The summer blockbuster movie season may be winding to an end, but the multiplexes offer a refreshingly diverse selection of films by and about women for August. The month blasts off (literally) with the Marvel franchise’s newest release, Guardians of the Galaxy, co-written by Nicole Perlman — the first entry from the studio penned by a woman. Given Marvel’s track record, it’s likely to draw in box-office gold with its story of space criminals-turned-unlikely heroes. A few days later Mercenaries hits the big screen, a low-budget, all-female answer to the testosterone-fueled The Expendables 3.
Next we turn to more indie fare, as Sarah Spillane’s Around the Block chronicles the struggles of a passionate theatre instructor (Christina Ricci) teaching Shakespeare to inner-city Australian students. Also on August 1, director Zoe Quist offers a two-for-one deal with Raw Cut, her feminist take on the serial killer genre.
While Quist sees slash, writer-director Cherien Dabis sees clash — of culture, that is, in May in the Summer, when May Brennan (Dabis) brings her Muslim fiance home to Jordan to meet her Christian family.
In Abuse of Weakness issues of sexuality take priority as a filmmaker incapacitated by a recent stroke (Isabelle Huppert) falls for the con man helping her complete her current project. Body and age are also highlighted in The Congress, when a retiring actress (Robin Wright) allows the movie industry to create a digital version of herself for future films.
Aiming to attract adolescent audiences, the adaption of the popular young-adult novel If I Stay features Chloe Grace Mortez trapped in an out-of-body experience while hovering on the brink of death. Jessabelle also offers glimpses of the supernatural on August 29, with the titular character confronting a vindictive ghost from her past. Likewise, director Helene Cattet’s The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears explores the psychology of one man’s mind after the disappearance of his wife, and The Maid’s Room follows Drina (Paula Garces), maid to a wealthy family and witness to a murder.
Finally, in a change of tone, the month closes on the family-centered comedy Last Weekend, starring Patricia Clarkson.
While fiction dominates, there’s no shortage of compelling documentaries, beginning with Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo’s Rich Hill on August 1, a ruthless illumination of urban poverty in the Midwest. Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam investigate a Chinese Internet-addiction rehab facility in Web Junkie, while Allison Berg co-directs a look at the real-life man who inspired Dog Day Afternoon with The Dog. In two more biographies, Jennifer M. Kroot paints an intimate portrait of beloved actor George Takei from his young life in a Japanese-American internment camp to his current international fame, while Fifi Howls from Happiness follows the tribulations and works of the “Persian Picasso,” Bahman Mohassess.
Here are the August films written, directed, and/or about women. All descriptions are from press materials unless otherwise indicated.
Around the Block — Written and Directed by Sarah Spillane
Around the Block is a story about American Dino Chalmers–an edgy and charismatic drama teacher with a passion for Shakespeare. When the opportunity arises for her to work at a school in inner Sydney, she embraces the chance to introduce the magical world of theatre as an alternative to life on the tough streets of Redfern, Sydney, Australia. The story centres on the developing relationship between Chalmers and Liam, a sixteen-year-old urban Aboriginal boy who lives ‘around the block’ in Redfern. As well as presenting Liam with an alternative to life on the tough streets of Redfern, Chalmers’ American idealism becomes a counterpoint for racial tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The film provides an intimate insight to Redfern, a third world ghettotown that exists in the middle of an otherwise illustrious city, provoking an emotional and engaging journey towards a hope and the future.
Rich Hill (doc) – Co-Directed by Tracy Droz Tragos
Rich Hill, Missouri (population 1,393) could be any of the countless small towns that blanket America’s heartland, but to teenagers Andrew, Harley and Appachey, it’s home. As they ride their skateboards, go to football practice, and arm wrestle their fathers, they are like millions of other boys coming of age the world over. But faced with unfortunate circumstances – an imprisoned mother, isolation, instability, and parental unemployment – adolescence can be a day-to-day struggle just to survive. With no road map and all evidence to the contrary, they cling to the hope that hard work will be rewarded and even they can live the American dream. Spending a year with these boys and their families, homegrown Missouri filmmakers Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo craft a tale that is cinematically rich and exquisitely intimate, and put a human face on rural poverty in a respectful and artistic way. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, Rich Hill is an irresistibly moving examination of the challenges, hopes and dreams of rural America’s youth.
Raw Cut — Directed by Zoe Quist
When Adam Cohen invites his best college friends, Jack and Amanda, to his new Wyoming home for a week’s getaway to meet his new fiancée, Stephanie, the two couples get much more than the peace and solitude they were hoping for. Stephanie asks for help with her thesis film, a ‘found footage’ piece. The friends are going to play-act a traditional horror story: two ingénues are stalked and murdered by two crazed hillbillies. But who is stalking whom? How far are we willing to go for our art? How much will people take before they burst? Raw Cut explores the meta world between found footage and reality. What starts as a traditional horror film turns into something far darker, more suspenseful. How well do any of the friends really know each other? And who will survive the cut?
Guardians of the Galaxy — Co-Written by Nicole Perlman
An action-packed, epic space adventure, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, where brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits–Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon; Groot, a tree-like humanoid; the deadly and enigmatic Gamora; and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand–with the galaxy’s fate in the balance.
Web Junkie (doc) — Directed by Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam
China is the first country to label “Internet addiction” a clinical disorder. With extraordinary intimacy, Web Junkie investigates a Beijing rehab center where Chinese teenagers are deprogrammed, focusing on three teens, their parents and the health professionals determined to help them kick their habit.
The Dog (doc) — Co-Directed by Allison Berg
An intimate portrait of the vivacious John Wojtowicz, the inspiration behind Al Pacino’s character in Sidney Lumet’s Oscar (R)-Nominated Dog Day Afternoon. Coming of age in the 1960s, John Wojtowicz took pride in being a pervert. His libido was excessive even by the libertine standards of the era, with multiple wives and lovers, both women and men. In August, 1972, he attempted to rob a Brooklyn bank to finance his lover’s sex reassignment surgery. The attempted heist resulted in a fourteen-hour hostage situation that was broadcast on TV. Three years later, Pacino portrayed his character instigating the unforgettable crime on the big screen. The award-winning film had a profound influence on Wojtowicz, and when he emerged from prison six years later, he became known as “The Dog.” Filmed over the course of a ten-year period by co-directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren, and interweaving extraordinary archival footage on the robbery, 70s era interviews and the early gay liberation movement in which “The Dog” played an active role, the documentary captures the many sides of John Wojtowicz’s larger- than-life persona: he is by turns lover, husband, soldier, lover, activist, New Yorker, mama’s boy and bank robber.
Fifi Howls from Happiness (doc) — Directed by Mitra Farahani
Mitra Farahani’s lyrical documentary explores the enigma of provocative artist Bahman Mohassess, the so-called “Persian Picasso,” whose acclaimed paintings and sculptures dominated pre-revolutionary Iran. Irreverent and uncompromising, a gay man in a hostile world, Mohassess had a conflicted relationship with his homeland-revered by elites in the art scene and praised as a national icon, only to be censored later by an oppressive regime. Known for his iconoclastic art as well as his scathing declarations, Mohasses abandoned the country over 30 years ago for a simple, secluded life in Italy.
The Maid’s Room
Set entirely on the posh east end of Long Island (where it was filmed), The Maid’s Room centers around Drina, an attractive, intelligent immigrant who takes a job for the season as live-in maid to the Crawfords, a privileged New York family who maintain a splendid home in the Hamptons. The job could be worse, since Mr. and Mrs. Crawford spend most of their time in the city, but their teenage son, Brandon, who is starting Princeton in the fall, is summering at the beach, and Drina must look after him and his spoiled friends. Since the maid’s room is next to the garage, Drina can’t help noticing when when Brandon returns late one night, noisily and obviously drunk. The next day, she sees that Brandon’s car is battered and bloodied and, when she reads in the local paper that there has been a fatal hit and run, it’s clear who’s responsible. Knowing the Crawfords will do anything to protect their precious son, Drina realizes that, for once, she has some power over her employers. Though the situation is intoxicating, it also places her in far more danger than she imagines.
A diplomatic official is captured and imprisoned while touring a war zone, so a team of elite female commandoes is assembled to infiltrate a women’s prison for a daring rescue.
Abuse of Weakness — Written and Directed by Catherine Breillat
Inspired by director Catherine Breillat’s (Fat Girl, Romance) true life experiences, her latest film, Abuse of Weakness, is an exploration of power and sex. Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher, 8 Women) stars as Maud, a strong willed filmmaker who suffers a stroke. Bedridden, but determined to pursue her latest film project, she sees Vilko (Kool Shen), a con man who swindles celebrities, on a TV talk show. Interested in him for her new film, the two meet and Maud soon finds herself falling for Vilko’s manipulative charm as their symbiotic relationship hurtles out of control.
May in the Summer — Written and Directed by Cherien Dabis
To all appearances, May Brennan has it all–intelligent, gorgeous, the recipient of rave reviews for her recently published book and set to marry her loving fiancé Ziad, a distinguished New York scholar. But immediately upon returning to her familial hometown of Amman, Jordan for the wedding, the cracks in her seemingly perfect life begin to show. Her headstrong, born-again Christian mother Nadine disapproves of Ziad, a Muslim, firm in her decision to not attend the ceremony. Her sisters Dalia and Yasmine revert to behaving like rebellious teenagers. And her estranged father Edward, newly remarried, awkwardly attempts to make amends. Confronted with the wounds of her parent’s long-broken relationship, coupled with the unavoidable clash of old-world and modern values, May is lead to question the direction her life is taking. Soon, her once carefully structured world appears to unravel as she grapples with her own truths.
To Be Takei (doc) — Directed by Jennifer M. Kroot
Over seven decades, actor and activist George Takei boldly journeyed from a WWII internment camp, to the helm of the starship Enterprise, to the daily news feeds of five million Facebook fans. Join George and his husband Brad on this star’s playful and profound trek for life, liberty, and love.
The Olivia Experiment — Directed by Sonja Schenk; Written by Alexandra Komisaruk
Olivia Howell is a modern-day woman–brilliant, educated, funny, but with a secret. Turns out this 27-year-old graduate student thinks her intimacy issues might actually be a sign that she is–asexual. Confused and stressed out, Olivia’s world is turned upside down when a concerned girlfriend offers to “loan” her very own boyfriend to Olivia for sex! Now with the support of her gay roommate, a lesbian friend and the digital age, Olivia embarks on a quest of exploration to understand the most basic of human mysteries: sex.
If I Stay
Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) thought the hardest decision she would ever face would be whether to pursue her musical dreams at Juilliard or follow a different path to be with the love of her life, Adam (Jamie Blackley). But what should have been a carefree family drive changes everything in an instant, and now her own life hangs in the balance. Caught between life and death for one revealing day, Mia has only one decision left, which will not only decide her future but her ultimate fate.
The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears — Co-Directed by Hélène Cattet
Dan returns home to find his wife is missing. With no signs of struggle or break-in and with no help from the police, Dan’s search for answers leads him down a psychosexual rabbit hole. The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is a bloody and taut fantasia of suspense that leaves the viewer entranced in this highly original erotic thriller.
From the mastermind producer of Paranormal Activity and Insidious comes the ghostly tale of Jessabelle. Returning to her childhood home in Louisiana to recuperate from a horrific car accident, Jessabelle (Sarah Snook of Sleeping Beauty) comes face to face with a long-tormented spirit that has been seeking her return — and has no intention of letting her escape.
More than two decades after catapulting to stardom with The Princess Bride, an aging actress (Robin Wright, playing a version of herself) decides to take her final job: preserving her digital likeness for a future Hollywood. Through a deal brokered by her loyal, long-time agent (Harvey Keitel) and the head of Miramount Studios (Danny Huston), her alias will be controlled by the studio, and will star in any film they want with no restrictions. In return, she receives healthy compensation so she can care for her ailing son and her digitized character will stay forever young. Twenty years later, under the creative vision of the studio’s head animator (Jon Hamm), Wright’s digital double rises to immortal stardom. With her contract expiring, she is invited to take part in “The Congress” convention as she makes her comeback straight into the world of future fantasy cinema.
A matriarch (Patricia Clarkson) asks her adult sons to visit their gorgeous Lake Tahoe home for a final weekend before she sells it, but it quickly becomes a comical disaster.