AN OPEN SECRET

Opens today in NYC. Review coming soon...

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JACKIE & RYAN

KatherineHeiglWriter/director Ami Canaan Mann tells a sweet love story between a modern-day train hopper and a struggling single mother, brought together by their mutual love of music. Although the light romance drama has engaging moments, it feels like a familiar hybrid of Nicholas Sparks films and ABC primetime soap operas. (BKP: 4/5)

Review by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

The film opens with “Ryan” (Ben Barnes) riding the train rails with nothing but a guitar in his hand and a dream of a recording career on his mind. When Ryan ends up in a snowy town in Utah, he checks up on an absentee friend’s wife “Virginia” (Clea DuVall) and is immediately snapped back into reality. Her husband, “Cowboy” (never shown) was pressured by all of his adult responsibilities and left her alone with a baby boy. DuVall is convincing and heartbreaking in her limited role, giving it her best for her limited screentime.

While Ryan contemplates his life choices, he sits in the streets of Ogden, Utah, and plays his guitar to passing strangers. Everything changes when he sees formerly-famous musician named “Jackie” (Katherine Heigl) get knocked over by a car, and he--quite literally--sweeps her off of her feet. Jackie cooks Ryan dinner to thank him, and predictably, the two start to develop a connection. While he patches up her roof and woos her by guitar, Jackie struggles to come up with money to fight for custody of her daughter. DSC_1248

The story is simple and sweet, never too showy or too dramatic. When Katherine Heigl’s character Jackie stares at the mirror, she asks herself, “Where am I going to go next? How am I going to get there?” That question makes Jackie seem relatable to the audience. Can they relate to a washed-up, struggling musician? Maybe. Can they relate to being wooed by a talented hobo? Probably not. But can they relate to a person struggling financially and emotionally, wondering what the next chapter of life looks like? Most likely. Those elements make the film unique, endearing and enjoyable.

Barnes and Heigl have wonderful onscreen chemistry, having worked together as a brother-sister duo in The Big Wedding. Heigl, in particular, is convincing as a single mother in a career slump. Whether or not real-life circumstances influenced her performance as Jackie, she brought believable warmth and humanity to the character.

Despite the actors’ performances, certain plot devices never quite feel realistic, giving it that shallow, glowy romance feel. It is beautifully shot with entertaining musical moments, but the dialogue seems better-suited for a novel.

© Brigid K. Presecky FF2 Media (7/3/15)

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Top/Middle Photos: Katherine Heigl as former singer "Jackie."

Bottom Photo: Ben Barnes as hobo "Ryan" with Katherine Heigl.

Photo Credits: Main Street Films

Q: Does Jackie & Ryan pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes.

Jackie lives with her supportive mother “Miriam” (Sheryl Lee) and young daughter “Lia” (Emily Alyn Lind). Both of those relationships are central to the story as Jackie fights for custody of Lia.

There is also a moment when Jackie looks for a new job and the recruiter asks about her former music career. “Do the limos have candy cups? I hear limos have free cups of M&Ms, Skittles …” It is both humorous and sad at the same time.

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TERMINATOR GENISYS

Ever wish you could go back in time and punch your past self in the face? Arnold Schwarzenegger gets to do just that in Terminator Genisys, a surprisingly entertaining continuation of the James Cameron classics. In a sea of reboots and sequels, screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier manage to capture the essence of the original films while balancing audience expectations of slimy robots, loud gunfire and 3D explosions. (BKP: 3.5/5)

Review by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

IMDB takes the complex Terminator mythology and simplifies the plot down to one sentence, “John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah Connor, but when he arrives in 1984, nothing is as he expected it to be.” In other words, think Back to the Future: Part II with shape-shifting villains and technological takeovers.

The film opens in futuristic 2029, when the evil Skynet has destroyed most of the earth and inhabited San Francisco with killing machines. A grown-up “John Connor” (Jason Clarke) thinks up a plan for “Kyle Reese” (Jai Courtney) to travel back in time, protect his mother “Sarah Connor” (Emilia Clarke), and stop Skynet from launching their destruction plan, “Genisys”.

Kicking off with an entertaining start, Reese successfully time travels back to 1984 and meets Sarah’s protector, the aged-like-a-human T-800 Model 101 Terminator - aka “Pops” (Arnold Schwarzenegger). He comes face to face with a digitally-remastered version of his 1984-self and the two commence in a bizarre, yet oddly enjoyable, brawl. As predicted, more chaos and fight scenes ensue while the Reese, Sarah and Pops try to defeat Skynet and rewrite their histories.

New information is repeatedly thrown at the audience to keep all four timelines straight: 1984 (the Terminator’s arrival), 1997 (Judgement Day), 2017 (Genisys goes live and destroys the earth), 2029 (John Connor and sends Reese through the time portal). Granted, the filmmakers do their best to explain complex details of the mythology in the 126-minute time frame while keeping the number one goal clear: stop Skynet.

In what could have been two hours of mindless special effects is actually a film with a certain sense of substance. In between oozing robots and crashing cars, there are heartfelt themes, comedic moments and even shades of romanticism. Both Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney, known for the HBO series Game of Thrones and the Divergent series, respectively, bring realism to their roles as tough-as-nails Sarah and brave, loyal Reese.

Action is interesting when you care about the characters participating in the action. Instead of simply showing the Golden Gate Bridge collapse in a doomsday-type effect, the writers have Reese and Sarah dangling from a bus, hundreds of feet above the Golden Gate Strait. You want Reese, Sarah and Pops to live and to defeat Skynet. You want the timeline to work itself out. Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier succeed in making the audience care about every element of the story.

No, Terminator Genisys is nowhere near perfect and or anywhere close to The Terminator (1984) or Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1994). The theme of technology taking over our lives is getting old. The apocalypse and dystopian-centered worlds are abundant in multiplexes. But the film is certainly watchable, and being watchable is much more than I was expecting. Arnold Schwarzenegger, looking much older than he did in the James Cameron days, reminds the audience that he may be old, but not obsolete. Surprisingly, neither is the franchise.

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Review © Brigid K. Presecky (7/1/15)

Top Photo: Emilia Clarke as “Sarah Connor” and Arnold Schwarzenegger as "The Terminator/T-800 Model 101 Terminator/Pops"

Bottom Photo: Emilia Clarke as “Sarah Connor” and Jai Courtney as “Kyle Reese”

Photo Credits: Paramount Pictures and Skydance

Q: Does Terminator Genisys pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

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Hooray for GLAMOUR (6/15)

Anna Kendrick for Glamour US June 2015Peek Inside the June '15 Issue of Glamour Magazine

Page 36: Interview with actress Judy Greer “Why should a man make more than me?”

Page 38: Sidebar “Pop Quiz = Who Earned More?”

Page 130: Chat with filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Page 160: Cover Story on Anna Kendrick

Glamour: The discussion about gender bias in Hollywood is more public than ever. What do you make of that?

Kendrick: All the films nominated [for a Best Picture Oscar] this year had male leads. Like every single one. So I’m glad that [equality’s] feeling like a bigger issue now.

The Celluloid Ceiling issue has finally entered the mainstream! Why is this happening now?

The answer has directly to do with the release of the “infamous” Sony memos a couple months ago... PopCrop

Several of us have been talking about pay discrimination for women in film for over a decade now, but the response was always: “Yeah, yeah. Keep whining, ladies.” But when the hackers released the Sony memos a couple of months ago, these memos actually detailed systematic discrimination—pay gap/opportunity gap—between women and men in the film world (not just for the filmmakers but also for the actresses).

In particular, there was a big brouhaha because it turned out that on the movie American Hustle, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were both paid less than the three primary actors in the film—Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper & Jeremy Renner—even though Amy Adams was nominated for Best Actress and Jennifer Lawrence was nominated for—and won the Oscar for—Best Supporting Actress. Nevertheless, they both had lower salaries and lower percentages than their male colleagues...

So the Sony memos have had the same effect in the film world that the Lily Ledbetter case has had with respect to the issue of pay equity more generally. Finally women can say: “We’re not just complaining. We’re not just whining. We’re not just doing the same old, same old. Here is proof that everything we’ve been telling you all these years is factual because we’ve got the memos and we’ve got the spreadsheets!”

The bottom line is this: Now there is proof and the proof is uncontested. So this has been the defining moment that has finally changed the game :-)

My interview with Martha Lauzen was posted twelve years ago in 2003--2003!!!--so I have been fighting this fight--with Lauzen & others--for a very long time now. How wonderful to finally see some dominoes fall :-)

Click HERE for Judy Greer Interview --> June15P36GLAMOUR

JudyCrop

 

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A LITTLE CHAOS

KateTwenty years after the release of Sense and Sensibility, Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet reunite onscreen in a period drama set in 17th Century Versailles. Rickman, with co-writers Alison Deegan and Jeremy Brock, create their own historical fiction by telling the story of King Louis XIV and his two landscape architects - the real André Le Notre and the fictional Sabine de Barra.

This good story had the potential to be great. It touches on love, loss and modernism with characters embodied by an extraordinarily talented cast. But going into the film with high expectations makes the end result seem slightly underwhelming. (BKP: 3.5/5)

Review by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

The year is 1682. French Sun King “Louis XIV” (Alan Rickman) is in the process of moving his court from Paris to Versailles, and he wants mastermind landscape designer “André le Notre” (Matthias Schoenaerts) to oversee production on the new Rockwork Garden. If le Notre does not finish “The Bosquet de la Salle du Balin” in a timely manner, or on a budget, he knows that his future may include a guillotine. Feeling like he may have lost his creative touch, le Notre sets out to find another landscape architect to assist with the grand project.

His hiree? Widowed “Sabine de Barra” (Kate Winslet) a modern, talented designer unafraid to get her hands dirty or challenge le Notre’s symmetrical process in order to make things more natural, more chaotic. She charms her way into the likings of Louis’ bisexual brother “Philippe,” who is played by the always-entertaining Stanley Tucci in a role similar to his characters in The Hunger Games and The Devil Wears Prada. As de Barra settles into her new role, a romantic relationship with le Notre predictably comes to fruition.

Their love story is constantly being interrupted by outside forces - either by Notre’s unfaithful wife (Helen McCrory) or Sabine’s haunting flashbacks to her traumatic past. Any tension or realism is bogged down by slow pacing and uncertainty about whether the script is meant to be funny, tragic or an awkward mismatch of both. CourtCrop

One lingering scene does work, however, when Sabine mistakes King Louis (sans wig) for a gardener and the two engage in a long, meaningful conversation. Rickman and Winslet do what they do best, making the film all the more engaging when they do it together.

Curly wigs, intricate corsets and eloquent ballrooms are only some of the colorful imagery in A Little Chaos that gives you something to focus on when the script fails to grab your attention. Nonetheless, the filmmakers’ intentions are evident and director Rickman creates beautiful moments that are scattered throughout. But like Sabine’s garden, many elements feel messy and slightly out of place.

© Brigid K. Presecky FF2 Media (6/29/15)

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Top Photo: Kate Winslet as 17th Century designer “Sabine de Barra.”

Middle Photo: Kate Winslet with director Alan Rickman as "Louis XIV."

Bottom Photo: Kate Winslet with Matthias Schoenaerts as “André le Notre.”

Photo Credits: Alex Bailey/Focus Features

Q: Does A Little Chaos pass the Bechdel Test?RedA

Yes.

Not only does Sabine find herself feeling out of place at the King’s salon--filled with vain women--but there is also an interesting story arc about Sabine’s traumatic past. (No Spoilers: It is better to see the specific details unfold on screen.)

Furthermore, Winslet’s character is strong-willed, creative and a modern feminist for the era.

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ADVANTAGEOUS

advantageousCo-written by Jennifer Phang and Jacqueline Kim, Advantageous is set in a futuristic society where women have lost footing in the workforce.

A single mother, “Gwen” (Jacqueline Kim) struggles to provide for her daughter. Left with no other options, she must undergo a procedure to keep her job, a procedure that transports her consciousness into a younger, more attractive body. (JEP: 3.5/5)

Review by Contributing Editor Jessica E. Perry

Advantageous was directed and co-written by Jennifer Phang. Her writing partner, Jacqueline Kim, also stars in the film as “Gwen,” a struggling mother in a futuristic society who undergoes a new-age procedure in order to keep her job and provide for her daughter.

Gwen’s world revolves around her daughter “Jules” (Samantha Kim). Just as Jules gets accepted into a prestigious (and expensive) school, which will secure her future, Gwen loses her job. In this society, women have all but been cast out of the workforce. Once their beauty fades they no longer have value.

The company Gwen works for is in the beginning stages of testing a new procedure that will eradicate disease, in that people can transfer their consciousness from their old or diseased body to a new, younger one.

Hoping for a promotion, as the face of this company, “The Center for Advanced Health and Living”, Gwen instead finds herself out of a job entirely. As a result of her age, Gwen has been deemed an unfit face of the company.

Gwen immediately begins to search for a new job, but is unable to get a single interview. After being denied monetary help by her estranged family, Gwen sees no other way out but to undergo the procedure in order to get her job back.

Her coworker, “Fisher” (James Urbaniak), tries to dissuade Gwen from going through with the procedure. She will be one of the first human subjects, and the technology is not yet at the point it should be to provide a seamless transfer. However, with no foreseeable options left, Gwen undergoes the procedure and her consciousness is transferred to a beautiful, younger body.

The new “Gwen 2.0” (Freya Adams) does not have the same connection with Jules; her motherly instinct has all but disappeared. As Jules struggles with losing the mother she knew and loved, we learn that Gwen gave up her life to save her daughter’s. Like Jules, the audience has been deceived, as the new Gwen 2.0 is not the same woman as the one whose memories she now possesses.

Advantageous won the Dramatic Special Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and boasts four wins at VC FilmFest. Although there are undoubtedly some plot holes, the story itself is new and exciting, a concept that draws the viewer in from the very start.

The world of the film was not always believable, as the costumes and set design lacked continuity in their futuristic elements. However, I easily forgave these faults, as I wanted to know what happened next in the story. So although the acting floundered in places and the directing at times felt forced, Kim and Phang’s strong narrative kept me engaged and wanting more.

Review © Jessica E. Perry (6/28/15)

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Top Photo: Gwen ponders her fate.

Bottom Photo: Gwen's Boss, "Isa Cryer" (Jennifer Ehle), prides herself on the procedure's growing popularity.

Photo Credit: Robert M. Chang

Q: Does Advantageous pass the Bechdel Test?RedA

Yes, absolutely.

Gwen and her daughter have many scenes together where they talk about the world and the meaning of life.

In fact, most of the conversations between women in this film do not revolve around men. Instead, importance lies in the job market and the role of women in their New Age society.

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FELT

06-FELT1-e1422986177494Amy Everson co-writes and stars in an unsettling drama about a young artist who is traumatized by sexual assault. Director Jason Banker bends genres with this drawn-out, bizarre take on revenge, feminism and psychological unraveling. (BKP: 3/5)

Review by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Felt opens with a monologue, the film’s one and only voiceover.

“My life is a f---ing nightmare. Every waking moment, every time I close my eyes, I just relive the trauma. I’m never safe.”

The stage is set for viewers to enter the world of 20-something “Amy,” (Amy Everson) a quiet artist who has suffered an unseen, unspecified sexual assault. The incident has left her feeling lost and broken, with nothing to do but wander around her San Francisco neighborhood dressed in peculiar outfits. Whether it’s a green lizard costume or a scarecrow mask, covering up in different personas helps her deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Amy deals with her anger towards men by using her sexually-charged artistic abilities to create a mummy-like onsie… complete with dangling male genitals. She walks through the woods in her naked costume, pretending to be a superhero and fighting off the imaginary bad guys. Her strange behavior causes the best friend and roommate “Alanna” (Alanna Reynolds) to snap Amy out of her withdrawal and push her back into real life and/or the online dating scene. But interacting with men only heightens Amy’s frustrations--she wants to murder men or, at the very least, gouge their eyes out.

The downwards spiral of Amy’s self-pity and insufferable, provocative behavior tapers off when she meets shy, handsome “Kenny” (Kentucker Audley). But normalcy does not last for very long in Felt. When Amy learns of Kenny’s secrets, her vengeful thoughts begin to materialize and the film delves deep into the docu-horror Act Three.

The film dips into all different genres, uneven in tone and structure from beginning to end. Act One starts with Amy seemingly relatable--sad and angered by her circumstances with nowhere to turn. Things start to get weird by Act Two. Her dialogue (mostly improvised by Everson) is believable, but it takes a back seat to Amy’s antics and physical appearance in her made-to-look-naked, quasi-superhero costume. The 80-minute film feels even longer as the tone shifts, yet again, to a psycho-thriller filled with shocking developments and gruesome imagery.

Everson is impressive in the role, acting naturalistic in every scene--no matter how fantastical it seems. The character of Amy is apparently semi-autobiographical, yet it is difficult to believe that this young girl is a successful artist who never is never shown making money, but rather daydreaming of killing rapists with her thighs.

Felt wants to make a statement about feminism and rape/revenge culture, yet treats the character of Amy like a crazed lunatic with an anal fixation. Yes, this is only one take on a girl’s story of sexual assault and no, not every rape victim should be viewed as an angelic hero. But the way Amy is portrayed, aside from the effects of PTSD, does little to help the community of victims who strive to be taken seriously. First Amy wants to go on a man-killing spree and then she is head over heels for Kenny? Between the paradox and tonal shifts, Felt misses the mark.

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (6/24/15)

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Top & Middle Photos: Amy Everson as “Amy” in her costumes

Bottom Photo: Amy Everson as “Amy” and Kentucker Audley as “Kenny”

Photo Credits: Amplify Releasing

Q: Does Felt pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes.

Amy has a relationship with her best friend and roommate, Alanna, and the two have quite a bit of screentime. However, almost all of their discussions revolve around men and/or online dating. Not recommended.

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RUNOFF

Runoff2Writer-director Kimberly Levin perfectly captures the desperation of a family trying to keep their heads above water as agricultural conglomerates wipe out local farming. The detailed plot and layered relationships, enhanced by strong performances and vivid imagery, leaves you frustrated … in the best way possible. (BKP: 4.5/5)

Review by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Kimberly Levin’s debut feature tells the story of “Betty Freeman” (Joanne Kelly), a strong woman driven to desperate measures to support her family. The film opens with beautiful imagery: sun peeking through the cornfields, haybales and barnyards in the distance. Betty’s young son “Sam” (Kivlighan de Montebello) plays on the glistening creek with his best friend “Elena” (Rashel Bestard). But behind these beautifully-captured shots of quintessential American farmland, comes the darker, harsher realities of that disappearing way of life.

Betty’s farm-supply salesman husband “Frank” (Neal Huff) struggles to make ends meet as a corporate competitor, Gigas, overtakes businesses and undercuts prices, making it nearly impossible for locals to compete. When the Freemans refuse a buyout offer from Gigas, they try to save their house from foreclosure while scraping together college tuition for their son “Finley” (Alex Shaffer) … not to mention Frank’s impending medical bills. One solution? Take a well-paying, highly illegal gig from their neighbor “Scratch” (Tom Bower). Although Frank wants nothing to do with it, his well-meaning wife will go to whatever lengths possible to save her family.

Despite a somewhat contrived, melodramatic Halloween Night occurring in the film’s climax, Levin’s film feels exceptionally real. Cinematographer Hermes Marko captures an endless amount of stunning visuals from the crew’s location in rural Kentucky. Levin, also acting as the film’s editor, splices the location shots together and lets them linger on screen long enough to make you feel like you are a part of this beautiful, tragic world.

Instead of a statistical, documentary-style lesson on big business versus local farming, fiction allows the audience to experience this situation through the eyes of intriguing characters. And those characters are not cookie-cutter protagonists. Aside from the monopolizing corporation, Gigas, there are no clear-cut heroes or villains. Instead, it takes tough-loving Betty and places her at a crossroads of morality and desperation.

Runoff has slow pacing and silent moments that encourage reflection from viewers. How you would react in this situation? Would ethics come into play? What means would you go to in order to help your family? Kimberly Levin answers those questions while making a grander statement about America’s infiltration of chemicals and the multitude of family-owned farms becoming obsolete.

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (6/24/15)

Runoff1

Top Photo: Neal Huff as "Frank"

Bottom Photo: Joanne Kelly as "Betty Freeman"

Photo Credits: ??

Q: Does Runoff pass the Bechdel Test?

Unfortunately, no.

Nonetheless, “Betty Freeman” (Joanne Kelly) is still a strong female character taking action to support her husband and two sons.

BrigidRaves

One song came to my mind as I watched Runoff that coincidentally matched Kimberly Levin's intentions: “Lord of the Dance,” a 1963 hymn by English songwriter Sydney Carter. Literally, the lyrics sum up the whole of God’s plan of creation and redemption as a dance. But figuratively, the song can relate to any religion, race, gender, etc. So how do the two unrelated subjects--a Celtic Christian anthem and a film about farming--connect? By a line in the fourth verse: “It's hard to dance with the devil on your back.”

Granted, there is nothing in Runoff that points to a specific faith or religion, but that verse can easily parallel Betty’s situation and her attempt to support her loved ones--even if morality and ethics are pushed to the sidelines.

At the end of the film, Betty drives her truck through the farmlands that are no longer fertile (thanks to the harsh chemicals that have wiped them out). She knows she has taken a part in their destruction by illegally peddling pharmaceuticals. Every action leaves her shaken and exhausted. Betty drives down the dirt road with tired eyes as it is difficult for her, as it would be for anyone, to dance with the devil on her back.

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WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?

Opens tomorrow (6/26/15) in NYC. Review coming soon…

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THE YES MEN ARE REVOLTING

Opens tomorrow (6/26/15) in NYC. Review coming soon…

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