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 is one of the more puzzling, enigmatic weeks we’ve had all year. There are many ways to determine what films are worthwhile to watch, whether it be the talent involved, the trailer, the premise, and even word-of-mouth (reviews). And in many weeks, those are safe ways to gauge what to watch. What makes this current week difficult is how conflicting all of that information has turned out. Films with seemingly poor and ridiculous premises are getting strong word-of-mouth, and films with top-notch talent and stories are getting the opposite. This puts our list this week at somewhat of a philosophical crossroads. Some people may find comfort in the opinion of early reviews, heralding a movie as being something worthy of a watch. Others may take no solace in that, and would prefer to watch talented and recognizable names in films that seem to draw their attention. Others may just go off what they see in the trailer alone, trusting that the small sampling from the previews will be indicative of the full picture. Whatever your preference, this week is far from a sure thing. Almost every movie raises big question marks.
#5 – Unfriended
First, the shocker: Unfriended is getting pretty good reviews. The early response for the film has been solid, and it appears we may have a good horror film on our hands. But one would hardly be able to tell from the trailer, which presents the film as an almost brainless, low budget, teen slasher film worthy of a mere DVD release. But maybe that’s part of the appeal? The film could be smartly playing to (and against) genre conventions, and as skeptical as we still may be, we’re still not snooty enough to write the film off completely. The film, which presents a horror story through a shared webcam session amongst friends, may perhaps smartly use its limitations to its benefit. So let’s all confess guilt to sneering at the trailer when we first watched it, but let’s bite our lip and accept the realization that this movie just might not be that bad. Perhaps the spirit of previous low-budget hits like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity resides somewhere in Unfriended.
#4 – True Story
Midway through the trailer for Rupert Goold’s True Story, one can’t help but imagine footage of outtakes from the film where Jonah Hill (Wolf of Wall Street) and James Franco (The Interview) stare at each other intensely until one of them breaks into outright laughter. That’s no slight on their dramatic acting (which has already been proven by both Oscar-nominated actors), but more a statement regarding their better known comedic backgrounds. We’re used to seeing one of the two in a more serious affair, but both of them acting opposite each other? The fascination of seeing their performances unfold is enough reason to go seek this out, but the premise of the film increases the interest. The film tells the story of a man convicted of killing his wife and kids, who upon getting arrested lists his name as that of a disgraced former journalist. Upon learning of this fact, the journalist seeks the man out to uncover the truth behind his crimes. If the title didn’t already give it away, True Story is based off a…true story. The reviews have been polarizing, and the trailer admittedly looks like a dated 90s thriller (Primal Fear comes to mind), but this film earns its placement here due to sheer curiosity. True Story also stars Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything).
#3 – Alex of Venice (Limited)
While everybody in the industry last week was talking about Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut Lost River, another actor and first time director, Chris Messina (Cake), snuck by us and put out Alex of Venice. And if the early word is to be trusted, this film is the better of the two. Alex of Venice recounts a career-driven woman faced with reevaluating her life after her stay-at-home husband leaves her. The star of the film, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Kill the Messenger), is one of the more overlooked young actresses in the film industry today, with roles in films like Smashed and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World highlighting her range. But the film also stars its director, Messina, as well as Don Johnson (Django Unchained) and Derek Luke (Baggage Claim) to round out a solid line-up of talent.
#2 – Tangerines (Limited)
For our foreign film enthusiasts or our Oscar connoisseurs (or both), Tangerines is the last of the five 2014 nominated foreign films to receive a U.S. theatrical release. The other four – Wild Tales, Ida, Leviathan, and Timbuktu - have all received their deserved spot on our list at one point or another, so it’s only inevitable that Tangerines would follow the trend. Tangerines, by way of Estonia, follows a man housed in a Georgian cabin harvesting his tangerine crop when he must unexpectedly nurse two injured soldiers on opposing sides who end up at his doorstep. One a Chechen, the other a Georgian, both men must stay under the same roof as they heal. This only adds to rising tension in the household, with the farmer caught it in the middle of it all. Set during the 1992 civil war that took place in Georgia, the film has a compelling premise that should draw in those more unfamiliar with Georgia’s history.
#1 – Monkey Kingdom
In a week full of unknowns, Disney’s Monkey Kingdom is sure to be the safest bet of all. But that alone isn’t reason to place it atop this week’s pile. Sure, it’s a nature doc from a studio that has a pretty solid track record with the genre – dating back to 2007’s Earth – but it also covers its subjects in fascinating and undeniably charming ways (highlighted in last year’s Bears). This time, the subjects themselves are charming enough, as we follow monkeys who care for their young in the wilds of Southern Asia. In a week full of serious, adult-oriented, terrifying, and sometimes downright depressing films, Monkey Kingdom is the pick-me-up we sometimes need as an audience. The trailer is brief and unrevealing, but we must admit the inclusion of Lorde’s Team is quite the touch.
The rest of this weekend’s releases include:
Monsters: Dark Continent (Limited)