Director/screenwriter Christina Choe (in red, standing) and cinematographer Zoe White (left of center, holding camera) working with actors Steve Buscemi and J. Smith-Cameron (both sitting) on the set of Nancy, 2017. (Photo: Film Independent)
Here are twenty-six new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this June, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.
JUNE 1 (on digital platforms): Girl (dir. Kandeyce Jorden) – FilmFreeway synopsis: “When Electronic Dance Music was blowing up around the world and DJs were becoming superstars, director Kandeyce Jorden began making this film to profile the top women behind the decks. She discovered and interviewed DJ Irene, DJ Colette, DJ Rap and many others, but when she met the legendary DJ Sandra Collins, her interest became an obsession. Documenting Collins’ rise to superstar DJ status led Jorden around the world and down a rabbit hole. Twelve years in the making, Girl is about music, love, and what you find when you get really lost.”
JUNE 1 (in theaters & on VOD): Social Animals (dir. Theresa Bennett) (DP: Sandra Valde-Hansen) – Rotten Tomatoes synopsis: “Zoe Crandle’s life didn’t exactly turn out the way she planned. She’s facing eviction, her business is going under and she is resigned to a life of one-night stands. Just when it seems her whole world is unraveling, she meets Paul, a fellow loveable loser, and the pair have an instant connection. There’s only one problem, Paul is married. With help from her best friend, Zoe devises a plan to save her business and salvage her love life. An honest, uncompromising comedy of modern relationships, Social Animals stars Noël Wells, Josh Radnor, Aya Cash, Carly Chaikin, Fortune Feimster and Samira Wiley.”
JUNE 1: The Texture of Falling (dir./DP: Maria Allred) – Cinema Village synopsis: “The Texture of Falling is unlike any film that you’ve ever seen. Set against the lush landscape of the Pacific Northwest, it’s a film that transcends genre and defies classification – part psychological drama and part sexual thriller. It follows Louisa (Julie Webb) as a filmmaker reeling from a recent professional dejection, who meets Luke (Patrick Green), a pianist experiencing his own artistic crisis. Despite a long-term relationship with Ati (Donny Persons), Louisa is intrigued by Luke. As Louisa falls for him, her skepticism of romantic love begins to unravel as she surrenders to her passions.
“But as Louisa and Luke’s romance blooms, a simultaneous story arises as Michael (Benjamin Farmer), a wayward architect estranged from his wife, meets Sylvia, an enigmatic painter. But are these parallels merely a coincidence? Soon Michael and Sylvia embark on a verboten journey of pleasure and pain. But who is Sylvia? As Michael’s lust crescendos, he realizes that he has chosen the elusive. In The Texture of Falling, nothing is what it seems. From its opening shot to its startling climax, the film inverts all expectations. It asks what is real and what is artifice. Where do our fantasies end and our passions begin?”
JUNE 1: Yadvi – The Dignified Princess (dir. Jyoti Singh and collaborating director Vick Krishna) – Synopsis from the film’s official website: “How does a real life princess raised in one of the wealthiest families of the world end up losing all such privileges in her middle age? How does she become forced to pick her own food and collect her own wood for the winters? In 1940’s India, before even a hint of feministic equality, how does a woman not only uphold her own dignity but also raise three refined daughters in the face of unexpected adversity? The pure personification of integrity, Yadvi – The Dignified Princess movie will take you on her journey through the India of Kings and Queens, of Princes and polygyny. Her deep internal strength bolstering her family honor will inspire you!”
JUNE 7: To a More Perfect Union: U.S. v Windsor (dir. Donna Zaccaro) – Synopsis from the film’s official website: “To A More Perfect Union: U.S. v Windsor is a feature-length documentary that tells a story of love, marriage and a fight for equality. The film chronicles unlikely heroes — octogenarian Edie Windsor and her attorney, Roberta Kaplan, on their quest for justice: Edie had been forced to pay a huge estate tax bill upon the death of her spouse because the federal government denied federal benefits to same-sex couples – and Edie’s spouse was a woman. Deeply offended by this lack of recognition of her more than forty-year relationship with the love of her life, Edie decided to sue the United States government – and won. Windsor and Kaplan’s legal and personal journeys are told in their own words, and through interviews with others of the legal team, movement activists, legal analysts, well-known supporters and opponents. Beyond the story of this pivotal case in the marriage equality movement and the stories behind it, the film also tells the story of our journey as a people, as a culture, and as citizens with equal rights.”
JUNE 8 (streaming on Netflix): Alex Strangelove (dir. Craig Johnson) (DP: Hillary Spera) – TheWrap review by William Bibbiani: “Alex Strangelove is a confident film about a confusing time. Right off the bat, our teenaged hero Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny, Adventures in Public School) tries to fit everyone in his high school into different species of animals, just to make sense of them all. The bully in his class is a Great White Shark. The kid who dresses outlandishly is a Peacock Spider. And although he’s not quite sure, Alex thinks he himself might be a penguin. Or he might be gay. Or he might be bisexual. He doesn’t really know yet.
“It’s a complex inner journey, and writer-director Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins) brings it to life in just about every way he can. We see Alex’s fantasies, we see drawings on the screen, we see online documentaries Alex makes with his best friend Claire (Madeline Weinstein, Beach Rats) that equate high school to a Savage Kingdom.
“All of these personal touches add whimsy to an otherwise familiar John Hughes-esque formula, full of awkward comic-relief sidekicks, experimentation with drugs, romantic misunderstandings and a cool, often retro soundtrack.
“The story begins with Alex and Claire meeting, bonding, dating and then finally — eight months later — deciding to have sex. Claire has been trying to seal that deal for a while now, actually, but Alex keeps talking himself out of it, and whenever he does psych himself up for sexiness, he either sounds like he’s losing in an improv game (‘I’m going to sex you so good you won’t know what time it is’) or he falls victim to wacky, wacky fate. Getting puked on by a guy who just licked a psychoactive toad and binged on a giant jar of Gummy Worms is, it turns out, kind of a mood killer.
“Alex also finds himself increasingly distracted by Elliott (Antonio Marziale, ‘Altered Carbon’), a sophisticated boy about a year older, who is openly gay and keeps wanting to hang out. Elliott is attractive, smart, sympathetic, stylish and endearing. Then again, so is Claire. Alex loves them both and considers, for a while at least, that he might legitimately be “in” love with both of them. Even his choice of breakfast cereals are ‘Heter-Os,’ ‘Gay Flakes’ and ‘Bi-Crunchies.’
“But figuring it all out, one way or another (or the other), is going to bring about a dramatic change, and change is scary. Alex Strangelove captures that anxiety all too well. It takes place at a time when every decision we make, and every realization we come to, has huge ramifications for our future, our present and might even force us to reevaluate our past.
“And while Alex’s external circumstances aren’t particularly momentous (his biggest concern is whether or not he’ll get into Columbia, and what we wouldn’t all give to have that problem), Doheny’s emotionally open-faced performance reveals just how seriously he’s taking his coming-of-age experience. Doheny knows how to tell a joke, and he also knows how to sink into existential ennui, and Johnson’s screenplay takes him through all the points in between.
“Alex Strangelove hits some sour patches in the middle. Although Alex, Claire and Elliott feel like real human beings, many of the supporting players come across like jokes. Daniel Zolghadri (Eighth Grade) plays the platonic ideal of the teen comedy sidekick role, with climactic moments of sensitivity that don’t quite compensate for just how broadly he’s written the rest of the time. And incidental characters like Sierra (Sophie Faulkenberry) and Dakota (Dante Costabile) seem to have stopped by on their way to their Neighbors 3 audition.
“But although the teen-comedy trappings sometimes become a distraction, it’s clear that Johnson’s true inspiration are the awkward moments in which the characters lose their sense of humor. A scene in which Alex and Claire finally try to consummate their relationship plays out with such earnestness that it would probably break your heart, whatever the outcome.
“While it might be nice to see Alex Strangelove take different avenues, rather than rely on some of the broadest strokes of the teen genre, it’s hard to fault the film’s heart. It’s a sweet story about someone who doesn’t know what their story is. It’s a funny film about seriously figuring yourself out. It’s a serious film about pain, in which no one intentionally inflicts it. Craig Johnson might not have made a particularly strange film, but it’s a particularly kind one, and it’s worth loving.”
JUNE 8 (NYC), JUNE 29 (LA): Half the Picture (dir. Amy Adrion) (DPs: Yamit Shimonovitz and Soraya Sélène) – RogerEbert.com review by Susan Wloszczyna: “‘This is the first time I’ve watched 20 films in 10 days, and I love movies. And the one thing I really took away from this experience is how the world views women from the female characters that I saw represented. And it was quite disturbing to me, to be honest.’
“The documentary Half the Picture opens with this frank and provocative observation from actress Jessica Chastain when she served as a Cannes juror in 2017—even after Sofia Coppola became just the second woman in 70 years to be honored with the festival’s best director prize for her work on The Beguiled. It sets the tone of this cogent examination of why female filmmakers continue to struggle to rise through the ranks in Hollywood—and why it pretty much remains a ‘straight white male boy’s club’ despite such notable money makers in recent years such as Phyllida Lloyd’s Mamma Mia, Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, Jennifer Lee’s Frozen (alongside co-director Chris Buck) and, of course, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman.
“Documentaries that rely on a steady stream of talking heads—interspersed here with fleeting film clips—usually are not my favorite. However, when those heads belong to talented and perceptive women who rarely get a chance to speak their minds let alone get hired to make a movie, I can definitely make an exception. Half the Picture rounds up a diverse group of 40 or so TV and movie directors—black, white, Asian, Hispanic, members of the LGBT community, old hands and fresh faces—as well as journalists, academics, activists and others involved in the fight to open more doors for women so they can get the same work opportunities that their male counterparts take for granted. No men, however, are allowed.
“One might wonder why the lauded likes of Coppola and Bigelow, the only female to ever win a directing Oscar for The Hurt Locker, don’t chime in. But director Amy Adrion in her feature debut has gathered enough varied voices and personal anecdotes to provide plenty of valuable insights into why it is that women make up about half of all film-school directing majors but represent less than five percent of directors behind of the top-grossing U.S. films for the past 10 years. And the number of female minority helmers is positively miniscule—.006 percent. Yes, this has been a hot topic for a number of years. But the fact that it hasn’t gotten better and has even grown worse has taken on some urgency of late, given the ever-growing #MeToo movement. Some men clearly have grown too accustomed to using their of power perches as a way to prey upon and abuse women in the industry without suffering the consequences—or to look the other way when big moneymakers behave badly.
“The initial question addressed by Adrion is how certain ladies first came to find themselves behind a camera. Penelope Spheeris of The Decline of Western Civilization music docs’ fame, still hilariously feisty at 72, got her start by being able to carry the then-heavy equipment used by crews. She even continued to do her job while eight and a half months pregnant. ‘The kid was fine,’ she says with typical sass. When Spheeris worked on the first season of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ her main job was showing comic Albert Brooks how to make movies. But producer Lorne Michaels—she does a wicked impression of him—never gave her a similar break on the show. Feeling guilty, he hired her to do Wayne’s World, which became both a huge comedy hit in 1992 and her calling card.
“Ava DuVernay was a publicist who secretly pursued becoming a filmmaker in her early 30s and got a boost as the first African-American woman to win a directing award at Sundance for 2012’s Middle of Nowhere. Jill Soloway, creator of Amazon’s ‘Transparent,’ was a writer for HBO’s ‘Six Feet Under’ who got tired of other directors failing to do her scripts justice. Martha Coolidge scored her 1983 debut Valley Girl because the producers wanted a woman to direct what they considered a ‘sexploitation’ film. She saw it as an updated Romeo and Juliet fairy tale. One caveat: She had to agree to feature naked breasts in four scenes. No problem.
“Their rise and that of others would encourage the next generation of female storytellers. As an undergrad in college, Tina Mabry (OWN’s ‘Queen Sugar’ series, created by Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey) desperately wanted to go to film school after noticing that 2000’s Love & Basketball and 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry both had women directors—namely, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Kimberly Peirce, who share their own stories with Adrion.
“But the playing field is far from equal. Unlike men who hit the jackpot their first time out or score an indie winner early in their career and reap rewards for their efforts, achieving a blockbuster doesn’t necessarily put women on the most wanted list. Spheeris didn’t get to cash in by directing Wayne’s World 2—a guy was hired instead. But, as she notes with a knowing grin, ‘It’s cool. It flopped.’ Little wonder she has basically stopped making movies all together, especially after doing soul-depleting money grabs like The Beverly Hillbillies and Black Sheep. “I make houses,” she says of her shift into real estate. ‘It’s like making a movie. I’m telling all these dudes what to do’—a statement punctuated by a self-aware laugh. But unlike a movie, she adds, ‘no one is dicking around with it.’
“As for Hardwicke, she thought she would be offered an office on a studio lot or a three-picture deal after kicking off the Twilight franchise with a box-office bang. Instead, she was paid half as much for her next film and men were hired to oversee the four subsequent sequels by building upon her vision.
“One of the more infuriating examples of a terrific female talent being mistreated came at the hands of Pixar. Brenda Chapman, the animation studio’s first-ever female director—who put her heart and soul into creating 2013’s Brave—was asked to leave the project due to the ever-popular ‘creative differences’ and was replaced by a man, Mark Andrews. At least Chapman got to go onstage when the film won an Oscar and thank her own daughter, Emma, for being her inspiration.
“An array of roadblocks, from genre biases when it comes considering a woman to oversee horror, sci-fi or action films to the fact that 73% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes are male, stands in the way. And, yes, motherhood can be a challenge given the hours and devotion that filmmaking can require. But this is no pity party. There is a sense that sisters are doing it for themselves and each other as more female decision makers make inroads behind the scenes. The best news is that an investigation by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found discriminatory practices at each of the major studios—and talks are ongoing to settle those charges. Half the Picture may not fill in all the blanks but it is a start.”
JUNE 8: Middleground (dir. Alisa Khazanova) – Moscow International Film Festival synopsis: “Him and her. A husband and a wife staying in a cozy hotel where you can come for just a couple of days with a risk to get stuck forever. It is so easy to get trapped in the daily routine. Indeed, nothing is more permanent than the temporary. Their time is like a flat circle. He has his phone calls and business meetings. She is wrapped in her dreams and doubts. All reactions are predictable, all conversations are learnt by heart. An endless LP record of life keeps playing again and again repeating itself. But a few things can break this tune, like a scratch on the record, a crack on a wine glass, a sudden glance or a meeting with a stranger. And then you know: tomorrow will come soon. Any moment something can go wrong, throw you off course, and force you to make a choice.”
JUNE 8: Nancy (dir. Christina Choe) (DP: Zoe White) – Landmark at 57 West synopsis: “Andrea Riseborough (The Death of Stalin, Battle of the Sexes) gives a subtly haunting performance as Nancy, a lonely 35-year-old woman who makes things up to brighten her otherwise boring life. Taking care of an ailing and demanding mother (Ann Dowd), trapped in a messy house, Nancy escapes frequently to the internet where she creates elaborate identities and hoaxes under pseudonyms. When she hears about a couple whose five-year-old daughter was stolen 30 years ago, she wonders if she could be that missing daughter. The projected portrait of the missing girl looks remarkably like Nancy, and she decides to contact the parents, who invite her to visit. The traumatized mother (J. Smith-Cameron) wants to believe it might be possible, but the father (Steve Buscemi) is more skeptical. Fact and fiction begin to blur in Nancy’s mind, and she becomes increasingly convinced these strangers are her real parents. As their bond deepens, reasonable doubts give way to willful belief—and the power of emotion threatens to overcome all rationality. With John Leguizamo. Written and directed by Christina Choe, winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival.”
JUNE 8: The Valley (dir. Saila Kariat) – Reelviews review by James Berardinelli: “Suicide. Despite its growing prevalence in modern society, few filmmakers tackle this issue, at least not in a serious fashion. The Valley, set in California’s tech-heavy Silicon Valley, examines the impact of a young woman’s suicide on those who loved her, especially her father, Neal (Alyy Khan), who is incapable of understanding what drove her to take such a decisive action. The film plays out like a mystery, skipping back and forth across three time periods (one prior to the suicide, one immediately after, and one a year later).
“As the primary officer of a tech company, Neal is used to finding solutions but what he learns as he talks to the friends of his college freshman daughter, Maya (Agenneta Thacker), is that sometimes there is no single cause. Maya didn’t kill herself because she was molested at a party (which she was). She didn’t kill herself because she got a D on an exam (which she did). She didn’t kill herself because she was lonely and had few friends. Writer/director Salia Kariat provides ample evidence that Maya suffered from depression. The signs were there but Maya’s family didn’t recognize them. They thought she was being moody or sad.
“The movie avoids the trap of seeming like a PSA. Although there are times when the narrative veers into overripe melodrama (the ‘revelations’ conveniently uncovered in Maya’s journal being an example), it mostly strikes the right balance between reflection and tragedy. The catharsis, to the extent that there is one, is muted as befits a story of this nature. Kariat doesn’t manufacture an artificially upbeat or satisfying conclusion to placate viewers left unsettled by the story. The Valley opts for realism rather than a pat resolution. Suicide is devastating and recovery can be slow; The Valley acknowledges both of these things.
“The two best developed characters are Neal and Maya. Although we only see the 18-year old in flashbacks, there’s enough to paint a picture of a smart, caring young woman overwhelmed by circumstances and without an outlet. The film’s unanswered question is whether Maya’s suicide could have been prevented. Had someone recognized her depression during the earliest timeframe, would it have been possible to stop the leap out the dorm-room window? No one knows and Kariat doesn’t stack the deck one way or another.
“Neal grapples with guilt and self-doubt as he struggles to understand why his daughter did what she did. His wife, Roopa (Suchitra Pillai), and eldest daughter, Monica (Salma Khan), don’t understand his obsession. In their view, Maya is dead and the reasons are immaterial. Life demands that they grieve and move on, but it’s not that simple for a Type-A personality. Like a detective solving a murder, Neal interviews everyone who knew Maya – her best friend, her roommate, the young man she had a crush on, the professor who gave her a bad grade. In the end, he recognizes that there are no answers, only more questions and the nagging suspicion that he, blinded by the demands of his job, missed seeing his daughter’s distress.
“By making the key participants in The Valley an Indian-American family with many traditional values and customs, Kariat emphasizes the universality of the problem. Suicide isn’t restricted to one culture or social class. It crosses all lines and is no respecter of ethnicity or financial status. With solid performances and a sensitive screenplay, The Valley offers a window overlooking a heartbreakingly common situation whose signs and symptoms remain elusive.”
JUNE 8 (NYC), JUNE 15 (LA): Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist (dir. Lorna Tucker) – IFC Center synopsis: “Since igniting the punk movement with ex-partner and Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren, Dame Vivienne Westwood has been redefining British fashion for over 40 years, and is responsible for creating many of the most distinctive looks of our time. The film blends archive, beautifully crafted reconstruction, and insightful interviews with Vivienne’s fascinating network of collaborators, guiding us on her journey from a childhood in postwar Derbyshire to the runways of Paris and Milan. This is an intimate and poignant homage to one of the true cultural icons of our time, as she fights to maintain her brand’s integrity, her principles and her legacy in a business driven by consumerism, profit and global expansion.
“With exclusive, unprecedented access, Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist is the first film to encompass the remarkable story of Vivienne’s life, her fashion, her personality, her activism and her cultural importance.”
JUNE 15 (streaming on Netflix): Lust Stories (dirs. Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar and Anurag Kashyap) – EPeak World News synopsis: “Lust Stories is an anthology that explores contemporary relationships through four intriguing stories. The anthology, directed by four powerhouse directors — Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar and Dibakar Banerjee – portrays varied dimensions of love, lust, power, status and romance, from the eyes of the women in the stories, and what they want. Lust Stories is directed by acclaimed Indian filmmakers: Karan Johar (My Name Is Khan), Anurag Kashyap (Gangs of Wasseypur), Zoya Akhtar (Life Is Precious), and Dibakar Banerjee (Shanghai). The same four filmmakers also made the anthology film Bombay Talkies in 2013, which was meant to celebrate the one hundred years of Hindi cinema.”
JUNE 15 (streaming on Netflix): Set It Up (dir. Claire Scanlon) – Netflix synopsis: “In desperate need of a break from the office, two beleaguered assistants (Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell) team up to trick their workaholic bosses (Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs) into falling in love.”
JUNE 15: The Year of Spectacular Men (dir. Lea Thompson) – The Hollywood Reporter’s Los Angeles Film Festival review by Sheri Linden: “Sisterly chemistry is the natural resource fueling The Year of Spectacular Men, an uneven but sparky comedy showcasing Madelyn Deutch and her real-life sib Zoey, star of such features as Why Him? and Vampire Academy. Revolving around a succession of romantic misadventures, the film was written by Madelyn, whose mostly witty dialogue and assured performance as an aimless college grad updates the archetype of the smart ditz with a modern sexual frankness.
“For the twentysomethings with whom the movie is sure to click, the sarcastic jabs at such easy targets as health-conscious New Age types might feel fresh rather than strained. But even with the screenplay’s sometimes screechy missteps, the Deutch duo hold the screen with charm and intelligence to spare.
“The family affair extends to the director’s chair, occupied by the Deutches’ mother, the veteran actress Lea Thompson (Back to the Future), while their father, Pretty in Pink director Howard Deutch, serves as a producer. They each bring notable experience with coming-of-age stories to the 12-month saga of a lovable hot mess. Though there’s a specifically millennial slant to this twentysomething’s search for meaning and purpose, the bright and polished film has a retro sheen that fondly recalls romantic comedies of the ’70s and ’80s.
“That’s especially so in the opening sequence, Thompson’s unequivocal tip of the hat to Woody Allen: New York City scenery, New Orleans jazz on the score, a glimpse of a therapist’s couch as a series of young men recall their relationships with Izzy Klein (Madelyn Deutch). The year of languor and reckoning begins in sunny May, with Izzy’s indifferent graduation from college and unexpected breakup with Aaron (Jesse Bradford), who’s fed up with her lack of direction. Deciding to give acting a try, Izzy heads home to Los Angeles, where her younger but decidedly more worldly sister Sabrina (Zoey Deutch) is a busy, up-and-coming movie actress.
“The warm, stable relationship between Sabrina and her actor boyfriend Sebastian — played by a terrific Avan Jogia, Zoey Deutch’s former offscreen partner — is the only element of the movie that doesn’t spring from stereotypes. It actually defies them. Sabrina and Sebastian aren’t pathologically self-involved Hollywood snobs; they’re good people. That a trio of friendly middle-aged paparazzi (Bob Clendenin, Alison Martin and Troy Evans) camp outside their place is one of the more inventively playful touches in Madelyn Deutch’s script.
“Izzy’s clueless auditions follow a more familiar course, and she soon withdraws from the world to spend months holed up chez Sabrina, indulging her X-Files obsession until her persistent sister pries her out of her room. Their every back-and-forth has verbal snap as well as the offhand intimacy of people with a deep bond. By contrast, the underlying drama between them, involving a secret that Izzy has been keeping from Sabrina about their father, feels tacked-on and never delivers the intended punch.
“As for Izzy’s romantic entanglements, her kooky flailing and sweet sincerity are far more spectacular than the men themselves, who range from the insufferably pretentious (Cameron Monaghan as a classmate) to the openly sincere (Zach Roerig as a ski-slope rescuer). The screenplay strikes deeper chords in Izzy’s relationship with a drummer (Brandon T. Jackson) and her flirtation with a shy film director (Nicholas Braun); in both cases, Deutch fearlessly punctures romance-novel illusions about sex.
“Thompson, who has directed episodes of TV series including ‘The Goldbergs,’ has an eye for physical comedy and maintains a suitably brisk pace. She sometimes indulges overwritten scenes, though. And a sitcom sensibility occasionally intrudes upon the clear-eyed material, particularly in Thompson’s performance as Izzy and Sabrina’s widowed mother, whose lesbian relationship with a younger yoga-and-quinoa enthusiast (Melissa Bolona) is more punchline fodder than convincing human interaction. It’s also an excuse for a sequence set in wintry Lake Tahoe that unravels in predictable rom-com melodrama but offers the visual delight of Izzy’s bungling attempt at skiing.
“Always energetic but sometimes underpowered in terms of emotional connection, the movie has a bright look, thanks to the contributions of designers Sara Millan and Kate Mallor and the smooth, unobtrusive camerawork of Bryan Koss. Thompson casts the story’s youthful, warts-and-all exuberance in a burnished, slightly unreal glow. At its strongest, Izzy’s postcollegiate Year is a smartly fractured fairy tale.”
JUNE 22: Boundaries (dir. Shana Feste) (DP: Sara Mishara) – Variety’s SXSW review by Owen Gleiberman: “We’ve seen him dozens of times before, saying any damn thing that comes into his head (because living on the planet for 70 or 80 years has given him the right to do so). He’s on his own incorrigible wavelength, dropping putdowns as fresh as his body is old, spicing every cranky comment with a perfectly chosen F–bomb. But, of course, he’s also part of the family. He’s the grumpy old man, the naughty codger from hell — the hilarious over-the-hill a–hole who is always played by someone like, you know, Alan Arkin. Just about every time we see him, he’s a showbiz creation, a character baptized in shtick.
“But in Boundaries, a touching yet wised-up father-daughter road movie that’s the best version of this sort of film you could imagine (it’s standard, but very tastefully done), Christopher Plummer plays him with a lived-in, soft-shoe command. At 88, Plummer looks about as handsome as a man his age can be, with cheekbones that take the light beautifully, his white hair swept back and set off by a beard that’s still, from certain angles, sort of sexy. He plays Jack Jaconi, the pathologically charming and selfish father of Laura (Vera Farmiga), and by the end of the opening scene, when she’s sounding off to her therapist about him, we’re certain that he must be some version of the monster she describes. Laura won’t even take his calls — that’s how much damage he’s caused.
“Then Jack shows up, and he’s such a smiley and debonair old coot that he doesn’t only seem not so bad; he seems real. True, the tropes are all in place. Jack, who has just gotten kicked out of his senior-citizen facility, has $200,000 worth of marijuana he’s trying to unload. (Yes, he’s a drug dealer.) He also speaks his mind with such a sly-boots sense of humor that it takes us a moment or two to notice how merciless he is. When his teenage grandson, Henry (Lewis McDougall), makes a mild off-color remark about not wanting to go into a shed for fear of being molested, Jack says, ‘You wouldn’t get molested with a bow in your hair.’ Ouch! (On several levels.)
“Yet with no insult to Alan Arkin, or to the cast of either version of Going in Style, Plummer takes the character of Jack and divests him of any hint of the usual calculated comic overstatement. Every line feels spontaneous, served up with Plummer’s dryly amused finesse, in tones that are quiet yet sonorous enough to rival Morgan Freeman’s. Laura, an animal-rescue freak, has a collection of canine strays who are wispy and broken-down enough to look like actual rescue dogs. ‘You’re the Pied Piper of mange,’ says Jack, and it’s a good line, but what he means is: You’re working way too hard to rescue yourself.
“The writer-director, Shana Feste, who made the 2010 Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle Country Strong, knows how to stage a road movie as soft-edged psychodrama, without getting bogged down in dumb plot developments. And she’s got just the right actress in Vera Farmiga, who plays Laura with a protective anger — a sense of propping up her own boundaries — that can’t mask how vulnerable she still is to her dad’s bad parenting. Is Laura right that he wasn’t there for her? Of course! But the movie is still tough enough to say: That’s no excuse for playing life’s victim.
“Driving from Portland to Los Angeles, where Laura plans to deposit Jack in the home of her sister, the goofy Deadhead and dog-walker JoJo (Kristen Schaal), they stop off at the homes of several key people: Jack’s two old buddies, played by a warmly flaky Christopher Lloyd and a coolly flaky Peter Fonda, as well as Laura’s ex-husband, a flyweight scoundrel (Bobby Cannavale) whom she married because he was her dad all over again. Along the way, Henry, the ‘weird’ (i.e., smart and humane) grandson, a young artist who draws imagined nudes of people that nail their inner essence, forms the inevitable secret alliance with Jack. He helps him sell (and conceal) his weed, but more than that he finds the father figure he needs in this grandfather who answers to absolutely no one. The beauty of Plummer’s performance is that he makes Jack a crusty life force.
“Boundaries is very fluidly shot, with a pleasing commercial sheen, and if handled correctly it could prove to be a mid-summer counter-programming awards-bait indie charmer. Farmiga hasn’t had a part this good since Up in the Air, and Plummer is on a roll. The 15-year-old Scottish actor Lewis McDougall, with his surly delinquent smirk, makes himself someone to watch. Boundaries, to be sure, delivers you to a place you know you’re going, but there should always be room for a movie that does that this well.”
JUNE 22: Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (dir. Mouly Surya) – Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Giovanna Fulvi: “Powerful, provocative, and visually stunning, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a luminous new entry in the feminist western subgenre. Mouly Surya’s accomplished third feature is one of a kind: a contemporary reworking of the spaghetti western and smouldering revenge movie that is deeply rooted in the cultural and geopolitical landscapes of Indonesia.
“Marlina (Marsha Timothy) is a young widow, living alone in a remote farmhouse with the embalmed corpse of her deceased husband. When robbers arrive, entitled by centuries of male domination, to steal her livestock, seize her possessions, and rape her, Marlina has only her courage and intelligence to rely on. She thinks fast and acts even faster. The next day finds her on the road, hitching a ride to town with a severed head in one hand and a sabre in the other.
“A tale of repossessed strength and personal identity, the film features a compelling protagonist and introduces a gallery of other splendid female characters, especially “10-months” pregnant Novi (Dea Panendra).
“Surya builds tension with an assured mise en scène then dissipates it with bubbly bursts of caustic humour, playing with overused cinematic languages to find a genuine new style. Witty and subversive, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a bold and welcome affront to the staid sensibilities of male-centred cinema culture.”
JUNE 22: Spiral (dir. Laura Fairrie) – Quad Cinema synopsis: “As far-right nationalism rises again all over the world, reports of anti-Semitism have increased in Europe and especially in France, where long-simmering prejudices seem to be entering the mainstream. With up-to-the-minute relevance, director Laura Fairrie interviews a variety of French Jews who grapple with their place in a society that grows increasingly intolerant, and includes an extended interview with notorious comedian Dieudonné, a provocateur whose popular and controversial quenelle (inverted Nazi salute) cuts straight to the heart of a troubling reality.”
JUNE 22 (streaming on Netflix): Us & Them (dir. René Liu) – Broadway World article: “Netflix Inc., the world’s leading internet entertainment service, announced today that Us & Them from award-winning actress and first time director, René Liu will be available on the service. Us & Them started its theatrical run in China and is currently at the top of the Chinese box office chart with close to 200 million USD in 10 days making first-time director René Liu the highest-grossing female director for Chinese language films. Netflix is bringing the film to its members in over 190 countries around the world soon.
“‘At Netflix we believe great stories transcend borders. We are always in search for great content that touches the audience’s hearts and we are thrilled to bring a beautiful film like Us & Them to the service.’ said Rob Roy, Vice President, Content (Asia) at Netflix.
“Us & Them started as a short story written by its multi-talented first time director René Liu, who decided to bring the story to life on screen, ‘We sincerely present my first film as a director to the world.’ Producer Zhang Yi Bai said: ‘We strive to create a great film for audience and we are more than happy for the film will be available on Netflix, it is indeed the best way to reach every corner of the globe.’
“Us & Them follows the love story of Lin Jianqing (Jing Boran) and Fang Xiaoxiao (Zhou Dongyu) spanning over ten years. The two first meet and fall in love on the train back home for Chinese New Year, struggle as a couple and eventually lead to breakup. Ten years later, they reunited on a flight home. The story resonates with many people and the film was a huge box office success in China. Us & Them has shattered the box office record for female directors in China.”
JUNE 24 (streaming on Netflix): To Each, Her Own (dir. Myriam Aziza) – Netflix synopsis: “Just as Simone (Sarah Stern) works up the courage to tell her conservative Jewish family she’s a lesbian, she finds herself attracted to a male Senegalese chef (Jean-Christophe Folly).”
JUNE 29: Custody (dir. Xavier Legrand) (DP: Nathalie Durand) – Screen Daily’s Venice Film Festival review by Fionnuala Halligan: “An almost unbearably-tense, no-holds-barred drive through the nightmare of domestic terrorism, Custody is a can’t-look-away hybrid of gruelling reality and heightened cinematic technique. The mix is jarring, as intended, and this wrenching, heart-stopping film illustrates domestic violence and obsession in a way that makes the fear real. Yet the director also cites The Shining and Kramer Vs. Kramer amongst his influences, and they’re easily identified here too. This is a dynamic feature debut from France’s Xavier Legrand which bows in Competition at Venice, the last film to kick the festival home to a gripping close.
“Denis Ménochet’s bullying, paranoid Antoine is the hulking heart of Custody, but as his young son Julien, newcomer Thomas Gioria also holds his own. The film starts slowly as downbeat verite: viewers might easily be forgiven for asking why they should put themselves through such a grim experience. But Custody has a rhythm: one that should pound its way into festival screenings and art-house distribution, where it will remain a byword for domestic violence.
“The film starts at a magistrate’s court, where Antoine and his wife Miriam (Léa Drucker), with their representatives, are engaged in a bitter custody battle. The couple’s older daughter Josephine (Mathilde Auneveux) is of an age where she can make her own decisions – and she chooses not to have anything to do with Antoine – but the fate of Julien is at stake. Statements are made and the situation seems opaque: manipulation is afoot, clearly. Could Miriam have instigated her young son’s insistent desire not to see his father? Somebody is lying to the judge, who makes an abrupt decision with far-reaching consequences.
“As Antoine starts to exercise his parental rights over the young boy – to the child’s obvious dread – Custody is barely watchable: the distress shown by young actor Gioria is anxiety-inducing and almost too raw and real for a film. But all the while, Ménochet’s Antoine is beginning to reveal himself, and it’s a familiar portrait to anyone who has ever encountered obsession and domestic violence. Soon, Custody is only watchable through your fingers, as Legrand begins to apply home invasion aspects to his drama and everyone becomes short of breath, the viewer included.
“Ménochet, Drucker and Gioria give their all to this chamber-like piece, which is a thematic progression of the director’s short Just Before Losing Everything.. For the most part it’s a claustrophobic film, whether that be in court, the passenger seat of Antoine’s vehicle or the interior of the apartment to which Miriam has fled. Ménochet is unafraid to give vent to his character’s inner rage, while Drucker is the victim who knows there’s nothing she can do in the face of such a sustained onslaught. Gioria, as well, conveys how the children involved can feel a crippling culpability. In one dramatic set-piece, Custody breaks out into a birthday party; the fact that this celebration also ends up filled with airless dread illustrates how life lived in the shadow of domestic violence is small and endlessly oppressed.
“Nathalie Durand’s camera feels suitably oppressed in these close confines, while editor Yorgis Lamprinos has a deft command of pace as the thriller elements ratched up. While the word “exciting” doesn’t feel like the right word for such a tough drama, it’s certainly perfect as a description of Legrand’s debut as a feature-length director and original screenplay author.”
JUNE 29: Dark River (dir. Clio Barnard) – The Hollywood Reporter’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Leslie Felperin: “Of a piece thematically with her two previous features, documentary The Arbor and drama The Selfish Giant, Clio Barnard’s latest, Dark River, once again sketches a moving, North of England-set portrait of marginalized working-class cultures and the resilience of damaged children. Featuring a more ‘name’ cast than Barnard’s earlier works, this pivots around the protean Ruth Wilson (TV’s ‘Luther,’ ‘The Affair’) as a woman trying to run the family farm after her father’s death and confronting her own traumatized past in the process.
“The dominant note is the warm but quotidian realism of Giant rather than the experimental daring of Arbor, yet Dark River yields a perceptive study of family dynamics, unfolding in a changing landscape as prey to economic forces and demographic shifts as any urban center. Wilson’s name, along with that of Sean Bean and at least two other Game of Thrones veterans, may help raise River’s profile a few notches, but it’s unlikely to harvest much more than usual for British fare of its type.
“Alice Bell (Wilson) lives the life of modern agricultural gypsy, moving from farm to farm in her Land Rover to shear sheep on temporary contracts. Highly competent and respected by her employers and peers, Alice seemingly keeps at bay the pain of remembering the childhood sexual abuse inflicted by her father Richard (Bean) by staying perpetually in motion and concentrating on her work. But when she hears that Richard has finally died after a long illness, she returns to the Yorkshire farm where she grew up to reclaim the lease on the land, determined to take what Richard once promised her, perhaps as some kind of compensation.
“The hitch is that her elder brother Joe (Mark Stanley, excellent) is still living on the farm and half-heartedly attending to its flock of sheep, in between shifts as a truck driver. Joe looked after Richard up until his death and feels some stifled resentment that Alice thinks she can just waltz back in after a 15-year absence and start taking over the place. For her part, Alice is willing to share the lease and work the farm in collaboration with Joe. But they have different ideas about how to run things, from whether the sheep should be dipped or sprayed (for parasites and wool preservation) or if a nearby field should be used for silage (Alice’s choice) or left fallow so that the plants and animals decimated by intensive farming practices can be left to regenerate (Joe’s preference).
“As it happens, these debates between the siblings look likely to be moot since the company that actually owns all the Bell family’s acres wants to develop the property for holiday cottages and tourism instead of farming, although they can’t actually say that outright. This means that even though Alice is manifestly the more capable and competent farmer, the company’s representatives approach Joe with the offer of a backhander and the lease in his name, for at least a little while longer, if he promises to evict his sister.
“Issues involving money and property are not the only things at stake here. Barnard’s elliptical script refrains from spelling things out too baldly in words, but it’s clear from the flashbacks (which feature Esme Creed-Miles as the young Alice and Aiden McCullough as young Joe) that Alice was regularly abused by Richard when she was a child, perhaps after Alice and Joe’s mother died or left. Apparently, Joe knew about the abuse, and not only did he fail to stop it, he actually helped his father to control Alice and keep her from seeing potential boyfriend David (Joe Dempsie, another Thrones alum). Those who read Rose Tremain’s novel Trespass, on which this is very loosely based, will also be aware that there’s an even darker history between the two siblings in Tremain’s version of the story.
“One can’t help wondering whether at one point, during development perhaps, there were scenes that took the story in this creepier direction. Meanwhile, an end credit lists actor Una McNulty in the role of Susan Bell, presumably Alice and Joe’s mother, and the character features in the dialogue, she is never met onscreen nor is her absence ever explained, which suggests things may have been shifted around somewhat between shooting and the final cut. Indeed, the film sometimes feels particularly withholding and suggestive when it comes to plot, although there’s enough expression in the faces of the actors, especially Wilson and Stanley, to fill in the emotional gaps.
“Bean himself barely has more than a line or two, but even in the very few moments he appears onscreen — climbing into bed with his daughter, or looking with glowering and guilt at her from across a room — he makes an indelible impression. Barnard underscores this by suggesting that he’s still around, like a memory or a ghost, interacting through magic of eyeline match cuts with the grown Alice played by Wilson rather than the child Alice played by Creed-Miles. (Who, incidentally, is both terrifically cast to play the young Wilson and yet also looks a lot like her real-life mother, the superb British actor Samantha Morton.) Ultimately, though, this is Wilson’s film and she owns it with a performance rich in psychological subtlety that simultaneously projects ferocity and vulnerability. Plus, she gets to show off her sheep-shearing and dog whistling chops, and how many actors can claim the same?”
JUNE 29: Leave No Trace (dir. Debra Granik) – Village Voice’s Sundance Film Festival review by Bilge Ebiri: “The last time Debra Granik had a film at Sundance, it was the masterful Ozark coming-of-age thriller Winter’s Bone, which won Oscar nominations and introduced the world to a certain young actress named Jennifer Lawrence. Granik has returned to the festival this year with Leave No Trace, another movie focusing on the experiences of a young woman living on the margins of society — this time, rather than a seventeen-year-old trying to hold her impoverished family together, it’s a thirteen-year-old trying to survive in the woods with her father. It might not have the genre elements that helped make Winter’s Bone something of a breakout, but Leave No Trace rivets and terrifies in its own way.
“When we first meet Tom (the staggeringly good Kiwi actress Thomasin McKenzie), she and her father, Will (the intense and excellent Ben Foster), are gathering and cutting wood for a fire and shooing away packs of dogs outside their tent. Right from these early scenes, we can feel the delicate power of Granik’s visual storytelling: As we see the propane tanks and apple boxes and shelves and tarps that father and daughter have gathered, we don’t need to be told that these two are not just out camping; they live in the woods. And just like that, we’re enveloped in the perplexing drama of surviving on the edge.
“Tom and Will have been hiding out in a large public park in Portland, Oregon, making occasional trips into town to buy groceries and visit the hospital. A veteran, Will has issues with post-traumatic stress; for income, he sells the pain meds he receives at the hospital to dealers at a tent city. Tom and her father, we discover, are homeless not because they’re poor but because Will has demons he can’t shake. He wants nothing to do with society — he consistently refers to the outside world, with its houses and its conveniences and responsibilities, as ‘them.’ We never quite find out what exactly it is he’s running from, but we don’t need to: We understand that his contempt and fear are inchoate, irrational, and unshakeable.
“As a director, Granik conveys information with both understatement and clarity, but what really comes through in the film’s early scenes — and what helps keeps it from playing as a wallow in misery — is the tense tenderness between father and daughter. Tom and Will may live in stark independence, but they are totally codependent. Foster grounds Will’s terse, survivalist brusqueness in concern for his child; McKenzie beautifully portrays Tom’s desire to please her dad, as well as her happiness at simply being with him. At one point, after the authorities bring the two back into society and separate them, we’re genuinely scared by what might happen to them. Granik shoots the spaces of ‘civilization’ with low-key menace: When Will is forced to sit at a computer and answer hundreds of true-false questions for a personality test, she places him off-center in the composition, with obstructions in the frame. We feel his entrapment and discomfort.
“Leave No Trace was adapted from Peter Rock’s 2009 novel, My Abandonment, but it doesn’t have many conventional story beats. Rather, it follows father and daughter as they continue to drift between different places — a trailer here, an abandoned shed there. But slowly we sense the two diverging in their needs: Tom is growing up and starting to realize she wants to settle down, to have a place she can call home and dreams she can call a future. But Will is unreachable. And so, this is ultimately a tale of letting go — of a parent learning to say goodbye to a child, and vice versa. I was reminded often of Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic parenting thriller The Road; I was also sometimes reminded of Manchester by the Sea, with its narrative of a man unable to shake his demons. I suspect I’ll be haunted by this picture for quite some time. Granik films with subtlety and quiet grace, but Leave No Trace explodes in the mind.”
JUNE 29: Love, Cecil (dir. Lisa Immordino Vreeland) – Film Society of Lincoln Center synopsis: “British-born Cecil Beaton was perhaps best known for his production design on Oscar-winning films like Gigi and My Fair Lady, but his talents extended far beyond cinema. From Beaton’s World War II photography work for Vogue to his relationship with the Royal Family and his alleged affair with Greta Garbo, director Lisa Immordino Vreeland (Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict) uses previously unseen footage and stills—with excerpts from Beaton’s diary, narrated by Rupert Everett—to illuminate her creative subject’s ambition and inimitable sense of reinvention.”
JUNE 29 (streaming on Netflix): Recovery Boys (dir. Elaine McMillion Sheldon) – Synopsis from the director’s website: “In the heart of America’s opioid epidemic, four men attempt to reinvent their lives and mend broken relationships after years of drug abuse. Recovery Boys, from Academy Award nominated director Elaine McMillion Sheldon (Heroin(e)), is an intimate look at the strength, brotherhood, and courage that it takes to overcome addiction and lays bare the internal conflict of recovery. In an effort to break the cycle of generational addiction and trauma, the young men let go of painful pasts as they live in the present, and build a new community in a farming-based rehab. After rehab, they experience life’s trials and tribulations sober, but struggle to find their place and purpose in an often unforgiving society. In today’s world, where shocking statistics about the opioid crisis make headlines daily, Recovery Boys gives a deeply personal look into the unseen lives of those working toward transformation.”
JUNE 29: Summer of ’67 (dir. Sharon Wilharm) – Faith Flix synopsis: “Based on real life events, Summer of ’67 brings to life the turbulent times of the sixties and the struggles faced by the men and women impacted by the Vietnam War. Young wife and mother Milly (Rachel Schrey) is forced to live with her mother-in-law (Mimi Sagadin) while her husband Gerald (Cameron Gilliam) is away on the USS Forrestal. Kate (Bethany Davenport) must choose between Peter (Christopher Dalton), her high school sweetheart, and Van (Sam Brooks), her new hippie boyfriend. Ruby Mae (Sharonne Lanier) finally finds true love with Reggie (Jerrold Edwards) only to have him whisked away by the draft. Each woman faces the question of whether or not their man will return, and even if he does, will life as they know it ever be the same?”
JUNE 29: Woman Walks Ahead (dir. Susanna White) – Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Loren Hammonds: “Woman Walks Ahead stars Jessica Chastain as Catherine Weldon, a Brooklyn-based artist who journeys to North Dakota with the intention of painting a portrait of the legendary Sioux chief Sitting Bull. Upon arrival, she encounters roadblocks at every turn—especially in the form of male soldiers who believe that her liberal sensibilities have no place in the Old West. It isn’t until she is welcomed into the chief’s world that she realizes there are larger issues at stake than merely capturing his image for posterity.
“Woman Walks Ahead offers a stirring look at an unlikely friendship, the importance of fighting for what is right, and the beginning of a movement. Chastain commands the screen in the lead role, radiating power and righteous indignation as she undergoes a political awakening to the injustices that the Lakota people have endured under colonial occupation. Director Susanna White delivers a lush, wide-screen marvel with an amazing supporting ensemble that includes Sam Rockwell, Ciarán Hinds, and the magnetic Michael Greyeyes as Sitting Bull.”