We covered the Santa Barbara International Film Festival last year for the site, so we were thrilled to virtually return this year to cover round two! This year’s SBIFF was wildly varied, but brought about some exceptional movies capturing the power of the human spirit and emotionality. Check out our full coverage for the fest as well as previously reviewed titles after the jump…

Films

1-800-HOT-NITE

What starts off as a Good Boys-style raunchy comedy with kids transforms into something decidedly different. In the opening scene, three best friends who are far too young to do so call a phone-sex hotline. With a title like 1-800-HOT-NITE, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess the number they call, or that it will eventually become significant to our central character, Tommy (Dallas Young). When a drug raid happens at his home, Tommy flees with his pals Steve (Mylen Bradford) and O’Neill (Gerrison Machado) to avoid foster car after his dad is carted away in a cop car. What happens next is a night of crises—Tommy turns to the sex operator for guidance, who says “running from cops makes me so wet.” Words of wisdom, eh? I was hoping for fun and sharp comedy, but instead HOT-NITE leans into drama and silliness.

ALL MY PUNY SORROWS

Previously reviewed at TIFF 2021.

THE BIG BEND

Full review at the link.

DUG DUG

Previously reviewed at TIFF 2021.

HARD SHELL SOFT SHELL

A cute feel-good treat that will leave the audience with a smile and a super fun music number, Hard Shell Soft Shell is akin to a modern-day Dirty Dancing with some extra flavor. Az (Yasin Houicha) makes a proposal to his girlfriend, Jessica (Tiphaine Daviot), by hiding her engagement ring in an oyster she accidentally eats. Choking aside, Jessica doesn’t exactly embrace Az’s bid for marriage, opting instead to use this moment to announce she wants to “take a break.” Az goes through a deep depression that consists of binge-eating, crying, and watching Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard on his laptop. It takes his friends to draw Az out of his sadness, forcing him to try on new clothes and do something with his life. They all admire how nice his ass is, and one refers to Az as “a walking beach.” When saucy, sporty Lila (Oulaya Amamra) begins a relationship with Az through dance, Az quickly develops feelings while still processing his breakup with Jessica. This cute French dramedy is simple, sweet, and may be just what the doctor ordered.

HOUSE OF DARKNESS

Full review at the link.

JUNIPER

Grieving a loved one can be difficult, and for Mack (Madison Lawlor), it becomes virtually impossible. A secluded family cabin by herself to process the death of her sister is crashed by her childhood bestie, Alex (Decker Sadowski), and Dylan (Olivia Blue). As their time together progresses, Dylan has trouble hiding her true feelings for Alex, while Mack tries to isolate herself in her grief. Much of the movie consists of three girls chatting about nothing together; the acting is good, but the narrative is a bit aimless. Juniper ultimately feels too empty, small stakes, and predictable. How are we supposed to empathize over a character we never physically meet during the film? While the heart is clearly in the right place of everyone involved, I found it difficult to get invested.

LOREN & ROSE

Full review at the link.

Miss Viborg

(Written by Allison Brown) Miss Viborg is incredibly triggering for me personally.  To center around a woman with binge eating issues, a sprained ankle, and a little dog, Miss Viborg focuses on my life’s most arduous struggles. I have dealt with an eating disorder on and off for years, and prior to covid, I seriously damaged my ankle every year for several consecutive years. I also have a small dog, a Yorkshire terrier named Lexi. It is frightening how much I relate to this geriatric woman as a millennial; I have been in Solvej’s shoes far too many times to count. The synopsis of the film I initially read from IMDB was much vaguer than that provided by the festival, and I am so glad I was able to be surprised at every turn. I probably would have skipped Miss Viborg if I was aware of the drug dealing angle, so it worked out in the best way. The film tenderly focuses on the bond between a 61-year-old woman who has given up on life, Solvej (Ragnhild Kaasgaard), and a delinquent 17-year-old girl who craves the love she isn’t provided from her mother, Kate (Isabella Møller Hansen). Solvej spies on Kate fighting with her mother from across the hallway in her apartment building, until one day she finds Kate’s phone in her home after a robbery. Turns out, Kate tried to rob Solvej after she refused to sell her drugs because she is too young. Solvej guilts Kate into doing menial chores to help take care of her, and eventually agrees to cut her into her drug deals. It takes a long time for the duo to acknowledge how much they need each other, and by that point, perhaps it is too late. The film is a real tearjerker with powerful performances from the two leads. The soundtrack is so much fun, and the quirky score is perfectly fit. I highly recommend checking out this fantastic Danish film from director Marianne Blicher!

NOWHERE SPECIAL

Full review at the link.

ROGER CORMAN: THE POPE OF POP CINEMA

Clocking in at a slight 52 minutes in length, Roger Corman: The Pope of Pop Cinema is subsequently a fluffy little documentary that feels like it would make a strong DVD special feature. It does however cover quite a lot of ground in a short period of time, and serves as a love letter to Corman. Dubbed “The Godfather of Hollywood,” Corman gave first chances to so many amazing actors and filmmakers that would eventually break out, including Martin Scorcese, Ron Howard, Francis Ford Coppola, and Jack Nicholson, among others. This doc recalls Corman’s humble beginnings, breaking into the industry first by delivering mail around the FOX lot, graduating into a story analyst, and eventually evolving into full-scale directing and producing. Part of Corman’s charm is in his scrappy filmmaking style in which he takes advantage of every single dollar at his disposal. There were two very surprising things I learned here: that the original Little Shop of Horrors was filmed in just two days and one night, with the majority of the cast and crew treating it as one big joke; that The Fast and The Furious was an original Corman film, and Universal paid for rights to the title well before it became a worldwide phenomenon. Corman the figure is endearing and adorable, and Roger Corman: The Pope of Pop Cinema wisely never shifts its focus away from the auteur.

Róise & Frank

(Written by Allison Brown) I’m a sucker for dog movies, so upon discovering Róise & Frank, my interest was piqued. The quaint tale follows widow Róise (Bríd Ní Neachtain) still grieving the loss of husband Frank, who passed two years and two weeks ago. She continually calls Frank’s cell phone number just to hear the sound of his voice on his voicemail. Married since 1981, she cannot imagine her existence without him. One day, she discovers a random dog on her property that refuses to leave her alone. Róise eventually lets the mysterious pup into her home, and he sprints right to her late husband’s favorite chair. Obviously triggering, she immediately shoos him away, but the chain of strange events continues regardless. As the pooch wanders Róise’s home, he knows just where to look to find son Alan’s (Cillian O’Gairbhi) signed hurling ball and carries it around. Frank absolutely loved the hurling sport and was a master champion. Ultimately, the lurcher/terrier mix leads Róise to her favorite picnic spot she shared with Frank. How could he happen to know? Róise concludes that this animal is Frank reincarnated, begins to treat him like so, and officially begins calling him Frank. After a vet confirms he is not microchipped but is somehow perfectly kempt at two years old (impeccable timing to Frank’s death), Alan starts to see her perspective as well. Róise purchases steaks to cook for her and canine Frank to eat together, properly sitting at the table. She cooks complete breakfast spreads and provides him a plate as well. Frank the dog is even allowed to lay with her in bed. The animal actor is incredibly expressive and perceptive; he truly appears to act like a person. The small town even begins to play along, treating Róise’s hound differently than other pets, and remarking that they heard Frank has returned. He becomes the mascot for an under thirteen hurling team, as he “coaches” awkward ginger neighbor, Mikey Lynch, to become the best player on the team he was terrified to join. Director Rachael Moriarty and Peter Murphy’s film is uplifting, tender and portrays the meaningful impact a dog can have on their owner’s life. Róise & Frank is an absolute delight that is sure to please any pet owner infatuated with this genre.

SCARBOROUGH

Previously reviewed at TIFF 2021.

Sextortion: The Hidden Pandemic

(Written by Allison Brown) Although director Maria Demeshkina Peek has her heart in the right place, Sextortion: The Hidden Pandemic fails to hit the right notes in revealing this disturbing societal dilemma. The unwrapping of the case of Dan Harris, a criminal who spread his web of extortion to hundreds of minors in Canada, the United Kingdom, and 26 different states in the United States, is the most successful part of the film. However, the re-enactments are at times cringeworthy, both with teen actors and with slightly animated courtroom illustrations with voiceovers. The acting here is so poor that it detracts from the gravity of this topic. Some of the interviews with “experts” also water down the message of the film. Every time one particular man starts talking about teens doing this or that, Sextortion begins to feel like an after school special targeted at boomers. Most of the “dangerous” behaviors that teens supposedly do could apply to anyone under the age of forty. Sextortion: The Hidden Pandemic would have been a more successful documentary if Peek focused solely on this true crime case and perhaps a few other firsthand accounts, while completely removing the outside nonsense.

STRANGER’S ARMS

Stranger’s Arms frequently evokes the freewheeling coming-of-age style of Richard Linklater, loosely plotting the story of three friends attempting to solve a mysterious murder that dates back to 1994. Set over the summer in Long Island, Jazmin (Eloisa Santos) returns home from college and falls into old habits as she hangs with alcoholic party girl Mason (Tessa Gourin) and classmate and cute construction worker Mikey (Ion Bertea). When Mikey suggests looking into an old unsolved murder that may have involved black magic or sacrifice, the friends immediately latch onto the concept. They make it their mission to get to the bottom of things, launching interviews with locals and acting as their small town’s version of the Mystery Gang. Karaoke sessions, reminiscing about fallen friends, and chats about what one would do if they were a ghost pad out the movie with a small-stakes relatability. I found it a little frustrating that Stranger’s Arms goes out of its way to avoid answering the central mystery’s big questions, but this is an engaging indie watch bursting with heart and humor.

Some of this year’s festival selections really spoke to us on a personal level; my favorites were The Big Bend and Loren & Rose, while Allison’s favorite was Róise & Frank. We also hope to cover SBIFF for round three, coming next year!

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