New releases 10/20/20

Top Hits
The Plot Against America (HBO series based on Philip Roth book, alternative history of early 1940s fascist takeover in USA, John Turturro. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 82. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From James Poniewozik’s Times review: “‘Plot’ is a departure for [David] Simon, who has not adapted a work of fiction before, yet it feels natural. Simon is an artist of granular realism, and the lived-in middle-to-working-class Jewish New Jersey he creates gives the series its power.” Read more…)

Amulet (horror, Alec Secareanu. Rotten Tomatoes: 69%. Metacritic: 65. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “This is [director Romola] Garai’s feature directing debut, and it is as satisfying as it is promising, despite an unfortunate wind down. She has a great eye — and a real feel for the power of silence and visual textures — but she stumbles when she explains too much. An actress-turned-filmmaker whose credits include ‘Atonement,’ Garai is clearly invested in creating juicy, complex gender roles.” Read more…)

Cut Throat City (crime/action, Shameik Moore. Rotten Tomatoes: 70%. Metacritic: 67. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “While not pursuing the cinematic pyrotechnics of the films and filmmakers mentioned in the opening scene, [hip hop artist and director] RZA tells this story [from a screenplay by Paul Cuschieri] with deliberation and imaginative daring. With ‘Cut Throat City,’ his third feature, he comes into his own as a director.” Read more…)

The Secrets We Keep (post-World War II period drama, Noomi Rapace. Rotten Tomatoes: 64%. Metacritic: 46. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “An exploitation film that proceeds as if it were a solemn memorial, ‘The Secrets We Keep’ doesn’t do right by the Holocaust history it invokes — or much else. In small-town America around the turn of the 1960s, Maja (Noomi Rapace), a Romanian housewife, spots a stranger whom she believes participated in the assault and murder of a group of women that included her and her sister near the end of World War II. But after kidnapping the man and holding him at gunpoint, with plans to execute him in a pre-dug grave, Maja loses her nerve and brings him home.” Read more…)

Quiz (TV drama, Michael Sheen. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 75. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Mike Hale’s Times review: “In ‘Quiz,’ a sprightly three-part British drama coming to AMC on Sunday, form closely follows content. The series is based on a quiz-show scandal that mesmerized Britain in the early 2000s, and it takes the form of a question: Do you think they did it? Directed by Stephen Frears and written by James Graham, based on his play of the same name, ‘Quiz’ dramatizes the events surrounding the September 2001 appearance of an army officer named Charles Ingram on the original, British ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,’ a national sensation then beginning its fourth year. “ Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
The Gunfighter (1950, western, Criterion Collection, Gregory Peck. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1950 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The addicts of Western fiction may find themselves rubbing their eyes and sitting up fast to take notice before five minutes have gone by in Twentieth Century-Fox ‘The Gunfighter,’ which came to the Roxy yesterday. For suddenly they will discover that they are not keeping company with the usual sort of hero of the commonplace Western, at all. Suddenly, indeed, they will discover that they are in the exciting presence of one of the most fascinating Western heroes as ever looked down a six-shooter’s barrel.” Read more…)

Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV:
     So Dark the Night (film noir, 1946, Steven Geray. From Time Out’s review: “The film is directed like a million bucks. Visually, it compares with ‘The Big Combo’ as one of Lewis’ purest noir achievements; beyond that, it has more cinematic ideas and effects per square foot of screen than any number of contemporary A features. In other words, it’s a ‘typical’ Lewis movie: low on thinks, but with enough style to send lovers of cinema reeling. “ Read more…)

     Johnny O’Clock (film noir, 1947, Dick Powell. From Bosley Crowther’s 1947 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Another of those underworld smarties who are as hard and shiny as brass on the outside but who muffle hunks of goodness within their little-boy hearts is the unoriginal hero of Columbia’s ‘Johnny O’Clock,’ which came yesterday to Loew’s Criterion with Dick Powell as its star. And another of those smoldering exhibitions of gambling-joint jealousy and greed, set off against the law’s resistless close-in is what you get in it.” Read more…)

     Walk A Crooked Mile (film noir, 1948, Louis Hayward. From Bosley Crowther’s 1948 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The American atomic scientists who recently have complained about the wild innuendoes of disloyalty that have been passed against distinguished members of their group should see a certain movie called ‘Walk a Crooked Mile.’ Right away, Eric Johnston would be deluged with indignant mail. For this brisk little cops-and-spies picture, which came to Loew’s Criterion yesterday, unqualifiedly places an American scientist in cahoots with Russian atomic spies.” Read more…)

     Walk East On Beacon! (film noir, 1952, George Murphy. From A. Weiler’s 1952 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “There should be no doubt at this point that Communist espionage is an insidious but definite menace and the F. B. I. is ever alert to thwart these underground forces if ‘Walk East on Beacon’ is any criterion. But this latest entry in a long line of film exposes of scientific sleuthing produced by Louis de Rochemont in his typical, documentary fashion is serious spy-chasing adventure which, oddly enough, suffers somewhat because of its late arrival. For the newcomer, which was unveiled at the Victoria, is expertly turned melodrama, but melodrama in a familiar format.” Read more…)

Between Midnight And Dawn (film noir, 1950, Mark Stevens)

New British DVDs
Flesh and Blood (British mystery mini-series, Stephen Rea. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 75. From Margaret Lyons’ capsule review for the New York Times: “I wouldn’t call this a British Murder Show™, but this four-part mini-series is British, and there is a murder — or is it an accident? Think ‘juicy domestic drama with a dark side’ rather than ‘bummertown crime times with occasional family chitchat.’” Read more…)

Quiz (TV drama, Michael Sheen)

New TV
The Plot Against America (HBO series based on Philip Roth book, alternative history of early 1940s fascist takeover in USA, John Turturro)

New releases 10/13/20

Top Hits
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Story (drama, Aaron Paul. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 72. From James Poniewozik’s New York Times review: “If remembering the heyday of one of TV’s greatest series is enough for him, then he might be just the audience for ‘El Camino,’ now on Netflix and in theaters. The film, written and directed by the series’s creator, Vince Gilligan, is a well-crafted postscript that entertainingly extends the ‘Breaking Bad’ cinematic universe by two hours without really adding to it.” Read more [but spoilers alert]…)

The Cuban (drama, Ana Golja. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. Metacritic: 54. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “‘The Cuban’ opens with Cuban jazz on the soundtrack and bright watercolors of mid-20th-century Havana accompanying the credits. But things get more subdued, literally, as the watercolors start depicting a nursing home. Moving into live action, the colors are muted, the light diffuse. And they stay that way to the extent that you might wonder if something’s technically wrong. But no. The director, Sergio Navarretta, switches back to vivid color for the vivid-color memories of Luis Garcia [Louis Gossett Jr.], a once-famous Cuban musician, now suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.” Read more…)

The Short History of the Long Road (drama, Maggie Siff. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 60. From Tomris Laffly’s Variety review: “A cozy and affecting tale about living off the grid, ‘The Short History of the Long Road’ begins with a peaceful image of a young woman, whose long locks float over sunny pool waters. But her serenity gets cut short by her dad before she can fully immerse in the calm of the moment. And soon enough, the time comes for the duo to hit the road again in their vintage refurbished RV, not even giving the teenager time to finish her hot dog, cooked on a grubby grill that has seen better days.” Read more…)

New Foreign DVDs
The Tobacconist (Germany, drama, Bruno Ganz. Rotten Tomatoes: 63%. Metacritic: 55. From Teo Bugbee’s New York Times review: “The coming-of-age costume drama ‘The Tobacconist’ is set in Vienna during the rise of Nazism, leading up to the German occupation of Austria. But despite taking place during one of the most traumatic periods of modern civilization, the movie itself feels like little more than an amusing trifle, a chance to play dress up with some of history’s most famous figures.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
Nothing Sacred (1937, screwball comedy, Carole Lombard. Note to viewers: Opens with a couple of scenes that are frankly racist albeit hardly out of character for that time. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Frank S. Nugent’s 1937 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Ben Hecht has been squinting at ‘The Front Page’ again and, with one eye crinkled shut and the other sardonically glinting, he has written impiously impish comedy about that recurrednt journalistic marvel, the seven-day wonder.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Claudine (1974, drama, Criterion Collection, Diahann Carroll. From Vincent Canby’s 1974 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘Claudine,’ the comedy that opened yesterday at the De Mille and Fine Arts Theaters, has its own problems, including a tendency toward cuteness and a form that recalls television’s worst situation comedies. You know the ones — about resourceful moms, dumb dads and smart-talking kids who can burp on cue. The good news this morning is that ‘Claudine’ manages to be very funny, in a couple of instances, triumphantly so.” Read more…)

Rider on the Rain (1970, mystery, Charles Bronson. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. From Vincent Canby’s 1970 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “In ‘Rider on the Rain,’ as in so many of his other films, Bronson spends most of the time acting like a villain— seemingly insensitive, short sighted, arrogant and cruel —before being revealed as the hero who is suddenly, almost foolishly generous. It’s one of the ironies of national taste that the very qualities that the French pretend to find so abhorrent in American foreign policy become so beloved in an American savior‐figure.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
XY Chelsea (documentary, LGBTQ, civil liberties, national security, Chelsea Manning.Rotten Tomatoes: 65%. Metacritic: 60. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Frustratingly fuzzy and intermittently provocative, ‘XY Chelsea’ profiles Chelsea Manning, the U.S. Army analyst who leaked cascades of classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. Picking up as Manning’s 35-year prison sentence is commuted by President Obama in 2017, Tim Travers Hawkins’s good-looking documentary features more glamour shots than psychological insights.” Read more…)

New releases 10/6/20

Top Hits
Fisherman’s Friends (comedy/drama, Tuppence Middleton. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. Metacritic: 45. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “This is one of those ‘based on a true story’ movies that rather undercuts its veracity by having every character talk like they’re in a movie. In 2010, in Port Isaac, Cornwall, a quartet of loutish music industry execs throwing a stag weekend for a colleague hear the singing of the local fisherman. Described by one character as ‘the rock ‘n’ roll of 1752,’ it sure has some heavenly harmonies, and one of the louts hears the sound of money.” Read more…)

Valley Girl (comedy/musical, Jessica Rothe. Rotten Tomatoes: 55%. Metacritic: 53. From Natalia Winkelman’s New York Times review: “The original movie, starring a hunky Nicolas Cage, cast this fantasy of Los Angeles as the backdrop for Julie and Randy’s star-crossed romance: Suburban fashionista meets downtown rebel. The remake… amplifies the couple’s divide by reimagining their affair as a jukebox musical. Encino-based mall rats harmonize to ‘We Got the Beat’; wild children of the strip belt ‘Bad Reputation.’ With teasing self-awareness, the director Rachel Lee Goldenberg flattens the characters into cultural touchstones.” Read more…)

Yes, God, Yes (coming-of-age drama/comedy, Natalia Dyer. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 71. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Burdened by a silly R rating that may deter the very youngsters who are likely to enjoy it most, ‘Yes, God, Yes’ [written and directed by Karen Maine] fights back with an appealing lead and an overwhelmingly innocent tone. In its hands, the pleasures of self-pleasuring might be elusive, but they’re never, ever shameful.” Read more…)

New Foreign DVDs
The Load (Serbia, drama, Leon Lucev. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 75. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “‘The Load’ is set in Yugoslavia in 1999, amid the NATO bombings meant to put an end to roiling ethnic violence. At both the film’s opening and close to its end, bombs are seen from afar — streams of what look like fireworks that ascend and descend but never burst into color. The characters in this atmospheric, gripping film don’t respond to the sight in any way; the explosives are just one more unpleasant component of their unpleasant day-to-day living.” Read more…)

Loveless (Russia, drama, Maryana Spivak. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 86. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Unfolding beneath skies the color and density of damp concrete, ‘Loveless,’ the fifth feature from the Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev [after his notable 2014 drama, ‘Leviathan’], uses a toxic marriage to paint a larger portrait of decay, dereliction and moral detachment. And oh, his gaze is pitiless.” Read more…)

Santiago, Italia (Italy/Chile, documentary dir. by Nanni Moretti, history, Italy role in helping opponents of Chilean junta. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Richard Brody’s New Yorker review: “The Italian director Nanni Moretti crafts this fiercely earnest documentary with a frank simplicity that feels remarkably original. The film tells a historical story with personal passion and grand drama: he interviews a wide range of Chileans—factory workers, filmmakers, doctors, writers—about Salvador Allende’s jubilant rise to power, in the early seventies, the Chilean Army’s 1973 coup [aided by the United States], and the monstrous cruelties to which the junta subjected Allende’s sympathizers. One embassy in Santiago—Italy’s—allowed Chileans to take refuge within its walls, and then managed to negotiate their safe passage to Italy” Read more…)

New TV
Rick & Morty: Season 4 (animated TV series. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 84.)

New releases 9/29/20

Top Hits
Phoenix, Oregon (comedy, Jesse Borrego. Rotten Tomatoes: 82%. Metacritic: 49. From Devika Girish’s New York Times review: “‘Phoenix, Oregon’ is a film of forbidden pleasures, and by that I mean that it features people mingling socially, in close quarters, over food and drink. In normal times, Gary Lundgren’s charming if slight drama…, in which a man overcomes a midlife crisis by reviving a defunct bowling alley, might not register as much more than feel-good entertainment. But during our current pandemic, the film’s ode to small-town camaraderie and the joys of a local hang is rather poignant.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Ivans XTC (drama, 2002, Peter Weller. Rotten Tomatoes: 77%. From A.O. Scott’s 2002 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘Ivans XTC,’ a new film by Bernard Rose, is adapted from Tolstoy’s classic novella ‘The Death of Ivan Illyich.’ The locale is late-20th-century Hollywood instead of 19th-century Russia, and Tolstoy’s severe humanism has been grafted onto a scabrous, cynical view of the movie industry reminiscent of ‘The Day of the Locust’ or ‘The Player.’ Contrived as this may sound, Mr. Rose’s updating works surprisingly well. His showbiz smoothies and narcissists may inhabit a world far removed from that of the bureaucrats and gentlefolk of Czarist Russia, but the story’s sympathetic, tragic sense of the fragility of individual dignity is, if anything, made even more haunting in this version.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
The Elephant Man (1980, drama dir. by David Lynch, Criterion Collection, Anne Bancroft. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 78. From Vincent Canby’s 1980 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “In such a setting it’s no surprise that a kind of sad, desperate genteelness was once equated with human dignity. To be kind and polite, in such a landscape, under such circumstances, when the masses were living in such squalor, were reassuring signs of orthodoxy to a threatened London Establishment. This is one of the vividly unexpected impressions one carries away from ‘The Elephant Man,’ David Lynch’s haunting new film that’s not to be confused with the current Broadway play of the same title, though both are based on the life of the same unfortunate John Merrick, the so-called Elephant Man, and both, I assume, make use of some of the same source materials.” Read more…)

Subway Riders (1981, drama dir. by No Wave filmmaker Amos Poe, Robbie Coltrane. From Time Out: “Not so much subway riders as underground poseurs, Poe’s Manhattan melodramatists – psychotic saxophonist, sweaty cop, junkie femme fatale, assorted night people – do little more than stand still for Johanna Heer’s stylishly noir-conscious camera. Every shot might come ready to be framed, but it’s a frustratingly long walk through the post-Pop gallery when Poe shows no inclination to cut, and even less to encourage his cast to get on with the off-handedly minimal ‘plot.’”)

Unmade Beds (1976, No Wave drama dir. by Amos Poe, Debbie Harry)

New TV
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels: Season 1 (Showtime mystery/crime series, Natalie Dormer. Rotten Tomatoes: 75%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 60. From Alexis Soloski’s New York Times article on the new series: “This street, the main drag of an invented Chicano neighborhood called Belvedere Heights, hunkers at the symbolic center of ‘Penny Dreadful: City of Angels,’ a fantastical horror-whodunit. Logan’s original ‘Penny Dreadful,’ which ended a three-season run in 2016, offered a speculative fiction supergroup, imagining Dracula, Dorian Gray, Frankenstein and his monster romping through Victorian London. Its companion piece, debuting Sunday on Showtime, is arguably stranger.” Read more…)

The Good Fight: Season 4 (legal drama, Christine Baranski. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 84.)

New Documentaries
Pizza: A Love Story (documentary; New Haven pizza culture with emphasis on Sally’s, Pepe’s & Modern; Gorman Bechard. From Deborah Brown’s review in The Swellesley Report: “In the world of pizza, you should either go New Haven, Connecticut or go home. Face it, if the pizza hasn’t been oven-fired in Wooster Square — specifically Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria or Sally’s Apizza, both on Wooster Street, or Modern Apizza on State Street — that pie isn’t worth the calories or the time it takes to chew. Writer and director Gorman Bechard agrees in the feature-length film ‘Pizza, a Love Story,’ an unabashed celebration of America’s favorite food, when it’s done right.” Read more…)

Hip Hop: The Songs That Shook America (music, rap, culture, Queen Latifah. From Jack Hamilton’s Slate review: “The popularity of the above [documentaries on hip hop] [and many, many others] is the clearest indication yet that hip-hop has comfortably settled into what might be considered its classic rock phase. This isn’t to say that the genre has lost any currency or relevance—it remains the most innovative and vibrant sphere of contemporary music—but rather that its past has now become a lucrative commodity unto itself… The show is frequently terrific, and it works best when it’s diving headlong into the granular details of a song’s origins and compositional history.” Read more…)

John Lewis: Good Trouble (biography, civil rights, Black history, John Lewis. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 70. From Ben Kenisgberg’s New York Times review: “The civil rights leader and longtime Georgia congressman John Lewis surely requires no introduction, but ‘John Lewis: Good Trouble,’ a documentary from Dawn Porter, provides a solid one anyway, striking a good balance between revisiting Lewis’s most famous work as an activist and chronicling his life today.” Read more…)

Mondo Balordo (1964, cult period piece “shockumentary” narrated by Boris Karloff)

New releases 9/22/20

Top Hits
Babyteeth (drama, Eliza Scanlen. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 77. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Directed by Shannon Murphy from a script that Rita Kalnejais adapted from her play of the same title, ‘Babyteeth’ is such a fragile, earnest and inoffensive thing that I almost feel bad for not liking it more. It’s a coming-of-age story in a gently if overly studied eccentric key that follows Milla [Eliza Scanlen] as she finds love and grapples with her parents.” Read more…)

