SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for strong sexual content, language including sexual references, some drug use.
Both a bawdy comedy of intercourse and a perceptive analytic drama, “Sleeping With Other People” is an imaginative examination of a group of New Yorkers defined by their erotic impulses and inhibitions. Sharing notes from “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” this assured project shows writer/director Leslye Headland’s nuanced authorial tone, splendid visual style and slick control of ensemble acting. The imaginative opening gives us Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie meeting as young Columbia undergrads Jake and Lainey, striking up a sassy conversation and removing their virginity together. Their steamy one-night stand lures both into lives of restless promiscuity. When the pair reconnect as white-collar adults in a sex addicts support group, they become platonic friends. Their frank conversations baring their emotions about sex, love and betrayal become confessions without penance — and free therapy. But it doesn't cure either one of monkeying around.
Their bombshells make each other laugh and sob. Headland’s avoidance of predictable romantic comedy tropes will do the same for discriminating viewers. Sudeikis, an "SNL" veteran who typically plays smarmy little fellows, surpasses his earlier work, building a character of truthful real-life complexity. Brie’s Lainey is smart but confused, her good-girl demeanor hiding a philandering affair with her married college beau (Adam Scott, outstanding as the film’s one wholly unsympathetic character).
There are amusing sidebar characters and ludicrous plot twists in every direction. Still, Headland’s main focus is following a couple of attractive people as they work to stop seeing every member of each other’s team as a sex object. If they pull back from that compulsion, what companionship will they find? As we watch changes of conscience emerge and moral comeuppance arrive, this freewheeling alternative to the standard date movie emerges as one of the year’s best surprises.
MAZE RUNNER: The SCORCH TRIALS
⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for extended sequences of violence and action, some thematic elements, substance use and language.
Hail, dystopia! Teen-centric survivor horror rumbles ahead like a mighty steamroller, each chapter being little more than the vehicle for multiple sequels. In this second chapter, brave but naive marathon sprinter Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) still lacks clues about what adults control the deeply messed-up world he inhabits. No worries, there are at least three or five more installments of the serial to explore that mystery. Until then there are collapsed skyscrapers to scramble through, zombie-style humanoids to flee, scorching desert landscapes to traverse and that vile authoritarian clique called WCKD to resist. What are they after? It's hush-hush, but it looks like their CEO, "Game of Thrones' " reliably untrustworthy Aidan Gillen, has a very sneaky agenda. The acting hardly rises to the level of emoji. Action overflows, some of it neatly staged but none of it telling us anything beyond "Go! Go! Go! Run! Run! Run!" Stay home, stay home.C.C.
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: Not rated; suitable for all ages.
Early in the 20th century, the fact that the Jim Crow South wasn't educating black children offended Chicago mogul and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald. Coming from humble German-Jewish refugee beginnings himself, he decided to help. In cooperation with Booker T. Washington, he funded the building of a half-dozen small rural schoolhouses. Pleased with the results, he launched a program to construct more than 5,000 schools for black students and called on blacks and whites to work together to contribute to their financing. Rosenwald wanted to do more than prosper as president of Sears Roebuck; he chose to pursue social justice and repair a troubled world. This uplifting documentary by Aviva Kempner ("The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg," "Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Goldberg") is a splendid history lesson celebrating a humanitarian too modest to seek public celebrations of his work.C.C.