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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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The jig is finally up when the film’s closing title card tells us how popular “Annie” has been around the world over its lifetime – not that this particular revival was a commercial and critical disappointment. (An upcoming non-Equity national tour will instead be based on the show’s original 1977 staging, much to the chagrin of the new creative team.)

This isn’t a documentary – it’s a commercial, and for a failed product to boot. You almost expect Michael Bloomberg to walk out on camera and exhort viewers in the flyovers to come see a Broadway show. What’s that you say? Bloomberg isn’t with us anymore? Neither is this Annie. – Steve Schneider

The Babadook
★★★★★ (out of 5 stars)

Program: Midnight features
There is nothing stronger than the bond between a mother and her child. Aussie writer and director Jennifer Kent not only understands that, she also uses it as a device to create tension and unbridled horror in The Babadook. On the surface, it’s a modern fable of a family being tormented by a creature from an old storybook. What lies beneath is a struggle for a woman (the unstoppable Essie Davis) to find closure, and the breaking down of a family through the eyes of an abnormal child (Noah Wiseman) who just wants to see the only woman in his life be happy again.

The tension is real, the scares are genuine and the end product is a classic horror masterpiece that deserves a place among the greats. You’ll come for the scares, and stay for the feels. – Adam McCabe

Before I Disappear
★★★ (out of 5 stars)

Program: Spotlight films
You always hear of new filmmakers using festivals to launch their careers and maybe even win an Oscar someday. But does that ever really happen? It certainly does if you’re writer-director Shawn Christensen, who screened his short film, Curfew, at the 2012 Florida Film Festival and took home the Academy Award for it the next year.

Christensen is returning this year with Before I Disappear, a feature-length adaptation of that brilliant short, and is also appearing on April 11 at a discussion forum, “Pushing the Curfew: A Case Study from Short to Feature.” Although the session is bound to be informative, it’s a shame his feature isn’t as good as the short.

It’s the story of a man (Christensen) whose suicide attempt is thwarted by a call from his sister (Emmy Rossum), who is in trouble and needs him to babysit her daughter. It’s a simple tale of honor, responsibility, family and the need to be needed. It worked beautifully for the short and could have worked equally well for the feature had Christensen not padded it with contrived subplots involving a violent, distraught friend (Paul Wesley) and a menacing, controlling boss (Ron Perlman). Still, thanks to great performances by Christensen and Fatima Ptacek (who also played the daughter in the short), Before I Disappear has just enough sweetness, magic and visual originality to prevent it from, well, disappearing. – CM

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