Sunday, January 31, 2021

Mother Schmuckers (2021) Sundance 2021

Two incredibly stupid brothers lose their mother's dog. They are given 24 hours to get him back or else they are out on the street.

This film is review proof. This is a film you either love or loath. While probably being drunk off your ass will help you'll know if you are going to like the film in the first two minutes  when the pair fry up some poo and then... yea well. If you find that sequence funny  then you might find the rest of this low brow stupid comedy.

I am not a fan. The problem for me is this is just a film that just aimed at pushing buttons. The jokes fall flat as directors Harpo and Lenny Guit seem to be fashioning jokes not based on what is funny but what is offensive and stupid. Yes they can produce laughs but more time than not you'll think of something better.

On the other hand I can see this film catching a cult following. I suspect had I seen this with an audience of cranked up, and possibly drunk, film fans I probably would have liked it more.

This wasn't my cup of tea, it might be yours.

The Animation First 2021 Curtain Raiser

Over the last four years ANIMATION FIRST has become of one the hidden treasures of the film festival season. Highlighting a whole bunch of animated films you either need to see or haven't heard of, the festival is a grand buffet of delights for the eyes and hearts. It is one of the best programmed festivals I cover every year

With the cost of the whole festival being only 20 bucks you can't not attend. Running from the 5th to the 15th this is two weeks of great animation with everything other than CALAMITY JANE and the special events available to watch at any time during the festival. Everything I've seen, which is almost all the features and a few of the shorter films are worth seeing.

While I want to say see it all the films I recommend most are

CALAMITY JANE (This ONLY screens on February 5th in a short window)

A word of warning ZERO IMPUNITY is a very good but incredibly tough film on sexual violence. It is not for kids...r sensitive adults. I'm not kidding

As this posts I am waiting for access to the short film collections. Reviews will follow once I get a chance to wade in.

Reviews Start Tuesday so keep an eye out for the avalanche.

For tickets and more information go here

At The Ready (2021) Sundance 2021

Portrait of the Criminal Justice Club at Horizon High School in El Paso Texas, The club seeks to teach the kids what it’s like to be a police officer, to the point of training them for a position in the  police by teaching them skills like handcuffing, taking fingerprints, and how to take down a bad guy with weapons. At the same time the club seeks to bridge the divide between the kids and the cops, while giving them a place to belong. 

The problem with talking about AT THE READY is that while I can tell you what it kind of it, you really won’t know until you see it because mixed into everything are threads about the issues of being Hispanic with family members on the other side of the border in the age of Trump, being part of a marginalized community and its relationship to the police and in an unexpected turn, being gay. And there is even more here. 

Actually there is so much here that I need another pass by it to fully get all the threads. That isn’t to say the film is heavy, its more to point out that the film has a great deal going on and I didn’t fully catch everything that it was bringing up.  I didn’t catch things because I was lost in the stories of the teachers, students and family members we meet. There are a lot of people and a great deal is going on. Watching the film is kind of like going to your significant others family Christmas for the first time. There is a lot of names and faces and things going on. You’re over whelmed in a good way the first time through, but the second time you can handle it.  

I really liked this film a great deal. My initial thought when seeing what the club does was to groan and wonder why my high school didn’t do that. This is one you’ll want to see. It’s a film full of important ideas and good people, with the result it touches the head and the heart and makes you want to dive in a second or third time. 


Thoughts on The Most Beautiful Boy in the World (2021) Sundance 2021

 Portrait of actor Bojrn Andresen who exploded on the scene when he was 15  an starred in Visconti’s A Death in Venice. Visconti called him the most beautiful boy in the world and effectively set the course for the rest of his life which was filled with fits and starts and an impossible label to live up to. 

Good but ultimately unremarkable portrait of a life and the road taken. Its all here from his personal life, super stardom in Japan and everything else in between. There is a lot of meat frquently arranged to look spectacular but the question is how interested in the subject are you. While I found the discussion of the road chosen for us interesting, I really never connected with Andresen or this life. It seemed just outside the walls of my experience and thus I never embraced it.

Please don't get me wrong there is nothing wrong with the film, more that after a while I stopped wanting to watch simply because this was not something I was interested in. Basically I realized that there was not going to be a big ah ha moment for me that put it all in perspective

Definitely worth a look for those with an interest.

Sky Sharks (2021)

I am tempted to just walk away from film reviewing forever because on some level I have seen the perfect film. I mean it is high concept, it delivers on that concept and has zero pretentions. Sure it's a little long, but you can forgive that. Best of all it is the sort of thing that is essentially review proof. You are either going to love the film to death or you're going to run for the hills.

What is the plot? An artic research team finds an old Nazi ship and releases the lost secret weapon-zombie soldiers who fly on sharks. A secret response team has to stop the carnage.

The highest of high art.


…but oh man is it fun. It knows it's off the deep end but just freaking goes for it. There's blood, and body parts and jokes and sharks and zombies and cameos and more blood and green screen and not a serious thought in it's head. Make no mistake they everyone knows it's a goof  but they play it all deadly straight, selling it all beautifully because you have to for a film like this to work.

Are you going to like this film? Just ask yourself if the idea of zombie Nazis on flying sharks intrigues you. It it does this film is for you. If not just skip it.

Recommended for those who like this sort of thing- all others stay far far away.

Brief thoughts on Try Harder! (2021) Sundance 2021

Portrait of the senior class of Lowell High School in San Francisco who are the best of the best. Its a place where super geniuses struggle to get grades good enough to get them into the college of their dreams.

One of the better recent batch of films on education score points thanks to having an engaging group of kids to follow. You can't help but like the kids, even as you want them to kind of chill out. I like that the film largely keeps the film focused on the kids since we can feel the pressure coming from their parents to "try harder".

While I am not the typical audience for this film (I have issues with the college industry) I found that I enjoyed the hell out of this film. Where very often with similar films my attention lags, here I was invested to the end and I was waiting to see how all the kids made out with their choices.

Definitely worth a look.

CRYPTOZOO (2021) Sundance 2021

 CRYPTOZOO begins  with the recounting of a dream abut storming the capitol and taking it over and forming a world where we all can live in peace. It then moves on to a man being speared by a unicorn and his girlfriend in a rage beating it to death. One thing is troubling for the context of the world the film has been birthed into and the other is troubling simply because it's a disturbing sequence. From there the film spins off into the story of a woman who is trying to save all the "mythical" creatures in the world before the government or collectors can snatch them and use them for evil purposes. It is often violent, occasionally sexually graphic and not for all audiences.

As some one who hated director Dash Shaw's first film my saying that this is a film I admire is saying a great deal.  While I have a lot of issues with the film, and I just kind of like it, I still think it has a somethings going for it. For example the film has several moments of great beauty and the plot actually isn't bad when you get down to it.

The problem for me is I don't know if Dash Shaw can fully tell a story. While less meandering than his first film, the plot still moves with fits and starts and has a raw nature of a a big schooler trying to write something bigger than his experience. It doesn't help that the art frequently looks like the work of good but still learning young artist. 

My issues aside I will give it points for decidedly being it's own thing with the only thing I can compare it to is the work of Japanese artist Ujicha (Violence Voyager, Burning Buddha Man) expect that it is more hopeful and less disturbing.

Worth a look for Shaw fans and the adventurous,  it a film that just missed for me.

Saturday, January 30, 2021



What I love about this bio of Rita Moreno is that for a couple of minutes it seems to be going a typical Hollywood bio, and then it turns hard and becomes something as unique as the woman herself.

Telling Moreno's tale from he birth to the present  this is no ordinary Hollywood feel good film. This is a tale f a fighter who fell into show business and managed to turn a simple recommendation into a Hollywood career. However while the film hits all the highs it also deals with the lows, the sexual harassment, the stereotypical roles, the racism, the abusive relationship with Marlon Brando, the suicide attempt. Its a tale most people don't know and one that will rock your world, if only because you won't believe that she survived it all and yet managed to rattle the pillars of heaven.

And she did rattle the pillar of heaven and change the world thanks to he refusal to go anyway but her own. How else did she get the lyrics in Westside Story changed because of their racism? She open doors for other Latinos, stood up for human rights, for women's rights and changed everyone she worked with.  

This is a super film about a super woman.

Highly recommended.



While Woodstock was going on in Upstate New York for three days The Harlem Arts Festival was was happening in park in Manhattan. A series of totally free concerts over 300,000 people listened to the music of Stevie Wonder, BB King, David Ruffin, Nina Simone, The Fifth Dimension and many many others. The whole series was filmed, however because no one wanted to buy it and show it it sat awaiting rediscovery.

The truth of the matter is that while the series in many ways changed the course of  history, many people kind of thought it was a dream since no one really talked about it. Essentially it happened and then was largely forgotten.  Except the footage was still out there and it was found by Questlove who has used it, along with interviews with people on stage and in the audience, to make an amazing, and amazingly entertaining film about the fest and the changes it brought.

This film is a stunner. Its a great music and great history. Its a film that puts you in the trenches on on the stage and gives us a view of how the coming together of a wide variety of African Americans from all over New York changed things. This film will open your mind.

To be honest I can't say much more than this is a truly great film, except I fully expect it to be in the running for the Oscar next year. Yea it is that good.

Go see see this movie 

Highly recommended

In The Same Breath (2021) Sundance 2021

Nanfu Wang's IN THE SAME BREATH is a look at the Covid Crisis in China and to some degree in the United States. It begins with the huge New Year's Day Celebrations in Wuhan in 2020 and it concludes with the same celebrations in 2021. It is an intellectual punch in the face about how our governments are killing their people in order to look like they are in control.

Much of IN THE SAME BREATH is made up of videos shot under the noses of the Chinese government. Wang began by collecting videos posted to the internet by people in China. She archived as much as she could before the government had it pulled down. She then sent out camera people to film. While they would get permits to film in hospitals thy were forced to turn the cameras off if anyone said anything questionable. She then had them set unmanned cameras and they picked up all sorts of things. The result is a portrait of  country scrambling to hide the truth and bury the dead before anyone notices. It is dire warning about the dangers of censorship and misinformation, a warning that that the Unites States and Donald Trump didn't heed

While less emotional than some other films on the pandemic I've seen it still packs an emotional punch as details of what it's really like are revealed, as are the names and faces of the people who tried to tell the truth and save lives but who only found oblivion when they disappeared.

The film takes a damning look at the US  by giving us a look at the emotional toll of front line workers here in the states. It also lays the blame squarely at the feet of former president Trump by showing how the anti-maskers and covid deniers are only parroting his own words. We maybe free but we are just as bad as China. There is a terrible irony that all the Trump supporters follow his lead in blaming China  for all the trouble but he and is regime copied it without credit time and again.

As powerful as the film is for most of its running time, the film falters slightly in the second half as the reasoned presentation of the facts gives way to a long pained scream of a presentation. The film's presentation ceases to be measured and instead becomes more emotional. Its clear Wang has been rocked by events, which is fine, but her carefully constructed tale seems to be pulling in everything to win it's point. It's not fatal but it keeps the film a half a step from true greatness.

Having world premiered at Sundance IN THE SAME BREATH will be hitting the festival circuit before hitting HBO. It and it's warning of possible impending doom is required viewing.

Playing With Sharks (2021) Sundance 2021

"These camera men had these giant housings mad of metal and I had a stick"
- Valerie Taylor on the filming of BLUE WATER WHITE DEATH

Portrait of filmmaker, naturalist, conversationalist and shark expert Valerie Taylor who was instrumental in making us realize that sharks were not inherently dangerous.

This visually overwhelming film is going to rock your world. While not a perfect film, I'm going to be guessing that the film will be running for the Oscar  at an upcoming Academy Award ceremony.

Telling the story of Taylor's life in the sea, where she began as an exert spear fisher it follow her on through the meeting of her husband with whom she began to make films and work to protect the sharks and the other sea animals. We also get large sections on BLUE WATER WHITE DEATH and JAWS which she helped to film.

The images, made up of the footage shot over six decades of filming is amazing. Because Taylor was the only woman doing what she did there is plenty of footage beyond what she shot to delight the eyes. 
I was really blown away by the beauty of much of it. 

And there is sadness as well. Watching the footage of the spear fishing tournaments you become ill  at the senseless slaughter of so many creatures.  There is also sadness at realizing that the number of sharks in the footage in from the film BLLUE WATER WHITE DEATH in which Taylor appears and which she helped shoot, can never be repeated because the sharks are largely gone, having been hunted into near extinction.

Also sad is the section on JAWS which she and her husband went to thinking it would be a great tale never realizing that the fear the film generated was responsible for decreasing shark populations across the globe. She regrets having been part of the film as a result.

As much as I love the film, I do have to quibble with a couple of things. First the film rambles for much of it's running time. While this allows for some great footage to be seen, it results in the films other flaw which is the last half hour is much too rushed and over loaded as the film desperately tries to cove everything. While in no way fatal, the flaws keep the film from just being an all time classic. 

Quibbles aside it is however still an absolute must see.

This is ne to see sooner than later- and expect plenty of awards (The editing is some of the best I have ever seen in any film ever)

In The Earth (2021) Sundance 2021

During a pandemic a ranger takes a scientist into the woods to bring equipment to a scientist working in isolation. In the middle of the night they are attacked and their equipment is taken or destroyed. They are left barefoot. Things get worse from there

Ben Wheatley is to be applauded for making a film last summer during the Covid crisis, but one really wishes he had been able to deliver more than a half an hour of suspense. At the end of the half hour (or is it 20 minutes?)  you suddenly realize that we've been here before in THE RITUAL, ANNIHILATION, STALKER, YELLOWBRICKROAD, HEART OF DARKNESS and not to mention several other Wheatley films. This is the cryptic existential thing in the woods film except that he doesn't really bring it together well enough for us to accept even the lack of answers.

Gross at times, there is reoccurring nastiness involving a foot wound, plus other icky things, this film doesn't really seem to know what it wants to do. IS this a head trip or a gore film? Are you telling a creepy story or are you going to lean into the strobes and weird sounds?

Moving at a snails pace we are given way too much time to ponder there is nothing going on here. Worse the film throws out so many possible explanations that all the talk doesn't seem like its part of a concrete world but instead it simply sounds like a screenwriter trying to fill time but throwing so much crap out he hopes something sticks to the wall.

I grew bored and I kept waiting for something internally logical to happen, instead of seeing each turn as simply something to spark action.

The sad thing is the cast is killer. I would gladly see them all return in another better plotted film- hell even a remake where the planet is out to kill us meets mad scientist meets psycho in the woods genres actually come together to work. It's so damn close it breaks your heart.

Additionally the title design of the opening and closing credits are wonderful, as are the trippy pagan 2001 style visuals near the end.

A misfire that will probably delight Wheatley fans or those who haven't seen all the films he appears to be borrowing from

Rebel Hearts (2021) Sundance 2021

 The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Is an order of nuns in Southern California. In the second half  of the 20th century many of their number joined partly out of a love of the church, but also because a patriarchal society was not the way to go. They thought that going into the church would be a rewarding life. Many found it wasn’t. But over time the nuns began to work at the catholic college and schools and engage with the community. They began to form their own ideas of what Christ’s work was. This brought them into conflict with the church and society since the women realized that they could not simply be silent or inactive in the face of sweeping social change.

The simplest review I can give Rebel Hearts is expect it to be nominated for an Oscar next year. This is a kick ass documentary about some great women who did what they had to do and simply changed the world in the process. This is a film that will touch your heart and your head in a way that few recent films have.

The story of the nuns is an important one these days because it highlights the fact that all of the things that people are in the streets fighting for are were being fought for five decades ago. That women who were nominally of the establishment, ie. The Church,  were trying to make changes says a great deal about how bad things were.

I love this film. It’s a film that adds a great deal of color to the normally beige Catholic Church. It’s the sort of film I wish I could have shown my mom, a wandering Catholic, to show her that her thoughts and feelings were not as atypical as she might of thought. It also would have delighted her to see a whole bunch of wickedly cool nuns instead of the beasts that abused her and her fellow classmates in grammar school.

This film is a stunner and one of the best of Sundance for this year. Highly recommended.

Brief thoughts on Son of Monarchs (2020) Sundance 2021


A Mexican biologist living in New York returns home to attend his grandmother's funeral. As he reconnects to his family, the past and present reconnect and he has to try and heal the wounds of the past.

This is small quiet gem of a film that will kick your ass. I say this as someone who didn't instantly click with the film. I kind of thought this as going to be your typical guy goes home and has a life changing experience. I honestly didn't pay attention for a little bit at the start, and then suddenly I found myself leaning into the film. I had disconnected with the room around me and was fully engaged with the film. The result was a deeply moving experience.

To be honest I'm not going to say much more other than see this film. It is not a matter of not having much to say about the film, rather this  is a film you need to see blind, without clues to where it is going emotionally so that it hits you full bore square in the chest. More importantly this is film you need to talk about with people who have seen it. Its the kind of film where when he film ends you want to turn to the person next to you and talk about the film in excited tones. 

Certain one of the films that people will be talking about at years end, it is a must see.

The film plays virtually at the Sundance Film Festival:
Online Screening: Friday, January 29, @ 3:00PM PT / 4:00 PM MT / 6:00PM ET,
Online Screening: Sunday, January 31, 7:00AM PT / 8:00AM MT / 10:00AM ET, 

Friday, January 29, 2021

Coda (2021) Sundance 2021

By the time I saw Siân Heder's CODA I had seen over a hundred films in the 29 days that made up January. I say that because I want you to know that when I call CODA one of the best films of 2021 that I've actually seen enough films opening this year that I can be safe in making that call.

The film is the story of high school senior Ruby Rossi. She is a child of deaf adults (the CODA of the title). She gets up every morning at 3am to go fishing with her dad and deaf brother because some has to be able to hear the radio and talk with the hearing world. She joins the choir and meets a music teacher who will change the course of her life, assuming that her parents won't need her forever.

Bring tissues. Lots of tissues. Don't worry the film is full of happy tears, buckets and buckets of happy tears. I have not seen a film that make me this stupidly happy in a long time. 

What I love abut the film is that despite the film hitting any of the expected notes, Heder tweaks them in such away that she improves upon them. I kept thinking that she would do certain things, and she did, put she put them in places that I never expected and made me feel all warm inside.

Eugenio Derbez as Bernardo Villalobos, the choir master is the teacher we all should have had. I was actually lucky enough to have one exactly like him, a Mr Ronald Wickie in grammar school. He had a  passion for music that was unmatched and which he passed on to everyone he taught. Like Mr V he found ways to connect to the kids and literally change their lives.

Troy Kotsur deserves an Oscar for his portrayal of Ruby's dad. If you want to know the moment where my brain exploded watch him as he "listens" to his daughter sing with his hands. Performances don't get better than that. I also was rocked at something that happened later that left be unable to do much of anything for a good long while after the film ended.

And yes Emilia Jones is awesome and Oscar worthy, but everyone will tell you that so you don't need me to repeat it.

And did I tell you that the film is funny? It is very very funny for all the right reason, especially since the jokes are situational and real.

I freaking love this film and can't recommend it enough.

Censor (2021) Sundance 2021

The during 1980's video nasties debate in England a film censor runs across a film that mirrors the the tragic events that happened to her and her sister years before. This then sets her on a course to find out if there was perhaps a connection

This well made and perfectly constructed film is missing a heart and any scares. Made to echo and riff the 1980's horror films, as well as some  from the 1970's (say Argento's SUSPIRIA) the film spends too much time trying to be a homage instead of something original.  

I have to give director Prano Bailey-Bond  a lot of credit. She has made a beautiful horror film. Its one of the best looking horror film in years. Its a stunning film. The problem is she left the scares in the editing  suite. I never felt any chills despite the films best efforts.

I was lucky enough to watch this at midnight during the world premiere. I love to watch horror films late at night when the scares get intensified by the sleep that is dancing around my mind. I've been accused of liking some horror films simply because I watch them only late at night. That maybe true but you have to watch horror movies when the monsters are supposed to come out. Its a magic time and that was why I chose to watch CENSOR then.

The trouble is instead of drifting off to monsterland I just saw the construction. I admired the craft of the filmmaking but all I could see was the construction. I could tell how the plot was going to go because it mirrored the 80's films so perfectly. Worse I could see the lifts and riffs way too clealr to the point where any suspense was drained. 

Perhaps I've seen too many horror films but I was disappointed. 

Worth a look if you want to see a will made horror film but if you want to see a scary one.

Human Factors (2021) Sundance 2021

I'm not going to say a whole lot about HUMAN FACTORS. It's not that there is anything bad, in fact the film is on my must see films of Sundance 2021, rather I want  you to walk into the film knowing as little as possible since the less you know the bigger the impact. 

The film begins with a family going to their summer hose for a brief off season vacation. There is a break in and then the aftermath... except that it's more complicated than that. 

While I will not tell you what happens I will give you one detail because knowing it would have prevented a couple of minutes of confusion on my part and that is the film is not a straight narrative. Things are out of order and we will see events again from another person's perspective with the result what we think we know keeps changing. Its so shifting that I am desperate to see it again knowing where it goes.

One part family drama, one part psychological thriller HUMAN FACTORS grabs you and sucks you in. The thing is that the thriller part of the film is not really the result of any external factors but simply the interaction of the characters, we are on edge because we don't know what is going to happen next- even if we know what is going to happen next because we are getting a new context.

To be honest I wasn't certain about the film at the start. I wasn't really hooked with the family on vacation opening and the measured pacing of the opening sequence. But then things shifted. The film moved on and I found myself leaning into the film- I wanted to know what was happening and where we were going. What I thought was just going to be a meh film became something compelling. The shifting points of view adding unexpected layers.

As I write this I have not seen a great deal of films playing at Sundance, and while I have seen some I liked, some I didn't, a few I recommend, this is the first film of the festival I want to take to all my movie lover friends, press it into their hands and tell them "I don't know if you will like this, but damn this film is something special and far from run of the mill"

The film is screening again for 24 hours on Sunday January 31st at Sundance and is highly recommended.

Wiggle Room (2021) Sundance 2021


An injured young woman tries to get her money from a shady insurance salesman.

Sweet little drama has a perfect sense of life in it. While based on lead actress Deanna Gibson's own story first time directors Julia Baylis and Sam Guest have created a story where the life bleeds off the screen. These are real people in a real location and we can smell it.

This is a super little film that makes me not only want to see where this would go if it was longer but also, more importantly, what Baylis and Guest ill do next.


Up At Night (2020) Sundance 2021

 “As dusk fades and another night without electricity falls, Kinshasa's neighbourhoods reveal an unstable environment of violence, political conflict and uncertainty over the building of the Grand Inga 3 hydroelectric dam, which promises one day to bring a permanent source of energy to the Congo.”- official synopsis 

Ultra-widescreen film gives us the images of a darkened neighborhood in the Congo. Told in a style that often is a triptych  the film puts us into the darkened homes and streets of a neighborhood where electricity isn’t available. 

This is a film you have to be patient with. While the three screens seems to be a showy ploy it quickly fades, especially if you can see this on a large screen into something compelling. Instead of keeping us outside the action it strangely pulls us in with many of the images of triple images making us truly feel like we are there. 

A wonderful atypical look at the world.

Romantic Chorus (2021)

ROMANTIC CHORUS is an animated documentary about love, relationships and sex. Constructed from a series of interviews done with people from all walks of life the film attempts to present the spectrum of how we humans interact.

This is an intriguing film about our interpersonal relationships in all its forms. It is told in a bewildering mix of animation styles that absolutely delights the eyes.

The experience of watching the film can be overwhelming. There is a great deal to process here from notions of love, monogamy, open relationships, sex... and everything else you can think of. A lot of thoughts are thrown at us and it is a great deal to take in. When you couple it with the dizzy, and often magnificent animation, the film just hits you like a tsunami. It was so much that there was a couple of times when I stopped looking at the screen and just listened because I wasn't certain what I should be paying attention to.

To put it another way ROMANTIC CHORUS is a banquet of great food where you are going to over eat.

While I think you should make a real effort to see it, I'm still processing to what degree I like it. Don't get me wrong I can and will be happy to explain why the film is a must see, I find that my reaction to the film is all over the place. While there are moments that had me shouting "YES YES THAT'S IT" at the screen when someone said something brilliant, there were other times when I wasn't interested in what was being said.  At times the visuals and the interviews mesh perfectly and at other times I wonder what the animator was trying for. Perhaps its the arrangement of the bits which at times seems to be off.

Quibbling aside I would rather be wrestling with a film like this that gives be too mc of everything that a typical Hollywood film. I love that ROMANTIC CHORUS basically goes "Here is a whole bunch of the things we found out- you sort out hat it means" Oh the joys of being treated like an adult.

Give it a shot.

The film can be streamed starting today at the website starting today

Seeds of Deciet (2021) Sundance 2021

This is the story of Jan Karbaat a fertility doctor in the Netherlands who was found out to have impregnated more than 65 of his patients using his own semen. It is also the story of the families he shattered, the children he fathered and the realization that other doctors have done the same thing.

I came upon the SEEDS OF DECIET by accident. I got a letter from a PR person about the film(s) playing Sundance and blindly said yes. I figured I would say yes to anything figuring so I could fill up my dance card. I didn't realize that the it was a series of three films, well actually its one film in three parts, and that its playing in the series part of Sundance. Normally I wouldn't touch a series because of the amount of time needed (then again the three parts are just over two hours total) but I said yes....and the films arrived and I started cursing...and then I put the first one on and I instantly fell into it.

Wow, wow and wow. SEEDS OF DECIET is awesome. I absolutely loved this series/film. It takes a compelling, and appears to be an all too frequent occurrence and pulls it apart in such a way that when the series ends you want to dive right back in.

Broken, rightly, into three separate parts the film first looks at what happened, then the children and finally the "aftermath" and related subjects, like the other times this has happened across the globe. There is a hell of a lot more going on, and threads run across each part, but that is the rough breakdown. I got to the end of the first part and instantly had to start the second, and then the third. Actually what I did was stop the film, got another cup of soda and a snack and then dove in. I loved the break because it gave me a couple of minutes to process what I was seeing.

Honestly I was afraid this was going to be a variation on the recent HBO doc BABY GOD about a similar tale. However from the opening minutes we are in better and much richer territory. This is a film that realizes that there is a hell of a lot to say about a story like this and then says it in such away that it will haunt you for days afterward.

One of the great surprises and must sees to come out of this year's Sundance

One For The Road (2021) Sundance 2021

 I am going to be honest- I don't know what I think of ONE FOR THE ROAD. Actually I do know, I love the film but I am not certain to what degree.

