Arts &
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Vol. 15, No. 1, 2016
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nancy Snipper
Nick Catalano
Lynda Renée
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
Samuel Burd
Farzana Hassan
Betsy L. Chunko
Andrée Lafontaine
  Music Editors
Emanuel Pordes
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Film Reviews
  Bowling for Columbine
Shanghai Ghetto
Talk to Her
City of God
Magdalene Sisters
Dirty Pretty Things
Barbarian Invasions
Fog of War
Blind Shaft
The Corporation
Station Agent
The Agronomist
Maria Full of Grace
Man Without a Past
In This World
Buffalo Boy
Shake Hands with the Devil
Born into Brothels
The Edukators
Big Sugar
A Long Walk
An Inconvenient Truth
Sisters In Law
Send a Bullet
Banking on Heaven
Chinese Botanist's Daugher
Ben X
La Zona
The Legacy
Irina Palm
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Poor Boys Game
Finn's Girl
Leaving the Fold
The Mourning Forest
Beneath the Rooftops of Paris
Before Tomorrow
Paraiso Travel
Necessities of Life
For a Moment of Freedom
Blood River
By the Will of Genghis Kahn
The Concert
Weaving Girl
Into Eternity
When We Leave
Le Havre
Presumed Guilty
A Separation
Take This Waltz
Beyond The Walls
The Place Beyond the Pines
The Past
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
The Good Kill




2.5 or more for a noteworthy film
3.5 for an exceptional film
4 for a classic.

3.2 -- LA LA LAND, Damien Chazelle
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Damien Chazelle’s new musical honours the Technicolor song-and-dance classics of yesterday, although it ends up working better as a pastiche than a narrative. La La Land focuses on two striving artists, first shown stuck in traffic, who later bond over their love for show business. Mia (Emma Stone, perfectly cast) works as a barista on the Warner Bros. studio lot and occasionally shuffles off to movie auditions, with little success. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling, too seasoned for the role) dreams of opening a jazz club, but has to settle for lame side-jobs to pay the rent. When the two find a kindred passion for the arts, each tries to help boost the other’s languishing career. While Chazelle’s previous film, Whiplash, made music out of chaos, La La Land is a bit too seamless. The director films many of the musical numbers with single takes that, while technically impressive, feel controlled to a fault. The sequences don’t pop with the explosive energy as Whiplash star J.K. Simmons, who has an extended cameo here. Still, Stone and Gosling, in their third film together, have a finely tuned chemistry worth swooning over. This is perhaps the reason why the film’s most dazzling show-stoppers are the ones where both stars play naturally off the other. Meanwhile, the musical has some finer points to make about the paradoxes of Hollywood, a place that worships everything and values nothing, as one character espouses. Chazelle understands how much of Los Angeles consists of shiny neon trying to sparkle up the facades of ragged, century-old buildings, to the point that he’s made a film that works as its own extended metaphor. Expect Academy voters, who have indulged in other postmodern tributes to the power of entertainment (Birdman, The Artist), to eat it up.

2.7 -- LION, Garth Davis
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Eight years after an 18-year-old Dev Patel captured our attention in Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle’s intoxicating and fantastical lensing of India told through flashbacks of Patel’s winsome protagonist as a boy, the British actor stars in a film that could have worked better with that film’s jumpy temporal structure. Instead, director Garth Davis, making his narrative feature debut, and scribe Luke Davies tell the true story of Saroo Brierley chronologically. In Lion’s superior first half, we meet young Saroo (Sunny Pawar, who ably carries the drama on his petit shoulders). One morning, the boy awakens on a train travelling hundreds of miles away from his mother and older brother in rural India, and ends up stranded in Calcutta. Unable to speak the regional Bengali, Saroo scavenges by the river and lands up in an orphanage. Soon, an Australian couple, Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham), adopt the beaming Indian boy. The drama’s second half, with Patel as university-age Saroo, lacks the energy and vivid specificity of the first. Here, Saroo, haunted by feelings of abandonment toward the Indian family he hasn’t seen in years, tries to track them down. Google Earth becomes his tool of choice, although the filmmakers don’t quite know how to dramatize Saroo’s scrolling and searching. Patel’s deeply expressive face is left to do much of the heavy lifting. After chronicling the boy’s riveting adventures of adversity, Davis and Davies try too hard to fit in subplots belonging to the film’s supporting characters, and thus rely on telling more than showing. Kidman’s monologues as the protective adoptive mom do little except acknowledge her role as Saroo’s white savior. Co-starring Rooney Mara in a thankless supporting role as Lucy, the protagonist’s girlfriend.

3.6 -- MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, Kenneth Lonergan
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] The third feature from playwright Kenneth Lonergan is a drama about grief and family dysfunction that manages to find enough stirring notes of levity and grace to become a staggeringly rich experience. Casey Affleck is squirrelly and often shattering as Lee Chandler, a Boston handyman making a humble wage who returns to the titular town after his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), dies from a degenerative heart condition. There, Lee is oddly reticent with his mourning – one that we later learn stems from a numbing tragedy years earlier. Lee also wants to help Joe’s son, 16-year-old Patrick (Lucas Hedges), adjust to life without a father. Yet, the boy seems more occupied with getting laid and replacing the motor on the family boat than dealing with loss. The repairman’s biggest challenge is figuring out a plan of action, after he finds out that Joe left Patrick to his custody. Lonergan’s screenplay shifts between delicate emotions and tough language. The profane bickering between Lee and Patrick, sometimes unspooling over one or two medium-long shots, has a rhythm and cadence one finds more often on the stage. The film dips into flashback naturally, giving the audience just enough information to inform the intensity of later scenes without interrupting the present-day story. Affleck, with sunken eyes and a rascally voice, is arresting as a man trying (and often failing) to be a vessel of compassion for those in his life, while Hedges is a talent worth watching. Manchester By the Sea rarely sentimentalizes; however, an overbearing score from composer Lesley Barber strains against the naturalism of the performances, ruining some of the film’s more potent scenes by drowning out the dialogue and melting the icy mood. Co-starring Michelle Williams as Lee’s estranged ex-wife and Gretchen Mol as Patrick’s mom, another estranged soul.

3.4 -- UN JOURNALISTE AU FRONT, Santiago Bertolino
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Jesse Rosenfeld is a freelance journalist from Toronto, but home for the past decade has often been a small, shoddy apartment somewhere in the Middle East. Rosenfeld bounces from Cairo to the Gaza Strip, from Istanbul to Northern Iraq, journeying to the heart of oppression and political revolution – that is, if he can find a news outlet willing to parse out a fee. (Oh, and he is also risking imprisonment and his life). Santiago Bertolino’s new doc is a tense and absorbing glimpse at various international conflicts, told through the eyes of a rigorous young journalist who is extraordinarily composed in high-risk situations. The elections and humanitarian struggles the film depicts often seem like yesterday’s news, which one can blame on the length of the film’s post-production. Yet, the plight of foreign correspondents, doing their best to network on the ground and find a willing news organization to vouch for travel expenses, is still an issue. There is some vindication when Rosenfeld ends up writing the top online story for The Daily Beast in Northern Iraq after another news outlet refuses to approve his budget to travel to that region. Bertolino’s effort to keep up with the Torontonian is also startling – especially when the two approach gunfire with a pack of Peshmerga soldiers. Rosenfeld is a captivating subject: calm, alert and intelligent. When Bertolino captures the journalist’s cynicism about Iraq toward the end, we see some of the rage and paranoia that comes as a result of the job – one that the filmmaker may have wanted to examine with more detail. Still, these are minor complaints from a frequently mesmerizing doc, a work of journalism that possesses the same unruly curiosity as its subject. This film was screened at the 2016 RIDM (The Montreal International Documentary Festival).

[reviewed by Jordan Adler] There’s an intriguing premise that sparks the new documentary from Chelsea McMullan, albeit one that doesn’t quite justify the length of an 80-minute feature. We begin with Michael and Shannon Hanmer, two Toronto-based adults in their thirties, as they talk about their late father, John. Neither got to know John much, especially the younger Shannon, before he deserted the family and fled to Thailand, where he remarried and had two more kids. The names of John’s next two offspring: Michael and Shannon. Growing up worlds away, John’s four children with the mirrored names connect on Facebook and then decide to meet in Thailand. Although this story is an oddity for three of the four kids, Shannon (the Canadian, who also serves as an associate producer for this doc) wants to know more about her father’s tragic demise. As in her previous non-fiction entry, My Prairie Home, McMullan captures striking images to depict feelings of home and away. (One of the film’s most resonating moments: a slow dissolve from an icy lake, connoting Canada, to a tropical blue sea). McMullan’s quaint observations about life in Thailand, shown in sequences bathed in humid neon, are alluring. Sadly, this offbeat tale doesn’t quite earn our undivided attention. Shannon may be interested in learning about her father’s later years, but John never comes across as a figure we’re all that interested in knowing. Unlike the Hanmer children, we never feel his absence. This results in a lack of engagement with the film’s second half, where the investigation about John’s final days takes control of the story. This film was screened at the 2016 RIDM (The Montreal International Documentary Festival).

3.4 -- KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE, Robert Greene
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] 2016 has been a strange year. Not only has it seen the release of a docu-drama about Christine Chubbuck, a determined Florida journalist who committed suicide on air in 1974, but also a documentary (of sorts) about a woman preparing to play Chubbuck in another film and wrestling with how to honour a woman whose life lives in infamy. (The fictionalized account, starring Rebecca Hall and titled Christine, comes out Nov. 25). Kate Plays Christine, the probing and thought-provoking documentary (of sorts) from Robert Greene, serves as a unique companion piece to that drama. This one focuses on indie film darling Kate Lyn Sheil, as she prepares for a starring role as the ill-fated reporter. Sheil moves to Sarasota to begin her research, digging for old newspaper excerpts of the violent incident and talking to those who may have known Chubbuck. She also buys a gun and a flowing dark brown wig – a way to both internalize and replicate the essence of this woman. Sheil has a haunted face and searching eyes, and it is fascinating to watch her progress into the role of the hardened TV reporter – a young woman that, like the 31-year-old actor, felt many private pressures in a public occupation. Eventually, the tension of having to re-enact an unspeakable act of violence begins to eat away at Sheil. Greene’s film, an insightful glimpse into the acting process, becomes a bit too clever and complex for its own good in the second half, as the line between documentary and fiction is routinely (and noticeably) crossed. Yet, its themes resonate, while Sheil’s bracing performance, a crafty merge of her own anxieties with Chubbuck’s, keeps you hooked. It should also give moviegoers pause before seeing Antonio Campos’ equally great and grueling drama about this journalistic enigma. This film was screened at the 2016 RIDM (The Montreal International Documentary Festival).

2.2 -- THE GRADUATION, Claire Simon
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Many of the best filmmakers, screenwriters and cinema craftspeople in France have studied and trained at the prestigious La Fémis film school. (Notable grads include Claire Denis, Louis Malle and Alain Resnais). With its sterling reputation, the school attracts hundreds of ambitious young filmmakers every year. That results in a grueling, multi-faceted admissions process, which includes a detailed written film analysis, an elaborate portfolio, numerous interviews and a few hours of studio time for prospective students to prove their worth. Meanwhile, some of the haughtiest of France’s film elite judge their efforts, often brutally. Documentarian Claire Simon, also a teacher at La Fémis, observes the ruthless politics. Oddly, The Graduation spends more time with the dismissive, judgmental staff, as they mock and criticize candidates after these young adults have left the room, than the aspiring students. Anyone who has sat through a tense job interview will find the post-interview commentary both amusing and repulsive. However, a doc chronicling the efforts of potential filmmakers has some notable problems with craft and structure: one wonders whether the staff would have been taken with The Graduation’s concept if a student had presented it in their portfolio. Some of the judges would undoubtedly have wondered why Simon’s film features so much discussion about projects and pupils the film’s audience doesn’t see. (Imagine an American Idol episode that contains no singing, only the judges’ remarks). However, when the doc’s final hour rarely strays from a day of student interviews, the routine becomes even more tiresome. This film was screened at the 2016 RIDM (The Montreal International Documentary Festival).

4.0 -- THE STAIRS, Hugh Gibson
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] The late Roger Ebert once said that the movies were a machine to generate empathy. Few films epitomize that ideal as much as The Stairs, a profoundly moving doc about three recovering drug addicts that also work as social workers for a health centre in Toronto’s Regent Park. Director Hugh Gibson followed the film’s three main subjects, and several others, for close to five years. The results, harsh and often hilarious, sear with blistering humanity. Marty, a motor-mouthed sweetheart who once stopped for a hit as he was heading to the hospital, tries to live each day at a time. (In one scene, he shows off the shoes and Bob Marley shirts that are among his most precious valuables – material goods that prove he is not using his pay to purchase crack cocaine). Greg, a bi-racial addict who dreams of going back to school, proudly disregards the scars on his haggard face, which came as a result of police brutality. The straight-shooting Roxanne discusses a past where she had to balance potentially unsafe sex work in the evening with being a present mother in the morning. (Like Greg, she also wants to go back to college). All of the subjects open up to Gibson with ease, and the director captures their reminiscing of bleaker times without veering into histrionic techniques. Although eager not to spare the gory details, we never pity these subjects, for their generosity and grace is miraculous to witness. Gibson resists convention at every turn, wisely letting his subjects’ incredible talking and reflecting widen our own understanding of a subject that public society tends to hide – dare we say ghettoize? – in its corners. The result is a thing of inspiring beauty: as funny, powerful and urgent as any human-interest documentary this year. This film was screened at the 2016 RIDM (The Montreal International Documentary Festival).

3.4 --  MIXED FEELINGS, Guy Davidi
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] It is no surprise that Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi (of Five Broken Cameras fame) was drawn to the story of Amir Orian, an experimental Tel Aviv playwright whose sharply left-leaning works received a galvanized public response – most of all, from the actors employed in his small company. Set mostly in 2008 and 2009, during thunderous bombing between Israel and Gaza, Mixed Feelings follows the creative work-shopping of an anti-war piece Orian writes. The author is an increasingly rare bird: a deft and provocative contrarian trying to keep his doors open as Israel’s political regime shifts to the far-right.The young actors, giving valiant efforts to embody a position they do not hold, are unsure about spouting the playwright’s words. Davidi centers much of the documentary on tense circles of dialogue, between the seasoned dramatist and the students trying to perfect their craft. Keeping many of the encounters in bracing close-ups, the filmmaker captures the raw wounds of a time when some Israelis felt betrayed by their country’s military actions, although most didn’t. The 77-minute doc resists explanation and lets us be flies on the wall for these thrilling confrontations of word and fury, and there is a connection between Davidi’s observational approach and Orian’s musings about refusing to make palatable art. Meanwhile, there is a clever metaphor involving Orian’s cracking, dilapidated apartment – the space that houses his plays – as it prepares for being demolished. This probing, powerful character-study also works as a good balance with, and bears similar themes to, Between Fences, the other RIDM premiere about an Israel-based acting troupe. This film was screened at the 2016 RIDM (The Montreal International Documentary Festival).

3.7 --  MOONLIGHT, Barry Jenkins
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] The oft-repeated question in the new triptych from director Barry Jenkins: “Who is you?” A poignant portrait of black masculinity, Moonlight soulfully captures three key chapters from the young life of Chiron, growing up in the Miami projects to a single, drug-addled mom (Naomie Harris). The drama, based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, unfolds in three sections. The first opens with the young Chiron, nicknamed Little (played by Alex Hibbert), as a pack of bullies chase him through the streets. The kids tease Chiron for his stature, but have also caught on to the boy’s queerness, which he is struggling to bring into words. The two later sections follow Chiron as a terse, curious high-schooler (Ashton Sanders) and a muscular, reformed man in his twenties (Trevante Rhodes). The three actors each have a distinct physicality, but their inward gazes and nervous poses all belong to one whole – a black gay male, questioning what it means to be black, gay and male. The delicacy and thoughtfulness of the subject matter doesn’t interfere with the pacing, which flies by due to absorbing performances. Beyond the sublime turns from Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes, Moonlight has nuanced turns from Mahershala Ali as a drug-dealing father figure and André Holland as an old friend of the protagonist. This is also 2016’s most gorgeous film, with James Laxton’s camera offering a rich sense of place and mood. Each chapter contains an excursion to the beach, each captured in shades of stormy blue, which becomes a hue of solace and melancholy for the protagonist. Like our taciturn hero, Moonlight drifts between hardness and softness, enthralling us with a character both angry and vulnerable yet not always knowing how to express these feelings. The result is a shattering character study audiences won’t soon forget.

3.1 --  BETWEEN FENCES, Avi Mograbi
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Thousands of refugees from Eritrea and Sudan have arrived in Israel, seeking a home, but are instead placed in Holot, a detention centre in the middle of the Negev desert. If these asylum seekers, overwhelmingly male, violate orders, they will either head to prison or be sent back home. The new documentary from Israeli filmmaker Avi Mograbi captures some of that solitude and stagnancy, but he frames the refugees’ struggle from an angle that should appeal to festival audiences. Much of Between Fences is improvised material from a theatre workshop that Mograbi and stage director Chen Alon ran with a small group of asylum seekers. Here, the African arrivals, given a bare workshop space, take their qualms with Israeli authorities and transform them into riveting performance pieces. The dynamics in the room are often fascinating, especially when six Israeli actors join the workshop and begin to role-play. There is a gravity and authenticity to the performances that few stage legends could replicate, and the sharp instincts of the few African actors we meet show how much these men, stuck in limbo, have absorbed the political situation around them. (They are also surprisingly fluent in Hebrew.) With just a few black stools, which become prop borders or thrones of power, the refugees create textured characters and situations. Their portrayals are moving, although Mograbi only hints at the ultimate purpose for these dramatic interventions – what else but an actual play, staged for the public at Holot. This transition from workshop to opening night is left to mere pre-credits text and feels conspicuously absent from the brief, 84-minute film.  This film was screened at the 2016 RIDM (The Montreal International Documentary Festival).

3.2 -- DARK NIGHT, Tim Sutton
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] It has been four years since a sociopathic gunman entered a late-night screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, and murdered 12. Some may wince at the thought of a docu-fiction drama exploring the build-up and resulting trauma from a mass shooting still seared in the public consciousness – and others will shudder at having to experience this horror in a cinema, of all places. Yet, despite the tough sell, Dark Night (get it?) is a haunting elegy and a stark portrait of adolescent isolation. Its striking first shot is an extreme close-up of a woman’s eyes as lights flicker from what seems to be a movie screen; then, the white light morphs into red and blue streaks, from that of a police cruiser approaching. It is not the last moment where the film connects American culture with national crimes. Similar to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, which also tackled an American tragedy four years after it happened, Tim Sutton’s film observes the activities of a few teenagers, this time during the doldrums of summer. They include Aaron, who abandons real friends for a virtual gaming community. (All of the young characters share their names with the actors.) Anna is feeling the pressure to land a modeling gig, while glassy-eyed Robert stalks a calm suburban neighbourhood with his rifle. These latter sequences chill to the bone, as do ones that break the stillness with a sharp burst of noise – from a gaggle of clicking cameras, or a screaming horde of teen girls. Sutton’s camera lingers uncomfortably on this angst – his filming of the women is especially voyeuristic. We’re left with a mood of sustained tension and unease, as if any of the characters could explode into a fit of murderous rage. This film was screened at the 2016 RIDM (The Montreal International Documentary Festival).

