This weekend, yet another destruction-filled sequel crashes into multiplexes. Criticwire calls it a "new, terrible kind of cinema" but that doesn't mean you should see the latest "Transformers" iteration, in which Mark Wahlberg steps up to the plate in lieu of troublemaker Shia LaBeouf as the latest voice of reason in a robot/alien war? (It could hit the $100 million mark this weekend, having already garnered $8.8 million at Thursday night's midnight showings.)
There is far more intelligent fare of the dystopic variety, from Bong Joon-ho's R-rated post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure "Snowpiercer"--finally being released untouched by Harvey Scissorhands -- to Brit director Joanna Hogg's expertly mounted domestic drama "Archipelago."
We're rooting for Bong 's driving "Snowpiercer," which pummels you with limb-cracking action. Angry hordes from the back of a long train packed with our future frozen world's last survivors, led by Chris Evans, surge toward the entitled classes at the front. Tilda Swinton plays the train's buck-toothed prime minister with her usual flair, while Ed Harris plays the train's bored creator and engineer. Adapted by Bong and Kelly Masterson from the 1982 French graphic novel "Le Transperceneige," the $39 million film's stunning design and visuals--snowy exteriors and cramped interiors--are great fun to watch.
On the small-scale indie side of the tracks this weekend is Brit helmer Joanna Hogg's "Archipelago." New Yorkers, run don't walk to this "laugh-out-loud nightmare," a quietly destructive little drama about the tectonic shifts roiling beneath family members as they come together on holiday in the willowed, inky, mauve English countryside. Long takes and cool unsentimentality adorn the film's suffocating atmosphere of stuffy privilege among the Moorland, and Tom Hiddleston is unsexy but convincing as an ingratiating artist caught in the eye of a sweltering domestic storm.
"Once" director John Carney returns with "Begin Again," i.e. the musical formerly known as "Can A Song Save Your Life?" when it bowed at Toronto last year. The film stars Keira Knightley as an already-in-love musician, and Mark Ruffalo as a jaded alcoholic producer who has lost his wife (Catherine Keener) as well as his mojo. He falls for songwriter Knightley's music and the two enjoy each other while working on her breakout album. A far more conventional romantic comedy, "They Came Together," comes from the minds of laugh troupe Stella and features the annoyingly cute Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd as two people who, well, come together.
Also opening this weekend is a far less costly labor of love from director John Alan Simon, "Radio Free Albemuth," a wildly ambitious adaptation of a posthumously published, semi-autobiographic Philip K. Dick novel. Performances, including a pleasantly smooth cameo from singer/songwriter Alanis Morissette, are not across-the-board fantastic but the strong Shea Wigham leads the pack as Philip himself, in a world where some sort of great confused system from outer space telegraphs messages to the human race via the pop music industry -- it's an odd bird, but accomplished, and essential for Philip K. Dick purists.
On the doc front arrives a disturbing X-ray of contemporary America, festival circuit hit "The Internet's Own Boy," about the government's ultimately tragic attempts to quash a computer prodigy's intimate knowledge of federal goings-on. Trailers for all films after the jump.
Snowpiercer Dir. Bong Joon-ho, South Korea & USA | RADiUS-TWC | Cast: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Go Ah-sung, Alison Pill, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris | 90% Fresh | AV Club: "Though shocking violence and black humor run through the length of the movie, what comes through most strongly is its pessimistic political conscience; were the movie less earnest, it might seem Verhoeven-esque." | Our review and Los Angeles Film Fest coverage
Begin Again Dir. John Carney, USA | The Weinstein Company | Cast: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener | 69% Fresh | Salon.com: "This is a real love story that's not about consummation or certainty, a variety we've all experienced in real life that only occasionally shows up in the movies." | Watch a clip here
Archipelago Dir. Joanna Hogg, UK | Kino Lorber | Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Kate Fahy, Amy Lloyd, Lydia Leonard | 95% Fresh | Variety: "This is a beautifully distilled and literally still work that lingers in the mind long after its conclusion."
They Came Together Dir. David Wain, USA | Lionsgate | Cast: Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Ed Helms, Colbie Smulders | 65% Fresh | The New York Times: "A series of hit-and-miss sketch-comedy bits rather than a fully realized movie that might have gutted contemporary rom-com clichés rather than just weakly aping them."
Radio Free Albemuth Dir. John Alan Simon, USA | Freestyle Releasing | Cast: Shea Wigham, Alanis Morissette, Jonathan Scarfe, Katheryn Winnick | 20% Fresh | Variety: "The pic operates successfully as a study of enlightenment and a straight-ahead conspiracy thriller."
The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz Dir. Brian Knappenberger, USA | Film Buff & Participant | 88% Fresh | Boston Globe: "A documentary whose chief aims - at which it succeeds - are to mourn a fallen activist angel and rile audiences into rage."
Transformers: Age of Extinction Dir. Michael Bay, USA | Paramount Pictures | Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, Peter Cullen, Kelsey Grammer, Ken Watanabe, John Goodman | 17% Fresh | The Dissolve: "Give 'Age of Extinction' this much credit: Of all the Transformers movies, this is the longest. And save for a few visual centerpieces and a couple of amusing supporting turns, it’s also an endless, incoherent mess."