Friday, November 18, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge, Loving, Arrival, Don't Call Me Son, The Eagle Huntress, The Uncondemned, King Cobra

Hacksaw Ridge

Don't Call Me Son

The Eagle Huntress
The Uncondemned

King Cobra

Quick capsules from a surprisingly light November at the movies:

I saw two movies about quiet, spotlight-shunning 20th-century American heroes. One, Jeff Nichols' "Loving," is a film of sensitively observed moments and finely wrought performances by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga. Mel Gibson made the good one.

It's "Hacksaw Ridge," and it reaffirms Gibson's stature as perhaps the best working director of filmed battle scenes. He captures the randomness, the immediacy, the viscera of war in a way that makes other directors' scenes feel staged and prettified. As the conscientious objector and heroic medic Desmond T. Doss, Andrew Garfield is not called upon to unleash the ferocity he showed in last year's brutal "99 Homes," but honors his real-life counterpart with a performance of winning simplicity. As for "Loving," they're very sweet, and of course we want them to marry and live in peace, but I kept shifting in my seat with boredom.

Speaking of which, when you're not in the mood for one of Denis Villeneuve's puzzle-box movies, man, can they ever put you to sleep. Such is the case with the all-atmosphere "Arrival," with Amy Adams as the American linguist charged with deciphering the symbolic lexicon of alien "heptapods" who have landed in twelve world cities. (Jeremy Renner, whom I like, co-stars as a fellow scientist, but his role is superfluous; the movie might have been better without him.) This is Villeneuve back in "Enemy" mode - complete with a heptapod-in-the-room dream sequence that steals from (and somewhat devalues) the memorable final spider image from that 2014 picture - teasing the audience with a Moebius strip of which no interpretation can ever be proved right or wrong. "Please tell me I didn't snore," I said to Adrienne. "A little," she replied.

Another disappointment: Anna Muylaert's Brazilian import "Don't Call Me Son," about a cross-dressing teenager who learns his "mother" stole him as a baby when the authorities arrest her and deliver him to his birth parents. Muylaert's "The Second Mother" ("Que Horas Ela Volta?") was one of last year's best foreign films. This one, though, goes nowhere, its characters never more than sketchily drawn pawns in a plot that grows ever less connected to reality. Matheus Nachtergaele has one superb scene as Felipe's father, working to overcome his shame and crying out to his son, "What do I have to do not to lose you?"

Hat tip to my friend Karen Allison for her on-point recommendation of the Mongolian documentary "The Eagle Huntress," about a thoroughly winning 13-year-old girl named Aisholpan who aspires to be an eagle hunter even though the role has always been handed down from father to son. Her father Nurgaiv flouts the "wisdom" of the traditional elders, seeing no reason why his daughter should not perpetuate the family legacy and every reason why she should: she's a natural. The film features heart-stopping cinematography high up in the Altai Mountains, and a heart-soaring through line involving an annual competition among local eagle hunters. If it occasionally falls prey to cinematic cliché, questionable filmmaking ethics or overly Americanized subtitles, it's still one of the most enjoyable movies of the year.

Another thumbs up for Nick Louvel's and Michele Mitchell's documentary "The Uncondemned," the inside story of the first prosecution of rape as a war crime, involving a village mayor in Rwanda who allowed rapes to occur at his government building during that country's 1994 genocide. The movie gives us several heroes: first and foremost, the local Rwandan women who stood up and told their stories; the investigators who connected the dots; and the prosecutors who came around to see rape as a crime as worthy of the most intense opprobrium.

 Finally, there is the gay-porn true crime thriller "King Cobra," one of the vilest pieces of effluvium ever to wash down the pike. Justin Kelly is the degenerate director responsible for this abortion, which if anyone ever saw it would sweep the Razzies in a romp. Garrett Clayton stars as the fresh face caught in a tug-of-war between rival producers Christian Slater and James Franco. His acting is worse in the solemn moments than in the broad parodies of the videos themselves. Molly Ringwald and Alicia Silverstone battle it out for Worst Cameo; their scenes look like I'd shot them on my iPhone. Kelly, who also did the Franco bomb (redundant) "I Am Michael," would be lucky to get one last chance in the business.

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