New releases 2/16/21

Top Hits
Lovecraft Country: Season 1 (drama/fantasy/horror series, Jurnee Smollett. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 79. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “There were a lot of ways ‘Lovecraft Country’ could have gone wrong, but timing didn’t turn out to be one of them. It’s a good moment to get attention for a scary-monster series that rejuvenates the horror genre by making the heroes Black and putting America’s racist history at the center of the story.” Read more…)

The Informer (action/adventure, Joel Kinnaman. Rotten Tomatoes: 62%. Metacritic: 61. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “In the double-agent saga ‘The Informer,’ the director, Andrea Di Stefano, isn’t going to wow anyone with flashy technique. But the movie has a surfeit of the sudden reversals and interlocking loyalties that can make for an absorbing time killer.” Read more…)

Happy Cleaners (drama/family, Yun Jeong. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Li-Wei Chu’s From the Intercom—a site dedicated to publicizing the releases of Asian and Anglo-Asian artists—review: “Anyone looking for Asian American representation on screen need not look further than Julian Kim and Peter S. Lee’s family drama ‘Happy Cleaners.’ A film that details the experience of a second-generation Korean American family in Flushing, New York, ‘Happy Cleaners’ gives an introspective look at the inter-generational and cultural conflicts that many families face.” Read more…)

New Foreign
Breaking Surface (Sweden/Norway, action/drama, Moa Gammel. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Lisa Trifone’s Third Coast Review review: “Even if its overarching themes aren’t entirely unique, ‘Breaking Surface,’ a chilling [and chilly] thriller about two sisters and their deep-water diving excursion gone very wrong, certainly gets points for its original take on these tried and true conventions. From a cast led by women in intensely physical roles to impressive independent production value in the underwater world of scuba diving, writer/director Joachim Hedén delivers a ticking-clock drama that, at just 82 minutes, gets right to the action and keeps the momentum high throughout.” Read more…)

God of the Piano (Israel, drama, Naama Preis. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “[Director Itay] Tal’s style has a simultaneous simplicity and density that has an affinity with the works of Lucrecia Martel and Michael Haneke. Rarely does a debut feature showcase a talent so fully formed. This is a remarkably potent film.” Read more…)

Alone With Her Dreams (Italy, drama, Marta Castiglia. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From John DeFiore’s Hollywood Reporter review: “Telling the story of a girl whose parents must leave her behind while seeking work in France, the story [from a novel by Catena Fiorello] makes a fine showcase for young thesp Marta Castiglia, a natural with intelligent eyes and no interest in child-actor pandering. Though the film is ultimately just as invested in the girl’s sour grandmother, whose secrets help make sense of a hard left turn the story takes near its end, Alone [which marks both the director’s feature debut and Castiglia’s] makes the most of a fraught moment in its protagonist’s life” Read more…)

Hill of Freedom (South Korea, comedy, Ryo Kase. Rotten Tomatoes: 82%. Metacritic: 73. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “The South Korean director Hong Sang-soo, who began his career completing films at a relatively swift pace, has been on a real tear lately. Because of the vicissitudes of distribution, viewers in the United States who follow his work are catching up with it out of production order. ‘Yourself and Yours,’ reviewed last week, was made in 2016, and this week’s ‘Hill of Freedom’ in 2014. Coincidentally, a jumbling of time is related to the content of the movies themselves. ‘Hill’ is predicated on a particularly daring temporal arrangement.” Read more…)

Our Mothers (Guatemala, drama, Armando Espitia. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “The fiction feature directorial debut of the Guatemalan filmmaker César Díaz is a modestly scaled picture with massive implications. Díaz’s background is in editing, and there’s a strong documentary component in his filmography. So it’s fitting that in this picture the protagonist is a forensic anthropologist — one who is working on a project that goes back decades rather than centuries, which is usually what we see in movies featuring anthropologists.” Read more…)

New British DVDs
The Long Song (drama set in 1830s Jamaica, Tamara Lawrance. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 78. From Caroline Framke’s Variety review: “That the tragic heroine of this story is Black slave July [Tamara Lawrance] rather than her corseted white mistress — played by period drama veteran Hayley Atwell, no less — immediately marks ‘The Long Song’ as a very different kind of Masterpiece series. Outside of something like Andrew Davies’ 2019 ‘Sanditon’ adaptation, which cast Crystal Clarke as a Jane Austen character born in the West Indies, there really haven’t been any PBS Masterpiece dramas that spotlight Black characters, let alone have them steer the entire series. ‘The Long Song,’ an adaptation of Andrea Levy’s 2010 novel, not only centers a very specific Black character and experience, but deliberately dares any skittish viewers expecting something quite different to look away.” Read more…)

The Suspect (1944, noir-ish British drama, Charles Laughton. From Bosley Crowther’s 1945 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Another study of an amiable, middle-aged fellow who commits murder out of desperation and his attempts at concealing his connection is being offered in ‘The Suspect,’ yesterday’s new arrival at Loew’s Criterion. This is a very leisurely excursion into crime, somewhat overburdened with politeness. “ Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
Mannequin (1937, melodrama/romance, Joan Crawford. From Frank S. Nugent’s 1938 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “A glib, implausible and smartly gowned little drama, as typically Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as Leo himself, ‘Mannequin,’ at the Capitol, restores Miss Joan Crawford to her throne as queen of the woiking goils and reaffirms Katharine Brush’s faith in the capitalist system. That system, as Miss Brush, Faith Baldwin and Frances Marion see it, infallibly provides every poor but pure button-hole stitcher with an eventual millionaire who respects her and dangles a tempting wedding ring.” Read more…)

Spy In Black (1939, spy drama aka “U-Boat 29”, Conrad Veidt. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Frank S. Nugent’s 1939 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The early arrival of a U-boat on Broadway was only to be expected after the vague alarms recently sounded off Massachusetts, the Grand Banks and Alaska. And of course the logical base for such a charming little visitor [it answers to the name of ‘U-Boat 29’] was the Globe, where land, air and underwater marvels are continuously on view, even in peace time. What didn’t necessarily follow but what fortunately does, is the fact that ‘U-Boat 29’ is the most exciting spy melodrama since the advent of the Second World War.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
The Parallax View (1974, thriller, Criterion Collection, Warren Beatty. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 65. From Roger Ebert’s 1974 review: “‘The Parallax View’ will no doubt remind some reviewers of ‘Executive Action’ [1973], another movie released at about the same time that advanced a conspiracy theory of assassination. It’s a better use of similar material, however, because it tries to entertain instead of staying behind to argue. And the ending has an inexorable logic to it.” Read more…)

Tough Guys (1986, action comedy, Burt Lancaster & Kirk Douglas. Rotten Tomatoes: 57%. Metacritic: 54. From Walter Goodman’s 1986 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “When Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas star together in a movie, certain expectations are aroused, and, for much of the way, ‘Tough Guys’ satisfies them. The two pros settle comfortably into the roles of a couple of train robbers, whose last exploit, holding up the Gold Coast Flyer, sent them to jail for 30 years. When we meet them, they are on their way out into the strange world of Los Angeles, circa 1986, abounding in homosexuals, health fanatics and young folks in more peculiar get-ups than even our heroes’ dusted-off wide-lapeled jackets, jazzy ties and snappy fedoras.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
The Mayor (documentary, Middle East, Palestine. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 75. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Ben Kenigsberg’s Times review: “The director David Osit’s documentary ‘Mayor’ indirectly deals with the prospect of Palestinian statehood by looking at the concept of a state — the workings of government — at the city level. An early scene shows Musa Hadid, the mayor of Ramallah in the West Bank, discussing municipal branding: How can the city get residents to identify traffic lights, sidewalks and street signs with local governance?” Read more…)

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (music, concert, bio. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 86. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Step right up, ladies and gentlemen and cine-revelers of every type, to the mesmerizing motion picture and humbly titled extravaganza, ‘Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.’ Thrill to Dylan, a troubadour with a white-smeared face and a peacock feather in his wide-brimmed hat, as he electrifies and sometimes confuses audiences with his melodious musings. Rejoice as Joan Baez sings and laughs and testifies about her old pal Bob. Gasp as Joni Mitchell warbles and strums her song ‘Coyote’ in Gordon Lightfoot’s pad as Dylan plays along.” Read more…)