SPLit Preview

TheQueenIn her stunning new film, writer/director Deborah Kampmeier uses familiar images from her prior films (e.g., the naked women in the lake in VIRGIN, the snakes in HOUNDDOG, etc) to go in daring new directions that are even deeper, darker & more rewarding.

Amy Ferguson is very good as "Inanna" (an actress piecing together a career in New York's Indie Theatre scene), but Morgan Spector is a revelation as "Derek" (a tormented artist who makes brilliant theatrical masks which seem to have been born in Julie Taymor's worst nightmares).

SPLIT is not for the faint of heart & I have no doubt it will prove to be just as controversial as VIRGIN and HOUNDDOG. But remember this: no one knew Elizabeth Moss before Kampmeier cast her as the lead in VIRGIN, and Dakota Fanning had only played kid roles before Kampmeier cast her as the lead in HOUNDDOG. She also cast Robin Wright in key supporting roles in both films. So if actresses of this stature have put their trust in Deborah Kampmeier, then so should you!

NOTE: I have only seen SPLit in a small-format preview, but my extremely experienced film critic gut tells me it will be even better on a Big Screen... So I will hold my full review for the NYC theatrical release :-)

Announcing

Photo Credits: ???

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FEVER

maxresdefaultA quintessential French film, Fever was written by Alice Zeniter and director Raphaël Neal, and based on a novel written by Leslie Kaplan. “By chance” two young men murder a stranger and must live with what they have done, and suffer the consequences—or lack thereof—for committing such a crime. (JEP: 3/5)

Pour qu'il y ait un crime, il faut qu'il y ait une raison personnelle. Un motif, un mobile personnels. Mais si on suit le bastard…

“For it to be a crime, there has to be a personal reason. A personal motive. But if it happens by chance…”

Review by Contributing Editor Jessica E. Perry

Based on a novel written by Leslie Kaplan, Fever opens with a murder. Against a black screen, only the sounds of a woman meeting her end can be heard. Two high-school aged boys—“Damien Hersant” (Martin Loizillon) and “Pierre Simonet” (Pierre Moure)—exit an apartment building.

In their haste, they run into a young woman walking to work. They murmur their apologies and all but run down the street. She bends down and retrieves a single black glove the boys left behind in their haste.

The next day, this same woman, “Zoé” (Julie-Marie Parmentier), learns of the murder on the morning news. She flashes back to the two boys running down the street, and is convinced that they murdered the woman on the television.

0f2df0365a2e89d4a23218afdb12d2fdNow of course, she is right. We know this because the film shifts between two different points of view, weaving together two separate storylines—the personal lives of Damien and Pierre, and also Zoe’s.

For the duration of the film, Damien and Pierre live their lives after committing their crime. Their struggles—or lack thereof—follow them as they discuss finding (or perhaps more appropriately, “happening upon”) a second victim.

Meanwhile, Zoe struggles to keep the love alive with her boyfriend, while at the same time, wrestling with her conscience about whether or not to report what she saw to the police.

Categorized as a “French Thriller” Fever has few “thriller” components to it at all. The film boasts a soundtrack reminiscent of a Jean-Luc Godard film, but that does not make it one. Yes, Damien and Pierre commit a murder, but that murder is off screen and happens at the very beginning in the movie. Throughout the film not much actually happens, and there are absolutely no consequences for any of the characters. Although the boys display sociopathic tendencies—primarily Damien—their life is seemingly unaffected by their crime…and remains as monotonous as ever. Making for a monotonous film.

The film director Raphaël Neal delivered left me conflicted. Did I enjoy Fever or did I hate it? The verdict: I just cannot forgive a supposed “thriller” that threatens to put me to sleep.

© Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (9/1/15)In the Park

Top Photo: Zoé ponders her choices, while getting ready to go out on the town.

Middle Photo: Damien starts to wrestle with his choices.

Bottom Photo: Pierre and Damien wondering where they go from here.

Photo Credits: Artsploitation Films

Q: Does Fever pass the Bechdel Test?RedA

 Yes, but barely.

Two fellow (female) students come over to visit Damien and Pierre one day when school is on holiday break. They ring the bell a few times, but the boys never come to the door. The two women discuss whether or not they should just leave, and ultimately decide to do just that.

 

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I TOUCHED ALL YOUR STUFF

ITouchedAllYourStuffCo-directors Maíra Bühler and Matias Mariani document the story of a long con, a perplexing and intriguing mystery until its lackluster, underwhelming third act. (BKP: 3/5)

Review by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Fifteen years ago, Christopher Kirk was just your average Joe. He worked a typical nine-to-five job as an IT technician in Seattle and spent free time with his close group of friends and loving family. Everything changed when he traveled to Colombia to see hippos (It’s a long story!)

Directors Bühler and Mariani allow Kirk to recount his story from his own point of view. As he narrates the events that led to his imprisonment, the filmmakers sort through footage on Kirk’s laptop - comparing reality to Kirk’s version of the story. Some of the facts are the same, some are different. Maybe showrunners Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi of Showtime’s The Affair would take great interest and inspiration from this documentary about varying points of view. The difference? Christopher Kirk’s story is not fiction.

As he tells it, when he arrived in Colombia - Vto see hippos, mind you - women were fawning all over him, desperately in need of an American boyfriend. One of the women, apparently the most timid of the bunch, was a Japanese/Colombian beauty whom Kirk refers to as “V” for the remainder of the film. The two began a whirlwind romance, full of mystery and jealousy, long-distance struggles and manipulation. As he describes his relationship with “V,” Bühler and Mariani scroll through his computer’s hard drive, opening pictures and videos as stock footage to visually narrate Kirk’s words. Mystery-girl “V” is only shown through blurry photos.

Christopher Kirk, himself, is what keeps the film’s momentum going. You don’t know whether he is telling the truth, lying or blending both together to create the perfect narrative. You don’t know whether he is really your “average Joe” or a criminal. Much like a juicy episode of Dateline, I Touched All Your Stuff keeps you on the edge of your seat for a good part of the film.  Who is “V”? Why was Christopher Kirk so enthralled with her life? What exactly happened in those months that made him end up in prison?

Although I could have researched what happened on my own, I wanted to keep watching and hear it for myself. Unfortunately, I was met with disappointment - so much buildup for so little satisfaction! Although they could not have changed the ending (it is a documentary, after all) the build-up to the conclusion was far more powerful than the conclusion itself.

© Brigid K. Presecky FF2 Media (8/29/15)

chris3

Middle Photo: Mystery-girl “V” is only shown through blurry photos.

Bottom Photo: Christopher Kirk sits in a Brazilian prison and tells his bizarre story

Photo Credits: Cinema Slate

Q: Does I Touched All Your Stuff pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

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MY VOICE, MY LIFE

MyVoice1Director Ruby Yang shows a heartfelt look at the struggles and hardships of Chinese teenagers as they join together to make their own high school musical. With engaging subject matter, My Voice, My Life focuses on disadvantaged youth, the often-overlooked civilians of Chinese population. (BKP: 4/5)

Review by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

If the hit musical/comedy television show Glee was set in Hong Kong, China rather than Lima, Ohio … you’d get a good sense of what director Ruby Yang is going for in her documentary My Voice, My Life. Instead of belting out ballads at regionals, this real-life group of 31 high school students are on a mission to make a musical. But there’s a catch! Unlike the academically-advanced Asian stereotype, these students are in a third-tier education system and have disabilities ranging from behavioral issues to sight impairment - and have six months to complete their task.

Yang captures the insecurities and fears of different teenagers (Ah Bok, Fat Yin, Sio Fan, Tsz Nok) as they express their love for singing and dancing. Whether they have problems at home or at school, they find an inner confidence at rehearsals by expressing themselves through art. One young girl, in particular, hits her stride while auditioning for a male role, singing:

Looking back now at the pastmyvoice2

At the girl I used to be

Self-indulgent, living fast

I hoped one day I would be free

Of all the pain within me

 

When the casting director announces that she (Coby) gets the part, the genuine excitement and awe in her face perfectly exemplifies the theme of the film - how there is a place for everyone. You may not be the smartest or the best or the most popular, but there is a place for you.

Watching the inspiring journey of these students is like watching a feel-good feature film, a different route for Yang, who won an Oscar in 2007 for The Blood of Yingzhou District, a short film about Chinese AIDS orphans. This time, the high-school set film is lighter in tone and taps into the untouched world of the Chinese majority. According to Yang in an interview with Xfinity ASIA, it is a common misconception that Chinese youth have a strict, intense educational system. In fact, that stereotype is based on merely 20% of the population.

Yang brings you into this world, exploring the varying personalities and diverse backgrounds of these energetic, enthusiastic teenagers. Unlike many slower-paced documentaries, these teenagers add a layer of freshness and relevancy to My Voice, My Life. Likewise, Yang (also the film’s editor) makes a point of focusing on the faculty and staff’s involvement, with their dedication and guidance playing a key factor in the musical’s success.

The mix of light-heartedness and serious subject matter is the perfect blend of emotion that keeps the film balanced and engrossing. Sure, the payoff is rewarding, but the journey of making the musical is the reason to watch. As My Voice, My Life puts it, “A journey of character and art … unsettles and elevates each ordinary yet precious life.”

© Brigid K. Presecky FF2 Media (8/31/15)

myvoicemylife

Top Photo: A visually impaired student, Tsz Nok, participates in the school musical

Middle & Bottom Photos: Opening night of the musical, the result of a six-month-long rehearsal

Photo Credits: CINEMAflix Distribution

Q: Does My Voice, My Life pass the Bechdel Test?

Not really.

There is a female focus, but does not pass the Bechdel Test.

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THE SECOND MOTHER

thesecondmother_by-alinearruda-aa_7641_wide-68b13b066e6cfa758656de466edf6da4d00c5332-s900-c85Written and directed by Anna Muylaert, The Second Mother follows Val, a live-in housekeeper who is like a mother to the son of the family she works for, but has been estranged from her own daughter for years. Muylaert delivers a subtle yet beautiful dramatic film about family and second chances. (JEP: 4/5)

Review by Contributing Editor Jessica E. Perry

“Val” (Regina Casé) has worked as a housekeeper for the same family for years. When she began, “Fabinho” (Michel Joelsas) was just a little boy, asking her insistently when his mother was going to come home. With two absentee, although caring, parents Fabinho has come to regard Val as family.

Now all grown up, Val is still the one Fabinho turns to, still the one he comes to when he cannot sleep. His mother, “Barbara” (Karine Teles) struggles to make the same connection with Fabinho that he has with Val.

Although Val may be like a second mother to Fabinho, she has been an absentee parent to her own daughter “Jéssica” (Camila Márdila). She has not seen her daughter, who is about the same age as Fabinho, in ten years.

One day Val receives a call from Jéssica asking if she can come live with her. Jéssica wishes to come to study for her examinations, as she is hoping to get into an architecture university in the very same town in which Val lives. Barbara and her husband “Carlos” (Lourenco Mutarelli) readily agree that Jessica can stay on an additional mattress in Val’s room.

However, when Jéssica arrives, her free-spirited nature begins to cause friction between Val and her employers. Jéssica does not understand how her mother can be content living day-to-day treated like a second-class citizen. But Val does not understand how Jessica can walk around the house like she is better than everyone else.

The two women must learn to understand each other, and how to once again be a family. Val sacrificed raising her daughter in order to have a job that paid her enough so she could send money home to the family. Naturally, as any young child would, Jéssica felt abandoned.

The Second Mother is a beautiful film that captures the importance of family—blood related or not—and the beauty of second chances. Anna Muylaert, who both wrote and directed the film, has surely done her job. The Second Mother has already won five awards, including the Special Jury Prize and Grand Jury prize for World Cinema-Dramatic film at this year’s Sundance film festival.

Regina Casé was an absolutely delight as Val. I was invested in her story from beginning to end, her performance subtle but entirely convincing. Camila Márdila appears to be relatively new to the film world, as The Second Mother is only her third IMDB credit. She is surely one to watch out for, as she was perfectly cast as Jéssica and her performance was wonderful to watch.

© Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (8/29/15)The_Second_Mother_Still

Top Photo: Val takes a break from a stressful day.

Bottom Photo: Jéssica and Val do not see eye to eye.

Photo Credits: Oscilloscope Pictures

Q: Does The Second Mother pass the Bechdel Test?RedA

Yes, definitely!

Val and her daughter share many moving scenes, depicting their estrangement and different worldviews. But what sets them apart eventually brings them back together, once the two women are able to find common ground.

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WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS

Opens tomorrow (8/28/15) in NYC. Review coming soon…

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ZIPPER

TheMarkZipper is a tense, riveting film about "male privilege." Patrick Wilson plays a prosecutor who has risen to the top of his local queue and is now under consideration for high political office. But when a new witness in an ongoing investigation offers him a peak into the world of high-priced "escorts," his well-ordered world suddenly turns upside down.

Zipper was directed by Mora Stephens. She also co-wrote the screenplay in collaboration with Joel Viertel. Brava! (JLH: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Media Managing Editor Jan Lisa Huttner

Nothing makes my day (when in film critic mode) like walking into a film with relatively low expectations, but coming out saying: WOW!

© Jan Lisa Huttner FF2 Media (8/28/15)

TheCandidate

Top Photo: Patrick Wilson as "Sam Ellis" fights to keep it all together.

Bottom Photo: Ellis with his family in a critical press interview.

Photo Credits: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

Q: Does Zipper pass the Bechdel Test?

No, but this film requires that all the female characters exist in isolation from one other, including his wife "Jeannie" (superbly played by Lena Headey). That is part of reason why the system of "male privilege" is so hard to fight. Possibility for change only happens if and when these women finally find each other. Just ask Bill Cosby...

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THE GREAT MAN

HaircutThe Great Man is a great movie--one of the best I have seen so far in 2015. Two young men from very different parts of the world meet and bond in the French Foreign Legion. When they are ambushed in Afghanistan, one makes great sacrifices to save the other, but once separated, their paths diverge.

Second collaboration between director Sarah Leonor and co-screenwriter Emmanuelle Jacob. Much welcome proof that Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker will not be the only film in which women filmmakers provide brilliant insights into an all-male military. (JLH: 5/5)

Top Photo: Reunited with his son "Khadji" (Ramzan Idiev), the first thing "Markov" (Surho Sugaipov) does is give the boy a military haircut that matches his own.

Photo Credits: Claire Nicol

Q: Does The Great Man pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

There are a few women around the edges, but they don't really interact with one another. This is a film about male bonding, so it is as it should be.

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LEARNING TO DRIVE

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 10.45.32 PMIsabel Coixet brings us a feel good unconventional romantic comedy about a woman going through a divorce, who decides it is time to learn to drive so she can visit her daughter. Through all the ups and downs, she finds surprising support and friendship from her driving instructor. (JEP: 3/5)

Review by Contributing Editor Jessica E. Perry (plus Jan adds her Two Cents at the very bottom)

“Wendy” (Patricia Clarkson) and her husband “Ted” (Jake Weber) have done everything right. They live in a beautiful brownstone in Manhattan, share a love of books, and have been great parents to their daughter “Tasha” (Grace Gummer)—who is now a grown woman and out of the house.

But one day Wendy learns that Ted has been cheating, and that it is not just another one of his “phases”, but instead long-term, and cause to end their marriage. Alone in Manhattan, Wendy is left to deal with all the mess that comes with divorce.

One morning there’s a knock at the door of the brownstone, and when Wendy opens the door, she finds “Darwan” (Sir Ben Kingsley) standing there with a package in his hand. He has come to return something that Wendy left in his cab. As he leaves, she sees he is driving a different car, and then she spots the sign atop it that advertises driving lessons. Darwan won't accept a tip for the return of her package, so Wendy asks how she can contact him about driving lessons.

It turns out Wendy does not have a driver’s license because in Manhattan she’s never needed one. Anytime they went anywhere, Ted would drive. But Wendy’s situation has changed, and in an effort to visit her daughter in Vermont, she decides to take driving lessons.

Meanwhile, Darwan is being pestered by his sister back in India to find a wife. He eventually agrees to an arranged marriage, and his soon-to-be wife “Jasleen” (Sarita Choudhury) comes to Queens where they will be wed.

Darwan is a patient teacher and a good listener and Wendy may be a nervous student, but she is caring and takes an interest in Darwan’s life and culture. The two find common ground, and a friendship (with a poorly executed romantic storyline) grows. Both are going through drastic shifts in their lives and they lean on each other for support.

Learning to Drive was well intentioned and a nice watch. But it was just nice. There were silly flaws in the storyline where there did not need to be, flaws that appeared to have been overlooked by screenwriter Sarah Kernochan.

The haphazard romantic hints between Darwan and Wendy were completely unnecessary, and honestly, at times uncomfortable. What the two characters needed from each other, and eventually received, was friendship and guidance—not romance. So the romantic undercurrent was awkward and made for out of character moments for both Wendy and Darwan.

However, both Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley delivered strong endearing performances, begging me to love the film more than I did. As a whole, Learning to Drive was good time at the theater and a feel good film. But try as I may, I cannot say director Isabel Coixet hit it out of the park.

© Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (8/23/15)

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 9.48.53 PMTop Photo: Darwan marries Jasleen in a traditional Sikh wedding ceremony.

Middle Photo: Wendy and Darwan mid driving lesson.

Bottom Photo: Darwan rewards Wendy with a trip to the beach after she successful crosses her first bridge.

Photo Credits: Linda Kallerus

Q: Does Learning to Drive pass the Bechdel Test?RedA

Yes!

Wendy and her daughter Tasha discuss Tasha's decision to live in Vermont. Tasha points out that Wendy will never be able to visit her there if she doesn't learn how to drive.

Meanwhile Jasleen finally finds the courage to explore Queens by herself. She meets a new friend in a convenience store who then introduces her to other women in the Indian ExPat community.

+ JAN'S TWO CENTS: Wendy also has a few crack-up scenes with Samantha Bee as her sister "Debbie." Are riffs on Blow Jobs about a man, about men in general, or what? Me, I think riffs on Blow Jobs are riffs on Blow Jobs, and in my book, riffs on Blow Jobs pass the Bechdel Test 😉

Jan2Cents

This old lady is a bit sad to learn that Jess is so hard on Wendy and Darwan :-(

Without giving too much away, I don't think Wendy ever has a romantic interest in Darwan (altho she is certainly intrigued by and mystified by the concept of an arranged marriage). But by the end, it becomes clear that Darwan cares a bit more for Wendy than he should. The question is what interests him and why, and this requires the viewer to "follow the breadcrumbs" to the heart of darkness in Darwan's past.

Darwan grew up in Punjab. He was a university professor who came from a prominent Sikh family, but that life ended when they were caught up in India's crackdown on militants after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984. Darwan tells Wendy that he, his parents, and his brothers were all imprisoned and tortured. He tells Wendy that the only family member who not imprisoned was his sister, and she only escaped because the authorities thought she was too young to have any involvement in whatever the authorities thought the rest of Darwan's family was involved in (which is never actually specified). What is specified is that Darwan arrived in the USA in 2000, and he was granted political asylum... right before 9/11...

So this very refined and educated man has been living an extremely lonely life for decades, with none of the intellectual stimulation he once took for granted. And then he meets Wendy... ConeyIsland

In this chamber music duet, Wendy is the soprano and Darwan is the pianist. Even though Kingsley--who won an Oscar playing Mahatma Gandhi in 1982--gives Clarkson all of his attention, the film loses its meaning if we lose sight of him.

