New Releases 05/21/13

Top Hits
Side Effects (thriller, Rooney Mara. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 75. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Mr. Soderbergh has said that Side Effects will be his last theatrically released feature film. [Behind the Candelabra, his Liberace biopic starring Matt Damon and Michael Douglas, will be shown on HBO.] As such, it is less a summing up than a greatest-hits package, reminding viewers of some of the things that this protean director has done well in recent years. [In addition to casting Channing Tatum, that is.] It has a clammy medical anxiety that recalls Contagion, hints of the corporate shenanigans of The Informant!, the do-gooder convictions of Erin Brockovich and an eye for high-end New York environments that defined The Girlfriend Experience.” Read more…)

Stand Up Guys (comedy, Al Pacino. Rotten Tomatoes: 37%. Metacritic: 41. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “The three geezers who run riot in Stand Up Guys aren’t just grumpy old men acting up. They’re veteran gangsters whose final rampage before they surrender to the dying of the light is a triumphant affirmation of vitality that the movie milks for two parts comedy to one part pathos… Because these amigos are played by Al Pacino, 72; Christopher Walken, 69; and Alan Arkin, 78, Stand Up Guys feels like a sentimental elegy for a generation of first-rate actors who, having nothing left to prove, are enjoying themselves. Most of the modest pleasures are in the ways the men expertly play off one another and invest their shallow characters with more depth than any filmmaker could reasonably expect.” Read more…)

Beautiful Creatures (fantasy/romance, Alden Ehrenreich. Rotten Tomatoes: 45%. Metacritic: 52. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Beautiful Creatures, its sweet young things and supernatural shenanigans have been marshaled to help fill the box-office void left by the end of the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises. It’s a void that The Hunger Games has already started to fill, partly by tapping into deeply American themes and giving them thrilling female form. Beautiful Creatures has been spun from thinner material, despite its strong female characters, nods at the Civil War and a story that turns on good vs. evil, a fight that — as in many young-adult stories — is somewhat mirrored in the struggle between the high school herd and the individual. There’s not much new under the moon here, which makes what the writer and director Richard LaGravenese does with the story all the more notable.” Read more…)

The Last Stand (action, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Rotten Tomatoes: 59%. Metacritic: 54. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “During a delicious 60 seconds or so in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new movie, The Last Stand, two bad guys are dispatched to their eternal punishment in memorable fashion. It may say something about Mr. Schwarzenegger’s post-gubernatorial future in action movies that he is not the trigger man in either killing.” Read more…)

The Rabbi’s Cat (France, animated feature, Francois Morel [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 74. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review:”The frisky kitty at the heart of The Rabbi’s Cat — an endearingly loopy animated feature from Joann Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux — is hairless, bunny-eared and intent on preparing for his bar mitzvah. We know this because the cat, after gobbling his master’s parrot, acquires a voice [provided by François Morel]. And hardly ever stops using it. Set in early-20th-century Algiers and based on Mr. Sfar’s popular series of comic books, this can’t-we-all-get-along story uses the precocious puss to anchor a daisy-chain of interfaith dialogues.” Read more…)

Starlet (drama, Dree Hemingway. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 74. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “The bright sun that blasts through Starlet, a thrillingly, unexpectedly good American movie about love and a moral awakening, bathes everything in a radiant light, even the small houses with thirsty lawns and dusty cars. This isn’t nowhere, but it’s right next door — in that part of Southern California known as the San Fernando Valley, more commonly called the Valley. A seemingly endless stretch of subdivisions and McMansions, the Valley lies far below the rarefied heights of Mulholland Drive, that glamorous crest that helps divide the Los Angeles area into distinct swaths, economic realities, lifestyle choices and states of mind.” Read more…)

Parker (action, Jason Statham. Rotten Tomatoes: 40%. Metacritic: 43. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “It is part of a welcome trend, or counter-trend, in action filmmaking, an effort to strip away the apocalyptic bloat and digital fakery that have overtaken the genre and return to its pulpy, nasty, mechanical roots. If Parker is superior to some other recent work in this line — Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly and Christopher McQuarrie’s wretched Jack Reacher — that may be because Mr. Hackford is authentically rather than self-consciously old school. He knows how to pull off a caper without making a big deal about it.” Read more…)

The Rolling Stones: Crossfire Hurricane (band bio doc, Keith Richards. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 77.)
Open Road (romance, Camilla Belle)

New Blu-Ray
Stand Up Guys
Side Effects
Beautiful Creatures
Parker
The Rabbi’s Cat

New Foreign
Yossi (Israel, romance, Ohad Knoller. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 66. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “The movie is a sequel to Mr. Fox’s Yossi and Jagger [2003], in which Mr. Knoller played the same character when he was an army commander whose clandestine affair with a fellow officer ended tragically. That film was considered a milestone in Israeli cinema for its unblinking portrayal of a gay relationship, and Mr. Fox’s subsequent movies, Walk on Water and The Bubble, also address homosexuality. Yossi tells the beautifully acted but overly sentimental story of a man’s emotional rebirth in a more sexually liberated era. It is also a pointed portrayal of the revolution in social attitudes inside the most liberal and secularized of Israeli cities.” Read more…)

The Rabbi’s Cat (France, animated feature, Francois Morel [voice], in Top Hits)
Detective De Luca: The Complete Series (Italy, detective series set in Fascist Italy, Alessandro Prezioni)

New TV
True Blood: Season 5

New Docs
The Rolling Stones: Crossfire Hurricane (band bio doc, Mick Jagger, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 77.)

New Music
The Rolling Stones: Crossfire Hurricane (band bio doc, Mick Jagger, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 77.)

New Gay & Lesbian
Yossi (Israel, romance, Ohad Knoller, in New Foreign. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 66.)

Hank’s Recommendations 05/21/13

hank_paperSTAND UP GUYS — Val (Al Pacino), having taken the fall for his other partners, is released after 28 years in prison and is met by his good friend and former crime compadre, Doc (Christopher Walken). Val has kept his partners’ complicity from the law, but Doc has a secret, with which he’s been struggling for 28 years, in store for Val.

In one—and possibly final—night, the two renew old memories and bonds, including with their mutual good friend and former partner Hirsch (Alan Arkin), whom they rescue from a nursing home. Together they face the night’s serendipitous opportunities and dangerous events while reminiscing and reacquainting themselves with old skills.

This is not a straight-ahead action thriller. If that’s what you’re looking for, skip this film and see IRON MAN 3, or much better yet, IRON MAN 1 or 2. There are spare but thrilling moments here of action and even a proficient and amusing car chase. But what counts in this otherwise very leisurely movie is the reminiscing and patter as Val and Doc see where the night is going to take them and where it’s going to take their friendship. The dialogue is the hook, along with the pleasures of seeing these three actors still at the top of their game. Yes, it’s a slow movie, like the three characters who have to take it slow—until circumstances plus their own whimsy demand they ratchet it up a notch or two. The “iron” here is friendship and fealty, exerting its own memorable impact in a film that takes its time about time running out.

P.S. As a longtime fan of Christopher Walken, whose performances have mostly been edgy and deviant ones, it’s good to seem him taking on straight, emotionally moving dramatic roles (as in the film above). If you haven’t seen his prior DVD release (also in Top Hits) I strongly recommend LATE QUARTET, a very New York-ish movie that also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener. It’s my favorite film this year.