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Sundance 2015: CHORUS Review

Chorus is a unique film in its composition and story. It is a quiet and unassuming film that surveys a couple’s reaction to the finding of their son – Hugo – whose body is discovered 10 years after he went missing.

The film opens with a man confessing to Hugo’s disappearance. He is calm as he recounts the events surrounding Hugo’s final hours; it is a chilling display.

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CAKE Review

Cake was, sadly, a disappointing time in the cinema. I had looked forward to seeing it because of the buzz surrounding Jennifer Aniston’s performance as Claire Bennett – a woman struggling with chronic pain, drug addiction and the loss of a child.

Aniston has been nominated for a Golden Globe, Broadcast Film Critics Award and Screen Actors Guild Award. She did not receive an Academy Award nomination, and I must admit that I found none of those preceding nominations particularly deserved.

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BIG EYES Review

Big Eyes may be the least Burton-esque of all of Tim Burton’s films. There are a few touches that remind you that he is behind the proverbial curtain, but by and large, the film feels directed more by the performances of Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz than by Burton. This is not a criticism. Adams, Waltz and Burton have created a minor gem with their telling of this true story of one woman’s initial abdication of self to someone else’s control and ultimate rebirth as her own creation.

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THE IMITATION GAME Review

While watching The Imitation Game, I was reminded of two other British films from the last decade: The Queen and The King’s Speech. All three are similar in tone, have just the right amount of humor and pathos, present memorable moments in British history, and contain award-worthy performances. The mark made by this film is in celebrating a nearly unknown and tragic figure who played a key role in the winning of World War II.

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MR. TURNER Review

I am such a fan of Mike Leigh’s work that it pains me to give his latest offering, Mr. Turner, a mere 6.5/10 rating. On the surface, the subject matter is out of Leigh’s wheelhouse, as it does not focus on middle- to lower-class Brits from the last 60 years. Instead, it follows in the footsteps of his exploration of operatic masters Gilbert and Sullivan in Topsy-Turvy and explores a famous painter living and working in the 19th century. That painter is J.M.W. Turner, a fascinating character about whom a great movie could have been made; I just wish it had been better.

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INHERENT VICE Review

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of American cinema’s youngest auteurs. He has a distinctive voice, yet each picture is diverse. With Inherent Vice, he creates an often absurdist comedy with plenty of dramatic events to spur the movie along.

I have had great difficulty reviewing this film because I so enjoyed earlier Anderson films like Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood. But this film, as with his previous effort, The Master, left me shaking my head. Halfway through this film, I found myself referring to it as “Incoherent Vice” because there were too many storylines, none of which seemed to properly connect to one another. It is a fine effort on Anderson’s part and there are many of the usual Anderson touches present, but it did not connect with me the way his earlier films had.

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WILD Review

Some films have narrative but no plot. Wild is such a film. It stars Reese Witherspoon as audiences have never seen her in an unflinching portrayal of a simultaneously strong and brittle woman teetering on the edge as she walks over 1,000 miles up the Pacific Crest Trail. Her physical journey begins in Southern California and takes her to Oregon, and it is a grueling trip. Her emotional journey is no less treacherous and we see it primarily through quick flashbacks meant to be memories that she is reliving as she struggles to make the seemingly impossible trek through the wilderness.

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WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD Review

White Bird in a Blizzard is a difficult film to place in a particular genre. It should be a mystery, but it plays out more like a coming-of-age movie about a teenager coming to terms with her parents. That teen, Kat, is played by Shailene Woodley (Divergent, Fault in Our Stars). Some pundits thought Woodley might be nominated for an Academy Award for her work in the George Clooney vehicle, The Descendants, where she performed much better than she does here, swinging from wooden acting to overacting opposite an eclectic cast that includes Christopher Meloni, Eva Green and Gabourey Sidibe. White Bird never comes together, remaining an incoherent mash-up of various themes, none of which are terribly interesting on their own or when stitched together in a less-than-mediocre script.

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HERE COMES THE NIGHT Review

Here Comes the Night has the hallmarks of do-it-yourself filmmaking. It was written and produced by directors Pete Shanel and Peter Kline as well as the film’s principal actors, Ben Duhl and Kurt Haas. The result is nearly 90 minutes of what amounts to the beginning of a film; that is, there is a premise that is never fully explored or realized. Duhl and Haas create likeable characters who might have something to say in a bigger universe than the one they inhabit on the streets of Los Angeles.

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Fantasia Fest 2014: COLD EYES Review

Some of the most intriguing and exciting films over the last decade have come out of South Korea, so I was looking forward to seeing and reviewing one of the country’s latest exports – Cold Eyes (Gam-si-ja-deul). Although the film does not equal more famous and lauded films, such as Mother, Oldboy, and I Saw the Devil, it holds its own over a two-hour run and is a solid effort from directors Ui-seok Jo and Byung-seo Kim and a large cast of cops and robbers.

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1971 Review

1971 is one of the more interesting documentaries I have seen in some time.  Largely told by the people involved with some recreations when necessary, the film tells the story of eight individuals’ break-in to a local FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania, in 1971.  What the uncovered would cause more embarrassment to and distrust of the Bureau though not brining it or its long-time chief J. Edgar Hoover exactly to its/his knees.  The film’s opening includes a statement about Edward Snowden’s recent high-tech appropriation of numerous National Security Agency (NSA) documents as well as Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the so-called “Pentagon Papers” in 1971.

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COHERENCE Review

Coherence is a paranoia-laden independent sci-fi thriller by writer James Ward Byrkit, making his debut feature as a director. The unknowns really make the film all the more intriguing; and the core actors truly inhabit their roles. The story opens on a house with eight friends having a dinner party. We get to know each of the eight friends better, but we do not know them well enough to set our sights on any one in particular. This is wise on Byrkit’s part because there is no protagonist or antagonist; at least, arguably, not until the film’s last ten minutes.

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DWF 2014: SAND CASTLES Review

The story at the heart of Sand Castles could be ripped from the headlines. A young girl is abducted by a sex offender and held captive for more than a decade. Some films would focus on the abduction, the search for the kidnapped girl, and/or the apprehension of the perpetrator (for example, see Prisoners). However, Jordon Hodges’ screenplay deals with the girl’s return and what that means to her and her family.

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DWF 2014: THE HISTORIAN Review

The world of academia is incredibly ripe for real-life drama. I should know, I spent more than a decade in it. So, too, did director Miles Doleac before he took to acting a few years ago. His immaturity is evident in his first all-consuming project – The Historian – which he also produced, wrote and directed. With a meandering script and a heavy amount of overacting, it is easy to argue that Doleac is not in the same class as other triple threats like Woody Allen. But for a first-time attempt, it's not a total loss.

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MALEFICENT Review

Just when you thought you knew the story of Sleeping Beauty either from the original account or the 1959 Disney animated classic, Maleficent turns the fairy tale on its head and does so in a most unexpected way. I was not looking forward to seeing this movie from the trailer alone, and felt like I had seen this story before. What could be new and how laughable would Angelina Jolie be as Maleficent. Well, there are three main reasons to see this film: (1) Jolie’s performance in the title role, (2) some spectacular special effects, and (3) the surprising way in which the story unfolds which I did not see coming but which I admired. There is even some humor thrown in for good measure, something I was not expecting to see despite this being a Disney movie.