New Releases 11/20/12

Top Hits
The Expendables 2 (action, Sly Stallone. Rotten Tomatoes: 66%. Metacritic: 51. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “Just when you think the action-hero-filled Expendables 2 has forgotten that this is at heart a comedy franchise, along comes a guy who has been out of the game for years to save the day. That familiar, weathered face belongs to Chuck Norris, and whatever Sylvester Stallone, the architect of these films, paid him to return to the big screen, it wasn’t enough. Mr. Norris arrives just as the blood baths and leaden dialogue are beginning to grow tedious, and his deadpan self-parody is pretty darn funny. More important, it gives you permission to laugh at the rest of this mindless movie, which is the only way to choke it down.” Read more…)

Bringing Up Bobby (drama, Milla Jovovich. Rotten Tomatoes: 10%. Metacritic: 34. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Working a variety of bad accents and the wardrobe of a 1930’s moll, Milla Jovovich takes a break from fighting zombies in the Resident Evil franchise to play Olive, a Ukrainian-born single mother who lives for two things: conning and her 10-year-old son, Bobby [Spencer List]. When not drooling over her bratty offspring — who helps zip up her unmentionables — Olive can be found stealing indiscriminately, even fleecing a church group to finance a nonexistent ministry. ” Read more…)

Coma (sci-fi thriller, Lauren Ambrose)

New Blu-Ray
The Expendables 2

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
The Trap (1959, crime drama, Richard Widmark. From Bosley Crowther’s 1959 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “For all its pattern plotting and its heavy reliance on the guns, it comes off a fairly taut picture in the outdoor action frame. Norman Panama, who, with Melvin Frank, produced it, directed it and helped to write the script, has seen to it that there’s no waste motion and that the pressure is on all the time. The pressure may not all be too logical, especially that of the henchmen’s lurking out there in the dark, but again Mr. Panama has seen to it that you have little time to think.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
The Dust Bowl (Ken Burns history doc, The Great Depression, environment. Metacritic: 83. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “Given how long it takes Ken Burns to finance, assemble and promote his documentaries, the timing of The Dust Bowl is eerily appropriate. It arrives on Sunday on PBS in the middle of a spate of quickly produced programs about Hurricane Sandy and climate change, as if Mr. Burns knew that this would be just the right moment for a cautionary story about human interference with the environment.” Read more…)

New Children’s DVDs
Dragons: Riders of Berk

Hank Recommendations 11/20/12

FILMS TO GIVE THANKS FOR ON THANKSGIVING
(all available for the coming holidays in Hank’s Pics)

Thanksgiving is upon us, making it a time to give thanks for, among other things, movies.

Family, of course, has its place in this holiday, but after the meal is over and you’re tired of staring at old Uncle Charlie’s nostril hairs, it’s time to put the movie in. Here are my suggestions of films you might not otherwise think of that will help make your holiday a thankful one. Which is to say, if HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, WHAT’S COOKING? and FLY AWAY HOME are not available, then check out any of these other films, some tried-and-true, others off-beat but all on-target.

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT — What? A contemporary adult family film where the family isn’t dysfunctional? What are movies coming to? Well, this family may not be dysfunctional, but it’s certainly unconventional: two teens and parents who happen to be lesbians. The son and daughter are appropriately rebellious kids, call their parents “mom and mom” instead of “mom and dad,” and the parents, hippy-ish Julianne Moore and breadwinner Annette Bening—like any other parents—have their squabbles, are typically concerned with paying the bills while keeping their psycho-drama buttoned up, and, above all, are concerned that the kids are all right. These are characters that any parents and children (and who does that leave out?) can identify with.

The lesbian hook is politically correct, but also refreshing and entertaining. And the story is simple. Out of their questing rebelliousness, and longstanding curiosity about their identity, the kids decide to look up their parent’s sperm donor, who turns out to be a freewheeling yet down-to-earth organic farmer and restauranteur (Mark Ruffalo). Through the kids, he gets to know the parents, and finally enough to know what he doesn’t have himself. When he starts adding his own child-rearing suggestions, Bening tells him: “When you’ve been a parent for eighteen years come and talk to me, okay?” But beneath his virtues he’s an entrepreneur who’s instinctively interested in short cuts, and when his intense interest attaches to one of the parents, that’s where familiarity crosses much too far into intimacy.

One of the virtues of this dramatic and humorous film, with its highs and lows of a family life that you’ll find yourself eager to follow, is that it gives you a very concrete sense of a what an unconventional family is like: it’s a little unusual, but it’s just like yours. Movies aren’t the only thing that’s universal.

RETURN TO ME — This film not only has heart, it’s about a heart—the one David Duchovny’s wife, after dying in an auto accident, posthumously “donates” to Minnie Driver, while leaving Duchovny to grieve. Until, that is, he coincidentally meets and falls in love with Driver, who wins Duchovny’s heart, but then has to tell him she’s also carrying his wife’s. This unusual film is infectiously and thankfully low-key. Its charm and believable writing, along with winning characters (including Driver’s grandfather and great-uncles who run the Italian restaurant where Driver is a waitress) enable it to sidestep plot cliches and easy sentimentality, although it is inevitably (no pun intended) upbeat. Don’t be reluctant to donate your attention.

FINDING FORRESTER — A popular black basketball-playing student, playing it safe with his peers by not displaying his brilliant writing gifts, befriends a legendary writer who’s long hidden his own talents away as a recluse in the Bronx tenement neighborhood. Sean Connery, as the curmudgeon writer and Rob Brown as the student are gifts enough in this well-directed story that deals, in the best Hollywood mainstream fashion, with issues of family, integrity and originality. Rob finds his writing voice, Sean finds a personal connection to a world he’s long shunned, and you’ll find a film that, in its own elevated writing, makes you feel cozily entertained and intelligent at the same time.

CAST AWAY — If watching Tom Hanks on a desert island for over two hours is not your cup of mango juice, think again. For one thing, it’s only the middle section that we spend on that bare and menacing but beautiful atoll, and while we’re there, mystery and suspense unfold, with Hanks’ point of view frighteningly and touchingly limned. This, we come to realize, is “Survivor” in a very good mainstream Hollywood film. But what this film most has going for it is its decidedly non-Hollywood touches, as it moves toward a climax and denouement that could have gone any number of Hollywood ways but winds up being neither contrived nor sentimental. The film takes pains to extend the notion of an island castaway to the question of what must be “cast away” (the actual two word title of the film) and what one should be thankful for keeping. The film ultimately has the feeling of being psycho-dramatically true, while being philosophically intriguing. And, having been forced to become used to Dolby overload in most movie soundtracks, no music in that middle section, with only the constant sound of the deceivingly benign South Pacific surf, is a definitely refreshing approach that effectively underscores Hanks’ isolation and perhaps provides compensation for an overload of dinnertime conversation.

TWO FAMILY HOUSE — On Staten Island in the ’50’s, newly-married Buddy Visalo buys a down-at-the-heels two family house in hopes that the second floor rental will underwrite his dream of opening a bar and becoming the venue’s crooner. But his wife, who has already made him skip a post-War singing audition with Arthur Godfrey (Julius La Rosa got the gig instead) as a condition of their marriage, conveys to Buddy where she’s coming from: namely, the terra firma of domestic and financial practicality. And the second floor “family” turns out to be no help either: a volatile penniless Irish drunk married to a pregnant woman from Russia who speaks little English. Through years of setbacks and disappointments, of sometimes literally bruising battles to open his bar and sing his own song, Buddy dreams on. Yes, this golden-hued movie with authentic, heart-felt writing and gold-plated characters starts off on nostalgic pathways we’ve trod before; but if you think you know where it’s going, you’re wrong. The characters deepen, the plot takes interesting turns, the nostalgia sweeps us through darker, uncharted regions until, without losing its gentle incisiveness, the film racks up the realistic cost of pursuing your dreams. Highly recommended for the post-modern MOONSTRUCK and MARTY crowd.

STATE AND MAIN — Director/writer David Mamet leaves the suspenseful gamesmanship of his HOUSE OF GAMES  and THE SPANISH PRISONER for the amusing, sometimes hilarious hi-jinks of a subject he knows well: the making (and unmaking) of a Hollywood movie, in this case in bucolic Vermont. Of course, the subject of all Mamet’s films is mendacity, scam-artistry, and gambling, and here the production crew, trying desperately to compensate for being over budget and under pressure, confronts townspeople who are also scheming and enterprising. Bill Macy is the beleaguered director, Sarah Jessica Parker the slut star ironically concerned about exposing her breasts on celluloid, Alec Baldwin the aging Lothario constantly forswearing his addiction to seducing underage girls, Julia Stiles the faux innocent hotel clerk only too willing to be seduced, and Charles Durning the mayor with a portly generosity trying to put off his wife’s nagging, social climbing excesses. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rebecca Pidgeon are the novice screenwriter and town’s book shop owner who present a romantic interest and the movie’s only spotlight of integrity, as they try to remain aloof from the shenanigans and, parenthetically, prevent the town’s historic town hall stain glass window from being clandestinely demolished for the sake of a tracking shot. This joyous, cynical fairy tale takes us to the small town crossroads of big time filmmaking, leaving us with a wide grin at the hardscrabble process of making movies.

HOLIDAY — One of the most enduring classics is the PHILADELPHIA STORY. Not a bad choice for this occasion, but a better choice (adapted from the same playwright and starring much of the same cast) is Holiday. Like the former film, it takes place at an upper crust party where dough doesn’t necessarily make for good taste in marriage. Here Katharine Hepburn is the unmarried independent woman whose witty, earthy patter hides a yearning to be free of her high class, wealthy family. When her beautiful, chic sister brings new fiancé Cary Grant in tow from a ski holiday to introduce him to her family, Kate recognizes in the likewise witty, free-spirited Grant a kindred soul, and conflict with her beloved sister and domineering family. How this all works out at the ensuing engagement party, amid acrobatic lines of dialogue (and, literally, somersaults!) makes for superbly engaging viewing. Hepburn’s early astonishing beauty and swift timing is a match for Grant’s. As good as The Philadelphia Story is, Holiday, one of the richest and most satisfying films ever made, is a greater cause to rejoice.

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING — If adventure is what’s needed to breach the gap of generations, there’s Sean Connery in the historical desert saga THE WIND AND THE LION, and Frank Capra’s LOST HORIZONS, the romantic tale of a hi-jacked aircraft that crash-lands in a hidden utopian community in the Himalayas—a film that established the term “Shangri-la” in our lexicon of hope and yearning. But my top choice for adventure is John Huston’s adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling story, The Man Who Would Be King. Here Sean Connery and Michael Caine play two savvy, recently retired ex-soldiers in British India who, rejecting both England and India as being too crowded and bureaucratic, desire to employ their soldiering skills in conquering the primitive kingdom of Kafiristan. On the way to fulfilling their brazen ambition they experience bandits in the Khyber Pass, searing desert heat, freezing blizzards in the Himalayas, the resistance of their designated kingdom and, not least, a spectacular and romantic triumph that ironically strains their well-seasoned friendship. No one could ask for a more devilishly delightful duo than Connery and Caine, nor a more lavishly filmed production. If Kipling were alive today (and he is in the film, wonderfully played by Christopher Plummer), he’d give two thumbs up and a British “Huzzah!” Any of these adventure films would work for Uncle Charlie, if, despite these good movies, he’s not already dozing by the fireplace.

New Releases 11/13/12

Top Hits

Savages (action, Taylor Kitsch. Rotten Tomatoes: 51%. Metacritic: 59. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “One of the jokes in Savages, Oliver Stone’s feverish, fully baked, half-great adaptation of Don Winslow’s ferocious and funny drug-war novel of the same name, is that the film’s title is flung back and forth between north and south — an epithet that is also eventually claimed as a badge of honor. The Southern California marijuana dealers on one side of the conflict that energizes the film’s zigzagging narrative are appalled by the brutality of the Mexican narco-traffickers, for whom torture and mutilation are routine ways of doing business. Some of the Mexicans, in turn, are disgusted by the sloth and shallowness of the gringos, who seem to lack any sense of dignity, tradition, family or honor. Savagery is in the eye of the beholder.” Read more…)

The Watch (comedy, Ben Stiller. Rotten Tomatoes: 17%. Metacritic: 36. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Directed by Akiva Schaffer from a screenplay by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the movie clumsily juggles two loosely connected concepts. In the spirit of  The Hangover, it is a whimsical, potty-mouthed buddy movie that lunges for laughs with bursts of profanity; it is also a spoof of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which the aliens disguise themselves as humans.” Read more…)

