THE INFILTRATOR

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U.S. Customs official “Robert Mazur” (Bryan Cranston) infiltrates the world’s largest cartel to expose an international money-laundering scheme. Based on true events, screenwriter Ellen Sue Brown delivers a compelling narrative—although the convoluted plot at times distracts from the action. Nonetheless, The Infiltrator, directed by Brad Furman, is one to watch for fans of the crime drama genre. (JEP: 4/5)

Review by Associate Editor Jessica E. Perry

Florida, 1986. U.S. Customs Services special agent “Robert Mazur” (Bryan Cranston) has just completed yet another successful undercover operation. But wounded on the job, Mazur is offered early retirement. Instead, he decides to take on another case, once again assuming a new identity. Mazur promises his wife “Evelyn Mazur” (Juliet Aubrey) that this is the last time. The last time his work takes him away from Ev and their two young children.

Mazur and his partner “Emir Abreu” (John Leguizamo) have uncovered a huge money-laundering scheme involving the cartel and Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. When their original approach to “follow the drugs” fails, Mazur decides instead, to “follow the money.” And so, to get in with the big dogs, he must become one.

Robert Mazur assumes the identity of alias “Bob Musellmiddlea” and assimilates himself into the world of international money laundering, becoming a vital player in an extremely dangerous game. He and his “fiancé,” fellow undercover agent “Kathy Ertz” (Diane Kruger), infiltrate the world’s largest cartel, and together, expose the corrupt workings of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International and the many criminals it takes to run a successful money laundering scheme.

Based on true events, The Infiltrator is an edge of your seat crime drama. But regrettably, female screenwriter Ellen Sue Brown left her female characters—including Kruger’s lead role as Kathy Ertz—woefully underdeveloped. Even so, Kruger’s performance is undoubtedly high among the list of great performances in the film, including Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt as “Roberto Alcaino,” and many members of the strong supporting cast.

The film focuses on multiple different parties, ultimately creating quite a confusing second act for the viewer. Unless you’re well versed in the ins and outs of money laundering, both the American and international banking processes, and international criminal activity, you’re not likely to have a full understanding of what’s going on during each new turn that the film takes. But in the end, The Infiltrator gets you back on board, with an emotionally compelling takedown sequence and strong interpersonal character relationships.

© Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (7/15/16)

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Top Photo: “Robert Mazur” (Bryan Cranston) listens in on illegal proceedings.

Middle Photo: Mazur and his fiancé “Kathy Ertz” (Diane Kruger) work together undercover.

Bottom Photo: Mazur and his partner “Emir Abreu” (John Leguizamo) infiltrate the cartel.

Photo Credits: Nick Wall

Q: Does The Infiltrator pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?GreenA2016

Just barely…

All of the conversations between the “wives” revolve around the male characters in the film. But “Kathy Ertz” (Diane Kruger) does have an extremely brief conversation with Mazur’s spitfire “Aunt Vicky” (Olympia Dukakis) about where the two ladies will go shopping that afternoon.

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AT THE FORK

ForkPosterFrom husband-wife team John and Lisa Papola, At The Fork is an educational documentary about the exploitation of farm animals and the disconnect between these “living, thinking beings” and the meat on our plates. The film's strengths lie in information provided by its featured farmers and less in its saccharine attempts to evoke sympathy in its viewers. (GEP: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

The Papolas’ approach to documentary is refreshingly different: rather than having the viewer guess at the family’s dynamic and approach to food, John tells you point blank: he is a meat-lover, while Lisa is a vegetarian with great respect and appreciation for animal life.

The Papolas visit a variety of farms and confinement buildings, caring for countless animals along the way. They simultaneously learn about the sometimes-painful process of farming animals that will ultimately end up in grocery stores and on tables nationwide.

Featured farmers provide the most interesting insights into the moral dilemmas of farming – most of them struggle with animal welfare as much as knowledgeable consumers do. With these fascinating profiles of empathetic farmers who ultimately need to make a profit, an animal story quickly becomes a human story.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 12.36.40 AMSome of the farmers’ justifications for the poor conditions in which these animals live are laughable (one farmer, in particular, pokes his pigs with a prod and yells “come on, chubby,” which is so unnecessary and bizarre that it’s almost amusing). Mistreatment of the animals is cringe-worthy, until you remember that you condone it by purchasing and eating them.

To their credit, the Papolas also feature farmers who are working to provide better living conditions for these creatures. One of the most endearing agriculturalists explains that he is happy to provide comfortable open plots for his sows, but that consumers must understand this will come at a cost. In addition, the filmmakers admirably tackle both sides of the conversation by portraying the difficulties of being a modern-day farmer. They concisely explain the role agriculture plays in the economy and how important it is for small farmers to stay afloat, an education animal-lovers and meat-eaters alike might not get elsewhere. The farmers’ perspective becomes just as important as the animals’.

Information like this is what makes At The Fork work. Logos arguments that appeal to the viewer’s sense of logic and scientific information provoke much more sympathy for farm animals than the emotional, slow-motion attempts to make us feel sorry for them. (I.e., one animal advocate’s statement: “Most people don’t have the opportunity to get to know a cow!”)

At one point, the filmmaker looks a pig in the eye and says, “wow…very human-looking eyes.” The camera slowly pans into John’s frowning face as he climbs into a pig gestation crate in which pigs are housed. Moments like this are edited in such a way that they become unintentionally amusing because of how overly dramatic they are – images of the pigs confined in these crates would suffice. John and Lisa even have uncomfortable arguments over meat-eaters' lack of compassion on camera, making obvious statements that could have easily gone unsaid.

There are no extreme “meat is murder!” moments, which makes the arguments more credible and compelling. While some of the Papolas’ interactions with the animals are drawn out and overly emotional, the fact-based narrative provided by the farmers in At The Fork will inform viewers about the American farm system and the unfortunate conflict between animal welfare and the consumer market.

© Georgiana E. Presecky FF2 Media (7/9/16)

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Photo Credit: Photos courtesy of Emergent Odor Productions

Middle photo: John and Lisa have different perspectives on the treatment of farm animals - he is a self-proclaimed "omnivore" while she is an adamant vegetarian.

Bottom photo: The Papolas on one of many farm visits.

Q: Does At The Fork pass the Bechdel-Wallace test? 

No. The farmers are predominantly male, but well-known animal scientist Temple Grandin is one of the most knowledgable and eloquent talking heads in the documentary.

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INDIAN POINT

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Is nuclear energy sustainable? Is it safe? Is it worth the risks associated with it?  These are the important questions that Ivy Meeropol's documentary Indian Point poses. Not only does it pose these questions, but Indian Point also seeks to give its audience deep views into the considerations and issues that must be taken into account to answer them by focusing on a very current issue: Should the aging Indian Point nuclear facility, located right near Manhattan, NY, be shut down? The documentary has interviews with people on both sides of the issue, managing to offer an unbiased "big picture" view. (RAK: 4/5).

Review by FF2 Intern Rachel A. Kastner

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MEN GO TO BATTLE

MGTB01It ain’t right. Something is missing. Either a plot or a spirit. Whatever it is takes away the merits of the set, the costume, and the camera. Despite the heroic feat to film a civil war movie on a limited budget, Men Go to Battle leaves little impression. Nobody is against a slow-moving picture on the prosaic. But such film, when done well, always has poignancy: it sniffs the good and the evil out of the ordinary men. This DIY challenge of Zachary Treitz and Kate Lyn Sheil is certainly not that kind of a film. (PS: 2/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Peier Shen

The two brothers Francis and Henry (David Maloney and Tim Morton) struggle to manage their farm on the harsh land near the town of Small’s Corner. Francis, always carrying grand plans, renders the land uncultivated and the family poor. Henry, on the contrast, is no ball of joy. A pessimist, Henry, often finds that luck has deserted him; his possible romance with Betsy Small (Rachel Korine) also takes a disastrous turn. Failing to send a notice to his brother, Henry joins the Union Army.

The set is there. The camera is there too. There is even a battle scene with explosions. How the filmmakers manage to still make it feel like a student film set in Brooklyn is disappointing. The truth is that the script, more of a sketch, lacks subtleties. Again, putting daily life (without much happenings) on screen is no easy task. Clearly, handheld shots and washed out colors are not enough. Instead of punctuating the human spirit, the strings of random events – Henry signing up for the army and Francis marrying Betsy – only appear as lazy storytelling. MGB_Middle

One man went to battle. The audience doesn’t know what he finds or how the vicissitudes of life are reflected by him. And the mediocre performance also makes it hard to care. Tim Morton, comparably more interesting on screen with his kind and knowing face, does not make us envision more.

More importantly, the patience to capture authenticity, typically required of screenwriters, is painstaking absent. It is said that Mr. Treitz and Ms. Sheil did sift through journals that period to get a hold of the diction. However hard they worked, the movie certainly did not demonstrate either their efforts or linguistic sensitivity. In fact, even though the two brothers manage to have an accent, they do talk like they could be grocery shopping on Bedford.

That being said, what is truly frustrating about the film is that whatever nostalgia Mr. Treitz and Ms. Sheil are chasing for could be there. There is a shadow of it, yet the filmmakers need skills to make those fleeting feelings stick. For example, when Henry leaves the house of the countrywoman, the visually well-executed scene will only be as emotional as what the filmmakers intend to be if the audience feels that a certain connection and longing is there. And the trite scene of a man watching a woman bathe is clearly not powerful enough.

In short, it ain’t that bad. But there’s a possibility that you will leave the theatre in a muffled anger. Not that it is slow. Not that it has a humor that only plucks the string of a few. But that it is only an imitation, with a pompous pretension to assume that it is the real thing.

© Peier Shen (07/21/16) FF2 Media

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Top Photo: Tim Morton as Henry

Middle Photo: Rachel Korine as Betsy

Bottom Photo: Francis (David Maloney) and Henry on the farm

Photo Credits: Courtesy of IMDb

Q: Does Men Go to Battle pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

NO!

There are two women in this movie. One needs to bare her breasts for one of the brothers to express his yearning for womanly warmth. The other, a little angel, is the romantic interest for both brothers.

 

 

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THE MERMAID

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China’s biggest box office winner tackles the subject of pollution and the ever-present and continuous threat it poses to our world. Director Stephen Chow and a team of screenwriters, including Miu-Kei Ho and Ivy Kong, use fantastical elements to drive home the importance of this issue, interweaving a romantic storyline throughout, between a powerful businessman content to pollute the earth and the innocent mermaid whose world is affected by his actions. (JEP: 3/5)

Review by Contributing Editor Jessica E. Perry

Powerful businessman “Liu Xuan” (Chao Deng) has just bought the pristine wildlife preserve Green Gulf, which he intends to use for his own gain. Xuan and his team have developed sonar that causes marine life great distress, effectively driving them from the area. But unbeknownst to Xuan, merpeople not only exist, but also inhabit the area. When scores of mermaids are either killed or injured by the sonar, the survivors retreat to an abandoned ship, plotting their revenge on Xuan.

Their leader, “Octopus” (Show Luo)—who is somehow an entirely different species from the merpeople, yet his half man half octopus makeup is never acknowledged or explained—sends the young, beautiful mermaid “Shan” (Yun Lin) to seduce Xuan into a state of trust so that the rest of the merpeople can kill him while his guard is down.mermaid1

Quite predictably, Shan falls for Xuan, and he for her. The coupling of the unlikely pair threatens the merpeople’s revenge plot. The stakes are further raised when Liu Xuan learns of the existence of mermaids. When he calls upon the police they have trouble grasping even the simplest concept of a mermaid. And when he next turns to his wealthy colleague, “Ruolan” (Yuqi Zhang), for help to disable the sonars, the answer he receives takes the plot on a darker turn.

Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid made box office history in China, and its success brought it to the US for a limited release. While Chow’s comedic style is firmly stamped upon the film, the zany slapstick sequences are not for everyone. And even though the plot is predictable, the characters and mysterious world filled with mythical mermaids, undoubtedly garnered the film much of its success.

What sadly cannot be praised…the special affects. The effects are sometimes so unbelievable in their execution that audiences are immediately taken out of the film, each time an abrupt jolt out of the fantasy world that Chow has masterfully created for us.

© Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (7/13/16)Mermaid02

Top Photo: The Mermaid poster.

Middle Photo: The innocent mermaid “Shan” (Yun Lin), sent to win the trust of her species' killer.

Bottom Photo: “Ruolan” (Yuqi Zhang) attempts to seduce“Liu Xuan” (Chao Deng).

Photo Credits: Sony Pictures Releasing

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

 No.

 

Photo Credits

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NORMAN LEAR JAVOY

Norman01Coming soon: Opens Friday (7/8/16) in at IFC Center in NYC

Norman Lear and directors Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady in person for Q&As Fri Jul 8 at 7:35pm and 8:05pm shows & Sat Jul 9 at 7:35 show!

