New Releases 2/11/14

Top Hits
All Is Lost (drama, Robert Redford. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 87. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O.Scott’s Times review: “The ancient Greeks believed that character should be revealed through action. I can’t think of another film that has upheld this notion so thoroughly and thrillingly. There is certainly no other actor who can command our attention — our empathy, our loyalty, our love — with such efficiency. Mr. Redford has always been a magnificent underplayer, a master of small, clear gestures and soft-spoken intensity. This role brings him to the pinnacle of reticence but also allows him to open up in startling ways. Behind the leathery, pragmatic exterior is a reservoir of inexpressible emotion. An opera thunders in the silence.” Read more…)

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The Best Man Holiday (rom-com, Morris Chestnut. Rotten Tomatoes: 68%. Metacritic: 59. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “But if the soapy dramas that emerge out of the movie’s status-anxiety comedy feel predictable and unhappily tilted against the women, having stars with some charisma helps, especially Terrence Howard as the unrepentant horndog Quentin. [Director Malcolm D.] Lee is unrepentant, too, in embracing familiar Hollywood elements: terminal illness, a big football game, pregnancy and innocent children lip-syncing songs.” Read more…)

The Counselor (thriller, Michael Fassbender. Rotten Tomatoes: 34%. Metacritic: 48. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “[Director Ridley] Scott manages all these swiftly spinning parts with impeccable control and a lucid visual style. The story may be initially elusive, but there’s a clarity, solidity and stillness [the camera moves but doesn’t tremble] to his images that augment the narrative’s gravity and inexorable momentum. The beauty of the landscapes is about all that feels coherent in an often unrecognizable, unsettling world.” Read more…)

Ender’s Game (sci-fi, Harrison Ford. Rotten Tomatoes: 61%. Metacritic: 51. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “At one point in Ender’s Game, the boy brainiac Ender Wiggin stands on a podium waving his arms. A vast, immersive image of outer space is spread out before him, and if you didn’t know better, you might think he was playing Wii on an Imax screen. It’s an amusingly self-reflexive moment in a humorless movie about children who play war games as part of their very grown-up military training. As he furiously moves spaceships and troops across computer screens, he looks, by turns, like a superexcited kid, an orchestra conductor, Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and even a Christ figure. Childhood can be tough in movies, but rarely do screen children suffer for our sins as they do here.” Read more…)

Austenland (rom-com, Keri Russell. Rotten Tomatoes: 30%. Metacritic: 42. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Keri Russell’s neck does most of the heavy lifting in Austenland, and if you pay attention to its many undulations, you might just make it through this embarrassingly juvenile comedy without groaning aloud. Whether tilting delicately upward to allow its owner to converse with her towering co-star, Jennifer Coolidge, or contracting in tendon-tightening shame at each new insult suffered by Ms. Russell’s put-upon character, Jane Hayes, that neck — ruthlessly exposed by Regency frocks and updos — is a gift.” Read more…)

Diana (royal biopic, Naomi Watts. Rotten Tomatoes: 8%. Metacritic: 35. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Naomi Watts is one of those performers who seemingly can do no wrong, even in a waxworks like Diana. A slice of biographical conjecture about the Princess of Wales, this movie isn’t especially good, but it wins you over a little just because it succeeds where truckloads of sanctifying reminiscences have failed: Anchored by Ms. Watts’s sympathetic performance, it humanizes the woman behind the smile, the helmet hair and the myth. Part reheated gossip, part moony romance, it revisits an affair Diana had with a Pakistani heart surgeon, Hasnat Khan, a liaison she managed to keep from the ravenous media maw that she routinely fed and spectacularly failed to control.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Ender’s Game
All Is Lost
The Best Man Holiday
Wadjda

New Foreign
Wadjda (Saudi Arabia/Germany, drama, Waad Mohammed. Rotten Tomatoes: 99%. Metacritic: 81. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “[Title character Wajdja] also is determined to have her own bicycle, something that, while not quite forbidden, is nonetheless strongly discouraged in Saudi society. At the edge of adolescence, Wadjda [Waad Mohammed] is discovering the severe limitations placed on women in the name of custom, Islam and family honor. That discovery — and the tricky mixture of resistance and accommodation it provokes in this smart, stubborn girl — is the subject of Haifaa al-Mansour’s sharply observed, deceptively gentle film, reportedly the first feature ever directed by a Saudi woman.” Read more…)

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New British
Sherlock: Season 3

New TV
The Americans: Season 1 (thriller, Keri Russell. Metacritic: 77. From Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times television review: “The Americans, a new series that begins on Wednesday on FX, is also a remarkable accomplishment: It’s a subtle, complex portrait of a relationship etched into an engaging espionage thriller set in 1981, when Reagan was newly elected, and cars were big, and so was the cold war. The marriage of Philip [Matthew Rhys] and Elizabeth Jennings [Keri Russell] was arranged by the K.G.B. in the 1960s. Their ties and tensions are professional but also personal, and so intertwined that it’s impossible for either fully to read, or trust, the other.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (Russia, politics, art, feminism, human rights, music. Rotten Tomatoes: 79%. Metacritic: 73. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review [the documentary was made for HBO]: “The polished documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer champions the three women, members of the Russian feminist collective Pussy Riot, whose conviction on charges of hooliganism in 2012 became an international cause célèbre. It’s persuasive, but not as emotional or stirring as you might expect. The Pussy Riot story as presented here is largely about theater, and there’s a sense of distance while we watch one variety of performance after another — cultural, political, judicial — being played out.” Read more…)

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The Armstrong Lie (sports, doping, Lance Armstrong. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. Metacritic: 67. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “In The Armstrong Lie, Alex Gibney’s absorbing but overlong documentary portrait of Lance Armstrong, begun after he won the Tour de France seven consecutive times [1999-2005], Mr. Armstrong exhibits an unwavering poise and an almost robotic self-possession and air of superiority, with barely discernible blips of defiance and irritation. In the face he presents to the camera, he is still a winner, despite having been stripped of his titles for doping.” Read more…)

Hawking (biography, science, Stephen Hawking. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. From David DeWitt’s New York Times review: “The winning approach here is to let the movie be told in Mr. Hawking’s voice, at least his computer-generated one. “Welcome to my world,” he says. In one sequence, software engineers huddle with Mr. Hawking to give him a faster means of communicating [based on facial tics, mostly], but you’d swear he finds a way to put tone in this narration.” Read more…)