⋆⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: R for violent disturbing images, language, drug content and brief sexual material. In subtitled Spanish and English.
In the southern Mexican state of Michoacán, physician Jose Mirales organized the Autodefensas, an armed citizen insurrection against the Knights Templar drug cartel, which has terrorized the region for years. Far north in Arizona’s desert borderline Altar Valley, aka Cocaine Alley, veteran Tim Foley leads his own paramilitary on their 52-mile corridor to repel illegal Mexican immigrants. Neither man trusts his government to provide basic safety. Do you call either one’s group vigilantes? Is either conflict winnable? Are the Mexicans flowing into the U.S. criminal mules or victims running from an endless drug war? Which of the charismatic militia leaders has the less checkered past? With stunning access to these complex characters, Matthew Heineman’s visceral documentary suggests that each crusader faces a quagmire capable of drowning anyone. Shot in times of serious danger, it balances idealism and violence, triggering an adrenaline high and a sense of soul-crushing hopelessness in the same instant.
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for language and a scene of violence.
Like a 1930s Irish “Footloose,” socially engaged British filmmaker Ken Loach’s 24th feature looks at the conflict between rural politics, rich landowners, hellfire religion and free-spirited self-expression in an innocent dance hall. Based on the real experiences of activist James Gralton (winningly played by Billy Ward), it takes place in southern Ireland 10 years after the War of Independence. Gralton, a left-wing activist returned after spending as many years in New York, reopens the old hall he abandoned, a place where people are invited to learn, express and enjoy themselves. The puritanical local clergy see it as communism, if not Satanism, inciting a battle along ideological, legal and doctrinal divides. Loach, who has told similar stories two dozen times before, delivers his trademark messages with graceful skill. He has announced that this may be his final work, and if so, it’s a fine and valuable filmmaking farewell.
HIPPOCRATES, DIARY OF A FRENCH DOCTOR
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated: Images of medical suffering. In subtitled French.
For recent med school graduate Benjamin (Vincent Lacoste), doing rookie rounds at a short-staffed Paris hospital is like a bad case of the plague. The boyish beginner is facing 18 patients in 10 rooms, too little sleep and a super-competent fellow intern (Reda Kateb) who would already be a certified French M.D. if he hadn’t learned his craft in Algeria. Luckily, cocky Benjamin is allowed five life-or-death mistakes a year. Thomas Lilti’s film shows every error a would-be doctor with a learner’s permit could make. It’s usually staged with humor, but when another staffer says being a physician isn’t a career, “it’s a kind of a curse,” he’s nearer to the film’s overall tone.
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: PG for some mild thematic material.
While it’s far from stellar filmmaking, there’s a winning positive tone to this misty-eyed documentary. In 2013, little Miles Scott, emerging from a successful battle against leukemia, had his dream of becoming a pint-size Batman come true. The Make-A-Wish foundation underwrote a daylong fantasy that shipped him to San Francisco, the rural boy’s closest equivalent to Gotham City, dressed him in a sweet character comedy and drove him around in a Batmobile-like black Lamborghini, defeating volunteer villains. The action was so cute that the coverage of it drew thousands to the streets to cheer him — the footage going viral (the full title is “Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around the World”). The film focuses on the civic support for the boy’s visit, which is a good reminder of how the spirit of charity can help us feel happy. The B-side of the story is the cheerleading self-congratulation and nonstop brand marketing it offers DC Comics, Warner Bros. and Make-A-Wish. Are the folks thrilled about how much Instagram attention their snaps earned cheering Scott’s recovery or their own clickbait triumphs? Julia Roberts’ representatives have announced that she’s attached to produce and star as one of the event’s key organizers in a feature film version of Batkid’s story. I think that answers that.