This is director Isabel Coixet's second film with Kingsley. The first was Elegy (co-starring Penelope Cruz), which I also loved. Once again, Coixet's casting is impeccable. Grace Gummer is lovely as "Tasha," as is Sarita Choudhury as “Jasleen.” (Old folks like me might remember Choudhury from her steamy love scenes with Denzel Washington in Mira Nair's film Mississippi Masala; youngsters might recognize her as someone currently playing a supporting role on Homeland.) Samantha Bee is a hoot as Wendy's sister "Debbie," and Avi Nash (who plays Darwan's nephew "Preet") is absolutely adorable.

After one too many INS raids, Preet--who has been hiding out illegally in Darwan's apartment--tells Darwan that he is moving to Chinatown to live with his girlfriend. Not to worry, says Preet, she's Jewish... and yes, my heart did a little leap in that moment for the miracle that is America!

Bottom Line: This time Jessica and I must agree to disagree. For me, Coixet definitely did "hit it out of the park." (JLH: 4.5/5)

© Jan Lisa Huttner FF2 Media (8/24/15)

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SLOW LEARNERS

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 9.47.21 AMAdam Pally and Sarah Burns star as two nerdy, bookish co-workers who transform into “cooler” versions of themselves to try and find happiness. The laugh-out-loud romantic comedy knows it’s cliche, but gives the audience a ride that is thoroughly enjoyable. (BKP: 5/5)

Review by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

High-school librarian “Anne” (Sarah Burns) loves books, her cat sweater and tidying up Red Solo cups at parties. Her best friend, high school guidance counselor “Jeff” (Adam Pally) has little luck in the love department and spends his weekends with his book club buddies. When school lets out for the summer, Anne and Jeff decide to make a change in their lives.

How can they be cool? How can they find love? Anne ditches her librarian wardrobe for skin-tight black dresses and flashy jewelry. Jeff trades in his glasses and khakis for bandanas and leather jackets. At first, everything is fun with Anne and Jeff testing different personas during nights on the town. In typical romantic comedy fashion, things go too far until Jeff and Anne realize they truly have become different people.

bookclub

As typical as it sounds, screenwriter Matt Serword and co-directors Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce keep you laughing by the minute. During one of Jeff’s book club meetings, his friends ask “Lenny” (Bobby Moynihan) about the last time he went on a date. Lenny looks up and says, “What’s today? Sunday? … 1986.” The humor resonates because it feels so real. Even in smaller scenes with Jeff’s parents, the dialogue about party preparations is spot-on. As clever as Serword’s script is, the blooper reel indicates that improvisation was a major component of Slow Learners. Pally, Burns and the entire cast deliver their lines with impeccable comedic timing.

The third act feels a bit extreme, with Anne and Jeff seeming like completely different characters - but that is exactly the point. Aside from the romantic or comedic aspects of the film, there is a deep underlying message. Should you be yourself and not have what “everyone else” has? Or should you alter your personality to fit in, losing what you love in the process? Anne and Jeff slowly learn that there is a fine line between the two ... they only need each other to figure it all out.

© Brigid K. Presecky FF2 Media (8/22/15)

SLOW_LEARNERS_Still

Photos: Adam Pally as "Jeff" and Sarah Burns as "Anne"

Photo Credits: Chase Bowman/Sundance Selects

Q: Does Slow Learners pass the Bechdel Test?

Definitely!

RedAWhile the film gives Jeff other storylines aside from his romantic entanglements (his parents, his buddies) screenwriter Matt Serword also focuses on Anne’s relationship with her other best friend, recent mother “Julia” (Catherine Reitman).

A typical romantic comedy would have the sidekick be attentive and 100% invested in Anne’s love life. Instead, Slow Learners shines a realistic light on what happens to friends once one becomes a mother and one is still single. The dynamic changes. Julia doesn’t become a patronizing witch just because she has a newborn, a refreshing change from the typical portrayal of new mothers. Their friendship reaches a turning point as both women grow and evolve, giving Slow Learners yet another interesting plot line.

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