(WOMENSENEWS)— “Eva Hesse,” Marcie Begleiter’s comprehensive documentary about the life and times of the famous sculptor, is a fascinating glimpse into the culture and ambience of New York and Germany during the 1960s. Hesse, whose monumental works created a new vocabulary of images and aesthetics, was on an adventure of discovery of her own feminist mystique. Given that she is seen in some circles as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, it’s high time her personal expressions of abstract exoticism and her ground-breaking contributions to modern culture be recognized and honored. This fine documentary takes you on her journey, and it’s a trip well worth taking. Meet “Eva Hesse” and be inspired.
“Gayby Baby,” another compelling documentary also opening April 29, takes a look at modern family life through the eyes of four children who are being raised by same-sex parents in Australia. Gus has two moms, as do Ebony and Matthew. Graham is being raised by two dads. At age 12, each of the children is facing the questions of their own developing sexuality, while trying to negotiate societies that don’t always understand or accept their family’s lifestyle. Director Maya Newell, who was raised by two moms, shows great understanding and compassion for her subjects. The film is a remarkably respectful and intimate profile of these kids’ concerns and their burgeoning – and often very wise – social observations.
“Kiki,” directed by Sara Jordenö in collaboration with Twiggy Pucci Garcon, who also appears in the film, is an intimate documentary about New York’s “ballroom” community, part of a longstanding LGBTQ subculture that has branches across the United States. Following several lead characters, including Twiggy, the film focuses on the supportive environment LGBTQ youth find in the community, which stages spectacular balls in which they compete for trophies for “vogueing” or dancing with a particular and very showy posturing style. The characters are truly engaging. The dancing is fantastic. The film is a terrific treat.
“A Beautiful Planet” is filmmaker Toni Meyers’ look at Earth and its place in the universe from the perspective of the International Space Station. Narrator Jennifer Lawrence navigates the enthralling images for us, presenting an inspiring overview of our planet’s wonders and a poignant plea to take care of them for future generations. It’s a powerful presentation and a really good guide for awakening awareness in kids.
“The Wait” stars Juliette Binoche as Anna, who is grieving her son’s death when the boy’s girlfriend, Jeanne (Lou de Laâge), arrives for a prearranged visit at the family’s rural Italian villa. Anna tells Jeanne that the boy will be home in a few days, rather than acknowledging his death. Co-written by Ilaria Macchia, it is beautifully shot. But the drama is ponderous and the exploration of Anna’s psychological state is over-steeped in religious imagery and symbolism. Nonetheless, Binoche and de Laâge play off each other brilliantly, making the film a compelling watch. In Italian with English subtitles.
“The American Side,” directed and co-scripted by Jenna Ricker, is a noir-ish mystery thriller with an improbable but engaging plot about a gumshoe’s accidental discovery of a conspiracy to build a world-changing invention that happens to be the product of the fertile mind of physicist Nicholas Tesla (1856-1943). Set in Buffalo, New York, on the American side of Niagara Falls, the film’s strength is in its quirky references to other noir films that will no doubt delight genre fans. (It opened April 28.)
“3rd Street Blackout,” a quirky big screen sitcom, is co-directed and co-written by standup comedian Negin Farsad and Jeremy Redleaf, who also star as a socially awkward couple. The film’s slight plot covers an overnight in which the nerdy duo is deprived of electronic diversions by a blackout throughout New York City. When their cell phones run out of juice, they must bask in the glow of each other. This is a well-intentioned indie venture, but it lacks cinematic finesse; everything from the acting to the camera work fails to impress.
“Ratchet & Clank,” this week’s save-the-galaxy animation adventure, puts Jericca Celand at the helm with Kevin Munroe. The plot is standard nerd-turned-hero triumphs against the monsters stuff, but the animation is colorful and the characters appealing – especially for kids.
“Sacrifice,” a femme-centric scarer, stars Radha Mitchell as a doctor who, following a miscarriage, moves to the Shetland Islands with her husband for a fresh start. They plan to adopt a child. Instead she gets caught up in trying to solve the murder of a young woman whose body has been carved up and marked with ancient runes. The case leads her to suspect that the islanders belong to an ancient cult that still sacrifices humans. Based on Sharon Bolton’s eponymous novel, the film is a gripping psychological thriller.
“Pali Road,” co-written by Victoria Arch, is another thriller about a female doctor on an island. Lily (Michelle Chen), who is doing her medical residency in Hawaii, falls in love with a local teacher (Jackson Rathbone) but is also being courted by her boss (Sung Kang). She’s Chinese, and is facing cross-cultural pressures from her parents, her boss and her local love. A car crash puts her into a coma, she wakes up in circumstances she doesn’t remember and questions everyone and everything around her to try to find her reality. The plot is gripping and the film does it justice.
“Grandma’s House,” an African American family drama, is producer/writer Kimberley T. Zulkowski’s truth-based tribute to her grandmother Margie Ree Harris (Loretta Devine), who took her in when she was a child, raised her and guided her through the transition to womanhood. As it deals with relationship and community issues, the narrative is so full of love, inspiring affirmations, personal faith and wisdom that it sometimes seems a bit treacly, but Devine is, as always, divine.
“Love Different” is a cross-cultural comedy in which Lindsey Walker (Jenn Gotzon), a white woman from an all-white small town, is hired by an African American consulting firm, and is given a crash course in black culture. Written and directed by Anthony Hackett, who co-stars as Lindsey’s culture guide, the film is hilariously deadpan and manages to satirize stereotyping without stepping into it.
From the movie mainstream, there’s the just-in-time release of “Mother’s Day” (it’s on May 8 this year), a Garry Marshall comedy starring Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson and Julia Roberts. It’s femme-centric, cute and cliché. There are better ways to celebrate.
Stay tuned for movie news and reviews of May openers.