Film screening: “Crossing Delancey” On Sun., Feb. 2, at 1:30 PM

The Jewish Historical Society of Greater New Haven presents “Crossing Delancey,” a 1988 movie starring Amy Irving, in the Best Video Performance Space on Sunday, Feb. 2, at 1:30 PM. Admission is free for members of the Jewish Historical Society. Admission is $5 for all others.

Wikipedia description:

Isabelle Grossman works for a New York bookstore which supports authors through public readings. When author Anton Maes comes to the bookstore to give a reading, he shows an interest in Isabelle who is enamored with the intellectual world that is very different from her traditional Jewish upbringing.

Isabelle pays frequent visits to her Bubbie, (grandmother) Ida (played by Yiddish theatre star Reizl Bozyk in her only film role), who lives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Anxious for her granddaughter to settle down, Ida turns to the local marriage broker (Sylvia Miles). Although shocked and annoyed, Isabelle allows the matchmaker to introduce her to Sam Posner (Peter Riegert), who owns the pickle shop on Essex, below Delancey Street.

What happens next? Come out on Sunday and find out.

Music: “Choral quirk pop” with The Dress-Ups On Thurs., Feb. 6, at 8 PM

The Dress-Ups play the Best Video Performance Space on Thursday, Feb. 6. The music starts at 8 PM and the cover is $5.

The Dress-Ups

Choral quirk-pop quintet the Dress-Ups sings original songs written by lead vocalist Julie Beman. Julie is joined by singers Allison Holst-Grubbe and Caresse Amenta. Allison plays the piano and Caresse plays glockenspiel and various shaken and jangling things. Rich Germain plays drums and Dave Mourad plays bass. With songs described as psychedelic, brave, magical and weird, the Dress-Ups’ intricate vocal harmonies pull listeners into an alternate past.

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:

• Thursday, Jan. 30. PSYCHO-FOLK: MILKSOP: UNSUNG

• Thursday, Feb. 6. CHORAL QUIRK POP: THE DRESS-UPS

• Wednesday, Feb. 12. SINGER-SONGWRITER: THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS PAT STONE

• Thursday, Feb. 13. ROCK ‘N’ ROLL: BIG FAT COMBO

• Wednesday, Feb. 19. (RESCHEDULED FROM FEB. 5) SINGER-SONGWRITERS: JENNIFER DAUPHINAIS, CHRISTOPHER BOUSQUET

• Thursday, Feb. 20. BLUEGRASS: 5 IN THE CHAMBER

• Wednesday, Feb. 26. DECONSTRUCTING POP: THE LUCK PUSHERS

• Thursday, Feb. 27. SINGER-SONGWRITER POP: THE SHELLYE VALAUSKAS EXPERIENCE

• Wednesday, Apr. 2. CLASSICAL: HAVEN STRING QUARTET

• Thursday, Apr. 17. ACOUSTIC ROCK: THE LONESOME SPARROWS

Music: Songwriters Ponybird, Chris Bousquet on Wed., Feb. 5, at 8 PM

The singer-songwriters Jennifer Dauphinais (who records under the name Ponybird) and Christopher Bousquet will play the Best Video Performance Space on Wednesday, Jan. 29. The music starts at 8 PM and the cover is $5.

Ponybird_Best_Video_01313_Web

Influenced by the emotional roots of country, the confessional poetry of folk, and the spatial freedom of ambient and harmonic tones, Ponybird is the solo project of Jennifer Dauphinais, an evolving artist who translates something both introspective and infinite all at once. The heart of Ponybird is derived from a central singer-songwriter focus, with a tribe of players that satellite the work. This format allows the flexibility for booking the project as a solo, duo, or full-band performance.

Both home-recorded releases, Climb Yourself Up, and Full Cold Moon, were chosen as Top Ten Releases of the Year by the New Haven Register. Listening to Ponybird, puts the audience on the verge of discovering. A third release, Modest Quarters, which is being produced and recorded at Dirt Floor Studios in Chester, CT, is expected to be released in Spring 2014.

Chris Bousquet is singer-songwriter from Connecticut. He is the former leader of the internationally acclaimed High Lonesome Plains, and as well as the widely regarded Alligator Farmhouse. He has performed with such luminaries as Roger McGuinn, Miracle Legion, John Sebastian, Asleep at the Wheel, The Nields, Mark Mulcahy, The Turtles, Tim Easton, J. Geils, and Susan Cowsill.

The High Lonesome Plains rose to critical acclaim between 1999 and 2006, receiving airplay and garnering critical acclaim on four continents, Americana-UK called their 2002 EP Songs For Young Lovers, “one of the year’s best.” Rolling Stone writer and Australian DJ Stuart Coupe called it “the best thang to arrive in the mail for ages.” The lead track on the EP, “Brass Ring” was featured in the independent film The Box, the television show Witchblade and was included on 36,000 copies of a Magnet Magazine New Music Sampler.

New Haven Advocate writer Brian LaRue wrote, “Bousquet’s melodies pour out with folksy ease, his memorable choruses invite singing along, and his lyrics are smart without being show-offy.”

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:

• Wednesday, Jan. 29. INDIE ROCK: SOZIO

• Thursday, Jan. 30. PSYCHO-FOLK: MILKSOP: UNSUNG

• Wednesday, Feb. 5. SINGER-SONGWRITERS: JENNIFER DAUPHINAIS, CHRISTOPHER BOUSQUET

• Thursday, Feb. 6. CHORAL QUIRK POP: THE DRESS-UPS

• Wednesday, Feb. 12. SINGER-SONGWRITER: THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS PAT STONE

• Thursday, Feb. 13. ROCK ‘N’ ROLL: BIG FAT COMBO

• Thursday, Feb. 20. BLUEGRASS: 5 IN THE CHAMBER

• Wednesday, Feb. 26. DECONSTRUCTING POP: THE LUCK PUSHERS

• Thursday, Feb. 27. SINGER-SONGWRITER POP: THE SHELLYE VALAUSKAS EXPERIENCE

• Wednesday, Apr. 2. CLASSICAL: HAVEN STRING QUARTET

• Thursday, Apr. 17. ACOUSTIC ROCK: THE LONESOME SPARROWS

New Releases 1/28/14

Top Hits
Rush (action, Chris Hemsworth. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 75. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Several times in Rush, Ron Howard’s excitingly torqued movie set in the Formula One race world, the camera gets so close to a driver’s eye that you can see each trembling lash. It’s a startlingly beautiful but also naked image, partly because there’s no hiding for an actor when the camera gets that close. In moments like these, you’re no longer watching a performance with its layers of art and technique: you’ve crossed the border between fiction and documentary to go eye to eye with another person’s nervous system. Mr. Howard doesn’t just want you to crawl inside a Formula One racecar, he also wants you to crawl inside its driver’s head.” Read more…)

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Last Vegas (comedy, Robert De Niro. Rotten Tomatoes: 47%. Metacritic: 48. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “A mild geezer comedy full of jokes that might have sounded tired at a Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, the movie has no reason for existence and nothing much to recommend it. Nothing much, that is, apart from four exceptionally interesting actors, who bring charm and professionalism to a project that requires very little of them. If you approach Last Vegas expecting an emotionally engaging, in any way surprising, moviegoing experience, you will be disappointed. But if you want the equivalent of an old-fashioned television variety show — a Very Special Evening with Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline — you might not have such a bad time.” Read more…)

Bad Grandpa (comedy, Johnny Knoxville. Rotten Tomatoes: 61%. Metacritic: 54. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “Attending Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, Johnny Knoxville’s new prankfest, could be life-changing. It may cause you never to use another vending machine, never to enter another bingo parlor, never to put your child on one of those coin-operated rides, never to eat in another diner.” Read more…)

