By Jennifer Merin
WeNews film critic
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Aside from "Endless Love" opening Feb. 14, movie releases on the horizon tackle serious subject matter. "Kids for Cash" is about a juvenile court judge in Pennsylvania who was getting paid to send kids to a private juvenile detention center.
Credit: Courtesy of Dada Films
(WOMENSENEWS)--With visions of Valentine's Day dancing in their heads, movie marketers often release airy romantic comedies in early February. But this year, the month starts off with some serious and rather dark fare.
Opening Feb. 7, "Kids for Cash" is filmmaker Robert May's expose about a zero-tolerance juvenile court judge, Mark A. Ciavarella, who sentenced some 3,000 kids to long internments in a private juvenile detention center that was paying him per head. The documentary about the Luzerne County, Pa., justice system scandal plays like a thriller. A must-see.
"The Pretty One" is about a sister who survives her prettier twin in a car crash and winds up assuming her identity. Written and directed by Jenée LaMarque, the film turns on the classic theme of the ugly duckling makeover. Zoey Kazan, the star, brings a sweet sincerity to her performance as a shy girl struggling to fit someone else's shoes.
"Vampire Academy," co-scripted by Richelle Mead and based on her novel, is the story of Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch), a teen Dhampir (half vampire/half human) charged with saving her peaceful species from immortal vampires who want to drink their blood. If you're dying to know what happens, see the film. If you can live without seeing it, that would be my recommendation.
"Nurse 3D" is a femme-centric horror flick about a psychotic nurse (Paz de la Huerta) who becomes obsessed with a pretty colleague (Katrina Bowden) and totally disrupts her life in terribly threatening ways. The plot is reminiscent of the very scary "Single White Female" (1992), but this film's focus is more on style than on substance, without enough of either. Enough already with the sickening woman-on-woman violence.
"The Last of the Unjust," Claude Lanzmann's astounding holocaust documentary, focuses on Theresienstadt, the "model ghetto" concentration camp designed to fool the world about the Nazis' slaughter of Jewish people. The film's central character is Benjamin Murmelstein who, as president of the Theresienstadt Jewish Council, was forced to negotiate daily with Adolph Eichmann, trying to preserve lives and fundamental human rights. After the war ended, Murmelstein was shunned and not even invited to testify at Eichmann's trial. At last, interviewed at length by Lanzmann, Murmelstein speaks out, shedding light and adding a new perspective on what happened in Theresienstadt and the unbearably painful position he held there from 1938 until the end of the war. This penetrating psychological profile is gripping.
"The Monuments Men," a truth-based narrative feature, is also about Nazi crimes -- against art and culture. The film lauds the heroic actions of a small contingent of special soldiers recruited for the sole purpose of saving great works of art that had been stolen by the Nazis, stowed in secret caves and destined for destruction if (or, as it turned out, when) the Germans were defeated. George Clooney, who directed and stars (along with Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett), co-wrote the script, which is based on Robert Edsel and Bret Witter's eponymous book. The book was based on Lynn Nicholas's fascinating "The Rape of Europa," which was turned into a documentary, co-directed by Bonni Cohen, Nicole Newnham and Richard Berge, in 2008. The plot is not femme centric and the story unfolds in Hollywood blockbuster style, but there's plenty of history and cinema here to sink your teeth into, and anyone who loves the "Mona Lisa" and "Venus on the Half Shell" should see this film.
"The New Black" is filmmaker Yoruba Richen's documentary about the African American community's divided stand on same-sex marriage. The film follows families, clergy and activists on both sides of the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage, including those who see the issue as part of the civil rights movement and others with church-spurred homophobia, and reveals how the Christian right wing is exploiting the latter for its anti-gay agenda. Richen and co-writer Erin Casper provide comprehensive coverage of this compelling and nationally divisive issue.
"Endless Love" is the month's first and only femme-helmed true valentine. Directed and co-written by Shana Feste, it is the romantic story of a sheltered, privileged girl (Gabriella Wilde), who meets and instantly sparks to an attractive young man (Alex Pettyfer) whose circumstances are questionable. Her parents try to apply the brakes but that only accelerates the love affair. "Romeo and Juliet"? Not quite. Neither the plot nor the dialogue match up to the classic, but the film is seductive in its sweet and swoony smoochy way.
"Adult World" stars Emma Roberts as Amy, a college grad who aspires to become a great poet, but soon discovers that her parents won't continue to support her while she writes without pay.
She finds a job as a salesperson in an adult bookstore, and learns how to support herself. This coming-of-age dramedy has a clever script that gently challenges stereotyping of women. Roberts is delightful, especially when playing off John Cusack, who is Amy's charming but disinterested mentor. Not quite a valentine. But close enough.
"About Last Night," obviously positioned for a Valentine's Day release, has Regina Hall, Joy Bryant, Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy and others playing off each other in a cliché romcom about getting laid. The script is Leslye Headland's adaptation of a screenplay by Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue, based on David Mamet's "Sexual Perversity in Chicago." The original was perversely interesting, but this version misses on all cylinders. Seek out an Oscars contender instead, or stay home, snuggle and watch sitcoms.
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.
Would you like to Comment but not sure how? Visit our help page at http://www.womensenews.org/help-making-comments-womens-enews-stories.
Would you like to Send Along a Link of This Story? http://womensenews.org/story/arts/140128/february-films-favor-dark-fare-over-valentines