Review: ‘7500,’ starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Murathan Muslu and Aylin Tezel

June 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “7500” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“7500” 

Directed by Patrick Vollrath

English, German and Turkish with subtitles

Culture Representation: The drama “7500,” depicting an airplane flight from Berlin to Paris, has a cast of white and Middle Eastern characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: The flight is taken hostage by violent terrorists.

Culture Audience: “7500” will appeal mostly to people who like suspenseful thrillers.

Omid Memar in “7500” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

The dramatic film “7500” is the type of “hijacked plane” movie that is utterly formulaic and predictable, but the film does such a terrific job at maintaining a suspenseful edge that it’s somewhat easy to forgive the film’s obvious flaws. A good performance from leading actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt also makes the movie worth seeing.

Directed by Patrick Vollrath, who co-write the original screenplay with Senad Halilbasic, “7500” doesn’t delay its action-filled scenes, which start within the first 15 minutes of the film. Before that happens, there’s a little backstory presented about the movie’s main character Tobias Ellis (played by Gordon-Levitt), the mild-mannered American co-pilot of a German commercial jet plane that’s on a night flight from Berlin to Paris.

Tobias, who is 31, has been a pilot for about 10 years. His live-in girlfriend Gökce (played by Aylin Tezel), who is of Turkish-German heritage, is the mother of their 2-year-old son. Gökce is also a flight attendant who happens to be on the same flight as Tobias. Before the flight takes off, Gökce visits the cockpit to tell Tobias the bad news that they weren’t chosen for a bid on a new home that was their first choice, since the place was near a kindergarten that they want their son to attend.

Tobias is optimistic that something will work out, but Gökce is more panicked about it because they’re running out of time to find a new place to live. As Tobias tells the plane captain Michael Lutzmann (played by Carlo Kitzlinger), he and Gökce eventually plan to get married. Tobias also tells Michael that he and Gökce have been able to keep things professional while they’ve been working together.

There’s a slight delay to the plane’s takeoff because two college-age passengers (played by Max Schimmel Pfennig and Anna Suk) have checked in their luggage but have not yet boarded the plane. When the late-arriving passengers are on board, the plane (which has about 85 passengers) takes off smoothly.

Not long after the takeoff, the terrorists attack. There are four of them who are featured in the story: Kinan (played by Marathan Muslu), who appears to be the hijackers’ leader; Vedat (played by Omid Memar), an 18-year-old who follows orders; Kalkan (played by Passar Hariky), another henchman; and Daniel (played by Paul Wollin), a white German who has become a radical Islamic terrorist.

During the attack, some of the terrorists have stormed into the cockpit, and a big fight ensues. The terrorists are using broken glass as knives and have stabbed Michael and Tobias. Michael is severely wounded, but Tobias has been able to defend himself by knocking out Kinan with a fire extinguisher. Tobias is able to fight off further attacks by pushing the terrorists out of the cockpit door and locking it behind him.

Vedat, Kalkan and Daniel, who are locked out of the cockpit, continue to terrorize the passengers and try to break their way back into the cockpit. The situation escalates as Daniel (who is the most vicious one in the group) threatens to take lives if Tobias doesn’t open the cockpit door.

Tobias has been able to call for help to air traffic control, which is in communication with him during the pandemonium. (The movie’s title comes from the 7500 air traffic control code for a hijacking.) Tobias tells the authorities that he plans to make an emergency landing in Hanover. He also makes this announcement over the intercom to help calm down the passengers.

Meanwhile, Tobias is trapped in the cockpit with an unconscious terrorist, a plane captain who might be dying and the terrible burden of knowing that not opening the cockpit door could mean that innocent people could be killed. Tobias can see some of what’s going on outside the cockpit through a video monitor. The terrorists communicate with him by using the cockpit phone placed outside the door, which they keep battering in an attempt to gain access. And later in the movie, as if things weren’t stressful enough, it predictably starts to rain heavily while the plane is still in the air.

Tobias is written as someone who manages to keep a fairly level head during all of this stress and trauma, to the point where some viewers might think that his reactions are initially too calm for all the violence going around him. But an explanation for that is perhaps Tobias is just in shock. He definitely has some big emotional moments later in the film.

In the production notes for “7500,” Vollrath explains that he wanted to make the Tobias character the opposite of an action hero and more relatable to the average person. In other words, if this were a movie starring Bruce Willis or Liam Neeson, the main character would definitely make different choices.

Although many things that happen in “7500” are easy to predict, the movie is different from other “hijacked plane” films because almost everything in the movie takes place in the cockpit, not the passenger area. The production notes for “7500” mention that the filmmakers purchased a decommissioned Airbus A320 plane and made it into the “7500” film set. That authenticity makes a difference, since nothing about the film’s production design looks like a replica of a plane.

Tobias is undoubtedly the main character of “7500,” but it would have been a little better to get more of a backstory from the other characters, particularly one of the attackers who gets the most screen time. The movie makes some subtle references about immigration, but all of their backgrounds are mysteries.

As for Tobias, very little is known about him either. For example, viewers don’t find out how he ended up living in Germany or even why he wanted to become a pilot. The focus of the movie is “fight for your life in the moment.” As the debut feature film from Vollrath, “7500” is far from a masterpiece, but it shows that this filmmaker has knack for telling a simple story that hits a lot of the right notes for crowd-pleasing suspense.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “7500” on June 18, 2020.

Review: ‘The Vast of Night,’ starring Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer and Bruce Davis

May 29, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick in “The Vast of Night” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“The Vast of Night”

Directed by Andrew Patterson

Culture Representation: Taking place in the 1950s in fictional Cayuga, New Mexico, the sci-fi drama “The Vast of Night” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with one African American) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two young people unexpectedly find out about mysterious UFO occurrences that appear to involve massive government conspiracies and cover-ups.

Culture Audience: “The Vast of Night” will appeal mostly to people who like movies that explore issues about life in outer space and what the U.S. government knows about it.

Sierra McCormick in “The Vast of Night” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

People who don’t know anything about “The Vast of Night” before seeing this sci-fi drama will get some pretty obvious clues within the first 20 minutes of this slow-burn-to-intensity film that’s clearly been inspired by “The Twilight Zone.” Taking place in the 1950s, the movie is set entirely during one night in the fictional city of Cayuga, New Mexico, where some of the people have reported unidentified flying objects (UFOs) in the sky during a night with a full moon.

There have also been some strange interruptions in the electrical lighting in certain buildings. “The Vast of Night”—directed by Andrew Patterson and written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger—takes a while to get the action going, but the last third of the film is worth sticking around for, as the movie deliberately builds up to a suspenseful pace.

The city of Cayuga in this movie at first appears to be the type of tranquil, middle-class suburb where the majority of the city residents will turn up for a Cayuga High School basketball game as a major social event. That’s what is going on in the beginning of the film, as viewers are introduced to Everett Sloan (played by Jake Horowitz), a radio DJ who goes by the on-air name “The Maverick” when he works at the local station.

Everett, who appears to be in his late teens or early 20s, has in his possession a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder, which was a fancy new technology invention at the time. He’s making the rounds at the school’s gym during the pre-game practice to test out the recorder, which he plans to use to record the basketball game. Everett interviews people in the gym because he’s an aspiring investigative news journalist, but there’s also a sense that he wants to show off this recorder too.

Everett’s activity is briefly interrupted when he’s asked to help out some school administrators who have reported an electrical power problem in the room where the generators are stored. Apparently, the lights have been blinking off and on in certain parts of the school, and they don’t want any of these problems during the basketball game.

When Everett arrives, he finds out that there was an identity mix-up, and they wanted to send for a guy named Emmett (the school’s electrician), not Everett. The administrators mention that the electrical glitches are probably because of a small animal, such as a mouse or squirrel. As the movie continues, it seems like the only purpose of this scene is to establish that the town is having some unexplained electrical problems.

One of the people whom Everett encounters when he’s showing off his tape recorder is 16-year-old Fay Crocker (played by Sierra McCormick), who’s fascinated and a little intimidated by this new technology. Fay and Everett aren’t close friends, and he treats her like an older brother who doesn’t want his younger sister tagging along. But tag along she does, as Sierra and Everett make their way into the school’s parking lot, where several families are in their cars, waiting to be let in for the basketball game. Everett goes from car to car to further test his new tape recorder.

Although the dialogue in “The Vast of Night” is spoken with a rapid-fire pace (in the manner that many American sci-fi/thriller films did back in the 1950s), the story unfolds in a leisurely manner in the beginning of the film. Not much happens in the first third of the movie, in order to create an atmosphere that this is supposed to be just a regular night in Cayuga, where the biggest thing going on is the basketball game.

Sierra and Everett aren’t staying at the basketball game because they have to work elsewhere. Everett is headed to the radio station, where he has a live broadcast for his music/talk show. Sierra is scheduled to work a shift alone as the city’s telephone switchboard operator.

Before they walk to their respective workplaces, Sierra and Everett have a lively discussion about some of the future technology that’s she’s read about in magazines like Modern Mechanics. She tells Everett that by the year 2000, there will be vacuum-tube transportation that can travel at incredible speed; phones that will look like tiny TVs; and lifelong telephone numbers as IDs that will be assigned to babies at birth, with the numbers disconnected upon death. Everett tells Sierra: “I believe the train tubes in the highways, but the tiny TV phones—that’s cuckoo.” (It’s the screenwriters’ obvious inside joke, since smartphones now exist.)

As soon as Sierra begins her switchboard operator shift, a few strange things start happening. She gets a call where all she hears is a repeated clicking-echo type of noise and nothing else. Then another call comes in, with a terrified woman saying that there appears to be a tornado coming toward her. A barking dog can be heard in the background, and then the caller is suddenly disconnected.

A concerned Sierra then calls a neighbor named Ethel to check on Sierra’s  pre-school-age sister Ethel and the babysitter Maddie, who are both home alone at Sierra’s house. Sierra has been listening to Everett’s radio show while she works. She hears the strange clicking sound at the beginning of the show’s news broadcast, so she calls Everett to ask him if he heard this strange noise too.

Everett didn’t hear it, but Sierra hooks him up to the phone line where he can hear it, and he records the noise. They both decide that Everett should play the noise on the air and ask listeners to call in and say if they recognize what this mysterious sound is.

A retired military man who identifies himself by the name Billy (played by Bruce Davis, in a voice role only) then calls in, and begins to tell a story live on the air. This story takes Everett and Sierra down a path of trying to uncover a mystery. Everett also gets a call from an elderly shut-in named Mabel Blanche (played by Gail Cronauer), who also has some information that’s part of the mystery, as the movie accelerates to a breakneck speed with a heart-pounding conclusion.

“The Vast of Night” uses a visual device of framing the story as if it’s an episode of a fictional show called “Paradox Theater” (an obvious nod to “The Twilight Zone”), by having some scenes open with the action playing out on a  tiny, 1950s-style black-and-white TV.  The movie’s cinematography by Miguel Ioann Littin Menz is infused with a lot of sepia tones that were common in movies of the 1950s, when color technology in films was still fairly new. And “The Vast of Night” also takes an unconventional approach by having the screen go completely dark during some suspenseful moments (one “blackout” scene lasts for about five minutes), which might give the viewers the impression that something is wrong with the screen or the movie’s playback.

Avid sci-fi fans will also notice some Easter eggs in “The Vast of Night,” such as Cayuga is the name of “Twilight Zone” creator Rod Serling’s Cayuga Productions. And the radio station that Everett works at is WOTW, which is an acronym for “War of the Worlds,” even though radio and TV stations west of the Mississippi River are supposed to have call letters that start with the letter K.

The only real flaw of “The Vast of Night” (and it’s a fairly minor one) is that the movie never really feels like it takes place in New Mexico, because “The Vast of Night” was actually filmed in Texas with a cast of mostly Texans and Oklahomans who keep their heavy Southern accents in the film. It’s kind of distracting for the cast to have the wrong accents, but this discrepancy in regional accents doesn’t take away too much from this engaging story. “The Vast of Night” might not be completely original in its subject matter, and the acting is good (not great), but the way the story is told with some unique touches should please die-hard sci-fi fans.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “The Vast of Night” on May 29, 2020.

Review: ‘Selah and the Spades,’ starring Lovie Simone, Celeste O’Connor and Jharrel Jerome

April 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Celeste O’Connor, Lovie Simone and Jharrel Jerome in “Selah and the Spades” (Photo by Ashley Bean/Amazon Studios)

“Selah and the Spades”

Directed by Tayarisha Poe

Culture Representation: Taking place at an elite co-ed boarding high school in Pennsylvania, the grim drama “Selah and the Spades” has a racially diverse cast of characters (African American and white) who represent the upper-class.

Culture Clash: The rebellious teenagers at the school have intense social rivalries, as they try to hide their law-breaking activities from adults.

Culture Audience: “Selah and the Spades” will appeal mostly to people who like movies about teenagers behaving badly, but most of the characters’ personalities are shallow and underwritten.

Lovie Simone in “Selah and the Spades” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Selah and the Spades” is about a group of privileged and rebellious teenagers who weren’t even born when the 1988 dark comedy film “Heathers” was first released, but the basic concept of “Selah and the Spades” draws a lot from the “Heathers” template, without the winning charm of “Heathers.” The idea is the same: A new “outsider” girl enrolls in a high school and finds herself being accepted into the “cool kids” clique at the top of the school’s social ladder, led by a stuck-up “queen bee.” The “new girl” is a quirky, creative type, while the “queen bee” is cold and power-hungry.

One of the main differences between the two movies is that “Heathers” told the story from the perspective of the new girl, while “Selah and the Spades” (the first feature film written and directed by Tayarisha Poe) tells the story from the perspective of the queen bee. Unfortunately, for “Selah and the Spades,” the movie is as humorless and pretentious as its central character. The other main difference between the two movies is that “Heathers” took place in a predominantly white public high school (with people of different social classes), while “Selah and the Spades” takes place at an elite, racially diverse boarding school where the members of the school’s most powerful clique all happen to be African American.

“Selah and the Spades” exists in a world where, unrealistically, race is never mentioned or addressed. It might seem like writer/director Poe did something different or edgy by creating a world where African American students rule the social hierarchy at an elite boarding school, but these African Americans are also the school’s drug dealers, which puts them in the same ghetto mindset and criminal category that numerous other movies and TV shows have put African Americans. In other words, Poe might have changed the setting to a boarding school, but making the central characters drug-dealing African Americans is completely unoriginal and panders to negative stereotypes.

“Selah and the Spades” takes place during the spring season at the fictional Haldwell School for Boarding and Day Students, located in an unnamed U.S. city in Pennsylvania. (The movie was actually filmed in Massachusetts.) An unseen teenage narrator (voiced by Jessie Cannizzaro) explains the social structure of the school’s vice-motivated “underground rebels,” which consists of five factions.

  • The Spades, who are at the tope of the heap, are led by 17-year-old high-school senior Selah Summers (played by Lovie Simone) and her right-hand guy Maxxie Ayoade (played by Jharrel Jerome, the Emmy-winning star of Netflix’s “When They See Us”), who are the aforementioned drug dealers.
  • The Seed, a group of former teacher’s pets who’ve gone rogue and engage in cheating, is led by Tarit Toll Perelstein (played by Henry Hunter Hall).
  • The Skins, whose specialty is gambling, are led by Amber Bolfo (played by Francesca Noel).
  • The Prefects, who make the school’s administration “blissfully unaware” of these students’ illegal activities, are led by Thomas Richard Thomas III, also known as Two Tom (played by Evan Roe).
  • The Bobbies, who throw illegal parties, are led by Roberta “Bobby” Pellegrino (played by Anna Mulvoy Ten).

These five factions (which total about 20 students) have outdoor meetings at a school picnic table, where Selah (pronounced “sell-ah,” perhaps a play on words, since she’s a drug seller) leads the meetings with a haughty, imperious manner. There’s constant friction between Selah and Bobby, who is the only other faction leader to question Selah’s authority. It makes sense that these two faction leaders would butt heads, since The Bobbies are in charge of the parties, which need the drugs that The Spades provide.

There are only two adult characters with significant speaking roles in “Selah and the Spades,” and they both represent despised authority figures in Selah’s life.

The first is Selah’s demanding mother, Maybelle Summers (played by Gina Torres), the only person in the story who can make Selah feel powerless. Maybelle is the type of parent who, when Selah tells her that she scored a 93 out of 100 percent on a recent test, will ask what happened with the other 7 percent instead of congratulating her daughter on the high score. Maybelle also berates Selah by saying, “You’re starting to sound like your father,” when Selah makes excuses for why she didn’t score 100 on the test. (Selah’s father or stepfather is briefly shown kissing Maybelle goodbye before he heads off to work, and the movie doesn’t show any interaction between him and Selah.)

Maybelle is also the type of domineering parent who already has Selah’s future planned for her after graduation (a prestigious university, of course), but Selah drops hints that she might want to take a gap year or might not want to go to college at all. When Selah tries to tell her mother that she isn’t really interested in college, Maybelle quickly dismisses the idea and never asks what Selah really wants to do with her life. It’s the time of year where Selah has to decide which university to attend, and she’s been secretly delaying her response to the top school of her mother’s choice. Her mother finds out anyway that Selah hasn’t responded, and, not surprisingly, she’s livid about it.

The irony of Selah’s tense relationship with her mother is that the unpleasant characteristics that Selah dislikes about her mother are the same characteristics that Selah has when she’s around her peers. Selah and her mother are both bossy control freaks who use emotional manipulation, bullying and fear to get people to do what they want. They also don’t like having their plans disrupted, and they have a hard time accepting that people might not always want to go along with their plans.

The other adult authority figure in Selah’s life is Headmaster Banton (played by Jesse Williams), who is generally clueless about what goes on in the school’s “underground” factions. He usually finds out about student shenanigans after the fact. Headmaster Banton ends up cancelling the junior/senior prom because of the student unruliness. In response, the five factions decide to have their own off-campus party, which leads to a series of events that test the limits of some of the movie’s characters.

Before the party happens, there’s a scene in the movie that shows the mischievous side of the five factions, who vote on what what to do for their senior prank. They all decide that their prank, which they plan to do after school hours, will have something to do with water. The prank turns out to be filling hundreds of identical small tumbler glasses with water dyed blue, green and purple, and setting the glasses on all the steps of a long and winding staircase inside a school building.

It’s eye-catching, but it’s not a particularly creative prank. Headmaster Banton arrives with a colleague the next day and finds the stairs can’t be climbed because it’s filled with the water glasses. Apparently, this elite boarding school is too cheap to pay for on-campus night security, which would’ve caught these pranksters in the act.

As for the new girl, she’s Paloma Davis (played by Celeste O’Connor), who’s a sophomore when she enrolls in Haldwell. Paloma (just like Winona Ryder’s Veronica Sawyer character in “Heathers”) starts off as introverted and shy, but then changes after being accepted by the top clique of the “cool kids.” Paloma has an interest in photography, since she’s constantly taking photos of students on her professional camera. She’s in awe of the older kids in the “five factions.” Paloma is thrilled when Selah starts to pay attention to her, and eventually the two girls start to spend more time together. 

Paloma is the only non-senior classmate who was invited to the “water prank.” Curiously, Paloma was openly taking pictures of the students during the prank, which is an odd plot hole to the movie, considering that Selah is the type of paranoid control freak who wouldn’t allow someone to have evidence of who caused the prank.

As explained by the unseen narrator in the beginning of the film, Selah will soon graduate, so she’s looking for someone to continue her “legacy” and take over The Spades after she’s gone. Paloma seems like an ideal candidate for Selah to mentor. But unlike Selah, who is selfish and vindictive, Paloma is compassionate toward her fellow students. And she doesn’t always follow Selah’s commands. For example, Selah wants Paloma to take her side in Selah’s feud against Bobby, but Paloma is reluctant to pick a side and has no problem hanging out with Bobby.

Meanwhile, other insecurities fray the bonds of The Spades. Maxxie starts to become jealous that Selah and Paloma have become close, and he fears being replaced as Selah’s most-trusted right-hand person. Selah identifies as asexual and privately tells Paloma that she has no interest in dating. So it’s not much of a surprise that petty Selah becomes envious that Maxxie has become romantically involved with an attractive fellow student named Nuri (played by Nekhebet Juch). Maxxie and Nuri’s romance has distracted Maxxie from all the attention that he used to give Selah.

Like many toxic leaders, Selah is also quick to cruelly punish people she considers to be “disloyal.” There’s an insidious side to her, as it’s made clear to viewers that Selah doesn’t hesitate to have people beat up if they “snitch” or fall behind on their drug debts. There’s also something that happened during her sophomore year that is mentioned several times in the movie as being disruptive to The Spades but a turning point in Selah’s leadership. The full details of what happened are revealed in the movie.

“Selah and the Spades” uses Selah’s controlling mother to explain why Selah is such a deeply unhappy person. It’s this movie’s attempt to make Selah more sympathetic (with the predictable scenes of Selah crying after being bullied by her mother), but it’s not to enough to explain why Selah (who also has an awful personality) has become the “queen bee” of the “cool kids.”

Selah is an empty shell of a person. Antiheroes who become leaders usually have some kind of charisma that attracts people to them. However, Selah has no charisma or any particular talent. If she has any passions or ambitions, they’re not shown in the movie. And she doesn’t appear to be the richest student in the school, so it’s not adequately explained in the movie why people would want to blindly follow her.

It is not unrealistic that the teenage characters in the movie talk like they’re 10 years older than the ages of their characters (such as when they use a phrase like “pray tell”), because these are supposed to be well-educated teenagers. The problem is that even though the movie tries to make Selah look like she’s wise beyond her years, in actuality, she has the emotional intelligence of a slug.

There’s also a preachy part in the movie where the Selah character, in the middle of cheerleader practice, stops and talks directly to the camera to go off on a rant about how people want to control the bodies of 17-year-old girls, who should have the right to say, do and dress however they want without being judged sexually. This is the only time that the Selah character “breaks the fourth wall” and talks directly to the audience.

It’s a very pretentious and misguided part of the film, not just because “breaking the fourth wall” doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie, but also because this attempt to make Selah look like an enlightened feminist falls very flat. At the point in the movie where Selah goes off on this rant, viewers already know she’s a self-entitled brat who’s also a drug dealer. It’s a little hard to take her preaching seriously, considering how morally bankrupt and hateful she is.

As the loathsome Selah, Simone does an adequate job at portraying someone who is supposed to be written as a complicated person, but she’s really transparent and fairly two-dimensional. The real discovery is O’Connor, who goes through a metamorphosis as Paloma, and gives by far the best performance in the movie.

Unfortunately, most of the characters, except for Selah and Paloma, are written as vague sketches. The movie could’ve been more interesting if it showed more of the personalities of the other faction leaders, so viewers can get an idea of the social dynamics that caused Selah to rise to the leadership position.

It’s not about Selah being likeable. It’s about her being fascinating enough to explain why she’s the “queen bee” of the school’s social hierarchy. Because “Selah and the Spades” takes the misstep of having a central character with such a dead personality (which leads to a lot of dull and predictable scenes), this movie that is clearly inspired by “Heathers” won’t ever be considered a cult classic like “Heathers.”

Amazon Prime Video premiered “Selah and the Spades” on April 17, 2020.

2020 SXSW Film Festival migrates to Amazon Prime Video for limited time

April 21, 2020

The following is a press release from South by Southwest Conference and Festivals:

Amazon Prime Video and SXSW are joining forces to launch “Prime Video presents the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection,” following the unprecedented cancellation of the SXSW Conference and Festivals by the City of Austin due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

“Prime Video presents the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection” offers filmmakers in the 2020 SXSW Film Festival lineup an invitation to opt in to take part in this online film festival, which will play exclusively on Prime Video in the U.S. for 10-days. The one-time event will be available in front of the Prime Video paywall and free to all audiences around the country, with or without an Amazon Prime membership, all that is needed is a free Amazon account.

Filmmakers who choose to participate will receive a screening fee for streaming their film over the 10-day period. The launch date is yet to be announced, but SXSW and Prime Video are targeting a late April date. SXSW has shared details on the opportunity with 2020 filmmakers, who can opt in starting today.

Jennifer Salke, Head of Amazon Studios, said, “We’re honored to be able to provide a space for the SXSW filmmakers to share their hard work and passion with audiences for the first time. It’s been a privilege collaborating with Janet Pierson and the SXSW team to bring these diverse and inspiring films to viewers around the country. We are supporters of SXSW and other independent film festivals, and hope this online film festival can help give back some of that experience, and showcase artists and films that audiences might otherwise not have had the chance to see.”

“Ever since SXSW was canceled by the City of Austin, we’ve been focused on how we could help the incredible films and filmmakers in the SXSW 2020 Film Festival lineup,” said Janet Pierson, Director of Film at SXSW. “We were delighted when Amazon Prime Video offered to host an online film festival, and jumped at the opportunity to connect their audiences to our filmmakers. We’re inspired by the adaptability and resilience of the film community as it searches for creative solutions in this unprecedented crisis.”

“I’m thrilled that these two great champions of indie film (SXSW and Amazon Prime Video) are teaming up to resurrect this year’s canceled film festival,” said Jay Duplass, independent filmmaker and SXSW alum. “These are unprecedented times, and it’s going to take unprecedented solutions to carry on and celebrate these great films and the people who worked so hard to make them.”

Stay tuned to SXSW for more information coming soon. Follow us on TwitterInstagramLinkedIn, and Facebook for the latest SX news.

April 27, 2020 UPDATE:

Announcing the April 27 launch of the Prime Video presents the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection from Amazon Prime Video and SXSW with 39 films, composed of narrative and documentary features, short films, and episodic titles.

Filmmakers in the official 2020 SXSW Film Festival lineup were invited to opt in to take part in this online film festival, which will play exclusively on Prime Video in the U.S. from April 27 to May 6. The one-time event will be available in front of the Prime Video paywall, free to all U.S. audiences with or without an Amazon Prime membership — all that is needed is a free Amazon account.

“SXSW has always championed creators forging their own paths to success, often with just the right mix of passion, vision, and radical experimentation to make their dreams happen,” said Janet Pierson, Director of Film at SXSW. “There is no one-size-fits-all, especially in these uncertain times, and we knew this opportunity would be of interest to those filmmakers who wanted to be in front of a large audience now. We believe people will be captivated by this selection of intriguing work that would have been shown at our 2020 event.”

“We understand every film has its own strategy and we know this opportunity may not make sense for every filmmaker. However, for those who want to share their stories right now and with as many people as possible, we’re excited to provide them this platform,” said Jennifer Salke, Head of Amazon Studios. “Until we are able to be together in person again, we hope this program allows these wonderful stories to virtually reach film lovers everywhere in the country.”

In addition to online panels and Q&As produced by SXSW, FREE THE WORK is collaborating with Prime Video to promote and raise awareness for this program, organizing hosted panels featuring films and filmmakers from the lineup. Founded by filmmaker Alma Har’el, FREE THE WORK is a nonprofit initiative dedicated to identifying systemic inequalities in film, television, advertising, and media, and finding actionable solutions to expand access for underrepresented creators.

Explore the list below of 2020 SXSW Film Festival titles streaming on Prime Video from April 27 to May 6 at amazon.com/sxsw.

Narrative Features

Cat in the Wall (Bulgaria, United Kingdom, France)
Directors/Screenwriters/Producers: Mina Mileva, Vesela Kazakova
This terrific comedy-drama is set on a southeast London council estate, which is riven by social and economic divisions and threatened by the all-consuming force of gentrification. Irina, a Bulgarian woman lives there with her small son and her brother. The lift serves as a toilet, the multi-cultural residents exchange shouts rather than pleasantries, and an expensive refurbishment is undesired but must be paid for. And in the midst of this: an apparently ownerless cat which has had enough of the heated atmosphere barricades itself ‘in the wall’, requiring the residents to collaborate. Cat in the Wall is an arresting critique of society, a whirlpool of emotions from despair to joie de vivre conveyed by strongly delineated characters. This heart-warming tale, shot in a documentary style, is this year’s equivalent of director Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake. Cast: Irina Atanosova, Angel Genov, Gilda Waugh

Gunpowder Heart (Guatemala, Spain)
Director/Screenwriter: Camila Urrutia; Producer: Inés Nofuentes
Claudia and Maria have fallen in love. They live in the city of Guatemala, a city full of stories related to abuse, unforgiving police officers, and charming secret corners. Everything changes one night when they are attacked by three men. They manage to escape but they now have to choose if they want revenge. Cast: Andrea Henry, Vanessa Hernández

Le Choc du Futur (France)
Director/Screenwriter: Marc Collin; Co-Writer: Elina Gakou-Gomba; Producers: Marc Collin, Nicolas Jourdier, Gaelle Ruffier
In the Paris of 1978, old formulas do not charm listeners anymore and new music must arise. In a male-dominated industry, Ana uses her electronic gadgets to make herself heard, creating a new sound that will mark the decades to come: the music of the future. Cast: Alma Jodorowsky, Philippe Rebbot, Clara Luciani

Selfie (France)
Directors: Tristan Aurouet, Thomas Bidegain, Marc Fitoussi, Cyril Gelblat, Vianney Lebasque; Screenwriters: Giulio Callegari, Noé Debré, Hélène Lombard, Julien Sibony, Bertrand Soulier; Producers: Mandoline Films, Chez Georges Productions
Algorithms, Technophobics, Dating App addicts, Vloggers, cloud security breach… each one of us can relate to the wired madness happening on screen. In five subversive and hilarious Black Mirror-like tales, Selfie takes on our digital shortcomings and shows how the new 2.0 era is driving all of us nuts! Cast: Blanche Gardin, Manu Payet, Elsa Zylberstein

Documentary Features

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me (United States)
Director/Producer: Karen Bernstein; Co-Producer: Nevie Owens
Fellini meets Motown in I’m Gonna Make You Love Me, the tragi-comedic tale of one man’s search for self-acceptance, a journey that included tabloid celebrity, Tupperware parties, and two coming-outs — first as a straight woman, then as the gay man he was born to be. Cast: Brian Belovitch aka “Tish,” Gloria Walker, Michael Musto

My Darling Vivian (United States)
Director: Matt Riddlehoover; Producers: Dustin Tittle, Matt Riddlehoover
The story of Vivian Liberto, Johnny Cash’s first wife and the mother of his four daughters. Includes never-before-seen footage and photographs of Johnny Cash and Rosanne Cash, as well as footage featuring Reese Witherspoon, Joaquin Phoenix, Tim Robbins, Whoopi Goldberg, John C. Reilly, and many more.

TFW NO GF (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Alex Lee Moyer; Producers: Adam Bhala Lough, Cody Wilson, Ariel Pink, Alex Lee Moyer, Michael Reich, John Eisenman, Matt Ornstein, Claire Bargout, Deagan White, Barrett Avner
A generation of disaffected young men searches for meaning in the dark corners of the internet. TFW NO GF examines the subculture through the metaphor of an iconic meme.

Narrative Shorts

A Period Piece (France, United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Shuchi Talati; Producer: Esra Saydam; Co-Producer: Claire Chassagne
Geetha, a control and order loving Indian-American woman, finally has sex with Vehd one afternoon but things quickly turn messy, causing a fight to erupt mid-coitus. Cast: Sonal Aggarwal, Nardeep Khurmi

Basic (United States)
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Chelsea Devantez; Co-Producer: Kevin Walsh
Basic is a very, very, very short film about a dumb lil’ ho doing lil’ ho things. Starring Nelson Franklin (Veep, Abby’s, Blackish), Georgia Mischak (Arrested Development, Love), and Chelsea Devantez (Bless This Mess, Abby’s), who also wrote and directed. It’s a darkish comedy exploring the insecure lil’ ho in all of us.

Blocks (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Bridget Moloney; Producers: Kate Chamuris, Kristin Slaysman, Valerie Steinberg
An existential comedy about the mother of two young children who begins to spontaneously vomit toy blocks. Cast: Claire Coffee, Mark Webber, Ruha Taslimi

Broken Bird (United States)
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Rachel Harrison Gordon
Birdie, a biracial girl raised by her Jewish mom in a New Jersey suburb, spends a rare day with her father while preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. She overcomes her doubts, and decides to risk inviting him back into her life. Birdie confronts what independence means as she steps into adulthood on her own terms. Cast: Indigo Hubbard-Salk, Chad L. Coleman

Daddio (United States)
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Casey Wilson; Co-Writer: Laura Kindred; Co-Producers: Ursula Camack, Laura Kindred, Adam Silver
Daddio is a comedy about death. A year after the sudden passing of their beloved wife and mother, a dad and daughter grapple with life after loss. Grief looks very different on both of them. Paul, played by Michael McKean (Better Call Saul, Spinal Tap), is manic. He gets a perm and begs neighbors to hot tub with him. Abby, played by Casey Wilson (SNL, Happy Endings, Black Monday) is depressed. She sleeps in her closet and uses a shopping cart for a laundry basket. At its heart, Daddio is a love story between a father and daughter after the unimaginable has happened. Based on real death events. Cast: Michael McKean, Casey Wilson, June Diane Raphael, Adam Pally

Dirty (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Matthew Puccini; Producers: Cecilia Delgado, Jeremy Truong, Matthew Puccini
Marco cuts class to spend the afternoon with his boyfriend. Things do not go as planned. Cast: Morgan Sullivan, Manny Dunn

Face to Face Time (United States)
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Izzy Shill
Claire takes the bold step of initiating a FaceTime call, only to discover Danny’s flaccid enthusiasm for her. Cast: Izzy Shill, Sean Patrick McGowan

Father of the Bride (United Kingdom)
Director/Screenwriter: Rhys Marc Jones; Producer: Alex Polunin
The best man attempts to keep face and deliver his speech at his brother’s wedding, following an advance in the hotel bathroom by the father of the bride. Cast: Jay Lycurgo, Dominic Mafham, Marcus Rutherford, Isabelle Connolly

Figurant (France, Czech Republic)
Director/Screenwriter: Jan Vejnar; Producers: Origine Films / Silk Films
A man follows a group of workers coming for daywork in an industrial area. Soon, he’s stripped from his clothes and identity, dressed in a military uniform and armed. His determination not to fall behind the others is then tested by a series of unsettling events. Cast: Denis Lavant

Reminiscences of the Green Revolution (Philippines, United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Dean Colin Marcial; Producer: Armi Rae Cacanindin
A ghost story about love and eco-terrorism in the Philippines. Cast: Annicka Dolonius, Sid Lucero, Abner Delina Jr.