2.7--  GIMME DANGER, Jim Jarmusch
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] The new documentary about noisy, aggressive rock icons The Stooges features the signature blasts of wily energy the group’s devotees expect. Nevertheless, Gimme Danger is oddly restrained at parts, rarely shifting away from the linear structure and talking head dependency of an expanding 'rock doc' genre. The tension between defying expectation (as the thrashing musicians often did) and making something palatable to art-house audiences tugs even at a director like Jim Jarmusch. As the uninitiated will come to understand, The Stooges were a gleefully divergent bunch in the late 1960s and early 1970s, presenting their bashful, unpredictable stage antics as an antidote to mellow psychedelia. (At one point, frontman Iggy Pop announces that the hippie music of the period “smells.”) Much of Gimme Danger tracks the group’s formative days as a shaggy, undisciplined collective into the eventual “crazed rock circus” that ignited a raucous following and left music critics perplexed. The film spends much time with agile frontman James Osterberg, who most know by the moniker 'Iggy Pop' and for his frequent shirtless appearances. Muscular and elastic on the stage and spitting out juicy bits of trivia during sit-down interviews, Osterberg has the charisma and cocksureness to draw in those who know nothing about The Stooges. The doc also benefits from a trove of old photographs and videos of wild performances, as well as a few off-kilter animation sequences. As Jarmusch argues, The Stooges' stylings would bleed their way into the uninhibited punk of the next generation. Still, it’s not a new argument, and their disobedient cool doesn’t have enough of an effect on this straightforward chronicle.

3.0 -- IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD, Xavier Dolan
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Xavier Dolan’s new melodrama, adapted from a Jean-Luc Lagarce play, is an often-stunning case for the power of the close-up, even if the filmmaker doesn’t always have control over the story’s shortcomings. It focuses on 34-year-old Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), a playwright who has not seen his family for 12 years, returning to rural Quebec for a Sunday family reunion. Throughout, he tries to keep the main reason for his appearance – he’s terminally ill – close to his chest. A brief glimpse of this semi-dysfunctional unit makes it obvious why Louis abandoned ship. His mother (Nathalie Baye) is a garishly dressed chatterbox. Older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel) sulks in the corner, looking out the window and shuddering away from small talk. However, younger sister Suzanne (Léa Seydoux) and Antoine’s wife Catherine (Marion Cotillard) are interested in bonding with a man they barely know, hoping to make up for lost time. The Sunday afternoon keeps moving between family tenderness and hostility. Dolan shoots many of the scenes in warmly lit close-ups, giving his fine ensemble the chance to let their faces and gestures reveal what the lack of dialogue keeps submerged. (The performances are so textured, we only realize later how thinly conceived some of these characters are, especially Catherine.) The elliptical dialogue and lack of momentous pacing, which keeps motivations vague throughout, could turn off some audiences. But that restraint keeps us squirming, waiting for the devastating announcement to come. The dreamy exuberance of Dolan’s aesthetic is there, but more infrequent; instead, we’re mostly left with contained settings and incomplete communications. It’s not one of Dolan’s flashier efforts, although the power of the performances keeps the drama subtly propulsive.

2.1 -- SULLY, Clint Eastwood
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Director Clint Eastwood takes a compelling story of American heroism and struggles to transform it into invigorating drama. One frosty January morning, pilot Chesley 'Sully'Sullenberger helped to guide a US Airways flight full of 155 people into the Hudson River after birds flew into both engines. Nobody died, and Sully (played here by Tom Hanks) was instantly hailed a national hero. The film’s major set-piece – a recreation of Flight 1549’s takeoff, quick descent and subsequent rescue efforts – is tense and sporadically thrilling. One can thank the reliable Hanks, a chipper Aaron Eckhart as First Officer Jeff Skiles, and a band of accomplished character actors for giving this extended sequence gravitas. Shot with IMAX cameras, the scene adeptly captures the panic of the tight cabin corridors, as passengers text hurriedly to their loved ones, and grandeur as we see the waters from the cockpit. But the drama surrounding this centerpiece is tepid and barely enough to support a feature that tops out at a repetitive 95 minutes. We witness Sully’s self-doubt in the crash’s aftermath, including somewhat tasteless nightmares of planes crashing into Manhattan. Meanwhile, the famed pilot cannot even convince a safety board that he made the right call. In these confrontations, the IMAX cameras enlarge flat conversations in bare hotel boardrooms. Those investigators, played by notable TV actors (Anna Gunn, Jamey Sheridan, Mike O’Malley), spout aircraft jargon with aplomb. Despite Hanks’ effort to ground a man of the skies, Todd Komarnicki’s screenplay does little to inform us of Sully’s feelings, except in cliché-ridden flashbacks and hokey dream scenes. Laura Linney fares best, co-starring as Sully’s wife Lorraine, offering solid support even though her performance is over-the-phone.

3.4 -- KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, Travis Knight
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] The newest effort from the stop-motion animators at Laika is visually dazzling and a paean to the captivating power of storytelling. Set in Ancient Japan, the film follows Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), a boy caring for his ill, fading mother who has inherited magical powers. With them, Kubo entertains his nearby village with tales of wonder, using his abilities to transform sheets of paper into animate creations. After mischievous, villainous specters come down from the sky and threaten the livelihood of the villagers, Kubo heads on a quest to reclaim three sacred items to defeat these monsters. By his side are two trusty sidekicks: wizened guardian Monkey (Charlize Theron, offering the same urgent power she brought to Mad Max: Fury Road) and the more aloof although Herculean Beetle (Matthew McConaughey, more than alright). After a summer of dull, despondent adventures, Kubo and the Two Strings is a treat, packed with imagination. If anything, the film feels a bit too inventive, relying on its hero’s magical abilities too frequently to get out of tricky situations. (One wishes the film’s three screenwriters had more incisively explained the parameters of Kubo’s capabilities). The mythology that accompanies the hero’s quest is dense, but it is a relief to find a story overflowing with big themes and original ideas. Even if kids (or their parents) miss every symbol and plot adjustment, they can bask in the transcendent images. The film’s main action sequences, on a boat made out of leaves and against a giant, rickety, red skeleton, are feats of thrilling fury and motion. Regardless, the film’s aesthetic triumphs are not just a front: there are real emotional stakes and some moving insights about family, memory and coping with loss. Featuring one of the year’s finest musical scores, from Oscar-winner Dario Marianelli.

3.2 -- GLEASON, Clay Tweel
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Steve Gleason was a small, spry linebacker for the New Orleans Saints. In 2011, the ex-NFL player revealed that his body was succumbing to ALS. Instead of slump into misery, Gleason decided to travel with wife Michel, doing all the things his muscles would soon lose the ability to do, and start a non-profit organization to give equipment and trips to fellow ALS patients. But around the same time of Steve’s diagnosis, Michel discovered she was pregnant. With only an estimated few years remaining in his life, Steve began to film video diaries for a child he wouldn’t know for long. Director Clay Tweel’s latest documentary is deeply affecting: how could it not be? The film’s biggest strength is its ability to balance inspiring moments, such as Steve’s rebirth as a hero to thousands of ALS sufferers and their families, and aching ones, as the star slips into neuro-muscular dysfunction and loses control of his body and voice. (In one video, Steve talks about the stark shift between an appearance at the Superdome during the day and his inability to control his bowels hours later). Tweel emphasizes these video blogs, meant to be a gift to son Rivers (born in October 2011), to develop a portrait of his titular subject as well as chronicle Steve’s increased health woes. Wisely, Tweel doesn’t ignore Michel, who loses her beaming demeanor as she raises an infant and tries to deal with her husband’s health without cracking. It is, however, worrying that the film spends so much time celebrating Steve’s on-field performance while ignoring the stark connection between playing football and disorders such as ALS.

2.6-- INDIGNATION, James Schamus
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] James Schamus’ average adaptation of Philip Roth’s average 2008 novel works best as an actors’ showcase. The drama, set during the Korean War, follows Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), the first from his working-class Jewish family to attend college. The teenager hopes to become a lawyer and evade the draft. He retreats from his overprotective family in Newark to the intimate university town of Winesburg, Ohio, where he commits to his studies and finds mystery in a beautiful classmate, Olivia (Sarah Gadon). Meanwhile, Marcus spars with the college’s conservative dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts) who insists the student attend weekly chapel services. The drama, with its spacious two-person scenes, including a 15-minute debate between Marcus and Dean Caudwell, seems like a more natural fit for the stage, especially when one considers the Broadway credentials of the ensemble. (With its measured pacing, austere set design and sharp string soundtrack, the film looks and sounds like a mid-1990s Miramax release made to garner Academy Award attention). Despite the novel’s sharp diversions into vulgarity, Schamus never quite captures the repressed sexual mores of American youths in the early 1950s like Roth can so irreverently. Meanwhile, just as in the book, Olivia comes across more as an object of desire than a character, and much of the dialogue doesn’t quite fit in the mouth of the talented Gadon. The film ultimately works because of its many performances, especially Lerman, simmering with the anxiety any Roth protagonist should have, and Letts, who offers a worthy, witty foil. Co-starring Linda Emond and Danny Burstein in nuanced turns as Marcus’s parents.

2.0 -- BAD MOMS, Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Five summers after Bridesmaids, the female-dominated broad comedy has already reached something of a nadir with Bad Moms, a film that wastes the fine talents of a great ensemble. Its protagonist is thirty-something mom Amy (Mila Kunis), who spends her day hustling her two kids off to school, running late to a part-time job, and trying to cram in many extra-curricular responsibilities. It doesn’t help that her husband (David Walton) has been having an affair and that fascistic PTA president Gwendolyn (a conniving, scene-stealing Christina Applegate) keeps Amy a slave to a long list of school-bound jobs. One night, Amy cracks from the mounting pressure and heads to the bar, where she befriends two other women, perpetually busy mother of four Kiki (Kristen Bell) and foul-mouthed single mom Carla (Kathryn Hahn). The three women bond over their need for sanctuary from maternal duties. Amy should be a relatable character for the many mothers that feel over-worked and under-appreciated. But, too often, we’re reminded that Bad Moms is written and directed by two men, Hangover scribes Jon Lucas & Scott Moore. Much of the raunchy dialogue and crass situations seem like what frat boys imagine older women going wild would look like. (There is no shortage of montages with women walking in slow-motion as literal soundtrack cues – “I Don’t Care” for a sequence of grocery store mayhem, Demi Lovato’s “Confident” for the car ride to a chic bar – blare over the action). The actors do what they can to sell subpar material. Hahn has the most fun, blabbing on about casual sex and uncircumcised men. She commits so completely to Carla’s filthiness that you wish the writers had committed half as much to crafting worthwhile jokes.

3.4 -- CAFÉ SOCIETY, Woody Allen
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Café Society may not be one of Woody Allen’s best films – 47 titles in, to be average or even slightly better than that is an achievement – but this period piece, set during Hollywood’s Golden Age, may be the writer/director’s most sumptuous comedy. The film is noticeably packed to the brim with Allen’s signatures, from the jazz music that pipes through every other scene to witty banter about love, art and Judaism. There’s also a familiar tale, although told charmingly. Born-and-bred New Yorker Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg, well-tailored to Allen’s neurotic rhythms) jets off to Los Angeles to get a job alongside his uncle, super-agent Phil Stern (Steve Carell, smarmy yet rarely unsympathetic). Bobby doesn’t quite fit into the hollow Hollywood parties and the spontaneous pace of the town, but he does have eyes for Phil’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart, terrific). He doesn’t find out until much later that Vonnie is also seeing his uncle. The pace is brisk, and Allen’s screenplay pops with choice one-liners, although there is a bit too much reliance on voice-over. (The director even narrates, pleasingly reciting the resumes of the multi-millionaires who populate the plot’s periphery like Fitzgerald going through the guest list at Jay Gatsby’s parties). Café Society is often busy with subplots and some quick plot turns, although a seasoned scribe like Allen doesn’t clutter too much over the main romance. What helps to catapult the film over much of the director’s more recent output is his collaboration with legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. He captures the sun-drenched glow of West Coast soirées, as the Hollywood types fizz as much as the champagne, and the crisp feeling of New York that the director undoubtedly feels toward his home city -- with scene-stealing supporting turns from Parker Posey and Jeannie Berlin.

3.5 -- ALOYS, Tobias Nölle
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] An existential, emotionally textured puzzler from Swiss filmmaker Tobias Nölle, Aloys is a film that begs to be viewed more than once. The title refers to Aloys Adorn (Georg Friedrich, superb), a private investigator mourning the death of his father. Day and night, he roams around an empty urban space, filming and listening into the private lives of ordinary people, which he then watches on a small TV in a beige, run-down apartment. After a night of heavy drinking, Aloys awakens to find several of his tapes stolen, which soon disrupts his adventures in solitude. He ends up chatting over-the-phone with Vera (Tilde von Overbeck), the stranger who stole his tapes and who wants to help remove him from an insular existence. From here, Nölle’s drama erupts with imagination, acquainting us with the fantasy spaces both Aloys and Vera desire. There are various moments in the film’s second half when the barrier between the realms of reality and dream dissolve, yet this blending manages to be both poignant and playful. (One of Vera’s lines, “Everything that moves us is in our head,” speaks to the film’s trippy scene construction and the emotional power of these personal journeys). The filmmaker’s precision of vision is startling: we yearn to explore the expansiveness of the character’s inner world, as we drift from rooms of solitary confinement to the green, limitless woods, and many other places in-between. Imagine the imagination and the introverted precocity of Charlie Kaufman’s mind-benders, although with a warmer, more wondrous outlook. The offbeat pace and formal leaps could challenge some, but Aloys is a fascinating exploration on depression and dreams that is well worth getting lost in.

[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Much of the theatrical trailer for Captain Fantastic indicated it would display the poorest tendencies of Sundance cinema: quirky characters, self-conscious wit, inorganic emotional beats. Thankfully, the new film by writer/director Matt Ross (best known for his role on HBO’s Silicon Valley) steers clear of preciousness for the most part. Viggo Mortensen is commanding as Ben, a father of six, raising his young away from civilization. In the Pacific Northeast, the family hunts for its food and tests its strength by climbing rock cliffs without much safety support. Ben also assigns his children reading to stir them into intellectual debate. (They abhor the idea of organized religion and even celebrate a day in honour of Noam Chomsky, one of the script’s funniest flourishes). But, when Ben’s hospitalized wife dies from a suicide, the clan goes on a road trip to attend her funeral in New Mexico, hoping to retrieve her body for cremation. Captain Fantastic could have treaded into the obvious trappings of a story when a group of eccentric outsiders react to mainstream society. Instead, Ross chooses to explore themes of parenthood. By deflecting social mores, is Ben preparing his children for a healthy life, harming them from greater opportunity, or both? Ross keeps the pace brisk while also allowing the audience to engage with these thoughtful questions. Meanwhile, the performances from the young ensemble, which must engage with big words and bigger emotional beats, are uniformly good. It helps to have Mortensen as the film’s sturdy centre. A multifaceted artist beyond the screen and a notoriously picky actor as of late, Mortensen perfectly fits the role of a man who can be cunning and somewhat condescending, and yet still amasses sympathy. Co-starring Frank Langella and Ann Dowd in brief yet potent turns as Ben’s in-laws.

[reviewed by Jordan Adler] With an intimidating long face, bulging nose and handlebar mustache, Frank Zappa was one of the most recognized rock musicians of the 20th century, even if few people could name any of his songs. In the new documentary from Thorsten Schütte, we hear the dissonant, freeform, unconventional tunes that made him a hero for a select few. Eat That Question examines Zappa’s raucous stage presence, as well as his sharp mind, especially in regard to issues of censorship and working as a composer in a commercial enterprise. Zappa often appears as poised, articulate and witty, but also selective about what he reveals. It is not hard to feel for the journalists trying to get their subject to open up and failing. Schütte uses archival footage and no talking heads: this is a rediscovery of the man from televised interviews, not a retrospective. The trove of phenomenal archive footage includes a young Zappa on The Steve Allen Show and testimony (from 1985) of Zappa calling a proposal to put warning labels on CDs with explicit lyrics “an ill-conceived piece of nonsense.” Schütte’s doc, although just 93 minutes, never feels slight or rushed: it is as finely structured as Zappa’s music was disorganized. The dissonance becomes greater, though, when one realizes that members from the Zappa Family Trust are the film’s producers. As the film reveals, Zappa was uncomfortable with fame and not interested in being remembered. So, what’s the point of his descendants going against his wishes?

3.4 -- SWISS ARMY MAN, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] A miserable man in his twenties is stranded on an island in the Pacific, about to hang himself. Then, he sees a bloated body lying on the beach. The corpse’s spasms of flatulence offer comic relief and interrupt the man’s suicide attempt. Shortly after, that survivor decides to ride the corpse like a jet ski, letting its expulsions of gas motor him through the waves. That is the set-up for the silly yet occasionally thought-provoking Swiss Army Man, the first feature from Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (credited as the Daniels). In another summer infested with rancid sequels, it is a blast of fresh air – a fitting metaphor for a fart-filled comedy. Paul Dano is the depressed Hank; Daniel Radcliffe, with pallid skin and total conviction, is the corpse named Manny who soon talks back to the loner. Swiss Army Man is riotously funny and inventive, inviting the viewer to completely to the lunacy. Its title comes from Manny’s multi-functionality as he assists Hank in his journey back to civilization. The corpse can regurgitate fresh water from his mouth, while his erection is a compass. Radcliffe’s rhythms of speech evoke that of a curious pre-teen, and his comic timing has never been sharper. The comedy has some screwy touches, like a whimsical a cappella score and diorama-like production design, which perfectly fits its weirdness. (There are references throughout to both Jurassic Park and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.) But the offbeat premise doesn’t strain, as Radcliffe and Dano ground the absurdity in tender two-person scenes, where they discuss girls, cultural demands and human nature. The Daniels have much to say about cultural conformity, although one wishes their début hadn’t settled on an ending far too neat for a comedy as daring as this.

1.2 -- ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU, Shunji Iwai
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A film noir about bullying and friends becoming foes. The herd mentality is an all-too-common universal reality. The group must pass through an initiation into the Kendo Club which demands toughness and willingness to ridicule its victims. The two protagonists, Hasumi and Hoshimi, find their roles reversed after a near-drowning experienced by the once placid and kind Hoshino. All the kids turn to the music of Lily Chou-Chou to exalt in their own power and to deflect the inner torment they all feel. More of a cult than a club, the gang of students believe that ether -- total bueaty and ethereal feelings come from the singer. This Japanese work is sadly convoluted in plot and terribly slow-moving. Furthermore, despite the adoration all young people feel for stars, the events that take place -- other than scenes of bullying -- are highly unrealistic. This film was screened at the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.  

3.3 --  FREE STATE OF JONES, Gary Ross
[reviewed  by Nancy Snipper] By the early 20th century, a true tenacious Southern 'knight' named Newton Knight, and his rebellion against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi came to light. He claimed a unified white populace that had begun as few in number, and then grew to two-hundred, including a loyal slave population that valiantly resisted invading Yankee hordes. Parading Confederate veterans embracing their old battle flags and the erection of monuments glorifying the cause left little room to recall interracial resistance during the war at the height of the Jim Crow era. The film dramatically relives this powerful period showing the might of men intent on claiming a free state in the midst of the Civil War. Started in November 1862, Newton Knight and others serving in the army had grown disillusioned with Confederate policies such as the Twenty Negro Law, which permitted southerners with twenty or more slaves to remain at home as well as a 'tax in kind' system that allowed officials to confiscate private property for the war effort. Knight’s decision to desert the army and return home reflected a growing sense that the conflict had become a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” Continued pressure by Confederate officials to round up deserters like Knight forced him into the swamps around Jones County, where he and others hid with escaped slaves. The attempt to evade capture gradually shifted to a full-scale rebellion against Confederate control of Jones and surrounding counties. By the spring of 1864 Knight and his followers declared their freedom to live, but then the real problems began as they tried to secure freedom for all negros and white confederate deserters who joined his brave band of fighters. So extraordinary is this story and the film, starring Mathew McConaughey, that matches the raw brutal intensity of true events despite the film’s lack of logistical details of how they truly made the swamp life work for months on end. Captions of historical events often accompanied key scenes.

3.7 -- THE NEON DEMON, Nicolas Winding Refn
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Halfway through The Neon Demon, the new dark and dreamy film from Nicolas Winding Refn, a fashion designer (Alessandro Nivola) tells a group of models, “Beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” The adage is probably one to which the director subscribes. Refn’s films are aesthetically alluring – sometimes to a fault. But here, the style is the substance. The thriller adheres to a shiny showbiz formula, seducing with hypnotic visuals before turning expectations on its ear, moving from ravishing to revolting. We follow orphaned 16-year-old Jesse (Elle Fanning, cast perfectly), who arrives in Los Angeles hoping to find work as a model. She quickly befriends makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone), who tries to steer the porcelain-faced ingénue away from the desperation of models months past their prime. (As those thin-skinned characters, Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote give bitingly vapid performances.) Soon, as the tale is wont to go, Jesse’s ascent begins to eat away at her innocence. Some may find Refn’s motif of show business’s predatory nature too on-the-nose, but the attention to visual detail is startling: everything from the make-up to the curtain design in the shabby motel Jesse resides fits within the metaphor. The Neon Demon would feel more like an exercise of intoxicating style, if not for the virtuous work of a young cast, fed lines of dialogue that are harsh and spiteful, a mirror to their empty souls. The best is Fanning, glowing with strength and vulnerability at once, allowing the audience to tap into Jesse’s streaks of naivety and confidence without needing the assistance of dialogue. Meanwhile, Cliff Martinez’s creeping ambient score, punctuated with icy notes, is a perfect companion to Refn’s bold visual sense. Co-starring Keanu Reeves and Christina Hendricks in short, unsympathetic turns.

2.4 -- THE PRIESTS, Jang Jae-Hyun
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Johann and Gertrude, a couple in their golden years, take their two grandkids, Lisa and Lukas on their car trip with them from Austria to the North Cape in Norway. It's supposed to be a tourist region. Lisa, the director, happens to be filming this adventure that is devoid of any excitement for the travelers, as such, proves to be amusing for us, because of its mundanity. It reveals more hotels, car parks, bickering and uneventful scenes than one could imagine. And to think this is how they marked their 47th anniversary! We laugh though because the tiny disagreements they have are entirely typical and all too familiar -- no matter the stage and state of your marriage. This film was screened at the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.  

2.5 -- A BRIDE FOR RIP VAN WINKLE, Shunji Iwai
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Like the famous character, Rip Van Winkle, shy and lost Nanami has been sleep walking through life. She is a struggling with her own identity and as a part-time high-school teacher about to get fired, she gets engaged to a man she met through social media. With the wedding fast approaching, and with no relatives except for her divorced parents, she needs to find guests to fill out the bride's side of the family. Enter Amuro, a kind of actor/ fix-it man who arranges to hire actors to play her family members at the wedding. Once married, Nanami gives up teaching and settles into the role of a housewife. Her contented life is subverted when she discovers an earring in her apartment that doesn't belong to her. She engages Amuro to get to the truth of things. But it would seem, all is not really as it appears. After a frightening meeting with a man who claims he knows the total story, Nanami finds herself single again, and without money. Once again, Amuro, shows up to come to install her in a mansion to work as a maid -- or so she thinks, but that job is not really why she is there. Never has one witnessed such a bizarre story with ambiguity that leaves one rethinking the plot when the ending is reached. This Japanese film is a deceptively complex and multilayered film. Despite it near three hours, the film's weird characters and plot pull you in as you try to figure out what the game is. The cast is superb. This film was screened at the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.  

3.1 -- GENIUS, Director
[reviewed  by Nancy Snipper] Close-up shot in muted grey of wet black shoes moving as people slowly trudge like a beleaguered army in a food line-up. This is New York City in 1926. Close up of a page of a manuscript with a red pencil held in a hand crossing out lots of lines written on a typewriter. The film is based on the true story of the relationship between the tempestuous writer Thomas Wolfe and his editor Max Perkins of Scribner & Sons. The film portrays the development of their relationship: two polarized personalities (two geniuses in fact) who not only produce two brilliant books as they work tirelessly together while forming an enduring friendship. Wolfe was a passionate man – a poetic prose writer whose manuscripts could be as long as 5000 pages. Of Time and the River: A Legend of Man's Hunger in His Youth followed his first world famous novel, Look Homeward, Angel. Clearly, the level-headed and patient Perkins had a daunting task with his beloved Wolfe who enriched his sprit as much as he made Wolfe rich. Wolfe’s narcissism was difficult and problematic for anyone who knew and loved him, including Mrs. Bernstein who gave up her family when she fell in love with the writer. Scarred by loneliness and masked by loudness, Wolfe was exciting, but far more unmanageable than Hemmingway and Fitzgerald – all of whom Perkins brought to the public by publishing them; he ensured their legendary fame because of his belief in their genius combined with his own incomparable editing and compassion for long suffering misfits whose literary brilliance was not without madness and mayhem. This film was screened at the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.

2.2 -- CHEVALIER, Athina Rachel Tsangari
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] The detached, deadpan comedies arriving from Greece are often refreshing. Chevalier, the new, metaphor-imbued film from director Athina Rachel Tsangari, is an exception, aesthetically pleasing but dull. The first 15 minutes prepare us for sturdier laughs than expected, as we follow six upper-crust men from Greece on summer holiday, relaxing at sea on a yacht. To pass the time between ports, the friends decide to partake in a collection of vaguely defined games and competitions. Each writes down observations about the other men in a pocket notebook so that, by trip’s end, the one with the most points (or fewest complaints) can receive a Chevalier signet ring as a reward. Tsangari, who co-wrote the film with The Lobster scribe Efthymis Filippou, purposefully withholds character details, turning the six men into mostly anonymous creations. However, as we watch the men participate in activities as mundane as building shelves from IKEA, skipping stones and washing windows, little rooting interest develops. (There’s also the occasional penis-measuring contest, which is not a euphemism in this case). The only character who gets any kind of empathy is Dimitris (Efthymis Papadimitriou), whose lumbering stomach gives him a physical disadvantage among the more endowed sailors. Tsangari has some appealing visual ideas to mock these hyper-masculine personas, often framing the characters as tiny objects, or focusing on the boat’s reflective surfaces, turning the yacht into an object of vanity. But this criticism of macho one-upmanship rarely finds momentum. The result is an extended metaphor than would have probably had more potent comedic power if it hadn’t been extended beyond the length of a short film.

2.5 -- THE DARK BELOW, Douglas Schulze
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A woman marries her diving instructor; they are both own a diving store and they are specialists in ice diving. He is completely insane and digs a hole in ice and submerges her. He keeps her there while he goes about his business. He also tried to drown their young daughter at the lake of their cottage, but in the end, we see she survives in the hospital. The mother, now dying from the frozen hole finds a way to climb out from the ice, and is able to kill her sick spouse who checks in on her from time to time. There is no dialogue in the film, and this makes it most eerie and ultimately an effective horror film. However, we never do discover why this man wants to drown her in the frigid water. He did succeed in drowning his other female students. A well crafted piece whose central scary character you would not want to go ice fishing with.  

1.5 -- STEADINESS, Lisa Weber
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Johann and Gertrude, a couple in their golden years, take their two grandkids, Lisa and Lukas on their car trip with them from Austria to the North Cape in Norway. It’s supposed to be a tourist region. Lisa, the director happens to be filming this adventure that is devoid of any excitement for the travelers, as such, proves to be amusing for us, because of its mundanity.. It reveals more hotels, car parks, bickering and uneventful scenes than one could imagine. And to think this is how they marked their 47th anniversary! We laugh though because the tiny disagreements they have are entirely typical and all too familiar - no matter the stage and state of your marriage.  

2.9 -- INTO THE FOREST, Patricia Rozema
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] It seems that the last thing the big screen needs is another story set in a dystopian or post-apocalyptic future. But director Patricia Rozema, for her first film in eight years, keeps the details of the collapse vague and foregrounds the characters. The result is sensitive and a welcome shift from an increasingly derivative subgenre. At a spacious country home deep in the woods, college-age sisters Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) must fend for themselves after a nationwide power outage leaves them in a tattered state. Gas is gone from the nearest town several miles away, as are the food shipments. Into the Forest, based on a 1996 book by Jean Hegland, imagines a near future when our reliance on technology is futile. Rozema checks in on the sisters every few months as they deal with hunger, revisit family memories and hold the faintest optimism for the power to return. Page and Wood hardly resemble relatives, but their sisterly camaraderie is tender even when their relationship seems strained. They bring intensity to a drama where little happens. Meanwhile, the filmmaker dreams up some haunting images, as ghostly, eerily unnatural light rests against the harsh darkness of a power-less wilderness. One wishes Rozema had created a more palpable tension, especially given the lack of knowledge we get about what has caused the outages and the proximity to a vast forest populated by carnivores and, mostly, emptiness. The anxiety only paralyzes during a disturbing scene involving a vicious sexual assault. Also starring Callum Keith Rennie, in a small role as the girls’ father.

3.3 -- INTO THE FOREST, Patricia Rozema
[reviewed  by Nancy Snipper] The film opens with two daughters: clever Nell (Ellen Page) and dancer Evan (Rachel Wood) along with their father. All seem happy in their pursuits within the gorgeous lush surroundings at the family’s deep-in-the-forest stunning retreat. Interestingly, Nell, who is studying for her SAT law exam, discovers on the computer that there is a psychological affliction called fugue state – a post-amnesia occurrence, and the sufferer rebuilds his life, but an entire new one; there is recollection of past activities and interests. It’s like starting from scratch. This symbolically sets up an entirely new situation that the family is forced into when a massive world-wide power outage occurs all across the western part of the continent. Completely compelling, this slow-build drama centers on the sisters’ relationship and their symbiotic need for one another in the face of formidable odds and personal conflicts. The film offers outstanding acting by Page and Wood. Despite the unlikelihood of an ongoing global power outage – it lasts well over half a year – the plot, dark tone and worrying events are highly plausible. It would seem that the loss of electricity and the lack of gasoline usher in a double-edged sword: one must forget the past and build anew, but the result can be far more rewarding than imagined. Isolation is a wondrous and horrific state to endure. Based on the book authored by Jean Hegland in 1996, this apocalyptic film brings on a flood of despair and hope.

3.5 -- LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP, Whit Stillman
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Whit Stillman is a filmmaker revered for hurried, hyper-intelligent dialogue and smart observations of even smarter bourgeois women. Naturally, it fits his sense and sensibility to bring Jane Austen to the screen. Along the way, he takes one of her more minor works, the novella Lady Susan, and turns it into one of his major works. Love and Friendship follows the widowed Susan Vernon (a biting, boastful, never better Kate Beckinsale) as she searches for husbands, aiming to rescue herself and daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) from destitution. At her sister-in-law’s estate, Susan’s schemes and manipulations evoke chatter from the guests, while she also catches the eye of the handsome Reginald (Xavier Samuel). Love and Friendship has all the signs of a costume drama – the orchestral soundtrack, the regal decorum – although its pacing is as tight as one of Susan’s corsets. The dialogue, refreshingly tart, has the richness any Austen adaptation should have but few manage to deliver. On the screen, the author’s Regency-era stories have often emphasized her heated, sometimes thorny romances; here, Stillman’s screenplay enforces humour rather than heart. Some viewers unequipped to the director’s rhythms may find it hard to keep up with the numerous settings, characters and plot machinations. Others will be charmed at the exuberance of the language: Austen devotees may even want to bring a notepad and scribble down the snappiest sentences in the dark. Richard Van Oosterhout’s camera, swiftly gliding through courtyards in long takes, captures the brilliance of the dialogue. Co-starring Chloë Sevigny as Susan’s American confidante and Tom Bennett in a scene stealing turn as a blubbering dolt of a suitor.

2.3 -- MAGGIE’S PLAN, Rebecca Miller
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] For today’s moviegoers, few actors fit the Brooklyn locale as well as Greta Gerwig, the elegant and effervescent motormouth from Frances Ha. She is back in her comfort zone (i.e., New York City’s liberal arts campuses and market squares) in the new film from Rebecca Miller. Gerwig is the titular Maggie, who has decided she wants to have a baby. The timing is perfect, as she begins to cozy up to professor and aspiring novelist John Harding (Ethan Hawke, perfectly cast), who is thinking of leaving his wife, Danish academic Georgette (Julianne Moore, miscast). A third of the way into this breezy comedy, Miller’s screenplay jumps ahead a few years, when Maggie and John have an adorable daughter and are going through some marital strains. It is here when the gears in Maggie’s head start turning again, and she embarks on a plan to re-match John and Georgette. Gerwig’s star presence highlights the absence of frequent collaborator Noah Baumbach, whose films often hit the same giddy notes of screwball comedy of his leading lady. (Gerwig is so skilled with tongue-twisting dialogue that Miller cannot help but make several of the supporting characters sound just like Maggie). Meanwhile, the director isn’t as concise with finding hilarity or humanity: the result is a film where very smart people get caught up in very silly business. Nevertheless, the characters aren’t written sharply enough, and so the story feels forced to adhere to its screwball trappings. Montreal moviegoers may also be turned off by a detour two of the characters make to Quebec. It is nothing less than a New Yorker’s odd, stereotypical conception of rural Canada, its ineptness something the film’s scholar characters would scoff at.

3.1 -- A BIGGER SPLASH, Luca Guadagnino
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Aging rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is covered in mud and baking in the Italian sun with her boyfriend, filmmaker Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), when a plane zooms over them, darkening the sand for a second like an ominous cloud. The jet carries Marianne's ex, record producer Harry (a gregarious Ralph Fiennes), and Penelope (Dakota Johnson), the American daughter Harry's only started to know. Suddenly, a summer when Marianne has planned to read, relax and rest her vocal chords becomes more heated, as she has to entertain an old flame that may be interested in getting back together. A loose re-making of the 1969 film La Piscine, the new film from Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) is a hard film to take your eyes off. The small ensemble often chats and cavorts with their shirts open or entirely off, as electrifying Rolling Stones records pierce the soundtrack. Fiennes' free-spirited Harry, adding another flavour to the actor's repertoire, puts on quite the show: cinematographer Yorick Le Saux fetishizes his saucy laugh as he bounces around the picturesque set. Meanwhile, Swinton, confined to whispers, exudes a wealth of feeling without exercising much of her voice. Like her performance, David Kajganich's screenplay relies on the unsaid to create tension. A Bigger Splash lets the sun and its stars carry the casual storytelling, but only until a point. A dark detour in the final third actually drives the film away from the slowly simmering conflict; instead, the plotting becomes more oblique and character choices go unexplained. Suddenly, a fiercely acted, sexually charged thriller loses its edge and just becomes enervating. It's worth staying through the credits, though, for St. Vincent's seductive cover of "Emotional Rescue."

3.3 -- LA FORÉT SACRÉE, Camille Sarret
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] In the villages of the Ivory Coast, and in so many other African countries, clitoral mutilation of young girls is practiced, and the women who carry out this cultural catastrophe are proud of the tradition and occurrence; now the girls have "crossed over." However, Martha Diomandé, a married 30-year-old woman who resides in France, and who was mutilated in her village has returned to her village with a French health professional. Both are intent on trying to teach the irreparable damage the practice causes to women's health and the horrid difficulty and complications during labour. The women who perform the mutilation are trained by an elder, but they gather in a group to receive their lesson and the dangers in the practice. The teaching is sensitively handled. It is an age-old tradition that does not go away easily. This excellent documentary was screened at Montreal's 2016 Vues d'Afrique film festival.

3.7 -- CHOUCHA,UNE INSONDABLE INDIFFÉRENCE, Sophie Bachelier & Djibril Diallo
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] In Tunisia, Camp Choucha in the desert is without water and food, and those living under tents there -- if lucky enough -- are granted refugee status, and they get money and nourishment. However, most are denied the status. People there come from all over Africa, trying to escape wars and famine. The High Commission for Refugees is a joke, and a shameful one at that. Murders happen, and no one investigates from the organization. The unlucky people trying to survive in Choucha have been there for over two years. Those who got in are held in detention centres in Europe. This film documents the shameful, horrific heartbreak for those stuck there and for those of us watching, unable to rescue them though we desperately want to. Only 49 minutes in length, the film inserts the camera directly into the barren camp as the camp people living there reveal their suffering. This riveting documentary was screened at Montreal's 2016 Vues d'Afrique film festival.

1.9 -- LES FRONTIÉRES DU CIEL, Chabel El Janna
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Sami and Sara are a couple in turmoil. The husband leaves Sara; he is grief stricken, and becomes a chronic drinker. Why? Sami was negligent; it seems their little daughter Yasmine drowned; it was his fault for not watching her. We do not see this, but through a series of terrible editing, our own piecing together and flashbacks, we figure it out. This Tunisian film is so long and boring. In the end, we do not care if the couple ever reunites. I dare to say this, as the work has garnered several awards. It opened Montreal's 2016 Vues d'Afrique film festival.

2.7 -- THE DARK HORSE, James Napier Robertson
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] On the big screen, New Zealand actor Cliff Curtis is most recognized for dignified character turns in films like Training Day and Three Kings. As real-life Maori chess champion and coach Genesis Potini in The Dark Horse, Curtis pushes into leading man territory. He commands the screen in a nuanced role that explores mental illness without teetering into caricature. Curtis anchors a film that can sometimes be unwieldy. One central plot focuses on Potini’s involvement with the Eastern Knights, a club of underprivileged youths, and his work to prepare them for a chess tournament in Auckland. Another looks at his thorny relationship with brother Ariki (Wayne Hapi, terrific) and Potini’s interest in bonding with Ariki’s son, bruised teen Mana (Boy’s James Rolleston). Then, there are the film’s most imaginative segments, the individual asides with Curtis as his character battles bipolar disorder and tries to keep himself clean and controlled. Director James Napier Robertson excels at trapping us in the protagonist’s head during these languid, or even shocking moments of loneliness. (The most memorable: a nightmare about an almost absurdly gory nosebleed.) The Dark Horse gets many of the character beats right, especially the relationship between the Potinis that provides a surprisingly menacing core to the drama. However, the harrowing family affairs interfere on the scenes of Potini’s mentorship, which often seem like an afterthought. The young actors in the Eastern Knights are all memorable, even if their characters all seem to blend together, and the road to the big tournament is slighted by the other plot elements. That is unfortunate, especially when considers Potini’s work with the children is a large part of his legacy.

3.2 -- SLEEPING GIANT, Andrew Cividino
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Set on the shores of Lake Superior, Sleeping Giant, a new Canadian drama, is much like its characters. Seen from a distance, the three male protagonists look like children; up close, we see the truth of being stuck between that place between kid and adult. Andrew Cividino’s debut (a festival darling at Cannes and Toronto) resembles an ordinary coming-of-age tale under the scorching summer sun. However, under closer inspection, its examination of the teenage male experience proves to be deeply relatable. The film follows the adventures of three pals: shy Adam (Jackson Martin), squirrely Nate (Nick Serino) and his cousin Riley (Reece Moffett). The high schoolers spend their days in cottage country setting off fireworks, jumping on trampolines and chatting about their ideal sexual conquests. The camera bustles forward as the boys take their part in rites of passage, but remains static at moments of intense contemplation. (Imagine if The 400 Blows looked more like an American Eagle commercial, and you have a taste of Sleeping Giant’s freewheeling aesthetic.) The three young actors give performances that feel effortless, a challenge due to the screenplay’s verbose hangout slang. The standout is Serino, who finds notes of grace underneath Nate’s attention-deficit gusto. While one is aware of the plot mechanics at play – a climactic jump off a steep rock formation is clearly foreshadowed – Cividino (and two co-writers) take this event in an unpredictable direction. Still, some of the episodes are derivative – one involving Adam’s cheating father feels borrowed from The Way, Way Back – and the female characters are, essentially, objects in the protagonists’ eyes. Meanwhile, the time devoted to Adam and Nate’s conflicts interrupt Riley’s story. Still, Sleeping Giant is better than most films at articulating the teenage experience, its powers and pressures, its noises and silences.

4.0 -- THE LOBSTER, Yorgos Lanthimos
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] David, played by Colin Farrell, is a glum forty-something with a bad moustache and even worse beer belly. His wife has left him, which means that he now has 45 days to find a new romantic partner. If he fails to do so, he will be transformed into an animal and released into the wild. (David’s chosen a lobster: they are fertile and live for 100 years. Plus, he likes the water.) This may be one of the strangest synopses ever attached to a new release, but lovers of deadpan comedy should line up for The Lobster immediately. The film’s oddness makes more sense when you realize that its director, Yorgos Lanthimos, made the horrifying, hilarious Dogtooth. Much of the film is set at a seaside resort, where the Loners (capitalized for a reason) are encouraged to look for matches with similar traits. Nevertheless, those supervising the singletons, including an uncommonly bitter Olivia Colman, seem just as jaded and lost as those at risk of a life in the wild. Despite his emotional confusion, David finds some common ground with a near-sighted woman played by Rachel Weisz in the second half. When she enters the scene, the drama becomes more urgent, the emotions more poignant; regardless, the film’s comic dryness is permanent. Daily demonstrations about dating manners and nightly hunting practice in the forest yield big laughs, although the absurdity rarely feels too removed from the conquests of those trying to find love and companionship today. (Imaging if Luis Buñuel discovered Tinder, and you’re close to figuring out the film’s tricky tone.) Embrace the weirdness, and you’ll find a satire of sustained brilliance, which moves from harsh laughs to heartbreak without ever losing its ingenuity.

2.9 -- EYE IN THE SKY, Gavin Hood
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] The new film from Gavin Hood begins with an Aeschylus quote: “In war, truth is the first casualty.” One can say the same thing about the movies. While Eye in the Sky does examine big issues around the ethics of drone warfare, it is, more accurately, a gripping, strap-to-your-seat thriller. The film jumps between the U.K. where an intelligence officer, Col. Powell (a steely Helen Mirren), hopes to lead an operation to take out two wanted al-Shabaab terrorists, and Nairobi, where an agent on the ground (Barkhad Abdi) tries to confirm Powell’s suspicions. We also spend time in Las Vegas, where drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul, well-cast) may be the one to unleash what he calls “hellfire.” The plot thickens when a young Nairobi girl lingers around the borders of the home Powell wants to be blown away. This sends high-ranking officials into a panic as they debate the rules of engagement. Guy Hibbert’s screenplay is finely plotted, dense with discussion over collateral damage, yet it is never confusing. Still, one wishes the thriller had spent more time in Nairobi, or at least hovering about the targets, giving us a chilly bird’s-eye view of the innocent people caught in the crosshairs. Eye in the Sky is the last live-action film with Alan Rickman, who offers gravitas as lieutenant Frank Benson. When someone tells Benson that he can make these life-or-death calls from the safety of his chair, your first impulse is to squirm. Is that a question we should be asking ourselves, as we munch our popcorn in an air-conditioned cinema, eager for an explosive finish? Here, the theatre of war is more connected to excitement than insight. Aeschylus was right.

3.1 -- KNIGHT OF CUPS, Terrence Malick
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] You don’t quite watch Terrence Malick movies: you swim in them and submit to the power of the director’s current. Once the drift subsides, adventurous moviegoers are often rapt in reverence; meanwhile, those who care deeply about traditional three-act structures, characters and linear storytelling just feel emptily tossed around in the filmmaker’s pretentions. Knight of Cups, Malick’s seventh film, is perhaps his most impenetrable, so buy a ticket at your own risk. It follows Rick (Christian Bale), a Hollywood screenwriter who we never see writing and almost never see speaking. After an exodus for the palm trees and Pacific ocean, his life is overtaken by an incredible numbness. That exile and ennui is only punctuated with visits (both in the present day and flashback, if you can figure out which is which) from secondary characters, including Rick’s brother (Wes Bentley), ex-wife (Cate Blanchett) and father (Brian Dennehy). When not wandering the desert or a glitzy Hollywood party, Rick cannot help but fall for a conflicted collection of women, including ones played by Imogen Poots, Natalie Portman and Freida Pinto. Those unaccustomed with Malick may find his style – classical music, wispy voice-over, non-sequitur images of wide-open spaces – interminable. More seasoned art-house patrons may just sit and gaze, absorbed by Emmanuel Lubezki’s awe-some camerawork, and working to find spurts of meaning in the stream of consciousness. (Los Angeles and its modernist architecture may never have looked quite as heavenly on a movie screen). The film does become wearily repetitive in its last third, as Rick falls in and out of love with another wounded soul we hardly get to know. Yet Malick’s Eastern spirituality finds a sumptuous power and, yes, profundity in a Western setting.

2.5 -- BORN TO BE BLUE, Robert Budreau
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] The opening minutes of Born to Be Blue promise more than the film delivers. Jazz trumpeter Chet Baker (Ethan Hawke) lies on the floor of a prison cell in a detox sweat. Staring down the hollow end of his instrument, a tarantula ominously crawls out of the horn. Seconds later, a movie director arrives at the prison, and the nightmare turns into a fantasy. Baker is whisked onto a Hollywood set, entrusted with playing himself. For several minutes, it seems that writer/director Robert Budreau wants to parody the biopic beats in the autobiographical drama Baker headlines, and then subvert those in the one he directs. However, we rarely return to that fake movie set, and the rest of Born to Be Blue stays almost annoyingly true to the conventions of tales about drug-addled, beaten-down musicians staging a comeback. An injured mouth threatens Baker’s chances of scoring a worthwhile gig. He also tries to curb a heroin addiction through the help of a new girlfriend, Jane (Carmen Ejogo, giving warmth to an underutilized character), and a former producer (Callum Keith Rennie). The Canada-UK co-production makes little effort to hide that it was shot in Northern Ontario. A visit to the Baker farm in Oklahoma (that features a welcome cameo from Stephen McHattie as the musician’s dad) was clearly filmed in chillier climes. Nevertheless, Hawke makes it all gloriously watchable. He is an actor unafraid to go to ugly places; with a raspy voice and tilted smirk, he gives a challenging role tenderness and vitality. Here, the great acting solidifies shaky material.

2.0-- A PERFECT DAY, Fernando Léon de Aranoa
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Set in the Balkans during the first days of an uneasy ceasefire between Serb and Bosnian forces, a crew of aid workers led by Mambrù (Benicio Del Toro) struggle to remove a corpse from a well. Thus begins A Perfect Day during which Mambrù, his scrappy partner B (Tim Robbins), new arrival Sophie (Mélanie Thierry) and their interpreter Damir (Fedja Stukan), negotiate the rugged landscape and complex and inter-ethnic relations of the Balkan war. Léon de Aranoa’s admirable visual direction gives a breathtaking backdrop to a rather simple and predictable story. Were he to have really concentrated on the relationships between the aid workers and locals, he may have perhaps succeeded in portraying the political and social complexities of aid intervention in zones of conflict. However, A Perfect Day is cluttered by sentimental plot entanglements -- not to mention social stereotypes -- which dilute its potential impact. Macho characterizations greatly diminish del Toro and Robbins’ bad-boy adrenaline junkie characters. While Robbins’ B continuously undermines Sophie under the guise of witty banter, del Toro’s Mambù bogs down the narrative with unresolved romantic complications with his superior Katya (Olga Kurylenko) -- a bureaucrat caught out in the field, who jumps at the sight of a cow at her car window. The clever photography is simply not enough to rescue the narrative, while the complimentary Apocalypse Now-style soundtrack does further injustice to this poorly conceived project.

3.1 -- WHERE TO INVADE NEXT, Michael Moore
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Michael Moore is still one of the world’s most polarizing filmmakers, considered both a champion for his impassioned, left-wing political stances and a charlatan of the documentary form. Your fondness for the Oscar-winning filmmaker will likely determine your enjoyment of his latest doc, released just in time to prompt discussion in a U.S. election year. In Where to Invade Next, Moore considers himself both an optimist and imperialist. With an American flag draping his back, he jets off to several European countries (and one in Northern Africa) with the hopes of 'stealing' their laws about fair pay, health care, free education and more, and bring them back to America. In France, he marvels that school cafeterias serve a healthy, balanced diet – grade-schoolers nibble on scallops and lamb skewers for lunch and flinch when Moore offers them a Coke. In Finland, he feigns incredulity when realizing that the world’s best education system has done away with homework. (The surprised reactions are too manufactured – there’s a reason Moore brought a camera crew with him.) The filmmaker is still one of cinema’s most adept users of juxtaposition, and he shows little restraint here. In one sequence, he moves between riotous scenes of incarcerated Americans and a whimsical “We are the World” video made by the guards at a laid-back Norwegian prison. The widespread contentment and perpetual sunny weather in all of Moore’s travels is far-fetched, while the stereotypical music, themed to the country he visits, can become annoying. Regardless, although each chapter follows a similar formula, the pacing rarely lags. One can argue with his techniques, but Moore knows how to build and present a convincing argument in a way that informs, galvanizes and entertains – even if a bit more context and counterpoint would make his efforts more complete.

2.0 -- RACE, Stephen Hopkins
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] It doesn’t take long for Race to run into the traps that plague many well-intentioned biopics. The drama continually insists on its protagonist’s triumphant abilities but rarely captures the essence of the person whose life it chronicles. Here, the towering historical figure is Jesse Owens, the African-American runner who snatched multiple gold medals at the contentious 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Played by Toronto native Stephan James, Owens isn’t as sharply defined as the actor’s physique. Meanwhile, Jason Sudeikis is miscast at the athlete’s trainer, Larry Snyder, who sees a determined Olympic champion when most others cannot get past the colour of Owens’ skin. The path to Berlin is standard sports movie fare, filled with rousing music and awed crowd reactions. That conventionality works against the film, which is at its most interesting during a subplot about Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons), a U.S. Olympic Committee rep trying to find common ground with the Nazi regime. In Berlin, Brundage spars with documentarian Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten) and slimy propagandist Joseph Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat). Cue the sinister music. The politics behind those Games deserve its own treatment on film. Instead, screenwriters Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse miss an opportunity to enliven Owens’ central dilemma: choosing whether or not to participate in a competition organized by racists. During this mid-section, they fall back on stock dialogue, draining this pivotal decision of feeling. Director Stephen Hopkins fares better, capturing the excitement of the Olympics, although there aren’t many stylistic flourishes worth mentioning. As for filmmakers capturing the spirit of those Games, Riefenstahl probably got the better footage.

3.5 -- THE WITCH, Robert Eggers
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Shortly after arriving in New England, circa the 17th century, a Puritan family of six are banished from their plantation and forced to live miles away, in the shadow of woods where an evil witch may or may not lurk. It’s a refreshingly old-fashioned story of the supernatural that abandons newer horror techniques – quick pacing, an abundance of jump scares, post-modern irony – for atmosphere, psychological ambiguity and acting of a high order. While the result isn’t always scary, the debut film of Robert Eggers (who won a Best Directing prize at Sundance last year) is thoroughly unsettling. One can thank the location managers, who found a forest in northern Ontario that is the stuff of nightmares, with tree branches sticking out like arms that one suspects will grab any passersby. But Eggers is just as fascinated with nailing period details, packing ancient terms into the dialogue and lighting many moments with just lanterns and candles. The cast, meanwhile, is uniformly excellent. Character actor Ralph Ineson (as William, the father) captures the bruised masculinity of a farmer trying to provide despite a depleted harvest. Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw, as the teenagers fighting with their own temptations, give turns of deep feeling and vulnerability. Shots of their pale faces exploring the dark wilderness are as chilling as anything in the film. As for the score, composer Mark Korven aims for the terrifying simmer that Jonny Greenwood mastered in his work for There Will Be Blood. However, less noise is usually more in a horror film. Eggers could have used a few more harsh silences to seize on the fear of the unknown. More disquieting and thematically rich than regular genre fare, expect The Witch to split horror fans down the middle.

[reviewed by Jordan Adler] If you’re excited to see a film titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, you probably expect a blend of the subversive and campy. Or, you hope for a few maniacally gory sequences and some feminist re-evaluation of Jane Austen’s source material. Unfortunately, Burr Steers’ adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s parody is only fitfully amusing. Few can fault the radiant young ensemble, though, which includes Lily James as the defiant Elizabeth Bennet. The brooding Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) shows an affinity for Elizabeth, but she is determined never to “relinquish [her] sword for a ring.” The early depiction of Elizabeth and her four sisters, first seen polishing weapons as their father discusses their warrior nature, initially hints at female empowerment. Editor Padriac McKinley cleanly cuts the ultraviolent sequences between the Bennets and the undead bodies terrorizing the English countryside. However, the coherence of the editing in these showdowns doesn’t do much to make up for the lack of gore. The suspense and irreverence is sadly lacking. Had the film received an “R” rating instead of a more palatable “PG-13” in the United States, Steers could have let loose. Meanwhile, the few overt stylistic touches – the glassy perspective of the zombies, an opening credit sequence that recalls a pop-up book – tend to distract more than dazzle. The Bennet sisters try to resist refinement in this re-invention of Austen’s story universe, but the parody is too polite to offer much in the way of naughty, gory kicks. The most memorable work comes from those in the cast who aren’t taking the material as seriously. They include Matt Smith, who plays the quirky, flute-voiced Mr. Collins, and Lena Headey, wearing an eye patch as the seemingly indestructible Lady Catherine.

3.1 -- MUSTANG, Deniz Gamze Ergüven
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] On the last day of school, five sisters, living near the Black Sea in Turkey, head to the beach to frolic with some local boys. A passerby notifies their grandmother (Nihal G. Koldas), and by the end of the sunny day their strict uncle (Ayberk Pekcan) has confined the girls to their hillside home, hoping to save them from perversion and promiscuity. They have to be good wives after all, their grandmother thinks. Of course, locking up pubescent girls doesn’t quell their abandon. While the first feature from Turkish-born, French-raised director Deniz Gamze Ergüven is a story of imprisonment, it is also one of escape and boundless joy. Told from the eyes of the youngest, curious Lale (Günes Sensoy), we watch as her teenage sisters attempt to flee the home before being forced into marriage. By positioning the story from Lale’s eyes, Ergüven and co-writer Alice Winocour use the character’s youth and innocence to examine patriarchal norms, as the pre-teen moves between loyalty to her sisters and the strict rule of the father. The performances from the five girls, mostly newcomers, are exuberant and natural. Unfortunately, apart from Lale, they are an interchangeable lot that mostly swoon at boys and sulk at their uncle’s plans. The commentary about religious and sexual norms in Turkey stings. However, one wishes the five sisters and their sly acts of defiance were more distinct. Still, this is lively, feminist entertainment, its sensations of camaraderie something that could make it stand out in a rather bleak collection of Oscar nominees for foreign language film.

3.9 --  THE REVANANT, Alejandro G. Iñárritu.
[reviewed  by Nancy Snipper] The world knew it had been gifted a great actor when it brought us the spellbinding performance of Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? In the film, Catch Me If You Can, he played a master conman on the run from the FBI. But the reverse happens in this latest DiCaprio film which is based on true events that occurred in 1824. Here, the 2016 gory suspense thriller of gruesome proportions has the star actor chasing John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Glass is a fur trapper and guide for this band of Americans trappers. Their job it is to hunt and sell the pelts back home. The film shows the greed of both the French and the English as they pillage, lie and cheat to get their pelts. Aside from being incredibly mauled by a grisly bear, Glass must face the harshest of climates, stumble upon the Indian who helped save his life hanging from a tree, witness the murder of his son, and then use every ounce of muscle left in his body to find the man who killed his devoted son. This movie is a series of journeys that travels into treacherous territory both physically and emotionally – for actors and viewer. It is a great film, and Di Caprio surely is up to win the Oscar for his astounding performance. He hardly ever articulates clear sentences, which causes some frustration for the viewer. However, talk about gritty realism, the director spared his cast any comfort. The crew spoke of enduring a “living hell,” of being forced to work in -25C temperatures, of travelling for hours to remote locations in Canada and Argentina to film for a mere 90 minutes, the result of Iñárritu’s decision to shoot only in natural light. “If we ended up [using] green screen with coffee and everybody having a good time,” the famed Birdman director told The Hollywood Reporter, “everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of s---.“ Truth is, he may have been right. The sacrifice paid off. The film is remarkably savage in all aspects. You could feel the cold right through your bones.

3.4 -- 13 HOURS; SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI, Michael Bay
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A gripping and tragically true series of events that happened on September 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya's most dangerous city. A handful of courageous CIA soldiers are left on their own to fend off an ongoing attack on an American compound. The outcome is most disturbing, especially because the house office chief of these soldiers was an autocratic bureaucrat whose bad judgment was responsible for the US ambassador's fate there, and those of the soldiers. No one really cared about them. Medals were gotten but pinned on lapel of the wrong person. The film is formidably confusing in the beginning regarding plot, but perhaps this helped us all empathize how the solders felt as events progressed. A tour de force film whose special effects of firing against the enemy rival any science fiction film.

3.4 -- ANOMALISA, Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A story of pathos about the human condition -- specifically man's inability to connect to others and himself. The use of puppets fascinates and softens the inherent truth of absolute alienation that humans feel in society as seen in the film's anti-hero, The irony is poignant: though each very real puppet has the same voice and appearance, suggesting we are all conformists -- carbon copies of one another -- no one is able to form lasting connections. Brilliantly co-directed by Charlie Kaufman, who also wrote the script, and Duke Johnson, Anomalisa is understated and disturbingly brilliant.

2.3 -- SON OF SAUL, Lazlo Menez
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A claustrophobic setting of Jews in a Hungarian death camp who are in charge of cleaning up the floor full of bodies from the gas chamber and throwing their ashes into the river. One of them men finds his son in the heap of bodies and he is still breathing, but not for long. A Nazi suffocates him, but the father is determined to give him a burial and avoid the autopsy that is ordered. He has about 24 hours to find a Rabbi to do the Kiddush and find a way to get his son out. Unfortunately, the film is a plot mess of confusion, and we really do not care that much about what happens to the dead body. I also found there were grave flaws that weakened credibility. The boy had no rigor mortis, and the ending was not real. So much ambiguity took away from a film that was supposed to be poignant and unforgettable.

3.8 -- THE MARTIAN, Ridley Scott
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An excellent film that has your heart pounding and at the same time mourning for astronaut Mark Watley (Matt Damon) who finds himself alone on Mars. The team was hit by a terrible storm and the commander (Jessica Chastain) and her team can't find him. He is thought to be killed during this frightful storm when they were all working outside of their ship. Alas, Watley is not dead and most of the film presents his ingenious survival tactic, including growing his own potatoes and making water. Meanwhile on earth, everyone thinks he is dead, too, but a message from outer space proves it wrong. Most of the film is spent developing ways to rescue him, and the final solution is more exciting and dangerous than being stranded on mars. This is a great film. Jordan's Wadi Rum desert served as the Mars setting, hundreds of special effects companies and folk were used, and one of the world's largest sound stages played its due role -- the one in Budapest. I loved the film, and Damon and the entire cast made you feel this was actually a documentary. I found all the techno explanations that figured in the film fascinating but I was a space head when it came to comprehending it all. Still, it did not come off as pretentious; rather; astrophysics its added great suspense to the story. Matt Damon is fittingly funny during segments of the story, and his understating, utterly convincing acting is remarkable.

3.7 -- JOY, David O. Russell
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Joy Mangano creates a fabulous miracle mop that instantly flops on TV when the man selling it on QVC shopping network doesn't know how it works. This is just one set back for Joy whose determination and moxy allows her to mop up every serious debt and crook that puts her into a failure position -- not to mention a bad-ass half-sister who ruins things for her along with callous father whose new love (Isabella Rossellini) is a rick bitch who has no intention of seeing her money investment slide away into Joy's mop when things are going very badly. Joy finds an incredibly clever and courageous way to force her enemies to own up to their wrongs financially. Stealing people's ideas and patents have something to do with these wrongs. Jennifer Lawrence as Joy is remarkable, as is the all-star cast -- except for Robert De Niro who has become a parody of the comic characters he has played. His simpy smile and throw -away emotions diminished the film's impact. A must-see movie.



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