All films are rated on a scale of **** (A+), *** 3/4 (A), *** 1/2 (A-), *** 1/4 (B+), *** (B), ** 3/4 (B-), ** 1/2 (C+), ** 1/4 ( C), ** (C-) , * 3/4 (D+), * 1/2 (D), * 1/4 (D-), * (F)

FILMS IN RED are seen at the AFI Film Festival
FILMS IN BLACK  are seen at various venues including the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

FILMS IN PURPLE are seen at the L.A./Italia Film Festival.
FILMS IN GREEN are seen at the City of Lights/City of Angels Film Festival
FILMS IN ORANGE are seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival

A ROYAL AFFAIR (d. Nikolaj Arcel, Denmark)
The time is mid-1700s, and an English princess is betrothed to the dotty, young king of Denmark.  What ensues is a superior costume drama about the life of that young queen and that of the German court physician (played magnificently by Mads Mikkelsen) who holds sway over both of the royal couple.  The film enthralls with its clearly defined court intrigues, gorgeous sets and costumes and outstanding acting.  The film has a flashback structure that slightly undercuts the tension; but mostly it is a model of historical drama which illustrates a period and national history that I was completely unaware of and does it brilliantly.  *** 3/4

CHECK MATE (Jaque Mate)  (d. José María Cabral, Dominican Republic)
This is the tension filled story of a famous tv game show host held hostage on the air by a media savvy kidnapper.  It is apparently based on a true story; but seems unlikely in its over-the-top melodramatic development.  Nevertheless, for all the overacting and dramatic plot manipulations, the film still worked for me as a thriller because it never seemed predictable; and I found myself dragged me into an emotional connection with the characters.  Technically the film was on a level with a top-flight American tv police procedural like CSI, which was impressive. ** 3/4

KON-TIKI (d. Joachim Ranning & Espen Sandberg, Norway)
I was a kid when the Kon-Tiki raft made its way from Peru to Polynesia in 1947.  But that didn't stop the news and romance of it all from trickling down to my level.  What this film does is take that adventure (which is semi-familiar from the book and Oscar winning documentary that Thor Heyerdahl made) and turn it into a large scale action-adventure film, complete with seamless CGI and enough excellently staged and tense sequences to fill a dozen films.  This is big-screen, high gloss filmmaking that used to be done only in Hollywood.  The plot is fairly typical of the genre, even bordering on the cliché:  anthropologist has a disputed theory and goes to extremes to prove it.  And the outcome is known by the audience, which normally would diffuse the tension.  But the triumph of this film is in the perfection of the episodic sequencing...instead of simply ratcheting up the suspense, it successfully raises the dramatic stakes in scene after exciting scene.  This isn't an actor's film; however Pal Hagen is excellent as Heyerdahl.  And we even get a 4th Skarsgard brother (this time Gustaf) as part of the crew.  It is a director's film; and Ranning and Sandberg (who made the excellent Max Manus, which should have been an Oscar contender in 2009) were up to the task.  *** 3/4

MADE IN ASH (d. Iveta Grofova, Slovak Republic)
A girl from a small Slovak town leaves family and boyfriend to find work in Ash, a Czech/German border city.  Laid off from her sweatshop job she's unemployed and starving...and does what pretty and poor women have done forever, uses her sex to get a man interested.  This is the set-up for a rather unpleasant, nitty-gritty drama of a good girl gradually losing her way.  The filmmaking was just not good enough, short on the most elementary of explanatory exposition and confusingly frenetic.  I stuck it out for an hour of its 84 minutes; but frankly, I'd had enough and walked.  

CAUGHT IN THE WEB (d. Chen Kaige, China)
Chen has been known in the past for opulent costume dramas (e.g. Farewell My Concubine).  This film is a total departure for him, a present day romantic melodrama centered around the effects of tv media and internet scandal mongering.  It starts out rather freneticly with too many characters.  However, as the details accumulate and we get to know the major characters, I began to become totally involved in the dilemma of pretty corporate executive Ye Lanqiu (Yuanyuan Gao) who receives devastating news, gets videoed in a moment of public peevishness, and becomes a viral internet sensation representing antisocial behavior.  What follows is a week's worth of media frenzy, an insightful view of high level corporate life in today's China, and a tender, tentative love story (the actor involved, Mark Chao, is one to watch...cute, winsome and charismatic.)  This is slick, high gloss filmmaking about the privileged class today, in the vein of Wilder or Hawks...unexpected from China!  It's not a great film; but I enjoyed it.  *** 1/4

A TRIP (d. Nejc Gazvoda, Slovenia)
Three young people, a few years out of high school where they knew each other, embark on a road trip through rural Slovenia to the sea.  One is now a NATO soldier on leave.  He has a thing for the girl who is vivacious, but who  also is living with a deadly secret.  The third wheel was the picked-on gay kid in gym class, now a psychically injured, overweight cut-up.  The film is slow and light on incident; but ultimately gets to the center of each of its characters.  The journey seems aimless...yet by the end reveals it's clear that this was a trip worth taking.  ** 3/4

LORE (d. Cate Shortland, Australia)
A lovely family:  soldier father, loving mother, two teenage daughters, twin boys and a baby.  The thing is, these are Nazis, the father certainly a war criminal, the children committed Hitler Youth, living in the Black Forest at the end of WWII.  When the parents are arrested, the totally naive, privileged children are cast adrift into a perverse road trip to find their grandmother.  This is the intriguing premise of a film which handles the chaos of the WWII endgame in a totally novel way (although Haneke did something similar in Time of the Wolf).  The film is structured as a coming-of-age, from the point of view of the eldest daughter, Lore; and is as much about her budding sexuality as it is about her (and the German people's) forced confrontation with the reality of the Holocaust and total defeat.  The film is an interesting example of manipulating the audience into sympathizing with its characters despite their actions and monstrous back story.  Beautifully shot, immaculately acted, totally involving.  *** 1/2

THE PATIENCE STONE (d. Atiq Rahimi, Afghanistan)
An impoverished, young Afghani woman cares for her comatose older husband while some unspecified insurrection is taking place in her city.  While tending to him in their home, she spends the entire film gradually confessing the unspeakable to her ostensibly out-of-it patient.  The entire film is comprised of the droning cadences of the woman's narration.  I was intrigued by this inside look at the degradation of women in this society, and also bored by the slow plot development.  ** 1/4

IN THE SHADOW (Ve stínu) (d. David Ondncek, Czech Republic)
The time is 1953 and a police captain (Ivan Trojan, an actor of particularly stolid and dignified mien) faces a tough case of robbery & murder while the Communist government is contemplating monetary reform which would wipe out the value of currency.  He discovers sinister forces and an anti-Semitic conspiracy at the highest level. The film is shot in a washed-out color palette which brings the dismal post-war era to life.  This is a fine example of policier noir...with the added suspense of a cop in danger as he comes in conflict with the dreaded state security apparatus.  *** 1/4

WHERE THE FIRE BURNS (d. Ismail Günes, Turkey)
A large, loving, traditional Turkish family.  When the 17 year-old eldest daughter turns out to be pregnant, father unknown, the father freaks and sets out to kill the daughter to save his family's honor ("honor killings" has become a familiar trope in films from Islamic countries).  What ensues is a gorgeously scenic road trip and a narrative which depends far too much on coincidence to be realistic.  **

NO  (d. Pablo Larrain, Chile)
In 1988, international pressure forced dictator Augusto Pinochet to run a referendum on his rule.  The outcome was a forgone conclusion, since the state held all the power.  However the state also had to provide the "No" side with 15 minutes of late-night commercial time daily to balance the almost unlimited resources of the government.  This film is the story of the young advertising executive (a superbly nuanced and fun performance by Gaël Garcia Bernal) who takes on the government using Madison Ave. techniques.  The film is presented in old fashioned 4:3 format and particularly poor quality digital projection.  Still, it is all quite well done, entertaining and involving, with a script filled with irony and humor (and, at least for myself who had no knowledge of the history, suspense).  This isn't a great film; but I loved every minute of it. *** 1/2

CHILDREN OF SARAJEVO (d. Aida Begic, Bosnia & Herzegovina)
A young woman takes over the care of her orphaned teenage brother.  She struggles to make ends meet as a cook, while also dealing with her conversion to practicing Islam and the problems which arise when her brother gets into serious trouble.  This is a rather rambling film which doesn't really have a point other than to illustrate the lifestyle of its characters.  It's well shot and well acted; but I couldn't find a reason to care. **

CLANDESTINE CHILDHOOD (d. Benjamín Ávila, Argentina)
In 1979 a Peronista family (mom, dad, pre-teen boy and baby girl) surreptitiously return to Argentina from hiding out in Cuba.  The parents are deeply involved in the insurrection against the military regime.  This is the set-up for a based-on-actual-events Argentine version of Running on Empty...a story of living underground from the point of view of a child.  This is a tense thriller combined with family drama; but it is also a tender coming-of-age story of a boy's romantic awakening.  It's shot in claustrophobic close-ups and occasionally arty set-ups; but unfortunately tends to go over-the-top in hiking the dramatic stakes as the story progresses.  The production values (big screen, fine acting) are high, and the film achieves its goal of personalizing the "Disappeared" era.  Unfortunately it just falls a little short of making the viewer care.  *** 
THE SCENT OF BURNING GRASS (d. Nguyen Huu Muoi, Vietnam)
Four students are conscripted into the North Vietnamese army in 1971, primed to go fight the Americans.  What ensues (at least for the first third before I ran from the theater as quickly as I could) is a comic tale of soldiers training and making mischief on their way to war.  I never got to the war part.  Terrible acting and ridiculous scenes of slap-stick bumbling undercut any positive reason to stick around.  W/O

WHEN DAY BREAKS (d. Goran Paskaljevic, Serbia)
A present-day retired Serbian music teacher gets a bombshell when he discovers some previously unknown personal connection to the Holocaust.  This precipitates his getting involved in remembrance of the past.  The film tries hard to be affecting and heartfelt; and the actor playing Profesor Brankov (Mustafa Naderevic) is convincing.  However the film was just too sentimentalized for my tastes.  I wanted to be moved; but the film just didn't seem to earn my emotional response the way many past Holocaust films have.   ** 1/2

AMOUR (d. Michael Haneke, Austria)
A private, loving elderly couple face the dire consequences when one of them has a stroke.  Haneke's spare realism, every gesture perfect, has never been better achieved.  He has drawn a couple of amazing performances from his leads.  I recall Emmanuelle Riva from Hiroshima Mon Amour, but until this film I had never pegged her as a great actress.  She should win the Oscar for this performance.  As for Jean-Louis Trintignat, I once had a crush on him, and it's great that he's able to bring his inherent gravitas to such a great role in old age.  This is one film which is all that it is cracked up to be: emotionally devastating (I couldn't help feeling an identification due to my current relationship with my own mother); and imbued with a tough truthfulness that knocked me for a loop.  *** 3/4

THE EMPTY HOME (d. Nurbek Egen, Kyrgyzstan)
Kyrgyzstan is not as well represented in film lore as its big neighbor Kazakhstan; but this film goes a significant way to narrowing the gap.  It's the story of youthful Ascel (pretty and game actress Maral Koichukaraeva), pregnant by her teen boyfriend, but betrothed to the region's unsuspecting gangster kingpin.  She watches tv; and dreams of a life away from her squalid hometown.  She escapes to Moscow on her wedding night, intending to get an abortion and lose herself in the big city; but things don't quite go the way she planned.  This film is so obscure that it doesn't even have an IMDb entry yet (that was when I watched it last June, now it does).  But it is a well crafted, illuminating character study which ought to find an audience.   ***

SISTER (L'enfant d'en haut) (d. Ursula Meier, Switzerland)
Kacey Mottet Klein, so memorable in Meier's weird previous film Home, plays a 12 year-old petty thief who hangs out at the top of a Swiss ski resort and pilfers skis and other winter paraphernalia to support himself and his older, boy obsessed sister (or is she his sister?).  Almost by definition this is a film which confounds expectations:  a sympathetic, clever young anti-hero that is impossible not to root for despite his anti-social activities.  Because of the way the film plays with the audience's sympathy, the film generates a surprising amount of suspense.  Léa Seydoux plays the sister with just the right amount of saucy devil-may-care.  And there are interesting supporting roles from Martin Compston and Gillian Anderson.  But the film belongs to Klein who brings startling vigor to the coming-of-age genre.  The film is a powerful dose of reality; but certainly not pleasant to watch.  And what's with the English title, which misrepresents, and doesn't even try to represent the French one?   *** 1/4

PURGE (d. Antti Jokinen, Finland)
In post WWII Estonia, the Russians ruthlessly purged the Kulaks (bourgeois farmers, mostly).  This is the story of one such family, two orphaned  sisters whose love for the same counter-revolutionary man had repercussions that spanned two generations.  It is told in two parallel timelines, post-war and several years later.  Gradually the audience is let in on the central secret around which the story revolves.  On the way, we're treated to realistic scenes of white slavery, torture, killings, and base treachery.  It's all a little much, playing like a Greek tragedy with characters hard to find sympathy for.   ** 1/2

KAUWBOY (d. Boudewijn Koole, Netherlands)
A young boy rescues a baby jackdaw bird (he names Jack, Kauw in Dutch) and despite his father's objection raises it.  This is the set-up for a naturalistic, even impressionistic coming-of-age story of a motherless boy, and a grieving, initially insensitive father.  The acting is fine (the kid is especially natural and age appropriate), the emotional stakes high, although not totally achieved by a script which is transparently manipulative at times.  ** 3/4

MYN BALA: WARRIORS OF THE STEPPE (d. Akan Satayev, Kazakhstan)
In the early 1700s the Muslim Kazakhs were (according to this film, I have no concept of the actual history) enslaved by a fierce Mongol tribe.  This film is a national epic of a freedom battle between enemy tribes on the expansive steppes of middle Asia.  It is also a warm people story of a teenage boy leader who fights in the climactic battle, loves a forbidden princess etc. etc.  The film is stirring, has a convincingly large cast and does justice to the sweep of the location.  There have been superior national epics; but this one is pretty darn effective.  *** 1/4

BUNOHAN (d. Dain Said, Malaysia)

I gave this Malay film 35 minutes.  It was some sort of thriller about a kickboxer who has a contract killer after him.  But, honestly, I couldn't follow the plot...and could find nothing to hold my interest.  When I felt myself phasing out, I decided to make one of my rare walks.  W/O

THE INTOUCHABLES (d. Nakache & Toledano, France)
François Cluzet plays Philippe, an enormously rich, middle age, recent quadriplegic who can afford the best possible care.  In his innate despair, he chooses as his caregiver an inexperienced sociopath, a black druggie and ex-petty thief (a wonderfully energetic performance by Omar Sy).  The film is slightly reminiscent of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which was a much more serious film.  In this film, the relationship between the two leads has a comic, as well as a heartening tone.  And let's not hesitate to admit that despite its plot which comes close to being predictably sappy, this is one film which works magic:  funny, life affirming, quite entertaining.  Credit to the two lead actors who have remarkable chemistry  *** 1/2

I rectified one of my missing greatest-films-of-all-times today, watching a pristine, new 35mm print of this 1927 melodrama at the AFI film festival.  I have to say I wasn't disappointed.  Despite the old fashioned pacing (holding shots longer than would be done today) and somewhat hokey plot (bucolic farmer tempted by wicked city siren to kill his loving wife), the film looked remarkably modern.  There were some incredibly skillful process shots, a beautifully naturalistic acting job by Janet Gaynor, and a great deal of visual humor to go along with the perfection of the images.  *** 1/2

LITTLE ONE (d. Darrell Roodt, South Africa)
A little girl is brutally raped off screen, and the impoverished Zulu lady that finds her still breathing in a field carries her to a hospital; and for reasons of her past and present life becomes obsessed with the girl's plight.  That's the premise of this heartstring tugging film which is marred by overwrought sentimentality and unmotivated character development.  Despite its flaws, the film is worth watching for the remarkably sympathetic  performance of Lindiwe Ndlovu.  ** 1/2

(d. Joni Shanaj, Albania)
Branko is a young man working in a pristine pharmacy owned by his corrupt doctor father (apparently black market pharmaceuticals are big profit centers for some Albanian doctors).  For the first hour of this film (as far as I lasted), Branko simply walks here and there through sterile hallways, empty cityscapes and hillside pathways.  He gets involved with a girl who works for (and may be exploited by) his father.  No significant plot develops...and with more than an hour to go I had had enough and walked.  W/O

LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE (d. Johnnie To, Hong Kong)
The mini-crash bubble-bursting of the Hong Kong stock market is the backdrop for this financial/policier thriller, which lacks focus and is thematically all over the place.  It's a rapacious bankers meets evil speculators meets violent gangsters meets beset cops story.  I usually like Johnnie To films, respond to his visual elan and his skill at differentiating characters.  I did like the way the script doubles back and shows the same action from different perspectives.  But this is a film where just about every character and interaction is reprehensible; and even generous portions of irony didn't make me care about the outcome. ** 1/2

(d. Ilgar Najaf, Azerbaijan)
"Buta" is a graphic feature of Azerbaijani carpets:  a curved signature which symbolizes life.  It is also the name of the young orphan boy hero of the film, whose grandmother is weaving a carpet prominently featuring a buta.  This film is a literally pastorale tale of an agrarian, sheep herding village viewed from the perspective of a dreamy young boy, where old traditions are kept and the world outside hardly intrudes.  Some may find this film charming in its simplistic, unironic point of view; I was bored.  ** 1/4

ANTIVIRAL (d. Brandon Cronenberg)
In the near future, the cult of personality exemplified by the near worship of tv celebrities reaches its apotheosis when the diseases (herpes, flu etc.) of certain famous people are sold to obsessed fans.  Pristine white medical facilities are opened to offer injections of the prized, patented and copy protected viruses.  That is the premise of this weird, expressionistic film by Cronenberg, who has obviously taken some filmmaking hints from his famous director father and run with them.  He tells the story of a worker (aggressively red-headed Caleb Landry Jones) in one of these companies who schemes to sell secrets on the black market.  This is a novel take on the dystopian future film, sort of 1984 and Brave New World made with a kind of modernized Dr. Caligary visual style.  It's not a pleasant film to watch (but then when ever did David Cronenberg make a pleasant film?); but the performances (including Douglas Smith, Malcolm McDowell and Wendy Crewson) are fine, and the film is visually stunning and adequately creepy.  ***

NOT IN TEL AVIV (d. Nony Geffen)
A teacher is fired, then kidnaps (sort of) a female student and mercy kills (maybe) his sick mother.  That is the start of what intends to be a black comedy but just comes off as a nihilistic mishmash.  Geffen, an attractive actor, is the writer/director/leading man of this horrible film.  The problem starts with his own affectless performance and confusing, pointless script.  The only thing going for it is some artful B&W cinematography which helps to emphasize the un-reality.  At least the film is mercifully short at 82 minutes.  *

(d. Toomas Hussar, Estonia)
A couple (he's a member of the Estonian parliament) goes on a mushroom hunting expedition in the forest.  On the way they pick up an itinerant rock-star hitch-hiker.  That's the start of an enjoyable political satire where getting lost in the forest is a metaphor for fickle fame and political corruption.  Honestly, most of the political intricacies were lost on me; but that didn't affect the sheer fun of the filmmaking.  *** 1/4

THE HYPNOTIST (d. Lasse Hallström, Sweden)
In the vein of the "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" series, this is another bleak, wintry Swedish crime book series brought to the big screen (in this case by a fine auteur director putting his wife, Lena Olin, to good use.)  It's the story of a slaughtered family and the disgraced hypnotist brought in by the good cop to help solve the case.  The film looks great, and has a fine, dread inducing score.  But it is hard to ignore some of the improbable plot holes even as one admires the deft direction and fine acting.  *** 1/4

KID  (d. Fien Troch)
A willful 7-year old boy named Kid and his rather dull older brother Billy live with their deeply in debt mother.  That is the set-up for this bleak Belgian film about the fate of children when the grown-ups lives are in flux.  Troch has an immaculate visual style: locked off camera, perfectly symmetrical compositions.  However, too often he fills the frame with static action which seems to go nowhere.  I dozed off a few times...ok, I admit it.  I hesitate to say "boring", because the animation of the child actor playing Kid helped keep the viewer in the story.  But I never managed any emotional involvement with the characters or their plight, which is a failure of the screenplay.  ** 1/4

LAURENCE ANYWAYS  (d. Xavier Dolan)
Laurence is a young college professor who one day in the late 1980s announces to his girlfriend that he's never been comfortable as a female in a man's body.  That is the start of this excitingly directed and acted 164 minute examination of  the 10-year progression of a relationship where gender assignment is just one aspect of the story.  23-year old Dolan's third film continues his progression as Wunderkind auteur.  His frenetic hand-held camera and remarkable control over all aspects of filmmaking (script, editing, costumes, music all carry his personal stamp) remain his signature virtues.  But this time he chose to not act in his film, instead using the remarkable actor Melvil Poupaud as his transgendered avatar.  Poupaud is of the few times that a totally masculine man has tried this sort of role, and he nails it in every aspect.  He is matched by the equally remarkable Suzanne Clément as the girlfriend who struggles to accept her fated lover's transformation.  Nobody will ever accuse Dolan of timidity in his concepts and execution.  The film constantly seems on the verge of exploding into excess...and then pulls back just enough.  I wouldn't call this film a total success, some flights of fantasy scenes didn't work for me; but there is no other filmmaker in the world who is pushing the boundaries of film the way that Dolan is.  *** 1/4

OH BOY  (d. Jan-Ole Gerster)
Intense German actor Tom Schilling plays Niko, a college dropout who is having a very bad day.  Novice director Gerster shows a deft comic touch and real skill with actors in this satiric slacker comedy which shares a sensibility with the films of Richard Linklater.  It's shot in grainy B&W; but looks terrific and film-like.  Good script, nice job all around without being showy.  Gerster is a writer/director to watch for in the future, even if he didn't come back to do the promised Q&A.  ***

THE ANGEL'S SHARE  (d. Ken Loach)
Anti-hero Robbie is a young Scottish low-life whose pugnacious nature almost lands him in jail.  Instead he's given community service, and there he meets some other losers with which he hatches a plot to rip off some rich whiskey lovers.  That's the basis of this caper comedy by left-leaning Ken Loach.  Paul Brannigan plays Robbie with sly determination, but also an opaque Scottish accent which eluded my comprehension.  In fact, this film really needs sub-titles...I couldn't understand two-thirds of the dialogue.  I suppose the plot is clever enough; however, the very nature of the low moral quality of the protagonists and their caper was a turn-off for me.  ** 1/2

ZAYTOUN  (d. Eran Riklis)
Stephen Dorff has never been more sympathetic and magnetic as he is here, playing an Israeli fighter pilot whose plane goes down over strife-torn Lebanon in 1982.  He's captured by PLO extremists; and with the grudging aid of a Palestinian youth (gap-toothed charmer Abdallah El Akal) manages to escape his captors only to find both protagonists in even greater danger.  The film is a charming, suspenseful road trip through war-torn Lebanon.  Riklis is an Israeli director who makes films sensitive to the Palestinian cause.  This film is particularly positive about the possibility of reconciliation between opponents.  I liked everything about this film.  *** 1/2

  (d. Dustin Hoffman)
Beecham House is an old-folks home for retired musicians.  It is the setting for this rather theatrical dramady about four more-or-less dotty former  opera singers (Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and Tom Courtenay) who may, or may not, manage to get together to perform the quartet from Rigoletto at a benefit for their home.  Hoffman has gotten predictably fine performances from his excellent cast.  But for my money, despite the assured fun of the story (who is not going to respond to these actors pulling out all the stops?), it's all too pat and predictable.  ** 3/4

(d. Pablo Berger, Spain)
Berger takes a clever variant of the Snow White story into the bullring; and he does it as a silent film in 4:3 ratio and vivid B&W.  The silent film acting style (intertitles in Spanish with English subtitles) was more successful for me than last year's overpraised The Artist. There's just something about the melodrama of this story which really fit the tricked-out silent film treatment.  I'm not a big fan of the silent film as a modern genre.  I sincerely hope it doesn't become a staple of future cinema.  But every once in a while it's nice to see a well done homage to film's past.  *** 1/2

(d. Saïd Ould Khelifa, Algeria)
Zabana, a revolutionary in the late 1940s, early 1950s, was an early martyr of the Algerian struggle for independence.  This based-on-fact film is an attempt at a wide-screen national epic.  However, its episodic script didn't have quite enough narrative drive to really involve me in the characters' struggles.  ** 3/4

OUR CHILDREN (À perdre la raison) 
(d. Joachim Lafosse, Belgium)
A Belgian-Moroccan man marries a French-Belgian woman.  An elderly Belgian doctor (played by War Horse and A Prophet veteran actor Niels Arestrup) has befriended the Moroccan family and helps with immigration and employment.  Over time, the couple has four children; but the marriage is strained by extrinsic troubles.  This based-on-a-true-story film goes about as far as it can into the psyche of a disturbed woman (Émilie Dequenne).  It is a well done drama, grasping to understand the psychology of its characters, but for me only partially succeeding.  Such a depressing film.   ***

(d. Rusudan Chkonia, Georgia)
This is a comedy about 10 women who are chosen to participate in the Georgian reality tv show devoted to finding the "Mother of the Year".  It's actually pretty well done, with the women/mother characters pretty well defined and differentiated.  However, push comes to shove, I was fatigued; and the film just didn't interest me enough to watch more than half.  W/O

(d. Michel Franco, Mexico)
A teenage girl and her father, newly resettled in Mexico City after a tragedy, are the subject of this disturbing film.  He's a chef at a new restaurant, she's a new student at an upscale high school.  What follows is a tale of grieving and bullying.  The teen story is especially difficult to watch: the out-of-control and unsupervised kids are portrayed with vicious realism and unsentimentality.  This is no Heathers, it's very much more serious stuff, with the boys and girls equally involved in the bullying and ostracism.  I was reminded of Michael Haneke's filmmaking style in such films as Funny Games...banal evil disguised as the ordinary.  And like Haneke, going too far is the entire point even as the film challenges the audience to watch.  *** 1/2

(d. Karen Shakhnazarov, Russia)
The setting is the Russian front in 1943 WWII.  An almost supernatural German tank is wiping out armadas of Russian armor.  Keeping with the supernatural theme, a Russian tank pilot miraculously survives massive burns that should be 100% fatal.  He's returned to the fighting charged with defeating the spectral German tank.  For a while, especially when the tank battles rage, this is a diverting and well made war film.  Then, in an abrupt shift to the end of the war in Berlin, the film loses focus.  The post-Soviet mixture of realism and mystical just didn't work for me.  ** 1/2

(d. Yong-hi Yang, Japan)
93,340 Korean nationals were repatriated from Japan to North Korea from 1959-1884, with no hope of eventual return.  This film tells the story of one boy, age 16, who was sent back to North Korea by his patriotic family.  Twenty-five years later he has a brain tumor, and was allowed to return to Japan for treatment...along with a political watchdog and under dire restrictions.  The film recounts with cold clarity the way the  Japanese/Korean family and the boy's schoolmates and old girlfriend, faced with the temporary return of their son/brother/friend, dealt with the situation.  But even more it is a moving (but strangely unemotional) story of how the man remains the puppet of the North Korean state.  This is a very human story which is also a scathing, even tragic, political statement.  But for all that, I felt too removed from the characters to feel for their plight.  *** 

THE SNITCH CARTEL (El Cartel de los Sapos)   (d. Carlos Moreno, Colombia)
This is a big-screen, relatively high budget depiction of the Colombian drug cartel wars of the 1990s.  It's based on a true story, and apparently was originally a television mini-series which has been edited into a feature length film.  By necessity the film seems excessively episodic, with some inexplicable narrative jumps.  But it was involving enough...somewhat less Grand Guignol than de Palma's Scarface; but of the same general ilk.  It's really the story of the informant who helped bust the Cali cartel, played with charisma but rather stoically by Manolo Cardona.  I was reminded of the Australian television series "Underbelly", which did the gangster thing better.  But this film had more immediacy and relevance to the U.S. cocaine problem.  ** 3/4

(d. Audrius Stonys, Lithuania)
Ramin Lomsadze was a Georgian wrestler, apparently a great one back in the day.  This film documents him today, among other things celebrating his 75th birthday with his friends and plenty of wine.  For a documentary, the film is very loosely structured and episodic.  Fortunately it is also short at less than an hour long.  **

(d Anurag Basu, India)
This is a Bollywood comic-drama fable about a deaf-mute young man named by his parents Murphy, who can only manage to squeak out his name as Barfi.  In a series of flashbacks, we learn that Barfi is somehow involved with two women:  one a beautiful lady in an arranged, loveless marriage; the other a young, acutely autistic girl from a rich family (played with amazing and startling authenticity by former Miss World Priyanka Chopra).  Ranbir Kapoor plays the male lead, and he's an actor of uncommon physical and emotional versatility, a throwback to the era of silent film comedians: almost Chaplinesque in his affect. To continue the comparison to silent film comedies, there is an ongoing Keystone Kops story, which eventually gets tiresome.  However, the film belongs almost entirely to Kapoor.  He manages to turn what might be an overblown one joke skit into a touching (if overblown) cock-eyed love story.  But the most surprising thing about this film is the way it normalizes disabled characters, which from what I understand is very un-Indian.  I'm afraid that most of this films naive charms were lost on me; but I can see why others may not be as resistant to its retro feel and lack of irony.  ***

PLEASURE BOY KOMOLA (b. Humayun Ahmed, Bangladesh)
In some past day, young pretty boys were dressed as women and used sexually by rich Indian men.  They were considered lowest of caste, literally untouchable even by servants.  This film is the story of one such boy, and the rich merchant who invites the boy, the boy's father, a former pleasure boy dancing master and an itinerant group of musicians and artists to enjoy his sybaritic hospitality for the three months that his mansion was stranded by monsoon rains.  The film is shot in a very naive style, with awkward random flashbacks and poor acting.  However, it does peg the way the poor were once (and still?) ruthlessly exploited in the sub-continent. * 1/4

(d. Chang Rong-ji, Taiwan)
Huang Yu-siang is apparently a real-life blind piano prodigy from Taiwan.  In this film he plays himself as a young man starting college, with all the problems that a blind person would have in such a normalized situation.  That Siang (the character and actor) is quiet, friendly and super talented helps.  The rather formulaic biopic story has him falling for a girl for her nice voice, who works in a fast food delivery place and aspires to be a dancer.  OK, this all  sounds really lame; but for some reason the film works.  Part of it has to do with Huang's personality itself, where innate goodness shines through in every frame.  Another factor is his co-star, the Eurasian actress Sandrine Pinna, who may not be a convincing dancer (every shot is done in close-up and we never actually see her in full body movement); but she is a lively and interesting actress.  And I also have to give credit to first-time director Chang, who brings just the right amount of pizzazz to this old fashioned tale, with artful shots and fine montages. The sum total is an utterly charming musical romance.  Who'd a thunk it.  *** 1/2

WHEN I SAW YOU (d. Annemarie Jacir, Palestinian territories)
Tarek is an 11-year old Palestinian boy, who has been uprooted from his home along with his mother (his father is missing) and sent to a temporary refugee camp in Jorden during the 1967 Six-Day War.  As played by Mahmoud Asfa, he's cute and energetic, and totally naive about the geopolitical situation.  He runs away from the camp, and somehow gets involved with a bunch of freedom fighters/terrorists, depending on one's point of view.  The film really isn't about politics (except for some random Marxism on the part of the fedayeen leader).  It's more a boy's adventure story, and almost manages to overcome its cliched concept.  ** 3/4

THE CLOWN (d. Selton Mello, Brazil)
Mello is apparently an auteur who writes, directs and plays the role of a reluctant clown, son of the owner of an itinerant circus troupe traveling in the Brazilian hinterlands.  The story isn't much, unhappy Pagliacci searching for love; but the few scenes where the troupe does its comedy act under the big top are all quite well done, amusing and well shot.  I was bored when the film tried to get into the lives of the characters.     ** 1/2

(d. Waldemar Krzystek, Poland)
Based on a true story, the film recounts an episode in 1981 in the city of Wroclaw, Poland.  This was the time that Solidarity started to flex its muscle as an organized union in conflict with the Communist authorities.  The 80 million refers to money collected by the regional Solidarity collective which was withdrawn from the state bank just before a government crackdown brought in troops to bring order.  The film is fast paced, almost too fast for me to keep up with the many characters, especially the heroic union organizers and their families.  It's also episodic, with unaccountable jumps in the narrative that left me mystified.  This is one of those films where a prior knowledge of the events is necessary to fully understand the story:  a counterpoint to the East German story of the secret police, The Lives of Others...except that in this film the Security Service is depicted in a somewhat Keystone Kops manner, humanized and almost comic.  It's an admirable story to tell; but the filmmaking left much to be desired.  ** 1/2

(d. Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, Thailand)
This is a stylish film noir by the director of the wonderful Last Life in the Universe.  It's the story of Tul,  a disgraced cop, guilty of *not* taking a bribe, who becomes a political hit man.  What follows is a murky chase film, where the status of who is chasing who is constantly shifting.  The anti-hero ex-cop's problems are complicated by a bullet to the head which left him with his vision interesting character development which isn't really followed through.  Nopachal Chaiyanam plays Tul with a surly charisma.  But it is the very fluidity of the bad vs. good characters which makes this story particularly novel and interesting.  *** 1/4

(d. Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Italy)
This is a semi-documentary taking place in an actual Italian prison where the prisoners put on a public performance of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar".  It follows the process of casting, and stages the extensive rehearsals for the actual production as arty set-pieces shot in B&W.  It all leads up to the climax of the actual production before an audience shot in color.  The mainly amateur actors and theatrics are surprisingly good, possibly because the Italian prisoner "types" were so well suited to the play.  And the film directors, the famed Taviani brothers, stage it all immaculately.  For me, this was more a succès d'estime than a fully engaging film.  ***

(d. João Canijo, Portugal)
This is the story of a regular Lisbon family: struggling mom, her semi-prostitute sister, her drug dealing teenage son, and her daughter who is involved in a messy affair with her married teacher.  Just an ordinary family whose lives are all in upheaval.  The film plays like a Gaspar Noé version of one of the recent nuts-and-bolts, slice-of-life new wave Romanian films.  It's a long film which takes too much time to establish the characters before its mind-blowing revelations.  It isn't an easy film to watch; but the great acting ensemble and the unpredictable script are worth sticking it out to the end.  *** 3/4

(d. Rama Burshtein, Israel)
An Israeli Hasidic family face an arranged marriage problem with their pretty 18 year-old daughter.  That's all of the plot I plan to disclose of this fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of the Orthodox Jewish sect that is rarely seen in such detail.  The only comparable film I can think of was Holy Rollers, which covered an entirely different aspect of the lifestyle.  I'm not sure I quite understand all the motivations and actions of the characters; but the filmmaking itself was remarkable...gorgeous wide-screen cinematography featuring soft close-up focal changes which brought the viewer into a unique perspective on the actors' expressive faces.  The two leads, young Hila Feldman and handsome Yiftach Klein (memorable lead actor in last year's Policeman) gave remarkably subtle performances.  The film is like a trip to a particularly exotic, insular, otherworldly country...yet it's shockingly relatable, for all that.  *** 1/2

THE THIRD HALF  (d. Darko Mitrevski, Macedonia)
At the onset of the German army takeover in 1943 WWII, a small town Macedonian soccer team hires a German speaking Jewish coach to improve the team.  What ensues is another variation of the Holocaust film, based on the true story reminiscences of a young girl survivor.  The film is only partially successful.  Its high production values are offset by a clichéd sports story script, some cardboard evil Nazi sympathizers, and mediocre acting.  But the story still is powerful enough to elicit tears from me by the climax.  ***
BEYOND THE HILLS (d. Cristian Mungiu, Romania)
The Romanian new-wave director who managed to blow minds with his woman-centered take on abortion in 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, has managed to do it again with this lesbian tinged nun's story.  Two orphaned girls, apparently once intimate in childhood, have grown up following different paths.  One has joined a spartan hill-top monastery and taken a genuine spiritual path.  The other emigrated to Germany for an unsatisfying work-a-day life.  Their re-uniting at the monastery causes a multifaceted crisis for all involved.  Mungiu's tale combines hysteria, exorcism, saintliness and sin into a pungent stew of intense interactions.  The film takes its time to develop...and many won't have the patience to endure the painfully detailed, unremitting desolation.  I was enthralled, despite myself and my biases against films about religion and lesbianism.  The film was that well made, the acting that superb
(Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur deservedly shared the best actress award at the 2012 Cannes fest.)  *** 3/4

(d. Baltasar Kormákur, Iceland)
A fishing boat in freezing waters off of Iceland capsizes when a net snags.  What ensues is an epic of human endurance based on true events...and the most intriguing film about surviving a sinking boat since, well, Life of Pi.  Portly Ólafur Darri Ólafsson was born to play Gulli, one of the seafarers who set out that fateful morning.   This is an amazing true story, extremely well told.  *** 1/2

(d. Hernán Jabes, Venezuela)
This is a complicated thriller about a group of disparate people who set out one traffic jammed morning in the big city and encounter a series of escalating misadventures.  That's all of the plot I can divulge without spoilers.  Let's just say that this was a well written, nicely directed film which ratcheted up the suspense keeping this viewer on the edge of his seat.  The film was also an unsparingly bleak portrayal of human nature at its worst.  I wouldn't be surprised to see this clever, nihilistic script re-made as a Hollywood film. *** 1/4

JUST THE WIND (d. Benedek Fliegauf, Hungary)
Based on true events in 2009, this is the fictional story of a day in the life of a Romany family in a rural Hungarian village where vigilante home invaders are systematically murdering whole Gypsy families.  The film intercuts scenes of the mother, her two children and the grandfather through their quotidian lives, much of it without dialog with long tracking shots of family members just walking around.  The film plays like an unfocused Dardennes Bros. film, building tension by the slow accumulation of detail.  It's not exactly boring, at least for this viewer...mostly because it's so realistically achieved, like an impressionistic documentary, and beautifully photographed.  Still, it's a slog to get through.  ** 3/4

DEATH FOR SALE (d. Faouzi Bensaldi, Morocco)
Three slacker friends, petty thieves living on the dole in a seaside Moroccan city, decide to escalate their thievery for one big score by robbing a jewelry store.  The film wants to be a film noir thriller.  It goes through the motions:  femme fatale, killer drug dealers, crooked cops etc.  It even just about has the look down, with some interestingly novel camera angles.  However, the mediocre acting and occasionally absurdities of the plot kept me on the verge of walking.  But I stuck it out to the end and didn't feel the payoff was worth it.  **

(d. Christian Petzold, Germany)
The year is 1980, the place a seaside East German town.  Barbara is a medical doctor recently re-located from Berlin after an unexplained runin with the Stasi.  The film is a slice-of-life drama about living in those times, staffing a provincial hospital (Barbara gets involved with an attractive fellow doctor played by Ronald Zehrfeld), and dealing with the regime.  The film is slow to progress, a lot having to do with Barbara's stoic, unemotive character (Nina Hoss in a subtle, effective performance.)  But it does build tension leading up to suspenseful climax.  The film is particularly effective at projecting the stifling, unsmiling, fearful lives that many East Germans lived at the time.  *** 1/4

(d. Kim Ki-duk, South Korea)
Kim's 18th film
(prominently and amusingly noted in the opening credits) is a weird psychological drama involving a sadistic loan shark, thwarted maternal love, and an unlikely revenge scenario.  The film focuses on the pathological psychology of characters out-of-control.  The story has some awkward holes in narrative logic; but it never fails to impart stunning, if constantly disturbing, imagery.  It's hard to love a film where the acting goes so over the top and the whole thing is a complicated metaphor the nature of which is never clear (at least to me, although the very title brings a Mary/baby Jesus connection to the fore).  Slick, and sick, and never boring...this is decidedly not a film for the squeamish.  ***

WAR WITCH (Rebelle)
(d. Kim Nguyen, Canada)
Komona was 12 years-old, living in an unspecified African sub-Saharan country, when she was kidnapped by rebel soldiers and forced to shoot her parents.  Over the following couple of years she experiences a life of unimaginable (but totally well projected film-wise) horror.  Rachel Mwanza gives an amazing performance: fighter, lover, mother, a sorcerer possessed by ghosts.  The film is overwhelmingly powerful in depicting its time and place...almost too much to bear yet totally authentic and believable.  Quite an achievement.  *** 3/4

THE BAD INTENTIONS  (d. Rosario Garcia-Montero, Peru)
The central character of this film is an insufferable 8-year old girl, precocious and pretty, but from a broken home and faced with a depressed pregnant mother, an ineffective step-father and a father who has moved on.  She's just this side of Patty McCormack's "bad seed", more theoretically bad than murderous (although the thoughts were there.)  For me watching this film was torture...I'd go nuts if I had a child like this.  The film takes place in 1982 at the height of the Shining Path terrorism; but the outside world hardly intrudes on our young, upper-class  protagonist.  I can't deny the fine acting and excellent production values; but this wasn't a film for me.  ** 1/2

(d. David "Tosh" Gitonga, Kenya)
A clever young man stifled in a small Kenyan village, aspires to be an actor.  He leaves home for the big city, and immediately gets fleeced of everything on arrival in bustling, crime infested Nairobi.  How he copes is the intriguing and actually quite well written premise of this skillfully produced film.  Maybe it was the input of "Supervising Director" Tom Tykwer...but the film was surprisingly well directed and acted, with a charming performance at its center by Joseph Wairimu.   Sometimes a film sneaks in unheralded from an unlikely source and blows away the audience.  Despite the violence and squalor, this wide-screen, immaculately shot film does just that.  *** 1/2

CRAWL (d. Herve Lasgouttes)
This is one of those desultory French coming of age set in a picturesque, if bleak Breton seaside town.  Swann Arlaud, a young actor who looks like the local fish catch, is actually quite good as Martin:  wastrel youth, petty shoplifter, unable to keep a job despite a talent for mechanics.  He falls for a girl who is an endurance swimmer (thus the film's title).  However, the title is also a metaphor for how the protagonist crawls through life before growing up to walk.  The film is a fairly interesting slice-of-life people story, slow to develop;  but it ultimately satisfies by letting its unexceptional characters grow.  ** 3/4

EMPEROR (d. Peter Webber) 
In late August, 1945, 5-star General Douglas MacArthur (played by the always reliable and convincingly in character Tommy Lee Jones) arrived in Tokyo as Viceroy with complete power to punish war criminals.  He sets his Japan expert, Brig. General Fallers (tv actor Matthew Fox, callow but earnest) with the task of finding out if the Emperor Hirohito had enough wartime culpability to be deposed and tried...despite the awful consequences for the future of the occupation if that were done.  Complicating Fallers' task is his still burning love affair with a missing Japanese girl when they were students together in the States before the war.  That's only the set-up to this quasi-procedural which works when it focuses on the geopolitics, but goes badly awry when it lurches into a lyrical, but misplaced love story in gauzy flashbacks.  ** 3/4

PIAZZA FONTANA (d. Marco Tullio Giordana)
In 1969 a horrendous terrorist bombing took place in a busy bank in the Piazza Fontana in Milan, Italy.  At first anarchists are believed responsible; but an honest police captain is determined to get to the truth.  This is the set-up for a remarkable film, based on true events, which is extraordinary in presenting an historical enigma as a complex policier with, to this day, no satisfactory resolution.  The film is large scale, with a huge cast of characters; and for foreigners unfamiliar with the case, a little difficult to follow.  But it joins a distinguished group of films which re-examine and blow the lid off cover-ups and malfeasances at the highest level.  Giordana directed one of my all-time favorite films, The Best of Youth, and he's a superior filmmaker handling actors and setting action scenes.  But this film is more political muckraking than emotionally involving, which isn't playing to the director's strongest suit. *** 1/4

Elio Germano is adorable, as usual, here playing a ditzy single gay man who rents a house haunted by a stylish troupe of actors who perished during WWII.  In a way, this is a departure for of my favorite international directors.  The comedy is a little broad; but the sentiment and humanity is about right for him.  I'm not a ghost story aficionado; and this story made little real world sense for me.  But Germano's innately sympathetic character, and Ozpetek's usual eye for stunning visual details made the film more than just watchable.  ***

ROAD NORTH (d. Mika Kaurismäki) 
Timo is a 30-ish concert pianist, sort of stogy with his life rigidly programmed.  Into his life drops the rotund, footloose, out-of-control father who abandoned the family when Timo was very young.  That's the set-up for a zany road-trip which is typical Kaurismäki, and not exactly my kind of film.  Yes, it's entertaining, and Vesa-Matti Loiri, is captivating as the old man.  But the whole old-man's-final-journey-of-rediscovery-and-redemption trope has been done to death, and less predictably.  ** 1/2

MOLLY MAXWELL (d. Sara St. Onge)
Molly is a precocious girl of 16 who attends a progressive high-school in Toronto which is several degrees to the political left of nearby Degrassi High.  Forced to pick an extra-curricular elective, she chooses photography...and arranges for her adviser to be the new, young and dishy English teacher.  It starts out all innocent fun; but soon their relationship becomes an uncomfortable, forbidden romance.  It's very well done.  The two actors, Lola Tash (who is a budding Ellen Page type) and Charlie Carrick, are attractive and have real chemistry (in Q&A, Lola was careful to say she was actually 18 when the film was shot).  But it's not quite raw enough to be truly transgressive, and yet still went just a tad too far to be amusing. ** 3/4

RENOIR (d. Gilles Bourdos) 
In 1915, at the twilight of his long, productive life, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (played with extraordinary presence by Michel Bouquet) continued painting landscapes and nudes in his gorgeously scenic compound on the South coast of France.  Arthritic and infirm, he was tended by a bevvy of female servants after the death of his controlling wife.  Into this bucolic, work-a-day life comes young
Andrée Heuschling (Christa Theret, the very ideal of French gamine), a towns girl hired as a model. Also returning to the fold was 21 year-old youngest son, Jean, badly wounded in the Great War, home for recuperation.  Vincent Rottiers, a favorite of mine, plays Jean, the future film great, and he's superb...gallant, smart, charismatic.  What ensues is a long, slow, totally involving and beauty-filled story of lives spent obsessing with art, hermetically removed from the real-world terrors without.  The Côte-d'Azure summer setting is glorious, captured by the exceptional cinematography of Mark Lee Ping-Bin, who photographed Wong Kar-wei's In the Mood For Love.  The visuals were worthy of a Renoir painting.  I was completely enchanted by this film...but I heard lots of grumbling about too long and boring.  I could have watched it all day.   *** 1/2

THE SAPPHIRES (d. Wayne Blair)
As of the late 1960's the Australian Aborigines were still an oppressed minority...when a quartet of black girls, managed by a drunken white guy, broke through to become a semi-famous singing group touring the American bases in Viet Nam.  This film is based on that true story.  It's a musical, or at least a dramedy featuring original girl-quartet songs from the '60s.  It's very uplifting and enlightening about its era.  The singers are great; but Chris O'Dowd, playing their manager, is the standout here:  giving a huge, star-making comic performance.  This is a true audience-pleasing film, well written, if formulaic.  At least it is not totally predictable; and  I expect it to do quite well.  In fact, it did end up winning the audience award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.  *** 1/4

I DO (d. Glenn Gaylord) 
A gay Englishman, well settled in New York, has visa problems.  He's advised that marrying a woman would be the best course to get a Green Card, even though marrying his male lover (legal in New York state, but not useful for immigration because of DOMA) would be his preference.  David W. Ross, who also wrote the script, plays Jack...stuck in a dilemma.  He might marry his female work buddy, Ali (played by Jami-Lynn Sigler, daughter of the Sopranos).  However that path holds dangers to both parties: prison for her, permanent exile for him.  But what about his new male lover?  This modern, gay version of Peter Weir's Green Card might have been just another polemic film with a cause.  But Ross's script and Gaylord's direction surmount the clichés, delivering a film of rare sensitivity.  It's an emotional bombshell which profoundly moved me and provided that rare shock of reality in the cinema.  *** 1/2

I can't even discuss this film rationally, since I didn't understand it.  It's supposed to be about a troupe of actors who appear at the court of the Margrave of Alsace in the 1500s, and perform a series of six Biblical tableaux illustrating sins of the flesh.  As with all Greenaway films, it is visually ravishing...even more so than usual.  And there's no lack of frontal nudity, that's for damn sure.  But it all seemed even more over-the-top than Greenaway's usual fare.  Even the presence of F. Murray Abraham as the Margrave, didn't spare me from feeling that this was a spectacular waste of time.  **

MENTAL (d. P. J. Hogan)
A small town in Australia is home to a peculiar family:  philandering father, dotty mom, and five amusingly troubled young daughters.  Anthony LaPaglia plays the smarmy dad and Rebecca Gibney plays the OCD mom having a nervous breakdown...heavily overwritten characters that the fine actors struggle to make real.  Fate brings Shaz into this family as surrogate mom.  As played by Toni Collette, she's either the sanest of the bunch, or the nuttiest.  That's for the overwrought plot to divulge.  Oh, yeah, there's also Liev Schreiber around, as a loony shark hunter, and Shaz's ex-husband.  It was all a little too much, too silly for me.  But give points for unpredictability and an original premise.  Plus this film has another crazed Toni Collette performance for the ages.  ** 1/2

BEYOND THE WALLS (d. David Lambert)
Young, blond Paolo (attractive newcomer
Matila Malliarakis) is at the cusp of coming out gay to his female partner and himself.  He gets involved with an Albanian bartender (also new to me actor Guillaume Gouix), and they move in together.  What follows is an up-and-down story of fateful attraction, thwarted love and ultimate coming of age.  It's one of those rare gay films which both shocks and surprises and discloses truths about human relationships rarely realized in cinema.  I was reminded of another Belgian film, Fogi is a Bastard, which also explored a gay relationship taken to the limits.  This isn't a sexually titillating film, rather a sincere attempt at defining a certain kind of gay relationship dynamic.  It doesn't quite achieve greatness; but it certainly is a fine attempt to make a very realistic film about gay life. *** 1/4

WHITE ELEPHANT (d. Pablo Trapero)
The eponymous white elephant is a monstrosity of a mid-20th century building meant to be a hospital, but never finished.  Today it is the center of a drug infested slum in Buenos Aires, where a dying Catholic priest (the ubiquitous actor Ricardo Darin) is ministering to a needy flock.  His chosen replacement is played by the remarkable actor Jérémie Renier, a young, virile Belgian priest with doubts of his own.  What ensues is an exciting and difficult to watch thriller of life among the squalor of the barrio with constant battles between drug lords and the police...intertwined with a powerful story of the faith and saintliness of two very human priests (sort of an Argentine City of God).  The film rambles on; and I think it might be a difficult watch for some.  However, just watching Darin and Renier is a master class on great masculine acting.  This isn't a film to love, just to appreciate. *** 1/2

MARIE KROYER (Bille August)
Sometimes a film can both be a fascinating story and a true revelation of something one never knew, but ought to have.  P. S. Kroyer was a Danish impressionist painter.  I pretend to know a bit about art history; but I had never heard of him.  Turns out his work so appeals to me that I will one day travel to Denmark just to see his paintings for myself.  But I digress.  Coincidentally, like the previously seen at this festival Renoir, this is the story of a painter in old age, one who had frequent bouts of madness.  Or, more to the point, of his wife, Marie, great beauty and a painter in her own right...and the troubles she had as a woman and mother with few legal rights who embarks on an affair with a composer ten years her junior.  Bille August is a director who pours everything into glorious images which accurately re-create the past, in this case the 1900's in Skagan, a seaside artists colony.  His cast is ideal, the script shockingly psychologically insightful to modern sensibility.  The only flaw is that the film is so narrowly centered on one small part of a larger continuum of fascinating lives...I was left wanting to know more, couldn't wait to Google everything about Kroyer, Marie and her lover Hugo Alfven, also famous but unknown to me prior to this film.  One can't ask much more of a historical romantic drama.  *** 1/2

I, ANNA (d. Barnaby Southcombe) 
Anna is a woman of a certain age.  As played by the elegant Charlotte Rampling, she's an enigma, ravaged by time, but still beautiful as she tours the London speed dating scene.  She becomes the fascination of a police detective, played by Gabriel Byrne...and of course there's a murder mystery involved, too.  The film is directed by Rampling's son, his first film.  It's very stylishly photographed, with a complicated script depending on brief flashbacks and suspect plot misdirections.  As a psychological study, it's interesting.  As a policier, the film leaves a lot up in the air rife for speculation that all the i's aren't dotted.  ***

4SOME (aka THE HOLY QUATERNITY) (d. Jan Hrebejk)
Nobody does family life quite like Czech director Hrebejk.  In this film he examines the relationships of two neighboring families.  The men work together, the women are best friends, and even the two teenage boys of one are perfectly naturally paired with the two girls in the other.  What Hrebejk does is give the adults the idea of re-vitalizing their marriages by forming a 4-way sexual adventure during a work holiday at a Caribbean atoll.  What differentiates this from previous attempts is that the children are witnesses here, and in their own judgmental way participants.  The tone of the film is light and frisky.  There are comic touches and some really impressive insights into human nature and relationships.  A good, tight script, and a fine ensemble of actors make this a pleasurable, light entertainment.  *** 1/4

DORMANT BEAUTY (d. Marco Bellocchio)
Apparently, Italy had its own version of the Terri Schiavo this case the government debate on a special law, right vs. left, to prevent a girl named Eluana's father from terminating his daughter's life support.  Director Bellocchio, no stranger to controversy, intercuts three stories...not about Eluana herself, but rather people caught up in the passions of the media event.  Each individual story is well crafted and acted, especially Isabelle Huppert as a famous actress unwilling to terminate her own brain-dead daughter's life.  However, coming into the film cold, I had real problems figuring out who was on which side and why they became involved with the issue.  As drama it worked up to a polemic I was unmoved.  ** 1/2

TWO LIVES  (d. Georg Maas) 
This is a complex story of a Norwegian family of four generations.  Great-grandmother (Liv Ulmann) had a child by a Nazi soldier in the 1940s; and the child was forcefully taken to Germany to be raised as an of the famed Lebensborn experiment children.  These children were raised in orphanages in East Germany; and eventually, the girl was repatriated with her mother in the 1970s.  She then married, had a daughter and finally a granddaughter.  Or was it all an invention of the East German Stasi to infiltrate a spy into Norway?  The film takes place just after the Wall fell in 1990; and involves an investigation into the German liability for war crimes involving the Lebensborn.  What ensues is a gripping family story combined with a spy thriller.  It is adapted from a novel, not really based on an individual story, only conjecture.  The script maybe depends too much on coincidence; but this is another fascinating view of an entirely novel facet of the horrors of WWII, and the perfidy of the post-war East German apparatus.  *** 1/4

KEY OF LIFE (d. Kenji Uchida)
This is a comedy about a amnesiac hit-man and the slacker who assumes his identity by a series of mischances.  It's very Japanese in the way its characters interact.  The script has many twists and turns, most of them novel and unexpected.  It's an entertaining trifle, ultimately satisfying but empty calories. ** 1/2

A HIJACKING (d. Tobias Lindholm)
The eponymous hijacking, refers to a Danish freighter sailing in the Indian ocean which is boarded (off camera) by a rag-tag group of Somali pirates.  The film centers on the plight of the ship's cook, sympathetic husband and father.  But it also concentrates on the steely CEO of the company, who is in charge of dealing with the pirates and is accustomed to financial dickering that doesn't involve lives.  This is one high-tension film, which skillfully plays out a typical kidnapping situation and keeps the audience in suspense while also accurately transmitting the feelings of terror and frustration that the characters experienced.   Somali pirate hijackings are a fact which makes news; and this film, shot semi-documentary style, has a ring of authenticity (even though there was no particular title saying it was based on an actual true event.) *** 1/2

ALLEZ, EDDY! (d. Gert Embrechts)
Freddy is an 11-year old cycling whiz, enamored of the legendary Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx.  The year is 1975, and Freddy's family butcher shop is endangered by the arrival of a supermarket chain in his small Flemish town.  What follows is a light-hearted  coming-of-age story, which is delightfully involving and audience pleasing...and turns out to be based on an actual Belgian cyclist's youth.  The film benefits from a remarkable performance by young red-headed actor
Peter Van den Begin, bright, energetic and wholesome.  It also glows with a beautifully realized sense of its place and time captured in bright, candy-colored hues.  Nothing earthshaking here, just good fun.  *** 1/4

SÜSKIND (d. Rudolf van den Berg)
Walter Süskind was a German Jew living in Amsterdam during WWII.  The film depicts him as a clever operator, who leads a theatrical troupe and attempts to save as many Dutch Jews as he can from export to Poland by double crossing the (pick one: gullible, treacherous, evil...or all of the above) Nazi authorities.  This is a familiar story, based on true events, similar to Schindler's List and other films.  In this case the production is large and well done; however, the the script is too full of clichéd characters and situations to be as effective as past efforts.  ** 1/2

SHORES OF HOPE (d. Toke Constantin Hebbein)
Two East German pals relocate to a port city in order to obtain seafaring jobs and make their escape to the West.  Their paths diverge as they go through the tumultuous 1980's buffeted by Stasi manipulations.  Alexander Fehling comes into his own as an actor of consequence as the resolutely heroic Conny; while the more familiar actor August Diehl is equally good as the weaker of the pair who becomes a Stasi collaborator.  This is a corking good story which nails the feeling of what it must have been like in the last days of the dying East German regime.  Sure, the Stasi characters are stock villains, and the script is leisurely in developing its clever deceptions.  It is constantly threatening to go overboard into the predictable.  But somehow, likely through skillful acting and direction, the film kept me in thrall. *** 1/2

Torgny Segerstedt was a former Christian theology professor turned newspaper editor for a major Swedish daily.  Along with Maja and Axel Forssman (Jewish owners of the paper), Segerstedt was from the early 1930's and throughout the WWII, an enemy of Hitler whose outspoken anti-Nazi editorials were an important part of setting Swedish opinion.  This film is a beautifully achieved re-creation of the times, shot in stark black & white which melds seamlessly into newsreel footage of the rise of the Nazis and the war.  It is also a rather shocking story of Segerstedt's torrid affair with Maja, the wife of his boss:  a strange menage à trois fully acknowledged by all the parties involved.   Jesper Christensen plays the real-life Segerstedt with an almost Biblical patriarchal mien, elderly but strong and outspoken.  This was an impressive film, long and complex.  It was intellectually stimulating in that austere Nordic way, rather than the kind of film which emotionally involved me.  *** 1/4

IN THE FOG (d. Sergei Loznitsa)
This is a moral fable which took place in the realistic setting behind German lines in 1942 Belarus. 
Shushenya was a railroad worker whose fellow workers committed an act of sabotage against the Germans.  They were hanged; and he was mysteriously set free.  But freedom led to Shushenya's being shunned by his neighbors as an outcast and collaborator.  The film wanders with Shushenya and two other Russian resistance fighters through the forests as their back stories were gradually told.  This isn't an easy film to watch, it's shot at a maddeningly leisurely pace and has very sparse explanatory dialogue.  But the issues it raises in the minds of the audience are profound.  As I left the theater, many people were grumbling about "worst movie ever" etc.  But one has to admire the audacious, formalized screenplay and how well the actors played their roles.  ***

THE FOSTER BOY (d. Markus Imboden)
This is another "issue" film, in this case decrying the long-term Swiss mistreatment of orphans.  According to a pre-film title, until 1960 as many as 100,000 state-supported children were sent out as virtually slave laborers to foster families where they were often mistreated with little recourse to justice.  The film is the story of Max, an orphaned teenage boy whose saving talent was as an accomplished accordionist.  He's sent to live with a family working a failing farm, where he, and a girl taken from her widowed, impoverished mother are physically and mentally abused by the farming family.   Max Hubacher is particularly memorable in the role of Max:  strong, stoic and ultimately caring for the abused girl he shares quarters with.  As harrowingly realistic as the film was, it was also life affirming, and in its way a beautiful testament to character overcoming adversity.  *** 1/2

PUTZEL  (d. Jason Chaet)
In this indie comedy, Walter (nicknamed Putzel since he's something of a schlemiel) is the grandson of the founder of a famous lox emporium on New York's West Side.  He wants to take over the store from his uncle; but he's sort of inept and neurotic.  The film is a farce about his bumbling through life, and really isn't worth the effort of describing the mechanics of the plot.  It's reasonably well acted; but the film is tedious and not inventive enough in its situations to merit attention. * 3/4

THE HUNT (d. Thomas Vinterberg)
Mads Mikkelsen is quietly convincing playing a 40-something elementary school teacher who is accused by his best friend's 6-year old daughter of inappropriate sexual behavior.  The film should really have been called The Witchhunt, since it illustrated the same sort of public hysteria that occurred in the infamous McMartin preschool abuse case here in Los Angeles.  The screenplay is especially realistic and empathetic depicting the various characters' dilemmas, especially the young child actress who is at the center of the controversy.  *** 1/2

UNA NOCHE (d. Lucy Mulloy)
A trio of Cuban teenagers, boy and girl twins and their sexy male friend embark on an attempt to escape to Florida on a makeshift inner-tube raft.  That's the bare bones description of an involving film which gets into the mind-set of the teenage protagonists and gives one of the best depictions of modern day Havana I've ever seen.  *** 1/4

THE GIRL (d. David Riker)
A young Texan woman, desperate for money to reclaim her fostered-out little boy, tries to emulate her irresponsible father and become a coyote, taking money to help desperate Central Americans cross the Rio Grande.  Troubles involving a little girl separated from her mother ensue.  Abbie Cornish is quite good in the role, emotionally restrained but strong.  The script is somewhat manipulative and unlikely...but apparently based on a real story.  ***

REALITY (d. Matteo Garrone)
Garrone is a director with a very strong visual sensibility.  Here he is telling the wacked-out story of a man so obsessed with reality tv, especially  the Italian version of "Big Brother" that his life goes to shambles in his single-minded pursuit of getting chosen to participate in the show.  I wasn't very involved in the plot, which just seemed over-wrought to my sensibilities and badly over-acted.  However, the film is delightfully visual, with some amazing long tracking and aerial shots, which kept my interest.  ** 3/4

MONT REVE  (d. Rocky Collins & Lynn Von Kersting)
The title refers to a tony Swiss private high school (inhabited, strangely, by 20-somethings, the scions of the international rich and powerful).  Marco is an Italian troublemaker and under-achiever, who has a thing for an English girl (played by the film's writer India Irving).  The school is very cliquish:  the Italians, Spaniards, Russians, Chinese etc. stick together, which becomes a running theme.  The script is written in a polyglot of languages; but the lingua franca is primarily English.  The film wants to be a romantic comedy; but it isn't particularly romantic and it certainly isn't a comedy.  Rarely if ever have I seen a film where the acting is so uniformly terrible.  The dialog in whatever language is either overwrought, badly delivered or mangled by terrible accents.  The music is oud, the cinematography garish.  The continuity jumps all over the place, setting up scenes which never happen.  I could go on and on; but some films deserve obscurity.  Hopefully this film will fulfill that destiny.   1/2*

(Gladiatori di Roma)  (d. Iginio Straffi)
Presented in 3D, this Italian animated film is the story of Timo, young boy orphaned when his mother was killed in the Vesuvius eruption of 79 AD (a powerful scene which is the high point of the film, too bad it is only the first 3 minutes or so.).  He's saved and adopted by a Roman general who places him in a school for gladiators where he grows up.  The action of the film takes place several years later, when the now grown-up and poorly equipped boy is challenged by his alpha student nemesis to be a real gladiator and to fight in the recently completed Colosseum before the Emperor.  The animation, while not up to Disney or Dreamworks standards, is pretty good; and the 3D effects are especially well done.  However the plot is childish:  filled with clichéd characters (including a witch, a bear, a goddess  and four intolerably mischievous little devils) and totally predictable.  And the song score is unaccountably made up of inappropriate American pop songs.  I have a feeling that with a well acted English soundtrack, this film just might find an audience.  But I certainly wasn't one of that audience.  * 1/4

THE LOOKOUT (Le Guetteur)  (d. Michele Placido)
In a poorly curated Italian film festival, the good films are few and far between.  This fascinating French policier directed by an Italian actor stands out, despite its obvious plot deficiencies.  It's the story of a grizzled police captain (another excellent performance by Daniel Auteuil) who leads a botched attempt to foil a predicted bank robbery...foiled by the presence of a rooftop sniper lookout who took out many of the police while the robbers got away with the loot.  The lookout is beautifully underplayed by Mathieu Kassovitz, a favorite of mine both as an actor and director.  The film becomes a cat-and-mouse affair complicated by the disruptive presence of another criminal who is out to steal the loot (Olivier Gourmet doing evil sadist beautifully).  This is film noir in grand French fashion...helped by having been shot in washed out blue tinted color which added to the films noirishness.  If the plot doesn't quite stand up to close scrutiny and is gratuitously sadistic, well that didn't matter to me.  At least the action sequences rocked!  I was enthralled.  *** 1/2

VIVA L'ITALIA (d. Massimiliano Bruno)

Political satire is hard to do right, especially in a culture as unique as the Italian, and for the delectation of an American audience. This film almost succeeds. Its premise is delicious. An old hand rightwing pol (deliciously played in full scene stealing mode by Michele Placido, who directed last night's excellent film noir The Lookout) suffers a stroke which left him physically able, but unable to lie about anything, which is tantamount to political death in corrupt Italia. His three variously ne'er do well grown children have been benefiting from their father's political prowess; but that ends along with their father's power.  Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite live up to its premise, getting bogged down in a myriad of side tracking leftish issues, which are a little confusing to follow. But its high energy and great comic performances make for an enjoyable film.  ** 3/4

ITAKER  (Wop)  (d. Toni Tupia)
It's Naples in the 1960s; and a sympathetic 10-year old waif has just lost his mother.  He's placed in the care of an itinerant worker seeking a passport, who claims to know the boy's father and offers to take the boy to Germany to reunite the two.  What ensues is a realistic document about the plight of foreign workers in Germany who are forced to deal with mafia connections (in the form of an evil don played by Michele Placido), seamlessly combined with a tender coming-of-age story of a surrogate father-son bond forming out of practical necessities.   Francisco Scianna is fine, playing the man as self-involved rogue with a good heart.  But it is young Titian Tatarico who steals the film with a rare child performance of steely determination and puppy-dog affection.  I was impressed by the tone of the film which recalls classics of Italian neorealism; and also by the very authentic look of the cinematography, all muted colors and realistic locations.  Incidentally,
the title is a German swear word used to denigrate lower class Italians.  *** 1/4 

SEE YOU TOMORROW  (Ci vediamo domani)
  (d. Andrea Zaccariello)
An ineffectual entrepreneur (a manic performance by Enrico Brignano) has managed to lose everything and go deeply into debt to a loanshark with ulterior motives.  He reads about a village that has the most aged population in the entire nation...and has the idea to start a mortuary in that village, a sure moneymaking scheme.  Except that the villagers never, ever seem to die of old age (no, they're not vampires, this is a simple comedy much like Welcome to the Sticks.)  The film is well produced, with good acting and slick production values.  However, the entire slicker suckered and instructed by rustic villagers who are philosophically wise...didn't quite work for me.  Still, it was nice to see a familiar face, Burt Young (playing an ostensibly naive, but really cagy villager) - even if the dubbing into Italian through a heavy beard was only semi-successful.   ** 1/2

THE LANDLORDS  (I Padroni di casa) (d. Edoardo Gabriellini)
Two 30-something brothers, working as stonemasons, are hired by a famous and rich Italian singer to do repairs on his hill-country villa.  The townspeople are an unfriendly, vaguely menacing bunch and what follows is a predictable, if slow to develop, Deliverance kind of terror film.  Valerio Mastandrea and the innately likable Elio Germano play the brothers, sympathetic, naive protagonists.  Throughout the film the menace is diffuse, maybe even imaginary.  But the script isn't original enough to actually surprise.   ** 3/4

TO OUR LOVES  (À Nos Amours) (d. Maurice Pialat)
Sandrine Bonnaire made her debut in this 1983 film.  It was an auspicious one:  she played a lively, sexy 15 year old who has a series of affairs as she grows up in thrall to an absent father (played by the director Pialat himself.)  The film apparently stretches over several years; but the time line is never established as it skips over years of events.  This is a film about an unhappy family who abuse each other unmercifully...not a particularly enjoyable experience.  Pialat has a reputation as a visual film artist; but I didn't see it in this film which was often badly blocked.  Still, the outstanding acting and realistic family dynamic, plus the odd, but effective, use of Klaus Nomi's "Cold Song" throughout the film justified reviving this film with a beautiful new print.  ** 1/4

A FEW HOURS OF SPRING  (Quelques Heures de printemps) (d. Stéphane Brizé)
A man (an intense Vincent Lindon) gets out of jail after serving 18 months for smuggling.  He's relatively unemployable as a truck driver, so he returns home to his obsessively tidy mother's house.   As played by the wonderful Hélène Vincent, mother Yvette is closed in and cold; but it turns out she is also dying of a so-far invisible type of brain cancer.  Director Brizé shoots the film in a remarkably austere style, with only 185 cuts and almost no camera movement.  However, the film never seems static because of his emphasis on illuminating the inner turmoil of his actors with precise camera set-ups and subtle pans.  The script is remarkable for its deep understanding of the mother/son dynamic and the way it deals with the end of life.  Still, I felt an antipathy against these emotionally locked characters which kept my admiration for the film in check.  ***

THE DANDELIONS  (Du Vent dans mes mollets)  (d. Carine Tardieu)
The year is 1981 and a 9-year old girl, daughter of Holocaust survivors starts a new school and makes a new friend.  Young Juliette Gombert gives it her all, which is considerable.  But I, for one, couldn't manage to become involved enough with this rather ordinary family to empathize, even when tragedy strikes our young heroine.  ** 1/4

TRUE FRIENDS  (Amitiés sincères)  (d. Stéphan Archinard, François Prévôt-Leygonie)
Three 50-ish men have been friends for 30 years.  But two of them keep important secrets from their alpha-male buddy, secrets which unravel gradually.  That's the gist of this intermittently involving dramedy.  It took a while for the plot to percolate...and even then it all seemed to be a lot of talk and not much substance.  ** 3/4

WHAT'S IN A NAME  (Le Prénom)  (d. Alexandre de La Patellière, Matthieu Delaporte)
Much like the movie CARNAGE, this is a drawing room farce, clearly adapted from a play, with two couples (40-something brother, sister and their mates) and their single male friend disclosing truths and tearing each other apart.  It is very well acted and at times screamingly funny...and at other times painfully revealing.  Smart characters, smart dialogue, surprising and modern.  The only flaw is that it does seem theatrical and never quite opened up cinematically.  *** 1/4

CYCLING WITH MOLIÈRE  (Alceste à bicyclette)  (d. Philippe Le Guay)
A tv soap actor with pretensions to stage Molière's "Misanthrope" meets with a retired actor friend at his Ile de Ré retreat to try to convince him to come back to the stage.  The two actors (played with panache by Lambert Wilson and Fabrice Luchini) struggle with self-revelation while rehearsing the play.  Non-stop dialogue, the bane of many French films, plus endless readings from the Molière play which subtitles don't do justice to, made the film only intermittently interesting to me.  Others more familiar with Molière might enjoy the film more.  ** 1/2

BAY OF ANGELS  (La Baie des anges)  (d. Jacques Demy)
A splendid restored B&W print and dolbyized soundtrack of this fine Demy film were definitely worth the wait.  Claude Mann is superb as the zipped up bourgeois bank clerk who catches the gambling bug from a femme fatale (one of Jeanne Moreau's signature roles).  The film is one of the great depictions of what gambling addiction is all about...something I'm very aware of personally.   Even in B&W, the Côte d'Azure scenery sparkles and the film is just as relevant today as it was in 1963.   *** 1/2

THE MAN WHO LAUGHED  (L'Homme qui rit)  (d. Jean-Pierre Améris)
Adapted from a Victor Hugo novel, this anti-royalist satire about a cruelly disfigured young man whose noble title was almost stolen from him in childhood has been turned into a gorgeous, if overwrought costume drama.  Marc-André Grondin (forever a favorite of mine, if only based on his lovely performance in C.R.A.Z.Y.), is the lure here, with a strong performance as the eponymous foundling.  The acting overall can't be dissed - even Gérard Depardieu doesn't appear to be calling in his typical, lazy late-career performance.  And the costumes and sets are beautifully realized.  However, the annoyingly obtrusive score and predictable plot are fatal distractions.  ** 1/2

THREE WORLDS  (Trois mondes)  (d. Catherine Corsini)
An innately responsible, but reckless young man on the make (a superbly subtle and star-making performance by Raphael Personnaz) undergoes the ultimate moral dilemma when he lets himself become involved in a fatal automobile hit-and-run accident and its coverup.  That's the set-up for this immaculately directed film which captivated me with its unpredictable and thought-provoking story line.   *** 1/4

ARMED HANDS (Mains armée)  (d. Pierre Jolivet)
This is a hard-nosed police procedural about a grizzled Marseilles police captain on the trail of Balkan gunrunners, whose investigation takes his team to Paris where they become embroiled in a cat-and-mouse game with gangs and corrupt Parisian narcs.  The film is too complex for its own good, combining a family melodrama with several unlikely connected criminal investigations.  However, Roschdy Zem does his usual hard-nosed, emotionally veiled  characterization in the lead role; and Leila Bekhti comes into her own as an endangered narc squad whistleblower.  ** 3/4

THE BRONTË SISTERS  (Les Soeurs Brontë)  (d. André  Téchiné)
I was intrigued by the prospect of watching an early Téchiné bio film (1979) with the two young Isabelles (Adjani and Hupert) and beautiful Marie-France Pisier as the three Brontë sisters,  plus the youthful Pascal Greggory as their poet-wastrel brother.  But what a disappointment!  I lasted an hour.  Lovely, but boring.  W/O

THE KINGS OF SUMMER (d. Jordan Vogt-Roberts)
Three misfit teenage boys run away from varied family problems by escaping into the local woods and attempting to go feral.  That's the set-up for this wonderfully lively and inventive coming-of-age story that is in turns funny, poignant and insightful.  There's also a little wish-fulfillment fantasy going on, particularly about their competence in building a structure and escaping the authorities for so long.  But I was willing to suspend disbelief since the actors were so on-point and the innovative director kept surprising us with amusing  montages (one that made effective use of slo-mo simply blew me away.)  *** 1/2

ROSIE  (d. Marcel Gisler)
A successful, 40-ish gay author has to deal with his increasingly frail, alcoholic, but sharp-as-a-tack mother.  At times the film hit uncomfortably close to home.  The film is slow paced; but the non-sparing portrayals (and some hot man-on-man sex) kept me awake, mostly.  *** 1/4