Waiting for the Barbarians (drama, Mark Rylance. Rotten Tomatoes: 54%. Metacritic: 52. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “The stark sight of a western-style military outpost in the middle of a whole lot of desert nothingness, where ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ begins, may remind cinephiles of the 1976 Valerio Zurlini film ‘The Desert of the Tartars.’ It’s unclear whether the director of this picture, Ciro Guerra, meant the scene as a homage to Zurlini’s film, but he didn’t even need to. As it happens, J.M. Coetzee, whose novel of the same name inspired this film, was likely influenced by Dino Buzzati’s book ‘The Tartar Steppe,’ the source for ‘Tartars.’” Read more…)

Military Wives (drama/inspiration, Kristin Scott Thomas. Rotten Tomatoes: 76%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 55. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “The title ‘Military Wives’ is plain to the point of blandness. This good-hearted comedy-drama, starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan, deserves a little better. The movie is directed by Peter Cattaneo, who also oversaw the 1997 phenom ‘The Full Monty.’” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
The City Without Jews

New Foreign DVDs
On A Magical Night (France, comedy/romance, Chiara Mastroianni. Rotten Tomatoes: 65%. Metacritic: . From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “The original title of this French film, ‘Chambre 212,’ is also the hotel room its lead character, Maria, checks into after an argument with her husband, who’s discovered profanely erotic texts from a student with whom she’s been carrying on. Maria, played with exemplary candor and feistiness by Chiara Mastroianni, is a woman who, in early middle age, clearly feels like stirring the pot.” Read more…)

The Girl With a Bracelet (France, courtroom drama, Melissa Guers. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. From Peter Bradshaw’s Guardian review: “There’s a cool, forensic reserve to this French movie, mimicking the legalistic procedure that makes up most of the running time. It is a remake of The Accused, a 2018 film from Argentinian director Gonzalo Tobal about a teenage girl on trial for murdering her best friend, allegedly as revenge for putting a sexually explicit video of her online. Guilty or not guilty?” Read more…)

The City Without Jews (Austria, 1924, satiric critique of anti-semitism lated banned by the Nazis. Johannes Reimann. From Jordan Hoffman’s article at Slate on the restoration of the film: “For a story about the forced expulsion of an entire ethnic group, Hans Karl Breslauer and Ida Jenbach’s The City Without Jews is oddly good-natured. Adapted from Hugo Bettauer’s novel, the 1924 satire is not dissimilar from other light silent films of the era. The scenario was topical, but intended as ludicrous, a “be-careful-what-you-wish-for” fable whose moral argues for tolerance, if of a somewhat backhanded kind.” Read more…)

The Koker Trilogy (Iran, dir. by Abbas Kiarostami):
     And Life Goes On (1992, adventure/drama, Farhad Kheradmand. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Stephen Holden’s 1992 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “In ‘And Life Goes On,’ that catastrophe is a devastating earthquake in the north of Iran. The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, accompanied by his young son, drives into the area only a day or two after the quake. Although his ostensible goal is to find out what happened to some young actors who live in the area and who once worked with him, his real quest seems to be the gleaning of as much spectacular post-quake film as possible. The film… is a visually gripping travelogue in which the more the director is thwarted, the more his journey acquires metaphoric weight.” Read more…)
     Through the Olive Trees (1994, drama, Mohamad Ali Keshavarz. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. From Stephen Holden’s 1994 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The film… is the story of one persistent man’s pursuit of a woman who believes he is beneath her. It is also a richly textured quasi-documentary portrait of a rural Muslim society in which the people display a remarkable resilience in the face of catastrophe. In ‘Through the Olive Trees,’ the Iranian director has some serious cinematic fun in the manner of Truffaut’s ‘Day for Night.’” Read more…)
     Where Is the Friend’s House (1987, drama/family, Babek Ahmed Poor. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From a New York Times “Watching” recommendation: “Though director Abbas Kiarostami’s films would later head off into more overtly challenging and esoteric terrain, ‘Where Is the Friend’s House?’ has all the qualities that put Iranian cinema on the map: formal simplicity, emotional directness, and the use of children as a window into societal ills. As the film’s resolute hero wanders off in search of his friend, Kiarostami contrasts his moral courage and determination with the grown-ups who misinterpret him, condescend to him, or snort at the urgency of his mission.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
Never Steal Anything Small (1959, musical/comedy/drama, James Cagney. From A.H. Weiler’s 1959 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Working on the somewhat startling premise that union politics simultaneously can be rough, funny, chivalrous, profitable, romantic and tuneful, scenarist-director Charles Lederer and a company of energetic players headed by James Cagney have not made anything especially big out of ‘Never Steal Anything Small.’ For the comedy with music that was unveiled at the Capitol yesterday is merely an amiable antic that is only partly successful on any of these counts.Perhaps the fault lies in an indecisive script that evolves is a combination of a Damon Runyon lampoon, a serious inspection of the sordid side of New York’s waterfront union machinations and a medium-grade musical.” Read more…)

New TV
The Good Fight: Season 4 (legal drama, Christine Baranski. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 84.)

New releases 9/15/20

Top Hits
First Cow (drama, John Magaro. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 89. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “That patient, inscrutable animal is the title character, and in effect the female lead, of ‘First Cow,’ Kelly Reichardt’s deceptively simple and wondrously subtle new film. A parable of economics and politics, with shrewd insights into the workings of supply and demand, scarcity and scale and other puzzles of the marketplace, the movie is also keenly attuned to details of history, both human and natural.” Read more…)

Weathering With You (animated feature, Lee Pace[voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 72. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “The rain doesn’t simply fall in ‘Weathering With You,’ an anime about love in a time of catastrophe, it gushes. The record torrent that pounds Tokyo throughout is relentless: It floods streets and homes, wrapping the city in a heavy blanket of gray. There’s beauty here, though, in the shocks of color like the red latticework of an Eiffel-like tower and umbrellas that, when seen from above, look like promenading flowers.” Read more…)

Swallow (horror, Haley Bennett. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 65. From Kristen Yoonsoo Kim’s New York Times review: “It’s easy to mistake Hunter Conrad (Haley Bennett), the woman at the center of ‘Swallow,’ for a mid-20th-century housewife: She dotes on her husband while wearing pearls and cocktail dresses and has a Jackie Kennedy bounce to her bob. The one deviation is playing iPhone games to relieve her ennui. Viewers will anxiously wait for the ‘happy’ wife to crack in this feature from the writer-director Carlo Mirabella-Davis.” Read more…)

Becky (horror, Lulu Wilson. Rotten Tomatoes: 70%. Metacritic: 55. From Brian Tallerico’s review: “Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott like to subvert horror expectations like having kids be the centerpiece of a violent zombie movie like ‘Cooties’ or the unbroken shot structure of ‘Bushwick.’ I’m not sure which counts as the subversion more in their latest, ‘Becky’—that it boasts Kevin James’ first dramatic role or that it’s an incredibly violent film with a teen girl protagonist. The former actually works. In fact, the most depressing thing about ‘Becky’ is how little Murnion and Milott do with the star of ‘The King of Queens,’ whose performance is far and away the best thing about this frustrating movie.” Read more…)

True History of the Kelly Gang (Australia, western, Russell Crowe. Rotten Tomatoes: 79%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 75. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “There are a couple of action scenes in ‘True Story of the Kelly Gang’ that show off the director Justin Kurzel’s technical chops and eye for novelty. A climactic shootout with startling strobe-like lighting effects is undeniably impressive. But the jumpy, springy qualities of the movie’s visual style are unfortunately undercut by its verbal content.” Read more…)

Retaliation (drama, Orlando Bloom. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 58. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “‘Retaliation’ isn’t the violent revenge picture its title promises. When this movie, directed by the brothers Ludwig and Paul Shammasian, had its premiere three years ago, it was called ‘Romans.’ Anyone who expects Orlando Bloom in Charles Bronson mode will instead get a serious-minded, if heavy-handed, British drama about a man coping with the trauma of having been sexually abused as a child by a priest.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Weathering With You
First Cow

New Foreign DVDs
Vitalina Varela (Cape Verde, drama, Vitalina Varela. Rotten Tomatoes: 98% Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 86. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “While Costa’s earlier work traded in a demanding, stylized, austere [some would call it punishingly so] realism, in recent years his view has taken on a stunning pictorialism. In the opening shots of this film, one thinks of Goya and Velasquez; the clouds in the night sky evoke El Greco. It is not inaccurate to call Costa an acquired taste. In the case of this reviewer, it was a road to Damascus experience with the 2007 film ‘Colossal Youth,’ which required a second viewing to yield its epiphany, Like that picture, ‘Vitalina Varela’ is socially conscious, but dreamlike, elegiac.” Read more…)

Caro Diario (Italy, 1993, comedy, Nanni Moretti. Rotten Tomatoes: 68%. From Janet Maslin’s 1994 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “There are social critics as lively and opinionated as Nanni Moretti on many a park bench, but they don’t share Mr. Moretti’s rare gift for captivating an audience. This funny, contentious Italian film maker, who was voted best director at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival, wanders through ‘Caro Diario’ [‘Dear Diary’] airing his thoughts in delightfully offbeat ways. As both a skillful director and a lovable oddball, he commands interest. It’s easy to follow him anywhere.” Read more…)

I Only Want You To Love Me (Germany, 1976, true crime dir. by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Vitus Zeplichal. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Stephen Holden’s 1994 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Based on a true story from a German anthology called ‘Life Sentence,’ it offers a merciless view of bourgeois German society in the feverish grip of capitalism. The cost of West Germany’s postwar economic miracle, it suggests, was emotionally and spiritually devastating. The world it portrays is an environment in which the value of everything can be measured in monetary credit.” Read more…)

Proud (France, drama mini-series/gay & lesbian, Frédéric Pierrot)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Freedom Road (1979, historical drama, Muhammad Ali. From John J. O’Connor’s 1979 New York Times television review [requires log-in]: “A glaring distinction of ‘Freedom Road’ is that it takes Muhammad Ali, certainly one of the more vibrant personalities of this century, and makes him dull… The story offers an interesting revision of what used to be standard histories of the post‐Civil War years known as the period of Reconstruction. The old stories of dastardly ‘carpetbaggers’ ripping oft the South are transformed into a tale of moving harmony between newly freed blacks and struggling poor whites. The promise of this bond is seen being crushed by very wealthy whites in conspiracy with the Ku Klux Klan.” Read more…)

New British DVDs
Beats (comedy/drama, Cristian Ortega. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 74. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Ben Kenigsberg’s Times review: “Like the party that serves as its climax, the retro teenage-friendship movie ‘Beats,’ set in 1994 in Scotland, owes its appeal to mood and vibe. The soundtrack provides a constant, toe-tapping thump.” Read more…)

New TV
Ozark: Season 1 (drama, Laura Linney. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 66.)
Succession: Season 2 (HBO drama, Brian Cox. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 89.)
Killing Eve: Season 3 (action, Sandra Oh. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 62.)
Outlander: Season 5 (action, Caitriona Balfe. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 73.)

New Documentary DVDs
Love, Antosha (bio, movie history, Anton Yelchin. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 78. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “[Anton] Yelchin had cystic fibrosis, a wasting disease he had told only his closest intimates about. The movie chronicles the incredible work ethic he developed even as he strove mightily to stave off the effects of the incurable disease. ‘Love, Antosha’ also goes to pains not to make Yelchin a plaster saint. His taste for night life wasn’t merely enthusiastic; some might call it risky. His ‘Star Trek’ co-star Chris Pine goes googly-eyed recalling some of his friend’s adventures.” Read more…)

Exporting Raymond (documentary/comedy, culture clash, media. Rotten Tomatoes: 72%. Metacritic: 55. From Mike Hale’s New York Times review: “Phil Rosenthal, the creator of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ is a successful television producer who’s perhaps best known for being a frustrated actor and comedian. Now he has essentially cast himself as the star of ‘Exporting Raymond,’ a documentary he wrote and directed about the frustrations of adapting his creation for Russian TV. It has the structure and some of the pleasures of a well-made sitcom or docu-reality show, despite the nervous-looking, unhappy guy at its center; it could have been called “Nobody Understands Phil.’” Read more…)

And She Could Be Next (politics, feminism, women of color, Stacey Abrams)

New releases 9/8/20

Top Hits
Bad Education (dark comedy based on true story, Hugh Jackman. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 79. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Ben Kenigsberg’s Times review: “‘Thoroughbreds,’ the 2018 debut feature of the playwright Cory Finley, was not to every taste, but for acid wit and gliding camera moves, it could hardly be beat. Finley’s second feature, ‘Bad Education,’ which airs Saturday night on HBO, traffics in a kindred casual misanthropy. The movie offers an agreeably slick account of an early-2000s scandal in which a former superintendent of schools in Roslyn, N.Y., pleaded guilty to stealing $2 million from his district.” Read more…)

Straight Up (comedy/romance/gay, James Sweeney. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 66. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “[Actor/director James] Sweeney and [actress] Katie Findlay are both likable actors, and a description of ‘Straight Up’ — to say nothing of its title — makes it sound more high-concept than it is. But the movie comes across as a rush of bouncy one-liners and arch formal conceits.” Read more…)

Marriage Story (drama, Scarlett Johansson. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 94. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Traditionally, a story that ends in matrimony is classified as a comedy. But what about a story that begins with the end of a marriage? Noah Baumbach’s tender and stinging new film, ‘Marriage Story,’ doesn’t quite answer the question. It’s funny and sad, sometimes within a single scene, and it weaves a plot out of the messy collapse of a shared reality, trying to make music out of disharmony. The melody is full of heartbreak, loss and regret, but the song is too beautiful to be entirely melancholy.” Read more…)

The Big Ugly (action/crime, Malcolm McDowell. Rotten Tomatoes: 41%. Metacritic: 52. From Leslie Felperin’s Guardian review: “Although technically an ‘eastern’ rather than a western – it unfolds in the lush hills and shady honkytonks of West Virginia – this macho, contemporary-set crime thriller feels like something that got cooked up after a bender guzzling a Sam Peckinpah box set. Maybe chased with a few British gangster pics like ‘Get Carter’ and ‘The Long Good Friday.’ Indeed, it plays like several plots, genres and mood boards all mashed together, which makes the end result interesting but not entirely successful.” Read more…)

New Foreign DVDs
The Cordillera of Dreams (Chile, documentary dir. by Patricio Guzman, Chilean history & geography. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 83. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “The great Chilean documentary filmmaker Patricio Guzmán does not grapple with the idea of eternity in his new picture, ‘The Cordillera of Dreams.’ He sits with it, patiently. He considers it through metaphor, as his camera slowly considers the chain of Andes Mountains that makes up the cordillera of his movie’s title. Drone shots are overused in movies, often predictably so; this sublime film, though, abounds in great, distinctive ones. Guzmán’s lens flies the way you would wish your own eye could, unveiling incredible natural beauty and revealing secrets: a labyrinth of gorges for instance.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Deathtrap (1982, comedy/mystery, Christopher Reeve. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. Metacritic: 54. From Janet Maslin’s 1982 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “There hasn’t been a stylish, sneaky, cat-and-mouse movie like ‘Deathtrap’ since ‘Sleuth.’ Actually, in the case of ‘Deathtrap,’ it’s cat-and-mice. Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve and Dyan Cannon play Ira Levin’s trio of blithe schemers, with two of them in cahoots to bump off the third. This is only half the story, but it’s all that can be described here without giving too many twists away.” Read more…)

The Grey Fox (Canada actually, 1982, period crime drama, Richard Farnsworth. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Vincent Canby’s 1983 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘The Grey Fox,’ Phillip Borsos’s Canadian film that opens today at the Baronet, is a gentle, intelligent, very leisurely paced western with one terrific asset: Richard Farnsworth. Mr. Farnsworth is the stunt man who turned actor and received an Oscar nomination for his work in in the otherwise not memorable ‘Comes a Horseman.’ Like Greta Garbo, Walter Brennan, Cary Guffey and Catherine Deneuve, Mr. Farnsworth has the sort of face the camera adores.” Read more…)

New Documentary DVDs
Los Reyes (Chile, dogs at a Santiago skate park. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 76. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Bilge Ebiri’s Times review: “In Santiago’s oldest skate park, the kids come and go but the dogs stay the same. According to its directors, Iván Osnovikoff and Bettina Perut, ‘Los Reyes’ got its start as a look at the inner lives of the youths that congregate around this aging sprawl of half-pipes, pools and ramps. But the filmmakers eventually realized that two stray dogs who lived in the park, Football and Chola, were their real stars.” Read more…)

King In the Wilderness (Black history, bio, Martin Luther King Jr.’s last few years. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 97. From Owen Gleiberman’s Variety review: “Racially, America had become a cauldron that was boiling over, and King was at the center of it, to the point that his non-violent stance looked more extreme than ever. [It was now seen as a provocation.] What ‘King in the Wilderness’ shows us, through close-up archival footage, is the sweat and dread King lived with every day — and probably did back in the Bus Boycott era, too. It just wasn’t made public.” Read more…)

New releases 9/1/20

Top Hits
Irresistible (comedy, Steve Carell. Rotten Tomatoes: 40%. Metacritic: 47. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “East Coast slickness meets heartland folksiness in Irresistible,’ a political satire so broad and blunt that it flattens every joke and deflates every setup. Movies like this should skip and jab; instead, this second feature from the writer and director Jon Stewart [after his impressively accomplished prison drama, ‘Rosewater,’ in 2014] lumbers and flails.” Read more…)

Z (horror, Keegan Connor Tracy. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 63. From Brian Tallerico’s review: “Brandon Christensen’s ‘Z’ … is a vicious little movie that recalls ‘Poltergeist’ and ‘The Babadook’ with its story of a possessive force that destroys a family. It’s a little rough around the edges in terms of an obviously thin effects budget and even simple things like its overcooked score but there’s a lot to like here in terms of storytelling within the risky screenplay by Christensen and Colin Minahan.” Read more…)

New Foreign DVDs
Right Now, Wrong Then (South Korea, romantic comedy, Jae-yeong Jeong. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 81. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “A story is a series of choices, which in retrospect take on an aura of inevitability. With a handful of notable exceptions, most movies take narrative linearity for granted, proceeding from one thing to the next in what seems to be an almost mathematically necessary sequence. The exceptions — ‘Rashomon,’ say, or ‘Pulp Fiction’ — tend to make a big deal of defying the rules of chronological order and cause-and-effect logic. The prolific South Korean director Hong Sang-soo practices a quieter, more radical mischief.” Read more…)

Black Gravel (West Germany, 1961, Cold War noir, Helmut Wildt. From Nick Pinkerton’s essay on the 2017 Berlin Film Festival at Film Comment: “What’s immediately striking about ‘Schwarzer Kies’ [the German title of ‘Black Gravel’], particularly in contrast to the majority of films that Hollywood was producing at the same time, is its wholly unglamorous naturalism—there’s lots o’ listless and loveless screwing, destructive binge-drinking, and puking bar girls—and its palpable proximity to the underbelly of German society. [Director Helmut] Käutner was shooting on location in Lautzenhausen, home of the Hahn Air Base, and he recruited real American G.I.s for the film and shot in the real red-light district, where the jukebox is heard blaring rockabilly for the troops and Volkstümliche marches for a local peasant who drinks for free in exchange for leasing his barn to be used as a cabaret until he blurts anti-Semitic slurs at a proprietor who bears a concentration camp tattoo on his forearm.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
Slightly Scarlet (1956, rare Technicolor film noir, John Payne. From Bosley Crowther’s 1956 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Two red-headed women and one fat-headed man are the principal characters in ‘Slightly Scarlet,’ which came to the Criterion yesterday. The women, played by Rhonda Fleming and a laughably kittenish Arlene Dahl, are a couple of on-the-make sisters, and the fellow, played by John Payne, is an on-the-make big-time gangster. In the end all their faces are red.So, we say, should be the faces of the people responsible for this film.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Five Easy Pieces (1970, drama, Criterion Collection, Jack Nicholson. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 85. Roger Ebert,writing in 2003, on first seeing “Five Easy Pieces” when it was released in 1970: “We’d had a revelation. This was the direction American movies should take: Into idiosyncratic characters, into dialogue with an ear for the vulgar and the literate, into a plot free to surprise us about the characters, into an existential ending not required to be happy. ‘Five Easy Pieces’ was a fusion of the personal cinema of John Cassavetes and the new indie movement that was tentatively emerging. It was, you could say, the first Sundance film.” Read more…)

New Documentary DVDs
The Booksellers (book lovers, rare book dealers & collectors, Fran Lebowitz. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 72. From Jennifer Szalai’s New York Times review: “There’s a lot of tweed, a couple of pocket squares and an old-fashioned waxed mustache in ‘The Booksellers,’ D.W. Young’s charming documentary about the book world — or more specifically the book-as-object world, with antiquarian booksellers trying to reinvent themselves and their industry in a digital era. Anybody curious about the inner workings of unglamorous behemoths like Amazon or the ailing Barnes & Noble will have to look elsewhere. Young made the aesthetically wise choice to focus mainly on purveyors specializing in rare books or niche subjects.” Read more…)

New releases 8/25/20

Top Hits
The Trip to Greece (comedy/culinary, Steve Coogan. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 69. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “It’s too bad then that ‘The Trip to Greece’ never takes off. Like its predecessors, it hangs on the slimmest of premises: Coogan and Brydon journey to alluring destinations while trading quips, imitating the famous (Sean Connery, etc.), eating stylish chow and meta-riffing on their personas. Coogan is the self-serious performer with grand ambitions, or at least pretensions; Brydon is the somewhat more chill Everyman who goes for easy laughs.” Read more…)

The Burnt Orange Heresy (action/drama, Elizabeth Debicki. Rotten Tomatoes: 65%. Metacritic: 57. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “The novel on which this movie is based, a slim thriller by the great American writer Charles Willeford, is in many ways typical of the author. It examines misogyny and murderous psychosis from so seemingly close a perspective as to make the reader queasy, if not downright upset. But the 1971 book contains something extra: an erudite satire of contemporary art, often expounded upon by an insufferable mansplainer. The mansplainer, in the book and this movie adaptation directed by Giuseppe Capotondi, is James Figueras, played as a looming, imposing figure by Claes Bang.” Read more…)

Yes, God, Yes (coming-of-age drama/comedy, Natalia Dyer. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 71. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Burdened by a silly R rating that may deter the very youngsters who are likely to enjoy it most, ‘Yes, God, Yes’ [written and directed by Karen Maine] fights back with an appealing lead and an overwhelmingly innocent tone. In its hands, the pleasures of self-pleasuring might be elusive, but they’re never, ever shameful.” Read more…)

Benjamin (comedy/romance, Colin Morgan. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 70. From Guy Lodge’s Variety review: “‘Benjamin’ opens on a film within a film, the long-awaited sophomore feature by thirtysomething Irish director Benjamin Oliver [Colin Morgan], whose once-clamorous career buzz has slowed to a murmur. The scene we’re shown looks promising enough: a tartly worded lovers’ argument between two men, one played by Benjamin himself, diffidently explaining his existential struggles with the very concept of romance. The film, titled ‘No Self,’ turns out to be semi-autobiographical account of the director’s gay dating troubles in modern London; the same is true of ‘Benjamin,’ which is self-effacingly written and directed by gifted British comedian Simon Amstell.” Read more…)

The King of Staten Island (comedy, Pete Davidson. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%. Metacritic: 67. From Wesley Morris’ New York Times review: “At this length, ‘Staten Island’ should be a meatier Oedipal comedy — about Scott and Margie’s grief, stagnation and codependency; about Claire’s resentment of their bond — the kind of funny movie that’s a raw moment away from the tragedy just below its surface. Apatow was straining for that kind of feeling with ‘Funny People,’ from 2009. But he hasn’t gotten his comedy near true pathos since ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin.’” Read more…)

VHYes (comedy, Jake McNulty. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 52. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review, which diverges from the Rotten Tomatoes consensus: “‘VHYes’ is barely 72 minutes long, but that’s just one reason this outlandish picture barely qualifies as a feature. For one thing, it’s almost halfway through before anything approximating a story emerges; even then, it’s such a pale, sickly thing you’d be forgiven for thinking you had imagined it.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Marriage Story Blu-Ray (comedy/drama, Adam Driver. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 94. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Traditionally, a story that ends in matrimony is classified as a comedy. But what about a story that begins with the end of a marriage? Noah Baumbach’s tender and stinging new film, ‘Marriage Story,’ doesn’t quite answer the question. It’s funny and sad, sometimes within a single scene, and it weaves a plot out of the messy collapse of a shared reality, trying to make music out of disharmony. The melody is full of heartbreak, loss and regret, but the song is too beautiful to be entirely melancholy.” Read more…)

New Foreign DVDs
Toni (France, 1935, Jean Renoir-directed drama, Charles Blavette. Rotten Tomatoes:100%. From Renata Adler’s 1968 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘Toni,’ which was shown last night at the New York Film Festival, is such a little classic that film descendants of Renoir—Rossellini, for example, and through him Truffaut and Godard, who worked with him—sometimes refer to themselves as the Children of Toni. François Truffaut, in reviewing a movie by Claude Berri, once wrote, ‘Tout les enfants de Toni s’y reconnaitront’ [‘All “Toni”’s children will recognize themselves in it’).” Read more…)

The Best Intentions (1992, Sweden, bio/drama written by Ingmar Bergman, Samuel Fröler. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. From Janet Maslin’s 1992 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘The Best Intentions,’ the epic-length story of a Swedish couple’s courtship and marriage, is dominated by an unborn child. The baby whose arrival is imminent as the film concludes will be Ingmar Bergman, whose screenplay looks back at the social, economic and personal forces that turned his parents’ early years together into a tug of war. Mr. Bergman’s long shadow must be reckoned with in every frame of ‘The Best Intentions,’ sometimes because his style exerts so strong an influence over Bille August [‘Pelle the Conqueror’], the film’s Danish director.” Read more…)

New British
Endeavour: Season 7 (mystery series, Shaun Evans. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%.)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
The Great Impostor (1960, comedy/drama, Tony Curtis. From A.H. Weiler’s 1961 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Leaning on the oldest saw of them all—the one having to do with truth being stranger than fiction—a dedicated team working for Universal-International has turned out an amusing, and occasionally fascinating, comedy-drama about the career of one of the most amazing—and likable—contemporary charlatans, Ferdinand W. Demara Jr.” Read more…)

Enter the Ninja (1981, martial arts/action, Franco Nero)

New Documentary DVDs
Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind (bio, music. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 74. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “The critic Robert Christgau once called him ‘a weird new kind of purist: uncompromising proponent of commercial folk music.’ Early in the movie, a montage of artists as disparate as the British rocker Paul Weller and Lightfoot’s Canadian contemporary Neil Young singing the great ‘Early Morning Rain’ demonstrates the durability of Lightfoot’s work.” Read more…)

New releases 8/18/20

Top Hits
Prevenge (horror, Kate Dickie. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 71. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Rocking a dirty mind and a sick sensibility, the British import ‘Prevenge’ sends a pregnant serial killer on a darkly comedic odyssey dictated by her malicious fetus. Yet what hoists this bloody battiness above much of the scrappily low-budget horror pack is the smartness of its execution and the strength of the movie’s central performance.” Read more…)

The Outpost (war film set in Afghanistan, Orlando Bloom. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 71. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Adapted from a nonfiction book by Jake Tapper and directed by Rod Lurie, ‘The Outpost’ evolves from what initially feels like a collection of war-movie commonplaces, highlighting crude-talking soldiers in a bad situation, into something more complex and illuminating.” Read more…)

Guest of Honour (drama, David Thewlis. Rotten Tomatoes: 38%. Metacritic: 53. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “This latest movie, which finds [director Atom] Egoyan writing again, falls somewhere between those extremes. It returns him to his key obsessions [repressed trauma, the consuming effects of guilt, ambiguities of evidence] and an elegant, time-bending structure [layered flashbacks that tiptoe around big secrets]. But the core revelations are pretty silly, failing crucial tests of motivation.” Read more…)

Mr. Jones (historical drama set in pre-WWII, James Norton. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 68. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Based on a real Welsh journalist, [Gareth Jones] is the unassuming hero of this grim, quietly furious movie, which revisits Jones’s 1933 trip to Ukraine, then in the grip of a catastrophic famine. There, the world is barren and the grain — ‘Stalin’s gold,’ as someone casually calls it — is gone. A political thriller with an insistent, steady pulse [the script is by Andrea Chalupa], ‘Mr. Jones’ dramatizes a harrowing chapter in the life of a man long overlooked by history.” Read more…)

Judy & Punch (drama, Mia Wasikowska. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 59. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Presenting violence as a contagion and mob mentality as its superspreader, ‘Judy & Punch’ courts equilibrium between domestic-abuse comedy and vicious morality tale. Dancing from brutal to wacky — in scenes that recall the dash and whimsy of ABC’s ditsy series ‘Galavant’[2015] — and from silly gallows jokes to grotesque seriousness, the movie intertwines humor and tragedy in imaginative, sometimes disturbing ways.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Cane River (1982, drama/race, dir. by Horace B. Jenkins. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 80. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “The warmth of the film can feel like a political stance, an assertion of humanist ethical values that has a subtle but radical power. You can intuit something similar — an unstinting, sympathetic attention to the intimate matter of black lives — in Charles Burnett’s ‘Killer of Sheep’ and in Kathleen Collins’s ‘Losing Ground,’ another almost-lost jewel of early-‘80s African-American cinema. Like those films, ‘Cane River’ invites a rethinking of American film history, and also, in its disarmingly offhand, uniquely charming manner — of other aspects of American history as well.” Read more…)

Bebe’s Kids (1992, animated feature/race, Robin Harris [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 30%. From Maya Phillips’ Critic’s Notebook in the New York Times: “‘The Boondocks,’ ‘Atlanta,’ ‘black-ish,’ ‘Dear White People,’ ‘Sorry to Bother You’ — there are a few shows and movies that have dared to use comedy to address the grim state of Black people in America. But lately, I’ve been thinking about a movie I hadn’t seen in more than 20 years: ‘Bébé’s Kids.’ This animated Black comedy explicitly spoke about police brutality and our broken judicial system years before the first utterance of “Black Lives Matter.” Read more…)

New Documentary DVDs
Town Bloody Hall (feminism, literature, Norman Mailer, Germaine Greer. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Melissa Anderson’s essay on the Criterion Collection Web site: “But nearly fifty years after the event it documents, Town Bloody Hall has lost none of its power to entrance—and enrage—with its manic, stimulating, polyvocal energy. Starting in the mid-2010s, the documentary became popular on the repertory circuit; those who had grown weary of a feminism articulated via hashtag or hot take surely found ‘Town Bloody Hall’s bracing IRL discourse a tonic. “ Read more…)

Creating A Character: Moni Yakim Legacy (cinema history, acting techniques, bio. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. From Alexis Soloski’s New York Times article on the release of the film: “‘Creating a Character: The Moni Yakim Legacy,’ a new documentary available for streaming, goes inside his classroom as students run, leap, stretch and scream. It interviews some of Juilliard’s more famous graduates and uses archival footage to describe Yakim’s childhood in Jerusalem, his years studying mime with Étienne Decroux and Marcel Marceau, his time running the New York Pantomime Theater with his wife, Mina Yakin.” Read more…)