New releases 10/21/14

Top Hits
Snowpiercer (sci-fi/action, Chris Evans. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 84. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “In the mood for allegory? Have a look at Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Snowpiercer,’ which proceeds from a fantastical premise rich with real-world relevance. After a human-engineered planetary catastrophe (trying to arrest the planet’s warming, we accidentally froze it solid), the remaining people are stuck on a train that never stops moving. A few thousand survivors live in railway cars, sorted into a rigid and ruthlessly enforced social order… But perhaps, since a summer holiday weekend is approaching, you’d prefer an action movie. ‘Snowpiercer,’ based on the graphic novel ‘Le Transperceneige’ by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, is unusually satisfying in that regard as well. Mr. Bong, whose previous films include the brilliant psychological thriller ‘Mother’ and ‘The Host,’ a sublimely moving monster flick, is a playful and rigorous visual thinker.” Read more…)

Sex Tape (comedy, Cameron Diaz. Rotten Tomatoes: 18%. Metacritic: 34. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The Internet, it has been said, is a series of tubes. So is the human body. The intersection of these two systems — each one sticky, nasty and fascinating in its own special way — is a fact of daily life and also the subject of ‘Sex Tape,’ a new R-rated comedy starring Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz. Don’t get your hopes up. Or maybe I should say don’t worry. Because in spite of a title that evokes everything tawdry and salacious in contemporary on-line culture [at least circa 2007], in spite of a steady cascade of obscene language, and in spite of a naked buttock here and there, ‘Sex Tape,’ directed by Jake Kasdan, is as wholesome as a spoonful of nonfat Greek yogurt.” Read more…)

Mad Men: Final Season Part 1 (TV series, Jon Hamm. From Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times TV review: “And fittingly, ‘Mad Men’ is living out its own Peter Principle: A series that was so original, fresh and authoritative when it began in 2007 has stayed on television beyond its creative peak. The season premiere seems as exhausted as the decade it has chronicled so intensely. The cinematography is striking, as always; the sets and costumes remain as telling as the dialogue — this is when Peter Max was on the cover of Life magazine. But many of the characters are repeating themselves or pedaling in place, and the historic underlay that was once so piquant is now dreary: This season it’s the inauguration of President Richard M. Nixon. That sagging of energy happens to any long-lasting series, but it’s oddly apt in the case of ‘Mad Men,’ because the show’s trajectory so closely follows the era it portrays.” Read more…)

Earth to Echo (sci-fi/family, Teo Halm. Rotten Tomatoes: 48%. Metacritic: 53. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “A chipper, shallow knockoff of classic suburban adventure movies, ‘Earth to Echo’ rolls out a YouTube-and-smartphone update to the little lost alien tales of the 1980s. Technology remains no substitute for well-written characters and genuine intrigue and atmosphere, so despite the cute special effects and camera jostling, this film feels like an extended episode of an after-school show by Disney [which reportedly developed the project initially].” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Snowpiercer

New Foreign
Generation War (Germany, World War II mini-series, Volker Bruch. Rotten Tomatoes: 61%. Metacritic: 57. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “‘Generation War,’ which was broadcast as a mini-series on German television last year, is perhaps more interesting as an artifact of the present than as a representation of the past. As the Second World War slips from living memory, as Germany asserts its dominant role in Europe with increasing confidence, and as long-suppressed information emerges from the archives of former Eastern bloc countries, the war’s cultural significance for Germans has shifted. Coming after the silence of the ’50s and early ’60s and the angry reckonings of the ’70s and ’80s, ‘Generation War,’ emotionally charged but not exactly anguished, represents an attempt to normalize German history.” Read more…)

A Coffee in Berlin (Germany, comedy, Tom Schilling. Rotten Tomatoes: 72%. Metacritic: 63. From Rachel Saltz’s New York Times review: “This first feature directed by Jan Ole Gerster has plenty of style. Maybe too much. Mr. Gerster has a tendency to aestheticize Niko’s aimless angst and his city, full of the young and the hanging out. The mood-setting music — jazz and melancholy piano — and the beautiful black-and-white images [by Philipp Kirsamer] of light-soaked rooms, street scenes and rooftops serve to dull the story’s barbed comic edges.” Read more…)

Violette (France, biopic drama, Emmanuelle Devos. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 72. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “In Violette,’ Emmanuelle Devos plays one of those impossible women who can’t give anyone, most of all herself, a break. For Violette Leduc, a black marketeer turned celebrated writer, life is a series of crushing disappointments, from the mother who never took her hand to the friends who never stay. Early in the film when a friend leaves the home they share, he sneaks out like a thief. He knows her too well. She doesn’t let him go; rather, she chases him down a road, frantically pulling at him and howling. This is a woman who doesn’t feed on misery: She gorges on it.” Read more…)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
Cry Danger (1951, film noir, Dick Powell. From Bosley Crowther’s 1951New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Looking for excitement and suspense? And perhaps a few laughs, too? Then accept this recommendation to a very tidy package of fictional extravagance called ‘Cry Danger.’ The place is the Paramount Theatre. Usually you don’t find much occasion for laughter in a picture that is concerned with revenge and murder. But in ‘Cry Danger’ scenarist William Bowers has found room for some sardonic lines that are tossed off most effectively by a young actor named Richard Erdman, who has been around Hollywood since 1943—just waiting for the right chance, no doubt, ‘Cry Danger’ gives it to Mr. Erdman and he makes the most of it in the role of an unscrupulous ex-marine with a wooden leg who is interested in turning an easy dollar. Obviously he has no moral principles, but the boy sure has personality.” Read more…)

The Big Combo (1955, film noir, remastered version, Cornel Wilde. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. From H.H.T.’s 1955 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘The Big Combo,’ an Allied Artists release that opened yesterday with the Palace’s new stage bill, isn’t very big or good. Even with the “combo” of a capable cast, headed by Cornel Wilde and Richard Conte, and the kernel of a provocative plot, the result is a shrill, clumsy and rather old-fashioned crime melodrama with all hands pulling in opposite directions.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog (post-1960)
Ghost Story (1981, horror, Fred Astaire. Rotten Tomatoes: 36%. From Vincent Canby’s 1981 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “John Irvin, the director of ‘Ghost Story,’ and Lawrence D. Cohen, who adapted and considerably reduced Peter Straub’s best-selling novel for the screen, begin very well, right in the opening credits. It is night, which seems tranquil enough, with a bright, full moon. Clouds pass in front of the moon. Nothing odd about that, but then suddenly the clouds don’t seem to be clouds. They’ve become liquid and are dripping down over the moon like thick water. By the time the movie starts, the once-ordinary moon seems to be drowning in a foreign substance.” Read more…)

Cujo (1983, horror based on Stephen King novel, remastered version, Dee Wallace. Rotten Tomatoes: 59%. From Janet Maslin’s 1983 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “As directed by Lewis Teague, ‘Cujo’ is by no means a horror classic, but it’s suspenseful and scary. The performances are simple and effective, particularly Miss Wallace’s. And Danny Pintauro does a good job as the frightened child. All three of the principals have done either commercials or soap-opera work in the past, which perhaps accounts for the all- American blandness that, in a film like this, is almost an advantage.” Read more…)

New Television
Mad Men: Final Season Part 1 (TV series, Jon Hamm, in Top Hits. From Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times TV review: “And fittingly, ‘Mad Men’ is living out its own Peter Principle: A series that was so original, fresh and authoritative when it began in 2007 has stayed on television beyond its creative peak. The season premiere seems as exhausted as the decade it has chronicled so intensely. The cinematography is striking, as always; the sets and costumes remain as telling as the dialogue — this is when Peter Max was on the cover of Life magazine. But many of the characters are repeating themselves or pedaling in place, and the historic underlay that was once so piquant is now dreary: This season it’s the inauguration of President Richard M. Nixon. That sagging of energy happens to any long-lasting series, but it’s oddly apt in the case of ‘Mad Men,’ because the show’s trajectory so closely follows the era it portrays.” Read more…)

New Children’s DVDs
Mr. Peabody & Sherman (animated feature, Ty Burrell [voice]. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “If you think of ‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’ as the latest attempt to turn small-screen baby boomer nostalgia into big-screen fun, you have plenty of reason to be afraid. Hollywood’s obsession with cashing in on old television shows has yielded a grim harvest — remember Nicole Kidman in ‘Bewitched’? Sorry to have reminded you — and the work of Jay Ward has been singled out for particular abuse. Ward, who died in 1989 and whose brainy cartoons were staples of the early space age, has been dishonored by lame live-action movie versions of Rocky and Bullwinkle. George of the Jungle and Dudley Do-Right. Luckily, ‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman,’ about a supersmart dog and his adopted human son, breaks the curse and respects the nutty, nerdy humor of the original. This DreamWorks Animation production, directed by Rob Minkoff [‘Stuart Little,’ ‘The Lion King’] from a screenplay by Craig Wright, is not perfect, but it is fast-moving, intermittently witty and pretty good fun.” Read more…)