SMURFS – THE LOST VILLAGE (2017): Review by Georgi Presecky

Directed by Kelly Asbury and co-written by Stacey Harmon and Pamela Ribon, Smurfs: The Lost Village boasts an all-female creative team that brings the long-awaited story of the mysterious Smurfette to the big screen. More than just the blond hair and high heels she’s epitomized for decades, this heroine’s story is funny and sweet. (GEP: 3.5/5)

Review by Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

This continuation of the beloved franchise is a surprisingly powerful story about owning your roots and figuring out who you are, proving that good things really do come in smurf-sized packages.

Aside from being the only girl in the village, “Smurfette” (Demi Lovato) is also the only smurf with a name that lacks a qualifying adjective describing who she is. Everyone else has an identity built right into their epithets. There’s Jokey Smurf, Nosey Smurf and Grouchy Smurf - names that are all clear indications of what you’ll get with these little blue creatures.

Smurfette doesn’t quite know what to make of herself, which is the film's self-aware nod to society's "Smurfette principle" of having a token female character who doesn't do much more than look pretty and act as a foil to the boys. But this enjoyable 81-minute flick is her quest to figure it out. She makes it her mission to save the lost village of smurfs from the evil wizard “Gargamel” (laugh-out-loud funny Rainn Wilson), with a little help from her friends. Her sidekicks on her journey provide the comic relief and the ragtag qualities that define any good group of adventurers: “Hefty” (Joe Manganiello), “Brainy” (Danny Pudi) and easily the most hilarious part of this Sony animated feature, “Clumsy,” voiced by the always-funny Jack McBrayer. Smurfette is surprised to find that this hidden group of smurfs is, like the team who brought us this film, all girls like her. They live in a beautifully-animated village full of light and color, and it provides Smurfette with possibility and a sense of belonging.

It’s an admirable idea - instead of reinventing Smurfette to make her some cliched version of a tough, smart girl, Asbury and company try to show that pretty token blonde girl can already be tough and smart on her own. No reinvention necessary - just a little attention, a little credit and a little self-discovery.

At one point in the film as Smurfette, Hefty and Brainy loudly argue, Clumsy saunters up to the group and screams, “I want to yell about something!” A lot of Smurfs -The Lost Village feels this way -- like the filmmakers made a lot of these creative choices just because they could. The 3D animation is stunning and visually interesting, the voices behind the smurfs are hilarious and the jokes are great, but the movie hits a wall after they finally reach the lost village. It seems that just when things should be picking up, they’re dragged down - helped only by the humorous voice acting of the unbreakable Ellie Kemper as “Smurf Blossom.”

The feminist message is anything but subtle -- women have too long been placeholders in men’s stories, and the popular Smurfs franchise that dates back to the 1950s is no exception. Smurfette finally gets her own story, which makes “The Lost Village” special in its own right. If the story had been a bit more refined and the girl-power theme less heavy-handed, it would have sent a really great message to young girls about defining themselves. Even so, I’m thankful to live in a time when the Smurfettes get to tell their own stories (no matter who tries to stop them). Not in an aggressive or painfully obvious warrior-smurf kind of way, or even in a clumsy, jokey, nosey kind of way. Just in her own way.

© Georgiana E. Presecky (4/9/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Smurfette - and the audience - finally get a glimpse into her real identity, though the plot makes this theme a bit too obvious, as though the token female character needs special attention.

Middle Photo: Brainy, Clumsy and Hefty provide a majority of the laughs in Smurfette's story.

Bottom Photo: This decades-old character is finally getting her own story, but even though it took us way too long to get here, the film lacks a certain something that would make it truly shine.

Photo Credits: Sony Pictures Animation

Q: Does Smurfs - The Lost Village pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes!

Smurfette finally meets some fellow females after crossing the forbidden forest to warn them about Gargamel. They are unique, funny and strong women smurfs voiced by Julia Roberts, Ariel Winter, Michelle Rodriguez and the hysterical Ellie Kemper.

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THEIR FINEST (2016): Review by Brigid Presecky

Screenwriter Gaby Chiappe adapts Lissa Evans novel Their Finest Hour and a Half into the finest hour and a half of cinema so far this year. A period piece in 1940s London, a romantic dramedy with an underlying feminist message and an utterly enjoyable cinematic experience. (BKP: 5/5)

Review by Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

“You and me are given opportunities only because young men are gone. But to turn our back on those opportunities … wouldn’t that be giving death dominion over life?”

With men off to fight in World War II, “Catrin” (Gemma Arterton) becomes a screenwriter on a movie meant to lift the spirits of a mourning country. She’s expected to provide the “slop,” women’s dialogue for the feature about British civilians rescuing soldiers in Dunkirk, a story based on “a hundred true stories.”

While her artist husband disapproves of her new venture (even though she’s paying their rent), Catrin finds a safe haven in the filmmaking division of the Ministry of Information, befriending snarky head writer “Tom Buckley,” (Sam Claflin) and a crew both humorous and likable talent.

Arterton embodies the witty protagonist unafraid to be feminine and flirty, yet unapologetically brave. Her chemistry with charming Claflin makes Their Finest one of the greatest love stories portrayed in recent film history; a unique, earned and unforgettable. The characters act as equals rather than superior and subordinate, mirroring a workplace romance found in American television series like The West Wing’s Josh and Donna or The Office’s Jim and Pam.

Fortunately, feminism and romance are never mutually exclusive, making Their Finest unable to fit in a pigeon-holed genre. Catrin struggles in a personal relationship, leaps and bounds through her career, makes friends, stands strong <insert every positive attribute here>. A character well-written, a performance perfectly executed.

What’s most impressive, however, is Chiappe’s injection of humor with Bill Nighy as pompous actor “Ambrose Hilliard,” famously known for his role in a popular detective series. With juicy roles a scarcity, he agrees to play aging “Uncle Frank” and rounds out the supporting cast in an outstanding comedic role that adds light, humor and welcome reprieve in a wartime setting. Jake Lacy also punches up the comedy as a dim-witted American actor; a small plotline providing big laughs.

Danish director Lone Scherfig captures the movie-within-a-movie with ease, allowing viewers to effortlessly flow along with this heartwarming - and equally heartbreaking - experience. For both the characters and the audience, the background violence is a constant reminder of the treacherous times they live in and how art can strongly impact people’s lives. Catrin’s journey with the film crew encapsulates magic of movie-making and how storytelling becomes escapism when real life is too big of a burden to bear.

“If all of this stopped,” Catrin says to Tom with tears in her eyes, “I’d miss it.” I guarantee viewers will feel the same way.

© Brigid K. Presecky (4/6/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Gemma Arterton as slop screenwriter “Catrin” and Bill Nighy as washed-up actor “Ambrose Hilliard”

Middle and Bottom Photos: Arterton with Sam Claflin as “Tom Buckley”

Photo Credits: Transmission Films

Q: Does Their Finest pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes!

Catrin researches the story by going out and interviewing two sisters, the British civilians who helped soldiers from Dunkirk. She also works with Rachael Stirling as “Phyl Moore,” a member of the film crew.

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THE TICKET (2016): Review by Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

The Ticket is a modern-day fable about a blind man who regains his sight, only to become obsessed with appearances. His newfound superficiality leads him to dismantle his happy but unglamorous life for flashy luxuries, like expensive clothes and a penthouse apartment. Penned by screenwriting newcomer Sharon Mashihi, the story is heavyhanded at times, but well-shot and ultimately satisfying. (GPG: 3/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

An anecdote you’ll hear many times over the course of The Ticket goes something like this: a man prays to God every night to win the lottery. He prays so hard and so long that an angel hears him in heaven, and approaches God to ask, “That guy has been praying to win the lottery for so long; why don’t you just let him win?” To this, God replies, “I wish I could! But he’s never bought a lottery ticket!” The Ticket is a story about luck, and how people manage to turn even its beneficial outcomes against themselves.

