New releases 1/26/21

Top Hits
Come Play (horror, Azhy Robertson. Rotten Tomatoes: 56%. Metacritic: 56. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “The Babadook goes paperless in ‘Come Play,’ a thriller in which a spindly creature from another realm torments a child and his family through phone screens and tablets. The monster’s name is Larry, and his deal, we learn from a nursery rhyme in a spontaneously manifesting e-book, is that he wants a friend. He has selected Oliver [Azhy Robertson, from ‘Marriage Story’], a boy with autism who does not speak — he uses a phone app to vocalize — and who, like Larry, is lonely.” Read more…)

Monsoon (drama, Henry Golding. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 69. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “This is a thoroughly personal film, in ways that don’t always translate. Driven more by mood than plot, the movie spends a great deal of time absorbing the sights and sounds of the former Saigon [now Ho Chi Minh City] and, later, Hanoi. But the ambience doesn’t register with full force, or do the heavy lifting entrusted to it.” Read more…)

Fatman (dark Christmas comedy, Mel Gibson. Rotten Tomatoes: 46%. Metacritic: 40. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Hoping to deliver a Yuletide story for our dark, divided times, the directors and brothers Ian Nelms & Eshom Nelms came up with ‘Fatman,’ a soot-black comedy with a heaping side of social commentary.” Read more…)

The Cleansing Hour (horror, Ryan Guzman. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. From Adam Vaughn’s Film Festival Today review: “The most unfortunate obstacle in the way of director Damien LeVeck [‘Dark, Deadly, and Dreadful’] is the overused and worn subgenre of supernatural/possession films, particularly when said subgenre is currently at max capacity in our pop culture. That being said, ‘The Cleansing Hour’ gives the possession genre a fresh new angle and incorporates a modern, social-media driven aesthetic.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Synchronic (thriller/sci-fi, Anthony Mackie. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 66. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “There’s brainy sci-fi, and then there’s very brainy sci-fi. It’s rare that very brainy sci-fi packs a genuinely emotional, or even just sensationalistic, wallop. But the filmmaking team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead [of 2017’s ‘The Endless’] are working up an impressive batting average in this department. Their new movie, ‘Synchronic,’ is inspired, at least to some extent, by the wreckage wreaked by designer drugs of dubious legality.” Read more…)

New Foreign DVDs
That Man From Rio/Up to His Ears (France, comedy, 1964/1965, Jean-Paul Belmondo. Rotten Tomatoes (That Man from Rio): 92%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1964 New York Times review of “That Man from Rio” [requires log-in]: “Call it a comedy thriller or a tongue-in-cheek travesty on all the archeological mystery-adventure movies and all the ‘chase’ films that have ever been made. Virtually every complication, every crisis involving imminent peril, that has ever been pulled in the movies, especially the old silent ones, is pulled in this. And they are pulled in such rapid continuity and so expansively played, with such elan and against such brilliant backgrounds, that they take your breath away.” Read more…

From Robert Alden’s 1966 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Philippe de Broca, a man who all but single-handedly has been restoring fun to the movies, is back in town again with a dandy. His latest effort, a French film called ‘Up to His Ears,’ landed at the Paris Theater yesterday. It is a wild one, a funny one, a motion picture that the aficionado of slap-stick will be talking about for years to come. Would that the whole trouble-filled world were one larger-than-life De Broca movie.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
In Name Only (1939, drama/romance, Carole Lombard. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From an unsigned 1939 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The story, while obvious, is thoroughly convincing, thanks to the ‘natural’ attack which John Cromwell has taken upon it and to some delightfully pleasing dialogue. Mr. Grant is in top form as the done-wrong-by husband who—unlike the husband in Bessie Bruer’s original novel—is a thorough gentleman, a surpassing wit and a charming fellow withal. Miss Lombard plays her poignant role with all the fragile intensity and contained passion that have lifted her to dramatic eminence. Kay Francis, on the other side of the fence this time, is a model cat, suave, superior and relentless. And a generally excellent cast contribute in making this one of the most adult and enjoyable pictures of the season.” Read more…)

Address Unknown (1944, drama, Paul Lukas. From T.M.P.’s 1944 New York Times review: “To reveal the new climax would be unpardonable, but take it from one who read the book that the film ends with a bang—a bang which had the audience bolt upright in their seats yesterday afternoon. ‘Address Unknown’ is not just another anti-Nazi picture. It is an absorbing study of a man being driven crazy through fear, and the central character is played with dynamic forcefulness by Paul Lukas.” Read more…)

Swing High, Swing Low (1937, musical/comedy, Fred MacMurray. From Frank S. Nugent’s 1937 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray skip through the formular devices of ‘Swing High, Swing Low’ [nee ‘Burlesque’] with their usual ease at the Paramount, raising a routine story to a routine-plus picture. The plus is extremely small, sometimes being almost invisible.” Read more…)

Tom, Dick & Harry (comedy/romance, Ginger Rogers. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1941 New York Times review: “The Cinderella complex hasn’t been recognized in the psychology books yet, but four out of five young ladies are pleasantly afflicted with it, we suspect. And it is of these day-dreaming maidens, of one especially who thinks in wildly romantic terms, that Director Garson Kanin and Writer Paul Jarrico are telling with much humor and charm in RKO’s ‘Tom, Dick and Harry,’ which was wafted airily into the Music Hall yesterday. Of all the Hollywood bubbles which have been blown this way of late, here, we are happy to report, is one which doesn’t go poof in your face.” Read more…)

New TV
Snowpiercer: Season 1 (sci-fi based on 2013 movie, Jennifer Connelly. Rotten Tomatoes: 61%. Metacritic: 55. From Mike Hale’s New York Times review: “It took seven years, and some stops and starts, for the 2013 South Korean film ‘Snowpiercer’ to get remade as an American television series. It was just long enough for the film’s director, Bong Joon Ho, to give the show a publicity boost by winning multiple Oscars this year for ‘Parasite,’ his latest violent allegory about the haves and have-nots. There was never any question, though, that the series [premiering Sunday on TNT] would have the brutal, bloody single-mindedness of Bong’s ‘Snowpiercer’ ironed out of it for commercial TV.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
The Changin’ Times of Ike White (music, bio, Ike White. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Frank Scheck’s Hollywood Reporter review: “A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. The description comes from Winston Churchill about Russia, but it could just as easily be applied to the subject of Daniel Vernon’s documentary about musician Ike White. If you haven’t heard of White, you’re not alone. An accomplished singer, composer and guitarist, he released only one album, 1976’s ‘Changin’ Times,’ which received critical acclaim but quickly lapsed into obscurity. But his music, as good as it is [you can hear the album in its entirety on YouTube] pales in comparison to his story, unearthed in this endlessly fascinating film.” Read more…)

The Ventures: Stars on Guitars (music documentary, rock ’n’ roll history, surf music)

New releases 1/19/21

Top Hits
Dreamland (crime drama set in 1930s, Margot Robbie. Rotten Tomatoes: 59%. Metacritic: 57. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “The myth of Bonnie and Clyde dies hard, especially because of Arthur Penn’s romanticized crime film, which hit screens with a splatter in 1967. That movie’s special mix of Hollywood chic and frenzied violence rekindled the legend and kept it smoldering. Americans love their outlaws and really love them running wild, partly because the world’s most powerful country clings to its foundational us-versus-them identity. The hollow genre exercise ‘Dreamland’ is the latest to take its lead from America’s favorite bandit couple, even as it tries to chart its own course.” Read more…)

Wander (thriller, Aaron Eckhart. Rotten Tomatoes: 40%. Metacritic: 54. From Glenn Kenny’s RogerEbert.com review: “‘Wander’ does pick up when we meet Arthur and Jimmy. Not just because they’re played by Aaron Eckhart and Tommy Lee Jones, respectively. Also because their roles are unusual: They’re the hosts of a podcast investigating conspiracy theories, broadcasting from near their RVs in the remotest of locales, the better to avoid detection.” Read more…)

The Climb (comedy, Michael Angelo Covino. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 82. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The comedy of male immaturity reached its peak a little more than a decade ago, when ‘Step Brothers’ brought the genre to obnoxious perfection. ‘The Climb’ takes what seems to be a more elevated — more grown-up — consideration of some of the same themes. It’s about two best friends from childhood struggling with some of the challenges of heterosexual adult life, principally women.” Read more…)

New Foreign DVDs
Martin Eden (adventure/adaptation of Jack London novel, Luca Marinelli. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 74. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “The entirety of the 20th century — its promises, illusions and traumas — sweeps through the audacious and thrilling ‘Martin Eden.’ An ingenious adaptation of the Jack London novel, the film follows its title character, a humble young man as he embarks on a program of self-improvement. Like a hero out of Horatio Alger, Martin strives to change and to advance. A voracious autodidact, he succeeds. But his rags-to-rich path with its hard work, perseverance and bourgeois education, proves far more complicated and finally more shattering than most upward-mobility fairy tales.” Read more…)

A Special Day (Italy, 1977, drama, Criterion Collection, Marcello Mastroianni. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Vincent Canby’s 1977 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “In Ettore Scola’s funny, humane ‘A Special Day’—an acting tour de force for Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni—Antonietta and Gabriele are never really a couple, but their brief encounter lights up the screen with the kind of radiance you get only from great movie actors who also are great stars. ‘A Special Day,’ which opened yesterday at the Beekman Theater, takes place on the day of Hitler’s 1938 state visit to Rome, where he was given a gigantic, hysterically enthusiastic reception by Mussolini, the King, the diplomatic corps, leading Italian industrialists [whose names are still familiar] and 90 percent of the city’s population and a military parade that lasted almost as long as Mussolini’s campaign in Ethiopia.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
Sudden Fear (1952, film noir, Joan Crawford. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From A.W.’s 1952 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Since she is an actress who is sturdy enough to bear the weight of an unsensational yarn, Joan Crawford should be credited with a truly professional performance in ‘Sudden Fear,’ which came to Loew’s State yesterday. In this romantic suspense story, Miss Crawford, playing a rich, successful playwright, who gives her heart and hand to the wrong actor, does notably well in an exercise which involves practically all the emotions.” Read more…)

New TV
Westworld: Series 3 (sci-fi series based on Michael Crichton novel, Evan Rachel Wood. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 64.)

New Documentaries
Born To Be (transgender issues, LGBTQ. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “In 2016, Mount Sinai Hospital opened its Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery in Manhattan. The documentary ‘Born to Be,’ directed by Tania Cypriano, follows the work of one of that center’s pioneering surgeons, Dr. Jess Ting.” Read more…)

Driving While Black: Race, Space And Mobility In America (race issues, American history, civil rights. Metacritic: 92. From Brian Lowry’s XNN review: “‘Driving While Black’ has a specific modern meaning. “Driving While Black: Space, Race and Mobility in America” turns out to be an extremely rich and detailed PBS documentary, exploring the long history of restrictions on Black movement, from slavery through the present. As part of that journey, the two-hour film addresses not only modern-day issues of policing but deeper ones about the American Dream denied.” Read more…)

New releases 1/12/21

Top Hits
Jungleland (boxing drama, Charlie Hunnam. Rotten Tomatoes: 74%. Metacritic: 53. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Steely Dan once famously mocked ‘show business kids makin’ movies of themselves.’ If ‘Jungleland,’ directed by Max Winkler, son of the actor Henry, is any indication, those kids should stick to that pursuit because they don’t have a clue about other people.” Read more…)

New Foreign DVDs
Babylon Berlin: Season 3 (Germany, pre-World War II German drama series, Volker Bruch. From Mike Hale’s New York Times Critic’s Notebook article: “Parallels to our current situation can probably be found everywhere if you look hard enough, but the picture in ‘Babylon Berlin’ of honest cops trying to do their jobs while the social order collapses around them is certainly apt. While the incipient fascists, as well as the writers of ‘Demons of Passion,’ look forward to perfecting the human race in machine-like terms, one character after another — an obsessive forensics technician, an overextended detective — snaps and melts down in violent rage.” Read more…)

New TV
Star Trek: Picard: Season 1 (Star Trek franchise series, Patrick Stewart. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 76. From Mike Hale’s New York Times TV review: “‘Picard,’ the second streaming ‘Star Trek’ series [after ‘Discovery’], is a peak-TV experience, and it immediately feels — on the surface, at least — as if it could be the franchise’s best small-screen offering.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Our Time Machine (art, family, Alzheimer’s. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 84. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Directed by S. Leo Chiang and Yang Sun, ‘Our Time Machine’ shows Maleonn, an energetic and still boyish-looking fellow now in his 40s, enlisting his parents as collaborators in a multidisciplinary work called “Papa’s Time Machine.” The work is a tribute to his parents and also a way to preserve portions of the past, which are slipping away from Ma Ke as dementia erodes his memory.” Read more…)

Epicentro (Cuba, documentary, Cold War, imperialism. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 70. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “‘Epicentro’ takes a similarly free-form approach to exploring vestiges of imperialism in Cuba, a country Sauper portrays as having been picked apart by Spain, the United States and finally privileged tourists — including Sauper himself. The connections he draws are unexpected and frequently fascinating, although in this film the synthesis isn’t as clear as in the others.” Read more…)

New releases 1/5/21

Top Hits
Love and Monsters (action/adventure, Dylan O’Brien. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 59. From Lovia Gyarkye’s New York Times review: “‘Love and Monsters’ lacks the self-seriousness of typical dystopian flicks but, despite its surprisingly perfunctory title and relatively thin plot, it doesn’t completely lack depth. In addition to the tried and true lessons Joel learns along the way [the value of love, courage and confidence], the film remarks on the importance of documentation and archival work.” Read more…)

Yellow Rose (country music/immigration drama, Eva Noblezada. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 70. From Kristen Yoonsoo Kim’s New York Times review: “The writer-director Diane Paragas spins a story that is both politically timely and personal. [Like Rose, she is a Texas-raised Filipino-American.] ‘Yellow Rose’ is often affecting as its gifted heroine dreams while drifting between parental figures, including her aunt (Lea Salonga). Yet Paragas’s use of the white savior cliché rings false, especially considering our current political climate.” Read more…)

12 Hour Shift (heist caper, Angela Bettis. Rotten Tomatoes: 76%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 63. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “How quickly we pivot from honoring our frontline workers. In the exploitation splatter comedy ’12 Hour Shift,’ two nurses manage an organ-trafficking network out of their Arkansas hospital. The drug-addled Mandy [Angela Bettis], who takes her orders from Karen [Nikea Gamby-Turner], brings fresh harvests to the soda machine just outside the building’s doors.” Read more…)

Inside the Rain (drama/comedy, Aaron Fisher. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 49. From Devika Girish’s New York Times review: “Based on [actor/director Aaron] Fisher’s own life experiences, ‘Inside the Rain’ switches erratically between comedy and drama while juggling many half-realized plot threads. But the movie’s strange, inconsistent rhythm ultimately works as a reflection of Ben’s manic and depressive states. Fisher’s performance is disarmingly blunt and deadpan, offering an up-close portrait of mental illness as a banal reality.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)

Dietrich & Von Sternberg in Hollywood (Criterion Collection 6-movie set):

Morocco (1930, romance/drama, Marlene Dietrich. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. From Mordaunt Hall’s 1930 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Strange things happen in most Foreign Legion stories after they have undergone a major operation in a film studio, and ‘Morocco,’ an audible pictorial adaptation of ‘Amy Jolly,’ a play by Benno Vigny, is no exception. Aside from some expertly directed scenes and effective staging, this production is chiefly interesting because it served to introduce the attractive German film favorite, Marlene Dietrich. This player won favor abroad in a picture called ‘The Blue Angel,’ which was directed by Josef von Sternberg, who is also responsible for this current presentation.” Read more…)

Dishonored (1931, espionage thriller, Marlene Dietrich. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. From Mordaunt Hall’s 1931 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Although there may seem to be more glamour than truth about many of the incidents in Marlene Dietrich’s new picture, an espionage adventure called ‘Dishonored,’ the presence of the beautiful German actress, coupled with Josef von Sternberg’s capable direction, cause it to be a highly satisfactory entertainment.” Read more…)

Shanghai Express (1932, adventure/romance, Marlene Dietrich. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 83. From Mordaunt Hall’s 1932 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “It is an exciting ride they take in ‘Shanghai Express,’ Marlene Dietrich’s new picture which came to the Rialto last night. It has a killing by stabbing, men popped off by machine gun fire, the revelation as to the real identity of a few of the passengers and a romance between a woman of many casual affairs and a British Army surgeon. It is by all odds the best picture Josef von Sternberg has directed” Read more…)

Blonde Venus (1932, melodrama, Marlene Dietrich. Rotten Tomatoes: 61%. From Mordaunt Hall’s 1932 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Marlene Dietrich’s latest film, ‘Blonde Venus,’ over which B. P. Schulberg, until recently head of Paramount’s Hollywood studio, and Josef von Sternberg, the director, clashed last spring, is a muddled, unimaginative and generally hapless piece of work, relieved somewhat by the talent and charm of the German actress and Herbert Marshall’s valiant work in a thankless role. It wanders from Germany to many places in America, over to France and then back to New York, but nary a whit of drama is there in it.” Read more…)

The Scarlet Empress (1934, Catherine the Great biopic, Marlene Dietrich. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. From A.D.S.’s 1934 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Since the verdict has to be in the negative, let it be pronounced quickly. For Mr. von Sternberg, having sacrificed story, characterization and life itself to his own hungry and unreasonable dreams of cinema greatness, has at the same time created a barbaric pageant of eighteenth century Russia, which is frequently exciting. His scenes are like the vast, tortured world of another William Blake.” Read more…)

The Devil Is a Woman (1935, drama/romance, Marlene Dietrich. Rotten Tomatoes: 64%. From Andre Sennwald’s 1935 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “It is not hard to understand why Hollywood expressed such violent distaste for Josef von Sternberg’s new film. For the talented director-photographer, in ‘The Devil Is a Woman,’ makes a cruel and mocking assault upon the romantic sex motif which Hollywood has been gravely celebrating all these years. His success is also his failure. Having composed one of the most sophisticated films ever produced in America, he makes it inevitable that it will be misunderstood and disliked by nine-tenths of the normal motion picture public.” Read more…)

The Hunted (1948, film noir, Belita)

New British (& British Commonwealth) DVDs
Mystery Road: Series 2 (Australia, mystery, Aaron Pedersen. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “And along with the tangibility of the physical environment, there’s the authentic feel of the show’s depiction of the lives of the Indigenous characters, who make up the majority of the cast. That’s no surprise, given that both directors, and three of five writers of the season’s six episodes are Indigenous themselves.” Read more…)

Elizabeth Is Missing (drama, Glenda Jackson. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 85. From Lucy Mangan’s Guardian review: “It is a harrowing, compelling, unsentimental, altogether magnificent performance. It will surely win awards, but, unlike on many other occasions, you don’t think about that as it is unspooling before you.” Read more…)

New releases 12/29/20

Top Hits
Honest Thief (thriller, Liam Neeson. Rotten Tomatoes: 40%. Metacritic: 46. From Teo Bugbee’s New York Times review: “The writer and director Mark Williams doesn’t aim for surprise or suspense, so much as he aims to show competence. The action sequences zip along pleasantly, clearly mapping the positions taken in the cat-and-mouse game between an honest crook and crooked cops. The actors are given enough space to build up some chemistry, whether the teams we watch are the romantic pairing of Neeson and Walsh, or Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos as the two conflicted agents.” Read more…)

The Last Shift (drama, Richard Jenkins. Rotten Tomatoes: 63%. Metacritic: 61. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “Richard Jenkins is one of this country’s great character actors. The near-hangdog, generally unprepossessing appearance and bearing he cultivates in many of his roles is unimpeachably effective when he’s portraying a kindly, sympathetic Everyman, as in the 2014 mini-series ‘Olive Kitteridge.’… And of course, it’s not just his manner. Jenkins has the skill to make you see how his characters think. Or, in the case of his latest, ‘The Last Shift,’ the first movie he’s carried as a lead actor since his Oscar-nominated work in 2008’s ‘The Visitor,’ how they don’t think.” Read more…)

Lowdown Dirty Criminals (New Zealand, comedy, James Rolleston. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. From Luke Bradshaw’s Guardian review: “Director Paul Murphy’s Wellington-set crime comedy, ‘Lowdown Dirty Criminals,’ seems to have fallen out of a time warp, feeling dated almost immediately. In the first scene the filmmaker deploys Guy Ritchie-esque freeze frames and kicks off a nonlinear Tarantino-like structure – which were particularly popular techniques for stories about gangsters and nogoodniks during the 90s and in the early years of the new century.” Read more…)

