By Jennifer Merin
WeNews film critic
Friday, November 15, 2013
Dame Judi Dench stars in this heart wrenching story of an unwed mother whose baby is taken away from her. The film makes a strong pairing with the biodoc "Bettie Page Reveals All." Mark your calendars and don't miss either.
Credit: Courtesy of the Weinstein Company
(WOMENSENEWS)-- Late November brings two exceptionally strong femme-centric films that reveal essential truths about women's lives during the sexually conservative 1950s.
"Philomena," opening Nov. 22, is the true story of an unwed Irish woman, played by Dame Judi Dench, whose baby was taken from her at birth and sold by nuns to a wealthy American couple. After living with the painful secret for 50 years, she decides she must tell the truth and find him. British journalist Martin Sixsmith told her story in his nonfiction bestseller, "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee." Dench's performance is phenomenal. This film is brilliantly directed by Stephen Frears.
"Bettie Page Reveals All," also opening Nov. 22, is filmmaker Mark Mori's documentary about the famous model and pin up girl whose career and lifestyle famously challenged sexual conservatism and who remains, posthumously, a trendsetter. The biopic uses archival footage and photographs to tell Page's story from early childhood until the day she disappeared from public life. Using recent voiceover interviews with Page, Mori follows the smart, sassy and successful lady into the quiet suburban life she lived until her death in 2008. Page, herself, and this film effectively play against the stereotyping of women. It's a must-see.
Now back to chronological order for the openers.
"Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here" is filmmaker Amei Wallach's documentary about two of Russia's most famous artists, a husband and wife team who left Russia and became U.S. citizens decades ago. The now elderly duo returns to Russia to install their work in the Hermitage Museum, the national treasury from which they were banned during Soviet days, although they were officially state-sanctioned artists. Wallach's film examines the Kabakovs' philosophy and work and the impact of art on Russia in transition. It's a fascinating look inside the new Russia.
"Sunlight Jr.," writer/director Laurie Collyer's second narrative feature, is the story of Melissa (Naomi Watts), a Floridian beset by woes in every aspect of her life. She works at a dead-end job as a clerk in a convenience store. She's underpaid and bullied by her male chauvinist pig of a boss. Her mother (Tess Harper) is a hopeless alcoholic who keeps herself in booze by exploiting the state's foster child system. Melissa is stalked by a jealous and violent ex-boyfriend. She lives with a wheelchair-bound man (Matt Dillon), who's sweet and sexy but has no money and can't hold down a job. Then, she finds out she's pregnant. The situation is explosive, but unfortunately the plot never quite ignites. It relentlessly plods from one grim turn of events to the next, making Melissa's plight and her deep dismay seem quite banal. Watts delivers a strong performance that keeps her distraught character from seeming melodramatic. It's a pity, though, that she doesn't have a stronger script to work from. Overall, Collyer's sophomore effort is disappointing.
"Nebraska" has Oscars buzz swirling. Director Alexander Payne uses Bob Nelson's wonderful script to touch upon the sensitive subjects of aging, dementia and the Midwestern mindset. Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is a senior citizen who believes he's won a million dollars from a magazine sweepstakes. He's determined to collect his winnings at the sweeps' Lincoln, Neb., headquarters. He starts walking; all the way from Montana. Grant's son (Will Forte) retrieves him and the two eventually wind up having a father-son road trip that is absolutely heartwarming and hilarious. Dern and Forte are fabulous in the film, but character actress June Squibb steals the show as Grant's wife. Squibb has two moments (I won't say what they are, but you'll know them the minute you see them) that are destined to become movie classics. Don't miss this brilliant, beautiful and affecting film.
In "Detroit Unleaded" writer/director Rola Nashef presents a dramatically charged romcom about a young couple, Sami (EJ Assi) and Naj (Nada Shouhayib), who are juggling family obligations, bucking cultural traditions and falling in love in the heart of Detroit's conservative Lebanese-American community. This is a stylishly modern, down-to-earth re-telling of Romeo and Juliet, with a talented young cast breathing life into the characters.
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is round two of the popular femme-centric franchise. Jennifer Lawrence again stars as Katniss Everdeen, still fighting. But this time it's for real. Good plot, and Lawrence is always impressive. See it on IMAX for full effect.
"Frozen," a Disney animated feature written and co-directed by Jennifer Lee, follows the adventures of Anna (voiced by Kristin Bell) as she sets out to save the kingdom from the eternal winter imposed upon it by her icy sister Elsa (Idina Menzel). It's classic Disney fairytale lore, and a fun family film for the holiday season.
"Black Nativity," scripted and directed by Kasi Lemmons, is an inspirational musical drama about a black teenager whose single mom (Jennifer Hudson) sends him to stay with his grandparents (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett) for the holidays. Grandpa is a preacher and is determined to bring the boy into the fold; or at least get him to wear a belt to hold his pants up. The script, based on Langston Hughes' eponymous theater piece, is a bit hackneyed, but it's lifted by fine performances and some great music.
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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