MOVIE OF THE WEEK May 11, 2018: MOUNTAIN

motw logo 1-35The word “majestic” doesn’t do justice to the stunning visuals in Jennifer Peedom’s documentary “Mountain” — but it’s quite possible that no word is up to the task of capturing this film’s sweeping, monumental imagery. When combined with the gravitas of Willem Dafoe’s narration and the power of the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s score (composed by Richard Tognetti), the result is a movie that begs to be seen on the largest, highest-definition screen available. Continue reading…

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MOUNTAIN — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

Mountain is a thing unto itself. It isn’t so much a documentary as it is a mesmerizingly immersive tone poem. It intentionally frees the mind — aided by a mood-enhancing chamber music score and an essay-like narration provided by Willem Dafoe — from having to absorb facts and figures or names and places. Instead, the viewer is given license to simply be in the moment while enjoying an up-close and personal perch to safely contemplate mankind’s need to conquer these soaring monoliths. Continue reading…

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TULLY — Review by Sarah Knight Adamson

Tully is a female character driven movie from the heart, which mothers universally will champion and applaud for its realism—to be clear, it is not the flawlessly staged Mommy Blog Instagram photos that display angelic children with posed smiles and lovely stain-free attire. Native Chicago suburban writer Diablo Cody, known for her Academy Award winning screenplay of Juno (2007) along with director Jason Reitman bring us their third film together. Tully’s tone feels like the grownup version of Juno; she’s now in mid-crises mode, heading smack dab into post-partum depression. But, don’t let that scare you off, this quick-witted dark comedy, had me laughing out loud. Tully is a film for all to see, to clearly appreciate that motherhood, like old age, is not for sissies. If anything, you’ll gain an empathic view of the never-ending duties and responsibilities of merely being a mom. Continue reading…

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Julie Cohen and Betsy West Talk RBG — Interview by Nell Minow

Julie Cohen and Betsy West

Julie Cohen and Betsy West

Shakespeare could have been writing about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when he said, “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” When she was a law professor in the 1970’s, Justice Ginsburg helped design the strategy and argued the Supreme Court cases that were as critical to defining the rights of women under the Constitution as the Brown v. Board of Education case was for defining the rights of racial minorities. She was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton and now, at age 85, the tiny, opera-loving Supreme Court Justice who proudly wears a lacy collar when she dissents from the majority decision has become an unexpected popular icon, lovingly mocked by Kate McKinnon on “Saturday Night Live” and nicknamed “Notorious RBG.” A new documentary called “RBG,” directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week (#MOTW). In an interview, Cohen and West spoke about the film’s production and the impact of RBG — both the person and the documentary. Continue reading…

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MOUNTAIN — Review by Cate Marquis

Mountain starts in a different way from most films about mountains and their majesty. Instead of opening with mountains, we see black and white images of an orchestra tuning up and actor Willem Dafoe preparing to deliver his narration as the opening credits roll. Then there is a brief quote, “Those who dance are considered mad by those who cannot hear the music,” and the mountains make their entrance. Perhaps that opening quote describes those who risk all just to climb the planet’s highest peaks. Continue reading…

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Women on Cannes Jury, Women at Tribeca Film Festival, Karen Gillian Directs First Feature — Brandy McDonnell reports

Actor-turned-filmmaker Karen Gillan premiered her first feature, The Party’s Just Beginning at Tribeca Film Festival. Held in NYC from April xx to xx, this year”/ TriBeCa Film Festival program came close to gender parity with 46 percent of its feature films directed by women. In other film festival news, Cannes, set for May 8-19, will for the first time since 2014, boast a female-majority jury, with Cate Blanchett presiding. Continue reading on THE WEEK IN WOMEN

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RBG – Review by Cate Marquis

RBG POSTERThis documentary gives us the low-down on this brilliant but reserved attorney who is having an unlikely turn as a cultural darling. The documentary RBG starts out with clips of Republican or politically-conservative men reviling Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg as if she were the devil incarnate. For these right-leaning white men, she may well be just that, or at least their worst nightmare, a characterization the small but mighty RBG might embrace, or maybe even relish. Continue reading…

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FINDING YOUR FEET — Review by Susan Granger

Audience Award Winner for Best Narrative Feature at the 2018 Palm Springs International Film Festival, this charming British comedy is aimed specifically at a senior citizen audience, like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” When snobbish, straitlaced ‘Lady’ Sandra Abbott (Imelda Staunton) discovers that her soon-to-retire police commissioner husband (John Sessions) has been having an affair with her best friend (Josie Lawrence), she flees from social humiliation in suburban Surrey to seek refuge with her estranged, older sister Elizabeth (Celia Imrie), known as Bif. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK April 27, 2018: LET THE SUNSHINE IN

motw logo 1-35Claire Denis’ romantic dramedy Let the Sunshine In stars Juliette Binoche as Isabelle, a smart, sophisticated Parisian artist and divorcee who’s only missing one thing in her life: true love. She meets plenty of men who want to sleep with her, but there’s something off about all of them; some are married, some are too full of themselves to be able to properly nurture a partner, some are exes who should clearly stay that way. 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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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…

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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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