The Fifth Estate (Wikileaks drama, Benedict Cumberbatch. Rotten Tomatoes: 61%. Metacritic: 54. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “In the weeks before the film’s release, the real Mr. Assange has not been shy about sharing his feelings, publishing an open letter to Mr. Cumberbatch on the WikiLeaks site and describing The Fifth Estate in an e-mail to a New York Times reporter as ‘a reactionary snoozefest that only the U.S. government could love.’ As of this writing, the government has not weighed in, but it seems to me that Mr. Assange’s judgment is only half right. This version of the WikiLeaks story, directed by Bill Condon from a script by Josh Singer, is a moderate snoozefest, undone by its timid, muddled efforts at fair-mindedness.” Read more…)

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (animated feature, Bill Hader. Rotten Tomatoes: 70%. Metacritic: 59. From Miriam Bale’s New York Times review: “There are moments of visual humor in the animated sequel Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 that are so inventive they feel like a glimpse of a cartoon masterpiece Jerry Lewis might have made. Most of the best scenes, set in a place called San Franjose, eerily capture the pink light of the Bay Area better than anyone since Wayne Thiebaud or Richard Diebenkorn. These scenes also sum up the tech culture there of shiny white start-ups and endless lattes.” Read more…)

Museum Hours (drama, Mary Margaret O’Hara. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 83. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A. O. Scott’s Times review: “The distinction between life and art is one that all genuine works of art live to unmake, even if the circumstances in which we experience art have a way of maintaining the barrier. An art museum, for example, is designated as a place apart from the zones of ordinary existence. We enter to gaze upon beautiful artifacts at a safe distance, standing at the boundary between tedium and rapture. But really, and fortunately, a museum is no different from anywhere else, since beauty and meaning are everywhere, provided we know how to look. Museum Hours, Jem Cohen’s quietly amazing, sneakily sublime new film, is partly a reflection on such aesthetic puzzles.” Read more…)

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House of Bodies (horror, Terrence Howard)

New Blu-Ray
Bonnie & Clyde (4-hour made for TV movie, Emile Hirsch. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “The television Bonnie & Clyde, written by John Rice and Joe Batteer and directed by Bruce Beresford, is thoroughly inoffensive and resolutely middle-of-the-road, a big slab of a story about a doomed love affair between two nice, good-looking kids who had some really bad luck. As Barrow and Parker, Emile Hirsch [Into the Wild] and Holliday Grainger [The Borgias] are both older than their characters were when they died — Barrow was 25, Parker 23 — but they seem too young, too feckless, too clean. You don’t believe that these lightweights grew up in poverty or lived on the run or gunned down a series of lawmen, even as you watch them doing it.” Read more…)

Last Vegas
Rush
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

New American Back Catalog (post-1960)
The April Fools (1969, rom-com, Jack Lemmon. From the unsigned 1969 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The April Fools, written by Hal Dresner and directed by Stuart Rosenberg, manipulates its stereotypes with elegance and style. Lemmon may be doomed to playing this sort of role forever, but he does it well, even though he’s beginning to look very tired. Miss Deneuve simply has to exist to be effective, her face a kind of tribal mask of upper class beauty and sensitivity.” Read more…)

New British
Downton Abbey: Season 4 (UK series, Hugh Bonneville. Rotten Tomatoes: 69%. Metacritic: 72.)

New Documentaries
Carbon Nation (environment, economics)

Music: Milksop: Unsung on Thurs., Jan. 30, at 8:30 PM

Milksop: Unsung play the Best Video Performance Space on Thurs., Jan. 30. The cover is $5 and the music starts a half-hour later than usual, at 8:30 PM.

What is “psycho-folk?” The best way to find out is to come to see and hear New Haven band Milksop: Unsung.  Members of the group are Dan Carrano (mandolin, acoustic guitar), T.J. Jackson (acoustic guitar, banjo), Gary Velush (upright bass) and Mike Paolucci (percussion). With that instrumentation, it should be no surprise that the band’s roots are in bluegrass and Americana. But they put their own 21st-century twisted twist on those forms.

Milksop: Unsung’s video for their song “Ervil LeBaron”:

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:

• Thursday, Jan. 23. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ILANA ZSIGMOND

• Wednesday, Jan. 29. INDIE ROCK: SOZIO

• Thursday, Jan. 30. PSYCHO-FOLK: MILKSOP: UNSUNG

• Wednesday, Feb. 5. SINGER-SONGWRITERS: JENNIFER DAUPHINAIS, CHRISTOPHER BOUSQUET

• Thursday, Feb. 6. CHORAL QUIRK POP: THE DRESS-UPS

• Wednesday, Feb. 12. SINGER-SONGWRITER: THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS PAT STONE

• Thursday, Feb. 13. ROCK ‘N’ ROLL: BIG FAT COMBO

• Thursday, Feb. 20. BLUEGRASS: 5 IN THE CHAMBER

• Wednesday, Feb. 26. DECONSTRUCTING POP: THE LUCK PUSHERS

• Thursday, Feb. 27. SINGER-SONGWRITER POP: THE SHELLYE VALAUSKAS EXPERIENCE

• Wednesday, Apr. 2. CLASSICAL: HAVEN STRING QUARTET

• Thursday, Apr. 17. ACOUSTIC ROCK: THE LONESOME SPARROWS

Music: Indie rock by Sozio on Wed., Jan. 29, at 8 PM

Indie rock band Sozio makes its live debut in the Best Video Performance Space on Wednesday, Jan. 29. The cover is $5 and the music starts at 8 PM.

Sozio_photo_Web

Sozio is the live performance vehicle for songwriter Christopher Mir. A renowned visual artist, Mir also has a prolific musical imagination, regularly recording (unreleased) albums at home in rock, folk and avant-garde styles. Sozio is a project more in the pop mode, with sharp hooks and clever lyrics. Mir sings and plays guitar, backed by the rhythm section of Scott McDonald (drums) and Anthony Florio (bass).

Or, as Mir puts it:

Planck scale geometries and psi phenomenon merge to form the sonic bliss that is Sozio.  Sozio is—according to the most recent evidence—Scott McDonald (hitting on drums and flagons of wine), Christopher Mir (singing and guitarring in quantum super position), and Tony Flowers (playing anti-bass for the masses). Do the world a big favor—love Sozio right now. Yolo punks!

Well, I told you he is an artist.

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:

• Thursday, Jan. 23. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ILANA ZSIGMOND

• Wednesday, Jan. 29. INDIE ROCK: SOZIO

• Thursday, Jan. 30. PSYCHO-FOLK: MILKSOP: UNSUNG

• Wednesday, Feb. 5. SINGER-SONGWRITERS: JENNIFER DAUPHINAIS, CHRISTOPHER BOUSQUET

• Thursday, Feb. 6. CHORAL QUIRK POP: THE DRESS-UPS

• Wednesday, Feb. 12. SINGER-SONGWRITER: THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS PAT STONE

• Thursday, Feb. 13. ROCK ‘N’ ROLL: BIG FAT COMBO

• Thursday, Feb. 20. BLUEGRASS: 5 IN THE CHAMBER

• Wednesday, Feb. 26. DECONSTRUCTING POP: THE LUCK PUSHERS

• Thursday, Feb. 27. SINGER-SONGWRITER POP: THE SHELLYE VALAUSKAS EXPERIENCE

• Wednesday, Apr. 2. CLASSICAL: HAVEN STRING QUARTET

• Thursday, Apr. 17. ACOUSTIC ROCK: THE LONESOME SPARROWS

New Releases 01/21/14

Top Hits
Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen-directed drama, Cate Blanchett. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 78. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “When Cate Blanchett first cruises into Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, playing a Park Avenue matron fallen on hard times, she looks like a million bucks. She’s wearing pearls and a white Chanel jacket, with an Hermès bag as big as a Shetland pony hanging off one arm. It’s the sort of important accessory worn by women accustomed to being chauffeured around town. Soon after, though, as she stands with her monogrammed luggage on a nondescript San Francisco sidewalk, she looks frightened, alone — like someone who could benefit from some kindness. Instead, she waves off a stranger and, posing a question that’s as existential as it is practical, demands, ‘Where am I, exactly?’ She’s in the Mission, for starters, but Jasmine French — this lost, lonely woman brilliantly brought to quivering life by Ms. Blanchett — is more properly in a Woody Allen movie, his most sustained, satisfying and resonant film since Match Point.” Read more…)

Machete Kills (action comedy, Danny Trejo. Rotten Tomatoes: 29%. Metacritic: 41. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Until your eyes glaze over after about a half-hour, Machete Kills might put a twisted smirk of guilty amusement on your face. The high point of those opening minutes is a fantastically gaudy fake trailer for a sequel, Machete Kills Again … In Space, which embodies the director Robert Rodriguez’s nostalgia for trashy B-movie exploitation flicks.” Read more…)

The Act of Killing (documentary, history, Indonesian genocide. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 89. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “There are, nonetheless, a few movies that try to take us inside the minds and motives of [those] guilty [of genocide], and to show us the familiar — the banal — face of evil. Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah [recently reissued on DVD by the Criterion Collection] is a notable and still notably rare attempt to explore genocide not only as a historical cataclysm but also as a result of innumerable instances of actual, ordinary behavior. Though his methods differ from Mr. Lanzmann’s, and his aims are less comprehensive, the 38-year-old filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer undertakes a similar inquiry in The Act of Killing, his dogged, inventive, profoundly upsetting and dismayingly funny documentary about the Indonesian massacres that began in 1965 and claimed, by some estimates, as many as 2.5 million lives over the next year.” Read more…)

Captain Phillips (action thriller, Tom Hanks. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 83. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Captain Phillips, a movie that insistently closes the distance between us and them, has a vital moral immediacy. It was directed by Paul Greengrass, the British filmmaker who quickened the pulse of contemporary action cinema with the second and third installments in the Bourne franchise, features that proved yet again that big-screen thrills and thought need not be mutually exclusive. Kinetic action and intelligence are similarly the driving forces in Captain Phillips, which, like Mr. Greengrass’s Bourne movies, shakes you up first with its style and then with its ideas.” Read more…)

Instructions Not Included (Mexico/U.S., comedy, Eugenio Derbez. Rotten Tomatoes: 56%. Metacritic: 55.)

New Blu-Ray
Blue Jasmine
Captain Phillips
In the Heat of the Night

New Foreign
Instructions Not Included (Mexico/U.S., comedy, Eugenio Derbez, also in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 56%. Metacritic: 55.)

New Documentaries
The Act of Killing (history, Indonesian genocide, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 89. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “There are, nonetheless, a few movies that try to take us inside the minds and motives of [those] guilty [of genocide], and to show us the familiar — the banal — face of evil. Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah [recently reissued on DVD by the Criterion Collection] is a notable and still notably rare attempt to explore genocide not only as a historical cataclysm but also as a result of innumerable instances of actual, ordinary behavior. Though his methods differ from Mr. Lanzmann’s, and his aims are less comprehensive, the 38-year-old filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer undertakes a similar inquiry in The Act of Killing, his dogged, inventive, profoundly upsetting and dismayingly funny documentary about the Indonesian massacres that began in 1965 and claimed, by some estimates, as many as 2.5 million lives over the next year.” Read more…)

Music: Ilana Zsigmond on Thurs., Jan. 23, at 8 PM

Ilana_Zsigmond_02_WebIlana Zsigmond will perform in the Best Video Performance Space on Thursday, Jan. 23. The music starts at 8 PM and the cover is $5.

Ilana Zsigmond is a word nerd of indeterminate age who likes Spider-Man, novelty band-aids, and semi-colons. If she could live entirely on fried rice and sci-fi movies, she would be truly happy. She currently makes music on planet earth with her cat Max and several pet humans that insist are her family.

Music has been a constant through her entire life. She began playing classical piano at 4 and guitar at 10. She draws a lot inspiration from The Shins, Bright Eyes and her parents.

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:

• Wednesday, Jan. 15. FILM SCREENING: “THE THIRD MAN”

• Thursday, Jan. 16. SINGER/SONGWRITER: KEVIN MF KING, PAUL BELBUSTI (MERCY CHOIR)

• Wednesday, Jan. 22. BRAZILIAN MUSIC: SAMBELEZA

• Thursday, Jan. 23. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ILANA ZSIGMOND

• Wednesday, Jan. 29. INDIE ROCK: SOZIO

• Thursday, Jan. 30. PSYCHO-FOLK: MILKSOP: UNSUNG

• Wednesday, Feb. 5. SINGER-SONGWRITERS: JENNIFER DAUPHINAIS, CHRISTOPHER BOUSQUET

• Thursday, Feb. 6. CHORAL QUIRK POP: THE DRESS-UPS

• Wednesday, Feb. 12. SINGER-SONGWRITER: THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS PAT STONE

• Thursday, Feb. 13. ROCK ‘N’ ROLL: BIG FAT COMBO

• Thursday, Feb. 20. BLUEGRASS: 5 IN THE CHAMBER

• Wednesday, Feb. 26. DECONSTRUCTING POP: THE LUCK PUSHERS

• Thursday, Feb. 27. SINGER-SONGWRITER POP: THE SHELLYE VALAUSKAS EXPERIENCE

• Wednesday, Apr. 2. CLASSICAL: HAVEN STRING QUARTET

• Thursday, Apr. 17. ACOUSTIC ROCK: THE LONESOME SPARROWS

 

New Releases 01/14/14

Top Hits
Lee Daniels’ The Butler (historical drama, Forest Whitaker. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%. Metacritic: 66. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Nobody who has seen Shadowboxer, Precious, or, heaven knows, The Paperboy would mistake Lee Daniels for a realist. Nonetheless, his new film — released, as a result of a ridiculous film industry food fight, with the ungainly official title Lee Daniels’ The Butler — is a brilliantly truthful movie on a subject that is usually shrouded in wishful thinking, mythmongering and outright denial. Taking inspiration from an article by Wil Haygood in The Washington Post about the life of Eugene Allen, who worked as a butler in the White House during eight presidential administrations, Mr. Daniels has told the story of the civil rights movement in the bold colors of costume pageantry and the muted tones of domestic drama.” Read more…)

Riddick (sci-fi/action, Vin Diesel. Rotten Tomatoes: 59%. Metacritic: 49. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: :”Movies like Riddick, a satisfyingly primitive spectacle, help explain the unlikely ascendancy of Vin Diesel as a man of cinema. With his hypertrophied body and Barry White purr, Mr. Diesel — much like his more sweetly appealing brother in brawn, Dwayne Johnson — embodies a particularly salient caricature of masculinity, one that appears to transcend obvious racial identity to make him an ideal modern Everybrute. If Arnold and Sly became the cartoon emblems of Reagan-era might, Mr. Diesel has come into his own as a contemporary hero, one who suggests a postrace ideal, even as he affirms old-fashioned power with displays of annihilating violence.” Read more…)

Carrie (horror, Julianne Moore. Rotten Tomatoes: 49%. Metacritic: 53. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “The last time we saw Carrie White, she was looking a little, well, red around the gills. She had just taken a splashy blood bath in Brian De Palma’s 1976 horror freakout Carrie, and then settled in for what looked like the big sleep. Stephen King’s tormented teenager proved a restless soul, though, and returned in a 2002 television movie and a short-lived 1988 Broadway musical that was revived off Broadway again in 2012. Now she’s back, as they like to say in movie ads, in a fine, largely faithful screen remake, directed by Kimberly Pierce that stars Chloë Grace Moretz as its goddess of gore. It’s hard to keep a franchise crazy down, especially one that can be retrofitted for today’s fears.” Read more…)

Runner Runner (thriller, Justin Timberlake. Rotten Tomatoes: 9%. Metacritic: 36. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “In Runner Runner, directed by Brad Furman from a script by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake face off, cleft chin to cleft chin, in a battle for … well, what, exactly? The attention of the audience? Of Gemma Arterton, who plays virtually the only female character in the movie not employed as a hooker or a stripper? Huge sums of money? All of the above, or whatever.” Read more…)

Fruitvale Station (drama, Michael B. Jordan. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 85. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “In the early hours of Jan. 1, 2009, Oscar Grant III, unarmed and lying face down on a subway platform in Oakland, Calif., was shot in the back by a white Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer. The incident, captured on video by onlookers, incited protest, unrest and arguments similar to those that would swirl around the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida a few years later. The deaths of these and other African-American young men [Mr. Grant was 22] touch some of the rawest nerves in the body politic and raise thorny and apparently intractable issues of law and order, violence and race. Those matters are hardly absent from Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler’s powerful and sensitive debut feature, which imaginatively reconstructs the last 24 or so hours of Oscar Grant’s life, flashing back from a horrifying snippet of actual cellphone video of the hectic moments before the shooting. But Mr. Coogler, a 27-year-old Bay Area native who went to film school at the University of Southern California, examines his subject with a steady, objective eye and tells his story in the key of wise heartbreak rather than blind rage.” Read more…)

Short Term 12 (drama, Brie Larson. Rotten Tomatoes: 99%. Metacritic: 82. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “A delicate intensity of feeling shapes Short Term 12, a drama about young, lost people hoping to be found. These aren’t like the strays who anxiously drift through other contemporary American movies — whose lack of purpose is reflected both in the groping camerawork and the uncertainty of a budding filmmaker behind the camera. The young director of Short Term 12, Destin Daniel Cretton, may have adapted some of the techniques of low-budget independent features, including a suggestion of tentativeness in the hand-held cinematography. But he’s clearly thought through his choices and found a subject that has earned its heartache.” Read more…)

You’re Next (horror, Sharni Vinson. Rotten Tomatoes: 74%. Metacritic: 66. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Injecting the home-invasion thriller with fresh DNA, Adam Wingard’s You’re Next strays just enough from formula to tweak our jaded appetites. That it does so without spraying the gore to geyserlike excess says a great deal about Mr. Wingard’s sensibility. Never one to linger ghoulishly over violence — or to rely on bloodletting to plug a weak script — he prefers to strike and move on.” Read more…)

The Spectacular Now (romance, Miles Teller. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 82. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “James Ponsoldt’s new film, The Spectacular Now, overcomes echoes of familiarity as [teenager] Sutter [Keely] finds his way through the end of high school and the responsibilities looming after graduation (that perennial movie horizon) in his small town. Much of this patiently achieved success flows from Miles Teller’s winning, seemingly effortless performance as Sutter, in all his laziness and charm, open-mindedness and fatalism, always with a glimpse of the unease beneath. ” Read more…)

Enough Said (romantic comedy/drama, James Gandolfini. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 79. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Now is the time to state that Enough Said is very funny indeed. Line for line, scene for scene, it is one of the best-written American film comedies in recent memory and an implicit rebuke to the raunchy, sloppy spectacles of immaturity that have dominated the genre in recent years.” Read more…)

A Single Shot (thriller, Sam Rockwell. Rotten Tomatoes: 51%. Metacritic: 53. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “During its initial quiet stretch, when about the only things on the screen are a man, his gun and the kind of lonely feeling meant to gnaw at the soul, A Single Shot drifts along on its woodsy scenery and vaporous promise. The man, John Moon (a fine Sam Rockwell), lives his spartan existence in a beat-up trailer in the middle of Nowhere, U.S.A. It’s the kind of atmospherically desolate place where, at least in fiction, men and their destinies are rarely alone for long. And so it is for Moon, who soon has to deal with a dead woman and a stash of cash.” Read more…)

20 Feet From Stardom (background singers, Darlene Love. Rotten Tomatoes: 99%. Metacritic: 83. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The song that plays over the opening titles of 20 Feet From Stardom, Morgan Neville’s new documentary, is Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side,’ a provocative choice and also an appropriate one. The notorious lyrics of the chorus — ‘and the colored girls sing/doo, da-doo, da-doo, doo doo doo doo … ‘ — establish the movie’s subject and also its reason for being. This generous, fascinating documentary about the careers of backup singers, most of them African-American women, seeks to rewrite the history of pop music by focusing attention on voices at once marginal and vital.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Fruitvale Station
Enough Said
Riddick
Carrie

New Documentaries
20 Feet From Stardom (background singers, Merry Clayton, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 99%. Metacritic: 83. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The song that plays over the opening titles of 20 Feet From Stardom, Morgan Neville’s new documentary, is Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side,’ a provocative choice and also an appropriate one. The notorious lyrics of the chorus — ‘and the colored girls sing/doo, da-doo, da-doo, doo doo doo doo … ‘ — establish the movie’s subject and also its reason for being. This generous, fascinating documentary about the careers of backup singers, most of them African-American women, seeks to rewrite the history of pop music by focusing attention on voices at once marginal and vital.” Read more…)

New Music
20 Feet From Stardom (background singers, Darlene Love, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 99%. Metacritic: 83. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The song that plays over the opening titles of 20 Feet From Stardom, Morgan Neville’s new documentary, is Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side,’ a provocative choice and also an appropriate one. The notorious lyrics of the chorus — ‘and the colored girls sing/doo, da-doo, da-doo, doo doo doo doo … ‘ — establish the movie’s subject and also its reason for being. This generous, fascinating documentary about the careers of backup singers, most of them African-American women, seeks to rewrite the history of pop music by focusing attention on voices at once marginal and vital.” Read more…)

(The other) Hank’s Recommendations 01/14/14

Hank_Hoffman_Picks_Image_sketch_WebAfter a bit of a dry spell, the DVD taps are opening again and a rush of long awaited releases is upon us. Coming out this week are two highly anticipated movies dealing with race in America: LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER and FRUITVALE STATION.

The Butler—the director’s name was appended to the title because of a lawsuit over the rights to the unadorned “The Butler”—was the star-studded, big budget release. Based on a true story, it tells contemporary African-American history through the perception of Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker), a butler who served seven Presidents at the White House. Gaines, who witnesses his father being gunned down in a cotton field by the son of the white plantation owner, flees the Jim Crow South for Washington, D.C., taking with him the deferential attitudes towards white supremacy that was often necessary for survival under segregation. But, as Bob Dylan sang, the times are a-changing. Gaines lands a position in the Eisenhower White House at a time when the civil rights movement is challenging the old racial order.

Gaines keeps his head down but his son Louis gets caught up in the social ferment, landing in jail for participating in nonviolent civil disobedience and precipitating a rift with his father. The Butler is a serious movie but not necessarily a deep one. In trying to present some fifty years of tumult in a little over two hours, it touches on a historical events—civil rights marches, Vietnam, Watergate—like a stone skipping over the surface of a lake. Still, Daniels’ effort is enlivened by the fine performances of Forest Whitaker in the title role, Oprah Winfrey as his wife Gloria and David Oyelwo as his son Louis.

Fruitvale Station is an exceptional film, small-scale but ambitious. Where Lee Daniels’ The Butler tries to encompass the sweep of a half-century of social history, Fruitvale Station focuses on a single day—the last day of Oscar Grant’s life. Directed by first-time director Ryan Coogler, it is also based on a true story, the New Year’s Day 2009 killing of unarmed 22-year-old Oscar Grant by a Bay Area Rapid Transit patrolman. This focus enables Coogler to dig deeper, to really uncover the tragedy and humanity behind the headline. Michael B. Jordan—a young character actor who played Wallace in HBO series THE WIRE—plays Grant with immense feeling and sensitivity.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler dramatizes how much things have changed. But Fruitvale Station demonstrates how, in important ways, things have changed too little. How did Oscar Grant end up shot in the back in the titular train station? By following his mother’s advice to be safe by not taking the car for his New Year’s Eve revels with his girlfriend Sophina (played by Melonie Diaz) and his friends. But there is still no safe place for a young black man in America.