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REVIEW: "Unsane"

By Eric Hillis, TheMovieWaffler.com

originally published: 03/22/2018

REVIEW: "Unsane"

“Your phone is your worst enemy!” So advises a cameoing Matt Damon’s cop to Claire Foy’s stalking victim in Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane. The line plays like an in-joke on Soderbergh’s part, as the film itself was shot using iPhones, not for budgetary reasons, but because the director/cinematographer, who has experimented with developing technology throughout his career, shot his thriller in relative secrecy on a tight schedule, the ease of the device allowing him to quickly transition between camera set-ups and save hours of production downtime.

From a script by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, Unsane is headlined by rising star Foy as Sawyer Valentini, a young office worker whose cold exterior masks anxiety issues caused by a prolonged stalking incident in her past. Attending what she thinks is a simple therapy session, Sawyer finds herself involuntarily checked in to a psychiatric institution after signing some seemingly innocuous forms without reading the small print.

The ensuing drama sees Sawyer trapped in a bureaucratic Kafkaesque nightmare, her initial 24 hour confinement extended to seven days after she defends herself against a male inmate and punches a staff member. The middle class Sawyer is forced to interact with/take advantage of people she would likely normally cross the street to avoid, including a black man, Nate (Jay Pharoah), who has somehow managed to sneak a cellphone into the institute, and an unstable young redneck girl (a genuinely intimidating Juno Temple).

REVIEW: "Unsane"

Seemingly influenced by Sam Fuller’s 1963 psychodrama Shock Corridor, Soderbergh uses Unsane’s setup to explore the perils of a system that treats healthcare not as a public service but as a commercial enterprise. As Nate explains to Sawyer, it’s in the interest of the institute to keep her in their care until her insurance coverage runs out and she no longer provides a source of income for the facility.

This is a fascinating premise in itself, and midway through Unsane I was beginning to think it might be the director’s best work since his 1989 debut, Sex, Lies and Videotape. Foy is a magnetic presence, and even though the film paints Sawyer as complicated at best, unlikeable at worst, we’re always fully behind her quest to attain freedom. The use of natural light allowed by the iPhone gives the film a suitably clinical and sickly aesthetic, and the format’s distinctive aspect ratio is narrow enough to evoke claustrophobic confinement, wide enough to tease a world beyond the frame.



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Things begin to go awry when the film morphs from a politically motivated exposé of corruption to a run of the mill but poorly plotted psychological thriller as Sawyer’s former stalker (Joshua Leonard, best known as one of the doomed protagonists of The Blair Witch Project, a movie whose innovative use of technology no doubt left an impression on Soderbergh) turns up as a member of staff at the facility.

It all gets a little silly from this point, with the film raising the awkward question of how Sawyer’s stalker could have possibly known she would end up an inmate at that particular institute. Further plot holes emerge on what had been a smooth thoroughfare of a storyline as the movie struggles to mine tension from a subplot that serves merely as a distraction from a broader societal question. Had Soderbergh remained focussed on his film’s initial theme, Unsane might have created a wider Get Out style conversation around the ethics of commercializing the care industry. As it is, most viewers will leave Soderbergh’s film asking questions about minor unexplained plot points.

Unsane - 3 stars out of 5

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, Amy Irving





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2018 International Film Festival Brings 4 Award Winning Foreign Films To Vineland
(VINELAND, NJ) -- Enjoy four highly-acclaimed award-winning recent foreign films representing diverse cultures at the 2018 International Film Festival, starting Monday, November 26, at the Levoy Theatre, 126-130 N. High St., Millville, NJ. The four films—A Fantastic Woman, The Interpreter, 1945, and Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me—will introduce the theatergoer to the universality of themes that are common to Jewish and other international themes. They are representative of the finest of today’s international cinematographic art.
John T. LaBarbera Presents Charlie Chaplin's “The Immigrant” with New Original Score
(TEANECK, NJ) -- Performer, composer, and author John T. LaBarbera performs his original score for Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant at the Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck on October 28 at 4:00pm. LaBarbera’s score creates an emotional atmosphere through the melodic themes that are reminiscent of the Italian immigrant music published during the early 20th century. Chaplin’s 1917 comedy about his own experiences as an immigrant draws on parallels of the popular songs of Tin Pan Alley which inform LaBarbera’s composition, highlighting the comedic and romantic aspects of the film through ragtime style, slapstick references, and melodic leitmotif that adorn the film’s narrative.
NJSO presents Star Wars: A New Hope in concert on Thanksgiving weekend
(NEWARK, NJ) --The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra presents screenings of the complete film Star Wars: A New Hope with Oscar-winning composer John Williams’ musical scores performed live on Thanksgiving weekend, November 23–25. Performances take place in Red Bank, Newark, and New Brunswick.
East Lynne Theater Company presents "Poe" and "Dr. Jekyll"
(CAPE MAY, NJ) -- The award-winning Equity professional East Lynne Theater Company presents two events in time for Halloween: "Poe by Candlelight" on Saturday, October 20 at 8:00pm and the classic silent thriller, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," accompanied by Wayne Zimmerman on the organ, on Sunday, October 21 at 7:30pm, both at The First Presbyterian Church, 500 Hughes Street in Cape May, where the theater is in residence.
Basie Center Celebrates Dia De Los Muertos With "Coco" Benefit Screening And Community Ofrenda
(RED BANK, NJ) -- The nonprofit Count Basie Center for the Arts will present a big-screen showing of Disney’s Coco as part of its annual celebration of Dia de los Muertos, sponsored by Basie’s partner program Calpulli Mexican Dance Company. The screening, which takes place on Saturday, November 3 at 11:00am, will also serve as a fundraiser for the Red Bank Borough School District, which will receive half of all tickets sold.


