RAMPAGE — Review by Susan Granger

If A Quiet Place could be considered sublime horror, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s new monster movie, based on a 1986 arcade game, falls into the ridiculous category. Back in 1993, there was breakthrough bio-engineering technology, known as CRISPR, which gave scientists a way to treat incurable diseases through genetic editing. In 2016, fearing its misuse, the U.S. Intelligence Community designated genetic editing a “Weapon of Mass Destruction and Proliferation.” Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK April 20: LITTLE PINK HOUSE

motw logo 1-35Courtney Balaker’s “Little Pink House” is a compelling drama based on the true story of Susette Kelo (Catherine Keener), a nurse who isn’t looking for anything bigger than a quiet life in the pink cottage she renovated herself in a decidedly unglamorous part of New London, Connecticut. But she’s destined to become the national face of an emotional court battle over eminent domain after the city comes for her home — and those of her neighbors — in the early 2000s so that pharmaceutical corporate giant Pfizer can build a new facility on the land. \Continue reading…

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LITTLE PINK HOUSE — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

little pink house posterMay we all be so lucky to have an always-mesmerizing actress like Catherine Keener play us if our lives ever inspire a film. Within the first few minutes of Little Pink House, the two-time Oscar nominee swiftly establishes real-life paramedic and nurse Susette Kelo as a thoughtful and quietly alluring life force to be reckoned with. Just the way she tends to the ailing mother of an old classmate and puts her at ease during an ambulance ride suggests she would be someone you would want to be at your side in a fight. It is not so surprising, then, that Susette would end up being the compelling face and voice of a nearly decade-long legal battle that would pit Big Pharma against blue-collar residents over the right of their town’s officials to invoke “eminent domain” to force them out of their humble abodes. The landmark case would eventually be tried by the Supreme Court in 2005 with Susette as the plaintiff. Continue reading…

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WHERE IS KYRA? — Review by Diane Carson

Where Is Kyra? is not a film that grabs headlines; it is one that lingers with a profound emotional, empathetic appeal. For Kyra is that rare woman in narratives: middle-aged, unemployed, down-on-her-luck, and becoming increasingly desperate. With credit cards canceled and homelessness looming, Kyra becomes resourceful by necessity, adopting her recently deceased mother’s identity in order to cash her checks. Continue reading…

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BEIRUT — Review by Susan Granger

Charismatic Jon Hamm (TV’s “Mad Men”) is such a good actor that it’s a shame his considerable talents are wasted on this disjointed political thriller, set in war-torn Lebanon in 1982. Hamm plays Mason Skiles, a top U.S. diplomat, happily married to Nadia (Leila Bekhti) and living in Beirut. Having no children of their own, they’ve taken in Karim (Yoav Sadian Rosenberg), a 13 year-old Palestinian refugee, treating him like “part of the family.” Continue reading…

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EVEN WHEN I FALL – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

evenwhenifall.P“Just because you work in a circus doesn’t mean you’re a prostitute.” This is a statement of feminist support, a denial of the received wisdom, from an audience member for Saraswoti and Sheetal, founders and performers in Nepal’s Circus Kathmandu. It’s an expression of an enlightened, go-girl attitude, exactly the sort of thing that the two women have been fighting for and struggling toward for the six years during which the extraordinary documentary Even When I Fall has been following them. Continue reading…

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LOVE & BANANAS: AN ELEPHANT STORY — Review by Diane Carson

The documentary Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story begins in northern Cambodia with David Casselman in a helicopter surveying and commenting on the appalling deforestation of seventy-five percent of the Cambodian jungle by logging companies. Casselman makes clear the related peril for the endangered Asian elephant and the critical need for the one-million-acre Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary he has co-founded. Continue reading…

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A QUIET PLACE — Review by Susan Granger

a quiet place posterSome moviegoers absolutely love to be scared, frightened out of their wits. If so, this dystopian horror thriller is for you. Emily Blunt and her husband John Krasinski play Evelyn and Lee Abbott, a married couple, living on a secluded farm in upstate New York. It’s Day 89 – after most of the civilized world has been decimated by an alien invasion of hideously hungry creatures who detect their prey by super-sensitive sound. Knowing that silence is absolutely essential to survival, the Abbotts, always barefoot and alert, are determined to protect their three young children. Continue reading...

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LITTLE PINK HOUSE — Review by Cate Marquis

A pink house is not for everyone but it was just right for Susette Kelo, especially with a lovely river view. When a local economic redevelopment organization tries to seize the Connecticut cottage she so lovingly rehabbed for a project to lure a Big Pharma company to the financially-strapped town, she fights – all the way to the Supreme Court. Continue reading…

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CHAPPAQUIDDICK — Review by Erica Abeel

A riveting recreation of the famous accident that quashed Ted Kennedy’s presidential bid and the cover-up by his political fixers, anchored by Jason Clarke’s perfectly pitched portrayal of a flawed man. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK April 13, 2018: THE RIDER

motw logo 1-35Sweeping vistas and earnest, ultra-realistic performances are at the heart of Chloe Zhao’s moving drama “The Rider,” which follows the struggles of a modern cowboy after his promising rodeo career is cut short by a grave injury. The drama was filmed almost entirely on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and features Pine Ridge residents — members of the Lakota tribe — playing thinly fictionalized versions of themselves. Continue reading…

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ISLE OF DOGS — Review by Susan Granger

isle of dogs posterFrom the fertile imagination of filmmaker Wes Anderson comes this unique, stop-motion animated tale of a youngster looking for his lost companion, featuring the distinctive voices of Anderson’s regular repertory company. Set in the Japanese Archipelago in the near future, this dystopian fable, narrated by Courtney B. Vance, revolves around Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), whose bodyguard dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), is banished when Megasaki City’s cat-loving, dog-despising Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) decrees that, following an outbreak of a type of flu known as Snout Fever, all canines must be exiled to an island previously used for trash disposal. Continue reading…

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BEIRUT — Review by Diane Carson

Beirut paints a retrograde picture of Lebanon and US involvement. As the story set in and simply called Beirut begins in 1972, cultural attaché Mason Skiles hosts a lavish formal reception and dinner at the U.S. embassy. Mason clearly enjoys sharing the event with his wife, thirteen-year-old Palestinian ward Karim, and colleagues. Suddenly and catastrophically Mason’s world will be destroyed, and a politically retrograde plot set in motion. Continue reading…

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FINDING YOUR FEET – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

findingyourfeetWhen snooty, stick-up-her-butt Sandra discovers that her husband is cheating on her just as they were about to retire, she escapes from her English countryside manor to London, to the cosy, cramped public-housing flat of the freespirited sister, Bif, she hasn’t seen in decades. Sandra seems pretty awful at first, just plain horrible and rude even as she busts her way into Bif’s life uninvited, and precisely as we’re about to grumble, “Who the hell do you think you are?” Bif does so herself. Hooray! That sets the stage for the tart, sharp, but ultimately life-affirming dramedy to come, one that is slightly more edgy and far less predictable than it probably has any right to be. Continue reading…

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YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE — Review by Nikki Baughan

lynne ramsay you were never posterTo say that Lynne Ramsay has a powerful understanding of film may be an obvious statement, given that she’s made several critically acclaimed, award-winning features and shorts. Yet her approach to filmmaking goes beyond a mastery of the craft to an innate appreciation of cinema’s immersive power. She is skilled at bending the rules, at ensuring that every on-screen element, whether seen or heard, is authentic to her characters, and at compelling her audience to become an active participant in the story. Nowhere is that clearer than in her new film, You Were Never Really Here. Continue reading…

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A QUIET PLACE — Review by Sarah Knight Adamson

Shh…Don’t Say a Word. Sci-fi giant spider-like creatures can’t see you—so no need to hide—except, if they hear you—they’ll kill you instantly. That’s the premise of this tightly edited, spine-tingling sci-fi horror film. Be prepared for 95 minutes of suspense building, nerve-wracking drama as a family attempts to survive in a dystopian world where making a sound means certain death. Continue reading….

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1945 — Review by Martha K. Baker

“1945″ curls tension into a fist. Knowing a bit of history will help an audience understand the deep meaning of “1945.” Not knowing history means that the emphasis on this valuable film covers plot rather than foundation. And still it signifies. “1945″ does in 90 minutes, in black and white, what many historical films never manage. Most people, vaguely familiar with history, think of August 1945 as the end of World War II after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But the war in Europe had ended the previous May. That meant citizens of Europe were hoping to return to an antebellum time whilst retaining rewards of the bellum. Continue reading…

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CHAPPAQUIDDICK — Review by Susan Granger

First used in 1954, the term “affluenza” refers to an inability to understand the consequences of one’s actions because of financial privilege. That, plus the corrosive arrogance of being a Kennedy in Massachusetts, explains why Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s hopes of ever becoming President of the United States sank on the night of July 18, 1969. Continue reading…

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FINAL PORTRAIT — Review by Diane Carson

True to its title, Final Portrait chronicles, in tiresomely repetitious detail, Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti’s cajoling American writer James Lord to sit for what becomes Giacometti’s final portrait. Promised as a few hours’ work, the 1964 event stretches to nineteen days because of Giacometti’s characteristic self-criticism and his obsessive need to undo (his words) several days’ work, to start afresh. Continue reading…

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READY PLAYER ONE — Review by Susan Granger

Sci-fi, virtual reality and nostalgic pop culture collide in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s sprawling 2011 best-seller about a teenager’s quest to win a game that will give him control of a massive digital universe. Set in 2045 in dystopian Columbus, Ohio, the story revolves around Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), an orphaned nerd, living in “the stacks,” a grimy, vertical trailer park. Like everyone else, Wade spends most of his time immersed in a virtual game-room called the Oasis where one can be whoever one wishes. Continue reading..

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK, April 6, 2018: MABEL MABEL TIGER TRAINER

motw logo 1-35More than just the story of the remarkable Mabel Stark and her eventful life, Leslie Zemeckis’ documentary Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer is a fascinating glimpse into a world most of us will never experience, one of dangerous animals, fearless performers, and the nonstop behind-the-scenes drama of the big tent. It is also a chronicle of life of a gifted, determined and tougher than tigers woman performance artist in America from the turn of the nineteenth century to 1968. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT April 2018: Lynne Ramsey, Glaswegian, Director of YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

LYNNE RAMSAY HEAD 1Writer/director Lynne Ramsay is yet another confirmation that Scotland is one of the coolest places on the planet for cultivating artists. Ramsay has created a multi-hyphenate career as writer, director, producer, and cinematographer. A number of distinguished film world insiders have called her one of the greatest living filmmakers. As evidenced by her career and loyal fans, it appears that she stands squarely in the middle of those Scots who don’t suffer fools, and for better or worse, dance to their own drums. Continue reading…

SMALL DEATHS AND AUSPICIOUS BEGINNINGS

awfjspotlightsmallsmallGlasgow has brought the world a long list of visual and performing artists, many of whom — like actor Billy Connolly, architect Charles Mackintosh, artist Susan Philipsz, and writer Denise Mina — are known for their strong-willed and freethinking perspectives. Born in that city in 1969, Lynne Ramsay expressed herself through writing and painting, and became so fascinated by photography that she studied it at Napier College in Edinburgh. She continued by expanding her interests and honing her skills at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, England, where she specialized in cinematography. Her experiences in school instilled in her the aesthetic of telling a story less through exposition, and more through the use of bold images accompanied and underscored by the integration of artistic sound design. Always passionate about writing her own material, Ramsay has written or adapted nearly all of the screenplays for her shorts and feature films.

Ramsay’s graduation short, Small Deaths, won the Prix du Jury at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. The film, intriguingly structured as three vignettes in the life of a young girl, was filmed with non-professional actors who delivered stunning performances under Ramsay’s direction. Small Deaths was a portent of things to come.

Ramsay has repeated her debut feat, not only at Cannes two years later with her short Gasman, but with each of her subsequent projects, all of which have been lauded in festivals around the world. Small Deaths also signaled Ramsay’s ongoing interest in intense subject matter that examines the perspectives of children, often damaged by circumstances and dealing with guilt, grief, and trauma. She studiously avoids cliches and embraces character studies that always reveal something new and unanticipated about the human condition.

A LYRICAL, BLEAK AESTHETIC

lynne ramsey ratcatcher posterRamsay’s debut feature Ratcatcher (1999) was an exploration of Glaswegian working class circumstances during the 1970s, and once again focused on the story of a child in crisis. James, at age 12, deals with overwhelming guilt over accidentally causing a friend’s death. Ratcatcher was relentlessly bleak, but lyrical. In the film, moments of beauty in the midst of despair define Ramsay’s vision to be singularly stylized and gritty, with a growing auteur-like presentation of story. Winning an avalanche of awards — including the Carl Foreman Award for Most Promising Newcomer at the BAFTAs, the Douglas Hickox Award at the British Independent Film Awards, and a nomination for the Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes — the film confirmed Ramsay as an outstanding talent.

On Ratcatcher, Ramsay also signaled her ongoing collaboration with women working in film by hiring female composer Rachel Portman, editor Lucia Zucchetti, production designer Jane Morton, and art director Robina Nicholson.

Morvern Callar (2002) was Ramsay’s first adaptation from another source. It is a film that fully reveals Ramsay’s skill as visual narrator able to capture and express emotion though images as simple as that of an old woman pointing to snow outside her window. It is not, as is the case with all of Ramsay’s filmography, a movie that Hollywood would expect a female filmmaker to make. Witness the scene where Morvern cuts up and disposes of her dead lover’s body.

Samantha Morton in Moevwen Callar

Samantha Morton in Moevwen Callar

With Movern Callar, Ramsay demonstrated that her skills as an artistic storyteller could be applied to Alan Warner’s cult novel with equal impact and success as with material she originated. The film is also a sterling example of the importance of music and sound design as essential elements in Ramsay’s cinematic art. And, again, her work with actors brought Samantha Morton, starring as the anti-heroic young woman who attempts to create a new life out of her boyfriend’s sudden suicide, accolades from Cannes, rave reviews and the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress.

Continuing her explorations into nihilism and emotional deterioration, Ramsay went on to adapt, direct, and produce the critical sensation We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011). Based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, the film is about the experience of a mother, Eva dealing with the aftermath of a school shooting perpetrated by her son. The film brought kudos to the luminous and ever-compelling Tilda Swinton as Eva, and brought greater fame for breakout star Ezra Miller, who played Kevin. We Need to Talk about Kevin was named one of the best films of the year by a number of critics, following was was a rocky road during development and on its path to release.

Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin

Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin

LESSONS LEARNED

The announcement in 2001 that Ramsay would be adapting and directing Alice Sebold’s heartbreaking bestseller The Lovely Bones, which once again examined a young life, death, grief, and guilt, was exciting news for the filmmaker’s growing number of dedicated fans. Ramsay had read the unfinished manuscript, and immediately committed to work on it. Unfortunately, creative differences ensued, and she parted ways with the project, with the finished film becoming a poorly-received release for director Peter Jackson. This was not the last time creative differences led to speed bumps in Ramsey’s otherwise soaring career.

In 2013, she left the helm of Jane Got a Gun, just as filming was to get underway. When speaking about possible repercussions resulting from her walking away from the film, Ramsay said she’d heard someone ask if she’d been ‘on her period.’ She’s indicated that from her perspective, she felt the producers getting farther and farther away from her vision, and reported that she’d been being asked for covering shots, with the intent, she feared, they would do re-edits. There were rumors circulated that Ramsay is difficult to work with, yet throughout her career and in all of her completed projects, she has made lasting friendships with both cast and crew.

The fallout from the Jane Got a Gun debacle led to Ramsay going to Santorini in Greece to recover and regroup, and move forward, both personally and professionally. It was in Santorini that she began writing the adaptation of You Were Never Really Here. The message, if there is one to be delivered via Ramsay’s travails, is not to underestimate a Glaswegian artist. Trifle with them at your peril, as they know their own integrity, and will stand by it.

FEARLESS FILMMAKING

lynne ramsay you were never posterIt took six years from the success of We Need to Talk about Kevin to the release of Ramsay’s new film, You Were Never Really Here, which opens theatrically in the US on April 6, 2018. The film, based on a novella by writer and raconteur Jonathan Ames, is about Joe, a veteran with PTSD, who tracks down and rescues sex trafficked girls. When violence is necessary, as it often is, he uses a ball peen hammer. He lives his days struggling with depression, constant flashbacks, and suicidal ideation. His only moments of joy involve caring for his dementia-suffering mother.

During the process of writing You Were Never Really Here and and preparing for filming, Ramsay imagined and held firm to her ideal casting of Joaquin Phoenix as Joe. Her instincts were right, and the two proved to be a professional match made in cinema heaven. They have much in common. Both director and actor avoid social media, preferring to let their work speak for them. They also appreciate the balance of visuals, music, and character that make up the language of cinema, and see all aspects of filmmaking as collaborative. Pre-release, the film has garnered considerable awards buzz. Although an unfinished version of the film was shown at its Cannes premiere, it was given a seven minute standing ovation and Ramsay won Best Screenplay, with Phoenix winning Best Actor.

LYNNE RAMSAY HEAD 2 W POST

In You Were Never Really Here, Ramsay’s use of sound design and startling visuals continues, both with ever more dramatic effect. In fact, she has said with her next movie, she’d like to start her filmmaking process by creating the sound and music first, and then filming.

WHY WE CHOSE HER

lynne ramsay head closerThere is no question that Ramsay’s no-nonsense, straightforward style and her commitment to maintain her aesthetic and artistic vision would be met differently were she a man. What has to happen now, given the changes taking place in Hollywood, is that she be embraced for the master filmmaker she is, without regard to her gender. With each new project, she proves she is one of the best filmmakers working in the world today. She is interested in doing more studio films, including a superhero movie, but hasn’t gotten those offers. awfjspotlightsmallsmall She has said she could do anything. Movie lovers and cinematic history will be the better for her being able to prove it, in every way and as often as she wants. — Leslie Combemale

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FOR WOMEN IN FILM, 2017 PRODUCED A BLOOM OF OPTIMISM ON THE HORIZON — Jennifer Merin comments

Annual stats tracking women’s work in the film industry consistently indicate that production gatekeepers are slow to welcome the work of female filmmakers, despite the recent successes of studio-backed femme-helmed and femme-centric blockbusters, and the ongoing inclusion initiatives of feminist groups such as the Alliance of Women Filmmakers and Film Fatales. However, despite the dismally static stats, AWFJ found an encouraging rise in the number of femme-centric and femme-helmed films released theatrically during 2017. Out of the 52 films we selected for #MOTW endorsement, 38 were directed by women. And, that number is even more impressive when you consider that for five of the year’s 52 weeks, we found no releasing films that met AWFJ standards for endorsement Continue reading…

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ALL I WISH — Review by Sarah Knight Adamson

Should a 60-yr-old actress permanently be typecast as a mom or a grandma? Sharon Stone can answer that question with an emphatic no way! When first-time director Susan Walters took a chance on a major script change from Stone, she opened the anti-ageism floodgates for all females. You see, Walters sent the script to Stone inquiring if she’d play the lead’s mom—Stone replied back that it would be more interesting to play the lead daughter role, not to mention it’s a storyline viewers haven’t seen before. When Walters replied that that the character she had in mind wears a bikini, plays beach volleyball, smokes pot, dances in bars, drinks shots, doesn’t want marriage and has casual sex, Stone sent the message, “Don’t change a thing other than the age.” Sharon Stone still rocks. Continue reading…

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DEMON HOUSE — Review by Liz Whittemore

demon house posterParanormal investigation is all fun and games until people are physically affected by something the eye cannot see. Are demons real? Can objects be possessed by spirits? Death seems to surround certain places on Earth. Somewhere in America once stood a home called the “Portal to Hell” and it wasn’t as long ago as you might think. Continue reading on I SCREAM YOU SCREAM.

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