Our weekly round-up of new releases, ranked for your viewing pleasure, by their indispensability and watchability. Yes, we made up that word.
SEE IT NOW!
1. Snowpiercer: It’s flown largely under-the-radar everywhere except amongst raving critics’ circles who are showering it with praise, but it might be the action film of the summer from what we’re hearing. Bong Joon-ho’s epic futuristic action ensemble, set on a speeding train containing the last remnants of humanity amidst a global apocalypse, sounds like a truly exhilarating ride, despite the filmmaker’s infamous dispute with mega-producer Harvey Weinstein concerning the film’s length and trajectory.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
2. Life Itself: A documentary concerning the life and times of one Roger Ebert, film critic, TV personality, and, eventually, cancer victim. The film, made by the effable Steve James, covers the entirety of Ebert's life, including his long bachelor period -- one which saw him drinking to excess so much, he forced himself to finally go sober -- and his far more enriched life with his wife, Chaz. The film is sweet but never sentimental, respectful without turning to reverence. It was important to Ebert, especially in his last months, that the film capture the truth about his life, both good and horrifically bad, and James has succeeded in finding the right balance. Fittingly, Ebert's film about himself, is very, very good.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
FEEL FREE TO WAIT FOR DVD
1. Earth to Echo: While it's true there isn't an enormous amount playing for the kids right now -- unless you agree to let them Netflix The Lego Movie for the 400th time -- this family adventure concerning four young friends about to have to relocate away from each other, and a mysterious little alien who desperately needs their help, sounds horrifically derivative and not terribly inspiring. You might be better off checking out the Miyazaki rentals.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55%
2. Begin Again: It's far from wretched, but John Carney's long-awaited follow-up to the wonderful Once (now a big Broadway show) feels a good deal more laborious and unconvincing than his previous film. A musician by trade, Carney retains a good ear for both the music people devote themselves to, and the music of conversation between two halting, would-be lovers, but whereas Once remain steadfastly understated -- a big source of its power at the end -- this film tries a bit more for bigger and more bombastic, to somewhat middling results. It concerns a beautiful young British singer/songrwriter (Keira Knightley), trying to make a name for herself in New York, and a washed-up music producer (Mark Ruffalo), who thinks he may have just lucked into the next big thing. There are some truly winning scenes (including one that has the pair roaming all over the city, sharing songs of significance), but it just can't measure up to Carney's previous effort.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
3. Yves Saint Laurent: A sort of French bio-pic about the legendary fashion icon, Jalil Lespert's reverential treatment of the designer, from his humble beginnings as a young assistant to the legendary Christian Dior, and his stunning ascent to the Dior throne at 21, after the master's sudden passing, might please the hardcore fashion buffs in a given audience, but perhaps doesn't leave the rest of us with terribly much to chew upon.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 46%
SKIP IT ALTOGETHER
1. Tammy: A colossal misfire from a large comic talent (no pun intended), Melissa McCarthy's misbegotten road comedy comes up short in every manner of way: other than McCarthy's titular protagonist, the rest of the characters around her orbit are nothing more than dreary plot devices. She gets a few scenes where she can belt out her signature bawdy vitriol, but very little else in her film (which she produced, and co-wrote with her director hubby Ben Falcone) rises up past the lowest threshold point of competent.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 24%
2. Deliver Us From Evil: What sounds like yet another dreary possession-based horror flick -- yes (sigh) "based on real events" -- that is meant to illicit chills (and cold, hard cash) from breathless moviegoers, but instead plays like something a studio head could check off his list of requisite summer genre pictures for his early-spring Powerpoint presentation to his bosses. It stars Eric Bana as a NYC cop investigating a rising number of demonic-seeming crimes all over the city, and coming to the startling conclusion that the devil is actually behind it all.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 33%
3. Third Person: Those of us insufferable cynics who found Paul Haggis' Oscar-winning Crash absolutely unendurable and pretentious can feel even more justified after the launch of this seeming turkey, which has garnered nothing but sneers and derision from the critical press, and very little heat at the box office. Another ensemble piece, involving a trio of different stories all concerning love and loss, the film boasts a solid, if predictable, cast (Mila Kunis, Olivia Wilde, Adrien Brody, and James-freaking-Franco), but appears as if it does little with them that anyone particularly wants to witness.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 20%