Pop Bondage, Oscar Contenders, and Ninja Turtles Hit the Screen in February

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It’s Oscars season again and while all movie news is aimed squarely at the lavish ceremony that takes place in Hollywood later this month, Japan’s screens are not being left out of the action.


By Christopher O’Keeffe


A couple of this year’s strongest contenders for Academy Awards glory are arriving in cinemas for Japan’s discerning movie-goers to judge for themselves the finest in filmmaking. Be sure to catch Steve Carell and Bradley Cooper in their must-see roles—in “Foxcatcher” and “American Sniper” respectively—as they duke it out over the Best Actor award. Along with the heavyweight Oscars fare, there’s plenty of more light-hearted action on offer with S&M, demon-dolls and ninja-turtles all making an appearance this February.

American Sniper—Out February 21

Bradley Cooper, breakout star of “The Hangover” series and the voice of Rocket Raccoon in last year’s smash-hit “Guardians of the Galaxy,” has shown his (semi-) serious side before, earning plaudits for roles in the likes of “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.” ”American Sniper” sees the actor take a firm step towards Best Actor territory with his portrayal of real-life sniper Chris Kyle in a film based on the Navy SEAL’s 2012 autobiography. Directed by Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood, himself an Oscar winner for “Unforgiven” and ”Million Dollar Baby,” the film offers an intense portrayal of the life of a man nicknamed “Legend” and certified as the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history. Serving in four tours of Iraq, Kyle is a hero on the battlefield but struggles with familial duties to his wife and young son while away. On his return home Kyle faces further challenges as he battles to leave the war behind. Sienna Miller co-stars as Taya Renae Kyle in a film that’s been nominated for six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.

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Bradley Cooper aims for an Oscar in “American Sniper”

Foxcatcher—Out February 14

Steve Carell, best known for comedy turns in the likes of “The Office” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” is playing it straight in a bid for Best Actor glory with his latest, “Foxcatcher.” In this dark slice of American true-crime drama, Carell stars as John E. Du Pont, a philanthropist, avid wrestling enthusiast and heir to a vast fortune. Du Pont invites Olympic gold-medal winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to join “Team Foxcatcher” in a bid for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Eager to step out of the shadow of his brother—and fellow gold medal winner and successful coach Dave (Mark Ruffalo), Mark accepts. Moving into the wealthy eccentric’s lavish facilities, all is good until Du Pont turns his attention towards Dave and events spiral into unforeseen tragedy. The players are on top form, with Ruffalo joining Carell at the Oscars with a Best Supporting Actor nod in this intense psychological drama.

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Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in “Foxcatcher”

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—Out February 7

Starting life as a comic book in 1984, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had grown into a phenomenon by the late 80s/early 90s, with a huge fan base eagerly consuming every cartoon, toy and video game on offer. The popularity of the mutant heroes has stuttered over the intervening years but now they’re back to kick-start the ninja craze for a whole new generation of fans. Returning to cinema screens in live action form for the first time since 1993, Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello are once again going up against the Foot Clan and its villainous leader, Shredder. The film is produced by Michael Bay of the “Transformers” movie franchise, which should tell you everything you need to know about the turtles’ latest adventure. Megan Fox co-stars alongside the turtles as intrepid reporter April O’Neill with Will Arnett providing comedy backup as cameraman Vernon.

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Four cartoon characters take to the screen

Annabelle—Out February 28

Inspired by a truly terrifying real life case, haunted doll Annabelle made a memorable appearance in James Wan’s excellent 2013 horror-hit “The Conjuring” before being resurrected for her own spin-off flick. In a prequel to events in the earlier film the origin of the demon-possessed doll is explored as Annabelle arrives on the scene as a present from young husband John to expectant wife Mia. In a night of terror, satanic cultists attack the home of the innocent couple, unleashing a malevolent presence with the doll acting as a conduit for evil. Screenings of the movie in France were canceled as teenagers ran rampant in cinemas, and while similar behavior is unlikely in Japan you shouldn’t expect high-art from this jump-scare sequel.

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Annabelle

Chef—Out February 28

The multifaceted Jon Favreau broke onto the scene in the role of a struggling actor in cult hit “Swingers” before going on to kick-start Marvel’s box-office dominance when he sat in the director’s chair for “Iron Man” in 2008. A man of many talents, Favreau is back in the role of producer, writer, actor and director for indie comedy Chef. Favreau plays Carl Casper, a brilliant chef who has lost his enthusiasm for the job after being forced to cook the same menu night after night. After he blows up at a snarky food critic and the video of the incident goes viral online, Casper loses his job but finds a new lease on life, hitting the road with his son and best friend as he serves up American classics in his own food truck. While the film offers a smart script and a mouthwatering culinary tour of the USA, showcasing the delicacies of Miami, New Orleans and L.A., the meat of the movie is in the touching relationship between the chef and his son. The film is peppered with big-name appearances including Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Downey Jr., but it’s the presence of sidekicks John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale that add the real flavor to this satisfying comedy-drama.

Emjay Anthony and Jon Favreau in Chef
Emjay Anthony and Jon Favreau serve up some father-son bonding on the road in “Chef”

Fifty Shades of Grey—Out February 13

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” the publishing sensation that started as a piece of “Twilight” fan-fiction before turning into a global bestseller and word-of-mouth phenomenon after its publication in 2011, is finally hitting cinemas in film form. Steeped in controversy, the novel’s success opened the floodgates to all kinds of conversations on its depiction of a dominance/submission and sadomasochistic (BDSM) relationship and on women’s sexuality in general, giving the book more weight than it may have deserved. The film has generated a flurry of rumors since its initial announcement, with fans fiercely debating who should take the lead roles before Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan were chosen. English author E.L. James’s story concerns young and innocent student Anastasia Steele being drawn into a relationship with the powerful and commanding Christian Grey. As their relationship develops the two explore their intimate secrets and desires, which include a tour of Grey’s now infamous “Red Room of Pain.” “Artist” and “Nowhere Boy” director Sam Taylor-Johnson directs.

Best of the Rest

The Fault in Our Stars (Out Feb. 20)—Romantic comedy-drama in which two teenage cancer patients meet and fall in love at a support group. Based on the successful novel by John Greene.

Mortdecai (Out Feb. 6)—Johnny Depp clowns around as debonair art dealer Charlie Mortdecai in an action comedy based on a 1970s series of British books. Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor and Paul Bettany co-star.

Good People (Out Feb. 28)—James Franco and Kate Hudson star as an American couple in London who become the target of a master thief after discovering the cache of money he stole in this by-the-numbers crime thriller.

Nurse 3D (Out Feb. 28)—Gloriously trashy B-movie fare in which beautiful nurse Paz de la Huerta (Boardwalk Empire) lures cheating men to a bloody death.

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