Julianne Moore and Ellen Page star in the drama "Freeheld."

(WOMENSENEWS)– Freeheld” is a gripping, heart-wrenching and inspiring drama about real life crusaders who fought for equal rights for same-sex partners. It is the truth-based story of Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), a New Jersey State police lieutenant who, when diagnosed with terminal cancer, was determined that her domestic partner Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) receive her pension and other spousal benefits. When Hester died in 2006, Andree did receive her pension. Brava to Moore and Page for their strong and poignant performances. “Freeheld” is this week’s must-see.

He Named Me Malala” is another heroic story, this time in documentary form by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim. The leading character is, of course, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who survived a near-fatal shooting by the Taliban for speaking out in favor of education for girls. Named by her father after the heroic Afghan martyr Malalai of Maiwand, Yousafzai is truly an inspiration. The film proves to be a worthy platform for her message of determination and hope. It’s at its best when Malala is on camera. If you’ve not yet met Malala in the news, be sure to do so here. The occasional use of animation, however, is distracting and seems gimmicky.

The Martian” is a marvelous space adventure focused on the efforts of astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) to keep himself alive on Mars after his mission colleagues have mistakenly (and remorsefully) left him for dead. The problem solving is fascinating; unexpected mishaps are thrilling. But what really put me into orbit is that Damon’s utterly charming Watney is rescued thanks to the decisive actions of a female mission commander (Jessica Chastain) and the calculations of a completely competent female mission tactician (Kate Mara). Good call by director Ridley Scott, scripter Andrew Goddard and casting directors Carmen Cuba and Nina Gold.

Northern Soul,” British photographer-turned-filmmaker Elaine Constantine‘s first feature, is a fictional recap of the intense impact American soul music had on youth culture in Northern England during the 1970s. Two buddies (Rob Baker Ashton and Elliot James Langridge) transcend humdrum working class futures by becoming popular DJ pushers of the northern soul dance craze. The music and dance are rousing, but the storyline is flat and the characters lack depth. And the dialogue, laced with thick Lancaster accents, is hard to follow. Most unfortunately, the film lacks females. Surely women were on the northern soul scene, too.

Addicted to Fresno,” directed by Jamie Babbit and written by Karey Dornetto, wants to be this week’s comic relief, but misses that mark by miles. Judy Greer and Natasha Lyonne star as dysfunctional sisters, Shannon and Martha, who work as maids in a Fresno hotel. Shannon’s sex addiction leads to an accidental murder that gets the gals caught up in a nonsensical plot trying to dispose of the body and pay off blackmailers by robbing a shop selling sex toys. Yudayudayuda. Needless to say, sex jokes flow liberally. Funny? Not. What a sad waste of some serious talent, especially the wonderful Greer.

Partisan,” scripted by Sarah Cyngler, is a disturbing thriller set in a closed commune that’s ruled by Gregori (Vincent Cassel), a mysterious and controlling man who takes in and shelters single moms and their children. The place looks peaceful enough, but it is, in fact, a training camp for young assassins. Young Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel), who was raised, trained and indoctrinated in the confines of the commune, begins to question and defy Gregori’s authority and hell breaks loose. Little by little and so slowly that you barely notice it, first-time director Ariel Kleiman imbues the atmosphere with tension that builds to a shocking outcome. No spoilers. Newcomer Chabriel and veteran Cassel give stunning performances.

Labyrinth of Lies,” which opened Sept. 30, is a compelling fact-based German drama set in 1958, a time when the booming nation was in denial of war crimes committed during its still recent Nazi past. When a death camp survivor identifies a grade school teacher as one the camp’s cruelest officers, a righteous government prosecutor, Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling) begins to investigate and expose Nazi war criminals who’ve evaded punishment. The majority of people on the street don’t know what Auschwitz was. The prosecutor delves into Nazi records that show the pervasion of party membership and complicity during the ’30s and ’40s and even after the war. His boss and other influencers try to stop his investigations, which threaten to undermine the current government. Even his girlfriend – whose father, as it turns out, was a Nazi — turns against him. The script, written by Elisabeth Bartel and Giulio Ricciarelli (who also directed) is a bit melodramatic, but the film is finely crafted and the nation in denial theme resonates with relevance. In German with English subtitles.

Stay tuned for more October openers next week.

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