Review: ‘Descendant’ (2022), starring Kamau Sidiki, Emmett Lewis, Joycelyn Davis, Vernetta Henderson, Veda Tunstall, Ben Raines and Ramsey Sprague

October 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kamau Sadiki in “Descendant” (Photo courtesy of Participant/Netflix)

“Descendant” (2022)

Directed by Margaret Brown

Culture Representation: Taking place in Alabama and briefly in Washington, D.C., the documentary film “Descendant,” which was filmed from 2018 to 2021, features a predominantly African American group of people (with some white people and one Native American) talking about the historical impact of Clotilda, the last-known ship that illegally carried enslaved Africans to the United States in 1860.

Culture Clash: The enslaved Africans on this Coltilda voyage were brought to Alabama, where many of their direct descendants try to come to terms with the ramifications of their families’ legacies and how white supremacist racism still affects their lives.

Culture Audience: “Descendant” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in seeing impactful stories about African American family histories and the damaging repercussions of slavery and racism in the United States.

A scene from “Descendant” with Ramsey Sprague (front row, fifth from left), Joycelyn Davis (front row center, in green shirt), Joe Womack (back row, center, wearing hat), Mary Elliott (front row, third from right) and Kern Jackson (far right). (Photo courtesy of Participant/Netflix)

“Descendant” is a triumphant declaration of an important part of African American history that some people literally tried to bury. There’s a lot of heartbreak in this documentary, but there’s also a lot of hope. “Descendant” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Vision. “Descendant” also made the rounds at several other film festivals, including the 2022 SXSW (South by Southwest) Film Festival and the 2022 New York Film Festival.

When “Descendant” director Margaret Brown began filming the documentary in 2018, people had been searching for the remains of a ship called Clotilda for decades. As explained in the beginning of the movie, Clotilda was the last-known vessel to carry enslaved people from Africa to the United States, in an illegal voyage that took place in 1860. The international slave trade was abolished in the United States in 1808. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation legally freed enslaved people in the United States.

It is believed that Clotilda carried about 110 enslaved people to Alabama. The voyage was led by Captain William Foster, the owner of Clotilda. A wealthy business owner named Timothy Meaher reportedly bought many of the enslaved people from this voyage. Because this voyage and transaction were illegal, Clotilda was reportedly blown up to destroy evidence. Whatever was left of Clotilda was said to be buried in the water, off of the coast of Mobile, Alabama. (“Descendant” director Brown is originally from Mobile.)

Many of the descendants of the Clotilda captives still live in Mobile, which has a section called Africatown, where many of these descendants live. Karlos Finley, a municipal court judge in Mobile, says that from 1860 to about 1960, people in the area could get in a lot of trouble if they publicly talked about Clotilda. The ship was treated “like a dirty little secret,” according to Garry Lumbers, a descendant of Clotilda captives. The U.S. civil rights movement and the passage of U.S. civil rights laws in the mid-1960s led to more African Americans becoming more active in Black Pride activities, including finding out more about ancestral histories.

And for the descendants of Clotilda captives and other interested people, that meant finding what was left of Clotilda, in order to have a tangible and historical evidence linked to the legacies of an untold number of people. Many people in the United States can trace their family histories back to years before the United States became a nation in 1776. African people who were captured and enslaved in America had their personal histories erased with enslavement. And therefore, the descendants of these enslaved Africans don’t have the privilege of being able to trace back their family histories to the years before their enslaved ancestors were forced to live in America.

“Descendant” shows how, in July 2018, “local, state and national organizations coordinated a first-of-its kind search for Clotilda’s wreckage. Without the physical evidence, the story of the ship’s arrival in 1860, and the 110 captives it carried had been maintained largely by word of mouth,” according to a caption in the documentary. One of the biggest obstacles in finding the remains of Clotilda was conflicting information about where the remains were buried along the coast. In July 2018, the search began in Plateau, Alabama.

Throughout the years, a major resource for the history of Clotilda’s enslaved people came from historian/filmmaker Zora Neale Hurston’s book “Barracoon: The History of the Last ‘Black Cargo’,” which was originally meant to be published in 1931, but it stayed locked in a vault and unread by the public until 2018. “Barracoon” features extensive interviews with Cudjoe Lewis (1840-1935), the last-known survivor of Clotilda’s enslaved captives. Lewis was the unofficial leader of his community when the Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery, and formerly enslaved people had to navigate life as people who were legally free but still oppressed by white supremacist racism that denied equal rights to people of color in America.

Emmett Lewis, an Africatown resident and a direct descendant of Cudjoe Lewis, shares stories in the documentary about how his father, Emmett Lee Lewis (who died in 2008, at the age of 61), would take him as a child to a local graveyard in Mobile after midnight and teach him the family histories about their ancestors and other people buried there. “Descendant” has poignant footage of Emmett Lewis returning to this graveyard and visiting his father’s grave. The weight of his emotions can be seen on the screen.

Vernetta Henderson, one of the descendants of Clotilda’s last enslavement voyage, is seen in the documentary commenting in 2018 on the search for Clotilda. She says that she would feel a certain completeness if the remnants of the ship were found, because it would fill the void of unanswered questions. She adds, “The ship is evidence that it took place. It’s a story worth sharing with the whole world.”

By contrast, Joycelyn Davis, another descendant of Clotilda captives, is shown in 2018 commenting on the search for the ship: “I could care less about the ship. Ask the family who built the ship.” Although a few descendants of Clotilda owner Foster are shown and interviewed in “Descendant,” an epilogue in the documentary says that descendants of Meaher did not respond to requests to participate in the documentary.

It’s not spoiler information to say that remnants of Clotilda were eventually found in 2019, and were scientifically confirmed, as shown in the documentary. A documentary caption states, “Clotilda is the most intact wrecked slave ship to exist in America.” This historic discovery was big archaeological news and began a new chapter in the history of the Mobile area.

“Descendant” includes interviews and other footage of journalist/diver Ben Raines, who is largely credited with uncovering the crucial evidence that led to finding what’s left of Clotilda. Not surprisingly, Raines wrote a book about his Clotilda experiences: “The Last Slave Ship: The True Story of How Clotilda Was Found, Her Descendants, and an Extraordinary Reckoning.” The book was published in January 2022, the same month that “Descendant” had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

The discovery of Clotilda changed how Alabama (particularly Mobile) began to view Clotilda. No longer was it just a local legend that couldn’t be proven. The discovery of the ship also became a tangible piece of the puzzle for many people’s family histories. Imagine being part of a family that was told for generations that there was no proof that the ship that carried your enslaved ancestors even existed, because that ship was believed to be buried at sea. And then that ship was finally discovered.

The documentary includes a scene where a National Geographic-commissioned painting of that 1860 Clotilda voyage is unveiled at a press conference, with the painting showing the enslaved people naked and huddled in fear at the bottom of the ship. Even with the tragedies, abuse and human rights violations associated with slave ships such as Clotilda, the discovery of Clotilda also became a potential moneymaker for those who wanted to profit off of this discovery. Even before Clotilda was found, there were plans to turn whatever was found into a tourist attraction.

What makes “Descendant” a great documentary is that it goes beyond this historic discovery and looks at the bigger picture. It would have been too easy for the movie to focus only on the feel-good aspects of this story. The documentary points out uncomfortable truths about how Clotilda represents the shameful legacy of slavery and white supremacist racism in America.

“Descendant” shows and tells in no uncertain terms that Africatown (and, by extension, many communities where with the majority of the population consists of African Americans) is surrounded by industrial operations that bring pollution to the area. As pointed out in the documentary, the Meaher family is a powerful clan that owns or rents out much of the land and property that is believed to cause this pollution. It’s mentioned that Africatown has a high rate of cancer-related deaths that are believed to be caused by this pollution.

And so, although slavery is no longer legal in the U.S., “Descendant” makes viewers aware that there are other ways that African Americans are being harmed by decisions made by labor-related groups that are largely owned and controlled by white people, many of whom are descendants of people who enslaved Africans and African Americans. Many people in Africatown and similar communities are dying because of these decisions. The documentary gives considerable screen time to this issue in a way that is factual and not preachy.

Land ownership still plays a role today in the “haves” and “have nots” of society, just as it did when slavery was legal in America. Ramsey Sprague of the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition explains why land ownership and environmental zoning are relevant to the legacy of Clotilda and the descendants affected by Clotilda’s last voyage: “The fight over zoning is the fight over destiny.”

The majority of the land in Africatown is owned by the state of Alabama. However, large swaths of the land are owned by the Meaher family, whose Chippewa Lakes company leases the land to industrial companies known for heavy industrial waste. If you think it’s nauseating for the documentary to show how Africatown is surrounded by factories pumping chemical smoke into the air, imagine what it’s like to live there.

Africatown resident Davis, who is living with cancer, went from being apathetic about Clotilda in 2018, to becoming an activist involved in Africatown’s environmental justice issues. She wants people to know about the entire legacy of Clotilda and other ships that carried enslaved people from Africa. Davis says the discovery of Clotilda has now given her more pride about her ancestors, as well as regret that she previously felt some shame about being a descendant of enslaved people from Clotilda.

In one of the highlights of the documentary, Davis goes to Washington, D.C., where she is given a tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture by museum curator Mary Elliott. It’s an eye-opening and emotionally moving experience, where Davis can see for herself how Clotilda and Africatown are part of many similar stories of African American families and legacies. Elliott encourages Davis to be inspired by the museum and take what she’s learned to the work that Davis is doing to bring more attention to Africatown’s history. The documentary’s epilogue includes an update on Africatown Heritage House (a museum that’s set to open in the fall of 2022) and the Africatown Welcome Center, which is planned to open in 2025.

And although “Descendant” shows that Mobile declared a Descendants of Clotilda Day on February 8, 2020, to honor these descendants, the documentary never lets viewers forget that the irreparable damage caused by slavery still has lingering effects. Michael Foster, one of the descendants of Clotilda owner William Foster, is shown at this ceremony, where he is introduced to Robert Lewis, a descendant of Cudjoe Lewis. The two men have a cordial and brief conversation that is a little awkward. In a separate interview, Foster comments, “It’s kind of odd, because my relative caused all of this. I wouldn’t have come down here if I walked in that room and people were throwing rocks at me.”

After Clotilda is found, Kamau Sadiki, a master diver from the Slaves Wrecks Project, says emphatically, “Now, it’s time for justice.” Mobile municipal judge Finley says that although no one can be criminally prosecuted for Clotilda’s last voyage, there’s a possibility that members of the Meaher family, whose fortune was built from the work of enslaved people, could be held liable in a civil case. The issue of reparations comes up in “Descendant,” but most of the people who talk about reparations in the documentary say it would be very difficult to decide the amount that should be paid, when it should be paid, and to whom.

Henderson’s daughter Veda Tunstall, an Africatown descendant of Clotilda’s enslaved people, comments on the idea of getting and distributing reparations: “I have no idea how it’s supposed to work. As long as Timothy Meaher is not here, I don’t think there’s anyone to punish.” As for any measure of justice, people in the documentary say that, at the very least, historical figures who fought to keep slavery legal in the U.S. and/or were members of white supremacy hate groups should be not be celebrated by having things named after them or by having statues erected in their honor.

Other people interviewed or featured in the documentary include Africatown community leader Cleon Jones; folklorist Kern Jackson; National Geographic archaeologist in residence Frederick Hiebert; marine archeologist James Delgado; Yorktown Missionary Baptist Church pastor Chris Williams; “Barracoon” editor Deborah Plant; Alabama Tourism Department director Lee Sentell; reporter Nick Tabor; East Bay Automotive owner/Mobile resident Joe Turner; Clotilda captive descendants Lorna Woods, Patricia Frazier, Bobby Dennison and Darron Patterson; and Africatown community activists Joe Womack, Mae Jones and Anderson Flen.

“Descendant” doesn’t ignore these questions: “Who benefited the most from slavery and white supremacist racism? And who still benefits, even if it’s indirectly?” “Descendant” shows that events about Clotilda that involve money-making opportunities or media attention tend to attract a lot more white people than meetings intended to help marginalized and oppressed racial groups, such as meetings held by the Clean Health Educated Safe Sustainable group, which aims to bring solutions to the industrial-area Africatown pollution problems that disproportionately affect African Americans.

“Descendant” is the type of documentary that some people will never watch because they just don’t want to see any documentaries that remind anyone of the ugly history of slavery in America. Some people might think that movies like “Descendant” just fuel racism and bring up things that should be left in the past. But people who actually watch “Descendant” can see that it shows, through these very personal stories, racism actually thrives when people want to deny that it exists, but there’s a chance for healing when there are open and honest discussions about it.

Netflix released “Descendant” in select U.S. cinemas and on Netflix on October 21, 2022.

Review: ‘Gone in the Night’ (2022), starring Winona Ryder

August 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

John Gallagher Jr. and Winona Ryder in “Gone in the Night” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Gone in the Night” (2022)

Directed by Eli Horowitz

Culture Representation: Taking place in Sonoma County, California, the dramatic film “Gone in the Night” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and one African American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman’s boyfriend abruptly disappears after they’ve rented a vacation cabin in a remote wooded area, and she tries to solve the mystery of what happened to him. 

Culture Audience: “Gone in the Night” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Winona Ryder and don’t mind watching a dull, convoluted and insipid mystery.

Dermot Mulroney in “Gone in the Night” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Gone in the Night” is supposed to be a mystery thriller. But the only baffling mystery is how anyone involved in this tepid and messy dud of a movie thought that it was worth getting made. Winona Ryder fans, you’ve been warned. “Gone in the Night” is one of the worst movies she’s ever done. Not only is Ryder’s talent completely misused and squandered in this wasteland of a film, but all of the cast members are also stuck portraying hollow characters in a sluggish story with a moronic ending.

Directed by Eli Horowitz (who co-wrote the terrible “Gone in the Night” screenplay with Matthew Derby), “Gone in the Night” (originally titled “The Cow”) had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The change in the movie’s title is the only improvement made to this creatively bankrupt slog of a film, which has barely enough of a story to fill a short film. The reason why the original title was “The Cow” is explained in the last 15 minutes of the movie.

“Gone in the Night” is not a horror movie, although it might try to fool people that it is if you’ve seen some of the movie’s publicity images of Ryder in character, looking terrified with blood spatter on her face. The first third of the film takes place in that constant horror cliché: a house in an isolated wooded area. But don’t expect anything scary to happen in this cabin in the woods.

The monotony of “Gone in the Night” begins with an unmarried couple driving at night to said cabin in the woods, which is located in an unnamed city in Sonoma County, California. (“Gone in the Night” was filmed on location in Sonoma County.) Kath (played by Ryder) is introverted and cautious. Max (played by John Gallagher Jr.) is extroverted and a risk-taker. Their contrasting personalities are on display when they encounter a problem after arriving during the night at their rental cabin, which they got through an unnamed service that sounds like Airbnb.

Kath and Max find out that another couple got booked for the same cabin at the same time. And neither couple wants to leave. At first, Kath wants to leave, since she’s the only one in this couple who has a driver’s license. But then, Kath changes her mind because Max wants to stay, and Kath doesn’t want to drive at night.

The other couple at this cabin are Al (played by Owen Teague) and Greta (played by Brianne Tju), who are both in their 20s. Kath is in her early 50s, while Max is in his late 30s. Kath and Max have been dating each other for about one year, which is the same period of time that Al and Greta have been a couple. It’s mentioned later in the story that Kath (a continuing education teacher) met Max when he was a student in her hydroponics class.

Right from the beginning, it’s obvious that something is off-kilter about Al and Greta, who both wear matching green rain ponchos. Al is a little hostile about the booking mixup, but Greta convinces Al it would be okay to let Kath and Max temporarily stay in a spare room for the night. This is the part of the movie where things could get intriguing. Instead, “Gone in the Night” fizzles and never recovers.

“Gone in the Night” is so shoddily written, not much else is revealed about these two couples during the time that they spend together and have boring conversations. At one point, it’s mentioned that Al and Greta are in an unconventional relationship. Kath mentions that she tried being married once but she didn’t like it. The two couples find a board game called Pillow Talkers, which is supposed to encourage intimacy. Players of the game read cards that dare them to do something semi-erotic.

All it results in is a not-very-interesting scene where a card is read saying, “The elbow is an erogenous zone. Prove it.” And then, Greta licks and kisses Max’s elbow. Kath and Al watch with some discomfort, as Greta and Max mildly flirt and laugh with each other for the rest of the game. Kath eventually has enough and announces that she’s going to go to sleep.

The next day, Kath finds a distressed-looking Al in the woods. Al tells Kath, “They’re gone. Your fucking dude was groping my girlfriend … And they ran off.” And this is where “Gone in the Night” slides further into idiocy. Instead of looking for Max to find out for herself what’s going on with him, Kath goes back to the cabin and assumes that Max’s disappearance is his way of dumping her. She’s very nonchalant (and ignorant) about not caring to find out if what Al said is true.

Instead of finding out what happened, Kath just goes home and complains to her friend Laurel (played by Yvonne Senat Jones) that she’s better off without Max. “It felt like effort,” Kath says of dating Max. “I’m done with effort.” That also describes the “Gone in the Night” filmmakers’ attitude toward crafting a good story for this movie.

After not hearing from Max for a number of days, Kath finally gets an inkling that maybe something is really wrong with Max’s disappearance. Instead of using common sense and contacting Max’s family members and/or friends to find out where he is, Kath calls the owner of the cabin—57-year-old Nicholas Levi Barlow (played by Dermot Mulroney—to try and find out Greta’s address. It’s a dimwitted decision because there’s no guarantee that Max is with Greta at Greta’s address.

Kath’s lie is that Greta left a book behind in the cabin, and Kath wants to return the book to Greta. Its a badly thought-out-fabrication because Nicholas says he doesn’t want to violate Greta’s privacy by giving out her home address, so he offers to give the book to Greta if Kath will give the book to him. Caught in this lie, Kath then admits she wants Greta’s address because she heard that Greta and Max ran off together.

The movie gets even more ludicrous when Nicholas offers to help Kath play detective to find Greta and Max. The rest of “Gone in the Night” consists of embarrassingly dimwitted and tedious scenes of Nicholas and Kath snooping around and acting like stalkers until the full truth is revealed of what happened to Max and Greta. During this investigation, Nicholas crosses paths with a former business partner named Ramon (played by Alain Uy), who worked with Nicholas in a biotech start-up company.

There’s nothing remarkable about anything in “Gone in the Night,” which drags on and on until the movie’s witless ending. The last 15 minutes of the movie give the impression that screenwriters Horowitz and Derby weren’t quite sure how to end the story and rushed through some sloppy thoughts because they wanted to finish the screenplay by a certain time. All of the cast members look like they’re going through the motions. The only motions that viewers will feel compelled to take while watching “Gone in the Night” are falling asleep, or finding ways to endure watching this slow-moving train wreck until the bitter end.

Vertical Entertainment released “Gone in the Night” in select U.S. cinemas on July 15, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on August 2, 2022.

Review: ‘Bodies Bodies Bodies,’ starring Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Myha’la Herrold, Chase Sui Wonders, Rachel Sennott, Lee Pace and Pete Davidson

August 6, 2022

by Carla Hay

Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Chase Sui Wonders and Rachel Sennott in “Bodies Bodies Bodies” (Photo by Erik Chakeen/A24)

“Bodies Bodies Bodies”

Directed by Halina Reijn 

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in New York state, the horror film “Bodies Bodies Bodies” has a racially diverse cast of characters (African American, white and one biracial Asian) representing the wealthy, upper-midde-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: During a hurricane, seven people partying in a mansion decide to play a murder mystery game, but then some people at this party really end up getting killed.

Culture Audience: “Bodies Bodies Bodies” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of horror movies that mix raunchy comedy with a suspenseful mystery.

Lee Pace and Pete Davidson in “Bodies Bodies Bodies” (Photo by Gwen Capistran/A24)

“Bodies Bodies Bodies” capably serves up suspense and social satire, despite a few plot holes and an overload of pop culture and slang that will inevitably make this horror movie look very dated. It’s a time capsule of Generation Z (people born between 1997 and 2012) in their 20s, and all the technology that affects their relationships and perceptions of each other. In other words, it’s not a throwback to slasher flicks from the 20th century. This is a horror movie about people who don’t know what it’s like to live life without the Internet, for better or worse. Except for one person, all of the characters in “Bodies Bodies Bodies” are supposed to be in their early-to-mid 20s.

Directed by Halina Reijn and written by Sarah DeLappe, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The movie makes the most out of the relatively small number of people in the cast and the fact that “Bodies Bodies Bodies” primarily takes place in one location: a mansion in a remote, mountanous area somewhere in New York state. (“Bodies Bodies Bodies” was actually filmed in Chappaqua, New York.)

In many ways, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” follows the same formula of dozens of other horror movies where young people gather in an isolated area; indulge in sex, drugs and mind games; and are killed off, one by one. However, the movie’s snappy dialogue and a twist ending make “Bodies Bodies Bodies” slightly better than the average horror flick. It isn’t a movie where people are killed indiscriminately, because it’s shown exactly why each person was killed.

The opening scene of “Bodies Bodies Bodies” lets viewers know that this is a very queer-friendly movie, where the sexualities of the characters can be fluid, and if other people are uncomfortable about it, they don’t really care. The movie’s first scene is a close-up of new couple Sophie (played by Amandla Stenberg) and Bee (played by Maria Bakalova) passionately kissing each other. They also tell each other, “I love you.” It’s mentioned a little later in the movie that Sophie and Bee have been dating each other for the past six weeks.

Bee and Sophie have almost opposite personalities: Sophie is a risk-taking extrovert. Bee is a cautious introvert. Sophie and Bee are about to take a road trip to the aforementioned remote mansion to party with some of Sophie’s friends who were her schoolmates in high school. Sophie has known a few of these friends before they were teenagers. Bee is very nervous about this trip—and not because she will be meeting Sophie’s friends for the first time.

Bee has some other social anxieties. Bee is an immigrant from an unnamed Eastern European country and comes from a working-class background, while Sophie is an American whose family is rich. (Bakalova, the Oscar-nominated actress from 2020’s “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” is actually from Bulgaria.) Sophie is openly queer. However, Bee is also not completely “out of the closet” as a queer woman. Many of Bee’s family and friends don’t yet know that Bee is queer and dating Sophie.

Sophie’s got her own issues. Conversations in the movie reveal that Sophie is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. When she was a student at New York University, Sophie had at least one overdose and mental breakdown. She has also spent time in drug rehab and psychiatric facilities. It’s never mentioned if Sophie graduated from NYU, but it’s implied she probably dropped out of college because of her personal problems. Sophie doesn’t appear to have any life goals at the moment except to try to stay clean and sober and enjoy life as much as possible.

The mansion is owned by the parents of spoiled and obnoxious David (played by Pete Davidson), who is yet another stereotypical stoner that Davidson seems to play in his most recent movies. Before Sophie and Bee go to the mansion, Sophie tells Bee that David was Sophie’s “pre-school boyfriend, before I realized I was a raging dyke.” No one’s parents are seen in this movie, but it’s mentioned that all of Sophie’s childhood friends come from affluent families.

Because of his abrasive personality, David is someone who has friends who don’t really like him, but they tolerate him because he’s generous when it comes to partying and sharing some of his wealth. Just like Sophie, David doesn’t seem to know what he wants to do with his life, and his family is rich enough to financially support him. David is the type of braggart who has to prove to everyone that whatever they can do, he can do better.

When Bee and Sophie arrive at the mansion, the small party is in full swing in and around the swimming pool. Sophie is warmly greeted by everyone, while Bee shyly offers a party gift: homemade zucchini bread. The other people at the party (except for Sophie) think this gift is very unsophisticated and old-fashioned, and they react with either rude haughtiness or amusement. Sophie tries to make Bee more comfortable, but Bee can immediately sense that she will have trouble fitting in with this group of bratty snobs.

The other people at the party are David’s insecure girlfriend Emma (played by Chase Sui Wonders), an actress who’s been in a relationship with David for the past six years; free-spirited but flaky Alice (played by Rachel Sennott), a podcast host who likes to wear glow sticks as jewelry; scruffily handsome and goofy Greg (played by Lee Pace), who is in his 40s and is having a fling with Alice; and brooding Jordan (played by Myha’la Herrold), who has unresolved romantic feelings for Sophie. Jordan is the only one in the group who is not part of a couple, so her “romantically unattached” status affects some of the tensions and jealousies that happen later in the story.

Some viewers might not like how long it takes for “Bodies Bodies Bodies” to actually get to any horror. The first third of the movie is really about showing the dynamics between these seven people when they’re partying and trying to prove to each other how “cool” they are. Alice met Greg on the dating app Tinder, and they’ve only known each other for less than a week. David is threatened by Greg’s physical attractiveness, so David attempts to demean Greg’s masculinity by trying to make Greg feel “old” and out-of-touch.

A hurricane quickly forces the party to go indoors, where there’s the inevitable electrical power outage, so that people can’t use their phones or WiFi service. No electricity also means that much of the movie is dark and shadowy, except for lights from candles, flashlights, cell phones or Alice’s ever-present glow sticks. Sophie notices that Jordan has been flirting with Bee. And so, as a distraction and in order to liven up the party, Sophie tells everyone that they should all play a game called Bodies Bodies Bodies.

Bodies Bodies Bodies is a murder mystery game, where slips of paper are distributed to all the players. The player who gets the paper slip marked with “x” is the designated murderer, who has to “kill” as many of the other players as possible. The potential victims can hide wherever they want to avoid being killed. Someone can win the game in one of two ways: By being the first potential victim to prove who the killer is, or by being the killer and getting away with all of the murders. And because “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is a horror movie, the killings turns out to be real.

A potential outlier in the story is a character named Max (played by Conner O’Malley), another friend in this clique, who was at the party the night before. However, no one really knows where Max is during the killings because he left the party the previous night, after getting into a fist fight with David. (It’s why David has a black eye.) The reasons for this altercation are later revealed in the movie. Max is not seen for most of the movie, but his name comes up multiple times in the increasingly paranoid and frantic conversations, and as the body count continues to pile up.

With a soundtrack that’s heavy on electronic dance music and hip-hop, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” wants to have a very “of the moment” vibe to convey a pulse-pounding nightclub of the early 2020s. But at this party, people’s pulses are pounding because they’re terrified that they’re trapped in this mansion with a serial killer on the loose. The hurricane outside wouldn’t put off some people from trying to get away by car. But it should come as no surprise when “Bodies Bodies Bodies” has a horror movie cliché: a car that won’t start when people want it to start.

“Bodies Bodies Bodies,” which has good performances all around from the cast members, is at its best in revealing of some of the secrets and lies within this group of characters. The arguing can get a little tedious and annoying, but not so grating that it overtakes the movie’s horror angles. That’s because there’s enough comedy in the dialogue in the movie’s self-aware way of showing that these self-absorbed and sometimes-cruel characters mostly deserve to be mocked. Bee is the only one who seems to be immune to the group’s ridiculous ego posturing and whiny antics, but she’s no angel either.

Some of the plot developments in “Bodies Bodies Bodies” are a little on the implausible side. On the other hand, it is very believable that people in a panic can do a lot of things without thinking logically. People will either love or hate the ending of “Bodies Bodies Bodies.” Regardless of how viewers feel about how the movie ends, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” offers some sly commentary on some people’s preoccupation with creating lives and images on the Internet that are often quite different from reality. This preocupation can lead to misperceptions and manipulations that can be their own kinds of horror stories.

A24 released “Bodies Bodies Bodies” in select U.S. cinemas on August 5, 2022. The movie’s release expands to more U.S. cinemas on August 12, 2022.

Review: ‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,’ starring Nicolas Cage

April 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pedro Pascal and Nicolas Cage in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (Photo by Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate)

“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”

Directed by Tom Gormican

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Los Angeles and Mallorca, Spain, the action comedy “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” features a cast of white and Latino characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Desperate for money, famous actor Nick Cage agrees to a $1 million fee to appear at a wealthy superfan’s birthday party in Mallorca, where he reluctantly gets in the middle of an international espionage case. 

Culture Audience: “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” will appeal primarily to fans of star Nicolas Cage and comedies that are satires of real people.

Nicolas Cage, Lily Sheen and Sharon Horgan in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (Photo by Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate)

It’s not the comedy masterpiece that some people have been hyping it up to be, but “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” has plenty of hilarious moments in spoofing Nicolas Cage’s public persona and action films. The movie has some genuinely inspired scenes before the film’s last 20 minutes devolve into stereotypical formulas seen in many other comedic spy capers. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is also an above-average buddy comedy, with touches of family sentimentality to balance out some of the wackiness.

Tom Gormican directed “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Kevin Etten. It’s Gormican’s second feature film, after he made his feature-film directorial debut with the forgettable 2014 male-friendship comedy “That Awkward Moment.” Gormican’s background is mainly as a TV writer/producer, with credits that include “Scrubs,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Ed.” At times, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” veers into stale TV sitcom territory, but the movie has enough originality and charm to rise above its repetitive clichés. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” has its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

Cage has said in interviews that he initially rejected the idea of doing this movie. It’s a good thing that he changed his mind, because “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is easily one of the funniest comedy films that Cage has done in decades. In the movie, he plays two versions of himself: (1) main character Nick Cage, a present-day version of himself, and (2) Nicky Cage, a younger, brasher version of Cage, circa the late 1980s/early 1990s. (According to the movie’s production notes, Nicky’s physical appearance was inspired by how the real Cage looked in his 1990 movie “Wild at Heart.”)

Nicky has de-aging visual effects for his face, and he appears to Nick as a figment of Nick’s imagination, in moments when Nick is feeling insecure. Nicky’s blunt and sometimes crude conversations with Nick (which are either pep talks, insults or both) are among the more memorable parts of the movie. Nicky has a habit of yelling out “I’m Nick fucking Cage!,” in an elongated way, as if he’s a WWE announcer yelling, “Let’s get ready to rumble!” before a wrestling match. In the film’s end credits, the actor listed as portraying Nicky is Nicolas Kim Coppola, which is a cheeky nod to Cage’s birth surname Coppola. (Numerous movie fans already know that Cage is part of the famous Coppola movie family.)

In the beginning of “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” Nick is a world-famous actor in Los Angeles, but he’s currently not getting the acting roles that he wants. Nick has been struggling with being labeled a “has-been” who’s been doing a lot of low-budget, low-quality movies in recent years. (Real-life filmmaker David Gordon Green has a cameo as himself in an early scene in the movie where Nick tries to impress him with an impromptu monologue reading.)

When Nicky shows up and talks to Nick, it’s usually to remind Nick that his younger self would never have stooped to the level of the type of work that Nick is doing now. In one of the movie’s early scenes, Nicky is lecturing Nick about it during a drive in Nick’s car, with Nick driving. A defensive Nick snaps back: “Hello! It’s my job! It’s how I pay my bills. I have to feed my family.” Nick ends the conversation by telling Nicky, “You’re annoying!” And then Nick kicks Nicky out of the car.

Nick’s fast-talking agent Richard Fink (played by Neil Patrick Harris, in a cameo role) tells Nick about a job offer from a Nick Cage superfan in Mallorca, Spain. This wealthy fan wants to pay Nick $1 million to make a personal appearance at the fan’s birthday party. Nick says no to the idea, because he thinks that these types of personal appearances are beneath him as a “serious actor.”

However, because Nick gets rejected for a movie role that he had been counting on getting, and because he has high-priced divorce payments and other bills, a financially desperate Nick agrees to the birthday party job offer. Nick makes it clear to Richard that this personal appearance better not include anything involving kinky sex. Nick has no idea that what he thinks will be an easy gig will turn out to be a life-threatening, mind-bending experience for him and other people.

Nick isn’t just having problems in his career. His personal life is also messy. Nick has a tension-filled relationship with his ex-wife Olivia (played by Sharon Horgan), a former makeup artist whom he met on the set of his 2001 movie “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.” It’s revealed in “The Unbearable Wright of Massive Talent” that one of the main reasons why they divorced was because Olivia thought that Nick put his career above everything else in his life.

Nick and Olivia have a daughter named Addy (played by Lily Sheen), who’s about 15 or 16 years old. Addy is usually annoyed with Nick because she thinks he forces her to do things (such as watch movies) that are according to what he wants to do and his personal tastes, without taking into consideration Addy’s own personal wants and needs. For example, Nick has insisted that Addy watch the 1920 horror film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” even though Addy has no interest in seeing this movie.

Addy also thinks Nick has been a neglectful father for most of her life. That’s why Nick and Addy are in therapy together. But as an example of Nick’s self-centered ways, a therapy session that’s shown in the movie reveals that Nick spends most of the time talking about himself, while Addy sulks in a corner on a couch. Their therapist named Cheryl (played by Joanna Bobin) has to listen to Nick ramble on about his career problems, while she tries to steer the conversation back to how to improve his personal relationships.

Nick is so financially broke, he doesn’t have a permanent home, and he’s living at a hotel. When he gets locked out of his hotel room due to non-payment, he calls his agent Richard to tell him that he’s taking the birthday party job. A self-pitying Nick also tells Richard that he’s going to quit being an actor. On his way to Mallorca, Nick has no idea that he’s gotten on the radar of the CIA, which has been tracking the activities of the fan who has hired Nick to be at the fan’s birthday party. The CIA has this superfan under investigation for being the leader of a ruthless international arms cartel.

Two CIA operatives who have been assigned to the case are named Vivian (played by Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (played by Ike Barinholtz), who are surprised and confused when they see Nick disembarking from the private plane that the superfan has chartered for this trip. Vivian, who has a take-charge and quick-thinking personality, immediately pretends to be an adoring Nick Cage fan, and stops him at the airport to take a selfie photo with him. It’s really a ruse to plant a tracking device on Nick. Vivian and Martin are generic and underwritten roles, so Haddish and Barinholtz don’t do much that’s noteworthy in the movie.

In Mallorca, Nick is taken to a lavish cliffside mansion, where he is greeted by several employees of this rich superfan, who is described as a mogul in the olive grove business. The fan’s name is Javi Gutierrez (played by Pasco Pascal), and he is so unassuming on first impression, Nick initially mistakes Javi for one of the servants, because Javi was the one who drove Nick to this mansion by speedboat. The two people in Javi’s inner circle who are the closest to him are his cousin/right-hand man Lucas Gutierrez (played by Paco León) and a savvy business person named Gabriela (played by Alessandra Mastronardi), nicknamed Gabi, who is Javi’s director of operations.

Nick soon finds out that Javi didn’t just invite him to make an appearance at Javi’s birthday party. Javi has written a movie screenplay, and he wants Nick to star in this movie. Javi is crushed when Nick tells him that he’s going to quit acting, so Javi desperately tries to get Nick to change his mind One of the running gags in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is how Nick reacts to Javi’s attempts to befriend Nick and get Nick to read his script. It should come as no surprise that Javi makes revisions to the screenplay, based on a lot of the shenanigans that he experiences with Nick.

As shown in the movie’s trailer, Vivian and Martin recruit/pressure Nick to spy on Javi for the CIA. Meanwhile, things get more complicated with the kidnapping of Maria Delgado (played by Katrin Vankova), a teenage daughter of a politician who’s running for a high office in Spain. There are entanglements with a thug named Carlos (played by Jacob Scipio) and a group called the Carabello crime family. And it should come as no surprise that Addy and Olivia somehow get mixed up in this mess too.

Along the way, there’s some drug-fueled comedy that’s intended to make the most of Cage’s slapstick skills. First, Nick accidentally drugs himself with a potentially lethal dose of gaseous poison. Later, Nick and Javi take LSD together and have a bonding experience where they go through various levels of elation and paranoia.

Nick and Javi’s budding friendship is at the heart of the movie. However, there are also some standout moments involving Nicky, Olivia and Addy and how their relationships to Nick end up evolving. (Nicky spontaneously does something outrageous, when he kisses Nick, in a scene that will have viewers either shocked, roaring with laughter or both.)

Pascal is pitch-perfect in his role as Javi, who might or might not be the movie’s biggest villain. When secrets are revealed, they’re not too surprising, but one of the best things about “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is that it doesn’t make Javi into a meaningless caricature. Even though Cage is the larger-than-life central character in the movie, Pascal holds his own and can be considered a scene-stealer.

“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” has the expected stream of jokes about previous real-life movies of Cage. Among those that get name-checked or parodied include “Con Air,” “Face/Off,” “Moonstruck,” “Valley Girl,” “The Croods: A New Age,” “Gone in 60 Seconds,” “The Rock,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” “National Treasure” and “Guarding Tess.” Also in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is a recurring joke about the animated film “Paddington 2” (which is not one of Cage’s movies) and how this family film sequel about a talking bear affects certain people who watch it.

Cage is a versatile actor who tackles his role in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” with gusto. (He’s also one of the movie’s producers.) Cage makes this movie work so well because he’s fully on board with laughing at himself. Not too many well-known actors would risk doing a movie where they have to poke fun at their triumphs and failures, but it’s precisely this risk-taking that has made Cage one of the most interesting and unpredictable actors of his generation. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” does indeed have massive talent, but this talent helps the movie soar instead of sink.

Lionsgate will release “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” in U.S. cinemas on April 22, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on June 7, 2022, and on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray on June 21, 2022.

2022 South by Southwest: SXSW Film Festival award winners announced

March 23, 2022

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

The South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conference and Festivals announced the 2022 Jury and Special Award winners of the 29th SXSW Film Festival. Feature films receiving Jury Awards were selected from the Narrative Feature and Documentary Feature Competition categories. SXSW also announced all other juried sections, including Shorts, Design and XR Experience Awards. Special Awards announced included: Louis Black “Lone Star” Award, Adobe Editing Award, Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Award, ZEISS Cinematography Award, the Mailchimp Support the Shorts Award and the Fandor New Voices Award.

All 2022 film categories will be eligible for category-specific Audience Awards, which will be certified by the accounting firm of Maxwell Locke & Ritter. Online Screenings and Audience Award Voting will conclude at 9am CT on Monday, March 21. Winners will be announced via sxsw.com that week.

“It was extraordinary to gather together in person again after so long and we are so grateful to the filmmakers and audience who joined us at SXSW 2022 in Austin, Texas for our first in-person event since 2019,” said Janet Pierson, VP, Director of Film. “The program was celebrated across the board and tonight we get to give a special shout-out to the award winners.”

The 2022 SXSW Film Festival Juries consisted of:

Narrative Feature Competition: Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter; Siddhant Adlakha, filmmaker and critic; Jenelle Riley, Variety
Documentary Feature Competition: Jason Bailey, critic, historian and author; Carlos Aguilar, film critic and journalist; Beandrea July, freelance film critic
Louis Black “Lone Star”: Richard Whitaker, The Austin Chronicle; Kathy Blackwell, Executive Editor, Texas Monthly; Karen Valby, author and freelance writer
Narrative Shorts Program: Mohammad Gorjestani, filmmaker; Natalie Haack Flores, VP Development, Nuyorican Productions; Inga Diev, GM Ouat Media
Documentary Shorts: Greg Rhem, writer, director, producer and creative consultant for MTV Documentary Films; Ryan Harrington, Head of film, Kinema; Yvonne Ashley Kouadjo, series producer, New York Times‘ Op-Docs
Animated Shorts: Julia Pott, animator; John Agbaje, SVP of Animation, Bad Robot; Brook Keesling, Head of Animation Talent Development, Bento Box Entertainment
Midnight Shorts: Barbara Crampton, actor and producer; Dana Gills, SVP of Development and Production, Monkeypaw; Bea Sequeira, producer, Blumhouse
Music Videos: Andrew Unterberger, Deputy Editor, Billboard; Shanna Green, Director of Communications, Commercials and Short-Form Content, Anonymous Content; Meghan Oretsky, Senior Curator, Vimeo
Texas Shorts: Cat Cardena, Associate Editor, Texas Monthly; Eric Webb, Entertainment Editor, Austin-American Statesman; Monique Walton, filmmaker 
Texas High School Shorts: Bart Weiss, Educator and Founder, Dallas VideoFest; Lindsey Ashley, Deputy Director, Texas Film Commission; Dr. Tere Garza, Professor of Communication, St Edward’s University
Episodic Pilot Competition: Randi Kleiner, Co-Founder and CEO, SeriesFest; Selome Hailu, Variety; Augustine Frizzell, filmmaker 
Excellence in Title Design: Victoria Nece, Principal Product Manager, Motion Graphics, Adobe; Hazel Baird, Creative Director and Designer, Elastic; Saskia Marka, independent designer
Excellence in Poster Design: Barak Epstein, Texas Theatre in Dallas, producer; Becky Cloonan, illustrator and cartoonist; Kevin Tong, illustrator
XR Experience Jury: Nonny de la Peña, founder, Emblematic Group; Kent Bye, Voices of VR; Loren Hammonds, Producer, Co-head of Documentary, TIME Studios

The 2022 Film Festival program includes 100 features including 76 World Premieres, 4 International Premieres, 4 North American Premieres, 2 U.S. Premieres, 14 Texas Premieres + 111 Short Films including 24 Music Videos, 12 Episodic Premieres, 6 Episodic Pilots, 30 XR Experience projects (formerly Virtual Cinema), and 19 Title Design Competition entries.

Films will continue to be available on the SXSW platform until 9:00am CT on Monday, March 21. SXSW will continue running the Online Shift72 Screening Library through March 31, 2021, for those films that have opted-in to the extended timeframe. 

The SXSW 2022 Film Festival Awards: 

Feature Film Grand Jury Awards

NARRATIVE FEATURE COMPETITION Presented by Panavision

James Morosini and Patton Oswalt in “I Love My Dad” (Photo courtesy of I Love My Dad LLC/Hantz Motion Pictures)

Winner: I Love My Dad
Director/Screenwriter: James Morosini, Producers: Bill Stertz, Patton Oswalt, Sean O’Grady, Dane Eckerle, Phil Keefe, Daniel Brandt, Sam Slater

“A bold, funny film that marks an impressive feature debut for writer-director-star James Morosini, I Love My Dad finely threads the needle with its tale of an estranged father (Patton Oswalt) who catfishes his son (Morosini) in an attempt to reconnect. Working from a screenplay based on his own real-life story, Morosini displays massive empathy as a filmmaker to get into the mind of the father he feels betrayed by, and also as an actor portraying the impact of that betrayal. He’s aided by a great cast, particularly Oswalt.”

Special Jury Recognition for Extraordinary Cinematic Vision: Cast and Crew, It Is in Us All

“Every creative element of It Is in Us All, from its editing and music to its performances and cinematography, works in tandem to craft a haunting atmosphere. Writer-director-actor Antonia Campbell-Hughes’ extraordinary feature debut is a remarkable example of how the various artistic facets of a movie can converge to create something cinematic, in the purest and most soulful sense: a work that accesses some part of you that feels hidden away.”

Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Performance: Elizaveta Yankovskaya, Nika

“In her first lead role in a feature, Elizaveta Yankovskaya delivers a knockout portrait brimming with rage, joy, despair, uncertainty and 20-something yearning. She plays Nika Turbina, a real-life figure who, after fame was thrust upon her as a child poet, finds herself past her prime before she’s 30. Whatever narrative conjectures the intimate drama might make, there isn’t a moment in Yankovskaya’s breathtaking performance that doesn’t ring true with messy emotional complexity, or that doesn’t feel like unpredictable life itself unfolding before our eyes.”

A big thanks to our Narrative Feature Competition presenting sponsor Panavision, the global provider of optics, cameras, and end-to-end services that power the creative vision of filmmakers.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE COMPETITION Presented by IMAX

“Master of Light” (Photo by Jurgen Lisse)

Winner: Master of Light
Director: Rosa Ruth Boesten, Producers: Roger Ross Williams, Anousha Nzume, Ilja Roomans

“In both substance and form, Master of Light is a gift. The earnest and gifted painter George Anthony Morton embeds viewers in his world as he struggles to render his mother — both on the canvas and in his psyche. Boesten disabuses us of static tropes about America’s merciless drug war and about contemporary art. With astonishing intimacy, the film’s visuals build an artful bridge between two- and three-dimensional realms that are deeply rooted and utterly transcendent. Put this painting of a film in a museum, next to a Rembrandt and a Morton.”

Special Jury Recognition for Exceptional Intimacy in Storytelling: Bad Axe
Director: David Siev, Producers: Jude Harris, Diane Quon, Katarina Vasquez, David Siev

“Stories centered on the pursuit of the “American Dream” abound. Rarely do they portray the sacrifices and recurrent trials that the promise of a better life entails the way director David Siev accomplishes with Bad Axe. Examining those closest to him with profound compassion and incisive curiosity, he paints a distinct and easily recognizable portrait of the alienation many feel in the place they call home, by birth or by circumstance. For its ability to reveal something unexpected about the American fabric and the American family, Bad Axe deserves celebration.”

Special Jury Recognition for Acting in a Documentary: Steve Glew, Pez Outlaw
“Steve Glew is the kind of colorful character that most documentarians dream of capturing, a born storyteller with a crackerjack sense of scene-setting and comic timing. In the tradition of Muhammad Ali in The Greatest and Evel Knievel in Viva Kneivel!The Pez Outlaw‘s reenactment sequences cast the only actor who could credibly bring Mr. Glew’s exploits to life: the man himself. There’s something uniquely American about Glew’s mixture of chutzpah, ingenuity, charisma, and grievance that makes him a mesmerizing onscreen presence.”

Since 1970 IMAX Documentaries have immersed audiences in real-life stories told on a grand scale. In 2022 that tradition continues as a new generation of filmmakers turns its lens to a theatrical experience like no other. Today, IMAX is honored to present this year’s documentary award to recognize the future — gifted storytellers who are bringing their stories to audiences in powerful and wondrous ways.

SHORT FILM GRAND JURY AWARDS Presented by IMDbPro

NARRATIVE SHORT COMPETITION

“All the Crows in the World”

Winner: All the Crows in the World
Director/Screenwriter: Tang Yi, Producer: Haozheng Li

“The jury recognizes All The Crows in the World as the Jury Award Winner, a film that reminded us of the power of short-form cinema as a stand-alone art form on its own. The film’s balancing of surrealism, bizarreness, tenderness, and reality was only outdone by its inventive narrative and critiques of patriarchal culture, paired with execution by a director who is clearly in command of her craft.” 

Special Jury Recognition for Directing and Community Filmmaking: Glitter Ain’t Gold
Director/Screenwriter: Christian Nolan Jones, Producers: Maia Miller, T. Popps, O. Valerie Nicolas

“The jury awards Glitter Ain’t Gold a Special Jury Recognition for Directing and Community Filmmaking, which stood out for its vibrant narrative and authentically palpable energy filled with compelling visuals and inventive editing harmoniously coupled with powerfully nostalgic music. It was clear that its level of specificity was a direct result of a community that came together to make a profound piece of art that touched us deeply.”

Special Jury Recognition for Outstanding Performances: Aphrodite Armstrong, ​​Kyle Riggs, West by God

“The jury awards a Special Jury Recognition for Outstanding Performances to Aphrodite Armstrong and ​​Kyle Riggs for West by God. Their dynamic and visceral performances beautifully emulate the powerful themes within the film about the human condition and the need for love, no matter what your walk of life.”

DOCUMENTARY SHORT COMPETITION 

“A Long Line of Ladies” (Photo by Sam Davis)

Winner: Long Line of Ladies
Directors: Rayka Zehtabchi, Shaandiin Tome, Producers: Garrett Schiff, Pimm Tripp-Allen, Rayka Zehtabchi, Sam Davis, Dana Kurth

Long Line of Ladies presents an affecting perspective on celebrated generational cultural traditions. The tapestry of beautiful cinematography and vivid character moments elevates the filmmakers’ vision, inviting us into a devoted community that is committed to preserving their heritage.”

Special Jury Recognition for Visual Reflectionnot even for a moment do things stand still
Director: Jamie Meltzer, Producers: Annie Marr, Jamie Meltzer, Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg

“In a simple, yet profoundly moving way, not even for a moment do things stand still allows us to sincerely reflect on the lives we have lost over the past two years. The poetic visual language gives us a new perspective on a sadly familiar topic of love, life and loss.”

MIDNIGHT SHORTS

Winner: Moshari
Director/Screenwriter: Nuhash Humayun, Producers: Bushra Afreen, Nuhash Humayun

Moshari is a terrifying, spine-chilling horror tale centering two sisters that renders a fresh take on blood sucking creatures set in an non-traditional post-apocalyptic world. The compelling performances, the haunting visuals and the layered storytelling highlight the director’s command of the genre and make him someone to watch. Nuhash Humayun has the ability to take recognizable elements, flip them on their head and turn them into nightmares. Moshari has created an allegorical story that will resonate with the viewer on a deeper level.”

Special Jury Recognition for Powerful “Short Trip”: Omi
Director: Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, Screenwriters: Tamar Bird, Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, Producer: Tamar Bird

“Unexpected, effective and engaging film that in under three minutes manages to set up the lore, get us invested in the characters, while leaving us fulfilled and still craving more. Kelly Fyffe-Marshall has created a grounded supernatural story that is provocative, mysterious and unforgettable.”

ANIMATED SHORTS

“Bestia”

Winner: Bestia
Director: Hugo Covarrubias, Screenwriters: Martín Erazo, Hugo Covarrubias, Producers: Tevo Díaz, Hugo Covarrubias

Bestia is an exquisite, intimate peek at the dreams and memories of a sadistic secret agent, set in a tactile stop-motion non-wonderland, where a porcelain exterior isn’t enough to keep the damage away.”

Special Jury Recognition for Unexpected Emotion: Les Larmes de la Seine
Directors/Screenwriters: Yanis Belaid, Eliott Benard, Producer: Carlos De Carvalho

“The magic trick of this film is that it describes great tragedy almost entirely with joy. History comes alive as we are immersed in raw beautiful humanity that jokes, laughs, feels nervous, fights, and dies. By illustrating extreme distress with astonishing euphoria, the directors create a fever dream “photo negative” glimpse of what we’ve missed by living with hatred and abuse rather than love and understanding. Like a sad melody played in major key, the film is both haunting and uplifting while stirring emotions like no film we’ve ever seen.” 

Special Jury Recognition for Visceral Storytelling: Something in the Garden
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Marcos Sánchez

“It is so important to keep your brain open to play, and we commend this film’s playful spirit combined with its beautiful animation, reminiscent of a graphic novel. It felt at the perfect cross section of horror and ASMR, using impeccable pacing and sound design to take us on a visceral journey that thrilled, scared and delighted us. A brilliant use of the animated short form medium!”

MUSIC VIDEOS 

Ishaval Gill and Kamaldevinder Gill in “Meet You at the Light.”


Winner: Desirée Dawson – ‘Meet Me at the Light’
Director/Screenwriter: Alexander Farah

Without a single detail wasted, we were all moved to tears by this powerful story from a first-time music video director. Featuring equally beautiful performances, editing, and cinematography, we present the Best Music Video award to Desirée Dawson – Meet Me at the Light by Alexander Farah.”

Special Jury Recognition for Going the Extra Mile: Myd – ‘Let You Speak’
Director/Screenwriter: Dan Carr

“Funny, unexpected, and with a meta wink to the industry, our special jury mention went above and beyond our expectations, taking us around the world to various locations with a group of ragtag misfits that made us LOL along the way. Hence, the ‘Extra Mile’ award. The Special Jury Award for Going The Extra Mile Goes to Myd “Let You Speak” by Dan Carr.”

TEXAS SHORTS

“Folk Frontera”

Winner: Folk Frontera
Directors: Alejandra Vasquez, Sam Osborn

“Centered around characters who call the desert borderlands of Texas their home, Folk Frontera turns the traditional documentary form on its head. Filmmakers Alejandra Vasquez and Sam Osborn imbue the documentary with the same magic and surrealism that feels authentic to the Chihuahuan Desert and its communities. Dreamlike visuals and nuanced presentation of the subjects’ stories make for a special experience.”

Special Jury Recognition for Vision: Birds 
Director/Screenwriter: Katherine Propper, Producer: Sophia Loffreda

“Katherine Propper’s Birds feels both fresh and warmly familiar to anyone who’s grown up during a Central Texas summer. Members of the film’s exceptional young ensemble shine in natural performances that help us see gorgeously shot scenery in a new light.”

TEXAS HIGH SCHOOL SHORTS 

Honeybee (Photo by Emilio Vazquez Reyes)

Winner: Honeybee
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Emilio Vazquez Reyes
Honeybee is a beautifully-written, thoughtfully-crafted film that unfolds with a gentle and disciplined reveal, helping to humanize the experience of an undocumented immigrant. We felt this film was a graceful way to tell a difficult story, using all of the important elements like cinematography, music and editing to both advance the story and sincerely engage with the audience.”

Special Jury Recognition for Artistic Expression: It’s Getting Bad Again 
Director/Screenwriter: Sarah Reyes, Producers: Sarah Reyes, Kenneth Rogers
“As an artist, Sarah Reyes captures a roller-coaster of an emotional exploration that balances darkness, humor and music in a poetic and refreshing way, all the while prompting an important dialogue about mental health awareness.”

A big thanks to our presenting sponsor, IMDbPro. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, IMDbPro is the essential resource for entertainment industry professionals. This membership-based service empowers entertainment professionals with information and tools designed to help them achieve success throughout their career. IMDbPro has an ongoing commitment to supporting and collaborating with organizations that create greater diversity, equity and inclusion in the entertainment industry and is a service of IMDb, the #1 movie website in the world. Learn more at www.imdbpro.com and follow @IMDbPro

MailChimp is another proud supporter of the Shorts program and have created their own award to help further the career of one lucky filmmaker, as well as provided financial prize support for all of the SXSW Shorts Jury Awards winners.

EPISODIC PILOT COMPETITION

“Something Undone” (Photo by Marie Davignon)

Winner: Something Undone
Director: Nicole Dorsey, Screenwriters: Michael Musi, Madison Walsh, Producers: Max Topplin, Jordan Hayes

“The jury honors Something Undone for cleverly rethinking and repurposing oft-used elements of mystery/horror storytelling. The subtlety of the episode’s writing and acting are complemented by specific and stylized direction and cinematography. And above all, Something Undone sets itself apart with its smart use of diegetic sound, establishing quietly humorous commentary on the sounds of the genre at large — while also totally terrifying us in just ten minutes.”

Special Jury Recognition for Unique Vision in Writing and Directing: Pamela Ribon and Sara Gunnarsdóttir, My Year of Dicks

“For its thoughtful curation of imagery combined with a funny and inventive script, the Special Jury Recognition for Unique Vision in Writing and Directing goes to Pamela Ribon and Sara Gunnarsdóttir for My Year of Dicks. Their bold voices overlap to make for an experience of feminine youth and sexual exploration that is both relatable and entirely its own.”

SXSW Film Design Awards Presented by Adobe

POSTER DESIGN COMPETITION

“More Than I Remember” (Image by Maya Edelman)

Winner: More Than I Remember
Designer: Yen Tan, Maya Edelman

“This poster evokes so many feelings at once, from the captivating gaze to the lush swirl of colors that surround you — it draws you in, tempting you to look harder, to try and unlock whatever secret is hidden just beyond reach. The text and illustration are perfectly integrated to create something powerful and mysterious, catching not just your attention, but your imagination as well.”

Special Jury RecognitionThe Sentence of Michael Thompson
Designer: Juan Miguel Marin

“Understated intensity and a timeless quality make this poster truly effective — from across the room it immediately catches the eye. Type, design, and image work together to form a complete narrative, one you want to know more about. Understated intensity and a timeless quality make it truly effective.”

TITLE DESIGN COMPETITION

“Foundation” (Image courtesy of Imaginary Forces)

Winner: Foundation Title Sequence
Designer: Ronnie Koff
Company: Imaginary Forces

“A beautifully constructed sequence that encapsulates the show’s futuristic setting as humans have colonized the galaxy. Using a particle system to form these incredible images each frame is a visual triumph as we journey through this vibrant main title.”

Special Jury Recognition: The White Lotus Title Sequence
Designers: Katrina Crawford, Mark Bashore
Company: Plains of Yonder

“This title’s distinctive design perfectly sets up the audience for the show and reflects the suffering before enlightenment of its protagonists. Its stunning illustrations capture the soul of the story and are enhanced by the flawless score.”

XR EXPERIENCE COMPETITION

“On the Morning You Wake (To the End of the World)” (Image courtesy of Atlas V & Novelab)

Winner: On the Morning You Wake (To the End of the World)
Directors: Dr. Jamaica Heolomeleikalani Osorio, Mike Brett, Steve Jamison, Pierre Zandrowicz, Arnaud Colinart, Screenwriters: Mike Brett, Steve Jamison, Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, Producers: Arnaud Colinart, Mike Brett, Steve Jamison, Jo-Jo Ellison

“On The Morning You Wake (To the End of the World) is an emotionally impactful and beautifully told story, delivered with stunning technical craftsmanship. This project explores the potential of immersive experiences, refining the grammar of spatial narrative. This particular story deals with the urgency of nuclear disarmament that has very unfortunately come into sharp focus due to current events. It effectively presents a massive geopolitical issue and grounds it in emotional and personal stories, translating what are usually abstract concepts into an embodied context.”

Special Jury Recognition for Immersive Storytelling: (Hi)story of a Painting: The Light in the Shadow
Directors: Quentin Darras, Gaëlle Mourre, Screenwriter: Gaëlle Mourre, Producers: Charlotte Mikkelborg, Gaëlle Mourre

(Hi)story of a Painting: The Light in the Shadow receives a Special Jury Recognition for immersive storytelling. This experience uses the medium of VR to transport us into history, revealing the story of a lesser-known female baroque artist, her resistance to the patriarchy and determination in the face of adversity.”

SXSW Special Awards

“What We Leave Behind” (Photo by Monica Wise)

Fandor New Voices Award
Fandor is proud to present the first ever Fandor New Voices Award, celebrating an outstanding feature making its worldwide premiere this year at the 35th annual SXSW festival. At Fandor, we are delighted to elevate the work of inspiring, imaginative, and independent storytellers, so it is with great pleasure that we present the Fandor New Voices Award to a female or person of color who is making their directorial debut with a Narrative Feature or Documentary. Fandor is and always will be proud to uplift the work of these amazing filmmakers.

Fandor New Voices Award
Presented to: What We Leave Behind
Director: Iliana Sosa, Producers: Emma D. Miller, Iliana Sosa, Isidore Bethel (co-producer)

“Chee$e” (Photo by Damian Marcano)

Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Award
In honor of a filmmaker whose work strives to be wholly its own, without regard for norms or desire to conform. The Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Award is presented to a filmmaker from our Visions screening category.

Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Award
Presented to: Chee$e
Director/Screenwriter: Damian Marcano, Producer: Alexa Marcano

Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michelle Yeoh in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (Photo by Allyson Riggs/A24)

Adobe Editing Award
Adobe is committed to celebrating creativity for all and empowering everyone to bring their stories to life. By creating greater opportunity for all voices, we can enact change in our communities and move the world forward. We are proud to celebrate the art and craft of editing as we grant the Adobe Editing Award at the SXSW Film Awards. We are also pleased to spotlight this year’s incredible title and poster designers through the Film Design Awards presented by Adobe.

Adobe Editing Award 
Presented to: Everything Everywhere All At Once
Editor: Paul Rogers

“What We Leave Behind”

Louis Black “Lone Star” Award
To honor SXSW co-founder/director Louis Black, a jury prize was created in 2011 called the Louis Black “Lone Star” Award, presented to a feature film world premiering at SXSW that was shot primarily in Texas or directed by a current resident of Texas. (Opt-in Award)

Louis Black “Lone Star” Award 
Winner: What We Leave Behind
Director: Iliana Sosa, Producers: Emma D. Miller, Iliana Sosa, Isidore Bethel (co-producer)

“Iliana Sosa’s exquisite documentary What We Leave Behind is a love letter to her Mexican grandfather, whose final decline she chronicles with artful grace. It is also a moving look at a family disconnected by both border and dreams, and how their patriarch, too old now for his monthly 20-hour bus rides from Durango into Texas, worries who will hold the center once he’s gone. Eighty-nine year old Julian has the face and gravitas of an old time movie star. Sosa has made a profound, gorgeous movie worthy of her precious subject.”

“A Vanishing Fog” (Photo courtesy of @ Schweizen)

ZEISS Cinematography Award
ZEISS Cine Lenses is honored to be returning this year to support the SXSW film community in the Cinematography category.  We believe that by supporting the art within the frame, ZEISS helps filmmakers realize their creative vision.

ZEISS Cinematography Award
Winner: A Vanishing Fog
Cinematographer: Gio Park

“The Voice Actress”

Mailchimp Support the Shorts Award
Mailchimp is committed to uplifting and supporting creators. We’re so proud to support SXSW by helping short films win big. We congratulate the honorees of the Support the Shorts Award as well as the entire SXSW-invited filmmaking community.

Mailchimp Support the Shorts Award
Presented to: The Voice Actress
Director/Screenwriter: Anna J. Takayama, Producer: Joe Skinner

“With its impeccable compositions and captivating lead performance, The Voice Actress offers a sensitive peek behind the scenes of an ever-changing industry. This patient study of imagination and aging achieves extraordinary depth thanks to Anna J. Takayama’s soulful direction, and we are delighted to support the career of such a remarkable talent.”

SXSW is proud to be an official qualifying festival for the Academy Awards® Short Film competition. Winners of our Best Animated, Best Narrative and Best Documentary Short Film categories become eligible for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards (Oscars). Any British Short Film or British Short Animation that screens at SXSW is eligible for BAFTA nomination. Films are also eligible for the Independent Spirit Awards, more information on eligibility here.

The South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conference and Festivals announced the Audience Award winners for the 29th SXSW Film Festival. The Audience Awards follow the previously announced 2022 Jury Awards and the 40 Years of Massive Talent Award presented to Nicolas Cage at The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent screening on Saturday night. For the complete list of 2022 Award Winners, visit www.sxsw.com/festivals/film-awards/.

Over the course of nine days the SXSW Film Festival screened 101 features including 76 World Premieres, 4 International Premieres, 4 North American Premieres, 2 U.S. Premieres, 14 Texas Premieres, plus 111 Short Films including 24 Music Videos, 12 Episodic Premieres, 6 Episodic Pilots, 30 XR Experience projects (formerly Virtual Cinema), and 19 Title Design Competition entries.

Films in the SXSW 2022 lineup screened in the following categories: Headliners; Narrative Feature Competition presented by Panavision; Documentary Feature Competition; Narrative Spotlight; Documentary Spotlight; Visions; Midnighters; Global presented by MUBI; 24 Beats Per Second; and Festival Favorites. The Episodic program consisted of Episodic Premieres and the Episodic Pilot Competition. The SXSW 2022 Shorts Film Program presented by IMDbPro featured seven competitive sections. Our XR Experience Competition, Spotlight and Special Events programming were held in-person with a selection of works in our XR Experience World in VRChat, presented by Non-Fungible Labs. All Categories with the exception of Special Events were eligible for section-specific Audience Awards.

Select conference sessions and music festival content is available to registrants through April 17 on the SXSW Online Schedule and Connected TV app. A full list of available content can be found here.

2022 SXSW Film Festival Audience Award Winners:

NARRATIVE FEATURE COMPETITION presented by Panavision

James Morosini and Patton Oswalt in “I Love My Dad” (Photo courtesy of I Love My Dad LLC/Hantz Motion Pictures)

Audience Award Winner: I Love My Dad
Director/Screenwriter: James Morosini, Producers: Bill Stertz, Patton Oswalt, Sean O’Grady, Dane Eckerle, Phil Keefe, Daniel Brandt, Sam Slater  

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE COMPETITION

“Bad Axe” (Photo by David Siev)

Audience Award Winner: Bad Axe
Director: David Siev, Producers: Jude Harris, Diane Quon, Katarina Vasquez, David Siev

NARRATIVE SPOTLIGHT

Audience Award Winner: Pretty Problems
Director: Kestrin Pantera, Screenwriters: Michael Tennant, Britt Rentschler, Charlotte Ubben, Producers: Katya Alexander, Britt Rentschler, Charlotte Ubben, Michael Tennant 

DOCUMENTARY SPOTLIGHT

Yvonne Bradley in “We Are Not Ghouls” (Photo courtesy of AP-LefterisPitarakis)

Audience Award Winner: We Are Not Ghouls
Director: Chris James Thompson, Producers: Jessica Farrell, Jack Turner, Andrew Swant

HEADLINERS

Britt Rentschler and Charlotte Ubben in “Pretty Problems” (Photo by Alyssa Brocato)

Audience Award Winner: Atlanta
Director: Hiro Murai, Producers: Donald Glover, Stephen Glover, Hiro Murai, Stefani Robinson, Paul Simms and Dianne McGunigle

VISIONS

“Shadow” (Photo by Jeff Busby)

Audience Award Winner: Shadow
Director: Bruce Gladwin, Screenwriters: Michael Chan, Mark Deans, Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Sonia Teuben, Producers: Alice Fleming, Meret Hassenen 

MIDNIGHTERS

“Bitch Ass” (Photo by Shane Brown)

Audience Award Winner: Bitch Ass
Director: Bill Posley, Screenwriters/Producers: Bill Posley, Jonathan Colomb 

GLOBAL presented by Mubi

“Without Prescription”

Audience Award Winner: Without Prescription
Director: Juliana Maite, Screenwriter: Marietere Vélez, Producer: Vilma Liella

24 BEATS PER SECOND

Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile in “The Return of Tanya Tucker – Featuring Brandi Carlile”

Audience Award Winner: The Return of Tanya Tucker – Featuring Brandi Carlile
Director: Kathlyn Horan, Producers: Kathlyn Horan, Julie Goldman, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn 

FESTIVAL FAVORITES 

Chris Watts (pictured at left) in “The Art of Making It.” (Photo by Sebastian Lasaosa Rogers/Wischful Thinking Productions
)

Audience Award Winner: The Art of Making It
Director: Kelcey Edwards, Producer: Debi Wisch 

Shorts Film Program presented by IMDbPro

NARRATIVE SHORTS COMPETITION

“Aspirational Slut” (Photo by Michael Greenwood)

Audience Award Winner: Aspirational Slut
Director/Screenwriter: Caroline Lindy, Producers: Kate Hamilton, Ellyn Jameson, Maddy Nimoy, Emily Wolfe

DOCUMENTARY SHORTS COMPETITION

“The Sentence of Michael Thompson” (Photo by Logan Triplett)

Audience Award Winner: The Sentence of Michael Thompson
Directors: Kyle Thrash, Haley Elizabeth Anderson, Producers: W. Ian Ross, Kyle Thrash

ANIMATED SHORTS COMPETITION

“Five Cents”

Audience Award Winner: Five Cents
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Aaron Hughes

MIDNIGHT SHORTS COMPETITION

“Tank Fairy” (Photo by Danny Wang)

Audience Award Winner: Tank Fairy
Director/Screenwriter: Erich Rettstadt, Producers: Anita Tung, C.K. Hugo Chung

TEXAS SHORTS COMPETITION

“Act of God” (Photo by Taylor Camarot)

Audience Award Winner: Act of God
Directors/Screenwriters: Spencer Cook, Parker Smith, Producer: Matthew Harrington

TEXAS HIGH SCHOOL SHORTS COMPETITION

“Football.” (Photo by Peyton Randolph)

Audience Award Winner: Football.
Director: William Herff, Screenwriters/Producers: William Herff, Nicholas Campos, Peyton Randolph

MUSIC VIDEO COMPETITION

Ishaval Gill and Kamaldevinder Gill in “Meet You at the Light.”

Audience Award Winner: Desirée Dawson – ‘Meet You at the Light’
Director/Screenwriter: Alexander Farah

Episodic Program 

EPISODIC PREMIERES

Audience Award Winner: 61st Street
Showrunners: Peter Moffat, J. David Shanks, Director: Marta Cunningham, Screenwriter: Peter Moffat, Producers: Annie Rhodes, Frank Baldwin, Allison Davis 

EPISODIC PILOT COMPETITION

Courtney B. Vance and Aunjanue Ellis in “61st Street” (Photo by George Burns/AMC)

Audience Award Winner: Brownsville Bred
Showrunner/Director/Screenwriter: Elaine Del Valle, Producers: Adrienne Lovette, Elaine Del Valle, Leslie Cohen, Debbie Esko-Gold, Eddie Frente  

XR Experience 

XR EXPERIENCE COMPETITION

“Gumball Dreams” (Image by Christopher Lane Davis)

Audience Award Winner: Gumball Dreams
Director: Deirdre V. Lyons, Screenwriters: Deirdre V. Lyons, Christopher Lane Davis, Producers: Ferryman Collective, Screaming Color

XR EXPERIENCE SPOTLIGHT

“The Choice” (Photo by Tom C. Hall)

Audience Award Winner: The Choice
Director: Joanne Popinska, Producers: Joanne Popinska, Tom C. Hall

SXSW Film Design Awards (three-way Tie)

EXCELLENCE IN TITLE DESIGN 

Audience Award Winner (tie): ‘Blade Runner: Black Lotus’ Title Sequence
Company: CO3/Method Made / Creative Director: John Likens

Audience Award Winner (tie): ‘See’ Season 2 Title Sequence 
Company: CO3/Method Made / Creative Director: John Likens 

Audience Award Winner (tie): ‘WandaVision’ Main On End Title Sequence 
Company: Perception / Creative Director: John LePore

About SXSW Film Festival
Now in its 29th year, SXSW Film Festival brings together creatives of all stripes over nine days to experience a diverse lineup and access to the SXSW Music and Comedy Festivals plus SXSW Conference sessions with visionaries from all corners of the entertainment, media, and technology industries. 

About SXSW
SXSW dedicates itself to helping creative people achieve their goals. Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of tech, film, music, education, and culture. An essential destination for global professionals, the annual March event features sessions, music and comedy showcases, film screenings, exhibitions, professional development and a variety of networking opportunities. SXSW proves that the most unexpected discoveries happen when diverse topics and people come together. SXSW 2023 will take place March 10 – 19, 2023. For more information, please visit sxsw.com. To register for the event, please visit sxsw.com/attend.

SXSW 2022 is sponsored by White Claw, Blockchain Creative Labs, Porsche and The Austin Chronicle.

Review: ‘Hypochondriac’ (2022), starring Zach Villa

March 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Zach Villa in “Hypochondriac” (Photo by Dustin Supencheck/XYZ Films)

“Hypochondriac” (2022)

Directed by Addison Heimann

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “Hypochondriac” features a cast of white, Latino and African American characters representing the working-class middle-class.

Culture Clash: A pottery maker is haunted by his traumatic childhood in ways that begin to affect his relationship with his boyfriend. 

Culture Audience: “Hypochondriac” will appeal primarily to people in horror movies that explore themes of mental illness and generational trauma.

Zach Villa in “Hypochondriac” (Photo by Dustin Supencheck/XYZ Films)

Although it can get a little repetitive, “Hypochondriac” skillfully shows the blurred lines between psychological horror and mental illness. The movie’s plot is fairly simple, but the striking and often horrifying visuals in the movie will leave an impact. “Hypochondriac” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Addison Heimann, who shows promise as a filmmaker who can craft stories and characters that hold people’s interest. “Hypochondriac” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

In “Hypochondriac,” which takes place in an unnamed U.S. city, the opening scene shows a mentally ill woman (played by Marlene Forte) having paranoid delusions in her home. She looks frantically out of the window, because she thinks people are out to get her. And then, this unnamed mother turns hostile toward her only child—a 12-year-old son named Will (played by Ian Inigo)—and she accuses him of “being in collusion with them.” After Will denies her accusation, she does something horrifying: She tries to kill him by strangling him.

Later, another incident that’s not shown in the movie involves this mother, a knife and a lot of blood in the house’s kitchen. Viewers find out that this incident is the one that caused the mother to be sent to a psychiatric facility. Will’s unnamed father (played by Chris Doubek) tells Will that Will’s mother has been taken away to get psychiatric help, and he orders Will to not look in the kitchen until it can be cleaned up. But, of course, Will does look in the kitchen. And he sees that it’s a blood-splattered mess.

“Hypochondriac” then fast-forwards 18 years later. Will (played by Zach Villa), who is openly gay, is now a pottery maker for a small company that caters to upscale clients. He seems to be fairly happy, and he has settled into a loving relationship with his boyfriend Luke (played by Devon Graye), who is as laid-back as Will is neurotic. Will and Luke (who is an AIDS counselor) have been dating each other for the past eight months.

Will has been guarded with Luke about his past. But things happen in the movie that cause Will to open up to Luke about the childhood trauma that still haunts him. Will also has a co-worker named Sasha (played by Yumarie Morales), who is a sassy friend, but she has her own personal struggles too. There’s a scene in the movie where Sasha has a panic attack, and Will helps her get through it.

It isn’t long before Will’s seemingly stable life starts to unravel. He gets mysterious headaches. Then he seems to be having random fainting spells. Throughout the story, Will visits a series of clinic doctors and other medical professionals, who can’t find anything that’s physically wrong with him. Michael Cassidy has a satirical cameo role as a nurse practitioner named Chaz, who insists on being called “NP Chaz” and who gives off-the-cuff, incompetent diagnoses.

Will also starts getting phone calls from his mother, whom he does not want to hear from at all. His mother repeatedly warns him not to trust Luke. She also leaves a lot of rambling messages on Will’s voice mail. And there are recurring visions of someone dressed in a wolf costume that have to do with Will’s Halloween memories from when he was a child.

It’s very easy to tell at a certain point in the movie how much is reality and how much is a hallucination. Thanks largely to Villa’s riveting performance and the engrossing direction of the movie, the entire journey of “Hypochondriac” is a harrowing ride that takes viewers into the mind of an increasingly disturbed person. “Hypochondriac” has an ending that might not satisfy some viewers, but it realistically shows how mental illness remains with people throughout their lives and isn’t like a nightmare that goes away when someone wakes up.

UPDATE: XYZ Films will release “Hypochondriac” in select U.S. cinemas on July 29, 2022. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on August 4, 2022.

Review: ‘A Lot of Nothing,’ starring Y’lan Noel, Cleopatra Coleman, Justin Hartley, Lex Scott Davis and Shamier Anderson

March 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from top left: Y’lan Noel, Cleopatra Coleman, Lex Scott Davis, Shamier Anderson and Justin Hartley in “A Lot of Nothing” (Photo by John Keng)

“A Lot of Nothing”

Directed by Mo McRae

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the comedy/drama film “A Lot of Nothing” features a racially diverse cast of characters (African American, white and some Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An African American husband and wife, who both work for the same law firm, kidnap and hold their white neighbor captive in their home after the spouses find out that he’s the cop who’s in the news for killing an unarmed young man.

Culture Audience: “A Lot of Nothing” will appeal mainly to people who think they are supporting a Black Lives Matter advocacy movie, but this horrendous misfire is anything but supportive of civil rights and positive portrayals of black people.

A complete tonal mess, the comedy/drama “A Lot of Nothing” makes a disgusting mockery of the Black Lives Matter movement and insults African American women the most. Apparently, the filmmakers think the best way for black people to fight racism is to become criminals and perpetuate racist stereotypes. If this trashy movie wanted to be a satire, it demolishes any credibility because it can’t decide if it wants to be an absurd farce or a serious thriller. Worst of all, it takes real-life trauma that families and other loved ones experience because of unjustified killings committed by cops, and uses this trauma as a gimmicky plot device, just so the filmmakers could get a cash grab out of this heinous movie. “A Lot of Nothing” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

The fact that “A Lot of Nothing” was directed by an African American (Mo McRae) does not excuse the utter depths of stupidity where this movie goes when it comes to exploiting these real-life tragedies. McRae wrote the abysmal screenplay for “A Lot of Nothing” with Sarah Kelly Kaplan. And they both seem to have particular contempt for black women, because of how black women are portrayed in this movie. That’s because out of all the dimwitted characters in “A Lot of Nothing,” the black women characters are the dumbest and the flakiest.

The moronic story of “A Lot of Nothing,” which takes place in Los Angeles, is that an African American married couple named James (played by Y’lan Noel) and Vanessa (played by Cleopatra Coleman)—who both work at the same law firm—kidnap and hold captive a white cop named Brian Stanley (played by Justin Hartley), who happens to be their next-door neighbor. Brian is divorced and lives alone, so there’s no one in his house who immediately notices that he’s missing when he’s kidnapped from his home. James is a lawyer, while Vanessa (who has an MBA degree) is some kind of business manager at the law firm.

What would cause this highly educated, upper-middle-class, respectable couple to commit such a drastic crime? Vanessa is angrily triggered because she saw on the news that Brian is under investigation for the shooting death of an unarmed, young adult man, who was killed during a traffic stop. Some of this incident was captured on video footage that went viral on the Internet and was shown on TV. Brian has been put on leave from his job, pending the investigation.

Before the kidnapping takes place, Vanessa rants to James in their home about how she’s tired of hearing about cops killing innocent black people. James tells Vanessa repeatedly that they need to hear all the facts of this case before they jump to conclusions. But that doesn’t stop Vanessa from obsessing over the idea that she needs to lecture and interrogate Brian about what happened, as if she’s a prosecutor questioning him during a trial. She marches over to Brian’s house and demands that he talk to her and explain what happened during the shooting. Brian doesn’t want to talk to her, but she insists.

As someone who’s married to a lawyer and as a business manager who works for a law firm, Vanessa should know that Brian is probably under an attorney’s orders not to talk about the investigation to anyone without an attorney present. As a black woman (and as a human being who should have common sense), Vanessa should also know how stupid it is to pick a fight with a cop who’s under investigation for shooting and killing an unarmed person. The filmmakers of “A Lot of Nothing” don’t care, because they want to make Vanessa the worst stereotype of an angry black woman.

