New Releases 01/08/13

Top Hits

Game Change (political drama, Julianne Moore. Rotten Tomatoes: 63%. Metacritic: 74. From Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times review: “You just can’t get good help anymore. That was the lesson of the 2008 Republican presidential campaign, and it could be why Downton Abbey is such a hit. There is something so old-fashioned and romantic about servants, or aides, who put loyalty above their own self-interest. Game Change, an engaging HBO docudrama on Saturday night, is told through the eyes of the advisers who developed the losing strategy of Senator John McCain of Arizona and Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. In this iteration Steve Schmidt [Woody Harrelson], the senior adviser, is the war hero, and Senator McCain [Ed Harris] comes off as a crusty old soldier who follows orders but can’t help grousing.” Read more…)

Dredd (sci-fi action, Karl Urban. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%. Metacritic: 59. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times was apparently in the minority regarding Dredd: “It’s bang, bang, splat, splat for the 98 unmodulated minutes that are Dredd 3D, an action movie written by Alex Garland and directed by Pete Travis. Grim, gory and devoid of pleasure, kinetic or otherwise, this is the second big-screen take on the British comics series Judge Dredd, after a 1995 Sylvester Stallone vehicle best remembered for Sly’s shiny, oversize codpiece. Like that movie, this one takes place in ye olde dystopia, a neo-wild West in which the gizmos look futuristic, but everything else — the drooling cretins, generic innocents, slathering villainy and fascistic overtones — is B-movie familiar, although with 100 percent more digitally enhanced carnage.” Read more…)

Frankenweenie (Tim Burton animated feature, Catherine O’Hara. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 74. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Like Martin Scorsese’s Hugo last year before it, Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie — a 3-D, black-and-white stop-motion animated spectacle for thrill-seeking film geeks of all ages — uses the latest technology as a way of expressing nostalgia for the cinematic past. The first scene, a clever movie within the movie, pretends to show a hand-spliced Super 8 blockbuster made by a boy using toys, a pet dog and limitless ingenuity. From that lovely beginning, Mr. Burton and his collaborators [notably the screenwriter John August and the British puppet design specialists Mackinnon & Saunders] spin a sweet and creepy homage to classic monster movies.” Read more…)

Seal Team Six (war drama, Cam Gigandet. Metacritic: 54. From Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times television review: “Harvey Weinstein, one of Mr. Obama’s most loyal Hollywood backers, is an executive producer, and the film uses real-life footage of the president alongside make-believe dialogue, gritty battle scenes and archival clips of Sept. 11 and other terrorist attacks. It’s an ode to presidential resolve, wrapped in a thick layer of Special Forces derring-do that is so red, white and blue it would make Karl Rove blush. As a movie, however, it’s not nearly as gripping as it could be, given how harrowing and suspenseful the actual events were on the night of May 2, 2011. The filmmaking is at times derivative and heavy-handed, and the score is unrelenting and unbearable: an electronic thumpa-thumpa pounding that sounds like music to inject blood boosters by.” Read more…)

Compliance (drama, Ann Dowd. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 68. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Confining extremes of human behavior to a single, drab room, Compliance, the squirmy sophomore feature from the writer and director Craig Zobel, is a slow-motion punch to the groin. As such, it’s fitting that one of our first sights is a large ‘NO’ stenciled in the parking lot of a fast-food joint in suburban Ohio: as the film progresses, the word becomes a silent mantra for viewers who can’t quite believe what they’re seeing.” Read more…)

Hit & Run (action comedy, Dax Shepard. Rotten Tomatoes: 47%. Metacritic: 50. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Dax Shepard, the writer, co-director and star of the silly, occasionally amusing car chase comedy Hit & Run, isn’t the first actor to be defined by a signature television role. Like James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano, Crosby Braverman, the California man-child Mr. Shepard plays on Parenthood, [53 episodes and counting], is so indelible that, like it or not, everything else Mr. Shepard does registers as a pallid reflection.” Read more…)

The Inbetweeners (comedy, Simon Bird. Rotten Tomatoes: 54%. Metacritic: 44. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “There’s little overt violence in The Inbetweeners, a nearly laugh-free British comedy about four teenage boys who travel to Malia, in Crete, to drink and have sex and then drink some more when they don’t have sex. Even so, there’s a noticeable thuggish undertow to the scenes of the teenagers boozing and sometimes spewing their way through a foreign city amid hundreds of their similarly sodden, wretched and retching countrymen and women. Like the soccer hooligans, these partygoers take a city, though here they mount the invasion through kinder, gentler inebriation.” Read more…)

Jack & Diane (horror/romance, Juno Temple. Rotten Tomatoes: 10%. Metacritic: 45. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “A teenage Sapphic fairy tale freighted with extraneous metaphorical baggage, Jack & Diane offers a glaring example of a writer and director, Bradley Rust Gray, unable to trust in the simple strength of his material. Or in the unaffected talent of his stars. As the doll-like Diane, a British naïf on a New York City vacation, Juno Temple is a perfect Alice buffeted by a bewildering Wonderland. Soon to leave for fashion school in Paris [which, judging by her outfits, seems an excellent plan], Diane is unprepared for the emotional whammy of Jack [Riley Keough, eerily recalling the young Sigourney Weaver]. As the two saunter through the streets and grope urgently in bathrooms, the film, inventively photographed by Anne Misawa, becomes a mesmerizing portrait of first love in all its confusion and ecstasy.” Read more…)

Stella Days (drama, Martin Sheen. Rotten Tomatoes: 60%. Metacritic: 56. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Stella Days opens with the last rites and closes with a first for a tiny rural parish in Tipperary, Ireland: a movie theater. In between boil all sorts of shenanigans, most of them in the vicinity of Father Daniel Barry [Martin Sheen], a well-traveled priest on loan from the Vatican. More progressive than his bishop or parishioners would like, the good father soon learns that electricity and enlightenment are to be equally distrusted.” Read more…)

House at the End of the Street (horror, Jennifer Lawrence. Rotten Tomatoes: 11%. Metacritic: 31. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “At a certain point this would-be shocker suddenly jerks into high gear and becomes a blatant, incompetent rip-off of Psycho. The film’s director, Mark Tonerai [Hush], and screenwriter, David Loucka [Dream House], working from a story by Jonathan Mostow [Surrogates], have concocted an unwieldy hybrid of that Hitchcock classic and standard teenage horror films.” Read more…)

Touchback (sports drama, Kurt Russell)

Now Is Good (drama, Dakota Fanning. Rotten Tomatoes: 56%.)

Stolen (action, Nicolas Cage. Rotten Tomatoes: 13%.)

New Blu-Ray

Samsara (documentary, nature/science. Rotten Tomatoes: 76. Metacritic: 65. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times revew: “Ron Fricke’s new film, Samsara, shot in a grand and vibrant 70-millimeter format — including some remarkable time-lapse photography — is partly a Sontagian case for sustainability. Or, to adapt the food-obsessed ecological language of the moment, it presents a visual argument for slow looking, for careful, meditative attention to what is seen. A spool of arresting, beautifully composed shots without narration or dialogue, Samsara is an invitation to watch closely and to suspend interpretation [another notion Sontag might have approved].” Read more…)

Cape Fear (1962, thriller, Gregory Peck. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1962 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “A cold-blooded, calculated build-up of sadistic menace and shivering dread is accomplished with frightening adroitness in J. Lee Thompson’s melodrama Cape Fear, which clubbed its way into the Victoria and the Trans-Lux Eighty-fifth Street yesterday. And the word on it is: don’t take the children. If you want to be horrified, that’s your business. But don’t expose the youngsters to the ordeal of watching this film.” Read more…)

Game Change

Dredd

Frankenweenie

Cosmopolis

New Foreign

The Assassins (China, warrior drama, Chow Yun-Fat)

New British

Having A Wild Weekend (1965, music/comedy, Dave Clark 5. From Bosley Crowther’s 1965 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Close on the heels of the Beatles as a rock ‘n’ roll singing group and now as movie performers has come the Dave Clark Five, a gaggle of mop-heads from London. They still have a way to go to match the Liverpudlians’ popularity, and so far as singing is concerned—well, experts in that department tell me the Beatles are still the most. But this much they do have in common: the Dave Clark fellows’ first feature film, Having a Wild Weekend, which came to neighborhood theaters yesterday, is as much of a surprise, in an odd way, as was the Beatles’ first film, A Hard Day’s Night. And it should prejudice a lot of adults in their favor, as the Beatles’ film did for them. It is not the same sort of picture. Where the Beatles’ film was, in a sense, a galloping surrealistic satire on the phenomenon of themselves and their fans, this one is an almost wistful romance, laced with surrealistic farce, about the eagerness of overexposed young showfolk to get away from it all and find some peace… Again, the equality of the picture—its point of view and its tone—must be credited to the writer and director, Peter Nichols and John Boorman, respectively. They have worked out a wacky story that makes a degree of common sense, and Mr. Boorman, who is new to movie-making, has given it an amazing, fascinating off-beat pace.” Read more…)

Midsomer Murders Set 21


New Documentaries

Gerhard Richter Painting (art, Gerhard Richter. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 77. From Rachel Saltz’s New York Times review: “Gerhard Richter may not fling paint at the canvas, Jackson Pollock-style, but as Corinna Belz shows in her documentary Gerhard Richter Painting, he can be his own kind of action painter. Working on a series of recent abstracts, he brushes big swaths of primary color onto canvas. Then comes the more physical part: He takes a squeegee loaded with a single pigment and drags it across the surface. Each swipe covers the old painting and reveals a new composition. Watching this can be fascinating, even exciting. After all, it prompts a fundamental movie question: What happens next?” Read more…)

Family Portrait in Black and White (Ukraine, racism, family dynamics. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 73. From Neil Genzlinmger’s New York Times review: “Family Portrait in Black and White, a documentary by Julia Ivanova, leaves a lot of questions unanswered, which is frustrating, but it gets high marks for honesty. It would have been easy for this film, which is about a woman in Ukraine and the more than 20 adopted and foster children she has taken in, to be a hagiography, but instead it’s a portrait of an imperfect solution in a country that seems to have a lot that needs solving.” Read more…)

New Gay & Lesbian

Jack & Diane (horror/romance, Juno Temple in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 10%. Metacritic: 45. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “A teenage Sapphic fairy tale freighted with extraneous metaphorical baggage, Jack & Diane offers a glaring example of a writer and director, Bradley Rust Gray, unable to trust in the simple strength of his material. Or in the unaffected talent of his stars. As the doll-like Diane, a British naïf on a New York City vacation, Juno Temple is a perfect Alice buffeted by a bewildering Wonderland. Soon to leave for fashion school in Paris [which, judging by her outfits, seems an excellent plan], Diane is unprepared for the emotional whammy of Jack [Riley Keough, eerily recalling the young Sigourney Weaver]. As the two saunter through the streets and grope urgently in bathrooms, the film, inventively photographed by Anne Misawa, becomes a mesmerizing portrait of first love in all its confusion and ecstasy.” Read more…)

The Falls (drama, Nick Ferrucci)

New Music

Having A Wild Weekend (1965, music/comedy, Dave Clark 5, in New British. From Bosley Crowther’s 1965 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Close on the heels of the Beatles as a rock ‘n’ roll singing group and now as movie performers has come the Dave Clark Five, a gaggle of mop-heads from London. They still have a way to go to match the Liverpudlians’ popularity, and so far as singing is concerned—well, experts in that department tell me the Beatles are still the most. But this much they do have in common: the Dave Clark fellows’ first feature film, Having a Wild Weekend, which came to neighborhood theaters yesterday, is as much of a surprise, in an odd way, as was the Beatles’ first film, A Hard Day’s Night. And it should prejudice a lot of adults in their favor, as the Beatles’ film did for them. It is not the same sort of picture. Where the Beatles’ film was, in a sense, a galloping surrealistic satire on the phenomenon of themselves and their fans, this one is an almost wistful romance, laced with surrealistic farce, about the eagerness of overexposed young showfolk to get away from it all and find some peace… Again, the equality of the picture—its point of view and its tone—must be credited to the writer and director, Peter Nichols and John Boorman, respectively. They have worked out a wacky story that makes a degree of common sense, and Mr. Boorman, who is new to movie-making, has given it an amazing, fascinating off-beat pace.” Read more…)

New Children’s DVDs

Frankenweenie (Tim Burton animated feature, Catherine O’Hara, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 74. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Like Martin Scorsese’s Hugo last year before it, Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie — a 3-D, black-and-white stop-motion animated spectacle for thrill-seeking film geeks of all ages — uses the latest technology as a way of expressing nostalgia for the cinematic past. The first scene, a clever movie within the movie, pretends to show a hand-spliced Super 8 blockbuster made by a boy using toys, a pet dog and limitless ingenuity. From that lovely beginning, Mr. Burton and his collaborators [notably the screenwriter John August and the British puppet design specialists Mackinnon & Saunders] spin a sweet and creepy homage to classic monster movies.” Read more…)

Hank’s Recommendations 01/08/13

GAME CHANGE — This is a cannily entertaining dramatization of the sixty days between the selection of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate and the subsequent defeat of their campaign against Obama. It plays on what engrossed us then and adds background material that ups the fascination.

The casting is perfect. Julianne Moore and Ed Harris nail their portrayals of Palin and McCain. But it’s Woody Harrelson, in a somber role that eschews the usual wiseass spin of his characters, who takes command of the film. Playing McCain’s chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, It’s mostly through his eyes and those of his communications director (Sarah Paulson) that we see the inability of McCain’s team to command the dogmatic yet ignorant, obsequious yet headstrong Governor of Alaska. The failure and frustration of their diligent attempts to tutor the dim yet headstrong Palin leads only to the inexorable collapse of the campaign and the ironic rise of Palin‘s own star celebrity.

Above all, this is a fun movie that zips along with good dialogue.

“You know what Dick Cheney said when he found out we picked her? …He said we made a reckless choice. When you lose the high ground to Dick Cheney it’s time to rethink your entire life?”

And it offers us a double pleasure. We can enjoy this in our living rooms while not suffering regret for an election that might have gone the other way.

SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION – This oft-requested film, adapted from Ken Kesey’s second novel and ably directed by its star, Paul Newman, has just arrived in DVD and Blu ray. Unlike Milos Forman’s adaptation of Kesey’s debut ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, which largely takes place in interior locations and deals with interior states of mind, this film takes place in the rugged outdoors of Oregon’s lumber industry. There, a prodigal son (Michael Sarrazin) returns to the rough and tumble Stamper family, longtime loggers who are the sole holdouts against a union’s attempt to organize their community, strikebreaking their fellow loggers in order to fulfill their own word on contracts. As if logging itself wasn’t dangerous enough, their motto of “never give an inch” is dangerously angering their likewise rough and tumble neighbors.

That motto—which is sometimes a great notion and sometimes not—is reflexively use against themselves as well, and is threatening to rend their family asunder.

It’s a great cast (including Henry Fonda, Lee Remick and Richard Jeckel) and the logging scenes themselves are fascinating. There are two scenes in this at times high voltage drama that are justifiably famous: one tragic and one triumphant that alone makes this film worth the price of admission.

A RATHER ENGLISH MARRIAGE — One of my keen pleasures in watching the franchise-restoring SKYFALL, the latest James Bond film, was seeing yet one more indelibly fine performance by an actor I had thought gone from the stage: Albert Finney as Bond’s longtime retainer at the otherwise abandoned moorland manse where Bond grew up.

We just happened to watch another magnificent Finney performance in a BAFTA Award winning movie, adapted from an Angela Carter novel, made in 1998: A Rather English Marriage. Here a milkman (Tom Courtenay) and a blustery wealthy former WWII squadron leader (Finney) become “odd couple” housemates after their wives die minutes apart in the same hospital. Poignantly shared reminiscences and current outside conflicts (e.g. an alluring gold digger played by Joanna Lumley) cause these two to transcend class lines and personality differences to become a third “rather English marriage.” It’s a pleasure to see Courtney and Lumley but it’s Finney who once again brings force and range to a sensitively limned performance.  This film can be found in our New British Arrivals section.