New releases 5/21/19

Top Hits
The Upside (comedy/drama based on French film The Intouchables, Bryan Cranston. Rotten Tomatoes: 40%. Metacritic: 46. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “What a difference a cast makes. If the director Neil Burger’s decision to have Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart play the leads in the odd-couple comedy ‘The Upside’ — a remake of the 2012 French film ‘The Intouchables’ — doesn’t erase the original’s sins, it blurs them just enough. As a result, this impolitic [some might say offensive] tale of Phillip [Cranston], a wealthy, white quadriplegic, and Dell [Hart], the black parolee who restores his will to live, is surprisingly winning. Some squinting will be required to block out the race and class stereotyping, as well as the puddles of sentiment scattered throughout the highly predictable plot. Yet Jon Hartmere’s script has genuinely funny moments and is blessedly short on crassness” Read more…)

Isn’t It Romantic (rom-com, Rebel Wilson. Rotten Tomatoes: 69%. Metacritic: 60. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “[Actress Rebel] Wilson, leaning on her comic persona to compensate for the script’s lack of wit or inventiveness, is a reliable deadpanner. Her one-liners — calling the alternate universe she’s trapped in ‘“The Matrix” for lonely women,’ for example — are funny enough to carry this featherweight movie as far as it can go, which isn’t far. The film’s reliance on conventions even as it snickers at them gives it the faint air of a con.” Read more…)

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (animated feature, Jay Baruchel [voice], Rotten Tomatoes Certified Fresh. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 71. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “‘How to Train Your Dragon’ may not be the most beloved of computer-animated franchises, but it is one of the most reliable. The latest installment, ‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,’ gives the now-trilogy a pleasing arc.” Read more…)

New Foreign
Let the Sunshine In (France, romance/drama dir. by Claire Denis, Juliette Binoche. Rotten Tomatoes Certified Fresh. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 79. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “[Director Claire] Denis, consistently the most interesting French filmmaker of the 21st century [see ‘Beau Travail,’ ‘White Material’ and ’35 Shots of Rum,’ among others], focuses her attention on a subject that could easily have been rendered sad, sensational or sentimental. The sexuality of middle-aged women, when it comes up at all in Hollywood, tends to be treated with either pity or condescending encouragement. As played by Juliette Binoche, Isabelle is defiantly immune to both of those, and even, at times, to the audience’s sympathy.” Read more…)

Sorry Angel (France, drama/romance/gay, Pierre Deladonchamps Rotten Tomatoes Certified Fresh. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 73. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “It took a while for this digressive movie to get its hooks in me, but once it did, ‘Sorry Angel’ didn’t let go. A big part of it is Jacques, who in [actor Pierre] Deladonchamps’s hands is one of the most layered film characters I’ve experienced in some time. Egotistic, mercurial, erudite, recklessly affectionate, careless, vindictive, impulsive, he can turn from exasperating to heartbreaking in seconds flat.” Read more…)

The Image Book (France, film essay by Jean-Luc Godard, Rotten Tomatoes Certified Fresh. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 76. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “This moment feels right for ‘The Image Book,’ composed [like much other late Godard] of video clips counterpointed with literary texts and classical music, all of it partitioned into numbered, cryptically titled chapters. I found it haunting, thrilling and confounding in equal measure. It is a work of ecstatic despair, an argument for the futility of human effort that almost refutes itself through the application of a grumpy and tenacious artistic will.” Read more…)

Trouble Every Day (France, 2001, drama/horror dir. by Claire Denis, Vincent Gallo. Rotten Tomatoes: 50%. Metacritic: 40. From Stephen Holden’s 2002 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “To describe the sex scenes in Claire Denis’s erotic horror film ‘Trouble Every Day’ as indelible isn’t to say they are the least bit inviting or easy to watch. This daring, intermittently beautiful failure of a movie, by the director who emerged with ‘Beau Travail’ as one of France’s greatest filmmakers, explores with gruesome explicitness the metaphor of sex as cannibalism. The squeamish are strongly advised to avoid the film, which created a minor scandal when it was shown last spring at the Cannes Film Festival.” Read more…)

The Weissensee Saga: Season 3 (Germany, historical drama in 1980s East Germany, Uwe Kockisch)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
Above and Beyond (1952, Enola Gay pilot war drama, Robert Taylor. From Bosley Crowther’s 1953 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Having already dramatized the story of the development of the atomic bomb and its fateful delivery on Hiroshima in ‘The Beginning or the End,’ Metro is now concentrating on a personal aspect of that history in ‘Above and Beyond,’ a fervent romance that arrived at the Mayfair yesterday. This is the documented story of Col. Paul W. Tibbets Jr., then man the Air Forces carefully selected to organize the first atomic bomb crew and lead that first strike against Hiroshima, which he courageously did. For the purpose of strong dramatic interest, Metro has taken the tale of Colonel Tibbets’ historic adventure and built it up as a poignant account of the physical and mental burdens imposed upon the man. Above and beyond the pressures of the military responsibilities involved, including those of maintaining the strictest secrecy, the studio has put particular emphasis upon the grave domestic tensions that occurred—or are said to have occurred—when the colonel had to conceal his assignment from his wife.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
American Anthem (1986, sports drama, Mitch Gaylord. Rotten Tomatoes: 0%. From Walter Goodman’s 1986 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘American Anthem,’ which opens today at the Ziegfeld and other theaters, is a disco sound-and-light show about gymnastics. The nonstop sound goes from heavenly choruses to demonic rock but never manages to drown out the dialogue; the hyped-up lighting invests people with halos, and the colors must have been compounded by a punk hairdresser.” Read more…)

No Holds Barred (1989, sports/action, Hulk Hogan. Rotten Tomatoes: 11%. From Stephen Holden’s 1989 New York Times review [requires log-in]: ”The fact that nothing about Mr. Hogan really adds up no doubt helps account for his popularity. His sober speaking voice outside of the ring does not match his wild roars when doing battle. The amused gleam in his eye hints at a canny intelligence behind the sinew and sweat. And his exaggeratedly stagy bouts make only a token attempt to look real. More than Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Hogan behaves like a self-invented comic-book character sprung to life. ‘No Holds Barred,’ which opened yesterday at the Criterion 1 and other local theaters, is as cartoonish as its star.” Read more…)

New British
Robbery (1967, gangster/crime, Stanley Baker. From Roger Ebert’s 1968 review: “’Robbery,’ an unheralded British film about the Great Train Robbery of 1963, has crept into neighborhood theaters under cover of night. It works, it’s good. It doesn’t get sidetracked by a lot of cute dialog and psychoanalysis, like ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ [1968]. We don’t need to be told why a man would rob a bank; we just want to know how he gets away with it, right? John Dillinger was not a folk hero in vain.” Read more…)

Les Misérables (Victor Hugo mini-series, Dominic West. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 79. From Roslyn Sulcas’ New York Times preview: “There is not much that’s looking up for any character in Victor Hugo’s epic 1862 novel ‘Les Misérables,’ which has provided the subject matter for dozens of theater, television and film adaptations, most famously the blockbuster musical that zillions of fans affectionately call ‘Les Miz.’ But this six-part television adaptation, which first aired in Britain from December to February and arrives on Masterpiece on Sunday, might come as a surprise to those who only know the musical. This version hews much more closely to Hugo’s book, a five-volume, 365-chapter novel that over the course of its complex plot explores history, law, politics, religion and ideas about justice, guilt and redemption.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Chef Flynn (coming-of-age, food, culinary culture. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%. Metacritic: 63. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Before his teenage years, Flynn McGarry contrived a fully functional kitchen in his bedroom. Nurtured by parents who were professionals in creative fields, he enlisted his school pals to “staff” his increasingly elaborate meals, made in a style heavily influenced by the elegant minimalism of restaurants like New York’s Eleven Madison Park… ‘Chef Flynn’ is an engaging documentary about McGarry’s boy-to-man journey, which concludes as he prepares to open his own restaurant in Manhattan. [Our restaurant critic, Pete Wells, awarded his place, Gem, two stars over the summer, citing some reservations about the service.]” Read more…)

New releases 5/14/19

Top Hits
Fighting With My Family (family/sports, Dwayne Johnson. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 68. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “The brood in ‘Fighting With My Family’ is a rambunctious crowd. There’s mum and dad Knight, and a handful of adult kids [one’s doing time]. Professional wrestlers all, they grapple with one another in and out of the ring while running a gym in Norwich, England. They know how to put on a good show, how to turn the mat into a stage with thumps and grunts, stomps and smashes. The family that smacks down together stays together, or at least that’s the idea in this charmer about love and choreographed war.” Read more…)

Happy Death Day 2U (horror, Jessica Roth. Rotten Tomatoes: 68%. Metacritic: 57. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Jessica Rothe as Tree is still an appealing presence. But the film is overstuffed with unfunny self-parodying gore slapstick, half-felt sentimentality and semi-meta sci-fi — characters mention ‘Inception’ and ‘Back to the Future,’ just to let you know that they know that we know.” Read more…)

Cold Pursuit (action, Liam Neeson. Rotten Tomatoes: 69%. Metacritic: 57. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The wintertime Liam Neeson sad-dad action thriller for 2019, ‘Cold Pursuit,’ is just like most of the previous specimens and also completely different. This time, instead of rescuing a daughter, as he did in ‘Taken’ — the bellwether of this beloved or at least unavoidable subgenre — Neeson is avenging a son. His character, Nels Coxman, is not a globe-trotting assassin with a highly specialized set of skills, but rather a humble Colorado snowplow driver. For an amateur, Nels is awfully good at killing, and he takes to it with a grim determination that could easily be mistaken for enthusiasm. Neeson’s recent revelation, in a newspaper interview, that he once came close to acting out his own racist revenge fantasies might spoil some of the fun.” Read more…)

Never Grow Old (western, John Cusack. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 62.)

New Blu-Ray
Fighting With My Family

New TV
Veep: Season 6 (HBO comedy series, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%.)

New Documentaries
Apollo 11 (moon mission, technology, Neil Armstrong. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 87. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “The documentary ‘Apollo 11,’ directed and edited by Todd Douglas Miller, is entirely awe-inspiring. Which is something of a surprise. As world events of the 20th century go, Apollo 11, the NASA mission of 1969 that put two men on the moon, has been thoroughly documented. It’s also been fictionally dissected, most recently by Damien Chazelle, whose 2018 film, ‘First Man,’ is a portrait of Neil Armstrong, the mission’s commander and, yes, the first man to walk on the moon. In addition to chronicling that triumph, that film examines Armstrong’s emotional reticence. Miller’s documentary indirectly points out why such a quality is valued in astronauts.” Read more…)

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (2011, art, Anselm Kiefer. Rotten Tomatoes: 79%. Metacritic: 66. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “The movie ‘Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow’ is a portrait of the artist at work, though one that says as much about its British director, Sophie Fiennes, as about its stated subject, the German-born artist Anselm Kiefer. In 1993 Mr. Kiefer, perhaps the most celebrated and divisive artist of his generation — he was born in 1945 shortly before the end of World War II — moved to a swath of land outside Barjac, a town in the South of France. He and his assistants then began creating installations on the property that, at least to judge from this movie, are a monument to the human will to self-annihilation and a rehearsal for the apocalypse.” Read more…)

What Is Democracy? (society, political theory. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 71. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “An all-nighter spent skimming Plato’s “Republic” would be a less hurried undertaking than “What Is Democracy?,” a hugely ambitious documentary from the Canadian director Astra Taylor (“Zizek!”). Like democracy itself, the movie assumes such a broad mandate and has such noble intentions that indicating its shortcomings seems almost beside the point. The overarching concept here is to explore the philosophical underpinnings of democracy by talking with scholars and visiting the present-day sites of Plato’s Academy and the Agora in Athens.” Read more…)

Hillbilly (stereotype, society, rural communities. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 67. From Kevin Crust’s Los Angeles Times review: “Los Angeles-based journalist and filmmaker Ashley York, born and raised in the mountains of eastern Kentucky [the evocatively named Meathouse Holler to be specific], returns to Appalachia to question the media depiction of the region’s residents, while also tracking the 2016 U.S. presidential election, in the documentary ‘Hillbilly.’ Co-written and co-directed with Sally Rubin, the film is a far more sympathetic portrait than J.D. Vance’s best-selling ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’ taking a more descriptive than analytical approach.” Read more…)

Stay Human (music, community, inspiration, Michael Franti & Spearhead. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 73.)

New releases 5/7/19

Top Hits
Blaze (bio-pic/country music, Ben Dickey. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 75. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “‘Blaze,’ Ethan Hawke’s new movie [he directed, co-wrote the screenplay and appears onscreen a handful of times], whetted an appetite I wasn’t aware I had, though my Apple Music streaming history might have provided a clue. Even if the film were no good at all — and I’m relieved to say that it’s pretty darn good — I would be 100 percent here for a biopic about Blaze Foley, a Texas-based singer-songwriter who died in 1989. [His real name was Michael Fuller.] Furthermore, I would not be sad if ‘Blaze’ kicked off a trend, and I could look forward to sad, smoky, whiskey-saturated movies about the lives and times of Guy Clark, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Robert Earl Keen and of course the great Townes Van Zandt.” Read more…)

The Lego Movie: The Second Part (animated feature, Chris Pratt. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 65. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “The new animated Lego movie is pretty much like the last one. Or maybe I’m thinking of another one, not that it much matters. There are differences between editions, most fairly negligible. The unifying factor, to note the obvious about the state of big-screen children’s entertainment, is that they are all feature-length commercials.” Read more…)

To Dust (comedy/drama, Matthew Broderick. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 66. From Wesley Morris’ New York Times review: “‘To Dust’ runs an hour and a half, and that feels right for a buddy movie whose comedy is as stubborn as this one’s. But the movie is also trying — daring — to seriously consider grief, and that movie could have gone on for much longer. You can feel the script, by Jason Begue and Shawn Snyder, straining to tickle an audience. So it has a bereft widowed Hasidic cantor named Shmuel [Geza Rohrig] team up with Albert, a dumpy, mildly grizzled community college biology professor — and complete stranger — played by Matthew Broderick.” Read more…)

The Prodigy (thriller/horror, Taylor Schilling. Rotten Tomatoes: 45%. Metacritic: 45. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Directed by Nicholas McCarthy and set in a weirdly depopulated Philadelphia [played by Toronto and its environs], ‘The Prodigy’ features the usual buzzing flies and de rigueur jump scares [the best of which is in the trailer]. Taylor Schilling is perfect as Miles’s distraught mother, who catches on so slowly that she seems a little dense. And because fathers are often sidelined in movies like this, Peter Mooney’s restraint in the role, when the camera does find him, is to be heartily commended.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Suspiria (2018, horror remake, Dakota Johnson. Rotten Tomatoes: 66%. Metacritic: 64. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “As the first hour of ‘Suspiria’ grinds into the second and beyond [the movie runs 152 minutes], it grows ever more distended and yet more hollow. Unlike Argento, who seemed content to deliver a nastily updated fairy tale in 90 or so minutes, [director Luca] Guadagnino continues casting about for meaning, which perhaps explains why he keeps adding more stuff, more mayhem, more dances.” Read more…)

The Lego Movie: The Second Part
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

New Foreign
Everybody Knows (Spain, thriller, Penelope Cruz. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%. Metacritic: 68. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “[Director Asghar] Mr. Farhadi’s intention is to investigate the way secrets bind and divide the people who share them. The plot turns several times on mistaken assumptions about what is and isn’t common knowledge, and on the disruptive, destructive power of unspoken grudges and half-buried memories.” Read more…)

Sobibor (Russia, war drama, Konstantin Khabensky. Rotten Tomatoes: 75%. From Robert Abele’s Los Angeles Times review: “Movies dramatizing the Holocaust play a peculiar role in memorializing history, in that the barbarism of the subject defies attempts to aestheticize it. The Russian epic ‘Sobibor’ is actually about defiance, however: a noteworthy chapter from 1943 in which hundreds of the titular death camp’s prisoners revolted, killing Nazi guards and escaping into the surrounding Polish forest. But director-star Konstantin Khabensky’s movie suffers from that same artistic pressure, only it’s in the service of meshing the trappings of history with the rudiments of the vengeance-driven escape flick.” Read more…)

Permanent Green Light (France, drama, Theo Cholbi.)
The Weissensee Saga: Season 2 (Germany, period drama set in East Germany, Uew Kockisch)

New American Back Catalog (post-1960)
Maniac Cop (1987, action, Bruce Campbell. Rotten Tomatoes: 46%. From Caryn James’ 1996 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “There was an intriguing half-minute during a showing of ‘Maniac Cop’ yesterday, when the film broke. The flaring orange on screen at least livened up this amateurish effort about a monstrously strong uniformed policeman – or is he a civilian in costume? – who roams the streets of New York killing innocent people. The acting is stiff, the dialogue is stiffer and the action scenes are laborious. Even the presence of professionals like Sheree North and Richard Roundtree, in small roles, tend to diminish them rather than improve the film.” Read more…)

Bone (1972, dark comedy, Yaphet Kotto. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%.)
The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977, drama, Broderick Crawford)

New British (Commonwealth) DVDs
Unforgotten: Season 3 (mystery series, Nicole Walker. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%.)

New TV
Better Call Saul: Season 4 (crime/drama series, Bob Odenkirk. Rotten Tomatoes: 99%. Metacritic: 87.)

New Documentaries
My Scientology Movie (exposé, Louis Theroux. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 62. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “With a quirky résumé that includes two documentaries about the Westboro Baptist Church, the British journalist and filmmaker Louis Theroux has proved himself a seasoned chronicler of human eccentricity. His style can best be described as inoffensively resolute: He doesn’t badger, but neither does he back off. That chummy persistence serves him well in “My Scientology Movie,” an offbeat attempt to illuminate the church’s psychological grip on its members.” Read more…)

New releases 4/30/19

Top Hits
Arctic (adventure, Mads Mikkelsen. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 71. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “Sometimes all a movie needs to offer is the spectacle of an actor suffering for his art — or at least appearing to. Do you long to see Mads Mikkelsen, his face chapped and frostbitten, fighting to stay alive after a downed plane leaves his character marooned in the frozen north? If so, ‘Arctic,’ the feature debut of Joe Penna [a Brazilian-born YouTube video artist], delivers what you desire, making effective use of both the star’s rugged persona and unforgiving Icelandic landscapes.” Read more…)

Serenity (thriller, Anne Hathaway. Rotten Tomatoes: 19%. Metacritic: 37. From Wesley Morris’ New York Times review: “For reasons known only to [director Steven] Knight, ‘Serenity’ couldn’t just be a film noir. He’s laid some kind of science-fiction nonsense atop it because, apparently, the movie needed a ply of trashy pretension to echo Adrian Lyne’s thriller ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ and complement the luxe incoherence of McConaughey’s Lincoln ads.” Read more…)

Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki (documentary/bio, animation techniques, Hayao Miyazaki. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 64. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “‘Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki,’ a documentary directed by Kaku Arakawa made in 2016 and having its New York theatrical premiere this week, finds the maestro in a sparsely-furnished house referred to as his ‘atelier,’ brewing coffee, brooding and sketching. He still has the creative urge. But he worries that C.G.I. is making his own brand of hand-drawn animation obsolete.” Read more…)

Dragged Across Concrete (action/thriller, Mel Gibson. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%. Metacritic: 60. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “The writer-director S. Craig Zahler has embellished ‘Dragged Across Concrete’ — a neo-exploitation potboiler about brutal men on both sides of the law — in both modest and grandiose ways. He’s clearly given a lot of thought to this strain of detective-gangster fiction, to its cruelty, extremity, pessimism and flashes of nihilism. His detectives, Brett [Mel Gibson] and Anthony [Vince Vaughn], fit their types to a T, entering the story with ready guns and well-honed cynicism.” Read more…)

Prospect (sci-fi, Sophie Thatcher. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 68.)

New Blu-Ray
Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki

New British (Commonwealth) DVDs
My Brilliant Career (Australia, 1979, drama, Judy Davis. Rotten Tomatoes: 82%. From Janet Maslin’s 1979 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘My Brilliant Career’ marks the beginning of exactly that for both the film’s daring, assured, high-spirited Australian director, Gillian Armstrong, and its rambunctious young star. Adapted from a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, it offers a turn-of-the-century heroine who seems to have wandered from the pages of a Louisa May Alcott novel into the Australian Outback, where her buoyant sense of mischief takes on the same grand dimensions as the exotic, perpetually surprising terrain.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Reconstruction: America After the Civil War (civil rights, race, American history, Henry Louis Gates. Metacritic: 91. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Mike Hale’s Times television review: “The shockingly violent, depressingly predictable backlash in the American South to the end of slavery, and to the attempt to make freed slaves equal members of society, is the central concern of ‘Reconstruction: America After the Civil War,’ a four-hour PBS series written and narrated by Henry Louis Gates Jr… Among the many lacunae in Americans’ knowledge of their own history, our hazy notions of Reconstruction and its overthrow — essential to an understanding of so much in our own times, from the civil rights movement to today’s mirror-like rise of white nationalism — may be the most damaging.” Read more…)

The Gospel According to Andre (bio, fashion, Andre Leon Talley. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 67. From Jon Caramanica’s New York Times review: “The parts of [Andre] Talley’s story told through archival footage are fascinating — a staggeringly tall gay black man from the American South inventing himself as a bon vivant [‘You can be aristocratic without having been born into an aristocratic family’] and making himself welcome, and essential, at the pinnacle of the Paris and New York fashion world. As high fashion was becoming pop culture, Mr. Talley was there, first as a kind of aide-de-camp to Diana Vreeland, and later as an essential compatriot to Anna Wintour in her early Vogue days.” Read more…)

Living Planet: A Portrait of the Earth (nature, science. From John Corry’s 1985 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘The Living Planet: A Portrait of the Earth,’ the much acclaimed series from Britain, arrives on public television Sunday night. In it, David Attenborough looks at the world, and finds it inviting. In the first of 12 episodes, he shows us how the earth was formed, how continents moved, and how flora and fauna proliferated. We have seen this on television before, of course, but Mr. Attenborough’s series is special. For one thing, it looks spectacular; for another, there is Mr. Attenborough, blessed with a quirky charm.” Read more…)

New releases 4/23/19

Top Hits
Escape Room (horror, Taylor Russell. Rotten Tomatoes: 48%. Metacritic: 48. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “I tend to esteem motion pictures more for their aesthetic value than for their use value but sometimes there are exceptions. Through scrupulous and heightened simulations of terrifying reality, last year’s ‘First Man’ reminded me why I never even entertained the notion of becoming an astronaut. Taking the opposite tack with an irrational but not altogether implausible conceit, ‘Escape Room’ reminds me why I’ll never engage in the newfangled form of entertainment in which you allow yourself to be ‘trapped’ in a room and puzzle-solve your way out of it.” Read more…)

The Mercy (true adventure, Colin Firth. Rotten Tomatoes: 75%. Metacritic: 60. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “What drives a man to abandon a doting wife [Rachel Weisz] and three of the best-behaved children in Christendom to circumnavigate the globe in an ill-prepared trimaran? The makers of ‘The Mercy’ have a few ideas; but perhaps the most reliable message of this based-on-real-life tale is that middle age is a bitch. Whatever the reason, such was the appeal of this adventure that Donald Crowhurst [Colin Firth], a mild-mannered engineer and indifferent sailor, was willing to risk everything to take to sea.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
A Face In the Crowd (1957, Criterion Collection, Elia Kazan-directed drama/satire, Andy Griffith. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. From a New York Times recommendation written by Noel Murray: “The director Elia Kazan and the screenwriter Budd Schulberg have a strong point to make in ‘A Face In The Crowd,’ showing how the public’s affection for a ‘man of the people’ who ‘tells it like is’ makes it easy for a grinning demagogue to seize power. Kazan takes a lot of risks with this movie’s look and tone, turning on a dime from a docu-realistic style to something more exaggerated and cartoonish. But the reason why cultural critics and political pundits still cite this film as prescient and pertinent is that it’s so openly disgusted: at the media for valuing ratings over responsibility, and at the citizenry for letting itself be led by charismatic ignoramuses.” Read more…)

Man of Iron (1935, drama, Barton MacLane)

New American Back Catalog (post-1960)
Ode To Billy Joe (1976, drama/family film based on song, Glynnis O’Connor. From Richard Eder’s 1976 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘Ode to Billy Joe’ is a movie to lament. Its authors have ruined it. To say so is praise as well as regret. You can only ruin something that has some quality to begin with, and for more than half of the length, this Southern country romance has a quite individual kind of life and shrewdness.” Read more…)

The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior (1993, drama, drama, Sam Neill)

New British (Commonwealth) DVDs
A Place To Call Home: Season 6 (Australian drama, Marta Dusseldorp)

New TV DVDs
The Good Place: Season 2 (comedy, Ted Danson)

New Documentaries
Charm City (Baltimore, urban problems, community-police relations. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 85. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Ben Kenigsberg’s Times review: “There’s plenty to make you catch your breath during Marilyn Ness’s documentary ‘Charm City,’ a sweeping look at violent crime and possible solutions in Baltimore. But the most staggering statistic comes in a notice at the end: The film is dedicated to the memory of the more than 1,000 people said to be killed in Baltimore during the film’s making.” Read more…)

Tickled (competitive endurance tickling. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 76. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Everyone from Aristotle to Darwin and Freud had something to say about the teasing art of the tickle, as did the Marquis de Sade. There’s even more about its ecstasies and agonies in ‘Tickled,’ a terrifically entertaining documentary about a strange, murky corner of the adult tickling world. A New Zealand journalist named David Farrier discovered this touchy, feely realm when he came across an online video.” Read more…)

New releases 4/16/19

Top Hits
Glass (comic book thriller, Samuel L. Jackson. Rotten Tomatoes: 37%. Metacritic: 42. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “[M. Night] Shyamalan’s talent for primitive scares remains intact in ‘Glass,’ as does his love for cramming a whole lot of story in one feature. A superhero thriller spiked with horror and family melodrama, the movie reunites its title evildoer with [David] Dunn [from ‘Unbreakable’] and brings them face to face with Kevin Wendell Crumb [James McAvoy], the multiple-personality antihero of Shyamalan’s 2017 freakout, ‘Split.'” Read more…)

Columbus (drama, John Cho. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 89. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Ben Kenigsberg’s Times review: “‘Columbus’ can be slyly mysterious from a structural standpoint, both with respect to the plot’s elisions and several cuts that demand that viewers fill in the blanks. The movie leaves quite a bit to the eye of the beholder, but it’s always worth looking at.” Read more…)

Escape at Dannemora (true crime drama, Benicio del Toro. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 78. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “You’re serving a long sentence, and if you want freedom, you’ll need to take matters into your own hands. It’s the plot of ‘Escape at Dannemora,’ and it’s also the experience of watching it.” Read more…)

Destroyer (crime drama, Nicole Kidman. Rotten Tomatoes: 74%. Metacritic: 62. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis Times review: “Ho, ho, ho — nothing says the holidays like a beautifully ugly Nicole Kidman taking care of business with a submachine gun. But if you’re looking for counterprogramming, something to cut the ‘Mary Poppins’ treacle, consider ‘Destroyer,’ in which Kidman plays a very bad cop. Wearing a crust of disfiguring makeup and mousy hair that looks as if it has crawled out of a dumpster to take up residence on her head, Kidman is almost unrecognizable. The transformation is startling, and it forces you to scan her face and look, really look, at a woman you might otherwise turn away from.” Read more…)

