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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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★★★★ (out of 5 stars)

Program: Special screenings, spotlight film
Little Nick Cassavetes has finally grown up and is making his daddy proud. Indeed, if John, the pioneering independent filmmaker, were alive today, he’d probably be making films like his son’s Yellow, a boldly original and surreal take on mental illness, drug abuse, incest, religion and family dysfunction.

Co-written by and starring Nick’s wife, Heather Wahlquist (who plans to attend one screening), the film focuses on the crumbling life of Mary Holmes and her equally insane relatives. Addicted to drugs and alcohol, unable to hold a job and haunted by an unbearable secret, she leaves Los Angeles to stay with her mom (Melanie Griffith, in her best role in years) in Oklahoma. There she’s also reunited with her mentally disturbed sister (the brilliant Lucy Punch) and her religious harpy of a grandmother (Gena Rowlands, Nick Cassavetes’ mother) while juggling other characters from her past.

One of Mary’s sisters has Tourette’s, but Mary has a sort of mental Tourette’s, unable to separate reality from imagination, and her fantasies are portrayed in off-the-wall deconstructionist ways. A drama on the surface, Yellow launches oddly, and not always successfully, into comedy, musical and even animation to depict the crazy world inside Mary’s cranium. It’s August: Osage County – with a lot more psychedelic drugs!

I overheard fellow critics describe Yellow as a vastly entertaining train wreck. Well, this is one train I’d like to be on – just give me a seat belt. – CM

Animated Shorts program

Because they are rarely seen outside festivals, short films are often fest-goers’ favorites, and the English-language animated program is often a top draw. Though this year’s block is entertaining and even moving at times, and features a variety of styles and tones, the quality is down from years past, with only four of the 17 films deserving a thumbs-up.

Though Yearbook (4 stars), a meditation on the fleeting nature of human civilization, is crudely animated in a hand-drawn style, and the voice-over could be crisper, it’s viciously intelligent and thought-provoking, and might elicit a tear. It’s too bad you have to sit through some mediocrity to get there, as the film by Bernardo Britto is the ninth of the block. Yes, you’ll encounter Steven Vander Meer’s meticulously crafted Salmon Deadly Sins (3 stars), an imaginative take on greed, envy and the rest of the traditional no-no’s, but you’ll also have to sit through Raw Data (1 star) and The Last Orange Grove of Middle Florida (1 star), in addition to a couple of flicks better suited to the Midnight Shorts program.

Depending upon your taste for the abstract, you may appreciate the surreal and nicely animated Shelter (3 stars), which precedes Yearbook, but if you stay for the duration, you’ll cringe through the hopelessly unnecessary Drifters (1 star), Twiller Parkour (1 star) and Twiller Parkour #2 (1 star).

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