We are introduced to “James” (Dan Stevens) from his own perspective: because James is blind, the screen is blank, and we only hear the sounds of James’s world. Before he goes to bed, James says a prayer, thanking God for his happy family and not wishing for anything more in the world. But God has other plans. James wakes up the next morning having miraculously regained his sight, which has been lost to him since he was a child. It would seem that for being so content and virtuous given his lot in life, God has given James a second chance at sight.

After initially rejoicing, James is quickly able to use his sight, as well as his growing motivation toward money and prestige, to gain a promotion at work. He starts dressing better and exercising, however, he also becomes more selfish and manipulative, and soon leaves his wife to begin a relationship with a beautiful coworker. He also begins a scheme to gain approval at work that would turn a whole neighborhood of poor people out of their homes. The question of the film becomes: Will James get away with this, or will fate step in again to take his sight away once more?

The main problem with the execution of The Ticket is related to one of its strengths: its morality-play premise. The characters can often be two-dimensional, causing otherwise able actors to take turns for the melodramatic that derail certain scenes. The Ticket also doesn’t do enough with the form to elevate it above other Aesop-inspired films, allowing viewers to easily guess the story’s twists and turns before they happen. One also tends to feel hit on the head with the moral of the story, which boils down to, “being superficial is bad.”

All in all, The Ticket is a good story exploring an interesting, original premise. However, hiccups at various stages of production prevent it from being all it could be.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (4/10/17) FF2 Media

Top photo: James, shortly after regaining his sight.

Middle photo: James, in bed with his mistress.

Bottom photo: James takes his mistress out to a field.

Photo credit: Cave Pictures

Q: Does The Ticket pass the Bechdel test?

No.

The only female characters in the film are James’s wife Sam, and his mistress Jessica, and they never speak.

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KARL MARX CITY (2016): Review by Jan Lisa Huttner

In this new collaboration from award-winning filmmakers Petra Epperlein and her husband Michael Tucker, Petra returns to her hometown in the former East Germany in search of her father's Stasi files. Riveted documentary artfully explores the intersection between personal history with public memory. (JLH: 4.5/5)

Review by FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner

In this stunning new documentary by award-winning filmmaker Petra Epperlein (working once again in collaboration with her husband Michael Tucker), a child of East Germany -- aka the German Democratic Republic aka the GDR --digs into her father's Stasi files. Who will she find there? Will she find the man she remembers... or someone entirely different?

Those familiar with research on the Holocaust have learned the surreal truth about modern German history: They documented everything! And so, just like those fascinated by the Holocaust, those fascinated by the post-WWII period under Communist control (1949-1990) can bury themselves in archives and never run short of new revelations.

“Stasi” is shorthand for the German Democratic Republic’s State Security Service. In other words, the German term “Staatssicherheitsdienst” became “Stasi” through this abbreviation: Staatssicherheit ("State Security"). Those who know the German language appreciate its penchant for compound nouns. Those who don’t will just have to take Wikipedia’s word for it.

After the reunification of Germany in 1990, most people did their best to forget the internal dynamics of life in highly-regulated East Germany. But Petra Epperlein cannot forget, and so she embarks on a perilous emotional journey. She is not only afraid of what she will find, she is also burdened by the stress she is placing on her mother and brothers. They cannot tell her not to do it -- and even if they asked her to stop, she is already too obsessed to comply -- but they know the consequences of Petra's quest must eventually be shared.

Therefore, Karl Marx City succeeds as a documentary precisely because it so artfully blends so many complex moral dilemmas. What are our responsibilities as citizens, as children, as siblings? How do we weigh our responsibilities to others against our responsibilities to ourselves and our own internal demand for Truth (capital T).

As paper vanishes and more and more information becomes trapped in a cyber "cloud," our admiration for those crazed Germans can't help but grow. Why did they retain all of this paper -- now available to new generations -- when so much of it is so damning? Their nearest and dearest may come to despise them, but these insights into some of the darkest eras in human history are invaluable.

© Jan Lisa Huttner (4/7/17) FF2 Media

Photo Credits: Epperlein/Tucker & Bond/360

Q: Does Karl Marx City pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test? 

Yes!

Although Petra does spend most of her one-on-one time with her mother Christa discussing her father's life (and death), Christa is also forthcoming about her own memories of life in the former East Germany.

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CARRIE PILBY (2016): Review by Brigid Presecky

Based on Caren Lissner’s best-selling novel, Carrie Pilby stars Bel Powley as a 19-year-old with a brilliant mind, muddled dreams and lack of social skills. When her therapist suggests she make a friend or go on a date, Carrie sets out to cross each item off of her “normal person” to-do list. Director Susan Johnson uses her stellar cast of Powley, Nathan Lane and Jason Ritter to tell a story about social isolation and justifications we make for our own behavior. (BKP: 4/5)

Review by Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

“Give humanity a chance. Someone might surprise you.”

Carrie Pilby (Powley) is a girl genius who graduated Harvard at the ripe old age of 18. She reads dozens of books each week, lives alone in her paid-for apartment and lacks any personal connections aside from her therapist (an understated Nathan Lane).

With his advice, Carrie tries to make sense of the world: why people do horrible things, why everyone is sex-obsessed and how “normal” young adults behave. She’s given a makeshift “to-do” list; tasks to be completed from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve: things like buying a pet, going on a date and making a friend.

With the world as her oyster, or rather, New York City, Carrie tries her best to complete the tasks to the best of her ability. She brings home goldfish from the pet store, befriends her musician neighbor and finds a date in the classified newspaper ads (is that really a thing?)

Viewers go along on the humorous journey, occasionally flashing back to Carrie’s days at Harvard when the younger, more gullible version of herself got caught up with an ill-intentioned professor.

The sequences are used to great effect, helping viewers understand how the long-haired, studious nerd became the short-haired, hipster nerd. Screenwriter Kara Holden adapts the novel to into a solid feature-length story, for the most part, touching on aspects of Carrie’s life that could have been expanded further.

Powley, in a role slightly less eccentric than Minnie Goetze in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, plays two different ages, subtly changing her performance to fit the time period and exemplifying Carrie’s growth. Viewers root for her happiness, despite her social awkwardness and harsh judgments of the world - and the credit goes to Powley’s unique embodiment of the character. Vanessa Bayer and Jason Ritter are welcome additions to any film in which they appear. Here, their screen time is limited to minor supporting roles as Carrie’s co-worker and blind date, respectively, but both make the most of what they’re given.

Certain aspects of the film feel like they are made for a storybook (like the cute neighbor, “Cy” (William Moseley) encouraging Carrie to dance with him in the streets), but despite the hand full of cliches, Pilby is a sweet indie treat. Despite the high IQ, this young woman’s story can - and will - relate to anyone trying to find their way in the world. Some have big dreams; some don’t. Some like raging parties; some don’t. But most everyone has one thing in common: that metaphorical list in their pockets, reminding them that they are capable of more.

© Brigid K. Presecky (3/29/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Bel Powley as 19-year-old genius “Carrie” dancing with her musician neighbor “Cy” (William Moseley)

Middle Photo: Carrie buys goldfish to cross a task off of her list 

Bottom Photo: Jason Ritter as “Matt,” a blind date Carrie finds in the newspaper

Photo Credits: Braveheart Films

Q: Does Carrie Pilby pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Surprisingly, no.

Carrie has scenes with her new co-worker (played by Vanessa Bayer) but the entirety of their scenes revolve around love lives. Carrie mentions her mom’s death and the seven years of aftermath, however, it never really passes the Bechdel-Wallace test.

