Synopsis: The arrival of a precocious, talented and beautiful foreign exchange student disrupts the fragile equilibrium of a family in Upstate, New York.
Verdict: While parts of the extramarital affair plot can seem familiar and cliched in its third act, “Breathe In,” still wins out on feeling due to terrific performances and a director who can can always navigate the nuances of fragile emotions. And it’s not just a good cast, it’s a stellar one that includes Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones and Amy Ryan all working at the top of their game. Plus it also boasts a striking breakout performance by Mackenzie Davis as the daughter overlooked and outshone by Jones’ bright, mature, cello-playing student who unlocks a dormant musical desire and passion in Pearce’s father character. Already having convinced us on his sophomore effort, “Like Crazy,” director Drake Doremus continues his evolution from comedic indie filmmaker into a sharply attuned observer of intimate mood, heartache and longing. The film also continues the gorgeous musical relationship between Doremus and “Like Crazy” composer Dustin O'Halloran, who might just be the best “classical” composer you haven’t heard of yet and his plaintive piano score is just breathtaking.
Our review: Rodrigo’s B+ review from Sundance last year.
Release Date: March 28th via Cohen Media
Synopsis: An ex-con befriends a troubled kid, whose violent, alcoholic father is causing serious problems for the family.
Verdict: His studio comedy phase (which had somewhat varying success rates) seemingly in the past, David Gordon Green seems to have returned to the territory on which he made his name, and between "Prince Avalanche" and this year's Al Pacino-starring "Manglehorn," he made this, which teams him up with "Mud" star Tye Sheridan, and Nicolas Cage, the latter making something of a return to quality fare after a long series of low-rent actioners. It's undoubtedly Gordon Green's darkest since "Snow Angels," but successful for that: as Oli put it in Venice: "It's not exactly doing anything new, but it's a muscular and textured piece of work that shifts assuredly through tones and genre." Combining that tough genre plotting with "a loose easy naturalism" inspired by his comedy work, it ultimately qualifies as Green's first western. And while Sheridan and his screen father Gary Poulter are both terrific, it's most notable for being Cage's best performance in at least a decade, with the cult performer "going easy on the high volume and bug-eyes that have been something of a crutch of late." And that alone should be enough for you to put it on your radar.
Our Review: Oli's review from Venice, which gave the film a B+
Release Date: Roadside Attractions will release the film on April 11.
"The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her"
Synopsis: After the disappearance of a young New York woman, her marriage, and its dissolution after the death of their child, is told from both her perspective and that of her partner in two inter-linked, complementary films.
Verdict: A two-part, three-hour movie would be ambitious for any filmmaker, but especially so for a first-time feature director. But by most accounts, including ours, debut filmmaker Ned Benson pulled it off with "The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby" when the film(s) premiered in a work-in-progress form at TIFF last September. Northern Playlist contributor Nikola Grozdanovic saw both parts, and found it "a remarkably well made relationship film," using a "Rashomon"-like conceit cunningly across a "multi-layered, organically paced, delicate and quite often hilarious screenplay," with a "perfect ensemble cast" led by Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, with Isabelle Huppert, Ciaran Hinds, Bill Hader, Viola Davis, William Hurt and Jess Weixler among those in support. Ultimately, it looks like we might have "a finely tuned and tenderly detailed love story of two people told on a cosmic scale" to look forward to.
Our Review: Nikola's A- take from TIFF can be found here.
Release Date: The Weinstein Company has the rights, but haven't set a date yet. Will they roll it out in the summer, or will they hold it and make an awards run with it?
Synopsis: A violent young offender is sent to the same prison as his father, a long-term inmate.
Verdict: Young British actor Jack O'Connell is about to have a big year: he features in the "300" sequel, has the lead in Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken," and is strongly rumored to be up for a part in "Star Wars." But we'd be surprised if anything he does in 2014 is as good as "Starred Up," an electric prison drama from director David Mackenzie, co-starring Ben Mendelsohn and Rupert Friend. Oliver caught the movie at the London Film Festival back in October, and says that it "nods to Alan Clarke's 'Scum' and Jacques Audiard's 'A Prophet’... but it's not in thrall to its influences either, Mackenzie finding a muscular-yet-tender tone all of his own." The cast are all excellent performing an authentic, lyrical script from former prison psychologist Jonathan Asser, but it's O'Connell who's the true standout, delivering a "stunning, incendiary performance." One of the real gems of the coming year.
Our Review: Only a brief capsule from the LFF from Oli, but with an A- grade.
Release Date: Tribeca Film has it in the U.S., but no date yet. Fox puts it out in the U.K. on Friday March 21st.
"Tom At The Farm"
Synopsis: A young man travels to a countryside farm for the funeral of his boyfriend, only to discover that the family had no idea about their son's sexuality. He keeps up the deception, but soon finds that he might have made an error.
Verdict: Kelly Reichardt wasn't the only director to take a shift into genre territory: French-Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan's fourth film, "Tom At The Farm," based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard, is a taut, fascinating thriller that borrows a little something from the work of Patricia Highsmith, but has its own thing going on too. "The testy, shifting power plays in the relationship," which is "strange and complex," are certainly Highsmith-esque according to Oliver's review, but the film too is strange and complex, with a "bold and lush" score by Gabriel Yared, and a very fine performance from Dolan himself in the lead role. At the time, Oli felt it worked "better as a family drama—or even melodrama—than as a straight-up thriller," but it actually grew in estimation over time, and other Playlisters who've since caught the film had more immediately enthusiastic reactions.
Our Review: Oli's B grade review from Venice is here, though he would like to make it known that he's upgraded it to an A- in his head.
Release Date: Sadly, no U.S. distributor yet: Dolan's films sometimes take a while to make their way to these shores. Keep your fingers crossed.