New releases 2/23/21

Top Hits
The Last Vermeer (war drama, Guy Pearce. Rotten Tomatoes: 70%. Metacritic: 56. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Directed by Dan Friedkin [no relation to the director William; this Friedkin’s father, Thomas, is a renowned stunt pilot] and adapted from the nonfiction book ‘The Man Who Made Vermeers’ by Jonathan Lopez, the movie opens with the discovery of ‘Jesus and the Adulteress,’ a work reputedly by Vermeer, stashed away by Hermann Göring. [Actor Claes] Bang’s character, Joseph Piller, is eager to track down whoever sold it to the Nazis, despite his misgivings about the firing squads he sees dispensing rough justice in Amsterdam.” Read more…)

Archenemy (superhero action, Joe Manganiello. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%. Metacritic: 57. From Glenn Kenny’s RogerEbert.com review: “Since it was first popularized in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen comic/graphic novel in the mid-’80s, the ‘superhero on the skids’ trope hasn’t had all that many iterations on film. There was 2008’s ‘Hancock,’ starring Will Smith as the titular drunkard/anti-Superman; and of course the character of Wolverine, featured in several pictures, has his ups and downs. In ‘Archenemy,’ the fellow with above-average powers, who guzzles booze in alleyways and punches walls to no avail while complaining ‘I used … to punch holes … in space,’ bemoans his lost powers while insisting on not being called a superhero.“ Read more…)

The Croods: A New Age (animated feature, Nicolas Cage [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 77%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 56. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “No one would call it a huge leap on the evolutionary ladder, but the animated sequel ‘The Croods: A New Age’ is slightly funnier than its serviceable 2013 predecessor. That movie followed a family of cave persons — whose patriarch was the lunkheaded but big-hearted Grug [voiced by Nicolas Cage] — as they left the safety of the rocky alcove they called home and, thanks to the creativity of an outsider, Guy [Ryan Reynolds], embraced more innovative ways of thinking.” Read more…)

A Call to Spy (historical drama/thriller, Sarah Megan Thomas. Rotten Tomatoes: 72%. Metacritic: 65. From Lovia Gyarke’s New York Times review: “‘A Call to Spy’ is a welcome, albeit imperfect, addition to the existing slate of movies about World War II. The propulsive historical drama, which was written by Sarah Megan Thomas (she also plays Virginia Hall, one of the three leads) and directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher, explores the lives of three remarkable women who served as spies for the Allied nations.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
The Last Vermeer
The Croods: A New Age

New Foreign
Mandabi (Senegal, 1968, comedy directed by Ousmane Sembene, Criterion Collection, Makhouredia Gueye. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Roger Greespun’s 1969 New York Times review [requires login]: “‘Mandabi’ which played last night at the New York Film Festivals, is the second feature to have been directed by Ousmane Sembène, the Senegalese novelist and filmmaker. As a comedy dealing with life’s miseries, it displays a controlled sophistication in the telling that gives it a feeling of almost classic directness and simplicity. What Sembène does not make his camera do means more than what many virtuoso directors do make their cameras do.” Read more…)

Jiang Ziya (China, animated feature. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. From Peter DeBruge’s Variety review: “This parallel tale feels more respectful, composed and rendered in such a way that nearly every frame (certainly a great many of its wide shots) might be considered artful — as in the sunset-tinged sight of Jiang Ziya, framed by wheat fields, his back to the ‘camera,’ facing the Ruins of Return. Maxfield Parrish, meet your match. Directors Teng Cheng and Li Wei have dedicated serious attention to creating a stunning dramatic atmosphere for a story that, truth be told, is still plenty confusing to non-Chinese audiences.” Read more…)

Le Joli Mai aka The Lovely Month of May (France, 1963, Chris Marker documentary. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. From Vincent Canby’s 1966 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “[Director Chris] Marker has a penetrating camera and a penetrating mind. Both are employed with a searching persistence in this film, dissecting Paris, dissecting the people who live in Paris. It is not the tourist’s Paris or even the Parisian’s Paris, but rather the Paris of the social worker, the newspaperman, the policeman, the man whose work takes him down the forbidding alleyways, the menacing dead-end streets and who asks questions, endlessly asks questions, questions, questions.” Read more…)

Oki’s Movie (South Korea, 2010, comedy/drama anthology, Jung Yu-mi. Rotten Tomatoes: 82%. Metacritic: 78. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Nicolas Rapold’s Times review: “The four interrelated tales of ‘Oki’s Movie,’ Hong Sang-soo’s beguiling new film, are preceded by ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ played over handwritten credits. Elgar’s stately march becomes an ironic refrain to the misadventures and regrets of the three recurring characters, two men and a woman, who navigate different stages in their lives at a film school. The unsubtle musical theme is also a sharp contrast to Mr. Hong’s casually brilliant feat of storytelling, akin to an ingeniously wrought suite of literary short fiction.” Read more…)

A Touch of Zen (Taiwan, 1971, martial arts, Hsu Feng. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. From A.H. Weiler’s 1976 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “As a Renaissance man also credited with the film’s art direction and costumes, King Hu, who reportedly spent several years on this king-sized [three-hour] project, is obviously as dedicated to visual beauty and meditative Zen concepts as he is to action. And his views of gloomy bamboo forests, sun-dappled, green or rocky mountain crevasses and rushing rivers and waterfalls make truly spectacular backgrounds to both the peaceful and warring moods of the monks and the combatants.” Read more…)

Six In Paris (France, 1965, vignettes/drama, Barbet Schroder. Rotten Tomatoes: 75%.)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
The Corn Is Green (1945, drama, Bette Davis. From Bosley Crowther’s 1945 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The regnant and moving performance that Ethel Barrymore gave as the light-spreading English school teacher in Emlyn Williams’ stage play, ‘The Corn Is Green,’ has been challenged by Warners’ Bette Davis in that studio’s film version of the play, a generally faithful transcript of the original which came to the Hollywood yesterday. And whenever Miss Davis is permitted to back away from the camera and really act, it must be said that her trenchant characterization is a close match to that of the legitimate’s ‘queen.’ For Miss Davis gives a clear and warm conception of the middle-aged spinster who throws her dominating zeal into the patient cultivation of the mind of a Welsh mining lad.” Read more…)

New TV
Underground: Season 2 (adventure/drama/history series, Jurnee Smollett. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 79.)

New Documentaries
You Never Had It: An Evening with Bukowski (reading, literature, bohemianism, Charles Bukowski. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Owen Gleiberman’s Variety review: “Charles Bukowski, the legendary gutter-rat-of-Los-Angeles author and poet, had such a pungent public image — the raw-meat face, like a bulldog’s mug sculpted out of hamburger; the fights and fornications and benders; the notes-from-the-underground beatnik derelict mystique — that watching “You Never Had It: An Evening with Bukowski,” you may be surprised to hear how tender and gentle and calmly pensive his voice is. He speaks not in a cantankerous bellow but a mellifluous purr, like a Norman Mailer who’d been mellowed out by Los Angeles.” Read more…)

The Thin Blue Line (1988, Criterion Collection, dir. by Errol Morris, crime, justice issues, civil liberties. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 79. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Janet Maslin’s 1988 Times review [requires log-in]: “Errol Morris, the director of ”The Thin Blue Line,’ has fashioned a brilliant work of pulp fiction around this crime. Mr. Morris’s film is both an investigation of the murder and a nightmarish meditation on the difference between truth and fiction, an alarming glimpse at the many distortions that have shaped [then-death row inmate Randall] Adams’s destiny.” Read more…)

X: The Unheard Music (1986, music bio, punk rock, concert footage, X. From Janet Maslin’s 1986 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “W. T. Morgan, who wrote and directed the film, gives it a fast, loud, kaleidoscopic style, flashing lots of different images and never lingering on anything for very long. The effect is appropriate to X’s music, but can’t easily sustain something as long as a feature-film format. Still, ‘The Unheard Music’ is a revealing look at the band, and it touches a lot of different bases.” Read more…)