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DAVID LYNCH – THE ART LIFE (2016): Review by Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

David Lynch is the Twin Peaks of people. You may already know this intellectually, but I guarantee it hasn’t hit you with the full force that it will when you watch David Lynch - The Art Life. Co-director Olivia Neergaard-Holm and her collaborators allow Lynch and his art to speak for itself in this retrospective on David Lynch’s less well-known work in visual art. (GPG: 5/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

I didn’t know this when I entered the theater, but David Lynch started out as a painter, coming to film through animation projects he began making while going to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Lynch describes his paintings as “organic, violent comedies. They have to be violently done and primitive and crude…” (Lynch, David; Lynch on Lynch) and I agree. He often writes sardonic messages onto his canvases that underline (or undermine) the moods he creates in the painting as a whole. The paintings themselves are mostly fingerpainted by Lynch, which gives his work a viscerally impressionistic style to match the rawness of the emotions presented therein.

The content of the film can roughly be broken into thirds. One third is made up of shots of Lynch’s paintings, sometimes through wide views, and sometimes panning over the more subtle details in Lynch’s work. Another third of the film shows Lynch smoking in a studio, talking about his childhood and early adulthood. His anecdotes are often bizarre, and he speaks in a Midwestern accent, calling to mind the show for which he is most famed, and which is not mentioned once in the entirety of David Lynch: The Art Life. The remaining third of the film allows us to watch David Lynch making a decidedly impressive number of paintings in his studio—I don’t know how long the documentary crew spent getting footage of him painting, but either they were camped out there for longer than I can guess or David Lynch is one of the most prolific painters of our time.

I was so sorry that I watched this film in a crowded theater, because there were multiple moments where I wanted to scream with exultation but was prevented from doing so by the rest of the audience. I don't know that I can give you a real description of why and how I loved this film so much, but I will try: this is a film that will endear itself to you, a film that will inspire you, a film that will give you so many feelings for this odd man and his fingerpaints that it will overwhelm you. Run, don’t walk.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (4/5/17) FF2 Media


Q: Does David Lynch -The Art Life pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

No.

The only person who talks in the film is David Lynch, who is a man. I think.

Top Photo: David Lynch, in his natural habitat.

Middle Photo: Lynch being interviewed.

Bottom Photo: Lynch preparing to work on one of his paintings.

Photo credits: Absurda.

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THE LEVELLING (2016): Review by Georgi Presecky

Hope Dickson Leach’s The Levelling is a dark English drama about an accomplished girl dealing with her brother’s suicide. “Clover” (Ellie Kendrick) returns home to find that her brother’s death isn’t the only tragedy affecting her family — there are a multitude of little things that have her family farm reeling, and she must mend some broken emotional fences if she doesn’t want to lose anyone else. (GEP: 3/5)

Review by Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

Too bad the title Silence was already taken by last year’s Martin Scorcese feature — it would’ve been a good name for Leach’s The Levelling, which is an eerily quiet look at a broken family. The echoes of cows mooing and the clipped conversations between Clover and her father (David Troughton) add to the dark tone of this failing farm, symbolizing the words that are left unsaid and the pain that lives in these fields, barns and dimly lit farmhouse hallways.

Clover inquires about the circumstances of her brother’s last days, as any good sister would — “you don’t accidentally put a gun in your mouth,” she tells her father when he meets her questions with denial. It’s a classic story about returning home and piecing things together, but its other elements include mystery, some unmistakably English emotions and silence —a whole lot of silence. It allows Clover to reflect on the life she left behind to become a veterinarian, to ponder whether her brother could’ve gotten more out of life, too.

Leach’s script gives us the history of the Catto family using only exchanges between daughter and father, friend and friend, townsperson and townsperson – we learn about Clover’s reasons for leaving her family, the death of her mother and her father’s feelings about the farm following detrimental flooding, all using only words.

Lack of schmaltzy flashbacks or purposefully pointed dialogues is one of the strengths of this film, in addition to its metaphor. The farm stands for a lot more than cows that need to be milked – there are intrinsic themes about family, home and heartbreak that anyone can relate to. We learn about the Cattos’ lives, and as Clover uncovers truths she’d before deemed impossible, we start to see a different side of the farm — and the film.

The Levelling might be extremely sad and somewhat slow, but it is well-made enough that it excels at being these things. Sometimes gloomier stories are necessary foils to more hopeful ones.

© Georgiana E. Presecky (4/6/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Clover works on the farm.

Middle Photo: Kendrick is understated and stoic in her role.

Bottom Photo: The Levelling has its fair share of sadness.

Photo Credits: Monterey Media

Q: Does The Levelling pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes.

Clover briefly discusses the farm and her brother's death with a female friend in town.

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THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE (2017): Review by Jessica Perry

The Zookeeper’s Wife, adapted from Diane Ackerman’s novel of the same name, is directed by Niki Caro and written for the screen by Angela Workman. The film tells of the Zabinski family, the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, and how they saved hundreds of Jews during the German invasion of Poland by hiding them on zoo grounds. (JEP: 3.5/5)

Review by Executive Editor Jessica E. Perry

The film opens in Poland in 1939, where “Antonia Zabinski” (Jessica Chastain) and her husband “Jan Zabinski” (Johan Heldenbergh) are caretakers of the Warsaw Zoo. Antonia’s connection to her animals is arguably stronger than the ones she shares with the people around her, her love for all the beautiful creatures in her zoo apparent. But with the threat of a German invasion looming, the world outside of the zoo gates is far from the picturesque life Antonia lives behind its walls, where she rides her bike in the sunshine and goes barefoot like a child, tending to the grounds and her animals.

Fearing the worst, Jan asks Antonia to leave Poland with their young son “Ryszard” (played over multiple ages by Timothy Radford and Val Maloku) before things grow more dangerous, but Antonia refuses to run. Everything changes the day bombs are dropped on Warsaw, destroying the zoo and slaughtering many animals trapped in their pens from escape as the bombs fall.

When the Zabinski’s learn that what’s left of their zoo is to be liquidated, meaning that all the animals will be killed, “Lutz Heck” (Daniel Brühl)—a German zoologist with whom the Zabinski’s had contact with before the German invasion, now one of the Nazi’s making base in their zoo—offers to take the remaining of their prized animals to his zoo in Germany to save them from slaughter.

When the zoo is to be shut down, now empty of all animals, Jan and Antonia approach Heck with an offer to run it as a pig farm to feed the Nazi soldiers. They suggest getting the food for the pigs from the trash in the Warsaw Ghetto. Their offer is a ploy to gain access to the Ghetto in order save Jews from the horrors inflicted upon them by the Nazi regime, shuttling them out under trash heaps and hiding them on the zoo grounds until they can get them to safety. Heck agrees to their request, unknowingly granting the Zabinski’s the means to save almost three hundred Jews over the course of three years.

Although the film finds fault in its lack of fully developed Jewish characters—which arguably could have added necessary dimension to the narrative in a harder hitting depiction of the true struggles faced by the Jewish people during World War II—it’s protagonist is fully realized; a strong, multidimensional female character. Antonia’s strength and heroism is artfully captured by Chastain’s force of a performance.

Recognized by the State of Israel as the Polish Righteous Among the Nations for their efforts during the war, and saving almost three hundred people during World War II, it is undoubtable that the Zabinski’s story is one to be told. Visually stunning and filled with strong performances, The Zookeeper’s Wife is a good film, but ultimately steers clear of being great due to its tendency to shy away from the hard truths, metaphorically shielding viewer’s eyes, to the true horrors of the Holocaust and the state of the Warsaw Ghetto during the German Invasion of Poland. Focusing instead on the lives of its protagonists, the world of the film is almost tame in its portrayal of the events happening outside of the zoo, some of the most emotional scenes happening within its walls at the callous slaughter of their animals. Having not read the book, I cannot say if this is Ackerman’s take, but the lens through which Caro and Workman have chosen to tell their story threatens to give more weight to Antonia’s life as a zookeeper than to her heroism.

© Jessica E. Perry (4/8/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo:  Antonia and Jan Zabinski walk the streets amidst the unrest in Warsaw.

Middle Photo: Antonia with two of her beloved lion cubs.

Bottom Photo: Young Ryszard and Antonia sit with some of the women they are hiding, watching as they create art on the walls, and listening for German soldiers.

Photo Credits: Anne Marie Fox

Q: Does The Zookeeper’s Wife pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Yes!

