New releases 3/6/18

Top Hits
Lady Bird (comedy/drama, Saoirse Ronan. Rotten Tomatoes: 99%. Metacritic: 94. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “The idea that attention is a form of love [and vice versa] is a beautiful insight, and in many ways it’s the key to ‘Lady Bird,’ Greta Gerwig’s beautiful, insightful new film, the first for which she is solely credited as writer and director. Ms. Gerwig, a Sacramento native and member of her heroine’s generation — the movie takes place mostly during the 2002-3 academic year — knows her characters and their world very well. Her affection envelops them like a secular form of grace: not uncritically, but unconditionally. And if you pay the right kind of attention to ‘Lady Bird’ — absorbing its riffs and digressions as well as its melodies, its choral passages along with its solos and duets — you will almost certainly love it. It’s hard not to.” Read more…)

Wonder Wheel (drama, Kate Winslet. Rotten Tomatoes: 31%. Metacritic: 45. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “‘Wonder Wheel,’ Woody Allen’s latest movie, is one of his more unfortunate contributions to cinema. It tells the story of a desperately, unhappily married woman whose affair with a local Romeo is derailed when he takes notice of her stepdaughter, whose breasts have been lit to glow like Vermeer peaches. The heart wants what it wants, as Mr. Allen once said by way of explaining his affair with his now wife, Soon-Yi, the daughter of his longtime ex, Mia Farrow. I tend to think it’s a bad idea to put a movie on the couch, but what if it climbs on the couch and then starts winking?” Read more…)

Thor: Ragnarok (superhero action, Chris Hemsworth. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 74. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “[Actor Chris] Hemsworth looks happier and far more relaxed in ‘Ragnarok’ than he did in the previous Thor vehicles, which is perhaps [director Taiki] Waititi’s truest achievement here. For a guy who looks chiseled by Michelangelo, Mr. Hemsworth can be a surprisingly agile physical performer, capable of real bounce, and he clearly likes ricocheting off walls as much as he does ceding center stage to the other actors. These include Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, who, after an unpromising entrance, develops into a real character with emotion and an all-too-brief flashback filled with fury, beauty, liquid motion and mythological mystery.” Read more…)

The Man Who Invented Christmas (Charles Dickens Christmas Carol biopic, Dan Stevens. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 60. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “As ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’ tells it, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) took inspiration for “A Christmas Carol” from a waiter named Marley and a real-life miser who said ‘humbug.’ And before Dickens could finish the book, he had to exorcise aspects of Scrooge from himself — to find kindness in his heart for his proud but poor father [Jonathan Pryce], and to pay attention to his wife [Morfydd Clark], who accuses him of caring more about his characters than his family. Like ‘Shakespeare in Love’ and ‘Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus,’ ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas,’ adapted — rather fancifully — from the nonfiction book by Les Standiford, endorses the theory that artists are secret documentarians.” Read more…)

Ethel & Ernest (animated feature, Brenda Blethyn [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 72.)

New Blu-Ray
Lady Bird
Thor: Ragnarok

New Foreign
Faces Places (France, dir. by Agnes Varda, travelogue/photography/personality. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 95. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Despite its unassuming, conversational ethos — which is also to say by means of Ms. Varda’s staunchly democratic understanding of her job as a filmmaker — ‘Faces Places’ reveals itself as a powerful, complex and radical work. Ms. Varda’s modesty is evidence of her mastery, just as her playful demeanor is the expression of a serious and demanding aesthetic commitment. Almost by stealth, but also with cheerful forthrightness, she communicates a rich and challenging array of feelings and ideas. As we contemplate those faces and places we are invited to reflect on the passage of time and the nature of memory, on the mutability of friendship and the durability of art, on the dignity of labor and the fate of the European working class.” Read more…)

BPM (Beats Per Minute) (France, drama set amid 1990s AIDS activism, Arnaud Valois. Rotten Tomatoes: 99%. Metacritic: 84. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “All of this happened a long time ago, of course, but in spite of its historical specificity, ‘BPM’ never feels like a bulletin from the past. Its immediacy comes in part from the brisk naturalism of the performances and the nimbleness and fluidity of the editing. The characters are so vivid, so real, so familiar that it’s impossible to think of their struggles — and in some cases their deaths — as unfolding in anything but the present tense. And even though some of the battles their real-life counterparts fought have been at least partly won, their anger feels urgent and unassuaged.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Class Act (1992, comedy, Kid ‘N Play. Rotten Tomatoes: 17%. From Janet Maslin’s 1992 New York Times review: “As directed by Randall Miller, the movie doesn’t aspire to much more than cartoonish verve, but Kid ‘n’ Play easily hold it together. Their comic timing is right, and their humor manages to be both traditional and current. (An argument about whether one of them is ‘deaf’ or “‘def’ unfolds in the best ‘Who’s on first?’ fashion.]” Read more…)

Highlander 5-Film Collection (action/adventure, Christopher Lambert)

New TV
Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 9 (HBO comedy series, return of the irascible Larry David. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%. Metacritic: 74.)

New Documentaries
James Booker: Bayou Maharajah (music, New Orleans, James Booker. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 73. From Peter Bradshaw’s Guardian review: “The life and times of the New Orleans jazz/blues pianist and singer James Booker are conjured up in this richly enjoyable documentary tribute. It takes account of his troubled psyche and covers plenty of the wild-man anecdotes, but pays close attention to the musicianship. Booker was a self-taught virtuoso who studied Grieg, Chopin and Rachmaninov as well as Liberace, but had a natural understanding of the piano that went beyond formal study. Playing came as easily as talking – which itself came very easily: Booker’s onstage loquacity was part of his appeal.” Read more…)

Faces Places (France, dir. by Agnes Varda, travelogue/photography/personality)

New Music
James Booker: Bayou Maharajah (music, New Orleans, James Booker)

New Children’s DVDs
The Breadwinner (animated feature set in Taliban-run Afghanistan, Saara Chaudry [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 76. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “In a time of deepening sensitivity about cultural appropriation, an animated film set in Afghanistan, made largely by Westerners and based on a Western source, might raise some red flags. But I think ‘The Breadwinner’ is worth celebrating, in part because it is a work that in some ways qualifies as reportage. Deborah Ellis, the Canadian author on whose children’s novel this movie is based, traveled in the late ’90s to Pakistan, where she interviewed Afghan refugees fleeing war and Taliban rule.” Read more…)

New releases 2/27/18

Top Hits
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (drama, Frances McDormand. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 88. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “‘Three Billboards’ is more ambitious than [director Martin] McDonagh’s earlier features. Like the older ones, it has loads of gab, plenty of guns and the spectacle of men [mainly] behaving terribly. It also restlessly, if not satisfyingly, shifts between comedy and tragedy — a McDonagh specialty — splattering blood along the way. This time, though, he has also given his movie characters instead of disposable contrivances, a plot instead of self-reflexive ideas about storytelling and a rather diffuse overarching metaphor. Mostly, he has freighted it with a tragedy that allows the performers — primarily Ms. McDormand but also the equally excellent Mr. Harrelson and Sam Rockwell — to play to their range.” Read more…
An Oscar nominee for Best Picture, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has faced some critical backlash in the past few months. Nicole Sperling at Vanity Fair details the controversy.)

Murder On the Orient Express (Agatha Christie mystery, Kenneth Branagh. Rotten Tomatoes: 58%. Metacritic: 52. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “[Albert] Finney’s embodiment of Poirot in the Lumet picture was a marathon of sorts, with the actor testing how many of the beloved character’s irritating yet endearing quirks could be pushed to the limits of coherence. In this latest version, Kenneth Branagh, who also directs [from a script by Michael Green], gives us a Poirot who’s fussy but not too fussy, and rather crisp in his English-language diction. Most radically, this is a Poirot with heart. This interpretation is a dumb idea, but Mr. Branagh, an actor of prodigious skills, can at least pull this one half off. It’s not the only dumb idea in this film, which nevertheless bounces along in a way that’s sometimes almost entertaining.” Read more…)

Darkest Hour (Winston Churchill bio-pic, Gary Oldman. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 75. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Like ‘The King’s Speech,’ Mr. Wright’s film is a serviceable enough historical drama. But like ‘Dunkirk,’ it falls back on an idealized notion of the English character that feels, in present circumstances, less nostalgic than downright reactionary, and as empty as those ubiquitous ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ internet memes. Rather than invite the audience to think about the difficulties of democratic governance at a time of peril, the filmmakers promote passivity and hero-worship, offering not so much a Great Man Theory as a great man fetish.” Read more…)

Coco (Disney/Pixar animated feature, Anthony Gonzalez [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 81. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “‘Coco’ is also one of those Pixar movies that attempt a conceptual breakthrough, an application of the bright colors and open emotionalism of modern, mainstream animation to an unlikely zone of experience. From the very start, the studio has explored the inner lives of inanimate objects like lamps and toys with a tenderness we now take for granted. It has also summoned the post-human future [‘Wall-E’] and the human unconscious [‘Inside/Out’] with breathtaking ingenuity. And now it has set out to make a family-friendly cartoon about death.” Read more…)

Daddy’s Home 2 (comedy, Mark Wahlberg. Rotten Tomatoes: 19%. Metacritic: 30. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “If ‘Daddy’s Home’ [2015] played like a distant, wayward cousin of ‘Step Brothers,’ ‘Daddy’s Home 2,’ again directed by Sean Anders, is the sort of relative you might disown.” Well. Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Darkest Hour
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Murder On the Orient Express
78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

New Foreign
Sami Blood (Sweden, historical drama, Line Cecilia Sparrok. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 79. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “‘Sami Blood’ relies so much on the expressive face of its lead actress, the powerful newcomer Lene Cecilia Sparrok, that at times it might as well be wordless. The film, the feature debut of Amanda Kernell, concerns Scandinavia’s indigenous Sami people, who faced systemic discrimination in Sweden in the 1930s.” Read more…)

Nocturama (France, terrorism thriller, Finnegan Oldfield. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 71. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “‘Nocturama’ might be an interesting movie about terrorism if there were no such thing as terrorism. If, that is, politically motivated shootings and bombings in big cities were fantastical tropes or metaphorical conceits, like zombie epidemics or extraterrestrial invasions. But perhaps “interesting” is too strong a word. Without a real-world correlative for the actions it depicts, Bertrand Bonello’s new film would merely be tedious and pretentious rather than repellent.” Read more…)

The Oldest Profession (1967, 6 European directors including Jean-Luc Godard & Claude Autant-Lara on prostitution-related tales, Raquel Welch. From Vincent Canby’s 1968 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Jean-Luc Godard, who may be the world’s least saucy moviemaker, contributes the only decently funny episode to ‘The Oldest Profession,’ an otherwise non-comedy in six parts about whoredom through the ages that opened yesterday at the Rialto II and Regency Theaters. Except for the Godard piece, which runs approximately 15 minutes (and comes at the very end so that it’s possible to time your entrance to miss the other episodes), the movie is a painfully inept botch made by some usually interesting directors, including Mauro Bolognini, Phillipe De Broca and Claude Autant-Lara.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Night of the Living Dead (1968, Criterion Collection of George Romero-directed zombie movie trailblazer, Duane Jones. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 87. From Vincent Canby’s 1968 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Night of the Living Dead is a grainy little movie acted by what appear to be nonprofessional actors, who are besieged in a farm house by some other nonprofessional actors who stagger around, stiff-legged, pretending to be flesh-eating ghouls.” Read more…

However, the reputation of “Night of the Living Dead” has soared since Canby dismissed it with a three-sentence review. The filmmakers—including director George Romero—lost control over the copyright shortly after the film’s release. But with a 2016 restoration overseen by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation and the Museum of Modern Art, that situation has been rectified. Times critic Glenn Kenny writes that the restored version looks “amazing.” In 2016, Kenny discussed the restoration in the Times.)

New Documentaries
78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene (cinema history, culture, Alfred Hitchcock. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 78. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Ben Kenigsberg’s Times review: “One testament to the infinite richness of Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece is that it can sustain a film like Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary ’78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene.’ Although ’78/52′ discusses the significance of ‘Psycho’ as a whole, Mr. Philippe’s movie is primarily devoted to a close reading of just one sequence: the 78 camera setups and 52 edits that yielded the sudden, violent, waterlogged demise of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh). Even moviegoers who know ‘Psycho’ backward and forward — who consider it a sacred text and who have read Stephen Rebello’s excellent book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho’” — are bound to learn something new from the movie, which addresses the shower scene from critical, historical, theoretical and technical angles, down to the blinding white of the bathroom tiles.” Read more…)

Quest (sociology, race relations, class, hip-hop. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 88. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Barack Obama is not the subject of ‘Quest,’ Jonathan Olshefski’s new documentary, an intimate and patient portrait of a North Philadelphia family. But the film, which begins and ends with presidential elections — Mr. Obama’s in 2008 and his successor’s eight years later — is shadowed, in some ways haunted, by his presence and his temperament. At one point, he appears on television, in the wake of the massacre of school children and their teachers in Newtown, Conn. ‘These neighborhoods are our neighborhoods,’ he says, referring to the places that have been devastated by gun violence. ‘These children are our children.’ The simple inclusiveness of that idea and the feeling behind it — the sense that this nation, with all of its troubles, is something we’re all in together — may sound especially poignant now, and even a bit quaint. But a similar ethic of solidarity informs every moment of ‘Quest.'” Read more…)

Black Code (human rights, social media, government surveillance. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%.)

New releases 2/20/18

Top Hits
Mom and Dad (horror-comedy, Nicolas Cage. Rotten Tomatoes: 72%. Metacritic: 60. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Anyway, ‘Mom and Dad’ soon reveals its high concept: All the parents in its world go mad and try to start killing their kids. The writer and director Brian Taylor shies away from no possibility here, including a delivery room scene in which a woman begins crushing her newborn. As you can imagine, the homicidal frenzy gives [director Nicolas] Cage plenty of opportunity to go full him, which, in this case, doesn’t yield as much fun as you might have hoped.” Read more…)

Same Kind of Different as Me (family/religious, Greg Kinnear. Rotten Tomatoes: 38%. Metacritic: 49.)

New Foreign
The Girl Without Hands (France, animated feature, Philippe Laudenbach [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 82. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Monica Castillos Times review: “Sébastien Laudenbach’s ‘The Girl Without Hands’ is an animated adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same title. Although this film’s style is soft and colorful, it does not rub out the emotional sharpness of a story dealing with betrayal, suicide and death.” Read more…)

Blade of the Immortal (Japan, samurai drama, Hana Sugisaki. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 72. From Jeannette Catasoulis’ New York Times review: “If there’s one constant in samurai movies, it’s that their heroes are ridiculously hard to kill, battling on through every assault short of being blown to smithereens. Imagine, then, how much tougher to dispatch is a samurai whose wounds — the physical ones, anyway — heal themselves, and you have a fair idea of the sheer volume of damage visited on Manji [Takuya Kimura], the justifiably grumpy centerpiece of Takashi Miike’s ‘Blade of the Immortal.'” Read more…)

Don’t Call Me Son (Brazil, drama/LGBTQ, Naomi Nero. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 77. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “The movie is a critique of identity on several levels: biological, sexual, social, cultural and class-related. The unstable, impulsive Pierre is no heroic rebel. He is a floundering young man with many hurdles ahead. But the movie unequivocally takes his side. In its blasé way, ‘Don’t Call Me Son’ is subversive.” Read more…)

The Hero (India, 1966, Satyajit Ray-directed drama, Uttam Kumar. From an unsigned 1974 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “People who revel in tales wherein film idols suffer from insecurity, are shaken by nightmares, fail in their relationships with mentors, old friends and the opposite sex and take refuge in pills and liquor will find him every bit as entertaining as his familiar counterparts. Everybody else aboard the train, including the woman journalist, given admirable characterization by Sharmila Tagoro, seems rather peripheral.” Read more…)

An Actor’s Revenge (Japan, 1966, period melodrama, Kazuo Hasegawa. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. From Howard Thompson’s 1971 New York Times review [prequires log-in]: “No, ‘The Actors’s Revenge’ isn’t about the murder of a drama critic. That might have been more interesting. It is an artistically arranged but extremely rambling exercise full of melodramic bumps and lumps, as a vengeful actor destroys three men who ruined his family years ago.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Pete ‘n’ Tillie (1972, comedy/drama, Walter Matthau. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. From Howard Thompson’s 1972 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Is anybody getting a little tired of Carol Burnett and Walter Matthau? The television queen is all over the home box and has been for some time. Matthau,expertise included, is certainly coming at us thick and fast. Expecting an obvious, strictly-for-laughs showcase in ‘Pete ‘n’ Tillie,’ which opened yesterday at the Baronet, one viewer received the jolt of his Christmas season. This is the wittiest, warmest and most ingratiating movie to appear in a long time, with a beautifully sustained and muted edge of sadness.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936, biographical drama, Paul Muni [Oscar winner]. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Frank S. Nugent’s 1936 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Pasteur’s life is warm and vital, of itself. It has lost none of that warmth through Mr. Muni’s sensitive characterization, through the gifted direction of William Dieterle and the talents of a perfect cast. It may not be the province—and probably it was not the primary motive—of a Hollywood studio to create a film which is, at the same time, a monument to the life of a man. But ‘The Story of Louis Pasteur’ is truly that.” Read more…)

New British
Prime Suspect: Tennison (prequel to Prime Suspect, police procedural, Stefanie Martini)
Threads (1984, harrowing BBC nuclear war TV movie, Reece Dinsdale)

New Documentaries
Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities (race, American history, culture. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%.)

New releases 2/13/18

Top Hits
Roman J. Israel, Esq. (drama/thriller, Denzel Washington. Rotten Tomatoes: 51%. Metacritic: 58. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “Partly because of economics, partly because of a lack of imagination, Hollywood barely makes character-driven movies anymore. So there is a sense in which ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.,’ a wildly idiosyncratic drama about a wildly idiosyncratic lawyer, deserves not only critical leniency, but also maybe your investment. Yet this film doesn’t do the cause many favors. It certainly doesn’t serve Denzel Washington, in a role unlike any he has played that nevertheless saddles him with a collection of tics meant to compensate for the underrealized complexity of the part. And it offers tonal whiplash for viewers, with several potentially great ideas that don’t settle into a coherent whole.” Read more…)

A Bad Moms Christmas (holiday/comedy, Mila Kunis. Rotten Tomatoes: 29%. Metacritic: 42. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Opposed as I am to sequels of any description, I have to allow that one can never have enough Kathryn Hahn. Add the magnificent Christine Baranski to the mix and ‘A Bad Moms Christmas,’ while still a slog of base sight gags and lazy profanity, becomes marginally more bearable. Only marginally, given that this pitiful follow-up to last year’s ‘Bad Moms’ is even less able to distinguish between crass and comedic.” Read more…)

Wonder (inspiration drama, Julia Roberts. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 66. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “Directed by Stephen Chbosky, who wrote the screenplay with Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne, the movie has a cast that’s wonderful from top to bottom. As Auggie’s parents, [Julia] Roberts and [Owen] Wilson are doing things we love to see those actors doing. (Ms. Roberts lets loose with her trademark ebullient laugh at least once, and Mr. Wilson explains life’s issues to Auggie in a droll drawl.) All the young people in the ensemble, anchored by [Jascob] Tremblay’s Auggie, are perfect. ‘Wonder’ is that rare thing, a family picture that moves and amuses while never overtly pandering.” Read more…)

The Ballad of Lefty Brown (western, Bill Pullman. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 64. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “[Director Jared] Moshé knows his genre. There’s beauty in his panoramas and charm in his reflexive gestures, typified by Jeremiah’s love for the mythic heroism that foreshadows his and Lefty’s future. Yet self-consciousness is also a hallmark of this genre; Douglas Fairbanks’s would-be cowboy reads dime novels in the 1917 film ‘Wild and Woolly.’ Even so, while Mr. Moshé’s ambitions can be frustratingly modest, he does know that — however fraudulent the genre’s myths — the image of a man riding a horse into the sunset is in our cinematic DNA.” Read more…)

Flint (contemporary drama, Betsy Brandt. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. Metacritic: 61.)

New Blu-Ray
Fatal Attraction

New Foreign
Paradise (Russia, drama/war, Yuliya Vysotskaya. Rotten Tomatoes: 68%. Metacritic: 52. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “Filmed in black and white and in the Academy ratio of old Hollywood, ‘Paradise’ is a strikingly shot Holocaust drama that ultimately seems confused about whose story it’s telling or to what end. The film is relayed in flashback by three characters, each addressing the camera directly, as if speaking to an unseen interrogator. The director, Andrei Konchalovsky, even includes scratches on the film, to enhance the sense that we’re watching documentary evidence.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Games (1967, thriller, Simone Signoret. Rotten Tomatoes: 60%. From Vincent Canby’s 1967 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “When you are watching a suspense melodrama, you inevitably play your own game: If you can figure out the plot twists and turns in advance, you win the game—but you lose the fun of being fooled. Occasionally, however, a film comes along that is so gussied up in performance and directorial detail that it can still be fun, even if you should get it all pretty well figured out in advance. Such is the case with ‘Games,’ Curtis Harrington’s richly decorated little exercise in the macabre, which opened at the Sutton yesterday.” Read more…)

Child Bride of Short Creek (1981, 1950s historic drama, Diane Lane)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
Mission to Moscow (1943, World War II-era propaganda film for alliance with Soviet Union, Walter Huston. While the film was made, at least in part, at the instigation of President Franklin Roosevelt, screenwriter Howard Koch was blacklisted in the 1950s as a Communist sympathizer. His work on “Mission of Moscow” was one of the factors that incensed the House Committee on Un-American Activities. From Bosley Crowther’s 1943 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Just as ‘Mission to Moscow,’ which was Joseph E. Davies’s report on his two-year Ambassadorship to Russia, was a striking and controversial book, so its translation into pictures should prove an equally agitating work. For this generally faithful screen version, which Warners brought to the Hollywood yesterday, is clearly the most outspoken picture on a political subject that an American studio has ever made. With a boldness unique in film ventures, which usually evade all issues, it comes out sharply and frankly for an understanding of Russia’s point of view. It says with a confident finality that Russia’s leaders saw, when the leaders of other nations dawdled, that the Nazis were a menace to the world. And it has no hesitancy whatever in stepping on a few tender toes.” Read more…)

New Television
The Deuce: Season 1 (HBO David Simon series set in 1970s Times Square, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 85. From James Poniewozik’s New York Times television review: “‘The Deuce,’ beginning Sunday, is about the sex trade in the same way that Mr. Simon’s ‘The Wire’ was about drugs, his ‘Treme’ was about jazz and his ‘Show Me a Hero’ was about zoning. Each of Mr. Simon’s works is ultimately about systems: people of different classes, races and levels of power, whose choices [or lack thereof)] define an economy and a society. That macro idea makes ‘The Deuce’ smart. Its micro detail — a Studs Terkelesque catalog of the million ways to chase a hustle — makes it art.” Read more…)

The Sinner: Season 1 (crime thriller series, Jessica Biel. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 71. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “The Sinner,” created and written by Derek Simonds [‘When We Rise’] and based on a best-selling German novel by Petra Hammesfahr, is set in upstate New York and may call to mind another USA series set there, the underrated and recently canceled ‘Eyewitness.’ The shows share a languid, small-town vibe, but “Eyewitness” was more conventionally structured. A truer comparison would be to the Showtime potboiler ‘The Affair’: the reliance on fraught flashbacks and the feeling of being underwater, in a constant state of unease.” Read more…)

Narcos: Season 2 (series based on drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, Wagner Mauro. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 76.)

New Documentaries
The Bombing of Wall Street (American history, terrorism, anarchism, based on book by Yale History Prof. Beverly Gage)

New releases 2/6/18

Top Hits
LBJ (bio-pic, Woody Harrelson. Rotten Tomatoes: 54%. Metacritic: 54. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Directed by Rob Reiner from Joey Hartstone’s script, ‘LBJ’ is a frustratingly underdeveloped vehicle for Mr. Harrelson’s talents as well as an unfortunate missed opportunity. Mr. Harrelson hits his beats with charismatic menace and a reverberant Texas twang, but he’s booming in a vacuum. Part of the problem is the filmmakers never figure out why this particular story needed to be told at this specific moment; it feels at once dutiful and arbitrary. That’s too bad, especially given that it could have continued a story told through Obama-era movies — ‘Selma,’ ‘Jackie,’ ‘Marshall’ — that, both directly and obliquely, speak to the present through the convulsions of the 1960s.” Read more…)

Suburbicon (crime/drama. Matt Damon. Rotten Tomatoes: 28%. Metacritic: 42. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “‘Suburbicon,’ a jaundiced, hard-sell comedy, wants you to know that the American dream was always a crock. This may not be news, even in the movie industry, which loves white-picket fences in principle but remains a gated community in fact. Still, every so often a filmmaker restates the case for the prosecution. The latest complainant is George Clooney, who in directing ‘Suburbicon’ has turned back the clock to the 1950s for a story about the good old American days of prosperity and prejudice, of race hate and white people who are always just one clenched fist away from becoming a mob.” Read more…)

Only the Brave (adventure, Josh Brolin. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 72. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Andy Webster’s Times review: “Given what Northern California has endured recently with wildfires, perhaps it’s high time to honor those risking life and limb to contain such conflagrations. If only Joseph Kosinski’s action-drama ‘Only the Brave’ — based on the exploits of the real-life Granite Mountain Hotshots, a troop of elite firefighters near Prescott, Ariz. — had a less generic title and fewer formulaic beats. But under its slick, schematic surface, this tale of aspiration and redemption at least offers moments of genuine feeling.” Read more…)

Walking Out (thriller/adventure, Matt Bomer. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 79. From Ken Jaworowski’s New York Times review: “The story line is well-trod, and reminiscent in parts of ‘The Revenant,’ ‘Mountain Men’ and several other films that take place in rough country. Yet Mr. Bomer and Mr. Wiggins are proficient with the sparse dialogue [written by the brothers and directors Alex and Andrew Smith, from a short story by David Quammen], and with situations that are occasionally contrived.” Read more…)

Just Charlie (coming-of-age/LGBTQ, Harry Gilby)
Homeland: Season 6 (Showtime series, Claire Danes. Rotten Tomatoes: 76%. Metacritic: 68.)

New Foreign
Tom of Finland (Finland, biopic, Pekka Strang. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 56. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “A biopic can take any life, no matter how transgressive or interesting, and reduce it to check marks on a list. In ‘Tom of Finland,’ a primarily Finnish-language feature from Dome Karukoski, the biography is that of Touko Laaksonen (Pekka Strang), the Finnish advertising designer who, under the name Tom of Finland, published drawings of hyper-muscular, well-endowed men and became famous for expanding perceptions on the portrayal of gay life in art.” Read more…)

War of the Buttons (Ireland, 1994, coming-of-age, Gregg Fitzgerald. Rotten Tomatoes: 54%. Metacritic: 54.)

New American Back Catalog (post-1960)
Yolanda and the Thief (1945, musical, Fred Astaire. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. From Bosley Croether’s 1945 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Taste and imagination are so rare these days in musical films that a good bit of both is sufficient to offset a peck of obvious faults. So that’s why this corner is cheering for Metro’s ‘Yolanda and the Thief,’ which came yesterday to the Capitol with all the gusto of the Macy parade. Fetched from a mischievous fable by Jacques Thery and Ludwig Bemelmans, and mounted with charm and magnificence by Vincente Minnelli and Arthur Freed, it is a pleasing compound of sparkling mummery and glistening allures for eye and ear, hampered throughout by a flat script which doesn’t match the visual elegance with wit. And elegance is truly the quality with which the producers have endowed this singing and dancing rendition of a sophisticated fairytale. For brilliance and color of the settings and costumes are nigh beyond compare—as rich and theatrically tasteful as any we’ve ever seen.” Read more…
The Los Angeles Times, reviewing the Warner Archives DVD release in 2011, wrote, “‘Yolanda and the Thief,’ which just made its DVD debut on Warner Archive, may be the best Fred Astaire movie musical you’ve never heard of. Though its reputation has soared since its release in 1945, the Vincente Minnelli-directed Technicolor fantasy was a disaster at the box office. But ‘Yolanda’s’ only crime was that it was not of its time — audiences weren’t in the mood for a fantasy.”)

New British DVDs
Taboo: Season 1 (period thriller, Tom Hardy. Rotten Tomatoes: 76%. Metacritic: 67.)
Just Charlie (coming-of-age/LGBTQ, Harry Gilby. Rotten Tomatoes: 54%. Metacritic: 54.)

New Television
Homeland: Season 6 (Showtime series, Claire Danes. Rotten Tomatoes: 54%. Metacritic: 54.)

New Documentaries
Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent (food culture, celebrity chef, Jeremiah Tower. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 68. From Andy Webster’s New York Times review: “Much of Lydia Tenaglia’s diverting documentary, ‘Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent,’ about one of America’s first celebrity chef-restaurateurs, is framed as a battle against vulgarity. Mr. Tower, an epicure raised as a lonely child amid chilly affluence, attended Harvard around the late 1960s before finding his calling. On camera, he remembers how, when student protesters invited him to ‘become a revolutionary,’ he replied, ‘I’m too busy cooking.’ He adds: ‘Drink Champagne and eat smoked salmon. That was my revolution.'” Read more…)

New Gay & Lesbian
Just Charlie (coming-of-age/LGBTQ, Harry Gilby)
Tom of Finland (Finland, biopic, LGBTQ culture, art, Tom of Finland)

New releases 1/30/18

Top Hits
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (bio-pic/drama/comic book history, Luke Evans. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 68. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “There are some exceedingly delectable questions posed in ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,’ and a few frisky binding games on tap too. A sly and thoroughly charming Trojan horse of a movie, ‘Professor Marston’ tells the story of the man who created Wonder Woman and the women who inspired him, both in and out of bed. The movie gleams and has all the smooth surfaces and persuasive detail of a typical period picture — the fedoras, the rides, the Katharine Hepburn trousers. All that luster, which too often in movies suggests polite manners and drowsily safe entertainment, proves to be a seductive, glossy way into something more satisfyingly complicated.” Read more…)

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (drama, Nicole Kidman. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%. Metacritic: 73. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “It isn’t quite fair to say, with respect to Yorgos Lanthimos’s ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer,’ that you’ve seen it all before. His methods and sensibility are very much his own. But if you were intrigued, unnerved and tickled by ‘The Lobster’ or by Mr. Lanthimos’s earlier films ‘Alps’ and ‘Dogtooth’ [I was], you might be surprised and a little disappointed to find him traipsing over such familiar territory. His previous work — allegorical, satirical, anti-realist and metapsychological — defies genre labels and can seem scrubbed clean of any trace of influence. ‘Sacred Deer,’ in contrast, rings all kinds of frequently-heard bells.” Read more…‘)

My Art (drama, Blair Brown. Rotten Tomatoes: 62%. Metacritic: 53. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “The trap in assessing ‘My Art’ is to assume that it contains more autobiography than it does. That’s true despite the possessive adjective in the title, or the fact that the director, an artist, plays an artist, Ellie. Or even the fact that the filmmaker is Laurie Simmons, who, detractors might scoff, belongs to a family of oversharers. [Ms. Simmons’s daughter Lena Dunham appears briefly as one of Ellie’s former students.]” Read more…)

Last Flag Flying (drama, Steve Carell. Rotten Tomatoes: 75%. Metacritic: 65. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Richard Linklater is one of the great listeners in American movies. At his best — most canonically in the ‘Before’ trilogy but also in films like ‘Slacker,’ ‘Dazed and Confused’ and ‘Waking Life’ — he quiets the engine of plot, keeps the camera at a polite, attentive distance and lets people talk. The content of the conversations is important, but so are the more subtle kinds of information that human speech conveys: the unstated emotions and idiosyncrasies of character that flow alongside and underneath the words. ‘Last Flag Flying,’ Mr. Linklater’s new feature, is a suite for three voices. It’s a lot of other things, too. A war movie, in its way, and also a road picture and a memory play.” Read more…)

God’s Own Country (UK, drama/gay romance, Josh O’Connor. Rotten Tomatoes: 99%. Metacritic: 85. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Times review: “Filmed with a naturalism that recalls Andrea Arnold’s 2012 dive into ‘Wuthering Heights,’ ‘God’s Own Country’ weaves a rough magic from Joshua James Richards’s biting cinematography and the story’s slow, unsteady arc from bitter to hopeful. Bodily fluids — bestial and human — stain the screen, punctuating a story that’s as much about rediscovering place as finding love.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray

New Foreign
The Square (Sweden, drama, Claes Bang. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 72. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “[Director Ruben] Ostlund, whose film before this one was the squirmy, incisive ‘Force Majeure,’ takes aim at some pretty fat satirical targets — art, taste, sex and money, for starters — and sprays buckshot at the audience as well as in his own face. The bad conscience of the cultural elite is hardly a new concern in European cinema [or American journalism, if we want to go there], and ‘The Square,’ which won the Palme d’Or in May, uses some of the shock-the-bourgeoisie tactic refined, in recent years, by his fellow Cannes laureates Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier.” Read more…)

Old Stone (China, drama, Gang Chen. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 72. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times revew: “‘Old Stone,’ a tough, bitter serving of straight-up naturalism, opens on a street and closes at the edge of the abyss. Between start and finish, it follows the nightmarish ordeals of a Chinese taxi driver, Lao Shi [Chen Gang], who struggles to do the right thing after hitting a motorcyclist. His first mistake is reporting the accident; his second is trying to help the bleeding victim instead of splitting. No good deed goes unpunished in this vision of contemporary China, a dog-eat-dog world in which the strong don’t just consume the weak, they also suck the marrow out of every last bone.” Read more…)

Kameradschaft (Germany, 1931, G.W. Pabst-directed disaster movie, Alexander Granach. From Mordaunt Hall’s 1932 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The little Europa is now harboring one of the finest examples of realism that has come to the screen. It is a German production called ‘Kameradschaft’ and the dialogue, which is sparse, is in both German and French, with superimposed sub-titles in English. The inspiration for this impressive production was the coal mine disaster at Courrieres in 1906, in which nearly 1,200 lives were lost. In the picture the narrative has been set forward, making it post-World War, and its theme is that the sympathy existing between the German and French miners knows no boundaries.” Read more…)

Westfront 1918 (Germany, 1930, G.W. Pabst-directed war drama, Fritz Kampers. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From C. Hooper Trask’s 1930 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “A German anti-war film had to come sooner or later. Following its losses in the war and the terrific suffering which the whole civil population underwent Germany is of all European nations the one with the strongest pacifistic leanings. That they have not produced a film of this kind before now was due to the repulsion felt by every one at the very thought of war. But now they have gotten far enough away from it to be objective and Remarque’s masterly novel has been followed by the talker, ‘The Western Front 1918’ [‘Westfront 1918’]. With the possible exception of the pictures ‘Journey’s End’ and ‘All Quiet on the Western Front,’ which unfortunately I have not yet seen, this is the most vivid argument yet contrived against war. A book or a speech are cold, dead things beside it. To the visual has been added all the resources of sound—no one can escape its appeal, from the university graduate to the peasant who can only sign with a cross. It is an undiluted dose of man’s inhumanity to man—try and forget it if you can!” Read more…)

The Witches (Italy, 1968, prestige Italian directors anthology of stories about witches, Silvana Mangano)
Viva L’Italia (Italy, 1961, historical drama, Renzo Ricci)

New British DVDs
Victoria: Season 2 (historical drama series, Jenna Coleman. Rotten Tomatoes: 75%.)
God’s Own Country (UK, drama/gay romance, Josh O’Connor)

New American Back Catalog (post-1960)
Back Street (1961, romantic melodrama, Susan Hayward. From Boslwey Crowther’s 1961 New York Times review: “In the third screen embodiment of ‘Back Street,’ the old Fannie Hurst tear-jerking yarn about the woman who loves a married man be dearly that she lets herself be kept by him under a bit of a social cloud, producer Ross Hunter has crammed so much swank and so much plush Parisian elegance that we wonder he didn’t change the title to something like ‘Rue de Bac.’ Never has Miss Hurst’s little lady [represented heretofore by Irene Dunne and Margaret Sullavan, vis-à-vis the respective consorts of John Boles and Charles Boyer] been set up in such elaborate diggings or lavished with such expensive gifts as is Susan Hayward by John Gavin in this elaborate and expensive color film.” Read more…)

Heart of Darkness (1993, period drama based on Joseph Conrad novel, John Malkovich. Rotten Tomatoes: 40%. From John J. O’Connor’s 1994 New York Times television review: “Joseph Conrad’s 1902 novella ‘Heart of Darkness’ has finally been made into a movie. The director Nicolas Roeg [‘Performance,’ ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’] has translated the story into a film starring Tim Roth as Marlow and John Malkovich as Kurtz. Well, sort of. Mr. Roeg’s ‘Heart of Darkness,’ characteristically loopy, begins a run Sunday on TNT.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
The Sunshine Makers (drugs, LSD, social history, Nicholas Sand. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 68. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “The title of the documentary ‘The Sunshine Makers’ — about two trippy American renegades who produced millions of hits of LSD and helped turn on the United States of Acid — sounds like one of those old citrus labels that growers used to slap on wooden crates. With names like Morning Glory, these crates promised a ray of sun in each juicy bite. In 1970, Florida anointed itself the Sunshine State, but this documentary suggests that way out West, where much of this acid was produced, was where the sun shone the brightest.” Read more…)

Bird Brain (nature, ornithology, avian intelligence)

New Gay & Lesbian
God’s Own Country (UK, drama/gay romance, Josh O’Connor)

New releases 1/23/18

Top Hits
Goodbye Christopher Robin (biopic/A.A. Milne/Winnie the Pooh, Domhnall Gleeson. Rotten Tomatoes: 64%. Metacritic: 54. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “As predictable as mermaid frocks at the Oscars, Hollywood greets the end of the year by suddenly noticing that roughly a third of moviegoers (and three-quarters of art-house audiences) are over 50, most of them women. This annual phenomenon can lead to theaters clogged with old-lady bait, which usually means something British and upper-crusty, preferably with literary roots. A dollop of war, a death or two, and it’s off to the awards races. ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ checks all the boxes.” Read more…)

Thank You For Your Service (drama, Miles Teller. Rotten Tomatoes: 77%. Metacritic: 68. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “The most relevant movie precursor to ‘Thank You for Your Service,’ an earnest and powerful drama about Iraq veterans returning to Kansas, is not “The Hurt Locker,” or the well-meaning but toothless coming-home dramas released during the Bush years [‘Stop-Loss,’ ‘The Lucky Ones’], or even ‘American Sniper,’ written by Jason Hall, who wrote the screenplay for this film, his feature directing debut. It’s ‘Of Men and War,’ a 2015 documentary shot at the Pathway Home in Yountville, Calif., a center designed to reacclimate veterans to civilian life — and also where one of the characters in ‘Thank You for Your Service’ winds up. ‘Of Men and War’ demanded that viewers witness the psychic scars of fighting, measuring them as part of war’s cost along with the dead and more visibly wounded.” Read more…)

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (animated comedy feature, Jason Schwartzman [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. Metacritic: 72. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Hot on the heels of ‘The Death of Louis XIV’ comes another candidate for Most Accurately Titled Film of 2017. Tenderhearted readers, fear not; this is neither a documentary nor a live-action depiction. ‘My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea,” written and directed by Dash Shaw, is an eccentric and lively animated fantasy.” Read more…)

Geostorm (action/sci-fi, Gerard Butler. Rotten Tomatoes: 13%. Metacritic: 21. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “If I had to spend a global meteorological catastrophe with anyone, I don’t think Gerard Butler would be my first choice. But of course I don’t have a choice. Mr. Butler’s character, Jake Lawson, has a job to do, and so do I. Jake’s is to fix the space-based weather-control system he designed and built, racing against a digital clock that counts down the minutes until ‘geostorm.’ Mine involves counting the minutes until ‘Geostorm’ is over and then offering a comprehensive damage assessment.” Read more…)

Girl Flu (comedy/coming of age, Katee Sackhoff. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%.)
Jigsaw (horror/Saw franchise, Matt Passmore. Rotten Tomatoes: 34%. Metacritic: 39.)

New Blu-Ray
Goodbye Christopher Robin

New Foreign
Félicité (Senegal, drama, Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 75. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “‘Félicité,’ written and directed by the Franco-Senegalese filmmaker Alain Gomis, is an unconventional treatment of an emergency. At crucial junctures in Félicité’s desperate scramble to raise funds for her son’s medical care, Mr. Gomis, who wrote the screenplay with Olivier Loustau and Delphine Zingg, expands time instead of compressing it. Félicité still has her job to do, after all. This movie aspires to depict real life, not life as cinema is often inclined to idealize it; by the same token, it is hardly a work of naturalism.” Read more…)

Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Escapades from Occupied France:
Le Mariage De Chifon (1942, Odette Joyeux)
Lettres de Amour (1942, Odette Joyeux)
Douce (1943, Odette Joyeux)
Sylvie et le Fantome (1946,Jacques Tati)
French Lessons (France, 5 gay short films)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
The Hanging Tree (1959, western, Gary Cooper. From Bosley Crowther’s 1959 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Out in the great Montana country in the Eighteen Seventies, when men were mostly prospectors for gold and women were either grubby housewives or frank purveyors of certain special services, the arrival in a community of a woman who was neither of these was usually cause for excitement, consternation and eventually a brawl. At least, that’s how it is in Martin Jurow’s and Richard Shepherd’s new film, ‘The Hanging Tree,’ an outdoor drama set against a noisy gold camp.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog (post-1960)
Seven Minutes in Heaven (1986, comedy/drama, Jennifer Connelly. From Eden Ross Lipson’s 1987 New York Times review of the home video release [requires log-in]: “There isn’t a plausible adult in ‘Seven Minutes in Heaven,’ a sweet, almost gooey fantasy of adolescent life. The leading characters are all 15, sophomores in high school, cute and hopelessly hormonal.” Read more…)

New Gay & Lesbian
French Lessons (France, 5 gay short films)

New releases 1/16/18

Top Hits
Blade Runner 2049 (sci-fi, Harrison Ford. Rotten Tomatoes: 87. Metacritic: 81. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The precise future ‘Blade Runner’ projected is now less than two years away, and the next chapter, once something to be dreaded, seems, if anything, overdue. ‘Blade Runner 2049,’ directed by Denis Villeneuve from a script by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, tries both to honor the original and to slip free of its considerable shadow. That’s no easy feat, and it’s worth noting right away that, in narrow movie terms, Mr. Villeneuve, who also directed ‘Arrival,’ mostly succeeds. From the opening aerial shots of a thoroughly denatured agricultural landscape and the lethal confrontation that follows, we know we are in the presence of a masterly visual tactician and a shrewd storyteller.” Read more…)

Loving Vincent (biopic/art history/animation, Douglas Booth [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 83. Metacritic: 62. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review; “‘Loving Vincent’ addresses its subject, the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, with two what-ifs — one marvelous and fantastical, the other empirical and pedestrian. What if his paintings, with their wild colors and vibrant brush strokes, had been able to move? And what if the bullet that killed him had been fired by someone else? A long and arduous labor of love by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, the film turns van Gogh’s work into an unusual kind of biopic. Using tens of thousands of oil paintings commissioned from scores of artists, the filmmakers transform famous works of modern art into a hypnotic and beguiling cartoon.” Read more…)

Happy Death Day (horror/thriller, Jessica Rothe. Rotten Tomatoes: 71. Metacritic: 57. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Becoming a decent person requires an awful lot of dying in ‘Happy Death Day,’ a snappy horror-comedy with a gentle romantic spine. The person in need of improvement is Tree [an unimprovable Jessica Rothe], a selfish sorority sister who’s mean to her perfectly nice roommate and much too friendly with her married professor. Waking up on her birthday in a strange man’s dorm room after a supposed one night stand, she stumbles through her day until, en route to her surprise party that night, she is brutally murdered by a masked attacker. Unfortunately, she’s about to experience this particular day again — multiple times.” Read more…)

I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach-directed social drama, Dave Johns. Rotten Tomatoes: 93. Metacritic: 78. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “‘I, Daniel Blake’ is a powerful return to form for Mr. Loach, the much-honored left-wing British filmmaker who is now 80 and is still in full command as a filmmaker and a social critic. [He has the political outlook of a British Michael Moore.] This bleak film set in Newcastle won the Palme d’Or last spring at the Cannes Film Festival. Its performances — from the comedian Dave Johns, who portrays Daniel, down to the tiniest role — are so fine-tuned that you often feel you are watching a Frederick Wiseman documentary.” Read more…)

Crooked House (Agatha Christie adaptation/mystery, Glenn Close. Rotten Tomatoes: 69. Metacritic: 59. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “The premise of the murder mystery ‘Crooked House’ is old school: A much-loathed patriarch is sent to his grave, and a houseful of resentful, back-stabbing kinfolk are under suspicion. This intermittently diverting movie is adapted from a 1949 Agatha Christie novel, and it’s several degrees more engaging than another recent Christie-based movie, ‘Murder on the Orient Express.’ But it’s still slight.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Blade Runner 2049
Loving Vincent

New Foreign
In Her Name (France, true crime drama, Daniel Auteuil. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%.)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
Too Many Girls (1940, campus musical, Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz. From Bosley Crowther’s 1940 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “This has been an uncommonly indifferent football season on the screen, but RKO wound it up with a comfortable victory at Loew’s Criterion yesterday. The winning score was chalked by George Abbott’s screen version of his Broadway musical success, ‘Too Many Girls,’ than which a more pleasant, light-hearted and wholly ingenuous campus film has not been seen since—well, last season. ‘Knute Rockne—All American’ was a tough, mid-season grind for Hollywood, but this final go on the schedule has been taken in a breeze.” Read more…)

New British
I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach-directed social drama, Dave Johns)

New TV
Better Call Saul: Season 3 (drama/spin-off from Breaking Bad, Bob Odenkirk. Roten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 87.)

New Documentaries
The First Monday in May (art, fashion, culture, Anna Wintour. Rotten Tomatoes: 78. Metacritic: 57. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Early in this ostensible documentary directed by Andrew Rossi, a title card comes close to boasting about the access the filmmakers had to the creation of the exhibition and the attendant gala that are the film’s subjects. ‘The First Monday in May’ refers to a day every year on which New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art closes to host a star-studded benefit that coincides with the opening of a special exhibition from its Costume Institute.” Read more…)

The Real Mad Men of Advertising (Smithsonian Channel, cultural history)

New releases 1/9/17

Top Hits
It (horror, Stephen King adaptation, Bill Skargård. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 70. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Late in the summer of 1989, the marquee of the downtown movie theater in Derry, Me., advertises ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 5.’ This is an accurate period detail, and also a declaration of kinship, if not outright homage. ‘It,’ Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of the novel by Stephen King, belongs in the same tradition of small-town terror as Wes Craven’s “Nightmare” franchise, though the question of influence has a certain chicken-and-egg quality. Pennywise the clown, the designated predator in ‘It,’ [played by Bill Skarsgard] is, like Freddy Krueger, an avatar of deep childhood fears. And like Freddy, he’s also the literal, lethal manifestation of the evil of the world. As such, he has the potential to spawn endless sequels. He’ll be back.” Read more…)

Brad’s Status (drama, Ben Stiller. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 71. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “In ‘Brad’s Status,’ Mike White’s astute, cringy and ultimately kindhearted new film, [actor Ben] Stiller[‘s character] undergoes a midlife crisis that has less to do with restlessness or lust than with a dreadful loss of perspective. Brad, who runs a small nonprofit, lives in a handsome Craftsman-style house on a leafy Sacramento block. His wife, Melanie [Jenna Fischer], who works in state government, is patient and devoted. Troy [Austin Abrams], a rising high school senior, is an excellent student, a gifted musician and an all-around good kid. Brad lives in a soft pocket of the American dream. He should be counting his blessings, or at least checking his privilege. Instead, he dreams of the greener grass where his old college pals frolic, consumed with envy for their gilded, fast-track lives.” Read more…)

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House (biopic/political thriller/Watergate, Liam Neeson. Rotten Tomatoes: 34%. Metacritic: 49. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “‘Mark Felt’ is a sharp portrait set against a blurry background, a history lesson that won’t help you on the test. It is possible to savor the crags and shadows of Mr. Neeson’s performance without quite grasping why Mr. Landesman thinks the story is worthy of such somber, serious and sustained attention. Both the internal politics of the F.B.I. in the aftermath of J. Edgar Hoover’s death and the larger political and social dramas of the late ’60s and early ’70s are invoked, but neither the national nor the institutional stakes are illuminated with sufficient clarity or force.” Read more…)

Bitch (feminist comedy, Marianna Palka. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. Metacritic: 55. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Like the great Mary Chapin Carpenter song ‘He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,’ ‘Bitch” is about a woman who has reached the end of her leash. A satirical scream of rage against patriarchal prerogatives, this feminist horror-comedy, written and directed by [director and star Marianna] Palka, has a vicious edge that can stifle your laughter. So when Jill takes to her basement, snarling and covered in her own feces, her belief that she’s the dog her family seems to think she is comes across as more tragic than funny.” Read more…)

Hollow in the Land (thriller, Dianna Agron. Rotten Tomatoes: 75%. Metacritic: 54. From Monica Castillo’s New York Times review: “[Lead character] Alison [actress Dianna Agron] closely resembles Jennifer Lawrence’s character in ‘Winter’s Bone,’ another self-sufficient young woman whose family and community turn against her. This movie is not as tense, but it gets close thanks to Ms. Agron’s resolute performance and the movie’s hostile small town setting.” Read more…)

Breathe (drama/romance, Andrew Garfield. Rotten Tomatoes: 66%. Metacritic: 51. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Living with polio seems like jolly good fun in ‘Breathe,’ an aggressively tasteful and rigorously cheerful biopic of the English disability-rights pioneer Robin Cavendish [Andrew Garfield] and his devoted wife, Diana [Claire Foy]. After contracting the disease in the 1950s at the age of 28, Cavendish, paralyzed from the neck down and expected to live only a few months, not only beat those odds by almost 40 years, but regained his independence. He was also instrumental in helping other severely disabled patients regain theirs, collaborating with his friend Teddy [Hugh Bonneville], an amateur inventor, to design a wheelchair with a built-in ventilator and traveling to Europe to promote its use.” Read more…)

Marshall (biopic/drama, Chad Boseman. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 66. From Manohla Daris’ New York Times review: “Some biopics go for sweeping and exhaustive, trying to cram an entire life into a tidy two hours or so. ‘Marshall’ smartly opts for modest. With economy, a bit of gauzy nostalgia and likable performances, it revisits an early episode from the life of Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights lawyer who became the first African-American to hold a seat on the Supreme Court. From the 1940s to the early ’60s, he argued 32 cases before the court, winning most. ‘Sometimes history takes things into its own hands,’ Marshall once said, but he also regularly gave history a shove.” Read more…)

The Foreigner (action thriller, Jackie Chan. Rotten Tomatoes: 62%. Metacritic: 55. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Jackie Chan built a career on playing cheerful martial-arts warriors. In his new movie, ‘The Foreigner,’ which he also helped produce, he loses his joie de vivre soon after the opening credits. Here he plays a single father named Quon, who, as the movie opens, is seen dropping off his daughter at a boutique in London so she can buy a dress for a dance. Then a terrorist bombing blows the block to smithereens and turns Quon into an aspiring avenger. After facing roadblocks with the local authorities, he trains his sights on Liam Hennessy [Pierce Brosnan], an Irish political operative who, Quon is convinced, knows something about the “authentic I.R.A.” that is claiming responsibility for the bombing.” Read more…)

How to Be a Latin Lover (comedy, Eugenio Derbez. Rotten Tomatoes: 38%. Metacritic: 54. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “The Mexican actor and comedian Eugenio Derbez is a superstar in his own country and in Hispanic communities in the United States, but he is virtually unknown to non-Hispanic viewers. [He has been seen, in small roles, in the likes of ‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua’ and Adam Sandler’s ‘Jack and Jill,’ neither exactly a star-making vehicle.] ‘How to Be a Latin Lover,’ which bids to introduce him to a wider audience in the United States, is surprisingly deft in mixing Mr. Derbez’s broad but accomplished style with more ostensibly hip-absurdist Anglo modes of humor. Body-function jokes are, of course, a universal comedic language, and they’re here, too, although not as abundant as you might have expected.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
The Foreigner

New Foreign
Woodpeckers (Dominican Republic, Jean Jean. Rotten Tomatoes: 77%. Metacritic: 68. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Andy Webster’s Times review: “José María Cabral’s arresting drama ‘Woodpeckers [Carpinteros]’ could be called love in a pressure cooker, but that would be understating its vivid textures and palpable vitality. The film was shot on location in the Dominican Republic’s Najayo and La Victoria prisons, where the stifling claustrophobia of those settings infuses every frame.” Read more…)

New British
And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie adaptation, Vera Claythorne)

New Documentaries
The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith (photography, music, social history, Eugene Smith. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Times review: “‘The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith,’ a fascinating documentary directed by Sara Fishko, tells the story of [photographer W. Eugene] Smith’s peculiar endeavor [obsessively documenting his jazz musician neighbors] and pays conscientious tribute to the man’s artistry. It also tells several other discrete stories within the larger narrative.” Read more…)

Spinning Plates (restaurants, food culture. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 65. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “Joseph Levy’s ordinary documentary ‘Spinning Plates’ rotates among the challenges faced by the proprietors of three restaurants: the 150-year-old Breitbach’s Country Dining, in Balltown, Iowa; a struggling roadside Mexican joint in Tucson; and the chef Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago, which has three Michelin stars.” Read more…)

New Music
The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith (photography, music, social history, Eugene Smith)

New releases 1/2/18

Top Hits
American Made (historical-based thriller, Tom Cruise. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 65. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Written by Gary Spinelli, ‘American Made’ goes down easily, especially if you don’t let the historical record with its real-world stakes bother you. [actor Tom] Cruise’s brisk, ingratiating performance — all smiles, hard-charging physicality and beads of sweat — does a lot to soften the edges. But [director Doug] Liman doesn’t press Mr. Cruise to dig into the character, and the actor mostly hurdles forward in a movie that never gets around to asking what makes Barry run and why.” Read more…)

Lucky (drama, Harry Dean Stanton. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 79. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Nothing much happens in ‘Lucky,’ and then everything does. That doesn’t mean this leisurely portrait of its title character, a cantankerous old coot [Harry Dean Stanton, in one of his last roles], is any more eventful at the end than at the beginning. Rather, the accumulation of spot-on performances and long-familiar faces, small-town routines and dusty-worn locations, finally coalesces into a picture that’s greater than the sum of its oft-clichéd parts.” Read more…)

Flatliners (supernatural thriller, Ellen Page. Rotten Tomatoes: 5%. Metacritic: 27. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Remakes — especially of beloved classics — run the risk of alienating sentimental moviegoers. With ‘Flatliners,’ Columbia Pictures takes a bold, innovative step to address this issue. It’s startling in its simplicity. The well-known 1990 movie being remade here is something other than beloved, or classic. Rather it is remembered as a widely-derided post-Brat Pack ensemble piece. [And while the movie was indeed largely derided, The New York Times gave it a positive review, as did the critic Roger Ebert.] The potential for accusations of sacrilege is minimal.” Read more…)

Battle of the Sexes (sports/feminism drama based on true event, Emma Stone. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metcritic: 73. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Every so often an exceptionally capable woman has to prove her worth by competing against a clown. That’s one of the durable truisms of ‘Battle of the Sexes,’ a glib, enjoyable fictionalization of the 1973 exhibition tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. She was 29 and one of the top female tennis players in the world. He was 55 and had been a world champion before she was born. She was a feminist symbol and the first female athlete to win more than $100,000 in a single year; he was a self-avowed male chauvinist pig who liked to gamble big. It was a man vs. woman match made for maximum public-relations gimmickry but also a deadly serious referendum on equality on and off the court.” Read more…)

Una (drama, Rooney Mara. Rotten Tomatoes: 74%. Metacritic: 62. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “This movie begins with a shot of a girl in her early teens, sitting outside a house, then going into the yard next door, turning a corner, and seeing … something. In a matching cut, Rooney Mara, playing the same character years later, stands in a dark room with strangers as strobe lights flash and a synthetic percussion track throbs. Regardless of what the director, Benedict Andrews, intends, the aggregate effect is ‘Something bad happened to this person and now she’s into EDM.’ The Scottish playwright David Harrower adapted his two-character play ‘Blackbird’ for the screen, substantially changing it to include flashbacks.” Read more…)

Jeepers Creepers 3 (horror, Meg Foster)

New Blu-Ray
American Made
D.O.A.: A Right of Passage

New Foreign
The Teacher (Czech Republic, drama, Zuzana Mauréry. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 77. From Ben Kenigsberg’s new York Times review: “‘The Teacher’ is a foray into Slovak-language filmmaking by the industrious Czech director Jan Hrebejk, and for the occasion, he and his regular screenwriter, Petr Jarchovsky, have chosen a premise that sets up a dark satire about governance and human nature. Set in Bratislava in 1983, when Czechoslovakia was under Communist rule, the movie centers on a new teacher, Maria Drazdechova [Zuzana Maurery], who, upon meeting her students, asks for their parents’ lines of work. Using the children’s grades as leverage, Maria plans to blackmail the parents into favors.” Read more…)

The Women’s Balcony (Israel, comedy, Evelin Hagoel. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 74. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Nicole Herrington’s Times review: “‘Don’t you want us there?’ an Israeli woman asks her husband in ‘The Women’s Balcony,’ a charming exercise in gender politics as experienced via religion. The wife, Ettie [Evelin Hagoel], has just learned that their newly rebuilt Orthodox Jewish synagogue no longer has a separate section for women — which essentially means they have been barred from the gender-segregated services. The slight is a punch in the gut, but it also starts a revolution.” Read more…)

Lost in Paris (France, comedy, Fiona Gordon. Rotten Tomatoes: 82%. Metacritic: 74. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “In ‘Lost in Paris,’ the married directors and stars Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel show a grace for physical comedy and pretzel-like pas de deux. If their fourth feature [their first three, including ‘L’Iceberg’ and ‘The Fairy,’ were directed with Bruno Romy] is mild by design, their style — equal parts Jacques Tati, Jerry Lewis, Wes Anderson and ‘Wallace & Gromit’ — isn’t easy to pull off.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog (post-1960)
Modern Girls (1986, comedy, Virginia Madsen. Rotten Tomatoes: 40%. From Janet Maslin’s 1986 New York Times review [requires login]: “The three heroines of ‘Modern Girls’ aren’t nearly as modern as the three heroines of ‘How to Marry a Millionaire,’ who at least knew what they wanted and how to get it. In ‘Modern Girls,’ Cece and Margo and Kelly hold pointless daytime jobs and live from one night of Los Angeles club-hopping to the next. They dress up in junk-laden outfits that even Madonna might consider obvious, then go out to drink and take drugs and make themselves idly available to whichever men happen to strike their fancy. But there’s no sex in the movie – the possibilities for it are so omnipresent that the idea isn’t even interesting. In any case, it certainly took nerve to attach a ”Modern” to this.” Read more…)

New British
Last Tango in Halifax: Holiday Special

New Documentaries
D.O.A.: A Right of Passage (punk rock, Sex Pistols. From Janet Maslin’s 1981 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘D.O.A.,’ which opens today at the Waverly, is as much of a ‘Woodstock’ as punk may ever inspire. In fact, it’s probably closer than punk fans might want it to be. In the hands of Lech Kowalski, the director, the techniques – show the band, show the audience, show random people, interview a few and show the band again – remain the same. But the music has changed considerably, as have the crowds, though not exactly for the better. ‘D.O.A.,’ which means to be outrageous and is mostly ugly and sad, gives the distinct impression that punk is as misunderstood by those who like it as by those who don’t.” Read more…)

Chavela (Mexican music, feminism, LGBTQ pride, Chavela Vargas. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 68. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “Those looking to learn the basic outlines of the life of the singer Chavela Vargas could do worse than watch ‘Chavela,’ but this plodding documentary from Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi rarely transcends simple biography. While the film includes footage of Ms. Vargas onstage and recordings of her music, it doesn’t convey the power of her artistry, giving the viewer a sense of why, to paraphrase the musician Miguel Bosé from the film, listeners might believe that she could die from being overwhelmed in the middle of a song. [Separately, we learn that may have been her wish.]” Read more…)

New Music
Chavela (Mexican music, feminism, LGBTQ pride, Chavela Vargas)
D.O.A.: A Right of Passage (punk rock, Sex Pistols)