Helen Mirren stars in "Woman in Gold."

(WOMENSENEWS) "Woman in Gold," which opens today, April 1, is a compelling truth-based drama about Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), a determined octogenarian who interrupted her quiet Southern California life to challenge the Austrian government to reclaim her family’s stolen art treasure. In particular, she is focused on the iconic Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer, Gustav Klimpt’s renowned painting of Altmann’s beloved Aunt Adele. The portrait, nicknamed Woman in Gold, had been seized, along with other valuable Klimpt paintings, by the Nazis from Altmann’s family home in Vienna. After World War II, the painting was taken by the Austrian government and put on permanent display in Vienna’s Belvedere Museum. Discovering documentation of her family’s ownership of the paintings, Altmann sought restitution, but was denied. The film’s coverage of her high-stakes legal battle and its evolution will fascinate all who’ve had family treasures and legacy items stolen from them. But its focus on Altmann’s character and unceasing determination in her quest for justice is what brings the story iconic stature. Dame Mirren’s performance is pure inspiration.

Opening April 3

"Effie Gray" is actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson‘s take on the life and times of Euphemia Gray, a.k.a. Effie. She was the teenage wife of Victorian art critic John Ruskin, and she daringly escaped his marital neglect and the abuse of his domineering mother by becoming the lover of the pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. The movie is appropriately slow paced under Richard Laxton‘s richly nuanced direction and explores the underbelly of Victorian repression. Cinematography, costumes and art direction are superb. shows real guts as Effie, who ultimately trades propriety for true love laced with healthy lust. The irrepressible Thompson co-stars as Lady Eastlake, an enlightened elder advisor who guides Effie on her path to self-realization.

"Cheatin’" is acclaimed animator Bill Plympton‘s beautifully designed and drawn fantasy adventure into the psyche of an iconic femme fatale whose perfect courtship and love affair is disrupted by jealousy and other circumstances. When stylish and seductive Ella seeks the help of a magician to right her relationship with Jake, she’s put through a series of transformations that are both challenging (to her) and thrilling (for us to watch). Plympton’s exotic tale is appealing, and he certainly knows how to write and draw women respectfully. The graphics are absolutely gorgeous. Although next to nothing is actually said by the central characters, the marvelous and mischievous music score is most eloquent in expressing their innermost feelings.

"The Salt of the Earth" is German director Wim Wendersstirring documentary about the life and work of Sebastião Salgado, the socially conscious Brazilian still photographer whose stunning images have brought widespread public attention to "the human condition" in joyful and dire circumstances around the world. The Oscar-nominated film was co-directed by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, the photographer’s son, and produced by Sebastiao Salgado’s accomplished architect wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, who gave her husband his first camera and encouraged him to follow his heart and art.

"Furious 7" is this week’s must-avoid movie. Read that as boycott. Really! This latest high action vehicle-centric "Fast and Furious" franchise assaults the senses and insults intellect with its exhausting succession of thunderous car crashes; sappy scenes of love, family and rogue gang loyalty; and gratuitous shots of scantily clad women on the beach in Abu Dhabi and elsewhere. The scant plot, replete with paranoia-provoking subtextual references to 9-11, ends with a surprisingly affecting compilation tribute to Paul Walker, the franchise’s popular co-star who died in a car crash in 2013 during but not related to the "Furious 7" shoot. The final shot is a grounded representation of the Blue Angels’ missing man formation. Sad, but ugh!

More April openers to come as the month proceeds!

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