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Florida Film Festival 2014 movie reviews

Not sure what flicks to catch at this year’s fest? Use our reviews as your guide

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'American Jesus'

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'The Babadook'



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“I was a peasant by choice. No one forced me into it. Today, it is no longer a beautiful profession,” one farmer tells us, referencing increased factory farming, urbanization and financial struggles, though the rise of organic farming offers hope.

The film is not afraid to show a brutal side of this seemingly idyllic life: animal slaughter. We see a freshly killed pig being scraped clean, a chicken being bled out and a goose being force-fed. “To have beautiful foie gras, you have to love your animals,” the farmer says, apparently numb to the torture. This is one part of traditional farming that needs to die, but the doc rarely editorializes, and it deserves credit for that. – Cameron Meier

American Jesus
★★★★ (out of 5 stars)

Program: Documentary features
How does a religion survive in an enlightened, postindustrial society? By adopting the trappings of the culture that threatens to overwhelm it. American Jesus starts out as a tour of U.S. churches that wed their message to a specific pop lifestyle, be it surfing, mixed martial arts or heavy metal (of a sort). The camera crew shuttles from one quirky congregation to another, with such frequency and rapidity that you begin to find yourself wondering how this qualifies as an actual movie, as opposed to a mere travelogue to eccentricity. But then the hammer swings down. Like a less sarcastic Religulous, the doc ultimately homes in on the argument that Christianity in this country, for all its seemingly benign goofiness (and its flashes of progressive social conscience), now adheres in great measure to a genuinely dangerous end-times worldview. Millions of Americans, we’re told, are members of an apocalyptic death cult so panicked by progress that it yearns for Armageddon – and just might have the political clout to bring it about. Surf for Jesus if you like, but good luck avoiding that wave. – SS

Annie: It’s the Hard Knock Life
★★ (out of 5 stars)

Program: Special screenings
What’s it like mounting a revival of a beloved Broadway classic? You won’t get a straight answer from this pretty but dishonest pseudodocumentary. In broad strokes, it purports to show how a cast of young actors and a team of adult creatives came together to put their own stamp on Annie. The cinematography and editing are both immaculate as we watch the involved parties spend months putting a fresh face on the show’s all-important first production number. The stakes, we’re reminded regularly, are really, really high.

The kids are all delightful, the adults less consistently so. Then again, we aren’t getting a truly complete portrait of anybody. We hear in passing that the girls have had the occasional “kerfuffle,” but we don’t actually see a hint of it. (Yes, I’m a 49-year-old man who just expressed a desire to see more footage of little girls fighting. Trust me, this is the least of what I’m going to have to answer for.) Our eyebrows go up higher when choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, having wracked his brain reimagining the “Hard Knock Life” number, changes it between the previews and opening night. We infer logically that the reaction was bad, but the movie doesn’t go within 10 city blocks of suggesting that or any other reason.

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