A WOMAN’S LIFE (2016): Review by Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

A Woman's Life depicts the life of a woman living in the 19th century—unfortunately, it is about as boring and unpleasant as the life of a woman in the 19th century. Director Stéphane Brizé fails to impress in this pretty but monotonous period piece. (GPG: 2/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

We meet “Jeanne” (Judith Chemla) as a young woman about to be married. She is living with her parents when she meets “Julien” (Swann Arlaud), a young noble of substantially less means than her own family. When Julien wins her heart, she takes a chance on marrying him that sends her down a path of despair. I can’t sugarcoat this: this “woman’s life” has few pleasant moments. While Jeanne is happy with Julien at first, he soon begins a series of adulteries—adulteries that tend to be with Jeanne's best friends.

But Jeanne's terrible marriage doesn't last long! The husband of one of his mistresses kills Julien, the mistress, and himself, leaving Jeanne to raise her son alone. However, her trials are not over, for soon after his father’s death, her son "Paul" (Finnegan Oldfield) begins refusing to go to school, and continues to act out into his adulthood, when he finds himself thousands of francs in debt. Finally, he elopes with a woman who Jeanne doesn't approve of, abandoning his mother as well as the family estate and surrounding farms. Predictably, his history of money troubles continues and soon he is asking for larger and larger sums—it would seem Jeanne's life is all about men taking advantage of her. 

Jeanne’s terrible luck with men aside, one thing this film has to recommend it are a series of reflective, almost tone-poem like breaks in the flow of the story. The characters are able to breathe in these moments and the emotional resonance from these interludes carries the film in a big way. There are some beautifully lyrical voiceover segments for some, and others simply allow the characters to show their emotional states with behavior alone. These were by far my favorite parts of A Woman's Life.

You may be taken aback by another bold stylistic choice in A Woman’s Life—the film's highly unusual aspect ratio. Instead of the wide frame so favored by most films today, A Woman's Life is in 4:3, traditionally a format for television programs as it is almost square. Maybe it's supposed to suggest how narrow women's lives were in this time? I have no idea! All I truly know is that I don't feel the cinematography benefitted from this choice--I didn't see much of interest being done with the differently shaped frame.

“Rosalie” (Nina Meurisse), Jeanne’s maid, remarks to Jeanne towards the end of the film that “life is never as good or as bad as you think.” Well, from where I’m standing, both Jeanne’s life, and this film, were still pretty bad.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (5/7/17) FF2 Media

Top photo: Jeanne and Julien courting.

Middle photo: Jeanne reflecting.

Bottom photo: Jeanne grieving her husband.

Photo credit: TS Productions

Q: Does A Woman’s Life pass the Bechdel test?

Yes!

Jeanne talks about things other than a man with both Rosalie and Madame de Fourville.

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LIKE CRAZY (2016): Review by Georgi Presecky

Screenwriter Francesca Archibugi’s film Like Crazy (La Pazza Gioia) is the story of an unlikely friendship between two patients at an Italian psychiatric facility. These two women believe breaking out of the physical walls that hold them will set them free, but their psychological walls are what keep their adventures from being everything they hoped for. (GEP: 3/5)

Review by Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

“Beatrice”(Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) immediately invades the privacy of new patient “Donatella” (Micaela Ramazzotti) when she steals her records from a file room and poses as her doctor, despite being a patient herself. Talkative, extreme Beatrice comes on strong, immediately assuming the more introverted Valentina will want to do things friends do, like share clothes and stories. Though their alternate personalities cause them to butt heads initially, they begin to bond as roommates despite being polar opposites (mostly because Beatrice tries to pry information about her past out of Donnatella, through snooping). Their friendship leads to a creative escape from their villa, running from their counselors, hitchhiking and learning about each other.

To say “the film moves slowly,” would be a euphemism similar to calling Beatrice “talkative.” It’s true, but it’s putting it mildly. Like Crazy is, like, slow, and Beatrice’s extremism is irritating. The understanding one might have with her fellow psychiatric patients wears off quickly, as she become more and more meddlesome and narcissistic, despite her budding friendship with Donatella. There are promising moments that keep the story from becoming too nutty, but they evaporate all too quickly and, at times, venture into schmaltz. When the two address their past and family lives and attempt to help each other through, it arguably does more good than the psychiatric drugs they spend time discussing upon first meeting.

The stunning views of Tuscan countryside is one upside of Like Crazy, and a reminder that even people in the most picturesque worlds can have their struggles. Thankfully, the friendship between the two protagonists is strong, and their adventure becomes more fun as they break out of the villa and take on the world together away from the sterile white walls of the facility that brought them together.

Archibugi's script redeems itself by emphasizing female friendships and the hardships of mental illness. Its message is ultimately relatable for viewers - sometimes it takes more than a friend or a counselor to tell you what you need, and you have to figure it out for yourself. If that means breaking away and hopping a bus to the unknown, so be it.

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

Top Photo: Donatella and Beatrice on the lam.

Middle Photo: The villa's patients work in the Tuscan countryside as part of their treatment.

Bottom Photo: Beatrice and Donatella Thelma & Louise-ing it.

Photo Credits: Strand Releasing

Q: Does Like Crazy pass the Bechdel-Wallace test? 

Absolutely!

Donatella and Beatrice eventually open up to each other about deeper topics, like the former’s young son, whom she gave up for adoption.

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MR. CHIBBS (2017): Review by Lindsy Bissonnette

Kenny Anderson, also known as “Mr. Chibbs,” is ten years into retirement from the NBA. After the loss of his mother, and the realization that he has thrown away too many opportunities, he makes new strides in bettering himself. Determined to improve his life and the life of his family and armed with the knowledge that he is a work-in-progress; Anderson feels ready to make a comeback...but this time from the sidelines. (LMB: 3/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Lindsy M. Bissonnette

Kenny Anderson was a household name in Queens, New York. As a freshman in high school he was playing on his schools’ varsity basketball team and revered as a prodigy. He was quickly scouted by college teams, and eventually attended Georgia Tech, at his mother’s request. Just two years later, as a sophomore, he drops out of college and is drafted into NBA. The rest of his career is history, but this documentary strives to cover a different aspect of Anderson’s life. Throughout the course of the film, another side of Kenny Anderson is revealed: a darker and much more solemn side. He is trying to connect to his children, struggling to connect to his wife, and all the while he is searching to find what he wants out of life, as he still mourns the loss of his mother and reflects on the challenges he faced growing up.

There are many layers to Anderson, and the documentary does it’s best to reveal them all. At his very core Anderson is gentle, generous, and kind, but deeply troubled. Throughout the doc he reveals that in high school, the only places he felt happiness were in the library when he was studying, and on the court where he felt alive. Now, as he staggers through a mid-life crisis, he wants to coach and help kids going through similar situations as his own.

Many interviews in the film discuss his potential when he was in the NBA, and everyone, Anderson included, all agree if he had been able to stay as focused in the NBA as he was in high school, his career would have been more successful. His struggle to stay motivated, and stay sober greatly impacted his performance on the court, and off.

The film has the potential to be something really powerful. It reminds audiences that fame does not mean wisdom, money does not mean power, and there are always consequences to our actions. Unfortunately, the film falls short in execution, and the observational style does not help tell Anderson’s story though it does help paint him in a three-dimensional light as it exposes the softer side of him. The lack of structure and set up to Kenny Anderson’s story makes the film difficult to follow, and makes him emotionally difficult to connect to.

© Lindsy M. Bissonnette (5/5/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Kenny Anderson on the subway.

Middle Photo: Kenny Anderson drives two of his children to school.

Bottom Photo: Kenny Anderson with a group of high school athletes.

