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June 2014 Film Preview

Features
by Inkoo Kang
June 3, 2014 11:14 AM
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Still from "Obvious Child"

With only one movie with a female protagonist opening wide, June will be a lean month for women at the multiplex, even by Hollywood standards. Despite not being a feminist, Shailene Woodley will have the carry the banner for women for the next few weeks with The Fault in Our Stars, which centers on a teenage romance between two cancer patients. (And, of course, Maleficent will still be in theaters.)

Even arthouse and indie theaters will struggle to find releases about women in June. The most prominent among them is writer-director Gillian Robespierre's debut, Obvious Child, a winsome rom com starring Jenny Slate whose bawdy comedy and abortion plotline demonstrate an unflinching embrace of the female body. Another emerging writer-director, Jocelyn Towne, offers the drama I Am I, which focuses on a young woman (played by Towne) who pretends to be her mother to get to know her dementia-suffering father better. Estranged daughters and mistaken identities also play a large role in director and co-writer Jane Weinstock, whose The Moment follows a photographer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) haunted by the death of her deceased boyfriend and attempting to bond with her grown-up daughter (Alia Shawkat). 

On the foreign front, the French drama Violette dramatizes the real-life friendship between Simone de Beauvoir and a young female writer. 

Finally, on the documentary front, a trio of social-justice stories from women directors will make their way to theaters. Jessica Vale and Nika Offenbach's Small Small Thing: The Olivia Zinnah Story tells the story of the journey to get justice for a sexually assaulted girl in Liberia. Citizen Koch, co-directed by Tia Lessin, is an expose of how the Koch brothers have warped American democracy by influencing elections left and right. Finally, Leslie Zemeckis goes back to the past in Bound by Flesh, a portrait of female conjoined twins who sued for their freedom from their sideshow contract and pursued their dignity at a huge cost. 

Here are the June films written, directed, and/or about women. All descriptions are from press materials unless otherwise indicated.

June 6

Obvious Child - Written and Directed by Gillian Robespierre

For aspiring comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), everyday life as a female twenty-something provides ample material for her incredibly relatable brand of humor. On stage, Donna is unapologetically herself, joking about topics as intimate as her sex life and as crude as her day-old underwear. But when Donna gets dumped, loses her job, and finds herself pregnant just in time for Valentine's Day, she has to navigate the murky waters of independent adulthood for the first time. As she grapples with an uncertain financial future, an unwanted pregnancy, and a surprising new suitor, Donna begins to discover that the most terrifying thing about adulthood isn't facing it all on her own. It's allowing herself to accept the support and love of others. And be truly vulnerable. Never failing to find the comedy and humanity in each awkward situation she encounters, Donna finds out along the way what it means to be as brave in life as she is on stage. Anchored by a breakout performance from Jenny Slate, Obvious Child is a winning discovery, packed tight with raw, energetic comedy and moments of poignant human honesty. Writer-director Gillian Robespierre handles the topic of Donna's unwanted pregnancy with a refreshing matter-of-factness rarely seen onscreen. And with Donna, Slate and Robespierre have crafted a character for the ages -- a female audiences will recognize, cheer for, and love.

The Fault in Our Stars

Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Elgort) are two extraordinary teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them -- and us -- on an unforgettable journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous, given that they met and fell in love at a cancer support group. The Fault in Our Stars, based upon the number-one bestselling novel by John Green, explores the funny, thrilling and tragic business of being alive and in love. 

Burning Blue - Co-Written by Helene Kvale

They have been trained to meet danger head-on, to execute vital strategic maneuvers while flying at breathtaking speeds. But after a series of fatal accidents, a close-knit squadron of male Navy pilots begins to splinter -- and becomes the focus of a criminal investigation. As a government agent digs to uncover the cause of the accidents, two of the pilots engage in a secret, forbidden relationship. Their affair is exposed... and the squadron is engulfed by an incendiary scandal that will challenge each pilot's notions of friendship, love, honor and courage.

Small Small Thing: The Olivia Zinnah Story (doc) - Directed by Jessica Vale, Produced by Nika Offenbac

This documentary begins at JFK Hospital in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, and urban center of this West African country. Olivia Zinnah is 9 years old, severely malnourished and handicapped. Her condition is life threatening. Believing her injuries to be the result of witchcraft, Olivia's mother had been hiding her for years. The doctors conclude her condition is the result of a brutal rape that took place when Olivia was 7 years old. When pressured to reveal her rapist, Olivia names her cousin. This diagnosis has severe consequences. Originally from deep in the Liberian jungle, Olivia and her mother are shunned from their tribe for seeking outside help. They are left stranded in Monrovia at the mercy of President Sirleaf's government and the international community, facing the most difficult decision of all. What price are they willing to pay for justice? 

The Moment - Directed by Jane Weinstock; Written by Gloria Norris and Jane Weinstock

After a tumultuous affair between international photojournalist Lee (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and troubled writer John (Martin Henderson) ends in John's disappearance, Lee lands in a mental hospital. While recuperating, Lee reconnects with her estranged daughter, Jessie (Alia Shawkat) and befriends Peter, a patient who bears an uncanny resemblance to her missing lover. As Lee struggles to uncover the truth behind John's disappearance, the clues lead to the last place she would ever expect.

Citizen Koch (doc) - Co-Directed by Tia Lessin

Last year, public television officials pulled $150,000 in funds they had committed to the documentary and cancelled plans for the film's broadcast premiere, as reported by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, in fear of losing the financial backing of major PBS donor David Koch, the ultra-conservative billionaire industrialist and WGBH and WNET trustee. In this stunning turn of events, Citizen Koch was effectively censored from the public airwaves. After completing one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns of all time to make up for the lost production funds, Citizen Koch is now set to hit theaters nationwide. 

The Only Real Game (doc) - Directed by Mirra Bank

A deeply stirring documentary by award-winning director Mirra Bank and narrated by Academy Award winner Melissa Leo, The Only Real Game illuminates the magic of baseball for people in a remote and troubled place. Once princely Manipur, a strife-torn border state in northeast India, defies armed insurgency, drug trafficking and HIV/AIDS through love of our national pastime. Dreams chase reality when a band of baseball-loving New Yorkers, and two Major League Baseball Envoy coaches, team up with Manipuri men, women and children to "Play Ball." With gifted women and girls among the best players -- as well as leaders of peace and justice initiatives -- this far away story brings us to the heart of the great American Game, or as Babe Ruth put it, "the only real game in the world."

The Animal Project - Written and Directed by Ingrid Veninger (Toronto & VOD)

Leo (Aaron Poole) is a mid-30s widower, single parent, and struggling acting teacher. His relationship with his teenage son (Jacob Switzer) is rocky, and he's dissatisfied with his everyday life. So, after he has an unusual and inspiring dream, he decides to shake things up by having the group of actors he teaches do something called "The Animal Project" -- whereby they will all don furry mascot suits and become "animals" in the real world. It's a long, rainy night, and not everything goes as planned. But in the process of opening themselves up to the unknown, each participant in The Animal Project not only learns something about themselves, but also has the chance to grow a little bit.

June 11

Burning Bush - Directed by Agnieszka Holland

Prague, January 1969: Czech student Jan Palach sets himself on fire to protest the brutal Soviet military crackdown following the period of political openness known as Prague Spring. Polish filmmaking great Agnieszka Holland, who was a student at the FAMU film school in Prague during this tumultuous period, vividly recreates the political and cultural zeitgeist of Czechoslovakia in the late '60s. What could have been a standard docu-drama, in the hands of this superb filmmaker, becomes a stirring, complex account of the tension that swirled around these events and set the stage for the defeat of Communism 20 years later. As a period thriller of Cold War intrigue, Burning Bush has been likened to The Lives of Others

June 13

I Am I - Written and Directed by Jocelyn Towne

I am I is the story of a young woman, Rachael (Jocelyn Towne), who meets her estranged father Gene (Kevin Tighe) at her mother's funeral. Eager to get to know her father, Rachael later tracks him down at an assisted-living home only to realize that Gene suffers from memory loss and thinks he is still a young man. He has no recollection of having a daughter and instead is convinced that Rachael is actually her mother. After trying and failing to make him remember her, Rachael eventually decides to go along with her father's delusions by pretending to be her mother in order to get to know him. Before long, Rachael is visiting Gene every day, finding new ways to bring elements from his past into their present relationship. What began as a search for understanding has become romantic and joyful, but it can't go on forever. 

Hellion - Written and Directed by Kat Candler

Writer/director Kat Candler's Hellion paints the powerful portrait of a family on the brink of dissolution set against the haunting backdrop of the refineries of Southeast Texas. Obsessed with heavy metal, dirt bike racing and partaking in the occasional act of vandalism with his band of delinquents, the behavior of 13-year-old Jacob Wilson (Josh Wiggins in his feature film debut) has begun to raise concerns around town, especially when it starts to involve his younger brother Wes (newcomer Deke Garner). While the boys' father Hollis (two-time Emmy Award-winner Aaron Paul) loves his sons, he is still reeling from the loss of their mother, spending more time drowning his sorrows at the local bar and working on his damaged beach house than being an active parent.

All Cheerleaders Die

Teenage outsider Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) is keeping some dark secrets and holding a serious grudge against the captain of the Blackfoot High football team. When Maddy joins the school's elite and powerful cheerleading squad, she convinces her new friends to help inflict her revenge. After a late-night party goes awry, their plans take an unexpected turn for the worst and all of the girls die. A sinister, supernatural power intervenes and the girls mysteriously appear at school the next day with a killer new look... and some unusual new appetites.

Violette

Violette Leduc (Emmanuelle Devos), born out of wedlock at the beginning of the 20th century, encountered Simone de Beauvoir in the post-WWII years in St-Germain-des-Pres. The intense relationship between the two women would last their entire lives, a relationship based on the quest for freedom through writing for Violette and for Simone, on the conviction that she held the fate of an extraordinary writer in her hands. 

Belle - Directed by Amma Asante, Written by Misan Sagay (UK)

There's nothing quite like Belle on the contemporary film scene -- a luxurious period film and a sweet, gentle romance that wears its smart, nuanced politics on its silk sleeves. In my review for TheWrap, I wrote of the film, "Based on the life and accomplishments of an actual 18th-century noblewoman, this warmly poignant tale of two illegitimate sisters' (Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Sarah Gadon) efforts to marry despite their social handicaps (one is dowry-less, the other half-black) offers all the passionate idealism, the precise social insights, and the delightfully sharp-tongued dialogue that recall the best of Sense and Sensibility." (Inkoo Kang)

June 27

Nothing Bad Can Happen - Written and Directed by Katrin Gebbe

Inspired by horrifying true events, Nothing Bad Can Happen follows Tore (Julius Feldmeier), a young lost soul involved with an underground Christian punk movement who falls in with a dysfunctional family who test his seemingly unwavering faith. After a chance encounter helping stranded driver Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak), where Tore manages to start his car with an apparent miracle, he is invited back to Benno's home and becomes friendly with him, his wife and two children. Before long, Tore moves into a tent in the garden and gradually becomes part of the family. However, Benno can't resist playing a cruel game designed to challenge Tore's beliefs. As his trials become more and more extreme, Tore finds his capacity for love and resilience pushed to its limits and beyond. 

Bound By Flesh (doc) - Directed by Leslie Zemeckis

This remarkable documentary tells the amazing story of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who rose to superstardom at the beginning of the 20th century as sideshow attractions, performing alongside the likes of Bob Hope and Charlie Chaplin. Ruthlessly exploited by their managers, the sisters ultimately sued for their freedom -- which they won at a terrible cost. A gripping, roller-coaster tale of showbiz tragedy, Bound By Flesh puts a touchingly human face on two outsiders who went from the lowest rungs of society to the big time and back again.

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