MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at FlickFilosopher.com, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her Women On Film archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).

 

Articles by MaryAnn Johanson

 

HALF THE PICTURE – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

halfpicture.PIf you’ve been paying the teensiest bit of attention, there isn’t a lot in Half the Picture that will be news to you. But there is so much authority and insight in this film that is it essential viewing nevertheless for anyone who cares about all the great stories we are not seeing on our TVs and in our multiplexes because the voices of women storytellers are far too often stifled. With her feature debut, director Amy Adrion delivers a straightforward talking-head documentary that gives time and space — much needed cultural breathing room — to some remarkable female film/TV directors and industry watchers to discuss all the ways in which women get shut out of the power corridors of the pop-culture dream machine, and constantly undermined if they do manage to find their way inside. Continue reading…

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WESTWOOD: PUNK, ICON, ACTIVIST — Review by MaryAnn Johanson

WESTWOOD POSTERShe’s been a fixture of the counterculture since, well, she helped invent the punk aesthetic in London in the 1970s with her then-partner Malcolm McLaren, who dressed the band he managed — the Sex Pistols — in clothes she made, such as a T-shirt with straitjacket-esque too-long sleeves. Today, in her 70s, she remains an iconoclast in her artistic sense, her designs alive with funky prints and retro-futuristic shapes, as well as in her business sense: her company is almost unique among the big designers in that it is completely independent, not a subsidiary of a global corporation. So it’s difficult to believe that there hasn’t been a significant documentary about Vivienne Westwood until now. Continue reading…

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MOUNTAIN – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

mountain posterDocumentarian Jennifer Peedom follows up her marvelous 2015 film Sherpa with another, and very different, perspective on the most soaring elements of our planet’s geography. Mountain is a meditative contemplation on the allure and the mystery, the provocation and the danger of the world’s highest peaks, as places but also as ideas. The perceptive and poetic narration, written by Peedom and Robert Macfarlane and voiced by Willem Dafoe, is full of beauty — the “siren song of the summit”; “the mountains we climb are the mountains of the mind” — and snark: show-offy extreme athletes who helicopter up mountains and snowboard avalanches down, for the Instagram likes and the lulz, highlight how we are “half in love with ourselves and half in love with oblivion.” Continue reading…

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TULLY – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

tully.PI have no children. I am not a mother. I am perfectly happy with this decision. So when I tell you that Tully moved me profoundly — to laughter and to tears — it has nothing to do with any firsthand experience in that arena, or with any regrets for not having had that experience. I tell you this because Tully isn’t about motherhood in the 21st century. It’s about womanhood in the 21st century. Of course Tully is about motherhood. I don’t mean to diminish the incredibly important bravery of this movie in that aspect in any way. We only rarely see movies that deal with the difficult, complicated realities of motherhood — with the physical, emotional, and psychological impact that it has on women’s bodies and minds — and we have never seen a movie about motherhood like this one. Continue reading…

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RBG – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

rbg.PShe’s an unlikely 21st-century icon. Shy, serious, intellectual Ruth Bader Ginsberg, associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, 85 years old. She was ranked as pretty centrist, politically, during her early years on America’s highest bench. But as the Court moved sharply to the right during the Bush years, and even more so since the rise of Trump, she has become a passionate voice for liberal and progressive perspectives, often penning her own individual dissenting opinions to right-leaning Court decisions. It’s hardly surprising, then, that she has becoming a beacon of hope to those who despair at the direction the nation has been moving in. That she has become the star of her own social-media memes, where she is known with roarsome affection as Notorious RBG. Continue reading…

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MERCURY 13 – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

mercury13.PYou’ve probably never heard of the Mercury 13. (I’m a bit of a space buff, and I hadn’t.) They were tested for their suitability for space flight by Dr. Randy Lovelace, the physician who developed those tests for NASA. Lovelace believed the 13 were even better suited than the Mercury 7, America’s first astronauts. But NASA said, basically, “No freakin’ way.” Why? The Mercury 13 were all women. I do not ever want to hear again that “diversity” is a scam and “it should just be the best person for the job.” I do not ever want to hear again that the reason so many fields of human endeavor are so dominated by men is simply because women aren’t interested in taking them on. Continue reading…

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LET THE SUNSHINE IN – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

letsunshinein.P“Is this my life? I want to find love.” So laments Juliette Binoche as Isabelle. This is something of a comfort: if a woman of such luminousness, grace, and intelligence can’t find a man, then maybe it’s not us, but them. And truly, all the men in her life are awful in mundane, conventional ways that are very recognizable: they’re self-centered, unfaithful, crude, wishy-washy, posturing, demanding, casually insulting when they think they’re being flattering. One man tells her, “I like your synthetic mind,” which is simply a terrible thing to say to anyone… though she doesn’t seem to notice. So there’s that, too: Isabelle is so lonely and so desperate for male company that she seems to have no taste at all in men. Continue reading…

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EVEN WHEN I FALL – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

evenwhenifall.P“Just because you work in a circus doesn’t mean you’re a prostitute.” This is a statement of feminist support, a denial of the received wisdom, from an audience member for Saraswoti and Sheetal, founders and performers in Nepal’s Circus Kathmandu. It’s an expression of an enlightened, go-girl attitude, exactly the sort of thing that the two women have been fighting for and struggling toward for the six years during which the extraordinary documentary Even When I Fall has been following them. Continue reading…

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FINDING YOUR FEET – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

findingyourfeetWhen snooty, stick-up-her-butt Sandra discovers that her husband is cheating on her just as they were about to retire, she escapes from her English countryside manor to London, to the cosy, cramped public-housing flat of the freespirited sister, Bif, she hasn’t seen in decades. Sandra seems pretty awful at first, just plain horrible and rude even as she busts her way into Bif’s life uninvited, and precisely as we’re about to grumble, “Who the hell do you think you are?” Bif does so herself. Hooray! That sets the stage for the tart, sharp, but ultimately life-affirming dramedy to come, one that is slightly more edgy and far less predictable than it probably has any right to be. Continue reading…

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UNSANE – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

unsane posterAs a piece of craft, Unsane is a smack in the face to what Hollywood has become in recent years, bloated with megabudget action fantasies full of impossible monsters and superheroes that demand armies of CGI grunts to create. Using off-the-shelf iPhones, apps, lenses, and drones, Steven Soderbergh — who served as his own cinematographer, as he often does — shot the film mostly in one location, with a small cast and almost impossibly tiny crew. They prepared not so much in secret as under the radar, because that’s easy to do — it’s almost inevitable — with such a small production footprint. Unsane’s budget? A measly $1.2 million… which is the precise same dollar amount as Soderbergh’s very first film, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, almost 30 years ago. And that was considered low-budget then. Continue reading…

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MARY MAGDALENE – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

mary magdelene posterWhy didn’t Jesus have any female Apostles? Well, he kinda did, in Mary Magdalene — technically, Mary of Magdala, the small village in Galilee she was from (maybe); or Mary the Magdalene — who in the contradictory books of the New Testament is either the only person to witness or one of a group of women to witness Jesus’ resurrection. So, why isn’t there a Gospel of Mary? Well, there kinda is, though it was only rediscovered in the late 19th century and is considered to belong to the Apocrypha, and not part of the accepted canon of the Bible. So why wasn’t Mary’s testimony considered appropriate to be included in the “official” Scriptures from way back when? Continue reading…

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IN THE LAND OF POMEGRANATES – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

LAND OF POMEGRAATES POSTERSince Jared Kushner still hasn’t fixed the Middle East, perhaps we need to look elsewhere. Like right in the midst of the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself. Oscar-nominated documentarian Hava Kohav Beller’s In the Land of Pomegranates takes us inside an extraordinary program called “Vacation from War,” which each year brings groups of young Israelis and Palestinians together in Germany to discuss their perspectives on the strife they live with, to see if there’s any common ground to be found. And it’s difficult, in fact, to feel that there might be: despite clear efforts to remain calm when hashing out hugely contentious topics, from terrorism to whose side God is on, all the passion and conviction of the participants seems to end up dedicated to clinging to the preconceptions they arrived with. Continue reading…

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From AWFJ’s Archives: MaryAnn Johanson calls out Hollywood Gender Issues on April 8, 2010

AWFJ has been calling attention to gender parity issues and the need for better representation of women in cinema since before these subjects began trending. Read what MaryAnn Johanson wrote about the issues in 2010: “WHAT’S A GIRL TO DO? Oh, there’s lot of advice in the offing. Does anyone fret so much over male movie stars and the course of their careers and the ups and downs of their romances with costars the way that Jennifer Aniston and other female movie stars come in for?” Plus: commentary on Lynda Obst’s surprising suggestion that lady filmmakers need to shut up and count their blessings, the male-centric nature of concern-trolling, and more. Continue reading…

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THE POST – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

Okay. Steven Spielberg has made movies about dinosaurs and sharks and aliens (lost and cute, invading and not cute, and just visiting and enigmatic) and adventurin’ archeologists and war horses and crime-predicting psychics and big friendly giants. It’s probably not difficult to make such things exciting. But this? The Post is a movie in which people sit around arguing about freedom of the press and journalistic ethics and IPOs. Papers are shuffled and xeroxed. Lawyers are consulted, and mostly just frown a lot in reply. The most visually dynamic the movie ever gets involves the setting of hot type — so quaint! — and the rattle of printing presses running off the next morning’s newspaper. And it is all completely riveting. Seriously, I had goosebumps on my arms watching tied-up bundles of newspapers being tossed onto trucks about to bring Truth to the world in time for breakfast. Continue reading…

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MOLLY’S GAME – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

I don’t want to jinx it, but is it possible that Hollywood is warming up to the idea of flawed women as appropriate — even riotously entertaining — protagonists of their own stories? There’s been a solid handful of really great examples of movies this year about women as fully human people — which isn’t anywhere near enough, but far more than recent years have given us — and 2017 is going out on a wonderful high note with the bold, tough Molly’s Game. Continue reading…

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STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI — Review by MaryAnn Johanson

This is not going to go the way you think,” Luke Skywalker says to… well, someone who needs to hear it. Someone whose arrogance is borne of shortsightedness and narrow expectations. And this is also Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s word of warning to the audience. Continue reading…

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THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

I had never heard of Recy Taylor before, and I should have: she is an absolutely badass pioneer of the American civil rights movement, but she’s been all but ignored outside of history that is specifically focused on the black experience in America, which is ridiculous. My first impulse — before I saw The Rape of Recy Taylor — would have been to say that her name should be as well known to white Americans as that of Rosa Parks’s. But as this eye-opening (for white people) documentary demonstrates, even what we white Americans “know” about Rosa Parks has almost entirely erased how absolutely badass she was, too. Continue reading…

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JANE – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

janedocumentary.P In 1960, paleontologist Louis Leakey did something remarkable: He hired a 26-year-old secretary, untrained in the sciences and without a university degree in any field at all, to go into the wilds of Tanzania and study chimps. Jane Goodall is now, at age 83, one of the most renowned figures in primatology, and arguably one of the most famous scientists living today (maybe to ever have lived), one of those rare superstars of science whose work has captured the imagination of the general public. But at the time, she knew nothing about wild chimps. The thing is, though: no one else did either. No one else had ever done what Leakey trusted her to do, to simply observe them in their natural habitat over long stretches of time in order to learn about their lives and their culture. Continue reading…

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BATTLE OF THE SEXES – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

battle of the sexes poster There’s a necessity to a movie like Battle of the Sexes, an urgency to be seen, that goes beyond its sheer entertainment value, which is also enormous. It doesn’t feel like the essential history lesson that it is, though would that it didn’t make me rather depressed to see how little has really changed in 44 years. Somehow, the directing team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris has captured the amusement value of retro kitsch without their film being actually kitschy (perhaps because its subject matter sadly feels so au courant). Somehow they’ve made a film that quietly debunks the spurious notion that feminism can’t be fun by itself being fun, full of cheery bashes at outrageous sexism and an aura of sporting (in all senses of the word) can-do spirit. Continue reading…

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STEP — Review by MaryAnn Johanson

STEP POSTERForget those silly Step Up movies. Even though they are set in the world of hip-hop street-dance competitions that are primarily an “urban” — read: black — phenomenon, they manage to focus almost entirely on white characters. Instead, here’s Step, which is literally the real thing. Hugely cheering and cheer-worthy, this documentary look at a high-school girls’ step team covers so much ground that unforgivably goes mostly unexamined onscreen: it couldn’t be fresher or more important. It’s also wildly entertaining while simultaneously enormously enlightening. Continue reading…

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THE MIDWIFE — Review by MaryAnn Johanson

Director Martin Provost wrote Midwife’s script specifically for his stars, French legends Catherine Frot and Catherine Deneuve, and he is beautifully attuned to each actor’s strengths. Frot (Marguerite, La Nouvelle Eve) is the titular midwife, Claire, and the most important birthing she needs to attend to at the moment is the next stage of her life. Continue reading…

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LETTERS FROM BAGHDAD — Review by MaryAnn Johanson

letters from baghdad posterIf there was any justice in the world, T.E. Lawrence — aka Lawrence of Arabia — would be known as “the male Gertrude Bell,” instead of Bell being spoken of, when she is spoken of at all, as “the female Lawrence of Arabia.” Lawrence, 20 years her junior, was barely out of diapers when Bell first journeyed from England to the Middle East, and by the time he was traipsing around the desert, he was using intelligence on the local landscape — political and well as geographical — that she had gathered by living and working among the Arab tribes and gaining their enormous respect. By the post World War I period that saw the end of Ottoman rule of the Middle East and the beginning of the West deciding how to carve up the region, Bell — traveler, adventurer, diplomat, spy — was the one English person, of any gender, who knew the most about the region and who was best able to advise on how not to make a mess of it. When Lawrence of Arabia hit the desert, he used intelligence about the landscape that Gertrude Bell had gathered. And yet, a mess it quickly became, and still remains… which Bell foresaw, as we learn in the stunning Letters from Baghdad. Read full review.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK June 30-July 6: THE BEGUILED

motw logo 1-35With her sixth feature, director Sofia Coppola can no longer be denied the appellation of auteur… if she ever could. The lush visuals, sultry atmosphere, and almost serene sense of the sinister that infuses The Beguiled add intriguing new layers to the distinctive signature approach to cinematic storytelling Coppola has been developing since her debut with 1999’s The Virgin Suicides. Continue reading…

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HIDDEN FIGURES – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

hiddenfigures-p You know the names Alan Shepard (first American in space) and John Glenn (first American to orbit Earth). But you have probably never heard the names Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, who were pioneers in, respectively, mathematics, computer programming, and engineering at NASA, without whom those guys would never have flown. Even in histories of, specifically, the numbers nerds who made the astronauts fly, they have been ignored. Hidden Figures is the it’s-about-damn-time true story that fixes that wrong and puts paid to the notion — so prominent because it’s barely been squashed – that the only people who had the Right Stuff in the moonshot effort were white and male. Read more>>

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MISS SLOANE – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

misssloane-p Miss Sloane is a thriller — a hugely gripping one — about politics and money and lobbying, which someone here deems “the most morally bankrupt profession since faith healing.” It’s about the business of the government of the United States of America as a game of 12-dimensional chess played by smart, ruthless, unelected people backed, for the most part, by the endless and enormous financial resources of multinational corporations. It is sharp and funny, and then depressing and dispiriting. It’s Thank You for Smoking and Wag the Dog with all the satire stripped out and just the crass reality remaining. Read more>>

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