By Jennifer Merin
WeNews film critic
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Rory Kennedy's "Last Days in Vietnam" tops movie openers early this month, along with "Rocks in My Pockets," a soul-searching animation by feminist filmmaker Signe Baumane.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Topping the September calendar is the fascinating political documentary "Last Days in Vietnam," by filmmaker Rory Kennedy, best known for "Ethel" (2012), the moving portrait of her mother, and the searing expose "Ghosts of Abu Gharib" (2007).
This new film of hers is set during the military evacuation of Saigon in 1975, as North Vietnamese troops advanced on the city. It spotlights U.S. diplomats and soldiers who defied White House orders to evacuate only U.S. citizens and risked being charged with treason in order to airlift their South Vietnamese comrades to safety and freedom. The well-connected Kennedy, the youngest of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy's 11 children, intersperses insightful interviews and revealing archival footage to shed light on some shining examples of heroism during a dark chapter of U.S. history. This must-see opens Sept. 5.
Another top hit early this month is "Rocks in My Pockets," which opens today, Sept. 3. In it feminist filmmaker Signe Baumane offers a brilliant and soul-searching animated autobiographical investigation of how her family's genetics and history, beginning with her grandmother's experiences in Latvia and carrying through to her own arrival in New York City, underlie her ongoing suicidal tendencies. The film presents a deeply emotional and disturbing subject in a most entertaining and enlightening way, thanks to Baumane's uniquely clever and stylish animation and her beautifully nuanced and witty narration. Baumane is a first-rate cinema auteur. This very humane animation is destined to become a classic. Go see it.
Now, on to other movies opening soon.
"Innocence" is an allegorical horror tale about Beckett (Sophie Curtis), a teenager who's not only coping with grief over her mother's death, but also battling vampire demons at her new school. Director Hilary Brougher co-scripted with Tristine Skyler based on Jane Mendelsohn's popular young adult novel. Stylishly shot, well performed and engaging but a bit plot heavy.
"God Help the Girl" is another coming-of-age fantasy; this one set in Scotland and set to music. Teenage Eve (Emily Browning) is a lonely outcast who feels she doesn't fit in anywhere except when she's singing. She spends the summer shaping herself and two similarly disengaged school chums into a pop band that bursts into song whenever, but without generating much excitement or toe-tapping. The cast is talented but the film is a big snooze owing to its simplistic story, wimpy characters and sappy music. The title should be "God Help the Film."
"My Old Lady" stars Dame Maggie Smith as a tough-but-tender widow who lives with her daughter (Kristin Scott Thomas) in a Paris apartment. Unfortunately for them, it's been bequeathed by an estranged father to his ne'er-do-well son (Kevin Klein), who arrives penniless from New York with the intention to evict the two women so he can sell the place and finance his life. The tense relationship between the three evolves in unexpected ways. Israel Horovitz directed and scripted this cinematic version of his stage play. Works brilliantly.
"Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity," Catherine Gund's dynamic dance documentary, leaps across the screen as it chronicles the work of the Brooklyn-based Extreme Action Company. This danger-defying troupe is directed by innovative Elizabeth Streb, winner of the MacArthur "genius" grant in 1997. The film shows the performance artists in archival and recently shot footage, including sequences in which dancers bungee jump off London's Millennium Bridge and dangle from the heights of the London Eye. Thrilling. Inspiring. Awesome. Don't try this at home.
"Archaeology of a Woman," written and directed by Sharon Greytak, stars Sally Kirkland as the elderly Margaret who's determined to hide her dementia from her daughter and others to preserve her independence. This basic, compelling mother-daughter drama is heightened by intriguing plot twists, including the revelation of Margaret's involvement in a 30-year-old crime. Kirkland's edgy performance is unnerving, as it should be.
"Honeymoon," directed and co-written by Leigh Janiak, is a remote-location horror thriller that is uniquely and genuinely unsettling. Newlyweds (Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie) retreat to a romantic lakeside cottage where they encounter night terrors of the creepiest kind. No spoilers here. For scary movie fans, a must-see.
"At the Devil's Door" is another knock on horror's door. Catalina Sandino Moreno plays a real estate agent enlisted to sell a house that has a tainted past. While on the job, she encounters the troubled runaway daughter of the sellers and soon finds herself grappling with a threatening supernatural force. The gripping plot delivers a sense of pure dread. It's a scare-fest double bill with "Honeymoon."
In "No Good Deed," scripted by Aimee Lagos, Taraji P. Henson plays a housewife and devoted mother who is victimized by Colin (Idris Elba), a charming man who, claiming car trouble, knocks on her door, asks for assistance and takes over her home. The plausible plot might be considered a cautionary tale, especially because the performances are so convincing.
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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