New releases 12/21/21

Top Hits
No Time to Die (James Bond action, Daniel Craig. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 68. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “As the knots in the plot are straightened out, the intricacies of spycraft recede in favor of a ponderous, familiar drama of sacrifice and revenge. The gloomy alpha villain [an ultra-gothy Rami Malek], who wants to wipe out much of humanity and is a mixture of curdled idealism and unhealed trauma, may remind you of Thanos in the final ‘Avengers’ movies. And the overall vibe — a look that is both opulent and generic; a tone that mixes brisk professionalism with maundering self-pity; an aggressive, exhausting fusion of grandiosity and fun — is more superhero saga than espionage caper.” Read more…)

The Many Saints of Newark (Sopranos prequel, Michael Gandolfini. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. Metacritic: 60. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Movie spinoffs can be tough to pull off. Nothing felt at stake when I watched, oh, the first ‘Brady Bunch’ movie, but its source material wasn’t a critical fetish, something that inspired excited discussions on masculinity, the latest golden age of television and the effect on the industry. ‘The Sopranos,’ though, was too good, too memorable, and its hold on the popular imagination remains unshakable. It still casts a spell, and the movie knows it, which is why it sticks to the tired template of a boy’s own story rather than taking a radical turn, like revisiting Tony’s world from Giuseppina’s or Livia’s or Harold’s points of view.” Read more…)

Blue Bayou (drama, Justin Chon. Rotten Tomatoes: 74%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 58. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “In its unsubtle way, ‘Blue Bayou’ strives to draw attention to the precarious limbo inhabited by foreign-born adoptees whose citizenship was never finalized. When an innocent argument in a supermarket lands Antonio on the wrong side of two police officers — one of whom [Mark O’Brien] is Jessie’s biological father and the other [Emory Cohen] no more than a bundle of boorish clichés — the incident heralds a series of escalating threats to a life that’s already far from secure.” Read more…)

The Last Duel (history/drama, Matt Damon. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 67. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “It’s no surprise that Ridley Scott, who’s made his share of swaggering manly epics, has directed what may be the big screen’s first medieval feminist revenge saga. In addition to his love for men with mighty swords, Scott has an affinity for tough women, women who are prickly and difficult and thinking, not bodacious cartoons. They’re invariably lovely, of course, but then everything in Ridley Scott’s dream world has an exalted shimmer.” Read more…)

South of Heaven (action/drama, Jason Sudeikis. Rotten Tomatoes: 43%. Metacritic: 42. From Amy Nicholson’s New York Times review: “Aharon Keshales, who directed the film and wrote it alongside Kai Mark and Navot Papushado, aspires to say something about misunderstood antiheroes and the futility of escalating vengeance. [His and Papushado’s previous thriller, ‘Big Bad Wolves,’ had real bite.] Here, however, the execution is at once laconic and nonsensical.” Read more…)

Venom: Let there Be Carnage (superhero action, Tom Hardy. Rotten Tomatoes: 58%. Metacritic: 48%. From Amy Nicholson’s New York Times review; “Yes, there are battles — all of them exponentially less interesting than a twitch of Hardy’s eyebrow. ‘Let There Be Carnage’ flourishes in high-energy moments and feeds off low expectations; it’s the mold in the Avengers’ shower. Perhaps the next installment could do away with the pretense of these dingbats needing to save the world?” Read more…)

The Card Counter (thriller/drama, Oscar Isaac. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 77. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “The solitary man in a room is [director Paul] Schrader’s most indelible authorial signature, a defining image and idea in one. That figure most famously appears in his script for ‘Taxi Driver,’ in which Travis Bickle, the cabby turned killer, pours out his rancid and bland thoughts; and he is the fulcrum of movies that Schrader has directed, notably ‘Light Sleeper’ and ‘First Reformed.’ The solitary man returns in ‘The Card Counter,’ a haunting, moving story of spirit and flesh, sin and redemption, love and death about another lonely soul, William Tell, who, with pen to paper, grapples with his present and his unspeakable past.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
No Time to Die
The Many Saints of Newark
Venom: Let there Be Carnage
The Card Counter

New Foreign DVDs
Undine (Germany, romance/drama, Paula Beer. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 75. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “[Director Christian] Petzold’s cinematic storytelling style is elegant but unfussy, perfectly complemented by Hans Fromm’s cinematography and by the sparely used music, which includes the Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafsson’s dreamy interpretations of Bach and the Bee Gees’ ‘Stayin’ Alive.’ ‘Undine’ is ultimately more enigmatic than most of Petzold’s work. It is also, like its title character, eerily beautiful.” Read more…)

Gomorrah: Season 2 (Italy, gangster series, Marco D’Amore. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. From Mike Hale’s 2017 capsule New York Times review: “Based on the same book as the 2008 film ‘Gomorrah,’ the show is a brooding, propulsive, totally addictive story of rival gangster clans in modern-day Naples, shot like a Brutalist chiaroscuro nightmare. Like any good Mafia tale, Season 2 begins in the aftermath of slaughter, with the mohawked hothead Genny [Salvatore Esposito] clinging to life and his gang wiped out.” Read more…)

Luzzu (Malta, drama, Jesmark Scicluna. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 79. From Natalia Winkelman’s New York Times review: “In ‘Luzzu,’ his first feature film, [director Alex] Camilleri demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of how small moments can build a sense of place: sandals on the salty floor of a fishery; a metal scraper peeling paint from a hull; a priest blessing boats for safe passage. Malta’s views are arresting, but the images Camilleri chooses would never be found in a travel brochure. In his subtle, vérité approach, he captures something special — not one man’s crisis, but a community’s culture.” Read more…)

The Auschwitz Report (Slovakia, historical drama, Noel Czuczor. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 79. From Gary Goldstein’s Los Angeles Times review: “The immersive historical drama ‘The Auschwitz Report,’ Slovakia’s submission for the 2020 international film Oscar, tells yet another true-life Holocaust-era tale of courage and daring with harrowing and deeply affecting results. Director Peter Bebjak, who wrote the film’s tense, propulsive script with Jozef Pastéka and Tomás Bombík, vividly re-creates several weeks in April 1944 in which Slovak Jewish prisoners Alfred Wetzler [Noel Czuczor] and Walter Rosenberg [Peter Ondrejicka] plotted and executed a death-defying escape from the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
The Learning Tree (1969, drama, Criterion Collection, Kyle Johnson. Rotten Tomatoes: 69%. From Roger Greenspun’s 1969 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Gordon Parks’s ‘The Learning Tree,’ which opened yesterday at the Trans-Lux East and West Theaters, does nothing else so well or so lovingly as celebrate the life of a small Kansas town where, 40 years ago, the races lived in real, if uneasy, accommodation. Such a world, its events heightened and somewhat ritualized from Mr. Parks’s own semi autobiographical novel, is the film’s real subject. In approaching it, the director occasionally achieves a vision that is at once without illusions and profoundly nostalgic.” Read more…)

Bedtime Story (1964, comedy, Marlon Brando. From Bosley Crowther’s 1964 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Marlon Brando is full of surprises. That’s part of his stock in trade. He loves to do the unexpected and then sit back and let his public gasp. That’s what he’s doing in ‘Bedtime Story,’ which came to the Palace yesterday. He is departing from his usual style completely and playing a ring-a-ding comedy character.” Read more…)