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Computer Science Ph.D. student Chris Piech discusses “The Imitation Game”

Given the recent wealth of films about science and scientists — from “Interstellar” to “The Imitation Game” — and as one of the few scientists moonlighting as a film critic, I started to wonder: do scientists watch movies about their field differently than other people? Is that especially true for scientists with highly specialized knowledge,…

Seana McKenna stars in the one-woman show ‘Testament,’ Mary’s take on Jesus’s story

In “Testament,” the one-woman show starring Canadian stage legend Seana McKenna (“Napoli”) at the American Conservatory Theater, playwright Colm Toíbín tells the story of the aftermath of Jesus’s crucifixion from his mother Mary’s perspective. Although Mary talks about going to the synagogue – we really do get a portrait of Jesus as the rebellious good…

Writer-director Justin Simien talks “Dear White People,” his filmmaking process, and the performance of identity

Writer-director Justin Simien’s first feature, the brilliant and hilarious satire “Dear White People,” opens in The Bay Area on Friday. After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent, Simien has been making the rounds on the US film festival circuit where the…

Capsule reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival

From Morocco to the Ivory Coast to Canada, the Toronto International Film Festival programs films from around the world. Here’s a look at some of the films I caught from Africa and North America at the festival.

Still from “Atlantic,” courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival.
Still from “Atlantic,” courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival.
“Atlantic”

By far the best film with an African subject that I saw at TIFF, “Atlantic” was directed by Dutch filmmaker Jan-Willem van Ewijk. The film tells the story of a Moroccan windsurfer, Fettah (Fettah Lamara, a real-life windsurfer-turned-actor playing a character very different from himself) who decides to windsurf across 300 km of open ocean en route to Spain. By far the best windsurfer in his town, it’s when he befriends some white American and European windsurfers – whose passports and money give them a kind of freedom he’s never known – who spark in him the desire to leave. The film features gorgeous photography of the Atlantic Ocean and its beaches, and it tells a moving, if sad, story about the difficult choices a man must make when trying to change his fate.

Top 5 films at the Toronto International Film Festival that had critics buzzing

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which wrapped up mid-September, is a peculiar beast. It’s one of the best showcases for foreign and art films, but it also hosts plenty of Hollywood movies with an eye on the Oscar race. A good chunk of North American journalists sent to the festival are there to cover the Oscar buzz. This year, the biggest Oscar hopefuls were the Alan Turing biopic “The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, the Stephen Hawking biopic “The Theory of Everthing” with Eddie Redmayne, and “Wild” with Reese Witherspoon, the story of a woman hiking the Pacific Crest trail as she recovers from grief. The most ambitious of us will try to cram upwards of seven films into a given day to make it possible to see smaller, foreign and indie fare. I averaged three per day. The headlines from the festival may focus on the celebrities, but the heart of the festival, and the reason we film critics love it so much, is its offerings of world cinema. Here’s a look at the top five off-the-beaten-path foreign films that most critics were buzzing about.