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November 2014 Film Preview

November 2014 Film Preview

The month of November arrives under the
sign of the Mockingjay, promising the keenly anticipated return of Katniss
Everdeen to our screens in The Hunger
Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
. The hype has already begun, and no wonder, with
the previous Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire having reached the status
of bona fide phenomenon: the first film with a female protagonist
to top the annual US box office in forty years. Fortunately, the Girl on Fire
does not have to carry the banner for women-centric movie-making alone, as there is a varied selection of films written, directed, and/or about women set
to be released before Mockingjay lands
on November 21st. 

At the beginning of the month,
mother-and-son collaborators Heide and Christian Schwochow commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the
Berlin wall with a tale of a woman caught between East and West in
late-1970s Berlin. The screenplay for West
— written by Heide Schowchow — was nominated for Best Unproduced Screenplay
at the German Film Awards back in 2012, and the completed film made a
triumphant return there this year, with Jördis Triebel winning Best Performance
by an Actress in a Leading Role for her affecting portrayal of protagonist
Nelly.

Speaking of triumphant returns, Gugu
Mbatha-Raw is back on our screens this month, fresh from her breakout role in
director Amma Asante’s critically acclaimed Belle.
This time she stars in writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Beyond the Lights, the story of young
pop sensation Noni, who escapes the pressures of her newfound fame through the
relationship she develops with a cop assigned to her detail. Prince-Bythewood
fought hard to keep her lead — Sony were insisting a star like Beyonce play
the biracial singer, so the director severed ties with them and went
independent. The enthusiastic response the film got on the festival
circuit seems to indicate her persistence has paid off well.

Another film from a female writer-director, opening alongside Beyond the Lights, offers a very different kind of cinematic experience. Karen Leigh
Hopkins’ Miss Meadows is an
intriguing departure for Katie Holmes, who stars as the eponymous “Pulp Fiction
Mary Poppins” — a sugary-sweet elementary-school teacher who moonlights as a
vigilante.

Also on the darker side are the taut
thriller The Sleepwalker — the debut
feature from director and co-writer Mona Fastvold, which centers on a couple
whose lives are violently disrupted when past traumas are reawakened by the
sudden appearance of an unstable sister — and Jessabelle,
the latest bone-chiller from the producers of Insidious. Finally, as the month draws to a close, Jennifer Kent’s
accomplished horror film The Babadook hits
cinemas, which focuses on a single mother terrorized by a creepy picture book
that mysteriously appears on her troubled son’s bookshelf.

Although not ghosts-and-gore horror,
Josephine Decker’s two offerings, Butter
on the Latch
and Thou Wast Mild and
Lovely,
offer exquisite, disturbing portraits of female sexuality and the
fragility of sanity.

There are also four intriguing
documentary offerings this month. Brandy Burre plays herself in the docudrama Actress, which follows her attempts to
reclaim her life as an actor after having time off to start a family. Touch the Wall documents the inspiring
friendship of two Olympic swimmers — teenager Missy Franklin and veteran
competitor Kara Lynn Joyce — and their journey to the London 2012 Olympics. Remote Area Medical, meanwhile, places a
personal lens on the issue of American health care, and Pelican Dreams tracks the journey of a California brown pelican
while exploring the habits and hardships of the breed.

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

November 7 

Actress (Docudrama) 

Brandy Burre had a recurring role on
HBO’s The Wire when she gave up her
career to start a family. When she decides to reclaim her life as an actor, the
domestic world she’s carefully created crumbles around her. Using elements of
melodrama and cinema verité, Actress
is both a present-tense portrait of a dying relationship and an exploration of
a complicated woman, performing the role of herself in a complex yet familiar
story. It’s a film about starring in the movie of your life. This is what
happens when we break the rules.

Jessabelle 

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) comes face-to-face with a long-tormented spirit that has been seeking
her return — and has no intention of letting her escape.

Pelican Dreams (doc) — Directed by
Julie Irving
 

Sundance- and Emmy Award-winning
filmmaker Judy Irving (with her first film since the widely acclaimed and loved The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill) follows a wayward California brown
pelican from her “arrest” on the Golden Gate Bridge into care at a wildlife
rehabilitation facility, and from there explores the nesting grounds,
Pacific coast migration, and survival challenges of these ancient birds,
sometimes referred to as flying dinosaurs. The film is about wildness and
asks the following questions: How close can we get to a wild animal without
taming or harming it? Why do we need wildness in our lives, and how can we
protect it?

West — Written by Heide Schwochow

Three years after her boyfriend
Wassilij’s apparent death, Nelly Senff (Jördis Triebel), while living in East Germany in the
late 1970s, plots to escape from behind the Berlin wall in the hope of leaving
her traumatic past behind. However, when the Allied Secret Service begins an
investigation into Wassilij’s disappearance, Nelly must decide between finding
out the truth about her former lover and her dreams of a better future. 

November 14 

Beyond the Lights — Written and
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
 

Beyond
the Lights
is the story of Noni (Gugu
Mbatha-Raw), the music world’s latest superstar. But not all is what it seems,
and the pressures of fame have Noni on the edge — until she meets Kaz Nicol
(Nate Parker), a young cop and aspiring politician who’s been assigned to her
detail. Drawn to each other, Noni and Kaz fall fast and hard, despite the
protests of those around them who urge them to put their career ambitions ahead
of their romance. But it is ultimately Kaz’s love that gives Noni the courage
to find her own voice and break free to become the artist she was meant to be.

Butter on the Latch — Directed by
Josephine Decker
 

A deeply subjective, mysterious, and
erotic portrait of a frantic young woman, Sarah (Sarah Small), who leaves the
city for the apparent safety of a Balkan music camp hidden deep in the
California woods. Once there, she reconnects with a former friend, Isolde
(played by Korean-American puppeteer Isolde Chae-Lawrence) and does some
hilariously foul-mouthed female bonding — until she finds herself growing
attracted to a hunky male camper, Steph (Charlie Hewson). Gradually, her
already frayed grip on reality starts to unravel, as cinematographer Ashley
Connor’s superb, disorienting camerawork and the swirling Balkan music become
darker and more disorienting. Her personality finally shatters in a moment of
transcendent violence that causes us to question whether we too have become
lost in the deep, impenetrable forest of fear and desire.

Delusions of Guinevere — Directed and
Co-Written by Joanna Bowzer

Former child star, Guinevere James (Ariana Bernstein), is
29, overweight, and washed up. She spends night after lonely night on social
media sites like Facebook in a vain attempt to make her life bigger than it
seems. She also spends time “FaceStalking” her former co-star, Cadence Stone (Annalaina Marks),
who has blossomed into a model-esque A-lister at the top of the game. When
Guinevere receives an invitation to a 20th-anniversary special for her
signature Gelee commercials, she heads to the event ready for her big comeback, only to have her hopes dashed when no one shows up. Guinevere doesn’t stick
around until the end of the event, but when she gets home, she learns that Suzy
Hazelwood (Lauren Boyd), another former co-star turned drug addict, has died from an overdose,
prompting Guinevere to question, “What if I don’t get to do what I set out to
do?” With that, Guinevere chooses to take any means necessary to get back on
top. Finally, after uploading a series of Youtube videos in an attempt to gain
new fans, Guinevere becomes a social-media darling when one of her videos goes
viral and starts an Internet sensation called Breakfast at
Guinevere’s. However, when her new celebrity reaches a new ceiling, she begins
to push the limits of her desire for fame, consequently destroying her familial
relationships and friendships in her quest to regain the success she thinks she
deserves.

Miss Meadows — Written and Directed by
Karen Leigh Hopkins

Miss Meadows (Katie Holmes) is a schoolteacher who arrives in a new town every year. She may have impeccable manners
and grace, but she is not entirely what she appears to be. Underneath the
candy-sweet exterior hides a gun-toting vigilante. Her mission is to right the
wrongs in this cruel world by whatever means necessary.

Thou Wast Mild And Lovely — Directed by
Josephine Decker

Indie icon Joe Swanberg delivers a
beautifully understated performance as Akin, a soft-spoken farmworker who takes
a summer job working for the belligerent, domineering Jeremiah (Robert
Longstreet), who lives in incestuous isolation with his daughter. Sophie
Traub’s performance as the daughter, Sarah, has the sun-dappled quality of one
of Andrew Wyeth’s Helga paintings: hers is a completely innocent and
destructive sexuality, overripe to the point of bursting. Decker’s vision of
Paradise Lost — dew clinging to a spider’s web, the insistent hum of insects, a
young girl writhing on the grass — is unforgettably poetic and erotic, and
seems to echo down from ages past.

November 21 

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night — Written
and Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour

Strange things are afoot
in Bad City. The Iranian ghost town, home to prostitutes, junkies, pimps and other sordid souls, is a bastion of
depravity and hopelessness where a lonely vampire (Sheila Vand) stalks its most unsavory
inhabitants. Cinema’s first Iranian vampire western, Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut
feature basks in the sheer pleasure of pulp. A joyful mash-up of genre,
archetype, and iconography, its prolific influences span spaghetti westerns,
graphic novels, horror films, and the Iranian New Wave. Amped by a mix of
Iranian rock, techno, and Morricone-inspired riffs, its airy, anamorphic,
black-and-white aesthetic and artfully drawn-out scenes combine the simmering
tension of Sergio Leone with the weird surrealism of David Lynch.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 

The worldwide phenomenon of The Hunger Games continues to set the
world on fire with The Hunger Games:
Mockingjay – Part 1
, which finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in
District 13 after she literally shatters the games forever. Under the
leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the advice of her trusted
friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta (Josh
Hutcherson) and a nation moved by her courage.

The Sleepwalker — Directed and
Co-written by Mona Fastvold
 

A young couple, Kaia and Andrew (Gitte Witt and Christopher Abbott), are
renovating Kaia’s secluded family estate. Their lives are violently disrupted by the unexpected arrival of Kaia’s sister, Christine (Stephanie Ellis), and her fiancé, Ira (Brady Corbet).

November 28

The Babadook — Written and Directed by
Jennifer Kent 

Six years after the violent death of
her husband, Amelia (Essie Davis) is at a loss. She struggles to discipline her “out of control” six-year-old, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a son she finds impossible
to love. Samuel’s dreams are plagued by a monster he believes is coming to kill
them both. When a disturbing storybook called “The Babadook” turns up at their
house, Samuel is convinced that the Babadook is the creature he’s been dreaming
about. His hallucinations spiral out of control, and he becomes more unpredictable
and violent. Amelia, genuinely frightened by her son’s behavior, is forced to
medicate him. But when Amelia begins to see glimpses of a sinister presence all
around her, it slowly dawns on her that the thing Samuel has been warning her
about may be real.

Remote Area Medical (doc) — Co-Directed
by Farihah Zaman
 

During the US debate about healthcare
reform, the media — reporters and news crews and filmmakers — failed to put a
human face on what it means to not have access to healthcare. Remote Area Medical fills that gap: It is a film about people, not policy. Focusing on a
single three-day clinic held in the Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, Remote Area Medical affords us an insider’s perspective on the ebb and flow of the
event — from the tense 3:30 AM ticket distribution that determines who gets
seen to the routine check-ups that take dramatic turns for the worse, to the risky
means to which some patients resort for pain relief. We meet a doctor who also
drives an 18-wheeler, a denture maker who moonlights as a jeweler, and the
organization’s founder, Stan Brock, who first imagined Remote Area Medical
while living as a cowboy in the Amazon rainforest, hundreds of miles from the
nearest doctor. But it is the extraordinary stories of the patients, desperate
for medical attention, that create a lasting impression about the state of
modern health care in America. 

Touch the Wall (doc)

Touch
the Wall
is the story of two Olympic swimmers
— gold-medalist Missy Franklin and silver-medalist Kara Lynn Joyce — and
their journey to the 2012 London Olympics. When the veteran Joyce joins
teenager Franklin and her age-group swim club, everything changes. The veteran
Kara finds a new start and a world-class training partner; Missy finds a
veteran and older sister to learn from. Together they train, compete, and
support each other until the pool becomes too big for the two of them. Thrown
apart by coach and circumstance, they reunite at Olympic Trials to redefine
what it means to win.

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