"The Keeping Room" is a post-Civil War drama opening today.

(WOMENSENEWS)– The Keeping Room” is an absolutely gripping post-Civil War drama about women’s struggles for survival and self-determination. Two sisters (Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld) and their African American servant (Muna Otaru) must use their wiles and loaded guns against the terrorizing lawlessness brought to their front doorstep by Union soldiers who’ve gone rogue. Julia Hart’s compelling script presents this story through powerful and beautifully defined female characters. Galvanizing performances by the three principals are fully supported by Daniel Barber’s nuanced direction and Martin Ruhe’s captivating cinematography. This is the pick of the week. A must-see.

A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story,” a soulful and inspiring documentary, has received audience awards at film festivals and now deserves wider audience attention for its theatrical release. With respect and sensitivity, filmmaker Sara Bordo follows the amazing Lizzie Velasquez as she transcends the relentless derision she’s experienced about her appearance. Born with a rare congenital disease, Velasquez is unable to gain weight, has severely protruding teeth and a clouded blind eye. She was bullied throughout her schooling, but when she saw a YouTube video entitled “The World’s Ugliest Woman,” starring herself, she fought back with her own video that went viral. Her Ted Talk, seen by millions, has turned her into a motivational speaker of note. Velasquez is sweet, equanimous and forgiving. Brava! You must meet her on film.

Misunderstood,” directed by Asia Argento, who also co-wrote it with Barbara Alberti, is a coming-of-age story about 9-year-old Aria (Gulia Salerno). Aria shows remarkable creativity and resilience in transcending the environment of neglect established by her self-involved celebrity parents; a concert pianist mom (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and movie star dad (Gabriel Garko). The film is impressionistic and the plot combines reality with illusion in a way that’s a bit hard to follow, but Salerno’s performance is well worth the price of admission.

Wildlike,” a femme-centric coming-of-age thriller, stars Ella Purnell as Mackenzie, a teenager who takes to the road to escape an abusive environment. Sent by her struggling mom to Juneau to live with her uncle, she soon discovers him to be predatory. Running away, she follows a male tourist who’s hiking through Alaska. Together they meet the challenges of the wilderness, including a very large bear. The plot holds and the performances are very good; but the real star of the film is the Alaskan scenery. This film is quite an awesome travelogue.

Mississippi Grind” is the latest from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the writing-directing team whose films are fascinating fictional studies of male psychology illuminated by particular powerful performances. This time, the story is about two gambling addicts (Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds) who team up to pursue their illusions on a road trip through the South. They aim to win big and prove their worth, but wind up in a series of losing situations; including those with beautifully written and played female characters (Sienna Miller, Analeigh Tipton, Alfre Woodard) that further complicate their lives. Not femme-centric, but femme-honest. It’s another must-see.

The Intern,” writer/director Nancy Meyers‘ latest opus, is much lighter fare. Anne Hathaway stars as a successful business woman who, having very quickly grown her startup into a megacorp, is suffering the stresses of life at the top, but finds unexpected relief in her intern (Robert de Niro), a 70-something retiree who’s seeking new challenges to relieve his boredom. The plot is cute, if not acutely clever. The dialogue is drole, if not delightful. The characters are charming, if not charismatic. Ultimately this is De Niro’s film. He gives a terrific performance as an older guy setting straight a distressed younger woman. Oh well.

Stay tuned for upcoming openers.

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