After a couple of pretty thin weeks on home video, we’ve got a good number of new releases this week, and a few of them are actually pretty decent. First off, if you’re looking for hi-def re-releases of older films, the choices are many, but random: Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900, Jon Voight thriller The Odessa File, New York Stories, and the original 1973 version of Walking Tall, for example. But we’ve got some good choices this week, including Liam Neeson’s angsty survival thriller, a superpowered found-footage film, an Oscar-nominated period piece, and Woody Harrelson’s latest effort with Oren Moverman. Sure, we’ve got a couple of stinkers too, but the new Criterion should help make up for that. See below for the full list!
While several of Liam Neeson’s most recent films have been critical misfires or downright flops, The Grey proves he’s still capable of captivating an audience. Here, he leads a group of plane crash survivors as they attempt to navigate their way through the snowy Alaskan wilderness, facing both the elements and a pack of hungry wolves. With an equal focus on thrills and existential philosophy, The Grey managed to surprise critics and become one of those rare Certified Fresh hits released during the early part of the calendar year.
Katherine Heigl continues her post-Knocked Up string of Rotten films with One for the Money, her lowest-rated film since the Judd Apatow hit. Based on the bestselling novel of the same name, One for the Money stars Heigl as Stephanie Plum, an out of work debtor who signs up to be bail bonds recovery agent, only to discover her biggest task is bringing in the man who dumped her in high school. With the similarly themed The Bounty Hunter having hit theaters just two years prior, Money didn’t fool anyone, and critics slapped it with a damning 2% Tomatometer.
The initial reaction to Chronicle was, “Another found-footage movie?” but those who were lulled in by the superpowers angle were pleasantly surprised. The story revolves around three teens who are saddled with unnatural abilities after they make a curious discovery; as their powers grow stronger, their darker sides begin to emerge. Despite its gimmicky handheld format, most critics felt that Chronicle transcended its genre with all the elements of a solid movie: smart writing, a brisk pace, and engaging performances from its mostly unknown cast.
If ever there were an argument against the recent found-footage trend, The Devil Inside would be it. While the genre certainly allows for heightened realism, it only works if the acting is noteworthy, the writing is clever, and the director demonstrates firm control over the hand-held camera gimmickry. The Devil Inside, about a young woman who visits her institutionalized mother to determine whether she’s insane or, in fact, actually demon-possessed, exhibits none of those characteristics, earning a well-deserved (according to most) 7% Tomatometer. And if that weren’t enough, reports indicate that its abrupt ending is also one of the most inane in recent memory.
A passion project for Glenn Close that she spent 15 years bringing to the screen, Albert Nobbs was met with lukewarm reviews but received Oscar nods for both Best Actress (Close) and Best Supporting Actress (Janet McTeer). Reprising the role she first played on stage in 1982, Close stars as the titular character, a woman who has spent decades assuming a male identity in order to secure employment at a hotel. After meeting a fellow employee engaged in a similar ruse (McTeer), Nobbs decides to pursue domestic ties with a maid (Mia Wasikowska), who has troubles of her own. While some critics found the film thought-provoking and poignant, others felt it didn’t dig deep enough into the issues it presented, resulting in a 55% Tomatometer score. At the very least, though, most agree that the performances are top notch.
Woody Harrelson has enjoyed a bit of a career resurgence in recent years, thanks to films like No Country for Old Men, Transsiberian, Zombieland, and The Messenger. Last year, he joined up again with The Messenger director Oren Moverman for another Certified Fresh film, this time about a hard-nosed cop in LA’s notorious Rampart Precinct who must face the consequences of his renegade ways as the details of a large scale corruption scandal hit the news. While critics agreed that Harrelson’s character, Dave Brown, is far from sympathetic, Harrelson’s performance keeps viewers locked in, making this worth a watch for him alone.
The literature of Japanese novelis Haruki Murakami is often dreamlike and surreal, focusing on themes of loneliness and isolation, so it’s fitting that the film adaptation of one of his most popular works, Norwegian Wood, is appropriately moody. Helmed by acclaimed French-Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung (The Scent of Green Papaya), Norwegian Wood tells the story of Toru Watanabe, a young student in 1960s Tokyo who falls in love with his classmate Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko, after Kizuki suddenly commits suicide. Suffering from the death, Naoko checks herself into a sanatorium, and that’s when Toru meets Midori, the polar opposite of Naoko, and begins to form a bond with her as well. Certified Fresh at 73%, Norwegian Wood lingered just a bit too long at times for some critics, but most found the melancholy mood infectious, making for a visually stunning and ultimately powerful meditation on youthful love and loss.
Director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman announced their arrival on the feature film scene with a giant bang, establishing their knack for clever, inventive, and visually creative storytelling. Being John Malkovich stars John Cusack as Craig Schwartz, a down-and-out puppeteer who accidentally discovers a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich; as his co-worker (Catherine Keener) and wife (Cameron Diaz) become involved, complicated sexual politics ensue, leading to a bizarre and quietly chilling finale. This week, Criterion releases their edition of Being John Malkovich, complete with brand new extras like commentary featuring Jonze and Michel Gondry, interviews with Malkovich and Jonze, a behind-the-scenes doc, and the full versions of the two films that appear within the film. Great pickup for fans of the film and all those involved in its making.