Credit: Jason Pramas for Open Media Boston, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
(WOMENSENEWS)--March brings a batch of intriguing films starting with today's release of "War Witch."
This chilling narrative feature reveals the horrors of civil war in an unspecified African country. Set somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa and shot mainly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the movie covers two years in the life of Komona (Rachel Mwanza), a 12-year-old forced by rebel soldiers to kill her parents. Later she is kidnapped and trained to be a child soldier. Komona's story is laden with atrocities, but writer/director Kim Nguyen's restraint in not showing them on screen makes her plight even more harrowing. This is not an easy movie to watch, but it is a must-see. It was an Oscar nominee this year for Best Foreign film.
Also Opening March 1
"Future Weather," writer/director Jenny Deller's first feature, is a girl-centric coming-of-age film about 13-year-old Lauduree (Perla Haney-Jardine), a bright and sensitive suburban teen. Left by a neglectful mother in the hands of a self-absorbed no-nonsense grandmother (Amy Madigan), she turns to a caring science teacher (Lily Taylor) for guidance in her ambitious school project about carbon sequestration and also her lonely and confused life. Haney-Jardine's superb breakthrough performance carries the film.
The documentary "A Place at the Table" parses America's dysfunctional distribution of nutrition as filmmakers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush show how farm subsidies lead to the proliferation of junk food and corporations create "food deserts" where healthy foods aren't sold because they aren't profitable. Following four nutritionally deprived families of diverse class and ethnic backgrounds, the film shows the problem's universality. In interviews, economists, public officials, teachers, single moms, children, actor Jeff Bridges and chef Tom Colicchio advocate for a redirection of America's moral compass.
On a lighter note, "Hava Nagila: The Movie" sings the praises of the traditional Jewish folk song that has brought joy to scores of generations of every ethnicity. Filmmaker Roberta Grossman rounds out archival footage of weddings, anniversaries, bar mitzvahs and other happy Hava events with clips and comments by such famous artists as Harry Belafonte, Glen Campbell, Connie Francis, The Klezmatics and Regina Spektor. "Hava" will have you dancing in the aisles.
"The Last Exorcism Part II" has heroine Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) striving to have a normal life, but still pursued by the evil force that possessed her in "The Last Exorcism." Apparently "last" doesn't mean "final" in this femme-centric horror franchise. Scare fans will find the deft production satisfying, and there's no need to have seen the last "Last" to understand this one.
In "Gut Renovation," the broad issue of gentrification of lower middle class neighborhoods is framed by Su Friedrich through the window of her own apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y. She and other long-term Williamsburg residents--many of whom are artists who've converted former industrial spaces into dwellings--are being evicted, as vintage buildings are razed and replaced with designer condos.
In "Beyond the Hills," Romanian director Christian Mungiu takes us on a bleak journey to an isolated Orthodox monastery where faith, love and loyalty collide in an oppressive environment of nuns controlled by the Father. A young novice (Cosmina Stratan) is visited by a friend (Christina Flutar) who wants her to come live a freer life in Germany. The two women were raised together in an orphanage and are extremely close; the implication is that they were lovers. As they follow the monastery's dulling daily routine, tensions mount to the point of explosion. Mungiu's masterful direction, the women's brilliant performances and Oleg Mutu's exquisite cinematography make this a must-see.
In "Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey," documentarian Ramona Diaz profiles Arnel Pineda, the Filipino singer who leapt from Internet fame on You Tube to greater glory as the front man of America's leading rock band, Journey. The film is a real life Cinderella story with a male protagonist--the charmingly unassuming and remarkably talented Pineda, who spurred his new music mates to even greater success.
"Ginger & Rosa" opened in February but breaks wider this month. It stars Elle Fanning and Alice Englert as BFF teens who are the daughters of BFF moms, all of whom are caught up in the volatile politics of 1960s London and the oppressive fear brought on by the Cuban Missile Crisis.
