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Philadelphia Film Festival: Today's top picks

image-1 Tiger Hu Chen and Keanu Reeves know martial arts in "Man of Tai Chi."
Credit: RADiUS-TWC

"Man of Tai-Chi"
2 Globes
Keanu Reeves hasn’t headlined a major blockbuster since 2008’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” redux, an absence that can be partly explained by him working on curious passion projects. First there was the more or less solid film versus digital documentary “Side by Side,” and now the somewhat rickety martial arts extravaganza, “Man of Tai Chi.” Apart from a climactic mano-a-mano, the one-time Neo sticks to a non-fighting role as baddie Donaka Mark, a mysterious Svengali who runs an underground fighting ring. Tiger Chen, a stuntman from the “Matrix” sequels, gets the main role: A messenger by day and student of Tai Chi by night, who decides to use his traditionally peaceful style to make money beating the crap out of people.

Reeves’ performance is the main liability here. A limited actor, Reeves surprisingly excels at playing psychotic — as in “The Gift” and “Street Kings” — but is decidedly less than sinister as a puppetmaster who growls all his lines while doing an imitation of the “Clockwork Orange” stare. (A scream he lets out late has to be one of the corniest things ever committed to film — or digital.) Reeves is a bit more accomplished as a filmmaker. He cuts too much, but he respects the fighters’ abilities and the viewers’ desire to see them. As far as obvious lifelong-dream films made by Bruce Lee junkies, this lacks the insanity of RZA’s “The Man With the Iron Fists,” but it’s endearingly goofy all the same. 9:30 p.m., Ritz East

"Remote Area Medical"
3 Globes
It almost plays like sick sketch comedy: For four days, a truck plants itself in the NASCAR speedway in Bristol, Tenn., offering free medical, dental and vision care to the area’s low-income residents. But it's no joke, and directors Jeff Reichert ("Gerrymandering") and Farihah Zaman calmly observe, and bro down with, the many who show up, seeking that which their country promises to one day fund themselves. Even more than a political thumb in the eye, what emerges is a strong sense of community, even as some struggle to score the despairingly too-few appointments. 12:30 p.m. Ritz East

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"Stranger by the Lake"
Quasi-experimental filmmaker Alain Guiraudie's latest is a study of desire at a popular gay cruising site that becomes overrun by a murder case. 7:10 p.m., Ritz East

"The Immigrant"
Marion Cotillard plays a Polish woman used by a low-level pimp (Joaquin Phoenix) upon crashing 1920s New York City. Director James Gray ("We Own the Night," "Two Lovers") makes wonderful, heavy films seemingly indebted to an era of films that never existed. 5 p.m., Ritz East

 
 
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