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April 2013

The Shape of Flings

Some Velvet Morning (2013)

Rogier Stoffers/2013 Tribeca Film Festival

After working as a director-for-hire on a couple of Hollywood productions, Neil LaBute is back to the playwright-turned-filmmaker niche he carved out for himself 16 years ago with “In the Company of Men.” A two-player chamber piece, “Some Velvet Morning” is indeed very theatrical — perhaps more so than all eight of his previous film efforts. In what some – though perhaps not all – will find a welcome move, he’s returning to the provocative and foul battle-of-the-sexes arena that is his wheelhouse.

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Goad Unknown

Michael H. Profession: Director (2013)

Yves Montmayeur/2013 Tribeca Film Festival

“Michael H. Profession: Director” documents the working methods of every cinephile’s favorite Austrian sadomasochist provocateur, Michael Haneke, at arguably the peak of a long-lauded career. One of the very first scenes in the film treats us to Mr. Haneke playing out that now-famous nightmare scene in “Amour.” It’s a breathtaking moment, seeing him standing in for Jean-Louis Trintignant in what was likely a blocking rehearsal which was then remade shot-for-shot for the actual film. In the ensuing interview, he commented that although his films aren’t autobiographical, his personal experiences do inform them.

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Rescue Pawn

The Rocket (2013)

Tom Greenwood/2013 Tribeca Film Festival

“The Rocket” has claimed three of the top prizes at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, winning the World Narrative Competition, Best Actor and the Heineken Audience Award. Set in rural Laos, the film revolves around a family curse brought about by the birth of Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe). The misfortune that kindles the plot is a major dam construction project that displaces Ahlo’s clan. And that relocation has a domino effect all its own. Ostracized by even his own grandmother, Taitok (Bunsri Yindi), the 10-year-old Ahlo gravitates toward his friend Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam) and her outcast war-veteran uncle Purple (Thep Phongam). In hopes of proving his worth and finally breaking his family’s string of bad luck, Ahlo wants to compete in a local rocket festival, aided by Purple’s wisdom and know-how.

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24-Carat Party People

The Look of Love (2013)

Charlie Gray/Studiocanal

Paul Raymond, not just a name to conjure with but the name to conjure with if any of your teenage years coincided with 1970s Soho, withstands most of the attempts made by Michael Winterbottom's "The Look of Love" to unpick his inner workings with outer shell safely intact. As incisive inquisitions go, Mr. Winterbottom opts to attack his subject with a soft cushion. Raymond's many supposed sins against British good taste and more certain crimes against his own family are presented as-is, side effects of a northern lad's uninhibited progress through the big city. Even the vast cultural upheavals happening in his country and on his doorstep — some with fuses lit by Raymond himself — can only vaguely be heard rumbling somewhere off in the distance, exploding out of sight and around the corner.

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Overruled With an Iron Fist

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Zade Rosenthal/Marvel

At some point in any hero's journey, the past will come back to haunt him or her, and so it is with Tony Stark a k a Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). His past mistake is Aldrich Killian, a slithering Guy Pearce as an ambitious genetic engineer who wants to form a partnership with Stark. Of course Tony Stark snubs him, and the seeds are planted for revenge years later.

Into the picture steps a global uber-terrorist known only as the Mandarin, played with delicious delight by Sir Ben Kingsley, who is clearly enjoying himself in the role. Stark's world is quite literally torn apart, and he begins his road to redemption and his own revenge.

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Scorn in the U.S.A.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2013)

Ishaan Nair/IFC Films

Mira Nair's latest film, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," is an investigation into Americanness wrapped in the veneer of a brash thriller, and — given recent events in domestic terrorism — eerily timely. Based on Mohsin Hamid's book of the same name, the story focuses on Changez (Riz Ahmed), a young man who is implicated in a high-profile kidnapping in Pakistan. Through conversations with a journalist, Changez retraces the steps that have led him from a sleek financial firm in New York to a radical professorship in Lahore. Jumping between moments of classic suspense and romance, Ms. Nair zeroes in on post-9/11 racism and its potentially radicalizing effects, namely on young men who feel increasingly alienated from the American dream — whatever that may be.

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The French-Canadian Connection

All Is Bright (2013)

Niko Tavernise/2013 Tribeca Film Festival

Phil Morrison made an auspicious directorial debut in 2005 with “Junebug.” Eschewing easy stereotypes, it masterfully painted a portrait of a sleepy American South haunted by a painful legacy and its people’s resignation to lives unfulfilled. The film also garnered the then-unknown Amy Adams an Oscar nomination and propelled her to overnight stardom. Given the eight years in between, expectations are naturally high for Mr. Morrison’s sophomore effort, “All Is Bright.” Regrettably, it falls short in every way imaginable.

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All the Real Bros

Prince Avalanche (2013)

Scott Gardner/2013 Sundance Film Festival

David Gordon Green’s recent mainstream oeuvre has resulted in one hit (“Pineapple Express”) and two duds (“Your Highness” and “The Sitter”), in both the commercial and the critical senses. So a return to his indie roots would appear to be a welcome development for a director who initially carved his reputation out of the Malick-esque “George Washington.” But upon closer examination his latest, “Prince Avalanche,” is not unlike a bromance straight out of the Apatow clique that Mr. Green has ingratiated himself with via collaborations with Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill. But then you discover “Prince Avalanche” is actually just a remake of the 2011 Icelandic film “Either Way” by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, and you wonder if Mr. Green could sink any further.

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Charming the Third Time

Before Midnight (2013)

Despina Spyrou/Sony Pictures Classics

In “Before Midnight,” Richard Linklater unites us with Ethan Hawke’s Jesse and Julie Delpy’s Céline for a third time. The pair’s meet-cute in 1995 on a Vienna-bound train was at the heart of “Before Sunrise.” Their fateful reunion in 2004 Paris was the basis of “Before Sunset.” This time, they are a couple with twin daughters in tow vacationing at a writer’s retreat in Messenia, Greece. The new film proceeds to examine domestic roles, fidelity, mortality and this thing called love.

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Out of Left Fields

At Any Price (2013)

Hooman Bahrani/Sony Pictures Classics

Ramin Bahrani’s last three films — namely “Man Push Cart,” “Chop Shop” and “Goodbye Solo” — followed the plights of outcasts such as immigrants and street orphans. While the first two took place in gritty New York City, the latter was set in his native Winston-Salem, N.C. So even though the Iowa cornfield setting in Mr. Bahrani’s latest, “At Any Price,” might come as no surprise, the film’s thoroughly white-bred concerns still mark a huge departure for the filmmaker.

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