Review: Crip Camp

crip campCrip Camp: A Disability Revolution (2020) ★★★1/2
Directed by James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham
Streaming on Netflix 

Crip Camp is a Netflix film, produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, but I had the unusual experience of seeing it on the big screen a few weeks ago for a press screening. I say unusual not only because this is a documentary that most people will watch at home but because I ventured out to see it when people were just starting to feel nervous about Coronavirus. I wasn’t even sure I should go, but at that time, my kids were still in school, my husband was still going into to work and out to evening events and except for everyone washing their hands a lot, things were relatively normal. It’s eerie how quickly things have changed.

Anyway, I went into the screening feeling anxious and scatterbrained but left feeling centered and full of hope. Crip Camp tells the story of the disability rights movement, which was seeded at a teen summer camp called Camp Jened. The camp itself, located in upstate New York near Woodstock, was ordinary and in terms of its offerings. There was a pool, arts and crafts, sports, and music. The usual. What made it extraordinary was that every kid who went was disabled, which meant that a bunch of teenagers who were used to being pushed to the side were suddenly front and center. For the first time in their lives, the kids experienced what it was like to be among people who were not put off or scared by their disabilities, and who saw them in terms of their personalities, interests, and dreams. It was so freeing that for many of the campers, it was a political awakening. As one camper puts it, there was a realization that “the problem with the disabled isn’t with the disabled, it’s with the outside world.”

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Hysterical Girl Lets Freud’s Dora Tell Her Side of the Story

Originally slated for SXSW, the New York Times is now streaming Hysterical Girl, a documentary short about Freud’s classic case study, Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. Writer and director Kate Novack argues that instead of being a case study of sexual repression, Freud’s Dora is actually a classic example of how men ignore, misinterpret, and cover up reports of abuse from girls and women.

I just watched it and was impressed by how many ideas it crammed into 13 minutes. The movie is anchored by a dramatic monologue that uses Freud’s own notes to give voice to Dora’s side of the story. The monologue is illustrated by a rapid collage of images and clips from classic films and TV shows, news coverage of Anita Hill, Christine Blasey Ford, and other women who have stood up to men in power, and hand-drawn animations.

The New Reality of Movie(not)going

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I’m having a lot of trouble adjusting to this new reality of Coronavirus. It feels both like I just had my first baby and also, like I’m a teenager, stuck in the house and beholden to my parents. Except I have none of the transformative and energy-giving hormones of new motherhood or the teen years. So I’m just like WHAT IS HAPPENING over and over again. My son’s school and extra-curricular clubs keep sending links to “learning platforms,” and every wellness service I have ever subscribed to, whether it’s the Y (which is now closed) or the mushroom coffee I occasionally splurge on, is inviting me to view videos or join informational zoom hang-outs and I’m like, is this for you, or is it for me? Be honest!

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Coronavirus Cancellations

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A couple of weeks ago, when I updated my 2020 movie list, I included selections from the SXSW Film Festival, but now the festival has been cancelled to help stop the spread of Coronavirus. My husband thinks the Tribeca Film Festival, which is about a month from now, will also be cancelled, but I’m not sure — although maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part, because I was hoping to attend a few screenings.

I feel bad for the independent filmmakers who were going to showcase their work at the SXSW. It must be so disappointing to lose that potential career boost. I’m going to continue to track these films and also, the films slated for Tribeca, in case they show up somewhere else.

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Review: First Cow

first cowFirst Cow (2020) ★★★★1/2
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Written by Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond

The plain title of Kelly Reichardt’s eighth feature film belies a richlydetailed period piece set in 1820s Oregon Territory. But before immersing you in the past, Reichart opens in the present, with a shot of alarge industrial ship making its way down the Willamette RiverAlong a piece of undeveloped shoreline, a woman and her dog are walking when the dog’s playful digging uncovers a human skull. Curious, thewoman continues digging to reveal two full skeletons lying next to each anotherAs is typical of a Reichardt movie, this action unfolds wordlessly but with attention to the sounds of the natural world: the chirping of nearby birds, the dog’s panting and scuffling paws, and the river flowing byThis quiet, observational approach makes the discovery of two skeletons feel interesting, rather than ominous. However, I must admit that what I found most arresting about this scene was a lightweight pink scarf that the woman was wearing tied around her neck in a loose bow. It was the only warm color in a scene dominated by grays, blues, and greens, and as the woman’s scarf fluttered in breeze, I felt that it, as well as the skeletons, had a secret meaning. . . 

Read the rest over at The Common

March Movies

I recently updated my list of 2020 movies written and directed by women and wanted to highlight this month’s selections because it ended up included a long list of movies premiering at South By Southwest.

Of the March releases, I have already seen First Cow — my review will be posted in a few days at The Common — and have plan to see Crip Camp next week. I’m also hoping to see Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Often, a movie about two teenage girls traveling in order to get an abortion, and my seven-year-old son is super-excited for the live-action Mulan, so I know I’ll be going to that, too.

Click through for a full list of March movies written or directed by women . . .

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Review: Emma.

emma 2020Emma (2020) ★★★1/2
Directed by Autumn de Wilde
Written by Eleanor Catton, based on the novel by Jane Austen

I saw this a couple of nights ago and it was pure delight. My only regret is that I went to see it by myself and not with my husband or with a friend. I left it in a cheery mood, buoyed by the playful costumes, bucolic scenery, intelligent dialogue, and of course, the romantic ending when everyone is happily paired up — except, maybe, for Jane Fairfax. I felt bad for her, and I don’t remember her character from previous versions of Emma, though I must confess that I have never read Emma, so I don’t know if she is from the book or not.

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Review: The Assistant

the assistantThe Assistant (2019) ★★★★
Written & Directed by Kitty Green

When I wrote the heading for this review I thought to myself wow, am I really giving this movie four stars? It’s the unusual instance when using a star rating system is clarifying rather than frustrating, because my reasons for rating it as less than four stars were entirely superficial. In terms of its production, The Assistant it is a “small” movie, but in terms of its themes and emotional impact, it’s huge. It takes place over a short time period — one day — and involves only a handful of people in a few rooms, with its focus on Jane (Julia Garner), a junior assistant to a film producer. Very little happens and there is hardly any dialogue; there’s only one passage in the film in which two characters engage in extended back-and-forth discussion. All other verbal communication is limited to short or one-sided phone conversations, emails, and eavesdropping.

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Review: To All The Boys P.S. I Still Love You

To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love YouTo All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (2020) ★★
Directed by Michael Fimognari
Written by Sofia Alvarez and J. Mills Goodloe, based on the novel by Jenny Han

It’s not a good sign when, watching a sequel, you begin to wonder what it was you liked about the original material. I went back to my review of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before  and saw that I compared it to the Great British Baking Show — high praise, indeed! I was new to the world of Lara Jean and thought there was something sweet and unpretentious about her character. I also really liked Lana Condor, the actor who plays Lara Jean. She’s just as delightful in this sequel, but she can’t rescue the material, which gets bogged down in a lot of high school logistics and relationship drama. Also — and it pains me to say this, because he’s like a Mark Ruffalo Jr. —  but I think this second installment reveals the limits of Noah Centineo’s acting abilities. He’s perfectly cast as the unattainable love object in the original, but as a real person in a relationship, he comes off as a shallow performer. He just can’t convey the complexity and vulnerability that is needed.

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The Women Who Won!

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Last night was a pretty good Oscars for the few women who did get nominated. I’m disappointed — and a little surprised — that Greta Gerwig didn’t win best adapted screenplay, but her costume designer, Jacqueline Durran, did win — a well-deserved win, I thought, because her costumes were so expressive of each character.

As I predicted, ‘Joker’ composer Hildur Guðnadóttir won for her score for Joker –and was the first woman in 20 years to do so.  (L.A. Times)

I was really happy that that American Factory won best documentary, which was co-directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. That was easily one of the best movies I saw last year. The footage they got, especially with factory’s management, was extraordinary.

In the short documentary category, Carol Dysinger won for Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl), which I haven’t seen but am eager to catch up with. 

Finally, Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh won for production design of Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.