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.
This week marks not only the end of February, but, more importantly, the unofficial end of the slew of “dump” films that pollute the first two months of the year. Although we’re still not in the blockbuster territory of May, June, and July, the upcoming month of March is generally more promising for those of us having trouble finding anything worthwhile to watch in our local theaters. Still, this month hasn’t been all that bad if you’ve been able to make your way to some theater chains offering more independent and art-house geared films (some of which we’ll focus on this week). But even if that wasn’t the case, this month has given us delightful action romps such as Kingsman: The Secret Service, and refreshing teen fare like The DUFF. This week we’re given one final high-profile film before the month is over, along with four somewhat less accessible movies. For those of us who can’t find our way to an indie theater chain, let’s hope our lone wide release of the week doesn’t disappoint, as it begins our list…
#5 – Focus
A Will Smith vehicle is certainly not the draw it used to be, but the actor is also not doing as bad as somebody like, say…Johnny Depp. Even so, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, and we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that Smith’s last three films were After Earth, Men in Black 3, and Seven Pounds. Yikes. (Smith also had two minor appearances in Winter’s Tale and Anchorman 2.) Focus, while hardly an indie film, is perhaps Smith’s most low-profile project since 2005’s Hitch. That film, interestingly enough, was also released in February, and went on to be a big hit. This time it’s not an outright rom-com (although there is a romantic element to it), but more of a heist film in the tradition of films like The Grifters, Matchstick Men, Confidence, Ocean’s Eleven, and The Brothers Bloom. With Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) as the love interest, the trailer seems to go towards the who’s-playing-whom route that so many of these films often do. The director, or directors, on this one are John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, who were previously behind the lens for Crazy, Stupid, Love and I Love You Phillip Morris, the latter of which dealt with con artistry in more of a biopic style (akin to something like Catch Me if You Can). The potential problem with Focus is that the trailer looks hugely derivative of so many films before it, offering nothing more substantive than the sexy, sleek visuals and dependency on the chemistry between its two leads. There’s also the problem that it hasn’t been screened for most critics yet, which usually isn’t the greatest vote of confidence.
#4 – The Hunting Ground (Limited)
From the glitz of the previous feature, to the much more somber and relevant nature of this one, The Hunting Ground deals with an issue that has been bubbling just beneath the surface for quite awhile. The documentary follows the glaring national issue of rape crimes that occur on campuses all throughout America, and the battle for many of these victims to find justice against often non-compliant universities and institutions that would rather hide the crimes to maintain appearances. Dealing with the issue of institutional cover-ups on a massive scale, The Hunting Ground is one of those docs that is certain to get you angry, as it should. It also comes from a filmmaker well-versed in the topic, as Kirby Dick was the director of 2012’s The Invisible War, the potent and rousing exposé on rape in the military. That film similarly dealt with the struggle of victims against the systemic concealment of rape crimes.
#3 – Maps to the Stars (Limited)
As Oscar-winning films like The Artist, Argo, and last year’s Birdman have proven, Hollywood loves a movie that is self-referential, and Maps to the Stars is another example of a Hollywood movie about Hollywood. This time= however, the reflection of the industry is one that is decidedly darker and uglier than many films before it, more along the lines of a film like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Starring newly-minted Oscar-winner Julianne Moore (Still Alice), John Cusack (Hot Tub Time Machine), Robert Pattinson (Cosmopolis), and Mia Wasikowska (The Double), Maps to the Stars highlights the derangement and grotesqueness of the movie industry in ways that only an outsider like director David Cronenberg can. It tells the story of a successful Hollywood family – of which the patriarch is a self-help therapist and the son is a child star – that must face their past secrets when the daughter comes back in town and finds a job as the assistant to a fading actress. The film seems to have some dark comedic elements going for it, and is probably lodged somewhere in between the aforementioned Mulholland Drive and Robert Altman’s The Player in terms of tone, which is probably what makes it a hard sell for some, but may also be exactly what makes it so appealing for others.
#2 – Wild Canaries (Limited)
For the budding junior detective in all of us, Wild Canaries is perhaps the perfect cautionary tale. Recounting the story of a young couple who suspect that one of their neighbors has committed a murder, the film then follows them as they recklessly and sloppily investigate the suspect in exactly the way you’d expect from people who have no real investigative skill or experience. The couple’s antics and banter as they place themselves in compromising and unsavory situations seems to give the film most of its comedic heart, and from the trailer, it seems to work. With an in-over-their-heads screwball style not too dissimilar from HBO’s short lived Bored to Death, Wild Canaries stars a cast of unknowns in Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine (who also directed), who seem to be able to carry the film as effortlessly as any A-lister. It also has supporting turns from Alia Shawkat (TV’s Arrested Development) and Kevin Corrigan (The Departed), but really, this one is less about the names involved and more about the promise of the final product, which seems delightful.
#1 – ’71 (Limited)
’71 is the third film of Jack O’Connell’s very impressive, very memorable 2014 coming out campaign. The other two films, Starred Up and Unbroken, have come and gone, but not without leaving audiences thoroughly impressed with the work and presence of the young actor (even if not with the film itself, as was the case with Unbroken). ’71, which made the rounds on the festival circuit last year and was released theatrically overseas, finally gets a U.S. release this week. And for many who have been clamoring to see it, it’s about time. The movie follows a young soldier who gets abandoned by his unit behind enemy lines in 1971 Belfast, forcing him to fend for himself and survive the night in an increasingly hostile environment. It’s directed by newcomer Yann Demange and has gotten universal critical acclaim as a gripping, tense, and flawlessly executed thriller. The trailer seems to reinforce all of the great word-of-mouth, promising us an expertly paced film with stirring action sequences. For those of us who followed the film all throughout last year, it’s a hugely anticipated release and a resounding way to end the month of February.
The rest of this weekend’s releases include:
The Salvation (Limited)
Eastern Boys (Limited)
My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Limited)