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

 

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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MECHANIC: RESURRECTION – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

mechanicresurrectionposter About halfway through the idiotic dumbness that is Mechanic: Resurrection, I found myself drifting into a feminist reverie. What if (I imagined, fancying myself in a better, smarter, kinder world) Jessica Alba’s Gina here were the mastermind pulling all the strings behind the scenes? What if, instead of the damsel in distress she appears to be, she is in fact manipulating all the overgrown boys with guns who get off on throwing violent tantrums, twisting them so that instead of spewing their deep-rooted anger and otherwise unexpressed self-hatred outward at innocents, they turned it on one another for the benefit of increasing the overall happiness of the world? Read more>>

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THE INTERVENTION – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

interventionposterThe Intervention is the tale of four couples coming together for a party weekend, and though one is a lesbian couple, that still leaves three men in the mix whose manpain could end up dominating the story, as typically happens. Not here. This is all about the relationship problems of two women — problems they won’t even admit to themselves exist, never mind problems they’re avoiding — even as they plan to try to fix the marriage of a third woman. The wisely observant script — by star Clea DuVall, who also makes her debut as director — is all about that push-and-pull desire to help our friends while also trying to avoid hurting them in the process… Read more>>

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BABY FACE (1933) – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

babyfaceposter Baby Face is a 1933 Hollywood film from the moment just before the so-called Hays Code, which had been created in 1929 but hadn’t had much in the way of teeth, began to be seriously enforced. This movie may represent the pinnacle of cinematic “offenses” that pre-Code films committed that had conservatives and self-appointed morality police up in arms: Baby Face is blatantly, openly about sex in a way that few movies ever are, even today. Even “worse,” it’s about a woman using the power of sex to get ahead in the world. Whether or not Baby Face was seen in 1933 as a progressive portrait of the challenges women faced in a world run by men is difficult to gauge. I would guess not. Read more>>

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GHOSTBUSTERS – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

ghostbusters-poster-kate-mckinnon Holy moly, Kate McKinnon has gone and created an instantly iconic new character in gleefully reckless physicist and tinkerer Jillian Holtzmann. Little girls and grownup women alike are, I guarantee you, going to be merrily cosplaying a gal who is simultaneously a snappy dresser, a devil-may-care snarkster, a master of the mysteries of the universe, and a creator of cool crap that goes boom. Holtzmann is nothing like any female character The Movies have ever seen. She is powerful in a way that has nothing to do with her appeal to men. She is brainy comic mayhem… Read more>>

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THE PIONEERING WOMEN OF DOCUMENTARY FILM – Essay by MaryAnn Johanson

osajohnsonWhen we talk about the early years of cinema, there is no separating “the history of women in film” from “the history of film.” Women have been there from the beginning, and have shaped the medium in transformative ways. The idea that films could tell stories as opposed to documenting reality was hit upon by a woman, Alice Guy-Blaché, who made the very first narrative movie, in 1896. And the filmmaker who arguably created the modern documentary form was Leni Riefenstahl with 1935’s Triumph of the Will. Women have always gotten short shrift when it comes to acknowledging their contributions, but that’s not a reflection of the inestimable value of their work. Movies simply would not look and feel the way they do today without the input of women artists and innovators. Read more>>

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WEINER – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

weinerposter The gods of comedy surely were feeling beneficent when they arranged for a politician named Weiner to be caught in a scandal kicked off by his accidentally public tweet of a photo of his penis that was meant to be privately DM’d to a fangirl. The career trajectory of John Oliver alone confirms this: he transformed a 2013 summer fill-in hosting job on The Daily Show, one that was initially greeted with trepidation by Jon Stewart’s fans, into his own show, now an HBO and viral-video hit… and that is down to (among other clever bits) his appropriation of Weiner’s nom de sexting, Carlos Danger — yes, really *facepalm* — for comedic purposes… comedic purposes that slayed. Read more>>

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