Antonia shares conversations with a young girl, “Urszula” (Shira Haas), that they are harboring in their home after Jan saved her from the Ghetto where she had been brutally raped by two Nazi soldiers. Antonia cares for Urszula, slowly opening her back up through conversation and the arts after she had closed in on herself from her terrible experience in the ghetto.

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ALL THIS PANIC (2016): Review by Rachel Kastner

From director and cinematographer husband and wife team, comes All This Panic, the next installment in the "millennial coming of age" documentaries. This one, though, is different. Director Jenny Gage brings us into the inner lives of seven young women as they navigate hardships of life, including divorce, drugs, sexual identity and love over the course of three years. Beautifully shot and tenderly composed into a 79 minute film, All This Panic ultimately pleases both the eye and the heart. (RAK: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Rachel A. Kastner

In All This Panic, we meet a host of young women growing up in New York City. Each character in the film has their own complicated transition into independence, marked with familial, financial and academic struggles. None of the tweens are more important than the other, as the film balances the lives of this group of friends. We meet sisters Ginger and Dusty, who are both "petrified of getting old," Lena, who painfully grows up in a home where neither of her parents are financially or emotionally stable, and Olivia, who, over the course of the film, realizes and confronts her true sexual identity. None of the issues are light and breezy, as teenage girls' lives are often portrayed in film and television. That being said, each has their own unique sense of humor, and the result is a wide cast that gives every member of the audience someone to bond with.

We are given a peek into the private lives of teenage girls in a delicate, unobtrusive manner. Often, documentaries might create an air where the subject feels under a microscope, but the subjects of All This Panic remain comfortable and welcome the camera; they want to tell their stories, and are glad to have the audience's ear. So often they feel, as one girl remarks, "[the world] want[s] to see us, but they don’t want to hear us."

Jenny Gage's film is her first foray into feature-length documentaries. It is a condensed story from 3 years worth of footage- similar to Boyhood, except real - and about girls. Aside from short scenes with a parent figure or a guy friend, there are almost no men in All This Panic. We watch Ginger, Dusty, and the others interact with each other just as they would were there no camera in the room. This is a testament to Jenny and Tom's ability to allow their subjects to feel 100% comfortable in the space. Their experience and background in fine art and still photography shine through the absolutely stunning cinematography that accompanies this sensitive film.

The group that Gage and Betterton worked with were all so remarkably different, yet their excitement and nervousness about the future brings them together, as they confide and rely on each other for help navigating the transition. And as the film wraps up, and we are left with incomplete stories and unachieved dreams, we are left hoping that each one will find their way.

© Rachel A. Kastner (3/30/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: All This Panic Poster

Middle Photo: Dusty and a friend from All This Panic

Bottom Photo: Ginger from All This Panic

Photo Credits: Tom Betterton

Q: Does All This Panic pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

 Yes!

The entire film is built on conversations between these young women, and they are LOVELY!

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BEFORE I FALL (2017): Review by Jessica Perry

Directed by Ry Russo-Young, written for the screen by Maria Maggenti, and based on the novel by Lauren Oliver, Before I Fall is a female powerhouse: written, directed, and starred in by talented women. Before I Fall follows “Samantha Kingston” (Zoey Deutch) as she is forced to live her last day on repeat, struggling to find the meaning in that day and in her death, and how her actions can affect circumstances for someone else. (JEP: 4/5)

Review by Executive Editor Jessica E. Perry with Two Cents More from Social Media Manager Georgi Presecky

The Day is February 12th, and it starts out like any other. “Samantha Kingston” (Zoey Deutch) runs out the door in the morning, dismissing her parents and berating her little sister “Izzy” (Erica Tremblay) for touching her things. Her best friend “Lindsay Edgecomb” (Halston Sage) waits for her outside, and the pair drive to pick up “Ally Harris” (Cynthy Wu) and “Elody” (Medalion Rahimi) to complete their mean girls clique. The day is also one that marks a Valentine’s Day tradition at their high school, where girls are given roses from admirers, and the girl with the most at the end of the day is deemed most popular. The reigning queen? Lindsay.

The girls sit at their own table in the lunchroom, talking boys and gossip. The four of them above the fray, bullying those beneath them. When "Juliet Sykes" (Elena Kampouris) passes by their group to sit alone, Lindsay makes her comments and throws out insults, berating Juliet. All the girls play along, following Lindsay and relishing in their status. This is high school. And they are at the top of the social order.

Along with a dozen others, Samantha is given a rose from a secret admirer she knows to be “Kent McFuller” (Logan Miller), a childhood friend who she’s grown apart from in her rise to popularity. Kent is hosting a huge party at his house that night and everyone is invited, Samantha at the top of the list. But she blows off his request, uninterested until Lindsay demands that they go.

The girls are shocked when Juliet shows up at the party, and a confrontation between Juliet and Lindsay ensues, Samantha standing by doing nothing to stop the bullying. When the girls leave the party everything about that seemingly ordinary day changes. Driving home, listening to music, the girls’ car is struck, an accident rolling the vehicle. The next moment Samantha is back in her bed, woken in the morning by the same alarm as the day before. However, as events begin repeating themselves, Samantha finds herself repeating the same day over and over, unable to break the cycle. No matter the actions she changes, and new choices made, the same day continues on repeat. Samantha cycles through the emotions of hating the day to seeing the beauty in it that she missed the first few times around. Is this day her last? And if it is, what can she do to change the day for someone else?

Before I Fall succeeds in capturing audiences for its full hour and thirty-eight-minute run time even though the premise is based upon the same day repeating over and over again. Each time the day replays, there are slight changes as Samantha tries to break the pattern. Not having read the book, I was hesitant that the story would feel compelling, and the characters fully developed, for fear that they would be inherently stunted by the premise. But director Ry Russo-Young and screenwriter Maria Maggenti deliver a grounded film that captures the a certain truth to the trials of high school, and how the small things you say and do can have a lasting impact on someone’s life.

© Jessica E. Perry (3/14/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Samantha walking through the halls of her high school on February 12th.

Middle Photo: Samantha remembers what Kent used to mean to her.

Bottom Photo: The girls at Kent's house party.

Photo Credits: Open Road Films

Q: Does Before I Fall pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Yes!

Samantha and her friends talk about numerous things, only a few of them being boys. She also shares tender moments with her little sister as she relives the day, and in a culminating scene, Samantha and Juliet have a powerful conversation in the woods just minutes before the day resets.

Social Media Manager Georgi Presecky

I vividly remember closing Lauren Oliver's novel Before I Fall when I was a freshman in college, walking to the dining hall for dinner, and looking around at my campus and the people on it completely differently. Oliver's book filled me with emotion and hope, providing much-needed perspective on the importance of every day, and why what you say and do matters. It was the impetus for a lot of decisions I made after reading it (probably more than is healthy for a reader-novel relationship), so it's safe to say I was eagerly anticipating this film.

Director Ry Russo-Young and screenwriter Maria Maggenti's adaptation was an inspiring reminder, more than three years later, of why the book was so moving in the first place. Sam's repeated journey through the same day resonates for the same reason Richard Curtis’ About Time (2013) does - both are about finding the tiny things throughout the day that make life so much more beautiful than we give it credit for.

Zoey Deutch's performance is unexpectedly transformative - you could feel Sam’s outlook and perspective changing and expanding with each repetitive day. Sometimes the most important lessons we have to learn don’t come in big, explosive packages - they add up, day by day, moment by moment, with all the interactions and realizations we face.

Good movies with real-life implications make you hug your loved ones tighter. Before I Fall does this - and more. It’s about the importance of the small choices you make, the little memories that each day brings and how they contribute to the person you become. For me, this transcends plot lines, editing and cinematography that would make up a normal review - it’s moving and thoughtful in unexpected ways, making for a rare recommendation from me: read the book and see the movie. (GEP: 5/5)

© Georgiana E. Presecky (3/14/17) FF2 Media

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