Screening Room: ‘The Martian’

Matt Damon works on not dying in 'The Martian' (20th Century Fox)

Matt Damon works on not dying in ‘The Martian’ (20th Century Fox)

Astronauts go to Mars and a storm makes them bug out early, thinking they’ve left one of their own behind dead. Only that astronaut, a botanist played by Matt Damon with Chuck Yeager panache, isn’t dead and he’s got to figure out how to stay alive on an alien planet for years while Mission Control tries to put together a rescue plan. The Martian, based on Andy Weir’s bestseller, is the first Ridley Scott film in years that registers a pulse and might be the year’s first film to grab attention from both mainstream audiences and Oscar voters.

A can-do paean to engineering and astronaut awesomeness, The Martian is opening everywhere this week. My review is at PopMatters.

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Walk’

Philippe Petite (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) defies gravity in 'The Walk' (TriStar Pictures)

Philippe Petite (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) defies gravity in ‘The Walk’ (Sony Pictures)

In 1974, a lithe, clownish French tightrope artist named Philippe Petit strung a rope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and did a death-defying 45-minute act up there in the clouds, almost too high for people on the ground to see what he was doing. In The Walk, Robert Zemeckis translates that legendary bit of aerobatics into a 3D spectacle.

The Walk is opening this week in a limited 3D IMAX run, which is truly the way to take in its vertiginous heights, and then opens wider on October 9.

My review is at PopMatters:

Once upon a time, everything was not fenced off. Those who remember life in New York City before 9/11 will experience moments of cognitive dissonance while watching Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk. It’s jarring to see the Twin Towers again standing like steel sentinels over Manhattan. It’s stranger still to see people rushing through one of the lobbies while it’s still under construction… with nobody stopping them. The scene recalls a time when we didn’t think anyone would want to break in to the site or worse, want to destroy it…

You can also see my review of the 2008 documentary about Petit’s walk, Man on Wire, at Medium.

The trailer for The Walk is here:

Screening Room: ‘Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead’

'National Lampoon': Funny people (Magnolia)

‘Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon’: Funny people (Magnolia)

Natlamp73Remember magazines? National Lampoon was one of the best. Beyond serving as something of a thinking man’s Mad, it also fostered that upswell of talent coming out of the Chicago comedy improv scene in the 1970s and midwifed them to stardom at Saturday Night Live. Sure, that ultimately led to Coneheads the movie, but we can probably lay that more at Lorne Michaels’ feet.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon is playing now in limited release; my review is at PopMatters:

People who only know National Lampoon as that odd possessive sitting atop posters for Animal House andVacation might be surprised by some details provided by Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon. They might not have realized the depth of talent the comedy magazine cultivated. Or they might be surprised learn this monthly publication had a circulation of one million. Or that Chevy Chase was once considered a comedy genius…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Sleeping with Other People’

Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis try to resist each other's charms in 'Sleeping with Other People' (IFC Films)

Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis try to resist each other’s charms in ‘Sleeping with Other People’ (IFC Films)

Although Trainwreck garnered all the headlines for this year’s explicit woman-oriented edgy romantic comedy, Leslye Headland’s Sleeping with Other People fulfills a lot of the promise that that Amy Schumer/Judd Apatow collaboration couldn’t quite deliver on.

Sleeping with Other People is playing now. My review is at PopMatters:

A deconstructive sweet-and-sourball of a romantic comedy, Sleeping With Other People seems made for the therapeutically inclined. To that end, it doesn’t quite deliver the story we might expect from its initial meet-cute. Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis) do make their way to a big dance number and some climactic soul-baring, but Leslye Headland’s movie doesn’t balance out emotional payoffs for everybody. Both partners learn lessons, but neither quite gets what they want…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Sicario’

'Nothing will make sense to your American ears'; Benicio Del Toro in 'Sicario' (Lionsgate)

‘Nothing will make sense to your American ears’; Benicio Del Toro in ‘Sicario’ (Lionsgate)

In Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, an FBI agent played by Emily Blunt is roped into a murky mission targeting a Mexican drug cartel that’s been piling up bodies on the American side of the border. Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin play two of her suspiciously close-mouthed and rule-bending handlers.

Sicario-posterSicario is already playing in limited release and expands wider around the country this week. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

Sicario is a hard-nosed procedural for the post-post 9/11 era. Relevance to the modern era of imploding certainties is etched in every scene. Lines are blurred as spies, soldiers, federal agents, and cops are thrown into hybridized hunter outfits and sent after their targets in a landscape where morality comes in shades of grey and convenience. The film flashes on a collapsing social order, mutilated naked bodies swing underneath overpasses in Ciudad Juarez and hints of the same to come on the American side…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Keeping Room’

'The Keeping Room' (Drafthouse Films)

General Sherman is coming, with fire and musket: ‘The Keeping Room’ (Drafthouse Films)

In the neo-feminist Western The Keeping Room, three women must defend themselves against marauding soldiers at the end of the Civil War.

The Keeping Room is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Somewhere in the American South in the last year of the Civil War, a black woman, presumably a slave, hauling wood down an empty country road meets a fierce-looking dog. When it begins to growl and bark, she barks right back. Then she notices the carriage stopped in the middle of the road. A half-dressed woman runs from the carriage, only to be shot in the back by the Union soldier in the carriage who appears to have just raped her. Then the first woman is herself shot in the head by another soldier who appears behind her. It’s a vicious and primal scene, a warning for what awaits the trio of women who are next in the soldiers’ path…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The New Girlfriend’


In Francois Ozon’s The New Girlfriend, after a woman’s childhood friend dies, she discovers that her friend’s husband has a secret. Complications of a romantic and gender-blurring nature ensue.

My review of The New Girlfriend, which opens this week in limited release, at PopMatters:

There is a sharp, sublime Almodóvar film trapped inside the blurry outlines of François Ozon’s The New Girlfriend (Une nouvelle amie), as if aching to get out. You can see this in The New Girlfriend‘s sly opening, with its finely sculpted woman being dressed seemingly for a wedding before the gag is revealed, and in the moments of interlaced satire and desire in later sections. But Ozon’s highly polished surface allows for none of the Spanish filmmaker’s lurking wit or malevolence. Though Ozon’s penchant for putting pretty people in mildly baffling situations makes it hard to take his work straight, so to speak, this is the course with which you’re left in this ultimately confused film…

Here’s the trailer: