Cutler and other special surprises before the film debuts early on Apple TV+.   Billie Eilish releases live audio performance of her song “ilomilo,” as featured in the film.

The doc takes a deeply intimate look at extraordinary teenager Billie Eilish. Award-winning filmmaker R.J. Cutler follows her journey on the road, onstage, and at home with her family as the writing and recording of her debut album changes her life. 

The film review is embargoed until Thursday Feb 25th 9pm pm ET so  check back later on the site for the review which will be included below.

(review)

Trailer: 

 

 

 

THE END OF THE STORM (UK 2020) ****
Directed by James Erskine

Director/Writer Erskine (THIS IS FOOTBALL, ONE NIGHT IN TURIN) is fortunate to be given exceptional access to Liverpool Football Club that enables him to make this excellent authentic sports documentary drama.  THE END OF THE STORM is the gripping inside story of the club’s 2019/20 Premier League winning season, despite the huge hiccup of Covid-19 lockdowns.

The doc plays as exciting as any fictional sports drama.  With archive footage of games played with Liverpool scoring the goals, director Erskine captures the euphoria of many a match., around a dozen or so exciting ones captured on camera.  Then most monumental is Jordan Henderson’s replacement of the goalie midway during the 2018 Chelsea match.   His saving of the goals is nothing short of phenomenal.  Henderson went on to become the team’s captain and was the one finally honoured to receive the trophy cup after winning the Premier League.

The film is also pretty much Jurgen Klopp’s success story.  This is the man that has devoted his entire life and love for the game - the manager of the Liverpool Football Club.  Klopp says he does nothing but football and even if they did not pay him, which they do, quite handsomely, he confesses, he would still do it.  He says his wife considers I’m a workaholic, but it is what he loves doing. With a tactical mind, he is shown analyzing every game, training and inspiring his players and blaming himself if a game is lost.  Klopp is in pretty much the majority of the film’s scenes and can always be seen on the side of the field prancing up and down , guiding his team on.  The film also focuses on a  ew of its eclectic layers like Mohamed Salleh from Egypt, Sadio Mané from Somalia and Roberto Firmino from Brazil.  But what is football without its fans?  The camera again focuses on a ew from other countries, a diehard who watches a Liverpool Club latch every week from Wuhan where the Corona Virus initially hit, an Indian father and two  football loving daughters and of course, a Liverpool fan and his young son.

The film is shot from all corners of the globe from the U.K. to New Zealand, China, Africa and Brazil.

The film is bookmarked by the club’s anthem, the beautifully rendered song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” performed by Lana Del Rey from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CAROUSEL, where the words END OF THE STORM form part of the lyrics and the title of the film.  The lyrics are particularly meaningful as football binds the world together as the doc filmed in many countries attest.

THE END OF THE STORM is a timely doc, that ties in the effects of Covid-19 as well as the police killing of Rodney King as can be seen with the Black Lives Matter T-shirts worn many times by fans in the film.  THE END OF THE STORM is one of the year’s most entertaining docs, even if one is not a football fan.  One can see, from the film, the reason football is the world’s most popular sport.

Trailer: 

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (India 2021) ***
Directed by Ribhu Dasgupta

The GIRL ON THE TRAIN is a Netflix original movie that releases on Netflix, the day of the review writing, Feb 26th 2021.  If the title of the film sounds familiar, it should as it is the remake of the 2016 Hollywood film starring Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett, directed by Tate Taylor.  Both films are based on the British novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins and weirdly enough both films are adapted to suit different target audiences - the original for American (the train travels along the Hudson) and the latter (though set in London) for Indian (or Hindi) audiences, though the latter version is also available in Tamil and other Indian dialects.

Tate Taylor’s film was told in three chapters and was confusing.  Dasgupta’s film is also confusing especially in the change of setting fro India to the United Kingdom.  The confusion arises from two factors - the main character’s amnesia, which means that her thoughts and actions are not always clear and the other is the non-chronological unfolding of the events.  One assumes both directors must have followed the novel’s original writing style.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (India) benefits from the performance of the lead, Parineeti Chopra who plays Mira.  When the film opens, it looks as if Mira has chased Nusrat (Aditi Rao Hydari) into the woods killing her. 

Mira suffers from amnesia and is an alcoholic.  Mira, a lawyer had prosecuted a criminal who had crashed into their car thus killing her dream husband and her yet-to-be born child.  She suffers trauma leading to amnesia.  What the mind cannot forget, amnesia erases, the audience is told.  At this time, the audience is also told that Mira’s dream husband had been cheating on her, resulting in a divorce.  It is quite confusing at this point. The confusion or mystery if one wants to call it that is heightened when Mira sees a girl on the train.  The girl is Nusrat, who appears to be having the perfect life with her husband, the kind offie Mira drams of, but is unable to have.  Until one day, when she notices, while travelling on the train that Nusrat has another man in the house.  This cannot be, as her dream girl is having an affair thus jolting her into disarray.

The aim of director Dasupta is to adapt the film to Indian audiences.  This is clear from the film’s beginning which shows how Mira met her husband during their friend’s wedding.  There is a lively Bollywood style dance - updated with current western dance moves with lyrics crooned in the style of Bollywood musicals.  In the United Kingdom, it seems too coincidental that the majority of thee people seen on screen are Indians.  The two detectives assigned to solve the missing girl (Nusrat) case are both Indian.  Most of the extras in the filmier also Indians with a few whites pushed on to the front of the camera.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is entertaining enough, achieving the director’s goal of adapting the original film and book to an Indian audience.  After all, everything including filmmaking is all about making money.

Trailer:  

 

THE INDEPENDENTS (USA 2020) ***
A Greg Naughton Deal

THE INDEPENDENTS is a musical comedy/drama about three solo-artists who collide at the same crossroads and discover harmony- 3-part, old-school harmony.  Thus is born “RGB” (at least until they come up with a better band name) and what follows is their roller-coaster-ride journey across America for a one last shot at musical glory. Actually RGB is a pretty good name as it has the initials of the first names of the band members.  Also, RGB stands for the three primary colours red, green and blue which together make up white and any other possible colour combination.

The film has a very nice, smooth and easy flow, as evident by the name of the film’s main 3 characters, taking their first names from the actors’ real first names.  The actors are Greg Naughton, Rich Price and Brian Chartrand with Mr. Naughton as the director.  Naughton is actually the nephew of David Naughton, best known for John Landis’ AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.

The film opens with Richard (Price) playing his guitar, music to the consternation of his upstairs neighbour.  Rich works as an English professor waiting for tenure if his dissertation is accepted.  His mother (never seen but only heard over the cell phone) wants him to stop his music and concentrate on his dissertation when suddenly, he meets Greg (Naughton) who inspires him to continue writing music.  They decide to perform on an almost completed song.  They take off in Greg’s van.  They meet the third independent, a strange hippie hitchhiker, Brian who they pick up.  Brian has given up on people, on making friends and taken to the guitar.  Now, here are the three independents ready to change the music world.

They are three poor musicians doing what they know best, performing their songs.  Brian and Greg have no phones while Rich still possesses and old flip phone.  But they survive.

Director Naughton’s film has a feel-good sensibility to it, as it shows the importance of following one’s dreams - whether successful or not.  But at least one has tried.  The theory can be readily applied not only for each of he three heroes in the film but for anyone else as well.

The film’s music is credited to The Sweet Remains, an American folk-rock band.  In reality, the members of the band are the singer/songwriters Rich Price, Greg Naughton, and Brian Chartrand.  Their independently released 2008 debut Laurel & Sunset (produced in collaboration with Andy Zulla) nonetheless reached a global audience when Putumayo World Music featured their single “Dance With Me” on Putumayo's popular Acoustic Cafe compilation.  This film is the story of the formation of the band The Sweet Remains originally called RGB.

THE INDEPENDENTS is an effective feel good movie with the message of never to give up despite all the shit raining down.

Following its world premiere at Santa Barbara International Film Festival and Best Feature Film win at Omaha Film Festival, indie film darling THE INDEPENDENTS is now available from Friday, February the26th, to screen at home upon request.

Trailer: (unavailable)

 

LUCKY (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Natasha Kermani

In the new horror outing that premiered at last year’s SXSW Film Festival, LUCKY finds its debut on Shudder March the 4th.  The film is almost a one-hander in which a suburban woman, called May (Brea Grant) fights to be believed as she finds herself stalked by a threatening figure who returns to her house night after night. When she cannot get help from those around her, she is forced to take matters into her own hands.

The film begins with the home invasion of an intruder (Hunter C. Smith) wearing a mask, while May and her husband, Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh) confront him.  Ted’s remarks surprise May.  “He is here again, we better go down before he kills us.”  Ted implies that the home invasion is a recurring thing nightly but May does not appear to recall it.  The police arrive but the unconscious man disappears.  After an argument the next morning, Ted leaves abruptly only to return many days later after the intruder keeps attacking May every night despite a police watch.  May is angry and wonders, like the audience, what is going on.

LUCKY depends fully on the performance of its lead actress Brea Grant as she is in almost every scene.  She has to show both the strength of a female self-help book author as well as vulnerability as the victim of a serial slasher.

Though advertised as a thriller/horror, LUCKY comes off more as a neat little satire thriller on female issues.  During the book signing segment of the film, a reader asks May whether there is a difference at the way males and females deal with a big threat in their lives.  The answer is forwarded that females usually huddle together compared to their male counterparts.  In the  story, May tries her best not to seek outside help but to solve the recurring problem on her own.  The irony is that she does not seem able to deal with the problem on her own.  Perhaps women need to work together, if not huddling together, which could be the hidden message.  In the marriage, one had committed infidelity, and it is the woman and not the man for a good change.  May is sorry and takes responsibility but it is a problem that is difficult to resolve for them or for any couple.

The script is written by actress Brea Grant.  To her credit, it is quite an ingenious story, that few can guess where it would lead.  Commercial filmgoers expecting the typical horror slasher flick will be disappointed at the somewhat open ending.  It is odd that there is hardly any humour in LUCKY.  After this outing, Grant went on to write and direct another horror little satire called 12 HOUR SHIFT which she does not act in.  I have seen 12 HOUR SHIFT during the Fantasia 2020 Film Festival and that movie is a hilarious send up on the medial system and the opioid epidemic.  LUCKY is not too bad but watch for the upcoming 12 HOUR SHIFT where Grant proves her worth as a writer and director.

Trailer:   

 

 

MINARI (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Lee Isaac Chung

MINARI is the name of a water dropwort plant Koreans use in their food.  The plant is sowed in the film, a metaphor of what life can offer when least expected.

The film is a semi-autobiographical take on director Chung's own upbringing.  The plot follows a family of South Korean immigrants who try to make it in rural America during the 1980s.  The farm is in need of water - just as Claude Berri’s farm epics, JEAN DE FLORETTE and MANON DES SOURCES.

The film opens with the young family of husband and wife and small son and daughter driving and arriving in Arkansas.  They have previously settled in California but now move to where they can buy cheaper land.

It soon becomes clear that Jacob (Steven Yuen) is the farm guy while his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) is the city dweller.  The son David (Alan Kim) is the impressionable one and the story unfolds from his point of view.  David is also suffering a heart condition which means he cannot strain himself  physically,  A man with the divinity stick is hired to find where water is so that a well can be dug.  Jacob refuses to do that and to use his common sense to find where to dig water.  But the well eventually dries up.   Will Patton plays Paul, a hired hand who can speak Korean having served in the war before.  He is a born again Christian who imposes his faith on the family.   Patton brings in a lot of clownish humour into the story.

Jacob and Monica fight frequently, matters not helping that they being short of cash.  To make his wife happy, David agrees to move in her mother Soon-ja.  Soon-ya (Youn Yuh-jung) makes a huge impression on the family, particularly on young David.  Initially David does not like her, as he has to share his room with her.  He claims she is not the usual grandma.  She does not cook or bake, she smells and she curses.   Still like all grandmas, all grandmas love their grandchildren and the two eventually bond.  They go to a stream where she plants her MINARI seeds.

There is nothing wrong with the rather simplified telling of this tale of immigration.  Unlike other immigration dramas like Louis Malle’s ATLANTIC CITY, the Americans in the town welcome the new Korean family.   But there is nothing really exceptional about the movie either that it should go on to win coveted prizes like BEST PICTURE.  This has led to some controversy regarding the film.

MINARI has been denied the nomination for the Golden Globes Best Picture because the Foreign Press considered the film a foreign film.  This has caused a lot of anger and controversy as the film is American, set in America (Arkansas) with American actors, though Korean as well as English are spoken.  The Oscars has changed the name of the Best Foreign Film prize to Best International Feature, so this problem will likely not occur.

But the film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, 2020, winning both the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award.  It began a limited release in the United States on December 11, 2020, prior to a wide release on February 12, 2021, by A24. The film is not eligible to compete for Best Picture at the Golden Globe Awards because it is primarily in Korean.

I liked MINARI but not as much as I had expected after reading all the rave reviews.  Though not bad, MINARI gets my vote for most overrated film of the year.

Trailer:  

 

MOXIE (USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Amy Poehler

MOXIE is a Netflix original teen comedy set in a school.  The film shows promise being directed by an actress, this time around Amy Poehler.  The last time this happened, the hit success and acclaimed BOOKSMART astounded critics and audiences alike.

Fed up with the sexist and toxic status quo at her high school, a shy 16-year-old, Vivian (Hadley Robinson) finds inspiration from her mother's (played by director Poehler) rebellious past and anonymously publishes a zine that sparks a school-wide, coming-of-rage revolution.  Strong stuff sometimes makes for good comedy and director Poehler pulls it off admirably.

“Reflect on a cause you feel passionate about.  Explain its significance to you and what steps you took to make a change.”  Personal insight:  Personal question and Answer.”  The words above appear twice during the  beginning of the film.  One would guess that producer, director and actress Poehler had herself  committed the words to action in realization of her first directorial debut.  MOXIE would be as expected, a comedy with a cause - and a message that should affect the audience by the time the film ends.

` One of my favourite actresses who I do not see enough of is Marcia Gay Harden.  Immediately when I saw her name on the opening credits, I knew that she would be playing the role of the school principal.  This she does playing Principal Shelly, adding humour, proving that she can also do comedy and drama.  The other noticeable actor in the cast is Nico Haraga who plays Seth in the film.  With his skateboard antics, he is immediately recognizable from Olivia Cooke’s BOOKSMART where he also played another skateboarding teen.  His character Seth is the most lovable one found in a teen film in a long time.  Patrick Schwarzenegger, quite the good-looker and son of Arnold, plays the football team captain who has a major attitude problem and who harasses Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena) in the movie.

The film contains a few excellent moments.  The best of these is the first romantic scene in which Seth tells Viv how he noticed her in class years back when they were younger.  When everyone else in the class wanted to smash the spiders, Viv would want to take them outside.  Viv says she recalls none of these.  Seth spreads his hand out like a spider.  It is a wonderful moment of intimacy and emotion. 

One thing noticeable in Poehler’s film is the eclectic cast of blacks, asians, hispanic and other races, not to mention the strong female presence.  There is a good debate in a segment set in class where a black girl, Lisa, questions the relevance of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY.  The argument is a bit biased as the answer should be not the theme but the writing of the prose that should be brought up.

The film’s climax shows the film trying too hard at being a feel-good movie.  Still, MOXIE works as a coming-of-age comedy while effectively tackling key feminine and minority issues in a setting of romance and true friendship.  And all this being entertaining as well.

Trailer: 

 

PANDEMIC (ALONE) (USA 2020) *

Directed by Johnny Martin

Do not be fooled by the title.  PANDEMIC originally entitled ALONE is another low-budget zombie movie made at an estimated cost of $4 million.  The title of the film has been changed to PANDEMIC for obvious reasons - to bank on the Covid-19 Pandemic that is currently crippling the world.  But this film is less about lockdown or quarantine than another take-off of another zombie film, and a very bad one at that.

When an outbreak hits, Aidan (Tyler Posey) barricades himself inside his apartment and starts rationing food.  His complex is overrun by infected Screamers, and with the world falling apart into chaos, he is left completely alone fighting for his life.  He has lots of water from stashing bottled water but is running out of food.   The film is quick to inform through voiceover that humans can survive three days without water and three weeks without food.  So, Aidan has to leave his apartment in order to get food.  The plan is to live it out till the zombies starve to death before he does.

The zombie genre is a well worn one and there are hardly any surprises in this film.  How the outbreak began is little explained.  When the film starts, Aidan has just woken up from what appears to be a one-night stand when he discovers the zombie apocalypse. 

In PANDEMIC, the zombies are different from the ones in the George Romero’s films.  Here, they make a lot of loud noises, enough to make the audience jump out of their seats (this is really annoying) and they move, not slowly but at breakneck speed like the ones in WORLD WAR Z.  One zombie knows parkour as he scales the apartment building from one floor to another in order to reach Aidan’s balcony.  As in the typical zombie films, the action sequences are quite violent.  Aidan goes about for a fair amount of time carrying a baseball bat and crushing the heads of the zombies he encounters.

The film is a modest, low budget production with most of the action taking place in one building and with one main character, Aidan.  The action segments are well orchestrated with some thrills but it is hard to care for the protagonist in a zombie film.  Not much background is given on what Aidan does, but there is a moment where he speaks to his parents on the phone.

The story takes a turn when Aidan finds a girl survivor, Eva (Summer in the apartment opposite from his.  Aidan also finds another civilian played by Donald Sutherland.   It is a mystery how the filmmakers got veteran actor Sutherland to do a guest role in this film.

Tyler Posey (SCARY MOVIE) is a teen hunk who can look quite dishevelled with a full beard, which he has kept after a few weeks.  His meeting of the girl Eva opposite his building inspires him to shave it off, thus looking more decent as the film’s main hero.

With Aidan being almost alone in his apartment building and with zombies - dozens of them - moving about at breakneck speed, Aidan does not stand a chance.  Worse still when he has to get out after running out of food and water.

A title change from ALONE to PANDEMIC to hone in on Covid-19 pandemic does not say much for this sorry zombie movie.

Trailer: https://www.traileraddict.com/alone-lionsgate-2020/trailer

THE UNITED STATES vs BILLIE HOLIDAY (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Lee Daniels

In the 1940’s, the US government targeted beloved jazz icon Billie Holiday as part of their war on drugs, to prevent her from performing her heart-wrenching ballad “Strange Fruit,” a blatant cry against lynching.

Though the film’s title implies a courtroom drama, The film is not, containing just a few courtroom scenes but not with any where huge arguments are made on either side.  Billie Holiday, as everyone knows is a beloved jazz icon, also known to be addicted to drugs, in this case heroin.  The United States wants to silence Holiday not because of her drug use, but of her famous song entitled ‘Strange Fruit’ with graphic lyrics describing a black lynching.  In order to silence her and to prevent her from even singing the song, which clearly incites blacks to revolt, the United States employs narcotic agents to arrest Holiday on drug charges, and his silencing her.     The song was censored as it condemns racism and denounces the lynchings African Americans have endured. 

This is not the first film made on Billie Holiday.  Director Sidney J. Furie made the 1977 classic LADY SINGS THE BLUES which had Diana Ross in the title role of Holiday and other big name stars like Richard Pryor and Billy Dee Williams.  That film went on to win 5 Academy Award Nominations including one for Diana Ross for Best Actress, though it won none.  Furie later directed Ross again in MAHOGANY.  This time around, Holiday gets treatment from director Lee Daniels, already well known and respected for his hits like PRECIOUS and LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER.

Daniels has shown his ability to show black hardship as in PRECIOUS.  Here the hardship is not so much in poverty, but more in both the abuse of blacks as in colours discrimination and  the toll due to drug use.  Holiday claims in the film that she has to be high in order to give her fans the performances they deserve.  This is a claim that many will debate but addicts will surely believe the statement.  Daniels also keeps his confrontational scenes tense as in his previous films.

