MOVIE OF THE WEEK June 29, 2018: LEAVE NO TRACE

motw logo 1-35Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace” is a mesmerizing, intimate drama about a teen girl named Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) who lives completely off the grid in the Oregon forest with her veteran father, Will (Ben Foster). As the film opens, you think perhaps they’re just on a camping trip, but it quickly becomes apparent that the camp is their home. It’s a happy one for them — they clearly love each other and have built a life that works — but it’s in a precarious bubble. Continue reading…

read more

THE WEEK IN WOMEN: DGA’s Shameful Stats, Baltimore Femme Film Initiative and Ry Russo-Young — Brandy McDonnell reports

The Directors Guild of America’s recent released study shows that of 651 feature films released in 2017 with ticket sales of at least $250,000, 12 percent of the directors were women. From 2013 to 2017, the percentage of female movie directors has basically been stuck in the 8 to 16 percent range. The Baltimore-based fledgling Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film and Media at Johns Hopkins might shift the stats by awarding nine Baltimore-based women filmmakers production grants totaling $400,000. Filmmaker Ry Russo-Young may also move the needle with her The Sun Is Also A Star, now in production. Read details on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

read more

LEAVE NO TRACE — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

The very idea of going off the grid sounds mighty appealing right about now. No cable news. No digital gadgets. No concerns about the future save for surviving day by day by using your own wits. Leave No Trace presents a truth-based back-to-nature utopia of sorts shared by Will, a military vet dad who has been left traumatized by his years of service, and Tom, his precociously perceptive teen daughter. Their tight bond as they live off the land in a nature reserve outside of Portland has echoes Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Thoreau’s Walden, yet feels like it is just the relief we need from our tumultuous times. Continue reading…

read more

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR — Review by Susan Granger

Admittedly, it’s too early to talk Oscar, but I’d be stunned if Morgan Neville’s uplifting documentary about TV’s Mister Rogers doesn’t get a nomination and, perhaps, win. A look behind-the-scenes of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” reveals many surprises. The real Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian pastor who viewed the mass media of children’s television as his ministry. Arriving at the end of the turbulent 1960s, his soft-spoken, yet persuasive message was one of love and kindness. Continue reading…

read more

LEAVE NO TRACE — Review by Nikki Baughan

With films like Winter’s Bone and documentary Stray Dog, Debra Granik has proved herself to be a masterful explorer of life on the margins of society. Her latest work, Leave No Trace – an adaptation of the novel by Peter Rock – again concerns itself with individuals attempting to exist outside societal norms and, in doing so, proves to be a moving study of love, loss and what it means to truly belong. Continue reading…

read more

TAG — Review by Martha K. Baker

That it’s based on a true story helps keep Tag being yet another exercise in testosteronic idiocy, of which the movie industry has been grinding out examples since the 19th century. Tag“is not Hangover. Tag is its own funny exercise in the brotherhood (with a couple of sisters) of tag. Continue reading…

read more

THE EXPERIMENTAL CITY — Review by Diane Carson

The Experimental City chronicles an inventive, futuristic venture. Athelstan Spilhaus is not well-known but should be. He can still teach our environmentally abusive and wasteful society a great deal, for he spearheaded an impressively progressive, inventive futuristic venture beginning in the 1960s. Spilhaus and a distinguished steering committee, including Buckminster Fuller, researched and proposed an experimental city of 250,000 residents to be built in northern Minnesota. Continue reading…

read more

FIRST REFORMED — Review by Susan Granger

Ethan Hawke plays an alcoholic, emotionally tormented, cancer-plagued pastor in this bleak, character-driven drama. In upstate New York, Reverend Ernst Toller (Hawke) impassively tends an old Dutch Reform church, best known for its historical importance. Years ago, it was a stop on the Underground Railroad for escaped, Canada-bound slaves. Continue reading…

read more

LEAVE NO TRACE — Review by Cate Marquis

Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace is a gem of a film, a quietly gripping drama about a father and daughter living in a large heavily-forested park outside Portland, Oregon. The power of this film is in its warmth and authenticity, particularly in the the close bond between father and daughter. The film has moments of fear and suspense but there are no car chases, explosions or mayhem, just the drama of human life, a veteran coping with his trauma and trying his best to raise his daughter, a daughter who loves her father but does not share his inner demons. Continue reading…

read more

INCREDIBLES 2 — Review by Martha K. Baker

The 14 years between “Incredibles” and “Incredibles 2” woke up a few film folks to feminism, for “Incredibles 2” is female-centric. Thank you, Brad Bird. Bird wrote and directed the sequel to his Pixar story of a family of super heroes to create a bam biff pow story. Continue reading…

read more

HEREDITARY — Review by Susan Granger

Australian actress Toni Collette becomes the new ‘scream queen’ in Ari Aster’s terrifying psychological thriller about parents left with a diabolical legacy after the family matriarch’s death. This ominous story begins with a terse eulogy for dementia-addled, 78 year-old Ellen Taper Leigh by her dry-eyed daughter Annie Graham (Collette), who describes her difficult mother as so secretive and suspicious that she won’t be missed by those left behind. Continue reading…

read more

MOVIE OF THE WEEK June 22, 2018: WOMAN WALKS AHEAD

motw logo 1-35History becomes “her”story (with a few factual tweaks) in Susanna White’s Woman Walks Ahead, which introduces audiences to Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain), a determined portrait artist who defies convention — and the U.S. government — in the late 1880s to fulfill her dream of painting legendary warrior Sitting Bull and learning about the Lakota people (who are part of the Sioux tribes). Chastain delivers another excellent performance as Weldon, who ultimately finds more than artistic inspiration on the open prairies. Continue reading…

read more

THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Filmmaker Amy Scott talks HAL and Women in Hollywood — Brandy McDonnell interviews

amy scott hedshotAmy Scott was inspired to helm Hal, her first feature film, after reading Nick Dawson’s Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel. Chronicling the influential insider’s career, Scott’s documentary is an insightful chapter in Hollywood history. “It was a fascinating look at his life and his journey. And I just connected with Hal because he was an editor for a number of years, won an Oscar for editing ‘In the Heat of the Night.’ And he directed his first film when he was 40, and I thought, ‘Hmm, OK, it’s not too late,” Scott said. Continue reading on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

read more

NYWIFT’s AfriAmerican Immigrant Screening: Local Stories, Global Themes – Madeline Johnson reports (Exclusive Guest Post)

nywift logoIn Astoria’s historic Kaufman Studios, filmmakers from the African diaspora shared local stories that reverberated deep into universal themes and questions as part of the fourth annual New York Women in Film & Television’s (NYWIFT) Women Filmmakers: Immigrant Stories screening on May 31, 2018. Highlighting narrative and documentary shorts about the New York immigrant experience, the selected films covered issues ranging from the #MeToo movement to Trump’s travel ban, and from the immigrant experience to what it means to be American. Continue reading on THE FEMALE GAZE

read more

WOMAN WALKS AHEAD — Review by Nikki Baughan

woman walks ahead posterThe exploration of history through the female experience remains a rare thing in filmmaking – and perhaps nowhere more so than in the Western genre. Director Susanna White’s Woman Walks Ahead boldy takes on this overtly masculine cinematic landscape with this sensitive portrayal of real-life Native American rights campaigner Catherine Weldon, who travelled from 1880s New York City to the Dakota plains in order to paint legendary Chief Sitting Bull and subsequently became embroiled in their fight to regain control of their lands. Continue reading…

read more

MOUNTAIN — Review by Diane Carson

mountain posterMountain surveys attitudes toward the world’s highest peaks. Director Jennifer Peedom’s documentary essay is as varied as the subject it tackles. From black-and-white archival footage of the first mountaineers to contemporary high-tech daredevils, the relationship between humans and mountains encompasses everything from awe to terror, triumphs to disasters, enthralled obsession to unfettered risk taking. While not in depth on any one element, this overall meditative, fairly solemn consideration delivers a moving tribute to nature and a provocative examination of individuals confronting our highest peaks. Continue reading…

read more

INCREDIBLES 2 — Review by Susan Granger

14 years after the original, Brad Bird’s digitally animated superhero franchise has a super sequel, revolving around the Parr family. Bob, Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), is the traditional strong, protective patriarch and Helen (voiced by Holly Hunter), is his flexible wife – a.k.a. Elastigirl. Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell) is their angst-laden teenage daughter, while Dash (voiced by Huck Milner) is her rowdy, impulsive younger brother, and Jack-Jack (voiced by Eli Fucile) is the baby. The family’s best friend is Lucius Best – a,k.a. Frozone (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson). Continue reading…

read more

Summer Docs Watch: The Missing Honeybees — Documentary Retroview by Jennifer Merin