Runon (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Daniel Newell Kaufman; Producer: Lizzie Shaprio
All Luke and his mom have are two garbage bags full of clothes, and two tickets out of town on the midnight Greyhound. Like he’s assembling a puzzle, Luke has to figure out the why of it — all before the person they’re running from puts together the pieces. Cast: Erin Markey, Luke Visiage, Mike Alonzo

Single (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Ashley Eakin; Producer: Connie Jo Sechrist
A girl born with one arm goes on a blind date with a guy who has one hand…and she is pissed! Cast: Delaney Feener, Jordan Wiseley

Soft (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Daniel Antebi; Producers: Casey Bader, Reid Hannaford, Nicole Quintero Ochoa
Sam — 16, queer, and falling in love — struggles to untangle himself from his abusive martial arts coach. Cast: Josh Lerner, Benicio Franqui, Alex Kramer

Still Wylde (Canada, United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Ingrid Haas; Producers: Devin Lawrence, Katie White
Gertie and her sometimes boyfriend, Sam, are faced with a major life decision only to realize that even when they know what they want, life has other plans. Cast: Ingrid Haas, Barry Rothbart, Sabrina Jalees

Summer Hit (Germany)
Director/Screenwriter: Berthold Wahjudi; Producers: Melissa Byrne, Philipp Link
Laia from Spain and Emil from Iceland are Erasmus students in Munich. After having sex for a couple of times, Emil professes his love to Laia — but she panics and runs away. Now the two have to figure out whether they are more than just a summer fling. Cast: Martina Roura, Atli Benedikt, Katrin Filzen

The Voice in Your Head (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Graham Parkes; Producer: Brendan Garrett
A surreal comedy about an office worker who has resigned himself to spending every waking hour tortured by the negative voice in head, until a concerned co-worker decides to take action. Cast: Lewis Pullman, Mat Wright, Trian Longsmith

Vert (United Kingdom)
Director/Screenwriter: Kate Cox; Producers: Nick Rowell, Sophie Reynolds, Gabriele Lo Giudice
Emelia (BAFTA Nominee Nikki Amuka-Bird) and Jeff (Nick Frost) are an open-minded couple celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary by venturing into the Virtual world of “Vert” together. Vert presents them with a character that is their ‘ideal self’ and what is supposed to be re-awakening for them as a couple becomes the unearthing of Jeff’s secret. Cast: Nikki Amuka-Bird, Nick Frost, Olivia Vinall

Waffle (United States)
Director: Carlyn Hudson; Screenwriters/Producers: Katie Marovitch, Kerry Barker; Co-Producers: Pamela Robison, Bridgett Greenberg
Kerry is at a sleepover with the socially awkward, mysteriously orphaned heiress Katie. Friendship — in a society that grows ever isolating — is explored as Kerry learns the hard way that Katie always gets what she wants. Cast: Katie Marovitch, Kerry Barker, Raphael Chestang

Documentary Shorts

Affurmative Action (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Travis Wood
An exploration of workplace diversity through “meet the team” pages.

Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Christine Turner; Producer: Erin Wright
At 93, there’s no stopping when it comes to the legendary artist Betye Saar.

Broken Orchestra (United States, Canada)
Director: Charlie Tyrell; Screenwriter: Josef Beeby; Producer: Julie Baldassi
A documentary short about the Symphony for a Broken Orchestra, which collected hundreds of broken instruments from the Philadelphia public school system, fixed them and then returned them into the hands of students.

Call Center Blues (United States)
Director: Geeta Gandbhir; Producer: Jessica Devaney
Call Center Blues is a lyrical portrait of an unlikely community of US deportees and their loved ones struggling to rebuild their lives in Tijuana, Mexico.

Dieorama (United States)
Director: Kevin Staake; Producer: Ryen Bartlett
Abigail Goldman spends her work days as an investigator for a public defender’s office in Washington state, helping people who are seriously in trouble—which can mean hours of staring at grisly pictures of crime scenes, visiting morgues, even observing autopsies. By night, she dreams up gruesome events, which she then turns into tiny, precise dioramas. Rife with scenes of imminent death and brutal dismemberment, the fruits of Goldman’s painstaking labor would be adorable … if they weren’t so disturbing. In this new documentary short, we follow along as Goldman brings her miniature worlds of murder and mayhem to life with tweezers, paint, and resin, and meet the people who just can’t get enough of her twisted visions—where the final touch is always, in the artist’s words, “two or three brushstrokes of red paint.”

Hiplet: Because We Can (United States)
Director/Producer: Addison Wright
Created with the intention to inspire young Black women, this film brings the Hiplet™ [hip-lay] ballerinas to center stage. With elements of a Short Film, Music Video, and Documentary, this artistic work showcases not only the talent of the Hiplet ballerinas, it also gives them a platform to discuss the challenges they have faced with giving traditional ballet a hip new twist. Cast: Homer Hans Bryant, Jayda Perry, Nia Parker

Lions in the Corner (United States)
Director: Paul Hairston; Producer: Jake Ewald
In Virginia, Scarface started Streetbeefs in his backyard to combat gun and knife violence in the area. Soon it turned into something much more for the men involved. Cast: Chris Wilmore

Mizuko (Water Child) (United States)
Directors: Katelyn Rebelo, Kira Dane; Screenwriter: Kira Dane; Producer: Amy Hobby for Tribeca Film Institute
In Japan, there is a special way to grieve after having an abortion. This Buddhist ritual, called the water children memorial, allows people to metaphorically return their lost children to the sea. Told through the Japanese American filmmaker’s personal story of abortion in the US, Mizuko (Water Child) is a partially animated, intimate reckoning with the impact of this cultural context.

Modern Whore (Canada)
Director/Screenwriter: Nicole Bazuin; Producer: Lisa Baylin
Former escort Andrea Werhun shares the ins and outs of escort review board culture, exposing the complexities of sexual power and social stigma in a post-#MeToo world. Cast: Andrea Werhun, Chester Brown, Michael Cuddy

No Crying at the Dinner Table (Canada)
Director: Carol Nguyen; Producers: Carol Nguyen, Aziz Zoromba
Filmmaker Carol Nguyen interviews her own family to craft an emotionally complex and meticulously composed portrait of intergenerational trauma, grief, and secrets in this cathartic documentary about things left unsaid.

Quilt Fever (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Olivia Loomis Merrion
Every year, thousands of quilters descend upon Paducah, Kentucky for its annual quilt competition, doubling the town’s population. “The Academy Awards of quilting” is a weeklong spectacle in which quilters from all over the world vie for the coveted Best of Show award. Beyond the competition, the film weaves through stories of individual quilters to reveal deeper motivations behind the art.

Episodic

Cursed Films (Canada)
Director/Screenwriter: Jay Cheel; Producers: Andrew Nicholas McCann Smith, Laura Perlmutter, Brian Robertson, Jay Cheel
Cursed Films is a five-part documentary series from Shudder exploring the myths and legends behind some of Hollywood’s notoriously “cursed” horror film productions. From plane accidents and bombings during the making of The Omen, to the rumored use of human skeletons on the set of Poltergeist, these stories are legendary amongst film fans and filmmakers alike. But where does the truth lie?

Motherland: Fort Salem (United States)
Showrunner/Screenwriter: Eliot Laurence
Set in an alternate America where witches ended their persecution by cutting a deal with the government to fight for the country, Motherland: Fort Salem follows three young women from training to deployment, as they fight terrorist threats with supernatural tactics.

Tales from the Loop (United States, Canada)
Director: Mark Romanek
Creator/Writer: Nathaniel Halpern; Director: Mark Romanek; Executive Producers: Nathaniel Halpern, Matt Reeves, Mark Romanek, Adam Kassan, Rafi Crohn, Mattias Montero, Samanthan Taylor Pickett, Adam Berg and Simon Stålenhag
Based on the acclaimed art of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, Tales from the Loop explores the town and people who live above “The Loop,” a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe. In this fantastical, mysterious town poignant human tales are told that bare universal emotional experiences while drawing on the intrigue of genre storytelling. Cast: Rebecca Hall, Paul Schneider, Daniel Zolghadri, Duncan Joiner, Jonathan Pryce

Tune into Amazon Prime Video starting April 27 and enjoy some SXSW 2020 films from your couch! Follow us on TwitterInstagramLinkedIn, and Facebook for the latest SX news.

Amazon Prime Video series ‘Making the Cut,’ starring Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, announces Season 1 contestants

February 24, 2020

The following is a press release from Amazon Prime Video:

Amazon Original series “Making the Cut” reveals its first official look at the upcoming season, hosted and executive produced by Heidi Klum & Tim Gunn. The series will premiere on Prime Video on Friday March 27, 2020. The 10-episode fashion competition series, which brings together a diverse group of 12 talented entrepreneurs and designers, will premiere two new episodes each week, culminating in an epic finale on April 24, 2020.

In this first-ever global and instantly shoppable series, limited editions of the winning look from each episode will be available for purchase exclusively on Amazon in the “Making the Cut” store. During the course of the season, those who do not “make the cut” will be eliminated, with the winning designer from the finale receiving one million dollars to invest in their brand and the opportunity to create an exclusive line available on Amazon.

The dozen designers featured on “Making the Cut” will visit three of the world’s fashion capitals – New York, Paris, and Toyko – and face challenges and assignments that will test not only their design skills but also their ability to run all aspects of a business. Judging their looks and industry acumen are some of fashion’s most recognizable and influential names, including Naomi Campbell, Nicole Richie, Joseph Altuzarra, Carine Roitfeld and Chiara Ferragni. The series is executive produced by Sara Rea, Page Feldman, Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn and Jennifer Love, directed by Ramy Romany and produced by Amazon Studios and SKR Productions.

As previously announced, the 12 designers competing for an opportunity of a lifetime are:

Sander Bos, 24, Hasselt, Belgium: Featuring avant-garde inspired looks, Bos is a young designer who runs his namesake line. Raised in a small town in Belgium, he is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and is eager to make his mark on a global scale.

Rinat Brodach, 35, New York City: Brodach was a fan of fashion from an early age while growing up in in Israel and later came to the US to study design. Her eponymous line features a minimalist chic, gender-free aesthetic, reflecting her own straightforward personality. She recently dressed Billy Porter for the Critics’ Choice Awards and her designs have also been worn by Laverne Cox and Adam Lambert.

Ji Won Choi, 26, New York City: The Parson graduate is a designer of elevated, active streetwear that she sells under her namesake brand and has collaborated with Adidas, with pieces worn by Beyoncé and Kendall Jenner. Born in Seoul, South Korea, raised in Oklahoma, and educated in New York City and Paris, her work is a reflection of how Choi sees herself in the world.

Jasmine Chong, 31, New York City: Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Chong is the owner of her self-titled feminine ready-to-wear line, has previously shown at NYFW and her line has been featured in a number of fashion magazines. Inspired by her seamstress grandmother and her fashion designer mother, she is focused on creating beautiful clothing that appeals to all body types.

Jonny Cota, 35, Los Angeles, CA: The self-taught owner of the elevated streetwear brand Skingraft, Cota produces two men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections yearly and has shown five times at New York Fashion Week. In addition, he has dressed celebrities including Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé.

Martha Gottwald, 28, Richmond, VA: The Louisiana native and mother of two is owner of the womenswear brand Neubyrne and has been featured in British Vogue and shown at NYFW. Like Gottwald herself, Neubyrne embraces color and whimsicality. The survivor of a near fatal car accident that taught her about strength and endurance, she is a relatively new designer who was inspired by artisans she met in Singapore.

Troy Hul Arnold, 34, New York City: An adjunct professor at Parsons, Hul Arnold was born in Trinidad and Tobago before coming to the US as a child. His brand, Hul Arnold, features minimalist, avant-garde menswear inspired looks for women; one of his designs was worn by Sarah Jessica Parker on Glee. Hul Arnold takes an artisanal approach to his fashion, and he refers to his pieces as functional sculptures.

Joshua Hupper, 38, Shanghai, China: Founder of BABYGHOST, a wildly successful e-commerce fashion brand based in China, Hupper’s designs have been featured in Vogue and on runways around the world. His line features youthful, feminine ready-to-wear fashions for the “mischievous girl.” Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Hupper’s talents were shaped by his artistic upbringing and internships with Diane Von Furstenburg and Thakoon.

Esther Perbandt, 43, Berlin, Germany: Founder and namesake Esther Perbandt was born and bred in Berlin, toughened up in Moscow and polished in Paris. Owner of her eponymous line, which features edgy, menswear-inspired separates, Perbandt has created more than 30 collections over the brand’s 15 year history and has been running her highly successful boutique in Berlin for ten years. As an artist, she has also collaborated on countless music, film and theatre projects.

Will Riddle, 31, New York City: Riddle’s design skills, featuring a modern take on old glamour, have led to a series of impressive jobs, including Atelier Director at Oscar de la Renta, 3.1 Philip Lim, and now men’s designer at Kith – a far journey from growing up in a trailer park in Ohio. With an impressive resume under his belt, Riddle is ready to start his own label.

Sabato Russo, 64, Milan, Italy: A seasoned designer with a 25-year career in the industry, Russo is owner of the brand Satorial Monk, which focuses on high end simplicity. A former model who is able to speak four languages, Russo has a global point of view that is reflected in his sophisticated, timeless looks. Russo is currently working on his “Made in Italy” line entitled Sabato Russo.

Megan Smith, 38, Los Angeles, CA: Born and raised in Kansas City, KS, Smith first discovered her love of fashion design while creating clothes for her Barbie dolls. After designing private label for several major bands and retailers, Smith branched out and launched her own line “Megan Renee.” The response to her first runway show during Los Angeles Fashion Week was so overwhelming, she launched her online boutique to sell her collections to customers worldwide. Her line features feminine, 70’s inspired cocktail attire.

Making The Cut Social Handles: #MakingtheCut
Twitter: @MakingtheCutTV
Instagram: @MakingtheCutTV

Amazon Prime Video Social Handles:
Twitter: @PrimeVideo
Instagram: @AmazonPrimeVideo

Amazon Fashion Social Handles:
Instagram & Twitter: @AmazonFashion

Making The Cut Talent & Judge Social Handles:
Heidi Klum: Twitter and Instagram @HeidiKlum
Tim Gunn: Twitter and Instagram @TimGunn
Naomi Campbell: Twitter @NaomiCampbell and Instagram @Naomi
Nicole Richie: Twitter and Instagram @NicoleRichie
Carine Roitfeld: Instagram @CarineRoitfeld
Joseph Altuzarra: Instagram @JosephAltuzarra
Chiara Ferragni: Twitter and Instagram @ChiaraFerragni

Review: ‘Troop Zero,’ starring Viola Davis, Mckenna Grace, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Epps and Allison Janney

January 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Troop Zero
Allison Janney and Viola Davis in “Troop Zero” (Photo by Curtis Bonds Baker)

“Troop Zero”

Directed by Bert & Bertie

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1977, the family-friendly comedy “Troop Zero” has predominantly white American characters (with some representation of African Americans and Latinos) from the middle and lower classes of a rural, conservative community in the U.S. state of Georgia.

Culture Clash: The movie’s plot revolves around a talent competition for middle-school Birdie Scouts, with one rival troop comprised of “popular girls” and another rival troop comprised of “social outcasts.”

Culture Audience: “Troop Zero” will appeal primarily to people who like adorable, slightly kooky comedies about student angst and self-identity.

Mckenna Grace in “Troop Zero” (Photo by Curtis Bonds Baker)

In a comedy film, a cranky adult reluctantly takes on a group of pre-teen misfits to coach them in a high-stakes competition where the team will be ridiculed underdogs. Is it 1977’s “The Bad News Bears” or 1992’s “The Mighty Ducks”? No, in this case, it’s 2020’s “Troop Zero,” a decidedly different take on a familiar plot outline.

“Troop Zero,” which is set in 1977 rural Georgia, is certainly a throwback to those films from a bygone era when smartphones and social media didn’t dominate kids’ lives. The main differences between most films of this kind and “Troop Zero” is that for “Troop Zero,” the story is told from the perspective of a girl; the adult leader of the misfit group is a woman; and the movie was written and directed by women.

Directed by female duo Bert & Bertie and written by Oscar-nominated “Beasts of the Southern Wild” co-writer Lucy Alibar, “Troop Zero” has a cute and quirky charm that comes primarily from Christmas Flint (played by Mckenna Grace), an adolescent girl who’s obsessed with outer space and who’s still grieving over the death of her mother from the previous year. The opening scene of the movie shows Christmas trying to contact outer-space aliens with flashlight signals.

Christmas lives with her father, Ramsey Flint (played by Jim Gaffigan), a defense attorney who’s constantly having financial problems because he has many clients who can’t or won’t pay him, and he has a hard time saying no to people he thinks need his help. Ramsey’s assistant/office manager is Miss Raylene (played by Viola Davis), who’s the closest to a maternal figure that Christmas has in her life, even if Miss Raylene says she doesn’t particularly like being around children. “Little girls give me the creeps,” Miss Raylene says in one scene. “You can’t him them no more. They changed the laws.”

Ramsey’s best friend Dwayne (played by Mike Epps) is a fellow Vietnam War veteran who’s suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Back in 1977, there wasn’t a name for PTSD, so they usually called it being “shell-shocked.” Dwayne is the love interest of Miss Raylene, who’s had her heart broken in her past. She reveals the details in the movie, and it explains why she has such a hard exterior.

Viewers see early on in the film that Christmas is an outcast at her school not only because a lot of students think she’s weird, but also because her father’s financially precarious situation has branded the Flints as “poor trash” by the snobs in the community. Her best friend is Joseph (played by Charlie Shotwell), an androgynous, flamboyant child who might be gay, but the movie hints that Joseph is either gender-fluid or non-binary, because various characters in the movie keep saying that they don’t know if Joseph is a boy or a girl. And since this movie takes place in 1977, there weren’t specific terms for people who might not have a cisgender identity.

Some of the social rejection that Christmas experiences stings her a little bit, but she’s mostly content to do her own thing and hang out with Joseph. She’s not really concerned about being well-liked and joining groups until she finds out that there’s a national talent competition for Birdie Scouts where the winning scout troop will get to have their voices recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, thereby becoming part of space history.

With no way of being accepted by the established Birdie Scout troops in the area, Christmas decides to start her own Birdie Scout troop. The style-minded Joseph (who likes to wear dresses and loves David Bowie) is immediately up for the challenge and is the first recruit to this new troop. Christmas also ends up convincing these other kids to join the troop: Ann-Claire (played by Bella Higginbotham), an eyepatch-wearing nervous and shy girl who’s devoted to Christianity; Hell-No (played by Milan Ray), the school’s loudmouth bully; and Smash (played Johanna Colón), who’s practically mute and likes to destroy things when she gets angry—a lot like the Incredible Hulk. The Birdie Scout troops have numbers for their names, so Christmas chooses “zero” as the name for her troop, since “zero” can also mean infinity.

