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

 

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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MARGARITA WITH A STRAW – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

margaritastrawposter I first saw the wonderful Margarita with a Straw at London Film Festival in 2014, and it has stuck with me in a way that few films do. So while I’m hugely disappointed that the film has not gotten the significant theatrical release that it deserves, I’m delighted that it is now available on demand… and particularly just at this moment, because Margarita is the absolutely perfect antidote to the disability pity porn that is Me Before You. Read more>>

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FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

florencefosterjenkinsposter Typical. You wait forever for a movie about Florence Foster Jenkins, and then two come along at once. It’s easy to see what drew multiple filmmakers to her: She’s a great story. Jenkins was a real person, a rich socialite and music lover who lived in New York in the early 20th century and enjoyed performing amateur operatics, which is all well and good, except she was a terrible singer: always off-key, probably tone-deaf, and worst of all, she chose really difficult pieces to sing that would have challenged even talented professionals. She died in 1944, having given only one truly open-to-the-public performance, but recordings of her “singing” live on. Unfortunately. Read more>>

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WHERE ARE THE WOMEN PROJECT: CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS – by MaryAnn Johanson

watwmainSOver the past 16 months, I examined 295 current-release films — including every US wide release of 2015 — for their representation of women, using criteria I designed that go way beyond the Bechdel Test. The project has now finished, and the results are, I believe, more nuanced and more in-depth than any similar project has previously found. Some of the results (such as how few films feature female protagonists) won’t be surprising. Some of the results (such as the profitability of films about women) may be. Read more>>

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REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM and THE DIVIDE – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

requiemamerdreamposter Are you angry? Are you angry about everything? Are you angry about how you haven’t had a real raise in 10 years yet the price of everything keeps going up? Are you angry because it feels like you will never pay off your student loans? Are you angry because there’s no way in hell you will ever enjoy the same standard of living as your parents did? Are you angry because all of our public endeavors and infrastructures seem to be falling apart, with no way to fix them in sight? Are you angry that it seems like you don’t have a voice in how the world is run and yet you’re made to pay, in all sorts of ways, for its failures? Read more>>

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THE SYNDROME – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

syndromeposter We’re all familiar with “shaken baby syndrome” from fictional crime dramas and the 1997 Boston trial of nanny Louise Woodward, convicted of killing an infant in her care by, allegedly, shaking him so hard it caused severe brain injury. But does SBS even exist as a scientifically valid phenomenon? Or is it hysteria built on junk science? Award-winning journalist Susan Goldsmith, who has specialized in covering child abuse and larger societal issues surrounding the treatment of children, teams up with first-time filmmaker Meryl Goldsmith for a film that may lack the slickness we’ve come to expect from modern newsy documentaries but makes up for that with its smartly dispassionate and skeptical look at SBS. Read more>>

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MIDNIGHT SPECIAL – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

midnight-special-poster There’s some very good storytelling advice that applies no matter what medium you’re telling your story in (film, novel, comic book, whatever): Jump into the action as late in the game as possible. And wow, did Jeff Nichols take that advice to a delicious extreme with Midnight Special. We are dumped right into the middle of what would be, in a more conventional movie, the third act — that is, the final sequence that is racing the story toward its resolution. There is no setup here because we don’t need it: we’ve seen enough stories like this one to guess at the rough outline, and Nichols has no interest in covering already well-trod ground or wasting time with details that are superfluous. Read more>>

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MARGUERITE – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

margueriteposter Very loosely inspired by amateur opera signer Florence Foster Jenkins — soon to be the subject of a Stephen Frears biopic starring Meryl Streep — Marguerite is a marvel, a bravura dramedy that beautifully balances tragedy and comedy to the point where you can’t be sure which is which. In Paris, 1920, socialite Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot) does not see the sarcasm in a review by newspaper music critic of her screeching operatic performance at a private charity event. An ardent music lover and profoundly passionate collector of theatrical costumes, sheet music, and other memorabilia, Marguerite has been deceived by all around her about the stupendously off-key awfulness of her singing. Read more>>

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MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

greekwedding2poster I recently rewatched the original My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which I enjoyed back in the day but had not seen since it was new in 2002. And it holds up well: it’s not perfect, and it’s a bit too heavy on the ethnic humor and sitcom schtick, but at its core there is a sweet story about a young woman coming out of her shell and finding herself in a way that her loving but overbearing family hadn’t allowed her to do before. That’s not the sort of story we often see in mainstream Hollywood films, and that may be why the movie was such a huge success: it gave voice to a sort of character who doesn’t typically get a voice on the big screen, and underserved women moviegoers longing to see something of their own lives reflected in a movie responded to that. Read more>>

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THE MERMAID – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

mermaidposter What are the biggest movies on the planet right now? If you said 1) Star Wars: The Force Awakens and 2) Deadpool, you’d be correct. But you may have trouble guessing No 3, because it has barely made a blip in North America or the U.K. The Mermaid has, however, just passed the half-a-billion (in U.S. dollars) mark at the Chinese box office, after less than a month in release; it’s the first film ever to take in so much across any length of time there, and it’s waaay more than Star Wars has earned there. (Deadpool has been banned from Chinese cinemas due to its graphic content, so it won’t get a chance to compete.) Read more>>

