Screening Room: ‘See How They Run’

Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan head up the superb cast of the new mystery caper See How They Run, which opens next week.

My review is at Slant:

Set in London in 1953, the film busily corkscrews a whodunnit and a narrative about mismatched cops into the behind-the-scenes machinations around a planned movie adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, then only a few months into its 70-or-so-year run. After the adaptation’s potential director, the blacklisted and highly opinionated drunk Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody), is found murdered and deposited on the theater stage, the police—pert and eager Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan), depressed and cynical Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell)—set about determining which of the cast or crew did the deed…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Story of Film: A New Generation’

A follow-up to his 15-part series on the history of cinema, Mark Cousins’s The Story of Film: A New Generation covers how the movies look in the 21st century (Mad Max: Fury Road to Pedro Costa essay documentaries).

It opens this Friday and is a glorious good time. My review is at Slant:

It’s hard to think of another art form, except maybe the theater, that spends as much time and effort celebrating itself as film. From the That’s Entertainment! anthology to the AFI’s “100” listicle TV specials to the creepy “We Make Movies Better” ad campaign for AMC Theaters featuring Nicole Kidman, the filmmaking industry has long seemed to suffer from an insecurity requiring constant demands from the audience to please, please like it. Fortunately, Mark Cousins’s confidently sprawling new documentary, The Story of Film: A New Generation, feels no need to bang viewers over the head with the insistence that cinema is special, damnit…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Breaking’

My review of the movie Breaking originally ran earlier in the year after its Sundance premiere when it was still titled 892. It’s getting a limited release now and is worth seeking out, particularly for featuring one of the final performances from the late great Michael K. Williams.

You can read the review at Slant:

Abi Damaris Corbin’s terse and powerful Breaking falls snugly into the genre of film centered around hostage negotiations, but it extends past familiarity with the aim of satisfying more than our thirst for thrills. Based closely on a real incident from 2017, the film tells the story of Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega), a Marine veteran suffering from PTSD who walked into a Wells Fargo bank in an Atlanta suburb and said he would detonate a bomb unless his demand was met. That demand would seem almost comically small in a fictional version of this story: $892 in disability payments that the Department of Veterans Affairs withheld from Easley, which he needed in order to pay off student debt. This is a man looking not to get rich or take revenge, but to get a little shred of his dignity back…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Nightclubbing: The Birth of Punk Rock in NYC’

The monthly Sound Unseen film series is showing a cool new documentary this week at Trylon Cinema. Danny Garcia’s Nightclubbing: The Birth of Punk Rock in NYC throws down the gauntlet by arguing that punk really got its start at Max’s Kansas City and not CBGB. For a certain kind of fan, these are fighting words.

My review is at PopMatters:

Garcia’s film is predicated on the belief that Max’s Kansas City was every bit as important to the evolution of art and music as Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon or the Algonquin Round Table. While the argument gets stretched a bit thin from time to time, Nightclubbing has a preponderance of evidence on its side. Among the bands nurtured with lengthy stays at Max’s were the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, the Heartbreakers, the Stooges, and Alice Cooper. It is hard to imagine a more fertile vortex of glam, garage, avant-garde and proto-punk happening in just the right city at just the right time and place…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Nope’

Jordan Peele’s Nope opens this week. It’s like Get Out and Us … only not.

My review is at Slant:

In writer-director Jordan Peele’s chilling Nope, a struggling, Black-operated ranch that supplies horses for Hollywood productions faces an additional threat in the form of an extraterrestrial being that likes to suck animals and people up into the clouds. The Haywood ranch is a family-run operation, with OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) doing most of the work with a glum diligence while his upbeat sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer), handles the people-interfacing duties. Though the siblings are hardly on the best of terms, when it comes time to face down the alien presence, they unsurprisingly rediscover a familial bond…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Gray Man’

Netflix’s next big bet to produce $200 million blockbusters to stream on the small screen is the Russo brothers’ The Gray Man, an assassin-versus-assassin thriller with Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling that shows a sharp drop-off in quality and imagination from the Russos’ MCU movies.

The Gray Man streams on Netflix tomorrow. My review is at Slant:

If all you knew about the C.I.A. was what you saw in Anthony and Joe Russo’s The Gray Man, you would think it was solely devoted to assassination. The entire plot of the film revolves around the psychopathic Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) trying to take out his former colleague, Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling), a.k.a Sierra Six, after the latter uncovers unsavory secrets about the agency, which wants to eliminate every trace of Sierra, a poorly considered program that turns convicted murderers into government-sanctioned killers. If this sounds like the plot of every Jason Bourne film, that’s because it basically is…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Forgiven’

The latest arch provocation from John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Calvary), an adaptation of Lawrence Osborne’s novel The Forgiven, opens in limited release tomorrow. My review is at PopMatters:

David (Ralph Fiennes) and Jo (Jessica Chastain), are a nightmarish pair who can barely see past their own privilege to stop complaining. “Very picturesque, I suppose, in a banal sort of way,” David notes while looking at a vast desert vista from atop a horse. He then lists the gay Westerners who famously came to Morocco since Edwardian times (Gide, Ginsberg, Burroughs), “primarily to bugger little Arab boys.” The flippancy of the remark, coming just the morning after his drunk driving killed an Arab boy, is hard to stomach but is placed there not just for discomfort. Swaddled in and bored by comfort, the Europeans seem to appreciate nothing. Until one of them has something to lose…

Here’s the trailer:

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: