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.
Consider this week’s slate of films of the teenage-ish, angst-ridden, coming-of-age variety. Our list starts with three very high school-centric pictures which, depending on your position, can be either grating or gratifying. But even if it’s the former, the final two films on our list should do more than make up for the teen-heavy makeup of first portion of this week’s slew of movies. Regardless, this has the makings of a solid week for cinephiles.
#5 – McFarland USA
The Disney sports movie has become something of a sub-genre of its own in the past decade and a half. It usually deals with themes of overcoming odds, teamwork, and embracing cultural differences. Many, if not most of the films are based on true stories, and they usually star a household name in the lead role (and that role usually is of the coach/mentor variety). Just in the past decade or so, we’ve had Jon Hamm in Million Dollar Arm, Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans, and Kurt Russell in Miracle. For the fans of those type of films, McFarland USA should be a welcome sight, since it features similar themes as the aforementioned films, and pins Kevin Costner in a similar role. For others, the film is certain to be more of the same from a sub-genre that has perhaps gotten stale in recent years. Even so, these films usually play it too safe to be completely polarizing. It’s hard to find people who legitimately hate these films, as it’s also rare to find people who completely adore them. They are what they are, for better or worse. On that note, stop me if this sounds familiar; McFarland USA is the true story of an outsider who comes to a small farming town in California and trains an inexperienced group of Latino high school boys into becoming cross-country champions. It stars Costner (Black and White) and Maria Bello (A History of Violence). It’s rated R. That last part isn’t true, of course.
#4 – All the Wilderness (Limited)
Things get really angsty with our second high school feature, All the Wilderness. Starring the newly appointed Nightcrawler (the Marvel mutant, not the psychotic news cameraman), Kodi Smit-McPhee, the film follows a young man still coming to terms with the death of his father. Between his therapy sessions and conflicts with his mother, he manages to find new friends, gain new experiences, and grow past his struggles. The trailer hints at themes of youthful rebellion and familial struggles that most of us know all too well. Hopefully, however, the themes aren’t as heavy-handed and blatant as they appear to be in the trailer, with the introspective monologue and the overt moral lesson from Mom (played by the lovely Virginia Madsen). But there are some promising signs here. For one, the visuals look really great, with gorgeous lighting standing out amongst an overall muted look. Plus, the music sounds really cool, giving us some sonic pleasure to go with the visual aesthetics. And with Danny DeVito (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Smit-McPhee (The Congress), and Madsen (Sideways), the performances should be solid to boot.
#3 – The Duff
The Duff belongs to a specific genre of film that doesn’t have the greatest track record. For every Clueless, Mean Girls, or Easy A there are dozens of John Tucker Must Die types. The problem with the high school film, in general, is that it usually doesn’t try too hard. It relies on obvious and simple tactics, plays up to lazy high school stereotypes, and goes for easy laughs. The ones that work successfully manage to subvert the genre in some ways, using the high school stereotypes against themselves, or presenting them in humorous, fresh ways. The Duff is promising because it appears to be doing precisely that. The plot of the film lies in the etymology of the title ‘Duff’, which means “Designated Ugly Fat Friend.” Mae Whitman (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) stars as our titular ‘Duff’, who only becomes aware of her high school label after a boy (Robbie Amell) at a party reveals it to her. From there she enlists the boy’s help to shed her ‘Duff’ title, but ultimately learns to own it instead. The trailer hints that this is the type of high school movie that could work where others don’t. For one, Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell (The CW’s The Flash) appear to have a genuine comedic chemistry between them, and with the always awesome addition of Allison Janney (Juno) and Ken Jeong (The Hangover), the cast should be able to elevate any narrative pitfalls that the movie might encounter.
#2 – Queen and Country (Limited)
It can be argued that British director John Boorman (Deliverance) has been largely ignored in the past decade, while other British auteurs from his generation such as Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears, Ridley Scott, and Mike Newell have received continued press and fanfare from the media. Part of that may have something to do with the fact that the director had only made three films in the past fifteen years prior to Queen and Country. The other aspect may be that those three films (The Tiger’s Tail, In My Country, The General) could all safely be classified as forgettable outputs. But with Queen and Country, Boorman may be back in a very big way. The film is a continuation and sequel of sorts to one of Boorman’s very best and most personal films, 1987’s Hope and Glory. That film was a loose auto-biography of Boorman’s childhood growing up in London during World War II. Queen and Country follows in that tradition, loosely focusing on Boorman’s life after the war as a young cadet preparing for the Korean War. Hope and Glory was distinct for carrying a noticeably happy and playful tone for a film set against the WWII backdrop, as we saw the war through the eyes of an adventurous child with no understanding of the severity of the situation. Queen and Country seems to follow in that same playful tradition, and it may prove to be Boorman’s best work since the aforementioned Glory.
#1 – Wild Tales (Limited)
Wild Tales is the last of the Oscar-nominated foreign language films to be released in theaters before this month’s ceremony (one of the films, Tangerines, has not yet seen a theatrical release and is not expected to do so). This Oscar-nominated submission from Argentina is the victim of rather unfortunate timing – It happens to have been released in what has turned out to be a very, very competitive year for the foreign language category, and seemingly has no chance of victory against the top two heavyweights in Poland’s Ida and Russia’s Leviathan. Still, the film is said to be quite delightful, and some people have positioned it as one of the films most likely to garner a huge upset on Oscar night (although probably not likely). Wild Tales is an anthology film in the mold of Paris Je T’aime or New York Stories, telling six different stories that are interconnected through similar themes and tones of black comedy. The film has been said to be a genuine crowd pleaser that audiences have adored, and since good anthology films are few and far between, it should be sought out if possible.
The rest of this weekend’s releases include:
Digging Up the Marrow (Limited)
Russell Madness (Limited)