Screening Room: ‘In the Heights’

Yes, movie theaters are open again. To put it very simply, we could do (and have done) than have something like In the Heights to kick off the summer movie season.

My article is at Eyes Wide Open:

This is not the movie that officially re-opened movie theaters. That honor went to John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, Part II. A perfectly palatable and nonessential sequel which failed not only the opportunity to add anything new to the original’s chilling conceit but also the naming test (why not A Quieter Place?), it was a jolting scarefest that served as a surprisingly satisfying communal theater palate-cleanser after the long months of streaming hibernation. Hitting theaters this weekend, In the Heights remains what it was originally meant to be back in 2020: A celebratory early summer blast of song and dance before the long hot months of superheroes and sequels…

Screening Room: ‘The Dry’

My review of the perfectly okay new Eric Bana mystery The Dry is at Slant:

It would be difficult to find a worse candidate for solving the murder-suicide that lies at the heart of Robert Connolly’s The Dry than its hero, federal police officer Aaron Falk (Eric Bana). Not only is he prejudiced about the case because he was once close friends with Luke (Martin Dingle Wall), the initial suspect, but almost everyone in the small town where the killings took place despises Aaron for his connection to a 20-year-old scandal. In reality, this would create a near-impossible barrier for any investigator to overcome. But this is the kind of mystery where a standup cop willing to doggedly bang his head against enough walls can always knock the truth loose, even if he might be a murderer himself…

The trailer is here:

Screening Room: ‘Final Account’

Shot in 2008 in an attempt to capture the voices of the last living Germans who grew up under the Nazis, Final Account is in part a documentary about what happens you find out that, yes, normal-looking senior citizens who took part in a shattering atrocity are perfectly willing to avoid any culpability. It’s harrowing but worth every minute.

My review of Final Account is at Slant:

Holland begins Final Account by intercutting his interviews with color footage of giddy children at play and studying anti-Semitic books. While it can be squirm-inducing to watch ex-Nazis wax rhapsodically about the fun times they had at eugenics-indoctrination classes, it’s also clear that many believe they were at first just going along with it as a way of getting out of the house. In scenes like this, Final Account is particularly effective at showing how the all-encompassing nature of Nazism in 1930s Germany created a propaganda-covered pipeline that funneled these children from fun outings right into the killing machine…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Stowaway’

In Stowaway, launching tomorrow on Netflix, the crew of a spaceship heading to Mars discovers an unexpected fourth crewmember on board, which is a problem since they only have enough oxygen for three.

My review is at Slant:

This would seem to have potential for white-knuckle tension and even heady discussions about whose life has more value, as there’s not enough oxygen for everyone on the Mars-bound vessel to reach their destination alive. But the film hits its dramatic and philosophical ceiling long before the tiresome conclusion has drained the scenario of any interest…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Funny Face’

The newest film from Tim Sutton (Memphis, Dark Night) is both ode to pre-gentrification New York and a kind of anti-Joker.

My review is at Slant:


Funny Face takes the cliché of the isolated urban male antihero and turns it on its head. Featuring characters who float through a city seemingly indifferent, if not openly hostile, to their existence, the film is rife with tropes of modern alienation and marked by an undertone of potential violence. But unlike more self-indulgent examples of this style—from Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down to Todd Phillips’s JokerFunny Face never seems to be setting up strawmen to provide license so that the audience can vicariously thrill to the antihero’s cathartic eruption of rage…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Cherry’

Adapted from Nico Walker’s semi-autobiographical novel, Anthony and Joe Russo’s Cherry stars Tom Holland as a slacker who goes to war and turns to addiction and then bank robbery once back on the home front.

Cherry is playing now on Apple+. My review is at Slant:

“I’m 23 years old,” Cherry says in the narration stringing together the film’s earlier, more hyperactive stretches, “and I still don’t understand what it is that people do.” The center, if he ever had one, is just not holding…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Passing’

One of the more surprisingly subtle movies at Sundance Film Festival this year was Rebecca Hall’s adaptation of Passing, the lauded Harlem Renaissance novel by Nella Larsen.

Passing is currently seeking distribution and should open in theaters or stream later this year. My review is at Slant:

Irene (Tessa Thompson) is a black Harlem homemaker who gets more than she bargained for when she tries to pass for white. Walking into a grand hotel that wouldn’t serve her if any of the staff identified her as black, she sits down for a civilized tea only to catch the eye of Clare (Ruth Negga), a childhood friend who’s been passing for many years, married to a white husband who doesn’t realize she’s black. They share confidences but keep their guard up, like rival spies in enemy territory feeling the other out. When the two run into Clare’s husband, John (Alexander Skarsgård), he makes his opinions clear with a racial epithet, leading to a charged moment in which it seems that Irene might let Clare’s secret slip, just to spite him…

Screening Room: ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’

One of the most gripping films to premiere at Sundance so far this year is Judas and the Black Messiah, which details the extreme lengths the FBI and Chicago police went to in order to take down Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.

Judas will be in limited theatrical release and on HBO Max starting February 12. My review is at Slant:

Fierce but mournful, Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah serves as testament to a brief and revolutionary flare that was snuffed out before it could take hold. Unfolding during the late 1960s, when the Black Panther Party’s Chicago chapter was besieged by law enforcement, the film is filled with the high drama one expects from tales of heroes cut down before their prime. But because the drama is split between the story of that hero and that of his betrayer, King’s film complicates the expected narrative of martyrdom…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘A Glitch in the Matrix’

The new documentary by Rodney Ascher (Room 237) takes a simple idea and runs with it: What if The Matrix was real and we were all living in a computer simulation?

My review of the Sundance premiere of A Glitch in the Matrix ran at The Playlist:

Viewers looking for a hair-splitting Talmudic dissection of “The Matrix” akin to Ascher’s weird and weirdly great “Room 237”—which studied the … interesting individuals who found symbolic importance in every nuance of Stanley Kubrick’s version of “The Shining”—will be disappointed. Keanu Reeves’ 1999 karate-hacker flick remains, of course, as timeless as ever, and certainly receives a close examination here. But Ascher is looking more at the broader phenomenon of people who have literally taken the movie’s proposition that reality is nothing more than a computer simulation. However, they are not unified around thinking that evil A.I. overlords have enslaved humanity…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The World to Come’

In Mona Fastvold’s The World to Come, two women fall in love on a farm in mid-19th century upstate New York, with their husbands none the wiser.

My review is at Slant:

As the two chat over tea and chores, Tallie’s nearly unblinking attentiveness helps Abigail to overcome her shyness. “I find that everything I wish to tell her loses its eloquence in her presence,” she writes in her diary. As the two find more points at which their spirits are wanting to merge, the story becomes not just a romance but a liberation narrative in which they realize just how little they have been raised to expect out of life…

Here’s the trailer:

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