Welcome to the Weekend Release Roundup, where we highlight what we think are the most interesting movies to hit theaters this weekend.
Going to the movies isn’t cheap, so we’re here to help you sort through your choices.
Another decent week in the January slate of films is proving that this year’s “dump” films are actually not as bad as some of years past. Couple that with the limited prestige releases that have all seen expansion in January (see: American Sniper, Inherent Vice, A Most Violent Year), and there’s actually some worthy theater-going films for cinephiles. This week gives us a slew of varietals, which run the gamut from family-fare escapism to realistic, hard-biting drama, with some thrillers and an interesting doc peppered in between. So forget all the doom-and-gloom prophecies of a harsh and bitter January at cinemas. With only one week left, we’re almost out of the woods of one of the worst months of film, and really, it’s been okay. So pat yourselves on the back. Some people climb Everest, others trek the Pacific Crest, but you…you’ve survived the barren cinematic landscape of January. You, my friend, are a winner.
#5 – Mortdecai
Johnny Depp is struggling. Well, not really (he’s filthy rich, uber-famous, and still pretty popular). More precisely, Johnny Depp-led films are struggling. The once box-office giant has not been fortunate with the financial and/or critical success of his more recent movies. Consider for a moment that Depp’s last four films in which he was the main lead (or co-lead) are Transcendence, The Lone Ranger, Dark Shadows, and The Rum Diary. Even before that, Depp’s last true hit was the commercially successful but critically maligned Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides, which followed the universally ridiculed The Tourist. Suffice it to say, a Johnny Depp-led film nowadays doesn’t have the same appeal that it had years ago. Mortdecai, unfortunately, doesn’t look to shift that trend back into Depp’s favor. The trailer looks uninspired, if downright grating, and the film has been suspiciously kept away from early critical screenings (always a troublesome sign). And yet here it still sits at number five, if for no other reason than because Johnny Depp is still Johnny Depp, an actor always willing to take on a bevy of eccentric and varying roles, in a variety films. For many of us that’s still an admirable trait, even if he’s done nothing but misfire as of late. And with Ewan McGregor and Gwyneth Paltrow co-starring, and direction by David Koepp (Secret Window), the film does boast talent. We’re not expecting much here, but don’t blame us if we’re still brazenly hopeful.
#4 – Son of a Gun (Limited)
Hey look, it’s Ewan McGregor again. Here he’s in a decidedly different film – Son of a Gun – with Brenton Thwaites. Directed by newcomer Julius Avery, the film tells the story of two escaped prisoners – one of which is Australia’s most wanted criminal – who form a partnership to take part in a gold heist. However, things get predictably complicated for the two men once a girl gets involved, pitting them against each other and placing the entire job at risk. The film comes by way of Australia, a country which we’ve praised in the past for putting out some quality and uniquely entertaining films from otherwise unknown talent (see: Jennifer Kent with The Babadook). Son of a Gun may not quite be on that level of excellence, but it’s been screened for audiences who generally have enjoyed it, even if not overwhelmingly so. The trailer is sort of sloppy, but you get a sense of an entertaining action affair with what’s sure to be a quality performance from the always solid McGregor.
#3 – Red Army (Limited)
Red Army has been described as a hockey documentary for people who don’t like hockey. In no other medium would that endorsement be as plausible as it is with documentaries, which have a proven track record of absorbing audiences in subjects that they would otherwise have no interest. The King of Kong was an arcade documentary for people who don’t like arcades, and Anvil was a metal documentary for people who don’t like heavy metal. So believe it when people say, you don’t need to like hockey to enjoy this doc. Red Army tells the story of the systematic process of the Soviet Union’s dynastic Red Army hockey team, told from the perspective of it’s one-time captain, who went from national hero to persona non grata. The film explores the social, political, and cultural landscape and affect that hockey has on Russia and its foreign relations and it has been described as nothing short of engrossing. With universal acclaim, and an eye-opening look into a facet of Soviet Russia, Red Army could perhaps be one of the best docs to come out since CitizenFour some months ago, so it’s worth a gander for anybody interested.
#2 – Black Sea (Limited)
Even with a proven director and A-list talent, last week’s Blackhat proved to be a major disappointment for audiences who wanted a solid thriller to watch in theaters. Well let’s partially change the title, throw in a different proven director and another A-lister, and set this one on a submarine in the middle of the sea and hope it fares better. And fare better it should, with the once British golden-boy but now criminally underrated Jude Law at the center of an almost throwback-style thriller revolving around gold at the bottom of a sea, Black Sea is set primarily in a submarine. Pitting men against each other in claustrophobic conditions is a great way to heighten tension, and with the directorial eye of Kevin Macdonald, director of some truly awesome docs (One Day in September, Touching the Void, Marley) and equally good narratives (Last King of Scotland), perhaps Black Sea is able to atone for the sins of last week’s Blackhat. The early critical reviews have also been promising, and the trailer looks like it will deliver an entertaining but smart January thriller which places men in tough conditions, much in the tradition of past January releases such as The Grey.
#1 – Mommy (Limited)
Perhaps the most anticipated new release of the month (let alone the week), Xavier Dolan’s Mommy is a film whose buzz has been reverberating in cinematic circles since its premiere in Cannes last year. Dolan himself is something of a wunderkind, as at the ripe old age of 25 he already has five acclaimed feature length films to his name, with Mommy being considered the height of his young filmmaking career thus far. It was met with anticipation at Cannes, and it didn’t disappoint, being heralded as one of the best foreign films of the year, up there with the likes of Ida, Winter Sleep, Force Majeure, Leviathan, We Are the Best!, and Two Days, One Night. And don’t let the lack of an Oscar nom fool you (the omission of Mommy in the Foreign Language category is just as glaring as the attention Selma has gotten for their snubs), the praise is genuine. Mommy details a single mother’s struggle to contain her ADHD 15-year old son, who relies on the help of an eccentric neighbor to restore order to the relationship. The trailer highlights some of the chaotic ordeals of mother and son, even if we can do without the grating American music. It’s in limited release, but if it’s playing nearby, Mommy is perhaps the best film you’ll find in theaters in some months.
The rest of this weekend’s releases include:
Veronika Decides to Die (Limited)
Song One (Limited)
The Duke of Burgundy (Limited)
The Humbling (Limited)