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Reviews for April 10th, 2015

Documentary Round-Up

      In Country follows Delta 2/5(R), a group of men, consisting of Vietnam War veterans, Iraqi War veterans, and current and soon-to-be U.S. soldiers, as they gather for one weekend a year to re-create battles from the Vietnam War. Co-director Meghan OíHara and Mike Attie eschew the traditional use of talking heads as the main form of the doc; there's mostly the footage of the re-enactments with occasional comments from the reenactors, so you do get a sense of why they're part of Delta 2/5(R) to begin with. Interspersed throughout that footage is archival footage from the Vietnam and Iraqi Wars which feels more intense than the re-enactments because it's actually real. O'Hara and Attie miss opportunities to either humanize the subjects of their film with background info or to gain insight/revelations about the re-enactments which would have elevated In Country to a much more powerful and illuminating level. Instead, they let you come to your own conclusions about what you're watching and make your own connections/interpretations. Perhaps the film's greatest feat is that it remains refreshingly non-judgmental and respects soldiers from start to finish: you can be pro-war or anti-war, yet still be engaged by what you're watching on a visceral level. Bond/360 releases In Country at Cinema Village, VOD on April 28th and DVD on May 12th. VOD.

Black Souls

Directed by Francesco Munzi

      Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta) and his brother, Luigi (Marco Leonardi), both live in Milan and take part in the family crime business: drug-dealing. Their eldest brother, Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), tends to the family's idyllic farm while refusing to join the drug ring. Luciano's rebellious son, Leo (Giuseppe Fumo), prefers otherwise after he shoots up a local bar and runs off to Milan to live with his uncle Rocco. Leo becomes the catalyst for a series of events that lead his family to seek revenge against another family for the murder of his grandfather.

      Writer/director Francesco Munzi together with co-writers Fabrizio Ruggirello Maurizio Braucci combine drama, suspense and thrills in a way that's intelligent, grounded in humanism and consistently grim. The film doesn't rely on violence or plot twists as a means of entertainment or shock value. Instead, what carries the film is its complex, flawed characters and its foreboding atmosphere that keeps you captivated on an emotional level. The suspense and thrills aren't like the ones you see in Hollywood at all: they're more of a slow-burn. You'll probably know what to expect, but, as Hitchcock once famously stated, suspense derives from the anticipation of a gun that's soon to be fired. While the plot and characters themselves seem like well-treaded territory, it's much more important how the director has chosen to tell the story in an old-fashioned way that respects smart, patient and sophisticated audiences.

      Wisely, director Francesco Munzi knows when to trust the audience's intelligence, imagination and patience. Yes, the pace is slow and the meat of the story takes a while to unfold after the first act, but it helps to keep you absorbed gradually without hitting you over the head and assaulting your senses like most Hollywood directors like to do. Munzi leaves certain events up to your imagination, i.e. the murder of the three brothers' father, and avoids using flashbacks. The performances from everyone seem believable and well-nuanced---none of them over-act nor can you feel the wheels of their performances turning, so the film's sense of authenticity and realism always remains intact, even when the action kicks further into gear during the third act. If you're looking for an intelligent, atmospheric, slow-burning crime drama that's anti-Hollywood, Black Souls won't disappoint you.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Vitagraph Films.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and City Cinemas 1 2 3.

Clouds of Sils Maria

Directed by Olivier Assayas

      Upon traveling with her assistant, Val (Kristen Stewart), to accept an award on behalf of her mentor, Wilhelm Melchior, actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) learns that he has just died and now must cope with not only his death, but also the memories from her past the resurface. He was the playwright who penned "Maloja Snake", a play that jump-started Maria's career when she was 20-year-old. Now in her 40's amd going through a divorce, she's approached by a film director, Klaus Diesterweg (Lars Eidinger), to star as an older character in the film adaptation of that very same play. Jo-Ann Ellis (ChloŽ Grace Moretz) has been cast to play her younger co-star.

      Writer/director Olivier Assayas tackles many issues in Clouds of Sils Maria regarding to the emotional struggles that actors go through, but none of it comes across as preachy or contrived. The crux of the movie is the relationship between Maria and Val both of whom are complex, strong and interesting female characters. The way their relationship evolves feels believable as does their character arc. That believability is a testament to the wise, honest and tender screenplay as well as to the raw, well-nuanced and convincingly moving performances by both Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart.

      It's refreshing to see Stewart in a role that allows her to display a wide range of emotions, so kudos to casting directors Antoinette Boulat and Anja Dihrberg for choosing her. She has just as much charisma and "presence" as Binoche does, and it's fascinating to see them playing off of one another. Moretz is quite funny and amusing in her role as Jo-Ann Ellis. Enriching the film even further, the symbolism, i.e. the haunting images of the titular clouds, provide some thought-provoking room for interpretation. At a running time of 124 minutes, Clouds of Sils Maria is sophisticated, profound and well-acted drama about actors that's far better than the overrated, pretentious and sophomoric Oscar-winner Birdman.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Sundance Selects.
Opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and IFC Center.

Dial a Prayer

Directed by Maggie Kiley


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Vertical Entertainment.
Opens in select theaters.

The Reconstruction of William Zero

Directed by Kriv Stenders


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Magnet Releasing.
Opens at Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

The Longest Ride

Directed by George Tillman Jr.


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by 20th Century Fox.
Opens nationwide.

Lost River

Directed by Ryan Gosling


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and VOD.

Rebels of the Neon God

Directed by Ming-liang Tsai


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Big World Pictures. Pictures.
Opens at Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and Quad Cinema.

The Reconstruction of William Zero

Directed by Dan Bush


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by FilmBuff.
Opens at Arena Cinema.


Directed by Paul Bojack


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Opens at Quad Cinema.
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