DARK STAR

Opens in NYC on Fri (5/15). Review coming soon...

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EVERY SECRET THING

FanningAm I never satisfied?

Here is a film with prominent actresses like Elizabeth Banks, Dakota Fanning, and Diane Lane carrying a woman-centered film, plus award-winning female filmmakers behind-the-camera. (Amy Berg is the director while Nicole Holofcener wrote the screenplay.)

It passes the Bechdel Test with no if, ands, or buts, so am I satisfied? Not I am not satisfied. Sad to say, Every Secret Think is a grim and tedious a mess :-( (JLH: 2.5/5)

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When a bi-racial toddler goes missing, "Detective Nancy Porter" (Elizabeth Banks) immediately sets out in search of two local girls known to have murdered an African-American baby years back.

Ronnie Fuller and Alice Manning were only 11 when they kidnapped and then murdered the little Barnes baby. Now 18, they have been released from juvenile detention and sent back to the troubled homes in which they were raised.

"Alice Manning" is played in the present tense by Danielle Macdonald, a plus-size Australian actress with a couple of screen credits on IMDb, but nothing substantive. "Ronnie Fuller" is played by Dakota Fanning, one of the most accomplished young actresses of her generation. I don't know if anyone could have rescued the Alice part from its inherent melodrama, but the talent imbalance definitely makes matters worse. Every scene that Fanning is in feels tense, raw, and heartbreaking. Every scene that Macdonald is in strains credulity.

At the helm is Amy Berg, an award-winning documentarian making her feature film debut. And her surprising screenplay collaborator is Nicole Holofcener, well-known for trenchant Indie dramedies  like Enough Said and Please Give (all of which she both wrote and director). The film is an adaptation of the best-selling eponymous novel by Laura Lippman, so it must have seemed like a relatively safe property, and yet squeezed down to a 93 minute runtime, whatever was good about this 450 page novel is now just as dead as the little Barnes baby. Banks

Unfortunately is the main casualty is Diane Lane as Alice's mother "Helen Manning." Before I saw Every Secret Thing, I would have said Diane Lane can do anything, but now I know otherwise. Although she starts off fine, by the end she is as crazy mad as Rosamund Pike--another actress I have always loved--in Gone Girl. But then Rosamund Pike was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her Gone Girl performance, so maybe Lane is giving just the kind of performance Hollywood now requires from gorgeous women aging out of f%$kability???

Curiously we find out next to nothing about the Fuller Family except that Ronnie is desperate to escape her home in order to seek solace with the Mannings. Ronnie's parents are barely seen in the background--"White Trash" who live one step up from a trailer--whereas Helen Manning, albeit a single mom, is at least an art teacher with the resources to raise her daughter in the respectable part of town.

Since I haven't read Laura Lippman's source novel, I can't provide specifics, but my gut tells me there is some genuine sociological depth in her 450 pages. Alas, all that remains on screen are a statistically-improbably number of interracial relationships and a strong whiff of economic bias against members of the Working Class.

The final nail in the coffin for me was a white woman accusing a black man of rape on camera long after the audience knows that the relationship was totally consensual... Really??? Really :-(

Top Photo: Dakota Fanning as "Ronnie Fuller" taking a break at her bakery job.

Middle Photo: Elizabeth Banks as "Detective Nancy Porter" taking a break during an interrogation scene.

Bottom Photo: Diane Lane as "Helen Manning" and Danielle Macdonald as "Alice Manning" in a patrol car.

Photo Credits: JoJo Whilden/Starz Digital Media

Q: Does Every Secret Thing pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes.

Men are definitely on the edges of this story. All the main roles are held by women in mother/daughter, boss/subordinate, and friend/friend relationships. Such a waste of time and talent!

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KNOW HOW

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 10.19.16 AMReview of Know How by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Director Juan Carlos Piñeiro Escoriaza--collaborating with co-screenwriters Deshawn Brown, Niquana Clark, Michael Dew, Gabrielle Garcia, Gilbert Howard, Claribelle Pagan, and  Ebonee Simpson--creates a hybrid of documentary and fiction, having young men and women reenact true, horrific events during their life in the foster care system.

Despite its melodramatic musical numbers, Escoriaza and his team deliver a heartfelt, inspiring message about perseverance in the toughest of circumstances. (BKP: 4/5)

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Instead of hiring the best actors or the most professional screenwriters, Know How uses people who whose real lives have been affected by a failing social system. Thanks to a New York City non-profit organization called The Possibility Project, Juan Carlos Piñeiro Escoriaza encountered young men and women with vivid memories of their harrowing stories in the foster care system. Because of their experiences, songwriting capabilities and unique perspectives, Escoriaza was able to construct an engaging narrative and make their stories available to a wider audience.

The film takes a first-person look at the lives of five troubled teenagers, beginning with “Addie,” (Niquana Clark) a high school girl who lives with her check-collecting, “kinship caring” aunt. Because of her school absences and friendship with a drug dealer, Addie is kicked out of her aunt’s house with nowhere to go. Likewise, Addie’s friend “Marie” (Ebonee Simpson) tries to keep her life from spiraling out of control after the death of her beloved grandmother. Meanwhile, “Megan” (Claribelle Pagan) is consumed by pill-hoarding and suicidal thoughts after being taken out of her home by the ACS (Administration for Children’s Services) and put into an unsafe treatment facility. Studious “Eva” (Gabrielle Garcia) strives to be accepted to Georgetown University but has to deal with the shocking family secret of her father smoking crack cocaine. Worst off, however, is “Austin,” (Gilbert Howard) the homeless, hungry teenager who finds himself in the midst of a violent turf war.

Each and every one of their stories is intertwined and connected through music. Occasionally, the film has its characters break into song (like their anthem “Why Not”) and give the audience an idea as to what they are all thinking and feeling. This tactic makes the film deeper, sadder and overall, thought-provoking.

Although the moments are heavy on the melodrama, the subject is serious enough for it to be acceptable. The admirable young adults do their best to recreate the most difficult parts of their lives. However, had there been trained actors, the story might have had the extra push it needed to be great. Nonetheless, the theme of bravery is effortlessly conveyed, solely by the fact that these gruesome scenarios are true-to-life.

With only 50% of United States foster care teenagers completing their GED, Escoriaza set out on a mission to create a need for change. Know How, despite some execution flaws, succeeds in doing just that. The raw, gut-wrenching stories will stay with you and make you reflect on your own family, friends and difficult life decisions.

KnowHow2

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (5/13/15)

Photos: Niquana Clark as troubled teenager “Addie”

Q: Does Know How pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes!

There are many relationships between women in Know How that do not revolve around men.  “Addie” (Niquana Clark) lives with her unsupportive Aunt Janet and finds a confidant in her friend “Marie,” (Ebonee Simpson) and vice versa. Furthermore, “Megan” (Claribelle Pagan) has a close relationship with her sister, as does “Eva” (Gabrielle Garcia).

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PITCH PERFECT 2

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 10.32.53 AMReview of Pitch Perfect 2 by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

New song numbers and endearing new characters balance whatever charm is lost in the much-anticipated a cappella follow-up. Writer Kay Cannon and Director Elizabeth Banks bring the Bellas back to the big screen in a fun, if slightly less focused, sequel of the 2012 hit Pitch Perfect. (BKP: 4.5/5)

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The original film's lead protagonist, “Beca” (Anna Kendrick) steps back into the ensemble as Pitch Perfect 2 shines a brighter light on supporting character, “Fat Amy” (Rebel Wilson). When the Bellas perform at the Kennedy Center, their prone-to-disaster group faces another embarrassment: Fat Amy flashes her genitalia to the Barack and Michelle Obama. The Bellas are suspended and restricted from performing anywhere besides Copenhagen for a chance to compete for the world championship of a cappella.

The main conflict, however, is still rooted with Beca who is trying to keep her music-producing internship from her friend --- and Bellas-enthusiast --- “Chloe” (Brittany Snow). Although the conflict is somewhat weak, Beca’s time at her internship provides substantial humor thanks to her intense boss played by Keegan-Michael Key. Like so many college graduates, Beca is unsure of her future and her abilities as a music producer. But it isn’t long until Fat Amy gives her some much-needed confidence (and gives Rebel Wilson more material than the first film).

The bigger problem arises with the Bellas having to compete with a German a cappella group, the robotic-like Das Sound Machine. Their musical showdowns (with cameos from Arrested Development’s David Cross … and the Green Bay Packers) are what audience members have flocked to see. It won’t be long until the upbeat musical-mashups become hits on iTunes, crossing decades and genres to appeal to a wide audience.

Sequels often strive to recreate the magic of the original, but Pitch Perfect 2 veers into a different lane and focuses on other characters. The love story of Beca and “Jesse” (Skylar Astin) is unfortunately set on the sidelines to make room for Bellas newcomer “Emily” (Hailee Steinfeld), who effortlessly fits into the group and is given her own love story.

Banks smoothly directs her first feature-length film with the help from Cannon’s familiarly witty script. However different than Pitch Perfect, the sequel is equally enjoyable, particularly when the Bellas sit around a campfire and reprise their aca-anthem “When I’m Gone.” The film includes a new original song by Jessie J, Flashlight, that is sure to be remembered indefinitely - just like the Bellas themselves.

PitchPerfectBellas

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (05/15/15)

Top Photo: Anna Kendrick as “Beca”

Bottom Photo: The Bellas perform Jessie J’s Flashlight

Q: Does Pitch Perfect 2 pass the Bechdel Test?RedA

Absolutely!

Almost the entirety of the film passes the Bechdel Test. It is focused on the relationship of the Bellas and their quest for the world champion title.

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ONE CUT, ONE LIFE

LuciaSmallFilmmaker Lucia Small tracks the final days of her colleague and friend Ed Pincus. The goal is to tell a first-person documentary from two equal points of view (Ed's POV and Lucia's POV), but unfortunately Small has bitten off more than she can chew. Although there are a few memorable sequences, most of the the film is a muddle. (JLH: 2.5/5)

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How will I face my last days? Will I stand firm in my convictions or will I cling to life long after the end is evident?

These are questions people used to ask in private--if they asked them at all--questions deemed too personal for the public sphere.

But all that is changing now that filmmakers can take nimble, lightweight cameras into doctors' offices and hospital rooms, and Baby Boomers with prestige have the power to get raw footage out of the editing suite into the movie theatre.

Sometimes the result can be be profoundly moving. I was frankly stunned by how Steve James was able to transform Roger Ebert's death into something so deep and penetrating in last year's critically lauded documentary Life Itself. (I say this as someone who knew Roger Ebert, not well, but well-enough to know first-hand what a flawed and complicated man he was.)

I wish I could say that filmmaker Lucia Small had achieved a similar level of success with One Life, One Cut, but I can't.

One Life, One Cut begins just after filmmaker Ed Pincus, already in his seventies and suffering from Parkinson's Disease, is diagnosed with MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome), a condition that is often a precursor of AML (acute myeloid leukemia). Given his age, Ed's prognosis is grim.

With Ed's medical condition as her narrative hook, Lucia then jumps back and forth in time, following Ed's treatment by various physicians in various hospitals in the present tense while filling us in--sporadically--on who Ed is, who she is, and how their lives became intertwined. The credits say One Life, One Cut is directed by Ed Pincus and Lucia Small, but One Life, One Cut is really Lucia's film and it is her voice as narrator that predominates.

The first obstacle Ed and Lucia face comes from Jane Pincus, who has been married to Ed for fifty years when we first meet her. It is very clear that Jane does not support this project. She wants Ed to give his last remaining days to her, their two children, and their three grandchildren. But Ed tells Jane that making a film with Lucia will be "life affirming" for him, so she gives in. His children are rarely seen and never fully participate. Was this their decision... or was this Lucia's decision...? We never find out. JanePincus

Once I was done watching One Life, One Cut, I spent another couple of hours googling the principals to find out more about their back stories. They all turn out to be very interesting people, way more interesting than the people Ed and Lucia manage to capture with their cameras.

Lucia herself is the daughter of a prominent architect named Glen Howard Small, and her main credential as a filmmaker is an award-winning doc called My Father, The Genius which she released in 2002. Ed and Lucia met on a film panel soon after and decided to work together on a film about Hurricane Katrina--The Axe in the Attic--which they released in 2007. I don't think Lucia ever gives her exact age, but I'm guessing she is now in her early fifties, in other words, Lucia is approximately 25 years younger than Ed.

Ed and Jane, on the other hand, are contemporaries who married in their early twenties and have been together ever since. Edward Ralph Pincus graduated from Brown University in 1960; Jane Kates Pincus graduated from Pembroke College ("the coordinate women's college of Brown University") in 1959. Together they road the waves of The Sixties; their biographies read like Baby Boomer archetypes. Ed became widely known as a filmmaker in 1967 when he released Black Natchez ("... a cinema verite account of a black community in the Deep South during the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement..."). Jane became widely known as a Feminist in 1971 when the Boston Women's Health Book Collective released their first edition of Our Bodies, Our Selves. (Jane is credited with writing the pregnancy section with Ruth Bell.)

It is not my job to tell Lucia Small what film she should have made. (A film more focus on Ed's life end-to-end? A film more focused on Ed's relationship with Jane end-to-end? A film more focused on her own life and Ed's role in it? Take you pick...)

It is my job to tell my readers that the film Lucia Small has made is diffuse, disorganized, and just too "fuzzy" for me. And so it goes...

EdPincus

Top Photo: Lucia Small in a New York City diner. (Photo by Ed Pincus)

Middle Photo: Jane Pincus at Hope Lodge, a "home away from home" in Burlington, VT operated by the American Cancer Society. (Photo by Lucia Small)

Bottom Photo: Ed Pincus on a visit to New York. (Photo by Lucia Small)

Photo Credits © First Run Features

Q: Does One Life, One Cut pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes, but barely.

One of Lucia's friends (artist Susan Woolf) was murdered in 2009 in a grizzly and well-publicized domestic violence case. Lucia meets up with some of Susan's other friends to clean up her apartment--once it is no longer considered a crime scene--and in these brief scenes, the subject is Susan.

Otherwise, the subject is always Ed, especially whenever Lucia and Ed's wife Jane are alone together.

PennyRants

What exactly does Ed find so "life affirming" about the making of this film anyway? It is ending his days with camera in hand, or is it spending time with Lucia?

I've been pondering this question for two days now, and I've come to the conclusion that I really don't care what the answer is. What I want is for Lucia to be honest, and I don't think she is. Better to show a new nature montage--bees on the flowers, snow on the trees--than tell us what is really happening? Some may call this discrete but I call it annoying. Feh!

My mother Helene (who died the same year Ed and Lucia released their Katrina movie) was obsessed with the Clintons. Again and again, she would ask me questions about them ("Do you think Bill and Hillary really love each other?") and again and again I would give her the same answer: "Mom, I can't barely figure out my own marriage, so I'll be damned if I will judge anyone else's marriage!"

One Life, One Cut hints at all the infidelities Jane endured in the past, but is oblique about what happened when Ed and Lucia made The Axe in the Attic together. Did they have an affair? My guess is yes, so why not just be honest about it?!?

And now that he is so ill, is it any surprise that a man like Ed would much rather spend his remaining days with a relatively young woman who looks like Lucia than with a much older woman who looks like Jane? I don't blame Ed for being Ed, but I do blame Lucia for not addressing these obvious issues head on. Does she think she's doing Jane a favor by hinting but never showing or saying...? And what if none of it is true? Maybe Ed and Lucia never had a physical relationship? Why leave a question open when it's actually closed?

I just watched the beginning of One Life, One Cut again before writing this rant because I wanted to hear Jane state her objections again in her own words. And now that I have watched the whole film once and watched the beginning of the film twice and done several hours of research about Ed, Jane, and Lucia, I am 100% on Jane's side. I think Jane is the only honest person in One Life, One Cut.

Ed is dead. He may have done some of the filming, but Lucia did all of the final edits, so she is the one responsible for this mess--not as a person (which is something I cannot and will not judge), but as a filmmaker (which is something I can judge and must). EdObit

This is Ed's obituary in the New York Times. Read it and look deep into the eyes of Ed and Jane in their prime, and maybe you too will see the film that might have been in your own Mind's Eye. Maybe someday someone else will make it. Now that I know a bit about Ed and Jane, I live in hope.

For the record, Chas Ebert--who I also know well-enough to know how well Steve James captured her in Life Itself--wasn't 100% thrilled about having a camera in every room during Roger's last days either. But the similarity ends there. When I compare both films--not as a woman but as a film critic--I see how right Chas was to trust Steve James... and how right Jane Pincus was to regard Lucia Small with such suspicion.

When I voted last year as a member of NYFCO (New York Film Critics Online), I named Life Itself--which was not made by a woman filmmaker as my "Penny Persona" would have liked and was not about Jewish Culture as my "Tzivi Persona" would have liked--as my Top Doc of 2014, and I like to think I helped to make Life Itself the NYFCO choice as Top Doc of 2014 on our final ballot too.

FINAL NOTE: While Ed Pincus was Jewish thru-and-thru, Tzivi will never weigh in on this film because Lucia Small never found any reason to mention it...

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HOT PURSUIT

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 12.10.33 PMReview of Hot Pursuit by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara are both capable of turning good material into great material. Unfortunately, neither of them could save Hot Pursuit. With a weak plot and unoriginal dialogue, the script by David Feeney and John Quaintance is nothing we haven’t seen before. (BKP: 3/5)

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The film opens with extended exposition. We see a little blonde girl in the back of a police car, training to follow in her father’s footsteps. Years later, the little girl is now “Officer Cooper,” (Reese Witherspoon) looking eerily similar to her five-year-old self, bangs and all. Instead of using a subtle Southern accent, Witherspoon goes all-out shrill for her role as the single, uptight cop. Instead of honoring her father’s legacy, Cooper is seen as a joke in her precinct. To prove her worth, she ends up escorting a witness in need of protection, “Daniella Riva” (Sophia Vergara).

From there, the predictable plot sluggishly moves along with one slapstick bit after the other. In order to dodge two hit men, Cooper and Riva talk about periods and gross them out long enough to be left alone in the bathroom. Are period jokes still funny? Yawn. Comedian Jim Gaffigan’s cameo is wasted in a poorly-executed bit where Cooper and Riva distract him with a girl-on-girl makeout session.

Hot Pursuit ticks up the humor in a handful of scenes, one involving a truck crashing into a convertible full of cocaine. When the already high-wired Cooper starts feeling the effects of the drug, Witherspoon gives the neurotic character her all with rapid dialogue and physical comedy. Aside from a few silver linings, Witherspoon and Vergara are better than their material.

Director Anne Fletcher lets certain moments drag on too long, much like the pacing in the Barbra Streisand/Seth Rogen road trip flop, The Guilt Trip. Sporadically, the noise of their hectic world quiets down and the characters become less extreme. Those moments are few and far between. It is apparent that Witherspoon and Vergara enjoyed this movie. Unfortunately, moviegoers cannot say the same.

HP2

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (5/8/15)

Photos: Reese Witherspoon as "Officer Cooper" and Sofia Vergara as “Daniella Riva”

Q: Does Hot Pursuit pass the Bechdel Test?

Yes. “Officer Cooper” (Reese Witherspoon) talks to “Daniella Riva” (Sofia Vergara) about her father and living up to his legacy. I cannot recommend the film.

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PIKU

PikuSoloLovely "road trip" movie from India follows all the genre conventions, but still manages to take us to places both old and new. Directed by Shoojit Sircar. Screenplay by Juhi Chaturvedi. (JLH: 4/5)

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"Piku" (Deenika Padukone) is a very modern young woman--independent, assertive, career-oriented, and always in control... Well that's what she would like everyone to believe.

But the reality is that Piku is very much under the thumb of her persnickety father "Bashkor Banerjee" (Amitabh Bachchan), a widower who demands her constant attention. Even in business meetings--when Piku is face-to-face with important clients--Bashkor insists that she take his calls. And sometimes she must even leave the meeting altogether to dash home to care for him, even though she knows from long experience that there is no cure for Bashkor's hypochondria.

Can anything be worse? Yes! Every time an eligible man appears on the horizon, Bashkor is quick to tell him that he has raised a "modern" daughter, pretending to be proud of Piku, but actually announcing to the started young man--in public--that his beautiful daughter is no longer a virgin. BashkorSoloTHPP

Is it any wonder that when Bashkor announces that he wants to visit his old family home in Kolkata, Piku is happy for an excuse to get away from Delhi for a few days?

But how will they get there? Bashkor will not fly and he will not take a train. No, of course not: Bashkor wants to pack a car to the brim with everything he "needs," and that requires a driver. Enter "Rana" (Irrfan Khan)--a man with mother troubles to match Piku's father troubles. And thus the journey--of almost 900 miles--begins...

Piku follows all the conventions of the "road trip" genre, but because it is set in India, there are many stops along the way that will be new to Western eyes. On the one hand, the highway system with its graded on/off ramps look like those found anywhere in the "Developed World." On the other hand, the accommodations to be found in the Holy City of  Varanasi (on the Ganges River) seem to come from another century, and poor Rana has to beg for a spot on a sofa when they are there.

These extremes are most evident in Kolkata. One look at the house in which Bashkor and his brother were raised makes it clear that the Banerjee family once had great wealth and prominence. But now the neighborhood around the house has grown seedy, and a bustling new India dwarfs its quaint charm.