The film is the story of a man named Boss. He owns a bar in New York. Out of the blue he gets a call from an old friend Aood. Aood is dying and he wants to travel across Thailand and close out accounts with friends he feels he wronged. He needs Boss to go home and travel with him.

Yes, we've been here before, this is a road film after all, but director Baz Poonpiriya makes it something special. Taking a great cast, a light but assured touch that quietly wraps it's hands around your heart and a soundtrack that is one of the most perfect I've ever run across, Baz has fashioned a deeply moving film. Several times over the course of the film I stared at the screen tears streaming down my cheeks thanks to characters I loved and a perfect selection of songs. 

I can't stress how amazing the score is. A mix of songs from everywhere, including well worn rock classics, each song is perfectly deployed. Even the ones you never wanted to hear again is made glorious by how Baz has stitched it into the fabric of the film.

The truth is the craft of film is as good as it gets. In the press notes Baz Poonpiriya says that this is the first of  his films where he said his true self was revealed. He said that working with Wong Kar Wai, who produced the film, allowed him to let the real filmmaker out. May the filmmaker never go back in. I am in awe of this film, it shouldn't work, he shouldn't be able to take a film that is nominally a road film that we've seen before, mix in songs and images that are overly familiar and have it all come out in away that is truly unique and deeply moving.  What cinema god is on his side because I want them on mine too.

Did I say that I loved this film?

I loved it so much I screamed out loud because I saw it while it was under embargo and I couldn't gush about it in public. 

Highly recommended ONE FOR THE ROAD is on my best of 2021 list and it has taken up a place in my heart.

A must see.

Noting The Touch of the Master's Hand (2021) Sundance 2021


A Mormon Missionary has to come clean about his porn addiction to one of his bosses.

It happens from time to time but here is a short film that completely is lost to me. I honestly have no idea what I am supposed to get from this film.  It’s either too long or too short depending on your take on the film.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Souvenir Souvenir (2021) Sundance 2021

Bastien Dubois attempts to come to terms with what may or may not have happened during the time his grandfather was fighting in Algerian War.

In a wonderfully unexpected way SOUVENIR SOUVENIR has a lot to say about how we see our past, how our families see it, and what we choose to share with the ones we love. It also asks how much do we want to know (Dubois never did basic research that might have told him what he wanted to know via other means.) Its a film that doesn't take the expected road and as a result we are in much richer territory since there is much we have to sort out for ourselves.

As a historian of sorts, and a documentary fan I was fascinated by the effort that went into trying to pry loose the stories he wanted to hear. I never had the problem of not being told anything. My relatives loved to talk about things. It wasn't until recently that I found out that my dad had to pry out stories of the second world war from his father and other relatives. They simply didn't want to share the horror. Watching something similar play out in the film I connected to the past of my own family.

This film is a stunner. I highly recommend it.

Snowy (2021) Sundance 2021

 Snowy is the story of a turtle that was purchased by a family 24 years ago and is still going. Unfortunately he seems depressed. Is there a way t make him happy?

This is a small gem of a film. It isn’t high art. It isn’t going to rattle the pillars of heaven by  the end of the film you will have a stupid grin on your face  simply because you will see the change in Snowy as events transpire. 

This film is a delight and recommended.

Doublespeak (2020) Sundance 2021


A woman who has filed a sexual harassment complaint finds her story twisted and her world upended by the people investigating it. 

Tense short film highlights the problems women face when filing charges against their co-workers. While they have not done anything wrong they find it difficult to make people believe what they say happened really happened. 

This is a great little film that tells its tale and makes it's case near perfection. Its a film that is going to leave you rattled.


Three Sundance Shorts GNT, THE FOURFOLD and THE AFFECTED

 Brief word on three short films playing Sundance, all recommended.


Wicked and wickedly funny animated film about things that most women would never talk about in public.  While this is” a film made for women by women” I found it funny and beautifully animated.



Mongolian mysticism meets stunning painted and stop motion animation. Myths and legends merge with stunning animation that made my jaw hang open. I also got really pissed off that Covid was preventing me from seeing this on a screen the size of a wall.


Funny and very pointed film about an airplane flight being held up by a woman who is refusing to be seated because a man is being extradited to Turkey.  We never see the protest simply the reaction of the flight crew and passengers who react to how they perceive events to be playing out.  This is a must see for any number of reasons, the best of which is it it just great and the calling card of director Rikke Gregersen who now is on my must watch list.

When We Were Bullies (2021) Sundance 2021


There is a point about five minutes in where WHEN WE WERE BULLIES hooks you. Its a moment where the director and a friend relate coming together decades after being in 5th grade and reconnecting when a film about a bullying incident reawakened their shared past. Its a moment of lightning where the film turns into something special, namely a look at how we see our miss deeds when we were kids.

What makes this film important as well as intriguing is the film's look that its a look a bullying, rather in that it looks at the event as we look back on it as an adult. It is not something any other film has done. I mean every film on the subject looks at the event in the moment, or at the kids involved. No one has looked at the effect on the bullying and how it affected who the kids became. This film does and its a stunner.

I am in awe of this film. This is a film that has opened doors for me and made me look back at my own life and ponder incidents from my past that I had long forgotten. Its a film that I don't want to talk about but discuss. I want to sit and watch the film again with friends and then talk about it ( I hate this Covid world we live in)

I'm not going to say any more because you just need to see this blind. So do yourself a favor and give this film a look. It will change how you see the world 

Highly recommended 

Sundance coverage is coming soon

 Its finally time for Sundance and as such I just want to leave a note for the small cadre of Unseen Films fans who check out the site in the mornings and the overnight. I haven’t forgotten you- however because of embargoes with the fest I can’t start posting Sundance reviews until 10am eastern time.

After 10 am things will get crazy.

Reviews will post as I am able to get them up after Embargo.

If you are a PR person or filmmaker who sent me a film I assure you I have seen everything that you have sent me and I will be using the time to the first public screening to get the reviews written.

And now off to continue writing.

A Ghost Waits hits VOD February 1

A handyman is hired to repair a rental property that has gone u for rent. He is also asked to find out  why the property is constantly having it's tenants leave mid-lease. What he discovers is the property is haunted by a beautiful ghost. Soon romance is in the air.

Cutesy romcom ponders whether a ghost and a human (who is kind of a ghost himself) can find a middle ground to be in love. This is an amusing little film that has it's charms. It's hell acted and heart felt which adds a great deal of likability to the proceedings. 

I was amused by the film.

Worth a look if cute romances between the living and the dead are up your alley.

