Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: July 2018

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Actress Maria Mozhdah and director/screenwriter Iram Haq on the set of What Will People Say, 2016/2017. (Photo: Swedish Film Institute)

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

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JULY 6: Brother of the Year (dir. Witthaya Thongyooyong) (DP: Niramon Ross)AMC Theatres synopsis: “Ever since he was a kid, Chut always thought that the baby in his mum’s belly was going to be a brother. Yet, the day she gave birth, he got a sister instead. Chut felt like he had been short-changed. His dreams of playing with robots and playing football with his brother were shattered. Every time he plays with darn Jane she turns into a crybaby.

“Ever since they were kids until now, Chut and Jane have fought over everything. It’s all because Jane acts more like his mother than his sister and Chut likes to make himself a burden instead of being an older brother. Whether it be in studies, sports, looks or personality; Jane is always more perfect. Jane wonders if there are other big brothers out there that are worse to their younger sister just like Chut. The only time Chut acts like an older brother is when someone shows interest in Jane. Chut will bully her admirers into leaving her alone and considers this as pay back.

“This is the reason why Jane has to keep her relationship with Moji, her perfect half-Japanese boyfriend, a secret from Chut. Jane doesn’t want her relationship to be destroyed at the hands of Chut, like every other one before. However, love is not something to be kept a secret, and in the end, Chut finds out about Jane and Moji’s secret relationship. It is unlikely that Chut will let this pass. A great brother like Chut will do everything in his power to put a stop to anything that makes his little sister happy!”

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JULY 6: Constructing Albert (dirs. Laura Collado and Jim Loomis)IFC Center synopsis: “The most important revolution in culinary history took place in a remote cove on the Catalan coast. The Big Bang of creative discovery that was elBulli sparked from the minds of two brothers from a poor suburb of Barcelona, and gave birth to a new gastronomic universe. Since then the name Adrià has become synonymous of creativity. Ferran is the famous maestro people know, however, with 29 years of a brilliant career behind him, the only recognition Albert has achieved is that of being the most underrated chef in the world.

“At just fifteen, without vocation or aspiration, Albert reluctantly started working with his brother. He soon found in cuisine a blank canvas on which to experiment and express his previously untapped creativity. A character full of contradiction, Albert’s career progressed far from the media spotlight that shone on Ferran during the rise of elBulli. A self-proclaimed outsider, Albert has never sought fame and fortune. He concentrated in fighting the monsters of pure creativity, leading elBarri Taller, the R&D department that came up with the innovations and techniques which lead elBulli to the pinacle of global cuisine.

“Two years after elBulli closed its doors, Albert is in the midst of a herculean creative adventure. In Parallel, Barcelona’s crumbling theatre district, Albert is building a gastronomic mile. At the heart of this growing empire is Tickets, a restaurant in which nothing is impossible, elevating the humble tapas to haute-cuisine. Next door 41° shines with a special light. Conceived as a mini elBulli seating just sixteen fortunate dinners, it explores the heights of culinary creativity. Albert’s fertile vision does not stop there: Pakta, japanese- peruvian fusion with the Adrià stamp; Bodega1900, a homage to Catalan vermouth culture; Hoja Santa, an immersion into the depths of traditional mexican cuisine; and Enigma, his most ambitious project, and the one he hopes to turn into one of the best restaurants in the world.

“Each very different from the other, they all bear his personal signature. This is Albert’s proclamation of self-assurance, his attempt to escape the shadow of the now legendary elBulli and enter the Pantheon of great chefs. This is Albert constructing himself.”

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JULY 6: Under the Tree (dir. Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson) (DP: Monika Lenczewska)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Under the Tree follows a man who is accused of adultery and forced to move in with his parents. While he fights for custody of his four-year-old daughter, he is gradually sucked into a dispute between his parents and their neighbors over an old and beautiful tree. What starts as a typical spat between suburban neighbors unexpectedly and violently reached a boiling point, soon spiraling out of control.”

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JULY 13: Dark Money (dir. Kimberly Reed) (DPs: Eric Phillips-Horst, Kimberly Reed and Jay Arthur Sterrenberg)IFC Center synopsis:Dark Money, a political thriller, examines one of the greatest present threats to American democracy: the influence of untraceable corporate money on our elections and elected officials. The film takes viewers to Montana—a frontline in the fight to preserve fair elections nationwide—to follow an intrepid local journalist working to expose the real-life impacts of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Through this gripping story, Dark Money uncovers the shocking and vital truth of how American elections are bought and sold. This Sundance award-winning documentary is directed/produced by Kimberly Reed (Prodigal Sons) and produced by Katy Chevigny (E-Team).”

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JULY 13: The Night Eats the World (dir. Dominique Rocher) (DP: Jordane Chouzenoux)IndieWire’s Tribeca Film Festival review by Eric Kohn: “Over the decades, zombie movies have evolved into the pop songs of the horror genre, following the same familiar beats with varying results. Typically, they involve some kind of sudden outbreak, followed by an act or two in which survivors figure out that carnivorous undead lurk around every ominous corner. There’s usually some combination of decomposing flesh, frantic musings on morality, and dime-store social commentary. Night Eats the World checks all those boxes, but this first feature from French director Dominique Rocher fuses them into an extraordinary meditation on loneliness and despair. For the recluse at the movie’s center, zombies provide just another excuse to shun the outside world.

“As Night Eats the World begins, moody instrumentalist Sam (the great Norwegian actor Anders Danielsen Lie) attains a lively party where he feels out of place. Heading to an empty room to brood, he promptly falls asleep; when he wakes up, he finds the apartment wrecked and caked in blood. A few party stragglers roam the streets, their eyes white and their jaws dangling loosely in search of human meat. Peering out the window, Sam witnesses a horrific slaughter that puts his conundrum in context: He’s trapped in an empty building, maybe forever.

“So far, so 28 Days Later, but Sam’s adventure doesn’t involve much exposition. Instead, Night Eats the World embarks on a complex meditation that makes it the most innovative zombie movie since Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. As with that striking debut with a distinctive vision, the zombie trope provides a template for exploring other genre elements; here, it becomes an actor’s showcase as well. Best known as the drug-addled star of Oslo, August 31st, Lie makes for a terrific passive-aggressive centerpiece.

“Sam roams the empty building for days that turn into weeks; time become a loose, intangible thing, as the movie sits within the confines of his isolated surroundings. Rocher’s script, which draws from Pit Agarmen’s novel, emphasizes quiet scenes that find Sam roaming the vacant building, exploring the detritus of lost lives as if stuck in the limbo of a world that moved on. In the process, he comes across a striking quasi-companion trapped in an elevator shaft — Holy Motors star Denis Lavant as a bald, helpless older zombie with the expressivity of a silent film performance. One of the greatest zombie creations since the brainless consumers of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Lavant’s role helps complicate the movie’s soul.

“In the dead man’s sad, milky eyes, Sam finds a reflection of his own melancholic state, but the movie doesn’t simply linger in it. A brilliant musician, he eventually composes rhythms from the objects he finds around the building, leading to a series of wondrous moments that crystallize his rage — a ‘Stomp’-like arrangement in the kitchen suggests the hint of hope, while another scene finds him unleashing a tantrum with a drum solo that brings the zombies to his window sill, grasping for the survivor like a goth-afflicted mosh pit.

“As a post-apocalyptic chamber drama, Night Eats the World may call to mind I Am Legend, but it’s far more sophisticated in its ambitions. As Sam makes his way through creaky rooms, broken floors and windows, Sam becomes a Kafkaesque wanderer whose grip on reality becomes suspect. At one point, he encounters a woman played by stellar Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani (whose credits include Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson), and Sam’s uneasiness with companionship makes it clear that on, on some level, the zombie apocalypse is a perfect excuse for his misanthropy.

“At times, the movie’s listlessness feels redundant, as if the material needed padding to become feature length. While Rocher’s crisp imagery and steady camerawork keep the haunting atmosphere intact, on the occasion that the character does speak, he doesn’t have much to say. In a weak monologue to his zombie acquaintance, he bemoans that ‘I’m the one who’s not normal now,’ and it’s one of a few blunt observations that elucidate the movie’s key strengths — a fixation on the wordless malaise of living alone and resenting every moment.

“Does Sam escape this private hell? A few unexpected developments in the final act leave this question dangling. Even as the story drifts off, Night Eats the World derives its power from a beguiling, provocative implication: It’s hard to confront a hostile world, but gathering the courage to do so doesn’t make the job any easier.”

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JULY 13 (in theaters), JULY 16 (HBO): Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind (dir. Marina Zenovich) (DPs: Wolfgang Held, Nick Higgins, Jenna Rosher and Thorsten Thielow)Cinema Village synopsis: “A funny, intimate and heartbreaking portrait of one of the world’s most beloved and inventive comedians, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind is told largely through Williams’ own words, and celebrates what he brought to comedy and to the culture at large, from the wild days of late-1970s L.A. to his death in 2014. Marina Zenovich (Emmy winner for HBO’s Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired) directs.

“The film explores his extraordinary life and career, revealing what drove him to give voice to the characters in his mind. With previously unheard and unseen glimpses into his creative process through interviews with Williams, as well as home movies and onstage footage, this insightful tribute features in-depth interviews with those who knew and loved him, including Billy Crystal, Eric Idle, Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman, Steve Martin, Pam Dawber and his son, Zak Williams.

“The documentary underscores what made Williams so unique, ranging from his youthful days in the San Francisco Bay area, to his time in New York at the Juilliard School, to his rocket-propelled fame on TV’s ‘Mork & Mindy,’ to his profound impact on the American cultural landscape. Such career high points as his landmark comedy show at the Metropolitan Opera, his Broadway debut in Waiting for Godot, his Academy Award-winning performance in Good Will Hunting and his classic confessional bits about his alcohol and drug issues and 2009 heart surgery capture the spark that made him stand out across four decades in entertainment. Williams’ tragic death in 2014, which revealed he had been suffering from the disease Lewy Body Dementia, left fans around the world heartbroken.

“The genius of Robin Williams lay in his ability to make a room, a comedy club, a concert hall or the whole world laugh. Family, friends and film crews often saw a man who wasn’t happy unless everyone else was having a good time — but the dualities Williams embodied were present inside him at all times.”

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JULY 13: What Will People Say (dir. Iram Haq)Variety’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Alissa Simon: “A first-generation Norwegian teen clashes with the traditional values and expectations of her Pakistani émigré parents in the compelling coming-of-age drama What Will People Say, from director-writer Iram Haq. Like her feature debut I Am Yours, Haq’s sophomore work smartly probes the problems of a character caught between cultures, while the nuanced screenplay once again draws on her own harrowing life experience. Audiences and critics alike should say good things about People. The kinetically shot film brims with authenticity and immediacy and benefits from a deeply sympathetic turn from sublime discovery Maria Mozhdah as the lead. Niche arthouse play looks likely in many territories.

“The story unfolds in three acts. When we first meet her, pretty 16-year-old Nisha (Mozhdah) is living a double life. Outside the home, she appears to be a normal, well-adjusted, Western values-oriented high-school girl who hangs out with friends, shoots hoops, dances at clubs and flirts with boys; she’s even unafraid to sample a little alcohol and weed. Meanwhile, at home, she pays lip service to the role of dutiful Pakistani daughter, greeting friends and relatives in Urdu and passing around home-cooked delicacies. Her sour, nagging mother (Ekavali Khanna) constantly worries about how the rest of the community regards their family and her perhaps too-assimilated daughter, but since bright, destined-to-be-a-doctor Nisha is the apple of her father (Adil Hussain), Mirza’s, eye, she can get away with a lot. Thus, she finds time to slip out and join her friends, but always slips back to bed before dad performs his nightly check on his sleeping children.

“One night, Nisha takes a big chance by allowing her handsome boyfriend Daniel (Isak Lie Harr) to follow her back to her room. By Norwegian standards, she’s doing nothing wrong, just a little cuddling and kissing, but when her father discovers them, he goes ballistic and beats the two youngsters. Norwegian social services takes Nisha into protective custody while her parents continue to trumpet their belief that she has lost her virginity and destroyed their honor. The local Pakistani community circles around, unanimous in their criticism. They advise Nisha’s father that he must make an example of her with a punishment so strong that none of their offspring would dare to make the same mistake.

“Nisha misses the warmth of her family and is all too eager to make up with them. When her mother calls and says that they want her to come home to discuss matters, she believes it’s true. But when her father and brother (Ali Arfan) come to pick her up, they have another destination in mind — her aunt’s home, some 200 miles outside Islamabad.

“The second act takes place in Pakistan, where Nisha has been brought and left against her will. Her aunt (Sheeba Chaddha) is harsh with her, making her work around the house and in the kitchen. She tolerates no rebellion, locking Nisha in a closet when she tries to contact friends through an internet café. Her uncle (Lalit Parimoo) burns her Norwegian passport and warns her that if she attempts such communication again, her father will marry her to a peasant and she will have to spend the rest of her life milking buffalos. Eventually, though traumatized, Nisha settles down and finds some pleasure in exploring her parents’ culture — but scandal seems to find her despite her best intentions.

“The second act further proves that People is no run-of-the-mill coming-of-age story. While out one night with her cousin, Amir (Rohit Saraf), Nisha endures an encounter with the police so shocking it’s hard to believe that Haq could bear to put it on film. She stages the scene so powerfully that it takes the audience’s breath away. Afterward, poor wronged Nisha once again receives the blame for actions that were no fault of her own, and that lead to even stronger attempts by her family to control her.

“Although one may argue that the character of Nisha’s father transforms too easily from doting dad to tyrant, Haq definitely makes him a complex and conflicted character. The director clearly conveys the love that exists between father and daughter, but which cannot end happily because of the wide gulf between their cultures.

“Impressively lensed in Norway, Sweden, Germany and India (Rajasthan stands in for Nisha’s father’s ancestral home), People represents a big step up from Haq’s more modestly scaled debut, but it’s a move she handles with assurance and aplomb. She develops the father-daughter relationship visually as well as verbally, showing the action from both their perspectives. The film is also attuned to the small glances and movements of the supporting characters, which carry more weight than words.”

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JULY 20: Damascus Cover (dir. Daniel Zelik Berk) (DP: Chloë Thomson)Rotten Tomatoes synopsis: “Ari Ben-Zion (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), haunted by the death of his son, is assigned by the Mossad to smuggle a chemical weapons scientist out of Syria. Within days his mission goes wrong. To survive Ari reaches out to a deep cover agent code named, The Angel. He soon discovers that he is a pawn in a much bigger plan.”

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JULY 20: Far from the Tree (dir. Rachel Dretzin)IFC Center synopsis:Far from the Tree follows families meeting extraordinary challenges through love, empathy, and understanding. This life-affirming documentary encourages us to cherish loved ones for all they are, not who they might have been. Based on Andrew Solomon’s award-winning, critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling non-fiction book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity.

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JULY 20: Generation Wealth (dir. Lauren Greenfield) (DPs: Robert Chappell, Lauren Greenfield, Shana Hagan, Jerry Risius and Lars Skree)Angelika Film Center synopsis: “For the past 25 years, acclaimed photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield has travelled the world, documenting with ethnographic precision and an artist’s sensitivity a vast range of cultural movements and moments. Yet, after so much seeking and searching, she realized that much of her work pointed at one uniting phenomenon: wealth culture. With Generation Wealth, she puts the pieces of her life’s work together for in an incendiary investigation into the pathologies that have created the richest society the world has ever seen. Spanning consumerism, beauty, gender, body commodification, aging and more, Greenfield has created a comprehensive cautionary tale about a culture heading straight for the cliff’s edge, which ultimately becomes a deeply personal journey and raucously entertaining expose, bearing witness to the global boom-bust economy, the corrupted American Dream and the human costs of capitalism, narcissism and greed.”

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JULY 20: Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (dir. Mari Okada)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis: “From Anime director Mari Okada (Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day and Anthem of the Heart) comes this magical story of Maquia. Maquie is a creature of the Iolph clan, a group of ageless beings. When an invading territory separates Maquia from her clan, Maquia explores the mortal world and discovers orphaned human baby, Erial. Although her elders warn her from loving anyone outside their clan, Maquia takes Erial in as her own child. As Erial grows up, he seeks to reconnect with Maquia’s lost Iolph friends who were torn apart by the cruel world of Mesate. Don’t miss this exclusive new anime straight from its highly reviewed release in Japan!”

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JULY 20: Pin Cushion (dir. Deborah Haywood) (DP: Nicola Daley)Cinema Village synopsis: “Super close Mother Lyn (Joanna Scanlan) and daughter Iona (Lily Newmark) (aka Dafty One and Dafty Two) are excited for their new life in a new town. Determined to make a success of things after a tricky start, Iona becomes ‘best friends’ with Keeley (Sacha Cordy-Nice), Stacie (Saskia Paige Martin) and Chelsea (Bethany Antonia). Used to being Iona’s bestie herself, Lyn feels left out. So Lyn also makes friends with Belinda (Chanel Cresswell), her neighbor. As much as Lyn and Iona pretend to each other that things are going great, things aren’t going great for either of them. Iona struggles with the girls, who act more like frenemies than friends, and Belinda won’t give Lyn her stepladders back. Both mother and daughter retreat into fantasy and lies.”

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JULY 20: The Rise of Eve (dir. L. Burner)Cinema Village synopsis: “Sexual persecution and violence against women throughout history and various cultures are examined; from placing the blame of the existence of evil solely on Eve to modern day victim blaming, to systematic misogyny in music and media. Double standards are challenged. Physical abuse and so-called honor killings in the Middle East are called out. The Rise of Eve is relentless as it tackles cringe-worthy, taboo topics including slut shaming, street harassment and theories on the pathology to aggressive and dismissive attitudes regarding women and their sexual and physical rights. Men and women from all walks of life weigh in on sexism creating a balanced account and the feminism and its proponents and opponents are unpredictable. The Rise of Eve makes astute observations and cogent arguments to transcend the ‘shame and blame’ culture that has been tumultuously leveled against women, unabated and unchallenged…..until now.

“Noteworthy: The Rise of Eve includes original commentary by Aphrodite Jones. Production on ROE took place from 2014 to 2016 ahead of the #metoo movement but the impeccable and prophetic timing has created the perfect platform for The Rise of Eve.

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JULY 20: Wanda (dir. Barbara Loden)The Playlist article by Charles Barfield:Wanda is a film that is regarded as one of the very best of the ‘70s but is perhaps a film that you are not familiar with. Written, directed, and starring Barbara Loden, Wanda is a rare film of the time, with a distinctly female voice and a story revolving around the existential crisis of a divorced woman. Now, almost 50 years after its release, a restoration of Loden’s film is getting a new run in theaters, hoping to open up more to the world of Wanda.

“Loden’s only feature film as a director, Wanda won the award for Best Foreign Film at the Venice International Film Festival, and is regarded by many, including John Waters and Isabelle Huppert as a classic. In the trailer for the new restoration that will be seeing a limited run in theaters, you can see a glimpse at just how amazing Loden’s directorial debut is. It’s just a shame that Wanda wasn’t embraced by audiences during its initial run in theaters.

“If you’re interested in checking out the restored version of the film, it will open in New York on July 20, with a planned national release shortly after.

“Here’s the synopsis for the film: Barbara Loden’s lone feature was a vanguard work by an America independent filmmaker, a totally uncompromised writer-director-star turn in which she embodies a listless young mother in Pennsylvania coal country who drifts away from her domestic prison and shacks up with perhaps the least glamorous outlaw in cinema history, Michael Higgins’s cantankerous ‘Mr. Dennis.’ A deeply personal work by Loden, herself a child of Appalachia, with an extraordinary clear-eyed expression of dead-end despair, a life-marred document of a scuffed, sad, left-behind working-class world. Without question, one of the greatest American films of the 1970s. The restoration will debut at the Metrograph in New York on July 20, 2018 with a national roll out to follow.”

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JULY 25: 93Queen (dir./DP: Paula Eiselt)IFC Center synopsis: “Set in the Hasidic enclave of Borough Park, Brooklyn, 93Queen follows a group of tenacious Hasidic women who are smashing the patriarchy in their community by creating the first all-female volunteer ambulance corps in New York City. With unprecedented and insider access, 93Queen offers a unique portrayal of a group of religious women who are taking matters into their own hands to change their own community from within.”

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JULY 27 (NYC), AUGUST 17 (LA): Good Manners (dirs. Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas)IFC Center synopsis: “Filmmakers Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra’s second collaboration (after the acclaimed Hard Labor) deftly integrates art-house and genre cinema to create a thrilling and dark gothic fable with sharp social commentary. Set in São Paulo, the film follows Clara, a lonely nurse from the outskirts of the city who is hired by mysterious and wealthy Ana to be the nanny of her soon to be born child. Against all odds, the two women develop a strong bond. But a fateful night marked by a full moon changes their plans. With powerful visuals and an impeccable cinematography (by Zama’s Rui Poças), Good Manners is Disney meets Jacques Tourneur. The film becomes an unexpected and wild werewolf movie unlike any other, and a poignant social and racial allegory on modern-day Brazilian society.”

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JULY 27 (LA), AUGUST 14 (on digital/VOD): Snapshots (dir. Melanie Mayron)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “With a box of old family photos in hand, Patty (Brooke Adams) and her daughter Allison (Emily Baldoni) arrive at Gran’s (Piper Laurie) house for their annual girls’ weekend. Within the box lie secrets of love lost, love betrayed and love wanting. Snapshots has been compared to the award winning films The Kids Are All Right, Cloudburst, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias. All of these films show the strength and resilience of people as they cope with the fragilities of life.  What could Gran have done all those years ago that will now shock her daughter and open a Pandora’s box for her granddaughter? Can Patty cope with the loss of a husband who betrays her and leaves her with a secret of his own?

“Set against the backdrop of Rose’s (Gran’s) lake home, Snapshots resonates with every person who has lived through the complexity of family relationships, It reminds us that if we are loved no secret is too difficult to hear and accept. Or is it?”

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Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: June 2018

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Director/screenwriter Christina Choe (in red, standing) and cinematographer Zoe White (left of center, holding camera) working with actors Steve Buscemi and J. Smith-Cameron (both sitting) on the set of Nancy, 2017. (Photo: Film Independent)

Here are twenty-six new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this June, 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.

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JUNE 1 (on digital platforms): Girl (dir. Kandeyce Jorden)FilmFreeway synopsis: “When Electronic Dance Music was blowing up around the world and DJs were becoming superstars, director Kandeyce Jorden began making this film to profile the top women behind the decks. She discovered and interviewed DJ Irene, DJ Colette, DJ Rap and many others, but when she met the legendary DJ Sandra Collins, her interest became an obsession. Documenting Collins’ rise to superstar DJ status led Jorden around the world and down a rabbit hole. Twelve years in the making, Girl is about music, love, and what you find when you get really lost.”

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JUNE 1 (in theaters & on VOD): Social Animals (dir. Theresa Bennett) (DP: Sandra Valde-Hansen)Rotten Tomatoes synopsis: “Zoe Crandle’s life didn’t exactly turn out the way she planned. She’s facing eviction, her business is going under and she is resigned to a life of one-night stands. Just when it seems her whole world is unraveling, she meets Paul, a fellow loveable loser, and the pair have an instant connection. There’s only one problem, Paul is married. With help from her best friend, Zoe devises a plan to save her business and salvage her love life. An honest, uncompromising comedy of modern relationships, Social Animals stars Noël Wells, Josh Radnor, Aya Cash, Carly Chaikin, Fortune Feimster and Samira Wiley.”

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JUNE 1: The Texture of Falling (dir./DP: Maria Allred)Cinema Village synopsis:The Texture of Falling is unlike any film that you’ve ever seen. Set against the lush landscape of the Pacific Northwest, it’s a film that transcends genre and defies classification – part psychological drama and part sexual thriller. It follows Louisa (Julie Webb) as a filmmaker reeling from a recent professional dejection, who meets Luke (Patrick Green), a pianist experiencing his own artistic crisis. Despite a long-term relationship with Ati (Donny Persons), Louisa is intrigued by Luke. As Louisa falls for him, her skepticism of romantic love begins to unravel as she surrenders to her passions.

“But as Louisa and Luke’s romance blooms, a simultaneous story arises as Michael (Benjamin Farmer), a wayward architect estranged from his wife, meets Sylvia, an enigmatic painter. But are these parallels merely a coincidence? Soon Michael and Sylvia embark on a verboten journey of pleasure and pain. But who is Sylvia? As Michael’s lust crescendos, he realizes that he has chosen the elusive. In The Texture of Falling, nothing is what it seems. From its opening shot to its startling climax, the film inverts all expectations. It asks what is real and what is artifice. Where do our fantasies end and our passions begin?”

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JUNE 1: Yadvi – The Dignified Princess (dir. Jyoti Singh and collaborating director Vick Krishna)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “How does a real life princess raised in one of the wealthiest families of the world end up losing all such privileges in her middle age? How does she become forced to pick her own food and collect her own wood for the winters? In 1940’s India, before even a hint of feministic equality, how does a woman not only uphold her own dignity but also raise three refined daughters in the face of unexpected adversity? The pure personification of integrity, Yadvi – The Dignified Princess movie will take you on her journey through the India of Kings and Queens, of Princes and polygyny. Her deep internal strength bolstering her family honor will inspire you!”

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JUNE 7: To a More Perfect Union: U.S. v Windsor (dir. Donna Zaccaro)Synopsis from the film’s official website:To A More Perfect Union: U.S. v Windsor is a feature-length documentary that tells a story of love, marriage and a fight for equality. The film chronicles unlikely heroes — octogenarian Edie Windsor and her attorney, Roberta Kaplan, on their quest for justice: Edie had been forced to pay a huge estate tax bill upon the death of her spouse because the federal government denied federal benefits to same-sex couples – and Edie’s spouse was a woman. Deeply offended by this lack of recognition of her more than forty-year relationship with the love of her life, Edie decided to sue the United States government – and won. Windsor and Kaplan’s legal and personal journeys are told in their own words, and through interviews with others of the legal team, movement activists, legal analysts, well-known supporters and opponents. Beyond the story of this pivotal case in the marriage equality movement and the stories behind it, the film also tells the story of our journey as a people, as a culture, and as citizens with equal rights.”

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JUNE 8 (streaming on Netflix): Alex Strangelove (dir. Craig Johnson) (DP: Hillary Spera)TheWrap review by William Bibbiani:Alex Strangelove is a confident film about a confusing time. Right off the bat, our teenaged hero Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny, Adventures in Public School) tries to fit everyone in his high school into different species of animals, just to make sense of them all. The bully in his class is a Great White Shark. The kid who dresses outlandishly is a Peacock Spider. And although he’s not quite sure, Alex thinks he himself might be a penguin. Or he might be gay. Or he might be bisexual. He doesn’t really know yet.

“It’s a complex inner journey, and writer-director Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins) brings it to life in just about every way he can. We see Alex’s fantasies, we see drawings on the screen, we see online documentaries Alex makes with his best friend Claire (Madeline Weinstein, Beach Rats) that equate high school to a Savage Kingdom.

“All of these personal touches add whimsy to an otherwise familiar John Hughes-esque formula, full of awkward comic-relief sidekicks, experimentation with drugs, romantic misunderstandings and a cool, often retro soundtrack.

“The story begins with Alex and Claire meeting, bonding, dating and then finally — eight months later — deciding to have sex. Claire has been trying to seal that deal for a while now, actually, but Alex keeps talking himself out of it, and whenever he does psych himself up for sexiness, he either sounds like he’s losing in an improv game (‘I’m going to sex you so good you won’t know what time it is’) or he falls victim to wacky, wacky fate. Getting puked on by a guy who just licked a psychoactive toad and binged on a giant jar of Gummy Worms is, it turns out, kind of a mood killer.

“Alex also finds himself increasingly distracted by Elliott (Antonio Marziale, ‘Altered Carbon’), a sophisticated boy about a year older, who is openly gay and keeps wanting to hang out. Elliott is attractive, smart, sympathetic, stylish and endearing. Then again, so is Claire. Alex loves them both and considers, for a while at least, that he might legitimately be “in” love with both of them. Even his choice of breakfast cereals are ‘Heter-Os,’ ‘Gay Flakes’ and ‘Bi-Crunchies.’

“But figuring it all out, one way or another (or the other), is going to bring about a dramatic change, and change is scary. Alex Strangelove captures that anxiety all too well. It takes place at a time when every decision we make, and every realization we come to, has huge ramifications for our future, our present and might even force us to reevaluate our past.

“And while Alex’s external circumstances aren’t particularly momentous (his biggest concern is whether or not he’ll get into Columbia, and what we wouldn’t all give to have that problem), Doheny’s emotionally open-faced performance reveals just how seriously he’s taking his coming-of-age experience. Doheny knows how to tell a joke, and he also knows how to sink into existential ennui, and Johnson’s screenplay takes him through all the points in between.

Alex Strangelove hits some sour patches in the middle. Although Alex, Claire and Elliott feel like real human beings, many of the supporting players come across like jokes. Daniel Zolghadri (Eighth Grade) plays the platonic ideal of the teen comedy sidekick role, with climactic moments of sensitivity that don’t quite compensate for just how broadly he’s written the rest of the time. And incidental characters like Sierra (Sophie Faulkenberry) and Dakota (Dante Costabile) seem to have stopped by on their way to their Neighbors 3 audition.

“But although the teen-comedy trappings sometimes become a distraction, it’s clear that Johnson’s true inspiration are the awkward moments in which the characters lose their sense of humor. A scene in which Alex and Claire finally try to consummate their relationship plays out with such earnestness that it would probably break your heart, whatever the outcome.

“While it might be nice to see Alex Strangelove take different avenues, rather than rely on some of the broadest strokes of the teen genre, it’s hard to fault the film’s heart. It’s a sweet story about someone who doesn’t know what their story is. It’s a funny film about seriously figuring yourself out. It’s a serious film about pain, in which no one intentionally inflicts it. Craig Johnson might not have made a particularly strange film, but it’s a particularly kind one, and it’s worth loving.”

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JUNE 8 (NYC), JUNE 29 (LA): Half the Picture (dir. Amy Adrion) (DPs: Yamit Shimonovitz and Soraya Sélène)RogerEbert.com review by Susan Wloszczyna:‘This is the first time I’ve watched 20 films in 10 days, and I love movies. And the one thing I really took away from this experience is how the world views women from the female characters that I saw represented. And it was quite disturbing to me, to be honest.’

“The documentary Half the Picture opens with this frank and provocative observation from actress Jessica Chastain when she served as a Cannes juror in 2017—even after Sofia Coppola became just the second woman in 70 years to be honored with the festival’s best director prize for her work on The Beguiled. It sets the tone of this cogent examination of why female filmmakers continue to struggle to rise through the ranks in Hollywood—and why it pretty much remains a ‘straight white male boy’s club’ despite such notable money makers in recent years such as Phyllida Lloyd’s Mamma Mia, Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, Jennifer Lee’s Frozen (alongside co-director Chris Buck) and, of course, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman.

“Documentaries that rely on a steady stream of talking heads—interspersed here with fleeting film clips—usually are not my favorite. However, when those heads belong to talented and perceptive women who rarely get a chance to speak their minds let alone get hired to make a movie, I can definitely make an exception. Half the Picture rounds up a diverse group of 40 or so TV and movie directors—black, white, Asian, Hispanic, members of the LGBT community, old hands and fresh faces—as well as journalists, academics, activists and others involved in the fight to open more doors for women so they can get the same work opportunities that their male counterparts take for granted. No men, however, are allowed.

“One might wonder why the lauded likes of Coppola and Bigelow, the only female to ever win a directing Oscar for The Hurt Locker, don’t chime in. But director Amy Adrion in her feature debut has gathered enough varied voices and personal anecdotes to provide plenty of valuable insights into why it is that women make up about half of all film-school directing majors but represent less than five percent of  directors behind of the top-grossing U.S. films for the past 10 years. And the number of female minority helmers is positively miniscule—.006 percent. Yes, this has been a hot topic for a number of years. But the fact that it hasn’t gotten better and has even grown worse has taken on some urgency of late, given the ever-growing #MeToo movement. Some men clearly have grown too accustomed to using their of power perches as a way to prey upon and abuse women in the industry without suffering the consequences—or to look the other way when big moneymakers behave badly.

“The initial question addressed by Adrion is how certain ladies first came to find themselves behind a camera. Penelope Spheeris of The Decline of Western Civilization music docs’ fame, still hilariously feisty at 72, got her start by being able to carry the then-heavy equipment used by crews. She even continued to do her job while eight and a half months pregnant. ‘The kid was fine,’ she says with typical sass. When Spheeris worked on the first season of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ her main job was showing comic Albert Brooks how to make movies. But producer Lorne Michaels—she does a wicked impression of him—never gave her a similar break on the show. Feeling guilty, he hired her to do Wayne’s World, which became both a huge comedy hit in 1992 and her calling card.

“Ava DuVernay was a publicist who secretly pursued becoming a filmmaker in her early 30s and got a boost as the first African-American woman to win a directing award at Sundance for 2012’s Middle of Nowhere. Jill Soloway, creator of Amazon’s ‘Transparent,’ was a writer for HBO’s ‘Six Feet Under’ who got tired of other directors failing to do her scripts justice. Martha Coolidge scored her 1983 debut Valley Girl because the producers wanted a woman to direct what they considered a ‘sexploitation’ film. She saw it as an updated Romeo and Juliet fairy tale. One caveat: She had to agree to feature naked breasts in four scenes. No problem.

“Their rise and that of others would encourage the next generation of female storytellers. As an undergrad in college, Tina Mabry (OWN’s ‘Queen Sugar’ series, created by Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey) desperately wanted to go to film school after noticing that 2000’s Love & Basketball and 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry both had women directors—namely, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Kimberly Peirce, who share their own stories with Adrion.

“But the playing field is far from equal. Unlike men who hit the jackpot their first time out or score an indie winner early in their career and reap rewards for their efforts, achieving a blockbuster doesn’t necessarily put women on the most wanted list. Spheeris didn’t get to cash in by directing Wayne’s World 2—a guy was hired instead. But, as she notes with a knowing grin, ‘It’s cool. It flopped.’ Little wonder she has basically stopped making movies all together, especially after doing soul-depleting money grabs like The Beverly Hillbillies and Black Sheep. “I make houses,” she says of her shift into real estate. ‘It’s like making a movie. I’m telling all these dudes what to do’—a statement punctuated by a self-aware laugh. But unlike a movie, she adds, ‘no one is dicking around with it.’

“As for Hardwicke, she thought she would be offered an office on a studio lot or a three-picture deal after kicking off the Twilight franchise with a box-office bang. Instead, she was paid half as much for her next film and men were hired to oversee the four subsequent sequels by building upon her vision.

“One of the more infuriating examples of a terrific female talent being mistreated came at the hands of Pixar. Brenda Chapman, the animation studio’s first-ever female director—who put her heart and soul into creating 2013’s Brave—was asked to leave the project due to the ever-popular ‘creative differences’ and was replaced by a man, Mark Andrews. At least Chapman got to go onstage when the film won an Oscar and thank her own daughter, Emma, for being her inspiration.

“An array of roadblocks, from genre biases when it comes considering a woman to oversee horror, sci-fi or action films to the fact that 73% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes are male, stands in the way. And, yes, motherhood can be a challenge given the hours and devotion that filmmaking can require. But this is no pity party. There is a sense that sisters are doing it for themselves and each other as more female decision makers make inroads behind the scenes. The best news is that an investigation by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found discriminatory practices at each of the major studios—and talks are ongoing to settle those charges. Half the Picture may not fill in all the blanks but it is a start.”

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JUNE 8: Middleground (dir. Alisa Khazanova)Moscow International Film Festival synopsis: “Him and her. A husband and a wife staying in a cozy hotel where you can come for just a couple of days with a risk to get stuck forever. It is so easy to get trapped in the daily routine. Indeed, nothing is more permanent than the temporary. Their time is like a flat circle. He has his phone calls and business meetings. She is wrapped in her dreams and doubts. All reactions are predictable, all conversations are learnt by heart. An endless LP record of life keeps playing again and again repeating itself. But a few things can break this tune, like a scratch on the record, a crack on a wine glass, a sudden glance or a meeting with a stranger. And then you know: tomorrow will come soon. Any moment something can go wrong, throw you off course, and force you to make a choice.”

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JUNE 8: Nancy (dir. Christina Choe) (DP: Zoe White)Landmark at 57 West synopsis: “Andrea Riseborough (The Death of Stalin, Battle of the Sexes) gives a subtly haunting performance as Nancy, a lonely 35-year-old woman who makes things up to brighten her otherwise boring life. Taking care of an ailing and demanding mother (Ann Dowd), trapped in a messy house, Nancy escapes frequently to the internet where she creates elaborate identities and hoaxes under pseudonyms. When she hears about a couple whose five-year-old daughter was stolen 30 years ago, she wonders if she could be that missing daughter. The projected portrait of the missing girl looks remarkably like Nancy, and she decides to contact the parents, who invite her to visit. The traumatized mother (J. Smith-Cameron) wants to believe it might be possible, but the father (Steve Buscemi) is more skeptical. Fact and fiction begin to blur in Nancy’s mind, and she becomes increasingly convinced these strangers are her real parents. As their bond deepens, reasonable doubts give way to willful belief—and the power of emotion threatens to overcome all rationality. With John Leguizamo. Written and directed by Christina Choe, winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival.”

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JUNE 8: The Valley (dir. Saila Kariat)Reelviews review by James Berardinelli: “Suicide. Despite its growing prevalence in modern society, few filmmakers tackle this issue, at least not in a serious fashion. The Valley, set in California’s tech-heavy Silicon Valley, examines the impact of a young woman’s suicide on those who loved her, especially her father, Neal (Alyy Khan), who is incapable of understanding what drove her to take such a decisive action. The film plays out like a mystery, skipping back and forth across three time periods (one prior to the suicide, one immediately after, and one a year later).

“As the primary officer of a tech company, Neal is used to finding solutions but what he learns as he talks to the friends of his college freshman daughter, Maya (Agenneta Thacker), is that sometimes there is no single cause. Maya didn’t kill herself because she was molested at a party (which she was). She didn’t kill herself because she got a D on an exam (which she did). She didn’t kill herself because she was lonely and had few friends. Writer/director Salia Kariat provides ample evidence that Maya suffered from depression. The signs were there but Maya’s family didn’t recognize them. They thought she was being moody or sad.

“The movie avoids the trap of seeming like a PSA. Although there are times when the narrative veers into overripe melodrama (the ‘revelations’ conveniently uncovered in Maya’s journal being an example), it mostly strikes the right balance between reflection and tragedy. The catharsis, to the extent that there is one, is muted as befits a story of this nature. Kariat doesn’t manufacture an artificially upbeat or satisfying conclusion to placate viewers left unsettled by the story. The Valley opts for realism rather than a pat resolution. Suicide is devastating and recovery can be slow; The Valley acknowledges both of these things.

“The two best developed characters are Neal and Maya. Although we only see the 18-year old in flashbacks, there’s enough to paint a picture of a smart, caring young woman overwhelmed by circumstances and without an outlet. The film’s unanswered question is whether Maya’s suicide could have been prevented. Had someone recognized her depression during the earliest timeframe, would it have been possible to stop the leap out the dorm-room window? No one knows and Kariat doesn’t stack the deck one way or another.

“Neal grapples with guilt and self-doubt as he struggles to understand why his daughter did what she did. His wife, Roopa (Suchitra Pillai), and eldest daughter, Monica (Salma Khan), don’t understand his obsession. In their view, Maya is dead and the reasons are immaterial. Life demands that they grieve and move on, but it’s not that simple for a Type-A personality. Like a detective solving a murder, Neal interviews everyone who knew Maya – her best friend, her roommate, the young man she had a crush on, the professor who gave her a bad grade. In the end, he recognizes that there are no answers, only more questions and the nagging suspicion that he, blinded by the demands of his job, missed seeing his daughter’s distress.

“By making the key participants in The Valley an Indian-American family with many traditional values and customs, Kariat emphasizes the universality of the problem. Suicide isn’t restricted to one culture or social class. It crosses all lines and is no respecter of ethnicity or financial status. With solid performances and a sensitive screenplay, The Valley offers a window overlooking a heartbreakingly common situation whose signs and symptoms remain elusive.”

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JUNE 8 (NYC), JUNE 15 (LA): Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist (dir. Lorna Tucker)IFC Center synopsis: “Since igniting the punk movement with ex-partner and Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren, Dame Vivienne Westwood has been redefining British fashion for over 40 years, and is responsible for creating many of the most distinctive looks of our time. The film blends archive, beautifully crafted reconstruction, and insightful interviews with Vivienne’s fascinating network of collaborators, guiding us on her journey from a childhood in postwar Derbyshire to the runways of Paris and Milan. This is an intimate and poignant homage to one of the true cultural icons of our time, as she fights to maintain her brand’s integrity, her principles and her legacy in a business driven by consumerism, profit and global expansion.

“With exclusive, unprecedented access, Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist is the first film to encompass the remarkable story of Vivienne’s life, her fashion, her personality, her activism and her cultural importance.”

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JUNE 15 (streaming on Netflix): Lust Stories (dirs. Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar and Anurag Kashyap)EPeak World News synopsis:Lust Stories is an anthology that explores contemporary relationships through four intriguing stories. The anthology, directed by four powerhouse directors — Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar and Dibakar Banerjee – portrays varied dimensions of love, lust, power, status and romance, from the eyes of the women in the stories, and what they want. Lust Stories is directed by acclaimed Indian filmmakers: Karan Johar (My Name Is Khan), Anurag Kashyap (Gangs of Wasseypur), Zoya Akhtar (Life Is Precious), and Dibakar Banerjee (Shanghai). The same four filmmakers also made the anthology film Bombay Talkies in 2013, which was meant to celebrate the one hundred years of Hindi cinema.”

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JUNE 15 (streaming on Netflix): Set It Up (dir. Claire Scanlon)Netflix synopsis: “In desperate need of a break from the office, two beleaguered assistants (Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell) team up to trick their workaholic bosses (Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs) into falling in love.”

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JUNE 15: The Year of Spectacular Men (dir. Lea Thompson)The Hollywood Reporter’s Los Angeles Film Festival review by Sheri Linden: “Sisterly chemistry is the natural resource fueling The Year of Spectacular Men, an uneven but sparky comedy showcasing Madelyn Deutch and her real-life sib Zoey, star of such features as Why Him? and Vampire Academy. Revolving around a succession of romantic misadventures, the film was written by Madelyn, whose mostly witty dialogue and assured performance as an aimless college grad updates the archetype of the smart ditz with a modern sexual frankness.

“For the twentysomethings with whom the movie is sure to click, the sarcastic jabs at such easy targets as health-conscious New Age types might feel fresh rather than strained. But even with the screenplay’s sometimes screechy missteps, the Deutch duo hold the screen with charm and intelligence to spare.

“The family affair extends to the director’s chair, occupied by the Deutches’ mother, the veteran actress Lea Thompson (Back to the Future), while their father, Pretty in Pink director Howard Deutch, serves as a producer. They each bring notable experience with coming-of-age stories to the 12-month saga of a lovable hot mess. Though there’s a specifically millennial slant to this twentysomething’s search for meaning and purpose, the bright and polished film has a retro sheen that fondly recalls romantic comedies of the ’70s and ’80s.

“That’s especially so in the opening sequence, Thompson’s unequivocal tip of the hat to Woody Allen: New York City scenery, New Orleans jazz on the score, a glimpse of a therapist’s couch as a series of young men recall their relationships with Izzy Klein (Madelyn Deutch). The year of languor and reckoning begins in sunny May, with Izzy’s indifferent graduation from college and unexpected breakup with Aaron (Jesse Bradford), who’s fed up with her lack of direction. Deciding to give acting a try, Izzy heads home to Los Angeles, where her younger but decidedly more worldly sister Sabrina (Zoey Deutch) is a busy, up-and-coming movie actress.

“The warm, stable relationship between Sabrina and her actor boyfriend Sebastian — played by a terrific Avan Jogia, Zoey Deutch’s former offscreen partner — is the only element of the movie that doesn’t spring from stereotypes. It actually defies them. Sabrina and Sebastian aren’t pathologically self-involved Hollywood snobs; they’re good people. That a trio of friendly middle-aged paparazzi (Bob Clendenin, Alison Martin and Troy Evans) camp outside their place is one of the more inventively playful touches in Madelyn Deutch’s script.

“Izzy’s clueless auditions follow a more familiar course, and she soon withdraws from the world to spend months holed up chez Sabrina, indulging her X-Files obsession until her persistent sister pries her out of her room. Their every back-and-forth has verbal snap as well as the offhand intimacy of people with a deep bond. By contrast, the underlying drama between them, involving a secret that Izzy has been keeping from Sabrina about their father, feels tacked-on and never delivers the intended punch.

“As for Izzy’s romantic entanglements, her kooky flailing and sweet sincerity are far more spectacular than the men themselves, who range from the insufferably pretentious (Cameron Monaghan as a classmate) to the openly sincere (Zach Roerig as a ski-slope rescuer). The screenplay strikes deeper chords in Izzy’s relationship with a drummer (Brandon T. Jackson) and her flirtation with a shy film director (Nicholas Braun); in both cases, Deutch fearlessly punctures romance-novel illusions about sex.

“Thompson, who has directed episodes of TV series including ‘The Goldbergs,’ has an eye for physical comedy and maintains a suitably brisk pace. She sometimes indulges overwritten scenes, though. And a sitcom sensibility occasionally intrudes upon the clear-eyed material, particularly in Thompson’s performance as Izzy and Sabrina’s widowed mother, whose lesbian relationship with a younger yoga-and-quinoa enthusiast (Melissa Bolona) is more punchline fodder than convincing human interaction. It’s also an excuse for a sequence set in wintry Lake Tahoe that unravels in predictable rom-com melodrama but offers the visual delight of Izzy’s bungling attempt at skiing.

“Always energetic but sometimes underpowered in terms of emotional connection, the movie has a bright look, thanks to the contributions of designers Sara Millan and Kate Mallor and the smooth, unobtrusive camerawork of Bryan Koss. Thompson casts the story’s youthful, warts-and-all exuberance in a burnished, slightly unreal glow. At its strongest, Izzy’s postcollegiate Year is a smartly fractured fairy tale.”

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JUNE 22: Boundaries (dir. Shana Feste) (DP: Sara Mishara)Variety’s SXSW review by Owen Gleiberman: “We’ve seen him dozens of times before, saying any damn thing that comes into his head (because living on the planet for 70 or 80 years has given him the right to do so). He’s on his own incorrigible wavelength, dropping putdowns as fresh as his body is old, spicing every cranky comment with a perfectly chosen F–bomb. But, of course, he’s also part of the family. He’s the grumpy old man, the naughty codger from hell — the hilarious over-the-hill a–hole who is always played by someone like, you know, Alan Arkin. Just about every time we see him, he’s a showbiz creation, a character baptized in shtick.

“But in Boundaries, a touching yet wised-up father-daughter road movie that’s the best version of this sort of film you could imagine (it’s standard, but very tastefully done), Christopher Plummer plays him with a lived-in, soft-shoe command. At 88, Plummer looks about as handsome as a man his age can be, with cheekbones that take the light beautifully, his white hair swept back and set off by a beard that’s still, from certain angles, sort of sexy. He plays Jack Jaconi, the pathologically charming and selfish father of Laura (Vera Farmiga), and by the end of the opening scene, when she’s sounding off to her therapist about him, we’re certain that he must be some version of the monster she describes. Laura won’t even take his calls — that’s how much damage he’s caused.

“Then Jack shows up, and he’s such a smiley and debonair old coot that he doesn’t only seem not so bad; he seems real. True, the tropes are all in place. Jack, who has just gotten kicked out of his senior-citizen facility, has $200,000 worth of marijuana he’s trying to unload. (Yes, he’s a drug dealer.) He also speaks his mind with such a sly-boots sense of humor that it takes us a moment or two to notice how merciless he is. When his teenage grandson, Henry (Lewis McDougall), makes a mild off-color remark about not wanting to go into a shed for fear of being molested, Jack says, ‘You wouldn’t get molested with a bow in your hair.’ Ouch! (On several levels.)

“Yet with no insult to Alan Arkin, or to the cast of either version of Going in Style, Plummer takes the character of Jack and divests him of any hint of the usual calculated comic overstatement. Every line feels spontaneous, served up with Plummer’s dryly amused finesse, in tones that are quiet yet sonorous enough to rival Morgan Freeman’s. Laura, an animal-rescue freak, has a collection of canine strays who are wispy and broken-down enough to look like actual rescue dogs. ‘You’re the Pied Piper of mange,’ says Jack, and it’s a good line, but what he means is: You’re working way too hard to rescue yourself.

“The writer-director, Shana Feste, who made the 2010 Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle Country Strong, knows how to stage a road movie as soft-edged psychodrama, without getting bogged down in dumb plot developments. And she’s got just the right actress in Vera Farmiga, who plays Laura with a protective anger — a sense of propping up her own boundaries — that can’t mask how vulnerable she still is to her dad’s bad parenting. Is Laura right that he wasn’t there for her? Of course! But the movie is still tough enough to say: That’s no excuse for playing life’s victim.

“Driving from Portland to Los Angeles, where Laura plans to deposit Jack in the home of her sister, the goofy Deadhead and dog-walker JoJo (Kristen Schaal), they stop off at the homes of several key people: Jack’s two old buddies, played by a warmly flaky Christopher Lloyd and a coolly flaky Peter Fonda, as well as Laura’s ex-husband, a flyweight scoundrel (Bobby Cannavale) whom she married because he was her dad all over again. Along the way, Henry, the ‘weird’ (i.e., smart and humane) grandson, a young artist who draws imagined nudes of people that nail their inner essence, forms the inevitable secret alliance with Jack. He helps him sell (and conceal) his weed, but more than that he finds the father figure he needs in this grandfather who answers to absolutely no one. The beauty of Plummer’s performance is that he makes Jack a crusty life force.

Boundaries is very fluidly shot, with a pleasing commercial sheen, and if handled correctly it could prove to be a mid-summer counter-programming awards-bait indie charmer. Farmiga hasn’t had a part this good since Up in the Air, and Plummer is on a roll. The 15-year-old Scottish actor Lewis McDougall, with his surly delinquent smirk, makes himself someone to watch. Boundaries, to be sure, delivers you to a place you know you’re going, but there should always be room for a movie that does that this well.”

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JUNE 22: Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (dir. Mouly Surya)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Giovanna Fulvi: “Powerful, provocative, and visually stunning, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a luminous new entry in the feminist western subgenre. Mouly Surya’s accomplished third feature is one of a kind: a contemporary reworking of the spaghetti western and smouldering revenge movie that is deeply rooted in the cultural and geopolitical landscapes of Indonesia.

“Marlina (Marsha Timothy) is a young widow, living alone in a remote farmhouse with the embalmed corpse of her deceased husband. When robbers arrive, entitled by centuries of male domination, to steal her livestock, seize her possessions, and rape her, Marlina has only her courage and intelligence to rely on. She thinks fast and acts even faster. The next day finds her on the road, hitching a ride to town with a severed head in one hand and a sabre in the other.

“A tale of repossessed strength and personal identity, the film features a compelling protagonist and introduces a gallery of other splendid female characters, especially “10-months” pregnant Novi (Dea Panendra).

“Surya builds tension with an assured mise en scène then dissipates it with bubbly bursts of caustic humour, playing with overused cinematic languages to find a genuine new style. Witty and subversive, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a bold and welcome affront to the staid sensibilities of male-centred cinema culture.”

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JUNE 22: Spiral (dir. Laura Fairrie)Quad Cinema synopsis: “As far-right nationalism rises again all over the world, reports of anti-Semitism have increased in Europe and especially in France, where long-simmering prejudices seem to be entering the mainstream. With up-to-the-minute relevance, director Laura Fairrie interviews a variety of French Jews who grapple with their place in a society that grows increasingly intolerant, and includes an extended interview with notorious comedian Dieudonné, a provocateur whose popular and controversial quenelle (inverted Nazi salute) cuts straight to the heart of a troubling reality.”

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JUNE 22 (streaming on Netflix): Us & Them (dir. René Liu)Broadway World article: “Netflix Inc., the world’s leading internet entertainment service, announced today that Us & Them from award-winning actress and first time director, René Liu will be available on the service. Us & Them started its theatrical run in China and is currently at the top of the Chinese box office chart with close to 200 million USD in 10 days making first-time director René Liu the highest-grossing female director for Chinese language films. Netflix is bringing the film to its members in over 190 countries around the world soon.

“‘At Netflix we believe great stories transcend borders. We are always in search for great content that touches the audience’s hearts and we are thrilled to bring a beautiful film like Us & Them to the service.’ said Rob Roy, Vice President, Content (Asia) at Netflix.

Us & Them started as a short story written by its multi-talented first time director René Liu, who decided to bring the story to life on screen, ‘We sincerely present my first film as a director to the world.’ Producer Zhang Yi Bai said: ‘We strive to create a great film for audience and we are more than happy for the film will be available on Netflix, it is indeed the best way to reach every corner of the globe.’

Us & Them follows the love story of Lin Jianqing (Jing Boran) and Fang Xiaoxiao (Zhou Dongyu) spanning over ten years. The two first meet and fall in love on the train back home for Chinese New Year, struggle as a couple and eventually lead to breakup. Ten years later, they reunited on a flight home. The story resonates with many people and the film was a huge box office success in China. Us & Them has shattered the box office record for female directors in China.”

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JUNE 24 (streaming on Netflix): To Each, Her Own (dir. Myriam Aziza)Netflix synopsis: “Just as Simone (Sarah Stern) works up the courage to tell her conservative Jewish family she’s a lesbian, she finds herself attracted to a male Senegalese chef (Jean-Christophe Folly).”

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JUNE 29: Custody (dir. Xavier Legrand) (DP: Nathalie Durand)Screen Daily’s Venice Film Festival review by Fionnuala Halligan: “An almost unbearably-tense, no-holds-barred drive through the nightmare of domestic terrorism, Custody is a can’t-look-away hybrid of gruelling reality and heightened cinematic technique. The mix is jarring, as intended, and this wrenching, heart-stopping film illustrates domestic violence and obsession in a way that makes the fear real. Yet the director also cites The Shining and Kramer Vs. Kramer amongst his influences, and they’re easily identified here too. This is a dynamic feature debut from France’s Xavier Legrand which bows in Competition at Venice, the last film to kick the festival home to a gripping close.

“Denis Ménochet’s bullying, paranoid Antoine is the hulking heart of Custody, but as his young son Julien, newcomer Thomas Gioria also holds his own. The film starts slowly as downbeat verite: viewers might easily be forgiven for asking why they should put themselves through such a grim experience. But Custody has a rhythm: one that should pound its way into festival screenings and art-house distribution, where it will remain a byword for domestic violence.

“The film starts at a magistrate’s court, where Antoine and his wife Miriam (Léa Drucker), with their representatives, are engaged in a bitter custody battle. The couple’s older daughter Josephine (Mathilde Auneveux) is of an age where she can make her own decisions – and she chooses not to have anything to do with Antoine – but the fate of Julien is at stake. Statements are made and the situation seems opaque: manipulation is afoot, clearly. Could Miriam have instigated her young son’s insistent desire not to see his father? Somebody is lying to the judge, who makes an abrupt decision with far-reaching consequences.

“As Antoine starts to exercise his parental rights over the young boy – to the child’s obvious dread – Custody is barely watchable: the distress shown by young actor Gioria is anxiety-inducing and almost too raw and real for a film. But all the while, Ménochet’s Antoine is beginning to reveal himself, and it’s a familiar portrait to anyone who has ever encountered obsession and domestic violence. Soon, Custody is only watchable through your fingers, as Legrand begins to apply home invasion aspects to his drama and everyone becomes short of breath, the viewer included.

“Ménochet, Drucker and Gioria give their all to this chamber-like piece, which is a thematic progression of the director’s short  Just Before Losing Everything.. For the most part it’s a claustrophobic film, whether that be in court, the passenger seat of Antoine’s vehicle or the interior of the apartment to which Miriam has fled. Ménochet is unafraid to give vent to his character’s inner rage, while Drucker is the victim who knows there’s nothing she can do in the face of such a sustained onslaught. Gioria, as well, conveys how the children involved can feel a crippling culpability. In one dramatic set-piece, Custody breaks out into a birthday party; the fact that this celebration also ends up filled with airless dread illustrates how life lived in the shadow of domestic violence is small and endlessly oppressed.

“Nathalie Durand’s camera feels suitably oppressed in these close confines, while editor Yorgis Lamprinos has a deft command of pace as the thriller elements ratched up. While the word “exciting” doesn’t feel like the right word for such a tough drama, it’s certainly perfect as a description of Legrand’s debut as a feature-length director and original screenplay author.”

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JUNE 29: Dark River (dir. Clio Barnard)The Hollywood Reporter’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Leslie Felperin: “Of a piece thematically with her two previous features, documentary The Arbor and drama The Selfish Giant, Clio Barnard’s latest, Dark River, once again sketches a moving, North of England-set portrait of marginalized working-class cultures and the resilience of damaged children. Featuring a more ‘name’ cast than Barnard’s earlier works, this pivots around the protean Ruth Wilson (TV’s ‘Luther,’ ‘The Affair’) as a woman trying to run the family farm after her father’s death and confronting her own traumatized past in the process.

“The dominant note is the warm but quotidian realism of Giant rather than the experimental daring of Arbor, yet Dark River yields a perceptive study of family dynamics, unfolding in a changing landscape as prey to economic forces and demographic shifts as any urban center. Wilson’s name, along with that of Sean Bean and at least two other Game of Thrones veterans, may help raise River’s profile a few notches, but it’s unlikely to harvest much more than usual for British fare of its type.

“Alice Bell (Wilson) lives the life of modern agricultural gypsy, moving from farm to farm in her Land Rover to shear sheep on temporary contracts. Highly competent and respected by her employers and peers, Alice seemingly keeps at bay the pain of remembering the childhood sexual abuse inflicted by her father Richard (Bean) by staying perpetually in motion and concentrating on her work. But when she hears that Richard has finally died after a long illness, she returns to the Yorkshire farm where she grew up to reclaim the lease on the land, determined to take what Richard once promised her, perhaps as some kind of compensation.

“The hitch is that her elder brother Joe (Mark Stanley, excellent) is still living on the farm and half-heartedly attending to its flock of sheep, in between shifts as a truck driver. Joe looked after Richard up until his death and feels some stifled resentment that Alice thinks she can just waltz back in after a 15-year absence and start taking over the place. For her part, Alice is willing to share the lease and work the farm in collaboration with Joe. But they have different ideas about how to run things, from whether the sheep should be dipped or sprayed (for parasites and wool preservation) or if a nearby field should be used for silage (Alice’s choice) or left fallow so that the plants and animals decimated by intensive farming practices can be left to regenerate (Joe’s preference).

“As it happens, these debates between the siblings look likely to be moot since the company that actually owns all the Bell family’s acres wants to develop the property for holiday cottages and tourism instead of farming, although they can’t actually say that outright. This means that even though Alice is manifestly the more capable and competent farmer, the company’s representatives approach Joe with the offer of a backhander and the lease in his name, for at least a little while longer, if he promises to evict his sister.

“Issues involving money and property are not the only things at stake here. Barnard’s elliptical script refrains from spelling things out too baldly in words, but it’s clear from the flashbacks (which feature Esme Creed-Miles as the young Alice and Aiden McCullough as young Joe) that Alice was regularly abused by Richard when she was a child, perhaps after Alice and Joe’s mother died or left. Apparently, Joe knew about the abuse, and not only did he fail to stop it, he actually helped his father to control Alice and keep her from seeing potential boyfriend David (Joe Dempsie, another Thrones alum). Those who read Rose Tremain’s novel Trespass, on which this is very loosely based, will also be aware that there’s an even darker history between the two siblings in Tremain’s version of the story.

“One can’t help wondering whether at one point, during development perhaps, there were scenes that took the story in this creepier direction. Meanwhile, an end credit lists actor Una McNulty in the role of Susan Bell, presumably Alice and Joe’s mother, and the character features in the dialogue, she is never met onscreen nor is her absence ever explained, which suggests things may have been shifted around somewhat between shooting and the final cut. Indeed, the film sometimes feels particularly withholding and suggestive when it comes to plot, although there’s enough expression in the faces of the actors, especially Wilson and Stanley, to fill in the emotional gaps.

“Bean himself barely has more than a line or two, but even in the very few moments he appears onscreen — climbing into bed with his daughter, or looking with glowering and guilt at her from across a room — he makes an indelible impression. Barnard underscores this by suggesting that he’s still around, like a memory or a ghost, interacting through magic of eyeline match cuts with the grown Alice played by Wilson rather than the child Alice played by Creed-Miles. (Who, incidentally, is both terrifically cast to play the young Wilson and yet also looks a lot like her real-life mother, the superb British actor Samantha Morton.) Ultimately, though, this is Wilson’s film and she owns it with a performance rich in psychological subtlety that simultaneously projects ferocity and vulnerability. Plus, she gets to show off her sheep-shearing and dog whistling chops, and how many actors can claim the same?”

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JUNE 29: Leave No Trace (dir. Debra Granik)Village Voice’s Sundance Film Festival review by Bilge Ebiri: “The last time Debra Granik had a film at Sundance, it was the masterful Ozark coming-of-age thriller Winter’s Bone, which won Oscar nominations and introduced the world to a certain young actress named Jennifer Lawrence. Granik has returned to the festival this year with Leave No Trace, another movie focusing on the experiences of a young woman living on the margins of society — this time, rather than a seventeen-year-old trying to hold her impoverished family together, it’s a thirteen-year-old trying to survive in the woods with her father. It might not have the genre elements that helped make Winter’s Bone something of a breakout, but Leave No Trace rivets and terrifies in its own way.

“When we first meet Tom (the staggeringly good Kiwi actress Thomasin McKenzie), she and her father, Will (the intense and excellent Ben Foster), are gathering and cutting wood for a fire and shooing away packs of dogs outside their tent. Right from these early scenes, we can feel the delicate power of Granik’s visual storytelling: As we see the propane tanks and apple boxes and shelves and tarps that father and daughter have gathered, we don’t need to be told that these two are not just out camping; they live in the woods. And just like that, we’re enveloped in the perplexing drama of surviving on the edge.

“Tom and Will have been hiding out in a large public park in Portland, Oregon, making occasional trips into town to buy groceries and visit the hospital. A veteran, Will has issues with post-traumatic stress; for income, he sells the pain meds he receives at the hospital to dealers at a tent city. Tom and her father, we discover, are homeless not because they’re poor but because Will has demons he can’t shake. He wants nothing to do with society — he consistently refers to the outside world, with its houses and its conveniences and responsibilities, as ‘them.’ We never quite find out what exactly it is he’s running from, but we don’t need to: We understand that his contempt and fear are inchoate, irrational, and unshakeable.

“As a director, Granik conveys information with both understatement and clarity, but what really comes through in the film’s early scenes — and what helps keeps it from playing as a wallow in misery — is the tense tenderness between father and daughter. Tom and Will may live in stark independence, but they are totally codependent. Foster grounds Will’s terse, survivalist brusqueness in concern for his child; McKenzie beautifully portrays Tom’s desire to please her dad, as well as her happiness at simply being with him. At one point, after the authorities bring the two back into society and separate them, we’re genuinely scared by what might happen to them. Granik shoots the spaces of ‘civilization’ with low-key menace: When Will is forced to sit at a computer and answer hundreds of true-false questions for a personality test, she places him off-center in the composition, with obstructions in the frame. We feel his entrapment and discomfort.

Leave No Trace was adapted from Peter Rock’s 2009 novel, My Abandonment, but it doesn’t have many conventional story beats. Rather, it follows father and daughter as they continue to drift between different places — a trailer here, an abandoned shed there. But slowly we sense the two diverging in their needs: Tom is growing up and starting to realize she wants to settle down, to have a place she can call home and dreams she can call a future. But Will is unreachable. And so, this is ultimately a tale of letting go — of a parent learning to say goodbye to a child, and vice versa. I was reminded often of Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic parenting thriller The Road; I was also sometimes reminded of Manchester by the Sea, with its narrative of a man unable to shake his demons. I suspect I’ll be haunted by this picture for quite some time. Granik films with subtlety and quiet grace, but Leave No Trace explodes in the mind.”

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JUNE 29: Love, Cecil (dir. Lisa Immordino Vreeland)Film Society of Lincoln Center synopsis: “British-born Cecil Beaton was perhaps best known for his production design on Oscar-winning films like Gigi and My Fair Lady, but his talents extended far beyond cinema. From Beaton’s World War II photography work for Vogue to his relationship with the Royal Family and his alleged affair with Greta Garbo, director Lisa Immordino Vreeland (Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict) uses previously unseen footage and stills—with excerpts from Beaton’s diary, narrated by Rupert Everett—to illuminate her creative subject’s ambition and inimitable sense of reinvention.”

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JUNE 29 (streaming on Netflix): Recovery Boys (dir. Elaine McMillion Sheldon)Synopsis from the director’s website: “In the heart of America’s opioid epidemic, four men attempt to reinvent their lives and mend broken relationships after years of drug abuse. Recovery Boys, from Academy Award nominated director Elaine McMillion Sheldon (Heroin(e)), is an intimate look at the strength, brotherhood, and courage that it takes to overcome addiction and lays bare the internal conflict of recovery. In an effort to break the cycle of generational addiction and trauma, the young men let go of painful pasts as they live in the present, and build a new community in a farming-based rehab. After rehab, they experience life’s trials and tribulations sober, but struggle to find their place and purpose in an often unforgiving society. In today’s world, where shocking statistics about the opioid crisis make headlines daily, Recovery Boys gives a deeply personal look into the unseen lives of those working toward transformation.”

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JUNE 29: Summer of ’67 (dir. Sharon Wilharm)Faith Flix synopsis: “Based on real life events, Summer of ’67 brings to life the turbulent times of the sixties and the struggles faced by the men and women impacted by the Vietnam War. Young wife and mother Milly (Rachel Schrey) is forced to live with her mother-in-law (Mimi Sagadin) while her husband Gerald (Cameron Gilliam) is away on the USS Forrestal. Kate (Bethany Davenport) must choose between Peter (Christopher Dalton), her high school sweetheart, and Van (Sam Brooks), her new hippie boyfriend. Ruby Mae (Sharonne Lanier) finally finds true love with Reggie (Jerrold Edwards) only to have him whisked away by the draft. Each woman faces the question of whether or not their man will return, and even if he does, will life as they know it ever be the same?”

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JUNE 29: Woman Walks Ahead (dir. Susanna White)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Loren Hammonds:Woman Walks Ahead stars Jessica Chastain as Catherine Weldon, a Brooklyn-based artist who journeys to North Dakota with the intention of painting a portrait of the legendary Sioux chief Sitting Bull. Upon arrival, she encounters roadblocks at every turn—especially in the form of male soldiers who believe that her liberal sensibilities have no place in the Old West. It isn’t until she is welcomed into the chief’s world that she realizes there are larger issues at stake than merely capturing his image for posterity.

Woman Walks Ahead offers a stirring look at an unlikely friendship, the importance of fighting for what is right, and the beginning of a movement. Chastain commands the screen in the lead role, radiating power and righteous indignation as she undergoes a political awakening to the injustices that the Lakota people have endured under colonial occupation. Director Susanna White delivers a lush, wide-screen marvel with an amazing supporting ensemble that includes Sam Rockwell, Ciarán Hinds, and the magnetic Michael Greyeyes as Sitting Bull.”

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: May 2018

Director/screenwriter/producer Jennifer Fox (left) and actress Elizabeth Debicki on the set of The Tale, 2015. (Photo: IMDb)

Here are twenty-four 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 1 (streaming on Netflix): A Life of Its Own: The Truth About Medical Marijuana (dir. Helen Kapalos)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Award-winning journalist Helen Kapalos takes the audience on a journey through the complex issues around the medicinal cannabis debate. The film was inspired during the making of a network news TV story which unwittingly unearthed a silent majority – personal stories of patients suffering a range of illnesses, from intractable epilepsy to rare genetic diseases.  Around the world the debate is being mobilised by a people movement from those who’ve experienced success from the plant as medicine – with calls to make the wider community, aware of its potential therapeutic value.

