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The Babadook

November 28, 2014

directed by Jennifer Kent, 2014

The Babadook

In only her first feature, writer-director Jennifer Kent shows a scary assurance and maturity in plunging headfirst into the chaotic realm of psychological hysteria with The Babadook. Inspired by her short, Monster (2005), this particular Australian surprise not only stands out in a year full of underwhelming genre offerings, but offers proof that precision and patience can go a long way in elevating even the most potentially familiar of horror yarns.

Read full review at In Review Online

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Actress

November 7, 2014

directed by Robert Greene, 2014

Actress

Opening with a tableau of a woman dressed in red, standing over her kitchen sink with her back to the camera, Robert Greene’s (Kati with an I, Fake It So Real) latest documentary, Actress, almost immediately establishes itself as a dizzying non-fiction force to be reckoned with. The woman in question is Brandy Burre, the subject of Actress, who stands still with the water running, while also clumsily toying with a glass in her right hand. Brandy’s voiceover narration in this opening passage informs us that she “tends to break things,” a recurring symbol of her fight to regain the creative outlet she’s being pining to return to for a long while for: acting. While not a particularly memorable opening shot in terms of aesthetics, this sort of stylized vérité filmmaking that offers an immediate glimpse into the headspace of a frazzled housewife is then counterbalanced by the next scene: Brandy wakes up early in the morning as any mother would and proceeds to get her two young children, Henry and Stella, ready for the day. Actress is supremely dynamic in the blending of the utterly banal with the dreamy and heightened. To watch this interplay unfold is nothing short of revelatory.

Read full review at In Review Online

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Camp X-Ray

October 29, 2014

directed by Peter Sattler, 2014

Camp X-Ray

Director Peter Sattler leads us down the path of purported empathy and compassion in his debut film Camp X-Ray, only to come up short in depicting the relationship between a female soldier assigned to Guantanamo Bay and a man she befriends who has been imprisoned there for eight years. Though the film is designed as a well-intentioned study of post-9/11 humanism between an unlikely pair, Sattler’s film mostly stays afloat not due to its forced and transparent dramatic structure, but strictly due to its two wonderful lead performances. It doesn’t take long to predict how this sort of film will resolve itself, and sure enough, Camp X-Ray refuses to take the road less traveled, resulting in a calibrated and phony act of tenderness that seems way too workshopped to consider taking serious.

Read full review at Sound on Sight

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The Equalizer

September 29, 2014

directed by Antoine Fuqua, 2014

The Equalizer

The last time director Antoine Fuqua and actor Denzel Washington teamed up, back in 2001, Washington ended up scoring a Best Actor Oscar trophy for delivering some of his best work as a manipulative and smooth-talking crooked cop in the urban thriller Training Day. Though Washington has continued to turn in solid-to-great performances since then, Fuqua has not been nearly as lucky professionally, becoming lost in the shuffle after that sturdy sophomore effort, starving for a hit or anything resembling a solid piece of entertainment. After duds like King Arthur (2004), Shooter (2007) and Olympus Has Fallen (2013), he unfortunately continues his losing streak with his latest film, The Equalizer, an unabashed and brainless banquet of vigilante brutality.

Read full review at In Review Online

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TIFF 2014: Bird People

September 15, 2014

directed by Pascale Ferran, 2014

bird people

There’s no easy way to write about Bird People without spoiling the ostensible magic and surprise it so valiantly strives for. Cut almost dead in the middle between depicting the mundane and the thrilling occurrences between two people at a modern and disconnected hotel in Paris, Pascale Ferran’s (Lady Chatterley) film aims to be ambitious and magical, but never quite comes together as it should, often feeling incomplete and insubstantial in the process. Opening with a playful prologue that includes different people on a commuter train, we quickly eavesdrop as they play on their phones, listen to music, and engage in conversation. It’s a curious way to start things off as it suggests the random importance of these brief human snippets that we drop in on but never revisit.

Read full review at Sound on Sight

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TIFF 2014: Two Days, One Night

September 12, 2014

directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2014

Two Days, One Night

Sandra (Marion Cotillard) spends the majority of Two Days, One Night knocking on the doors of her co-workers and modestly pleading with them to decline a significant pay bonus so that she can save her job and her family. Some are instantly receptive to her request while others blow her off and even resort to violence. It’s an episodic structure that is executed with measured precision and tension from master Belgian auteurs and critics-darlings Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (The Kid with a Bike). Acting as the antithesis of the hardworking, stubborn, and desperate titular character from the directing duo’s immaculate Rosetta (1999), Sandra’s glowing and unwavering empathy towards those who stand in opposition to her is the crux of her character and the streamlined grace that runs through this humbled marvel of a film.

Read full review at Sound on Sight

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TIFF 2014: Heaven Knows What

September 12, 2014

directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, 2014

Heaven Knows What

While some spectators may roll their eyes at the thought of another indie film about drug addiction, Josh and Benny Safdie’s Heaven Knows What is a horrifying and remarkable piece of cinema that feels both alarmingly alive and alien given its subject matter. Bold, raw, and severely emotive, the Safdie’s latest is another one of their standard New York tales. Far more emotionally affecting and aesthetically brazen than their first two feature-length films, The Pleasure of Being Robbed (2008) and Daddy Longlegs (2009), Heaven Knows What is one of the few films of its kind that thrives on a new kind of detail and specificity regarding its characters and their milieu.

Read full review at Sound on Sight

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