THE MEDDLER

A widow sheltered from reality for decades by a indulgent but old fashioned husband must learn to start life anew in Lorene Scafaria's lovely new film The Meddler. Much like her first feature Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, The Meddler takes its time introducing offbeat characters who seem all wrong but turn out to be totally right.

Susan Sarandon, starring as Jersey girl "Marnie Minervini," is in every single scene, but she never wears out her welcome (even though the actress herself has been a bit--ahem--over-exposed in the DNC's 2016 presidential primary campaign). But so what? Who cares? And that says volumes about the professional quality of everyone behind the camera as well as in front of it. Brava, Susan! Brava, Lorene! (JLH: 4.5/5)

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Top Photo: Susan Sarandon as "Marnie Minervini" with her daughter "Lori" (Rose Byrne).

Bottom Photo: Marnie with her new friend "Zipper" (J.K. Simmons)

Photo Credits: Sony Pictures Classics

Q: Does The Meddler pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Absolutely!

Although Marnie does meddle a bit in her daughter's relationship with her ex, very few of their actual conversations revolve around him. And Marnie has numerous relationships with other women that have nothing to do with men whatsoever.

In fact, one of Marnie's most moving relationships is with an old woman (Jo Jordan) who can't talk at all, but somehow she still manages to communicate nonetheless.

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NINA

Opens tomorrow (4/22/16) in NYC. Review coming soon…

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SWORN VIRGIN

CcEatFIXEAESYMnWriter/Director Laura Bispuri tackles the ever-present subject of gender and sexual identity. In Sworn Virgin, Alba Rohrwacher stars as Hana/Mark, a young woman who, after years of living life as a free man, chooses to return to her roots. Although the hot-button transgender issue is well-crafted here, the plot hits too many lulls for it to be entirely gripping. (BKP: 3/5)

Review by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

The story begins in present day as “Mark” (Alba Rohrwacher) works in the snowy mountains of Albania. The filmmakers use a series of flashbacks to piece together his history as a young woman, “Hana Doda,” who so desperately escaped a life of female slavery and obedience. When her sister, “Lila” ran off to Italy with her boyfriend to avoid an arranged marriage, Hana chose a completely different life from that of Albanian culture: one that meant cutting her hair, binding her breasts and living a life of celibacy.

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In present day, as Mark shows up on his sister’s doorstep after the death of their birth parents, the film follows his journey as he transitions back to being a “her.” Hana finds a home with her sister “Lila” (Flolnja Kodheli) and her family, including a questioning and nosy teenage daughter, “Jonida” (Emily Ferratello). In her new environment, Hana discovers and experiences all of the things she missed out on while shooting rifles in the Albanian mountains. And as the title would indicate, Hana’s sexuality takes center stage.

With the transgender topic consuming a majority of the media and various art-forms, this was less about “being in the wrong body” and more about finding yourself. As timely as this subject is, the pacing of Sworn Virgin can be painfully slow. If the plot had more momentum or even contrived momentum by way of Nando Di Cosimo’s score, it would have made for a more alert and invested audience.

Yet, there will surely be a viewer who can relate to Hana/Mark’s struggle, and not because of the “transgender” topic. This is a story about returning home, discovering who you are and living a life you always dreamed of.

© Brigid K. Presecky FF2 Media (4/26/16)

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Middle Photo: Young “Hana” (played as a teenager by Drenica Selimaj) and her sister “Lila” (played as a teenager by Dajana Selimaj).

Bottom Photo: Alba Rohrwacher as “Hana/Mark”

Photo Credits: Colorado Film Production

Q: Does Sworn Virgin pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?GreenA2016

Absolutely, yes!

The main protagonist “Hana/Mark” (Alba Rohrwacher) has multiple scenes with sister “Lila” (Flolnja Kodheli) and her teenage daughter, “Jonida” (Emily Ferratello).

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THE ADDERALL DIARIES

Opens Friday (4/15/16) in NYC. Review coming soon…

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BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT

TopMuch of the cast you know and love from the first two Barbershop films are back in Barbershop: The Next Cut. This time around, screenwriters Tracy Oliver, Kenya Barris, and Mark Brown place their characters within a thought-provoking narrative, delivering a worthy addition to the already successful franchise.

The South Side of Chicago is caught in the middle of the ever-present violence escalating on the Chicago streets. The employees of Calvin’s barbershop decide to do something about it, holding a weekend-long ceasefire, offering free haircuts, and actively doing their part to promote a safer community. (JEP: 3.5/5)

Review by Contributing Editor Jessica E. Perry

Faced with hard economic times, the Calvin’s Barbershop we know from the franchise’s first two films, has merged with a beauty salon, male and female employees and clientele alike all now inhabiting the same space. The “man cave” that was once the barbershop is no more, but “Calvin” (Ice Cube) is determined to make it work—no matter the contrasting personalities and opinions he now has to deal with in the workplace.

Calvin is a family man, and will do anything to keep his wife and son safe. Located on the South Side of Chicago, Calvin fears his barbershop will soon be caught in the crosshairs of the escalating violence on the streets. Chicago is growing more and more violent each day. Women and children are no longer safe from the gang related violence, and Calvin fears that if things don’t change, one day the violence will affect his own family.

So Calvin and his wife “Jennifer” (Jazsmin Lewis) consider moving the shop to the North Side of Chicago, but keep their intentions from the rest of the shop employees. When their son “Jalen” (Michael Rainey Jr.) starts getting into trouble at school, Calvin and Jennifer fear that he may be associating with the wrong people. Calvin is concerned that his employee “Rashad’s” (Common) son, “Kenny” (Diallo Thompson), is the reason for Jalen’s recent behavior, the insinuation causing tension between the two men. But Rashad and his wife “Terri” (Eve) have their own familial concerns, including their coworker “Draya” (Nicki Minaj), whose advances on Rashad begin to threaten their marriage.middle

Through it all, the violence on the Chicago streets continues to be a looming threat to the neighborhood that everyone at the barbershop calls home. When things continue to escalate, the employees decide to do something about it, arranging a ceasefire between the gangs for one weekend. During the ceasefire, the barbershop will offer free haircuts to anyone who comes by, hoping to promote a healthy and safe community. Calvin continues to debate relocating for his family’s sake, but one thing is for sure, everyone, including Calvin, has always and will always call Chicago home.

Boasting a hysterical ensemble cast including returning members Cedric the Entertainer and Anthony Anderson, as well as new cast members Common, J.B. Smoove, Deon Cole, and Regina Hall—as Calvin’s business partner and owner of the beauty shop. But for me, the best addition to the cast is Lamorne Morris (New Girl) who provides some serious comic relief as “Jerrod,” no matter the situation.

With his past credits, there is no doubt that Ice Cube excels in the father/family-man role, and this case is no different. Among the large ensemble cast, there were standout performances, but unfortunately, there were also performances that didn’t live up to the others. Nicki Minaj is great at playing herself, but any real emotion is simply too much to ask. Halfway through the movie Minaj’s character Draya just stops wearing shirts. So for the last hour of the film, bras doubled as shirts, and no one had anything to say about it. But I’ll hand that one over to wardrobe.

Although a little heavy handed, Barbershop: The Next Cut boasts successfully tackling a serious subject while delivering a whole lot of laughs along the way. Director Malcolm D. Lee allows the film to run on a little too long, but screenwriters Tracy Oliver, Kenya Barris, and Mark Brown deliver a thought-provoking narrative, allowing Barbershop: The Next Cut to live up to, and perhaps even surpass, its predecessors.

© Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (4/19/16)bottom

Top Photo: "Angie" (Regina Hall) tending to a customer.

Middle Photo: “Jerrod" (Lamorne Morris) and fellow employee "Bree" (Margot Bingham) dance together, celebrating the ceasefire.

Bottom Photo: "Rashad" (Common), "Eddie" (Cedric the Entertainer), and "Calvin" (Ice Cube) during a normal day at the shop.

Photo Credits: Jace Downs

Q: Does Barbershop: The Next Cut pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

No.

While the film has a significant female cast, their discussion revolves largely around men. Every time a conversation begins to pass the test, it ends up circling back around to a man.

