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From birders to stylish horror, a mixed bag of delights

Cartoon College

Director: Josh Melrod, Tara Wray

USA

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The Center for Cartoon Studies, operating out of the economically depressed town of White River Junction, Vt., is an MFA-granting graduate program for promising cartoonists and graphic novelists. In these students the filmmakers are blessed with subjects who are outsiders and misfits and have compelling stories to tell. The documentary also features a who's who of the graphic novel world, with appearances by Art Spiegelman, Lynda Barry, Chris Ware and others. But with so many (pardon the term) characters, Cartoon College fails; it's impossible to have a meaningful connection to any of them – although the filmmakers come close in the case of Al, who, at 61 is the oldest student ever admitted to CCS; and Jen, the always-cheerful overachieving workhorse, whose thesis project is a series of comics about menstruation.

Sept. 29, 2:50 p.m. Granville 1; Oct. 4, 3:20 p.m. Granville 5; Oct. 5 6:30 p.m., Pacific Cinémathèque

Birders: The Central Park Effect

Director: Jeffrey Kimball

USA

This 60-minute HBO documentary film begins with a surprising statistic: Some 200 species of birds pass through New York's Central Park every year, roughly a quarter of the total bird species found in North America. Who knew? Mr. Kimball, behind the lens, captures extraordinary images of these birds (he lists them all in the credits). Equally enrapturing are the birders themselves, including the writers Jonathan Franzen and Jonathan Rosen – contemplatively articulate in all their geeky birding glory – and especially Starr Saphir, who leads birding tours through Central Park. Her health woes remind us that life is short: You have to remember to stop and spot the rose-breasted grosbeaks.

Sept. 29, 2 p.m. Granville 6; Oct. 8, 3:15 p.m. Granville 1; Oct. 10, 6:15 p.m., Granville 4

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Berberian Sound Studio

Director: Peter Strickland

Britain

A treat for fans of vintage horror cinema (in particular, the experimental giallo genre) and vintage sound gear, this stylish, darkly humorous thriller locks us in a claustrophobic studio in 1970s Italy for a paranoia ride. Arriving as a mid-production replacement, British sound engineer Gilderoy (the perfectly cast Toby Jones) – a bit of a fusspot but obviously gifted – is befuddled by the lively but oddly behaving Italian crew, and grows increasingly disturbed by his task of creating and recording sounds for an auteur-driven witchcraft film about students at a riding school. Director Peter Strickland brilliantly ratchets up the tension without showing a single frame of the grisly film, and instead feeds the imagination by showing us cabbages getting smashed, vegetable stalks being snapped, women doing scream takes in the sound booth and Gilderoy's horrified expressions, illuminated by the projector's flickering light.

Sept. 30, 4:20 p.m. Granville 2; Oct. 9, 9:30 p.m. Granville 1

Rebelle (War Witch)

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Director: Kim Nguyen

Canada

Beginning as a hard-edged depiction of children abducted in an impoverished African village and forced to become child soldiers, the story quickly expands into multiple layers from hallucinatory to familial. The journey is never easy for Komona, one of the abducted children, said to have magic in her because she managed to survive a barrage of bullets in a jungle ambush. However, director Kim Nguyen gives us far more than a film of hardship, with rich, detailed views of both African fighting and the daily life that goes on around it. Some of the characters still seem like archetypes, but Rachel Mwanza's performance as Komona beautifully carries us into all the different facets of Africa that Mr. Nguyen tries to explore.

Sept. 30, 6:30 p.m. Granville 7; Oct. 7, 1:30 p.m. Vancity

Rust and Bone

Director: Jacques Audiard

France/Belgium

If you're fond of elevated melodrama, then pencil this one in. By turns brutal and tender, the plot is a bullet train that refuses to derail. Suiting up for the demimonde is Ali: single father, petty thief, back-alley boxer and soon the burly half of a star-crossed romance. Hailing from the other side of the tracks is Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a trainer at a SeaWorld-style aquarium until a whale goes killer, reshaping her anatomy and her psyche in one chomp. Their ensuing relationship and complications demand, like all melodrama, a major suspension of disbelief. So bring along a crane, but know that both the cast and director Jacques Audiard do some impressive hefting themselves. The principals deliver a matched set of raw performances, while the direction, like the script, moves shamelessly from stark to lyrical and back again. That's quite the agenda – no one could possibly accuse this picture of idleness.

Sept. 29, 6:30 p.m. Granville 7; Oct. 6, 3:15 p.m. Granville 7

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About the Authors
Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

Western Arts Correspondent

Marsha Lederman is the Western Arts Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver. She covers the film and television industry, visual art, literature, music, theatre, dance, cultural policy, and other related areas. More

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