James - (Drama) Wonder (2017) Starring Owen Wilson, Julia Roberts and Jacob Tremblay. This movie is based on the book of the same title by R.J. Palacio, which was published in 2012. This movie retells the story of a 10 year old boy, Auggie Pullman, who must face a world of prejudice and bullying as he navigates through middle school. Isabel and Nate Pullman, played by Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, set out on a journey to make Auggie’s transition from home school to public school a success since the decision to go to public school was Auggie’s. This movie was well worth the watch and although it covers a sensitive subject it does a masterful job in both highlighting friendship and self-acceptance. I thought the acting was superb.
Debbie - (Drama) 20th Century Women (2016) Starring Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, and Greta Gerwig. Set in the late 1970s, this coming of age story focuses on single mom, Dorothea (Annette Bening) raising her teenage son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) who is surrounded by a group of multi-generational, strong, women. Julie (Elle Fanning) has been Jamie’s friend and classmate for years and is coming to terms with her sexuality and identity. Abbie (Greta Gerwig) is an artsy cancer survivor who rents a room in Dorothea and Jamie’s house. William (Billy Crudup), a bohemian handyman, another boarder, rounds out the quirky bunch who form a makeshift family. Each of the women teach Jaime different lessons about life and what it means to be a good son, friend, and partner. The movie is a wonderful glimpse into the world of the late 70s and what is was like to grow up in an era of burgeoning punk rock, feminism, and cultural change.
Amanie - (Foreign) In Between (2016) Starring Mouna Hawa, Sana Jammelieh, and Shaden Kanboura. Set in modern day Tel Aviv, this movie tells the story of three millennial Palestinian women. Leila and Salma have an apartment and spend their days like most people their age: working, partying, and trying to forge their way through cultural barriers. When Noor is sent their way to live with them, they are initially tense due to Noor’s religious and shy nature. What transpires is a moving account of their lives as they unfurl with struggle and tragedy of varying degrees. They learn to rely on one another when it seems like the world around them is threatening to dissolve their independence and well-being. I loved the fact that this movie largely focuses on the realities that millennial women face in the Middle East, a narrative that is so often ignored in global portrayals of Arabs. Female independence and empowerment is an important ingredient in this film, as well as the visibility of queer love in a world that rejects it. The movie breaks down binary stereotypes that we assume about religion and sexuality and challenges Western audiences to widen their imaginary just a bit more.
Genine - (Documentary) The Dust Bowl (2012) Ken Burns’ documentary is about the worst human-made ecological disaster in American history. Learn of the causes and view primary source accounts from people who lived through this awe-inspiring Great Depression-era disaster. A nice companion to Caroline Fraser’s Pulitzer Prize winning Prairie Fires: the American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which discusses the hows and whys of the nineteenth century rush west to farm on the Great Plains, the precursor to the Dust Bowl tragedy.
Stacey - (Drama) Trumbo (2016) Starring Starring Bryan Crantson, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, and Helen Mirren. Set in the 1950s, this movie dramatizes the life of Dalton Trumbo (played by Bryan Cranston), who was part of the Hollywood Blacklist that blocked writers, actors, and others from being hired because they were accused of being communists or having communist sympathies. Trumbo was a successful, highly paid screenwriter until his communist ties drew attention. He refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was jailed for his refusal. If you like to glimpse history through movies or be reminded that inquisitions happened in the 20th century, Trumbo fits the bill while also allowing viewers to draw similarities to modern day events. This movie is based on the book Trumbo by Bruce Cook.
Jenn - (Drama) Low Down (2014) Elle Fanning plays teenage Amy-Jo Albany. She and her jazz musician father, perfectly played by John Hawkes, live a bohemian life in 1970s Hollywood. The scenes are both beautiful and gritty, sprinkled with amazing jazz music and heartbreak, mostly caused by Amy-Jo’s parents’ substance addictions and inability to live a more stable life for their daughter. The film is based on a memoir by Amy-Jo Albany, and does justice to her tender, troubled father-daughter relationship. This film is available on Kanopy and DVD.
Daniel - (Comedy) Brigsby Bear (2017) Starring Kyle Mooney (of Saturday Night Live), Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, & Claire Danes. This movie is kind of quirky and odd, so it’s best you go into viewing it knowing as little as possible. It is about a young man (Kyle Mooney) who has been raised by his “parents” (you will understand why the quotations upon viewing) in an underground bunker, mainly spending his days being an avid watcher/superfan of a retro (think of some of the old retro-looking 80s TV shows) TV show called “Brigsby Bear”. However, one night, something happens that changes his lifestyle, and he discovers something about his favorite show which leads him to make his own movie! It is a comedy, but isn’t really mean spirited or anything (like not raunchy or anything, more serious-toned and a bit quirky). It’s basically about somebody who is new to this current world/way of living, and making friends, and also about film-making.