What To Watch: Post-Op Edition

"Rye Lane" on Hulu is a romcom tonic for the coming of spring; plus six other good movie bets across the VOD spectrum

What To Watch: Post-Op Edition

The tongue-in-cheek question I posed on Facebook the day after my surgery two weeks ago remains relevant today: Can a movie critic without a spleen really be considered a movie critic? I guess we find out from here on in, but rest assured that my bile ducts remain open for business. And don’t ask whether I’ve still got gall.

To new subscribers, of whom there seems to have been an influx of late: Welcome and excuse the mess! Fridays are generally a time when I take a look around at new releases, whether in theaters or on demand, and direct you to the ones you’ll hopefully enjoy. When it makes sense to do so, which it does this week, I break the offerings down by subscription service so that you have something to watch no matter what VOD platforms are in your house.

Luckily, there’s a delightful romantic comedy to point you toward this weekend on Hulu: A frisky spring beauty called “Rye Lane” (⭐⭐⭐1/2) that looks like it was made out of shoestrings and love and which doubles as a vacation in London just as the magnolias in the parks start to bloom. The feature debut of director Raine Allen Miller, with a script that fizzes and grins, it’s the story of a daylong meet-cute between Dom (David Jonsson, above left), first seen sobbing in a bathroom stall over a recent breakup, and Yas (Vivian Oparah, above right), a human tornado with a fuzzy pink purse. There’s not a lot more to it than the two leads walking and talking and bantering through the neighborhoods of Peckham, Brixton, and other South London locales – all right, there is a bit of breaking and entering, plus a backyard barbecue with some suspicious Aunties that’s a comic high point – but the vibe is so infectious, the colors so happily overripe, and the soundtrack so blissful that it’s hard not to fall for the damn thing.

Is it a bit slight at under 90 minutes? Sure. Does it have any greater artistic or sociopolitical meaning? Thankfully, no. (Maybe that three and a half star rating is a bit high, but, look, it’s been a long winter.) I first caught “Rye Lane” at Sundance in January, where it charmed the mukluks off everyone who saw it – as did the cast and crew in their public appearances – and when I watched it again the other night with my wife, she noted, correctly, that the movie feels infused with the democratic spirit of the late Jonathan Demme, the rare filmmaker who liked all his characters, even the boobs. (Sometimes especially the boobs.) And Miller fills the frame with characters, milling in the streets behind Dom and Yas, caught up in their own dramas and comedies, and going about their day with defiant individuality. The city in “Rye Lane” is a living thing – a genial, gentle mob scene in which this is just one love story out of many. Is it worth toggling Hulu if you’re not already a subscriber? Certainly, if only to marvel at the comedic force of nature that is Vivian Oparah and for the great sight gag involving an uncredited Colin Firth as the proprietor of a taco stand called “Love Guac’tually.” (Note: You may want to turn on the subtitles, since the dialogue is very fast and very British.)

In Theaters: The one to seek out on the big screen this weekend is “A Thousand and One” (⭐⭐⭐1/2), a Sundance Grand Jury prizewinner that, refreshingly, is being distributed to multiplexes as well as independent theaters. The debut feature from writer-director A.V. Rockwell, the movie’s many things: A portrait of a Black urban family forming itself against steep odds, a time-lapse snapshot of New York City as it gentrifies across the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations, and the arrival of singer-dancer-actress Teyana Taylor as a screen performer of ferocious charisma. The film opens with her character, Inez, fresh out of prison and impulsively kidnapping her six-year-old son Terry (Aaron Kingsley Adetola) from the hospital, where his foster parents have brought him after an accident. You figure you’re being set up for two hours of miserablism with a short, sharp ending, but “A Thousand and One” proceeds to unfurl over eleven years of city life, as Terry grows (and is played by Aven Courtney and then Josiah Cross), Inez struggles, and Lucky (William Catlett), the man in their life, transforms from the opposite of his name to something richer and more complex. Rockwell has made a humanistic epic – really, it could be a filmed novel – and brings it to life through empathy, subtle shadings, and a central figure and performance that won’t be denied. The secret here is that Inez’s struggle is the latest in a long line of compelling mother-love melodramas that the movies have been serving up even before Barbara Stanwyck took the genre to town. And I think Teyana Taylor knows it. Highly recommended.

On Amazon Prime: “Reggie” (⭐⭐⭐), a baseball documentary you don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy (although it helps). Unlike a lot of entries in the subgenre, this one puts its subject front and center – as if Reggie Jackson would have it any other way. Plonked in a chair and speaking directly to the camera, Jackson tells his story not as the arrogant Mr. October that Yankees fans loved and hated but as his own man: A hellaciously talented hitter and fielder who only wanted to be treated with the same respect as the white titans of the sport. We get the highlight reel stuff – the three World Series wins with the Oakland As, Jackson’s three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 Series vs the Dodgers, the never-ending fracases with Yankees manager Billy Martin – but “Reggie” is at its strongest detailing Jackson’s experiences as part of the second generation of Black Major League Baseball talent – the ones who came after Jackie Robinson and faced a racism that remained entrenched in the front offices, in the stands, and, at least for his first year as a Yankee, in the dugout. The modern-day conversations with former teammates like As pitchers Vida Blue and Rollie Fingers, and home-run legend Hank Aaron have humor, spirit, sorrow, and hard-earned wisdom, and when a weary Aaron (who died in 2021) acknowledges that the Atlanta Braves have given him an office “so it can be said that I have an office here,” your heart just about breaks. Not Jackson’s, though – that just sets his jaw harder. “Reggie” is a portrait of a firebrand who in old age has become a figure of serene, ice-cold clarity.