"If I Were You," written and directed by Joan Carr-Wiggen, is a smart, subtly amusing contemporary comedy of manners starring Marcia Gay Harden as Madelyn, a woman doing a rather poor job of coping with her husband's infidelity
. The complex, sophisticated plot involves Madelyn becoming her husband's mistress' (Leonor Watling) best friend and confidante -- and giving her "bad" advice. Of course, the mistress doesn't know Madelyn is her lover's wife. When the pretense falls away, there are some touching moments of existential truth and reconciliation. A delightfully engaging and very grown up film.
"Blancanieves" is Spanish director Pablo Berger's creative adaption of Snow White. Set in 1920s Seville, the story revolves around Carmen, a female bullfighter (played in adulthood by Macarena Garcia, as a child by Sofia Oria), who is challenged by an evil stepmother (Maribel Verdu). Shot in stunning black and white, the film is imbued with fairytale magic. This homage to classic cinema is the best of recent Snow White retells.
"The Call" puts a girl's fate in the capable hands of a woman. Halle Berry stars as a 911 operator who answers the call of a kidnapped girl (Abigail Breslin) and becomes integrally involved in her rescue. This dangerously thrilling story calls on woman power for its resolution; but no spoilers here. See the film.
"Eden" is the working girlname bestowed upon Korean American teenager Hyun Jae (Jamie Chung) by thugs who kidnap her and force her into sexual slavery in rural Texas. But she is smarter than her captors--including a corrupt cop (Beau Bridges) -- and convinces them she's of greater value to them out of Johns' beds and doing their books. Has she become complicit, or does she have a plan of her own? Writer/director Megan Griffiths' tightly wound crime thriller is a very well made and intensely disturbing tale. Go see this film.
"Admission," a quirky femme-centric romcom, stars the wonderful Tina Fey as a Princeton admissions officer faced with a tough decision that puts her professional and personal interests in conflict. Penned by Karen Croner and based on Jean Hanff Koerelitz' eponymous novel, the script is bright and funny fare for Fey. Paul Rudd is charming as John, the love interest with an alternate lifestyle and ulterior motive. "Admission" is a great escape.
"Dorfman in Love" is another quirky comedy. Penned by Wendy Kout, it's about 20-something Deb (Sara Rue) who is lured from complacent San Fernando Valley to trendy downtown LA to housesit for her main crush while he's abroad. She makes some oddball friends who revise her take on life and give her a makeover before the main crush comes home. Rue is captivating and there are amusing twists, but the film is so cliché you may want to escape.
"Everybody Has a Plan" is a moody, discomforting, noir-ish psychological thriller with Viggo Mortensen double cast as twins, one of whom takes on the identity of the other, in a convoluted plot that plays out between Buenos Aires and rural swamplands. Unfortunately, it winds up going no place in particular. Argentinian writer/director Ana Piterbarg's first feature won awards in her homeland, but despite excellent production qualities and Mortensen's compelling characterizations, the film, in the end, falls flat.
"My Brother the Devil," a first feature written and directed Sally El Housaini, is a gritty and lyrical foray into London's gang-ruled drug-riddled council estates, where two teenage brothers follow divergent paths to escape their violent environment and to transcend the prejudice they experience as young Egyptians living in Britain. El Housaini captures the nuances of their difficult lives by focusing on tender moments and the details of their surroundings. Winner of BAFTA's Best British Newcomer Award, El Housaini is a talent to watch.
"Violeta Went to Heaven," an impressionistic biopic about Chilean singer, folklorist, visual artist and activist Violeta Parra (Francisca Gavilan), is an emotionally rich mix of personal moments and musical interludes that reveal the heart and soul of the artist and introduces her stirring life story, songs and images to audiences who may not be familiar with them. Based on a 1962 television interview and a biography written by her son, Angel Parra, the film is also a fascinating look at Chilean history during the first half of the 19th century.
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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