Tag Archives: Ava DuVernay

Top 10 Female-Directed Movies 2018

10. The Land of Steady Habits: Nicole Holofcener directs some layered, complex performances, especially from Ben Mendelsohn, who plays a man flexing his cringe-worthy mid-life crisis. The film ends up achingly authentic and deeply bittersweet.

9. Blockers: Kay Cannon is the woman behind one of the few comedies I laughed at in 2018, and its box office makes clear I wasn’t the only one. It’s both a teen comedy and an empty-nest one, and manages to be funny, irreverent, and modern about both. Cannon’s cast is loose, and the jokes land handily, the script smart and quick.

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8. Outside In: Lynn Shelton gets some moving and tender performances out of Jay Duplass, who plays a man just released from prison, and Edie Falco, who plays his high school teacher who hastened his release. Their story is absorbing and empathetic, and Shelton teases some naked tension out of it, keeping us in her grip.

7. Private Life: Tamara Jenkins sneaks us behind closed doors to see witness adulthood and marriage as they are rarely seen. In the throes of fertility struggles, Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti give truly fine, heartbreaking performances.

6. What They Had: Elizabeth Chomko delivers a film that’s hard to look away from. Blythe Danner plays a woman with Alzheimer’s while her family (Robert Forster, Michael Shannon, Hilary Swank), swell and melt around her. It’s a real family drama that’s familiar and necessary.

5. The Kindergarten Teacher: Sara Colangelo justifies her American remake by packing a real punch and eliciting a wonderful performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal. This is one film that kept unfolding itself even after it was over, as it stayed in my thoughts for days.

4. A Wrinkle In Time: Ava DuVernay bravely adapted a beloved children’s book and ended up modernizing it, giving it relevance, and making an enduring, beautiful film that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages.

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3.You Were Never Really Here: Lynne Ramsay deals us a real swift punch with her gutsy, bold film, and proves she has a bracingly unique cinematic eye. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is riveting.

2. Leave No Trace: Debra Granik dares to mold this dramatic story into a quiet, low-key film that demands little yet accomplishes much – everything. Leads Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie have terrific chemistry that sprinkles the film in authenticity.

1.  Can You Ever Forgive Me: Marielle Heller promises a lot with her premise, but manages to deliver even more. This movie worked for me on so many levels. The story is compelling. Melissa McCarthy is at her very best. It’s frequently laugh-out-loud funny. It’s a platonic LGBTQ love story with the unlikeliest, unlikable heroine, yet she’s always treated with dignity and empathy, and we can’t help but adore her, even in her crankiness.

 

 

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A Wrinkle in Time

This movie came out when I was in Austin, Texas seeing a billion movies at SXSW, and even so, I still considered taking a time out just to see another movie, one that was just hitting theatres. I never made it to A Wrinkle In Time then, but I finally got around to it this weekend, and I wasn’t the only one: our cinema was packed on Easter Monday, and I was pleased to note how many families were in attendance.

For those of you who haven’t read the book (by Madeleine L’Engle), A Wrinkle In Time is about a young girl named Meg – troubled at school, grieving at home. Her parents are both brilliant scientists, or were – her father disappeared years ago while MV5BNzhkYzRlNzUtNzFhNy00MzllLWFkZGEtNDg0ZTE0YTYzOWNjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjk3NTUyOTc@._V1_working on a theory about a tesseract, which would involve “wrinkling” time and space in order to travel through it. One dark and stormy night, a mysterious woman named Mrs. Whatsit appears to tell Meg, her friend Calvin, and Meg’s little brother Charles Wallace, the child genius, that she has heard her father calling out to them through the universe. Turns out, Mrs. Whatsit and her friends Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which are supernatural beings prepared to engage in a rescue mission.

The book was repeatedly rejected – possibly because it was a work of science fiction with a young, female protagonist, and possibly because it asked a lot from its young readers. Not only does it use physics and philosophy as basic concepts, it directly tackles the nature of evil, and pits children against it. The movie, too, follows in its footsteps, embracing what made the novel so special and unique, proudly displaying the magic AND the science, and trusting a young audience to appreciate them both. If anything the movie is a little too ambitious – though I quite enjoyed it, I did, in the end, have the sense that parts of it were quite condensed.

