pelican dreams

(WOMENSENEWS)–Opening Nov. 7, "Pelican Dreams" is filmmaker Judy Irving’s follow up to her highly acclaimed "Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill." This one really takes off. The documentary presents extraordinary close up and intimate footage of California’s brown pelicans, a fascinating species that is surprisingly smart and endowed with extraordinary physical attributes. Following the birds to their natural habitat, Irving thoughtfully explicates their unique habitual behavior with her own very personal voice over narration. Beautifully shot, and with lovely music, this fascinating nature doc is a must see.

Also Opening Nov. 7

"The Theory of Everything" is an inspiring biopic about Stephen Hawking, the brilliant ALS-afflicted astrophysicist whose writings redefined contemporary concepts of time and space. Based on the memoir written by Hawking’s first wife Jane Wilde, who died in 1995, the film is the remarkable and moving story of their loving relationship and how together they defied his doctors’ prognosis of early death and overcame the physical limitations of his disease. The celebratory film is beautifully shot, exquisitely romantic and with extraordinary performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as the indomitable couple.

"West" is a gripping German East-West drama and intrigue set in Berlin during the late 1970s, before the wall’s fall. Struggling to find freedom in the West for herself and her young son, a single mom faces constant, daunting and dangerous intrigue. Based on Julia Franck’s novel and scripted by Heide Schwochow, the film delves deeply into the terribly threatening anxieties of a woman caught in the dysfunctional realities of her divided homeland. Jördis Triebel’s performance as the lead character is superb.

"Elsa and Fred" is a delightful, quirky and spirit-lifting rom-com in which Shirley MacLaine heats up the love life of a recently widowed Christopher Plummer. Time, they realize, is precious and they unite to make the most of the rest of their lives. Co-written by Anna Pavignano, the film is fun and funny, and a great infusion of positive energy.

"The Lookalike" is a stylish but plot-heavy romancedy with crime thriller overtones. Scripted by Mary Davis-Gray, it features Gillian Jacobs as a dead ringer for a dead woman who is paid $300,000 to act as a stand in during a major drug deal. Everything goes wrong, including an unexpected, incidental romantic attraction. The film is well-crafted and the doppelganger premise is intriguing. But this particular mix of crime and comedy doesn’t quite pay off.

"Jessabelle" is a genuinely scary femme-centric horror flick; just when you thought Halloween frights were finished for the year. Sarah Snook stars as a woman who encounters a terrifying spirit–ostensibly introduced by her dead mother via a video tape–when she returns to her childhood home to recuperate from a car crash. Beware: the film is rigged to trigger screams.

"Actress" stars Brandy Burre portraying herself as the discontented suburban wife and mom who decides she wants to resume the acting career she gave up when she left NYC to live with the father of her children in rural Beacon, NY. Her house happened to be next door to that of Robert Greene, the filmmaker who produced, directed, shot and edited "Actress." The self-absorbed Burre, casting herself as the unfulfilled woman, seems inured to her kids’ needs, suffers no guilt about cheating on her partner. She delivers a "me-generation" monologue of superficial navel-gazing introspection that introduces little insight and has virtually no impact. "Actress" lacks story. Were you not guided by external commentary, you’d have difficulty discerning its arc, and the problem is exacerbated by clumsy, disjointed editing that strives to be creatively artful but isn’t. The film lays claim to being a cinema trend setter. I hope it’s not.

Opening Nov. 14

"Beyond the Lights" is an alluring love story written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a nova superstar singer whose career opportunities and demands are pushing her over the emotional edge. Although it is her growing, glowing relationship with her bodyguard (Nate Parker) that grounds her and gives her strength to carry on, the film avoids damsel-in-distress clichés. Beautiful performances–including a seductive supportive turn by Minnie Driver–along with a great sound track and fine cinematic values make this an all-round rewarding movie.

"Always Woodstock," written and directed by Rita Merson, presents another upbeat story about music and love. Catherine (Allison Miller) is a wannabe singer/songwriter struggling to come into her own voice. Fired from her day job and jilted by her beau, she flees New York City to seek renewal and realize her own dreams in her hometown of Woodstock, the legendary musical field of dreams. There, she’s mentored by Katey Sagal, who provides the soundtrack with several wonderful new songs, and seduced by James Wolk, playing a charming country doctor. The film’s sweetly sentimental scenario is a satisfying escape.

In "Miss Meadows," writer-director Karen Leigh Hopkins casts Katie Holmes as a well-regarded, right proper school teacher who is perfectly groomed and mannered, and has a secret life as a righteous but violent vigilante who rids her neighborhood of evildoers. Holmes is terrific in this action thriller that ends with her – uh, uh! No spoilers here. You’ll have to see the enjoyable film to find out what Katie did.

"The Homesman," a Western directed by Tommy Lee Jones, is a femme-centric covered wagon road trip. Three incapacitated pioneer women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto and Sonja Richter) who can’t cope with the harshness of frontier life are escorted by Mary Cuddy (Hilary Swank) east to Iowa, where they’ll be cared for by a minister and his wife (Meryl Streep, who is in real life Grace Gummer’s mom). The rough journey through desolate Nebraska is filled with drama. Superb performances from all, including Tommy Lee Jones who casts himself as a ne’er-do-well wrangler hired to help with the journey.

"Rosewater," Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, is the truth-based story of Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal), the Tehran-born Canadian journalist who returned to Iran to cover the 2009 election. After sending street riot footage to the BBC, he was arrested by police and held for 118 days, during which he was tortured by an agent he identified as Rosewater. The film is riveting. Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo is brilliantly strong and sensitive as Behari’s mother.

"Foxcatcher" is neither femme-helmed nor femme-centric, but this truth-based drama features a fabulous performance by Vanessa Redgrave as the mother of wealthy John du Pont (Steve Carrell) who fosters the career of U.S. wrestling champ and Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and sponsors the U.S. wrestling team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. This character-driven sports drama is already garnering Oscars buzz.

Stay tuned for late November’s movie reviews, coming soon.