‘Testament of Youth’ Is an Exquisite Epic Biopic

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Testament of Youth

Credit: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

(WOMENSENEWS)–"Testament of Youth," opening June 5, is a biopic based on the eponymous autobiography of Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander) who, after serving as a nurse during World War I, became a leading 20th century pacifist. At the outbreak of the war, Brittain was set to attend Oxford, where she would join her brother and his circle of friends enrolled at the university. The boys enlisted. Brittain, compelled to do her part, followed them to the front. Through her eyes, we witness the shattering impact of war. Brittain’s brother and fiancé are killed. Vikander’s performance carries the epic (it’s more than two hours long) film, a lavish BBC period production with exquisite cinematography, costumes and décor. Unfortunately the biopic ends when Brittain returns home, a burgeoning peace advocate about to make her mark. I’d like to have seen something about Brittain’s activism, but all we get are a few "life-after" statements at the end of the film.

Next, let me get to "Entourage," which fans of the HBO series are sure to make a box-office hit. But let’s be clear: this preponderantly male dalliance into the richly unappealing excesses of Hollywood fame and fortune is a bust, a must NOT see. I mention it only because I fear that some Hollywiz kid, taking note of current pressures for equal opportunity in moviemaking, will further capitalize on the "Entourage" franchise by producing a female version of it. That somewhat sickening notion arises because the feminization of male-centric movies–the upcoming and eagerly awaited all-girl "Ghostbusters" remake, for example, which stars Melissa McCarthy – seems to be one of the Hollywood establishment’s ways to embrace the notion of gender parity. Not convincing and not enough.

"Patch Town," a quirky semi-animated fantasy, harkens back to the origins of the Cabbage Patch Kids doll-adoption craze that began in the late 1970s. The plot revolves around efforts to reunite grownup doll babies — now entrapped as exploited harvesters in the cabbage doll factory — with their mothers. Although the film inherently serves as a serious critique of our marketing culture, the story is silly and at times hard to follow. That said, the film’s graphics and cinematography are entertaining, exciting and memorable. If you had a Cabbage Patch Kid and/or a special relationship with your doll(s), or are contemplating an "adoption" for your youngster, this film may say a lot to you.

"Wild Horses" is writer/director/actor Robert Duval’s cinema gift to his wife, Argentinian actress Luciana Pedraza, who co-stars in the film, playing a Texas Ranger investigating a cold case murder, focusing on Duval’s character, a rancher with past secrets. The plot is a complex condensed Duvalian soap opera Western about family ties, betrayal, guilt, reunion with an estranged gay son (James Franco) and comeuppance. Local nonprofessionals are cast in small roles and their work is uneven, at best. But the film’s redemption is Adriana Barraza’s stunning performance as a mother seeking information about her still-missing son. She’s the reason to buy the ticket.

"Insidious: Chapter 3" is this week’s femme-centric scarer, in which both the hero and victim are female. In it, psychic Elise Reiner (Lin Shaye) is recruited to save teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) from a beastly supernatural entity who’s out to get her. The plot takes unexpected turns and the images are unexpectedly startling. "Insidious: Chapter 3" is an escape into pure terror.

"The Nightmare" is a terrifying documentary about sleep paralysis, a physical phenomenon that plagues thousands of people. It is a condition that renders the fully awake and mentally alert victim completely incapable of voluntary movement. No blinking. No toe wiggling. And, during the paralysis, terrifying visions occur. This affliction is equal opportunity, affecting women and men without bias. The condition and the film are genuinely terrifying. I think it’s a must-see. But then again, it might not be for everyone.

"Spy," previously reviewed, opens wide this week, filling screens across the U.S. with the larger than life image of Melissa McCarthy as an adept CIA behind-the-scenes analyst who’s sent into the field as a not surprisingly inept operative. Stacked with sight gags, many of which are based on McCarthy’s girth, and sprinkled with McCarthyist one-liners that fluctuate between the utterly crass and incomprehensively naïve, this film is expected to be the summer’s big femme-centric blockbuster. Touted as a feminist upturn in the movie biz, it seems more like a symptom of Hollywood’s diseased attitude toward women than a cure. There can be no doubt that McCarthy is three dimensional. It would be wonderful if she were to play fully fleshed out characters, too.

Stay tuned for more June releases next week.

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