Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Grand Bolero (2022)


Gabriele Fabbro has made his first feature film and the film world should be shaking in its boots. What will he do for an encore? Looking more like a film from the great Italian filmmakers from the 1960's or 70's Fabbro has fashioned a Gothic chamber piece that is firing on all cylinders from the first frame to the last.

The plot is simple. A young mute woman gets a job at a church in order to ride out the lockdown and learn how to restore organs. Her teacher, a cranky middle-aged woman wants no part of it, but her boss insists.  When the young woman is discovered to have great musical talent, her boss begins to melt and then things get messy....

A truly amazing achievement on every level GRAND BOLERO rocks the pillars of heaven from the start. Perfectly painted images set an emotional tone that is matched by the first-rate cast. Oscar missed out in nominating Lidia Vitale for best actress. It is exactly the sort of emotional role that Oscar normally eats up, and which audiences take to their hearts. This may end up being a touchstone role for her, with it being the role everyone talks about.

The film reminded me of any number of great Italian films of the past but dressed up as something new. While I could take the easy way out and compare the film to any number of gaillos as a means of shorthand, it would be wrong to do so. Fabbro has fashioned something greater. This is a psychological dance that transcends any genre to be something more. It may feel like a thriller but the truth is the film is a portrait of desire and the souls of the characters. This is a film that sets up new designations of what a film is.

I am floored.

While I know Fabbro has made a large number of short films I don't think I've ever seen as masterful a first feature. It is a film made with such an assured hand that you would swear he's been doing it for years. This is a film feature directors build toward not start from. The first features of the masters of cinema were not as assured as this film.  And truth be told no matter who made this film I would have still been amazed only I would have been asking why I hadn't heard of him before.

GRAND BOLERO is an absolute must...especially if you want to see the first feature work of a director who just might end up rewriting cinema history.

GRAND BOLERO is currently streaming on Amazon


ALive (2022)


Low key English zombie film has a young woman and her brother trying to survive during the outbreak of a mysterious disease which turns out is really a zombie plague.

Running closer to films like Schwarzenegger’s MAGGIE, or Sabu’s MISS ZOMBIE, ALIVE is all about the people. Yes the film has some violence, however it is not full of blood and guts and gore. Also while the film has suspense , it really isn’t a full on horror film since it focuses on how the characters interact and the terrible things people do more than the zombies. It’s more a thriller with horror overtones.

I liked ALIVE. In an age where 95% of the zombie films are all riffs on the same handful of plots over and again, it’s nice to see a film that goes in another direction.

Worth a look.

Monday, January 30, 2023

The Locksmith (2023)


I went into seeing THE LOCKSMITH with no expectations. The cast is good. The trailer looked like it was more than a pay check job. And on top of it all I figured I could use something to clean the palette from Sundance and Slamdance. I figured if nothing else it would be something mindless.

Was I shocked when the film turned out to be one of the best B crime thrillers in a very long time.

Ryan Phillippe stars as Miller a young safe cracker who gets sent up and sent to prison by a dirty cop. Ten years later Miller gets out of prison and is helped by his friend played by Ving Rhames. All Miller wants to do is connect with his daughter, and maybe his ex-girlfriend who is now a cop herself. However things become complicated as now grown up girl he used to know wants him to pull a job for her. Also the dirty cop is still around and he wants Miller gone or under his control.

Tense crime drama is one of the best of the ex-con gets out of prison genre of the last few years. Extremely well crafted and boasting a cast to die for THE LOCKSMITH grabs our attention. While the film does use some of the expected tropes, it only uses them as starting points, sending the narrative off in less traveled ways. You aren't going to know where this is going.

I loved this film a great deal.  It's good enough that half way through I wish my dad was still alive so I could share it with him. He loved good thrillers like this and he would have been delighted by it.

Highly recommended.

Grand Master of Kung Fu (2022) hits digital January 31 and is on Hi YAH! now


During the occupation of China by Japan a Chinese martial artist has a battle with the head of the Japanese forces.

Fast moving action film is incredibly jingoistic. This is a film that is very much about making a large loud point about foreign intervention into China and how the quiet Chinese will kick the ass of anyone who tries to invade. As a piece of big and loud propaganda the film is a bust since it's too strident to be taken seriously. (Actually this is one of the least propaganda films I've seen from the country)

As an action film this film is breezy and mindless fun. Intending on making no inroads in stories, character the film simply functions as a 75 minute series of fights.  Well done with lots of wire work they carry the film along as the politics slows things down. 

Is this the greatest thing since sliced bread? Not even close  but the film hits the right notes and the action is good so I had a good time.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Human Rights Watch Film Festival San Diego is February 2- 9


This week the San Diego stop of the Human Rights Film Festival is happening via Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) . A mix of in person and streaming  screenings the festival is highlighting the infringement of basic human rights in stories from around the global 

I love the festival and I have been covering the New York version of the festival for over a decade and other iterations as they were offered. To me this is a vital festival and I always make an effort to cover it where and when I can...even to the point of agreeing to cover this version while in the middle of Sundance and Slamdance.

One film is screening in person and the others are screening on line. Three of the streaming films will have one line Zoom Q&As at the listed time.

MOPA's page for the festival is here

Human Right's Watch page for the festival is here.

All of the films are good. All the films should be seen


CLARISSA'S BATTLE
(Only screening in Person on 2/2. Q&A and reception to follow)
A look at the battle being fought by Clarissa Doutherd in order to bring child care to her community and communities around her. We watch as Clarissa  gathers her troops and begins to get support for the government funded child care that everyone should be able to get.

This is a solid portrait of a woman and her cause. It is a wonderful blueprint for other people to use not only to do something similar for their own communities but also for other battles that need to be waged.

Worth a look.

These films screen remotely with a Q&A to follow at the listed time


AND STILL I SING
 (Zoom Q&A 2/7 at 5PM Pacific Time)
A look at Afghan singers Zahra Elham and Sadiqa Madadgar as they are mentored by superstarAryanna Sayeed to compete on the Afghan version of American Idol. However things become dire when the Taliban begin to retake the country.

Politics meet entertainment as three woman seek to show the world that there is more to Afghanistan than religious zealousness. This is a moving story of three woman struggling to do the thing they love and to bring hope to the people of their country.

While events will clue you as to how this is going to go, the film is still worth seeing because of the three amazing women at the center. You will be moved.



#IAMVANESSGUILLEN (Zoom Q&A 2/8 at 5PM Pacific Time)
Deeply moving look at sexual harrassment and violence in the American military in the wake of the disappearance and murder of Vanessa Gullien at Fort Hood. Fellow soldier Karina Lopez who was also assaulted at the base went public with her story with the titled has tag and helped to fan the flames of a possible change.

You will get pissed off as the depth of the military's refusal to do anything is revealed. Thing are really bad as the military simply tries to cover things up instead of stopping the problem. While the film shows us that things are perhaps moving toward change, it also makes clear the damage that has been done over the years,

A vital and important film


UÝRA: The Rising Forest
 (Zoom Q&A 2/9 at 5PM Pacific Time)
Portrait of indigenous trans artist Uyra as she travels through the amazon.

This is a one of a kind film, one part travelogue, one part bio and one part work of art, about a one of a kind person. Highlighting the state of LGBT individuals in Brazil the film also amplifies the experiences of the indigenous population.

Dreamy trippy film, this film worked best for me visually. I loved the strange images the Uyra conjured up for the camera. 

The following films are available to screen at any time during the festival. There will be no Q&As for them. (These reviews ran as coverage at previous festivals)

CATEGORY WOMAN


This is a look at World Champion runner Caster Semenya who, due to biology of birth has naturally high androgen levels which athletic governing bodies suddenly claim are not allowed since it gives her an unfair advantage. Forced to change her biology if she wants to compete the film examines what it means to be a woman.

There have been been several news stories and documentaries on Semenya and the problem of people claiming the hormone levels some how makes her not a woman and this one is the best.

This film  made angry since it's clear that  a bunch of guys who don't understand biology are making stupid pronouncements. How did these boos get put in charge of anything?  Cutting to the chase this is a great and an important film that lays everything out in ways that make the athletic bodies look like fools.

The film is a must.

DELIKADO


Delikado is  hell of a film. The film is the story  of the people on the island of Palawan in the Philippines who are fighting to keep their rain forest intact. One of the last rain forests in the world that hasn’t been severely compromised by the action of mankind the jungle is coveted by the rich and powerful. Who work to take to control of the land and resources by any means necessary.  Feeding into the madness is the former President Duterte’s criminal war on drugs, a reign of terror in disguise, where official and unofficial hit squads killed or brutalized anyone that they deemed part of the drug trade.

Lush and beautiful landscapes are counterbalanced by the evil that men do as activists and local officials are forced to fight the main government and interlopers. It’s a story which will make you angry.

The film is a portrait of three people Bobby Chen head of the Palawan NGO Network Inc (PNNI) which goes into the jungle to stop the illegal destruction of the rain forest. Efren "Tata" Balladeres, a one time government agent, turned activist and Nieves Rosento, mayor of one of the towns on the island. She is loved by her constituents and wants to keep the jungle intact. However her opponent is backed by the Philippines psychotic President Duterte and has been labeled as being in league with the drug dealers which makes her a target for the hit squads.

Structured like a thriller the film shows us the dangers of protecting the jungle and the land from the forces seeking to exploit the land for the profit of a few.  And there is danger since one of the people we are following dies during the course of the film. While you will watch the film for the suspense, the reality is you should see the film because it will make you understand just how the environment is under attack and how big business and big money doesn’t care who dies so they get money.

This is a great film and highly recommended

Be prepared to get angry.

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood (2023) Sundance 2023


This is a gorgeously shot documentary simply records a group of women in a sauna as they talk about their lives and the world. 

This is a deliberately paced film that is exactly like hanging out with the women. Shot in such a way that we never see the faces of any of them, the women seem to open up in ways that women only open up to  other women. Being a guy I felt like I was intruding on a private conversation.

This is a super film that should be getting a lot of appearances on the festival circuit so make an effort and see it.

Liz Whittemore of Reel News Daily on Fantastic Machine (2023) Sundance 2023

 


Memory preservation, emotional resonance, exploration, and exposure of truth, FANTASTIC MACHINE explores the history of capturing the first image to the deliberate curation of media content through the ages.

The swiftness of the manipulation of images shocked me. From the beginning, the film is ruthless in its takedown of perceived truth. It is what we don’t see changes everything. Fantastic Machine has outtakes from a 2017 ISIS propaganda video, Eurovision’s use of the green screen in their scoring reports, how-to YouTube videos, and viral video reactions. At one point, I exclaimed, “What The Fuck,” louder than I intended.

The power of curated messaging in politics is something we know well. The film features a breathtaking 1993 interview with a filmmaker that changed the face of WW2 and modern-day filmmakers. In 1934, The Nazi Party hired Leni Reifenstahl to show the movement as powerful and attractive. She speaks about the entertainment factor, how a two-hour speech must be compressed to five minutes with a beginning, middle, and thrilling middle, despite the subject. As I witnessed the pride in her technical work, my mouth was agape. Juxtapose those images with the Sidney Bernstein footage from the final day of the war in 1945. Charged with proving the atrocities of war ever existed, Bernstein brings humanity, suffering, and truth. In the end, it is a product. In most cases, it is void of morality.

Maximilien Van Aertryck narrates with a profound statement: “A lack of perspective can distort what the world looks like.” There is such a fine line between propaganda and truth. We are all too familiar with this tactic. The results of media manipulation are monumentally dangerous but immensely lucrative. Instagram is rewiring young brains in a similar manner fashion magazines impacted our self-esteem in the 90s. It, quite literally, changes brain chemistry. The editing from Mikel Cee Karlsson and writer-directors Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck is award-worthy. As the saying goes, they understood the assignment.

FANTASTIC MACHINE is ceaselessly fascinating and undeniably disturbing to experience. As a commentary on entertainment, it is both a celebration and a condemnation. Sundance 2023 audiences are in for something absolutely brilliant.

For more from Liz check out her regular home at Reel News Daily

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Liz Whittemore on A Perfect Day For Caribou (2023) Slamdance 2023


We find Herman with a tape recorder in hand, giving estranged son Nate life tips and recalling snippets of random stories from his past. When his phone rings, he finds Nat on the other end, requesting a visit. Nate arrives with his six-year-old son Ralph in tow. Three generations in the same place for the first time, Herman and Nate swap stories as they play catch-up with one another as Ralph explores the cemetery with his soccer ball. Midway through the film, Ralph goes missing. Father and son search the surrounding area far and wide, with Nate explaining this is a habit of Ralph’s. Their talk continues along the way, Herman toting a mysterious box with them and Nate chainsmoking as a coping mechanism. A Perfect Day for Caribou catches Slamdance 2023 audiences off-guard with honesty and reflection.

The film opens with Jeb Berrier and a glorious 10-plus minute monologue of stories and advice. His delivery lands somewhere between stoic and hypnotizing. It is an extraordinary turn. Charlie Plummer never ceases to amaze me with his grounded portrayals. It’s like watching a documentary. Plummer settles into Nate without missing a beat. His calming demeanor, similar to Berrier’s, grabs you instantly. Rutherford’s script allows Plummer to break free as the story progresses, and again, he nails it. There is a purity to the performance.

Cinematographer Alfonso Herrera Salcedo‘s work is beautiful. The combination of black-and-white and thoughtful framing captures your attention immediately. I adored the stationary swings. Long takes allow the audience to focus on the dialogue, heightening the emotional investment. The location is a cemetery and the surrounding open plains. Something about this choice speaks volumes on a metaphoric level. Short intercut scenes surprise and delight.

The film is a perfect fit for Slamdance 2023. Writer-director Jeff Rutherford offers an intimate portrait of attempted redemption and connection. Complete with full-circle moments, A Perfect Day for Caribou is a mesmerizing character study brimming with complexity.

For more from Liz check out her regular home at Reel News Daily

Liz Whittemore of Reel News Daily on Who's Annie (2023) Slamdance 2023


A farcical meta delight, Slamdance 2023 episodic WHO’S ANNIE skewers the absurdity of Hollywood, but that’s only the beginning. Annie Pisapia plays herself and doesn’t. Yup. You read that correctly. This “series within a series” is wildly entertaining and wholly bizarre.

Writer-director Sophia Peer plays “herself,” a television director with awkward and quirky energy. Peer bears a striking resemblance to Rhea Pearlman. It’s a head-scratching role, and I could not look away. Sofia Dobrushin plays the “series” version of Peers. Wide-eyed and perfectly cast, Dobrushin appears both afraid and at home in coordinated chaos. I adored her. Annie Pisapia owns the screen, as her comic timing is something to behold. Her rough exterior feels part false flag, part true identity. She is so convincing it is genuinely tough to discern between Annie’s real life and the script. That is the entire point of the series, and Peer has succeeded with flying colors. Adding in Peer’s manic confidence and Dobrushin’s “yes, and” attitude, these three women exquisitely complement one another.

Because the show jumps in style, so does the cinematography. It is eye candy that never gets boring. It is pure silliness, and I’m dying for more. It’s Comedy Central meets Mad TV. There is a lot of meat on the bone for series development. Everyone has enough (or a lot) of backstory to expand upon and plenty of weirdness to start. WHO’S ANNIE is unique in this Slamdance 2023 episodic lineup.

For more from Liz check out her regular home at Reel News Daily

Friday, January 27, 2023

Baba (2023) Sundance 2023


An Iranian man tries to keep his apartment as things unravel one afternoon.

Movingly acted and beautifully shot BABA is a stunningly looking short film. It’s as good as a film can get on a technical level. Additionally Amir Zavosh rattles the pillars of heaven as a man under incredible stress. This is performance that should be up for an Oscar next year, except that Oscar acting awards doesn’t do short films.

The problem for me is that this really should have been a feature film.  Feeling more like the climax of a story than something complete. Threads are crashing in as the landlord comes knocking, a son tries to  translate w for his dad and a scammer tries to run off with a painting. There are way too many plot threads here, and while intellectually  things are resolved, emotionally we don’t have any connection. Who are these people? What is so special about the painting? We simply don’t know. I would be curious to try this again if it were turned into a feature.

Despite my reservations I’m recommending this because Zavosh is so damn good, you have to see the performance.

We Were Meant To (2023) Sundance 2023


The official synopsis of the film from the Sundance website is as follows:

“In a world where Black men have wings and their first flight is a rite of passage, Akil must defy fears, insecurities, and societal barriers while discovering his perfect launch into manhood.”

I am quoting it because my efforts to briefly explain the plot end up with me getting tongue tied as my love for the film gets crossed up with simply saying what the film is.

This film is something magical.

This is a film has a great deal to say about growing up for both men and women. I say this because women also go through something similar. 

This is perfect filmmaking. Writer director Tari Wariebi has assembled a magnificent cast and crew that sell the premise of men with wings. I also love the effects used to make us believe since they never look less then perfect. You will wonder how it was done even if you know how it was done.

How good is the film?

It moved me to tears with it’s perfect final image. Yes I suspected what it was going to be but it  didn’t matter because it was so perfectly realized.

A must see.

Unicorn Wars (2022) Animation First 2023


Based on director Alberto Vazquez ‘s near perfect black confection Unicorn Blood (my review is here), UNICORN WARS is a stunning brightly colored nightmare that is not for children but will delight adults who love the darkness. It’s a damning indictment of macho social interactions and warfare that will leave you feeling physically abused.

The plot of the film has a bunch of teddy bears training to go to war with the unicorns. The unicorns are to be wiped out and their blood is thought to have magical properties. As the bears train for war they deal with the macho mind games that push people to the edge.

Violent in the extreme this is a black comedy/horror film of the darkest sort. Don’t let the bright colors and cute designs fool you, by the time the film ends copious amounts of blood have flowed, terrible acts have been committed and the dead out number the living. This is a film that uses it’s violence for effect and the effect is shattering.

I suspect that some people in the audience aren’t going to not look past the bright colors and simply laugh at the carnage and cruelty. I couldn’t do so. While I laughed at some of the black jokes, mostly I was horrified. This is potent stuff even more so when it drops the pretense of the bright and shiny happiness. I say that because there is a dark monster lurking in this tale and it is truly frightening… and it is us.

This is a mirror up to the dark soul of humanity and it is beyond frightening. If you want to know why war and violence and simply cruelty happen look no farther than this film. This is truly one of the best anti war and anti-violence films you will ever see.

It also maybe one of the best films you will see this year.

Highly recommended.

Austin Belzer has been interviewing everyone at Slamdance Part 2: talking to the filmmakers behind STARRING JERRY AS HIMSELF, WITH PETER BRADLEY and LOVE DUMP

More from Austin Belzer of Austin B Media. Austin has been doing a nigh impossible task which is doing an endless number of interviews and reviewing films and other festival coverage.  The man amazes me. 

Because he's a good guy he is allowing me to share his Slamdance interviews with all of you. To this end here are his talk with the filmmakers from STARRING JERRY AS HIMSELF, WITH PETER BRADLEY and LOVE DUMP. 

And because you are going to like what he does bookmark his website: AUSTIN B MEDIA

Petit Mal Opens Today

Here is my brief review from when PETIT MAL was on the festival circuit last year. 


PETIT MAL
Three women in a throuple have to figure out how to keep the dynamic alive when one of the trio goes away for an extended period. This is a good little film. In a festival where poly-amorous films are full of high drama it's nice to see a film that keeps it closer to real. Worth a look. 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Liz Whittemore of Reel News Daily on SMOKE SAUNA SISTERHOOD (2023) Sundance 2023

 


Liz Whittemore of Reel News Daily  loves SMOKE SAUNA SISTERHOOD

The ancient Estonian ritual of sauna building is a physical and spiritual cleansing. Women gather to share everything from funny childhood stories to earthly, almost guttural chants to intimate confessions with unfiltered honesty. Anna Hints‘ Sundance 2023 documentary Smoke Sauna Sisterhood is a visceral and profoundly deep film.

Mesmerizing closeups of body parts beading with sweat captured with static and handheld camerawork beautifully complement the conversations and place the audience inside the room. Haunting vocals during transition moments captivate the audience. Images of south Estonian matriarchs are projected on the sauna smoke as their voices recall tales from their lives. It is another stunning addition to an already visually sumptuous film.

The ancient Estonian ritual of sauna building is a physical and spiritual cleansing. Women gather to share everything from funny childhood stories to earthly, almost guttural chants to intimate confessions with unfiltered honesty. Anna Hints‘ Sundance 2023 documentary Smoke Sauna Sisterhood iTopics like cancer, women’s rights, body shaming, unresolved trauma, sex, and sexuality swirl freely. It is a safe space I envy. Smoke Sauna Sisterhood brings a contagious joy. There is a raw elegance I think Sundance 2023 audiences, specifically female viewers, will welcome. This film is a celebration of our complexities, highlighting the tender care we take with one another. It is revelatory to rediscover the interconnectedness of women and our shared experiences, good and bad. It is an astonishingly rewarding emotional catharsis.

For more from Liz go to her regular home, Reel News Daily

And the king said what a FANTASTIC MACHINE (2023) Sundance 2023


Destined to play many festivals after its premiere at Sundance And the king said what a FANTASTIC MACHINE  (or simply FANTASTIC MACHINE) is a look at how we view ourselves via the cameras that are everywhere, particularly in today’s world where we are posting things to the internet at an alarming rate.

I have been wrestling with this film for a while now. I’ve seen the film a couple of times now. I keep looking at the film trying to not so much get a handle on the film rather to work out how to really explain the film to you. While I can simply explain what the film is film (see above) I can’t really explain everything that it throws at us. This is the best sort of heady film, one that hangs with you whether you want it to or not.  In an age where everything is being dumbed down and handed to us FANTASTIC MACHINE assumes we are adults and can handle a lot of ideas and sort out the meaning for ourselves.  Yes some of this is  obvious, but at the same time when was the last time you stopped to think about any of this stuff.

This film is a trip and is recommended.

STARS IN THE ORDINARY UNIVERSE (2023) Slamdance 2023

 


STARS IN THE ORDINARY UNIVERSE was sent to me under the heading as the best film at the Slamdance film festival.  While I like the film, I wouldn’t say it’s the best, I could happily call it one of the most delightfully off kilter or wonderfully bent.  It’s a film that is too unique to fairly compare to any other film in the festival.

The film is three interconnected tales. The stories have to do with have to do with finding the meaning of life and point to it all. Characters come and go and follow odd trains of thought that actually aren’t that odd when you think about them. I mean what is the meaning of life and how do we determine that?

You will forgive me if I am not fully forth coming as to the details and meanings of this film but despite seeming simple and “straight forward” the film actually has a great deal rattling around in its head. The answers people are chasing in it are not easy ones. Even the notion of who is superior genetically or socially isn’t as simple as you think. It’s all kind of complicated by the dry sense of humor which makes things you think they are sending things up until the ideas come around.

Yea I’m having trouble trying to sort this out.

What a delight.

If you want heady films give this a try.

Iron Butterflies (2023) Sundance 2023


This  is a look at the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur which was shot down by Russian forces over eastern Ukraine in 2014 threw news video, reconstructions, trial footage and intercepted recordings.

This is going to be the most low key film you will see on the never ending Ukraine conflict. There is no narration only text that gives us context. Director Roman Liubyi is letting the words and images speak for themselves. Yes this is almost a decade before the current mess, but it is one of the key events in run up to now.

Full disclosure while I liked this film a great deal, seeing the film in the middle of a festival crush resulted in it not having the effect it should have. The film's low key nature is what I remember not the the emotional nature of the story of lives lost through stupidity, lack of caring and the evil nature of some parts of humanity.

If you want to understand the roots of the current conflict this film is a must see.

Little Nicholas (2022) Animation First 2023


Animated gem of a film is the dual story of the creation and creators of the Little Nicholas comic strip and the adventures of their character as well. Sweet little animated film begins with the creation of the Little Nicholas comic strip and then moves into the adventures of the little guy and his friends.

This film is a delight. It’s a “hand drawn” film that is certain to put a smile on your face. It’s a celebration  of a creation and the creators that is just a lot of fun. I just chuckled my way through the film from start to finish.

While the film is good fun from start to finish, I’m not going to lie and say it’s perfect. The sections of the films on creators René Goscinny, and Jean-Jacques Sempé where Nicholas isn’t involved are less compelling. Yes they are good, but the problem is its about the life of grown ups which makes them less fun that Nicholas. The Nicholas stuff is a blast and I’m so annoyed that I never ran into him before this.(I will have to track reprints down)

If you need to smile you need to see this.

Currently on the film is on the festival circuit Opening Animation First in NYC tomorrow and is absolutely worth your time. It

Punk Rock Vegan Movie (2023) Slamdance 2023


Moby tells the history of punk rock and veganism to a talking dog while they play chess.

This is a look at how the questioning nature of punk rock turned many musicians and fans into vegans and champions for animal rights. It's full of interviews and music. It's a film that is all about saving the other creatures in the world.

This is a good look veganism and music.  It's a film that works hard to make the point that animals have rights too.

And I kind of have to leave it there. While I enjoyed a lot of the stories told and the connection between food and music, there was a point where I disconnected. As good as much of this film is the trouble here is that the film pushes it's point really hard at times. It makes it clear where Moby and the people on screen stand which is fine, but there is very little respite from some of the lecturing. Its a stance I find a bit odd because several people talk about how they came to veganism by way of cool people who just sort of quietly sold it and let them make up their minds. Moby is more interested in making up our minds for us.

While I appreciate the message I could have used a softer sell.

That said this is worth a look if the subject interests you

Liz Whittemore on Troy (2022) Sundance 2023


The one and only Liz Whittemore of Reel News Daily continues her Sundance film festival coverage with a look at TROY

Living in New York has its ups and downs. No matter how expensive your apartments are, the walls are always paper thin. You come to know your neighbors for better or for worse. Director Mike Donahue and writer Jen Silverman give Sundance 2023 audiences so much in their 15-minute short film TROY.

Thea and Charlie share a wall with Troy. He has very loud sex 24/7. When the moans turn to arguments and tears, Thea and Charlie’s emotional investment in their mysterious neighbor’s life takes on a life of its own.

Adina Verson, Michael Braun, and Florian Klein dazzle. Klein’s physicality speaks volumes. It could have easily wandered into a goofy territory but remained wholeheartedly sincere. Verson and Braun have a grounded chemistry that I bought instantly. I found myself in their delightful shenanigans again and again. The film also includes recognizable faces from television.

There is a visual gag with bleach that is perfection. Turning up the music and elevator run-ins become an all too familiar activity. Couples’ internet snooping is also an indulgent pastime. It’s funny because it is so relatable. In this city of over 8 million, most of us never meet. But we still protect our own with small gestures of kindness every once in a while. TROY is one of those stories you tell your friends back home during the holidays and a stellar proof of concept for an entire series of building-wide encounters.

For more from Liz go to her regular home at Reel News Daily


MILLSTONE (2023) SLAMDANCE 2023


While the selling point of this film for many is going to be the fact that the film is in American sign language, the truth of the matter is the film really should be talked about because its got a hell of sting in the tail.

The film follows a couple who are grieving the death of their child by a hit and run driver. The therapist they are seeing seems to be the couples last hope at coming to terms with what happened.  Where it goes and how it goes is the film.

And because of the shift in the film this is nigh impossible to discuss without ruining it. Seriously what I want to say I can’t because it would ruin a super little thriller. Frankly I would love to see a longer version of this with things playing out on either end of this moment but at the same time this film is such a smack that I don’t want that ever to be ruined.

Worth your time.

When It Melts (2023) Sundance 2023


Bleak tale of a troubled life begins as a young woman gets notification that there is to be a memorial service of the brother of a friend. This then starts her thinking back over her life and a horrible event that altered the lives of everyone.

A word of warning right at the start, this is an incredibly tough film. This is the story of a less  than happy life which is tough enough to  handle, however there is sexual violence here which is not for the squeamish and not for those who are triggered by the subject. I mention this up front because this is an excellent film that deserves to be found  by the audience who can appreciate it.

First time director Veerle Baetens hits it out of the park with a stunning tale of the scars left by childhood trauma. Stunning on every level this film is a punch in the face with brass knuckles. Its a film that shows the darkness many people face when growing up. It makes clear that some people don't grow up and get over it, they are scarred for life.

I was rocked by this film. This is a film that gets under you skin and wrecks your soul. I got to the end and stared into space. I can only imagine how crushed I would have been had I seen this in a theater where I couldn't look away.

Make no mistake this film is a masterpiece. Baetens is a director we all will need to watch. 

At the same time this film so so dark and bleak I never want to go there ever again.

Recommended for those who want to go there.

Liz Whittemore of Reel News Daily on AirHostess 737 (2022) Sundance 2023


Liz Whiitemore of Reel News Daily checks in with a look at AIRHOSTESS 737

In  AirHostess- 737, we meet Vanina, a 39-year-old flight attendant trying to hold it together. Self-conscious over her new braces, her anxiety rises as the film progresses, exacerbated by a passenger, the pilots, and strong turbulence. But there is far more on Vanina’s mind than her newfound hardware.

The choreography of the scenes is spectacular. The audience serves as pov, and Vanina speaks just over the shoulder of the camera lens the entire film. It takes your average walk-and-talk to another level as she juggles casual conversation with her duties down the aisle. Writer-director Thanasis Neofotistos and co-writer Grigoris Skarakis implement a subtle and perfectly placed visual gag in Vanina’s makeup. It is a physical manifestation of her turmoil.

As a frequent flyer, I instantly grinned at actress Lena Papaligoura‘s deadpan demonstration of safety protocols. Her performance hits every note. She is funny, manic, dedicated, and pitch-perfect.

AirHostess- 737 is a descent into the depths of unresolved trauma hidden inside a sharp comedy. I laughed, gasped, and marveled at this short film’s ability to surprise me in fifteen minutes. It is undeniably impressive work from everyone involved. Sundance 2023 audiences will love it.

For more from Liz go to her regular home REEL NEWS DAILY

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Liz Whittemore of Reel News Daily on Bad Press (2023) Sundance 2023

 


Imagine a scenario, if you will, where the federal government controlled the entirety of the media. Ask North Korea and China’s citizens how well that works for them. Native American tribes are sovereign nations. They do not have freedom of the press. In the Sundance 2023 documentary from Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler, BAD PRESS exposes the crushing actions of tribe leaders to remain in power. MVSKOKE MEDIA journalists are under attack while the Chief manipulates the Muscogee community with misinformation. Who will protect the truth?

Bad Press describes the hierarchy of tribal media. Money and politics rule, making a constitutional Free Press amendment vital to every nation. The film follows the journey to change, from new candidates for a new chief to election fraud allegations, and boy does it mirror national shenanigans. MVSKOKE MEDIA journalist Angel Ellis and her colleagues report everything in real-time, fighting against fear, false claims, threats, and connected politicians who wish to silence them.

The biggest question becomes, “What do you have to hide?” BAD PRESS is the perfect Sundance 2023 companion to watch with Fantastic Machine. It’s a heart-pounding, sweaty palm viewing experience. The emotional gravity of this story is shocking. BAD PRESS is a microcosm of tribal oppression and global journalistic reality. Those in the film are brave as hell for speaking out. National news, take note. Transparency is key.

FOr more from Liz check out her regular home Reel News Daily

Motel Drive (2023) Slamdance 2023


MOTEL DRIVE is a kick in the ass. The film is the story of people living in a block long stretch in Fresno California where Motels used to stretch  from end to end. However the coming of the freeway and the plans for a proposed high speed rail system doomed the motels. Places that used to play host to the Rolling Stones, Nat King Cole and others are now run down and acting as homes for those on the fringes of society. The film follows several people over 8 years of ups and downs as they try to survive in the motels and the changing neighborhood.

This is a look at how the changing of neighborhoods by grand plans  wreck the lives of those on the fringe. While some people like the Shaws manage to hang on as best they can, others fall by the wayside.  It’s a bracing look at the way things are breaking apart.

What is most troubling is it’s clear that efforts to improve society as a whole at the expense of the motels isn’t working. This is illustrated by the highly touted high speed rail that is supposed to go through the area. Motels are bought up. People are evicted. Then nothing happens. It will leave you shaking your head.

I was moved. The film left me pondering what can be done to help these people because as the film makes clear there are no easy answers.

Recommended



Where is the Lie? Slamdance 2023


WHERE IS THE LIE is a really good film.  A look at love in the modern age it’s a based on a true story film where a woman named Jazen breaks up with her boyfriend. Turning to a dating app she meets the perfect guy who ends up ghosting her. However what is going on is something else entirely.

I don’t know all of the details of the actual events, and I don’t really care because what is on screen in WHERE IS THE LIE is really good. A look at life and dating in todays world it shines a light into a lot of places that we may not be contemplating, such as catfishing games set up by people with too much time on their hands. It’s the sort of thing that makes me glad I’m too old for those sort of games.

I really liked WHERE IS THE LIE. The  cast headed up by EJ Jallorina is super. We really like pretty much everyone and they pull us into all the mystery of what is going on. I was hooked early and when it was done I wanted to go back and take another ride.

One of the things that I loved was that this film which is very much tied into technology and apps actually manages to use the cinema screen to replicate what we the characters are seeing on their phones and devices.  This may not sound like much but more and more in films we are flashed visuals that are supposed to be a phone or tablet or computer screen, by the more often then not the filmmakers don’t manage to make it movie friendly. Yes  we are seeing what the characters are doing but its not cinematic. Its intrusive with lot of stuff we don’t need. Here director Quark Henares designs the shots  so that we both get a sense of what is on the screens the characters are looking at but we also get something that works cinematically. That may sound like a small thing but it’s not, because too often the technology shots simply don’t blend into the film as a whole.

This is a super film. I had a good time. It mad me laugh and it made me think about love, and the madness of these times and the crazy things people do.

I want to say more but I don’t want to give anything away. There are a couple of turns I didn’t see coming  and I don’t want to spoil anything.

This is a gem.

La Pecera (The Fishbowl)(2023) Sundance 2023

 


Isel Rodriguez gives a staggering performance In THE FISHBOWL a film about a young woman trying to decide how to deal with the cancer that has reoccurred.

The plot of the film had Noelia (Rodriguez) running out on her partner and back home to her mother when it's clear her cancer is no longer in remission. There she reconnects with friends and family and ponders the damage done to the small island by the American military which left the landscape littered with unexploded bombs and poison.

While the script juggles way too many plot threads for a 90 minute film, we continue to watch and stay focused on what's happening because we fall in love with Rodriguez's performance. She lets it all hang out and we feel her pain, both physical and emotional. She brings us in and holds us close and as a result we are there for the duration. As a character study this film can't be beat.

This is one of my favorite films from this years Sundance

Recommended

UNICORN BOY (2023) Slamdance 2023


Young man has an encounter with a unicorn and it changes his life and sends him on a quest to find out who he really is.

UNICORN BOY is a really good film. Its a great film about finding yourself, but there things in the film that unfortunately may limit its audience

The thing about Matt Kiel's film is it comes with a great deal of baggage. Begun before the pandemic the film was shaped by a descent into depression after which they went through self reflection and came to terms with their gender identity. The finished film reflects Matt's search and path to self discovery.  It is a clever and funny film  with some wonderfully twisted turns. It's an animated film that operates in its own wonderful world. Then we get clips of Matt that book end the film and the film feels off. (yes I know it's just a couple of quick clips but its still enough to make it feel off)

I suppose if you read all the press material, which  is more a discussion of how Matt came to make the film and how it represents their journey than it is of the film, the inclusion of the end clips may make more sense, but just going in blind, as I did the first time it felt off. Even watching the film a second time, after reading all the press material it still felt off. Is this a universal tale or just Matt's?  Yes I know it will allow some people to connect to the film, but at the same time, Matt said everything that needed to be said in the animation. 

Thinking about it over the last week since I saw the film, the real problem is that the return to reality deflates what went before  because the real world and real Matt are less interesting than the animated ones.  I want to hang with the animated Matt in a world of unicorns and not the real one (sorry Matt). 

Admittedly this film wasn't made for me. I know I am not its intended audience. At the same time I liked the story told I just wish I could have stayed in the happy place.

Plan C (2023) Sundance 2023

At a time when the religious right is looking to turn women into barefoot breeders like the Taliban in Afghanistan the film PLAN C is vitally important.  The film is a look at the women who are working to make sure that women across the country can get access to medication that will terminate their pregnancy via mail. It’s a film that may end up being used in court cases since it people in the film are risking their lives to do what is right.

Welcome to the world Big Brother. If you want to know how dangerous this film is consider that many of the women and even more of the locations are obscured so that police agencies won’t have an easy time tracking anyone down. This is a scary place to be. America used to be a place where people could control their own bodies.

The film covers a lot of territory in it’s 100 minutes. Not only does it give us the story of the women using the mail to aid women who are looking to hold on to their reproductive rights, but it also the erosion of personal rights and the rise of the right, showing how the pandemic helped to change things. Additionally we get a look at the stories of some of the women and how their lives have been affected by pregnancy, abortion and the new rules. It’s a heady mix that is going to give you a great deal to think about.

While there is much that I love in the film, what really struck me was the way the new draconian rules actually impact people. We get faces to go with stories. We also get to see the insane Kafka-esque way that women have to now go about in order to be autonomous.  Nothing is as simple as just going to
another state.

I was rocked and it will rock your world too.

Destined to be talked about, argued about and litigated for years PLAN C is a must see especially if you have any women you love in your life.

Sexual Healing (2022) Slamdance 2023

 


This is the story of Evelien Spreitzer, a 53 year old woman with severe disabilities who has never had any sort of sensuous touch. Anyone who has touched her has done so for purely functional reasons.  Taking matters in her own hands she decides to get in touch with her sense and her sexuality.

This is a very good look at one woman and her story (born prematurely she wasn’t expected to survive and died several times). It’s a film that will end up putting a big smile on your face watching Evlien‘s absolute delight in discovering the wonders of human touch. You will feel really good at the end.

While I could quibble about a few little things, this film is a winner and highly recommended.

The Mad Writer (2023) Slamdance 2023

Portrait of hip hop artist/producer L’Orange aka Austin Hart as he deals with life and the appearance of serious medical condition that could end his career.

Full disclosure going into the film I had no idea who L'Orange was. And coming out I kind of  feel the same way. I'm not sure this film really tells us a great deal about the man. It feels like a portrait of a man who is not comfortable in his own skin.

Forgive me, but because he's clearly so uncomfortable on camera I'm not certain I really have any idea who he is. Yes there are the moments where he is performing and the odd unguarded moment, but mostly this looks like a portrait of a man who is being forced to be "on" because the camera is there.  This goes straight on to the end of the film where L'Orange tells the filmmaker what the ending would be and we get this odd version of that.

Yes we get to know his music and about him a bit, but at the same time this whole things feels off.

A very short note on WILLIE NELSON & FAMILY (2023) Sundance 2023


I saw an unfinished version of  WILLIE NELSON &FAMILY in December and I enjoyed the hell out of it. I thought it was a super portrait of the man, his family and his career.  However because it was unfinished I can't write a review, and because it is five hours long I do not have the time to go back to rewatch it while covering the festival.  As a result I'm simply going to say if you love the man  the film is a must see. (Personally I can't wait to see the finished version)

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

I HAVE NO TEARS, AND I MUST CRY (2023) Sundance 2023


I am not certain what to say about I HAVE NO TEARS… This story of a man and a woman who go into meet with an  immigration official about the woman staying in the United States. It is a capsule of what happens during the brief meeting and what happens on either side of it.

As it stand it s a beautifully acted, great looking film that perfectly captures a moment.

And that is the problem with the film, this Is a moment in time. While we are moved by what happens, there is clearly more to the story. The lives of everyone on screen bleed off the screen since the film is very much alive. However the film leaves us wanting to know more. What happens next? What happened going into this? We can make assumptions but I liked the characters enough I want to know what happened.

As good as the film is it left me unsatisfied.

Quibble aside this is worth a look

Twice Colonized (2023) Sundance 2023


There is a moment in TWICE COLONIZED when the film won me over completely. In the scene the film’s subject Inuit lawyer Aaju Peter is seen in a hotel room dancing on her bed. There was something so quietly screamed "she's just a person!"  in the shot that it removed any and all distance between me and the subject and made think of her as my best friend.

This is a quietly great film. The film is the story  of  Ms Peter who, in the wake of her son, begins to move toward reconnecting with her Inuit heritage and working toward breaking with Denmark who still control Greenland. It’s the rare recent film that manages to balance the portrait of its subject so that we not only feel like we know her both personally and professionally.  We get to know about her and her fight for autonomy in courts, and of her coolness and as a result we walk out of the film feeling we know the whole woman.

What I really like about the film is that in addition to getting to know Peter we get a good look at not only the fight for indigenous rights but also life in Greenland. That may not sound like much but for most people the country is simply this large island in the Atlantic about which we know nothing. I was talking to a friend about the film and I mentioned that the films was about the Inuit in country and they said they had no idea who lived there.

This is a great film. It delighted me because it made me think and feel and taught me a great deal about things I didn’t know.  I was so happy with the film that I was emailing friends to tell them to watch the film at Sundance.

