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Reviews for March 4th, 2016

Documentary Round-Up

      Colliding Dreams examines the origins of Zionism and how it has evolved throughout the years. Co-directors Joseph Dorman and Oren Rudavsky do a great job of providing plenty of insights about how Zionism has increased tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. They combine talking head interviews with some on-screen texts and archival footage which makes the doc's form pretty ordinary, but what's truly refreshing and extraordinary about Colliding Dreams is that the content actually provides you with balanced perspectives to a very complex and sensitive topic. After all, there are more than 2 sides to a coin: there's the ridges, the sides, the sides of the ridges, etc. Most docs show one or maybe 2 sides at most, but this one presents you with a multifacated array of insights about Zionism without oversimplifying them. You'll never look at Zionism the same way again. To be fair, given the bombardment of info, Colliding Dreams might feel a bit too dry for high schools students, and they could be tempted to stop to ask, "When's the exam???" at some point throughout lengthy running time of 2 hours and 14 minutes. Adults, though, especially those who have a passion for and curiousity about history, will find it to be illuminating, provocative, vital and engaging. International Film Circuit opens Colliding Dreams at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Ava's Possessions

Directed by Jordan Galland


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Momentum Pictures.
Opens at Cinema Village.

The Final Project

Directed by Taylor Ri'chard

      Six film school students must complete an extra-credit assignment in order to avoid failing their course. They travel to Vacherie, Louisiana to film a haunted house in the Lafitte Plantation. Will they or won't they encounter the supernatural?

      If you're seen any found footage films before, the answer to that question won't be particularly surprising. Yes, The Final Project goes through a checklist of what you expect from a found footage horror film including clueless protagonists, jump scares and shaky cam, but the way that it goes about its plot is more important. An wise and perseptive actor I once interviewed, James Wilder, observed that, "There are basically 7 stories. Boy meets girl with best friend, etc...Vincent Miro painted only in primary colors. All other colors are a combination of those primary colors which are yellow, blue and red. So, purple is blue and yellow and on and on. When you really think that there are really only 3 primary colors, and you think about painting and how every painting is like a thumbprint, it's completely different. So, if you look at originality when it comes to entertainment, if you look at the thumb, you'll say they all look alike. But if you look at it as a thumbprint, you would say that they're all completely different. So I think it's just about perception. Originally comes from a myriad of different ways." In other words, while you can call The Final Project derivative and unoriginal if you want to, that's just a simplistic, unsophisticated and boring way of looking at it (like a thumb)without examining it more closely and actually experiencing it which would, like a thumbprint, differentiate it from other similar genre films.

      Fortunately, writer/director Taylor Ri'chard and co-writer Zachary Davis keep the plot lean and don't bombard you with a lot of backstory flashbacks. They also build suspense during the first half of the film as the supernatural haven't arrived during that time yet, so you get the chance to get to know the characters' personalities a bit in the meantime. As the students film more and more of the haunted house, the film's atmosphere becomes increasingly creepy and hair-raising. Once the supernatural elements do arrive, it will scare the living daylights out of you, especially if you see it in on the big screen in a theater or at home---as long as you see it in a room that's as dark as possible. At a brief running time of 82 minutes, The Final Project doesn't overstay its welcome, keeps you at the edge of your seat with nail-biting suspense and chills.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by CAVU Pictures.
Opens at Village East Cinema.

Knight of Cups

Directed by Terrence Malick


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Broad Green Pictures.
Opens at Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

London Has Fallen

Directed by Babak Najafi


Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Gramercy Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

Road Games

Directed by Abner Pastoll


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by IFC Midnight.
Opens at IFC Center.

The Wave

Directed by Roar Uthaug


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


Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore

      Judy Hopps (voice Ginnifer Goodwin), a bunny, lives on her family's carrot farm, but has bigger dreams than her parents would like her to have: to become a policewoman in Zootopia. She enlists in the police academy, aces the test, and moves to the big city of Zootopia where she becomes the first bunny to be a member of the police force. Chief Bogo (voice of J.K. Simmons) relegates her to the role of parking inspector. With the help of a sly fox, Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), she takes the initiative to investigate the mystery surrounding the disappearance of 14 animals in Zootopia. She risks her career when Bogo gives her an ultimatum: either find those missing animals within 48 hours or resign from the police force.

      Zootopia boasts a winning combination of comedy, drama, suspense and thrills that will delight adults and children alike. Each character has his or her own unique, lively personality which makes them all the more memorable and, in the case of Judy, relatable. The screenplay by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston hooks you in from the very first scene with a school play that provides audiences with a hint of the film's overarching message about tolerance and a clever foreshadow of the events to come. Another strength of the screenplay is that it knows when to be funny and when to be serious without any unevenness in tone. Balance can be found in other areas of the film as well, i.e. with the witty humor for adults along with the physical humor for kids. The itself story feels uplifting without being cloying, and wise without being preachy.

      On an aesthetical level, every scene is filled with CGI animation that will surely dazzle all ages. What makes Zootopia a truly extraordinary animated film, though, is that it has compelling story that's driven by its plot and characters while remaining genuinely heartfelt throughout. Adults will appreciate the film's depth of emotion and positive messages while observing the similarities between many aspects of Zootopia and the real world, i.e. the sloths that work in the DMV. Like many classic animated films, Zootopia will be increasingly enjoyable and enriching each and every time you re-watch it alone or with your kids. It's ultimately a potent reminder that we're in a Golden Age of Animation.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Opens nationwide.
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