New Releases 1/20/15

Top Hits
Lucy (sci-fi, Scarlett Johansson. Rotten Tomatoes: 66%. Metacritic: 61. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Thank goodness [or the goddess] for male directors who dig strong female characters. Whatever their reasons, these directors often expand the range of roles women play, whether it’s one of Howard Hawks’s dames calling the shots or one of James Cameron’s. That the French director Luc Besson, an industrious multi-hyphenate, has a thing for femmes fortes has been evident since 1990, when he unleashed a pouty toothpick in ‘La Femme Nikita,’ a delirious, violent fantasy that turned an outlaw into a gun-toting gamine and an exploitable commodity that, in turn, spawned both an American big-screen remake [‘Point of No Return’] and a television series. Mr. Besson’s particular kink for fatal female beauties receives an entertaining workout in his latest film, ‘Lucy,’ in which he again introduces a young woman who undergoes a remarkable metamorphosis that leads to convulsions of extreme violence and an increasingly frenzied visual style that lay waste to both men and any semblance of story sense.” Read more…)

Rudderless (drama, Billy Crudup. Rotten Tomatoes: 63%. Metacritic: 52. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “‘Rudderless,’ the misbegotten directorial debut of William H. Macy, is so dishonest, manipulative and ultimately infuriating that it never recovers after its bombshell revelation two-thirds of the way into the movie. Not that its coyly withheld disclosure is all that unexpected. What is surprising is that Mr. Macy, who wrote the screenplay with Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison and plays the owner of tavern, didn’t know better than to be so coy.” Read more…)

Annabelle (horror, Annabelle Wallis. Rotten Tomatoes: 29%. Metacritic: 37. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “The director, John R. Leonetti, served as the cinematographer on ‘The Conjuring’ [2013], and the best scares in ‘Annabnelle’ involve tricks of the eye. A murder in a neighbor’s house is seen through Mia’s bedroom window. A sensational long take choreographs a home invasion. Set largely in a Santa Monica, Calif., house and an apartment in Pasadena, ‘Annabelle’ is less cluttered with creepy bric-a-brac than ‘The Conjuring.’ [The original director, James Wan, produced here.] But Mr. Leonetti embraces the potential of negative space.” Read more…)

The Drop (crime/thriller, James Gandolfini. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 69. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “This might be the time to note that ‘The Drop’ was written by Dennis Lehane, who adapted it from his short story ‘Animal Rescue.’ While this movie, directed by Michael R. Roskam [‘Bullhead’], doesn’t have the grandeur of ‘Mystic River,’ the emotional sting of ‘Gone Baby Gone’ or the nutty audacity of ‘Shutter Island’ [or any Massachusetts accents], it nonetheless demonstrates some solid Lehanean virtues. The material may be warmed over, but the writing is meaty and pulpy enough to sustain a handful of satisfying performances.” Read more…)

The Zero Theorem (Terry Gilliam-directed sci-fi/fantasy, Christopher Waltz. Rotten Tomatoes: 52%. Metacritic: 50. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The Zero Theorem” “spring[s] from the fertile, undisciplined imagination of Terry Gilliam. That fact makes ‘The Zero Theorem,’ written by Pat Rushin, a lively viewing experience, thanks to Mr. Gilliam’s perpetual-motion shooting style and his witty, allusive visual vocabulary. Every frame is dense with information, some of it in the service of the film’s allegorical intention, some of it there for fun. Mr. Gilliam has been, since his days as an animator for ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus,’ a tirelessly inventive filmmaker. He has also occasionally ascended to the level of visionary, in particular with the prescient, still-potent science-fiction satire ‘Brazil.'” Read more…)

White Bird In a Blizzard (drama/thriller, Shailene Woodley. Rotten Tomatoes: 49%. Metacritic: 49. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “A coming-of-age drama wrapped in a sunny, Southern California film noir — unless it’s the other way around — ‘White Bird in a Blizzard’ plants us in the point of view of a teenage girl named Kat, whose young life is disrupted by the disappearance of her mother, Eve. Kat is played by Shailene Woodley, Eve by Eva Green, a counterintuitive but strangely persuasive pairing that helps to make this film, directed by Gregg Araki and adapted from Laura Kasischke’s 1999 novel, intriguing in spite of its tentative tone and wobbly structure.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Lucy
The Drop
Rear Window

New Foreign
The Missing Picture (Cambodia, history/documentary/animation, Rithy Panh. Rotten Tomatoes: 99%. Metacritic: 87. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “The audacity of ‘The Missing Picture’ — a brilliant documentary about a child who held on to life in Cambodia’s killing fields — is equaled only by its soulfulness. On April 17, 1975, the day the Khmer Rouge seized the capital, Phnom Penh, the 13-year-old Rithy Panh, his family and millions more were driven from that city and other towns and villages and straight into hell. Four years later, many of his relatives, including his father, mother, sisters and a niece and nephew were dead; decades later, Mr. Panh, now a filmmaker, has told his story in a movie in which the act of remembrance serves as a form of resistance.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
The Wonderful Country (1959, western, Robert Mitchum. From Howard Thompson’s 1959 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “It was a pleasure yesterday to watch Tom Lea’s novel ‘The Wonderful Country’ spreading across the screen pretty much, we suspect, the way the author must have wanted it. This is a superior, intelligent film on nearly every count. Robert Mitchum, Julie London, Gary Merrill and a good supporting cast are framed against a superbly authentic landscape of the Rio Grande territory, in a faithful retelling of Mr. Lea’s post-Civil War drama about an American-born ‘pistolero’—a hired killer in Mexico.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin-directed paean to Winnipeg. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 84. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Fact-checking ‘My Winnipeg’ would be absurd, since the film, which combines archival documentary images with freshly shot, antique-looking passages, is more concerned with lyrical truth than with literal accuracy. And even though I suspect that some of its more outlandish assertions are at least partly grounded in fact, [director Guy] Maddin is engaged less in historical inquiry than in hallucinatory autobiography, ruminating on the deep and accidental relationship between a specific place and an individual life. As ‘My Winnipeg’ conjures it, the bond between city and filmmaker is ambivalent and reciprocal. Much as he may dream of taking that one-way rail journey to somewhere else, Mr. Maddin can no more spurn Winnipeg than it can disown him.” Read more…)

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon (personality, show business, Shep Gordon. Rotten Tomatoes: 77%. Metacritic: 64. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York times review: “A valentine from one friend to another, ‘Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon’ is not entirely kidding about that title, or at least its tone. Directed by the comedian Mike Myers, this clubby documentary lauds the swellness and shrewdness of the talent manager Shep Gordon with the help of celebrities and the sunnily mellifluent subject himself.” Read more…)

New Children’s DVDs
The Boxtrolls (animated feature, Ben Kingsley [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes:  75%. Metacritic:  61. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “In ‘The Boxtrolls,’ old-fashioned stop-motion animation is combined with new-style 3-D cinematography to charming effect. The film, based on the book ‘Here Be Monsters!’ by Alan Snow, tells a familiar story with familiar themes and characters — misunderstood monsters; a repulsive villain with comical henchmen; a hero with an identity crisis — but it does so with refreshing wit and energy. At times it might be a little dark and scary for the very youngest viewers, but their slightly older siblings are likely to appreciate the way this movie balances the silly and the sinister, the creepy and the cute, the nasty and the nice. Adults may also find themselves amused. This one did, at any rate.” Read more…)