Nolan Gallagher



After seven years filling television and computer screens as a video-on-demand distributor, Gravitas Ventures is taking their act to the big screen, an evolutionary step that they’re not taking lightly if this Presidents Day weekend is any example. In Los Angeles, they’re overseeing the release of “Down and Dangerous,” a scrappy crime thriller that’s one of three films they’ll have in theaters this month. In New York, their recent pickup, the Joel Edgerton potboiler “Felony” will be screening at Film Comment Selects. And between the coasts, a hundred million homes will have access to the company’s considerable catalog of movies, one that’s growing more impressive in quality as much as quantity now that Gravitas has begun to dip their toe into theatrical distribution.

It’s an exciting time for the company, which operates out of a humble two-story building in El Segundo, and its founder Nolan Gallagher, a veteran of Comcast and Warner Brothers before going out on his own. With a staff that includes more than a few filmmakers of its own – its vice president of acquisitions Melanie Miller naturally debuted the claustrophobic horror film “Detour” she produced through the company’s many distribution channels and manager of marketing Joe Wilka is a director of shorts, Gravitas has served as a platform for new talent in building a network for indie film across cable and satellite providers, as well as online outlets such as Amazon and iTunes.

While most distributors are headed in the other direction, learning the VOD business to take advantage of the audiences that never have a shot to see their films theatrically, Gravitas’ development into a full-fledged distributor has resulted in attracting films whose ambition matches the company’s reach, evident in their recent acquisition of Michael Tully’s nostalgic ‘80s comedy “Ping Pong Summer” out of Sundance. Armed with new hire Dusty Smith, whose handling of the multi-platform releases of “Arbitrage” and “Margin Call” at Roadside Attractions was the only thing more impressive than his work on the company’s popular Twitter account, Gravitas plans to distribute 12 to 18 films theatrically annually in addition to their robust slate of VOD offerings.

In the midst of a very busy winter, Gallagher spoke about why it made sense to get into theatrical distribution, the maturation of video-on-demand as a platform and the company’s even greater ambitions to distribute indie films throughout the world.

When did buying all rights to films, including theatrical, start to seem like a good idea?

We really started this last year. There were just great films that we came across that we wanted to work on. It’s just so much easier than trying to get just video-on-demand rights. Most producers or sales agents don’t want to have to do two or three different deals with a distributor. They would rather do one deal with one distributor for all rights.

Last year, we got to work on some really interesting movies, especially some Sundance movies like “Hell Baby,” which was a horror comedy from the producers of “Reno 911.” Later in the year we worked on “Sunlight Jr.,” which was a Tribeca film with Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon and Norman Reedus. We also released a documentary called “Dear Mr. Watterson,” which is about the legacy impact of the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip, in November.

In all those instances, we wanted to get all-rights. We would then partner up with different entities on the theatrical piece, or we would hire people to book the theaters. We liked the experience of working on these higher-profile, cast-driven films, but we really wanted to have a one-to-one relationship with exhibitors and really glean that information of what works for certain exhibitors.

That’s why we launched Gravitas Theatrical and announced that in conjunction with hiring Dusty Smith, who had been at Roadside Attractions and had really helped build up their business over the last nine years.

Are you having a different conversation with filmmakers now than you did a few years ago? It would seem as video-on-demand has become more accepted, there would be less resistance to it.

Certainly three, four, five years ago, we would have to spend a lot more time talking about video-on-demand and why it’s important. I think the industry has embraced video-on-demand, whether that be producers or directors. They are using VOD in their own life, generally, whether it’s renting movies on Comcast or DirectTV, or using iTunes and watching movies on their IPad, or they have an Amazon Prime account, or they watch Hulu.

As consumers have become more familiar with all these different viewing options and more and more distributors, including Gravitas, have had successful simultaneous theatrical and VOD releases, it has allowed our company to focus more on marketing or [launching] theatrical releases as opposed to trying to explain the benefits of VOD where you can release in 100 million homes in North America, or a billion homes globally, on the first day.

Has the influx of higher-profile titles on video-on-demand been a rising tide that lifts all ships or has it made it more difficult to stand out?

Part of why we really enjoy VOD and our company has grown is that we’ve had relationships with video-on-demand [providers], whether it be cable operator or some of the other companies that I mentioned, like iTunes, going back to when I started the company in 2006. We’ve been working with our core partners just to raise the profile of our films with cable operators, whether that’s running advertising when we think people are going to be interested in renting our movie or doing co-marketing campaigns where we have talent interviews and cite certain VOD operators where people can easily find film. We try to really draw focus to our films out of the all the other hundreds of thousands of choices that people have.

You’ve done some interesting things to stand out from an acquisitions standpoint. Last year, you struck blanket arrangements with Slamdance and the Austin Film Festival to distribute their award winners. Have those deals worked out well?

Yeah, we’re really happy about it. There’s so many great films that maybe don’t get into the five most high-profile film festivals out there, but are just tremendous films. We’re actually releasing [one right now] called “Brightest Star,” which was identified and acquired out of the Austin Film Festival, It’s a great film that tells about lost love of someone in his twenties, but in a very non-linear fashion and has a really unique point of view on love at that time in your life.

We’re just thrilled that we could work with the Austin Film Festival or Slamdance to raise the profile of quite a few films. There’s been a half a dozen films that we saw either at Slamdance or Austin that we hope to do theatrical releases on. You’ll see that that might be part of our ongoing festival strategy where the filmmakers will have the option to work with Gravitas, but it’s not binding. We want any filmmaker to evaluate all of his or her options. It’s a great way where a prominent film festival can validate, either through audience awards, or with a hand-picked jury, what are great films and then we’re happy to get it out to 100 million homes, and sometimes in theaters. That’s really worked for us.

Is there anything you’re particularly excited about in terms of the direction of the company?

One thing that we’re really going to be focusing on is growing our international footprint. We think that there’s a real opportunity for a lot of films to release globally on the same day, and get into a billion video-on-demand homes.

“Sound City,” the Dave Grohl film, really, I think, will be seen as a trendsetter. Last year, we handled the global release on the film. Dave and his management team said, “Look, we got into Sundance. We’re going to play at this epic concert in Park City, Dave is going to be a tireless promoter between Sundance and South by Southwest, where he was a keynote speaker. His fans have been waiting for this movie and we want you guys to release it in a billion homes ten days after it’s Sundance premiere.”

We said, “Sure.” He didn’t want to go the traditional route of hiring a sales agent, waiting for the movie to sell in 24 hours or three months, waiting another four months to set a theatrical date, and similarly, hiring an international sales agent who took it from [international film marketplaces such as] MipCom to AFM to Berlin, and so on — all of that took time. It takes months or years. He wanted to have fans interact globally on day one.

In hindsight, the film has performed exceedingly well. It’s not the perfect path for every film. There are good international film companies out there that for certain films that’s the right path. But for a lot of films, including documentaries, we think it makes sense to harness all of the marketing, all the reviews, that might be happening in North America, and allow consumers in other countries to rent or buy it immediately.

We did that with “Dear Mr. Watterson” because the Calvin & Hobbes strip has been published in over 200 different countries. And “Brightest Star,” we subtitled the film, and we’re releasing it in numerous markets. That’s really what gets us excited about not just what the landscape looks like today, but where we think it’ll be three to five years from now.

In all those homes and theaters, the first thing audiences will see is the company’s name affixed to a napkin. Where did the logo come from?

People like it. It was kind of like a little bit of an inspiration from my father. He had worked for the same company for 38 years. I came up with the logo before “Mad Men” came out, but it’s along the same ethos of that generation. You do the deal on the back of a napkin. Your word is your bond. I always liked that concept and have tried to be a straight shooter and encouraged everyone in our organization to be as candid and transparent as possible. When you do a deal with a filmmaker or a producer, you’re getting into a five- to 10-year relationship. I thought that the napkin imagery was a good way to convey some of the core values of Gravitas.

Ping Pong Summer

Cam Gigandet’s Raunchy Comedy ‘Bad Johnson’ Acquired by Gravitas Ventures


Cam Gigandet’s Raunchy Comedy ‘Bad Johnson’ Acquired by Gravitas Ventures

The heartwarming tale of a man whose penis gets a mind (and body) of its own will premiere on VOD in April and theatrically in May

The raunchy comedy “Bad Johnson,” which hails from 2DS Productions, Roman Empire Productions and director Huck Botko (“The Last Exorcism”), will hit theaters and VOD this spring courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

The heartwarming tale of a man whose penis gets a mind (and body) of its own will premiere on VOD on April 1 before it hits theaters on May 2.

Written by Jeff Tetreault, “Bad Johnson” stars Gigandet (“Twilight”) as Rich, a suave Chicago ladies’ man who refuses to take personal responsibility for his inability to maintain a lasting relationship. After his constant infidelities alienate yet another girlfriend (Jamie Chung), he wishes he could say goodbye to his ‘little friend.’ The next morning he awakes in horror to find that his wish has been granted and his penis has taken human form: A disgusting, selfish, oversexed jerk played by comedian Nick Thune. Pitted against his alter ego, Rich must figure out how to rein in his penis, both literally and figuratively, in order to finally learn what separates the men from their boys.

Also Read: ‘Twilight’ Reunion, Anyone? Cam Gigandet Teams With Catherine Hardwicke for CBS’s ‘Reckless’ Pilot

“No bones about it, ‘Bad Johnson’ is much more than the sum of its parts,” noted Melanie Miller, VP of acquisitions and marketing for Gravitas. “Aside from all the hilarious dicking around, the film also has something pretty perceptive to say about matters of the heart. And when it comes to heart, size matters.”

“This is a very unique movie – bold, outrageous, yet very grounded, which is ultimately what makes it so incredibly funny and such a satisfying experience for both men and women,” said producer Reid Brody on behalf of the producing team. “We are incredibly excited to have Gravitas handling distribution, and we know that in their hands our ‘Bad Johnson’ will be positioned to best reach its audience.

”The deal for ‘Bad Johnson’ was negotiated by Miller for Gravitas, James Norrie for The Salt Company International, and Glenn Feig of Reder & Feig LLP on behalf of producers Reid Brody, Danny Roman, and Bill Ryan.

Also Read: Susan Sarandon Comedy ‘Ping Pong Summer’ Acquired by Gravitas Ventures

Salt will be selling the international rights to the film at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival market, having already closed deals in numerous territories including Germany (Tiberius), Portugal (Lusomundo), Australia (Rialto), CIS (Premium Films), Greece (Tanweer) and the Netherlands (A-Film).

“Bad Johnson” joins Gravitas’ rapidly expanding theatrical slate which includes upcoming titles such as the Joel Edgerton-Tom Wilkinson thriller “Felony” and the Sundance comedy “Ping Pong Summer” featuring Susan Sarandon.

Ping Pong Summer

Susan Sarandon Comedy ‘Ping Pong Summer’ Acquired by Gravitas Ventures

Susan Sarandon Comedy ‘Ping Pong Summer’ Acquired by Gravitas VenturesSundance: Michael Tully’s ’80s movie co-stars Amy Sedaris, Lea Thompson and Judah Friedlander

Gravitas Ventures has acquired Michael Tully’s crowd-pleasing ’80s comedy “Ping Pong Summer,” which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, the companies announced Monday.

Gravitas plans to release the film in theaters and on VOD this summer, while Millennium Entertainment is nearing a deal to handle the film’s DVD release later this year.

Set during the summer of 1985 in Ocean City, Maryland, “Ping Pong Summer” follows awkward 13-year-old Rad Miracle as he attempts to live up to that name by becoming a master breakdancer, ping pong player and ladies man all before the end of summer break. The film is based on Tully’s own childhood experiences.

Also Read: Sony Pictures Classics Closing in on Mark Ruffalo’s ‘Infinitely Polar Bear’

Marcello Conte stars as Rad Miracle, while Amy Sedaris, Judah Friedlander, Lea Thompson and Susan Sarandon co-star, with the latter actress playing Randi Jammer, the table tennis Miyagi to Rad’s Daniel-son.

“Having been a fan of Tully’s work, both as a filmmaker and as a writer at Hammer To Nail, I was still not prepared for what a truly joyous blast of a film ‘Ping Pong Summer’ turned out to be,” said Gravitas VP of theatrical distribution Dustin Smith. “Anyone (i.e. me) who spent lonely teenage summers dreaming of rapping, breakdancing or even (gasp!) talking to a girl is going to love this movie. Plus, where else are you going to see Susan Sarandon wield a fish like a weapon?”

“I’ve been a fan of Gravitas Ventures since its inception, so when I heard the recent news about their venturing into the theatrical sphere I became quite excited,” said Tully. “In this tricky 21st century market, Gravitas has the intelligence, creativity, and enthusiasm to help make sure our 20th century movie gets seen. Not to mention their funky fresh addition of Dusty Smith to the Gravitas team, which further sealed the deal.”

Also Read: Gravitas Ventures Acquires ‘Brightest Star,’ Featuring Clark Gregg, Allison Janney

George Rush produced “Ping Pong Summer” with Brooke Bernard, Ryan Zacarias, Billy Peterson, Jeffrey Allard and Michael Gottwald, in association with Epic Match Media, Compass Entertainment and Nomadic Independence.

Rush and Submarine’s Josh Braun and David Koh negotiated the deal on behalf of the filmmakers, with Gravitas CEO Nolan Gallagher and Millennium’s Tristen Tuckfield handling duties for the distributors.

Distributor Shooting for Stars on Bigger Screens

Gravitas expanding into theatrical releases for bigger upside.

By Jonathan Polakoff

After building a sizable video-on-demand distribution business, Gravitas Ventures of El Segundo is making a play for the art house.

Gravitas, which distributes movies to cable operators’ video-on-demand platforms and digital outlets, last week announced the launch of a new theatrical division that will distribute about 12 indie films a year to theaters. The company hired Dustin Smith, formerly vice president of acquisitions and business affairs at film distributorRoadside Attractions, to lead the division.

Gravitas Chief Executive Nolan Gallagher said theater releases, in addition to on-demand-distribution, will help Gravitas acquire titles with known talent at festivals such as Sundance.

“Being able to handle theatrical in-house enables us to find stronger, cast-driven films,” Gallagher said. “Cast-driven films are the kinds of films that can overperform.”

Gravitas is hoping to find movies that will not only play well theatrically, but also contribute to its core video-on-demand business, which distributes films, for example, to Apple Inc.’s iTunes and Comcast Cable.

It’s always tough to know what will catch on with theater audiences, but Gallagher said the company is targeting three types of movies: documentaries, films with known actors and genre films with a built-in appeal to a cult audience, such as horror fans.

The strategy will be on display late this summer when Gravitas releases cop thriller “Felony” into theaters. The movie premiered in October at the Toronto International Film Festival and Gravitas closed the acquisition earlier the month. The plot centers on three Sydney cops played by actors including the movie’s screenwriter Joel Edgerton, who played Tom Buchanan in the recent “Great Gatsby.”

Terms of the “Felony” acquisition were not discloded, but Smith said Gravitas’ typical budget for an acquisition is in the low-to-mid-six figures. Releasing a dozen films a year is expected to run up between $1 million and $3 million in upfront acquisition expenses and marketing costs.

Recouping those costs at the box office is no sure bet, said Eric Wold, a media and entertainment analyst at B.Riley & Co.’s San Francisco office.

But he agreed that theatrical releases have other advantages for a video-on-demand company, as they can open doors to bigger movies and help spur downloads and other purchases in the future.

“You may be able to get your hands on films that you otherwise might not be able to,” Wold said. “Movies you can monetize downstream.”

“Felony” will be the first theatrical release Gravitas is handling entirely in-house, but it has partnered with other distributors to release movies into theaters before. For example, Gravitas teamed up with Submarine Deluxe of New York last year to release “Dear Mr. Watterson,” a documentary about the creator of the “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip.

Gallagher said the positive results of those releases helped lead to the decision to launch a theatrical division. He said Smith will help the company book theater screens, for example, which is just one challenge for an upstart independent distributor.

At Roadhouse, Smith worked on the release of movies such as “Margin Call” and “Arbitrage.” Both pioneered the strategy of same-day video-on-demand and theatrical release.

“This hybrid model, where movies are available all over the country at the same time, is where the indie business is heading,” Smith said.

Smith said he still likes that model, but Gravitas will also consider other release strategies, including one that upholds the traditional 90-day waiting period between a theatrical release and home distribution.

Being flexible could be important, since some theaters, especially big chains, refuse to show movies that also debut on the same day on-demand.

Competition is also tough within the art house circuit. For example, Landmark Theatres, partly owned by Mark Cuban is known to set aside screens for movies from the distribution company co-owned by Cuban Magnolia Pictures. One logical outlet for Gravitas’ movies is L.A. art house chain Laemmle Theatres.

Gravitas will also handle theatrical marketing campaigns, which can cost the major studios tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. Competing on those terms is all but impossible for independent distributors, so Gravitas and the other rely instead on low-cost marketing tactics, such as participating in screening series – or garnering positive reviews from movie critics.

Gallagher said he’s planned the expansion for the long haul. It’s being financed by the company’s core video-on-demand business, which he said is profitable and has grown rapidly since he founded the company in 2006.

Gravitas now has 11 employees and operates in a low-profile building among several bars and restaurants on quiet Richmond Street in central El Segundo. It posted two-year revenue growth of 618 percent in 2011 to rank No. 3 on the business Journal’s list of Fastest Growing Private Companies in 2012. That pace has since slowed.

The company has released about 2,000 titles to on-demand platforms, according to its website. Now, Gallagher said he’s planning to build up a similar level of experience in the theatrical world.

“Theatrical is so important to the indie film world,” he said. “We want to be able to glean that knowledge ourselves.

Backstreet Boys

Gravitas Ventures Taps Dustin Smith To Head New Theatrical Division

Dustin Smith has been hired as VP of TheatricalDustin Smith headshotDistribution to oversee Gravitas Theatrical. Gravitas Ventures says it will release 12 films a year under the new division, starting with Matthew Saville’s thriller Felony. Gravitas Ventures founder and CEO Nolan Gallagher announced the move today on the eve of the 2014 Sundance Film Fest. Smith will primarily be responsible for developing the distribution and marketing strategy for Gravitas’ theatrical releases, booking global, attending film fests and advising on acquisitions. Smith will report to Michael Murphy, President of Gravitas.

Smith joins Gravitas after nearly a decade at Roadside Attractions where he most recently served as VP, Acquisitions and Business Affairs. While at Roadside, Smith oversaw the acquisition and release of Winter’s Bone, and also worked on such releases as All Is Lost, Stories We Tell, Mud and The Cove.

“Dusty’s track record has been unmatched over the last decade,” said Gallagher. “His reputation as a good-humored relationship builder with an uncanny knowledge of independent cinema made him an ideal choice to shepherd our new in-house theatrical division.”

Gravitas’ first pic slated for release is Felony starring Joel Edgerton, Jai Courtney and Melissa George.Felony - Malcom Toohey (Joel Edgerton) and Cal Summer (Tom Wilkinson)Felony follows decorated cop Malcolm Toohey (Joel Edgerton) who has it all until a tragic mistake, and the resulting cover-up, endangers his job, family and even his freedom. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and Gravitas plans a late summer theatrical release across North America. Felony, from Goalpost Pictures and Blue-Tongue Films, was produced by Rosemary Blight, Joel Edgerton and Michael Benaroya. Executive producers are Joel Pearlman, Lisa Wilson, Ben Grant, Seph McKenna, Myles Nestel, Craig Chapman, Ben Sachs and Logan Levy.

The deal for Felony was negotiated by Nolan Gallagher at Gravitas Theatrical and CAA on behalf of the producers. The Solution Entertainment Group is handling international.


Home Media Magazine

Consumer Spending on Home Entertainment Up Slightly in 2013

Consumer spending on home entertainment finished the year essentially flat with the previous year, with a total of $18.2 billion spent in 2013 on packaged media (Blu-ray Disc and DVD) and the various incarnations of electronic delivery.

That’s up less than 1% from total consumer spending in 2012.

Disc purchases for the year were down 8% to $7.78 billion, from $8.47 billion in 2012, according to numbers provided by the studios and key retailers and released Jan. 7 by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. Even the generally robust fourth quarter witnessed a 9.3% decline in spending, to $2.77 billion, although observers attribute this to massive discounting around the Thanksgiving holiday, with DVDs as well as Blu-ray Discs widely available for a few dollars. (DEG did not provide unit sales this year.)

DVD sales continued their steady decline, while Blu-ray Disc sales, after a slight drop in the third quarter, finished 2013 5% ahead of 2012.

But a steep increase on the digital side saved the day, with total consumer spending on digital content up 23.9% to $6.46 billion, from 2012’s $5.22 billion. Leading the charge was electronic sellthrough (EST), now rebranded as Digital HD, which saw a 47.1% increase in consumer spending to surpass $1 billion for the first time ever. According to DEG, consumers shelled out $1.19 billion buying movies and TV shows digitally in 2013, up from $808.42 million in 2012.

Driving Digital HD sales was the policy adopted by most studios during 2013 of releasing new titles two weeks earlier than their disc or VOD release — a policy change Universal Studios Home Entertainment president Craig Kornblau calls “a game changer.” Further boosting Digital HD sales was a dip in pricing and much greater availability, thanks to new platforms such as Comcast’s digital movie storefront, launched in November, and Target Ticket, a digital store that was opened in September by the nation’s No. 2 discount retailer, Target Corp. — as well as new media hub consoles such as Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlaysStation 4, both of which hit the market in November.

Digital HD wasn’t the only digital component to post significant growth in 2013. Consumer spending on VOD was up 4.8% to $2.11 billion, from $2.01 billion in 2012, while subscription streaming — a market segment led by Netflix — rose an estimated 32.1% to $3.16 billion, from $2.39 billion in 2012.

The year-end DEG report also found that:

• The number of Blu-ray homes continues to grow, with total household penetration of all Blu-ray-compatible devices (including BD set-top players, PlayStation machines and HTiBs) now at more than 72 million U.S. homes.

• There are now more than 15 million UltraViolet accounts, thanks in large part to support from most major retailers.

• Consumers bought more than 38 million HDTVs in 2013. HDTV penetration is now at more than 96 million U.S. households, according to numbers compiled by DEG from retail tracking sources.

• Traditional physical rental continued to decline in the double digits. Rental revenue at brick-and-mortar stores fell 14.3% during 2013 to $1.04 billion, from $1.22 billion in 2012 — not surprising, given the fact that by the end of the year the 300 remaining Blockbuster Video stores had nearly all closed. Meanwhile, subscription rental, again mostly through Netflix, was down 19% to $1.02 billion, from $1.26 billion the year before.

• Kiosk activity, dominated by Redbox, was flat, coming in at an estimated $1.92 billion, a slight drop of 1% from $1.94 billion in 2012.

"Jug Face" Review - Roger

By Marsha McCreadie

Jug Face Movie Review

In most of "Jug Face," Lauren Ashley Carter cleverly uses her "Bette DavisEyes" a.k.a. Susan Sarandon eyes: bulbous yet seductive, ingenuous, and most compelling. Judy Garland had them, too. But when Ada's (Carter) go all milky blue-white, that's when you want to look away from "Jug Face," for she's about to go into a trance as the spirit from The Pit takes her over. Say what? Yes, we're in a Gothic-Horror mode, with backwater residents that make the  "Deliverance" hillbillies look like Hamptonites.

The other time you might want to shut your own peepers and invoke your favorite protective spirit is when the slightly deranged local potter (Sean Bridgers) carves a "divine"-inspired image on his most recent jug. You have to hope it doesn't bear any resemblance to what you saw in the mirror while brushing your teeth: if it does, The Pit has a death warrant with your name on it. In the cult-like community tucked away in a spot that might be North Georgia or Tennessee (where the film's debut director is from), all hold to the belief that a hole in the ground with suspiciously reddish, sometimes gurgling, liquid contains a spirit that protects the group. The price of protection is human sacrifice. Ritual throat-slitting on the edge of the pit forestalls disaster.

In this moonshine-making community, dinner is roadkill if you're lucky. The poverty is so extreme they don't need any extra grief. The ritual is not fully explained, but a prologue shows a brief visual allegory: animated crayon drawings of the beginning of some sort of religion: a priest, families in prayer by the side of the pit, women in bonnets with a Puritan look. The sequence adds another layer to poet William Carlos Williams' famous description: the "pure products of America go crazy—/mountain folk from Kentucky/or the ribbed north end of Jersey."

"Jug Face" marks the writing and directing debut of  Chad Crawford Kinkle. He won a screenwriting award at the Slamdance Festival for this script, which he says was inspired by a pottery museum in North Georgia. His is not a name that you can make up, or easily forget, and I'm sure we'll be hearing it again. "Jug Face" is not uniformly polished, yet it's a breakthrough, not so much for gore, or terror, but because the director can truly do tension, maybe a harder trick to pull off.

"Jug Face" starts with one of those chasing-through-the-woods, near-date-rape type sequences, but Ada exercises a tad of free will and assents to the deed, which happens to take place near The Pit.  Bubbles and gurgles indicate that the pit is not happy with the event (which is intercut with the potter at work in his studio—a nice touch). A few scenes later we learn that her brother Jessaby (Daniel Manche) is the fellow she messed with. Beat.

Sometimes it seems Ada may successfully break for the border; other moments find her trapped in the web of heritage, kept in check by the strong-willed, mean mother Loris (Sean Young, of "Blade Runner"). Loris administers a primitive vaginal exam, lit cigarette in hand, to ensure Ada's virginity before marriage—or being "joined" as the community calls it—to a fellow Ada doesn't care for. It's terrifying. Ada is a gothic heroine, all right, in more ways than one.

And when Ada discovers her face on the latest jug, she buries it, hoping to escape her fate(s). She has other reasons to want to live. We root for her. She is spunky and also compassionate. She shows kindness toward her grandfather, who lives alone in a trailer. We also like the goofy potter, Dawai (Bridgers). You can't shoot the messenger when he's wearing taped-up eyeglass frames.

On the down side, there are too many stupid-looking shots of the gurgling pit, and dialogue only a movie hillbilly could cotton to. "The pit wants what it wants," says Sustin (actor-filmmaker Larry Fessenden), Ada's father—a notorious quote from Woody Allen with one word changed. A wraithlike presence from the spirit world is silly and slight, even given the film's obviously low budget. After all the thrills, chills, and jumped up machinery in both big and little films these days, there's not too much that can shake us up; show me something I can't get anywhere else, like "Jug Face's" rare joyful hillbilly dance sequence, with heels-tapping and spoons clanking.



Digital Home Entertainment

Film Review: ‘Jug Face’


Jug Face Review

An impressively oozing slab of indie horror that bodes well for first-time writer-director Chad Crawford Kinkle.

Vibrantly lensed in rural Tennessee, “Jug Face” is an impressively oozing slab of indie horrorthat bodes well for the future of first-time writer-director Chad Crawford Kinkle. The brisk, brief feature appears more atmospheric than terrifying, but its bare-bones tale gets under the skin, telling of a pregnant teen whose impending sacrifice to a backwoods community’s worship pit causes hell to break loose. Creatively frugal f/x and a fine performance by saucer-eyed Lauren Ashley Carter as the freaked-out heroine should translate into solid word of mouth among low-budget horror buffs and a modestly successful VOD gross.

Following a series of stylishly creepy crayon sketches that accompany the pic’s opening credits, young Ada (Carter) is introduced on the run, scurrying through the woods in an attempt to elude Jessaby (Daniel Manche). That the two end up having sex against a tree may be surprising, but it seems less bizarre in light of Kinkle’s subsequent revelations: that Jessaby is Ada’s brother; that Ada is pregnant with his child; and that she’s forced to splash red paint on her panties in order to fake the old-fashioned pregnancy tests administered by her puritanical mom (a genuinely bloodcurdling Sean Young).

Likewise, while Ada’s cult-like community has her due to be “joined” to pudgy bumpkin Bodey (Mathieu Whitman), that’s nothing compared with her fate as foretold by pea-brained potter Dawai (Sean Bridgers), whose job in the village is to etch into clay the faces of those slated to be sacrificed to an allegedly all-powerful pit. Indeed, Dawai’s latest “jug face” belongs to Ada, who pisses off the pit by throwing her ceramic likeness in the woods, thereby defying her apparent destiny.

En route to an unexpected and fairly unsettling finale, Kinkle’s screenplay has sufficient fun with hick lingo without quite making monsters of the yokels, dumb as they are. Bridgers is allowed to lend a touch of feeble humanity to his turn as the moonshine-swilling jug-face maker, but an even stronger impression is made very simply by the effects team that renders a possession sequence in green tint and fast motion, with grinding audio. Never is it in doubt that the pit, as Young’s chainsmoking Momma puts it, “wants what it wants.”

Tech credits, including Bob Kurtzman’s ghoulish makeup effects and Christopher Heinrich’s widescreen cinematography, are ghastly good.

Film Review: 'Jug Face'

Reviewed online, Minneapolis, Minn., July 30, 2013. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 81 MIN.


A Gravitas Ventures release of a Moderncine production, in association with New Co. Produced by Andrew van den Houten, Robert Tonino. Executive producers, Lucky McKee, Arrien Schiltkamp, Loren Semmens. Co-executive producer, Sean Bridgers.


Directed, written by Chad Crawford Kinkle. Camera (color, HD, widescreen), Christopher Heinrich; editor, Zach Passero; music, Sean Spillane; production designer, Kelly Anne Ross; costume designer, Michael Bevins; visual effects, ZP Studios; sound, Jeremy Mazza; re-recording mixers, Andrew Smetek, Spencer Hall; stunt coordinator, Ian Quinn;associate producers, Armin Zellers, Russell Dinstein; assistant director, Drew Langer; casting, Cindi Rush.


Lauren Ashley Carter, Sean Bridgers, Sean Young, Larry Fessenden, Daniel Manche, Scott Hodges, Katie Groshong, Alex Maizus, Marvin Starkman, Mathieu Whitman.


The Believers

By J.R. Jones

In 1989 two electrochemical scientists at the University of Utah shook the world with their announcement that they had produced "cold fusion," a controlled emission of nuclear energy at room temperature, using simple seawater as fuel. This breakthrough might have revolutionized global energy production, but by the end of the year it had been discredited by physicists who couldn't reproduce the results of the initial experiment. Documentary makers Clayton Brown and Monica Long Ross revisit the media and academic firestorm that engulfed the two scientists, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, and interview some of the scientific cultists who still believe that one day we might all have our own nuclear reactors in the kitchen next to the dishwasher. The movie is affecting on a human level—the controversy destroyed Pons and Fleischmann's professional reputations—and fascinating for its glimpses of academic knife-fighting and utopian zeal.


Rolling Stone Movie Review: Sound City

By Peter Travers

dave grohl sound city

Straight out of a roofraising debut at Sundance 2013 comes Dave Grohl’s exhilarating documentary about what makes life worth living. Hold up. I know Grohl’s film is actually a look at Sound City (1969 - 2011), a studio buried in a corner of Van Nuys, California, as it moves from legend to the analog boneyard. But the Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer is up to something more than a nostalgia trip. He wants to celebrate the nondigital sweat that goes into making music. Archival footage takes Sound City from its 1970s glory days, when Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumours, through the 1980s, with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Rick Springfield and Santana, and the 1990s surge that came with the sound of Nirvana’s Nevermind. It wasn’t the plush atmosphere that drew the talent. The walls look like shag carpeting. As one musician put it, “You could piss in a corner and no one would notice.” What you would notice – and Grohl makes a major point of it – is the sight of musicians working and recording together in a scuzzy room of near-mystical acoustics. No computers. No digital. No Pro Tools or Auto-Tune. Just the astounding Neve mixing console.

Fears of a jerko tech session are unfounded. Even Grohl, in conversation with inventor Rupert Neve, looks hilariously dazed and confused as Neve rattles on like a textbook. A subtitle under Grohl’s head reads, “Jeez.”

Machines are not the turnon in Sound City. That would be the sweaty, messy, argumentative business of music. Grohl brings in a staggering array of rock royalty to pay tribute, from Stevie Nicks and Trent Reznor to Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and Fear’s Lee Ving. He shows how everyone who entered Sound City became a kind of family.

When Sound City closed, Grohl purchased the Neve console and moved it to his own studio, inviting his friends to join him in keeping the spirit of Sound City alive. This feeling reaches maximum intensity when Grohl icon Paul McCartney joins him to write and record. The soundtrack album, subtitled Real to Reel, includes the rabble-rousing “Cut Me Some Slack,” performed by McCartney, Grohl and former Nirvana bandmates Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear. As for accusations that Grohl made the movie as a marketing tool for the CD, cut him some slack. The recording sessions serve to bring the film’s message to vivid life. Grohl has made an intimate epic about music. But the film’s genius is the way it applies the lessons of Sound City to any job. “The human element,” says Grohl, “that’s what makes the magic.” In his directing debut, Grohl shows the instincts of a real filmmaker. Sound City hits you like a shot in the heart.