VESPER – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

With a story as immersive as its lived-in world, the sci-fi adventure Vesper grabs the heart and the imagination. It unfurls ideas about ecology and social responsibility as gently and unobtrusively as those tendrils, with images and ideas that linger. It also features an engaging 13-year-old protagonist, curious about her world and wanting to make a better one.

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THE JUSTICE OF BUNNY KING – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Set in New Zealand, The Justice of Bunny King is a compassionate drama about one woman trying to get her life back together and the hurdles that are in her way. Some of these are biases against someone poor who’s lost her children. Others are the fallout of her choices. Making her feature directing debut, Gaysorn Thavat crafts a sympathetic portrait of Bunny in kind, understated moments that never feel manipulative.

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THE BENGALI – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

The lyrical and poetic documentary The Bengali is about assumptions, stories handed down through generations, and how simple moments can dissolve resistance. The bulk of the film occurs in Khori, the village where roots-seeking New Orleans writer Fatima Shaik shows her grandfather’s picture, asks about life there a century ago, and tries to track down any records. In its gentle way, The Bengali shows how stories and presumptions can change, forging connections that are rich and real—not just to the past but to the world at large.

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FOUR WINTERS – Review by Valerie Kafrin

In a time where audiences know the basic details of the Holocaust — thanks to school lessons, books, or films — the documentary Four Winters: A Story of Jewish Partisan Resistance and Bravery in WW2 still strikes a harrowing chord. Here, eight men and women share riveting and intimate stories about losing their loved ones and then forging resistance regiments in the forests. They were among more than 25,000 Jewish partisans who killed Nazis and their collaborators from 1940 to 1944, also wrecking bridges and derailing trains to disrupt the German war machine. Four Winters is an absorbing and emotional testament to a little-known aspect of the Holocaust, and a much-appreciated record of resistance.

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OUR AMERICAN FAMILY – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Addiction is a ravenous, all-consuming monster. Fictional narratives have explored this, of course, but the documentary Our American Family brings home this unfiltered truth with painful honesty. In gaining access to one Philadelphia-area family for roughly a year, directors Hallee Adelman and Sean King O’Grady show how addiction consumes not just one person’s life but their loved ones, too.

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ADOPTING AUDREY – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

You can’t choose your family … but what if you could? That’s the premise behind the drama Adopting Audrey, which sneaks up on viewers with disarming tenderness. Writer-director M. Cahill deftly captures the many emotions of family dynamics from the opening moments we meet Audrey (Jena Malone) in a medium closeup, her head bowed, shoulders quivering. Is she … crying? Laughing? It’s impossible to tell—until she sits up, doing both.

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LOOK BOTH WAYS – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Look Both Ways is the tamest version of a “what if?” story you’ll see this year. Granted, not every film about other lives lived can match the off-the-wall creativity of Everything Everywhere All at Once—but some greater dramatic stakes could have made this more than an OK watch. The plot follows the lead character, Natalie, in two timelines — in one, she’s pregnant and decides to co-parents, putting her career dreams on hold. In the other, she’s not pregnant, so she and her friend drive to Los Angeles to pursue their careers.

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SUMMERING – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

If Summering wanted to comment on youthful flightiness or detachment, that might be the point, but the film doesn’t embrace that ethos. Filmmaker James Ponsoldt has said he wanted to make an adventure in which his daughter could see herself and her friends, and while that’s laudable, Summering doesn’t work. The film doesn’t know how to balance the weight of death and thoughts about the passage of time with the carefree and fleeting innocence of childhood.

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MACK & RITA – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

The feather-light comedy Mack & Rita is a diverting and sweet take on self-acceptance that’s content to bask in the company of the individualistic Diane Keaton. At 76, Keaton is as endearing as her character thinks she’s awkward. She ambles into a Pilates studio with a long patterned coat, sparkly tam, and pink shoes, playing off being the oldest woman in the room. She burps over jumbo shrimp, then goes back for seconds. She thinks out loud, stringing what might be blunt or contradictory thoughts together, before getting behind one wholeheartedly

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AWFJ Presents BREATHE – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Based on a novel by French author Anne-Sophie Brasme, director Mélanie Laurent’s Breathe is a story propelled by the mercurial friendships of teenage girls. The drama rises on the rich performances of its two leads, Lou de Laâge and Joséphine Japy. During their fast and intense relationship, Sarah (de Laâge) accuses Charlie (Japy) of playing the victim—but Sarah’s pretty good at that herself. There are no clear villains and heroes in the film until the tragic (no spoilers) climax.

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