Screening Room: ‘The Old Guard’

Based on Greg Rucka’s comic-book series, The Old Guard is a big-budget attempt to start a new action franchise, this one centered around a band of centuries-old mercenaries who are (mostly) immortal.

The Old Guard launches today on Netflix. My review is at Slant:

Smartly prioritizing the bond of relationships over action in the way of the modern franchise series—doing so more organically than the Fast and the Furious series but missing the self-aware comedic patter of the Avengers films—The Old Guard is in the end only somewhat convincing on both counts…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Wasp Network’

Wasp Network

In the 1990s, the Castro regime sent several operatives to infiltrate the Cuban-American emigre community in Miami. Olivier Assayas’ Wasp Network is a fictionalization of that somewhat forgotten sidenote of the post-Cold War years.

Wasp Network is available on Netflix today. My review is at Slant:

Based on Fernando Morais’s 2011 book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War, the film starts out as a crisply paced, lavishly photographed, and character-based study of what the members of the so-called “Cuban Five” spy ring did and how they did it. Unfortunately, it spreads its attentions so wide and at times without consequence that the import of the events it depicts starts to get lost…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Irishman’

the-irishman2a.jpg

In Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Robert De Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a reputed hitman who charts a course through a baroque landscape of postwar American intrigue, crime, and paranoia.

The Irishman is playing in a few theaters now, as well as on Netflix. My article about it is at Eyes Wide Open:

Based on Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses, about the decades Sheeran spent as a Zelig-like mob enforcer and assassin,The Irishman is one of the more curious and hard-to-pigeonhole gangster movies that Scorsese has ever done. Pulling back from the music-strobed buzziness of Goodfellas and Casino, and worlds away from the Nouvelle Vague/Cassavetes jitters of Mean Streets, it’s a cool, elegiac, and somewhat detached epic whose three and a half hours float by with a disconcerting calmness…

 

Screening Room: ‘The Great Hack’

The Great Hack is a new documentary about how Cambridge Analytica worked with private user data happily served up by Facebook in order to minutely target propaganda that helped win the 2016 election for Donald Trump.

Not available on Netflix until this Wednesday, it is already stirring up legal issues in the UK.

My review is at The Playlist:

It’s a sign of how quickly it feels like the world is being torn apart around us that even a ripped-from-the-headlines documentary, such as Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim’s “The Great Hack,” can feel almost dated…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’

Lily Colins and Zac Efron in ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ (Netflix)

Taking a break from true-crime documentaries (the Paradise Lost trilogy, among others), Joe Berlinger directed a narrative adaptation of Elizabeth Kendell’s book The Phantom Prince, about her relationship with the serial killer Ted Bundy.

My review of Berlinger’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, running now on Netflix, was published at Eyes Wide Open:

Of all the serial killers who entered the lexicon of American culture over the past half-century, Ted Bundy, who confessed to over two-dozen murders committed in the 1970s and was executed in 1989, remains something of a standout. The likes of the Zodiac Killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, or Dennis Rader (aka the BTK) have shocked for many reasons, most particularly their depravity and ability to elude capture. Bundy, or at least the legend of him, followed a different trajectory…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Fyre’

Fyre was supposed to be the great music festival of 2017. Instead it turned into a social media schadenfreude disaster. Now Chris Smith (of American Movie fame) made a documentary out of it. Sometimes we get lucky that way.

Fyre opens in limited release and will be available on Netflix this Friday.

My review is at Slant:

The video ads for the Fyre Festival looked amazing when they first rippled through the Instagram feeds of influencer models like Bela Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski in late 2016. For a certain kind of status-seeker, marooned somewhere cold and just waiting for the next warm-climate EDM gathering, the marketing for the music festival promised a bro heaven populated only by models…

Here is 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: ‘The American Meme’

Paris Hilton and Josh Ostrovsky (aka @thefatjewish) in ‘The American Meme’ (© Bert Marcus Productions)

The new documentary The American Meme isn’t really about memes, it’s about people who either make their living on social media or just spend far too much time there (Paris Hilton, DJ Khaled, etc.). It’s available on Netflix this Friday.

My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

[Marcus] mixes big sprays of social media content, from jabbing comedy videos to jealousy-inducing lifestyle-porn stills, with influencer interviews. The results cover the gamut from self-congratulatory spin (the social media-drenched DJ Khaled, who seems hell-bent on turning his existence into a bling-encrusted Truman Show) to self-immolating destructive toxicity (onetime photographer turned misogynistic party-dude troll Kirill Bichutsky, aka @slutwhisperer). It’s a glitzed-up ugly slew of fetishized consumerism and champagne-splashed Girls Gone Wildness, all captured in the hope that somebody out there will drop their thumb over the Like button before wandering deeper into the wilds of the Internet…

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:

TV Room: Season 2 of ‘Ozark’

Jason Bateman and Laura Linney in ‘Ozark’ (Netflix)

In the second season of Netflix’s Missouri noir Ozark, the Byrd family finds themselves being mired ever deeper in a cycle of moral compromise.

My review is at The Playlist:

Like almost every other show on Netflix, “Ozark” follows the “If Only BBC” rule. (Meaning things would have been a lot snappier if they’d lopped off two, three, even four episodes. Unless we’re talking about the new seasons of “Arrested Development,” in which case full cancellation is the only answer.) The first season started off with a hell of a setup. Early episodes were packed with grit and speed like some godsend of modern noir. Season 1 soon lost its way, not sure just how Southern Midwest gothic it wanted to go. That same schizoid attitude, a little from here and a little from there, prevails in Season 2…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: Black Lit on ‘Luke Cage’

Those who track the ever-evolving ecosystem of Marvel series on Netflix have been generally pleased with the current season of Luke Cage, following the further exploits of the superhuman-strong fugitive just trying to build a quiet life in Harlem.

At least one watcher has noted the prevalence of call-outs to works of black literature. Some of the books noticed on screen by BlackNerdProblems:

  • Charcoal Joe – Walter Mosley
  • Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
  • The Souls of Black Folk – W.E.B. Du Bois

Screening Room: ‘Mute’

The new sci-fi movie from Duncan Jones (Source Code, Moon) is called Mute and it premieres on Netflix today. My review is at Film Journal International:

What might happen if M*A*S*H’s Trapper John and Hawkeye Pierce jumped about a century ahead in time, went AWOL and worked as black-market sawbones for gangsters in a post-EU Berlin? If you ever wondered about the answer to that question, then Duncan Jones’ Mute is the movie for you. If not, then your best bet would be to stay far away, as in Korea and Germany far away…

Here’s the trailer:

TV Room: ‘Altered Carbon’

Richard K. Morgan’s cyberpunk noir novels posited a future world where death is mostly a thing of the past. Everyone’s mind can be downloaded into a surgically implanted “stack” which at the point of death can then be “resleeved” into a new body of whatever gender or race one prefers. It’s a fascinating concept that Morgan mined for a hardboiled capitalist critique but is worked out for mostly action-junkie hijinks in the derivative 10-part streaming adaptation of Altered Carbon, the first novel in the series.

Altered Carbon premieres on Netflix February 2. My review is at The Playlist.

Here’s the trailer:

TV Room: ‘Wormwood’

Launching Friday on Netflix is Errol Morris’s immersive new six-part series Wormwood, which mixes hardboiled investigative documentary filmmaking with David Lynchian recreations. A four-hour theatrical edit is also playing in limited release.

My review is at Film Journal International:

When Eric Olson was still just a child in 1953, his father Frank died while away on business. The official explanation was that Frank fell or possibly jumped out of a hotel room. “At that moment,” Eric says in Errol Morris’ epic new investigation of the mysteries surrounding Frank’s death, “the world stopped making sense entirely.” That burning ember of uncertainty stayed with Eric the rest of his life…

Dept. of Awards: ‘The Florida Project’ and ‘Mudbound’ Tie for Best Picture

A curious thing happened today at the awards meeting of New York Film Critics Online: We couldn’t agree on a best picture of the year. So we went with a tie (and they’re both great movies, so it’s really no issue): The Florida Project and Mudbound. Here’s the full list of awards:

Picture 
The Florida Project (A24) and Mudbound (Netflix) (tie)

Director 
Dee Rees, Mudbound

Actor 
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Actress 
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Supporting Actor 
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Supporting Actress 
Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Screenplay 
Jordan Peele, Get Out

Breakthrough Performer 
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name

Debut Director 
Jordan Peele, Get Out

Ensemble Cast 
Mudbound (Netflix)

Documentary
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Zeitgeist)

Foreign Language
In the Fade (Magnolia)

Animated
Coco (Disney/Pixar)

Cinematography
Dan Laustsen, The Shape of Water

Use of Music
Steven Price (music by) and Kristen Lane (music supervisor), Baby Driver

Top 10 Films
Call Me by Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics)
Dunkirk (Warner Bros.)
The Florida Project (A24)
Get Out (Universal)
I, Tonya (Neon)
Lady Bird (A24)
Mudbound (Netflix)
Phantom Thread (Focus)
The Post (Fox)
The Shape of Water (Fox Searchlight)