Spring has sprung … and Hollywood starts to get serious. The months of January through March are the studios’ fallow time; movies that went bad, movies never expected to be good and movies everyone wishes would vanish get released in the early part of the year in the hopes that everyone is too cold to notice.
But here comes spring and the important pictures and the pre-summer blockbusters start popping up like crocus and hyacinth along the cinematic lane. Here’s a quick glance at what’s in store from the big houses and well as the local independent joints.
The movies are previewed in order of their national opening dates …
Furious 7 – The last film Paul Walker made before his untimely death and the final installment of the Fast and Furious franchise. In addition to Walker, the movie features Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris, Dwayne (“The Rock”) Johnson and Kurt Russell. It’s about cars. Not enough? It’s about cars that go fast. It’s unlikely anybody’s going for any other reason.
Woman in Gold – Helen Mirren stars in this true story about Maria Altmann, a woman who fled her native Austria to escape the Nazis. The Germans stole many of the family’s artworks, including a famous portrait which Gustav Klimt had painted of Altmann’s aunt. The Austrian government wound up owing the painting and for 10 years Altmann fought for the return of the portrait … taking her case all the way to the Supreme Court. Ryan Reynolds plays her attorney, with Katie Holmes, Charles Dance, Daniel Brühl and Jonathan Pryce also starring.
Danny Collins – Very loosely based (as they say in Hollywood) on the true story of British folksinger Steve Tilston who discovered John Lennon had once written him a letter of encouragement after Tilston lamented in a press interview he was worried about impending fame. The letter never reached Tilston until 2010. Presto chango – now Al Pacino plays a wasted, aging rock star who discovers a similar letter which inspires him to shape up and try to reconnect with his discarded family. Christopher Plummer, Bobby Cannavale and Annette Bening also make an appearance.
The Longest Ride – Get out your hankies for this film adaptation of the 17th romance novel written by Nicholas (The Notebook, Message in a Bottle) Sparks. It’s about a young woman who falls in love with risk-taking rodeo rider. She also befriends an old man lost in memories about his long-ago courtship with his now dead wife. No word it if ends happily, but you can bet there’ll be lots of gauzy long shots of unspeakably beautiful sunsets. It’s also a veritable who’s who of show biz offspring with Scott Eastwood (son of Clint,) Oona Chaplin (granddaughter of Charlie and daughter of Geraldine,) Alan Alda (son of Robert) and Jack Huston (great grandson of Walter, grandson of John and nephew of Anjelica and Danny.)
Child 44 – Tom Hardy stars in this film adaptation of the first novel in a trilogy of thrillers by Tom Rob Smith set in Stalin’s Soviet Union. The plot is based on the true story of Andrei Chikatilo, variously known as the “Rostov Ripper,” “Butcher of Rostov” and the “Red Ripper” … a serial killer who mutilated and murdered 52 women and children in Russia. Both the novel and film explore the challenges (and dangers) of trying to uncover the criminal committing crimes which a fascist government refuses to admit exists. Something tells me that Vladdie Putin isn’t going to like this.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 – Has it really only been six years since Kevin James lit up our screens as a rent-a-cop with nothing but a Segway and a dream to keep malls safe? Where does the time go? This go ‘round finds Blart taking a vacation in Las Vegas with his daughter but, it turns out, evil lurks everywhere … even in Vegas. There’s some other actors in it as well – but human decency forbids my mentioning them by name.
While We’re Young – The latest film from writer/director Noah Baumbach, the man who brought you The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Here Ben Stiller plays a New York filmmaker (where does Baumbach get his ideas?) who, along with Naomi Watts playing his wife, find themselves creeping toward middle age without really realizing it. According to the press materials their careers and marriage are “overturned when a disarming young couple (played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) enter their lives.” I’m not really sure what that all entails, but I’m guessing it means the kids try to explain how the hell Snapchat works.
Adult Beginners – Comedy/drama and indie-festival favorite directed by Ross Katz. Nick Kroll (late of Parks & Recreation) plays a high-flying New York financier who’s career bottoms out, forcing him to move in with his sister (Rose Byrne,) her husband (Bobby Cannavale) and their 3-year old son. To help pay his way, Kroll agrees to be the kid’s nanny – look for plenty of fish-out-of-water gags and probably one or two life lessons being learned. Also appearing are Joel McHale, Josh Charles, Jane Krakowski, Bobby Moynihan and fellow Parks alum Jason Mantzoukas.
The Age of Adaline – Blake Lively stars as heroine Adaline Bowman in this romance fantasy film. 80 years ago Adaline was in a car accident and, since then, hasn’t aged a day over 27. She’s hidden herself away so nobody learns her secret. But then she meets the charming and handsome Ellis Jones (played by Michiel Huisman) who tempts her back into the world. Trouble’s brewing when it turns out that Ellis’ parents could reveal her backstory and destroy her life. Harrison Ford and Ellen Burstyn are also on hand in what must be the dream plot of everyone who works in Hollywood – an actress who never gets any older than 27.
Ballet 422 (Opens April 3, Harris Theater) – This documentary takes a look inside New York City Ballet, one of the world’s great dance companies. In 2012 Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins asked 25 year old dancer Justin Peck to create a new ballet for the 2013 Winter Season – the 422nd new work commissioned in the company’s history. Documentarian Jody Lee Lipes was given unprecedented access to the rehearsals and the film follows Peck’s journey creating a new work of art.
Queen and Country (Opens April 10, Regent Square Theater) – John Boorman’s follow-up to his hugely successful, Oscar nominated and quasi-autobiographical 1987 film Hope and Glory. That film featured a 9 year old boy named Bill living through the London Blitz during World War II. It’s now 10 years later and Bill is all grown up and enlisted in the army. He’s going through basic training with his mate Percy and the two of them are creating all kinds of hell for the sergeants and majors trying to get them in shape before shipping them off to the Korean War. David Thewlis, Sinéad Cusak and Richard E. Grant also star.
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (Opens April 24, Regent Square Theater) – A new documentary by Mary Dore examining the lives of the women who founded the second Feminist wave of the late 60’s and early 70’s. With archival footage and new interviews with such pioneers as Rita Mae Brown, Susan Brownmiller, Karla Jay, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Ellen Willis.
It Follows (Through April 8) – Indie horror film recently off the festival circuit about teenagers having sex and the horrors which follow. It’s not (or not only) your typical teen sex slasher film; there’s a metaphor tucked inside about fear of intimacy, the nature of reality vs. dream states and warning about sexually transmitted diseases – whatever happened to Frankie and Annette on the beach?
Metropolis (April 12, 2pm) – The classic 1928 Fritz Lang and the first full-length science fiction film ever made. Lang was a leading proponent of cinematic German Expressionism and Metropolis is a standard bearer of the genre. In a nightmare future where the wealthy rule the world, young Freder, the rich son of the city’s overlord, falls in love with a young woman from the wrong side of the social divide; and, as always happens in movies, all kinds of trouble ensue. This screening will feature live music from Richard Nicol.
Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. (April 10-16) Get out your leg warmers and styling mousse for this 1984 movie about a group of break-dancers who hold a dance-off to save a local community center. Remember how that used to happen all the time in the 80’s? (Producer Pieter Jan Brugge will be in attendance April 11 & 12 to discuss Boogaloo and several of his other films including Heat, Glory, The Insider and Love & Other Drugs.)
Interview with the Vampire (April 24-30) – Director Neil Jordan’s legendarily misfired adaptation of the first novel in Anne Rice’s hugely successful “Vampire Chronicles”. How did it go so wrong with a cast that included Brad Pitt, Christian Slater, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst, Stephen Rea and Antonio Banderas? The studio, Warner Bros., cut an hour from the final print, Rice placed a full-page ad in Variety condemning the casting of Cruise (who, rumor has it, kept the guy-on-guy blood sucking to the barest minimum) and, worst of all, Banderas shows up in what must be the ugliest wig in the history of cinema. Enjoy!
It’s 28 screenings of 20 films from 8 countries, being shown at the Manor Theater and Rodef Shalom from April 16-26. (Visit http://jfilmpgh.org/ for a complete list of films, dates, times and venues.)
The Best of Men – A 2012 film based on the true story of Nazi Germany refugee Dr. Ludwig Guttmann who, while convalescing in a British hospital, implements a sports program for disabled and despairing servicemen … beginning what would become the Paralympic Games. Eddie Marsan stars.
Bulgarian Rhapsody – Two Bulgarian teenage boys, Moni and Giogio, both fall hard for Moni’s cousin visiting from Greece. Their love triangle plays out against the backdrop of World War II and Bulgaria’s refusal to deport it’s Jews. Bulgarian Rhapsody was Bulgaria’s submission for the Best Foreign Film Oscar last year.
Censored Voices – Immediately following the 1967 War, Amos Oz and Avrahim Shapira audio-recorded the conflicted emotions of the returning Israeli servicemen. The tapes were not allowed to be broadcast at the time … and now this film documents those same soldiers, 50 years on, listening (for the first time) to their recorded younger selves.
Dough – British film starring Jonathan Pryce as a man trying to keep his family bakery afloat. He hires a refugee from Darfur who also has a side business selling pot. A mix-up of ingredients occurs and the next thing you know they can’t make the challah fast enough.
The Muses of Bashevis Singer – Famed Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer spent most of his career surround by female translators. This documentary looks at the lives of those women, their sometimes rocky relationship with the libidinous writer and how they helped shape his world-wide reputation.
Ted Hoover is a Pittsburgh-based writer and critic.