New releases 5/1/18

Top Hits
Paddington 2 (family feature, Hugh Grant. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 88. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Teo Bugbee’s Times review: “Neighborliness is next to godliness in ‘Paddington 2.’ It’s telling that the film’s villain is a performer whose narcissism prohibits collaboration, a man who finds his neighbors a nuisance. For Phoenix Buchanan, the only object worth examining is his own mirror. By contrast, Mr. King and his excellent team of actors and animators spin good writing and seamless digital effects into Rococo children’s entertainment.” Read more…)

Winchester (horror, Helen Mirren. Rotten Tomatoes: 14%. Metacritic: 28. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Released without fanfare or publicity screenings, the haunted-house movie ‘Winchester’ would seem to lack the confidence of its makers. One soon sees why: Despite the typically elevating presence of Helen Mirren, this super-silly feature [the fifth from the Australian brothers Peter and Michael Spierig] stubbornly resists being classed up.” Read more…)

Peter Rabbit (furry family live action CGI fun, Domhnall Gleeson. Rotten Tomatoes: 62%. Metacritic: 52. from Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Indeed, despite the fact that the film’s director is Will Gluck [an American whose prior film was the 2014 ‘Annie’ remake]the mode of cheeky humor here is reasonably British. There are at least a handful of inflections of Aardman, the renowned British stop-motion animation studio, in this picture. The scene in which Peter, his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, and his neurotic sidekick Benjamin Bunny travel to London on a mission to find a crucial human character recalls Aardman’s ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie,’ from 2015. Let me be clear, though: ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’ is an animation masterpiece, while this film is … not.” Read more…)

12 Strong (war/action, Chris Hemsworth. Rotten Tomatoes: 54%. Metacritic: 54. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “For devotees of cinematic blowouts and dedicated students of screen masculinity [like me], ’12 Strong’ is premium, Grade A catnip. Directed by the newcomer Nicolai Fuglsig, it is generally watchable, if unsurprisingly easier on the eyes than on the ears or brain. It’s well stocked with dependable actors and ornamented with swooping aerial shots of the severely beautiful landscape.” Read more…)

Please Stand By (drama/comedy, Dakota Fanning. Rotten Tomatoes: 58%. Metacritic: 49. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Dakota Fanning is now 23, yet still has the air of a fragile child. And in Ben Lewin’s ‘Please Stand By,’ that sometimes brittle vulnerability serves her well as Wendy, a young woman with autism who dreams of leaving her group home in San Francisco and living with her married sister and baby niece. Yet despite her commitment to the role — and the generally fine supporting performances — this timorous tale sidesteps uncomfortable realities in favor of soothing whimsy and preordained uplift.” Read more…)

Hostiles (western, Christian Bale. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%. Metacritic: 65. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “In between the explicitly cited [D.H.] Lawrence and the implicitly footnoted [John] Wayne [in ‘The Searchers’ reference], the action winds from New Mexico to Montana and the modern movie audience is led on a tour of a familiar mythic landscape. Our guide, Scott Cooper, who adapted an unpublished manuscript by the screenwriter Donald E. Stewart into this handsome oater, has updated the talking points to take account of changed sensibilities. The result may not quite be a masterpiece, but it is nonetheless a credible master’s thesis, a careful and well-informed exploration of the paradoxes that are as integral to the western genre as horses, whiskey and guns.” Read more…)

My All-American (sports drama, Finn Wittrock. Rotten Tomatoes: 32%. Metacritic: 34.)

New Blu-Ray
Peter Rabbit
Hostiles
12 Strong

New Foreign DVDs
In Between (Palestine/Israel, drama, Mouna Hawa. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 78. From A. O. Scott’s New York Times review: “‘In Between,’ Maysaloun Hamoud’s film about three Palestinian women sharing an apartment in Tel Aviv, is fatalistic about the local political situation, pessimistic about men and encouraged by the power of female solidarity. In other words, whether by serendipity or prophetic insight or some combination of the two, it’s a perfect movie for the moment.” Read more…)

In the Fade (Germany, action/drama, Diane Kruger. Rotten Tomatoes: 75%. Metacritic: 64. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “‘In the Fade,’ the new film by Fatih Akin, is divided into three parts. The first two follow a pattern that will be familiar to ‘Law and Order’ fans. A crime is investigated, and then a trial conducted, with a few twists and reversals on the way to the verdict. The emphasis, though, falls less on the procedural aspects of the case than its psychological effects, specifically on Katja Sekerci [Diane Kruger], a German woman whose husband and young son are killed in a bombing in Hamburg.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
5 Fingers (1952, World War II spy drama, James Mason. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1952 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Those who may fear that the old days of silken spy films are as dead as the gone days of diamond tiaras and princely diplomacy can now settle back in the comfort and the tingling satisfaction to be had from Twentieth Century Fox ‘Five Fingers,’ which arrived at the Roxy yesterday.” Read more…)

New British
Broken (drama, Sean Bean)

New Television
Grace and Frankie: Season 2 (comedy series, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 62.)

New Documentaries
The Wonderful World of Puppies and Kittens (furry cuteness, woof woof, meow)
Capitalism: Six Part Series (economic, politics, history)

New Children’s DVDs
Mary and the Witch’s Flower (Japanese animated feature, English soundtrack, Kate Winslet [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 73. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Based on ‘The Little Broomstick,’ a durably popular novel by Mary Stewart, and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ is a charming children’s entertainment that sometimes seems to have been genetically engineered from other such entertainments. The rustling forests and voluptuous clouds recall the work of Hayao Miyazaki, and Mary herself shows an obvious kinship to the young witch in ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service.’ [Mr. Yonebayashi worked as an animator on several of Mr. Miyazaki’s films.] Mary also resembles both Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, especially once she makes her way to a school of magic called Endor.” Read more…

New releases 4/24/18

Top Hits
Den of Thieves (action, Gerard Butler. Rotten Tomatoes: 41%. Metacritic: 49. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “‘Den of Thieves’ opens with unfootnoted statistics about Los Angeles, ‘the bank robbery capital of the world,’ where such heists apparently occur every 48 minutes. That’s about the rate at which this surprisingly long, wildly ambitious, thoroughly ludicrous crime thriller delivers its own big scores. Itself a plundering of ‘The Driver,’ the original ‘Point Break’ and ‘Heat,’ the movie is less concerned with the mechanics of police work than with the mind meld that forms between an obsessed cop, Big Nick [Gerard Butler], and his target, Merrimen [Pablo Schreiber], who leads a group of Marines turned bank robbers planning to crack a branch of the Federal Reserve.” Read more…)

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (romance/drama based on true story, Annette Bening. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 65. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “In light of a résumé skewed toward male-dominated thrillers, the Scottish director Paul McGuigan might seem an unlikely choice to guide a fading-siren weepie from page to screen. Yet ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,’ a real-life romance adapted from the 1986 memoir by Peter Turner, reveals an unexpected fontanel of sentiment in Mr. McGuigan’s style that — when not tipping over into bathos — can be rather lovely.” Read more…)

Maze Runner: Death Cure (action, Dylan O’Brien. Rotten Tomatoes: 42%. Metacritic: 51. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “The ‘Maze Runner’ series, a.k.a. the teenage dystopian franchise that’s not ‘The Hunger Games’ and the sci-fi opera that’s not ‘Star Wars,’ returns with an almost gleefully overstuffed third installment. Oblivious to occupying the pop-culture equivalent of the bottom half of a double bill, ‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure’ aspires to be a grand male weepie: the ‘Shawshank Redemption’ of ‘Maze Runner’ movies.” Read more…)

Zombies (Disney family feature/musical, Milo Manheim)

New Blu-Ray
Maze Runner: Death Cure

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Richard Pryor: Live on Sunset Strip (1982, stand-up comedy, Richard Pryor. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Vincent Canby’s 1982 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip,’ which opens today at the Loews State and Orpheum and other theaters, is even better than ‘Richard Pryor Live in Concert’ and is one of the few concert films that doesn’t have the manner of something spun off – as a subsidiary dividend – from something else of more importance. The direction is by Joe Layton, a veteran of television and the Broadway theater, and Haskell Wexler was responsible for the multicamera set-up that makes the film, a combination of two different performances, look absolutely seamless… Richard Pryor is one of our great originals. ‘Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip’ is a rare experience of its kind, often hilarious but also frightening and, without asking for it, very moving.” Read more…)

Kitten With a Whip (1964, cult classic, Ann-Margret. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. From Eugene Archer’s 1964 New York Times review requires log-in]: “‘Kitten With a Whip’ is something of a mis­nomer for the lurid little ex­ploitation picture that came to the Palace yesterday. There isn’t a whip in sight. From a figurative stand­point, though, the title con­veys the right idea: The film has been tailored to the in­teresting measurements of Ann‐Margret, an ingenue whose physical exuberance tends to clash with the teas­ing mischievousness of her expression.” Read more…)

New British
The Unforgotten: Season 1 (mystery series, Cassie Stuart)

New Documentaries
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (bio, film history, science, women’s empowerment, Hedy Lamarr. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 69. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “‘Any girl can be glamorous,’ the actress Hedy Lamarr once said. ‘All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.’ It’s a withering observation, especially for a Hollywood star once known as ‘the most beautiful woman in the world.’ Beauty brought Lamarr fame, at least until everything fell spectacularly apart; as with too many actresses, beauty was also her gilded cage. The new documentary ‘Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story’ shows how hard and how long she struggled to escape it — including through her invention in the 1940s of a groundbreaking communication system that underlies modern encryption.” Read more…)

The Final Year (politics, diplomacy, President Barack Obama. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. Metacritic: 67. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Access isn’t everything. For ‘The Final Year,’ the director Greg Barker and his crew were able to follow four vital members of Barack Obama’s administration as they worked to keep the United States out of war, promote better relations with Cuba and deter Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons program… For much of its first hour, this movie is tepid and self-congratulatory, a quick-cutting advertisement for itself. Why Mr. Barker thought it worth preserving [Secretary of State John] Kerry’s ‘I’ve been very blessed to be able to go through a progression of experiences which underscore the value of experience’ sound bite is a mystery.” Read more…)

New Children’s DVDs
Zombies (Disney family feature/musical, Milo Manheim)

New releases 4/17/18

Top Hits
The Post (Spielberg drama/political thriller about The Pentagon Papers, Meryl Streep. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 83. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Steven Spielberg’s exhilarating drama ‘The Post’ is about a subject that’s dear to the heart of journalists: themselves! Set largely during a few anxious weeks in 1971, it revisits The Washington Post’s decision to publish portions of the Pentagon Papers, an immense classified report that chronicled America’s involvement in Southeast Asia from World War II to 1968. In Mr. Spielberg’s hands, that decision becomes a ticktock thriller about the freedom of the press, the White House’s war on that constitutional right and the middle-aged woman who defended freedom in a fabulous gold caftan.” Read more…)

The Commuter (thriller, Liam Neeson. Rotten Tomatoes: 57%. Metacritic: 56 From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “I’ll never get too mad about a midwinter Liam Neeson action movie, and not only because I know Mr. Neeson will be angry enough for both of us. ‘I’m 60 years old,’ he growls several times in ‘The Commuter,’ ostensibly to complain about the indignities his character is suffering but really to invite our admiration. The dude can trade punches with guys half his age, roll out from under the wheels of a moving train and then jump right back onto the train. He doesn’t make it look easy. The whole appeal of Mr. Neeson’s late-career rebirth as an action hero is that it looks like hell.” Read more…)

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (romance/drama based on true story, Annette Bening. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 65. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “In light of a résumé skewed toward male-dominated thrillers, the Scottish director Paul McGuigan might seem an unlikely choice to guide a fading-siren weepie from page to screen. Yet ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,’ a real-life romance adapted from the 1986 memoir by Peter Turner, reveals an unexpected fontanel of sentiment in Mr. McGuigan’s style that — when not tipping over into bathos — can be rather lovely.” Read more…)

Humor Me (comedy, Jemaine Clement. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. Metacritic: 53. From Jason Zinoman’s New York Times review: “If ‘dad joke’ is an insult, why isn’t ‘grandfather joke’? Do people get funnier with age? Sam Hoffman, who founded the website Old Jews Telling Jokes, which was adapted into a book and an Off Broadway show, built a franchise that might persuade you that they do. His comedy avoids the fashionable confessional style in favor of borscht belt standards about hectoring mothers and religious figures walking into bars. He has worked on movies for years, but his directorial debut, ‘Humor Me,’ a lightly amusing stroll down some well-worn streets, shares a sensibility with his popular site, with narrative tacked on.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
The Post
The Commuter

New Foreign DVDs
A Quiet Place in the Country (Italy, 1968, drama/horror, Vanessa Redgrave)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Camp Nowhere (1994, comedy, Christopher Lloyd. Rotten Tomatoes: 18%.)

New Television
Genius (National Geographic Einstein bio-pic mini-series, Geoffrey Rush. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%.)
The Americans: Season 5 (espionage series, Keri Russell. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 94.)

New releases 4/10/18

Top Hits
Phantom Thread (romance/drama, Daniel Day-Lewis. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 90. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “‘Phantom Thread’ is not as hermetic as ‘The Master’ or as loosey-goosey as ‘Inherent Vice.’ It’s a chamber piece, romantic and baroque in equal measure, with arresting harmonies and ravishing changes of tone. [This might be the place to note that Jonny Greenwood composed the score]. Like ‘There Will Be Blood,’ it casts Mr. Day-Lewis as an avatar of obsession, driven this time by the pursuit of aesthetic perfection rather than money and power. But whereas Daniel Plainview in the earlier film was a vector of pure, demonic ambition, Reynolds Woodcock bemusedly discovers himself to be one leg of a complicated emotional triangle.” Read more…)

Molly’s Game (drama/poker, Jessica Chastain. Rotten Tomatoes: 82%. Metacritic: 71. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Words aren’t really exchanged in ‘Molly’s Game,’ Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut; they’re smashed like racquetballs. Life comes at you fast, and so do the words that rush out of Molly Bloom [Jessica Chastain] as she relays her tale. A poker entrepreneur who ran a high-stakes game before slamming into trouble, Molly is a speed-talker and somewhat of a close one, too. She delivers stretches of her story in a voice-over that suggests that Mr. Sorkin wrote and directed his movie with a stopwatch in one hand and a DVD of Howard Hawks’s motor-mouth comedy ‘His Girl Friday’ in the other.” Read more…)

The Greatest Showman (PT Barnum bio-pic, Hugh Jackman. Rotten Tomatoes: 55%. Metacritic: 48. From Jason Zinoman’s New York Times review: “‘The Greatest Showman,’ a montage sequence that occasionally turns into a movie musical, steers clear of any contemporary resonance and ignores meaty themes. The first-time director Michael Gracey achieves an aggressively synthetic style through kinetic editing and tidy underdog stories, but none of the true joy of pulling a fast one. It’s a standard-issue holiday biopic, one that tells a story about a populist entertainer hungry for highbrow respect, the joys of showbiz and the price of ambition.” Read more…)

All the Money In the World (thriller/drama based on true events, Christopher Plummer. Rotten Tomatoes: 72%. Metacritic: 78. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “‘All the Money in the World’ is a story of towering greed and the absence of mercy, and an ideal 21st century morality tale. It’s about money and families and the ties that bind and cut, although because it was directed by Ridley Scott there isn’t a jot of sentimentalism gumming the works. In July 1973, John Paul Getty III [known as Paul], the elder Getty’s 16-year-old grandson, was snatched off a street in Rome. His kidnappers demanded $17 million in ransom, telling Paul’s mother, ‘Get it from London.’ It was a reference to Getty Sr., who in turn responded, ‘If I pay one penny now, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren,’ a kiss-off heard around the world.” Read more…)

My Friend Dahmer (fact-based drama based on graphic novel/foodie, Ross Lynch. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 68. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “No matter how much of a social outcast you are in high school, there’s always this one kid who’s even worse off. I recall a guy who, on the one hand, had facial hair before anybody else in his class and, on the other, wore a slide rule attached to his belt. I wonder what happened to him. In ‘My Friend Dahmer,’ written and directed by Marc Meyers and adapted from a graphic novel memoir by Derf Backderf, that one kid is, yes, Jeffrey Dahmer, who shortly after completing his studies at an Ohio high school began his career as a sex offender, serial killer and cannibal.” Read more…)

The Tribes of Palos Verdes (drama, Maika Monroe. Rotten Tomatoes: 65%. Metacritic: 49. From Teo Bugbee’s New York Times review: “Directed by the brothers Brendan and Emmett Malloy, ‘The Tribes of Palos Verdes’ portrays the cultish fixations that can arise within volatile families. As the mother forces the weight of her sadness onto her son, the father pushes his daughter to be his advocate with his estranged wife, and the son projects his anxiety onto his sister. As Medina’s world churns, she takes up surfing, which gives her the only head cool enough to narrate this tale of family dysfunction.” Read more…)

Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (animated comic book action, Christian Slater [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%.)

New Blu-Ray
The Greatest Showman
Phantom Thread
Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay
The Devil’s Rain
All That Heaven Allows

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Night Watch (1967, thriller, Elizabeth Taylor. Rotten Tomatoes: 33%.)

New British
Shakespeare Wallah (1965, Merchant-Ivory drama, Madhur Jaffrey. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1966 new York Times review [requires log-in]: “Thank goodness, ‘Shakespeare Wallah,’ the very delicate and lovely AngloIndian film that made such a favorable impression when it was shown at the New York Film Festival last fall, has finally found a lodging at the Baronet. It was shown there last night at a blacktie premiere for the benefit of UNICEF, and goes into continuous performance today. For this out-of-the-ordinary picture, which was made in India with a fascinating cast of British and Indian players, under the direction of an American, James Ivory, tells a sweetly romantic little story that softly suggests, in a minor key, the passage from India of the British colonial set.” Read more…)

The Child In Time (drama based on novel by Ian McEwan, Benedict Cumberbatch. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 83.)

New Television
Outlander: Season 3 (drama/fantasy series, Caitriona Balfe. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 87.)

New Documentaries
Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (urban design, activism, bio, Jane Jacobs. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 70. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Because New York City is so ecumenically photogenic, I had high hopes for this documentary about two visionaries with diametrically opposed views of how the city and its residents best live. ‘Citizen Jane: Battle for the City,’ directed by Matt Tyrnauer, which chronicles the author and activist Jane Jacobs’s opposition to several ambitious, potentially ruinous Robert Moses projects, is only intermittently stimulating… The movie lights up whenever it shows archival footage of its antagonists: Jacobs is sensible, warm and witty; Moses is cocksure, occasionally truculent, openly contemptuous of the people his big ideas are likely to displace.” Read more…)

New releases 4/3/18

Top Hits
Sweet Virginia (thriller, Jon Bernthal. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%. Metacritic: 72. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Set in a remote Alaskan valley [softly photographed in British Columbia by the cinematographer Jessica Lee Gagné], ‘Sweet Virginia’ is a quiet knife-twister in which atmosphere and performance are everything. The story [by the twin brothers Benjamin and Paul China] is flimsy and the characters have just enough heft to keep the gears of the plot clicking. Accumulating suspense from the inevitability of a final showdown, the director, Jamie M. Dagg, uses long takes and uncluttered setups that leave his actors room to flex.” Read more…)

Father Figures (comedy, Ed Helms. Rotten Tomatoes: 20%. Metacritic: 22. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “Distinguished mainly by its overqualified cast and lack of inspiration, ‘Father Figures’ can’t decide whether it’s a gross-out comedy or an uplifting tale of brotherly love; it embraces the worst of both worlds.” Read more…)

Like Me (indie drama/comedy, Addison Timlin. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. Metacritic: 60. From Teo Bugbee’s New York Times review: “‘Like Me’ begins with a teenage girl, Kiya [Addison Timlin], pointing a camera and a gun at a fast-food clerk. As the view alternates between what Kiya’s camera captures and what is beyond her field of vision, it’s unclear which is the real weapon — camera or gun. Kiya takes no money. Her only profit comes from capturing a terrified stranger weeping and urinating on camera. Armed with a webcam and disaffection, Kiya embarks on a videotaped crime spree. The movie’s director, Robert Mockler, mirrors his protagonist’s interests, incorporating Kiya’s footage into the film as she satisfies her voracious appetite for diner food and live-streamed provocation.” Read more…)

Oddball (family/animal drama, Shane Jacobson. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%.)

New Foreign
French Village: Season 7 (France, period drama, Audrey Fleurot)
Sinfonia Erotica (Spain, 1980 cult erotic film, Lina Romay)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
Lili (1953, musical, Leslie Caron. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1953 New York Times review [reqwuires log-in]: “At last, the simplicity and freshness which the little French actress, Leslie Caron, showed in her screen debut in ‘An American in Paris’ has been captured again in a film. This time it is in Metro’s ‘Lili’ that the elfin and winsome dancing star with the odd little face and the mobile figure once more demonstrates her youthful charm.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Wizards (1977, Ralph Bakshi animated fantasy feature. Rotten Tomatoes: 61%. From A.H. weiler’s 1977 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “If Ralph Bakshi’s ‘Fritz the Cat’ and ‘Heavy Traffic’ were as explicit as, say, sex and their X ratings, his ‘Wizards,’ which arrived in local theaters yesterday avoids that stigma. It offers ample proof once again that Mr. Bakshi has no connection with the sunlit Disney school of animated fantasy.” Read more…)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992, Twin Peaks prequel, Sheryl Lee. Rotten Tomatoes: 62%. From Vincent Canby’s 1992 New York Times review [requires log-in]. Spoiler alert: He didn’t like it! “Everything about David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’ is a deception. It’s not the worst movie ever made; it just seems to be. Its 134 minutes induce a state of simulated brain death, an effect as easily attained in half the time by staring at the blinking lights on a Christmas tree.” Read more…)

New British
A Place To Call Home: Season 5 (Australia, period romantic drama, Marta Dusseldorp)

New Television
13 Reasons Why: Season 1 (drama, Katherine Langford. Rotten Tomatoes: 79%. Metacritic: 76.)

New Documentaries
The Departure (Japan, Buddhism, culture, religion. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 85. From Ken Jaworowski’s New York Times review: “Sad, tender and quietly moving, ‘The Departure’ never says more than it needs to, much like its subject, a Buddhist priest who counsels those contemplating suicide. The documentary, directed by Lana Wilson, follows Ittetsu Nemoto, who after a troubled adolescence became a monk, then a priest, in Japan. He settled with his wife, child and mother at a temple in Gifu prefecture where he spends nearly all his time trying to dissuade those in danger of taking their own lives.” Read more…)

After Tiller (abortion politics, political violence, reproductive rights. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 75. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “‘After Tiller,’ a new documentary by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, is a partisan document in the culture wars. It could hardly be otherwise, since the film’s subject, abortion, is one where common ground is elusive, if not philosophically untenable. The four doctors interviewed and observed on screen, who the film says are the only ones in the United States openly performing third-trimester abortions, are heroic figures in the filmmakers’ eyes, but are condemned as murderers by those on the other side. It would be nice to believe that a movie like this could provoke civil and respectful dialogue about an intensely polarizing issue, but let’s not kid ourselves.” Read more…)

Night Bird Song: The Incandescent Life of Thomas Chapin (music, jazz, bio, Thomas Chapin)

New Music DVDs
Night Bird Song: The Incandescent Life of Thomas Chapin (music, jazz, bio, Thomas Chapin)

New releases 3/27/18

Top Hits
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (action, Mark Hamill. Rotten Romatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 85. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Evil is ascendant. The Resistance — an intrepid, multi-everything group whose leaders include a battle-tested woman warrior — has been fighting the good fight for years but is outnumbered and occasionally outmaneuvered. Yes, the latest ‘Star Wars’ installment is here, and, lo, it is a satisfying, at times transporting entertainment. Remarkably, it has visual wit and a human touch, no small achievement for a seemingly indestructible machine that revved up 40 years ago and shows no signs of sputtering out [ever].” Read more…)

