Ms .45 (1981, dir. Abel Ferrara)

After watching the endlessly strange and fascinating drama Bad Lieutenant recently, I knew I had to see some more of controversial director Abel Ferrara’s work. On the surface, Ms .45 is just another exploitation flick from its era, a post-Death Wish/Taxi Driver rape revenge story intended to trade on the sick pleasures of watching a female victim of sexual violence punish all men for the sins of a few. And the film is certainly the product of testosterone-driven artists; it was written (Nicholas St. John), directed (Abel Ferrara), photographed (James Lemmo), edited (Christopher Andrews) and scored (Joe Delia) by men. Despite those details, it can be argued there would be no Ms .45 without the lead performance of Zoë Lund, then an eighteen-year-old Columbia University student making her feature film debut.

Lund, known at the time by her birth name Zoë Tamerlis, portrays Thana, a mute woman who is employed as a seamstress in Manhattan’s Garment Center neighborhood. On a sunny afternoon, while returning home from her job, she is sexually assaulted twice; first, by a man in a mask (played by Abel Ferrara) who pulls her into an alley, and then by a robber who had broken into her apartment sometime earlier and lay in wait until Thana opened her door. Already traumatized by the previous attack, Thana kills the second offender by bludgeoning him in the head with a paperweight. In a daze, Thana methodically dismembers the rapist’s corpse, lining her fridge with garbage bags full of body parts. Crucially, Thana takes possession of the man’s gun, hiding it in her purse for daily protection on the city streets.

The gun changes everything about Thana. She transforms from a shy introvert to a vigilante serial killer of men, not only those who catcall her or try to assault her but also citizens who have committed no crime other than being male. Thana’s new identity gives her a voice she never had before, and she adjusts her physical appearance accordingly by wearing heavy makeup and fashionable outfits and by putting her hair up in an efficient ponytail. Aided by her more glamorous image, Thana lures her prey to their deaths in various scenarios; her power is fueled by the sorrow and anger of every woman who has been objectified and hurt by men.

It’s hard to say whether this tale of retribution has a moral at the end or not, although the film concludes with a final scene that wraps up its grim narrative on an unexpectedly light note. Determining whether Ms .45 is a feminist film seems like a moot point since that’s not a term I would use to describe Abel Ferrara, based on the comments I’ve heard him make about Lund and other actresses in interviews – the jury’s still out on screenwriter Nicholas St. John, although I assume his views on women were somewhat similar since he had been friends with Ferrara since high school – but ultimately the film would not have the impact that it has without Zoë Tamerlis Lund as its star. You can never look away from her. She commands every frame with her bright green eyes and with her believable development into a single-minded assassin. Late in the film, Lund has her most memorable moment when Thana dons a nun’s habit and bright red lipstick for a Halloween party being thrown by her handsy boss; the poses that Thana assumes as she looks in a mirror and aims her revolver like a big-screen sharpshooter are chillingly reminiscent of Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle. Like the Greek mythological figure that Thana is linked to by name symbolism – Thanatos, god of death – there is a larger-than-life aura surrounding her ability to destroy the male population of New York City.

Research tells me that Zoë Lund was a polyglot, a prolific writer and an accomplished musician/composer, in addition to being the daughter of renowned sculptor Barbara Lekberg. Was Ms .45 to blame for Lund’s decision to abandon her privileged upbringing and education, temporarily move to Europe and become a heroin addict, the last of which defined her existence until her drug-related death in 1999? I don’t know; maybe the path she traveled was one she would have found regardless of a cinematic career. Perhaps there will never be a neat, sensible answer to the question. What remains indisputable, however, is that Lund elevates Ms .45 into something more than a portrait of New York City at its scuzziest. As difficult as the film may be to watch due to the difficult themes, it is consistently engaging, a thought-provoking study of how rape and PTSD can alter a woman in unimaginable ways and reshape her concept of herself within society.

First Reformed (2017/2018, dir. Paul Schrader)

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Praised as a return to form for filmmaker Paul Schrader and a career-best showcase for Ethan Hawke, the drama First Reformed is a thought-provoking (if imperfect) meditation on assorted crises of faith. Hope and despair are the two warring states of emotion here, exposing characters’ constant struggles against the entwined losses of loved ones and, thanks to global warming, the natural beauty of our planet. Schrader, who will almost certainly be nominated for the Best Original Screenplay, occasionally makes heavy-handed missteps in articulating his environmental concerns – anyone who seen the film’s “Magical Mystery Tour” sequence has an idea of what I mean, though they may not share my reaction – but the strength of the acting, the dialogue (including voiceovers) that conveys the inner turmoil of Hawke’s Reverend Toller and the superb cinematography by Alexander Dynan make First Reformed one of the must-see films of the year.

Named for a politically active German Jewish playwright from the 1920s and 30s, the Rev. Ernst Toller of Schrader’s film is yet another of God’s lonely men, a solitary figure who embraces warm conversations when given the opportunity yet rejects help from those who would share more intimate expressions of love and kindness with him. Living in a few sparsely-decorated rooms attached to the humble Dutch Reformed church that he presides over in rural upstate New York, this is a man mired in regret and grief for the son who died as a soldier in Iraq, the tragedy of which caused his marriage to dissolve. Unable to cope with his pain, Toller has turned to the bottle for solace. His alcoholism has in turn caused his body to fall apart as surely as his soul, internal ailments that are eventually mirrored by the external conflict that will also trouble him.

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At the beginning of the film, Toller is called on by a local woman, Mary Mensana (Amanda Seyfried), to council her husband Michael (Philip Ettinger, a promising up-and-comer whom I first noticed in last year’s Brawl in Cell Block 99), an environmental activist who is filled with doubt and frustration over humankind’s self-destruction, compounded by the corporate greed that no amount of peaceful protest seems able to stop. Toller slowly comes around to Michael’s line of thinking – the core of which is the simple yet potent question “will God forgive us?” – and Michael’s actions and influence spur Toller to take steps of his own against power structures, chiefly the megachurch run by a gregarious acquaintance, Rev. Jeffers (Cedric the Entertainer, wonderfully cast against type) and a nearby factory’s contemptible CEO, Ed Balq (Michael Gaston), whose money is funding the renovation of Toller’s church for its upcoming 250th anniversary.

Paul Schrader’s strict Calvinist upbringing evidently inspired his decision to write First Reformed as much as climate change did, but the lingering traces of his cinematic muses are visible throughout the film as well. Schrader’s first breakthrough as a critic and historian came with the publication of his 1972 book Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer, and I certainly recognized the impact that Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest and Bergman’s Winter Light had on First Reformed while watching it. As I have also noted with regard to Schrader’s remake of Cat People, his understanding of visual composition is masterful; the images in First Reformed by the aforementioned DP Alexander Dynan are magnificent, not just because of the color palette and camera angles/framing but because of Paul Schrader’s command of mise-en-scène. In this film, empty spaces are as important and symbolic as the arrangements of objects, a physical representation of Reverend Toller’s emotional isolation and the hollowness of his cloistered life. I also appreciate the director’s overt allusions to Taxi Driver, apparent in Toller’s daily journaling of his obsessive thoughts, as well as a scene when Toller drives through his desolate town at night and, most literally, in a moment when he pours some Pepto-Bismol into a glass of liquor à la Travis Bickle’s bubbling Alka-Seltzer tab (itself an homage to Godard’s 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her).

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First Reformed’s ending has proved itself to be divisive, and I’m not convinced that it was the optimal way to bring the story to a close, but in truth I respected it more when I heard Paul Schrader’s take on moviegoers’ two possible interpretations of the final scene during the post-film Q&A (the screening I attended was at the Museum of Modern Art, where both Schrader and Hawke spoke). I stand by my distaste for some of the film’s clunkier “We Are the World”-isms, and I also thought Amanda Seyfried was perhaps not the best casting choice for Mary – yes, that name is as symbolic as you imagine – but my problem with the latter is not so much with Seyfried’s acting (since I enjoy her work in general) as with the dull lines that Schrader wrote for her. Still, if First Reformed is viewed fundamentally as a display for Ethan Hawke, who is guaranteed a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his sensitive, nuanced and multilayered performance, then it is indeed a great cinematic success. Ever since he was a teenager in Dead Poets Society, Hawke has shown a remarkable ability to illustrate the coexistence of vulnerability and fortitude, and he continues to uncover new ways to demonstrate this tender balancing act with intelligence and grace.

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

Director Marielle Heller (center) with actresses Dolly Wells and Melissa McCarthy on the set of Can You Ever Forgive Me?, 2017. (Photo: Town & Country)

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

OCTOBER 3: Moynihan (dirs. Joseph Dorman and Toby Perl Freilich)Film Forum synopsis: “‘Everyone is entitled to his own opinion – but not to his own facts.’ – Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003). His aristocratic demeanor and Harvard polish belied Moynihan’s Depression-era roots in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen, the son of a single mother. Joseph Dorman (his documentary, Arguing the World, which we opened in 1998, is a thrilling account of the 60-year battle among New York’s 20th century intellectuals), with co-filmmaker Toby Perl Freilich (Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment), now give us a portrait of a complex man who struggled to alleviate poverty and racism, but who was maligned for his use of the expression ‘benign neglect.’ Ta-Nehisi Coates, Eleanor Holmes Norton, George Will, and Henry Kissinger give insight into this “connoisseur of statistics” who served four presidents, anticipated the breakup of the Soviet Union, and was as comfortable writing about philosophy, ethnicity, and architecture as he was rethinking the Social Security and welfare systems.”

OCTOBER 5 (in theaters & streaming on Netflix): Private Life (dir. Tamara Jenkins)RogerEbert.com review by Matt Zoller Seitz: “Sometimes you want something so badly that you chase it for years, and the quest takes over everything.

“That’s what happened to Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti), the protagonists of Private Life, a comedy-drama about a forty-something New York couple who are desperate to become parents.

“Rachel is 41. She’s not as fertile as she used to be. Richard is 47. He has just one testicle, and it happens to be blocked. This is a terrible state of affairs for any couple, but a comic gold mine for actors who express frustration as brilliantly as these two. We sense early on that Rachel and Richard’s obsession distracts them from dealing with longstanding issues in their marriage, and maybe individual neuroses as well. Richard was once an acclaimed actor and theater impresario. He now runs a pickle-making company. Rachel is a writer who’s trying to finish a new novel. She’s finding it hard to stay focused with all the obstetrical drama going on. They know having a child is a long shot. They’ve tried various procedures and treatments and flirted with adoption and surrogates. They refuse to give up. Should they?

“The first part of Private Life follows Rachel and Richard through the medical system, undergoing tests to figure out if they have a specific problem that can be fixed by science. Their fertility sherpa, Dr. Dordick (Denis O’Hare), speaks frankly of the obstacles in their path. They hear him but don’t absorb the facts as deeply as they should—or maybe they’re just hopeless optimists. Richard and Rachel are close with their in-laws—Richard’s brother Charlie (John Carroll Lynch), his second wife Cynthia (Molly Shannon), and Cynthia’s college-age daughter Sadie (Kalyi Carter)—and lean on them for emotional support and sometimes more. There’s a bit of drama early on when Richard asks Charlie for a loan to pay for a medical test. Cynthia explodes, warning him that they’ve been at this forever and that he needs to stop enabling them.

“The movie shifts into a different mode—less raucously funny, more tenderly observant—when Sadie, a budding fiction writer herself, moves in with Richard and Rachel, and the couple asks if she’d donate her eggs. (The movie makes sure to spell out that none of them are related—Charlie being Richard’s stepbrother and Cynthia’s second husband.) Sadie is intrigued. She needs the money. She loves Richard and Rachel. And she’s at her own crossroads in life, and maybe feeling it’s time for a gesture as dramatic as anything in the short stories that she loves (or in fiction written by classmates that she gripes about—mostly ‘thinly veiled autobiographical crap about their upbringing;’ Sadie is oblivious to the fact that she’s living some of the same cliches she despises in the fiction and the lives of others).

“I don’t want to go into too much detail about the bulk of the story because the plot takes a lot of twists and turns, some predictable, others unexpected, and because what’s important are the observations, visual as well as verbal, embedded in each scene. The film’s writer-director, Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills, Savages) is a brilliant chronicler of upper-middle class white people and their foibles, and her eye for detail is anthropologically exact, empathetic but never begging for sympathy. She’s aware that these people can be myopic and petty, and that they’re so wrapped up in their individual dramas that they fail to appreciate what they do have; but she also understands the deep biological urges that drive Richard and Rachel, who spent the first part of adulthood committing to an artist’s life without taking on responsibility to anyone but each other.

“Some of Jenkins’ humor pushes right to the edge of farce without tipping over, as when Richard justifiably blows up at a doctor’s unprofessional behavior, then realizes he’s overdoing it and making a spectacle of himself. (Nobody does righteous snits better than Giamatti.) Other times, the film digs into the minutia of marriage and family life with the surgical precision of Mike Leigh, capturing fleeting images and moments that sum up an experience. The personalty test that Sadie takes in order to be cleared as a surrogate includes statements which, viewed in tight close-up, seem nearly poetic in their strangeness (‘Evil spirits possess me at times.’ ‘I would like to become a singer.’). A quick iris-to-black as Rachel succumbs to anesthesia, followed by a blurry shot from her point-of-view as she wakes up and sees a package of animal crackers and a bottle of apple juice on a meal tray, sum up the dreamlike feeling of suspension that accrues when you spend a lot of time in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and operating rooms, with their blank walls and identically uniformed employees. (Hahn, who’s on a roll these days, is at the top of her game, handling Jenkins’ barbed dialogue and the story’s many reactive closeups with equal skill.)

“The dialogue, especially between Rachel and Richard, is just as astute. We see what drew them together (a shared love of creativity plus undeniable comic chemistry) as well as the despair that they hide from each other for fear of making a tense partnership unpleasant. Each sometimes feels that their failure to conceive is the other’s fault, and Jenkins weaves social messaging into their reasons for waiting, acknowledging it as a factor without telling us if she thinks they made good or bad decisions. Richard stings Rachel by suggesting that she’s assigning blame for their situation onto the mixed messages she received about family and career back in college. ‘You can’t blame second wave feminism for our ambivalence about having a kid!’ he groans. To the film’s credit, neither is portrayed as being entirely wrong.

“The movie also succeeds as a portrait of a particular urban lifestyle—creative people living beyond their means because they don’t want to give up youthful dreams of the big city—as well as the larger forces that conspire to make their existence precarious and unrealistic. The Lower East Side New York neighborhood where Rachel and Richard have lived for decades has become almost entirely gentrified (except for their block, which Sadie says is ‘very Serpico‘). The site of Richard’s old theater company is a bank branch. Condos are springing up everywhere, promising a tourist-like experience of a city that no longer exists.

“But of course, Richard and Rachel were probably in the first wave of bourgeois settlers back in the ’90s, and as such, they have to accept some blame for how things have changed. When Sadie, out for a walk with her possible future egg donors, spots a billboard advertising luxury apartments with the slogan ‘Live in Luxury, Party Like a Punk,’ she snarls, ‘It’s like an open invitation for assholes.’ The movie is aware that they’re also the assholes. When they visit Richard’s brother and her family in the suburbs, they’re seeing a likely future. If they leave the city, does it mean they surrendered? If they don’t conceive, does it mean all of that time and money was wasted?

“It’s becoming increasingly hard for films like this to have a big impact on audiences, in part because stories about recognizable, present-day adults of every social class have been largely driven from theaters and onto TV and streaming platforms. Anything that doesn’t involve special effects and some kind of world-ending threat is deemed ‘low stakes’ or ‘television’ and thus not worth leaving home to see. (This one is getting a hybrid release from Netflix, playing a small number of theaters while debuting online.) But when the story is told in as engaging and fair-minded a way as it is here by Jenkins—who’s as adept with lyrical images as she is with snappy dialogue, and allows us to laugh at the characters even as we feel for them—it’s as immersive as any blockbuster, sneakily so. This film is a reminder that the smallness of life can feel huge when we’re in the middle of it. A perfect final shot sums up everything Private Life has been telling us and showing us, while letting us imagine Rachel and Richard’s destiny for ourselves.”

OCTOBER 5: Trouble (dir. Theresa Rebeck) (DP: Christina Voros)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis:Trouble is a rollicking comedy about two siblings who stop at nothing to outwit one another. That fact that the dueling brother and sister in this case are middle- aged, but still feel a rivalry that most adults have long outgrown, makes theirs a particularly high-stakes conflict. Academy Award-winner Anjelica Huston stars as Maggie, a tough-as-nails widow who fights to hold onto the beautiful wooded farm in rural Vermont where she was raised and still lives, while Bill Pullman plays her ne’er-do-well brother, Ben, who plots to sell the land to developers right out from under Maggie. The film was written and directed by noted playwright and author Theresa Rebeck.”

OCTOBER 12 (in theaters & on VOD): After Everything (dirs. Hannah Marks and Joey Power) (DP: Sandra Valde-Hansen)The Hollywood Reporter review by Frank Scheck: “Depicting the highs and lows of a relationship marked by a possibly terminal cancer diagnosis, Hannah Marks and Joey Power’s romantic drama somehow manages to avoid clichés and oversentimentality. After Everything deals with two 23-year-olds, but it will likely ring true even for viewers whose twenties are a distant memory. Featuring terrific performances by its young leads, the film marks an auspicious feature debut for its writer-directors.

“The story begins with Elliot (Jeremy Allen White, Shameless) experiencing a strange pain in his groin during a one-night stand. He discovers that he’s suffering from a form of cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma, which has resulted in a tumor on his pelvic bone. Around the same time, while waiting for a subway train he encounters Mia (Maika Monroe, It Follows), a frequent customer at the sandwich shop where he works, and impulsively asks her out.

“The two are soon involved in a passionate relationship, with Mia being lovingly supportive of her new boyfriend as he’s undergoing physically and emotionally debilitating chemotherapy treatments. Rather than drive them apart, Elliot’s illness seems to deepen their relationship, and he impulsively proposes marriage. For a while, the aftermath of the ‘shotgun wedding,’ as Mia describes it to Elliot’s concerned parents, proves happy. But even as Elliot is given a clean bill of health after successful surgery, the two young people begin to realize that their relationship is falling apart.

“While the pic’s tone is generally serious, it never becomes maudlin despite the tear-jerking subject matter. It also includes some genuinely funny episodes, such as a fantasy sequence involving Elliot’s efforts to become aroused while attempting to bank his sperm should his cancer prevent him from siring children; the couple giddily cavorting after ingesting ecstasy (but not before Googling ‘What happens when you take MDMA and have cancer?’); and their attempts to recruit a female participant to fulfill Elliot’s dream of having a threesome.

“The Generation Z demographic will certainly relate to such things as the film’s depiction of modern dating rituals like Tinder; unfulfilling jobs; roommates who spend their time bingeing on true-crime documentaries; and Elliot’s dreams of designing a new app. What impresses, though, is how effectively After Everything taps into universal themes involving the difficulties of sustaining relationships. And the way in which we can sabotage our future in an instant is perfectly encapsulated in an angry encounter between Elliot and Mia in which he blurts out something that he’ll never be able to take back.

“The filmmakers have attracted a talented supporting ensemble for this indie effort, including Gina Gershon and Dean Winters as Mia’s mother and her new boyfriend, and Marisa Tomei as Elliot’s attentive oncologist. But it’s the hugely appealing White and Monroe who authoritatively carry the film, mining the material for all its pathos and humor and displaying the sort of chemistry more often aspired to than achieved in romantic films. They make it look easy, as do the talented filmmakers.”

OCTOBER 12 (streaming on Netflix): Feminists: What Were They Thinking? (dir. Johanna Demetrakas) (DP: Kristy Tully)RiverRun International Film Festival synopsis: “Feminism seems to be the scariest word in the English language, but not for those who experienced the game-changing awakening that was the Women’s Movement of the 1970s. Growing up in the 1950s and 60s meant not only second class citizenship legally, but second class human being-ship for women, not invited to the parties of medicine, art, law, education, science, or religion, except maybe as the secretary.

“In 1977, a book of photographs captured an awakening–women shedding cultural restrictions and embracing their full humanity. This documentary digs deep into the personal experiences of sexism and of liberation by revisiting those photos, those women and those times. The film follows this ever-evolving dialogue right into the 21st century, and takes aim at our current culture, vividly revealing the need for continued change.”

OCTOBER 12 (in theaters & streaming on Netflix): The Kindergarten Teacher (dir. Sara Colangelo)Los Angeles Times review by Justin Chang: “‘Anna is beautiful / beautiful enough for me.’ So begins the lovely and, yes, beautiful first poem we hear composed by Jimmy Roy (Parker Sevak), who, at first, resembles an ordinary 5-year-old but might in fact be a pint-sized literary prodigy. The only person who notices is his kindergarten teacher, Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who immediately takes him under her wing, eager to shield his talent from the indifference and banality of a world with no use for poetry.

“This is the story told in Sara Colangelo’s The Kindergarten Teacher, a deft and intelligent minor-key variation on a superb 2014 Israeli film of the same title. That earlier picture, written and directed by Nadav Lapid (Policeman), was a slow-to-boil psychological drama that built to a scalding indictment of the mindlessness and materialism that increasingly hold sway over contemporary life. Lapid’s social critique carried a particularly potent sting when directed at Israel, but it has been transplanted, seamlessly and with little dilution of impact, to the Staten Island neighborhood Lisa calls home.

“She lives there with a dependable husband (Michael Chernus) and two teenagers (Daisy Tahan and Sam Jules), who do things a lot of teenagers do — eat pizza, throw pool parties, stare at their phones — and who are sullen and non-communicative in ways that parents and children will instinctively recognize. But there is nothing reassuring about that recognition, and the movie regards these moments of estrangement and apathy less as normal phases of young adulthood than as troubling symptoms of a culture in decline.

“You can take or leave that thesis, but The Kindergarten Teacher moves too swiftly and absorbingly to brook much argument in the meantime. Lisa responds to her domestic discontentment by throwing herself into her teaching, determined to at least mold the more impressionable minds in her midst. After school, she seeks to ward off her own intellectual decay, and perhaps unlock talents that she’s never had a chance to explore, by attending a poetry-writing class. (At the risk of telegraphing a later plot twist a bit too blatantly, her teacher is played by Gael García Bernal.)

“The moment when Jimmy first recites his poem, pacing back and forth in the classroom as though lost in a fugue state, brings Lisa’s artistic aspirations and pedagogical instincts together. Lisa is struck by the poem’s elegant structure and subtle depth of feeling and also floored by the possibility that its young author — in all other respects a rowdy, adorable and utterly normal kid — might have an exceedingly rare gift.

“In cultivating that gift, Lisa initially seems to be doing an educator’s due diligence, as when she presses his somewhat flighty nanny, Becca (Rosa Salazar), to pay attention and write down any poems she hears him recite. She reaches out to Jimmy’s similarly neglectful dad (Ajay Naidu), who spends most of his time running a Manhattan bar, and also Jimmy’s uncle (Samrat Chakrabarti), a wordsmith who seems to have instilled a love of poetry in his nephew to begin with.

“What gives The Kindergarten Teacher its peculiar force is how quickly it acknowledges the darker side of Lisa’s nurturing impulse — and how successfully it ushers us into a strange complicity with her all the same. Colangelo, who made her feature debut with the 2014 drama Little Accidents, balances the story’s myriad conflicting tensions with admirable lucidity. That’s another way of saying that she keeps the camera steadily trained on Gyllenhaal, whose brilliantly discomfiting performance anchors every scene.

“Lisa is hardly the first schoolteacher to employ a measure of manipulation as an educational tactic. But there is something particularly ruthless about the way she wraps a steely disposition in a warm, cajoling smile, her eyes twinkling with affection even as they penetrate your every defense. For all the attention Lisa showers on Jimmy — waking him during naptime for private lessons, having him accompany her to a Manhattan poetry reading — she refuses to infantilize him or treat him as anything but the genius she believes him to be. She demands a level of commitment commensurate with her own.

“And Jimmy, played with remarkable self-possession by Sevak, responds to Lisa’s orders with a mix of obedience and confusion that feels like an implicit rebuke. On the surface, her increasingly desperate actions might seem reckless and deluded to the point of stupidity, but her motivations to the end remain irreducibly, gratifyingly complex. It’s hard not to suspect that Lisa might be driven in part by jealousy, rooted in a deep awareness of her own failures. It’s also hard not to discern an element of seduction, more psychological than sexual, in the way she tries to coax Jimmy’s talent into the light.

“But it may be hardest of all to completely dismiss Lisa’s convictions, or the sense that her behavior, extreme though it may be, is rooted in a completely accurate assessment of a morally and intellectually bankrupt society. The Kindergarten Teacher may offer a less audacious, more stylistically muted version of its predecessor, but by the time its quietly perfect final shot arrives, the movie has reached the same provocative conclusion. It’s not poetry, exactly, but it’s pretty shattering prose.”

OCTOBER 12: Over the Limit (dir. Marta Prus)Quad Cinema synopsis: “The title says it all in this mesmerizing, relentless documentary following Russian rhythmic gymnast Margarita Mamun’s grueling journey to the 2016 Olympics. Herself a former gymnast, Prus opts for a fly-on-the-wall approach, capturing not only Mamun’s remarkable physical feats (leaping, tumbling, and unfathomable balancing acts) but the evident psychological strain of the sport—and of her demanding coaches, whose idea of motivation consists of hurling abuse from the sidelines. Their best advice? ‘Find your inner harmony and touch up your eyebrows.'”

OCTOBER 12: Sadie (dir. Megan Griffiths)The Seattle Times review by Moira Macdonald: “‘Everybody’s got details,’ says an old man in the locally filmed drama Sadie, whittling away at a stick. “You gotta know how to carve them.’ Luckily, Seattle-based writer/director Megan Griffiths (The Night Stalker, Lucky Them, Eden) knows exactly how to carve her characters — with the help of a skilled cast of actors. Though it addresses big themes — children’s exposure to violence; opioid addiction; single parenting — Sadie is at its heart an intimate story, about a mother and daughter and a man who seems to come between them. But its honesty and power makes it feel large; you live among these characters in their weary trailer park, aching for them.

“Filmed in rain-soaked Everett and punctuated by the sound of a train whistle on its way to somewhere else, Sadie quickly introduces us to its title character (local actor Sophia Mitri Schloss, perfectly capturing the quicksilver ice of being 13) who lives with her mother, Rae (the always splendid Melanie Lynskey). Sadie idealizes her military father, who’s been overseas for years; the lonely Rae, who knows things about her marriage that her daughter doesn’t, is ready to move on. Along comes a stranger: Cyrus (John Gallagher Jr.), who attracts the eye of both Rae and her friend Carla (Danielle Brooks). Things get messy, and Sadie — her eyes narrowing as if they’re being sharpened to a point — thinks she knows how to solve the problem. But she’s 13, and of course she doesn’t.

“Much of the pleasure of Sadie is watching its beautifully carved details: Lynskey’s soft, hopeful line readings, suggesting a woman who’s known disappointment and yet still believes something better might come along; Brooks’ way of hinting at a world of pain behind Carla’s sassy-best-friend persona; the tired browns and grays of the characters’ homes, where the air feels damply cold and water perpetually drips from the gutters. But it’s at its most mesmerizing when fixed on Schloss’ unblinking gaze; a child at war with forces — and consequences — that she can’t yet understand.”

OCTOBER 12: Stella’s Last Weekend (dir. Polly Draper)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis: “Oliver (Alex Wolff) is a Queens high school senior who is madly in love with Violet (Paulina Singer), a fellow classmate who is the girl of his dreams. Oliver’s older brother, Jack (Nat Wolff), is not so lucky with his love life, having made a real connection with a girl several months earlier, who suddenly dropped him without any explanation. When Jack comes home from college for a special celebration of Stella, the family’s beloved but aging dog, he soon discovers that the girl who broke his heart is the very same Violet who has stolen Oliver’s heart. A series of comic complications ensue as the romantic rivalry between the brothers escalates.”

OCTOBER 12: Watergate (dir. Charles Ferguson) (DPs: Shana Hagan, Yuanchen Liu, Dennis Madden, Daphne Matziaraki, Morgan Schmidt-Feng)Cinema Village synopsis:Watergate tells, for the first time, the entire story of the Watergate scandal, from the first troubling signs in Richard Nixon’s presidency to Nixon’s resignation and beyond. (Surprisingly, despite many excellent books and documentaries, the story of the Watergate scandal has never before been told in a truly comprehensive way.). But crucially, the film also situates Watergate in the context of all the issues it raised – many of which, of course, now resonate powerfully with current events.”

OCTOBER 16 (on digital): The Devil We Know (dir. Stephanie Soechtig with co-dir. Jeremy Seifert)Variety‘s Sundance Film Festival review by Dennis Harvey: “The list of modern conveniences that will sooner or later take a toll on your — or somebody’s — health gets a lot longer with The Devil We Know. Stephanie Soechtig’s documentary exposes the apparently decades-long efforts by the DuPont corporation to deny the adverse effects of chemicals used in the manufacture of Teflon kitchenware, which they knew about at least as early as 1982. They’re still denying them, even as birth defects and other problems have increasingly surfaced among factory workers and nearby residents whose water has become polluted with industrial waste.

“This cogent, powerful indictment will most likely make its primary impact in small-screen exposure — though the Trumpian war on industrial and environmental regulation lends it a particularly urgent relevancy.

“What we first see is rough old video footage shot by Wilbur Tennant, a West Virginia farmer who’d sold part of his property to DuPont. They’d said they’d use the land only to dispose of ‘non-hazardous’ substances, but he soon suspected otherwise — particularly once dogs, wildlife and his entire livestock herd died. His belligerent citizen activism was later echoed by Joe Kiger, an area schoolteacher turned whistleblower who grew uneasy about the impact of chemicals in drinking water, then more so as his questions to authorities (including the Environmental Protection Agency) were brushed off with evasive PR blather.

“Their community of Parkersburg, WVa., is the epicenter of woes from commercial use of C8, a compound long used in the manufacturing that is the town’s economic engine. Its variants are deployed not just in creating non-stick cookware, but everything from microwave popcorn bags to waterproofed Patagonia sportswear. There’s little discussion here of the potential impact on everyday consumers, beyond the fact that C8 can now be found in the bloodstream of nearly every American, and that it has a very long shelf life in landfills.

“Those who worked directly with the chemicals at the plant were the first to suffer ill health effects, including cancer and birth defects that in the case of Bucky Bailey required more than 30 corrective surgeries when he was just a child. Eventually the problems began drifting downriver to other towns whose water was contaminated by the same factories’ pollution.

“Damning evidence is presented here that DuPont knew of C8’s impact but hid and denied that knowledge — then took over production of the hazardous substance from 3M when that company stopped making the stuff due to the research findings. A class-action suit finally staggered toward a heavily compromised win for residents. Yet even that seemed to offer little assurance for the future: DuPont and others remain free to slightly change C8’s chemical formula and continue producing it, as indeed they’ve done.

“Mixing footage of public hearings, news reports and corporate ads, plus input from scientists and activists, The Devil We Know is a riveting tale of long-term irresponsibility and injustice. It’s made particularly infuriating by the contrast between workers who placed all trust in their employers’ goodwill, and the government agencies that did very little to intervene when it became obvious those workers were being often fatally victimized by knowing corporations. As with numerous other environmentally focused docus of late, this one underlines the extent to which the EPA has its hands tied by Byzantine federal/state control limitations, as well as excessive influence from the very corporate interests it should be patrolling.

“Soechtig presents an unusually engrossing docu for this type of subject, with human interest always in the forefront despite the complex timeline of events, issues and information presented. The director, whose prior docs Under the Gun and Fed Up were also well-received exposés (of the gun lobby and obesity-promoting food industry, respectively), presides over an expert assembly that’s sharp in every department.”

OCTOBER 17: Charm City (dir. Marilyn Ness)IFC Center synopsis: – “On the streets of Baltimore, shooting is rampant, the murder rate is approaching an all-time high and the distrust of the police is at a fever pitch. With nerves frayed and neighborhoods in distress, dedicated community leaders, compassionate law-enforcement officers and a progressive young city councilman try to stem the epidemic of violence. Filmed over three tumultuous years covering the lead up to, and aftermath of, Freddie Gray’s death in police custody, CHARM CITY is an intimate cinema verité portrait of those surviving in, and fighting for, the vibrant city they call home. Directed by renowned documentary producer Marilyn Ness (Cameraperson; Trapped; E-Team).”

OCTOBER 19: Brewmaster (dir. Douglas Tirola) (DP: Emilie Jackson)Cinema Village synopsis:Brewmaster artfully captures the craftsmanship, passion and innovation within the beer industry.The story follows a young ambitious New York lawyer who struggles to chase his American dream of becoming a brewmaster and a Milwaukee based professional beer educator as he attempts to become a Master Cicerone. Helping tell the story of beer are some of the best-known personalities in the industry including Garrett Oliver, Jim Koch, Vaclav Berka, Ray Daniels, Charles Papazian and Randy Mosher. Brewmaster creates a cinematic portrait of beer, those who love it, those who make it and those who are hustling to make their mark.”

OCTOBER 19: Caniba (dirs./DPs: Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel)Museum of the Moving Image synopsis: “This new film from the pioneering directors behind the landmark documentary Leviathan is a discomfitingly experiential portrait of unacceptable desires. On June 13, 1981, 32-year-old Sorbonne student Issei Sagawa was arrested in Paris after being caught discarding two suitcases containing the remains of his Dutch classmate, who he had murdered and begun to consume. Declared legally insane, he returned to Japan, where he has been a free man ever since. Though ostracized from society, Sagawa has made a living off his crime by writing novels, drawing manga, and appearing in salacious documentaries and sexploitation films. Meanwhile his brother, Jun Sagawa, harbors extreme impulses of his own. With Caniba, Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor—titans of Harvard’s celebrated Sensory Ethnography Lab—pursue a minimalist audiovisual strategy that is in some ways the inverse of the maximalist Leviathan, fostering unease and reflection through deceptively meandering conversation and subtly shifting focus. And as such Caniba is a singular cinematic experience: a horror movie by way of the documentary interview.”

OCTOBER 19: Can You Ever Forgive Me? (dir. Marielle Heller)New Yorker review by Richard Brody: “Melissa McCarthy has been in need of a substantial dramatic role for quite a while, and in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which opens on Friday, she gets one—and makes the most of it. But it’s clear, from the very first scene, that the movie, directed by Marielle Heller, is far more than just a showcase for McCarthy’s artistry. The film tells the story of the real-life writer and literary forger Lee Israel, and is based on Israel’s memoir of the same title. It is a fiercely composed, historically informed, and richly textured film, as insightful regarding the particularities of the protagonist as it is on the artistic life—and on the life of its times.

“The action begins in 1991 and is set in Manhattan. Lee, a proofreader working an overnight shift in a law firm and an object of her younger colleagues’ derision (which she repays in sarcasm), is fired on the spot, not for drinking on the job (which she’s brazenly doing) but for cursing out the young supervisor who reproaches her. Lee brusquely finishes her tumbler of Scotch, dumps the ice cubes into the garbage can under her desk, and puts the glass into her tote bag before leaving. The gestures have a pugnacious elegance; the text (from a script by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty) is rich in epigrammatic flair. Above all, Heller achieves an extraordinary, tense balance of moods and tones that yields sharp dramatic insight. Lee’s playful inventiveness and flamboyant attitudes do more than fuse with recklessly self-destructive behavior; they also incite and inspire it.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is set at the crossroads of money and art. Lee was once a biographer who appeared on the Times best-seller list, but she can no longer find a publisher for any of her projects of cultural history from a woman’s perspective. Her main plan, a biography of Fanny Brice—the comedian who was portrayed by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl—comes to naught. She’s never held a day job before, and her acerbic, cantankerous demeanor gets in the way of her keeping one now. In any case, as the movie makes clear, the research-heavy, travel-based work of nonfiction requires both time and money. The new, celebrity-heavy world of corporate-merger publishing has little room for her. No advances are forthcoming. Lee can’t pay her rent, nor can she pay the veterinarian to care for her aging cat. She even steals toilet paper (and other, more lavish commodities) from a publishing party. When she’s compelled to sell a prized possession—a letter Katharine Hepburn wrote her when she was working on a profile of the actress—a light bulb turns on in her mind.

“After finding, by chance, a letter from Brice between the pages of a library book, Lee steals it and tries to sell it. Learning that its value would be increased if its contents were spicier, she spices it up with a flourish of a P.S. that seems to emerge from her own mind-meld with her cherished subject. Lee quickly morphs from a biographer into impersonator, relying on the same skills that she used to enter into imaginative sympathy with the people she wrote about. She becomes, in effect, a writer of docufiction, setting up a cottage industry of fabricated letters from celebrities she ‘gets,’ including Marlene Dietrich, Noël Coward, Edna Ferber, and Dorothy Parker—writers whose identities are plotted on the dimensions of womanhood, gayness, Jewishness, sharp wit, and artistic talent. (The movie revels in the material specifics of her deceit, involving old manual typewriters, replicated letterheads, signatures that she forges by using an upturned TV set as a lightbox, and paper that she ages in her oven.)

“Lee is single, but is still in close mental proximity to her ex, Elaine (Anna Deavere Smith). She’s also back in touch with a former acquaintance, Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), a gay man who’s H.I.V.-positive, homeless, free-spirited, defiant, and—like Lee herself—quietly and proudly desperate. As their friendship grows, he takes note of Lee’s sudden and unwarranted solvency and asks about it. ‘Can you keep a secret?’ she asks. ‘Who would I tell?’ he replies; ‘All my friends are dead.’ The devastation of the AIDS crisis is also at the center of Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Heller, pointedly and surely, creates a work of mourning for its victims and of gratitude for the community of activists who fought for rights, respect, and treatment—and cared for the stricken among them.

“The movie is sharply historically informed, down to its urban geography. The bar that Lee frequents, and where she meets Jack, for the first time by chance and later by design, is Julius’, a longtime gay bar in the West Village and the site, in 1966, of the Sip-In, a historic protest against the city’s anti-gay laws and the bar’s own discriminatory practices. It’s not expressly a story of activism; Jack is depicted as an apolitical hedonist (he also gets involved in Lee’s criminal scheme), but he, too, is in his way an artist (also a heedless and sometimes destructive one)—an artist of life, whose ardent vitality contrasts cruelly with his fate.

“The decimation of the gay community marches alongside the decimation of the city’s artistic culture. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a movie of endings, a mournful film, suffused with an air of doom, in which the sort of genteel literary poverty that kept Lee going can no longer be sustained. Even the core of her art, her caustically aphoristic brilliance, comes off as a defense mechanism, not merely against the usual buffeting winds of life but against prying and suspicion from an age when L.G.B.T. people were the subject of severe legal discrimination and social prejudice. The scintillating verbal inventiveness that’s essential to her art, and to her personal allure, is also an electrified fence that enforces privacy, even at the price of desperate solitude.

“Heller’s geographic specificity includes appealing glimpses of some of the borough’s most picturesque bookstores—happily, ones that survive to this day, such as Argosy, Westsider, the Housing Works Bookstore Café, and Logos. With their venerable charm (filmed lovingly by Heller, with incisive, nearly matte-seeming cinematography by Brandon Trost), they nonetheless have the fragile air of survivors of a series of storms—and Lee’s own fraudulent sales of fabricated memorabilia turn out to be among the threats that these businesses face.

“These sales, and the confidence game that she plays with dealers in order to make them, are dramatized in outrageously careful criminal detail—as well as in their personal implications, both for Lee and for the buyers. In particular, a woman named Anna (played by Dolly Wells with a tremulous grace), who admires Lee’s voice and bearing, falls further under her spell, with painful results. The entire cast performs at a perfect pitch of slightly heightened tension that lends their range of emotions—confrontational worldliness, brave-faced struggle, solitary pride—a striving pitch of urbane intensity. In particular, Grant, as Jack, seems to bear a vast history of pleasure and trouble with a breezy flair, and, as Lee’s agent, Jane Curtin delivers hard wisdom with an intellectual boxer’s devastating deftness.

“Above all, McCarthy infuses the role of Lee with many levels of imagination. McCarthy is one of the most verbally inventive actors of the time and, playing a person of learning, imagination, and experience, her verbal inventiveness is no mere comedic adornment but the core of the character’s identity, and she flaunts it with a pathos that suggests the essential doubleness of art, its element of gaudy artifice as well as of intimate self-revelation. The pivot of the action is Lee’s unwillingness to expose her own life and character to the scrutiny and criticism of readers, and the gap that her inhibition—one born of her fortress of privacy—makes between her artistic soul and her artistic voice.

“The movie never excuses or minimizes Lee’s crimes (which eventually include the theft and sale of authentic letters); yet it considers them in the paradoxical light of her own talent, which, she asserts, was revealed more definitively in those forgeries than in her prior avowed works. The confessional book itself, on which the movie was based—and in which Israel cites and discusses these fraudulent works of her authentic artistry—provides a fascinating nonfiction view of these fictions. But the movie adaptation reaches beyond its source to broaden its backdrop and evoke resonant depths of mood, context, history, and perspective. It’s one of the rare movies that give a cinematic identity to literary creation, that virtually bursts with the athletic pleasure of imagination. Heller’s images are simple and poised, lucid but weighty—they vibrate with the expressive force that they condense and contain.”

OCTOBER 19 (in theaters & on VOD): Change in the Air (dir. Dianne Dreyer)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Change in the AIr opens in a modest home on a quiet street. An old man, Walter Lemke (M. Emmet Walsh), skips breakfast with his wife, Margaret (Olympia Dukakis), walks outside, and steps in front of an oncoming car. Deliberately. Moody Burkhart (Aidan Quinn), the police officer who responds to the accident, inquires about the woman, Wren Miller (Rachel Brosnahan), who placed the emergency call, but when he knocks on Wren’s door, she hides.

“The following day, Jo Ann & Arnie Bayberry (Mary Beth Hurt and Peter Gerety) return from a bird-watching expedition. Their next-door neighbor, Donna (Macy Gray), tells them Mr. Lemke is in the hospital and that she’s found a new tenant to sublet her apartment: Wren. When Mr. Lemke returns home, Jo Ann sees him sitting by himself in his front yard. She drags her lawn chair down the street and sets up beside him – invading his space with the best of intentions. Walter never says a word; Jo Ann never stops talking.

“Meanwhile, Josh (Satya Bhabha), the local mailman, daily delivers a large bag of letters to Wren’s door. In the days that follow, Jo Ann’s vigil on the Lemke lawn expands along with her fascination with Wren. But now it’s not just Jo Ann who is intrigued.

“This story embraces the imperfections that make us human, offers a way to set ourselves free and asks us all to take a good, long look at the wild birds in the sky.”

OCTOBER 19: An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn (dir. Jim Hosking) (DP: Nanu Segal)Newsweek review by Andrew Whalen: “We are all more like characters in An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn than anyone is likely to admit. Following the tangled relations between a vanload of people in the lead up to a mysterious event at the Moorhouse Hotel, the evening with Beverly Luff Linn itself, director Jim Hosking’s follow-up to 2016’s The Greasy Strangler isn’t as fevered (he co-wrote this film with David Wike), but does cut closer to the childish heart of humanity.

Beverly Luff Linn doesn’t have the same defenses as The Greasy Strangler, which layered Riki-Oh ’s gorey plastic bodies, prosthetic penises and a strange, almost arthouse ending over its essentially puerile (in a good way!) appeal. Luff Linn opens in similar territory, with profoundly doltish characters working a business that seems unworkable, in this case a franchise coffee shop that mostly deals in carnival-cup cappuccinos that disgust customers. But Beverly Luff Linn never offers a retreat into anything as surreal as a grease-covered serial killer, instead sticking close to more familiar discomforts, beginning with store manager Shane Danger (Emile Hirsch) awkwardly firing his wife, Lulu Danger (Aubrey Plaza), according to corporate edict.

“Shane’s feelings of inadequacy lead him to rob Lulu’s brother Adjay’s vegan shop of its cash box, which Lulu quickly absconds with, hiding in the Moorhouse with inept hired muscle and wannabe drifter-adventurer Colin Keith Threadener (Jemaine Clement). As Colin pines for Lulu from across the gap between their twin beds, Lulu pursues her great lost love, in town for a special engagement, Beverly Luff Linn himself (Craig Robinson).

“At first, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn feels like it’s playing with pieces of melodrama, crashing absurd characters against each other and watching them tangle. Aubrey’s Lulu brings to every encounter a faux-aristocratic contempt, smoldering out from her mothy, estate sale wardrobe as she contemptuously holds Colin aloft. Shane waves a gun around and stalks Lulu, but is completely absent of menace, thanks in part to the blonde wig and Rita Hayworth sunglasses that make up his disguise. That all of the romantic subplots swirl around Luff Linn, who speaks entirely in grunts and growls, seems to highlight how An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn doesn’t care about the content of its characters’ torments.

“It’s not a notion Beverly Luff Linn is quick to counter, especially when so much of what’s fun and funny about it is pitched at the exact level of appeal of playing with your food. (Even better than the cheesy onion rings Colin scarfs are the hotel bar drinks, each of which come with one of those jumbo Tootsie Roll logs as a stirrer.) Characters call each other names like ‘big fat penis face,’ while Lulu self-importantly chides Colin for eating bar nuts by telling him ‘You know those might have poo on them, you don’t want to get poo in your mouth, do you?’

“But then a strange thing happens: their childishness begins to feel less like flippancy and more like raw pathos. Colin’s laborious story of how he got his name (something to do with an uncle and… teeth?) isn’t poignant in itself, but Luff Linn leaves Clement the room to breathe a tragic, hangdog energy into his character. Rodney Von Donkensteiger’s (U.K. comic actor Matt Berry, opening another front in his slow invasion of American comedy) overbearing protectiveness of Luff Linn begins to feel less like a joke and more like true romance (which pays off sweetly in an after credits sequence).

“The mechanisms of this drama continue to be juvenile, but begin to feel less like immaturity and more like a sympathetic guilelessness, instantly identifiable to anyone who’s felt the emptiness at the heart of adulting like a boss. When a character condescendingly orders, ‘The Earl Grey, I’m sure you haven’t heard of it,’ I could feel the barb reach back and burst my own embarrassed memories of performing sophistication.

“What the actual, magical evening with Beverly Luff Linn reveals I will not spoil, except to say I was surprised by its romantic earnestness. An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn is an odd combination of characters who talk like playground bullies and an almost mystic somberness, as if ‘Twin Peaks’ invaded Best in Show. But what’s most impressive is how much open emotion emerges from its eerie, fart-haunted world.”

OCTOBER 19: Galveston (dir. Mélanie Laurent)Film School Rejects’ SXSW review by Matthew Monagle: “Here’s to films about sad-sack professional killers and the sex workers they love. For decades now, Hollywood has been telling elegiac stories of people on the run from lives of violence. Over time, this narrative has become cinema’s answer to the jazz standard, a familiar conceit that gives its performers ample opportunity to show off their own individual style. Mélanie Laurent’s Galveston is one such example within the genre; while there’s a thread of familiarity throughout the movie, her steady hand and the powerful performances of her leads give Galveston its own alluring sense of self.

“Roy Cady (Ben Foster) is dying. A lifelong smoker, Cady has just been given a terminal diagnosis by his doctor, and what little life Cady has cobbled together in New Orleans seems suddenly unimportant in light of his illness. He doesn’t care, for example, that his employer (Beau Bridges) seems to have stolen his girlfriend out from underneath him, but his boss cares, quite a bit, and would like to speed up Cady’s exit from this world. That’s why Cady is suspicious when he is told to intimidate a local lawyer but not to bring a gun; in the inevitable firefight, Cady leaves behind three dead bodies and gains Rocky Arceneaux (Elle Fanning), a sex worker whose only real sin is that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“After the two manage to calm their nerves with a few shots of whiskey – ‘Cheer up. You’re alive. I’m buying.’ – Arceneaux and Cady head out west, stopping on the Louisiana border to pick up her little sister along the way. Before long, they find themselves in the poorest part of Galveston, Texas, not sure what to do next but knowing their time together is probably limited. With nothing to lose and not much time left among the living, Cady begins looking for ways to potentially set up Arceneaux and her sister when he’s gone.

“Few actors embody the threat of violence quite like Ben Foster. From his recent supporting roles in Hostiles and Hell or High Water – not to mention his off-Broadway stint as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire – Foster seems born to play the abuser, a man hellbent on punishing those around him for the injustices he feels he’s been offered by the world. This sometimes leads us to forget Foster’s nuance as an actor. Foster finds little moments of fragility amidst the bravado and outrage; in one scene, for example, he contemplates a cigarette before choosing to light it, making a clear decision to embrace his end when it occurs.

“And then there’s Elle Fanning. Those familiar with her work in The Neon Demon know that Fanning possesses uncanny depth for an actress her age. With Arceneaux, she convincingly moves between innocence, innocence lost, and a calculated innocence that she uses to earn the trust of those around her. Galveston is cruel to Arceneaux, as it is to most of its characters, but Fanning’s performance keeps her character from ever falling into cliche. To borrow a phrase from another story set in Texas, there is a part of herself that she keeps just for herself; she has power, even if it’s just in the tough decisions she makes to keep ends together.

Galveston also presents an authorial puzzle for those willing to do the work. Rody Cady is unquestionably a character born from the mind of author Nic Pizzolatto; abusive, drunk, and quietly self-destructing, Cady possesses many of the characteristics we recognize from True Detective, the series that catapulted Pizzolatto to stardom (and just as quickly became his downfall with a lackluster Season 2). But unlike the characters in that series, Cady is deprived his victimhood by the women around him. His ex-girlfriend and the manager of his motel both see through Cady’s facade, and Rocky’s relationship with Cady is given a degree of independence by Fanning’s powerful performance. It’s hard not to wonder where Pizzolatto ends and where Laurent begins in the narrative. Galveston will undoubtedly make for a fine dissertation on adaptation one day.

“And what of Galveston itself? Outside of the film’s ill-conceived framing device of an impending hurricane, Galveston’s story is well-matched to its coastal setting. This is a city that has been wiped away by countless storms, only to rebuild unevenly across economic lines; at times, Galveston feels more like a movie borrowing from The Florida Project than a traditional crime thriller. Laurent delves into the poorest parts of the city to shoot her film – one particular tracking shot is like a guided tour of economic anxiety – allowing Galveston a sense of location unique to many of its peers. If Galveston is indeed just another hoary standard, then it proves more about the talent of the performer than the quality of the song. No noir can truly disappoint when you’ve got East Texas on your side.”

OCTOBER 19 (NYC), OCTOBER 24 (LA): On Her Shoulders (dir./DP: Alexandria Bombach)RogerEbert.com review by Nell Minow: “Four years ago, Nadia Murad Basee Taha was a teenager living in a Yazidi farm community in the Sinjar district of Iraq when ISIL took over the town, murdered 600 people, and captured the women and girls as sex slaves. She escaped three months later and has spent most of the time since speaking out on what happened to her and her people. This month, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This award-winning documentary tells her story.

Director Alexandria Bombach understands that there are two stories here. First there is the inspiring story of a young woman who had no ambitions of becoming a world figure but who overcame unthinkable loss and trauma by devoting herself to helping others. Then there is the story of a young woman who is forced to relive her most painful experience over and over and who is constantly bombarded by the overwhelming needs of others, from the photo-op sympathy of politicians and journalists to the heartbreak of her surviving community, most still living in refugee camps, who sob in her arms and beg her to get them some help.

Mostly, Bombach just lets the camera sit quietly as Murad goes through her exhausting schedule of meetings, media appearances, and book signings. She captures some telling images: a refugee lowering his fishing line into the ocean through a cracked panel in the fence around the camp, Murad touching a heavy chain around a locked gate, Murad’s comment on seeing a school marching band practice, ‘If this were in Iraq, someone would blow himself up.’ She gazes into a beauty salon mirror as her hair is wrapped around a curling iron. In one of her appearances before a UN assembly, we will learn something about what her long hair means to her.

Murad wants the world to hear her story and she is focused on a particular goal. She wants to be on the agenda of the meeting of world leaders in New York, to ask them to declare what happened to her people an official genocide and to give them justice. The process for getting the opportunity to speak to the assembly of Presidents and Prime Ministers is a daunting one. Early in the film she is preparing for what amounts to an audition. She will speak to a committee at the United Nations, and if she passes muster, she can move up to the next level.

“The time limit is strict. Her rehearsal for the initial presentation is 50 seconds over time so she has to figure out what to cut. If she takes out too much detail, the plea for help will have no weight. If she takes out the plea, she will leave without presenting a challenge to be met. When she has to shorten the speech for the final version, she eliminates the call to the world leaders to imagine what it would be like to be enslaved by ISIS because ‘What’s the benefit of asking them to imagine?’

“The film’s most affecting moments are when Murad speaks directly to the camera. She says that the only way she can deal with what she has suffered is to devote herself to helping the other girls who suffered, too, but do not have the opportunity to bring their stories to the world. She says she feels worthless, and will always feel that way until her people get justice.

She was content in her home in Sinjar, she tells us, doing chores, tending sheep, spending time with family, and hoping she could become a hairdresser, a place ‘where women and girls would see themselves as special.’ She wishes that people would know her as an excellent seamstress or athlete, not as a victim of ISIS terrorism.

It is at best bittersweet when she is named a goodwill ambassador by the UN. Her title carries as much tragedy as honor: Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. As Murad makes clear in her three minutes, there is no dignity without justice. There is only one border, she tells the presidents and prime ministers, ‘the border of humanity.’ We see this movie to learn who the young Nobel Peace Prize winner is, but in the end, it is about her challenging us to learn who we are.

OCTOBER 19: The Waldheim Waltz (dir. Ruth Beckermann)Metrograph synopsis: “When former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim ran for the presidency of Austria in 1986, he was suddenly haunted by the re-emergence of specters from his Nazi past, vehemently and disingenuously denied. Using archival material and her own vintage video footage of anti-Waldheim rallies which show anti-Semitism alive and well in the Europe of the mid-‘80s, Ruth Beckermann narrates this scintillating film, in which the combination of bald-faced lying by public figures, anti-media animus, and populist bully tactics speak all too clearly to our present moment.”

OCTOBER 19: What They Had (dir. Elizabeth Chomko)Vulture’s Sundance Film Festival review by David Edelstein: “Introducing her exquisite debut feature, What They Had, at Sundance, the writer-director Elizabeth Chomko addressed the movie’s initiating event — a woman with Alzheimer’s reaching the last-but-one stage, number six — only obliquely. Chomko painted a larger picture.

“‘Memory,’ she said, ‘is a gift we’re given. I don’t want to take it for granted.’ And so, in the film, the camera occasionally lingers on photos and home movies of Ruth (Blythe Danner) and her husband, Bert (Robert Forster), as they were in their 20s and 30s; and Ruth is tasked to carry a picture in a locket that can remind her, fleetingly, who the man across the table from her is.

“Before I get too lachrymose, I should mention that the movie has a lot of great laughs: The characters speak their minds and then some. The main couple isn’t the old one but a pair of middle-aged siblings, Bridget (Hilary Swank), and Nicky (Michael Shannon), who call each names like ‘turkey’ and ‘dingle-fairy’ and whose conversations often end in shouting matches. Bridget has flown in from Los Angeles to take some of the burden off Nicky and has brought her daughter, Emma (Taissa Farmiga), who’s been thrown out of her college dorm for drinking and is almost as prickly as her uncle. Nicky is being eaten alive by multiple stressors. He has poured all his money into a high-toned bar that his father has never deigned to visit. And he feels that he alone bears the responsibility for his mother’s well-being. He’s furious that Bert won’t put her in a facility for people with dementia, even after she has wandered into the snow in a nightgown and boarded a train. Bert is a stubborn cuss.

“Actually, ‘cuss’ is the exact wrong word. A devout Catholic, Bert abhors his kids’ swearing and believes it’s his duty is to care for his wife until the bitter end. Also, he adores her. The subtext (and Über-text) of What They Had is the impact of such an overbearing father on his children’s self-esteem. Bert compelled (impelled, bullied) Bridget to marry an up-and-comer she didn’t love and now can barely stand. (Seen very briefly and played by Josh Lucas, the husband seems a nice enough fellow but dull.) Bert also insists on belittling Nicky — a bar owner — by calling him a bartender. The crux of Nicky and Bridget’s arguments is that she has power of attorney over her parents but won’t stand up to them. Nicky hectors her, she squirms, Nicky hectors her, she squirms, and nothing happens.

“Because nothing happens for a while doesn’t mean What They Had droops. Swank manages the difficult task of looking powerfully indecisive — i.e., animating her inaction, making you feel her inner struggle. Shannon I can’t begin to praise enough. Only last week, in a review of the war movie 12 Strong, I said he remains on pace to act in more movies than anyone ever while also doing plays, and here he is again and as good as I’ve seen him. (A tall order: He was, believe it or not, a definitive Dr. Astrov in an intimate theater production of Uncle Vanya a few years back.) His Nicky is primed to jump at his family’s criticisms, which means he seizes on those times when he can criticize back. Nicky is often hilariously rude and often just rude.

“Blythe Danner has the difficult task of responding to everything and registering almost nothing. She does it beautifully, with lyricism. Perhaps there’s something romanticized about her — forgive me — blitheness. I don’t know, not having observed enough people with Alzheimer’s. I do know that the way in which she switches on a dime from a nurturing mother (greeting every new person with ‘There’s my baby!’) to a little girl who wants to go home is heartbreaking. Forster, meanwhile, anchors the movie. Without yelling, his Bert has a bullying power — the kind that comes from utter faith in his own rationality (not to mention the Catholic Church).

“Chomko — a one-time actress and playwright — went through something similar with her own grandparents, to whom the film is dedicated. (They appear in a photograph, of course.) She does something in What They Had that I’ve never seen in this kind of film: The family laughs at some of Ruth’s screwball-illogical interjections. This didn’t offend me in the least: Laughter is a coping device, and Ruth — being largely oblivious — laughs with everyone else. Those moments are always double-edged, though. There’s a wonderful bit when Nicky solemnly informs Bridget that his mother hit on him and they both go into hysterics. But later, as the film inches towards its climax, Nicky tells that to his dad, and it’s the first time we see Bert speechless, unable to process what he’s hearing. There’s raw power in Chomko’s writing, but so much scrupulousness and craft that you feel safe when the time comes to weep.”

OCTOBER 26 (streaming on Netflix): Been So Long (dir. Tinge Krishnan) (DP: Catherine Derry)Screen Daily’s London Film Festival review by Nikki Baughan: “Seven years after her debut film Junkhearts screened at the London Film Festival, director Tinge Krishnan returns with Been So Long, set to bow on Netflix on October 26 but screening first as a Special Presentation at the same festival. Fortunately, this vibrant musical love story is a rather more upbeat prospect than her first work. As established in the colourful opening musical number, in which the historic markets of Camden are transformed into a joyous streetdance, Che Walker’s adaptation of his own 1998 play — reimagined as a stage musical in in 2009 — seems to paint London as a town of optimistic possibility. That, together with the rising star power of Michaela Coel (Channel 4’s ‘Chewing Gum’), should pull in numbers for the SVOD giant.

“On the surface, this is a fairly standard love-conquers-all narrative, complete with familiar beats; the excitement of initial chemistry gives way to doubts, mistakes are made, decisions are hard-fought and, eventually, fate finds its way. Been So Long is, however, given additional texture thanks to its black female focus. Working from Walker’s astute screenplay, Coel is excellent as determined single mother Simone, unwilling to admit her vulnerabilities – her desire to protect her disabled daughter both admirable and an obvious smokescreen for her own fears. Ronke Adekoluejo is a particular standout as her brash best friend Yvonne, a fiercely proud woman entirely in control of her own sexual identity, whose character arc also calls for some genuinely moving soul searching of her own.

“Simone has worked hard to create a safe bubble for herself and her young girl — ‘It’s me and you against the world’ is her constant refrain — but when she meets Raymond (Arinze Kene), recently out of prison and working to get back on his feet, their instant connection is like an emotional wrecking ball. While Yvonne encourages her to spread her wings — ‘Your vagina called me, and told me it’s dying,’ she admonishes — Simone finds herself locked in a battle between past mistakes and future happiness.

“Indeed, the entire cast, which also features George MacKay as a troubled young addict, shoulders the story with energy and personality; no mean feat when it also requires them to belt out Arthur Darvill’s original songs (rearranged for the screen by music producer and score composer Christopher Nicholas Bangs) and carry out some intricate choreography. While all are confidently handled by Krishnan, some of these moments work better than others — Yvonne’s ‘I Want A Fella’ is a raucous, feminist highlight, while Raymond’s bar seduction song is, perhaps intentionally, rather more awkward.

“Crucially, underneath the music and the soft-focus romance Been So Long makes some poignant observations about community, family and the importance of connection. Most obviously, that plays out in Simone’s personal experiences; that her own father left her mother, and her daughter’s father also walked out, has clearly shaped the cautious, independent woman she is today. It’s also important that, even as she falls in love with Raymond, it’s Simone’s relationship with her daughter and Yvonne that are the strongest in the film, and the ones she works hardest to maintain.

“In a wider sense, Been So Long also highlights how traditional social structures are being eroded. ‘People don’t want inclusivity, they want exclusivity,’ says the owner of a new local bar and, as cinematographer Catherine Derry lingers on the fading facades and shuttered buildings of Camden, it’s a reminder of how gentrification is redrawing the lines of community there. But, as her camera drinks in the stunning London skyline, or vivid sequences of people from all walks of life dancing in unison, it’s also clear that the film’s message is rather more optimistic. If we’re open to new experiences, and new people, we can still find our place.”

OCTOBER 26: The Long Shadow (dir. Frances Causey with co-dir. Maureen Gosling)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Of all the divisions in America, none is as insidious and destructive as racism. In this powerful documentary, the filmmakers, both privileged daughters of the South, who were haunted by their families slave owning pasts, passionately seek the hidden truth and the untold stories of how America—guided by the South’s powerful political influence—steadily, deliberately and at times secretly, established white privilege in our institutions, laws, culture and economy.

“William Faulkner once said, ‘The past is never dead. The past is not even past.’ And this echoes one scholar’s warning in the film: ‘We’re still fighting the Civil War, and the South is winning.’ Anti-black racism has survived like ‘an infection,’ rigging the game against African-Americans and denying them full access to the American dream.

“By telling individual stories—of free, enterprising blacks in Canada; of a modern, racially motivated shooting—the filmmakers movingly personalize the costs and the stakes of our continued inaction. The Long Shadow presents a startling, unrecognized history that provides much needed context when considering the major issues impacting black/white relations in the United States today.

“Finally, The Long Shadow is a masterful film that captures the disturbing story of the enduring human cost of prejudice and ignorance in the US that continues to cast a long shadow over our national identity and values and ultimately, our celebrated democracy.”

OCTOBER 26 (in theaters & streaming on Netflix): Shirkers (dir. Sandi Tan) (DP: Iris Ng)IndieWire’s Sundance Film Festival review by Eric Kohn:Shirkers is a documentary about the production of an uncompleted movie, but it doubles as an upgraded version of the missing project itself. As a punk teen in early-nineties Singapore, Sandi Tan wrote a feminist slasher movie for the ages, an exploitation road movie designed to ruminate on the energy of youth, creativity, and alienation. The director, a much older American high school instructor with dubious motives, stole the film canisters for unknown reasons and vanished into the mist; two decades later, Tan has completed a fascinating personal look at her quest to uncover his motives, resurrecting the significance of her original intentions in the process.

“Tan’s actual debut, Shirkers takes its title from her earlier effort, an adorably deranged slasher movie in which she starred as a bored young woman killing men to pass the time. Though her old pals celebrate its relevance to Singapore’s minuscule film community at the time, Tan — whose voiceover, hand-scrawled credits and substantial archival materials guide the narrative — sees it more as representative of her artistic awakening. As her older mentor’s greed and envy leads to tragic circumstances, Shirkers becomes a paean to the pivotal moment when the idealism of young adulthood faces a harsh reality check.

“With her best pals Jasmine Ng (later a filmmaker in her own right with 1999’s Eating Air) and Sophie Siddique, both of whom appear in Shirkers as their adult selves, Tan found an outlet from her drab surroundings through the subversive discoveries of loud music, Jim Jarmusch movies and underground zines. With a wondrous score underlining this dynamic period in her life, Tan reflects on what it meant to live on a small island nation and uncover the prospects of escapism through storytelling: ‘I had the idea that you found freedom with worlds inside your head.’

“Enter Georges Cardona, an assertive fortysomething who takes an interest in fostering his students’ enthusiasm for film history, even as his tactics seem questionable in retrospect. Far more than a classroom instructive, Cardona takes Sandi and her friends around for late-night drives, as old VHS footage documents their joy rides through empty roads as if they’ve broken into the set of Trash Humpers. Cardona may be crossing boundaries with his students, but they’re just thrilled to break all the rules.

“At first, he’s Tan’s key to realizing the creative utopia in her head, as the pair travels America together before she starts college in London. Then she writes the screenplay for Shirkers, and Cardona gives her the confidence to bring it to life. The production becomes a communal affair, but Cardona lords over it with a destructive air that only worsens as time goes on; he seems to consciously slow the production’s progress before stealing the end result, presumably obstructing Tan’s success as a twisted means of spreading his own failures to feel less alone in the world.

Shirkers didn’t vanish forever because its footage becomes the backbone of Tan’s documentary. The filmmaker finally scored the footage decades later, and in the process, learned more about Cardona’s deranged track record. The root of his motives is ultimately less revelatory than the way the movie uses it to explore the fragile nature of artistic desire and what can happen when it’s left unsatisfied. Cardona may have succeeded at spreading his malady, but Tan’s innovative diaristic project means that she gets the last word.

Shirkers has the handmade delicacy of a scrapbook come to life, blending ample footage from the original production with candid modern-day interviews and photography. Equal parts travelogue and archival rescue mission, the ensuing drama becomes a microcosm of broader themes. While the interest surrounding Tan’s project speaks to the limited field of Singapore’s film industry, her initial passion as a young cinephile reflects the state of a country capable of absorbing Western culture without cementing a cultural revolution of its own.

“Having established such potent themes and an intriguing central mystery, Shirkers falls short of a satisfying solution by its final third. Tan seems hesitant to reach firm answers about Cardona’s story, or the root of his obsession with her in the first place. Fortunately, those questions mainly serve as a conduit to discussions about her passion for the project.

“Whether it was a botched masterpiece or simply an idealistic young woman’s first stab at finding her creative voice, Tan can’t say. After shifting careers from production to criticism before finding her way back again, she has produced a remarkable statement on the formation of a creative identity across many years and life experiences. Whatever the original intentions of Shirkers, some two decades years later, she found out a way to complete it on her own terms.”

OCTOBER 26: Viper Club (dir. Maryam Keshavarz)The Landmark at 57 West synopsis: “ER nurse Helen Sterling (Susan Sarandon) struggles to free her grown son, a journalist captured by terrorists in the Middle East. After hitting walls with the FBI and State agencies, she discovers a clandestine community of journalists, advocates, and philanthropists who might be able to help. Co-starring Matt Bomer, Lola Kirke, Julian Morris, Sheila Vand, Adepero Oduye and Edie Falco. Directed and co-written by Maryam Keshavarz (Circumstance).

OCTOBER 26: Weed the People (dir. Abby Epstein) (DPs: Paulo Netto, Richard Pearce and Jenna Rosher)Film Journal International review by Gary M. Kramer:Weed the People is director Abby Epstein’s effective exploration into the way cannabis oil is being used as an alternative medicine for kids battling cancer. The film introduces several patients, from Sophie Ryan, a baby with a brain tumor, to AJ Kephart, a teenager with stage 4 bone cancer, to show how they are responding to doses of cannabis oil—often in conjunction with chemotherapy. The results, as the film shows, are nothing short of miraculous.

“The stories are all heartfelt. Epstein wants Weed the People to provide folks with hope. It may jerk tears when one subject encounters a setback, or another patient loses their battle with cancer, but there will also be tears of joy with the film’s multiple success stories.

“A significant part of the documentary is devoted to questioning the dearth of research for medical marijuana in the U.S. and the government’s lack of support for the viability of cannabis oil’s medicinal properties. (The DEA declined loosening restrictions on medical marijuana.) Because marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, it is not tested for its healing properties—despite its use a century ago, before weed was criminalized. Moreover, scientists in Israel and Spain are making great progress in showing how cannabis is killing cancer cells. THC is shown for reducing tumor growth and metasticization.

“As such, individuals who believe in the healing properties of marijuana are on the front lines of this battle, and Weed the People showcases the important and groundbreaking work they are doing in the field. Dr. Bonni Goldstein, a cannabis physician, counsels patients and provides support for families like the Petersons, who have to move from Chicago to California to be eligible for medical marijuana.

“Likewise, Mara Gordon, co-founder of Aunt Zelda’s Oil, creates THC and CBD oils that are given to her patients to kill cancer cells in exchange for collecting their data (to determine efficacy). Her efforts are altruistic; she makes her oils in her kitchen, and charges families for the source plant but absorbs her overhead costs. Mara claims she doesn’t have medical training, but she does have experience, and her skills and care provide invaluable support for her patients and their families. Weed the People generates some drama when Tracy, the mother of a patient Mara is treating, becomes a ‘momcologist,’ and starts her product line, CannaKids. Tracy stopped using Mara’s more expensive products and used the knowledge she gained from working with Mara to her own ends.

“The ethical, legal and financial aspects of this burgeoning industry are indirectly addressed by Epstein’s film. There are some discussions of the expense, and Jim von Harz raises money through a fund to help supply cannabis oil for his daughter’s ongoing treatment. One mom, Angela Smith, is given an oil that is determined to contain rubbing alcohol, suggesting that there are hucksters out there offering faulty products. Moreover, when the Peterson family return to Chicago, ‘angel donors’ illegally send cannabis shipments to continue their son’s treatment. These are all fascinating if underexplored topics that could easily support another film on the subject of medical marijuana.

“But the broad approach and focus on the families and practitioners here is not a major drawback. Although Weed the People is one-sided—in that it does not give a voice to opponents of medical marijuana—this seems like a deliberate decision. Epstein is using the impassioned testimonies of parents to makes the film’s salient points.

“Several parents saw cannabis oil therapy as a last resort—because they were willing to try anything to save their children. In doing so, they become the treatment’s greatest advocates. As mothers like Tracy and Angela are amazed by the noticeable changes in their kids’ health, viewers, too, cannot help but be moved by the good news they receive and the support they get from their kids’ oncologists. It is gratifying to see footage of Angela’s son Chico, who suffers from a soft tissue cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma, lying listlessly on the couch in early scenes riding a bike by the film’s end. When Chico wants to get a grow kit for his 14th birthday, it is both provocative and oddly satisfying.

Weed the People makes a convincing case for the progress and advances most of the kids profiled here experience. The film wears its bias proudly, as it wants to foment change and save lives. That message comes across clearly here, even if some folks may remain skeptical.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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