On Apple TV+:Tetris” (⭐⭐1/2) – With this film on demand and Ben Affleck’s “Air” – about the birth of the Air Jordan sneaker –  in theaters next week,  it can safely be said that we are in fresh wave of capitalist love stories, tales of deathless entrepreneurs and how they triumphed on their way to bringing us the goods. The direct-to-AppleTV+ “Tetris” is – you guessed it – the story of how the computer game that obsessed us all for a bunch of years at the turn of the 1990s made it from a Russian computer programmer’s terminal to your kid’s Gameboy. Is it possible to whip up suspense over a battle for distribution rights to a puzzle? When much of the action takes place in a Soviet Union on the brink of collapse, yes. “Tetris” starts out with the weisenhimer air of an Adam McKay comedy like “The Big Short” – lots of snarky narration and explanatory cutaways – but it settles down into an engagingly paranoid 8-bit variation on “Bridge of Spies,” with lead Taran Egerton (“Rocketman,” the “Kingsmen” movies) a mustachioed Energizer Bunny as Henk Rogers, a software hustler aiming to outfox rivals like British media kingpin Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) while befriending the humble computer genius (Nikita Efremov) who invented the game. Apparently much of this is true – although I’m guessing the bug-eyed KGB villain played by Igor Grabuzov is an invention – which isn’t the same as saying it’s terribly exciting. Still, you could do worse on a slow night. Warning: If you watch this with the kids, be prepared to explain what a floppy disc was.

On HBO Max:All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” (⭐⭐⭐⭐), the Oscar-nominated documentary about Nan Goldin, whose groundbreaking photography memorialized a lost generation of 1980s queer culture and whose recent years have been devoted to bringing the Sackler family to justice for their profiting from the opioid epidemic created by their drug OxyContin. Laura Poitras (“Citizenfour”) directs this portrait of an unquenchably furious American gadfly.

On Netflix HBO MAX: “Love and Basketball” (2000, ⭐⭐⭐) – If you were knocked over by last year’s “The Woman King” and are curious to see more by director Gina Prince-Bythewood, her very first feature film is an excellent place to start – the rare sports romance in which the two leads are evenly matched on the court. Quincy (Omar Epps) and Monica (Sanaa Lathan) grow up together through L.A. childhood, high school hoops rivalries, and into post-college pro careers, forever dancing around their attraction to each other. Like her 2014 music-world drama “Beyond The Lights,” this shows Prince-Bythewood to be an assured master of mood and melodrama – the real deal.

On Criterion Channel: “M” (1931, ⭐⭐⭐⭐) – Sometimes you just feel like revisiting one of those warhorses they showed you back in History of Film 101, to see if it’s as good as you remember. Good God, is it ever. I threw this on the other night as post-op classic movie comfort food, which I know sounds strange for a movie about a psychopathic child-killer, but there’s a reason Fritz Lang’s first sound film laid down the rules of the police procedural genre, up to and including every “CSI” and “NCIS” spinoff ever. Set in a Weimar-era Berlin that feels like Bertolt Brecht’s version of SimCity, “M” concerns a two-headed manhunt for the man who’s savagely murdering the city’s boys and girls. On one hand are the police, bumbling along as they try out newfangled technologies like fingerprinting and graphology. On the other are the criminal guilds of Berlin – the pickpockets and beggars, prostitutes and second-story men – who figure they’d better catch the killer themselves if they ever want to get the police off their backs. In the middle is the doughy, bug-eyed killer himself, played by Peter Lorre in the role that made the actor an international star. (Where’s the public in all this? Useless at best and dangerous at worst, ready to fall on any suspicious innocent and tear him to shreds.) Lang and his screenwriter wife Thea Von Harbou rooted the story in actual murderers of post-WWI Germany and real criminal guilds, and “M” has a drily cynical documentary feel to it that’s upended in the famous final sequence of Lorre’s Hans Beckert before the underground court, screaming out not his innocence but his helplessness – the one damaged creature in an entire damaged city who’s not doing it on purpose. Almost 100 years old, the movie still has the power to unsettle the soul.

One last thing: If you’re a moviegoer in the western suburb of Boston, you’re probably familiar with the West Newton Cinema, a beloved old neighborhood six-screener that has been showing a mix of independent and studio fare for decades under David Bramante’s stewardship and whose roots go back to the 1930s. The building was recently purchased by a developer, with Bramante given two years to come up with a plan to renovate the theater or see it fall to the wrecking ball. I’m part of a committee that’s been exploring avenues for funding a renovation and pointing the theater toward a new era of programming and community involvement as a non-profit entity; the West Newton Cinema Foundation’s website went live today and lays out a timeline for saving the theater. Feel free to check it out, chip in, or get involved! It’d be a shame to lose one of the few remaining neighborhood cinemas in the Boston area.

Thoughts? Don’t hesitate to weigh in.

If you enjoyed this edition of Ty Burr’s Watch List, please feel free to pass it along to friends.

If you’re not a paying subscriber and would like to sign up for additional postings and to join the discussions — or just help underwrite this enterprise, for which the management would be very grateful — here’s how.