New releases 1/30/17

Top Hits
Queen of Katwe (family drama, David Oyelowo. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 73. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “‘Irresistible’ is one of those adjectives that critics should handle with utmost care. No matter how universally charming or winning a movie or a performance might seem to be, there is always a chance that somebody, somewhere, will be able to resist it. For all I know that may be the case with ‘Queen of Katwe,’ but if there is anyone out there capable of remaining unmoved by this true-life triumph-of-the-underdog sports story, I don’t think I want to meet that person.” Read more…)

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (action, Tom Cruise. Rotten Tomatoes: 37%. Metacritic: 47. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ is the second movie that Tom Cruise has starred in as this title character. Let’s hope it’s the last. Mr. Cruise deserves better, as do his loyalists, who have stuck with him through the good and the bad, both in perfectly tailored roles that failed to impress audiences [‘Edge of Tomorrow’] and in roles that were unworthy of all his work and our love [‘Oblivion’]. In recent years, only the apparently indestructible ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise has provided him with a steady vehicle for his talents as well as for a ride to box-office success.” Read more…)

Masterminds (action/comedy, Zach Galifianakis. Rotten Tomatoes: 32%. Metacritic: 47. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “‘I blame popular culture,’ Zach Galifianakis says at the start of this comedy, the ridiculousness of his Southern accent rivaling that of his very fluffy hairstyle. His character, David Ghantt — a real-life felon who took part in an ostentatious crime in the late 1990s — is rationalizing his own miscreant deeds for the audience of ‘Masterminds,’ a would-be memorable piece of popular culture that applies the TV-sketch-show-surreal-farce approach to a based-on-true-events caper picture.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Annie
My Neighbor Totoro

New Foreign
The Handmaiden (South Korea, thriller, Kim Tae-Ri. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 84. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Times review: “The art of the tease is rarely as refined as in ‘The Handmaiden.’ Set in Korea in the 1930s, this amusingly slippery entertainment is an erotic fantasy about an heiress, her sadistic uncle, her devoted maid and the rake who’s trying to pull off a devilishly elaborate con. The same could be said of the director Park Chan-wook, whose attention to voluptuous detail — to opulent brocades and silky robes, luscious peaches and creamy shoulders — turns each scene into an invitation to ooh, aah and mmm. This is a movie that tries to ravish your senses so thoroughly you may not notice its sleights of hand.” Read more…)

Mountain (Israel, drama, Shani Kein)

New American Back Catalog (post-1960)
Love Affair (1994, romance, Warren Beatty. Rotten Tomatoes: 31%. From Janet Maslin’s 1994 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Warren Beatty isn’t quite Cary Grant in ‘Love Affair,’ though he plays the same ladies’ man Grant made so fabulously debonair in Leo McCarey’s 1957 ‘An Affair to Remember.’ [Charles Boyer also played this role, in 1939.] Surprisingly, he isn’t quite Warren Beatty either.  Never has Mr. Beatty seemed less foxy or confident than he does playing out this star-crossed romance opposite his real-life spouse, Annette Bening, who has the once glamorous Deborah Kerr role [played earlier by Irene Dunne]. A rule of thumb for male stars looking to set off flirtatious sparks: not with your wife, you don’t. Not on screen.” Read more…)

New British
Victoria: Season 1 (historical drama, Jenna Coleman)

New Documentaries
Harry and Snowman (horse competition, heartwarming. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 74. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Helen T. Verongos’ Times review: “The Snowman of Ron Davis’s documentary ‘Harry and Snowman’ is a horse that melts the heart. Purchased in the 1950s for $80 off a truck bound for the slaughterhouse, Snowman became a champion show jumper. And that was only one surprise in the long friendship that began when this scruffy white gelding locked eyes with Harry deLeyer, who raised horses and taught riding at a girls’ school in Long Island.” Read more…)

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films (film history, Cannon Films, Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. From Manohla Dargis’s New York Times article: “Energetically directed by Mark Hartley, ‘Electric Boogaloo’ features the usual all-star talking heads, among them the Swedish slab Dolph Lundgren and the director Tobe Hooper, who made ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2’ for Cannon. Mr. Hartley taps plenty of entertaining archival material, some dating from Mr. Golan and Mr. Globus’s scrappy start in Israel. Mr. Golan, who directed his share of movies and died in 2014, registers as the more flamboyant and touching of the two, partly because movies were clearly his life’s passion and not just a long hustle. The talking heads are informative and often entertaining and not only because a number of the Cannon grunts and glitterati take such joy in imitating Mr. Globus and Mr. Golan’s accented English.” Read more…)

New releases 1/24/17

Top Hits
The Light Between Oceans (romance, Michael Fassbender. Rotten Tomatoes: 60%. Metacritic: 60. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “The movie, directed by Derek Cianfrance [‘Blue Valentine,’ ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’], envelops the image of a lonely, brooding sentinel gazing out over the water in the seething atmosphere of a Winslow Homer seascape. And Alexandre Desplat’s lush score washes over it like an endless tide. The film’s solemn visual rhythms exert an almost hypnotic spell that for a time gives a heroic dimension to a story as emotionally fraught as a vintage Bette Davis melodrama.” Read more…)

The Vessel (faith-based drama, Martin Sheen. Rotten Tomatoes: 65%. Metacritic: 67. From Andy Webster’s New York Times review: “Julio Quintana’s ‘The Vessel’ is a modest, but not maudlin, parable of hope about mustering the strength to vigorously plunge again into life’s uncertainties after a devastating loss.” Read more…)

The Inferno (action thriller, Tom Hanks. Rotten Tomatoes: 19%. Metacritic: 42. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Late in ‘Inferno,’ Tom Hanks blurts out, ‘My God, this is a labyrinth.’ Well, of course it is, because Mr. Hanks is running [and running] through another muddled Dan Brown maze. Once again, this one comes to you from the director Ron Howard and his producing partner, Brian Grazer, who bring clenched-jaw commitment and a whole mess of filmmaking to every project, even the most disposable. In this case, the story may not make any sense, but they’re going to throw so much at you — so many jumpy moves, so many tangled threads — that you might not notice [or care].” Read more…)

The Monster (drama/horror, Zoe Kazan. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%. Metacritic: 76. 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…)

The Men’s Club (drama, David Dukes)

New British
Sherlock: Season 4 (modern-day mysteries, Benedict Cumberbatch. Rotten Tomatoes: 61%)

New releases 1/17/17

Top Hits
Girl_TrainThe Girl On the Train (thriller, Emily Blunt. Rotten Tomatoes: 43%. Metacritic: 48. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “‘The Girl on the Train’ is a preposterous movie but not an unenjoyable one. If that sounds like faint praise, well, it is and it isn’t. There’s always something to be said for an entertainment that sustains its nuttiness all the way to its twisty finish. This one may not make much sense, but — like a demented old film noir or a Shonda Rhimes show at its crazed best — ‘Girl’ doesn’t falter in its absurdity or commitment to its own seriousness. It never winks. You may laugh [as the audience I saw it with did, on and off], but there’s genuine pleasure in that mirth.” Read more…)

Keeping Up With the Joneses (action comedy, Zach Galifianakis. Rotten Tomatoes: 19%. Metacritic: 34. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “One way to end the scourge of ‘TV is better than film’ articles is to stop making movies like ‘Keeping Up With the Joneses,’ a pedestrian comedy that almost seems intended as evidence for the cause. The plot invites comparisons to ‘The Americans’; the presence of Jon Hamm as a man of mystery prompsts wistful memories of ‘Mad Men’; and the visual vocabulary — no one has bothered to address the abundance of overlit and sun-bleached shots — shows the indifference of a hasty live broadcast.” Read more…)

Ouija: Origin of Evil (horror, Elizabeth Reaser. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 65. Believe it or not, a New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Neil Genzlinger’s Times review: “Perhaps you weren’t impressed with ‘Ouija,’ the 2014 horror movie inspired by the Hasbro game. Critics certainly weren’t. But its new prequel, ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil,’ is deliciously creepy, thanks largely to a terrific performance by the youngest of its stars.” Read more…)

Touched_with_FireTouched With Fire (romance, Katie Holmes. Rotten Tomatoes: 70%. Metacritic: 62. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “‘Touched With Fire’ is an actor’s field day, and both [Luke] Kirby and [Katie] Holmes boldly meet the challenge of playing bright, high-strung artists struggling with depression. Like Jack Nicholson’s Randle Patrick McMurphy in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and Angelina Jolie’s Lisa in ‘Girl, Interrupted,’ they can appear supersane until their daredevil behavior reveals them as recklessly, self-destructively messianic. Their shared mania slightly contorts their faces and glazes their eyes, especially Mr. Kirby’s. And when Marco and Carla flee to the woods and drive into a stream to escape a police car, you recognize the degree of their illness.” Read more…)

Long Way North (animated feature, Christa Theret [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 70. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “The story isn’t flashy and neither is the animation in ‘Long Way North,’ qualities that give the film a certain low-key charm in an age of fast-moving sagas eye-poppingly served. This tale, which in its theatrical release is being shown in both English- and French-language versions, has a young heroine, but you won’t mistake it for ‘Frozen.'” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
The Girl On the Train

New Foreign
IxcanulIxcanul (Guatemala, drama, Maria Mercedes Coroy. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 83. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Made with actual Maya farmers in the Guatemalan highlands, this luminous first feature from Jayro Bustamante has scenes of such tactile intimacy that the trust between the director and his mostly nonprofessional cast is unmistakable. Colors are rich and deep [the gorgeous wide-screen cinematography is by Luis Armando Arteaga], and the atmosphere is so tranquil that the whoosh of action in the final third is powerfully disorienting.” Read more…)

Fatima (France, drama, Soria Zeroual. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 69. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “‘If my daughter is a success, my happiness is complete,” declares the title character of ‘Fatima,’ a small miracle of a film from the French director Philippe Faucon. Divorced from her husband, whom she followed to France and with whom she is still friendly, Fatima [Soria Zeroual] is a 44-year-old North African woman raising two teenage girls in Lyon. The oldest, Nesrine [Zita Hanrot], 18, is a first-year medical student, and the younger, Souad [Kenza-Noah Aïche], is a sullen, sexy 15-year-old rebel ashamed of her mother for working as a housecleaner.” Read more…)

Train_BusanTrain to Busan (South Korea, zombie action, Gong Yoo. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 72. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Elite passengers on a South Korean bullet train face a twitching, hissing threat from the cheap seats in ‘Train to Busan,’ a public-transportation horror movie with a side helping of class warfare. The setup is lean and clean. A flattened deer, mowed down in a quarantine zone in Seoul where some kind of chemical spill has occurred [echoes of Bong Joon-ho’s 2007 enviro-horror film, ‘The Host’], springs back to life. Then, in just a few swiftly efficient scenes, we meet a harried hedge-fund manager and his small, sad daughter [Gong Yoo and an amazing Kim Su-ahn], see them settled on the titular locomotive and watch in dismay as a vividly unwell last-minute passenger lurches onboard. And we’re off!” Read more…)

Closet Monster (Canada, drama/gay & lesbian, Connor Jessup. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 81. From Ken Jaworowski’s Times review: “You may find yourself hoping that ‘Closet Monster’ fades to black during one of its few cheerful scenes — that way, the conflicted young man at its center will get a happy ending. This affecting film prompts that kind of concern for its characters. You want them to be safe. You may find yourself hoping that ‘Closet Monster’ fades to black during one of its few cheerful scenes — that way, the conflicted young man at its center will get a happy ending. This affecting film prompts that kind of concern for its characters. You want them to be safe.” Read more…)

 New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Two for the Seesaw (1962, romance, Robert MItchum. Rotten Tomatoes: 60%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1962 new York Times review [requires log-in]: “Where the fellow in [playwright William] Gibson’s gimmicked and talkative little play was [and must be] an obviously withdrawing, self-pitying, apologetic type, on the order of Henry Fonda, who, miraculously, originated the role, [Robert] Mitchum is plainly a two-fisted, self-assertive and generally supercilious brute whose feeble attempts to act downtrodden are on the painful side of the absurd. And where the girl in the play was a fireball of emotional vibrancy and energy, [Shirley] MacLaine simply isn’t a fire-ball. She tries to portray one without sufficient fuel.” Read more…)

Something_WildSomething Wild (1961, indie drama, Criterion Collection, Carroll Baker. From Peter Sobczynski’s review of the new Criterion release at RogerEbert.com: “When Jack Garfein’s ‘Something Wild’ was released in 1961, it was mostly savaged by critics, roundly ignored by audiences and quickly slipped into obscurity. It didn’t turn up in revival houses, mentions in reference books were scarce at best and if the title did happen to come up somehow, most people probably mistook it for the 1986 Jonathan Demme movie of the same name. Now, in its highest-profile move since its original release [and probably even higher than that], ‘Something Wild’ has been accorded the honor of joining the Criterion Collection with a special-edition Blu-ray featuring a new transfer and a slew of bonus features offering additional background to the film and its unusual history. As a result, a new generation of viewers will have the opportunity to see it for themselves and realize what fans of the film have known for years—not only was ‘Something Wild’ one of the most audacious and formally radical American movies of the 1960s, it still feels startlingly ahead of its time even more than a half-century since it first came out.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Palio (horse racing, Italian life. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 73. From Daniel M. Gold’s New York Times review: “Chariots don’t careen around the Colosseum anymore, but the Italian city of Siena still holds a competition from the Middle Ages that evokes a gladiatorial spirit. The Palio, a horse race first recorded in 1238, is a Tuscan feast of civic pride, medieval pageantry and Machiavellian strategies. As Cosima Spender’s ‘Palio’ shows, the race, run twice every summer in the city’s Piazza del Campo in front of about 70,000 screaming fans, is nominally a contest of neighbors: 10 of the city’s contrade, or districts, sponsor horses and hope to secure bragging rights with a victory. Lasting roughly — very roughly — 90 seconds, it’s a kind of equine Nascar event. Horses are ridden into the boards of the oval dirt track, or into one another; jockeys, who ride bareback, are often thrown off their mounts. And since jockeys may make secret deals — even bribes — to help or hinder other riders, scheming is part of the prepwork.” Read more…)

New releases 1/10/17

Top Hits
Deepwater_HorizonDeepwater Horizon (action/disaster, Mark Wahlberg. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 68. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “‘Deepwater Horizon’ is a swift and suspenseful action movie, full of noise, peril, muck and fire. It’s also a true-crime story, the highly detailed procedural chronicle of how, on April 20, 2010, 11 people were killed and a vast marine ecosystem was despoiled because of negligence and greed. Like ‘The Big Short,’ this film, directed by Peter Berg, dramatizes a broadly familiar story and stands as a work of popular narrative for an age of corporate impunity. The anger and grief you feel leaving the theater constitute a kind of catharsis, a modest symbolic compensation for the failure of justice in the real world.” Read more…)

The Accountant (action/bookkeeping, Ben Affleck. Rotten Tomatoes: 51%. Metacritic: 51. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Who knows why [Ben] Affleck, looking appropriately dead-eyed and miserable, committed himself to this laborious ultraviolent brain tease of a crime thriller. The movie, directed by Gavin O’Connor [‘Tumbleweeds’], makes little sense. The screenplay, by Bill Dubuque, is so determined to hide its cards that when the big reveal finally arrives, it feels as underwhelming as it is preposterous. And Mr. Affleck, despite a meticulous performance, never uncovers a glimpse of his abused character’s humanity beyond Christian’s carefully delineated symptoms. ” Read more…)

Birth_of_NationThe Birth of a Nation (Nat Turner slave rebellion, Nate Parker. Rotten Tomatoes: 72%. Metacritic: 69. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Which is not to deny that he has attempted something grand and accomplished something real. The movie, uneven as it is, has terrific momentum and passages of concentrated visual beauty. The acting is strong even when the script wanders into thickets of rhetoric and mystification. And despite its efforts to simplify and italicize the story, it’s admirably difficult, raising thorny questions about ends and means, justice and mercy, and the legacy of racism that lies at the root of our national identity. There is still a lot of reckoning to be done. Birth is a messy business. And so is what comes after.” Read more…)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again (musical sequel, Laverne Cox. Rotten Tomatoes: 28%. Metacritic: 55. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times television review: “Some things can’t be replicated or recaptured, and thanks to Fox we now know that one of them is the subversive magic of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ On Thursday night, the network serves up its new version of the cult film [for some reason titled ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again’], and although it’s moderately entertaining at times, it never makes clear why it needed to be attempted. That’s the burden of any remake, of course, and from that perspective the project may have been doomed from the start. Certain performances simply can’t be topped.” Read more…)

Homeland: Season 5 (thriller series, Claire Danes. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 76.)

New Blu-Ray
Deepwater Horizon
The Accountant

New Foreign
My_KingMy King (France, drama/romance, Vincent Cassel. Rotten Tomatoes: 72%. Metacritic: 68. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Your first thought on seeing Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot), the mentally shredded heroine of ‘My King’ [‘Mon Roi’], recuperating from a skiing calamity might well be “If I have to break a limb, please let me do it in France.” Cocooned in a gleaming rehab center by the ocean, Tony is recovering from more than a torn knee. And while France may or may not offer lust-worthy physical therapy, it has occasionally produced notable cinematic depictions of injurious passion, of which this unblinking portrait of emotional abuse is an especially juicy example.” Read more…)

Ma Ma (Spain, drama, Penelope Cruz. Rotten Tomatoes: 22%. Metacritic: 31. From Andy Webster’s New York Times review: “Penélope Cruz is an Oscar-winning actress we don’t see often enough in prominent leading roles. So how disappointing to find her having to carry Julio Medem’s florid ‘Ma Ma,’ a melodrama only glancing at profundity.” Read more…)

The People Vs. Fritz Bauer (Germany, historical drama, Burghart Klausner. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 61. From Ken Jaworowski’s New York Times review: “Fritz Bauer is a mass, and a mess, of contradictions: crafty yet principled, loyal yet friendless, brooding yet driven. Sometimes he charges ahead, other times he bumbles along, usually engulfed in a cloud of tobacco smoke. Burghart Klaussner, playing him in “’he People vs. Fritz Bauer,’ delivers a masterly performance as this complicated man. Appraising the film isn’t nearly as complicated. From start to finish, it’s absorbing. A historical drama that radiates suspense, it often recalls ‘Munich’ and ‘Bridge of Spies’ [in which Mr. Klaussner played a role]. Not to get carried away — ‘Fritz Bauer’ doesn’t have the immediacy or the range of those movies. Yet it has their mood, and that’s more than enough reason to watch.” Read more…)

As I Open My Eyes (Tunisia, political drama, Baya Medhaffer. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 74. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “‘I see those deprived of work, of food, of life outside the neighborhood,’ sings Farah [Baya Medhaffar], a fiery 18-year-old Tunisian singer who lights up Leyla Bouzid’s film ‘As I Open My Eyes.’ The film is set in 2010, shortly before Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution ushered in the upheavals of the Arab Spring. The song, with lyrics by Ghassen Amami and music by the eminent Iraqi oud player Khyam Allami, protests the repressive government of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s president for 23 years until he fled the country in 2011. It sets the tone of the film in which word of Farah’s dissenting voice reaches the authorities and her safety is endangered. The movie is a sympathetic portrait of the brash, foolhardy Farah, who lives with her fiercely protective mother, Hayet [Ghalia Benali], though she shares her daughter’s rebellious streak.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
His_Girl_FridayHis Girl Friday/The Front Page (Criterion Collection):
His Girl Friday (1940, newspaper screwball comedy, Rosalind Russell. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. From Frank S. Nugent’s 1940 new York Times review [requires log-in]: “Hysteria is one of the communicable diseases and “His Girl Friday” is a more pernicious carrier than Typhoid Mary. It takes you by the scruff of the neck in the first reel and it shakes you madly, bellowing hoarsely the. while, for the remaining six or seven. Before it’s over you don’t know whether you have been laughing or having your ears boxed. The veriest bit on the strenuous side, if you follow us.” Read more…)

The Front Page (1931, newspaper comedy, Adolphe Menjou.  Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. From Mordaunt Hall’s 1931 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “A witty and virile talking picture has been wrought from ‘The Front Page,’ the play of Chicago newspaper life by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. This film, which is now at the Rivoli, differs but little in construction from the parent work. It is a fast-paced entertainment and, while its humor is frequently harsh, it assuredly won favor with the audience yesterday afternoon.” Read more…)

Carbine Williams (1952, biopic, James Stewart. From Bosley Crowther’s 1952 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “A somewhat bewildering combination of personal attributes, some of them exemplary and some of them sinister and gross, is arranged for almost solid admiration by the people of MGM in a picture called ‘Carbine Williams,’ which came to the Capitol yesterday. Since this is presented as the story of D. Marsh Williams, the fabulous man who invented the Army’s modern carbine, and since James Stewart plays the title role in his customery gaunt and earnest fashion, a certain degree of sentiment is aroused that may not be entirely supported when the elements are carefully analyzed.” Read more…)

 New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
The Outside Man (1972, thriller directed by French director Jacques Deray, Jean-Louis Trintignant)

New British
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: Season 1 (Douglas Adams comedy series, Elijah Wood. Rotten Tomatoes: 72%. Metacritic: 62.)

New TV
Mr. Robot: Season 2 (cyber-security drama, Rami Malek. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 81.)

New Documentaries
The Story of Cats (nature, cheetahs, Fluffy. From Neil Genzlnger’s New York Times television review: “It may have been a mistake to watch ‘The Story of Cats’ with my cat. I’m concerned about some of the ideas the program might have put into her head. ‘The Story of Cats,’ a two-part installment of the PBS series ‘Nature’ that begins on Wednesday, is about all sorts of cats, whether fierce jungle ones or the kind that curl up on the couch. Its overall point is that across the millenniums cats have been supremely skilled at evolving to suit new environments and circumstances.” Read more…)

Black America Since MLK: Still I Rise (civil rights, race, history, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)

New releases 1/3/17

Top Hits
American_HoneyAmerican Honey (New York Times Critic’s Pick, drama, Sasha Lane. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%. Metacritic: 79. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “On the shelf of essential cultural products whose names begin with the word ‘American,’ Andrea Arnold’s new film [her fourth feature and the first set in the United States] might find a spot between Grant Wood’s ‘Gothic’ and Green Day’s ‘Idiot.’ This is not solely a matter of alphabetical order. ‘American Honey,’ which takes its title from a song by Lady Antebellum, is a roaming, rambling road picture propelled by sex, hip-hop and close-ups of insects. It probes the murk and terror beneath the surface of contemporary life, and illuminates the vital role of ignorance, poor judgment and wishful thinking in our national character.” Read more…)

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (comedy, Jennifer Saunders. Rotten Tomatoes: 60%. Metacritic: 59. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “‘Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie’ opens with Edina Monsoon [Jennifer Saunders] and her bestie, Patsy Stone [Joanna Lumley], blundering into a fashion show. While ordinary latecomers might try a discreet entrance, bobbing and weaving as they scamper for seats, the constitutionally unmindful Eddy and Patsy stumble onto the catwalk, creating a distraction that forces everyone’s attention on them. What seems like mere table-setting — Eddy galumphing among the gazelles — is a sly declaration of intent in a happily self-conscious feature-length goof.” Read more…)

Blair Witch (horror, James Allen McCune. Rotten Tomatoes: 35%. Metacritic: 47. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “It’s a lot of suffering with very little payoff. In 1999, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ was a milestone of low-budget, found-footage horror. In the years since, technology has advanced, but the basic grammar of the genre remains the same. Unexpected sounds, sudden cuts and things jumping into the frame are guaranteed to startle the audience. And Mr. Wingard does, from time to time, but without summoning the deeper dread or the sharper wit that might make this movie anything more than an elementary exercise.” Read more…)

Operation_AvalancheOperation Avalanche (thriller, Matt Johnson. Rotten Tomatoes: 69%. Metacritic: 69. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Turning lack of sophistication into a virtue is a skill that the filmmaking hyphenate Matt Johnson has in abundance. Three years ago, he directed and starred in his first feature, ‘The Dirties,’ a shrewd commentary on the warped relationship between image and reality. Now he and his prime collaborator, Owen Williams, are back to poke that beast some more with ‘Operation Avalanche,’ a Cold War comedy-thriller pulsing with paranoia.” Read more…)

Denial (Holocaust denial legal drama, Rachel Weisz. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 64. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “No courtroom fireworks detonate in ‘Denial,’ a sober, methodical recounting of a 1996 libel suit brought by David Irving, a discredited British historian, against Deborah E. Lipstadt, author of the 1993 book ‘Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.’ The absence of an emotional catharsis in the film, efficiently directed by Mick Jackson [‘The Bodyguard,’ ‘Temple Grandin’] from a screenplay by the British playwright David Hare, leaves a frustrating emptiness at its center. You wonder if the material would have been more effective as a courtroom procedural adapted for the stage. All of the trial testimony comes from court transcripts.” Read more…)

Mr. Pig (drama, Danny Glover. Rotten Tomatoes: 62%.)

