New Releases 06/25/13

Top Hits
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (comedy, Steve Carell. Rotten Tomatoes: 37%. Metacritic: 44. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Is that Steve Carell or Will Ferrell? While watching The Incredible Burt Wonderstone you may be forgiven for confusing the two, since Mr. Carell’s title character, a vainglorious Las Vegas magician, is drawn straight from the Will Ferrell playbook. With his stage partner and childhood friend, Anton Marvelton [Steve Buscemi], Burt is the leader of a tacky, swashbuckling magic act that is about to hit the skids after 10 years at the top. Through their spangled jumpsuits, sprayed coifs and preening choreography, they suggest the Siegfried and Roy of illusionists. But after years of going through the motions, they have let their act become stale and passionless.” Read more…)

No (Chile, political drama, Gael Garcia Bernal. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 81. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Marshall McLuhan called advertising the greatest art form of the 20th century. In No, Pablo Larraín’s sly, smart, fictionalized tale about the art of the sell during a fraught period in Chilean history, advertising isn’t only an art; it’s also a way of life. That’s certainly true for the young adman, Rene Saavedra [Gael García Bernal], who skateboards through the movie, pausing now and again to care for his son or dash off another ad campaign. When approached to help create one to oust Gen. Augusto Pinochet, he signs on. Rene may be vaguely interested in selling the country on life without Pinochet, but what reels him in is the challenge of pitching a superior product.” Read more…)

Last Exorcism 2 (horror, Ashley Bell. Rotten Tomatoes: 17%. Metacritic: 35. From Andy Webster’s New York Times review: “The Last Exorcism Part II belongs to a flourishing genre you could call terror tease. Devoid of nudity, gore and obscene dialogue, PG-13 films like the Paranormal Activity series and the first Last Exorcism eschew graphic violence for mood and minor scares — perfect for Friday-night mall outings without Mom and Dad. If only they gave you more to think about. At least this movie, like its predecessor, has Ashley Bell as Nell. An actress who suggests religious piety, carnal fire and satanic aggression with equal dexterity, Ms. Bell provides a pulse an audience can connect with amid the standard-issue atmospheric accouterments.” Read more…)

The Call (thriller, Halle Berry. Rotten Tomatoes: 41%. Metacritic: 51. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “An effectively creepy thriller about a 911 operator and a young miss in peril, The Call is a model of low-budget filmmaking. Well, as low as anything starring Halle Berry goes. It’s probable that Ms. Berry was the priciest item in the budget, followed by the movie’s one other conspicuous expenditure, a sprawling 911 dispatch center called the hive. Buzzing with the trills of incoming calls and the hum of reassuring voices, the hive is where every rote greeting — ‘911, what is your emergency?’ — becomes the opening line in a never-ending procession of melodramas, comedies, dramas, tragedies and horror stories like the one that puts the chill in this no-frills diversion.” Read more…)

Barbershop Punk (documentary, Internet freedom, corporate power, technology. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. Metacritic: 57. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Andy Webster’s Times review: “Net neutrality — the idea that Internet service providers should not play favorites with Web sites and applications, and keep Web traffic equally open to all — is the focus of Barbershop Punk, an engaging, provocative documentary using one man’s crusade against Comcast [now merged with NBC Universal] to explore issues of Web freedom. Robb Topolski, a former policeman, was a grandfather, software tester and barbershop-quartet baritone in Hillsboro, Ore., who found that Comcast, his Internet service provider, was interfering with his peer-to-peer sharing of public-domain material. The Associated Press picked up his story, and the Federal Communications Commission eventually issued a ruling against Comcast, since shot down by an appeals court.” Read more…)

It’s A Disaster (dark comedy, Julia Stiles. Rotten Tomatoes: 77%. Metacritic: 57. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “It may be the end of the world, but they feel fine, even oblivious. That, at any rate, appears to be the principal, really the only point of the impishly, unfortunately titled It’s a Disaster, an underbaked comedy about eight people facing their mortality. Set in the present, it mostly unfolds in a Los Angeles house within gasping distance of a large-scale catastrophe of the kind usually let loose by masters of disaster, like Roland Emmerich. The writer and director, Todd Berger, is working on a far smaller scale than his blockbuster brethren do, and that may explain why he keeps calamitous details fuzzy, using two corpses, a Hazmat suit and a murder of crows to suggest the apocalyptic big picture.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
The Call

New Foreign
No (Chile, political drama, Gael Garcia Bernal, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 81. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Marshall McLuhan called advertising the greatest art form of the 20th century. In No, Pablo Larraín’s sly, smart, fictionalized tale about the art of the sell during a fraught period in Chilean history, advertising isn’t only an art; it’s also a way of life. That’s certainly true for the young adman, Rene Saavedra [Gael García Bernal], who skateboards through the movie, pausing now and again to care for his son or dash off another ad campaign. When approached to help create one to oust Gen. Augusto Pinochet, he signs on. Rene may be vaguely interested in selling the country on life without Pinochet, but what reels him in is the challenge of pitching a superior product.” Read more…)

Borgen: Season 2 (Denmark, political drama TV series, Sidse Babett Knudsen)

New Brit
Inspector Lewis: Series 6

New Docs
Barbershop Punk (documentary, Internet freedom, corporate power, technology, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. Metacritic: 57. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Andy Webster’s Times review: “Net neutrality — the idea that Internet service providers should not play favorites with Web sites and applications, and keep Web traffic equally open to all — is the focus of Barbershop Punk, an engaging, provocative documentary using one man’s crusade against Comcast [now merged with NBC Universal] to explore issues of Web freedom. Robb Topolski, a former policeman, was a grandfather, software tester and barbershop-quartet baritone in Hillsboro, Ore., who found that Comcast, his Internet service provider, was interfering with his peer-to-peer sharing of public-domain material. The Associated Press picked up his story, and the Federal Communications Commission eventually issued a ruling against Comcast, since shot down by an appeals court.” Read more…)

A Place at the Table (social policy, hunger, food issues, economics. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 68. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Stepping lightly and carrying a very small stick, A Place at the Table documents hunger in America with studied politeness. Revealing little that a moderately informed viewer will not already know, the film shies away from the outrage and bare-knuckle journalism that this shameful topic deserves.” Read more…)

Art of the Erotic: The Outsiders (art, sexuality, censorship, Barbara Nitke)

New Children’s DVDs
Green Lantern: The Animated Series

New Audiobooks
Blood Line (James Rollins, fiction)
And When She Was Good (Laura Lippman, crime fiction)
Flight Behavior (Barbara Kingsolver, novel)
Telegraph Avenue (Michael Chabon, novel)
Who I Am (Pete Townshend, autobiography)
Live By Night (Dennis Lehane, mystery)
Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky, classic novel)
Mayflower (Nathaniel Philbrick, history)
Beautiful Ruins (Jess Walter, novel)

Rob Harmon’s Recommendation 06/25/13

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picks

Rob Harmon

A fascinating trend in the history of American filmmaking is that many excellent filmmakers (and some not so much) have come here from other countries in order to make movies. While Hollywood exercises enormous influence on the world cinema scene just think of how much the outsider-perspectives of F.W. Murnau’s SUNRISE or Alex Cox’s REPO MAN or the bodies of works by Lubitsch and Wilder have affected our film culture.

STOKER should be regarded in this light: It is the first English-language film of South Korean director Park Chan-wook, who came into prominence in the early 2000’s with his gritty “Revenge” trilogy (SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, OLDBOY, LADY VENGEANCE), as well as the taut military thriller JSA: JOINT SECURITY AREA. Park developed a reputation for infusing lofty, almost Shakespearean themes with a violent genre sensibility. He was embraced by critics as well as by fans of “extreme” cinema for his bloody, baroque meditations on violence and revenge and their effects on the human psyche.

Like many of Park’s previous efforts Stoker is a thriller, and an effective, gruesome one at that. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) has just turned 18 and is a friendless outcast in high school. To make matters worse her father and best friend in the world (Dermot Mulroney) has just died in a mysterious car accident on her birthday, while her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode, the character’s name a clever nod to Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT), whom she never even knew existed, shows up at the palatial Stoker home announcing that he will stay, to the delight of India’s unstable, sexually-frustrated mother Evie (Nicole Kidman). India is more skeptical about Charlie, though, and his urbane, world-traveling exploits. When a number of people—the housekeeper, an aunt—begin to disappear, it may be that Charlie is behind it, as well as a number of other dark family secrets.  The Stokers are an unusual bunch, each of them more-than-capable of stoking this story along: India in her virginal white outfits but with an unusual taste for bird hunting; Evie with her pent-up sexuality and mid-life crisis; and Charlie, almost too-perfectly handsome, just couldn’t be a murderer… or could he?

During its 99 lean minutes, Stoker conjures up a kind of Grimm’s fairy tale-like atmosphere, one where blood-and-guts and hints of eroticism are the engines of grandiose storytelling. There is a great deal of psycho-sexual tension at work in this family and Park and his screenwriter (first-timer Wentworth Miller, better known as an actor until now) are wise enough to never reveal too much of their hand, subtle enough to leave a lot to the imagination. Stoker proves that—similarly to CARRIE—in a story about a young girl’s pubescent awakening to the cruel realities of the world, blood-letting can be a remarkably effective metaphor. Though highly stylized, this film never loses it grounding and its heart: the family unit, grotesque though it may be.

Many of Park Chan-wook’s films are available for rental in our Korean section, including Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, JSA: Joint Security Area and Thirst.