Screening Room: ‘Triple 9’

In the latest star-packed teeth-gritter from John Hillcoat (LawlessThe Road), a gang of crooks and bad cops plot a heist that involves murdering a copy. Things go badly.

Triple 9 opens today. My review is at PopMatters:

Gruesomely violent and often idiotic, Triple 9 demonstrates the latest stage of decline for once promising director John Hillcoat. His previous films display a potent gothic sensibility: The Proposition and The Road, both explore the dark limits of human behavior, but even in showing extreme violence, they never acknowledge the complexities of loss. The focus of 2012’s Lawless is less clear, as a rote bootleggers’ story is enlivened only by the contrast between Guy Pearce’s flamboyant campiness and Tom Hardy’s rock-like stoicism.

With Triple 9, it’s hard to spy even a glimmer of Hillcoat’s earlier inclination. Just about any director could have shot this film…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Secret in Their Eyes’

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman in 'Secret in Their Eyes' (STX Entertainment)
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman in ‘Secret in Their Eyes’ (STX Entertainment)

Based on the Oscar-winning 2009 Argentinian film of the same name, Billy Ray’s Secret in Their Eyes follows what happens when a police woman’s daughter is murdered and neither she nor her fellow cops can quite let go of it.

Secret in Their Eyes opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

After making Shattered Glass, one of the modern era’s greatest journalism films, one would have hoped that writer-director Billy Ray would have absorbed the cardinal rule: Don’t bury the lead. Yet that is exactly what he keeps doing all throughout Secret in Their Eyes, his strained and surprisingly star-heavy remake of Juan JoséCampanella’s morally complicated potboiler that was also the 2010 Foreign-Language Oscar winner. Initially a procedural about a retired FBI agent who can’t let go of a cold case, Ray’s version sidles into a buried romance and a commentary on post-9/11 security-state excesses without ever quite getting a bead on any of the many elements it’s juggling…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Martian’

Matt Damon works on not dying in 'The Martian' (20th Century Fox)
Matt Damon works on not dying in ‘The Martian’ (20th Century Fox)

Astronauts go to Mars and a storm makes them bug out early, thinking they’ve left one of their own behind dead. Only that astronaut, a botanist played by Matt Damon with Chuck Yeager panache, isn’t dead and he’s got to figure out how to stay alive on an alien planet for years while Mission Control tries to put together a rescue plan. The Martian, based on Andy Weir’s bestseller, is the first Ridley Scott film in years that registers a pulse and might be the year’s first film to grab attention from both mainstream audiences and Oscar voters.

A can-do paean to engineering and astronaut awesomeness, The Martian is opening everywhere this week. My review is at PopMatters.

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ’12 Years a Slave’

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender in '12 Years a Slave'
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender in ’12 Years a Slave’

12yearsaslave-poster1In 1853, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, was freed from the Louisiana plantation where he had been sent twelve years earlier after being kidnapped and sold into slavery. Steve McQueen’s forceful adaptation of Northup’s autobiography is as beautifully detailed and riven with pain as the book.

My review is at Film Racket; here’s part:

There are horrors aplenty in Steve McQueen’s blistering, cold-eyed epic of slavery. But amidst the cringe-inducing scenes of torture, McQueen pinpoints acts of cruelty so casual they almost hurt more. The plantation owner’s wife who tells her husband’s newest purchase, a woman just separated from her children, not to worry, “They will soon be forgotten.” Another wife, jealous of her husband’s attraction to a slave woman, raking her fingernails across the woman’s face with no more thought than she’d give to swatting an animal. In a world where people can be treated as property, humanity disappears almost as quickly from the owners as from the owned. The difference is, the owned are trying to hang on to theirs…

Here is the trailer: