Fantaspoa 2021 review: ‘Röckët Stähr’s Death of a Rockstar’ vibrates with great music and message.

Fantaspoa 2021

Röckët Stähr’s Death of a Rockstar

In the year 2164, when rock n roll is banned, a group of underground rebels, lead by a mad scientist, attempt to start a non-violent revolution by waking up the docile masses via a cloned rockstar sent on a guerrilla tour to “rock n roll them free from the tyranny”. But they soon find out, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Fantaspoa 2021 featured a massive lineup of great genre films. Röckët Stähr’s Death of a Rockstar is probably my favorite. Goosebumps immediately exploded up and down my arms as the soundtrack rocked me to my core. The colorful, throwback animation (reminiscent of The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”) and subtitled lyrics scrawling across the screen in real-time, make your heart skip a beat. I had forgotten what it was like to experience the joy of a live concert. And even though this is a film, the energy feels alive. This is a rock opera for the ages.

It’s unafraid to “stick it to the man” as it overflows with social commentary. Set in a world where freedom of expression has been stifled by the marriage of religion and government. Sound familiar? Its messaging includes, “Art will save the world”, and “History is doomed to repeat itself.” But it’s also a love story, a commentary on mental health, violence, and the media. This film is a little bit of everything and it’s brilliant. I want to see this on Broadway. I want to see shadow casts perform this at midnight screenings. The music is eclectic. It’s got John Cameron Mitchell vibes, Rocky Horror sexiness, and even a touch of Monty Python humor. It deserves to be watched with an audience. It’s an epic animated rock concert bursting with pop culture references. This film kicks so much ass I need everyone to experience it so we can party together.  It will have you on your feet, dancing and grinning like a fool. Röckët Stähr’s Death of a Rockstar is destined for cult status.


Brazil’s long-running Fantaspoa Fantastic Film Festival celebrated its seventeenth edition online and completely free of charge. The 2021 edition of the beloved South American genre festival was supported by a special grant from the Brazilian government, which is offered to relevant cultural events amidst the pandemic. Running through April 18th, the seventeenth edition of Fantaspoa featured more than 100 shorts and 50 feature films from more than 35 countries. All festival screenings had a cap of 3,000 views, and all were geo-blocked to Brazilian viewers.

The film was part of Fantaspoa 2021, which ran for free on the streaming platform Darkflix, from April 9th through the 18th. All film screenings were geo-blocked to Brazil.

Additional details are available at www.fantaspoa.com.

Fantaspoa 2021 reviews: Two neon-soaked films about unresolved trauma in ‘Bloodshot Heart’ & ‘Playdurizm’

Fantaspoa 2021

BLOODSHOT HEART

At 44, Hans still lives with his mother. When Matilda, a tenant half his age, moves in, Hans relives old memories and is infatuated. To win her love, Hans comes up with a dangerous plan.

Writer-Director Parish Malfitano has given Fantaspoa audiences a hallucinatory, Giallo-inspired mindfuck with Bloodshot Heart. As if our leading man Hans (Richard James Allen) weren’t quirky enough, we learn that his mysterious ex and his domineering mother have the ultimate power over his perceived reality. When Matilda enters the picture, Hans hatches a plan to win her over that has dire and violent consequences for everyone involved. We’re never completely sure what we’re seeing is real or not. The bait and switch of characters are abundant. Color, score, and costumes become all-consuming. Richard James Allen‘s portrayal of Hans is something you must experience. His lovesick puppy act masks all the mysterious and deeply troubling emotions inside his head. The nuance he brings to Hans is astounding. Bloodshot Heart will leave you in a dizzied state. It is wild.


PLAYDURIZM

When a teenager finds himself caught in a glitchy-glitzy reality with his onscreen male idol, he does all he can to be possessed by this man and ignore the violent clues of how he got there.

I’m not going to lie. Playdurizm is extremely difficult to watch. You have no clue what the hell is going on until the finale. But damn it’s cool to look at. Eccentric costumes, neon-soaked production design, bright green vomit, all make your head spin. This is the perfect entry for the festival circuit. Brave Fantaspoa audiences will either eat it up or turn away and gag. With all the WTF that occurs in this film, it pays off in the end. Trigger warning: The amount of sexual violence in this film is jarring. Director Gem Deger (who also stars as D) definitely takes a colorful approach to PTSD. Playdurizm is a striking, LGBTQA+ foray into the genre realm.


Brazil’s long-running Fantaspoa Fantastic Film Festival is currently celebrating its seventeenth edition online and completely free of charge. The 2021 edition of the beloved South American genre festival is supported by a special grant from the Brazilian government, which is offered to relevant cultural events amidst the pandemic. Running through April 18th, the seventeenth edition of Fantaspoa features more than 100 shorts and 50 feature films from more than 35 countries. All festival screenings will have a cap of 3,000 views, and all will be geo-blocked to Brazilian viewers.

These films are part of Fantaspoa 2021, which runs for free on the streaming platform Darkflix, from April 9th through the 18th. All film screenings are geo-blocked to Brazil, with additional details available at www.fantaspoa.com.

Review: ‘The Knot’ is a battle between karma and pride.

THE KNOT

Shirish and Geeta, a middle-class couple, have a car accident one night. Their differing reactions to the fallout from the accident open up fissures in their relationship and puts to test their values and beliefs.

Before we were married, my husband and I lived in India for a year. We pretended to be married to avoid the social scrutiny. We purchased a scooter to get places on the weekends and took rickshaw rides as infrequently as possible because of Westerner price gouging. The streets were always overflowing with vehicles and people. Before I continue, I feel I must preface this review with the fact that my husband and I are white. We were born and raised on the east coast of the United States. Once we arrived in India, we dove headfirst into the culture, food, and local customs. It was all so new to us. We would be forever changed by our time there. The social structure in India is a caste system. The disparity between the upper class and the lower class is astounding. In the US, it’s easier to hide. There is a bit more visual nuance. In India, it’s much more black and white. In Ashish Pant‘s The Knot, a young, affluent couple is forced to confront that very social construct after a sudden accident. The foundation of their marriage begins to crack as the lies they tell one another and themselves will have dire consequences.

The Knot is a morality tale and a relationship movie. Geeta and Shirish are forced to confront their own flaws and the power dynamics in their marriage. Shirish’s obsession with status comes to a head with Geeta’s attempts to dissolve her guilt. Performances across the board are wonderful and the look of the film is lush. The Knot makes a point to show the realities of the country. This authenticity is key to the film’s success. The traffic is a chaotic free-for-all. We lived in Hyderabad. Drivers didn’t use their turn signals, instead, they would honk their horns. From the audio in the film, it sounds as if little has changed since 2009. It’s indescribably dangerous. We often wondered how many hit-and-run deaths were hidden due to the normalized practice of bribery. The film slyly grapples with the hierarchy at its worst. Pant uses subtle shifts in language, music, and dialect to illustrate caste. It’s such an intelligent and daring screenplay. The Knot boasts an explosive finale. The very last pan of the camera and the breaking of the fourth wall is chilling. Bravo to Ashish Pant for making such a fearless debut film.

THE KNOT WORLD PREMIERED ON MARCH 31, 2021 AT THE SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Shudder Original review: ‘The Banishing’ is overwhelming.

THE BANISHING

From acclaimed director Chris Smith comes THE BANISHING, which tells the true story of the most haunted house in England. A young reverend and his wife and daughter move into a manor with a horrifying secret. When a vengeful spirit haunts the little girl and threatens to tear the family apart, the reverend and his wife are forced to confront their beliefs. They must turn to black magic by seeking the help of a famous Occultist…or risk losing their daughter.

Portal mirror, dimensions, time loops of residual energy, religious mob, eccentric occultist, spirits with unfinished business… and Nazis? A doomed location and a church’s secret creates a perfect storm for a young family with skeletons of its own. Creepy dolls and things that go bump in the night fracture a fragile family dynamic. While British horror is a strong genre, The Banishing takes a familiar premise and cranks it beyond viability. You’ll be scratching your head as imagery rolls out… and rolls out, again.

The performances are brilliant. John Heffernan as Linus gives a fascinating and nuanced performance. Sexually repressed by choice and the church he is in denial of what is right in front of his eyes. Jealousy leads to rage and Heffernan is downright startling when it rears its ugly head. Sean Harris is a magical creature. Strawberry-dyed hair and a familiar eccentricity make Harris the only guiding light in making sense of this screenplay. I’d watch an entire series of his character’s adventures. That’s the franchise. Jessica Brown Findlay as Marianne is powerful. A palpable fear that only a mother knows seeps from her pores. Her feminist declarations will make you want to stand up and cheer.

The film’s final scene is so abrupt it’s actually irritating. This is clearly a massive plot point that is given but a moment, and that moment is the end of the film? That’s a ballsy way to, perhaps, set up a sequel. You must already have the audience on your side for that to succeed. The film is like taking every season of Ryan Murphy‘s American Horror Story and mashing them together with zero explanation. There is no consistency in the screenplay other than Marianne’s “take no shit”, anti-slut-shaming, mom-boss attitude, and Linus’ vile weakness. When you finally get to the supposed outcome with daughter Adelaide, it screams The Haunting of Bly Manor. The overall look of the film is undeniably gorgeous. Some scenes contain viscerally jarring imagery. Ultimately, Shudder subscribers can decide for themselves whether it’s overstuffed or if we’re more in a 13 Ghosts territory. You could give it a pass being that it’s based on the true story of the most haunted house in England. In my opinion, The Banishing deserves to be fleshed out as a series. Show up for the performances, the set, and the cinematography, and let me know what you think once the screen goes black for good.

THE BANISHING will stream exclusively to Shudder on April 15th in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as via the Shudder offering within the AMC+ bundle where available.

THE BANISHING

Genre: Horror

Country: United Kingdom

Runtime: 97 min

Year: 2021

Rated: NA

Starring Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), Sean Harris (Mission: Impossible franchise), John Lynch (The Secret Garden, Black Death), and John Heffernan (Eye in the Sky) and directed by Christopher Smith (Creep, Severance, Triangle).

THE BANISHING is a WestEnd Films production.

ABOUT SHUDDER:

AMC Networks’ Shudder is a premium streaming video service, super-serving members with the best selection in genre entertainment, covering horror, thrillers, and the supernatural. Shudder’s expanding library of film, TV series, and originals is available on most streaming devices in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand. For a 7-day, risk-free trial, visit www.shudder.com.

Review: ‘Welcome To The Show’ begs your attention and challenges your morality.

WELCOME TO THE SHOW

An invitation to a mysterious theatre piece, “The Show,” sends four best friends down a rabbit hole of mistrust and madness as they try to figure out who are the actors, who is the audience, who is doing this to them, and why.

One lie, 4 best friends, and a mysterious theatrical invitation lead to existential conversations and life-changing consequences in this unusual indie film. Relationships are pushed to their breaking points when the truth is impossible to escape. Welcome To The Show begs your attention and challenges your moral compass. Writer-director Dorie Barton, whose film Girl Flu is a must-see, gives audiences a whole lot to chew on in her sophomore feature.

A notable pattern in the dialogue sees the group using a word association device to both play and calm one another. At first, it feels quirky. This carefully curated choice becomes one of the most meaningful aspects of the script. You’ll be undoubtedly confused at times but as revelations spill into reality, the bigger picture is altogether shocking. Welcome To The Show is easily a double entendre for life. If you think you know where this film is going, think again. It veers from funny and relatable to dark and completely unexpected. The cast is extraordinary. Each of our four leads gives a distinct and powerful performance. Their emotional journeys are thoroughly surprising. Richard Follin, Dillon Douglasson, Keegan Garant, and Christopher Martin, bravo, gentleman. That final shot is physically jarring and brilliant. Welcome To The Show is the epitome of independent film in the best ways.

 

Review: ‘HONEYDEW’ is unsettling to say the least.

HONEYDEW

HONEYDEW tells the story of a young couple (played by Spielberg and Barr) who are forced to seek shelter in the home of an aging farmer (Kingsley) and her peculiar son when they suddenly begin having strange cravings and hallucinations taking them down a rabbit hole of the bizarre.

