New Releases 01/15/13

Top Hits

To Rome with Love (comedy/romance, Jesse Eisenberg. Rotten Tomatoes: 44%. Metacritic: 54. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “One of the most delightful things about To Rome With Love is how casually it blends the plausible and the surreal, and how unabashedly it revels in pure silliness. The plots, which are cut together in no special order, obey different time schemes: Antonio and Milly’s marital drama [which involves a prostitute played by Penélope Cruz, and a movie star played by Antonio Albanese] seems to occupy a single afternoon, while other strands stretch over weeks and months. They rarely intersect, forming a shuffled, syncopated anthology, a variation on the multi-director omnibus films that were a staple of Italian cinema in the 1950s and ’60s.” Read more…)

Taken 2 (action thriller, Liam Neeson. Rotten Tomatoes: 21%. Metacritic: 45. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “You’d think that after what happened in the 2009 film Taken, Bryan, Lenore and Kim would think twice about vacationing outside the continental United States. But in Taken 2 they go abroad for some family bonding, and — wouldn’t you know it? — kidnappings again ensue, followed by killings.” Read more…)

Won’t Back Down (social drama, Viola Davis. Rotten Tomatoes: 33%. Metacritic: 42. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “If The Simpsons has taught us anything, it is that pious expressions of concern for ‘the children’ are usually evidence of a political agenda in overdrive. Won’t Back Down, a new schoolhouse melodrama starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, presents an especially blatant example of this rule. A movie that insists, repeatedly and at high volume, that ‘it’s all about the kids’ might just cause you to wonder what else it is about, and this one is not shy about showing its ideological hand. Who, after all, could possibly be against kids? The film’s answer is one favored by some partisans in the raucous and confusing public debate about educational reform: teachers’ unions.” Read more…)

Wake In Fright (restored 1970’s Australian cult classic, Donald Pleasance. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 87. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times article about the restoration of Wake in Fright: “Set in the Australian outback, the 1971 film Wake in Fright follows a vacationing schoolteacher named John Grant who gets waylaid in a rural hell. When the locals aren’t drinking themselves silly and brawling, they drive Ford Fairlanes to hunt down kangaroos and crowd together in gambling halls to bet on flips of a coin. Loud and proud, they regard turning down a beer as the gravest possible insult. Wake in Fright helped herald the rebirth of the nation’s film industry in the 1970s, a revival later called the Australian New Wave.” Read more…)

Talhotblond (thriller, Laua San Giacomo)

Something Better Somewhere Else (romance/drama, Naomi Ashley. Rotten Tomatoes: 44%. Metacritic: 54.)

God Is the Bigger Elvis (biography doc, spirituality, celebrity, Dolores Hart)

The Chicago 8 (historical drama, Gary Cole)

Joan Rivers: Don’t Start With Me (standup comedy)

Stephen King’s Silver Bullet (horror, Gary Busey)

New Blu-Ray

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, Hitchcock thriller, Peter Lorre. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. From A.S.’s 1935 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The British cinema, never notable for its command of filmic pace, goes in for a blistering style of story-telling in The Man Who Knew Too Much, the new photoplay at the Mayfair Theatre. Directed with a fascinating staccato violence by Alfred Hitchcock, it is the swiftest screen melodrama this column can recall, with the possible exception of Fog Over Frisco. Normally the work would be important chiefly because it offers Peter Lorre in his first part since his remarkable performance as the insane killer in M. But The Man Who Knew Too Much is distinctly Mr. Hitchcock’s picture. Although the photography and lighting are inferior according to Hollywood standards, the film is an interesting example of technical ingenuity as well as an absorbing melodrama.” Read more…)

Gentleman’s Agreement (1947, social drama, Gregory Peck. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1947 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The shabby cruelties of anti-Semitism which were sharply and effectively revealed within the restriated observation of Laura Z. Hobson’s Gentleman’s Agreement have now been exposed with equal candor and even greater dramatic forcefulness in the motion-picture version of the novel which came to the Mayfair yesterday. In fact, every point about prejudice which Miss Hobson had to make in her book has been made with superior illustration and more graphic demonstration in the film, so that the sweep of her moral indignation is not only widened but intensified thereby.” Read more…)

Taken 2

To Rome With Love

New Foreign

Farewell My Queen (France, historical drama, Lea Seydoux. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 67. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Farewell, My Queen, Benoît Jacquot’s tense, absorbing, pleasurably original look at three days in the life and lies of a doomed monarch, opens with a young woman shaking off sleep and scratching mosquito bites on her arm. It’s a lovely arm, as no less than Marie Antoinette [the well-cast Diane Kruger] proclaims. The young woman is Sidonie Laborde [Léa Seydoux, fittingly recessive], who serves as the queen’s reader. Smitten as well as bitten, Sidonie adores the queen and luxuriates in her good graces. Sidonie also reads plays, novels and even fashion magazines to the queen as Marie Antoinette lazes in her bed at Versailles, pretty as a Fragonard picture while France violently seethes.” Read more…)

Wallander: Episodes 10-13 (Sweden, mystery series, Krister Henriksson)

Silmido (South Korea, espionage thriller, Sing-Kee Ahn)

New American Back Catalog (post-1960)

Lost Horizon (1973, musical, Peter Finch. From Vincent Canby’s 1973 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “This Lost Horizon, with Peter Finch at the head of a not-quite-all-star cast, is a big, stale marshmallow, notable, perhaps, in that most of it was filmed in and around Hollywood at what is reported to have been a rather large budget. Money apparently doesn’t go very far in Hollywood these days, for the film, in addition to packing all of the dramatic punch of a Moral Re-Armament pamphlet, is surprisingly tacky in appearance.” Read more…)

