A PRIVATE WAR – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

As someone notes here, “there are no old and bold journalists.” And we don’t get many movies about them… and even fewer about a woman who is this fearless, this badass, this outrageously good at her work. It’s not that these women do not move through the world. They do. We just don’t get the movies celebrating them. We need them.

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WIDOWS – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

“This is not your world,” someone — a man — says to Veronica Rawlings in the aftermath of the death of her husband, Harry. The man is talking about the Chicago criminal underworld in which Harry was a very successful mover — until he no longer was — but he might as well be talking about the whole big wide world.

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PROSPECT – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

Smart, gritty-stylish indie sci-fi that is actually about ideas, and about building a future world that is authentic and lived-in. It has a really memorable teen-girl protagonist, too, who is badass but still a real kid. Upstart distributor Gunpowder & Sky is debuting its science-fiction label, Dust, with Prospect, and this is how you do it.

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WEED THE PEOPLE – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

Don’t let the facile title put you off: Weed the People is a smart, vitally important documentary look at medical marijuana, how it is helping real Americans right now, and why Big Pharma has ignored its healing properties. Cannabis treatments are no snake oil: doctors agree here that medical marijuana cannot hurt and really does seem to help.

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WHAT THEY HAD – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

Writer-director Elizabeth Chomko’s debut film is a simultaneously sharp and tender portrait of longstanding, interconnected family squabbles and hidden resentments that finally come to a head with a near-tragedy. Achingly affecting performances all around — particularly Blythe Danner’s and Michael Shannon’s — and oh-so-many poignant details ground What They Had in melancholy authenticity.

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PILI – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

Pili, the feature debut of British filmmaker Leanne Welham, is remarkable. It was shot in the village where it is set, utilizing mostly nonprofessional actors, telling a story that is only just barely fictionalized from their lives. There hasn’t been a movie like this one before, showcasing the determination, the dignity, and the indomitable spirit of the women of East Africa.

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SADIE – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

Sadie has a disturbing power that sneaks up on you from an unexpected quarter, as a teenaged girl crosses the boundary from childhood to too-early adulthood. This coming-of-age story feels very universal, and would work equally well with a teenaged boy at its center, but which gets extra unnerving power by casting it as a girl’s journey.

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ALL ABOUT NINA – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

Hail Mary, full of rage. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is utterly incendiary as standup comic Nina Geld in Eva Vives’s feature directorial debut, working from her own semiautobiographical script. We’ve never seen a movie about a woman quite like All About Nina, which challenges a tired subgenre with a not-as-simple-as-it-appears gender flip.

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MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A. – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

You don’t need to be a fan of hip-hop to be blown away by Matangi/Maya/M.I.A., the tremendous documentary about Maya Arulpragasam, her work, and the controversies that swirl around her. A challenge to celebrity culture and a musician who can’t not be political about her music, she is a rare breath of fresh anger and passion…

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JANE FONDA IN FIVE ACTS – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

“What in the world is wrong with Jane Fonda?” is the opening question of Jane Fonda in Five Acts, an extraordinarily intimate and perceptive new HBO biography. It’s a cleverly ironic way for director Susan Lacy to begin framing her portrait of the legendary actress and activist, structuring the film around extensive on camera interviews in which Fonda examines her own life story.

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