THE WIFE — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

THE WIFE POSTERI was somewhat distracted by a nagging voice in my head as I was savoring the sight of Glenn Close slaying it in The Wife as a devoted yet increasingly fed-up spouse of a self-described “narcissistic bastard” of an acclaimed novelist. “How does she not have an Oscar yet,” it kept saying every time she took her modulated slow-burn performance to the next level of perfectly expressed pique. Yes, it is often annoying when a critic makes awards predictions before the season starts. But with six losses under Close’s belt for career-defining and culturally significant roles – making her the living actress with the most nominations without a win – such speculation is hard to resist. Continue reading…

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THE WIFE — Review by Cate Marquis

Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce give searing performances in The Wife, a drama about what happens to a long-married couple when the husband is awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. The film is an astoundingly good drama, with gripping performances and an engrossing story. Continue reading…

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PUZZLE – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

SONY-PZMI-05_8.5x11.inddThe opening scene of Puzzle is a hushed horror, I don’t think it’s too extreme to call it, of domestic servility. Housewife and stay-at-home mom Agnes is so busy hosting a party at her suburban New York home that she cannot participate, much less enjoy it… unlike her husband, who is having a ball and doing not one single damn thing to help. The kicker of the scene is sadly perfect, a plaintive moment of resigned acceptance on Agnes’s face as she acknowledges to herself, for what we may take as the zillionth time, that this is what her life is now and will forever be: small, lonely, and taken for granted. Continue reading…

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SKATE KITCHEN — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

skate kitchen poster 2Director Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen relies on several choice ingredients to elevate her story above the usual urban disaffected-youth drama. That she focuses on a skateboarding crew of real-life girl daredevils who fearlessly fly along the sidewalks and streets of Manhattan like angels on wheels delivers cinematic value as well as irresistible authenticity. That these rough-and-ready stunt artists are naturals onscreen is an added bonus, especially Rachelle Vinberg who stars as Camille. The shy, bespectacled and somewhat naive 18-year-old Long Islander is ready to spread her wings and flee from the smothering clutches of her single mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez from TV’s Orange is the New Black). Continue reading…

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SKATE KITCHEN — Review by Cate Marquis

skate kitchen posterWhen we hear someone mention skateboarders, we often picture a group of young guys, trying to top each other with bold new gravity-defying tricks. But writer/director Crystal Moselle shows us a crew of skateboarder girls who are every bit as brash and every bit as good as the guys in Skate Kitchen. Moselle found success at Sundance with her documentary The Wolfpack, but this is her first narrative feature. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK August 3, 1018: NIGHT COMES ON

motw logo 1-35Boasting wholly authentic performances and a poignant, timely story, actress-turned-director Jordana Spiro’s debut feature Night Comes On is a powerful drama about pain, regret, purpose, and sisterhood. With echoes of Moonlight, it follows a young Black woman named Angel Lamere (Dominique Fishback) whose once happy childhood fell victim to drugs and violence, leaving her angry and alone. 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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MARC TURTLETAUB on PUZZLE, Kelly Macdonald and Women’s Roles — Sarah Knight Adamson interviews

As producer, Marc Turtletaub has been investing cash and cred in femme-centric feature films since 2004, standing behind award-winning films such as Little Miss Sunshine with Toni Collette and Abigail Breslin, and Loving with Ruth Negga among others. Sitting in the director’s chair for this year’s Puzzle, he’s brought to life a most memorable female character named Agnes, a doting albeit repressed housewife and mother who finds her sense of adventure, self-esteem and new meaning in life when she casually enters the realm of competitive jigsaw puzzling. As with Turtletaub’s other cinematic credits, a great measure of Puzzle’s success rests with the film’s leading lady, Kelly Macdonald, whose complex and nuanced performance as Agnes is funny and heartbreaking and entirely relatable. Here’s what he had to say in a chat with AWFJ’s Sarah Knight Adamson after the Chicago Film Critic’s Festival’s May 14 screening of the film at the Music Box Theater. 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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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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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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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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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 Cate Marquis

Kimberly Reed’s Dark Money is a chilling but fascinating look at the way money from hidden, out-of-state and even foreign government sources can be used to influence or disrupt state-level political races in this country. Reed uses a state legislature race in Montana as an example, where out-of-state organizations use dark money to fund an effort to gain control of its legislature and direct public policy for those special interests. Although the specific example is Montana, it it is a clear illustration of the power of unlimited hidden money to influence local elections in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, a cautionary tale for other states also being targeted for similar efforts. Continue reading…

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DARK MONEY — Review by Jennifer Merin

Kimberly Reed’s documentary is an explosive expose about the tremendous threat the influence of concealed corporate funding of political campaigns poses to the democratic process and the legitimacy of our elections. Dark Money is a cautionary tale that shows how independent candidates for public office are targeted and defeated by special interest groups hiding behind nonprofit organizations that are funded by wealthy and influential individuals and.or corporations — the Koch brothers, for example — who are basically buying elections and gaining control of the future laws and policies of the United States, and the rights of US citizens. Reed follows an independent investigative journalist who takes a penetrating look at election regulations regarding campaign contributions, tracks dark money back to its sources and pulls the veil back on corrupt individuals who are abusing the basic tenets of our government. The well-researched and extremely important documentary is a political shocker that should be mandatory viewing for all Americans. Read full review on CINEMA CITIZEN

motw logo 1-35EDITOR’S NOTE: Dark Money is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for July 13, 2018

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK July 6, 2018: DARK RIVER

motw logo 1-35Clio Barnard’s Dark River is a harrowing drama about the long-lasting impact of abuse. Ruth Wilson stars as Alice, a Yorkshire-raised woman who’s working as an itinerant sheep herder/shearer when she hears that her father (Sean Bean) has died. She goes home for the first time in many years to claim her right to the family farm, only to clash with her brother, Joe (Mark Stanley), who stayed on the farm with their father and thinks he has more right to the land than she does. Continue reading…

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AWARDS INTELLIGENCER: Early Oscars Buzz for LEAVE NO TRACE — Jennifer Merin reports

debra granik headBeloved by Sundance and other top film festivals, as well as by the Academy and indie awards organizations and a long list of awards-presenting critics groups, Debra Granik is attracting early Oscars buzz for Leave No Trace, her third narrative feature. AWFJ selected Leave No Trace as Movie of the Week for June 29, and an informal poll of AWFJ members shows that the film is placing high on most members’ lists of best 2018 films to date. AWFJ says Leave No Trace has legs that will lead to Oscars, come awards season. Continue reading on AWARDS INTELLIGENCER

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DARK RIVER — Review by Cate Marquis

Clio Barnard gives us a glimpse into the hard life of sheep farmers in Yorkshire through the eyes of a woman who returns home to the sheep ranch where she grew up after a fifteen year absence. Alice (Ruth Wilson) works as a sheep shearer for hire, having left home young and never returned. When she learns of her father’s death, her strange reaction to the news immediately raises the question of abuse in our minds, a suspicion quickly confirmed by flashbacks of a young Alice (Esme Creed-Miles) experiencing sexual abuse at the hands of her father (Sean Bean). Continue reading…

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LEAVE NO TRACE — Review by Anne Brodie

Debra Granik’s sobering Leave No Trace, based on Peter Rock’s fact-based My Abandonment, follows a teenage girl and her father, homeless, on the run and camping in a huge urban park. It’s a compelling study of survival and family bonds, but it’s also about the war wounds and the lasting effects of PTSD. Continue reading…

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WOMAN WALKS AHEAD — Review by Susan Granger

In the 1880s, a wealthy, widowed artist, Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain), traveled by train from New York City to the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the Dakota Territory to paint a portrait of iconic Chief Sitting Bull, the last surviving Sioux warrior to defeat Lt. Col. George Custer almost 15 years earlier. Continue reading…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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