Cobie Smulders and Gail Bean star in "Unexpected."

(WOMENSENEWS)– “Unexpected” presents a richly rewarding problem-solving story about two women – Samantha (Cobie Smulders), a married high school teacher, and Jasmine (Gail Bean), her unmarried student – who become pregnant, unexpectedly, at the same time. Neither is prepared for childbirth and motherhood and together they help each other cope. The arc of their relationship and realizations is inspiring. Directed by Kris Swanberg, who also co-wrote the script with Megan Mercier, this film is from the heart of feminism. Both the script and the performances exude honesty. Truthful, poignant and humorous, it’s a must-see.

“The Outrageous Sophie Tucker” is about the bold and bawdy original vaudeville vamp who was known around the globe as “the last of the red hot mamas.” Filmmaker William Gazecki creates the perfect Tucker profile by using previously unseen archival footage of Tucker in action on stage and behind the scenes. He also introduces fresh information from a newly discovered cache of some 400 of Tucker’s diaries and mixes in on-camera interviews with Tucker, who died in 1966 at age 79. Commentaries also come from the likes of Barbara Walters, Carol Channing and Tony Bennett. We also hear from Tucker experts Susan and Lloyd Ecker, who are uber fans and the driving force behind this film. Sophie Tucker is absolutely fabulous and so is the film.

“Samba,” the screen adaptation of Delphine Coulin’s novel, stars Charlotte Gainsbourg and Omar Sy as unlikely soulmates, brought together at a time of soul-searching and drama in their lives. Alice (Gainsbourg), a burnt out executive who’s working pro bono at a Paris legal clinic for immigrants, meets Samba (Sy), an undocumented Senegalese worker seeking legal status. While the story reveals the hardships of immigrant life, the burgeoning friendship between Alice and Samba is at the heart of the film. The characters hit it off immediately, and great onscreen chemistry between Gainsbourg and Sy makes it all believable. The film is funny and soulful, and quite the charmer.

“Paper Towns,” an adaptation of the eponymous novel, is a male-centric coming-of-age road trip flick that’s driven by a young female character who serves as a sort of emotional muse to the male protagonists. Margo (Cara Delevigne) is a high-spirited, free-wheeling, inspiringly creative girl who fuels the curiosity and passions of Quentin (Nat Wolf), a nerdy kid who hangs with two even nerdier sidekicks. When Margo disappears, the three boys take to the road to try to find her and wind up finding out a lot about themselves. There’s enough mystery in the film to keep you guessing, and some quirky out-of-the-box philosophizing to make you think about the meaning of it all.

“Mad Women” puts an essentially dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship through torturous emotional stress. The plot encompasses a political campaign, criminal charges and a battle with breast cancer. Writer-director Jeff Lipsky’s focus on women is engaging, and performances by Christina Starbuck as mother and Kelsey Lynn Stokes as daughter are solid. But the film is long on dialogue and short on action. Think six months of soap opera condensed into two-hours-plus of movie.

“Pixels 3-D,” expected to be this week’s blockbuster, is a futuristic sci-fi comedy action adventure with appeal for video gamers of all ages and genders. Aliens find a time capsule launched by NASA into space in 1982 and interpret some of the contents — videos of Pacman, Centipede and Donkey Kong–as a declaration of war. They send gigantic real life (as opposed to virtual) representations of the game figures to attack and conquer Earth. Top gamers – played by Adam Sandler, Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage, respectively – are recruited to save civilization, with Michelle Monaghan pitching in, mostly as a romantic interest, and Kevin James as the U.S. president. Director Chris Columbus handles the action and comedy well, but the film feels like a latter day (and less satisfying) spin on the iconic “Galaxy Quest.” However, it’s game on for some summer fun.

“The Vatican Tapes” features exorcists (Michael Pena and Djimon Hounsou) working to free a young woman (Olivia Dudley) from Satan’s grasp and end her incarnation as the anti-Christ. The film is full of standard dramatic effects, executed well. But, as Hounsou’s character asks in the film, “Why does Satan choose one human and not another?” Indeed, why in these movies is the possessed almost always a young woman?

“Frank the Bastard” stars Rachel Miner as a woman who, following her divorce and other life traumas, returns to her rural New England home town to reconnect with her family roots and investigate her mother’s untimely death some years ago. She soon begins to uncover the murky doings of the mysterious and influential Gast family, and to face their threats. It’s great to see a woman’s point of view represented on the screen, but the film is plot-heavy and genre-challenged, drawing on too many cinema styles with too little overall impact.

Stay tuned for more July openers, coming up next week.

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