MAY 4 (NYC), MAY 18 (LA): Angels Wear White (dir. Vivian Qu)RogerEbert.com review by Peter Sobczynski: “For anyone watching the new Chinese drama Angels Wear White, it will be all but impossible to regard its bleak and harrowing storyline without thinking of the #MeToo movement and all of the attendant scandals involving horrific cases of sexual misconduct that have been brought to light in its wake. On the one hand, since the film had its premiere at last year’s Venice Film Festival just before all of the news broke, this is merely a coincidence. On the other hand, it adds an extra level of resonance to this hard-hitting drama that shows how such misbehavior is not limited to the corridors of power in the usual places but can even be found in the sleepy little seashore resort town in China where this particular film takes place.

“There, not far away from a beach that features an enormous statue of Marilyn Monroe in her famous upskirt pose from The Seven Year Itch, resides a semi-seedy motel where Mia (Wen Qi), a 15-year-old undocumented migrant works cleaning rooms and doing the other jobs that no one else wants to do. One night, her older co-worker Lili (Peng Jing) takes off to meet with her punk boyfriend and she ends up manning the front desk, at one point checking in an older man and two schoolgirls into a couple of rooms. Later that night, over the security cameras, Mia witnesses the man force his way into the room with the girls, an act that she records on her phone. As it turns out, not only are the girls underage but their attacker is none other than a high-ranking police official and when word of the assault gets out, the town is rocked by the ensuing scandal.

“At this point, the narrative spins off into three but equally important directions. Mia, who has been struggling to obtain an all-important ID card, could break the case wide open by turning over her video of the incident but is afraid that if it does, it would expose her undocumented and underage status and cause her to lose what little she has. The two girls, Wen (Zhou Meijun) and Xin (Zhang Xinyue) find themselves being mistreated and sold out by the very people who are supposed to protect them—Xin’s upwardly mobile parents are perfectly willing to set justice aside in exchange for a big payoff that will secure her future and avoid tarnishing her reputation while Wen’s neglectful mother (Liu Weiwei) openly blames her own child for the entire incident, going so far as to slap her around and chop off most of her hair as punishment. By comparison, Hao (Ke She), the attorney assigned to Wen and Xin’s case, has it easier than the others but as she doggedly tries to put a case together, she is reminded—as if she really needed to be—that the justice system’s lofty ideals are often no match for the roadblocks that are too often put in the way of those who persist in doing the right thing instead of just looking the other way.

“The film has an engrossing and powerful drama that is all the more effective for writer/director Vivian Qu’s refusal to keep the story from spinning off into lurid melodrama—all of the story points on display have the harsh bitterness of truth to them. After a while, it becomes evident that Qu is less interested in pursuing the details of the specific crimes done to the two girls as she is in charting the cruelties that women face on a regular basis just because of the casual sexism found in their daily lives. For example, Mia is informed early on by Lily’s sleazy boyfriend (Wang Yuexin) that he knows plenty of people who would pay well to claim her virginity. As for the mothers of the two girls, it becomes evident that they are less heartbroken over what has happened to their daughters than the fact they will no longer be seen as good marriage prospects because of the loss of their virginity. Even the more worldly Lily is not immune to this way of thinking, at one point undergoing a painful surgical procedure to reconstruct her hymen so that she may one day end up in a respectable marriage.

“Qu keeps the story moving along in a manner that generates no small amount of tension without ever coming across as overamped and she is aided by a number of strong performances across the board. Wen Qi is excellent as Mia, which is easily the film’s trickiest role for the way that she has to figure out how to engender audience sympathy despite doing any number of things that would seem to go against that, albeit always in the name of self-preservation. Ke She is also quite good in one of the film’s only two unambiguously noble roles, that of the lawyer determined to find some degree of justice. The other, also very good, is Le Geng as the initially estranged father of Wen who ultimately proves to be the only one of all the parents involved to be truly concerned solely with finding some justice for his child instead of just a payoff.

Angels Wear White has a few moments where it is a little too on-the-nose for its own good, such as the lugubriously symbolic Marilyn Monroe statue and a couple of cuts to signs in the police station reading ‘SERVE THE PEOPLE’ at times when something else entirely is being served instead. For the most part, however, this is a tough and unsparing drama that vividly brings to light the kind of narrative too many people have endured over the years, in a manner that will be recognizable and relatable to viewers regardless of where they may be from. It’s hardly a barrel of laughs, to be sure, but this film is more concerned with making audiences angry at what has been the status quo for far too long and determined to bring about some much overdue change. In those key aspects, it is an undeniable success.”

MAY 4: The Desert Bride (dirs. Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato)Village Voice review by Bilge Ebiri: “Though it runs a mere 78 minutes, The Desert Bride is strikingly languorous and open-ended, its graceful silences and unhurried rhythms speaking to the intriguing identity crisis of its protagonist. Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato’s picture unfolds largely as an aesthetic experience — one in which the way the camera explores a space, or frames a face, is more important than words or actions in conveying the story’s central drama. That makes for an occasionally challenging but ultimately rewarding experience.

“The film follows Teresa (Paulina García), a middle-aged woman who has spent most of her life as a live-in maid for an urbane, well-to-do Buenos Aires family. That family, however, is now selling their house, and Teresa, whose sense of self has been wrapped up in her work for all these years, is being politely but swiftly dismissed. Atán and Pivato represent the house as a series of hard angles and antiseptic rooms — was it always this blank, or has it merely been emptied of character and meaning now that they’re leaving? Still, there are vestiges here of the life that Teresa made possible, including the wall on which she charted the growing height of the family’s son, now a grown man. What little mark she has made in this world, it seems, was in service of others.

“We see images of Teresa’s former life in brief glimpses, and flashbacks. Most of the story takes place in the desert, as Teresa, on her way to a new job in the distant town of San Juan, has become stranded. When her bus makes a rest stop, she wanders into the van of an eccentric traveling salesman named El Gringo (Claudio Rissi) and accidentally leaves her bag behind. El Gringo himself drives off with it, and Teresa embarks on a journey to find him and retrieve her belongings. El Gringo is an oddball, and it’s initially hard to figure out what to make of him, but he does also seem more attentive to this woman — this momentary acquaintance in the middle of nowhere — than the people to whom she dedicated so much of her life ever were.

“Atán and Pivato turn this simple tale into a lovely existential journey, one whose modesty of scale betrays the profound nature of the ideas at play. The desert is spellbinding: A viewer can get lost in its vast blankness and its delicate silences, where every soft, sandy footstep can seemingly be heard from miles away. These aren’t so much the sensuous dunes of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky (a film with which The Desert Bride shares some thematic similarities) as they are the airy, empty spaces where Teresa can finally confront who she is, and who she wants to be.

“The story works largely on the level of metaphor, but it’s never overbearing or suffocating; there’s life here. A lot of credit should go to the actors, particularly the lead. As the film moves along, García’s face seems to change dramatically. The Chilean actress has already demonstrated her tremendous range in films like Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria and Ira Sachs’s Little Men. Here, she hasn’t been given a lot of dialogue or incident to work with, but no matter; she seems able to transform herself on an almost molecular level, as Teresa’s tension gradually dissipates and her expression softens. I swear I thought I was literally watching a different person by the end of the film. And in some senses, I was: The whole movie is about the process whereby this woman finds her own identity and claims her humanity.”

MAY 4: Everything Else (dir. Natalia Almada)New York Times review by Jeannette Catsoulis:Everything Else (‘Todo lo demás’), the first narrative feature from the documentary filmmaker Natalia Almada, is a low-key character study whose gently repetitive rhythms mask an unusually keen sense of nuance and subtlety.

“With laserlike focus, the movie observes the monotonous daily rituals of Doña Flor (Adriana Barraza), a 63-year-old government clerk in Mexico City. For more than three decades, in the same nondescript department, she has processed applications for voter-identification cards. With metronomic efficiency, she checks documents and unspools red tape before returning to her drab apartment and beloved cat — her sole companion.

“Aside from Doña’s daily subway rides and occasional, unnerving glimpses of the city at night, Everything Else unfolds in a closed loop of office, apartment and a public pool where Doña silently watches children swim. The film’s discipline and quotidian dreariness can be wearying. Yet between Ms. Barraza’s impressive performance and Lorenzo Hagerman’s beautifully textured photography (he also shot Rick Alverson’s Entertainment, another hyper-focused study of psychological pain), the story’s tragedy gradually accumulates.

“A portrait of extreme isolation, Everything Else is also a movie about women, their bodies crammed together in subway cars and reported, missing or abused, on the evening news. Their comradeship at the pool is a solace that Doña Flor seeks even when she can’t enter the water; and with each cycle of her routines, her actions become merely the bass line of a slow song of awakening. Her barriers are being shaken, not by cataclysm, but by the steady drip of a loneliness that she can no longer abide.”

MAY 4: The Guardians (dir. Xavier Beauvois) (DP: Caroline Champetier)Film Comment review by Kristin M. Jones: “In Xavier Beauvois’s latest feature, his understated, visually compelling storytelling unfolds with patient precision. Although The Guardians is set during the First World War, the battlefield appears only in an opening shot of corpses lying on dead leaves and in a dream sequence later on. The narrative takes on the rhythms of a peaceful countryside, where geese fly over fields and forests. Amid natural splendor, young men appear and vanish like ghosts.

“Based on Ernest Pérochon’s 1924 novel, the film follows women who struggle to maintain a family farm, doing backbreaking work and buying new equipment while trying to envision life after wartime. Their emotions are set against somberly radiant landscapes and interiors, which DP Caroline Champetier captures as sensitively as she did those of Beauvois’s Of Gods and Men (2010), another story of an isolated community threatened by external forces.

“As the matriarch, Hortense, and her daughter, Solange, Nathalie Baye and Laura Smet (Baye’s real-life daughter) contribute fine performances. In her film debut, playing Francine—a sturdy, incandescently appealing young woman Hortense hires to replace a male farmhand—Iris Bry is a wonder, electrifyingly conveying quiet depths of feeling.

“Francine, it becomes clear, is an extraordinary character. Initially content to toil uncomplainingly, she is good-natured, devout, and ardent, but never an idealized or tragic figure. When her trust is cruelly betrayed, she refuses to be shamed. All of the women persevere in the face of hardship and grief, but Francine’s unshakable self-assurance evokes a bracing freedom from the past.”

MAY 4: RBG (dirs. Julie Cohen and Betsy West) (DP: Claudia Raschke)Vulture review by David Edelstein: “Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the tiny, monkish, soft-spoken, octogenarian Supreme Court justice who bestrides the world like a colossus; in their documentary RBG, directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West stride right behind her with a camera and a microphone. It is only right, only prudent to shut up and listen. Both the film and the ‘notorious’ figure at its center are the best imaginable retaliation to mansplaining.

“The movie opens with Ginsburg’s confirmation hearings before Joe Biden and his hair transplants. He does better with her than he did a few years earlier with Anita Hill. But then, even Utah Republican Orrin Hatch finds Ginsburg impressive. As she tells her story, Cohen and West show us pictures of the young, radiant, blue-eyed Ruth Bader growing up, heading off to Cornell, and meeting Marty Ginsburg, who’d spend 56 by all accounts joyous years at her side. There are few downbeats to this story.

“Yes, RGB is a hagiography, but it has its cheeky aspect. It begins with a montage of government landmarks, many in the shadow of the Washington Monument. Sometimes a Washington Monument is just a Washington Monument, but one could be forgiven for watching the film and thinking that our nation’s capitol operated for 200 years under a sort of penile code. Ginsburg’s victories over that code took a lot of hard preparation. She was one of nine women in her Harvard Law School class of 500. After graduation, no New York law firm would hire her — or any other woman. But she didn’t go, shall we say, balls out to attack the system’s sexist underpinnings. Her mode was and is less brash, her maxim, ‘Be a lady and be independent.’

“Cohen and West make clear that those things were once mutually exclusive. A true lady wouldn’t speak up, says Sharron Frontiero, a lieutenant in the Air Force who in the early ‘70s found out she didn’t qualify for certain military benefits given automatically to men. Beginning in 1973 with Frontiero v. Richardson, Ginsberg (representing the ACLU) took a chisel to centuries of encrusted male privilege. It was her first argument before the U.S. Supreme Court — a ‘captive audience,’ she recalls, with delight. The movie has the audio. It’s thrilling.

RBG’s talking heads — with the exception of Donald Trump (and what an exception) — are affectionate bordering on worshipful. When Ginsburg is shown being interviewed onstage, audiences (particularly young women) are visibly overwhelmed, seeming to lean back in awe even as they lean forward to hear their superhero (Gloria Steinem’s word) answer questions and read from her momentous arguments, majority opinions, and dissents.

“NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg does some of the onstage interviewing and much of the movie’s expository heavy lifting, but the young Notorious RBG co-authors Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik provide vivid color; the professor Arthur Miller recalls the early lives of Ginsburg and the gregarious, supportive Marty, who would sometimes drag her away from the office for dinner; and Brenda Feigen — a differently styled feminist — adds wonderfully tart details. I especially liked her comments about the late reactionary firebrand Antonin Scalia, with whom Ginsberg bonded over their passion for opera. Ginsburg, says Feigen, has the ability to compartmentalize; ‘I don’t have close friends who are right-wing nutcases.’ I commend right-winger Ted Olson for agreeing to be interviewed along with his formidable hair about a case in which he went up against Ginsburg and lost. Not all men in his position would face a largely female documentary crew under such circumstances. Perhaps he’s feeling more confident with liberals these days, having had too many principles to be on the wrong side of history re: gay marriage. Scalia’s dark suggestions that it could lead to bestiality didn’t sway him, somehow.

“Even with such rich material, the movie can be a tad prosaic. But as you listen to Ginsburg reads her words, you begin to perceive the secret of her power. As someone in the film puts it, she mounted her attack on gender inequality case by case, a little at a time: ‘It was like knitting a sweater.’ Ginsburg says that in the ‘70s she saw herself as ‘a kindergarten teacher … [the male justices] didn’t get gender laws.’ Those are stereotypically feminine roles — the sweater-knitter and the kindergarten teacher — but they left justices (and frequently, her opponents) speechless. Every revolution needs someone hitting the books until 4 a.m. while others march in the streets.

“Apart from Scalia and their mutual opera fandom, Ginsburg follows Supreme Court etiquette and doesn’t speak about her colleagues. Too bad. Having styled her legal activism on the young Thurgood Marshall’s, it must be doubly depressing to sit beside George H.W. Bush’s replacement for Marshall, Clarence Thomas. But opposite such smug reactionaries, she found her voice a second time as perhaps the most eloquent dissenter in the court’s history. When it gutted the voting rights act by 5-4 on the grounds that its protections were no longer needed, Ginsburg wrote, ‘It is like taking away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you’re not getting wet.’ Words like that inspired the Notorious RBG meme and T-shirts in which her head sits atop the body of Wonder Woman. Felicity Jones — last seen delivering Death Star specs to R2D2 and dying a hero’s death — will play her in an upcoming biopic.

“Although Marty is gone, Ginsburg is shown having fun with her granddaughter (a Harvard Law School grad in a class that was 50-50 men and women), surveying her collection of collars, and appearing live onstage in an opera. One watches RBG and hopes that a composer and librettist will create a Notorious RBG opera and that she will be there opening night. One can imagine playful but scorching duets with the tenor playing Nino Scalia. And one could imagine her dissents set to music. They already ring in our ears.”

MAY 4 (NYC), JUNE 1 (LA): Strangers on the Earth (dir. Tristan Cook) (DP: Iskra Valtcheva)Under the Radar review by Ashley Naftule:Between Saint Jean Pied de Port in France and Spain’s Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia lies 500 miles of sacred foot traffic. Known as the Camino de Santiago, pilgrims from around the world search for meaning, miracles, and God while walking the long trail that takes them to the shrine dedicated to the apostle Saint James the Great.

For cinephiles with an affinity for Surrealism, the Camino de Santiago should sound familiar: Luis Bunuel made it the setting for his 1969 film The Milky Way. Bunuel’s film follows two travelers on ‘the Way of Saint James.’ The film is a road movie, but one that isn’t interested in showing what the actual Camino looks like; instead, The Milky Way takes scenic routes that wind and twist their way through centuries of weird religious heresies. Bunuel’s travelers can’t walk more than a few feet without tripping over a forgotten saint or mad theologian.

Half a century later, another director took his camera down the Camino. In 2010 Breakfast Club star Emilio Estevez wrote, produced, and directed The Way, a drama that followed a Camino pilgrim played by Estevez’s father Martin Sheen. Bunuel’s film was a caustic and brilliant examination of faith; it wasn’t exactly a call to action for folks to hit the road to Compostela. The Way is another story: one of the pilgrims in Tristan Cook’s Strangers on the Earth admits that watching Estevez’s film inspired her to take the pilgrimage.

Cook’s documentary travels the length of the pilgrimage, chronicling the natural splendours of the Camino while giving us an impression of what it’s like for people to undertake this arduous walk. The closest thing the film has to a narrative focal point is an American cellist named Dane Johansen. Announcing his ambition through a crowdfunding video to travel the Camino with his instrument on his back, Johansen visits the churches and shrines dotting the landscape of the Camino to play cello pieces by Bach.

While Cook checks in with Johansen from time to time and spotlights a few of the cellist’s performances, the director wisely doesn’t linger on him for too long; Johansen doesn’t really become a compelling presence until the end of the film. Dozens of other pilgrims get their time in front of the camera, sharing their reasons for going on a walk that can last for weeks and turn their feet into masses of yellowing blisters.

For some of the pilgrims, the Camino is an opportunity to seek the divine. For others, it’s a way to process grief: one pilgrim tells a deeply affecting story about experiencing visions of his dead sister while walking the St. James way. And for some pilgrims, it’s just a taxing yet picaresque hike. One self-proclaimed ‘Camino snob’ throws shade at these people, bemoaning the secularization of the Camino. In one of the film’s funniest edits, the camera cuts to a pilgrim getting out of a taxi mid-route while the snob’s voiceover grumbles about people who’d rather take a bus than endure the physical suffering and trials that are supposed to be a part of the pilgrimage experience.

Tracing the lines on a scallop shell, the symbol of St. James, a Camino local explains that there are many routes and reasons that bring people to the Camino. But like roads to Rome, all these lines arc and terminate at the Compostela. And so does the film, arriving at the shrine for a contemplative moment before heading off to the beach at Finisterre for a final coda.

While the film is full of pilgrims eager to share their experiences, the real star of the film is cinematographer Iskra Valtcheva. ‘Walking to Santiago is like passing through a rainbow,’ a pilgrim says wistfully. From luminous stain glass windows to golden wheat rippling in a breeze and poppies spread out over lush grass like pools of blood, Valtcheva’s camera revels in all the colors of that rainbow.

But Valtcheva and Cook also find beauty in the works of man: the almost supernatural speed of Johansen’s fingers running up and down his cello strings; a censer on a long chain, billowing incense, swinging like a pendulum through the inside of the Compostela; and the image of pilgrims walking through a fog-shrouded road while cyclists and cars quietly drift by them.

While the film’s meditative pace can make it easy for your attention to waver after awhile, the beauty of its visuals is enough to pull you back in. The greatest compliment one can pay it is that it’s bound to eclipse The Way as the film that people will say inspired them to put one foot in front of the other and make their way to pay Saint James a visit.

MAY 11: Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat (dir. Sara Driver)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat follows Basquiat’s life pre-fame and how New York City, the times, the people and the movements surrounding him formed the artist he became. Using never-before-seen works, writings and photographs, director Sara Driver, who was part of the New York arts scene herself, worked closely and collaboratively with friends and other artists who emerged from that period: Jim Jarmusch, James Nares, Fab Five Freddy, Glenn O’Brien, Kenny Scharf, Lee Quinones, Patricia Field, Luc Sante and many others. Drawing upon their memories and anecdotes, the film also uses period film footage, music and images to visually re-recreate the era, drawing a portrait of Jean-Michel and Downtown New York City – pre-AIDS, President Reagan, the real estate and art booms – before anyone was motivated by money and ambition. The definition of fame, success and power were very different than today – to be a penniless but published poet was the height of success, until everything changed in the early 1980s. This is New York City’s story before that change.”

MAY 11 (digital & on VOD), MAY 15 (on DVD): The Honor List (dir. Elissa Down) (DP: Catherine Goldschmidt)Lionsgate synopsis: “The summer before high school, Piper (Meghan Rienks), Sophie (Karrueche Tran), Isabella (Sasha Pieterse) and Honor (Arden Cho) are inseparable; by senior year, they barely speak. When tragedy strikes before graduation, the former best friends reluctantly put their differences aside and reunite to complete a forgotten bucket list. The Honor List explores the complexities of friendship, family, love, loss, and high school.”

MAY 11: I Had Nowhere to Go (dir. Douglas Gordon) (DPs: Jonas Brinker, George Geddes and Katharina Kiebacher)Anthology Film Archives synopsis: “The latest film by renowned artist Douglas Gordon – whose previous forays into theatrical filmmaking include Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006) and K.364: A Journey by Train (2010) – I Had Nowhere to Go is a feature-length portrait of Jonas Mekas, filmmaker, poet, artist, and Anthology’s co-founder. Though numerous documentaries have been made about and with Mekas, Gordon’s film distinguishes itself both by focusing on the ‘godfather of the American avant-garde cinema’s’ experiences prior to his emergence as a major figure of New York’s underground cultural scene in the 1950s, and by its radical formal approach. Taking its title from Mekas’s extraordinary memoir of his youth in Lithuania, his years spent in forced labor and displaced persons camps during and following WWII, and his eventual emigration to the U.S., I Had Nowhere to Go features a soundtrack devoted primarily to Mekas reading from the memoir, while the visual track is almost entirely imageless (save for brief and infrequent flashes of imagery). The result is a hypnotic work that harnesses the power of the human voice to bear witness, to conjure a wealth of imagery that renders photography nearly superfluous, and to achieve a form of storytelling that conveys not only experiences but the traces left by those experiences.”

MAY 11: The Last Horsemen of New York (dir./DP: Mary Haverstick)Haverstick Films synopsis:During his mayoral campaign Bill deBlasio vowed to eliminate the New York carriage horse industry.  Our cameras followed this story as the working class carriage drivers fought to save their historic industry. Opponents of the industry rocketed Mayor deBlasio to the top of the ticket and into City Hall, but making good on his promise proved harder than anyone expected.

The film follows carriage industry spokespeople Christina Hansen and Stephen Malone in their day to day struggle to fend off extinction.  Leading the charge for the carriages in the media is well known actor and New York resident Liam Neeson. But a much broader story emerges about powerful interests against the common man and the role of secret unaccountable money that corrupts the political system.”

MAY 11: Mountain (dir. Jennifer Peedom) – Village Voice review by Alan Scherstuhl: “Jennifer Peedom’s seventy-minute big-screen reverie Mountain inspires something that the biggest, purportedly most ‘awesome’ movies of our era just can’t stir: awe. The subject of Mountain, of course, is mountains, their fearsome majesty, overwhelming deadliness, and harsh indifference to us. But from the extraordinary opening shots — after a quickie behind-the-scenes intro establishing that, yes, the film truly is scored to the sounds of the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the narration of Willem Dafoe — a more dramatic concern seized me. How the hell did they film this? Behold the tiny, fragile human climber midway up the endless rock face, feeling around for the next hand- or foothold, proportionately something like an ant traversing the flat expanse of a movie screen.

“Then swallow back your lunch as Mountain cuts to a shot from above, peering down at a climber from a precipice. This is vertiginous filmmaking from the top of the world, a rhapsodic fugue shot from vantage points that — this cannot be stressed enough — our bodies aren’t equipped to survive. (Renan Ozturk, a climber of note, served as director of photography.)

Mountain surveys, without narrative or title cards, slopes and cliffs and apexes around the globe. We often see climbers but never follow them for more than a shot or two. The camera, aided by drones, skims so close over craggy peaks that I swear sometimes my feet tickled. The film was crafted in collaboration with the ACO, whose selections — Beethoven, Grieg, Vivaldi — shape the material. Rather than simply scoring what we see and cueing us to feel more deeply what the images already suggest, the music in Mountain plays like the film’s organizing principle, as if the many shots of ascents and vistas have been arranged to illustrate it. The relationship between image and music, here, proves more rich and rewarding than the movies generally offer today, as one is not clearly subordinate to the other.

“Its heights might on occasion yank your stomach to the theater floor, but much of Mountain is a bit of a bliss-out, a chance to contemplate the planet’s most remote and dangerous places and our relationship to them. Dafoe’s narration is spare, the words taken from the work of Robert Macfarlane, author of 2003’s Mountains of the Mind. The book is a study of the cultural history of mountains, how over centuries they shifted, in the consciousness of humanity, from foreboding or divine to places of sport and leisure and rah-rah self-improvement. Macfarlane’s book is excellent, but the filmmakers have given Dafoe only the plummiest poetic bits to intone, tasking him to muse without context about the ‘siren song of the summit’ or ‘a testing ground on which the self can best be illuminated.’ The words are lofty but, unlike the marvels on display before us, not solid or monumental, not rooted in the Earth.

Mountain’s other examples of humanity leaping too far, too wildly, are more pleasurable: an extraordinary extended montage of people descending the slopes, on skis or motorbikes, or vaulting off cliffs to glide or parachute. Through inventive camerawork and adeptly chosen music, the filmmakers showcase daredevils dancing with gravity itself. And in fleeting, thrilling moments, you can almost sense in your seat what it would be like to participate yourself.”

MAY 11: Raazi (dir. Meghna Gulzar)Excerpt from Times of India’s Meghna Gulzar interview by Anshul Chaturvedi: “War, espionage and covert operations often inspire action-packed thrillers or outlandish spy films on the big screen. Rarely does it so happen that a spy mission – and the responsibility to thrill – rests on the delicate shoulders of a newlywed, amateur 20-year-old, who is plucked from college and planted behind enemy lines. Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi, that stars Alia Bhatt as a Kashmiri girl married into a Pakistani family by her father to spy for India before the 1971 war, splinters the narrative that has been written so far for women in spy thrillers – she’s not a lethal weapon, nor a femme fatale, nor the honeytrap. She’s a vulnerable, scared but determined girl who makes this ‘frightful’ decision, and lives by ‘very high principles’ despite her deception.”

MAY 11 (in theaters & on VOD): Revenge (dir. Coralie Fargeat)The Hollywood Reporter’s Toronto International Film Festival review by David Rooney: “With the unequivocally titled Revenge, newcomer Coralie Fargeat gains instant entrée into the halls of Gallic extreme horror in the vein of Haute Tension and Inside. Genuflecting to the giddy exploitation delirium of I Spit on Your Grave — right down to calling the protagonist Jen — this is a rape retaliation thriller both tautly controlled and wildly over-the-top, executed with flashy style, sly visual humor and a subversive feminist sensibility. Acquired by AMC’s Shudder streaming service ahead of its Toronto bow in the Midnight Madness section, this mostly English-language pop-art carnage opera will make genre fans squeal and squirm.

“Fargeat from the outset signals her darkly playful take on the ‘video nasty’ rape-thriller subgenre. An early shot from ace cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert starts with an epic desert landscape then cuts back to reveal that widescreen vista in the lens of aviator sunglasses worn by Richard (Kevin Janssens), a handsome dude exuding smugness from every pore. Over his shoulder, about to alight from the chopper that brought them there, sits Jen (Matilda Lutz), a sex kitten with a uniform of crop tops, short shorts and plastic star earrings, sucking on a Lolita lollipop.

“Their destination in an unnamed country (Moroccan locations were used) is an isolated luxury pad, full of aggressively modern statement art like a pair of all-seeing optical eyes and a doleful green Madonna, her hands raised in supplication. Production designer Pierre Queffelean has a field day with the house, its neon-colored glass terrace doors providing woozy filters and its white sectional sofas and shag rugs practically begging for a bloodbath.

“Following a tumble in the sheets, Richard reveals how casually he deceives women by taking a call from his wife back home, presumably in France, praising her finesse at choosing the right canapés for a gathering of society heavy-hitters while claiming he’s enjoying some alone time before his buddies show for their annual hunting trip. Jen pouts for a minute, but is soon back to flouncing around the house in a teeny, hot-pink I Love L.A. T-shirt and a thong with all the coverage of dental floss. She’s a magnet for ass-grabbing.

“The early arrival of Richard’s skeevy friends, Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchede), puts a crimp in the romantic mood, but Jen shrugs off their thirsty leering and gets into the party spirit with some provocative dancing out by the pool that night. The next morning, with Richard off seeing to their hunting licenses, rodent-like Stan wants the party to continue. He won’t take Jen’s ‘No’ for an answer, especially after she makes the mistake of belittling his height.

“Fargeat establishes early on that she has no use for subtlety, with shots of fire ants crawling over a rotting apple, or a pool-cleaning device that’s like a lurking reptile. The most obscene image is the chocolate marshmallow treat being obliterated in lard-ass Dimitri’s mouth as he takes in Stan’s violation of Jen and then walks away, turning up the TV to drown her screams. When Richard returns in the wake of all this, he offers Jen not comfort but compensation, and her threat to spill the beans to his wife and ruin him makes him turn ugly.

“The less revealed about what follows the better, but the extent to which Jen is considered a disposable chattel is quite breathtaking — literally so when her near-death involves another kind of violent penetration. However, the three men don’t count on her phoenix-like rebirth, which Fargeat orchestrates not as a supernatural feat of zombification but the result of a fierce human survival instinct, with reserves of strength and mental focus that no amount of blood loss can extinguish. Some resourceful self-surgery involving a beer can, cigarette lighter and a peyote painkiller also helps.

“About that blood: The sheer volume of red goop escaping each body as Jen turns the tables on her attackers while they separate to hunt her down goes outrageously beyond the boundaries of reality. Fargeat acknowledges that with a brazen wink, thumbing her nose at credulity as her naive Barbie-doll heroine becomes a vengeful, quick-thinking terminator, like a desert snake shedding its skin for greater speed. If Jen’s presentation of herself as a sensual plaything means the men feel entitled to objectify and dehumanize her, their macho posturing as hunters in a rugged land makes them fitting prey once she finds her wounded-warrior mojo.

“The gripping cat-and-mouse game builds to an inevitable final showdown between Jen and Richard back in the house, its maze of white halls awash in blood. In a droll touch, Richard is fresh out of the shower and naked throughout the ordeal, making for equal-opportunity ass exposure.

“Shot with muscular agility, sizzling colors and lots of virtuoso tracking sequences, and fueled by a ballsy techno score in the John Carpenter/Dario Argento tradition, Revenge is nothing if not relentless. Those who go with its splashy, Grand Guignol theater of death will have a vicious good time. Will it stoke the usual arguments about graphic violence in response to rape being just another form of exploitation? Sure. But having a woman at the helm for once also gives a certain license for excess, and Fargeat and her game actors run with it.”

MAY 11: What Haunts Us (dir. Paige Goldberg Tolmach)Cinema Village synopsis: “The 1979 class of Porter Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina graduated 49 boys. Within the last 35 years, six of them have committed suicide. When Paige Goldberg Tolmach gets word that another former student from her beloved high school has killed himself, she decides to take a deep dive into her past in order to uncover the surprising truth and finally release the ghosts that haunt her hometown to this day.”

MAY 18 (streaming on Netflix): Cargo (dirs. Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Matt Barone: “In the aftermath of a global pandemic, Andy (Martin Freeman) is focused on keeping his wife and their infant daughter alive as they travel across the Australian Outback. A terrible accident, however, forces him to set off on foot: A zombie bite has given Andy a mere 48 hours before he, too, is undead. Andy struggles to both find a refuge for his child and stave off the disease as the clock runs out on his humanity. On his journey, Andy crosses paths with an indigenous youngster, Thoomi (Simone Landers), who brings him into her Aboriginal community and offers a much-needed bit of hope: Her people may have a cure for the sickness.

“Filmmakers Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke defy genre fans’ zombie-based expectations with their co-directing debut. Cargo pulls no punches in its intensity, yet the duo’s thoughtful film offers a deep, emotional meditation on intimate issues, like a parent’s love, as well as larger themes, like environmental protection and cultural strife. Injecting fresh life into zombie cinema’s often cold bloodstream, Cargo is tailor-made for sophisticated horror fans.”

MAY 18 (in theaters & on VOD): Hurricane Bianca: From Russia with Hate (dir. Matt Kugelman) (DP: Jih-E Peng)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “After winning over the staff and students of Milford High School, chemistry teacher Richard Martinez aka Bianca Del Rio (Roy Haylock) sent her nemesis Vice Principal Deborah ‘Debbie’ Ward (Rachel Dratch) to jail in a flawlessly executed plan. When Debbie is released from jail, she conjures up a scheme to do away with Bianca Del Rio once and for all, by luring her on a dangerous journey to Russia to accept a teaching award and cash prize. Filled with laughs, celebrity cameos and America’s drag superstars, Hurricane Bianca: From Russia with Hate is packed with surprises and unlikely partnerships that spark friendship and acceptance.”

MAY 18: The Most Unknown (dir. Ian Cheney) (DPs: Michael James Murray and Emily Topper)Quad Cinema synopsis: “A celebration of those who make science their vocation, this stunning documentary—with Werner Herzog no less serving as an advisor—brings together nine experts from a variety of disciplines who spend their lives pursuing the intangible realms of our planet and the universe beyond. From grappling with the revelations of consciousness research to the thrill of deep sea exploration in the Pacific, director Cheney’s subjects each share the joy of the scientific process, even when the answers elude them.”

MAY 18: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (dir. Wim Wenders) (DP: Lisa Rinzler)Focus Features synopsis: “On March 13, 2013, the Cardinal of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, became the two hundred and sixty-sixth pontiff of the Catholic Church. He is the first pope from the Americas, the first from the Southern hemisphere, the first Jesuit as bishop of Rome, but most of all the first pope to have chosen the name of Francesco, after Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), one of the most revered Christian saints and reformers who dedicated his life to ‘Sister Poverty’ and to a deep love of nature and all living beings on ‘Sister Mother Earth.’

“Pope Francis – A Man of His Word, written and directed by three-time Academy Award® nominee Wim Wenders, is intended to be a personal journey with Pope Francis, rather than a biographical documentary about him. A rare co-production with the Vatican, the pope’s ideas and his message are central to this documentary, which sets out to present his work of reform and his answers to today’s global questions from death, social justice, immigration, ecology, wealth inequality, materialism, and the role of the family.