Recommended

20 DAYS IN MARIUPOL (2023) Sundance 2023


20 DAYS IN MARIUPOL follows director Mstyslav Chernov and his fellow reporters during the first 20 days of the Russian invasion. We watch as they stupidly think that the Russians won’t target civilians, through various battles and on to the their needing to be rescued from a besieged hospital.

A portrait of what it is like to be in a member of the press 20 DAYS is very good. Watching it we come to understand what it takes to cover the insane war that the Russians started. It’s a war that is unlike any other in many ways and exactly like every others since it involves so much death and destruction.

As good as the film is in showing us what it’s like to be covering the war, the film remains a tough slog to get through.  The problem is not the images or the arc of events but its due entirely to a narration track that is so low key, low volume and growling, as to be somnolent snoring.  Its so uninvolving I had to fight not to turn the film off.  While I wanted to see how this all played out, I was made disinterested by the narration. There is no sense of urgency, or even caring in it.

Honestly my thought while watching the film was that this was the least interesting Frontline documentary that I had ever seen.

As vital and important this film is, the narration makes this the first film on the Ukraine war that I would say skip until it plays PBS.

TAKE ME HOME (2023) Sundance 2023

 


Young woman with cognitive issues calls her sister when their mother is non-responsive.

This short film is a killer drama about the problem of not being able to be communicate when things happen. Never feeling forced or contrived this is a film that feels as though it was ripped from life. Indeed Jeena Yi, Director Liz Sargent's sister has the very problems we see on screen.

This is a small gem of the film. It is a film that has gotten better in the days since I saw it. It's so good that I honestly want more time with these characters. I would love to see this expanded, or if not I would love to see something else with them.

Finding films like this are the reason that I love to wade into short film collections.

Highly recommended.

QUEEN MOOREA (2022) Slamdance 2023


Portrait of Moorea Howson a young woman born with  the genetic disorder Williams Syndrome  Refusing to be stopped Moorea sets her sights on love and life beyond what doctors say she is capable of.

Sweet documentary about a lovely young woman. I adore that she is unstoppable in what she wants. And while she may have had to step away from the dream of being a cardiologist there really isn’t anything she hasn’t been able to achieve.

I don’t know what to say beyond that other than if you give the film a try it will give you a smile.

Recommended.

LAUGHING WOO WOO (2021) Slamdance 2023


At the time of the Arab Spring an Eygptian asylum seeker in San Francisco with a woo wooing contagious laugh, has a wild time dealing with life as it prevents him from getting his papers to his attorney.

This amusing comedy is being used as a proof of concept film which bodes well for the future. Funny in the right ways the film scores numerous bonus points for giving us a point of view that we don’t normally see such as a clash of multiple cultures (let’s just say our hapless hero doesn’t have just the US to deal with). Part straight on comedy and part examination of the plight of the asylum seekers this is a film with a message and lots of laughs.

I liked this film a great deal. I liked it enough that I’ll be curious where director Amir Yousef takes the film. I say that because while most proof of concept films feel unfinished this one feels complete. That said there are enough openings that I’d love to see which path is taken.

A gem

Downwind (2023) Slamdance 2013


The first film on my Best of 2023 list is a gut punch film about the poisoning of the world via radiation from nuclear tests, waste and power plants. This is a film that will haunt you forever after you see it.

Beginning with the first nuclear tests in the American Southwest, the film makes clear that the US government, and others as well, have not had the best interest in the safety of anyone in mind at any point ever. Consider that the initial thought was to do the tests on the east coast so that the fall out went over the ocean, but they thought it would be cheaper to do it  in the west where less important (Native Americans) lived.  It's also made clear they new what the dangers were before the first bomb was exploded but they went ahead anyway.

Odds are if you are like me, you knew some of this before, but you didn't know everything and seeing it all together will over whelm you.

The film is a mix of science and social. We get both the science of where the fall out went and what it does and is still doing to people. While at the same time we see via tales of THE CONQUER (where most of the cast and crew got cancer), CHINA SYNDROME (which barely made it to theaters before Three Mile Island) and Lewis Black's comedy (the insanity of duck and cover) we see how radiation has affected what we see.  And sometimes things merge as when Patrick Wayne talks about the mound of dirt brought to Hollywood from the CONQUER location that is still at the studio and very radioactive. More crushingly the film is filled with the story of dozens of people who died from the direct effects of being exposed to fallout.

This film rocked my world. Yes, it can seem a bit like a polemic, but at the same time, there really is no "other side" to the fact we are all being poisoned.

I have no idea what to say except see this film. 

This is the first great film of 2023.

Space Happy: Phil Thomas Katt and The Uncharted Zone (2023) Slamdance 2023


Portrait of Phil Thomas Katt a musician/filmmaker/artist who is working on the fringes of the entertainment industry in Florida.

I'm not entirely happy with the PR information on the film in that it infers that Katt and the people in his orbit don't have talent. They have tons of talent, what they don't have is money and they struggle to do what they love despite having to cash to do so.

I really liked this film. Hell I really liked Katt and his friends. These are really cool people who are making some really good music despite not having any cash. I completely relate to their struggles since doing Unseen Films is a labor of love for me that doesn't pay me monetarily.  Watching the film I kept thinking that if Katt had a little bit more money he might actually get some traction and make it big. (Hell A&E should do a series on him)

Assembled from decades of video we get a nice over view of Katt and his life. Actually hat the film does is make you want to find Katt and hang out with him and have you tell you the stories that aren't in the film.

What a delight.

Recommended.

Just Right (2023) Slamdance 2023


Obsessive compulsive Mel want's to go out with her roommate and his friend but it seems as though things are working against her.

This is a sweet little film. This is delightful portrait of a nice young woman who has certain things she must do to get through the day. 

What I love about this film is that where most other films would focus on Mel's ticks for laughs, here the film is about Mel first and foremost. Yes the compulsions play into the the plot, but they are not the plot. This is about just trying to get ready to go out with friends.

A small gem.