Camp X-Ray

Kristen Stewart in CAMP X-RAY

Kristen Stewart has long been maligned for her seemingly unshakeable performance tics – the hair-playing, the lip-biting, the huffy breathing – and despite being gifted with a compelling character in Peter Sattler’s ambitious Camp X-Ray, Stewart simply can’t kick her bad habits in service to a good performance. Sattler’s debut feature is set at Guantanamo Bay, requiring Stewart to play a young U.S. soldier who finds her worldview forever altered by her experiences, and the actress simply isn’t up to the task, bringing down the quality and power of the entire film in the process. The film opens with a shot of the Twin Towers smoking on 9/11, as seen on television in a foreign country that we only, much later, learn is Germany. Aware of the events and confoundingly kitted out with a bag of cell phones, Ali Amir (Payman Maadi) turns his attention away from the news for afternoon prayer. He doesn’t finish those prayers, because a black bag is soon thrown over his head and he’s carted off to Gitmo. Beaten, caged, and imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, the film then flashes forward to eight years later, and the arrival of Stewart’s Private Amy Cole.

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laggies

There’s no science when it comes to picking the big winners at a film festival before the first film strip unfurls (or someone hits play on a digital file, as is most often the case these days), no proven method to the madness, no guaranteed formula to finding the best of the best. It’s a gamble every single time, and that’s precisely where much of the joy in attending a film festival comes from. That discovery, maddening as it may seem. This year’s Sundance Film Festival is predictably stuffed with all manner of films and talents – from the star-studded to the utterly up-and-coming – and while it’s certainly easy to pick out pictures that “sound” like they might be good or at least feature “bankable” talent, there are always a few sleepers that sneak in and captivate an unsuspecting audience. That all said, we here at Film School Rejects have attempted to apply our expertise and our personal interests to this year’s festival in order to pick out a handful of films that just might be the best of the fest, but that are at least guaranteed to send us running into a theater to see them once the festival kicks up. It’s time for Sundance! And it’s time for films! It’s even time for anticipation! And now it’s time for some anticipated Sundance films!

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