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‘The Water Diviner’ looks great but feels cold

Russell Crowe comes out swinging with his directorial debut, the ambitious wartime melodrama, The Water Diviner. While there’s no denying the clarity of his artistic vision, the unwieldy story eventually overwhelms him. The stunning visuals and strong performances can’t overcome the film’s mismatched halves, which ping between brooding character study and simplistic actioner. Ultimately, there’s much to like about this promising debut, but it lacks the emotional wallop that Crowe intended.

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Smart, stylish ‘Ex Machina’ brilliantly mixes emotions and technology

Ex Machina is a superior techno-thriller that asks a lot more questions than it’s willing to answer. Filmmakers have long exploited the dangers of artificial intelligence, but few have the courage to examine the hubris behind Man’s technological self-destruction. Alex Garland’s assured directorial debut showcases a patient filmmaker adept at world building. Like all good sci-fi films with big ideas and bold visuals, you’ll be thinking about Ex Machina long after you leave the theater.

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‘Why Don’t You Play in Hell?’ is an instant cult classic

While audiences and critics are still debating the unbridled ambition of Nolan’s Interstellar, an equally-madcap film (finally) makes its way into North American theaters this weekend. Japanese auteur, Shion Sono, unleashes his demented ode to cinema, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, which might be the most uncanny take on filmmaking since The Player. Armed with inspired gags, impassioned characters and enough blood squibs to drown Tarantino, Sono delivers a visual feast that’s destined to be a cult classic.

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‘The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears’ drowns in its strangeness

The first 45 minutes of The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears lay the foundation for a full-throated suspense thriller that might have felt at home in the ‘70s. Sadly, the last hour degenerates into a monotonous slash-fest that’s too preoccupied with its own weirdness to bother with our enjoyment. By the end, you may be unsure what is real and what is imagined, but you’re damn certain you no longer care.

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A haunting story awaits you inside ‘The Notebook’

We’ve seen countless films depicting the monstrosity of World War II, but The Notebook gives us an unflinching look at the monsters it created. Both observant and nonjudgmental, director, János Szász, drops us into a war zone bereft of borders or buffers. Allegiances crumble and shift like the tattered landscape, where even familial ties yield to stark necessity. This is a challenging film that reaffirms the survival of the human spirit, not through acts of courage or bravery, but by harnessing our spitefulness and hatred to outlast the enemy. Whether the soul can endure such a coldhearted transformation is left for the audience to decide.

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‘Moebius’ is an Oedipal feast

Who needs words when you can deliver a visceral punch with nothing more than images? In Moebius, South Korean writer-director, Kim Ki-duk, has crafted nothing short of a masterpiece in minimalism. Though challenging and uncompromising, Moebius never sacrifices its humanity in favor of experimental flourishes. Through evocative imagery and savagely dark humor, Kim creates a mesmerizing film about lust, degradation and tranquility. An Oedipal feast that should not be missed.

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‘Venus in Fur’ is a luxurious treat

What is art if not an artist’s fiction translated into reality? A fiction wrought from fear, self-loathing and prejudice that escapes the confines of a sonnet and burrows its way into the collective consciousness. Now it is reality. Now it has power. Now it’s an idea, and ideas are poisonous. Rather than dispelling the poisonous reality, Polanski’s Venus in Fur toys with the delicate fiction lying beneath. It’s a study in role-playing, where the players and creators are equally baffled by the game. More importantly, this is the intensely personal work of an artist who understands that only by blurring the lines between fiction and reality can he approach what Herzog calls, “the ecstatic truth.”

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