Small Movies Flower Before Late-June ‘Eclipse’

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Jennifer Merin(WOMENSENEWS)–The lineup of June movies looks tempting unless you let all the hype over "Eclipse," releasing near the end of the month, block the view.

So let’s start by giving smaller-budget and better films their full due, particular three that open June 11.

"Winter’s Bone" is a moody, slow-paced, searing drama set in the rural and impoverished Missouri Ozarks. I expect it will boost young newcomer Jennifer Lawrence into stardom for her portrayal of Ree Dolly, a desperate and resourceful teen. Dolly is searching for her missing dad–a drug dealer who signed away their family home as a jail bond and then vanished–in order to stop the seizure of the only shelter she has for herself and her two young siblings by local authorities. The movie is directed by indie filmmaker Debra Granik, who co-wrote with Anne Rosellini the screenplay, based on Daniel Woodrell’s eponymous novel.

The film has won the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, as well as several prizes at the 2010 Berlin International Film Festival. In tone and mood, "Winter’s Bone" is somewhat reminiscent of Courtney Hunt’s femme-centric "Frozen River," which created such a bright spot on the cinema landscape in 2008 and led to Melissa Leo’s Oscar nomination.

The second June 11 opener is "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work," an intimate, insightful and moving biodoc directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, the highly acclaimed team that also brought us "The Devil Came on Horseback" (2007) and "The Trials of Darryl Hunt" (2006).

Stern–whose mother is a close friend of Rivers–and Sundberg had unlimited access to the comedian for more than a year. This film offers contemporary close-ups of Rivers as she deals with family situations, career challenges, loneliness, aging, residual resentments and the ever-present pressures of deciding what to wear. This recent footage is interwoven with archival clips that range from some of her triumphal, earlier appearances on talk shows to getting axed by late night TV in 1986 to her recent victory in the celebrity version of Donald Trump’s reality show, "The Apprentice."

Funny, Heartbreaking Revelations

Joan Rivers in the biodoc "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work."There are revelations–many of them hilariously funny, others heartbreaking–about Rivers’ attitude towards wealth, friendship, her daughter Melissa and her husband’s suicide. This film is guaranteed to enhance your appreciation of a grande dame of a celebrity who has always ruled her own roost and never taken herself too seriously.

A third June 11 release, "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky," is a French narrative feature about the fabled romance between the designer, while she was at her career apex, and the composer at a low point in his life. Like last year’s "Coco Before Chanel," the film is worth a watch. Anna Mouglalis, a strong actress who’s also portrayed Simone de Beauvoir (in "Les Amants du Flore," 2006), plays Chanel.

"Let It Rain," a comedic gem from France that made its way into select theaters on April 29, begins a second round of runs on June 18. It’s a tour-de-force by Agnès Jaoui, who not only directs and co-scripts the film, but also stars as Agathe Villanova. She plays a feminist politician who returns to her family home in the South of France to help her sister put their deceased mother’s affairs in order. While there, she unwillingly becomes the subject of a documentary that’s being shot by the son of the family’s lifelong Algerian housekeeper. The script’s low-key humor camouflages the slow burn angst of interpersonal relationships expressed in smartly disjointed dialogue (in French, with subtitles) that sparkles like fine Champagne. Even if it’s sunny out, consider yourself encouraged to leave the beach and head into a darkened theater to see "Let It Rain."

Much-Hyped ‘Eclipse’

Then of course comes the much-hyped release of "Eclipse." The film is the third in "The Twilight Saga," an apparently endless fantasy exploration of teenage angst in a small town high school that’s peopled by vampires, werewolves and human adolescents. The series of films, based on Stephanie Meyer’s best-selling novels, provides an exhaustive look at the ongoing soap opera of extremely difficult and troubling life-altering, value-setting decisions among the emotionally entangled trio of Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner.

In "Eclipse," as in previous episodes, tensions between the three lead teens are on the verge of exploding. Bella, the character played by Stewart, is about to graduate from high school. She continues to wish to become a vampire so she can live eternally with Edward (Pattinson), but is also loyal to her best friend, werewolf Jacob (Lautner), whose mission is to kill vampires and protect ‘civilians.’ The rivalry between Edward and Jacob and their posses–over the fate of Bella and civilization–is destined to precipitate a fight-to-the-death (or undeath) between the rival species/gangs.

If your appetite for romance and escape is whet by bloodsucking and-or hirsute teenagers, by all means rush to the June 30 opening, three days after the month’s full moon. Otherwise, fulfill your fantasies and take your cinematic pleasures earlier in the month with films that need and deserve your support at the box office.

In addition to covering film for Women’s eNews, Jennifer Merin writes about documentaries for About.com (http://documentaries.About.com) and is president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (www.AWFJ.org), a nonprofit organization of the leading women film journalists in the U.S. and Canada.

For more information:

Alliance of Women Film Journalists:
http://www.awfj.org

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