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B [SINGAPORE] Seven shorts by different directors profile the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence and its cultural history through characters suffering with dementia, ghosts of the recently deceased, and adoptive families questioning the previous histories of their children. They're mostly comedic stories, but two deadly serious segments undercut the levity and give Letters an uneven tone. So do the wild deviations in style, ranging from stark black-and-white domestic drama to psychedelic musical fantasy. MIKE GALLUCCI. Empirical Theater; 8:30 pm Thursday, Feb. 25. Fox Tower; 12:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 27.
B+ [ARGENTINA] A smashing pop soundtrack and darkly comic tone mark this serio-comedic crime film about the heinous career of kidnapping and murder perpetrated by the Argentine Puccio family in the '80s. Guillermo Francella shines as patriarch Arquímedes, using genteel humor to belie his lethal secrets as well as his volatile relationship with eldest son Alejandro (Peter Lanzani). The film asks you to pick a side, and it might be a surprising struggle, with the Puccios' joys and sorrows laid out against their merciless extortion of innocents. MIKE GALLUCCI. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. 8:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 27.
C [UNITED STATES] Observational filmmaker Jem Cohen's single-camera film captures beauty in the blighted concrete mazes of New York City, museums of London, and landmarks of Moscow and Turkey, completely dialogue-free. But the film is undermined by its self-indulgence—multiple, prolonged shots of jet wings from inside the cabin; slow-motion exposures of the same cat repeated; the director filming himself in the reflection of storefront windows. Without pursuing a concrete idea, Counting offers a lot to look at, but not much to take away. MIKE GALLUCCI. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium; 8:30 pm Thursday, Feb. 25, and 3 pm Saturday, Feb. 27. Fox Tower; 8:30 pm Friday, Feb. 26.
B- [PALESTINE] Inspired by the true story of Mohammed Assaf, the Arab Idol winner who hailed from the Gaza Strip, this film follows his story from childhood adventures with his smartass sister and makeshift band, to motivating tragedy and onto his big break. Although the Idol craze has faded in the West, it's a refreshing reminder that no matter where you're from, everyone can relate to the dream of becoming a rock star who makes his or her people smile. LAUREN TERRY. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. 6 pm Thursday, Feb. 25.
B [UNITED STATES] This dinner-party thriller evokes the Manson murders in present-day L.A., where Will and Kira attend a grating dinner party thrown by Will's ex-wife and her new husband—at Will's former home. Will's irking suspicions balloon into psychological thrills, neatly edited and dimly lit by director Karyn Kusama (Aeon Flux, Jennifer's Body), with a not so subtle nod to Scientology, too. This film's mind games play rough, though the action drags at times. PG-13. MERYL WILLIAMS. Cinema 21. 10:30 pm Friday, Feb. 26.
Man vs. Snake
B+ [UNITED STATES-CANADA-ITALY-JAPAN] Like 2007's The King of Kong, Man vs. Snake chronicles the present-day battle to be world champion of the 1982 arcade game Nibbler. Animated flashbacks are interspersed with talking heads and gameplay footage as original record-holder Tim McVey defends his title. The story is nothing new, with many of its beats lifted straight from King of Kong, but the characters and their struggles are always entertaining. Hyperactive Canadian pizza-delivery man Duane Richard is undeniable with his manic profanity and a hairstyle that goes from dreads to bowl cut in under two hours. MIKE GALLUCCI. Cinema 21. 10:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 27.
C [TURKEY] Despite its stark realism—shot with shaky camera, so you know it's gritty—this Turkish coming-of-age drama is a classic story of a boy and his dog. Except the pooch is a fighting dog left for dead after getting mauled, and the prepubescent boy who finds him, befriends him and saves him is kind of an asshole. So much so that he decides to make the dog into a champion fighter again to impress a girl and best a rival. Fuck that kid. Being an asshole to your dog does not a compelling narrative make, no matter how gritty it looks. AP KRYZA. Empirical Theater; 8:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 24. Fox Tower; 6 pm Friday, Feb. 26.
B- [ALBANIA-GERMANY-ITALY-KOSOVO-SWITZERLAND] A subdued and often beautiful look at repressive gender politics in rural Albania, Laura Bispuri's film cuts between past and present in the life of Hana (Alba Rohrwacher), a young woman who swears eternal virginity and lives as a man after experiencing threats. We witness Hana's evolution in flashback, while in the present she is living as Mark and tracking down her adoptive sister. The film presents a fascinating look at gender, and though it's often a bit dull and completely whiffs the ending, its approach is a prime example of drawing robust characters without resorting to broad strokes. AP KRYZA. Fox Tower; 6:15 pm Wednesday, Feb. 24. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium; 8:30 pm Friday, Feb. 26.
B- [DENMARK] Weighing the morality of decisions made in wartime is easier when bullets aren't whizzing by your head. That's the central claim of this Best Foreign Language nominee from director Tobias Lindholm. Employing the shaky handheld camera visuals and natural lighting of a documentary, the film tells the story of a Danish army commander who is tried by his government for war crimes. With three young kids and a wife who needs his help at home, the commander is faced with a moral dilemma that challenges his sense of duty to his men, country and family. While the film is for the most part lively and well-crafted, the characters lose detail as the story blurs toward a conclusion. In the end, it's left to the audience to make meaning of what's just happened. PG-13. ZACH MIDDLETON. Roseway Theater; 5:45 pm Thursday, Feb. 25. Fox Tower; 8:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 27 and Living Room Theaters.
We Are Young, We Are Strong
C [GERMANY] This well-crafted but unmemorable feature from director Burhan Qurbani (Shahada) dissects the swirling tensions and post-unification economic decline that led mobs in the former East German industrial hub of Rostock to assault a Vietnamese immigrant community. Exploring the 1992 "Night of Fire" through three separate perspectives and eschewing exploitative techniques (aside from the docudrama's puzzling turn from monochrome to color during thte climax), We Are Young, We Are Strong humanizes participants and their circumstances, but the revelation that politically motivated rhetoric stoked the mobs' racial hatred seems wearily familiar. JAY HORTON. Cinema 21; 5:45 pm Wednesday, Feb. 24. Roseway Theater; 8:30 pm Thursday, Feb. 25.