For 2021’s virtual San Francisco International Film Festival, I decided to do things a little differently. I will be updating with a small blurb for each film I watch from the festival, which will also be a good way to track my initial reactions and feelings about each one. Read on for my exclusive coverage.

Films

CRYPTOZOO

Cryptozoo is a special brand of strange adult animation, the likes of which would find a perfect home at the doorstep of Adult Swim. Beautiful and trippy 2D animation feels like sketchy illustrations brought to life. The sheer scale they are able to achieve on a limited indie budget is jaw-dropping to behold. The film is one big drug trip, and writer/director Dash Shaw hopes to give you the biggest high of your life. 

STRAWBERRY MANSION

Strawberry Mansion is a trippy and bizarre film about a dream auditor that’s filled muchness to the point of explosion. Bizarre, poetic dialogue adds only a thin layer of understanding to the admittedly captivating visual style. It’s more of an experiment than a movie, and is hard to follow. Regardless, I’m happy writer/director duo Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney are taking this many risks with their filmmaking.

LANGUAGE LESSONS

The only word that comes to mind is “adorable.” Not many movies discuss platonic male-female friendship, but Morales displays this adoring relationship with ease. This is the most I’ve liked Mark Duplass since Creep. Morales does a terrific job directing a film that, on the surface, could have been super boring. Zoom films are rarely executed well and are draining with the realities of the pandemic. Yet, this film is well-done, with an ending that made me smile. What a sweet and pure movie!

CENSOR

Bursts of gore, phenomenal acting from Niamh Algar, and light commentary on censorship and media-inspired violence easily make Censor a must-see. Watching Nasty back-to-back, I loved seeing what Bailey-Bond carried over thematically from the eerie short. Constant references to amazing films of the horror heyday pepper Censor with authenticity and a meta subtext.

HOME

Actress Franka Potente makes her directorial debut with the emotionally captivating new drama, Home. I loved everything Home was trying to accomplish, and it occasionally follows through with its lofty ambitions. I couldn’t help long for Kathy Bates to have a more souped up role. While Bernadette is vital to Home’s endgame, her relationship with Marvin occasionally feels like an afterthought. Kathy Bates is incredible.

NAKED SINGULARITY

Directed by 2017’s It screenwriter Chase Palmer (and despite taking a whopping 8 years to come to the screen), Naked Singularity serves as hybrid black comedy/light drama/dangerous crime/light sci-fi movie with a lot on its mind. The film takes an impressive slate of acting talent, slotting them into characters based on the book A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava. Think Baby Driver, only filtered through a late-90’s, early 2000’s heist filter.

HOLLER

Director Nicole Riegel’s drama Holler serves as a meditation on the struggles of the average working class, and doing everything it takes to escape your hometown. Jessica Barden as Ruth does a terrific job of conveying her character’s emotions through authenticity and determination. The bleak small-scale stakes left me feeling cold on the film itself, but admiring of the tender way it treats the Southern Ohio setting.

SUPERCOOL

Supercool establishes itself as a brilliant exercise in comedic genius that can easily stand among the greats. Beyond the raunchy humor, the friendship at the heart of it all is a beautiful foundation for the crazy antics of Neil (Jake Short) and Gilbert (Miles J. Harvey). The centerpiece of Supercool is a joyous friendship dance, set to Haddaway’s “What is Love?” It’s a sequence I’ll forever associate with this movie and the amazingly fun ride it takes us on with this unforgettable duo. Just remember, “never underestimate the power of a good dick suck.”

STREET GANG: HOW WE GOT TO SESAME STREET

Street Gang is a rather straightforward documentary—its completely comprehensive to the first part of the Sesame Street legacy. The origins in trying to reach inner city kids, and help prepare young children for school was something I had never thought of before watching. It touches on surprising things like Monsterpiece Theater, the inception of “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” and the shockingly tender way the show decided to deal with the death of an essential cast member. Vintage footage is great, but can overstay its welcome. It didn’t keep me glued to the screen as much as I’d been hoping. 

LILY TOPPLES THE WORLD

I underestimated just how wholesome and cute this documentary would be, and found a pleasant surprise. It’s the very definition of easy watching. Lily herself is humble even when she starts being wildly successful, and meeting celebs at events. I loved the detail of how Hugh Jackman helped one of her domino videos go viral. I’m not sure there was much of a plot here—by the second half, we are diverting from one talk show to the next as we follow Lily on her journey. Still, Lily Topples the World is a cutesy doc with its heart in the right place.

THE DRY

The Dry summed up in one word: dry. It takes a half-baked murder mystery and fails to do anything original with it. We’ve seen all of this before, and we’ve seen it better. The actors are all great, but I just couldn’t get myself invested in any of the characters. Alternating timelines rarely function in a satisfying way. There’s a distance to the story that doesn’t do it any favors. I would’ve been fine if the meandering slow-burn had an explosive payoff—I don’t think it ever reaches that point. It’s engrossing enough for a time waster, just don’t expect narrative fireworks.

I hope you enjoyed my coverage of 2021’s South By San Francisco International Film Festival. The mostly virtual event takes place from April 9th – April 18th. You can find more information, including a PDF of the program and ticketing information, over at sffilm.org.

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