Screening Room: ‘Hold Your Fire’

Prior to 1973, there was not a lot of nuance in how the police handled hostage situations. At some point they would lose patience and storm in. As Attica and other tragedies showed, hostages frequently did not survive. The new documentary Hold Your Fire describes a little-remembered siege in Brooklyn from 1973 where the art of hostage negotiation might have been invented.

Hold Your Fire opens in limited release this Friday. My review is at Slant:

With little preamble, Hold Your Fire drops us into the heat of the robbery, then flicks through the resulting drama. Talking-head interviews with Schlossberg, police officers, and some of the robbers and their hostages are interspersed with archival images and video footage captured by news outlets. The footage—of the rattling volleys of gunfire, the rumbling arrival of a police armored personnel carrier, and crowds pressing against barricades and cheering for the robbers—lends a wartime aesthetic of sorts to an urban crime narrative. Through it all, Jonathan Sanford’s squealing jazz-inflected score underlines the chaos of the situation…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Outfit’

In Graham Moore’s new Hitchcockian thriller The Outfit, a shy-seeming tailor is wrapped up in a tense game of wits with a passel of paranoid gangsters.

The Outfit opens in limited release this Friday. My review is at Slant:

On the surface, the film’s story couldn’t be more different than that of Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, for which Moore won an Oscar for his script, though both films share a love of nattily attired Englishmen puzzling out problems in life-or-death situations. The Englishman in this case is the suit store’s owner, Savile Row-trained tailor Leonard (Mark Rylance). He makes his living not just by crafting bespoke suits but looking the other way when members of the Boyle crime family show up to use the message drop box in the backroom. Leonard drinks his tea, cuts his cloth, and avoids thinking about the elephant in the room…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Master’

Regina Hall stars in Master, a new horror film from Mariama Diallo that adds topical layers to its frights and scares.

Master will be released this Friday on Amazon Prime. My review is at PopMatters:

Diallos’ film, which bolts together race-conscious academic satire and haunted-house narrative, is set at the fictional Ancaster College. A Northeast school “nearly as old as the country”, it is a picture-perfect expanse of brick and ivy complete with hallowed traditions, an Ivy League-adjacent reputation, vanishingly few students or faculty of color, and centuries of ugly undercurrents that never seem to go away. New student Jasmine (Zoe Renee) has barely arrived on campus when she discovers that her dorm room is the one the other students whisper about: Decades earlier, the school’s first black student had killed herself there…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘America, We Have a Batman Problem’

How many Batman movies is too many? It seems like we are finding out.

My article, ‘America, We Have a Batman Problem’ is at Eyes Wide Open:

Batman’s appeal to artists and audiences is understandable. His immense wealth, traumatized childhood, and schizophrenic relationship with the villains he hunts provides a buffet of dramatic possibilities. Batman’s need (trauma) and ability (wealth) to act is as bottomless as his inability to avoid questioning his actions. Still, isn’t it time to give the man a rest?

Screening Room: Sundance Film Festival, 2022 Edition

Once again, the Sundance Film Festival (still showing movies virtually) is spreading cheer in an otherwise gloomy month by giving us a glimpse of what is coming our way in the coming year, cinematically. I covered a few of the movies at this year’s festival for Slant here:

  • When You Finish Saving the World (pictured): Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut is a satire with Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard as monumentally clueless narcissists.
  • We Need to Talk About Cosby: W. Kamau Bell’s four-part docuseries digs into the comedic genius and criminal villainy of Bill Cosby and the toxic tangling of the two.
  • Sharp Stick: The latest comedy from Lena Dunham is about a young woman determined to lose her virginity by starting an affair with her older, married employer.
  • Call Jane: Phyllis Nagy’s drama stars Elizabeth Banks as a late-Sixties Chicago housewife who inadvertently becomes part of an underground abortion operation run by activist Sigourney Weaver.
  • 892: A true-life hostage drama starring John Boyega as an Iraq War veteran who threatens to set off a bomb in a bank if his demands against the VA are not met.

Screening Room: ‘Stillwater’

The new movie from Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) takes some inspiration from the Amanda Knox case but goes in different directions, some interesting, others less so.

Stillwater is playing in wide theaters-only release now. My review is at PopMatters:

Oil field roughneck Bill (Matt Damon) relocates from the hardscrabble flatlands of Oklahoma to the graffiti-splattered urban puzzle of Marseilles to help free his daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) from prison. It’s not an easy quest, given that Bill does not know anybody and barely communicates in English, much less French…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain’

In Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, documentarian Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) tracks the alt-chef’s rise to fame and his struggle over what to do once he reached the top of the mountain.

Roadrunner opens next week in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

The current theatrical landscape in which celebrity culture mixes with foodie nerdism and extreme travel narratives is impossible to imagine without a boundary-crossing hyphenate enthusiast like Bourdain. What is de rigueur now—chefs with tattoos and potty mouths going to faraway lands or little-known domestic dives to eat off-the-beaten path foods—was more or less invented in 2000. That was the year Bourdain blew up the still-staid manner of writing about cuisine with his bestselling behind-the-scenes part-memoir part-manifesto Kitchen Confidential

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘In the Heights’

Yes, movie theaters are open again. To put it very simply, we could do (and have done) worse than have something like In the Heights to kick off the summer movie season.

My article is at Eyes Wide Open:

This is not the movie that officially re-opened movie theaters. That honor went to John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, Part II. A perfectly palatable and nonessential sequel which failed not only the opportunity to add anything new to the original’s chilling conceit but also the naming test (why not A Quieter Place?), it was a jolting scarefest that served as a surprisingly satisfying communal theater palate-cleanser after the long months of streaming hibernation. Hitting theaters this weekend, In the Heights remains what it was originally meant to be back in 2020: A celebratory early summer blast of song and dance before the long hot months of superheroes and sequels…

Writer’s Desk: Rules? What Rules?

So Seth Rogen has a book out. That may surprise some who just think, “The guy from Knocked Up?” He’s almost more writer / producer these days than charter member of the Judd Apatow comedy mafia.

Rogen and his longtime friend Evan Goldberg have something of a screenwriting machine going, ranging from instant classics like Superbad to series like Preacher to, well, The Green Hornet. So they know how to put words on the page and make something out of it.

Of the advice they gave to The Script Lab, one item in particular jumped out:

Any rule can be broken. They’re just basic guidelines that you can just shatter if the moment is right.

It seems obvious, but really it is not. We all have rules that get stuck in our head, from hanging that gun on the wall in the first act to the number of red herrings to give your detective hero before he/she finds the killer (by the way, that number has been scientifically calculated as 4.5).

But each and every one of them should be hurled out the window with great force the second they get between you and your story.

Screening Room: ‘The Dry’

My review of the perfectly okay new Eric Bana mystery The Dry is at Slant:

It would be difficult to find a worse candidate for solving the murder-suicide that lies at the heart of Robert Connolly’s The Dry than its hero, federal police officer Aaron Falk (Eric Bana). Not only is he prejudiced about the case because he was once close friends with Luke (Martin Dingle Wall), the initial suspect, but almost everyone in the small town where the killings took place despises Aaron for his connection to a 20-year-old scandal. In reality, this would create a near-impossible barrier for any investigator to overcome. But this is the kind of mystery where a standup cop willing to doggedly bang his head against enough walls can always knock the truth loose, even if he might be a murderer himself…

The trailer is here:

Screening Room: ‘Final Account’

Shot in 2008 in an attempt to capture the voices of the last living Germans who grew up under the Nazis, Final Account is in part a documentary about what happens you find out that, yes, normal-looking senior citizens who took part in a shattering atrocity are perfectly willing to avoid any culpability. It’s harrowing but worth every minute.

My review of Final Account is at Slant:

Holland begins Final Account by intercutting his interviews with color footage of giddy children at play and studying anti-Semitic books. While it can be squirm-inducing to watch ex-Nazis wax rhapsodically about the fun times they had at eugenics-indoctrination classes, it’s also clear that many believe they were at first just going along with it as a way of getting out of the house. In scenes like this, Final Account is particularly effective at showing how the all-encompassing nature of Nazism in 1930s Germany created a propaganda-covered pipeline that funneled these children from fun outings right into the killing machine…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Stowaway’

In Stowaway, launching tomorrow on Netflix, the crew of a spaceship heading to Mars discovers an unexpected fourth crewmember on board, which is a problem since they only have enough oxygen for three.

My review is at Slant:

This would seem to have potential for white-knuckle tension and even heady discussions about whose life has more value, as there’s not enough oxygen for everyone on the Mars-bound vessel to reach their destination alive. But the film hits its dramatic and philosophical ceiling long before the tiresome conclusion has drained the scenario of any interest…

Here’s the trailer: