Hello hello! We hope you’re in the mood for love, because it’s definitely in the popcorn-and-butter-infused theater air this weekend. From an attempt at arranged marriage to a relationship forged at the moment of the apocalypse to romance in Rome (perhaps the romance capital itself, if you don’t count Paris, and, anyway, Woody Allen’s already been there), there’s a wide range of love stories to choose from. And if you prefer vampire flicks, well then you’ll absolutely adore the monster movie take on American history that’s hitting the cinemas. Either way, sneak champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries past the ticket attendants and enjoy Valentine’s Day, Part Deux!
This weekend, the 16th President of the United States puts an end to slavery and slays the bloodsucking undead in the Tim Burton-produced, Timur Bekmambetov-directed “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” Based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote the screenplay, this historical gore-and-awesomeness-fest loops the fantastic elements of vampire hunting into the actual events of Lincoln’s life – his rise from local Illinois lawyer to POTUS and his courtship of Mary Todd – with a self-aware sense of humor. Our review says, “somehow the movie manages to be fun and tongue-in-cheek without ever seeming disrespectful. It's a winning combination of history and horror where Honest Abe is able to kick serious ass.” Most other critics seem to disagree. Rotten Tomatoes: 32% Metacritic: 43
A young Scottish lass ducks the binds of medieval misogyny in Pixar’s newest installment, “Brave,” from director Mark Andrews. Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is much more interested in riding and archery – and is aces at both – than she is in the tenets of feminine finery or getting married. Yet her parents, Queen Elinor and King Fergus (Emma Thompson and Billy Connolly), force her to choose a suitor, hoping to allay tensions with other Scottish lords. Unfortunately for them, when Merida rejects three potential husbands out of hand, war looms heavy on the horizon. Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane and Kevin McKidd provide additional voice talent. Our review notes the wonderful visuals, commending the continued success of Pixar’s animation technology, but calls the film “hopelessly safe, less a Pixar trailblazer than yet another entry in the Disney princess line of films and products. Brave it is not.” Other critics are a bit more kind. RT: 71% MC: 71
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” pits love against the apocalypse in a twisted romantic comedy written and directed (first time!) by Lorene Scafaria. When Dodge (Steve Carell) finds out an asteroid collision with Earth is imminent, he’s not sure what to do with himself. That is, until his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) delivers a letter from his high school sweetheart who, in light of the world's ending, has declared her regret at their lost relationship. Dodge decides to seek out said girlfriend, and then help Penny get home to England, to see her parents one last time. Adam Brody, T.J. Miller, Gillian Jacobs, and William Peterson co-star. Our review says, “‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,’ while occasionally punctuated with poignancy and darkness, never fully engages with the niftiness of its concept. It’s ultimately too cute to really be about anything, a clever premise lost in a sea of apocalyptically bland romantic comedy conventions.” RT: 56% MC: 63
Woody Allen’s career-long world tour makes a new stop in “To Rome with Love,” a series of interwoven vignettes about the perils and puzzles of celebrity, all tied together in one of the world’s most beautiful set pieces. I mean, cities. An American architect reminisces about his younger days as an international student; a middle-class Roman nobody suddenly finds himself cast as the toast of the town; newlyweds, arriving from the countryside, embark on separate romantic journeys; and an opera director tries to convince his daughter’s father-in-law-to-be – a mortician with a Pavarotti-grade set of pipes – to star in his newest project. An all-star cast including Penélope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page, and Alison Pill adds to the beauty and charm of the film, and Allen himself makes his first onscreen appearance since his 2006 film “Scoop.” Our review says, “at its best, it's innocuous, marginally funny, amiable, pleasant and cute, but at its worst, it's forgettable, harried and too long, with none of the stories being given the chance to develop into anything emotionally resonant.” And that seems to be the consensus. RT: 48% MC: 58
The documentary “Kumaré” follows director Vikram Gandhi as he attempts to debunk spiritualists by pretending to be a native Indian guru named, of course, Kumaré. He adopts a thick accent, long hair, and, ultimately, a cult following. Gandhi’s goal is to eventually reveal his fakery, with the hope of proving to his “students” that change is within each of them, and will not happen as a result of guru teachings. However, the director falls victim to the appeal of leading a group of devout followers, and extends the ruse beyond its predetermined end. Our review says, “it’s definitely a warmer movie than something like ‘Borat,’ as even though he’s tricking people to participate in his experiment, you can feel that he actually wants them to better themselves; he actually cares for them. That said, it’s not as funny or insightful as Sacha Baron Cohen’s ruse, and while ‘Kumaré’ definitely isn’t boring, it may leave you with a bitter aftertaste.” RT: 73% MC: 60
Kirby Dick’s documentary “The Invisible War” sheds light on the occurrence of sexual assault in all branches of the United States armed forces, an issue that is far more widespread than one might expect, particularly as the problem is so under-discussed and under-disclosed. Dick searches for the root causes of this epidemic, investigating the court-martial process and the department responsible for preventing sexual abuse, as well as the very structure of the military. The film features interviews with many soldiers, both male and female, honing in on the stories of Kori Cioca, Ariana Klay, and Trina McDonald. Our review calls the doc “excellent,” noting its successful balance of statistics and studies with more personal accounts, rendering a film that “while filled with anger, is never short on hope either.” RT: 100% MC: 77