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Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn

“DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE” My rating: B+

159 minutes | MPAA rating: R

With its loquacious cops and crooks and pages of dialogue devoted to the amusingly mundane (Quarter Pounders with cheese, egg salad sandwiches), “Dragged Across Concrete” will remind many of a Quentin Tarantino film, especially “Pulp Fiction.”

But it also bears comparison to Michael Mann’s “Heat,” for this curiously affecting crime epic (nearly three hours) is less about black and white than shades of gray.

Add to the mix Mel Gibson chewing on his best role in ages, and the latest from writer/director S. Craig Zahler (“Bone Tomahawk”) shapes up as an unexpected treat that digs into the viewer’s head and hangs around long after the lights come up.

At the center of this sprawling tale are a couple of police detectives — Ridgeman and Lurasetti (Gibson and Vince Vaughn) — who’ve drawn long unpaid suspensions for brutalizing a suspect.  Desperate for money, Ridgeman talks his reluctant partner into tailing a suave  criminal (Thomas Kretschmann); the hope is that he will lead the pair to some sort of drug deal or robbery that they can interrupt, making off with the cash and contraband.

Ultimately the two cops find themselves wading through the aftermath of a bloody bank heist. Few are left standing.

But around this dramatic core Zahler has introduced a big cast of characters — lawmen, criminals and common citizens caught in the crossfire — and given each enough backstory that we begin to identify with them on a much deeper level.

Gibson’s Ridgeman, for instance, is a tough street cop bitter that his refusal to schmooze has left his career in the dust. Now he’s coping with an ailing wife (Laurie Holden) and a teenage daughter terrified of the only neighborhood they can afford to live in. On the job Ridgeman may seem like semi-racist thug; at home we see a different side of the man.

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Dev Patel

“THE WEDDING GUEST” My rating: B-

97 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Since breaking onto the world cinema scene as a struggling Indian Everyman in “Slumdog Millionaire,” Deval Patel has been methodically expanding his repertoire, from broad comedy (the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” franchise) to straight drama (“Lion”).

With Michael Winterbottom’s “The Wedding Guest” he takes a detour into genre, portraying a ruthlessly efficient man of mystery.

As the film begins Patel’s Jay flies from London to Pakistan.  That’s he’s not your usual tourist quickly becomes apparent: Jay has multiple passports, goes shopping for a small arsenal of handguns and rents two cars.

An anxious pall hangs over the film’s opening sequences.  Is Jay a terrorist bent on mayhem?  A paid assassin on assignment?

Things get a bit clearer when he begins keeping tabs on Samira (Radhika Apte), the daughter of the local gentry preparing for an elaborate arranged marriage. Jay tells people he encounters that he’s one of the wedding guests, but In the dead of night he slips into the family compound and kidnaps the girl, gunning down an armed guard to make his escape.

Samira is at first terrified. Then Jay explains that the kidnapping was arranged by her London-based lover, who hired Jay to spirit her away from her tradition-bound family.

Now the two are on the run, moving across Pakistan and into India toward a rendezvous with Samira’s squeeze. (On one level “Wedding Guest” is practically a travelogue.)

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Paula Beer, Franz Rogowski

“TRANSIT” My rating: C+

101 minutes | No MPAA rating

“Transit” is a great idea that runs itself into the ground.

The opening moments of Christian Petzold’s film (he adapted it from Anna Seghers’ novel) take place in Paris under the German occupation.

Except that the setting isn’t the 1940s…it’s today.

The cars, the clothing, even the flat-screen TVs scream 21st century. But things are missing. Like computers and cel phones.

Our hero, Georg (Franz Rogowski), is part of an underground movement and desperate to get out of the country.  The police are making sweeps of blocks, sending undesirables off to hastily-erected camps.

The film never really lays out its geopolitical roots. Is this a new fascist movement that has swept the country? Was there a physical invasion of France? Is the year 2018 or are we supposed to imagine that somehow it’s still the ’40s?  (Hitler is never mentioned, nor is National Socialism. No German helmets or swastikas.)

Anyway, Georg manages to hide in a boxcar on a train heading to Marseilles. Once in the port city he joins the ranks of thousands of others lining up at the U.S. and Mexican consulates hoping to get transit papers that will allow them to board a ship for freedom (apparently there are no airlines in this alternative reality).

Georg is better off than most. He’s managed to assume the identity of a semi-famous writer, Weisel,  who has committed suicide; his newly-assumed standing as a man of letters moves him to the front of the immigration line.

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Travis Fimmell

“FINDING STEVE McQUEEN”  My rating: C+

108 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Give the makers of “Finding Steve McQueen” credit for at least shaking up the parameters of your standard heist movie.

For starters, this fact-based caper film about the biggest bank haul in U.S. history is thick with comic overtones thanks to a doofus of a leading man and a goofy gang of miscreants.

For another, it employs a scrambled narrative that hopscotches back and forth in time.

“Finding Steve…” centers on Harry Barber, a minor participant in the event but the only one still around to tell the tale.

Mark Steven Johnson’s film begins with Harry (Travis Fimmel) in the present (actually the early ’80s). He’s agitated. All worked up. Hearing his panicked confession, his girl Molly (Rachael Taylor) — the daughter of a local cop —  freaks out when she realizes the man she’s loved for several years isn’t who he said he was.

He is, in fact, the last free member of a notorious gang, and now his time is running out.

Then we flash back to Ohio in 1972.  Harry — who so worships the films of Steve McQueen that he sports “Bullitt”-ish sunglasses, a blond ‘do and tools around in muscle cars — does jobs for his uncle Enzo (William Fichtner), a veteran thief. Enzo has somehow learned that in a safe deposit box in a little nondescript bank in California there sits millions of dollars in a secret (and illegal) slush fund for President Richard Nixon. (This is true.)

Nixon-hater Enzo decides to rip off Tricky Dick…and posits that since the money is dirty the administration will probably not want to publicize the crime or make too big an effort to identify the perps.

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“CLIMAX” My rating: B-

97 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Climax” may be the most accessible film yet from cinematic evil genius Gaspar Noe (“I Stand Alone,” “Irreversible,” “Enter the Void”). Which is not to say that it is easy movie watching.

“Climax,” like most of Noe’s output, is a celebration of perversity.

It opens with the closing credits (???) and an overhead shot of a scantily clothed and bloodied woman struggling through a field of snow; then shifts into documentary mode before becoming an energetic dance film and ultimately deteriorating into a paranoia-fueled nightmare.

A title card informs us that the story was inspired by actual events in 1996…but I’m not buying that notion any more than I believe “Fargo” was actually based on a real crime.

For 10 or so minutes we get talking-head documentary interviews with a bunch of young French dancers who have auditioned for a special troupe preparing to tour the U.S.A. With few exceptions they lack formal training; most appear to be  kids (all races and ethnicities) who learned their moves on the streets and sidewalks. Some of them are eager and ambitious; others a bit jaded and wary of their newfound legitimacy.

Noe then cuts to a long (like, 15 minutes) single-shot rehearsal in which the youngsters do an elaborate routine that allows for plenty of individual riffing (lots of spectacular hip-hop: locking, popping, cranking) all set to a deafening and hypnotic techno beat.

It’s exhilarating and wildly entertaining, and when it’s over the viewer — like the dancers themselves — is spent and ready for a bit of r&r.

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2018 OSCAR-NOMINATED DOCUMENTARY SHORTS  Overall rating: B+ 

 143 minutes | No MPAA rating

“BLACK SHEEP” (UK, 27 minutes) B
In “Black Sheep” a young black man named Cornelius Walker describes how as a child he was uprooted from his multicultural London neighborhood (his Nigerian parents feared urban violence) and relocated to a tiny burg in Essex.
There he encountered worse racism than he’d ever experienced in the big city. He was cursed and beaten and, in a desperate effort to gain acceptance, even bleached his skin and wore blue contact lenses.
And it worked. Over time Cornelius was taken in by his one-time persecutors;  ironically, to please them he found himself imitating the same violent and racist behavior he sought to escape.
“I wanted love, so I made friends with monsters,” he says.
Ed Perkins and Jonathan Chinn’s doc is about 1/4 talking-head interview with Walker; the rest of the film consists of dramatic re-creations employing actors.  Thirty years ago this format would have earned the contempt of documentary purists. But times change. The result is a devastating look at racism and human nature.
“END GAME” (USA, 40 minutes) A
Movies don’t get more real than “End Game,” Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s gut-twisting/transcendent look at life in a hospital ward dedicated to dying.
Epstein and Friedman  — whose resumes include films as diverse as “The Celluloid Closet,” “Paragraph 175” and “The Times of Harvey Milk” — turn their cameras on the medical professionals, patients and families living and dying in the University of California Med Center in San Francisco.
Over its 40 minutes we get to know a good many of these folk who — unlike the rest of us — can no longer ignore the ultimate reality of death.  They have to decide how they are going to die — not just the medical side but the human side.
“Every moment is still a gift” says one patient; even so, not every patient is willing to endure debilitating treatments in order to gain a few days or weeks.
As you’d expect, the material is explosively emotional. One is left with the utmost respect for the individuals (and their families) who were wiling to share the intimacy of their last days…not to mention the realization that the things happening on screen will undoubtedly happen some day to each and every one of us.
“LIFEBOAT” (USA, 40 minutes) B
Every year thousands of North Africans flee poverty, war, persecution and famine by clambering aboard waterlogged small boats for a dangerous trip to Europe.  One in 18 of them drowns.
Skye Fitzgerald and Bryn Mooser’s “Lifeboat” looks at the efforts of the German non-profit Sea-Watch to rescue these hapless immigrants. Their cameras are aboard one rescue vessel when it comes across three boats carrying more than 1,000 refugees.
It’s an instant humanitarian emergency.  These travelers suffer from dehydration, heat stroke, sea sickness…and there’s a slew of pregnant women, some of whom have gone into labor.
In the relative calm after they’re taken aboard several of these refugees explain where they come from and how they came to be on an overcrowded boat in the middle of the Mediterranean.
The captain of one of the rescue vessels says that with just one turn of the historical cycle the comfortable Western countries could find themselves living a Third World existence…and at that point their residents would become the riffraff that nobody cares about.
“A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN” (USA, 7 minutes) B+
Despite a running time of only 7 minutes, Marshall Curry’s “A Night at the Garden” packs an emotional and intellectual punch that leaves  viewers reeling.
In effect, Curry offers us documentary footage of a 1939 rally in Madison Square Garden attended by 20,000 Nazi supporters.
Not Germans.
No these were red-blooded American citizens who stared lovingly at banners equating George Washington and Adolf Hitler and wildly applauded bombastic make-America-great-again rants from swastika-bedecked orators. At one point a protestor somehow gets onto the stage and is beaten for his efforts while the crowd roars its approval.
One assumes that Curry has edited and shaped this archival footage…or perhaps he just threw it up on the screen as he found it.  In the end it doesn’t matter. “A Night at the Garden” reveals a disturbing bit of American history that today looks all too familiar.
“PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE”  (India, 26 minutes)  B+

The lowly sanitary napkin hardly seems like the flashpoint for a revolution. That is, until you visit parts of rural India, where ignorance of the female anatomy and psyche is so complete that a young man, asked about menstruation, answers: “It’s a kind of illness right? Mostly affects girls?”

Rayka Zahtabchi and Melissa Berton’s “Period. End of Sentence” is about Kotex coming to the sticks.  Or at least a locally-produced sanitary pad, hand-crafted by women (for most, it’s their first paying job) in a small factory and distributed to customers who initially have no idea what it is or how to use it.

Only 10 percent of Indian women use sanitary pads, we’re told.  Which explains why every farming community has a vacant lot or field  littered with hundreds of bloody rags, the result of the female population dealing with their periods in the age-old manner.

In a paternalistic society where menstruation is a taboo subject and girls are told that the prayers of a menstruating female will not be heard, something as seemingly retro as readily available sanitary napkins can become the spearhead of a feminist movement.  And that’s the sort of uplifting momentum
“Period…” sets in motion.

The next generation will be even more informed.

| Robert W. Butler

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Jamie Bell

“DONNYBROOK”  My rating: C (Opens Feb. 15 at the Screenland  Tapcade)

101 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Donnybrook” is a fistful of  cheap melodrama, what with its emphasis on the drugs and violence its protagonist encounters en route to an underground bareknuckle slugfest.

At least give writer/director Tim Sutton props for trying to elevate this yarn with the sort of ashcan realism and social commentary most commonly found in the work of Brit auteur Ken Loach (“The Angels’ Share,” “Jimmy’s Hall,” “I, Daniel Blake”).

Which is not to say that Sutton pulls it off. You can see him struggling to give this chunk of cheese relevance by peppering it with  observations on blue-collar American angst.  That approach worked in “Hell or High Water”; here not much of it sticks.

When we first encounter Jarhead Earl (Jamie Bell…yeah, the original Billy Elliott) he’s robbing a gun store and smashing the owner in the face.  This is our hero?

Well, yeah.  Jarhead  may do bad things, but he does them to support his meth head wife (Valerie Jane Parker) and two young kids. By the logic of “Donnybrook” this makes him a hero.  Everybody else in sight is far worse.

Especially Chainsaw Angus (Frank Grillo), the neighborhood drug dealer.  Accompanied by his sister Delia (Margaret Qualley),  with whom he has a master/slave relationship that reeks of incest, Chainsaw cuts a wide path of bloody destruction.  He may be the only dealer who’d rather kill his clients than sell them drugs.

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