IRAQI WAR MOVIE
101 minutes/Now showing
A few years ago, an Iraqi special forces team roamed the city of Mosul, parts of which had fallen to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Their extraordinary feats behind enemy lines were captured in a 2017 New Yorker magazine article.
That piece has been adapted into a vivid, arresting movie - one that depicts soldiers doing their jobs in a city in the grip of madness.
The story is seen through the eyes of fresh recruit Kawa (French-Tunisian actor Adam Bessa). Through him, the audience learns the ABCs: who the members of the Nineveh Swat team are and why they have chosen to make a stand when regular Iraqi troops have fled. Kawa's new buddies fight because they are settling scores.
The largely American production team used a cast of actors of Middle Eastern or North African descent who speak Arabic and employ realistic military action. In the heat of battle, for instance, good guys kill one another by mistake.
Because this is a story about renegades - and non-Americans at that - writer-director Matthew Carnahan is free to show the team doing what the makers of, say, Black Hawk Down (2001) or American Sniper (2014) cannot. These fighters perform deeds that are, at best, morally ambiguous, and, at worst, could have them tried for war crimes.
Because Carnahan's fighters are driven by simple rage, the battle scenes are a cathartic watch - free of the higher-purpose, save-the-puppy motivations that fill out too many war movies.
GOLDEN HORSE NOMINEE
MY MISSING VALENTINE (PG)
120 minutes/Now showing
This Taiwanese romantic comedy has been nominated for 11 Golden Horse Awards, the most of any film this year.
It opens with a montage summarising the odd life of Hsiao-chi (Patty Lee), born with an internal clock that ticks too quickly. In school, she is eliminated from sports competitions because she has a habit of starting before the whistle.
Now a grown-up, she is about to enter her 30s untouched by romance. Her job at the counter of a post office looks unlikely to net her a companion. Out of the blue, a kind and handsome customer begins chatting with her, finally asking the astounded Hsiao-chi for a date on Valentine's Day.
She is overjoyed but awakens the day after the holiday with no recollection of the previous 24 hours. Distraught, she digs into why the day that could have changed her life seems to have vanished.
Writer-director Chen Yu-hsun has taken bits of his favourite films and assembled them into a rich, rewarding work.
The gentle humour is married to the whimsy of Japanese anime, seen especially in a second-act dream sequence involving talking animals.
SOUTH KOREAN COMEDY
VOICE OF SILENCE (PG13)
100 minutes/Now showing
This black comedy with unexpectedly touching moments tells the story of Tae-In (Yoo Ah-In) and Chang-Bok (You Chea-Myung), who are "cleaners" - freelancers hired by thugs to get rid of evidence.
Their happy-go-lucky lives are disrupted when a gangster forces them to babysit an 11-year-old girl, Cho-Hee (Moon Seung-Ah). They find themselves in over their heads guarding a clever captive while reluctantly performing a dangerous caper.
Writer-director Hong Eui-Jeong's screenplay made the shortlists at the Venice Biennale College-Cinema and Sundance Screenwriters Lab.
From the mute Tae-In to the crafty Cho-Hee, the memorable characters are woven into a story that grounds viewers in a vividly depicted South Korean countryside. You can almost smell the chicken farms.