Brian’s response to Vanessa’s hostile confrontation? He tells her: “As an officer of the law, I suggest you take your high yellow ass back to your nice little house and drop it.” That racist remark is enough for Vanessa to later go over to Brian’s house with a gun, while James is trying to smooth things over with Brian. Vanessa wants to provoke a racist cop, and apparently doesn’t care about making things worse, and possibly doing something that could get people killed.

Vanessa pulls a gun on Brian, forces him into the couple’s garage, and orders James to tie up Brian. James is shocked and horrified. At first, James objects to Vanessa’s unhinged actions, but then he reluctantly goes along with this idiotic abduction and the rest of the crimes that Vanessa wants to commit in the name of Black Lives Matter. In other words, the movie is saying that educated black people with no criminal records are actually irrational, violent criminals who’ll use any racial excuse to commit crimes, thereby embodying the worst stereotypes that racists have of black people.

Vanessa is such an obnoxious lunatic, she commits this cop kidnapping less than an hour before James’ brother Jamal (payed by Shamier Anderson) and his pregnant fiancée Candy (played by Lex Scott Davis) are due to arrive for a family dinner. Candy and Jamal show up, find out about the kidnapping, and participate in the crime too. Jamal turns into a thug, while Candy is an airhead who spouts a lot of New Age gibberish.

There’s really no point in describing this awful movie anymore, except to say that the movie’s writing and direction are trash; the pacing is erratic; and all the cast members’ performances get worse as the story goes down a steep slide into a putrid abyss of racial hatred that’s hell-bent on making black people look as bad as possible. The movie ends with a “reveal” that just makes everyone involved look even more insanely stupid, with no real consequences. “A Lot of Nothing” is really just a lot of nonsense and a worthless train wreck that should be avoided at all costs.

UPDATE: RLJE Films will release “A Lot of Nothing” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on February 3, 2023.

Review: ‘Sell/Buy/Date,’ starring Sarah Jones

March 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sarah Jones (as herself, as the Nereida character and as the Bella character) in “Sell/Buy/Date” (Photo courtesy of Sell/Buy/Date Film)

“Sell/Buy/Date”

Directed by Sarah Jones

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York, California and Nevada, the documentary film “Sell/Buy/Date” features a racially diverse group of people (African American, white, Latino and Native American) from the working-class, middle-class and wealthy discussing American society’s attitudes and laws about sex workers.

Culture Clash: People offer different perspectives on whether or not certain types of sex work should be legal and what the repercussions would be if the laws changed.

Culture Audience: “Sell/Buy/Date” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching an unusual documentary about sex workers that blends comedy and the seriousness of hard-hitting issues.

In the very unique documentary “Sell/Buy/Date,” director Sarah Jones takes viewers on a personal journey exploring diverse perspectives of sex workers in America. The movie’s tonal shift from lighthearted to tragic is jarring but necessary. The first two-thirds of the film put more emphasis on Jones alternating between comedic sketches and interviews that she conducted with sex workers and celebrities. The last third of the film is when the documentary takes a much darker and more realistic turn, when sex workers talk about the exploitation and abuse that’s part of the sex industry, whether the sex work is legal or not.

“Sell/Buy/Date” is based on Jones’ one-woman stage show “Sell/Buy/Date,” which had a limited off-Broadway run in New York City in 2016 and a limited engagement in Los Angeles in 2018. In the stage show, Jones (who says she’s never been a sex worker) played various characters representing various perspectives of the sex industry. Jones is also known for her one-woman, off-Broadway show “Bridge & Tunnel,” which won a special Tony Award in 2006. Meryl Streep was an executive producer of “Bridge & Tunnel,” and Streep has the same title for the “Sell/Buy/Date” documentary.

In the “Sell/Buy/Date” stage show, Jones played 19 fictional characters of various races, ethnicities and genders. In real life, Jones (who usually identifies as African American and sometimes as biracial or multiracial) is the child of “an African American father and mother of mixed Euro-American and Caribbean descent,” according to Jones’ Wikipedia page. She calls herself a “woman of color” in the documentary.

In the “Sell/Buy/Date” documentary, Jones portrays four fictional characters: Lorraine, an outspoken 85-year-old white Jewish grandmother; Bella, an academic-minded white college sophomore, who’s majoring in sex-work studies and who’s “ashamed of her white privilege”; Nereida, a sassy half-Dominican, half-Puerto Rican advocate for female rights; and Rashid, a working-class African American man who’s an aspiring entrepreneur and who works as an Uber driver to pay his bills. The “Sell/Buy/Date” stage show also had fictional characters in the sex industry, but none of the play’s sex-worker characters are in the “Sell/Buy/Date” documentary, because Jones interviews real-life sex workers in the film.

Jones interviewed people in New York state (where Jones is based), California and Nevada. The interviewees range from sex workers to activists to people who are not in the sex industry but who know Jones personally. It’s clear from watching the tonal shift of the film that Jones started off thinking that the film was going to go one way, and it turned out going another way. “Sell/Buy/Date” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

The movie opens with a scene of Jones, Lorraine, Bella and Nereida gathered in Jones’ dressing room, as they talk about the “Sell/Buy/Date” stage show, which will soon close. It’s a comedy sketch where the four women discuss the controversy over the show, such as protestors and critics who call Jones and “Sell/Buy/Date” a “danger to women.” Nereida comments that with the “Sell/Buy/Date documentary, Jones was trying so hard to be the “wokest” to please everybody, the play has just ended up angering “everybody.” In a staged scene, Jones is seen getting criticism on social media for being a SWERF: Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist, which is a label that Jones says does not apply to her.

In a voiceover, Jones says of the “Sell/Buy/Date” characters that she created: “On stage, in my play, they help me share different sides of a topic that’s not often talked about in the sex industry.” As time goes on in the documentary, Jones eventually reveals that she’s created “Sell/Buy/Date” (the play and the movie) as a way to try to emotionally heal and come to terms with the death of her 18-year-old sister Naomi, whose drug addiction led to her becoming a sex worker. Jones doesn’t go into too many details about this tragedy in the movie, but she has said in media interviews that Naomi died at the start of Jones’ career in the entertainment industry.

Early on in the documentary, Jones mentions dreading the anniversary of Naomi’s death. She also talks about keeping Naomi’s journal for three years and being afraid to read it, although she eventually does read parts of the journal on camera in the documentary. It’s one of the best parts of the movie, when Jones is being herself and showing a very vulnerable side to her, instead of playing characters to get some laughs.

Jones’ mother Leslie (an obstetrician/gynecologist) appears briefly in the documentary and mostly shows support for Jones in making this movie, but she also expresses her disapproval of her daughter having to spend so much time with people whom Leslie thinks are unsavory characters because of their line of work. These mother/daughter scenes are mostly heartwarming, but viewers can tell that the subject of Naomi is too painful for them to talk about in depth on camera. (Jones’ parents are divorced, and her father does not appear in the documentary.)

There’s a little bit of Leslie that comes across in Jones’ grandmotherly Lorraine character. The character of Bella represents people who think all sex work should be legal everywhere. The character of Nereida is vehemently opposed to prostitution being legal, because she believes that prostitutes (especially female prostitutes) will still be exploited. In the beginning of the movie, Nereida argues with Jones about Jones glorifying prostitution in the documentary. And later, Nereida gives a passionate monologue that’s one of the movie’s best scenes. As for Rashid, this character is in the movie for pure comic relief as Jones’ driver. He doesn’t have much to say about the sex industry except to hint that he’s had experience in hiring sex workers.

People have different definitions of “sex work,” so “Sell/Buy/Date” talks mostly to sex workers whose primary sex work involves sex acts that are done in person. For example, there are no interviews with people who work only in phone sex or Internet/webcam sex. It’s debatable whether or not getting paid to strip and dance nude is considered “sex work,” but the movie includes a segment where Jones goes to a pole-dancing class taught by Amy Bond, founder of Pole + Dance Studios in San Francisco. During her interview, Bond opens up about her puritanical Mormon background and how she used to do porn. Bond encourages Jones and other people in the pole-dancing class to have more of a mind/body connection.

One of the more ironically interesting parts of the documentary is when Jones is in Las Vegas for a Sex Industrialist Revolution Conference taking place right next to an anti-sex trafficking conference. However, the documentary could have used more exploration of what making prostitution legal would really mean for sex-trafficking activities and how it all relates to gender issues. Men are the majority of customers for prostitutes, but the customers are punished less than the prostitutes, when it comes to the law and society’s judgments. It’s debatable if legal prostitution really erases the society stigma that prostitutes (who are usually female) have to bear more than their customers.

Some celebrities make cameos as themselves in the documentary. Rosario Dawson gives words of encouragement to Jones about making the movie. Ilana Glazer and Jones talk about the controversy over the “Sell/Buy/Date” play. Bryan Cranston appears toward the end of the film and shares a very personal story with Jones about how he lost his virginity to a prostitute.

At various points in the scripted parts of the movie, Jones is seen interacting by phone only with two characters from her “support team”: her manager Roger and her publicist Nora. These are fictional characters that could be based on real-life people. In the movie, it’s mentioned that Jones is in a “dead-end relationship” with Roger and that they are “just using each other.” Roger is also evicting her from a home that he’s been renting for her because he doesn’t want to pay her rent anymore. It’s never really explained in the movie how true any of this information is, but it looks out of place in a documentary.

For most of the documentary, the fictional characters drift in and out of the narrative. Other scenes not involving these fictional characters are deliberately staged, such as a scene where Jones is in a waiting room for a doctor’s appointment, and she’s sitting near a sex worker named Tish “The Dish” Roberts. The scene is staged to make it look like Roberts and Jones are meeting as random strangers for the first time, as Roberts sees Jones and gushes to Jones that she’s a fan of the “Sell/Buy/Date” play.

In this waiting room, the two women then talk about Roberts’ experiences as a sex worker. Roberts (who is African American) says she became a sex worker at age 17, when a white male schoolteacher she had at the time gave her a lot of attention that she craved. The teacher knew that Roberts came from an impoverished, broken home, so the attention that he gave her eventually turned to paying her to perform sex acts with him.

Roberts says that these payments for sex acts continued on more than one occasion, and she obeyed the teacher’s orders to keep everything a secret. She comments to Jones about that sexual experience: “It felt like a transaction. I learned to detach from it.”

In the conversation, Roberts thanks Jones for doing the “Sell/Buy/Date” play and movie for giving a voice to sex workers. Jones doesn’t pass judgment on Roberts, but neither does Jones call this teacher-student experience for what it really is: sexual exploitation. And depending on the age-of-consent-law in the state where it took place, it would have been illegal sexual abuse.

Lotus Lain, a sex worker who is also described as a “sex worker advocate,” warns Jones about the pitfalls of directing this documentary and not being in the sex industry herself: “You’re about to get yourself cancelled. You’re an outsider. You are what we call a ‘civilian.’ You do not understand what it is we go through to be telling our stories.” The conversation between Jones and Lain ends on a cordial note, but Jones does seem very aware throughout the film that she’s learning more about the sex industry as she goes along in making the documentary.

At first, some of the sex workers interviewed in the documentary paint a rosy picture of being in control of their work and their bodies. A common theme in this talk is that sex work can equal “empowerment.” But what “Sell/Buy/Date” eventually does is expose the different layers of the sex industry to show that the people who push the most for prostitution to be legal are the ones who are most likely to get the most financial gain from it. And men are the vast majority of the business owners in the sex industry.

In the documentary, these business owners include porn entrepreneur/actor Evan Seinfeld (also known as a musician who used to be the lead singer/bassist for the rock band Biohazard), who essentially brags about how much money he can make from porn and talks about how his employees (who are mostly women) can make a lot of money too. What he doesn’t mention (but is obvious to anyone who knows anything about business) is that because Seinfeld owns his company, he still makes more money than the people who work for him.

In Nevada (where prostitution is legal), brothel owner Alice Little gives Jones a cheerful tour of her Chicken Ranch brothel, which has only women as sex workers. Little talks about how the brothel is safe and regulated, but she glosses over any negative experiences her employees have had with customers. Little admits that she’s one of the very few women in the United States who owns a legal brothel. What Seinfeld and Little have in common is promoting their businesses in this documentary, so of course their agenda is to make the sex industry look as glamorous as possible.

But then, Jones shows another side of the sex industry that is more common: the workers who don’t own businesses in the sex industry, and who are at the mercy of customers, pimps/madams and other people who can exploit them. The documentary starts to get real when sex workers/activists such as Esperanza Fonseca (a transgender woman) and Pueblo tribe member Terria Xo open up about the violence and other abuse they’ve experienced in their line of work. Addictions to drugs and alcohol are also occupational hazards. When people talk about making prostitution legal, no one likes to talk about who’s going to pay the medical bills when these sex workers get viciously assaulted during their work.

Jones interviews Xo with other Native American activists, such as Jennifer Marley (who is Tewa, part of the Pueblo tribe) and Becki Jones (from the Diné/Navajo tribe), who give honest and direct talk about how sex workers who are women of color and transgender women are disproportionately more likely than any other sex workers to experience violence and death because of sex work. And therefore, they say that even if prostitution became legal everywhere in America, it still would not change the violence that can happen, and the racial and gender disparities in who gets to profit the most from sex work. “Sell/Buy/Date” doesn’t force viewers to think one way or another about these issues, but it admirably presents enough perspectives for viewers to make up their own minds.

UPDATE: Cinedigm will release “Sell/Buy/Date” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 14, 2022.

Review: ‘X’ (2022), starring Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow and Scott Mescudi

March 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mia Goth in “X” (Photo by Christopher Moss/A24)

“X” (2022)

Directed by Ti West

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas in 1979, the horror film “X” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with one Latina and two African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Six people go to a rented farm to make a porn movie, but the elderly spouses who own the farm show their violent disapproval. 

Culture Audience: “X” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of writer/director Ti West and horror flicks that skillfully blend horror with satirical comedy.

Pictured clockwise, from left: Owen Campbell, Brittany Snow, Mia Goth, Scott Mescudi and Jenna Ortega in “X” (Photo by Christopher Moss/A24)

“X” is a horror film that doesn’t break any new ground, but this “slow burn” movie delivers some gruesome terror with touches of social satire that can bring some laughs. Written and directed by horror master Ti West, “X” is sure to count as one of his best movies. Will “X” be considered an iconic movie that influences countless other horror films? No. However, “X” takes a simple concept that other slasher movies mishandle and makes it something that horror fans can thoroughly enjoy, as long as people can tolerate watching some bloody violence that can be nauseating to some viewers.

“X” had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. It’s fitting that the movie premiered in Texas, since the story takes place mostly in a rural and unnamed part of Texas. (“X” was actually filmed in New Zealand.) In “X,” the year is 1979, when porn movies made in the U.S. got an “X” rating for adults-only content. Six people in the adult film industry are going on a road trip to an isolated farm that the producer has rented, in order to make a porn film called “The Farmer’s Daughter.” This porn movie is a very low-budget film with only one camera.

The six people on this fateful trip are:

  • Wayne Gilroy (played by Martin Henderson), a brash, fast-talking middle-aged producer whose immediate goal in life is for “The Farmer’s Daughter” to be a blockbuster porn movie—or at least make a fraction of what “Debbie Does Dallas” made, so that Wayne can get out of debt.
  • Maxine Minx (played by Mia Goth), an up-and-coming actress who wants to be as famous as “Wonder Woman” TV star Lynda Carter. Off camera, Maxine (who’s in her 20s) is Wayne’s lover (he left his wife for her), and Wayne has promised to make Maxine a star. Maxine also has a cocaine habit, since she’s seen snorting coke several times in the movie.
  • Bobby-Lynne Parker (played by Brittany Snow), an experienced porn actress in her 30s, who styles her physical appearance like Marilyn Monroe, and who likes to think of herself as the reigning Southern belle of porn.
  • Jackson Hole (played by Scott Mescudi), the porn name of a well-endowed actor in his 30s who is the only male cast member doing the porn scenes in “The Farmer’s Daughter.” Bobby-Lynne and Jackson are also sex partners off-camera, in a “friends with benefits” relationship.
  • RJ Nichols (played by Owen Campbell), the director of “The Farmer’s Daughter.” RJ, who’s in his late 20s, likes to think that the porn movies he directs are cinematic art.
  • Lorraine Day (played by Jenna Ortega), RJ’s girlfriend, a “jack of all trades” crew member who is essentially RJ’s assistant. Lorraine is in her late teens or early 20s and is relatively new to the adult film industry. She’s eager to learn all that she can about filmmaking.

The movie’s opening scene shows viewers that this porn movie shoot will result in a massacre, since police officers arrive at the farm and see several bloody and mutilated dead bodies. The movie circles back to this crime scene at the end of the film. The rest of “X” shows what happened 24 hours earlier, leading up to the massacre.

It takes a while for “X” to get going, since the first half of the movie is about the road trip, arriving at the farm, and filming the sex scenes. The farm is owned by an elderly couple named Howard (played by Stephen Ure), nicknamed Howie, and his wife Pearl (also played by Goth), who have been married to each other for decades. Ure and Goth wear balding hair pieces and prosthetic makeup that give creepy and decrepit physical appearances to Howard and Pearl. Goth gives an absolutely maniacal performance as Pearl, who is much more disturbed and volatile than Howard.

Howard is a cantankerous veteran of World War I and World War II. The first thing that Howard does when he sees Wayne is pull a gun on him, until Wayne reminds Howard that he’s the movie producer who’s renting the farm for a film shoot. Wayne doesn’t tell this farm couple that this film shoot is for a porn movie, but Howard and Pearl inevitably find out because they’re on the property during this film shoot.

Pearl is starved for affection from her husband. When she tries to make amorous advances on Howard, he pushes her away and mentions his heart condition when he says, “You know I can’t. My heart.” Pearl is a former dancer who sees a lot of younger herself in Maxine and instantly fixates on Maxine. Pearl is also a voyeur, so it should come as no surprise that Pearl ends up watching one of the sex scenes that’s being filmed in the barn. And when she finds out that a porn movie is being made on her property, all hell breaks loose.

Before the murder and mayhem begin, “X” makes some sly commentary on how gender affects perceptions and judgments of people’s involvement in porn. This small cast and crew of “The Farmer’s Daughter” are a microcosm of larger issues in the adult film industry: Men are usually in charge and usually make the business decisions. The women are usually expected to follow orders.

Women in adult entertainment also get more of society’s stigma and degradation, compared to men in adult entertainment. A woman is much more likely than a man to be called a “whore” for doing porn. This derogatory name-calling happens in a scene in “X,” even though for “The Farmer’s Daughter” porn movie, a man is just as much of a participant in the sex scenes as the women. There’s a moment in the movie where one of the women flips the proverbial script and makes a decision that greatly upsets one of the men.

And because there are three couples on this trip, their dynamics also represent the types of relationships that can occur in the adult film industry. Wayne and Maxine represent a stereotypical older filmmaker who hooks up with a young actress and tells her a lot of big talk about making her a star. Bobby-Lynne and Jackson are swingers who don’t have any commitment in their relationship and don’t want to be bound by traditional sexual expectations. RJ and Lorraine represent people who are in the porn industry only to get filmmaking experience so that they can move on to mainstream movies.

“X” has the expected sex scenes, but there are also scenes that show the type of camaraderie that can happen during a film production. On their first night after filming scenes from “The Farmer’s Daughter,” the cast and crew hang out and have some drinks together. Bobby-Lynne leads a toast where she says, “Here’s to the perverts who’ve been paying our bills for years!”

After this toast, Bobby-Lynne sings Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” while Jackson plays acoustic guitar. Snow’s performance of “Landslide” is very good and one of the unexpected highlights in this horror film. This laid-back party scene is effective in showing how the people in this group have no idea what’s in store for them.

“X” has a few nods to 1970s horror classics, such as 1974’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and 1978’s “Halloween.” The comparisons to “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” are obvious. In “X,” Blue Oyster Cult’s 1976 song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” song is played during a pivotal scene. Horror aficionados know that “Don’t Fear the Reaper” was also prominently featured in 1978’s “Halloween.”

Even though the first half of “X” doesn’t have any real terror, “X” still manages to keep viewers on edge over what might happen. There’s no real mystery of who the villains are, because this is a slasher flick that clearly forecasts who will be the perpetrators of the violence. Although the ideas in “X” aren’t very original, they’re still filmed in very suspenseful ways. And there’s an interesting twist/reveal toward the end of the film. Ultimately, “X” doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: a worthy tribute to retro slasher films that makes “X” memorable in its own right.

A24 will release “X” in U.S. cinemas on March 18, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD is April 14, 2022.

Review: ‘Jethica,’ starring Callie Hernandez, Ashley Denise Robinson, Will Madden and Andy Faulkner

March 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Callie Hernandez and Ashley Denise Robinson in “Jethica” (Photo by Pete Ohs)

“Jethica”

Directed by Pete Ohs

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in New Mexico, the comedy/drama film “Jethica” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one Latina and one African American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman has an unexpected reunion with a former classmate from high school, but this former classmate has a big problem: a stalker who follows her everywhere.

Culture Audience: “Jethica” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in offbeat dark comedies that are unpredictable.

Callie Hernandez and Will Madden in “Jethica” (Photo by Pete Ohs)

The dark comedy thriller “Jethica” blurs genres and cheekily plays with viewer expectations on what the movie is about and how it’s all going to end. Directed by Pete Ohs, “Jethica” has a relatively small number of cast members, and the movie clocks in at 70 minutes. It’s just the right amount of time to tell this story, in what could have easily been a short film. “Jethica” has a simple concept, but it’s depicted in a compellingly eerie way.

Five people have screenwriting credits for “Jethica”: director Ohs and four of the movie’s cast members: Callie Hernandez (who plays Elena), Ashley Denise Robinson (who plays Jessica), Will Madden (who plays Kevin) and Andy Faulkner (who plays Benny). By having so many cast members credited as screenwriters, “Jethica” gives the impression that much of this movie was improvised. And sure enough, in the production notes for “Jethica,” Ohs makes this statement: “Our creative process was an experiment. We went to New Mexico without a script and wrote the movie as we went.” “Jethica” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

On the surface, “Jethica” (which takes place in an unnamed city in New Mexico) sounds like a typical “woman in peril” movie about someone being followed by a stalker. But there’s more to the story than the stalking. The beginning of the film shows a woman in her 20s named Elena having a sexual tryst in the back of a car with an unnamed man (played by Alan Palomo), whose face is never seen in the movie. Based on their conversation, she thinks of him as no more than a casual hookup whom she sees on a semi-regular basis.

During this tryst, he asks Elena why she hasn’t invited him to her home. She explains that she has a roommate and doesn’t want to deal with scheduling their hookups based on when the roommate will be home or not. Elena then tells him that about a year ago, she lived alone in an isolated trailer that she inherited from her grandmother.

Elena states matter-of-factly that the reason for her seclusion was “because I killed somebody.” Elena’s lover responds sarcastically, “I had no idea I was hooking up with a murderer.” Elena then begins to tell what happened when she lived alone in that trailer. The movie then switches to flashback mode for nearly all of the story.

The flashback begins with Elena getting gas for her car at a gas station, where she randomly sees Jessica, a former classmate from high school, who’s getting gas for her own car. Elena and Jessica haven’t seen each other since they were high-school students. Their reunion starts off a little awkward, because Jessica doesn’t seem that happy to see Elena. Jessica comes across as uncomfortable and a little standoffish when talking to Elena.

Jessica says that she used to live in California, but she left because she had a stalker. She then moved to Santa Fe, but the stalker found her there too. Jessica says she’s on a road trip but doesn’t mention where she’s going. Elena invites Jessica to her place to hang out and have some coffee. At first Jessica says no, but then she changes her mind.

While Jessica follows Elena back to Elena’s trailer, she notices that Elena has stopped on the road to say hello to a man in his late 20s or early 30s. He seems to be walking with a slightly off-kilter gait and has a vacant stare. It’s unclear if the man is homeless or not. When they get to the trailer, Elena explains that the man’s name is Benny, and he’s a platonic friend of hers.

Jessica begins to open up to Elena about her stalker ordeal. She says that her stalker is a man named Kevin Morris, whom she barely knows, but somehow, he became obsessed with her. Jessica also mentions that the police won’t help with her stalking problem because Kevin didn’t break any laws by showing up in public in the same places where Jessica was.

However, Jessica shows Elena some of the creepy videos and letters that Kevin sent her. Although he never threatened her with bodily harm, his rantings became increasingly hostile because he became upset with Jessica for not responding to his communication. Kevin talks with a lisp, which is why the title of the movie is “Jethica.”

Elena generously tells Jessica that she can stay in Elena’s home as long as Jessica needs to stay. For now, Jessica just accepts the offer to stay the night. But it isn’t long before a man shows up outside the trailer. He restlessly paces back and forth and yells out Jessica’s name repeatedly.

A terrified Jessica peers out the window and is certain that the man, who looks a lot like Kevin, can’t possibly be Kevin. How can she be so sure? Who is this man? And how did he find Jessica in this very remote area? Those questions are eventually answered in the movie.

“Jethica” is a very atmospheric film that makes great use of the scenic vistas in New Mexico’s desert landscapes and Puebloan ruins. (The movie was filmed in Estancia, New Mexico.) “Jethica” director/co-writer Ohs is also the movie’s producer, cinematographer and film editor. Some of the sunset and nighttime shots in the movie are as breathtaking as they can be foreboding, because most of the movie takes place in a remote area where something ominous always seems to be on the brink of happening.

It’s not quite a horror film, but “Jethica” has some aspects of supernatural horror. Still, viewers should not expect major terror or chase scenes that are typical of supernatural horror movies. The movie has plenty of suspense and touches of sardonic comedy that make it worthwhile to viewers who can appreciate eccentric, low-budget films.

“Jethica” isn’t a movie where people give award-worthy performances, although all of the cast members are perfectly fine in their roles. That’s because all of the movie’s characters in this New Mexico desert area are guarded about something. The secrets that come out are what people will remember most about “Jethica.”

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