MOVIE OF THE WEEK January 26, 2018: MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER

motw logo 1-35Take a lonely British child, add an unexpected discovery and a previously unknown world of magic — including a special school run by powerful wizards — and what do you have? Nope, not Harry Potter. It’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower, director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s lovely anime take on prolific British author Mary Stewart’s 1971 children’s novel The Little Broomstick. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK January 19, 2018: THE SHAPE OF WATER

motw logo 1-35As beautiful to look at as it is entertaining to watch, Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” is a rich, textured romance/fairy tale about two misfits who find unexpected kinship in a secret government lab during the Cold War. It’s unlike any other film that hit the big screen in 2017, which is one of the reasons why AWFJ members voted to give it the EDA Award for Best Film of the year. Continue reading….

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK January 12, 2018: THE POST

motw logo 1-35It’s hard to think of a movie with a more timely, important message than “The Post.” Steven Spielberg’s drama tells the story of the publication of the Pentagon Papers in the ’70s, but the film’s scenes of journalists passionately advocating for a free, independent press in a democracy could just as easily be set in today’s world of “fake news” conflict between the media and the government. Continue reading….

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THE POST — Review by Dorothy Woodend

The star of Steven Spielberg’s The Post isn’t Meryl Streep or Tom Hanks, although, they’re perfectly serviceable. The real star is the enormous glistening caftan that Streep, as publisher Katharine Graham, wafts about in when the film’s penultimate moment arrives. The decision to bring down the Nixon government is undertaken in a tasseled white gold confection, that is little more than a souped-up nightgown. It is the peignoir that toppled a president. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK January 5, 2018 : MOLLY’S GAME

motw logo 1-35In “Molly’s Game,” writer/director Aaron Sorkin introduces us to Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a complicated woman who’s all the more fascinating because she’s real. Smart, resourceful, competitive, driven — Molly succeeds at whatever she puts her mind to. At first, that’s skiing; pushed hard by her demanding father, Larry (Kevin Costner), she becomes an Olympic-level champion who seems destined for gold…until a random accident ends her skiing career for good. continue reading….

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Eleanor Coppola on PARIS CAN WAIT and Doing Things Her Way –Interview by Jessica Zack

Eleanor Coppola admits she had some fun playing with the line between autobiography and fiction while writing the screenplay for “Paris Can Wait,” her new romantic road-trip movie which is also — remarkably, at age 81 — her narrative feature directorial debut.Continue reading…

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Filmmaker Margaret Betts on NOVITIATE — Interview by Kristen Page-Kirby

Novitiate” is a love story about a girl in a relationship with a guy who just doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to her. It’s a fairly typical tale, except the girl is a 17-year-old nun in training and the guy is God. In the drama, opening Friday, Cathleen (played by Margaret Qualley) enters the (fictional) convent of the Sisters of Blessed Rose in 1964. She begins her journey toward becoming a nun with a one-year stint as a postulant, getting used to the daily routine of the convent. That’s followed by two years as a novitiate, when she is expected to make herself worthy of the habit. Overseeing her journey is the Reverend Mother (Oscar winner Melissa Leo), who rules her convent with a terrifying power — a power she feels is threatened by the ongoing Second Vatican Council, which is making substantial changes regarding the role of nuns in the Roman Catholic Church. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK December 29: Best Female Characters of 2017

motw logo 1-35With thanks to all of the movie industry women and men who’ve birthed them and brought them into our consciousness, Team #MOTW focuses attention on some of the brilliant female characters who’ve joined our pantheon of feminist film goddesses during 2017. A legion of strong, complex, and compelling fictional, truth-based and real life women have shared their struggles, aspirations and accomplishments with us. Their various stories represent every aspect of feminist activism for equality and justice. They give us insight, strength and inspiration. Browse our #MOTW roster for an overview of this year’s list of great female characters, and for Team #MOTW favorites, continue reading….

