MARIE CURIE (2017): Review by Georgi Presecky

Writer-director Marie Noelle explores the personal struggles of the titular scientist in Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge. (GEP: 3.5/5)

Review by Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

Students might remember Marie Curie’s name emboldened on the pages of their textbooks, a flashcard with her moniker on one side and a brief list of accomplishments on the other. “Marie Curie: Polish chemist and physicist; pioneering theory of radioactivity; first woman to receive a Nobel Prize and only woman to receive two.” Her awards and theories would undoubtedly be the answers to one of those dreaded “all of the above” questions our science and history teachers used to baffle us on exams.

Noelle and co-writer Andrea Stoll try to unfold the single-line definition Curie has been reduced to in The Courage of Knowledge, a very unscientific biopic in both structure and plot. Curie’s relationships are the main plot point of the narrative, from her family to her predominantly male colleagues. Her romantic life is also depicted, including  the devastating death of her husband (an especially grim part of the film) and her later affair with married colleague Paul Langevin.

Karolina Gruszka is outstanding in her embodiment of the lead role. As Daniel Day Lewis put a voice to the previously elusive personal life of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, Gruszka does so on a smaller scale. The right actor brought life to this particular historical figure, not only in the lab (where we’re already familiar with her), but in the details of her personality both in the classroom and at home.

When Curie takes over her late husband’s teaching (“a female professor?!” *gasp*), the film finally picks up speed as Curie proves her prowess. Her theories themselves have already been examined in labs and science books - but her motivation as a teacher and mother can only be truly depicted in this form, however slow or unbalanced it might be to watch at times.

While admittedly more compelling than a Biography Channel-style list of her awards and scientific achievements, the more dramatic aspects of Curie’s adult life are somehow complicated and slow all at once. Her life is undoubtedly interesting, but to quote Curie’s sister, “she fights on too many fronts simultaneously,” and so does Noelle and Stoll’s script. The Courage of Knowledge attempts to combine science, female advancement, motherhood and romance. While it’s not entirely seamless, neither was Curie’s life. Our teachers were right - she was all of the above.

© Georgiana E. Presecky (7/5/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: The film's title character won two Nobel Prizes and is known for her theory of radioactivity.

Middle Photo: Curie took over her husband's teachings after he died.

Bottom Photo: Curie in the lab.

Photo Credits: Big World Pictures

Q: Does Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

No.

Posted in Reviews: K-M | Tagged | Leave a comment

POP AYE: Review By Katusha Jin

A nostalgic road trip movie, Pop Aye, follows the relationship between an unusual pair—architect and elephant—as they encounter a diverse range of people on their journey. Having received many international awards for her previous short films, writer-director Kristen Tan brings to the screen her heartwarming and down-to-earth debut feature(KIZJ: 4.5/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Katusha Jin

Somewhere in the countryside of Thailand, a man, “Thana” (Thaneth Warakulnukroh), and an elephant, “Popeye” (Bong), walk down the roadside together. Failing to hail down a truck whilst walking, Thana sits on a pipe as he waits for the next vehicle to drive by. A truck driver finally agrees to take them and the two men lock Popeye into the bed of the truck. However, it isn’t long before a disagreement in the front seat leads to the architect and the elephant back on the street again for the night.

Tan then takes the story back in time to the bustling city of Bangkok, before Thana and Popeye’s lives crossed paths. Popeye is performing on the streets as a circus elephant, and Thana is an architect whose successes are gradually being forgotten. Thana’s distaste and disappointment in the city is clear when he describes Bangkok as a place, which “takes you in, as quick as it spits you out.”

Thana spots a young employee slaving away at an unfinished project after hours and sends him home, choosing to finish it in his stead. However, it isn’t until the morning that he finds out the meeting with the client was moved without notifying him. The architect feels himself being valued less and less at work as the company prepares a younger employee to take over his position. His personal life is also losing its spark as he and his wife, “Bo” (Penpak Sirikul), are in a clear disconnect. Bo looks at Thana with tired and hopeless expressions, unwilling to put in the effort to revive their marriage.

Pop Aye is a film scattered with small acts of kindness, and illustrates the power and effect such acts can have in a harsh world. The story highlights how simplicity is sometimes all we seek to be happy. Thana and Popeye’s tenderly paced wander back to Loei prompts an internal growth and changein mindset that could not have happened at any other speed. Matthew James Kelly brings out the nuances of humor in the slice of life scenes with his music, and Chaitawat Thrisansri paints the film with shades of nostalgia through color.

The movie does not fall into a typical template of a road trip film and keeps interest and engagement throughout. Winning the 2017 World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Screenplay, Tan does indeed create a charmingly sentimental work of art through her writing. Her focus on Popeye and the architecture as important elements of the film, combined with the extraordinary chemistry between Warakulnukroh and Bong, makes a beautiful setup for a uniquely playful, yet lightly dramatic story of growth, regret, and human values.

© Katusha Jin (7/01/17)FF2 Media

Top Photo: “Thana” (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) on a bridge in Bangkok.

Middle Photo: “Thana” (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) with “Popeye” (Bong) at night.

Bottom Photo: “Thana” (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) with “Popeye” (Bong) as they wait for a truck on the roadside.

Photo Credits: Kino Lorber

Does Pop Aye pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes…but this was a close one.

Even though there is a fair amount in the movie in which characters are not talking about a man, the movie centers around a male protagonist and an elephant. The only female lead is Thana’s wife, Bo, and most of the conversations she has are with him. However, Bo does speak with a lady who comes to clean their apartment and notifies her that she does not need to clean today, that they will arrange another time.

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THE REAGAN SHOW (2017): Review by Amelie Lasker

The Reagan Show--co-directed by Sierra Pettengill--documents President Reagan as he navigates the personal and public tensions of negotiations with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The filmmakers find a strange humor in their portrayal of Cold War politics. Composed almost completely of footage of Ronald Reagan taken within the White House and of news broadcasts from the time, the documentary takes on the perspective of a detached pundit, attentive but only as close to the action as the public footage allows. (AEL: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Amelie E. Lasker

The day-to-day documentation of Ronald Reagan’s presidency was unprecedented, in part because film technology had become relatively cheap and accessible, but more so because President Reagan’s personal style made public appearances easy. Naturally The Reagan Show’s filmmakers would have been drawn to this footage as the basis for a documentary, as it seems to have been an essential facet of Reagan’s public policy. When an interviewer asks Reagan whether his experiences as an actor have been helpful to him at all in his political career, Reagan replies, “There have been times, in this office, when I’ve wondered how you could do the job if you hadn’t been an actor.”

The frequent public announcements that appear to come directly from Reagan at his stately presidential desk, along with the charade of broadcasting Reagan’s daily activities, were indeed an effective political tool for his administration. As an actor, Reagan had been portrayed as the wholesome American hero. Those who filmed the President cultivated that image, so that the White House staff assumed the role of mediator between the President and his public, a role which would otherwise have belonged to the press. Michael Deaver, White House Deputy Chief of Staff, explained to an interviewer, “It’s also staging, how you stage the message. It’s a game.”

Naturally, many reporters challenged the White House’s public approach, demanding to know what the administration was doing under all the show. One even suggested that Reagan was nothing but an incredibly talented salesman. As Reagan began summit meetings with the new leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, these reporters’ questions became motivated less by fascination and more by concern.

While the documentary follows the Cold War negotiations leading up to the 1987 INF Treaty, in which the US and the USSR agreed for the first time to reduce their nuclear arms, the film’s focus remains outside the meetings, following Reagan and Gorbachev as personalities competing for public support. We, as viewers, can see only what television audiences were able to see at the time: Reagan exits planes and enters summit meetings, but as reporters point out, he gives no hint as to what is happening inside, only smiling and waving in response to reporters’ questions.

This, however, is the film’s weak point. Directors Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez and writers Josh Alexander, Francisco Bello, and Velez emphasize an image of Reagan as evasively charismatic, always documented but hardly ever letting his public smile fall. Yet the film does not attempt to delve into what was behind the public personality.

It feels especially important to me that the filmmakers do so in light of its relevance to the personality politics of our current President. The filmmakers touch on this connection, including footage of Reagan’s 1980 campaign slogan, “We will make America great again,” but they never make anything of the connection. As a result, the film feels far removed from what’s happening now, when it had the potential to illustrate a historical precedent for the strangeness of current personality politics. Reagan’s consistent and deliberately comforting on-camera persona stands out in contrast to Trump’s administration, and the nuclear war paranoia that people had at the time comes across feeling just as distant. The filmmakers represent the feeling of imminent threat only in clips of disaster movies with poor special effects, so that the effect is almost campy.

The Reagan Show circles around a deeper question of what Reagan meant by an American brand of peace, and what people would have thought it meant to be an American at the time. In contrast to the other political threads, this question does feel relevant to our current time, a time in which our President’s persona doesn’t represent how many of us see ourselves or what we would want for our country. The film ends with people passionately singing “I’m proud to be an American” at the 1988 Republican National Convention, but in the context of so much contrast between the fears and needs of the American people and the mystery of President Reagan’s foreign policy, the filmmakers’ choice to conclude with this footage feels cryptic. I would like to know more: what did it feel like to be an American during the Reagan presidency and the Cold War? How did audiences at the time, at which the film so often hints but never addresses, see their relationship to their federal government’s choices?

In a film that so deftly portrays Reagan’s public charm and the curiosity it evoked in audiences, I would like to see it satisfy some of that curiosity. The Reagan Show doesn’t give us any insight into what was really beyond the show, working only as a record, if an accurate one, of what people speculated at the time.

© Amelie E. Lasker (7/11/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev meet in New York City.

Middle Photo: President Reagan as he would have appeared on television.

Bottom Photo: President Reagan answers press questions.

Photo Credits: Gravitas Ventures

Q: Does The Reagan Show pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test? 

No.

The filmmakers do turn their focus briefly to Nancy Reagan and to how she negotiated her own public persona, but that persona centers around her support for her husband.

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THE BEGUILED (2017): Review by Jan Lisa Huttner

NOTE: This review of Sofia Coppola's film The Beguiled is written from the POV of someone coming to the material for the second time. Jan saw the 1971 version starring Clint Eastwood, Elizabeth Hartman & Geraldine Page sometime in the way back when, and she watched this Don Siegel version again this week after last week's screening of the Sofia Coppola version. For more from the POV of someone who has not seen the 1971 version, click HERE to read review by FF2 Executive Editor-in-Chief Jessica Perry.

Superb new adaptation of Thomas Cullinan's Civil War novel The Beguiled is anchored by the best performance Nicole Kidman has given in many a year.

Since it circles back to the themes of writer/director Sofia Coppola's first film, perhaps the best way to receive it is as "The Beguiled Virgins." But whereas The Virgin Suicides (1999) was told from the POV of neighborhood boys looking into a haunted house, The Beguiled (2017) is told from the POV of women and girls locked inside a haunted house.

Am I kidding? No, I am not. For example, note, for the record, that the vulnerable "treasures" to be protected inside each house (the Lisbon house in The Virgin Suicides and Miss Farnsworth's house in The Beguiled) are five girls -- just like the number of daughters in Pride and Prejudice and the number of daughters in Fiddler on the Roof. I am sure Ms. Coppola is aware of this; now you know it too.

The word "beguiled" itself is somewhat archaic and the best-known use of this word before Thomas Cullinan (who seems to have been a serious and erudite fellow) used it for the title of his 1966 novel was in the King James Bible ("And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.), so maybe Cullinan also knew that Zeophehad had five daughters? It would not surprise me. But did Don Siegel know any of this? If so, I doubt that he cared.

From my POV, Sofia Coppola's adaptation is almost perfect save for one egregious and entirely unnecessary error. My bottom line? An artist has every right to adapt material to her own specifications as long as she owns her decisions. So ignore the faux "controversy,"see this film, and decide for yourself! (JLH: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner

On February 18, 1980, George Will published a column in Newsweek  magazine opposing the expansion of roles for women in the US military because "the almost instinctive and universal exemption of women from combat draws a line against the encroachment of violence upon havens of gentleness." I know this for a fact because when I read Will's column, I went ballistic. I wrote a vicious rebuttal which I sent to Newsweek (after Richard made several judicious edits of course), and wonder of wonders, they published it!

Sofia Coppola's new remake of Don Siegel's 1971 film The Beguiled is a peek inside one such "haven of gentleness" told from the female POV.

Nicole Kidman stars as the formidable "Martha Farnsworth," a genteel Virginia woman trying to shepherd her remaining students at the Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies through the last phase of the Civil War. Miss Martha and "Miss Edwina" (Kirsten Dunst) -- the only teacher still onsite -- are responsible for five girls who range in age from around 12 to around 16. From the girls' conversations, we can assume that most, if not all, are from prominent families in more perilous zones. Do their families really believe they will be safer with Miss Farnsworth, or are they already so overwhelmed at home that they have ceased to care?

These seven are therefore trapped together like characters in a fairy tale; they are seven Sleeping Beauties, Rapunzels languishing in a tower. They can hear cannon fire in the distance. They can see plumes of smoke in the sky. But they have been consigned to a "haven of gentleness;" seven irrelevant, forgotten females.

Then, one day, a Little Red Riding Hood named "Amy" (Oona Laurence) is picking mushrooms in the woods when she stumbles on the half-dead body of a Union soldier. Barely conscious and in obvious pain, he tells Amy his name and begs her to help him. Amy, the youngest and most tenderhearted of her charges, dutifully brings "Corporal John McBurney" (Colin Farrell) to Miss Martha. The Big Bad Wolf is now inside the Hen House.

In Don Siegel's 1971 adaptation of the eponymous novel by Thomas Cullinan (which I have not read), the plot quickly turns lurid, with plenty of blood and gore plus flashbacks of rape, murder, and incest. Siegel (and maybe Cullinan as well) see poor Corporal McBurney as a wily man trapped in a coven who has no choice but to fight for his life, one man against seven lust-crazed witches. 

Coppola's narrative, however, is told mostly from Miss Martha's POV. While we never doubt her resolve to put her duty to her students first, there is no hiding the fact that she thrives on this sudden opportunity to prove her mettle. To be part of the action -- even in such a small way -- after so long on the sidelines seems way more stimulating to Miss Martha than the possibility of a tryst with a man so clearly below her in social status.

But sadly, Miss Edwina is more susceptible. Kirsten Dunst is now 35, and watching her in this new role it is impossible not to think of her performance as teenage "Lux Lisbon" in The Virgin Suicides. The Virgin Suicides, of course, was Sofia Coppola's first film, as well as one of Kirsten Dunst's first leading roles (altho her first screen credit is a bit part in Woody Allen's New York Stories when she was barely old enough to go to school).

You can hear Lux Lisbon's plaintive whine "I'm suffocating!" in The Beguiled, and you can also hear the terse reply of her mother ("But you're safe here!") in Miss Martha's subsequent actions. Of course, it is not true. Lux is not safe inside the Lisbon house, Miss Edwina is not safe at Miss Farnsworth's school, and Marie Antoinette -- the best part Ms. Coppola has written to date for Ms. Dunst -- was certainly not safe at Versailles even though she was The Queen.

But the other pupils at the Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies? Under Miss Martha's tutelage, they just might make it.

© Jan Lisa Huttner (6/23/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Nicole Kidman gives a commanding performance as the regal Martha Farnsworth.

Middle Photo: Colin Farrell as smarmy "Corporal John McBurney" talks pretty to "Alicia" (Elle Fanning) the eldest of the Farnsworth Seminary students.

Bottom Photo: "Miss Edwina" (Kirsten Dunst) -- clearly a spinster on the edge of middle age -- instinctively shields her students when young Amy approaches the house with the wounded Yankee soldier.

Q: Does The Beguiled (2017) pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Absolutely!

In addition to their classroom work and chores, the girls discuss the war and give a bit of their backstories. For example, one girl relates news of General Sherman's ruthless March to the Sea. Her family has instructed her not to leave Miss Farnsworth's school while Sherman is still tearing a path across Georgia.

And Yet... Here is the point at which I give voice to my major complaint about Sofia Coppola's version of The Beguiled.

In Siegel's 1971 film (and presumably in Cullinan's novel as well), there is a third adult at the Farnsworth Seminary -- a slave named "Hallie" (played by actress Mae Mercer). From my POV, Siegel wants Hallie in his film primarily as an excuse for an ugly rape scene that also gives additional screen time to Martha's odious brother "Miles" (Patrick Culliton) = another character Coppola drops from her cast. And good riddance to you, Miles!

The problem is that without Hallie, it is no longer clear how "activities of daily living" actually get done at Farnsworth Seminary. We do see the "Young Ladies" doing some field work, and helping each other dress by pulling at corset strings (like Mammy so memorably did for Scarlett in Gone with the Wind), but we never see them doing enough work to explain how these well-bred southern belles get by day after day. So perhaps Miss Martha is, indeed, a fine cook, but who does the dishes? I found myself suddenly thankful for the scene in Gone with the Wind in which Rhett recoils in disgust from Scarlett's visibly work-worn hands.

You cannot have it both ways, Ms. Coppola. You cannot applaud Miss Martha's self-sufficiency without showing us more about how she actually manages to "Make It So." Just sayin'

True Story: After we received our copy of the 3/30/80 Newsweek and realized that our letter was inside, Richard and I danced around the apartment singing "What Newsweek hath joined together, let no man separate!" Soon enough, we got married and we've been together ever since...

But looking at his words again, almost forty years later, I now see that George Will's triggering comment tells us a great deal about male privilege. Specifically, only a man who came of age in a colonial empire -- where all the battles were always "there" rather than "here" -- would believe women could be protected in "havens of gentleness." If we learned one thing in the 20th Century, we learned that when the battles are "here," women are always targets of violence, and this is true wherever "here" is, be it in Congo (in Central Africa) or in Bosnia (in the former Yugoslavia), or anywhere alphabetically in between.

In fact, it took until 1993 until rape was considered "a crime against humanity... when committed in armed conflict and directed against a civilian population." Furthermore, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which "includes rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity as a crime against humanity when it is committed in a widespread or systematic way," has only been "in force since July 2002."

These are precisely the things -- like sexual harassment and spousal abuse -- that no one ever talked about in "polite" company before women began to tell their own stories on page, stage, and screen. Way back in 1971, when Don Siegel released his version of The Beguiled, it was simply assumed that "gentlemen" who stumbled into "havens of gentleness" would treat the "ladies" there chivalrously. If they really were "nice girls" and "good women," they would have nothing to worry about, would they?

Now it is 2017, and the predictable #@&% is raining down on Ms. Coppola's head because she dared to make a remake of a mediocre film from a female POV. Well, OK, so her film is not perfect (for the reason specified above), but IMHO it is a hell of a lot better than what came before!

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ALL THE RAGE (SAVED BY SARNO): Review by Brigid Presecky

Directors Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley and David Beilinson delve into Dr. John Sarno’s belief system that physical pain is at the root of the human psyche. With celebrity patients like Larry David and Howard Stern, All the Rage (Saved by Sarno) keeps viewers engaged with an engrossing, argumentative look at an alternative to modern medicine. (BKP: 4/5)

Review by Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Think differently. In its truest form, documentaries aim to challenge societal norms and allow viewers to think in deeper, broader ways. Rage is no exception. Dr. John Sarno (who passed away on June 22, a day before the film’s release) had a possible solution to the pain epidemic in America’s aging population. What Larry David described as the closest thing he’s had to a “religious experience,” Sarno provides patience with a book instead of a prescription.

Developed for decades at New York University Medical Center, Dr. Sarno’s “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection,” focused on the emotional triggers of physical pain, from stressful relationships to traumatic events of childhood.

Putting it in broader terms for general public, Dr. Sarno tells viewers, “We all generate feelings in the unconscious mind of which we are totally unaware, as a result of our life experiences which begin in childhood.” Aches and pains distract people from the root cause of their problems. Rage towards parents or spouses, for example, can be buried deep down in their unconscious and manifest into a physical ailment.

Although celebrity guests like Anne Bancroft and Howard Stern agree that Dr. Sarno’s prescription of knowledge has helped them tremendously, director Michael Galinsky provides a first-hand look at how his life was affected by the mind-body connection. Viewers meet his family and experience his own journey of healing and recovery, a first-person touch that deepen the impact of the documentary.

The pacing of All the Rage is consistent and fluid with a blend of talking heads from experts in the field to footage of lectures, interviews and features (including his national coverage on a 1999 episode of 20/20). Skeptics are highlighted here, a much-needed balance to remind viewers that no, not all pain is in a person’s head. What it does show, however, is how the most powerful tool in a human body is the mind - something everyone can agree on.

© Brigid K. Presecky (6/27/17) FF2 Media

Photos: Michael Galinksy and Dr. John Sarno

Photo Credits: Michael Galinksy/Rumur

Q: Does All the Rage (Saved by Sarno) pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

No.

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THE BAD BATCH: Review By Katusha Jin

Directed and written by Ana Lily Amirpour, The Bad Batch is her second feature after the acclaimed A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The Bad Batch tells the story of a world that is built by those who are unwanted, who have no choice but to live in a wasteland in a society of cannibals. (KIZJ: 3/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Katusha Jin

With the fresh number “BB5040” tattooed behind her ear, “Arlen” (Suki Waterhouse) becomes a registered member of the Bad Batch community. She is taken to a border lined with a high fence, and as she walks through the gate door, it locks behind her.

Arlen is stranded in a desert land with nothing but her bright watermelon shorts, a top, a cap, and a backpack. After eating a burger, she gets up, walks past a foreshadowing warning sign, and starts her aimless walk into the desert. A piece of paper in her hands directs her to “Find the Dream. Find Comfort. South East.”

Eventually, she comes across an abandoned car and touches up her lips in the front seat mirror. Beside her reflection, she sees a vehicle coming fast in her direction. Arlen is taken hostage and tied to the ground. She is injected with an unknown fluid as “Muscle Woman I” (Joni Podesta) saws off her arm and leg. The music from a little music player on a nearby table is turned up to hide her screams and her freshly cut off limbs are fried on a pan. Without dialogue, Amirpour step-by-step visually shows the brutal and animalistic nature of these people.

There is a clear idea in this world that the strong survive and the weak do not. Amirpour carefully crafts this distinction with the weak serving as the targeted prey of the strong. She paints a beach filled with sweaty, beast-like humans whose eyes bulge with every weight they lift. The beat in the accompanying music Fish Paste by Die Antwoord further creates the fear of these people and a pumping urgency as this sequence leads us to the introduction of the alpha male “Miami Man” (Jason Momoa).

There is a difference between what people want to do and what people have to do. In this movie, the latter overshadows the former completely. The characters do what they have to do to survive in this wasteland. Suki Waterhouse should feel proud of her debut as an actress in a lead role where she’s required to completely carry such a film, directed by an acclaimed indie filmmaker. Her performance was truly convincing in its desperateness.

As a movie with no dialogue in the first twenty minutes, and little dialogue overall, the sound is of utmost importance. Vicki Vandegrift, the Foley Artist, and Micaela Cain, the Foley Mixer, did an excellent job in replicating the sounds from the visuals. Peter A. Chevako also deserves a special mention for his work with the prosthetics. The team’s member in charge of casting extras, Dixie Webster, made the right choice in hiring extras who were existing members of the community from Slab City, where The Bad Batch was filmed. These people behind the scenes were part of the team that really made the aesthetic of Amirpour’s world even more believable.

Amirpour often explains that she likes telling the stories of those in the corner, hidden under the rocks and that the people in this film are a representation of the misfits and unwanted ones. Taking away a leg and arm from someone is a metaphor of the pains people go through and the lasting crippling aftereffects it can have on their lives. Her movie is not one for everyone, but it is an intense experience that forces the audience to see how people will eat away at each other when their survival is at stake.

© Katusha Jin (6/28/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: The Bad Batch poster.

Middle Photo: Alpha male “Miami Man” (Jason Momoa).

Bottom Photo: “Arlen” (Suki Waterhouse) running away from an oncoming vehicle.

Photo Credits: Merrick Morton

Does The Bad Batch pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes.

