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March 2013

Antisocial Studies

Simon Killer (2013)

Joe Anderson/IFC Films

We all know the major film studios have a habit of making serious and costly blunders when choosing film titles from time to time, often falling into the trap of needlessly prioritizing originality over suitability — "John Carter" and "The Adjustment Bureau" are two recent examples that come to mind. But are indie studios guilty of doing the opposite: jazzing up their titles in an attempt to grab a larger share of the market? Recent British releases "Monsters" and "Tyrannosaur" have been accused of misleading titles and/or marketing campaigns.

I couldn’t help feeling this was an issue with "Simon Killer," a film which I viewed almost completely cold, knowing next to nothing about its contents. The title conjures up the notion that it’s about an everyday man with whom the audience is comfortable enough to be on first-name terms, but who’s harboring a deadly homicidal intent — think of similarly titled films like "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" or the lesser known "Tony." Without wanting to give any spoilers away, I can confirm that "Simon Killer" doesn’t fit into the same category as those films. As a result of these expectations, my viewing of the film was slightly skewed as I was constantly expecting worse from our titular character than he delivered, projecting my unconscious desires for a cacophony of onscreen carnage, no doubt.

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The Mentalists

Trance (2013)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Danny Boyle's new film circles back over some of the same territory he claimed nearly two decades ago, when his first movies dug under the skin of Britain and found that aspiration was the root of most evil while small-time crooks lived by their wits even when they had none. But in "Trance" things have changed, in every department. The criminals are now sharply suited slimeballs living in palatial splendor – bankers in all but occupation – while Mr. Boyle's film making has been ramped up for the occasion into a high style, a blazing sugar rush of digital camera work, Dutch angles and interior neon. And the director himself has been through an Olympian transformation, a wonderfully unexpected chain of events leaving the man who made "Trainspotting" installed as his country's national treasure on a tide of goodwill, Morale-Booster General by royal appointment.

In truth, "Trance" feels like the work of a man affected by his exertions elsewhere. The storyline is a tricksy, squirming nest of vipers, involving James McAvoy as a man with amnesia who can't remember where he hid a stolen painting, and Vincent Cassel as the nasty London criminal who badly wants him to remember. The criminal sets the amnesiac up with Rosario Dawson's hypnotist to try and unblock Mr. McAvoy's pipes, and after that the twists pile up. Mr. Boyle has dropped the name of Nicolas Roeg in connection with "Trance's" interlocked flashbacks and contradictory points of view; but really what we have here is just a serious case of unreliable narrators, a much less bitter pill than Mr. Roeg's medicine.

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Circle of Hellish Friends

Evil Dead (2013)

TriStar Pictures

Sam Raimi’s 1981 picture, “The Evil Dead,” is rightly regarded as a classic of the horror genre: a pitch-perfect, no-budget thrill ride suffused with terror yet tinged with knowing humor. Fede Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” is less a remake or sequel and more of homage to Mr. Raimi’s pioneering spirit and in fact to horror as a whole. Given the nature of this beast, it is wholly derivative; yet the fact that it still delivers what feels like a fresh take on a genre that has veered toward either torture or the paranormal in recent years is welcome and — in these meta, post-“The Cabin in the Woods” times — that is an impressive feat in itself.

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Jobless Adman Makes a Fever Pitch

As Luck Would Have It (2013)

Sundance Selects

With the participation of Salma Hayek, one would hope that “As Luck Would Have It” could finally help launch Álex de la Iglesia from relative obscure cultdom to the international acclaim enjoyed by fellow zany Spanish melodramatist, Pedro Almodóvar. After all, Mr. de la Iglesia has delivered over the years an oeuver that includes such pure lunacy as “The Last Circus,” a Franco-era allegory involving murderous circus clowns; “El crimen perfecto,” about a lothario marrying a homely and crazy woman after she witnessed him accidentally killing a man and blackmailed him; and “The Day of the Beast,” in which a basque priest attempts to stop the birth of the Antichrist.

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Way Past Midnight in Paris

Sleepless Night (2012)

Ricardo Vaz Palma/Tribeca Film Festival

A very literal marathon committed to film, “Sleepless Night” takes the well-worn cat-and-mouse chase to a pace not seen since perhaps “Run Lola Run.” Frédéric Jardin’s French thriller opens with a drug heist involving two cops gone very wrong. Whether they are crooked or in fact undercover is anyone’s guess. To ensure the speedy return of the plunder and thus smoothly clinch a massive drug deal, local mob boss Marciano (Serge Riaboukine) kidnaps police officer Vincent’s (Tomer Sisley) son, Thomas (Samy Seghir). Meanwhile Vincent’s own colleagues are also trailing him, and further complicate the matter by relocating the contraband from where Vincent originally stashed it.

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