THE VALET – Review by Martha K Baker

Sometimes, you just have to take a break from Meaningful Films. You want to stop thinking, to laugh and mentally meander. So you select a movie that looks like film fluff. You pick The Valet and sit back to be brainlessly entertained. And, yet, even The Valet makes a solid point throughout. It’s about class. The Valet is predictable, delightful, and political, sweet and silly in just the right proportions.

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INDEBTED TO ALL WOMEN – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Because she lost consciousness, Teodora Vásquez doesn’t remember the details of her baby’s birth. She remembers bleeding and calling for paramedics. Being taken to a police station and handcuffed. Waking in a hospital to learn she’d been charged with killing her baby—and later sentenced to thirty years in prison. Hers is just one of the stories highlighted in the documentary En deuda con todas (Indebted to All Women), which explores the draconian law against abortion in El Salvador.

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DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA – Review by Susan Granger

If you’re an avid fan of the PBS series and followed the franchise onto the big screen, you should relish this reunion with the inhabitants of the Crawley’s stately country house who have become so familiar. But if you’re not acquainted with their backstories, this sequel may be a bit bewildering. Written once again by series creator Julian Fellowes and directed by Simon Curtis, the period drama, set circa 1929, veers between Yorkshire and the South of France and is fraught with emotional complications.

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AWFJ Presents: I AM NOT A WITCH – Review by Jennifer Merin

I Am Not A Witch is the beautifully crafted, profoundly provocative first feature from writer/director Rungaro Nyoni. The movie is set in rural Zambia, where Shula, a naive eight year old orphaned girl, is found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to live in a witch camp. Masterfully bewitching storytelling, superb performances by first-time actor Maggie Mulubwa and a fine ensemble cast, exquisite cinematography that reveals nuanced emotions in close ups and captures broad sweeps of the arid landscape, and outstanding editing skills that balance satire and serious social commentary brought I Am Not A Witch numerous awards. Rungano Nyoni’s cinematic style is unique and fascinating. I Am Not A Witch is a must see that warrants a second watch, as well.

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18½ – Review by April Neale

Looking backward and rewriting actual historical events are the order for director Dan Mirvish’s 18½. This film is a thriller laced with enough comedy to keep it off-kilter, as the premise toys with what might have happened back in 1974 when a White House transcriber named Connie (Willa Fitzgerald) with a GS2 clearance finds herself in the middle of the Watergate scandal. She has access to the “missing tape,” an 18½ minute gap in Nixon’s recorded tapes, but it conveniently disappeared. Co-writers Daniel Moya and Mirvish’s rendering of Watergate events manages to be both a fun watch, food for thought, and subtly comedically brilliant effort in its alt-historical premise.

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A NEW OLD PLAY – Review by Diane Carson

A New Old Play provides a dense Chinese political and cultural history. At three hours running time, director Qiu Jiongjiong’s A New Old Play demands and rewards patience with a chronicle of Chinese history from the 1920s through the 1980s. The more knowledgeable the viewer, the better for understanding the numerous cultural and historical landmarks. Strikingly unusual, the story is presented in the stylized, theatrical manner of Chinese opera.

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DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA – Review by T. J. Callahan

In Downton Abbey: The New Era. the Crawley’s of Grantham have invited us back into their stately manor to catch us up on what the Earl, his family, and all of the spunky servants have been up to of late. This is the sequel to the 2019 movie spinoff of the globally popular six-season TV series that lasted from 2010 to 2015. Fans of the Downton Abbey franchise will find The New Era scathingly delicious and sentimentally sweet. But, if you’ve never visited the Granthams before, you’ll probably have more fun watching your favorite DVD.

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THE TSUGUA DIARIES – Review by Jennifer Green

Portuguese film The Tsugua Diaries (Diários de Otsoga) provides a thought-provoking and sense-arousing time capsule of a globally unforgettable moment. Within the confines of the summer 2020 pandemic lockdown, co-directors Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes probe concepts of storytelling and character development by recounting 22 days on a film set – backwards. The result is at times dull, realistically and symbolically so. But as an intellectual exercise, Diaries proposes some provocative ideas by deconstructing traditional notions of time, story and character.

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HAPPENING – Review by Martha K Baker

Watch Anamaria Vartolomei’s face. From start to finish of the tense thriller, Happening, Vartolomei portrays the many moods of her character. Anne is a bright student (her mother thinks she’s gifted, of course), who finds herself in what used to be called, “the family way.” The country is France and the decade is the Sixties, and Anne is in deep trouble. Happening is a canny film, written by Marcia Romano and director Audrey Diwan. They based the script on Annie Ernaux’s novel of her experience as a young woman seeking to end her pregnancy at a time when doing so, or helping, or thinking about helping, is criminal.

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O UNILATERALIS – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

That so few films in the found footage horror genre are directed by women or genderfluid directors adds to the significance here; it’s unusual to find a found footage horror film directed by anyone but white dudes full stop, and that it takes this fascinating direction here marks it as even more unique. O Unilateralis is a solid, confident, super-low budget found footage horror film long overdue proper distribution (festivals, take note!). For fans of the subgenre it will come as a much needed breath of fresh air, director Michelle Nessk proving herself once more as a force to be reckoned with.

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