MOVIE OF THE WEEK August 24, 2018 : THE BOOKSHOP

motw logo 1-35A woman’s modest but passionate dream of running a book store goes up against small-town politics in Isabel Coixet’s The Bookshop. Based on Penelope Fitzgerald’s acclaimed novel, it takes place in 1959 in the fictional town of Hardborough, an East Anglian village on the Suffolk coast. Young widow Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) thinks her way to a life of sharing books with her neighbors is clear after she wades through the local bureaucracy to secure the aptly named Old House — a decrepit, long-abandoned, possibly haunted building — for her shop. Continue reading…

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PUZZLE — Review by Martha K. Baker

Puzzle is aptly named for a game and a dilemma. Puzzles are what children do to learn eye/hand coordination. But when Agnes receives a puzzle for her birthday, she is drawn to it like filings to magnet. She is a housewife for a festering man child, who works in a garage and expects his dinner on the table. Imagine his surprise when he finds a puzzle on it instead. Continue reading…

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THE BOOKSHOP — Review by Cate Marquis

bookshop posterIn 1950s Britain, a widow moves to a small English village, buys a old house in town that had stood empty for years, with the intention to open a bookshop. Sounds harmless enough, maybe even something the village would welcome. But Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) does not find it so. It isn’t so much the bookshop that is the problem, although one seemly friendly villager offers her the not-to-encouraging advice that people around there don’t read. Well, the villager admits, there is one reader, the reclusive Mr. Brundish (Bill Nighy) but he never leaves his decaying mansion. No, the real problem,as it turns out, is not lack of readers, but that Florence happened to pick as the spot for her bookshop the very old house that a powerful local aristocrat Violet Gamat (Patricia Clarkson) had her eye on, planning to turn the building that everyone in town calls “the old house” into an “arts center.” Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK August 17, 2018: THE WIFE

motw logo 1-35Glenn Close delivers an award-worthy performance in Bjorn Runge’s The Wife. Based on Meg Wolitzer’s same-named novel about the spouse of a newly minted Nobel Prize-winning writer, this closely observed drama follows Close’s Joan Castleman and her husband, Joe (Jonathan Pryce), as they travel to Stockholm for his anointing — but will their marriage survive the trip? Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK August 10, 2018: SKATE KITCHEN

motw logo 1-35Gritty and real, with a strong message about the importance of female friendship, Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen often feels more like a documentary than a scripted drama. That’s not surprising, given Moselle’s experience as a documentarian (The Wolfpack) and the fact that she cast real-life New York skateboarders to play fictionalized versions of themselves. But the film was actually carefully crafted, making its authenticity all the more impressive. Continue reading…

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SKATE KITCHEN — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

skate kitchen poster 2Director Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen relies on several choice ingredients to elevate her story above the usual urban disaffected-youth drama. That she focuses on a skateboarding crew of real-life girl daredevils who fearlessly fly along the sidewalks and streets of Manhattan like angels on wheels delivers cinematic value as well as irresistible authenticity. That these rough-and-ready stunt artists are naturals onscreen is an added bonus, especially Rachelle Vinberg who stars as Camille. The shy, bespectacled and somewhat naive 18-year-old Long Islander is ready to spread her wings and flee from the smothering clutches of her single mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez from TV’s Orange is the New Black). Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK August 3, 1018: NIGHT COMES ON

motw logo 1-35Boasting wholly authentic performances and a poignant, timely story, actress-turned-director Jordana Spiro’s debut feature Night Comes On is a powerful drama about pain, regret, purpose, and sisterhood. With echoes of Moonlight, it follows a young Black woman named Angel Lamere (Dominique Fishback) whose once happy childhood fell victim to drugs and violence, leaving her angry and alone. Continue reading…

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93QUEEN – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

93queen.PBecause it adheres to Hasidic tradition, highly respected EMS service Hatzolah does not accept female paramedics. Women are not supposed to have any physical contact with men other than their husbands, so how can they provide emergency medical assistance? Male EMTs get special exemption from this rule, in order to treat women. Because that’s just fine; the world is always fine with men breaking their own rules for their own benefit. Rachel Freier didn’t think that was just fine, so she headed up a campaign to start an all-female EMS team in Borough Park, Brooklyn — home to the largest ultraorthodox Jewish community in the U.S. — to give Hasidic women the option of being treated by women. Continue reading…

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NIGHT COMES ON — Review by Cate Marquis

Jordana Spiro, star of Netflix’s OZARK and various TV shows, makes a solid feature film directorial debut with NIGHT COMES ON, a drama about two young sisters struggling with life after the murder of their mother by their father. The drama, which premiered at Sundance, is further lifted by remarkable performances by two actresses making their big screen debuts, Dominique Fishback and Tatum Marilyn Hall. Revenge, grief, loss and the bond of sisters are themes of this gritty, unblinking drama, co-written by Spiro and Angelica Nwandu. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK July 27, 2018: PUZZLE

motw logo 1-35Quiet but compelling, Puzzle tells the story of a woman whose life opens up beyond anything she ever imagined after she discovers an innate talent for putting jigsaw puzzles together. Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) lives a contained, domestic life in the suburbs: She shops and cooks for her husband, Louie (David Denham) and their nearly grown two sons, she volunteers for church committees, and she keeps things running at home while Louie works at his garage. Continue reading…

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PUZZLE — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

PUZZLE POSTERKelly Macdonald is never less than good and often much better than that in just about every film and TV show I’ve seen her in – Trainspotting, Gosford Park, No Country for Old Men and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. She even summoned considerable vocal spunk as rebellious young royal Merida in Pixar’s Brave. But the Scottish actress rarely gets to fully stretch her wings in an expansive lead role. Puzzle, however, puts her front and center as Agnes, a meek and underappreciated 40-ish New Jersey homemaker who dotes on her two bordering-on-adult sons and her burly car-repair garage owner husband, Louie (David Denman, in a role that might be described as John Goodman lite) while being resigned to a sheltered existence of suburban domesticity. But after a birthday celebration in her honor — one that is meticulously planned and executed by all by herself — she undergoes an unexpected midlife rebirth after receiving a jigsaw puzzle as a gift. Unbeknownst to Agnes, not only is she a whiz at solving the puzzle, but her self-worth is buoyed by her newly discovered expertise at swiftly putting together interlocking cardboard pieces. Continue reading…

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MARC TURTLETAUB on PUZZLE, Kelly Macdonald and Women’s Roles — Sarah Knight Adamson interviews

As producer, Marc Turtletaub has been investing cash and cred in femme-centric feature films since 2004, standing behind award-winning films such as Little Miss Sunshine with Toni Collette and Abigail Breslin, and Loving with Ruth Negga among others. Sitting in the director’s chair for this year’s Puzzle, he’s brought to life a most memorable female character named Agnes, a doting albeit repressed housewife and mother who finds her sense of adventure, self-esteem and new meaning in life when she casually enters the realm of competitive jigsaw puzzling. As with Turtletaub’s other cinematic credits, a great measure of Puzzle’s success rests with the film’s leading lady, Kelly Macdonald, whose complex and nuanced performance as Agnes is funny and heartbreaking and entirely relatable. Here’s what he had to say in a chat with AWFJ’s Sarah Knight Adamson after the Chicago Film Critic’s Festival’s May 14 screening of the film at the Music Box Theater. Continue reading…

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PUZZLE — Review by Cate Marquis

Puzzle opens with a woman (Kelly Macdonald) in an old fashioned dress preparing her home for a birthday party. After we see her waiting on guests, cleaning up after them and bringing out the cake she baked, we discover it is her birthday. Her dress and the decor of the house suggest it is the 1930s or ’40s, so we are again surprised when, after the guests are gone and she is opening gifts, one of them is a smart phone – revealing we are in the present. She doesn’t seem very pleased with the phone, but is more interested in the next gift – a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK July 20, 2018: 93Queen

motw logo 1-35If there’s one thing you’ll take away from watching “93Queen,” it’s likely to be this: You do NOT want to get in Rachel Ruchie Freier’s way. Paula Eiselt’s debut documentary follows this tenacious, dynamic woman — and those she rallies to her cause — as she launches the first all-female ambulance service in New York to serve the women of the Hasidic community in Borough Park, Brooklyn. The result is both a compelling glimpse inside an insular community and a fascinating portrait of a determined feminist. Continue reading…

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93QUEEN — Review by Sandie Angulo Chen

You don’t need to know your fleishig from your milchig to enjoy director Paula Eiselt’s documentary about a small group of pioneering Hasidic women who form a “by women for women” volunteer EMT corps as an alternative to the all-male run Hatzolah. The film focuses on affluent mother of six Ruchie Freier, who already bucks tradition by being a practicing attorney in an ultra-orthodox community that doesn’t value women’s education or work beyond the domestic sphere. She is the leader of the women who want to be EMTs but were denied the chance to be a subgroup of Hatzolah. Through interviews with Ruchie and other women in Ezras Nashim, (which means “helping women”), it’s clear just how much opposition they face not only from the powerful Hatzolah men but also from the overall Hasidic community, where feminism is a dirty word. Continue reading…

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93QUEEN –Review by Susan Wloszczyna

As documentaries go, 93Queen might be constricted in its scope as it details the recent creation of an all-female Hasidic EMT corps of volunteers that serves the male-dominated ultraorthodox Jewish community of Borough Park, Brooklyn. Given how women followers must steadfastly maintain their modesty to the point where showing their bare legs to a man other than their husband is forbidden, it didn’t make sense that an all-male medical emergency squad known as Hatzolah was the only option to handle calls involving births, miscarriages and other indelicate body-exposing medical situations. Continue reading…

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93QUEEN — Review by Nikki Baughan

93Queen poster“Fasten your seat belt and let’s move,” says Hasidic Jewish woman Rachel ‘Ruchie’ Freier early on in 93Queen, and you would be wise to follow her advice. The subject of Paula Eislet’s fascinating documentary is a one-woman dynamo, a fiercely religious Jewish wife and mother who also happens to be a lawyer with a dream of becoming a civil court judge. Ruchie is also determined to set up an all-female group of volunteer EMT’s, named ‘Ezras Nashim’ (Women For Women) to serve Brooklyn’s closeted Hasidic Borough Park neighbourhood after the all-male force, Hatzolah, refused to allow women to join. Continue reading…

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93QUEEN — Review by Cate Marquis

Documentary filmmaker Paula Eiselt brings us an inspiring story of women helping women in 93Queen. A group of women in a Brooklyn Hasidic community see a need for an ambulance service to help women in their community, a service they dub Ezras Nashim (“Helping Women”). Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK July 13, 2018: DARK MONEY

motw logo 1-35If you’re already feeling cynical about the current state of the United States, fair warning: Dark Money isn’t going to lighten your mental load. But filmmaker Kimberly Reed‘s intelligent documentary is unquestionably an important, timely expose of the dangers that shady untraceable corporate and ‘special interest’ funding of political campaigns poses to the ideals that many Americans still hold dear. Continue reading…

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DARK MONEY — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

dark money posterThe documentary Dark Money sheds light on the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 that opened the door to undisclosed corporate funding of smear campaigns and political agendas that served not we, the people, but they, the big-pocketed rich and powerful. Although the subject is highly relevant, it might not sound like a scintillating night at the movies. But director Kimberly Reed (Prodigal Sons) smartly grabs our attention by using the gorgeous and thinly populated state of Montana as a microcosm for the ongoing corruption of the election process. Continue reading…

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DARK MONEY — Review by Cate Marquis

Kimberly Reed’s Dark Money is a chilling but fascinating look at the way money from hidden, out-of-state and even foreign government sources can be used to influence or disrupt state-level political races in this country. Reed uses a state legislature race in Montana as an example, where out-of-state organizations use dark money to fund an effort to gain control of its legislature and direct public policy for those special interests. Although the specific example is Montana, it it is a clear illustration of the power of unlimited hidden money to influence local elections in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, a cautionary tale for other states also being targeted for similar efforts. Continue reading…

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DARK MONEY — Review by Jennifer Merin

Kimberly Reed’s documentary is an explosive expose about the tremendous threat the influence of concealed corporate funding of political campaigns poses to the democratic process and the legitimacy of our elections. Dark Money is a cautionary tale that shows how independent candidates for public office are targeted and defeated by special interest groups hiding behind nonprofit organizations that are funded by wealthy and influential individuals and.or corporations — the Koch brothers, for example — who are basically buying elections and gaining control of the future laws and policies of the United States, and the rights of US citizens. Reed follows an independent investigative journalist who takes a penetrating look at election regulations regarding campaign contributions, tracks dark money back to its sources and pulls the veil back on corrupt individuals who are abusing the basic tenets of our government. The well-researched and extremely important documentary is a political shocker that should be mandatory viewing for all Americans. Read full review on CINEMA CITIZEN

motw logo 1-35EDITOR’S NOTE: Dark Money is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for July 13, 2018

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK July 6, 2018: DARK RIVER

motw logo 1-35Clio Barnard’s Dark River is a harrowing drama about the long-lasting impact of abuse. Ruth Wilson stars as Alice, a Yorkshire-raised woman who’s working as an itinerant sheep herder/shearer when she hears that her father (Sean Bean) has died. She goes home for the first time in many years to claim her right to the family farm, only to clash with her brother, Joe (Mark Stanley), who stayed on the farm with their father and thinks he has more right to the land than she does. Continue reading…

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DARK RIVER — Review by Cate Marquis

Clio Barnard gives us a glimpse into the hard life of sheep farmers in Yorkshire through the eyes of a woman who returns home to the sheep ranch where she grew up after a fifteen year absence. Alice (Ruth Wilson) works as a sheep shearer for hire, having left home young and never returned. When she learns of her father’s death, her strange reaction to the news immediately raises the question of abuse in our minds, a suspicion quickly confirmed by flashbacks of a young Alice (Esme Creed-Miles) experiencing sexual abuse at the hands of her father (Sean Bean). Continue reading…

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LEAVE NO TRACE — Review by Diane Carson

Quiet and understated, Leave No Trace delves into difficult issues with compassion and suggestion in place of explicit, heavy-handed drama. Veteran father Will finds interacting with people impossible to accommodate. As a result, he lives outside Portland, off Oregon Highway 30 West, in a state forest with thirteen-year-old daughter Tom whom he educates to survival off the grid and avoiding detection as well as to academic subjects. This is not an abusive relationship intellectually or emotionally. In fact, Tom excels at her studies, testing ahead of her age group. Continue reading…

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