We won’t bury the lede, folks. You won’t find “Fifty Shades of Grey” on this list of ten films to see in month of February. There was some talk of it making the cut, but we couldn’t in good conscience voice any amount of support for what looks like a pretty schlocky piece of work. Perhaps you saw the trailer during the Super Bowl? We did, and… no. Despite the 100 million book copies sold, over 250 million trailer views (now trailers pimp themselves!) and countless fantasies inspired, we just can’t be bothered.
But that’s alright! While everyone’s mother and sister will be geeking out on “kinky sex, the middle of the road edition,” we’ll be checking out the 10 films discussed below. So if you want to cut through all the ‘Grey’ noise, Sundance Film Festival think pieces (the fest announced its winners this past weekend) and Oscar odds-making (the awards will air February 22), we recommend you look out for the following. Once the Academy Awards finish, we look forward to unveiling our March column, as it will officially feel like we can put 2014 to bed and do the dance all over again.
Synopsis: A deceptively nice but mentally unhinged factory worker converses with his pets and turns into a serial killer.
What You Need To Know: When we saw this fourth film from graphic novelist turned director Marjane Satrapi (“Persepolis”) during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, our writer mentioned how the film drew out a likable performance from Ryan Reynolds (even as the actor’s struggle to find the right material has continued for years) and juggles various disparate tones, stating that it “navigates the line between the gruesome and the goofy with a step as nimble as a tight-rope walker going over a sea of broken glass. It’s an extraordinarily warm and funny movie about a likable schizophrenic murderer; it’s candy-colored and meticulously composed and yet also shiny with fresh wet blood.” It takes a sure hand to keep all those plates spinning, but Satrapi has managed just that before to varying degrees of success (“Persepolis” is a real charmer, while “Chicken With Plums” came and went).
Release Date: February 6th
Synopsis: Jupiter Jones was born under a night sky, with signs predicting that she was destined for great things. Now grown, Jupiter dreams of the stars but wakes up to the cold reality of a job cleaning other people’s houses. Only when Caine, a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down does Jupiter begin to glimpse her destiny— her genetic signature marks her as next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos.
What You Need To Know: Though Andy and Lana Wachowski received a considerable amount of goodwill from the box office success of their ‘Matrix’ trilogy and its ancillary revenue over the years, their subsequent film endeavors (“Speed Racer,” “Cloud Atlas”) have proven to be big budget gambles that didn’t exactly pay off financially or critically. So after this latest feature starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum (with pointy elf ears!) and Oscar-nominated Eddie Redmayne was pushed back from a confident summer tentpole release to the wilds of February, many assumed the film was no good, even though its chances of financial success are way better against the slim competition this time of year. No reviews have emerged yet despite its coming release this Friday, which means Warners Bros. is keeping critics’ opinions close to their chests, so we’ll find out soon enough if it’s yet another dud from the ambitious but inconsistent filmmakers who may struggle to get their projects financed if they continue to miss the mark.
Release Date: February 6th
“Accidental Love” (previously known as “Nailed”)
Synopsis: A small town waitress gets a nail accidentally lodged in her head, causing unpredictable behavior that leads her to Washington, D.C. Sparks fly when she meets a clueless young senator who takes up her cause.
What You Need To Know: It’s been a winding road to completion for this abandoned David O. Russell project starring Jessica Biel and Jake Gyllenhaal, which was supposed to be Russell’s next film after “I Heart Huckabees.” After several production delays in 2008 came and went, the project was left for dead before principal photography was finished. Russell moved on and reinvented himself with three highly successful, Oscar-nominated pictures in “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” and it seemed like that was that. Now the film is getting an actual release under the bland-as-all-hell title “Accidental Love” (it was originally called “Nailed”), and the film is now credited to director Stephen Greene (an Alan Smithee-type pseudonym we surmise). As fans of Russell’s work, we’re curious to see if this retains any of his voice. If so, it should be a fascinating look into what could have been and a chance to see how much his voice has evolved.
Release Date: VOD February 10th, theatrical February 20th
“Kingsman: The Secret Service”
Synopsis: A veteran secret agent takes a young upstart under his wing.
