Screening Room: ‘Harriet’

1568076961_focus-features_harriet_unit-5
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: