Opened SXSW with this powerful documentary with “The Oxy Kingpins” which gives us an inside look at who is really behind this whole culture of pharmaceuticals and who actually is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans from all walks of life..and it’s not the dealers.

Directors Brendan Fitzgerald and Nick August-Perna take to task here interviewing some of the street distributors that ending up spending time in prison for their role in dealing oxycontin, and the startling reveal shows how little the part they actually played in this big scheme of things. ‘Kingpins’ also gives the viewer an up close look at how personally dangerous it can be to try to get information of this dangerous criminal network can be, adding a consequence to making the film engaging and informative. But the narrative is straightforward, not only noting, but giving it the feeling of just how pressing and urgently this problem needs to be dealt with efficiently.

Fitzgerald and August-Pernas’ motive is clear from the get-go in bringing to the forefront the team of lawyers that is fighting to bring the real criminals of this epidemic, the ones that should be held accountable for their actions, to justice. This helps the documentary in its quest to provides a sense of urgency that the audience can easily relate to. One of the biggest assets of this documentary, is that it stays simple in its structure and avoids big courtroom drama as well as any dense or hard to understand terminology around its theme. It specifically addresses its viewers with only the necessary information to understand that this is a matter that has long been treated lightly and nothing was done in the meantime to bring these millionaire CEOs to face justice for their greed. The brave act of exposing the damming behavior of these companies and informing the public of the numbers of victims they leave behind in their trail, is surely one that deserves recognition.

Also noticeable is the sense of delivering more than just unnecessary points of view, but instead showing us actual human stories from the addicted themselves, the dealers, and from those who have lost loved ones to due to it given to them in any quantity requested — well over the amount of what one singular human being could even take. Some towns with populations of a couple of thousand residents at best, is given millions upon millions of doses of Oxycodone and the complicity of the small town doctors and pharmacists who set up ‘pain management clinics’ is also brought to the fore front. This isn’t a film that was created out of a personal vendetta or some type ulterior motive, but it’s an all out exposure of the many entitled companies that use power to hide their footprint under the premise of providing drugs to those who supposedly need them. The fact that The Oxy Kingpins is made with straight up accurate facts and a straightforward delivery of them, gives this story true it’s power. The result is a difficult, deep cutting piece that allows the audience to see the full scope on how pharmaceutical corporations truly operate and is constantly reminding us of the many who lost their lives or were used as pawns in a larger scheme to fill the pockets of these greedy businessmen and the companies they worked for.

Rarely do I get personal in a review – but this affected me personally as someone who has had numerous surgeries I can well attest how at one point in the early 2000’s, they were trying to give it out like Good n Plenty candy and how many doctors tried to give me Oxycontin, as in pushed and pushed it on me. When I finally did try it – thankfully the small amount taken was enough to make me say NOPE! Sadly many people didn’t say no and lost their lives, their families, homes, and included people from all walks of life.

It’s an eye opening look at how those responsible walked away with millions, and those not so responsible ended up in jail or lost their lives.

Grade: B+


Review Screening: Courtesy of Betsy Ruddnick PR and SXSW Film Festival

REVIEW: “WITCH HUNT” (2021) SXSW Film Festival

There isn’t anything better than a good modern day witch story — the kind where you contemplate not only how you would react if they do exist, but if they just randomly turned up in society. Questions would arise to be sure. How would we treat them? How would we make or shift laws for example, to accommodate these ‘magic beings’ and their powers. Luckily we have “WITCH HUNT” from director Elle Callahan to guide us through what those challenges entail.

The film centers on Claire (Gideon Adlon), a young woman whose mother Martha (Elizabeth Mitchell), offers a way station of sorts in Southern California for fugitive witches on the run. It’s essentially a safe haven for witches as they wait to be smuggled out of the country by an Underground Railroad network of sympathizers lead by Jacob (Treva Etienne). With an opening scene of men with rifles presiding over a pale, young red-haired woman being burned at the stake that continually flashes throughout the film as it’s part of the nightmares Claire deals with nightly. We quickly learn from this that witchcraft has been outlawed in the US and a ‘Bureau of Witchcraft Investigations’ not only exists, but it’s agents are officially charged with rounding up offenders and shipping them off to detainment camps. And one such agent of this bureau is Hawthorne (Christian Camargo), and he has no qualms about handling things in the old Salem way. Having witches constantly in and out of her home bends Claire the wrong way and she starts to despise the process. It’s not until Fiona (Abigail Cowen) and her younger sister Shae (Echo Campbell) arrive, Claire reconsiders her prejudice of ideas, and discovers a big secret about herself in the process.

While at times a bit clunky, Callahan still manages to not only give us a good story, good acting, she also incorporates many well-known superstitions about witchcraft. The most pertinent includes the “sink test,” where a woman suspected of practicing witchcraft is bound to a chair, thrown into a body of water and if she surfaces rather than sinking, well then she’s definitely a witch. That Witch Hunt shows this ‘test’ being given by government agents to a group of teenage girls feels especially disturbing. It’s effectively comparing the singling out of one group of people, in this case, white, red-haired woman, in a sneaky and very effective way of noting modern day immigration realities that many are experiencing at this moment — being shown through one of the best modes of political storytelling – the horror movie.

Grade: B-


Review screening : Courtesy of Falco Ink. PR and SXSW Film Festival

REVIEW: “HOW IT ENDS” (2021) SXSW Online Film Festival

Shot entirely during the pandemic, “HOW IT ENDS” takes on a delightfully quirky look of a one young woman’s journey of her last day on earth. While it was a bit chilling to note was how the streets of LA were essentially a ghost town, it definitely ended up playing in the movie’s favour. Being that the movie was very minimalistic due to pandemic restrictions, directors Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein use this to their advantage as it aptly adds to the general aesthetic of the idea that it’s all about to end.  

With the jist of the story being that an armageddon-type meteor is speeding towards a collision course with Earth and will extinguish all life as we know it. Liza (Zoe Lister-Jones), and her younger metaphysical version of herself (Cailee Spaeny), charmingly referred to as “YS,” take to the streets of Los Angeles on a journey to find one last party and instead find themselves on a journey of self-discovery as well. Initially, Liza has no interest whatsoever in attending this party and just wants to hang out by herself and get stoned, eat a pile of pancakes, drink some wine and let it all go. Liza’s only problem is well, Young Liza, who pressures her(self) to attend the Apocalypse Party being thrown by Mandy (Whitney Cummings).

How It Ends’ is an interesting and hilarious concept. Some of what makes this film so charming is the realization that until she set out on this journey, no one could see or knew about her ‘YS’, or so she thought. Running into an eclectic cast of characters along the way is all part of the fun and delight here. From a reconciliation with her mom (Helen Hunt), or realizing she wants to tell her ex-boyfriend Nate (Logan Marshall Green), that she really does love him — to hashing out a long overdue grudge with her friend Ali (Olivia Wilde), or stopping by her dad’s (Bradley Whitford), it’s all in a days work when it’s the last day on earth. By using characters and having a metaphysical younger version of themselves works hugely in the film stories favour as it turns out they meet others with the same along the way, only adds to the delight.

While Lister-Jones might be doing triple duty here as a writer/director and lead of the film, its truly Cailee Spaeny that carries us up and off, elevating the entire movie and delivering an impressive performance that I just couldn’t take my eyes off. Truly they are brilliant together, forming an aura of pure enjoyment and putting a smile on every viewers’ face. Keep an eye out for the standout cameos as well as so you don’t miss the appearances by: Finn Wolfhard, Logan Marshall-Green, Fred Armisen, Bradley Whitford, Sharon Van Etten, Olivia Wilde, Lamorne Morris, Helen Hunt, and Colin Hanks.

Honestly, if it ever comes down to the time where all life is about to end, and earth itself is about to cease to exist… you realize you’re left with nothing but yourself, and all the unfinished business you’ll need to deal with so you can die in peace. Doing something that you might regret later is an inevitability of life, but making amends with it shouldn’t be left to an extreme chance or to the very last moment when everything is about to end… and this is a message I can get behind.

Grade: B


Review screening : Courtesy of 42 West PR and SXSW Film Festival


It’s the early 1960’s in San Francisco, California and the social rules of the time, laws, cultural norms and obstacles are set in place to keep women ‘in their place’ which as the old saying goes, is essentially barefoot and pregnant. It’s worth pointing out that at this time period in America a woman could not open a bank account on her own, get a credit card in her own name, let alone get birth control unless married. All this sums into an old Janis Joplin song released around the same time period, even titled the same, and you realize there couldn’t be more fitting way to put meaning and a story to lyrics than Lissette Feliciano’s film “WOMEN IS LOSERS”. Pulling out a story from an old Joplin song might seem odd, but when you hear and listen to the words, you understand exactly what direction Feliciano’s film is taking you.

Celina (Lorenza Isso) is 17-year-old Latina Catholic schoolgirl living in a household with an abusive alcoholic father Don Juan (Steven Bauer), and sadly, compliant to the violence is her mother Dona Carolina (Alejandra Miranda). Along with her best friend Marty (Chrissie Fit), she goes to a party for her boyfriend Mateo (Bryan Craig), who has just returned from service in the Vietnam War. A minor indiscretion and being told “nothing can happen the first time,” results in Celina getting pregnant. Until that moment, her two favourite things were school, where she is somewhat of a math wiz, and having fun with Marty. After losing Marty to a back-alley botched abortion by a dentist of all people, Celina realizes she has no option but to accept the shame given from her community, school and family. So cue to nine months later Celina gives birth and starts to raise her son on her own, with no help from Mateo.

Being from such a structured, strict, religious community and having not finished her high school education, Celina struggles at a menial job to earn and put away money for her son’s future. She is constantly under the eagle eye of her supervisor Minerva (Liza Weil) who tries to find fault in everything she does. But eventually with her strong work ethic, she catches the eye of her superior, Gilbert Li (Simu Liu), who has his own Chinese immigrant story as well. While Gilbert promotes her from typist to teller at the bank, as he gives her a helping hand as well and teaches her the ways of investing in land, housing etc., there is of course there is always an ulterior motive and Celine learns this the hard way. She also earns the respect of Minerva, who is also defying community with her own inter-racial relationship and gives her a helping hand as well – but with no ulterior motives attached. During all this Mateo and Celine reconnect, marry, although ultimately unsuccessfully, as he is not only jealous of Celine’s work ethic, but he goes back to his old cheating ways with Lois (Alessandra Torresani). Seemingly the only way out for her is divorce or she will fall into being something she does not want be – exactly like her mother.

Director: Lissette Feliciano – “Women Is Losers”

The acting by lead Lorenza Isso truly makes the character of Celine come to life as she gives us her all with every emotion of wanting to laugh, cry, and fight right beside her. The supporting cast of Craig, Chrissie Fit, Miranda, Liza Weil, Liu are all fantastic and only add complexity to this colourful story. There is one scene at the beginning that shows the range of this cast that is done a-la ‘West Side Story‘ style, of a dance off that is truly a choreographed wonder to watch. In addition to the wonderful cast is what it is precisely that “Women Is Losers” brings to the table. To start off with, it speaks volumes about the true struggle of not only women, but marginalized women whether it be because of race, colour or religion – someone is always trying to hold you back. For every step taken forward, five are added to reach the next level. But there is always a price, and while this story ends well, so many do not. If anything to take away from this film, it’s the celebration at the end of Roe v Wade at the end and how this right must never be taken away again as more women like Marty will pay the price of doing so.

Grade: A-


Review screening : Courtesy of 42 West PR and SXSW Film Festival


Going into this SXSW viewing of “LUCHADORAS” and expecting it to be just about some female wrestlers is probably the biggest misconception someone can make about this film from Directors Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim, including myself.

This fascinating look at not only female wrestlers of Cuidad Juárez, Mexico but all the women of the city. Focusing specifically the stories of four woman – Lady Candy, Baby Star, Little Star and Mini Sirenita who yes, while they are female wrestlers are also so much more. For those who might not be aware, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, has a reputation for being the most dangerous city in the world while just across the border is El Paso, TX, said to be the safest city in the world. This stark fact is made clear when we see one of the women, Lady Candy, fighting to get her two children back after her husband has taken them over to El Paso – and stops contact with her. We watch as she attempts to get a visa just to visit them, but cost is a factor. She makes $300 a month and the cost of just the visa alone is $160. But going back to the beginning to make this clear from the start. The film begins with voiceover telling us a story about a woman riding the bus to work in one of the factories in the industrial part of the city who was abducted, beaten, and assaulted by the driver. Luckily, she survived to tell her story but it is soon after that we start to find out the true stories of the almost 100 missing women of Juarez. Any of our four women could be one of them, or even the next one as we delve into each of their varying stories of abuse and how of all things, wrestling is what letting them reclaim their power so to speak.

 Again, the stories vary here from Lady Candy’s, to Mini Sirenita who is returning to the ring after a hiatus working in a factory so that she can afford to help her adult daughter living in Mexico City because wrestling pays more. In a completely different vein, we have Baby Star and Little Star. These two sisters, who never remove their masks even in daily life, are trying to figure out the best way to honor their family wrestling legacy while setting an example for Baby’s young daughter who of course, wants to be just like her mom. What Calvo and Jasim do so well here is highlight the every day normalcy of these women’s lives outside of the ring, providing us an inside glimpse at their personas, their fears, and their dreams. But also giving focus to the everyday struggles and the fight from not only these four women, but the many women of Juarez who get out there and stand up and fight for not only themselves and their families, but for the rights of all the murdered women of Juarez. Putting it straight up – these women are more than just wrestlers, they are mothers, daughters, sisters and women standing up for themselves at a time when doing so, can get them killed.

“Luchadores” is raw and defiant, tension filled, yet also filmed with love as you can see each women’s story for what it truly is. And it is beautifully filmed showing every crack and emotion of feelings from joy, to sadness, anger and most of all, inner strength. This is so much more than just a female wrestling movie and I hope more people than just myself take the time to find this out.

I stand with the women of Juarez – and so should we all.

Grade: B+

Review Screening courtesy of Ryan Bruce Levey film distribution and PR services & SXSW Film Festival


What if one day you woke up and realized you really didn’t know who you were, as in you didn’t know your real name, your birthday or how old you just might be – how would you feel? Would you want answers to these questions and more? Well Director Ursula Macfarlane takes on just this exact question with her documentary “The Lost Sons” which is one of the incredible selection of documentaries showing at the SXSW Film Festival.

The documentary focuses on Paul Joseph Fronczak, who grew up as he puts it “in a great family” and had a wonderful childhood until on his 10th birthday as he is searching secretly for his presents and finds newspapers articles of his mom and dad on the front page – with the headlines “BABY HUNT DRAGS ON IN CITY.” As he reads through the various articles, about a baby being kidnapped straight out of his hospital crib one day after he was born, he realizes he just might be that kidnapped baby…or is he. His mother Dora and father Chester, push the narrative that he is their kidnapped son and that is that. For a while at least.

This journey is probably one of the most remarkable things to follow as it has more twists and turn than most feature thrillers and as incredible as it is, it’s all true. Paul was “found” 15 months later in Newark, New Jersey where a foster family named him Scott, until of course the FBI supposedly puts two and two together and decide he might be the kidnapped baby Paul from Chicago. Turns out he is neither Scott nor Paul – but he IS Jack, and that is the trail we follow along with. How Paul, through Ancestry test, finds out who he is really is and who his family really was. It’s a absolute mind-bender of a journey that will at some points make you laugh, cry and shock you to your core.

Much has been written about this and back when the story was first recognized for what it was that happened, it was all over every news channel around the world. People reached out that had been neighbors, friends of the family and even a babysitter. While they try to fill in some of the blanks, it seems some will just never be filled or known. There is a price to pay for finding out though and Paul pays dearly throughout his life in various ways from losing contact with his family, to a divorce to finding himself and realizing he has always been searching for something and probably always will be.

Grade: A


Review Screening courtesy of SXSW Film Festival and DDA PR


Prepare for fun cameos, unnecessary but much loved bouts of singing, and a very different tale of friendship with Director Josh Greenbaum’s wonderfully fun “BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR.” It’s a fun throwback to a kind of comedy that you don’t see much of anymore, a delightfully silly ode to friendship and surprisingly – to culottes. With hilarious one-liners sprinkled throughout this film, it’s true core is that while romances and spies can take center stage, Barb and Star really show how true friendship will never go out of style and age, well age can be just a number.

The storyline plot is simple, an evil woman and her sidekick are plotting to flood Vista Del Mar with murderous mosquitos and then comedy ensues. That’s honestly the set-up for this film so I didn’t want to beat around the bush when diving into this review. During the first scene, you’re clearly being asked to forget wherever you think this film might be about because it’s more ridiculous than you think. For this reason alone, you MUST continue watching because everything that follows is sheer crazy, silly, corny fun. We follow middle-aged best friends Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wiig) who visit Vista Del Mar, are the best of friends and seem all too content with their oh-so-talkative lives – sitting on the display couch in the department store they work in is a highlight of their day – well that and the ‘Talking Club’ they belong to that gives us some wonderfully obscure hilarious moments between Debbie (Vanessa Bayer) and Delores (Phyllis Smith) and let’s just say ‘hot dog soup’ is a highlight. So the notion of them going on holiday naturally already brings a plethora of comedic possibilities to the table – well that and the fact that said table materializes to musical numbers, a mass murder plot, and a love triangle involving charming undercover spy Edgar Paget (Jamie Dornan), only reiterates the absurd fun this film gives us, but it also showcases just how controlled a film it really is given the silliness of it all. As they encounter our charming undercover spy Edgar and unbeknownst to the women, he actually works for our villain Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also played by Wiig) whose plan is to murder all of Vista Del Mar.

The oodles of fun this movie brings us are just too many to mention, but highlights include: Yoyo (Reyn Doi) kid-villain extraordinaire opening with a lip-sync of “Guilty” by Barbra Streisand that will stick in your head for days, a packing of suitcases for the vacation, ‘Trish’, an absolute creation of a best friend of theirs that has a full life and death story to her, to the lounge pianist singing a song called “I love boobies”. Plus the cameos, oh the cameos, they are all over and one must keep an eye out for every single one of them.

One thing to be completely appreciated about ‘BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR‘ was that in an era when a lot of things feel designed by committee or a reboot of a reboot, it feels like a truly wacky idea that could only come from two friends being real screwball idiots together​ in real life and transferred to the big screen just for the sheer pleasure of it all. The comedic chemistry is just fantastic and so much fun to watch.

So with that a note to Barb and Star  — I demand a sequel, so please pitch where they go or what they do next as it was everything we all needed in life and by far the most I’ve personally laughed in a very long time.  Do I want to go party with Barb and Starr and go everywhere with them? Yes, Yes I do and so should you.

Grade: B+

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Review screening: Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR