Life Swap

Like Father, Like Son (2013)

Sundance Selects

Family lies at the center of much of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s work. It’s at once the most personal and familiar subject matter, but is one that is riddled with nuance and unbounded complexity. Nature versus nurture is a story as old as the hills, but rarely has it been told with such heartfelt craft as in Mr. Kore-eda’s latest picture, “Like Father, Like Son.”

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Friends Without Benefits

Magic Magic (2013)

Andrés Gachón/2013 Sundance Film Festival

Sebastián Silva's "Magic Magic" starts off as it means to go on, in a very affected state of agitation. The camera hovers nervously around characters at waist height or below, apparently unable to look them in the eye; a brusque title card flashes on screen for a nanosecond before the camera returns to bothering someone's Skechers. Notionally a horror film, "Magic Magic" lays on the visual alienation tactics in large dollops, nearly turning into something potentially more interesting: a story built of nothing but constant fret and friction between a group of acquaintances (clearly not friends) on a Chilean road trip, where the internal stresses reach such a pitch that even the strongest of them shows signs of climbing the walls. By that point the weakest has already gone round the bend.

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A Psychedelic Trip, Down History Lane

A Field in England (2013)

Dean Rogers/Picturehouse Entertainment

Ben Wheatley has steadily established himself as a director of considerable craft, boundless diversity and unabashed ambition; seemingly as comfortable helming an occultist horror thriller (“Kill List”) as he is a pitch-black comedy (“Sightseers”). For his fourth full feature, Mr. Wheatley turns his hand to 17th-century English Civil War psychedelia with “A Field in England,” a baffling but brave sojourn into the fantastical.

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The Dying Game

Byzantium (2013)

Patrick Redmond/Studiocanal

Neil Jordan's taste for merging Celtic blood lust with languid fairy tales has sparked life into supernatural stories before, especially the sprawling canvas and drenching atmosphere of "Interview With the Vampire" nearly two decades ago. "Byzantium" works on a smaller scale. It's at least as interested in the position of women in both civilian and secret societies as it is in the consequences of immortality, and concludes that life is no picnic in either camp. Livened up more than strictly necessary by Mr. Jordan's eye for detail and the endlessly fascinating face of Saoirse Ronan, "Byzantium" holds its own against the expectations raised by this director returning to this particular arena, as well as the inconvenient fact that vampires have been overexposed to death on screens large and small since he was last here.

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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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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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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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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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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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