Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: May 2017

Actress Amandla Stenberg and director Stella Meghie on the set of Everything, Everything, 2016.

Here are eighteen new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this May, 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.

MAY 3: Mr. Chibbs (dir. Jill Campbell)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “This observational documentary follows NYC basketball prodigy and retired NBA All-Star Kenny Anderson in the midst of a mid-life crisis, on a journey to find himself. Reeling from his mother’s death and a subsequent DUI, Chibbs visits people and arenas from his past, confronting haunting memories, ultimately finding solace in becoming the father he never had time to be. Combining unseen archival footage with raw moments of reflection, Mr. Chibbs is a portrait of an athlete coming to terms with his past as he searches for relevancy in his future.”

MAY 5: Risk (dir. Laura Poitras) (DPs: Kirsten Johnson and Laura Poitras)IFC Center synopsis: “How much of your own life are you willing to risk? Laura Poitras, Academy Award winning director of Citizenfour, returns with her most personal and intimate film to date. Filmed over six years, Risk is a complex and volatile character study that collides with a high stakes election year and its controversial aftermath.

“Cornered in a tiny building for half a decade, Julian Assange is undeterred even as the legal jeopardy he faces threatens to undermine the organization he leads and fracture the movement he inspired. Capturing this story with unprecedented access, Poitras finds herself caught between the motives and contradictions of Assange and his inner circle. In a new world order where a single keystroke can alter history, Risk is a portrait of power, betrayal, truth, and sacrifice. Executive Produced by Sam Esmail, creator of Mr. Robot.”

MAY 5 (NYC and LA), MAY 19 (wider release): 3 Generations (dir. Gaby Dellal)ComingSoon.net synopsis:3 Generations tells the stirring and touching story of a family living under one roof in New York as they must deal with a life-changing transformation by one that ultimately affects them all. Ray (Elle Fanning) is a teenager who has come to the realization that she isn’t meant to be a girl and has decided to transition from female to male. His single mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts), must track down Ray’s biological father (Tate Donovan) to get his legal consent to allow Ray’s transition. Dolly (Susan Sarandon), Ray’s lesbian grandmother is having a hard time accepting that she now has a grandson. They must each confront their own identities and learn to embrace change and their strength as a family in order to ultimately find acceptance and understanding.”

MAY 5 (NYC), MAY 12 (LA): Tomorrow Ever After (dir. Ela Thier)Cinema Village synopsis: “Shaina (Ela Thier) lives 600 years in the future. War, greed, prejudice, poverty, pollution, violence, loneliness, depression – these are things that she’s read about in history books. When an accident in a physics experiment sends her on a time-travel journey to our times, she assumes that everyone around her is honest, generous and caring, as she recruits the help that she needs to get back home.”

MAY 10: The Drowning (dir. Bette Gordon)LA Live Regal Cinemas 3 synopsis: “Based on Pat Barker’s book Border Crossing, The Drowning is a psychological thriller that begins as psychologist Tom Seymour (Josh Charles), out walking with his wife Lauren (Julie Stiles), plunges into an icy river to rescue a young man (Avan Jogia) from drowning. Tom’s spontaneous act saves the mans life only to reveal that he is the same boy who was convicted of a chilling murder 12 years earlier, based on Tom’s expert witness testimony. When Danny reappears in Tom’s life, Tom is drawn into a destructive, soul-searching reinvestigation of the case. Complex, riveting and unafraid to tread deep, murky psychological waters, this is a story of shifting identities that will keep you guessing until the very end.”

MAY 12 (in theaters and on Video on Demand): Dead Awake (dir. Phillip Guzman) (DP: Dominique Martinez)FilmRise synopsis:Dead Awake centers on Kate Bowman (Jocelin Donahue), a young woman who discovers an ancient evil stalking people who suffer from sleep paralysis. As Kate finds herself besieged by this terrifying entity, she teams up with a local artist (Jesse Bradford) to try and stop it. With a skeptical doctor (Lori Petty) questioning her sanity, Kate turns to an eccentric expert on sleep disorders (Jesse Borrego) who opens her mind to the horrifying truth: Kate has unwittingly opened the door for this evil to enter our world and has put the lives of her friend Linda (Brea Grant), her father (James Eckhouse), and everyone else close to her in danger.”

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MAY 12: Folk Hero & Funny Guy (dir. Jeff Grace) (DP: Nancy Schreiber)New York Times synopsis: “A flailing comedian (Alex Karpovsky) tries to regain his mojo by going on tour with an old friend, a folk-rock musician (Wyatt Russell). Meredith Hagner, Michael Ian Black and Melanie Lynskey also star.”

MAY 12: Paris Can Wait (dir. Eleanor Coppola) (DP: Crystel Fournier)Sony Pictures Classics synopsis: “Eleanor Coppola’s feature film directorial and screenwriting debut at the age of 81 stars Academy Award® nominee Diane Lane as a Hollywood producer’s wife who unexpectedly takes a trip through France, which reawakens her sense of self and her joie de vivre. Anne (Lane) is at a crossroads in her life. Long married to a successfully driven but inattentive movie producer (Alec Baldwin), she finds herself taking a car trip from Cannes to Paris with a business associate of her husband (Arnaud Viard). What should be a seven-hour drive turns into a journey of discovery involving mouthwatering meals, spectacular wines, and picturesque sights.”

MAY 12: Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe (dir. Maria Schrader)Excerpts from The Hollywood Reporter’s Locarno International Film Festival review by Boyd van Hoeij: “There is an extraordinary moment in Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe (Vor der Morgenroete) in which the titular Jewish-Austrian author, in his late fifties, looks out of a car window in Brazil — he’d been living in exile in the Americas since 1940 — and watches a burning sugarcane field, which viewers can see reflected in the window. Simply an exotic sight? Not quite, as actress-turned-director Maria Schrader’s film isn’t only about the literary icon but at least as much about evoking what’s happening offscreen in Zweig’s beloved Europe, which is going up in flames. The staggering emotional toll not only of living far removed from his physical and intellectual Heimatland but of knowing that it was actually being destroyed in his absence would prompt Zweig and his wife to take their own lives in their home in Petropolis, Brazil, in 1942.

“…Schrader has directed several features before but especially abroad, she’s better known as an actress, most notably as Jaguar from Aimee and Jaguar. For the screenplay of Zweig, she has teamed with writer-director Jan Schomburg, in whose Lose My Self she starred. As seems appropriate for a feature about a writer, their screenplay is really the backbone of the film. What makes their work psychologically insightful and also pack a serious emotional wallop is their smart choice to focus on a handful of specific moments, rather than opting for a more traditional bio-drama structure that tries to cram in a much larger chronology in which depth is often sacrificed for mere incidents.

“There is nothing didactic or too explanatory about Zweig. The filmmakers assume (rightly so) that audiences coming to see a movie about him will be aware, for example, that alongside Thomas Mann, he was the most-read German-language author of the 1920s. As if to underline the point, Schrader doesn’t even bother to show him engaged in that most un-cinematic of activities: writing. Instead, she focuses on the author’s interactions with others — some purely ceremonial, others more intimate, all of them revealing — to help suggest something about both his character and his slowly decaying sense of place in a world where his body, in exile, might be safe but his mind keeps wanting to wander back to a place he knows is being erased from the map.”

MAY 12 (in theaters, on iTunes and Video on Demand): Tracktown (dirs. Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher)The Hollywood Reporter’s LA Film Festival review by Michael Rechtshaffen: “While Olympic Trials don’t usually tend to be the sort of milieu that readily lend themselves to quirky comedy, the engagingly amusing Tracktown quite capably goes the distance.

“Handed its world premiere at the LA Film Festival, the sweet indie, about a driven young competitive runner who is forced to take a rare day off, serves as a sparkling showcase for endearing lead Alexi Pappas, who also splits directing and writing duties with Jeremy Teicher.

“Pappas, herself a long-distance runner who will be competing for Greece in the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, plays the role of Plumb Marigold, a 21-year-old hopeful who has devoted most of her Eugene, Oregon, existence to living the track and field dream.

“Spurred on by her similarly obsessed dad (Andy Buckley) and boatloads of quotable affirmations running the gamut from Oprah to Dr. Seuss, Plumb is unmistakably in it to win it, but after twisting her ankle in the middle of her first Olympic Trials, she’s ordered to take a 24-hour break from her strict regime.

“In the process, Plumb briefly gets a taste of the ‘normal’ life she has never known, including pursuing her flirtation with Sawyer (Chase Offerle), the young man who works in the local bakery and finally dealing with her emotionally fragile mother (Rachel Dratch), who now lives with Plumb’s grandparents.

“Although there’s a telltale Juno vibe to the tone of the film, it’s easy to root for this disciplined but naive ‘girl-child,’ especially as portrayed by Pappas, herself a hard-to-resist blend of Audrey Hepburn and Joan Cusack.

“The supporting performances are uniformly appealing while, behind the camera, Pappas’ intense familiarity with the environment is strongly established with various endurance training sequences and daily regimens involving large quantities of protein powder and raw eggs.

“But while Pappas and her writing and directing partner Teicher, who previously directed the 2012 African drama Tall as the Baobab Tree, demonstrate a keen eye and ear for local color, it will be interesting to see where they travel next, beyond the familiarity of this evident comfort zone.”

MAY 12: The Wedding Plan (dir. Rama Burshtein)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Shayna Weingast: “Exhausted by single life at 32, spirited bride-to-be Michal (Noa Koler) is eager for the comfort and companionship of marriage. Then, her fiancé dumps her one month before their wedding. Devastated but undeterred, she decides to keep her wedding date, leaving it to fate to provide a suitable groom.

“With invitations sent, the venue booked, the clock counting down to the big day, and pressure from her family mounting, Michal enlists two matchmakers to help her find Mr. Right. After a series of comically mismatched dates — including with a charming but utterly unsuitable pop star — and many soul-bearing conversations with her sisters, Michal finds she has chemistry with someone she never expected.

“Trailblazing writer-director Rama Burshtein (Fill the Void) returns to the cloistered Orthodox community she knows intimately with this funny and poignant screwball romantic comedy. When it comes to finding love, it’s equal parts luck, determination, and blind faith.”

MAY 19: Everything, Everything (dir. Stella Meghie)Warner Bros. synopsis: “From Warner Bros. Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures comes the romantic drama Everything, Everything, directed by Stella Meghie and based on the bestselling book of the same name by Nicola Yoon.

“What if you couldn’t touch anything in the outside world? Never breathe in the fresh air, feel the sun warm your face…or kiss the boy next door? Everything, Everything tells the unlikely love story of Maddy, a smart, curious and imaginative 18-year-old who due to an illness cannot leave the protection of the hermetically sealed environment within her house, and Olly, the boy next door who won’t let that stop them.

“Maddy is desperate to experience the much more stimulating outside world, and the promise of her first romance. Gazing through windows and talking only through texts, she and Olly form a deep bond that leads them to risk everything to be together…even if it means losing everything.

Everything, Everything stars Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) as Maddy and Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) as Olly. The film also stars Ana de la Reguera (Sun Belt Express) and Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls).”

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MAY 19: Icaros: A Vision (dirs. Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi)Synopsis/artistic statement from the film’s official website:Her medical options exhausted, an American woman travels to the Amazon in search of a miracle. Thanks to a young Ayahuasca shaman who is losing his eyesight, she learns instead to confront her ‘susto’: the disease of fear.

Icaros: A Vision is a story about fear and the release from fear – the fear of illness and of death, but also the fear of life and living. It’s about the possibility of living through one’s fear – which is what the Amazonian plant Ayahuasca is good at getting you to do. Centered on the nightly ceremonies that are the main feature of shamanic retreats, Icaros revels in darkness, replicating a shamanic journey.

The film mixes in elements of reality. Set in an actual Ayahuasca retreat in Peru, it features real shamans and indigenous non-actors from the Shipibo community, mixed in with western actors. Aspects of the film are based on co-director Leonor Caraballo’s true experiences. She had metastatic breast cancer when the shoot began. Although she dedicated herself to the project until the very end, sadly she died before she could see the film finished.

The film is also driven by the conviction that acknowledging the power of plants is the best way to change the jeopardized future of the Amazon – itself like a dying patient. The exploitation of Shipibo lands and communities by oil and timber companies continues. Over the next 20 years, massive tracts will be destroyed to produce only enough oil to sate U.S. demand for, at the most, two weeks. The men and women who have the knowledge of healing plants are finding few in the younger generation who will cultivate their practices. Thus part of the film’s goal is to bring attention to the work, life and knowledge of the Shipibo Conibo people.

Icaros: A Vision is a filmic tapestry about the meeting of cultures, a West in search of its lost soul and the indigenous Shipibo adapting their expansive practices and unique view of the universe.

Finally, the story takes place in Iquitos, the same town where Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo was shot more than 30 years ago, and the hotel Casa Fitzcarraldo hosts a key scene in the film.

MAY 19: Paint It Black (dir. Amber Tamblyn)Excerpts from The Playlist’s LA Film Festival review by Katie Walsh: “It’s a hungover LA afternoon for Josie (Alia Shawkat), who spent the night moshing off her eyeliner at a punk show, when she receives the call no one ever wants to get. Detectives. A motel. Her phone number. The body’s distinguishing characteristics. With those few words, Josie’s scrappy, dreamy little life crumbles and melts away. Her boyfriend Michael (Rhys Wakefield) has killed himself in a cheap motel in the desert. Any living relatives? A mother.

“Actress and filmmaker Amber Tamblyn makes her directorial debut with the grief-stricken fever dream Paint It Black, written with Ed Dougherty, adapted from the novel by by Janet Fitch. In the lead role, Shawkat turns in an outstanding performance, that along with her turn earlier this year in Green Room, finds the actress stretching her talents beyond comedy. Shawkat’s Josie is a young Angeleno misfit in thrift store leather and ripped tights, wiling away her nights in grimy bars, scraping by with gigs in short films and as a life-drawing model. It’s art class where she meets Michael, a young man possessed of a life of privilege that he doesn’t really want.

“After his death, Josie draws the ire of Michael’s ferocious, patrician mother Meredith (Janet McTeer), a world-famous pianist shut up in a rambling mansion.  Josie and Meredith share a dependency on two things: alcohol and Michael. In the wake of his death, a blame game turns into a tussle over the last remaining vestiges of him — his journals, his artwork, his things.

“Tamblyn brings a bold and creative directorial vision to the aesthetic of Paint it Black. While Josie’s world, out and about on the streets of LA is a desaturated, lo-fi grunge affair, Meredith’s imposing home is a chiaroscuro prison. Josie’s world might be a bit shabby and worn, but it’s lived in and warm. The homey nest she made with Michael is an escape from his mother’s home, which is as uninviting as it is impressive.

“Nevertheless, Josie gets sucked into the black whirlpool of Meredith, as the women go tit for tat over Michael’s belongings, and ultimately develop a strange co-dependency. Josie’s grasp on reality is made tenuous with booze, exhaustion, and Meredith’s torment. The short film shoot in which she plays a dead starlet bleeds into her paranoid nightmares. Her world of rock shows and parties with friends fades away as she becomes more isolated with this woman with whom she shares a strange bond.”

MAY 19 (limited theatrical release), MAY 26 (on Video on Demand): Wakefield (dir. Robin Swicord)Excerpts from IndieWire‘s Telluride Film Festival review by David Ehrlich: “‘What is so sacrosanct about a marriage and a family that you should have to live in it day after day?’ That’s a hell of a thing to hear from a guy like Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston), a wealthy Westchester lawyer with a beautiful wife (Jennifer Garner) two healthy teenage daughters, and a house so big that someone could rather comfortably reside in its two-story garage.

“But Howard — whose sniveling inner monologue seeps into almost every moment of the jagged, acidic comedy that shares his name —  isn’t your typical bored white-collar suburbanite. He’s not Lester Burnham, numb with ennui. He’s not Brad Adamson in Little Children, desperate to feel another woman’s touch. He’s just an asshole, one of the most selfish characters you’ll ever see on a movie screen, and it’s a strange pleasure to watch him self-destruct when he realizes that he no longer envies his own life.

“Faithfully adapted from E.L. Doctorow’s 2008 short story of the same name, writer-director Robin Swicord (The Jane Austen Book Club) has crafted a sharp and singularly bitter portrait of man at his worst. Literary to the extreme, Wakefield unfolds like a thought experiment without a hypothesis: One ordinary evening, on his commute home from the city, a power outage inspires Howard to slip away from his life.

