People around the world are staying inside in order to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic, and in turn, there’s a greater demand for home video entertainment than ever before. That’s prompted streaming sites to offer loads of content, from HBO releasing free movies and shows, CBS offering free trials of All Access, and Netflix dropping Tiger King, the most absorbing true crime series in ages, just in time for our collective attention.
But the strange absence of movie theaters in our pop culture lives has also pushed Hollywood studios, normally concentrated on new theatrical releases, to meet the demand. This week, another batch of major blockbusters and tiny indies flood digital VOD platforms, giving audiences a treat that only a few weeks ago would have required a car ride and the price of a few tickets.
If you’re sitting at home this weekend wondering what to watch, here are a few of the new titles now available.
Sonic the Hedgehog
If the original design of live-action Sonic scared you off from the video game adaptation, now is your chance to discover why Sonic the Hedgehog might be some young viewer’s Shrek in 15 years. The movie is chock full of pop culture references and flatulence, but for the adults, there’s also game nostalgia and Jim Carrey. From our official review:
Carrey, delivering the most gonzo performance since Tom Hardy’s Venom, becomes literal comic relief for adults who wind up at Sonic the Hedgehog. His Robotnik amalgamates Ace Ventura, the Riddler, the Mask, and the Grinch into one lump of evil Silly Putty, stretching and spasming as he spits out one-liners. In his early introduction, the mustache-twirling villain chews out an army officer by asking if he has weekend plans to “drink beers and put the boat in the water,” an evocative but murky character assassination. Carrey shows up for the kids in the room, performing a three-minute dance routine inside his laser-light-filled Mad Scientist Van, but for the most part, he’s running parallel to Sonic, delighting in the cartoon logic the movie affords him.
Oh, and you’ll really want to catch the movie before the inevitable Sonic 2. Yes, of course there’s a post-credit scene!
Where to watch it: Stream it on Disney Plus
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.
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.
Bad Boys for Life
In the third Bad Boys movie, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are past their prime. Thankfully, that’s the point. To put it another way, from our original review:
A third of the way into Bad Boys for Life, the trilogy-capper of Michael Bay’s hyperkinetic, hyper-saturated action franchise, Martin Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett takes a nap.
Mike Lowery (Will Smith) is hot on the trail of a motorcycle-driving assailant who gunned him down mid-wheelie, and he could probably use Marcus’ help. But with a new grandson, a loving marriage, and the weight of old(er) age keeping him down, Marcus feels less Bad Boy than La-Z-Boy. What would once have been a montage of roadsters and machine-gun fire is now a cross-cutting gag of Mike’s across-the-line info-gathering tactics and Marcus in full recline. It’s a riot.
Though envisioned as the end of a trilogy, Bad Boys for Life made a whopping $425 million worldwide in January, so ... watch it before a sequel arrives. Bad Boys 4Ever?
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Eliza Hittman’s new drama, about a young woman who travels from a rural Pennsylvania town to New York to receive a legal abortion, earned rave reviews out of Sundance 2020 in January. The film bowed in mid-March ... just as every movie theater in America started to close. Now Focus Features has released the film on VOD, so people can learn what all the buzz is about. In her review, Karen Han gets to heart of why a movie that could easily be a didactic issue movie becomes so heartfelt.
Hittman gets all this across simply by portraying the unfolding events honestly. Everything that happens is relatively mundane, and the sense of dread hanging over the proceedings only reflects that the world we live in can be frightening, particularly for those with little recourse. Nothing in the movie feels exaggerated or unbelievable, making Autumn’s struggle all the more devastating. The things occurring to her occur to real women every day, and cinematographer Hélène Louvart makes the unfolding events feel truer by going handheld, shakily following the young women around the city.
Once you check out this incredible drama, read our interview with Hittman, where she explains how she strived to carve out a truer reality than most of what we see on screen.
New on Netflix this weekend
- Community seasons 1 - 6 are finally on the platform
- Coffee & Kareem, a R-rated comedy starring Ed Helms that sounds ... interesting
- The Matrix Reloaded, which you may never be able to see in its original form, but it’s still pretty fun!
- Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, a little shorter than The Irishman
And here’s what dropped last Friday:
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.
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