Look, it’s February! For some that might mean Black History Month, Valentine’s Day, or President’s Day. But for us showbiz insiders, we know that this year, February is Julianne Moore Appreciation Month.
One of our favorite gingers is appearing in no less than three films this month: two bringing her big praises—and one a big paycheck. (Even stars have to pay the rent.) It’s up to you to figure out which is which.
Of course the industry has other new releases too, so here’s a cross-section of the bunch. They are followed by highlights of films at the city’s art-and-revival houses.
The movies are previewed in order of their national opening dates …
Jupiter Ascending — The latest from Andy and Lana Wachowski (creators of The Matrix.) We’re in a dystopian future and a young woman (Mila Kunis) sets out to overthrow the baddies and bring about a happier tomorrow. Hollywood’s gonna keep making these kinds of movies until we all believe it! Also featuring Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, James D’Arcy, and, in a rare acting appearance, Terry Gilliam.
Seventh Son — The first of our Julianne Moore outings. This is, in movie parlance, “inspired” by Joseph Delaney’s fantasy novel The Last Apprentice. (Which probably means they took the title and the characters and made up everything else.) Here we have Jeff Bridges playing an old man guarding “The County” from witches and ghouls … with Moore as one of his biggest foes, the evil Mother Malkin. But Jeff’s getting up there in years and looking to retire. Ben Barnes applies for the position, but every other candidate has failed to survive the training. Can Ben do it, and if not, what stands between “The County” and Mother Malkin?
Still Alice — The second of our Julianne Moore triptych, and the film which brought her an Oscar nom this year. Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland co-direct this drama about a brilliant linguistics professor who suddenly begins to forget her words and is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The film chronicles her battle not to be seen only as her illness. With Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart.
Fifty Shades of Grey — Just in time for Valentine’s Day. Here it is, the film adaptation of one of 2011’s most read and most reviled novels. Anastasia Steele is a college senior who gets a chance to interview businessman Christian Grey. He’s young, he’s gorgeous, he’s filthy rich; everything a girl wants in a fella … and more! The more being that Christian is into bondage. She goes for him in a big way, but she’s not all that crazy about the paddles. Can these two wacky kids find love? It took writer E. L. James three novels to answer that question.
Kingsman: The Secret Service — An all-star action thriller based on The Secret Service comic book series. The cast includes Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Hamill, Mark Strong, Jack Davenport, and Michael Caine. Colin Firth stars as a veteran member of a global secret service who takes in a young street kid and teaches him the ropes of international intrigue.
The Last Five Years – Hollywood tries its hand at a different kind of musical. This quasi-autobiographical off-Broadway hit was written by Jason Robert Brown about the breakup of his marriage. It’s told from two points of view and on two different timelines: The wife’s story moves from the day of the divorce to the day of the marriage inter-cut with the husband’s story moving from the day of the first meeting to the day of the wedding. Here’s hoping that director Richard LaGravenese and stars Anna Kendricks and Jeremy Jordan can transfer that to the screen.
The DUFF — The title stands for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend” and the movie’s about a high school student, Bianca, who finds out she’s been labeled a DUFF and decides to fight back. Since this is a Hollywood flick, even the actors playing the “ugly” kids are beautiful—you probably haven’t heard of any of them, but Allison Janney shows up in a supporting role, so there is that.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 — Here’s the thing: I didn’t even know there was a Hot Tub Time Machine 1. In case you missed it as well, the, um, plot of the first one concerned three down-on-their-luck losers discovering a hot tub which transported them back in time to a night in 1986 when they all made life-altering decisions. In this sequel some of the guys have to use the tub’s services again when a friend is shot and they go back in time to save his life. Not War and Peace certainly, but it does feature a number of popular comedians: Thomas Lennon, Adam Scott, Chevy Chase, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, and Jason Jones.
McFarland, USA — Is that the sound of lives being affirmed and hearts being warmed that we hear wafting our way on a warm Pacific Coast breeze? Indeed it is, as Disney Studios brings us this inspirational film based on a true story about a high school coach in California, played by Kevin Costner, who turns his ragtag, poor, and mostly Latino students into a championship cross-country running team.
