New Releases 8/25/15

Top Hits
AlohaAloha (romance, Bradley Cooper. Rotten Tomatoes: 19%. Metacritic: 40. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “While I can’t make any excuses for ‘Aloha’ — to the extent it can even figure out what movie it wants to be, it’s not a very good one — I can leaven my disappointment with mercy. Mr. Crowe is a huge fan of forgiveness, and so [occasional appearances to the contrary] am I. I can even say that I had a good time, a better time than I had at ‘Vanilla Sky’ or ‘Elizabethtown.’ But now I’m starting to get a little depressed. I enjoyed ‘Aloha’ the way you can enjoy a catch-up beer with an old friend you don’t have much in common with anymore. Set among military service people and contractors in Hawaii, it’s a loose, leisurely hangout movie, funny and sprawling and full of eccentric, interesting folks.” Read more…)

Citizenfour (Oscar winner, government surveillance, civil liberties, Edward Snowden. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 88. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “There are two ways to look at ‘Citizenfour,’ Laura Poitras’ documentary about Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor whose revelations of widespread surveillance launched a hundred Op-Ed columns a year ago. The first and most obvious is as a piece of advocacy journalism, a goad to further argument about how security and transparency should be balanced in a democracy, about how governments abuse technology, about how official secrets are kept and exposed. The second is as a movie, an elegant and intelligent contribution to the flourishing genre of dystopian allegory… Cinema, even in the service of journalism, is always more than reporting, and focusing on what Ms. Poitras’s film is about risks ignoring what it is. It’s a tense and frightening thriller that blends the brisk globe-trotting of the ‘Bourne’ movies with the spooky, atmospheric effects of a Japanese horror film. And it is also a primal political fable for the digital age, a real-time tableau of the confrontation between the individual and the state.” Read more…)

New Foreign
La_SapienzaLa Sapienza (Italy, drama, Fabrizio Rongione. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 72. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The characters in ‘La Sapienza,’ Eugène Green’s new film, tend to look directly into the camera when they speak, to speak clearly and grammatically, and to refrain from interrupting one another. The rhythm of the editing is similarly deliberate: The camera looks at one person, then another, and patiently surveys a landscape or the interior of an old and magnificent building. This graceful, unhurried style, with its blend of austerity and artifice and its roots in classical French theatrical traditions, is Mr. Green’s signature. American by birth and ardently European by residence and vocation, he elevates formal decorum to a moral principle. ‘La Sapienza,’ quiet and conversational as it seems, is a passionate defense of — and perhaps also an elegy for — an old and dignified ideal of civilization.” Read more…)

War Witch (Democratic Republic of the Congo, war drama, Rachel Mzanza. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 84. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “The fourth feature directed by Kim Nguyen, a Montreal-based filmmaker of Vietnamese descent, ‘War Witch’ shows a lot of gunfire but little actual bloodshed. There is nothing so overtly grisly that you might want to avert your eyes. This discretion lends the film an almost disembodied feeling, as if the horrors Komona witnesses and perpetuates were somehow unreal to her, although they are not.” Read more…)

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (France, thriller, Michel Houellebecq. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 64. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “A fictional movie or perhaps not exactly, ‘The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq’ had its premiere at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival, a year before the Charlie Hebdo killings. There’s no direct connection between the movie and the murders, but both are part of that contested terrain known as Michel Houellebecq. By this, I mean less the real Mr. Houellebecq [whoever he is] than that site in which writerly production meets intellectual validation or condemnation, vociferous public debate and political denunciation. It is this site, this authorial marker that is presumably on view in ‘The Kidnapping,’ a divertingly eccentric, often comically absurd movie about a novelist, also named Michel Houellebecq, who finds something like happiness after being abducted.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
The Great Gatsby (1939, drama, Alan Ladd. Rotten Tomatoes: 38%. From Bosley Crowther’s New York Times review [log-in required]: “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic story of the ‘prohibition crowd,’ which he told with real irony and pity in ‘The Great Gatsby’ back in 1925, has been brought to the screen by Paramount with particular emphasis upon the aspects of the sentimental romance that formed the thread of the novel’s fragile plot. Except for a few pictorial tracings of parties and brittle high-life, the flavor of the Prohibition era is barely reflected in this new film at the Paramount. Indeed, there are reasons for suspecting that Paramount selected this old tale primarily as a standard conveyance for the image of its charm boy, Alan Ladd. For most of the tragic implications and bitter ironies of Mr. Fitzgerald’s work have gone by the board in allowing for the generous exhibition of Mr. Ladd.” Read more…)

New British (Commonwealth) DVDs
Harry (New Zealand police drama, Oscar Knightley)

New TV
The Good Wife: Season 6 (legal drama, Julianna Margulies)

New Documentaries
CitizenfourCitizenfour (Oscar winner, government surveillance, civil liberties, Edward Snowden. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 88. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “There are two ways to look at ‘Citizenfour,’ Laura Poitras’ documentary about Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor whose revelations of widespread surveillance launched a hundred Op-Ed columns a year ago. The first and most obvious is as a piece of advocacy journalism, a goad to further argument about how security and transparency should be balanced in a democracy, about how governments abuse technology, about how official secrets are kept and exposed. The second is as a movie, an elegant and intelligent contribution to the flourishing genre of dystopian allegory… Cinema, even in the service of journalism, is always more than reporting, and focusing on what Ms. Poitras’s film is about risks ignoring what it is. It’s a tense and frightening thriller that blends the brisk globe-trotting of the ‘Bourne’ movies with the spooky, atmospheric effects of a Japanese horror film. And it is also a primal political fable for the digital age, a real-time tableau of the confrontation between the individual and the state.” Read more…)

Iris (Albert Maysles doc, artist bio. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 80. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “There are few better ways right now to spend 80 movie minutes than to see ‘Iris,’ a delightful eye-opener about life, love, statement eyeglasses, bracelets the size of tricycle tires and the art of making the grandest of entrances. Directed by Albert Maysles — one half of the legendary documentary team that made ‘Grey Gardens’ — this is a documentary about a very different kind of woman who holds your imagination from the moment she appears. You can’t take your eyes off Iris Apfel [she wouldn’t have it any other way], but, then, why would you want to?” Read more…)

New Releases 08/27/13

Top Hits
The Great Gatsby (literary drama, Leonardo DiCaprio. Rotten Tomatoes: 49%. Metacritic: 55. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The best way to enjoy Baz Luhrmann’s big and noisy new version of The Great Gatsby — and despite what you may have heard, it is an eminently enjoyable movie — is to put aside whatever literary agenda you are tempted to bring with you. I grant that this is not so easily done. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s slender, charming third novel has accumulated a heavier burden of cultural significance than it can easily bear.” Read more…)

Pain & Gain (action, Mark Wahlberg. Rotten Tomatoes: 46%. Metacritic: 44. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “To describe Pain & Gain as a Michael Bay movie on steroids would be accurate but also redundant and a little misleading. Pumped-up, aggressive, muscle-headed entertainment is Mr. Bay’s specialty, after all, and while this grisly true-crime drama is partly about performance-enhancing drugs and the bulky men who love them, it is also, compared with Armageddon or the Transformers series, a stripped-down, modest enterprise in which no major American city is reduced to rubble.” Read more…)

Kon-Tiki (action/adventure, Anders Baasmo Christiansen. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 63. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Directed by Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg, with a script by Petter Skavlan, Kon-Tiki is instead a stolidly old-fashioned and manly hair-in-the-wind entertainment of the sort that could have filled out the bottom of a studio double bill. The men are handsome, the sea is pretty and if the sharks look as rubbery as last week’s chicken, at least they add some drama — and buckets of sloshing blood and guts — to what otherwise proves a dull affair.” Read more…)

At Any Price (drama, Dennis Quaid. Rotten Tomatoes: 51%. Metacritic: 60. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “‘Expand or die.’ That ominous motto of Henry Whipple, a successful Iowa farmer in Ramin Bahrani’s new film, At Any Price, distills the business philosophy of a man driven by ambition. Henry, who farms more than 3,000 acres, is an aggressive, unscrupulous salesman for a company that markets genetically modified seeds. With a too-wide grin that threatens to crack the corners of his mouth and a backslapping friendliness that verges on obsequiousness, Henry is portrayed by Dennis Quaid as a warped caricature of a reassuring American archetype: the down-to-earth family man in the heartland with his feet firmly planted in the soil.” Read more…)

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (drama, Riz Ahmed. Rotten Tomatoes: 54%. Metacritic: 54. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “In his slim 2007 novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the Pakistan-born writer Mohsin Hamid takes these two words and rubs them together until they throw off intellectual sparks. Written as a monologue, it is a somewhat claustrophobic blurt of a book that, given world events, continues to feel eerily timely. The monologue is delivered by Changez — a young Pakistani university lecturer grievously, possibly violently disenchanted with the United States — to an unnamed American who may be some kind of United States operative… Comparing books to the movies made of them isn’t always necessary or productive, but it’s instructive when the results are as thuddingly crude as Mira Nair’s take on The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Blunt where the novel is subtle, it follows its source in outline, with Changez [a fine Riz Ahmed] narrating his tale to the stranger, here a journalist with a preposterous name, Bobby Lincoln [Liev Schreiber], and a fairly clear-cut relationship with the American government.” Read more…)

The Painting (animated feature, Kamali Minter [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 76%. Metacritic: 70. From Anita Gates New York Times review: “Ramo loves Claire, but he is an Alldunn, and she is a Halfie, and their romance is forbidden in the world of Le Tableau, a French animated film now released in English as The Painting… This is a sweet adventure story for children. [Surely, American parents can deal with the bare breasts of one talking painting.] For adults it is short on narrative sophistication but visually a true objet d’art.” Read more…)

DC Universe: Superman Unbound (PG-13 animated feature)
The Dragon Pearl (fantasy/adventure, Sam Neill)

New Blu-Ray
The Great Gatsby

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
To Be or Not to Be (1942, Ernst Lubitsch-directed political satire, Carole Lombard. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Bosley Crowther’s 1942 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy was a positive declaration when compared to the jangled moods and baffling humors of Ernst Lubitsch’s new film, To Be or Not to Be, which opened yesterday at the Rivoli under delicate circumstances at best. For not only was this the last picture in which the late Carole Lombard played—and on which was therefore imposed an obligation of uncommon tact—but it happens to be upon a subject which is far from the realm of fun. And yet, in a spirit of levity, contused by frequent doses of shock, Mr. Lubitsch has set his actors to performing a spy-thriller of fantastic design amid the ruins and frightful oppressions of Nazi-invaded Warsaw. To say it is callous and macabre is understating the case.” Read more…)

New TV
The Walking Dead: Season 3
Sons of Anarchy: Season 5

New Documentaries
Koch (bio, politics, Ed Koch. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 71. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “In the film [former New York City Mayor Edward] Koch himself, who dies at 88 on Friday, seems to have mellowed very little. New York may be a safer, cleaner and less argumentative place than it was in the 1980s, but the Ed Koch of 2010 appears as contentious, as mischievous and at times as inflammatory as ever. We see him campaigning for Andrew Cuomo, whose father, Mario, was Mr. Koch’s rival in a bitter Democratic primary in 1977 and in the gubernatorial race five years later. We also hear him call the younger Cuomo ‘a schmuck’ on election night and speak disparagingly of another Democrat, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.” Read more…)

Iceberg Slim: Portrait Of A Pimp (bio, culture, literature. Rotten Tomatoes: 62%. Metacritic: 56. From Miriam Bale’s New York Times review: “The monikers Ice-T and Ice Cube nod to the influence of Iceberg Slim, the pimp turned author whose real name was Robert Beck, on the ethos and style of gangster rap. In further homage, Ice-T has produced Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp, a documentary told through talking-head admirers including Chris Rock and Snoop Dogg. The film was directed by Ice-T’s manager, Jorge Hinojosa, a first-time director who credits reading Mr. Beck’s first book, Pimp: The Story of My Life [1967], at Ice-T’s suggestion, with teaching him everything he needed to know about ‘the game’ of managing a rap star with larger ambitions.” Read more…)

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s (fashion, Giorgio Armani. Rotten Tomatoes: 50%. Metacritic: 55. From Andy Webster’s New York Times review: “It’s clear that top fashion designers aspire to a presence at Bergdorf Goodman, the high-end Manhattan department store, given the numbingly relentless litany of encomiums in Matthew Miele’s documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s.In this glossy, fawning valentine to conspicuous consumption [the title derives from a Victoria Roberts cartoon in The New Yorker], the stars — Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani, the Olsen twins, Marc Jacobs, Manolo Blahnik, Michael Kors and others — dutifully pay tribute. Thank heaven for a bubble-popping Joan Rivers, who blithely observes, ‘People who take fashion seriously are idiots.'” Read more…)

New Children’s DVDs
The Painting (animated feature, Kamali Minter [voice], in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 76%. Metacritic: 70. From Anita Gates New York Times review: “Ramo loves Claire, but he is an Alldunn, and she is a Halfie, and their romance is forbidden in the world of Le Tableau, a French animated film now released in English as The Painting… This is a sweet adventure story for children. [Surely, American parents can deal with the bare breasts of one talking painting.] For adults it is short on narrative sophistication but visually a true objet d’art.” Read more…)

The Dragon Pearl (fantasy/adventure, Sam Neill, in Top Hits)