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HAIL, CAESAR! – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

hailcaesarposter Hail, Coens! Even when their films aren’t entirely successful — as Hail, Caesar! is not — they are always fascinating to watch and to ponder. This one is in the same realm as The Hudsucker Proxy and O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Burn After Reading for its exuberant joie de cinema. Hail is a helluva lot of fun… but it’s too scattershot to ever settle on saying the things it has to say, and it never gives most of its many characters — too many, probably — room to work as stand-ins for the ideas the Coens want to explore. Read more>>

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ANOMALISA – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

anomalisaposter The story that Anomalisa tells is, in fact, at its core, pretty same-old. (It’s a male midlife crisis thing, which is, for some reason that is downright mysterious, a theme that intellectual middle-aged male filmmakers return to again and again.) The way it tells that story, however, turns it into an astonishing, even perception-altering experience. It could infect the way you see the real world in a way that is hard to shake. It represents a startling use of animation to tell a story that no live-action film could tell… or at least not a live-action film that wasn’t so heavily CGI’d that it became more animated than live anyway. Read more>>

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WHAT’S UP, MISS SIMONE? – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

misssimoneposter I’m ashamed to admit that I knew almost nothing about the legendary Nina Simone beyond the barest outlines of the legend: amazing singer, right? This powerful and intimate documentary has begun to rectify my ignorance. Using recently discovered audio recordings of interviews that Simone gave over many years — as well as new interviews with her family and friends, including her daughter, actress and singer Lisa Simone Kelly — veteran documentarian Liz Garbus crafts as deeply personal and as fresh a portrait as is possible when its subject has been dead for more than a decade (Simone died in 2003, aged 70). Read more>>

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HOW TO BE SINGLE – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

how to single poster Do you want to know how to be single? Do you need to know how to be single? I figure everyone in the world knows how to be single, because that’s how we all start out, but if you need some tips, these are the ones How to Be Single has for you:
= Be embarrassed to be unmarried. Be miserable constantly.
= Have no hobbies or friends that aren’t devoted to getting you paired off.
= Feel as if you must justify your singleness to complete strangers.
= If you are a woman, complain about how hard it is to find a man.
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WHERE TO INVADE NEXT – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

whereinvadenextposter Alas, the Americans who really really really need to see this movie will go out of their way to avoid it. I’m talking about the people who get all of their “news” from Fox, and “know” that Norway and Italy are communist hellholes where everyone waits in line for toilet paper and can’t get their blood pressure checked without permission from the government and an appointment 18 months out. These people also “know” — because Fox News has kindly informed them of this — that rabble-rousing documentarian Michael Moore hates America. Obviously. Because criticism of one’s homeland in the hopes that it can improve is clearly the same thing as hatred. Read more>>

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THE HUNTING GROUND – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

huntinggroundposter Following on from The Invisible War, his film about the rape epidemic in the U.S. military, documentarian Kirby Dick looks at rape on American college campuses… and The Hunting Ground is almost the same film, and just as enraging. This is not a criticism of Dick as a filmmaker but of our culture, which places the safety of women on a list of things worth worrying about far below such other matters as “institutional pride” and “making a profit.” Read more>>

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CAROL – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

carol poster The first beautiful thing about Carol is its sheer perfection as a movie. As an example of how filmed storytelling can paint characters so vivid you feel like they are people you have always known, and then drop you into their world and wrap you up in the enrapturing emotions they are experiencing. On the level of craft, what movies do isn’t done better than how Carol does it. In a way that only cinema can do, it presents a story about the things that people do not — can not — say to one another but is instead conveyed by glances, by body language. Performances at once delicate and passionate are made even more effective by how the camera captures them. Read more>>

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THE DANISH GIRL – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

danishgirlposter I’m not sure The Danish Girl does justice to Lili Elbe, to the transgender cause, or even to the notion that there are binaries that need to be smashed. I simply never believed that Copenhagen landscape painter Einar Wegener was harboring the secret that someone who appeared to the outside world to be a he was actually a she. It’s not that Eddie Redmayne, who portrays the artist, is too masculine for the role; he’s actually quite pretty as Lili, but I’m not talking about appearances. It’s that there isn’t an inkling of support anywhere in the film for the idea that Einar really is a transgender woman. Read more>>

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THE HATEFUL EIGHT – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

hatefuleightposter There are no characters to like in Eight. It’s impossible to even hate them, never mind to root for them: they are not even bare approximations of people, and they all operate on the same flat level that suggests they know that they are cardboard cutouts in a bit of disposable exploitation junk. To be fair, they don’t have much of a story to engage with: what passes for plot here is mostly a roundrobin of trash talk, dick-measuring, and bloody violence. And all of that would probably be fine if Eight was nothing more than a quick and dirty 87-minute splatterfest. Read more>>

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SPOTLIGHT – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

spotlightposter “For me, this kind of story is why we do this.” So says Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, the editor of the Boston Globe newspaper on the eve of the publication, in January 2002, of a story the team of investigative journalists in the paper’s Spotlight department had been working on for months. It would crack open the coverup of pedophile priests in the Catholic Church in Boston, led to the revelations of similar coverups around the U.S. and across the planet, and would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 2003. But “this kind of story” represents the sort of journalism that, while not yet dead, is seriously threatened by the new economic realities of the Internet… Read more>>

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