Mike at the Movies

Photo | Submitted Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig star in “Cold War.”

Photo | Submitted
Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig star in “Cold War.”

Cold War (R) –

This is an “art film” so it may be hard to locate but it is also a nominee for Best Foreign Film for the Oscars and is well worth the drive
to Bethesda Row, AFI or ArcLight. In perfectly appropriate black and white, the story concerns a talented musician (Tomasz Kot as Wiktor) who teaches at a Polish folk academy. Along comes Zula (Joanna Kulig), applying for the academy.

She carries a bit of baggage: She is on probation for stabbing her stepfather. But she is “something special,” and Wiktor takes to her talent and her beauty.

The head of the academy is Kaczmarek (Boris Szyc) who wants more traditional approaches to the music and dance curriculum because he is a faithful member of the Communist Party. He knows that the academy won’t get the foreign bookings and fame that he desires if they don’t appeal more to Stalin’s forces.

Wiktor falls hopelessly in love with Zula and pursues her wherever she goes—Paris, Berlin, Yugoslavia and back to Poland. Zula gets better looking as she ages, Wiktor pretty much just gets worn out. They try to hook up in Paris, but Zula doesn’t want to be caught by the Secret Police, so she fails to show and Wiktor ends up playing excellent jazz piano in a Parisian club. Their relationship gets more and more complicated. The Secret Police eventually take care of Wiktor, but that doesn’t end the love story.

In addition to a compelling plot with a compelling cast, the music leads many scenes from the first Polish folk woodwinds to the last in which Zula is singing alone. The film picks you up and accustoms you to strange musical language, which is quite compelling in all its guises. Subtitled, this film is well worth a bit of a drive. And don’t be surprised if it walks off with the Oscar in April.

The Prodigy (R) –

For a horror movie, this one could have been very good. It failed because it relied too much on the clichés of horror movies: sudden loud noises (often for no reason), long tracking shots that result in nothing and gimmicks—in this case, eyes of different colors in the kid. The kid, Miles (Jackson Robert Scott), is the prodigy and at an early age he evidences high intelligence. So much so that his parents, Sarah (Taylor Schilling) and John (Peter Mooney), enroll him in special schools. Even then he evidences antisocial behaviors and soon begins humming strange songs in his sleep and discoursing in a rare dialect of Hungarian.

After whacking a classmate with a wrench for no apparent reason, he is given a Rorschach test and a psychiatrist, Arthur Jacobson (Colin Feore), diagnoses Miles with a case of absorption of another personality. All this seems perfectly possible, if not likely, but then the family dog disappears and Miles is seen sharpening some garden shears, and we begin to wonder.

Miles admits he has “visitations” almost every night, and Sarah begins to figure it all out. John has, of course, fled the house during the stress, leaving Sarah with an increasingly strange Miles. The shrink gets Miles close to disclosing what is wrong with him, but instead, Miles cleverly attempts to blackmail the good doctor. We find out who is inhabiting Miles.

The film moves to a shocking finale but smoothly so it, too, makes a certain sense. Loud sounds are used too often for no reason, the soundtrack does the same, attempting to introduce tension where silence would have been more effective, and the ending strains belief, but all-inall, this film careens closely enough to the possible that it makes a certain kind of sense. Certainly not for the young in the family and, if your child is a prodigy, be wary!

Photo | Submitted Liam Neeson stars in “Cold Pursuit.”

Photo | Submitted
Liam Neeson stars in “Cold Pursuit.”

Cold Pursuit (R) –

This is a very odd duck. It focuses mostly on Liam Neeson as Nels Coxman, doing his avenger bit after his son is killed by a drug ring for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. One tic in this film is evidenced fairly early: Every time somebody dies, a cross and their real name and their gang name appear in white over the film. That technique becomes almost over-used by the end of this very bloody film. In one scene there are over 12 names listed at once!

Laura Dern (Grace Coxman) has had enough early on and departs Nels’ bed and life, but characters such as “Speedo,” “Limbo” and “Dante” take longer to leave and, unlike Grace, they don’t have a chance to pack a bag and load their clothes. The villain, and he is a peach, has the
gang name of “Viking” but his real name is the very preppy Trevor Calcote (Tom Bateman).

To confuse matters even more, while Nels is on the hunt for the gang members, the gang kills a Native American by mistake and Chief White Bull (Tom Jackson) vows revenge—against Viking! So, we have Nels and an Indian band pursuing the same targets and, between the two of them, they make quite a dent in Denver’s gang population.

A very winsome performance by Emily Rossum as police officer Kim Dash adds some humor to an already funny film. As in so many other gangster movies, it’s not a matter of when the baddies are killed, but how.

A combination of high violence and often low comedy, this film will appeal to a certain and large audience. Don’t hesitate to get involved in the madness.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (PG) –

I know they are featured every Saturday morning in cheaper form to reach a young audience, but who this film is ultimately aimed at is hard to determine. Relying on colorful, hyper-active animation, it would seem to be a natural for kids, especially those who don’t need a plot to be amused. The script is so involved and at times so esoterically referential that no kid worth his salt would or could admit to understanding it.

At one point one of the characters remarks, “Oh, no! Are we in a musical?” Good question as yet another raucous song breaks out. At another point a character laments, “I told you nothing in this place makes any sense!” So true, so true. The philosophy of this extravaganza of Lego advertising seems to be: “Everything’s Not Awesome.” Indeed.

What Men Want (R) –

An extended session of over-acting with a loud music score and quite unfunny jokes mark this copycat film. (See the 2000 film, “What Women Want.”) The latter let the jokes flow smoothly and even Mel Gibson was charming. In this version, the lead is a female sports agent, Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson). She is in a nearly allmale agency, of course, and when she is passed over for VP, everyone wonders if it was race or gender that gave the prize to an innocuous male.

Ali vows revenge but, at a consolation dinner, she gets hit on the head, ends up in the hospital and somehow acquires the ability to hear what men are thinking. Henson over-acts in nearly every scene; the rest of the cast, led by Tracy Morgan as Joe “Dolla” Barry, follow her. His son, Jamal (Shane Paul McGhie), wants to play for his hometown Atlanta Hawk. Ali hooks up aggressively with the kindly widower Will (Aldis Hodge) and uses him and his son, Ben (Auston Jon Moore), to get Jamal Barry to sign on with her agency. She allows them to pose as her family because Dolla likes family values and thus begins the parade of Big Names through the camera’s view: Devonta Freeman, Shaquille O’Neal, Mark Cuban, Grant Hill, Karl-Anthony Towns and Lisa Leslie—all as themselves. Even Adam Silver, the president of the NBA, has a cameo appearance. Alas, all that star power is forced to over-act and the effect is one of desperation rather than personality impact.

Miss Bala (PG-13) –

What a mess this film is! First is the clumsy attempt at a pun in the title: “Bala” in Spanish means “bullet,” but the plot concerns a beauty pageant in Tijuana for “Miss Baja.” Second, Gina Rodriguez, the lead, fortunately has little dialogue; she mostly nods, says “yes” or protests “I’m an American! I know my rights!”

Known primarily for her TV work on “Carmen Sandiego” and “Jane the Virgin,” Rodriguez shows little adaptation to the big screen, but then she has little to work with in this shoddily written and directed waste of time and money.

Gloria, her character, is held hostage by a gang that shoots up a nightclub, trying to kill the Tijuana chief of police. Somehow, she survives that assault—a preview of what is to come throughout this disaster. Her friend, Suzu (Cristina Rodio), is also captured and soon bears the tattoo of the gang, led by Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova).

Gloria leads a charmed life possible only in the movies as she escapes harm in gunfight after gunfight, including one in which she is in open territory in an empty bullfighting arena parking lot. Another is a fire, yet another she survives after turning DEA mole in the gang. Mostly she just changes chips in cell phones.

This is a violent film, shot with handheld cameras and closeups that look trendy but are only confusing, and a plot of coincidences and lucky accidents that defy human comprehension. I felt the film was an insult to Mexican people everywhere and an utter waste of time.

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