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Our new movie columnist looks ahead to February

February brings with it Valentines Day and images of Cupid, hearts and boxes of chocolate swirling around young lover’s heads ... unless you’re at the movies. This month Hollywood flips the script, looking at the downside of life and love.
WHAT MEN WANT
Taraji P. Henson in What Men Want from Paramount Pictures and Paramount Players.

February brings with it Valentines Day and images of Cupid, hearts and boxes of chocolate swirling around young lover’s heads ... unless you’re at the movies. This month Hollywood flips the script, looking at the downside of life and love.

If the name Miss Bala rings a bell perhaps you saw the 2011 Mexican drama of the same name. If not, check out the English language remake of the violent story from director Catherine Hardwicke of an American woman forced to smuggle money for a drug cartel. Star Gina Rodriguez says the movie is about more than the sum of its action scenes. It’s about representation. The 95 percent Latin cast and production crew is “revolutionary. This is inclusivity,” she says. “This is what I’m talking about.”

February also brings another twist on an old favourite. Taraji P. Henson stars in a gender-swapped version of Mel Gibson's What Women Want called What Men Want. The romantic plot of the original has been tossed away, replaced with a story about a female sports agent who mysteriously gains the ability to read the minds of her male colleagues. Using this inside information she attempts to sign the next NBA superstar. “In her circumstances the problems were really external,” says director Adam Shankman, “while his problems were more internal.”

Liam Neeson returns in Cold Pursuit, a loose remake of the Norwegian thriller Kraftidioten. Shot in Vancouver, the action-packed film sees the Irish born actor play a snowplow driver who gets even with the drug dealers who killed his son. The sixty-six-year-old announced his retirement from action movies a few years ago, but quickly changed his mind. “I’m going to be doing action movies until they bury me in the ground. I’m unretired.”

To prepare for the new comedy Isn’t It Romantic—the closest thing to a romantic comedy we’ll see in theatres this Valentine’s Day—director Todd Strauss-Schulson studied 65 rom-coms day and night for two weeks. The intensive study helped him form the basis of his movie, the meta tale of a woman, played by Australian comedian Rebel Wilson, who recovers from a hit on the head to find herself trapped inside her least favourite kind of film, a romantic comedy. Strauss-Schulson says the film is more complex than a simple boy-meets-girl flick, adding that it’s not a rom-com but a “comedy about romance.”

Producer Steven Spielberg looked to Henry James's novella "The Turn of the Screw" for inspiration for the horror film The Turning. The film legend is the driving force behind the ghost story adaptation but there are prominent home grown names behind and in front of the camera. Italian-Canadian director Floria Sigismondi brings her Gothic flair to the look of the film while Vancouver-born Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard plays Miles, one of two orphans living in a haunted house. To make sure audiences are surprised when they go to the theatre, Spielberg and Sigismondi kept a tight rein on the Irish film set. All cast and crew signed non-disclosure agreements and were sworn to secrecy.

Don’t want to brave the full force of February’s unpredictable weather? Stay home with the Netflix original Velvet Buzzsaw instead. An all-star cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and John Malkovich, star in a satire of Los Angeles’s contemporary art scene that sees haunted paintings come to life. Writer director Dan Gilroy told Vanity Fair he was inspired to write the script after visiting an empty warehouse filled with “disturbing” contemporary art. “The idea [is] that artists invest their souls in their work and it’s more than a commodity,” he said. “That has always interested me.”

Available now:

SEE IT

The Favourite’s power struggle between two women in the 18th century court of Queen Anne is a wicked look at the inner workings of a personal and professional coup d'etat. ... Roma is an intimate epic capturing a year in the life of a Mexican family and their maid Cleo. Daring in its simplicity and lack of sentimentality it has the power to devastate and uplift, sometimes in the same scene. Available on Netflix ... In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse an alternate universe Spider-Man meets other Spider-People as he saves the world. This is a cortex-boiling mainline hit of boffo superhero theatrics ... Cold War is a deeply romantic story of love in a dangerous time, set against political unrest. At a quick 88 minutes “Cold War” is a treat for the eyes and the ears.

SKIP IT 

Near the end of Replicas, a new sci film starring Keanu Reeves, a clone assesses the state of her being. “I am dead.” She’s referring to her former self, the template for her current physical state, but she could just as easily have been talking about her film, a movie about creating life that arrives DOA in theatres ... Second Act sees Jennifer Lopez doing her best with a script that requires little more from her than sitting on the subway looking introspective. This story of second chances won’t hold up to a second viewing ... The story of Mary Queen of Scots, the historical drama starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, is bogged down by the narrative machinations of what otherwise could have been a fine tale of political manoeuvring.

Richard Crouse is the regular film critic for CTV News Channel and CP24. He is also the author of nine books on pop culture history.