(WOMENSENEWS)—”Zootopia,” the latest animation from Disney, ostensibly depicts a utopian world in which all species of animals (except humans) live in peace and harmony. Still, there are rogues on the loose. The femme-centric story revolves around the police force’s first bunny officer, who wants to prove herself by solving a mystery. She relies on a sly guy — a fox — for help. The animation is cute, but the plot not only lacks surprises, it also plays into every cliché possible. And the characters are all disturbingly stereotypical: a female bunny, a male fox scam artist, genderless sloths for clerks. It’s astonishing. You might want to see this one just to meditate on how and what kids might be learning from the films that are made for and marketed to them.
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is a comedy starring Tina Fey as a news reporter who takes an assignment in a war zone. Based on journalist Kim Barker’s autobiographical book, “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the screenplay—like the book — takes a satirical turn on circumstances that in real life may have been harrowing. As she rolls forth on unpaved roads, Kim navigates the freewheeling world of journalists abroad, bonds with the only other female journo (Margot Robbie) in town, convinces army commanders to let her go into the field where she dodges bombs, shoots live ammo and pees in the bush. Oh, yes, and she reports on some women’s issues, too. Fey is very funny. And all her antics and the absurdity add up to some compelling insights into war and a woman’s perspective on it.
“Camino,” an action thriller, also follows a female journalist into a war zone. Zoe Bell plays Avery Taggert, a brilliant war photographer who is embedded in the Colombian jungles with a band of missionaries lead by “El Guero” (Nacho Vigalondo), a charismatic Spaniard. When she unexpectedly witnesses and photographs El Guero committing atrocities that show him to be a psychopath not a savior, she must run for her life. Bell is a superb marshal artist and more than holds her own against her pursuers.
“Songs My Brothers Taught Me,” written and directed by Chloe Zhao, is a coming-of-age drama about Jashaun (played by Jashaun St. John), a 13-year-old girl who lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota with her alcoholic single mom and older brother Johnny (John Reddy). When Johnny plans to leave the reservation, Jashaun is terrified of being left alone with her mother and her abusive male friends. She reaches out to the community for support. The film, which opened on March 2, is a sensitive and compassionate portrayal of a young girl stuck in very tough circumstances.
“Knight of Cups,” Terrence Malik’s latest opus, casts Christian Bale in the role of a man who’s lost his sense of identity in the image-driven celebrity culture of Los Angeles. He tries to reconnect with his inner self via affairs with different women (Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman are two of them). Malik’s slow, deliberate, introspective, pseudo-mystical style prevails. The story is a self-indulgent male fantasy about ultimately insignificant characters. Still, the ensemble works through the ambient emptiness to give good performances and Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is beautiful.
“Ava’s Possessions” is one of three femme-centric horror films opening this week. Ava (Louise Krause) is a woman who has suffered a series of demonic possessions and is trying to regain her sense of self and establish a normal life with the help of Spirit Possessions Anonymous, a 12-step program. The film plays well with moments of shock and awe, and is a powerful metaphor for all women who are the victims of rape and other forms of abuse and/or suffer from addictions.
“The Other Side of the Door,” this week’s second horror flick, follows the story of a grieving mother (Sarah Wayne Callies). She tries to reunite with her young son, recently killed in a car accident, by following an ancient ritual that threatens to break the barrier between life and death and destroy the natural order if not practiced exactly. The essential question in the tension-filled film is whether the inconsolable mother has the strength to refrain from opening the forbidden door. No spoilers here. See the movie to find out.
“Emelie,” horror flick No. 3, turns an everyday situation into a platform for terror. Parents Joyce (Susan Pourfar) and Dan (Chris Beetem), heading out to celebrate their 13th anniversary, leave their three kids with a new babysitter (Sarah Bolger), who turns out to be a sadistic psychopath. We’ve seen similar scenarios before and this one, like the others, is a parent’s worst nightmare. It teaches terror.
“They Will Have to Kill Us First,” a documentary directed by Johanna Schwartz, covers the plight of Mali’s Songhoy Blues, Khaira and other musicians who must flee their country as the ancient cities of Gao and Timbuktu fall under Sharia law, which forbids the playing of music. The film shouts about the evils of repression, and shows how the musicians are now making their way around the world, preserving their art and cultural heritage. Beautifully shot, and with a fabulous sound track, this is a must-see.
And then there’s “Trapped,” the most politically potent movie release of this week, which I flagged in an earlier column. Dawn Porter’s documentary reveals imminent threats to a woman’s right to choose, as posed by TRAP (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) laws – 288 of them – passed by conservative state legislatures. The film’s release coincides with the U.S. Supreme Court’s deliberations on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which tests the constitutionality of the TRAP laws in a court working with a vacant seat following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Stay tuned for more news and reviews of March movie openers.