Do Not Split (2020) is on Field of Vision


A look at the protests in Hong Kong that happened when the Chinese government proposed a law that would allow protesters to be extradited to the mainland.
This is a very good film that works best when allowing the protesters to talk about the situation and their feelings. I'm going to leave it there not because it's bad but because I want to discuss the film in regard to other films on the Hong Kong Protests and I don't think that's fair

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The excellent Prison Within hits Amazon Prime February 1

The Prison Within Trailer from Raw Love Productions on Vimeo.
Prison Within may very well be one of the best films of 2020. The year is still young but this out of nowhere masterpiece is a cage rattler of the right sort.

The film is an examination of what trauma does to us. More specifically it is focused on how the violence and abuse visited upon us turns some to crime and thus spreads the trauma onward. The film focuses on group in San Quentin prison which meets weekly to discuss the pain in the prisoners lives and the pain they have caused and then works to sort it out. We also get to hear from victims and the people running the various programs. The result is a visceral gut punch of the film that lays it all on the table.

This film caught me unaware. I was a typical prison film with some shots of the men talking, associated talking heads and very serious narration. I was expecting a good film that checked all the boxes and then moved on to the next thing. What I got instead was a film that didn’t check the boxes, what it did was checked the box and then explored the box. The men in the circle don’t just say something meaningful before we move on to the next thing, rather they talk at length about their lives and explain what they feel and why. The camera doesn’t cut away we are there and they are talking to us and the others in the room, and the result we are pulled deeper and deeper. What they are telling us hits home and we go from thinking we understand what the point of it all is to deeply and emotionally completely understanding (or as much as we can get from a 90 minute film)

I am absolutely floored. I am so floored that I know I am going to need another pass at this film to truly be able to write about it and discuss it. As it is I can’t say how important it is for you to just go see this film. An absolute must see of the highest order.

Beware of Dog (2020) is on VOD and DVD

A woman in Moscow with OCD tries to find a way to have normal relationship. Her cousin in Berlin tries to start a relationship despite being bi-polar. Meanwhile in New York a boxer deals with addiction, anxiety and the feeling he is just no good.

When I started BEWARE OF DOG I was very confused, not because it was bad, rather because for a long while I thought it was a documentary. Never mind there is an early scene where an attempt at love making is interrupted by the need to fold towels, this was way to raw and real not to be a documentary.

All hail writer director Nadia Bedzhanova for she has made one of the best films at Slamdance.  While I can quibble about some of the storytelling, I can not quibble with the fact that she has made a narrative film that feels real. Watching sequences I stopped seeing actors but instead felt I was watching real life instead. I've seen some of the things that happen in the film. I have had conversations with people about what it's like to deal with depression, addiction and bipolar swings and this film seems to have it.

More importantly Bedzhanova has not only written a script that gets it right, and filmed it in differing styles that brings it all home, she has found a cast to sell it. Marina Vasileva, Buddy Duress) and Paula Knüpling sell their stories perfectly. They are not even remotely characters but they are actual people and we are watching them deal with their very real problem.

As I said above I could quibble about the story telling, particularly some choppiness in how we move from story to telling, it's a quibble, what is on screen is choice and needs to be seen by a wide audience.


A Ship of Human Skin (2019)

Richard Bailey's A SHIP OF HUMAN SKIN is going to split audiences. You are either going to love this film or you are going to shut it off after five minutes. That is not to be taken as a bad thing, rather it is simply the result that Bailey's decidedly artistic style is not going to play well with anyone looking for a film that pays by Hollywood's established way of doing things.

I'm going to be upfront and say that this film challenged me. I put it on and I wasn't certain what I was seeing at first. Art film collides with a documentary style. A TV interview appears in the middle. There is a feel of docudrama. The film seems to shift genres. I wasn't certain what I was seeing and my initial reaction was to walk away.

And then something happened, my preconceived notions started to fall away. I started to lean into the film. I wanted to know what was going to happen and how Bailey was going to get me there. While I wasn't certain of this story of two young women and a murder, I was falling in love with the filmmaking and how it was making me feel. As someone who wants a film to engage me I was truly engaging with a film that was challenging me on all sorts of levels. This is a film that will challenge you.

I don't know how to critique this film. It's not tat I don't want to say  if it's good or bad, rather it is a matter of simply not being able to discuss it in terms of any other film. A SHIP OF HUMAN SKIN is not like anything you've seen before, or I've seen before and that limits what I can say.

What I am comfortable saying is that is you want a film that is exactly  like every other Hollywood narrative stay away. This film isn't for you. On the other hand if you want a one of kind, perhaps slightly off kilter work of art that you may or may not like, but which is going to grab you by the lapels and drag you t the finish a hundred minutes in the future this film is for you.

Or in other words this is exactly the sort of film Unseen Films was set up to highlight.

Submissions for the 44th Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF44) are open

 January 21, 2021, NEW YORK – Submissions for the 44th Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF44) are open! This year’s festival will be from August 11-22,  in the form of a hybrid festival: virtual with in-person events in NYC with safety protocols in-mind.

New Category Updates! AAIFF is excited to continue spotlighting the amazing storytelling online by the Asian diaspora. Digital/New Media has been split up to Digital/Web and VR/Interactive. Digital/Web will include Instagram Reels and TikToks, to highlight the innovative voices on these platforms. The VR/Interactive category will feature video games and other works in the field of emergent media.

New Awards! AAIFF44 will present craft specific awards, including Best Editing, Cinematography, and more.

The early bird deadline is February 15, 2021. All submissions must be made before April 15, 2021. For more information and to submit, head to

Event Description


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, AAIFF44 will be a hybrid festival, primarily virtual with limited in-person events designed for as much safety as possible in New York City. The majority of the virtual programming will be available across North America.

AAIFF has joined Seed and Spark's Film Festival Survival pledge regarding virtual screenings and eligibility. If you held a piece completed in 2019 in hopes for physical screening in 2020/2021 but would like to submit for a virtual screening now in 2021, you are eligible as long as the piece never screened virtually in 2020. More info about the Seed and Spark Film Festival Survival pledge please see

Some category updates: Digital/New Media has been split up to Digital/Web and VR/Interactive. Digital/Web can include IG Reel/TikTok compilations. VR/Interactive can include video games. More information about the revised categories below.

New Awards! We're adding craft specific awards this year include best editing, cinematography, and more. More information below.

If there are any questions, concerns, or financial assistance requests, please email

The Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF) is proudly known as "The First Home to Asian American Cinema." Organized by Asian CineVision, it's the first and longest-running festival dedicated to showcasing the moving image work by media artists of Asian descent for and about the Asian diaspora experience. The Festival takes place in New York City, the second-largest Asian American market in the U.S. Every year, AAIFF attracts audiences from all five boroughs of New York City, the tri-state region, and around the world.

Asian CineVision (ACV) is a media arts nonprofit devoted to the development, exhibition, promotion, and preservation of Asian and Asian American experiences through storytelling. Our mission is to nurture and grow the community of makers and lovers of Asian and Asian American independent film, television, and digital.

Films submitted and screened at the festival are eligible to participate in our National Tour program, bringing Asian diaspora stories to broader audiences across North America through a rental service for cultural and educational institutions.

Awards and Prizes

Jury Presented Awards


















By Audience Votes





Additionally, AAIFF presents The Asian American Media Award and the Asian Media Humanitarian Award to those who have contributed significantly to Asian American media. Since its inception in 1987, recipients have included:

Wayne Wang (1987); Loni Dong (1988); Christine Choy (1989), James Yee (1990), Steven Okazaki (1991); Mira Nair (1992), Ang Lee (1993); Joan Chen (1994); Kayo Hatta and Freida Lee Mock (1995), Russell Wong (1996); Jessica Yu and Arthur Dong (1997), Michelle Yeoh (1998); Sammo Hung (1999); Andy Lau (2000); Tamlyn Tomita (2001); Marilou Diaz-Abaya (2002); Jet Li and Maggie Cheung (2005); Janet Yang (2012); Kara Wai (2016); and Justin Chon (2017).

Rules and Terms:

Eligible projects include:

•Completed submissions that have at least one person of Asian descent from any nationality in a key creative role i.e. Director, Writer, Producer, DP, etc.

•Completed submissions that represent the Asian diaspora experience.

People of Asian descent includes but is not limited to people from and are descended from areas now known as Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Russia, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, and the Pacific Islands.













Tuesday, January 26, 2021

What Happened Was (1994) hits virtual theaters starting Friday

The question I've been asking for the last 30 years is why hasn't Tom Noonan been making more films as a director? Noonan's films, I believe there are only, four features are magnificent inde films that are the sort of things that are exactly what you want a really good film- a unique view of the world that doesn't look or feel like a movie but some part of real life. Yes, Noonan is an underrated actor but the truth of the matter is he is an unheralded master director whose small chamber pieces kick you in the chest and make you end up talking to your friends for days afterward.

I know about talking about Noonan's films for days afterward. Way back when his first film WHAT HAPPENED WAS came out my friend Lou saw it and fell in love it it.  It was playing at the local art house, then the New Community Cinema now the Cinema Arts Center, and he came back raving about the film. We literally spent hours talking about the film despite my not having seen it. When I saw it the conversations started up all over again as we pulled the film apart and marveled at the wonderful things it was doing.

What the film was doing was laying open the dynamic of a relationship. A man and a woman meet for a date and then things go all over the place as  lies are discovered and truths are revealed. It is part comedy and part heartbreaking look at loneliness and the human condition. Its a beautifully acted piece that is often a hard thing to sit through since it touches on some truths we may not want to deal with. As good as it is, I can't imagine what this would have been like to do on stage night after night since it is a film that has some really raw moments, what would it be like to expose yourself every night?

WHAT HAPPENED WAS is quite simply a masterpiece. Seeing the film again for the first time in over a decade in order to write this piece, I found that it all came back to me. In some ways it was good, because it was a delight seeing an old fiend, but in some ways it was bad because in the 3 decades since it's release I found that I had enough miles under my belt that the film echoed more for me than I would have liked. The result was it's final third hit me like a ton of bricks.

Thirty years on WHAT HAPPENED WAS still haunts me. It is a film that has never left me since I first heard about it. Where so many other films have been lost to the winds of time, It has never disappeared completely. Will you have that reaction  when you see it? Perhaps not but I suspect that it will hit you hard enough you'll want to tell your friends and to search out the other films of Tom Noonan.

WHAT HAPPENED WAS has been restored by Oscilloscope and hits virtual theaters beginning Friday

The full version of A WOMAN'S WORK: THE NFL'S CHEERLEADER PROBLEM (2019) hits VOD today

As bad as the NFL treats its injured players it abuses the women who make up the cheerleaders and dance squads even worse. Paid almost no money and forced to sign contracts that call them independent contractors instead of what they are, employees, the women are driven into debt and worse by a system stacked against them.

A WOMAN'S WORK is the story of a woman named Lacy T who sued the Oakland Raiders for all the money she spent trying to remain beautiful. It is also the story of several of the Buffalo Jills cheerleaders for similar unfair employment practices. Its a shocking story that most people don't know about even if they are already aware of the NFL's lack of basic human decency.

The struggle for women to earn a living wage from the NFL is a story that needs to reach far and wide. I've been following the  story since HBO's Real Sports did a segment on the subject. It is nice that the subject is getting a feature treatment since people need to be told that this is going on.

While there is no doubt this isn't as serious as the need to do something about severe brain trauma, the fact that an organization as big as the NFL is screwing over some of it's people, especially ones that are as visible as they are is just wrong. It is a fact that director Yu Gu's film highlights perfectly.

A WOMAN'S WORK will piss you off and as such is a must see.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Sundance Curtain Raiser

Days away from the start of this year's Sundance and I'm still trying to sort out what form my coverage will take. I've seen a bunch of films, most really good and I'm going to see a bunch more.

This is the first year I am officially credentialed. Its not that didn't want to be previously, but rather until this year you really had to be there. This year its largely a virtual fest so I could stay home and cover it. I was kind of hoping that I could wander in and see it all and then wander out, but the set up is different and I've had to put extra thought and consideration into what I'm doing because I can't see it all - though I'm still trying to make a stab at it.

So far I seem to be making good headway. At the same time so many films are still being worked on that they haven't been ready for anyone outside of the festival committee to see them. I'm still waiting for access to most of the films playing the festival.

While Sundance tends to be the first festival most films play at they do occasionally pick up films from elsewhere. To that end here are the films I have previously covered:

NIGHT OF THE KINGS is one of the best films I saw in 2020
YOU WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND is a loopy scifi short
IN THE AIR TONIGHT is a look at the Phil Collins classic
VIOLATION is a thriller that will curl your toes- just don't read anything about what happens

And what would a curtain raiser be without some must sees - here are the musts from the handful of films I've seen so far:

PLAYING WITH SHARKS-visually over powering film about Valerie Taylor who is singlehandedly responsible for our not seeing sharks as mindless killers. (I should hopefully be running an interview with the director and producer about the film)

SEEDS OF DECEIT  forget the HBO film BABY GOD, this 3 part series about a  fertility doctor who used his own sperm covers similar ground and way more. It will get your mind going and then some.

SOUVENIR SOUVENIR about director Bastien Dubois's effort to find out what happened to his grandfather in the Algerian war kicks up questions about what we know about our families and the secrets we keep.

HUMAN FACTORS is about the course of a marriage centered around a break in at a summer home, but it is much more. I highly recommend you see this film sooner than later because I suspect the talk about it will ruin the chance to see it blind.

ONE FOR THE ROAD- A dying young man asks his friend to return home and help him run some errands making amends. A killer soundtrack heightens one of the most moving films I've seen in years. 

REBEL HEARTS- the story of some nuns in the 1960's who challenged the church and society and did what they felt was right in the name of justice and the advancement of everyone. Look for this to be on the Oscar short list.

And with that I bid you a adieu as I go back to the darkness and try to catch up on all the great films playing at Sundance.

The Night (2020) opens Friday

THE NIGHT is the story of a couple and their infant daughter who leave a party with friends and break down on the way home. Refusing to go back they instead take a room in a hotel nearby for the night. As the night goes on things begin to go sideways and it looks like there is a malevolent force in the hotel with designs on the family.

Kudos to director Kourosh Ahari for making a sweet little thriller. A creepy uneasy tale, the film uses silences and shadows to great effect. It also uses the fact that the film is a mix of English and Persian to further ratchet up the suspense. If you need a good example of why we need voices that are more than just white male, this film is it. While the film seems to be set in America, the mixture of cultures creates a gumbo that spices up everything up since we never know which way things are going to go.

I don’t know what else to say other than when you get a chance to see The Night do so. Get yourself a huge bowl of popcorn and beverage of choice and curl up in your seat and get ready for some winter chills.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Nightcap 1/24/21- The 26th Verse or Nate Hood waxes on Pixar's Soul (plus Slamdance's killer pricing and other random bits)

This piece by Nate Hood originally appeared in the newsletter for the First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach.

One of the most beautiful passages in the entire Bible is the twenty-sixth verse of the second chapter of Genesis. It happens immediately after God reaches into Adam, plucks a rib, and makes the first woman, Eve, with it. In this wonderful verse, all is well in God’s creation. Man and Woman live together with God in perfect harmony in the Garden, naked, unashamed, innocent. The very next verse introduces the Serpent, and with it a disruption of the Garden’s peace. From there all things rush inevitably towards the Fall. But here in the twenty-sixth verse everything is As It Should Be.

There is, of course, no twenty-sixth verse.

If there was a time of perfect contentment between God and God’s Creation, when all of our needs were met and satisfied, the Bible’s writers thought them irrelevant to the story they sought to tell. I suspect a certain pragmatism on their part, a need to jump straight to the roots of humanity’s current misery and loneliness, our lingering sense of misdirection which so often seems distant from the hand of a loving God. There’s too much sorrow and too little sense in these lives of ours to dwell on a pre-historic time when everything was new and fresh and perfect. 

The rest of Genesis—the rest of the entire Bible, even—is the search for this twenty-sixth verse. Humanity has many names for it: the meaning of life, one’s raison d’être, our “purpose.” But whatever we call it, it’s the intangible something we hope will fill the meaning-sized hole in our lives. Some are lucky enough to find it. Some find their life’s purpose in ministry or helping others. Some teach. Some heal. Some build. Some parent. But Joe Gardner? His twenty-sixth verse is music. Ever since the day his dad dragged him into a murky Manhattan jazz club, he knew the sole reason he was put on this earth was to play the piano. It’s what makes him feel complete, like he’s found his center in this universe, his Peace in the Garden. So he toils away at a thankless job teaching middle school band, gigging and auditioning, hoping he can make it as a musician and finally feel whole.

And then, on the day he gets his dream gig at the legendary Half-Note Club, he falls down an open manhole and dies. This is how Pete Docter’s Soul, the latest film from Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios, opens. From there we watch as Joe’s disembodied spirit struggles to get back to his body in time for his performance. After ducking the line to the Great Beyond, he finds himself stuck in the Great Before, a strange land where pre-born souls are molded and readied for life. Through a series of very odd circumstances, he finds himself back on earth trapped in the body of a cat while his actual body is possessed by 22, a rebellious unborn soul he met in the Great Before who has spent literal millennia trying to avoid being born. All you need to know about 22—who is voiced by Tina Fey—is that she chooses to sound like a middle aged white lady because she believes it’s the most annoying voice a person can have and she loves tormenting others with it.

Joe and 22’s odyssey is one of the stranger ones in recent Pixar movies, due in no small part to the involvement of Docter who’s been responsible for some of the studio’s riskiest and most introspective films. He was the filmmaker who gave us Up (2009) with its opening montage which somehow crammed the entire lives of a married couple from their meeting as children to the man’s lonely widowerhood in five heartbreaking minutes. He also directed Inside Out (2015) which dived into the landscape of a young girl’s emotions for a story which argued that negative feelings are just as important as positive ones as they’re all part of what makes a person a person. Docter’s protagonists seldom seek a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow or a princess to rescue from a tower. Instead they find themselves on journeys of self-discovery. They all seek their twenty-sixth verse.

Soul is one of the best Pixar movies in recent years, barely missing the herculean heights of the studio’s golden age in the 00s. There are a couple reasons for this, from its overcomplicated mythos of extra-dimensional zones and intra-dimensional beings to a reliance on slapstick humor that feels like a loss of nerve on the filmmakers’ part, almost like they were afraid their high-concept material would fly over their audience’s head if they didn’t jangle keys in front of them every now and then. And, as many black critics have pointed out, it’s the latest in a depressingly long line of children’s animated films where a black protagonist spends the majority of the film in an animal’s body.

But when Soul is good it’s not just good, it’s great. I won’t give away what happens in the film, but I will linger for a moment on a scene near the end after Joe returns to his apartment after getting his body back. He’s ostensibly gotten his life back in order, attaining the one thing he thought he wanted more than anything else. And yet he still feels unsatisfied. So he puts all the knickknacks and mementos of his whirlwind day on his piano and just…plays. Slowly memories start to wash over him. Good ones. Bad ones. Memories shared with loved ones. Memories spent alone. Memories of boredom and emptiness, of simple contentment in simple things. Light through tree branches. New York City’s skyline. A bite of warm pie. All the things that make Joe a very small part in a very big universe, but one nonetheless so important, so necessary, so loved that his absence caused it to grind to a halt to find him. In that moment Joe realizes that life isn’t our hopes and dreams. Life isn’t our failures or successes. Life is all the moments in-between, no matter how insignificant. The meaning of life is found in its living, and this living is in itself sacred and holy.

I like to think Joe discovered that there is no twenty-sixth verse. We’re all too busy living it.


The Sundance Film Festival starts this week, A  curtain raiser will run tomorrow.

There will be no Nightcap next weekend because I will be covering the fest.


Slamdance, which runs February 12th to the 25th is only $10 for everything. 

Yes you can see every film playing the festival for only 10 bucks. Considering it always has some of the best films of the year and certainly many of the most interesting you really need to get a pass and binge.

Trust me its such a good deal that it kind of is pointless for me to review anything because you don't have to pick and choose and you won't feel bad if you don't like something you can just move on to something else with no loss.

Details can be found here.


The great streaming platform Fandor has been purchased by Cinedigm. It's going to be run by Phil Hopkins who runs the excellent The Film Detective.

This bodes well for the future