New Releases 12/9/14

Top Hits
Guardians of the Galaxy (comic book sci-fi action, Chris Pratt. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 76. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Talking about directing in blockbusters is sometimes nothing more than wishful thinking. Most are such impersonally operated machines — dedicated to the business of brand storytelling — that they tend to obliterate any whisper of individuality. That there’s a palpable directorial sensibility in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” along with other signs of genuine life, helps separate this latest Marvel cash grab from a lot of off-the-rack movie cartoons. Here, a pulse, wit, beauty and a real sensibility have been slipped into the fray, alongside the clockwork guffaws, kabooms and splats.” Read more…)

Dolphin Tale 2 (family/adventure, Morgan Freeman. Rotten Tomatoes: 68%. Metacritic: 58. From Ben Kenigsberh’s New York Times revbiew: “‘Dolphin Tale 2’ is essentially a vehicle to showcase Winter and her real-life pool mate, Hope, a young dolphin whose convenient beaching in the film can only be called a dolphin ex machina. It’s a wonder Hollywood hasn’t made a cottage industry out of rescuing whales to buy the movie rights. For the right age group, though, the film hits its marks: It’s wholesome, engaging and rife with impressive aquatic photography.” Read more…)

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (comedy/musical, Neil Patrick Harris. From Mike Hale’s New York Times Web review: “[Actor Neil Patrick] Harris, while more earnest here than he is as the ego-monster Barney in ‘How I Met Your Mother,’ still manages his trick of wrapping the most abominable behavior in the most winsomely appealing package. And, as you would expect from Mr. Whedon, the show is funny, in an elliptical, sardonic way, especially in the song lyrics. Seeking signatures for a petition to create a homeless shelter, Penny sings, ‘Will you lend a caring hand to shelter those who need it?/Only have to sign your name, don’t even have to read it.'” Read more…)

Frank (comedy/music, Domhnall Gleeson. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 75. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Popular music has always had a place for eccentrics and visionaries, artists whose inventions sometimes take them to the borderlands of madness. ‘Frank,’ a captivatingly low-key new film directed by Lenny Abrahamson, was inspired by the life and work of one such musician, a singer known as Frank Sidebottom, who flourished in Britain in the 1990s. At one point, Mr. Sidebottom hired a keyboard player named Jon Ronson — though ‘hired’ may suggest too conventional an arrangement — who later embellished, edited and updated his experience into the screenplay for this movie, which takes place in the present-day world of social media and South by Southwest.” Read more…)

Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead (horror/comedy, Vegar Hoel. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 58. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “What’s not to love about rampaging Nazi zombies? Gutsy in more ways than one, Tommy Wirkola’s ‘Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead’ — a seamless follow-up to his 2009 Norwegian splatterer — rejoins the adventures of Martin (Vegar Hoel), the first film’s sole survivor of a ski cabin massacre.” Read more…)

Petals on the Wind (horror, Ellen Burstyn. Metacritic: 64.)

New Blu-Rays
Guardians of the Galaxy
Dolphin Tale 2
Calvary

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Safe (1995, drama, Julianne Moore. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. From Janet Maslin’s 1995 New York Times review [may require log-in]: “Devoting the first half of ‘Safe’ to capturing a dead world under glass, Mr. Haynes displays a hauntingly effective visual style. Long shots, flat compositions and cruel fluorescent lighting create a powerfully disorienting effect, as does the neurasthenic edge Ms. Moore subtly brings to Carol’s role. Her performance remains intelligent and alive even when the character begins dying on the vine. Frightfully polite at first, Carol begins losing composure in gradual stages, until she begins having panic attacks that shred the decorousness of her San Fernando Valley life.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Ornette: Made in America (jazz history, Ornette Coleman. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 82. From Janet Maslin’s 1986 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘Ornette: Made in America’ is a hazy but inviting glimpse of the great modern jazz musician and his world. Miss Clarke’s methods tend to be as fanciful as Ornette Coleman’s are rigorous and abstract, but the collaboration between film maker and subject has its own kind of harmony. Mr. Coleman’s complexity remains far out of the film’s reach, as does his music; Miss Clarke seems chiefly intent on trailing Mr. Coleman and re-creating something of his aura, rather than detailing his life in any kind of narrative fashion. But the film’s vagueness never becomes damaging, perhaps because Mr. Coleman’s own presence is so subtly commanding.” Read more…)

Robin Williams Remembered (TV history, bio, Robin Williams)
When Jews Were Funny (entertainment, ethnic identity. Rotten Tomatoes: 60%.)
Wagner’s Jews (art, music history, anti-Semitism, Richard Wagner)

New Music DVDs
Ornette: Made in America (jazz history, Ornette Coleman. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 82. From Janet Maslin’s 1986 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘Ornette: Made in America’ is a hazy but inviting glimpse of the great modern jazz musician and his world. Miss Clarke’s methods tend to be as fanciful as Ornette Coleman’s are rigorous and abstract, but the collaboration between film maker and subject has its own kind of harmony. Mr. Coleman’s complexity remains far out of the film’s reach, as does his music; Miss Clarke seems chiefly intent on trailing Mr. Coleman and re-creating something of his aura, rather than detailing his life in any kind of narrative fashion. But the film’s vagueness never becomes damaging, perhaps because Mr. Coleman’s own presence is so subtly commanding.” Read more…)

New Children’s DVDs
Dolphin Tale 2 (family/adventure, Morgan Freeman. Rotten Tomatoes: 68%. Metacritic: 58. From Ben Kenigsberh’s New York Times revbiew: “‘Dolphin Tale 2’ is essentially a vehicle to showcase Winter and her real-life pool mate, Hope, a young dolphin whose convenient beaching in the film can only be called a dolphin ex machina. It’s a wonder Hollywood hasn’t made a cottage industry out of rescuing whales to buy the movie rights. For the right age group, though, the film hits its marks: It’s wholesome, engaging and rife with impressive aquatic photography.” Read more…)