New releases 6/24/14

Top Hits
Winter’s Tale (romance/drama, Colin Farrell. Rotten Tomatoes: 13%. Metacritic: 31. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin’s 1983 best seller, was the Goldfinch of its time: fat and ambitious, with a romantic view of New York City and an unabashed commitment to the kind of old-fashioned narrative abundance that seemed, then as now, to be missing from too much literary fiction. It is a bit surprising that the movie adaptation [written and directed by Akiva Goldsman] has taken so long to arrive, though perhaps less surprising that it should be so clumsy and inert, a lumbering white elephant rather than the flying white horse that is the novel’s magical mascot.” Read more…)

Rob the Mob (thriller, Michael Pitt. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 31. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Bright and fleet, Rob the Mob is a firm step up from the undiluted corn of Mr. De Felitta’s 2010 feature, City Island. This time he has delegated the script to Jonathan Fernandez, who writes tight scenes that don’t peter out and dialogue that gives Tommy and Rosie’s dumb-and-dumber partnership a chipper charm. Vividly painting Queens in the early 1990s as a landscape of crack and graffiti, the filmmakers go on to smother any menace with a swoony-upbeat soundtrack and an ‘oh, those kooky kids’ tone.” Read more…)

Some Velvet Morning (romance/drama, Stanley Tucci. Rotten Tomatoes: 57%. Metacritic: 54. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “It’s difficult to discuss Some Velvet Morning, the latest movie from Neil LaBute, without giving away too much. This is by design. Set entirely inside a Brooklyn brownstone — with a brief trip to the backyard — this gendered gabfest has been constructed along familiar LaButian lines. A man and a woman pace like inmates, jawing and clawing and drawing metaphoric [or not] blood, and then Mr. LaBute, rather like a mean O. Henry, tosses in a detonating surprise that either changes what you’ve thought until that moment or ticks you off. This audience baiting is also very much by design, of course, and can be playful or sadistic or both, or neither.” Read more…)

300: Rise of an Empire (warrior war action, Sullivan Stapleton. Rotten Tomatoes: 41%. Metacritic: 48. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “Classical historians disagree, but it was probably Herodotus who first posed a question that would ring out across the ages, unanswered till now: Wouldn’t Eva Green look awesome kissing the severed head of an insolent captive? 300: Rise of an Empire puts the issue to rest [the answer: yes, but it’ll never last] and strives to uphold the rah-rah style of visuals and rhetoric established by its popular predecessor, 300.” Read more…)

What Richard Did (Ireland, drama, Jack Reynor. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 80. A New York Times critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “This brilliantly acted movie, a loose adaptation of Kevin Power’s book Bad Day in Blackrock, directed by Lenny Abrahamson from a screenplay by Malcolm Campbell, confronts the implications for both Richard and for the tightly knit community that reflexively protects one of its own. The film scrutinizes this affluent milieu with a nonjudgmental attitude that makes its impact all the more devastating. Everyone just wishes the situation would go away.” Read more…)

Blood Ties (crime drama, Clive Owen. Rotten Tomatoes: 49%. Metacritic: 46. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Hollywood gangster movies, especially those directed by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, have conditioned us to expect every film in the genre to follow particular guidelines or risk feeling inauthentic. That’s the obstacle that the French director Guillaume Canet [Tell No One] cannot surmount in Blood Ties, his laborious, tonally wobbly attempt at an American crime epic. If it’s unfair to expect a reputable European director to follow that template, so be it. But by now, those expectations have been programmed into us. Every wrong note, of which there are dozens in Blood Ties, feels almost traitorous.” Read more…)

Joe (drama, Nicolas Cage. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 73. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “The most indelible scenes in David Gordon Green’s Joe, filmed in the backwoods of Texas, have the fierce clarity of illuminations glimpsed in a lightning flash. In one lingering afterimage, a team of mostly African-American laborers, toiling in a desiccated pine forest, methodically poison sickly trees with ‘juice hatchets’ [small axes that squirt deadly herbicide] to kill them off and make room for the planting of hardier species. These woodsmen, played by nonprofessionals, share an easy, rough-hewn camaraderie. They are the least tormented characters in Joe, a punishing exercise in Southern miserablism.” Read more…)

Enemy (drama, Jake Gyllenhaal. Rotten Tomatoes: 74%. Metacritic: 60. From A.O. Scott’s New York times review: “In Enemy, Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of a novella by the Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese novelist José Saramago, Jake Gyllenhaal plays two uncannily identical residents of an unnamed Canadian city. They are physically identical, in any case, but temperamentally distinct in ways that begin to suggest Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, to name another famous literary pair. And the question that haunts the film is whether they are really different people at all, or just sides of a single disordered personality.” Read more…)

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (actor profile, show business, Elaine Stritch. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 80. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “‘A Molotov cocktail of madness, sanity and genius.’ That is one description of the great Broadway and cabaret entertainer Elaine Stritch in Chiemi Karasawa’s acutely intimate documentary portrait, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me. It was filmed as Ms. Stritch was preparing her cabaret show ‘Elaine Stritch Singin’ Sondheim … One Song at a Time,’ while coping with diabetes and worsening memory loss. Her fierce lust for life mirrors Dylan Thomas’s dictum ‘Old age should burn and rave at close of day.'” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Winter’s Tale
300: Rise of An Empire

The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Night (1964, remastered pop culture masterpiece, The Beatles. Rotten Tomatoes: 99%. Metacritic: 95.)

New Foreign
What Richard Did (Ireland, drama, Jack Reynor, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 80. A New York Times critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “This brilliantly acted movie, a loose adaptation of Kevin Power’s book Bad Day in Blackrock, directed by Lenny Abrahamson from a screenplay by Malcolm Campbell, confronts the implications for both Richard and for the tightly knit community that reflexively protects one of its own. The film scrutinizes this affluent milieu with a nonjudgmental attitude that makes its impact all the more devastating. Everyone just wishes the situation would go away.” Read more…)

Two Lives (Norway, drama, Liv Ullmann. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 62. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “The anxious, melancholic drama Two Lives is the story of a woman caught up in the toxic backwash of long-ago events that exert a fearful grip on the present. Unholy forces shaped the double life of this woman, Katrine [Juliane Köhler, Nowhere in Africa]. Happily married and living in Norway, she has a secret past that merges two of the darker chapters of 20th-century European history.” Read more…)

New TV
Masters of Sex: Season 1 (Showtime historical drama, Michael Sheen. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 85. From Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times television review: “Masters of Sex isn’t everything you wanted to know about Masters and Johnson but were afraid to ask. This Showtime series remystifies the sex researchers famous for demystifying sex. William H. Masters and his collaborator, Virginia Johnson, sought to deconstruct the physiology of pleasure during the dark ages before the sexual revolution. Masters of Sex, starting on Sunday, does an elegant job of reframing their strange, complicated and at times deeply cynical partnership into a twisted but intriguing love story.” Read more…)

The Bridge: Season 1 (crime thriller series, Diane Kruger. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 77. From Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times television review: “The Scandinavian version of The Bridge  [Bron/Broen] begins with a body laid across the halfway point on a bridge between Denmark and Sweden. The American adaptation of The Bridge puts the corpse on the border between Mexico and the United States. This FX series, which starts on Wednesday, should be as good or better than the original. Danish television, in particular, is known for sinister, psychologically dense crime series, but it’s hard to imagine that there is much to the cultural collision between Copenhagen and Malmo, except for maybe the narcissism of small differences. [Swedish detectives snicker at the accent of an inspector from Copenhagen.] Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, on the other hand, are rich in cultural divides and social discord.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (actor profile, show business, Elaine Stritch, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 80.)

New releases 6/17/14

Top Hits
The Grand Budapest Hotel (comedy, Ralph Fiennes. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 88. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “It’s a tough choice, but if I had to pick the most Wes Anderson moment in The Grand Budapest Hotel, it would be the part when inmates escape from a prison using tiny sledgehammers and pickaxes that have been smuggled past the guards inside fancy frosted pastries. This may, come to think of it, be the most Wes Anderson thing ever, the very quintessence of his impish, ingenious and oddly practical imagination. So much care has been lavished on the conceit and its execution that you can only smile in admiration, even if you are also rolling your eyes a little. The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mr. Anderson’s eighth feature, will delight his fans, but even those inclined to grumble that it’s just more of the same patented whimsy might want to look again. As a sometime grumbler and longtime fan, I found myself not only charmed and touched but also moved to a new level of respect.” Read more…)

The Lego Movie (animated feature, Chris Pratt [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 82. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The visual environment created by the filmmakers [Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of 21 Jump Street wrote and directed; the animation is by Animal Logic] hums with wit and imagination. Although the images are computer generated, they move, for the most part, according to the pleasingly herky-jerky logic of hand-guided stop-motion. You are always aware that you are looking at a world of interlocking plastic blocks, an illusion enhanced in the 3-D version of the film. Smoke, sand and water are all made out of Lego, as are high-rise cities, pirate ships, mountains and a zone of free-form fantasy called Cloud Cuckoo Land.” Read more…)

Ernest & Celestine (France, animation/comedy/drama, Forest Whitaker. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 86. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “A tale of mice and bears, derring-do and dentistry, this lovely animated movie originated in a cycle of children’s books by the Belgian writer and artist Gabrielle Vincent [1929-2000]. The books have simple stories, titles like Celestine and Ernest’s Picnic, and Vincent’s enchanting illustrations, which are characterized by graceful lines, muted colors and blurred edges that focus your attention on animals that, in their poignant delicacy, evoke Beatrix Potter. The screen character designs are broader and more overtly comic, but the three directors — Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier — have retained enough of Vincent’s charming vision that the movie feels intimate and personal, as if it, too, had sprung from a single hand.” Read more…)

House of Cards: Season 2 (political drama series, Kevin Spacey. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 76. From Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times television review: “Season 2 is as immersed in the battlegrounds of governing as The West Wing was: entitlements, Chinese cyberespionage, anthrax scares, parliamentary procedure, government shutdowns. But that Aaron Sorkin series on NBC ennobled politics. House of Cards, which was adapted from a 1990 British series of the same title, eviscerates it. And while the second season picks up where Season 1 left off [the tagline is ‘The race for power continues’], this continuation is possibly even darker and more compelling than the first.” Read more…)

Alan Partridge (comedy, Steve Coogan. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 66. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Can unpleasantness be its own kind of charm? The British comedian and actor Steve Coogan has built a career around the answer “well yes, sort of.” American audiences that know him for his uncharacteristically sweet turn in Philomena or his role as the miniature Roman soldier in Night at the Museum movies may have a distorted view of his talents. As a character named ‘Steve Coogan’ [in The Trip and elsewhere], he has satirized the fragile vanity of the semicelebrity class. But his greatest creation may be a broadcaster named Alan Partridge, a man whose Wikipedia entry helpfully describes him as ‘an insecure, superficial and narcissistic “wally.”‘” Read more…)

Mother of George (indie drama, Danai Gurira. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 77. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “There is something irresistible about a movie that begins with a wedding [think of The Godfather], and there are few movie weddings as beautiful as the one at the start of Mother of George, Andrew Dosunmu’s gorgeous and delicate new drama. The party, a swirl of color, music and sentiment, observed with an eye for telling details of behavior, sets the tone — exuberant, dignified, a little bit anxious — for what is to follow.” Read more…)

Broken Side of Time (drama from local filmmaker Gorman Bechard, Lynn Mancinelli)
Son of Batman (animated comic book action)

New Blu-Ray
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Lego Movie

New Foreign
Ernest & Celestine (France, animation/comedy/drama, Forest Whitaker, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 86. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “A tale of mice and bears, derring-do and dentistry, this lovely animated movie originated in a cycle of children’s books by the Belgian writer and artist Gabrielle Vincent [1929-2000]. The books have simple stories, titles like Celestine and Ernest’s Picnic, and Vincent’s enchanting illustrations, which are characterized by graceful lines, muted colors and blurred edges that focus your attention on animals that, in their poignant delicacy, evoke Beatrix Potter. The screen character designs are broader and more overtly comic, but the three directors — Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier — have retained enough of Vincent’s charming vision that the movie feels intimate and personal, as if it, too, had sprung from a single hand.” Read more…)

Omar (Palestine, drama/thriller, Adam Bakri. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 75. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: :”Hany Abu-Assad’s new film, Omar, is about Israeli-Palestinian violence and also about three friends, young men who seem familiar almost as soon as we see them together. Tarek [Eyad Hourani] is the leader, Amjad [Samer Bisharat] is the joker, and Omar [Adam Bakri] is the sensitive one, handsome and athletic with the soul of a poet. He and Amjad are both in love with Tarek’s sister Nadia [Leem Lubany], but their rivalry is kept in check by their affection for each other and by strict customs governing courtship and family life. As he did in earlier films like Rana’s Wedding [2003] and Paradise Now [2005], a sympathetic portrait of two would-be suicide bombers, Mr. Abu-Assad, a Palestinian born in the Israeli city of Nazareth, juxtaposes the routines of everyday life in the West Bank with the brutal facts of Israeli occupation and the resistance to it.” Read more…)

New British
Alan Partridge (comedy, Steve Coogan, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 66. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Can unpleasantness be its own kind of charm? The British comedian and actor Steve Coogan has built a career around the answer “well yes, sort of.” American audiences that know him for his uncharacteristically sweet turn in Philomena or his role as the miniature Roman soldier in Night at the Museum movies may have a distorted view of his talents. As a character named ‘Steve Coogan’ [in The Trip and elsewhere], he has satirized the fragile vanity of the semicelebrity class. But his greatest creation may be a broadcaster named Alan Partridge, a man whose Wikipedia entry helpfully describes him as ‘an insecure, superficial and narcissistic “wally.”‘” Read more…)

New TV
House of Cards: Season 2 (political drama series, Kevin Spacey, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 76. From Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times television review: “Season 2 is as immersed in the battlegrounds of governing as The West Wing was: entitlements, Chinese cyberespionage, anthrax scares, parliamentary procedure, government shutdowns. But that Aaron Sorkin series on NBC ennobled politics. House of Cards, which was adapted from a 1990 British series of the same title, eviscerates it. And while the second season picks up where Season 1 left off [the tagline is ‘The race for power continues’], this continuation is possibly even darker and more compelling than the first.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
The Upsetter: The Life & Times of Lee Scratch Perry (reggae titan/eccentric bio)

New Music
The Upsetter: The Life & Times of Lee Scratch Perry (reggae titan/eccentric bio, in New Music)

New Children’s DVDs
The Lego Movie (animated feature, Chris Pratt [voice], in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 82. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The visual environment created by the filmmakers [Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of 21 Jump Street wrote and directed; the animation is by Animal Logic] hums with wit and imagination. Although the images are computer generated, they move, for the most part, according to the pleasingly herky-jerky logic of hand-guided stop-motion. You are always aware that you are looking at a world of interlocking plastic blocks, an illusion enhanced in the 3-D version of the film. Smoke, sand and water are all made out of Lego, as are high-rise cities, pirate ships, mountains and a zone of free-form fantasy called Cloud Cuckoo Land.” Read more…)

Ernest & Celestine (France, animation/comedy/drama, Forest Whitaker, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 86. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “A tale of mice and bears, derring-do and dentistry, this lovely animated movie originated in a cycle of children’s books by the Belgian writer and artist Gabrielle Vincent [1929-2000]. The books have simple stories, titles like Celestine and Ernest’s Picnic, and Vincent’s enchanting illustrations, which are characterized by graceful lines, muted colors and blurred edges that focus your attention on animals that, in their poignant delicacy, evoke Beatrix Potter. The screen character designs are broader and more overtly comic, but the three directors — Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier — have retained enough of Vincent’s charming vision that the movie feels intimate and personal, as if it, too, had sprung from a single hand.” Read more…)