Credit: Courtesy of S. Casper Wong
(WOMENSENEWS)--October is breast cancer awareness month, so set your sights on three documentaries with distinct perspectives on a disease that continues to claim the lives of so many women we love.
"The Lulu Sessions" is filmmaker S. Casper Wong's loving tribute to her dearest companion, Louise M. Nutter, known as Lulu, a prominent cancer researcher who succumbed to breast cancer at age 42, 15 months after her diagnosis. With utmost respect and sensitivity, Wong chronicle's Lulu's journey from the moment she learned of the malignancy to the time of her death, showing the practical and emotional complexities of dealing with the disease. Moments of reflection and angst become all the more poignant because of the film's humor and frequently celebratory tone. From a very personal singular perspective, "The Lulu Sessions," which was released in 2011, illustrates what a woman's life is like when breast cancer becomes a facet of it. The film is being screened across the United States in conjunction with breast cancer awareness month.
In contrast, "Beauty and the Breast" presents the breast cancer experiences of several women – including an interpreter for the deaf, two models, an equestrian and mommies -- each of whom copes with the disease in her own way and arrives at a different denouement, some successful and others not. Their stories are compelling. Through their eyes, Montreal-based filmmaker Liliana Komorowska gives us a range of perspectives on how women cope with breast cancer and the monumental changes it brings. Opens today, Oct. 4, in Poland, Komorowska's homeland; Oct. 11 in the United States.
"Pink Ribbons, Inc." presents a critical investigation into the commercialized charity fundraising that's developed around breast cancer. A number of breast cancer patients express concerns that pink ribbons and other merchandise, branding campaigns and "for the cure" runs and other events drain resources from the funding pool for research and treatment options. A must-see film with some shocking revelations. It opened theatrically in 2011, but it's still relevant and now available on DVD.
Opening Oct. 4
"Concussion" is a strong first feature from writer-director Stacie Passon. In it, she explores women's social roles and sexuality through the character of Abby (Robin Weigert), who awakens from a concussion realizing she needs more verve than she gets from her staid life as the wife in a lesbian marriage and a suburban soccer mom. Seeking excitement, she explores the world of sex-for-pay, both as client and provider, discovering much about her core needs and values. The stylishly shot film echoes themes of middle class ennui set forth in "Belle du Jour," and like that classic, smartly avoids smarminess. Weigert's brave and honest performance is gripping. See this one.
"Gravity" is director Alfonso Cuaron's spectacular sci-fi stunner starring Sandra Bullock as a first-time astronaut sent on a special mission with a savvy space shuttle veteran (George Clooney). An accident destroys the shuttle and the two are stranded in space, tethered to nothing but each other. Terror and many existential questions come to the fore. I'll say no more except see this one, too, in 2D, 3D or IMAX 3D, depending on your personal preference for experiential immersion.
"I Used to be Darker" is a down-to-earth indie family drama centered around a Northern Irish teenager (Deragh Campbell) who seeks refuge from her troublesome circumstances in the Baltimore home of her aunt and uncle (Kim Taylor and Ned Oldham), musicians whose marriage is no longer in harmony, and their teenage daughter (Hannah Gross). The emotional milieu is bleak but engaging. Co-written by Amy Belk, the film explores the grit of family discord and its effects on young people trying to set out on life.
"Grace Unplugged" is a lighter coming-of-age narrative about a talented and aspiring teen singer/songwriter (Amanda AJ Michalka) who leaps from the protective environment established by her former-rocker-now-born-again dad and local church community to the hedonistic Hollywood music biz. The struggle for Grace's soul and songs is on. See the film to find out how it goes.
Opening Oct. 11
In "Zero Charisma," indie directors Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews delve into geekdom. The film focuses on a group of guys who live for fantasy role-playing in games of outlandish fictitious quests and missions of the Dungeons and Dragons sort. Their plot thickens when a new pretender joins the group, challenging their Grand Master (Sam Eidson). The gamers' absurd testosterone-driven obsession is offset by the Grand Master's no-nonsense grandmother (Anne Gee Byrd), around whose kitchen table the players meet each week. The film is funny if somewhat over the top, and Katie Graham's deft direction keeps it human and engaging, even for non-geeks.
"Romeo and Juliet" is Shakespeare's classic brought to screen by director Carlo Carlei and screenwriter Julian Fellows, with Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth playing the star-crossed lovers. They headline an all-star cast that includes Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis and Natascha McElhone. The love story is presented in its traditional setting, sans stylish gimmickry. But the film has a modestly modern feel that gives it contemporary resonance. Everyone requires an infusion of "Romeo and Juliet" from time to time. This is a gorgeous rendition.
"I Will Follow You Into the Dark" is early October's requisite femme-centric spook flick. Sophia (Mischa Barton) is a lonely and depressed young woman who has a romance with a guy who disappears in the middle of the night, leaving their bed soaked in blood. What has become of him? No spoilers here, so if you're psyched for horror, join Sophia as she searches for her missing man, and faces up to paranormal forces inhabiting the rundown high rise in which they live; and the darkness within her own soul. Hmm.
Stay tuned for coverage of exciting late October openers; including some Halloween treats. Coming soon.
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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