God Help The Girl (pop musical, Emily Browning. Rotten Romatoes: 68%. Metacritic: 58. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “If the music of the Scottish indie-pop group Belle and Sebastian sets your teeth on edge, then prepare for extreme dental discomfort after watching ‘God Help the Girl,’ the directing debut of one of the band’s founders, Stuart Murdoch. So lightweight it could fly right off the screen, this wispy summertime musical may be set in Glasgow [Mr. Murdoch’s hometown, and my own], but that’s as Scottish as it gets. Delivered mainly by an Australian and two English sidekicks, the dialogue needs no subtitles, and the conspicuous absence of rain — in Glasgow, summer simply means cheerier umbrellas — further erases any sense of grit.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
King of Jazz (1930, musical, Paul Whiteman. From J. Hoberman’s New York Times review on the restoration of “King of Jazz”: “A significant movie restoration not only can return a film’s patina of newness but its place in film history as well. That may be the case when the musical revue ‘King of Jazz’ [1930], brought back to something of its original splendor, emerges from the vaults in the soft, shimmering red and green tones of early Technicolor… An old-fashioned prestige picture, ‘King of Jazz’ required a newfangled prestige restoration that was thought by some close to the project to be among the most expensive ever… The first reviews were generally positive. The New York Times critic Mordaunt Hall praised the director John Murray Anderson, a Broadway producer and first-time filmmaker, calling ‘King of Jazz’ a ‘marvel of camera wizardry, joyous color schemes, charming costumes and seductive lighting effects.’ But, released six months after the stock market crash, with a glut of musical revues, ‘King of Jazz,’ which cost around $2 million and was likely Universal’s most expensive production to date, did poorly at the box office.” Read more…)

Highway Dragnet (1954, film noir, Richard Conte. From the 1954 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘Highway Dragnet’ is a second-rate whodunit; a sluggish sort of murder melodrama with Richard Conte doing his best to make believe he is a vagabond wanted for the slaying of a blonde dead-fall in Las Vegas.”)

New Documentaries
Mr. Robot: Season 3 (sci-fi/cyber-thriller series, Rami Malek. Rotten Romatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 82.)

New releases 3/20/18

Top Hits
Downsizing (drama/comedy, Matt Damon. Rotten Tomatoes: 51%. Metacritic: 63. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “One of my favorite movies of 2017, ‘War for the Planet of the Apes,’ posited near-total human extinction as a more-or-less happy ending. A radically dystopian future seems like the best we deserve these days, and it was impressive to see a summer blockbuster offer such harsh medicine. Alexander Payne’s new movie, ‘Downsizing,’ doesn’t go nearly as far. Surveying a landscape of impending ecological catastrophe, it proposes a future that is only mildly dystopian and prescribes laughter rather than apocalyptic despair as, if not exactly a remedy, then at least an acceptable palliative.” Read more…)

Pitch Perfect 3 (musical, Anna Kendrick. Rotten Tomatoes: 32%. Metacritic: 40. From Teo Bugbee’s New York Times review: “‘Pitch Perfect 3’ fares best when its director, Trish Sie, treats it as a fantastical buddy comedy. A side plot reuniting Fat Amy with her degenerate father [John Lithgow] nearly takes over the movie when Amy’s father kidnaps the Bellas. What follows is the film’s funniest scene, as the suddenly spry Amy, in an attempt to save her friends, refashions sausages into nunchucks and sandwich tinfoil into explosives.” Read more…)

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (family action/comedy, Dwayne Johnson. Rotten Tomatoes: 76%. Metacritic: 58. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Their adventure often asks, ‘What would Steven Spielberg do?’ It then answers poorly. [The movie’s director, Jake Kasdan, happens to be the son of Lawrence Kasdan, who worked as a screenwriter with Mr. Spielberg on ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’] The performances by Mr. Johnson, Mr. Hart and Mr. Black seem informed by the conviction that if they amuse themselves, they will also amuse others. They are not entirely wrong, but they are also not sufficiently right.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Downsizing
Pitch Perfect 3

New Foreign
The Brand New Testament (Belgium, comedy, Benoit Poelvoorde. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. Metacritic: 70. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “In the Belgian filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael’s wickedly amusing religious satire, ‘The Brand New Testament,’ God [Benoît Poelvoorde] is a snarling, meanspirited bully who rules the universe from an apartment in Brussels. Inside his locked office, surrounded by walls of card files, the tyrannical, perpetually bored deity sits behind a computer and plays nasty practical jokes on humans. A favorite pastime is contriving Laws of Annoyance, like making sure that when a piece of toast falls, it always lands with the jelly side down.” Read more…)

The Divine Order (Switzerland, historical drama set in 1970s, Marie Leuenberger. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. Metacritic: 67. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “If it’s startling that the 19th Amendment, which enshrined women’s voting rights across the United States, is less than 100 years old, ‘The Divine Order’ is set in Switzerland, where the equivalent constitutional amendment — establishing the right for women to vote at the federal level — didn’t pass until 1971. ‘The Divine Order’ examines that fight for women’s suffrage in a microcosm. Directed by Petra Volpe, the film is set in a conservative Swiss town that has gone largely insulated from the spirit of the swinging ’60s.” Read more…)

Baal (Germany, 1970, drama adapted from Bertolt Brecht play, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

New Documentaries
The Work (prison life, incarceration, rehabilitation, therapy. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 84. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “The main takeaway from the prison-therapy documentary ‘The Work’ [besides the fact that watching grown men scream and grovel is not for the fainthearted], is that crime in this country could be drastically reduced if only more fathers were around to raise their sons… Opening an aperture into a process so ego-stripping that it feels unseemly to witness, ‘The Work’ is enlightening yet also punishing. Even more disturbing than one of the crimes described — and the near-constant background howls — is the convicts’ willingness to bare their souls for the nosing-around camera.” Read more…)

Naples ’44 (war, history. Rotten Tomatoes: 57%. Metacritic: 51. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “A feat of editing and research, ‘Naples ’44,’ directed by Francesco Patierno, is taken from a 1978 memoir by Norman Lewis. As a British intelligence officer during World War II, Mr. Lewis was stationed in Naples after the Allied Forces’ invasion of nearby Salerno in September 1943. An able translator, he helped the military communicate with the civilian population.” Read more…)

Michelangelo: Love and Death (art, history)

New Children’s DVDs
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (family action/comedy, Dwayne Johnson)

New releases 3/13/18

Top Hits
The Shape of Water (science fiction, Sally Hawkins. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 87. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s enthusiastic Times review: “‘The Shape of Water’ is partly a code-scrambled fairy tale, partly a genetically modified monster movie, and altogether wonderful. Guillermo del Toro, the writer and director, is a passionate genre geek. Sometimes his enthusiasm can get the better of his discipline, producing misshapen (but never completely uninteresting) movies like ‘Pacific Rim’ and ‘Crimson Peak.’ At his best, though — in ‘The Devil’s Backbone,’ ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and now, at last, again — he fuses a fan’s ardor with a romantic sensibility that is startling in its sincerity. He draws on old movies, comic books, mythic archetypes and his own restless visual imagination to create movies that seem less made than discovered, as if he had plucked them from the cultural ether and given them color, voice and form.” Read more…)

I, Tonya (biopic, Margot Robbie. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 77. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times revew: “Energetically directed by Craig Gillespie, ‘I, Tonya’ charts the hard-won rise and calamitous fall of its title character [Margot Robbie]. Taking the form of a mock, mocking documentary, one that disjointedly swings between heehaw comedy and wincing agony, the movie establishes its raised-eyebrow tone with a title card stating it’s ‘Based on irony-free, wildly contradictory and totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly,’ her former husband. [The screenwriter, Steven Rogers, has said that he spoke with both.] From their separate corners, the middle-aged, long-divorced Tonya and Jeff [Sebastian Stan], provide linked, at times vividly contradictory accounts of what happened.” Read more…)

The Disaster Artist (biopic/Hollywood, James Franco. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 76. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “An ode to bad taste and dubious intentions, the ha-ha comedy ‘The Disaster Artist’ involves one of the favorite topics of the movies: itself. It’s another story of crushed Hollywood dreams, one that unfolds through the eyes of Greg Sestero [Dave Franco], an aspiring actor who hitched himself to a phenomenon when he met Tommy Wiseau [James Franco, Dave’s brother]. A would-be auteur, the real Mr. Wiseau became a minor cult figure after he released a 2003 specialty item, ‘The Room,’ that some anointed the worst movie ever made. In time, its notoriety started to pay off; in 2013, Mr. Sestero wrote a tell-all book. Based on that tell-all [which Mr. Sestero wrote with Tom Bissell], “The Disaster Artist” recounts both the making of a friendship and the absurdly inept movie it produced.” Read more…)

Justice League (superhero action, Gal Gadot. Rotten Tomatoes: 40%. Metacritic: 45. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “‘Justice League,’ the newest DC Comics superhero jam directed by Zack Snyder, is looser, goosier and certainly more watchable than the last one. The bar could scarcely have been lower given that the previous movie, ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,’ was such an interminable slog. The superhero and villain dynamic is much the same [slayers going to slay, etc.], but there are a few fresh faces now and Wonder Woman has more to do than play backup. The story is a confusion of noise, visual clutter and murderous digital gnats, but every so often a glimmer of life flickers through.” Read more…)

Call Me By Your Name (romance/gay, Armie Hammer. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 93. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “You don’t just watch Luca Guadagnino’s movies, you swoon into them. His best-known titles, ‘I Am Love’ and ‘A Bigger Splash,’ feature beautiful people with impeccable taste experiencing haute-bourgeois life intensely. Passion and drama upend those lives, but what’s most striking about these movies is their extraordinary palpable quality. In Mr. Guadagnino’s work, passion and drama are expressed in words, deeds and surging music but also in the vibrant, visceral textures that envelop his characters — the cool marble, succulent fruit, shadow and light, sheens of sweat. These are movies that turn your gaze into near-touch, inviting you to see and almost caress their sun-warmed bodies. Mr. Guadagnino’s latest, ‘Call Me by Your Name,’ is another ravishment of the senses, though this time there’s a strong narrative tethering all the churning feelings and sensuous surfaces.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
I, Tonya
The Disaster Artist
Justice League
Novitiate

New Foreign
Everybody Loves Somebody (Mexico, romantic comedy, Karla Souza. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 74. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Toggling between Los Angeles and Mexico, English and Spanish, this sophomore feature by Catalina Aguilar Mastretta asks Clara to choose between naughty and nice. The setup is commonplace, but the scenery is delicious, the dialogue refreshingly tart and the keen supporting cast frisky or affecting, as the occasion demands.” Read more…)

Song of Granite (Ireland, music/biopic, Michael O’Chonfhlaola. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 68. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “‘When you’re focused on it, when you’re in the emotion of the song, you won’t hear or see anything else around you,’ says Joe Heaney, played at that point by Micheal O Chonfhaola, in ‘Song of Granite,’ an impressionistic portrait of the Irish folk singer. Mr. Heaney was recognized as a master of sean nos [old style] music, a traditional Gaelic variety of a cappella.” Read more…)

Spettacolo (Italy, documentary, Italian society/theater. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 76. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “That story can be so poignant and is so intelligently told that it feels wrong, almost insulting, to call ‘Spettacolo’ charming, even if the movie is often delightful. In guidebooks, charm tends to be a commercial marker, a signifier for an imaginary, easily salable and consumable notion of authenticity. [directors] [Jeff] Malmberg and [Chris] Shellen understand the allure of that imaginary world; they were, after all, on vacation when they discovered Monticchiello and their documentary is itself often lovely. Yet they remind you that people are not attractions and their homes are not museums, even if the global economy, its casual tourists and rich speculators are determined to prove otherwise.” Read more…)

A French Village: Season 6 (France, period drama series set in occupied France, Audrey Fleurot)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Suburbia (1996, Richard Linklater-directed drama, Parker Posey. Rotten Tomatoes: 64%. Metacritic: 62. From Janet Maslin’s 1996 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Richard Linklater’s fine new film ‘Suburbia’ combines his talents with those of Eric Bogosian and brings out the best in both. Mr. Bogosian’s venomously funny play, which he adapted himself for the screen, is given warmth and generosity by Mr. Linklater, whose elegantly fluid direction and great skill with actors are accentuated by the play’s spareness. Mr. Bogosian’s knife-edged humor and hairpin turns at the end of the play keep the material from meandering and guarantee the film its sting.” Read more…)

New TV
The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 1 (sci-fi/feminism based on Margaret Atwood novel, Elisabeth Moss. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 92. From James Poniewozik’s New York Times TV review: “A decade ago, Elisabeth Moss began co-starring in ‘Mad Men,’ which among other things was about how women were objectified and subjugated — in the past, the 1960s, the bad old days. In Hulu’s spectacular The Handmaid’s Tale,’ Ms. Moss is Offred, a baby-making slave in the Republic of Gilead, which is what part of the United States [New England, roughly] has become after a fertility crisis and a theocratic coup. It’s set in a near future that looks like the 1600s. ‘Mad Men’ may have resonated with today, but it gave viewers the comfortable vantage of history, the reassurance that we had come a long way, baby. “The Handmaid’s Tale” argues — with an assist from current events — that progress is neither automatic nor irreversible. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ based on the 1985 Margaret Atwood novel, is a cautionary tale, a story of resistance and a work of impeccable world-building. It is unflinching, vital and scary as hell.” Read more…)

The Good Fight: Season 1 (legal drama, Christine Baranski. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 80. From James Poniewozik’s New York Times TV review: “When ‘The Good Wife’ had its premiere, there was a clear line from Hillary Clinton to Alicia Florrick [Julianna Margulies], the ambitious lawyer who came into her own after her politician husband’s sex scandal. But the show had another Clinton figure all along: Diane Lockhart [Christine Baranski], who hired, befriended and ultimately fell out with Alicia. A leonine liberal not allergic to money or a highball of fine Scotch, she rose in a boy’s club through alliances, compromise and knowing how much of herself to conceal. Diane begins ‘The Good Fight’ ready for a change. Like certain other people of her political persuasion recently, she meets a less happy kind of change than she was expecting. But for her — and for this improbable but promising spinoff — it ends up being an invigorating new start.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Spettacolo (Italy, documentary, Italian society/theater)

New Children’s DVDs
Ferdinand (animated feature, John Cena [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. Metacritic: 58. From Ben Kenigsberg’s new York Times review: “The classic picture book ‘The Story of Ferdinand,’ written by Munro Leaf and illustrated in inky black-and-white by Robert Lawson, tells the tale of a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight, even when he finds himself in the ring in Madrid. Published in 1936 with the Spanish Civil War on the horizon, the book, interpreted as pacifist propaganda, found enemies on both sides. ‘Ferdinand’ the new computer-animated adaptation from Carlos Saldanha [the ‘Ice Age’ movies], speaks to its own time in a different way, dutifully adhering to the template for contemporary children’s films while avoiding much personality or distinction.” Read more…)

My Little Pony: The Movie (animated feature, Emily Blunt [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 47%. Metacritic: 39.)

New releases 3/6/18

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

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

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

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

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

New Blu-Ray
Lady Bird
Thor: Ragnarok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New releases 2/27/18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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