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Capone, Drive-In SciFi and More Movie Options

Hope Madden Hope Madden Capone, Drive-In SciFi and More Movie OptionsPhoto via IMDb
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Welcome to a fascinating week in movies! Is the Tom Hardy Capone film bad? It is not. It’s just incredibly weird and possibly not the way you’d hoped to see Hardy play Capone. But if that’s not your bag, the South Drive In opens with one new, excellent SciFi flick and the Wex continues to offer some exceptional stuff in their screening room. Plus, a monster movie! Read on.

Capone

by Hope Madden

What a nutty idea.

You’ve seen Capone on film: films about him, films containing him, films about gangsters reminiscent of him. A lot of these movies have been great – some of them classic. But you have never seen Alphonse Capone the way writer/director Josh Trank sees him.

Wisely, Trank realized Tom Hardy would be able to translate his vision.

There are moments, especially early in the film, where Hardy and Trank seem to be conjuring Vito Corleone (Hardy has always carried the same dangerous charisma of Brando, anyway). But it doesn’t take long before the role defines itself as something we truly have not seen before.

The film focuses on the final year of the infamous mobster’s life—the adult diapers and dementia year. He’s served his prison term for tax evasion, the syphilis he contracted in his youth has taken its toll on his mind and body, and his money is quickly evaporating.

Maybe he’s hidden $10 million somewhere. Maybe he’s just nuts.

Trank’s loose narrative is less concerned with the scheming, criss-crossing and backstabbing from underlings trying to find the money than it is with Capone’s deterioration, and that’s what makes this film so gloriously odd.

There is a grotesque humor underlying many of these scenes. Trank doesn’t ask you to sympathize with this notorious villain, nor does he revel in his decrepitude. But he definitely explores it, and that’s a brave decision. Many a mobster film fanatic will be annoyed by this glimpse into the post-badass years, but defying expectations is something Capone does early and often.

If Trank doesn’t trade in sympathy, we can still expect Hardy to generate empathy. As is characteristic of every performance in his career, Hardy finds the faulty humanity in this character. His depiction of Capone’s confusion is unerringly human, and in his hands Trank’s macabre humor never feels like mockery.

Linda Cardellini flexes more in the role of Capone’s wife Mae than she has in her many other turns as put-upon spouse. She’s a great sparring partner for Hardy, and their volatile but ultimately tender relationship creates a needed grounding for a film so busy with the shadowy unreality of a diseased mind.

Because of the borderline surreal nature of a film told from the point of view of a man in the throes of dementia, it’s often tough to suss out the reality of the events onscreen. This generally works, but there are certainly moments—generally those inserted to give us stepping stones of a plot–that seem stiffly ill placed.

Thankfully, Hardy’s there to command your attention. No doubt some viewers will be disappointed—those who tuned in to see Hardy play a badass at the top of his game. My guess is that the reason one of the finest actors working today was drawn to Capone was the opportunity to do something just this unexpected.

Grade: B+

The Vast of Night

Opening this weekend at the South Drive In.

by George Wolf

The Vast of Night wastes no time in transporting you to another world.

Opening with vintage Rod Serling welcoming us to “Paradox Theatre,” director Andrew Patterson unveils an incredibly polished debut, one that’s full of meticulous craftsmanship, effective pacing and wonderfully engaging storytelling.

Picture the small town of Cayuga, New Mexico in the 1950s. As the gymnasium stands are filling up for the night’s big high school basketball matchup, a smooth-talking radio DJ and a wholesome teen have stumbled onto something very, very big.

Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick) is filling in for the local telephone operator as WOTW’s nighttime show with Everett “The Maverick” Sloan (Jake Horowitz) playing in the background. But a strange transmission is also coming through the radio, and Fay lets Everett know about it.

Everett opens the mic to ask if any of his “five listeners” can identify the sound, and Billy (Bruce Davis) calls in with a mighty big story to tell. Mabel (Gail Cronaur) has one, too, leading Everett and Fay off into the New Mexico night to search for answers.

Peterson’s commitment to production and sound design results in a totally immersive experience. The period details – from costumes to recording equipment – are more than just historically correct. Paired with the rapid-fire, comfortably lived-in dialog from screenwriters James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, they create a throwback setting that charms without the tell of undue effort.

Peterson also flexes confidently behind the camera, moving from extended tracks to slow pans to quiet stills, all in service of the film’s wondrous tone. With McCormick and Horowitz leading a stellar ensemble, what could have been a generic sci-fi time filler becomes a smart parable with an eerie grip.

The Vast of Night is a film about listening. To each other, to the stars, to the ugly secrets of our past and to the great possibilities of our future.

And speaking of the future, Andrew Patterson has a bright one.

Grade: A-

Fourteen

Available to stream from Wexner Center for the Arts.

by Hope Madden

Mara (Tallie Medel) and Jo (Norma Kuhling) make an odd couple, or so says Mara’s one-time dinner date who remembers the pair of best friends from high school. Mara’s quiet, no-fuss. And Jo?

“She’s cutting.”

In fact, Mara and Jo resemble any number of very real relationships, those that maneuver childhood and the dramatic complexities of adolescence to settle into something adult that may not be sustainable.

Jo is flashy, passionate, needy. Mara is level-headed and supportive. Dan Sallitt’s understated character study Fourteen picks up their relationship somewhere into adulthood and follows it from Mara’s point of view with a detached but caring comment on how life, responsibility and surrender finally look.

Matter-of-fact performances eliminate any hint of melodrama as Fourteen wades through a series of the duo’s scenarios across about a decade. The performers’ delivery and the director’s style undercut any artifice, nearly every scene focused exclusively on a conversation, most of which feel improvisational.  

It offers a loose but relentless progression, a regrettable erosion focused on growing up and growing apart, caring for each other and caring for yourself.

Sallitt rarely focuses squarely on big moments. Jo’s breakdowns and histrionics remain almost entirely off screen, and what we see is Mara’s inevitable response as well as quietly significant moments: the first dinner with a new boyfriend, a trip back home for a timely visit.

The progression of time told in haircuts and apartments is handled more gracefully in Fourteen than what you might expect, but again, Sallitt’s style is not showy. More than the visual backdrop to mark a new era, it’s Medel and Kuhling’s recognizable reacquaintance, first halting then quickly entrenched in familiar patterns: this is who we are.

Medel’s performance, aided by her enormous eyes, is deceptively compelling. As the friend less likely to draw notice (she mentions at one point that, in Jo’s presence, she sometimes feels as if she’s not even there), she’s comfortable in the background. At the same time, Mara is clearly and constantly observing, making a mental note, internally balancing what’s best for Jo versus what’s best for herself.

Kuhling is a bit weaker, her believable amalgamation of tics in early scenes do not translate well to her climactic breakdown, which at times feels like a student actor’s workshop.

It’s a minor flaw, though, in a film that feels quietly courageous in its interest in one of life’s great heartbreaks.

Grade: B+

The Times of Bill Cunningham

Available to stream from Wexner Center for the Arts.

by Brandon Thomas

In 1994, rookie producer Mark Bozek sat down with New York Times fashion and street photographer, Bill Cunningham. The casual chat about an award Cunningham was receiving was supposed to only be a quick 10-minute in and out.

The interview didn’t end until the tape in Bozek’s camera ran out.

Twenty-five years after conducting this interview, Bozek makes his feature documentary debut with The Times of Bill Cunningham. Less a look or critique of the New York fashion scene, Bozek’s interest is sharply focused on the unassuming Cunningham. 

Bozek uses the ample footage at his disposal to let Cunningham share his thoughts and insights about his life and career. Cunningham’s almost child-like zeal for his work comes across as both disarming and curious all at once. From his beyond-modest “apartment” in the old Carnegie Hall Studios building, to his uniquely un-chic wardrobe consisting mainly of hand-me-downs, Cunningham wasn’t your typical New York fashion figure. 

As the layers peel back more and more, Bezok is able to capture and celebrate Cunningham’s genuine kindness — whether that be his enthusiasm for catching people “as they are” on the street, or the financial support he showed a friend who was fighting a losing battle with the AIDS virus. 

Peppered throughout the film are many of Cunningham’s photos. The juxtaposition of these wonderful photographs with his animated interview makes for an appreciative experience. Many of these photos were splashed across Cunningham’s weekly spread in the New York Times. A few gems, however, were never published during Cunningham’s storied career. 

Sparse narration by Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City) provides needed connective tissue and context. It’s one thing to take Cunningham’s word for it, but highlighting his accomplishments in the broader fashion world is a poignant statement on how important he was to the fashion industry and to New York City itself. 

Documentaries focused on one individual aren’t new. Specific filmmakers, politicians, and athletes have all received this treatment. What’s so different, and enthralling about The Times of Bill Cunningham is how much Cunningham gets to speak for himself. It’s an honest, unfiltered look at a man that did what he loved — and did it well. 

Grade: B+

Monstrum

Streaming on Shudder.

by Hope Madden

Very little in life brings me joy quite like a decent creature feature. Even the silly ones where a big, boil-riddled muppet winds up slathering pus leakage all over Korean mountain people in the 1500s.

Especially those.

Hun Jong-ho’s new import takes us back to 1506, a time when the king is beset by troubles: his disloyal prime minister, a plague across the land. That is a lot for one man to handle, and an even larger load once his most loyal guard, Yoon Gyeom (Kim Myong-min), abandons him to save a little girl’s life.

Fast forward a decade or so and strife still divides the nation, but that strife has a new name: Monstrum.

But is that monster really there? Or is it all just a figment of mass hysteria planted by a conniving prime minister? The sleuthing sets up a clever-enough through line and the deception creates space for plenty of gory action sequences.

Jong-ho’s story, which he penned along with Byeon Jeong-uk and Heo-dam, offers a relatively simple “the people have the power” narrative elevated by some nice set pieces and a handful of choice performances.

Myong-min cuts a properly heroic figure: quiet, savvy, handy in a fight. Kim In-kwan makes the perfect sidekick, his comedic moments (though often anachronistic) offer welcome moments of levity.

With K-pop’s Lee Hye-ri (of the band Girl Day), Jong-ho delivers a little 16th century girl power via one spunky adolescent who’s smart, capable, irreverent and fearless. (Another anachronism? Probably, but again, it’s a movie with a giant, pus-dripping puppet. You came looking for realism?)

And hey, who’s that handsome young man beguiled by Hye-ri’s badassedness? It’s Parasite’s Choi Woo-shik, charming as ever.

The film looks great, thanks in part to some exceptional costuming but mainly to cinematographer Kim Dong-Yeon’s capable maneuvering through interiors and exteriors, false backdrops and lushly wooded hills.

Monstrum is no masterpiece—go in expecting The Host and come out disappointed. But for creature feature fun and just a touch of flatulence humor, Monstrum delivers.

Grade: B-

Read more from Hope and George at MADDWOLF and listen to their weekly movie review podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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