Here are our staff picks for the movies you should go see this weekend.
1. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter was our top pick for this week. It’s also getting the best notices from critics among the movies debuting this week, currently with a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The indie stars Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi of Babel and Pacific Rim as the unfulfilled office lady Kumiko, who uses her active imagination to get through her mundane days. She ends up becoming obsessed with a VHS tape of Fargo, which she believes to be a documentary in which a suitcase of stolen money gets buried in the barren snowy landscape in North Dakota. Kumiko leaves Tokyo and her beloved rabbit behind to go searching for this fictional treasure that Steve Buscemi buried in the snow. The movie sounds kind of like a Japanese-American Amelie, but critics are calling it visually beautiful and very original.
“When she finally embarks on her spiritual quest, armed with a needlepoint treasure map and a red-hooded sweatshirt that makes her look like a garden gnome, the film blossoms from an oddball intrigue into something more profound. Is Kumiko simply naive, or is she mentally ill? The film’s perfect ending doesn’t try to solve that riddle, but it will make you feel as if you’ve just seen something hypnotically original,” said Entertainment Weekly. If you like whimsical independent films with strong performances that are visually stunning, then Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter should be a treat. This one is getting a smaller release than the bigger blockbusters coming out this week, but keep an eye on your local indie theater for showings.
Our second recommendation is the indie horror-romance Spring. That’s right, this hybrid of the creature-feature and vacation romance is being described as a mix between Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise series and the creepiest vampire/werewolf lore of the horror genre. The movie debuted at the Toronto Film Festival and currently has an 85% rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes, who have praised its originality. The movie follows the young American Evan, who goes backpacking in Europe to escape some trauma back at home. While in Italy, he meets a beautiful, enigmatic woman named Louise who seems to be hiding something. That of course doesn’t stop him from pursuing a relationship with her. Even though she offers to just go home with him, he insists instead on the real thing despite it not being very practical. He doesn’t realize how unpractical it is until she starts showing signs of a bizarre “medical condition” that turns her into… something. Not a straightforward vampire or werewolf you’ve seen done a thousand times.
Brian Tallerico of Roger Ebert.com said that Louise’s secret “adds a ticking clock element to Spring that’s remarkably clever, in that Evan will eventually learn about his new partner’s secret, but given how little else he has to hold on to in life, he may not care.” He also called it one of the most original of the genre entries at that festival, and now is a chance for horror fans to finally see it in an independent movie theater near you.
Coming in third is science fiction director Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie. Though this blockbuster hasn’t gotten great reviews, with a 31% on Rotten Tomatoes, it does bring more of Blomkamp’s signature visuals that fans love and whets the appetite for his upcoming Alien sequel. Chappie is the name of the movie’s star, a robot member of the robotic police force entrusted with our protection in the not-so-distant future. Chappie was stolen from the police and given programming that allows him to think and feel for himself, which the authorities deem a huge threat, so they seek to destroy him. The South African director filmed the movie in his home country and enlisted South African electro music stars Die Antwoord for guest appearances.
Unfortunately, Blomkamp has disappointed critics since his incredible debut District 9, which was hailed as a new science fiction classic. He tends to repeat a lot of the same themes and a lot of the same narrative weaknesses in his movies, which were even more apparent in Chappie than in Elysium. The Wrap said, “special effects can’t make up for the lack of story and auto-recycling … It’s also easy to recognize that Blomkamp’s films, each set in near-future riffs on our own society, now represent a groove that is stuck in a rut.” Still the movie would be worth seeing for the director’s many fans and those interested in Blomkamp taking over the Alien franchise and/or a possible sequel to District 9.
Our last pick was also last weekend’s box office winner, Disney’s latest live-action reboot of an animated fairy tale classic Cinderella. The movie stars Downton Abbey’s Lily James as the princess, Helena Bonham Carter as her fairy godmother, Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother, and was directed by Kenneth Branagh. It has an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with most critics liking Branagh’s decision to stick with the traditional story rather than hopping on the revisionist bandwagon seen with films like last year’s Maleficent. “The new film, directed by Kenneth Branagh, is nothing if not a tribute to old-fashioned virtues, of care and craft and modesty, of simple stories well told,” said The Atlantic. Rather than revising the classic story, Branagh instead spends time on Cinderella’s sad backstory that the original deals with in a quick flashback to develop her into a more nuanced character. The movie’s saccharine, but it’s a sweet story. Come for the top-notch cast and director, and to ponder how fairy tales remain culturally timeless.
The movie topped the box office last weekend with $70 million, easily out-earning its competition, according to Box Office Mojo. The majority of its audience was women and families. Given the craze for all things fairy tale plus the movie’s strong reviews, it should continue to perform well and prove that Disney’s plan to redo its animated classics as live-action movies is a solid one.
Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS