New releases 12/13/16

Top Hits
florence_foster_jenkinsFlorence Foster Jenkins (comedy, Meryl Streep. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 71. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “Meryl Streep will get most of the attention accorded the crowd-pleasing ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ thanks to a performance that may single-handedly set off a boom in the earplug industry. But the actor you should keep your eye on is Simon Helberg. It is his reactions to her vocal travesties that really make the movie sparkle.” Read more…)

Ben-Hur (costume drama action, Jack Huston. Rotten Tomatoes: 25%. Metacritic: 38. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “For any filmmaker foolhardy enough to embark on a remake of ‘Ben-Hur,’ the kitschy 1959 sword-and-sandals epic that captured 11 Oscars and elevated Charlton Heston to Hollywood sainthood, the first order of business is to create a bigger and better version of that movie’s climactic chariot race. The best thing about the reimagined ‘Ben-Hur,’ directed by Timur Bekmambetov [‘Wanted,’ ‘Abraham lIncoln: Vampire Hunter’] from a screenplay by Keith Clarke and John Ridley, is that it delivers a contest as thunderously stirring as any action sequence from the “Fast and Furious” franchise.” Read more…)

Bridget Jones’s Baby (rom-com, Renee Zelleger. Rotten Tomatoes: 77%. Metacritic: 59. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Like the recent ‘Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie,’ or the film spinoffs of ‘Sex and the City,’ ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ trades on nostalgia for the characters’ quaint misbehavior and silly fantasies of yesteryear. Renée Zellweger, crinkly eyed and adorable at 47, plays a more poised and confident Bridget, still chasing what she calls ‘happily ever after.’ But the question nags: What planet does she think she inhabits? The London shown here might as well be Planet C, as in cute.” Read more…)

Suicide Squad (comic book action, Will Smith. Rotten Tomatoes: 26%. Metacritic: 40. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Scholars of classical Hollywood sometimes speak of ‘the genius of the system,’ a phrase coined by the French critic André Bazin to refer to the ability of the old studio machinery to turn out works of inventive and beautiful popular art. But times change. ‘Suicide Squad,’ the latest product of the DC-Warner Bros. partnership, is a good example of the idiocy of the system. This is not to say that it’s a completely terrible movie — it is certainly not worse than ‘X-Men: Apocalypse,’ ‘Captain America: Civil War’ or, heaven knows, ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ — but rather that its virtues and shortcomings are more systemic than specific.” Read more…)

Southside With You (Barack & Michelle Obama bio/romance/drama, Parker Sawyers. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 74. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Sweet, slight and thuddingly sincere, ‘Southside With You’ is a fictional re-creation of Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date. It’s a curious conceit for a movie less because as dates go this one is pretty low key but because the writer-director Richard Tanne mistakes faithfulness for truthfulness. He’s obviously interested in the Obamas, but he’s so cautious and worshipful that there’s nothing here to discover, only characters to admire. Every so often, you catch a glimpse of two people seeing each other as if for the first time; mostly, though, the movie just sets a course for the White House.” Read more…)

miss_peregrineMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Tim Burton-directed fantasy adventure, Eva Green. Rotten Tomatoes: 63%. Metacritic: 57. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “The movies have long made room for phantasmagoric visionaries, the strange ones, the different ones, who like to peek under rocks [or peel back the skin] to peer at what squirms beneath. Fitting their deliriums into bright, shiny, commercially palatable vehicles can be difficult, as Tim Burton’s career attests. Time and again, Mr. Burton has tried to smooth down his singular art, rather like one of Cinderella’s stepsisters sawing off a bit of her foot to squeeze into a happily-ever-after slipper. Mr. Burton should never hack off his strange bits; they can be glorious. Ah, but he slips beautifully into his latest, ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.'” Read more…)

Little Men (family drama, Greg Kinnear. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 86. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “There is hardly a shortage of buddy movies about mismatched men bonding under duress, but films that chart the emotional weather of everyday male friendship are rare. Literature has more to offer, at least as far as boys are concerned. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn have a rich and renewable legacy. And it may be that association that imparts a novelistic vibe to Ira Sachs’s ‘Little Men,’ beyond the Louisa May Alcott echo in the title. It’s a subtle movie, alert to the almost imperceptible currents of feeling that pass between its title characters.” Read more…)

Equity (Wall Street drama, Anna Gunn. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 68. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “‘Equity’ itself, however, is bracing, witty and suspenseful, a feminist thriller sharply attuned to the nuances of its chosen milieu. In setting and mood, it bears some resemblance to J. C. Chandor’s ‘Margin Call,’ which similarly infused sleek and sterile corporate spaces with danger and dread. But unlike that film or Adam McKay’s ‘The Big Short,’ Ms. Menon’s movie is not about the system in crisis. It’s about business as usual.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Florence Foster Jenkins
Bridget Jones’s Baby
Suicide Squad

New Foreign
man_facing_southeastMan Facing Southeast (Argentina, 1986, sci-fi, Hugo Soto. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. From Vincent Canby’s 1987 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “As an example of Latin American fiction, ‘Man Facing Southeast’ is lower-middle-brow Garcia Marquez and bourgeois Borges. ‘Man Facing Southeast’ is one of those sentimental films that find madness both poetic and romantic. Is Rantes what he says he is? The movie answers firmly, ‘Yes and no.’ [Director Eliseo] Subiela mixes his metaphors with a vengeance. Though Julio knows, at heart, that Rantes is psychotic, the doctor begins to see himself as Pontius Pilate to Rantes’s outer-space Jesus. The movie goes along with this, picturing Rantes, at one point, as the Jesus in tableau vivant based on Michelangelo’s Pieta. Rantes is also able to perform minor miracles.” Read more…)

Los Olvidados (Mexico, 1950, Luis Buñuel-directed surrealist drama, Estela Inda. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. “Los Olvidados” is now seen as a classic of both surrealist and Latin American cinema. But New York Times critic Bosley Crowther was no fan when he reviewed the movie in 1952 [requires log-in]: “A brutal and unrelenting picture of poverty and juvenile crime in the slums of Mexico City is presented in ‘The Young and the Damned’ [the U.S. title for ‘Los Olvidados’], a Mexican semi-documentary that was put on yesterday at the Trans-Lux Fifty-second Street. Although made with meticulous realism and unquestioned fidelity to facts, its qualifications as dramatic entertainment — or even social reportage—are dim. For it is obvious that Luis Buñuel, who directed and helped write the script, had no focus or point of reference for the squalid, depressing tale he tells. He simply has assembled an assortment of poverty-stricken folk—paupers, delinquents, lost children and parents of degraded morals—and has mixed them altogether in a vicious and shocking melange of violence, melodrama, coincidence and irony.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
asphalt_jungleThe Asphalt Jungle (1950, Criterion Collection, John Huston-directed film noir, Sterling Hayden, Marilyn Monroe. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1950 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “This film, derived by Ben Maddow and John Huston from [novelist W.R.] Burnett’s book and directed by Mr. Huston in brilliantly naturalistic style, gives such an electrifying picture of the whole vicious circle of a crime—such an absorbing illustration of the various characters involved, their loyalties and duplicities, and of the minutiae of crime techniques—that one finds it hard to tag the item of repulsive exhibition in itself. Yet that is our inevitable judgment of this film, now on the Capitol’s screen. For the plain truth is that this picture—sobering though it may be in its ultimate demonstration that a life of crime does not pay—enjoins the hypnotized audience to hobnob with a bunch of crooks, participate with them in their plunderings and actually sympathize with their personal griefs. The vilest creature in the picture, indeed, is a double-crossing cop. And the rest of the police, while decent, are definitely antagonists.” Read more…)

New British
Steaming (1984, Joseph Losey-directed drama, Vanessa Redgrave. From Vincent Canby’s 1985 new York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘Steaming,’ adapted from Nell Dunn’s play, which had a brief Broadway run during the 1981-1982 season, is about a group of English women who meet each week in a grubby, going-to-pieces, public bathhouse to sweat out their psyches, trade secrets and raise their consciousnesses. They represent, of course, the kind of societal cross section one used to find in William Saroyan’s barrooms or falling to their doom off Thornton Wilder’s ‘Bridge of San Luis Rey.’ The trouble with ‘Steaming’ is that not even a cast of first-rate actresses can give these dreary characters a dimension or interest that hasn’t been supplied by the screenplay, written by Patricia Losey, the director’s wife.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
hooligan_sparrowHooligan Sparrow (human rights, China, women’s rights, protest, free speech. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 78. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “One of the strengths of ‘Hooligan Sparrow’ is that it makes those stakes real, visceral and urgent, partly by laying bare just how difficult it can be to make a documentary like this. It’s the debut feature of Nanfu Wang, who inserts herself into the fray early in a short, tense scene in which — while facing the camera alone in a room — she nervously explains that the police are about to question her about her recent activities. The scene, with its unease and suggestive violence, doesn’t draw you in; it yanks you, a canny strategy that instantly puts the viewer on Ms. Wang’s side and turns the presumably [or at least relatively] disinterested audience into a kind of collaborator. ‘Hooligan Sparrow,’ which Ms. Wang also shot and skillfully edited, has the pulse of a mainstream thriller but without the pacifying polish and tidiness.” Read more…)

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