New British
Shetland: Season 3 (detective series, Douglas Henshall)

New Documentaries
Projections of America (cinema history, propaganda, World War II)

New releases 12/27/16

Top Hits
snowdenSnowden (contemporary fact-based drama, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt.  Rotten Tomatoes: 61%. Metacritic: 58. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden,’ a quiet, crisply drawn portrait of the world’s most celebrated whistle-blower, belongs to a curious subgenre of movies about very recent historical events. Reversing the usual pattern, it could be described as a fictional ‘making of’ feature about ‘Citizenfour,’ Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning documentary on the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. That film seems to me more likely to last — it is deeper journalism and more haunting cinema — but Mr. Stone has made an honorable and absorbing contribution to the imaginative record of our confusing times. He tells a story torn from slightly faded headlines, filling in some details you may have forgotten, and discreetly embellishing the record in the service of drama and suspense.” Read more…)

Dog Eat Dog (crime drama, Willem Dafoe.  Rotten Tomatoes: 43%. Metacritic: 53. From Glenn Kenny’s new York Times revew: “Despite its slim running time — barely over an hour and a half — ‘Dog Eat Dog’ somehow feels like six different movies. The first one, which depicts an especially appalling double murder through the speedy, sickly colorful perspective of an extended drug binge, is probably the least effective of the batch. But it lets you know that the filmmakers are not coming at you from a benevolent place, and that impression never lets up.” Read more…)

The Dressmaker (revenge drama/comedy, Kate Winslet.  Rotten Tomatoes: 43%. Metacritic: 57. From A.O. scott’s New York Times review: “It’s the early 1950s, and Tilly Dunnage [(Kate) Winslet] has returned to her dusty Australian hometown in search of vengeance. She moves in with her dotty mother, Molly [(Judy) Davis], and promptly sets tongues wagging and bad memories stirring. As a child [then known as Myrtle], Tilly was bullied by a rich kid and blamed for his death. That supposed crime will be revisited, and the closets of this wicked little hamlet will disgorge their skeletons.” Read more…)

Coming Through the Rye (coming-of-age story, Alex Wolff.  Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. Metacritic: 64. From Andy Webster’s New York Times review:”With the glossy ‘Coming Through the Rye,’ the director James Sadwith pays heartfelt tribute to both J.D. Salinger, the reclusive writer of ‘The Catcher in the Rye,’ who died in 2010, and the book itself. He also affectionately fictionalizes his own past [he wrote the script], drawing from his actual meeting in adolescence with Mr. Salinger.” Read more…)

In a Valley of Violence (western, Ethan Hawke.  Rotten Tomatoes: 77%. Metacritic: 64. From Jeannette Catsoulis’  New York Times review: “Ignore the clichés and underdeveloped characters, though, and there are plenty of substitute pleasures. Jeff Grace’s wonderfully expressive musical score adds the urgency the plot lacks, and John Travolta, playing a hard-nosed marshal who intuits Paul’s traumatic past, has rarely been this enjoyably commanding. And if the sniping sisters who run the hotel [Taissa Farmiga and Karen Gillan] exude a modernity that can detach them from the story, they also bring a tumbling, clumsy vitality. The movie would be grimmer — and quieter — without them.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Snowden

New Foreign
man_called_oveA Man Called Ove (Sweden, comedy/drama, Rolf Lassgård. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 69. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Sweden’s official entry for a best foreign-language film at the Academy Awards proves that Swedish pictures can be just as sentimental and conventionally heartwarming as Hollywood ones. Granted, few Hollywood films would deign to tell the story of a protagonist’s life through a series of flashbacks brought on by unsuccessful suicide attempts. But still.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
The Phynx (1970, rock ‘n’ roll spy spoof, Ray Chippeway and lots of old-time Hollywood stars cameos)

New British
Undercover (thriller mini-series, Sophie Okonedo.  Rotten Tomatoes: 78%. Metacritic: 58.)
Jericho of Scotland Yard (detective series, Robert Lindsay)

New releases 12/20/16

Top Hits
sullySully (true-life hero drama, Tom Hanks. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 74. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, “Sully,” is about a man who is excellent at his job. Specifically, it tells the story of Capt. Chesley Sullenberger and how, on a frigid January afternoon in 2009, he came to land a plane on the Hudson River. The movie is economical and solid, and generally low-key when it’s not freaking you out. That it unnerves you as much as it does may seem surprising, given that going in, we know how this story ends. But Mr. Eastwood is also very good at his job, a talent that gives the movie its tension along with an autobiographical sheen.” Read more…)

Goat (hazing drama, Nick Jonas. Rotten Tomatoes: 77%. Metacritic: 64. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times revoew: “Directed by Andrew Neel from a script by David Gordon Green, Mike Roberts and Mr. Neel, the movie is shot in hand-held, quasi-documentary style, although Mr. Neel weirdly forgoes a lot of what would have been useful exposition in the first quarter. The movie is similarly indirect in its approach to the admittedly inarticulate characters’ psychology. But in depicting the atrocities of the frat’s ‘Hell Week,’ it is painstakingly explicit, a junior varsity variant on Pier Paolo Pasolini’s study of fascist sadism, ‘Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.'” Read more…)

Storks (animated feature, Andy Samberg [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 63%. Metacritic: 56. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “Birds have been fine — memorable, even — as secondary characters in animated fare. Zazu in ‘The Lion King.’ Scuttle in ‘The Little Mermaid.’ But giving a bird or birds top billing is another matter, as demonstrated by ‘Storks.’ This film, directed by NIcholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland, is a harmless enough way to occupy a youngster for an hour and a half. It’s just not especially rich in extraordinary characters or moments.” Rea more…)

magnificent_sevenThe Magnificent Seven (action/Western re-make, Denzel Washington. Rotten Tomatoes: 63%. Metacritic: 54. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “This time, the seven are riding — and shooting — under the adequate if unremarkable direction of Antoine Fuqua. Working with truckloads of dust and high-contrast cinematography that tends to turn shadows into bottomless inky blots, Mr. Fuqua approaches the western like an ardent fan, leaving no genre element untouched, from gun spinning to trick riding to atmospherically flapping dusters. The story — the script is credited to Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk — pretty much follows the line of the 1960 film, with some tweaks that speak to contemporary mores, including a gun-toting frontierswoman, Emma [Haley Bennett].” Read more…)

Hitchcock/Truffaut (cinema history, interview. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 79. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Just as a snooty reader might be enticed to the novels of Stephen King by a thumbs-up from The New York Review of Books, movie buffs were likely to view Truffaut’s enthusiasm for Hitchcock as a sufficient entree to their discerning fold. But the book, an engrossing record of Truffaut’s days-long interview with his idol in 1962 [excerpts of which are included in this film], did more than just reposition its subject’s reputation. It also provided riveting insight into the art and craft of moviemaking, revealing Hitchcock’s mastery of time and space and his unwavering preference, honed by his period of making silent movies, for image over dialogue.” Read more…)

Hairspray Live (musical, Kristin Chenoweth. Rotten Tomatoes: 79%. Metacritic: 66. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times television review: “Based on the 1988 John Waters film, the musical’s story of social outcasts and racial barriers is set in 1962, and it should amaze and distress us with its continued relevance in 2016. The broadcast, though, didn’t generate as much power as it could have because of all the shots of the cast members golf-carting from one set to another, of viewing parties in various cities and so on. Only Jennifer Hudson, who played Motormouth Maybelle, found the real strength of this Tony Award-winning musical, delivering a knockout rendition of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been,’ a gospel-infused power number, late in the show.” Read more…)

Dad’s Army (comedy, Bill Nighy. Rotten Tomatoes: 31%. Metacritic: 38.)

New Blu-Ray
Sully

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
ruthlessRuthless (1948, Edgar Ulmer-directed drama, Zachary Scott. From the 1948 New York Times review by “T.I.P.” [requires log-in]: “A long, tedious recital about how a poor lad worked his way up the Wall Street ladder in the fabulous Twenties, brutally trampling over friend and foe, is being unfolded on the screen of the Gotham in ‘Ruthless.’ Without ever managing to bring the story to a dramatic point, the authors build a financial pirate of titanic proportions, a man so possessed by avarice and so cruelly cold and inhuman that he assumes a degree of monstrousness unrelated to reality. In short, it is impossible to become concerned about a character so patently fabricated.” Read more…)

No Man of Her Own (1950,film noir, Barbara Stanwyck. From Bosley Crowther’s 1950 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The appearance of Barbara Stanwyck as a dame plagued by the swarming consequences of some indiscreet social offense is one to which movie audiences should be well accustomed by now. Along with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, she is one of the steadiest sufferers on the screen. Seems like every time Miss Stanwyck makes a picture she makes a false step—fictionally speaking, that is. People know what to expect.” Read more…)

City That Never Sleeps (1953, film noir, Gig Young. From “H.H.T.”‘s 1953 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “A half-hearted attempt to document nocturnal Chicago as the ‘City That Never Sleeps’ rarely camouflages the routine crime melodrama that bowed in with the Palace’s new stage bill yesterday. This Republic offering can claim an erratic exploration of the Chicago skyline — obviously injected in hopeful reminiscence of what ‘The Naked City’ did to our town—a good, murkily photographed chase finale and a ready, willing and fairly able cast, headed by Gig Young, Mala Powers, William Talman and Edward Arnold. And all, unfortunately, in vain.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
hitchcock_truffautHitchcock/Truffaut (cinema history, interview. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 79. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Just as a snooty reader might be enticed to the novels of Stephen King by a thumbs-up from The New York Review of Books, movie buffs were likely to view Truffaut’s enthusiasm for Hitchcock as a sufficient entree to their discerning fold. But the book, an engrossing record of Truffaut’s days-long interview with his idol in 1962 [excerpts of which are included in this film], did more than just reposition its subject’s reputation. It also provided riveting insight into the art and craft of moviemaking, revealing Hitchcock’s mastery of time and space and his unwavering preference, honed by his period of making silent movies, for image over dialogue.” Read more…)

New releases 12/13/16

Top Hits
florence_foster_jenkinsFlorence Foster Jenkins (comedy, Meryl Streep. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 71. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “Meryl Streep will get most of the attention accorded the crowd-pleasing ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ thanks to a performance that may single-handedly set off a boom in the earplug industry. But the actor you should keep your eye on is Simon Helberg. It is his reactions to her vocal travesties that really make the movie sparkle.” Read more…)

Ben-Hur (costume drama action, Jack Huston. Rotten Tomatoes: 25%. Metacritic: 38. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “For any filmmaker foolhardy enough to embark on a remake of ‘Ben-Hur,’ the kitschy 1959 sword-and-sandals epic that captured 11 Oscars and elevated Charlton Heston to Hollywood sainthood, the first order of business is to create a bigger and better version of that movie’s climactic chariot race. The best thing about the reimagined ‘Ben-Hur,’ directed by Timur Bekmambetov [‘Wanted,’ ‘Abraham lIncoln: Vampire Hunter’] from a screenplay by Keith Clarke and John Ridley, is that it delivers a contest as thunderously stirring as any action sequence from the “Fast and Furious” franchise.” Read more…)

Bridget Jones’s Baby (rom-com, Renee Zelleger. Rotten Tomatoes: 77%. Metacritic: 59. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Like the recent ‘Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie,’ or the film spinoffs of ‘Sex and the City,’ ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ trades on nostalgia for the characters’ quaint misbehavior and silly fantasies of yesteryear. Renée Zellweger, crinkly eyed and adorable at 47, plays a more poised and confident Bridget, still chasing what she calls ‘happily ever after.’ But the question nags: What planet does she think she inhabits? The London shown here might as well be Planet C, as in cute.” Read more…)

Suicide Squad (comic book action, Will Smith. Rotten Tomatoes: 26%. Metacritic: 40. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Scholars of classical Hollywood sometimes speak of ‘the genius of the system,’ a phrase coined by the French critic André Bazin to refer to the ability of the old studio machinery to turn out works of inventive and beautiful popular art. But times change. ‘Suicide Squad,’ the latest product of the DC-Warner Bros. partnership, is a good example of the idiocy of the system. This is not to say that it’s a completely terrible movie — it is certainly not worse than ‘X-Men: Apocalypse,’ ‘Captain America: Civil War’ or, heaven knows, ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ — but rather that its virtues and shortcomings are more systemic than specific.” Read more…)

Southside With You (Barack & Michelle Obama bio/romance/drama, Parker Sawyers. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 74. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Sweet, slight and thuddingly sincere, ‘Southside With You’ is a fictional re-creation of Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date. It’s a curious conceit for a movie less because as dates go this one is pretty low key but because the writer-director Richard Tanne mistakes faithfulness for truthfulness. He’s obviously interested in the Obamas, but he’s so cautious and worshipful that there’s nothing here to discover, only characters to admire. Every so often, you catch a glimpse of two people seeing each other as if for the first time; mostly, though, the movie just sets a course for the White House.” Read more…)

miss_peregrineMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Tim Burton-directed fantasy adventure, Eva Green. Rotten Tomatoes: 63%. Metacritic: 57. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “The movies have long made room for phantasmagoric visionaries, the strange ones, the different ones, who like to peek under rocks [or peel back the skin] to peer at what squirms beneath. Fitting their deliriums into bright, shiny, commercially palatable vehicles can be difficult, as Tim Burton’s career attests. Time and again, Mr. Burton has tried to smooth down his singular art, rather like one of Cinderella’s stepsisters sawing off a bit of her foot to squeeze into a happily-ever-after slipper. Mr. Burton should never hack off his strange bits; they can be glorious. Ah, but he slips beautifully into his latest, ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.'” Read more…)

Little Men (family drama, Greg Kinnear. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 86. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “There is hardly a shortage of buddy movies about mismatched men bonding under duress, but films that chart the emotional weather of everyday male friendship are rare. Literature has more to offer, at least as far as boys are concerned. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn have a rich and renewable legacy. And it may be that association that imparts a novelistic vibe to Ira Sachs’s ‘Little Men,’ beyond the Louisa May Alcott echo in the title. It’s a subtle movie, alert to the almost imperceptible currents of feeling that pass between its title characters.” Read more…)

Equity (Wall Street drama, Anna Gunn. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 68. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “‘Equity’ itself, however, is bracing, witty and suspenseful, a feminist thriller sharply attuned to the nuances of its chosen milieu. In setting and mood, it bears some resemblance to J. C. Chandor’s ‘Margin Call,’ which similarly infused sleek and sterile corporate spaces with danger and dread. But unlike that film or Adam McKay’s ‘The Big Short,’ Ms. Menon’s movie is not about the system in crisis. It’s about business as usual.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Florence Foster Jenkins
Ben-Hur
Bridget Jones’s Baby
Suicide Squad

New Foreign
man_facing_southeastMan Facing Southeast (Argentina, 1986, sci-fi, Hugo Soto. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. From Vincent Canby’s 1987 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “As an example of Latin American fiction, ‘Man Facing Southeast’ is lower-middle-brow Garcia Marquez and bourgeois Borges. ‘Man Facing Southeast’ is one of those sentimental films that find madness both poetic and romantic. Is Rantes what he says he is? The movie answers firmly, ‘Yes and no.’ [Director Eliseo] Subiela mixes his metaphors with a vengeance. Though Julio knows, at heart, that Rantes is psychotic, the doctor begins to see himself as Pontius Pilate to Rantes’s outer-space Jesus. The movie goes along with this, picturing Rantes, at one point, as the Jesus in tableau vivant based on Michelangelo’s Pieta. Rantes is also able to perform minor miracles.” Read more…)

Los Olvidados (Mexico, 1950, Luis Buñuel-directed surrealist drama, Estela Inda. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. “Los Olvidados” is now seen as a classic of both surrealist and Latin American cinema. But New York Times critic Bosley Crowther was no fan when he reviewed the movie in 1952 [requires log-in]: “A brutal and unrelenting picture of poverty and juvenile crime in the slums of Mexico City is presented in ‘The Young and the Damned’ [the U.S. title for ‘Los Olvidados’], a Mexican semi-documentary that was put on yesterday at the Trans-Lux Fifty-second Street. Although made with meticulous realism and unquestioned fidelity to facts, its qualifications as dramatic entertainment — or even social reportage—are dim. For it is obvious that Luis Buñuel, who directed and helped write the script, had no focus or point of reference for the squalid, depressing tale he tells. He simply has assembled an assortment of poverty-stricken folk—paupers, delinquents, lost children and parents of degraded morals—and has mixed them altogether in a vicious and shocking melange of violence, melodrama, coincidence and irony.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
asphalt_jungleThe Asphalt Jungle (1950, Criterion Collection, John Huston-directed film noir, Sterling Hayden, Marilyn Monroe. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1950 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “This film, derived by Ben Maddow and John Huston from [novelist W.R.] Burnett’s book and directed by Mr. Huston in brilliantly naturalistic style, gives such an electrifying picture of the whole vicious circle of a crime—such an absorbing illustration of the various characters involved, their loyalties and duplicities, and of the minutiae of crime techniques—that one finds it hard to tag the item of repulsive exhibition in itself. Yet that is our inevitable judgment of this film, now on the Capitol’s screen. For the plain truth is that this picture—sobering though it may be in its ultimate demonstration that a life of crime does not pay—enjoins the hypnotized audience to hobnob with a bunch of crooks, participate with them in their plunderings and actually sympathize with their personal griefs. The vilest creature in the picture, indeed, is a double-crossing cop. And the rest of the police, while decent, are definitely antagonists.” Read more…)

New British
Steaming (1984, Joseph Losey-directed drama, Vanessa Redgrave. From Vincent Canby’s 1985 new York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘Steaming,’ adapted from Nell Dunn’s play, which had a brief Broadway run during the 1981-1982 season, is about a group of English women who meet each week in a grubby, going-to-pieces, public bathhouse to sweat out their psyches, trade secrets and raise their consciousnesses. They represent, of course, the kind of societal cross section one used to find in William Saroyan’s barrooms or falling to their doom off Thornton Wilder’s ‘Bridge of San Luis Rey.’ The trouble with ‘Steaming’ is that not even a cast of first-rate actresses can give these dreary characters a dimension or interest that hasn’t been supplied by the screenplay, written by Patricia Losey, the director’s wife.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
hooligan_sparrowHooligan Sparrow (human rights, China, women’s rights, protest, free speech. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 78. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “One of the strengths of ‘Hooligan Sparrow’ is that it makes those stakes real, visceral and urgent, partly by laying bare just how difficult it can be to make a documentary like this. It’s the debut feature of Nanfu Wang, who inserts herself into the fray early in a short, tense scene in which — while facing the camera alone in a room — she nervously explains that the police are about to question her about her recent activities. The scene, with its unease and suggestive violence, doesn’t draw you in; it yanks you, a canny strategy that instantly puts the viewer on Ms. Wang’s side and turns the presumably [or at least relatively] disinterested audience into a kind of collaborator. ‘Hooligan Sparrow,’ which Ms. Wang also shot and skillfully edited, has the pulse of a mainstream thriller but without the pacifying polish and tidiness.” Read more…)

New releases 11/29/16

Top Hits
dont_breatheDon’t Breathe (horror, Jane Levy. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 71. From Anita Gates’ New York Times review: “People who go to see movies like ‘Don’t Breathe’ — some of them, anyway — tend to laugh when people are killed onscreen. And when people believed to be dead open their eyes. Even I laughed when the watchdog, which the three attractive young thieves had drugged into slumber, appeared in the hallway, growling. Ha! Guess he woke up, dudes.” Read more…)

Pete’s Dragon (family/fantasy, Bryce Dallas Howard. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 71. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “The director David Lowery’s independent film pedigree [his previous feature was the accomplished, although self-serious, outlaw romance ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’] suggests that he would apply a singular perspective to this material. But “Pete’s Dragon” is largely as impersonal as it is fleet.” Read more…)

Soundbreaking (music production, Beatles. Metacritic: 78. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times television review: “The performer is often only the public face of a well-known song; its body is formed in the studio. That part of the creative process is explored in the richly detailed PBS series ‘Soundbreaking: Stories From the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music,’ an eight-parter that begins Monday, Nov. 14.” Read more…)

bfgThe BFG (Roald Dahl family/fantasy, Ruby Barnhill. Rotten Tomatoes: 75%. Metacritic: 646. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “‘The BFG’ — it stands for ‘big friendly giant’ — is a small, friendly movie, an attempt to reconcile the scale and dazzle of modern filmmaking with the quiet, mischievous charm of Roald Dahl’s book. Directed by Steven Spielberg and written by his frequent collaborator Melissa Mathison [who died in November], it chronicles the relationship between the title character [Mark Rylance] and a young orphan named Sophie [Ruby Barnhill].” Read more…)

Dough (comedy, Jonathan Pryce. Rotten Tomatoes: 60%. Metacritic: 46. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “Take an aging white Jewish baker, add a young black Muslim immigrant, and what do you have? The ingredients for a pleasant but pat story in which bridges are built across religious, racial and generational divides in a way that happens far more often in feel-good movies than in real life.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Pete’s Dragon
The BFG

New British
Brief Encounters: Season 1 (British dramedy series, Penelope Wilton. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times television review: “It’s 1982, and times are hard in England. How does a woman help shore up the family finances? In the delicious British dramedy ‘Brief Encounters’ … the answer for several entrepreneurs is selling lingerie and sex toys to repressed women at Tupperware-like parties. The six-episode series may feel more 1950s than 1980s, but the results are often hilarious.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Soundbreaking (music production, Beatles)
Alex de Renzy: Three Documentaries (drugs, sex industry, early 1970s cinema verite)

New Music
Soundbreaking (music production, Beatles)

New Children’s DVDs
Pete’s Dragon (family/fantasy, Bryce Dallas Howard)
The BFG (Roald Dahl family/fantasy, Ruby Barnhill)

New releases 11/15/16

Top Hits
finding_doryFinding Dory (Pixar animated feature, Ellen DeGeneres. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 77. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Now Dory has her own movie, imaginatively called ‘Finding Dory,’ a merchandising opportunity for Disney and a welcome end-of-the-school-year diversion for parents and children. While it may not join the top tier of Pixar features, ‘Dory,’ directed by Andrew Stanton and Angus Ma’Lane, is certainly the best non-‘Toy Story’ sequel the studio has produced. That may sound like faint praise given the startling mediocrity of “Monsters University’ and ‘Cars 2,’ but what ‘Dory’ lacks in dazzling originality it more than makes up for in warmth, charm and good humor.” Read more…)

Fort Tilden (New York Times Critic’s Pick, comedy, Clare McNulty. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 70. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Andy Webster’s Times review: “Take the potty-mouthed, woman-centric millennial sensibility of HBO’s ‘Girls,’ turn down the drama and turn up the comic amorality, and you have ‘Fort Tilden,’ the highly amusing debut feature from Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers. Rarely has a movie so humorously illustrated the meaning of ‘frenemy.'” Read more…)

Game of Thrones: Season 6 (HBO fantasy series, Peter Dinklage. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 73.)

New Blu-Ray
Finding Dory (regular Blu-Ray & 3D Blu-Ray)

New Foreign DVDs
Summertime (France, lesbian romance, Cecile de France. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 72. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Delphine and Carole meet in Paris in the early ’70s, a time of post-’68 agitation and fertile ground for French filmmakers mining their nation’s recent history for resonant stories. Catherine Corsini’s ‘Summertime,’ with the clarity of hindsight and a deep reservoir of empathy, examines the commingling of the personal and the political from a fresh angle. This is a film about the struggle for sexual freedom and women’s rights, and also about the power of region, class and custom in the lives of its characters.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
macbethMacbeth (1948, Orson Welles Shakespeare adaptation. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1950 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Orson Welles’ sprotean film production of William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth,’ cut, re-cut, re-recorded and oft exhibited far and wide in the past three years, finally obtained a local haven at the Trans-Lux Sixtieth Street yesterday and turned out to be less of a vagary than its history might lead one to expect. As a matter of fact, this final rendering, which Mr. Welles directed and in which he stars, may not possess the searching insight and the dramatic clarity that one might desire but it has a great deal in its favor in the way of feudal spectacle and nightmare mood.” Read more…)

Pimpernel Smith (1941, World War II-era drama/thriller, Leslie Howard. From T.S.’s 1942 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Having saved a good many heads from the French revolutionary guillotine in the film of a few years back, the Scarlet Pimpernel is back in a new disguise. ‘Mister V’ [now called ‘Pimpernel Smith’] is what he calls himself in the new arrival at the Rivoli, and this time he is a crotchety, vacant-minded archaeologist smuggling deserving souls out of the reach of the Nazi terror. Out of his adventures amid the gutterals and brown shirts, Leslie Howard as producer, director and leading player has created an uneven but decidedly exciting melodrama. Perhaps Mister V’s exploits sometimes have a familiar ring, No matter, [‘Pimpernel Smith’] is still a pulse-quickening variation on a dangerous theme. Singapore may fall, but the British can still make melodramas to chill the veins.” Read more…)

New British
Capital (mini-series, satire/drama, Toby Jones)
The Living and the Dead: Season 1 (supernatural series, Colin Morgan)
The Syndicate: All or Nothing (comedy/drama series, Kay Mellor)

New Television
Better Call Saul: Season 2 (drama series, Bob Odenkirk. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 85.)
Game of Thrones: Season 6 (fantasy series, Peter Dinklage)
Looking: The Complete Series & the Movie (HBO series, gay life in San Francisco. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 77.)

New Gay & Lesbian
Summertime (France, lesbian romance, Cecile de France)
Looking: The Complete Series & the Movie

New Children’s DVDs
Finding Dory (Pixar animated feature, Ellen DeGeneres)