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Sundance: Emily the Criminal

Emily (Aubrey Plaza) is feeling the weight of $70k worth of student loan debt and a criminal record that prevents her from getting a decent paying job. After covering a delivery shift for a coworker, she’s tipped off on a money making opportunity: working as a dummy shopper. Youcef (Theo Rossi) is the leader of a criminal ring in which he places stolen credit cards with dummy shoppers who will buy high value goods fraudulently to sell them for quick cash later. The gig is unpredictable and despite the danger Emily keeps at it. As Youcef leans on Emily for more advanced jobs, she clings to the hope that a traditional job as a designer might still be in her reach.

Written and directed by John Patton Ford, Emily the Criminal is a tense drama that begs for repeat viewings. It effectively demonstrates the fundamental flaw in our society that prevents former criminals from transitioning into law abiding citizens. It’s also really just an engaging story. Emily the Criminal is a great starring vehicle for Aubrey Plaza. I also really enjoyed Theo Rossi’s performance and his on screen chemistry with Plaza.

Emily the Criminal premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Emily the Criminal hits theaters August 12, 2022. Visit the official website for more details. #EmilytheCriminal

Sundance: Master

“It’s never going to change.”

The presence of three black women at a predominantly white New England college unleashes a dark and mysterious force in the new horror movie Master. Written and directed by Mariama Diallo in her feature debut, the film stars Regina Hall as Gail Bishop, the new “Master”, aka dean of students, for the fictional Ancaster College. As Bishop tries to settle into her new role at Ancaster, she’s tasked with guiding the board of directors in deciding whether the only black professor on campus, Liv Beckman (Amber Gray), deserves tenure. One of Beckman’s students, freshman Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee), is struggling to acclimate to Ancaster as she’s constantly confronted with subtle but potent forms of racism from faculty, staff, and fellow students. Ancaster is known to be haunted by a former student and Jasmine happens to have been assigned the same room where the student had committed suicide decades before. As the holidays approach, the deeply rooted racism that has been part of Ancaster’s history from the very beginning manifests itself into an evil force that is hellbent on destroying the women.

Master tackles one of the horrors of our everyday world. In the film, racism haunts its victims like a ghost. It’s a mysterious force that takes many forms and is passed down through generations. It persists no matter how much the characters struggle against it or how much they’re gaslit to believe that progress has been made. Diallo effectively demonstrates the power of racism in pretty much every aspect of this film. The message is there: racism will never truly go away. And that is a horrifying reality.

A must-watch, especially for the performances by Regina Hall and Zoe Renee.

Master premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and will be available on Amazon Prime March 18th.

Sundance: Resurrection

Margaret (Rebecca Hall) needs to be in control. At home, she’s an overprotective single mom to her 17 year old daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman). At work, she gives important life advice to an office newcomer and keeps her affair with married coworker Peter (Michael Esper) under wraps. Margaret craves control over the people in her life because at one time she sacrificed it her own. And this came at a great cost.

David (Tim Roth), a dark figure from Margaret’s past, is back. Margaret sees him everywhere and despite her attempts to get rid of him, he persists. David has something that Margaret lost many years ago and wants back. Will she have to sacrifice the life she’s built for herself to finally defeat David?

Written and directed by Andrew Semans, Resurrection is like Gaslight (1944) meets Rosemary’s Baby (1968) but on steroids. Rebecca Hall turns a wonderful performance as the increasingly paranoid Margaret. Tim Roth’s portrayal of David is absolutely chilling. The film is perfectly paced, gripping and will leave viewers in shock. The final scenes are unsettling and will leave viewers asking themselves: “What just happened?”. Resurrection must be seen to be believed and even then you might not realize what exactly was real and what wasn’t.

Resurrection premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. It has since been acquired by IFC Films and Shudder.

Sundance: TikTok, Boom.

“On TikTok, anything can happen.”

Directed by Shalini Kantayya, TikTok, Boom. explores the history of one of the great disruptors of the social media landscape and how it threatens privacy and affects the young people who use it. TikTok is the fastest growing social media platform and poses a threat to giants like Facebook. Its innovation not only transformed vertical video but also the way we communicate with each other. Everyday people have amassed huge followings with their viral videos.  And its algorithm is unlike anything we’ve seen before tailoring content specifically to the users behaviors with scary accuracy. Simply put, TikTok is changing the way we view celebrity, information, and entertainment.

TikTok, Boom. focuses specifically on Gen Z as a generation of “digital natives” (people who don’t know a world without the internet) and ignores the vast array of other people who use the app. There are users/creators in their 30s, 40s, 50s and older who are thriving on the app and building a platform of hundreds of thousands if not millions of followers. There are several docs out there on social media as both a tool and a threat to young people and this is just another in the bunch.

The doc offers critical analysis on TikTok as a company, it’s Chinese origins, and its famous algorithm but ignores the many nuances of the app.  TikTok, Boom. is underwhelming.  However, it may be a good primer for those TikTok naysayers who want justification for not using the app.

TikTok, Boom. premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul

After controversy drove away all but a handful of congregants from the Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church, pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) dreams of a new beginning. With his wife Trinitie (Regina Hall), AKA “The First Lady”, by his side he gets to work relaunching the church just in time for Easter. In his time, Lee-Curtis  shared a prosperity gospel from a gold throne, sold worship DVDs, has laser shoes and did “praise miming.” All spectacle for what ended up being false righteousness when he was accused of sexual misconduct. As the story unfolds, we learn more about the details of both his controversy and his crumbling marriage. The couple and their church are the focus of a documentary series with a camera crew following their every move. And the person taking center stage is Trinitie/The First Lady, who feels forced to keep up appearances and support her husband despite all signs warning her to escape.

By filmmaking duo Adamma and Adanne Ebo, Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul is a satisfyingly funny satire that features two wonderful performances from its stars Brown and Hall. Regina Hall especially shines in her portrayal of a woman falling apart on the inside but trying to hold it together for everyone else. The story loses steam in the last half and I wish the filmmakers had stuck to a strictly mockumentary style format rather than shifting back and forth from it.

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

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