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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997


new and ongoing dvd/blu/vod releases, US/Can, Apr 30–May 07

Fri May 07 2021, 10:54pm | comments off

Street Gang, a delightful documentary about Sesame Street; Paper Spiders, a morose melodrama about a mentally ill mom; more…

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street documentary review: street smart, street wise

Fri May 07 2021, 10:32pm | 2 comments

I bawled my eyes out in aching nostalgia with this absolutely delightful dive into the creation of the educational TV show and its carefully crafted chaos that had an outsized impact on Generation X.

new and ongoing dvd/blu/vod releases, UK/Ire, Apr 30–May 07

Fri May 07 2021, 03:00pm | comments off

Best Picture winner Nomadland, provocative father-son drama Cowboys, videogame flick Mortal Kombat, and more…

Nomadland movie review: ain’t that America

Thu May 06 2021, 04:26pm | 0 comments

Come on down for a gen-u-ine American dystopia at the crossroads of end-of-empire and late-stage capitalism. Chloé Zhao’s outsider’s eye is hugely sympathetic but unhindered by knee-jerk patriotism.

how black lives have not mattered

Fri Apr 30 2021, 09:13pm | 0 comments

Movies for understanding racism and white supremacy in America. [A teaser of an essay for Patreon patrons and Substack subscribers only.]

my picks for tonight’s 93rd Academy Awards (the Oscars for 2020’s films) (winners indicated)

Mon Apr 26 2021, 01:21pm | 5 comments

I correctly guessed 11 out of the 24 categories, which is slightly better than last year.

new and ongoing dvd/blu/vod releases, US/Can, Apr 20–23

Sun Apr 25 2021, 11:50pm | comments off

Based-on-a-videogame action flick Mortal Kombat; more…

new and ongoing dvd/blu/vod releases, UK/Ire, Apr 19–23

Sun Apr 25 2021, 11:50pm | comments off

Brutal — and brutally funny — Hollywood sendup I Blame Society; more…

Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts 2021 (93rd Academy Awards) review

Sun Apr 25 2021, 09:29pm | 0 comments

The brilliantly unsettling “Two Distant Strangers” is not only the most important of the nominees but one of the movies of the year, of any length. Its surprises are more brutal than mere plot twists.

Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts 2021 (93rd Academy Awards) review

Fri Apr 23 2021, 09:27pm | 0 comments

“Hunger Ward,” an unvarnished vérité look at starving Yemeni children and the medics trying to save them, best encapsulates the human experience of pain and resilience that all the nominees embody.

One Night in Miami… movie review: the past, still prologue (#AmazonPrime)

Mon Apr 19 2021, 06:36pm | 0 comments

An electrifying philosophical fantasia that imagines four towering figures of 1960s America arguing over how to navigate racism as Black men. Enraging, but also thrilling, bursting with cinematic joy.

new and ongoing dvd/blu/vod releases, US/Can, Apr 16

Fri Apr 16 2021, 07:17pm | comments off

A slow week reflects a relative dearth of new films as we enter a second year of pandemic lockdowns…

new and ongoing dvd/blu/vod releases, UK/Ire, Apr 12–16

Fri Apr 16 2021, 06:49pm | comments off

Oscar nominees Promising Young Woman and Sound of Metal finally arrive in the UK…

Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts 2021 (93rd Academy Awards) review

Thu Apr 15 2021, 12:38pm | 2 comments

I don’t see how the astonishing “Opera,” by Erick Oh, doesn’t win the Oscar for Best Animated Short. This is a stupendous achievement, a cartoon clockwork depicting life, the universe, and everything.

The Tunnel (Tunnelen) movie review: fire in the mountain

Sun Apr 11 2021, 09:49pm | 0 comments

As stuffed with soap-opera clichés as its cinematic precursors, but this is nevertheless a solid and diverting rescue procedural… and it’s somehow even more shocking for how mundane its disaster is.

new and ongoing dvd/blu/vod releases, US/Can, Apr 06–09

Sat Apr 10 2021, 09:09pm | comments off

A brutal French drama; a disaster thriller from Norway; more…

new and ongoing dvd/blu/vod releases, UK/Ire, Apr 05–09

Fri Apr 09 2021, 08:58pm | comments off

A fantastical love story; a science-fiction mystery; more…

Synchronic movie review: Benson and Moorhead would have voted for Obama twice if they could have…

Fri Apr 09 2021, 08:16pm | 0 comments

Just because a tale is science fiction doesn’t mean that plausibility and cohesion are not required. Yet we can see the narrative strings pulling along the puppet-characters, and in an ugly direction.

‘Cultural Artifacts’ out now! (about the cover, plus a giveaway)

Thu Apr 08 2021, 12:44pm | 0 comments

Yay! It’s pub day for my collection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror flash fiction.

hidden gems from Amazon Prime, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Hulu

Sat Apr 03 2021, 11:36pm | 0 comments

Passion, creativity, and suspense in stillness… [A teaser of an essay for Patreon patrons and Substack subscribers only.]

Shiva Baby movie review: secrets, lies, and other adulting

Sat Apr 03 2021, 03:58pm | 2 comments

A wonder of emotional claustrophobia and narrative economy. Rachel Sennott is delightfully caustic in this painfully poignant, dryly funny portrait of a deeply awful moment of young adulthood.

Godzilla vs. Kong movie review: whole earth monster catalog (#HBO)

Fri Apr 02 2021, 05:34pm | 6 comments

Everything a monster movie needs: Monsters, natch. Cute kids who Know Things. Nerdy-hot scientists. Spectacular sci-fi visions. Humor but no cheese. Warmth but no schmaltz. And a superb green message.

Raya and the Last Dragon movie review: warrior princess (#DisneyPlus)

Sun Mar 28 2021, 05:14pm | 0 comments

The Disney paradigm is hard at play again here, its familiarity offset by its inspiration in Southeast Asian culture and mythology. Sweepingly told, gorgeously animated, and audaciously optimistic.

The Father movie review: the quiet horror of Alzheimer’s

Sun Mar 28 2021, 03:49pm | 0 comments

A deeply compassionate, deeply unnerving portrait of a man suffering from dementia and losing his grip on reality. The empathy machine of cinema has rarely been put to such uncomfortably intimate use.

lockdown cinema that ironically will make you feel better about lockdown

Thu Mar 25 2021, 08:49pm | 0 comments

Movies for coming back from coronavirus-crazy. [A teaser of an essay for Patreon patrons and Substack subscribers only.]

‘Cultural Artifacts’ cover reveal!

Tue Mar 23 2021, 09:05pm | 0 comments

My collection of sf/f/h flash fiction is available for preorder now; out April 8th.

Stray documentary review: a dog’s eye view of humanity, from the outside

Sat Mar 20 2021, 06:29pm | 0 comments

A bittersweet, multilayered vérité portrait of the street dogs of Istanbul. Startlingly immersive, howling with moral questions about what we owe these creatures of intelligence, dignity, and feeling.

Locked Down movie review: criminally awful (#HBO)

Fri Mar 19 2021, 09:23pm | 1 comment

Ejiofor and Hathaway are game, but they’re grasping for something solid, and don’t find it. A deeply unsatisfying novelty artifact of the pandemic that fails to create a necessary sense of transgression.

Mouthpiece movie review: women, arguing with ourselves

Fri Mar 12 2021, 06:11pm | 4 comments

The internal monologue that modern women have with ourselves gets externalized in this audacious and absolutely brilliant dramedy. Poignant, vulnerable, and almost shocking, in the best possible way.

flash fiction coming your way soon…

Thu Mar 11 2021, 10:28pm | 0 comments

99 Tiny Terrors and Cultural Artifacts: titles to tempt you…

Flick Filosopher: now with Patreon and Substack

Fri Mar 05 2021, 07:36pm | 0 comments

In short: If you like my work and are in a position to help me continue to do it, please become a paying subscriber, if you are not one already, at either platform.

documentaries for understanding how we got President Trump, and for ensuring we never get him or his like again

Thu Mar 04 2021, 06:59pm | 0 comments

A free first peek at zeitgeisty film roundups to come…

’Til Kingdom Come documentary review: the people trying to usher in the Biblical end times

Sun Feb 28 2021, 05:41pm | 0 comments

A deep dive into US evangelical Christians teaming up with Israeli charities in an absolutely terrifying unholy alliance that has geopolitical implications that should worry everyone, believer or not.

I Blame Society movie review: jeopardizing her likability with no f*cks to give

Fri Feb 26 2021, 07:34pm | 1 comment

A vicious, delicious Hollywood sendup, deconstructing — like a wrecking ball deconstructs — indie filmmaking, cinematic violence, and the industry’s treatment of women. Write what you know? Hoo boy.

Irresistible movie review: are money and politics irretrievably entwined?

Sun Feb 21 2021, 07:49pm | 1 comment

This zingy satire is so perfectly, beautifully Jon Stewart: big and brash, raging with fury at the state of American politics but also underlain with hope that it might be changed for the better.

Cowboys movie review: a new kind of father-and-son tale

Wed Feb 17 2021, 09:38pm | 1 comment

A complete upending of the western, about not wide open spaces but close-in intimacy, with an unusual female gaze and a hugely provocative dare to gender expectations. Both ironic and transformative.

Slalom movie review: the obstacle courses a girl runs

Fri Feb 12 2021, 09:12pm | 0 comments

A fictional version of a story we know in the abstract, told with hushed reserve and brutal unsentimentality. An incisive, nontitillating female gaze on sexual abuse that never sensationalizes horror.

Tenet movie review: I have no time for it

Fri Feb 05 2021, 04:25pm | 6 comments

Washington and Pattinson have palpable charisma, but this cold puzzle offers no incentive to solve it. Throw in damsel-in-distress crap, and both my geek sensibilities and my feminism are offended.

OFCS 2020 awards winners announced

Fri Jan 29 2021, 10:46pm | 0 comments

And the winners are…

Assassins documentary review: when a murder is not a murder

Fri Jan 29 2021, 09:52pm | 0 comments

The story of the women duped into *checks notes* killing Kim Jong-un’s brother is more bonkers — and sad, and gripping — than we’ve heard. Utterly fascinating; the stuff of a Hollywood thriller.

#Like movie review: teen feminist rage, muted

Fri Jan 29 2021, 04:04pm | 0 comments

Sarah Pirozek weaves an elegant, noirish tragedy on a micro budget, but it’s far more effective as a portrait of the miserable discomposure of modern teen life than as a feminist vigilante thriller.

the 2021 film ranking has begun!

Sun Jan 24 2021, 08:16pm | 0 comments

Unlike in recent years, I’m not restricting the 2021 ranking to patrons only: everyone can see it.

The Exception (Undtagelsen) movie review: and you thought your coworkers were horrible…

Fri Jan 22 2021, 08:19pm | 0 comments

Nonsensical Danish thriller concocts absurd connections between the nature of evil and *checks notes* office politics among shallow clichés of women. Preposterously, this is not meant to be satire.

MLK/FBI documentary review: suppressing dissent, American style

Thu Jan 21 2021, 10:16pm | 0 comments

Beautiful in its style, enraging in its substance, this skewering of the FBI’s surveillance of the civil-rights icon is essential for understanding the near-term roots of white supremacy in America.

Wonder Woman 1984 movie review: days of future past

Sat Jan 16 2021, 08:48pm | 5 comments

The retro pastel optimism is ironic, but the dark stuff slips by in subtext. This bold, colorful tale, recalling classic superhero films, could be happening in a parallel universe… a much nicer one.

curated: “Donald Trump‘s Presidency Was Supposed to Be Great for Art. It Wasn‘t”

Tue Jan 05 2021, 10:31pm | 1 comment

I personally have found it very difficult to focus on anything creative in the past four years (and it only got worse in 2020). And I wasn’t alone…

AWFJ 2020 EDA Awards winners announced

Tue Jan 05 2021, 09:34pm | 0 comments

And the winners are…

curated: 10+ minutes of glorious dancing in movies, so you can forget 2020 for a bit

Sun Dec 27 2020, 08:46pm | 0 comments

Just watch these beautifully edited montages…

Greenland movie review: a human spin on the end of the world

Sun Dec 27 2020, 04:02pm | 0 comments

A same-old tale of apocalypse knows we’ve seen this all before, and so centers human drama over disaster porn. It has nothing new to say, but at least it says it well, with notes of horrific grace.

Songbird movie review: screechingly out of tune

Wed Dec 23 2020, 03:03pm | 0 comments

An appalling melange of insipid disaster drama and implausible romance with a bit of dystopian satire thrown in. This is a crass cash-in meant to prey on our pandemic anxieties, not grapple with them.

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