MOVIE OF THE WEEK October 6, 2017: FACES PLACES

motw logo 1-35Celebrated filmmaker Agnes Varda is no stranger to making films about everyday, relatable people — including herself. FACES PLACES, her collaboration with photographer/artist J.R. (he’s known only by his initials), chronicles the pair’s friendship and partnership while introducing audiences to a wide range of French people, who share their communities and fascinating stories with Varda and J.R. in exchange for powerful, personalized public art installations. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT October 2017: Agnès Varda, Filmmaker, Honorary Oscar Recipient, Director of FACES PLACES

“You decide you do something, then you are totally ready for things to happen.” Agnès Varda, on YouTube

agnes headsho croppedawfjspotlightsmallsmallFilm director Agnès Varda was talking about her process for creating documentaries, but she might as well have been talking about her storied career as the only female director of the French New Wave. Over her 63 years (and counting) of filmmaking, Varda has created a vast body of work composed not only of documentaries, but also short films and features. She is also an accomplished photographer. And now, at age 89, Varda has a new film and a new honor to add to her crowded list of awards and recognitions. Continue reading…

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BATTLE OF THE SEXES — Review by Susan Granger

This sports drama serves up the story behind the famed 1973 exhibition tennis match between 29 year-old Billie Jean King and 55 year-old Bobby Riggs, who bragged he could beat any woman player in the world. As reigning Wimbledon champion two years running, King (Emma Stone) was in her prime, while brash, gambling-addicted Riggs (Steve Carell) was Wimbledon’s champion back in 1939. So with great fanfare on September 30, King was carried, like Cleopatra on a chaise, into the Houston Astrodome by bare-chested guys, while Riggs, wearing a yellow Sugar Daddy jacket, arrived by rickshaw. At the net, King handed Riggs a squirming piglet, confirming his male chauvinist status. Continue reading...

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK September 29, 2017: FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER

motw logo 1-35Heartbreaking and powerful, First They Killed My Father is Angelina Jolie’s adaptation of activist Loung Ung’s memoir about her childhood in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge’s murderous regime. In the film, young Loung (Sareum Srey Moch) and her family — mother, father, several siblings — are enjoying a comfortable, happy life in Phnom Penh in 1975; then Pol Pot’s army marches into the city, abruptly orders everyone else out, and rounds them up into work camps, where they’re expected to obey orders instantly and give up any pretense of individuality or agency. It’s all for the greater good of their new-and-improved nation, they’re told. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK September 22 – 29, 2017: BATTLE OF THE SEXES

motw logo 1-35Battle of the Sexes takes its name from the historic 1973 grudge match between tennis superstar Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and former champ Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). But the movie is about so much more than that singular game, no matter how big that game turned out to be. It’s about acknowledging and accepting who you are, standing up for what you believe, and using your voice to fight for the people who need you. Continue reading…

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BATTLE OF THE SEXES — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

battle of the sexes posterThose of us still upset over Hillary Clinton’s election loss as well as the ugly gender-based backlash unfairly aimed at her book tour will be glad to bask in the nostalgic glow of Battle of the Sexes. The year was 1973, a time when the feminist movement was in full swing and dumb bra-burning jokes and derisive comments about hairy-legged libbers were all the rage. And nothing quite symbolized the fight for equal rights quite so well than when 29-year-old Billie Jean King, the top female tennis player in the world, kicked the butt of 55-year-old self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs on primetime TV that was watched by 90 million viewers worldwide. Continue reading…

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BATTLE OF THE SEXES — Review by Jeanne Wolf

“Battle of the Sexes” is not your traditional sports drama. You’re probably expecting to spend a lot of time watching the ball go back and forth across the net in this biopic based on the classic match watched by millions between the Number One Women’s tennis player Billie Jean King and former champ and unstoppable hustler Bobby Riggs. Continue reading…

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BATTLE OF THE SEXES — Review by Cate Marquis

Emma Stone gives a strong, appealing performance in BATTLE OF THE SEXES, a well-meaning if uneven film about the 1973 tennis match between tennis great Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs. It is overstating it to call it a Billy Jean King biopic. Instead it focuses on a cultural pivot point when 29-year-old women’s tennis champion Billy Jean King (Stone) took part in a match against a clownish self-described male chauvinist named Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell). But despite his buffoon behavior and penchant for wearing outlandish costumes during matches, Bobby Riggs was no ordinary clown on the court but a former tennis champ and Hall of Famer. The comedy distracted his opponents on the court, concealing the fact that at 55, Riggs was still a formidable tennis player. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK September 15 to 22, 2017: DOLORES

motw logo 1-35It’s a safe bet that many folks, if asked to name someone associated with the United Farm Workers of America union (originally the National Farm Workers Association), would draw a total blank. Some might come up with Cesar Chavez. But very few are likely to mention Dolores Huerta, despite her countless contributions to the UFW beginning in the 1960s and her continuing role as an outspoken intersectional activist who fights for feminism, civil rights, environmentalism, and more. Continue reading…

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DOLORES — Review by Sheila Roberts

dolores posterPeter Bratt’s tightly paced, vibrant documentary profiles tireless labor activist Dolores Huerta who never doubted her calling and how it gave meaning to her life. Huerta played a pivotal role in the founding of the United Farm Workers Union alongside Cesar Chavez. As a key grassroots organizer and union strategist with serious lobbying and negotiating skills, she found herself at the intersection of a social revolution in the ‘60s and ‘70s that encompassed racial and labor justice, the environment, feminism and gender equality. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK September 8 to 15: STRONG ISLAND

motw logo 1-35Infuriating, fascinating, and deeply emotional, Strong Island is the deeply personal chronicle and commentary by documentary filmmaker Yance Ford about his search for an explanation of and accounting for why the man who killed his brother was never charged with the crime and walked away without any punishment. Yance’s brother, William Ford, a young African-American man, was shot and killed in 1992 by a White auto mechanic after a verbal altercation at the repair shop where the latter worked. William’s death shocked the Ford family and left them devastated. Continue reading…

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STRONG ISLAND — Review by Cate Marquis

strongislandposterSTRONG ISLAND is a documentary that seems at first to focus on a murder never prosecuted more than two decades later. But as we gradually discover, the documentary is really about the impact of that injustice on family left behind. No reason for the failure to charge the killer with murder is given to the victim’s middle-class, suburban Black parents but the fact that the 19-year-old shooter was White raises questions. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK September 1- 8: SCHOOL LIFE

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School Life, director Neasa Ní Chianáin’s sweetly pellucid portrait of Headfort School in County Kells, Ireland feels like a sojourn in another simpler age. Inside the school’s rambling hallways and comfortably shambolic classrooms, a proper education, in all senses of the term, is unfolding. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK August 25 – September 1: POLINA

motw logo 1-35Raw, emotional, and creative, Valerie Muller and Angelin Preljocaj’s Polina is an engaging story about a young Russian dancer who needs to find her inner self before she can truly lose herself in her art. With strong and compelling performances both on and off the dance stage, the film is a powerful look at managing others’ expectations, having the courage to take chances, and believing in yourself. Continue reading…

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POLINA — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

polina posterIn the film Flashdance, when Jennifer Beals is about to toss away her ambitions to be a ballerina, her boyfriend tells her, “When you give up your dream, you die.” But what if you are fulfilling someone else’s dream? Apparently, you never really live. That is what happens to the title character in Polina, about a young Russian girl who spends her entire youth training for the Bolshoi Ballet while fulfilling her parents’ wish, while her father must resort to shady means to pay her way. Inevitably, Polina rebels as a teen. Continue reading…

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POLINA — Review by Cate Marquis

The French- and Russian-language drama Polina is a coming-of-age story about a promising young Russian ballerina named Polina in search of artistic fulfillment. But Polina‘s real appeal is not its story as much as its many moments of magical dance and fine choreography. Continue reading…

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DETROIT — Review by Susan Granger

In this scathing docudrama, Kathryn Bigelow, the Oscar-winning director of “The Hurt Locker’ and “Zero Dark Thirty,” depicts the civil unrest that rocked Detroit in the volatile summer of 1967. It begins on the night of July 23 with a violent police raid on “The Blind Pig,” an unlicensed bar and African-American social club located on the second floor of a printing company, inciting what came to be known as the 12th Street Riot. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK August 18-25: DETROIT

motw logo 1-35Intense. Infuriating. Immediate. Kathryn Bigelow‘s powerful, often-heartbreaking historical drama Detroit is all of these things and more. Set amid the chaos, violence, and anger of the riots that dominated Motor City during the summer of 1967, the film’s narrative focuses on the police brutality that took place at the Algiers Motel on July 25 and 26 of that year, and the justice system’s subsequent whitewashing of that heinous event. Continue reading…

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DETROIT — Review by Pam Grady

detroit posterIn the summer of 1967, while the West Coast grooved to the Summer of Love, Detroit burned in five days of rioting that pitted the African American community against the arrayed forces of the Detroit police department, Michigan state police, and the National Guard. In her most potent film to date, Kathryn Bigelow reteams with screenwriter Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) to stunningly recreate that time. Continue reading…

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DETROIT — Review by Cate Marquis

detroit posterIn Detroit, director Kathryn Bigelow spotlights the civil unrest that shook Detroit in the summer of 1967, and particularly the infamous events that took place at the Algiers Motel, when police abused a group of mostly black men and killed three. One would have hoped that 50 years on, we would be looking back those events and noting how far we have come. Sadly, that is not the case. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK August 11 to 18, 2017: PATTI CAKE$

motw logo 1-35Opening August 18, Patti Cake$ tells the story of aspiring New Jersey rapper Patricia “Killa P” Dombrowski, portrayed by Australian actress Danielle Macdonald in a breakout perfomance. Patti lives with her single mom, Barb (Bridget Everett), and grandmother, Nana (Cathy Moriarty), in near squalor in urban New Jersey. Barb spends her evenings getting drunk and bitterly reveling in memories of her youthful days of near-stardom as a pop singer — a dream that fell by the wayside when she got pregnant with Patti. Patti, without outbursts of rebellion or resentment, sustains the family with menial jobs, while literally dreaming every night of stardom, as over-the-top visions of famous rapper O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah) float through her sleeping mind. Continue reading…

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PATTI CAKE$ — Review by Cate Marquis

PATTI CAKE$ is a winning underdog tale, about an overweight 23-year-old white woman whose youthful dreams of being a rapper are fading while she struggling to get by in lower working class New Jersey. Patti (Australian actress Danielle Macdonald) lives with, and takes care of, her hard-drinking, sometimes abusive mother (Bridget Everett) and wheelchair-bound Nana (Cathy Moriarty) in a cramped, squalid apartment. Patti supports them all working as bartender in a local dive bar. and her only escape is rapping and hanging-out with her only friend, fellow rapper Raneesh (Siddharth Dhananjay). She calls him Jheri and he calls her Killa P., but daily Patti stoically endures the neighborhood bullies who call her Dumbo. Together with a shy, angry black punk rocker (Mamoudou Athie ), Patti takes a last shot at her dream. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Best Femme-Helmed, Femme-Centric Films of 2017, To Date

motw logo 1-35Focusing specifically on films directed by women as well as those featuring strong female lead characters and female-centric stories, AWFJ’s Team #MOTW has endorsed 31 exceptional films during 2017, to date. Because we pick only one film for our Movie of the Week endorsement, we’ve actually had to pass up a good number of other superb films that qualified, but were not our collective top choice. Now that we’ve arrived at the midway point in this year’s release schedule, we’re pausing to look back at all the films we’ve considered for #MOTW endorsement, and we are pleasantly surprised to note the volume of wonderful films made by and about women. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK July 28-August 4: STEP

motw logo 1-35An inspiring documentary about a group of African-American teen girls who find success through a mix of hard work, grit, high expectations, and dedicated mentorship, Amanda Lipitz’s Step is both engaging and uplifting. It follows the competitive step-dancing team at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, a public charter school with a very ambitious goal: that all of its graduates attend college. Continue reading…

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STEP — Review by Cate Marquis

The inspirational documentary STEP follows a girls’ step dance team at a Baltimore charter high school, both in their quest to win a big step dance competition and to get into college. The story takes place in the shadow of the unrest and protests that gripped Baltimore in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray. Echoes of Ferguson, Michael Brown and Black Lives Matter are present as well. Continue reading…

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