Movie Reviews: ‘Princess’ is Hard to Watch, But a Must-See

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Still from the movie Princess

Courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures

Shira Haas plays a 12-year-old with a fraught relationship with her mother in the Israeli film "Princess."

(WOMENSENEWS)—”Princess” is a deeply disturbing coming-of-age drama about Adar (Shira Haas), a 12-year-old girl whose fraught relationship with her mother (Karen Mor) is further stressed by her complex and dangerously sensual relationship with her mother’s live-in boyfriend, Michael (Ori Pfeffer). Their dysfunctional family is thrown into even greater emotional turmoil when Adar brings home a savvy street boy, Alan (Adar Zohar-Hanetz). She wants the boy, who looks uncannily like her, to live with them. This is the second feature film from the provocative Israeli writer-director Tali Shalom-Ezer, who artfully delves into the serious subject of child abuse, brilliantly using fantasy sequences that, by contrast, spotlight Adar’s harsh realities. The performances and cinematic craftsmanship are superb. “Princess” is a galvanizing film that is at times hard to watch, but it is a must-see. In Hebrew with English subtitles.

“Chevalier,” directed and co-written by Athina Rachel Tsangari, is a savagely funny reveal of base male ego. While on a fishing trip in the Aegean, six successful male friends play a game of masculine mettle, comparing their attributes – who is handsomest, manliest, handiest and biggest when erect, etc. — to win the title of “best man” and score the “chevalier” pinky ring. There are innuendos, too, to current rivalries in Greek politics. Tsangari’s deadpan comedy is another must-see. In Greek with English subtitles.

“Unlocking the Cage” is a fascinating animal rights documentary by filmmakers Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker. It follows activist and Harvard law professor Steven Wise through precedent-setting lawsuits that seek to establish legal personhood for several nonhuman creatures, including several chimpanzees who are kept caged by New York State research institutions and private owners. The debate is dramatic and raises critical contemporary issues. Don’t miss it. The film opened May 25.

“Presenting Princess Shaw” is a documentary about Samantha Shaw, aka Princess, a 38-year-old New Orleans inner-city caregiver with ambitions to become a professional singer. In search of support from other musicians, she posts her self-revealing soulful songs a cappella on her own YouTube channel and things take off from there. Ophir Kutiel, aka Kutiman, a hip young Israeli music/video mashup artist, discovers her work and, unbeknownst to Princess, composes and records music for her and subsequently invites her to perform in Israel, and beyond. Israeli filmmaker Ido Haar’s narrative line is a bit wonky, but the film illustrates the Internet’s power to boost creative, cross-cultural connections.

“The Ones Below,” a gripping psychological drama, revolves around the relationship of two pregnant women. They’re neighbors. Kate (Clemence Poesy), who lives in the upstairs flat in a North London duplex house, is delighted when she finds out that the couple — Theresa (Laura Birn) and her husband — who’ve just moved in downstairs are also expecting a baby. Based on what they have in common the women quickly become best friends – until Kate discovers some disturbing differences in their situations. Big and fearful tensions arise. No spoilers here, but be prepared to sit on the edge of your seat for much of this chilling thriller from first feature director David Farr, who also wrote the script.

“Alice Through the Looking Glass,” scripted by Linda Woolverton, is a contemporary take on the Lewis Carroll classic, with emphasis on stylish images and special effects. The film is a sequel to Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” (2010), also scripted by Woolverton. Mia Wasikowska again plays Alice, a 19-year-old who’s diagnosed with hysteria and sent to a sanatorium for a cure. She reenters her fantasy world to save the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp). Helena Bonham Carter returns as the psychotic Queen of Hearts and steals the show. The story is full of psychological inferences, engaging imagery and magical moments, as director James Bobin makes enthralling use of high-tech graphics. It might be quite scary for little kids.

“Lord Put a Ring on It,” a first feature from writer-director Tikki Collins, aka Dr. Tikki Collins, is based on her eponymous book. It is a Christian-based situational romcom that plays on ways to get relationships right. It’s full of contrived plot twists that illustrate conventional wisdoms about finding the right mate, integrating two families, dealing with infidelities and betrayals of friendship. A catalog of nothing much that’s new or invigorating. It opened May 26.

Stay tuned for reviews of June openers next week.

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