New releases 1/9/17

Top Hits
It (horror, Stephen King adaptation, Bill Skargård. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 70. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Late in the summer of 1989, the marquee of the downtown movie theater in Derry, Me., advertises ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 5.’ This is an accurate period detail, and also a declaration of kinship, if not outright homage. ‘It,’ Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of the novel by Stephen King, belongs in the same tradition of small-town terror as Wes Craven’s “Nightmare” franchise, though the question of influence has a certain chicken-and-egg quality. Pennywise the clown, the designated predator in ‘It,’ [played by Bill Skarsgard] is, like Freddy Krueger, an avatar of deep childhood fears. And like Freddy, he’s also the literal, lethal manifestation of the evil of the world. As such, he has the potential to spawn endless sequels. He’ll be back.” Read more…)

Brad’s Status (drama, Ben Stiller. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 71. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “In ‘Brad’s Status,’ Mike White’s astute, cringy and ultimately kindhearted new film, [actor Ben] Stiller[‘s character] undergoes a midlife crisis that has less to do with restlessness or lust than with a dreadful loss of perspective. Brad, who runs a small nonprofit, lives in a handsome Craftsman-style house on a leafy Sacramento block. His wife, Melanie [Jenna Fischer], who works in state government, is patient and devoted. Troy [Austin Abrams], a rising high school senior, is an excellent student, a gifted musician and an all-around good kid. Brad lives in a soft pocket of the American dream. He should be counting his blessings, or at least checking his privilege. Instead, he dreams of the greener grass where his old college pals frolic, consumed with envy for their gilded, fast-track lives.” Read more…)

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House (biopic/political thriller/Watergate, Liam Neeson. Rotten Tomatoes: 34%. Metacritic: 49. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “‘Mark Felt’ is a sharp portrait set against a blurry background, a history lesson that won’t help you on the test. It is possible to savor the crags and shadows of Mr. Neeson’s performance without quite grasping why Mr. Landesman thinks the story is worthy of such somber, serious and sustained attention. Both the internal politics of the F.B.I. in the aftermath of J. Edgar Hoover’s death and the larger political and social dramas of the late ’60s and early ’70s are invoked, but neither the national nor the institutional stakes are illuminated with sufficient clarity or force.” Read more…)

Bitch (feminist comedy, Marianna Palka. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. Metacritic: 55. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Like the great Mary Chapin Carpenter song ‘He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,’ ‘Bitch” is about a woman who has reached the end of her leash. A satirical scream of rage against patriarchal prerogatives, this feminist horror-comedy, written and directed by [director and star Marianna] Palka, has a vicious edge that can stifle your laughter. So when Jill takes to her basement, snarling and covered in her own feces, her belief that she’s the dog her family seems to think she is comes across as more tragic than funny.” Read more…)

Hollow in the Land (thriller, Dianna Agron. Rotten Tomatoes: 75%. Metacritic: 54. From Monica Castillo’s New York Times review: “[Lead character] Alison [actress Dianna Agron] closely resembles Jennifer Lawrence’s character in ‘Winter’s Bone,’ another self-sufficient young woman whose family and community turn against her. This movie is not as tense, but it gets close thanks to Ms. Agron’s resolute performance and the movie’s hostile small town setting.” Read more…)

Breathe (drama/romance, Andrew Garfield. Rotten Tomatoes: 66%. Metacritic: 51. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Living with polio seems like jolly good fun in ‘Breathe,’ an aggressively tasteful and rigorously cheerful biopic of the English disability-rights pioneer Robin Cavendish [Andrew Garfield] and his devoted wife, Diana [Claire Foy]. After contracting the disease in the 1950s at the age of 28, Cavendish, paralyzed from the neck down and expected to live only a few months, not only beat those odds by almost 40 years, but regained his independence. He was also instrumental in helping other severely disabled patients regain theirs, collaborating with his friend Teddy [Hugh Bonneville], an amateur inventor, to design a wheelchair with a built-in ventilator and traveling to Europe to promote its use.” Read more…)

Marshall (biopic/drama, Chad Boseman. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 66. From Manohla Daris’ New York Times review: “Some biopics go for sweeping and exhaustive, trying to cram an entire life into a tidy two hours or so. ‘Marshall’ smartly opts for modest. With economy, a bit of gauzy nostalgia and likable performances, it revisits an early episode from the life of Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights lawyer who became the first African-American to hold a seat on the Supreme Court. From the 1940s to the early ’60s, he argued 32 cases before the court, winning most. ‘Sometimes history takes things into its own hands,’ Marshall once said, but he also regularly gave history a shove.” Read more…)

