Screening Room: ‘Spaceship Earth’

Spaceship Earth Doc

The new documentary Spaceship Earth opens digitally (like everything else has to now) tomorrow. My review is at The Playlist:

Matching jumpsuits. Soaring white geodesic Fuller domes. Desert setting. Beaming smiles from people who appear not unfamiliar with things like EST seminars and primal scream therapy. Grainy film footage. The sense of embarking on a mission that is technically Earth-bound but holds within it the potential for cosmic transcendence. In other words, the story that lies at the core of Matt Wolf’s documentary “Spaceship Earth” bears more than a passing resemblance to the Dharma Initiative in “Lost”…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Harriet’

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Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom Jr. in ‘Harriet’ (Focus Features)

Although far from perfect, the new Harriet Tubman biopic is well worth seeing even just for Cynthia Erivo’s transcendent turn as the legendary “slave stealer” and Union spy.

Harriet opens this week. My review is at PopMatters:

It is hard to imagine a more perfect candidate for a heroic, against-all-odds biopic. But given the culture’s habitual blindness to heroism not in white male form, it still took over a century after Tubman’s death in 1913 for a project like Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet to come to theaters…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Goldfinch’

Jeffrey Wright and Oakes Fegley in ‘The Goldfinch’ (Warner Bros. / Amazon Studios)

The long-awaited movie of Donna Tartt’s  The Goldfinch is here in a very messy, trying-too-hard, but at least very well-acted and gorgeous-looking adaptation from John Crowley (Brooklyn).

The Goldfinch premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and opens this week. My review is at Slant:

Streamlined by Peter Straughan from Donna Tartt’s overwrought Pulitzer-winning 2013 novel just enough to make certain developments slightly baffling and a few characters close to redundant, John Crowley’s three-handkerchief film adaptation throws a lot at the viewer, and not all of it makes much sense, except for the painting. Enough of the individual moments pulled by Straughan from the rag-and-bone shop of Tartt’s sprawling mystery narrative make an emotional impact that the story’s structural issues fail to register as much at first…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Ash is Purest White’

(Cohen Media Group)

The latest release from the great director Jia Zhang-Ke (A Touch of Sin, Mountains May Depart) is an ambitious modern-day Chinese crime epic.

Ash is Purest White opens this week in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

When Qiao (the everyday elegant Tao Zhao) sweeps into the grey and smoky mahjong parlor at the start of Jia Zhang-Ke’s downbeat epic Ash Is Purest White (Jiang hu er nü) she’s greeted by the thronged kibitzers and gamblers as both a being apart and yet just one of the guys…

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: ‘Hold the Dark’

In Jeremy Saulnier’s bleak and bloody adaptation of William Giraldi’s bleak and bloody novel, a naturalist investigates the apparent killing of children by wolves in Alaska, only to encounter some far more dangerous creatures.

Hold the Dark is playing now in limited release and on Netflix. My review is at Film Journal International:

Jeffrey Wright never shows up to deliver good news. It would be nice if someday soon he gets to show up in a Judd Apatow movie. Suffice it to say that when Wright appears at a woman’s doorstep in Jeremy Saulnier’s gruesomely bleak Hold the Dark, it’s not to deliver a check from Publishers Clearing House…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Equalizer 2’

Denzel, paying the bills (Sony)

The sequel to Denzel Washington’s surprise hit The Equalizer is hitting theaters this week.

My review is at Film Journal International:

When Antoine Fuqua’s sequel begins, Robert McCall (Washington) is far from his blue-collar Boston life. We find him in a Muslim cap and beard on a train through Turkey, reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and keeping a watchful eye on a man traveling with a young girl. A few clipped lines of dialogue (“American?” McCall is asked; “Guilty,” he responds) and some swiftly crippled henchmen later, the girl is safely back on American soil and McCall is back to his day job…

Screening Room: ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’

Isabela Moner and Benicio Del Toro (Columbia Pictures)

Sicario: Day of the Soldado opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

The portentously named follow-up to Denis Villeneuve’s moody and murky 2015 cartel thriller starts with a pair of bombings and a declaration of war. A Muslim man blows himself up in Texas after being caught by the Border Patrol while stealing into the country. Then several other men walk into a supermarket in Kansas City and detonate more suicide bombs … In the news business, they would call this confluence of scarifying and adrenaline-charging events Fox News Bingo. In the movie business, it’s just Sequel Maintenance…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Party’

The new movie from Sally Potter (Orlando) is a quick-witted chamber piece starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, and Timothy Spall, among others. It’s playing now in limited release and absolutely worth seeking out.

My review of The Party is at PopMatters:

…from the first flash-forward appearance of a frazzled Kristin Scott Thomas brandishing a pistol through the onion-skin layering of the initially celebratory and ultimately catastrophic dinner party that follows, this is a high-spirited black comedy with a crackling, biting energy…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Nostalgia’

The new movie from Mark Pellington (Arlington Road) is a quiet little riff on memories, starring Jon Hamm and Catherine Keener.

Nostalgia opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

When Susan Sontag wrote that photography “converts the whole world into a cemetery,” she could have easily expanded that to include just about any personal possession. Everything we own, from a favorite album from adolescence to a souvenir spoon from that visit to the Grand Canyon, stands ready as a potential repository of some memory of us after we are gone. That prehistoric sense of possessions being imbued with some kind of animist spirit is shot all through Mark Pellington’s dramaturgical flatline of a curiosity-piece movie about nostalgia, stuff and the things (in all sense of the word) that we leave behind…

Screening Room: ‘Foxtrot’

The new Israeli movie Foxtrot is a masterfully surrealist black comedy that is as confounding as it is fascinating. Calling it a Catch-22 for the era of eternal warfare isn’t far off the mark.

Foxtrot is playing now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

There’s no rule that filmmakers need to have served in the military to make movies about war. Some of the greatest war movies were by directors who never spent a minute in basic (Coppola, Malick). Still, a little knowledge of the terrain helps. A filmmaker who has spent time hugging a rifle on watch understands things the civilian never can, no matter how much research they might do. With a director like Samuel Maoz, who was a tank gunner in the Israeli army and has only made two movies in eight years, his experience is critical…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Shape of Water’

A nearly sure-fire debt for some awards in both acting and design categories is Guillermo del Toro’s ravishing fairy-tale romance The Shape of Water, which is playing in theaters now.

My review is at PopMatters:

The Shape of Water is ostensibly a love story between a solitary woman and a merman. But the true object of the movie’s affection is its star character, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), and rightly so. Elisa is just about the fiercest woman on screen right now; a less complicated but no less determined heroine than Frances McDormand’s blowtorch vigilante Mildred in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. A mute cleaning woman who lives above a grand old movie palace, she has a closely-followed a litany of daily habits that are treated more like chiming celebrations than rote compulsiveness…

Screening Room: ‘I, Tonya’

In 1994, the world of professional skating was hurled into the burgeoning tabloid TV landscape when an assailant clubbed skater Nancy Kerrigan and suspicion fell on another skater, Tonya Harding. The resulting media firestorm was like a runup to the O.J. trial.

Margot Robbie stars as Harding in the inside-out comedy I, Tonya, which opens next week. My review is at PopMatters:

“This is bullshit. I never did this,” Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) assures viewers in the meta-comedy I, Tonya just after she is seen unloading a blast of buckshot at her fleeing husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). Not that most of us would blame her. At that point, we already saw Jeff beat her for saying the wrong thing, or just for being there. Before that there was a long stretch of verbal and emotional abuse from LaVona (Allison Janney), Tonya’s cold-eyed villain of a mother. So this is somebody who had good reason to pick up a shotgun and let fly…

 

Screening Room: ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’

An intoxicating blend of Greek tragedy, Kubrickian creep, and suburban satire, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is playing now. This is priority viewing.

My review is at Film Journal International:

The setting for Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest absurdist take on the violence underpinning society’s placid surfaces couldn’t be more mundane and the stakes couldn’t be higher. It could be that the movie is trying to build on the tradition of cinematic shocks to the bourgeoisie. Behind every great McMansion there must be a great crime. But it’s just as possible that, even though there are some scenes that play like an Ionesco translation of American Beauty, Lanthimos just wanted his background to be as unspecific as possible, so as not to detract from the off-kilter and walloping doozy of a story he’s telling…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Snowman’

Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman, the first of his Harry Hole detective novels to hit the big screen, comes to theaters this weekend.

My review is at Film Journal International:

Deep, deep inside The Snowman, between the permanent rictus of Michael Fassbender’s half-frown and the slow zooms of spooky snowmen, can be glimpsed the outlines of the passable mystery movie that might have been….

Here’s the trailer: