Don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, but it appears that we’re coming out of deep freeze and that mantle of ice hanging off of the roof may finally melt … instead of slipping off and decapitating an innocent passer-by. Hollywood’s warming up as well and starting to release some of their more compelling films. This is actually a good time for movie goers since the onslaught on overpaid young actors wearing spandex and fighting CGI monsters won’t start turning up like kudzu in the cinematic garden for a few weeks yet.
What follows is a partial list of what’s in store this month, along with some of the flicks unspooling at the city’s art-and-revival houses.
The movies are previewed in order of their national opening dates …
Chappie – Dev Patel, who you may remember from Slumdog Millionaire, has two movies opening this month; Chappie is the first and it’s set in the future where robots act as our police force. Whaddya know but someone goes and reprograms a robot to think for itself! (Interestingly, the press materials refer to the robot in question, Chappie, a hunk of animated metal, as “him” … leaving me to wonder if my immersion blender is a boy or a girl and whether I’ve offended him/her by never noticing his/her gender specific way of making mayonnaise.) It’s directed by Neil Blomkamp, director of the magnificent District 9, so there is hope. Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver also show up for some sci-fi hijinks.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – And here comes Dev Patel’s second March movie; a sequel to the enormously popular The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. There’s probably a plot but nobody, I assure you, is going for that. We just wanna watch two Dames, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, along with Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton and Celia Imrie battle for screen time with franchise newbies Richard Gere, David Strathairn and Tamsin Greg. It’s about grown ups with probably not a gun or special effect in sight (if you exclude the facelifts) … what more could you possible want?
Unfinished Business – Vince Vaughn, Dave Franco and Tom Wilkinson star as three co-workers traveling to Europe to close a business deal and save their struggling company. Along the way they get caught up with old girlfriends, drugs & alcohol and a sex fetish convention. It’s being categorized as Hangover meets Hot Tub Time Machine – which may or may not have just made up your mind for you, one way or another.
Cinderella – Perhaps to make up for all the youth they traumatized with Into the Woods, Disney Studios presents a live action version of their classic 1950 animated feature. They’ve called in the big guns – Kenneth Branagh directs from a screenplay by Chris Weitz, featuring Cate Blanchett as the stepmother, Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother and Lily James in the title role. Be warned, this is not a musical … so if you’re going in hopes of singing along to “Bibbidi-Boddibi-Boo” you’ll only be disappointed.
Deli Man – A documentary by Erik Greenberg Anjou focusing on the history of delicatessens in America. Through a look at traditional Jewish food and the manner in which is has been served, Deli Man traces the immigration and diaspora of Jews in the United States. As delis, and deli chains, have spread across the country, the old-fashioned Mom and Pop storefronts in urban neighborhoods are disappearing; the film looks at the pluses and minuses of that inexorable evolution.
Run All Night – Poor Liam Neeson. In Taken they kidnapped his daughter, which set him out into the world with a bad attitude and lots of firearms. In Taken 3 and A Walk Among the Tombstones they killed his wife; cue bad attitude and big armor. And now, in Run All Night, Ed Harris is trying to kill his son. The guy just can’t seem to catch a break – he must wonder sometimes if life wouldn’t have been easier if he’d been born an orphan. Vincent D’Onofrio and Common are also on hand to add to the mayhem.
Insurgent – Did you leave 2014’s Divergent wondering what happened to plucky heroine Tris, a genetically unique young woman in a future world where people are assigned a life role according to their DNA? You may remember that she, along with a band of other “divergents” were fighting an evil cabal, headed by an excessively lacquered Kate Winslet, in hopes of bringing about a more just society. Well Tris is back and quicker than you can say Katniss Everdeen, she’s avenging wrongs, firing guns and falling in love with a photogenic costar. Just don’t think it all gets wrapped in this sequel – please, there’s two more films in the Divergent franchise coming down the pike.
The Gunman – Sean Penn, from whom we haven’t heard in quite a while, plays an international operative looking to turn in his gun and settle down with a new love. But the folks he works for are having none of it! They threaten the girlfriend and frame him with an international crime and now he needs to travel the globe to clear his name. It’s based on Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel The Prone Gunman and features Idris Elba, Javier Bardem and Ray Winstone. I wonder if Liam Neeson knows someone’s made a Liam Neeson movie without Liam Neeson?
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem – A courtroom drama currently sweeping the festival circuit about an Israeli woman trying to get a divorce from her husband. Because religious laws govern divorce in Israel, Viviane is, in effect, put on trial because, per Orthodox tradition, the husband must grant his wife a divorce … and Viviane’s husband is a nasty piece of work. The film was Israel’s entry to this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar competition.
Get Hard – Gee, there hasn’t been a Will Ferrell manchild comedy released in, what has it been?, the last three weeks. Director Etan Cohen and writers Jay Martel, Ian Roberts and Adam McKay rush in to fill the void with this little comedy confection about an evil millionaire who gets convicted of fraud and is given prison time. Before he reports to the Big House to begin his sentence he hires Kevin Hart, whom he believes to be a seasoned ex-con, to make him prison-ready … and oh the merry mix-ups which ensue.
Serena – Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence team up for a third time (after Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) to star in this adaptation of Ron Rash’s book. Originally planned as an Angelina Jolie vehicle directed by Darren Aronofsky, Susanne Bier helms this iteration set in North Carolina during the Depression. Cooper owns a lumber company and Lawrence is his new wife wanting to help turn the outfit into an empire. Things seem to be going well until Lawrence is revealed to be not quite the dame she’s been posing as.
The Riot Club – There exists at Oxford University in England a private all-male society called “The Bullingdon Club.” Founded more than 300 years ago, the club is famous for two things; the hedonistic, vandalism-prone activities of it’s aristocratic, moneyed members and that most of England’s ruling elite have been part of it. Current Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and London mayor Boris Johnson were all members at the same time of the Bullingdon. The Riot Club, based on the play Posh, is a fictional recreation of that world and what some young men will do when they know they’ll never be faced with consequences. Featuring a Who’s Who of upcoming British talent including Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Max (son of Jeremy) Irons and Freddie (son of Edward) Fox.
It Happened One Night (March 8 at 8 p.m., Regent Square Theater) – One of the earliest screwball comedies made, and the first film to win all five Oscars in the major categories: Best picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay. Frank Capra directs Claudette Colbert as a spoiled rich girl who, while on the lam from her imperious pappa, runs into ne’er-do-well newspaper reporter Clark Gable. This hugely popular film was a favorite of Friz Freleng, the man who co-created Bugs Bunny (and, according to legend, based some of those early Bugs cartoons on this film.) Other fans of the flick reportedly include Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler – probably not something you’d want to put in a press release, but certainly a testament to this film’s world-wide appeal.
Human Capital (Opens March 27, Regent Square Theater) – Paolo Virzi directs an Italian adaptation of a novel by American Stephen Amidon about two families who are drawn together one Christmas Eve night when a cyclist is the victim of a hit and run accident. Set against the backdrop of the global economic meltdown, Human Capital is part family drama, part thriller noir and part dark comedy. A winner at the Tribeca Film Festival and Italy’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Mommy (March 20 – 26, Harris Theater) – Canada’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and winner of the Cannes Jury Prize. A dark, tense drama about a single mother who removes her troubled, violent son from a juvenile detention facility and is faced with having to raise him on her own. The plot thickens when a mysterious, new neighbor steps in to help.
To Catch a Thief (March 29, 10:30 a.m. w/breakfast, advance reservations required; March 31, 7 p.m.) – There’s probably not a more beautiful sight in cinema than Grace Kelly decked out in jewels and making out with Cary Grant – which could qualify To Catch a Thief as one of the most beautiful movies ever made. Not one of director Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest, certainly, but it’s still an entertaining yarn about a retired thief living in the South of France (and the beautiful scenic backdrops that provides) being called in by the police to help catch a decidedly unretired cat burglar.
Lord of the Rings (March 20-26) – Here’s your chance to return to Middle Earth with the first three films in Peter Jackson’s Tolkien saga as Row House screens The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. You can view a different one each day or, on certain days, sit through all three in order of release date. As a special bonus, Row House has installed a “Lord of the Rings” pinball machine and there will be tournaments! One ball, to rule them all. (If you say it in Elvish, it’s sounds really awesome!)
Sid and Nancy (March 6-12) – If you want to visit the glamour days of rock and roll, you’ll need to stay as far away as possible from this Alex Cox directed biopic about the last days of Sid (Sex Pistols) Vicious and Nancy Spungen. All about heroin addicts caught in a mutually destructive relationship, Sid and Nancy is a brutal film which is hard to watch and, ultimately, deeply moving and compelling. Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb give outstanding, fearless performances in the title roles.
This is Spinal Tap (March 6-12) – The classic rock mockumentary from Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer about a fictional British heavy metal band touring the United States in which just about anything that can go wrong does. Along for the ride are Ed Begley, Jr., Fran Drescher, Dana Carvey, Billy Crystal, Howard Hessman, Paul Shaffer, Angelica Huston, Fred Willard and many, many more. You may think 10 is the loudest you can get … but you ain’t heard nothin’ yet!
Young Frankenstein (March 13-19) – The 1974 comedy homage to the James Whale/University Pictures monster franchise from the 1930’s, written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. Brooks directs Wilder as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (“Fronkensteen!”) who is lured back to the castle where he grandfather created the first monster. The supporting players are a veritable 1970’s Comedy Actor Hall of Fame: Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Kenneth Mars and Peter Boyle. (Even Gene Hackman shows up in an uncredited turn as a blind villager.)
Ted Hoover is a Pittsburgh based writer and critic.