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Sally Potter's Movies Stand Out in July Retrospect

Monday, July 5, 2010

July movie releases include a documentary about Hugh Hefner and "The Girl Who Played With Fire." But ahead of all other viewing options, Jennifer Merin says don't miss the re-release of Sally Potter's "Orlando," back in high-def.

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July movie releases include a documentary about Hugh Hefner and "The Girl Who Played With Fire." But ahead of all other viewing options, Jennifer Merin says don't miss the re-release of Sally Potter's "Orlando," back in high-def.

Jennifer Merin(WOMENSENEWS)--July's new movies include several superb narrative features and documentaries directed by women. But before we look at those, let's praise Sally Berger, a curator at New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), for putting together a remarkable retrospective (July 7 to 24) of the films and videos of Sally Potter, the brilliant British feminist moviemaker. Now in her 60s, Potter has been making films since she was 16.

As a filmmaker, Potter invites you to experience profound emotional insights and transports you to uncharted realms of imagination and intellect. Her films aren't easy escapes and she often had mixed reviews, but as director, writer, actress, dancer, choreographer and composer, Potter is a rare entity: the complete cinematic artist.

The retrospective starts with a digitally re-mastered, high-definition version of "Orlando" (1992), one of Potter's best known films. Based on Virginia Woolfe's novel of the same title (and based on the life of Vita Sackville-West), "Orlando" stars Tilda Swinton as the poet who, ordered by Queen Elizabeth to remain young forever, lives for over four centuries; first as a man, and then as a women. The film is beautiful and evocative. You don't have to be in New York or at the MoMA to see it. The new version will be released on July 23 in select theaters nationwide.

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Sally Potter and Pablo Veron in "The Tango Lesson."

But if you can get to the museum, the retrospective includes 14 films that reflect the range of Potter's repertoire, including "Gold Diggers" (1983), "The Tango Lesson (1997) and "Rage" (2009), plus a filmed version of the production of Bizet's "Carmen" (2007) that Potter directed for the English National Opera. It also includes five experimental shorts (1969-1986) presented as a single program and "I Am an Ox, I Am a Horse, I Am a Man, I Am a Woman: Women in Russian Cinema" (1990), a 60-minute documentary about women in Russian cinema.

Hot July Docs

There's no sighting of Potter, however, in filmmaker Angela Ismailos' documentary, "Great Directors," opening in New York and Los Angeles on July 9. The film recognizes and offers insight into the creative processes of Catherine Breillat, Liliana Cavani and Agnes Varda, as well as Bernardo Bertolucci, Stephen Frears, Todd Haynes, Richard Linklater, Ken Loach, David Lynch and John Sayles.

Several other documentaries are also good enough to lure you into theaters in July.

"Restrepo," opening July 2 in limited release, is one of this year's most important films. Made by journalists Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, who were embedded with a platoon of U.S. soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, the documentary is a jarring look at the stress, adrenalin and shock of actual combat. It shows the devastating experiences

suffered by U.S. troops--and allows you to draw conclusions about the consequences to their wives and families back home. The film is comparable to Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar-winning "The Hurt Locker"--but it's real life.

Another doc, "Countdown to Zero," opening in limited release on July 23, is Lucy Walker's alarming report on the history of nuclear proliferation and the current status of nuclear weapons. Using archival footage and commentaries by statesmen--Carter, Gorbachev, Musharraf and Blair--and expert commentators--notably Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA agent whose cover was blown by Robert Novak, the late news columnist--the film shows how close we are to potential disaster due to failed diplomacy, accidents or terrorist acts.

Also opening on July 23, "Mugabe and the White African" is Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson's gripping documentary about Mike Campbell, a white Zimbabwean farmer who, in 2008, challenged President Robert Mugabe's violent grab of white farmers' land. Campbell and family are compelling characters and the film is heartbreaking.

In "Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel," Canadian filmmaker Brigitte Berman profiles the publishing mogul, contextualizing his philosophy, lifestyle and politics. Diverse celebrities, including Joan Baez, Gene Simmons, Ruth Westheimer, Dick Cavett and Jesse Jackson, among others, praise "Hef" for his progressive and liberating approach to sexuality, while noted feminist author and activist Susan Brownmiller speaks out against the exploitive nature of his enterprises. This well made and balanced film, opening on July 30, is full of engaging surprises.

Fictional Films Span Issues

Among July's narrative features, Lisa Cholodenko's rom-com-dramady, "The Kids Are All Right," opens July 7. The engaging film, with screenplay co-written by Cholodenko with Stuart Blumberg, revolves around a lesbian couple, Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), each of whom has birthed a child using sperm from the same donor. When the kids--a girl and boy--seek out their sperm donor father (Mark Ruffalo), he becomes part of their family circle and the couple's random volatilities erupt. Bening and Moore capture the nuances of Cholodenko's characters with their quirky flaws that are, ultimately, forgiven. Young Mia Wasikowska (Tim Burton's "Alice") is lovely as the daughter who's figuring out her identity as she turns 18 and moves away to college.

Opening on July 9, from Sweden, is "The Girl Who Played With Fire," the sequel to last year's "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." It features novelist Steig Larsson's characters Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a tough-minded, nonconforming computer wiz, and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), an investigative journalist, on another thrilling quest for justice.

Lisbeth, a female punk with tons of attitude, uses her significant intellectual and physical skills to find and punish men who behave violently towards women, including the psychotic psychotherapist who abused her when she was a child. The film has a lot of violence, but targeted at men's evildoings. Watching Lisbeth's revenge can be sweet.

"Salt," opening July 23, is a bound-to-be blockbuster in which Angelina Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA operative who is accused of being a traitor and who marshals her skills to elude capture and elimination and clear her name. The thriller promises a healthy dose of Jolie in action mode, if that's your summertime pleasure.

Commanding performances by America Ferrera and Melissa Leo secure Ryan Piers Williams' "The Dry Land," opening July 30. The film is a stirring drama about a soldier (Ryan O'Nan), who returns from Iraq and cannot adjust to civilian life and resume relationships with the women in his life. As a fictionalized follow up to "Restrepo," the film shows the devastating effect sending men into combat can have on the women they leave at home.

For kids of all ages, "Ramona and Beezus," opens July 23. This charmer of a family comedy, based on Beverly Cleary's children's books, is directed by Elizabeth Allen. It stars popular teenage songbird Selena Gomez and newcomer Joey King as siblings who experience the challenges and joys of growing up as sisters.

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. For more information: Alliance of Women Film Journalists (http://www.awfj.org)

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