A scene from the documentary "The True Cost."

(WOMENSENEWS)–“The True Cost,” opening May 29, is filmmaker Andrew Morgan’s eye-opening documentary about how ubiquitous “fast fashion”–you know, those stylishly cute little $9.95 dresses from HandM–impacts our global economy, shatters local cultures and threatens the environment. The focus shifts from the rarefied runway ambience to sweatshops in Bangladesh and other cheap labor locales where women toil round the clock for $160 per month and are brutally beaten by police when they attempt to protest. Eighty-five percent of the world’s exploited garment workers are women. This must-see film gives them a voice. It will change the way you shop. Or, shame on you. 

“Heaven Knows What” is a cinema adaptation of the autobiographical writings of Arielle Holmes, formerly a homeless heroin addict who scored, slept and attempted suicide on New York City’s mean streets. Under the direction of brothers Ben and Joshua Safdie, first-time actress Holmes plays Harley, a version of herself, who is also addicted to an abusive relationship with Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones), whose behavior pushes her towards the edge. The dark and shocking film is wrapped in an aura of authenticity that’s almost documentary-like, especially in its close up and personal depiction of drug use. No glamorization, no distraction from anguish. The film is a very well-made indie one that’s just not easy to watch.

“I Believe in Unicorns,” writer/director Leah Meyerhoff’s first feature film, is a mystical and impressionistic representation of a sensitive, emotionally fragile teenage girl’s (Natalia Dyer) angst while coming of age, discovering her sexuality and surviving the joyful agonies of first love. The film’s elliptical narrative is filled with dream-like sequences that are laden with symbolic images. It’s really lovely to look at, but hard to believe. Still, this film will surely resonate with teenagers — especially girls — who are “in process,” as they say, and may identify with the lead character and benefit from the film’s femme-centric point of view.

“Survivor” stars Milla Jovovich as a smart and skilled secret agent – an extraordinary asset, as her handlers say– who’s blamed or framed for a terrorist bombing in London, and is being hunted by both good and bad guys. Her mission is to elude assassins long enough to clear her name and nail the real evil doer (Pierce Brosnan) before he can set up a similar attack in New York. Jovovich is always good at being a badass. Here, her evasive ploys make James McTeigue’s smartly directed film an engaging action-packed thriller. This is a plot we’ve seen before, but usually with a male protagonist. It’s good to see a woman in the lead, but the plot still revolves to a great extent around her victimization. It’s good, at least, to see her fight back effectively.

“Barely Lethal” also involves a female secret agent under duress. This time she’s a teenager. Hailee Steinfeld stars as Megan, the orphaned girl who was sent to a special boarding school where she was trained in special ops. Wanting to exit spy life and her own evil nemesis (Jessica Alba), Megan fakes her death and enrolls in a suburban high school. Here her naivety about ordinary teen-ness sets the scene for comedic incidents, one of which is recorded and goes viral on YouTube, leading her spy handlers to her hideout. The film will undoubtedly find hordes of teenage fans, but its basic premise – the exploitation of orphaned youngsters (Megan’s not the only victim) — is as horrifying as it is (hopefully) implausible. That’s enough to keep me from laughing.

“Aloha” is this week’s star-studded romantic dramedy, a quirky love triangle set in scenic Hawaii. Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, it features Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, Alex Baldwin, Danny McBride and John Krasinski. Unfortunately, the plot is thin, the narrative is talky and nobody is at his or her best.

“San Andreas” is the week’s blockbuster natural disaster flick. After a mega earthquake rips though California, leaving havoc in its wake, a rescue helicopter pilot (Dwayne Johnson) and his ex-wife (Carla Gugino) set out to rescue their daughter – the ultimate damsel in distress – in San Francisco. Not much plot and the characters are cutouts. Go for the special effects (if you go at all) and bring ear plugs.

Stay tuned for reviews of June openers.

In addition to covering film for Women’s eNews, Jennifer Merin writes the Cinema Citizen blog and is editor in chief for AWFJ.org, the website of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, a nonprofit organization of leading female film journalists in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. She is organization’s president. She is also a member of the prestigious Broadcast Film Critics. Subscribe

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