The Kid Who Would Be King (family-friendly adventure, Patrick Stewart. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 66. From Bilge Ebiri’s New York Times review: “What ensues is a brisk, well-mounted children’s fantasy, with [director Joe] Cornish giving the story an entertainingly apocalyptic spin. Children covered in armor drive ‘Mad Max’-style cars to combat the forces of darkness, while their school turns into a hellscape of warfare and fire. The action is creatively staged, without ever getting too intense or scary for young viewers.” Read more…)

Patient Zero (pandemic thriller, Matt Smith. Rotten Tomatoes: 17%.)
Justice League vs. The Fatal Five (animated comic book feature)

New Blu-Rays
Glass
Justice League vs. The Fatal Five

New Foreign DVDs
The Invisibles (Germany, Holocaust drama, Max Mauff. Rotten Tomatoes: 69%. Metacritic: 60. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “‘The Invisibles,’ which tells the astonishing stories of four of the thousands of German Jews in Berlin who tried to escape deportation to the camps in World War II, is two movies spliced into one. The first records interviews with the four — Cioma Schönhaus, Hanni Lévy, Eugen Friede and Ruth Gumpel [née Arndt] — conducted in 2009. The second uses these testimonies as the basis for a scripted drama that the director, Claus Räfle, weaves around interview segments like extended re-enactments.” Read more…)

Zizou and the Arab Spring (Tunisia, comedy/drama, Zied Ayadi)
Diamonds of the Night (Czechoslovakia, 1964, drama/war, Ladislav Jànsky. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%.)

New British DVDs
Victoria: Season 3 (biopic series, Jenna Coleman. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%.)

New Documentaries
Hal (bio, cinema history, Hal Ashby. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 72. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “When the director Hal Ashby is mentioned now, he’s often squeezed into a cohort called New Hollywood, or as I think of it AltmanBogdanovichCoppolaFriedkinScorsese. This lineup changes depending on who’s telling the story and to what revisionist or orthodox end. Members, almost always men, are added, deleted or downgraded in the footnotes. Warren Beatty plays a role, as does the upstart Steven Spielberg. Ashby — who died at 59 in 1988 and whose films include ‘Being There’ — remains another constant, a mainstay in a group that stormed the old studios in the late 1960s, changing Hollywood forever. [That’s one take, anyway.] The director Amy Scott resurrects this Eden in ‘Hal,’ filling it with new [now seasoned] wonders, holy innocents and an abundance of snakes.” Read more…)

Anote’s Ark (environment, nature, climate change. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%.)

New releases 4/9/19

Top Hits
On the Basis of Sex (Ruth Bader Ginsberg bio-pic, Felicity Jones. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%. Metacritic: 59. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “[Ruth Bader] Ginsburg is now one of three women on the nine-member Supreme Court, and not even her most dogged ideological enemies would question her right to be there. [The Senate vote for her confirmation in 1993 was 96-3]. ‘On the Basis of Sex,’ directed by Mimi Leder from a screenplay by Daniel Stiepleman [Justice Ginsburg’s nephew], is interested in Ginsburg’s role in bringing about this change. Rather than trace the full arc of her career, it focuses on the first sex-discrimination case she argued in federal court in the early 1970s, and on the development of a legal strategy to challenge injustices so deeply ingrained as to seem perfectly natural.” Read more…)

A Dog’s Way Home (family/adventure, Ashley Judd. Rotten Tomatoes: 62%. Metacritic: 50. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “The new movie’s scenario mixes a large number of heartstring-pulling tropes: abandoned animals, war veterans with PTSD, a socially awkward male protagonist who adopts a suddenly motherless half-pit-bull whelp in a town where the breed is outlawed, a painful separation. And so, the dog, Bella, must make an arduous trek. Arduous — and weird.” Read more…)

Holmes & Watson (adventure/comedy, Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly. Rotten Tomatoes: 11%. Metacritic: 24. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “In Arthur Conan Doyle’s original telling, Sherlock Holmes indulged in morphine and cocaine because the drugs offered him a break from ‘the dull routine of existence.’ His mind, Dr. Watson recalls him saying in ‘The Sign of Four’ (1890), rebelled at ‘stagnation.’ Problems, work and cryptograms: Their inspiration would permit him to dispense with ‘artificial stimulants.’ More laughs are all that would have been necessary to prevent the stagnation of ‘Holmes & Watson’; as the movie stands, smuggling in booze to dispel the sense of dull routine could only help.” Read more…)

Welcome to Marwen (biography/comedy/drama, Steve Carell. Rotten Tomatoes: 33%. Metacritic: 40. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “[Director Robert] Zemeckis’s version is partly a story of indomitability in the face of hardship and partly a lesson in the practice of kindness. Mark’s resilience is impressive, as is the gentle respect he is shown by friends, neighbors and co-workers. But what makes the movie interesting — and disturbing on a few different levels — is how its sentimental, inspirational elements do battle with darker impulses.” Read more…)

Untogether (drama, Jemima Kirke. Rotten Tomatoes: 38%. Metacritic: 46. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Dreamily shot in Los Angeles by Autumn Durald Arkapaw, ‘Untogether’ toys with themes of faith and self-knowledge. But in a movie where quips [‘You look like velvet, but you’re Velcro’] too often substitute for conversation, insight is fleeting.” Read more…)

New Foreign DVDs
Berlin, I Love You (Germany, drama/romance, Keira Knightley. Rotten Tomatoes: 13%. Metacritic: 34. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “The once-divided nature of Berlin isn’t given much consideration in ‘Berlin, I Love You,’ the fifth film in the Cities of Love anthology series. The city itself doesn’t get a whole lot of consideration, either… most of this movie, which is almost entirely in English, is taken up with tone-deaf humanist tales.” Read more…)

The Charmer (Denmark, drama/romance, Ardalan Esmaili. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 78. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Wesley Morris’ Times review: “‘The Charmer’ is a Danish thriller about an Iranian named Esmail. Played by Ardalan Esmaili, he’s handsome in a youthful, gentle, intelligent way. We see him in bed and on dates with women. But you need only a few scenes to understand that nothing about the sex and seduction corresponds to regular dating. Esmail is desperate — an immigrant, not a tourist. And the movie, in nail-biting, onion-peeling style, explains what he’s desperate for. To stay in Denmark, he needs one of these connections to turn into a relationship with a woman willing to say that he’s hers.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
The Tarnished Angels (1958, Douglas Sirk-directed drama, Rock Hudson. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Douglas Sirk’s films have grown in critical renown from the time when they were first released. As Roger Ebert wrote in 1998, “Opinion on the melodramas of Douglas Sirk has flip-flopped since his key films were released in the 1950s. At the time, critics ridiculed them and the public lapped them up. Today most viewers dismiss them as pop trash, but in serious film circles Sirk is considered a great filmmaker—a German who fled Hitler to become the sly subverter of American postwar materialism.”
From Bosley Crowther’s less than complimentary 1957 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “[William] Faulkner’s faded story does have some flavor of the old barnstorming tours of the early air-circus fliers, but there is precious little of it in this film, which was badly, cheaply written by George Zuckerman and is abominably played by a hand-picked cast. The sentiments are inflated—blown out of all proportions to the values involved. And the acting, under Douglas Sirk’s direction, is elaborate and absurd.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Honeysuckle Rose (1980, music/romance, Willie Nelson. Rotten Tomatoes: 60%. From Janet Maslin’s 1980 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The direction, by Jerry Schatzberg, aims for general impressions rather than simple ones, and its only focus is the redoubtable Willie Nelson, who commands attention absolutely whenever he appears on screen. In Mr. Nelson’s performance, and in his singing turns, the film schemes a recision in sharp contrast to the vagueness that afflicts t otherwise.” Read more…)

New British DVDs
Mrs. Wilson (espionage mini-series, Ruth Wilson. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 70. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “So rather than the historical adventure or romance it might have been in an earlier era, ‘Mrs. Wilson’ is an interrogation of history, a feminist critique of mid-20th-century British society, a mystery and, least satisfyingly, a character study. The strangeness of the story, and Ruth Wilson’s characteristic intensity, pull us along.” Read more…)

New TV
Dirty John: Season 1 (drama series, Connie Britton. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. Metacritic: 58. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “Near the end of the hit podcast ‘Dirty John,’ a super-creepy true story about a predatory Southern California con man and one of the women he targeted, the reporter Christopher Goffard poses a question that’s been hanging for six episodes: What made John Meehan, a handsome, athletic nurse anesthesiologist, Dirty John? What goes on in the mind of a man who exploits and brutalizes one woman after another while claiming to be their victim? … Television dramas need their comprehensibility, though, and ‘Dirty John’ is now a scripted TV series, beginning Sunday on Bravo. Only three of eight episodes were made available, so we don’t know if it will provide the sort of answers Goffard was willing to forgo. But it’s already clear that “Dirty John” has been turned into a different, lesser, more digestible beast for TV.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
The Gospel of Eureka (LGBTQ life, community, Southern culture. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 66. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Buffing difference into sameness is the movie’s modus operandi. Helped by a homespun narration and good-natured interviews, the filmmakers lock down a ‘no rancor here’ tone that vigorously asserts itself at every turn. Discord over an anti-discrimination ordinance simmers quietly in the background, and a resident recalls his mother explaining his father’s late-life coming-out as submission to ‘a sexual disease,’ but nothing is permitted to rankle the optimism.” Read more…)

Journey of the Universe (science, philosophy, Mary Evelyn Tucker)

New Children’s DVDs
Mirai (animated feature, John Cho [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 81. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Bilge Ebiri’s Times review: “Fluctuating between the minor daily occurrences of Kun’s life and his touching sojourns into the past and the future, Hosoda’s film privileges moments of emotion over belabored story mechanics. Thus, it gathers complexity without sacrificing any of its guileless modesty. In the best possible way, ‘Mirai’ feels like the dream of a very wise child.” Read more…)

New releases 4/2/19

Top Hits
Vice (Dick Cheney bio-pic, Christian Bale. Rotten Tomatoes: 66%. Metacritic: 61. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “It will break no news and spoil nobody’s fun to note that [director Adam] McKay is not a fan of his protagonist. His argument is essentially that much of what critics of the current president fear most — the erosion of democratic norms; the manufacture of ‘alternative facts’; the rise of an authoritarian executive branch — already came to pass when George W. Bush was in office. But ‘Vice”’offers more than Yuletide rage-bait for liberal moviegoers, who already have plenty to be mad about. Revulsion and admiration lie as close together as the red and white stripes on the American flag, and if this is in some respects a real-life monster movie, it’s one that takes a lively and at times surprisingly sympathetic interest in its chosen demon.” Read more…)

The Mule (drama, Clint Eastwood. Rotten Tomatoes: 70%. Metacritic: 58. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “‘The Mule’ was inspired by a startling 2014 article in The New York Times Magazine by Sam Dolnick, ‘There’s a True Story Behind “The Mule”: The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule.’ The mule was Leo Sharp, a World War II veteran and great-grandfather who came across in news accounts as an unsolved puzzle. Working from Nick Schenk’s script, [director/star Clint] Eastwood fills in the portrait of his mule with creative license, characteristic dry humor and a looseness that seems almost completely untethered from the world of murderous cartels. There’s also some political editorializing and a flirtation with Eastwoodian autocritique.” Read more…)

BumbleBee (family action/adventure, Hailee Steinfeld. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 66. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “Can a ‘Transformers’ movie be good? It turns out the answer is yes — if the right talent is given enough leeway. The latest, ‘Bumblebee,’ is the sixth in the franchise. As directed by Travis Knight, an animator who made his directorial debut with the striking 2016 animated film ‘Kubo and the Two Strings,’ ‘Bumblebee’ is cleverly plotted, neatly allusive and has dialogue you can envision real people and, um, real Transformers speaking.” Read more…)

Mortal Engines (adventure, Hera Hilmar. Rotten Tomatoes: 27%. Metacritic: 44. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “But the guiding model for the plot — rebel alliances, secret family histories, London as a terrestrial Death Star — is almost certainly ‘Star Wars,’ whose knockoffs are so numerous that it seems useless to dock points for effort. As these things go, ‘Mortal Engines’ offers a fair amount of fun.” Read more…)

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot (action/absurdity, Sam Elliott. Rotten Tomatoes: 75%. Metacritic: 50. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “‘The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot’ revives an exploitation film tradition, in which a sensational title hooks viewers for a movie that’s all windup and no pitch. The writer and director, Robert D. Krzykowski, even appears to have leaned into the concept, turning false advertising into a motif. The man [Sam Elliott], hunting for the Bigfoot, drawls that his average-footed prey is ‘not really living up to its name.'” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Vice
The Mule
BumbleBee
Mortal Engines

New Foreign DVDs
Capernaum (Lebanon, Oscar-nominated drama, Zain al Raffea. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 75. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “‘Capernaum,’ Nadine Labaki’s hectic and heartbreaking new film, borrows its name from an ancient city condemned to hell, according to the Book of Matthew, by Jesus himself. The word has since become a synonym for chaos, and modern Beirut as captured by Ms. Labaki’s camera is a teeming vision of the inferno, a place without peace, mercy or order.” Read more…)

The Mafia Kills Only in Summer (Italy, dark comedy/drama, Pierfrancesco Diliberto. Rotten Tomatoes: 63%. Metacritic: 62. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “The best that can be said for the Italian television host Pierfrancesco Diliberto — as far as his comic, feature-film debut is concerned — is that he’s not nearly as annoying as Roberto Benigni. Granted, that’s a very low bar to clear. But as the director, star, narrator and one writer of ‘The Mafia Kills Only in Summer,’ Mr. Diliberto (known as Pif) must bear most of the responsibility for the movie’s clashing tones and penciled-in characters.” Read more…)

Antonio Gaudí (Japan, 1984, documentary/architecture/visual poem. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Stephen Holden’s 1998 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “If any film could be described as an architectural symphony, it is Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1984 movie, ‘Antonio Gaudi.’ The film, which begins a one-week engagement today at the Walter Reade Theater, takes a sweeping look at the revolutionary Spanish Art Nouveau architect’s work, which is centered in Barcelona. Using few spoken words and relying mostly on sketchy biographical subtitles to tell Gaudi’s story, the film is a visual rhapsody enhanced with music and sound effects created by the renowned Japanese film composer Toru Takemitsu and two collaborators.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978, comedy, Criterion Collection, Nancy Allen. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. From Janet Maslin’s 1978 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The gimmick behind ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ is the fact that you never actually see the Beatles; the genius of the film is the fact that you never miss them. Their likenesses turn up everywhere, plastered on record jackets and tacked on doors and walls, and their music is continually in the air. At the end of the movie, which revolves around the group’s first appearance on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ the sneakiness with which the neophyte director Robert Zemeckis skirts the issue is positively dazzling. The Beatles are both there and not there, and the paradox hardly even matters.” Read more…)

Flirt (1995, Hal Hartley romance, Martin Donovan. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. From Stephen Holden’s 1995 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “You might describe ‘Flirt,’ Hal Hartley’s smart, sexy, wafer-light new movie, as a jauntily romantic theme and variations on young love, international style. Hopscotching from New York to Berlin to Tokyo, the film flaunts the perilously cute concept of telling the same story in three different places with three sets of characters speaking three different languages. Watching the movie is like eating ice cream — or is it ice milk? — in three different flavors: vanilla, chocolate and green tea. They go together nicely.” Read more…)

New British DVDs
The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco (BBC mystery series transplanted to San Francisco. Rotten Tomatoes: 25%.)

New Documentaries
Jane Fonda In Five Acts (bio, history, Jane Fonda. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 87.)

New Music DVDs
Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration (concert, tribute to Joni Mitchell with multiple artists)

New Children’s DVDs
A Silent Voice: The Movie (Japanese animated feature. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 78. From Peter Bradshaw’s The Guardian review: “Naoko Yamada’s animation A Silent Voice is a lovely coming-of-age story, a tale of redemption and romance, based on a manga series by 27-year-old Yoshitoki Ōima. It’s enriched by a plangent musical score and moody ambient sound design. The original title is Koe No Katachi, translated in the opening and closing credits as “The Shape of Voice”, which comes mysteriously closer to the film’s meaning.” Read more…)

Tom & Jerry Triple Feature

New releases 3/26/19

Top Hits
Aquaman (superhero action, Jason Momoa. Rotten Tomatoes: 65%. Metacritic: 55. From Wesley Morris’ New York Times review: “Aquaman’s been dragged out of DC’s Justice League. His pals include Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and his movie is as mediocre as the latest versions of theirs. Maybe ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ and ‘The Shape of Water’ have set the bar too high for marine absurdity, but your local aquarium has a stronger sense of wonder than ‘Aquaman.'” Read more…)

If Beale Street Could Talk (drama, KiKi Layne. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 87. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Every so often, the characters in Barry Jenkins’s anguished and mournful ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ look straight at the camera, and at you. In some movies, this kind of direct address can seem conspiratorial, suggesting that you and a character are in on a joke. Elsewhere, these gazes seem accusatory, assaultive, beseeching; here, most feel intimate and inviting, but also expansive. When two lovers look at each other in this movie, the tenderness in their eyes softens everything, creating a radiance that folds around them like a blanket, blunting the world. You feel the warmth, the softness, too.” Read more…)

Adult Life Skills (comedy/drama, Jodie Whittaker. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%. Metacritic: 49. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “By the time I had finished watching the aggressively whimsical British comedy ‘Adult Life Skills,’ my eyes had rolled so far back in my head I could barely focus. It wasn’t simply the excruciatingly twee musical choices, or the well-worn trajectory of a plot as contrived as its woolly-hatted heroine. It was the realization that stories about adults trapped in the aspic of adolescence are not disappearing from the movies any time soon.” Read more…)

Second Act (comedy, Jennifer Lopez. Rotten Tomatoes: 44%. Metacritic: 46. From Wesley Morris’ New York Times review: “This is Jenny from the blah. The movie was written by Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and directed by the Adam Sandler and spoof veteran Peter Segal. We’re supposed to find what they’ve done with this story suspenseful. Just who at this company of divas, nerds and snakes will be the first to smell a rat?… I never see plot twists coming, but this one made me feel like Nostradamus.” Read more…)

Stan & Ollie (bio-pic, Steve Coogan. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 75. From Jason Zinoman’s New York Times review: “Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly deliver dynamite performances that capture the expressions and physicality of the star comedians without ever descending into caricature. They never strain for laughs but are consistently amusing. As Laurel, who wrote the comic bits and was the more tortured star, Coogan communicates a tremendous amount of anxiety and discord in a slight downturn of the lips. Equally subtle and emotionally grounded, Reilly portrays Hardy as a big man with a light touch, so laid-back so as to be almost reckless.” Read more…)

Descendants 2 (Disney fantasy, Dove Cameron. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times TV review: “The kids are largely on their own in “Descendants 2,” a sequel to the 2015 television movie about the children of Disney villains. That makes for a dumber film, but the target audience for this colorful tuneful fluff won’t care and may even consider it an improvement.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Aquaman
If Beale Street Could Talk

New Foreign DVDs
The Day After (South Korea, romance/co,medy, Kwon Hae Hyo. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%. Metacritic: 72. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “‘The Day After,’ one of three films this prolific director brought to festivals in 2017 [another one screened in Berlin in February], is an especially elegant presentation of some of his characteristic concerns. Shot in chilly, silky digital black and white, it plays with chronology in a way that seems both casual and musically precise. While most of the action takes place during Areum’s first day, her encounters with Bongwan — mostly drinking and eating across a low table at the office or in an empty restaurant — are intercut with similar scenes of Bongwan and Changsook. These feel less like flashbacks than like record skips, morsels of evidence in support of a philosophical argument about the non-linearity of time.” Read more…)

Kaili Blues (China, drama, Yongzhong Chen. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 85. From Ken Jaworowski’s New York Times review: “The film is partly a meditation on grappling with ancient traditions in a modern China, as well as an outline of one man’s regrets. Still, [director Bi Gan] is in no rush to offer up a deeper meaning. Instead, he is content to deliver extended shots and images that are achingly melancholy, and teasingly cluttered. Watch closely: There’s always something curious situated beyond the characters, or on the edges of the frame — outside, a view of lush hills or decaying structures; inside, a piece of art or trash.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
Hold Your Man (1933, romance/drama, Jean Harlow. From F.S.N.’s 1933 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The popularity of the Jean Harlow-Clark Gable combination cannot be questioned. Virtually every seat in the Capitol Theatre was taken a few minutes after its doors were opened yesterday for the first showing of their new picture, ‘Hold Your Man.’It was a friendly audience. Laughter and applause punctuated the unreeling of the story and there is no explanation for that other than the popularity of Mr. Gable and Miss Harlow.” Read more…)

Frank Capra: The Early Collection:
Ladies of Leisure (1930)
Rain or Shine (1930)
The Miracle Woman (1931)
Forbidden (1932)
The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)

Jean Harlow: 7-Film Collection (From a Caryn James’ appreciation of Harlow in The New York Times in 1993 [requires log-in]: “Jean Harlow represented everything that straitlaced 1930’s America was supposed to despise. She played platinum-haired prostitutes, gold diggers and other trashy types with no apologies. In ‘Red-Headed Woman,’ she strategically places a picture of her rich, married boss under her garter and says, ‘It’ll get me more there than it will hanging on the wall.’ In ‘Red Dust,’ she decides to take a bath in a rain barrel, the better to get Clark Gable’s attention. And in ‘Hold Your Man,’ she fights a rival for Gable’s affections by belting the other woman with a left to the jaw, twice. Yet in her seven-year career, Harlow was wildly popular with both men and women, who found more to envy than to scorn.” Read more…):
Bombshell (1933, drama)
The Girl From Missouri (1934, rom-com)
Reckless (1935, drama)
Riffraff (1935, romance/drama)
Suzy (1936, romance/espionage)
Personal Property (1937, romance)
Saratoga (1937, Harlow’s final film, romance)

New Documentaries
The World Before Your Feet (personality, New York City, walking. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 78. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Ben Kenigsberg’s Times review: “But ‘The World Before Your Feet’ makes clear that Green’s mission [walking every block in New York City], whatever its origins, has become more than a selfish, privileged stunt. His travels have turned him into an extraordinary micro-historian of the city, with expertise that spans architecture, horticulture and urban planning.” Read more…)

Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes (politics, media, bio, conservatism, Roger Ailes. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 71. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Ben Kenigsberg’s Times review: “Any documentary — or obituary — that reckons with the legacy of Roger E. Ailes faces an almost impossible choice of emphasis. Here, after all, was a gifted news media pioneer who served as a presidential campaign whisperer to Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Donald Trump. As the longtime chief executive of and main creative force behind Fox News, Ailes can be credited not only with changing the nature of political discourse in this country, but also with making a large number of Americans, left and right, significantly angrier.” Read more…)

New Children’s DVDs
Paddington Bear

New releases 3/19/19

Top Hits
Mary Poppins Returns (Disney family adventure sequel, Emily Blunt. Rotten Tomatoes: 79%. Metacritic: 66. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Bathed in nostalgia, “Mary Poppins Returns” is being framed as a homage, and there’s clearly some love here. Mostly, it is a modest update, one that has brushed off the story, making it louder, harsher, more aggressively smiley. It picks up several decades after the 1964 film “Mary Poppins” — starring the sublimely synced Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke — concluded.” Read more…)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (animated comic book action feature, Shamek Moore. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 87. Well, how about this? A New York Times Critic’s Pick! From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ contains a vital element that has been missing from too many recent superhero movies: fun. Most of the better specimens of the genre, as well as the worst, assume a heavy burden of self-importance: the future of the planet, the cosmic balance of good and evil, the profit margins of multinational corporations and the good will of moody fans all depend on the actions of a gloomy character in a costume… My point here is that this animated reworking of the Spidey mythos is fresh and exhilarating in a way that very few of its live-action counterparts — including the last couple of ‘Spider-Man’ chapters — have been. Its jaunty, brightly colored inventiveness and its kid-in-the-candy-store appetite for pop culture ephemera give ‘Into the Spider-Verse’ some of the kick of the first ‘Lego Movie.'” Read more…)

Braid (horror/mystery, Madeline Brewer. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 60. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “It’s a hard knock life for Tilda [Sarah Hay] and Petula [Imogen Waterhouse], two of the young women of ‘Braid,’ a jumpy thriller written and directed by Mitzi Peirone. Their only moments of repose are at the film’s opening, and even those aren’t too relaxed.” Read more…)

November Criminals (crime/drama, Chloë Grace Moretz. Rotten Tomatoes: 0%. Metacritic: 31.)

New Blu-Ray
Mary Poppins Returns
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

New Foreign DVDs
The Quake (Norway, action/drama, Kristoffer Joner. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 70. From Bilge Ebiri’s Vulture review: “John Andreas Andersen’s The Quake, a sequel to the excellent 2015 Norwegian disaster film The Wave, should be required viewing for all of today’s Hollywood franchise jockeys. It shows you how to make one of these things without sacrificing your characters’ souls [or your own, for that matter].” Read more…)

Holiday (Denmark, crime/drama, Victoria Carmen Sonne. Rotten Tomatoes: 76%. Metacritic: 80. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “[Writer/director Isabella] Eklof subsequently inverts revenge conventions in a way that dares the audience to call it perverse. She has cited the cinematic extremist Ulrich Seidl [‘Paradise: Love,”’ ‘Import/Export’] as an influence: As with that filmmaker, it’s hard to tell whether she intends to communicate something genuine about the human condition, or just shovel hostility at her audience.” Read more…)

Becoming Astrid (Sweden, bio/drama, Alba August. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 71. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Long before she found fame with the ‘Pippi Longstocking’ series, the Swedish children’s author Astrid Lindgren had an unplanned pregnancy that changed her life. In ‘Becoming Astrid,’ the Danish director Pernille Fischer Christensen uses that formative event as a fulcrum, building a lightly fictionalized portrait of the young Lindgren [played by Alba August] from its emotional and practical fallout.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Wanda (1970, independent feminist drama, Barbara Loden. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. From Roger Greenspun’s 1971 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “It would be hard to imagine better or more tactful or more decently difficult work for a first film. I suppose it is significantly a woman’s film in that it never sensationalizes or patronizes its heroine, and yet finds her interesting and not [as it might have] just interestingly dull. But I like it best because it seems at home with its idioms, close to its action, opening up only rarely [during a model airplane meet, in the fatal bank job] and to moments of genuine insight and not admiration-begging cinematic claptrap. Wanda is a small movie, fully aware of its limits, and within those limits lovely.” Read more…)

Esther and the King (1960, Biblical epic, Joan Collins.From Bosley Crowther’s 1960 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The beautiful Bible story of Esther has been thumped into a crude costume charade in Raoul Walsh’s CinemaScope-and-color, Italian-made ‘Esther and the King.’ The best to be said for this chromo, which opened at the Palace yesterday, is that it drives one more spike into the coffin of these synthetic biblical films.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
On Her Shoulders (human rights, refugees, genocide, sexual violence. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 84. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Ken Jaworowski’s Times review: “Alexandria Bombach’s direction and editing are exceptional; she captures images that are both subtle and formidable. Her film is, first and foremost, a profile of [Nadia] Murad [survivor of an ISIS massacre of members of the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq] and her mission. Yet it’s also a comment on the media and on government aid.” Read more…)

Hillbilly (sociology, rural America, media stereotypes, resource economics. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. From Kevin Crust’s Los Angeles Times review: “Los Angeles-based journalist and filmmaker Ashley York, born and raised in the mountains of eastern Kentucky [the evocatively named Meathouse Holler to be specific], returns to Appalachia to question the media depiction of the region’s residents, while also tracking the 2016 U.S. presidential election, in the documentary ‘Hillbilly.’ Co-written and co-directed with Sally Rubin, the film is a far more sympathetic portrait than J.D. Vance’s best-selling ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’ taking a more descriptive than analytical approach.” Read more…)