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ECHO PARK

echopark1Writer Catalina Aguilar Mastretta and Director Amanda Maralis team up to tell a sweet, simple story of a brief love affair between unlucky-in-love “Sophie” (Mamie Gummer) and British dreamer “Alex” (Tony Okungbowa). Although the pacing could use a jolt of energy, this human story makes for an enjoyable, pleasantly surprising watch. (BKP: 3.5/5)

Review By Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Welcome to two love stories. Although some would argue that there is only one here, found in the main characters of Sophie and Alex, the filmmakers clearly pen their love letter to the titular Echo Park. From the hills and sunlight to the compact houses and friendly neighbors, each element of the hipster-clad Park is represented, and relevant to the story of Sophie and Alex. Whether it’s their flirtatious game of soccer or their walks up and down the street, the background is just as much a character as the two leads.

Sophie just broke up with her longtime boyfriend. Alex is giving up his dream of being Hollywood’s next great music supervisor. And like Sophie’s description of an antique Polaroid camera, “it develops instantly.” Hitting all the right romance-film beats, the two characters meet, unexpectedly fall in love, encounter obstacles and deal with the fallout. Although it sounds like a been-there, done-that formula, it works like a charm.

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What makes Echo Park stand out from the rest, however, is the beauty in which it’s shot. The natural lighting and rays of sunlight flicker in and out of the frame, capturing the “realness” of their little corner of the world. And as the pacing occasionally slows, viewers grab onto the feel-good soundtrack overlaying the film’s quiet moments and scenic montages.

Sophie’s complicated relationship with her mother “Julie,” (Helen Slater) adds another layer to an already emotionally rich story. What is Sophie doing with her life? Will her mother approve? Where does she go from here? These questions will be relatable to any viewer (particularly young adults) who are still in the midst of growing up and realizing, no matter how old they get, their parents will always be their parents no matter what.

The plot touches on cultural and economic boundaries, with Gummer and Okungbowa portraying this interracial couple with seemingly natural ability. They may not have the chemistry of the typical “Hollywood romance film,” but that is exactly the film’s point. This is different. They are different. This is a story of Sophie and Alex, two people who reflect on where they have been and where they are going. All they needed was each other to figure it out.

© Brigid K. Presecky FF2 Media (4/19/16)

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Top Photo: Tony Okungbowa as “Alex” and Mamie Gummer as “Sophie”

Middle Photo: Sophie points out a Polaroid camera

Bottom Photo: Alex and Sophie fall in love

Photo Credits: Turntable Studios

Q: Does Echo Park pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?GreenA2016

Yes!

“Sophie” (Mamie Gummer) and her mother “Julie” (Helen Slater) have numerous scenes in the film. A majority of them consist of Sophie’s relationship, however, they do discuss her future and overall life decisions.

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HIGH STRUNG

Top“Ruby” (Keenan Kampa) is a first year ballerina at a performing arts conservatory in Manhattan. As she struggles to shine in her coursework, Ruby meets a broody violinist busking in the New York Subway, and the as the pair grow close, they put their musical talents to use entering a performance competition with a high stakes prize.

Directed by Michael Damien, and written by Michael and Janeen Damian, High Strung is a new take on the young adult romance, featuring classical music and artfully choreographed danced sequences of various styles. (JEP: 3.5/5)

Review by Contributing Editor Jessica E. Perry

“Ruby” (Keenan Kampa) is a talented ballerina who is one of only a select few to receive a scholarship to the prestigious Manhattan Conservatory of the Arts. After a teary farewell with her mother, “Mary” (Miranda Wilson), Ruby moves into her new dorm, meets her bubbly second-year roommate “Jazzy” (Sonoya Mizuno), and begins her classes at the conservatory.

On her way back to her dorm, Ruby finds herself instantly intrigued by a handsome young English violinist “Johnnie” (Nicholas Galitzine) busking in the New York City subway. She sees him, her train pulls away, and that seems to be the end of it. But Ruby takes that train daily, and Johnnie needs the cash, so he plays often in the same bustling NYC subway station.

When a dance crew battle breaks out inside the station, Johnnie comes to Ruby’s rescue when the battle gets out of hand. Amidst the chaos, Johnnie’s prized violin gets stolen. Ruby insists on helping him find it, but Johnny resents her help at first, pushing her away. Ruby’s persistent, however, always believing the best in people.

Johnny’s visa has long since run out and he is trying desperately to get a green card. But until then, his only form of income was busking in NYC subway stations. With his violin gone, Johnny is strapped for cash, and his rent due any day. When Ruby brings him a loner violin from her school, along with an opportunity to enter a music competition where the winner receives a full scholarship to the Manhattan Conservatory of the Arts—solving Johnny’s green card problem—and $25,000Middle—solving his cash problem—Johnny rejects her help, his pride and attitude getting in the way.

Luckily for him, the dance crew that lives in the apartment below his own knows of another way for Johnny to make some money under the table. Cue fate, when Johnny and Ruby run into each other again, this time at a prestigious gala where Johnny is working as a cater waiter (thanks to his new dance crew friends), and Ruby is there on the invite of cocky violinist and womanizer from her conservatory, “Kyle” (Richard Southgate). The two boys let their pride get the best of them, as they proceed to “fight” for the girl in a duel of the violins.

After Johnny is kicked out of the gala for disrupting the peace, Ruby and Johnny can no longer deny their connection. As the two grow closer, Johnny softens, letting Ruby in and letting himself truly want something for the first time. The pair decides to enter the music competition after all, putting a twist on their set, and going up against Kyle and some of the best musicians and dancers at the conservatory.

High Strung is filled with extremely talented dancers and musicians, but sadly, not many talented actors. It is glaringly apparent that a few members of the main and supporting cast were selected for their superb dance talent, and not at all for their acting chops. Keenan Kampa does her best as Ruby, but her performance truly shines only when she is dancing. However, one must applaud Nicholas Galitzine for his portrayal of an extremely talented violinist, as he had no prior training, and learned the instrument for the film.

What’s more, screenwriters Janeen Damian and Michael Damian deliver an intriguing narrative, but with subpar dialog, the audience is left wanting more from them. With that said, High Strung is filled with beautiful dance sequences, featuring various styles, including everything from ballet to modern and hip-hop. If you can pardon the poor acting and choppy dialog, the film fully delivers on its promise of a thoroughly enjoyable teen/young adult romance.

© Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (4/15/16)high_strung_still

Top Photo: Ruby performs a pointe routine at the conservatory.

Middle Photo: Ruby's instructors "Oksana" (Jane Seymour) and "Kramrovsky" (Paul Freeman) proudly watch her perform in the competition.

Bottom Photo: As it all comes together, Ruby and Johnny give it their all in the final performance of the competition.

Photo Credits: Cos Aelenei

Q: Does High Strung pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?GreenA2016

 Yes!

Ruby’s roommate Jazzy shows her around the school giving her the ins and outs on how to navigate a new place.

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HOSTILE BORDER

posterA gripping drama directed by Michael Dwyer and written by Kaitlin McLaughlin, Hostile Border follows one young woman as she is deported back to Mexico when she is found guilty of credit card fraud. Alone in a new country, and unable to speak the language, she must learn who to trust in order to survive. (JEP: 3.5/5)

Review by Contributing Editor Jessica E. Perry

“Claudia” (Veronica Sixtos) known to those around her as “Pocha”—a term given to a Mexican-American female who speaks little or no Spanish—has grown up in the United States. She lives with her mother who brought her to the U.S. from Mexico years ago for a better life. Claudia has only known life in the states, and speaks no Spanish. But even though she considers the U.S. home, legally, Claudia is an undocumented illegal immigrant.

Claudia paves her way by working for a “business” stealing credit card information from restaurant clientele. When she insists on going in on one last run, the FBI make their move, and Claudia is caught and arrested for credit card fraud. Once in government custody, there is nothing she or her mother can do. Claudia is promptly deported and sent back to Mexico. Unable to speak the language and knowing no one, she’s a stranger to her homeland.

Before being taken away, Claudia made a promise, a promise to return home to her mother. But until she is able to find a way back across the border, Claudia must find her estranged father “Andres” (Julio Cedillo) in Mexico for safety and a place to stay. So she makes her way to her father’s farm with the assistance of a few helpful strangers. When she arrives, the state of their relationship is unclear. Has Claudia ever met her father? Does she remember a life with him in the picture? These questions are left achingly unclear. But no matter their circumstance, Andres willingly takes Claudia in.

Forced to work on her father’s farm, Claudia agrees to the manual labor only if she can work alonghostile-borderside the young, attractive farmhand “Arturo” (Jorge A. Jimenez). One day while they are mending fences out in the field, Arturo receives a phone call that leaves him on edge. A few moments later, a truck barrels across the field towards them. Arturo flees on foot as the truck rams into the vehicle Claudia is trying to use as her escape. A group of men—led by a young man named “Ricky” (Roberto Urbina)—exit the truck, chase Arturo down, and drag him back to where Claudia is being held.

It is not entirely clear what exactly it is that Ricky does, but it is glaringly apparent that despite his pretty boy looks, he is not someone to be messed with. Ricky uses Andres’ farm to smuggle some sort of cargo across the land to his men on the other side. Arturo has been working for Ricky, but did not follow through on the last job, a mistake that will cost him his life. All Claudia can do is watch as Arturo is led away. She nods her head in agreement as Ricky places Arturo’s cell phone in her hand, passing his responsibility on to her. In order to secure her own safety, Claudia agrees to be Ricky’s next employee, helping him smuggle his goods across the farmland.

From this point on, Claudia must keep Arturo’s grave fate a secret from her father, while taking up his work with Ricky. While the work earns her extra cash and a potential way across the border, Ricky is dangerous, and getting in too deep with him may not be worth the price she has to pay to get what she wants.

Screenwriter Kaitlin McLaughlin delivers a gripping narrative, and director Michael Dwyer gives McLaughlin’s story life on screen with ample suspense and intrigue. But unfortunately, the filmmakers leave too much for the audience to infer. We aren’t given all of the information we need to fully understand our protagonist and her relationship to those around her. With that said, Hostile Border has it’s moments; moments that will have you on the edge of your seat anxious for Claudia as her tumultuous story unfolds.

© Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (4/20/16)Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 4.29.50 PMTop Photo: Hostile Border poster.

Middle Photo: Claudia leads Ricky's men across the farmland.

Bottom Photo: Claudia unsuccessfully tries to use the truck as an escape from Ricky.

Photo Credits: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Q: Does Hostile Border pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?GreenA2016

 Yes!

After she is arrested, Claudia promises to find a way back to her mother after she learns that she will be deported back to Mexico. While in Mexico, Claudia receives guidance and advice from her grandmother “Lita” (María de Carmen Farias).

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SKY

Opens Friday (4/15/16) in NYC. Review coming soon…

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THE SYNDROME

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 3.22.21 PMDirector Meryl Goldsmith and co-writer/producer Susan Goldsmith attempt to pick apart the science behind SBS (Shaken-Baby Syndrome) and shed a light on wrongly-accused “abusive” parents. As controversial as the subject is, the filmmakers make a purposeful statement: people are villainized in America’s mainstream media. (BKP: 2.5/5)

Review by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

SBS, known as Shaken-Baby Syndrome, was covered in the “media,” with pictures of abusive parents in the criminal court system and brain-damaged babies hooked up to machines. In The Syndrome, the filmmakers set out to disprove the theory that it was caused by human behavior. By interviewing medical experts and journalists, Meryl and Susan Goldsmith pull the curtain back on what they believe has been greatly exaggerated.

Some doctors back the claims, some don’t. So what is the truth? One of the truths is how multimedia journalism like to sensationalize and villainize people, stories and situations. If every media outlet is looking for their next great sound bite or catchy, clickable headline … will the truth ever be revealed?

These documentarians make an interesting overall argument while pinpointing one case: SBS. They show doctors violently shaking dummy dolls and demonstrating the horrific acts of abusive parents. However, they argue that these parents may not have shaken their baby at all and are being wrongly accused. There is scientific evidence to back their case: that this is not human-caused.

The film is edited together in typical documentary fashion: talking heads, b-roll of scientfiic studies and brain scans and voiceovers to tie everything together. The choppy editing and (at times) redundancy of the final product makes for a sleeper of a documentary. The Goldsmiths make a compelling argument, but unfortunately, that is the only thing compelling found in The Syndrome.

© Brigid K. Presecky FF2 Media (4/22/16)

the_syndrome_-_louise-woodward-h2016Photo: Documentary focuses on one case of SBS, in particular, of Louise Woodward

Photo Credits: Reset Films

Q: Does The Syndrome pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

No.

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