Holiday is portrayed by Grammy nominated recording artist Andra Day.  Like Ross their Billie Holiday films were their first foray into films.  Day is a singer with a raspy voice.  Her rendering of the Billie Holiday songs appear authentic enough and she is apt at displaying a lot of caustic anger in her scenes.  One can see how anger and drug addiction can affect one’s behaviour for the worse.  Day has been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress this year.  The film is also nominated for a Globe for Best Original song.  That should give the film sufficient publicity.

I have not seen Furie’s LADY SINGS THE BLUES as it would be good to be able to compare both films.  LADY SINGS THE BLUES was banned in Singapore when it was released because of its drug content. 

This film also emphasizes the affair between Holiday and the undercover narcotics agent, Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes) with little nods to Holiday’s husband Louis McKay.

The best thing about this otherwise depressing film about drug abuse and the downward spiral of Holiday’s life are the rendering of her songs.  Day does a marvellous job in this respect.

The film is available March 2nd VOD.

Trailer:  

 

 

THE VIGIL (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Keith Thomas

A vigil is similar to a wake but in this film it refers to the Jewish vigil, where a body is watched throughout the night till the wake of dawn.  The shomer is the watcher, a family member or paid person if the family member is unavailable to sit the night through with a corpse before burial to chant the evil spirits away.  One knows that there is plenty of opportunity for scares when the protagonist, Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis) has a bit of a mental problem, taking pills to calm himself.  Yakov is broke.  He takes the job for $300 cash of a shomer to sit with a dead body till dawn at the deceased family’s house.  Yes, there is more trouble and even more when he is greeted by the wife who suffers from dementia.  Worse still is when he soon learns that the wife and the deceased had grown mad together.

Thus, this Jewish horror seems ripe for terrorizing audiences with plenty of opportunities.  The young shomer suffers from guilt as seen in a flashback.  He had stood by, not doing anything and had  allowed a young boy, his younger brother under his watch to be bullied and then hit by a car to die.

The house where he is ‘shoming' is kept by the deceased widow who has Alzheimer’s and who expresses cryptic reservations as to the man's ability to carry out the task.   The man begins to imagine things or are the things really happening?  Yakov is a doubter of his faith, and not as pious as your ordinary Jewish neighbour, though he looks like one.  As Yakov sits through the night, alone, he hears noises in the night that ultimately lets him to go down the stairs to the basement where he sees a video informing him of a demon that must be burnt in the face before dawn or it would inhabit him like it did the corpse when it was a living being.

Yakov is beside himself, which makes for some easy laughs as he scrambles around the place.  Written and directed by Keith Thomas, THE VIGIL is a low budget two man show - the actor and filmmaker.  Dave Davis as Yakov does a solid job as the yiddish coward, forced to finally sum up some courage to survive.  Even in the beginning of the night, he is texting his girlfriend Sarah (Malky Goldmasn) asking her what to do.  The film is limited in scope and production values but given what it is, at least director Thomas keeps everything in tight control.

Director Thomas in his debut feature takes 30 minutes to set up his film before scaring the audience with the usual  THE VIGIL is a straightforward scary tale with noises in the dark, shadows in dark spaces etc. with the Orthodox Jewish setting a welcome one - the unique world of the Hasidic community of "Boro" Park, Brooklyn.

THE VIGIL had its premiere at Midnight Madness section at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 and finally making tis rounds.

Trailer:  

THE UNITED STATES vs BILLIE HOLIDAY (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Lee Daniels

In the 1940’s, the US government targeted beloved jazz icon Billie Holiday as part of their war on drugs, to prevent her from performing her heart-wrenching ballad “Strange Fruit,” a blatant cry against lynching.

Though the film’s title implies a courtroom drama, The film is not, containing just a few courtroom scenes but not with any where huge arguments are made on either side.  Billie Holiday, as everyone knows is a beloved jazz icon, also known to be addicted to drugs, in this case heroin.  The United States wants to silence Holiday not because of her drug use, but of her famous song entitled ‘Strange Fruit’ with graphic lyrics describing a black lynching.  In order to silence her and to prevent her from even singing the song, which clearly incites blacks to revolt, the United States employs narcotic agents to arrest Holiday on drug charges, and his silencing her.     The song was censored as it condemns racism and denounces the lynchings African Americans have endured. 

This is not the first film made on Billie Holiday.  Director Sidney J. Furie made the 1977 classic LADY SINGS THE BLUES which had Diana Ross in the title role of Holiday and other big name stars like Richard Pryor and Billy Dee Williams.  That film went on to win 5 Academy Award Nominations including one for Diana Ross for Best Actress, though it won none.  Furie later directed Ross again in MAHOGANY.  This time around, Holiday gets treatment from director Lee Daniels, already well known and respected for his hits like PRECIOUS and LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER.

Daniels has shown his ability to show black hardship as in PRECIOUS.  Here the hardship is not so much in poverty, but more in both the abuse of blacks as in colours discrimination and  the toll due to drug use.  Holiday claims in the film that she has to be high in order to give her fans the performances they deserve.  This is a claim that many will debate but addicts will surely believe the statement.  Daniels also keeps his confrontational scenes tense as in his previous films.

Holiday is portrayed by Grammy nominated recording artist Andra Day.  Like Ross their Billie Holiday films were their first foray into films.  Day is a singer with a raspy voice.  Her rendering of the Billie Holiday songs appear authentic enough and she is apt at displaying a lot of caustic anger in her scenes.  One can see how anger and drug addiction can affect one’s behaviour for the worse.  Day has been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress this year.  The film is also nominated for a Globe for Best Original song.  That should give the film sufficient publicity.

I have not seen Furie’s LADY SINGS THE BLUES as it would be good to be able to compare both films.  LADY SINGS THE BLUES was banned in Singapore when it was released because of its drug content. 

This film also emphasizes the affair between Holiday and the undercover narcotics agent, Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes) with little nods to Holiday’s husband Louis McKay.

The best thing about this otherwise depressing film about drug abuse and the downward spiral of Holiday’s life are the rendering of her songs.  Day does a marvellous job in this respect.

The film is available March 2nd VOD.

Trailer: 

THE WORLD TO COME (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Mona Fastvold

The film unfolds somewhere along the mid-19th century American East Coast frontier, with titles indicating the month, days and date when the events take place.  The film begins on January the 1st, clearly the New Year when things are expected to improve.  But the voiceover claims otherwise with the words: Contentment has not been a companion.

The film opens with the voiceover by Abigail (Katherine Waterston) detailing her hardship with her husband Dyer (Casey Affleck) and the loss of their child.  Enter a new couple Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) and Finney. (Christopher Abbott).   The two neighbouring couples battle hardship and isolation, witnessed by a splendid yet testing landscape, challenging them both physically and psychologically.

The cinematography by award winning d.p. Andre Chemetoff is to be commended.  His cinematography is a stand-out especially depicting both the severity and beauty of the land.  The bleak and cold winters can definitely be felt from the howling winds and the lack of visibility during the winter storm scenes.  The lighting, just enough for the set and characters to be seen in the dark cabins is near perfection.

Though the central theme of the film is the discovery of love between the two neglected women, THE WORLD TO COME is more than a lesbian love story.  The first kiss occurs only after the film’s 50-minute mark.  It is more one of the triumph of the human spirit of the two as they strive to make their worlds better ones to come.

Some suspense is generated with the two women sneaking around, comforting each other and occasionally making out under the noses of their husbands.  There is some but little humour.  It is remarked, for example, of the weather being so cold that the mail had to be delivered on skis.  Letters would be lost at breakneck speed is the humorous comment. 

Despite the 19th Century setting, the script makes it a point to emphasize feminine issues.  Tallie complains of her husband telling her that she is not performing her wifely duties, the husband making it worse by mentioning that a lot of men have slowly poisoned their wives.  She also says that he has not touched her since she has complained of the way she is treated.  In those times, women are treated more as servants and objects that a partner in equality.

When Tallie and her husband disappear, Abigail suspects foul play after discovering a towel soaked in blood.  This drives her to a mental state in which she is administered laudanum.  Laudanum is a reddish-brown and extremely bitter, laudanum contains almost all of the opium alkaloids, including morphine and codeine.   It is good to know that today, laudanum is recognized as addictive and is strictly regulated and controlled as such throughout most of the world.  Abigail when she stops taking it, becomes depressed and barely able to function.

THE WORLD TO COME, though a solid piece of filmmaking, would be a hard sell due to its depressing theme in the really depressing 19th century during these Covid-19 times.  But THE WORLD TO COME also shows that the worst can be overcome if one succumbs to one instincts despite overbearing odds.

The film had its premiere at the Berlinale Film Festival in 2020 and was released on various streaming platforms on Tuesday March the 2nd.

Trailer:  

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SXSW Film Festival 2021 Full List of Films

16 Feb 2021

Afrotoronto and Toronto-Franco are proud to be press accredited for the first time with the SXSW Film Festival.  This is due in part that the festival can be covered online due to Covid-19.  Yes, there are a few advantages of Covid-19.  

Capsule reviews will be provided of as many films as possible that can be seen within the time span.  The site will be updated regualary  and will inlcude at the end of the festival the festival's various prize winners.  Below is the announcement of all the films and events for this year's 2021 SXSW Film Festival as provided in the press notes.

Austin, Texas, February 10, 2021 – South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conference and Festivals (March 16-20, 2021) announced the full program for the 28th edition of the SXSW Film Festival. This year, the acclaimed program will be online, where it will draw thousands of fans, filmmakers, press, and industry leaders to immerse themselves in the smartest, most innovative and entertaining new films of the year, as well as giving access to hundreds of Conference Sessions, Music and Comedy Showcases, Creative Industry Exhibitions, Mentoring, Meetups and Special Events that define the cross-industry event. 

The 2021 Film Festival program has 75 features including 57 World Premieres, 3 International Premieres, 4 North American Premieres, 1 U.S. Premieres, 8 Texas Premieres and 53 films from first-time filmmakers + 84 Short Films including Music Videos, 5 Episodic Premieres, 6 Episodic Pilots, 20 Virtual Cinema projects, 14 Title Design entries, plus 30 Special Events.

“It’s been a year unlike any we’ve experienced, first marked by the cancellation of SXSW 2020,” said Janet Pierson, Director of Film. “We feel privileged to have been able to pivot to SXSW Online and present a fantastic treasure trove of programming, including a pared down and wonderful selection of films that we know will delight, entertain and move our attendees. SXSW Online will bring attendees a multifaceted event that speaks to so many areas of creativity in one five-day experience that everyone can access on their laptops, phones and TVs. While we won’t have the wonderful in-person SXSW that we know and love, we can gather together to be inspired by the work.” 

The Film Festival will launch seven films at a time in two-hour increments from 10:00am - 8:00pm CT, with most of the films launching during the first three days of the event (Tuesday - Thursday), starting with the films with global access and no audience capacity limits. Once a film is available, it remains available on-demand until it hits its audience capacity or the event ends. Many films do not have a capacity limit and will be available for the duration of the event. While SXSW is a global event, certain films will be restricted to access in the United States due to rights and/or filmmaker or distributor discretion.

Several platforms are integrated to create the SXSW Online experience across web, mobile and premium viewing from your TV. A dedicated Connected TV app using Brightcove can be accessed via Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Android TV and Samsung TV. This is a dynamic way to experience video content, freeing up your smartphone, tablet and computer to connect with registrants or browse the schedule. With four concurrent channels that are curated by SXSW Programmers in addition to over 600+ on-demand Films, Conference Sessions, Comedy and Live Music Showcases. A fifth channel will host partner programming. Swapcard is the online platform, accessible through web browser and mobile app, for attendee networking and facilitating business connections, as well as viewing channels and all on-demand content.

Films in the SXSW 2021 lineup screen in the following categories: Headliners; Narrative Feature Competition; Documentary Feature Competition; Narrative Spotlight; Documentary Spotlight; Visions; Midnighters; Global; 24 Beats Per Second; Festival Favorites; and, new this year, 2020 Spotlight. The Episodic program consists of Episodic Premieres and the Episodic Pilot Competition. Special Events for 2021 consist of conversations, table readings and other unique one-off events on our live channel 4. Shorts screen as part of 10 curated sections. Our Virtual Cinema programming will be available on the VRrOOm platform with selected work in VRChat. All Categories with the exception of Special Events will be eligible for section-specific Audience Awards.

The Narrative Feature Competition includes: Here Before directed by Stacey Gregg; I'm Fine (Thanks For Asking) directed by Kelley Kali, Angelique Molina; Islands directed by Martin Edralin; Our Father directed by Bradley Grant Smith; Potato Dreams of America directed by Wes Hurley; The End Of Us directed by Henry Loevner, Steven Kanter; The Fallout directed by Megan Park; and Women is Losers directed by Lissette Feliciano. 

The Documentary Feature Competition includes: Introducing, Selma Blair directed by Rachel Fleit; Kid Candidate directed by Jasmine Stodel; Lily Topples The World directed by Jeremy Workman; Not Going Quietly directed by Nicholas Bruckman; The Oxy Kingpins directed by Brendan FitzGerald; The Return: Life After ISIS directed by Alba Sotorra Clua; Subjects of Desire directed by Jennifer Holness; and United States vs. Reality Winner directed by Sonia Kennebeck.

HEADLINERS
This year’s Headliners: Opening and Closing Night Films and a Centerpiece Film with associated Special Events on our Live Channel.

Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil
Director: Michael D. Ratner, Producer: Marc Ambrose
Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil is a powerful YouTube Originals documentary event, exploring every aspect that led to Lovato’s nearly fatal overdose in 2018, and her awakenings in the aftermath. (World Premiere) (Opening Night Film)

Alone Together
Directors: Bradley Bell, Pablo Jones-Soler, Producers: Ross Levine, Emmie Lichtenberg, Brian Ferenchik
Charli XCX, a popstar in quarantine, embarks on a whirlwind creative and romantic journey while making an album in 40 days that unites a community around the world. (World Premiere) (Closing Night Film)

Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free
Director: Mary Wharton, Producer: Peter Afterman
Drawn from a newly discovered archive of 16mm film showing Tom Petty at work on his 1994 record Wildflowers, considered by many including Rolling Stone to be his greatest album ever, Somewhere You Feel Free is an intimate view of a musical icon. (World Premiere) (Centerpiece Film)

NARRATIVE FEATURE COMPETITION
Eight world premieres, eight unique ways to celebrate the art of storytelling.

Here Before (United Kingdom)
Director/Screenwriter: Stacey Gregg, Producer: Sophie Vickers
After new neighbours move in next door, a bereaved mother begins to question her reality in this unsettling psychological thriller. Cast List: Andrea Riseborough, Martin McCann, Jonjo O’Neill, Eileen O’Higgins (World Premiere)

I'm Fine (Thanks For Asking)
Directors: Kelley Kali, Angelique Molina, Screenwriters: Kelley Kali, Angelique Molina, Roma Kong, Producers: Roma Kong, Angelique Molina, Kelley Kali, Capella Fahoome
When a recently widowed mother becomes houseless, she convinces her 8-year-old daughter that they are only camping for fun while working to get them off the streets. Cast List: Kelley Kali, Wesley Moss, Deon Cole, Brooklynn Marie, Steven Ira Scipio, Andrew Galvan, Lamar Usher, Brian Brooks II, Jacolyn Holmes, Xing-Mai Deng (World Premiere)

Islands (Canada)
Director/Screenwriter: Martin Edralin, Producer: Martin Edralin, Priscilla Galvez
Joshua, a shy Filipino immigrant on the cusp of 50, has lived in the comfort of his parents’ home his entire life. With his parents now in old age, he pleads with God for a companion, terrified of being alone after they pass. Cast List: Rogelio Balagtas, Sheila Lotuaco, Esteban Comilang, Vangie Alcasid, Pablo Quiogue, Isys Szuky, Maximus Szuky (World Premiere)

Our Father
Director/Screenwriter: Bradley Grant Smith, Producers: Alex Thompson, Ian Keiser, Steven Callas
In a last ditch attempt to foster a meaningful bond, estranged sisters Beta and Zelda go in search of their mysterious Uncle Jerry. Cast List: Baize Buzan, Allison Torem, Austin Pendleton, Corey Hendrix, Tim Hopper, Ann Whitney, Keith Kupferer, Guy Massey, Lance Baker, D'Wayne Taylor (World Premiere)

Potato Dreams of America
Director/Screenwriter: Wes Hurley, Producers: Mischa Jakupcak, Wes Hurley
A true story about a gay boy growing up in the collapsing USSR, his courageous mail-order bride mother, and their adventurous escape to Seattle in the 90s. Cast List: Marya Sea Kaminski, Dan Lauria, Tyler Bocock, Lea DeLaria, Sera Barbieri, Hersh Powers, Jonathan Bennett, Sophia Mitri Schloss, Cynthia Lauren Tewes, James Grixoni (World Premiere)

The End Of Us
Directors/Screenwriters: Henry Loevner, Steven Kanter, Producers: Claudia Restrepo, Henry Loevner, Steven Kanter, Lovell Holder
After a savage breakup, two exes must continue living together when California issues its stay-at-home order for COVID-19. Now they’ll try to move on without moving out. Cast List: Ben Coleman, Ali Vingiano, Derrick DeBlasis, Gadiel Del Orbe, Kate Peterman, Colin Weatherby, Caroline Kwan, Will Neff, Jesse Benjamin, Claudia Restrepo (World Premiere)

The Fallout
Director/Screenwriter: Megan Park, Producers: David Brown, Rebecca Miller, Cara Shine, Joannie Burstein, Shaun Sanghani
High schooler Vada navigates the emotional fallout she experiences in the wake of a school tragedy. Relationships with her family, friends and view of the world are forever altered. Cast List: Jenna Ortega, Maddie Ziegler, Niles Fitch, Will Ropp, Lumi Pollack, John Ortiz, Julie Bowen, Shailene Woodley (World Premiere)

Women is Losers
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Lissette Feliciano
In 1960s San Francisco, a once-promising catholic school girl, Celina Guerrera (Lorenza Izzo), sets out to rise above the oppression of poverty and invest in a future for herself that sets new precedents for the time. Cast List: Lorenza Izzo, Bryan Craig, Chrissie Fit, Simu Liu, Steven Bauer, Liza Weil, Cranston Johnson, Alejandra Miranda, Shalim Ortiz, Lincoln Bonilla (World Premiere)

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE COMPETITION
Eight world premieres: Eight real world stories that demonstrate innovation, energy and bold voices. 

Introducing, Selma Blair
Director: Rachel Fleit, Producers: Mickey Liddell, Pete Shilaimon, Troy Nankin
Introducing, Selma Blair is a deeply intimate and raw portrait of the actress after she is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and makes a valiant, risky effort to try to slow the progression of her disease. For the acclaimed, yet often supporting actress, her starring role has finally arrived - she just had to show up and fully embrace herself.
 (World Premiere)

Kid Candidate
Director: Jasmine Stodel, Producers: Jasmine Stodel, Chevis LaBelle, William Dorrien-Smith
Kid Candidate tells the story of Hayden Pedigo, an 24-year old experimental musician and his unlikely run for Amarillo city council after his Harmony Korine inspired spoof campaign video went viral. (World Premiere)

Lily Topples The World
Director: Jeremy Workman, Producers: Jeremy Workman, Robert J. Lyons
Lily Topples The World follows 20-year-old Lily Hevesh — the world’s most acclaimed domino toppler and the only woman in her field — in a coming-of-age story of artistry, passion, and unlikely triumph. Executive produced by Kelly Marie Tran. (World Premiere)

Not Going Quietly
Director: Nicholas Bruckman, Screenwriters: Nicholas Bruckman, Amanda Roddy, Producer:  Amanda Roddy
When a young father chances to meet a powerful senator on an airplane, their exchange goes viral, sparking one of the most unlikely political movements in a generation. (World Premiere)

The Oxy Kingpins
Director: Brendan FitzGerald, Producers: Drea Bernardi, Brendan FitzGerald, Nick August-Perna
The Oxy Kingpins covers the untold story of how a network of pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, and retailers worked together to orchestrate and perpetuate the opioid crisis that has killed over half a million people in America. (World Premiere)

The Return: Life After ISIS (Spain, United Kingdom)
Director/Screenwriter: Alba Sotorra Clua, Producers: Alba Sotorra Clua, Vesna Cudic
Shamima Begum (UK) and Hoda Muthana (US) made it into worldwide headlines when they left their countries as teenagers to join ISIS. Now they want to return but their countries don’t want them back. (World Premiere)

Subjects of Desire (Canada)
Director/Screenwriter: Jennifer Holness, Producers: Jennifer Holness, Sudz Sutherland
Subjects of Desire is a thought provoking film that examines the cultural shift in beauty standards towards embracing (or appropriating) Black aesthetics and features, deconstructing what we understand about race and the power behind beauty. (World Premiere)

United States vs. Reality Winner
Director: Sonia Kennebeck, Producer: Ines Hofmann Kanna
A state of secrets and a ruthless hunt for whistleblowers – this is the story of 25-year-old Reality Winner who disclosed a document about Russian election interference to the media and became the number one leak target of the Trump administration. (World Premiere)

NARRATIVE SPOTLIGHT
High profile narrative features receiving their World, International, North American, U.S. or Texas premieres at SXSW.

