This week, word leaked that acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates had been tapped by J.J. Abrams to write a new film in the Superman franchise. Neil Blomkamp just casually announced that District 10, the long awaited follow-up to his 2009 sci-fi action debut District 9, is currently in the works with frequent collaborators Sharlto Copley and Terri Tatchell. Oh, and did we mention that Daft Punk announced they broke up? It’s cool, I just got something in my eye; I’m not crying, you’re crying.
With two month’s behind and the February winter finally waning, there’s also a fresh new crop of exciting new film releases via streaming and VOD just begging to cued up. Here’s a run-down of this weekend’s biggest and most exciting releases!
Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari is an American story in the purest sense: Jacob (Steven Yeun), a Korean-American father with dreams of a better life for himself and his children, moves his family from California to Arkansas in pursuit of his dream of becoming a farmer. As they weather the challenges and hardships that come with this strange new life in the Ozarks, he and his family learn the true meaning of what it takes to build a home. From our best movies of 2020 list,
Novelistic and warmly rendered, Minari is a drama about everyday life, and remembering to see the gifts of what’s right in front of you. And the perspective comes from a top-tier cast: Along with Yeun, playing a piercing patriarch, Han Yeri delivers a touching performance as a mother holding fast to her wayward loved ones, newcomers Noel Cho and Alan S. Kim buck every bad trope to play goofy and lovable kids, and renowned Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn solidifies her legacy in a film that is wholly American.
Tom & Jerry
Where to watch it: Stream on HBO Max
The iconic Hanna-Barbera comedic duo Tom and Jerry return to the big screen in Tim Story’s live-action/animation hybrid adaptation. The pair get up to their usual antics, this time in New York City, with Tom hired by a desperate event planner to capture Jerry before he wrecks havoc on the eve of most highly anticipated wedding celebration of the century. Despite the occasional intermittent laughs throughout, the film feels thwarted by its lackluster human performances. From our review,
This would all have the making of a splendid Tom and Jerry farce, if not for those bothersome humans. The actual main character in this movie about a cartoon mouse punching a cartoon cat is designated relatable millennial Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz), who scams her way into a temporary hotel job assisting Terrance (Michael Peña) with the lavish wedding of two wealthy socialites/Instagram influencers (Colin Jost and Pallavi Sharda). Desperate to impress the hotel manager (Rob Delaney), Kayla hires Tom and gives him a jaunty little bellhop hat. She also becomes a confidante of sorts for the bride-to-be, who feels some hesitation about her wedding’s over-the-top details. These plotlines provide ample opportunities for familiar actors to mug, riff, and flail through all the dead air between the big cat-and-mouse battles. Collectively, the live-action cast generates maybe two laughs, total.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Where to watch it: Stream on Hulu
Singer-songwriter and actress Andra Day portrays the eponymous Lady Day in The Butler director Lee Daniels’ biopic The United States vs. Billie Holiday. The movie follows the iconic “Strange Fruit” songstress through the trials and tribulations of her life on and off the stage, from her fractious love life to the persecution she faced by the U.S. Government. From our review,
Daniels and Parks declare their tragic intent with an opening swell of foreboding strings, and lay out their worship of Holiday’s beauty with their first image of her: resplendent in a couture gown, creamy white flowers in her hair, bold red gloss on her lips, staring directly into the camera. Over the ensuing 130 minutes, though, those two approaches never fully coalesce. Daniels leans too often on the contrast between the poised, proper onstage version of Holiday, captivating audiences with her finery and wit, and the stripped-down, foul-mouthed offstage version, with her heroin spoons and the cocaine-dealing “candyman” she keeps on retainer. There isn’t enough of a middle there, no sustained sense of who Holiday was outside of her clothes, her addiction, and the men who manipulated her. The film is a jumbled mess of misaligned puzzle pieces that never assembles a full representation of its subject.
Mike P. Nelson’s Wrong Turn, the seventh installment and reboot to screenwriter Alan B. McElroy’s early-aught horror series, brings the series back to its roots with a tight premise following a group of friends who venture to hike across the Appalachian trail. Their blissful adventure is quickly transformed into a nightmare as the group is stalked by “The Foundation,” a murderous cabal of mountain dwellers who will do anything and everything to preserve their way of life.
Director Keith Thomas’ feature debut is a supernatural horror film steeped in Jewish lore and demonology. Set over the course of a single night in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Borough Park neighborhood, The Vigil tells the story of Yakov (Dave Davis), a young man who reluctantly agrees to watch over the body of a recently-deceased member of his former congregation at the behest of his Rabbi in exchange for payment. Things quickly take a sinister turn however as Yakov is stalked by a preternatural force that seeks not only to manipulate the body to its own nefarious ends, but soon enough plots to overtake Yakov’s own body and soul as well.
Night of the Kings
Where to watch it: Stream via Select Virtual Cinemas
Philippe Lacôte’s Night of the Kings tells the One Thousand and One Nights-esque tale of a young pickpocket who is made the resident storyteller of the Ivory Coast MACA prison by Blackbeard, the prison’s ruthless ruler, and forced to entertain him and the rest of the prison with a single story spanning an entire night. If he stops for any reason before the night is over, something terrible will happen. A deftly woven blend of fantasy and reality, Night of the Kings is a rapturous testament to the power of storytelling. From our review,
Though Lacôte’s deft juggling of multiple interweaving stories is impressive, what ultimately makes Night of the Kings so special is how clearly the director depicts the power in telling a story. The tale of Zama King unfolds partially in re-creation through Roman’s narration, but the most striking parts of the film come when the prisoners take it upon themselves to act out scenes. Their re-enactments are balletic; the scenes set in the prison take on the air of a stage play, as street fights and magical duels are portrayed solely with human bodies. Men leap over each other and hold each other up to properly pay tribute to the story of Zama King. At points, they even begin to sing. That cooperation and grace stands in sharp contrast with the way they interact with each other when violence breaks out.
And here’s what dropped last Friday:
Paul W. S. Anderson returns for another go-for-broke sci-fi video game adaptation with Monster Hunter. Milla Jovovich stars as Lt. Natalie Artemis, a US Army Ranger who is transported along with her United Nations team to an alternate world populated by gigantic behemoth-like monsters. From our review:
The entire movie is light in the story and character department; Jovovich’s entire Ranger squad has names like “Axe,” “Marshall,” “Dash,” and “Linc.” Anderson seems aware — the tropes felt as deliciously campy as the action. Matched with a reverence for the games, Monster Hunter’s fan service-laden setpieces were the perfect, mindless salve for 2020. It’s hard to say if it’s comprehensible to someone who doesn’t love the series, but its bombastic action hardly lags during its hour-and-a-half run time. It’s a happy member of this new class of video game movies written with an obvious love of its lore, though possibly not able to stand up without a deep appreciation for the source material.
Where to watch it: Stream on Hulu
Chloé Zhao’s neo-Western drama starring Frances McDormand as an itinerant wanderer attempting to eke out a living in the harsh landscape of the contemporary American West leads the pack of potential contenders for this year’s Best Picture Oscar. It’s also an absolute must-watch. From our review:
The journey Zhao has crafted is marvelous, exploring literal peaks and valleys as well as emotional ones. Though Fern’s story is made up, the world through which she’s traveling is real, made all the more striking by the rest of the cast and the little, seemingly insignificant moments Zhao chooses to linger on. In one such moment, Strathairn’s character kneels to get the best possible shot he can of Fern standing in front of a giant dinosaur statue. There’s something joyfully tender about the scene: The light is fading, and he’s using a tiny flip phone, but it’s evident just how much he cares. That feeling of attentiveness and empathy runs throughout the entire film, easily distinguishing it as one of 2020’s best.
Jang Hyuk plays Tae-yul, a master swordsman blinded and disgraced in a coup attempt who returns from self-exile to save his daughter’s life in Choi Jae-hoon’s Korean action drama. The trailer for the film looks gorgeous and slick, with frenetic cinematography courtesy of Won-ho Son (#Alive on Netflix) and a cast featuring I Saw the Devil’s Choi Jin-ho and Joe Taslim of The Raid and The Night Comes for Us fame.
Where to watch it: Stream via Virtual Cinemas
Director Shatara Michelle Ford’s feature debut Test Pattern follows the story of Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) and Evan (Will Brill), an interracial couple whose relationship is irrevocably altered in the wake of a devastating sexual assault. Billed as one part psychological horror, one part realist drama, Ford’s film offers a bracing depiction of the myriad systemic injustices, social conditioning, and patriarchal obstacles that women are faced with while navigating the thorny topics of sex and consent in American society.
Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci star as a pair of 20-year-strong lovers in Harry Macqueen’s romance drama Supernova. When Tusker (Tucci) is diagnosed with dementia, he and Sam (Firth) take to the road to travel across England to meet and reminisce with friends and family. Macqueen’s film looks like a humorous and affecting story of enduring love in the wake of impeding loss and a stirring showcase of Firth and Tucci’s disarming on-screen chemistry.
Inspired by the true-life story of the convicted founder of the darknet drug market Silk Road, Tiller Russell’s pits Jurassic World star Nick Robinson as Ross Ulbricht in the early days of fledgling criminal enterprise under the pseudonym “the Dread Pirate Roberts.” As Silk Road grows both in exponential scope and notoriety, his path inevitably collides with Rick Bowden (Jason Clarke), a volatile DEA agent hell-bent on taking him down.