Although he is not widely known in the West, Amitabh Bachchan, the actor who plays "Bashkor Banerjee," is a venerated cinema star who has been winning acting awards in India for decades, . However, Irrfan Khan, the actor who plays "Rana," will be recognizable from roles he's played in many recent break-out films such as The Namesake, Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi, and The Lunchbox. So in some sense these two actors do have sensibilities which represent "Old India" versus "New India."

I don't remember having seen Deenika Padukone on screen before (although I have seen--and loved--many, many Indian films), so I was delighted to "discover her" in the central role of "Piku." Padukone beautifully captures the full range of her character's emotions. She is a talented comedienne who encourages the audience to laugh with her at Piku's often high-handed response to her predicament (as opposed to laughing at her many foibles). But she is also tender and loving with her father, and when she tells Rana why she stays with Bashkor (even though she clearly isn't getting any younger), my heart was in my throat.

So get in the car and travel to Kolkata with Piku. You'll be glad you did!

WithRana

Top Photo: Deenika Padukone as "Piku" at home in Delhi.

Middle Photo: Amitabh Bachchan as Piku's father "Bashkor Banerjee" cycles around his old neighborhood in Kolkata.

Bottom Photo: Piku and "Rana" (Irrfan Khan) go out sightseeing.

Photo Credits: Yash Raj Films

Map (below) pulled from Mapquest.

Q: Does Piku pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes... but just barely.

Piku has side conversations about her mother with various aunts and family members, but most of her conversations--with everyone--are centered around her father Bashkor... which is just how he likes it!!!

Q: How do you get from Delhi to Kolkata? Note that Varanasi is approximately halfway, whereas Mumbai is on the opposite side of India (in the bottom left corner of this map.)

PikuMap

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PREGGOLAND

 

PreggolandUltrasoundReview of Preggoland by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Writer Sonja Bennett stars in the Canadian comedy about a woman who attempts to earn respect from friends and family by faking her own pregnancy. Despite its impractical premise and use of gender stereotypes, the story slowly finds its heart while providing a few laughs - particularly for women who have sat through their share of insufferable baby showers. (BKP: 4/5)

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Teenager-at-heart "Ruth" (Sonja Bennett) has worked at her local grocery store since she was 15. Twenty years later, she is still bagging groceries and living in her father's basement. Since her friends have long-since moved on from high school and become mothers, Ruth parties with her teenage co-workers who lack enthusiasm about watching Wayne's World. She feels stuck in the 90s while her friends have traded in their flasks for baby formula. The Preggoland view of motherhood is somewhat jaded. Do all mothers become cruel, fickle friends? Sonja Bennett seems to think so, writing each and every woman like a humorless Stepford Wife.

Ruth's friends have outgrown her company, no longer wanting to go out or talk about anything other than babies (or even laugh, for that matter). When Ruth buys her leader-of-the-pack friend "Shannon" (Laura Harris) a baby shower gift, she rudely declines the $800 stroller because it is the wrong model and slams the door in Ruth's face. With that, Ruth is told she "doesn't fit in anymore" and is shunned for her single-life status.

The plot is set up as a hung-over Ruth throws up in a baby clothing store, mistakenly leading a woman to believe it is morning sickness (not booze & sour cream and onion chips). Through continuous miscommunication and the need to fit in, Ruth leads everyone to believe she is pregnant with twins. Suddenly, her child-bearing friends want her back in the group and she gets to keep her job at the grocery store. Even her dad "Walter" (James Caan) no longer sees her as a disappointment. The only character to have suspicions is Ruth's neat-and-orderly sister "Hillary," (Lisa Durupt) another woman desperate for children.

The spiral of lies continues both in her home life and her work life, as the new grocery store manager "Danny" (Paul Campbell) takes kindly to her condition and her co-worker "Pedro" (Danny Trejo) provides were with an false, Jell-O-filled belly. As Ruth seemingly starts to get her life on track, the web of lies backs her into a corner. The only way out? Telling the truth and going back to the lonely, unhappy life she had pre-pregnancy.

Although Bennett paints a bleak picture of motherhood (not every woman who gives birth turns cold and patronizing), the humor and heart help keep the film afloat. Despite preposterous gags like Pedro masquerading as an ultrasound technician, every minute keeps your attention. Needing to know how poor Ruth gets out of her situation keeps you engaged for every single scene. She is endearing to the audience, even at the most frustrating times. Best of all, the sweet romance built between Ruth and Danny is the piece of the puzzle that completes Preggoland. Silly? Yes. Stereotypical? Yes. Completely enjoyable? Absolutely.

PreggolandHospital

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (5/7/15)

Top Photo: Sonja Bennett as "Ruth"

Bottom Photo: Lisa Durupt as "Hillary" with Sonja Bennett as "Ruth" and James Caan as "Walter"

Photo Credit: Mongrel Media

Q: Does Preggoland pass the Bechdel Test?RedA

Definitely!

The relationship between "Ruth" (Sonja Bennett) and her picture-perfect sister "Hillary" (Lisa Durupt) is based around the love for their dad "Walter" (James Caan). Their personalities clash as they deal with his illness and the fact that Hillary struggles to have a child of her own.

 

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Bye Bye Heidi

HeidiCoverCropThe 2015 revival of The Heidi Chronicles closed early on Sunday, May 3rd ... A shame, but not a total surprise...

“Although Sofonisba was praised in the seventeenth century as being a portraitist equal to Titian, and at least thirty of her painting remain known to us, there is no trace of her or any other woman artist prior to the twentieth century in your current Art History Survey textbook. Of course, in my day, this same standard text mentioned no women, ‘from the Dawn of History to the Present.’ Are you with me? Okay.”

These are Heidi’s first words to us in the Prologue, the words with which playwright Wendy Wasserstein introduced her. But why is it that people are still fussing about the relevance of Heidi's personal choices--whatever ‘having it all’ means anyway--and completely ignoring the relevance of her work... even on sites like Women & Hollywood which fights every day for broader recognition of the work women filmmakers are actually doing (rather than the misperception that they are still too lazy to 'fill the pipeline’).

Are you with me? Okay.

PrologueOne

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CAS & DYLAN

CasAndDylan1Review of Cas & Dylan by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Tatiana Maslany and Richard Dreyfuss bring their talent, charm and chemistry to the heartfelt road trip film Cas & Dylan.

Director Jason Priestly and screenwriter Jessie Gabe take the audience on the journey as two very different characters share a bond of friendship and frustration. (BKP: 4.5/5)

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Unlike her multiple shape-shifting counterparts in the Canadian cable series Orphan Black, actress Tatiana Maslany plays one character here, a troubled aspiring writer "Dylan Morgan." The film opens in a Winnipeg hospital ward with Dylan desperately trying to find inspiration for her writing. She soon encounters cancer-stricken doctor "Cas Pepper" (Richard Dreyfuss), and the two haphazardly end up on a road trip headed towards the West Coast.

These two lonely souls get to know each other as they drive, coming across obstacles and adventures in typical buddy-road-trip form. What sets Cas & Dylan apart is the weight that carries both characters forward. Dylan wants to avoid problems with her boyfriend and settle into a career; Cas wants to find a resting place for his beloved pet while accepting his own fate.

Thankfully, the serious issues they face are dealt with humor and honesty. In what could have turned unnecessarily dark and cynical, the story stays at a steadily sincere level. The viewer witnesses the friendship that grows organically out of shared experiences. Although opposite on every level - male/female, old/young, experienced/inexperienced - they share similar hopes and fears (just like everyone else), and they learn from each other in ways that are not predictable or cheaply sentimental. In a media landscape filled with crude innuendos and sexually explicit material, showing a platonic friendship between an older man and a younger woman is a welcome change.

The film succeeds because of the talent that makes this story come alive. Both Tatiana Maslany and Oscar-winner Richard Dreyfuss are strong performers in any role they take on, and Cas & Dylan is no exception. Each gives their character gravity, making the audience feel like we knew them before the lights went off and will know them long after the lights come back on.

Director Jason Priestly lets the quiet moments linger, helping the scenes feel realistic and earned - and making tears that much more inevitable. During one particularly heavy moment, Dylan says, "I truly believe that if you made a difference in one person's life, then your life had meaning." If that was Jessie Gabe's intention, her film has meaning.

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Review © Brigid K. Presecky (4/18/15)

Top Photo: Tatiana Maslany as aspiring writer "Dylan Morgan"

Bottom Photo: Tatiana Maslany as "Dylan Morgan" and Richard Dreyfuss "Dr. Cas Pepper"

Q: Does Cas and Dylan pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

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