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.”