Cinematographer Anka Malatynska and director/screenwriter Clare Niederpruem on the set of Little Women, 2017. (Photo: IMDb)
Here are twenty-five new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this September, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.
SEPTEMBER 7 (in theaters & on VOD): Alright Now (dir. Jamie Adams) (DP: Bet Rourich) – Edinburgh International Film Festival synopsis: “Cobie Smulders (‘How I Met Your Mother’) is on raucous and funny form in this British comedy, playing Joanne, lead singer of once-popular 1990s Britpop band The Filthy Dukes. After a drunken night out with her friend Sara (Jessica Hynes), Joanne finds she mistakenly enrolled in university. Determined to give the young students a run for their money as a party animal, she finds they aren’t interested in rock ’n’ roll. However, love and new beginnings might be on the cards for rocker Joanne.”
SEPTEMBER 7 (streaming on Netflix): City of Joy (dir. Madeleine Gavin) (DPs: Taylor Krauss and Lisa Rinzler) – Synopsis from the film’s official website: “The film tells the story of the first class of women at City of Joy, and chronicles the process by which such a revolutionary place came to be, from its origins with the women survivors themselves, to the opening of the center’s doors. Directed by first- time director, Madeleine Gavin, the film provides a glimpse into the lives of the women the center serves, and the unlikely friendship that develops when a devout Congolese doctor, Dr. Denis Mukwege (2016 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize), radical playwright and activist, Eve Ensler (Tony Award winning playwright of The Vagina Monologues) and a charismatic Congolese human rights activist, Christine Schuler Deschryver (Director of the City of Joy), join forces to create this safe haven in the middle of violence-torn Eastern Congo.”
SEPTEMBER 7: Hal (dir. Amy Scott) – IFC Center synopsis: “Hal is a long-overdue feature length documentary film celebrating the life and work of director Hal Ashby, set against a backdrop of a rapidly changing America, and an even more dramatic shift in filmmaking. While Ashby was once the toast of ‘New Hollywood’ his rise and fall became an archetypal story of art versus industry.
“Director Hal Ashby’s singular genius led to an unprecedented string of Oscar-winning films in the 1970s. His legacy is undeniable — Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Coming Home, and Being There and yet the obsessive and uncompromising nature that brought us these films became his downfall. On camera interviews with Oscar-winning actors Lee Grant, Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Louis Gossett Jr, Jeff Bridges and more recall how they were empowered by Ashby and granted collaborative freedom. Contemporary directors including Alexander Payne, Judd Apatow, Lisa Cholodenko, and David O. Russell attest to the quiet but powerful influence Ashby has had on their own filmmaking. Behind the camera colleagues Norman Jewison, Robert Towne, Haskell Wexler, and Pablo Ferro stand witness to Ashby’s brilliance as a filmmaker and the forces that led to his undoing. While on the outside Ashby embodied a quintessential peaceful vibe, internally he was dealing with deeper issues that he then transformed into the main themes of his work. Out of his anti-authoritarian inclinations leftover from a troubled childhood emerged a filmmaker dedicated to making prescient films that challenged racial stereotypes and gentrification; examined military authority; celebrated love that knows no color, age or race; explored sexual politics during a time of national crisis; championed a socialist folk singer; illuminated the plight of veterans and the cost of war; and revealed the dark underbelly of corporate control of American politics.
“In the 1980s, with the advent of the film franchise came a major shift in the Hollywood business model. While contemporaries Coppola, Scorsese and Spielberg rose to stardom riding the blockbuster wave, Ashby released a perplexing series of flops and disasters. The industry began to dismiss his brilliance amid rumors of drug addiction and cost overruns. His profound humanity, ability with actors, and genius in the editing room went from an Oscar-winning formula to a perceived liability. The latitude that directors were given in the 1970s was dissolved to make way for a different era in filmmaking, one that did not entertain Ashby’s process-oriented methods.
“Hal explores the complex balance of art and commerce, the passions that drive an artist to create, and what this one artist was willing to sacrifice for his work. Hal compels us to re-examine why we make films, reminds us of what film can be, that it has a power to move and transform us.”
SEPTEMBER 7: The Hows of Us (dir. Cathy Garcia-Molina) – Cosmo Honest Review synopsis: “George (Kathryn Bernardo) and Primo (Daniel Padilla) are schoolmates who fall in love. She’s preparing to get into medical school and he’s a musician waiting for his band to hit it big. Together, in a house they inherited from George’s grand aunt, they dream of great success and promise to support each other no matter what.
“But what happens when the dream of success doesn’t come for one of them? Primo doesn’t get the big break he’s been working for and turns into a difficult and arrogant artist who can’t even help with the bills. Faithful George stays true to her promise to support Primo through it all.
“That is until she reaches her breaking point and gives up. Dejected, Primo walks out and does not look back.
“Years later, he comes back a changed man. Can she still give him a second chance?”
SEPTEMBER 7 (NYC), SEPTEMBER 14 (LA): I Am Not a Witch (dir. Rungano Nyoni) – The Guardian review by Mark Kermode: “In a remote Zambian village, a nine-year-old girl (Margaret Mulubwa) is accused of being a witch and given a stark choice: to accept her supernatural branding and live a tethered life as a sorceress, or to cut her ties with local tradition and be transformed into a goat that may be killed and eaten for supper. Thus begins this bewilderingly strange yet terrifically sure-footed feature debut from writer-director Rungano Nyoni. Born in Zambia and part-raised in Wales, Nyoni first made international waves with such award-winning shorts as Mwansa the Great (2011) and Listen (2014). Now, this daringly satirical parable of magic and misogyny, superstition and social strictures confirms her promise as a film-maker of fiercely independent vision, with a bright future ahead.
“Unsurprisingly opting to embrace her supernatural status, the young heroine of I Am Not a Witch is sent to the local ‘witch camp,’ an enslaved tourist attraction. Here, the women offer a sense of community and protection to the all-but-silent newcomer, whom they name Shula (‘it means “to be uprooted”‘). But when government official Mr Banda (Henry BJ Phiri) declares that ‘you are my little witch now,’ a strange form of celebrity looms. Soon, Shula is being paraded around local courts and TV stations, dispensing divine justice and hawking magical eggs – all for the profit of her garrulous keeper. ‘What if she’s actually just a child?’ asks the presenter of the Smooth Talk chatshow, a question that is met with stony silence from her ‘state guardian.’
“Nyoni was apparently inspired by real-life reports of witchcraft accusations in Zambia, and her research took her to Ghana, where she became the first foreigner to sleep in one of the world’s oldest ‘witch camps.’ Here, she observed first hand the daily rituals of these women whose fates have been sealed by ‘nothing more than hearsay.’ Yet for all its factual grounding, I Am Not a Witch is also a work of fairytale invention, unravelling the threads of its quasi-mythical narrative with anarchic aplomb. In particular, the motif of women restrained from flight by vast lengths of white ribbon has a touch of Charles Perrault or the brothers Grimm – a magical-realist conceit that brilliantly dramatises the down-to-earth reality of the ties that bind.
“There’s a hint of the absurdist tragicomedy of Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster too, as Shula faces a Kafkaesque choice between enforced conformity and metamorphosis. Brilliantly, Nyoni keeps her audience wondering whether they’re meant (or allowed?) to laugh or cry at this insane predicament, juxtaposing scenes of poignant despair with sociopolitical existential slapstick. Early accusations of witchcraft have an almost Pythonesque quality, while a sequence in which a show trial is interrupted by a mobile phone is pure farce. Fans of Chilean surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky will warm to a streak of deadpan humour that is drier than the arid plains upon which Shula dances to summon the rain.
“Having worked monochrome miracles on Ciro Guerra’s Amazon odyssey Embrace of the Serpent, cinematographer David Gallego here conjures a kaleidoscope of arresting tableaux: lonely Shula listening through a blue horn to the distant laughter of schoolchildren carried on the wind; a huge orange truck with women tied to outstretched reels, like some mobile fairground ride; the open mouth of a giant head looming towards us, while a frightened child huddles within. These images are hauntingly composed and dreamily sustained, the length of the shots heightening comedy and tragedy alike, with heartbreaking results. Meanwhile, music cues swerve from Vivaldi to Estelle, keeping the audience on edge and uneasy.
“At the centre of it all is a group of nonprofessional players, led by young Margaret Mulubwa, who was discovered during a location recce in Luapula Province. And what a discovery she is! With a face that can transform from innocence to defiance in an instant, Mulubwa is a mesmerising screen presence, her stoical countenance broken occasionally by a radiant smile that lights up the landscape.
“As for Nyoni, her ability to blend cruel humour, pointed satire and empathetic anger to produce something touched by tragic transcendence is astonishing. In interviews, she has described watching Michael Haneke movies as ‘my film school’ (perhaps those white ribbons are a homage?). Yet she has also talked enthusiastically about her love of the witchy 1996 teen fantasy The Craft. With such wide-ranging influences, who knows what this remarkable film-maker will do next? Having been spellbound by her audacious first feature, I can’t wait to find out.”
SEPTEMBER 7: Kusama: Infinity (dir. Heather Lenz) – Film Forum synopsis: “Yayoi Kusama is the top-selling female artist in the world, best known for her colorful polka dot- and pumpkin-themed designs and her massively popular mirrored Infinity Rooms. Her work has pushed boundaries that often alienated her from her peers and those in power in the art world. Kusama: Infinity shows the artist overcoming the odds to bring her radical artistic vision to the world stage – growing up in Japan during World War II, life in a dysfunctional family that discouraged her creative ambitions, sexism and racism in the art establishment, and mental illness in a culture where that was a particular stigma. Kusama has created a legacy of artwork that spans the disciplines of painting, sculpture, installation art, performance art, poetry, and novels. After six decades of work, people around the world are experiencing her Infinity Rooms in record numbers, and Kusama continues to create work every day.”
SEPTEMBER 7 (NYC), SEPTEMBER 14 (LA): Nelly (dir. Anne Émond) (DP: Josée Deshaies) – City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis: “A high-class prostitute by choice, Nelly Arcan’s colorful life is recreated in a multi-layered and stylish mix of make-believe and memoir, revealing Nelly’s alter egos: the neurotic writer, the vulnerable lover, the call girl and the star. Nelly shocked the literary world with her elegant phrasing and the lurid details of sex work in her autobiographical first novel, Whore, which became a critically acclaimed bestseller. Despite unprecedented success, Nelly’s remarkable life ended in tragedy.”
SEPTEMBER 14 (NYC/LA), SEPTEMBER 21 (wider release & on VOD): I Think We’re Alone Now (dir./DP: Reed Morano) – Slash Film’s Sundance Film Festival review by Ben Pearson: “Is there anyone better at playing soulfully sad than Peter Dinklage? The ‘Game of Thrones’ star is front and center in I Think We’re Alone Now, a post-apocalyptic drama in which he plays the last man on Earth who discovers he’s not as alone as he thinks when a young woman (Elle Fanning) enters his life. Characters in similar stories might celebrate this miraculous opportunity for human connection, but Del (Dinklage) resents it – he actually prefers being by himself, even in such extreme circumstances. Like an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ extended to feature length, I Think We’re Alone Now wraps emotional exploration in a high concept premise. And like Rod Serling’s seminal sci-fi anthology series, this movie features a third-act twist – but this one almost torpedoes the entire story.
“This is the second film from director Reed Morano, the celebrated director of photography who broke out last year by establishing the visual style of Hulu’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ Here, Morano serves as both director and director of photography, and no surprise, her camera work is beautiful. But the director also captures an intimacy in the lead performances that gives the movie some much-needed life: since the cause of the apocalypse is never explained and frankly not much happens in this story, the audience is left to focus more on the actors than the plot. Luckily, Dinklage and Fanning are up to the task.
“Dinklage is solid as Del, an isolated man living in a New England town whose population has been wiped out. He spends his days in silence, methodically going through each house and retrieving batteries from remote controls and vibrators before burying the dead in a hill on the edge of town. But you get the sense that he’s doing this out of compulsion rather than any sense of respect – one of the film’s biggest themes is the idea of feeling lonely while being surrounded by others, and the way Del unceremoniously dumps each body into the ground makes it seem as if he’s almost happy to be rid of the people who overlooked or belittled him when they were alive. He’s certainly pleased with his life of isolation, fishing for food on the local lake and keeping up his duties as the town librarian by cataloguing books that he finds in dead people’s houses. He spends his nights watching movies on laptops, swapping each computer for a new one as its battery dies for the final time.
“But one night, his sleep is interrupted by a series of explosions: in the most gorgeous sequence in the movie, Del walks to the window and sees that a fireworks display has been set off across town. (Morano’s framing and the confusion on Dinklage’s face makes each explosion represent a different possibility for what may lie ahead.) That’s when Del meets Grace (Fanning), an energetic teenager who’s his polar opposite and who teaches him how to appreciate people. It’s a simple concept, but Morano spends a lot of time fleshing out their relationship and finding small moments that resonate: an emotionally wounded Del looking up at Grace, the two of them performing a small ritual for each new buried body, an argument over the lifespan of a goldfish, the sounds of a past life floating up from a photo album. It’s not without moments of humor, too: when Del tells Grace that batteries are the most important commodity the dead can offer, she jokes, ‘The necrophiliac in me would have to disagree.’
“But then that pesky twist comes along and nearly ruins all the good will the film has built up until that point. Without spoiling anything, the film’s final third raises an interesting thematic point – would you want to live in a world in which all negative emotions could be purged from your mind? – but it does so in such a rushed and unsatisfying fashion that the ending either needed to be reworked entirely or had another 20 minutes devoted to it to make it feel earned.
“Still, despite a premise that sounds overly familiar and a central relationship that could easily have tipped into eye-rolling territory, Morano, writer Mike Makowsky, and the movie’s lead actors have crafted a poignant and humanist showcase of growth and compassion. Quiet, reflective, and intimate, I Think We’re Alone Now is an exceptional exhibition for Dinklage and Fanning and a further illustration of the dynamic talent of filmmaker Reed Morano.”
SEPTEMBER 14 (streaming on Netflix): The Land of Steady Habits (dir. Nicole Holofcener) – Toronto International Film Festival synopsis: “For 200 years, Connecticut has been called ‘the land of steady habits,’ initially for its political stability though richer ironies quickly emerged. By 2014, when Ted Thompson wrote the novel on which Nicole Holofcener’s new film is based, steady habits had become both a fair description and a caustic joke.
“Ben Mendelsohn plays Anders Hill, a middle-aged man who has divorced his wife, Helene (Edie Falco), and surrendered the comforts of affluent family life for… well, he’s not sure. Retired from work, freed from marriage, and largely abandoned by his adult son Preston (Thomas Mann), he seeks that liberating lightness he once had. But awkward dates prove unsatisfying, even with a woman as lively as Barbara (Connie Britton). Anders finds himself drifting towards adolescent adventures, trying to befriend his neighbour’s teenage son Charlie (Charlie Tahan), and joining in risk taking he should have outgrown decades ago. Played with flinty charm by Mendelsohn, best known as a character actor, Anders is the kind of man often found at the centre of films, novels, and plays. He is successful and idiosyncratic. His flaws somehow make him seem more attractive. But watch what Holofcener does with this character.
“Under the auspices of the woman who made such insightful social comedies as Enough Said, Please Give, Friends with Money, and Lovely & Amazing, Anders’s rakish masculinity wilts. As the film progresses, it turns a sharper gaze on its questing protagonist, revealing more about Anders than he might ever want you to see. Less funny but more penetrating than Holofcener’s comedies, The Land of Steady Habits emerges from a world similar to The Ice Storm‘s, where money won’t buy mindfulness, and a man’s grasp too often exceeds his reach.”
SEPTEMBER 14: Lost Child (dir. Ramaa Mosley) – Cinema Village synopsis: “Fern (Leven Rambin), an army veteran, returns home in order to look for her brother, only to discover an abandoned boy lurking in the woods behind her childhood home. After taking in the boy, she searches for clues to his identity, and discovers the local folklore about a malevolent, life-draining spirit that comes in the form of a child; the Tatterdemalion.”
SEPTEMBER 14 (in theaters & on VOD): MDMA (dir. Angie Wang) – Brainstorm Media synopsis: “Raised by her strict father in an urban neighborhood, Angie is accepted into a prestigious university in the early 1980s. The sudden jolt from hardship to privileged campus life proves to be a challenge. When her financial aid is cut, she uses her book and street smarts, along with the schools resources to synthesize the growing popular drug, Ecstasy. Angie becomes one of the west coast’s largest distributors of ‘X,’ cutting deals on campus and in posh nightclubs. Her dual life as the Asian ‘model minority’ coed and profit-driven drug dealer is further complicated by her desire to help Bree, a girl from one of the bay area’s most infamous ghettos who reminds her of her own dark past. Angie lives the high life until her recklessness instigates a sudden tragedy from which she may not recover.”
SEPTEMBER 14 (NYC), SEPTEMBER 21 (expanding nationwide): Science Fair (dirs. Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster) – The Landmark at 57th Street synopsis: “Hailed by critics as ‘immensely likeable,’ ‘brilliant and quirky’ and an ‘ode to the teenage science geeks on whom our future depends,’ and winner of the audience award at Sundance and SXSW, National Geographic Documentary Films’ Science Fair follows nine high school students from around the globe as they navigate rivalries, setbacks and, of course, hormones, on their journey to compete at The International Science and Engineering Fair. As 1,700 of the smartest, quirkiest teens from 78 different countries face off, only one will be named Best in Fair. The film, from Fusion and Muck Media and directed by the DuPont Award-winning and Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaking team Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster, offers a front seat to the victories, defeats and motivations of an incredible group of young men and women who are on a path to change their lives, and the world, through science.”
SEPTEMBER 14: Where Hands Touch (dir. Amma Asante) – Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Cameron Bailey: “Writer-director Amma Asante (Belle, United Kingdom) returns to the Festival with this complex story about a love so fierce it transcends the most terrible divides conceivable. The story of a biracial teen in Nazi Germany, Where Hands Touch offers a different sort of Holocaust narrative — one that’s been a long time coming.
“Rudesheim, the Rhineland, 1944. Lenya (Amandla Stenberg) has come of age during the chaos of war. Her mother (Abbie Cornish) has done her best to protect Lenya, but the racist credo of National Socialism has rendered her a pariah for the colour of her skin. Yet youthful ardour can bloom in the most unlikely places: Lenya is in love with Lutz (George MacKay), a young Nazi. Lutz toes the party line when it comes to antisemitism yet remains drawn to Lenya despite Nazi revulsion at the thought of a Black German.
“When that revulsion escalates to direct threat to her survival, Lenya and Lutz must face the seemingly inevitable outcome of their impossibly fraught romance.
“Asante has made an astonishingly bold and unnervingly timely film. Where Hands Touch foregrounds matters of the heart while prompting us to consider the slippery process of a nation’s radicalization. At the film’s core is Stenberg’s breathtaking performance. From her supporting role in The Hunger Games to her lead in The Hate U Give — also screening at the Festival — Stenberg communicates the myriad struggles of a girl becoming a woman with vulnerability and sophistication.”
SEPTEMBER 19: Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable (dir. Sasha Waters Freyer) – Film Forum synopsis: “‘What is a photograph?’ Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) asks in his iconic, gravelly Bronx accent. Winogrand was a compulsive street photographer (although he hated that term), working for decades in NYC, then in Texas and California, to create a huge body of work (hundreds of thousands of images taken with his 35mm Leica) that comprise an encyclopedic portrait of America. During his lifetime he was celebrated (as a favorite of MoMA curator John Szarkowski) and reviled (especially for his book, Women Are Beautiful) and then more-or-less forgotten after his untimely death at age 56. Writes Jennifer Szalai in The New York Times: ‘(Winogrand) captured the fallout from the midcentury American moment – those few decades from the 1950s on, when placid, middle-class prosperity started to give way to something less affluent, more fragmented and harder to define.'”
SEPTEMBER 21: A Happening of Monumental Proportions (dir. Judy Greer) (DP: Alison Kelly) – Cinema Village synopsis: “A series of touching comic tableaus – some raucous, some sad, some instantly identifiable – mark actress Judy Greer’s directorial debut. The nonstop comedy intertwines students, parents, and teachers, all trying to find their way through one rough day. The all-star cast finds Daniel, an account manager (Common) with a boring job gearing up for Career Day at his lovely daughter’s elementary school, while dealing with the fallout of an intra-office romance with his assistant (Jennifer Garner) and his nasty new boss (Bradley Whitford). The boss’s unfortunately nerdy son finds himself instantly entranced with Daniel’s daughter (Storm Reid), seeking advice from their school’s hip shop teacher (John Cho) and depressed music teacher (Anders Holm), without success. The teachers’ principal team – Allison Janney and Rob Riggle – spend their day trying to hide the school’s dead gardener from not only the staff, but also the students and their parents, who experience a Career Day they likely will never forget.”
SEPTEMBER 21: Love, Gilda (dir. Lisa D’Apolito) – Variety’s Tribeca Film Festival review by Owen Gleiberman: “The great ‘Saturday Night Live’ performers have always been more than funny. They’re up there to make you laugh, of course, but it’s the way they make you laugh — the manic expressive rock-star shine of their personality, and how it channels their comedic spirit. (That’s something you hold onto long after the laugh is over.) And no one on ‘Saturday Night Live’ ever had a spirit that burned more brightly, or hilariously, than Gilda Radner.
“She poured her essence — her very being — into every character she created, and she did it effortlessly, without fuss. When she played Judy Miller, the hyperactive Brownie who made up insanely self-directed TV fantasies in her bedroom, Radner seemed to be channeling her inner child — but that, in a larger sense, is what she did in every sketch. She didn’t just create characters. She became them, and invited the audience to share in the euphoria she felt in submerging, and exposing, herself.
“Love, Gilda, Lisa D’Apolito’s exuberant and moving documentary portrait of Gilda Radner, which opened this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, is a movie that captures the fascinating evolution and awesome range of Radner’s talent — the dozens of lovingly, crazily etched characters she did on ‘SNL’ (the dear old deaf crank Emily Litella, the head-cold nerd Lisa Loopner, the wildly cantankerous Roseanne Roseannadanna), and the way she hardly even needed to be playing a character; she could just be dancing with a hula hoop, and you felt the magic pull of her gift. In the early years, when Lorne Michaels had a two-and-a-half-minute space to fill that was too short for an official sketch, he would call on Radner to do a bit called ‘What Gilda Ate,’ in which she simply riffed on what she had to eat that day. Just standing there in front of the camera, with no props or characters to hide behind, she had the audience eating out of her hand.
“That may seem ironic in light of the revelations that would later come forth about her bulimia, but in fact, it’s not ironic at all. Radner was a sensualist who loved food; she also felt compelled, as a female celebrity of the late ’70s (and the first woman superstar of ‘Saturday Night Live’), to remain thin. The eating disorder that emerged from that conflict is captured, in Love, Gilda, with matter-of-fact honesty, but as serious as it was, it never shrouds Radner’s life force. Nothing does. The movie captures a woman who lived as if she never knew what was coming next. On stage, she went with the flow of her comic impulses, and off stage she went with the flow of her desire for bliss and comfort and salvation, and even with the flow of the cancer that killed her.
“Forty years later, her comedy looks more sublime than ever. As you watch Love, Gilda, though, it becomes clear that what made Gilda Radner special — and uproarious — was her spirit: open, smiling, generous, euphoric. She was that rare thing, a happy comedian (though, of course, she also had her demons), and Love, Gilda is a salute to the complex power of her happiness.
“The movie is a perfectly conventional documentary (chronological, full of the talking heads you’d expect — Lorne, Chevy, Laraine, etc.). Yet the reason that description doesn’t do it justice is that D’Apolito, working with the editors Anne Alvergue, David Cohen, and Kristen Nutile, has interpolated a range of still photographs of Radner, culled from throughout her life, into a mutating scrapbook that becomes a kind of visual psychodrama. That may sound like a version of what any decent documentary biography does, but the art of the form can come down to the precision of this photograph, employed at this moment, to express the subject’s shifting moods and circumstances. Love, Gilda is plain but beautifully crafted. It draws you close to Radner, presenting her rise through the world of ’70s comedy as a journey of discovery.
“The film pays due homage to her ’50s childhood — she was born in 1946 and grew up in an affluent Detroit family, idolizing Charlie Chapin and Lucille Ball, attached to the daddy who came home from his career as a hotel owner and watched her perform for hours. Even then, slipping into characters was what she did, not out of the usual comedian’s ‘insecurity’ but because it came as naturally to her as breathing. As a girl, she battled weight issues (she was put on dexedrine pills at 10), and she later dropped out of the University of Michigan to follow a Canadian sculptor she’d fallen in love with to Toronto. She wanted to be a homemaker.
“One of the charms of her career is that it all happened with a minimum of calculation. In Toronto, she stumbled into the cast of Godspell and dated Martin Short (at 22, four years her junior), which led her to Second City, which led to a phone call, out of the blue, from John Belushi, who was doing National Lampoon’s Lemmings and wanted her to be ‘the girl in the show.’ In 1973, this was called progress.
“Seventies comedy, especially stand-up, is often talked about as a noxious boys’ club, and God knows The National Lampoon was, but Second City had a far more gender-friendly vibe, and part of the beauty of the Radner mystique is that she possessed the gentle force and glow to casually defuse the sexism of the comedy world. She was accepted on her own terms, and when Lorne Michaels was getting ready to launch his late-night-TV live-comedy experiment, Gilda was the first one he cast.
“The celebrity came instantly, and she basked in it; it enhanced her glow. We see an extraordinary clip of the original cast members, all clammed up on ‘The Tomorrow Show,’ as Lorne Michaels — young, handsome, and dark-haired, but already a self-styled corporate mobster of late night — explains to Tom Snyder that he expects about two of them to last. (What a thing to say! In front of your cast members on national television!) Radner wasn’t fazed. Along with Chevy Chase, she was the first true star of ‘SNL,’ and it didn’t take long for the entire cast to become the Beatles of comedy. They were iconic; a generation grew obsessed with them.
“Love, Gilda includes fascinating clips of Radner cavorting with Bill Murray on ‘The National Lampoon Radio Hour’; backstage glimpses of her ‘SNL’ writing partnership with Alan Zweibel; Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, and Melissa McCarthy giving impromptu readings of the journal she kept to the end; and an intimate panorama of her courtship with Gene Wilder. Their romance is quite touching (creatively, though, love really was blind: The one mistake Radner ever made in her career was costarring in her husband’s warmed-over Mel Brooksian duds, like Haunted Honeymoon). Her battle with ovarian cancer, which was first diagnosed in 1987, is long and brave, presented by the movie in all its everyday soul-shaping agony. For anyone to die as young as Gilda Radner did (she was 42) is tragic, but for a performer who gave this much to the world, with a spirit of such elation, to be cut down in this way seems beyond cruel. Yet by the end of Love, Gilda, you feel like you’ve seen a very full life.”
SEPTEMBER 21: Nappily Ever After (streaming on Netflix) (dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour) – IndieWire article by Jenna Marotta: “Fifteen years ago, Real Women Have Curves director Patricia Cardoso almost made Nappily Ever After for Universal Pictures, with Halle Berry in the lead role. An adaptation of the bestselling first installment from Trisha R. Thomas’ eight-book series eventually found a home at Netflix. Berry’s onetime part went to Film Independent Spirit Award nominee Sanaa Lathan (Love & Basketball), also the project’s co-producer.
“As advertising executive Violet Jones — changed from Venus Johnston in the books — Lathan is a coiffure-conscious perfectionist who believes she’s engineered herself a happy ending. Yet life begins to capsize when her doctor beau presents her with a Chihuahua instead of a proposal, and she is taken off an important work account.
“Late one night, convinced she has nothing left to lose — and recalling her boyfriend’s criticism of ‘You never let your hair down’ — she shaves her head. The film’s tagline, naturally, is, ‘Let Yourself Grow.’
“Adam Brooks (Beloved) and first-time screenwriter Cee Marcellus penned the film, which co-stars Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) and Emmy winner Lynn Whitfield (The Josephine Baker Story) as Violet’s parents, plus ‘American Gods’ lead Ricky Whittle and Netflix veteran Lyriq Bent (‘She’s Gotta Have It’) as her suitors.
“BAFTA nominee Haifaa al-Mansour became the first Saudi woman to direct a feature film with Wadjda (2014); last year, Elle Fanning starred in her English-language debut, IFC Films’ Mary Shelley. Additional producers include Tracey Bing (Southside with You), Jared LeBoff (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), and Marc Platt (La La Land), who was attached to the film when it was in development at Universal.”
SEPTEMBER 21 (streaming on Netflix & in limited theatrical release): Quincy (dirs. Alan Hicks and Rashida Jones) – Deadline article by Mike Fleming Jr.: “Netflix has acquired Quincy, the documentary about legendary composer/producer Quincy Jones that was directed by his daughter Rashida Jones and Alan Hicks. Netflix has set a global release for September 21, and will give the film a limited theatrical release as well. The film is produced by Paula DuPré Pesmen and executive produced by Jane Rosenthal and Berry Welsh from Tribeca Productions and Adam Fell from Quincy Jones Productions.
“The docu is an intimate look into the life of an icon who has been a force in music and pop culture for decades, transcending racial and cultural boundaries. He started as a trumpeter, pianist and arranger for bandleader Lionel Hampton, and right out of college was arranging songs for artists including Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa, and Ray Charles. He has been a mentor to artists from Michael Jackson to Lesley Gore, Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith and collaborated with the likes of Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Miles Davis and many others.
“Jones was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has Emmys, Grammys, Oscars and Tonys on his mantle. Actually he has won 27 Grammys, second most in history. He was producer and conductor of ‘We Are the World,’ still the best selling single of all time, and Jackson’s solo albums Off the Wall, Bad and Thriller, latter of which remains the best selling album ever. On the movie side, he co-produced Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple and won an Emmy for scoring the opening episode of the groundbreaking miniseries Roots.
“Jones is an inspiring man to speak with and is an accomplished storyteller, and opened up for the daughter he shares with his ex, the Mod Squad star Peggy Lipton.
“‘It’s rare that somebody who has lived as much life as my dad is still interested in growing and knowing the next generation,’ Rashida Jones said. ‘He is such a man of action and accomplishments, but we were so lucky to spend real time with him, to let him reflect on life and the larger picture. I feel honored to be able to share that with audiences all over the world.’
“Said co-director Hicks: ‘There is really no one like Quincy, the sheer breadth of his work alone is unparalleled, but the story of him as a man has never been comprehensively told. It was a privilege to have his trust, allowing us to capture intimate moments giving insight into the fabric of the man.’
“Lisa Nishimura, VP of Original Documentaries for Netflix called it ‘a rare opportunity to be able to present the definitive story of someone who has for over seven decades, not just influenced, but altered the course of culture.'”
SEPTEMBER 24 (HBO), SEPTEMBER 28 (limited theatrical release): Jane Fonda in Five Acts (dir. Susan Lacy) – TheWrap’s Sundance Film Festival review by Alonso Duralde: “Jane Fonda in Five Acts could easily have been a 10-hour miniseries; it would take at least two hours merely to go through each of her 50 or so film performances. As a second-generation star, an outspoken activist, an entrepreneur and feminist icon, Fonda almost seems like a living metaphor for the uneasy and constantly changing post-WWII era.
“If she didn’t actually exist, Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin would have had to make her up as a character in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. But she does exist, and she’s still here, and documentarian Susan Lacy (Spielberg) digs deep into Fonda’s life to create a film (for HBO) that’s an audio-visual supplement to the actress’ fascinating 2005 memoir (My Life So Far), a frank examination of Fonda’s personal evolution, and a celebration of her role in popular culture.
“It’s a story of highs and lows, successes and regrets; yes, Megyn Kelly, Fonda wishes she hadn’t had plastic surgery, noting that she loves ‘lived-in faces,’ like the one on her dear friend Vanessa Redgrave, after whom she named her oldest daughter. Her relationship with her daughter also counts as a regret, but it’s taken Fonda a lifetime to understand her own mother, and she hopes that it’s not too late to make up for her own mistakes.
“The first four acts of the title refer to the men who guided Fonda through most of her life: her father, Henry, an iconic screen presence in his own right; her first husband, French filmmaker Roger Vadim, who guided her through her Euro-sex kitten period (and it’s a delight to hear her trill part of the Barbarella theme song); her second, activist Tom Hayden, whom she met during her own agitation against the Vietnam War and for the rights of indigenous peoples; her third, billionaire Ted Turner. The final act belongs to Fonda herself, who left her final marriage when she realized she was finally ready to guide her own destiny.
“It’s a whirlwind trip through the Actors Studio, Paris, Hanoi, Beverly Hills, Three Mile Island, aerobics studios and Montana, among other stops, and we see the progression from a little girl who felt distanced from her parents (dad cheated, mom was diagnosed with what we now know as bipolar disorder), to a young ingénue who had chops but not confidence, to a vocal spokesperson for causes that had meaning for her.
“Fonda admits that during the early years of her activism, she was ‘starving and speedy,’ eating very little and taking Dexedrine to suppress her appetite. And even as a vocal feminist, she still spent much of her life craving validation from men.
“While Jane Fonda in Five Acts in no way acts as a substitution for the book, it does allow for other voices; we hear from Hayden and Turner, friend and producer Paula Weinstein, and Fonda’s son (with Hayden), Troy Garity, who supplies some of the film’s most hilarious and poignant observations on its subject.
“It was surprising to see, at Sundance no less, interviews with Robert Redford about his decades-long friendship and collaboration with Fonda, particularly since Weinstein calls him out at one point; according to her, it was Redford not fighting for Fonda to get the role in Legal Eagles over the younger, newer Debra Winger that made Fonda realize that her years as a big-screen leading lady were behind her.
“But Lacy and Fonda aren’t afraid to go to the uncomfortable places: We see footage of angry Americans who demanded exile (or execution) for Fonda after her visit to Hanoi during the Vietnam War, and Fonda herself admits that allowing herself to be photographed with an anti-aircraft gun was a huge mistake and her one regret of the trip.
“She’s also got a lot to be proud of: Besides her work as an actress and activist, she produced Coming Home and The China Syndrome and 9 to 5 to tell stories she felt were important, and it would be hard to find someone working in movies now who is similarly committed to marrying issues and entertainment. And at the age of 80, she’s still getting laughs (opposite Tomlin) on Netflix’s ‘Grace and Frankie’ and showing up at Standing Rock and other hot spots to loan her spotlight to causes that need them.
“The movie opens with makeup artists attaching Fonda’s false eyelashes before her appearance at a recent Golden Globes, and that scene lets us know that the film’s subject is going to let us in on pretty much everything. Hers is a lot of life to try to capture in one movie, but Jane Fonda in Five Acts certainly covers her emotional arc with thoroughness and compassion.”
SEPTEMBER 28: All About Nina (dir. Eva Vives) – Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Shayna Weingast: “Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) isn’t your typical brash stand-up comic. Her sets may be littered with frank sex talk, sarcastic cynicism, and vulgarity, but her act is no mere act. Having finally ditched her abusive lover (Chace Crawford), Nina hightails it to Los Angeles with the hope of finally making it big. Things begin to improve in her career, as well as in her love life—thanks to a new love interest, Rafe (Common)—but this hard-drinking heroine isn’t sure she can handle stability. Despite her budding successes, Nina struggles to reconcile being authentic and happy in both her career and in her personal life.
“As All About Nina’s fractured protagonist, Mary Elizabeth Winstead delivers an astonishingly raw performance, tearing into her part with the ferocity Nina deserves. The film’s strong supporting cast includes a revelatory Common, who portrays a man of utmost decency, patience, and love. Through these complicated and resonant characters, as well as its deft examination of timely matters like trauma, abuse, and sexism in the world of stand-up comedy, All About Nina offers insight into what it means to be a talented, creative woman today.”
SEPTEMBER 28: A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics, Genetics and the American Dream (dir. Stephanie Welch) – Cinema Village synopsis: “A dangerous idea has threatened the American Dream from the beginning – the belief that some groups and individuals are inherently superior to others and more deserving of fundamental rights. Such biological determinism provided an excuse for some of America’s most shameful history. And now it’s back.
“The documentary A Dangerous Idea reveals how biologically determined politics has disenfranchised women and people of color, provided a rationale for state sanctioned crimes committed against America’s most vulnerable citizens, and now gains new traction under the Trump administration.
“Featuring interviews with social thinkers such as Van Jones and Robert Reich, as well as prominent scientists, A Dangerous Idea is a radical reassessment of the meaning, use and misuse of gene science. Like no other film before it, this documentary brings to light how false scientific claims have rolled back long fought for gains in equality, and how powerful interests are poised once again to use the gene myth to unravel the American Dream.”
SEPTEMBER 28: Free Solo (dirs. Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) – Angelika Film Center synopsis: “From award-winning documentary filmmaker E. Chai Vasarhelyi and world-renowned photographer and mountaineer Jimmy Chin, comes Free Solo, a stunning, intimate and unflinching portrait of free soloist climber Alex Honnold, as he prepares to achieve his lifelong dream: climbing the face of the world’s most famous rock… the 3,200ft El Capitan in Yosemite National Park… without a rope.”
SEPTEMBER 28: Little Women (dir. Clare Niederpruem) (DP: Anka Malatynska) – Faith Films synopsis: “Sisters—and dreams—are unique in their ability to inspire, encourage and change the world.
“For 150 years, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has motivated women of all ages to dream together and celebrate family. Coming to theaters for the first time, a modern retelling of Little Women brings a new generation together with their mothers, sisters and friends.
“From girls playing in the attic to women living with purpose, the March sisters —Meg (Melanie Stone), Jo (Sarah Davenport), Beth (Allie Jennings) and Amy (Elise Jones) —are committed to always supporting each other. Yet, growing up sometimes means growing apart.”
SEPTEMBER 28: Summer ’03 (dir. Becca Gleason) – Solzy at the Movies’ SXSW Festival review by Danielle Solzman: “With a fresh voice from writer-director Becca Gleason in her feature directorial debut, actress Joey King carries Summer ’03 from start to finish with one of the best performances to date in 2018.
“When her grandmother, Dotty Winkle (June Squibb), passed away, it’s Jamie Winkle (Joey King) who is left with the biggest burden of all. Not only did her grandmother expose some pretty huge secrets, she tells Jamie that one of her biggest regrets–and hopes Jamie can fulfill her dying request–was that she didn’t ‘learn how to give a proper blow job.’
“As Jamie deals with the newly discovered information, her mother, Shira (Andrea Savage) is freed of her anti-Semitic mother-in-law and celebrates with some drunk dancing. Meanwhile, her father, Ned (Paul Scheer), is dealing with the biggest blow to his life. Without giving away the film, there’s some strong emotions that come with coming to terms with what Dotty told him before she died.
“King ought to be considered a star on the rise with how she carries the film. In the past few years, the actress has grown up before our eyes. What she does with the role is provide a career-best performance in her young career. If King keeps making the same great decisions in tackling what projects she chooses, the actress will have a great career ahead of her.
“While King may carry the film, it’s veteran actress June Squibb who steals it within the few minutes of screen time in which she appears. The scene in which she gathers in her family prior to passing away is one of the funniest scenes in the film. What makes it even better is how composer Nathan Matthew David’s score makes for an awesome complement. There’s a dinner table scene that–without giving the film away–makes for some awkward hilarity and much credit goes to improv pros Paul Scheer and Andrea Savage. Scheer and Savage are perfect in the roles. There’s nobody else in the world who could bring what these two bring to the table.
“The film includes an underwater scene that’s beautifully shot by cinematographer Ben Hardwicke. Underwater scenes aren’t easy to pull off but Hardwicke does so in a way that captures King’s beauty in the water. Gleason and Hardwicke were also able to pull off one of the biggest scenes in the film by shooting from the right angles without showing too much.
“It’s filmmakers like Gleason who shows through her script and direction that there’s a crop of rising female filmmakers who have a voice to offer and need to be heard. In her feature debut, Gleason offers a fresh take on the coming-of-age genre. It may be one of the most unique takes by far even if the Atlanta area stands in for the city of Cincinnati, Oh.
“Summer ’03 may not be a game changer for the coming-of-age genre but it’s a fresh take that provides for a lot of humor, emotion, and heart.”
SEPTEMBER 28: 306 Hollywood (dirs. Elan Bogarin and Jonathan Bogarin) (DPs: Elan Bogarin, Jonathan Bogarin and Alejandro Mejía) – Quad Cinema synopsis: “At 306 Hollywood Avenue in Newark, former dress designer Annette Ontell lived for 71 years in a nondescript white house. After her death in 2011, her grandchildren Elan and Jonathan were left with her belongings, from toothbrushes to tax documents. Instead of throwing away this lifetime of detritus, Elan and Jonathan began a meticulous process of cataloguing and archiving everything Annette left behind. The result is this magical documentary, an inspiring look at the extraordinary stories and histories hidden away in the everyday.”