By Jennifer Merin
WeNews film critic
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
February delivers a predictable date-night movie but also a number of impressive documentaries either made by women or following women's stories. Subjects range from Daniel Ellsberg to a transgendered woman's homecoming in "Prodigal Sons."
(WOMENSENEWS)--Yes, it's February and yes, there's a film called "Valentine's Day" that romps through the intertwining relationships of cute, quirky and sizzling New York couples and wannabe couples concocted from an ensemble of Hollywood hotties.
Along with the stimulatingly original title comes the trailer's captivating tag line: "My best friend is my Blackberry. Thank God it vibrates."
But before all that comes a more serious note with the Feb. 5 theatrical release of "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers." This film is an authentic, enlightening and excellent documentary about the inner workings of the U.S. government and this conscientious citizen, a former analyst for the Rand Corporation who jeopardized his livelihood--and life--to blow the whistle on the nefarious political machinations of the Nixon administration. Judith Black co-wrote (with Michael Chandler) and co-directed (with Rick Goldsmith) the film. It's a must-see, true-life thriller.
Feb. 12 brings the official theatrical opening of "The Yellow Handkerchief." The film has been making the festival rounds since 2008, but has been boosted into the limelight by one of its stars, Kristen Stewart, who brings attention to the project thanks to her newfound "Twilight" fame. With a screenplay by Erin Dignam (based on Pete Hamill's story), the romantic drama is about three disparate characters who overcome their loneliness while sharing an unexpected adventure on the scenic back roads and byways of Louisiana. William Hurt, Eddie Redmayne and Maria Bello co-star.
Martin Scorsese directs Laeta Kalogridis' screenplay of Dennis Lehane's bestselling novel "Shutter Island," which opens in wide release on Feb. 19. In this cover-your-eyes twisted tale, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a U.S. Marshal assigned to the case of a female murderer who has disappeared from an insane asylum on remote Shutter Island. Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams and Patricia Clarkson also star. The film is edited by the brilliant Oscar-winning Thelma Schoonmaker, a woman who's stood behind most of Scorcese's previous successes.
"The Ghost Writer" is another scary show opening Feb. 19. It's directed by the infamous Roman Polanski, still surrounded by controversy over his possible extradition to the United States to face long-standing charges for having sex with a minor. The film is a mystery thriller in which a writer who's hired to complete the memoir of a former British prime minister discovers secrets that make him a political--and physical--target.
The film's stellar cast includes Kim Cattrall (who shakes off her man-eater "Sex and the City" image to sink her teeth into a meatier role) and Olivia Williams as two key female characters who hold their own against Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Hutton, Tom Wilkinson, Eli Wallach, James Belushi and other first-rate male actors. The "Ghost Writer" opens in limited release Feb. 19, with wider exposure scheduled for March 5.
Also opening in limited release on Feb. 19, "Happy Tears" is the new feature by Mitchell Lichtenstein, the writer-director who brought the myth of vagina dentate--Latin for toothed vagina--to the big screen in the sensational "Teeth" (2007). In "Happy Tears," Lichtenstein takes a bite out of sisterhood. Parker Posey and Demi Moore star as siblings who agree to put their very busy lives on hold so they can return to their family home to try to help their aging father (Rip Torn), who is showing signs of senility. The flaws of the dysfunctional family become increasingly evident as the father's forgetfulness flares and the sisters reckon with their relationship. Filling out the strong female cast is Ellen Burstyn, playing the father's unforgettably feisty girlfriend.
"Happy Tears" has played at several first-rate film festivals--including the Berlin International Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Golden Bear award--and is being released theatrically by Lionsgate. However, scant information is available about the film and there's still no trailer posted on the Internet. In general, that's not a good sign, but you might want to take a chance on this femme-centric family dramedy created by the quirky Lichtenstein.
"Prodigal Sons," opening in limited release on Feb. 26, is transgender filmmaker Kimberly Reed's autobiographical and extremely intimate documentary about her return to Helena, Mont., after a self-imposed exile for the many years during which she established a new life in New York. Reed's mission in returning to Helena is twofold. She's intent on reuniting with her family and facing the extremely emotionally challenging relationship she has with her adoptive brother, Marc, a semi-psychotic man whose brain injury is partially responsible for childish, cruel and sometimes violent behavior. Reed is also set to attend her 20-year high school reunion and reconnect with classmates who've never seen her as a woman.
Using archival footage of her high school days, when she was the football team's quarterback and co-captain Paul McKerrow, Reed speaks frankly about how she spent her youth struggling to find and express her identity. On the family front, during the filming, Marc, who's always been jealous of Reed's blood relationship to their parents, discovers that he's actually the son of the now-deceased daughter of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. Reed, the filmmaker, is a big fan of Welles and Marc's discovery adds an interesting wrinkle as Reed accompanies Marc to meet Welles' longtime companion in Croatia.
Reed's story is gripping and her honesty in exploring and telling it is compelling.
Also opening Feb. 26 in limited release is documentary filmmaker Emily Abt's first narrative feature, "Toe to Toe," a femme-centric drama about two teenage lacrosse players, Jesse (Louisa Krause) and Tosha (Sonequa Martin). The teens overcome their vastly different opposite-side-of-the-track backgrounds to team up as friends on the field and off.
Abt garnered critical acclaim for "All of Us" (2008), the documentary in which she follows Dr. Mehret Mandefro, who brings heart and smarts to her South Bronx, N.Y., practice treating HIV-positive women. I haven't yet seen the film and there's no trailer available on the Internet, but "Toe to Toe," which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2009, seems to be promising.
Also be on the lookout for "Celine: Through the Eyes of the World," a new Celine Dion tour documentary directed by Stephane Laporte. The film follows the singer on her 2008-2009 world tour, in which she played to 3 million people in 25 countries. Due out in February, the actual date has not been set yet.
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.
Alliance of Women Film Journalists: