Los Angeles

Women Helping Women

Sundance Institute

The Janes (2022)

“The Janes” opens with archive street footage of fabulously dressed women in the 1960s. The immediate point that makes is that while fashions change, people more or less stay the same. But codirectors Emma Pildes and Tia Lessin use the fashions of the late ’60s and early ’70s to make a quiet point in their story of the Jane Collective, an underground network in Chicago, at a time when abortion was illegal, that safely arranged at least 11,000 abortions in five years.

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Unplanned Parenthood

Wilson Webb/Sundance Institute

Call Jane (2022)

Years ago, this critic attended a talk by Euzhan Palcy, director of “A Dry White Season,” the 1989 antiapartheid box-office bomb that was the first major Hollywood production directed by a Black woman. She told a roomful of righteous undergraduates that she centered Donald Sutherland’s character because his was the one with the story arc; all the Black characters already knew of the atrocities keeping the apartheid regime in power and that racism is bad. She calmly explained that you have to start from the beginning every time, because there will always be people who simply don’t think they are affected by something like racism, and the constraints of a movie’s running time mean it’s more interesting to focus on the people who need to change. That same logic went into the choices that make up “Call Jane,” a major Hollywood production about why abortion is good. Should we need to start from the beginning on this subject? Of course we do. And when it’s done this well, it speaks for itself.

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The Graduate

Sundance Institute

Cha Cha Real Smooth (2022)

In her first book, Mindy Kaling has a section where she discusses romantic comedy tropes, one of which is the Typical Mother Character. To paraphrase Ms. Kaling, basic math makes it clear that the Typical Mother Character became a parent at an uncomfortably young age, which means that her backstory can’t really be discussed, because it is automatically more interesting than anything happening in the romantic comedy. Writer-director Cooper Raiff, who also stars in “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” evidently took this statement as a challenge. His incredibly charming movie is about how an open-hearted young man and a jaded older (but not much older) woman suddenly find themselves with an unexpected potential romantic situation, and the all-encompassing question of what they are going to do about it.

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Proof of the Pudding


Sundance Institute

Bill Cosby was a bona fide ’80s cultural icon. In his documentary series “We Need to Talk About Cosby,” W. Kamau Bell acknowledges Mr. Cosby’s influence on his initially choosing a career in comedy – the same inspiration that spurred a generation of Black comedians. Of course, the urgency to discuss Mr. Cosby now stems from the fact that he’s better known over the past decade for being a serial rapist.

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Rude Sexual Awakening

Sundance Institute

Sharp Stick (2022)

Lena Dunham has a singular gift: She makes horndog art about the most irritating people in America which somehow captures the zeitgeist. In her first movie in 11 years and her first filmed work since “Girls” went off air, she has moved the setting to Los Angeles, but the basic theme of self-discovery-through-sexual-misadventure remains the same. Your enjoyment of this will depend on your tolerance for being completely unable to tear yourself away.

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Thick as Thieves

Low Spark Films

Emily the Criminal (2022)

The U.S. economy looks all set to claim another scalp in "Emily the Criminal," when it forces Emily (Aubrey Plaza) to turn to crime as a way to unblock her cash flow crisis. Already hassled and disrespected in the low-waged catering trade, her interviews for other employment are tripped up by a prior conviction for aggravated assault: hide it and the interview ends badly, own up and there's hardly an interview at all. More profitable, and precarious, opportunities come her way via a syndicate of well organized Middle Eastern gentleman and their fake-credit-card operation. Suitably trained, Emily becomes expert at the art of buying something expensive on a dodgy card and getting out before the alarms go off.

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Body Double

Sundance Institute

Dual (2022)

"Dual" is a darkly funny entry in doppelganger cinema that could have been titled "Dead Ringers" or "Enemy" or "Black Swan," since there are some limits to the themes that get tackled in this area. But "The Clone Wars" would be ideal. Set in an imprecise nowhere of coniferous forest and pinched English accents – and actually made in Tampere, Finland – the seemingly prosaic society in Riley Stearns's film can offer you a clone of yourself. Useful should you, say, be suffering from a terminal illness and want it to take your place, or if you just fancy committing suicide. The new you can be rustled up in the lab in an hour, like knocking together a casserole.

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Bullet Time

Sundance Institute

2nd Chance (2022)

Pacifists and advocates of non-lethal force will feel a headache coming on while watching "2nd Chance," a documentary by Ramin Bahrani telling the rise and fall of the Second Chance company of Michigan and its founder Richard Davis. In the aftermath of a 1970s attempted mugging of Mr. Davis that turned into a back-alley gun battle when he resisted ("I shot two men many times. Unfortunately I was fighting three.") the victim wondered whether a better, lighter bulletproof vest than the flak jackets on the market at the time might be possible. The answer was yes, and a design of woven nylon proved to have real commercial potential. With Second Chance in business as a supplier of vests, Mr. Davis developed a party piece to prove his product's effectiveness, wearing one and then shooting himself in the chest from a range of half an inch.

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Electric Dreams

Joe Hunting/Sundance Institute

We Met in Virtual Reality (2022)

Scratch a modern innovation and something older, if not ancient, emerges. Virtual Reality was a term before anyone had even made a working transistor and some similar concepts occupied the Ancient Greeks, while no culture on the planet has failed to ponder the wet malfunctioning bag of gunk we have to cart around all the time, and wondered what the life of the mind might get up to if it wasn't held back by the life of the body. V.R. technology brings fresh perspectives on all this, and several positive viewpoints are available inside the online virtual community VRChat shown in Joe Hunting's documentary "We Met in Virtual Reality," perspectives offered up by enthusiastic Anime-inspired avatars of people who are undoubtedly being just as enthusiastic back at home.

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Nature or Nurture

Branko Starcevic/Focus Features

You Won't Be Alone (2022)

Mysterious portents and severe punishments abound in "You Won't Be Alone," Goran Stolevski's feminist fantasy that could be slotted into three different genre boxes without being fully at home in any of them. Entirely set in the lush leafy countryside of 19th Century Macedonia, an enchanted world where at least one of the creatures in local folk tales is constantly lurking just out of sight, the film's highly affected atmosphere and a languid breathy voice-over narration of knotted esoteric sound-bites will drive some viewers up the wall. So perhaps might its themes, not for their meaning so as much as for the chosen style of presentation, as if multiple different intentions had been squashed through the gene splicer.

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