New Releases 4/1/14

Top Hits
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (comedy, Will Ferrell. Rotten Tomatoes: 74%. Metacritic: 61. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is in danger of being overshadowed by its own marketing campaign. The recent media appearances by Ron Burgundy — impersonated, if you need reminding, by Will Ferrell — have the quality of commercial performance art. He has been ubiquitous, hawking Dodge Durango trucks, accepting a tribute from a journalism school and matching wits with members of the profession he exists to lampoon. That television news has so eagerly embraced Ron Burgundy may be evidence that the Anchorman movies don’t go far enough, satirically speaking. The man may be a vain, ethically obtuse, generally clueless buffoon, but it would not occur to him to allow a fictional character on his air to sell a product. He’s no George Stephanopoulos.” Read more…)

47 Ronin (martial arts, Keanu Reeves. Rotten Tomatoes: 12%. Metacritic: 29. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “Between the prospect of Hollywood’s sexing up a legendary Japanese story with rampaging C.G.I. monsters and the eager reports of a protracted production, there has been ample opportunity to hobble 47 Ronin long before its warriors finally emerge in theaters. But say what you will about this fantasy adventure, set in ‘a land shrouded in mystery’ [per the opening voice-over], it’s still a studio movie adaptation of a story that ends — centuries-old spoiler! — with mass ritual suicide. Credit due for that bit of faithfulness, I suppose — and Merry Christmas, by the way.” Read more…)

The Bag Man (thriller, John Cusack. Rotten Tomatoes: 10%. Metacritic: 28. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Robert De Niro’s silly pompadour in The Bag Man is one sign that this sardonic neo-noir, the first feature directed by David Grovic, has a cheeky sense of itself as something extra clever. Mr. De Niro plays Dragna, whose voluminous hairstyle — reminiscent of Paulie’s do on ‘The Sopranos’ — is also a reflection of his inflated ego.” Read more…)

In Fear (horror, Iain De Caestecker. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 66. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Considering that  In Fear unfolds almost entirely inside a moving vehicle, it’s remarkable how firmly it grasps our attention. Economical in the extreme — but without appearing cash-poor — this tightly wound thriller proves that minimal resources can sometimes produce more than satisfying results.” Read more…)

Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie (CGI dinosaurs, John Leguizamo [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 25%. Metacritic: 37. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “This family-friendly film combines computer-generated dinosaurs and real settings to tell a story of a herd on the move, struggling to survive and facing a leadership change complicated by budding romance. In other words, not unlike the struggle/change/romance story of The Lion King.” Read more…)

At Middleton (romance/comedy, Vera Farmiga. Rotten Tomatoes: 56%. Metacritic: 60. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Neil Genzlinger’s Times review: “Some advance publicity is describing At Middleton as a romantic comedy, but that is too simplistic a label for this delicate, restrained movie. Yes, it’s full of droll humor, but it’s also a bittersweet portrait of two people, who, in the process of helping their children choose a college, confront the emptiness of their respective marriages.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Anchorman 2
47 Ronin
The Past

New Foreign
The Past (Iran/France, drama/mystery, Tahar Rahim. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 85. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “As in [director Asghar Farhadi’s previous film] A Separation, the fractured central relationship is part of a much larger chain of minor and major life dramas, which here include an illicit affair, traumatized children and a comatose patient. Mr. Farhadi has a nice, deliberate sense of narrative timing and an art-film director’s resistance to exposition. His characters talk a great deal, but the full meaning of their words isn’t always readily apparent, at least at first.” Read more…)

Café de Flore (Canada/France, drama/romance, Vanessa Paradis. Rotten Tomatoes: 63%. Metacritic: 53. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Ethereal art rock is the aural adhesive connecting two stories set four decades apart on different continents in the Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée’s Café de Flore. This knotty contemplation of amour fou that transcends time and place is a movie for extreme romantics.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog (post-1960)
Trust (1990, Hal Hartley-directed comedy/drama, Adrienne Shelley. Rotten Tomatoes: 82%. From Caryn James’ New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Putting on her purple lipstick one morning, a teen-ager tells her father she’s pregnant. He calls her a slut, she slaps his face and the minute she stomps out the door he drops dead. Just as you were warned: if you break your father’s heart, it will kill him. The situation is part nightmare, part bad joke, and the perfect deadpan way to kick off Hal Hartley’s Trust.” Read more…)

New British
Broadchurch: Season 1 (mystery series, David Tennant. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 91. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “It’s a pre-eminent example of what could be called the new International Style in television drama: a moody, slow-moving, complicated crime story with damaged heroes and not much redemption to go around. It joins a roster of morbid whodunnits like “Top of the Lake” and “The Killing” — which, like “Broadchurch,” center on dead or missing children — as well as “The Bridge,” “The Fall,” “Rectify” and “Hannibal.” Murder, we moaned. Broadchurch” stands out among this crowd for a couple of reasons. One is that it manages to supply the fashionable existential dread while also providing a solid, Agatha Christie- or Dorothy Sayers-like mystery plot that proceeds at a deliberate pace through a cloud of plausible suspects with a minimum of confusion… More important, though, is the lift provided by the performers playing the odd-couple lead detectives.” Read more…)

George Gently: Series 6

Rob Harmon’s Picks 04/01/14

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksROB HARMON’S PICKS 4/1/14

Join us as we search this week for… Buried Treasure at Best Video!

Experiment in Terror (dir. Blake Edwards, 1962)

If you are in the mood this week for a nifty, classic thriller with tinges of noir, one sufficiently overlooked as to be – well – criminal, than my recommendation is to look in the Blake Edwards section of Best Video. “What?!” you are probably thinking. “You mean the same director responsible for such comedy classics as THE PINK PANTHER, A SHOT IN THE DARK, THE PARTY, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S and 10?” Could this be an April Fool’s joke or some indication of the confusion going on during Best Video’s current renovations? Not in the least.

EXPERIMENT IN TERROR opens with beautiful black-and-white night-time views of San Francisco, as frequent Edwards collaborator Henry Mancini’s score swells, the credits roll, and the camera follows the homeward journey by car of Kelly Sherwood (Lee Remick), via the Golden Gate Bridge. Upon arriving home in the—ulp!—Twin Peaks neighborhood and parking her car in the garage she is accosted by a man (Ross Martin) whose face is shrouded in shadow. He informs Kelly in his asthmatic wheeze of a voice that she is going to help him rob the bank where she works as a teller, or else he will kill both her and her teenage sister, Toby (Stefanie Powers), and—furthermore—that he has already killed twice before. After the intruder has left Kelly takes a risk and phones the FBI, in spite of his warning, and is connected with agent John Ripley (Glenn Ford) briefly before the line is cut. What ensues is a wonderfully twisty cat-and-mouse game between Kelly, Ripley and the FBI, and the psychopathic antagonist as he attempts to pull off the daring heist.

The film features two memorably eerie set pieces: one, the opening sequence in the garage where Kelly is held from behind by the unseen assailant and which takes place in close-up and (mostly) one startlingly-long take, with a few brief cutaways. Second, there is an extended sequence where the killer stalks a woman… in the shadowy interior of a mannequin studio! (Why not?)


Edwards’ direction is sure, unadorned, and marvelously economical, as one would expect from a filmmaker who had cut his teeth in the early days of television, on shows such as Mr. Lucky and Peter Gunn: from a greasy stool pigeon who spends his days in a moldering movie palace watching the Keystone Cops, to a noisy nightclub—overflowing with seedy revelers and undercover G-men—where Kelly is supposed to rendezvous with the antagonist. Experiment in Terror is stylishly baroque and filled with unexpected little details and flourishes, while the film’s overall atmosphere remains palpably perverse and nightmarish.

Remick and Ford are both solid in the leads and Martin makes for a memorably demented psychopath: his campaign of terror is icily effective and believably enacted.

Many iconic San Francisco locations are utilized and the city’s sleazy, decadent characterization is memorable, likely influencing later film classics such as BULLITT and DIRTY HARRY. Mancini’s score is one of the most distinctive ever composed, all throbbing electric bass line and the sound of two autoharps (an instrument similar to a zither), one jangly and out of tune and the other playing shimmering glissandos: one of the rare themes in movie history capable of searing itself into the brain after only a single listen. It manages also to compactly express the mood of Edwards’ film: a beautiful surface sheen – as befitting a picture made during the Camelot era – but one which covers over a dangerous, ugly reality and lurking menace. In spite of its title this is no mere “experiment”: Edwards proved early in his career—and before it would be defined by the madcap antics of Inspector Clouseau—that he was a versatile filmmaker worthy of note.

(And for further proof, also check out the tender and heartrending DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, which Edwards made the same year.)