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Nashville Film Festival: Follow Her

Jess (Dani Barker) is a struggling actress by day and a successful streamer at night. She arranges  degrading sexual encounters with men on the internet and secretly films them for her stream.  She maintains the men’s anonymity until one day she posts a video not realizing the man’s face was exposed. Jess has an internal conflict: take down the video or capitalize on the clout it’s currently receiving. When she’s invited by screenwriter Tom (Luke Cook) to a remote cabin to  both work out the details of a new project while also secretly filming him. But the tables quickly turn as she realizes Tom is not as he seems.

Directed by Sylvia Caminer and written by Dani Barker, Follow Her is a psychological thriller that offers a stern warning about the dangers of streaming and surveillance in our digital age. It taps into the innate fears of the chronically online about sharing too much and being exposed for all to see. The first half of the movie isn’t very engaging and viewers will have to push through to the second half where the psycho-sexual elements really come into play.  You’ll also have to suspend your disbelief as there are many red flags the female protagonist misses. If you enjoy thrillers about the digital age, give this one a try.

Bonus for Mad Men fans: Mark Moses has a role as Jess’ father.

Follow Her was screened at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival.

Nashville Film Festival: Carol & Johnny

Not all bank robbers are like the ones you see in the movies. Many are petty criminals, just average folks, who are in a financial bind and the idea of a quick payout is just too alluring to pass up. That’s what happened with Johnny Williams. After a stint in jail, he tried to make ends meet for him and his wife Carol as an independent carpet cleaner. When a 1983 car accident sidelined him, he found himself in desperate need of money. Just a few years later he began one of the “longest running strings of unsolved bank robberies in the history of the FBI.” 56 robberies from 1986 until 1994. A slip up landed him and his partner-in-crime Carol in the hoosegow. He got life and she got 20 years.

Directed by Colin Barnicle, Carol & Johnny begins shortly after Johnny Williams was released from jail in 2021. He’s integrating back into society, checking in with his parole officer and living in a halfway house. Carol has been out for years. After suffering from a medical mishap, she continues to thrive with the help of her family and is determined to tell her life story by way of the documentary and a book. 

The documentary interviews both Carol and Johnny, as well as the former FBI officer who tracked and finally caught Johnny. It shares the couple’s individual life stories as well as  Johnny’s incredible criminal career. The film depends a lot on a “will they or won’t they” element regarding a potential reunion between Carol and Johnny.  What the film does effectively is demonstrate that there are two sides to every story and that not everyone is a reliable narrator. It’s not a terribly engrossing film but a good watch for those who enjoy stories about ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

Carol & Johnny premiered at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival.

Charcoal/Carvão

Set in the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil, Charcoal/Carvão tells the story of an impoverished family who make an almost Faustian bargain to lift themselves up out of their situation. Irene (Maeve Jinkings) cares for her ailing father but between that, raising her son Jean (Jean Costa) and dealing with her husband Jairo’s (Romulo Braga) reckless behavior, she is overwhelmed. When a nurse, Juracy (Aline Marta), offers Irene a shady deal to help the family, after much consideration Irene agrees. The plan involves getting rid of Irene’s father and secretly replacing him with  Miguel (César Bordón), an Argentine drug lord who faked his own death and is now in hiding. Irene and her family keep up appearances. Jean goes to school, Jairo continues to work harvesting charcoal and Irene sells her chicken dinners. But the influx of cash and the looming danger that hangs over this volatile stranger, threatens to push the family over the edge.

“Charcoal is my attempt to understand how violence, religion and hypocrisy have taken over our lives and bodies in a way that we don’t’ even notice any more.”

Carolina Markowicz

Written and directed by Carolina Markowicz, Charcoal/Carvão is an unrelentingly brutal film about the lengths people will go to escape their situation. The film is deceptively quiet which makes certain scenes all that more shocking. Bookended with religious scenes and music, the story aptly explores how desperation takes away our morals and basic humanity. The performances came across so natural that it’s easy to forget we’re watching actors playing roles and not real people living their lives. Markowicz does a brilliant job enveloping the audience in the world of her characters that it feels like we are right there with them. 

Charcoal/Carvão is emotionally devastating and draining. It’s a film to watch. But only once.

Note to add: both Portuguese and Spanish are spoken in the film.

Charcoal/Carvão premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

SXSW: Bodies Bodies Bodies

When Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) takes her girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) to David’s (Pete Davidson) mansion for a hurricane party, their reception is tepid at best. Sophie is out of rehab and had stayed away from her booze and drug loving friends for a bit of space. As the group starts to get acquainted, they play a murder mystery game called “Bodies Bodies Bodies” where its tag you’re dead. What starts off as an innocent game starts to get deadly when friends start turning up dead and the hurricane has knocked out the power and cell phone reception. 

Directed by Halina Reijn, Bodies Bodies Bodies is a helluva lot of fun. I attended the world premiere at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas and the crowd roared with laughter. Rachel Sennott  has a standout role as Alice, the daft friend whose much older boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace) becomes the first suspect. She’s got some great lines and is really the heart of the film’s comedic core.

When the lights are off, the characters must navigate through darkness guided by only the light of their smartphones. This adds a cool and creepy element to the movie. There is also a delicious twist at the end. Bodies Bodies Bodies offers a great combination of spooks and laughs that is sure to please horror fans.

Director and cast of Bodies Bodies Bodies at the world premiere.

Bodies Bodies Bodies had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

SXSW: We Feed People

“Food is an agent of change.”

José Andrés

World renowned chef José Andrés’s humanitarian efforts are the subject a new documentary by director Ron Howard. We Feed People chronicles Andrés and his team at the World Central Kitchen as they provide much needed food to communities suffering from aftermath of natural catastrophes. 

Andrés is a remarkable chef in his own right with 30 restaurants in the US, several cookbooks, his own cooking show and bragging rights for introducing Spanish tapas to the American dining scene. But his work as a humanitarian has elevated him to veritable hero status. The story begins with the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Andrés heard of the disaster and traveled there to help provide food to Haitians in need. He realized that not only was food necessary for disaster relief, these people needed real meals, not just shelf-stable rations. Andrés realized that meals that could be made on site, were easily transportable and were part of the already established local cuisine would bring sustenance and comfort to the people. The documentary captures the work of the World Central Kitchen in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Marica, Guatemala after a volcanic eruption, the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian, Arizona during COVID and more.

If We Feed People is the official application for Andrés’s future Nobel Peace Prize it’s a good one at that. Howard’s documentary clearly demonstrated that Andrés is one of the great humanitarians of our time. However it does not glamorize Andrés. We witness the stress, the financial burden and the many challenges that come with the important work Andrés has done. This film will move audiences to tears and hopefully inspire some to take on their own philanthropic cause.

We Feed People is awe-inspiring and simply brilliant.

“I’m good in seeing opportunity when others see mayhem.”

José Andrés

We Feed People had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. It’s distributed by National Geographic Films.

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