Screening Room: ‘Molly’s Game’

West Wing and The Social Network writer Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut is a smart and fast-paced fact-based drama about an ex-Olympic skier who ends up running high-stakes poker games only to get taken down by the FBI.

Molly’s Game stars the incomparable pair of Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba (above) and opens on Christmas Day. My review is at PopMatters:

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly’s Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it’s almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it’s based on a true story…

New in Theaters: ‘A Most Violent Year’

Oscar Isaacs and Jessica Chastain plot in 'A Most Violent Year' (A24)
Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain plot in ‘A Most Violent Year’ (A24)

amostviolentyear-poster1Sneaking into theaters after the great Christmas rush is J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year. A low-key drama about warring heating-oil firms set in 1981 New York, when murders and violent crime had the city on the verge of collapse, the film and its characters are as controlled and tightly-wound as its setting is chaotic.

A Most Violent Year is playing now in limited release, with some hopes for Oscar nominations to give it more play around the country. My review is at PopMatters:

J.C. Chandor’s return to land-based storytelling shares some of the predilections of last year’s Robert Redford vehicle All Is Lost. Both that film and A Most Violent Year are deliberately paced, refusing to rush their stories for the purposes of juicing the drama. This is not a bad tendency. It shows Chandor to be an unusually disciplined filmmaker in a landscape increasingly populated by the work of the eager-to-please. But not all subject matter supports the slow-and-steady approach, and that’s the case with A Most Violent Year

You can see the trailer here:

New on DVD: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

1134604 - Zero Dark Thirty

zerodarkthirtydvdBetween the various Navy SEAL books and films flooding the market, Mark Bowden’s riveting The Finish, and the all the video games crafted around Special Ops strike teams, you’d think commando fatigue would be setting in. That wasn’t the case with Zero Dark Thirty, which comes out on DVD and Blu-ray today.

My full review is at Film Journal International:

Zero Dark Thirty (military jargon for a half-hour after midnight) is an epic take on the Central Intelligence Agency’s hunt for the 9/11 mastermind. Working on a dusty Afghanistan forward operating base, Maya (Jessica Chastain) then shifts to analyzing the intelligence from the American embassy in Islamabad… As the casualties mount and the years tick by, the shell-shocked Maya’s worldview narrows down to a millimeter-wide slit that recognizes only her quarry. The film recounts the agonizingly particular step-by-step analysis of baffling and contradictory information. It just as convincingly relays the sickening sense of urgency in the hunt, a fear that after all the bombings and rhetoric and fear and war, their quarry may simply get away. “We are failing… Bring me people to kill,” seethes Maya’s CIA superior…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

zero-dark-thirty1Between the various Navy SEAL books and films flooding the market, Mark Bowden’s riveting The Finish, and the all the video games crafted around Special Ops strike teams, you’d think commando fatigue would be setting in. Hopefully that won’t be the case once Zero Dark Thirty hits theaters:

Zero Dark Thirty (military jargon for a half-hour after midnight) is an epic take on the Central Intelligence Agency’s hunt for the 9/11 mastermind. Working on a dusty Afghanistan forward operating base, Maya (Jessica Chastain) then shifts to analyzing the intelligence from the American embassy in Islamabad… As the casualties mount and the years tick by, the shell-shocked Maya’s worldview narrows down to a millimeter-wide slit that recognizes only her quarry. The film recounts the agonizingly particular step-by-step analysis of baffling and contradictory information. It just as convincingly relays the sickening sense of urgency in the hunt, a fear that after all the bombings and rhetoric and fear and war, their quarry may simply get away. “We are failing… Bring me people to kill,” seethes Maya’s CIA superior…

Zero Dark Thirty opens in limited release on Wednesday, expanding wider over the several weeks to follow. It’s already been racking up awards from critics’ groups and attracting controversy over its depiction of CIA torture of prisoners; watch for it when the Oscars are announced.

My full review is at Film Journal International.

You can see the trailer here: