New releases 1/4/22

Top Hits
Mayday (drama/fantasy, Grace Van Patten. Rotten Tomatoes: 50%. Metacritic: 45. From Teo Bugbee’s New York Times review: “It should be a bold premise, but there is a curious contrast in this film between the richly defined images and the story’s ethical indeterminacy. Visually, the writer and director Karen Cinorre is sure-footed, impressing with steampunk production design and sun-dappled cinematography. But narratively, her movie waffles, refusing to generate plausible rationales for Marsha’s girlboss-ish militancy.” Read more…)

Black Friday (horror/comedy, Bruce Campbell. Rotten Tomatoes: 65%. Metacritic: 52. From Lena Wilson’s New York Times review: “This film would be perfectly delightful if it only strove for absurdity. Andy Greskoviak’s script lampoons corporate apathy and retail-work ennui with the same swiftness as his voracious zombies. Unfortunately, ‘Black Friday’ also tries to make viewers root for its characters, who are mostly delightful because they are such wildly mediocre people.” Read more…)

Small Engine Repair (comedy/drama, John Pollono. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 57. From Maya Phillips’ New York Times review: “What happens in Manch-Vegas stays in Manch-Vegas. Just ask the men from ‘Small Engine Repair,’ an adaptation of the play of the same name by the actor and playwright John Pollono. The film, which Pollono also directs, provides more depth than the original but still flounders in the translation from stage to screen.” Read more…)

New Foreign DVDs
The Woman Who Ran (Republic of Korea, comedy/drama, Kim Min-hee. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 81. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Some of the individual tales may hit the emotions harder or stay in the mind longer, and some viewers may never acquire a taste for his talky, elliptical, melancholy style. For those of us who delight in his elegant explorations of drunkenness, regret, lust and ennui, he is an indispensable comedian of modern manners, good and bad, and his steady [or perhaps compulsive] productivity is a gift.” Read more…)

Only the Animals (France, LGBTQ thriller, Laure Calamy. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 69. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “What would movies do without troublesome women — the cruel, the cold, the difficult, the dispensable? That’s one of the takeaways of ‘Only the Animals,’ a cynical French puzzler from the director Dominik Moll about a woman who goes missing. Her disappearance stirs up the usual interest; that she’s white and wealthy helps. There’s a police investigation and news reports and plenty of pain and suffering, but the many tears the movie vigorously pumps aren’t necessarily spilled over her.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
Rich and Strange (1931, dir. by Alfred Hitchcock, comedy. Rotten Tomatoes: 70%. From Dave Kehr’s brief description in the New York Times of the movie as part of an earlier DVD release: “The most important film among these early efforts is ‘Rich and Strange’ [1931], a cautionary tale about a middle-class couple who try to relieve the boredom of their existence by taking a trip, physically and sexually adventurous, to the Far East. Structurally, the film looks forward to Hitchcock’s later series of couples films, including ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ [1941], ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’[1956] and ‘Marnie’ [1964], in which mere marriages are transformed into sacred unions through the shared experience of suffering and temptation.”)

Shake Hands with the Devil (1959, drama, James Cagney. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. From Howard Thompson’s 1959 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “One of the fastest, toughest and most picturesque dramas about the Irish Revolution, ‘Shake Hands With the Devil,’ opened yesterday at neighborhood theatres on a double-bill, and don’t ask us why. [Don’t ask us why the other half, ‘The Mugger,’ was made at all.] A new Hollywood company, Pennebaker, has had the ripe judgment to cull this dandy adventure drama of Black-and-Tan strife from a new Irish film studio near Dublin, with a spanking Irish-flavored cast headed by—who else?—James Cagney.” Read more…)

Lizzie (1957, drama, Eleanor Parker. From Bosley Crowther’s 1957 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “It is a capricious woman Eleanor Parker plays in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s ‘Lizzie,’ which came to the Mayfair yesterday. At the start, she’s a drear and mousy creature, living modestly with her sottish aunt and working by day in a museum, Elizabeth is her name.Then she sits down before her mirror and bells and sirens begin to sound. First thing, she’s painting her lips scarlet, piling her hair on the top of her head and going out to a bar with a sluttish swagger to find herself a man. Now she calls herself Lizzie.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
The Naked Ape (1973, comedy, Victoria Principal)

New Documentaries
Try Harder! (education, sociology, Asian-American experience. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Beandrea July’s Times review: “The coming-of-age documentary ‘Try Harder!’ from the director Debbie Lum [‘Seeking Asian Female’] immerses us in the world of elite college admissions at one of San Francisco’s top-performing public high schools: Lowell High. Equal parts vérité character study and probing meditation on the virtues of success, the film follows a group of five delightfully earnest overachievers who have internalized, to a stunning degree, the necessity of getting into Stanford and Harvard and other top-tier colleges.” Read more…)

Sid & Judy (bio, history, movie history, Judy Garland. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Amy Kaufman’s New York Times article: “‘Sid & Judy,’ which will debut tonight on Showtime, is like many portraits of the singer’s life in that it details the struggles she faced: her substance abuse, bouts of depression, five marriages and child custody battles. But by culling from Luft’s collection, the documentary offers a more unvarnished take on Garland’s life than, say, ‘Judy,’ the scripted film currently in theaters that is earning star Renée Zellweger Oscar buzz.” Read more…)