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SIFF ’19: ‘WILD ROSE’ A Fierce And Ill-Mannered Country Music Come-Up

Featuring a star-making turn from Jessie Buckley, Wild Rose follows a recently released convict/songbird with Nashville dreams. Eyes will be superglued to Buckley who brings ragged life to a complicated deadbeat momma aspiring to be a country star in Tom Harper’s somewhat familiarly-written film that examines the shoals of starry-eyed aspirations and harsh real world realities. Fastened with warm, heartfelt soundtrack (performed with spellbinding beauty by Buckley) and with a solid foothold in semi-charmed redemption, Wild Rose is a white trash crowdpleaser that manages something new to say in a routine ‘star is born’ subgenre. (B) Read More

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SIFF ’19: ‘THE NIGHTINGALE’ Warbles A Brutal Tale of Colonial Oppression 

Jennifer Kent (The Babadook) is an evolving director. Shifting the focal point of trauma from monsters that lay in wait beneath your bed to the sociopolitical horrors of our collective pasts (colonial-era Tasmania is the setting here), Kent tells a rape-revenge western that explores the loss of power and the power of loss. The story of a woman hunting the man who raped her and killed her husband and baby is well over two hours but there wasn’t a moment that I was not glued to the screen. Kent’s second is a distinctively difficult feature, savagely blunt but not also without its nuance and beauty. Aisling Franciosi and  Baykali Ganambarr weave understated human compassion into characters separated by entrenched racism, with the Irish convict and aboriginal tracker banded together to seek retribution. Striking cinematography from Radek Ladczuk casts the often brutal imagery in gorgeous natural lights; luminous and ruminant, even through the darkness. (A-) Read More

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SIFF ’19: Deadpan ‘THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE’ Brilliantly Sharpens Riley Stearn’s Dark Wit

Fight Club by way of Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster), Riley Stearns’ screed on “might is right” toxic masculinity is a giggly black comedy that cowers down a twisty-turny rabbit hole. Jesse Eisenberg plays a neurotic weakling (shocker) who gets mugged and turns to karate to boast his manliness and self-confidence via the transformative power of foot punches and heavy metal. Importing the welcome strangeness of producers David and Nathan Zellner (Kumiko the Treasure Hunter), The Art of Self-Defense is hysterically dark, niche cinema, a deadpan mockery of the sanctity of life and the sacredness of death. It kicks ass. (A-) Read More

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Sporadically Gruesome ‘BRIGHTBURN’ Could Burn More Brightly

Man of Steel meets We Need to Talk About Kevin in Brightburn, the James Gunn-produced “What if Superman bad?” movie that’s had folks buzzing since its mysterious announcement last year. Gunn, who cut his teeth in the Troma movie scene – a disruptive production company infamous for splatter and farce-fueled horror movies like Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead and The Toxic Avenger – before becoming a big shot with The Guardians of the Galaxy series, has his gore-tastic fingerprints scattered throughout Brightburn, though the superhero script-flipper’s signature touch is decisively missing, Brightburn lacking the mark of a seasoned filmmaker with keen editorial prowess, a knack for subjective horror, and Gunn’s dark, cruel wit. Read More

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SIFF ’19: ‘LATE NIGHT’ Millennial-splains Entertainment to Baby Boomers

Curmudgeonly talk show host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson, essential here) has lost her edge over the years, her ratings have followed. So begins the glow up of “old crone gets new voice” that is Late Night. When amateur “diversity hire” Molly (Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the screenplay) is given a seat on Newbury’s white-male-dominant writing staff, the unlikely pair develop a working relationship that promises professional rebirth and a deeper understanding of modern entertainment tastes – to middling, and often safe, effect. The enjoyable, if forgettable, comedy from director Nisha Ganatra doesn’t have a lot of tooth to bare, nor much bold to its protest, and its dramatic impact is dulled accordingly. The film functions much like late night television, lulling watchers into an amused (if hardly impassioned) trance; momentarily entertaining but rabid for whatever upcoming slice of disposal entertainment. (B-) Read More

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Disney’s Lifeless ’ALADDIN’ Remake is the Opposite of Art

As far as I’m concerned, Aladdin is the worst movie of the year. There is not one ounce of artistic value in this soiled remake ostensibly from director Guy Ritchie (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), not one element that was not a clunky and borderline offensive down step from the original 1992 animated film, no attempt to refurbish the material and put any semblance of fresh spin on it. This is “filmmaking” as black magic – the result of someone burying the original Aladdin V/H/S in a Pet Sematary, its shambling resurrected corpse showing up on marquees pretending to be a real movie.   Read More

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SIFF ’19: ’BLINDED BY THE LIGHT’ Proudly Belts Out Familiar Hit, Cheesy Heart Firmly on Sleeve

Against the cynical backdrop of Margaret Thatcher’s UK, Blinded By the Light tells a true-and-true tale of a Pakistani writer finding his voice and independence through the discovery of American heartland rocker Bruce Springsteen. It’s a heartfelt fantasy wherein every problem can be solved with a well-placed Springsteen lyric but one that ultimately does little to distinguish its coming-of-age story from the countless working-class renditions that came before it. Javed’s status as an immigrant in an increasingly racist UK and strain on his relationship with his traditional father are explored to a degree but it all feels cliché, despite its unwavering earnestness and nagging personal touch. Almost giddily cheesy, this feel-good crowdpleaser benefits from its patent sincerity and thoughtful cultural angle, even if it is still much too long. (C+) Read More

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‘BOOKSMART’ a Sincere (And Sincerely Funny) Ode to High School Ride or Dies 

In August of 2007, Superbad hit theaters and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I had graduated from high school three months earlier and though I’d never sat in a ride along with infantile po-po, or forced to sing karaoke to a room full of coke heads, the theme of life’s defining crossroads and their inevitable effect on friendship struck a nerve. Underneath the playful sheen of a raunchy teen comedy, Superbad spoke to the challenges of an unknowable future and the tectonic shifts that crackle in the multitudinous friendships you’ve curated over the years. A few days after Superbad, I left for college.  Read More

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SIFF ’19: Awkwafina Gets Serious in A24’s Cross-Cultural Drama ‘THE FAREWELL’

Ignorance is power in A24’s celebrated Sundance hit The Farewell. The film follows Awkwafina’s Chinese family who, scattered across the globe, assemble when news breaks of the family matriarch’s terminal cancer diagnosis. The skinny is no one has told said matriarch, the family cooking up a ruse to keep that treasured info from her in increasingly heartbreaking and comical ways. The film from Lulu Wang is a rare family film that genuinely speaks to the deep, historied, and complicated bonds that tie while remaining thematically viable and content appropriate for practically all ages. Wang’s is a deeply felt and emotionally sincere film that benefits from its serio-comic nature, if not one that left me entirely moved. (B) Read More

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SIFF ’19: Confident ‘BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON’ Is a Big Fat Crowdpleaser 

Jillian Bell is off to the races as an overweight and under-motivated millennial living in the Big Apple who decides to turn her life around through the transformative power of running. The seriocomic account of seizing power from dark instincts is laced with the ripe reality of self-destruction and lifted by the hopefulness of finding self-love. Writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo structures the film as Brittany’s rom-com with herself and Bell, who packed on (and lost) quite a bit of weight for the role, is simply fantastic delivering a marathon of darkly-tinged comedy and uplifting pathos. (B) Read More