AWFJ Presents: ELECTRIC SHADOWS – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

Set during China’s Cultural Revolution, female director Xiao Jiang’s 2004 feature debut, Electric Shadows, is akin to Italy’s 1989’s Oscar-winning Cinema Paradiso as it focuses on how a makeshift outdoor theater brings together a village of cinema lovers. When we first meet film addict Mao (Xia Yu), he is footloose and fancy free. He earns a living by toting water jugs from place to place on his bike. He especially loves action movies, as an image of a Blade Runner poster with Harrison Ford’s face materializes on screen. But by accident, he tumbles into a wall of bricks and is conked on the head with a brick by an angry woman named Ling-Ling (Qi Zhongyang). When she gets arrested, she gives Mao the keys to her apartment and tells him to feed her fish.

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WOMEN TALKING – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

Those who enjoy ensemble dramas will likely appreciate filmmaker Sarah Polley’s Women Talking – especially those who support the #MeToo movement and who will gladly listen to some talented ladies who have a huge decision to make. In 2010, the women of a community who have had enough must make a decision about leaving their isolated Mennonite colony that allows the men to drug and rape the women while bloodily beating them in the night, initially blaming an animal like a goat or Satan or attributing the physical assaults as acts of female imagination.

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CORSAGE – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

Lushly decorated and costumed, while cheekily anachronistic with its use of 21st century pop songs, salty language, rude gestures and the like, Corsage takes a look at the later life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, aka “Sissi” (1837-1898), played by a suitably regal and linguistically talented Vicky Krieps (Bergman Island, Phantom Thread), who speaks at least three languages here including Hungarian, and also takes an executive producer credit. In fact, Krieps reportedly first proposed the project to Austrian writer-director Marie Kreutzer.

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HIDDEN LETTERS – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

The documentary Hidden Letters, directed by Violet Du Feng, digs deep into Nushu, a traditional secret writing system used by women in Jiangyong County in China’s Hunan province. For thousands of years, Nushu has been a unique script used exclusively by local women. It is somewhat like calligraphy in that the figures are written with a brush and ink. Originally used in poems and songs, it not only provided women with a coping mechanism against the patriarchal hardships experienced before 1949 but gave them hope and allowed them to leave a legacy for future generations. The last descendant fluent in Nushu may have died in 2000, but efforts have been made to prolong its history.

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LAST FLIGHT HOME – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

Ondi Timoner’s highly personal, profoundly bittersweet, and somewhat disquieting documentary Last Flight Home, having agency over one’s final departure isn’t exclusively reserved for those existing in conflict with the status quo. Her father, Eli Timoner’s, was resolute on exercising California’s End of Life Option Act—only available to terminally ill adults. While several European nations protect this course of action within stringent limitations, just 11 states in the United States permit what’s known as medical aid in dying. As a director, Timoner doesn’t take up any debate over her father wanting to control his final days.

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THE WONDER – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

The first half of the movie is a slow-burn, but the plot catches fire in the second act when science is pitted against religious beliefs in a contest of grieving mothers. Pugh gives a sober, determined performance as a young widow whose loss of a child in infancy causes her to self-medicate with opium as she tries to save another from self-sacrifice.

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CALL JANE – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

The timely abortion rights film Call Jane, directed by Phyllis Nagy, starts off in Chicago in 1968, as the city and the nation are teetering on the brink of violent political upheaval. We meet a well-off suburban housewife Joy Griffin (Elizabeth Banks, who is the stand-out in the cast) leads an ordinary life with her husband and tween daughter. But when Joy’s pregnancy leads to a life-threatening condition, she must navigate a medical establishment unwilling to help. She then finds learns about the “Janes,” an underground organization of women who provide Joy with a safer alternative — and in the process — changes her life.

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THE REBELLIOUS LIFE OF MRS. ROSA PARKS – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks is a long overdue documentary that digs deep into the life of the civil rights activist from Montgomery, Alabama and is based on a best-selling biography. The film starts off with a clip of the quiz show To Tell the Truth in which the celebrity panel overlooks the real Rosa Parks.

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SELL/BUY/DATE – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

The documentary Sell/Buy/Date was inspired by actress, writer and first-time film director Sarah Jones and based on her same-named stage play in which she played three other characters who all have connections to the sex trade. There was some controversy about her topic that made people think that she would show a negative portrait of women who make a living in this way. That was not her intent. However, when a social media backlash occurred when the film was announced, producers Laverne Cox and Rashida Jones left the project. However, Meryl Streep stepped up to be the executive producer.

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NOTHING COMPARES – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

Nothing Compares focuses on the life and career of Dublin-born pop singer-songwriter Sinéad O’Connor, who first made a huge splash on the music scene in 1987 when she made her debut album, The Lion and the Cobra, which charted internationally. With her distinctly mesmerizing vocals, shaved head and huge green eyes, she was also a rebellious fashion plate.

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