New releases 8/15 and 8/22/17

Top Hits
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (comic book action, Chris Pratt. Rotten Tomatoes: 82%. Metacritic: 67. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ has all the digital bells and whistles as well as much of the likable, self-aware waggery of the first. In many respects, it’s not much different except it all feels a bit strained, as if everyone were trying too hard, especially its writer-director, James Gunn.” Read more…)

The Monster (horror, Zoe Kazan. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%. Metacritic: 69. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Monstrous motherhood has never gone out of fashion, including in movies — recent examples include ‘The Babadook’ and ‘Goodnight Mommy’ — that are more obvious fodder for art houses than for multiplexes. ‘The Monster’ is cleverly pitched somewhere in between, with the kind of generous splatters that evoke the good old nasty days of grindhouse horror and enough sleek, self-conscious moves for festival play dates. Part of the ticklish enjoyment in ‘The Monster’ is how the director, Bryan Bertino [‘The Strangers’], plays with genre registers and how, after opening with disquieting stillness and an isolated child, he slowly yet surely turns up the shrieks.” Read more…)

Alien: Covenant (sci-fi, Michael Fassbender. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. Metacritic: 65. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “To complain about its lack of ambition would be to misconstrue its intentions. Rather than setting out to conquer new worlds or excavate primal fears, this “Alien” is content to uphold a long-lived and well-regarded brand. Correcting some of the previous film’s mistakes — not enough alien! too much mythological mumbo-jumbo best left to movies with “Star” in the title! — Mr. Scott parcels out carefully measured portions of awe, wonder and terror on the established installment plan. This episode needs to satisfy you just enough to make sure you come back for the next one.” Read more…)

The Wall (war, Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Rotten Tomatoes: 69%. Metacritic: 57. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Combine two Army Rangers and one pile of stones, throw in a disembodied voice and a whole heap of sand, and you have almost the entirety of ‘The Wall,’ a compressed thriller from Doug Liman that’s more psychological standoff than traditional war game. Working with an unusually small budget [this is no ‘Edge of Tomorrow’] and an uncomfortably tight shooting schedule [14 days in the California desert], Mr. Liman answers the siren song of minimalism with gusto if not complete success. In lieu of flying shrapnel and fancy production design, the director ramps the intensity to 11, then breaks the dial.” Read more…)

Chuck (boxing/sports, Liev Screiber. Rotten Tomatoes: 79%. Metacritic: 68. From Glenn Kenny’s new York Times review: “[Actor Liev] Schreiber has almost no physical resemblance to [boxer Chuck] Wepner, in his heyday a burly, mustachioed redhead. Mr. Schreiber is a terrific actor, however, and he pulls it off. His portrayal works partly because of its understatement. He doesn’t try to Jersey things up too much, so to speak; nor does Elisabeth Moss, as the philandering boxer’s long-suffering wife. Naomi Watts, on the other hand, playing a later love of Wepner’s, clearly relishes the opportunity to perform in a vintage glitter sweater and painted-on jeans.” Read more…)

Everything, Everything (romance, Amandla Sternberg. Rotten Tomatoes: 47%. Metacritic: 52. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “With a pair of irresistible leads and a straightforward love-overcomes-adversity story, ‘Everything, Everything’ scores a direct hit on the teenage-girl market. Others might find it pretty enjoyable as well. Stella Meghie directed this adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s young-adult novel about a teenager, Maddy, who has spent her life inside a sterile house because of an immune system disorder that leaves her catastrophically vulnerable to diseases. [Did you just have a flashback to ‘Bubble Boy’? Rest easy; this movie is a completely different animal.]” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray Discs
Alien: Covenant
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

New Foreign
Goodnight Mommy (Germany, horror/thriller, Georg Deliovsky. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 81. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Like many foreign movies that venture outside their home countries, ‘Goodnight Mommy’ must live with an English title far inferior to its Austrian original, which literally translates as ‘I see, I see.’ Eyes — and what we think they see — are everything in this carefully controlled creep-out, gazing into mirrors and peering through shutters and tightly wrapped gauze. When it’s over, even those who have guessed its final twist (because we have seen it before) will immediately want to watch again, if only to check the logic of its shifting points of view.” Read more…)

La Poison (France, 1951, black comedy, Michel Simon)

Francofonia (Russia, documentary/drama, Benjamin Utzerath. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. Metacritic: 71. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The fate of art is the main concern of ‘Francofonia,’ which takes place mostly in and around the Louvre. Its museum setting makes the film a companion piece of sorts to ‘Russian Ark,’ [director Alexander] Sokurov’s single-shot tour of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and something of an American art house hit in 2002. But while that film was a 99-minute sprint through the Russian past, this one lingers over a particular episode during the Nazi occupation of France. It takes the form of an extended cinematic essay, blending fictionalized re-enactments of plausible events with excursions into scholarship and fantasy.” Read more…)

After the Storm (Japan, drama, Hiroshi Abe. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 84. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “[Director Hirokazu] Kore-eda, whose most noteworthy family dramas include ‘Still Walking’ [2009] and ‘Like Father, Like Son’ [2014], works in a quiet cinematic register, and the slightest error in tone could upend the whole enterprise. Slow-paced, sad, rueful and sometimes warmly funny, ‘After the Storm’ is one of his sturdiest, and most sensitive, constructions.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
The Savage Innocents (1960, Nicholas Ray-directed drama/adventure, Anthony Quinn. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. From Eugene Archer’s 1961 new York Times review [requires log-in]: “By working with a visual style emphasizing violent eruptive motion rather than smoother, more graceful techniques, and by deliberately concealing his symbolic meanings beneath the bewildering surface level of his plot, Mr. Ray has simultaneously sacrificed his chances for popular acceptance and allied himself with such difficult and controversial European filmmakers as Michelangelo Antonioni [‘L’Avventura’] and Jean-Luc Godard [‘Breathless’].” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Homo Sapiens (human existence, architecture, landscapes, post-apocalypse. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 84. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “The latest film from the meticulous, provocative Austrian director Nikolaus Geyrhalter could be described as an environmental documentary. Its form is as simple as death. A stationary camera takes in, one after the other, a single image of a space constructed (or simply scarred) by humankind, and subsequently abandoned. In the first minutes of “Homo Sapiens,” we see railroad tracks, a bicycle rack and the rudiments of a train station.” Read more…)

Betting on Zero (pyramid scheme, Herbalife, financial skullduggery, Bill Ackman. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 72. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “Even without an upbeat ending, though, ‘Betting on Zero’ would be persuasive advocacy. [hedge fund manager William A.] Ackman comes across as sincere in his outrage and cogent in his presentations. Even more valuable is the opportunity to meet and learn about Herbalife’s purported victims, from Queens to Chicago to Oklahoma.” Read more…)

Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt (bio/history, Hannah Arendt. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 66. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “‘Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt,’ a vigorous and thoughtful new documentary by Ada Ushpiz, frames its inquiry into Arendt’s career with her encounter with Eichmann. But its focus is much wider than the still-potent debate over ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem,’ which was widely and fiercely attacked for what critics took to be its trivialization of Eichmann’s deeds and its lack of sympathy for his victims. Though both Arendt’s defenders and detractors are heard from, Ms. Ushpiz’s film situates the Eichmann episode within a broad and rich portrait of an intellectual determined to use the tools of rationality to comprehend historical events that seem to defy all reason.” Read more…)

Francofonia (Russia, documentary/drama, Benjamin Utzerath. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. Metacritic: 71. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The fate of art is the main concern of ‘Francofonia,’ which takes place mostly in and around the Louvre. Its museum setting makes the film a companion piece of sorts to ‘Russian Ark,’ [director Alexander] Sokurov’s single-shot tour of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and something of an American art house hit in 2002. But while that film was a 99-minute sprint through the Russian past, this one lingers over a particular episode during the Nazi occupation of France. It takes the form of an extended cinematic essay, blending fictionalized re-enactments of plausible events with excursions into scholarship and fantasy.” Read more…)

New Releases 12/1/15

Top Hits
Mississippi Grind (drama/thriller, Ryan Reynolds. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 77. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Even if you are not a sucker, as I am, for any movie about gambling with an American geographical reference in the title — ‘California Split,” ‘The Cincinnati Kid,’ ‘Atlantic City’ — you will find a lot to like about ‘Mississippi Grind,’ a low-key road movie written and directed by Anna Boden and yan Fleck. Who can resist a soundtrack full of well-chosen blues and country-and-western songs, many of which offer further testimony to the place of cards, poker chips, dice and racehorses in our national mythology? There is also a cameo from James Toback, screenwriter of ‘The Gambler’ [the good one, from 1974, with James Caan], and as such a kind of tutelary deity of long odds and risky bets.” Read more…)

Some Kind of Beautiful (romance, Pierce Brosnan. Rotten Tomatoes: 4%. Metacritic: 11. New York Times critic Stephen Holden didn’t like this movie: “The execrable romantic comedy ‘Some Kind of Beautiful’ is the kind of embarrassment a studio dumps into the market in August while hoping no one will notice. Directed by Tom Vaughan from a screenplay by Matthew Newman, this witless, offensively sexist farrago stars a flabby Pierce Brosnan as Richard Haig, a self-satisfied professor of English romantic poetry at Cambridge and a serial womanizer who sleeps with his students.” Read more…)

Amy (music documentary, Amy Winehouse. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 85. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “In ‘The Dogs Are Eating Your Mother,’ a poem that Ted Hughes addressed to his children and, by extension, critics and fans, he writes of “a kind of hyena” tearing at the body of his dead wife, Sylvia Plath. ‘They dug her out. Now they batten/On the cornucopia/Of her body.’ In ‘Amy,’ a shattering biographical portrait of the British singer and songwriter Amy Winehouse, you catch sight of some other hyenas every time the paparazzi go in for the kill. The photographers shove their cameras toward her haunted face and ravaged body, ripping at her with each new shot.” Read more…)

Grace of Monaco (biopic about Grace Kelly, Nicole Kidman. Rotten Tomatoes: 10%. Metacritic: 21.)
Get Santa (holiday comedy, Jim Broadbent. Rotten Tomatoes: 77%. Metacritic: 52.)
Huevos: Little Rooster’s Egg-Cellent Adventure (PG-13 animated feature, Zachary Gordon. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. Metacritic: 77.)

New Foreign
Goodnight Mommy (Germany, horror, Susanne Wuest. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 81. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Like many foreign movies that venture outside their home countries, ‘Goodnight Mommy’ must live with an English title far inferior to its Austrian original, which literally translates as ‘I see, I see.’ Eyes — and what we think they see — are everything in this carefully controlled creep-out, gazing into mirrors and peering through shutters and tightly wrapped gauze. When it’s over, even those who have guessed its final twist [because we have seen it before] will immediately want to watch again, if only to check the logic of its shifting points of view.” Read more…)

Assassination (South Korea, action, Ji-hyun Jun. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 64. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “If you set your mind to it, it’s possible to follow the Korean historical drama ‘Assassination’ without taking notes, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Brimming with characters — many in near-identical military garb — and bristling with double crosses, this unnecessarily lengthy homage to resistance chooses breadth over depth at every turn.” Read more…)

Desert Dancer (Iran, dance/political intrigue, Freida Pinto. Rotten Tomatoes: 30%. Metacritic: 49. From Andy Webster’s New York Times review: “The fictionalized biopic ‘Desert Dancer’ explores fascinating aspects of present-day Iran but suffers mightily from simplistic and sentimental tendencies. The debut feature of Richard Raymond, the film depicts the life of Afshin Ghaffarian [Reece Ritchie], a dancer who, frustrated by cultural repression, left the country in 2009. We follow him from childhood, when his instinct to perform at school leads to cautionary messages from his mother about government “morality police.'” Read more…)

New Classic (pre-1960)
Dark Crimes (box set of 50 film noir and crime films from the 1930s to the early 1950s, in glorious black & white)
Best of TV Detectives (over 42 hours of TV detective episodes from the 1950s and early 1960s)

New Documentaries
The Hunting Ground (campus sexual assault exposé. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 77. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “‘The Hunting Ground,’ a documentary shocker about rape on American college campuses, goes right for the gut. A blunt instrument of a movie, it derives its power largely from the many young women and some men recounting on camera how they were raped at their schools and then subsequently denied justice by those same schools. Their stories — delivered in sorrow and rage, with misting eyes and squared jaws — make this imperfect movie a must-watch work of cine-activism, one that should be seen by anyone headed to college and by those already on campus.” Read more…)

Amy (music documentary, Amy Winehouse. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 85. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “In ‘The Dogs Are Eating Your Mother,’ a poem that Ted Hughes addressed to his children and, by extension, critics and fans, he writes of “a kind of hyena” tearing at the body of his dead wife, Sylvia Plath. ‘They dug her out. Now they batten/On the cornucopia/Of her body.’ In ‘Amy,’ a shattering biographical portrait of the British singer and songwriter Amy Winehouse, you catch sight of some other hyenas every time the paparazzi go in for the kill. The photographers shove their cameras toward her haunted face and ravaged body, ripping at her with each new shot.” Read more…)