Photo Credits: Abramorama

Q: Does Mr. Chibbs pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Nope.

There isn’t a single scene between two women, and are few scenes that even contain women.

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RISK (2016): Review by Jan Lisa Huttner

Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras indeed takes huge risks in this portrait of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Coming out of the screening room, I felt somewhat bludgeoned by the implications of what I had seen.

It is clear that Poitras began this project convinced that Assange was a hero. She is, after all, the filmmaker who received an Oscar for CitizenFour, the film which documented her extraordinary meeting with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong for posterity. (Click here to read her Oscar acceptance speech.) But now, as the year go by and events accumulate, she is beginning to have her doubts.

As one woman says during a fraught meeting: "There is a sickness inside the community..." Risk is less a film than a deposit in our national time capsule. (JLH: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Media Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner

Reader: Please allow me to begin this review of Risk (the new documentary by Laura Poitras) with a personal anecdote. Last Tuesday morning (5/2/17), I had an appointment. I knew where it was. I knew when it was. I thought I knew how long it would take to get there. I was wrong.

I left my apartment building (located on a leafy side street in Brooklyn), turned onto the main drag, and walked one block to the bus stop. According to the schedule I had downloaded from Transit NYC (which matched the schedule posted at the bus stop), a bus was due in 5 minutes. But ten minutes later the bus still had not come, so a woman at the bus stop started tapping on her smartphone. "It's late," she told me. "The ap says the bus will be here in 7 minutes." SEVEN MINUTES. Not a long wait objectively speaking, but probably long enough to make me late for my appointment.

So I took out my own smartphone and opened my Uber ap. I told Uber where I was and where I wanted to go, and Uber told me to expect a car in 2 minutes. I watched on the screen as my car approached, but then it made a surprising turn. Apparently an Uber algorithm had diverted my driver to my apartment. The Uber algorithm sent my driver to my apartment building on the leafy side street rather than the bus stop on the main drag. In other words, the Uber algorithm assumed that it knew better than I did about where I was at that moment.

I could see the problem. I sent a message to the driver telling her I was at the bus stop, and then I watched on my smartphone as she circled around to pick me up (which is actually not as easy as it sounds). When I finally arrived at my destination, I was late for my appointment.

What has any of this to do with Julian Assange? If I told you I "knew" the answer to that question, I would be lying, but my gut says otherwise. Whatever the "facts" here, what I am reporting is a vague and unsettling feeling of betrayal topped by a shiver of imminent danger. And while Risk certainly has a lot of facts -- people, places events -- to present to its audience, the filmmaker has chosen to end her film on these same emotional notes of betrayal and danger.

It was not supposed to be this way. Risk made its initial debut at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival last May, six months before the US Presidential election in November. Here is a review posted by The Guardian on 5/19/16 that indicates how different the Cannes cut was from the film I saw this weekend at IFC Center in Manhattan. 

But whatever her intentions as a filmmaker, Poitras is smart enough to realize that her narrative -- years in the making -- has been overtaken by events. And she is brave enough to recalibrate by adding personal reflections (as voiceovers) in real time. Casual remarks that probably passed unnoticed not too long ago now now carry enormous weight as harbingers of things to come.

Poitras will not be celebrated for this film as she was for CitizenFour, and that is probably as it should be. The night she received her Oscar for Best Documentary for CitizenFour, most of those watching -- myself included -- probably felt good about applauding her for her daring and her craft. She got herself to Hong Kong under great duress to frame Edward Snowden's story, and she gave him the time to explain in depth what he thought he was doing and why it mattered. And we thought we knew who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. The internet was good. Cyberspace was good. Transparency was good. Right? Of course, right!

But now we are in mid-story and Laura Poitras is there too, in as much of a muddle as the rest of us. New tools that were supposed to make our world a better place have been co-opted, and people are creating applications with algorithms to control us rather than set us free.

And she now sees -- as we see in the watching of her film -- that most of these "people" are men, men who think they know a great deal. Julian Assange gives an eloquent speech at the end of Risk about local gardens and global gardens. He perceives himself as a "global gardener." He wants to eliminate weeds all around the world so more flowers can bloom. But how can he be so sure that he knows which plants are "weeds" and which are "flowers," and what does he really know about his impact on the ecology of local gardens when he tears at their undergrowth? Has he never heard of invasive species or parasites? Has he no fear of the law of unintended consequences?

Risk is a film by a woman who is just beginning to question things to which she thought she already had answers. She is just starting to wonder if the people -- the men -- in whom she has placed her trust are as trustworthy as she thought they were. The film about risks taken by Julian Assange in the past turns out to be about the risks Laura Poitras herself is taking in the present. She is a modern Pandora. She has opened a forbidden box and released noxious terrors. I celebrate her for this and hope she will now turn the camera on herself and finish what she has started. That is my hope.

© Jan Lisa Huttner (5/7/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Julian Assange changes his physical appearance in hopes of arriving undetected at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He succeeds, in fact, four years later, he is still there...

Middle Photo: Photo of Joey Huertas and Laura Poitras by Joey Huertas and Laura Poitras. © copyright, 2015. Posted on IMDb.

Bottom Photo: Assange leaves a London courtroom with Amal Clooney (who is an attorney). He is immediately surrounded by press people and hordes of adoring fans. Note that this was prior to her marriage to George Clooney. As Amal Alamuddin, she represented Assange in his fight against Sweden's attempt to extradite him for questioning in two cases of alleged sexual misconduct and rape. However, even though Poitras was obviously filming him at this time, Amal Alamuddin Clooney is never interviewed or shown in the final cut of Poitras's film (except in this one long shot).

Q: Does Risk pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test? 

Yes.

It is clear that Laura Poitras is doing some interviews because she periodically injects her own reflections in voiceover narration, although most of the time she is just filming what is happening in the room.

However, there is one scene set in Tunis after questions arise about hacker Jacob Appelbaum. The effort of the Tunis women in the audience to grapple -- in public -- with the implications of these new revelations is truly stunning. Therefore, since several of these women have been named in earlier sequences, I am answering the Bechdel-Wallace Test question with a "yes."

Poitras could have chosen to leave all of this out (after all, the subject in this scene is Appelbaum, not Assange). So the fact that she chose to include it is highly significant. "There is a sickness inside the community," the women conclude... with vague feelings of betrayal and a shiver of imminent danger.

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TOMORROW EVER AFTER (2016): Review by Jan Lisa Huttner

Shaina is a visitor from the future trapped in a hostile world and longing for home. Like ET, she has powers beyond our own, but she still needs ordinary humans to assist her with "activities of daily living."

Filmmaker Ela Thier wrote a screenplay with a perceptive take on our era (which she calls "The Great Despair"), but director Ela Thier made a crucial error when she decided to cast herself in the lead role. Although I am sure she lacked the resources to create Shaina from scratch -- like Steven Spielberg created ET -- she needed an actress with skills beyond her own to achieve her goals. (JLH: 3/5)

Review by FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner

"Shaina" (Ela Thier) is a scholar from the middle of the 3rd Millennium with a specific interest in a historical period that her research refers to as "The Great Despair." So she travels back in time approximately 600 years or so -- give or take -- to have a look/see... only to find herself trapped in a hostile world and longing for home.

Unlike Steven Spielberg's 1982 classic E.T. the Extra-TerrestrialTomorrow Ever After has no "Elliott" character with all his 20th Century nuclear family issues. In fact, there are no children at all in Tomorrow Ever After (which makes one wonder how humanity makes it to the future). Instead, Shaina meets only young adults like herself with young adult problems (relationship problems, job problems, drinking problems).

