As months on the movie calendar go, February is one of the quieter ones. It doesn’t have the Oscar leftovers, or sheer terribleness of January, meanwhile, the hopeful blockbusters of the spring and summer still seem far, far away. But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing worth seeing.
To help you figure out what’s worth seeing (and to ensure your Valentine’s Day goes smoothly), we’ve picked out ten of the most notable releases of the next 28 days below. It might not be one for the ages, but there’s more than one must-see film hitting theaters before the start of March. Let us know what you’re most looking forward to in the comments section below.
Synopsis: Documentary examining the history of Israel’s Shin Bet security service through interviews with the six men who’ve led it.
What You Need To Know: One of the last taboos in Hollywood is the Israel/Palestine issue, which is almost never dealt with on screen — Michael Winterbottom came close with “The Promised Land” a few years ago, but even the presence of Colin Firth couldn’t get it financed. But documentaries are a little more palatable, not least if they’re as powerful and revelatory as Dror Moreh‘s “The Gatekeepers.” Made up principally of interviews with the six surviving heads of the Shin Bet security service, it’s an even-handed look at a powder-keg subject, which, as Nikola Grozdanovic said when he reviewed the film for us at TIFF, “is unprecedented stuff.” While it details “a select few of the most controversial incidents,” the focus is on the men themselves, and “watching and listening to these men… is nothing short of engrossing.” If anything, the film could have served to be a little longer, and perhaps over-relies on digital sequences, but it’s still an impressive and potentially hugely important film, one which has already been rewarded by an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
When? Out today in limited release.
Synopsis: A documentary that sees Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl bring together a legendary group of musicians to record a new album in a legendary analog recording studio in the San Fernando Valley.
What You Need To Know: Having already carved out a hugely impressive musical career with Nirvana, Foo Fighters & Queens of the Stone Age, among others, Dave Grohl makes his directorial debut with this documentary about the Sound City recording studio in Van Nuys. Opened in 1969, it was where classic albums including Nevermind, Rumours, After The Gold Rush and Rage Against The Machine were all recorded, and Grohl’s assembled a selection of big names who once used the non-digital studio to record a new album, including Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Rick Springfield and Paul McCartney. And according to Katie Walsh, who reviewed the film for us, he’s done a pretty good job. She called it “a vibrant and vital tribute to a piece of recording and rock history that could have been lost to the ether.” A sort of musical procedural, at least in its closing stages, Grohl shows “how the musical sausage gets made” with his all-star cast, and it’s a fascinating watch, with an unsurprisingly “killer soundtrack.” Ultimately proving to be “a loving celebration of great musicianship and a glorious tribute to tape,” musos surely only have one real first choice this month.
When? Available on iTunes and in select theaters from today.
Synopsis: In an apocalyptic future where zombies have swept the world, one member of the undead, R, falls for the daughter of the general who leads the resistance.
What You Need To Know: The zombie genre is among the most well-trodden out there, but as we documented earlier in the week, filmmakers are constantly trying to reinvent it. And the latest is “Warm Bodies,” which attempts to meld comedy and teen romance to the more familiar brain-eating antics, serving as something of a rotten answer to “Twilight” as a result. Directed by ever-rising helmer Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness,” “50/50“), the film toplines Nicholas Hoult (“X-Men: First Class“) as the main zombie, with Teresa Palmer as the girl he falls for, John Malkovich as her father, Dave Franco as her ill-fated boyfriend, and Rob Corddry and Analeigh Tipton as the leads’ best friends, with an indie-happy soundtrack featuring Feist and M83, and a dextrous mix of tones. Our Kevin Jagernauth found things to like, particularly in the performances of Cordrry and Tipton, and the more interesting moments at its fringes, but ultimately found that it “never truly commits to the wit and reinvention it promises,” and that the film “is a bit all over the place at times.” Still, it’s worth noting that notices elsewhere have been reasonably good, so if you’re taken by the subject matter or cast, you might have a good time with it.
When? Opens in theaters today.
Synopsis: A mild-mannered family man discovers that a con-woman has stolen his identity and heads to Florida to bring her home and clear his name.