The Birdie Scouts of the school are under the supervision of Crystal Massey (played by Allison Janney), the school principal whom the students have nicknamed Nasty Massey. She’s the type of uptight and stern principal we’ve seen many times before in movies, but Janney brings a touch of humanity to the role to convey that Principal Massey must be a pathetic and lonely person for her to take so much pleasure in making life miserable for other people. (On a side note, fans of “The Help” movie should delight in seeing “The Help” co-stars Davis and Janney reunited on screen.)

Principal Massey is already counting on her favorite Birdie Scout troop, Troop Five, to win the competition. Troop Five is the group of popular girls in the school—the types who are cheerleaders, “A”-grade students, and from the communities’ socially prominent families. (The Troop Five members are also stuck-up mean girls.) But to Principal Massey’s horror, Troop Zero qualifies to become a real troop to enter the competition, as long as Troop Zero gets an adult leader. Miss Raylene completely resists the idea at first, but she eventually gives in to Christmas’ relentless pleas for Miss Raylene to become Troop Zero’s adult leader.

Another big challenge that Troop Zero faces is to raise enough money for the competition’s entry fees. They do so by selling cookies from door to door and by offering pop-up beauty salon services to local women. (Joseph is thrilled to be the troop’s best hair stylist.) One of the baking sessions ends up in a predictable food fight when members of Troop Five crash the session.

The hairstyles and clothes aren’t the only indications that this movie takes place in the 1970s. In one scene in the movie, as one of the required Birdie Scout challenges, Miss Raylene leaves the members of Troop Zero alone to camp out overnight in the woods. That’s not the kind of thing that adults could get away with nowadays. (We have to assume that the parents thought that the kids would be safe with Miss Raylene, but she ends up ditching the children to fend for themselves.)

Her reason for the abandonment is to build character and courage for the troop. It’s the kind of scene that’s cringeworthy to watch for anyone who would never do that to defenseless kids, but since this movie is supposed to be a comedy, you can almost hear the filmmakers make this excuse: “Hey, it was the ’70s!”

Speaking of the ’70s, there’s something very old-school about this kind of film with the basic plot about student angst and “misfits versus the popular ones,” but “Troop Zero” has a modern sensibility by including child characters who wouldn’t be in movies that were made back in the 1970s. (Joseph is a perfect example.)

The precocious and determined Christmas is also ahead of her time, since she has no hesitation about her goals to join NASA and go into outer space. It’s a dream that people around her discourage her from having, because the naysayers tell her that being an astronaut is a “man’s job.” And what happens during Troop Zero’s talent routine during the competition is something that wouldn’t have been in a children’s movie that was made back in the 1970s.

“Troop Zero,” which had its world premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, is not just a movie that will appeal to girls or women. It has a message of self-acceptance and how to overcome obstacles that can resonate with a wide variety of people, if you don’t mind sitting through the retro vibe and familiarity of it all.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “Troop Zero” on January 17, 2020.

Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty fall/winter 2019 show headed to Amazon Prime Video

August 26, 2019

Rihanna (Photo by Miguel Pereira/Getty Images) 

The following is a press release from Amazon Prime Video:

Amazon Prime Video presents the highly anticipated second annual Savage X Fenty Show, a runway show celebrating the new Fall/Winter 2019 collection from music and fashion icon Rihanna. The extraordinary fashion experience will take place during New York Fashion Week in conjunction with NYFW: The Shows and will feature a combination of models, actors and dancers wearing the latest savage styles, offering up a new type of sexy, where attitude meets individuality. Savage X Fenty Show will stream exclusivelyon Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide beginning Friday, September 20.

As a follow up to last year’s ground-breaking event, this year’s Savage X Fenty Show is raising the bar. The star-studded evening is set to be a radical departure from tradition, a one-of-a-kind event blending music, fashion and culture. With exciting surprises around every corner, including performances from some of the hottest acts in music, the show debuts Savage X Fenty’s bold and fearless Fall/Winter 2019 collection.

“I couldn’t be more excited that everyone will have full access to The Savage X Fenty Show this year! We are working on creating a bold, sexy, super energetic experience for our viewers,” said Rihanna.

“Rihanna has conquered the worlds of music, film, beauty and fashion. She has re-invented the idea of what fashionable lingerie should be for a global customer. The brand authentically reflects empowering statements of inclusivity, body positivity and fun! The Savage X Fenty Show promises to be a ground-breaking and truly unique experience and we’re thrilled to give our global customers an exclusive front row seat,” said Jennifer Salke, Head of Amazon Studios.

Following the live show, this year’s Savage X Fenty Show will be available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video worldwide giving audiences both in-person and at home a door into the world of Savage X Fenty, as well as the chance to relive the experience again and again. The Amazon Prime Video special will also feature an exclusive look behind the scenes at the making of the show.

The Savage X Fenty Show was created under the artistic direction of Rihanna and Savage X Fenty, and is executive produced by Rihanna and produced by PRODJECT and Endeavor Content’s non-scripted group.

ABOUT SAVAGE X FENTY

Music and fashion icon Rihanna embarks on her newest venture: lingerie designer. Inspired to create a line of intimates that complements a variety of shades and shapes, Savage X Fenty celebrates fearlessness, confidence, and inclusivity. In partnership with TechStyle Fashion Group, the label has disrupted and redefined the marketplace with its accessible price point and extensive assortment. “We want to make people look good and feel good,” explains Rihanna, who approaches Savage X with the same mentality she does all her projects—to make something new and fresh that everyone can relate to and feel confident in. “We want you to feel sexy and have fun doing it.” With sizes from 32A – 46DDD in bras, and XS-3X in undies and sleepwear Savage X Fenty is available for purchase at www.SavageX.com.

ABOUT AMAZON PRIME VIDEO

Amazon Prime Video is a premium streaming service that offers customers a vast collection of digital videos—all with the ease of finding what they love to watch in one place.

  • Included with Prime: Watch thousands of popular movies and TV shows, including our critically-acclaimed Amazon Originals including the Emmy Award-winning The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Homecoming, Hanna, Fleabag, Good Omens, The Boys, Donald Glover’s Guava Island, the Academy Award-winningManchester by the Sea and The Salesman, Academy Award-nominated The Big Sick and Cold War, and the critically-acclaimed Beautiful Boy, exclusives, live sports including Thursday Night Football and licensed and self-published content available in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.
  • Watch more with Prime Video Channels: Prime members can add 150+ channels in the US like HBO, Cinemax, STARZ, SHOWTIME, CBS All Access, NBA League Pass and MLB.tv—no extra apps to download, and no cable required. Only pay for the ones you want, and cancel anytime. View the full list of channels available at amazon.com/channels.
  • Rent or Buy: Enjoy hundreds of thousands of titles, including new-release movies and entire seasons of current TV episodes, available for all Amazon customers to rent or buy.
  • Instant access: Watch where and when you want with the Prime Video app on your smart TV, mobile device, Fire TV, Fire tablet, Apple TV, Chromecast, game consoles, Comcast X1 or from the web. For a complete list of compatible devices, visit amazon.com/howtostream.
  • Enhanced experiences: Make the most of every viewing with 4K Ultra HD- and High Dynamic Range (HDR)-compatible content. Go behind the scenes of your favorite movies and TV shows with exclusive X-Ray access, powered by IMDb. Save it for later with select mobile downloads for offline viewing.

In addition to access to movies and TV shows included with Prime, the Prime membership includes unlimited fast free shipping options across all categories available on Amazon, more than two million songs and thousands of playlists and stations with Prime Music, secure photo storage with Prime Photos, unlimited reading with Prime Reading, unlimited access to a digital audiobook catalogue with Audible Channels for Prime, a rotating selection of free digital games and in-game loot with Twitch Prime, early access to select Lightning Deals, exclusive access and discounts to select items, and more. To sign-up for Prime or to find out more visit: amazon.com/prime.

About Amazon

Amazon is guided by four principles: customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and long-term thinking. Customer reviews, 1-Click shopping, personalized recommendations, Prime, Fulfillment by Amazon, AWS, Kindle Direct Publishing, Kindle, Fire tablets, Fire TV, Amazon Echo, and Alexa are some of the products and services pioneered by Amazon. For more information, visit amazon.com/about and follow @AmazonNews.

UPDATE: Here are videoclips from the show

Revlon introduces The Marvelous Super Lustrous Collection, inspired by ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’

July 10, 2019

The following is a press release from Revlon:

Revlon introduces The Marvelous Super Lustrous Collection, a special limited-edition lipstick collection in collaboration with the award-winning Amazon Original series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Available exclusively on Amazon.com just in time for National Lipstick Month, the collection features two curated sets of high-impact, super moisturizing Super Lustrous Lipstick. Take The Stage Reds features three show-stopping shades in Fire & Ice, Certainly Red, and Cherries in the Snow – which was recommended by Midge in Season 1. Stand-Up Nudes includes three universally flattering nudes for a classic complement to any look with Pink Truffle, Blushing Mauve and Rum Raisin.

From Midge Maisel to Rose Weissman, the women of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are meticulous about their beauty routines, which include freshly coiffed hair and a seemingly endless array of lip colors complementing their perfectly tailored outfits. Midge’s own bold choices are a hallmark of the show and reflect her trailblazing spirit as she finds her own path to independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Revlon’s iconic Fire & Ice campaign debuted around the same time, marking the first time women were encouraged to wear makeup for themselves as a mode of self-expression. It was an impactful cultural moment and complements Revlon’s presence in the show as one of Midge’s favorite beauty brands. What fan can forget her recommendation of Cherries in the Snow and Raven Red to a shopper while browsing the Revlon counter in season 1 and her excitement when she finally lands a job at the prestigious Revlon counter in season 2.

Revlon’s The Marvelous Super Lustrous Collection captures Midge Maisel’s courage and confidence, and embodies the spirit of today’s Revlon Live Boldly campaign. You can watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” Seasons 1 and 2 only on Amazon Prime Video.

SRP: $19.99 each

AVAILABLE: July 2019 exclusively at Amazon.com while supplies last.

About Revlon:
An iconic American beauty brand, Revlon was founded in 1932 with revolutionary opaque nail enamel. Today the brand is regarded as global beauty leader, innovator and color expert, offering consumers in more than 150 countries a range of high quality color cosmetics, under leading franchises including ColorStay, Super Lustrous, Revlon Ultra HD and PhotoReady Candid. The brand has a rich heritage in hair color and care, including ColorSilk, the number one consumer hair color brand in the US.  Revlon also offers a wide range of tools for beauty and nail.  Revlon serves professional hair stylists and colorists with the Revlon Professional line, offering hair color, hair care and styling products under the Revlonissimo, UniqOne, and Equave franchises.  Revlon Professional also provides cutting edge education to help salon professionals around the world transform their clients to look their very best. With a long-standing commitment to women’s progress, health and well-being, the brand has history of raising funds and awareness for women’s issues through signature programs like the Revlon Run Walk and The Revlon Million Dollar Challenge.

2019 Comic-Con International: Amazon Prime Video activities and exclusives

June 6, 2019

The following are Amazon Prime Video’s activities and exclusives at 2019 Comic-Con International in San Diego. Panel descriptions are from Comic-Con International.

July 18, 2019

“Undone”

1:45 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. 

From acclaimed creators Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg (BoJack Horseman) comes “Undone,” a groundbreaking and genre-bending animated series about a young woman’s complex journey to unlock her past and solve the mystery of her father’s death. Alma Winograd-Diaz (Rosa Salazar) takes her mundane life one day at a time until a near-fatal accident induces visions of her late father, Jacob. Through these persistent visions, he urges her to tap into a mysterious ability that allows her to travel through space and time with the hopes of preventing his untimely death. This quest challenges Alma’s relationships and brings into question her mental well-being with those closest to her. Purdy and Bob-Waksberg serve as executive producers, along with Noel Bright, Steven A. Cohen, and Tommy Pallotta. Dutch artist and filmmaker Hisko Hulsing served as the series director and production designer. Panelists include: Rosa Salazar, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Kate Purdy, and moderator Ben Travers. “Undone” is produced by Amazon Prime Video and Tornante Productions.  (Indigo Ballroom, Hilton San Diego Bayfront)

July 19, 2019

“The Boys”

3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. 

Based on The New York Times bestselling comic by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, “The Boys” is a fun and irreverent take on what happens when superheroes—who are as popular as celebrities, as influential as politicians, and as revered as Gods—abuse their superpowers rather than use them for good. It’s the powerless against the superpowerful as The Boys embark on a heroic quest to expose the truth about The Seven and Vought—the multi-billion-dollar conglomerate that manages these superheroes and covers up all of their dirty secrets. The series stars Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty, Dominique McElligott, Jessie T. Usher, Laz Alonso, Chace Crawford, Tomer Capon, Karen Fukuhara, and Elisabeth Shue. The Boys is executive produced by Eric Kripke, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, James Weaver, Neal H. Moritz, Pavun Shetty, and Ori Marmur, as well as Ken Levin and Jason Netter. Panelists include: Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty, Laz Alonso, Chace Crawford, Tomer Capon, Karen Fukuhara; executive producer Eric Kripke, Seth Rogen, Jessie T. Usher, Elisabeth Shue, moderated by Aisha Tyler. Premiering July 26 on Amazon Prime Video, the eight-episode Amazon Original series is co-produced by Amazon Prime Video and Sony Pictures Television Studios with Point Grey Pictures, Kripke Enterprises, and Original Film.  (Ballroom 20, San Diego Convention Center)

“Carnival Row”

4:45 p.m. – 5:45 p.m. 

Set in a Victorian fantasy world filled with mythological immigrant creatures whose exotic homelands were invaded by the empires of man, Amazon Prime Video’s “Carnival Row” explores how this growing population struggles to coexist with humans—forbidden to live, love, or fly with freedom. But even in darkness, hope lives, as a human detective Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom) and a refugee faerie named Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne) rekindle a dangerous affair despite an increasingly intolerant society. This panel features a cast and executive producer discussion, exclusive sneak peeks, and audience Q&A. From Amazon Prime Video and Legendary Television “Carnival Row” is executive produced by Marc Guggenheim (Arrow, Eli Stone), René Echevarria (Star Trek, Teen Wolf, Castle, Medium), Jon Amiel (Outsiders), Orlando Bloom, and Travis Beacham (Pacific Rim, Clash of the Titans). Beacham’s “A Killing on Carnival Row,” on which the project is based, appeared on the very first installment of the Hollywood Blacklist in 2005. Panelists include: Orlando Bloom, Cara Delevingne, David Gyasi, Tamzin Merchant, Travis Beacham, and Marc Guggenheim, moderated by Tim Kash (IMDB). (Ballroom 20, San Diego Convention Center)

July 20, 2019

“The Expanse”

1:00 p.m. – 1:50 p.m. 

Calling all Earthers, Belters, and Martians, “The Expanse” is making its return to Comic-Con this summer! The series has had an incredible journey since San Diego last saw the Rocinante crew. They return with news from beyond the Ring Gate and from their new home-thanks to help from the fans-as an Amazon Prime Video series. Be the first to hear about what’s next for your favorite crew from the creatives and cast, and get an early look at what’s to come when season 4 drops on Prime Video later this year. The Hugo Award-winning series, based on the hugely popular science fiction novels, was developed and scripted by the Academy Award-nominated writing duo Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby who executive produce season 4 along with Naren Shankar, Andrew Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Laura Lancaster, Sharon Hall, Sean Daniel, Jason Brown, Daniel Abraham, Ty Franck and Dan Nowak. Shankar serves as showrunner for season 4. Panelists include: Steven Strait, Wes Chatham, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Frankie Adams, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Naren Shankar, Ty Franck, Daniel Abraham, moderated by Kyle Hill (Nerdist). (Indigo Ballroom, Hilton San Diego Bayfront)

Amazon Prime Video announces fashion-competition series ‘Making the Cut,’ hosted Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn

June 26, 2019

by Carla Hay

Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum (Photo courtesy of Lifetime)

Amazon Prime Video has announced details of its fashion-competition show starring Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, the Emmy-winning former hosts of “Project Runway.” The show is called “Making the Cut,” and it will premiere sometime in 2020.  British supermodel Naomi Campbell, fashionista Nicole Richie, journalist Carine Roitfeld and fashion designer Joseph Altuzarra will be judges or guest judges on the show, which began auditioning contestants in January 2019. There will be 12 contestants (whose identities are to be announced) on the first season of “Making the Cut,” according to an Amazon Prime Video press release.

The executive producers of “Making the Cut” are Klum, Gunn, Sara Rea, Page Feldman and Jennifer Love. The show’s production company is SKR Productions.

The show’s grand prize has not yet been announced, but designs that win a challenge in each episode will be available for purchase on Amazon. The grand prize will also likely include some kind of deal where Amazon will sell the clothes of the winning designer.

“Making the Cut” joins a growing list of fashion-competition shows for contestants who are designers. Gunn and Klum were part of the original “Project Runway” team when the show debuted in 2004, and the duo left in 2017.

The “Project Runway” reboot in 2019 included the show moving from Lifetime back to Bravo (the show’s original network) and an almost complete recasting of the show’s stars. Karlie Kloss is now the host of “Project Runway,” which added mentor Christian Siriano (a former “Project Runway” winner) and new judges Brandon Maxwell (fashion designer) and journalist Elaine Welteroth. Nina Garcia, who has been a judge on “Project Runway” since the beginning, has remained with the show during its numerous changes.

Netflix also has a fashion-competition series: “Next in Fashion,” hosted by fashion expert Tan France (of “Queer Eye” fame) and model Alexa Chung. There will be a rotating group of guest judges. Elizabeth Stewart and Eva Chen are the guest judges announced so far. The premiere date for “Next in Fashion” is to be announced.