“The film’s direct-to-camera visual and narrative concepts engage the audience face-to-face with the pope, creating a dialogue between him and, literally, the world. Taking questions from people of all walks of life, Pope Francis responds to farmers and workers, refugees, children and the elderly, prison inmates, and those who live in favelas and migrant camps. All of these voices and faces are a cross section of humanity that join in a conversation with Pope Francis.

“While this ‘symphony of questions’ provides the backbone for the film, it also shows the pope on his many journeys around the world, with footage of him speaking at the United Nations, addressing the Congress of the United States, mourning with those gathered at Ground Zero and at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. He speaks to prisoners in correctional facilities and to refugees in Mediterranean camps. We see him travel to the Holy Land (Palestine and Israel) as well as to Africa, South America and Asia.

“Throughout the film, Pope Francis shares his vision of the Church and his deep concern for the poor, his involvement in environmental issues and social justice, and his call for peace in areas of conflict and between world religions. There is also a presence of Saint Francis in the film, connecting back to the pope’s namesake, through accounts of legendary moments in the Saint’s own life as a reformer and ecologist.

“In an era of deep distrust of politicians and people in power, when lies and corruption and alternative facts are the order of the day, Pope Francis – A Man of His Word shows us a person who lives what he preaches and who has gained the trust of people of all faith traditions and cultures across the world.”

MAY 25: The Gospel According to André (dir. Kate Novack)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Liza Domnitz: “André Leon Talley—unmistakable in his regal stature, his fiercely original way with words, and his incomparable historical knowledge of couture—has been a fixture of the fashion world for more than 40 years. A mentee of the legendary editor Diana Vreeland, Talley called Vogue home for years; he served as news director, creative director, and, finally, editor-at-large, until 2013. As he drifts effortlessly from the front row at fashion weeks across the globe to television appearances and New York Times assignments, one begins to wonder how such an original as Talley came to be.

“In Kate Novack’s thoroughly moving film, the viewer is invited back to his childhood in Jim Crow-era North Carolina. His beloved grandmother, Bennie, raised him, schooling him in decorum, religion, and, unsurprisingly, clothes, sparking an early and powerful love for all things fashion. This led him to New York City, where he battled—and continues to battle—both racist and homophobic assumptions about black men in the industry. With great insight, Novack pulls back the curtain on this towering icon, revealing new and beautifully vulnerable moments with Talley—as well as endlessly hilarious ones—as he discusses his storied career and the women who helped him achieve it.”

MAY 25 (NYC/LA), JUNE 1 (on VOD): Mary Shelley (dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour)The Hollywood Reporter’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Deborah Young:Mary Shelley is a luscious-looking spectacle, drenched in the colors and visceral sensations of nature, the sensuality of young lovers, the passionate disappointment of loss and betrayal. But above all it is a film about ideas that breaks out of the well-worn mold of period drama (partly, anyway) by reaching deeply into the mind of the extraordinary woman who wrote the Gothic evergreen Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus when she was 18. Making Mary into a woman in control of her life and choices rather than a victim of cruel and insensitive men, director Haifaa Al Mansour shows how the struggles of her youth swiftly matured her understanding of women’s place in the world. It is the point where the film has the most chance of connecting with audiences open to the message.

“Despite some weaknesses in the story and pacing, Al Mansour and star Elle Fanning achieve a lot of good things. The actress’ vivid portrayal of the writer as a young author shows an understanding that, for all its sadness and distress, her life shone with greatness. She is a survivor who has gone through hell and come out on the other side, scarred but wiser, while the famous men in her life have to hang their heads and acknowledge her talent. And Fanning stirringly articulates, in a surprisingly resolute London accent, the lessons she has learned.

“It’s not hard to see a continuity here for Al Mansour, who leapt into the spotlight with her liberating first film Wadjda, set in the oppressive society of her native Saudi Arabia. Both films deal with the determination of a female protagonist to accomplish an important goal that will confirm her independence. In Wadjda, the heroine was a 12-year-old tomboy whose heart was set on a bike of her own. Here, 16-year-old Mary wants to become a writer, following in the footsteps of her mother, the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, and her politically radical father William Godwin (Stephen Dillane).

“Enamored of ghost stories, she begins scribbling a tale fraught with burning eyes and icy faces. Her mother died soon after she was born and her father, who has educated her to think outside the box, tells her she needs to find her own voice. To clear her head, he sends her to the wilds of Scotland and to the spacious home of his fellow radical William Baxter. There Mary is befriended by his daughter (Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones) and soon finds herself smitten by a handsome young poet passing by on a visit, Percy Bysshe Shelley (a winning performance from the darkly romantic Douglas Booth of The Riot Club), who is already celebrated at the tender age of 21.

“Only later, when he follows her back to London, does she stumble onto the truth: He is married but has abandoned his wife and young daughter on the pretext that he is a free spirit who can’t be bound by the ties of marriage. It should be a warning to Mary, but she is too young and her attraction to him is too strong to resist. She elopes with him one night, taking her step-sister Claire (Bel Powley of The Diary of a Teenage Girl) along with her.

“Since Percy’s aristocratic father has cut him off (mainly over his radical political beliefs about redistributing his wealth to the needy, though the film doesn’t go into that), they end up in ratty basement lodgings which are just fine for Mary. She is with the man she loves and out of her father’s oppressive household. The free-thinking trio cavort like latter-day hippies, indulging in claret parties and, of course, living outside marriage and the social conventions of the day.

“Mary believes that people should live and love as they wish. The problem is that she wishes to love only Percy, while he wishes to love other women. He seems happy when she informs him she’s pregnant, but there in the distance looms his wife Harriet with his abandoned daughter, staring at them like a curse. Their baby dies soon after it is born, and Mary is inconsolable.

“Al Mansour and screenwriter Emma Jensen take liberties with the historical record, leaving out the trio’s journey through France and Italy, for example. In the film they are still living in London when they meet Lord Byron at the theater. With his eyes rimmed in black and a wandering lascivious hand, Tom Sturridge’s Byron is a jarring caricature of the English poet and peer, an unappealing heel who takes advantage of Claire’s foolishness and gets her pregnant. While staying in his sprawling mansion in Switzerland, Mary’s eyes are fully opened to Percy’s unfaithful nature; it is there that she is stimulated to express her feelings of extreme loneliness and abandonment in the story of Dr. Frankenstein’s monstrous creature.

“The final irony is that, although both Percy and her father recognize her novel as a milestone and a “message for mankind,” the only way Mary can get it published is anonymously, given that many people in literary circles believe Shelley really wrote it, not her. Fanning’s Mary storms into the final scenes in a cold-burning fury at the way she is treated just because she’s a woman.

“There are some annoying historical anomalies in the dialogue (‘I have no problem with that,’ ‘I’m waiting to reach out,’ ‘We’ll meet amazing people’), but they are glitches; most of the film’s lines ring truer to the period. As horns lock between Mary and the increasingly dissolute Percy, she comes to a sober realization of the cruelty of men and the consequences of her mistakes. Yet still she can look him in the eye and say, ‘My choices made me who I am. I regret nothing.'”

MAY 25: Summer 1993 (dir. Carla Simón)Film Society of Lincoln Center synopsis: “In the summer of 1993, following the disappearance of her parents, six-year-old Frida (Laia Artigas) moves from Barcelona to the Catalan countryside with her aunt, uncle, and younger cousin Anna (Paula Robles). Although her new family embraces her, Frida struggles to adjust in an environment that seems mysterious and estranging. Winner of the Best First Feature Award at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival, Simón’s autobiographical drama is a captivating, emotionally frank reflection on family relationships and childhood loneliness, anchored by moving performances by its two young stars.”

MAY 25: Who We Are Now (dir. Matthew Newton) (DP: Dagmar Weaver-Madsen)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Jane Schoettle: “Tough, compassionate, and so very wise, Who We Are Now, Matthew Newton’s fourth feature as writer-director, is a declaration of faith in our capacity for change. When we first meet Beth (Julianne Nicholson) she is delivering a little gift to a young boy, a gesture that clearly gives her as much pleasure as it unsettles the child’s caregivers, her sister and brother-in-law. How this circumstance arose and where it will lead is the crux of the story, its potent intricacies masterfully revealed.

“Beth’s complex past will determine her future unless she can find an ally, and soon an unlikely one appears in the form of lawyer Jess (Emma Roberts). Opting to toil for a struggling firm dedicated to pro-bono cases instead of pursuing a more prestigious law career, Jess is the black sheep of her affluent family, and Beth’s best available option.

“Beth’s pathway to justice and stability forms the core of the film, but her story doesn’t unfold in a vacuum. This is an ensemble film, and even supporting characters — such as the traumatized veteran and divorcé portrayed by Zachary Quinto — are complicated people working through damage and reparations, conviction and compromise. But it is Julianne Nicholson’s performance as Beth, whose flinty exterior masks a frail heart and a burning soul, that imprints itself upon the viewer. Who We Are Now is a film grounded in the understanding that this thing we call the self is always going to be determined by a confluence of circumstance, awareness, and damned hard work.”

MAY 26 (HBO): The Tale (dir. Jennifer Fox)IndieWire’s Sundance Film Festival review by David Ehrlich: “‘There are no bad horses, only bad riders.’ There are any number of unnerving moments in Jennifer Fox’s The Tale, a landmark cine-memoir that’s as powerful and profoundly upsetting as any film since The Act of Killing, but they all seem to hatch from that tainted pearl of wisdom, passed down from a beautiful riding instructor to her naïve tween student before things go terribly wrong. It’s a coded message from an adult woman to a young girl, a pointed insistence that life is hard for the fairer sex, and that pain is just something they all push through. It’s a sinister ethos that makes victims feel ashamed of the violence they’ve suffered, and inspires them to refashion their worst traumas into badges of honor. It’s biasing the kinds of stories that someone might need to hear from their own body, and allowing for — if not tacitly permitting — another generation of rape.

“That lesson was imparted to Fox in the summer of 1973, when she was 15, and it’s shaped so much of her self-image ever since. It’s the crux of a story so disturbing that the filmmaker — whose acclaimed documentary work includes Beirut: The Last Home Movie and My Reincarnation — has been unable to tell it to herself for much of the last 40 years. Not anymore. Now, that story is the subject of Fox’s first scripted feature, a staggering and radical work of self-analysis that’s also a remarkably lucid piece of autobiography. As she paradoxically dramatizes her own experience in order to explore how dangerous that can be, she also reveals how difficult it can be for people to see themselves.

The Tale opens with a destabilizing line of narration: ‘The story you are about to see is true… as far as I know.’ The voice belongs not to Fox, but — unmistakably — to Laura Dern, embodying her director with great sympathy and a crinkled hint of self-loathing. A 48-year-old documentary filmmaker who’s spent most of her adult life traveling the world and telling other people’s stories, Jennifer appears to be doing all right for herself. She shares a spacious Manhattan loft with her long-time fiancée (Common), enjoys a decidedly active sex life, and sustains herself between projects by teaching non-fiction cinema at a local university. Then her mom (Ellen Burstyn) finds an essay that Jennifer wrote in grade school, and everything starts to unravel.

“‘I’d like to begin this story by telling you something so beautiful’ the essay begins, the first line of a loving, starry-eyed ode to the two grown-ups who noticed her when she was a pre-pubescent tomboy, invisible to the world. At least, that’s how Jennifer remembers it. Reading the assignment for the first time, her mom has a very different reaction. To her eyes, it’s nothing less than a young girl’s first-hand account of predatory and unambiguous sexual assault. Jennifer laughs that off as the overprotective paranoia of an old Jewish mother who’s got nothing left to do but kvetch and worry, and yet… there’s something there, begging for her attention like the last flake of dead skin at the edge of an old scab. ‘When I was a child, I was obsessed with changing myself,’ Jennifer says, ‘but now I can’t remember how I got here.’

“And so, a natural chronicler of personal histories, she finally begins to investigate her own. Fox dedicates roughly 40 percent of The Tale to flashbacks of 1973, the extreme fallibility of which is established with an exclamation point when Jennifer is reminded that she was actually 13 years old that summer, and the teen actress playing her (Jessica Sarah Flaum) is abruptly recast with a much younger one (11-year-old Isabelle Nélisse, all too believable in the role). Just like that, the low-grade nausea simmering beneath the film foments into a steady boil. The guileless little girl, of course, can’t feel a thing; she’s defiantly headstrong and ready for her life to begin.

“Her wish is granted when she starts taking horseback riding lessons at a rural farm that’s run with a cultish touch. Neither Jennifer nor her dad can see that strange energy, the both of them blinded by Mrs. G (a sickeningly good Elizabeth Debicki), the statuesque Brit who runs the place like Brienne of Tarth in riding chaps. Jennifer remembers her as ‘the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen.’ Mr. G isn’t much of a factor, but an unsettlingly fresh-faced man named Bill (Jason Ritter) is always hanging around and recruiting girls for his track team. Jennifer forms a strange bond with these two, staying through August and traveling back to the farm every weekend once school starts up. Eventually, Mrs. G and Bill confess to the girl that they’re lovers, an ominous admission that opens the door to a number of much darker secrets.

The Tale liberally cuts between past and present, Fox scraping away at her own memories as though she’s dusting off a buried relic she once hid from herself. Shooting the flashbacks through an idyllic haze that stands in sharp contrast to the drab grays of the modern scenes, she galvanizes the dynamic between then and now by forcing the two into conversation with each other, Nélisse and Debicki often speaking directly into the camera as adult Jennifer interrogates the echoes that are pinging around her brain.

“The closer that she gets to the truth, the more harrowing these self-reflexive tics become. As grim as the 1973 bits get (Ritter endowing his obscenely thankless role with a Cheshire Cat creepiness that will make you glad to learn that certain scenes were shot with an adult body double), the most painful moments of all find Jennifer in dialogue with these shadows in her soul. These unspeakably moving scenes provide Fox the perfect mechanism to confront some of the darkest notions she ever repressed; few films have ever had the courage or the context to so lucidly wrestle with the enabling power of silence, or the idea that abuse is even more pernicious when it’s pleasurable. The pride that Nélisse expresses as young Jennifer is almost as wrenching as the complicity that Debicki displays as her teacher. At one point, Debicki stares into the lens and delivers a line so loaded with violence that it will make your skin crawl right off your bones.

“An immense, brave, and genuinely earth-shaking self-portrait that explores sexual assault with a degree of nuance and humility often missing from the current discourse, The Tale is undeniably primed for the #MeToo movement, but it’s also so much bigger than that. While the film triple underlines the vile nature of these crimes and the vital importance of our growing solidarity against them, to fully conflate Fox’s achievement with a political movement (even such a necessary one) could only diminish the personal scope of its power. The Tale is a film about women, but it’s also a film about one woman in particular, a woman who tells herself two very different stories in order to trace the path between them and learn who she is, and how she got here.”

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: April 2018

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Director/screenwriter/producer Lynne Ramsay, actor Joaquin Phoenix and crew members on the set of You Were Never Really Here, 2016. (Photo: Now Toronto)

Here are twenty-six new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this April, 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.

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APRIL 6: Blockers (dir. Kay Cannon)The Atlantic review by David Sims: “Let us consider, for a moment, the plight of the middle-class suburban American parent, as told through some of the recent comedies centered on them. I’m referring to films like 2017’s The House, or the two Neighbors movies, nearly anything directed by Judd Apatow, and now Blockers, the directorial debut of Kay Cannon (the writer of the Pitch Perfect series). These moms and dads have homes that are roomy, but lacking in personality. Their children are usually competent and savvy, more than ready to head off to college armed with their smartphones and a fairly evolved sense of how the world really works.

“What will these aimless parents do once their kids are gone? That’s the empty-nest nightmare facing the trio at the center of Blockers, played by Leslie Mann, John Cena, and Ike Barinholtz. But this nightmare is related to an idea driving so many similar R-rated comedies—that there’s an entire cadre of adults who never wanted to grow up, and who seem generally horrified at the idea of a world beyond their kid-focused bubbles. In Blockers, that concept is taken to a logical (and, on paper, frightening-sounding) extreme: These three parents discover that their daughters are plotting to lose their virginities on prom night, and resolve to stop them.

“But Blockers is more self-aware than its premise might suggest, even acknowledging that this scheme isn’t exactly au courant with the sex-positive youth of 2018. So the film gives the parents’ a more measured rationale: Lisa (Mann) and Mitchell (Cena) are afraid of their kids having sex, not because they want to protect the girls’ virtue, but because sex signifies a passage into adulthood and independence. Blockers offers a surprisingly apt framing for a generational clash as old as time—the parents who think of themselves as progressive and cool, versus their mortified children who view them as anything but.

“Lisa is a single mother who is intensely close with, and protective of, her daughter Julie (Kathryn Newton of Big Little Lies and Halt and Catch Fire). Though Lisa initially thinks Julie is off to college nearby in Chicago, she learns that Julie’s instead planning to go to UCLA along with her boyfriend, Austin (Graham Phillips). Mitchell is a hulking, cargo short–wearing creature of the suburbs who seems like the polar opposite of his loosely wound kid Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan). Hunter (Barinholtz) is a divorced screw-up who’s despised by both his fellow parents and his daughter Sam (Gideon Adlon)—but he recognizes the foolishness of the ‘blocking’ crusade, and only tags along with Lisa and Mitchell to try and stop the pair.

Blockers works because of the time it invests in its teenaged characters. Each is a delight, particularly the supremely chilled-out Kayla (who decides to lose her virginity largely on a whim) and the more introverted Sam (who knows she’s gay but hasn’t quite figured out how to tell her friends and family). Despite Blockers’ title, the script (by Brian and Jim Kehoe) is much more invested in the girls’ parallel mission to have sex—a plan hatched in a group text that the parents accidentally see.

“The discovery of this pact is one of the film’s many clever nods to the most confusing elements of our connected world. Hunter’s limited, Dan Brown–inspired cryptographic understanding of emoji-speak (‘Have you seen Inferno?’ he excitedly asks Lisa and Mitchell) is enough to crack the baffling code of the kids’ text chain. But by and large, 2018 is a time that truly confuses these grown-ups, who seemingly can’t comprehend that their kids might feel comfortable with their own bodies or be ready to embark on new levels of emotional intimacy. Haven’t these teens even seen a John Hughes film?, the parents might be wondering. Don’t they know they’re supposed to feel awkward and isolated all the time?

“As these parents’ Sisyphean chastity quest continues (almost the entire film is set during and right after the prom), Blockers quickly shifts into life-lesson mode: Lisa must learn to be less clingy, Mitchell has to toughen up and accept his daughter’s ability to make decisions by herself (his wife, played by Sarayu Blue, is the more pragmatic of the family), and Hunter needs to make strides toward maturity. Blockers ends up being a mirror-image coming-of-age film, where the kids have to help the adults make some grand realizations.

“Mann, who’s played high-strung moms in many of Apatow’s movies, gives a deft and witty performance that smartly morphs from self-delusion to self-acceptance. Cena, whose massive frame has mostly been deployed as a sight gag in films like Daddy’s Home and Trainwreck, is finally used to his fuller potential here as a gentle giant. His character is a fundamentally decent fella who still has trouble letting go of his more old-fashioned notions about his daughter’s ‘innocence.’ And Barinholtz, often too impish for his own good, tamps down his worst impulses to make Hunter more than an anarchic purveyor of one-liners.

“The silly set pieces of Blockers—including a car chase, an extended frat party sequence that includes the use of a ‘butt funnel,’ and a neighboring couple’s blindfolded sex game—feel rote alongside all the emotional development. These more spectacular scenes are there to gin up big laughs, but none of them feels remotely original. It’s the smaller things that stick out—the banter between the teenage girls, the shifting dynamics of awareness among the parents, the loving, Julia Child–like descriptions that Kayla’s boyfriend, Connor (Miles Robbins), delivers about his strains of marijuana. It’s enough to make Blockers a cut above the comedy standard—and a worthy watch.”

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APRIL 6: Chappaquiddick (dir. John Curran) (DP: Maryse Alberti) – Time Magazine review by Stephanie Zacharek: “Now that so many men are being brought to account for past misbehavior, we’re all asking questions we never thought to ask before. One that comes up a lot is: What was he thinking? It’s early yet, but Chappaquiddick, director John Curran’s suspenseful, disturbing account of Senator Ted Kennedy’s involvement in the 1969 drowning death of 28-year-old campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne, may be the most What was he thinking? movie of 2018. The fact that Harvey Weinstein had a long list of enablers was bad enough. But in 1969, it wasn’t an anomaly for a group of powerful men to close ranks around one of their own, making his behavior seem acceptable to the public. It was business as usual.

“Curran, working from a script by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan, pieces together what may very well have happened on Chappaquiddick. Jason Clarke plays the Senator from Massachusetts, who, as the movie opens, is checking on the details for a Friday-night party he’s hosting on the Martha’s Vineyard island. His cousin and chief fixer Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) makes the arrangements. The guests are a group of young women who had worked on the 1968 campaign of the Senator’s late brother Bobby, who had been assassinated the previous year. Ted was fond of these ambitious, politically astute women and wanted to show his appreciation. Their campaign nickname had been ‘the boiler-room girls,’ and one of them was Kopechne (played here by a thoughtful, precise Kate Mara).

“In the movie’s vision, there’s a mild possible flirtation between Kopechne and the married Kennedy, though there’s no evidence of inappropriate behavior. Impulsively, the two leave the party to drive to the beach–Kopechne leaves her basket-shaped handbag on the table, a small, wrenching detail. Kennedy, clearly driving while drunk, veers off a bridge into a shallow pond, flipping and submerging the car. In a horrifying, split-second shard of a shot, Kopechne’s hand reaches out toward Kennedy as the vehicle flies out of his control. There’s terror in her eyes.

“Within seconds, Kennedy surfaces, distraught, calling Kopechne’s name. And then, inexplicably, he trundles off the scene and heads back to the house–not to get help for his friend, but to alert the long-suffering Gargan so he can sort things out. Kennedy doesn’t report the incident until late the following morning. In between, he has brunch with some friends.

“The rest of the movie shows how the devious machine established by family patriarch Joe Kennedy – by that point a gnarled, bedridden root vegetable with angry eyes, played here with alarming authenticity by Bruce Dern – pulled off, with Ted’s participation, a highly implausible semi-cover-up of the incident, thus saving the Senator’s congressional career. (The presidency, of course, remained elusive.)

“With Chappaquiddick, Curran (The Painted VeilTracks) walks a tricky line, deftly: Should we feel revulsion for Kennedy, the spoiled overgrown kid whose family cleaned up his messes, or sympathy for the man who was left to carry the staggering legacies of his brothers John and Bobby? Clarke makes us feel plenty of things we’d rather not. His eyes are shadowed with profound decency one minute, and hollowed out in desperate calculation the next.

“There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Ted Kennedy, who died in 2009, was both haunted and motivated by his dead brothers’ achievements. His congressional record shows a man who fought hard for things he considered just, like the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. But what if, even more than any supposed family curse, he was haunted by the memory of a woman’s face, of what she looked like just before she drowned in a submerged car that he had somehow managed to escape? Although Chappaquiddick doesn’t address Kennedy’s subsequent legislative record, it’s the silver-lining storm cloud that hangs over the movie. Human beings can end up doing good things for terrible reasons. How much more convenient it would be if we could just write them off altogether.”

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APRIL 6: A Quiet Place (dir. John Krasinski) (DP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen) – Washington Post review by Ann Hornaday: “A creeping, increasingly queasy sense of dread pervades A Quiet Place, John Krasinski’s nervy thriller that marks a notable addition to the recent spate of smart, timely genre pictures. Like Get Out, which was on its way to becoming a pop culture juggernaut around this time last year, A Quiet Place deploys the most classic conventions of similar films that have gone before it, including jump scares, creepy-looking creatures, frightening camera angles and a terrifying sound design.

“In this case, though, even the most familiar gestures look — and, more pointedly, sound — brand new. A Quiet Place opens in a leafy small town in Upstate New York on Day 89 of a mysterious invasion by voracious otherworldly beings. Unable to see but endowed with supernatural hearing, these clicking, hissing aliens hide out for most of the day, quickly swooping in to dispatch their victims only when attracted by a loud noise.

“Bearing that in mind, the Abbotts — played by Krasinski and Emily Blunt, who are married in real life — lead a mostly silent life, communicating with their three children in sign language, tiptoeing around their Victorian farmhouse, creating trails of sand on which to walk barefoot to and from town, and playing the odd game of Monopoly with felt-coated pips. Like a half-mad survivalist, Krasiniski’s paterfamilias labors in the basement workshop, trying to summon help with his shortwave radio and inventing a hearing aid for his daughter, who is deaf. As the personification of maternal nurturing and strength, Blunt’s character does her best to maintain a safe and welcoming home, even while staying attuned to the threats that lurk just a stray whisper away.

“Like the best movies, A Quiet Place teaches the audience how to watch it within the first 10 minutes, during which characters are introduced, the stage is set, and the stakes are established and heightened in a sequence that plays out entirely without words. But not without sound: The movie’s ingenious sound design includes the gentle cadences of nature at its most quietly reassuring. But when the point of view changes to the Abbotts’ adolescent daughter — played in an exceptionally sensitive performance by the deaf actress Millicent Simmonds — ambient noise is completely absent.

“The upshot is that Simmonds’s character can’t hear what she can’t hear; she isn’t able to discern the noises that might bring sure death to the people she loves the most. Her little brother, played in a similarly accomplished turn by Noah Jupe, intuiting a strain between his sister and her father, reluctantly allows himself to be tutored in the hunting and gathering that the family depends on to live.

“At an efficient hour and a half, A Quiet Place exemplifies cinematic storytelling at its most simple and inventive, using the pure grammar of sound and image to create a credible atmosphere of lived-in domesticity and looming terror. Krasinski, working from a script he co-wrote with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, creates a rich, imaginative world in which neighbors communicate by firelight and an impromptu dance with a shared pair of ear buds playing Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’ possesses the sensory relief of a cool, clear spring in a desert. (Krasinski has assembled an excellent production team to help craft A Quiet Place’s homespun universe, including production designer Jeffrey Beecroft and cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen, who together create an unlikely mood of warmth and coziness within the encroaching tension.)

“The action ratchets up considerably in the final 45 minutes, when the monsters that Krasinski has wisely framed in brief, allusive blurs of movement come into more frightening focus. He stages some unforgettable set pieces here, including a moment of peril in a silo that gives new meaning to children of the corn, and Blunt’s character evading a giant auris dentata with spiderlike legs while her husband is occupied elsewhere.

“There are even more details that make that sequence particularly unsettling, but the best way to appreciate A Quiet Place is with as few preconceptions as possible. Suffice it to say that Blunt emerges as the real star of a film whose themes of female silence, resilience and grit feel uncannily of the moment — up to and including her character’s facial expression in the final shot. As a celebration of the physical expressiveness and visual storytelling of silent cinema, A Quiet Place speaks volumes without a word being uttered.”

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APRIL 6 (streaming on Netflix): 6 Balloons (dir. Marja-Lewis Ryan) (DP: Polly Morgan) – RogerEbert.com’s SXSW review by Brian Tallerico: “It is incredibly difficult to love an addict. Not only does their addiction continuously define the dynamic of your relationship, but they are like a drowning man, able to take you down with them as they flail their arms and fight for air. Rarely has a film captured this better than Marja-Lewis Ryan’s 6 Balloons, premiering next month on Netflix after its world premiere at SXSW. It features a pair of young actors who are mostly known for comedy in a heartfelt, scary drama about what addiction does to the people around the addict. We’ve seen countless stories of junkies trying to get clean, but how does someone sever the tie to someone who just keeps pulling them under again and again?

“We meet Katie (Abbi Jacobson of ‘Broad City’) as she prepares for a surprise birthday party for her boyfriend. She goes to buy balloons with her mother (Jane Kaczmarek) and her father (Tim Matheson) and friends show up early to set things up. But her brother Seth (Dave Franco) and Seth’s 4-year-old daughter appear to be missing. Seth isn’t answering his phone, and a look crosses Katie’s face that tells us she knows what that means. When she gets to his apartment to bring him and Ella to the party, she sees that he hasn’t been opening his mail. As she says, ‘that happened last time.’ Seth is a heroin addict. Seth has relapsed.

“He agrees to go to detox. Katie will drive him to the clinic and he’ll get clean … again. Katie can go pick up the cake she told her friends and family she was getting, and bring her niece to the party too. Of course, this doesn’t go as planned. The first clinic won’t take his health insurance, and a 10-day detox costs $5,000. And then Seth’s body/addiction starts revolting against him. Franco lost 20 pounds for the role, and he looks like he’s studied what withdrawal does to a body. 6 Balloons is downright frightening at times, enhanced by a 4-year-old girl being in a car seat and witness to all of this, although I was concerned Ryan would use that child character manipulatively and she never does. Ella’s presence enhances the tension of 6 Balloons but also reminds us how addiction often doesn’t happen in a vacuum—it happens near children and siblings, and they are forced to watch the downfall.

“As the party that Katie planned goes on without her, Ryan plays self-help audio over the arc of Katie and Seth, almost like chapter breaks. The self-help audio uses the analogy of a sinking boat, and it feels manipulative and on-the-nose at first, but really works in the final act of her film. The closing scenes of 6 Balloons had my heart in my throat and tears in my eyes in ways that I wasn’t expecting. It’s incredibly powerful stuff.

“That’s because of Ryan’s confidence as a writer/director, but also because of how much Jacobson and Franco bring to these roles. Franco has proven himself to be a talented comic actor and scene-stealer in supporting roles, but this is his first truly memorable dramatic turn and he nails it. There’s also a remarkable trust between Ryan and Jacobson in that while the self-help audio may be a little blunt, most of what Katie’s experiencing emotionally is internalized. She doesn’t get many big monologues and doesn’t have as much dialogue as a lesser writer would have given her to explain her emotional turmoil. It’s in her eyes. It’s in her body language as she’s clearly uncertain how to help Seth and stop hurting herself in the process. It’s a great performance.

“I do wish slightly that 6 Balloons felt weightier in terms of narrative—it runs only 74 minutes—and, as silly as it may sound, I could have spent more real time in the car with Seth and Katie, just watching these two actors do what they here. They’re so fully-realized that I wanted a bit more to their story, but I also admire Ryan’s no-nonsense approach to a tight narrative. Katie is planning a surprise party in 6 Balloons and this is one of the most unexpected, moving surprises of the year so far.”

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APRIL 6 (in theaters & on VOD): Spinning Man (dir. Simon Kaijser) (DP: Polly Morgan) – Los Angeles Times review by Gary Goldstein: “The absorbing, if forgettably titled, mystery Spinning Man does a good job keeping us guessing not so much about who may have killed a high school cheerleader, but how it happened — and why.

“The always watchable Guy Pearce proves a compelling combination of sympathetic and suspicious as Evan, a small-town college philosophy professor and the prime suspect in the disappearance of attractive teenager Joyce (Odeya Rush), with whom he may have been romantically involved. Meanwhile, cagey local detective Malloy (Pierce Brosnan) is hot on Evan’s trail as Evan’s conflicted wife (Minnie Driver, quite good), young children (Eliza Pryor, Noah Salsbury Lipson), co-workers (Jamie Kennedy, Carlo Rota) and lawyer (Clark Gregg) must navigate Evan’s increasingly thorny place in this potential murder case.

“Matthew Aldrich’s workmanlike script, based on the novel by George Harrar, features plenty of handy red herrings and misdirection, particularly concerning Evan’s dubious past and adulterous leanings, while also offering an intriguing philosophical outlook involving proof and certainty. On the downside, director-editor Simon Kaijser takes an often choppy approach to the narrative, the catch-a-mouse symbolism is a bit heavy-handed and the ending could use more oomph. Still, of the many interchangeable, name-lead thrillers and action pictures concurrently premiering these days in theatres and on VOD, this one’s definitely a cut above.”

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APRIL 6 (streaming on Netflix): Sun Dogs (dir. Jennifer Morrison) – The Hollywood Reporter’s Los Angeles Film Festival review by Sheri Linden: “Jennifer Morrison, the recently departed star of the ABC series Once Upon a Time, segues confidently to the director’s chair with Sun Dogs, a comic drama that deftly navigates a tricky line. The story of a mentally challenged young man and his quixotic mission to serve his country could easily have turned cringe-inducing or merely ridiculous. But Michael Angarano, leading an excellent cast, inhabits the role of a single-minded misfit without the slightest hint of mawkishness, embracing his exasperating qualities no less than his endearing ones. Morrison balances her affection for all the characters with droll naturalism and an assured visual style.

“Working from a screenplay by Anthony Tambakis (whose credits include the Morrison starrer Warrior, and who uses the nom de film Raoul McFarland for the new movie), Morrison has cited Hal Ashby’s Being There as a key inspiration. The idea of a sheltered, innocent soul being mistaken for — and becoming — a heroic figure, à la the 1979 film’s Chauncey Gardiner, is an essential aspect of Sun Dogs‘ story, and there’s a strong ’70s sensibility to the character-driven film. But it also recalls the more recent Lars and the Real Girl with its unforced emphasis on communal support for an oddball. The well-crafted feature, a world-premiere selection of the Los Angeles Film Festival, could parlay its name cast and engaging warmth into art-house exposure.

“Like many Americans, Angarano’s Ned Chipley, who lives with his parents in rural California and does menial work at a casino, was galvanized by the 2001 attacks on the United States. But given his limited intellectual capacities — explained with just a few words, late in the proceedings — his goal of becoming a Marine is a delusion, albeit one that charms more people than it offends. Ned’s mother, Rose (Allison Janney), a nurse who once dreamed of a life in New York City, gently encourages his sense of purpose, to the frustration of his cranky stepfather, Bob (Ed O’Neill), a trucker who feels adrift as he awaits a hoped-for insurance payout for a road accident.

“On his birthday in 2004, Ned takes the bus through picturesque mountains to San Diego for his annual attempt to enlist in the Marines. His anti-terrorist fervor is a familiar source of fond amusement at the recruitment center (where Morrison cameos winningly as the Marine at the front desk). But the new master sergeant, Jenkins (Alvin ‘Xzibit’ Joiner, pitch-perfect), is unprepared for Ned’s talking points, manually typed out on index cards, and his gung-ho announcement that, ‘I have field readiness.’ Wanting to let the kid down easy, Jenkins convinces him to focus his attentions on the home front as a ‘special operative,’ not understanding the obsessive investigations this diversion will prompt.

“In no time Ned is accosting strangers to assure them that he’s on the case, the case being saving lives and protecting the country, and thrusting his fresh-from-Kinko’s business cards in their hands. His take-charge attitude intrigues Tally (Melissa Benoist), a runaway at loose ends. Impressed that his preferred reading material is the 9/11 Commission Report, she becomes his civilian partner in undercover detective work, eager to help Ned prove his questionable thesis that his turban-wearing boss (Nicholas Massouh) is an enemy of the state.

“Though their adventures in idealism might be misguided, the two outsiders forge a bond of true friendship, their mutual attraction and drastic differences in experience played just right. Benoist (Lowriders, TV’s Supergirl) eloquently conveys the brokenness in Tally without overdoing it, making clear why she would spark to Ned as a man of mystery and action, his goofy awkwardness only deepening the image of someone hell-bent on saving the world. Her eventual discovery of the truth about Ned is the movie’s most formulaic plot point, but Morrison’s sensitive direction lends it nuance.

“Angarano’s self-serious Ned manages to feel both immature and old beyond his years, the character’s quirky mannerisms subtly complicated by his unexpressed yearnings. Ned’s determination to be helpful proves unexpectedly profound and powerful as the drama crescendos, along with Mark Isham’s ace score, in an extraordinary moment that ties together key narrative threads.

“These include Ned’s love of war movies, specifically The Deer Hunter. He imagines himself in jungle combat — sequences that cinematographer Michael Alden Lloyd drenches in thick shadow, a striking contrast to the rich, golden palette that aptly bathes most of the film.

“At its essence, Sun Dogs is a story about compassion. That’s the subject of Ned’s every meaningful interaction, whether tender or comically deadpan, and whether he’s offering advice or receiving it. Rather than reaching for irony, Morrison lets the story’s sincerity shine, not just in Ned and Tally’s openhearted exchanges but in the unexpectedly paternal benevolence of Xzibit’s military man and in the exquisitely lived-in performances of Janney and O’Neill as Ned’s parents. Though their words may be tinged with regret, Rose and Bob are, in different ways, inspired by the indefatigable Ned, and still trying. There’s no question, in Angarano’s portrayal and the film as a whole, that this eccentric do-gooder would have such an effect.”

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APRIL 6: This Is Home: A Refugee Story (dir. Alexandra Shiva) (DP: Laela Kilbourn) – The Playlist’s Sundance Film Festival review by Gary Garrison: “In the year since the cultural shift ignited by the 2016 election, there have already been a handful of films that have taken on the ongoing war in Syria and the refugee crisis it has sparked. (Two of them — City of Ghosts and Last Men in Aleppo — made our list of the best docs of 2017.) These films, which are often painful to watch, let alone to capture on film, paint a shocking picture of pain and suffering while simultaneously indicting the global community for its failure to act (or even sustain interest). Taken together as a body of work they draw a portrait that spans from the origins of the devastating war, to the ruins of once-great cities, to the harrowing journeys that hundreds of thousands of families have made across seas and mountains and borders all in the name of safety. But what happens when a family finds itself, after years in a refugee camp, finally on its way to America? To the land of freedom and opportunity? What’s it like to finally make it? Alexandra Shiva tackles these questions in her new documentary This Is Home, but the answers she offers are anything but comforting.

“What’s so intriguing about This Is Home is that it begins where so many other stories end: the moment a family lands in America. The film follows four newly arrived families in Baltimore as they attempt to settle in and become self-sufficient — a complicated challenge that is far more difficult than most would imagine. Not only are there linguistic and cultural barriers, but so too is there a clock: each family is given just eight months to work with a resettlement agency to find well-paying jobs, get their children comfortable in school and generally adapt to an entirely new life. On top of all of it, though, is the trauma. Khaldoun, who arrives with his wife and children, can’t work many of the best jobs because part of his leg was removed when he was tortured as a prisoner in Syria. In another family, a teenage boy struggles to fit in at school — and to sleep at night — because of his PTSD.

“The list of challenges that each of the families face goes on — translators are too few and far between, strangers are cruel and suspicious, and everybody dreams of someday returning home — but they are not without hope. Which is one place in particular where Shiva’s film succeeds: It would be so easy to paint a bleak picture of these families who are almost chronically let down by the system and the grotesque failings of the great country that is America, but instead This Is Home offers up a nuanced and tonally balanced take, embodying misfortune and hope in even measure. And Shiva’s film is better for it. Because it’s hard not to view This Is Home as a piece of advocacy, a rallying cry for compassion and empathy. But to succeed as such, Shiva must walk a fine line between hurt and optimism: without hurt there is room for apathy, and without hope, despair.

“More importantly, though, This Is Home takes the time to humanize each of the families at its core, giving each person the space they need to be full, rounded people. Juxtaposed with the lean structure of the film, this humanity speaks to Shiva’s ability to find telling moments that are characteristic of the struggles of each family and the larger context of their place in a damningly bureaucratic system. This Is Home mostly manages to pack eight months worth of stories into 91 minutes without short-shifting any of the many narratives it juggles.

“Still, despite taking the time to cast a light on the missteps that some refugees make, it’s easy to argue that This Is Home offers too rosy a perspective. For all the goodwill it builds, it’s hard to imagine someone who is staunchly opposed to immigration would be willing to take heed of Shiva’s film’s message. Which is not necessarily a fault of This Is Home, but may, in fact, be a fault of the deeply partisan time into which the film was born. Still, This Is Home is no City of Ghosts or Last Men In Aleppo, it is unlikely to cause the seismic quake required to shake the apathy from the masses — as neither of those films did either — but it is a much-needed reminder that a journey never quite ends when you think it does.”

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APRIL 6: You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsay) – The Globe and Mail review by Barry Hertz: “We do not deserve Lynne Ramsay. The Scottish filmmaker has proven this fact several times over the course of her career – though not nearly as often as she should have been afforded the chance. Over the past two decades, Ramsay has made just four feature-length films – four films of immense power and darkness and soul-withering devastation. But only four.

“Thanks to the various and spurious justifications of industry gatekeepers, the director has been shoved into the box of being a ‘difficult’ artist – or, as she accurately describes it, of being a woman. ‘You’ve got to stick up for what you believe in. If you don’t do that, you’re doing a disservice to the audience, because you’re making something really diluted,’ she told The Guardian recently, describing how she left the Natalie Portman western Jane Got a Gun on the first day of filming. ‘And if you do that when you’re a guy, you’re seen as artistic – “difficult” is seen as a sign of genius. But it’s not the same for women.’ And so Ramsay has been able to produce only four films – but, again, what four films those are.

“Ramsay startled the international film scene with 1999′s poetically bleak Ratcatcher, which plumbed the muckier depths of kitchen sink realism as it chronicled the lives of those stuck in a Glasgow housing project. She followed that hypnotizing misery with the increasingly confident and brazen works Morvern CallarWe Need to Talk About Kevin and now her ultimate masterpiece, You Were Never Really Here.

“On its surface, the new film’s source material doesn’t seem like typical Ramsay fodder. Jonathan Ames’ novella of the same name is certainly a bleak story, but more so in that it’s a gritty mash of disposable pulp – a crime tale that is more focused on executing acts of tremendous violence than the violence that lurks in the mind.

“A thriller complete with a this-goes-all-the-way-to-the-top conspiracy, You Were Never Really Here centres on Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a military veteran and former FBI agent who now specializes in rescuing trafficked girls – and ensuring their captors are disposed with in the most brutal fashion possible. After being tasked with finding the missing daughter of a New York state senator, Joe is thrust into a twisted underworld filled with shifty middlemen, on-the-take cops, and a Gothic sex-mansion ripped from the most obvious parts of Eyes Wide Shut.

“It is lurid and frequently gross material, and handled by any other filmmaker it would have reeked of exploitative seediness – a big-screen facsimile of True Detective Season 2. Yet in writing her own adaptation and finding bold collaborators in Phoenix, cinematographer Thomas Townend and composer Jonny Greenwood, Ramsay has delivered a down-to-the-marrow character study more concerned with the act of killing than the killing itself.

“As she follows Joe through his myriad grim tasks – from staking out targets to cleaning his weapon of choice, a ball-peen hammer – it is clear Ramsay takes no delight in delivering cheap thrills, in splattering blood to the wall just for the sticky shock of it. One standout example that has already made waves since an unfinished version of You Were Never Really Here screened in Cannes last year is Joe’s mid-film invasion of a Manhattan brothel. Instead of filming Joe’s assault with, say, an all-the-rage-these-days single-take tracking shot, Ramsay depicts the entire sequence through the perspective of the building’s surveillance cameras. It is a silent and unnerving bit of filmmaking that – like its most immediate forebearer Taxi Driver did upon its arrival in 1976 – upends modern expectations of cinematic violence.

“And just like Scorsese’s work, a mere body count – which is high here, but not counted with any of the garish glee of, say, a modern pain guru like Nicolas Winding Refn – holds no interest for Ramsay. It is Joe’s diseased state of mind that fascinates and intrigues. In 90 intense, claustrophobic minutes she offers audiences a glimpse of it that remains unshakable.

“Phoenix is as integral to the the film’s shadowy art as Ramsay. His mercenary antihero is barely afforded an index card’s worth of dialogue, but that doesn’t prevent the actor from conjuring a fully lived-in soul who makes the audience intimately aware of his every tick and shiver. Forget the fact that Phoenix put on considerable weight and grew a mountain-man beard to illustrate Joe’s post-traumatic societal isolation – the actor’s eyes and pained expressions do most of the heavy lifting, and Ramsay captures it all beautifully, if such an experience could be even dubbed beautiful.

“Set against the high-tension strings and jarringly funky synthesizers of Greenwood’s score, the film is transformative and transfixing.

“Although it is not her title, You Were Never Really Here neatly summarizes the film industry’s dismissive attitude toward Ramsay thus far. May this shattering, necessary work change that line of thinking forever.”

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APRIL 13 (NYC), APRIL 20 (LA): Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (dir. Sophie Fiennes) – New York Times review by Wesley Morris: “Nudity has never seemed to bother Grace Jones. Her art has thrived, in part, on a physical candor that both shocked people and redrew the boundaries of taste, beauty and eroticism around her masculinity, ebony skin and unrelenting intensity. She’s an iconoclast, basically. And I imagine a downside of iconoclasm is that you never get to be a human being. This is someone whose long career as a model, actress and undervalued musician has veered, sometimes uncomfortably, into both the sub- and superhuman. So the relief of Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami is that it seeks to square the person with the provocateuse.

“The documentary is a feat of portraiture and a restoration of humanity. It’s got the uncanny, the sublime, and, in many spots, a combination of both. Take the alarming sight of Ms. Jones, on the phone, pleading for two of her longtime collaborators, Sly & Robbie, to join her in the studio, as they apparently promised they would. She jokes — I think — about resorting to ’emotional blackmail,’ quoting herself covering Chrissie Hynde’s song ‘Private Life.’

“‘Robbie? Robbie? Robbie,’ she begs, with a polka dotted sweatshirt unwrapped on her head, her glorious, mysterious continental baritone on the brink of despair. Here we have the woman who played the formidable henchman May Day in the Bond film A View to a Kill and the freaky-deaky supermodel Strangé from the Eddie Murphy movie Boomerang — here we have Grace Jones! — trapped in a Lionel Richie song.

“In a movie about someone who has shown you everything, what you’re looking for is something you never expected to see. Bloodlight and Bami delivers. Ms. Jones shucks her own oysters — stressfully. She does her own make up and performs her own vexed yet amusing contract negotiations. She counsels, watches, listens and sort of kids around (‘Heads are gonna roll,’ she sings after one sour phone call).

“This isn’t a career retrospective or a treatise on the importance and wide influence of Grace Jones. (Someone should feel free to make either or both of those.) Bloodlight and Bami is all vérité. The director Sophie Fiennes began filming Ms. Jones in the mid-2000s and simply observes her on stage and off. She follows her home to Jamaica, where the diva mellows, almost unconsciously, into a daughter, sister and parishioner. She watches her record her 2008 album Hurricane and become a grandmother.

“There’s a trip to church where Ms. Jones’s brother, Noel, preaches and her mother sings ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow.’ There’s a night spent clubbing. Ms. Jones was in her mid-50s when the movie finds her and turns 70 next month. So for someone whose hits include the 1981 masterpiece of metaphor, ‘Pull Up to the Bumper,’ and who was a fixture at New York’s Studio 54, her partying seems less like a splurge and more like a form of exercise.

“Ms. Fiennes makes the same investment in Ms. Jones that she’s made in the artist Anselm Kiefer and twice with the cultural philosopher Slavoj Zizek. This new movie isn’t as handsome or haunting as those. A lot of it feels caught on the fly. But Ms. Fiennes’ rigor operates in a different, more intimately transparent way. She enjoys Ms. Jones and her big, complicated family but is careful not to insert herself — or too much technique, for that matter — into family meals and various reminiscences between, say, Grace and a niece. Ms. Fiennes deploys her effects strategically, like for that night life sequence, which unfolds in slow-motion and without natural sound. Ms. Jones is at her most vampiric but also her most free.

“We’re not given any kind of chronology. We’re left to guess about what year it is or what city the shows are in. But concepts of time, space and location might actually be besides the point when your movie stars a Grace Jones who’s determined to look inward the way she does on Hurricane, the most obviously personal and autobiographical of her albums. There’s a long, lovely passage built around the conjuring, recording and live performance of the song ‘This Is.’ And we watch Ms. Jones ruminate about the source of all that scariness and intimidation in her stage persona. It’s her abusive stepfather, and he’s got a hold on her still. This particular return to Jamaica appears to have stirred up a lot for her.

“Ms. Fiennes shrewdly juxtaposes all of that inner work with its outward expression, moving from conversations to concerts. At the shows, the camera is positioned from a distance that lets you take in all of Ms. Jones, whether she’s hula-hooping or stalking around the stage, in headdresses, helmets and masks. That low voice only seems to have gained power, weight and complexity. And the high point of experiencing the full of psychological effect might be during a performance of ‘Warm Leatherette,’ a crashing, revved up rock song with a dance undergirding. Ms. Jones does it wearing a velvety bathing suit and a glittering mask while wielding a pair of giant cymbals that look a lot like shields.

“She’s filmed from the front and then from behind, at a low angle, so you can see the muscles in her back and the eternity of her legs. You can also see the concert hall and how it suddenly seems like a coliseum. Ms. Fiennes knows what she has in these shots — for one thing, a rebuke of some of the exploitative imagery created of Ms. Jones by her ex and former collaborator Jean-Paul Goude, who makes a short, memorable appearance. But Ms. Fiennes must also know that Ms. Jones embodies, here, a heightened version of what she always has been, a symbol of sex and strength, the pinup gladiator newly ready to reveal and defend herself.”

APRIL 13: The Judge (dir. Erika Cohn) – Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Thom Powers: “When she was a young lawyer, Kholoud Al-Faqih walked into the office of Palestine’s Chief Justice and announced that she wanted to join the bench. He laughed. But just a few years later, in a land where women rarely ascend to the ranks of governance, Al-Faqih became the first woman judge appointed to any of the Middle East’s Shari’a courts. The Shari’a courts of Islam and the Rabbinical courts of Judaism adjudicate domestic and family matters within their respective religious communities in the Middle East; these courts have traditionally banned women from decision-making roles.

“A true verité courtroom drama, the film allows us to witness the resistance that Judge Kholoud Al-Faqih and her male counterpart, a progressive sheik, face daily. Revealing the kinds of misinterpretations of Shari’a law that Judge Al-Faqih now has the power to correct, the film highlights the obstacles many women face trying to achieve justice within the courts of the West Bank.

“Erika Cohn met Kholoud Al-Faqih when the director was studying Islamic feminism and teaching film in Israel and Palestine. The judge’s story provides welcome insight into the contrasting interpretations of and inaccurate assumptions about Shari’a law and challenges tired notions of gender exclusion and segregation in the Middle East.”

APRIL 13: Nana (dir. Serena Dykman) (DPs: Julia Elaine Mills and Nick Walker) – Village Voice review by Tatiana Craine: “Serena Dykman’s feature debut, Nana, hinges on a simple concept: the difference between knowing and understanding. This touching documentary chronicles the life of Dykman’s maternal grandmother, Maryla Michalowski-Dyamant, and her mission to spread awareness about the Holocaust. After years in concentration camps and time as translator for Josef Mengele, Michalowski-Dyamant emerged as her family’s sole survivor and dedicated her life to teaching people about the atrocities she experienced. Decades later, Dykman and her mother follow in their matriarch’s footsteps, sometimes literally, during the making of Nana.

“Dykman intersperses archival footage of her grandmother, a prolific public speaker, alongside contemporary scenes of the two women traversing Auschwitz, reading from Michalowski-Dyamant’s memoir, and talking to the people who knew her best. Dykman does well to let her grandmother anchor the film: Michalowski-Dyamant’s charisma and pathos shine through countless cuts of archival footage. More often than not, Michalowski-Dyamant is refreshingly blunt, whether speaking about the last time she saw her mother or cracking one-liners. ‘How do you like my apartment?’ she jokes to a group of students touring the camp barracks, her gallows humor tempering the bleakness.

Nana’s most stirring moment comes when Dykman and her mother reveal the moment when they went from merely knowing about the Holocaust to truly understanding it. With Nana, Dykman aims to carry the torch for her grandmother and other survivors by making the horror of millions profoundly personal.”

APRIL 13 (in theaters & on VOD and other digital platforms): An Ordinary Man (dir. Brad Silberling) (DP: Magdalena Górka) – Variety review by Peter Debruge: “Ben Kingsley is not a tall man, but he looms awesomely large in writer-director Brad Silberling’s An Ordinary Man, whose slyly misleading title refers to what becomes of a notorious Bosnian Serb general living in what used to be Yugoslavia — a monster guilty of torture, murder, and other unforgivable crimes who has spent the subsequent years attempting to blend in. The versatile actor, whose performances have run the gamut of good and evil from Gandhi to Sexy Beast maniac Don Logan, settles somewhere in the middle here, which isn’t at all what one might expect when playing the country’s most wanted war criminal. Still, it’s the right answer in a goulash-heavy character study that’s ultimately more interested in human psychology than unresolved world politics.

“Kingsley’s domineering lead performance is worth the price of admission alone, although An Ordinary Man is actually a two-hander, divided between the Oscar winner and relative newcomer Hera Hilmar, an English-speaking Icelandic actress whose career was launched by Life in a Fishbowl, and whose girlish appearance and submissive demeanor contrast sharply with her imposing co-star. In an almost theatrical flourish, Kingsley and Hilmar’s characters are identified only as ‘The General’ and ‘The Maid,’ which suggests the level of abstraction in the way Silberling views their dynamic (though driven by dialogue and relatively self-contained, the film is plenty cinematic, as Polish DP Magdalena Górka elegantly creates atmosphere within a limited number of locations).

“At first, showing up at the dangerous general’s door unannounced, the maid seems almost laughably powerless by comparison, a disposable plaything for this petty old tyrant to boss around as he pleases. But things are not as they seem. Silberling is clever enough to anticipate where savvy audiences’ imaginations will take them — rushing to assume that the maid is in fact some kind of elite assassin, or else the keeper of some nefarious hidden agenda.

“If Silberling had written that movie, there’s a good chance he could have gotten it made at one of the major Hollywood studios. But video store aisles are already heavy with Odessa Files and Marathon Men. Instead, Silberling aims to peer inside the mind of such a monster, without letting the people of modern Serbia scapegoat him quite so easily. In the film’s most incendiary exchange, the general describes the bloody ethnic cleansing policy he helped carry out as ‘a deposit on your future’ to the young maid, and indeed, her role here serves partly to examine the disturbing phenomenon by which members of the younger generation (most notably neo-Nazis) naïvely endorse their elders’ most unconscionable policies.

“Compared to the sneering, one-dimensionally evil warmonger Gary Oldman played in last year’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Kingsley’s more nuanced despot might indeed be considered an ordinary man, his humanity visible despite the tough exterior. Hiding in plain sight, shuttled by supporters from one rat hole to the next (as a longtime loyalist, Peter Serafinowicz plays his link to the outside world), this fugitive general has wrestled with his sins in virtual isolation all these years. He may have avoided arrest, trial, and likely execution, but he is still a prisoner of his own making — a great white shark confined to an suffocatingly small tank.

“And so, the maid’s arrival offers him something he has clearly lacked all these years: company, an audience, and potentially, a chance to revisit the one place on earth where he is most vulnerable, the rural countryside hometown where he would almost certainly be shot on the spot if recognized. Despite the implied atrocities in the general’s past, the film isn’t designed as a mechanism for violence or shootouts — although there are guns in the opening scene, the last one, and at several points in between.

“Both characters possess a capacity to kill one another, neatly illustrated in a pair of scenes: he defuses a convenience-store robbery at the outset, she holds his life in her hands while shaving him with a straight razor at home. And yet, they’re more dangerous simply exchanging ideas. That thoughtfulness explains why An Ordinary Man exists as an independent film, not a more generic piece of studio entertainment (which is just as well, since a couple of suspense sequences fail to generate any palpable tension). This movie actually has something on its mind.

“When not directing kid pics and television (which constitute most of his credits), Silberling clearly aspires to emotional, artistic filmmaking (Moonlight Mile and City of Angels were earnest, if flawed attempts at such). Here, he could be accused of displaying a bit too much empathy for an imaginary war criminal — that misstep would be more obvious if Silberling were attempting to humanize a Nazi officer at large — and yet, he’s saved by his star. An incredibly precise actor who understands exactly how to play to the camera, conveying volumes via even the slightest microexpressions, Kingsley navigates the tricky mix of humor, horror, and deep-seated regret that make this man, if not exactly ordinary, then relatable, at least.”

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APRIL 13: The Rider (dir. Chloé Zhao) – Vanity Fair review by K. Austin Collins:The Rider, the tender second feature from Chinese-American director Chloé Zhao, opens with a dream: an abstract collision of thunder, dirt, and mane, stomping hooves clashing with the defiant snorts of a wild, free animal. It’s the vision of a young man named Brady Blackburn, a horse trainer and celebrated bronco rider living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Really, though, it might be better described as a nightmare.

“When The Rider begins, Brady, played by real-life rodeo Brady Jandreau, has just escaped from the hospital. He’s still reeling from a recent accident, a hoof to the skull that caused his brain cavity to swell up with blood. Seizures, a coma, and surgery followed. Still recovering, he doesn’t really know what to do with himself. He’s got a neat row of staples lining the back of his head and an awkward partial mullet, his scalp half-overgrown, half-shaved raw where the doctors had to cut his head open. He’s got spells of nausea and vomiting, too, and a medicine cabinet full of pills (to say nothing of his dad’s steady supply of weed) that for all their power cannot quell the seizures he’s been having, which make his right hand spontaneously harden to the point that he has to use his left to pry his fingers free of their death grip. Nor can any medicine fix the fear deepening in Brady’s heart: that the life he’s known to this point—as a man who spends his days staring up over the crest and down between the ears of a powerful, liberated animal, sharing in its mythic freedom—is now over.

“Despite its pure beauty, in other words, there’s no mistaking The Rider for a simple, crowd-pleasing pick-me-up. The movie is soulful, elegant, filmed as often as not at the magic hour, when the sky is as broad as it is orange-yellow, and every nook of the world seems alight with possibility. It is hardly, on its surface, an outright downer. But it’s unmistakably a movie about loss. The movie begins as a dream, but it ends as a sobering glimpse of this new reality.

The Rider is set in the present day, when a rodeo rider can relive past glories by watching clips of himself on YouTube, and when the overall image of the American cowboy is fading. Seemingly all that’s left for Brady to do after his accident, given his lack of G.E.D. or any work skills beyond horse training, is to work at the local grocery store, where he’s frequently confronted by people confused to see a capable bronco rider shelving frozen fish sticks. This is a pointed subject for American movies, so much of which still owe their style, content, and even politics to the myth of the American frontier and the virtuous, deified cowboys sought to protect it. The image has outlasted the reality, it seems. And the perceptive, intelligent Zhao, who filled this movie almost entirely with Jandreau’s real-life family and cowboy friends, whittles those myths down to the unflattering contemporary particulars: rent money that gets gambled away, broncos that kick open skulls, and scarred, forgotten cowboys working aisle six.

“Zhao, who was born in Beijing and attended high school in London, college at Mount Holyoke, and graduate school at New York University, has a pedigree that couldn’t seem further from the world of the American West or the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. You might expect some inadvertent condescension here. But this is Zhao’s second film set there, the result of more than two years of immersion in and collaboration with the Pine Ridge community. Zhao met Jandreau on the reservation while making her first film, 2015’s Songs My Brothers Taught Me, which is just as much the product of a sensitive collaboration between Zhao and the lives of her non-professional local actors.

“Brady’s accident is based on a real skull fracture Jandreau suffered while competing in April 2016. The Rider, making art of that fresh wound, was filmed later that year, in September and October, when the incident and its implications were still fresh on his mind. Jandreau’s father, Tim, plays his ball-busting but loving father in the movie. His sister, Lilly, who has Asperger’s syndrome, plays herself, too; Zhao confidently folds Lilly’s condition into the movie as if it were as familiar to viewers as it is to her family. Lane Scott—Jandreau’s best friend in real life—plays the former rodeo Lane, injured, like Brady, during a fateful last ride. (This is fiction; in real life, Scott was injured in a car accident in 2013.)

“Scenes of Brady and his friends sitting around a campfire reminiscing about their injuries like a clan of spit-chewing old men, or of Brady visiting Lane in the hospital to watch and re-watch the greatest hits of their respective rodeo days, feel as contrived as they are spontaneous and naturalistic. Zhao pulls off a remarkable thing, that curious mix of fiction and non- that’s become the holy grail of American indie cinema, for which relying on real landscapes and ‘real’ people, rather than professional actors, has by now become an indie affectation—even despite its use in best-case scenarios of movies like Sean Baker’s The Florida Project or Zhao‘s debut feature. The Rider in so many ways embodies every pitfall of whatever we mean by the dismissive phrase ‘Sundance movie.’ (Indeed, Zhao’s first movie was born of the Sundance Institute.) It’s got emotional beats that’d knock a Richter scale out of whack and a deep focus on the interior lives of minor, everyday people that may as well be the log line of every American indie movie given serious festival or awards attention. It’s handheld as all get-out, too, which doesn’t help its case, and it employs, at least on the surface, that strain of minimalism lesser directors always seem to dredge up whenever they’ve got no ideas of their own.

“And yet The Rider rises above the limitations of its kind, largely because the movie’s also got Jandreau, whose sloping, sensitive face is the image Zhao returns us to more than any other. The only recurring images that come close are those of Brady’s horses, which, like him, are shot in profile, just so, always from crisp, attentive angles, and always with the timing just right, so that you mysteriously wind up feeling you understand the animals’ inner lives—and Brady’s, by association. I would almost argue Zhao overuses this technique, if not for the fact that, both times I watched the movie, I was a complete sucker for it. Zhao has fashioned this movie from inside out, treating the broad arcs of this familiar-seeming story less like an endgame than like a framework for Brady to reimagine himself as the hero, if not of the bronco-riding community, as he once was, then of a movie about one.

The Rider is a finely hewn work of fiction, rife with deliberate, if unobtrusive, movie magic, including the occasional interjection of lofty, sentimental music. But never is it better than when those lines between movie and reality blur, as when we see Brady training ornery bucks with the care and focus of someone ignoring the camera in part because his life might be at stake. Or during his exhilarating final rides on the horses he loves, when the movie’s scope seems to widen, the plains seem to broaden, and Zhao lets her camera simply run alongside him, as free as Brady and his horses seem to be. Moments like these make the pulse quicken and the heart soar—not only because they’re beautiful, but because their beauty feels true. And because of the skill with which the woman behind it all made them so.”

APRIL 13 (in theaters & on VOD): 10×10 (dir. Suzi Ewing) – Film Threat review by Matthew Passantino: “In the opening of 10×10, Lewis (Luke Evans) is sitting in a diner, watching intently across the street. He is fixated on an unknown redhead and glaring at her like a predator stalking his prey. His motive isn’t entirely clear in the film’s opening beats. Is he investigating her or is he up to something more nefarious?

“He follows her to the parking lot of her gym, where we quickly find out the answer to the question is the latter. He sneaks up on her, puts a plastic bag over her head and brings her to the ground. He tapes her mouth shut and arms and legs together, then leaves quickly to bring his car over to load her in. For those who have seen their share of abduction movies, this might seem ridiculous. How can nobody have noticed this was happening?

“Lewis brings the woman, who identifies herself as Cathy (Kelly Reilly), back to his house. She is being held captive in a soundproof room that Lewis has built behind one of his walls. It is a meticulously crafted dungeon, which suggests a bit more thought went into this kidnapping then Lewis showed in the gym parking lot. His house is spacious but cold – a chilly, modern complex without much character. But why has Cathy been taken here?

“On the surface, 10×10 is a relatively basic abduction thriller but tightly wound at a scant 88 minutes. Director Suzi Ewing’s feature debut has fun with genre trappings and adds a bit of flavor and mystery to the outing. Though clues are given throughout, she keeps us in the dark for the majority of the runtime, which adds suspense to an otherwise familiar outing. As tension builds between Lewis and Cathy, it translates to our experience watching the film. Evans and Reilly serve the film well, playing their respective types in the machine of the story. Evans is gruff and threatening, while Reilly is confused and scared as his victim. Without going too deep, because you really should check out this fun little film, they are given a little room to flex within third act revelations. Nothing in 10×10 necessarily reinvents the wheel but offers a variation on it. For a debut, 10×10 deserves to serve as an audition for Ewing’s future bigger scale projects.”

APRIL 13 (in theaters & on VOD): 20 Weeks (dir. Leena Pendharkar)Synopsis from the film’s official website:20 Weeks is a romantic drama about love, science and how prenatal and genetic testing impacts everyday people. Against the backdrop of modern-day Los Angeles, the story follows Maya (Anna Margaret Hollyman) and Ronan’s (Amir Arison) journey – interweaving their past and present – after learning that their baby has a serious health issue at their 20 week scan. Inspired, in part, by writer/director Leena’s Pendharkar’s real life experiences with her second daughter, the film seeks to explore an intimate issue that isn’t often talked about.”

APRIL 13: Zama (dir. Lucrecia Martel) – Rolling Stone review by David Fear: “A man in a uniform is standing on the beach, staring at the sea. Natives trudge along the shore behind him. His profile makes him look like a statue, the sort of noble ‘Hail the conquering hero!’ sculpture you’d see in national galleries. His name is Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho). The place is the edge of Argentina. The century is the 18th. He’s been sent to claim and tame this land for Spain, a good old-fashioned magistrate of the crown in full colonialist bloom. Hearing the sound of laughter behind some rocks, he spies a group of women, naked and coating themselves in mud. After a few minutes, Don Diego is caught: ‘Voyeur! Voyeur!’ they yell at him (or maybe they’re yelling at us). Red-faced, he scurries away up the cliffside. It’s not the last time this invader will be chased off.

“Located in the dead center of a Venn diagram encompassing sumptuous costume drama, social commentary and pure cinema, Lucrecia Martel’s extraordinary new film Zama establishes a pattern from the get-go. Her eponymous ‘hero,’ a symbol of European manifest destiny, wants to get somewhere, preferably away from his post in South America, and he will be repeatedly shuffled around. He will also try to establish the authority that has been decreed his birthright and get the indigenous equivalent of the Heisman move, as well as the high hat from his peers, superiors and subordinates. Even animals get in on the action – after he’s read the riot act by the governor of the province he’s overseeing, a llama starts giving him grief (and steals the scene). The man is Job with a cutlass and a tri-cornered hat.

“But if all Martel wanted out of adapting Antonio Di Benedetto’s 1956 novel was to take the piss out of imperialism, this intoxicating, spellbinding vision of the past would not have been half the masterpiece that it is. A cockeyed fable on her country’s history and a sideswipe at an empire crumbling under the weight of hubris and madness, Zama is more than a portrait of the loneliness of the long-distance foreigner. It’s the sort of immersive cultural transmission that reminds you just how powerful and transportive this medium can be – one of those rarities that can momentarily jolt you out of your ways of seeing things. Poetic is a word that gets thrown around willy-nilly, but it fits perfectly here. So does woozy. It feels less like a film than a high fever, burning slow but hot in order to incinerate a virus.

“And frankly, Don Diego doesn’t need a written invitation to leave his adopted homeland. Written permission, yes – his requests for transfer have yet to receive a royal response. (They’d have to be sent first; the Governor has told him that it usually takes a few tries before Her Majesty grants such bureaucratic favors, so really, why should the bored politician bother submitting them?) But Zama is ready to return to life outside of the occupied sticks, to see a family he hasn’t heard from in eons and to move to a place where he feels less claustrophobic. In the meantime, Don Diego passes the time listening to a minister’s wife (Pedro Almodóvar regular Lola Dueñas) complain and flirt and order her servants around, and bearing witness to a fellow white-wigged middle manager (Juan Minujín) using enhanced-interrogation techniques on the locales. A brawl gets our man exiled to the edge of the territories, sentenced to a life waiting in a sort of halfway-house hut populated less by guests than ghosts.

“By the time Zama sends its bearded, disillusioned hero into the jungle in search of a famed outlaw and a purpose, the movie has already given us gorgeous imagery galore – Portuguese cinematographer Rui Poças has a knack for combining beauty and rot, giving you the feeling that you’re looking at museum pieces through a patina of mildew – and the sense that the terrain itself is expelling the ‘civilized’ world one conquistador at a time. The third act then proceeds to go into full surreality-bites mode, staking its own claim at the corner of Herzog St. and Buñuel Ave.

“But anyone who’s dipped into this Argentinian writer-director’s pitifully small back catalog (if you haven’t, go straight to The Headless Woman) will tell you that this is the work of a singular artist – someone who knows how to correctly crowd a frame for maximum impact, when to drop in a Polynesian-sounding score and how to get her actors to channel existential malaise. She’s already made the case for being a world-class filmmaker, but this movie suggests a grander perspective at work, which connects the dots between her previous class-conscious, character-based explorations of moral slipperiness to a narrative about centuries of exploitation. History just repeats, it cautiously hints. Only the hats change.

“So we leave Don Diego wounded and floating on a river to nowhere, heading miles downstream to meet Aguirre on his raft of monkeys or Fitzcarraldo on his boat or Kurtz in his compound or wherever it is that madmen who took on Mother Nature and lost go to grouse. He came, he saw, he was conquered and cast away. As for viewers, they’ll be left high on the fumes of a master. Zama helps to remind you that man’s inability to realize that he can’t impose his corrupt will on everything is an endlessly looped folly. That, and the fact that there are few buzzes more potent than recognizing a great work of art when you see it.”

APRIL 20 (streaming on Netflix): Dude (dir. Olivia Milch) (DP: Hillary Spera) – IndieWire review by Kate Erbland: “The first time we see Lily (Lucy Hale) and her tight-knit pack of pals hotboxing her car, it’s played for laughs, a giddy act of rap-infused rebellion before the foursome (including Kathryn Prescott, Alexandra Shipp, and rapper-turned-actress Awkwafina) make their way into yet another raucous party. The second time, it’s a year later, and all that joy is gone, replaced with four sad-eyed seniors sparking up in the hopes of getting through another grinding day at their crunchy high school. The tragedy that scars the girls — which first-time filmmaker Olivia Milch doesn’t try to hide or sugarcoat — looms large over the rest of the film, an otherwise raunchy stoner comedy about misbehaving teenage girls that could make a banger of a double feature alongside Kay Cannon’s similarly R-rated girl-powered feature, Blockers.

“But while Blockers reveled in the bond between its central friends, Dude is more occupied with pulling apart those friendships, stretching them until they snap, and seeing what’s left over. Milch and co-writer Kendall McKinnon don’t actively buck humorous situations — the film is a comedy at its heart, deep, deep down — but there’s a dark underpinning to everything that happens in Dude, even when it’s overlaid with bawdy jokes and filthy situations. The hotboxing is the first indication that something is about to go off the rails, the sudden death of a peripheral character is another, and that’s just the start of more trouble to come.

“Milch’s film puts an unexpected twist on a played out formula, the teen comedy about those last great days of high school before everyone goes their separate ways. Individually heartbroken over a tragedy that played out at the end of their junior year, Lily and her beloved ‘dudes’ — including her best pal Chloe (Prescott), the hilarious Amelia (Shipp) and Rebecca (Awkwafina), seem bent on keeping up appearances even as they’re struggling to take the next step. Chloe is harboring desires to stay close to home, while Lily is obsessed with the notion that they head off to college together in NYC. Amelia is boy crazy and impossible to rely on, while Rebecca is consumed with a crush on a teacher (meant to be funny and sweet, it’s a subplot that really misses the mark).

“They’ve been friends forever, but is that enough to keep them together for the long haul? (In the real world, the answer is of course ‘no,’ but Dude amiably grapples with it for the film’s slim 90-minute running time.)

“Despite assembling a stellar cast of known and rising stars (Awkwafina will next be seen in Ocean’s 8, which Milch, herself a talent on the rise, wrote alongside director Gary Ross), Dude too often opts to keep them apart, even before the foursome begins to show uncomfortable cracks. Brief scenes that see the gals hanging out, often fueled by weed and a healthy teenage disdain for the world, are way too short-lived, spinning them off into their own orbits and just begging the audience to care about their crumbling bond. You should care, they’re great together, but even Dude seems to forget that far too often.

“At least the bulk of the film’s attention is aimed at Lily, played by Hale as an over-the-top Type A personality who struggles to cede control to anyone around her and happy sputters lines like ‘prom is my prom date!’ with ease. Lily is hiding her pain — okay, yes, for a comedy, there’s a lot of pain here — through her rigorous student council activities, increasingly dead-eyed appearances at still more parties, and even a dalliance with a younger (and just as dedicated!) member of the prom planning committee. The only thing that really matters to Lily is her dudes, especially Chloe. As she holds them closer (it’s very Of Mice and Men), they only slip further away.

“Hale is already engaging enough in the role before Dude plunges headlong into darker territory (yes, it’s still a comedy!) that further threatens to split the central foursome apart. The film might revel in its raunchy bits, from out-of-control parties to an eye-popping approach to sexual freedom, but as it digs deeper into the emotional aspects of their bond, it adopts a much stronger sensibility. Early in the film, one character comments that ‘life stops,’ but the message of Dude is just the opposite: life never stops, even when you’re having fun, and especially when you’re not.”

APRIL 20: I Feel Pretty (dirs. Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “In I Feel Pretty, a woman (Amy Schumer) who struggles with feelings of deep insecurity and low self-esteem, that hold her back everyday, wakes from a brutal fall in an exercise class believing she is suddenly a supermodel. With this newfound confidence she is empowered to live her life fearlessly and flawlessly, but what will happen when she realizes her appearance never changed?”

APRIL 20: Little Pink House (dir. Courtney Balaker) – The Hollywood Reporter’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival review by Stephen Farber: “Following in the tradition of issue-oriented films like Erin Brockovich and A Civil Action, the world premiere of Little Pink House at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival has unmistakable timeliness. This story of little people against Big Pharma certainly resonates today. The presence of two-time Oscar nominee Catherine Keener and an excellent supporting cast should help to give the movie more visibility. It has some structural problems, but with canny marketing, it could find a distributor and even a sympathetic audience.

“The film is based on the true story of a Connecticut woman, Susette Kelo (Keener), who fought an eviction notice all the way to the Supreme Court. Kelo lived in a working-class neighborhood near New London. Local bigwigs wanted to sell land along the waterfront to Pfizer for a huge new plant. The company had just begun marketing Viagra and was riding high, but the residents decided to resist. Kelo, a paramedic who had put tremendous effort into remodeling her little pink house on the water, had no interest in selling. Under the Constitution, the government has the right to seize private property for public use, but in this case, the fact that the beneficiary of the land grab was a private corporation made the issues a lot murkier.

“When the Supreme Court finally reached its 5-4 decision in 2005, it was the more liberal justices who sided with the corporation, while the conservatives dissented. However, as director Coutney Moorehead Balaker stated in the Q&A after the pic’s premiere, Donald Trump has extolled the ruling. Most states have reached the opposite conclusion, so the issues remain unsettled.

“A polemic about eminent domain would have little audience appeal, so it was wise of the filmmakers to focus on the people rather than abstract issues. Nevertheless, the film probably spends a little too much time sketching the background of Kelo and her neighbors. The film doesn’t quite leap from the starting gate; it’s too leisurely and a bit too convoluted at the beginning.

“Keener definitely helps to build audience sympathy for the unprepossessing but determined Kelo, and there are excellent performances by Callum Keith Rennie and Colin Cunningham as two of the men in her life. The movie broadens its scope by giving a lot of attention to her antagonists, including the governor of Connecticut (who is never named) and a real estate lobbyist played with force and complexity by Jeanne Tripplehorn. Later in the film, Giacomo Baessato contributes a heartfelt performance as the idealistic lawyer who takes up Kelo’s cause.

“Although the pic doesn’t have the rousing ending that some earlier social protest dramas have had, it effectively puts the audience on the side of the outsiders. Balaker’s direction is solid, and after a sluggish opening, Soojin Chung’s editing provides a good deal of drive. One of the best earlier films about the subject was Elia Kazan’s 1960 drama Wild River, which was set in the 1930s but gave a good deal of humanity to its antagonists in an epic battle over eminent domain. The subject has been treated only rarely since then, but Little Pink House brings urgency to a fascinating, underexplored theme. In a darkly ironic footnote, we learn that the Pfizer plant was never built, but this offered little consolation to the displaced homeowners.”

APRIL 20: Lou Andreas-Salomé, the Audacity to Be Free (dir. Cordula Kablitz-Post) – The Film Stage review by Jared Mobarak: “There’s a great line spoken by an aged Lou Andreas-Salomé (Nicole Heesters) to new friend and potential biographer Ernst Pfeiffer (Matthias Lier) upon his praise-fueled declaration that the way she lived her life — her freedom — was a touchstone for modern feminism. Her reply is, ‘Nonsense. What’s changed for us women since then?’ It’s not presented as a jaded reaction or one specifically attached to the era in which she spoke it (the 1930s), though, because you could say the same today and not be wrong. Yes, women do have it better, but the world has still not found its way towards true equality. See #GamerGate, the Wahlberg/Williams pay disparity on All the Money in the World, and the struggles endured by the women in your life.

“I kept returning to this line as Cordula Kablitz-Post’s film Lou Andreas-Salomé, The Audacity to be Free advanced because it continuously provided a mirror onto the present despite unfolding via flashback to Salomé’s adventures during the late 1800s. Here’s one of our foremost philosophical thinkers who inspired Friedrich Nietzsche, Paul Rée, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Sigmund Freud and yet you more than likely have never heard her name before. I know I never had. The answer probably stems from something as common, lazy, and gendered as history being written by men. If those luminaries were the ones the history books wanted to highlight as geniuses, they would surely relegate Lou to ‘muse.’ But as Kablitz-Post and cowriter Susanne Hertel explain, nothing could have been further from the truth.

“There was a revealing tweet from Candice Frederick earlier this month asking women to retweet if they’ve been called ‘intimidating’ or any such equivalent by men at least twice. It of course took off (41,000 retweets as of writing this) because that sort of dismissal is common even today. Now think about what it would have been like a century ago to strive for independence and intellectual excellence as a woman under that same sort of biased vitriol. This is what Lou Andreas-Salomé faced head-on, never wavering from her personal philosophy or identity whether or not both inevitably evolved with the passing of time and new experiences. She had to escape tradition, birthright, reputation, and the law to even attempt being what any man could on a whim.

“And that’s what makes her story so inspiring for men and women alike. Here’s a self-made woman who had a dream and pursued it without compromise to reach her goals. There’s a commendable spirit to her pragmatism in doing so, setting ground rules with those she kept close in order to ensure no one got the wrong idea. But just like catcalling and victim-blaming rape culture persists in the present, ‘the wrong idea’ seems to be the default for a lot of men. It’s therefore unsurprising when every male she meets offers a proposal. They admire her for her mind yet refuse to separate that admiration from their lust to possess what they believe they’re owed. The result delivers as much biography as scathing exposé on male insecurity.

“This is why having a woman director is so important to the message of who Lou Andreas-Salomé was. She sets the action from the vantage point of an ambitious soul living for herself. Lou isn’t a tease giving men she believes when telling her she’s their equal (Alexander Scheer’s Nietzsche, Philipp Hauß’ Rée, Julius Feldmeier’s Rilke, and Merab Ninidze’s Friedrich Carl Andreas) false hope. She’s also not the muse within their respective stories either. I’m not certain a male director could have found the delicate balance in complexity necessary to fully portray the struggle of love for a woman during an era when matrimony very distinctly dealt with subservience and ownership. I’m not because too many contemporary films still pretend as though marriage means the same today.

“In a male’s hands, Lou saying she believed she always made the men closest to her unhappy would play much differently than it does. In context with everything that came before, we treat her comment as one warped by a debilitating sense of patriarchal control rather than an honest means with which to condemn her. We see how her sadness towards those relationships is a product of their selfishness alone. Those men betrayed her and themselves and in the process projected their pain upon her as though she was at fault. Despite all she did for them, their egos forgot her importance. As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if many call Kablitz-Post’s film a lie to preserve whatever image they have cemented in their minds for their heroes.

“Let them. Because while they hold onto a prejudiced past of incomplete history, the majority will have found a new hero in Lou Andreas-Salomé. What makes this even greater is that the film leaves room within itself to be questioned as incomplete too. It does so to admit that every work of art or account of truth arrives through the filter of its creator. Pfeiffer jokes that the biography he is writing (the film plays as stories the 72-year old Lou tells him under the looming cloud of Nazism risking to destroy her work and that of those she loved) is one of half-truths and she laughs because she admits she’s keeping some things for herself. That doesn’t make it fiction. It merely bolsters its inherent honesty.

“Beyond what the film says and represents, it’s also well made. It uses illustrative, two-dimensional postcards as chapter headers for adult Lou (Katharina Lorenz) to glide through. There are mysteries to solve (Who is Katharina Schüttler’s Mariechen?), emotional landscapes to mine, and historical icons to humanize with failures proving they weren’t as enlightened as they should have been. And at the center of everything is a woman who gave herself the power to reject convention and live in a way that rendered her beholden to nobody but herself. Maybe things are looking up for those who wish to follow in her footsteps now that hers and Hedy Lamarr’s stories (see Bombshell) are coming to light. But as Frederick’s tweet revealed, we still have a long way to go.”

APRIL 20: Mercury 13 (dirs. David Sington and Heather Walsh) – Eye for Film review by Jennie Kermode: “In 1963, Valentine Tereshkova became the first woman to go into space. It’s hard today to take in quite what that meant. Differences between men and women were then perceived to be much bigger. Supposed experts spoke openly about how the delicate female constitution could not endure the G-force involved in getting into orbit. One small step for a woman became a rallying cry for womankind, helping to change attitudes in many different industries all around the world. But two years before Tereshkova had her moment, the US had its own programme for training female spacefarers. This documentary explores the story behind it, meets some of its participants, details how their ambitions were thwarted and looks at the impact they made in spite of that.

“This is the kind of documentary that’s perfectly suited to the Netflix way of making movies. Though modest in its artistic aims, it’s a polished piece of work which has evidently benefited from the luxury of time in both the research stage and the editing suite. The first thing we notice about its stars is how good they look, elderly as they now are, with the legacy of intensive physical training written into their flesh. Muscles remain taught; posture has that military quality, also reflecting the careers in military aviation that some went on to pursue. They also have a habit of looking people directly in the eye, something women of their generation were brought up not to do, but something essential to making progress in a male-dominated field.

“The tension between presenting as masculine enough for skills to be taken seriously yet feminine enough to be liked – also vital in a context where a great deal depended on making allies – is evident in what the women have to say about their experiences, and in the archive footage that carries us back to that time. Jane Hart was challenged over her pursuit of a spaceflight career because she had children, though no-one seemed to care about the prospect of a kid losing daddy. ‘With eight children, you’d want to go to the moon, too,’ she said defiantly.

“Some of the women had already been through the wringer with the press over their decision to become pilots, a necessary prerequisite for the space programme but also very difficult at the time. Polished smiles and flirtatious poses softened the notion for the general public, turning it into a tale of plucky girls rather than strong willed women who might actually demand equality. Yet when one woman recalls her mother’s worries we are reminded that this was an era in which parents knew that their sons could, at any time, be snatched away on the orders of the government and sent to fight in some foreign land. Girls were insurance, the children it was safe to love – the thought that they too might be at risk must have been terrifying.

“If the film has a noticeable flaw, it’s that little effort is made to point out these differences in historical perspective for viewers unfamiliar with them. What we see is very plain and straightforward, and often ridiculous in light of today’s awareness. It’s also notably tough. Grueling training remains part of every astronaut’s groundwork but in that era, before scientists had much understanding of what may or may not factor into survival in the face of heavy G and subsequent zero gravity conditions, there was a much longer list of invasive tests required. One gets the impression that this was worse for the women because they were seen as a new and exotic phenomenon, as if they’d just been invented.

“That the women are all white probably goes without saying – black women remained behind the scenes doing underpaid scientific and technical work, as featured in 2016’s Hidden Figures. What else do they have in common? They’re articulate, sharply intelligent, and highly individualistic – they probably wouldn’t have fitted in in any age, but in these circumstances they were able to use that to their advantage. They didn’t let disappointment stop them. Stuck on Earth, they went on to break barriers in aviation. One of them co-founded the National Organization for Women. They paved the way for the women who would, ultimately, fly space shuttles. Unable to reach the stars, they became them.”

APRIL 27: Ava (dir. Sadaf Foroughi)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis: “In Tehran, upper-middle-class teen Ava (Mahour Jabbari) abides by a strict routine of school, violin lessons, and curfew. When Ava’s mistrustful and overprotective mother (Bahar Noohian) questions her relationship with a boy (Houman Hoursan) — going so far as to consult a gynecologist — Ava is stunned by this violation of privacy. Her tightly controlled environment exacerbates feelings of suffocation and isolation, and further diminishes her trust in the adults who attempt to regulate her life. That her parents, including her sympathetic but powerless father (Vahid Aghapoor), seem more concerned with social optics than their daughter’s welfare only escalates Ava’s rebellious behaviour, to life-altering effect. Sadaf Foroughi vividly renders her heroine’s internal turmoil while exposing the pervasive impact of her family’s shaming. Each frame is stunningly composed, with scenes that offer a searing social critique while presenting a strong, richly developed female character. With Ava, Foroughi establishes herself as a cinematic force.”

APRIL 27 (NYC/LA), MAY 1 (on digital platforms): Duck Butter (dir. Miguel Arteta) (DP: Hillary Spera)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Cara Cusumano: “When Naima (Alia Shawkat) and Sergio (Laia Costa) meet at a club, they hit it off instantly, connecting over their disdain for the dishonesty they have experienced in their respective romantic relationships. High on their fast chemistry, the two women concoct a romantic experiment: They plan to spend the next 24 hours together, having sex on the hour. Above all, they commit to perfect honesty with each other, a theoretical remedy to the deceit they believe to be an element of modern relationships. But their relationship in a vacuum doesn’t go as planned, and soon the weight of their commitment begins to close in, threatening the ideals of the daylong experiment and their chances for a romantic future tomorrow.

“The latest film from Miguel Arteta, the director behind Beatriz at Dinner and The Good GirlDuck Butter is a blistering look at intimacy in a pressure cooker. Co-written by Shawkat and executive produced by the Duplass Brothers, the film offers a searing interrogation of modern romance, with all its dizzying highs and heartbreaking betrayals, all packed into an intense 24 hours.”

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APRIL 27 (in theaters & on VOD): Kings (dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Set against a backdrop of rising tensions in Los Angeles during the Rodney King trial in 1992, writer-director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Kings stars Oscar winner Halle Berry and Daniel Craig as citizens of the same South Central neighborhood.

“Millie (Halle Berry) is a hardworking, tough and protective single mother with an affection for homeless children. She already has eight children living in her house and will soon bring home another. Her neighbor Obie (Daniel Craig) is the local loose cannon, and the only white man in an area largely inhabited by African Americans, Latinos, and Koreans. With racial tensions running dangerously high, Millie and Obie would appear to be unlikely allies. Yet following the acquittal of four of the officers accused of beating Rodney King, these two must navigate the gathering chaos in the city to bring Millie’s kids home safely.

“Though Kings doesn’t focus on the LA riots overall, it does delve into the impact and the fragility of family units during these circumstances. As the current social and political climate begins to mirror the turmoil and tensions of the past, the events depicted in Kings are, sadly, only more resonant today.”

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APRIL 27: Let the Sunshine In (dir. Claire Denis) (DP: Agnès Godard) – Variety’s Cannes Film Festival review by Guy Lodge: “‘Like in a tacky bedroom farce?’ a middle-aged lothario asks, bewildered, when an angry lover throws him out midway through Let the Sunshine In. He’s in the wrong, though he has reason to be incredulous: He’s in a Claire Denis movie, after all, and ‘tacky bedroom farce’ is about as far from her highly refined repertoire as it’s possible to get. Luckily, it remains so by the end of this exquisitely judged romantic comedy, which maps out the transient pleasures, pitfalls and emotional culs-de-sac of mid-life dating with all the close human scrutiny and hot-blooded sensual detail of her sterner dramatic work. Perfectly small rather than slight, and radiantly carried by Juliette Binoche — in a light-touch tour de force to be filed alongside her work in Kiarostami’s Certified Copy — this turns out to be a subtler departure than it outwardly appears for Denis, most evoking her other Parisienne drifting-hearts study, Friday Night, in its bittersweet tone.

“If the humor in Let the Sunshine In is slightly amped up by its maker’s usual standards, it hardly reaches for its chuckles: Denis, like the best artists, knows all human life is a comedy, albeit with an unhappy ending. That gentle wryness, coupled with an ensemble heavy on French A-listers, should make this one of her more commercially viable outings following its premiere as the opening film of the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes. (Four years after the equally rigorous, tonally opposite Bastards played in Un Certain Regard, Let the Sunshine In again invites the question of just what this modern master must do to get a Competition slot.)

“Denis’s film may conceivable be dismissed as a slender diversion in some quarters — notably, that quadrant of society (and, still, the film industry) that regards the inner lives of women of a certain age as a subject of secondary concern. Unhappily divorced artist Isabelle (Binoche) has certainly tangled with her fair share of men who think that way, yet persists in a repeatedly waylaid search for true love. What that might feel like, and with whom, she has no idea: The loose, airy narrative of Let the Sunshine In knits together a series of her dalliances with men of various shapes, types, ages and neuroses, with nothing in common save for the fact that they have nothing in common with Isabelle either.

“Collaborating with novelist and playwright Christine Angot, Denis initially approached the project as a potential adaptation of Roland Barthes’ volume A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. What has emerged remains very much a lover’s discourse, but Denis and Angot’s ultimately original screenplay takes a jointly personal, expressly feminist point of view, as Isabelle repeatedly muses aloud on the possibilities (and impossibilities) of love and sex for women like her — and, by extension, like the filmmakers.

“This isn’t uncharted territory on screen — one might even view Let the Sunshine In as a parallel-universe Nancy Meyers movie — but it’s rare for stories of older female singledom to turn the mirror inward quite so candidly. Denis and Angot mine ample, acid-laced comedy from the callousness or carelessness with which Isabelle is treated by men: ‘You are charming, but my wife is extraordinary,’ says one of her lovers, married banker Vincent (a superb Xavier Beauvois). But they are also unsparing on the cruelty with which she treats herself, whether by chasing obvious non-starter suitors on a masochistic fast track to heartbreak, or by excessive self-scolding when something lasting once again eludes her.

“Coldly dismissive of any long-term romantic future but brattishly insistent on sex (‘I just got in from Brazil and felt like banging you,’ he leers), Vincent is the least palatable of Isabelle’s wrong choices; on the flipside, a dreamy married actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is cagey when it comes to carnal knowledge but finds in Isabelle an emotional sounding-board. Denis reserves some compassion even for her worst-behaved characters, every one of which is presented as needy in one way or another; the trouble is that no one’s void, however, quite complements anyone else’s. A hand-picked ensemble makes sure no passing glance goes to waste. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi has mere seconds to etch a piercing mirror image to Isabelle’s internal agony, while Gerard Depardieu gamely helps shoulder the film’s most unexpectedly whimsical turn — his blithe tête-à-tête rapport with Binoche belying his publicly stated animosity toward the actress in years past.

“Still, this is the leading lady’s show. Binoche, like her compatriot Isabelle Huppert, is an actress so adept at serenely conducting inner turmoil that we risk taking their range of notes and tones for granted. Even by her standards, however, this is complex, quietly symphonic work, that extraordinary face as mesmerizing when in full, streaky-cheeked crying mode as when pensively staring at nothing in particular. Not many actors could find quite as many variations to play in Denis and Angot’s deliberately fractured dialogue: She’s often tongue-tied in love and hate alike, comic embarrassment and tragic insecurity written into every pause and stumble.

“Yet Let the Sunshine In is not a pessimistic film, or even an entirely unromantic one. Aided by the warmly shadowed intimacy of Agnes Godard’s camerawork, Denis identifies fleeting joys and hormonal highs in the dating chase: be it the tactile thrill of one lonely hand meeting another, or the tense pause that comes just after a conversation runs dry, and just before silent lips find something else to do. The film’s most sustained moment of bliss — not a long one, admittedly — comes in a spontaneous, slightly drunken barroom dance, as Isabelle’s solo swaying finds a gallant, unsolicited partner. The song is Etta James’s ‘At Last,’ chosen with Denis’s characteristically precise ear for the right musical cue: It’s the ideal song for its woozy moment, though the tender irony is that, if Isabelle’s love has come along, it’s probably only for the time being.”

APRIL 27 (NYC), APRIL/MAY (elsewhere in the US): Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story (dir. Ashley Bell)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Elephant rescues in Thailand are rare, unpredictable and often life threatening. After waiting 2.5 years, actor/director Ashley Bell and a team of elephant rescuers led by world renowned Asian elephant conservationist and TIME Magazine’s Hero of Asia, Lek Chailert, embark on a daring mission 480 miles across Thailand to rescue Noi Na, a 70-year old partially blind trekking elephant and bring her to freedom.

“African elephants are slaughtered for their ivory, but sadly the plight of the Asian Elephant has been completely overlooked even though they are the elephant we are most familiar with in zoos, circuses and elephant rides. L&B exposes the cruel secret that every Asian elephant has had to endure to become a service animal; a process knows as Pajan, aka the Crush Box. Love & Bananas aims to ignite a new way of thinking about this species and shows what can be done to prevent the extinction of Asian elephants.”

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: March 2018

Director Ava DuVernay and actress Storm Reid on the set of A Wrinkle in Time, 2016/2017. (Photo: Atsushi Nishijima)

Here are twenty-five new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this March, 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.

MARCH 1: Werewolf (dir. Ashley McKenzie)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Steve Gravestock: “The hardscrabble existence of two homeless addicts is portrayed with sensitivity and brutal honesty in acclaimed filmmaker Ashley McKenzie’s debut feature. Shot almost entirely in oblique close-ups to capture the disorientation and frustration of McKenzie’s characters, twentysomething junkies Blaise and Vanessa, Werewolf doggedly and courageously refuses to romanticize its characters lives. (The style suggests an affinity for Toronto minimalists such as Kazik Radwanski, and Lodge Kerrigan’s Clean, Shaven.) Sleeping in tents, fighting with government bureaucrats, Blaise and Vanessa survive primarily through an underground economy. They harass people to let them cut their grass with a rusty old mower they haul over dirt roads and through rainstorms. Such scenes capture the futility, toil, and frustration in their lives with startling power, like some crack-addled version of the Stations of the Cross. It’s a testament to the skill of both McKenzie and the performers that they inspire empathy in us even as we find the characters’ actions perplexing and troubling. Werewolf confirms, boldly, the promise of McKenzie’s much-lauded earlier short films.”

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MARCH 2: Chasing Great (dirs. Justin Pemberton and Michelle Walshe)Transmission Films synopsis: “This intimate documentary follows Richie McCaw’s final 365 days leading the All Blacks, as the most capped rugby player of all time attempts to pull-off his most ambitious goal yet – to end his career by becoming the first person to captain back-to-back World Cup wins.

“With surprising openness, the film dives into the mind of this élite sportsman who has spent the later part of his career perfecting the mental strength needed to perform so expertly in the face of extraordinary pressure. We witness the world of high performance sport through the eyes of this legendary player, who still sees himself as an ‘ordinary guy’ from small town New Zealand.

“This is a rare window into the life of New Zealand’s most famous son, who until now has maintained a very private life in the public eye.”

MARCH 2: Oh Lucy! (dir. Atsuko Hirayanagi) (DP: Paula Huidobro)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Oh Lucy! follows Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima in an Independent Spirit Award-nominated performance), a single, emotionally unfulfilled woman, seemingly stuck with a drab, meaningless life in Tokyo. At least until she’s convinced by her niece, Mika (Shioli Kutsuna, Deadpool 2), to enroll in an unorthodox English class that requires her to wear a blonde wig and take on an American alter ego named ‘Lucy.’ The new identity awakens something dormant in Setsuko, and she quickly develops romantic feelings for her American instructor, John (Josh Hartnett, Showtime’s ‘Penny Dreadful’). When John suddenly disappears from class, Setsuko travels halfway around the world in search of him, and in the outskirts of Southern California, family ties and past lives are tested as she struggles to preserve the dream and promise of ‘Lucy.'”

MARCH 2 (NYC), MARCH 16 (LA): Souvenir (dir. Bavo Defurne) (DPs: Philippe Guilbert and Virginie Saint-Martin)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Piers Handling: “Isabelle Huppert can do no wrong these days. Her appetite for taking on a variety of different roles with a wide range of directors is exemplary. Well into her fifth decade as an actor, she has created a filmography second to none. With Souvenir she again shows how willing she is to challenge, explore, and expand her artistry.

“Here she plays Liliane, an apparently innocuous worker in a pâté factory. Quiet and unassuming, she is a model employee, happily putting in a day’s work with no fuss. Her job is mechanical and repetitive, but that suits her fine. At quitting time she returns home to sit on the couch and watch TV. Then, one day, a new worker joins the team. Jean (Kévin Azaïs), a young man who boxes in his spare time, is like a breath of fresh air and, intrigued by Liliane, is eager to become her friend. A platonic relationship forms and Liliane begins to enjoy the relief Jean offers from her previous homebody existence. But, as the two see more of each other, he grows convinced that she is not who she says she is: he thinks he saw her on television when he was young. Liliane denies it — until circumstances force her to confront his insistence about her past.

“This unusual relationship drama is handled exquisitely by director Bavo Defurne, who guides the film forward so subtly that its understatement becomes, alongside Huppert, its greatest strength.

“Plot never overwhelms character in Souvenir as it turns into a beautifully observed battle of perspectives between two friends at distinctly different points in their lives: the young optimist versus the jaded cynic who has stared disappointment in the face before.”

MARCH 2 (NYC), MARCH 9 (LA and other cities): Submission (dir. Richard Levine) (DP: Hillary Spera)LA Film Festival synopsis by Roya Rastegar: “Professor Ted Swenson is a celebrated novelist, admired colleague and loving husband. When an ambitious and talented student shares her provocative writing with him, boundaries begin to blur between teacher and student. Swenson’s unresolved personal conflicts manifest and he finds himself unexpectedly losing his sense of self, as he begins a self-destructive obsession with his student.

“Based on the best-selling book Blue Angel by Francine Prose, and adapted by highly acclaimed film and television writer/director Richard Levine, this suspenseful drama features strong performances from Stanley Tucci, Addison Timlin, Kyra Sedgwick and Janeane Garofalo. The resulting film deftly blends comedy and controversy in its risqué portrayal of academic scandal and the traps of political correctness.”

MARCH 9: The Homeless Chorus Speaks (dir. Susan Polis Schutz)Cinema Village synopsis:The Homeless Chorus Speaks is a compelling documentary that creatively depicts a critical and timely social issue: people living without support and shelter. Using a unique community choir (Voices of Our City Choir) as a vehicle to tell the stories of people suffering with homelessness, the film — like all of Susan Polis Schutz’s documentaries — effectively puts a human face on a crucial problem and makes it strikingly clear just how easily someone can end up living on the streets.”

MARCH 9 (NYC), MARCH 16 (LA): Itzhak (dir. Alison Chernick)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “From Schubert to Strauss, Bach to Brahms, Mozart to…Billy Joel, Itzhak Perlman’s violin playing transcends mere performance to evoke the celebrations and struggles of real life; ‘praying with the violin,’ says renowned Tel Aviv violinmaker Amnon Weinstein. Alison Chernick’s enchanting documentary looks beyond the sublime musician, to see the polio survivor whose parents emigrated from Poland to Israel, the young man who struggled to be taken seriously as a music student when schools saw only his disability. As charming and entrancing as the famous violinist himself, Itzhak is a portrait of musical virtuosity seamlessly enclosed in warmth, humor, and above all, love.”

MARCH 9 (LA), MARCH 16 (NYC): Our Blood Is Wine (dir./DP: Emily Railsback)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis: “Filmmaker Emily Railsback and award-winning sommelier Jeremy Quinn provide intimate access to rural family life in the Republic of Georgia as they explore the rebirth of 8,000 year old winemaking traditions almost lost during the period of Soviet rule. By using unobtrusive iPhone technology, Railsback brings the voices and ancestral legacies of modern Georgians directly to the viewer, revealing an intricate and resilient society that has survived regular foreign invasion and repeated attempts to erase Georgian culture. The revival of traditional winemaking is the central force driving the powerful, independent and autonomous nation to find its 21st century identity.”

MARCH 9 (streaming on Netflix): The Outsider (dir. Martin Zandvliet) (DP: Camilla Hjelm)Bloom Media synopsis: “A lone wolf bathed in the neon lights of post-war Japan, U.S. Army deserter Nick Lowell (Jared Leto) is released from jail and unleashed on an unforgiving city. Standing before him: a nation in conflict where concrete streets are paved over old world traditions with the oil and blood of modern industry. Traditional Yakuza families – once heirs to the Samurai code – clash with their contemporary rivals, led by ruthless street thugs.

“Aimless and haunted by regret, Nick sets out to repay a debt to his prison cellmate Kiyoshi (Tadanobu Asano) and the old Osaka family that bought his freedom. An unlikely student of the rituals and teachings of old Yakuza, Nick’s ruthless drive drags him deeper and deeper into the Japanese underworld, where a forbidden love affair threatens his brotherhood. When war breaks out with a rival crime family, it’s Nick’s unflinching loyalty and warrior instincts that protect his new family in the face of annihilation.”

MARCH 9: A Wrinkle in Time (dir. Ava DuVernay)Walt Disney Pictures synopsis, via Rotten Tomatoes: “Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is a typical middle school student struggling with issues of self-worth who is desperate to fit in. As the daughter of two world-renowned physicists, she is intelligent and uniquely gifted, as is Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), but she has yet to realize it for herself. Making matters even worse is the baffling disappearance of Mr. Murry (Chris Pine), which torments Meg and has left her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) heartbroken. Charles Wallace introduces Meg and her fellow classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) to three celestial guides-Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling)-who have journeyed to Earth to help search for their father, and together they set off on their formidable quest. Traveling via a wrinkling of time and space known as tessering, they are soon transported to worlds beyond their imagination where they must confront a powerful evil. To make it back home to Earth, Meg must look deep within herself and embrace her flaws to harness the strength necessary to defeat the darkness closing in on them.”

MARCH 16 (in theaters & on demand): Allure (dirs. Carlos Sanchez and Jason Sanchez) (DP: Sara Mishara)Samuel Goldwyn Films synopsis: “Laura (Evan Rachel Wood) works as a house cleaner for her father’s company but her personal life is not so pristine. Rough around the edges, looking for love in all the wrong places, her heartbreaking behavior points to hardships of the past. One day on the job, in yet another house, Laura meets Eva (Julia Sarah Stone), a quiet teenager unhappy with her disciplined life. In Eva, Laura rediscovers an innocent tenderness. In Laura, Eva finds a thrilling rebel who can bring her into unknown territories. The mutual attraction soon morphs into obsession as Laura convinces Eva to run away and secretly come live with her, perilously raising the stakes for the young, impressionable girl as Laura’s emotional instability becomes increasingly clear. As their world closes in, they must unearth certain truths to find a way out.”

MARCH 16 (in theaters & on digital platforms), APRIL 24 (DVD): Dear Dictator (formerly titled Coup d’Etat) (dirs. Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse)The Hollywood Reporter’s Napa Valley Film Festival review by Justin Lowe: “Whether it’s crazed Communists threatening to rain nukes on half the planet or overgrown frat boys bullying the other half of the world into cowering submission, there’s not much humor to be found in contemporary world affairs. Clearly what’s needed is a pointed satire highlighting the inherent absurdity governing global politics today, and Coup d’Etat may just fit the bill.

“Equating a long-simmering political rebellion with the war zone that is the American public high school system, Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse’s feature creatively cribs from the Mean Girls and Election playbooks, humorously skewering international despots just as gleefully as teen queen bees.

“Recognizing that high school freshmen make for overly familiar targets, the filmmakers instead single out sophomore and sworn rebel Tatiana Mills (Odeya Rush). Tat has a problem, or more precisely, several of them: the three super-popular girls led by Sarvia (Fish Myrr) who call themselves the ‘slushies,’ a mashup of ‘sluts’ and ‘lushes.’ Inspired as this moniker may be, the real problem is that the trio doesn’t really live up to their chosen representation, neither hooking up nor drinking up with any regularity, so it’s no wonder Tat remains convinced that they’ve got no business ruling the school. However, their constant humiliations to ensure that Tatiana remains relegated to outsider status aren’t just totally annoying, they’re totally succeeding.

“Shunned by most of her classmates for her vaguely anarchist leanings and devotion to classic hardcore punk, Tat’s not about to attain prom queen status anytime soon. And while that’s totally okay with her, her single mother Darlene (Katie Holmes) would prefer if she’d try rounding off some of her rougher edges, but that would mean giving up her self-consciously alternative fashion choices and surly attitude. So in her continuing campaign to foment disruption, Tat begins a regular correspondence with reviled Caribbean dictator General Anton Vincent (Michael Caine) as a tactic to hijack a class assignment ineptly conceived by her social studies teacher (Jason Biggs). Surprisingly, Vincent responds to Tat’s handwritten missives enthusiastically, as they begin a frequent exchange of letters, vociferously sharing complaints about their perceived rivals and opponents.

“When one imagines Caine as an international villain (a highly entertaining undertaking even in itself), he’d likely be an erudite, Bond-worthy operator, not the scruffy communist strongman with a straggly gray Castro beard that General Vincent is made out to be. Caine of course plays the strongman as an entitled, misunderstood borderline psychopath badly in need of some real-world readjustment.

“So when Vincent’s violent and corrupt government collapses under assault by U.S.-backed rebels, he flees to the only safe haven he’s sure is totally under the radar: Tatiana’s suburban Georgia home. Shocked to find her pen pal skulking around outside her house, Tat secretly takes him in, right under her mother’s nose. They rapidly form an unexpected alliance after she agrees to help Vincent regain control of his country and in return, he promises to coach her on how she can single-handedly subjugate her classmates.

“Although dominating high school social circles may not compare with the widespread suppression of human rights in an island backwater, Tatiana and General Vincent have a good deal in common, from their disdain for posers to their appreciation for a good takedown. Rush, who’s been gradually gaining momentum with several indie releases this year (including a supporting role in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird), latches onto Tatiana’s rebellious antisocial campaign with enthusiasm. Although she mostly plays it straight, she’s not above taking a pratfall or two as Addario and Syracuse mix in some slapstick along with all of the political agitation.

“Admittedly, these scenes can’t touch shots of Caine attired in an ill-fitting tracksuit and wearing a ridiculously inadequate wig and moustache disguise, or furiously riding an adult three-wheeler in front of rear-projected street scenes. Caine, in fact, hasn’t had a chance to push a performance this far into the realm of absurdity in quite some time. So it’s a delight to watch him take on this caricature of an unhinged strongman with abundant brio and apparent conviction, even if events may lead General Vincent in unexpected directions. Holmes slips smoothly back into a substantial comedic role by rejecting the humiliations thrust upon her by her creepy boss (Seth Green) and finding the determination to stand up for her nonconformist daughter.

“Married writing-directing team Syracuse and Addario, who experienced a bit of a misfire with 2016’s Amateur Night, prove they can totally bring it with Coup d’Etat (even inserting a play on Tatiana’s nickname in the title). Playful, irreverent and unafraid to be politically incorrect, the pair script with assurance and direct with stylish understatement, pairing character and physical comedy to entertaining effect.”

MARCH 16: Flower (dir. Max Winkler) (DP: Carolina Costa)The Orchard synopsis: “Rebellious, quick-witted Erica Vandross (Zoey Deutch) is a 17-year-old firecracker living with her single mom Laurie (Kathryn Hahn) and mom’s new boyfriend Bob (Tim Heidecker) in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. When Bob’s mentally unbalanced son Luke (Joey Morgan) arrives from rehab to live with the family, Erica finds her domestic and personal life overwhelmed. With Luke and her sidekicks Kala (Dylan Gelula) and Claudine (Maya Eshet) in tow, Erica acts out by exposing a dark secret of high-school teacher Will (Adam Scott), with perilous results; their teenage kicks become a catalyst for growing up in unexpected and unpredictable ways. Mixing dark comedy and teenage angst writer-director Max Winkler (Ceremony) and co-writer Matt Spicer (Ingrid Goes West) re-imagine an unproduced script by Alex McAulay, creating a star vehicle for blossoming talent Zoey Deutch (Before I Fall, Why Him?) and elevating the teen movie to new heights.”

MARCH 16: Furlough (dir. Laurie Collyer) (DP: Bérénice Eveno)IFC Center synopsis: “The latest comedy by Laurie Collyer (Sherrybaby), taking a spin on the road movie. When a rowdy inmate (Melissa Leo) gets one weekend out of prison to visit her ailing mother, the rookie corrections officer (Tessa Thompson) assigned to keep an eye on her struggles to keep her in line during their emergency furlough. With Whoopi Goldberg, Anna Paquin, Edgar Ramirez, and La La Anthony.”

MARCH 16: Josie (dir. Eric England) (DP: Zoe White)Cinema Village synopsis: “Hank (Dylan McDermott), a solitary man living a dull existence in the sleepy, Southern town raises eyebrows when he develops a questionable relationship with Josie (Sophie Turner), a recently transplanted high school student.”

MARCH 16 (NYC), MARCH 23 (LA): Keep the Change (dir. Rachel Israel)Quad Cinema synopsis: “Free of cynicism and full of wit and warmth, this offbeat comedy charts the romance between tactless David (Brandon Polansky) and ultra-sunny Sarah (Samantha Elisofon), who meet at a social program for adults with autism in New York. He has no interest in being there and she has a penchant for clichés that drive him crazy. But antagonism eventually gives way to attraction and writer/director Israel’s unfussy embrace of her characters’ quirks is as refreshing as it is subtly radical. With a perfectly cast Jessica Walter as David’s judgmental mother.”

MARCH 16: Maineland (dir. Miao Wang)SXSW synopsis: “Filmed over three years in China and the U.S., Maineland is a multi-layered coming-of-age tale that follows two teenagers of China’s wealthy elite as they settle into a boarding school in blue-collar rural Maine. Part of the enormous wave of “parachute students” enrolling in U.S. private schools, bubbly, fun-loving Stella and introspective Harry come seeking a Western-style education, escape from the dreaded Chinese college entrance exam, and the promise of a Hollywood-style U.S. high school experience. But as their fuzzy visions of the American dream slowly gain more clarity, worlds collide as their relationship to home and country takes on a surprisingly poignant new aspect.”

MARCH 16 (streaming on Netflix): Take Your Pills (dir. Alison Klayman) (DP: Julia Liu)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “The pressure to achieve more, do more, and be more is part of being human –  and in the age of Adderall and Ritalin, achieving that can be as close as the local pharmacy. No longer just ‘a cure for excitable kids,’ prescription stimulants are in college classrooms, on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley…any place ‘the need to succeed’ slams into ‘not enough hours in the day.’ But there are costs. In the insightful Netflix documentary Take Your Pills, award-winning documentarian Alison Klayman (Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry) focuses on the history, the facts, and the pervasiveness of cognitive-enhancement drugs in our amped-up era of late-stage-capitalism. Executive produced by Maria Shriver and Christina Schwarzenegger, Take Your Pills examines what some view as a brave new world of limitless possibilities, and others see as a sped-up ride down a synaptic slippery slope, as these pills have become the defining drug of a generation.”

MARCH 23 (NYC and LA), APRIL (other cities): Beauty and the Dogs (dirs. Khaled Walid Barsaoui and Kaouther Ben Hania)Oscilloscope Laboratories synopsis: “When Mariam, a young Tunisian woman, is raped by police officers after leaving a party, she is propelled into a harrowing night in which she must fight for her rights even though justice lies on the side of her tormentors. Employing impressive cinematic techniques and anchored by a tour-de-force performance from newcomer Mariam Al Ferjani, Kaouther Ben Hania’s Beauty and the Dogs tells an urgent, unapologetic, and important story head-on. A rare, startling film from a female Tunisian director, it’s a striking critique on a repressive society and a forcefully feminist rallying cry.”

MARCH 23: Ismael’s Ghosts (dir. Arnaud Desplechin) (DP: Irina Lubtchansky)Film Society of Lincoln Center synopsis: “Phantoms swirl around Ismael (Mathieu Amalric), a filmmaker in the throes of writing a spy thriller based on the unlikely escapades of his brother, Ivan Dedalus (Louis Garrel). His only true source of stability, his relationship with Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), is upended, as is the life of his Jewish documentarian mentor and father-in-law (László Szabó), when Ismael’s wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard), who disappeared twenty years earlier, returns, and, like one of Hitchcock’s fragile, delusional femmes fatales, expects that her husband and father are still in thrall to her. A brilliant shape-shifter—part farce, part melodrama—Ismael’s Ghosts is finally about the process of creating a work of art and all the madness that requires.”

MARCH 23 (in theaters & on VOD): Madame (dir. Amanda Sthers)Blue Fox Entertainment synopsis: “Anne (Toni Collette) and Bob (Harvey Keitel), a well-to-do American couple, have just moved to a beautiful manor house in romantic Paris. To impress their sophisticated friends, they decide to host a lavish dinner party, but must disguise their maid (Rossy de Palma) as a noblewoman to even out the number of guests. When the maid runs off with a wealthy guest, Anne must chase her around Paris to thwart the joyous and unexpected love affair.”

MARCH 28: The Gardener (dir. Sébastien Chabot) (DPs: Sébastien Chabot and Geneviève Ringuet)The Landmark at 57 West synopsis: “The new documentary The Gardener reflects on the meaning of gardening and its impacts on our lives. Shortly before his passing at the age of 86, influential gardener and horticulturalist Frank Cabot recounts his personal quest for perfection at Les Quatre Vents, his twenty-acre English style garden and summer estate that was opened to a film crew for the first time ever in 2009. Nestled amongst the rolling hills of the Charlevoix County in Quebec, Les Quatre Vents has become one of the world’s foremost private gardens. Created over 75 years and three generations, it is an enchanted place of beauty and surprise, a horticultural masterpiece of the 21st century. Through the words of Cabot and his family, and with the participation of gardening experts and writers, the film looks back at this remarkable man’s personal story and the artistic philosophy that gave birth to one of the greatest gardens in the world.”

MARCH 30 (in theaters & on VOD): All I Wish (dir. Susan Walter)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis: “Senna Berges (Sharon Stone), a free-spirited designer, lives on the edge. Despite attempts by her strong-willed mother (Ellen Burstyn) to get her to settle down, Senna charts a chaotic path and seems destined for a life of disappointment. Then…at her 46th birthday Senna meets Adam (Tony Goldwyn), a charismatic lawyer who connects with her in the most powerful and profound way. True to form, Senna screws and happiness is not to be. But when Senna and Adam serendipitously reunite a year later at her 47th birthday party, Senna’s luck changes with the opportunity to find true love again.”

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MARCH 30 (in theaters & on VOD): Birthmarked (dir. Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais) (DP: Josée Deshaies)Vertical Entertainment synopsis: “Two respected scientists (Toni Collette, Matthew Goode) decide to quit their jobs for their biggest experiment to date – parenthood! Raising three very different children, they seek to prove that everyone has the same potential to become anything they choose.”

MARCH 30 (in theaters), APRIL 3 (digital platforms): Outside In (dir. Lynn Shelton)IndieWire’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Eric Kohn: “Lynn Shelton is the rare American filmmaker to oscillate between contemplative dramas (We Go Way Back, Touchy Feely) and playful situational comedies (Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister). As such, her filmmaking voice — discounting the prolific TV direction of the last few years — extends across multiple genres and doesn’t really fit into any of them.

“Her latest, Outside In, is another somber, low-key drama, but its premise could just as easily work as cringe comedy. Both modes operate in service of minimalist character studies about people desperate for companionship, who hover on the verge of bad decisions in their attempts to set things right. Shelton’s work is understated, but elevates seemingly forgettable scenarios with a wise, humane approach that makes even a lesser work like Outside In a cut above the market standard.

“Jay Duplass and Edie Falco anchor the movie with some of the very best performances in both of their careers. As the story begins, Chris (Duplass) has been released from prison in Washington, where he’s been incarcerated for 20 years on vague charges. He’s 40 years old and alienated from the only community he’s ever known, but finds one bright light in the quiet small town: Carol (Falco), his old high-school teacher, with whom he has stayed in touch over the years.

“The pair developed a bond as Chris grew up behind bars that suggests a forbidden romance has started to take shape before the movie begins; once back in town, it’s only a matter of time before their romantic chemistry starts to evolve. Carol’s trapped in a loveless marriage, while butting heads with her rebellious daughter Hildy (Kaitlin Dever), and Chris represents an escape from the mundanity of her life. But he’s also a threat to that very same stability.

“This conundrum unfolds under pretty routine circumstances, but that only allows its actors to enrich the material with a profound degree of credibility. Falco, so often a loud and combative screen presence, gives her most fragile, heartfelt performance, with her somber eyes and frozen half-smile defining the tone of the movie as whole. Duplass, meanwhile, maintains a spacey detachment throughout that exudes the sense of disconnection his character experiences from the world around him. It’s a quietly tragic performance in a movie that relishes that mood.

“Shelton follows these characters through a series of whispered conversations and confrontations about whether or not they stand a chance together. In the process, Outside In works through the morality of their bond, and even as it builds its momentum around a fundamental question — will they or won’t they? — it doesn’t arrive at any firm answers, carrying the narrative along with a contemplative air. Nothing shocking or groundbreaking happens over the course of its somewhat overlong 109 minutes. But it maintains a remarkable consistency to the way in which it explores the dynamic of Carol’s uneven family life and Chris’ potential to screw things up on the path to rebuilding his life.

“Shelton finds a subtle poetry in small moments, from a prolonged shot of Chris speeding through the neighborhood on his bike, enjoying his newfound freedom, to Carol gazing out at a rainy landscape. These scenes enrich the mounting desires at the root of the movie, and deepen its themes, but they also help root the movie in a precise space. The Pacific Northwest, which serves as the backdrop for all of Shelton’s work, serves as an ideal setting for this subdued portrait of suburban discontent.

Outside In was produced by Netflix, and it seems to have been conceived with the platform in mind. It’s the paragon of Netflix filmmaking done right: Despite its lush visuals, the movie could work just as well on the small screen, and its plot hardly demands anything more than the feature-length treatment. You wouldn’t want to binge on multiple episodes of this story, but as a snapshot of genuine emotion, it goes on just long enough.”

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: February 2018

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Cinematographer Rachel Morrison (right) with director Ryan Coogler and production designer Hannah Beachler on the set of Black Panther, 2017. (Photo: Lisa Satriano)

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

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FEBRUARY 2: Before We Vanish (dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa) (DP: Akiko Ashizawa)RogerEbert.com review by Simon Abrams: “There’s a lot of dead air in the endearingly eccentric Japanese science-fiction thriller Before We Vanish. That’s bound to be a deal-breaker for many viewers given that this film clocks in at 130 minutes, and feels like it could easily be half as long. Then again, you shouldn’t really expect much story or character development from this Invasion of the Body Snatchers-like alien invasion drama. Think of Before We Vanish as a very laid back hang-out movie that often coasts on off-kilter charm, and is frequently buoyed by basic, but stirring ideas that co-writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Tokyo Sonata) executes with characteristic flair. It’s an unsettling, and sometimes high-concept doodle, but it’s awfully hard to resist a film that marries Atomic Age paranoia and optimism with Kurosawa’s signature post-modern, atmosphere-intensive style.

“The plot, co-adapted with Sachiko Tanaka from Tomohiro Maekwa’s source play, is simple enough. Three aliens crash-land on Earth shortly before a planned planet-wide invasion. We are told this by the three disoriented Pod People in question: Shinji (Ryuhei Matsuda), Akira (Yuri Tsunematsu), and Amano (Mahiro Takasugi). But that’s almost all we know for sure about these extra-terrestrials for a while since getting straight answers from Shinji’s group is rather difficult. Shinji and his fellow E.T.s latch on to human by-standers, like Shinji’s perplexed wife Narumi (Masami Nagasawa) and cynical reporter Sakurai (Hiroki Hasegawa), because they don’t understand complex concepts, and are therefore easily confused, and sidetracked. Then again, dispelling that confusion seems to be these aliens’s true purpose. They spend much of their time trying to understand complex concepts like ‘ownership’ and ‘family.’ The aliens learn by a bizarre psychic process that allows them to mentally absorb big ideas from reluctant humans’ brains. But once the transfer is complete, the human victim instantly forget whatever abstract theories were taken from them.

“Kurosawa and Tanaka run a fair distance with that tantalizing concept: what happens to people when they’re no longer sure of their character-defining obligations? The first couple of brain-washed humans are all happy, but useless in a society that they no longer mindlessly, but pragmatically devote themselves to. For example: Narumi’s boss has a childish tantrum after he forgets about his inhumane profit-driven concept of ‘work.’ But that reaction is too close to the experience of the man who prowls the streets with a crazed, child-like grin after he’s liberated of the concept of ‘ownership.’ And that response is too close to the one had by an unhinged middle-aged woman who now no longer remembers what ‘family’ is. We get it, we are prisoners of our beliefs. What now?

“Soon, the aliens and their warily sympathetic human guides start to bond, though sometimes for unclear reasons. In one of the film’s biggest highlights, Sakurai tries to warn his fellow humans of the impending invasion. He tells a crowd of dazed on-lookers exactly what’s happening: aliens are coming, and they’re taking the values that we hold most dear. Everybody stares blankly at him, as if to suggest that we are, in fact, the real pod people. This is the kind of scene that’s either ultimately childish or inspiring, depending on how well-executed it is. Thankfully, Kurosawa intuitively emphasizes Tsunematsu’s stiff body language, and the blank expressions on the people that Sakurai addresses. I was reminded of the iconic scene in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington where Jimmy Stewart collapses right after he’s practically buried alive in a mountain of constituents’ letters. Kurosawa’s scene is crucial in a similar way: this is the moment where despair finally gives way to a transporting optimism that carries the film to its corny, but well-executed finale.

“Some viewers might not like the way that the tone of Before We Vanish often drifts between emotional extremes. Some might not enjoy the arch tone of the film’s more unabashedly hopeful scenes. Some will want more naturalistic dialogue, or a more well-rounded narrative. I can’t blame them, or tell them they’re wrong for wanting what they want. But I will recommend Before We Vanish anyway, just because its naive hopefulness is infectious, and its big ideas are captivating. This is the kind of movie that’s destined to inspire a hardcore cult of fans, and will maybe even lead the next generation of genre filmmakers to tinker with their own big ideas. A little dead air is a small price to pay for that kind of lingering happiness.”

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FEBRUARY 2 (in theaters and streaming on Netflix): On Body and Soul (dir. Ildikó Enyedi)Decider review by Joe Reid: “At times, On Body and Soul plays like a parody of the kind of foreign-language film you expect to see nominated at the Oscars. There’s a sparse, wintry eastern European locale, full of hard, grim-faced individuals who work inside the cold concrete environs of, in this case, a slaughterhouse. Juxtaposed with this kind of institutional Hungarian drudgery, though, are dream scenes where two deer meet in the middle of a wonderfully picturesque woods. These dreams, we soon discover, are the shared experiences of two employees: Endre (Géza Morcsányi), an older man who’s the manager of the slaughterhouse, and Mária (Alexandra Borbély), an aloof, newly-hired young quality-control supervisor. There is no conventional way that you’d expect these two characters to end up in a love story, which is where the shared dreams of being deer come in.

On Body and Soul is going to be a leap for anyone looking for a typical love story. Calling it a ‘love story’ at all pretty much misses the point. It’s more a story about alienation and the randomness that comes with making a connection with someone. What director Ildiko Enyedi does rather beautifully is take the mundane day-to-day that these characters are living and depict it so precisely that the imprecise nature of dream connections and love feel all the more ephemeral.

“With the story of Endre and Mária so ephemeral, Enyedi’s most indelible sequences involve everything around them. One particularly scene lingers in gory detail on the slaughtering and dismembering of a cow. It’s very much not easy to watch, but it’s tough to say it doesn’t do the job when it comes to showing the casual brutality of a world where we all rather hilariously attempt to find something as elevating as love.

“The great thing about the foreign-language category at the Oscars is that it pushes American moviegoers, even those who imagine themselves to be particularly dedicated, adventurous cinephiles, to step outside of the American filmmaking mores and dip into filmmaking styles they’re unfamiliar with. This year, there are offerings from Chile, Lebanon, Russia, and Sweden, and the cross-section of styles (and filmmakers). On Body and Soul might be the most singular and strange film of the bunch, and it’s not the easiest to cozy up to. Loveless, the Russian entry, is remote and chilly, too, but there’s something purposefully impenetrable about the relationship at the center of On Body and Soul. Particularly for a film that wants so much to be about this unlikely connection between them. But I keep going back to those scenes of the deer in the woods and how much more breathtaking and magical they are. They’re an escape in the most wonderful way. They’re what will make you sit up and take notice.”

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FEBRUARY 9 (in theaters and on VOD): Becks (dirs. Daniel Powell and Elizabeth Rohrbaugh) (DP: Kat Westergaard)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis: “Inspired by the real life of singer/songwriter Alyssa Robbins, Becks follows a musician (Lena Hall) who moves back to her childhood home in St. Louis after a crushing breakup with her longtime girlfriend. While performing for tips at a local tavern and struggling to reconnect with her ultra-Catholic mother, she strikes up a unique friendship with the wife of an old nemesis. Becks begins to discover her musical voice as she performs deeply personal songs about her ex and the loss of their relationship. Driven by an original score, the film’s musical numbers bring a unique new voice to the American musical movie.”

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FEBRUARY 9: The Female Brain (dir. Whitney Cummings)IFC Center synopsis: “What makes a woman swipe right for Mr. Wrong and left for Mr. Right? This simultaneously entertaining and enlightening comedy is a fresh, witty, and all-too-relatable look at the real-life science behind our (often regrettable) romantic impulses. Writer-director Whitney Cummings (‘2 Broke Girls’) stars as no-nonsense neuroscientist Julia, whose research into the biochemistry of the female brain is illustrated by three couples: newlyweds Zoe (Cecily Strong) and Greg (Blake Griffin), whose career troubles seep into their relationship; Lisa (Sofía Vergara) and Steven (Deon Cole), who are looking to spice up their stuck-in-a-rut marriage; and Lexi (Lucy Punch) who can’t help trying to change her boyfriend Adam (James Marsden). Meanwhile, the straight-laced Julia’s own synapses start to fire when a handsome new subject (Toby Kebbell) joins her study…”

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FEBRUARY 9: The Peacemaker (dir. James Demo) (DPs: Beth Balaban, Kevin Belli, James Demo, Mike Hechanova and Sarah Levy)New York Times review by Glenn Kenny: “Padraig O’Malley is a scholar and what one might call an amateur diplomat. He is the peacemaker of this film’s title. The documentary, directed by James Demo, is not a portrait of an idealist. The Irish-born Mr. O’Malley is an often dour man, and when he speaks of his work, there are no stars in his eyes. One of his recent books, about Israel and Palestine, is called The Two State Delusion. In negotiation, as the movie shows, he is pragmatic, focused and often steely.

“His story is an unusual one, which the director unspools by showing Mr. O’Malley first in a war-torn Iraq, then in the streets of Cambridge, Mass., where he teaches. (He travels so frequently he calls no place ‘home’). He enters a church, and we soon understand he’s in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Filming an A.A. meeting isn’t exactly kosher, but Mr. Demo doesn’t show the faces of the other attendees. (It’s not quite clear that this session hasn’t been staged specifically for the movie.)

“A good part of the picture relies on Mr. O’Malley’s account of his life with and without the bottle — members call it a ‘qualification’ — during this A.A. gathering. He tells how he started in conflict mediation when, in the early ’70s, he bought a Cambridge bar and funneled its revenue into hosting a negotiation between warring factions of Northern Ireland — a first for these groups.

“‘I don’t love anybody,’ the lanky, white-haired Mr. O’Malley admits during one interview segment. It’s his peculiar detachment, perhaps, that makes him good at what he does, even when the summits he hosts — he spent years in Iraq and in South Africa — yield nothing more than agreements on bilingual street signs. The movie is a fascinating portrait that is if anything too brief.”

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FEBRUARY 9 (in theaters and streaming on Netflix): Seeing Allred (dirs. Roberta Grossman and Sophie Sartain)The Hollywood Reporter’s Sundance Film Festival review by Daniel Fienberg: “Utterly and passionately hagiographic, the documentary Seeing Allred presents 96 minutes of reasons to stand and cheer for celebrated feminist lawyer Gloria Allred.

“That means, of course, that for ultra-conservative lovers of Netflix documentaries, it’s doubtful that Seeing Allred is going to dramatically change any opinions about her.

“For people with more tempered views on the notorious attorney, Sophie Sartain and Roberta Grossman’s documentary leaves a lot of questions unasked and tiptoes around plenty of other relevant conversations, but in its presentation of a career-in-full, it advocates persuasively for this advocate.

Seeing Allred, premiering as part of the U.S. Documentary competition at Sundance, feels like the film Allred would want a documentary about her to be.

“‘I think I’m very well understood by many people,’ she says before the film’s title card appears. And what of those who go out of their way not to understand her? ‘I don’t really care,’ she says, believably.

“Sartain and Grossman’s access to Allred began as the criminal accusations against Bill Cosby were starting to reach critical mass. It’s a perfect storm case for both Allred supporters and detractors, because she orchestrated a steady stream of press conferences relating to charges that were outside of the statute of limitations — the sort of thing that has always led to sniveling criticisms of opportunism and self-aggrandizement.

“The directors’ goal isn’t to debunk those slurs or to get Allred herself to debunk them. At the most, we get a couple variations on, ‘If she were a man, nobody would look at these qualities as negatives.’

“When Allred says she doesn’t care what people who don’t like her think, either that was a mantra she continued in interviews or it scared the directors off. Or maybe it didn’t interest the directors to know what she thinks about being lampooned by The Simpsons or Saturday Night Live or right-wing pundits. And they very much weren’t interested in asking her to defend herself, which is entirely fair. It’s left for one of the myriad admiring talking heads — even occasionally adversarial colleagues/pundits like Greta Van Susteren and Alan Dershowitz offer only respect here — to mention that for all of the perception of Allred working in a constantly publicized realm, most of her employment cases we hear nothing about. That’s a point Allred could make or the directors could want to show, but they don’t find it necessary.

“The documentary loosely puts Allred’s feminist awakening in a personal context, but that isn’t really the way the subject wants to frame it. She’s open but terse in discussing her own rape and subsequent illegal abortion, framing both in terms of the empathy she has for her clients. She’s entirely unwilling to discuss the end of her second marriage. She’s admiring, but not effusive in talking about daughter Lisa Bloom. Talking heads speak to Allred’s kindness and compassion; she doesn’t need to tell the camera that she’s kind or compassionate. A friend who does Gloria Allred-drag speaks to her sense of humor and her ability to laugh at herself; she doesn’t need to be funny or self-effacing for the camera (her amusement at frequent confusion with Sen. Barbara Boxer is one of the rare exceptions).

“Where Allred is comfortable is tracing a professional awakening in which she was fast to recognize that in press conferences or just televised announcements, she was being given (or grabbing) a platform and a voice that wasn’t being heard and that in being confrontational and steering into conflict, she was speaking the only language that the establishment was able to understand. It’s one thing to wonder if she has devalued that platform with some of the ways she’s used it, but it’s impossible to dispute that when she’s used the platform consistently on behalf of causes, she’s gotten results. So when she’s sitting behind a microphone next to Cosby accusers knowing that they can’t take Cosby to court, she’s in the business of giving voice, and if cynics ask, ‘Where’s the money or publicity for her in this?,’ the documentary draws the line directly to the Justice for Victims Act and then into her support for accusers of Donald Trump. When you draw enough lines and point to enough voices that she’s supported, you can actually believe Don Lemon when he says that without Allred he might not have his job, even if he’s not making a direct connection. The tentacles of her decades of campaigning are very visible.

“Because Allred isn’t into talking about mistakes or losses, one of the documentary’s most revelatory moments is the Hillary Clinton booster’s growing horror as the directors film what was supposed to be a celebratory 2016 Election Night. It’s unguarded and doesn’t feel camera-ready. There isn’t a follow-up interview where Allred theorizes on the election and what it meant. Instead, we just see her continue to amplify Trump accusers and take her place at the Women’s March and other protests.

Seeing Allred makes Allred’s work the only worthwhile manifestation of her character, and when she says that her only fear is not living long enough to do all the work she wants to do, that’s the case the film has argued, too. It’s not a case for Gloria Allred that’s going to change any minds but, again, she probably really doesn’t care.”

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FEBRUARY 16: Black Panther (dir. Ryan Coogler) (DP: Rachel Morrison)Los Angeles Times review by Kenneth Turan: “We didn’t know we’d been yearning for it until it arrived, but now that it’s here it’s unmistakable that the wait for a film like Black Panther has been way longer than it should have been. On one level this is the next-in-line Marvel Universe story of the ruler of the mythical African kingdom of Wakanda who moonlights as a superhero and has to contend with threats and problems both internal and external.

“But Black Panther, as co-written and directed by Ryan Coogler and starring a deep bench of actors of color, is an against-the-grain $100-million-plus epic so intensely personal that when the usual Marvel touchstones (Stan Lee, anyone) appear, they feel out of place. A superhero movie whose characters have integrity and dramatic heft, filled with engaging exploits and credible crises all grounded in a vibrant but convincing reality, laced with socially conscious commentary as well as wicked laughs that don’t depend on snark, this is the model of what an involving popular entertainment should be. And even something more.

“Energized to a thrilling extent by a myriad of Afrocentric influences, Black Panther showcases a vivid inventiveness that underscores the obvious point that we want all cultures and colors represented on screen because that makes for a richness of cinematic experience that everyone enjoys being exposed to. Like Christopher Nolan, who was 35 when he reanimated the Batman franchise, the 31-year-old Coogler has a gift for putting his own spin on genre, for making popular culture worlds his own. He did it with Creed, making the Rocky franchise and Sylvester Stallone uncannily relevant. That was only his second feature following a Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning debut, Fruitvale Station, but five years ago.

“A key to Coogler’s achievement with Black Panther is that he’s taken key production people along with him on all three of his films, including production designer Hannah Beachler, editor Michael P. Shawver and composer Ludwig Görannson. Director of photography Rachel Morrison, recently the first woman ever nominated for a cinematography Oscar, returns as well, as does expressive actor Michael B. Jordan, the star of Coogler’s first two films. Here Jordan shares the screen with an impressive array of actors, from veterans like Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker (an early Coogler supporter) to energized performers including Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Andy Serkis, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke and, of course, Chadwick Boseman.

“An impeccable actor, Boseman brings the quality of belief he’s brought to playing real people like Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall to the role of King T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther. This character made his first Marvel appearance in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, which saw T’Challa’s father, King T’Chaka, killed in an explosion, putting his son in line for assuming the Wakandan throne.

“One of the great things about Black Panther is the specificity of this mythical place, masquerading as one of the world’s poorest countries but actually — thanks to a huge deposit of miracle metal vibranium — a hotbed of futuristic technology. Not only have production designer Beachler and her team created marvelous locations like the Challenge Pool at Warrior Falls, but veteran costume designer Ruth E. Carter was instrumental as well. Both referenced everything including Ghanaian textiles, a 5th century Nigerian script and the dress of tribes like the Maasai, Tuareg, Dogon and Zulu.

“‘Never before in Hollywood have we had the chance to show the continent intellectually — it had all been Africa, dirt floors,’ Carter told California Sunday magazine. ‘We were trying to understand ancient African culture in a way that didn’t look “savage” but looked glorious, kingly, warrior-like.’ Carter’s most memorable creation, complete with neck rings borrowed from the Ndebele, is the Dora Milaje, the eight-member all-female royal bodyguard led by Okoye (‘The Walking Dead’s’ Gurira) who move with dazzling precision to strike terror into all who dare to cross them.

“As crisply scripted by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole (‘American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson’), Black Panther begins with a challenge to T’Challa’s rule that must be played out according to strict ancient protocols followed by a fence-mending expedition to old friend W’Kabi (Get Out’s Kaluuya). Then the new king has to deal with both Nakia (Nyong’o), his former significant other now fully involved in her life as a spy, and his precocious younger sister Shuri (a very amusing Wright), who functions as a kind of Q to Black Panther’s James Bond. T’Challa is also intent on confronting the evil South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Serkis), who was responsible for T’Chaka’s death. Working with Klaue is the mysterious Erik Killmonger, beautifully played by Jordan, a bad guy with a background and an agenda that will make heads spin all across Wakanda.

“With dialogue that deftly explores serious questions, such as how much if anything do wealthy countries owe the poor and oppressed of the world, Black Panther draws energy from Coogler’s sense of excitement at all he’s attempting. The result is a superhero movie that’s worth seeing twice, and that is a rare sighting indeed.”

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FEBRUARY 16: The Boy Downstairs (dir. Sophie Brooks)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Liza Domnitz: “From first-time writer-director Sophie Brooks, this original romantic comedy is the coming-of-age tale of a young writer looking to find her way back in New York City after a two-year stint in London. Zosia Mamet exhibits winsome charm as Diana, navigating the rite of passage of every single New Yorker: the search for the perfect apartment. She seemingly finds such a jewel of a home, until realizing her downstairs neighbor is actually her ex whose heart she broke when she left town. Like a true New Yorker, she keeps the apartment.

“Making the oft-told girl-meets-boy story new again, The Boy Downstairs asks real questions about love, chemistry and growing up, as Diana declares her intentions for cordial cohabitation, only to find their initially farcical arrangement giving way to more complicated feelings. Featuring a stellar cast, led by Mamet and supported by indie stalwarts Matthew Shear, Deirdre O’Connell, and newcomers Sarah Ramos and Diana Irvine.”

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FEBRUARY 16 (streaming on Netflix): Irreplaceable You (dir. Stephanie Laing) (DP: Magdalena Górka)IndieWire article by Jenna Marotta: “The upcoming Netflix film Irreplaceable You boasts a female director, screenwriter, cinematographer, and star, a combination that worked well for the streaming service’s three-time Oscar nominee, Mudbound. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beauty and the Beast) plays Abbie, a woman thrilled to finally be marrying her elementary school sweetheart, Sam (Michiel Huisman from ‘Game of Thrones’), with whom she is expecting a child. At a doctor’s appointment, the couple is devastated to learn that Abbie actually isn’t pregnant: she’s given a terminal cancer diagnosis instead.

“Bucking the film’s title, Abbie then resigns to auditioning stand-ins to share a life with Sam. She also attends patient group therapy alongside the alter-egos of Christopher Walken, Kate McKinnon, Steve Coogan, and Tami Sagher (Don’t Think Twice). Irreplaceable You features sympathetic turns from Brian Tyree Henry (‘Atlanta’), Timothy Simons (‘Veep’) and Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook).

“It is the first produced screenplay from Bess Wohl, an actress who has appeared in guest parts on shows such as ‘Bones’ and ‘CSI: NY.’ Director Stephanie Laing has also been given her first opportunity to helm a feature; her resume includes producing credits on ‘Veep’ and ‘Vice Principals.’ Jonathan Tropper — who adapted his bestselling novel This Is Where I Leave You into another death-tinged film — is among the producers.

“Soon after Irreplaceable You debuts on Friday, February 16, Mbatha-Raw will play the mother to Storm Reid’s heroine, Meg, in Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time.

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FEBRUARY 16: The Party (dir. Sally Potter)Variety’s Berlin International Film Festival review by Guy Lodge: “It may have its uses in describing butter cookies and cat videos, but it’s fair to say that ‘short and sweet’ is an over-applied compliment: Sometimes it’s better to be short and severely, cheek-shrivelingly sour. So it proves in The Party, a deliciously heightened, caviar-black comedy that sets up its brittle, bourgeois characters like bowling pins and gleefully knocks them down in 71 minutes flat. Slight and self-contained, it won’t go down in cinema history as anything but, perhaps, the most purely fun film ever made by peculiar British experimentalist Sally Potter. Still, this sketch of an ambitious Westminster politician and dinner-party hostess (Kristin Scott Thomas), whose life comes spectacularly apart before the canapés are even served, is a consummate drawing-room divertissement, played with relish by a dream ensemble. Notwithstanding a somewhat strained twist, it’s as slender, sharp and snappish as a wishbone; chic arthouse distributors should RSVP to this Party without delay.

“Premiering in competition at Berlin, Potter’s film plays as a kind of antidote to Oren Moverman’s The Dinner in the same section. Both films chart the disastrous fallout as assorted secrets are uncovered at a dinner event organized by a political bigwig, but where Moverman’s film, with its grandiose Gettysburg allusions, reveals a pained social conscience, Potter’s is quite content to ridicule its middle-class subjects without taking a defined moral position on their foibles and failings. Think of it as a quinoa-classes update of Mike Leigh’s evergreen Abigail’s Party: Its gaze is fixed a few notches higher up the social ladder, but the characters are just as plagued by petty aspirationalism.

“After opening with one of those all-too-ubiquitous flash-forward shots, with a harried-looking Janet (Scott Thomas) aiming a gun at an unseen target, the film jauntily works its way to that climax. It’s early evening, and guests are beginning to arrive at Janet’s elegant Victorian home in a leafy part of London — raising a toast to her recent appointment as Health Minister. First up is her acidly cynical best friend April (a never-more-waspish Patricia Clarkson), a former idealist who congratulates Janet in the same breath as declaring democracy ‘finished.’

“April regards her boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), an anti-political humanist life coach, with eye-rolling contempt, though that counts as affection relative to her scorching dismissal of another pair of guests: dour academic Martha (Cherry Jones), a specialist in ‘gender differentiation on American utopianism,’ and her newly pregnant partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer), who squabble over the correct degree of radical feminism to assume these days. An illiberal outlier among the guests is Prada-suited, cocaine-dusted finance shark Tom (a fine, antic Cillian Murphy), whose wife is mysteriously delayed; still, she’s practically more present at the party than Janet’s husband Bill (played in deliberately, comically checked-out fashion by Timothy Spall), who eventually rouses himself from a glazed fug of ennui to deliver the first of several sequential bombshells.

“It’d poop ‘The Party,’ so to speak, to reveal anything further — though this is less a plot-based exercise than a tipsily conversational one. Potter’s eminently quotable screenplay works up just enough narrative momentum to sustain a barrage of killer one-liners: With the hors d’oeuvres increasingly unlikely to be served, decorum is swiftly shed and these privileged vultures instead feed ravenously on each other’s ideals. ‘Tickle an aromatherapist and you’ll find a fascist,’ April drily observes as even the most genteel guests begin to show their colors, and multiple relationships go into instant shock therapy.

“It’s never specified to which political party Janet belongs — though she’s an ardent defender of the National Health Service, so she’s probably no Theresa May sympathizer — but she appears here so airily removed from the outside world that it hardly matters. Whichever side she’s on, it’s one opposed by April, brilliantly played by Clarkson as the kind of self-styled truth-teller who actually conceals a lot of herself in her blanket nihilism. (‘Pretending hasn’t worked for your party for a while,’ she tells Janet — and she could be talking about either her political party or this particular botched occasion.) The Party flatters neither woman’s position, nor the other guests’ ideological perches in between. Everyone at this woebegone soiree comes off as slightly absurd in what could be read as a blasé, from-within satire of the ‘metropolitan elite’ so savaged by U.K. conservatives of late.

“One shouldn’t pull a muscle, however, in reaching for the subtext of Potter’s witty shaggy-dog story: Its giddy in-the-moment pleasures are enough, even if a final kicker of a reveal doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in retrospect. While this kind of chamber material risks seeming plucked from the stage — it isn’t, incidentally — Alexey Rodionov’s nimble monochrome lensing and Anders Refn and Emilie Orsini’s antsy editing lend Potter’s script a propulsively cinematic, bouncing-off-the-walls quality, smartly drawing to a close just as the joke threatens to wear thin. (Refn has collaborated with Lars von Trier in the past, and The Party sometimes does exude the splintery air of a glossier Dogme 95 exercise.)

“Potter’s cast, meanwhile, is perceptibly having a blast with her savory invective and insults: There’s nothing to dislike about a film that gives Patricia Clarkson the chance to tell Cherry Jones that she’s ‘a first-rate lesbian and a second-rate thinker.’ Months after the U.S. election campaign turned an intended jibe into a rallying cry, Sally Potter’s latest further proves that there’s pleasure, pride or both to be taken in being a nasty woman.”

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FEBRUARY 16: Western (dir. Valeska Grisebach)Film Society of Lincoln Center synopsis: “German director Valeska Grisebach uses the Western as a template with which to draw out eternal human conflicts in this supremely intelligent genre update, her first feature in a decade. In remote rural Bulgaria, a group of German workers are building a water facility. Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann), the reserved newbie in this all-male company, immediately draws the ire of the boorish team leader, not least for his willingness to mingle with the wary locals. Cast with utterly convincing nonprofessional actors, Western is a gripping culture-clash drama, attuned both to old codes of masculinity and new forms of colonialism.”

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FEBRUARY 23 (in theaters and on VOD): Half Magic (dir. Heather Graham)IndieWire article by Kate Erbland: “For her directorial debut, long-time actress and Hollywood star Heather Graham tackled an R-rated mainstay — the sex comedy — with a decidedly feminine-focused twist and a strong message of self-love. Graham also stars in the film, which is apparently ‘pulled from personal experiences.’

Half Magic follows a trio of very different women who share the same problem: their love lives just aren’t up to snuff. The ladies, including Angela Kinsey and Stephanie Beatriz, decide to take it upon themselves to pursue only good relationships with worthy men.

“In an official statement from Graham herself, the newly-minted filmmaker shares, ‘On the surface, Half Magic is a comedy about bad dating decisions. Why do we choose the people we choose? What draws us in? Why do we always “know better” but do it anyway? I have made some bad choices and put my self-worth into needing to be with “that” guy. So I made this film because I wanted to share the journey of how I got over the programming of my religious upbringing and terrible dating experiences to come to love myself and my sexuality.’

“Graham added, ‘I want to empower women to feel good about themselves and make better choices. I want to celebrate women enjoying their sexuality and finding their pleasure. I want to celebrate how strong we are and how we can create anything we want. …Over the last few months, a new sexual revolution has begun, with more women than ever coming forward to share their stories of sexual harassment. Gone are the days when women felt powerless, with their abusers facing no repercussions.'”

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: January 2018

Director/producer Trudie Styler (right) with actress Abigail Breslin on the set of Freak Show, 2015/2016.

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

JANUARY 5 (in theaters and on VOD): Blame (dir. Quinn Shephard)Variety review by Owen Gleiberman: “Abigail (Quinn Shephard), the big-dark-eyed tempestuous waif at the heart of Blame, is an agonizingly sensitive and withdrawn teenage girl who returns to her high school in suburban New Jersey after having suffered some sort of breakdown. We’re never quite sure what happened, but the students now refer to her as ‘Sybil’ and scrawl things like ‘Who let the psycho out?’ on the bathroom wall. They’re outrageously cruel, so when Abigail starts to take solace in the bond that develops between herself and a nerdishly brooding substitute drama teacher, Jeremy Woods (Chris Messina), the whole dramatic architecture of the film invites us to view their relationship in a sympathetic light.

“That’s a subversive thing for a movie to do. Abigail and Jeremy never go further than engaging in a brief, passionate kiss, but in their imaginations they go much further. Blame depicts what happens between them as the chaste but erotically possessed fusion of two lost souls. And that could easily bring about the charge that the movie is thoughtlessly condoning a terribly inappropriate relationship. At a certain point, Abigail is even portrayed as the aggressor, which raises the question: Is the film pandering to a fantasy vision of a forbidden teacher-student romance?

“The answer is yes. Yet Blame is no thinly veiled piece of teensploitation. The movie was directed and co-written by its 22-year-old star, Quinn Shephard (who is best known for her role as Morgan Sanders on the CBS drama ‘Hostages’), and she has made a skilled and confident, if sometimes awkward, filmmaking debut that dares to portray a scandalous situation by taking the scandal out of it — or, rather, by projecting that scandal onto the characters around it.

“The connection between Abigail and Jeremy fuels the school gossip mill, and Melissa, the mean-girl ringleader, played by Nadia Alexander as a milky-skinned schemer with flame-red hair tips and a complicated scowl, tries to use it to destroy both of them, mostly because she’s jealous. The catalyst for her resentment is a dramatic showcase that features Jeremy’s students in selected scenes from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. None of the other students wants to act opposite Abigail, so Jeremy becomes her stage partner, and the two rehearse a scene between the characters of John Proctor and — yes — Abigail Williams. Abigail, wouldn’t you know, already looks the part: She dresses in frocks buttoned to the neck, parts her wavy long hair down the middle, and is so morosely decorous in her speech that all that’s missing is ‘thee’ and ‘thou.’

“The movie (mildly) parallels the witch hunt in The Crucible, with Abigail and Jeremy now cast as the guilty innocents at the center of a maelstrom. Yet Blame, urgent but sketchy, never quite feels like a high-school version of The Crucible. It’s closer to being a Roger Corman knockoff of Carrie (I mean that as a semi-compliment). Shephard’s performance has a radiant masochism — she’s a wallflower in bloom — and Chris Messina, with his thick-set handsomeness, mopes expressively. Shephard has a lively eye for the neurotic ripples of high-school society, but her most audacious gambit is to dare to place the audience in a grey zone between innocence and judgment regarding a relationship that plays out more sympathetically than it should.

“The publicity for Blame has played up the fact that Quinn financed the movie out of her own college fund when one of her investors suddenly dropped out. That’s a good story, but what’s most telling is that in a behind-the-camera industry as daunting to enter for women as this one, she went ahead and followed her impulse by making a movie that rides a roiling B-movie wave of taboo emotion. The pieces of Blame don’t always fit together (Abigail’s mental illness starts off fuzzy, then just recedes), yet Shephard, to her credit, isn’t shy about showcasing the gradations of teenage rage. She gives Nadia Alexander a showpiece role, and Alexander makes the most of it, portraying the villainous Melissa as a chameleon who seems richer in every scene. She’s the movie’s real Sybil.”

JANUARY 5: Goldbuster (dir. Sandra Kwan Yue Ng)Los Angeles Times review by Kimber Myers: “With echoes of Stephen Chow, John Landis and Sam Raimi, Sandra Ng’s directorial debut is a goofy but generally enjoyable Chinese comedy. The standard plot may inspire feelings of déjà vu, but the gags and performances in Goldbuster will win over audiences that like slapstick and silliness.

“Greedy developer Richie Xiu (Shen Teng) and his son, Xu Tianyu (Yue Yunpeng), will do anything to evict the remaining tenants at the dilapidated Prestige Garden apartments so they can build condos in their place. Their henchmen try to trick the quirky remaining residents — including two former mobsters, a grieving herbalist and an internet video sensation — into believing the buildings are haunted, but the stragglers hire Ling (Ng) as their ghost buster to fight back and stay in the homes they love (and aren’t currently paying for).

“Not every joke lands in this wacky mash-up of comedy, action and mild horror, but Ng and her fellow actors (including Zhang Yi, Papi, Francis Ng and Alex Fong) take so many comic shots that more than a few strike their targets. The David-versus-Goliath plot is nothing new, but the storyline isn’t what will draw viewers in or keep them laughing for most of its brief running time. But buried just beneath the zaniness is a soft heart; Ng’s affection for the ragtag bunch is evident throughout the film — and contagious.”

JANUARY 5 (NYC): In Between (dir. Maysaloun Hamoud) [previously opened at other US theaters in November 2017]Eye for Film review by Jennie Kermode: “Is there anything that makes traditionalist men as angry as women talking openly about their feelings and the things many of them do every day? Earlier this year, Indian film Lipstick Under My Burkha faced a ban (later overturned) for doing just that, and now In Between, a film made in Israel by Palestinian director Maysaloun Hamoud, has attracted an angry response. Hamoud, now the subject of a fatwa, says that she knew it would be controversial but never expected such a strong reaction.

“‘Remember where we are living,’ one of the film’s heroines is told. This is not the West; she must, she is told, adjust her expectations as a result, and not insist so loudly on living life on her own terms. But what does being a rebel mean in this context? What makes Hamoud’s film so potent is that it doesn’t just show the impact of sexist tradition on women who want to party, drink alcohol and wear skinny jeans. It also shows what it can do to women who themselves adhere to old fashioned values.

“Nour (Shaden Kanboura) is a shy, sweet-natured hijabi student who seems distinctly out of place when she moves into the flat shared by Leila (Mouna Hawa) and Salma (Sana Jammelieh), but although their lives are very different from hers – Leila has a Jewish boyfriend, Salma is a lesbian, and both conduct their social lives much as they might do in London or Berlin – she’s drawn to their friendliness, and a strong bond forms between them. A mutual love of good food seals the deal. The problem is that Nour’s fiancé doesn’t like these new influences in her life. As his controlling behaviour escalates, she becomes increasingly aware that she has to make a change in her life – and find a way to do it that will let her remain true to herself.

“With Leila and Salma facing problems of their own, Hamoud is able to explore not just the challenges in women’s lives but the solidarity that makes it possible to cope, even if that doesn’t always mean that things work out the way they want. She does so with a deft touch in a film that never feels heavy-handed, and the performances she coaxes from her leads are compelling. Kanboura, in particular, stands out for the depth she gives to her character, making her much more than just a victim, though at times her suffering is heartbreaking to watch.

“A complicated ensemble piece with a lot going on, In Between is an astonishingly mature feature debut from Hamoud, who balances themes and events with great skill. Importantly, the women at the centre of her story never really seem remote from the Palestinian Israeli society around them, but emerge from it as part of an organic whole. Cultural connections go much deeper than the value system built around restricting their behaviour. There are echoes of 2012’s Out in the Dark in the visible disconnection between how cinemagoers expect to see Palestinians represented and what is, essentially, real life.

“This is a gem of a film that is deserving of international attention in its own right, and not just because of the hatred it has attracted. It doesn’t just raise women’s voices; it tells a very human story about women who are complex and believable and intriguing.”

JANUARY 5: In the Land of Pomegranates (dir. Hava Kohav Beller)First Run Features synopsis: “From Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Hava Kohav Beller comes her new film In the Land of Pomegranates, a suspenseful, multi-layered documentary centered on a group of young people who were born into a violent and insidious ongoing war.

“They are young Palestinians and Israelis invited to Germany to join a retreat called ‘Vacation From War’ where they live under the same roof and face each other every day. In highly charged encounters they confront the entrenched myths and grievances that each side has for the other. Woven into this intense footage are the stories of other embattled lives in the Occupied Territories and Israel: a mother and four children living in the shadow of Gaza’s border wall; an imprisoned Palestinian and the subsequent path he’s taken; a traumatized Israeli survivor of a suicide bombing; and a daring Palestinian mother whose son’s life is saved by an Israeli doctor.

“They are all caught in the duality of the pomegranate: will they embrace rebirth and each other’s humanity, or will they pull the pin on the grenade?”

JANUARY 5: The Strange Ones (dirs. Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein)Quad Cinema synopsis: “Selected by no less than John Waters as one of his favorite films of 2017, this acclaimed mystery follows Alex Pettyfer (Magic Mike) & James Freedson-Jackson as two young men traveling across a rural landscape after a violent incident. As they move forward and a sense of dread mounts, it’s clear that there’s something menacing lurking beneath the surface. Hypnotic and masterfully controlled, this atmospheric tale of identity, trauma, and masculinity heralds the arrival of two bold new filmmaking voices.”

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JANUARY 9 (in theaters and on VOD): Almost Paris (dir. Domenica Cameron-Scorsese)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis: “In the wake of the mortgage lending crisis, a former banker has to return home in order to get back on his feet. Directed by Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, Almost Paris is a story of resilience and redemption where one can rise up, collaborate and give back to those he loves in ways that are priceless.”

JANUARY 12 (in theaters and on VOD): Freak Show (dir. Trudie Styler)HeyUGuys review by Stefan Page: “Though the shooting of Trudie Styler’s Freak Show predates the victory of a certain Donald Trump, it’s a film that feels remarkably pertinent, exploring the perpetual conflict between free-thinkers and the narrow-minded, the liberals against the ignorant – and how it seems that, in most cases these days, it’s the latter who come out on top. This is an incongruity that has been studiously, and playfully examined in this indelible drama, through the prism of cross-dressing teenager Billy Bloom.

“Alex Lawther makes his American debut in the aforementioned role, a young man who thrives in being fabulous. Owing much to his eccentric, gloriously extravagant mother – who he affectionately calls Muv (Bette Midler), he is forced to go and live with his far more conservative father (Larry Pine) and thus begin life at a new school. Contemplating toning down his vibrant choice of attire, he thinks better of it, wearing as outlandish and bold an outfit as he could muster up – complete with much eye shadow, of course – and heads to meet his new classmates. Naturally, he faces much persecution and bullying, and after being viciously attacked and consigned to a coma, he garners the support of the popular football player Flip Kelly (Ian Nelson) giving him the confidence (not that he needed any) to run against the ungracious, prejudiced Lynette (Abigail Breslin) for the honour of being crowned Homecoming Queen – and he intends to run his campaign on one thing and one thing only; sass.

“Unfortunately, and in spite of the engaging aspects, and heartfelt underlying message of equality, and how, regardless of our image, we’re all innately the same – this picture comes riddled with cliché, and though somewhat affectionate in its nods to classic American high-school dramas of the John Hughes mould, it’s frustratingly inclination to follow the beats of the formula work against it, particularly when we’re dealing with such a subversive, unpredictable protagonist, it’s a shame to see the film doesn’t follow suit. And yet at the heart of this tale, and the film’s paramount appeal, is the staggeringly impressive turn by Lawther, who manages to be so overtly confident in the role, and yet internally so vulnerable. Billy Bloom is a role who is vying to understand his own identity and place in the world, and parallels in this regard can be drawn to the character Lawther portrays in Departure, and while that was a far more introverted role, this performance is still no less subtle.

“There’s a really heartening message to be taken away from Freak Show; that we’re all a little different, each with our own quirks and idiosyncrasies, and we should embrace our differences rather than be ashamed of them. So while it’s fair to assume many of us aren’t very similar to Billy Bloom (well, in that going to school dressed up like a corpse bride has never crossed my mind anyway), this picture still speaks to a broad audience. Plus, Billy Bloom is absolutely fabulous, and you may just spent the entire day following this film feeling more confident and assured in who you are – and if cinema can have the power to have that effect, then it’s something we should most definitely celebrate and cherish.”

JANUARY 12 (NYC), JANUARY 19 (LA): My Art (dir. Laurie Simmons)Quad Cinema synopsis: “Acclaimed photographer Laurie Simmons stars in her directorial debut, a funny, fanciful, and decidedly feminist take on a personal and professional midlife crisis. Escaping the city for a friend’s summer house upstate, 65-year-old artist Ellie (Simmons) finds inspiration in the out-of-work actors (Robert Clohessy and Josh Safdie) who maintain the grounds. John Rothman and Parker Posey (Safdie’s fictional wife) round out the motley crew Ellie recruits for her fanciful reenactments of Hollywood classics, which help re-invigorate her creative mojo. With a cameo from daughter Lena Dunham.”

JANUARY 12 (streaming on Netflix): The Polka King (dirs. Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky)Variety’s Sundance Film Festival review by Dennis Harvey: “One of those conspicuously talented comics who nonetheless can be tricky to cast, Jack Black has rather surprisingly found some of his best big-screen roles portraying liberally dramatized versions of real people, à la School of Rock and Bernie. (No, ‘Drunk History’ doesn’t count.) Featuring Black’s most eccentric true-life character yet, The Polka King amply plays to its star’s strengths, yielding a hilariously tough-to-believe biopic that should easily prove one of the bigger commercial breakouts of Sundance’s 2017 edition.

“Co-directors Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky’s affectionately farcical comedy is based on a loopy 2009 documentary about Jan Lewan, a colorful Polish émigré-turned-‘Polka King of Pennsylvania’-turned-convicted Ponzi-scheme felon. Perfectly cast down the line, this bizarre tale of the American Dream gone kitschily awry introduces Black’s Jan in 1990, when he’d have been well on his way to realizing that dream, if only the finances would cooperate.

“Jan’s got a loving wife he adores in former Miss Junior Pennsylvania Marla (Jenny Slate), and a son, David (eventually played as a teen by Robert Capron). He’s got a polka band he fronts, co-founded with ‘musical genius’ clarinetist Mickey (Jason Schwartzman). He’s got a live-in mother-in-law (Jacki Weaver, at risk of stealing the whole movie) who nags and doubts his every move. But even she would be a small price to pay if the performing gigs he lives for actually paid the bills, rather than providing chump change. He also runs a knickknack shop and delivers pizzas on the side, yet barely keeps his head above water.

“Jan is a born, shameless, boundlessly energetic showman, and his aged audience adores him. They bite readily enough when he begins soliciting investors for his ’empire,’ which is projected to encompass a polka TV show and other pipe dreams.Though acting with seeming good (even honest) intentions, Jan doesn’t quite realize he needs to register any such business with the government, let alone that creating a financial operation in which investors are paid back simply from new investors’ contributions (rather than actual business profit) is a form of fraud. The state does take notice, however, dispatching investigator Ron (JB Smoove), whom Jan hastily assures he will refund the moneys post-haste.

“Unfortunately, he’s already in deep enough that such a course-change could bring financial ruin. And meanwhile the investors/fans — most of them local retirees — just keep writing ever-larger checks. At this point, things jump forward five years to find Jan actually doing spectacularly well, at least as far as appearances are concerned. The band has expanded, its presentation is splashier (Jan’s costumes now approach Neil Diamond-meets-Liberace sequined grandeur), its crowds are bigger. One of the band’s recordings even gets nominated for a Grammy. But sooner or later the accounting shell-game he’s playing is going to implode, and like the titular figure in Bernie, one more nice guy who just wanted to make people happy — but committed significant crime doing it — is gonna go to prison.

“Forbes and Wolodarsky’s screenplay has a Christopher Guest feel, albeit one that mercifully supplies real narrative structure. It draws on a story that’s outlandishly appealing in outline, but also boasts some truly stranger-than-fiction set pieces — notably when Jan sells a European package tour promising a ‘private audience with the Pope,’ and later when Marva runs for Mrs. Pennsylvania, a crown she wins, then loses, because guess-who bribed a judge. (These things actually happened, as news clips over the closing credits attest.)

“But when it comes to the film’s overall success, these wildly amusing situations take a back seat to the contributions of an excellent cast. Speaking the language of incorrigible optimism in a burlesque Polish accent, Black gets to sing (the soundtrack is wall-to-wall polka favorites, though there’s no ‘She’s Too Fat for Me’), hustle, and deliver broken-English homilies to his heart’s desire. The cartoonish extroversion that can be simply too much in other contexts is ideally harnessed here.

Obvious Child star Slate also has some inspired moments as the spouse who’s uncomplicatedly devoted, but also has a hidden, competitive streak of attention-neediness. Schwartzman nicely reprises some of his mopier roles until a midpoint transformation in which he is re-christened ‘Mickey Pizzaz,’ a lizardly lounge type aspiring to Buddy Love-dom. While the ensemble offers several other funny supporting turns, the big kahuna here in laugh terms is Weaver, whose duly barbed in-law is a hilariously blunt instrument of domestic emasculation.

“Without ever completely losing touch with reality, the expertly turned design contributions here revel in the decor and sartorial havoc that can be wrought when people of deeply tacky taste get some serious spending money.”

JANUARY 12 (in theaters and on VOD): Saturday Church (dir. Damon Cardasis) (DP: Hillary Spera)Samuel Goldwyn Films synopsis:Saturday Church tells the story of 14-year-old Ulysses, a shy and effeminate boy, who finds himself coping with new responsibilities as ‘man of the house’ after the death of his father. Living alongside his mother, younger brother, and conservative aunt, Ulysses is also struggling with questions about his gender identity. He finds an escape by creating a world of fantasy filled with dance and music. Ulysses’ journey takes a turn for the better when he encounters a vibrant transgender community, who take him to ‘Saturday Church,’ a program for LGBTQ youth. Ulysses manages to keep his two worlds apart; appeasing his aunt and discovering his passion for the NYC ball scene, and voguing, until his double life is revealed. Ulysses must find the courage to be who he truly is, all while risking losing those he cares about most.”

JANUARY 12: Vazante (dir. Daniela Thomas)IFC Center synopsis: “Upon returning from a trading expedition, Antonio discovers that his wife has died in labor. Confined to a decadent but desolate property in the company of his aging mother-in-law and numerous slaves, he marries his wife’s young niece, Beatriz. Separated from her family and left alone on the rugged farmhouse in the Brazilian mountains, Beatriz finds solace in the displaced and oppressed inhabitants around her. Exploring the fraught intersection of feminism, colonialism, and race that has persisted across centuries and continents, Vazante is a haunting and stunning solo directorial debut from Brazilian filmmaker Daniela Thomas.”

JANUARY 19: The Final Year (dir. Greg Barker) (DPs: Martina Radwan and Erich Roland)DOC NYC synopsis: “During 2016, filmmaker Greg Barker gained access to key members of outgoing US President Barack Obama’s administration Secretary of State John Kerry, Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, confidant and speechwriter Ben Rhodes and others for an unprecedented look at the shaping of US foreign policy. While TV shows from ‘The West Wing’ to ‘Madam Secretary’ have invented dramas from this milieu, never has a documentary captured the real players so much in the moment.

“The globe-trotting journey makes stops on multiple continents. Rhodes, who’s described as sharing a ‘mind meld’ with Obama, joins the President on historic visits to Saigon, Hiroshima and Havana. Power seeks to put ordinary people at the heart of foreign policy in Nigeria and Cameroon. Kerry negotiates at the UN for a Syrian ceasefire and bears witness to global warming in Greenland. Every move they make stirs reactions from the media, Congress and the public.

“While history books will be better equipped to explore political complexities, The Final Year excels at showing us the humanity of these policy makers in times of breakthroughs, setbacks and tragedies.

“This perspective would be remarkable in any year. But 2016 stands out since US foreign policy changed dramatically under a new administration. The contrast is clear in every minute of the film. As we gain distance from the Obama era, The Final Year will serve as a vital document of that time.”

JANUARY 19: Forever My Girl (dir. Bethany Ashton Wolf)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Forever My Girl tells the story of country music super-star Liam Page (Alex Roe) who left his bride, Josie (Jessica Rothe), at the altar choosing fame and fortune instead. However, Liam never got over Josie, his one true love, nor did he ever forget his Southern roots in the small community where he was born and raised. When he unexpectedly returns to his hometown for the funeral of his high school best friend, Liam is suddenly faced with the consequences of all that he left behind.”

JANUARY 19: Kangaroo (dirs. Kate McIntyre Clere and Michael McIntyre)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “This groundbreaking film reveals the truth surrounding Australia’s love-hate relationship with its beloved icon. The kangaroo image is proudly used by top companies, sports teams and as tourist souvenirs, yet when they hop across the vast continent some consider them to be pests to be shot and sold for profit. Kangaroo unpacks a national paradigm where the relationship with kangaroos is examined.”

JANUARY 19: Mama Africa (dir. Mika Kaurismäki) (DPs: Jacques Cheuiche, Wolfgang Held, Frank Lehmann, Martina Radwan and Eran Tahor)IFC Center synopsis: “Miriam Makeba was the first African musician to become a true international star. Her music – which influenced artists across the globe – always remained anchored in her traditional South African roots and conveyed strong messages against racism and poverty.

“This documentary, directed by Mika Kaurismäki, traces her life and music through more than fifty years of performing. Using rare archive footage of her performances, interviews and intimate scenes filmed over the years, this powerful documentary expertly exposes the biography of a unique person, a world icon. She sang for John F. Kennedy and Marlon Brando, performed with Harry Belafonte, Nina Simone and Dizzie Gillespie, was married to Hugh Masekela and also the radical Black Panther, Stokely Carmichael.”

JANUARY 30 (on DVD from Wolfe Video): Just Charlie (dir. Rebekah Fortune)Eye for Film review by Andrew Robertson: “Charlie wants to play football, and she wants to be who she is – a challenge for anyone, but more so since Charlie is struggling not only with the pressures of vicarious parental achievement but also because she was assigned male at birth.

“‘We have to be realistic,’ they say, and Just Charlie is – astonishingly, painstakingly so, matched to what amounts to a scrupulous fairness, an overwhelming and compellingly sympathetic character piece that was a deserved winner of the Audience Award at 2017’s Edinburgh International Film Festival.

“The heart of the film is a performance from Harry Gilby, in a feature debut – ably managing to convey not only the struggles but the strengths of young Charlie in the face of any number of vicissitudes, not the least of which are in the relationships that are affected by what amounts to a realisation and not a change. Director Rebekah Fortune and writer Peter Machen have worked together before, on a similar project called Something Blue. At 2017’s EIFF, their film was a fitting (and strong) colleague to Daphne and Romans, two other, albeit very different, features expanded from earlier, thematically similar, shorts. All three are rooted in single strong performances of characters re-engaging with the world, and all three would appear to have benefited from what amounts to rehearsal – that business of things becoming easier with practise is reflected in all three on-screen, and to good effect.

“The process of growing up is often a difficult one, but films have access to funding bodies and all manner of support that individuals often do not. Charlie is not without allies, nor her family, and it’s clear that the on-screen support of the organisation Mermaids was matched by off-screen guidance. While usually avoiding the didactic, Just Charlie manages to address each of the elements of a transition with a deftness matched only by Charlie’s prowess on the football pitch. Indeed, one later sequence is made stronger by wrong-footing audiences who are acquainted with some of the sadder statistics of the process. Though it’s potentially the kind of ‘issue movie’ that becomes a learning resource, a combination of factors – not least its quality as a story, but also the realistic quantity of swearing – mean that it will hopefully avoid that fate.

“As Charlie’s parents, Patrica Potter and Scot Williams are good, and their other daughter Eve is well portrayed by Elinor Machen-Fortune. There’s an authenticity here, some of which may come from roles they’ve played in the previous work with Fortune, but most of which can be attributed to the quality of their performances.

“Other striking moments come about from decisions made behind the camera – one beautiful shot relies on the geography of the family’s suburban home, a corridor bisected by the wall dividing two bedrooms, one blue, one pink. There’s probably a paragraph in the way that space is used and what decisions made within and around it signify, but I’ll spare you – suffice to say that it’s one of many small moments of quality within the film.

“The wider supporting cast are good too – not least a turn from Peter Lloyd (another previous collaborator) as Charlie’s coach Mick – it may not be a textbook example of how to be an ally, but it’s close enough without feeling anything other than human. Again and again Just Charlie excels not only in the accuracy of its depiction of a complicated human issue but in being a good film. There’s a power to its ending that’s commendable. Unflinching when things are dark, unfazed by handling complex topics, Just Charlie is a charm, a delight.”