The dolorous effects of winter are slowly, ever so slowly, making way for the bright world of spring. Until then, and especially if you’re in one of the regions still covered in snow, you’re probably spending quite a bit of time at the local multiplex. Since February was so short we’re adding an additional two movies to tide you over this month, so hopefully you’ll have a backlog of entertainment for when you can come out of hibernation.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Synopsis: Gusatve H. (Ralph Fiennes) is the revered concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel. When a priceless painting goes missing Gustave, and the hotel’s reputation, come under scrutiny.
What You Need to Know: Since his 1996 debut, “Bottle Rocket,” Wes Anderson’s cachet as a director has increased with three Oscar nominations; two for Best Screenplay, although none for Best Director. Anderson’s work usually contains a slew of stars and ‘Grand Budapest’ is no different with Fiennes leading a cast which includes Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Léa Seydoux and Jude Law, to name a few. Our own Jessica Kiang saw the film during the Berlin Film Festival, giving it a “B+” review and praising it for possessing “something sweet in the film’s sadness.” Some audiences find Anderson too hipster or esoteric, but if it garners as much critical praise as 2012’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” it should open better than Anderson’s earlier work.
Release Date: March 7th in limited release, expanding on March 14th (Rollout dates here)
Synopsis: A university lecturer (Jake Gyllenhaal) watches a film and discovers a man who looks just like him. Determined to meet the mysterious doppelgänger, he sparks a series of events which could prove dangerous.
What You Need to Know: After his off-kilter performance as Detective Loki in last year’s “Prisoners,” Jake Gyllenhaal is embracing his dark side, re-teaming with that film’s director, Dennis Villeneuve, for “Enemy.” This gloomy tale of double identity received an “A” from our Rodrigo Perez during TIFF last year. Perez elaborated, saying the film is “profoundly unnerving,” “challenging” and “sometimes abstract.” If Gyllenhaal keeps it up, we could see him earning an Oscar nomination down the line.
Release Date: March 14th in limited release
“Ernest & Celestine”
Synopsis: A mouse named Celestine and a bear named Ernest form an unlikely friendship which goes against the fear their respective communities have for each other.
What You Need to Know: The distributors behind “Ernest & Celestine,” GKIDS, have predominately overseen the stateside release of Studio Ghlibi’s slate of films (though “The Wind Rises” was handled by Disney). While GKIDS still fosters a relationship with Studio Ghlibi, they’ve garnered Oscar nominations for three of their films, solo: “Kells,” “Chico and Rita,” and “A Cat in Paris.” Their latest film is the delightful “Ernest & Celestine,” with this entering the Best Animated Feature category alongside big studio films like last night’s winner “Frozen” and “The Croods.” The trailer for the movie is sweet, and showcases the beautifully unique animation the studio is being acclaimed for. Hopefully, the studio continues to branch out after their latest nomination to become a top contender against the bigger distribution companies.
Release Date: March 14th in New York and Los Angeles
Synopsis: Veronica Mars, (Kristen Bell) high school sleuth, has put her detective days behind her since graduating. As she struggles to make her way in the world of law, she’s forced to return to her hometown of Neptune for her high school reunion. Unfortunately, Neptune remains riddled with issues, compelling Veronica to dust off her skills as a detective.
What You Need to Know: Back in 2004 a little show named “Veronica Mars” took to the airwaves and slowly gained a devout cult following. After three seasons the show went off the air, but audiences yearned for further adventures with the girl detective. Attempts to compel Warner Brothers to turn the series into a film proved futile, so creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell turned to Kickstarter in 2013 to raise funds. The response was bananas, gaining the film its funding (and then some) within forty-eight hours, breaking a ton of Kickstarter records. The film was shot in just 23 days, and critics are interested to see audience response (and box office tallies) to decide whether or not Kickstarter-funded movies have potential. The movie hasn’t hit theaters, but there are already plans for a spin-off web series and other ways of bringing the show back to fans. If “Veronica Mars” succeeds at the box office, maybe there’s hope for other shows to make it to the silver screen?
Release Date: March 14th in limited release
“Nymphomaniac: Volume 1”
Synopsis: A woman named Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) flashes back to her life of sexual debauchery after being declared a nymphomaniac.
What You Need to Know: Director Lars von Trier (“Melancholia”) is no stranger to controversy, and his latest will likely be no different. The cast, comprised of Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, and Shia LaBeouf get to take it off and get it on to various degrees, but the hardcore stuff finds body doubles in their place. Von Trier’s opus has been cut into two parts, with a longer director’s cut promised. Indeed, that’s what our Jessica Kiang saw when she experienced Part 1 in Berlin a few weeks ago, calling it an “incredibly rich, engaging, occasionally challenging film” in her “A” review. Sex remains a controversial subject in film, if the discussion over last year’s “Blue is the Warmest Color” is any indicator, and von Trier is certainly stoking the fires of conversation with his latest.
Release Date: March 21st in limited release
Synopsis: In a dystopian society where everyone is categorized into particular groups, Tris Pryor (Shailene Woodley) is marked “divergent” (able to enter any group she wants). Unfortunately, those with divergence are deemed a threat to society and are set for elimination.
What You Need to Know: Earlier YA franchise adaptations (“Beautiful Creatures,” “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” and “Vampire Academy”) have failed to entice anyone but die-hard fans. The outlier remains the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” series. “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” grossed over $423 million upon release last year, with part one of the final installments slated for later this year. Unfortunately, as proven by the failures above, not everything is “The Hunger Games.” Though you might not figure that out from the first trailer for “Divergent,” based on the popular YA novels by Veronica Roth. A dystopian future, a group of teens forced to become adults quickly, and corrupt governments are all staples of Collins’ films, so if anything fans who love “Hunger Games” and/or believe this is associated with it could turn out for “Divergent.” The addition of Shailene Woodley also brings up comparisons to Jennifer Lawrence; both are now leading YA franchises and both are awards darling. Woodley lacks the Oscar nods Lawrence has received, but it’s only a matter of time. And despite falling out of favor with “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” this could be the boost to Woodley’s career, giving her longevity for both adults and children. If anything, “Divergent” will certainly tide over the teen crowd until Katniss Everdeen’s return.
Release Date: March 21st
Synopsis: In the 1970s, cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky (“El Topo”) attempted an ambitious adaptation of the sci-fi novel “Dune.” This documentary explores Jodorowsky’s dreams for the movie, as well as why it never came together.
What You Need to Know: Sometimes the best movies are made about an attempt, and failure, to create a finished film. Terry Gilliam turned his failed “Don Quixote” adaptation into the brilliant documentary “Lost in La Mancha,” while 2012’s “Persistence of Vision” detailed the making, and failure to complete, Richard Williams’ “The Thief and the Cobbler.” The backstory of turning Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel, “Dune,” into a movie has been written about in various “development hell” books, but Jodorowsky’s was one of the more serious attempts, with casting already set to include Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, and Salvador Dali. Frank Pavich’s documentary received an “A-” from Jessica Kiang back at the Göteborg film festival where she called it a “riotous yet loving and meticulous documentary about one of cinema’s greatest what-if stories.” Hollywood what-ifs always lead to a good time!
Release Date: March 21st in limited release
“Muppets Most Wanted”
Synopsis: The Muppets are back on top once again, but their good fortune could run out once an international criminal named Constantine (who is Kermit the Frog’s doppelgänger) decides to infiltrate the group for his own selfish ends.
What You Need to Know: 2011’s “The Muppets” was a successful coup for the Walt Disney Company who’d recently acquired Jim Henson’s puppets and proceeded to do nothing with them. The return of The Muppets to circulation hinged on the success or failure of “The Muppets,” and Disney felt that the eventual $88 million dollar gross was enough, signaling that audiences still cared about Henson’s zany characters. Their latest caper is a wacky mystery involving a faux-Kermit the Frog and a who’s-who of actors including Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, and Loki himself, Tom Hiddleston. The first film came out in November, in time for awards season (where its song “Man or Muppet” received Best Song at the Academy Awards). No such awards love for its sequel is planned, as it’s stuck in the middle of March leaving prognosticators worrying about its quality. The Muppets never commanded boffo box-office during their heyday, so hopefully Disney sees this as more than merely something to tide over the bored, and/or those waiting for more from the Marvel universe.
Release Date: March 21st
Synopsis: A foreign exchange student (Felicity Jones) upturns the life of her host family, particularly the father (Guy Pearce) with whom she shares a mutual love of music.
What You Need to Know: Back in 2011, director Drake Doremus and actress Jones burst onto the scene in the realistic romance “Like Crazy.” Since then, Jones’ star has risen, with a lead role in the Oscar-nominated (for Costuming) “The Invisible Woman,” but she isn’t turning her back on the director who helped her ascend. “Breathe In” is a blistering tale of emotion, as evidenced by the “B+” review written by Rodrigo Perez at last year’s Sundance. He likened the movie to “Like Crazy’s” “darker cousin” and it’s evident in the few clips which have made their way online. Doremus himself is aware of the darkness within his new movie, remarking in an interview that he wanted something “more restrained, something darker.” Those who loved “Like Crazy” will probably either love or hate “Breathe In” by comparison, whereas those who hated Doremus and Jones’ earlier effort might want to take a journey into a darker world. Either way, this isn’t one to miss.
Release Date: March 28th in limited release
Synopsis: The legendary Biblical tale of the man (Russell Crowe) commissioned by God to build an ark before the arrival of a great flood.
What You Need to Know: The biblical epic remains a niche category for movie audiences. While Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was a success back in 2004, for every one of those there are a slew of “Nativity Story” types to go around. These movies remain confined to a particular market and receive smaller showings and reduced advertising, as evidenced by last week’s “Son of God.” “Noah” hopes to bridge the gap by appealing to fans of big-budget blockbusters alongside religious followers yearning to see the story of Noah told in the flesh. The film already received its fair share of controversy leading up to release. Back in October it was reported that director Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) was battling with Paramount over “worrisome” test screenings. Thankfully, those fears appear to be allayed, as Aronofsky shot down reports of failed test screenings, maintaining that his director’s cut is what audiences will see. The movie is just in time for Easter, so regardless, “Noah” should do decently.
Release Date: March 28th
Synopsis: An elite DEA task force rips off a cartel only to be mysteriously dispatched one by one by someone who knows what they did.
What You Need to Know: Director David Ayer knows about cops, writing the screenplays for “S.WA.T.,” “Dark Blue,” “Training Day,” and “End of Watch” (which he also directed). The trailer for “Sabotage” certainly feels like a David Ayer movie, complete with gritty handheld camera and a heavy dose of machismo. This could be because Ayer is repeating himself, but after “End of Watch,” Ayer appears to have found his niche. The trailer is wildly entertaining and the red-band clips indicate this is certainly earning its R-rating. One also shouldn’t discount Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s presence as he slowly acclimates back into the action waters after his gubernatorial hiatus. Last year’s “Escape Plan” paired Schwarzenegger with Sylvester Stallone to the tune of $25 million in the US (although not enough for it to overcome its $50 million budget). The question then is whether the tepid response to “Escape Plan” can be overcome through Schwarzenegger’s name alone? Or will the addition of Ayer as director help this rise higher than a standard Schwarzenegger picture? Either way, action junkies don’t have much to work with this month, so “Sabotage” should be worth their time.
Release Date: March 28th
“Hide Your Smiling Faces”
Synopsis: Two adolescent brothers must grapple with mortality and move on after a personal tragedy.
What You Need to Know: “Hide Your Smiling Faces” had a slow buildup to a home-video release, but after winning the National Society of Film Critics award for best film still awaiting U.S. distribution, it was quickly snapped up by Tribeca Films. And it couldn’t be any better, especially after the praise Rodrigo Perez heaped on it during its Tribeca run. The movie secured an “A” review with Perez declaring the film an “engrossing debut film.” The performances by young Nathan Varnson and Ryan Jones are also “exceptional lead performances” and will hopefully continue to garner the movie more attention as it rolls out to wider audiences.
Release Date: March 28th, March 25th on VOD
“The Raid 2: Berandal”
Synopsis: Just hours after the end of the first ‘Raid,’ Rama goes undercover with the thugs of Jakarta and plans to bring down the syndicate and uncover the corruption within his police force.
What You Need to Know: Director Gareth Evans had films under his belt (2009’s “Merantau”), but everything changed after “The Raid,” 2012’s highly beloved Indonesian action film that changed not only everything for the filmmaker, but arguably changed the game for action cinema to come. 101 minutes of pure action adrenaline, “The Raid,” wowed action fans with long takes, extreme precision and amazing technical choreography. “The Raid 2: Berandal” promises much the same only this time, it’s 2.5 hours and unlike criticisms of the first movie, this one apparently has a story. James Rocchi saw the film during the Sundance Film Festival, giving it a “B+” review and writing that the sequel “makes most American action films look like the over-edited stunt-doubled CGI-laden child’s play that they are.” Question still remain about the lack of character and plotting in Evans’ films, but when it comes to pure orchestrated action, he is arguably the most exciting new director there is in the genre right now.
Release Date: March 28 in limited release.