Here’s what to expect at the theaters this month.
The big one: Chappie
Neill Blomkamp’s last film, Elysium, was disappointingly stolid in comparison to his much livelier debut feature, District 9, but Blomkamp might be due for a rebound with his new science-fiction picture, Chappie. (A creative rebound, that is. Elysium did just fine at the box office.) Adapting another of his early shorts—2003’s “Tetra Vaal”—Blomkamp and his co-writer/wife Terri Tatchell tell the story of a thinking, feeling robot that gets stolen by gangsters early in its existence. Blomkamp’s frequent collaborator Sharlto Copley voices Chappie, and also “plays” him via motion-capture, while Slumdog Millionaire/The Newsroom’s Dev Patel plays the machine’s creator, and Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver fill smaller roles. Based on the trailers, this looks to be a more focused, character-driven film than Elysium, with more of Blomkamp’s mix of stunning special effects and docu-realism.
- Bad Asses On The Bayou*… Danny Trejo reprises his vigilante character from the action-comedies Bad Ass and Bad Ass 2: Bad Asses, only this time with a pinch of Cajun spice.
- Buzzard… The latest from underground writer-director Joel Potrykus follows a fed-up, underemployed young man who terrorizes Detroit with a blade-studded Nintendo Power Glove.
- Faults… In this blackly comic suspense film, a sad-sack cult-deprogrammer (Leland Orser) begins to question his assignment after spending days in a hotel room with a client (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) whose case isn’t as cut-and-dried as he’s been led to believe.
- An Honest Liar… Magician and professional skeptic James “The Amazing” Randi gets the bio-doc treatment.
- Kidnapping Mr. Heineken*… Anthony Hopkins takes a break from playing Odin in the Thor movies to take on the role of a different kind of god: Dutch brewer Freddy Heineken, who was abducted and held for ransom in 1983.
- The Lesson*… This acclaimed Bulgarian melodrama follows a financially strapped schoolteacher as she makes a series of bad choices while trying to get back above water.
- Merchants Of Doubt*… Food, Inc. documentarian Robert Kenner adapts a non-fiction book about the long history of truth-obscuring corporate scientists-for-hire.
- The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel… It’ll be highly confusing if this sequel turns out to be better than its predecessor.
- Unfinished Business… Horrible Bosses meets The Hangover in this Vince Vaughn/Dave Franco comedy about a European business trip that spins wildly out of control.
And: Avenged, The Burning Dead, Hayride 2, The Life And Mind Of Mark Defriest*, October Gale*, Road Hard, These Final Hours*, Two Men In Town*
The big one: It Follows*
Just as The Babadook was the must-see horror movie of 2014, It Follows has become this year’s most-anticipated film among fans of the artfully terrifying. Writer-director David Robert Mitchell has come up with a simple-but-scary premise, about a relentless supernatural force that slowly but surely pursues and slaughters young people unless they can pass on the curse by having sex. But if the newly cursed person gets killed, the predator proceeds back up the chain. What this means is that for the entirety of It Follows, a circle of friends do all they can to destroy or delay evil, while always worrying that the stranger walking right behind them is coming to take them out. And that’s the movie: one masterfully staged, nerve-racking scene after another, for 100 magnificent minutes.
- Cinderella… In which Disney continues to live-action-ize its animated properties, this time with the help of director Kenneth Branagh.
- Cymbeline… Art-film stalwart Michael Almereyda adapts and updates William Shakespeare’s play, setting it a world of rogue cops and biker gangs.
- Run All Night… Liam Neeson plays the Liam Neeson role in another violent action picture (from Jaume Collet-Serra, the director of Non-Stop) about a dangerous man seeking revenge against other dangerous men for threatening his loved ones.
- Seymour: An Introduction*… Ethan Hawke had some success on the festival circuit last year with his documentary about a beloved music teacher.
- 3 Hearts*… The new one from French writer-director Benoît Jacquot concerns a love triangle involving a taxman and two sisters.
- The Wrecking Crew… The recent success of 20 Feet From Stardom likely has a lot to do with the belated theatrical and VOD distribution for this 2008 documentary about a group of 1960s Los Angeles session musicians.
And: Home Sweet Hell*, Just Before I Go*, The Lovers*, Muck*, Treading Water, Walter
The big one: Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter*
Indie stalwarts David and Nathan Zellner have made their best film to date with Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, a leisurely, affecting fish-out-of-water story starring Rinko Kikuchi as a Japanese loner who comes to the American Midwest on a curious quest. Kumiko has watched the Coen brothers’ Fargo over and over on a battered old videocassette, and arrives in Minnesota to look for the buried suitcase full of money from that movie. The Zellners’ film is quirky, but builds in meaning and power as it goes along, taking seriously how people sometimes look deeply into popular culture for personal meaning.
- Amour Fou*… Lourdes writer-director Jessica Hausner returns with a dry comedy about a romantic German poet trying to find a woman who’ll join him in suicide.
- Backcountry*… A seemingly happy couple discover hidden tensions in their relationship when a camping trip becomes life-threatening.
- Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police*… Guitarist Andy Summers offers his perspective on the rise, dissolution, and reunion of one of the 1980s’ most popular pop-rock bands.
- Danny Collins*… Al Pacino plays a dissolute old rock star who goes on a trip to make amends to his long-suffering family.
- The Divergent Series: Insurgent… Insurgent reportedly diverges from Divergent, but if it were more allegiant it’d be Allegiant, which doesn’t come out until next year.
- The Gunman… Sean Penn plays the Liam Neeson role in another violent action picture (from Pierre Morel, the director of Taken) about a dangerous man seeking revenge against other dangerous men for threatening his loved ones.
- Jauja*… Viggo Mortensen plays a Danish engineer working in late-19th-century Argentina in this muted quasi-Western from director Lisandro Alonso.
- La Sapienza*… Formalist filmmaker Eugène Green offers both a lecture on European architecture and a purposefully aloof study of an architect going through a midlife crisis.
- Zombeavers… Genetically mutated critters terrorize teens.
And: Accidental Love*, The Letters*, Tracers, The Walking Deceased
The big one: While We’re Young*
Of the two Noah Baumbach movies in the hopper right now, Mistress America is the stronger, but While We’re Young stands a better chance at becoming an actual hit. Ben Stiller gives one of his most likable performances as a struggling documentarian who rethinks his approach to life and art when he meets an energetic, prolific young filmmaker played by Adam Driver. The film is packed with funny Baumbach one-liners, drawn from his acerbic observations about modern culture, but there’s a meanness about While We’re Young too, and a reliance on jarring plot twists that’s very much unlike Baumbach’s earlier work. It’s an entertaining movie, but may be crowd-pleasing to a fault.
- 52 Tuesdays… In this Australian feature, a teenager spends one day a week with her mother, who’s in the process of a gender transition.
- Get Hard… Will Ferrell plays an accused white collar-criminal who turns to a black tutor (Kevin Hart) to help him learn how to survive in prison.
- Home… It may not be a good sign that DreamWorks has given the animated movie adaptation of Adam Rex’s popular children’s novel The True Meaning Of Smekday (about life on Earth after an alien invasion) has been given such a nondescript new name.
- The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq*… Writer Michel Houellebecq plays himself in a speculative film about what might’ve happened and what he might’ve talked about if he’d actually been kidnapped, as was rumored on the Internet a few years ago.
- Serena*… Susanne Bier’s long-shelved adaptation of Ron Rash’s novel stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as a couple trying to persevere through the economic and personal hardships of the Great Depression.
- White God*… A pack of outcast wild dogs tries to retake their city from humankind in this startling, violent drama.
And: A Girl Like Her*, Man From Reno*, Nightlight, The Salt Of The Earth*