Screening Room: ‘The White Tiger’

In the new movie from Ramin Bahrani (99 Homes, Fahrenheit 451), a kid from a dirt-poor Indian village discovers the price that must be paid to move up the social ladder. Based on the fantastic novel by Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger is coming to Netflix later this month.

My review is at Slant:

Narrating the film’s fast-paced plot with sly showmanship, Balram (Adarsh Gourav) lays out the humiliations that he endured and sins he committed in his rise from a poor Indian villager to a Bangalore entrepreneur. The speed of his change in circumstances, and his canny maneuvering of class differences, brings to mind everything from Charles Dickens to Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. But as Balram pointedly says in one of his many asides to the audience, after witnessing yet again the powerlessness of the poor, “don’t think for a second there’s a billion-rupee gameshow you can win to get out of it.” Instead, his escape route is through the rich family that he sacrifices everything to work for…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Dear Comrades!’

My review of the historical drama Dear Comrades! is at Eyes Wide Open:

If history matters — an assumption we might have once taken for granted — one reason is to ensure crucial events are not forgotten due to the march of time. In today’s climate of manufactured truths and glib whataboutism, it is hard to believe that any historical memory has the power to change minds or poke holes in some demagogue’s balloon of hot air. But in the Soviet Union portrayed in Andrei Konchalovsky’s icy yet searing historical drama Dear Comrades!, the commissars busy erasing the record of a massacre make the argument that history does matter…

You can see it at Film Forum’s Virtual Cinema.

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: The Movies of 2020

My essay on the cinematic year that was, “2020 Didn’t Kill Cinema But it Didn’t Help”, was published at Eyes Wide Open:

This year will be remembered for many things. Sweat pants. Zoom humor. The post-Election Day realization that a solid minority of Americans were in a cult. Warner Bros. selling out its filmmakers (sorry, “content creators”) for some short-term streaming buzz. What people may not remember — and for good reason — is that the top box office performer of 2020 was released just seventeen days into the new year. And it was Bad Boys for Life

Screening Room: ‘Herself’

In the new movie from Phyllida Lloyd (The Iron Lady), a mother of two escapes an abusive relationship and tries to make a new life for her and her daughters by building a new home from scratch.

Herself opens soon on Amazon. My review is at Slant:

Herself’s home-building subplot is likely what you expect: the cheery story of disparate people pulling together in hard times as part of an ad-hoc family while uptempo pop music plays on the soundtrack. The film doesn’t lack for well-calibrated acting, but the performances and the story’s more gripping elements about the ways abuse is abetted by institutions aren’t done any favors by the somewhat hammy and more than a little unwieldy symbolism of the simple little backyard home being slowly put together…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Wonder Woman 1984’

The sequel Wonder Woman 1984 opens in some theaters and on HBO on Christmas. My review is at Slant:

Calling Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman 1984 a perfectly acceptable comic-book adventure might sound more negative than intended. But in a time when the genre is more typically given to the kind of world-building that seems primarily committed to spinning off corporate cinematic widgets (Avengers: Endgame, extended Snyder cuts, and the upcoming onslaught of new-universe-spawning Marvel flicks), a standalone story more engaged with its characters than series continuity is almost refreshing…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Father’

Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his play The Father is one of the year’s best-acted movies, thanks to Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins.

The Father is opening soon wherever movies play these days. Go find it. My review is at Slant:

A quietly terrifying drama about dementia, The Father starts off inauspiciously as a simple chamber piece in which a daughter spars in semi-comic exasperation with her retired father over his inability to live on his own anymore. Set in a tony London flat, the drama initially appears to take place inside the kind of tastefully cinematic milieu where nothing earth-shattering ever seems to happen. But before long, Zeller upends expectations by revealing the true depths of the father’s problems through dramatic perspective shifts that undermine any sense of cozy remove…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Midnight Sky’

George Clooney’s adaptation of the Lily Brooks-Dalton novel Good Morning, Midnight is a beautiful but bleak look at the end of the world.

The Midnight Sky lands on Netflix December 23. My review is at The Playlist:

Knowing that what we imagine is more terrifying than what we see, “The Midnight Sky” plays the end of the world pretty close to the vest, with nary a devastated cityscape to be seen. It is a canny move for a movie that pivots around an apocalyptic disaster, and one that pays off at times by refocusing the story from the spectacle of loss to its rending emotional reality. But while less-is-more tends to be a smart play when trying for awards season credibility, there are times when George Clooney’s latest directorial effort trips up on its own earnestness…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Mayor’

In David Osit’s new documentary Mayor, the titular official in the Palestinian city of Ramallah must find a way to navigate the challenges of running a city under occupation.

Mayor is playing now in virtual cinemas. My review is at The Playlist:

As a purposeful push-back against the cliches of Israel-Palestinian conflict coverage, “Mayor” succeeds to a degree. Osit intentionally loads the film with serene montages of city life that have nothing to do with the occupation, war, or terrorism. Instead, we see Parisian-style cafes, streets strung with holiday lights, a strobe-lit nightclub, a music-synchronized water fountain that looks like a mini-Bellagio, a knockoff coffee shop called Stars and Bucks, a meeting about municipal branding, and what appears to be a generally prosperous and quiet middle-class city…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Mank’

In David Fincher’s Mank, Gary Oldman rips up the screen as Citizen Kane screenwriter and generally drunken roustabout Herman Mankiewicz. It’s a grand piece of filmmaking, all things told.

Mank is playing now on Netflix. My review is at PopMatters:

Mank, a rattling conveyance stuffed with gags, asides, and anecdotes, is less concerned with how viewers feel about Citizen Kane than they do about its hero, who cannot decide whether he loves writing, spinning tales, gambling, or drinking more, and decides to try them all…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Prom’

Now that the only way to see Broadway is on TV, it’s a good thing that Netflix is getting in on the theater game. Next week sees the release of the star-heavy adaptation of the 2018 musical The Prom.

My review is at PopMatters:

Turning a high school dance into a crucible for a showdown about acceptance and homophobia via some high-kicking dance numbers and tongue-in-cheek humor feels like a reimagining of Ryan Murphy’s Glee. Now that Murphy has adapted the musical for Netflix, the process has come full circle, though not always in a good way…

Here’s the trailer:

Screning Room: ‘Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan’

Julien Temple’s Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan catches the Pogues’ frontman late in life, looking back over decades of carousing and poetizing from the stage. It opens next week.

My review is at Slant:

MacGowan acknowledges the problematic aspects of being the drunken Irishmen who hated British stereotypes of drunken Irishmen. “You want Paddy?” he asks rhetorically. “I’ll give you fucking Paddy.” But beyond the aggression that came from being a hyper-imaginative kid who hated the discrimination he felt being raised in 1960s England, he says that his creative drive was ultimately to create a different kind of legend. He wanted to do nothing less than save Irish culture…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Wojnarowicz’

In Chris Kim’s new documentary on David Wojnarowicz, he paints a vivid portrait of the artist in the tumult of the 1970s-80s New York art scene, where he was almost less making art than fighting for survival. My review of Wojnarowicz is at The Playlist:

Like many artists who built the scaffolding of the underground New York art world in the 1970s, Wojnarowicz was enamored of outlaw writers like Genet, Rimbaud, and Burroughs. (One of his earliest series involved self-portraits at various places in New York wearing a mask made from a portrait of Rimbaud.) When he started producing his own work—photography, painting, and writing—it drew on those writers’ outsider sensibility, mixing anger and dislocation with unapologetically aggressive sexuality. It was hardly surprising that Wojnarowicz would later become the target of homophobic conservative crusaders; Rimbaud never had to defend receiving NEA funding…

Screening Room: ‘Hillbilly Elegy’

Ron Howard’s adaptation of J.D. Vance’s bestselling memoir of dysfunction (societal and familial) is pretty much what you would expect. Hillbilly Elegy is playing now in limited release and hitting Netflix on November 24. Who knows? Glenn Close might get an Oscar.

My review is at Slant:

After the election of 2016, many shellshocked Americans sought out books to help rationalize Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton. One of those books was J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir about the culture of his Kentucky Appalachian family, many of whom moved to Ohio but never quite adjusted to life there. Vance used his book to highlight what he saw as his people’s failure to raise themselves out of poverty, seeming to blame them for self-destructive cycles of addiction, violence, and dependency. While Ron Howard’s adaptation showcases those same societal ills, it takes a more personal and less sociological approach. By zeroing in so closely on Vance’s family melodrama at the expense of the broader forces at play, the film produces a generic narrative…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Life Ahead’

In this Italian-set adaptation of Romain Gary’s novel The Life Ahead, a Holocaust survivor (Sophia Loren) and a 12-year-old Senegalese orphan (Ibrahima Gueye) find common cause despite a rough first meeting when he steals her pursue.

The Life Ahead will be available on Netflix this Friday. My review is at Slant:

The Life Ahead transfers the story from Paris to the southern Italian seaside town of Bari, whose palm trees and buttery sunshine contrast with the hardscrabble realities of life for the characters. The star of the piece is ostensibly Sophia Loren, who brings a combative hauteur to the role of Madame Rosa, an Italian-Jewish survivor of Auschwitz and former streetwalker who runs a kind of ad-hoc nursery for the children of her colleagues out of her apartment. While presenting herself as diamond-hard, Rosa is beginning to chip a little around the edges, and more in need of a friend than she would admit…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Witches’

Back in 1990, Nicolas Roeg directed a gruesome, jauntily black-humored adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches. It had its flaws but … Anjelica Huston.

Robert Zemeckis’ new take for HBO premieres next week. And, well, Anne Hathaway… My review is at Slant:

For anybody arguing that the grand potential for boundary-breaking entertainment in 2020’s wide-open world of content-hungry streaming services has produced more mediocrity than anything else, Robert Zemeckis’s take on Roald Dahl’s dementedly fun short novel The Witches could serve as a key piece of evidence. While there are some elements to admire in this adaptation, particularly its being cast with mostly black performers, much of it falls into the category of Competent But Unnecessary Remake. In other words, another piece of family-friendly-ish content to fill the yawning hours of pandemic confinement…

Here’s the trailer: