New releases 2/27/18

Top Hits
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (drama, Frances McDormand. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 88. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “‘Three Billboards’ is more ambitious than [director Martin] McDonagh’s earlier features. Like the older ones, it has loads of gab, plenty of guns and the spectacle of men [mainly] behaving terribly. It also restlessly, if not satisfyingly, shifts between comedy and tragedy — a McDonagh specialty — splattering blood along the way. This time, though, he has also given his movie characters instead of disposable contrivances, a plot instead of self-reflexive ideas about storytelling and a rather diffuse overarching metaphor. Mostly, he has freighted it with a tragedy that allows the performers — primarily Ms. McDormand but also the equally excellent Mr. Harrelson and Sam Rockwell — to play to their range.” Read more…
An Oscar nominee for Best Picture, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has faced some critical backlash in the past few months. Nicole Sperling at Vanity Fair details the controversy.)

Murder On the Orient Express (Agatha Christie mystery, Kenneth Branagh. Rotten Tomatoes: 58%. Metacritic: 52. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “[Albert] Finney’s embodiment of Poirot in the Lumet picture was a marathon of sorts, with the actor testing how many of the beloved character’s irritating yet endearing quirks could be pushed to the limits of coherence. In this latest version, Kenneth Branagh, who also directs [from a script by Michael Green], gives us a Poirot who’s fussy but not too fussy, and rather crisp in his English-language diction. Most radically, this is a Poirot with heart. This interpretation is a dumb idea, but Mr. Branagh, an actor of prodigious skills, can at least pull this one half off. It’s not the only dumb idea in this film, which nevertheless bounces along in a way that’s sometimes almost entertaining.” Read more…)

Darkest Hour (Winston Churchill bio-pic, Gary Oldman. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 75. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Like ‘The King’s Speech,’ Mr. Wright’s film is a serviceable enough historical drama. But like ‘Dunkirk,’ it falls back on an idealized notion of the English character that feels, in present circumstances, less nostalgic than downright reactionary, and as empty as those ubiquitous ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ internet memes. Rather than invite the audience to think about the difficulties of democratic governance at a time of peril, the filmmakers promote passivity and hero-worship, offering not so much a Great Man Theory as a great man fetish.” Read more…)

Coco (Disney/Pixar animated feature, Anthony Gonzalez [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 81. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “‘Coco’ is also one of those Pixar movies that attempt a conceptual breakthrough, an application of the bright colors and open emotionalism of modern, mainstream animation to an unlikely zone of experience. From the very start, the studio has explored the inner lives of inanimate objects like lamps and toys with a tenderness we now take for granted. It has also summoned the post-human future [‘Wall-E’] and the human unconscious [‘Inside/Out’] with breathtaking ingenuity. And now it has set out to make a family-friendly cartoon about death.” Read more…)

Daddy’s Home 2 (comedy, Mark Wahlberg. Rotten Tomatoes: 19%. Metacritic: 30. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “If ‘Daddy’s Home’ [2015] played like a distant, wayward cousin of ‘Step Brothers,’ ‘Daddy’s Home 2,’ again directed by Sean Anders, is the sort of relative you might disown.” Well. Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Coco
Darkest Hour
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Murder On the Orient Express
78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

New Foreign
Sami Blood (Sweden, historical drama, Line Cecilia Sparrok. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 79. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “‘Sami Blood’ relies so much on the expressive face of its lead actress, the powerful newcomer Lene Cecilia Sparrok, that at times it might as well be wordless. The film, the feature debut of Amanda Kernell, concerns Scandinavia’s indigenous Sami people, who faced systemic discrimination in Sweden in the 1930s.” Read more…)

Nocturama (France, terrorism thriller, Finnegan Oldfield. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 71. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “‘Nocturama’ might be an interesting movie about terrorism if there were no such thing as terrorism. If, that is, politically motivated shootings and bombings in big cities were fantastical tropes or metaphorical conceits, like zombie epidemics or extraterrestrial invasions. But perhaps “interesting” is too strong a word. Without a real-world correlative for the actions it depicts, Bertrand Bonello’s new film would merely be tedious and pretentious rather than repellent.” Read more…)

The Oldest Profession (1967, 6 European directors including Jean-Luc Godard & Claude Autant-Lara on prostitution-related tales, Raquel Welch. From Vincent Canby’s 1968 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Jean-Luc Godard, who may be the world’s least saucy moviemaker, contributes the only decently funny episode to ‘The Oldest Profession,’ an otherwise non-comedy in six parts about whoredom through the ages that opened yesterday at the Rialto II and Regency Theaters. Except for the Godard piece, which runs approximately 15 minutes (and comes at the very end so that it’s possible to time your entrance to miss the other episodes), the movie is a painfully inept botch made by some usually interesting directors, including Mauro Bolognini, Phillipe De Broca and Claude Autant-Lara.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Night of the Living Dead (1968, Criterion Collection of George Romero-directed zombie movie trailblazer, Duane Jones. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 87. From Vincent Canby’s 1968 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Night of the Living Dead is a grainy little movie acted by what appear to be nonprofessional actors, who are besieged in a farm house by some other nonprofessional actors who stagger around, stiff-legged, pretending to be flesh-eating ghouls.” Read more…

However, the reputation of “Night of the Living Dead” has soared since Canby dismissed it with a three-sentence review. The filmmakers—including director George Romero—lost control over the copyright shortly after the film’s release. But with a 2016 restoration overseen by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation and the Museum of Modern Art, that situation has been rectified. Times critic Glenn Kenny writes that the restored version looks “amazing.” In 2016, Kenny discussed the restoration in the Times.)

New Documentaries
78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene (cinema history, culture, Alfred Hitchcock. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 78. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Ben Kenigsberg’s Times review: “One testament to the infinite richness of Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece is that it can sustain a film like Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary ’78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene.’ Although ’78/52′ discusses the significance of ‘Psycho’ as a whole, Mr. Philippe’s movie is primarily devoted to a close reading of just one sequence: the 78 camera setups and 52 edits that yielded the sudden, violent, waterlogged demise of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh). Even moviegoers who know ‘Psycho’ backward and forward — who consider it a sacred text and who have read Stephen Rebello’s excellent book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho’” — are bound to learn something new from the movie, which addresses the shower scene from critical, historical, theoretical and technical angles, down to the blinding white of the bathroom tiles.” Read more…)

Quest (sociology, race relations, class, hip-hop. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 88. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Barack Obama is not the subject of ‘Quest,’ Jonathan Olshefski’s new documentary, an intimate and patient portrait of a North Philadelphia family. But the film, which begins and ends with presidential elections — Mr. Obama’s in 2008 and his successor’s eight years later — is shadowed, in some ways haunted, by his presence and his temperament. At one point, he appears on television, in the wake of the massacre of school children and their teachers in Newtown, Conn. ‘These neighborhoods are our neighborhoods,’ he says, referring to the places that have been devastated by gun violence. ‘These children are our children.’ The simple inclusiveness of that idea and the feeling behind it — the sense that this nation, with all of its troubles, is something we’re all in together — may sound especially poignant now, and even a bit quaint. But a similar ethic of solidarity informs every moment of ‘Quest.'” Read more…)

Black Code (human rights, social media, government surveillance. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%.)