Screening Room: ‘Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin’

My review of the new documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin was published at PopMatters:

Hard times are coming,” author Ursula K. Le Guin said in her fiery 2014 speech accepting the National Book Foundation award. Her tone was somehow somber, yet also chipper, as though she had already acknowledged the worst and now was girding for battle. She was fixing her bayonet in bright spirits and about to go over the top…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

(Walt Disney Studios)

Going back to the well many decades later, Disney delivers a brand-new musical adaptation of P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins books that’s not close to the original but better than it has any right to be.

Mary Poppins Returns opens wide today. My review is at PopMatters:

As the law of diminishing returns for any sequel is one of the immutable laws of the cinematic universe—and all the more so for movie musicals (no matter what those fiendishly wrong fans of Grease 2 might claim)—there was even less chance that Mary Poppins Returns could pull the same rabbit out of one of Poppins’ very fetching hats. Nevertheless, this sequel manages a somewhat impressive feat for the often groan-inducing Disney remake factory: it captures the essence of the original while adding just enough spark to set it apart…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Bird Box’

Bird Box

The latest movie from Susanne Bier (The Night Manager) is a postapocalyptic horror story starring Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich.

Bird Box is playing now on Netflix.

My review is at Slant Magazine:

Needing to avoid psychotic zombies isn’t the only danger faced by the harried survivors of an unspecified pandemic at the start of director Susanne Bier’s adaptation of Josh Malerman’s novel Bird Box. The hard-as-nails Malorie (Sandra Bullock) and her two five-year-old wards must also manage navigating a postapocalyptic wilderness while wearing blindfolds. Oh, and they’re in a boat on a fast-running mountain river with rapids approaching. Also, they’re threatened by invisible monsters who can only be spotted when nearby birds start chirping and who cause instant suicidal tendencies in those who look their way. Things aren’t looking good for the trio…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Front Runner’

In Jason Reitman’s new political satire, Hugh Jackman plays Gary Hart on the verge of destroying his meteoric political ascent.

My review is at PopMatters:

Based on Matt Bai’s 2014 book All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went TabloidThe Front Runner starts off as a zippy election comedy about the undoing of Senator Gary Hart’s presidential ambitions, but collapses under the weight of its serious intent. When we first see Hart (Hugh Jackman), he’s lost the bid for the 1984 Democratic nomination. Director Jason Reitman shoots that opening scene and many others as if he’s been watching a lot of Nashville, tracking the casual chatters between reporters and campaign staffers as they wend through a crush of news vans and onlookers trying to get a glimpse of history…

Screening Room: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’

Eddie Redmayne in ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ (Warner Bros.)

The second entry in J.K. Rowling’s post-Harry Potter Wizarding World movies, the Newt Scamander series, is opening everywhere tomorrow.

My review is at Slant Magazine:

The fun but more predictable Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald moves the new series forward, but only incrementally—all the better to maximize the potential for six or seven more sequels to be strung out for Thanksgivings to come…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Widows’

Viola Davis in ‘Widows’ (20th Century Fox)

In Widows, the new Chicago-set thriller from Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) adapted from the series by British crime novelist Lynda La Plante, Viola Davis has to pay $2 million back to some gangsters her husband ripped off before being inconveniently shot dead.

Widows already toured the festival circuit and now opens wide this Friday. My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

[Widows] is technically a crime story. But it’s also a smart character study of women thrown to the wolves by their criminal men. Behind all that, it’s the story of a great city being stripped down and sold for parts. This might be the greatest movie about an American city since John Sayles’ City of Hope and the best American heist flick since Spike Lee’s Inside Man. But those differing attentions sometimes work at cross purposes…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Boy Erased’

Theodore Pellerin and Lucas Hedges in ‘Boy Erased’ (Focus Features)

Joel Edgerton’s adaptation of Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir Boy Erased is likely going to bring the tragedy of Christian forced-conversion “therapy” of young gay women and men into the mainstream.

My review is at PopMatters:

It wouldn’t be fair to call Boy Erased an Afterschool Special. There’s a lot in here that ABC wouldn’t have touched in its run from 1972 to 1997. The true story of a young man sent by his religious parents to a conversion-therapy center that they hope will “cure” him of his homosexuality is presented in a forthright manner. There’s ugliness here that the mostly happy ending cannot wash away, and doesn’t try to…

Here’s the trailer: