BIFF20 REVIEW: Freeland [2020]

I have my own system. Adapt or die: it’s the capitalist way. And for a time it actually worked. Those with the ingenuity to improve an industry found themselves rising to the top with technological advances that others would have to adopt in order to remain competitive. An even playing field would be found, someone new would take that next step forward, and the rest would once again adjust. At a certain point in the past half-century or so, however, those improvements began coming at an accelerated pace. They’ve become…

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BIFF20 REVIEW: Small Town Wisconsin [2020]

No big deal. Odds are that finding someone from Small Town Mid-West USA means finding someone with an unpleasant past. Economic strife leads to long hours. Long hours to drinking. Drinking to domestic abuse. And the cycle continues ad infinitum unless you’re lucky enough to extricate yourself from the black hole of familial history proving too heavy to bear. It’s why Alicia (Kristen Johnston) got out around the time her abusive, alcoholic father passed away. It’s why Deidra (Tanya Fischer) and her new husband Stu (David Sapiro) are looking to…

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BIFF20 REVIEW: Tahara [2020]

Would you ever kill yourself? The word tumah in Jewish law is the state of being impure—ritually and morally. And it seems there are many reasons why you might fall under this category as stated in the Torah’s Book of Leviticus. Touch a corpse: impure. Touch something that already touched a corpse? Impure. Touch the decaying flesh of dead animals? Impure. Give birth? Impure: but only for seven (son) and fourteen days (daughter) depending on the baby’s gender. Have an “unnatural” discharge from your genitals (including menstruation)? Yes. You guessed…

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BIFF20 REVIEW: Runaway [2020]

Tears in cornflakes taste awful. Every story can be tackled from multiple angles depending on its narrative intent and lead character. It’s therefore a conscious choice when selecting a focal point because everything that follows will inherently center him/her as the protagonist. While generally not a bad thing considering most stories we tell are purposefully drawn to lift up their subject in that way, some demand a more complex and nuanced approach. The reason is simple: certain events prove more important than any single player within. And that’s definitely the…

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BIFF20 REVIEW: Paper Spiders [2020]

All we have left is each other. Mental illness isn’t an easy topic to adapt for the big screen since doing so oftentimes forces a writer into making the choice between pain and hope. Not everyone survives an affliction like delusional disorder and not everyone who suffers from it is able to hold onto a support system with the strength to help. For every story you hear about a person giving up his/her dream to be with someone they love as a constant tethered to reality comes another where the…

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BIFF20 REVIEW: County Lines [2020]

You’re the acceptable loss. Recruiting into the drug trade isn’t difficult when impoverished youth from broken homes are desperate to find purpose and escape. With school and family often devoid of the resources to properly engage or distract, a little flash of money or a seemingly sympathetic shoulder go a long way. Prove that you’re their champion and savior and they’ll do anything in return. Look no further than fourteen-year-old Tyler (Conrad Khan) after constantly getting in trouble for fighting back against bullies. If the school punishes him despite being…

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BIFF19 REVIEW: Online Billie [2019]

It’s simple until it all gets complicated. Despite opening Online Billie with a glimpse of the titular camgirl (Valentine Payen-Wicaksono‘s Esther/”Billie”) engaged in a chat room session, she’s not the lead character. Director Lou Assous and co-writer Xavier Bazoge have very clearly created her as a hypothetical instead—a test with which their surrogate in the story (Baptiste Lorber‘s Jules) can confront his biases and wrap his head around the revelation that the woman he’s falling for is a sex worker. This isn’t inherently a problem for the whole considering his…

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BIFF19 REVIEW: Working Man [2019]

It’s just something I need to do. The title Working Man only deals with one aspect of Robert Jury‘s film about the effects of a rust belt town’s last factory closing. Allery Parkes (Peter Gerety) is a “working man,” but his breaking-in to continue working without pay while his neighbors (also laid-off) think he’s gone crazy isn’t a product of compulsion. No, he does this because it’s the best excuse he has to escape home. As the opening prologue alludes with Allery calling his son’s name to no avail, this…

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BIFF19 REVIEW: Foosballers [2019]

“It was truly like a religion” Sports documentaries are generally allowed to make some assumptions. Talk about baseball, football, basketball, hockey, or soccer can gloss over the structural details and rulebooks because those coming to watch a story about a certain player or team are already fans of the game itself. When you move into a fringe sport in the vein of foosball, however, filmmakers like Joe Heslinga can’t afford that luxury. So he and writer Mike Wagstaffe must find a balance between the personalities of the top players, the…

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BIFF19 REVIEW: Buffaloed [2020]

Debt never dies. Leave it to an actual Buffalonian to write a screenplay set in the city without one mention or frame of snow. Only they know what else the Queen City has to offer above cheap jokes about blizzards and cold because they’ve grown up amongst the eccentric characters found in every corner bar or Bills game that can hate the person next to them despite still supplying a high-five if a touchdown is scored. So when Brian Sacca mocks the chicken wing feuds (Anchor Bar or Duffs?), fandom,…

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BIFF19 REVIEW: Clover [2020]

You don’t kill your friends. It wasn’t wise to borrow money from local mobster Tony Davolio (Chazz Palminteri), but brothers Mickey (Jon Abrahams) and Jackie (Mark Webber) didn’t have a choice. Running a bar isn’t easy these days and the added pressure of trying to keep one afloat after generations of family ownership forces their hands to make a deal with the Devil. After a shared history allows for a single extension on payment without increasing the vig, Jackie decides to gamble what they owe (recouped in full) the night…

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