(WOMENSENEWS)—If you’re in the mood for an edge-of-your-seat thriller this week, go see “The Neon Demon,” which opens today. It’s Nicholas Winding Refn’s latest film, a femme-centric foray into the high stakes glam realm of modelling. Elle Fanning stars as Jesse, a magnetic young beauty who comes to L.A. to find her way on to the city’s fashion runways, and is immediately picked by the city’s fashionistas to be groomed as the next “it” girl. She instantly becomes the target of envy-driven rivals who’ll stop at nothing to stop her ascent to stardom. No spoilers here, but suffice it to say that the story, co-scripted by Mary Laws and Polly Stenham with Winding Refn, is cunning and ripe with shockers. The film is fashion forward, a slickly stylized, cinematically stunning and tightly edited entertaining tour de force.
“The Shallows” is an unusual femme-centric action thriller with Blake Lively starring as a highly skilled swimmer and surfer who is attacked in shallow waters by a great white shark. She manages to escape from immediate danger by climbing onto a small rock outcropping but gets trapped there by the shark who circles her little island of safety. Other swimmers who don’t hear her shouts of warning enter the water and are done for. She is about 200 yards from the safety of the shore, and must decide whether to swim for it, wait for possible rescue or risk that a rising tide will give the menacing predator access to her perch. The scary setup is definitely plausible. Lively is on top of her game and the cinematography – including underwater shots — is superb. This film also opens June 24.
“Septembers of Shiraz” is a drama about a Jewish family living in Iran who must abandon their home and treasures to escape from Shiite fundamentalists who will incarcerate or kill them. Salma Hayek, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Adrien Brody star in this riveting cinema adaptation of the novel by Dalia Sofer, who co-scripted with Hanna Weg. It’s a story about people fighting for their rights and dignity in the face of extremist adversity. Not an easy watch, but a must-see.
“The Last Treasure Hunt” is a drama in which a brother and sister whose lives have taken them in different directions are brought together by their estranged father’s last will and testament. The will suggests they will find something significant at the end of a treasure hunt that they must pursue together. The scenario, co-written by Kate Murdoch, gives them lots of opportunity for emotional reconciliation as they explore clues guiding them through their father’s remote old house and its surroundings. Nothing sinister happens, and there are no demons popping out of the bushes. Instead, the compelling drama is in the relationship between sister and brother and how it changes during the course of the hunt. Well done! It opened June 21.
This Week’s Documentaries
Many of this week’s documentaries are about sex matters. “Nuts!,” directed by Penny Lane, brings to light the twisted life story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley (1885-1942). The self-promoting Texas quack and media mogul built his own hospital complex and a million-watt radio station with profits from his much touted treatment of male impotence, which involved a goat testicle implant, and other absurd cure-all remedies. Brinkley was a brilliant entrepreneur who found ways to elude government prohibitions and to avoid personal accountability for his practices. The “mostly true” documentary is an entertaining hybrid that uses archival materials – Brinkley’s home movies and audio recordings – mixed with animated reenactments, many of them tongue in cheek, so to speak. For example, the film opens with animated goats having at it – even before Brinkley or the subject of erectile dysfunction is introduced. Lane’s storytelling style is clever and trendy. And this is a helluva tale that hints at the ways in which snake oil salesmen have been able to screw the American public and get away with it. It opened June 22.
“From This Day Forward” is filmmaker Sharon Shattuck’s intimate and deeply affecting personal documentary about how her family worked through a difficult transition when her transgender father came out. It happened when Shattuck was in middle school and in the midst of her emotionally challenging tween to teen years, in a conservative rural Midwestern milieu. Shattuck’s parents speak frankly about their needs and feelings, and why they chose to stay together and how they worked out their evolving relationship. The film is loving, tender and honest, and a true testament to the efficacy of tolerance. If you miss its theatrical opening, it will be televised in October on “POV.” It’s a must-see.
“How Do You Like Me Now?” deals with transgender family issues and homosexuality in quite a different way. In this documentary, Joe Dallas, author of “When Homosexuality Hits Home” and a former homosexual, offers “faith-based” counselling to those who’ve found out a spouse, child, parent or sibling is gay – and want to convince her or him to be straight. Family members testify about their concerns about gay loved ones. Heartfelt, no doubt. I don’t agree with this film’s precepts, but I’ll say it’s an interesting reveal of what’s inside the heads of these Bible-toters.
“Misconception” is documentarian Jessica Yu’s take on the vast and troubling subject of overpopulation. Yu uses experts and graphics to lay out the problem, but then focuses on three individuals who have decidedly different opinions about population control. The first is in China, where government policies have regulated childbearing. The second is a Canadian anti-choice advocate. And the third is Professor Hans Rosling, a noted statistician based in Sweden who attributes overpopulation to differences in class and education. The film doesn’t cover all facets of the very complex subject of overpopulation, its causes and impact. But it will certainly raise awareness about the worldwide problem and stimulate debate about how to work on changing it.
“T-Rex” is a documentary about the exploits of young Claressa “T-Rex” Shields, the 17-year-old boxer who wants to be the first woman in history to win a gold medal in Olympic boxing. And she’s well on her way to doing so. The film, directed by Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari, follows the aspiring champ as she trains for qualifying rounds and fights the sports establishment for recognition of her skills and intentions. Brava! “T-Rex” is a knock out.
Last but far from least, “Garn,” aka “Yarn” is a wonderfully entertaining documentary that spotlights an international roster of knitters and weavers whose principal artistic medium is yarn. The variety of their work and the myriad ways in which it is exhibited is truly astonishing. Many of the yarn artists are women, but there’s no gender discrimination in this community, which has connective threads from Iceland (where the project originated) to Poland, Cuba, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the U.K. and the United States. The beautifully crafted and colorful film is a tribute to human creativity and artistic expression.
Stay tuned for more reviews of new releases and movie news next week.