THE WONDERS, ARMOUR OF LIGHT, MAKING ROUNDS, OUR BRAND IS CRISIS, BARE and Other Oct 30 Openers – Reviews by Jennifer Merin

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wonders posterAlice Rohrwacher’s second feature, The Wonders, is full of mystery and fully deserves it’s title. Abigail Disney’s Armour of Light, an enlightening documentary, follows an Evangelical minister and the mother of a slain teenage son to point out the contradictions between Evangelical Christian ideology and second amendment advocacy by Evangelical Christians. Muffy Meyers’ Making Rounds follows two highly regarded cardiologists as they train young doctors to listen to patients with heart and to diagnose them at their bedsides rather than at computers. Plus reviews of Our Brand is Crisis, Bare, Top Spin and Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.

October 30

”The Wonders” is writer/director Alice Rohrwacher’s wonderfully unusual, highly evocative and profoundly affecting coming of age drama in which a teenage girl, Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu), is caught in the middle of a collision between her family’s traditional rural life style – they own and run an apiary — and trendy Italian modernism as represented by a popular reality TV show, Countryside Wonders, that comes to showcase touristic Tuscany. Fascinated by the beautiful Fellini-esque reality show hostess (Monica Bellucci), Gelsomina secretly enters the family’s artisanal honey into the show’s local product competition. The move angers her old-fashioned father and introduces distressing family discord that runs deep. Exquisitely shot by cinematographer Hélène Louvart, the film has an otherworldly quality, an aura of mystery that frames Gelsomina’s carefully understated adolescent bewilderment and curiosity with captivating beauty, moments of wonder and fascinating ambiguities Gelsomina’s coming of age story is transformed, in a way, into a metaphor for our social evolution, leading us to contemplate whether tradition – and the wonder of innocence – are sustainable in the modern world. A must see. In Italian, French and German with English subtitles.

Bare is another coming of age drama. Writer/director Natalia Leite presents the story of Sarah ((Diana Agron), a girl who’s languishing in rural New Mexico, where she meets and follows Pepper (Paz de la Huerta) a seductive drifter who leads her into a more exciting lifestyle, one that involves a road trip to Reno, performance at a strip joint, drugs and sexual liberation. The film’s edgy style is a bit self-conscious, and the sexually-driven plot is somewhat implausible. Consider “Bare” a coming of age film that’s still coming of age.

“The Armor of Light,’ directed by Abigail Disney and Kathleen Hughes, is a profoundly mature and effective documentary that elucidates the contradiction between Christian Evangelists’ pro-life crusade and their staunch support of the NRA’s advocacy for gun toting. The film follows the evolving understanding and collaboration between Lucy McBath, a Christian woman whose teenage son was shot to death in Florida by a guy who was angered by the volume of the young man’s car radio, and Evangelical minister Rob Schenck, who gradually begins to question whether relying on guns for protection just might be a denial of – or contrary to — one’s faith in God to provide protection, and who builds up his courage to present his concerns to other Evangelical ministers who are outspoken supporters of Second Amendment rights. The documentary’s thesis is reasonable, smartly impartial and non-confrontational in addressing the issues of gun control. This is a convincing film that will stimulate debate and can have a positive impact. See it. Support it. Send it to your legislators.

In “Making Rounds,’ seasoned documentary filmmaker Muffie Meyer follows two esteemed and seasoned cardiologists as they instruct interns in how to diagnose patients by listening to and examining them, rather than by relying on computers that diagnose by the input of data. During a month of filming, the camera is trained on the doctors as they visit and diagnose several patients, always reassuring them with the best and most considerate bedside manner – and all the while pointing out and explaining the patients’ symptoms to the interns and younger doctors. It’s astonishing to think that the art of bedside diagnosis is being lost, and Meyers provides hope that these two very committed physicians and this documentary might forestall its demise, and activate some sort of inherent cure for the health crisis in the U.S. The film will instruct you, too, about being a good patient by knowing what to ask for and what to expect when/if you’re hospitalized.

“Top Spin” is a sports documentary that follows three young girls who are trying to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic table tennis team. All three are talented, dedicated and ambitious athletes who’ve been active in the sport since they were wee kids. . Filmmakers Sara Newens and Mina T. Son profile the girls with on camera interviews, archival footage of their past performance and competitions, and coverage of their personal backgrounds and education. Of course, the table tennis displays are thrilling and you wind up favoring one or another of the players to make the team. But, no spoilers here, you’ll have to see the film to find out who does.

“Our Brand is Crisis,” the Sandra Bullock starrer, has garnered headlines because the lead role – a political campaign strategist — was originally written as a man, and was rewritten for Bullock. Based on Rachel Boynton’s superb 2005 documentary about campaign machinations, the narrative is a political drama punctuated by snarky humor, Bullock plays a retired campaign manager who re-enters the political fray, heading to Bolivia to work for a candidate who’s opposing the candidate whose campaign is being run by her arch rival (Billy Bob Thornton), another American import. Bullock and Thornton are terrific, but the plot is predictable and the snark doesn’t quite sizzle. The documentary is a more compelling film, and you can find it on DVD. Watch it instead.

“Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” is an outrageously silly zombie comedy scripted by Carrie Evans, Lona Williams, Emi Mochizuki and Christopher Landon. Basically, three boy scouts try to save their town from a zombie outbreak. It’s a full on gore romp, a really fun watch for Halloween, or any other time when your scouts are at liberty. That’s the tease. Nothing more need be said.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).