Yes, many eyes are now either turning to the Academy Awards on Feb. 28 or turning away in boycott over #OscarsTooWhite. But meanwhile, the new movies keep on rolling into theaters.
Two femme-centric coming-of-age adventures and one martial arts action sequel top this week’s women’s watch. The trio competes for box office with a duo of damsel-in-distress scenarios and another duo of must-see male-centric movies. That makes this a 3-in-7 column for movies worth mentioning that bolster women’s cinematic representation. Not too bad.
Let’s start with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny,” a sequel to Ang Lee’s 2000 Oscar winner. It brings martial arts heroine Michelle Yeoh back into action, again playing Yu Shu Lien, who comes out of her warrior’s retirement to protect a sacred sword with special powers from falling into the wrong hands. The pseudo-spiritual plot is a good excuse for marvelous martial arts action. And, at age 53, the ever-agile and strong-willed Yeoh defies sexism and ageism in the realm of movies. Brava!
“A Country Called Home,” a first feature from writer/director Anna Axster, stars Imogen Poots as Ellie, a drifting 20s-something who is prompted by the death of her long-estranged alcoholic father to take a sometimes tearful road trip to her Texas hometown. The plot moves along nicely but also gives Ellie the breathing space to engage emotionally with a range of characters and reevaluate her random lifestyle. You’ll take the ride with her. Fine performances by Poots and the entire ensemble, who include Mary McCormack, Mackenzie Davis and June Squibb.
“Only Yesterday” is a marvelous femme-centric coming-of-age animation feature from Studio Ghibli and legendary Japanese anime director Isao Takahata. Studio Ghibli shut down in 2014 and this film, which premiered in 1991 with the title “Omohide poro poro,” now has its first U.S. theatrical release. Thank goodness. Taeko (newly voiced by Daily Ridley) is a 20-something Tokyo office worker who takes a train ride through the Japanese countryside to visit her rural family. Along the way she reminisces and discovers how she became her present self. The film is decidedly feminist, revealing
through Taeko’s search the effects of societal restraints on girls and women. The animation provides smooth interplay between present and past, between moments of pragmatism and wonder. The result is magical. “Only Yesterday” is a must-see.
“Against the Wild: Survive the Serengeti” and “Standoff” are very different. The former is an adventure about a young brother and sister duo who face the dangers of wildlife encounters together in the African bush. The latter is a killer thriller about a good guy protecting a young girl who witnessed a murder. But here’s what these films have in common: They both star Ella Ballentine. It’s unusual for a teenage actress to open two films on the same day and her performances in both are noteworthy. If you’re picking one of the two for your kids to watch and enjoy, I recommend “Against the Wild.” Its family values trump “Standoff’s” violence and scares. Cinematography of the South African bush and wildlife is spectacular. And there’s a heroic dog.
“Eddie The Eagle” is a sports biopic about Michael “Eddie” Edwards who overcame physical disability and other seemingly insurmountable circumstances to ski jump for Britain in the 1988 Olympics. Eddie (played by Taron Egerton) is a fantastic and inspiring character who is doubted by everyone but his mother, beautifully played by Jo Hartley.
“The Last Man on the Moon” is a documentary about the life and insights of Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan. This story is fascinating. And it’s to Cernan’s credit that he – and director Mark Craig – include his wife and daughter in the film, showing the impact Cernan’s space travels had on them. The film is a must-see.
Stay tuned for reviews of March openers and news of post-Oscars debate.