Horseback Soldiers, Russian Dashcams, Foreign Romance + Nic Cage in Theaters

Hope Madden Hope Madden Horseback Soldiers, Russian Dashcams, Foreign Romance + Nic Cage in Theaters
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Damn, a lot of movies open this weekend—too many to cover! (Sorry Gerard Butler. Well, not really…)

Some of these are beautiful, some magical, some insane, and one is like picking a scab, but most of them are worth your time.

Call Me By Your Name

It’s a languid Italian summer circa 1983 and everything is just so ripe.

Call Me by Your Name, the coming-of-age drama from Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash), swoons. Precocious seventeen-year-old Elio (an utterly astonishing Timothée Chalamet) is surrounded with luscious fruit from the trees, lovely girls from the village, books and music to fill the hours spent with his parents (Amira Casar, Michael Stuhlbarg) in the rural villa where they research Greco-Roman culture.

Then their seasonal research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives.

Awash in sensuality, Guadagnino’s love story is unafraid to explore, circling Oliver and Elio as they irritate each other, then test each other, and finally submit to and fully embrace their feelings for one another. Theirs is a remarkable dance, intimately told and flawlessly performed.

But even before Hammer or Chalamet can seduce you, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom does, lensing a feast for the senses. Together he and Guadagnino immerse you in this heady love story, developing a dreamy cadence and alluring palette that invites you to taste.

Grade: A-

12 Strong

In the weeks immediately after 9/11, the special forces team now known as the “Horse Soldiers” were the first deployed into Afghanistan. A dozen men, led by Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), joined the soldiers under Afghan warlord General Dotsum (Navid Negahban) in an attempt to take back a Taliban stronghold.

Director Nicolai Fuglsig, helming just his second feature, teams with experienced screenwriters Ted Tally (Silence of the Lambs) and Peter Craig (The Town) to adapt Doug Stanton’s book with alternating layers of nuance and shallow cliche.

Almost every time you’re ready to give up on it, the film rebounds with a surprise. While there’s far too much exposition-as-dialog, there are also quiet moments that resonate. Dotson’s reminder to Nelson that he may already have a life “better than the afterlife” underscores the film’s success in showcasing the effective teamwork and diplomacy that emerged in the mission, despite the culture clash.

The Horse Soldiers earned their statue at the 9/11 Memorial site, and 12 Strong is a well-deserved salute. It’s always watchable but also muddled, and too often chooses broad strokes over finer, more memorable points.

Grade: B-

Mom and Dad

I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it.

In what is basically a long and very bloody metaphor for a mid-life crisis, writer/director Brian Taylor (Crank) depicts parents the world over simply giving in to an unspecified but urgent need to kill their own offspring.

It’s an epidemic picture, a zombie film without the zombies. So why do you want to see it? Because of the unhinged Nicolas Cage. Not just any Nic Cage—the kind who can convincingly sing the Hokey Pokey while demolishing furniture with a sledge hammer.

This is one of those Nic Cage roles: Face/Off meets Wild at Heart meets Vampire’s Kiss. He’s weird, he’s explosive and he is clearly enjoying himself.

Selma Blair lands the unenviable role of sharing the screen with Cage, but she doesn’t try to match him as much as keep him focused: they do have a job to accomplish, you know. The result is a fascinating picture of marital teamwork, actually. Good for them.

Taylor’s frantic pace and hiccupping camera mirror Cage’s lunatic energy, and clever writing toys with our expectations while delivering a surprisingly transgressive film.

Others have done it better. (I’m looking at you, Babadook.) But this may be the most amusing way to spend 90 minutes watching people try to murder their own children.

Grade: B-

The Road Movie

This movie is nuts.

Russian documentarian Dmitrii Kalashnikov has gathered Russian dashcam footage and assembled it into something fresh, wild and intriguing. If you worry that you’ll basically be viewing a barrage of YouTube clips, don’t.

This is a thoughtfully made, smartly paced movie—evidence of a filmmaker with style and authority. Kalashnikov creates a fascinating rhythm, expertly flanking longer pieces with thematic montages.

Montages offer bursts of linked images, usually set to a jaunty Russian polka or some other weirdly whimsical piece. Sets of clips focused on natural disasters or animals or pedestrians punctuate the longer drives, allowing Kalashnikov to quicken the pace periodically and maintain an energetic cadence.

The film also has heart. This is not Faces of Death. There is carnage for sure, but don’t expect a grim bloodbath. Kalashnikov is more interested in the amazing, the weird, the insane—comets crashing, bears running in traffic, a guy with an ax.

For all its lunacy, The Road Movie is not a novelty or a trifle. It’s a rock-solid documentary, well-paced and informative. And it is nuts.

Grade: B

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

When a walk in the woods leads to a chance encounter with special flowers, Mary (voiced by Ruby Barnhill in the English language version) gains temporary magical powers. Her broomstick whisks her away to the magical college Endor, which looks about like if Hogwarts put down stakes in Spirited Away.

She soon learns she’s not the only one interested in those flowers, and outsider or not it will be up to her to save magic for everyone.

Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Ghibli veteran and Oscar nominee for When Marnie Was There, keeps the visual charm turned up throughout the film—a good thing, given that his script (co-written by Riko Sakaguchi and based on a children’s novel by Mary Stewart) lacks the heft of a typical Ghibli film.

For adult viewers, Yonebayashi’s light touch can be a bit too light. Mary, with her wild hair and strong will, is a charming stand-in for kids, but her hero’s journey will be instantly familiar.

These are minor complaints though. And the animation, especially the magical set pieces that test Mary’s mettle, makes up the difference. The film offers up a fully-formed magical world with smart visual economy over exposition (cough Fantastic Beasts cough). Mary’s determination is contagious, and even if her saving the day is inevitable it’s impossible not to feel moved by the choices she makes to get there.

Grade: B

The Final Year

Beyond the press conferences and photo ops, Greg Barker’s compelling look inside the final twelve months of the Obama presidency celebrates the daily grind of governing, and builds an ironic vibrancy from the slow and often frustrating march of persistence.

It’s The West Wing with very real, incredibly high stakes, and from the Iranian nuclear treaty to the Syrian conflict, from the Paris climate accords to Boko Haram, we witness a commitment to progress that might be…steady…”harder to dismantle if we take a different turn.”

Which, of course, we did, a fact that lays bare the anchor in this film that’s as bittersweet as it is inescapable. Government needs people this committed, this intelligent, this qualified, this decent, and right now they seem in damn short supply.

Is Barker selective about what sides of his subjects we’re permitted to see? For sure, as that’s what a director does. But whether your political lean is left or right, the suspicion that Barker’s sitting on video of Obama bragging about sexual assault or calling some country a “shithole” would occur only to the most rabid of Hannitys.

It adds up to a fascinating, fly-on-the-wall account of 2016 that arrives already feeling like a freshly opened time capsule from some faraway yesteryear, a magical time when Presidents might have actually cared about other people.

Grade: A-

Also opening in Columbus:

  • A Better Tomorrow 2018 (NR)
  • Day of the Dead: Bloodline (R)
  • Den of Thieves (R)
  • Forever My Girl (PG-13)
  • The Midnight Man (NR)
  • The Other Side of Hope (NR)
  • Phantom Thread (R)

Reviews with help from George Wolf and Matt Weiner.

Read more from Hope at MADDWOLF, and listen to her weekly film podcast THE SCREENING ROOM.

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