The Drover’s Wife: the Legend of Molly Johnson (Australia)
Director/Screenwriter: Leah Purcell, Producers: Bain Stewart, David Jowsey, Angela Littlejohn, Greer Simpkin, Leah Purcell
The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson is a reimagining of Leah Purcell’s acclaimed play and Henry Lawson’s classic short story. A searing Australian western thriller asking the question: how far do you go to protect your loved ones? Cast List: Leah Purcell, Rob Collins, Sam Reid, Jessica De Gouw, Malachi Dower-Roberts (World Premiere)

The Fabulous Filipino Brothers (Philippines, United States)
Director: Dante Basco, Screenwriters: Dante Basco, Darion Basco, Dionysio Basco, Arianna Basco, Producers: Joan Banaga, Rawn Erickson II, Dante Basco, Rome Reyes, Sienna Olazo, Belay A Santillan, Guido Zaballero
From Northern California to The Philippines, four brothers confront their issues with love, family, and culture, surrounding a highly controversial Filipino wedding. Told in four vignettes with cockfights, adultery, romance, food, and family. Cast List: Dante Basco, Derek Basco, Dionysio Basco, Darion Basco, Solenn Heussaff, Liza Lapira, Tirso Cruz III, Cheryl Tsai, Arriana Basco, Joe Jitsukawa (World Premiere)

Language Lessons
Director: Natalie Morales, Screenwriters: Mark Duplass, Natalie Morales, Producer: Mel Eslyn
A Spanish teacher and her student develop an unexpected friendship. Cast List: Natalie Morales, Mark Duplass, Desean Terry, Christine Quesada (North American)

Ludi
Director: Edson Jean, Screenwriters: Edson Jean, Joshua Jean-Baptiste, Producers: Fabiola Rodriguez, Mark Pulaski
Ludi, a hardworking and exhausted nurse, battles coworkers, clients and one impatient bus driver to learn her self worth as she chases the American Dream in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood. Cast List: Shein Mompremier, Alan Myles Heyman, Madelin Marchant, Success St. Fleur Jr., Kerline Alce, Plus Pierre, Patrice DeGraff Arenas, Farah Larrieux (Texas Premiere)

Paul Dood's Deadly Lunch Break (United Kingdom)
Director: Nick Gillespie, Screenwriters: Brook Driver, Matt White, Nick Gillespie, Producer: Finn Bruce
When Paul’s chances of winning a national talent contest are ruined and his dreams of fame are slashed, he plans a deathly revenge rampage!! 1 lunch break, 5 spectacular murders! Each wrongdoer dispatched in a fitting manner by the sparkly suited Paul! Cast List: Tom Meeten, Katherine Parkinson, Kris Marshall, Alice Lowe, Mandeep Dhillon, Johnny Vegas, Steve Oram, Craig Parkinson, Kevin Bishop, Pippa Haywood (World Premiere)

Recovery
Directors: Mallory Everton, Stephen Meek, Screenwriters: Whitney Call, Mallory Everton, Producers: Scott Christopherson, Stephen Meek, Abi Nielson Hunsaker
Two directionless sisters brave a cross-country road trip to rescue their grandmother from a COVID outbreak at her nursing home. Cast List: Whitney Call, Mallory Everton, Anne Sward Hansen, Julia Jolley, Baylee Thornock, Jessica Drolet, Stephen Meek, Tyler Andrew Jones, Noah Kershisnik, Justin Call (World Premiere)

See You Then
Director: Mari Walker, Screenwriters: Kristen Uno, Mari Walker, Producers: Mia Schulman, Kristen Uno, Mari Walker
A decade after abruptly breaking up with Naomi, Kris invites her to dinner to catch-up on their complicated lives, relationships, and Kris' transition. Cast List: Pooya Mohseni, Lynn Chen, Nican Robinson, Danny Jacobs, Nikohl Boosheri (U.S. Premiere)

Swan Song
Director/Screenwriter: Todd Stephens, Producers: Todd Stephens, Eric Eisenbrey, Tim Kaltenecker, Stephen Israel
An aging hairdresser (Udo Kier) escapes his nursing home and embarks on an odyssey across his small town to style a dead woman's hair for her funeral, rediscovering his sparkle along the way. Cast List: Udo Kier, Jennifer Coolidge, Linda Evans, Michael Urie, Ira Hawkins, Stephanie McVay (World Premiere)

DOCUMENTARY SPOTLIGHT
Shining a light on new documentary features receiving their World, International, North American or U.S. premieres at SXSW. 

Alien On Stage (United Kingdom)
Directors/Producers: Danielle Kummer, Lucy Harvey
British Bus driver's amateur stage show of Ridley Scott's Alien, accidentally makes it to a famous London theatre! With awkward acting and special effects requiring more luck than judgement, will their homemade homage be alright on the night? (International Premiere)

Fruits of Labor
Director: Emily Cohen Ibañez, Screenwriters: Ashley Solis Pavon, Emily Cohen Ibañez Producer: Emily Cohen Ibañez
A Mexican-American teenage farmworker dreams of graduating high school, when ICE raids in her community threaten to separate her family and force her to become her family's breadwinner. (World Premiere)

The Hunt for Planet B
Director: Nathaniel Kahn, Producers: Bonnie Hlinomaz, Nathaniel Kahn
Taking us behind the scenes with NASA’s high-stakes James Webb Space Telescope, The Hunt for Planet B follows a pioneering group of scientists—many of them women—on their quest to find another Earth among the stars. (World Premiere)

Hysterical
Director: Andrea Nevins, Producers: Ross Dinerstein, Rebecca Evans, Carolina Groppa
Hysterical is an honest and hilarious backstage pass into the lives of some of stand-up comedy’s most boundary-breaking women, exploring the hard-fought journey to become the voices of their generation and their gender. Featuring Margaret Cho, Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Marina Franklin, Nikki Glaser, Judy Gold, Kathy Griffin, Jessica Kirson, Sherri Shepherd, Iliza Shlesinger and more. Available on FX in 2021. (World Premiere)

The Lost Sons
Director: Ursula Macfarlane, Producer: Gagan Rehill
1960s Chicago, a baby is kidnapped from a hospital. Fifteen months later, a toddler is abandoned. Could he be the same baby? In a tale of breathtaking twists and turns, two mysteries begin to unravel and dark family secrets are revealed. (World Premiere)

Mau (Austria, United States)
Directors: Benji Bergmann, Jono Bergmann, Producer: Karol Martesko-Fenster
Mau follows the unlikely story of design visionary Bruce Mau and his ever-optimistic push for massive change. (World Premiere)

Spring Valley
Director: Garrett Zevgetis, Producers: Chico Colvard, Jeff Consiglio, Ariana Garfinkel
An explosive viral video shows a white policeman throwing a Black teenager from her school desk. One woman uproots her life to help the girl, face the officer, and dismantle the system behind the "Assault at Spring Valley.” (World Premiere)

WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn
Director: Jed Rothstein, Producer: Ross Dinerstein
WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn explores the rise and fall of one of the biggest corporate flameouts and venture capitalist bubbles in recent years - the story of WeWork, and its hippie-messianic leader Adam Neumann. (World Premiere)

When Claude Got Shot
Director: Brad Lichtenstein, Producer: Steven Cantor, Brad Lichtenstein, Jamie Schutz, Santana Wilson (co-producer)
Three strangers' lives become inextricably entwined by a weekend of gun violence. (World Premiere)

Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America
Directors: Emily Kunstler, Sarah Kunstler, Screenwriter: Jeffery Robinson, Producers: Jeffery Robinson, Emily Kunstler, Sarah Kunstler
ACLU lawyer Jeffery Robinson’s shattering talk on the history of U.S. anti-Black racism is interwoven with archival footage, interviews and Robinson's story, exploring the legacy of white supremacy and our collective responsibility to overcome it. (World Premiere)

MIDNIGHTERS
Scary, funny, sexy, controversial – eight provocative after-dark features for night owls and the terminally curious.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion
Director: Jacob Gentry, Screenwriters: Phil Drinkwater, Tim Woodall, Producers: Greg Newman, Brett Hays, Giles Edwards, Nicola Goelzhaeuser
In the late 90s, a video archivist unearths a series of sinister pirate broadcasts and becomes obsessed with uncovering the dark conspiracy behind them. Cast List: Harry Shum Jr., Kelley Mack, Chris Sullivan, Jennifer Jelsema, Arif Yampolsky, Justin Welborn, Michael B. Woods, Steve Pringle (World Premiere)

The Feast (United Kingdom)
Director: Lee-Haven Jones, Screenwriter/Producer: Roger Williams
Over an evening a wealthy family gathers for a sumptuous dinner with guests in their ostentatious house in the Welsh mountains. Served by a mysteriously disturbing young woman, the assembled party do not realise they are about to eat their last supper. Cast List: Anne Elwy, Nia Roberts, Julian Lewis Jones, Steffan Cennydd, Sion Alun Davies, Lisa Palfrey, Rhodri Meilir (World Premiere)

Gaia (South Africa)
Director: Jaco Bouwer, Screenwriter: Tertius Kapp, Producer: Tertius Kapp, Jorrie van der Walt, Jaco Bouwer
In the depths of an ancient forest, something has been growing. Something older than humanity itself, and perhaps greater too. When a park ranger discovers a man and his son living wild, she stumbles onto a secret that is about to change the world. Cast List: Monique Rockman, Carel Nel, Alex van Dyk, Anthony Oseyemi (World Premiere)

Jakob's Wife
Director: Travis Stevens, Screenwriters: Travis Stevens, Kathy Charles, Mark Steensland, Producers: Barbara Crampton, Bob Portal, Travis Stevens, Inderpal Singh
The disappearance of a young woman threatens to change the beige and banal lives of Anne Fedder (Barbara Crampton) and her pastor husband Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden) forever. Cast List: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Bonnie Aarons, Mark Kelly, Sarah Lind, Robert Rusler, Nyisha Bell, Phil Brooks (World Premiere)

Offseason
Director/Screenwriter: Mickey Keating, Producer: Eric B. Fleischman, Maurice Fadida
After receiving a mysterious letter, a woman travels to a desolate island town and soon becomes trapped in a nightmare. Cast List: Joe Swanberg, Jocelin Donahue, Melora Walters, Richard Brake, Jeremy Gardner (World Premiere)

Sound Of Violence (Finland, United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Alex Noyer, Producer: Hannu Aukia, Alex Noyer
A young girl recovers her hearing and gains synesthetic abilities during the brutal murder of her family. Finding solace in the sounds of bodily harm, as an adult, she pursues a career in music composing her masterpiece through gruesome murders. Cast List: Jasmin Savoy Brown, Lili Simmons, James Jagger, Tessa Munro (World Premiere)

The Spine of Night
Directors/Screenwriters: Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King, Producers: Will Battersby, Philip Gelatt, Jean Rattle
In this ultra-violent, fantasy epic, ancient dark magic falls into sinister hands and unleashes ages of suffering onto mankind. A group of heroes from different eras and cultures must band together in order to defeat it at all costs. Cast List: Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, Joe Manganiello, Larry Fessenden, Nina Lisandrello, Abby Savage, Tom Lipinski, Patrick Breen (World Premiere)

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror
Director/Screenwriter: Kier-La Janisse, Producers: Kier-La Janisse, David Gregory, Winnie Cheung
Woodlands Dark Days and Days Bewitched is the first feature-length documentary on the history of folk horror, from the 1960s to today. (World Premiere)

FESTIVAL FAVORITES
Acclaimed standouts and selected premieres from festivals around the world.

Dear Mr. Brody
Director: Keith Maitland, Producers: Melissa Robyn Glassman, Megan Gilbride, Keith Maitland, Sarah Wilson
A psychedelic journey into the heart (and bank account) of Michael Brody, Jr, the hippie-millionaire who offered the world peace for the price of a postage stamp. (Texas Premiere)

How It Ends
Directors/Screenwriters/Producers: Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones
On the last day on Earth, one woman goes on a journey through LA to make it to her last party before the world ends, running into an eclectic cast of characters along the way. Cast List: Zoe Lister-Jones, Cailee Spaeny, Nick Kroll, Olivia Wilde, Helen Hunt, Lamorne Morris, Fred Armisen, Bradley Whitford, Charlie Day, Whitney Cummings 

In the Same Breath
Director: Nanfu Wang, Producers: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang, Julie Goldman, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn
Nanfu Wang's deeply personal In The Same Breath recounts the origin and spread of the novel coronavirus from the earliest days of the outbreak in Wuhan to its rampage across the United States. (Texas Premiere)

Ma Belle, My Beauty
Director/Screenwriter: Marion Hill, Producers: Ben Matheny, Kelsey Scult, Marion Hill
A surprise reunion in southern France reignites passions and jealousies between two women who were formerly polyamorous lovers. Cast List: Idella Johnson, Hannah Pepper, Lucien Guignard, Sivan Noam Shimon (Texas Premiere)

R#J
Director: Carey Williams, Screenwriters: Carey Williams, Rickie Castaneda, Producers: Timur Bekmambetov, Igor Tsay
A re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet, featuring a diverse cast in the classic Shakespearean roles. This modern day take is told on mobile and is a mashup of Shakespearean dialogue with current social media communication. Cast List: Camaron Engels, Francesca Noel, RJ Cyler, Diego Tinoco, Russell Hornsby, Siddiq Saunderson (Texas Premiere)

Violation (Canada)
Directors/Screenwriters/Producers: Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Dusty Mancinelli
A troubled woman on the edge of divorce returns home to her younger sister after years apart. But when her sister and brother-in-law betray her trust, she embarks on a vicious crusade of revenge. Cast List: Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Anna Maguire, Jesse LaVercombe, Obi Abili, Jasmin Geljo, Cynthia Ashperger (Texas Premiere)

VISIONS
Visions filmmakers are audacious, risk-taking artists in the new cinema landscape who demonstrate raw innovation and creativity in documentary and narrative filmmaking.

Ayar
Director: Floyd Russ, Screenwriters: Ariana Ron Pedrique, Floyd Russ, Vilma Vega, Producers: Kara Durrett, Floyd Russ, Corey Waters, Andy Coverdale
Ayar, a first-generation American Latina, returns home to reunite with her daughter. But when her mother, Renata, refuses to let her see her due to Covid, Ayar is confronted by the many roles she's been forced to play, including the role in this film. Cast List: Ariana Ron Pedrique, Vilma Vega, Henry Foster Brown, Simon Haycock, Calliah Sophie Estrada, Pete Pano, Briza Covarrubias, Ceasar Hartman, Jay Lawrence Kiman, Frances Fuches (World Premiere)

Delia Derbyshire - the Myths and the Legendary Tapes (United Kingdom)
Director/Screenwriter: Caroline Catz, Producer: Andy Starke
A portrait of the character and legacy of electronic sound pioneer Delia Derbyshire, who realised the Dr Who Theme tune in 1963 and explores the idea that this extraordinary composer lived outside of time and space as other people experience it. Featuring Caroline Catz, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Julian Rhind-tutt, Tom Meeten, Richard Glover, Saskia Reeves, and Michael Higgs. (International Premiere)

Inbetween Girl
Director/Screenwriter: Mei Makino, Producers: Matt Stryker, Connor Pickens, Emily Gollahon, Kate Gollahon, Udoy Rahim
Teen artist Angie Chen turns to secret hookups with the heartthrob of her private school after her parents’ sudden divorce. Cast List: Emma Galbraith, William Magnuson, Emily Garrett, Lizabeth Waters, KaiChow Lau, Thanh Phuong Bui, Shanshan Jin, Kelsey Buckley (World Premiere)

Through the Plexi-Glass: The Last Days of the San Jose
Director: Liz Lambert, Producers: Liz Lambert, Tina Gazzerro Clapp, Ariel Quintans
The documentary tells the story of a real estate deal's unexpected detour — one that sparked the gentrification of Austin’s hippest neighborhood — and reveals layers of knotty, unanswerable questions, all more relevant than ever today. (World Premiere)

Twyla Moves
Director: Steven Cantor, Producers: Steven Cantor, Jamie Schutz
Interwoven with her storied career and prolific works, Twyla Moves sees legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp navigate her latest creative challenge: making a dance for a world plagued by the Covid-19 pandemic. (World Premiere)


24 BEATS PER SECOND
Showcasing the sounds, culture and influence of music and musicians, with an emphasis on documentary.

Disintegration Loops
Director/Screenwriter: David Wexler, Producers: David Wexler, Bradford Coleman
As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 looms near, William Basinski contemplates the enduring legacy of The Disintegration Loops (his elegy to the 2001 Attacks), while quarantined in the midst of COVID-19. (World Premiere)

I Went To The Dance/J'ai Été Au Bal
Directors: Les Blank, Chris Strachwitz, Producer: Chris Strachwitz
Beautiful 5K restoration of the celebrated film on the history of Cajun and Creole/Zydeco music of SW Louisiana. Exhilarating performances by Clifton Chenier, Marc and Ann Savoy, BeauSoleil, and more. By Les Blank, Chris Strachwitz and Maureen Gosling (World Premiere)

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché (United Kingdom)
Directors: Paul Sng, Celeste Bell, Screenwriters: Celeste Bell, Zoë Howe, Producers: Rebecca Mark-Lawson, Matthew Silverman, Daria Nitsche
The death of punk icon and X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene sends her daughter on a journey across the world and through her mother’s archives to reconcile their fraught relationship. (North American Premiere)

Soy Cubana
Directors: Jeremy Ungar, Ivaylo Getov, Screenwriters: Agustín Rexach Martín, Ivaylo Getov, Jeremy Ungar, Producer: Robin Miller Ungar
When the Vocal Vidas, an all-female Cuban quartet, are invited to play their first show in the US, a simple concert becomes a journey across physical and ideological borders - affirming the connective power of music, even in the most uncertain times. (World Premiere)

Under the Volcano (Australia)
Director: Gracie Otto, Screenwriters: Cody Greenwood, Gracie Otto, Ian Shadwell, Producers: Cody Greenwood, Richard Harris
The story of George Martin’s AIR Studios Montserrat and the island that changed music forever. Featuring interviews with Sting, Mark Knopfler, Nick Rhodes, Jimmy Buffett, Verdine White, Tony Lommi, Stewart Copeland, Guy Fletcher, Midge Ure, Roger Glover. (World Premiere)

GLOBAL
A diverse selection of international filmmaking talent, featuring innovative narratives, artful documentaries, premieres, festival favorites and more.

Bantú Mama (Dominican Republic)
Director: Ivan Herrera, Screenwriters: Clarisse Albrecht, Ivan Herrera, Producers: Ivan Herrera, Nicolas LaMadrid, Franmiris Lombert
An Afropean woman escapes after being arrested in the Dominican Republic. She is sheltered by a group of minors, in a dangerous district of Santo Domingo. By becoming their protégée and maternal figure, she will see her destiny change inexorably. Cast List: Clarisse Albrecht, Scarlett Reyes, Arturo Perez, Euris Javiel, Donis Taveras, Jarold Santos (World Premiere)

Fucking with Nobody (Finland)
Director: Hannaleena Hauru, Screenwriters: Hannaleena Hauru, Lasse Poser, Producers:  Emilia Haukka, Jussi Rantamäki
Hanna is a film director. She loses her dream job to her rival Kristian who is much more popular, and not single. Thus, she decides to create a parody romance on Instagram to question the image one offers to society. This fake romance will have unexpected effects. Cast List: Hannaleena Hauru, Samuel Kujala, Lasse Poser (North American Premiere)

Luchadoras (Germany/Mexico)
Directors: Paola Calvo, Patrick Jasim, Screenwriters: Patrick Jasim, Paola Calvo, Phillip Kaminiak, Producer: Phillip Kaminiak
Luchadoras portrays the courageous female wrestlers of Ciudad Juárez, a city known for its high murder rate against women - who in the ring and in their daily lives fight to redefine the image of what it means to be a woman in Mexico. (World Premiere)

Ninjababy (Norway)
Director: Yngvild Sve Flikke, Screenwriter: Johan Fasting, Producer: Yngve Sæther
When Rakel (23), way too late, finds out she’s six months pregnant after a not-so-romantic one-night stand, her world changes. Cast List: Kristine Thorp, Arthur Berning, Nader Khademi, Tora Christine Dietrichson (International Premiere)

Trapped (Egypt)
Director: Manal Khaled, Screenwriters: Manal Khaled, Rasha Azab, Producer: Manal Khaled
Trapped revolves around a number of women from different walks of life whose destinies are tied together; being all under one siege. As the events unfold, their own personal stories reflect on a far bigger siege that depicts the shackles imposed by a patriarchal society. Cast List: Coroline Khalil, Reem Hegab, Osama Abo El Ata, Ne’ma Mohsen, Mona Mokhtar, Sara'a Jebel (World Premiere)

2020 SPOTLIGHT
Exciting Narrative, Documentary and Episodic projects from across our sections from the 2020 edition of the SXSW Film Festival.

Best Summer Ever
Directors: Michael Parks Randa, Lauren Smitelli, Screenwriters: Michael Parks Randa, Will Halby, Terra Mackintosh, Andrew Pilkington, Lauren Smitelli, Producers: Andrew Pilkington, Katie White, Terra Mackintosh, Leah Romond, Jake Sharpless
A fresh and exhilarating take on the beloved teen musical genre featuring eight original songs and a fully integrated cast and crew of people with and without disabilities. Cast List: Shannon DeVido, Rickey Wilson Jr., MuMu, Jacob Waltuck, Emily Kranking, Eileen Grubba, Holly Palmer, Ajani "AJ" Murray, Lawerence Carter-Long, Bradford Hayes (Texas Premiere)

Chad
Showrunner/Screenwriter: Nasim Pedrad, Director: Rhys Thomas, Producer: David Cress
An awkward 14-year-old Persian-American boy navigates his first year of high school on a mission to become popular. Cast List: Nasim Pedrad, Jake Ryan, Ella Mika, Saba Homayoon, Paul Chahidi, Alexa Loo, Thomas Barbusca (World Premiere) (Episodic)

Clerk (Canada, U.S.A.)
Director: Malcolm Ingram, Producers: Malcolm Ingram, Craig Fleming
A documentary on the life and career of Kevin Smith (World Premiere)

Executive Order (Brazil)
Director: Lázaro Ramos, Screenwriters: Lusa Silvestre, Lázaro Ramos, Aldri Anunciação, Elísio Lopes Jr, Producers: Daniel Filho, Tania Rocha
In a dystopian near future in Brazil, an authoritarian government orders all citizens of African descent to move to Africa – creating chaos, protests, and an underground resistance movement that inspires the nation. Cast List: Alfred Enoch, Taís Araújo, Seu Jorge, Adriana Esteves, Renata Sorrah, Mariana Xavier, Pablo Sanábio (Texas Premiere)

Violet
Director/Screenwriter: Justine Bateman, Producers: Justine Bateman, Michael D. Jones, Larry Hummel, Matt Paul
A film development executive realizes that "guiding voice" inside her head has been lying to her about everything. Cast List: Olivia Munn, Luke Bracey, Justin Theroux (World Premiere)

We Are As Gods
Directors/Screenwriters: Jason Sussberg, David Alvarado, Producers: Kate McLean, Jamie Meltzer, David Alvarado, Jason Sussberg
“We are as gods and might as well get good at it,” Stewart Brand wrote in ‘68. The legendary pioneer of LSD, cyberspace, futurism, and modern environmentalism now urges people to use our god-like powers to fight extinction by reviving lost species. (World Premiere)

We Are The Thousand (Italy)
Director/Screenwriter: Anita Rivaroli, Producer: Simone Catania
Learn the story behind the viral video and what came after! We Are The Thousand takes you backstage with the Rockin’1000. A thousand musicians gathered together with one mission–to get the Foo Fighters to perform in their small town. (North American Premiere)

Witch Hunt
Director/Screenwriter: Elle Callahan, Producers: Eric B. Fleischman, Maurice Fadida
In a modern America where witches are real and witchcraft is illegal, a sheltered teenager must face her own demons and prejudices as she helps two young witches avoid law enforcement and cross the southern border to asylum in Mexico. Cast List: Gideon Adlon, Elizabeth Mitchell, Abigail Cowen, Nicholas and Cameron Crovetti, Christian Camargo (World Premiere)

Without Getting Killed or Caught
Directors: Tamara Saviano, Paul Whitfield, Screenwriters: Tamara Saviano, Bart Knaggs, Producers: Tamara Saviano, Paul Whitfield
Without Getting Killed or Caught is the true story of Guy Clark, the dean of Texas songwriters, who struggles to write poetic, yet indelible songs while balancing a complicated marriage with wife Susanna, and a deep friendship with Townes Van Zandt. (World Premiere)

EPISODIC PROGRAM

EPISODIC PREMIERES
Presenting world premieres of prestige serials slated for release. 

Confronting A Serial Killer
Showrunner: Po Kutchins, Director: Joe Berlinger, Producers: Eve Rodrick, Eleanor Yu, Cassandra Corbett, Janine Nask, Julia Pontecorvo, Lesley Grossman, Emma McNamara, Ariel Kay
Confronting a Serial Killer tells the story of the unprecedented relationship between author Jillian Lauren and serial killer Sam Little while investigating the devastating impact of bias against marginalized women in the criminal justice system. (World Premiere)

Cruel Summer
Showrunner: Tia Napolitano, Director: Max Winkler
From Exec Producer Jessica Biel, Freeform’s Cruel Summer is a psychological thriller taking place over three summers when a popular girl goes missing and an awkward outlier transforms to queen bee and eventually, the most despised person in America. Cast List: Olivia Holt, Chiara AureliaMichael Landes, Froy Gutierrez, Harley Quinn Smith, Allius Barnes, Blake Lee, Brooklyn Sudano (World Premiere)

The Girlfriend Experience
Showrunner/Director/Screenwriter: Anja Marquardt, Producer: Chris Thompson
The third installment of The Girlfriend Experience is set in the London tech scene, Iris, a neuroscience major, begins to explore the transactional world of The Girlfriend Experience and quickly learns that client sessions provide her with a compelling edge in the tech world. Cast List: Julia Goldani Telles, Oliver Masucci, Frank Dillane, Daniel Betts, Armin Karima, Tobi Bamtefa, Jemima Rooper (World Premiere)

Made for Love
Showrunner: Christina Lee, Director: Stephanie Laing, Screenwriters: Written for Television by Alissa Nutting & Dean Bakopoulos and Patrick Somerville and Christina Lee
Based on Alissa Nutting’s tragicomic novel, Made for Love is a dark, absurd, and cynically poignant story of divorce and revenge following Hazel Green (Cristin Milioti), a thirty-something woman on the run after 10 years in a suffocating marriage. Cast List: Cristin Milioti, Billy Magnussen, Dan Bakkedahl, Noma Dumezweni, Augusto Aguilera, Caleb Foote and Ray Romano. Executive producers: Christina Lee, Alissa Nutting, Patrick Somerville, Dean Bakopoulos, Liza Chasin, SJ Clarkson. (World Premiere)

Sasquatch
Showrunner/Director: Joshua Rofé, Producers: Duplass Brothers Productions, Number 19
Sasquatch is a true crime doc series following investigative journalist David Holthouse as he attempts to solve a bizarre twenty-five year old triple homicide that was said to be the work of a mythical creature. (World Premiere)

Them
Showrunner: Little Marvin
Set in 1953, Them, a co-production from Amazon Studios and Sony Pictures Television, centers on a Black family who move from North Carolina to an all-white Los Angeles neighborhood. The family’s idyllic home becomes ground zero where malevolent forces, next door and otherworldly, threaten to taunt, ravage & destroy them. Cast List: Deborah Ayorinde, Ashley Thomas, Alison Pill, Melody Hurd, Shahadi Wright Joseph (World Premiere)

EPISODIC PILOT COMPETITION
A pilot showcase introducing fresh work from bright new talent, many with an eye towards finding production, completion funds, or a release platform.

4 Feet High (Argentina, France)
Directors: Maria Belen Poncio, Rosario Perazolo Masjoan, Screenwriters: Greta Molas, Javier Correa Caceres, Elisa Gagliano, Rosario Perazolo Masjoan, Maria Belen Poncio, Delphine Agut, Ivana Galdeano, Gabriela Vidal
Imagine your last year of High School in a wheelchair. Cast List: Marisol Agostina Irigoyen, Florencia Licera, Marcio Ramses, Natalia Di Cienzo, Francisca Spinotti (Texas Premiere)

Dale's House
Showrunner: Julie Lake, Director: Kat Whalen, Screenwriters: Matt Kirsch, Julie Lake, Producers: Matt Kirsch, Julie Lake, Dana Fares
Dale’s House is a horror comedy about two estranged best friends, both at rock bottom in their careers and personal lives, who end up house sitting together in a demonic house that grants them all the success they desire, in exchange for their souls. Cast List: Julie Lake, Matt Kirsch, Sandy McCree, Jeff Cahn (World Premiere)

For the Record (Canada)
Showrunner: Julian De Zotti, Directors: Lisa Baylin, Julian De Zotti, Screenwriter: Julian De Zotti, Producer: Lisa Baylin
Ray and Angela just broke up. What if music had the power to bring them back together? Follow the iconic songs that make up the unforgettable soundtrack for a uniquely interconnected cast of characters. Cast List: Anna Hopkins, Julian De Zotti, Lyriq Bent, Alexandra Beaton, Karen LeBlanc, Maurice Dean Wint, Kyra Clavell, Moni Ogunsuyi, Alannah Ong, Johnny Orlando (International Premiere)

Parked in America
Showrunner/Screenwriter: Kayla Yumi Lewis, Director: Luke Salin, Producers: Cole Bannick, Jori Johnson, Alexandro Pacheco
Parked in America is a half-hour dramedy following Jamie Park, a Korean teenager, who moves in with her relatives in Illinois after a family tragedy strikes back at home in Seoul. Cast List: Judy Song, Jeff Lawless, Solomon Abell, Ella Baker-Smith, Judy Han, Jim Cairl, Lexi Perkel, MeeWha Alana Lee (World Premiere)

The Position
Director/Screenwriter: Matthew Lessner, Producers: Breeda Wool, Michael Kaleda, Matthew Lessner
The Position is a metaphysical comedy about two modern women's unlikely partnership and subsequent misadventures in pursuit of a portal to the multiverse. Cast List: Breeda Wool, Remi Nicole (World Premiere)

Pretend Partners
Showrunners/Screenwriters/Producers: Kristin Erickson, Ron Najor, Director: Ron Najor 
Two (not so good) friends realize they are better together than alone. Cast List: Kristin Erickson, Ron Najor, Kandis Fay, Dan J. Johnson (World Premiere)

SPECIAL EVENTS
Special Events for 2021 consist of conversations associated with projects in the 2021 Film Festival, table readings and other unique one-off events on our Live Channel 4.

Opening Night Special Event: YouTube Originals Docuseries Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil Special Event Q&A
Global superstar Demi Lovato, Director and Executive Producer Michael D. Ratner, YouTube’s Global Head of Original Content Susanne Daniels and moderator Jenelle Riley from Variety discuss the new documentary event exploring the traumas and every aspect that led to Lovato’s nearly fatal overdose in 2018, followed by her powerful awakenings in the aftermath.

Closing Night Film Special Event: Live Q&A with Charli XCX, a SICK moderator, and directors Bradley & Pablo
Live Q&A Followed by a virtual rave dance party which will consist of:
-A pre-recorded DJ set from Charli, shot in a big empty warehouse space with minimal, dark rave-y lighting. A true pandemic rave shot as a live performance.
-Different performers will be spotlighted on Zoom dancing to the set: Poison Oakland + other drag performers + fans featured in the film + lucky attendees!

7 Sounds
Filmmaker Sam Green and musician JD Samson ask you to step away from your computer and focus on the experience of listening in the present moment. 7 Sounds is an immersive, live-streamed audio-video work that explores the universal influence of sound. The piece weaves seven specific audio recordings into a meditation on the power of sound to bend time, cross borders, and profoundly shape our perception—opening new ways to hear our everyday world.

Art and Life Talk with Filmmakers Daryl Wein & Zoe Lister-Jones of Mister Lister Films
Dive into the filmmaking careers of husband-wife duo, Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones of such films as How It Ends (Sundance/SXSW 2021), The Craft (Sony), White Rabbit (Sundance/Gravitas), Band Aid (Sundance/IFC Films), Lola Versus (Fox Searchlight), Breaking Upwards (IFC Films/SXSW).

Black Monday Q&A
Join the brilliant cast and showrunners of Black Monday as they come together virtually for an exclusive Q&A. This series never fails to surprise as it tells subversively modern stories against a backdrop of big hair and bigger fashions. Miraculously, Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells, Paul Scheer, Yassir Lester and Casey Wilson and showrunners David Caspe and Jordan Cahan are even more fun live. Hilarity guaranteed.
 
Clerk and Twerk with Kevin Smith and Malcolm Ingram
Clerk is an examination and celebration of the life of Kevin Smith - and an exploration on how one kid from Jersey completely transformed the cultural landscape. A journey which began 25 years ago at the Sundance Film festival where his DIY film Clerks, financed on credit cards took the film world by storm. Leading to a career as a filmmaker, podcaster, stand-up comedian, author, comic book writer, television producer - a veritable pop culture icon with a very large and loyal fanbase.

Confronting a Serial Killer Conversation
Discussion with the team behind Confronting a Serial Killer: director/EP Joe Berlinger, EP/showrunner Po Kutchins and Jillian Lauren. Premiering on STARZ this Spring, the five-episode series that tells the timely story of the unprecedented relationship between acclaimed author and journalist Jillian Lauren and the most prolific serial killer in American history, Sam Little, and her race against time to identify his victims before it’s too late.

Jada Pinkett Smith in Conversation with the Creator, Executive Producers, and Cast of the new Amazon Prime Video Terror Anthology, Them
Them creator and executive producer Little Marvin and executive producer Lena Waithe, will join cast, Deborah Ayorinde, Ashley Thomas, Alison Pill, Melody Hurd, and Shahadi Wright Joseph in a discussion moderated by Jada Pinkett Smith (Actress, Red Table Talk Host). In this candid conversation, executive producers and cast will unpack the first episode, set to World Premiere during this year’s SXSW Film Festival, as well as themes explored across the series. Them is a co-production from Amazon Studios and Sony Pictures Television.

A Conversation with the Filmmakers Behind Hulu's WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn
Join Director Jed Rothstein and Producer Ross Dinerstein as they uncover the rise and fall of WeWork, the real estate startup whose CEO Adam Neumann blended spirituality, entrepreneurial hustle and free beer to convince investors that shared office space could change the world… until it entered near bankruptcy. The two will share a behind-the-scenes look at this captivating documentary while breaking down the personality that drove the company’s culture and its massive financial deals.

Cosmic Breakthrough: Women in The Hunt for Planet B
Are we alone? This dynamic panel of eminent scientists and engineers will discuss the search for life in the universe. With the discovery of thousands of exoplanets and the huge James Webb Space Telescope launching this year, a new golden age of astronomy is dawning—and these women are at the heart of it. With Natalie Batalha, Amy Lo, Sara Seager, Jill Tarter, and Maggie Turnbull; moderated by Nathaniel Kahn.

Cruel Summer Q&A
From Executive Producer Jessica Biel (The Sinner), Cruel Summer is a psychological thriller that follows two young women; Kate Wallis, the popular girl with a charmed life who one day goes missing, and Jeanette Turner, the nerdy wannabee who is accused of being connected to Kate’s disappearance. Please join us for an exciting panel with series stars Olivia Holt, Chiara Aurelia, and executive producers Tia Napolitano, Jessica Biel and Michelle Purple. The panel will be moderated by Jessica Radloff from Glamour Magazine.

HBO Max's Made for Love: Panel with Stars and Executive Producers
Join stars Cristin Milioti, Billy Magnussen, Dan Bakkedahl, Noma Dumezweni, Caleb Foote and Ray Romano, and executive producers Christina Lee and Alissa Nutting for a conversation about HBO Max's upcoming series Made for Love premiering this spring. The darkly absurd and cynically poignant story of love and divorce follows Hazel Green (Milioti), a thirty-something woman on the run after 10 years in a suffocating marriage to Byron Gogol (Magnussen), a controlling tech billionaire. Glamour's Samantha Barry moderates.

Homeroom with Nasim Pedrad, creator of TBS’s new comedy series Chad
A conversation with Nasim Pedrad, the creator, star and executive producer of TBS' upcoming series, Chad, and Glamour's Editor-in-Chief Samantha Barry.

Hysterical: Behind the Velvet Curtain with Comedy’s Boundary-Breaking Women
Stand-up comedy had always been a male domain. Join the cast and director of Hysterical, a feature documentary that explores female comics' hard-fought journey to become the voices of their generation and gender, for an honest and hilarious Q&A. The all-female panel discusses their shared stories and struggles as some of the boundary-breaking women shattering comedy’s glass ceiling with perfectly timed punch lines. Hysterical, produced by Campfire, will be available on FX in 2021. Panelists include Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Marina Franklin, Sherri Shepherd, Iliza Shlesinger, Jessica Kirson (who also serves as EP) and director/EP Andrea Nevins. Moderated by Melanie McFarland.

In Conversation with Mark Duplass & Natalie Morales
Language Lessons filmmakers Mark Duplass and Natalie Morales sit down to discuss the process of writing a bilingual movie, the complexities of platonic love, and filmmaking during a global pandemic.

Incorporating Choreography and Verse Into Blindspotting
A discussion with the Blindspotting series creators and writers Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, lead actress Jasmine Cephas Jones, director Aurora Guerrero, cinematographer Tarin Anderson, and renowned choreographers Lil Buck and Jon Boogz on incorporating choreography and verse into the new television series Blindspotting.

Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story – Scenes from the Rough Cut
See work-in-progress scenes from the rough cut of Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story. This documentary weaves together live performances and interviews from the 50th anniversary of the iconic festival, featuring some of the biggest names in music, along with a wealth of archival documentary footage from the past half century. Academy-award nominee Frank Marshall shares insights from behind the scenes.

The Making and Digital Restoration of I Went to the Dance
This virtual Q&A, hosted by journalist/author Joe Nick Patoski, will go behind the scenes of the making of the celebrated 1989 feature documentary on the roots of SW Louisiana’s Cajun & Creole/Zydeco music, I Went to the Dance. Featured are Co-Filmmaker/Producer, Chris Strachwitz, Co-Filmmaker/Editor Maureen Gosling and Associate Producer/Sound Recordist, Chris Simon. It will also delve into the challenges and magic behind the 2021 ground-breaking 5k digital restoration of a documentary, I Went to the Dance, by Harrod Blank and Anthony Matt. Blank, the son of the late Co-Filmmaker/Cinematographer Les Blank, took on the task to bring back to life this exuberant film which celebrates the most important and influential performers of the era. 

On the Road(trip) to Recovery: Filmmakers Mallory Everton, Whitney Call and Stephen Meek Talk their Feature Debut in the Midst of a Pandemic
For most people, quarantine looked a lot like baking bread and catching up on Tiger King, but for Utah-based sketch comics Mallory Everton, Whitney Call, and Stephen Meek, they saw a chance to do something different. The creative minds (and lifelong friends) behind JK Studios wrote, produced, directed, starred -- and even gaffed -- their first feature film with Recovery. In this SXSW-exclusive Q&A, the gang comes together to chat about their journey to creating their first feature...all from a safe social distance. The masks will come OFF as the filmmakers dive into what it really takes to make a movie with your quarantine family and the long road to a SXSW World Premiere. From Sorø Films and the whole family, we hope you’ll join us on the road to Recovery.

Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché - In Conversation with the Filmmakers
In this special Q&A event, directors Celeste Bell and Paul Sng will discuss their new documentary film Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché, about the late punk icon’s life, legacy, and relationship with Bell, her daughter. Featuring editor Xanna Ward Dixon and moderated by producer Matthew Silverman, this conversation will cover everything from Poly’s influence on the riot grrrl and Afropunk movements to the years-long filmmaking process that took place across three continents.

A Q&A with Kier-La Janisse of Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched
Join programmer Liane Cunje in conversation with Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched director Kier-La Janisse as they discuss the process behind the film - from its genesis as a short featurette to a comprehensive look at the folk horror phenomenon in film and television worldwide that became the House of Psychotic Women author’s first feature as a writer, director and producer. They’ll discuss the myriad definitions and taxonomies of folk horror, its touchstone films and most vocal champions, and the many challenges of finishing a documentary in the midst of a global pandemic.

Solar Opposites Table Read & SHLORPION SILENT (AND ALONE) DISCO 
The Solar Opposites are going to SXSW! Join Justin Roiland (“Korvo”), Thomas Middleditch (“Terry”), Sean Giambrone (“Yumyulack”), Mary Mack (“Jesse”), executive producer Mike McMahan, and more as they take it bigger, funnier, and more oppositer than ever before during a virtual table read. As Hulu’s most-watched original comedy premiere to date, Solar Opposites centers around a family of four aliens and their Pupa who are still stuck on earth in suburban America.

Scoring my first Feature Film, a conversation with Finneas O’Connell
Join internationally acclaimed, multi GRAMMY-Award-winning artist and producer Finneas O’Connell and Variety contributor (Songs for Screens) Andrew Hampp for an exclusive and live discussion at SXSW, as O’Connell delves into the process and his experience when making his feature film-score debut; composing and performing for The Fallout, a powerful new film about the unseen faces of a tragedy.

Swipe Righteous
Lifted from the parchment and downloaded onto your smartphone, Swipe Righteous reimagines famous Bible stories through our screens. Watch as Adam swipes right on Eve, Cain blocks Abel, and God tweets out his Ten Commandments—all told through Bazelevs’ Screenlife format.

SXSW Film Fest Episodic Pitch-a-Thon Presented by SeriesFest
For the second year in a row at SXSW Film, independent content creators will have the opportunity to participate in the Episodic Pitch-A-Thon presented by SeriesFest in partnership with SXSW. SXSW 2021 filmmakers will participate in the virtual event where each Creator/Creative Team will have 5 minutes to pitch in front of an audience. An industry panel of experts including top television, news media, and digital execs, will then have 7 minutes to give their feedback on each project. 

Til Death Do Us Part: A Jakob’s Wife Discussion
Moderator Jordan Crucchiola leads an intimate conversation with genre legends Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden and writer/director Travis Stevens about reinventing yourself later in life, finding your own voice as an artist and how to have a happy marriage in a horror film.

Twyla Moves... You
Twyla Tharp teaches you her infamous and humorous Banjo dance and then talks about the experience of synopsizing her 55 year career into an 82 minute film experience.

Violet Q&A
Join Violet writer/director/producer Justine Bateman and special guests for a discussion of the film.

Weed, Murder & Bigfoot: A Conversation with the Team Behind Hulu’s Sasquatch
While visiting a pot farm in Northern California in 1993, investigative journalist David Holthouse heard a story that still haunts him: On a nearby farm three men were torn limb from limb in a savage Bigfoot attack. Hulu’s Sasquatch follows David as he revisits the Redwoods in search of any evidence that might lead to the truth of what happened that night. Join David Holthouse, director Joshua Rofé and executive producer Mark Duplass as they break down the production of this wild murder mystery.


SHORTS PROGRAM

NARRATIVE SHORTS COMPETITION
A selection of original, well-crafted films that take advantage of the short form and exemplify distinctive and genuine storytelling.

Are You Still There?
Directors/Screenwriters: Rayka Zehtabchi, Sam Davis
Safa’s been through a lot. Now her car battery's dead in a strip mall parking lot. (North American Premiere)

Bruiser
Director: Miles Warren, Screenwriters: Miles Warren, Ben Medina
After his father gets into a fight at a bowling alley, Darious begins to investigate the limitations of his own manhood. (Texas Premiere)

Chuj Boys of Summer (Guatemala, United States)
Director: Max Walker-Silverman, Screenwriters: Marcos Ordoñez Ixwalanhkej Mendoza, Max Walker-Silverman
Speaking only his native language, a Guatemalan teenager begins his new life in rural Colorado. (Texas Premiere)

The Criminals (Romania, Turkey)
Director/Screenwriter: Serhat Karaaslan
Late at night in a small Turkish town, a young couple tries to find a hotel room to spend the night together. 

Don't Go Tellin' Your Momma
Directors: Topaz Jones, rubberband., Screenwriters: Topaz Jones, Jason Sondock, Simon Davis
Topaz Jones debuts his 2nd album, Don't Go Telling Your Momma as a reimagining of the 70s Black ABCs; a view into his and America's Black Identity through 26 individual scenes, each representing a letter and a corresponding update to their meanings. (Texas Premiere)

Femme (United Kingdom)
Directors/Screenwriters: Ng Choon Ping, Sam H. Freeman
When Jordan gets into the car of a flirtatious drug-dealer, his night takes a dangerous turn. (World Premiere)

The Journey (Canada)
Director/Screenwriter: Ève Saint-Louis
The Journey is the story of a father and daughter reunion. From Montreal’s airport, they will travel along a chaotic path, where their inability to find each other will unveil a complicated relationship and have them drift from their initial course. (World Premiere)

Like The Ones I Used To Know (Canada)
Director/Screenwriter: Annie St-Pierre
December 24, 1983, 10:50PM: Julie and her cousins ate too much sugar, Santa Claus is late and Denis, alone in his car, is anxious at the idea of setting foot in his ex-in-law's house to pick up his children. An early quirky and poetic coming-of-age. (Texas Premiere)

Marvin's Never Had Coffee Before
Director: Andrew Carter, Screenwriters: Andrew Carter, Kahlil Maskati
Marvin Wexler tries coffee for the first time and desperately tries to talk about it with anyone who will listen. 

The Mohel (Canada)
Director/Screenwriter: Charles Wahl
After celebrating the birth of their first child, James and Loa are faced with family expectations and financial strain as they fly in a Mohel to perform their son's Brit Milah – The circumcision ceremony. (World Premiere)

The Nipple Whisperer (Belgium)
Director/Screenwriter: Jan Van Dyck
Maurice Sanders has a gift. He's a nipple whisperer. Once he was known as "Magic Sandy". But that was years ago, before Doris, a famous model and Sander's muse, fell ill. Now, after more than a decade, Doris wants to meet Maurice again. (World Premiere)

The Other Morgan
Director/Screenwriter: Alison Rich
When a dopey young exterminator discovers there's another version of her out in the world, she begins to question her life choices. (Texas Premiere)

Plaisir
Director/Screenwriter: Molly Gillis
A lonely American faces unrequited love on a farm commune in the south of France. (World Premiere)

Play It Safe (United Kingdom)
Director/Screenwriter: Mitch Kalisa
Coaxed into playing a racial typecast in a fellow student’s play, Blac

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SWSX Film Festival 2021(Capsule Reviews)

13 Feb 2021

SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2021

runs from March 16th.

South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conference and Festivals (March 16-20, 2021) announced the full program for the 28th edition of the SXSW Film Festival. This year, the acclaimed program will be online, where it will draw thousands of fans, filmmakers, press, and industry leaders to immerse themselves in the smartest, most innovative and entertaining new films of the year, as well as giving access to hundreds of Conference Sessions, Music and Comedy Showcases, Creative Industry Exhibitions, Mentoring, Meetups and Special Events that define the cross-industry event. 

The 2021 Film Festival program has 75 features including 57 World Premieres, 3 International Premieres, 4 North American Premieres, 1 U.S. Premieres, 8 Texas Premieres and 53 films from first-time filmmakers + 84 Short Films including Music Videos, 5 Episodic Premieres, 6 Episodic Pilots, 20 Virtual Cinema projects, 14 Title Design entries, plus 30 Special Events.

 CAPSULE REVIEWS OF SELECTED FILMS:

Keep checking here for more capsule reviews....

 

EXECUTIVE ORDER (Brazil 2020) **
Directed by Lazaro Ramos

Already winning praise wherever the film has been played (Moscow Film Festival for one), EXECUTIVE ORDER is a ‘black lives matter’ film set in a dystopian future.  The Brazilian government has decreed some policy called ‘Return Yourselves Now’.  Blacks have the option of volunteering to return to their country of origin, Africa with a ticket paid or by the government.  The only catch is that it is a one-way ticket.  The people take offence, naturally.  Into the picture comes the protagonist of director Ramos, who in real life, involves himself with a lot of ‘black’ projects.  A lawyer, played by Alfred Anoch sues the government and all hell breaks loose.  The government hinges the policy to an EXECUTIVE ORDER where all blacks are to be caught and deported.  The film is an ambitious satire that Ramos takes on in all seriousness, but it (often over-melodramatic and overdone) does not all work.  Biggest goof is the capture by police of a black man in white makeup while raiding flats.  When caught, his white make up is completely gone.  What goes on, onscreen are the goings-on in one city.  What about the rest of Brazil?  The remote areas like the Amazon?

FRUITS OF LABOUR (USA 2021) **

Directed by Emily Cohen Ibañez

The film follows the family of Ashley Solice.  Alice is a high school senior who must divide her time between school and supporting her family as a second-generation Mexican American.   Located in a California working class town, the harshness of agricultural labour in the strawberry fields shares a stark contrast with the beautiful nature and relationship to her spiritual ancestral upbringing.  The film is actually a feature extended from the director’s 10-minute short made three years ago.  Though well intentioned in the director’s attempt to get the audience aware of the subject’s current problems, the film has the feel that it is stretched out too much for its available material.  The scene of extended time devoted on stills of Ashley’s family embers and shots of butterflies are indicative of the fact.  For the majority of the film’s running time, the camera follows Ashley at her plant project and her dealings with family and boyfriend.  An otherwise dull and boring piece despite the relevant message.

 

PAUL DOOD’S DEADLY LUNCH BREAK(UK 2021) **
Directed by Nick Gillespie

Paul (Tom Meeten), a nerdy, geeky charity-shop worker, has his heart set on winning a national talent competition.   With a sparkly suit, killer routine, and his dear old mother in tow… this is his big chance.   But when the actions of five intransigent, selfish people get in his way and cause him to miss the audition, Paul plans a deathly revenge mission.   One lunch break, five spectacular murders! Each wrongdoer seemingly dispatched in a fitting manner by a sparkly-suited Paul on a revenge rampage around his small hometown of Belshire.  On paper, the film’s praise might sound good- a bullied underdog finally having the courage to strike back and be no more the coward everyone perceives him to be.  But the first murder is more like an accident as the railway employee falls in hits his head on a metal.  The film is not that funny either, nor is Paul that talented a performer either, judging from his half complete audition.  Paul’s act as well as the film is a total miss!

THE HUNT FOR PLANET B (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Nathaniel Kahn

PLANET B is the name given to the other planet where life there is supposed to reflect ours i,e. to find another Earth among the stars.  The doc follows a group of astronomers (mostly female) on their quest.   The search is aided by NASA's new high-stakes Webb Telescope, the largest and most complex space observatory ever built.  The film interweaves the creation of this massive machine with the story of a pioneering group of female scientists who plan to use it in their search for life beyond our solar system.  One scientist is daring enough when she says she is old enough that se is unafraid of aliens having her for breakfast.  She would venture out to meet them. Another, after losing her husband say that the little things one does appear meaningless when put in the realm of bigger things.  The doc is an interesting one, if not wandering around with clear motive.  One wishes the doc would reveal how the collected data is interpreted.  As expected, the question on whether there is other life in the universe is debated in the film but with no clear answer.

Trailer: unavailable

 

 

LUCHADORAS (Female Fighters) (Germany 2020) **

Directed by directed by Paola Calvo & Patrick Jasim

The film is set in what the voiceover tells the audience is the most dangerous city in the world - Juarez in Mexico.  Women in particular disappear and are likely murdered.  The city, as a result of the Global Free Trade, grew with plenty of new factories the women work at.  They are normally transported by bus, but it has been known that the buses drive off to the desert and the women passengers raped and killed.  The film moves to focus on the lives of 3 women wrestlers and how they deal with the situation.  These are three courageous female wrestlers (Luchadoras) from Ciudad Juarez.  Despite being surrounded by machismo they redefine the image of women in Mexico. The short statured Mini Serinita’s dream is to become a full time Luchadora and leave the factory work that disenfranchises so many women for good. Lady Candy can see the U.S Border from her house. Her daughters were taken to the US, but due to visa regulations she cannot cross the border to see them. Baby Star is a young single mother with a Lucha Libre childhood past. She is looking to make a comeback. With Mexican passion they present a new image of what it means to be a woman in Mexico.  An ok watch but the filmmakers do not really link the issue of Juarez convincingly with the women fighters.

Trailer: (unavailable)

THE NIPPLE WHISPERER (France 2021) ***  (Short film)

Directed by Jan Van Dyck

The title NIPPLE WHISPERER is exactly what it is supposed to be - a man gifted as said, who can make women go crazy by playing (without touch) their nipples.   

Maurice Sanders (Denis Lavant from HOLY MOTORS, LES AMANTS DU PONT NEUF)has a gift.  He is a nipple whisperer.   Once he was known as "Magic Sandy". But that was years ago, before Doris (non-actress Wendy Dresner), a famous model and Sander's muse, fell ill. Now, after more than a decade, Doris wants to meet Maurice again.   The film shows Sandy at work  before he meets up with Doris again.  At 15 minutes, the film and its subject stand as a curiosity piece.  And that is exactly what it is.

 

VIOLATION (Canada 2020) **
Directed by Madeleine Sims-Fewer

Madeleine Sims-Fewer does triple duty in VIOLATION serving as writer, director and actor which is a messed up film about messed up people.   She plays Mariam a troubled woman on the edge of divorce returns home from London to her younger sister in Canada after years apart.  But when her sister and brother-in-law betray her trust, she embarks on a vicious crusade of revenge.  Miriam does not know what she wants and the script does not make any effort to make the audience care for her character either.  The film also randomly tackles issues like sexual abuse but never follows it anywhere.  The imaginary sequence where a male is gutted is puzzling if not disgusting.    The directors also seem fond of filming creates like spiders, rabbits and wolves.   Too many things shown going on on the screen in a story in which little happens in a pretentious, slow burn of a pretentious psychological drama.

Clip: https://bloody-disgusting.com/exclusives/3631326/violation-exclusive-clip/

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TIFF Next Wave Film Festival 2021

06 Feb 2021

4 new films are capsule reviewed here.  The festival runs from Feb 12th- 15th and free for youth.  Check website.

 

COCOON (KOKON)(Germany 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Leonie Krippendorff

Girls just want to have fun… as the Madonna song goes.  German director Krippendorff’s new film takes her protagonist Nora out of her cocoon to experience life as this coming-of-age story shows.   Nora, a Berlin teen is bored.  A silent observer most of the time, she is always tagging along instead of participating— at parties, at school, at the pool, on rooftops.  She drifts around the housing blocks of Berlin’s Kreuzberg district with her big sister and her friends, where everything she sees seems to fade in the summer light.  Nora has her own way of looking at the world, and when she meets Romy, she realizes why.   Director Krippendorff’s use of the cocoon is also hilarious.  In one scene a caterpillar escapes from the jar Nora’s collection.  “If another escapes, I will kill it,”  says Nora’s sister as they share the same bedroom.  Nora comes off her and transforms into a beautiful butterfly, metaphorically speaking.  Krippendorff’s breezy film is an honest ode to the joy of youth and self-discovery.  The film also bravely deals with the issue of discovering one’s sexual orientation.

Trailer: 

DEATH OF NINTENDO (USA/Philippines 2019) ***
Directed by Raya Martin

Raya Martin’s warm homage to puberty and adolescence, set in 1990s Manila, follows a quartet of teens as their relationships, lives and bodies change.  Director Martin chooses Paulo, the cutest one among the teens as his lead character.  Paulo is interested in the new girl in town Shiara, who he tries to get more information from with the help of Mimaw, the girl in his group.  Trouble is that Mimaw is herself interested in Paulo while always dressing up as a tomboy.  Director Martin includes other factors that influence the lives of the kids like the frequent earthquakes. ghost hunting in the local cemetery, basketball, and of course video games like Nintendo.  The film also gives the audience a good look at suburban Philippine life.  The film is breezy, light and easy going, reflecting the joy and exuberance of youth.

Trailer: 

 

MY NAME IS BAGHDAD (Meu Nome e Bagda)(Brazil 2020) ***
Directed by Cars Alves de Souza

A teen film about female abuse as seen from the eye of an independent female teen.  The film begins with her, her name is Baghdad, at a party she attends with her sister.  While accompanying her to the toilet, a boy covers her mouth to prevent her from screaming, and pushes his body on her, against a wall.  The film goes back to the events that lead up to the party.  It turns out that both are skaters at the local skater park.  The film follows Baghdad who lives in Freguesia do Ó, a working-class neighbourhood in the city of São Paulo, Brazil.  Baghdad skateboards with a group of male friends and spends a lot of time with her family and with her mother's friends.  Together, the women around her form a network of people who are out of the ordinary. When Baghdad meets a group of female skateboarders, her life suddenly changes.  She and her new group of skater female friends confront her attacker at the park.  Director de Sousa’s film freely moves among the characters though the female abuse part, though central to the film’s theme seems to come out of the blue.  Grace Orsato gives a fresh look to her main character which makes the movie.

Trailer: 

 

 

 

 

 

THE NIGHT OF THE BEAST (LA NOCHE DE LA BESTIA) (Colombia/Mexico 2020) ***

Directed by Mauricio Leiva Cock

This low budget teen film, NIGHT OF THE BEAST, set in Bogota, Colombia follows two young teens friends.  Awkward that they are as heavy metal fans, they are good buddies, going about in the film wearing an AC/DC and the other an iron Maiden T-shirt.  Nothing much happens as the camera follows the two on their unexciting routines around their lives.  But the spark comes one evening, the night of their lives of the NIGHT OF THE BEAST when they plan to attend a heavy metal concert, with a live performance by Iron Maiden.   But something happens to make their evening more exciting.  But not in a good way.  They get robbed of their tickets.  They desperately try to reclaim their stolen Iron Maiden concert tickets, in Mauricio Leiva-Cock’s heartwarming film that shows friendship, youth and obsession.

Trailer: 

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This Week's Film Reviews (March 19, 2021)

03 Feb 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

ENFORCEMENT (Shorta) (Denmark 2020) ****
Directed by Anders Olholm and Frederik Louis Hviid 

SHORTA is the original title of this tough no-nonsense cop thriller now re-titled ENFORCEMENT.  Shorta is Arabic for Police.  The film could very much be a follow on, of last year’s excellent French film on the similar theme of police brutality and youth riots as seen in Ladj Ly’s LES MISERABLES.   

The film opens with an Arab suspect, Talib Ben Hassi, given a choke hold by the police, he is hospitalized after, thus creating an atmosphere of racial tension.  The Arab’s words are: “I can’t breathe,” identical words to those uttered in the States last year in the Rodney King incident, by coincidence.  As one can see, the film is right out of today’s headlines, only that the story is set in Denmark.  In this film, the Arabs are the ones victimized by the police compared to the blacks in the United States.  Other minorities are also brought into the picture.  A Pakistani who owns a grocery store complains that the cops do nothing when he calls for help when being harassed by the Arabs.

LES MISERABLES ended with the words: There are no bad people, just bad rearing.  These words are echoed in the theme of Anders Olholm and Frederik Louis Hviid’s action packed police action drama where an Arab youth troublemaker, Amos (Tarek Zayat) is having problems being controlled by his apparently single mother living in the Arab ghetto.   The two cops that arrest him for throwing a milkshake at their cruiser are over-the-edge, too quick into action, Mike Andersen (Jacon Lohmann) and his partner for the day, a more sympathetic Jens Hoyer (Simon Sears).  Jens, at the end of the film, finds himself on the same route as his partner after a twist of events.  At the time of the arrest, a 19-year old lab youth Talib Ben Hassi dies in police custody igniting uncontrollable, pent-up rage in the ghetto's youth, lusting for revenge.   Suddenly, the two officers with Amos find themselves fair game and must fight tooth and claw to find a way out. 

The confrontation between good cop, bad cop reaches boiling point in a vicious fight between the two.

Scary too is the film’s depiction of what can happen when things go totally out of hand.  The police have no more control and the country does not have the National Guard to be called in like the United States.

SHORTA is action packed and illustrates the problems of violent youth crime as observed from both the police’s and victims’ points of view.  There are no easy solutions to the problem as the film reveals, with things going out of hand quickly and uncontrollably.   The audience sees both points of view taking with the directors not taking any sides.  Not as good as LES MISERABLES but still an excellent and worthwhile watch.  Directors Olholm and Hviid bring their film to an exciting climax.

Trailer: 

 

ROSE PLAYS JULIE (Ireland/UK 2019) ***1/2

Directed and Written by Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor

Rose (Ann Skelly) is at university studying veterinary science. An only child, she has enjoyed a loving relationship with her adoptive parents. However, for as long as Rose can remember she has wanted to know who her biological parents are and the facts of her true identity. After years trying to trace her birth mother, Rose now has a name and a number.   All she has to do is pick up the phone and call. When she does it quickly becomes clear that her birth mother has no wish to have any contact. Rose is shattered. A renewed and deepened sense of rejection compels her to keep going. Rose travels from Dublin to London in an effort to confront her birth mother, Ellen (Orla Brady). 

Julie is the name given to Rose before it was changed.  Julie is Rose’s birth name.  Ellen recognizes the name Julie in the telephone call.  The confrontation leads to revelations unexpected by Rose.  Her birth father is revealed and she now attempts to contact him.  Nothing more should be revealed of the plot in order to

The story shifts its protagonist from Rose to her adoptive mother Ellen after the film’s half way mark.  Then, Ellen has a total change of heart.  From not wanting to get involved, she sees the error of her original decision.  She then decides to take action.  This point reflects the #meToo movement.  It is important that those involved in any sort of sexual abuse need to speak out, instead of remaining quiet, hoping that the evil will go away.  One must definitely do ones part in stopping sexual abuse.

The film’s script is clever in using the veterinary setting in providing a dark look at Rose’s situation.  Rose has to euthanize animals like a dog, a cow and a horse.  Human beings seem kinder to animals than to each other.  The serum used to euthanize the animals are also used by Rose later on in the film.

The film’s villain Peter is shown to be a person unable to control his human sexual desires.  It is clear from the depiction of several segments that it is still no excuse for Peter to commit such acts.  The film is clear to show that a predator will continue to do so, and has to be stopped one way or the other.  One of the film’s flaws is the point that Ellen and Rose not considering the option of going to the police to report the sexual abuse.

ROSE PLAYS JULIE is a definite slow burn.  My partner and I watched the film initially after having a few drinks.  Being a little inebriated, we could both follow the events occurring, but it was too slow and tough to watch.  We gave up after 30 minutes.  I re-visited the film from the very beginning a few days later, totally sober.  The second viewing proved more fruitful.  ROSE AND JULIE is a compulsive but slow rewarding watch, and one must be prepared to give one’s full attention to the film to reap the film's rewards. 

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This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 12, 2021)

02 Feb 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

BAD CUPID (new title: PRICK’D)(USA 2020) *

Directed by Diane Cossa and Neal Howard

BAD CUPID shows how difficult it is to do good comedy.  Just as a standup comic could be on a roll or just die in front of a love audience, a similar situation arises for a film comedy.

IN BAD CUPID, the first 15 minutes or so are just terrible.  My first laugh came after that when David (Shane Nepveu, who in this film proves to be an actor delivering the worst performance of the year) defends himself by throwing a toilet roll at Bad Cupid.  That is how bad awful the film is, if that action is the film’s funniest part.

The film’s premise has Cupid (John Rhys-Davies) in the form of a man named Archie with a British accent (luckily he is not going around in diapers).  Archie is a God on a mission to ensure that true love always wins.  Or, short of that, that someone is going to die trying. Not that he particularly cares which outcome it is. That's Archie's approach to romance and beware anyone who gets in his way, especially anyone he's actually trying to help. 

The unfortunate couple Archie is trying to help is David and Denise.  Denise has just broken up with David at the start of the film.  David is heartbroken believing that he and Denise will get back together again.  Things are not helping when his cousin, Morris (Briana Marin delivering the second worst performance of the tear) is constantly offering a helping hand.  If one is wondering if Morris and Dave will get together as a couple, the script makes sure the answer is a no.  For one, Morris is his cousin.  Secondly, she is a lesbian.  So, help finally arrives, courtesy of BAD CUPID.

In an attempt to see Denise again, Dave discovers that Denise is about to be wed.  At the bar where he sadly pops out his heart to Morris, the all eavesdropping Cupid decides to help.  He abducts the groom-to-be in a toilet stall.

All the above actually sound pretty hilarious.  Unfortunately, the film is quite uneven.  This is both bad and good.  A bad thing because the film sucks at the beginning and the good thing is that it got so bad that the film has no way to go but get better.  This is when Rhys-Davies appears.  Davies hams it up to the fullest making all his silly lines sound like top of the line jokes. 

BAD CUPID suffers from the filmmakers trying too hard to be funny.  The actors playing Dave and Morris are not very good comedians either, and in a lot of scenes, just appear to be reciting their lines.  The desperation to be funny is evident too, in many scenes like the one where Morris pushes a bagel at Davies face as if it was a very funny move.  The desperation arrives at its worst when animation is brought into the film.  One animated sequence has Dave and Stela riding on a smiling bull.

BAD CUPID might just be a bad decision of a film to take a date to during Valentine’s Day.  After BAD SANTA and BAD CUPID, what will come next? 

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BARB & STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Josh Greenbaum

The new comedy by Kristin Wiig has the feel of MICHELLE AND ROMY’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION and BRIDESMAIDS.  Add in the comic antics of Damon Wayans Jr. (who actually is not that funny here) and what would be expected is a top-notch comedy, just what the doctor ordered to get rid of the Covid-19 blues.   As the title BARB & STAR GO TO DEL MAR implies, it is a story of two close friends who go for an all-inclusive holiday and the non-serious title indicates anything can happen in terms of plot.  And it does!

Barb (Wiig) and Star (Annie Mumolo) lose their jobs at the start of the film.  They work a horrid job at a furniture store in a mall.  But to them, it is the best job in the world.  They get to be together all the time.   Even if one is working and the other not, they both show up at the store to support each other.  They share laughs and the tales of their good old times.  Best Friends!  Then one day, the store closes due to a takeover.  Not knowing what to do after being kicked out of their ‘Chat Club’ they decide to caution the wind and take a holiday to Vista Del Mar.

The plot is complicated by an evil lady who wants to destroy the town of Vista De Mar by a horde of mosquitoes.  She sends her number one man (Jamie Dorman), the cutest male at the resort.  He is also the hottie from FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and the recent WILD MOUNTAIN TYME.  His presence should be enough for hundreds of females to buy an admission ticket.  The film includes a 10-minute sequence celebrating his chiselled body.

There is a laugh a minute and there is enough comedy here to satisfy comedy fans.  Wiig is good at timing and the jokes aren’t half bad.  The plot, however, is not top rate.  It is predictable and one can tell that the romance will come to fruition.  Actually, this is the best film I have seen related to valentine’s Day.   The plot that includes destroying Vista Del Mar is too over-the-top especially at the end with the appearance of Trish, a water spirit.  Barb and Star are also saved from a huge fall by their culottes.  If you do not know what what culottes are, don’t worry - the film explains what they are at the start.

The film’s message on the importance of friendship is all a bit stretched and the writers know it.  At the end they play it up with the well known saying that of all the ships, friendship is the most important.  The soundtrack contains well known cheese hits including the theme song from TITANIC, Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’.

If one is also to throw caution to the wind and not expect a comedic masterpiece, then  BARB & STAR GO TO DEL MAR should satisfy. 

The film is available February 12, 2021 on PVOD.

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BREAKING NEWS IN YUBA COUNTY (USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Tate Taylor

BREAKING NEWS IN YUBA COUNTY is a timely female slanted comedy about self-worth and taking hold of one’s worth.  It is excellent to watch a low esteemed person take control of her life and make it all worthwhile.  This makes the new comedy BREAKING NEWS good news for moviegoers to have solid laughs during these depressing times.

The film has an excellent cast, credit going to the casting director.  Allison Janney, from I, TONYA deserves full credit as the main character delivering an excellent performance eliciting the audience’s sympathy and later cheers.  Mila Kunis from BAD MOMS, Juliette Lewis, Golden Globe Winner Awkwafina, Wanda Sykes and even Regina Hall all lend their hand in giving this comedy that extra drive.

The film begins by establishing the main character’s low esteem.  When Sue Buttons (Janney) collects the birthday cake she ordered for herself, she finds her name spelt Suc instead of Sue.  When she queries the lady at the cake counter, she is brushed off with a  “Credit or cash?”  In the parking lot, Sue has to dodge a vehicle while going to her car.  Her husband (Matthew Modine) has forgotten her birthday, and so has her sister (Kunis).  Worst still and funniest is when she puts on the headset at the call centre where she works.  She greets the person on the phone only to get the response: “Fuck you!”  All in the while, Sue is muttering: “I am strong.  I am important.  I am capable.  I matter.”

The film then shifts to introduce all the other characters in the story.  There is her husband’s brother (Jimmi Simpson) who works in a store with Rita (Wanda Sykes), a petty thief who gets his brother, Karl, who works in a bank to launder money for him.  The money comes from crooks, one of which is Mina (Awkwafina) who has to prove to her father that people need to be scared of her.  Then, there is Gloria Michaels (Juliette Lewis) who hosts a show that tells public stories to get her high TV ratings.  Her latests news is the disappearance of a missing child Emma Rose.

If it seems that there are far too many characters for the plot, the script by Amada Idoko ties everything together neatly and effortlessly.  When Sue finds her husband(Matthew Modine) cheating on her at a cheesy motel and dies of a heart attack, she buries him and claims him missing.  She makes up the story that her husband was abducted and lies that he mentioned to her that he knew the whereabouts of Emma Rose.  All this brings Sue Buttons celebrity status and her self worth shoots up sky high.

Nothing more should be said of the story as the surprise is important to enjoy the film.  Safe to say, the comedy gets black and blacker towards the climax in this extremely well paced film.

The film contains an eclectic cast, again credited to the casting director.  It is good to see a film with whites, blacks, asians and hispanics all blend together in the story so that race doesn’t matter.

Though a bit uneven in delivery, BREAKING NEWS IN YUBA COUNTY is still a stand-out black comedy.

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COWBOYS (USA 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Anna Kerrigan

COWBOYS is the story of a troubled family.  It follows a troubled but well-intentioned father who has recently separated from his wife who runs off with his trans son into the Montana wilderness after his ex-wife's refusal to let their son live as his authentic self.

COWBOYS benefits greatly from all 3 main performances.

Steve Zahn with full beard looks and acts the part of the overactive father, Troy.  With his full grown beard and wide smile, Zahn looks like a kind of crazed hillbilly who would suddenly pop up and sock you in the head with a  good one.  His character shows two different sides of the man.  Troy is taking medication, which one assumes is to moderate his moods, as he is shown in one scene hyperactive, unable to slow down taking in everything together at once.  Troy also has an affectionate side which he shows to Joe.  Troy is able to understand and respect Joe whereas the mother cannot.

Jillian Bell, a funny actress who has always been great in whatever film she has been in, my favourite being BRITANY RUNS A MARATHON,  does full drama here without comedy.  In one moving scene, she complains that no one wants to be a woman, the gender that is stuck with chores like cleaning the toilet and cooking compared to the male who has cooler things to do.  Bell creates a character that the audience can identify with and feel sorry for.  She wants to help her daughter, but goes about it in the wrong way.  Bell does wonders for this wonderful role.

As for the kid, the casting of a boy, Sasha Knight for the girl, Hoe’s part is a good idea.  To make the character of a transgender believable, it would be best to cast a boy in a girl’s part.  Knight’s features are definitely masculine, and whether Joe wears a wig or a dress, Joe still looks like a boy, like a boy in a girl’s body, which is what the film is supposed to depict.

“Joe is not some lump of clay.  Joe is Joe.  We either accept that or you fuck him up.” these words from Troy to Sally, and what is most remarkable is his referring to H=Joe as a he and not a she.

As for the supporting cast, Anm Dowd and Gary Farmer do wonderful work as Detective  Faith and Troy’s pal respectively,

The story unfolds in a non-linear timeline.  The audience sees the father and daughter camping in the wilds of Montana, but these scenes are intercut with flashbacks to the events that led before the camping.

COWBOYS is a drama covering several key issues like child kidnapping, PTSD, transgender acceptance, child custody and respect for the wild.

The cinematography is stunning, courtesy of cinematographer John Wakayama Carey.  He captures the beauty of the Montana wild while creating a very exciting segment occurring at night with little light when Joe almost drowns in a gushing river, only to be saved just in the nick of time by Troy.

COWBOYS is a solid drama covering several key issues that plague many families.  One wishes, while watching throughout the film, a good ending for the story’s tortured souls.   Whether they achieve it is another matter, but the film shows that the difficult achievement comes with lots of hard work, love and most of all, tolerance.
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JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (USA 2021) 

Directed by Shaka King 

 


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THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS (USA 2020)**

Directed by Ian Samuels

THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS is a film based on the overdone well-worn genre with the theme of a character or characters stuck in a time loop.  In THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS, Mark is stuck in what he describes, as a temporal anomaly.  At midnight, he goes to sleep, waking up the next morning to the sound of a honking car to relive the same day again and again.

Ever since Ivan Reitman’s GROUNDHOG DAY (1993), the same day theme has been popularized and also quite widely used.  My favourite is two time loop horror films HAPPY DEATH DAY in 2017 and last year’s KOKO-DI KOKO-DA by Johanne Nyholm.  The latter is my favourite where a couple keeps getting killed by psycho killers while camping in a tent.  They relive the same situation and the guy still gets killed, horribly, but never learning from the past.  It is both hilarious and also terribly scary as the killings become more and more violent and a bit different.  In THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS, the gimmick is used in a  teen love story - unfortunately quite a boring one, particularly for adults.  Mark is a non-ambitious teen, who behaves as if he is the smartest boy on the planet, just because he relives the same day. and knows what exactly is going to happen next. When his father wants to have a man-to-man talk with him about the future, he lashes out, seeing no use at being ambitious since he will relive the same day.

Mark falls in love after noticing a girl who is stuck in the same time loop.  However, for no main reason, she  thwarts his romantic advances.  Mark makes a map of tiny perfect things that occurs daily, hoping to make a perfect day of things.

The script tries to tie in current issues like global warming and aging, but never leads anywhere.  Mark needs a waking up, and the story uses Margaret to help on his coming-of-age.  mark’s sister, Emma thinks Mark should consider important things like saving the planet.

Of course, there are two ways of looking at things.  Mark’s sister loses her soccer game 3-0.  He sees her losing all the time but Margaret sees it as an opportunity to change the day.

The ultimate aim of Mark is to get out of the time loop.  He thinks that taking a flight (to Tokyo) might do the trick.  Where does the writer get his weird ideas from?

Despite a few fresh segments (like the beginning rather cool sequence that the film never matches up), THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS ends up as a teen romantic fantasy with the time loop as an unnecessary gimmick.  Adults should find the teen romance quite tiring.

THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS is an Amazon Studios original movie available on Amazon Prime on February the 12th.

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SAINT MAUD (UK 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Rose Glass

SAINT MAUD opens at night time, which suits the bleak nature of the film’s content, with nurse Maud (Morfydd Clark) visiting her new but dying patient for the first time at her residence.  “What’s she like?” asks Maud to the last care-giver leaving the residence.  “A bit of a cunt,” comes the answer. 

Cunt or no cunt, Maud delivers her all to her dying patient Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) a vivacious character who used to be a minor celebrity in the dance scene.  Now Amanda is homebound, chain-smoking and drunk half the time.  The pious Maud makes it her duty to save Amanda’s soul at all costs, thus elevating her monotonous palatial job to a higher calling.  Maud believes herself to be a saint (she wears a necklace of Saint Magdalene) and her belief is encouraged when Amanda tells Maud that she is her little saviour.  Amanda has a female lover, Carol (Lily Frazer) who she gets drunk with.  Carol gets told off by Maud in one of the film’s more amusing scenes.  The trouble is that it is eventually revealed that Amanda has no intention of being saved and that she is just playing around with Maud.

This is where nothing is totally clear as to what Maud is doing.  The ambiguity here is a good thing, which writer/director Glass utilizes to the fullest.  The ambiguity is often revealed in split second edits - such as one scene where the audience sees Maud with angel wings and then she burns in fire.  Maud is also shown to be human with sexual desires as in the disturbing sex encounter with a portly bearded man she rides on.

It helps that Glass has the excellent Morfydd Clark deliver one of the most disturbing and obsessive behavioural characters - a sort of Carrie’s mother (played by Piper Laurie) in Brian De Palma’s CARRIE coming to life as a nurse.  Clark also shows vulnerability in Maud’s character.

The story is straight forward.  It centres on the character of Maud such as in the recent film THE ASSISTANT where the film delves totally on the occupation of the subject.  It is not a plot twist that is important but the character of the subject.  SAINT MAUD tracks the downward spiral of Maud from do-gooder to crazed paranoid maniac.

The film’s backdrop is a North Sea seaside town in Scarborough, England, a town with casinos, a trashy pier and dodgy bars.  It reflects how society has degraded to this low level of entertainment and recluse.  Director Rose knows how to use atmosphere - the town and the old house to evoke genuine scares.  At times, her film feels both like a Gothic horror and psychological thriller.

SAINT Maud is not a feel-good film about a likeable character doing good for the world but it is a very well-made document of the failure of society to care for the disturbed and those who really need help.  A little film about obsession that has made its mark where it has been screened.

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SKYFIRE (China 2021) ***

Directed by Simon West

 

Finally coming from China - JURASSIC PARK with volcanoes instead of dinosaurs.  

SKYFIRE contains the standard cliched storyline for a disaster movie.  Has China stolen American trade secrets here?

            Little Meng Li loses her mother (Alice Rietveld) escaping a volcano eruption.  Estranged from her father (Wang Xuegi), adult Meng Li (Hannah Quinlivan) is now working as some volcano scientist expert at the island of Tienhoa, which in English means SKYFIRE.  Father, also an expert in the field, now comes to the island to warn Meng Li of impending danger.  Lo and behold, surprise, surprise!  Volcano erupts, a big disaster movie in the making with big box-office receipts exploding.  The island contains a luxurious tourist resort owned by a white developer, Jack Harris (Jason Isaacs).  People need to be saved!  And I need to go to a resort like this after Covid-19.

To give director West and the film crew credit, the heavy CGI and special effects are quite impressive.  The most impressive on the list is the look of the tourist resort with expensive cable cars going through the mountains, structures and mountain scenery.  When the volcano erupts, the stunts where the escapees have to jump from one moving cable car to another is exciting as in the one with a truck having over the cliff, held only by a rope.  Some scenes are one the top, like the fireballs shooting out from the volcano crater like bullets and tossed hand grenades.

The women engineers appear to have all the answers to solve the problem of the erupting volcano and save the city.  Here is another one up for the female presence.  But here, it all seems too obvious when the women talk about solutions and all the male counterparts just stare in disbelief.

The music is hilarious in that it tells the audience how to feel at any point in the film.  It crescendos during the action sequences and moves to quiet and dialogue in the sad scenes.

The young actors in the film are perfect specimens of human beings - all looking drop dead gorgeous - both male and female.  Lots of eye-candy to distract from the nonsense disaster at hand.

The villain of the piece appears to be the rich developer of the resort, Jack Harris who at one point in the film, assures the vacationers at the resort that the place is completely safe and no eruption has occurred for a very long time.  But at least  he is not shown to be all bad.  He gets to save a crying young Chinese girl, when the volcano erupts.

Extremely tacky, silly, cliched and outlandish made worse by white people speaking Chinese with incorrect accents, SKYFIRE is exactly what is expected in a blockbuster disaster move from China.  It is best to take it all in with a pinch of salt and be prepared to laugh a lot.

Director Simon West moves from Hollywood to the east shooting his first big Chinese disaster blockbuster.  West owns the title of being a director making more than $100 million for his first 3 movies - THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER, CON AIR and LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER.  But wait, THE GENERALS DAUGHTER and well as LARA CROFT both won awards for the worst movie of the year.

At least the film runs for only 90 minutes, which is as much anyone can take.

If one stays for the closing credits, there are some neat scenes that reveal how a few of the disaster sequences are shot.  But beware!   The closing credits also come with a music video of a new song sung by Quinlivan's husband, Chinese pop star Jay Chou, performing as if he was God’s gift to mankind.  If this doesn’t give one the goose pimples, nothing will!  The film gets three stars for cheesiness.

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SUPERNOVA (UK 2020) ****
Directed by Harry Macqueen

Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) are traveling across England in their old RV visiting friends, family and places from their past.  Since Tusker had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia two years back, their time together is the most important thing they have.

SUPERNOVA initially has the feel of the “THE TRIP TO…” series of films (THE TRIP, THE TRIP TO SPAIN, THE TRIP TO ITALY….) by Michael Winterbottom in which two food critics, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travel together joking and contemplating their lives.  But the couple in this movie do not do famous people impressions but are a gay couple and their reason for travel of a more serious nature.  It will determine what will happen to the rest of their lives together.

If it all sounds too damning that it might put one off, it is far from it.  SUPERNOVA discusses a real problem in relationships when things beyond control start to fall apart.  Here, the gay couple have had a wonderful relationship with a loving and unforgettable 20 years.  But now, Tusker is suffering from dementia.  Tusker and Sam are learning to deal with it with the only ammunition they have - their unfaltering love they have for each other, 

SUPERNOVA gets my vote for Best Screenplay for its immensely powerful drama confronting the problem of growing old, and with all the ailments that go with it.  The subject is an over 20-year old gay couple, but the same would also apply to a straight couple.  The problem is looked upon from two opposing points of view - from the one suffering from dementia and the other one who has to deal with it.  The script, however, does not give much background to the two characters.  Tucci speaks in his native American, so one wonders how the American and Englishman met.

As the dementia gets worse, Tusker says: “I am becoming a passenger, and I am not a passenger.”   He goes on to say that he always wanted to be in control of himself.  As the little signs manifest themselves like the dropping of dinner plates and the inability to write, Tusker decides that it is best to end his life so as not to be a burden.   One of the film’s saddest moments is when he tells Sam’s sister that he will no longer be the same person but another person who looks the same as he was before.  Tusker’s point of view makes total sense.  But when Sam finds out about the upcoming suicide, the two get into an argument over dinner.  Sam makes his invaluable points as well.  This is where the film begins a tug-of-war on emotions on who is right and who is wrong.   

Tucci and Firth are great actors.  Both deliver Academy Award winning performances.  It is difficult to decide who performs better in their roles.  If an actor is able to bring forth tears without dialogue, that is the sure sign of a winning performance.  Watch for these two doing it.

My partner and I are ourselves a gay couple of 16 years and my mother and her mother had Alzheimer’s.  The film was a very difficult watch for me as I know I will likely inherit my family’s Alzheimer’s.

Trailer: 

TO ALL THE BOYS: ALWAYS AND FOREVER (USA 2021) **
Directed by Michael Fimognari

(embargoed Feb 11 at 9pm)

The 3rd film in the franchise, after TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE and TO ALL THE BOYS P.S. I STILL LOVE YOU, FOREVER AND ALWAYS comes directly to Netflix on Feb the 12th just in the for Valentine’s Day.  Warning: this is a feel good teen romantic comedy so adults be forewarned that it is best to stay away.  The other Valentine’s Day movie for adults also opens on the same day called BAD CUPID.  That film is even worse.

The film again centres on teen Lara Jean (Lana Condor) a half Korean half white student.  She spends a vacation in Seoul, Korea at the start of the film, not that it has anything to do with the rest of the film.  Though based on the ‘To All The Boys’ books, the plot of this film looks as if it is made up as it is going along.  It is also the lamest of the three stories.

Lara and her boyfriend Noah (Peter Kavinsky) who always seems too good to be a boyfriend plan to spend college days together studying and romancing at Sanford.  Noah is always forgiving and Lara can do no wrong.  The only explanation is that the story is for the female gender, so males have to take a step backward.  Noah gets admission to Sanford while Noah does admission to Sanford is declined.  Lara is, of course, devastated by the news.  She has told everyone except for Noah.  Again, there is no reasoning why she should be doing this as she eventually tells him in a coffee shop on a tour of celebration in NYC.  So when it happens, Noah is again all forgiving in the female flick.  Noah tells Lara that it is not her fault and that she is smarter than Noah.  Well, one thing male audiences can see is that Noah is quite wimp and his future will be that of a hen-pecked husband.

If this is not sufficient to put you off watching the rest of the film, the film has hardly reached its half way mark.  So what other surprises or non-surprises, rather are there in store to amuse the audience?

The film’s soundtrack is dotted with pop that should amuse the teen target audience.

The film leads towards the prom where the two are each other’s prom dates.  What is most embarrassing about the film is the segment which shows that the couple has finally had sex.

There is not much of a whole lot to write in this review except to warn adults to stay away from this lame teen whimsical romantic fantasy.

Trailer:  

X (USA 2019) *
Directed by Scott J. Ramsey 

X is the title given to the host of a monthly masquerade sex ball that is supposedly to be for the wealthy and select few.  Armed only with masquerade masks and invitations, guests arrive at a seaside estate for a charity ball hosted by a mysterious foundation.  With identities hidden from their fellow party goers, they partake in the sinfully seductive surroundings with their charming host Christian (Hope Raymond), known as X. The monthly masked debauchery is all fun and games until the arrival of an unexpected guest, Stella (Eliza Boivin) from Christian’s past, who threatens to bring to light her darkest secret.   These guests pay a lot to attend.  X, who goes by other names as well, benefits richly from the proceedings. 

All good things must come to an end or a big challenge at least. When a voyeuristic video reveals a violent crime, Christian must decide if the truth is worth exposing the world she has created.   The mystery too, is who the person is that stole video.

` The two leading ladies are a total bore.  Hope Raymond overacts most of the time, if not moaning and groaning like a sow in heat.  Raymond deserves this year’s award for most over-acting.  Boivin is awful too.  The highlight of the film (in a bad way) is expectedly the confrontation of the two characters.

During one of the balls, Stella gets to deliver what is supposed to be the prize performance of the evening.  Stella is given a chair and top hat on stage and she is dressed just as Liza Minelli did when she performed the classic number ‘Maybe This time’  as Sally Bowles in Bob Fosse’s CABARET.  In contrast, Stella’s performance is dull, pathetic and unsexy even thought she gets to remove the top at the end of the song.  The number before her is a song crooned by Lynda, Christian’s mother (Valerie Façhman), again her out-of-pitch song stretched too long. 

It is clear after a while what director Ramsey’ obvious message is.  It is about shame and how to overcome it i.e. redemption.  But this requires actress Raymond to learn from her past.  Terrible as she is, she is neither convincing or likeable in her character.   The script co-written by Ramsey and Hannah Katherine Jost explains plot points as well as provides flashback.  This is tantamount to explaining a joke or insulting the audience’s intelligence.   “You are a good person,” is one used by two different characters in the film.  Not everyone speaks the same way the scriptwriter pens the dialogue.

X has been touted in its publicity as a Hitchcockian mix of melodrama, thriller and camp.  There is in reality nothing Hitchcockian about X.  The only thing that X has in common is the theme of voyeurism in Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, where Norman Bates watches Janet Leigh through a hole in the wall.   As for camp, camp humour is usually over-the-top hilarious.  X lacks humour and could do with funnier lines.

The film stretches too long at over 2 hours.  Never has a film about sex been so boring. 

But the film somehow manages to find its fans somewhere.  After its World Premiere at the Starburst International Film Festival in Manchester, UK, the sexy thriller was screened at over a dozen festivals around the world. During its extensive film festival run, X took home Best Overall Film at the 2019 Indie Gathering in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Note too, that The filmmakers are also releasing a complimentary music album called “At the Devil’s Ball” on Feb. 16th with standalone music videos, as well, for an immersive multi-media experience.

 Trailer:  

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This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 19, 2021)

23 Jan 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

ANNE AT 13,000 FEET (Canada 2019) ***
Directed by Kazik Radwanski

ANNE AT 13,000 FEET is released by Medium Density Fibreboard Films.  Founded by Dan Montgomery and the director of ANNE AT 13,000 FEET, Kazik Radwanski in 2009, MDFF is committed to exploring naturalistic, narrative and documentary forms in filmmaking focusing on unique, director-driven projects that display a strong sense of cinematic handwriting.

This week sees MDFF’s Canadian theatrical release of the breakthrough micro-budget feature Anne at 13,000 ft., from internationally renowned Toronto-based filmmaker Kazik Radwanski, starring CSA-nominated and award-winning actress Deragh Campbell in a star-making role. 

The film is so-called because Anne, the protagonist who works at a child care centre in Toronto skydives at 13,000 feet during her colleagues bachelorette party.  Anne enjoys the exhilaration and freedom skydiving gives her.  She brings the new found exuberance into the workplace with not so good results.  She is rebuked by a more experienced coworker  who always seems to be on her case.  Anne is picked on by her like a school bully.  Anne also finds romance with Matt(Matt Johnson) who she meets at the bachelorette party.  The film follows her during a short period of her romance and work at the centre.

One thing to notice about the film is that the camera is hardly more than a foot away from the subject objects.  The keywords should be social-distancing.  This is in your face filming that can be quite annoying and disturbing.  Not a bad film if only director Radwanski would pull back his camera once in a while to show the film’s background or set decoration.

Given what it is - in your face filmmaking, the technique does have its advantages.  The camera keeps the audience constantly agitated and on their toes so that the audience is unable to take their eyes off Anne, whether she does good or bad.  This is one way to keep the audience’s attention throughout the film.  Rawanski shoots primarily using a handheld camera as well, giving the film a jittery look.  There is not much story in the film, just character observation, as we see And surviving or non-surviving her life.  Campbell who plays Anne is very good.

The film had its World Premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival in the Platform Competition, where it received an honourable mention from the International Jury presiding over the section. The film also had its International Premiere at the Berlinale and screened at the prestigious New Directors/New Films festival curated by MoMA and the Film Lincoln Centre. Anne at 13,000 ft. was also nominated for four Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Film, Best Direction for Kazik Radwanski, Best Actress for Deragh Campbell and Best Supporting Actor for Matt Johnson, while Campbell took home best Canadian actress in 2019 from the Vancouver Film Critics Circle.

The film will screen virtually across Canada from February 19th on digital TIFF Bell Lightbox, followed by digital screenings at The Cinematheque in Vancouver from March 5th alongside an MDFF retrospective of shorts and features including Princess Margaret Blvd. (2008), Scaffold (2017), Fail to Appear (2017), Tales of Two Who Dreamt (2016), Tower (2012), East Hastings Pharmacy (2012) and more.

Trailer: 

FLORA & ULYSSES (USA 2021) **
Directed by Lena Khan

FLORA & ULYSSES is a live action animated new feature from Disney featuring a young girl, Flora and her new pet squirrel Ulysses, which she believes possesses super powers.  It is a comedy-adventure based on the Newbery Award-winning book about 10-year old Flora, an avid comic book fan and a self-avowed cynic, whose parents have recently separated.  After rescuing a squirrel she names Ulysses, Flora is amazed to discover he possesses unique superhero powers which take them on an adventure that ultimately changes Flora's life--and her outlook--forever.   Only thing is that she is unaware what those powers are, though the squirrel appears to understand her and odd tricks - while also creating mayhem and major destruction knocking things about.  Fiona’s father works at a low level job at a store called Binders Keepers, whole mother is trying to write a book.  Father is a failed super action hero comic book artist as his creations have all been rejected.  The parents are separated though the film never explains the reason.

The film explains that Fiona is a cynic.  A cynic never has hope, a cynic believes that hope gets in the way of action.

The film actually begins quite well, with lots of goofy hilarity but starts losing its mojo after 30 minutes or so, then dragging along miserably trying to hook on to its original humour.

The film is all over the place covering many issues without remaining on any.  There is the super hero squirrel that Flora is trying to help.  She thinks it has superpowers and the squirrel shows at one point that it has incredible strength.  She still goes through a major part of the story trying to find its super powers and to train the squirrel to control its powers.  It sounds funny and a little goofy but the humour is infantile and often too silly to be engaging.  The segment where the surreal demolishes a donut restaurant, despite the special effects, is tiresome and unfunny.

A few good jokes do occur here and there.  Some characters work and others do not.  The father’s young teen supervisor with his invisible remote, though goofy is quite funny and catchy.  The pest control ranger demoted from game ranger to pest controller after a rabbit squirrel bit a camper is neither funny or inventive.

Fiona’s parents are not that watchable either.  Father is too much of a nerd , especially when he does his musical number in the store.  It is neither catchy nor entertaining.  Mother, writing a romantic novel in order to make the family some cash, is too much of a klutzy prude.

Director Khan steers her film towards a horrid climax -  sappy, corny and totally silly.

Disney Studios has been known to deliver formulaic films, which they often work.  FLORA & ULYSSES is that rare Disney flop that tries too hard, while using up all the cliches found in family animated animal movies.  Rabid!

Trailer: 

I CARE A LOT (USA 2020) ****
Directed by J Blakeson

J Blakeson (THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED) writes and directs this black thriller comedy that is so absorbing that one is glued to the screen from start to finish.  The story concerns Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike), an unscrupulous money grabber who becomes the legal guardian of elderly clients through manipulation of the courts while sapping them of their wealth and belongings. 

What Marla does is hunt out rich old people who have few or no relatives.  She gets her conniving doctor friend to deem them incapable of caring for themselves and to issue an emergency court order to have Marla become their state guardian.  Marla moves the victims to a home while possessing their assets - house, jeweller, art for herself and her partner.

Her latest victim is Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) who turns out not to be as harmless as expected.  After being moved to a home, Marla finds out that as in the words of Jennifer: “You have fucked with the wrong woman.”  Jennifer happens to be the mother of a ruthless Romanian gangster (Peter Dinklage) who has connections with the Russian mafia.  Marla has met her match and has to release the elderly Jennifer unless face unbearable circumstances. 

Marla is at first threatened by the Romanian gangsters lawyer, Dean Ericson (Chris Messina).  “Is this a threat? “ She asks Dean after he threatens her. “No, it is data to be collated.”  When Marla’s partner tells her to quit and let Jennifer go, Marla says that she has been threatened by men so many times and they were all baseless, except for 2.”  This is where one realizes the power of Blakeson’s script.  I have seen I CARE A LOT already once at the Toronto International Film Festival, and I always say that second viewing would be the ultimate test of a good film.  The 2, which I realized here, only on my second viewing refers to 2 men, yes, but not in the past.  One threat is current - Dean’s and the other in the future - from a disgruntled son who threatened Marla at the beginning of the film.  These two threats will be something to be reckoned with.  I CARE A LOT, with its spicy dialogue, devious wickedness and the lightning pace gets my vote for Best Screenplay of the Year.  As Blakeson moves the plot  along with breakneck speed all the while keeping the story several steps ahead of the audience.  With the film working so well, one can only hope the climax meets up with the thriller build up.  It does.  All the bad people get their comeuppance.   That is the beauty of the story.  With a most timely relevant and brilliantly entertaining script, I CARE A LOT is one of the most deliciously wicked films of the year.  Pike, Dinklage and Wiest are superb.  Awards all round!

Entertaining films like I CARE A LOT seldom, if ever win many awards because non serious films are often overlooked.  This extremely entertaining film stands out for several categories:

Best Script by J Blakeson; Best Actress: Rosamund Pike; Best Supporting Actor: Peter Dinklage and Best Supporting Actress: Dianne Wiest

Trailer:    

 

MAFIA INC (Canada 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Daniel Grou (Podz)

So brutally violent and scary, one can only gasp at the horrors human beings are capable of in the name of money and family.  MAFIA INV is based on the non-fiction bestseller “Mafia Inc: The Long, Bloody Reign of Canada's Sicilian Clan” by André Cédilot and André Noël.  The film runs a lengthy two and a quarter hours but fortunately is one of the best mafia films to come out of Canada.

The film is set in 1994. Frank Paterno (Sergio Castellitto), a Montreal mafia boss, hopes to legitimize his criminal operations by investing $180 million in an ambitious bridge project that would connect Sicily with southern Italy.   This way, he can retire and not worry about being busted or any related crime wars.  But first, however, he has to recover the necessary funds from his Greek creditor.  Frank entrusts this mission to his protégé Vincent (Marc-André Grondin), the son of tailor Henri Gamache (Gilbert Sicotte), who has been dressing the Paternos for three generations.  But after Vincent executes a ruthless plan to smuggle millions in drugs out of Venezuela, his reprehensible tactics ignite a war between the two families.

Director Grou noticeably leaves his mark during his direction.  Three characters, when pushed to their limits, suddenly shout out loud in a burst of anger.  The first incident occurs with Frank Paterno at Yap-Yap, the second with his son, Giaco (Donny Falsetti) at Vince and thirdly wth the Narcotics Detective uncertain with the way the investigations are going.  These three outbursts appear at a distance from each other so audiences might not notice.

Superb performances are delivered all round, particularly from the film’s two leads Sergio Castellitto as the family patriach and mafia boss and Marc-André Grondin as Vince, his Godson who carries things too far to please the boss.

The film, besides being set in a male dominated world, manages to show the strength of women despite the setbacks.  No to reveal any spoilers, but Sofie (Mylène Mackay) emerges victorious over the men.

The film is supposed to be based true events.  One of the most incredible events depicted in the film is the crash and death of the entire Venezuelan soccer team engineered by Vince.  Vince had their bodies operated on, their insides removed and stocked with kilos of drugs.  This was the event that sparked the mafia war.  Wondering if the accident actually occurred in history, I googled the incident but nothing came up with references to any Venezuelan soccer bus accident.  My guess is that this part of the story is fictionalized.  Perhaps a reader of the review can shed more light on this matter.

Any mafia film is violent and sexually graphic, MAFIA INC being no different.  The sexual segments contain scenes with female debasement, so female audiences be forewarned.  To compensate, Sofie as a female rises over the men at the end.

MAFIA INC had problems with its theatrical run because of Covid-19, but is now widely premiering via virtual cinema, VOD and digital on Feb 19th.

Trailer:  

THE MAURITANIAN (USA/UK 2020) ****
Directed by Kevin Macdonald

The illegal practices at Guantanamo Bay were made known to the world in Alex Gibney’s TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE.  The film that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2007 examines US policy on torture and interrogation, specifically the CIA's use of torture and their research into sensory deprivation.  THE MAURITANIAN tells again the story of one Mauritanian who was pulled out of his country and imprisoned for years without any charges laid against him.  This is not a doc but a feature based on a true story.  “This is a true story.”  The words clearly proclaim at the start of the film, which is based on the book entitled Guantanamo Diary written by the said Mauritanian after he was finally freed.

The feature THE MAURITANIAN is so called because the film’s protagonist, Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim) is from that west African state called Mauritania.  The film is directed by Kevin Macdonald, no stranger to documentaries as he is also an Oscar winner for his doc ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER in 1999 about the 1972 murder of 11 Israeli athletes.

The film follows Mohamedou Ould Salahi, who is captured by the U.S. government and languishing in Guantanamo Bay detention camp without charge or trial.  Losing all hope, Salahi finds allies in defense attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and her associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley, THE DESCENDANTS). Together, they face countless obstacles in a desperate pursuit for justice.  Their controversial advocacy, along with evidence uncovered by formidable military prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), eventually reveals a shocking and far reaching conspiracy.

The film’s most difficult scenes to watch are the dimly lit torture scenes, shown mainly in flashback.  As everyone knows by now, torture never befits any party as the tortured are so desperate, thy end up to confessing to everything.  “I can now sleep again,” Salahi says once the torture is over.  The expressions of the faces of both Couch and Hollander say it all.  Director Macdonald uses the images of their faces to say enough is enough.

The film is clearly on the side of political democracy.  And it is clear that democracy and decency are violated at Guantanamo Bay proving that the Americans are worse than the terrorists that bombed 9/11.   

The film goes into detail of the work involved in finding the truth.  The amount of redacted material, the boxes and boxes of files, the hours put in by both the defence and prosecutor are clearly on show.  The film centres on the change of heart by Couch who had his brother-in-law killed during 9/11.  Couch was clearly out to get Salahi the death sentence but he finally discovers the torture he had gone through.  The first meeting between Couch and Hollander makes the film’s most interesting segment where the two debate on principles.

Foster and Cumberbatch are excellent.  But the prize performance goes to Tahar Rahim, a name not that familiar to American audiences.  Rahim is a Fresh actor of Algerian descent who shot to fame in Jacques Audiard’s UN PROPHET in 2009.

THE MAURITANIAN does not provide any information that most audiences are already aware of from the news and past films but it is still an absorbing watch from start to end as it is a personal story of a man who was finally freed from Guantanamo Bay.  Director Macdonald has never disappointed.

Trailer:   

NOSE (France 2020) ***
Directed by Clément Beauvais

Despite the playful title NOSE, this feel-good or smell-good documentary is quite the serious look into the art of perfection of perfumery. 

The documentary had its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. With exclusive access to Dior’s “Maison de Parfums” creative process, this documentary unveils the fascinating role of the Nose at Dior; the most prestigious Fashion et Perfume brand in the world initiated by Christian Dior.  For the first time in a documentary feature, the prestigious Maison Dior opened its doors to access the wonders of perfume creation.  Travellers at heart, directors Arthur de Kersauson and Clément Beauvais followed the star of the doc and of Dior, François Demachy, during two years and over 14 countries, from Grasse to Nosy Be, through the coasts of Ireland, in his search for inspiration and the most precious raw materials.

The film opens with Demacchy in Indonesia smelling one of the raw materials, patchouli.  after travelling for 3 days.  The doc shows him sniffing other perfumery ingredients like roses of Grasse (a small town in France which specializes in growing the raw materials like roses) to Calabrian (in Italy) where a sour citrus fruit, bergamot is cultivated.   One funny scene has him sniffing fruit, the red hairy rambutan that has only a slight scent. (I had a rambutan tree in the backyard of my house in Singapore when I was young.)

The film’s subject Francois Demachy is quite the serious person who does not say much.  The directors, therefore, uses his personality as a catalyst to explore other avenues , rather than use him to entertain.  One of the women Demachy subcontracts to, says the same thing.  She thought she was not given the job when Demachy left as he hardly had said anything during the initial meeting.  But within this man lies a vast bed of knowledge, and it is this knowledge that makes NOSE such an intriguing film.

Demachy emphasizes the raw materials that go into the perfumes, akin to the fresh produce that makes a class Michelin star meal.  One such ingredient is the ambergris.  The scent of the ambergris is unmistaken and unique.  The doc takes the audience to the wild coasts of Ireland where dogs sniff out ambergris, after being trained by the master.  Ambergris is the extract of sperm whales.  These creatures eat cuttlefish without being able to digest this thin flexible backbone which is sharp and damages the whales intestines.  In time, these are eventually coated  and excreted.  Being less dense than water, the excretion floats to the surface of the sea and eventually gets deposited with rock or sediment offshore. 

Other more common materials used are roses.  The doc takes the audience to Grasse where the essence of the roses is distilled.  Around 15 to 50 different raw materials go into the making of a single perfume and hence the high price of the product.

NOSE is available on demand on the following platforms: iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and Microsoft, February the 22nd.

Trailer: (unavailable)

 

 

IL PECCATO (SIN) (Russian/Italy 2019) ***1/2
Directed by  Andrey Konchalovskiy

(Note alternative spelling of director’s name:  Andrei Konchalovsky)

 

IL PECCATO (SIN) is Russian director Andrey Konchalovskiy’s ambitious story of the life of one of the world’s greatest artists of all time - Michelangelo Buonarroti (Alberto Testone) set during the span of his life when he was employed by two different warring families of the papacy.  History and politics of the era would be good to know read up before watching the film, but director Konchalovskiy’s narrative is not difficult to follow.

Michelangelo - deceiver, scoundrel or genius?  That is what the film’s poster reads.  Director Konchalovskiy shows Michelangelo as all three including madman.  The film opens in

Florence, early XVI century where the audience gets their first glance of Michelangelo, walking the streets in rags and tatters,  spewing out complaints about Florence for its whores and ugliness.

Despite being the most famous sculptor and painter of the Renaissance, Michelangelo is reduced to poverty and depleted by his struggle to finish the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. While painting the Chapel he is also pressured to simultaneously complete the statues which are part of the tomb designed and intended for Pope Julius II.  The film moves on to the death of Julius II.

Michelangelo becomes obsessed with sourcing the finest marble to complete his tomb. The sourcing of the marble makes an important part and comes off as the most absorbing watch of the film.  The artist’s loyalty is tested when Leo X, of the rival Medici family, ascends to the papacy and charges him with a lucrative new commission – the façade of the San Lorenzo basilica. Forced to lie to maintain favour with both families, Michelangelo is progressively tormented by suspicion and hallucinations, leading him to ruthlessly examine his own moral and artistic failings.

The film’s location scouts must be commended for the stunning looking expansive backdrop of the rock quarries.  The logistics involving moving the marble, the raw material for the sculpturing must be incredible.  The segment where the workers lift a gigantic back so big that the workers nickname it ‘the monster’ is breathtaking.  The feat is achieved using Physics and the efficiency of using pulleys, the credit in the film also given to Michelangelo.  The monster marble block had to be transported to the loading dock.

SIN contains the most impressive of all production design of any film seen this year.  The coordination of work among all the departments must have been a tremendous task and headache.

There is not much of a story in Konchalovskiy’s portrayal of Michelangelo.  His film is a biography of a small section in the sculptor’s life while showing all his deficiencies and madness.   Konchalovskiy’s display of the times are hard and disgusting.  If not for constant reminding of the suffering of the poor (there are always chickens running around), the wealthy such as the new Medici, Leo X are struck down by sickness and ugliness.

It is hard to believe that this enormously impressive work came from the director who also made Hollywood trash like TANGO AND CASH and RUNAWAY TRAIN.  His next film that is to be released soon is entitled DEAR COMRADES!

Trailer:

 

THE SINNERS (Canada 2020) ***

Directed by Courtney Paige

 

A Canadian film though set in the U.S., THE SINNERS is a treat for those like me, love films of the bad girls doing bad things genre.  With a religious slant, THE SINNERS ends up meaner than MEAN GIRLS.

When schoolboys have problems, they meet for a fight in the schoolyard and duke it out.  For girls, the problems are settled in a much different and complicated way, as observed in THE SINNERS.  One member of the group has problems with the other members.  The members deal with it by kidnapping her and dumping her body in the lake.  No spoiler here, as this is how the film begins with the victim’s voiceover.  The film then moves back in time to explain how this event came about and then continues from there.  The narrator of the film changes as well.

THE SINNERS follows seven girls (seven is picked because of the 7 deadly sins in the Bible) from a religious high school who decide to rebel by starting a cult in which they embody the seven sins.  The seven deadly sins are greed, envy, sloth, gluttony, wrath, pride and sex.  The film introduces all the 7 characters each assigned to their associated deadly sin.  The most evil of them all is Grace Carver (sex which is called adultery in the Bible), the pastor’s daughter and most popular girl in school.  Trouble starts when she discovers her friend is about to air out all of their dirty little secrets.  Action must be taken.  As a scare tactic, the girls kidnap Aubrey (who denotes pride), but in the heat of an argument, she goes missing and is presumed dead.   The sheriff is called into the picture.

In true Hitchcockian tradition and thanks to the script’s 3 writers, their friend group begins to dwindle one by one.  Grace and the remaining cult members realize there is a much darker secret behind their small town.  The girls question whether they’ll survive the rest of the school year and investigate the mystery behind the missing bodies.  If they cannot figure it out, they could be suspects, or worse, victims.

Director Paige appears to be having a field day with her cult comedy mystery.  “In my high school years, I was a big fan of Jawbreaker, Cruel Intentions, and Scream,” says Paige. “I love thrillers and teen cult classics, so I wanted to tell a story that was based on something I was familiar with. Growing up as a cheerleader in the same type of small town surrounded by people who were raised in strict religious households, inspired me to choose this as the theme of my directorial debut.”

Prior to release, THE SINNERS toured the world festival circuit including being invited to the UK’s prestigious FrightFest, Brazil’s Fantaspoa Film Festival, and the Women in Horror Film Festival. The film has won several festival and cinematography awards including Best International Feature at the Catalina Film Festival, Best Horror Film at the Canadian Cinematography Awards, and Best Aerial Cinematography at the Los Angeles Cinematography Awards.

THE SINNERS will be debuting on Apple TV, Bell, Cineplex, Cogeco, Eastlink, Google Play, Microsoft XBOX, Rogers, Shaw, and Telus February 19, 2021.

Trailer: 

SOME KIND OF HEAVEN (USA 2020) **
Directed by Lance Oppenheim

The SOME KIND OF HEAVEN referred to in this documentary is The Villages, a huge retirement community in central Florida. 

Every human being deserves to be happy.  Or to be in heaven.  The trouble is that the longer one waits, the harder it gets.  SOME KIND OF HEAVEN offered this opportunity to elderly folk.  Oppenheim’s doc takes a candid look at the Villages, from the residents’ point of view.

The Villages, America's largest retirement community is a massive, self-contained utopia located in Central Florida.  Behind the gates of this palm tree-lined fantasyland, Some Kind of Heaven invests in the dreams and desires of a small group of Villages residents – and one interloper – who are unable to find happiness within the community's pre-packaged paradise. 

Anne and Reggie have been married for 47 years, and looked forward to a happy retirement life.  But Reggie got lost somewhere along the way, both to dementia and to the pursuit of drugs. It is up to Anne to try to bring him back, and help him out of a drug charge he finds himself facing.   David is not actually a resident of The Villages, but lives in his motor home and is cruising around the community looking for a woman who will let him move in with her.  He is running out of money and needs to find someone quickly. Barbara is a widow who moved to The Villages from Massachusetts with her husband, who died shortly afterwards

The most interesting subject is the couple.  Reggie annoys his wife, especially with his addiction to drugs, yes even at his age.  His wife tolerates.  His wife looks at ways to handle things.  And she wonders how she can help him go through what he is dealing with.  It is a tough time for both.  Eventually, Reggie is arrested for possession and has to attend court. 

Religion, the staple of old people, is brought into the picture at the Villages.  One sermon is played for the audience, the typical one where it is preached about being saved and the safety and comfort of being saved.

Does the Villages live up to expectations?  That is the question Director Oppenheim poses.  The film reflects both answers.

Old people have to be careful of scammers who take advantage of old people.  The film shows that old people are just as guilty as there is an elderly who is looking for a wealthy woman to invite him to live with him, while supporting him at the same time.

Lock it in at today’s price and you are locked in for the rest of your life.  You can go in at any time.  This is the sales pitch given to the elderly to buy a place in ‘heaven’.

One noticeable thing is that all the residents are all white - with no black or minorities.

SOME KIND OF HEAVEN is a light and easy watch, both for those elderly and those aching the age where they are considering their options, but not for teens and younger.  But as a doc on the subject of retirement in senior homes, it is a shallow look, focusing only on a few more interesting residents while not going into any depth into the institution or the system.  A few insights, a few warnings and a film to watch while taking things with a pinch of salt.

 SOME KIND OF HEAVEN will be released in theatres and on virtual cinema as of February 19th, 2021.

Trailer:

TELL ME YOUR SECRETS (TV Series - 10 Episodes)

Created by Harriet Warner

Premiering on Amazon Prime on Feb the 19th with all 10 episodes, the first of the series of 10 introduces the audience to the 3 main characters of the series - two women and one man, so as to get the gender number correct.

The deliciously wicked title means that each character has his or her own secret.  Which secret is the most deadly?

The complex thriller revolving around three characters, each with troubling pasts clouding their intersecting motives: Emma (Lily Rabe) is a young woman who once loved a dangerous killer, John (Hamish Linklater) is a former serial predator desperate for redemption, and a grieving mother Mary (Amy Brenneman) who is obsessed with finding her missing daughter.

All written by Harriet Taylor, the first episode is interesting enough for the audience to want to watch the next episode.  The paths of the three characters, one would expect would eventually crosspatch, but to so early as in the first episode.

Trailer: 

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/tell+me+your+secrets/FMfcgxwLsKFQGRjBDKsvqnZTKJsDwzdB?projector=1

TEST PATTERN (USA 2019) ***

Written and Directed by Shatara Michelle Ford

TEST PATTERN is a film to be praised for covering several urgent world issues all at one go.  The film is a female themed film with a female director and female protagonist.  She is black covering equitable employment and the story involves a rape thus including the #metoo movement in its sphere of filmmaking.  The film also touches on the topic of health care and policing, thus scoring full marks as a relevant film of the times.

Writer/director Shantara Michelle Ford tells her story from a strong feminine viewpoint while not putting down the masculine gender as is the trap a lot of female oriented films fall into.  The black woman’s white boyfriend is considerate, kind and likeable, despite having an occupation most people would look down upon - that of a tattoo artist.  The film scores yet another point playing against stereotyping.

Ford’s film begins with the meeting of the couple, him drunk getting his Dutch courage to ask her for a phone number while she is chatting wth her girlfriends.  A simple date leads to an invitation to her place, and a rather posh one at that, an apartment with a view.  Sex follows.

What is remarkable about Ford’s film is the seemingly effortless flow of her story.  There is a certain uneasiness when the two first meet, just as one is uneasy on a first date with a stranger.  Ford taps the audience’s uneasiness as well as their curiosity as to how the relationship will unfold.  There is a feeling of something ominous about to happen.

The trouble occurs during a girl’s night out.  Renesha (Britany S. Hall) leaves her boyfriend, yes, they are now a couple, Evan (Will Brill) at home while she meets Amber (Gail Bean) at a bar.  Two men entice them with drinks and dance and before long, both have taken edible gummies.  Renesha wakes up in Mike’s (Drew Fuller) bed, not remembering what had happened.  She return home to her boyfriend, who insists she get tested at a hospital to determine if she was date-raped.

It is at this point that the story takes a different turn.  The couple’s relationship takes a different turn as well  The first signs of a strained relationship is the couple’s problem in being able to get a rape kit test.

Getting tested with a rape kit is tremendously important for both Evan and Rashida.  A rape kit is a package of items used by medical personnel for gathering and preserving physical evidence following an allegation of a sexual assault. The evidence collected from the victim can aid the prosecution of a suspected assailant.  DNA evidence can have tremendous utility for sexual assault investigations and prosecution by identifying offenders, revealing serial offenders through DNA matches across cases, and exonerating those who have been wrongly accused

Revealing much of the story would spoil it for the film, safe to say that the film changes from a romantic to a psychological drama.

Trailer: 

TRUTH TO POWER (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Garin Hovannisian

Can music change the world?

The doc TRUTH TO POWER shows how the power of music can indeed change the world.

System of a Down (also known as SoaD or simply System) is an Armenian-American heavy metal band formed in Glendale, California, in 1994. It currently consists of members Serj Tankian (lead vocals, keyboards), Daron Malakian (guitar, vocals), Shavo Odadjian (bass, backing vocals), and John Dolmayan (drums), who replaced original drummer Andy Khachaturian in 1997.  The band achieved commercial success with the release of five studio albums, three of which debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200.  System of a Down has been nominated for four Grammy Awards and their song "B.Y.O.B." won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 2006.  The headliner of the doc TRUTH TO POWER is the lead vocal Serj Tankian, who has quite a lot to say about anything and everything on camera. 

The doc is not a biopic on Tankian.  There is only a brief mention of his childhood and how his band got started.  And also how he got into politics.  He decided while driving that he wanted to get into music and make a difference. 

Serj Tankian helps to awaken a political revolution on the other side of the world, inspiring Armenia's struggle for democracy through his music and message.

Millions fill stadiums across the world for the sound of Serj Tankian, the Grammy-winning lead singer of System Of A Down.  With exclusive interviews, adventures, and original footage personally filmed by Serj, TRUTH TO POWER allows audiences backstage access to an international rock star whose faith in music not only revolutionized heavy metal, but also world events. Throughout his life, the musician has pursued social justice, harnessing the power of his songs and celebrity for real political change. Serj's voice is equally likely to take on American corporate greed as lambast the corrupt regime of his homeland. His decades-long campaign for formal U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide was finally approved by Congress last year.

In this documentary as well as in many docs, the ex-President Trump rears his ugly face to do the world more harm than good.  After the Armenian Genocide was finally approved and recognized by Congress last year, Trump continued to sell arms and military equipment to Turkey.

TRUTH TO POWER is also an artist portrait with a revealing look at the musician as he writes music--from inception to recording--and pursues ambitions outside of the band. It includes memories from legendary producer Rick Rubin on System Of A Down's early years and its unlikely breakthrough, the bandmates' candid insights about the splinters and high points for the group, and stories from Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello on his bond with Serj as social justice advocates and their "Axis of Justice" nonprofit.

Director Hovannisian steers the film to its moving climax with Armenia’s largest protest of social disobedience showing how music can change the world.

Trailer: 

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