Focus — Will Smith plays a seasoned con artist who ends up working a scam against a former protégé and love interest played by Margot Robbie. Smith’s career of late has been a series of ups and downs but maybe this romantic comedy/drama could turn that around. Director/writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have such an offbeat resume (I Love You Phillip Morris, Bad Santa, and Crazy Stupid Love) that they just might be what Smith needs.
Maps to the Stars — And we round out Moore Month with this dark inside-Hollywood ensemble piece. Here, she teams up with director David Cronenberg and writer Bruce Wagner. The film is about has-been and would-be stars living the low life in L.A.—which is fitting since Wagner, as a novelist (and this film is adapted from one of his books), writes the blackest, saddest satires of Hollywood since Nathanael West. Moore plays the daughter of a dead movie star (she won Best Actress at Cannes for her work), and diving into the void with her are Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Olivia Williams, and Robert Pattinson.
“Oscar Nominated Shorts: Documentary” (Feb. 6-8 and 13-15, Melwood Screening Room) — A program of the five films up for the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject. Nominees in this category must be 40 minutes or under. The films are:
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 — A look at the phone counselors who work with active and retired service men and women in crisis.
Joanna — A film that follows the last few months of a women dying of cancer.
Our Curse — Filmmaker Tomasz Sliwinski chronicles the life of his newborn child, who suffers from “Ondine’s Curse,” which prevents breathing during sleep.
The Reaper — The journey of a man who works in a slaughterhouse and his relationship with death, both on the job and in his personal life.
White Earth — Filmed against the backdrop of the oil boom in the Northern Plains, this is the story of three children and their immigrant mother.
Kiss Me Deadly (Feb. 15 at 8 p.m., Regent Square Theater) — The ultimate in film noir, made in 1955 from a book by the ultimate in noir writers: Mickey Spillane. Hard-boiled dick Mike Hammer picks up the wrong dame on the side of road and before you know it the bodies are piling up. Whodunit? Who knows … but you can bet he was smoking while he did it. Robert Aldrich directs Ralph Meeker (with Cloris Leachman making her film debut as the dame) in this classic crime picture which ran into trouble with the Kefauver Committee (impaneled to root out Organized Crime.) They said the picture was designed to ruin young viewers. Heaven knows what they’d make of Facebook.
Girlhood (Feb. 13, 14, 16, and 18) — Not a sequel to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, this French film written and directed by Céline Sciamma is a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl suffocating in a lower-class neighborhood and a stifling home environment. She meets a gang of similar young girls and they all take a dangerous journey toward self-awareness.
What We Do in the Shadows (Feb. 27-28) — Comedy/horror mockumentary from New Zealand; written and directed by Jemaine Clement (one half of Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi. A film crew follows four flatmates in Wellington who, by the way, are also vampires. Finding human blood’s a problem, sure, but so is living with the same people for hundreds of years … especially when they don’t keep up with their duties on the chore wheel.
Jaws (Feb. 20-25) — Don’t go in the water! That was the ad tagline for this film when it opened in 1975, and Americans did just that: They were all too busy seeing this movie repeatedly to go for a swim. This is the film that put Steven Spielberg on the cinematic map and may be the first “summer blockbuster.” In a quaint New England island resort, bodies start washing up (in pieces) on the shore. What’s more deadly—the great white shark that’s suddenly showed up, or the town elders who refuse to believe it because they don’t want to lose the tourist trade?
The Silence of the Lambs (Feb. 27–Mar. 5) — It’s about cannibalism and it was filmed in Pittsburgh; what else do you want? Jodie Foster stars as an emotionally stunted FBI agent tracking a serial killer. Although the movie’s sexual politics hardly pass muster, Anthony Hopkins is fabulously evil as genius/killer Hannibal Lecter. Foster, Hopkins, director Jonathan Demme, and the film all won Oscars.
The Usual Suspects (Feb. 27–Mar. 5) — Who is Keyser Söze? Wild horses couldn’t drag it out of me. But in this 1995 Bryan Singer-directed film (his first big hit), a whole bunch of future Hollywood stars are desperate to find the real identity of this criminal mastermind. Featuring Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollak, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri, and Giancarlo Esposito.
Ted Hoover is a Pittsburgh-based critic and writer.