more than honey posterCommentaries posted across the internet report that as summer progresses across the nation, fields of clover coming to bloom sweeten the air with their delicate fragrance. But the web buzz is that the honeybees, usually attracted to pollinate the flowers, are in absentia this year, as they have been for several years past. Several extremely good documentaries that have been released during the past decade, have set off alarms about the missing honeybees by chronicling and explaining ‘colony collapse disorder,’ the phenomenon that threatens to put honeybees on the endangered species list, to upend the ecosystem and to disastrously disrupt our food supply. Continue reading…

read more

OCEAN’S 8 — Review by Susan Granger

oceans 8 posterOpening with a scene reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven (2001), this caper comedy introduces the late, lamented Danny Ocean’s younger sister Debbie (Sandra Bullock), leaving prison after five-years, eight months and 12 days behind bars. Swinging into action, Debbie purloins beauty products from Bergdorf Goodman, forges a posh Manhattan hotel registration, liberates a suitcase off a bellman’s cart and contacts her cool wing-woman Lou (Cate Blanchett) to explain an intricate scheme she’s been working on during her incarceration. Continue reading…

read more

WOMAN WALKS AHEAD — Review by Cate Marquis

Director Susanna White’s woman-centric Western stars Jessica Chastain as a painter who travels from New York into the West with the intention of painting Sitting Bull. Once again, Chastain lands a role as a strong woman carving out her own way in the world. The story is based on a real person, who did travel to North Dakota and became a confidant and adviser to the Lakota chief. Continue reading…

read more

MOVIE OF THE WEEK June 15, 2018: WESTWOOD: PUNK, ICON, ACTIVIST

motw logo 1-35Some iconic personalities are so much larger than life that it’s easy to forget that they’re real people who’ve led real lives — which makes it all the more fascinating to learn those details and really get to know the person behind the personality. Such is the promise, and payoff, of Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, Lorna Tucker’s insightful, fascinating documentary about English fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. Continue reading…

read more

THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Alfre Woodard Talks Inclusion, ‘Luke Cage’ and What’s Next — Brandy McDonnell interviews

alfre woodardAlfre Woodard, named one of the deadCenter Film Festival’s 2018 Oklahoma Film Icon Award winners, considers herself an “original gangster,” saying that after four decades in show business she has seen plenty of trends come and go. That includes the trend of including women or people of color in movies and television shows just because it happens to be fashionable at the moment, or because someone else had success doing it. Continue reading on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

read more

HALF THE PICTURE – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

halfpicture.PIf you’ve been paying the teensiest bit of attention, there isn’t a lot in Half the Picture that will be news to you. But there is so much authority and insight in this film that is it essential viewing nevertheless for anyone who cares about all the great stories we are not seeing on our TVs and in our multiplexes because the voices of women storytellers are far too often stifled. With her feature debut, director Amy Adrion delivers a straightforward talking-head documentary that gives time and space — much needed cultural breathing room — to some remarkable female film/TV directors and industry watchers to discuss all the ways in which women get shut out of the power corridors of the pop-culture dream machine, and constantly undermined if they do manage to find their way inside. Continue reading…

read more

THE YELLOW BIRDS — Review by Jennifer Merin

yellow birds poster new small>Alexandre Moors’ powerful drama shatters notions that going to war makes heroes of ordinary men. Neither Bartle (Alden Ehrenreich), age 21, nor Murph (Tye Sheridan), who is barely 18, have any idea about what they want to do with their lives, so they join the military. They meet in basic training, and bond as brothers, determined to get through the military drill together. Their conmection is strengthened when Bartle meets Murph’s doting and very anxious mom (Jennifer Aniston), at an on base family dinner before the two deploy to Iraq, where they quickly learn that war is not a video game. Continue reading on CINEMA CITIZEN…

read more

WESTWOOD: PUNK, ICON, ACTIVIST — Review by MaryAnn Johanson

WESTWOOD POSTERShe’s been a fixture of the counterculture since, well, she helped invent the punk aesthetic in London in the 1970s with her then-partner Malcolm McLaren, who dressed the band he managed — the Sex Pistols — in clothes she made, such as a T-shirt with straitjacket-esque too-long sleeves. Today, in her 70s, she remains an iconoclast in her artistic sense, her designs alive with funky prints and retro-futuristic shapes, as well as in her business sense: her company is almost unique among the big designers in that it is completely independent, not a subsidiary of a global corporation. So it’s difficult to believe that there hasn’t been a significant documentary about Vivienne Westwood until now. Continue reading…

read more