New Releases 3/24/15

Top Hits
Unbroken (war drama, Jack O’Connell. Rotten Tomatoes: 51%. Metacritic: 59. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “It took four marquee writers — Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson — to wrestle Ms. Hillenbrand’s many pages into a movie, which clocks in at 2 hours 17 minutes. That’s scarcely enough time for any life, but it’s impossible when each chapter in that life could itself be a book [including an underplayed epiphany], and the strain shows, especially in the camp sequences. Ms. Jolie does fine work throughout, including on the raft where, after the crash, Louie and two others, Phil [Domhnall Gleeson] and Mac [Finn Wittrock], battle dehydration, starvation and sharks, including one that the men, in a jolting scene, wrestle onboard and devour. Like a lot of actors turned directors, she’s good with the performers, even when platitudes gush from their mouths along with the blood.” Read more…)

Hobbit 3: Battle of the Five Armies (fantasy/action, Martin Freeman. Rotten Tomatoes: 60%. Metacritic: 59. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “‘You are only quite a little fellow in a wide world, after all,’ Gandalf reminds his companion at the end of ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.’ The avuncular line has a cozy feel that evokes the bedtime-storytelling of J. R. R. Tolkien’s 1937 children’s classic — now better known as the trilogized prequel to a 21st-century fantasy phenomenon. |Gandalf’s sentiment is also all too apt for Peter Jackson’s vexing conclusion to his oddly apportioned adaptation: Bilbo Baggins is indeed quite a little fellow in Mr. Jackson’s wide world here — less a central hero on a quest than a supporting player in a film bookended by destruction and war in gray, grim lands.” Read more…)

Into the Woods (musical/fantasy, Meryl Streep. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. Metacritic: 69. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “‘Into the Woods,’ the splendid Disney screen adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical, infuses new vitality into the tired marketing concept of entertainment for ‘children of all ages.’ That usually translates to mean only children and their doting parents. But with ‘Into the Woods,’ you grow up with the characters, young and old, in a lifelong process of self-discovery.” Read more…)

Song One (romance, Anne Hathaway. Rotten Tomatoes: 35%. Metacritic: 48. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Heartfelt but enervated, ‘Song One’ noodles around the Brooklyn music scene without stirring up magic. The original songs [by Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice] are pleasant if unmemorable, and [actor Johnny] Flynn’s performance is too tentative to counter the story’s lack of drama. That leaves John Guleserian’s lovely hand-held photography and [actress Anne] Hathaway’s quiet radiance to pick up the slack, which they might have done had they been allowed more time with Mary Steenburgen. Her zesty turn as Franny’s freewheeling mother is as invigorating as a shot of Red Bull to a sleep-deprived student.” Read more…)

Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete (coming-of-age drama, Skylan Brooks. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 61. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “There are times in ‘The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete’ |when the emotions it stirs up are so naked and unembarrassed that it feels as if you’ve entered a cinematic time machine back to the silent era, to when child actors like Jackie Coogan gutted you with sentiment. Coogan played the title character in Charles Chaplin’s glorious 1921 weepie ‘The Kid,’ the urchin with the tight grip around the Tramp’s neck and lock on the audience’s affections. The heartbreakers in ‘Mister & Pete,’ a melodrama about two children slipping through the cracks, shed fewer tears than the Kid did — poverty can toughen even the most tender bodies — but their hold on you is as fierce.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Unbroken
Hobbit 3: Battle of the Five Armies

New Foreign
Without Pity (Italy, 1948, neorealist drama, Carla del Poggio. From Bosley Crowther’s dated 1950 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Although it attempts to give a naturalistic view of man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man, ‘Without Pity,’ the Italian importation, which came to the Rialto yesterday, lacks cohesion and, to some extent, effective drama. For this yarn, dealing with the tragic hounding by black marketeers and the United States Army of an American Negro GI and the Italian girl with whom he is in love vacillates between crude melodramatics and some improbable situations. It makes a graphic point as a commentary on the venality of both Italians and the non-Italians with whom they trafficked. But its main theme, clouded by the specter of miscegenation, is a trite one and not especially convincing.” Read more…)

3 Films by Roberto Rosselini:
Stromboli (Italy, 1950, drama, Ingrid Bergman. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther panned this world cinema classic when it was released in the United States in 1950 [log-in required]: “After all the unprecedented interest that the picture “Stromboli” has aroused — it being, of course, the fateful drama which Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini have made—it comes as a startling anticlimax to discover that this widely heralded film is incredibly feeble, inarticulate, uninspiring and painfully banal.” Read more…
Time has treated the movie much more kindly. New York Times DVD critic Dave Kehr wrote, when this set was released: “The scandal [the affair between Bergman and Roberto Rosselini] has long been forgotten, but ‘Stromboli’ — which is being reissued this week in a superb Criterion Collection edition, along with two other Bergman-Rossellini films, ‘Europe ’51’ (1952) and ‘Journey to Italy’ (1954) — now stands as one of the pioneering works of modern European filmmaking. The ‘strange listlessness and incoherence’ that Crowther went on to object to represents a studied reaction to the ‘well made’ movie of the day: the rhythms of ‘Stromboli’ are no longer those of tension and release, of peaks and valleys; its characters no longer the psychologically coherent and clearly motivated figures of popular fiction; its narrative no longer the closed, symmetrical structure of the three-act play.
” Instead, ‘Stromboli’ opens the door to the ambivalent, the aleatory and the unknowable — an opening that would be expanded by ‘Europa ’51’ and finally flung wide by ‘Journey to Italy.’ Through that door came Bresson, Bergman and Antonioni, later to be joined by Godard, Oshima and Cassavetes. Though no single artist, and certainly no single work, can ever be counted the sole source of an aesthetic revolution, it is hard to imagine the contemporary art cinema without Rossellini — he may not have been the first to point the way, but he was certainly the first to take the heat.” Read more…)
Europe ’51 (Italy, 1952, drama, Ingrid Bergman)
Journey to Italy (Italy, 1954, drama, Ingrid Bergman. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%.)

New British
Lisztomania (1975, biopic by Ken Russell, Roger Daltry. Rotten Tomatoes: 43%. From Richard Eder’s New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Ken Russell blows up his colored balloons with ether: They bob prettily, and when they burst we pass out. ‘Lisztomania,’ which opened yesterday at the Ziegfeld, is the latest of his spangled flights of fancy. Fancy it is, but hardly a flight.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Six by Sondheim (bio, musical theater. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 85.)