- Category: Movie Reviews
- Written by Gilbert Seah
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 FILM REVIEWS OF SELECTED FILMS:
Keep checking here for more capsule reviews....
THE DROVER’S WIFE: THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON (Australia 2020) ****
Directed by Lee Purcell
Lee Purcell does quadruple duty here as producer, writer, director and main actor, adapting her classic play into an excellent film that covers several female issues like wife beatings, pregnancy and indigenous racism. THE DROVER'S WIFE: THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON reimagines what a revenge film can be, and beautifully examines the role of identity, family and preconceived notions, with the backdrop of the Australian outback. Molly is heavily pregnant and left alone with her children while her whoring husband is droving sheep. Molly encounters an Aborigine Native who helps her deliver but a still born baby daughter. She is a sharpshooter and one not to be messed around with, says one character of Molly. But Molly cannot put up with more than she can handle. Still, Percell’s film makes her point and very convincingly. A beautiful shot film that reflects both the harshness and beauty of the Australian hardback. The best film seen at the SXSW fit festival so far.
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.
FUCKING WITH NOBODY (Finland 2021) **
Directed by Hannaleena Hauru
It must be tough getting a film director job in Finland. In FUCKIN WITH NOBODY director Hannaleena Hauru stars, writes and directs her own film. Her main character Hanna plays a director who loses her dream job to her rival Kristian who is much more popular, and not single. Kristian is married to the girl who wrote the script for the film Hanna has lost out on. Hanna analyzes their instagram and concludes it to be fake - lighting, romance and all. She decides to create a parody romance on Instagram to question the image one offers to society. Hanna thus teams up with her sister and counterculture friends including a young gay actor Ekku (lookomg like a young Brad Pitt) tom play her new lover. This fake romance has unexpected effects. At times, Hauru praises her film, as the characters do of their filming as clever an progressive. In truth, the alternate between looking too fake and real seldom comes across as sincere. The film is feminist with a strong female outlook with two adorable young gay characters. Though it tackles key current issues, the film is occasionally all over the place and the premise grows tiresome towards the film’s mid-section.
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.
ISLANDS (Canada 2021) ***1/2
Directed by Martin Edralin
Everyone loves a movie with heart. ISLANDS has heart as is most noticeable from the details from each scene. This can be first observed in the 15 minutes of Edralin’s impressive study on Filipino immigrants living ‘comfortably’ in Canada.
The family loves Canada. The family of three is comprised of a middle -aged unmarried son, Joshua living with his parents, a still functioning and sometimes dominant yet caring mother and frail father. In the beginning scene, the father has to be bathed by the mother, though he seems agile enough to be able to get his own breakfast items in the kitchen. The father drinks from a mug with the Canadian maple leaf printed in red on it. In the son’s car, there is a maple tree air freshener. Another scene has Asians singing the Canadian National anthem before dance classes start. The three form a somewhat happy family. It is hard to dislike a film like this, that pays tribute to the country where the film is from and one that shows the sincerity of a family. Yet, so far, the film is yet to go through its introduction and the main story at hand is yet to unfold.
ISLANDS turns out to be about Joshua. Joshua has formed an island of his own as many people do. ISLANDS is the obvious metaphor in the film. Writer/director Erdalin follows Joshua his protagonist and he quits his University janitorial job in order to care for his frail father who also suffers from dementia, after his mother passes away without warning. Joshua is a kind soul who prays every night. He prays for his family and himself and is shown to be a caring person, now tested to the fullest with the responsibility of caring for his father. Into the picture, arrives from Kuwait, his cousin, who brings much needed life into the situation.
ISLANDS is a decent, charming film that deals with the problem many families go through - the need to care for an ageing parent. For Asian families in particular, the care lies on the adult children who seldom put their parents into a nursing home.
ISLANDS can be looked upon as a companion piece to the much lauded America film MINARI. MIRANI shows the difficulties of starting up, from the point of view of an immigrant family. ISLANDS, on the other hand, shows an immigrant family (from the Philippines) who have settled in Canada, but facing different set of problems. ISLANDS is more real than MINARY which had to go through extensive theatrics like the burning barn at the end in order to make a point. Like MINARI, most of the dialogue is not in English but in a Filipino dialect.
The film is a tribute to the many Joshua’s around in the world. They are good men, shy and perhaps like the one in the film, one who has never been loved. Joshua’s whole life has been dedicated to his family, though his parents hardly ever praise him.
ISLANDS is a quietly charming indie film that delivers a message in a quaint way. And often, messages are best conveyed in this manner.
KID CANDIDATE (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Jasmine Stodel
The KID CANDIDATE is geeky-looking 24-year old musician Hayden Pedigo. He decides to run for City Council of his Amarillo, Texas because he cares for the place where he comes from. Being 24 and a little naive, director Stodel soon has her audience rooting for him. But big things do not always go as planned. And there are bad people that get elected unfairly. Like ex-President Trump using the Russians. By the time Hayden reaches election night, he has faced the crushing baggage of his own religious upbringing, a political system rigged to favour one of the wealthiest families in America, and the social pressure brought to bear against anyone who dares to change the system. The light mood of the documentary males the solemn theme watchable and entertaining. Director Stodel intercuts his doc with interviews with Civil Rights and Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeff Blackburn, a very sarcastic and sometimes nasty man on camera, adding a wicked touch to the film.
THE LOST SONS (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Ursula Macfarlane
Thestranger than fiction documentary follows Paul Fronczak, a 1960s baby who was kidnapped from his mother’s Chicago hospital room, as he sets off on a quest to discover what really happened. This remarkable and inspiring story of a kidnapping, a family secret, betrayal and redemption is produced by CNN Films, the same team behind the acclaimed THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS. As a boy, Paul discovered a chest of newspaper clippings and cards indicating a kidnapped baby. He deduced he was the baby. Director Macfarlane moves her film to the nurse at the hospital Paul’s birth to show how the baby might be kidnapped and how the police was finally brought in. She plays the film as both a mystery thriller and a feel-good sentimental drama. Paul’s non-biological parents who brought Paul up have some explaining to do. Paul’s dad is upset at him going to find his biological parents. The mystery deepens when Paul finds he has a missing sister, Jill. One can likely tell which segments are re-enacted and which are real, but Macfarlane tells her story in a very entertaining and watchable format, considering that this is a documentary.
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.
OFF SEASON (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Michael Keating
After receiving a mysterious letter, a woman travels to a desolate island town and soon becomes trapped in a nightmare. This is the premise of OFF SEASON. The reason for her travel is that her mother’s grave had been desecrated and she is the only relative left. But strange people appear and unexplained incidents begin to bother her. What is actually happening? Keating’s film plays like a nightmare horror film where he keeps the film once step ahead of the audience. It is basically a lonely damsel in distress story under mysterious circumstances. Director Keating, with good camerawork and cinematography keeps the suspenses high for most parts of the film. At one point in the film, she comes to a deep realization that there is something really wrong with the place. If she would have left right away then, the film would have ended right there and then without the audience and her having to go through all the horrors that follow. But the horror just drags on and the story too silly to be credible.
THE OXY KINGPINS (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Brendan Fitzgerald
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. The recent CRISIS covered the material where pharmaceuticals hired a college professor played by Gary Oldman to fake approval of oxycontin. The OXY KINGPINS follows the identical light and humorous style the 2012 doc directed by Matthew Cooke HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS that illustrate easy steps show you how to make money from drugs, featuring a series of interviews with drug dealers, prison employees, and lobbyists arguing for tougher drug laws. The film identifies the oxycontin pills, a painkiller as heroin, but easier to distribute and supply. Most of the information is obtained from a lawyer intending to file a class lawsuit against the pharmaceuticals as he obtains information from Alex, an ex-drug dealer who sold the pills. Other felons are interviewed with their faces blanked out, like suppliers and distributors. An effective doc may be judged by how much anger it incites from the audience and there is much blame that the film gives deservedly to the big CEOs of the big pharmaceutical companies who are the real villains of the piece who should spend their time in prison instead of the dealers, sellers and opioid users. None of them have paid their due but have been compensated by millions instead. I also checked the stock price of the largest company involved in making the drug (McKesson) and the stock price has been doing extremely well, rising annually.
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’sact as well as the film is a total miss!
REKLAW (USA 2021) ***1/2
Directed by Polaris Banks
A 12-minute short at the Midnight Competition section of the festival, REKLAW is placed where it deserves to be. REKLAW begins with footage of an inmate brutally beaten up in prison, as seen and commented by a group of colleagues led by an older man, supposedly the boss played by veteran actor Lance Henriksen (last seen in FALLING). The scene shifts to a couple having an ‘anniversary affair’ dinner where the girl tells the guy he can do anything he wants with her., and as many times. Next take - she discovers him dead. The lesser said the better for this entertaining, impressive and ‘what the f***’ short which demonstrates director Bank’s ingenuity, talent and treatment of his material. He also covers the issue of the #MeToo Movement with a different catch. Would a male indulge in sexual abuse if he can get away with it? Good job on director Bank’s $200,000 film, whose passionate project pays off tremendously.
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.
WITCH HUNT (USA 2021) ***1/2
Directed by Elle Callahan
In the modern America of writer/director Elle Callahan, witches are real and witchcraft is illegal. The film opens with a disturbing scene of a witch burnt at the stake in front of her daughter in New England. Three months later with the film’s new setting in South California where apparently witches are trying to escape to Mexico for a witch haven. Callahan’s film is a bit o a slow burn that could have moved at a quicker pace. Still Judos to her for re-imagining a modern horror story with this fresh premise. A sheltered teenager, Claire 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. What makes the film works is Callahan’s treatment of her material - making it accessible to both teens (like Claire) and her mother who is the one who initializes the help. Other day-to-day activities like school assignment (with an appropriate topic like the amendments) make the film more relevant. A few scary scenes causing the audience to jump out of their seats remind one that this is also a horror film.
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