"Babes" + 10 Good Movies on Prime Video + More

Reviews of "Babes," "Back to Black" and "If," new movies on demand, and 10 good bets for Prime members.

"Babes" + 10 Good Movies on Prime Video + More
Michelle Buteau and Ilana Glazer in "Babes"

NOTE TO READERS: The Watch List will be on vacation until May 30th. I'll try to bring you back a T-shirt.


“IF” (⭐ ⭐) — Misfired family fantasy drama from writer-director John Krasinski, with lots of celebrity voices and very little internal logic. Paid subscribers can read my full review for the Washington Post at the paper's website or below.

“Back to Black” (⭐ ⭐) – An Amy Winehouse biopic that feels as generic as the singer was unique. The movie you’re looking for is the 2015 documentary “Amy.” Paid subscribers can read my full review for the Washington Post at the paper's website or below.

“Babes” (⭐ ⭐ 1/2) – “Lucy and Ethel Get Pregnant,” more or less. A crass, slapstick and often very funny comedy about two longtime best friends: Dawn (comedian Michelle Buteau) who’s just given birth to her second child and is having a slow-motion panic attack, and Eden (co-writer Ilana Glazer), who gets knocked up after a one-night stand and decides to have the baby. If you were a fan of the late, lamented “Broad City,” Glazer’s Comedy Central series with Abbi Jacobson, this should calm any withdrawal pangs, as it gives Glazer plenty of space to be display her singular talent for amusing obnoxiousness. Buteau gets less screen time but what’s there is choice, especially in the physical comedy of the opening scenes, in which Dawn’s water breaks in a movie theater and she ends up crawling into the hospital on all fours.

The director is Pamela Adlon, creator and star of FX’s acclaimed “Better Things” making a pretty good directorial debut, and she keeps things moving with speed and wit. Not all the jokes land and Glazer’s schtick can grate, but there’s a subtextual sweetness, even sentimentality, to “Babes” that is not at all unrelated to the fact that Glazer and Buteau have themselves had children in the last five years and that Adlon’s experience with her three (now-grown) kids informs every frame of “Better Things.” The movie’s men are drawn with empathy and kindness – Hasan Minhaj as Dawn’s saint of a husband, Stephan James adorable as the one-nighter, and John Carroll Lynch rocking a hideous comb-over as the women’s long-suffering obstetrician.

Ilana Glazer and Stephan James meet cute in "Babes"

It’s a very New York movie, down to the STD testing clinic run by identical twin brothers and the breast-feeding consultant with a website called LactationLeslie.com. Worth seeing in a theater? If you like Glazer and/or you need a good, broad laugh about all things pertaining to childbirth. Otherwise, wait until it hits VOD and approach with middling expectations.

NEW ON VIDEO ON DEMAND: Speaking of which, three notable new arrivals from their theatrical runs:

Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman in "Wicked Little Letters"

“Wicked Little Letters” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐, renting for $19.99 premium prices at Amazon, Apple TV, YouTube and elsewhere). I liked this somewhat less than its target audience of literate Britbox devotees, but it’s still an easy watch, especially given Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley in the leads. From my WaPo review:

 Colman is Edith Swan, a middle-aged church lady who still lives with her blunderbuss of a father (Timothy Spall) and mild-mannered mother (Gemma Jones) in a working-class neighborhood of Littlehampton. Buckley is Rose Gooding, freshly arrived from Ireland with a young daughter (Alisha Weir), a new boyfriend (Malachi Kirby) and a love for a good pub crawl that makes her a local scandal. Someone has been sending anonymous poison-pen letters to Edith — letters written in language so outrageously, descriptively obscene that it’s practically an art form — and suspicion quickly falls on the foul-mouthed Rose. … Based on an actual historical incident, “Wicked Little Letters” is an art-house audience pleaser that slaps a veneer of tea-cosy classiness over cartoonish characters and changing social values. The movie is good fun and also surprisingly obvious — a slapstick comedy of manners that hints, but only hints, at darker human urges.

“La Chimera” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2, renting for $5.99 at Amazon, Apple TV, YouTube and elsewhere) From Italy’s Alice Rohrwacher (“Happy as Lazzaro”), a picaresque comedy-drama that, to quote my WaPo review,

concerns a raffish band of working-class tombaroli — grave robbers — who dig up ancient Etruscan artifacts and sell them on the black market … The movie’s also a meditation on the tension between romanticizing the past and profiting from it. Wise, funny and mysterious, it’s a one-of-a-kind charmer.

Josh O’Connor – Prince Charles on “The Crown” and one-third of the romantic triangle in “Challengers” – is amusingly mopey as Arthur, an ex-pat Englishmen who can sniff out an ancient water jug six feet underground – and Isabella Rossellini makes a six-course meal out of her relatively few scenes. As for the director,

she has the shaggy-dog imagination of her countryman Federico Fellini and the acute eye for societal and personal relationships of Roberto Rossellini, but her gift for stories that balance on the edge of realism and fable is unique. A mid-movie tomb-raiding montage set to a pair of local musicians mythologizing the story even as it’s happening is Rohrwacher at her felicitous best, and her use of differing film stocks and characters addressing the audience evokes the casual inventiveness of folk art.
The director also has a sense of the land — of Italy as a country, as history, as buried treasure, as earth — that makes this movie as much an experience as a narrative. The earth is what draws both Arthur and the tombaroli in “La Chimera,” the film’s title hinting at all the dreams of money and meaning that lead them on. 

“Kim’s Video” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐, renting for $4.99 at Amazon, Apple TV, YouTube and elsewhere) – I saw this hilarious stranger-than-fiction documentary back at Sundance 2023 and wasn’t sure whether it would ever see the light of day, so I’m glad it’s surfaced as a cheap rental. As I wrote then,

[It’s] the long, strange trip of a film collection 55,000 titles strong from New York’s Lower East Side to a tiny Italian village and back again. If you lived in Manhattan in the 1980s and you loved movies, you sooner or later made your way to Kim’s, whose flagship store was on Avenue A and E. 6th St. and whose inventory was a VHS education in film history, esoteric cinema, genre trash, and the virtues of bootlegged videos. The place was a legend, with legendarily obstreperous clerks, some of whom (Alex Ross Perry, Todd Phillips) went on to become filmmakers themselves, as did some of the customers (Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch). The Kim’s empire, overseen by eccentric Korean businessman Yongman Kim, flourished into the first years of the new millennium, when it was brought down by government anti-piracy raids, the rise of streaming video, and gentrification; in 2008, Mr. Kim offered to donate the collection to any entity that would make it available to Kim’s members in perpetuity, and Salemi, a small town in Sicily anxious to raise its cultural profile, took him up on it.
Here is where directors David Redmon and Ashley Sabin come in. Curious about where this invaluable trove of cinema had gone to, they traveled to Salemi and found the Kim’s videos lying unboxed and unstored in a water-damaged civic building. And this is where “Kim’s Video” boldly pioneers a brand-new genre – the documentary heist flick – as the filmmakers and their friends vow to liberate and relocate all 55,000 titles to someplace that will treat them with the archival reverence they deserve. The sight of this wrecking crew carrying out the theft while wearing masks of their favorite filmmakers – Alfred Hitchcock, Agnes Varda, Maya Deren – is a testament to cheerfully demented movie love. Did I mention that the Mafia figures in this somehow? … More enthusiastic than competent, “Kim’s Video” is still a tonic for lovers of psychotronic cinema in all its forms. N.B. The Kim’s Video collection now resides in the Alamo Drafthouse cinema in lower Manhattan.


“Away From Her” (2006, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) – Actress Sarah Polley’s feature directing debut netted Oscar nominations for her screenplay and Julie Christie’s incandescent portrayal of a woman with Alzheimer’s who falls in love with a man at her memory care facility, to the consternation and understanding of her Husband (Gordon Pinsent).

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016) – Seeing Things Secondhand

“Everybody Wants Some!!” (2016, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2) – Director Richard Linklater and star Glen Powell (above) are about to make a splash next week with “Hit Man,” one of the best movies of 2024. Catch an early teaming of the two in this infectious, virtually plotless comedy of college baseball players in the early 1980s, a sequel of sorts to “Dazed and Confused.”

“I’m Not There” (2007, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) – Todd Haynes’ magnificently mysterioso Bob Dylan biopic casts six different actors as six different versions of the Bard of Hibbing, including a brilliant Cate Blanchett as the amphetamine Bob of the “Don’t Look Back” era. As with a Dylan song, don’t try to figure it out – just let it wash over you.

“In a Lonely Place” (1950, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) – Other Humphrey Bogart movies may be more celebrated, but Nicholas Ray’s dark, daring drama of a Hollywood screenwriter with anger management issues has Bogey’s finest screen performance.

“The Music Never Stopped” (2011, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) – A drably directed yet affecting drama about family bonds, rock ‘n’ roll, and the human brain, adapted from an Oliver Sacks essay. J.K. Simmons plays an uptight father and Lou Taylor Pucci a grown son whose brain tumor has gutted his memory. Music – specifically classic rock – brings them together. Calling all Deadhead dads!

“Q: The Winged Serpent” (1982, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) – The last gasp of stop-motion creature features before CGI came in and ruined everything, Larry Cohen’s extremely funny trash classic imagines an Aztec dragon deity living in the top of New York’s Chrysler Building and Michael Moriarty giving a performance for the ages as the small-time hustler who blackmails the city for its location.

“Repulsion” (1965, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) – Claustrophobic, super-disturbing portrait of a young woman having a schizophrenic break with reality while no one notices. Catherine Deneuve stars and Roman Polanski directs like the evil genius that he was and is.

“The Swimmer” (1968, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) – From a John Cheever short story, a tale of existential suburban discontent, with a strapping Burt Lancaster losing his shit and swimming home through every one of his neighbor’s swimming pools. As they say, it’s not the journey but the friends he makes along the way. I have to believe “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner saw this film several times before dreaming up Don Draper.

“Trees Lounge” (1996, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2) – The first feature directed by Steve Buscemi, who also writes and stars in this wonderfully woeful tale of bar-flies at a local Long Island dive. “Sopranos” creator David Chase saw this and hired Buscemi to direct the legendary “Pine Barrens” episode where Christopher and Paulie get lost in South Jersey. My favorite Letterboxd review of this movie: “It’s a great slice of life story that reminds me of the people in my hometown, along with the bar my dad used to drag me to when I was a kid.”


“Trouble in Mind” (1985, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) – From the mercurial Alan Rudolph, a fairy-tale noir that casts Keith Carradine, Genevieve Bujold, Kris Kristofferson, Lori Singer, and Divine (in his only non-drag role if you don’t count the scene in “Female Trouble” where he has sex with him/herself) in an achingly romantic day-after-yesterday detective story held together by Carradine’s increasingly nutty hairdos, Mark Isham’s glorious score, and Marianne Faithfull’s ravaged vocals. The critics liked it, but it burned up all of Rudolph’s Hollywood cred from “Choose Me.”

Finally: If you are of a podcast frame of mind, I urge you to listen to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ “Wiser Than Me,” in which the actress interviews her elders, creative legends like Jane Fonda, Bonnie Raitt, Ina Garten, Anne Lamott, Sally Field, Billie Jean King, Carol Burnett, and – oh, my – Patti Smith. The sessions are long (about an hour each), leisurely, funny as hell, and often very moving, and at the end of each episode, Louis-Dreyfus calls her mother, the poet Judith Bowles, for a warm post-mortem of the conversation. It’s great listening on a long drive, and Louis-Dreyfus is a natural interviewer and skilled pitchwoman for the show’s various sponsors, to the point where I’m considering buying some new skin care products. Thanks to Mrs. Movie Critic for turning me on to this one.

That's it for this week, although my WaPo reviews are below the paywall. Feel free to leave a comment or add to someone else's. See you in June!

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