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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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Laughably bureaucratic teams of men armed with digital cameras and notepads descend on the poor neighborhoods of the city, documenting infractions and making grown men grovel for forgiveness. Guerrilla power-sapping wires are chopped down and collected for evidence – no Ziploc baggies here, though – and thrown into muslin rice bags and sealed with wax. The whole situation is a riveting look into the giant mess of post-colonialism. Dusty bureaucracies cling to a Western frame of reference, based on rooms full of rotted books and records that do not translate to effective government.

Shadow democracies play a game of governance telephone, where the message gets so garbled at the end that nobody gets anything of meaning from the message. – BO

★★★★ (out of 5 stars)

Program: Midnight features
Helen (Carla Juri) eats, sleeps and breathes sex. Not necessarily in a wide-eyed “I need to study this for science” kind of way, but ravenously, in the way a cat studies the dot emitted from the end of a laser pointer. She’s a woman living in (and around) the peak of animalistic attraction and wants to explore it fully and recklessly. She takes the audience on a sexy and uncomfortable red-hot ride that puts base instinct in the driver’s seat, while letting the superb script handle the rest.

The film’s humor is sick, and the cinematography keeps things raw and personal. Juri’s performance is commanding – she’s armed-to-the-teeth with bold decisions and the occasional hemorrhoid. It’s her show, and it’s an absolute trip watching her voluntarily and vulnerably throw herself into one batshit situation after another. The whole affair can feel a little bombastic after a while, but that’s the point: Sex at its best is hard and abnormal, loud and exploratory – and sometimes, it can just be kind of gross. Wetlands may just be the most offensively crass coming-of-age story out there, but it’s worth the ride. Brace yourself. – AM

Winter in the Blood
★★★ (out of 5 stars)

Program: Narrative features
The story for Winter in the Blood is taken from James Welch’s novel of the same name which won him some acclaim when it was published in the mid-1970s. It is both an intense, personal journey of a man trying to find a place in the world that has given him nothing but pain, and a sweeping microcosm of the modern struggle Native Americans face to find a place in a world taken from them inch by inch and mile by mile. But what sounds like a powerful film on paper falls apart in execution from page to screen.

I hesitate to use the word “adapted” because the Smith Brothers and their co-writer, Ken White, have not really adapted this into another art form as much as they have tried to film it as a moving book. As a film, it plays like a series of sketches taken from the novel. Voice-over and music by the Heartless Bastards are attempted as storyteller’s glue, but it doesn’t adhere. Each scene feels so artlessly slapped together in random order that it’s difficult to engage head-on – and if any story needs to be engaged head-on, it’s certainly the story of America’s original sin. There are worthwhile scenes, and the mood is occasionally affecting, but it doesn’t come together as a singular piece overall, and that’s too much to overlook. – RB

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