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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 loopy, conspiratorial tone is supported, possibly even created, by Joshua Dumas’ amazingly full-bodied orchestral score. No minimally sketched cues, these – the music is an integral part of the film, as important and present as any of the characters. Another inanimate character: the University of Chicago, where the film was shot and whose dignified Gothic architecture lends gravitas to the surreal and sexy goings-on.

Humanity comes on like an Iris Murdoch novel transposed to the here and now, each character fully realized and finely drawn. All the actors – truly, all – are comedically gifted; Hill is wonderful, but don’t miss hysterical supporting turns by Buki Bodunrin as the investigator’s assistant, Jared Larson as Lewis’ decent brother, and the sinister ethnomusicologists, Tommy Heffron and (surprise) composer Joshua Dumas. A definite don’t-miss. – Jessica Bryce Young

Deep City
★★★★★ (out of 5 stars)

Program: Special Screenings
Deep City is completely absorbing. Taking us back to Miami in the 1960s to a small, happenstance-fueled soul scene, the film introduces us slowly to Deep City Records’ songwriting core: Willie “Pee Wee” Clarke, Johnny Pearsall, Clarence Reid and Arnold “Hoss” Albury. For anyone curious about a soul discussion outside of Motown, it’s a solid introduction to the “Miami sound” – and not the Gloria Estefan variety. The main characters of this movement forged a sound of their own out of the cultural melting pot of Miami, and the film shows the curious fill-ins – high school band-informed brass sections, white guy garage bands and 13-year-old soul singers – that defined the unique sound Florida’s deepest city created.

It’s a treat to hear the label’s first breakout talent, Helene Smith, revisit some of her biggest hits, singing parts of songs she’s long abandoned – “The Pot Can’t Talk About the Kettle” and “Willing and Able,” in particular. Add to that old footage from Soul Train of Deep City queen (and total sweetheart) Betty Wright and fan-indulgent footage of well-regarded rap founder Clarence Reid (his determined stroll in a Blowfly shirt will make you smile). Vintage reels from electric Miami nightclubs are juxtaposed with the Northern soul scene of Manchester, U.K., which discovered Deep City’s artists and kept their recordings alive. It’s a joyful contrast for any music lover and an eye-opening reminder that there’s more to the soul movement than the cherished artists at Motown and Stax.

This is an essential Florida music history lesson, but it feels more like recess than homework, and offers what could be considered a playbook for musicians who wish their recordings cut deeper. – Ashley Belanger

Druid Peak
★★★★ (out of 5 stars)

Program: Narrative features
Sad-eyed Owen Wagner (played by Spencer Treat Clark, that kid from Gladiator), is an affected teen in small-town somewhere. He picks on fuzzyheaded gay kids and wears tank tops in public. He survives a truck wreck that causes the death of his best friend – cue distraught mother in car – and gets banished to live with his suspiciously gorgeous father (Andrew Wilson, the hottest Wilson brother) in Yellowstone National Park – he runs the wolf-reintroduction program, because beard.

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