Aubrey Plaza stars in "Life After Beth."
Aubrey Plaza stars in \”Life After Beth.\”

(WOMENSENEWS)–“Life After Beth,” which opens tomorrow, is a horror spoof starring Aubrey Plaza in the title role of Beth, a young woman who dies suddenly and then resurrects. Her grief-stricken beau (Dane DeHaan) assumes that they’ll resume their relationship as it was, only with heightened appreciation. But that’s not the way it turns out. The dialogue is ripe with lots of sophomoric “eat me” zombie jokes that are still somehow funny. More laughs than screams, but no shortage of gore.

Also Opening Aug. 15

“The Giver,” based on Lois Lowry’s young adult novel, is a futuristic sci-fi thriller in which a young man (Brenton Thwaites) comes of age to discover that his community’s dark secrets–kept as memories by the titular “Giver” (Jeff Bridges)–endanger him and his loved ones. Now he must escape his closed community, a goal never before achieved. If you’re one of the 10 million people who bought the bestselling book you probably know how it all turns out.

Opening Aug. 22

Catherine Breillat’s “Abuse of Weakness” is the famed French feminist auteur director’s somewhat autobiographical narrative. The lead character Maud suddenly suffers a debilitating stroke and, in her compromised state, a man takes advantage of her and appropriates much of her fortune. The story rolls out with few surprises as Maud, a visionary filmmaker, sees her independence and determination curbed by sudden physical disability and emotional vulnerability. She casts a con man (Kool Shen) in her film and quickly falls prey to his manipulative charm. Their relationship is an edgy, tension-filled roller coaster ride that soars and plummets with Maud’s emotional and physical condition. “Abuse of Weakness” isn’t one of Breillat’s best films, but Isabelle Huppert’s portrayal of Maud is brilliant.

“If I Stay” is a femme-centric coming-of-age drama about Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz), a classical music protégé in the throes of a teenage struggle to choose between future studies at Julliard and the bliss of first and true love with her boyfriend (Jamie Blackly). All that is eclipsed when a catastrophic car crash changes her prospects and brings on deeper considerations of life or death. Scripted by Shauna Cross and based on Gayle Forman’s bestselling young adult novel, the beautifully realized film is heartachingly moving.

In “To Be Takei,” filmmaker Jennifer Kroot brings us a show-biz treat of a documentary. It takes us into the inner circle of actor/director/humorist George Takei, best known for playing Sulu on “Star Trek,” and gives the ever-popular 70-something star a platform for talking about his life, career, activism and lifestyle. That includes his experiences in a Japanese American internment camp, his relationship with his husband Brad Takei and his phenomenal status on Facebook, where he is “liked” by more than 7 million followers. Trekkie co-stars William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and others also populate the documentary, reminiscing about the beloved, acclaimed and extremely entertaining Takei.

Aug. 29

In “The Congress” Israeli writer-director Ari Folman mixes live action and animation as he adapts Stnislav Lem’s provocative “The Futurological Congress” into a thrilling sci-fi drama about the digitalization of celebrity personalities. Robin Wright stars as herself, a successful actress who’s offered the (make believe, of course) opportunity to reap much-needed financial reward and remain forever young and popular with fans by granting a movie studio contractual rights to digitalize her image and behavior, and cast her digitalized self in future films of their choice. (This is, by the way, already technologically achievable.) The impact on her real life is unexpectedly troubling. Then, fast forward 20 years, when her contract expires and Wright, now an immortally young star but also an elderly woman, faces real-life reentry into the celebrity realm. Folman’s engaging conceit, integration of live action and animation and storytelling skills are uniquely and utterly compelling. Wright’s refined live and motion capture performance is completely captivating.

“The Last of Robin Hood” is another narrative about celebrity, aging and public perception – and this one is truth-based. An aged Errol Flynn (Kevin Klein) is in the spotlight, facing public scrutiny and outrage about his swashbuckling final affair with young Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning), an aspiring Hollywood ingénue whose ambition-fueled behavior was guided by her fame-obsessed mother (Susan Sarandon). It’s not a new story, but this version is a classic that beautifully captures characters, reveals Hollywood intrigue and details time and place. It’s a tremendously satisfying catch for serious and casual.

“Life of Crime” is an entertaining comedy based on an Elmore Leonard story. A rich housewife (Jennifer Aniston) is kidnapped and held for ransom by a pair of inept criminals (John Hawkes and Yasiin Bay–aka Mos Def) whose plans for a quick getaway are dashed when they find out that her husband (Tim Robbins) doesn’t want her back. We’ve seen previous iterations of the plot, but this version is fresh and refreshingly funny, thanks to Leonard’s kinky, quirky twists and a superb cast. See it just for fun.

In addition to covering film for Women’s eNews, Jennifer Merin writes about documentaries for 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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