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It’s nothing short of ironic that the 5 films featured in SIFF ’17 that I’ve already seen, I haven’t actually written anything about yet. So, in hopes of getting you all up to speed on as many of the SIFF features as possible, I’ll fill you in on the likes of those that I’ve already digested, complete with grades because, this is 2017 and you won’t tolerate a lack of grades. Spoiler alert: they’re all good. Also be sure to check out The 8 SIFF ’17 Films We’re Dying to See.

THE BIG SICK

Kumail Nanjiani’s romantic-comedy-cum-hospital-drama shares structural similarities to prior festival circuit hit Me and Earl and the Dying Girl but its cultural import perspective help keep it feeling fresh and untold. Mighty funny at first, The Big Sick sinks into an icky bath of skin-crawling health scare dramatics but the tender and true love story at its center which threatens to ooze into nothingness but ends on a super satisfying note keeps this Apatow production engaging, poignant and heart-warming throughout. (B+)

THE HERO

Sam Elliot is the masterful centerpiece of Brett Haley’s The Hero, a dark but tender drama about an aging one hit wonder who’s struck with a time bomb of a diagnosis. As Elliot’s Lee navigates his mortality, he accidental falls for Laura Prepon’s Lucy, a comedian half his age with an inexplainable fascination with him. Similar in more ways than one to Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, this dark drama explores themes of broken families, personal absolution and professional regret in powerful, character-driven moments. Elliot is outstanding throughout and could just be in the running for his first Oscar nomination. (B)

INFINITY BABY

Bob Byington’s jet black deadpan is a dark delight for twisted minds. A strange and singular vision that had me cackling throughout, Infinity Baby imagines a world in which a CEO (Nick Offerman) hocking “infinity babies”, new borns that never age, in a world terrified of commitment. The ensemble cast features a neurotic and repulsive playboy in Kieran Culkin’s Ben, Kevin Corrigan and Kevin Starr in perhaps cinema’s most unlikely homosexual coupling and Megan Mullally and Zoe Graham as women trying to navigate the weird world of men. Byington plays fast and loose with the satire, crafting a biting takedown of millennial generation while offering some of the year’s most pertinent laughs. An oddball joy from start to finish. (A-)

LAKE BODOM

Lake Bodom finds itself mining real tragedy – in 1960’s Finland, a still-unsolved murder saw three teenagers slaughtered at the titular woodland campground – to tell this twisty thriller with hard-edged explosions of horror. This tale of teenagers scaring each other in the woods starts mildly, turns for a kind of feminist vengeance kick before veering into something truly unexpected and visceral that ends in superb horror movie fashion. It’s just a shame that it takes so long to heat up. (B-)

THE WORK

Directors Gethin Aldous and Jairus McLeary take us inside Folsom Prison wherein exists a program that unites inmates with outside parties for a four-day group therapy session. The Work, which won the prize for Best Documentary at SXSW, shows the staying power of cinéma vérité, presenting bruising portraits of hardened criminals as they break down to their smallest, most delicate and exposing moments. It’s powerful stuff no doubt and Aldous and McLeary handle the material with care, ensuring it never tips into sensationalism. Bring a box of tissues and be ready to use them because The Work, as its name may suggest, is no day at the picnic. (B+)

 

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