REVIEW: "Cold War"
Back in 2006, German cinema scored something of a breakout global hit with Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others, which followed the travails of a group of disgruntled, pro-western artists in communist era East Germany. At the time I couldn’t help viewing the protagonists of Von Donnersmarck’s drama as the sort of people who would be just as discontented with their lot if they found themselves living in the capitalist west. The grass is always greener on the other side.
Baba Babee Skazala
Among the many intriguing films being screened at New Jersey Film Festival Fall 2018, one title immediately caught our eye — Baba Babee Skazala: Grandmother Told Grandmother.  
NJ Film Fest Preview: October 2018
(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- The New Jersey Film Festival Fall 2018 runs from September 14 to October 26 on the Rutgers University Campus in New Brunswick, NJ. Showcasing new international films, American independent features, animation, experimental and short subjects, and cutting-edge documentaries, the New Jersey Film Festival Fall 2018 will feature over 30 film screenings.  
REVIEW: "Black 47"
In a year that has offered cinemagoers culturally distinctive takes on the western genre from countries as disparate as Australia (Sweet Country), Indonesia (Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts) and South Africa (Five Fingers for Marseille), it’s no surprise to find Irish cinema adopting the tropes of that most traditionally American of genres.
Michael Gallagher’s terrific comedy Funny Story Premiere’s at the Fall 2018 New Jersey Film Festival this Friday, September 14!
Michael Gallagher’s terrific feature Funny Story Premiere’s at the Fall 2018 New Jersey Film Festival this Friday, September 14!






Event calendar
Sunday, Oct 21, 2018


MUSIC

DiTrani Bros: Folk, Swing, Jazz, Ragtime!! @ Roxy and Dukes Roadhouse, Dunellen - 7:00pm

Jazz Guitarist Abe Ovadia @ Englewood Public Library, Englewood - 7:00pm

Gypsy Jazz Brunch with Pyrenesia and Max Hansen Buffet @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

Dryden Ensemble: Bach Cantata Fest @ Miller Chapel (Princeton), Princeton - 3:00pm

Suzzanne Douglas @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 7:30pm


THEATRE

The Ghost Princess @ Pax Amicus Castle Theatre, Budd Lake - 2:00pm

The Shuck @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 3:00pm

CDC Theatre presents A Few Good Men @ CDC Theatre, Cranford - 2:00pm

Wait Until Dark @ Somerset Valley Playhouse, Hillsborough - 8:00pm

World Premier of, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, A Horror of a Play @ Forum Theatre (Metuchen), Metuchen - 3:00pm

The Color Purple @ Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn - 1:30pm and 7:00pm

Almost, Maine @ Jay & Linda Grunin Center For The Arts At Ocean County College, Toms River - 2:00pm

Black Tom Island @ The 1882 Carriage House, Liberty Hall Museum, Union - 3:00pm

*Uncle Vanya, Scenes from a Jersey Life in Four Acts @ Hudson Theatre Works, Weehawken - 7:00pm

Black Coffee by Agatha Christie @ Westfield Community Players, Westfield - 2:00pm







DANCE

DRACULA - THE ATLANTIC CITY BALLET @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 4:00pm


FILM

A conversation with John Cusack Following a screening of Say Anything @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 7:00pm


KIDS

Summit Farmers Market Pumpkin Painting @ Summit Farmers Market, Summit - 10:00am


POETRY

The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival @ Victoria Theater @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 9:00am


MISC

HAUNTED ILLUSIONS LIVE @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 3:00pm

THE MAGIC OF BILL BLAGG LIVE! @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 2:00pm

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