Ladies Room (2000, comedy, John Malkovich)

New TV

Enlightened: Season 1

The Simpsons: Season 15

New Documentaries

King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis (history/biography, Martin Luther King, Jr. From Roger Greenspun’s 1970 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “King, an account of the public career of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. compiled and edited from several kinds of documentary footage by Ely Landau, is scheduled to play tonight only at many theaters throughout the country, including more than 50 in the boroughs of New York City. A longer version of the film will eventually be available for purposes of study, but for most moviegoers the theatrical version, which runs for almost three hours, may well seem long enough. In fact it is too long, exactly to the extent that it includes a number of cameo guest appearances by such stars as Paul Newman, Burt Lancaster, James Earl Jones and others who mostly look at the camera and very sincerely recite verse. But the rest of King, except for a few relevant national-affairs stock shots [Vietnam; Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights bill], sticks close to its subject, and for its pains achieves a density and shapeliness that is rare in any movie—let alone a documentary committed to the sequence of actual events.” Read more…)

The Other Dream Team (sports, international affairs. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 69. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “A tiny country with a gargantuan love of basketball, Lithuania stars in The Other Dream Team as a place where shooting hoops symbolizes both national unity and individual empowerment. But this crowded, undisciplined documentary by Marius Markevicius is so committed to thoroughness that its most potent thread — the post-cold-war ecstasy of the Lithuanian team’s 1992 Olympic trouncing of its former Soviet oppressors — is almost drained of drama.” Read more…)

God Is the Bigger Elvis (biography, spirituality, celebrity, Dolores Hart, in Top Hits)

Hank’s Recommendations 01/15/13

hank_paperMartin Luther King Day should be every day of the year. Everyone has heard his truly moving “I Have a Dream” speech, underscored by that resonant prescient voice inspiring us to enter a Canaan that, like Moses, he himself would not be able to cross into. Here are some films which, while perhaps not transporting us to that promised land, at least invoke the non-violent struggle he devoted his life to, and that I think he just might have wanted us all to see.

GANDHI

At the very top of this list, and winner of eight Academy Awards, should be the epic yet intimate portrait of King’s own mentor who, like King, was assassinated before he could fully enter the era he, by and large, single handedly invoked and provoked. Luminously portrayed by (if not politically-correctly cast with) Ben Kingsley (who won the Best Actor Oscar), this was one of the first films I took my older daughter to see and which I believe, in the small way any film can, helped make her the person she is today.

NOTHING BUT A MAN

Nothing_But_a_Man_DVDA film doesn’t have to be loud and demonstrative to be affecting. A perfect example is this independent, award-winning 1964 film by Yale’s Michael Roemer. In a small Alabama town, a black laborer wanting to make a life for himself quietly romances a minister’s daughter and gets a job at the local sawmill which, as he soon finds out, is managed by white racists. With a quiet and involving sense of real life, this film depicts the small struggles and decisions that fed the integration that was then sweeping the country.

THE LONG WALK HOME

In this film about gender equality as well as racism, an affluent housewife in Montgomery, Alabama becomes moved, literally and figuratively, by her struggling maid’s decision to join a bus boycott and walk the nine miles to work. The movie is set in the explosive aftermath of Rosa Park’s courageous decision not to move to the back of the bus and features stellar performances by Whoopi Goldberg as the maid, and Sissy Spacek as the housewife who finds her own sensitivities shifting toward a confrontation with both her white community and her narrow-minded husband.

There are many other great and/or entertaining films I’ve especially liked through the years whose treatment of race might not have been the same without Martin Luther King. Here’s my list:

Antwone Fisher (directorial debut of Denzel Washington; script by Fisher himself)

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

Black Like Me

Boyz N the Hood

The Brother from Another Planet

The Color Purple

Conrack

The Defiant Ones

Do the Right Thing

Eve’s Bayou

Far from Heaven

Fresh

Fury (’36, Spencer Tracy)

Glory

Greased Lightning

The Great White Hope

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Home of the Brave

Imitation of Life (’59 remake)

In the Heat of the Night

Intruder in the Dust

The Jackie Robinson Story

The Jesse Owens Story

The Joe Louis Story

Lean on Me

The Learning Tree

A Lesson Before Dying

Liberty Heights

Mississippi Burning

Native Son (’86)

Pinky

Putney Swope

A Raisin in the Sun

The Rosa Parks Story

Rosewood

Separate But Equal

Sounder

A Time to Kill

To Sir, with Love

To Sleep with Anger

Watermelon Man

When We Were Kings

In addition to matters of race, King’s non-violent philosophy obviously has application to our own post-911 era (e.g. Sorry, Haters and The War Within). Let’s hope our passive involvement in these films leads us to a stronger appreciation of King’s passive resistance.

ADDENDUM FROM THE OTHER HANK (Hank Hoffman):

King_A_Filmed_Record_DVDKING: A FILMED RECORD…MONTGOMERY TO MEMPHIS

Just released on DVD and restored by the Library of Congress, this three-hour 1970 documentary is a chronological account of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s activist life, beginning with his leading the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. With the exception of occasional interuptions by celebrity actors (James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, Clarence Williams III) intoning relevant verse (perhaps a “heavy” touch in 1970, rather pretentious now), the film consists of vintage footage. There is no omniscient narration. It is a riveting portrait, not only of a courageous man with a stirring moral vision but also of a time of wrenching upheaval.

FREEDOM RIDERS

Made for PBS in 2011 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides that desegregated interstate travel in the South, this Stanley Nelson documentary is a tribute to the incredible heroism of the (mostly) young activists of SNCC and CORE.