Screening Room: ‘Hold Your Fire’

Prior to 1973, there was not a lot of nuance in how the police handled hostage situations. At some point they would lose patience and storm in. As Attica and other tragedies showed, hostages frequently did not survive. The new documentary Hold Your Fire describes a little-remembered siege in Brooklyn from 1973 where the art of hostage negotiation might have been invented.

Hold Your Fire opens in limited release this Friday. My review is at Slant:

With little preamble, Hold Your Fire drops us into the heat of the robbery, then flicks through the resulting drama. Talking-head interviews with Schlossberg, police officers, and some of the robbers and their hostages are interspersed with archival images and video footage captured by news outlets. The footage—of the rattling volleys of gunfire, the rumbling arrival of a police armored personnel carrier, and crowds pressing against barricades and cheering for the robbers—lends a wartime aesthetic of sorts to an urban crime narrative. Through it all, Jonathan Sanford’s squealing jazz-inflected score underlines the chaos of the situation…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Northman’

The Northman opens next Friday. It has Vikings, Bjork, and a story sort of derived from Hamlet. My review is at PopMatters:

A revenge thriller with an elevated horror heart and an anthropologist’s eye for detail and ritual, The Northman is a witchy and weird piece of work. But despite the layered imagination that went into recreating this ancient world, it is still the most conventional work yet from Eggers, director of old-time Americana oddities The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019). The Northman features operatic scope and magical imagery that will be burned into your retinas for quite some time…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Donbass’

My review of the new Ukraine-set black comedy Donbass, which opens next week, is at The Playlist:

Winner of the 2018 Un Certain Regard award for Best Director at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival but only getting released in the United States now, “Donbass” makes for eerie viewing coming just weeks after the Russo-Ukrainian war entered a new phase following the Russian invasion of late February 2022. Set at some unspecified time after Russian-backed separatists carved off the Donbass region of southeast Ukraine in early 2014, the film provides a glimpse of what life is like in (as the on-screen titles term it) “Occupied Territory in Eastern Ukraine.” From what we see here, day-to-day life appears to be some combination of Cossack ”Mad Max” cosplay, throwback Soviet-era corruption, smashmouth nationalism, and gangster’s paradise…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Windfall’

The new semi-comedic and would-be Hitchcockian thriller keeps its premise limited, which is welcome in a time of over-busy movies, but still misses the mark.

Windfall is playing now on Netflix. My review is at Slant:

As cinematic criminals go, the one who starts the action rolling in Charlie McDowell’s tragicomic hostage drama Windfall takes an unusually lackadaisical approach to his work. Credited as Nobody (Jason Segel), he’s first spotted wandering around a luxurious, orange grove-shaded villa that clearly doesn’t belong to him. He soaks in the dusky California sun and imagines what it would be like to own the place. Suddenly, almost as though coming out of a dream, he snaps into action, taking what little cash is in the house and heading for the door. Then the owners show up. A few minutes later, Nobody has CEO (Jesse Plemons) and Wife (Lily Collins) at gunpoint. None of the three seem to know what to do next…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Outfit’

In Graham Moore’s new Hitchcockian thriller The Outfit, a shy-seeming tailor is wrapped up in a tense game of wits with a passel of paranoid gangsters.

The Outfit opens in limited release this Friday. My review is at Slant:

On the surface, the film’s story couldn’t be more different than that of Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, for which Moore won an Oscar for his script, though both films share a love of nattily attired Englishmen puzzling out problems in life-or-death situations. The Englishman in this case is the suit store’s owner, Savile Row-trained tailor Leonard (Mark Rylance). He makes his living not just by crafting bespoke suits but looking the other way when members of the Boyle crime family show up to use the message drop box in the backroom. Leonard drinks his tea, cuts his cloth, and avoids thinking about the elephant in the room…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Master’

Regina Hall stars in Master, a new horror film from Mariama Diallo that adds topical layers to its frights and scares.

Master will be released this Friday on Amazon Prime. My review is at PopMatters:

Diallos’ film, which bolts together race-conscious academic satire and haunted-house narrative, is set at the fictional Ancaster College. A Northeast school “nearly as old as the country”, it is a picture-perfect expanse of brick and ivy complete with hallowed traditions, an Ivy League-adjacent reputation, vanishingly few students or faculty of color, and centuries of ugly undercurrents that never seem to go away. New student Jasmine (Zoe Renee) has barely arrived on campus when she discovers that her dorm room is the one the other students whisper about: Decades earlier, the school’s first black student had killed herself there…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘America, We Have a Batman Problem’

How many Batman movies is too many? It seems like we are finding out.

My article, ‘America, We Have a Batman Problem’ is at Eyes Wide Open:

Batman’s appeal to artists and audiences is understandable. His immense wealth, traumatized childhood, and schizophrenic relationship with the villains he hunts provides a buffet of dramatic possibilities. Batman’s need (trauma) and ability (wealth) to act is as bottomless as his inability to avoid questioning his actions. Still, isn’t it time to give the man a rest?

Screening Room: ‘After Yang’

In After Yang, the new film from Kogonada (Columbus), a couple living in the near future has to confront a host of unexpected issues ranging from grief to questioning what it means to be human when their android Yang, purchased as a companion for their daughter, malfunctions.

My review of After Yang is at PopMatters:

Kogonada’s latest is a stately tea ceremony of a film that imagines an artfully designed future many would love to inhabit and others would find enervating. After Yang uses a dreamy and empathetic strain of science fiction to explore the idea that its extremely human-seeming android has a greater appreciation for the life it has been given than its owners and creators do of their own. This is not an especially original insight but it is at least thoughtfully and beautifully rendered…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: Sundance Film Festival, 2022 Edition

Once again, the Sundance Film Festival (still showing movies virtually) is spreading cheer in an otherwise gloomy month by giving us a glimpse of what is coming our way in the coming year, cinematically. I covered a few of the movies at this year’s festival for Slant here:

  • When You Finish Saving the World (pictured): Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut is a satire with Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard as monumentally clueless narcissists.
  • We Need to Talk About Cosby: W. Kamau Bell’s four-part docuseries digs into the comedic genius and criminal villainy of Bill Cosby and the toxic tangling of the two.
  • Sharp Stick: The latest comedy from Lena Dunham is about a young woman determined to lose her virginity by starting an affair with her older, married employer.
  • Call Jane: Phyllis Nagy’s drama stars Elizabeth Banks as a late-Sixties Chicago housewife who inadvertently becomes part of an underground abortion operation run by activist Sigourney Weaver.
  • 892: A true-life hostage drama starring John Boyega as an Iraq War veteran who threatens to set off a bomb in a bank if his demands against the VA are not met.

Screening Room: ‘Italian Studies’

In the latest movie from the director Adam Leon (Gimme the Loot), a writer catches amnesia and goes looking for clues through a cacophonous pre-COVID New York.

Italian Studies opens this week. My review is at Slant:

As depicted in writer-director Adam Leon’s Italian Studies, a successful author’s (Vanessa Kirby) haphazard journey through Manhattan after she suddenly loses her memory has little of the urgency often seen in mysteries about recovering one’s identity. What Leon is presenting here is more of a free-associative, impressionistic portrait of a pre-pandemic city awash in noise, crowds, and serendipitous encounters. To the extent that this dreamy and at times tiresome film succeeds at all, it’s due to the crackling energy of the people who Kirby’s Alina Reynolds falls in with over the course of her wanderings…

The trailer is here:

Screening Room: ‘Dean Martin: King of Cool’

If there is a celebrity who defines just how different postwar American culture was from today, it might be Dean Martin. Frequently misremembered as a mere lounge singer who acted in a few movies, Martin defined a certain kind of nightclub cool back when that didn’t mean bottle service.

Tom Donohue’s Dean Martin: King of Cool premiered last week at DOC NYC and is showing now on Turner Classic Movies. My review is at The Playlist:

Donohue’s film is an amiable piece of work about a largely unknowable cipher that traces the biographical outlines of Martin’s life, career, and style in broadly vibrant strokes. It gets closer to the target the deeper it digs underneath that smooth and unflappable entertainer’s carapace. Reaching for the characteristic that defined Martin’s coolness, some interviewees reference the Italian word infischiarsene, which can roughly translate to “not giving a damn”…

Screening Room: ‘The First Wave’

A new documentary from the director of the great Cartel Land depicts the first four months of the pandemic and what it did to one hospital in Queen.

The First Wave is playing as the closing night film for this year’s DOC NYC film festival. My review is at Slant:

Matthew Heineman’s The First Wave is a turbulent and grueling documentary about a time of panic and pathos, and it comes to us about a year and a half after the events that it depicts. To cover the first onslaught of Covid-19 in New York City from March to June 2020, Heineman embedded his crew at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens. The footage they captured reveals not just the haggling over personal protective equipment or availability of beds that dominated national news coverage, but the close-up immediacy of nurses and doctors fighting to save patients from a disease that they didn’t fully understand…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Finch’

In Finch, a somewhat inexplicable science fiction movie about Tom Hanks, a robot, and a dog, the end of the world is just not that big a deal, really.

Finch premieres on Apple TV+ this Friday. The kids might like it. My review is at Slant:

Finch (Tom Hanks) is a man possessed of a tinkerer’s buzzing curiosity, an engineer’s problem-solving dedication, and a jaunty way of handling the fact that he might be the only human left on Earth. It makes a kind of sense, in that he’s holding despair at bay while pursuing a task with single-minded devotion. Once that task is made clear, though, you may start to wonder whether the whole film would have been more enjoyable if Finch had simply gone raving mad rather than hang on to his distinctly Hanksian smiling-through-the-grit determination…

Here’s the trailer: