By Jennifer Merin
WeNews film critic
Friday, February 1, 2013
It's not the February to look for love at the movies. But it could be the start of America's love affair with a new young-adult fantasy series when "Beautiful Creatures" opens on Valentine's Day.
Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
(WOMENSENEWS)--If you're expecting to find cinemas full of hearts and flowers during February, think again. Marquees this month are lit up mostly with bully boy blockbusters and ghoulish thrillers.
But, thankfully, several superb femme-helmed flicks are also coming your way, many of them about coming of age.
The month opens with a film you should definitely miss.
"Girls Against Boys" is a slasher saga in which two angry female bartenders (played by Danielle Panabaker and Nicole LaLiberte) team up to take violent revenge against men who've wronged them physically and emotionally. When they run out of legitimate targets from their combined roster of relationships, they deliberately seduce more men to torture. Scantily clad, they violate men with impunity, in ways that most women couldn't even imagine. Written and directed by Austin Chick (yes, that's his name), this is a misogynistic blitz. Steer clear.
"Lore," the post WWII-story about challenges faced by children of a German SS officer and his pro-Nazi wife, is a triumph of female creativity. Based on Rachel Seiffert's novel and directed by Cate Shortland, who co-scripted with Robin Mukerjee, the film stars brilliant young Saskia Rosendahl. She plays Lore, a naive girl who sees her parents captured by the allies and must escort her younger siblings across war-ravaged Germany to the safety of their grandmother's home. She meets a fellow refugee, a boy (Kai Malina) who was recently liberated from a Nazi death camp. His generous offer to help her defies her deeply ingrained prejudices, stirring confusion and painful self-doubt. "Lore" probes the human devastation caused by prejudice, fear and hatred and reflects upon possibilities for beneficial reconciliation and healing. This beautiful and important film is a must-see.
"The Playroom," directed by Julia Dyer from a screenplay written by her recently deceased sister Gretchen Dyer, is an affecting coming-of-age drama with psychological impact. Set in suburbia in 1975, the story revolves around four kids: teenage Maggie (Olivia Harris), younger teen Christian (Jonathan McClendon), tween Janie (Alexandra Doke) and pre-tween Sam (Ian Veteto). They are regularly relegated to the attic by self-centered parents (John Hawkes and Molly Parket) who party downstairs with another couple. Using a candle to simulate a campfire, the kids tell stories of imaginary adventures through which they escape their nightly confinement. By focusing on the kids, and taking you into their fantasies and dreams, the film reveals the reality of a disturbingly dysfunctional family that might appear to neighbors to be quite normal.
"Side Effects," a femme-centric crime drama, stars Rooney Mara as a woman whose life spins way out of control when she falls under the influence of a new anti-anxiety drug prescribed by her doctor. Director Steven Soderburgh applies his expertise in creating a good scare to this alarming could-come-true fantasy.
Valentine's Day may be the start of America's love affair with a new femme-penned film franchise. "Beautiful Creatures" is based on the first book in novelists' Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's "Caster Chronicle" series. The film introduces a cast of "casters," or people with magical powers whose complex interpersonal relationships, acted out in a small Southern town, spell out intrigue of Gothic proportions. This young-adult fantasy has seductive characters and sufficiently engaging plot twists to cast its spell over kids of all ages. With the marvelous Angela Englert, Viola Davis, Emma Thompson and Eileen Aikens as its female leads, "Beautiful Creatures" is probably the dawn of another "Twilight" success.
"Safe Haven" is this Valentine's Day's romantic drama. It is the story of a young woman (Julianne Hough) who hops on a bus and heads anywhere -- which happens to be North Carolina -- to escape her bad circumstances. In sleepy Southport, her new hometown, she meets a tot-toting widower (Josh Duhamel) and falls for him, despite her intentions to keep to herself. The drama heats up when her past catches up with her. If this sounds like a Nicholas Sparks plot, that's because it is. The "Safe Haven" screenplay, co-written by Dana Stevens, is based on Sparks' eponymous novel.
"Ginger and Rosa," Sally Potter's latest oeuvre, is a coming-of-age film set in England during the 1970s, amidst rampant social anxiety about an impending nuclear holocaust that would end human life. Ginger and Rosa, best friend tweens, share every thought, discuss mommy problems (their moms are also best friends) and explore their sexuality by practicing kissing and sharing flirtations with random boys. But they react differently to the depressing circumstances of the time. Ginger (Elle Fanning) joins a protest movement, with the worldly May Bella (Annette Bening) as her mentor. Rosa (Alice Englert -- yes, she also stars in "Beautiful Creatures,") finds stress relief by falling in love. The friendship explodes when Ginger discovers the identity of Rosa's lover. But no spoilers here. See the film to discover this big plot twist. Rooted in her strongly feminist sensibility, Potter's work is marvelous in its every aspect. This is a must-see.
In "Life is But a Dream," Beyonce Knowles bounces on to the big screen in her self-directed documentary biopic. If you're a Beyonce fan, you can't get enough. If not, this puff piece is too much.
"Bless Me, Ultima," written and directed by Carl Franklin and based on Rudolfo Anaya's novel, celebrates the spiritual power of women by telling the story of an elderly medicine woman, Ultima (Miriam Colon), who uses her wisdom, spells and cultural traditions to calmly quell the violent and destructive forces tearing apart her small hometown in New Mexico. This film has heart and is filled with wonder. Colon's performance is sheer magic.
"Inescapable" is an unfortunate title for a film that might make you want to leave halfway through. This not-very-convincing spy thriller is written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Ruba Nadda. The plot revolves around the exploits of an ex-pat Syrian (Alexander Siddig), a former intelligence officer who learns that his daughter, who is in Syria to explore her cultural roots, has gone missing. So he returns to his homeland, where he is a wanted man, to find and rescue his daughter. He enlists the aid of his former fiancee (Marisa Tomei), which further complicates the baroque plot. Shot in South Africa, the film fails to conjure up the Middle East. Questionable casting further undermines the film's credibility.
In addition to covering film for Women's eNews, Jennifer Merin writes about documentaries for About.com and is president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, a nonprofit organization of the leading female film journalists in the U.S. and Canada. She is also a member of the prestigious Broadcast Film Critics Association.
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