SXSW 2021 Review: Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break

Written by Anna Harrison

65/100

Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break wins the award for best movie title I’ve encountered this year. Unfortunately, the film itself doesn’t quite live up to the expectations set by its bizarre name, despite solid efforts from its cast and a promisingly bonkers plotline.

The film follows the titular Paul Dood (Tom Meeten), a charity shop worker who still lives with his mom (June Watson) and is a bit of a loser. However, he has a big dream: he wants to make it big on the Trend Ladder Talent Show, an America’s Got Talent-type show—or Britain’s Got Talent, in this case. Paul constantly livestreams on Trend Ladder, a clear Instagram ripoff but one with a ladder you can climb up in real time until you become the number one trending video. Paul, suffice to say, does not attract that many Trend Ladder hits.

After a series of misfortunes, Paul arrives late to his audition, and even after appealing to Trend Ladder Talent Show host and mega celebrity Jack Tapp (Kevin Bishop) to get a chance, he bombs the audition. Paul’s day only gets worse from there, and so he begins plotting his revenge on those who made him miss his audition.

It’s a fun, kooky premise, but the film can never quite figure out what it wants to be. Sometimes, it’s a ridiculous parody of slasher films; other times, it tries to be a serious meditation on grief, or a critique of social media. However, director Nick Gillespie, try as he might, never succeeds in getting these elements to gel together, and the result is a film that ping pongs wildly between tones, never staying with one idea long enough to have much of an impact. 

Paul, though played well by Meeten, suffers the most from the film’s indecision: one moment he seems to be ready to accept his losses, but the next he returns to his attempted killing spree, spurred on by his rising Trend Ladder fame that he seemed to have forgotten about in the previous scene. The inability of the film to commit to its absurd premise also leaves certain moments, like a hostage crisis towards the end of the film, caught in between two opposite urges: on the one hand, the scenario is deliberately unbelievable, but on the other, Gillespie tries to play it too straight, and these incompatible impulses render the scene impotent.

Still, Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break manages to be juuuust engaging enough to keep you watching. There were moments where I saw the glimmers of a much stronger movie lurking beneath the surface, but the movie shied away before it could change from duckling to swan. It’s a frustrating experience more than anything: the elements are all there for this movie to succeed, but Paul Dood simply lacks the bite he needs to make this movie worthy of climbing the Trend Ladder.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

SXSW 2021 Review: WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn

Written by Taylor Baker

75/100

With a lengthy title like WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn I was worried that the film may be unfocused and absent of vision, rather than a complete work. However Jed Rothstein did much to assuage my concerns in the first thirty minutes. He lets people that experienced WeWork do the talking for his film, that is when Adam Neumann isn’t. Though Jed is far from a household name at this point you may have heard about or seen one of his previous excellent works, The China Hustle. In which he provides a deep dive look at the manipulation of value in different markets orchestrated by the CCP. A clear building experience for this later work. 

WeWork opens with footage of Adam Neumann attempting to record a pitch video. This footage in essence allows Adam to speak for himself and the film to speak at a deep level quickly. This is a narcissist lost in his own vision, with no one to hold him in check. The timing of the footage is not made clear to the viewer until the end of the film, a brilliant choice by Jed. The documentary relies heavily and exclusively on talking heads and interviews when it’s not showing previously shot footage. As someone who had no interest in the fiasco of WeWork as it was happening this documentary served as a great and comprehensive educational piece. That doesn’t lean heavily on a message it wants to impart to you. 

The cleverness of Jed is in allowing the footage to speak for itself in conjunction with interviews, with voice blending from before the interview begins and switching to a new scene before the audio cuts. Though the pace dips around two thirds of the way in, I think for material is dry as a real estate fraud scheme he did an admirable job with editor Samuel Nalband. They portray multiple voices to provide a cohesive takeaway with an under two hour runtime. Something rare nowadays. The anecdotes of a janitor at an event asking if WeWork was a cult, hearing that one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s cousins is at the center of a scheme to sell people bullshit, hearing about how words change meanings around Alex because he can’t handle being wrong, all this put together and passively presented is a delight. It also pokes at bigger questions philosophically about the marketplace and communism, something Jed’s film The China Hustle also did. Rather than express my takeaways, I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Recommended.

WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn will release on Hulu on April 2nd and is currently playing at the SXSW 2021 Film Festival.

SXSW 2021 Review: Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror

Written by Taylor Baker

11/100

“I think”, this preface can be found preceding dozens of assertions in Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror. It’s unfortunate that something as juicy and spanning as the occult and it’s expression in film is used as a scaffold to assert these talking heads ideals, feelings, and personal experiences. Rather than an accurate historical examination of the origins and the journey into its expression in the visual medium. At 3 hours and 13 minutes Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror rarely arrives at the heart of any origin of the various topics it discusses; which wouldn’t be quite so enraging if it wasn’t such a fascinating topic. 

As someone with only cursory knowledge of the occult through the works of historians and art historians such as Edgar Wind, Joseph Campbell, Brian Muraresku, and Harold Bloom it was frustrating to see assertions about specific topics such as the history of witches framed so poorly. There can be no doubt of Kier-La Janisse’s sincerity toward the source material. She’s clearly spent time with the depicted films and has a tender place for them in her heart. The ill advised over-reliance of archival footage and talking heads exclusively is at it’s (very brief) best when discussing historical fact. Unfortunately this often devolves as I previously mentioned into assertions of contemporary views and oft repeated messages being hammered again and again. These vain assertions do a great disservice to a project that could have been highly informative and durable.

It’s complete lack of interest in interrogating the iconography, direct source referencing, and history of symbolism seems unfathomable. Though it’s clear that Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror prioritizes it’s message over it’s substance it’s unclear why those fascinating and universal pieces of interest are almost completely avoided. I’m not unwilling to give Kier-La Janisse another try, but I’m not convinced that I’ll see much growth in a new entry. Were she to pick up the camera in the future and tackle this subject again, I’d like to see her attempt a more in depth investigation into a single one of the sub-genres she covers here and really dive deep. Limit her runtime to 90 minutes and be more precious and strategic in her use of archival footage. One of the largest misses in a documentary film I’ve seen in 2021 so far.

Not Recommended.

SXSW 2021 Preview | With ForReel’s Thomas Stoneham-Judge

SXSW begins tomorrow, March 16th and goes until Saturday the 20th. Follow this link to see the lineup of films from our friends at ForReel, and to check out the schedule and learn more about the festival, visit the official website.

For film enthusiasts attending SXSW, consider this an open invitation to contact us and ForReel if you’re interested in collaborating!

As of now, our coverage of SXSW 2021 has begun. We hope you have fun!

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

Written by Nick McCann

69/100

King Kong ushered in a new era of special effects driven American filmmaking back in 1933. Godzilla, 21 years later, took that effects film formula and wove in a palpable social commentary for Japanese audiences. Not to mention the big dinosaur was well on the way to starting a profitable franchise. So given both monsters’ popularity, it seemed only a matter of time before they clashed. Lo and behold, 1962 was the year that brought us an enjoyable proving ground for the future of the series.

Although the previously released Godzilla Raids Again saw the first monster battle of the series, this film sets the standard for how this template is to be executed. Ishiro Honda once again directs with efficient speed and touches on relevant themes once again. All the jabs at commercialism and the advertising industry give the movie a light and satirical tone that makes it the right kind of cheesy. It also does an okay job at rebooting Kong into Godzilla’s follow up adventure, though I feel some of the Kong iconography feels slightly like an afterthought. Also certain details can still come off as hokey for sake of the plot. Even with that, it’s reliably exciting and quick-paced as it builds to the ultimate showdown of its era.

Speaking of which, Kong and Godzilla themselves give me mixed feelings here. Godzilla still looks good with a decent suit design and his continuing relentlessness. Kong’s suit on the other hand doesn’t hold up very well through his dopey face and fur pulled right off a living room floor. But to bring it back positive, the body language in both suit performances are defined well between Kong’s problem solving and Godzilla’s near-constant forward momentum. If there were more non-confrontational moments where the monsters could interact with each other, it’d make this all the more delightful.

When they fight, it’s a great spectacle. The special effects show great improvement from the prior films with lots of model buildings, RC vehicles and even okay blue screening. The fights have funny highlights through the actual excitement, like one shot of rough-looking stop motion and Kong force feeding Godzilla a tree. It’s what you expect from one of these movies. Camera work is energetic, the editing is tight and Akira Ifukube’s score hits with great numbers throughout. In particular, the new islander Kong chant is a strong musical presence.

On the flip side, the human characters are not too shabby this time around. Even though actual character development is still thin, everyone hits the material with personality and clear distinction from one another. Ichiro Arishima stands out greatly as a slapstick-oriented business agent. I couldn’t help but cheekily laugh at this guy, he nails the part. Kenji Sahara, Tadao Takashima, Yu Fujiki and Mie Hama also make up a spry and witty cast. Other supporting players fulfill their job in the plot fine without much time spent on giving them dimensions.

Any casuals looking for a solid Godzilla movie to either start with or get the general idea of the series should consult this one. It’s importance goes beyond just two of the most famous movie monsters together in one package. King Kong vs. Godzilla lays a nice foundation for the series with it’s fast pace, decent characters and charming set pieces. Although flawed, it satisfies all the same. Here’s to Legendary Pictures and what they have in store for their take.

You can connect with Nick on his social media profiles: Facebook and Letterboxd.

Capsule Review: 3feet

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

Midway through 3feet, its young, soccer-obsessed protagonist, Gonzalo (Maykol Santiago Capacho Perales), faces an obstacle: he must navigate both himself and his soccer ball through a crowded marketplace in Pamplona, Colombia, to get to school. To do this, he envisions a great soccer field full of opposing team members to sneak around and a goalie to get past. Director Giselle Geney Celis brings Gonzalo’s imagination to life by animating this entire sequence, perfectly capturing our immersive childhood daydreams. 

This sequence makes 3 Feet stand out far more than it would have otherwise, for its plot and style are relatively straightforward with the exception of Gonzalo’s imagined heroics. The film chronicles Gonzalo’s efforts to keep his shoes clean on the way to school after a teacher, Ramón (Luis Enrique Yañez), keeps him from recess one day because his shoes have been scuffed. It’s sweet without being overly saccharine; a charming reminder of the highs and lows of childhood that seem like life or death at the time, but which we laugh about later. The music, composed by Fran Villalba, lends a sense of whimsy to the proceedings, or else playfully represents the dire stakes—at least in Gonzalo’s mind—that accompany Ramón’s inspection of Gonzalo’s shoes.

You can feel Celis’ own affection for Pamplona even before the credits roll and you see that the film is “dedicated to my family, Pamplona and its people, for giving me the happiest childhood.” While 3feet doesn’t reinvent the wheel, with the exception of the animated sequence, it remains a charming monument to our childhood dreams.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Episode 100: Rescreening Perfect Blue

“What fascinates me in dreams is the idea that they emanate from our subconscious. I think that there are many possibilities to interpret dreams but a great deal of mystery always remains. When a dream is explained to us, it’s necessary to know the personal context of the subject. For example, what his childhood was like, his adolescence, his interpersonal relations. You’ve got to understand all these elements in order to tally up the dream and to decode it. At the cinema, that can’t happen because the approach demands the introduction of too many elements. In order for viewers to identify with this dream, I chose a parade which makes one think automatically of other common dreams and unconscious states. There are very old characters like objects that are discarded by people today or religious symbols that people have forgotten. I think that even nowadays, people have forgotten the importance of dreams.”

Satoshi Kon

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor Rescreen Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue and provide a First Impression of the next Rescreening episode title, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West.

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BAFTA 2021 Awards Preview

Written by Alexander Reams

Well, the BAFTA nominations have come out and saying there are some surprises, is quite an understatement. Just a quick show of what got snubbed mostly, or not even nominated; Da 5 Bloods, only nomination was supporting actor for Clarke Peters, Tenet, whose only nomination was for visual effects. While films like The Mauritanian, Rocks, and The Dig all lead with impressive nominations. Without further ado, let’s jump right in. 

Best film

  • The Father
  • The Mauritanian
  • Nomadland
  • Promising Young Woman
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

    Well this is certainly an interesting batch of nominees, however, after the Golden Globes, Critics Choice, and its PGA nomination, I think that Nomadland will take home Best Picture at the BAFTA’s.

Outstanding British film

  • Calm With Horses
  • The Dig
  • The Father
  • His House
  • Limbo
  • The Mauritanian
  • Mogul Mowgli
  • Promising Young Woman
  • Rocks
  • Saint Maud

Unfortunately I have not seen as many of these I wish I had, such as Mogul Mowgli, The Mauritanian, The Father, and The Dig. This award seems to be between The Father, Promising Young Woman, and The Mauritanian. Most likely, Promising Young Woman will take home the win. 

Leading actress

  • Bukky Bakray: Rocks
  • Radha Blank: The Forty-Year-Old Version
  • Vanessa Kirby: Pieces of a Woman
  • Frances McDormand: Nomadland
  • Wunmi Mosaku: His House
  • Alfre Woodard: Clemency

    I will admit, I was a tad surprised when this batch of nominees was announced and the name “Carey Mulligan” was left off, as she seemingly had become the frontrunner. That being said, I think Vanessa Kirby of Frances McDormand will be the winner at the BAFTA’s. 

Leading actor

  • Riz Ahmed: Sound of Metal
  • Chadwick Boseman: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Adarsh Gourav: The White Tiger
  • Sir Anthony Hopkins: The Father
  • Mads Mikkelsen: Another Round
  • Tahar Rahim: The Mauritanian

    1 Question: Has everyone forgot about Delroy Lindo? One of the best performances of 2020. Now, that has been addressed and I can gush about Mads Mikklesen, my favorite leading actor performance of 2020, being nominated for Best Actor, I am beyond thrilled to see him finally get some recognition for this beautiful performance. The winner will most likely be Chadwick Boseman, unless the BAFTA’s decide to go with Riz Ahmed. 

Supporting actress

  • Niamh Algar: Calm With Horses
  • Kosar Ali: Rocks
  • Maria Bakalova: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  • Dominique Fishback: Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Ashley Madekwe: County Lines
  • Yuh-Jung Youn: Minari

    Yuh-Jung Youn will most likely be winning this award, as the Best Supporting Actress race has been tied up all awards season, and she has been the one to make her way to the front of the race. 

Supporting actor

  • Daniel Kaluuya: Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Barry Keoghan: Calm With Horses
  • Alan Kim: Minari
  • Leslie Odom Jr: One Night In Miami…
  • Clarke Peters: Da 5 Bloods
  • Paul Raci: Sound of Metal

    While I think Daniel Kaluuya has this award on lock, there were definitely a few surprises here, Clarke Peters for Da 5 Bloods, Alan Kim for Minari, and someone who had fallen behind in the awards race, but my favorite supporting actor performance of 2020, Paul Raci. Really glad to see him in here, and hopefully that boosts his Oscar chances. 

Director

  • Another Round: Thomas Vinterberg
  • Babyteeth: Shannon Murphy
  • Minari: Lee Isaac Chung
  • Nomadland: Chloé Zhao
  • Quo Vadis, Aida?: Jasmila Žbanić
  • Rocks: Sarah Gavron

    The only big Oscar frontrunners in this category are Lee Isaac Chung and Chloé Zhao, that being said, Zhao has this award on lock. Thomas Vinterberg getting this nomination made me so happy, Another Round has not been getting the acclaim it deserves, besides Best Foreign Language film, but its direction, performances, and screenplay are all incredible. 

Film not in the English language 

  • Another Round
  • Dear Comrades!
  • Les Misérables
  • Minari
  • Quo Vadis, Aida?

I’ll keep this short and sweet, Another Round has this award on lock, plain and simple

Animated film

  • Onward
  • Soul
  • Wolfwalkers

    Soul has been sweeping the animated categories wherever it goes, and I have no doubt it’ll be any different here. 

Original screenplay

  • Another Round 
  • Mank 
  • Promising Young Woman 
  • Rocks 
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 

    Since Emerald Fennell was omitted from the directing category, I think she might win in this, however Aaron Sorkin is in this category, and you can never count him out. Be on the look for one of those 2 to win the award. 

Adapted screenplay

  • The Dig 
  • The Father 
  • The Mauritanian 
  • Nomadland 
  • The White Tiger 

    At this point I don’t know any film that can challenge Nomadland winning adapted screenplay.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.

Interview: Austin and Meredith Bragg Discuss Their Short Film, ‘A Piece of Cake’

Interview by Anna Harrison

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

We can’t remember when we first heard about California’s unique situation when it comes to shiny cake confections, but it’s been banging around our heads for some time. We immediately knew it could do well as an exaggerated family-friendly drug war analogy, but that wasn’t enough for a film. It took us a while longer to come up with the actual story and ending we liked.

Eventually we brought it to an MPI short film writers workshop, where we continued to hone it. It was during that workshop that they approached us about backing the production. Naturally we jumped at that chance. 

Were there any major script changes from conception to end?

Definitely. Here are two that spring to mind…

Initially we had the dad drive to a sketchy cake shack in the middle of the desert, just across the California/Nevada state line. The parking lot was going to be filled with California license plates. But the realities of production made it cost prohibitive, so we created an urban cake den. 

The scene where Rich sits on the curb after learning dragees are illegal originally included a pigeon. It was a fun, somewhat surreal scene. We loved it. Unfortunately there was a bird quarantine in California at that time (foreshadowing!) and it was illegal to transport a pigeon onto set. We briefly discussed using an animatronic pigeon or swapping in a seagull—seagulls were outside the quarantine rules—but in the end it just made sense to rewrite the scene. That’s how we got to the birthday card. 

I really enjoyed the editing (specifically, I’m thinking about the scenes with the Cake Den boss and the dramatic travel to “the city”); what was that process like? Meredith, how much of a say did you get into how Austin edited the film?

Meredith: A good deal. Austin put together the final timeline and really cut the final film, but we both worked through the edit. There are even some of the trickier scenes where we both edited alts to see what worked best. Both of our fingerprints are all over the thing, but Austin was the master of the timeline and really did the hard work. 

Austin: I would simply add that it’s easy to get tunnel vision when editing on your own. Having Meredith in there as well opened up a lot of possibilities I wasn’t seeing.  

How do your directing styles differ?

Meredith: I will say that Austin, who has an acting background, is probably better with actors than I am.

Austin: And Meredith has more visual sense.

Meredith: But by the time we’re on set we’re both on the same page about what we need and what we want. It’s actually quite helpful when an issue that needs our attention comes up. We can be in two places at once. 

How do your directing styles complement each other?

The best part of having two of us is that it gives us twice as many ideas and they have to survive twice as much scrutiny.  We certainly have individual strengths and weaknesses—and we each know when to lean on the other.  

What was your career trajectory like? How did you branch out from more political-focused content to narrative shorts like A Piece of Cake—or were you always interested in narrative content as well?

From our days at Channel 101 to our 48-hour films and our Warner Bros. pilot, we’ve always been writing and directing comedy. Even at Reason a lot of our work is narrative and comedic. I think the biggest difference with A Piece of Cake is the scale. After years of shooting everything on our own with little to no budget, we’re pushing ourselves and our production values. 

How do you balance your schedule for filming personal projects like A Piece of Cake while also producing content for Reason TV and elsewhere?

Like most everyone else making shorts, it’s about carving out weekends and evenings and, when it’s time for production, using up vacation days. 

It helps to have forgiving families and access to caffeine. 

You’ve also made documentaries like Welcome to the Grave—what are some of the biggest differences working on a documentary vs. a narrative film? How did what you learn from the former affect your work on the latter?

I think it’s the difference between sculpting out of clay vs. marble. With documentaries you are limited by what occurred and the footage and assets you’ve gathered. Then you start to chip away and arrange the pieces into an arc. With narrative we get to build everything from the ground up and we can push and pull the story to fit our needs. 

We spend a lot more time on writing and pre-production on narratives, while in documentaries we spend more time in the edit. And that work on story structure is invaluable for assembling documentaries. 

What’s your favorite type of cake?

Meredith: I’m going to cheat and say key lime pie. 

Austin: German chocolate. Obviously. 

A Piece of Cake Trailer

You can read Anna’s review of A Piece of Cake or follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Capsule Review: A Piece of Cake

Written by Anna Harrison

65/100

A Piece of Cake explores a common theme: fathers who neglect their family in favor of work. Now, “common” does not necessarily mean “bad,” and A Piece of Cake certainly adds its own unique spin to this conundrum by sprinkling in a dash of absurdity as Rich Sommer’s Jim embarks on an epic adventure to acquire illegal cake decorations for his daughter, Cora (Riona O’Donnell).

If it sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is—though on purpose. Cora, for her upcoming birthday, wants silver balls on her cake. Jim agrees to get them, but Cora doubts his follow-through as he’s let her down many times before. Jim, rightly feeling bad about this, makes it his mission to get some balls (haha) and soon discovers the seedy underground world of illegal cake decorations, populated by harried fathers in business suits who speak in hushed voices as they discuss the ways in which to best acquire balls, which seem to be illegal in California.

The short, directed by brothers Austin and Meredith Bragg, is at its best when fully leaning into the more humorous aspects of the script, or employing editing techniques most often seen in action movies to great comedic effect. It’s a sweet, somewhat familiar movie, though can never quite decide if it wants to completely lean into the absurdism or maintain some level of realism, so ends up feeling a little indecisive and stuck in places. Still, a decently tasty piece of cake.

You can read Anna’s interview with Austin and Meredith Bragg or you can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.