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

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Writer/producer/director Gillian Robespierre on the set of Landline, 2016.

Here are fourteen 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 7: The Rehearsal (dir. Alison Maclean)New York Film Festival synopsis:  “Alison Maclean (Jesus’ Son) returns to her New Zealand filmmaking roots with a multilayered coming-of-age story about a young actor (James Rolleston) searching for the truth of a character he’s playing onstage and the resulting moral dilemma in his personal life. Set largely in a drama school, featuring Kerry Fox as a diva-like teacher who tries to shape her student’s raw talent, The Rehearsal, adapted from the novel by Eleanor Catton, demystifies actors and acting in order to reveal the moments where craft becomes art. The same happens with Maclean’s understated but penetrating filmmaking. Her concentration on the quotidian yields a finale that borders on the sublime.”

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JULY 7: Swim Team (dir. Lara Stolman) (DP: Laela Kilbourn)IFC Center synopsis: “In New Jersey, the parents of a boy on the autism spectrum take matters into their own hands. They form a competitive swim team, recruiting diverse teens on the spectrum and training them with high expectations and zero pity. Swim Team chronicles the extraordinary rise of the Jersey Hammerheads, capturing a moving quest for inclusion, independence and a life that feels winning.”

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JULY 12: 500 Years (dir. Pamela Yates)Human Rights Watch Film Festival synopsis:500 Years is the story of Mayan resistance in Guatemala — to threaten the powerful and empower the dispossessed, from the first trial in the history of the Americas to prosecute the genocide of indigenous people in 2013 to a citizen’s uprising that threatens to topple a corrupt government.

“The film exposes a world of brutality, entrenched racism and impunity, that challenges the historical narrative of Guatemala. Driven by universal themes of justice, power and corruption, the film provides a platform for the majority indigenous Mayan population, who now stand poised to reimagine their society.

500 Years will be showing on June 11 as part of The Resistance Saga. The Resistance Saga is a cinematic project designed to galvanize audiences to fight back when society is faced with authoritarianism and demagogues, and celebrate the role that the arts can play in creating, strengthening, and communicating narratives of nonviolent resistance. In so many ways, indigenous peoples throughout the Americas have set the example of long-term courageous and strategic resistance against daunting odds, with a powerful example being the saga of the Mayan people as depicted in director Pamela Yates’ films When the Mountains Tremble, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator and the latest installment, 500 Years: Life in Resistance. The event is a day-long immersive gathering that includes the screening of all three films, with two 15-minute intermissions, followed by a discussion on long-term movement building with the Mayan women protagonists, and a reception and concert by Mayan singer/songwriter Sara Curruchich singing her inspiring songs of resistance.

“All three films of the Guatemalan trilogy have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival during the past 35 years. When the Mountains Tremble (1984) introduced indigenous rights leader Rigoberta Menchú as the storyteller in her role to expose repression during Guatemala’s brutal armed conflict. Winner of the Special Jury Award at Sundance, the film was seen worldwide and translated into 10 languages. It helped put Menchú on the world stage and 10 years later she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Yates’ sequel, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator (2011) is a a political thriller about the building of a genocide case against Guatemala General Efraín Ríos Montt. The case included outtakes from When the Mountains Tremble as forensic evidence in the prosecution of Montt. The third film, 500 Years: Life in Resistance, picks up where Granito leaves off, providing inside access to the first trial in the history of the Americas to prosecute the genocide of indigenous people. Driven by universal themes of justice, power, and corruption, the film provides a platform for the majority indigenous Mayan population, which is now poised to reimagine their society.”

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JULY 14 (NYC), JULY 21 (LA): False Confessions (dir. Luc Bondy and co-dir. Marie-Louise Bischofberger)Big World Pictures synopsis: “Luc Bondy’s final feature film as director draws talent from both stage and screen to bring Marivaux’s play into 21st century Paris. Academy Award nominee (Elle) Isabelle Huppert commands the screen as Araminte, the wealthy widow who unwittingly hires the smitten Dorante (Garrel) as her accountant. Secrets and lies accumulate as Dorante and his accomplice, Araminte’s manservant Dubois (Yves Jacques), manipulate not only the good-hearted Araminte, but also her friend and confidante, Marton (Manon Combes). Dorante, by turns pitiable and proficient, but always deferential to his social better, walks a fine line in his quest to arouse an equal desire in the object of his affections. Bulle Ogier delivers a memorable turn as Araminte’s mother, who suspects the young man’s intentions, but wants to push her daughter into the arms of an aged, hard-up Count (Jean-Pierre Malo). Filmed in part on-site at the Théâtre de l’Odéon, the film blurs the distinction between stage and screen, offering a new turn on this classic take on the psychology of love.

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JULY 14: Lady Macbeth (dir. William Oldroyd) (DP: Ari Wegner)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis: “Acclaimed UK stage director William Oldroyd makes his cinematic debut with this striking adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s famous play Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, relocated to Victorian England. Trapped in a marriage to a much older man and marooned on an estate amidst the bleak northern heaths, Lady Katherine (Florence Pugh) paces her constrictive world like a wild animal looking for escape. She soon finds an outlet for her stifled desires in an affair with a young groom — but the couple’s passion could prove to be their undoing.”

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JULY 14: Swallows and Amazons (dir. Philippa Lowthorpe)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “An enchanting new take on the beloved novel by Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons tells the story of the Walker children, whose summer holiday in the Lake District sees them sailing out on their own to a local island, only to find themselves in competition with a rival group of children who call themselves the Amazons and ultimately an adventure far bigger than they could have imagined. Combining a great British cast with stunning locations and a classic story, Swallows and Amazons is an exciting and heart-warming adventure that will be a must-see for family audiences this summer.”

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JULY 14 (in theaters and streaming on Netflix): To the Bone (dir. Marti Noxon)From RogerEbert.com’s Sundance Film Festival review by Nick Allen: “Writer/director Marti Noxon makes her directorial debut with To the Bone, a drama that gives viewers a first-hand perspective into the world of eating disorders, and the beautiful souls who have them. Front-and-center is a performance by Lily Collins, dramatically sincere even without considering the weight she must have lost to actualize her character Ellen, a quick-witted woman who needs medical help but refuses to play ball with various therapists. This all changes when Ellen meets Dr. Beckham (Keanu Reeves), who promises a different, more intense treatment than she is used to, which involves living in a home with people of other eating disorders, and finding her own way to choosing a healthier life.

“After showing us Ellen’s anorexia up-close, while listening to her dismissive, dark comedy about it (she counts calories in a scene meant to play as goofy and tragic), Noxon’s narrative gets its main focus when she is brought to the house, where the rules start to take place. There are no doors in the house, no cell phones, and points are earned by doing chores, which can be used to have time away from the house. We also meet other residents of various conditions, like Pearl (Maya Eshet), who is often in bed with a tube in her nose, former dancer Luke (Alex Sharp), who lost a great deal of weight after an injury, and even a character played by Leslie Bibb, who is pregnant despite the thinness of her body, and is working hard to safely deliver the baby. Ellen wrestles with whether she wants to be better, facing her self-hatred, due in part to a disturbing past.

To the Bone has a concrete sense of place, people and perspective, all of which makes the movie stronger than its faults. It’s even striking that the movie takes on a quirky tone for subject matter, which provides some breathing room when hearing about the women and what they’re experiencing makes you want to burst into tears. But To the Bone goes in an uninteresting narrative direction, at least by my eyes, focusing on a budding relationship between Ellen and the too-hammy Lucas, while also not giving enough time to the other life stories in the house. The striking ideas of this movie are used for something that wants to mix the emotional immediacy of The Fault in Our Stars with a familiar type of rag-tag group crowd-pleasing. Even Reeves, who is introduced with a bit of intriguing sass, goes to the wayside.

“Still, there is a lot of passion in this project, from the clear physical conditioning that Collins and her cast put themselves through to be true to this story, to the way that Noxon doesn’t pull back from showing how life-threatening these disorders can be, but that there are real people in each case. I’m happy that To the Bone exists, and that it’s recently been acquired by Netflix for mass-viewing. The movie deserves a large audience, whether for viewers to empathize with others or to address their own pain.”

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JULY 14: The Wrong Light (dirs. Dave Adams and Josie Swantek)Cinema Village synopsis:The Wrong Light tells the riveting story of a charismatic activist who leads a globally-regarded anti-trafficking NGO in Northern Thailand that provides shelter and education to young girls rescued from brothels. But as the filmmakers embed themselves at the shelter and meet the girls and their families, discrepancies begin to emerge. While the filmmakers embark search for the truth and ensure the girls’ safety, the heroic tale takes a shocking turn and reveals a dark side of child advocacy behind the trafficking headlines.”

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JULY 21 (limited release), AUGUST 4 (wide release): Landline (dir. Gillian Robespierre)Magnolia Pictures synopsis: “When two sisters suspect their father (John Turturro) may be having an affair, it sends them into a tailspin that reveals cracks in the family façade. For the first time, older sister Dana (Jenny Slate), recently engaged and struggling with her own fidelity, finds herself bonding with her wild teenage sister Ali (Abby Quinn). The two try to uncover the truth without tipping off their mother (Edie Falco) and discover the messy reality of love and sex in the process. Set in 1990s Manhattan, Landline is a warm, insightful and comedic drama about a family united by secrets and lies, co-written and directed by Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child).”

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JULY 26: Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World (dir. Catherine Bainbridge and co-dir. Alfonso Maiorana)Film Forum synopsis: “This rousing history of American Indians in popular music kicks off with Link Wray (Shawnee) whose raw, distorted electric guitar riff from the 1958 instrumental ‘Rumble’ was a major influence on rock legends Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page, and Iggy Pop. Rumble powers through the music and life stories of artists whose Indian heritage has long been unsung: Delta blues master Charley Patton (Choctaw), ‘queen of swing’ Mildred Bailey (Coeur D’Alene), The Band’s Robbie Robertson (Mohawk), Jimi Hendrix (Cherokee), folk icon Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree), and others. Martin Scorsese, Quincy Jones, and David Fricke weigh in on how these Native American musicians shaped the sounds of our lives.”

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JULY 28 (in theaters and on Video on Demand): From the Land of the Moon (dir. Nicole Garcia)IFC Films synopsis: “Based on the international best-selling novel and starring Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard, From the Land of the Moon is the story of a free-spirited woman fighting for passionate dreams of true love against all odds. Gabrielle (Cotillard) comes from a small village in the South of France at a a time when her dream of true love is considered scandalous, and even a sign of insanity. Her parents marry her to José (Àlex Brendemühl), an honest and loving Spanish farm worker who they think will make a respectable woman of her. Despite José’s devotion to her, Gabrielle vows that she will never love José and lives like a prisoner bound by the constraints of conventional post World War II society until the day she is sent away to a hospital in the Alps to heal her kidney stones. There she meets André Sauvage (Louis Garrel), a dashing injured veteran of the Indochinese War, who rekindles the passion buried inside her. She promises they will run away together, and André seems to share her desire. Will anyone dare rob her of her right to follow her dreams?”

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JULY 28 (limited release), AUGUST 4 (wide release): An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (dirs. Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “A decade after An Inconvenient Truth brought climate change into the heart of popular culture, comes the riveting and rousing follow-up that shows just how close we are to a real energy revolution. Vice President Al Gore continues his tireless fight traveling around the world training an army of climate champions and influencing international climate policy. Cameras follow him behind the scenes – in moments both private and public, funny and poignant – as he pursues the inspirational idea that while the stakes have never been higher, the perils of climate change can be overcome with human ingenuity and passion.”

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JULY 28: Person to Person (dir. Dustin Guy Defa) (DP: Ashley Connor)Magnolia Pictures synopsis: “In Person to Person, a record collector hustles for a big score while his heartbroken roommate tries to erase a terrible mistake, a teenager bears witness to her best friend’s new relationship, and a rookie reporter, alongside her demanding supervisor, chases the clues of a murder case involving a life-weary clock shop owner. Shot entirely in 16mm, Person to Person effortlessly humanizes its characters, invoking an earnest realism in the performances of its ensemble cast: Michael Cera, Abbi Jacobson, Michaela Watkins, and newcomer Bene Coopersmith. Defa demonstrates his aptitude for honest storytelling as he explores the absurdity and challenges of forging human connections.”

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JULY 28: Strange Weather (dir. Katherine Dieckmann)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis: “Academy Award winner Holly Hunter gets behind the wheel in this engrossing story of a woman’s quest for rectitude in the wake of harrowing loss. Steeped in a strong sense of place and peopled by convention-defying characters, Katherine Dieckmann’s Strange Weather draws you into its sultry Southern milieu and takes you on a back-roads trek you won’t soon forget.

“Darcy Baylor (Hunter) is an academic administrator at a Mississippi college, but another round of budget cuts puts her job — like nearly everything in her life — in limbo. Her son Walker committed suicide seven years ago, and the only constants in Darcy’s life since then have been her gardening and her best friend, Byrd (Carrie Coon). Shortly after her worrying workplace news, Darcy learns that Walker’s old college pal Mark (Shane Jacobsen) is now the owner of a successful restaurant chain — a chain whose concept, down to the last detail, was stolen from Walker. Darcy immediately packs her bag, gets in her truck, picks up Byrd, and sets out for New Orleans to pay Mark a visit. She isn’t sure what she’s going to do when she meets him. “I just want to look him in the eye,” says Darcy. ‘Then I’ll decide. I was never one for planning.’

Strange Weather is about the journey as much as the destination. Its circuitous route allows for surprise encounters and sudden detours. Surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast, Hunter gives a spunky, soulful performance. Every stop along the way takes Darcy closer to some new understanding of how to come to terms with the past — and eventually find her way back home.”

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Friday Music Focus: 6/23/17

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Friday Music Focus returns with eleven brand-new or recent songs to enrich your sonic experiences in 2017.

Courtney Barnett, “How to Boil an Egg” (single, 2017). From a YouTube user comment: “0/10. recipe was difficult to follow, eggs were terrible.”

Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie,”On with the Show” (appears on the album Buckingham/McVie, 2017). It’s not easy to write a good pop song. It’s probably even more trouble for artists who have been around for decades, constantly being compared and contrasted with the entirety of their own lengthy history. To be totally frank about my own music-awareness deficiencies, I don’t know the entire Fleetwood Mac songbook, so I’m not judging Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie’s new duets album (described by The Guardian’s Jude Rogers as “like togetherness put on, not poured out” and by Pitchfork’s Sean T. Collins as “fun—just not fundamental”) against the weight of a half-century-long catalog. I am therefore delighted to be so unbiased as to consider “On with the Show” a pop gem. In fact, it gives me the same joy that case/lang/veirs’ lovely tune “Best Kept Secret” did last year. How could that possibly be a bad thing?

The Dirty Dishes (Zoe Lister-Jones, Adam Pally and Fred Armisen), “Love and Lies” (music video made for the film Band Aid, 2017, dir. Zoe Lister-Jones; studio version appears on the album The Dirty Dishes EP, 2017). The new movie Band Aid, which was written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones, stars Lister-Jones and Adam Pally as a couple who tackle the thorny problems in their marriage by writing and performing songs in a band they form in their garage. The trio is rounded out by a neighbor (played by Fred Armisen) as their unendingly kooky drummer. “Love and Lies” is the best of the movie’s original songs, and its music video (also directed by Zoe Lister-Jones) points out the fact that the film had an all-female crew behind the scenes; seeing Armisen pretentiously micromanage the video shoot is icing on the cake.

Feist featuring Stephen Colbert, “Century” (performed on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” 6/6/17; studio version, featuring Jarvis Cocker, appears on the album Pleasure, 2017). My favorite track on Leslie Feist’s new album is updated with a contribution with my #1 late night talk show host. From the guitar riffs to the stage setup to the outfit worn by Feist, has there been a more satisfying musical performance than this on TV all spring?

Marika Hackman, “Boyfriend” (music video; studio version appears on the album I’m Not Your Man, 2017). Despite a glaring likeness to Radiohead’s “My Iron Lung,” Marika Hackman’s first single from her sophomore album (after 2015’s We Slept at Last) is an undeniable earworm. It has been called a riposte “to ignorant boys who try to delegitimize and objectify lesbian relationships,” or in Hackman’s words, “payback for all those times I’ve been interrupted mid-snog by some seedy wanker asking to join in.”

Hudson Mohawke featuring Remy Banks, “Passports” (from the “Silicon Valley” soundtrack, 2017). The artists at the helm of the HBO sitcom “Silicon Valley” have an unrivaled track record for choosing the perfect song to play over any given episode’s end credits. “Passports” appeared at the end of last Sunday’s episode, “Hooli-Con,” and if we are to believe the lyrics as foreshadowing, the song points to the possibility that Richard and the rest of the Pied Piper team will need to flee the country in this Sunday’s season finale (long story short: they committed cyber crimes). The “Silicon Valley” gang is usually the least cool bunch of dudes in the room, so the decision as to which song will cleverly underline that basic precept is incredibly important. “Passports” does that to the max in just over two minutes; it even seems to evoke the subplot involving Erlich Bachman’s (T.J. Miller) voyage to Tibet with the somewhat Eastern-sounding instrumentation.

Lorde, “Sober II (Melodrama)” (appears on the album Melodrama, 2017). I don’t hide the fact that I have never really joined in on the Lorde bandwagon. (The world seems to consider her the most talented young singer-songwriter around, but all I see is a Kate Bush wannabe utilizing current pop hooks.) It is therefore no surprise that Lorde’s new album, Melodrama, which is being applauded by journalists on every continent (I wouldn’t dream of making assumptions and excluding Antarctica), doesn’t wow me. The two songs that work for me, however, are the exuberantly upbeat “Green Light,” which has grown on me immensely in the last few months, and “Sober II (Melodrama),” about which I wrote these words after first hearing it: “oddly tantalizing – the strings make me finally feel the emotion that the album claims to be focused on – I wish the song lasted longer.” There may be hope yet for me as a potential Lorde devotee.

Ride, “Lannoy Point” (appears on the album Weather Diaries, 2017). “We’ll be wiser when we fall/Like the dinosaurs before/When we’ve swept ourselves away/A better sense can start again,” sings Mark Gardner on the opening track of Weather Diaries, the new album from British shoegaze/dream pop/Britpop band Ride (returning after a two-decade hiatus). The group takes on modern politics and Brexit, the aftershocks of which are felt throughout the album and give Ride a fresh (though, of course, obviously unwanted) source of inspiration for their new music.

Sigrid, “Don’t Kill My Vibe” (music video; studio version appears on the album Don’t Kill My Vibe EP, 2017). I don’t know much about Sigrid, a twenty-year-old singer-songwriter from Norway, but I was so impressed by her performance of this song on “The Late Late Show” last month that I’ve been replaying the single ever since. It’s a simple and effective pop song, the kind that instantly and happily lodges itself in your brain.

Slowdive, “Don’t Know Why” (appears on the album Slowdive, 2017). Like Ride, British shoegaze pioneers Slowdive spent two decades on hiatus. Their recent return with a self-titled album has garnered stellar praise, and “Don’t Know Why” is a beautiful highlight that pays homage to the shimmering, melting guitar tones of one of the group’s influences, Cocteau Twins. I hope that I get to hear this particular song when I see Slowdive in concert this November; I’m sure the reverb must be heavenly in person.

Texas, “Great Romances” (appears on the album Jump on Board, 2017). Like the critically lambasted Buckingham/McVie album, Texas has been derided for blandness. It’s not clear to me exactly what critics want out of frontwoman Sharleen Spiteri and her bandmates; they first appeared on the Scottish alternative rock scene in the mid-80s, so maybe the British music press is just bored with them. But I ask you: what’s wrong with a song like “Great Romances,” an enjoyable little number that bounces along? Sure, it borrows the beat from the classic Angels hit “My Boyfriend’s Back,” but is that a worse musical crime than Ed Sheeran copying TLC?

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

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Writer/director Kirsten Tan and Bong the elephant on the set of Pop Aye, 2016.

Here are twenty-three 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 2: Band Aid (dir. Zoe Lister-Jones) (DP: Hillary Spera)Sundance Film Festival synopsis: “Married couple Anna and Ben fight constantly. It doesn’t help that they’ve each come to a standstill in their careers, or that, together, they’ve suffered a heartbreak neither wants to face. But one day they come up with a brilliant idea they actually agree on: Why not start a band and use their arguments as songwriting inspiration? Almost as soon as they dig out their old electric guitars from the garage, their musical partnership starts to jell, but it soon becomes apparent this is only a temporary distraction from their real problems.

“Debut feature director Zoe Lister-Jones, who also writes and stars in Band Aid, offers an honest, intelligent, and hilarious perspective on modern relationships. Carefully observed and cleverly conceived, the film hinges on the undeniable chemistry between Adam Pally and Lister-Jones—not to mention they make a delightful indie pop duo (along with Fred Armisen on drums). Together they create a moving and comedic portrayal of a couple in denial of their pain, and who have to heal separately in order to move forward.”

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JUNE 2: Letters from Baghdad (dirs. Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Letters from Baghdad is the story of a true original—Gertrude Bell—sometimes called the ‘female’ Lawrence of Arabia. Voiced and executive produced by Academy award winning actor Tilda Swinton, the documentary tells the dramatic story of this British spy, explorer and political powerhouse. Bell traveled widely in Arabia before being recruited by British military intelligence to help draw the borders of Iraq after WWI. Using never-seen-before footage of the region, the film chronicles Bell’s extraordinary journey into both the uncharted Arabian desert and the inner sanctum of British male colonial power. With unique access to documents from the Iraq National Library and Archive and Gertrude Bell’s own 1600 letters, the story is told entirely in the words of the players of the day, excerpted verbatim from intimate letters, private diaries and secret communiqués. It is a unique look at both a remarkable woman and the tangled history of Iraq. The film takes us into a past that is eerily current.”

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JUNE 2: Sámi Blood (dir. Amanda Kernell) (DPs: Sophia Olsson and Petrus Sjövik)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Steve Gravestock: “Amanda Kernell’s powerful feature debut Sámi Blood explores the Scandinavian variant of a shameful practice employed by self-proclaimed ‘civilized’ (i.e., white) nations around the world in the 19th and 20th centuries: the systematic removal of Indigenous children from their parents, homes, and traditional lifestyles and forced integration into an educational system that taught them that their customs and lifestyles were inferior at best.

“Kernell’s heroine Elle Marja (Lene Cecilia Sparrok) is a teenage Sámi girl in the 1930s who is sent to a boarding school that is intended to raise its Indigenous charges to a level ‘acceptable’ to the rest of Swedish society. (These schools even allowed phrenologists, the pseudo-scientists of the day, to study the Sámi children in order to identify which traits distinguished them from ‘regular’ Swedes.)

“Curious and excited, Elle Marja at first excels in her new surroundings, mastering the Swedish language and her other lessons while her younger sister, Njenna, struggles. But this very success, coupled with Elle Marja’s intense desire to be accepted by her teachers, her internalization of the school’s vile lessons about race and class, and her burgeoning sexuality, soon drives a wedge between her and her fellow students, forcing her to take an action she may not have the opportunity to regret.

Sámi Blood has all the anger and indignation one should expect from a drama centred on such appalling events — events that should by now be all too familiar to Canadians, given the belated apology from the Harper government for Canada’s residential schools system. But with Kernell’s nuanced direction and Sparrok’s devastating performance, it’s also a brilliant character study, showing how this kind of officially sanctioned abuse insidiously attacks the minds of its victims as well as their bodies. Reminiscent of Fred Schepisi’s The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and Alanis Obomsawin’s work, Sámi Blood is driven by righteous rage, psychological acuity, and a profound empathy.”

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JUNE 2: Wonder Woman (dir. Patty Jenkins)Warner Bros. synopsis:Wonder Woman hits movie theaters around the world this summer when Gal Gadot returns as the title character in the epic action-adventure from director Patty Jenkins (Monster, AMC’s The Killing). Joining Gadot in the international cast are Chris Pine (the Star Trek films), Robin Wright (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Netflix’s House of Cards), Danny Huston (Clash of the Titans, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), David Thewlis (the Harry Potter films, The Theory of Everything), Connie Nielsen (Fox’s The Following, Gladiator), Elena Anaya (The Skin I Live In), Ewen Bremner (Exodus: Gods and Kings, Snowpiercer), Lucy Davis (Shaun of the Dead, FX’s Better Things), Lisa Loven Kongsli (upcoming Ashes in the Snow), Eugene Brave Rock (AMC’s Hell on Wheels) and Saïd Taghmaoui (American Hustle).

“Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, when an American pilot crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers…and her true destiny.

“Patty Jenkins directs the film from a screenplay by Allan Heinberg, story by Zack Snyder & Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs, based on characters from DC. Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston. The film is produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder and Richard Suckle, with Stephen Jones, Geoff Johns, Jon Berg, Wesley Coller and Rebecca Steel Roven serving as executive producers.”

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JUNE 7: Ascent (dir. Fiona Tan)Film Forum synopsis: “Mount Fuji, still an active volcano, has long inspired artists with its dramatically symmetrical snow-capped cone, its intimations of danger, and its historical/political role in Japanese consciousness. Dutch artist Fiona Tan, clearly under the influence of Chris Marker and Agnès Varda, draws upon more than 4000 images of the iconic mountain. In both English and Japanese (she speaks English, actor Hiroki Hasegawa speaks Japanese), the film muses upon history, mythology, aesthetics, and geology – plus love and grief, Godzilla and Van Gogh, the role of the cherry blossom, and much else. This is an experimental movie in the best sense – a creative fusion of words and images, historical and contemporary thought, and Eastern and Western philosophy.”

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JUNE 9: As Good as You (dir. Heather de Michele)Queens World Film Festival synopsis: “Jo’s (Laura Heisler) world is thrown into utter disarray when her wife Amanda passes away. Her cozy domestic life shattered, her writing career tossed aside, Jo desperately starts chasing a dream that she and Amanda had once shared – starting a family together. Jo asks her late wife’s brother, Jamie to be her sperm donor. Craziness ensues, in the form of a visit to the fertility clinic’s psychologist (Annie Potts), and a love triangle with her two best friends, Nate (a straight man with his own tragic past–played by Raoul Bhaneja) and Lisa (Jo’s best friend, a lesbian punk photographer and bar owner–played by Anna Fitzwater). As Good as You is a human-scale, character-driven film set in a sleepy, safe Los Angeles; it’s a serious comedy about trying to grieve the right way, and maybe growing up a bit in the process.”

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JUNE 9: Megan Leavey (dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite)Bleecker Street Media synopsis:Megan Leavey is based on the true life story of a young Marine Corporal (Kate Mara) whose unique discipline and bond with her military combat dog saved many lives during their deployment in Iraq. When she is assigned to clean up the K9 unit after a disciplinary hearing, Leavey identifies with a particularly aggressive dog, Rex, and is given the chance to train him. Over the course of their service, Megan and Rex completed more than 100 missions until an IED explosion injures them, putting their fate in jeopardy. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish) from a screenplay by Pamela Gray and Annie Mumolo & Tim Lovestedt, the film also stars Edie Falco, Ramón Rodríguez, Bradley Whitford, and Common.”

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JUNE 9: Raising Bertie (dir. Margaret Byrne)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Set in Bertie County, a rural African American-led community in Eastern North Carolina, Raising Bertie takes audiences deep into the emotional lives of three boys – Reginald ‘Junior’ Askew, David ‘Bud’ Perry, and Davonte ‘Dada’ Harrell – over six-years as they come of age. This powerful vérité film produced by Chicago’s internationally acclaimed Kartemquin Films (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters), Raising Bertie movingly weaves the young men’s stories together as they try to define their identities, interconnecting narratives of family, youthful innocence, first love, systemic racism, educational inequity, poverty and unemployment, and the will to succeed in the face of formidable odds.

“Rural minorities like the youth in Bertie represent some of the nation’s most vulnerable and least visible individuals, existing at that critical juncture of rural disenfranchisement and the achievement gap for young people of color. Rural child poverty rates continue to rise while poverty rates for minorities in rural areas are nearly three times that of rural whites. Despite this, the national media and educational reform movement have focused primarily on the needs of urban and non-rural youth, largely ignoring this vital segment of America. This is particularly troubling considering that rural areas provide most of our food, house most of our prisoners, and provide a large number of our armed personnel.

Raising Bertie is an experience that asks us to see this world through their eyes, inciting recognition of lives and communities too often ignored. Intimate access provides a unique longitudinal observation of the everyday, and what happens in the lives of young people caught in the complex interplay of generational poverty, economic isolation, educational inequity, and race.”

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JUNE 14: Moka (dir. Frédéric Mermoud) (DP: Irina Lubtchansky)Seattle International Film Festival synopsis: “Along the shores of Lake Geneva, a fire is raging. Diane (Emmanuelle Devos, Coco Before Chanel) is grieving, her son the victim of a fatal hit-and-run accident seven months prior. With the police no closer to identifying a suspect and her marriage in shambles, Diane enlists the help of a private detective, who tracks down the make and model of the car—a mocha-colored SL 1972 Mercedes—that permanently altered her family’s life. Diane travels across the Swiss-French border with a list of owners of this rare automobile, finally settling on Marlene (Nathalie Baye, Day for Night) and Michel (David Clavel), a well-to-do Evian couple who fit the sole witness’ description perfectly. With her prey in sight, a pistol in hand, and revenge her sole remaining instinct, Diane carefully, methodically invades the couple’s seemingly comfortable life, waiting for the right moment to strike. Devos and Baye, two renowned veterans of French cinema, share the screen for the first time, going toe-to-toe in this slow-burning psychological thriller of obsession, paranoia, and unbreakable maternal instinct, based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay and handled with Highsmith/Hitchcockian panache by Swiss director Frédéric Mermoud (Les Revenants).”

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JUNE 16: From Hollywood to Rose (dirs. Liz Graham and Matt Jacobs)Eye for Film review by Jennie Kermode: “Margaret Thatcher is frequently credited with having claimed that anybody who rides on a bus after the age of 26 is a failure. Liz Graham and Matt Jacobs’ film is full of people making excuses for being on buses. They don’t normally travel this way, they insist. They can’t deny using buses because those are the places where they meet and get talking as one bedraggled middle aged woman (Eve Annenberg) makes her way through Los Angeles at night with make-up smeared all over her face, wearing an increasingly tattered wedding gown.

“Mysterious as the Bride in Quentin Tarantino’s epic Kill Bill, but a lot less glamorous, this tired and confused woman might be invisible to her fellow passengers if it were not for her dress. Everybody wants to know her story but, with the exception of one determined child, nobody wants to ask. Instead they talk around the subject or simply talk about themselves. They talk about their failed relationships, their thwarted ambitions, the mothers who don’t understand them and the lizard people sending telepathic messages from the centre of the Earth. Jewish, Chinese, trans and geek stereotypes abound but are acknowledged as such – sometimes, rather glumly, by those who embody them – and there’s a sweetness about the rendering of all the characters that goes a long way. The film sends the message that what matters is not whom one jokes about but the nature of the jokes.

“Nobody seems a more obvious target for cruel jokes than the poor bedraggled Bride, and her obvious vulnerability gives her the power of immunity through excess, bringing out the best in people (to the point where they sometimes confess the worst). Along the way she proves to have a depth and complexity nobody really expects, giving us glimpses of a much bigger story and forming unexpected friendships. There’s also a showdown with a woman who recognises her that’s straight out of Jerry Springer territory but is given comedic weight by its context, with nonplussed onlookers unsure of the proper way to react.

“Although the film is notably free of characters who insist they’re really actors, there’s a lot of satire here that’s very much focused on LA, and people who know the city will get more out of it. That said, the simple story and well-drawn characters have universal appeal, and the quietness of the film, the dryness of much of its humour, brings something different to situations that would normally be played in full-on wacky style. There’s an edge to Annenberg’s performance that suggests depths of despair just out of sight, and it’s this that lets the film get away with its positivity without becoming too sugary.

“A warm-hearted and thoughtful little film, From Hollywood to Rose travels along a familiar route but lets you appreciate what there is to observe along the way.”

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JUNE 16 (NYC), JUNE 23 (LA): Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It All (dirs. John Griesser, Jean Griesser and Lauren Ross)Illuminate Film Festival synopsis:Hare Krishna! is a documentary on the life of Srila Prabhupada – the 70-year-old Indian Swami who arrived in America without support or money in the turbulent 1960s. With his unflinching determination and faith, he ignited the worldwide spiritual phenomenon, known as the Hare Krishna movement.

“Suddenly thrust into the raging countercultural scene, Prabhupada speaks of the world’s real need – a revolution in consciousness. He teaches that the way to find real happiness is by going within and connecting to your true self. This universal message resonates with more and more people, including musician George Harrison whose hit song ‘My Sweet Lord’ features the Hare Krishna chant. From there, Prabhupada’s movement explodes!

“This is the true story of an unexpected, prolific, and controversial revolutionary whose books have sold over 520 million copies and has inspired millions of seekers and yoga enthusiasts worldwide. Using never-before-seen archival verite, his own recorded words and interviews with his early followers, the film takes the audience behind-the-scenes of this infamous movement to meet the Swami who started it all.”

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JUNE 16: Lost in Paris (dirs. Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon) (DPs: Claire Childeric and Jean-Christophe Leforestier)From IndieWire’s Telluride Film Festival review by Eric Kohn: “No modern comedy group has shown as much commitment to resurrecting the spirit of classic slapstick than Brussels-based husband-and-wife comedy duo Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon. They have performed for decades, but only brought their talents into feature-length filmmaking in the last 10 years, with films like the wordless Rumba and The Fairy showcasing their commitment to a humor otherwise absent from contemporary cinema. Their lanky figures are ideal vessels for deadpan visuals that mine territory ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Jacques Tati. Lost in Paris, their fourth effort (and first without co-director Bruno Romy), continues that earnest commitment to the genre by tapping into the material’s appeal without reinventing it.

“Abel and Gordon have yet to produce a full-bodied work with more originality than references, and Lost in Paris doesn’t move the needle in that regard. But it’s another charming doodle that does justice to their brand of studied humor. The pair blends storybook visuals with a stream of clever gags and oodles of pathos to deliver an infectious romance almost too eager to please at every turn.

“While the appearance of French screen legend Emmanuelle Riva in a supporting role suggests the filmmakers are moving beyond their own antics, Lost in Paris predominantly belongs to Abel and Gordon, once again playing would-be lovers in an eccentric story filled with bizarre turns. It starts with Fiona (per usual, the couple uses their real names) living in a remote, frozen region of northern Canada that looks like something out of Wes Anderson’s toychest, where the wind blows all the locals around the room whenever someone opens the door. It’s here that she receives a desperate note from her senile Aunt Martha (Riva), complaining that a nurse has been attempting to lock her away in a retirement home. On a whim, Fiona heads to Paris — all it takes is a gentle push out of the snowy frame from one of her peers, and she’s arrived in the big city — and promptly falls into the conundrum of the title.

“Fiona’s a walking punchline from the moment she gets to town, wandering the streets with an oversized red backpack sporting a tiny Canadian flag, but the humor turns melancholic when she finds her aunt’s apartment empty and she has nowhere to go. Things only get worse: she tumbles into the Seine on more than one occasion, loses her passport and her cash, and gains a pesky stalker in the process. That would be Dom (Abel), a Chaplinesque tramp who lives by the river and instantly falls for Fiona after he comes across her missing belongings. But even after offering his assistance to find her missing aunt, she’s mortified by his grimy, streetwise ways, although his persistence pays off.

Lost in Paris becomes a gentle romance about awkward loners with a shared tendency for disaster-prone antics, but the flimsy plot of Lost in Paris provides an excuse for Abel and Gordon to unleash their visual humor, which at best mimics Tati’s ability to turn the surrounding environment into a character itself. The couple’s initial courtship begins in one of the more prolonged and effective sequences, a clumsy pas de deux at a seaside restaurant where blaring music causes everyone in the room to bounce together to the same beat. Elsewhere, tangents include the disastrous effect of a wayward fishing line, and a cigarette that burns through a newspaper to create a peephole as Dom spies on Abel at a diner. There’s also a few moments of terrific comic suspense, including the threat of an incinerator and a wayward ladder at the top of the Eiffel Tower. No matter its wandering trajectory, Lost in Paris remains unpredictable until the bittersweet end.

“…Abel and Gordon are much better at prolonged jokey setups than narrative coherence, but that speaks to the pastiche they’re committed to offering. Notably, Lost in Paris premiered at the Telluride Film Festival at the same time as La La Land, a sugary nostalgia trip that salutes antiquated musicals in much the same way that Lost in Paris pays tribute to another discarded genre.

“While La La Land recreates the spectacular canvas of classic Hollywood productions, Lost in Paris operates on a more restrained scale. The filmmakers use obvious green screen effects, and swap fancy camerawork for clever angles and playful choreography. Rather than reinventing the wheel, Abel and Gordon keep turning it with their own intimate touch.”

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JUNE 16: Maudie (dir. Aisling Walsh)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Michèle Maheux: “Maud Lewis is among the most inspiring figures in Canadian art. Afflicted with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, she spent her early life dismissed for what was presumed to be her limited ability. But Lewis’ colourful paintings, made on surfaces ranging from beaverboard to cookie sheets, established her as one of our country’s premier folk artists. Starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke, this moving film explores Lewis’ life in all its heartbreak and triumph.

“Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, 1937. Maud Dowley (Hawkins) is stuck living with her unsympathetic aunt. Desperate to break away, she responds to a local fish peddler’s call for a housekeeper. Everett Lewis (Hawke) is disagreeable and initially cruel to Maudie, but the two quickly acknowledge that each is in their own way a social outcast. They need and understand each other. Within weeks, they marry.

“One day a summer resident comes calling. She’s a New Yorker, wears alluring clothing and talks like Katharine Hepburn. She sees something in Maudie’s paintings and commissions one. Suddenly Maudie’s pastime is recognized as having real value. People come from far and wide. Eventually her work will hang in the White House.

“Cinematographer Guy Godfree fills Maudie with majestic images of maritime landscape and light, while director Aisling Walsh focuses on character, drawing performances of emotional complexity and great physical detail from her leads.

“Though set in the past, Maudie speaks to the present in many ways — this is, after all, a tale of a woman asserting herself as a generator of both art and commerce. But it is also a story of the power of creativity to transform a life and touch the soul.”

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JUNE 16: Rough Night (dir. Lucia Aniello)Sony Pictures synopsis: “In Rough Night, an edgy R-rated comedy, five best friends from college (played by Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, and Zoë Kravitz) reunite 10 years later for a wild bachelorette weekend in Miami. Their hard partying takes a hilariously dark turn when they accidentally kill a male stripper. Amidst the craziness of trying to cover it up, they’re ultimately brought closer together when it matters most.”

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JUNE 23: All the Rage (Saved by Sarno) (dirs. Michael Galinsky, David Beilinson and Suki Hawley)DOC NYC synopsis: “Dr. John Sarno takes a radical approach to back pain, instructing patients to focus on repressed emotions as the source. His book Healing Back Pain has been dismissed by peers, but acclaimed by countless readers. Among them are filmmaker Michael Galinsky (Battle for Brooklyn) who takes a first-person approach to exploring the work of Dr. Sarno. Through interviews with Sarno and esteemed patients like Larry David and Howard Stern, the film offers a radical rethink of how we approach health care.”

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JUNE 23: The Bad Batch (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)From The Hollywood Reporter’s Venice Film Festival review by David Rooney: “A savage dystopian fairy tale in which one of the few comforting images is of a makeshift family dining in the desert on a spit-roasted pet bunny, The Bad Batch is another surreally atmospheric post-feminist genre spin from Ana Lily Amirpour. As with the Iranian-American writer-director’s 2014 Sundance discovery, the vampire spaghetti Western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the new film is both violent and dreamy — a bewitching fusion of The Road Warrior with Robert Rodriguez-style scorched-earth badassery and a mystical Western strain that tips its hat to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo. But those influences notwithstanding, Amirpour creates a world that’s very much her own.

“Running close to two hours, the movie is overlong and not without draggy patches, but it’s sustained enough to keep you watching. And with its depiction of an extraterritorial American wasteland where society’s rejects are dumped to fend for themselves after being tattooed with a ‘bad batch’ number, it’s also a bizarro fantasy that might easily be the hideous result of some kind of demagogical Donald Trump cleanup experiment. Its weirdness alone should guarantee the movie an audience, unlike The Neon Demon, a far more self-indulgent and self-consciously droll recent excursion into genre art that shared scenes of human snack food.

“…A cacophony of announcements at some kind of criminal processing facility reveals that a fresh ‘bad batch’ intake is coming through, and we see Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) being escorted through the gate of a massive metal fence. But this fence is there to keep people out, not in. A sign reads: ‘Beyond this fence is no longer the territory of Texas. Hereafter no person within the territory beyond this fence is a resident of the United States of America or shall be acknowledged, recognized or governed by the laws and governing bodies therein. Good luck.’

“Arlen’s luck runs out fast. She barely has time to take shelter from the sun in a wrecked car and freshen her lipstick when she’s abducted by scouts from a nearby cannibal community, who appear out of the sweltering desert blur on a golf buggy. She’s drugged but still conscious enough to watch in horror as they unburden her of a limb or two using a hacksaw, cauterizing the wounds with a fry pan. Down but not defeated, Arlen manages to overpower her captor and escape on a skateboard, picked up half-dead in the desert by a wandering mute hermit (Jim Carrey) with a supermarket shopping cart.

“As an opening act, this is pretty juicy stuff, as lurid and grisly as anything that ever came out of the Italian flesh-eater exploitation wave of the 1970s, though with a far cooler detachment and a delightful playlist of music that ranges from unnerving to sardonic to hallucinogenic. Arlen’s nightmarish ordeal is ushered in by the bouncy early-’90s dance pop of Swedish group Ace of Base’s ‘All That She Wants,’ in the first of many instances of unexpected music choices yielding slyly twisted results. (The film has no actual score, though it features a soupy soundscape, dense with ambient dread.)

“…The Bad Batch looks sensational. Cinematographer Lyle Vincent — he also worked with Amirpour on A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, as did editor Alix O’Flinn and costumer Natalie O’Brien — gives even the pastels a sinister glow in the vast desert skies over parched, flat ground, at one point whipped by a dust storm. (Shooting, as in Amirpour’s previous film, took place in desert locales around Los Angeles.)

“But the sharpest tool in the movie’s arsenal is its soundtrack, which makes extensive use of sonic duo Darkside, along with tracks from South African hip-hop concept band Die Antwoord, synth-wave exponent Jordan Lieb, who records as Black Light Smoke, indie ambient purveyor Francis Harris, and Portland’s Federale, whose Ennio Morricone-influenced spaghetti Western tracks also were featured in Amirpour’s first film.”

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JUNE 23 (limited release), JUNE 30 (wider release): The Beguiled (dir. Sofia Coppola)From IndieWire‘s Cannes Film Festival review by David Ehrlich: “Ruthlessly shorn from Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel of the same name (and not remade from the Don Siegel adaptation that first brought its story to the screen), The Beguiled is a lurid, sweltering, and sensationally fun potboiler that doesn’t find [Sofia] Coppola leaving her comfort zone so much as redecorating it with a fresh layer of soft-core scuzz. The year is 1864, the Civil War still rages on despite the outcome growing more certain by the day, and — somewhere amidst the unloved willow trees that surround the Great Dismal Swamp of southeastern Virginia — seven women of various ages are cooped up in a schoolhouse like chickens waiting to be plucked.

“These are the small handful of students and faculty who remain at the Farnsworth Seminary; the rest of the residents have abandoned the gothic mansion like rats from a sinking ship (including the slaves, who surely took advantage of their captors’ dwindling numbers), leaving behind only those who have nowhere else to go. The girls range in age from minors to matrons, but they all have one thing in common: It’s been a very long time since they’ve seen a man, and even longer since once has been close enough to touch.

“And then, like the answer to a prayer that these devout belles would never dare offer to their Christian God, a man appears. And not just any man, but Colin Farrell. An Irish immigrant who sold his soul to the Union Army for $300, Corporal John McBurney is in urgent need of some tender care. He’s run away from the battlefield with ‘enough iron in his leg to shoe a horse,’ and he’s on the brink of death by the time he’s discovered by the youngest of the Farnsworth females. She escorts him back to the house, where the air stiffens as soon as the soldier is dragged inside.

“Perpetually clenched headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) agrees to care for this uninvited guest, but she’s well aware that he might cause trouble. Trouble from teenage Alicia (Elle Fanning, another Coppola alum), a born rebel in every sense of the word who sweats pure hormones as she stares at the exposed ‘blue-belly’ from across the room. Trouble from Edwina, her teacher, who seems tortured by the same desire that tickles the younger girls. And trouble for Martha herself, who has a little bit too much fun scrubbing her patient down (particularly when her hands wander below his Mason-Dixon Line). John rouses as inevitably as he arouses, but if he thinks that he’s stumbled into a male fantasy, he’ll soon find that this fantasy may not belong to him.

“Shot in Louisiana’s Madewood Plantation House (a location recognizable from the ‘Sorry’ portion of Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”) and almost entirely confined to the seminary’s withered interiors, Coppola’s film is told with surgical precision and savage grace. The story reveals itself across a tight 93 minutes — a considerably shorter runtime than that of Siegel’s film — packing all manner of ripe details and intimations into each of its frames.

“The writer-director trims Cullinan’s book down to its bare essentials, cutting out all of the most heightened elements (like incest) so that she could see these girls more clearly and represent their conflicting perspectives with less clutter to get in the way. The result is a movie that sometimes feels too compressed, like a bonsai tree that’s suffered one too many cuts, and the scale of the story can be uncomfortably dwarfed by the depth of its characters, and the performances that bring them to life.

“That’s true for Kidman, the movie star going supernova in her hyper-contained role as a woman who’s torn between lust, envy, and her maternal instincts. And it’s truest of all for Dunst, the most conflicted woman at Farnsworth, who longs for the outside world but is tortured by the messenger it sends her way.”

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JUNE 23: Good Fortune (dirs. Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell)Zurich Film Festival synopsis:Good Fortune is the rags to riches tale of conscious capitalism pioneer John Paul DeJoria. Born with nothing, at times homeless on the streets of LA, ‘JP’ spent his early adulthood in and out of motorcycle gangs only to wheel and deal his way to the top of a vast hair and tequila empire. A modern day Robin Hood, JP’s motto is ‘Success unshared is failure.’ The son of immigrants, JP defies the stereotype of ‘the 1%’ and is the poster boy of the triple bottom line – people, planet and profit. A success story full of ups and downs, Good Fortune is the portrait of an extraordinary business man.”

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JUNE 23: In Transit (dirs. Albert Maysles, Lynn True, David Usui, Nelson Walker III and Benjamin Wu)Synopsis from the film’s official website:In Transit journeys into the hearts and minds of everyday passengers aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder, the busiest long-distance train route in America. Captured in the tradition of Direct Cinema, the film unfolds as a series of interconnected vignettes, ranging from overheard conversations to moments of deep intimacy, in which passengers share their fears, hopes and dreams. In the space between stations, where ‘real life’ is suspended, we are swept into a fleeting community that transcends normal barriers, and where a peculiar atmosphere of contemplation and community develops. To some passengers, the train is flight and salvation, to others it is reckoning and loss. But for all, it is a place for personal reflection and connecting with others they may otherwise never know.”

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JUNE 28: Pop Aye (dir. Kirsten Tan) (DP: Chananun Chotrungroj)Film Forum synopsis: “A man and his elephant walk into a bar: well, not quite — but close. Pop Aye is the story of a successful Bangkok architect whose late-midlife crisis leads him to an encounter with the elephant (Popeye) with whom he spent an idyllic childhood in the Thai countryside. Together they embark on a road trip to deliver both man and beast to their origins. The local police cite him for not having a permit to travel with an elephant; a transgendered prostitute joins him in a karaoke duet at a roadside dive; and a poetic, possibly delusional, pauper offers companionship. But the real star is the big guy: Popeye lumbers along with great dignity and endless fortitude. He is the center of a mysterious, funny and often absurd universe that while seemingly particular to Thailand is, ultimately, not unlike our own.”

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JUNE 30: The Little Hours (dir. Jeff Baena) (DP: Quyen Tran)Sundance Film Festival synopsis: “Medieval nuns Alessandra (Alison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), and Ginevra (Kate Micucci) lead a simple life in their convent. Their days are spent chafing at monastic routine, spying on one another, and berating the estate’s day laborer. After a particularly vicious insult session drives the peasant away, Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) brings on new hired hand Massetto (Dave Franco), a virile young servant forced into hiding by his angry lord. Introduced to the sisters as a deaf-mute to discourage temptation, Massetto struggles to maintain his cover as the repressed nunnery erupts in a whirlwind of pansexual horniness, substance abuse, and wicked revelry.

“Loaded with comedic talent and written with an off-kilter, yet knowing touch, The Little Hours is an immensely charming romp. Writer/director Jeff Baena’s riotous follow-up to Sundance Film Festival favorites Life After Beth and Joshy has transferred the nervy comedic energy from his earlier work to the Middle Ages with hilarious results.”

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JUNE 30 (theatrical release), JULY 4 (Video on Demand): The Reagan Show (dirs. Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Cara Cusumano: “A Republican president takes office at the height of his Hollywood-powered, camera-ready fame. He governs with lenses constantly flashing, and claims that he’s just the public face in front of real policy-makers and dangerous global threats. That’s the story of America’s 40th president, Ronald Reagan. The movie star, known for playing cowboys and gun-toting heroes, took over the White House in 1981 and led the United States against Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s threats of war. Amidst the actual governing, though, Reagan’s presidency set a new standard for video documentation. Cameras followed Reagan’s every move, leading opposing pundits to accuse him of ‘majoring in public relations’ more so than hardline presidential affairs.

“Comprised entirely of archival footage taken during those pre-reality-television years, The Reagan Show is a highly entertaining and informative look at how Ronald Reagan redefined the look and feel of what it means to be the POTUS. Co-directors Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill’s film uncannily provides a fascinating precedent for the made-for-TV President.”

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JUNE 30: 13 Minutes (aka Elser) (dir. Oliver Hirschbiegel) (DP: Judith Kaufmann)Lincoln Plaza Cinemas synopsis: “During Hitler’s anniversary speech on November 8, 1939, a man is arrested on the Swiss border for possession of suspicious objects. Just minutes later, a bomb explodes in the Munich Bürgerbräukeller, immediately behind the Führer’s lectern, killing eight people. The man is Georg Elser (Christian Friedel), a carpenter from Königsbronn in the Swabia region. When a map of the site of the assault and detonators are found on him, he is sent to the head of the Criminal Police in the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, Arthur Nebe (Burghart Klaussner), and the head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Müller (Johann von Bülow) to be questioned. From them, Elser learns that his attempt has failed – that the man he wanted to kill in order to stop the bloodshed of the World War that had just begun, has left the Bürgerbräukeller 13 minutes before the explosion. For days, Elser is interrogated by Nebe and Müller, for days, he holds out against their questions. Until he finally confesses – and relates the story of his deed.”

Oscar Predictions 2016

<> on October 19, 2009 in Santa Clarita, California.

Best Picture: The Revenant

Actor in a Leading Role: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

Actress in a Leading Role: Brie Larson (Room)

Actor in a Supporting Role: Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

Animated Feature Film: Inside Out

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant)

Costume Design: Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Directing: Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant)

Documentary (Feature): Amy

Documentary (Short Subject): Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah

Film Editing: Margaret Sixel (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul (Hungary)

Makeup and Hairstyling: Mad Max: Fury Road

Music (Original Score): Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight)

Music (Original Song): “‘Til It Happens to You” (The Hunting Ground)

Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road

Short Film (Animated): Bear Story

Short Film (Live Action): Stutterer

Sound Editing: The Revenant

Sound Mixing: The Revenant

Visual Effects: Mad Max: Fury Road

Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Adam McKay and Charles Randolph (The Big Short)

Writing (Original Screenplay): Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (Spotlight)

Indelible Film Images: The Merchant of Four Seasons

The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971) – dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Starring: Hans Hirschmüller, Irm Hermann, Hanna Schygulla, Andrea Schober, Gusti Kreissl, Klaus Löwitsch, Karl Scheydt, Ingrid Caven, Kurt Raab, Heide Simon

Cinematography: Dietrich Lohmann

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To Act or Not to Act (Is That the Question?)

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In recent weeks I’ve been making my way through the Rocky sequels, hoping to finish the series so that I can be totally up-to-date when I watch the new installment in the franchise, Creed. Last night I had the distinct pleasure of watching Rocky IV, the 1985 sequel that shows Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) resolving the Cold War single-handed by (surprise, surprise) beating Soviet-trained killing machine Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). I recognize Rocky IV as being lesser than the previous sequels, but is there not some unmistakable joy in watching these musclebound dudes pummel each other in the ring? Do we need the Italian Stallion to be another Chaplin or Welles (after those two, Stallone was the third man to be nominated in the same year for both acting and screenwriting Oscars), and does Dolph Lundgren need to be the new Swedish Olivier? (By the way, don’t be fooled by the dumb-action-star image; Lundgren has a couple of degrees in chemistry and got into MIT on a Fulbright Scholarship before being derailed by the lure of modeling and acting. Not too shabby.)

I mean, just look at all the fun stuff going on in Rocky IV:

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US vs. USSR: Boxing for the Fate of the World! (This, friends, is how the movie starts.)

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Using 80s computer technology to punch harder!

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Cheesy training montage comparing the two athletes!

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Sly rocks a sweet beard while angry-jump-roping!

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More beard!

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The montage ends with Rocky climbing a Russian mountain!

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Fighting… to end communism!

Truly, there’s a lot to love. (Also, if you’ve never watched a CinemaSins video, a new one about Rocky IV, “Everything Wrong with Rocky IV in Some Minutes,” was posted to YouTube today. It explains everything I didn’t mention.)

Do these actors need to act well, or is it enough to commit to the role with physical strength and aesthetic presence? It seems like it should be enough just to enjoy the fleshy, sweaty sight of these mostly uncomplicated pugilists, linguistic intelligibility or not. After all, I followed my screening of Rocky IV with Red Scorpion (1988), a Dolph Lundgren action movie that New York Times film critic Stephen Holden described thusly: “Dolph Lundgren’s pectorals are the real stars of ‘Red Scorpion,’ an action-adventure movie set in the fictional African country of Mombaka. Filmed from below so that one has the sense of peering up at a massive kinetic sculpture, his glistening torso, which over the course of the film is subjected to assorted tortures, is the movie’s primary visual focus whenever the action slows down. And since Mr. Lundgren remains stone-faced, rarely speaking except to issue commands in a surprisingly hesitant monotone, his heaving chest actually communicates more emotion than his mumbling lips.”

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Yes, but isn’t comprehensible speech overrated sometimes? This critic continues to wonder. And anyway, I’m one to talk; I just borrowed Doris Wishman’s 1961 sort-of-classic Diary of a Nudist from the NYU library. Maybe instead of “good” or “bad” I have developed an everything-taste, and that doesn’t sound too criminal to me.

Variations on a Theme, No. 8: Midnight Cowboy (1969)

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John Barry – Midnight Cowboy (1969, dir. John Schlesinger)

Winner at the 1970 Academy Awards: Burt Bacharach, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969, dir. George Roy Hill)

John Barry received onscreen credit for “music supervision” in Midnight Cowboy, but for some reason, no credit was given to him for his original score compositions. Even so, every viewer of Midnight Cowboy recognizes his contribution, most of all in the “Midnight Cowboy” (1) theme featuring harmonica performed by Toots Thielemans, an iconic melody for a groundbreaking film. “Science Fiction” (2) plays during the Times Square theater scene between Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and the nervous college student (Bob Balaban), a dark and moody piece that plays while Joe watches a sci-fi film and makes a similar trek into unknown and confusing territory as a male prostitute serviced by a man. And, of course, the upbeat “Florida Fantasy” (3) is heard while Joe and Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), freezing in their apartment which doesn’t get heat (it’s in an abandoned building), try to stay warm by shuffling around the floor and dreaming of being in Miami’s sunnier climes. I don’t suppose any of these tracks is more famous than Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin'” (originally written and recorded by Fred Neil three years earlier) since Nilsson’s cover plays many times throughout Midnight Cowboy, but I can’t imagine any better representation of Joe Buck’s odyssey than John Barry’s main theme; it is equal parts optimistic and sad, the former for the beginning of the film and the latter for the end. All three selections from the score have that duality, a brightness tinged with poignancy.