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

 

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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A UNITED KINGDOM – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

unitedkingdomposter Here is a story to drive bigots crazy. And it’s even true. In 1947, Seretse Khama was a young man from the British protectorate of Bechuanaland in southern Africa studying in London when he met Ruth Williams, a young English woman. They fell in love, and that upset all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. He was black, and she was white, and both their families took issue with their romance for the usual stupid irrational reasons. But the governments of both countries also freaked out. Seretse was heir to the throne of Bechuanaland, and for him to marry a white woman was simply insupportable politically. The people of Bechuanaland would never accept a white woman as their queen, or so it was believed. Read more>>

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MOANA – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

moanaposter “There must be more than this provincial life!” So goes the melancholy cry of the Disney princess. But it becomes something so much bigger in Moana, another triumph for the Mouse’s animation arm. Sweet, funny, exciting, and moving, this is a transcendent experience that brings to the screen a pan-Polynesian cultural tradition that has been entirely absent from mainstream entertainment. Here is a wonderful mythology of demons and demigods, and a creation story unlike any we’ve seen before: this is ancient fantasy that feels fresh because so few of us have been exposed to it before. But Moana’s story, set thousands of years ago, also has much that is pointed to say to us today. Read more>>

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MOONLIGHT – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

moonlight-poster I’ve been trying to think about the best way I could advocate for writer-director Barry Jenkins’s luminous and plaintive Moonlight: this is one of those reviews that I feel very keenly that I must get right. That I must do the film justice. That I must sell it in such a way that I convince everyone reading to see it. Because Moonlight isn’t just a good film. It’s not even “just” a great one. It’s perfect in a way that too few films are. Perfect in one of the ways that I appreciate movies most: it puts you right inside a character so that you are irresistibly drawn into his life, that you feel everything he feels and understand almost instinctively who he is. Read more>>

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ARRIVAL – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

arrivalposter Gravity in October 2013. Interstellar in November 2014. The Martian in October 2015. And Arrival right now. Is autumn Hollywood’s new go-to time for intelligent, intense, grownup science fiction drama? It looks like. It’s a shame we appear to have only one slot for such a film each year, but, you know, baby steps. Arrival is a wonder, a beautiful movie that will thrill fans of real science fiction, of the literature of paradigm-busting ideas, as well as those who may have been turned off the genre because of the shallow way in which cinema too often uses it. Because this is a science fiction movie that does what SF does best: it asks us to consider what it means to be human. Read more>>

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THE UNCONDEMNED – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

uncondemnedposter For all the bloody history of the 20th century, no one had ever been tried for, let alone convicted of, genocide. An idealistic group of young lawyers, activists, and journalists wanted to change that after the nightmare of the mass killings of the Tutsi people in Rwanda in 1994, which saw up to a million people slaughtered, and many more subjected to brutal systemic rape. And though rape had been considered a war crime since 1919, no one had ever been tried for, let alone convicted of, rape as a war crime, either, but these driven crusaders for justice thought, What the hell, let’s convince a court that wartime rape is an element of genocide, and prosecute rape, too. Read more>>

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THE EAGLE HUNTRESS – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

eaglehuntressposter Thirteen-year-old Aisholpan Nurgaiv is not the first female eagle hunter in the 2,000-year history of the Kazakh culture, as the documentary The Eagle Huntress suggests. And it seems that, while hunting with eagles is a male-dominated pursuit, girls and women are not dissuaded from participating, and, indeed, Kazakh culture appears to be a lot more egalitarian than the movie implies. In fact, there seems to be a host of issues with The Eagle Huntress: factual, with regards to how truly representative it is of Kazakh culture, and ethical, in how its subjects were treated by filmmaker Otto Bell and in whether its warping of reality is so great that it can no longer be accurately deemed a documentary… Read more>

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YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED and YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED, TOO – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

trumped Even before construction began on the Aberdeenshire golf resort, Trump and his machine started harassing locals who wouldn’t sell up. Oh, it’s not that Trump wanted to build on their land; Trump just didn’t want the guests in his hotel and timeshare residences having to suffer the trauma of looking out their windows and seeing the “disgusting” “slumlike” residences of locals nearby. “He lives like a pig,” Trump said publicly about farmer Michael Forbes’s land, which is a working farm: there’s nothing “slumlike” or “disgusting” about it, except, perhaps, to a man who has never done a day of physical labor in his life and doesn’t even know what that would look like. Read more>>

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AQUARIUS – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

aquariusposter A two-and-a-half-hour ode to an apartment? Among the many marvelous things about Brazilian filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho’s drama about a slow-burn battle between a woman and the construction company trying to drive her from her home is that it flies by: every moment is beautifully necessary to the vital story it wants to tell and the melancholy mood it wants to create. It is an absolute joy to spend time with Clara: the amazing Sonia Braga makes her burn with a fierce intelligence and a lively sensuality… Read more>>

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I, DANIEL BLAKE – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

idanielblakeposter When I say that I, Daniel Blake is not just a movie, I’m talking about something on a whole ’nother level. This is a fictional story, yes, but it is about truth with a capital T, and about facts with a big ol’ F (you) to those who would like to deny the harsh realities of the lives of far too many people in what is supposedly one of the most advanced nations on the planet. Daniel Blake is lefty and loud and proud (and heartbreaking and infuriating with it). The sneering disparagement with which some of the right-wing press in the UK has greeted this movie is proof enough that its blistering power is unignorable, even among those who would like to be able to ignore it… Read more>>

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THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

girlallgiftsposter The Girl with All the Gifts opens with one of the most intense and disturbing sequences I’ve ever seen onscreen. Children kept in a bare, gray prison like Guantanamo Bay; given disgusting things to eat; shouted at by adult guards with cruelty in their voices; strapped into wheelchairs; pushed with careful, fearful precision to be lined up in a grim classroom for their daily lessons. It’s a nightmare scenario, apparently an institutional abuse of children. But their teacher, Miss Justineau is more than kindly, not at all the despot you might expect in such an environment. Far more bewildering, young Melanie, around 10 years old, seems happy and eager to learn, smiling cheerily from around the headgear that keeps her immobilized. Read more>>

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BRIDGET JONES’S BABY – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

bridgetbabyposter Bridget Jones — the woman who once served blue plastic soup to her friends, isn’t that adorable? — is back. God help us. She is 43 years old, and both unmarried and childless, which many women would consider a blessing. But not Bridget Jones! She continues to fret about being a “spinster” and a “barren husk,” because in her head, the year is 1953, or maybe even 1853, and not 2016. She worries about coming across to men as a “verbally incontinent old maid”; she really does believe that the ideal woman is young, married, and keeps her mouth shut. While it is true that there are people in the world who hold to such nonsense — including, shockingly, some women! — the self-hatred it takes for a woman to apply this to herself is not endearing. Read more>>

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EQUITY – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

Equity_27X40_OS_Final_061416.indd To say that Wall Street shenanigans are well storied onscreen is both an understatement and a misdirection. Sure, there have been lots of movies (and documentaries) set in the world of high finance… and as with nearly ever other human endeavor that gets depicted in film, most of them are about men. Even in movies about Big Money based on real-life events in which women played significant roles, women’s contributions tend to get glossed over or eliminated entirely; see The Big Short. We may think we’ve got a good grip on how Wall Street operates based on the movies we’ve seen, but we’ve only gotten half the story. Read more>>

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