New releases 5/13/14

Top Hits
Her (futuristic drama, Joaquin Phoenix. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 90. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “She sounds like the girl next door — young, friendly, eager. For Theodore Twombly [Joaquin Phoenix], the poetically melancholic hero in Her, Spike Jonze’s exquisite new movie, that voice [Scarlett Johansson] is a lifeline to the world, which he has loosened his hold on since separating from his wife. The voice brightly greets him in the morning and, with a sexy huskiness, bids him good night in the evening. The voice organizes his files, gets him out of the house and, unlike some multitasking females, doesn’t complain about juggling her many roles as his assistant, comfort, turn-on, helpmate and savior — which makes her an ideal companion even if she’s also just software.” Read more…)

I, Frankenstein (fantasy adventure, Aaron Eckhardt. Rotten Tomatoes: 4%. Metacritic: 30. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “Mary Shelley’s famous motherless child enters the angels-and-demons world of an apparent franchise bid in I, Frankenstein. Stuart Beattie’s solemn, ho-hum film largely shuns Shelley’s anguished creator as a character and turns his lonely monster into a football between the forces of good and evil: protective gargoyles and demons who covet his secret to immortality.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray

New Classics (pre-1960)
Home of the Brave (1949, war/social drama, Lloyd Bridges. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1949 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The urgent and delicate subject of anti-Negro prejudice, often remarked in Hollywood movies but never fully discussed in one of them, is finally advanced with thorough candor as the major theme of an entertainment film in Stanley Kramer’s ingenious production of Arthur Laurents’ play, Home of the Brave. And, to no one’s surprise, the subject makes for a drama of force and consequence—a film of emotional impact as well as strong intellectual appeal. It opened yesterday at the Victoria for what should be a significant run. For Mr. Kramer’s picture comes directly and honestly to grips with the evil of racial defamation, which is one of the cruelest disturbers in our land. It faithfully shows the shattering damage which racial bias ran do to one man. And it has not the slightest hesitation in using all the familiar, ugly words. Its impression upon the national audience will be most interesting to gauge.” Read more…)

New TV
Orange Is the New Black: Season 1 (prison drama, Metacritic: 79. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “First with ‘Weeds’ and now with ‘Orange Is the New Black,’ the television writer and producer Jenji Kohan has proved herself the master of an odd but successful narrative ploy: putting well-behaved middle-class white women in the middle of stories that typically feature rough nonwhite men. She further plays with our expectations by taking milieus usually associated with violence and heavy drama — drug dealing, prison life — and making them the subjects of lightly satirical dramedy.” Read more…)

Longmire: Season 2 (police procedural drama, Metacritic: 67.)

New Documentaries
Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? (director Michel Gondry, animation, linguistics, Noam Chomsky. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 76. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Blissfully unconventional as a documentary and as an intellectual endeavor, Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? won’t tell you everything you’ve always wanted to know about [linguist and political activist Noam] Chomsky, but its modesty is one of its strengths, along with [director Michel] Gondry’s entrancing, vibrant illustrations. Both go a long way toward smoothing over some rough patches.” Read more…)

Rob Harmon’s Picks 5/13/14

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksKatharine Hepburn’s Birthday

Last Wednesday I got out of work early and the weather was so beautiful that I felt like I just had to go… somewhere. Thinking ahead to this week I found myself driving down I-95 to Old Saybrook—it’s not far—where I got directions to Fenwick, down by the water. I had been there before but a long time ago. It was a mellow day and not much was going on: people were playing golf, the tennis courts being repaired, seagulls flapping in the breeze, etc. It was a nice day for a walk.

The pioneering actress Katharine Hepburn is gone, unfortunately, and her traces are easier to find amongst her large filmography than it is where she used to live at her family’s home in Fenwick, or anywhere else for that matter. Luckily, Best Video is stocked with movies by this most iconic of Nutmeggers and this week marks what would have been Hepburn’s 107th birthday (Monday, May 12th, to be exact), so what better way to celebrate?

Katharine Hepburn won a total of four Oscars in her long and storied career, for MORNING GLORY (1933), GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967), THE LION IN WINTER (1968), and ON GOLDEN POND (1981), and was nominated for a further eight, but awards do not do justice to her abilities as an actress.

Hepburn brought a rare combination of intelligence and gumption to the dramatic arts in Hollywood, equally at home in light romantic comedies and serious drama. Whether she intended it or not, she was trailblazing as a feminist icon, both in terms of style—brazenly wearing trousers in the 1930’s when such attire was frowned upon for women, for example—and gaining better roles for women—orchestrating her own “comeback” from the damning title of “box office poison” in 1938 with near-complete control over the film version of Philip Barry’s Broadway hit THE PHILADELPHIA STORY in 1940.

Today she is equally feted as actress, writer and source of pithy bon mots  (she wrote two books and is the subject of innumerable others, including a collection of quotes and sayings to live by), fashion trend-setter (her sartorial style is the subject of a recent book and a current costume exhibition at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford), romantic (her 25-year relationship with Spencer Tracy was something of an open-secret in Hollywood, and the fruitful on-screen partnership spawned 9 films), and Connecticut Yankee and all-around exemplar of independent living at a time when women in Hollywood—and women in general—were generally denied such freedom.

Below is an opinionated and not-wholly-scientific Top 13 List of Katharine Hepburn’s Best Movies:

1. HOLIDAY (dir. George Cukor, 1938)
2. BRINGING UP BABY (dir. Howard hawks, 1938)
3. ADAM’S RIB (dir. George Cukor, 1949)
4. The Philadelphia Story (dir. George Cukor, 1940)
5. The Lion in Winter (dir. Anthony Harvey, 1968)
6. WOMAN OF THE YEAR (dir. George Stevens, 1942)
7. LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1962)
8. STAGE DOOR (dir. Gregory La Cava, 1937)
9. SUMMERTIME (dir. David Lean, 1955)
10. THE AFRICAN QUEEN (dir. John Huston, 1951)
11. ALICE ADAMS (dir. George Stevens, 1935)
12. LITTLE WOMEN (dir. George Cukor, 1933)
13. PAT AND MIKE (dir. George Cukor, 1952)