New releases 7/2/19

Top Hits
The Best of Enemies (civil rights drama, Taraji P. Henson. Rotten Tomatoes: 53%. Metacritic: 49. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “In 1971, C.P. Ellis was the Exalted Cyclops of the Durham, N.C., klavern of the United Klans of America. Ann Atwater was a fair-housing activist, advocating for better treatment for the city’s African-American residents. The beginning of their unlikely real-life friendship is the subject of ‘The Best of Enemies,’ the latest muddled and well-meaning big-screen attempt to find solace in the history of American racism. Don’t get me wrong. The facts of the story, chronicled in a book by Osha Gray Davidson, are eye-opening and inspiring, and the film, written and directed by Robin Bissell, includes some fascinating details about the granular challenges of local politics. As Ellis and Atwater, Sam Rockwell and Taraji P. Henson do what you expect Oscar-nominated actors to do: They clarify and complicate their characters, paying attention to their individuality even as the movie loads them up with symbolic baggage.” Read more…)

Storm Boy (Australia, coming-of-age, Geoffrey Rush. Rotten Tomatoes: 66%. Metacritic: 67. From Teo Bugbee’s New York Times review: “‘Storm Boy’ tries to present itself as a modern fable, where the lessons learned relate directly to present-day concerns over the environment, industrialization and the marginalization of indigenous cultures. But these themes come across as didactic rather than moving. The cinematography is frequently beautiful, in large part because of the majesty of South Australia’s Coorong region, where the movie was shot. But the ham-fisted dialogue saps the energy from the images, drawing attention to the thinness of archetypal characters. And the centrality of white characters who learn from a noble native undermines the film’s attempts at political relevance.” Read more…)

The Public (drama, Alec Baldwin. Rotten Tomatoes: 61%. Metacritic: 46. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “Apart from Frederick Wiseman’s ‘Ex Libris: The New York Public Library,’ few movies have celebrated book-lending institutions as havens of fair-mindedness and pluralism, so it’s tempting to give a pass to ‘The Public’ as a rousing, lovingly made civics lesson, even if its screenplay does not seem fated for shelves. Emilio Estevez wrote, directed and served as a producer on the film; he is also its star. Inspired by an essay that appeared in The Los Angeles Times in 2007, the movie isn’t the actor-filmmaker’s first brush with earnest Americana. [His ensemble piece ‘Bobby’ (2006) tried to capture the optimism at the Ambassador Hotel in 1968 as admirers of Robert F. Kennedy awaited his arrival.] But it may be his most substantive.” Read more…)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral (comedy, Tyler Perry. Rotten Tomatoes: 12%. Metacritic: 39. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “What Perry lacks in filmmaking rigor — like its predecessors, ‘Family Funeral’ is a bit of a mess, formally and technically — he makes up for in generosity. The movie is the usual plateful of low humor and high melodrama, in no particular hurry to make its way through a busy plot.” Read more…)

The Case for Christ (religious/inspirational, Mike Vogel. Rotten Tomatoes: 58%. Metacritic: 50.)
Okko’s Inn (Japanese animated feature. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 68.)

New Blu-Ray
Taking Tiger Mountain (1983, dystopian adventure, Bill Paxton [first role])

New Foreign
Styx (Germany, adventure, Susanne Wolff. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 78. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “A taut moral thriller, ‘Styx’ is a story of what happens when self-reliance runs into other people’s desperation. The lives of others don’t seem of much concern to a German doctor, Rike [Susanne Wolff], when she sets off on her adventure. Alone on a 30-foot sailing yacht, she is headed to Ascension Island, a mid-Atlantic speck roughly halfway between Africa and South America. With grit, provisions and a pretty coffee-table book about the island that suggests her romanticism, or perhaps naïveté, Rike is following Charles Darwin to Ascension. It’s a dream journey that will slam into the refugee crisis. One woman’s dream can look like someone else’s worst nightmare, even if the director Wolfgang Fischer initially makes Rike’s passage into existential isolation seem inviting.” Read more…)

A Man and A Woman: 20 Years Later (France, 1986, romance, Anouk Aimee. Rotten Tomatoes: 33%.)
Detective Montalbano: Eposodes 33 & 34 (Italy, detective series, Luca Zingaretti)
Spiral: Seasons 4, 5 (France, gritty cop procedural series, Caroline Proust)

New British
Endeavour: Season 6 (mystery series, Shaun Evans. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 80.)
Orphan Black: Season 5 (sci-fi, Tatiana Maslany. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 83.)

New TV
My Brilliant Friend: Season 1 (HBO drama set in Italy, Valentina Acca. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 87. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From James Poniewozik’s Times review: “HBO’s new series ‘My Brilliant Friend,’ based on the wildly popular Neapolitan novels of Elena Ferrante, is a different but no smaller challenge [than adapting ‘Game of Thrones’]. The story of a febrile and rivalrous friendship between two girls in a working-class Italian neighborhood in the 1950s, it is as intimate as “Game of Thrones” is sweeping.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Taking Tiger Mountain (1983, dystopian adventure, Bill Paxton [first role])
The Big Fix (1978, mystery/comedy, Richard Dreyfuss. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%.)

New Documentaries
The River and The Wall (documentary, adventure, immigration. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 89. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “‘The River and the Wall’ comes on as innocent and glossy as a travelogue, but its scenic delights are the sugar coating on a passionate and spectacularly photographed political message. Traveling 1,200 miles along the Rio Grande, from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico, the director, Ben Masters, and four friends slowly and genially build an ecologically devastating case against the construction of President Trump’s much-ballyhooed border wall.” Read more…)

Combat Obscura (Marine-made war documentary, re-purposing of footage shot for official purposes. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 56. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “‘Combat Obscura’ opens with multiple disclaimers stating that nothing onscreen reflects official policy or has Defense Department endorsement. Given that the next moment the screen shows an explosion — and someone shouts ‘that’s the wrong building!’ — the reason for the warnings is immediately apparent. As a United States Marine in Afghanistan, Miles Lagoze, the director, worked as a videographer, documenting scenes of war for official release. [We see a clip of such material on CNN midway through the film.] Somehow, Lagoze kept his hands on unreleased footage he and others shot in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012, and made it the basis for this film.” Read more…)

Hale County This Morning, This Evening (African-American life in Hale County, Alabama. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 85. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “The Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky famously defined the work of a filmmaker as ‘sculpting in time.’ In his book of that title, Tarkovsky elaborated that the filmmaker, starting with ‘an enormous, solid cluster of living facts,’ ought to discard what is not needed and keep only what is ‘integral to the cinematic image.’ For the director RaMell Ross’s first feature, ‘Hale County This Morning, This Evening,’ he has carved a film of less than 80 minutes out of 1,300 hours of footage shot over several years. The particularity and power of the larger cinematic image he has created through a multiplicity of moments are impossible to adequately describe in critical prose.” Read more…)

Active Measures (Russian espionage, 2016 election. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 68. From Ken Jaworowski’s New York Times review: “Eager to make you uncomfortable, ‘Active Measures’ piles on the ire as it outlines Russian efforts to manipulate world events, particularly the 2016 American presidential election. Directed by Jack Bryan, this documentary starts by summarizing Vladimir V. Putin’s career through the time of his election as Russia’s president. In the heaps of interviews, video clips and flow charts that follow, we hear of links between Mr. Putin and Donald J. Trump; of extensive work done by Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, for Russia; and of foreign shell companies that launder funds for organized crime.” Read more…)

The Russian Five (sports, hockey, Russian players. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 75. From Ken Jaworowski’s New York Times review: “This documentary, directed by Joshua Riehl, recounts the story of the Detroit Red Wings of the 1980s and the early- to mid-90s. The team was a study in calamity. It hadn’t won a championship since 1955, and morale was abysmal, hence its nickname, the Dead Wings. The franchise was sold in 1982 to Mike Ilitch, the founder of the Little Caesars pizza chain, and the team’s management moved forward with a risky plan: To recruit star athletes from the Soviet Union.” Read more…)