Dark Horse (drama, Jordan Gelber. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%. Metacritic: 66. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Abe [Jordan Gelber] is a tubby underachiever in his 30s who lives with his parents, sleeping in a bedroom full of action figures, movie posters and other emblems of interminable childhood. In other words he is, in the context of recent American cinema, not unusual. But Dark Horse is a Todd Solondz movie, which means, among other things, that Abe is neither a sweet Apatovian schlub nor a stoner saint like the title character in Mark and Jay Duplass’s Jeff, Who Lives at Home. He is, instead, an emblem of loneliness and failure, whose cocoon of self-delusion and misplaced vanity is carefully dismantled by the sharp, remorseless tweezers of Mr. Solondz’s sensibility.” Read more…)

Brave (Pixar/Disney animated feature, Kelly Macdonald. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%. Metacritic: 69. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “From her wild and woolly locks to her Clydesdale, the gorgeous high-stepper Angus on whom she races across the softly rendered Scottish hills and glens, Merida has been created as something of an anti-Rapunzel [at least before Rapunzel received a girl-power makeover for Disney’s 2010 movie Tangled]. Merida is active instead of passive, a doer rather than a gal who hangs around the castle waiting for Prince Charming to rescue her. More to the point and to the movie’s marketing, she is Pixar’s first female protagonist, which means that there’s a lot more riding on her head than that ginger mop. After 17 years of feature filmmaking and 12 box-office hits, Pixar has — ta-da! — entered the big business of little girls.” Read more…)

2 Days in New York (romantic comedy, Chris Rock. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. Metacritic: 62. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “At the opening of her photography show, Marion, the high-strung heroine of 2 Days in New York, has an awkward encounter with a critic. Frustrated by his poker face and his noncommittal responses, and stressed out by everything else going on in her life [about which more shortly], Marion launches into an unhinged, obscene tirade at the poor man. Later in the film a karmically empowered pigeon drops an airborne excretory insult on him. Since Marion is played by the director of the film, Julie Delpy, I will take this as a warning.” Read more…)

Vamps (horror/comedy, Alicia Silverstone. Rotten Tomatoes: 50%. Metacritic: 57. From Rachel Saltz’s New York Times review: “Nice girls don’t drink human blood. But they can still be vampires. Just give them a rat and a straw, and they’re good to go. The image of Alicia Silverstone and Krysten Ritter slurping away at furry beverages is probably the grossest thing in Vamps, written and directed by Amy Heckerling. It’s also probably the funniest.” Read more…)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 (animated comic book feature, Peter Weller [voice])

New Blu-Ray

Brave

Savages

The Watch

Lawrence of Arabia

New Foreign

A Burning Hot Summer (France, drama, Louis Garrel. Rotten Tomatoes: 50%. Metacritic: 62. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Philippe Garrel, whose films include Regular Lovers [set against the turmoil of France in May 1968] and Frontier of Dawn [a love story involving one man and two women], creates worlds that spring from a poetic, deeply personal sense of life rather than a screenwriting manual. People find and lose love, make up or don’t. They pass the time, time passes them by. In A Burning Hot Summer [a pulpy title that sounds better in the original, Un Été Brûlant], two men fall into friendship, and while little happens, everything is at stake.” Read more…)

Weekend (France, 1967, Godard satire, Mirielle Darc. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. From Renata Adler’s 1968 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend, which was shown last night at the New York Film Festival, is a fantastic film, in which all of life becomes a weekend, and the weekend is a cataclysmic, seismic traffic jam—with cars running pedestrians and cyclists off the road, only to collide and leave blood and corpses everywhere.” Read more…)

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life:

The Decameron (1971, comedy/drama based on Boccaccio, Franco Citti. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. From Vincent Canby’s 1971 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Taking 10 tales out of the 100 in Boccaccio’s Decameron, Pasolini has created one of the most beautiful, turbulent and uproarious panoramas of early Renaissance life ever put on film. It is also one of the most obscene, if obscene defines something that is offensive to ordinary concepts of chastity, delicacy and decency, although I’d hardly call the film offensive to morals.” Read more…)

    The Canterbury Tales (1972, comedy/drama based on Chaucer, Hugh Griffith. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%.)

    Arabian Nights (1974, comedy/fantasy, Ninetto Davoli. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%.)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)

Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977, thriller, Burt Lancaster. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. From a Nicolas Rapold New York Times article about Twilight’s Last Gleaming‘s recent re-release: “Twilight’s Last Gleaming epitomized a paranoid, quintessentially ’70s moment in American history and imagination. As a thriller, it is a nerve-racking procedural. Its parallel strands of action shatter into two, three and four split-screens that observe the silo, the White House and the special-assault squads outside the missile base. All of this is enhanced by a raft of old-guard stars: Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Joseph Cotten, Melvyn Douglas.” Read more…)

Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980, western, Kris Kristofferson. Rotten Tomatoes: 43%. Heaven’s Gate is a legenday film. Assailed upon its 1980 release as an expensive disaster, over the past three decades a critical re-examination has led to the film now being seen in a far more positive light. This new DVD release is a painstakingly remastered Criterion edition. New York Times critic Vincent Canby wrote in 1980 [requires log-in]: “Heaven’s Gate is something quite rare in movies these days – an unqualified disaster.” [Read more of Canby’s review…] But this past September in the New York Times “Arts & Leisure” section, Dennis Lim wrote of the contemporary reappraisal: “Present-day viewers may well find that time has been kind to Heaven’s Gate, which plays more than ever like a fittingly bleak apotheosis of the New Hollywood, an eccentric yet elegiac rethinking of the myths of the West and the western, with an uncommonly blunt take on class in America. [‘It’s getting dangerous to be poor in this country,’ someone says. The rejoinder: ‘It always was.’] But this defiant last gasp of the downbeat ’70s, opening two weeks after Ronald Reagan was elected president, was plainly a movie at odds with its time. Reached at his home in Hawaii, [the film’s star Kris] Kristofferson said he believes the themes of the film, with its grim view of American capitalism, were what made it so unpalatable.” Read more…)

New British DVDs

Call the Midwife: Season 1

New Documentaries

The Queen of Versailles (travails of fallen billionaires. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 80. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “It has been said that we live in a new gilded age, in which the rich take it as their sovereign right and civic duty to get richer, while the rest of us look on in envy, simmer with resentment or dream of rebellion. The Queen of Versailles, a new documentary by Lauren Greenfield about life on the thin, fragile, sugarcoated top layer of the upper crust, captures the tone of the times with a clear, surprisingly compassionate eye.” Read more…)

Last Call at the Oasis (environment, water resources, Erin Brockovich. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 64. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Jay Famiglietti, one of a handful of expert witnesses in Jessica Yu’s Last Call at the Oasis, is a thoughtful scientist with an engaging manner who specializes in water. In particular, he studies — and tries to raise public awareness about — the rapid depletion of water supplies caused by agricultural overuse, rampant development and global climate change. His analyses are thorough and clear, and he presents them, at public meetings and straight to Ms. Yu’s camera, with good-natured patience. For the most part, that is. At one point, contemplating a future of unchecked consumption and political paralysis, he sums it all up in blunt layman’s terms: ‘We’re screwed.'” Read more…)

Half the Sky (women’s human rights, Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn)

New Children’s DVDs

Pixar Short Films Collection: Vol. 2

Hank’s Recommendations 11/13/12

Veteran’s Day is every day for veterans who find it difficult or impossible to convey what their experiences in war were like except, perhaps, to other veterans who were there. To take just one of those wars, for ourselves we can commemorate Veteran’s Day by remembering the Forgotten War in these good movies. The first is one of the most impressive visually and melodramatically, recently arrived and now in our New Foreign Arrival section.

FRONT LINE — During the three years of seemingly unending truce discussions, a South Korean intelligence officer’s insubordination has him sent to the front lines—Hill Aero-K—where the fierce and brutal fighting continues. Possession of this otherwise barren hill alternates between the opposing sides after each bloody assault, offering an eye view into the futile horrors that distinguish the Korean War: men on both sides dying brutally in freezing cold for a barren piece of land that has no strategic or material value while the “peace” talks drag interminably on.

Each of the characters has his (and, in once case, her) own story that particularizes the hell made there. Their compelling interactions are complemented by a spectacular and precise realism in the battle sequences. In one way, the hill itself is a starring character.

Through the pressures of war and story, you will find yourself attached to all of the characters: the intelligence officer who discovers a former friend he believed dead and, indeed, in a way has died; the captain whose inspiring leadership involves a morphine addiction to help him suppress memories of an earlier, necessary sacrifice of men under his command; a seventeen year old recruit who grows up too fast; the battle-hardened sergeant of many campaigns who accepts his inevitable fate. In this no-exit hell, where the participants try to make sense of a senseless war, heroics bred largely by desperation are on ample display here, and through one vividly rendered battle after another you get to know the hill all too well. If anything, this “over the top” film makes its points too persuasively: the viewer come away feeling a little like part of the collateral damage. But there’s no denying the power of this film, and what it makes you remember about this Forgotten War.

Distinguished by its own meticulously rendered action style and its character involvement, this South Korean movie ranks as one of the best anti-war films, along with Dalton Trumbo’s JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN and Stanley Kubrick’s PATHS OF GLORY.

Other highly recommended films you might want to check out about this war are THE BRIDGES OF TOKO-RI, with William Holden and Grace Kelley, MEN IN WAR, with Aldo Ray, TAE GUK GI: THE  BROTHERHOOD OF WAR, and PORK CHOP HILL, with Gregory Peck, about the last hill fought over before the announcement of the truce. Two great films about the war as experienced domestically are THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and—one of my all-time favorites—THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, with Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh and Angela Lansbury.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also recommend, from our Audio CD room, David Halberstam’s THE COLDEST WINTER: AMERICA AND THE KOREAN WAR. Halbertstam’s best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST, about Vietnam. The Coldest Winter is a beautifully clear book about this especially horrendous and “forgotten” war. It is read by Edward Herrmann, a gifted actor and reader. Halberstam is a great writer, and his succinct history tells you a lot about the Korean War itself and how, though forgotten, it laid the template for our geopolitical strategy ever since. Take a long ride somewhere and listen to it.

New Releases 11/06/12

Top Hits
The Amazing Spider-Man (superhero action, Andrew Garfield, out 11/9. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%. Metacritic: 66. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Oh, Spidey, has it really been five long years since we saw you in Spider-Man 3, where you were plagued by a doppelgänger, a hectic plot and franchise exhaustion? Way back then you were played by the cute boy-man Tobey Maguire, and the girl with the fatal-beauty smile was given sweet life by Kirsten Dunst. Now, in The Amazing Spider-Man, you’re played by the cute boy-man Andrew Garfield, whose elongated limbs and pencil neck go a ways to make him look like the geek next door. The lovely young miss, meanwhile, is Emma Stone, whose pillowy lips serve as flotation devices that — along with her natural appeal and Mr. Garfield’s likability — keep this resuscitated studio product from fully capsizing.” Read more…)

Your Sister’s Sister (romantic comedy/drama, Emily Blunt. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. Metacritic: 72. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The three main characters in Your Sister’s Sister, Lynn Shelton’s new comedy of romantic confusion, are remarkably charming and pleasant company. Not always for one another, of course — hence the confusion — but certainly for all but the grouchiest moviegoer. They are articulate and funny, each one a bundle of tics, insecurities and surprising insights. The paradox is that they accomplish all of this without being especially interesting.” Read more…)

The Rolling Stones: Charlie Is My Darling (1965 concert & documentary film. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “The early Rolling Stones — young, shrewd and full of ambition, with Brian Jones on guitar — are on display in an hourlong documentary filmed during the band’s tour of Ireland in 1965. Long a legendary, unseen artifact among Stones fans and cinephiles [though not quite as legendary as a 1972 Robert Frank documentary, whose title I can’t even mention here], The Rolling Stones: Charlie Is My Darling — Ireland 1965, is an essential addition to a canon that includes Jean-Luc Godard’s One Plus One, Albert and David Maysles’s Gimme Shelter and Martin Scorsese’s Shine A Light.The film was originally shot in lovely, grainy black and white by Peter Whitehead and has been digitally restored for a new version by the director Mick Gochanour and the producer Robin Klein. It is both a postcard from an earlier phase of celebrity culture and a glorious mixtape of raucous and memorable songs.” Read more…)

Arthur Christmas (family holiday feature, James McAvoy. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 69. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “Why is it that out of all the holidays, only Christmas ever needs to be saved? When was the last time you saw a movie about a madcap, heroic effort to save Flag Day? That means that Arthur Christmas, a 3-D film that opens on Wednesday, is in well-worked territory. But this scrappy, smart animated tale can hold its own against the rest of the genre. The plot may be a little too cluttered for the toddler crowd to follow, but the next age group up should be amused, and the script by Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith has plenty of sly jokes for grown-ups.” Read more…)

360 (thriller, Anthony Hopkins. Rotten Tomatoes: 19%. Metacritic: 43. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “A butterfly flapping its wings in Chile is a familiar culprit for all kinds of global havoc, like tornadoes in Texas. In the film 360, though, it’s a woman taking her top off in Vienna who sets off a British man’s crisis of conscience, instigates a conjugal dispute in Paris, and obliquely stirs up funny business in Denver and some murderous business elsewhere. Here the world isn’t just small, it’s also a 360-degree metaphor that begins with a woman’s breasts, leads to the boulevard circling Vienna’s center and ends with the ‘O’ of your slack-jawed incredulity.” Read more…)

Excision (horror, Traci Lords. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%.)
Conned (action/comedy, Wally Carlson)
Red Dog (family comedy/drama, Josh Lucas. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%.)
Fire With Fire (drama/crime, Bruce Willis)

New Blu-Ray
The Amazing Spider-Man
Prophecy 5-Film Collection
Arthur Christmas

New Foreign
Even the Rain (Spain, drama, Gael Garcia Bernal. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 69. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “Icíar Bollaín’s bluntly political film Even the Rain makes pertinent, if heavy-handed, comparisons between European imperialism five centuries ago and modern globalization. In particular it portrays high-end filming on location in poor countries as an offshoot of colonial exploitation. The movie is set in and around Cochabamba, Bolivia’s third-largest city, which the movie’s fictional penny-pinching film producer, Costa [Luis Tosar], has chosen as a cheap stand-in for Hispaniola in a movie he is making about Christopher Columbus. The year is 2000, and Costa is unprepared to deal with the real-life populist uprising in Bolivia after its government has sold the country’s water rights to a private multinational consortium.” Read more…)

Corpo Celeste (Italy, drama, Yle Vianello. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 66. From Rachel Saltz’s New York Times review: “An image, at once arresting and overly symbolic, sums up what’s good and bad about Corpo Celeste, the writer-director Alice Rohrwacher’s feature debut: Blindfolded almost-teenagers grope their way around a spartan church sanctuary in Reggio Calabria, Italy. They are disaffected students in a confirmation class. [Mission: feel what the man born blind felt before being healed by Jesus.] Their groping is a rather obvious metaphor for their lives, as they stumble out of childhood toward what comes next. And it’s also a kind of metaphor for the Roman Catholic Church, which Ms. Rohrwacher portrays as having lost its way and its faithful.” Read more…)

Rashomon (Japan, 1950, new Criterion edition, existential samurai drama, Toshiro Mifune. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1951 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “A doubly rewarding experience for those who seek out unusual films in attractive and comfortable surroundings was made available yesterday upon the reopening of the rebuilt Little Carnegie with the Japanese film, Rasho-Mon. For here the attraction and the theater are appropriately and interestingly matched in a striking association of cinematic and architectural artistry, stimulating to the intelligence and the taste of the patron in both realms.” Read more…)

I Wish (Japan, family drama, Kouki Maeda. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 80. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “The Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda — best known for Nobody Knows, about four young brothers and sisters forced to survive on their own after their mother abandons them — has such an extraordinarily delicate manner with children that his approach can feel like a code of ethics, a declaration of honesty toward these often badly used and exploited performers. The gentleness of his approach, his stylistic unobtrusiveness and the way that children open up in front of his camera are among the subtle pleasures in his latest film, I Wish, a quiet, seemingly rambling story about two exceptionally capable brothers who have been separated by their parents’ bad marriage.” Read more…)

Trishna (India, drama/romance, Freida Pinto. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. Metacritic: 57. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Even if you have never bathed a copy of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles in your tears, you may wonder what the British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom was after with Trishna, his arid take on the novel. Set in contemporary India, it stars the Indian actress Freida Pinto as the title character, a poor country lass who falls for a rake, Jay [Riz Ahmed]. Jay pursues Trishna and then abandons her, literally and emotionally, only to return to her arms amid a great deal of melodramatic busyness, pulsing colors, churning dust and very little heat.” Read more…)

Ici Et Ailleurs aka Here and Elsewhere (France, 1976, Godard radical cinema)
Don Matteo Sets 1—4 (Italy, mystery series, Terence Hill)

New Documentaries
Koch Brothers Exposed (politics, money, Robert Greenwald)
Ethos (politics, social change)

New Music DVDs
The Rolling Stones: Charlie Is My Darling (1965 concert & documentary film, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “The early Rolling Stones — young, shrewd and full of ambition, with Brian Jones on guitar — are on display in an hourlong documentary filmed during the band’s tour of Ireland in 1965. Long a legendary, unseen artifact among Stones fans and cinephiles [though not quite as legendary as a 1972 Robert Frank documentary, whose title I can’t even mention here], The Rolling Stones: Charlie Is My Darling — Ireland 1965, is an essential addition to a canon that includes Jean-Luc Godard’s One Plus One, Albert and David Maysles’s Gimme Shelter and Martin Scorsese’s Shine A Light.The film was originally shot in lovely, grainy black and white by Peter Whitehead and has been digitally restored for a new version by the director Mick Gochanour and the producer Robin Klein. It is both a postcard from an earlier phase of celebrity culture and a glorious mixtape of raucous and memorable songs.” Read more…)

New Children’s DVDs
Arthur Christmas (family holiday feature, James McAvoy, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 69. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “Why is it that out of all the holidays, only Christmas ever needs to be saved? When was the last time you saw a movie about a madcap, heroic effort to save Flag Day? That means that Arthur Christmas, a 3-D film that opens on Wednesday, is in well-worked territory. But this scrappy, smart animated tale can hold its own against the rest of the genre. The plot may be a little too cluttered for the toddler crowd to follow, but the next age group up should be amused, and the script by Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith has plenty of sly jokes for grown-ups.” Read more…)

Red Dog (family comedy/drama, Josh Lucas, in Top Hits)
Kung Fu Panda Holiday (animated holiday short [25 min.])
It’s A Spongebob Christmas (animated holiday short [22 min.])

Hank’s Recommendations 11/06/12

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN — It’s not often you’re going to see me positively reviewing a superhero movie. I did like the original SUPERMAN (Christopher Reeves), the original BATMAN (Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson), IRON MAN (Robert Downey, Jr.), CAPTAIN AMERICA and CHRONICLE, the latter a more realistic dystopian correction to the superhero myth. The original SPIDER-MAN (Toby Maguire) almost made the list. This re-telling of that archetypal story does.

The first thing I liked was that the new Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), who reprises the admittedly charming Toby Maguire of the original film ten years ago, reminds one of a post-adolescent Tony Perkins: intelligent and vulnerable, his handsome face bifurcated with the uncertainty and guilt of hidden secrets.

It doesn’t hurt that the uncle who years ago adopted him after his parents mysteriously disappeared is played by Martin Sheen (though his adoptive aunt is played by Sally Field, who these days seems only to veer toward the annoying).

There is a lot of visual fun in this movie, not least because it is never overdone to the detraction of the narrative, which is both efficient and involving. The special effects, while cleverly fulfilling state-of-the-art CGI expectations, go down rather easily instead of rushing at you and overwhelming your senses. The film leaves plenty of room for amiably witty dialogue. When Peter returns from his first superhero experience he is physically depleted and famished. In front of his concerned and astonished parents, he superhumanly wolf’s down everything in the family refrigerator, including his mother’s meat loaf.

Peter (suddenly seeing his parents): “This beats all other meat loafs!”

Uncle: “Something is very wrong.”

Aunt: “Yeah.”

Uncle: “Nobody likes your meat loaf.”

There is even a curious and perhaps unintended relevance in this film. Prior to the renegade scientist (Campbell Scott) turning himself into Spider-Man’s nemesis as a giant lizard, he spouts these words: “I spent my life as a scientist trying to create a world without weakness, without outcasts.” It’s Spider-Man against a Republican agenda! And in a climactic sequence involving cranes over New York City, there is a scene where the crane operators become heroes! And the police chief (Denis Leary) who, despite initial skepticism of Spider-Man, becomes instrumental in saving the day, looks exactly like Richard Blumenthal.

Trying to discover his mission in life, resolving his guilt along with past issues, all while, under the most trying circumstances, negotiating a full-blossom high school romance (with a character played by Emma Stone), this is an oddly up-to-the-minute film.

Of course, I may be reading into it. But even Mrs. Video liked it. And that’s the ultimate test.