New releases 8/15 and 8/22/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Releases 10/22/13

Top Hits
The Conjuring (horror, Vera Farmiga. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 68. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “The dread gathers and surges while the blood scarcely trickles in The Conjuring, a fantastically effective haunted-house movie. Set largely in 1971, it purports to tell a story based on ‘true case files’ about a family of seven whose pastoral dream became a nightmare soon after they moved into a Rhode Island farmhouse. One day, Mom, Dad and the girls are settling into their conveniently sprawling, creaking, squeaking two-story house — the rooms quickly become a disorienting maze — and the next, they’re playing hide and creep with a mysterious, increasingly malevolent force.” Read more…)

The Internship (comedy, Owen Wilson. Rotten Tomatoes: 35%. Metacritic: 42. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Whatever Mr. Vaughn’s motivations, with The Internship he has charted possibly new, definitely uneasy terrain by helping create a big-studio release that, from start to gaga finish, is a hosanna to a single company, its products, philosophy and implicit politics. Plenty of movies sell stuff from fashion to wars and religion; this one sells the Tao of Google.” Read more…)

Before Midnight (romance, Julie Delpy. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 94. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Where did the time go? Has it really been nine years since we last saw Celine and Jesse, in Paris, rekindling the romance that first sparked nine years before that, in Vienna? Luckily [for us and for them] they are still together, having hatched a pair of sweet blond twin girls and glided, or maybe stumbled, into their 40s. And, of course, because they are played by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, Celine and Jesse are still better looking than most of the rest of us, and still have quite a lot to say about themselves, each other and the world.” Read more…)

The Way Way Back (comedy, Steve Carell. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 67. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Though it takes place in what looks like the present — the familiar now of ear buds and smartphones — The Way, Way Back, a summertime coming-of-age tale written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, is infused with nostalgia. The movie’s title seems to refer to the rear-facing third seat of the massive old station wagon where we first encounter its hero, a glum 14-year-old boy named Duncan [Liam James]. But it also describes a hazy, bittersweet mood of recollection that hovers around the action like July humidity.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
The Internship
The Conjuring
Before Midnight

New Foreign
The Wall (Germany/Austria, drama/adventure, Martina Gedeck. Rotten Tomatoes: 72%. Metacritic: 67. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “In a few weeks CBS rolls out a mini-series called Under the Dome based on a Stephen King novel. It’s about a Maine town cut off from the world when a clear dome materializes over it. The story focuses on the power struggles among those caught inside, but there is another direction you can take the same premise: the one of The Wall. In this absorbing German-Austrian film, a transparent barrier also imposes itself, but the woman it traps is, by all appearances, alone. Martina Gedeck plays that unnamed character in what is essentially a one-woman study of physical and mental survival.” Read more…)

New Docs
The Waiting Room (health industry, hospitals. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 84. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “The crowded emergency room of Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif., is the setting of Peter Nicks’s wrenching documentary The Waiting Room. Shot in 2010 over five months, the film, which has no narrator, titles, statistical analysis or overt editorializing, observes a composite day there during which nearly 250 patients — most of them uninsured — pour in.” Read more…)

Room 237 (film history and interpretation, Kubrick’s “The Shining”. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 80. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Mamohla Dargis’ Times review: “An ode to movie love at its most deliriously unfettered, Room 237 is a nonfiction look at some very serious film fans who take The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece, very, very seriously. They know — deep in their obsessive, sometimes demented cinephile hearts — that Kubrick did more than make a feverishly entertaining film about a family falling apart in an isolated hotel called the Overlook. He also embedded amazing messages in The Shining, cunningly weaving secrets and signs into the film’s very fabric, leaving clues about the Holocaust in elevators and messages about the Apollo 11 Moon landing in a sweater. In books, blogs and now this movie these fans carry forth the godhead’s gnostic communiqués.” Read more…)