As the world takes drastic action to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic, movie theaters in America have largely shut down. With an even greater demand for streaming entertainment, Hollywood has bumped up the digital rental dates of major movie releases. After Disney released Pixar’s Onward only a few weeks after release, and Universal Pictures dropped a bounty of films within an even shorter window, other studios were quick to act: Sony funneled Vin Diesel’s Bloodshot from theaters to VOD, Warner Bros. bumped digital dates for multiple movies including Birds of Prey, and Disney and Universal added even more movies to the stack. While we’re not getting the delayed Mulan, Black Widow, or Wonder Woman 1984 anytime soon, audiences have a ton of theater-worthy entertainment now at their disposal.
If you’re sitting at home this weekend wondering what to watch, here are a few of the new titles now available.
Universal kicked Vin Diesel’s F9 an entire year once the scope of coronavirus became apparent, but his latest film was already in theaters when everything began to go on hiatus. That left Sony with a major action movie and no theatrical audience. The movie arrives to digital this week so people can get a taste of what Diesel’s doing with his non-Fast times, which according to our review, is emulating Sylvester Stallone in a superhero movie with loads of meta-humor.
If Ray’s backstory and motivations seem a little hacky, and his enemy’s dancing glee feels contrived, maybe it’s because his actions are being scripted. The movie has some fun with this idea, as characters are allowed to complain about clichés, and each other (“he’s such a relentless dick,” one of the other super-soldiers grouses about his driven new colleague), raising the possibility that Gina literally dying inside of a refrigerator is meta-commentary related to a famous comics trope.
And if you’re confused as to who or what a “Bloodshot” is, we have you covered. The character has a strange comic history.
Birds of Prey
After six weeks in theaters, Warner Bros.’ brought Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) to video on demand. That means that everybody who didn’t see it in theaters — and there are a lot of you — can now enjoy the adventures of Harley and Co. right from your own couch. And we recommend it.
Birds of Prey is a glimpse of the future: A woman-led superhero movie that doesn’t groan under the pressure of being [announcer voice] A Woman-Led Superhero Movie. Cathy Yan’s riotous action-comedy — starring a half a dozen women, but mostly starring Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn — reveals just how much can be gained when creators and characters are emancipated from tokenism.
Which is all to say: Birds of Prey is a messy, leg-breaking, heartwarming, inspirational good time.
For Birds of Prey, Warner Bros. rolled a ton of comic history into one super team-up vehicle. Here’s a deep dive into just about choice in this wacky circus of a movie.
Call of the Wild
A holdover from Disney’s acquisition of the 21st Century Fox, the new Jack London adaptation did not fare well with the critics when it landed in theaters in February. Directed by veteran animator Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon) the film was a little too hokey for most people, and stories of producing the CG dog overshadowed anything Harrison Ford brought to the screen. Time (and an eventual Disney Plus release) may do this one favors.
I Still Believe
Directed by the Erwin Brothers, a directing duo who’ve made a name for themselves in the Christian drama department, I Still Believe chronicles the romance and eventual marriage of singer-songwriter Jeremy Camp (Riverdale’s KJ Apa) and his first wife, Melissa Lynn Henning-Camp (Britt Robertson). Just before the two tied the knot, Melissa was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She would pass away just a few months later.
A remake of the tremendous French film Force Majeure, Downhill stars Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a married couple at odds after the man in the equation flees a (potential) avalanche and leaves his family behind. All reports suggest that Downhill is a straightforward reworking of the first film, so expect two comedians at the top of their game sparring for our delight.
Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Aladdin) returns to his crime roots with this ensemble dramedy featuring Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Colin Farrell, and Hugh Grant.. To be honest, we weren’t big fans. As Karen Han put it:
Early on in The Gentlemen, would-be drug kingpin Dry Eye (Henry Golding) tells weed baron Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) that the young will replace the old. Pearson disagrees: The rule of the metaphorical jungle is that the strong will devour the weak. Pearson may be getting older, but he isn’t losing his edge; he’s still the king because he’s the best at what he does. Maybe that’s true within the world of the movie, but when it comes to Guy Ritchie’s trajectory as a director, it seems that the rules aren’t mutually exclusive. Ritchie is no longer the strongest beast in the forest, and he’s aging out of the game, too.
The Way Back
There are no sports on right now, but there are sports movies. Ben Affleck himself has said that he funneled his own issues with drinking and depression into this story of a basketball coach finding his way back to the court. As Sheila O’Malley writes at RogerEbert.com, who says it’s a classic sports melodrama with a bespoke role for the hit-or-miss actor.
The Way Back is, essentially, a redemption arc. Jack is weighed down with disappointment. Affleck is in a very personal zone here. When he gets angry, there’s something still bottled up in his beet-red face. There’s no catharsis in his rage; it remains poison in his veins. There’s also a thrumming sense of self-pity in him, so accurate if you’ve ever known any addicts. Affleck does not shy away from the character’s unpleasantness. He’s right in it, with the man’s flaws and failures. The script is well-structured. Information is withheld from us until far into the action.
New on Netflix this weekend
In pure streaming updates, this week’s latest additions include...
- The third moody season of Ozark
- A hilarious new dramedy called Uncorked
- The second season of 7SEEDS
- Crimp Camp, a new documentary produced by Barack and Michelle Obama
And here’s what dropped last Friday:
In our review of the animated fantasy epic, Tasha Robinson noted that any Pixar film arrives with “outsized expectations,” and that while Onward is “colorful and charming,” it’s also “safe, simple, and soft-edged compared to Pixar’s wilder swings for the outfield.”
There’s nothing wrong with this model of film for Pixar. It’s exciting to see the studio finally creating a new world, and the brotherly team-up at the film’s heart feels like a new model for a collection of storytellers that have focused on unlikely found families as often as they’ve focused on flesh-and-blood families. Onward takes a few representation steps forward as well, with a female character (voiced by Lena Waithe) who casually mentions her girlfriend; a prominent role for Octavia Spencer; and a pair of middle-aged-lady characters who get some nice bonding moments together and some action scenes of their own — both a rarity in animated features.
After only two weeks in theaters, Disney surprise-released Onward on digital platforms. Once you check out the movie, read our interview with story supervisor Kelsey Mann to hear the wild ideas that didn’t make it to the screen.
The Invisible Man
Blumhouse, known for Get Out and the recent reboot of Halloween, turned its attention to Universal’s monster legacy with a remake of The Invisible Man. Director Leigh Whannell, who wrote Saw and got a shot at making his own film with Upgrade, delivers a patient alternative to the typical slasher. From our full Invisible Man review:
Portraying an invisible man in a visual medium presents an interesting challenge, and Whannell doesn’t shy away from it. POV stalking shots seem like a natural workaround, with the camera hovering around Cecilia as she remains unaware of the eyes on her. But instead, Whannell offers long, still shots of seemingly empty rooms and corners, so loaded with anticipation that they become some of the movie’s most entrancing moments.
All of us at Polygon were gaga for the reimagined Emma. from photographer-turned-director Autumn de Wilde. The film did not disappoint. From Karen Han’s review:
Punctuation in a movie’s title can seem natural (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Face/Off) or a little forced (Mother!, Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker). Either way, though, it serves a purpose: it delineates where in a sequence the movie is supposed to fall, or it illustrates something about the story. It’s the latter case in Emma., the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel. In spite of the full-stop period in the title, Autumn de Wilde’s take on Austen’s work isn’t the final word on the subject. (Though it is so prepossessing that a moratorium on further Emmas wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.) Instead, the period is meant as a declaration of the film’s perfect composition, the stuff of dreams for costume-drama lovers. This is Emma, period.
Once you catch this new adaptation, read our interview with de Wilde, where she explains why she finally made Emma as mean as Austen wrote her 200 years ago.
Last winter, Frozen 2 went on to become the biggest animated movie of all time, earning $1.3 billion around the world. Now it’s one of the gifts Disney has given Disney Plus subscribers during trying times. Or, rather, a gift to anyone curious what a blockbuster that made $1.3 billion is all about. From our original review:
Frozen 2 further explores the kingdom of Arendelle, dives deeper into the magic of its world, and raises the stakes for the relationship between Arendelle’s orphaned sibling princesses, Anna and Elsa. The emotional swell of the fantasy sequel is up to par with the first, but some of the comedic relief grates on adult sensibilities, and the ending doesn’t hit hard. It’s all just a little safe.
Frozen 2 has a lot going on. From queer subtext to the Disney fan-theory-debunking plot turns to an existentially curious post-credits scene, it’s a movie that transcends the typical animated sequel to be truly epic, for better and worse. But there’s one objective truth: Whatever you wind up thinking of the movie, the movie’s big single, “Into the Unknown,” is a banger. Especially when 10 Elsas get together to sing it.
Originally scheduled for last fall, this political satire masquerading as a hunting-humans horror-thriller provoked the president (sight unseen) and got kicked off the release schedule. The movie popped back up with a vengeance earlier this month … just in time for the COVID-19 crisis to curtail the release. So was it worth the wait? Mileage may vary. From our review:
Now The Hunt is upon us, and it turns out that its political posturing is both what sets it apart from other “Dangerous Game” knockoffs, and its ultimate undoing. It’s understandable that the filmmakers have been reluctant to discuss the story in more specific terms, because The Hunt does have some unpredictability working in its favor, in spite of its familiar origins. The movie is, indeed, about rich left-wingers who drug and kidnap a group of “deplorable” conservatives, and place them in a controlled environment, to be picked off one by one. This isn’t depicted as sweet revenge; while some early deaths are played for dark laughs, they’re generic splatter-shocks without a spiteful edge. Having the victims deploy buzzwords like “snowflake” in the midst of the carnage doesn’t automatically make faceless, remorseless killers into the good guys.
The movie’s “both sides” politics may rub people some way, but as director Craig Zobel told Polygon in a post-mortem interview: “I still trust that actually people watching the movie will get it. I trust if you watch the movie you’ll get we were making an absurd, silly romp of a movie.”
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
There’s not much more to be said about Episode 9, which received a bumped-up digital release date in reaction to the many shut-in audience members around the country. But let it be known: Rise of Skywalker has many rewatchable moments.
Jumanji: The Next Level
In movies that were actually supposed to come out this week, the unexpectedly gigantic Jumanji franchise delivers a sequel just when mass audiences are looking for something that goes down easy. And hey, it’s actually kind of enjoyable. As Karen wrote back in December:
The game aspect of Jumanji reclaims some of that lost ground with clearly shot action, as animals and rogues pursue the heroes, and in how the real treasure becomes the friends they make (or re-make) along the way. The story behind the level they’re clearing is fairly mundane: A warlord (Rory McCann) has stolen a magical jewel from a village, resulting in the death of their crops. It’s the human drama that keep the franchise compelling — the reconciliations between Eddie and Milo, and between Spencer and his friends — along with the co-op/MMORPG-esque satisfaction of completing a task with your pals.
Most importantly, The Next Level succeeds as a hook. Welcome to the Jungle didn’t need a follow-up, but The Next Level actually ups the ante, rebuking flagging reboots by addressing its material thoughtfully. It makes the return to the jungle a thrill, and, crucially, makes it easy to imagine coming back for more.
We here at Polygon have very fond memmmmmmorrrriiiiies of watching the feature film Cats for the first time. We don’t want to say too much about this headline-making box-office bomb, but here’s a taste of our original review:
There are three good things to be said about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway musical Cats: It’s an impressive showcase for dancers, the costumes are inventive, and the songs, while nonsense, are catchy. Tom Hooper’s film adaptation neuters all three aspects. It does, however, have a fully nude but Ken-Dolled Idris Elba, Ian McKellen lapping milk out of a platter, cats getting yeeted into thin air, dancing cockroaches with human faces, and Jason Derulo screaming, “MILK!”
We highly recommend gathering a group of your rowdiest friends, cueing up Cats, and discovering why we think Mister Mistoffeles totally got nerfed by the makers of this bizarre movie.