Happy Monday PolicyMic readers! Welcome to the second round of our weekly movie guide, designed to help you wade through the myriad cinematic offerings out there and find something actually worth watching. It's a gloomy day here at our New York office, which may have had a slight influence on the general tenor of this week's choices — so look forward to lots of light-hearted comedies next time.
A groundbreaking debut, journey into the heart of darkness, and slapstick gangster flick make up our picks for the movies to see in theaters, stream online, or skip entirely this week.
What movies are you looking forward to seeing? Got suggestions for next week’s roundup? Let me know in the comments and on Twitter.
1. See: 'Wadjda'
What it's about: Wadjda's eponymous heroine is a spirited ten-year-old Saudi Arabian girl who becomes enamored of a green mountain bicycle. Saudi custom frowns upon women riding, but Wadjda is determined to buy the bicycle and race against her male friend Abdullah. When she hears of a Koran recitation competition at her school that carries a hefty prize, she enters in the hopes of winning the money she needs to get the freedom — er, bike — of her dreams.
Why you should see it: The circumstances of Wadjda's production are as impressive as the film itself: it is the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and is also the directorial debut of the country's first female filmmaker, Haifaa al-Mansour. This is no small feat in a place that has no movie theaters and still doesn't allow women to vote or drive.
Beyond being a groundbreaking cultural artifact (with the potential to make a cultural thunderclap should it be shown on Saudi television), Wadjda has been charming audiences through its moving, nuanced look at women's lives in a world that affords them few freedoms. Endearing yet poignant, subversive yet respectful, Wadjda paints a realistic portrait of what Saudi society is like — while also giving hope for what it may become.
If you'd like to learn more about Wadjda, check out PolicyMic’s interview with Haifaa al-Mansour.
Directed by Haifaa al-Mansour.
Starring Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah, and Abdulrahman al-Guhani.
In select theaters now.
2. Stream: 'War Witch'
What it's about: Filmed on location in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, War Witch tells the story of a young girl, Komona (played by newcomer Rachel Mwanza), who is kidnapped by guerillas at the age of twelve and forced to become a child soldier. Thrust into a world of unspeakable brutality, Komona finds solace in her blossoming relationship with a boy named Magician. The two manage to escape the rebels' clutches for a time, only to be forced to later confront the ghosts of their past.
Why you should see it: Given its grim subject matter, War Witch is understandably harrowing. But the film is also filled with tender moments of magic, love, and beauty that deserve to be seen. Canadian filmmaker Kim Nguyen spent ten years researching for the drama, and manages to capture the brutal reality of this world seen through a child's eyes without any hint of condescension. War Witch was Canada's entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Academy Awards, and Mwanza — who reportedly had been unable to read or write before being cast — won the award for Best Actress at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.
3. Skip: 'The Family'
What it’s about: Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro) is a former mobster who has been relocated to a sleepy French village with his family as part of the witness protection program. The Manzonis may have run from the crime lords they snitched on, but they can’t run away from the fact that they are all murderous maniacs. Zany antics ensue.
Why you should skip it: The problem with The Family is that it has no idea what kind of movie it wants to be. Dark comedy? Gruesome gangster tale? Family-friendly fun? Consistently uneven in tone, The Family's tired mashup of blood, gags, and sap falls flat on all fronts.
It also has a disappointing lack of blue alien divas for a Luc Besson movie.
Directed by Luc Besson.
Starring Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, and Dianna Agron.
In theaters now.