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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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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SCREAMERS — Review by Liz Whittemore

#screamers posterWith the news of Cambridge Analytica mining Facebook users’ personal info to further… (well,  you know), the release of the new film #Screamers couldn’t be more timely.  Everything we do is tracked these days, so you cant hide from advertisers or anyone else looking to take advantage of you. What happens when the tables are turned is something altogether different. In a game of cat and mouse, #Screamers plays well on the viral video trends, specifically one that popped up years ago where a viewer would watch a seemingly innocuous video and then BOOM, a horrific face was screaming loudly back at the unsuspecting viewer. #Screamers is done in documentary format but in truth, it is a found footage film, but you have to look hard to find that out from the beginning. Continue reading on I SCREAM YOU SCREAM.

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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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ITZHAK — Review by Martha K. Baker

There he is, that familiar smiling face, those curls, that violin with only a cotton hanky between chin and wood. When Itzhak Perlman sits and plays, he manages the double meaning of “play,” that is, to produce musical sound and to have a whale of a good time doing it. Alison Chernick’s biopic of Perlman is a treasure, a rich combination of new film and old stills, a tour of a New York apartment and a glance at an old unit in Jerusalem, of old words and new, taught and learned. 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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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Inclusion Rules Box Office, Robbie in Production, Kudos to Munn — Brandy McDonnell reports

Films with women or minorities in lead roles led the box office 11 out of the first 12 weekends this year, compared to 2017, when the same 12-week period had only five weekend dominated by films with women or minorities in the lead. The more than double change is a another good indicator that inclusion is a winning strategy. Margot Robbie is turning her I Tonya box office prowess into classical clout by
partnering with the Australian Broadcasting Company and others to a new 10-part series retelling William Shakespeare’s tales from female perspectives. Olivia Munn is being honored by her alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, for speaking out against sexual harassment. Continue reading on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

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Australian Filmmaker Kim Farrant, STRANGERLAND and ANGEL OF MINE — Alexandra Heller-Nicholas comments

kim ferrantIn early February this year, Screen Australia announced that Noomi Rapace would star in Australian director Kim Farrant’s upcoming psychological thriller Angel of Mine. With a script by Oscar-nominated fellow Australian Luke Davies of Lion fame and based on Safy Nebbou’s 2008 French film The Mark of an Angel, the film is reimagined in the Australian city of Melbourne. In late March, Australian-born actor Yvonne Strahovski (The Handmaid’s Tale) was added to the cast with the project beginning shooting in Melbourne this April. All signs are indicating that Farrant’s follow-up to her widely misunderstood but hugely impressive 2015 feature debut Strangerland starring Nicole Kidman promises to further reveal an until-now generally unrecognised Australian filmmaking talent. Continue reading…

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MABEL MABEL TIGER TRAINER — Review by Cate Marquis

MABELMABELPOSTERMabel Mabel Tiger Trainer tells the surprising, forgotten story of the first woman tiger trainer, Mabel Stark. Born into poverty in Tennessee and growing up the daughter of a sharecropper in Kentucky, Mabel lost her father as a child and later her mother before she essentially ran away with the circus. Mabel fell in love with tigers when she first saw one in California, and against strong opposition and the prevailing belief that women could not handle big cats under the big top, she did just that. Not only did she succeed in learning how to train tigers by the “kindness method,” Mabel and her tigers eventually became the star act with Ringling Brothers. Continue reading…

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Chapman and Maclain Way talk WILD WILD COUNTRY, Bhagwan and Ma Anan Sheela — Jennifer Merin interviews

wild wild country posterThe Way Brothers’ six-part documentary, Wild Wild Country, chronicles the strange saga of self-proclaimed spiritual leader Bhagwan and his devotees, as they created a self-sustaining Utopian community in rural Oregon during the 1980s. Resenting their presence, local citizens and authorities pressured them to leave. Confrontations intensified, resulting in chaos and crime. Wild Wild Country is comprised of previously unseen archival footage shot inside the compound during the community’s heyday, intercut with on camera commentaries by surviving devotees and townees. The series is fascinating. So are the Brothers Way, who discuss making the documentary and their own conclusions about what this slice of history implies for American lifestyle and justice. Listen to my interview on CINEMA CITIZEN.

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OUTSIDE IN — Review by Nikki Baughan

outside in posterFor her first feature in four years, filmmaker Lynne Shelton (Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister) turns in a bittersweet exploration of time lost, opportunities missed and the redemptive power of human connection. Co-writing with star Jay Duplass, who takes the central role of ex-con Chris, struggling to readjust to life in his small home town of Granite Falls, Washington, after 20 year in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Shelton has created a film that finds dramatic power and emotional resonance in the smallest, most seemingly mundane of moments. Continue reading…

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NICKY’S FAMILY (2013) — Retroview by Jennifer Merin

nicky's family poster artIn Nicky’s Family, filmmakers Matej Minac and Patrik Pass use reenactment and impressive archival footage to tell the story of Sir Nicholas Winton’s amazing mission to save children from certain extinction in Nazi death camps. The filmmakers interviewed many of the children (now senior citizens) who were saved, and their descendants – all of whom consider themselves to be Winton’s family. Those who’ve been found and counted number about 6,000 souls. The film introduces many of them, letting us know what they’ve accomplished, including important scientific discoveries and social progress that might never have happened had the children not been rescued. Continue reading on CINEMA CITIZEN.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK March 23, 2018: MADAME

motw logo 1-35Despite its (mostly) posh characters and haute Parisian dinner-party-centric premise, “Madame” isn’t just a zinger-filled drawing-room comedy. Rather, director/co-writer Amanda Sthers’ film is a cleverly satirical and easy to swallow examination of class, privilege, self worth, and the bone-deep insecurities that plague us all, whether we’re hosting luminaries or serving them coffee. Continue reading…