There are poignant moments in Tomorrow Ever After in which Thier-the-Director captures urban malaise with great effectiveness. And kudos to Thier-the-Screenwriter for coming up with the label "The Great Despair." This enervated period right after The Great Recession may be hard to recall after a few years of life in Trumpsylvania. All the more important, therefore, to show this part of "how we got here" story.

IMHO, far too much attention has been given to who voted for Donald J. Trump in 2016, and far too little attention has been given to who did not vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016. "The Great Despair" is as good a way as any to describe why so many people lacked lack the physical, mental, and moral vigor required to believe that their votes actually mattered. Ironically, Tomorrow Ever After opened just after President Trump marked his 100th day as America's 45th President. People are protesting. People are marching. People are suddenly energized -- too late -- by their resistance.

Unfortunately, Thier-the-Director made a grave error when she cast herself as Shaina. She simply does not have the acting chops to carry the role, nor does she have the onscreen charisma required. I am sure that Steven Spielberg spent a great deal of money on the special effects required to make ET so endearing. I am sure Thier worked in opposite financial circumstances. But I am also sure her skills are much better suited to being the creative force behind the scenes.

All of her actors take her direction well. Nabil Viñas is compelling as "Milton," a man who mugs Shaina and then ends up befriending her. And Memo is also very good as Milton's friend "Antonio," the man Shaina lives with temporarily after Milton's girlfriend "Imani" (Ebbe Bassey) throws her out of their apartment. That said, backstories were thin and I was never quite sure how Milton and Antonio actually knew one another (since Antonio is depicted a recluse who is afraid to leave his apartment).

Shout-Out also to Jayne Maginot who plays her small role of a nurse (at Bellevue?) with maximum compassion. She isn't on screen very long, nevertheless, she is one of the most believable characters in the story. "Nurse Linda" stands in for all those people who go to work everyday and, against all odds, do their utmost year after year to care for others less fortunate.

© Jan Lisa Huttner (5/5/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Ela Thier as "Shaina" finds herself longing for home.

Middle Photo: Shaina with "Antonio" (Memo).

Bottom Photo: Shaina saves "Ava Shaw" (Daphna Thier) from "The Great Despair" and in so doing, also saves herself.

Photo Credits: Milton Kam. Courtesy of Thier Productions, Inc.

Q: Does Tomorrow Ever After pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test? 

Absolutely!

Shaina interacts with several female characters including Imani, Nurse Linda, and a sad drunk named Ava Shaw (who Shaina suspects is one of her ancestors). Never once in any of these encounters do women talk about men.

One more thing...

Ela Thier was born in Israel, but came to the USA with her parents as a tween. I know this because I reviewed her lovely film Foreign Letters a few years back when it was one of my Top Picks in the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema.

Although Thier doesn't make a big issue of this in biographical factoid in Tomorrow Ever After, she does create a moment in which someone asks if Shaina is a Jewish name, and Shaina immediately affirms it. "I'm Jewish," she responds with delight. Since I am also Jewish, it was nice to hear that there are still Jews in the future. Some days, I have my doubts...

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BELOW HER MOUTH (2016): Review by Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

Below Her Mouth is a lazily plotted but consistently erotic lesbian film that, while poorly written, features some great performances and excellent camerawork. I was unable to find reference to director April Mullen’s sexual orientation, but I would place a large bet that she is not LGBT due to her total failure to portray a relationship between women. (GPG: 1.5/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

Director April Mullen has been widely praised for her choice to use an all-female crew for Below Her Mouth, and in terms of technical skill, this film is well made. However, it has deep flaws—namely, its cardboard characters and reproduction of toxic heterosexual narratives that belie Ms. Mullen’s claims of progressiveness. For all her proclamations in interviews that the story is showing female sexuality through a “female lens,” I am unsatisfied and vaguely sickened by the portrayal of women-loving-women I saw in Below Her Mouth.

“Dallas” (Erika Linder) is an extremely masculine woman who has a reputation as a “player;” her characterization echoes stereotypes about men being promiscuous and emotionally detached. The first scene of the film features Dallas breaking up with her current girlfriend, who is much more feminine in presentation. Dallas has become bored with her girlfriend, and states that she “doesn’t want to be playing house right now.” The girlfriend is portrayed as clingy and emotional, a ball and chain. At a party shortly after, Dallas meets “Jasmine” (Natalie Krill), another extremely feminine woman who is engaged to a man and believes herself to be straight. Dallas proceeds to follow Jasmine around the party despite her attempts to break off the conversation, and eventually kisses her without permission on the fire escape outside. This is all portrayed as romantic, Dallas’s disregard for consent being taken as a sign of their chemistry. Bleh.

Dallas continues pursuing Jasmine in a way that would be indisputably creepy for all but the most diehard Twilight fans. Dallas is working a construction job by Jasmine’s house, and she harrasses Jasmine as she walks to her car. Oh, did I mention that the morning before the party, Dallas and her male coworkers catcalled Jasmine? Jasmine repeatedly asks Dallas to stop and leave her alone, but Dallas, and the camera, know that she secretly wants it, even though she has said nothing at all to encourage Dallas. The narrative of a man persistently chasing a woman despite her protests and finally being rewarded when the woman relents and “gives it up” is one of the most toxic narratives in our culture, and one that feminists have rightly criticized. Imagine my shock and horror at seeing that same narrative being transposed onto lesbians with no alteration or critique attached, and the director then expecting praise for how truthfully she has portrayed the lesbian experience and female sexuality! 0/10, would not watch again. ….except maybe for the steamy scenes.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (5/1/17) FF2 Media

Q: Does Below Her Mouth pass the Bechdel test?

Yes! Most scenes are conversations between women, about other women!

Top photo: Dallas and Jasmine kissing.

Center photo: Dallas and Jasmine about to kiss.

Bottom photo: Dallas and Jasmine at a bar.

Photo credit: Serendipity Point Films.

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BUSTER’S MAL HEART

Written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith, Buster’s Mal Heart is an Indie mystery thriller tracing three parallel storylines that intertwine in the most unexpected, surprising, and unusual ways. Rami Malek takes on the role of “Buster”, a character of many dimensions, whose life we try to piece together scene by scene like an intricate puzzle. (KIZJ: 3/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Katusha Jin

Buster’s first appearance is accompanied by the sound of gunshots being fired all around him whilst he, holding a rifle, runs for his life. After saying some mysterious words to himself over a campfire in a cave, Buster falls asleep, only to be awoken by the sound of, “Deputy Winston” (Toby Huss), yelling down a megaphone for Buster to turn himself in.

Rewind ten days to Buster eating dinner in an empty, fancy summer home, with long hair and a beard. He tidily makes the bed, folds the toilet roll after use, and rotates all the photographs on the wall upside-down. A TV news broadcast reveals that Buster has been wanted by police authorities for five years now, and is known as a danger to all residents of the area.

Suddenly the scene shifts, and Buster is now “Jonah”, a loving, clean-shaven father with a beautiful wife, “Marty” (Kate Lyn Sheil), a daughter “Roxy” (Sukha Belle Potter), and holds a job working night shifts as a concierge at a hotel. When an unknown, so-called ‘exterminator’, “Brown” (DJ Qualls), appears and begins sharing his prophecies of the second inversion, Jonah is sent spiraling down a psychologically disturbing path.

There is also a simultaneous third storyline on a little boat somewhere in the vast ocean, in an ambiguous time and place. Buster plays the role of the stranded castaway. He eats frogs that jump by him and drinks his own urine to survive, whilst shouting about giving up.

Writer/director Sarah Adina Smith tries to balance carefully between the pieces of a character’s memory, mind, and life. She plays around with the audience as to what is real and what is not, and keeps everyone guessing and questioning through the entire movie. Although the film doesn’t bring quite the satisfying ending most would like, it is ultimately about a character searching for the middle ground between freedom and conformity.

Even though I would not recommend this movie for a casual viewing because of its heavy themes and convoluted storyline, Rami Malek’s range as an actor is extremely impressive, and the cinematography by Shaheen Seth, who poured heart and soul into the film, is certainly something to lookout for. Another special mention goes to Rachel Komar, music supervisor, and Mister Squinter, who created the music. Together they compiled the unnerving score that grounds the film in its tense and enigmatic moments.

© Katusha Jin (5/1/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Buster’s Mal Heart poster.

Middle Photo: Rami Malek as “Jonah”, and Kate Lyn Sheil as his wife, “Marty”.

Bottom Photo: Buster floating in a small boat in the ocean.

Photo Credits: Well Go USA Entertainment

Does Buster’s Mal Heart pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes.

While the focus of the film is on Buster/Jonah and mainly male characters surround him, when Marty and daughter, Roxy, stay at the hotel Jonah works at, they briefly talk about their pet frog and about mommy needing this vacation for a rest.

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CASTING JONBENET (2017): Sneak Peek by Jan Lisa Huttner

In 1996, the body of a charismatic 6 year old girl was found in the basement of her parent's elegant mini-mansion... one day after Christmas! The nation was transfixed by the investigation. Everyone had a theory. Nothing ever came of it. Twenty years later, the death of JonBenet Ramsey -- an elfin blonde beauty queen on the child pageant circuit -- remains unsolved, and there is no reason to believe it will ever be solved.

Rather than tackle the gory details in the now familiar style of a "ripped from the headlines" Law & Order episode, filmmaker Kitty Green has devised a novel meta-documentary structure. She plants her cameras in Boulder, Colorado (site of the murder) and interviews local actors who hope to star in her recreation. Totally engrossing! Brava! (JLH: 4/5)

© Jan Lisa Huttner (4/28/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: One of the auditioning couples act out a scene of JonBenet's parents in their daughter's bedroom after the murder.

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NISE: THE HEART OF MADNESS

Based on a true story, this film follows one woman who refuses to allow the mistreatment of patients in a psychiatric hospital. Nise: O Coração da Loucura, also known as Nise: The Heart of Madness, or just Nise, is written by Flávia Castro, Mauricio Lissovski, Maria Camargo, Chris Alcazar, Patrícia Andrade, Leonardo Rocha, and Roberto Berliner, and directed by Roberto Berliner. Uplifting, touching, and empowering this film will have you thankful that there are still compassionate people in the world . (LMB: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Lindsy M. Bissonnette

“Nise” (Glória Pires) is an ambitious and incredibly patient woman who has just been released from jail. When she returns to continue helping psychiatric patients, she realizes that she is in for more than she has bargained for. The institution is currently filled with male doctors who are convinced that ice picks for lobotomies and electric shock therapy are the best way to treat patients. Nise is horrified, but her male counterparts dismiss her questions and objections. She refuses to use any violence and scolds the nurses who beat the patients for acting out, instead she begins to develop a new way to help the psychiatric patients

After Nise observers her new patients and the way they react to their environments, she, with the help of her small staff, begins implementing art supplies into the daily routine. Through persistence and patience, they learn that art allows the patients to express themselves, without resorting to violence. And the results are truly beautiful.

The film is really fascinating, and a strong commentary on the way society treats those with mental illness. Nise’s kindness and compassion is looked on with pity by the other nurses and doctors, who do not consider her a real doctor, but she only uses this to fuel her positive reinforcement and gentleness with her patients. However, the writing is a little disjointed. There are brief glimpses of Nise’s after-hours life with her partner, but they so short that we never get a feel for her true personality outside of the psychiatric hospital, but more than that, the film feels tired. The male doctors in the film are ciphers with no real personality or character development other than they say “no” to whatever Nise proposes and Nise is painted in such an angelic can-do-no-wrong light that she does not seem real, despite an interview with the real Nise at the end of the film. Instead of going into the depths of her thoughts, the film pulls back, almost observing Nise the way she observes her patients, leaving audiences to feel left out instead of brought in. That being said, the film is still worth the watch because the story is incredible, just melodramatically written and performed in the film.

© Lindsy M. Bissonnette FF2 Media (4/30/17)

Top Photo: A moment of observations and realization.

Middle Photo: Nise sits amongst all the work wondering what to do next.

Bottom Photo: Nise observes her progress with her clients.

Photo Credits: Strand Releasing

Q: Does Nise: O Coração da Loucura pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Yes. But barely.
Other than Nise, there are only a few other female characters, one of them is a patient, and another is a nurse who doesn’t speak very often. Nise and the nurse have several conversations about the patients, which luckily pushes this film to pass the test.

 

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OBIT (2016): Review by Georgi Presecky

Vanessa Gould’s Obit is a thoroughly captivating documentary about the New York Times obituary department. Its writers and their work capture the nuance and beauty of people’s lives in 800 words or less. Gould masterfully tells the story of how they tell stories, and it’s a fascinating tribute to writing, reporting and the incredible lives that people live while no one is paying attention. (GEP: 5/5)

Review by Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

How do you boil down an entire life in a newspaper clipping? It isn’t easy, but the New York Times obituary writers and editors make a living by speaking to loved ones, doing research and summing up a person’s entire history in print, allowing others to honor their legacy. According to writer William Grimes, “You’re trying to tell a story, not just deliver a résumé.” And the amount of stories they’ve told are truly interesting, from the inventor of the wireless remote to the last surviving plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education. Other names are more recognizable, but you might already know those stories.

The featured writers are likable and interesting, representing everything I love about old-school journalism - something I miss, and hope never goes away. As long as obituaries exist, I hope people like this exist to write them, but even the formula of their job has changed with time. People assume that their job is morbid or macabre, but they quickly deny it. “In an obit of 800 words or so, maybe a sentence or two will be about the death, and the other 90 percent is about the life,” according to senior writer Margalit Fox. “Obits have next to nothing to do with death, and in fact, absolutely everything to do with the life.”

Most newspapers don’t have entire departments devoted to obituaries anymore (as opposed to death notices, which are completely different). Not only are writers featured, but also archivists and researchers who have unbelievably extensive knowledge and are essentially historians in their own right. Guys like news-morgue worker Jeff Roth might not get the byline, but they are just as important to the story - the obituary itself, but also the story Gould is telling.

These writers and researchers have to talk to people in grief, but they get to ask about their lives, histories, jobs, children. They are there when loved ones paint the picture of a life, answer questions and reflect on everything the bereaved accomplished, experienced and did in their lives. Their jobs are not depressing, and neither is Obit.

As a student journalist, the daughter of a veteran reporter and a repeat viewer of Spotlight, the straightforward nature of Obit did not prevent me from being incredibly moved by it. It plays like a no-frills tribute to storytelling, to the art of finding the facts and forming them for the public. Journalism has been a topic of hot debate lately, often being called “more necessary than ever.” Obit is about lives - not about politics, spin or bias. It’s refreshing to see a film about the Times that has nothing to do with modern technology or the current presidential administration, but just about the challenges and process of excellent reporting.

© Georgiana E. Presecky (4/29/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Jeff Roth has worked in the news morgue since 1993.

Middle Photo: Pulitzer Prize-winning desk editor William McDonald has published three books of NYT obituaries.

Photo Credits: Green Fuse Films

Q: Does Obit pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Not really. But Fox addresses the obituary department's criticism that they don't cover enough women and minority deaths by explaining that older white men who are dying now were unfortunately the only prominent figures in their time. That changed with the passing decades, so she says, "come ask me [about it] in a generation."

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