What You Need To Know: Everyone involved benefited from “Bridesmaids” in a big way, but no one more so than Melissa McCarthy. Even before the film was released, she was starring in the hit sitcom “Mike & Molly,” but her furiously funny, scene-stealing turn in Paul Feig‘s film put her on the path for movie stardom. She’s been quiet-ish so far, with “This Is 40” being her only real follow-up, but 2013 is a big year for the actress. She reteams with Feig this summer for “The Heat,” but first up is her first real co-lead in “Identity Thief” with Jason Bateman. Seth Gordon, the filmmaker behind “Horrible Bosses” directs, and Craig Mazin, one of the main writers on ‘The Hangover Part II & Part III‘ penned the script, so you can probably imagine what to expect here. While the trailers are intermittently funny, there are ringers in the supporting cast, including Jon Favreau, John Cho, Amanda Peet, Eric Stonestreet and Jonathan Banks, and the pairing of Bateman and McCarthy is one with inherent promise. The quiet release date isn’t a huge vote of confidence, and we didn’t much like Gordon’s “Horrible Bosses,” but we hope this could turn out to be a decent time-filling comedy.
When? February 8th
Synopsis: In the closing days of World War Two, five German children go on the run after their Nazi parents are arrested.
What You Need To Know: The best part of a decade ago, Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland made a hugely impressive directorial debut with “Somersault,” a coming-of-age drama responsible for introducing the world to Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington. For her follow-up, few would have expected it to take on such different subject matter — a German-language period piece set against the fading moments of WWII. That said, it has the same lyrical and sensual qualities of its predecessor, which is all for the better. When Kevin saw it at TIFF last year, he acknowledged that it sticks “to the expected template of a point A to point B journey,” but the film has “more resonant character texture and depth” than most. Beautifully shot by rising cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (“Animal Kingdom“), with a Terrence Malick-ish interest in nature and landscape, the film can tend to be “coldly enigmatic,” with a “cryptical approach which almost completely internalizes Lore’s turmoil, masking motivations that during key moments would’ve added greater impact, rather than giving them a slightly unsatisfying air of mystery.” But while it’s chilly, it’s a new take on the World War II movie, and in a month somewhat starved of arthouse fare, could scratch that itch for the more highbrow cinema goer.
When? February 8th
Synopsis: The lives of a married couple unravel when her new psychiatrist prescribes her an experimental drug.
What You Need To Know: Undoubtedly the major movie event of the month is the release of the final theatrical release by Steven Soderbergh, the sexy psychological thriller “Side Effects,” penned by his “Contagion” and “The Informant!” collaborator Scott Z. Burns. Starring Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones, expectations were certainly high, and while Drew Taylor acknowledges in our review that its place as Soderbergh’s final theatrical movie (for now…) places “an almost unfair amount of pressure” on the movie, it’s also “stylistically unparalleled, totally gripping and occasionally devastating in its emotional presentation.” Packed with surprises and twists, the film “plays within genre parameters, but is grounded deeply inside the corporate machinations on which the story is founded.” It’s a touch bleak, and towards the end faces “some occasionally abstruse leaps in logic that gnarl the narrative,” but the performances are excellent, with Mara “once again demonstrating why she’s one of the most exciting female leads onscreen,” while Law “makes for an unexpectedly compelling and complicated lead.” It’s perhaps not the most significant film that Soderbergh ever made, but also “an engaging sexy little whodunnit directed by one of the great American auteurs of the past couple of decades.”
When? February 8th
“A Good Day To Die Hard”
Synopsis: The fifth entry in the “Die Hard” series, John McClane travels to Moscow to meet his errant son Jack, only for the pair to come up against nuclear terrorists.
What You Need To Know: After 2009’s “Live Free And Die Hard,” we’re not sure anyone was really chomping at the bit for a new John McClane movie, given that Len Wiseman‘s film was, bloated, CGI-heavy, joyless, and essentially “Die Hard” in name only. So expectations were fairly minimal for the fifth film, “A Good Day To Die Hard,” especially with competent-but-workmanlike director John Moore (“Max Payne“), and screenwriter Skip Woods (“Hitman,” “The A-Team“) as the men in charge. But is it just us, or does “A Good Day To Die Hard” like a step up from the last film? The premise seems to be less ludicrous, and the tone a little more reminiscent of the original film, while the addition of Jai Courtney (who was impressively charismatic as the villain in “Jack Reacher“) as McClane Jr. seems to introduce a sort of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade“-type dynamic that could be a lot of fun. There’s still cause for concern, however. The CGI-happy money shot the trailers end on seems more suited to superhero movies than “Die Hard,” and villains Sebastian Koch and Radivoje Bukvic are, from what we’ve seen, less than inspiring. But we’re certainly more optimistic than we were expecting to be.
When? February 14th|
Synopsis: In the deep south, high schooler Ethan is drawn to a newcomer in town, Lena, only to discover that she’s from a magically-gifted family, and that on her 16th birthday she’ll be claimed for either the light or the dark.
What You Need To Know; The coming year is stuffed with films hoping to fill the gap left by the recently wrapped-up “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” franchises, some looking more promising than others, mentioning no names (*cough* “Mortal Instruments“). But on the more promising side of the equation is “Beautiful Creatures.” Based on the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, it might have a somewhat generic set-up, but the talent involved is significantly better than average, from Oscar-nominated writer-director Richard LaGravanese (“The Fisher King“) to the likes of Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons and Viola Davis backing up promising new talents Alice Englert (“Ginger & Rosa“) and Alden Ehrenreich (“Tetro“). There’s a nice Southern Gothic feel to the footage so far — like Tennessee Williams doing “Twilight” — and backers Warner Bros feel pretty bullish about it. It could still turn out to be dreadful (LaGravanese’s directorial efforts, including “P.S. I Love You,” aren’t so hot), but it looks like as far as teen supernatural romance fare goes, you could do a lot worse.
When? February 14th
“Like Someone In Love”
Synopsis: The Japan-set tale of the relationship between a student, who works as a prostitute on the side, and her elderly professor/client.
Verdict: Any nervousness as to whether Abbas Kiarostami‘s brilliance would continue when he started making films outside his native Iran was swiftly quashed when “Certified Copy” premiered at Cannes in 2010 – the film was rapturously received and became a fixture on Top 10 lists in 2011. The Japan-set “Like Someone In Love” was billed as something of a companion piece, but Kevin Jagernauth found diminishing returns when he reviewed it in Cannes last year. The film “toys with ideas of image and identity, but unfortunately ‘Like Someone In Love’ lacks the intellectual depth and forward momentum of ‘Certified Copy’… there are only so many scenes of characters driving around in a car we can take.” Perhaps most crucially, none of the Japanese actors (mostly unknowns) are a match for the leads of the earlier film; “here, the actors more often than not seem as if they’re reading from a textbook, never moving past Kiarostami’s cerebral, soulless dialogue to take it to another level.” Ultimately, Kevin found it “enigmatic and dull to a maddening degree,” with the great Iranian filmmaker “spinning the wheels,” but maybe his hardcore fans will find more to enjoy here.
Release Date: February 15th
Synopsis: An ad man in Chile in the 1980s is enlisted to head up the campaign to get rid of dictator General Pinochet in an upcoming referendum.
Verdict: Unsurprisingly for an election year, last year saw a host of politically-themed pictures, from “Argo” to “Lincoln” to “Zero Dark Thirty.” But one film that deserves to stand with all of those is finally seeing the light of day this month, having knocked our correspondent James Rocchi’s socks off at Cannes last year. Pablo Larrain‘s Gael Garcia Bernal-starring “No” is, according to James, “exciting, funny, moving… superbly shot, full of human characters” and was “one of the breakout films of Cannes.” The central performance, from Bernal, “is superb, and gives the film a human heart,” and ultimately the film is “extraordinarily well-made, superbly acted, funny, human, warm, principled and, yes, as enthrallingly entertaining as it is fiercely moral and intelligent.”
Release Date: February 15th
Also Released: Also in theaters this week are Walter Hill‘s actioner “Bullet To The Head,” which Jessica Kiang enjoyed more than she thought she would when she saw it for us, and “Stand Up Guys,” which very few people seemed to have enjoyed, despite featuring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin in the cast. Today also saw the release of documentary “Koch,” coming on the day that its subject, former mayor Ed Koch, passed away.
Next week sees the mostly disappointing “A Glimpse Inside The Mind Of Charles Swan III,” the second film from Roman Coppola, graduate from VOD to theaters, while “Top Gun” also gets a brief 3D re-release on a limited number of screens. Valentine’s Day also sees the release of questionable-looking Weinstein Company animation “Escape From Planet Earth,” and Nicholas Sparks factory output “Safe Haven” with Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough, while the end of the month sees terrible-looking horror film “Dark Skies” and The Rock in serious mode in “Snitch.”