What To Watch: Critic's Dozen

11 movies to watch online, one in theaters - and one to avoid.

What To Watch: Critic's Dozen

I’ve been spending the week dealing with “Watch List” back office stuff and assorted matters – more to come on that next week – but if you’re stuck for a movie to watch over the weekend, here are 11 streaming goodies, old and new, freshly arrived on seven different VOD platforms. Plus, one to catch in theaters and one to stay far, far away from.

On Amazon: “10 Items or Less” (2006, ⭐ ⭐ 1/2) The sort of modest two-character comedy you might feel burned by seeing in a movie theater but that seems right at home on the small screen. Morgan Freeman plays a Hollywood star (how meta) hanging out at a neighborhood supermarket while rehearsing a role for an indie film; the adorable Paz Vega is the self-sabotaging check-out clerk he befriends. Smart, slight, and charming.

On Netflix: “Pacific Rim” (2013, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2) Until last year’s rave-reviewedGodzilla: Minus One” comes to video on demand, fans of well-made monster movies will have to make do with Guillermo del Toro’s excellent kaiju smackdown. Reviewing the film in 2013, I said it “honors both the requirements of modern mega-cinema — monsters and robots, stalwart heroes, global calamities delivered in crystalline 3-D digital imagery — and such unfashionable verities as well-developed characters you care about and witty, passionate storytelling.” With Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi.

“Looper” (2012, ⭐ ⭐ 1/2) Before Rian Johnson hit the big time with “Return of the The Last Jedi” and the “Knives Out” franchise, he made enjoyably smart-ass genre workouts like this twisty back-to-the-future crime drama, in which an assassin (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is stalked by his older self (Bruce Willis). “I don’t want to talk about time travel,” the latter snarls. “We’ll be here all day making diagrams with straws.” With Emily Blunt.

On Hulu: “R.M.N.” (2023) I confess with some embarrassment that I still haven’t gotten around to watching one of 2023’s best-reviewed films, a drama about the arrival of foreign laborers in a powder-keg rural village. I plan to rectify that soon and if you’d like to beat me to the punch, by all means do. The title refers not to Richard Milhous Nixon but to both Romania and the Romanian acronym for an MRI, and the director is Cristian Mungiu, who made one of the greatest movies of the 21st century to date, “Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days.”

On MUBI: “Fallen Leaves” (2023, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) A deadpan love story from Aki Kaurismäki – a Finn’s idea of a rom-com – and just about perfect in its dour, minimalist belief in human trial and error. Alma Pöstyi and Jussi Vatanen play two movie-loving loners who fate keeps nudging toward and away from each other. The director’s own dog, Alma, plays the stray that Pöstyi adopts in the film.

“Fremont” (2023, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) More po-faced festival fare, this one a black-and-white comedy drama about a young Afghanistan army translator (Anaita Wali Zada, very appealing) resettled in America and stuck writing fortunes in a fortune cookie factory. What would you do in such a situation? Exactly. With a late-inning appearance by Jeremy Allen White of “The Bear.” Recommended by a number of Watch List readers, who won’t stop badgering me to tell you about it. Which I have now done, and gladly.

On MAX: “Bachelorette” (2012, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) If you enjoyed 2011’s Kristen Wiig blockbuster “Bridesmaids” but felt it could have used more satire than slapstick, then this acridly hilarious and subtly sad character comedy from writer-director Leslye Headland (who went on to create TV’s “Russian Doll”) may be more up your wedding aisle. Kirsten Dunst is the queen-bee leader of a trio of self-obsessed, self-loathing bridesmaids, with Lizzy Caplan and the deliriously funny Isla Fisher rounding out the crew.

“Just Mercy” (2019, ⭐ ⭐ 1/2) A solid death row/courtroom/true story drama, hoisted high by Michael B. Jordan as a Harvard Law graduate in the Deep South and a ferocious Jamie Foxx as a wrongfully convicted man. With sharp turns by Brie Larson, Rob Morgan, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Tim Blake Nelson. Overlooked in theaters, just fine for at-home viewing, and it sticks close to the facts, too.

On Peacock: “Her Smell” (2019, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) Elizabeth Moss takes a blowtorch to the screen in what could fairly be called “The Courtney Love Story.” The character’s named Becky Something, but Moss brings an aggressive selfishness and confessional on-stage incandescence to the role that feels awfully familiar. Taking place over more than a decade, it’s a slow but ultimately moving gutter-crawl toward grace. Not an easy watch but a worthy one. Directed by Alex Ross Perry.

On Paramount+ “Baby It’s You” (1983, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) For those of us old enough to remember seeing John Sayles’ aching romantic drama in a theater four decades (!) ago, revisiting “Baby” will be a bittersweet class reunion. Rosanna Arquette in her best role as a nice Jewish girl in 1966 New Jersey co-stars with Vincent Spano (whatever happened to him?) as a tough but tender Italian classmate nicknamed “Sheik.” Featuring anachronistic but pitch-perfect songs by some guy named Springsteen.

On Turner Classic Movies: “Notorious” (1946, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐) “Psycho” and “Rear Window” are probably most people’s favorite Hitchcock movies, and the man himself preferred “Shadow of a Doubt,” but this emotionally rich post-war spy melodrama holds the #1 spot in the hearts of a small but fervent coterie, yours truly included. Ingrid Bergman has never been sadder or sexier as the daughter of a late Nazi who marries her espionage assignment (Claude Rains) while falling for her CIA minder (Cary Grant). It’s Grant’s hardest, most moving performance, and Rains kinda breaks your heart as a mama’s boy Nazi. Featuring the longest kiss in the history of classic Hollywood and a mind-blowing crane shot into a key clutched in Bergman’s fist. “Notorious” isn’t available on streaming except for a duff print on Flix and Tubi, but it’s on Turner Classics Monday night at 8 p.m., so settle in or set your DVR.

In Theaters:

“Argylle” (⭐) I reviewed Matthew Vaughn’s clanky, overstuffed spy thriller for the Washington Post this week. You can read the review here or I can save you some time by simply saying Don’t.

“The Promised Land” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2) Here’s a much better theatrical bet, and who amongst us has not wished for a big, strapping period epic starring Mads Mikkelsen? Here’s what I said when I saw the film last September at the Toronto International Film Festival: “Mikkelsen may be our Gary Cooper – a fabulous minimalist whose granite face hardly ever seems to move yet who’s able to convey vast depths of feeling. ‘Promised Land’ is a richly pleasing old-fashioned barnstormer set in 18th century Denmark, with the star stoic and heroic as a common man determined to build a settlement on the blasted heaths of Jutland; Simon Bennebjerg is deliciously hateful as a sadistic noble equally determined to stop him. Directed by Nikolaj Arcel and shot with the sweep of a historical epic by Rasmus Vidbæk, it has nimble performances by Amanda Collin as the hero’s initially reluctant pioneer partner, Kristine Kujath Thorp as the local hot-to-trot princess, and a gallery of settlers, nobles, and civil servants who could have stepped out of a Dutch masters painting. ‘Promised Land’ doesn’t break any new ground but replows the old ground with style, muscle, and class. The film’s Danish title is ‘Bastarden’ – ‘Bastards.’ They should have kept it.”

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