“…Swicord is a bold filmmaker (she would have to be in order to reckon with such off-putting source material), and she finds a number of clever ways to enliven Doctorow’s potentially airless text. For one thing, she isn’t afraid to make choices that slyly undercut everything her protagonist says about his situation. When Howard complains about feeling like he’s constantly under his wife’s surveillance, Swicord cuts to his voyeuristic POV. When Howard comes to the conclusion that suburban life is somehow against nature, she ambushes him with one of cinema’s most violent mosquitoes. Howard is a nasty piece of work, and Swicord never makes any excuses for him.”

MAY 24: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan (dirs. Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger)Film Society of Lincoln Center synopsis: “In 1984, Wendy Whelan joined the New York City Ballet as an apprentice; by 1991, she had been promoted to Principal Dancer. She quickly became a revered and beloved figure throughout the dance world. Wrote Roslyn Sulcas, ‘her sinewy physicality, her kinetic clarity, and her dramatic, otherworldly intensity have created a quite distinct and unusual identity.’ Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger’s film follows this extraordinary artist throughout a passage of life that all dancers must face, when she must confront the limitations of her own body and adapt to a different relationship with the art form she loves so madly.”

MAY 26: Berlin Syndrome (dir. Cate Shortland)Curzon Artificial Eye synopsis: “While holidaying in Berlin, Australian photojournalist Clare (Teresa Palmer) meets charismatic local man Andi (Max Riemelt). There is an instant attraction between them, and a night of passion ensues. But what initially appears to be the start of a romance suddenly takes an unexpected and sinister turn when Clare wakes the following morning to discover Andi has left for work and locked her in his apartment. An easy mistake to make, of course, except Andi has no intention of letting her go again.”

MAY 26: Buena Vista Social Club: Adios (dir. Lucy Walker)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “The musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club exposed the world to Cuba’s vibrant culture with their landmark 1997 album. Now, against the backdrop of Cuba’s captivating musical history, hear the band’s story as they reflect on their remarkable careers and the extraordinary circumstances that brought them together.”

365 Day Movie Challenge: 2015

For the third year in a row, I gave myself the task of watching at least 365 films between January 1 and December 31. I passed the test with flying colors: 404 movies seen in 2015! Here is the complete, chronological inventory.

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1915-1919: ’49-’17; The Ocean Waif

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1920-1924: Dr. Jack; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; The Kid; The Penalty; The Sheik

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1925-1929: The Gold Rush; It’s the Old Army Game; The Son of the Sheik; So’s Your Old Man; Why Be Good?; A Woman of Affairs

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1930-1934: Ace of Aces; Baby Face; Counsellor at Law; The Count of Monte Cristo; The Devil to Pay!; Downstairs; Fast Workers; Feet First; Five and Ten; Happiness Ahead; I Am Suzanne!; Liliom; The Man with Two Faces; Penguin Pool Murder; Red-Headed Woman; The Road to Ruin; Shanghai Express; Strangers May Kiss; This Side of Heaven; Three Faces East; Topaze; Waterloo Bridge

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1935-1939: Bachelor Mother; The Big Broadcast of 1936; Bonnie Scotland; Born to Dance; Bride of Frankenstein; Bulldog Drummond Comes Back; Bulldog Drummond’s Revenge; The Crime of Monsieur Lange; Dodge City; Dracula’s Daughter; The Garden of Allah; Intermezzo; Little Miss Broadway; Love on the Run; The Lower Depths; Mad Love; Magnificent Obsession; The Man in the Iron Mask; Mysterious Mr. Moto; Never Say Die; Raffles; Show Boat; Smartest Girl in Town; The Soldier and the Lady; Son of Frankenstein; Splendor; Stage Door; Steamboat Round the Bend; Stella Dallas; Stowaway; Trade Winds

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1940-1944: Blossoms in the Dust; Boom Town; Cobra Woman; Desperate Journey; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; From Mayerling to Sarajevo; How Green Was My Valley; The Ghost of Frankenstein; The Great Dictator; House of Frankenstein; June Night; Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman; Ladies in Retirement; The Little Foxes; The Long Voyage Home; Louisiana Purchase; The Mask of Dimitrios; Ministry of Fear; The Moon and Sixpence; Moontide; Mrs. Parkington; The Mummy’s Hand; The Mummy’s Tomb; No Greater Sin; The Sea Hawk; Son of Dracula; This Above All; This Land Is Mine; You Were Never Lovelier

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1945-1949: The Banquet; Berlin Express; The Big Clock; Cornered; Criss Cross; Desperate; Easy Living; The Enchanted Cottage; The Gangster; High Wall; Hollow Triumph (aka The Scar); House of Dracula; The Killers; Lady on a Train; Ma and Pa Kettle; Macbeth; Monsieur Verdoux; Nora Prentiss; Red Light; Royal Rabble; Thieves’ Highway; Too Late for Tears

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1950-1954: Ace in the Hole; The Affairs of Dobie Gillis; Bad for Each Other; The Crimson Pirate; Early Summer; Executive Suite; The Gambler and the Lady; Girl with Hyacinths; Give a Girl a Break; The Glass Wall; Gun Crazy; The I Don’t Care Girl; Ivanhoe; Kiss Me Kate; Limelight; Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town; The Men; Million Dollar Mermaid; The Narrow Margin; Pandora and the Flying Dutchman; The People Against O’Hara; Small Town Girl; So Big; Split Second; The Star; Susan Slept Here; Tomorrow Is Another Day; Too Young to Kiss; Woman on the Run

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1955-1959: Aparajito; Beyond a Reasonable Doubt; The Defiant Ones; The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing; Imitation of Life; The Journey; The Man Who Never Was; The Mummy; Party Girl; Pather Panchali; La Paura (aka Fear); La Pointe Courte; The Proud Rebel; Separate Tables; The World of Apu; Zero Hour!

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1960-1964: Band of Outsiders; Bikini Beach; Boys’ Night Out; Can-Can; A Child Is Waiting; The Connection; The Killers; Lolita; The Manchurian Candidate; Mr. Sardonicus; The Premature Burial; Requiem for a Heavyweight; The Suitor; Topkapi

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1965-1969: Another Day, Another Man; Bad Girls Go to Hell; Bonnie and Clyde; Grand Prix; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; Indecent Desires; The Ipcress File; Love Is Colder Than Death; Mississippi Mermaid; My Brother’s Wife; Paint Your Wagon; Point Blank; The Sex Perils of Paulette; A Taste of Flesh; Thunderball; Too Much Too Often; Topaz; Witchfinder General

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1970-1974: Aguirre, the Wrath of God; The Amazing Transplant; Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia; Count Dracula; Deadly Weapons; Deliverance; Double Agent 73; The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick; The Heartbreak Kid; Kelly’s Heroes; The Last House on the Left; The Last of Sheila; Ludwig; McCabe & Mrs. Miller; The Merchant of Four Seasons; The Murder of Fred Hampton; Super Fly; Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song; Two-Lane Blacktop

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1975-1979: Apocalypse Now; Autumn Sonata; The Boys from Brazil; Chinese Roulette; Every Which Way But Loose; Fox and His Friends; The Gauntlet; Girlfriends; God Told Me To; Harlan County U.S.A.; The Hills Have Eyes; In a Year with 13 Moons; The In-Laws; Killer of Sheep; Kings of the Road; The Last Wave; Men in Orbit; Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven; Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht; Prophecy; Rocky II; Time After Time

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1980-1984: Body Double; Footloose; Halloween II; The Loveless; Mrs. Soffel; My Brother’s Wedding; A Nightmare on Elm Street; Night Shift; A Night to Dismember; Paris, Texas; Private Benjamin; Risky Business; Rocky III; Stranger Than Paradise; Variety

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1985-1989: Bull Durham; Children of a Lesser God; Cookie; A Dry White Season; The Last Temptation of Christ; Mississippi Burning; Pale Rider; Planes, Trains & Automobiles; Pretty in Pink; Red Scorpion; Rocky IV; Runaway Train; Salaam Bombay!; Strapless; Tapeheads; True Love; The Unbelievable Truth; The Untouchables; Without a Clue

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1990-1994: Basic Instinct; The Bodyguard; Captives; Cliffhanger; Dead Again; Ghost; Greedy; I Come in Peace (aka Dark Angel); Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles; I.Q.; Jacob’s Ladder; JFK; Joshua Tree (aka Army of One); Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.; The Lawnmower Man; A League of Their Own; Menace II Society; Mississippi Masala; My Own Private Idaho; Peter’s Friends; Pulp Fiction; Reservoir Dogs; Rocky V; Scent of a Woman; Trust; Wayne’s World

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1995-1999: Affliction; Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me; Before Sunrise; Bulworth; La Cérémonie; The End of Violence; Eve’s Bayou; Forces of Nature; From Dusk Till Dawn; GoldenEye; Home for the Holidays; Jawbreaker; Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love; Nixon; Pleasantville; Primal Fear; Private Parts; Restoration; Rounders; Saving Private Ryan; Showgirls; The Truman Show

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2000-2004: Blood Work; Bread and Tulips; Bride & Prejudice; The Caveman’s Valentine; 8 Women; Femme Fatale; Frida; The Gift; Girl with a Pearl Earring; House of Sand and Fog; Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Million Dollar Baby; Mission: Impossible II; Monsoon Wedding; My Life Without Me; Mystic River; Pootie Tang; Proof of Life; Queen of the Damned; Satan Was a Lady; Space Cowboys; Vatel; What Women Want

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2005-2009: Amelia; The Beaches of Agnès; Before Sunset; The Black Dahlia; The Devil Wears Prada; The 40 Year Virgin; Hustle & Flow; I Love You, Man; The Incredible Hulk; Mission: Impossible III; The Namesake; Notes on a Scandal; The Omen; RocknRolla; Rocky Balboa

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2010-2014: August: Osage County; Before Midnight; Birdman; Clouds of Sils Maria; The Drop; The Expendables; Footloose; Fruitvale Station; Girlhood; Gone Girl; Happy, Happy; Kingsman: The Secret Service; Learning to Drive; Love & Mercy; Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol; My Week with Marilyn; 99 Homes; Passion; Pitch Perfect; Ride; The Rover; Thanks for Sharing; That Awkward Moment; Two Days, One Night; Under the Skin; Unknown; Welcome to Me; What We Do in the Shadows; Winter’s Bone

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2015: Aloha; Amy; Ant-Man; Avengers: Age of Ultron; Bridge of Spies; Ex Machina; Fantastic Four; Jurassic World; Magic Mike XXL; The Martian; Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation; Pitch Perfect 2; Run All Night; San Andreas; Sicario; Spy; Tab Hunter Confidential; The Walk; The Wolfpack; Woman in Gold

365 Day Movie Challenge: 2014

For the second year running, I gave myself the goal of watching 365 films. I managed to get very, very close (357!) and here is the complete list of everything I saw that was either something I had never seen before or something I had not seen for so long that it was like an all-new experience.

1910-1914: His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz; The Magic Cloak of Oz; The Patchwork Girl of Oz

1915-1919: The Little American

1920-1924: The Indian Tomb

1925-1929: The Docks of New York; Kiki; The Letter; Old San Francisco; Our Dancing Daughters; Our Modern Maidens; The Passion of Joan of Arc; The Phantom of the Opera; The Red Kimona; The Smart Set; Spring Fever; They Had to See Paris; Torrent; The Wizard of Oz

1930-1934: Abraham Lincoln; Anna Christie [US]; Anna Christie [Germany]; Are You Listening?; Arsène Lupin; Beggars in Ermine; Blessed Event; Blonde Crazy; Bright Eyes; The Cheat; Christopher Strong; The Divorcee; Doctor Bull; Doctor X; Drácula; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Five Star Final; Forsaking All Others; Hell Divers; Hell Harbor; The House of Rothschild; I’m No Angel; Judge Priest; Ladies They Talk About; Lady by Choice; Laughing Sinners; Merrily We Go to Hell; Murder!; Nana; Of Human Bondage; Penthouse; She Done Him Wrong; The Smiling Lieutenant; The Struggle; Virtue; We Live Again; Zoo in Budapest

1935-1939: Café Metropole; Captain Blood; David Copperfield; Day-Time Wife; Drums Along the Mohawk; The Flame Within; Flirting with Fate; Gone with the Wind; The Good Earth; Go West Young Man; Grand Illusion; Love Before Breakfast; Love Is News; Mayerling; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Nothing Sacred; The Passing of the Third Floor Back; Personal Property; The Princess Comes Across; The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex; Ready, Willing and Able; Second Honeymoon; Stagecoach; Stolen Holiday; They Won’t Forget; The Toast of New York; Triumph of the Will; True Confession; Young Lincoln; You Only Live Once

1940-1944: Bathing Beauty; The Bridge of San Luis Rey; Buffalo Bill; Casanova Brown; Cat People; The Curse of the Cat People; Dance, Girl, Dance; Down Argentine Way; The Fleet’s In; The Grapes of Wrath; Heaven Can Wait; His Girl Friday; It Happened Tomorrow; Johnny Apollo; Lady of Burlesque; Mr. & Mrs. Smith; My Little Chickadee; Old Acquaintance; Seven Sinners; The Seventh Cross; The Shanghai Gesture; The Shepherd of the Hills; Skylark; Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake; Strange Cargo; This Gun for Hire; Tobacco Road; The Uninvited; Waterloo Bridge

1945-1949: An Act of Murder; Act of Violence; And Then There Were None; Beauty and the Beast; Brewster’s Millions; Caught; Dillinger; Doll Face; A Double Life; East Side, West Side; Embraceable You; Gilda; Holiday Affair; The Horn Blows at Midnight; If I’m Lucky; In the Good Old Summertime; The Kid from Brooklyn; Kiss of Death; Lady in the Lake; The Luck of the Irish; Neptune’s Daughter; No Regrets for Our Youth; The Pirate; Pitfall; Rachel and the Stranger; Romance on the High Seas; Rome, Open City; The Set-Up; The Strange Love of Martha Ivers; That Wonderful Urge; They Live by Night; T-Men; The Verdict; Without Reservations; A Woman’s Secret; Ziegfeld Follies

1950-1954: Against All Flags; As Young as You Feel; The Baron of Arizona; The Bigamist; The Big Heat; The Blue Gardenia; The Caine Mutiny; Detective Story; Fourteen Hours; Gunman in the Streets; The Hitch-Hiker; The Hoodlum; The Juggler; King Solomon’s Mines; A Lady Without Passport; Lili; The Marrying Kind; The Naked Spur; Outrage; Robinson Crusoe; Side Street; The Sniper; The Tall Target; Three Came Home; Where the Sidewalk Ends; The Wild One; Young Man with a Horn

1955-1959: The Big Combo; Blackboard Jungle; Blood Alley; The Criminal Life of Archibaldo De La Cruz; The Curse of Frankenstein; Darby’s Rangers; The Decks Ran Red; Elena and Her Men; The 400 Blows; The Fuzzy Pinky Nightgown; The Glass Slipper; God’s Little Acre; Hit the Deck; The Killing; Kiss Her Goodbye; Kiss Me Deadly; The Magician; Middle of the Night; The Music Room; Odds Against Tomorrow; Paths of Glory; Shadows; Smiles of a Summer Night; Street of Shame; The Swan; There’s Always Tomorrow

1960-1964: The Americanization of Emily; The Best Man; Cleo from 5 to 7; Contempt; In the Cool of the Day; Last Year at Marienbad; Move Over, Darling; Paris – When It Sizzles; The Servant; Il Sorpasso; Sunday in New York; That Man from Rio; Through a Glass Darkly; Tom Jones; Victim

1965-1969: Any Wednesday; Belle de Jour; Bullitt; Easy Rider; Gambit; Hang ‘Em High; Khartoum; Midnight Cowboy; Mister Buddwing; The Night They Raided Minsky’s; Oh! What a Lovely War; Once Upon a Time in the West; Persona; Psych-Out; The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre; A Thousand Clowns; The Trip; The Young Girls of Rochefort; Z

1970-1974: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant; California Split; Daughters of Darkness; The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie; Monte Walsh; Mr. Majestyk; On a Clear Day You Can See Forever; The Panic in Needle Park; The Public Eye; Pulp; Rhinoceros; Shoot Out; The Sugarland Express; The Velvet Vampire

1975-1979: The Big Fix; The Day of the Locust; The Duellists; Five Deadly Venoms; High Anxiety; Jaws; Moment by Moment; Murder by Decree; Rollercoaster; Silent Movie; Three Days of the Condor; The Turning Point

1980-1984: The Cotton Club; Evil Under the Sun; The Flamingo Kid; The Hunger; Max Dugan Returns; Mon Oncle d’Amérique; Poltergeist; To Be or Not to Be; Unfaithfully Yours

1985-1989: Big Top Pee-wee; Distant Voices, Still Lives; Mauvais Sang; Pee-wee’s Big Adventure; The Princess Bride; Road House; Sea of Love; Stand and Deliver

1990-1994: Another 48 Hrs.; Betsy’s Wedding; Bob Roberts; Europa; Faraway, So Close!; Internal Affairs; In the Soup; Leap of Faith; Orlando; The Player; Quick Change; The Road to God Knows Where; Short Cuts; Three Colors: Blue; Three Colors: Red; Three Colors: White; Unforgiven

1995-1999: Beyond Silence; The Brady Bunch Movie; Dead Man; Mission: Impossible; My Fellow Americans; Scream; The Sweet Hereafter; The Very Thought of You

2000-2004: Erin Brockovich; Far from Heaven; Gladiator; Hedwig and the Angry Inch; Pieces of April; A Talking Picture

2005-2009: The Death of Mr. Lazarescu; Kirk Douglas: Before I Forget; Step Up; The Wedding Date; Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg

2010-2014: Admission; American Hustle; Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard; The Babadook; Boyhood; Broken City; The Call; Captain America: The First Avenger; Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Carnage; Chef; Enough Said; Ethel; 42; Foxcatcher; Frank; The Giver; The Grand Budapest Hotel; Guardians of the Galaxy; Her; The Incredible Burt Wonderstone; In Secret; Interstellar; Land Ho!; A Late Quartet; The Lego Movie; Maleficent; Miss Meadows; Non-Stop; Oblivion; Obvious Child; Only Lovers Left Alive; The Salt of the Earth; Seven Psychopaths; Snowpiercer; St. Vincent; The Theory of Everything; 20,000 Days on Earth; W.E.; World War Z

Filmmaker Firsts: Clint Eastwood

#5: Unforgiven (1992) – dir. Clint Eastwood

I suppose I should have seen a number of Clint Eastwood’s directorial efforts by this point. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to; it’s just that it didn’t happen until now. Unforgiven is one of Eastwood’s most notable films, winning four Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Gene Hackman) and Best Film Editing (Joel Cox).

Armed with the kind of crusty resolve that could only have been supplied by this specific actor, Bill Munny (Eastwood) was once an emphatically despicable criminal, a guy not above killing women and children during bank-robbing sprees.

Thanks to some handy-dandy exposition at the beginning of the film, we know that Munny’s thievin’, murderin’ ways were turned around by his dear departed wife, who conveniently died a couple of years before the start of the film. (She also gifted him with two children.) Munny is so faithful to her memory that he has never even considered availing himself of the prostitutes in the nearby town of Big Whiskey. He also goes to the late Mrs. Munny’s grave to pay his respects before heading out on his final mission – he’s hired to help kill two thugs who cut up the face of a young prostitute from Big Whiskey.

With the help of old friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), Munny heads out with his other partner, the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett). I can appreciate the Days of Heaven-ish look in the cinematography by Jack N. Green.

The film tries its best to subvert the expectations of the typical Western. We’re supposed to root for Munny, who was once a bad guy, then became a good guy and is now sort of a bad guy again. Since it’s been eleven years since he gave up crime, it takes a while before he’s able to get back on a horse. He also doesn’t have any real love interest, unless you count this scene that shows he is sympathetic toward the damaged prostitute. I don’t mean to say that these are negative elements of the character. What I mean to say is that Eastwood’s performance is not particularly good. Maybe if he injected a little more humanity and tenderness into the character, he could have done something really great. (The Academy didn’t seem to mind. They gave him a Best Actor nomination anyway.)

I understand why Gene Hackman won his Oscar if the voters were especially impressed by the jailhouse scene between him and Morgan Freeman. That’s a legitimately terrific bit of acting right there. I wouldn’t say that this is Hackman’s best role of the 90s, though; that honor definitely goes to The Birdcage.

Richard Harris: this movie needed more of him. (How could the screenwriter, David Webb Peoples, craft such an excellent character name like “English Bob” and not mine it for all it could potentially be worth?) Saul Rubinek, on the other hand: what was the point of his character? You could take Rubinek out of the film and there would hardly be any change.

I can see why people like Unforgiven, but in my most humble of opinions, it’s overrated. I guess I just don’t care for Westerns unless they were made by John Ford or Howard Hawks. The Searchers and Red River are the go-to masterpieces for me. It’s obvious that Eastwood cares a great deal for the genre – the ending credits bear a dedication to Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, the two directors who catapulted Eastwood to film stardom – but Unforgiven does not have a solid enough screenplay to really succeed.

2012: Part 7

This may be my last post for a while as I am about to go on vacation for two weeks and will have limited computer access. I’ll still watch movies, though, so I may do one big post on those experiences when I return.

Dark Shadows. Directed by Tim Burton. I think there is a common assumption that Burton’s movies always look and feel the same – especially if they feature Johnny Depp and/or Helena Bonham Carter – but Dark Shadows caught more flak than it should have. Even though I am not familiar with the original “Dark Shadows” TV show on which the film is based, the movie is fun. Befitting of a vampire narrative, however, the movie does feel like it takes an eternity to tell its tale. At least the excellent soundtrack, including gems by the Moody Blues, Donovan and Barry White, helps. The acting is pretty good too, though I think we would all agree that Bonham Carter’s character was unnecessary (though “Julia Hoffman” existed in the TV series) and is simply an example of nepotism. I particularly liked Johnny Depp and Eva Green, both of whom certainly sink their teeth into their roles. Pun intended.

Magic Mike. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. While the film is a fun watch, one thing in particular irked me: you never really get to know any of the dancers in the film besides the characters played by Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer. While you get hints of regional flavor courtesy of Matthew McConaughey, you learn almost nothing about the guys played by Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez and Kevin Nash. The film is a glib exercise in style over substance, although Tatum is quite good as the title character. He has proved himself to be a genial leading man with a sense of humor as well as the much-discussed dance moves. Ultimately the film is more about a humdrum romance happening between Tatum and Cody Horn, as well as Tatum’s efforts to get a hand-crafted furniture business started, than it is about being a male stripper. While the dancers’ acts are glamorized, their personal lives are turbulent and thanks to a ridiculous drug-dealing subplot involving Pettyfer, Tatum’s dreams of carving coffee tables for a living are sidelined. Still, love wins the day just as you expect it to. For a movie touted as a wild and crazy ride, in the end it’s as predictable as any rom-com. At least Soderbergh gets points for the capturing the sun-kissed Floridian atmosphere (Soderbergh is the cinematographer and editor as well as the director of the film) and the soundtrack including Foreigner, KISS, Ringside and the original songs “Ladies of Tampa” and “Ladies of Miami,” though.

The Master. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Simply put: it’s vastly overrated. I have no intention of seeing this film ever again… or if I do, I hope it’s not for many, many years. I have a difficult time even admitting that the actors give good performances. Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams all received Oscar nominations for their work, but did they deserve it? It’s hard to say. The characters do whatever they want in an annoying combination of self-aggrandizement, self-loathing and lemming mentalities, while their actions are generally so thoroughly repugnant things that the whole film is simply… ugly. The cinematography by Mihai Malaimare, Jr. tries to be beautiful to make up for the script but it falls flat too, painting its landscapes with shades of brown; it’s like Malick’s aesthetic gone wrong. Some parts of the film are probably expected to be considered “disturbing,” but more than anything else I was left feeling bothered by the film’s total lack of emotional engagement. Obviously PTA was sufficiently inspired by Scientology to envision this nutty film, but that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy the result. Oh, for the days of There Will Be Blood.

Searching for Sugar Man. Directed by Malik Bendjelloul. As enjoyable as this Oscar-winning documentary is, the director left out some key points of the enigmatic singer Sixto Rodriguez’s story. The film focuses on the huge difference between Rodriguez’s obscurity in America and his idol status in South Africa (“bigger than Elvis,” it’s claimed), but Bendjelloul does not mention Rodriguez’s popularity in Australia, which, like South Africa, was in the 1970s and early 80s, leading to a tour of the country as the opening act for Midnight Oil. The film also has a bit of a discrepancy, at least to my mind: one of Rodriguez’s daughters says that the family lived in 26 different homes when they were growing up, but according to the end credits, Rodriguez has supposedly been living in the same dilapidated house for 40 years. Has he had that property for that long in addition to wherever his family and wife/significant other lived? In any case, the film is a great place to start if you want to become interested in this mysterious figure’s career (or lack thereof). After seeing the movie I have become a fan of his music; I also found out that his tour, which is a result of the movie’s success, will be making stops in Manhattan and Brooklyn this coming October. I really wish I could go because it would be an amazing experience.

Trouble with the Curve. Directed by Robert Lorenz. I have not seen nearly enough Clint Eastwood films to call myself a fan; besides Trouble with the Curve, the only other Eastwood titles I have seen are Two Mules for Sister Sara, Dirty Harry and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. While the best of the bunch is Dirty Harry, Eastwood’s finest acting is in Trouble with the Curve. The film is designed to appeal to baseball fans and frequenters of chick flicks and anyone who appreciates a good family-oriented drama, since the film balances Eastwood’s career as a baseball talent scout with his poor relationship with his daughter (Amy Adams, with more natural acting ability here than in The Master) and also focusing on Adams’ burgeoning romance with another scout played by Justin Timberlake (better than he was in Friends with Benefits but less memorable than The Social Network). There are fine, nuanced supporting performances by John Goodman, Matthew Lillard, Robert Patrick, Ed Lauter, Joe Massingill, Tom Dreesen and Peter Hermann. A lot of people probably stayed away from the film in the wake of Eastwood’s Republication National Convention appearance, but the film is definitely worth a look.

Clint and the Chair

I have only seen two Clint Eastwood movies in their entirety: Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974). Actually, I didn’t really see Thunderbolt and Lightfoot in its original form since it was an edited-for-TV version on PBS. Still, I basically like Clint Eastwood. I only wish that his RNC appearance could have been more dignified. Or would that have even been possible at that event?

Oh, that chair. The Old Man and the Seat, as Jon Stewart referred to the debacle.

I think Roger Ebert’s tweet best sums up the conundrum of Eastwood’s chair-centric speech: “Clint, my hero, is coming across as sad and pathetic. He didn’t need to do this to himself. It’s unworthy of him.”

I’m just hoping that the DNC can trot out a different 82-year-old male celebrity. Maybe Ed Asner, John McMartin, Christopher Plummer, Tommy Rall, Robert Loggia, Rod Taylor, Gene Hackman, Robert Wagner, John Astin, Bradford Dillman, Clive Revill, Paul Mazursky, Robert Evans, Burt Kwouk and Sean Connery can clear their schedules.