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Jungle, Snow and Fire – Weekend Movies Have it All

Hope Madden Hope Madden Jungle, Snow and Fire – Weekend Movies Have it AllPhoto via IMDb.
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If you can’t find a movie to watch this weekend, you’re not looking hard enough. The Wexner Center for the Arts compels interest with their first ever documentary festival, Unorthodocs!, and Nightmares Film Festival unspools the scares at Gateway Film Center all weekend. Plus, Ai Weiwei has a miraculous documentary for you, a new Michael Fassbender thriller does not thrill, there’s some political intrigue, a far-better-than-expected true-life tale of heroism and much, much more. Get you some!

Only the Brave

As wildfires continue to devastate areas of California, it seems incredibly timely for the debut of a populist firefighter tribute full of bombast and manipulation.

Thankfully, Only the Brave is not that movie.

Director Joseph Kosinski seems well aware of overwrought pitfalls so easily indulged, taking care to deepen our connection to major players as events build to a terrifying, true-life conclusion.

Based on the GQ article “No Exit,” co-writers Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer deftly adapt the story of Arizona’s Granite Mountain Hotshots, the first group of municipal firefighters to achieve elite “Hotshot” status.

Josh Brolin stars as supervisor Eric Marsh, a firefighting vet trying to ready his seasoned pros and new recruits for both the upcoming season and the essential state evaluations. Rookie Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller) is the team’s biggest question mark, a recovering drug addict and new father who’s determined to turn his life around.

There are cliches here, such as a frequent “lost cause” metaphor and the obligatory stoic women standing by their men, but Kosinki and his writers are able to keep them in the background through an emphasis on intimate storytelling. We see the fires battled in often spectacular fashion, but we also come to feel the toll the job takes on family life. We learn firefighting tactics along with the newbies, and as Brendan fights to prove his worth to the mother of his child (Natalie Hall), Teller finds a nicely subtle groove to get us on Brendan’s side as well.

Often powerfully gripping and thrilling to watch, Only the Brave is a fitting salute to real people that deserve one.

Grade:B+

The Snowman

The Snowman, a Norway-set serial killer thriller, runs like a 3-hour flick that someone gutted for time without regard to sensibility, leaving a disemboweled and incoherent pile in the snow for audiences to puzzle over.

Michael Fassbender (an inarguable talent) plays Detective Harry Hole. (I swear to God, that’s his name.) He’s a blackout drunk in need of a case to straighten him out. He finds it in one misogynistic mess of a serial killer plot.

All he and his new partner Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) know is that the killer leaves snowmen at the crime scene and has complicated issues with women. What follows is convoluted and needlessly complicated with erratic and unexplained behavior, ludicrous red herrings and a completely unexplained plot point about prescription pills.

These guys sure smoke, though.

The Snowman is not the first in novelist Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, so a lot of “catch us up on this guy” exposition gets wedged in. From there, the writing team took a buzzsaw to Nesbø’s prose, leaving none of the connective tissue necessary to pull the many, varied and needlessly lurid details together into a sensible mystery plot.

It all leads ploddingly, frustratingly to an unearned climax heavy with needless flashbacks and convenient turns.

It almost works as a cigarette ad, but as an actual story? No.

Grade: D

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

In light of pussy grabbing, Nazi accepting, wall building, election tampering, hurricane victim abandoning and countless other inconceivable abominations, Watergate seems quaint.

But maybe that’s where Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House could find its power. It could not only underscore the nearly incomprehensible severity of our current climate but also remind us that change is possible.

Liam Neeson plays Felt, the Associate Director of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover who found himself so aggrieved by the corruption overtaking the bureau after Hoover’s passing that he leaked confidential information to the press, earning himself the affectionate nickname Deep Throat.

Writer/director Peter Landesman’s script wedges in too many clunky connectors to help the audience figure out who each participant is rather than creating a set of characters. Ensemble dramas have loads of characters. Watergate has loads of characters and drama. Let it breathe.

On paper, Felt’s a fascinating character, as any lifer in the bureau must be. And Liam Neeson’s a fine actor. So why is it the film never plumbs any deeper than a distant stare, a grimace, an errant curse word?

What may be the most interesting idea Landesman shares is that Felt was less interested in criminal activity at the highest level than he was in the idea that the FBI would become beholden to the White House. He was busy looking beyond a single presidency to the power and necessity of an independent investigative body when everybody else was too stunned by the felon in the White House to notice.

You know what, though? I bet Nixon knew he was president of the US Virgin Islands.

Grade: C

Jungle

It is hard to go wrong with a story as viscerally affecting as that of Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli who took a year off from his life to seek adventure. He found it in the Jungle.

Beautifully portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe, Yossi finds something that may be too good to be true when he meets the mysterious jungle guide Karl (a wonderful Thomas Kretschmann). Together, Yossi, his two friends and the guide head into uncharted Amazon territories in search of lost tribes, rivers full of gold and other wonders not found on the typical tourist to-do list.

Frustrations run high, mercy runs low, faith in leadership wanes, and eventually, an accident separates Ghinsberg from the group. He is on his own to survive the jungle, starvation, delirium, and one nasty, squirmy head wound. For anyone still wondering whether Harry Potter can act, this film should set aside all doubt.

Jungle is at its worse when director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) shows how little faith he has in his material and his audience, leaning on emotional manipulation and an almost oppressively leading score to ensure we are getting his point.

Grade: B-

Human Flow

The “overview effect” is a phenomenon known only to astronauts who experience a shift in consciousness when looking back at the Earth while in orbit. Edgar Mitchell, a member of the Apollo 14 mission, once described the effect as “instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.”

Director Ai Weiwei’s attempts to recreate this profound effect with his stunning and timely documentary, Human Flow.

The film is a sprawling examination of the millions of refugees around the world and allows us to bear witness to the lives of that increasing number of displaced people. It is a film that serves to humanize those who are suffering and who are too often maligned in this unfortunate age of travel bans and Brexits.

Weiwei’s artistic eye for calming cinematography paired with the brutal theme of the film forces us to assess all that we are witnessing over the course of two and a half hours. The result is a powerful film that puts faces to the 65 million people we are quick to judge and slander as nothing more than refugees, rather than seeing them for what they actually are: humans.

Grade: A

Also opening in Columbus:
Bad Day for the Cut (NR)
Breathe
Geostorm
Golmaal Again!!! (NR)
Loving Vincent (PG-13)
Same Kind of Different as Me
A Silent Voice (PG-13)
Tyler Perry’s Boo2!: A Madea Halloween

Reviews with help from George Wolf and Alex Edeburn.

Read more from Hope at MADDWOLF, and listen to her podcasts FRIGHT CLUB and THE SCREENING ROOM.

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