List and Shout

Elisabeth! Julia! Harvey?! Here’s Your February Movie Scorecard

Published on February 21, 2020

Oh, hey there, February. You short me on days every damn year even though you’re the month in which I recover from Sundance, celebrate my birthday, stuff my face with as much chocolate on possible on Valentine’s Day and celebrate the fact that pitchers and catchers report for duty. On the other hand, the movie crop is not exactly the material that film festivals are made of. Sure two years ago, we were treated to future Best Picture Oscar nominee Black Panther and the criminally underrated Annihilation. But we’re really just biding time until summer rolls around. This year’s crop? An eclectic bag of tricks that fall somewhere between “see it tomorrow” and “save it for that cross-country flight to L.A.” Here are six picks worth exploring. And, no, I’ve decided to not include Birds of Prey — though I encourage you all to read my interview in Cineplex magazine with Margot Robbie and the rest of the cast!


The Invisible Man

3 stars (out of 4)

Elisabeth Moss is such a first-rate actress that she single-handedly turns a silly B-grade horror flick into compelling and mind-twisting escapism. Meet Cecilia, a woman trapped in an abusive relationship with a wealthy and brilliant scientist (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). She escapes his clutches early on — it’s a terrifically tense prologue — then emerges from hiding upon hearing the news of his suicide. But wait . . . why are doors suddenly opening? Who stole her architectural designs? Who wrote that mean email to her sister?!!! Even if you’re familiar with the classic novel and film of the same name, this is a modern retelling in every shape and form. The conceit that the villain may still be alive relies heavily on the use of ultra-advanced technology, which manages to be innovative or ludicrous depending on the moment. (See: A gun dangling in the air.) But though the story unravels in a hurry, the wide-eyed Moss somehow sells it all. Don’t get on her bad side.


The Call of the Wild

3 stars (out of 4)

It’s amazing how a legendary movie star and an endearing CGI’ed dog can liven up an adaptation of a classic literary work that was a chore to read back in the day. In case you dozed off in junior high, this is the wholesome family-friendly story of a St. Bernard named Buck. He’s stolen from his California home and sold as a sled dog to freight haulers up in the Yukon — but soon discovers that he was destined to roam free. Along the way, Buck crosses paths with John Thornton (Harrison Ford at his craggiest), a broken man in mourning and trying to strike gold. For all the adventures on hand, these low-key scenes in the fresh air are the most moving (and droll.) Who knew we’d ever see the day when Ford would be trading harmonica blows with a furry costar not nicknamed Chewie? (in theaters Friday, February 21)


To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You

3 stars (out of 4)

Any rom-com that starts with the heroine reenacting a scene from Adventures in Babysitting automatically counts a Valentine’s Day treat. What else would you expect from Lara Jean Song Covey? The 16-year-old (Lana Condor) (adorbs) now dates crush Peter (Noah Centineo) (what am I missing with this guy), like, for real. Life is swoon-worthy — until she runs into John Ambrose, her former Model UN pal and another “I’ve-always-liked-you” letter recipient. (He’s played by Jordan Fisher, who, at nearly 26, looks too old for the part.) Suddenly, it’s boy-juggling time. Just like its predecessor, this is a cheery flick with important undertones. Lara Jean informs Peter that she’s not ready to go “base jumping” while parked in a car, yet she can’t rein in her insecurities. Who will she choose? Well, the last few scenes are shameless candy-coated bliss. (Now streaming on Netflix)


The Assistant

2.5 stars (out of 4)

There’s buzz galore surrounding this indie because it’s inspired by the Harvey Weinstein scandal. If only it were more a bit more empowering. The understated story follows a thankless day in the life of Jane (Ozark’s Julia Garner, excellent), the put-upon assistant to a bully of a never-seen NYC movie mogul. Starting before dawn, she does everything from coordinate travel to Xerox reports to arrange water bottles. She also tentatively leads a parade of beautiful (and naïve) women into his office. It’s a frustrating experience all around — Jane gets zero support from coworkers or friends, while audiences never see her triumph if only for a moment. Then again, that’s the sad reality of the situation. Does she enable her boss? Perhaps. To that end, the film does shed light on how victims and victimizers can be one and the same. (Now in theaters)



2.5 stars (out of 4)

Instead of using an easy skiing metaphor, here’s a basketball one: A Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus vehicle should have been a LeBron-style slam dunk! But this remake of the Swedish comedy Force Majeure falls a bit short. They play a long-married couple whose relationship is thrown into disarray after they escape a controlled avalanche at the start of a family vacation in the Alps. (He grabbed his phone and bolted, oops.) He refuses to acknowledge his cowardice; she stews in resentful anger. Sounds biting and hilarious, no? And yet the hearty LOLs never come. The pair just find themselves lost in existential crises — and aside from one wallop of a confrontation, snappy dialogue is held to a minimum. Here’s hoping for a more satisfying (and funnier) re-teaming. (Now in theaters)




2.5 stars (out of 4)

After nearly a decade hiatus, Oscar-nominated director Benh Zeitlin returns with a Sundance indie just as visually dreamy as his acclaimed debut, Beasts of the Southern Wild. Alas, the material itself — loosely based on the classic Peter Pan — is a bit of snooze. This is the mythical story of Wendy (Devin France) and her twin brothers, who live in a ramshackle one-horse town. One night, they leap onto a train to chase a boy (Yashua Mack) running across the top. His name is Peter, and he leads them to a mysterious volcanic island populated by kids who refuse to grow up. Lush setting aside, there’s not much new to this well-worn story, which unspool at a too-leisurely pace. Even the kids’ playful raw energy becomes irksome. Note to curious parents: Actual kids who live on their phones will likely lose interest in a hurry.