Dating Amber (comedy/romance/gay & lesbian, Fionn O’Shea. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 58. From Tracy Brown’s Los Angeles Times review: “[Lola] Petticrew and [Fionn] O’Shea are the standouts that carry this film, making Amber and Eddie more than just versions of recognizable archetypes. O’Shea, in particular, has the difficult task of preserving Eddie’s humanity even as he lashes out in pent-up self-loathing to keep the audience’s sympathies on his side. Not all of the ancillary characters and their stories are fully developed in the film’s quick 92 minutes, but ‘Dating Amber’ convincingly channels the angst and awkwardness that can be a part of teenagers’ struggles with their identity.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
The Conspirators (1944, espionage drama, Hedy Lamarr. From Bosley Crowther’s 1944 New York Times review: “For a spy picture made by Warner Brothers and played by that studio’s star gang of urbane Continentals and weasels of various stripe, ‘The Conspirators,’ yesterday’s entry at the Strand, is a disappointing show. And, indeed, it would be quite as vexing if it came from a less able lot. For all of the sharp, metallic flavor and the savoir-faire of plot expected in spy melodramas are conspicuous by their absence from this film.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
You Cannot Kill David Arquette (bio, wrestling, personality, David Arquette. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 66. From Teo Bugbee’s New York Times review: “There is an operatic neediness to Arquette’s obsession that suits the circus of wrestling, and it suits the documentary too. The movie matches wrestling’s larger-than-life proportions by building a mythic tale out of a reject’s quest for redemption.” Read more…)

My Darling Vivian (bio, music, Johnny Cash. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 78. From Kristen Yoonsoo Kim’s New York Times review: “Supported by abundant archival footage, [Vivian] Liberto and [Johnny] Cash’s four daughters — Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara — make revisionist cases for their mother in separate talking-head interviews. They recall the increasingly longer stretches of their father being away. Alone, their mother warded off everything from rattlesnakes on their property to threats from the Ku Klux Klan, who thought that Liberto, an Italian-American born in Texas, was black.” Read more…)

New releases 12/15/20

Top Hits
Tenet (Christopher Nolan-directed sci-fi, John David Washington. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. Metacritic: 69. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jessica Kiang’s Times review: “The hotly anticipated ‘Tenet’ … is reassuringly massive in every way — except thematically. Ideally presented in 70-millimeter Imax, Nolan’s preferred, towering aspect ratio, arrayed with the telegenic faces of a cast of incipient superstars, gorgeously shot across multiple global locations and pivoting on an elastic, time-bending conceit (more on that later/earlier), the film is undeniably enjoyable, but its giddy grandiosity only serves to highlight the brittleness of its purported braininess.” Read more…)

Alone (thriller, Jules Wilcox. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 70.From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “The first rule of Flight Club is to run very, very quietly; the second rule of Flight Club is — well, you get the idea. Jessica [Jules Willcox], the fleeing heroine of John Hyams’s ‘Alone,’ manages to break that rule more than once; yet this minimalist survival thriller unfolds with such elegant simplicity and single-minded momentum that its irritations are easily excused.” Read more…)

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (horror/comedy, Jim Cummings. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 67. From Brian Tallerico’s RogerEbert.com review: “Jim Cummings broke out with a character study that rocked the SXSW Film Festival in ‘Thunder Road,’ but he takes an unexpected turn into genre filmmaking with his fantastic follow-up, ‘The Wolf of Snow Hollow.’ More than just your standard horror/comedy, ‘The Wolf of Snow Hollow’ is a tonal balancing act, a movie that doesn’t go for laughs or horror as much as weave various tones and styles through its excellent script. I thought Cummings was a talent to watch after ‘Thunder Road,’ and now I’m sure of it.” Read more…)

The Opening Act (comedy, Jimmy O. Yang. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. From Owen Gleiberman’s Variety review: “Imagine, for a moment, that a stand-up comic is just like a superhero. On stage, he’s a master of the universe, armored and impervious, slinging jokes like lightning bolts. He defeats all adversaries, from hecklers to the potential indifference of the audience; laughter, of course, is his way of killing. If that’s what a stand-up comic is, then ‘The Opening Act,’ Steve Byrne’s wryly likable shoestring indie comedy about a young man trying to make it in the world of stand-up, might be described as a stand-up-comedy origin story.” Read more…)

The Beach House (horror, Noah LeGros. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 64. From Elisabeth Vincentelli’s New York Times review: “Despite its relatively tight focus — four characters, one location — the writer-director Jeffrey A. Brown’s debut feature has an ambitious scope made all the more intriguing by its lack of clear answers. The characters may have stumbled into bad edibles, a fog teeming with mysterious life, a nasty parasite, the beginning of the end of the world, or all of the above.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Tenet

New Foreign DVDs
Aviva (France, drama, Bobbi Jene Smith. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 66. From Brian Seibert’s New York Times review: “Already, the film has established what’s fresh about it: its questioning of gender, its use of dance not as an entertaining interlude but as a primary mode of expression. Already, it has established a self-conscious tone that undermines its formal boldness and wit.” Read more…)

Madre (Spain, drama, Marta Nieto. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 73. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “A parent’s worst nightmare, unfolding in real time, opens this Spanish drama. Elena [the superb Marta Nieto] gets a call from her young son, Iván. He’s vacationing in France with his father, from whom Elena is estranged. Iván’s dad went to their camper to fetch something, supposedly, and the 6-year-old boy is alone on a deserted beach. The bars on his cellphone are going down, he says. And so is the sun.” Read more…)

We Are Little Zombies (Japan, drama, Keita Ninomiya. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 76. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “When four suddenly orphaned Japanese 13-year-olds meet at a crematory, they instantly connect over their shared inability to cry — and the likely commingled remains of their parents. ‘Today, Mommy turned to dust,’ Hikari [Keita Ninomiya], a somber video-game addict, tells us in a voice-over. It’s not the most lighthearted way to begin a movie, yet ‘We Are Little Zombies’ is nothing if not ebullient.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Ladybug Ladybug (1963, Cold War-era drama, William Daniels. From Bosley Crowther’s 1963 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Frank and Eleanor Perry, the talented husband-wife team who made the popular ‘David and Lisa,’ have studiously tried again to dramatize the behavior of young people under conditions of severe stress and strain. Their new picture, ‘Ladybug, Ladybug,’ which came to Cinema II yesterday, is an estimation of the way a group of American schoolchildren in a peaceful rural community would react to a sudden threat of a bomb attack.” Read more…)

You’re A Big Boy Now (1966, comedy/romance dir. by Francis Ford Coppola, Elizabeth Hartman. Rotten Tomatoes: 82%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1967 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Francis Ford Coppola is a gifted young man. Already a seasoned scenarist at the age of 27, he has now uncocked a magnetically exasperating comic strip of a movie, which he wrote and directed, titled ‘You’re a Big Boy Now.’ The Seven Arts release was made entirely in New York, with a good cast headed by Peter Kastner [another old fogey, aged 22], Elizabeth Hartman, Geraldine Page, Rip Torn and Julie Harris.” Read more…)

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969, Depression-era drama, Jane Fonda. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 72. From Vincent Canby’s 1969 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Gloria [played by Jane Fonda], a Typhoid Mary of existential despair, is the terrified and terrifying heroine of Sydney Pollack’s ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,’ the film adaptation of Horace McCoy’s Depression novel that opened yesterday at the Fine Arts Theater. The movie is far from being perfect, but it is so disturbing in such important ways that I won’t forget it very easily, which is more than can be said of much better, more consistent films.” Read more…)

Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970, drama, Faye Dunaway. From Roger Greenspun’s 1971 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The people, the events, the styles vary. But the theme remains substantially the same—the public promotion and the private cost of glamour—which is, of course the movies’ own morality play, their way of dramatizing mutability. That theme has overcome much analytic understanding (which is never the point) and has survived decades of movies good and bad. In Jerry Schatzberg’s ‘Puzzle of a Downfall Child,’ it appears again — in a version that, despite some lapses and many excesses, is very good indeed.” Read more…)

Marie: A True Story (1985, true life drama, Sissy Spacek. From Janet Maslin’s 1985 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Films about lone crusaders battling corruption are helped immeasurably when the hero is presented as a person of some complexity – when a Karen Silkwood is introduced as a flawed, ordinary figure, then transformed and even ennobled by a determination to seek justice. The best of the post-Watergate movies in this mode have made a point of underscoring their characters’ imperfections, so that their heightened social consciousness stands out in sharper contrast. ‘Marie,’ which like ‘Silkwood’ and ‘Serpico’ and ‘Norma Rae’ depicts one person’s fight against corporate or institutional injustice, is a fast-paced, well-acted drama that takes a simpler approach. Its heroine’s unqualified nobility is the greatest limitation to an otherwise tight, suspenseful and highly involving story.” Read more…)

New releases 12/8/20

Top Hits
Possessor (sci-fi/thriller, Andrea Riseborough. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 72. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “‘Possessor,’ about an assassin who works by taking over the mind and body of someone who can get close to the victim without suspicion, could have sprung from the imagination of David Cronenberg and, like his early films, ‘Possessor’ is equal parts cerebral and visceral. But this film is the work of the writer-director Brandon Cronenberg, his son. It depicts horrific murders in appalling detail as it relentlessly interrogates the experience of inhabiting a foreign body.” Read more…)

Proxima (sci-fi, Eva Green. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 71. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Torn between the maternal and the cosmic, the tactile and the unearthly, ‘Proxima’ feels as unsettled as its heroine. And while the film’s feminist thrust is admirable, Winocour’s decision to sacrifice this for a cheap, sentimental finale is infuriating.” Read more…)

The 24th (history/war/race drama, Trai Byers. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%. Metacritic: 56. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Set in Jim Crow-era Texas during World War I, Kevin Willmott’s ‘The 24th’ dramatizes real-life events so inherently appalling — and so presently relevant — that we should never feel less than engaged. Yet this stultifyingly earnest movie makes its points with such a heavy hand that its horrors struggle to resonate.” Read more…)

Wild Horses (western, Robert Duvall. Rotten Tomatoes: 17%. Metacritic: 44. From Stephen Holden’s 2015 New York Times review [may require log-in]: “Could Robert Duvall’s incoherent melodrama ‘Wild Horses’ have been salvaged by a skillful editor? Probably not. Mr. Duvall’s first directorial effort since ‘Assassination Tango’ in 2003, this film is the story of Scott Briggs [Mr. Duvall, now 84], a hard-bitten Texan rancher deep into his twilight years. It has majestic man-on-horse-under-the-Southwestern-sky cinematography, and in its best scene, Scott’s three grown sons get drunk in a roughneck bar and stumble into a brawl with some cowboys. But such moments are too scattered to make this jumble of a film come together.” Read more…)

New Foreign DVDs
Grass (Republic of Korea, Kim Minhee. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 77. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “This movie, like most of [director Hong Sang-soo’s] others, doesn’t pass judgment on its largely passive protagonist. In fact, it suggests that observing the people that pass through one’s sight and hearing is an entirely valid mode of living.” Read more…)

Song Without a Name (Peru, drama, Pamela Mendoza. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. From Teo Bugbee’s New York Times review: “What’s curious about ‘Song Without a Name’ is that even as the plot meanders, the film remains grandly composed, with spectacular tableaus that make the Peruvian hillsides look like scenes from a John Ford western. Georgina becomes a silhouette slipping down barren mountains; when she enters the newspaper offices, the walls appear to entrap her. The narrative drifts, but the alienation communicated by the movie’s images feels purposeful and striking.” Read more…)

The Audition (Germany, drama, Nina Hoss. Rotten Tomatoes: 79%. Metacritic: 64. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “[Music teacher] Anna is played by Nina Hoss, the outstanding actor who lit up Christian Petzold’s ‘Phoenix’ and who’s been outstanding in other films by that director. ‘The Audition,’ directed by Ina Weisse [and co-written with Daphne Charizani], doesn’t concentrate entirely on Anna’s work with the student, played by Ilja Monti, but presents it as part of a package of dissatisfactions.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Handsome Harry (2009, drama, Jamey Sheridan. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 59. From Stephen Holden’s 2010 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The death of a Navy buddy from the Vietnam War, Thomas Kelly [Steve Buscemi], whom he hasn’t seen in years, is the catalyst for an increasingly anguished journey of self-discovery [lead character] Harry [Sweeney] feels obliged to make. On his deathbed in a V.A. hospital outside Philadelphia, Kelly, afraid of going to hell, pleads with Harry to contact Dave Kagan [Campbell Scott], a sailor in their unit who was Harry’s best friend, and apologize for his role in Kagan’s near-fatal beating.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
NOVA: Secret Mind of Slime (science, nature, intelligence of slime molds. From the PBS Website: “Meet slime molds: brainless blobs that can learn, make decisions, and navigate mazes! NOVA ‘Secret Mind Of Slime’ dives deep into the questions and science behind the “intelligence” of slime molds. These creatures are not animals, nor plants, nor fungi, yet they appear to learn and to make decisions without brains, expanding the boundaries of intelligence beyond the animal kingdom.” Read more…)

New releases 12/1/20

Top Hits
Beeswax (drama, Tilly & Maggie Hatcher. Rotten Tomatoes: 74%. Metacritic: 69. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “‘Beeswax,’ at first glance a modest, ragged slice of contemporary life, turns out to be a remarkably subtle, even elegant movie. Its leisurely scenes and hesitant, circling conversations conceal both an ingenious comic structure and a rich emotional subtext. [Director Andrew] Bujalski, who has been compared at times to John Cassavetes, at times to Eric Rohmer, has, with an anthropologist’s sympathetic detachment and a novelist’s eye, discovered some of the hidden codes and rituals that govern modern behavior.”)

Words on Bathroom Walls (drama/romance, Charlie Plummer. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 61. From Nell Minow’s RogerEbert.com review: “But at its essence it is a story about what all teenagers—and all people—want: to be independent, to have satisfying work, and to love and be loved. The specifics work, with superb performances from an exceptional cast, and that illuminates the universal themes of identity and intimacy.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
The Irishman

New Foreign DVDs
Purple Noon (France, 1960, drama, Criterion Collection, Alain Delon. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1961 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Against some sparkling backgrounds of the blue Tyrrhenian Sea, a fishing port on the Gulf of Salerno and the tree-shaded avenues of Rome, French director Rene Clement has done the incongruous thing of unfolding a murder thriller that is as fascinating as it is dazzlingly beautiful.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Crash (1996, David Cronenberg-directed cult drama, Criterion Collection, James Spader. Rotten Tomatoes: 61%. Metacritic: 50. From Janet Maslin’s 1997 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “[Director David] Cronenberg, who will now rattle audiences even more powerfully than he did with ‘Dead Ringers’ or ‘Naked Lunch,’ cannot be dismissed as a twisted panderer despite the clear leanings of ‘Crash’ in that direction. As Mr. [novelist J.G.] Ballard did [in the book from which the movie was adapted], he envisions a work of sexually charged science fiction. The ‘Crash’ characters sleepwalk through this story in a state of futuristic numbness, seeking extreme forms of sensation because familiar feelings have long since failed them.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Desolation Center (music, punk, underground culture, history. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Bill Pearis’ Brooklyn Vegan review: “‘You know, in Europe you don’t have the same access to explosives and weapons that Americans do,’ Einstürzende Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld said of his band’s truly incendiary 1984 performance in the California desert, one of a series of totally DIY shows put on by the Desolation Center collective during the Reagan Years. Desolation Center was the brainchild of Stuart Swezey who, nearly 40 years later, has made a wonderful documentary about the concerts and the time. It’s not often that a film leaves you totally envious of the people who were there, but this is one of them.” Read more…)

New releases 11/24/20

Top Hits
The Irishman (drama/bio, Robert De Niro. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 94. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “‘The Irishman,’ with a blustering, showboating, disarmingly tender Al Pacino in the Hoffa role, isn’t competing with [a 1992 Jimmy Hoffa movie bio], or trying to correct the historical record. There was a real Frank Sheeran, who really did claim involvement in Hoffa’s demise, though not everyone believes him. [Director Martin] Scorsese, working from Steve Zaillian’s adaptation of a book by Charles Brandt [called ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’], assembles a kind of gangland greatest hits. The pun is intended: this is a history of the United States in a few dozen killings.” Read more…)

Mulan (Disney live action remake, Yifei Liu. Rotten Tomatoes: 74%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 66. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Set jointly in the Old World and in that newer mythic realm of happily-ever-after female empowerment, this live-action ‘Mulan,’ directed by Niki Caro, is pretty much what happens when a legend meets Disney’s global bottom-line. It’s lightly funny and a little sad, filled with ravishing landscapes and juiced up with kinetic fights [if not enough of them]. It has antiseptic violence, emotional uplift and the kind of protagonist that movie people like to call relatable: a brave, pretty young woman [the suitably appealing Yifei Liu], who loves her family, but doesn’t quite fit in [yet].” Read more…)

The Tale (drama, Laura Dern. Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 90. From Margaret Lyons’ New York Times review: “‘The Tale’ is a push, then, to disseminate a hard truth — and by extension an argument for confronting the reality of abuse and abusers, no matter how painful that process might be. And it’s effective. Frighteningly, unforgettably so.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Mulan (live action remake)

New Foreign DVDs
Buoyancy (Australia, drama, Sarm Heng. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 77. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “[Director Rodd] Rathjen has said he was inspired to make ‘Buoyancy’ after reading a news article about conditions in the contemporary Thai fishing industry, and one of the strengths of his movie is that it remains tethered to the material world, to straining muscles, to sweat, to blood. He doesn’t find spurious poetry in other people’s pain or try to glean greater meaning from it. He knows that the suffering is meaning enough.” Read more…)

Gate of Hell (Japan, 1953, samurai drama, Kazuo Hasegawa. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1954 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Out of Japan has come another weird and exquisite film—this one in color of a richness and harmony that matches that of any film we’ve ever seen. It is a somber and beautiful presentation of a thirteenth century legendary tale, smoothly and awesomely unfolding behind the volcanic title, ‘Gate of Hell.’” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)

The Killing Floor (1984, drama, Alfre Woodard, Rotten Tomatoes: 100. From John J. O’Connor’s 1984 New York Times television review [requires log-in]: “At the heart of ‘The Killing Floor’ are the early efforts, taking place from 1917 to 1919, to unionize Chicago’s giant meat-packing companies. With American soldiers marching off to World War I, there suddenly were jobs for those left behind – most notably, immigrants from Europe and poor black sharecroppers from the South. Among the sharecroppers were Frank Custer and Thomas Joshua, two young men who decided to seek a better life ‘up North.’ The teleplay, written by Leslie Lee from a story by [Elsa] Rassbach, is based on actual events and the names of the participants have not been changed.” Read more…)

The Dollmaker (1984, theater/drama, Jane Fonda)

New TV
The Deuce: Season 3 (Times Square drama, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 79.)

Better Call Saul: Season 5 (drama/comedy Breaking Bad spinoff, Bob Odenkirk. Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 92.)

New releases 11/17/20

Top Hits
The Broken Hearts Gallery (rom-com, Geraldine Viswanathan. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 57. From Richard Brody’s New Yorker review: “At a time when romantic comedies are often enfeebled either by sentiment or cynicism, saccharine tones or absurd premises, a new one, ‘The Broken Hearts Gallery,’ written and directed by Natalie Krinsky [and opening on Friday in some place called ‘theatres’], bridges the gap with a high concept. It is, unfortunately, a concept so high that it rarely touches the ground, and its theoretical ingenuity leaves plenty of empty dramatic space to be filled. That work is done by its lead actress, Geraldine Viswanathan, who shows, as she did in previous roles in ‘Blockers’ and ‘Bad Education,’ that she’s among the most talented performers of her generation.” Read more…)

Unhinged (mystery, Russell Crowe. Rotten Tomatoes: 47%. Metacritic: 40. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “It’s been a while since we’ve seen humans slaughtered as nature intended: on a full-sized movie screen. So, by way of encouraging those brave enough to follow the first major post-lockdown release into an actual theater, Solstice Studios presents ‘Unhinged,’ a psycho-killer story that will leave you feeling as beat-down as its casualties.” Read more…)

Summerland (World war I-era drama, Gemma Arterton. Rotten Tomatoes: 77%, Certified Fresh. Metacritic: 56. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “A thumb to suck in troubled times, ‘Summerland’ offers a digit of nostalgia that many viewers will latch onto with something approaching relief. Set mainly during World War II, this picturesque debut feature from Jessica Swale is as uninterested in international conflict as Alice (Gemma Arterton), its distracted heroine.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
The Children (horror, includes DVD, 1980, Martin Shakar)

New British DVDs
The Nest (British drama mini-series, Sophie Rundle. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 68.)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Dark Star (1974, sci-fi/comedy, Dan O’Bannon. Rotten Tomatoes: 77%. From Janet Maslin’s 1979 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “John Carpenter, the director of ‘Halloween,’ made ‘Dark Star’ in 1974, when ‘Star Wars’ was barely a subatomic particle in George Lucas’s eye. Accordingly, Mr. Carpenter’s space-movie send-up toys with the conventions of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ instead of trying to simulate intergalactic whizzing.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (Werner Herzog-directed documentary, bio, Bruce Chatwin. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 85. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Glenn Kenny’s Times review: “‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,’ Hamlet says to his friend in the Shakespeare tragedy. Remove the air of derision from the character’s remark, and you have a possible summation of the perspective held by the filmmaker Werner Herzog and the writer and explorer Bruce Chatwin, who were friends and sometimes collaborators. Both artists shared a dogged interest in the people, sights and objects that can be found only in the farthest corners of the world — and in what those people, sights and objects have to show us about what all members of the human race have in common.” Read more…)

Prairie Trilogy (politics, history, socialism. From Glenn Kenny’s New York Times review: “These are affectionate and affecting portraits. This socialist was a learned man, a little bit of a romantic, but someone nevertheless devoted to practical solutions to very real problems. These films — which were funded, in part, by the North Dakota A.F.L.-C.I.O. — are moving and still pertinent depictions of the human realities that animate labor struggles.” Read more…)