Two of the best pictures of the year are currently in theaters, but not necessarily near you. Fortunately, these films – the sci-fi dystopia “Snowpiercer” and “Life Itself,” the documentary about the late Roger Ebert – are both employing a distribution model that acknowledges the ways technology has changed how movies are both made and watched. If you live close to a theater showing them, by all means, see them with an audience. The roughly 90 percent of audiences who do not can instead access them via any number of On Demand outlets for their viewing pleasure at home.
Based in part on Ebert’s eponymous memoir, “Life Itself” is as indebted to the late film critic as to the enigmatic force of its title. The man’s life is done justice in this remarkably compact work, which establishes many well-known facts about his younger self (e.g. his youthful arrogance and alcoholism) before meditating on Roger’s later, more philosophically rich years, overshadowed by his struggles with cancer and mortality. Steve James’ documentary is emotionally raw, visually spare, and poetic, even in its imperfections. Bring your tissues.
Whereas “Life Itself” is about a man who spoke most loudly after he lost his voice, “Snowpiercer” is, in its own way, about life that cannot be contained. This miniature epic creates an entire world within the confines of a moving train, known as “the rattling ark” – home to the last remnants of humanity circa 2031. Bong Joon-ho’s film merits near-hyperbolic praise: this is one of the great science fiction films. Savage in its satire, blunt in its allegory, moving in its humanity, and as thrilling as anything of its kind, it’s a yardstick by which future politically-aware sci-fi efforts will be compared. See it on the biggest screen you can.
Robert Humanick is a contributing writer for slantmagazine.com
*Full disclosure: This writer contributed to the Indiegogo campaign for “Life Itself.”