Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2014 Philadelphia Film Festival Recap Part 1

After outlining my Best of the Festival Picks yesterday, I thought I'd give a brief recap of all the films I had a chance to enjoy over the past 2 weeks of movie watching. First, I already reviewed a few festival selections like LaggiesBirdman, St. Vincent, The Imitation Game, Wild, Escobar: Paradise Lost and The Good Lie. Here's a look at some other films I caught at the Philadelphia Film Festival:

The Mule

3 stars out of 4 - B

One of the most bizarre and incredible stories at this year's festival comes from the Aussie film, The Mule. Terrific performances from Angus Sampson (who also co-directs) and Hugo Weaving anchor a captivating movie experience. The Mule follows Ray Jenkins, a shy television repairman who agrees to help a friend smuggle heroin into Australia from Thailand. However, after acting suspicious at the airport, Ray is taken into police custody where he can be held for seven days. In a battle of wits and bodily control, Ray tries to refrain from having a bowel movement so he can avoid going to jail.


3 stars out of 4 - B

Unwavering intensity could be found at this year's festival with Yann Demange's '71. Jack O'Connell continues his breakout year with another dominating turn as a soldier trapped beyond enemy lines. O'Connell captured the attention of moviegoers with the summer indie release, Starred Up, and many are forecasting him as a Best Actor contender as the star in Angelina Jolie's Christmas release, Unbroken. However, in this latest film O'Connell plays a British soldier left to fend for himself on the violent streets of Belfast in 1971. The tension is constant and the thrills are plentiful in a fine example of action-packed filmmaking.


3 stars out of 4 - B

One of the pleasant surprises was the debut feature from filmmaker Riley Stearns entitled Faults. Stearns tells a carefully crafted story about Ansel (played convincingly by character actor Leland Orser), a down on his luck self-labeled "expert on cults". But after Leland is approached by a set of parents who claim their daughter Claire is being brainwashed by a cult, his financial predicaments force him to accept the job of deprogramming the young woman. Equal parts dark comedy and intense thriller, Mary Elizabeth Winstead carries Faults to a beautifully executed finale. While the story unravels in a quasi-predictable fashion, nothing can prepare you for the tension-filled third act that Stearns is able to capture on screen. 

Clouds of Sils Maria

3 stars out of 4 - B

More so than ever before, this year's Philadelphia Film Festival delivered an inordinate amount of female-centered films. And while I was awfully skeptical of the aging-woman drama, Clouds of Sils Maria, I can say in all honesty that I was rather impressed by wonderful performances and a strong screenplay. Juliette Binoche stars as famed actress, Maria Enders, who is asked to perform in a modern-day revival of the play that ultimately sparked her career. Yet, as 20 years have passed since then, Maria is expected to take the role of the older and more vulnerable female character. Kristen Stewart gives a career best performance alongside the always talented Juliette Binoche in an extremely honest story. 


3 stars out of 4 - B

My movie-watching concluded on Saturday October 25th with Rory Culkin's exceptional performance in the unsettling drama, Gabriel (but don't call him that). Culkin stars in the title role as a recently-released mental illness patient desperate to reconnect with his first love. The audience is forced to sit idly by as the main character gradually drifts further and further from reality. Gabriel is an uneasy and fantastic examination of mental illness and its ability to control individuals.

Love, Rosie

2 and a half stars out of 4 - B-

One obvious crowd-pleaser from this year's festival was the romantic comedy, Love, Rosie. Lily Collins proves an adorable lead in the occasionally irritating story of lifelong best friends, Rosie and Alex, who have never acted on their impulses to take their relationship to the next level. While the story is delivered in a comical and charming way, Love, Rosie is a worthwhile rom-com that thankfully calls it quits before the audience decides to turn on the film.


2 and a half stars out of 4 - B-

As a huge fan of Mark Duplass as both an actor and filmmaker, I was very excited to catch his new horror comedy at the festival. Representing one of the finer found-footage horror stories I've seen, Creep revolves around a videographer named Aaron (played by director Patrick Brice) and the client who recruits him through a craigslist ad (Duplass). As the skin-crawling events unfold and the client's unorthodox behavior becomes unbearable, Creep begins to escalate to a whole other level. Duplass is spectacular and the finale is simply unforgettable. 

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