What You Need To Know: Our A- review mentioned just how many spy movies are coming out this year, and based on Drew Taylor’s effusive praise for this latest from Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”) and comic creator Mark Millar, it may be tough to beat ‘Kingsmen’ in terms of humor and action: “Like Colin Firth‘s character, Vaughn and his collaborators have taken a crude and disposable property and turned it into something more —a thoughtful, exciting, whip-smart spy adventure that doesn’t let its smart-ass post-modernism overwhelm its playfulness or its heart.” We’re also intrigued to see if the former Guy Ritchie collaborator Vaughn is evolving as a filmmaker. For our money, he’s done solid work with the ‘X-Men’ franchise, but has yet to recapture his heights of his debut “Layer Cake,” a film that made it clear to the world Daniel Craig was ready to play Bond before he even got the part. Our review also called his latest “a cinematic Big Mac,”; occasionally, there’s a time and place for greasy fast food.
Release Date: February 13th
“What We Do In The Shadows”
Synopsis: A house of vampires quarrel over dirty dishes, discuss fashion and go to parties over the course of a fake documentary.
What You Need To Know: It seems that there will always be an appetite for vampire mythos in cinema, as this latest stab at the genre from New Zealand tries to find new blood (hey!) with a “This Is Spinal Tap” approach. It’s made by and stars Taika Waititi and frequent collaborator Jemaine Clement, who’ve established their particular brand of Kiwi humor over the years with “Flight of Conchords” for HBO (Clement being one half of the band), “Eagle vs. Shark” and “Boy.” The trailer for ‘Shadows’ is great, prompting plenty of laughs from the absurd, post-modern setup. Our review out of SXSW 2014 praised it for being a “refreshing, laugh-out-loud funny picture that is perfectly happy with its somewhat niche appeal…the type of little movie that you watch and feel like you’ve discovered something really special. It’s a total surprise; a silly, scary delight.”
Release Date: February 13th
Synopsis: A portmanteau picture made up of six short films all loosely connected by the theme of vengeance, violence, oppression and dark humor.
What You Need To Know: Omnibus movies are almost always a mixed bag. But this wildly entertaining and darkly funny collection is one of the shining examples of the genre —some of its chapters are better than others, but there’s not a dud in the bunch. An immensely impressive demo reel of all that director Damián Szifron is capable of (we’d love to see him take on a pure horror story on the basis of this film), it’s a terrific showcase for his wide-ranging talents, with the opening chapter featuring one of the best uses of the freeze frame in recent memory, one that had our audience cheering before the opening credits even started. Accessible and fun enough to have a great shot at becoming a relatively big crossover foreign release, “Wild Tales” may not have totally worked for our critic at Cannes 2014, but it undoubtedly heralds an exciting new voice in Szifrón.
Release Date: February 20th
“Maps To The Stars”
Synopsis: A tour into the heart of a Hollywood family chasing celebrity, one another and the relentless ghosts of their pasts.
What You Need To Know: Our love for David Cronenberg has always been strong here at The Playlist, but some of his biggest supporters (including this writer) had issues with his last two efforts “A Dangerous Method” and “Cosmopolis.” However, few directors’ misfires are as watchable and fascinating as his. Our B+ review of this latest, starring Julianne Moore (who took home Best Actress at Cannes for her performance) and Robert Pattinson, promises a return to form: “on the whole, the film is a sickly enjoyable wallow in the scandalous, fucked-up side of show business…a major part of the fun is the way that Cronenberg takes such obvious relish in biting the hand that feeds him (or at least used to feed him). If ‘Sunset Boulevard’, ‘All About Eve’ and Kenneth Anger‘s ‘Hollywood Babylon’ took a bunch of prescription medication, had a two-day three-way and conceived a child, nine months later the child would look something like ‘Map To The Stars.’” Any new film by the master of body horror is automatic must-see, but this does sound particularly promising.
Release Date: February 27th
Synopsis: A young and disoriented British soldier is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the deadly streets of Belfast in 1971.
What You Need To Know: Already cited as one of the 25 best films coming in 2015 we’ve already seen, “‘71” looks like another feather in the cap for young actor Jack O’Connell, who blew us away in last year’s excellent prison drama “Starred Up” (earning the #17 slot for our best performances of the year and one of our top breakthrough performances) and got more attention stateside starring in Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken.” He’s got charisma and chops to spare, so we’re eager to catch up with this film, which we hear is one helluva tense thriller with the political jargon mostly kept in the background. Our review from Berlin 2014 said as much: “[it’s] more than just a performance showcase, delivering a gripping, at times almost unbearably tense, incredibly involving anti-war statement, made the stronger for being set against the less cinematically familiar backdrop of Belfast, in the year 1971. That this notoriously thorny and treacherous territory is negotiated with real intelligence and sensitivity tells us that, if there’s any justice, it will be as much a breakout for its neophyte director [Yann Demange] as for its lead.”
Release Date: February 27th
Synopsis: In an isolated Maine logging town, a woman’s tragic mistake shatters her community and yields unexpected consequences.
What You Need To Know: When we saw it at Tribeca 2013, we were taken aback by this debut feature from Maine writer/director Lance Edmands: “A terrifically solid and sturdy effort across the board, ‘Bluebird’ is the real deal and a true package of strong collaborators coalescing to make a wonderful debut film. While primarily dealing with interconnectedness, [it’s] also about sense of place and belonging and the exact opposite. Drawing such straight lines to outcomes would seem pat if Edmands film wasn’t so intangible and graceful about its relations.”
Release Date: February 27th
“My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn”
Synopsis: A portrait of director Nicolas Winding Refn directed by his wife during the making of “Only God Forgives.”
What You Need To Know: Since The Playlist has been accused of being Refn apologists (or worse) regarding our coverage of the hotshot Danish auteur’s career, we’ll try to keep our excitement for this behind the scenes doc brief and without hyperbole. It’s not too much to say that Refn is one of the top genre deconstructionists working today, one who seems to be constantly trying new approaches to his cinema. We understand those who didn’t like or didn’t even bother with his 2013 revenge picture, “Only God Forgives,” but we’ll argue it’s well worth watching. That film was hotly tipped after the success of Ryan Gosling and Refn’s prior teamup, “Drive,” but eventually landed with an unremarkable thud critically and was given a limp U.S. release. Here’s the chance to see what went into the making of that film, via this a doc made by the filmmaker’s wife. Though our review referred to it as an “easily digestible hour long documentary that ultimately doesn’t make a case for itself other than perhaps being a really fascinating extra feature on another movie’s Blu-ray edition,” we’re still excited to more glimpses at the making of an unfairly misunderstood, highly-cultish film. (read our interview with Refn and the doc’s filmmaker Liv Corfixen).
Release Date: February 27th
Despite this often weak time of year for good new films, there’s still plenty more offerings that may be worth your time. Let’s start with the titles by notable directors and/or featuring actors we know and often love.
We’re curious about “The Salvation,” a western starring Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green. If those two were filmed just reading “Fifty Shades Of Grey” we’d be the first to queue up, so even though results we’re decidedly mixed, we’ll be there. Spike Lee’s “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,” the Kickstarter funded remake of “Ganja and Hess,” was not received warmly by the Playlist when we saw it in June, but Lee is a director still worth following. Oh yeah, Will Smith has a new movie out this month called “Focus.” Salma Hayek goes full-“Lucy” with “Everly.”
Strongly reviewed documentary “1971” (what are the chances we’d have two films with that year in the title in the same month?) looks fascinating. For those who wanted a sequel to 1987’s “Hope & Glory,” your wish has been granted some 23 years later with “Queen and Country.” “Mcfarland, USA” stars Kevin Costner in another sports drama (this film is concerned with cross country racing). There’s also that potentially off-putting live-action, CG and traditionally animated hybrid “The SpongeBob Movie: Spong Out Of Water.”
Genre offerings keep trying their hand during this time of year to varied results. “Wyrmwood” is a post apocalyptic zombie film from Australia that could be fun (watch the trailer). “The Lazarus Effect” certainly sounds like another by the numbers horror title awaiting its near-future in a Wal-Mart cheapy DVD bin, but since Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde and Donald Glover feature in it, maybe it’s good?