Air Show

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Fighter (2024)

“Fighter” is much, much more interesting than its topline, a.k.a. the Indian answer to “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Born to Fly.” The influence of American war movies and all their cheery flyboys is strong, but “Fighter” is much more pointed than either of the American and Chinese celebration of their armed forces in that it has a clear conflict and enemy: Kashmir, and terrorists who commit crimes against Indian citizens while finding shelter in Pakistan. This specificity is very unusual in recent worldwide blockbusters and means that the relentless patriotism, such as a poem about how no coffin is more beautiful than one draped with an Indian flag, is way more meaningful.

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Eye for an Eye, Captain

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Captain Miller (2024)

While it feels like a western and looks like a war epic, “Captain Miller” manages to have its cake and eat it. The movie preaches a message of antiviolence while amassing a body count in the thousands. Five bomb and fire experts are thanked in the credits, which understates how many explosions take place and how much stunt work must have been necessary. But despite the extraordinary amount of mayhem, the overall message is one of disgust for violence and the unjust systems which make violence inescapable.

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The Nightmare Before Christmas

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Merry Christmas (2024)

“Merry Christmas” absolutely captures end-of-year melancholy, with its lonely lead characters surprising themselves with the sudden importance of their chance encounter. This movie deeply knows the difficulty of living with your choices and how a spur-of-the-moment impulse can shape your entire life. But while it does less well with creating a coherent and believable plot, it does an exceptional job of building a mood.

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Escape From Planet Earth

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Ayalaan (2024)

At one point someone asks the alien at the center of this goofy Tamil-language science fiction movie why he’s in Chennai instead of America, where aliens always invade in the movies. The alien points out that one creature isn’t exactly an invasion; and anyway Chennai is where he needs to be. A fragment of his people’s technology has made its way into the hands of an evil businessman named Aryan (Sharad Kelkar), who’s using it to drill into the Earth’s core in search of a new sustainable energy source. Only, lots of people have died already because of the technology; and if he does succeed in drilling through, the whole planet will explode. So Tattoo (played in body capture by Venkat Senguttuvan and voiced by Siddharth) has chosen to reveal himself to the most obvious person to render assistance – Tamizh (Sivakarthikeyan, who’s terrific), a failed organic farmer who’s currently working as a kind of party clown. But while he’s bad at business, Tamizh has a kind heart, something Tattoo’s people have been told didn’t exist on Earth. But the emphasis on kindness doesn’t prevent the movie from a genuine nastiness that you just don’t want in a kids’ movie.

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The Unwanted Child

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Guntur Kaaram (2024)

At different times various henchmen approach the hero of “Guntur Kaaram” with machetes, sledgehammers or bamboo poles, but Ramana (Mahesh Babu) simply strides up to them and slaps them. That’s it. That’s all he does. He slaps them; and they fall so hard they are incapacitated for the rest of the slow-motion fight. Sometimes he takes one of their weapons and whops them around the head with it. Usually there’s a cigarette in his other hand for atmospheric puffing. There’s some wirework involved but for the most part the impact of Ramana’s fighting style is due to his arrogance. In one sequence he even lights a match for a cigarette off his opponent’s bald head. There’s a great deal of this entertaining old-school violence in a plot built around caste politics, controlling patriarchs and painful family legacy. But despite some wildly sexy dance numbers and an ego that’s off the charts, unfortunately “Guntur Kaaram” doesn’t hang together.

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Human Interest

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One Life (2024)

In telling the true story of a British stockbroker who facilitated escapes for 669 Jewish children on the eve of World War II, “One Life” bounces between two disparate timelines unconnected until the end, if that. In 1938, Nicholas Winton, here played by obscure South African actor Johnny Flynn, arrives in Prague at the behest of Doreen Warriner (Romola Garai) to assist Martin Blake (Ziggy Heath) of the British Committee for Refugees From Czechoslovakia in ironing out the logistics of evacuating refugees in advance of the German blitzkrieg. In 1987, Winton, now played by two-time Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins, has to reckon with the diminished stakes of clearing out his study of paperwork hoarded for nearly five decades.

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Web of Sin

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The Goldfinger (2023)

Art imitates life; life imitates art; and sometimes art imitates art in ways which take decades to pay out. The new Hong Kong movie “The Goldfinger” does all of this and then some. The title is a reference both to James Bond and the myth of King Midas, the actors are referencing their previous movie together, 2002’s excellent “Infernal Affairs,” which was adapted into “The Departed” by Martin Scorsese, whose “The Wolf of Wall Street” was a clear inspiration for writer-director Felix Chong.

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One Man Army

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Salaar: Part 1 – Ceasefire (2023)

At one point the warring tribes of a criminal, off-the-map Indian territory called Khansaar decide they need more manpower, and various factions hire mercenary armies which are specifically from the following nations: Afghanistan, Austria (whose fighters are all women, as anyone who’s attempted to flirt in a Viennese nightclub can attest), Serbia, South Sudan, Russia, and Ukraine. But one of the leaders of the one of the tribes, Vardha (Prithviraj Sukumaran) goes off to hire exactly one guy. He is Deva (Prabhas), and his absolutely terrifying reputation is well-earned. For large parts of “Salaar: Part One – Ceasefire” he’s so thoroughly soaked in blood he’s like greased lightning. He’s so hard core that his day job is as a blacksmith, and during one battle he takes a break from the fighting to get an enormous tattoo. It’s exactly as awesome as it sounds.

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On the Borderline

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Dunki (2023)

There is no star in Western cinema comparable to Shah Rukh Khan. He is an action hero who can sing and dance; he can laugh at himself (which is even rarer than having a sense of humor); his movies are blatantly political while also being jolly entertainments; and most surprisingly of all, he is willing to be vulnerable on screen. He even cries without a drop of the horrible no-homo attitude so pervasive in American cinema when men express any feelings at all. In “Dunki” he goes even further, in playing a man making a visa-free journey from India to Britain, showing the hellish indignities of the awful trip; and it’s done with a sense of respect that is simply unimaginable in Western cinema. “Dunki” – a slang word meaning the journey illegal immigrants take – is a cheerful yet vicious attack on international borders generally and British immigration policy specifically. The fact that it got a British release is testament to Mr. Khan’s power.

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The Prancing Horse Unbridled

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Ferrari (2023)

Somehow Michael Mann has made a biopic of Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) that nonironically hits many of the biopic tropes parodied in “Walk Hard” – a parent bitter the wrong kid died, an unhappy marriage, the main enemy of the subject’s success being the subject himself. But in “Ferrari” none of this is funny; and the way in which the movie ends, which is broadly true to life, is so disturbing it’s almost impossible to fathom. Proponents of the philosophies of Ayn Rand are going to love this, which is not really a compliment. We know things will work out for Enzo because the movie exists, as does the Ferrari organization, but it’s unusually disturbing to realize that its story is about how a man achieved his success as the expense of many, many lives.

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