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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘BODIED’ 

Joseph Kahn’s battle rap satire is a dish delish of sick burn served hot and heavy. Exuberant slashes of searing bars and ill rhymes punctuate this come-up story of an unlikely friendship broiling in the maw of an oft-unseen underground culture. Kahn’s electrifying feature takes down the hip-hop scene, collegiate PC culture and the unquenchable thirst for success detailing this underdog ascension to the throne and he does it with style to spare. Rap game cinema hasn’t burned this hot since Hustle & Flow with writer Alex Larsen (aka Kid Twist) borrowing from his own life and capacity for epically clever rebuttals to make this the crowd-pleasing Whiplash of rap battle entertainment. Get hyped! (A-) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘EIGHTH GRADE’ 

A bighearted DM of awkwardness and warmth, Bo Burnham’s transportive comedic-drama debut Eighth Grade will return audiences to those pimple-pocked middle years; when being cool was synonymous with having no personality and anxiety over self-identity dominated every waking thought. The drama from A24 marries a tender coming-of-age saga with perfectly-layered cringe-comedy in a universal story of finding oneself in the digital age. Compelling use of musical cues and spirited, raw performances from Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton characterize this sweet, memorable story about the soul-crushing horror-show that is middle school. (B+) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘BOUNDARIES’

Shana Feste’s pot-slinging cross-country road-trip dramedy deals in paternal disappointment and familial reconciliation but remains a bit high on its own supply. Vera Farmiga and Christopher Plummer stand out as a neurotic, animal-rescuing single mother and her laid-back, ne’er-do-well father, an 85-year old who enlists grandson Henry (Lewis MacDougall) to help sell marijuana under her nose. A well-meaning bong-rip of family drama, if a bit meandering and overcooked, Boundaries is definitely not your average stoner film, and works best as an earnest two-hander between the always reliable Plummer and Farmiga. (C) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘BLUE MY MIND’

A maybe-mermaid metamorphosis, MDMA, and mean girls combine to make Blue My Mind an unforgettably queasy coming-of-age body horror fantasy. Lisa Brühlmann’s Kafkaesque sexual awakening exists somewhere between Raw, Girlhood and The Fly – a Cronenbergian exploration of feminine maturation that deals in earnest themes of friendship and acceptance, tackling the challenges of life’s transitions through a unique, sexually-charged, and often dangerous lens. This Swiss import boasts the distinction of complicated performances (Luna Wedler’s fire) and a supercharged young talent in Brühlmann, who, mind-blowingly, submitted this as her film-school thesis. Bravo. (B+) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘REVENGE’

Vengeance is a dish served gory in this stylish, brutish bloodbath that updates 70s rape-revenge fantasy exploitation films to the #MeToo era. The bare bones plot leaves Jen (a hypnotic Matilda Lutz) pitted against three male assailants/trophy hunters, stranded in the middle of nowhere with an axe to grind. Hallucinatory camerawork and a throbbing soundscape bring artsy flair to this otherwise stripped-down final girl kill-fest that pops with cringetastic, French New Extremity levels of blood geysers. At nearly 2 hours, the feminist horror crowd-pleaser drags in spots but deeply satisfies nonetheless. (B+) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘FIRST REFORMED’

What is it to have faith, Paul Schrader’s haunting, meditative drama asks, luring audiences into a dreamlike spiritual journey in avant-garde exploration of the disharmony between modern religion and biblical teachings. This artful collision of good intentions turned awry and infectious melancholia pulsates with themes of despair, environmentalism, ailment and self-loathing, lead by a naked knockout of a performance from Ethan Hawke. Reminiscent of Taxi Driver (which Schrader wrote), First Reformed is an arthouse miracle of filmmaking and one of the most impactful, poignant, thought-provoking movies about faith ever made. (A) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?’ 

A potpourri of warmth and goodheartedness, ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ explores Mr. Rogers’ overwhelming generosity of spirit and his well-concealed demons through the lens of his radically unfussy television program that ran from 1963 until 2001. Putting the unlikely star back in the spotlight, this heartwarming and tear-duct-attacking documentary from Morgan Neville dazzlingly teaches that we probably never deserved this low-spoken, child-whispering icon and yet his benevolent lessons on acceptance and kindness are more necessary today than ever. A good-natured salve for the soul and inspiring portrait of blinding decency. (B+) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘AMERICAN ANIMALS’

Bart Layton’s audacious feature debut uniquely tacks together documentary and narrative styles to tell the stranger than fiction tale of a notorious art heist gone horribly wrong. Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters are strong as apathetic, bored college students who fall victim to glamorized fables of the perfect crime in Layton’s white-knuckle exploration of young white male entitlement and the dubious nature of truth and memory. This slick caper boasts a unique storytelling approach and gripping moments of high tension but struggles with pacing and periphery character development. (B) Read More

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Sundance ’18 Review: ‘TIME SHARE’

Hell is a timeshare. A designated parcel of property allocated to your family for one immobile week each year. A curated escape, one characterized by pool floaties, crawfish-colored sunburns and frozen cocktails melting in plastic hurricane cups, that lives in a state of semi-stasis. There’s a kind of “Twilight Zone” quality to the whole notion of the billion dollar industry – this turnstile of the self-safe experience, pocked with undulating regret for much of its clientele. Anyone who’s ever attended one know that the only thing worse than being padlocked to an eternal timeshare is facing a sales rep at a timeshare pitch and Sebastián Hofmann’s film, the aptly named Time Share (Tiempo Compartido), captures the sheer horror of that corporate jockeying for one’s undying commitment. Read More

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SIFF ’17 Capsule Review: ‘PYROMANIAC’

A brightly burning ode to a troubled firestarter who happens to be the son of the fire chief in a small Norwegian village of about 800, Pyromaniac is an unsettling if unfulfilling character study. This mysterious slow-burn is more interested in the human drama than the narrative twists it sets up but fails to satisfyingly reveals the arsonist’s true motives – and I’m not convinced the ending is nearly as impactful as it ought to be – but Pyromaniac is accented by fiery cinematography and catchy Scandinavian punk rock, which helps it burn just a bit brighter. (C+) Read More