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK December 22: HO HO HOLIDAY VIEWING

motw logo 1-35This year’s MOTW roster has been dominated by films that present stories about every aspect of women’s struggles for equality and about other serious social issues that demand our attention. But late December is a good time for a bit of seasonal levity. And so we present for your enjoyment Team MOTW’s wonderfully varied list of recommended films for ho ho holiday viewing. The #MOTW roster features romance, comedy, thrills and lots of food. The films are upbeat, inspiring and spirited, although not all directly connected to traditional celebrations. Wonder what’s in store? Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK December 15: THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR

motw logo 1-35Using the horrific 1944 gang rape of a black woman by white men as a jumping-off point to examine systemic issues of race, class, and power in the United States, Nancy Buirski’s documentary “The Rape of Recy Taylor” is stirring and powerful. Like many other 2017 films, including “Detroit,” “Mudbound,” “Strong Island,” and more, “Recy Taylor” makes it abundantly clear that the complicated history and politics of race and gender are more relevant — and frustrating — than ever. Continue reading…

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THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR — Review by Cate Marquis

recy taylor posterNancy Biurski’s timely documentary tells a personal story, of one woman’s brutal rape in 1944 rural Alabama, but then ties her individual experience to the larger themes of history, racism, sexism, white supremacy and patriarchy, in compelling and often surprising ways. Inspired in part by the book “At The Dark End Of The Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance – a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power” by Danielle L. McGuire, director Nancy Biurski skillfully blends the various elements into a documentary that is fascinating, informative and moving. Continue reading…

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THE TRIBES OF PALOS VERDES –Review by Cynthia Fuchs

TRIBES OF PALOS VERDES POSTER“When we were kids,” narrates Medina (Maika Monroe), “Jim and I had a treehouse in our backyard. I liked it best when it was just the two of us.” Now, the teenager adds, as you see her and her twin brother Jim (Cody Fern), surfing in the Pacific Ocean. “For the first time in a long time, it felt like we were in our treehouse again.” Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK December 8: THE TRIBES OF PALOS VERDES

motw logo 1-35In “The Tribes of Palos Verdes,” well-manicured lawns, sprawling houses, and groomed beaches can’t prevent family turmoil from wreaking havoc in the life of teenage Medina (Maika Monroe). Yet the melancholy drama, written by Karen Croner, features a particularly strong performance by Jennifer Garner, who plays against type as Sandy, Medina’s neurotic, insecure, emotionally unstable mother. Continue reading...

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SPOTLIGHT December, 2017: Angelina Jolie, Humanitarian Filmmaker

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angelina with handWith award season already in full thrust, SPOTLIGHT asks: Has there ever been an A-list actress who has – in the prime of her career – choosen to promote not herself, but two films that tell stories about third world countries?

The actress doesn’t even play a role in either film, but opts instead to produce The Breadwinner, an animated story about a young Afghan girl who dresses as a boy in order to feed her family in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and to direct First They Killed My Father, an unflinching child’s view on the Khmer Rouge’s deadly rule in Cambodia.

No prizes for guessing December’s SPOTLIGHT is on Angelina Jolie, humanitarian, filmmaker, activist, mother, actress and so much more. And, both of her 2017 films have been selected as AWFJ Movie of the Week for their date of release.

As a BAFTA and AWFJ voter, this journalist enjoys award season as much as the next, although – if we’re totally honest – it’s something of a self-serving enterprise. Pick me! Pick me!

Which is what makes Jolie’s humility all the more admirable.

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When AWFJ met with Jolie at Toronto International Film Festival 2017, she tirelessly walked the red carpets accompanied by her six children, using her own celebrity to promote otherwise overlooked issues.

Dressed head to toe in white maxi skirt and white buttoned shirt, she looked like an angel as she reflected on her career, surprised as anyone to note that she’s been an actress for 35 years now, making her screen debut opposite her father Jon Voight in Lookin’ to Get Out, at age seven.

Jacqueline Bisset and Maximillian Schell were her godparents and a Hollywood career was preordained.

“I grew up around film in a town where it was all anybody talked about. My mother always told me how she wanted to be an actress and how her grandmother wanted to be an actress, and she was just so excited that I would be an actress that I never really thought I could be anything else,” noted Jolie, 42, whose beloved mother Marcheline Bertrand died ten years ago of ovarian cancer, at age 56.

“I got into acting partially because of my mom, because it made her so happy. It was something I was very much doing for her and it changed a little when she passed away.”

MOVING INTO THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR

It’s of note that she only really began her odyssey as a director in the same year her mother died, first with the 2007 documentary A Place in Time, followed by the 2011 Bosnian drama In The Land of Milk and Honey, gaining momentum with 2014’s WW II epic, Unbroken.

A year later she directed, wrote and starred opposite husband Brad Pitt in By The Sea, a drama about a husband and wife whose marriage is unraveling. While the poorly received film would become a self-fulfilling prophecy – the couple’s 12-year relationship unraveling over claims of his drinking and abuse – today their year-long separation is on hold.

“I haven’t done much [on screen] since my mother passed although now I do it for my kids,” said the mother of Maddox, 16, Pax, 13, Zahara, 12, Shiloh, 11, and nine-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne.

If she’s happier behind the camera instead of in front, then she’s not ungrateful for the opportunities her career has presented, “It is fun and silly, putting on costumes and acting like a crazy person. It’s a great job.”

TRAINING AND LIFE

Although she trained at the Strasbourg Institute she looks to life for inspiration. “Have a very full life, as full as possible, and listen and be aware of what’s around you. If you do that in life, you’re a better person, and if you do that as an actor, you communicate more honestly.”

Angelina Jolie with her son, Maddox

Angelina Jolie with her son, Maddox

She may have told the New York Times that she never expects “to be the one that everybody understands or likes,” but the peculiar disconnect between Jolie as a person and her perceived wild image, has long time been evident.

Even as she begun receiving praise for 1999’s Girl, Interrupted, her Oscar-winning role as a patient in a mental health institution, she laughs recalling how one critic wrote, “the only reason she would win an Oscar is that people aren’t sure if she’s actually crazy.”

GENTLE, KIND, UNSELFISH

Time has proven her gentle, kind and selfless. If you have to be a little crazy to take on and achieve as much as she has done, then call her crazy.

A cofounder of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, five years ago she was anointed as Special Envoy to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, undertaking more than 60 missions to date, often accompanied by her family.

Then there’s her advocacy for womens’ health and frank discussion of her own double mastectomy, all the time raising six children.

angelina smilesHaving interviewed Jolie at least five times over the past decade, I’ve always found her to be smart, gracious and kind. She doesn’t even have a personal publicist and the first words out of her mouth are usually, “Ask me whatever you want.” Manna to any journalist’s ears.

Oddly enough, early success did not bring happiness. “I actually got very depressed. I was young and I loved to be with people and this was going to change things. I was also very aware that I didn’t have much to say and I didn’t deserve a microphone. I was still trying to figure out who I was. I was certainly no different than anybody else and I didn’t want to be on the other side of the line, so it felt wrong.”

The same year as Girl, Interrupted, she starred in The Bone Collector with Denzel Washington and Pushing Tin, demonstrating the rage of her talents.

Ironically it was her flashy role in the blockbuster Lara Croft: Tomb Raider the following year that changed her life. While filming in Cambodia, she happened upon Loung Ung’s bestselling memoir, First They Killed My Father. At the same time, she fell in love with the Cambodian people and adopted her first child, Maddox, from a local orphanage.

Loung Ung was five when the Khmer Rouge overthrew Lon Nol’s military rule in 1975, turning the once-prosperous former French colonial outpost into an isolated death chamber.

Angelina Jolie with Loung Ung

Angelina Jolie with Loung Ung

Seeking out Ung shortly after reading her book, the two women became instant friends, adapting the book into a screenplay many years before Netflix agreed to finance the project in 2015. Cambodian director Rithy Panh signed on as a producer. When a damning Vanity Fair article suggested that Jolie had manipulated Cambodian children during auditions for the film, Panh supported Jolie, saying how she is beloved by the Cambodian people.

“For the longest time, I never thought I could make a movie,” Jolie said, “Not ever. And I never thought I could write. It wasn’t part of my plan.”

Describing her decision to become a filmmaker as an accident, she now says, “I wanted to learn more about the war in Yugoslavia because it was a war I did not understand. I wasn’t planning on making a movie at all but I was sick for a few days so I was away from my kids, so I thought I’d try to write a screenplay – just for me, for fun, nobody would ever see it. I decided to start with two people who loved each other deeply and then end with one of them killing the other.”

That of course, would be In The Land of Milk and Honey.

“If you saw me in the days before making that film; my lack of faith in myself, I was a mess.”

Today she is infinitely more at ease although First They Killed My Father was not without its difficulties. “It wasn’t easy, standing there with your friend while you recreate scenes of her father being taken and killed.”

With her son Maddox working long hours, serving as an executive producer, she says. “I wanted him to work hard and give himself back to his country.”

A champion of women’s rights for all, Jolie instantly signed on to co-produce The Breadwinner, writing in Harpers Bazaar about the inequality of a word where millions of women and girls – such as the 11-year-old girl portrayed in the film – have to go to work instead of school to support their families.

WHY WE CHOSE HER

awfjspotlightsmallsmallangelina eyesAs much as she is passionate about film, it’s her humanitarian work which brings the greatest satisfaction. “The people who I’ve met over the years are truly my heroes. These are people who have taught me how to be a better mother and a better person; how to appreciate life and what to value and what to live by. I’d rather remain in that world and learn from them and if I can do films that bring their stories to life, then I think that’s important.”

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THE TRIBES OF PALOS VERDES — Review by Cate Marquis

TRIBES OF PALOS VERDES POSTERTHE TRIBES OF PALOS VERDES is a drama about a family recently transplanted from the down-to-earth Midwest to the gated suburban beach community of Palos Verdes, California. It immerses the family in a kind of culture shock and only dad Phil (Justin Kirk), a cardiac surgery, is enthusiastic about the move. Nonetheless, mom Sandy (Jennifer Garner) and teen-aged fraternal twins Medina (Maika Monroe) and Jim (Cody Fern) are trying to make the best of it. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK November 27: THE DANCER

motw logo 1-35Chances are, even people who wouldn’t describe themselves as “into dance” have heard the name Isadora Duncan and know something about her career and tragic death. But what about dancer and performance artist Loie Fuller, the innovator of modern dance who helped propel Duncan to superstardom in the early 20th century? Stephanie Di Giusto’s drama “The Dancer” remedies that by telling the story of Fuller’s complex, fascinating and often-heartbreaking life and career. Continue reading…

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THE DANCER — Review by Cate Marquis

the dancer dancer posterStephanie DiGusto’s THE DANCER depicts the story of Loie Fuller, a dance innovator of the late 19th and very early 20th centuries whose Serpentine dance of billowing costumes and lighting effects, made her world famous. If you have seen clips of early silent films, there is a fair chance you have seen a snippet of her striking, butterfly like dance. Her dance style, a precursor to modern dance, influenced another famous dancer, Isabelle Duncan, played by Lilly-Rose Depp (the daughter of Johnny Depp), who once studied with her and whom Fuller mentored. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK November 21: BOMBSHELL – THE HEDY LAMARR STORY

motw logo 1-35“Bombshell” is the perfect title for a documentary about Hedy Lamarr. Not only was Lamarr a renowned Hollywood screen siren (aka a “bombshell”), but she also helped invent signal-hopping radio-based technology that was used to guide Allied torpedoes (literal bombshells) during World War II, a system whose DNA can be seen in the Bluetooth and WiFi systems we all rely on today. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK November 17: THE BREADWINNER

motw logo 1-35The Breadwinner is a powerful, gorgeously animated film about Parvana, a remarkable little girl caught in untenable circumstances in Taliban-controlled Kabul, Afghanistan. From the studio and filmmakers who previously gave us The Secret of Kells and other animated gems, “The Breadwinner” isn’t your typical mainstream “cartoon” fare. Based on the same-named novel by Deborah Ellis (who has co-screenwriting credit with Anita Doron), director Nora Twomey’s remarkable film tells a deep, thoughtful story replete with elements of both pain and joy, despair and hope. Continue reading…

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THE BREADWINNER — Review by Cynthia Fuchs

breadwinner poster“Stay inside where you belong.” Again and again in The Breadwinner, 11-year-old Parvana (Saara Chaudry) is reminded of her place. A girl in 2001 Kabul, she’s surrounded by war and threatened by the Taliban. She’s not supposed to read, think for herself, or go outside without a man, she’s not supposed to show her face and she’s certainly not supposed to work a job. A the same time, however, her father Nurullah (Ali Badshah), a teacher, encourages her to explore the world around her, to feel confident and to tell and listen to stories, because, he says, “Stories remain in our hearts even when all else is gone.” Continue reading…

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MUDBOUND — Review by Esther Iverem

The human, under surveillance and under American Southern totalitarianism, is the recurrent theme in the new, compelling Netflix feature “Mudbound.” Director-producer Dee Rees adapts Hillary Jordan’s World War II-era novel with the appropriate amount of claustrophobia and stricture befitting Jim Crow Mississippi. Continue reading…

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MUDBOUND — Review by Cynthia Fuchs

rees mudbound posterMudbound begins with digging. The screen is black, the sound unmistakable. The scene that emerges takes place at night: two brothers are digging a grave for their father. A storm is coming, so Henry (Jason Clarke) and Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) are in a hurry. “We ain’t gonna make it,” mutters Jamie. Henry insists that they will, that they have to. “That was my brother Henry,” narrates Jamie. “Absolutely certain whatever he wanted to happen would. Certain his little brother would never betray him.” Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK November 10: MUDBOUND

motw logo 1-35Telling the intertwining stories of two families — one white, one black — living on the same piece of rural Mississippi farmland in the 1940s, Dee ReesMudbound blends strong performances, notable cinematography, and heartbreaking human drama. It’s clear things are going to get grim from the opening sequence, in which adult brothers Henry and Jamie McAllan (played by Jason Clarke and Garrett Hedlund, respectively) try to bury their father despite the onslaught of a torrential downpour, which leaves both men shaken and covered in mud. Continue reading…

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11/8/16 — Review by Cynthia Fuchs

11-8-16 posterOn the morning of the 2016 US presidential election, national polls gave Donald Trump a 7 to 29% chance of winning. So begins 11/8/16, a documentary that compiles stories of that day, 16 subjects filmed by 16 artists. The first noise you hear is ticking, over a wide view of the Empire State Building in the early, still-dark hours. The sound suggests a countdown, bridging to a closeup of taxi driver Amrit at morning prayer. Afterwards, he speaks with fellow Sikhs, noting that they have been able to “have some identity” in America. “Otherwise,” he adds, “we don’t have an identity anywhere else in the world.” Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT November 2017: Dee Rees, Independently Epic Filmmaker, Director MUDBOUND

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With just a few films to her credit, director Dee Rees is already making an assured and unique mark on American cinema. She brings mature talent, technical skill, and creative vision, all while being true to herself as a gay African-American woman. Available November 17, her latest film Mudbound vividly demonstrates she can extend her intimately emotional filmmaking to an epic scale. Continue reading…

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