I first heard about Honeydew after its virtual premiere at Nightstream Film Festival. It is a miracle that I was able to avoid spoilers. I am delighted to report the intense buzz was spot on. Honeydew is that good. The sound editing and score consumed me. Combined with some split-screen deliciousness, Honeydew was dizzying madness. Writer-director Devereaux Milburn has taken the most successful aspects of classic and modern horror to create something insanely scary. It gets under your skin in a truly chilling way. The film also boasted one of the weirdest cameos ever. I did a literal double-take.

Malin Barr as Riley is amazing. Sawyer Spielberg as Sam is fantastic. The chemistry between the two actors is electric. Milburn’s dialogue allows them to convey the small cracks that exist in every relationship. These are keenly exacerbated by their bizarre circumstances. Barr and Spielberg are a hell of a pair but are also allowed to shine on their own. You’re constantly worried about them all while fascinated by their individual needs. Jaime Bradley knocks it out of the park as Gunni. What amounts to almost an entirely physical performance, he will disturb you to no end. Bradley owns every frame. Barbara Kingsley is a genius.  As Karen, she walks an extremely fine line between sweet and horrifying, leaning heavily towards the latter. The way these characters are written and the care with which they are performed culminates in one of the most uneasy watches in 2021.

There is a bit of an Ari Aster feel to the film in more than one way. Both the sound and score are keys to ramping up the fear factor. A combination of music, sound effects, and made-made noises like breath and clapping grate your nerves from start to finish. The plot is cleverly laid out for the audience from the very beginning. That does not lessen its impact as the explosive finale arrives. Once that happens, forget everything you know. I was so unsettled I didn’t know which way was up. All I can do now is cringe. Those images are burned into my brain. I’ll be eternally scarred by Honeydew‘s sights and sounds. 

Dark Star Pictures and Bloody Disgusting will release the rural horror film HONEYDEW on VOD, Digital HD, and DVD on April 13, 2021.

HONEYDEW is written and directed by Devereux Milburn (shorts “Stayed For” and “Wade”) and stars Sawyer Spielberg in his feature acting debut, Malin Barr  (Skyscraper, First Love, CBS’s “Bull”), and Barbara Kingsley (The Straight Story, “Jessica Jones”).

Review: ‘VOYAGERS’

Set in the near future, the film chronicles the odyssey of 30 young men and women who are sent deep into space on a multi-generational mission in search of a new home. The mission descends into madness, as the crew reverts to its most primal state, not knowing if the real threat they face is what’s outside the ship or who they’re becoming inside it.

What could go wrong with attempting to play God? Only everything. Instincts suppressed lead to one dangerous boiling pot of hormonal and phenomenally intelligent young people. It’s all one big morality question. Putting these unsuspecting kids in this position to save the entirety of the human race is a lot to ask. Then to lie to them, control them, use them without allowing them to be fully human themselves is cruel. And yet it’s not that simple. Limited resources forced this scenario. The likelihood of its success already feels like an uphill battle. All hell breaks loose when something attacks Richard, the only adult on board. Will these 30 young people fight their instincts or one another?

Colin Farrell as Richard is remarkable. He is the father figure. Loving, protective, and genuinely wanting these kids to succeed. Lily-Rose Depp as Sela is astonishing. She walks the perfect line of innocence and strength. Her journey, like Sheridan’s, is fascinating to watch evolve. Fionn Whitehead plays Zac with terrifying aggression. His portrayal of unhinged, pure testosterone-driven rage is all too familiar in the best way possible. Tye Sheridan plays Christopher with a curiosity and a growing intensity that makes him the perfect protagonist. He is levelheaded, kind, and determined to survive. Sheridan easily owns his leading man status.

Voyagers becomes a near-future version of Lord Of The Flies. It’s chaos created and chaos inevitable. The set is cool as hell. It feels immense and claustrophobic all at once. Trevor Gureckis‘ score is gorgeous. Writer-director Neil Burger has given audiences a heart-pounding and brilliant film. This one will stick with you long after the credits roll.

U.S. Release Date:          April 9, 2021, in theatres
Running Time:               108min    

Review: ‘Like A House On Fire’

LIKE A HOUSE ON FIRE

Dara returns home to reconnect with her husband and her young daughter, whom she left two years earlier. When she arrives, she discovers that a woman who is seven months pregnant has taken her place and that her daughter no longer recognizes her. LIKE A HOUSE ON FIRE tells the story of a woman’s struggle to regain the life she left behind.

It’s impossible to verbally express the complexities of Motherhood. It is a battle of extreme highs and lows. It arrives with ceaseless bouts of irrational fear and unsolicited advice. It is completely unpredictable. The singular constant is an innate, unconditional love you feel for another human being. Like A House On Fire is a film that engulfs the viewer all those emotional states at once.

Sarah Sutherland gives a nuanced performance as Dara. She is lost in guilt and confusion.  She is delicate and vulnerable. You will live in her anxiety. It radiates effortlessly from her pores. Writer/director Jesse Noah Klein affords Sutherland a coming-of-age story. It’s a breathtaking watch.

Like A House On Fire dives headfirst into fear, redemption, and self-actualization. With a quiet score, and intimate cinematography, including thoughtful close-ups, this film will burrow a hole into your heart. The script tackles forgiveness and cyclical parenting in smart ways. Everyone’s trauma is explored which is merely one of the shining aspects of this film. It’s the flaws that make the performances resonate. Like A House On Fire is an important film. It is your duty as an audience member to listen to Dara. This script can be a teachable moment.

LIKE A HOUSE ON FIRE was written and directed by Jesse Noah Klein and was produced by Fanny Drew, Sarah Mannering, and William Woods.  The film stars Sarah Sutherland and Jared Abrahamson.  The film has a running time of 84 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA.

Game Theory Films will release LIKE A HOUSE ON FIRE on March 30th on digital platforms including iTunes/Apple TV, Vimeo on Demand, and Amazon Direct.

For more information, go to: www.gametheoryfilms.com

Review: ‘The Toll’ plays upon familiar fears.

 

THE TOLL

Synopsis: Supernatural terror and spine-tingling suspense highlight this gripping journey into fear. When Cami orders a taxi service to take her to her father’s country home, she’s hoping for a quiet and uneventful ride. But a wrong turn by Spencer, her chatty driver, results in the car stalling on a dark and remote road. After several threatening and inexplicable occurrences, Cami and Spencer realize they are being watched—by an unseen presence that sees them as trespassers, and is ready to exact a deadly toll.
Writer-director Michael Nader sets up The Toll in a marvelous way. It plays upon the very real fears of ride-sharing. My heart was already in my throat minutes in. The writing is sharp and relatable. A woman alone in a car with a male driver, perhaps a tad too chatty for the hour and length of the drive. The pitch-black atmosphere, barely illuminated by headlights and dashboard glow adds to the fear factor. Ramp up the terror with a backwoods legend and this film settles into one extremely unsettling watch. Do your eyes a favor and watch it in the dark.
The first half and the finale of The Toll are hugely successful. My misgivings arrive in the middle of the film with a sudden tonal shift. It feels like Nader took a handful of horror DVDs, tossed them into the air, and used the plots/visuals from whichever films landed inside a circle on the ground. The trauma and the gaslighting aspect are the most intriguing. Credit where credit is due, the final twist is brilliant. While The Toll has a lot to explore with solid performances and a genuinely scary emotional build-up, I’m not sure if it works as a whole.
Saban Films’ THE TOLL opens In Theaters, On Demand, and Digital on Friday, March 26.
Writer/Director: Michael Nader
Cast: Jordan Hayes, Max Topplin, James McGowan, Rosemary Dunsmore
Producers: Max Topplin, Jordan Hayes, William Day Frank
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Run Time: 80 mins
Rating: R for Language Throughout and Some Violence
Distributor: Saban Films

SXSW 2021 reviews: ‘The Lost Sons’ & ‘United States Vs. Reality Winner’ are two mind blowing docs from this year’s virtual fest.

THE LOST SONS

1960s Chicago, a baby is kidnapped from a hospital. Fifteen months later, a toddler is abandoned. Could he be the same baby? In a tale of breathtaking twists and turns, two mysteries begin to unravel and dark family secrets are revealed.

When my son was born in 2016, I remember the extreme level of security on the floor we were staying on. We all had bracelets on with his name, while he also had an electronic ankle bracelet which would beep if he were taken past a certain threshold. The idea of some stranger coming in and taking my child terrified me. I hoped to God that I never heard that alarm go off while we stayed in the hospital. Reenactments, newspaper clips, photographs, archival footage, home video, and sit-down interviews with witnesses all make up the massively intriguing and mystery-laden doc. Who is Paul Fronczak? This is a loaded question. The Lost Sons attempts to answer this question and so many others. The editing is mesmerizing. You don’t have a moment to catch your breath as this story unfolds. The twists and turns will shock you. They are relentless. I found myself shouting at the television more often than usual in one true crime sitting. It unravels like a James Patterson novel. If you are a homegrown detective, The Lost Sons at SXSW21 will be a true highlight for you.


UNITED STATES Vs. REALITY WINNER

A state of secrets and a ruthless hunt for whistleblowers – this is the story of 25-year-old NSA contractor Reality Winner.

Reality Leigh Winner saw something that she thought the entire country should know. She decided the public had a right to evidence the government was keeping secret. For this act, she was severely punished. The line between right and wrong can be blurry, but in this instance, it feels clear as day that Reality Winner was right. The film follows Reality’s mother, Billie J. Winner-Davis, as she tracks the public and the court’s response to Reality’s case. We learn about the kind of person Reality is through diary entries and jailhouse phone calls. She’s funny, talented, with a sharp wit. With the full understanding that most documentaries have an agenda, I cannot imagine someone walking away from the film without a ferocious sense of injustice. Including never-before-heard audio from Reality’s FBI  initial interview, sitdowns with her attorneys, family members, and fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden, you will finally learn what was in the document in question. Understanding the content is key to grasping the fact that Michael Flynn was pardoned and Reality Winner was given the harshest sentence in history for any whistleblower. I cannot stress this enough. I am thankful that United States Vs. Reality Winner is being shown to audiences when Joe Biden is now President. I join in the urgent call for justice. #FreeRealityWinner

SXSW 2021 reviews: ‘Nuevo Rico’ & ‘The Thing That Ate The Birds’

Nuevo Rico

A brother and sister stumble upon a celestial secret that propels them into Reggaetón stardom, but at what price?

This mixed media animation is a literal bright spot in the shorts program. It’s a little Adult Swim, a dash of video game, part music video, all drenched in neon-colored deliciousness. Twins Barbie and Vico find out about the trappings of fame and dismissing their culture the hard way. In 16 minutes it manages to touch on socio-economics, politics, and identity, just to name a few relevant issues. Writer-director Kristian Mercado uses voice-over, songs, and dialogue to communicate this unique short.  Angélica Agélviz‘s character designs are striking. I could easily watch an expanded series about these characters. There’s enough content to warrant more in-depth episodes. Plus, you won’t be able to get enough of the distinctive look of Nuevo Rico. It’s just plain cool.”


The Thing That Ate The Birds

Set on the North Yorkshire Moors, the film follows Abel, the Head Gamekeeper as he discovers the thing that is eating his grouse. His blunt and violent response brings the menace back home shattering his already crumbling relationship with his wife.

The short has its SXSW premiere from Gunpowder & Sky’s horror brand, ALTER – The Thing That Ate The Birds by writer and director duo Sophie Mair (Ella, And the Baby Screamed) and Dan Gitsham (Ella, And the Baby Screamed). If this is meant to be a treatment for a feature, I want to see that feature. The score is classic Hitchcock strings. The cinematography is gorgeous and that last shot is pure Ari Aster, unapologetic horror. It’s one hell of an introduction to those who are unfamiliar with Mair and Gitsham. Someone, please give them a huge budget and the freedom to scare the crap out of us in a longer form.

ABOUT ALTER

ALTER is a horror brand for novel and grounded stories exploring the human condition through warped perspectives.

Giving voice to emerging, diverse, and established filmmakers, ALTER’s owned and operated channel is distributed across YouTube and Facebook, with more than 15M monthly uniques,  where three short films or series are released each week. In addition to curating and distributing award-winning content, ALTER develops unique stories with some of the most innovative minds in the genre through its ALTER Studio projects – which are not bound to a particular platform or format.

In October, ALTER, along with Executive Producer Sam Raimi (Evil DeadSpider-Man), premiered Part 2 of the horror series “50 States of Fright”, starring Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), Travis Fimmel (“Vikings”, Warcraft: The Beginning) and Christina Ricci (“Monster,” “Z: The Beginning of Everything”). In 2019, the BAFTA-nominated horror short, The Blue Door starring (Gemma Whelan – Game of ThronesThe End of the F***ing World) premiered on ALTER, and earlier this year it was also announced that “Moreau”, a sci-fi TV series that puts a modern spin on the classic novel, “The Island of Dr. Moreau” by H.G. Wells has gone into development and will be written by Zack Stentz (X-Men: First Class, Thor, Rim Of The World). In addition, the psychological thriller “Horror Accidental”, based on the Japanese TV drama series, ‘Horror Accidental 1&2’, will be brought to life by writer and director Evan Daugherty (‘Divergent,’ ‘Tomb Raider’).

Additional releases include the brand’s first unscripted podcast series, “ALTER Weekly”, which gives its audience a deep dive into the past, present, and future of the horror genre; short film La Noria, directed by Carlos Beana, that won best-animated film at The Webby Awards; CAM, winner of Best Screenplay at 2018’s Fantasia Festival and was acquired by Netflix; the official 2018 Sundance Film Festival selection, Summer of 84, the thriller directed by RKSS (Turbo Kid); and the  SXSW selection, Villains, starring Bill Skarsgard (It) and Maika Monroe (It Follows).

ABOUT GUNPOWDER & SKY

Gunpowder & Sky is an independent studio that creates and distributes feature films, series, short-form content, podcasts, and channels, bridging digital and traditional entertainment.

Since its inception in 2016, Gunpowder & Sky has released more than 30 feature films and series, more than 750 short films in theatres, on TVOD, and leading platforms such as HBO, Netflix, MTV, Hulu, Sky, Showtime, Spotify, Amazon, YouTube, Quibi, Audible and Discovery.

Notable films and series include 69: The Saga Of Danny Hernandez, Her Smell, Everybody’s Everything, Prospect, Sea Fever, The Little Hours, Cam, Hearts Beat Loud, Lords of Chaos, Tragedy Girls, Betting on Zero, Summer of 84, Villains, Survive, 50 States of Fright and Drawn & Recorded.

With a collective audience of more than 65M monthly unique viewers, Gunpowder & Sky also owns and operates content brands that include DUST, the number one free sci-fi channel; ALTER, a leading horror brand, and CUT, an unscripted & comedy brand that is home to the successful formats “Truth or Drink” and “Fear Pong”. DUST, ALTER, and CUT are distributed on all major streaming platforms including Apple, Amazon, Comcast, Facebook, Peacock, Roku, Samsung, Sinclair, Sling, Vizio, Xumo, and YouTube.

Gunpowder & Sky also recently launched its premium audio studio, and in less than one year has established a leading position in music and sci-fi, claiming #1 fiction podcast on Apple and the #1 podcast on Audible.

With offices in Los Angeles and New York, Gunpowder & Sky was founded by Van Toffler and Floris Bauer, in partnership with The Chernin Group and AT&T.

SXSW 2021 reviews: ‘Stuffed’, ‘Don’t Peek’, ‘The Moogai’ are all chilling and unique shorts.

STUFFED

A musical film about a taxidermist who dreams of stuffing a human and a man she meets online so afraid of ageing he volunteers to be her specimen. An unexpected romantic spark between them complicates their plans.

Honestly, you had me at the categories “Musical, Horror”. This is the perfect short for genre fans who are clamoring to get back into theatres of all kinds. The score is wonderfully quirky. It will strike a chord with Sondheim fans. It’s is very Sweeney Todd inspired in sound and darkness. Written by Joss Holden-Rea and Theo Rhys, directed by Rhys, and music and lyrics by Holden-Rea, these two make one hell of a creative team. (I’m begging for a feature-length version of this story) Actors Anthony Young and Alison Fitzjohn have gorgeous voices. Their ability to connect with one another and the audience is a thing of beauty. The cinematography is carefully curated. The practical FX are outstanding. STUFFED is a unique experience you do not want to miss out on. This is the magic that audiences of SXSW salivate over.


DON’T PEAK

A young woman discovers a frightening video game character intent on crossing into the real world.

It’s rare that I jump and feel the need to cover my eyes these days while watching horror. I’ve consumed so much I can usually predict what’s eventually going to happen. In this hair-raising short, a game of Animal Crossing becomes a nightmare when an invited entity crosses from gameplay to real life. I found my heart in my throat. To be that successful in terrifying me in under 7 minutes, I say, “Bravo, writer-director Julian Terry. You got me.”


THE MOOGAI

An Aboriginal psychological horror, THE MOOGAI is the story of a family terrorized by a child-stealing spirit.

Whether a literal interpretation of an actual demon or not, so many theories swirled in my mind as I sweat through my t-shirt watching this short film. This feels like an intense form of gaslighting. Or maybe it’s a product of sleep deprivation. Perhaps it’s Postpartum? The terror is seen and unseen and in this short, the performances take you to the darkest parts of your mind. As a parent, it’s beyond unsettling.

 

SXSW 2021 reviews: Two of our favorite comedies from this year’s virtual SXSW fest ‘Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break’ & ‘Recovery’ bring the belly laughs.

PAUL DOOD’S DEADLY LUNCH BREAK

A weedy charity-shop worker is set on winning the big national talent show. But when the actions of 5 selfish people cause him to miss his audition, he sets out to seek deathly revenge. It’s 1 lunch break, 5 spectacular murders.

Paul and his enthusiastic Mum have stars in their eyes as they audition for their most famous talent show. The audience can feel Paul’s frustration as he deals with imbecilic behavior from every person that crosses his path. You’ll be screaming with laughter while you seethe on his behalf. Poor Paul is the victim of hilarious and slow-moving circumstances. People are wrecked but Paul is a saint until he reaches his limit. This film is hilariously what we’d all love to do to horrible people. Tom Meeten as Paul is brilliant. He’s vulnerable, funny, sweet, and pushed completely past his breaking point. The performance becomes so nuanced. The script allows Meeten to not only establish his character acting ability but to dive headfirst into madness. It’s relentlessly weird and wonderful. Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break is a genre-bending ride for SXSW21 audiences. You will go through the wringer of emotional turbulence while watching this film. You get everything in this film. Every single ancillary performance is a knockout. The editing is thoroughly engaging and the practical FX are gruesome. The soundtrack is triumphant. Reminiscent of last year’s Spree, in that it utilizes live social media to motivate the protagonist. But it’s not that simple. Paul Dood succeeds in its lovable lead. You’re just rooting for him to have anything go right. It’s irreverent, clever, and endlessly fun. Stay for the credits.


RECOVERY

Two directionless sisters brave a cross-country road trip to rescue their grandmother from a COVID outbreak at her nursing home.

Crisp cinematography and genuinely laugh-out-loud situational comedy make RECOVERY a real gem at this year’s virtual SXSW. It’s an appropriate way to watch a film that directly deals with the pandemic with completely relatable hilarity. If you’re not doubled over watching this movie, I will be shocked. The soundtrack is kickass eclectic. The writing and performances are most likely so hilarious based on the fact that writers/stars Whitney Call and Mallory Everton have been best friends forever. It would be impossible to determine what is scripted and what is improvised. I thought a film directly dealing with COVID would drive me bonkers. In this instance, it was just the opposite. Whitney Call and Mallory Everton manage to find levity in the ways (albeit necessary) we have been forced to adapt. Dealing with those who are, shall we say, less than committed to other’s safety, finding ways to keep ourselves motivated, coming to the rescue of our loved ones. This is a classic road movie on crack. It is everything you need it to be and a million tiny things more. I could have easily watched an entire series based on this script. As it stands, RECOVERY will more than satisfy my funnybone. I formally request to be their third best friend when this thing is over.

 

SXSW 2021 reviews: ‘I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking)’ & ‘Sound Of Violence’

I’M FINE (THANKS FOR ASKING)

When a recently widowed mother becomes houseless, she convinces her 8-year-old daughter that they are only camping for fun while working to get them off of the streets.

Women have been trained to be pleasers. Asking for help has not been hardwired into our DNA. It takes a lot for most of us to ask for help. In I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking) we follow Danny over the course of one very long day. She is desperately trying to earn the last $200 she needs to secure a new apartment for her and her daughter Wes. It is not going well. As she pounds the pavement to get them out of this tragic position, the reality of her situation slowly takes hold. I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking) boasts a genuine screenplay about grief and struggle. Kelley Kali‘s performance, direction, and writing are feminist-driven and incredibly honest. From comical to heartfelt, it was refreshing to hear the juxtaposition in dialogue. There are scenes where Kali allows herself the express exasperation. Others in which she pleads for leniency. Each encounter is equally important. This character is a fully fleshed-out woman with flaws and determination. Kali shows us she’s got the “it” factor. In fact, her performance is so down-to-earth to earth you might think this was a documentary. It’s raw and revelatory. So much about this film feels like the representation we need to see more of. 


SOUND OF VIOLENCE

Alexis recovered her hearing during the brutal murder of her family when she was ten. The visceral experience awakened synesthetic abilities in her and started her on an orphaned path of self-discovery through the healing music of brutal violence. She goes on to pursue a career teaching and experimenting to find new sounds. She is supported and loved by her roommate Marie who is unaware of the dark secrets behind Alexis’ unique music and the part she unknowingly plays. Faced with the likelihood of losing her hearing again, Alexis escalates her pursuit of her masterpiece through gruesome sound experiments and devastating designs. She won’t let anything stop her not even love.

This film is definitely about trauma. That’s undeniable. Alexis is dealing with synaesthesia (the ability to see sound) and intermittent bouts of losing the hearing she has regained. Yes, it’s a lot. Her PTSD coping strategy goes off the rails faster than anticipated. The sound editing in this film is key to its success. Color is another factor that helps the audience immerse themselves into Alexis’ mindset. To auditorily and visually understand her euphoria is important here. This is the film’s most successful aspect. It is truly glorious. But something stalls the overall flow of the film. What I think is off is the order in which we see her unusual “Experiments” occur. The nonchalance is of it all needed to be explored more. I would have loved to see some scenes with a psychotherapist juxtaposed with the behavior. Is it fair to assess this film as one woman’s perfect form of torture porn? Maybe not. It’s certainly more complex. The beginning had so much potential but it really jumps the shark about 30 minutes in. Jasmin Savoy Brown as Alexis is as committed as they come, but I think the material fails her. Detective Fuentes’s dialogue is so over the top it reads farcical.  There is a lot to work with but Sound of Violence ultimately becomes silly. Alexis’s journey begins as extreme commitment and mutates into complete disassociation.

SXSW 2021 review: ‘HOW IT ENDS’ tackles reconciliation with laughter and tears.

HOW IT ENDS

On the last day on Earth, one woman goes on a journey through LA to make it to her last party before the world ends, running into an eclectic cast of characters along the way.

After watching How It Ends, I feel a physical yearning to create a list of people that I would talk to if I had one day left to live. The entire structure of How It Ends revolves around Liza making peace with or confronting people in her life. Every encounter is unique. Some crazy, some touching, some heartbreaking, but all accompanied by the physical manifestation of her younger self. Who wouldn’t love to be forced to deal with your past… or not. What would you want/need to do on your last day?

Cailee Spaeny as younger Liza is fantastic. She’s grounded, relatable, and a total natural. Her character is crafted in the spirit of the unspoiled young mind but carries the weight of adult curated anxieties, fear, and regret. She’s a star. Zoe Lister-Jones is one of my favorite people, generally speaking. After Band Aid, I started following her on social media. I vibe with her humor, aesthetic, writing, singing, and overall attitude of goodness. Her comic timing is everything. There’s just something about her that puts you at ease and yet continually keeps you on your toes. She can do no wrong.

Written and directed by Lister-Jones and her husband Daryl Wein, this script is phenomenal. The conversations with her younger self go from fun to revelatory. Oh, the things I would tell my younger self if given the opportunity! We’re all just hurt kids deep down. I also adored the fact that Liza walks everywhere. It gives the day an actual sense of time. Alongside Lister-Jones and Spaeny, the ancillary cast is packed with household names like Whitney Cummings, Bradley Whitford, Helen Hunt, Colin Hanks, Olivia Wilde, and Fred Armisen. Ultimately, How It Ends is about self-acceptance, resilience, and forgiveness. You will laugh and cry. It’s as fun as it is important.

SXSW 2021 reviews: ‘Language Lessons’ translates universally, and ‘Violet’ silences the voices that haunt us.

LANGUAGE LESSONS

A Spanish teacher and her student develop an unexpected friendship.

Unique, shocking, insightful, complex, beautiful, these are a few words that describe one of the best films from this year’s SXSW virtual festival. Two strangers become connected through chance and a gift of Spanish lessons. Cariño and Adam communicate through zoom, voicemail, genuine human connection. Mark Duplass plays Adam. Unsurprising that he is completely natural and down to earth. You’re instantly enamored with his performance. Natalie Morales is charming and honest. She’s funny and relatable. Their chemistry is the stuff of movie magic.  I would love to see them paired up again and again. They completely work around the entire subject of Covid. This could be happening at any point in time and that’s nice to feel right now. Ultimately, this screenplay is about the human spirit without a filter. Written by Morales and Duplass, and directed by Morales, Language Lessons is profound and revealing. It will touch you in ways you won’t expect.

 

VIOLET

A film development executive realizes that “guiding voice” inside her head has been lying to her about everything.

I don’t know if a film could be any more relatable to everyone. My husband used to point out how negatively I spoke about myself. Once I noticed the self-deprecating behavior, I started noticing my mother doing the same thing. It’s a learned behavior. One we permit to exist. Olivia Munn, who wowed me back in The Newsroom, represents so many of us. This issue is ageless, ingrained, suffocating. Her vulnerability and honesty shine and we’re better for it. Justin Theroux‘s voice acting is the dickheaded tone we all know too well. What a fantastic choice. The internal battle of never feeling like we’re enough is universal. In Violet, the visual juxtaposition of handwritten thoughts, like a right-brain/left-brain battle, and Theroux as “The Voice” is perfection. When you finally catch onto the overall picture, it’s really quite genius. It’s telegraphed without our knowledge early on. Writer-director Justine Bateman nails her feature debut. What a complex and carefully curated script. Women, in particular, are going to be locked into this film.

SXSW 2021 review: ‘JAKOB’S WIFE’ gives us everything to sink our teeth into.

JAKOB’S WIFE

Anne, married to a small-town Minister, feels her life has been shrinking over the past 30 years. Encountering “The Master” brings her a new sense of power and an appetite to live bolder. However, the change comes with a heavy body count.

Casting two of the biggest horror legends in Larry Fessenden and Barbara Crampton was pure genius. Fessenden gets his comeuppance as a misogynist minister and clueless husband when he stumbles upon the reason his wife is so different as of late. Witnessing him bungling around is extremely satisfying. His chemistry with Crampton is perfection. Barbara plays Anne; a woman who is not allowed to have a point of view, let alone shine. She is the dutiful wife who puts her dreams aside for stability. Her initial sadness is palpable. Once circumstances change, Crampton gets to play a new completely new role. She is fierce as hell. I loved every second of this character’s second chance at life. Her performance is borderline camp and I could not get enough of her. Crampton never seems to stop working.  After this role, I can imagine she’ll be even more overwhelmed with offers.

Travis Stevens does an incredible job of highlighting the mundane and oftentimes loathsome trappings of marriage. The result of 30 years of oppression that Anne tolerates is infuriating but creates the perfect backdrop for her arc. This script is about the restructuring of power. Even the title is genius, subconsciously telling you that Anne isn’t in charge of her own identity. I laughed out loud and cheered audibly when Anne begins to stand up for herself. The pure, unadulterated sass is magic. After Girl On The Third Floor, I expected a lot from Stevens. Boy, does he deliver the goods. (Keep an eye out for CM Punk to make a quick appearance, btw.) Jakob’s Wife has kick-ass music from Tara Busch. Yvonne Reddy‘s costumes are carefully curated to reflect the vibrance of Anne’s newfound confidence. Based on Girl On The Third Floor, where bodily fluids were aplenty, I assumed the gore factor would be high. In fact, the amount of blood is glorious and over-the-top to the point of giggle fits. Stevens’ dialogue maintains its wit and unfiltered outbursts. Perhaps my favorite bit comes in the form of Crampton telling a little girl to, “Fuck Off.” But his would not be the only time I guffawed during Jakob’s Wife. A scene that has Anne rearranging her living room furniture is anything but ordinary. It’s revelatory. There’s a Death Becomes Her wackiness to it all. As one of the all-time great genre films, this is a huge compliment. Visually, the Master is clearly inspired by Salem’s Lot and the classic Nosferatu. This film is not just a vampire movie, it’s a complex look at relationships. It’s a feminist awakening. There is much to love about Jakob’s Wife. It’s one of the best films from this year’s SXSW virtual fest. It’s destined to be a massive hit, breaking the genre molds to make Crampton, Fessenden, and Travis Stevens household names.

SXSW 2021 review: ‘Broadcast Signal Intrusion’ and ‘Alien On Stage’

BROADCAST SIGNAL INTRUSION

In the late 90s, a video archivist unearths a series of sinister pirate broadcasts and becomes obsessed with uncovering the dark conspiracy behind them.

Harry Shum Jr was one of the most underutilized actors on GLEE. With a true leading man role in Broadcast Signal Intrusion in the Midnighters section, he was up against genre fans’ huge expectations. I think he definitely delivered. He gave us brooding vulnerability and a badass attitude that played well against the jarring imagery of the tapes. They were truly skin crawling. The film’s score has a throwback feel. It’s pure noir thriller deliciousness. The cinematography is certainly noteworthy. There is no denying the inspiration from Brian De Palma‘s ‘Blow Out.’ Gentry’s finale leaves a lot of unanswered questions but Shum holds his own in an inspired by true events screenplay. I was fully invested as he went down the rabbit hole of mystery and obsession. Please cast him in more roles with the complexity of Broadcast Signal Intrusion. A few things that stuck out like a sore thumb; James’ newly acquired detective skills get him further than any FBI agent, and the mystery of his stalker breaks late then peters out to less of an impact. Aside from a few script tweaks, this is a solid entry from this year’s lineup and well worth being disturbed by.


ALIEN ON STAGE

Alien On Stage is a Documentary about a unique crew of Dorset Bus Drivers whose amateur dramatics group decides to ditch doing another pantomime and try something different. Having never done anything like it before, they spent a year creating a serious adaptation of the sci-fi, horror film, Alien; finding ingenious homemade solutions to pay homage to the original film. The show is a crushing flop but fate gives them a second chance to find their audience. Whilst still adjusting to the idea that their serious show is actually a comedy, the group finds out they’re suddenly being whisked from their village hall to a London West End theatre to perform this accidental masterpiece for one night only.

This charming doc is the perfect family watch. More specifically, it is theatre nerd deliciousness. It’s Waiting For Guffman in real life. The rehearsals are almost painful to watch. I felt director Dave’s anxiety as his cast muddled through forgotten lines, missed cues, and disastrous blocking. You’re just rooting for it all to come together in the end. Each actor has a genuine love for the show. Most of them are completely clueless about dialogue delivery, making it a laugh riot for a hyped-up, tuned-in, sold-out audience. The amount of work these bus drivers and their family and friends put into this stage production of Alien is astounding. Every set piece, prop, and costume is made by hand with more love than a Broadway play. You will absolutely fall in love with them all. You’ll be cheering along with their live audience. Bravo to directors Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer for having the foresight to nurture this local charity production and turn cameras on them. Everyone involved in Alien On Stage deserves a standing ovation.

Review: ‘HAPPILY’ is completely unexpected

 

HAPPILY

A happily married couple (Joel McHale and Kerry Bishé) discover their friends are resentful of their lustful relationship. When a visit from a mysterious stranger leads to a dead body, they begin to question the loyalty of their so-called friends.

As a 40-year-old woman who has always had her relationship categorized as Janet and Tom, this film spoke to me in a completely different way. I felt the animosity that they receive in a visceral way. The dialogue was genuinely funny in an adult way. The kind of dialogue that actually comes out of our mouths at a certain age and comfort level. The things we say when we just don’t GAF anymore, and honestly, I respect the hell out of it. The plot seems simple enough but the thriller aspect ramps up along with the funny. This cast is superb. They’re sexy, blunt, hilarious, weird, and the kind of eclectic personalities you need to pull this off. This set is cool as hell. I want to go to there. You think you know where this script is going but you really don’t. It’s much darker. It’s much twistier. Do. Not. Get. Comfortable. At the heart of it all, HAPPILY is about communication and trust. It’s about the facade of happiness we feel like we have to portray to the world. This interaction of that theme is told through terror and humor and a bit of WTF. Congrats to writer-director BenDavid Grabinski on a true standout film in 2021.

In Theaters, On Digital & On-Demand March 19th, 2021
BenDavid Grabinski’s Happily is a dark romantic comedy from producer Jack Black, with an all-star powerhouse cast including Joel McHaleKerry BishéStephen RootPaul Scheer, Breckin MeyerNatalie ZeaNatalie Morales, Jon Daly, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and Charlyne Yi.

Review: Extraordinarily personal doc ‘GROOMED’ comes to Discovery+ this Friday.

GROOMED

GROOMED is the devastatingly powerful story of filmmaker Gwen van de Pas as she returns to her hometown in search of answers about the man who sexually abused her as a child. To understand her ongoing traumas, Gwen travels to meet survivors, psychologists, and even a convicted sex offender. Produced by Gwen van de Pas, Bill Guttentag, and Dylan Nelson, GROOMED addresses a common yet little understood manipulation type called ‘grooming’, how to recognize it, and how to stop it. What begins as an exploration into grooming becomes a dramatic journey where Gwen faces unexpected revelations in her case, finally finds her anger, and boldly confronts the evil we’d rather ignore. Executive produced by Blumhouse in association with Yellow Dot Films.

Gwen Van De Pas’s trauma has never gone away. As an 11 year old, an older swim teammate groomed her. The term was one she only learned 20 years after the abuse occurred. To regain power, she returns to Holland to decide whether or not to report her abuser. Her life cannot move forward without healing. The insight Gwen gains from sitting down with her parents are very impactful. They’re able to explain that when at 17 years old Gwen told them about her abuse that they were at a crossroads based on her mental health. Their guilt is palpable. As a parent myself, I completely understand their desire to protect Gwen from self-harm first. This is not simply about her healing. This film is about the healing of everyone around her. Sexual abuse infiltrates entire families.

The structure of the doc takes us through the grooming bullet points one by one, through the words of a convicted sex offender and behavioral experts. (1. Target The Victim 2. Gain The Family’s Trust 3. Build A Relationship 4. Sexualize The Relationship 5. Maintain Control) She interviews other victims, of all ages, sex, and backgrounds. Not only is this a part of understanding just how pervasive sexual abuse is, but it was a chance for Gwen to feel less isolated for once. Speaking with psychologists, her ultimate goal is to finally report him, but she is rightfully afraid. The evidence she kept still has a profound emotional stronghold. Watching her battle the words and the intentions of her abuser is heartbreaking. She feels complicit and he groomed her to think that way. In their interviews, other victims express how it has affected them physically. Hospitalization, eating disorders, disassociative habits, physical intimacy, panic attacks are just the tip of the trauma iceberg.

This incredibly personal and powerful doc is something parents need to watch. It’s a film survivors should watch. Reporting is not easy. Retraumatization is one of the key factors in every single one of these cases. Gwen Van De Pas was brave. Groomed is her victory lap. If we could all just have a fraction of her courage, we might be able to prevent others from becoming victims. The cycle has to stop.

Streaming Exclusively on discovery+
March 18, 2021