BREAKING: Fifty Shades of Grey is not the only film opening in theaters this Valentine’s Day weekend! So if you’re in the mood to cut ties with Anastasia and Christian for a few hours — or refuse to get roped into a disappointing sexual thriller — feel free to submit to these bright alternatives. (Honestly, the puns just write themselves).
The Last Five Years
We already know the talented Anna Kendrick can sing lush fairy tales and a cappella pop songs. Now she expands her range to original love songs in this inspired (and, at times, melancholic) musical, based on the off-Broadway show. In the opening scene, Kendrick’s Cathy cries on her bed in NYC and laments that her husband, Jamie (Smash alum Jeremy Jordan), “is gone.” She then melodically chronicles the couple’s story going backward, while her ex croons his perspective from the beginning of the courtship. Detailing the ups and downs of romance, the two enchant on screen. (Kendrick gushing about her new engagement is a joy to behold.) Just make a note: The wall-to-wall singing may cause some squirming.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
2 1/2 stars
A dapper British spy uses nifty gadgets and winking humor to defeat a megalomaniac. Yup, director Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class) aims high with his slick James Bond throwback. For the most part, he succeeds; but prepare to be shaken — not stirred — by the obscene violence splayed across the screen for entertainment value. Plot time: Harry (Colin Firth) recruits a lad from the wrong side of London’s tracks (Taron Egerton, very appealing) to join the Kingsman, an espionage agency. Their goal is to stop an evil techie (Samuel L. Jackson, who bellows in a distracting lisp) from achieving global genocide. Yeesh. The set pieces manage to be both bold (the would-be recruits must skydive!) and old (a barrage of explosions!). A bloody shoot-out set in a Kentucky church scored to Lynyrd Skynyrd, however, is just cold.
2 1/2 stars
Hugh Grant’s latest comedy is as comforting and well-worn as a heavy blanket on a freezing day. He stars as a jaded has-been screenwriter forced to take a professor job at a college in upstate New York. Soon, the usual quirky mix of faculty and students fixate over this new guy from Hollywood as if he’s Brad Pitt — then try to teach him a thing or two about life. Passages of this predictable flick could use a you-know-what. But you know what? Two decades after Four Weddings and a Funeral, Grant can still charm with just a sputter and a smile. And the flick’s supporting players, including J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, and Marisa Tomei (as a late-bloomer student) class it up. (Also available on VOD.)