⋆⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG for brief profanity and some thematic elements.
Even in a year of extraordinary documentaries like “RBG,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and “Three Identical Strangers,” “Science Fair” is something special. If you want to increase your faith in the future of humanity and have a rollicking good time doing it, there is no better place to go.
This infectious and exuberant film wins you over by focusing on the enthusiasm and enviable good spirits of the smart and engaging young people who compete in “the Olympics of science fairs.” The film focuses on the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). It attracts roughly 7 million initial competitors who duke it out in 425 qualifying fairs around the world. This group is winnowed down to 1,700 high school student finalists from close to 80 countries, competing in 22 categories.
The film is crisply directed by Darren Foster and Cristina Costantini. The latter knows this world intimately — she is a former competitor who placed fourth in her category as a high school freshman — and the movie’s insider sensibility benefits from her knowledge.
The film introduces several contestants from a variety of backgrounds and then follows them to the ISEF fair, tagging along as they socialize — “the better you are at science fair, the worse you are at dancing,” one competitor says — and present their projects. Winning is guaranteed to change lives, but what’s clear is that just participating does, as well. “If you’re there just to win prizes,” one participant astutely points out, “you’re missing the best part.”
Los Angeles Times
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
This documentary charts the life and career of 89-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who is best known for her hypnotic paintings of weblike nets and dots. Directed by Heather Lenz, the film offers insight and eye candy, despite the fact that it is far more traditional — in style and format — than its subject.
Then again, to live up to Kusama herself would be a tall order. Famous for residing in a Tokyo psychiatric hospital since 1977, Kusama has always mined her fragile mental state for her art, infusing her obsessive drawings, watercolors, collages, paintings, sculpture, installations and performances — created over many decades — with a sense of a lost soul adrift in a chaotic universe. In fact, one of the film’s interview subjects — who include collectors, curators, dealers, art historians and friends of the artist — refers to Kusama’s creative practice as a form of “managing madness.”
The film touches on many things, from Kusama’s various suicide attempts to professional setbacks due to sexism and racism. But in addition to focusing on biographical details, it also includes thoughtful analysis of the work, helping viewers to understand what it’s trying to say and why it matters. Despite her own worst impulses as a publicity junkie, and despite the easily digestible nature of her work, the film makes clear that there is a powerful quality of healing to her art, both for the artist and the viewer.
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements and teen drinking
Louisa May Alcott’s tale of sisterhood and hardship is an often-told story. There have been multiple earlier screen versions — including a miniseries last year, as well as another adaptation in the pipeline for next year. Plus, it’s being staged at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis. What sets this telling apart from the others is that it’s the only one set in the present day.
While it seems like a fun idea to update the trials and travails of the March sisters, dragging the story into the 21st century shows just how dated the novel truly is.
This adaptation is faithful to a fault, which results in a very strange world where this group of five present-day women depends on men for their social lives and careers — basically anything that gets them out of their cozy house of feminine fantasy. They might talk about cellphones and Google, but there’s something distinctly retrograde about the way the women function.
Lea Thompson plays the warm and wise Marmee, and she’s lovely in the role, in which she is perfectly cast. But does Marmee even have a job? And, if not, why not? To update the story of a group of women in 19th century struggling to get by while the man of the house is away at war, the whole thing needs an overhaul. “Little Women” is very much a story of its time, not our time.
Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service