New Releases 12/16/14

Top Hits
Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen-directed romance/comedy, Colin Firth. Rotten Tomatoes: 54%. Metacritic: 51. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “‘Magic in the Moonlight,’ Woody Allen’s new film, stages a debate that will be familiar to anyone who has seen more than a couple of the previous 43. There are various ways to characterize the argument: between reason and superstition; between doubt and faith; between realism and magic. On one side is the belief in some kind of unseen, metaphysical force governing the universe; on the other is the certainty, shared by the director, that no such thing exists. Not incidentally — and not for the first time in Mr. Allen’s oeuvre — the opposed positions are advanced by a dyspeptic middle-aged intellectual and a much younger, relatively untutored woman.” Read more…)

This Is Where I Leave You (drama, Jason Bateman. Rotten Tomatoes: 42%. Metacritic: 44. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Shortly after Judd Altman discovers his wife in bed with his boss, he learns that his father has died. The old man’s dying wish was that the Altman family — his widow and their four children — observe the Jewish custom of sitting shiva, even though he was never especially religious. That means spending seven days together in a big suburban house, accepting condolences amid platters of food. For Judd, embodied by Jason Bateman with his usual air of beleaguered responsibility, a family reunion following a marital calamity is a nightmare. For ‘This Is Where I Leave You,’ Shawn Levy’s adaptation of Jonathan Tropper’s comic best seller, it’s a promising start.” Read more…)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (comic Book action, Megan Fox. Rotten Tomatoes: 22%. Metacritic: 31. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “The shelled foursome of ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ was commodified so early in its infancy, during the toy fads of the 1980s, that it’s difficult to get riled up over the latest piece of cinematic merchandising. Produced by the ‘Transformers’ impresario Michael Bay and directed by the dutiful Jonathan Liebesman, this new adventure is executed so ordinarily, and with such tunnel vision, that it feels homogenized.” Read more…)

The Skeleton Twins (comedy/drama, Bill Hader. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 74. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “The movie, directed by Craig Johnson [the tiny indie ‘True Adolescents’] from a screenplay he wrote with Mark Heyman (a writer on “Black Swan”), is keenly attuned to the bonds of siblings, especially twins. If countless movies about brothers and sisters reveal common family traits, ‘The Skeleton Twins’ is subtler than most in evoking a mutual sympathy that might be called a cellular understanding.” Read more…)

The Maze Runner (action, Dylan O’Brien. Rotten Tomatoes: 63%. Metacritic: 56. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “‘The Maze Runner,’ adapted from James Dashner’s novel, is a perfectly serviceable entry in the young-adult dystopian sweepstakes. It combines elements of ‘Lord of the Flies’ with the Minotaur and Orpheus myths, but it plays as something closer to ‘The Hunger Games’ experienced through a dissociative fog. Much suspense comes from wondering which favored Hollywood twist the movie will employ. Is this actually the present day? Has someone blown up the planet?” Read more…)

The Skeleton Twins (comedy/drama, Bill Hader. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 74. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “The movie, directed by Craig Johnson [the tiny indie ‘True Adolescents’] from a screenplay he wrote with Mark Heyman (a writer on “Black Swan”), is keenly attuned to the bonds of siblings, especially twins. If countless movies about brothers and sisters reveal common family traits, ‘The Skeleton Twins’ is subtler than most in evoking a mutual sympathy that might be called a cellular understanding.” Read more…)

New Blu-Rays
The Maze Runner
This Is Where I Leave You

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Edge of the City (1957, social drama, Sidney Poitier. From Bosley Crowther’s 1957 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “There may be a half-dozen moments in the ambitious little film ‘Edge of the City,’ which made it to Broadway and Loew’s State yesterday, when you feel that the author and the director (not to mention the actors) are coming close to some sort of fair articulation of the complexities of racial brotherhood. One is when John Cassavetes, as a hobo just come to town and going to work as a hustler of freight in a West Side terminal, sits down at lunch hour with Sidney Poitier, as a Negro experienced at the work, and goes through a terse and guarded routine of getting acquainted with him.” Read more…)

New Television
Arrested Development: Season 4
The Americans: Season 2
Broad City: Season 1

New Documentaries
20,000 Days on Earth (music bio, Nick Cave. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 83. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “‘Memory is what we are. Your very soul and your very reason to be alive are tied up in memory.’ So observes the dour songwriter Nick Cave during an interview with the noted British psychoanalyst Darian Leader, in ‘20,000 Days on Earth.’ The film, a fusion of documentary and drama directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, is a fictional re-creation of the 20,000th day of Mr. Cave’s life, when he started recording his 2013 album, ‘Push the Sky Away.’ It is as intimate and honest a portrait of a rock artist’s creative roots as any film has attempted.” Read more…)

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (pop music, Alex Chilton. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 69. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “Forty years ago a mob of rock critics gathered for a convention cooked up by a promoter for the Memphis band Big Star, which played a praised set. That image of a cherished, practically mythic concert for an adoring and grateful few helps lay down the mood for ‘Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.’ A well-sourced account of a perfect, broken dream, Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori’s slightly shaggy documentary captures what it’s like to discover music so good it seems as if it were made just for you.” Read more…)

Monsenor: The Last Journey of Oscar Romero (Latin American history, war, religion, Oscar Romero)

New Music DVDs
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (pop music, Alex Chilton. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 69. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “Forty years ago a mob of rock critics gathered for a convention cooked up by a promoter for the Memphis band Big Star, which played a praised set. That image of a cherished, practically mythic concert for an adoring and grateful few helps lay down the mood for ‘Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.’ A well-sourced account of a perfect, broken dream, Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori’s slightly shaggy documentary captures what it’s like to discover music so good it seems as if it were made just for you.” Read more…)

20,000 Days on Earth (music bio, Nick Cave. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 83. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “‘Memory is what we are. Your very soul and your very reason to be alive are tied up in memory.’ So observes the dour songwriter Nick Cave during an interview with the noted British psychoanalyst Darian Leader, in ‘20,000 Days on Earth.’ The film, a fusion of documentary and drama directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, is a fictional re-creation of the 20,000th day of Mr. Cave’s life, when he started recording his 2013 album, ‘Push the Sky Away.’ It is as intimate and honest a portrait of a rock artist’s creative roots as any film has attempted.” Read more…)

Hank’s Recommendations 12/16/14

hank_paperHANK’S PICKS 12/16/14

WINTER’S BONE

WINTER’S BONE was my favorite movie of 2011. An independent film that only grossed seven million dollars, it rocketed Jennifer Lawrence to fame (SILVER LINING PLAYBOOK, THE HUNGER GAMES franchise) and made a supporting star of John Hawkes. I saw it three times (a recommendation right there). Nothing can be as perfect (to my mind) as this film, but all of the films below partake, to some good extent, of its setting and virtues. (Yes, even — and perhaps especially — Jerry Lee Lewis.)

JOE

Nicholas Cage has had, as they say, a storied career. For the last ten years, due to personal financial trouble, he’s been an action hero in second-rate films that — since they don’t rely heavily on character and dialogue — play well in international markets. But do you remember LEAVING LAS VEGAS (he won the Best Actor Oscar for that), MOONSTRUCK, ADAPTATION, GUARDING TESS, RED ROCK WEST, WILD AT HEART, RAISING ARIZONA (The Coen Brother’s second movie), PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED, BIRDY? All Nicholas Cage headliners that feature his great acting range.

Well, Nicholas Cage is back — in JOE, a small independent film about a hard-drinking ex-con with anger management issues who finds himself taking on a 15 year old boy trying to escape a violent father. In this emotionally powerful drama, Cage is a firm but empathetic foreman of a Mississippi crew that clandestinely poisons trees for a lumber company that wants to plant stronger pines. But he’s got a decent stake and a shot at redemption. Can he make a move toward a stronger self?

OUT OF THE FURNACE

A beautiful rural part of the country is disintegrating under war and the economy in OUT OF THE FURNACE, and so is Christian Bale, a decent man with a violent past trying to lead a life of integrity. He’s abiding by his own work ethic through a meaningless job at a steel mill while loyally trying to protect his impulsive, self-destructive brother (Casey Affleck) — just returned from Iraq — from his involvement in a crime gang. Unfortunately for Bale, decency, integrity and loyalty only seem to point him to an act of revenge he doesn’t want to take.

Made by Scott Cooper, the writer/director of CRAZY HEART, the film features an amazing cast that includes Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, the ubiquitous Sam Shepard, and Woody Harrelson as a bad-to-the-bone crime gang leader whose very presence on the screen raises anxiety.

LAST MAN STANDING

Rick Bragg just came out with a biography of Jerry Lee Lewis (reviewed in this week’s NYTimes Book Review by Stephen King), but, in a sense, the real bio is this DVD, JERRY LEE LEWIS: LAST MAN STANDING. Boogieing through a wide selection of material, this generous live show features on-the-money performances of his hits along with duets with a dozen top tier music stars (including Willie Nelson, Ron Wood, Buddy Guy, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, John Fogerty and Kid Rock).

Some of these pairings, as with Tom Jones, and with Norah Jones, would seem to be unlikely, which only proves the point of his talent: “the Killer” is smooth as silk with whomever he plays with and whatever the material. His voice styling is unique and his piano playing pyrotechnic and, yes, gorgeous (he never even glances at the keys, only at his partners).

The man is an iconic confluence of boogie-woogie, country, rock ‘n’ roll and gospel, all drenched in the blues; he even invests fresh feeling in old chestnuts such as “The Green, Green Grass of Home,” “Over the Rainbow, and “That Lucky Old Sun.” He may not literally be “the last man standing” of his generation of greats (there’s Mick Jagger, for one), but his resilience is unpredictable and explosive.

And since it’s the holiday season, you can special order a copy from Best Video for your favorite cousin.