There is not a lot of dialogue in the film, but there is a scene where Arlen talks to the little girl, “Honey” (Jayda Fink), about how there is no one else out there in the world who cares about her now.

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THE BEGUILED (2017): Review by Jessica Perry

NOTE: This review of Sofia Coppola's film The Beguiled is written from the POV of someone coming to the material for the first time. Jessica has not [yet] seen the 1971 version starring Clint Eastwood, Elizabeth Hartman & Geraldine Page. For more from the POV of someone who has seen the 1971 version, click HERE to read review by FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner.

Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, The Beguiled is a brilliantly acted, and visually stunning, remake of the 1971 film of the same name which was originally based on the 1966 novel by Thomas Cullinan. (JEP: 4/5)

Review by Executive Editor Jessica E. Perry

Young “Amy” (Oona Laurence, Little Boxes) discovers a wounded Union solider “John McBurney” (Colin Farrell) in the woods while picking mushrooms. Unable to leave him behind, the young girl shoulders the heavy weight of the man and helps carry him to the apparent safety of the Confederate girls boarding school where she stays. John passes out from pain and loss of blood when they arrive, and as Amy screams for help, the rest of the girls come pouring out of the grand Southern home, led by the school’s headmistress, “Martha Farnsworth” (Nicole Kidman).

Martha immediately takes charge, and after deciding that the right thing to do is help him recover from his injury before turning him over to the Confederate army, she tasks each of the remaining five girls at the school and their teacher, “Edwina Dabney” (Kirsten Dunst), to gather bandages and tools to sew up the soldier’s leg.

As John recovers, the girls and women alike become fascinated by their unexpected guest, a welcome distraction from the monotony of their studies and the war that has confined them to the school. Conflicted with how long to let the enemy soldier stay, and seeking to ensure the safety of her girls, Martha tends to John daily as he recovers. Yet the faint sound of gun and cannon fire serve as an ever-present reminder and warning to her decision.

John takes notice of Edwina, pressing on past her shyness and insisting that she is the “most delicate beauty” he’s ever seen. But the promiscuous “Alicia” (Elle Fanning), the oldest of the students, takes her own interest in John, kissing him in his sleep and sharing stolen glances with the solider.

Soon enough, Martha deems John well enough to leave, and gives him through the end of the week to depart. John, having taken to tending the garden, tries to persuade Martha of his usefulness, but suspicious of where his loyalties lie, and his intentions with both her and her girls, Martha is not convinced. With his upcoming departure, the tone changes, and John professes love for Edwina, asking her not only to run away with him, but to enter her bed that coming evening. But when Edwina finds him, instead, in the bed of Alicia, in a moment of rage and passion, everything changes. The women scorned are forced to take drastic action when their once safe haven from the war turns to something sinister.

Marketed as a dramatic thriller, the pacing of the film is slow, and yet appropriate, for what the film actually is, a period drama. Coppola takes her time, slowly and purposefully moving through the narrative. The actors, likewise, throw themselves into the time period in mannerism, behavior, and speech; the care taken by both the filmmakers and actors aptly building the world. The film is further elevated by its chilling score and stunning cinematography, setting it apart as a standalone film, instead of being regarded as just another remake. One must applaud Coppola for her choices, her win for best director at Cannes (only the second female director to take home the award) undoubtedly deserved.

© Jessica E. Perry (6/23/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Martha (Nicole Kidman) descends the stairs to answer an unwelcome knock at the door.

Middle Photo: John and Alicia (Elle Fanning) steal forbidden glances.

Bottom Photo: The women pray for their safety and for the brave soldiers risking their lives in the war.

Photo Credits: Ben Rothstein

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

 Yes!

Although many of the conversations revolve around their male guest, the girls work on their studies and speak of their work, chores, and sewing.

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THE BIG SICK (2017): Review by Elyse Thaler

The Big Sick, written by real life husband and wife team Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, is based on the true story of how “Kumail” (as himself) met and fell in love with “Emily” (Zoe Kazan) while performing stand-up in Chicago. They begin their love story, but secrets and Kumail’s obligation to his parents and their old-world traditions tear them apart.

Shortly after, Emily is hospitalized for reasons that baffle her doctors. When the situation becomes dire and they put Emily into an induced coma, Kumail fears he might never get the chance to ask for her forgiveness. (EBT: 4.5/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Elyse Thaler (with two cents at the bottom from Managing Editor Brigid Presecky)

 “Kumail” (Kumail Nanjiani) is a Pakistani native whose family moved to America -- specifically Chicago -- to pursue the American dream and create more opportunity for Kumail and his brother “Naveed” (Adeel Akhtar). With his family’s sacrifices, it is expected that Kumail will take the same road as every other good Pakistani son by becoming either a doctor or a lawyer, plus marrying a Pakistani woman who has the parental stamp of approval.

However, the American dream means different things to different people, and for Kumail this dream looks different than the one his parents have planned for him. All he wants is to pursue a career in stand-up comedy, far from the expected profession of doctor or lawyer. So even he is surprised when, during a routine night of performing in a stand-up show, he finds himself drawn to the blonde, American woman who jokingly heckles him during one of his bits. Her name is “Emily” (Zoe Kazan), and she is a student working towards her Master’s in Psychology. Like Kumail, she is not necessarily looking for anything serious, but after they spend their first night together they quickly fall into a relationship.

Unfortunately, things become complicated once Emily discovers that Kumail has been keeping her a secret from his family (because his parents are actively trying to set him up with any woman who is Pakistani and has similar values). This discovery leads to a huge fight, they say terrible things to one another, and it ends with Zoe storming off and never wanting to see Kumail again.

That would have been the end to their story if Emily had not been hospitalized for a mysterious disease. Her hospitalization has the worst timing; all of Emily’s friends are busy with final exams, and no one is around to stay with her. She would have been completely on her own had one of her friends not called Kumail, imploring him to be there for Emily. While in the hospital, Emily’s condition goes from bad to worse, becoming so serious that she is induced into a coma and her parents (Ray Romano as “Terry” and Holly Hunter as “Beth”) are called in from out of town. Kumail is by her side the entire time, through awkward conversations with the parents he previously refused to meet, and the fear that Emily may never get well.

The Big Sick is one of those films that sneaks up on you with its perfection. You go into it expecting it to be humorous with a cast that includes Kumail Nanjiani and Ray Romano. Casting Holly Hunter as Emily’s mother, “Beth”, also adds a certain amount of clout that Judd Apatow (one of the producers) brings to his films. But what is unexpected about this summer hit is the amount of humanity the script brings to the story; there is at least one relatable theme within the film that any audience member, no matter his or her own personal background, will find. This relatable aspect of The Big Sick is what takes it from simply being a funny film with human moments to something that sticks with you long after you leave the theater.

One of the most touching and current themes that the film attempts to tackle is the idea of finding your own identity, and how that ties into being an American when America has not always been your home. In one scene, an exasperated Kumail asks his parents why they insist on keeping with Pakistani and Muslim tradition if the reason they immigrated was to give him and his brother a “normal” American life. Throughout the film Kumail struggles with this polarity between what he wants and what his parents want for him. The answer is, of course, that there is no easy or right answer.

How to forgive is another huge question that continues to pop up throughout the story. Every character, just like every human on this planet, has his or her own flaws. Watching these characters discover their imperfections, or to simply confess to what they have done wrong was, as a viewer, like holding up a mirror to my own soul. The characters’ honesty provides a catharsis rarely seen in comedy.

Another reason why Kumail is so likable in the story is because he never truly understands how great he is. He spends the entirety of the film feeling as though he is letting everyone around him down. He continually lets his parents down by not having an approved profession or an approved wife, he lets down his girlfriend who now might never wake up from her coma, he lets down Emily’s parents because they know how he lied to their daughter, and it is clear that there is a piece of his own self that he has been letting down. These self-deprecating thoughts are what makes it that much more gratifying to the audience when Kumail finally stands up for himself.

Reliving the painful moments that occurred in the beginning of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s relationship as they sat down to write the script probably made some old scars itch. But, their ups and downs have shaped a relevant romantic comedy that not only lets the audience smile and laugh, but also reflects all of our own insecurities and every person’s journey to find strength within. What the pair wrote is beautifully acted and powerfully told. The Big Sick will leave you craving love even if that love is not meant to be. After all, life is all about the experience, and without experience how will comedians come up with new material for their stand-up routines?

©Elyse Bunt Thaler  (07/1/17)  FF2 Media
Top Photo: Kumail and Emily exploring their new relationship.

Middle Photo: The real-life Kumail and Emily.

Bottom Photo: Kumail with Emily’s parents, anxiously getting news from one of her doctors.

Photo Credits: Sarah Shatz

Q: Does The Big Sick pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

 No.

The film naturally centers on Kumail and his side of the story. Emily has a strong stance throughout the film but her involvement within each scene typically deals with her relationship with Kumail.

Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani’s The Big Sick is an all-too-accurate portrayal of ties that bind in a hospital waiting room. Their love story is retold for the movie screen with Zoe Kazan and Nanjiani in their respective leading roles, both naturally witty and believably “normal.” The story underneath the story, however, makes the Judd Apatow-produced comedy worth watching.

Ray Romano and Holly Hunter anchor the film as Emily’s terrified, protective and unperfectly perfect parents, never becoming caricatures or venturing into the mom and pop stereotypes. The based-on-a-true story is evident here, with Romano carrying around a notebook full of medical information, the parade of doctors coming in and out to inform the family of Emily’s ever-changing condition. The pain and seriousness of the hospital setting is lightened through Romano and Hunters’ performances, depicting a true love love story in and of itself.

Although the film could have been condensed, give or take 20 minutes, and Aidy Bryant’s talent was subdued to a generic supporting character, the deeper message outweighs its minor flaws. (BKP: 4.5/5)

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GOOD FORTUNE (2016): Review by Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

“Success unshared, is failure.” That’s John Paul DeJoria’s motto, and Good Fortune, Rebecca Harrell Tickell’s profile on this entrepreneur and humanitarian, proves that “JP” is as good as his word. While the overall message of the film, that capitalism can be reformed if every rich businessperson makes JP’s same contributions, is very flawed, taken as one man’s story of success Good Fortune is a heartwarming rags to riches tale. (GPG: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

JP goes through many career ups and downs, from selling encyclopedias door to door, to being fired from company after company, to finally becoming homeless after an investor fails to come through on seed money. After hitting rock bottom living on the streets, instead of getting a new investor, JP decides to take his products--a hair product line partnering with famous hairdresser Paul Mitchell--on the road. Selling these hair products just as he had once sold encyclopedias, he builds a national brand that is still a standard in hair salons.

We then see all the philanthropic pursuits JP uses his money for--like Elon Musk and other more recent Silicon Valley moguls, JP is passionate about global warming solutions, including sustainable communities and sizable donations to the Sea Shepherd Conversation Society, who intercept whaling boats to protect marine wildlife. He also made the John Paul Mitchell company one of the first to ensure fair treatment of its employees, and to stop using animal testing in developing their products.

While JP's life is interesting and admirable, it's hard not to construe the film as light-hearted propaganda for an updated American Dream, based on benevolent capitalists facilitating equal opportunity for all through charitable donations rather than, you know, pushing for legislation to raise their own taxes.

The B-roll portions of the documentary are structured like a filmstrip from circa-1940, updated with more modern editing techniques but mainly constructed out of grainy mid-century footage and almost corny graphics. These sections are even narrated by Dan Akyroyd in a voice reminiscent of an old-time news announcer. The film begins with a sharply stylistic filmstrip portion about the American Dream, moving into a more modern/ 40s fusion style as Akyroyd tells the beginning of the story of conscious capitalism. I found this choice to be almost a glib confession of the film's propagandistic purposes.

Despite the issues with the film’s message, though, I enjoyed learning about how JP developed El Patron after going on a tequila factory tour while on vacation, and seeing how his personal struggles to succeed inform the duty he feels to help others.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (6/22/17) FF2 Media

Photo Credit: Paul Mitchell.

Top Photo: John Paul DeJoria.

Middle Photo: JP with the Dalai Lama.

Bottom Photo: JP guest starring on Shark Tank.

Q: Does Good Fortune pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

No, due to it being a profile of a male businessman, and the documentary format keeping the women interviewees from talking to each other.

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IN TRANSIT (2015): Review by Georgi Presecky

In Transit is a compelling documentary from Lynn True, Nelson Walker and Albert Maysles that examines the lives of passengers on a long-distance train trip. (GEP: 5/5)

Review by Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

The intrinsic value of the ABC drama Lost was its central idea: that strangers on a plane could crash on a deserted island, each with their own unique backgrounds, hardships and stories, and still find common ground. True and Maysles’ award-winning documentary is Lost in real life, telling the stories of various passengers aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which transports hundreds of people across the country.

The film seems to have a simple premise, but it quickly delves into these people’s lives: what they want, where they’re from and where they’re going - literally and otherwise. Passengers of all ages and multiple ethnicities are on board, playing cards and sleeping and reading and talking. These seemingly mundane activities serve to emphasize the slice-of-life aspect of True and Maysles’ vignettes. There’s an immigrant from China and a woman who’s nine months pregnant. There’s a man who quit his job the day before and the conductor from North Dakota. There are blue-collar workers, families and college students, all headed in the same direction for different reasons.

There’s something about transportation that humanizes people. The documentarians are catching these people in transition, stuck between two places. They all have stories, and they tell them openly and surprisingly well, but without too much starry-eyed sentiment. Passengers discuss not only their ambitions and their reasons for travel, but the details that make up a life - favorite movies, children’s names and hometowns. It’s a rare look at human nature - what we do when we have no choice but to kill time, surrounded by people who seem different than us, but might not be after all. You never know what the people in the seats around you on the train or bus or plane are traveling toward, or away from. But In Transit will reawaken your desire to ask.

You’d have to be fairly cynical not to be moved by the simplicity of this documentary. Its quick pace and effortless formula only lend to the beauty of the small moments and interactions it captures. It’s a refreshing reminder that life isn’t always as complicated as it seems, especially when the country is passing by through the window.

One passenger sought to console another with a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show someone they are traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain.” The stories of In Transit are not told in vain, and they will certainly help those who need to be reminded of humanity’s simple connections.

© Georgiana E. Presecky (6/22/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: The Empire Builder is "the busiest long-distance train route in America."

Middle Photo: This passenger reflects on her travels.

Bottom Photo: Strangers on the train bond.

Photo Credits: True Walker Productions

Q: Does In Transit pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes! Many of the passengers are female and have much more to talk about than men.

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