New Releases 11/19/13

Top Hits
2 Guns (action, Denzel Washington. Rotten Tomatoes: 64%. Metacritic: 55. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Big bangs and fast talk are the name of the genre game in 2 Guns, a slick, slippery thriller that taps into the anarchic playfulness that made the best American action flicks of the 1980s and ’90s pop. Directed by Baltasar Kormakur, riffing on the cheerful irreverence of Shane Black and the hyperbolic style of Tony Scott, the movie turns on a pair of seemingly bad guys who may be good. A reissue of the five-part comic series on which it’s based sets the scene nicely: ‘Two guys walk into a bank. It goes badly.’ It does in the movies as well, although now the duo spring off the page courtesy of Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, one of the better odd couples to bond and bicker since Mel met Danny.” Read more…)

We’re the Millers (comedy, Jennifer Aniston. Rotten Tomatoes: 47%. Metacritic: 44. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “We’re the Millers, a loose, halfheartedly raunchy, occasionally hilarious new comedy, is about a lot of different things; it’s the usual grab bag of jokes about drugs and body parts. But what really drives the movie is its own search for something to make fun of, and for a comic style that can feel credibly naughty while remaining ultimately safe and affirmative.” Read more…)

Planes (animated feature, Dane Cook [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 27%. Metacritic: 39. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “Planes is in the Cars lineage, with John Lasseter’s DNA [he is executive producer] and an absence of human characters; the planes and other machines here do their own talking and thinking. What comes out of them isn’t as amusing or surprising as what came out of those cars, and no matter how fast they go, these planes cannot escape the gravitational pull of the earlier movies. Planes is for the most part content to imitate rather than innovate, presumably hoping to reap a respectable fraction of the box office numbers of Cars and Cars 2, which together made hundreds of millions of dollars [not to mention the ubiquitous product tie-ins]. ” Read more…)

The World’s End (comedy, Simon Pegg. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 81. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “On a summer evening in 1990, five British teenagers attempted a heroic pub crawl in the town of Newton Haven, a feat of herculean imbibing known as the Golden Mile. Along the way, there were vomiting, fighting and drunken sex, but amid all that fun, the group failed to make it through the requisite 12 watering holes, the last of which was called the World’s End. Their second try, more than 20 years later, is the subject of Edgar Wright’s new movie.” Read more…)

Paranoia (espionage thriller, Harrison Ford. Rotten Tomatoes: 4%. Metacritic: 32. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “The fitful spurts of energy that emanate from Paranoia, a sleek, silly corporate thriller, are supplied by Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford playing dueling titans of technology. These warring multibillionaires, Nic Wyatt [Mr. Oldman] and Jock Goddard [Mr. Ford], are former partners who will stop at nothing to destroy each other’s empires. When they meet face to face the size of their egos and the depth of their mutual hatred are signaled by the subzero frost of their sharklike grins.” Read more…)

Violet & Daisy (crime, James Gandolfini. Rotten Tomatoes: 22%. Metacritic: 43. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Violet & Daisy is a story of young female friendship with a violent and somewhat puzzling twist. The title characters, with their floral names and mix-and-match temperaments, are teenage roommates whose shared interests in pop stars and shopping are supported by their work as hired killers. We first see them in action, disguised as pizza-delivering nuns, in a sequence that sets a tone of brazen but not too grisly pop mayhem. These girls, whose chatter on the way to the shootout pointedly evokes the banter of Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, are charming, silly and lethal. But Geoffrey Fletcher, the writer and director [an Oscar winner for his Precious screenplay] seems unsure of what to do with his characters, or how far to push their contradictions.” Read more…)

Prince Avalanche (comedy/drama, Paul Rudd. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. Metacritic: 73. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The principal characters in [director David Gordon] Green’s new film, Prince Avalanche [loosely remade from a 2011 Icelandic movie called Either Way], spend much of their time walking the line between industry and idleness. Their job is to paint the yellow lines on a rural stretch of Texas highway that has been damaged, along with the surrounding forests and settlements, by a wildfire. The year is 1988, not long after real fires devastated parts of the state, though there may be other reasons for specifying the period. Alvin [Paul Rudd] and Lance [Emile Hirsch], a two-man road crew that might have been cooked up by Samuel Beckett after many bong hits, inhabit a predigital pastoral in which — just imagine — they have folding maps instead of GPS, letters on paper instead of text messages and a battered cassette player with not an earbud in sight.” Read more…)

All Is Bright (comedy/drama, Paul Giamatti. Rotten Tomatoes: 47%. Metacritic: 54. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “All Is Bright is the first movie in eight years directed by Phil Morrison, who made a splash with his 2005 debut, Junebug, a bittersweet family drama set in his home state, North Carolina. On the surface, the new film has little in common with “Junebug” except for its attention to psychological detail and its fondness for offbeat characters and respect for actors. With its affection for downscale characters who dart in and out of the men’s lives, All Is Bright has an openheartedness reminiscent of a Preston Sturges film. The screenplay, by Melissa James Gibson, a playwright who is a story editor of the TV series The Americans, is devoid of laugh-out-loud jokes, but it has a continuing thread of bittersweet humor as Dennis and Rene interact with people in the neighborhood, many of whom are struggling.” Read more…)

C.O.G. (comedy, Jonathan Groff. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. Metacritic: 60. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “In the world of C.O.G., the first movie adaptation of a David Sedaris essay, self-knowledge is best gained among simple folks, preferably those defined by outsize quirks and nutty pronouncements. At least that’s what David [Jonathan Groff], an arrogant Yalie, learns when he boards a bus to Oregon to bury his fingers — and his unacknowledged homosexuality — in the soil.” Read more…)

The To Do List (comedy, Aubrey Plaza. Rotten Tomatoes: 52%. Metacritic: 61. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “Sure, you can load a lot of overthink involving male-versus-female perspective onto The To Do List, a comedy about a girl determined to lose her virginity the summer after high school graduation. But here is all you really need to know: This movie is smarter and better acted and just plain funnier than most of its predecessors in the my-first-time genre, no matter which sex is losing what.” Read more…)

Treme: Season 3 (HBO New Orleans series, Wendell Pierce. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 77.)

New Blu-Ray
We’re the Millers
2 Guns
Planes
The World’s End

New Foreign
Something in the Air (France, Olivier Assayas-directed period drama set in the eraly 1970’s, Clément Métayer. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 76. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Something in the Air feels less like a middle-aged artist’s nostalgia than like an attempt to make a film about the past in the present tense. Its open-ended structure and melancholy atmosphere are reminiscent of post-’68 films like Robert Kramer’s brooding Milestones and Alain Tanner’s magnificent Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, still one of the truest, saddest films about the aftermath of a revolution that did not quite happen.” Read more…)

Barbara (Germany, drama, Nina Hoss. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 86. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Barbara is a film about the old Germany from one of the best directors working in the new: Christian Petzold. For more than a decade Mr. Petzold has been making his mark on the international cinema scene with smart, tense films that resemble psychological thrillers, but are distinguished by their strange story turns, moral thorns, visual beauty and filmmaking intelligence. His latest to open in the United States, Barbara, begins in 1980 with an East German doctor from Berlin [Nina Hoss] who, after an unspecified offense, has been recently banished to the boonies. There, in between hospital rounds and harassment from the secret police, she waits and she burns.” Read more…)

Thérèse (France, drama/romance, Audrey Tautou. Rotten Tomatoes: 52%. Metacritic: 49. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “The rich are different from you and me, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, sometimes nowhere more so than in French movies. In the United States, a Viking stove in the kitchen and a BMW in the driveway may be mere background noise in a sleek thriller; in France, such emblems of class privilege can be grounds for a date with the Widow [a k a the guillotine], metaphorically speaking. In Thérèse, a 1920s woman is driven to commit a terrible crime, for all sorts of nominal reasons, though, in truth, her paramount motive is the accident of her birth: she’s bourgeois.” Read more…)

New TV
Treme: Season 3 (HBO New Orleans series, Wendell Pierce, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 77.)

New Docs
Bridegroom (marriage equality, personal story. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 85. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From David DeWitt’s Times review: “Inspired by a viral YouTube video and deftly directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason [Designing Women], Bridegroom is about an unmarried gay couple in their 20s and what happens when one of them dies. That’s the simple summary of this simply told but exceptionally moving documentary.” Read more…)

Rob Harmon’s recommendations 11/19/13

ROB HARMON’S PICKS 11/19/13

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksBARBARA (dir. Christian Petzold, 2012)

The impressive new German political thriller BARBARA depicts life in the former German Democratic Republic (or East Germany), but, whereas most films paint a picture of the Soviet Bloc countries in terms of black-and-white, director Christian Petzold wisely chooses to focus on the bleak and dehumanizing ephemera of everyday life—such as busted wall sockets and a strictly-monitored bathing schedule—and the pure dug-in determination of its inhabitants to survive. This is a landscape—seemingly sparse and quiet—populated by survivors, spiritually wounded and maimed though they may be; where the West is such a capricious wonderland far, far away that two hushed women can stare transfixedly at the pages of a garish, smuggled-in jewelry catalogue; and where even villains—especially villains—have human sides: this society may be air-tight but it is far from airless, permitting some room to breathe.

The story takes place in 1980, a year in which much of the GDR was transfixed upon the Olympic Summer Games in Moscow. Dr. Barbara Wolff (veteran actress Nina Hoss) arrives in the provinces to take up a post at a small pediatric hospital. As it turns out this humble position is a far cry from the fast-track career in medicine that she was once charting in Berlin: Barbara has been officially “relocated” due to the fact that she has requested an exit visa from the GDR, a fall from grace which most in this society of few secrets instantly recognizes and pounces upon. She is sullen and remote, spurning the companionship of her colleagues, particularly the sincere and love-sick Dr. André Reiser (Ronald Zehrfeld), which right away earns her the reputation of a cold, big city snob to go on top of her apparent political crimes. Yet it soon becomes clear that Barbara has a secret connection to the West and one which she aims to exploit, this in spite of the watchful eyes of her neighbors and the local Stasi agent’s (Rainer Bock) withering attention, resulting in humiliating searches of her flat and her person at seemingly any time, day or night.

Though Barbara is increasingly drawn into the provincial life of the hospital around her and better learns to see the world from André’s humanistic viewpoint she still retains her ultimate desire to escape to the West… doesn’t she?

Barbara tells the story of the GDR in an intimate, restrained fashion, focusing on the life of the title character and her relationships with those around her, especially the lovelorn André and a hard-luck young patient named Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer) for whom she forms a strong and  endearing maternal attachment. The performances in the film are understated and powerful, with particular praise going to the gutsy Hoss in the title role. The cinematography, editing, and production design are all first-rate and refreshingly side-step the typical clichés of depicting life under a totalitarian regime in broad strokes and severe gestures, focusing instead on the human-scale sadness of a society divided against itself.

Petzold, who previously gained attention for his drama YELLA (2007) (also starring Hoss), won the Silver Bear as Best Director for Barbara at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, heralding perhaps a breakthrough for him, as well as his willowy star, Hoss. Barbara succeeds as a meditation on the life-draining paranoia and amnesia inherent to life under such cruel circumstances, but also ultimately reveals the strength which can unexpectedly come in dark times.

For an alternate but equally-moving take on this same subject matter be sure to see (if you have not already) the widely-heralded 2006 GDR-set drama/thriller THE LIVES OF OTHERS.