Click HERE for time & tix 🙂

Arguably the most influential creator, writer, and producer in the history of television, Norman Lear brought primetime into step with the times. Using comedy and indelible characters, his legendary 1970s shows such as All In the Family, Maude, Good Times,and The Jeffersons, boldly cracked open dialogue and shifted the national consciousness, injecting enlightened humanism into sociopolitical debates on race, class, creed, and feminism.

NORMAN LEAR: JUST ANOTHER VERSION OF YOU is the definitive chronicle of Mr. Lear’s life, work, and achievements, but it is so much more than an arm’s-length, past-tense biopic; at 93, Mr. Lear is as vital and engaged as he ever was. Top-notch cinéma vérité documentarians Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp, 12th & Delaware, DETROPIA) seize the opportunity to fashion a dynamic portrait that matches the spirit of their subject. Breaking down the fourth wall to create an evocative collage where past and present intermingle, they reveal a psychologically rich man whose extraordinary contributions emerge from both his personal story and a dialogue with the world.

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THE BFG

BFG TopDirector Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison have brought imagination to life from the musings of Roald Dahl, creating a wondrous world in which giants roam the streets of London past.

“Sophie’s” (Ruby Barnhill) life is forever changed when she’s plucked out of her bed at the orphanage one night by “BFG” aka the “Big Friendly Giant” (masterfully voiced by Mark Rylance). The unlikely pair becomes fast friends, BFG introducing Sophie to the world of Giant Country and dream catching, and Sophie’s bravery reminding the Friendly Giant to stand up for himself in a world where he’s the little guy. (JEP: 4.5/5)BFG middle

 

 

 

Full Review by Contributing Editor Jessica E. Perry Coming Soon! BFG Bottom

Top Photo: Sophie and BFG escape the other giants, bounding out of Giant Country.

Middle Photo: The BFG embarks on a mission each night to give good dreams to the sleeping children of London.

Bottom Photo: BFG introduces Sophie to the magical place where dreams are created.

Photo Credits: Doane Gregory

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THE INNOCENTS

InnocentsPoland 1945: A French doctor working for the Red Cross is drawn into a crisis at a local convent.

Basing her story on the real life of Madeleine Pauliac, filmmaker Anne Fontaine (working with screenwriters Sabrina B. Karine and Alice Vial) has crafted a multi-dimensional masterpiece. (JLH: 5/5)

Top Photo: Agata Buzek as "Sister Maria" with Lou de Laâge as "Mathilde Beaulieu."

 

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JOE’S VIOLIN

WViolinhen 91-year-old Holocaust survivor Joe Feingold donates his 70-year-old violin to a collection drive for NYC schoolchildren, he never expected that it would fall into the hands of a very special girl at a very unique school. Joe’s Violin captures an emotional inter-generational story and is witness to history being passed over from an elderly Jewish man to a young girl from the Bronx. (RAK: 4.5/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Rachel A. Kastner

Joe doesn’t really play his violin anymore. He hasn’t for years, and so when he hears about a collection drive for donating instruments to NYC schoolchildren, Joe sends his violin in. On the tag, he explains that he bought this violin in a displaced persons camp in Germany 70 years ago.

The documentary gives background on Joe’s experience during the Holocaust. Joe Feingold, originally from Warsaw, used to play violin as a child. He remembers his house being full with music throughout his childhood, but when the war came, Joe stopped playing violin. After the Germans invaded in 1939, he remembers escaping to Eastern Germany with his father, leaving the violin behind. His mother and two brothers stayed in Warsaw. He recalls, tearfully, that the Nazis took his mother and youngest brother to Treblinka extermination camp. Joe and his brother are the sole survivors from their family. The donated violin holds a special place in Joe’s heart as one of the first things that Joe bought after the war.

Joe has no idea that when the organization in charge of the donation drive reads the tag on the violin, they feel a responsibility to place this special violin, w11696337_997860633598712_1183276070708339268_oith so much history and memories, in a special home. They choose BGLIG, the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls, a charter school in one of the poorest districts in the country. The documentary gives a glimpse into this incredible school, a place where every girl learns to play a string instrument from the young age of 5.

When Joe’s violin is brought to BGLIG, they treat the occasion with enormous excitement and respect. One student is chosen to receive Joe’s violin for the duration of her time at BGLIG. This student is a strong, sweet and emotional 7th grader named Brianna, whose passion for music is known throughout the school. She is overwhelmed with the responsibility, honor and joy of receiving Joe’s violin, and the documentary follows her as she learns an old Polish song to play for Joe.

This is a beautiful film that captures intertwining stories and the healing power of music. The connection depicted between 91-year-old Joe and 12-year-old Brianna is beautiful and crosses boundaries of generation, gender, age, religion and location. Brianna understands that she holds history in her hands every time she practices on Joe’ Violin, and is continuously inspired and inspiring those around her (and the viewers) to have hope, even when faced with challenges. Viewers will not be able to hold back tears while watching Joe’s Violin.

© Rachel A. Kastner FF2 Media (6/30/16)11154952_949903078394468_1026670664806865724_o

Top Photo: Brianna with Joe's Violin.

Middle Photo: Briana and Joe meet for the first time at BGLIG.

Bottom Photo: The young students at BGLIG are all taught to play instruments from a young age.

Photo Credits: Kahane Cooperman

Q: Does Joe’s Violin pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?GreenA2016

Yes.

One of the most memorable moments of the film is when the head of the BGLIG school speaks to and of Brianna's love for music before presenting her with Joe's violin.

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OUR KIND OF TRAITOR

TraitorSusanna Whites’s Our Kind of Traitor, an adaptation of John le Carré’s novel, is a sexy espionage thriller. It’s not quite Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but then again, what is? There are not many heart throbbing intrigues. There are, however, many truthful and wholehearted characters. Armed with spine-tingling performances by actors such as Ewan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgard, the film presents heroism with much needed optimism that inspires even the cynics among us. (PS: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Peier Shen 

An ordinary English couple, Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris) are on their holiday in Marrakech to mend their marriage. They have a chance meeting with Dima, (Stellan Skarsgard), who happens to be the number one Russian mobster at a local restaurant. The mobster takes an instant liking of Perry and invites him to his private party that night. Their acquaintance soon leads to confession to death threats, money-laundering, and political corruptions.

In short, Dima wants to cut a deal with the British Intelligence, exchanging classified information for protection for his family. And the common, yet somehow gallant, college professor, Perry will serve as the diplomat between Dima and the MI6 official, Hector (Damian Lewis) who has his own conscience and ambition to battle with. Of course, communications proves to be difficult because trust needs to be earned. In the end, there will be a betrayal, un-shocking as it is expected, followed by a slight displeasure, but no complication should be worried about. MV5BMjM4MDg1ODc4MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDY2OTExOTE@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_

What puzzles the viewers is the lack of intrigues, surprises, and moral implications this movie – John le Carré based and all – is operating on. There’s a sense of dread that the power of the story stops as fiction, and there’s nothing beyond that. Why does Gail decide to stand behind her man in this crazy enterprise? How does Perry support Dima with such an iron will? Their motivations are never thoroughly explained, and their courage, partially felt. After all, our imagination of heroism is limited.

Indeed, there are a couple of instances where the whole premise of this film (a common citizen is ready to risk his life to save a mafia) is crumbling down and the viewers are ready to pack their bags and leave if not for Ewan McGregor to save the day by reassuring us with his earnest face. In fact, Our Kind of Traitor still functions to entertain is purely a result of solid acting by powerhouses such as Skarsgard and Lewis, who are no stranger to this genre. It’s almost an act of magic that these characters brood and talk in a husky voice and the viewers are convinced.

Susanna Whites’s has a distinct, perhaps bizarre taste for her visuals. Always opting for a stained-glass blur and impositions, Whites does present an in-between state, where lives intertwine. The visual choice made conveys a certain moral vagueness with a poetic flair.

Like many adaptations of John le Carré’s novels, Our Kind of Traitor is a slow burner without any interests in gadgets or action sequences. With only a few twists, the film fades to black in peace and the viewers, feeling quite content, can leave without overthinking. It is a risky game Whites is playing, but the result is not half-bad.

© Peier Shen FF2 Media (07/10/16)

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Top Photo: Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris)

Middle Photo: Dima (Stellan Skarsgard) and Perry

Bottom Photo: Hector (Damian Lewis) interrogates the couple

Photo Credits: Jaap Buitendijk

Q: Does Our Kind of Traitor pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test? 

No.

Unfortunately, Our Kind of Traitor follows the longstanding tradition of spy films, which believe that women, especially beautiful women, have no real place in heroism. A few play the challenging roles of supportive wife and sexy bedmate. And that’s what we have here. The women ceremoniously bond over their grievances and then be what they are expected to be in this genre: silent and invisible.

 

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