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: More Women at Marvel, Wiig as Villain in WONDER WOMAN 2, BREADWINNER Advocates at UN — Brandy McDonnell reports

When the Marvel series “Jessica Jones” launched its second season last week on Netflix, Krysten Ritter’s titular antihero wasn’t the only awesome woman fans could watch work. For Season 2, the series recruited female directors to helm all 13 episodes, per showrunner Melissa Rosenberg. Kristen Wiig is set to deliver her considerable talents to the set of Wonder Woman 2 — as an arch villian. Angelina Jolie‘s The Breadwinner screened for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women at a sold out event: “Women’s Rights Impact Cinema: Moving from Empathy to Action,” showing that movies directed by women matter. Read more on THE WEEK IN WOMEN

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DEATH WISH — Review by Susan Granger

There’s little to recommend director Eli Roth’s reboot of Michael Winner’s 1974 vigilante thriller in which a mild-mannered architect, played by Charles Bronson, utilizes his military training to become a vengeful killer after thugs invade his home, kill his wife and assault his daughter. Moving the location from New York to Chicago, we’re introduced to Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis), who lives in posh suburbia. That’s where his wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) is murdered and his college-age daughter Jordan (Camilla Morrone) is left comatose in a bungled burglary. Continue reading…

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THE DEATH OF STALIN — Review by Martha K. Baker

death of stalin posterAnyone familiar with the work of Armando Iannucci has an inkling of the tack he takes with “The Death of Stalin.” Even one episode of the awarded TV series, “Veep,” or one frame of the 2009 film, “In the Loop,” presages what viewers will find in this non-historic look at a post-mortem. Iannucci is not known for being Mr. Nice Guy. Indeed, his curses are spiders, webbing their way across the screen to shock and amuse. He analyzes bureaucracies that drop to bended knee to ask for teasing and poking. Such is the case surrounding the titular event of Josef Stalin’s end. Continue reading….

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LOVELESS — Review by Martha K. Baker

‘Loveless’ explores dysfunction and disappearance. It’s long and it’s loveless and it’s forlorn, this film about a divorcing couple without a shred of affection for the son caught in the middle. It was the Russian nominee for Best Foreign-language Film of 2017, and it has merit, but it also has characters without much character. Continue reading…

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Celebrating Women Cinematographers — Nikki Baughan reports

Rachel Morrison made history this year by becoming the first woman to be nominated for the best cinematography Oscar, for her raw, immersive work on Dee Rees’ Mudbound (2017). But that stellar achievement is something of a double-edged sword. It’s possible to be thrilled by her success, while also remaining frustrated that she’s the first woman to be so honoured by the Academy and that gender representation across all industry sectors remains so shameful. While the statistics are enduringly disheartening, women have been working tirelessly behind the camera since the earliest days of movies. So perhaps it’s time to replace that lament of ‘Where are the women?’ with a battle cry of ‘Here are the women’, to recognise and celebrate inclusivity were it exists, and to demand more of it. Continue reading….

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TOM OF FINLAND — Review by Martha K. Baker

‘Tom of Finland’ explores an artist of the demimonde. Unless you are familiar with the homoerotica of the gay world after World War II, the work of Touko Valio Laaksonen may be foreign to you. Under the pseudonym of Tom of Finland, Laaksonen described a culture of leather, backless chaps, engorged chests, and knee-high boots, Nazi-esque chic. Continue reading…

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MOHAWK — Review by Hope Madden (Exclusive Guest Post)

mohawk posterHow many Westerns are told from the perspective of the American Indian? None, basically. When First Nation filmmakers (Chris Eyre, Sydney Freeland, Neil Diamond, Sterlin Harjo, Adam Garnet Jones, among others) create, they seem to ignore the genre that has, for most of Hollywood’s history, defined them in popular culture. Jim Jarmusch’s brilliant Dead Man comes closest to representing their perspective. But for co-writer/director Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here), that’s not enough. Mohawk, his latest film, spins a far more typically Western story: battle lines drawn between Mohawks and new Americans, each trying to secure a piece of American soil. Continue reading on THE FEMALE GAZE

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THOROUGHBREDS — Review by Diane Carson

Thoroughbreds lacks admirable pedigree. Thoroughbreds is one of those films that lives in its own hermetically sealed world, one that defies any suspension of disbelief. Two young women—Lily and Amanda—reunite as teenagers when Lily begins to tutor Amanda, as organized by Lily’s mother. Amanda lacks emotions, is profoundly unresponsive, though she’s learned to mimic those she observes. Continue reading…

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SUBMISSION — Review by Diane Carson

Submission lacks insight into sexual victimization. It’s certainly the right time to tackle the important topic of sexual harassment and sexual victimization. But we don’t need director Richard Levine’s Submission, a dim-witted film that reinforces insulting male and female stereotypes as it follows a veteran college writing professor, naïvely malleable and easily seduced by an attractive, ambitious, duplicitous female student. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK March 2, 2018: OH LUCY!

motw logo 1-35A poignant ode to the need for human connection, Atsuko Hirayanagi’s Oh Lucy! (based on her own 2014 short film) is a quirky dramedy about a Tokyo office worker named Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima). When her solitary life is disrupted by a rather unusual English class taught by hug-happy American John (Josh Hartnett) — who gives her a curly blonde wig and an American name, Lucy — Setsuko starts down a path she never would have anticipated. Continue reading…

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