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Reviews for September 9th, 2016

Documentary Round-Up

      Starving the Beast tackles a very important topic for the future of America: the defunding of public universities. Statistics show that tuition fees have skyrocketed throughout recent years, and programs have been cut because of universities have lost their government funding and instead have become corporations where students are merely customers. Funding for professors' research studies have also been eliminated. One of the individuals who's trying to accomplish the defunding is former University of Texas business professor Jeff Sandefer who came up with what he called "Seven Breakthrough Solutions." Political advocate Grover Norquist is also on Sanderfer's side. Not surprisingly, they persuaded politicians like Texas Governer Rick Perry to defund public universities. Director Steve Mims provides you with a wealth of information via talking heads, charts and archival footage. Starving the Beasts greatest strengths, though, are twofold. Firstly, the way it presents its information is without anger in spite of the fact that it should make you enraged. Perhaps any anger should be saved for when discussing and processing this documentary. Secondly, the information is both fair and balance because you get to see opposing viewpoints. Political commentator James Carville adds some of his wit and criticisms which feels like a breath of fresh air. It would have been interesting to hear what other brilliant, outspoken minds like Noam Chomsky would have had to say about the issue of defunding public universities. While this doc does manage to be insightful, timely and provocative, it does feel a bit dry every now and then as you might be tempted to ask "When is the exam?" while bombarded with information left and right. Nothing would be lost by seeing it on the small screen. Perhaps more of the human element, i.e. backstories of some of the documentary's subjects, and more of a thrilling atmosphere, like in Inside Job, would have helped to make it more of a cinematic experience. Violet Crown Films opens Starving the Beast at IFC Center. Far more gripping, eye-opening and terrifying than Starving the Beast is The Abolitionists which not only raises awareness about the issue of child sex trafficking around the world. It follows Tim Ballard, a former Homeland Security and CIA agent, as he goes on undercover operations to save child victims from sex slavery. With crisp editing, plenty of footage from those operations, and a well-chosen musical score, co-directors Darrin Fletcher and Chet Thomas make the doc feel like an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Ballard and the other members of his team from Operation Underground Railroad, the organization he founded, risk their lives as they meet the traffickers face-to-face while pretending to be potential customers looking to buy their girls' services. Not all of the operations go exactly as planned which makes this doc all the more unpredictable and suspenseful. Interspersed between the spellbinding footage of the operations is the moving footage of Ballard conversing with victims whom he had rescued and, thanks to him, can now start a new and better life---although one of the girls feels angry at her mother for allowing her to be sold as a sex slave, so recovering from such trauma for her isn't an easy. Another victim says the she hopes to become a nurse. The struggle to end rescue child sex trafficking victims and to arrest all of the traffickers is on-going. Perhaps some governments are actually colluding with the traffickers and are among the clientele as well---it wouldn't be surprising if that were indeed the case as suggested by another documentary on sex trafficking, Fatal Promises. What's crystal clear after watching The Abolitionists is that there needs to be more courageous and caring people like Tim Ballard who are aware about the horrors of the child sex trafficking industry and enraged enough to go out there and fight human trafficking. Ballard is true hero in every sense of the word. Each rescue as a result of his Operation Underground Railroad organization's undercover operations is one small step for the battle against the sex trade industry, and one giant step for mankind. Bravo to directors Darrin Fletcher and Chet Thomas for bringing Tim Ballard and this human rights issue to light. The Abolitionists would make for an interesting double feature with Taken. FletChet Entertainment opens it at AMC Empire 25.

Come What May

Directed by Christian Carion

      In 1940 France, Nazi soldiers invaded France thereby displacing millions of French villagers who become refugees. Paul (Olivier Gourmet), the mayor of a village in northern France, persuades the people in his village, includes his beloved wife, Mado (Mathilde Seig), to flee to Dieppe. Hans (August Diehl) gets imprisoned by the French for lying about his nationality. He searches his eight-year-old son, Max (Joshio Marlon), who's being taken care of by his schoolteacher, Suzanne (Alice Isaaz). Percy (Matthew Rhys), a Scottish soldier, joins Hans on his dangerous journey.

      Although Come What May takes place during a war, it's not a typical war film that relies on a lot of action and suspense. Instead, writer/director Christian Carion and co-writers Andrew Bampfield and Laure Irrman have woven a gentle drama that has a very intense, riveting scenes while steering clear of making the audience feel emotionally devestated. This isn't as unflinching, harrowing or horrifying as In Darkness or Son of Saul. The screenplay trusts your patience as an audience member because it takes its time to develop its characters, so when they're confronted with a situation that puts their lives in imminent danger, i.e. during an aerial bombing, you will care about what happens to them because you were emotionally invested in their lives up until that point. With the exception of a few scenes, the suspense is very understated; this isn't the kind of edge-of-your-seat suspense you'll find in a Hollywood film, though, which makes it all the more refreshing and human. There's also just the right amount of levity to counterbalance the serious tone, although it's ephemeral. Some of the film's most powerful scenes, are actually not the loud or talkative ones, but rather the quiet ones. Watching Suzanne riding her bicycle through the beautiful nature of the countryside is breathtaking and speaks volumes louder than words. The gentle musical score by Ennio Morricone sounds very fitting without hitting you over the head or holding your hands to tell your how to feel. In other words, the film also trusts your emotions as a sensitive audience member.

      Further enhancing Come What May's realism are the stellar, natural performances by the well-chosen cast. Not a single one of them gives a hammy or wooden performance, so they're believable in every scene. Perhaps the most complex character onscreen, though, is the awe-inspiring landscape which looks serene more often than not, but it's in sharp contrast to the horrors of the war taking place there concurrently. At a running time of 1 hour and 54 minutes, Come What May is a quietly moving, breathtaking and captivating war film that's grounded in humanism and trusts the audience's patience and emotions.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Cohen Media Group.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and The Paris Theatre.

London Road

Directed by Rufus Norris


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by BBC Worldwide North America.
Opens at Village East Cinema.


Directed by Clint Eastwood


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Opens nationwide.
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