New releases 2/13/18

Top Hits
Roman J. Israel, Esq. (drama/thriller, Denzel Washington. Rotten Tomatoes: 51%. Metacritic: 58. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “Partly because of economics, partly because of a lack of imagination, Hollywood barely makes character-driven movies anymore. So there is a sense in which ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.,’ a wildly idiosyncratic drama about a wildly idiosyncratic lawyer, deserves not only critical leniency, but also maybe your investment. Yet this film doesn’t do the cause many favors. It certainly doesn’t serve Denzel Washington, in a role unlike any he has played that nevertheless saddles him with a collection of tics meant to compensate for the underrealized complexity of the part. And it offers tonal whiplash for viewers, with several potentially great ideas that don’t settle into a coherent whole.” Read more…)

A Bad Moms Christmas (holiday/comedy, Mila Kunis. Rotten Tomatoes: 29%. Metacritic: 42. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Opposed as I am to sequels of any description, I have to allow that one can never have enough Kathryn Hahn. Add the magnificent Christine Baranski to the mix and ‘A Bad Moms Christmas,’ while still a slog of base sight gags and lazy profanity, becomes marginally more bearable. Only marginally, given that this pitiful follow-up to last year’s ‘Bad Moms’ is even less able to distinguish between crass and comedic.” Read more…)

Wonder (inspiration drama, Julia Roberts. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 66. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “Directed by Stephen Chbosky, who wrote the screenplay with Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne, the movie has a cast that’s wonderful from top to bottom. As Auggie’s parents, [Julia] Roberts and [Owen] Wilson are doing things we love to see those actors doing. (Ms. Roberts lets loose with her trademark ebullient laugh at least once, and Mr. Wilson explains life’s issues to Auggie in a droll drawl.) All the young people in the ensemble, anchored by [Jascob] Tremblay’s Auggie, are perfect. ‘Wonder’ is that rare thing, a family picture that moves and amuses while never overtly pandering.” Read more…)

The Ballad of Lefty Brown (western, Bill Pullman. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 64. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “[Director Jared] Moshé knows his genre. There’s beauty in his panoramas and charm in his reflexive gestures, typified by Jeremiah’s love for the mythic heroism that foreshadows his and Lefty’s future. Yet self-consciousness is also a hallmark of this genre; Douglas Fairbanks’s would-be cowboy reads dime novels in the 1917 film ‘Wild and Woolly.’ Even so, while Mr. Moshé’s ambitions can be frustratingly modest, he does know that — however fraudulent the genre’s myths — the image of a man riding a horse into the sunset is in our cinematic DNA.” Read more…)

Flint (contemporary drama, Betsy Brandt. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. Metacritic: 61.)

New Blu-Ray
Fatal Attraction

New Foreign
Paradise (Russia, drama/war, Yuliya Vysotskaya. Rotten Tomatoes: 68%. Metacritic: 52. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “Filmed in black and white and in the Academy ratio of old Hollywood, ‘Paradise’ is a strikingly shot Holocaust drama that ultimately seems confused about whose story it’s telling or to what end. The film is relayed in flashback by three characters, each addressing the camera directly, as if speaking to an unseen interrogator. The director, Andrei Konchalovsky, even includes scratches on the film, to enhance the sense that we’re watching documentary evidence.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Games (1967, thriller, Simone Signoret. Rotten Tomatoes: 60%. From Vincent Canby’s 1967 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “When you are watching a suspense melodrama, you inevitably play your own game: If you can figure out the plot twists and turns in advance, you win the game—but you lose the fun of being fooled. Occasionally, however, a film comes along that is so gussied up in performance and directorial detail that it can still be fun, even if you should get it all pretty well figured out in advance. Such is the case with ‘Games,’ Curtis Harrington’s richly decorated little exercise in the macabre, which opened at the Sutton yesterday.” Read more…)

Child Bride of Short Creek (1981, 1950s historic drama, Diane Lane)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
Mission to Moscow (1943, World War II-era propaganda film for alliance with Soviet Union, Walter Huston. While the film was made, at least in part, at the instigation of President Franklin Roosevelt, screenwriter Howard Koch was blacklisted in the 1950s as a Communist sympathizer. His work on “Mission of Moscow” was one of the factors that incensed the House Committee on Un-American Activities. From Bosley Crowther’s 1943 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Just as ‘Mission to Moscow,’ which was Joseph E. Davies’s report on his two-year Ambassadorship to Russia, was a striking and controversial book, so its translation into pictures should prove an equally agitating work. For this generally faithful screen version, which Warners brought to the Hollywood yesterday, is clearly the most outspoken picture on a political subject that an American studio has ever made. With a boldness unique in film ventures, which usually evade all issues, it comes out sharply and frankly for an understanding of Russia’s point of view. It says with a confident finality that Russia’s leaders saw, when the leaders of other nations dawdled, that the Nazis were a menace to the world. And it has no hesitancy whatever in stepping on a few tender toes.” Read more…)

New Television
The Deuce: Season 1 (HBO David Simon series set in 1970s Times Square, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 85. From James Poniewozik’s New York Times television review: “‘The Deuce,’ beginning Sunday, is about the sex trade in the same way that Mr. Simon’s ‘The Wire’ was about drugs, his ‘Treme’ was about jazz and his ‘Show Me a Hero’ was about zoning. Each of Mr. Simon’s works is ultimately about systems: people of different classes, races and levels of power, whose choices [or lack thereof)] define an economy and a society. That macro idea makes ‘The Deuce’ smart. Its micro detail — a Studs Terkelesque catalog of the million ways to chase a hustle — makes it art.” Read more…)

The Sinner: Season 1 (crime thriller series, Jessica Biel. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 71. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “The Sinner,” created and written by Derek Simonds [‘When We Rise’] and based on a best-selling German novel by Petra Hammesfahr, is set in upstate New York and may call to mind another USA series set there, the underrated and recently canceled ‘Eyewitness.’ The shows share a languid, small-town vibe, but “Eyewitness” was more conventionally structured. A truer comparison would be to the Showtime potboiler ‘The Affair’: the reliance on fraught flashbacks and the feeling of being underwater, in a constant state of unease.” Read more…)

Narcos: Season 2 (series based on drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, Wagner Mauro. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 76.)

New Documentaries
The Bombing of Wall Street (American history, terrorism, anarchism, based on book by Yale History Prof. Beverly Gage)