TV Room: ‘Night Stalker’

My review of the new Netflix true-crime series Night Stalker ran at Slant:

Netflix’s Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, a four-part series about Richard Ramirez, the sadistic serial rapist and murderer who terrorized the citizens of Los Angeles and San Francisco in the mid-1980s, is dramatically satisfying but structurally rote. Director Tiller Russell glosses the story over with more cinematic panache than you might see on 48 Hours, all straight from the Southland-noir template, including eerie tracking shots of a full moon behind dark palm trees and Michael Mann-ish overhead views of nighttime highways. But despite a story filled with big-hearted good guys, a depraved villain, and an edge-of-your-seat finale, the series feels overly pat and formulaic…

Here’s the trailer:

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:

TV Room: ‘City So Real’

The latest documentary project from the great Steve James (Hoop Dreams) is a five-part miniseries that tracks the tumult of a Chicago mayoral campaign.

City So Real is streaming now on Hulu. My review is at The Playlist:

It’s a noble, heartfelt, and eye-opening look at the American city, matching the scope of Frederick Wiseman’s recent scoping of a similarly fractious Boston in “City Hall,” but giving it more of a warmly human pulse…

Here’s the trailer:

TV Room: ‘Lovecraft Country’

HBO’s latest entry into politically relevant genre adventure is Lovecraft Country, an ambitious and messy 10-part series that bites off far more than it can chew but deserves some applause for trying.

Lovecraft Country starts this Friday. My review is at PopMatters:

Based on Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel, it keeps one foot planted firmly in the real (Black characters trying to make their way in segregated 1950s Chicago) and another dipping into various pools of the unreal (sorcerers, Lovecraftian beasts, haunted houses). The combination makes sense more than it should, at least at first. That’s largely because while head writer Misha Green (Underground) is exquisitely aware of the ways race factors into nearly every aspect of its characters’ lives, she doesn’t allow that to define them entirely…

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: ‘Roma’

Alfonso Cuaron’s latest movie, Roma, is playing now in limited release and on Netflix. If at all possible, see it on the big screen.

My review is at PopMatters:

You could argue that Alfonso Cuarón’s gorgeously imagined and intimate epic Roma invokes politics when convenient for dramatic impact but ignores their context in order to move forward with the family melodrama at its core. Why, for instance, does nobody talk about why the students are protesting in the massive street demonstration that some of the characters are shocked to be caught up in?…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The American Meme’

Paris Hilton and Josh Ostrovsky (aka @thefatjewish) in ‘The American Meme’ (© Bert Marcus Productions)

The new documentary The American Meme isn’t really about memes, it’s about people who either make their living on social media or just spend far too much time there (Paris Hilton, DJ Khaled, etc.). It’s available on Netflix this Friday.

My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

[Marcus] mixes big sprays of social media content, from jabbing comedy videos to jealousy-inducing lifestyle-porn stills, with influencer interviews. The results cover the gamut from self-congratulatory spin (the social media-drenched DJ Khaled, who seems hell-bent on turning his existence into a bling-encrusted Truman Show) to self-immolating destructive toxicity (onetime photographer turned misogynistic party-dude troll Kirill Bichutsky, aka @slutwhisperer). It’s a glitzed-up ugly slew of fetishized consumerism and champagne-splashed Girls Gone Wildness, all captured in the hope that somebody out there will drop their thumb over the Like button before wandering deeper into the wilds of the Internet…

Here’s the trailer: