(WOMENSENEWS)— "Sweet Bean," written and directed by Naomi Kawase, centers around a small pancake kiosk in a Tokyo residential neighborhood. The rather sullen manager (Masatoshi Nagase) barely communicates with his regular patrons, including teenage girls and other locals. Things change when an oddly engaging elderly lady (Kirin Kiki) comes along and asks him for a job. At first he sends her away but the next day she returns with a sample of her homemade jam. It’s her treasured recipe — one that involves listening to the beans – and it’s so surprisingly delicious that he hires her on the spot. The shop’s popularity soars and the manager and elderly woman develop a mutually respectful and healing relationship. But complications arise when the shop’s owner suspects that the old woman, whose hands are obviously crippled, has leprosy – still a fear-producing stigma, although the disease has been cured – and demands that she be sent away. The situation is heartbreaking and this profoundly humane and poetic film is a must see.
"The Little Prince," co-written by Irena Brignull, is the first animated feature based on the Antoine de Saint-Exupery classic, and it presents a delightfully feminist twist on the iconic coming of age fantasy. Here, a young girl (voiced by Mackenzie Foy) is introduced to the wondrous adventures of "The Little Prince" and discovers her own imagination – through which she is able to escape the windup minute-by-minute schedule established by her mother, who is bent on preparing her for the pressures of the real world. The film’s marvelous animation, which incorporates Saint-Exupery’s original drawings, makes it a beautifully realized homage to a literary masterpiece. Don’t miss!
"Krisha" is Trey Edward Shults’ disturbing semiautobiographical film about a family’s Thanksgiving reunion. Krisha (played by Krisha Fairchild, Shults’ aunt in real life) arrives the Texas home of her sister (Robyn Fairchild) after a 10-year absence. At first Krisha lends a hand with meal prep and starts catching up with the assembled relatives. But there’s tension in the air, and it’s clear some past transgressions need to be addressed. No spoilers. With its fascinating collection of characters – and with some of them playing themselves ) — the film is an unusual and intensely engaging family drama, with women in forceful and pivotal roles.
"The Brainwashing of My Dad" is filmmaker Jen Senko’s insightful documentary about how hate mongering by the media has transformed her once politically moderate father into a right wing radical. The film is a fascinating exploration of personal family dynamics and a probing essay on the media’s profound and widespread influence on contemporary politics and culture.
"Thank You For Playing," a documentary co-directed by Malika Zouhali-Worrall and David Osit, follows video game designer Ryan Green and his family as they cope with their young son Joel’s advancing cancer. Green developed an innovative video game called "That Dragon, Cancer" that allowed his family to chronicle, discuss and act out scenarios relevant to their real life situation and to cope with grief. Often video games teach players to score in scenarios of consumption or killing. This one shows the capacity of modern technology to provide comfort and aid understanding.
"Allegiant" is part one of the third installment in the femme-centric "Divergent" franchise. It pushes Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) beyond the walls surrounding Chicago and into a new and daunting environment where they must do battle to save humanity. The plot fosters character development but the story spins as would be expected on the same axis as the previous "Divergent" episodes.
"Miracles From Heaven" is the second Patricia Riggen film to open theatrically within the past four months, and like last November’s "The 33," it is a truth-based tale that features a strong female protagonist who will not give up. Christy Beam (Jennifer Garner), mother of 10-year-old Anna (Kylie Rogers), pushes the medical profession to find a cure for her daughter’s rare disease, while trying to provide the girl with as normal a life as possible. The miracle of the title is that Anna has a complete and sudden remission after she falls from a tree branch – approximately three stories off the ground – and hits her head in just the right place. The accident should have killed not cured her. Nobody understands exactly what happened or how. As improbable as it may seem, this cure actually did occur. Garner’s compelling performance is the heart and soul of a convincingly inspirational film.
"The Channel," this week’s femme-centric horror flick, is about a near-death experience of quite another nature. Teenage Cassie (Kristen Stephenson Pino) is brought to the border between life and death in a horrific car crash. When she recovers, she discovers that she’s being followed by a shadowy specter from the netherworld. This improbable tale is well told, well shot and scary.
"The Bronze," co-written by and starring Melissa Rauch, is a about a former Olympics gymnast named Hope who uses her past glory to prey on her hometown, get preferential treatment and freebies. The film is a comedy, but it might have been more satisfying as a horror flick. The plot sickens when a newbie gymnast with championship potential comes to town and the fight for dominant fame and sportive preeminence is on. Okay, there are some surprise flips on the mat, and a couple of chuckles erupt, but the routine is predictable and not very appealing. Watch one of ESPN’s Nine for IX women in sports documentaries instead.
"The Program," a truth based narrative about the life and career of Lance Armstrong, is a cautionary tale about the dangers of doping in the world of competitive sports. The narrative is alarming, Stephen Frears’ direction is gripping, Ben Foster’s performance as Armstrong is chilling and the critical issue of performance enhancing drugs – by women and men – has of course ongoing relevance.
Stay tuned for more March openers next week.