Director Ava du Vernay gets the casting exactly right: Storm Reid as Meg is what we want every 13 year old girl to be – smart and strong and curious and cautious. Her determination in the face of her fear and vulnerability make her an exceedingly compelling character. She may at times be insecure but her love and loyalty toward family see her through difficult times. But of course it’s the larger than life characters that Meg meets that give the story so much colour. The Mrs. Ws are particularly enchanting, and I cannot imagine a more satisfying trio than Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah, large and in charge.

At just under 2 hours, the movie does unfortunately lose some of the detail that MV5BMTU5Njg0NTA0MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTgwNDU4NDM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,929_AL_make the book wonderful, but it also paints a fantastic picture that I cannot stop myself from going back to in my mind. The visuals are exotic and beautiful and the world-building just divine. I can only guess at the kind of impression it makes on young imaginations.

Though the movie has some flaws, its themes are just as courageous and necessary today as they were when the book was first published in 1962. Light vs darkness, good triumphing over evil, and the only real weapon used is love. It’s also got a (somewhat diluted) message against conformity; Meg has to embrace her flaws in order to win the day.

See this movie with a child’s wonder and you will be delighted. Adapting this book was always going to be difficult, and the worst thing it does, necessarily, is rob us of the opportunity to do some of the imagining for ourselves. But in committing to the visuals, Ava du Vernay does the source material more than justice. She gives us a film full of hope and bravery, and shows little girls everywhere that they too can be the heroes of their own stories.

Girls Trip

Ugh. This kind of movie is just demeaning.

There’s a good idea in there somewhere: four friends reconnecting. That’s the dream, right? That for one weekend you can all make your schedules obey your will, find sitters for the kids, money for the trip, time off from work. And everything converges on one magical weekend during which you can let your hair down and party like you did when you first met your crew, back when you were single and carefree.

The four friends in Girls Trip haven’t gotten together in 5 years.  Ryan (Regina Hall) is an aspiring self-help guru\daytime TV star and she and her husband are about to get their big break – too bad she can’t stand his cheating ass. Sasha (Queen Latifah) is on the verge girlstrip0004.jpgof bankruptcy and the only thing that might save her is a whole bunch of hits to her celebrity gossip site…and it’s awfully tempting when your best friend is poised to become the next Oprah just as her marriage is imploding. Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) is a less important friend so we don’t know much about her except she’s a caring single mother who wears scrubs at work and is pretty high strung. And Dina (Tiffany Haddish) is hardly a character at all, she’s just there to provide the kind of lewd laughs the other ladies are too famous for, contractually. It’s hard to believe they were ever friends, or that a weekend away together wouldn’t result in murder since in the film’s exceedingly long but comparatively short running time (2 hours), I had the panicky urge to start stuffing people in dumpsters.

Anyway. The script is atrocious. It’s Hallmark-grade MAYBE, heavy-handed as hell. It wants to be a females in New Orleans version of The Hangover, and it even steals a lot of their jokes (substitute roofies for absinthe, for example), but it’s weak. Very, very weak. But there are a few things that Girls Trip provides that you are unlikely to find elsewhere: 1. A “grapefruiting” demo (it’s a sex thing, duh – basically a grapefruit turtleneck for excessively large penises to aid in the blow-jobbing of). 2. You’re not seriously going to insist on a second item after that first one, are you? 3. Okay, fine: Kate Walsh as the token white lady who can’t stop talking in Ebonics. 4. As the movie is set at the Essence Festival, the film bloats itself with clips from performing artists such as Puff Daddy, Faith Evans, Maxwell, Babyface, and Mariah Carey. And about two dozen more. 5. Someone urinates like they’re legit trying to put out a forest fire with it, only instead of trees they drench people. And this happens twice.

But wait! There’s more: the power of female friendships, never leaving your unfaithful husband until you’ve got another prospect lined up, drugging the people you love, sexually harassing people like there’s no tomorrow, and white people using words they have no earthy business thinking let alone saying. So much fun. Girls Trip is a low-budget movie that looks low budget and feels even worse. But it put up some big numbers at the box office because there’s a dearth of actually funny movies these days – too bad this one’s no exception.

13th

13th

(1) Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

(2) Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

That’s the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.  You may have seen a few movies dealing with it.  As a Canadian, I don’t know the ins and outs of the U.S. Constitution, so it’s always interesting to learn a little about how the U.S. system works.  Yesterday I learned that the U.S. system has an extremely dodgy concept of freedom from slavery.  13th is a documentary from Ava DuVernay that sheds some light on the systematic oppression of black people using the gigantic loophole in the middle of the Thirteenth Amendment.

The Thirteenth Amendment clearly states that slavery is allowed as punishment for crime.  Not coincidentally, once slavery became illegal, former slaves were rounded up, arrested for petty offences, and imprisoned.  As these methods slowly fell out of favour, the tactics to oppress former slaves became a little less obvious.  For example, Richard Nixon’s “law and order” methodology was designed to target black civil rights activists in order to gain white support in the south.  Guess what?  The plan worked exactly as intended, quelling the movement for equality by killing or imprisoning tons of black leaders.

Similar results were obtained through Ronald Reagan’s “war on drugs” (which imposed harsher penalties on crack than cocaine in powder form) and Bill Clinton’s 1994 “tough-on-crime” legislation (a crackdown on violent crime enacted during a period when such crime was decreasing).   Donald Trump perfectly illustrates how the same approach is alive and well today.

Since the abolition of slavery, it has been terrifyingly easy for politicians, backed by corporations, to continue to oppress an entire class of people.

Worse, continuing this oppression is economically advantageous and politically effective, because it keeps prisons stocked with cheap labour and earns votes from people who wish we could turn back the clock to simpler times.

Worst of all, the Constitution not only allows prisoners to be treated as slaves, it also permits prisoners to be permanently stripped of the right to vote.  That’s right: VOTING IS NOT AN INALIENABLE RIGHT IN THE UNITED STATES.  Living in the wrong state can cost you your vote, forever, because of a crime you committed and served time for.  That fundamental failure of democracy has occurred more than five million times over in the “land of the free” and, of course, disproportionately affects minorities because that’s who the system has targeted for imprisonment since the abolition of slavery.

Bottom line: the U.S.A. is broken.  Your elected officials aren’t interested in fixing the problem.  If anything, Corporate America is lobbying to worsen the divide.  Change must be demanded by the voters, and for that reason alone 13th is a must-watch.  It’s available on Netflix.  Add it to your list.

Selma

Ooof. I confess, I don’t really know how to review this movie. Why does it feel different from any other movie? Because it’s a piece of art? A piece of history? No, it’s because this is a piece of heart, of our collective hearts. This story is an act of remembrance, an act of grace.

Matt, Sean and I attended the screening of this film at Silver City last night and I’ve been sitting with it ever since, wondering how I can add my voice to what’s being said about this movie. This is not just a history lesson. The images of protest, of indignation, of police brutality, of black people being gunned down for no reason, these could just as easily be ripped from today’s headlines as from 50 years ago. That’s the part that will scrape raw at your conscience, as it did mine.

selma-movie-posterAnnie Lee Cooper is an older black woman registering to vote, as is her right as a supposed American citizen living in Selma, Alabama. The registrar is white, and resorts to dirty tricks in order to deny her once again. She leaves, slump-shouldered and dejected. Annie Cooper is played by Oprah Winfrey in the movie. I’m not normally a fan of stunt-casting, but in this case, using America’s sweetheart, a respected, powerful and highly successful personality who is also a black woman, to remind us just how far we’ve come in just 50 years, is pretty much the most perfect casting in the history of the world. Winfrey plays it winningly, with all the dignity the role deserves.

Insert Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (David Oyelowo). He and his crew arrive in Selma to unite the people, to stir up activism, to attract the attention of the president (LBJ, played ably by Tom Wilkinson) and force him to do something about this supposed right to vote. Of course the president is reluctant, has his own agenda, and so King and company use their non-violent protest to force action in a genius and tragically necessary way.

The cinematography is a subtle tip of the hat toward realism. The costuming, particularly the suits worn by LBJ (those shoulders!), is pitch-perfect. The casting is strong. On paper it seems a bit weird to employ so much British talent to portray American icons, but it works. Oyelowo does a great job of shouldering the man and the spirit, the hero and the human being, without impersonating him.

It is hard to sit and watch this film. Director Ava DuVernay knows this and even uses it, with a stirring montage of Americans of all kinds watching horrified as the events unfold across their evening news, mirroring our own choking dismay.

DuVernay succeeds in stringing together a lot of different plot points in the course of the Selma events – the internal struggles of the organization, King’s problems at home, his grief and self-doubt, and government apathy or outright hostility on all levels. The film works so brilliantly because, while it stays humble in its scope, it becomes a representation for the movement as a whole, and for all the smaller victories along the way that led to real change. This flexibility in her story-telling is skillful and impressive and I can’t wait to hear her name announced as an Oscar nominee  (I won’t even say if), the first black female director ever to make the list.

Please see this movie. I can’t say that enough.