By Jennifer Merin
WeNews film critic
Friday, January 27, 2012
For your top movie dates in February, Jennifer Merin recommends two war movies, "In Darkness" and "Return." They're not sweet Valentine's Day offerings but both are cinematically rich.
(WOMENSENEWS) -- February brings two cinematic treasures, both opening Feb. 10 "In Darkness," an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, is a harrowing Holocaust drama directed by Agnieszka Holland, one of Poland's finest filmmakers. It's based on Robert Marshall's book about the real life of Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), a morally ambiguous sewer worker who hid Jews -- initially for money, eventually for reasons of compassion -- in the underground waste caches of Nazi occupied Lvov (now Lviv), Ukraine.
Holland's special treatment of this dramatic and heart wrenching story is notable for its restraint. She focuses on intimate and ordinary interactions among desperate people struggling to survive Nazi persecution, living in darkness, amid detritus and vermin, to avoid even worse horrors in the streets above. Within this subterranean scene, with its excruciatingly oppressive atmosphere, there is a moving sub-plot about young love.
In the month's other big bonus, writer-director Liza Johnson also turns her skills to a war-related subject. "Return" is the story of an American female soldier who returns home from being deployed in Afghanistan for 15 months and finds it nearly impossible to cope with the day-to-day realities. Kelli (Linda Cardellini) comes back to her husband (Michael Shannon) and two daughters, her friends and an old job. While repressing her war memories and denying that she's been traumatized, she cannot get back into the swing of things with her marriage, putting her kids to bed, grocery shopping and the ordinary happenings of civilian life.
This narrative feature is reminiscent of the documentary "Lioness" (2008), in which filmmakers Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers profile five women who've returned from deployment in Iraq. The two films would make an exceedingly interesting double bill.
More fine February releases in chronological order: On Feb. 1, pay special attention to Patricia Riggen's second feature, "Girl in Progress." This coming-of-age dramady is about the parent-child relationship in which teenager Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez) actually has a lot to teach her mother (Eva Mendes) about growing up. An understanding counselor (Patricia Arquette) helps prevent the older generation from passing along her behavioral failures to the next. "Girl in Progress" is a warm, gentle and big-hearted film, as was Riggen's first feature, "Under the Same Moon" (2007), also about a mother and child.
On Feb. 3, Drew Barrymore fans get a chance to see the actress in an unabashedly inspirational film for the whole family. Based on a true story, "Big Miracle" is about Inupiaq villagers in Barrow, in northern Alaska, who rally -- with the help of a determined female environmentalist -- to rescue three gray whales trapped by the frozen sea.
Two femme-centric ghost stories open Feb. 3. In "The Innkeepers," Claire (Sara Paxton) is determined to make contact with spirits inhabiting each room of the hotel where she works. She does. The results will keep you on the edge of your seat. She's at risk, but don't worry, this isn't a slasher movie that victimizes women.
In "The Woman in Black," Daniel Radcliffe, no longer a young wizard as he was in "Harry Potter," plays a lawyer-turned-ghost-chaser who is tracking down the vengeful spirit of a woman (Janet McTeer) that is terrorizing villagers in rural England. The performances are convincing and if you like Gothic, this film, with a script by Jane Goldman based on Susan Hill's novel, is for you.