WHITNEY — Review by Susan Granger

Whitney Houston broke more music industry records than any other female singer in history. With more than 200 million album sales worldwide, she was the only artist to chart seven consecutive U.S. #1 singles. But who was Whitney Houston, the woman? Where did she come from? And what torpedoed her career and, eventually, her life at age 48 in 2012? Utilizing never-before-seen home movies, archival footage, and revelatory interviews with those who knew her best, documentary filmmaker Kevin Macdonald strives to unravel the mystery behind “The Voice.” Continue reading…

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BLINDSPOTTING — Review by Martha K. Baker

The title refers to a word coined by the ex-girlfriend of a protagonist of”Blindspotting: she ascribes it to the process of seeing a vase or a face in the famous double-sided puzzle. She is studying psychology while the protagonists are living it in this tight, astonishing, redemptive film. Continue reading…

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BOUNDARIES — Review by Susan Granger

Although 88 year-old Christopher Plummer oozes charm as a manipulative con man with a twinkle in his eye, Shana Feste’s estranged father/daughter road trip treads a well-worn path toward redemption. It begins in Seattle with neurotic Laura Jaconi (Vera Farmiga) assuring her psychotherapist that she’s created definite boundaries and will not answer phone calls from her father Jack (Plummer) since, according to her tale of woe, he’s been an unreliable disappointment all her life. 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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GOOD MANNERS — Sydney Film Festival Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

good manners posterOver recent years, South American filmmakers have consolidated their status as genre filmmaking ground-breakers, building on a long history of horror film production in the region that is far too often overlooked. Written and directed by Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra, the 2017 Brazilian film Good Manners is a perfect example of a visionary treatment of often hackneyed generic clichés that rejuvenates the genre into something not just aesthetically beautiful and entertaining, but also ideologically and emotionally very powerful. Premiering at the Locarno Film Festival, it has played at a number of festivals around the world until it came to my attention at the Sydney Film Festival in Australia. Continue reading…

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DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT — Review by Diane Carson

Director/writer Gus Van Sant has regularly embraced challenging subject matter: 1991′s My Own Private Idaho on street hustlers played by Joachin Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, 2003′s Elephant on the Columbine massacre, and 2008′s Milk on gay rights activist Harvey Milk, among others. Now, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot tackles alcoholism and the accident leaving John Callahan a quadriplegic. Continue reading…

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PLAYER HATING: A LOVE STORY (2012) — Review by Jennifer Merin

player hating posterFilmmaker Maggie Hadleigh-West’s retrospective (Brooklyn, NY July 26-29) includes a screening of Player Hating: A Love Story, the 2012 documentary about Brooklyn’s talented hip hop recording artist, Jasun Wardlaw, aka Half-a-Mill, as he and his crew of ‘thugs’ prepare to release his first big record album. Half-a-Mill is hoping that the album will be the kind of success that will catapult him out of Brooklyn’s crime-riddled Atlantic Housing Project, where he’s faced tough — no, make that dire — living conditions since his childhood. He’s deeply in need of relief. And so are his family and friends. In fact, so is the whole neighborhood. Continue reading on CINEMA CITIZEN.

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SORRY TO BOTHER YOU — Review by Susan Granger

Insofar as villains go in our modern world, persistent telemarketers rank alongside unscrupulous real-estate developers. So hip-hop recording artist Boots Riley, front-man of the Coup, makes an ambitious debut as writer/director with his confrontational, absurdist, corporate satire. Set in Oakland, California, it’s about Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), who gets caught faking credentials for a telemarketing position at RegalView but lands the job anyway. 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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EYE ON MEDIA: Wakonda Forever! BLACK PANTHER – Review by Martha P. Nochimson

black pantherFull disclosure: I don’t like superhero movies as a rule and might not have seen Black Panther for years if I hadn’t been bored during a flight to Seattle. Thus, I am late to the parade of journalists and academics offering their opinions about the film, but I hope not too late to ask you to join me in a march to a somewhat different drummer, as I comment on the subtext of this movie devised by Joe Robert Cole, writer, and Ryan Coogler, writer/director. Continue reading on EYE ON MEDIA

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SORRY TO BOTHER YOU — Review by Diane Carson

Sorry to Bother You creatively and wildly skewers social practices. In his debut feature film, writer/director Boots Riley pushes immediately recognizable social irritants, such as telemarketers, to satirical limits and then, leaps beyond the anticipated critique into a wild, unexpected zone. Riley lands his critical indictment with a solid, alternately humorous and bewildering series of surprising, sometimes shocking, always brilliantly staged incidents. 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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LET THE CORPSES TAN — Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

let the corpses tanFiercely independent and untouched by the often-fickle trends of the festival circuit, Belgian-based filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani make movies that few are indifferent to, for better or for worse. Renowned for their so-called neo-gialli – contemporary reworkings of the Italian sex-and-horror genre made famous by filmmakers like Dario Argento, Sergio Martino, and Mario Bava – their earlier features Amer (2009) and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2013) make little effort to disguise their affection for the famous earlier category in films drenched with crisp, vibrant jewel colors as much as blood and gore. 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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ANT-MAN AND THE WASP — Review by Susan Granger

After assisting Captain America and disobeying the Sokovia Accords, goofball Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) – a.k.a. Ant-Man – has been under house arrest for two years, devising elaborate games to play with his 10 year-old daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) while his cronies (Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian, Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris) run their security-consultant business. Continue reading…

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ANT-MAN AND THE WASP — Review by Sarah Knight Adamson

antman posterPaul Rudd is back in all of his goofy glory as dad (Scott Lang) also known as Ant-Man in the follow-up to Ant-Man (2015). Here’s the good news: Evangeline Lily, (Hope van Dyne) The Wasp not only has equal movie title billing, but she also works right alongside Ant-Man in fending off evil. No, they’re not out to save the world from doom and gloom—here they work together to save a family member. The film’s core is family driven by comedy buzzing throughout; delightful when compared to the weighty themes of other Marvel films namely, The Avengers: Infinity War (2018). There’s no doubt this mostly PG film could have easily been slated as the perfect summer family-friendly popcorn munchin’ movie—although the PG-13 language that is scattered throughout is not appropriate for youngsters. All and all—an entertaining, refreshing change in the MCU (Marvel Comic Universe) as audiences were giggling and laughing out-loud from start to finish. 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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DAMSEL — Review by Martha K. Baker

Never lose sight of the title of this weird Western. Just when you think Damsel is about the character named Samuel Alabaster, the focus shifts to Penelope, his intended bride. Samuel is rich and forceful. He has a ring for his fiancee and he has brought her a gift, a miniature horse named Butterscotch. Continue reading…

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THE CHANGEOVER — Sydney Film Festival Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

the changeover posterThere is an entire generation of people who grew up in Australia and New Zealand with the books of acclaimed award-winning children’s author Margaret Mahy. Many of her most successful novels in today’s parlance fit firmly within the YA category, although at the time she was writing her supernatural novels like The Haunting (1982) and The Changeover (1984), that was not a term popularly employed in that region especially. Recently making its Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival after premiering in New Zealand last year and playing festivals in Asia and Europe, The Changeover is a Mahy adaptation well worth waiting for. Continue reading…

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HEARTS BEAT LOUD — Review by Susan Granger

One-time singer/musician Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) struggles to keep afloat, running vinyl record store in the Brooklyn’s hip Red Hook neighborhood and spending off-hours at Sunny’s pub with perpetually stoned bartender Dave (Ted Danson). Frank’s beloved daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons), whom he’s raised alone in the years since her mother died in a bicycle accident, is diligently preparing to leave for UCLA as a pre-med major. Continue reading…

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