The Foreigner (action thriller, Jackie Chan. Rotten Tomatoes: 62%. Metacritic: 55. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Jackie Chan built a career on playing cheerful martial-arts warriors. In his new movie, ‘The Foreigner,’ which he also helped produce, he loses his joie de vivre soon after the opening credits. Here he plays a single father named Quon, who, as the movie opens, is seen dropping off his daughter at a boutique in London so she can buy a dress for a dance. Then a terrorist bombing blows the block to smithereens and turns Quon into an aspiring avenger. After facing roadblocks with the local authorities, he trains his sights on Liam Hennessy [Pierce Brosnan], an Irish political operative who, Quon is convinced, knows something about the “authentic I.R.A.” that is claiming responsibility for the bombing.” Read more…)

How to Be a Latin Lover (comedy, Eugenio Derbez. Rotten Tomatoes: 38%. Metacritic: 54. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “The Mexican actor and comedian Eugenio Derbez is a superstar in his own country and in Hispanic communities in the United States, but he is virtually unknown to non-Hispanic viewers. [He has been seen, in small roles, in the likes of ‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua’ and Adam Sandler’s ‘Jack and Jill,’ neither exactly a star-making vehicle.] ‘How to Be a Latin Lover,’ which bids to introduce him to a wider audience in the United States, is surprisingly deft in mixing Mr. Derbez’s broad but accomplished style with more ostensibly hip-absurdist Anglo modes of humor. Body-function jokes are, of course, a universal comedic language, and they’re here, too, although not as abundant as you might have expected.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
It
The Foreigner

New Foreign
Woodpeckers (Dominican Republic, Jean Jean. Rotten Tomatoes: 77%. Metacritic: 68. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Andy Webster’s Times review: “José María Cabral’s arresting drama ‘Woodpeckers [Carpinteros]’ could be called love in a pressure cooker, but that would be understating its vivid textures and palpable vitality. The film was shot on location in the Dominican Republic’s Najayo and La Victoria prisons, where the stifling claustrophobia of those settings infuses every frame.” Read more…)

New British
And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie adaptation, Vera Claythorne)

New Documentaries
The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith (photography, music, social history, Eugene Smith. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Times review: “‘The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith,’ a fascinating documentary directed by Sara Fishko, tells the story of [photographer W. Eugene] Smith’s peculiar endeavor [obsessively documenting his jazz musician neighbors] and pays conscientious tribute to the man’s artistry. It also tells several other discrete stories within the larger narrative.” Read more…)

Spinning Plates (restaurants, food culture. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 65. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “Joseph Levy’s ordinary documentary ‘Spinning Plates’ rotates among the challenges faced by the proprietors of three restaurants: the 150-year-old Breitbach’s Country Dining, in Balltown, Iowa; a struggling roadside Mexican joint in Tucson; and the chef Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago, which has three Michelin stars.” Read more…)

New Music
The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith (photography, music, social history, Eugene Smith)

New Releases 2/2/16

Top Hits
Truth (drama, Robert Redford. Rotten Tomatoes: 61%. Metacritic: 66. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “The title of ‘Truth,’ a gripping, beautifully executed journalistic thriller about the events that ended Dan Rather’s career as a CBS anchorman, should probably be appended with a question mark. More than most docudramas about fairly recent events, it is so well written and acted that it conveys a convincing illusion of veracity.” Read more…)

Suffragette (historical drama, Meryl Streep. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%. Metacritic: 67. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Movies about the injustices of the past — and about the struggles to overcome them — are frequently prisoners of their own good intentions. Too often, attempts to illuminate the dark parts of history cast a complacent, flattering light on the present and turn history into a morality play or a horror show. The audience is invited to look back at how terrible things used to be and reflect on how much better they are now. The note of hard-won triumph that comes in the final scenes has the effect of tying up loose ends and suppressing uncomfortable continuities. ‘Suffragette,’ directed by Sarah Gavron from a screenplay by Abi Morgan, could easily have fallen into this kind of trap… But this one has an argument to make, or rather a series of arguments about the workings of patriarchal power, the complexities of political resistance and the economic implications of the right to vote.” Read more…)

Man Up (romantic comedy, Simon Pegg. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 69. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “‘Man Up,’ a destined-for-romance story in the spirit of ‘You’ve Got Mail’ and ‘Sleepless in Seattle,’ has just enough edge to distinguish it from a Lifetime movie. It also has Lake Bell and Simon Pegg, versatile and likable actors who help the mild story considerably.” Read more…)

Rock the Kasbah (comedy, Bll Murray. Rotten Tomatoes: 8%. Metacritic: 29. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Clichéd, enervating, insulting — it’s tough to settle on a single pejorative for ‘Rock the Kasbah,’ though abysmal might do. Crammed with performers who apparently didn’t read the script before signing on, the movie offends your intelligence on every level, starting with its use of Afghanistan as a Western playground.” Read more…)

Freeheld (fact-based social drama, Julianne Moore. Rotten Tomatoes: 47%. Metacritic: 50. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “‘Freeheld,’ a television movie of the week gone uninterestingly wrong, stars Juloanne Moore as a real New Jersey detective turned gay rights activist. Slinging a Farah Fawcett-esque shag and an accent as thick [and sloppy] as a triple-decker sandwich, Ms. Moore plays Laurel Hester, an Ocean County detective who becomes headline news after she can’t secure her pension benefits for her lover, a mechanic, Stacie Andree [Ellen Page]. In better hands this might have made a heart-rending, personal story, but ‘Freeheld’ is as generic as the bullet points in a gay rights brochure, even when Steve Carell roars in as an activist, leading with his lungs and a purple yarmulke.” Read more…)

