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The Playlist

Review: Oscar Nominated 'War Witch' A Haunting, Brutal Surrealist Fable Matched by Powerful Lead Performances

  • By Charlie Schmidlin
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  • February 27, 2013 5:30 PM
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  • 0 Comments
Before any political or societal context enters the brutal cinematic depictions seen in “Come and See” and “City of God,” each effort can first speak clearly enough from the image of a child holding a firearm. Gawky, nervous, and with an expression of terrified power, the isolated sight holds many questions to a decayed rationality and natural order, but as Canadian director Kim Nguyen's shows within his searing look at African child soldiers, “War Witch," those two aspects are the first to be excised in warfare. Blending a surrealist perspective of battle-tinged faith with the harrowing tale of one girl's resilience, the film is a laser-focused fable threatened occasionally by its drifts into character shorthand, but equaled by a wrenching lead performance by Rachel Mwanza that results in one of the finest of the year.

Recap: Benedict Cumberbatch & Rebecca Hall Shine In First 2 Parts Of Period Miniseries 'Parade's End'

  • By The Playlist Staff
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  • February 27, 2013 10:00 AM
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The specter of "Downton Abbey" has been present in the run up to the broadcast of BBC and HBO's new period drama "Parade's End." Both are lavish period tales set before, during and after World War I. But in fact, the comparisons are a little overblown. 'Downton' and "Parade's End" (an adaptation of Ford Madox Ford's cycle of novels, often labelled as among the finest literary achievements of the 20th century, written for the screen by the great Sir Tom Stoppard, and directed by Susanna White, who was also behind "Bleak House" and "Generation Kill") might share a loose genre, but on the strength of the first episode, they couldn't be more different. 'Downton' is a soap, for better or worse, while "Parade's End" is a fearsomely intelligent, deceptively funny epic that, if it can keep up this level of quality, will likely be one of the best things on television all year.

Review: ‘Jack The Giant Slayer’ An Unexceptional, But Still Satisfying Fairy Tale Blockbuster

  • By Kevin Jagernauth
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  • February 26, 2013 7:01 PM
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  • 6 Comments
Hollywood’s race to bring fairy tales to the big screen over the last few years, hasn’t had the best results, at least creatively. While “Alice In Wonderland” made a still unbelievable $1 billion worldwide, it simply wasn’t good, and subsequent efforts like “Red Riding Hood,” “Mirror Mirror” and “Snow White & The Huntsman” brought high concepts and diminished returns. Part of the problem has been an issue of approach, with fairy tale films either choosing to aim for kids, or go dark for tweens, with very little middleground. But that’s a problem screenwriters Christohper McQuarrie, Darren Lemke and Dan Studney solve with “Jack The Giant Slayer,” a movie that aims for that soft, MOR mainstream audience, but takes its source material and executes its modest ambitions into a satisfying big screen adventure.

Review: 'Dark Skies' Is An Effective Alien Abduction Chiller Undone By An Ending That Fails To Deliver On Its Promise

  • By Drew Taylor
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  • February 22, 2013 9:02 AM
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  • 2 Comments
Alien abduction, the supposedly true phenomena wherein everyday citizens are stolen from their beds, experimented on, and returned, is a truly frightening idea – one whose super-scary possibilities have only really been explored in a handful of movies ("Communion," with Christopher Walken, most famously; the ingeniously structured "Fire In The Sky" most effectively). The ultimate alien abduction movie, something that could do for peaceful nighttime slumbers what "Jaws" did for a day at the beach, has yet to be produced and "Dark Skies," a new sci-fi horror thingee that grafts the alien abduction theme onto what is essentially a loose remake of "Poltergeist," certainly attempts such a feat. And it is pretty scary. Unfortunately, all its hard work is undone by a bewilderingly goofy ending that is roughly the cinematic equivalent of an unwanted anal probe.

Review: 'Rubberneck' Is A True Crime Tale That's Truly Dull

  • By Drew Taylor
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  • February 21, 2013 7:56 PM
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  • 0 Comments
Chances are, if the movie doesn't feature a dolphin with a prosthetic tail on the poster and it carries "inspired by true events" disclaimer, then it's going to be something about murder, mayhem or the decades-long search for the Zodiac killer. So by announcing that your movie is inspired by true events, what could have been an unsettling reveal instead becomes a waiting game: who is going to get killed, how long is it going to take, and why have you never read about it before? It may add a slight bit of tension, but it's at the cost of almost everything else. Such is the case with "Rubberneck," written, directed and starring Lena Dunham confederate Alex Karpovsky, which has an intriguing-enough true crime premise but ends up coming across like something you'd stumble upon on Lifetime one Sunday afternoon (but without all the laughs of, say, "Drew Peterson: Untouchable").

Review: 'Stand Off' Is An Insufferable Comic Take On The British Gangster Movie

  • By Drew Taylor
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  • February 21, 2013 6:58 PM
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  • 2 Comments
The original title of "Stand Off" was "Whole Lotta Sole," and its the kind of gratingly obnoxious flourish that makes you hate the movie immediately. First of all it sits in your mouth like a blob of half-chewed gummy bears; secondly, it sounds like a direct-to-video independent movie produced in the mid-'90s that the Weinsteins picked up on a whim; and thirdly its implied double meaning – it's the name of a fish market in the film but its phonetic weight means something too ("whole lot of soul") – is meant to deepen the movie but instead leaves you even more irritated. The movie is pretty much exactly like that – it tries to sugarcoat the British gangster movie (and we're using the "British" term pretty broadly; it's set in Belfast) and leaves you totally annoyed and unsatisfied.

Review: 'Girls' Star Alex Karpovsky's 'Red Flag' Is A Hilarious Meta Dark Comedy That Showcases Some Promising Talent

  • By Katie Walsh
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  • February 20, 2013 7:05 PM
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  • 3 Comments
Watching “Red Flag” at a film festival is a delightfully meta affair, a darkly funny autobiographical road movie from "Girls" and "Tiny Furniture" star Alex Karpovsky. Yes, he's not just one of Dunham's boys on the hit HBO show, he's also a promising filmmaker in his own right, and he plants his 'Flag' definitively.

Review: 'Snitch' A Big, Dumb Action Movie Masquerading As Important Social Drama

  • By Drew Taylor
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  • February 20, 2013 5:58 PM
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  • 8 Comments
Dwayne Johnson, a wrestler-turned-actor formerly known as The Rock, is an oversized personality more befitting a cartoon than a live action movie. He's got a frame that can barely fit through a traditional doorway and an unparalleled ability to convey a host of emotions just in the way that he chooses to stand. His best performances (as a bounty hunter in "The Rundown" or a dogged federal agent in "Fast Five") have taken advantage of both his size and his willingness to manipulate his stature for the sake of the role (in "Southland Tales" his performance seems almost entirely based on Bugs Bunny). He's a physical performer unburdened by the tangled psychology that trips up most actors. However, in "Snitch," the dreary new "based on a true story" action movie about undercover drug informants, Johnson's physicality is restrained, neutered and muted. He's a comic book hero forcibly wedged into a postage stamp.

Berlin Review: With 'Paradise: Hope' Director Ulrich Seidl Closes Out His Trilogy On A Softer Note

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 17, 2013 2:55 PM
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  • 1 Comment
The final instalment in his 'Paradise' trilogy (here are our reviews of parts 1 and 2, "Paradise: Love" and "Paradise: Faith"), "Paradise: Hope" sees Austrian director Ulrich Seidl in gentler, less provocative form, delivering what most found to be certainly the most approachable film of the three when it played at the Berlin Film Festival this week. And it seems that has been the trajectory of these films overall, from an excoriating and difficult-to-watch opener with 'Love,' through the similarly controversial but more blackly comic 'Faith,' and now to 'Hope,' in which Seidl turns in his least thematically challenging movie, giving free reign to his talent for absurdly humorous visuals and strays dangerously close to a territory that, for him at least, could be called "sweet."

Berlin Review: 'Night Train To Lisbon' Chugs And Clanks Along In Old-Fashioned, Uninspired Style

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 17, 2013 10:43 AM
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  • 1 Comment
In the very finest tradition of europudding, director Bille August's "Night Train To Lisbon" adapts an international bestselling book, takes place against the picturesque backdrop of a European capital, is half-told in flashback through a turbulent and dramatic period of history, and stacks the cast with notable European thesps. These include, Jeremy Irons, Jack Huston, Charlotte Rampling, Christopher Lee, Tom Courtenay representing the U.K.; from Germany, Martina Gedeck and August Diehl; Bruno Ganz of Switzerland; Lena Olin of Sweden; and representing France is Mélanie Laurent. However, bar Irons, this Babel tower of actors all play Portuguese nationals, and so while the films is told through English, they all speak with Portuguese accents.

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