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This third segment is the strongest yet, with four movies totally worthy of seeing. Still following the SIFF procedure, these short-shorts of reviews are kept to a brief nature (75 quick words of glory) until their respective local release. So in my pursuit to oust my opinion without breaking regulation, look out for mini-review after mini-review as I seek to hit that magic number of 40 films of SIFF’s 40th anniversary. So, short and sweet reading for you, much more time for movie watching for me. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Half of a Yellow Sun

dir. Bibi Bandele star. Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Boyega, Anika Noni Rose (Nigeria, UK)

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Half of a Yellow Sun features strong performances from Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejioforj but after the first hour, it unexplainably loses momentum, and curls into a deep sag in the later third act. A love square between two Nigerian sisters schooled in England, who are dead set on becoming arbiters of social change, occupies the forefront of this saga that also sees the Nigerian civil war ripping their world to shreads, and subsequent creation and deconstruction of Biafra. Occassionally powerful but unsatisfying in structure.  (C+)

Mirage Men

dir. John Lundberg, Roland Denning, Kypros Kyprianou, Mark Pilkington (UK)

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An engaging info-fest that posits a.) aliens exist b.) the US government funded a mild to large-scale disinformation campaign to intentionally mislead UFO researchers. Richard Doty, the former Air Force largely responsible for feeding falsified documents to UFO “expert” Paul Bennewitz – until he snapped into full blown psychosis – comes forward and is our (somewhat unreliable) guide through the proceedings. The triple directing team captures a wide range of testimony on the subject but barely have any video to play with, making Mirage Men a disappointingly “tell, don’t show” experience. (C)

The Trip to Italy

dir. Michael Winterbottom star. Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Marta Barrio (UK)

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Rob Brydon and Steven Coogan leave foggy, fried North England behind for the breathtaking Italian coast where they wine, dine, and goof their way through a dream trip (one that inspires deep pangs of jealousy from this critic). The naturalistic hyper-reality they craft thrives on the weathered chemistry between the two stars. Their old-as-they-are relationship paves the way for improvisation prowess so organic its feels more like second natural than performance. More impressions, absolutely stunning vistas, Alanis Morissette’s croon, lazily waxing on life and pasta, pasta, pasta gives intrepid life to The Trip to Italy. (B)

Starred Up

dir. Jack Mackenzie star. Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend (UK)

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A violent and volatile teen, Eric Love, enters a maximum security English prison where the wrong word or glance can end with a cut throat. Rather than submit to his surroundings, Eric thrashes like a caged animal; an unpredictable bombshell armed to blow. Rupert Friend, Ben Mendelsohn and David Ajala ably fill out the supporting cast but it’s star Jack O’Connell who burns brightest; his portrayal of Eric is unblinking and – even behind such thick callous – heartily tragic. While some plot threads are left dangling, the potent performances and probing examination of dehumanizing prison ethos makes Starred Up more than a worthy trip to hell and back.  (B-)

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Click through for more recap segments and stay tuned for the next collection of four in this whopping ten part series.

Part 1: JIMI: All is By My Side, Zip Zap and the Marble Gang, Hellion, Fight Church 
Part 2: Cannibal, The Double, Time Lapse, Another

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