Bridge of Spies (espionage, Tom Hanks. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 81. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “In ‘Bridge of Spies,’ a gravely moody, perfectly directed thriller, Steven S[ielberg returns you to the good old bad days of the Cold War and its great fictions, with their bottomless political chasms and moral gray areas. With a story that has been plucked from the historical record, given a nice dusting and a little sweetening, the movie centers on a 1962 spy swap involving a Soviet mole, Rudolf Abel; an American U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers, shot down by the Soviets; and an American student, Frederic L. Pryor, who had ended up on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall at the worst possible time. All were chess pieces in a ghastly game that, the film balefully suggests, continues without end.” Read more…)

Our Brand Is Crisis (political thriller, Sandra Bullock. Rotten Tomatoes: 33%. Metacritic: 53. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “A lethally effective charm delivery system, Sandra Bullock doesn’t need to do much to win you over. That’s true even in ‘Our Brand Is Crisis,’ a hard-working comedy in which she plays Jane, a very un-Sandra Bullock character: a mercenary political consultant trying to strategize a former Bolivian president, Castillo [Joaquim de Almeida], back into office. With his fat cigars, gilded lifestyle and assorted dead civilians cluttering his past, Castillo seems to be a very bad man, so what’s a nice girl like Jane doing in this campaign? What, for that matter, is Ms. Bullock?” Read more…)

Meadowland (drama, Luke Wilson. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 67. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “People respond to grief in myriad ways, some of them even positive, but in television and the movies, the go-to reaction is the downward spiral, because that gives actors a chance to try all their emotive tricks. ‘Meadowland,’ a drama directed by Reed Morano from a script by Chris Rossi, follows that familiar template, but its stars, Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson, do a fine job of making you forget how often you’ve seen similar treatments.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Truth
Bridge of Spies

New Foreign
Breathe (France, drama, Josephine Japy. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 78. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review:”The scary, spellbinding performance of Lou De Laâge in ‘Breathe,’ the story of a high school friendship that goes bad, is so gripping that Ms. De Laâge’s dangerous mixture of sensuality and bravado brings to mind Angelina Jolie in ‘Girl, Interrupted’ and Jeanne Moreau’s Catherine in ‘Jules and Jim.’ She is the kind of seductive daredevil who challenges admirers to follow her into the fire, no matter what the consequences.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
The Mad Genius (1931, pre-Code drama, John Barrymore. From Mordaunt Hall’s 1931 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “From the viewpoint of production and John Barrymore’s portrayal, ‘The Mad Genius,’ the current picture at the Hollywood, is admirable, but in the matter of some of the other performances and the dialogue this contribution leaves much to be desired. The spirit of the mad genius Tsarakov [Mr. Barrymore] seems to have influenced this film in an extraordinary fashion.” Read more…)

New Television
Show Me a Hero (HBO mini-series, fact-based social drama, Oscar Isaac. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 85.)

New Documentaries
No One Dies in Lily Dale (supernatural, spiritualism)

New Gay & Lesbian DVDs
Freeheld (fact-based social drama, Julianne Moore. Rotten Tomatoes: 47%. Metacritic: 50. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “‘Freeheld,’ a television movie of the week gone uninterestingly wrong, stars Juloanne Moore as a real New Jersey detective turned gay rights activist. Slinging a Farah Fawcett-esque shag and an accent as thick [and sloppy] as a triple-decker sandwich, Ms. Moore plays Laurel Hester, an Ocean County detective who becomes headline news after she can’t secure her pension benefits for her lover, a mechanic, Stacie Andree [Ellen Page]. In better hands this might have made a heart-rending, personal story, but ‘Freeheld’ is as generic as the bullet points in a gay rights brochure, even when Steve Carell roars in as an activist, leading with his lungs and a purple yarmulke.” Read more…)

New Children’s DVDs
Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (animated feature, Salma Hayek [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 68%. Metacritic: 61. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ new York Times review: “The burning question during my freshman year in college was whether ‘The Prophet,’ a slim volume of poetic essays by the early-20th-century Lebanese writer and artist Kahlil Gibran, was more spiritually profound than Captain Beefheart’s seminal album, ‘Trout Mask Replica.’ I still haven’t decided. On boomer bookshelves the world over, grubby copies of the text, most likely given by a first love, nestle alongside the collected works of Rod McKuen. Our window for welcoming poetry — and probably enlightenment — is narrow but deep, and any author who slips through it can be life-altering. But ‘Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet,’ an animated attempt to turn the essays into a family movie, won’t give you goose bumps of nostalgia; it’s more likely to put you to sleep.” Read more…)