New Releases 08/06/13

Top Hits
Mud (drama, Matthew McConaughey. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 76. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “The central image in Mud, Jeff Nichols’s deft and absorbing third feature, is of a boat in a tree. It’s the kind of phenomenon — a caprice of nature that is absurd but also wondrous — designed to enchant adventurous children like Ellis [Tye Sheridan] and Neckbone [Jacob Lofland], two Arkansas boys who discover the boat on an overgrown island in the Mississippi River. They also discover the fellow who claims to own, or at least inhabit, the vessel, a leathery loner whose name is Mud. Mud is played by Matthew McConaughey, in the latest in a series of surprising, intense and often very funny performances following his escape from the commercial romantic-comedy penal colony. Magic MikeThe Paperboy, The Lincoln Lawyer  and Bernie are all very different [and differently imperfect] movies, but in all of them, and in Mud, Mr. McConaughey commands attention with a variation on a certain kind of Southern character: handsome but battered, charming but also sinister, his self-confidence masking a history of bad luck and trouble.” Read more…)

Oblivion (science fiction, Tom Cruise. Rotten Tomatoes: 54%. Metacritic: 54. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “If only it were less easy to laugh at Oblivion, a lackluster science-fiction adventure with Tom Cruise that, even before its opening, was groaning under the weight of its hard-working, slowly fading star and a title that invites mockery of him and it both. The agony of being a longtime Tom Cruise fan has always been a burden, but now it’s just, well, dispiriting.” Read more…)

The Sapphires (drama/music, Chris O’Dowd. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 67. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The Sapphires tells the story of an all-female singing quartet on the way to stardom in the 1960s. As is usual in such tales, the group, known as the Cummeragunja Songbirds before their gemological rechristening, faces its share of obstacles, but in spite of internal disharmony and tough circumstances, the singers’ voices rarely falter. The movie itself, directed by Wayne Blair from a script by Keith Thompson and Tony Briggs, is sort of the opposite — a solid, stirring song sung with more sincerity than polish. [It is inspired by a true story; one of the real Sapphires, Beverly Briggs, is Mr. Briggs’s mother.] But the raggedness of The Sapphires can’t be separated from its exuberant charm. Like the Sapphires themselves, the film is determined to muscle its way into your heart, which would have to be a lump of gristle to resist it.” Read more…)

The Place Beyond the Pines (crime drama, Ryan Gosling. Rotten Tomatoes: 82%. Metacritic: 68. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Set in and around Schenectady, N.Y. [whose Mohawk name is evoked in the title], The Place Beyond the Pines has a lot to say about class, manhood and the curious operations of fate, themes that [director Derek] Cianfrance articulates with blunt conviction and, at times, impressive artistry. He goes on too long: the three-part story, spread over nearly two and a half hours, represents a triumph of sympathetic imagination and a failure of narrative economy. But if, in the end, the film can’t quite sustain its epic vision, it does, along the way, achieve the density and momentum of a good novel.” Read more…)

To the Wonder (romance/drama, Ben Affleck. Rotten Tomatoes: 42%. Metacritic: 58. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “In Terrence Malick’s films — he has made six so far, three in this century — it is usually possible to discern, beneath the blossoms of metaphor and the philosophical foliage, the trellis of a more or less conventional plot. The Thin Red Line is a combat picture. The Tree of Life is a nostalgic coming-of-age story. And To the Wonder, Mr. Malick’s latest, is a romantic melodrama whose major characters fall tragically and beautifully in and out of love.” Read more…)

West of Memphis (documentary, law, justice system. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 80. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “West of Memphis, a work of fierce documentary advocacy directed by Amy Berg [Deliver Us From Evil], follows the successful crusade to free three men convicted of murder 18 years ago in a sloppy, hysterical rush to justice…. A variation of the same drama is told in The Central Park Five, the recent documentary about five teenagers wrongly convicted of raping and beating a Central Park jogger in 1989. The two films are among the latest in a rash of documentaries that strongly emphasize the importance of DNA evidence in criminal cases.” Read more…)

Cloudburst (lesbian romance/road movie, Olympia Dukakis. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%.)

New Blu-Ray
The Place Beyond the Pines
To the Wonder

New Foreign
Paradise: Love (Germany, drama/sex tourism, Margarethe Tiesel. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. Metacritic: 65. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The Austrian writer and director Ulrich Seidl is one of a number of European filmmakers — less a school than a tendency — for whom sadism is a tool of ethical and political enlightenment. Like his compatriot Michael Haneke [most notably in Caché, Code Unknown and both versions of Funny Games] and the Danish provocateur Lars von Trier  [in his pseudo-American movies Dancer in the Dark, Dogville and Manderlay], Mr. Seidl sets out to expose the bad faith and complacency of the liberal West, and to rub his viewers’ noses in their own complicity with the exploitative cruelty of the current world order. His new film, Paradise: Love [the first installation in a trilogy that will open in the United States in the coming months], is a tour de force of meticulous cruelty, a comic melodrama that elicits laughter and empathy and then replaces those responses with squirming discomfort.” Read more…)

The Silence (Germany, drama/thriller, Ulrich Thomsen. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 72. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The film, based on a novel by Jan Costin Wagner, unfolds a bit like an episode of the long-running CBS television series Criminal Minds, pivoting from perpetrators to investigators to the families of victims and creating suspense less from the classic whodunit question than from the when and why. Some of the characterizations seem a bit too on the nose: the retired policeman [Burghart Klaussner] still obsessed with the earlier crime; the calm, disciplined killer [Ulrich Thomsen] and his weak-willed sidekick; the detective [Sebastian Blomberg] half-crazed with grief over the recent death of his wife. But the names in those parentheses supply a strong reason to see The Silence, along with some others, notably Katrin Sass (in the role of the first girl’s mother) and Roeland Wiesnekker (as the second victim’s father). These actors are partly responsible for the current flourishing of German-language cinema… and [director Baran bo] Odar gives them plenty of room to work.” Read more…)

New British
Midsomer Murders: Set 22

New TV
The Borgias: Season 3
Political Animals: The Complete Series

New Documentaries
West of Memphis (law, justice system, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 80. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “West of Memphis, a work of fierce documentary advocacy directed by Amy Berg [Deliver Us From Evil], follows the successful crusade to free three men convicted of murder 18 years ago in a sloppy, hysterical rush to justice…. A variation of the same drama is told in The Central Park Five, the recent documentary about five teenagers wrongly convicted of raping and beating a Central Park jogger in 1989. The two films are among the latest in a rash of documentaries that strongly emphasize the importance of DNA evidence in criminal cases.” Read more…)

Sushi: The Global Catch (food, environmental issues. Rotten Tomatoes: 70%. Metacritic: 57. From Rachel Saltz’s New York Times review: “[Director Mark] Hall’s film has both a story and a mission. The story involves how sushi went from being a local specialty in Japan, where some chefs still undergo rigorous training — it takes two years to master rice making alone — to a food available seemingly everywhere and in every way. [Consider, for example, the Sushi Popper, a sushi roll packaged like ice cream push-ups.] That story leads directly to the mission: The abundance of new consumers has meant the dramatic depletion of some species, especially the bluefin tuna, the Porsche of the seas.” Read more…)

New Gay & Lesbian DVDs
Cloudburst (lesbian romance/road movie, Olympia Dukakis, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%.)

Hank’s (and Rob Harmon’s) Recommendations 08/06/13

hank_paperHANK’S PICS 08/06/13

42: THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY — I’m not into baseball but I was into this movie. It’s a sharply written, well-acted film about how, in 1947, Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, broke the color bar (keeping blacks in the Negro leagues and out of the MLB) when Robinson was added to the team’s roster.

Robinson’s endurance of slurs and ostracization offers a vivid odyssey of racial cruelty and heroic restraint. This traditional nostalgic biopic tracks this decent athlete’s inner turmoil and outer poise before, inevitably, he finally reaches home sweet home with teammates and fans.

The standout in this true-to-life entertainment: Harrison Ford as the crusty, intelligent, pioneering Rickey looking for a black ballplayer who has the guts not to fight back. Ford makes the most of this juicy plum role: watch for him as an Oscar nominee.

This film, beautifully produced in every way, is a prime example of how to do a mainstream Hollywood movie. It’s too bad that, like Robinson himself, they just don’t make ’em like that anymore.

BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK — Each Sunday I would separate the New York Times into two piles. Among those sections going into the discard pile, notwithstanding a glance or two at the mosaic of Bill Cunningham’s fashion photo spread, I would automatically place the style section. Too many important things going on in the world. And there was the book section to get to.

That all changed after watching the above documentary, about this aforementioned single-minded, indeed obsessed, kinetically peripatetic photographer: a true original devoted to fashion as seen on the street instead of mandated from high couture or the runway.

For this true bon vivant, fashion, especially as seen on the street, is not something more important than the social upheavals of the world; rather, to paraphrase him, it’s the armor you wear to protect yourself against those upheavals. It’s one of the things that deems us civilized, and therefor is not frivolous. Self-invented fashion (i.e. fashion on the street) shows that if you seek beauty, you will find it.

Cunningham is the kind of street photographer who seems to be everywhere at once, and whose subjects sometimes include celebrities. But in no way is he a paparazzi. His photographs are playful, positive—joy is his métier, not cruelty. The uplift (often literally), is not the put-down. Like the man himself, his photos are fun, revealing, in some not insignificant way, who we are and how we see ourselves.

This is a delightful, fast-paced documentary with plenty of street people bearing sartorial street smarts along with Vogue-Astor celebrities who court this street prowler on a bicycle (26 of which have been stolen) and wind up paying homage (including a Legion of Honor in Paris) to a man who occupies a unique ledge overseeing how we look our best.

Check it out in the Style section in the Sunday Times.

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksROB HARMON’S PICS 08/06/13:

MUD (dir. Jeff Nichols, 2013)

Fourteen-year-old boys Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), best friends, rise up early one morning from their homes in a small Arkansas town and venture out into the Mississippi River in a dinghy to a deserted island. Neckbone wants to show Ellis something: a boat that was stranded in the high branches of a tree during a past flood and that has been left for abandoned. Or, at least, that is what they assume, before discovering signs of life about the place and eventually running into transient Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a mysterious stranger alone on the island and one who seems to be a fugitive from the law, carrying as he does a firearm and incapable of crossing the river into town for fear of being recognized.

Mud is able to enlist the help of the boys—reluctant though they are at first—in acquiring food and supplies to repair the boat by explaining that he is lying there in wait for an opportunity to run away with his girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), who awaits word from him across the river. Mud has some peculiar beliefs about the world, interpreting objects and forces around him in a near-mystical manner: the tattoo of a snake which runs down his arm serving as a reminder to never get bitten; the shirt and the gun that he counts on for protection; a bonfire which is built as a cure-all for bad luck; and the cross-marks in his footprints—a result of nails in his boot heels—that help to ward off evil spirits.

As he tells Ellis and Neckbone, “There are fierce powers at work in the world.” It turns out that Mud is, indeed, in a heap of trouble, having killed a man in order to protect Juniper, and is now being hotly pursued, not only by the police, but also by the vengeful father of the dead man and a team of bounty hunters in his employ. Ellis, especially, becomes lost in Mud’s quixotic quest to steal away down the river with his childhood sweetheart as he (Ellis) seeks escape from his parents’ disintegrating relationship and the uncertain fate of their river houseboat. Ellis eventually contacts his ornery old neighbor Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard), an old friend of Mud’s, for aid as the net continues to tighten and both he (Ellis) and Neckbone are drawn further into the strange, romantic mess of a world which Mud inhabits.

The strongest moments of Mud, particularly its lyrical first-half, resemble that stalwart masterwork of the cinematic Southern Gothic, THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, as the dangerous adult world is revealed piecemeal through the eyes of two young innocents, albeit ones who play at adulthood. Jeff Nichols (SHOTGUN STORIES, TAKE SHELTER), who wrote as well as directed, is quickly establishing himself as the foremost purveyor of slice-of-life dramas set in small-town and rural America, his films brimming with the mundane and quotidian details of daily life as well as characters steeped in fundamental ways of living. The depiction of a Southern water-based culture faced with crippling poverty and change but defiant to the end echoes, to a certain extent, last year’s excellent fantasy-tinged BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. But Nichols’ coming-of-age landscape—though realist in perspective—is peopled with the stuff of storybook culture: snakes and floods, a man and a woman, an ark-like boat and a Garden of Eden-existence brought to an end.

Sam Shepard and Michael Shannon, who plays Neckbone’s worldly-wise uncle Galen, are great as usual but the film really belongs to the two gifted young performers, Sheridan and Lofland, and, of course, McConaughey. Sheridan impressed a few years ago as the younger brother in Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE, while McConaughey has been riding a string of interesting recent portrayals, from the D.A. in last year’s under-rated BERNIE to the title character in William Friedkin’s twisted KILLER JOE.

We experience the sun-drenched landscape through the untarnished eyes of Ellis and Neckbone, and we sense their yearning to be initiated into the inner-workings of adulthood, their hoping against hope that there might, after all, be some truth in the improbable worldview of their friend and mentor Mud. With a name like Mud this film is all about murky texture and McConaughey inhabits his role in an uncanny way, with a wild and rare presence: the grit and the grime of the film seeming to bring his dusty character to life and radiate about him like a tarnished halo, his hopelessly lost character lying at the very heart of this Southern parable.