By Jennifer Merin
WeNews film critic
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Several superb films rescue this August from the usual late-summer cinematic doldrums. Kick things off with "The Whistleblower" on Aug. 5 and don't miss the revelatory tribute to Gloria Steinem on HBO on Aug. 15.
WOMENSENEWS)--Opening wide on Aug. 5, "The Whistleblower" will simultaneously shock and thrill you. This is the real-life story of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska police officer who signed up with a private security company to serve as a U.N. peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia.
There she discovers that high-level sex trafficking is getting the nod from diplomats and peacekeepers. Bolkovac puts her life and career on the line to expose the U.N.'s complicity in the scandal.
This is an intense political thriller directed and co-written by Larysa Kondracki and based on the 2011 book that Bolkovac co-wrote with Cari Lynn. Rachel Weisz gives a stunning performance as Bolkovac and the supporting cast--including Monica Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci, Roxana Condurache and David Strathairn--is brilliant.
"One Day" opens Aug. 19 and is directed by Lone Scherfig, who also brought us "An Education"(2009). Once again Scherfig focuses on a precarious, intensely dramatic and somewhat twisted romance. This one is about the long-haul unlikely relationship of Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess), whose one-night stand in July 1988, after college graduation, leads to an on-again off-again affair. After two decades they realize they are meant for each other. The screenplay by David Nicholls is based on his novel. All in all, it's a bit sappy but Hathaway and Sturgess are charming and the film is an appealing diversion.
The month also brings a couple of notable documentaries. "Gloria: In Her Own Words" is about, you guessed it, Gloria Steinhem. This up-close- and-personal profile, featuring new and archival interviews with Steinhem and her close colleagues and collaborators, is a revelatory tribute. "Gloria" doesn't have a theatrical release, but it premieres Aug. 15 on HBO.
In "Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow" filmmaker Sophie Fiennes presents a fascinating profile of Anselm Kiefer, the German installation artist, and the transformational environment he created at his estate and studio in the South of France. If you like films about art, this is must-see. Opening Aug. 10.
Aug. 26 brings the openings of four top-notch movies.
No. 1: In "Higher Ground" actress Vera Farmiga gives a tour de force, making her directorial debut and also starring as Corinne, a good woman trapped in the conventions and conformity of a rigorous spiritual community, unsure of her own personal beliefs. The movie is beautifully shot by Michael McDonough.
No. 2: "Special Treatment," an intriguing dramady directed and co-written by the esteemed French filmmaker Jeanne Labrune, comes in a close second. The story concerns an unusual hookup between a high-class prostitute (Isabelle Huppert) and a neurotic psychoanalyst (Bouli Lanners). The two discover that their individual professions have a lot in common: discreet meetings in private locations, an exchange of money for services provided, time constraints, physical prohibitions and emotional taboos. They begin to play off of each other in unexpected ways. No spoilers here, see for yourself what happens.
No. 3: "Circumstance" is the first feature directed by Persian-American filmmaker Maryam Keshararz, who also wrote the script. It is the story of a wealthy and comparatively permissive Iranian family that is being torn apart by a conflict between their two young adult children. The daughter is romantically involved with her best girlfriend, and their trysts are secretly recorded by the son, who has recently returned home from drug rehab and joined the "morality police." This is a well-played, serious and compelling family drama that offers a window on contemporary Iranian culture.
No. 4: "The Family Tree" is a dramady starring the consistently terrific Hope Davis as a wife and mother whose temporary amnesia seems to be giving her family some very necessary stress relief and a chance to possibly restore harmony and happiness. Davis' quirky and appealing performance is the best thing about the film, directed by Vivi Friedman.
Three other films create a trilogy of cultural confrontations. Opening Aug. 10, "The Help" is set in the Deep South during the 1960s and sees an unlikely friendship form between a privileged white woman (Emma Stone) and her black housekeeper (Viola Davis) who, together, challenge the prevailing culture. The plot is engaging and the performances -- especially that of Davis -- are strongly affecting. Entitled "Littlerock," but set in Little Rock, Calif., not Arkansas, director Mike Ott's indie feature opens Aug. 12. It brings us the adventures of a young, non-English speaking Japanese tourist in an isolated desert community. The film is something of a "Lost In Translation" in reverse; a bit slow and stumbling but helped along by genuine intrigue and raw appeal. The principal character Atsuko is played by Atusko Okasuka, who also co-wrote the script.
Set in 18th century Vienna and Paris, Rene Feret's "Mozart's Sister" is based on the life of Maria Anna 'Nannerl' Mozart (Marie Feret), who was five years older than her brother Wolfgang (David Moreau) and a prodigy in her own right. The film centers around Nannerl's Herculean efforts for artistic recognition in a culture that would have her bear children rather than compose music. Nannerl is clever and captivating. Scenery, costumes and music are superb. August also brings two femme-centric action flicks to the big screen.
In "Colombiana," opening Aug. 26 and directed by Olivier Megaton, Zoe Saldana plays Cataleya Restrepo, a stone-cold female assassin with a mitigating back story: As a child living in Bogota, she witnessed the murder of her parents. The character is a bit reminiscent of Liz Salander in "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."
"Spy Kids 4: All The Time in the World" gives Jessica Alba the chance to play Marissa Cortez Wilson, a former agent who recruits her two stepchildren to help save the world. This is kiddie fantasy fare but it gives women and girls a chance in the driver's seat.
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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 (http://www.AWFJ.org ), a nonprofit organization of the leading women film journalists in the U.S. and Canada. She is also a member of the Broadcast Journalists Association.
Alliance of Women Film Journalists