So many excellent movies in June you could spend almost every night inside a dark room with strangers watching light bouncing across a screen; just think of the possibilities!

Let’s go to the Movies


Director Bruce Beresford

Bruce Beresford, Academy Award nominated director (Driving Miss Daisy, Mao’s Last Dance) again explores that emotional space between people who have chosen to turn their back on each other. Set in the aging and hippie paradise of Woodstock, 42 years after Jimi had left, Beresford has given a recently “refreshed” (subtle: looks sort of her age but fabulous) Jane Fonda the role of a second lifetime.

Fonda plays Grace, the last of the free love, pot smoking, moon-worshiping hippie “chicks” still ensconced 40 years later in ultra groovy and lusciously landscaped Woodstock. She practices “herbal medicine” by distributing her homegrown weed to locals. Grace loves swirling skirts, love beads, sandals, long flowing highlighted hair accessorized by a bandana and men who have a George Clooney swager. In addition, she seems to have more energy than Charo on speed; she is a deadhead granny in a town still stuck in a lysergic time warp. Grace is still dancing to a Levon Helm-ish hoe-down as she enters her 70s.

Yet wait, Beresford has something more serious at work. It is a classic mother -daughter story. Catherine Keener is Diane (her choice), Diana (mom’s choice), a daughter who became so disgusted with what she saw as selfish and self-centered behavior that she ran off to NYC 20 years ago, became a lawyer and seems to espouse the values of one of Phyllis Schlafly’s more hip America Eagles. She is a law and order Republican as well as a mom with two teenage children and a husband who has left and filed for divorce. She decides after 20 years to visit Grace for a weekend and let her children meet their grandmother for the first time.

The kids are Jake, brilliantly played by Nat Wolf, a high school “auteur” director-to be with his first camera and older sister Zoe, Elizabeth Olsen, the “it girl” actress of the moment. Grandma tries to seduce the kids to her lifestyle and their mother wants none of it. She transforms herself into a feminist Dolly Levi and match-makes all three. Diane meets Mr. Rural hottie, Jeffery Dean Morgan, the Clooney clone, in Levis with guitar in hand and sparks fly, despite her continual disgust with Grace. Fonda makes complex what could have been a one joke character and Beresford’s masterly use of location makes this serious comedy a feel-good must-see for anyone of a certain age who either went to or wanted to be at Woodstock in 1969 and their off-spring. Kudos all around to production values and Altman-like ensemble playing.


Director Maiwenn

The Grand Jury Award winner at Cannes in 2011. POLISSE, set in Paris, is both a precise and an unraveling portrait of a tight-knit, mixed gender child protection police unit. POLISSE, under the skilled hands of former actress Maiwenn, is about as realistic a look at how police live on and off duty and interact with each other, as one has ever seen on the screen. Charged with investigating the vile kind of criminal mind that child endangerment breeds creates tensions that over-flow into their own interpersonal relationships and their lives outside of work.

With the unflinching humanity of the best of documentary directors, (think Steve James’ The Interrupters) this narrative film captures, with real time fury, the non-stop tension the police work generates and the interdepartmental jealousy. So believable are the actors, that one would think that they are in fact real cops, not simply a collection of some of France’s best character actors including a searing performance by French rapper Joeystarr. Raising questions of morality, ethics and self righteous judgement, the film challenges the audience to live in these cops’ shoes and by doing so, turns the mirror back on the audience. Maiwenn, against the grain of this genre of film, risks raising age of consent questions that are not easily answered. Hollywood doesn’t make this kind of movie anymore. The French still do.


Director Kevin Hanlon

Hardly a dramatic cable series or an indie narrative film these days does not contain the obligatory 12-step meeting scene. For those uninitiated, they rarely tell how a 12-step program actually works. BILL W. puts some story meat on the narrative skeleton by telling the story of Bill Wilson a successful Wall Street player whose uncontrollable urge to drink destroyed whatever success he had achieved.

BILL W. shows how hopeless and desperate he had become before he bonded with a physician who had the same alcohol obsession. The docudrama takes us through the 45 years when the two first met in Ohio and helped each other stop drinking right up to Wilson’s death in 1973. With a low budget and unknown actors and a treasure trove of archival material, first time director Kevin Hanlon constructs a revelatory story that shows how Bill Wilson, despite being a complicated man, was able to battle successfully through Alcoholics Anonymous to stay sober.

Watch it, and next time you see that “share meeting” film scene it will have a context for the most successful self help movement in the world today. A program that has literally saved millions of peoples lives and inspired a variety of other issue focused 12 step programs worldwide.

Three very different but compelling documentaries are must see:


Director Matthew Ankers

The Grand Dame of high risk and physical confrontational performance art, Marina Abramovic, emerges in this documentation of her MoMA live, repeated ritual as a champion of authentic experience in a world of digital distancing interaction. Gorgeous and overwhelming in the way that a Niki de Saint Phalle sculpture is, Abromovic rises to the rigorous physical challenge of sitting in a chair looking into the eyes of a person opposite her until they look away and leave. She stays encountering the next person one after another for three months, six days a week, seven and half hours without breaks.

The masterful cinema verite approach Matthew Ankers combines with skillful editing strips the set-up to a repeating single frame of two people doing in public what all technology does today, attempts to move them away from: direct emotional intercourse. A physical, spiritual encounter naked and in real time, intense, intimate humanity. I knew from her previous work of her tolerance for physical pain and her ability to seduce. But I was unprepared watching it for what happened to me personally. That is the secret of this artist’s creative work and it is a triumph of Matthew Ankers’ cinematic capture that marks this film indelible.


Director Kirby Dick

Kirby Dick shines the bright light of the documentary truth seeker into the dark room of taboo. He has taken the scab off of some of society’s most provoking issues including: Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist (1997), a love story, Twist of Faith (2004) clerical sexual molestation of youth, Outrage (2009) closet right wing politicians who support homophobic legislation and done so fearlessly.

In THE INVISIBLE WAR, he puts front and center the dirty dark secret of the US military: one third of all women in the service are sexually assaulted or raped by male soldiers. In addition, if that is not bad enough, when they come forward and attempt to bring charges they are ridiculed, demoted and mocked. Even when discharged, these abused soldiers have a difficult time getting medical treatment for their physical and psychological injuries. THE INVISIBLE WAR centers the stories around experiences of military sexual trauma survivors four women and one man with the courage to come forward, tell their stories, and let us into their lives.

Deeply troubling and with wider implications of what can happen to gays in the military, THE INVISIBLE WAR is a must see for any parent whose daughter wants to join or any young woman excited about seeing the world through the eyes of the US military. Kirby searingly asks why this has been allowed to be so rampant and why the military response has been to re-victimize the victims. THE INVISIBLE WAR cries out for home screenings and discussion. No wonder it won Sundance Audience Award in January 2012.


Director Lea Pool

Breast cancer is the largest single killer of women today. It is a serious unsolved health crisis impacting women across all demographics. PINK RIBBONS INC asks the question why has this killer disease been marketed as an UP WITH PEOPLE product placement campaign that is marginalized as a feel good, get healthy movement of marches and races drenched in pink. The campaign obscures the reality and facts of breast cancer. Despite the billions of dollars raised and spent on research, women face the same treatment options they did 40 years ago.

PINK RIBBONS INC tells us that women are the most influential market group, buying 80 percent of consumer products and making most major household purchasing decisions. So then who really benefits from the pink ribbon campaigns — the cause or the company? Contrasting young and old mostly white women (the target market) gleefully participating in “runs for our lives” type feel good events with women asking real questions about where the money goes, brings a reality check to the fact it is still a deadly disease and women are dying daily. PINK RIBBONS INC gives us a realistic look at how women fight to stay alive and makes the case that if they die they were killed by a disease not their own lack of willpower. Powerful stuff indeed.

Taking a big broom to the media spin and corporate marketing campaigns, PINK RIBBON INC asks directly who profits from this disease and what kind of research is funded. Two unforgettable moments: watching a pissed-off Barbara Ehrenreich, the influential writer, tell just how she felt about thinking pink while battling her own breast cancer and the interviews with members of a fourth stage breast cancer support group who have been made invisible in the pink campigns. See it. Make sure the men in your life go too. A little know secret is that men too develop breast cancer.


June is a particularly strong month for specialty films series and festivals letting the public become an insider. It is also a rare chance to interact in Q&A’s with individual films creative team….. and have fun.

The 23rd HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH at Lincoln Center 6/14-28 with emphasis on human rights and the stories major media ignores. Q&As are both controversial and always determinately lively. Besides two buzz documentaries, THE INVISIBLE WAR and AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY, we recommend, CALL ME KUCHU, ESCAPE FIRE: THE FIGHT TO RESCUE AMERICAN HEALTHCARE, BITTER SEEDS, BIDDER 70.

OPEN ROADS: NEW ITALIAN CINEMA June 8-14 at Lincoln Center. This yearly roundup of the best of new Italian Cinema is very, very strong this year. Among the films we think stand out are TERRA FIRMA, SEVEN ACTS OF MERCY and the controversial DIAZ: DON’T CLEAN UP THIS BLOOD (Occupy alert!)

The 4th annual BAMcinemaFest, 6/20—7/ 1 is the go to festival of the season with new film screenings, lectures, receptions, Q&As and live music events. We highly recommend the winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, RADIO UNNAMEABLE (subject WBAI’s Bob Fass), ROCK ‘N’ ROLL EXPOSED: THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF BOB GRUEN, I REMEMBER: A FILM ABOUT JOE BRAINARD, WELCOME TO PINE HILL (Slamdance Grand Jury winner), WALK AWAY RENÉE (Jonathan Caouette and his mother, Renee Leblanc), NOBODY WALKS (West Villager Ry Russo-Young’s Sundance stunner), THE IMPOSTER (where truth is wilder than fiction), FRANCINE (starring Academy Award winner Melissa Leo), GAYBY (the hippest, funnest, coolest now generation film in feast), COMPLIANCE (feminist betrayal shocker)! Google each festival for full listings and ticket discounts.

© Jim Fouratt ReelDeal May 2012

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