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New and worth noting…
A War. A challenging feature film focuses on a Danish army officer who commands a small unit on the front lines in Afghanistan while his wife cares for their three children back home. The war puts him and his fellow troops in an impossible situation for which the higher-ups then try to hold him accountable.
Freeheld. Julianne Moore and Ellen Page star in a very moving film about a longtime New Jersey policewoman and the much younger woman she loved. When the policewoman learned she was dying of cancer, the county initially refused to pass on her pension to her partner even though it would to a male officer’s wife. The film closely follows a true story, including the community movement that tried to force county officials to change their mind. It serves as a poignant reminder of what was at stake in the fight for marriage equality. One glaring inaccuracy is that the film makes it seem that only one male officer supported her and omits the fact that it was originally her union that asked the county on her behalf to treat her and her domestic partner the same as a married couple.
The Overnighters. A powerful documentary follows a pastor in a small North Dakota town who uses the church to provide overnight shelter to desperate people who have come from out of state in hopes of finding work in the booming oil and gas industry. Local church members resist, sparking tension over what it means to be a Christian community.
1000 Times Good Night. A top war-zone photojournalist who brings the world’s attention to otherwise ignored suffering faces tough questions about her motivation and the impact of her job on her family.
Jimmy’s Hall. In the latest film from director Ken Loach, an Irish socialist creates a community center in a rural area where young people can gain skills and knowledge and enjoy themselves. The local political and economic elite and the Catholic Church are threatened as the center helps galvanize community organizing.
Embrace of the Serpent. The obliteration of Amazonian communities and cultures by rubber barons’ greed is the backdrop for this visually striking feature film based on the actual diaries of two scientists who traveled in the rain forest some 40 years apart.
Rams. Two brothers who live next door to each other on remote sheep farming ranches in Iceland have not spoken to each other in 40 years. A deadly disease spreading from outside the country infects the sheep, triggering intense human drama.
About Elly. A joyous group of Iranian friends arrives on the Caspian Sea coast to frolic for a few days, bringing with them a young schoolteacher as part of a matchmaking scheme. An unexpected turn of events severely tests each of the characters and the relationships among them.
The Seagull’s Laughter. A glamorous and mysterious woman returns home from America to a small town in Iceland where she provokes admiration, envy, and suspicion.
Four Minutes. A young German woman full of rage is sent to prison where she clashes with and learns from a bitter elderly piano teacher who recognizes her special talent.
Court. In this feature film from India, a 65-year-old rapper and political agitator who performs in slum neighborhoods faces Kafkaesque repression from the government.
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. A documentary that blends talking heads with archival footage traces the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s as it took on issues including access to jobs, equal pay, reproductive freedom, sexual liberation, lesbian rights, rape and domestic violence, and affordable day care.
The Looking Glass. A touching if imperfect story centers on the relationship between a troubled teenager and her grandmother, with many unusual features including an edgy production of Alice in Wonderland that takes place within the film.
Happy Valley by Anne Shannon Monroe (Oregon State University). A romantic novel published 100 years ago makes particularly interesting reading in view of the recent armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. It was written by a woman who homesteaded in that part of the state and who fondly describes a variety of characters who were doing the same. The land was given to them by the federal government, yet already they were resentful of limitations on hunting and federal interference with a proposed project to drain wetlands and cut down forests to facilitate development.
The Spirit Bird by Kent Nelson (University of Pittsburgh). These engaging short stories take place in many different kinds of places with a common theme of characters who are searching for something in their life.
Ladies Night at the Dreamland by Sonja Livingston (University of Georgia). In 21 literary nonfiction essays, the author speculates about the lives of a wide variety of mostly little known women throughout U.S. history whose unusual circumstances caught her attention.
Daring to Write edited by Erika M. Martinez (University of Georgia). Two dozen highly personal pieces of fiction or nonfiction by Dominican women and women of Dominican descent in the U.S. give voice to a range of experiences.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Little, Brown). This compelling historical novel is based on the case of an Icelandic farmer’s servant in the 1820s who was convicted of participating in the murder of her master. While waiting to be beheaded, she was sent to be supervised by a magistrate’s wife on an isolated farm from which she wouldn’t be able to escape. Little by little, her story unfolds.
Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai (HarperCollins). A 12-year-old daughter of Vietnamese refugees grew up in California and now visits Vietnam for the first time with her grandmother. This lively novel sees Vietnamese culture from a teenage perspective.
Calle Florista by Connie Voisine (University of Chicago). Many of these unpredictable poems by a woman who teaches in southern New Mexico have themes related to the U.S.-Mexico border region.
Greening the Global Economy by Robert Pollin (MIT). An economist makes the case that a faster transition to renewable energy and greater energy efficiency is not only the right path for confronting climate change but is the best way to create jobs, save money, and improve living standards around the world.
Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality and Rhythm and Resistance: Teaching Poetry for Social Justice (Rethinking Schools). These two books are exceptionally useful collections by schoolteachers about ways they have found to explore social justice issues with children. Each one combines practical experience with actual materials and lesson plans.
Just a Teacher by David Tourzan. A teacher who has worked in both rural and urban settings provides a candid inside view of the challenges he and his colleagues have faced as many of society’s problems are laid at their doorstep while corporate and political opportunists use them as scapegoats.
Integration Nation edited by Susan E. Eaton (The New Press). Even as some politicians whip up anti-immigrant sentiment, many communities in both red and blue states are helping recent immigrants to integrate into civic life without having to shed their own culture. This collection reports on a dozen examples.
Wall Street’s Think Tank by Laurence H. Shoup (Monthly Review). Nothing better exemplifies America’s foreign policy establishment than the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a group of politicians from both major parties, corporate CEOs, active and retired military leaders, and other elites. Membership is by invitation only. Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton are each members. According to this detailed analysis, the Council promotes foreign policies that benefit global corporations and the 1% by producing studies, sponsoring strategy meetings, and providing a pool of people that fill key foreign policy positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Hell is a Very Small Place edited by Jean Casella, James Ridgeway, and Sarah Shourd (The New Press). An estimated 80,000 U.S. prisoners are being held in solitary confinement on any given day. In this collection, current and former prisoners describe this appallingly inhumane and counterproductive practice from their own experience.
The War on Leakers by Lloyd C. Gardner (The New Press). Over the past century the U.S. government has steadily increased repression against whistleblowers who leak information the public has a right to know. President Obama has invoked the Espionage Act more than any previous president, including the Edward Snowden case that is a major focus of this book.
3 by HoneyHoney. Strong songwriting about a variety of relationships, including a song called Marry Rich about a woman who didn’t marry at all (“Money don't come quick, unless your born with it, thumb in your mouth and gold in your spit.”)
The Monsanto Years by Neil Young. Mostly unlistenable rants but one gem – People Want to Hear About Love – that is Young’s ironic response to music industry execs telling him not to try to sing about political subjects.