It’s that time again. A chance to reflect on what landed for me in February, the stories that stood out and what I am anticipating in March:
The RHYTHM SECTION, a late January holdover, turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Suffering from a lack of advertising, poor critical reception and breaking the kind of records you don’t want to break (making the least amount of money on a weekend for a film on as many screens as it had), this one was bound to get shoved under the rug and quickly forgotten. Which is a shame. Blake Lively gives an inspired performance, it features one of the great car chase scenes in recent memory, and as thrillers go its competence actually gives way to some compelling moral questions.Worth checking out when it becomes available at home.
MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN, a film that also ended up largely forgotten and mostly missed in theaters, found its release on VOD this month. To be honest, I was mixed on the film when I saw it on the big screen, but a rewatch this month grew my appreciation for it on a number of levels. I loved the New York Noir setting, and I really appreciated how Edward Norton, in his Directorial debut, shows a real knack for being able to blend together theme, performance and structure in a very methodical and natural way. He has a real future ahead of him behind the camera.
Back on the big screen front, BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN) is a TON of fun. It proved that when you have someone like Margot Robbie breathing life into a problematic franchise (Suicide Squad), her powerful vision, an inspired and dominating lead performance, and a willingness to scale back the budget and get a bit more creative went a long way to making this work as well as it did.
Unfortunately the film has been labouring to find the audiences that studios expected and hoped for, so the future is a bit uncertain. But hopefully it finds a way to convince the studio that the risk was worth what we gain in quality.
Also just released to the big screen are two undeniable gems, including the winning romance THE PHOTOGRAPH, a subtle cinematic work that is chalk full of wonderful beats that move us from comedy to mystery to dramatic concern. It’s quiet and not in any way flashy, but it gradually draws you in.
And then likely the best of the February crop, THE INVISIBLE MAN shows how to reimagine a familiar concept for modern audiences, being not only the more successful horror film to land in the early goings so far, but a well crafted film that earns its scares and does some really interesting things on a technical level.
Outside of the big screen, I had the chance to catch up with a few more standout FRENCH FILMS for my “Travel The World in Film” challenge (the joyous romp that is PLAYTIME, Godards emotionally resonant VIVRE SA VIE, the infectious entry into Demy’s trilogy THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, the horror tinged THE NUN, and the stylish PORT OF SHADOWS).
I also managed to see the spiritually compelling THE MILL AND THE CROSS, the brilliant anti-western MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER by Robert Altman, and LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, one of Guy Ritchie’s earliest efforts and probably still his best.
February often anticipates what many perceive to be the true start to the cinematic year. That’s not to undersell this past January, which had a pretty decent showing with BAD BOYS FOR LIFE, the fairly popular DOLITTLE, the vastly underseen and underrated UNDERWATER, wide releases of 1917, WEATHERING WITH YOU and PAIN AND GLORY, the bonafide hit THE GENTLEMAN (Guy Ritchie’s latest stylish romp) and the straight to VOD LITTLE MONSTERS. But everything from big name titles to genuine hopefuls made their way onto the calendar for February hoping to kick things into full gear.
However, one of the things challenging for the attention of cinephiles this year was the earlier than usual schedule for THE OSCARS. And if you were paying any attention at all, it would be impossible to miss what likely became February’s biggest story, PARASITE’S historic win. Not only did it make history in terms of being the first foreign film to do a lot of things on the night, but the win translated into a wonderful and endless line of dialogue and articles and conversation about foreign films in general, the reward and challenge of engaging subtitles, and the nature of art on a global level.
Even more of a pleasant surprise was the storyline of the films cinematic resurgence here in NA, successfully drawing in audiences to the big screen even after releasing to VOD. Hands down, this has to be one of the most notable and impactful Oscar winners in recent memory.
On the other side of that is poor BIRDS OF PREY’s uphill battle. Not getting the attention it deserves made its underperformance the talk of a good few weeks of February. On the other side of that coin though is the unexpected success of SONIC THE HEDGEHOG. It’s problematic production, namely the uproar over Sonic’s earlier design, has caused more than a few prognosticators to ruminate on this seeming new found relationship between public opinion and its ability to impact a film’s production. They made the changes and apparently audiences are happy, coming out to show their support.
Also of note is the uphill slog that is horror 2020. GRETEL AND HANSEL does have its passionate supporters, but February has only solidified the dire state of the genres early entries. Films like FANTASY ISLAND, BRAHMS: THE BOY 2 and THE TURNING, among others, aren’t being seen and aren’t being embraced, at least until THE LODGE came out in limited release (still not available in Winnipeg) and THE INVISIBLE MAN’s recent success turned those fates around.
One last shout out to THE CALL OF THE WILD. I consider it to be a minor miracle that this film actually debuted to a solid critical rating, and that it went on to do fairly well at the box office and with audiences. There are so many things that could have gone wrong, and it gets some of the most important things right in terms of approaching the adaptation. Say what you will about watching a CGI dog (I found Buck endearing, even in the dated style), what anchors this tough reimagining is a stubborn commitment to the novel’s philosophical core.
And in case you missed it (as I unfortunately did due to a rough February personally speaking), one of the many reasons to consider supporting our local arthouse, CINEMATHEQUE, is this past months AFRO-PRAIRIE FILM FESTIVAL. It featured a stellar lineup and is one the only places to catch some smaller releases (such as Les Miserables and Clemency). The festival is over, but look for smaller films and festivals to screen here all year round. It always promises to be a very involved and enthusiastic crowd of fellow cinephiles.
WHAT I”M LOOKING FORWARD TO IN MARCH
First off, if you didn’t get a chance to see THE INVISIBLE MAN yet, it’s still in it’s first week. So early March leaves plenty of room to squeeze that in. There is also the much buzzed about PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE, which is playing at Grant Park Cinemas here in Winnipeg through the end of this week as well.
In terms of March releases though, the month kicks off with a bang, featuring a new installment from Pixar called ONWARD. We knew very little about this film seeing as it was a largely unknown original currently being overshadowed by Pixar’s second more anticipated original to release later this year (SOUL). Early word appears to suggest that tempered expectations will work in its favor.
Also watch out for possible expansions of the well received EMMA, and the limited release of the buzzy FIRST COW, which is unlikely to show up in Winnipeg in the early running but is one to keep an eye out for.
Following on the heels of Onward is Affleck’s widely advertised THE WAY BACK, which looks to be a solid entry into the inspiring sports drama category, and the newest Comic Book installment called BLOODSHOT, headed by the popular Vin Diesel. The much postponed but still fairly hyped (somehow) MY SPY will also finally be seeing wide release.
On delayed releases, watch out for the controversial THE HUNT, a film that has had a long, rocky road to the screen. Curiosity has me interested in THE HUNT, but I won’t lie, I’ve been waiting patiently for THE WAY BACK, which feels like it will hit Affleck’s sweet spot, and MY SPY, which looks like a fun time out at the theaters.
Perhaps the biggest splashes of March releases might be A QUIET PLACE 2 and the live action remake of MULAN. They have been doing a bang up job at advertising both of these films, and whatever questions I might have had in terms of how they make this sequel and this remake feel necessary have been put at ease.
Here is to another great month. Happy viewing y’all. And as always, my reviews of the above films are available here at Letterboxd for anyone interested: