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

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Cinematographer Anka Malatynska and director/screenwriter Clare Niederpruem on the set of Little Women, 2017. (Photo: IMDb)

Here are twenty-five new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this September, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

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SEPTEMBER 7 (in theaters & on VOD): Alright Now (dir. Jamie Adams) (DP: Bet Rourich)Edinburgh International Film Festival synopsis:Cobie Smulders (‘How I Met Your Mother’) is on raucous and funny form in this British comedy, playing Joanne, lead singer of once-popular 1990s Britpop band The Filthy Dukes. After a drunken night out with her friend Sara (Jessica Hynes), Joanne finds she mistakenly enrolled in university. Determined to give the young students a run for their money as a party animal, she finds they aren’t interested in rock ’n’ roll. However, love and new beginnings might be on the cards for rocker Joanne.

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SEPTEMBER 7 (streaming on Netflix): City of Joy (dir. Madeleine Gavin) (DPs: Taylor Krauss and Lisa Rinzler)Synopsis from the film’s official website:The film tells the story of the first class of women at City of Joy, and chronicles the process by which such a revolutionary place came to be, from its origins with the women survivors themselves, to the opening of the center’s doors.  Directed by first- time director, Madeleine Gavin, the film provides a glimpse into the lives of the women the center serves, and the unlikely friendship that develops when a devout Congolese doctor, Dr. Denis Mukwege (2016 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize), radical playwright and activist, Eve Ensler (Tony Award winning playwright of The Vagina Monologues) and a charismatic Congolese human rights activist, Christine Schuler Deschryver (Director of the City of Joy), join forces to create this safe haven in the middle of violence-torn Eastern Congo.”

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SEPTEMBER 7: Hal (dir. Amy Scott)IFC Center synopsis:Hal is a long-overdue feature length documentary film celebrating the life and work of director Hal Ashby, set against a backdrop of a rapidly changing America, and an even more dramatic shift in filmmaking. While Ashby was once the toast of ‘New Hollywood’ his rise and fall became an archetypal story of art versus industry.

“Director Hal Ashby’s singular genius led to an unprecedented string of Oscar-winning films in the 1970s. His legacy is undeniable — Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Coming Home, and Being There and yet the obsessive and uncompromising nature that brought us these films became his downfall. On camera interviews with Oscar-winning actors Lee Grant, Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Louis Gossett Jr, Jeff Bridges and more recall how they were empowered by Ashby and granted collaborative freedom. Contemporary directors including Alexander Payne, Judd Apatow, Lisa Cholodenko, and David O. Russell attest to the quiet but powerful influence Ashby has had on their own filmmaking. Behind the camera colleagues Norman Jewison, Robert Towne, Haskell Wexler, and Pablo Ferro stand witness to Ashby’s brilliance as a filmmaker and the forces that led to his undoing. While on the outside Ashby embodied a quintessential peaceful vibe, internally he was dealing with deeper issues that he then transformed into the main themes of his work. Out of his anti-authoritarian inclinations leftover from a troubled childhood emerged a filmmaker dedicated to making prescient films that challenged racial stereotypes and gentrification; examined military authority; celebrated love that knows no color, age or race; explored sexual politics during a time of national crisis; championed a socialist folk singer; illuminated the plight of veterans and the cost of war; and revealed the dark underbelly of corporate control of American politics.

“In the 1980s, with the advent of the film franchise came a major shift in the Hollywood business model. While contemporaries Coppola, Scorsese and Spielberg rose to stardom riding the blockbuster wave, Ashby released a perplexing series of flops and disasters. The industry began to dismiss his brilliance amid rumors of drug addiction and cost overruns. His profound humanity, ability with actors, and genius in the editing room went from an Oscar-winning formula to a perceived liability. The latitude that directors were given in the 1970s was dissolved to make way for a different era in filmmaking, one that did not entertain Ashby’s process-oriented methods.

Hal explores the complex balance of art and commerce, the passions that drive an artist to create, and what this one artist was willing to sacrifice for his work. Hal compels us to re-examine why we make films, reminds us of what film can be, that it has a power to move and transform us.”

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SEPTEMBER 7: The Hows of Us (dir. Cathy Garcia-Molina)Cosmo Honest Review synopsis: “George (Kathryn Bernardo) and Primo (Daniel Padilla) are schoolmates who fall in love. She’s preparing to get into medical school and he’s a musician waiting for his band to hit it big. Together, in a house they inherited from George’s grand aunt, they dream of great success and promise to support each other no matter what.

“But what happens when the dream of success doesn’t come for one of them? Primo doesn’t get the big break he’s been working for and turns into a difficult and arrogant artist who can’t even help with the bills. Faithful George stays true to her promise to support Primo through it all.

“That is until she reaches her breaking point and gives up. Dejected, Primo walks out and does not look back.

“Years later, he comes back a changed man. Can she still give him a second chance?”

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SEPTEMBER 7 (NYC), SEPTEMBER 14 (LA): I Am Not a Witch (dir. Rungano Nyoni)The Guardian review by Mark Kermode: “In a remote Zambian village, a nine-year-old girl (Margaret Mulubwa) is accused of being a witch and given a stark choice: to accept her supernatural branding and live a tethered life as a sorceress, or to cut her ties with local tradition and be transformed into a goat that may be killed and eaten for supper. Thus begins this bewilderingly strange yet terrifically sure-footed feature debut from writer-director Rungano Nyoni. Born in Zambia and part-raised in Wales, Nyoni first made international waves with such award-winning shorts as Mwansa the Great (2011) and Listen (2014). Now, this daringly satirical parable of magic and misogyny, superstition and social strictures confirms her promise as a film-maker of fiercely independent vision, with a bright future ahead.

“Unsurprisingly opting to embrace her supernatural status, the young heroine of I Am Not a Witch is sent to the local ‘witch camp,’ an enslaved tourist attraction. Here, the women offer a sense of community and protection to the all-but-silent newcomer, whom they name Shula (‘it means “to be uprooted”‘). But when government official Mr Banda (Henry BJ Phiri) declares that ‘you are my little witch now,’ a strange form of celebrity looms. Soon, Shula is being paraded around local courts and TV stations, dispensing divine justice and hawking magical eggs – all for the profit of her garrulous keeper. ‘What if she’s actually just a child?’ asks the presenter of the Smooth Talk chatshow, a question that is met with stony silence from her ‘state guardian.’

“Nyoni was apparently inspired by real-life reports of witchcraft accusations in Zambia, and her research took her to Ghana, where she became the first foreigner to sleep in one of the world’s oldest ‘witch camps.’ Here, she observed first hand the daily rituals of these women whose fates have been sealed by ‘nothing more than hearsay.’ Yet for all its factual grounding, I Am Not a Witch is also a work of fairytale invention, unravelling the threads of its quasi-mythical narrative with anarchic aplomb. In particular, the motif of women restrained from flight by vast lengths of white ribbon has a touch of Charles Perrault or the brothers Grimm – a magical-realist conceit that brilliantly dramatises the down-to-earth reality of the ties that bind.

“There’s a hint of the absurdist tragicomedy of Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster too, as Shula faces a Kafkaesque choice between enforced conformity and metamorphosis. Brilliantly, Nyoni keeps her audience wondering whether they’re meant (or allowed?) to laugh or cry at this insane predicament, juxtaposing scenes of poignant despair with sociopolitical existential slapstick. Early accusations of witchcraft have an almost Pythonesque quality, while a sequence in which a show trial is interrupted by a mobile phone is pure farce. Fans of Chilean surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky will warm to a streak of deadpan humour that is drier than the arid plains upon which Shula dances to summon the rain.

“Having worked monochrome miracles on Ciro Guerra’s Amazon odyssey Embrace of the Serpent, cinematographer David Gallego here conjures a kaleidoscope of arresting tableaux: lonely Shula listening through a blue horn to the distant laughter of schoolchildren carried on the wind; a huge orange truck with women tied to outstretched reels, like some mobile fairground ride; the open mouth of a giant head looming towards us, while a frightened child huddles within. These images are hauntingly composed and dreamily sustained, the length of the shots heightening comedy and tragedy alike, with heartbreaking results. Meanwhile, music cues swerve from Vivaldi to Estelle, keeping the audience on edge and uneasy.

“At the centre of it all is a group of nonprofessional players, led by young Margaret Mulubwa, who was discovered during a location recce in Luapula Province. And what a discovery she is! With a face that can transform from innocence to defiance in an instant, Mulubwa is a mesmerising screen presence, her stoical countenance broken occasionally by a radiant smile that lights up the landscape.

“As for Nyoni, her ability to blend cruel humour, pointed satire and empathetic anger to produce something touched by tragic transcendence is astonishing. In interviews, she has described watching Michael Haneke movies as ‘my film school’ (perhaps those white ribbons are a homage?). Yet she has also talked enthusiastically about her love of the witchy 1996 teen fantasy The Craft. With such wide-ranging influences, who knows what this remarkable film-maker will do next? Having been spellbound by her audacious first feature, I can’t wait to find out.”

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SEPTEMBER 7: Kusama: Infinity (dir. Heather Lenz)Film Forum synopsis: “Yayoi Kusama is the top-selling female artist in the world, best known for her colorful polka dot- and pumpkin-themed designs and her massively popular mirrored Infinity Rooms. Her work has pushed boundaries that often alienated her from her peers and those in power in the art world. Kusama: Infinity shows the artist overcoming the odds to bring her radical artistic vision to the world stage – growing up in Japan during World War II, life in a dysfunctional family that discouraged her creative ambitions, sexism and racism in the art establishment, and mental illness in a culture where that was a particular stigma. Kusama has created a legacy of artwork that spans the disciplines of painting, sculpture, installation art, performance art, poetry, and novels. After six decades of work, people around the world are experiencing her Infinity Rooms in record numbers, and Kusama continues to create work every day.”

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SEPTEMBER 7 (NYC), SEPTEMBER 14 (LA): Nelly (dir. Anne Émond) (DP: Josée Deshaies)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis: “A high-class prostitute by choice, Nelly Arcan’s colorful life is recreated in a multi-layered and stylish mix of make-believe and memoir, revealing Nelly’s alter egos: the neurotic writer, the vulnerable lover, the call girl and the star. Nelly shocked the literary world with her elegant phrasing and the lurid details of sex work in her autobiographical first novel, Whore, which became a critically acclaimed bestseller. Despite unprecedented success, Nelly’s remarkable life ended in tragedy.”

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SEPTEMBER 14 (NYC/LA), SEPTEMBER 21 (wider release & on VOD): I Think We’re Alone Now (dir./DP: Reed Morano)Slash Film’s Sundance Film Festival review by Ben Pearson: “Is there anyone better at playing soulfully sad than Peter Dinklage? The ‘Game of Thrones’ star is front and center in I Think We’re Alone Now, a post-apocalyptic drama in which he plays the last man on Earth who discovers he’s not as alone as he thinks when a young woman (Elle Fanning) enters his life. Characters in similar stories might celebrate this miraculous opportunity for human connection, but Del (Dinklage) resents it – he actually prefers being by himself, even in such extreme circumstances. Like an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ extended to feature length, I Think We’re Alone Now wraps emotional exploration in a high concept premise. And like Rod Serling’s seminal sci-fi anthology series, this movie features a third-act twist – but this one almost torpedoes the entire story.

“This is the second film from director Reed Morano, the celebrated director of photography who broke out last year by establishing the visual style of Hulu’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ Here, Morano serves as both director and director of photography, and no surprise, her camera work is beautiful. But the director also captures an intimacy in the lead performances that gives the movie some much-needed life: since the cause of the apocalypse is never explained and frankly not much happens in this story, the audience is left to focus more on the actors than the plot. Luckily, Dinklage and Fanning are up to the task.

“Dinklage is solid as Del, an isolated man living in a New England town whose population has been wiped out. He spends his days in silence, methodically going through each house and retrieving batteries from remote controls and vibrators before burying the dead in a hill on the edge of town. But you get the sense that he’s doing this out of compulsion rather than any sense of respect – one of the film’s biggest themes is the idea of feeling lonely while being surrounded by others, and the way Del unceremoniously dumps each body into the ground makes it seem as if he’s almost happy to be rid of the people who overlooked or belittled him when they were alive. He’s certainly pleased with his life of isolation, fishing for food on the local lake and keeping up his duties as the town librarian by cataloguing books that he finds in dead people’s houses. He spends his nights watching movies on laptops, swapping each computer for a new one as its battery dies for the final time.

“But one night, his sleep is interrupted by a series of explosions: in the most gorgeous sequence in the movie, Del walks to the window and sees that a fireworks display has been set off across town. (Morano’s framing and the confusion on Dinklage’s face makes each explosion represent a different possibility for what may lie ahead.) That’s when Del meets Grace (Fanning), an energetic teenager who’s his polar opposite and who teaches him how to appreciate people. It’s a simple concept, but Morano spends a lot of time fleshing out their relationship and finding small moments that resonate: an emotionally wounded Del looking up at Grace, the two of them performing a small ritual for each new buried body, an argument over the lifespan of a goldfish, the sounds of a past life floating up from a photo album. It’s not without moments of humor, too: when Del tells Grace that batteries are the most important commodity the dead can offer, she jokes, ‘The necrophiliac in me would have to disagree.’

“But then that pesky twist comes along and nearly ruins all the good will the film has built up until that point. Without spoiling anything, the film’s final third raises an interesting thematic point – would you want to live in a world in which all negative emotions could be purged from your mind? – but it does so in such a rushed and unsatisfying fashion that the ending either needed to be reworked entirely or had another 20 minutes devoted to it to make it feel earned.

“Still, despite a premise that sounds overly familiar and a central relationship that could easily have tipped into eye-rolling territory, Morano, writer Mike Makowsky, and the movie’s lead actors have crafted a poignant and humanist showcase of growth and compassion. Quiet, reflective, and intimate, I Think We’re Alone Now is an exceptional exhibition for Dinklage and Fanning and a further illustration of the dynamic talent of filmmaker Reed Morano.”

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SEPTEMBER 14 (streaming on Netflix): The Land of Steady Habits (dir. Nicole Holofcener)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis: “For 200 years, Connecticut has been called ‘the land of steady habits,’ initially for its political stability though richer ironies quickly emerged. By 2014, when Ted Thompson wrote the novel on which Nicole Holofcener’s new film is based, steady habits had become both a fair description and a caustic joke.

“Ben Mendelsohn plays Anders Hill, a middle-aged man who has divorced his wife, Helene (Edie Falco), and surrendered the comforts of affluent family life for… well, he’s not sure. Retired from work, freed from marriage, and largely abandoned by his adult son Preston (Thomas Mann), he seeks that liberating lightness he once had. But awkward dates prove unsatisfying, even with a woman as lively as Barbara (Connie Britton). Anders finds himself drifting towards adolescent adventures, trying to befriend his neighbour’s teenage son Charlie (Charlie Tahan), and joining in risk taking he should have outgrown decades ago. Played with flinty charm by Mendelsohn, best known as a character actor, Anders is the kind of man often found at the centre of films, novels, and plays. He is successful and idiosyncratic. His flaws somehow make him seem more attractive. But watch what Holofcener does with this character.

“Under the auspices of the woman who made such insightful social comedies as Enough Said, Please Give, Friends with Money, and Lovely & Amazing, Anders’s rakish masculinity wilts. As the film progresses, it turns a sharper gaze on its questing protagonist, revealing more about Anders than he might ever want you to see. Less funny but more penetrating than Holofcener’s comedies, The Land of Steady Habits emerges from a world similar to The Ice Storm‘s, where money won’t buy mindfulness, and a man’s grasp too often exceeds his reach.”

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SEPTEMBER 14: Lost Child (dir. Ramaa Mosley)Cinema Village synopsis: “Fern (Leven Rambin), an army veteran, returns home in order to look for her brother, only to discover an abandoned boy lurking in the woods behind her childhood home. After taking in the boy, she searches for clues to his identity, and discovers the local folklore about a malevolent, life-draining spirit that comes in the form of a child; the Tatterdemalion.”

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SEPTEMBER 14 (in theaters & on VOD): MDMA (dir. Angie Wang)Brainstorm Media synopsis: “Raised by her strict father in an urban neighborhood, Angie is accepted into a prestigious university in the early 1980s. The sudden jolt from hardship to privileged campus life proves to be a challenge. When her financial aid is cut, she uses her book and street smarts, along with the schools resources to synthesize the growing popular drug, Ecstasy. Angie becomes one of the west coast’s largest distributors of ‘X,’ cutting deals on campus and in posh nightclubs. Her dual life as the Asian ‘model minority’ coed and profit-driven drug dealer is further complicated by her desire to help Bree, a girl from one of the bay area’s most infamous ghettos who reminds her of her own dark past. Angie lives the high life until her recklessness instigates a sudden tragedy from which she may not recover.”

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SEPTEMBER 14 (NYC), SEPTEMBER 21 (expanding nationwide): Science Fair (dirs. Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster)The Landmark at 57th Street synopsis: “Hailed by critics as ‘immensely likeable,’ ‘brilliant and quirky’ and an ‘ode to the teenage science geeks on whom our future depends,’ and winner of the audience award at Sundance and SXSW, National Geographic Documentary Films’ Science Fair follows nine high school students from around the globe as they navigate rivalries, setbacks and, of course, hormones, on their journey to compete at The International Science and Engineering Fair. As 1,700 of the smartest, quirkiest teens from 78 different countries face off, only one will be named Best in Fair. The film, from Fusion and Muck Media and directed by the DuPont Award-winning and Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaking team Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster, offers a front seat to the victories, defeats and motivations of an incredible group of young men and women who are on a path to change their lives, and the world, through science.”

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SEPTEMBER 14: Where Hands Touch (dir. Amma Asante)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Cameron Bailey: “Writer-director Amma Asante (Belle, United Kingdom) returns to the Festival with this complex story about a love so fierce it transcends the most terrible divides conceivable. The story of a biracial teen in Nazi Germany, Where Hands Touch offers a different sort of Holocaust narrative — one that’s been a long time coming.

“Rudesheim, the Rhineland, 1944. Lenya (Amandla Stenberg) has come of age during the chaos of war. Her mother (Abbie Cornish) has done her best to protect Lenya, but the racist credo of National Socialism has rendered her a pariah for the colour of her skin. Yet youthful ardour can bloom in the most unlikely places: Lenya is in love with Lutz (George MacKay), a young Nazi. Lutz toes the party line when it comes to antisemitism yet remains drawn to Lenya despite Nazi revulsion at the thought of a Black German.

“When that revulsion escalates to direct threat to her survival, Lenya and Lutz must face the seemingly inevitable outcome of their impossibly fraught romance.

“Asante has made an astonishingly bold and unnervingly timely film. Where Hands Touch foregrounds matters of the heart while prompting us to consider the slippery process of a nation’s radicalization. At the film’s core is Stenberg’s breathtaking performance. From her supporting role in The Hunger Games to her lead in The Hate U Give — also screening at the Festival — Stenberg communicates the myriad struggles of a girl becoming a woman with vulnerability and sophistication.”

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SEPTEMBER 19: Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable (dir. Sasha Waters Freyer)Film Forum synopsis: “‘What is a photograph?’ Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) asks in his iconic, gravelly Bronx accent. Winogrand was a compulsive street photographer (although he hated that term), working for decades in NYC, then in Texas and California, to create a huge body of work (hundreds of thousands of images taken with his 35mm Leica) that comprise an encyclopedic portrait of America. During his lifetime he was celebrated (as a favorite of MoMA curator John Szarkowski) and reviled (especially for his book, Women Are Beautiful) and then more-or-less forgotten after his untimely death at age 56. Writes Jennifer Szalai in The New York Times: ‘(Winogrand) captured the fallout from the midcentury American moment – those few decades from the 1950s on, when placid, middle-class prosperity started to give way to something less affluent, more fragmented and harder to define.'”

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SEPTEMBER 21: A Happening of Monumental Proportions (dir. Judy Greer) (DP: Alison Kelly)Cinema Village synopsis: “A series of touching comic tableaus – some raucous, some sad, some instantly identifiable – mark actress Judy Greer’s directorial debut. The nonstop comedy intertwines students, parents, and teachers, all trying to find their way through one rough day. The all-star cast finds Daniel, an account manager (Common) with a boring job gearing up for Career Day at his lovely daughter’s elementary school, while dealing with the fallout of an intra-office romance with his assistant (Jennifer Garner) and his nasty new boss (Bradley Whitford). The boss’s unfortunately nerdy son finds himself instantly entranced with Daniel’s daughter (Storm Reid), seeking advice from their school’s hip shop teacher (John Cho) and depressed music teacher (Anders Holm), without success. The teachers’ principal team – Allison Janney and Rob Riggle – spend their day trying to hide the school’s dead gardener from not only the staff, but also the students and their parents, who experience a Career Day they likely will never forget.”

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SEPTEMBER 21: Love, Gilda (dir. Lisa D’Apolito)Variety’s Tribeca Film Festival review by Owen Gleiberman: “The great ‘Saturday Night Live’ performers have always been more than funny. They’re up there to make you laugh, of course, but it’s the way they make you laugh — the manic expressive rock-star shine of their personality, and how it channels their comedic spirit. (That’s something you hold onto long after the laugh is over.) And no one on ‘Saturday Night Live’ ever had a spirit that burned more brightly, or hilariously, than Gilda Radner.

“She poured her essence — her very being — into every character she created, and she did it effortlessly, without fuss. When she played Judy Miller, the hyperactive Brownie who made up insanely self-directed TV fantasies in her bedroom, Radner seemed to be channeling her inner child — but that, in a larger sense, is what she did in every sketch. She didn’t just create characters. She became them, and invited the audience to share in the euphoria she felt in submerging, and exposing, herself.

Love, Gilda, Lisa D’Apolito’s exuberant and moving documentary portrait of Gilda Radner, which opened this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, is a movie that captures the fascinating evolution and awesome range of Radner’s talent — the dozens of lovingly, crazily etched characters she did on ‘SNL’ (the dear old deaf crank Emily Litella, the head-cold nerd Lisa Loopner, the wildly cantankerous Roseanne Roseannadanna), and the way she hardly even needed to be playing a character; she could just be dancing with a hula hoop, and you felt the magic pull of her gift. In the early years, when Lorne Michaels had a two-and-a-half-minute space to fill that was too short for an official sketch, he would call on Radner to do a bit called ‘What Gilda Ate,’ in which she simply riffed on what she had to eat that day. Just standing there in front of the camera, with no props or characters to hide behind, she had the audience eating out of her hand.

“That may seem ironic in light of the revelations that would later come forth about her bulimia, but in fact, it’s not ironic at all. Radner was a sensualist who loved food; she also felt compelled, as a female celebrity of the late ’70s (and the first woman superstar of ‘Saturday Night Live’), to remain thin. The eating disorder that emerged from that conflict is captured, in Love, Gilda, with matter-of-fact honesty, but as serious as it was, it never shrouds Radner’s life force. Nothing does. The movie captures a woman who lived as if she never knew what was coming next. On stage, she went with the flow of her comic impulses, and off stage she went with the flow of her desire for bliss and comfort and salvation, and even with the flow of the cancer that killed her.

“Forty years later, her comedy looks more sublime than ever. As you watch Love, Gilda, though, it becomes clear that what made Gilda Radner special — and uproarious — was her spirit: open, smiling, generous, euphoric. She was that rare thing, a happy comedian (though, of course, she also had her demons), and Love, Gilda is a salute to the complex power of her happiness.

“The movie is a perfectly conventional documentary (chronological, full of the talking heads you’d expect — Lorne, Chevy, Laraine, etc.). Yet the reason that description doesn’t do it justice is that D’Apolito, working with the editors Anne Alvergue, David Cohen, and Kristen Nutile, has interpolated a range of still photographs of Radner, culled from throughout her life, into a mutating scrapbook that becomes a kind of visual psychodrama. That may sound like a version of what any decent documentary biography does, but the art of the form can come down to the precision of this photograph, employed at this moment, to express the subject’s shifting moods and circumstances. Love, Gilda is plain but beautifully crafted. It draws you close to Radner, presenting her rise through the world of ’70s comedy as a journey of discovery.

“The film pays due homage to her ’50s childhood — she was born in 1946 and grew up in an affluent Detroit family, idolizing Charlie Chapin and Lucille Ball, attached to the daddy who came home from his career as a hotel owner and watched her perform for hours. Even then, slipping into characters was what she did, not out of the usual comedian’s ‘insecurity’ but because it came as naturally to her as breathing. As a girl, she battled weight issues (she was put on dexedrine pills at 10), and she later dropped out of the University of Michigan to follow a Canadian sculptor she’d fallen in love with to Toronto. She wanted to be a homemaker.

“One of the charms of her career is that it all happened with a minimum of calculation. In Toronto, she stumbled into the cast of Godspell and dated Martin Short (at 22, four years her junior), which led her to Second City, which led to a phone call, out of the blue, from John Belushi, who was doing National Lampoon’s Lemmings and wanted her to be ‘the girl in the show.’ In 1973, this was called progress.

“Seventies comedy, especially stand-up, is often talked about as a noxious boys’ club, and God knows The National Lampoon was, but Second City had a far more gender-friendly vibe, and part of the beauty of the Radner mystique is that she possessed the gentle force and glow to casually defuse the sexism of the comedy world. She was accepted on her own terms, and when Lorne Michaels was getting ready to launch his late-night-TV live-comedy experiment, Gilda was the first one he cast.

“The celebrity came instantly, and she basked in it; it enhanced her glow. We see an extraordinary clip of the original cast members, all clammed up on ‘The Tomorrow Show,’ as Lorne Michaels — young, handsome, and dark-haired, but already a self-styled corporate mobster of late night — explains to Tom Snyder that he expects about two of them to last. (What a thing to say! In front of your cast members on national television!) Radner wasn’t fazed. Along with Chevy Chase, she was the first true star of ‘SNL,’ and it didn’t take long for the entire cast to become the Beatles of comedy. They were iconic; a generation grew obsessed with them.

Love, Gilda includes fascinating clips of Radner cavorting with Bill Murray on ‘The National Lampoon Radio Hour’; backstage glimpses of her ‘SNL’ writing partnership with Alan Zweibel; Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, and Melissa McCarthy giving impromptu readings of the journal she kept to the end; and an intimate panorama of her courtship with Gene Wilder. Their romance is quite touching (creatively, though, love really was blind: The one mistake Radner ever made in her career was costarring in her husband’s warmed-over Mel Brooksian duds, like Haunted Honeymoon). Her battle with ovarian cancer, which was first diagnosed in 1987, is long and brave, presented by the movie in all its everyday soul-shaping agony. For anyone to die as young as Gilda Radner did (she was 42) is tragic, but for a performer who gave this much to the world, with a spirit of such elation, to be cut down in this way seems beyond cruel. Yet by the end of Love, Gilda, you feel like you’ve seen a very full life.”

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SEPTEMBER 21: Nappily Ever After (streaming on Netflix) (dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour)IndieWire article by Jenna Marotta: “Fifteen years ago, Real Women Have Curves director Patricia Cardoso almost made Nappily Ever After for Universal Pictures, with Halle Berry in the lead role. An adaptation of the bestselling first installment from Trisha R. Thomas’ eight-book series eventually found a home at Netflix. Berry’s onetime part went to Film Independent Spirit Award nominee Sanaa Lathan (Love & Basketball), also the project’s co-producer.

“As advertising executive Violet Jones — changed from Venus Johnston in the books — Lathan is a coiffure-conscious perfectionist who believes she’s engineered herself a happy ending. Yet life begins to capsize when her doctor beau presents her with a Chihuahua instead of a proposal, and she is taken off an important work account.

“Late one night, convinced she has nothing left to lose — and recalling her boyfriend’s criticism of ‘You never let your hair down’ — she shaves her head. The film’s tagline, naturally, is, ‘Let Yourself Grow.’

“Adam Brooks (Beloved) and first-time screenwriter Cee Marcellus penned the film, which co-stars Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) and Emmy winner Lynn Whitfield (The Josephine Baker Story) as Violet’s parents, plus ‘American Gods’ lead Ricky Whittle and Netflix veteran Lyriq Bent (‘She’s Gotta Have It’) as her suitors.

“BAFTA nominee Haifaa al-Mansour became the first Saudi woman to direct a feature film with Wadjda (2014); last year, Elle Fanning starred in her English-language debut, IFC Films’ Mary Shelley. Additional producers include Tracey Bing (Southside with You), Jared LeBoff (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), and Marc Platt (La La Land), who was attached to the film when it was in development at Universal.”

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SEPTEMBER 21 (streaming on Netflix & in limited theatrical release): Quincy (dirs. Alan Hicks and Rashida Jones)Deadline article by Mike Fleming Jr.: “Netflix has acquired Quincy, the documentary about legendary composer/producer Quincy Jones that was directed by his daughter Rashida Jones and Alan Hicks. Netflix has set a global release for September 21, and will give the film a limited theatrical release as well. The film is produced by Paula DuPré Pesmen and executive produced by Jane Rosenthal and Berry Welsh from Tribeca Productions and Adam Fell from Quincy Jones Productions.

“The docu is an intimate look into the life of an icon who has been a force in music and pop culture for decades, transcending racial and cultural boundaries. He started as a trumpeter, pianist and arranger for bandleader Lionel Hampton, and right out of college was arranging songs for artists including Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa, and Ray Charles. He has been a mentor to artists from Michael Jackson to Lesley Gore, Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith and collaborated with the likes of Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Miles Davis and many others.

“Jones was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has Emmys, Grammys, Oscars and Tonys on his mantle. Actually he has won 27 Grammys, second most in history. He was producer and conductor of ‘We Are the World,’ still the best selling single of all time, and Jackson’s solo albums Off the Wall, Bad and Thriller, latter of which remains the best selling album ever. On the movie side, he co-produced Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple and won an Emmy for scoring the opening episode of the groundbreaking miniseries Roots.

“Jones is an inspiring man to speak with and is an accomplished storyteller, and opened up for the daughter he shares with his ex, the Mod Squad star Peggy Lipton.

“‘It’s rare that somebody who has lived as much life as my dad is still interested in growing and knowing the next generation,’ Rashida Jones said. ‘He is such a man of action and accomplishments, but we were so lucky to spend real time with him, to let him reflect on life and the larger picture. I feel honored to be able to share that with audiences all over the world.’

“Said co-director Hicks: ‘There is really no one like Quincy, the sheer breadth of his work alone is unparalleled, but the story of him as a man has never been comprehensively told. It was a privilege to have his trust, allowing us to capture intimate moments giving insight into the fabric of the man.’

“Lisa Nishimura, VP of Original Documentaries for Netflix called it ‘a rare opportunity to be able to present the definitive story of someone who has for over seven decades, not just influenced, but altered the course of culture.'”

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SEPTEMBER 24 (HBO), SEPTEMBER 28 (limited theatrical release): Jane Fonda in Five Acts (dir. Susan Lacy)TheWrap’s Sundance Film Festival review by Alonso Duralde:Jane Fonda in Five Acts could easily have been a 10-hour miniseries; it would take at least two hours merely to go through each of her 50 or so film performances. As a second-generation star, an outspoken activist, an entrepreneur and feminist icon, Fonda almost seems like a living metaphor for the uneasy and constantly changing post-WWII era.

“If she didn’t actually exist, Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin would have had to make her up as a character in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. But she does exist, and she’s still here, and documentarian Susan Lacy (Spielberg) digs deep into Fonda’s life to create a film (for HBO) that’s an audio-visual supplement to the actress’ fascinating 2005 memoir (My Life So Far), a frank examination of Fonda’s personal evolution, and a celebration of her role in popular culture.

“It’s a story of highs and lows, successes and regrets; yes, Megyn Kelly, Fonda wishes she hadn’t had plastic surgery, noting that she loves ‘lived-in faces,’ like the one on her dear friend Vanessa Redgrave, after whom she named her oldest daughter. Her relationship with her daughter also counts as a regret, but it’s taken Fonda a lifetime to understand her own mother, and she hopes that it’s not too late to make up for her own mistakes.

“The first four acts of the title refer to the men who guided Fonda through most of her life: her father, Henry, an iconic screen presence in his own right; her first husband, French filmmaker Roger Vadim, who guided her through her Euro-sex kitten period (and it’s a delight to hear her trill part of the Barbarella theme song); her second, activist Tom Hayden, whom she met during her own agitation against the Vietnam War and for the rights of indigenous peoples; her third, billionaire Ted Turner. The final act belongs to Fonda herself, who left her final marriage when she realized she was finally ready to guide her own destiny.

“It’s a whirlwind trip through the Actors Studio, Paris, Hanoi, Beverly Hills, Three Mile Island, aerobics studios and Montana, among other stops, and we see the progression from a little girl who felt distanced from her parents (dad cheated, mom was diagnosed with what we now know as bipolar disorder), to a young ingénue who had chops but not confidence, to a vocal spokesperson for causes that had meaning for her.

“Fonda admits that during the early years of her activism, she was ‘starving and speedy,’ eating very little and taking Dexedrine to suppress her appetite. And even as a vocal feminist, she still spent much of her life craving validation from men.

“While Jane Fonda in Five Acts in no way acts as a substitution for the book, it does allow for other voices; we hear from Hayden and Turner, friend and producer Paula Weinstein, and Fonda’s son (with Hayden), Troy Garity, who supplies some of the film’s most hilarious and poignant observations on its subject.

“It was surprising to see, at Sundance no less, interviews with Robert Redford about his decades-long friendship and collaboration with Fonda, particularly since Weinstein calls him out at one point; according to her, it was Redford not fighting for Fonda to get the role in Legal Eagles over the younger, newer Debra Winger that made Fonda realize that her years as a big-screen leading lady were behind her.

“But Lacy and Fonda aren’t afraid to go to the uncomfortable places: We see footage of angry Americans who demanded exile (or execution) for Fonda after her visit to Hanoi during the Vietnam War, and Fonda herself admits that allowing herself to be photographed with an anti-aircraft gun was a huge mistake and her one regret of the trip.

“She’s also got a lot to be proud of: Besides her work as an actress and activist, she produced Coming Home and The China Syndrome and 9 to 5 to tell stories she felt were important, and it would be hard to find someone working in movies now who is similarly committed to marrying issues and entertainment. And at the age of 80, she’s still getting laughs (opposite Tomlin) on Netflix’s ‘Grace and Frankie’ and showing up at Standing Rock and other hot spots to loan her spotlight to causes that need them.

“The movie opens with makeup artists attaching Fonda’s false eyelashes before her appearance at a recent Golden Globes, and that scene lets us know that the film’s subject is going to let us in on pretty much everything. Hers is a lot of life to try to capture in one movie, but Jane Fonda in Five Acts certainly covers her emotional arc with thoroughness and compassion.”

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SEPTEMBER 28: All About Nina (dir. Eva Vives)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Shayna Weingast: “Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) isn’t your typical brash stand-up comic. Her sets may be littered with frank sex talk, sarcastic cynicism, and vulgarity, but her act is no mere act. Having finally ditched her abusive lover (Chace Crawford), Nina hightails it to Los Angeles with the hope of finally making it big. Things begin to improve in her career, as well as in her love life—thanks to a new love interest, Rafe (Common)—but this hard-drinking heroine isn’t sure she can handle stability. Despite her budding successes, Nina struggles to reconcile being authentic and happy in both her career and in her personal life.

“As All About Nina’s fractured protagonist, Mary Elizabeth Winstead delivers an astonishingly raw performance, tearing into her part with the ferocity Nina deserves. The film’s strong supporting cast includes a revelatory Common, who portrays a man of utmost decency, patience, and love. Through these complicated and resonant characters, as well as its deft examination of timely matters like trauma, abuse, and sexism in the world of stand-up comedy, All About Nina offers insight into what it means to be a talented, creative woman today.”

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SEPTEMBER 28: A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics, Genetics and the American Dream (dir. Stephanie Welch)Cinema Village synopsis: “A dangerous idea has threatened the American Dream from the beginning – the belief that some groups and individuals are inherently superior to others and more deserving of fundamental rights. Such biological determinism provided an excuse for some of America’s most shameful history. And now it’s back.

“The documentary A Dangerous Idea reveals how biologically determined politics has disenfranchised women and people of color, provided a rationale for state sanctioned crimes committed against America’s most vulnerable citizens, and now gains new traction under the Trump administration.

“Featuring interviews with social thinkers such as Van Jones and Robert Reich, as well as prominent scientists, A Dangerous Idea is a radical reassessment of the meaning, use and misuse of gene science. Like no other film before it, this documentary brings to light how false scientific claims have rolled back long fought for gains in equality, and how powerful interests are poised once again to use the gene myth to unravel the American Dream.”

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SEPTEMBER 28: Free Solo (dirs. Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi)Angelika Film Center synopsis: “From award-winning documentary filmmaker E. Chai Vasarhelyi and world-renowned photographer and mountaineer Jimmy Chin, comes Free Solo, a stunning, intimate and unflinching portrait of free soloist climber Alex Honnold, as he prepares to achieve his lifelong dream: climbing the face of the world’s most famous rock… the 3,200ft El Capitan in Yosemite National Park… without a rope.”

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SEPTEMBER 28: Little Women (dir. Clare Niederpruem) (DP: Anka Malatynska)Faith Films synopsis: “Sisters—and dreams—are unique in their ability to inspire, encourage and change the world.

“For 150 years, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has motivated women of all ages to dream together and celebrate family. Coming to theaters for the first time, a modern retelling of Little Women brings a new generation together with their mothers, sisters and friends.

“From girls playing in the attic to women living with purpose, the March sisters —Meg (Melanie Stone), Jo (Sarah Davenport), Beth (Allie Jennings) and Amy (Elise Jones) —are committed to always supporting each other. Yet, growing up sometimes means growing apart.”

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SEPTEMBER 28: Summer ’03 (dir. Becca Gleason)Solzy at the Movies’ SXSW Festival review by Danielle Solzman: “With a fresh voice from writer-director Becca Gleason in her feature directorial debut, actress Joey King carries Summer ’03 from start to finish with one of the best performances to date in 2018.

“When her grandmother, Dotty Winkle (June Squibb), passed away, it’s Jamie Winkle (Joey King) who is left with the biggest burden of all. Not only did her grandmother expose some pretty huge secrets, she tells Jamie that one of her biggest regrets–and hopes Jamie can fulfill her dying request–was that she didn’t ‘learn how to give a proper blow job.’

“As Jamie deals with the newly discovered information, her mother, Shira (Andrea Savage) is freed of her anti-Semitic mother-in-law and celebrates with some drunk dancing. Meanwhile, her father, Ned (Paul Scheer), is dealing with the biggest blow to his life. Without giving away the film, there’s some strong emotions that come with coming to terms with what Dotty told him before she died.

“King ought to be considered a star on the rise with how she carries the film. In the past few years, the actress has grown up before our eyes. What she does with the role is provide a career-best performance in her young career. If King keeps making the same great decisions in tackling what projects she chooses, the actress will have a great career ahead of her.

“While King may carry the film, it’s veteran actress June Squibb who steals it within the few minutes of screen time in which she appears. The scene in which she gathers in her family prior to passing away is one of the funniest scenes in the film. What makes it even better is how composer Nathan Matthew David’s score makes for an awesome complement. There’s a dinner table scene that–without giving the film away–makes for some awkward hilarity and much credit goes to improv pros Paul Scheer and Andrea Savage. Scheer and Savage are perfect in the roles. There’s nobody else in the world who could bring what these two bring to the table.

“The film includes an underwater scene that’s beautifully shot by cinematographer Ben Hardwicke. Underwater scenes aren’t easy to pull off but Hardwicke does so in a way that captures King’s beauty in the water. Gleason and Hardwicke were also able to pull off one of the biggest scenes in the film by shooting from the right angles without showing too much.

“It’s filmmakers like Gleason who shows through her script and direction that there’s a crop of rising female filmmakers who have a voice to offer and need to be heard. In her feature debut, Gleason offers a fresh take on the coming-of-age genre. It may be one of the most unique takes by far even if the Atlanta area stands in for the city of Cincinnati, Oh.

Summer ’03 may not be a game changer for the coming-of-age genre but it’s a fresh take that provides for a lot of humor, emotion, and heart.”

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SEPTEMBER 28: 306 Hollywood (dirs. Elan Bogarin and Jonathan Bogarin) (DPs: Elan Bogarin, Jonathan Bogarin and Alejandro Mejía)Quad Cinema synopsis: “At 306 Hollywood Avenue in Newark, former dress designer Annette Ontell lived for 71 years in a nondescript white house. After her death in 2011, her grandchildren Elan and Jonathan were left with her belongings, from toothbrushes to tax documents. Instead of throwing away this lifetime of detritus, Elan and Jonathan began a meticulous process of cataloguing and archiving everything Annette left behind. The result is this magical documentary, an inspiring look at the extraordinary stories and histories hidden away in the everyday.”

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

Actress Emily Mortimer and director/screenwriter Isabel Coixet on the set of The Bookshop, 2016. (Photo: IMDb)

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

AUGUST 1: Nico, 1988 (dir. Susanna Nicchiarelli) (DP: Crystel Fournier)Rolling Stone review by David Fear: “The woman you see in Susanna Nicchiarelli’s extraordinary Nico, 1988 is not the Nico you know — the icy Teutonic chanteuse who blessed Velvet Underground tunes like ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ with her incomparable intercontinental monotone, the model who shows up in La Dolce Vita, the downtown muse who hung with Warhol and hooked up with Jim Morrison. ‘I’m here with Lou Reed’s femme fatale!‘ chirps an obnoxiously cheery D.J. during a Manchester radio interview. ‘Don’t call me that. I don’t like it,’ replies the singer (Danish actress Trine Dyrholm) in a world-weary rasp and fixing the man behind the microphone with a world-class death stare.

“The year is 1986, two years before the singer will perish after a bike accident in Ibiza. She has no sentimental attachment to the past; asked whether the late Sixties were the best days of her life, her answer is ‘Well, we did a lot of LSD …’ When her manager (John Gordon Sinclair) calls her Nico, she corrects him: Her name is Christa Päffgen. (Nico is a construction; Christa is a person.) The signature blond hair has given way to washed-out brown. ‘Am I ugly?’ she asks him. When he says yes, the lady sighs in relief: ‘Good, I wasn’t happy when I was beautiful.’ She still tours, attracting crowds in Scottish bars and Italian plazas, attacking her songs and, on occasion, her band. She wonders why journalists don’t ask about her solo work more. She’s through being your mirror.

“Music biopics tend to go cradle-to-grave broad — this is your life, Elvis/Loretta Lynn/N.W.A! — or drill-down narrow, focusing on a specific, usually symbolic period of an artist’s arc in the name of Rosetta Stones and Rosebuds. (See: The Hours and the Times, Jimi: All Is By My Side, Bound for Glory.) Nicchiarelli, an Italian writer-director, goes with impressionistic version of Option B and sets her sights on the last few years of Päffgen’s life, long after the Factory has closed up shop and the final laps are being run. Fans still come out, she can still parlay her fame into getting fancy hotels — sure, she has to sit in with the residency’s local jazz quartet to sing for her supper, whatever — and she can still get rugged, bearded men to fall under her sway. But you wonder why the filmmaker would set her sights on the (self-admitted semi-fictionalized) autumn years instead of the spotlight-glare glory days.

“And then it hits you: This is a reclamation. Anyone who witnessed the scenes of the singer circa ’86 in the documentary Nico Icon (1995), leaning into a microphone with haunted eyes and hands clutching a cigarette, formed an opinion of her at odds with the curated imagery of early years — the great German beauty as self-made human ruin. This movie lends depth to the defiance of those sequences, as well as context. Nico isn’t let off the hook here, with her screen counterpart indulging in superdiva behavior, putting her young son in harm’s way (and suffering through his suicide attempt as a young man), screaming at folks, shutting down shows midway through and shooting heroin into scabby ankles.

“But she’s also granted an inner life, a sense of who this woman was beneath the mask. She’s not reduced to a live-fast-die-fucked-up cliché, even when the story drops everything into a narrative of late-act sex, drugs and post-rock-and-roll avant-drone vamping. It’s a posthumous gift to Päffgen. Even her death, shown here as Nico leaving her house on a sunny Ibiza day, bike in hand and a colorful door closing behind here, is presented with a sense of grace. Nicchiarelli spares us nothing but still gives her dignity on the way out.

“As does Dyrholm, who pours herself into the role with a scary intensity and a lack of self-conscious, look-at-me theatricality. Music biopics can live or die by their central performances; you may love or hate Ray or Walk the Line, to name just two, but you undoubtedly remember Jamie Foxx and Joaquin Phoenix’s respective turns in those films. The Danish actor doesn’t go into full-impersonation mode, though she does wonders with that voice, turning that seen-it-all monotone into something capable of being both comic and tragic. Instead, she concentrates on how this woman’s self-destructive charisma kept people around her and chaos around every corner — this is Nico as a black-hole sun, with everyone from her managers to fellow musicians (shout-out to Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca, of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days fame, as a long-suffering violinist) revolving around the void.

“And just when you think the artist has gotten short shrift in the stage-presence department, Nicchiarelli and Dyrholm drop a bomb on you: A dopesick Nico and her band tearing into ‘My Heart Is Empty’ in Prague and tearing it apart, all cold sweats and white heat. That scene is a showstopper, reminding you the movie is both an open-wound and a celebration before we see her coming back to down to Earth, hard and fast. The singer herself might have hated Nico, 1988‘s insistence on such mythic highs and miserablist lows, if she didn’t just shrug ambivalently at the notion or was simply content to roll her eyes. But Christa Päffgen, the woman who remembered what it was like to see the world as her oyster and Berlin bombed when she was a girl? She would probably have loved it.”

AUGUST 3 (streaming on Netflix): Brij Mohan Amar Rahe! (aka Long Live Brij Mohan) (dir. Nikhil Bhat) (DP: Pooja S. Gupte)Netflix synopsis: “Faking his death to escape the realities of his uneventful life worked out well for Brij Mohan (Arjun Mathur) — until he was sentenced to death for his own murder.”

AUGUST 3: The Darkest Minds (dir. Jennifer Yuh Nelson)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “When teens mysteriously develop powerful new abilities, they are declared a threat by the government and detained. Sixteen-year-old Ruby (Amandla Stenberg), one of the most powerful young people anyone has encountered, escapes her camp and joins a group of runaway teens seeking safe haven. Soon this newfound family realizes that, in a world in which the adults in power have betrayed them, running is not enough and they must wage a resistance, using their collective power to take back control of their future.”

AUGUST 3 (streaming on Netflix): Like Father (dir. Lauren Miller Rogen)New York Times review by Glenn Kenny: “Directed by Lauren Miller Rogen, [Like Father is] a predictable comedy of reconciliation. But it boasts substantial pleasures, largely on account of the performers.

“Kristen Bell’s Rachel is a workaholic advertising exec who’s still setting up meetings on her cellphone on the day of her wedding, at Central Park’s scenic Bethesda Fountain. Rachel’s husband-to-be can’t take it anymore, and he cracks up and leaves her at the altar. Observing all this, flowers in hand, is Harry (Kelsey Grammer), an uninvited guest. He’s Rachel’s father, who abandoned his family when she was 5, the better to pursue, you’ll never guess, his career.

“Rachel is at first indignant on meeting the father she never really knew, but he persuades her to go out for drinks with him. Drinks, not talk, she insists — and so the two wind up drinking quite a bit. The next day, they’re sharing a suite on a cruise ship — the one Rachel’s husband-to-be had booked for their honeymoon. They resolve to leave the ship at its first port of call and fly home, though you know that’s not going to happen.

“There is no small amusement value in the comic hook Ms. Rogen works for all its worth in a few subsequent scenes, which has Rachel and Harry being mistaken for newlyweds by many of their fellow passengers. An ensuing onboard ‘game show,’ a sort of ‘Newlywed Game’-style competition, is a great set piece; Harry concocts a scheme that allows them to win, albeit awkwardly. The funny stuff sells itself, and it expands with the introduction of Jeff, played by Seth Rogen, a single on the cruise whose interest in Rachel brings out Harry’s protective side. (The director is married to Mr. Rogen, whose character is given the in-joke trait of never having smoked marijuana in his life.)

“The movie hews to conventional structure to a fault, right down to the characters’ inevitable reconciliation. But Ms. Rogen has a lot of good sense as a director, making the most of the floating-amusement-park atmosphere of cruise ships. Because Mr. Grammer is a first-rate actor who, since his distinguished stint on the sitcom ‘Frasier’ hasn’t had many meaty screen roles come his way, he really sinks his teeth into Harry, and Ms. Bell is no slouch playing against him. They make the movie.”

AUGUST 3: Milla (dir. Valérie Massadian)Anthology Film Archives synopsis: “In a delicate, even generous manner, Valérie Massadian’s new film begins as a story of two young lovers’ life on the fringes before shifting towards one of recent cinema’s finest depictions of motherhood. Milla and Leo live clandestinely, their meager furnishings and sustenance countered by a love for which there is neither a logic nor substitute. But such an existence will only last until forces of nature take hold. Where is there to go in its wake? Milla considers every dimension of love, loyalty, and grief through a poetic, startling vision that recalls the likes of Barbara Loden and Chantal Akerman while remaining without precedent.”

AUGUST 3: The Miseducation of Cameron Post (dir. Desiree Akhavan) (DP: Ashley Connor)Pajiba review by Roxana Hadadi: “Kindness is a weapon wielded by adults in Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Compassion is never straightforward, but always insidious, always offered immediately before a barrage of guilt. No parent or guardian ever says the word ‘homophobia,’ but that’s because everyone is already practicing it. It’s already been decided. To be a woman loving a woman or to be a man loving a man is unequivocally an immoral act, and that makes you a sinner — and sinners need to be saved, by any means necessary.

“Adapted from Emily M. Danforth’s 2012 novel by Akhavan, who directed and co-wrote the film (and whose 2014 debut Appropriate Behavior dealt with similar themes, of a bisexual Iranian-American woman hiding her sexual identity from her family), The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a portrait of the teens whose souls are being claimed, and abused, by those adults, by the people who earnestly say things like ‘There’s no such thing as homosexuality … would you let drug addicts throw parades for themselves?’ and ‘I’m doing this because I love you.’ There are layers of manipulation and deceit and it’s all allegedly well-intentioned, and it would be almost impossible to watch if not for the teenagers who refuse to submit. It’s the spirit of those children that is the real story in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and it’s their strength and their hope that carries the film forward, that makes watching it an honor to those teenagers — the ones who survived the indoctrination, the guilt, and the abandonment from people who were supposed to protect them.

“The film, set in 1993, focuses on high school senior Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz, doing career-best work here that makes you forget missteps like The 5th Wave and If I Stay), who is being raised by her aunt after her parents died in a car accident years before. She goes to Bible study class, she plays high school sports, she has a boyfriend — and the careful world of ‘normalcy’ she’s built for herself is blown up when she’s discovered having sex with her female best friend in the back of a car on prom night. Practically immediately, without asking Cam what she wants or how she feels, her conservative aunt sends her to the conversion camp God’s Promise. In the middle of nowhere, the camp is full of teens like Cameron, sent there by family members to cure them of ‘SSA,’ or ‘same-sex attraction.’

“The people in charge of that brain-washing are Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), the kind of guy who softly strums an acoustic guitar while he sings songs about your sins, and Dr. Lydia March (Jennifer Ehle), who uses her scientific training to forcefully tell the teens that their homosexual feelings aren’t real, that all of their problems can be traced to ‘gender confusion,’ that everything the teens do will be judged because ‘there’s no hiding from God.’ One of Cam’s new friends Adam Red Eagle (the wonderful Forrest Goodluck, who you may recognize from playing Leo’s son in The Revenant), sent to the camp by his politically aspirational father who refuses to accept Adam’s identity as Lakotan two-spirit, describes Lydia as a ‘Disney villain [who] won’t let you jack off.’ It’s a hilarious description for a maniacal figure who traffics in traumatizing children and telling them she’s curing them, but the movie doesn’t back away from how Lydia is supported and enabled by systems of fellow adults who would rather endanger children than upend the status quo.

“But while the omnipresent threat of Lydia is effective in capturing the horrifying world of these religious camps, The Miseducation of Cameron Post comes to life because Cam, Adam, and Jane Fonda (the magnetic Sasha Lane, of American Honey), because of how these teenagers bond together in the face of such stifling identity erasure. Moretz nails the unsureness of her character, of a young woman who knows instinctively that her feelings for her best friend were real but who can’t quite understand why so many other people would abhor that so much, and a phone call between her and her aunt toward the end of the film is colossally painful but a clear turning point, the kind of moment that crystallizes who a person becomes. And the film extends that generosity to nearly all of its teen characters, providing them each with a life before the camp and interiority while they’re there; you understand why some of them would invest so desperately into the camp’s promises while others would feel so deeply betrayed.

“‘Maybe you’re supposed to feel disgusted by yourself when you’re a teenager,’ Cam says to Lydia, and the intent of The Miseducation of Cameron Post is captured perfectly in that line — it’s a defense of the spontaneity of youth, of the pureness of young love, of the validity of feelings that are so hated by people who want to destroy them instead of accept them. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a love letter to the kids who needed it the most, and its final image, which Akhavan lets her camera linger on, is profoundly weighty despite total silence. No one should have to apologize for who they love, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a fierce attack on anyone who would tell you different.”

AUGUST 3: Never Goin’ Back (dir. Augustine Frizzell) (DP: Greta Zozula)San Francisco Chronicle review by Mick LaSalle:Never Goin’ Back is a lot more serious than it looks. Most movies go the opposite way — they seem more serious than they are — and they get rewarded for that, by people willing to play along. But Never Goin’ Back is happily silly and low-down and willing to indulge in gross humor, while presenting a story about friendship and about the consequences of growing up with no money or prospects.

“Written and directed by Augustine Frizzell, this is a movie unlike any other and must be understood in those terms. It’s not a failed attempt to make the usual teen comedy. It’s something new, the story of two 17-year-old girls, working as waitresses in a diner. They’ve dropped out of school. They live in Texas. They were born broke and will probably die broke, but right now they’re young and full of excitement, even though their world looks pretty grim.

“That contrast is at the heart of the movie. They don’t like their circumstances, and they don’t like slaving in a restaurant or worrying about the rent, but they’re not beaten down by that, not yet. They’re frisky as kittens. So, this is their moment, and, with luck, they may be able to stretch that moment and build satisfying lives. But Never Goin’ Back only shows us a few days and lets us infer the rest.

“The tone is set early, so everybody can go to the ticket window and get their money back if they don’t like this sort of thing: It begins with Jessie (Camila Morrone) asleep and Angela (Maia Mitchell) drawing a penis on Jessie’s face. Moments later, Jessie wakes up and, without looking in a mirror, asks, ‘Did you draw a dick on my face?’ So, this is just the kind of thing that happens.

“In shrewd storytelling fashion, Frizzell gets things moving the right way: Angela, who is four months older and the more forceful of the two, announces that she has bought the two of them a long weekend at the beach in Galveston to celebrate Jessie’s birthday. The only hitch is that she used the rent money, so the girls will have to work long shifts to make the rent in the days leading up to the trip.

“You don’t need to know Galveston beach to glean from the movie that it’s not quite the Cote d’Azur, but the very fact that it sounds bleak makes the girls’ investment in it all the more affecting. They dream about it. They picture themselves frolicking, and we see what they’re picturing. It’s their vision of paradise, and it gives you an idea, without the filmmaker ever going into specifics, that their lives have been anything but privileged.

“It’s important to point out that Frizzell is not only economical in communicating such information, she is also subtle in how she handles it. The movie does no special pleading on behalf of these girls. She has too much respect for the characters to offer them up as sociological specimens. The tone is light. The girls keep getting into trouble, mostly of their own making. They’re funny, and they’re individual  people, not a condition of life. It’s only because we end up liking them so much that we end up worrying about them.

“The water in the apartment is turned off, so Jessie can’t go to the bathroom. Constipation is a running theme, and it’s played for laughs. But we can’t help but notice that most of their problems, big and small, stem from having no money.

“Morrone and Mitchell look glamorous in their real-life incarnations, walking the red carpet at the premieres; but Frizzell tones down the makeup and films them in harsh light, so no one looks like an actress here. The two make a lovely unit as Jessie and Angela. Without trying to be — indeed, because they don’t try to be — they’re quite touching, and we believe in their friendship as we believe in few other things in this year’s movies.”

AUGUST 3 (in theaters & on digital/VOD): Night Comes On (dir. Jordana Spiro)Vulture review by David Edelstein: “The protagonist of Jordana Spiro’s Night Comes On is named ‘Angel Lamere,’ a not-so-subtle signifier that her essential nature is good and that she yearns for la mer, the sea. It’s all there in the first shot, of the younger Angel curled up in bed with her mother, who was subsequently killed, and the older’s Angel’s recollection (in voice-over) that her mom used to say that if you closed your eyes, a passing car could sound like the ocean. That’s what Angel (Dominique Fishback) hears as she sits in her concrete-box room in a juvenile-detention facility: first the waves and then, as Angel returns to earth, the cars. It’s two days before her 18th birthday, and she’s about to be released on parole. But she’s not heading out into a hopeful sunrise. That night is coming on is signaled by one of Angel’s first orders of business: to buy a gun. She’s an avenging angel.

“Spiro has been a popular TV star (My Boys, The Mob Doctor, Ozark) for decades, but there’s no residue of network drama in her directorial debut, which she wrote with Angelica Nwandu. There is a kind of Sundance Screenwriting Lab tidiness in the structure, in how the themes are laid out, and in such names as ‘Angel Lamere.’ But Night Comes On has a winning naturalism. Though slow, it’s intense, and you’re hooked from its first scene — Angel’s final meeting with the detention authorities — to its last, wrenching image. Spiro is a real filmmaker.

“She has given the film a melodramatic structure — Angel’s drive for revenge. But it’s the young woman’s inner chaos, her sense that she’s adrift in a world with no just authority, that suffuses every frame. Although Angel was jailed for carrying a weapon, she’s not responsible for the tragedy that set her life on its current course. The question is whether her determination to kill the person who is the cause (and the consequences that will bring) is inexorable. Spiro subtly puts the film on the side of the exorable. Much is beyond her control, including the apparent rejection of her lover (Cymbal Byrd), with whom she thought she’d be living. But much is a matter of choice. Spiro’s humanism is also in every frame. Angel, the film suggests, is free to create her life anew. The key is what she does about her little sister, Abby (Tatum Marilyn Hall), who’s in foster care and stands a chance of moving beyond her mother’s death.

“Hard-edged, with muscles she has built for her own protection, Fishback’s Angel holds the camera through all her wanderings. Her eyes flash with hurt and sometimes anger at what people have that she doesn’t — family, money, a sense of order. But suddenly there is Hall’s Abby, with her soft face and body, and Angel’s anger seems pointless, maladaptive. Both performances are perfect. So are the actors in supporting roles, from Max Casella’s friendly and then predatory gun dealer to John Jelks as the girls’ father. Charismatic, sunk into himself in shame but alert and wary, Jelks’s John Lemere is the scariest kind of abuser — one a little girl wants to love.

“The emotions onscreen are unruly enough to overcome the screenplay’s fine carpentry and an occasional scene that’s too on the nose. Like Moonlight, Night Comes On takes much of its soulfulness from la mer and people’s capacity for rebirth in its waters. This is a lovely, inspiring film.”

AUGUST 3: The Spy Who Dumped Me (dir. Susanna Fogel)New Yorker review by Richard Brody: “An American secret agent whose work puts him into dangerous situations breaks up with a woman he loves, because he doesn’t want her to face those dangers. That’s part of the plot of Mission: Impossible—Fallout, and it’s also the premise of The Spy Who Dumped Me, which opens tomorrow. The comedy, directed by Susanna Fogel (who wrote the script with David Iserson), begins with the spy, Drew (Justin Theroux), seemingly ambling idly through a market in Vilnius, Lithuania, when he becomes aware of a threat, against which he casually and surreptitiously arms himself with the first household doodads he can grab. Then mayhem erupts, merchants and patrons dive for cover, and Drew clobbers some assailants, dodges others, gets caught in a major shoot-out, and dashes away to a large, grim building for a moment of safety—to re-arm, to prepare for the next round with his pursuers, and to break up by cell phone with his girlfriend, Audrey (Mila Kunis), who lives in Los Angeles. While Drew is seen pointing a gun at the camera, Audrey is introduced doing the same thing—a blue plastic toy gun that’s part of a video game that she’s playing at a bar where she and a group of friends are celebrating her birthday.

“The scene is mere setup; it provides the impetus for the story, which is Audrey’s ensnarement, along with her best friend, Morgan (Kate McKinnon), in the very danger that Drew tried to spare her. But, for all its plain functionality, the sequence is staged and filmed with a brisk, spare, nearly choreographic vigor that distinguishes it from violent scenes created with the approximate and merely illustrative direction that marks, or mars, many movies (including Mission: Impossible—Fallout). Though what happens next is the core of The Spy Who Dumped Me, the opening sequence sets a tone that remains consistent—and consistently clever and inventive—through most of the effervescent action.

“Audrey, a marketing associate, and Morgan, an aspiring actress, are roommates; Audrey has the more conservative personal life—her relationship with Drew, she thought, was stable. The flighty Morgan is, stereotypically, more of a hedonist, bringing home from a bar a lunkheaded Ukrainian man (and the next morning, while he’s still in the apartment, she makes a phone call: ‘Mom, did you get the dick pics I sent you?’). That very morning, the seemingly vanished Drew drops in, literally; there’s another grand, hysterically rapid rumpus, in the course of which Audrey learns that Drew is a C.I.A. agent, that he’s in mortal danger, and that the fate of the free world depends upon delivering a childhood trophy of his to a contact in Vienna.

“In Vienna, we get a pair of cognate comedic action scenes that provide a cinematic high from which the movie only gradually comes down. In a huge café, where Audrey meets the designated contact, another attack erupts, one that features both wildly antic touches (think of fondue) and a furious shoot-out that—unlike many movie scenes of gunfire—is, for all its comedy and chaos, both clearly patterned and marked by elements of real fear, including sounds of gunshots that are individual, sharp, and terrifying. The scene, despite its frenetic exaggeration and gleeful stylization, suggests with an unemphatic but unmistakable clarity the experience of Audrey and Morgan, who are experiencing live fire for the first time in their lives.

“The two women escape with the help of a coöperative black-car driver named Lukas (the popular young French actor Kev Adams) who, when they let him know that villains are in hot pursuit, is all too eager to take on the challenge of the getaway, which turns both comedically grotesque and thrillingly imaginative and is capped with a tossed-off riff by McKinnon that gives the scene the giddy spin of a propeller on a beanie. These two action scenes, coming in quick succession, are—moment for moment, shot for shot, beat for beat—better than the cognate action scenes in Mission: Impossible—Fallout. Each of Fogel’s images distills the stakes and the efforts more snappily; the physical details are more surprising; the mood and thrust of the battles and chases are more varied, and the variety is delivered more abruptly; the actors seem more present. Above all, Fogel’s own commitment to these scenes, her sense of enthusiasm rather than just engineering, of delight rather than ostentation, distinguishes them from those of Fallout; although the context is utterly unrealistic and intentionally absurd, they nonetheless capture a sense of experience, from behind the camera, that the bigger and more spectacular film never achieves.

“The setup and the plot of The Spy Who Dumped Me are familiar, but Fogel and Iserson fill them out with piquantly loopy, extravagant, and off-kilter details, which Fogel, seemingly with a comedic poker face, sets smoothly into motion with a perceptive and discerning clarity. Audrey and Morgan find their fate entangled with another pair of operatives, the suave Sebastian (Sam Heughan) and the nerdy Duffer (Hasan Minhaj), and they have to thread their way through a series of simple but deft twists involving deceptive identities. Morgan’s parents, Arnie (Paul Reiser) and Carol (Jane Curtin), from Freehold, New Jersey (Isenson’s home town), show up, as does a family friend (the majestic Fred Melamed takes part in these antics); an Edward Snowden mention that appears in the first act goes off astoundingly in the third; and some data-centric business turns out to be carnally intimate. There are touches of gory observation (a blood-spattered T-shirt worn in full public view, several inconvenient corpses, some fierce and frightening head-butting) that fluctuate uneasily between comic exaggeration and acknowledgment of the fundamental unfunniness of spy-versus-spy violence. The shambling tale of friends unto death propels Audrey and Morgan through other European venues, including Prague, Paris, and Berlin, which, dramatically, proves to be one trip too far. The script offers a tangle of loose ends to unscramble in a hurry, and the trapeze-centered set piece that provokes the dénouement—featuring a fight that the audience takes for a performance—is a better idea than it is a vision.

“Despite the various concessions to narrative convention and comedic shorthand throughout the film, the tight framework meshes closely with the action while also remaining loose enough to let its lead actors—and especially McKinnon, of course—gleefully and effectively banter. Kunis’s Audrey is the earnest and practical member of the team, and McKinnon’s Morgan the loose cannon, but her impulsive improvisations save the day as often as Kunis’s thoughtful plans do. Morgan says outrageous things that she doesn’t mean but that are meant to make an effect and get attention, though she really means the meaning of them if not their hyperbolic flash. The movie places McKinnon’s comedic gift on display throughout, with bursts of verbal invention, albeit by way of brief and flashy sprints rather than in the sort of extended scenes and ampler dramatization that (in another sort of movie) her artistry awaits.”

AUGUST 10 (in theaters & on digital): Church & State (dirs. Holly Tuckett and Kendall Wilcox) (DPs: Torben Bernhard and Holly Tuckett)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Church & State is the improbable story of a brash, inexperienced gay activist and a tiny Salt Lake City law firm that joined forces to topple Utah’s gay marriage ban. The film’s ride on the bumpy road to equality in Utah offers a glimpse at the Mormon church’s influence in state politics and the squabbles inside the gay community that nearly derailed a chance to make history. Church & State is a story of triumph, setback and a little-known lawsuit that should have failed, but instead paved the way for a U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized gay unions nationwide.”

AUGUST 10: Madeline’s Madeline (dir. Josephine Decker) (DP: Ashley Connor)Quad Cinema synopsis: “In an astonishing debut, Helena Howard stars as Madeline, a New York teen who’s rapidly becoming a crucial member of an experimental theatre troupe. Under the tutelage of demanding director Molly Parker, she draws upon her rich inner life and rocky relationship with mother Miranda July, but is this imagination or exploitation? Gorgeously photographed in a free-floating style by Ashley Connor, this startling, impressionistic feature from Josephine Decker transcends traditional coming-of-art drama to create something wholly singular.”

AUGUST 10 (streaming on Netflix): The Package (dir. Jake Szymanski) (DP: Hillary Spera)The Hollywood Reporter review by Justin Lowe: “To say that The Package is one continuous dirty joke with an outrageously absurd premise wouldn’t be an exaggeration. It’s also a funny, sweet, raucous teen comedy that’s by turns ridiculous and raunchy, but thankfully never too profound. If this Netflix original can attract audiences on the scale of recent sleepers like Set It Up and The Kissing Booth, the streamer’s transparently targeted summer-release strategy will be scoring big with the key teen demographic.

“By far the edgiest of the three titles, The Package takes the hallowed spring-break tradition of hard partying as its departure point. For high schoolers Jeremy (Eduardo Franco) and Donnie (Luke Spencer Roberts), a guys-only camping trip seems like a great way to welcome back Sean (Daniel Doheny) from overseas studies in Germany. That is until Jeremy awkwardly informs his buddies that his twin sister, Becky (Geraldine Viswanathan), will be joining them, since she just canceled her Cancun travel plans after breaking up with her clueless boyfriend. She’ll be bringing along her bestie Sarah (Sadie Calvano), who just happens to be Donnie’s hypercritical ex-gf.

“No question it’s a potentially volatile mix of personalities, particularly since Sean still harbors a not-so-secret crush for Becky. However, Jeremy remains largely oblivious to the potential conflicts already brewing, as he is more obsessed with his (slightly illegal) super-sharp gravity knife and perfecting his blade technique. A six-mile hike takes the group into the depths of the Northwest wilderness, where they can finally cut loose and indulge in some serious underage drinking. Donnie gets things started with his spiced-rum chugging ritual and pretty soon everyone’s mixing cane liquor and cheap domestic beer with abandon. Jeremy takes things a bit too far, however, and when that tricky blade comes into play, disaster results. Now it’s up to Donnie and his feuding ex, along with awkward Sean and bitter Becky, to come to Jeremy’s rescue before he becomes physically and (very much) psychologically scarred for life.

“Although it eschews the more female-skewing romantic focus of Netflix’s other summer teen comedy releases, The Package eventually reveals its softer side once Sean musters the courage to tell Becky how he really feels about her. Of course, it turns out all wrong, forcing him to go even further to prove his loyalty, which is exactly the point.

“Doheny, who recently starred in high school rom-com Alex Strangelove, proves adept at physical comedy, at one point taking an epic pratfall that pays off repeatedly in later scenes. Although she looks nothing like Franco’s twin sister, Viswanathan demonstrates that her impressive turn in Blockers was no fluke, delivering put-downs and wisecracks with a slyly innocent expression and lethal intent.

“Szymanski (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), and co-writers Kevin Burrows and Matt Mider have devised a series of rapidly escalating comedic situations triggered by more than a few WTF moments. While not all of the twists are equally effective, they build with relentless momentum as the friends overcome unexpected obstacles to prove their devotion to Jeremy, although the outcome of their often absurd antics is never in doubt.”

AUGUST 10: Skate Kitchen (dir. Crystal Moselle)IFC Center synopsis: “In the first narrative feature from The Wolfpack director Crystal Moselle, Camille, an introverted teenage skateboarder (newcomer Rachelle Vinberg) from Long Island, meets and befriends an all-girl, New York City-based skateboarding crew called Skate Kitchen. She falls in with the in-crowd, has a falling-out with her mother, and falls for a mysterious skateboarder guy (Jaden Smith), but a relationship with him proves to be trickier to navigate than a kickflip.

“Writer/director Crystal Moselle immersed herself in the lives of the skater girls and worked closely with them, resulting in the film’s authenticity, which combines poetic, atmospheric filmmaking and hypnotic skating sequences. Skate Kitchen precisely captures the experience of women in male-dominated spaces and tells a story of a girl who learns the importance of camaraderie and self-discovery.”

AUGUST 10 (in theaters), AUGUST 24 (on VOD/digital): Summer of ’84 (dirs. François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell)PopMatters’ Sundance Film Festival review by J.R. Kinnard:Summer of ’84 takes place back in the days when kids were actually allowed to escape adult supervision. It was a glorious time of riding your bike down busy streets, playing ball until the sun goes down, and trying to prove that your next door neighbor is a serial killer. Okay, that last thing might be exclusive to the kids from Summer of ’84.

“Davey (Graham Verchere), Eats (Judah Lewis), Woody (Caleb Emery), and Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew) are restless 15-year-olds looking for grand adventure over summer vacation. Their ring leader is Davey, a bright kid with an active imagination for conspiracies. His bedroom wall is plastered with news clippings about murdered children near his hometown of Ipswich, Oregon. ‘The Cape May Slayer’ is on the loose and Davey’s pretty certain it’s his policeman neighbor, Mr. Mackey (Rich Sommer).

“Co-directors François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell understand nerd teen culture like Donald Trump understands Aqua Net. This exhilarating follow-up to their 2015 cult hit, Turbo Kid, feels like the demented love child of Stranger Things and Rear Window. Davey and his gang, armed only with wisecracks and crappy walkie-talkies, must find some incriminating evidence in Mr. Mackey’s basement before the clueless adults thwart their investigation and ground them until they’re 50.

Summer of ’84 works because of the natural camaraderie between the young actors. Whereas the kids from 2017’s It seem like miniature adults, these kids are the genuine article. They tease one another mercilessly, but you can feel the emotional currency built up over their years of sparring. Some of the film’s most effective scenes involve the kids comforting one another in the face of parental upheaval. Divorce was still something of an unusual occurrence back in 1984, with kids left to endure not only the emotional scars, but the social stigma, as well.

“The mood and tone throughout the film’s first half remain relatively light. Clues are accumulated, close calls are had, and the kids are free to spout Scooby Doo clichés like, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this!” A synth-heavy score sounds like Tangerine Dream’s B-side for Risky Business. Davey even has time for a dalliance with his former babysitter Nikki (Tiera Skovbye); the inaccessible 18-year-old girl who serves as the fantasy bridge between magazine models and real girls.

“Once it reaches the midpoint, however, Summer of ’84 speeds headlong into horror territory. Sure, the directors occasionally lean on lazy jump scares, but they also show a deft hand at building tension. Caring what actually happens to the heroes helps immensely; a lesson more horror filmmakers need to learn.

“When the end arrives, you’ll probably think you’ve got things all figured out. You aren’t even close. It’s the type of outrageous ending that divides audiences and builds cult followings. Summer of ’84 is a trashy classic that will absolutely rock midnight movie houses.”

AUGUST 10: The Swan (dir. Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir)Village Voice review by Serena Donadoni: “Anchored by a remarkable child’s performance, The Swan is a sensitive example of an overlooked element in coming-of-age films: awakening to the outside world. Nine-year-old Sól (Gríma Valsdóttir) is an insular girl, her imagination fueled by the craggy shoreline and unceasing sea that surround her small Icelandic coastal community. She’s angry and resentful at being sent away for the summer, a banishment presented in Gudbergur Bergsson’s 1991 novel as the punishment for shoplifting.

“Writer-director Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir’s entrancing adaptation makes Sól’s exile to an inland farm more vague, a punitive act inflicted by baffled adults who see her restless curiosity as pernicious rebellion. Sól’s great aunt and uncle regularly take in wayward kids, believing that hard work and exposure to nature will straighten them out. By presenting events primarily from the perspective of this thoughtful, observant girl, Hjörleifsdóttir’s first feature highlights the flaws in the rural couple’s reductive approach while chronicling the maturation of a child who’s experiencing dizzying new emotions and struggling to comprehend the powerful discontent of adults.

“Hjörleifsdóttir continually shifts from Sól’s hazy point of view, a dreamlike and intimate cocoon, to a sharp vision of what’s happening around her with startling effectiveness. But what Sól mostly perceives are the adults she both admires and disdains: the compassionate farmhand feverishly scribbling in his journal in red ink and the sardonic farmer’s daughter punishing her parents for their cozy simplicity. They regard the grassy valley surrounded by black, volcanic mountains as an oppressive landscape of bitter defeat. Sól absorbs their painful secrets, but not their attitude, realizing that the rugged, breathtaking terrain contains both harsh reality and magical possibility.”

AUGUST 14 (on DVD/VOD): Porcupine Lake (dir. Ingrid Veninger)Montclair Film Festival synopsis: “Thirteen-year-old Bea (Charlotte Salisbury) wants a best friend more than anything else, and when she meets rambunctious Kate (Lucinda Armstrong Hall), the pair form an unexpected bond that will change both of their lives forever. Ingrid Veninger’s Porcupine Lake takes the time to explore the feelings and experiences of young girls with a thoughtful honesty that sets the film apart from most contemporary fiction, creating a story sensitive to the secret world of her characters, set during a fateful summer when adulthood has not yet arrived, but childhood is quickly vanishing.”

AUGUST 15: Cielo (dir. Alison McAlpine)Film Forum synopsis: “Set in Chile’s Atacama Desert, Cielo explores the sublime night sky, employing an elegant, unusual use of time-lapse photography to capture the movements of a breathtaking astronomical tableau. Filmmaker Alison McAlpine’s thoughtful narration and the ambient sounds of the desert are blended with otherworldly music and affecting moments of deep silence. The resulting meditation on the heavens is a mystical paean to the beauty of the sky and an inspiring vision of a universe that we both see and cannot see. The Atacama – with its high-altitude setting (between the Andes and Chilean Coast Mountains), aridity (the driest non-polar place in the world, receiving an average of only .6 inches of rain per year), and near-complete lack of cloud cover and light pollution – is an ideal place to appreciate the firmament. Cielo is a distinctively cinematic reverie on these night skies, as experienced by astronomers at the La Silla, Paranal, and Las Campanas observatories, as well as local farmers, cowboys, and miners.”

AUGUST 17: The Ranger (dir. Jenn Wexler)Screen Anarchy’s SXSW review by J Hurtado: “There is a deep and undeniable connection between punk music and horror films that goes back decades. From the very beginning of the punk music movement in the ’70s, bands and fans used horror imagery to separate themselves from those around them. In my own personal journey of discovery as a budding horror fan, punk music played a pivotal part in connecting the dots between my internal raging anger and its obvious violent expression on film. All of this to say that I’ve always been surprised at how infrequently this seemingly indisputable relationship has been exploited on film.

“Director Jenn Wexler’s debut feature, The Ranger, is the latest the a relatively small oeuvre of punk rock horror films, and it is one that takes the energy and explosive enthusiasm of the music and attempts to give it life on screen. It isn’t entirely successful in putting a new classic on the table for fans to adore, it’s definitely a heaping helping of bloody, obnoxious fun, and sometimes that’s all I’m looking for.

“Punk rocker Chelsea (Chloe Levine) and her snotty punk pals get caught up in a police raid at a show and go on the run to avoid getting picked up with a huge quantity of a new party drug called ‘echo.’ When one of the punks stabs a cop while saving Chelsea from certain doom, the crew decides it’s time to go underground and they head into the woods of upstate New York. Chelsea’s uncle had a cabin in the woods where they can hide, but these woods hold a lot of conflicting memories for her, and soon her past catches up with her in the form of a deranged ranger with an axe to grind. Literally.

“The Ranger (Jeremy Holm, ‘House of Cards,’ ‘Mr. Robot’) wants Chelsea all to himself, and will plow through her friends one-by-one to get to her. There’s a complicated history between the two involving Chelsea’s uncle, played silently by New York indie horror legend Larry Fessenden, and his unfortunate violent demise. She’s not having it, though, so The Ranger goes on a spree, dispatching her friends in predictably violent ways, all to a frenetic punk rock soundtrack.

“In punk terms, The Ranger definitely share the same kind of energy as the early ’80s pre-hardcore music scene. A bit sloppy around the edges, the film at times trades enthusiasm for polish, resulting in a final product that is impossible to take seriously, but at the same time doesn’t ask that of its audience. The film’s characters, apart from Chelsea, are the kind of obnoxious cartoon punks that make normal folks uncomfortable, but the shallow characterizations reinforce the go-for-broke tone and allow the audience to identify more with Chelsea, though I would’ve loved to know her compatriots as more than just a bunch of irritating party kids.

“I’ve stated publically on this site on more than one occasion that 1985 punk horror classic, The Return of the Living Dead, is my favorite film of all time, and while it’s perhaps unfair to compare two films, it’s also inevitable. The Ranger doesn’t reach those heights by any stretch, but it’s a competent, fun, bloody, and energetic addition to the canon of punk horror films that its creators can be proud of. A lot of my issues feel like the follies of an excitable first time director, but then again, they didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the film so I can still give it a solid recommendation for fans of low budget indie horror, and not that hi-falutin’ artsy fartsy stuff. This is a fun throwback with a killer soundtrack and enough solid kills in its 77 minutes (was that on purpose? if so, kudos) to sate spiky haired gorehounds everywhere.”

AUGUST 17 (streaming on Netflix): To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (dir. Susan Johnson)Teen Vogue article by Gabe Bergado: “Who was your first crush? Most people can relate to scribbling someone’s name on their notebook and using a mutual friend to pass along a profession of love. But for Lara Jean Song Covey, revealing she like-likes someone doesn’t go as smoothly as she’d hope.

“Coming soon to Netflix is To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a film based on Jenny Han’s best-selling novel. It follows Lara Jean (Lana Condor) after someone releases a box of letters she’s written to her crushes — without her knowing. And if you thought having the cutie you’ve been eyeing in AP Calculus find out about your true feelings, try having five crushes find out all at the same time. For Lara Jean, there’s ‘Peter with the beautiful eyes, Kenny from camp, Lucas from homecoming, John Ambrose from Model UN, and Josh… the boy next door.’ She teams up with Peter (Noah Centineo) to navigate the aftermath and parse through all the turbulent feelings that the letters cause.

“…’I think that all teens have fantasized about a seemingly unattainable crush at one point in their life,’ Lana tells Teen Vogue about the project. ‘I believe we’ve all been through the doubts and self-consciousness that comes with whether or not we should approach our crush and get to know them. It’s the fear of rejection. I think Lara Jean has all of these universal fears and eventually learns that people will love who she really is if she just is her authentic self.’

“And while To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before‘s main plot revolves around Lara Jean’s letters, her family — and specifically, her two sisters (who are played by Anna Cathcart and The Perfectionists‘s Janel Parrish) — are also essential to the movie. Jenny says that the three girls ‘were truly like sisters on this set.’

“‘Like Lara Jean, I am the middle child of three sisters, which made it very easy for me to relate to how LJ views her family and her world,’ the film’s director Susan Johnson tells Teen Vogue. ‘She’s an optimist with a vivid imagination, but also just a little bit naive. I love how protective she is of her family, and her friends. And, that she puts everything into writing, always making lists.’

“Many will recognize Lana as Jubilee from the 2016 superhero film X-Men: Apocalypse, but now the actor is switching gears — and she couldn’t be more excited. ‘There aren’t that many rom-coms out there starring an Asian lead love interest. So, I was and am over the moon to hopefully begin to pave the way for other ladies (and men) in my position,’ Lana says. ‘It means the world to me.’

“Jenny, whose book was first published in 2014, agrees. The author describes Lana as a ‘ball of energy,’ and adds that her lead actor feels like a major moment for representation. ‘I don’t know if people realize how long it’s been since we last saw a movie starring an Asian American girl,’ she tells Teen Vogue. ‘It’s been 25 years since The Joy Luck Club! That is a really long time to wait to see yourself reflected back at you on screen. My priority is for Asian-American kids to see themselves in stories, to see a face like theirs. They need to know that their stories are universal too, that they too can fall in love in a teen movie.’

“For her part, Lana also hopes the film’s message hits home in a singular way. ‘My hope is that after watching this movie, every single audience member knows they’re deserving of love. And deserving of friendship,’ she says. ‘I hope they realize being yourself is truly the best way to live life.'”

AUGUST 17: A Whale of a Tale (dir. Megumi Sasaki)Busan International Film Festival synopsis by Minah Jeong: “This investigative documentary film shows what is going on in Taiji, a small fishing village in Japan, after 2010’s The Cove, also a documentary that brought international attention to this village. The Cove featured a dolphin trainer who woke up to the fact that a whale is a mammal with feelings and that knows pain, and who went on to become an animal rights activist. The activists and the filmmakers (who won an Academy Award) spread out over the world the name of Taiji, where cruel whale hunting was ongoing. A Whale of a Tale is the sequel to The Cove, but it does not just regard Taiji from the viewpoint of Western activists; it listens to the Taiji villagers as well. Taiji has become a hot spot for anti-whaling activists, often militant, and cameras and binoculars now flock to the village in whaling season. The villagers claim that a whale is a precious resource for the village, once scarce of food, and that they perform a ritual for whales after the traditional hunt. Focusing on a place where provocative remarks are exchanged and the traditional culture conflicts with ethics, the film tries to say that understanding each other and having conversations is the true solution to the conflict. Still, there seems to be a long road to resolution and in the meantime, life is being slaughtered.”

AUGUST 23 (playing at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art): The Rest I Make Up (dir. Michelle Memran)MoMA synopsis: “Maria Irene Fornes is one of America’s greatest playwrights and most influential teachers, but many only know her as the ex-lover of writer and social critic Susan Sontag. The visionary Cuban-American dramatist constructed astonishing worlds onstage and taught countless students how to connect with their imaginations. When she gradually stops writing due to dementia, an unexpected friendship with filmmaker Michelle Memran reignites her spontaneous creative spirit and triggers a decade-long collaboration that picks up where the pen left off.

“The duo travels from New York to Havana, Miami to Seattle, exploring the playwright’s remembered past and their shared present. Theater luminaries such as Edward Albee, Ellen Stewart, Lanford Wilson, and others weigh in on Fornes’s important contributions. What began as an accidental collaboration becomes a story of love, creativity, and connection that persists even in the face of forgetting.”

AUGUST 24 (streaming on Netflix): The After Party (dir. Ian Edelman) (DPs: Damián Acevedo and Dagmar Weaver-Madsen)Netflix synopsis:An aspiring rapper (Kyle Harvey) and his best friend/manager (Harrison Holzer) have one night to bounce back from embarrassment and make their dreams of hip-hop stardom come true.

AUGUST 24: The Bookshop (dir. Isabel Coixet)The Hollywood Reporter review by Jonathan Holland: “If ‘restrained,’ ‘melancholy,’ ‘subtle’ and ‘stereotypically English’ are the qualifiers that spring to mind when you learn that Isabel Coixet’s latest is about a widow setting up a bookstore in a quiet coastal town in the 1950s, then you’re only getting half the story of The Bookshop. Its subversive undercurrent, embodied in fine performances by Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy, is what makes it really interesting.

“Pretty faithful throughout to the Penelope Fitzgerald novel from which it’s sourced, and sustained by a cast which is well capable of suggesting the psychological subtlety of the original, The Bookshop shows that, for the moment at least, the uneven maverick Coixet is back in form. Initial box office in Spain has been positive, and the fact that there’s always a market somewhere for hand-crafted, quintessentially English fare — perhaps even more so in these troubled times — suggest that this one is unlikely just to sit there gathering dust.

“Coixet has long been interested in women who take risks to do the right thing. This time it’s the turn of Florence Green (Emily Mortimer), 16 years a war widow, who fetches up in the seaside town of Hardborough in the county of Suffolk with the aim of setting up a bookshop in a rundown property, the Old House, which she’s bought. Florence’s never-explicitly stated reason for wanting to do so is that she met her husband in a bookshop, an event fleetingly hinted at early on.

“At one of those massively awkward, stilted dinner parties at which the English apparently excel, Florence encounters local bigwig Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson, working for the third time with Coixet), her hair plastered tight against her scalp, smoking evilly at windows, endlessly calculating. This is the kind of film in which the smilingly uttered words ‘why don’t you think it over?’ actually mean ‘if you dare to challenge me, my dear, then I shall quite simply ruin your life.’ Violet wants to use the old house as an arts center; Apparently for no reason other than that she enjoys exercising her power, she will stop at nothing to achieve it, going so far as to pull strings in Parliament to fulfill her aim.

“Local recluse and widow Mr. Brundish (a compellingly quiet and intense Nighy), around whom local gossip comically swirls, is sympathetic to Florence’s cause, sensing that Hardborough needs her. Brundish emerges from years of solitude into a brief, middle-aged flirtation with Florence which teeters elegantly on the edge of being an affair without actually becoming one.

“As romances go, this is so exquisitely restrained that it makes Brief Encounter look like Debbie Does Dallas. Their trembling, murmured first interview is knockout stuff, two fine actors, both playing bereaved lovers, taking all the time they need and playing off one another to suggest an ocean of pain: the sigh emitted by Brundish after it will be echoed by audiences. ‘You make me believe once more in things I’d long forgotten,’ he tells Florence, and he might even be talking about love. They meet only twice, but we wish it could have been more.

“Florence also meets a feisty little girl, Christine (Honor Kneafsey), who helps her out at the shop, as well as the glistening-haired, clear-eyed Milo North — in the latter case, without any noticeable advancement of either character or plot. Though Lance has fun playing a bounder and cad of the first order, the script doesn’t particularly need him.

“Like the novel, The Bookshop teems with ideas. Some are old-hat: we’ve regularly been reminded since Jane Austen, for example, that rural villages can be petty-minded, spiteful places. But both Fitzgerald’s novel and Coixet’s adaptation also have resonances for the 2000s, among them the question of how it is possible, in a world driven by gossip (read ‘fake news’) that books and reading can have become so devalued. ‘Thank you for introducing me to Ray Bradbury,’ Brundish tells Florence, and indeed Fahrenheit 451’s subversive, free spirit (and less convincingly that of Lolita) can be felt throughout, suggesting that a world without books — in this case Hardborough — is a pretty nasty, ego-driven place to be. What a shame that we live there.

“Mortimer follows the novel’s lead in portraying Florence as an intriguing mixture of social insecurity and quiet determination, driven in her pursuit of a dream that should be perfectly achievable but, thanks to moral and cultural Philistinism, is not. As the obstacles mount up, Florence starts to look like an oasis of sanity.

“Classically structured and assembled as befits its subject, the film’s only concession to stylistic flamboyance comes when Brundish is seen reading to camera letters he’s sent to Florence. This may seem clumsy, but in a film which is so much about the power of the written word to stir us, it works very well, and gives Nighy a further opportunity to shine as Brundish, in his splendid isolation.

“In a wonderfully apt touch, the voiceover is delivered by Julie Christie, who starred in Truffaut’s version of Fahrenheit 451. Often drawn directly from Fitzgerald’s novel, it does adds shade and context to some scenes, but is sometimes unnecessary. The same can be said of Alfonso de Vilallonga’s score, which is better during the melancholy sequences, but cliched when it’s striving to be perky. Some nuances are missing: Christine is probably too frightfully well spoken for the daughter of a working-class 1950s woman in an eastern English county, and indeed regional accents are lacking entirely. But visually, the attention to period detail from Marc Pou seems faultless.”

AUGUST 24: Hot to Trot (dir. Gail Freedman)Quad Cinema synopsis: “An art form and dazzling spectacle, ballroom dancing remains constrained by antiquated gender binaries within the mainstream, but the little-known world of same-sex competition is shaking things up—and making them sizzle. This lively and poignant documentary follows four international LGBTQ dancers as they journey to the quadrennial Gay Games. Along the way dancing is revealed to be both a means of overcoming personal hardships—from drug addiction to familial rifts—and a joyous opportunity to merge artistic expression with proud sexual identity.”

AUGUST 24: Maison du Bonheur (dir./DP: Sofia Bohdanowicz)Metrograph synopsis: “For half a century, 77-year-old Juliane Sellam, raconteur, accomplished astrologist, and solemn maintainer of refined rituals, has lived in the same home in Montmartre, Paris. Sofia Bohdanowicz, one of the most distinctive voices in Canadian independent cinema, delves into Sellam’s sanctum to record the older woman’s vast store of tales and household routines, in the process finding herself taking a sort of direction from her subject, even having her astrological chart read. Shooting in 16mm, Bohdanowicz reveals a quiet loveliness in quotidian objects and the dispatch of everyday beauty, creating in the process a cinematic ode to matriarchy.”

AUGUST 24 (NYC), SEPTEMBER 14 (LA): Nelly (dir. Anne Émond) (DP: Josée Deshaies)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis: “A high-class prostitute by choice, Nelly Arcan’s colorful life is recreated in a multi-layered and stylish mix of make-believe and memoir, revealing Nelly’s alter egos: the neurotic writer, the vulnerable lover, the call girl and the star. Nelly shocked the literary world with her elegant phrasing and the lurid details of sex work in her autobiographical first novel, Whore, which became a critically acclaimed bestseller. Despite unprecedented success, Nelly’s remarkable life ended in tragedy.”

AUGUST 24: The Oslo Diaries (dirs. Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan)Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival synopsis by Aisha Jamal: “Once upon a time, there was a moment of hope in the Middle East peace process. In 1992, just as Israeli-Palestinian relations were at an all-time low, the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Israeli government took an unprecedented step: They set up secret negotiations in Oslo, Norway. Dubbed the Oslo process, these meetings were never officially sanctioned and only documented by the negotiators themselves. With remarkable access to their private diaries, this film offers a rare look behind the scenes of the process that resulted in the Oslo Accords, a stunning moment of cooperation between the two sides. Using extensive archival footage, interviews and recreations, the film weaves a fascinating political tale with important lessons. Given the contemporary tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the film offers a much-needed narrative about the possibility for fair negotiations.”

AUGUST 31 (NYC), SEPTEMBER 7 (LA): Inventing Tomorrow (dir. Laura Nix) (DP: Martina Radwan)Variety’s Sundance Film Festival review by Nick Schager: “Jeffrey Blitz’s 2002 spelling-bee documentary Spellbound continues to cast a long shadow over contemporary nonfiction cinema, with Laura Nix’s Inventing Tomorrow the latest doc to hew to that formal template. Nix’s film follows a collection of young kids as they prepare for, and then compete at, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), dubbed by one speaker as ‘The science fair of science fairs.’ Inventing Tomorrow won’t win points for originality, but this snapshot of adolescent ingenuity and innovation, premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, nonetheless proves equally entertaining and inspiring.

“The documentary is structured in two parts, the first focusing on the backstories and creative undertakings of its subjects as they face polluted home environments. In Bangalore, India, 16-year-old Sahithi takes samples of the area’s lakes, which are so contaminated that they’re covered in mountains of noxious foam, which often blows into the streets and onto unsuspecting pedestrians. Teenagers Jesus, Jose and Fernando, meanwhile, are concerned with the air pollution plaguing their hometown of Monterrey, Mexico. The most urgent issue confronted by Bangka, Indonesia, student Nuha is the waste produced by the region’s tin mining operations, which are poisoning the ocean. And in Hilo, Hawaii, Jared is fixated on investigating arsenic levels in his community’s soil, exacerbated by two 20th-century tsunamis.

“The kids’ solutions to these problems are clever, be it a photocatalytic paint devised by Jesus, Jose and Fernando that can turn smog into nontoxic elements, or the homemade app designed by Sahithi to analyze pollutants. Nix’s portraits of these intrepid youngsters are concise and compelling, if skimpy; aside from a few brief interactions with peers and parents that relay their economic backgrounds and particular dilemmas, there’s no larger sense of who they are and where they come from. Given the director’s storytelling format, this shortcoming is predictable, but one still clamors for more background on how these kids became enamored with their fields of study, realized that they’d struck upon a topic of interest, and first figured out how to tackle it.

“Once Inventing Tomorrow makes its way to Los Angeles and the enormous, multicultural ISEF, it manages to compensate for its early tenuousness by depicting the vital, and heartening, dialogue engendered by the event — an intercultural exchange of ideas and experiences that broadens teens’ horizons, allows them to share ideas with those who are different from themselves and to develop and spread social and scientific consciousness. United by their fondness for intellectual challenges, they exemplify the limitless possibilities created when people use their imagination for altruistic problem-solving and collaborate with others for the greater good.

“As such, though Inventing Tomorrow builds toward judgment day — when the kids battle nerves and language-barriers to give presentations to evaluators — the question of who will win and who will lose becomes something of an afterthought. There’s no heartbreak in Nix’s film, only mild disappointment that’s quickly overshadowed by the belief that academic ambition is something that benefits not just individuals but the world around them. No matter the formulaic way that message is communicated, it can’t help but leave the viewer feeling hopeful about the future.”

AUGUST 31: Let the Corpses Tan (dirs. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani)Quad Cinema synopsis: “A criminal gang fresh from an armored car heist holes up in an abandoned Mediterranean clifftop village, where they encounter enigmatic artist Elina Löwensohn and alcoholic writer Marc Barbé. Soon all are drawn into a death dance of double and triple crosses, as the standoff dissolves into hallucinatory, semi-mystical delirium. Cattet and Forzani (Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears) transform a 1971 pulp novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette into a fusion of the ’70s Euro crime thriller and Spaghetti Western in an immaculate stylistic pastiche and the sincerest form of genre fetishism.”

AUGUST 31: Pick of the Litter (dirs. Don Hardy Jr. and Dana Nachman) (DPs: Don Hardy Jr., Kurt Kuenne, Steve Pitre, Jacob Stein and Naomi Ture)Boulder International Film Festival synopsis:Pick of the Litter is a wonderful reminder of the extraordinary relationships we have with our dogs. The film follows a litter of puppies from the moment they’re born and begin their quest to become guide dogs for the blind. Cameras follow these pups through an intense two-year odyssey as they train to become dogs whose ultimate responsibility is to protect their blind partners from harm. Along the way, these remarkable animals rely on a community of dedicated individuals who train them to do amazing, life-changing things in the service of their human. The stakes are high, and not every dog can make the cut: Only the best of the best, the pick of the litter.”

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?”

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.”

Celebrate International Women’s Day with These 10 Films Directed by Women, Available on Netflix

In honor of International Women’s Day today, here are ten films directed by women and focused on women’s stories, all titles available to stream on Netflix now. To quote the director and UCLA professor Shirley Clarke in the article “Teaching Filmmaking Creatively” (Journal of the University Film Producers Association, 1965): “It’s important that filmmakers and film teachers don’t succumb to the judgement of The Establishment; that they don’t judge themselves by someone else’s standards. They must be helped to feel that they can afford to go against the tide of powerful opinion; that they have allies – at least each other… we must have courage to be different and daring or the trap will close firmly on one, (and all too rare) possible place for growth and change.”

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Ava DuVernay, Middle of Nowhere (2012). Ava DuVernay’s second narrative feature is a contemplative drama about a young wife, Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), who agrees to stay faithful to her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), during the minimum four years he must serve for a prison sentence. Life with(out) Derek isn’t easy; Ruby works night shifts as a registered nurse so that she can get phone calls from her husband in the daytime, and she chooses to stay away from any semblance of a social life. Outside of hanging out with her sister, Rosie (Edwina Findley Dickerson), or being nagged by their overbearing mother, Ruth (Lorraine Toussaint), Ruby’s waking hours consist solely of waiting for Derek. When a handsome bus driver, Brian (David Oyelowo), enters the picture, however, Ruby must decide whether a fresh start with a good and honest man is worth ending her marriage.

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Jennifer Kent, The Babadook (2014). No doubt you have heard of this Australian psychological horror film, if not when it was released in theaters then perhaps when the title demon accidentally became an LGBTQ+ icon due to a miscategorization on Netflix. (For my part, there was only one other person in the audience when I saw the film at Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in late December 2014, a guy who sat in my row and was audibly frightened on a number of occasions.) Jennifer Kent’s debut gives star Essie Davis great opportunities to explore the dual terrors of being a widow and a mother, portraying a woman literally haunted by memories of the past. As William Friedkin commented on Twitter: “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadook. It will scare the hell out of you as it did me.”

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Sharon Maguire, Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001). One of the biggest hits of actress Renée Zellweger’s career, Bridget Jones’s Diary is a comedy that offers its star in an Oscar-nominated performance as a romantically challenged Englishwoman constantly on the lookout for Mr. Right. A couple of candidates appear on the horizon: one, Bridget’s handsome, charming and undeniably sleazy boss, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), and two, lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), a family friend who cannot keep his sharp tongue in check whenever Bridget is around. Our protagonist encounters a never-ending series of challenges, including trying to lose weight and proving herself as a competent television journalist, but no matter what she tackles every problem with wit and aplomb.

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Reed Morano, Meadowland (2015). Keep several tissues on hand for Meadowland, the harrowing tale of a wife (Olivia Wilde) and husband (Luke Wilson) falling apart as they grieve the loss of their young son, who is a missing person. Directed and photographed by Reed Morano, a cinematographer whose credits include Frozen River, The Skeleton Twins and five episodes of “Vinyl” (she also won an Emmy this past fall for directing the pilot of “The Handmaid’s Tale”), Meadowland has a supporting cast that features numerous excellent actors: Giovanni Ribisi, Elisabeth Moss, Ty Simpkins, John Leguizamo, Kevin Corrigan, Juno Temple, Merritt Wever, Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, Mark Feuerstein, Skipp Sudduth, Yolonda Ross and Ned Eisenberg.

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Mira Nair, Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996). With the same passion for storytelling that she brought to such films as Salaam Bombay! (1988), Mississippi Masala (1991) and Monsoon Wedding (2001), Mira Nair navigates female sexuality, jealousy and heartache in Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love. In 16th century India, friends Maya (Indira Varma) and Tara (Sarita Choudhury) are groomed to become marriage prospects, but although Tara weds Prince Raj Singh (Naveen Andrews), Maya catches his eye and eventually becomes his courtesan in the royal palace. Maya’s true love is Jai Kumar (Ramon Tikaram), a poor sculptor with a gentle heart, but of course these many relationships cannot coexist and lead to a happily ever after. Gorgeously scored by prolific composer Mychael Danna and photographed by Declan Quinn, Kama Sutra boldly addresses taboo subjects in Indian cinema with sensitivity and eroticism.

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Shira Piven, Welcome to Me (2014). Kristen Wiig stars as Alice Klieg, a mentally ill woman who wins an $86 million jackpot and uses a large portion of her money to buy time in a TV studio. Inspired by Oprah Winfrey, Alice hosts her own show, “Welcome to Me,” which is part self-portrait (she employs actors to reenact scenes from her past) and part self-help guide for the intrigued viewers, dispensing nuggets of wisdom while simultaneously confounding her best friend (Linda Cardellini), therapist (Tim Robbins), ex-husband (Alan Tudyk), a cadre of network bigwigs (Wes Bentley, James Marsden, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Joan Cusack, Loretta Devine) and an inquisitive graduate student (Thomas Mann) with some of her odd statements. Whether riding onto set inside a swan-shaped boat, utilizing the talk show format to discuss her sexual history or sustaining second-degree burns during a cooking segment, Alice remains unapologetically herself.

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Céline Sciamma, Girlhood (2014). Only a few months after Richard Linklater’s Oscar-winning drama Boyhood hit theaters, a French film called Girlhood (the original title, Bande de filles, translates as “gang of girls”) played in limited release, including at the aforementioned Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center, where I saw it. Sciamma’s film follows Marieme (Karidja Touré), a teenager who befriends a clique of black girls like herself. Renamed “Vic” by her new pals, Marieme turns away from her family and embraces a life of crime. Girlhood subverts our typical notions of coming-of-age stories through its unique perspectives on race, gender and societal expectations for girls and women.

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Kris Swanberg, Unexpected (2015). During the school year, a white, middle-class teacher in inner-city Chicago (Cobie Smulders) and a black, lower-class student in her 12th grade biology class (Gail Bean) each find themselves pregnant for the first time. Although they come from radically different backgrounds, they develop a bond that grows into a real friendship. The road to motherhood is paved with obstacles – like deciding on whether to become a stay-at-home mom or looking for a college with acceptable housing for a student with a newborn infant – but the main characters learn from these experiences and, despite the hurdles, discover their own capacities for empathy.

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Nanfu Wang, Hooligan Sparrow (2016). Filmmaker Nanfu Wang fought the government and angry citizens all over China when she traveled throughout the country, chronicling the tireless efforts of women’s rights activist and sex workers’ advocate Ye Haiyan (nicknamed “Hooligan Sparrow”), as well as other women and men who fight on behalf of equality and justice in their corrupt society. The documentary was originally intended to cover the group’s protests against a pair of school principals accused of raping six female students aged 11 to 14, but as Wang watched Ye Haiyan continually be evicted from homes in cities across the nation and arrested on several occasions, the director knew she had to record every moment – even if doing so meant risking her own safety.

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Leslie Zemeckis, Bound by Flesh (2012). Conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton (both 1908-1969) lived extraordinary lives, working as sideshow performers and actresses almost from birth until death, most famously in Tod Browning’s pre-Code drama Freaks (1932). Although they were financially exploited and emotionally abused repeatedly by various men and women, including their adoptive parents, the sisters survived thanks to their shared indomitable spirit and the constant belief that they would eventually find happiness and love.