Opens tomorrow (12/2/16) in NYC. Review coming soon…

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Opens tomorrow (12/2/16) in NYC. Review coming soon…

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images-4Takals’s film Always Shine successfully utilizes the best elements of several genres, excellent sound design, to produce a final product that is all at once horrifying and beautiful. The story is simple: two young actresses whose friendship has been tainted by one woman’s success and the other’s lack of success. But the film is incredibly unique in how it weaves this story into a mounting 1.5 hours of tension, culminating in a serious and dangerous confrontation. The horror-inducing music and design choices and inserted shots of the dark surrounding forest leave viewers on the edge of their seats. Not to mention the incredibly powerful performances by both leads. (RAK: 4.5/5)

Review by F22 Intern Rachel A. Kastner

“Anna” (Mackenzie Davis) and “Beth” (Caitlin FitzGerald) used to be best friends. They are both young aspiring actresses, blonde and thin, and determined to be successful. In fact, Beth has recently been gaining some momentum: she scored a spot in Young Hollywood Magazine, booked a few well-paid roles, and has a boyfriend who deeply cares about her. The success almost convinces her that it’s worth it to always be nude on camera. Anna, on the other hand, has no management, recently dumped her boyfriend, and is still waiting tables. It’s fairly clear that neither of them is comfortable in their own skin. At the start of the film, Anna and Beth leave to spend a weekend in Big Sur to rekindle their friendship.

But even through small talk during the drive, Anna’s jealousy is palpable. Within the first few hours at the country house, Anna begins to realize that Beth is actually doing well for herself. And she can’t stand it. As much as they try to ignore conversation on their professional careers, it somehow always comes back to the forefront. Anna, with her bright red lipstick and loud voice, commands most of the conversation throughout the film. Her strong opinions are intimidating and it isn’t much of a wonder that she isn’t booking as much work as Beth is. It is so clear how badly Anna wishes she could be more like Beth. Meanwhile, Beth’s quiet personality comes across as innocent and honest. Soon, however, Anna begins to realize that Beth has been keeping secrets from her, and her jealousy turns to hatred. As the music and scenic design begin to turn towards a darker tone, it becomes obvious that a confrontation between the two women is inevitable. And it isn’t going to be pretty.always-shine-davis

The scenic design and music are wildly impressive, adding a layer to the story that catapults the film from a “bad friend” story into a truly horrifying, yet truly realistic film. Every shot allows the viewers to feel like they are seeing the world through Anna’s eyes, and the sight is simply tragic. Additionally, writer Lawrence Michael Levine beautifully wove in underlying backstories and tidbits where each character expresses their experiences of being a woman in the industry and being a woman in life in general. We empathize with their stories and feelings without being forced to. For example, when Anna is disclosing to Beth her breakup story, she explains that she was in a bar when her boyfriend was saying something she disagreed with. Of course, Anna felt the need to chime in, and when she did, he responded by telling her to calm down. At this point, Anna says “if I was a boy, nobody would've told me to calm down". Even though this is such a small moment in the film, these underlying tones of how women are treated by men in both a professional and personal sense adds to the story and provides a point of empathy for all female viewers.

The combination of a ‘killer’ script, incredible performances and beautiful scenic and sound design would mean nothing without the eye of a talented director to put it all to use. Everything comes together like a dystopian, scary, puzzle in Always Shine, and it can only be described as gently terrifying. If this is any indication of Takal’s talent, I’m looking forward to seeing more of her work.

© Rachel A. Kastner FF2 Media (9/29/16)


Photo Credits: Mark Schwartzbard

Top Photo: Always Shine Poster

Middle Photo: Anna putting on her signature lip color

Bottom Photo: Anna confronting Beth during a script reading.

Q: Does Always Shine  pass the Bechdell-Wallace test? GreenA2016

This is all about Anna and Beth's relationship. Almost every single conversation in the film revolves around Beth's professional success.

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badenb01Twentysomething at lose ends returns home (in this case the city of Strasbourg on the border between France and Germany) to visit the grandmother who has long been her anchor.

Writer/director Rachel Lang succeeds in making Ana totally real and totally loveble. Although the action is jumpy with poor continuity between scenes, the tone of each episode is so precise that the whole arc works from start to finish. (JLH: 3.5/5)


Top Photo: "Ana" (Salomé Richard) decides to remodel her grandmother's bathroom with help from a guy who works at the plumbing supply warehouse. Even though he tells her he is just a stock clerk with no experience, Ana keeps at it.

Bottom Photo: Ana with her grandmother (Claude Gensac).

Q: Does Baden Baden pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test? GreenA2016


Ana and her grandmother talk a bit about Ana's life (which sometimes includes discussion of guys but not always) and a great deal about Grand-Mère's health.




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ew-santa20000234007_0Bad Santa 2 brings back the alcoholic con artist who masqueraded as a not-so-jolly old St. Nicholas in the 2003 original. Starring a wasted Billy Bob Thornton - implying both connotations of “wasted” – Shauna Jones and her co-writers will make audiences’ stomachs churn with this overly vulgar heist flick. (BKP & GEP: 2/5)

Review by Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky & Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

Using Christmas as an excuse for making R-rated rollicking party movies is becoming an unsettling but growing trend (see: 2015’s The Night Before and upcoming romps Office Christmas Party and Why Him?). Bad Santa 2 is no different, though “party” might be the wrong word for this extremely depressing and downright boring take on what’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.

“Willie” (Thornton, who we spent most of the movie picturing in more deserving and complex roles) returns to his life of crime after several failed suicide attempts (which, apparently, are supposed to be funny?). He joins his old partner and his estranged jailbird mother (Bates, who delivers what are arguably the film’s most disgusting lines) in stealing two million dollars from Giving City, a charity that supposedly helps the needy families of Chicago. Canned exteriors of the city at Christmastime were one of the film’s few highlights.

Familiar crime-comedy tropes ensue, peppered with plenty of gratuitous sex jokes and swearing that might make me laugh in any other context, but are completely flat and overused here.

The original film's now-grown towhead
“Thurman” (Brett 636053277203247892-bs2-05175-cropKelly) occasionally provides a relief from other stomach-churning attempts at humor, but the “on the spectrum” through-line quickly grows tired (If any viewer is looking for a curly-haired man-child lost in a big city, Elf is surely a better bet).

Thornton’s performance is one long apology for the repetitive and cringe-worthy material, and his delivery provides the film’s few glimmers of comedic hope. Christina Hendricks replaces Lauren Graham as the film’s shell of a supporting female character, given little to do by screenwriters Shauna Cross and Johnny Rosenthal. If anything, this disturbing mess of a film shows the ranges Bates and Thornton can effortlessly reach.

A viewing of the original film is not necessary, however, if you ever run a K-Cup through a Keurig coffee maker twice, the first brew will undoubtedly be stronger and more enjoyable. While the original Bad Santa rides the wave of similarly lazy jokes about penises that are meant to be raunchy and fun, Director Mark Waters' sequel is just sinister and creepy in the context of three hardened criminals stealing from a charity.

Here’s hoping those other new films that call themselves Christmas movies by making their drunk, boorish characters slap on Santa hats have a little more heart to go along with the tastelessness.

© Brigid K. Presecky & Georgiana E. Presecky (11/26/16) FF2 Media

"Bad Santa 2" Day 16

Top Photo: Billy Bob Thorton reprises his role as “Willie”

Middle Photo: Willie and “Thurman” (Brett Kelly) continue their odd friendship

Bottom Photo: Willie and new friend, charity worker “Diane” (Christina Hendricks)

Photo Credits: Jan Thijs 

Q: Does Bad Santa 2 pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Absolutely not.

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Opens this week in NYC. Review coming soon...

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unnamed-8A scathing expose of the cultural and industry contributors to the current cancer epidemic, Meghan O’Hara’s The C Word provides an easily digestible education to the public on the lifestyle choices that contribute to cancer risk, while providing guidelines for creating healthier habits.  (EML: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Eliana M. Levenson

Documentary filmmaker Meghan O’Hara teams up with Dr. David Servan-Schreiber to expose the underlying cultural roots of America’s cancer epidemic. After being diagnosed with cancer, Meghan saw her entire life change. But, not wanting to rely solely on the cancer treatments, she set out to discover what type of preventative and lifestyle changes she could make to keep the cancer from returning. This led her to find Dr. Servan-Schreiber, a cancer survivor in his own right, whose own journey with the disease led him to create his own method of battling cancer.

Though Dr. Servan-Schreiber’s methods have been met with scrutiny from others in the medical field, his research provides a new perspective on dealing with cancer which, for many, creates a sense of hope and control over the disease. According to Dr. Servan-Schreiber, western culture and lifestyle is a main contributing factor to most cancers and many cases of cancer could be prevented with simple lifestyle changes.

Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the documentary takes a glaring look at American culture and the potential sources of the cancer epidemic using Dr. Servan-Schreiber’s ideology. Using interviews with medical professionals, testimonials from patients of the anticancer system, educational animations, pop culture references, and clips from Dr. Servan-Schreiber’s television appearances, the documentary seeks to educate and persuade the public. Clearly biased, the film uses Dr. Servan-Schreiber’s Four Pillars of Anticancer (found in his book) as the structure for its narrative. Focusing on the concepts of consumerism and capitalism, the film moves from pillar to pillar, exploring the ways in which American culture promotes the opposite of the lifestyle outlined by Dr. Servan-Schreiber and seeks to explain the reason why mainstream science refuses to acknowledge his methodology as a realistic treatment.  

Where the documentary most succeeds is in its accessibility of message. At no point does the film stray from its message. At no moment is it unclear what the O’Hara, as the filmmaker, is trying to convince the audience to understand. Even when dealing with complex scientific concepts, the film remains accessible and the information is presented in a way that is easily digestible. The logic of the arguments are clear, easy to follow, and provide no room for confusion, which definitely serves the film’s aims of punnamedersuasion.unnamed-10

However, despite being easy to understand, there is an aspect of this documentary that has a “well, duh!” type quality that makes it equally easy to dismiss. While the arguments presented are clear and accessible, there is also a level of familiarity. Nothing new seems to be presented. No new research on the benefits of healthy food. No new studies to demonstrate how a change in lifestyle can dramatically alter your life. It’s a lot of the same old arguments, presented in the same old way, attacking the same type of people.

To make matters worse, the presentation of dissenting opinions is minimal in most parts and entirely lacking in others, making it a very one-sided perspective on the issue of healthy living. Sure, for those that are looking to make a change already, this documentary may provide a helpful methodology to them (and definitely promotes Dr. Servan-Schreiber’s book). Yet, for those that are skeptical, this documentary doesn’t provide a new access point for them to jump on the bandwagon. In fact, for those that disagree with the concept of diet and exercise affecting their lives, this documentary comes across almost accusatory. Most of the facts are how one way is wrong, one way is dangerous, and those that refuse to acknowledge it are less intelligent than those who do. While possibly true, this doesn’t seem like a great method for inspiring people to change their habits and come to the side of healthier living.

Overly and clearly biased, this documentary misses the mark in persuading its target audience to change their minds about these types of treatments by failing to engage in a new way and refusing to prevent strong dissenting opinions that can be rebuffed. There is a lot of correlation, but clear causation isn’t expressed and therefore the arguments are easy to dismiss as unscientific. While cancer preventing or not, of course these lifestyle changes are likely to be overall beneficial to the health of the general public. However, this documentary doesn’t pack the necessary punch to convince the general public that there is a direct line from a healthy lifestyle to cancer prevention.

© Eliana M. Levenson FF2 Media (11/28/16)unnamed-9

Top Photo: Poster for The C Word documentary.

Middle Photo: Animation images for the four pillars of Dr. Servan-Schreiber’s Anticancer method.

Bottom Photo: Pictures of Dr. David Servan-Schreiber and Meghan O’Hara

Photo Credits: Lorian James Delman

Q: Does The C Word pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Technically no...since there aren’t two female characters, there is no way for them to interact. However, the film does feature women discussing the issues without the inclusion of men.

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dear-zindagi-movie-alia-bhatt-photosDirector Guari Shinde’s Dear Zindagi is a refreshing take on the romantic comedy, where romance exists but is not all we see from our female protagonist “Kaira” (Alia Bhatt). Kaira is driven in her career as a cinematographer, but when a setback forces her to move back home, she is able to finally confront her past and gain a new perspective on life. (JEP: 4.5/5)

Review by Associate Editor Jessica E. Perry

“Kaira” (Alia Bhatt) is a cinematographer in India, landing gigs here and there on short films, music videos, and commercials. But what she truly wants is to be taken seriously for her talent, not her beauty, and get to work on a feature film. When the “Raghuvendra” (Kunal Kapoor)—the guy Kaira is seeing—gets her a gig on a feature shooting in New York City, she jumps at the opportunity.

But Raghuvendra is ready to settle down, and when he expresses his intentions to Kaira, she immediately hesitates, pushing him away, incapable of expressing her true feelings for him. Her go to move in relationships, Kaira finds it easier to push down problems from her past and cut off anyone who gets too close. So Raghuvendra goes to New York City early to prep for the film, and Kaira takes to old habits.

Although she has trouble in relationships, Kaira is free and safe with her longtime best friends “Fatima” (Ira Dubey), “Jackie” (Yashaswini Dayama) , and “Ganju” (Gautmik). After all but completely turning down Raghuvendra’s profession of love, Kaira confides in her friends. They are also where she hears the news that Raghuvendra has gotten engaged to his ex-girlfriend who happened to be working on the film with him in New York City.dear-zindagi-movie-dialogues

Kaira is shattered, but also knows that it is her own internal struggle that ended their relationship. On top of it all, Kaira’s landlord has decided that her building will now be available to rent for families only and no longer allow single women. So Kaira must be out by the end of the month, and with no where else to turn, she moves back to her hometown.

The move is temporary, but feels like a million steps back. Kaira has an extremely strained relationship with her parents and begins suffering from insomnia after she learns of the news about Raghuvendra and his new fiancé. By happenstance, Kiara hears “Dr. Jehangir Khan” (Shah Rukh Khan) speaking at a “Brain Doctor” conference. His unconventional approach intrigues Kaira, and she immediately schedules an appointment with his office.

It is through her sessions with Dr. Jehangir Khan (aka Jug) that Kaira begins to gain a new perspective on life. Finally able to confront the ghosts of her past, Dear Zindagi is a story about personal freedom and self discovery, rather than one of the prototypical boy meets girl romance.

Wonderfully cast, Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan shine in truthful and engaging performances. One can’t help but wonder if writer/director Guari Shinde’s story is semi-autobiographical. Either way, she succeeds in telling an honest story, confronting real problems surrounding societal norms and opening a dialog for mental health, all under the guise of “just another rom com.” Even with its two and a half hour run time and heavy use of slow-mo music sequences quintessential of Indian cinema, Dear Zindagi is a must see. The film will have you laughing, crying, and in constant wonder at all the words of wisdom you, as an audience member receive, leaving you to reflect on your own journey. In the words of Dr. Jehangir Khan, “Don’t let the past blackmail your present to ruin a beautiful future.”

©Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (11/30/16)dear-zindagi-2016-movie-hd-wallpapers-3

Top Photo: “Kaira” (Alia Bhatt) leaves her final session with Dr. Jehangir Khan.

Middle Photo: “Dr. Jehangir Khan” (Shah Rukh Khan) and Kaira take a bike ride as part of  one of Jug's unconventional sessions.

Bottom Photo: Kaira and “Raghuvendra” (Kunal Kapoor) share a romantic moment.

Photo Credits: Reliance Big Pictures

Q: Does Dear Zindagi pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?GreenA2016


Kaira has numerous discussions with her friends Fatima and Jackie about her career, her mother, and life’s other challenges.

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Opens this week in NYC. Review coming soon...

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Congratulations to the team behind NYC's first Arab Cinema Week! The schedule featured FIVE films directed by women filmmakers & FF2 is proud to announce that we saw every single one!

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