By Jennifer Merin
WeNews film critic
Friday, July 19, 2013
Check your local HBO and ESPN listings for such fascinating fare as "The Cheshire Murders," "No Limits" and "Let Them Wear Towels." Among late July theater openers, "Blackfish," about a tragic death at SeaWorld, opens July 19.
Credit: Courtesy of ESPN.
(WOMENSENEWS)-- Get ready to spend more time in front of your television set in the second half of July if you want to catch novel, brilliant and non-testosterone-driven films. But some strong theatrical openings are out there too. Here goes.
Filmmaker Gabriele Cowperthrwaite's "Blackfish" is an emotionally charged documentary about the tragic death of veteran whale trainer, Dawn Branceau, at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla. She was attacked by Tilikum, a male orca, during an animal show at Shamu Stadium, much to the confusion and then horror of the audience. Her death by drowning was headline news, especially when it became known that Tilikum had killed humans twice before. SeaWorld's official report on the attack was inconclusive, but Cowperthwaite's comprehensive and gripping cinematic investigation shows that Tilikum's 20-year stint in captivity at the theme park has made him psychotic -- and dangerous. Yet, Tilikum is still doing SeaWorld shows. Go see this film, which is opening in theaters.
Also opening theatrically is the less enticing "Girl Most Likely," a femme-centric comedy about a daughter (Kristen Wiig) and her mother (Annette Bening), whose already strained relationship is further tested when the two must settle temporarily under the same roof -- mom's -- after the daughter has a nervous meltdown. Wiig and Bening are consummate comediennes, but their extraordinary talents simply aren't equaled by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's tepid direction and Michelle Morgan's hackneyed and predictable script. Unless you're a big Wiig or Bening fan, or a heat wave is driving you to a cool dark place with air conditioning, give this one a miss.
"The Cheshire Murders" is a nonfiction film about the harrowing home invasion that took place in Cheshire, Conn., on July 23, 2007. It resulted in a devastating triple rape-arson-homicide that shook the peaceful, affluent commuter community to its foundation, and brought about a proactive pro-death penalty campaign in the state. Filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbronner serve as detectives in uncovering details of the crime, profiling the victimized Petit family and the two sociopathic perpetrators, and presenting a thorough, probing and balanced view of the heated death penalty debate. The film is a thriller. It premieres on HBO.
"No Limits" is a documentary in the ESPN "Nine for IX" series that celebrates the 20th anniversary of Title IX, the law that bans discrimination on the basis of gender in educational institutions that receive federal funds. The film profiles the life and career of champion freediver Audrey Mestre, who lost her life in October 2002 while attempting to set a new freediving record of 561 feet. The tragedy was shrouded in questions about whether Mestre was properly prepared for the physically grueling dive, and whether her husband/trainer was negligent in checking the essential gear that failed to bring her to the water's surface after she'd reached the record-setting depth. Mestre's story is compelling and director Allison Ellwood's fine film immerses you in the world of deep sea diving. Its broadcast premiere is on ESPN.
"The To Do List," written and directed by Maggie Carey, is a predictable coming-of-age comedy in which a virginal high school valedictorian (Aubrey Plaza) is goaded by her peers into prepping for freshman year of college by completing a sexually-charged to-do list. The film capitalizes on stereotypical female insecurities. If you find this sort of stuff funny, you should certainly see the film. I'd rather see the lead character flush the peer pressure and stick to her smarts!
In Nina Davenport's autobiographical documentary "First Comes Love," the filmmaker documents her decision to become a single parent from the pre-insemination phases through to the birthing of her baby. Davenport bravely reveals her innermost yearnings, doubts and beliefs, her interactions with her conventional family and her private parts. Nothing is held back. In fact, this film is so deeply personal and truthful that it may make you uncomfortable. But, it also offers a great portrait of a woman taking control of her life. It premieres on HBO.
"Swoopes," another documentary in the ESPN "Nine for IX" series, is filmmaker Hannah Storm's take on the life and career of legendary women's basketball star Sheryl Swoopes. The film focuses on Swoopes' triumphs and trophy wins on the court, and on her transition from playing the game to guiding it, as the revered coach of Loyola University's record-setting women's basketball team. But the film's real depth lies in its candid and penetrating look at one of Swoopes' greatest personal challenges -- her decision to come out as gay. It premieres on ESPN.
Opening in theaters, filmmaker Havana Marking's "Smash and Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers" is a hot-on-the-trail documentary thriller about the world's most-wanted international diamond thieves. They are a highly sophisticated gang of Serbs who've successfully robbed millions of dollars in gems from famed jewelers in Paris, Tokyo and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates -- and have eluded law enforcement everywhere. Marking has extraordinary access to all involved in the crimes and the chase, and she uses it to shape the story in a dramatic, suspenseful and entertaining way that also provides insight into the world's current economic meltdown. A must-see.
Other docs that have already opened this week include Lucy Walker's inspiring "The Crash Reel," which premiered on HBO on July 15, and is now available on demand. Walker follows champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce's gradual recovery from the traumatic brain injury he suffered while prepping for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Most moving is Pearce's relationship with his mother, Pia, whose love, support and coaching contribute greatly to his healing. A beautiful, honest, sensitive and very moving film.
"Let Them Wear Towels," which premiered on ESPN on July 16, follows female sports reporters as they gain access to men's locker rooms for post-game interviews. Filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg interview top reporters who tell it like it was before Title IX gave them at least a shot at equal opportunity.
In addition to covering film for Women's eNews, Jennifer Merin writes about documentaries for About.com and is president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, a nonprofit organization of the leading female film journalists in the U.S. and Canada. She is also a member of the prestigious Broadcast Film Critics Association.
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