Wherever you live on this funny little planet, you have to be feeling those Coronavirus Blues. Social distancing is the new normal. Nightlife has been cancelled. Hell, even work sent you home! To make matters worse, the local multiplex is closed. But just because you’re self-isolating order doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the cinema from the comfort of your sofa.
In these extraordinary times, Hollywood studios are making unprecedented moves to reach audiences. This includes moving up the digital video release dates and leverage their own streaming platforms (in the case of Amazon and Disney). Below is a list of some of the biggest films that are now (or soon will be) streaming to a living room near you, plus two clever flicks from last year that I bet you missed…
Birds of Prey
Undoubtedly inspired by the success 20th Century Fox enjoyed with R-rated Deadpool (2016) and Logan (2017), Warner Bros. boldly stepped up with two adult-rated films of its own based on DC comic-book characters. The first was Joker (2019), which was both an enormous commercial and critical success, but the second film didn’t fare quite so well.
Birds of Prey: Harley Quinn (originally entitled Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) clearly missed the mark at the box office. The film’s US opening weekend gross a measly $33M; about half what analysts had predicted. The final box office number worldwide will be around $200M, which is a flop by superhero film standards, especially with a production budget of over $80M. But did this villainess team-up flick deserve such a muted reception?
Our very own Dan Owen didn’t think so! He gave the film a solid four-star review in which he described Birds of Prey as…
… a riot of explosive colours, fun antics, smart comedy, eye-popping fashion, wince-inducing violence, toe-tapping pop music, and thematic smarts that lean into a societal sickness that’s part of modern discourse thanks to #MeToo.— Dan Owen, Frame Rated.
Audiences that may have been hesitant to give Harley (Margot Robbie) and company a try in cinemas should definitely give it view now that Birds of Prey is available on demand.
Film historians may one day argue that Disney-Pixar’s Onward suffered more proportionally due to the Coronavirus pandemic than any other major motion picture. With an early March 2020 release theatrical release, the film not only hit the big screen as many in the western world were learning about social distancing but also when much of Asia was in full lockdown mode.
Nevertheless, the film’s paltry global gross of $103M is embarrassing given the reputations of both Disney and Pixar. The studio that delivered numerous consecutive hits over several decades with only but the rare true misstep (I’m looking at you The Good Dinosaur). So, is Onward really one of Pixar’s worst films ever made?
Onward is a beautifully told tale of family and adventure with characters that grow throughout … Children will love Onward, as will adults, although some may find the themes of the story overfamiliar.— Charlene DeKalb, Frame Rated.
With families around the world bunkering down for the next several weeks or even months, now is a great time to see what we missed at the cinema with Onward. Featuring the voice talents of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Octavia Spencer, this is a film that’ll enjoy a much better fate now that it’s streaming.
3 April, Disney+
The Invisible Man
Three years ago, Universal Studios attempted to launch its ‘Dark Universe’; an ambitious project meant to rival the comic-book worlds of Marvel and DC Studios. Universal intended to launch an entire monster universe with the debut of the Tom Cruise-led remake of The Mummy (2017). However, the film was critically panned and became a financial flop.
But to their credit, Universal didn’t completely give up. They merely altered their approach and brought some new creative minds. One of those additions was writer-director Leigh Whannel (Upgrade) who was charged with adapting H.G Wells’ classic story The Invisible Man. Whannel takes a loose approach to Wells’ original story, so much so that Wells’ name doesn’t even appear in the official credits.
This modern take centres not on a man but a woman, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), who escapes an abusive relationship. But just as Cecilia thinks her life can start over, she is haunted by what she believes to be her former abuser. Only, this time, he’s invisible.
Although the only resemblance to the original book is the title, Whannel delivers plenty of thrills and Moss provides a standout performance. Barnaby Page called Moss’ performance “masterful” while giving the film 3.5-stars in his recent review.
The Way Back
On the surface, the latest feel-good basketball film could be dismissed as another Hoosiers knock off. But when you take a closer look at The Way Back, you find it was made by the same filmmaker behind the excellent Warrior (2011). Moreover, the story centres around a former basketball star turned coach (Ben Affleck) who’s looking for a second chance while battling alcoholism. But perhaps most extraordinary is the fact the star of the film was going through his own struggles with alcohol abuse while playing the lead role.
Despite those momentum-stalling and unnecessary detours, the irresistibly cheer-worthy basketball sequences and Affleck’s resonant and authentic performance are more than enough to carry the day.— Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times.
The Way Back currently has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 83% from both critics and audiences. That’s enough to certify it “fresh” and one of the top-rated films so far in 2020. With the prospect of some extended time at home, The Way Back is a flick that should be towards the top of your watch list.
The producers behind Bloodshot were attempting a couple of big tasks: make a successful film out of a lesser-known comic product and make it on a modest budget. The film is based on a Valiant comic books series and was made for about $50M. The problem is we don’t really know if it worked.
The pandemic really hit the US just as Bloodshot was hitting cinemas. The film’s poor box office returns ($10M) can’t be separated from the fact Americans were only just beginning to understand how dangerous COVID-19 is and start social distancing.
The film’s premise is not terribly original: Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is a soldier who is killed in combat and then brought back to life with superpowers. Most notably, Garrison has the ability to heal instantly. Eiza González (Baby Driver), Sam Heughan (Outlander) and Guy Pierce (Iron Man 3) have supporting roles.
First-time director Dave Wilson brought years of experience in visual effects and video game development to his work behind the camera. Diesel had said in multiple interviews that his hope was that Bloodshot would launch a new franchise or even a multiverse of Valiant Comic based films. That doesn’t seem likely at this point but that shouldn’t the reason you skip out on this one.
One of the most controversial films of the year is out now. And even better, you can watch it in the judgement-free zone of your own home. The Hunt from Blumhouse Productions and Universal Pictures got delayed from its original release last autumn after a series of deadly spree shootings in the US.
Even before then, The Hunt stirred up plenty of criticism from those who blasted the film for its gratuitous violence and political divisiveness. Although it’s worth noting these so-called critics hadn’t seen it yet. But it can’t be denied that the premise of the film itself would end up at the centre of a storm.
The plot follows 12 strangers who wake up in a remote area without any memory of how they got there. Quickly their confusion turns to terror and they become the “game” in a human hunting exhibition for the ultrarich. Again, even before the delay, many were critical that the film exploits hot button issues like class warfare in America. Either way, you can now judge for yourself as The Hunt is now available on video on demand.
Trolls: World Tour
Lost in all of the real-world news lately has been a bit of drama playing out behind-the-scenes of the sequel to the animated smash hit Trolls (2016). The follow-up film brings back the voice talents of Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick in what was likely to be one of the spring’s biggest box office hits. But as the COVID-19 pandemic spread, DreamWorks Studios made the decision to skip a theatrical run altogether and send the film direct to video.
While audiences under quarantine can rejoice in the sparkles and glitter from the comfort of their own home, the big cinema chains weren’t too pleased. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the head of the National Theaters Owners Association (US) warned his group would have a long memory.
Only Universal, and only on Trolls, did one studio skip the theatrical model and go straight to the home. Universal continues to advertise to consumers that Trolls will be released simultaneously to theaters and the home on April 10. And they are lying to consumers. Universal knows that theaters will still be closed on April 10, so unlike every other distributor who must simply delay their releases in that time period, but still understand that theatrical release is essential to their business model, Universal on Trolls didn’t make that decision. Exhibitors will not forget this.John Fithian, Interview with The Hollywood Reporter, 20 March 20.
Damn. Who knew little Poppy could stir so much resentment? The hard feelings between cinema owners and DreamWorks could last a while, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting your song and dance on with Poppy and company.
10 April, VOD.
The Jesus Rolls
In a film with so many memorable characters, Jesus Quintana was one of the most unforgettable in 1998 classic The Big Lebowski. Created by the Coen brothers, Quintana was brought to life by actor John Turturro. It’s also Turturro who is responsible for bringing “The Jesus” back to the big screen with the spin-off film as he both stars and directs The Jesus Rolls.
This time Turturro puts his character front and centre in a road trip dramedy based on an obscure French film. That’s a lot of things mixed in even before you see the film—a spinoff of a cult classic more than two decades old, based on a supporting character with a new storyline based on an obscure French film. So maybe it’s not really a big surprise that The Jesus Rolls was a huge flop at the box office?
But it’s hard to deny the talented ensemble cast that this film boasts including Bobby Cannavale, Jon Hamm, Susan Sarandon, Pete Davidson, and Christopher Walken. It becomes hard to fight the urge to get this film a chance with that cast and Turturro’s frequently entertaining onscreen schtick. For whatever reasons, The Jesus Rolls was limited to a short theatrical run in Italy and limited cinemas in the US before it bowed out to home video.
Debuting late last year on Hulu, Little Monsters is one of the more original films of 2019. Starring Lupita Nyong’o, the film follows a seemingly normal school field trip that is interrupted by a sudden outbreak of the zombie apocalypse. A washed-up musician, a former kid show personality and an average teacher are all that stands to protect the poor group of kiddos.
Refreshingly, Little Monsters turns stereotypical character tropes upside down: the handsome male lead is a complete liability, the kid’s entertainer actually hates children and swears a lot, and the soft-spoken schoolteacher becomes a zombie-killing machine to protect her class.— Jono Simpson, Frame Rated.
With such a lack of true creativity in the horror and especially zombie-based films, a flick like Little Monsters deserves more appreciation. It has a lot of heart and makes a real stab at being something more than a cheap Romero knock-off. And if the world is going to end, who wouldn’t want Lupita Nyong’o leading us out?
This Golden Globe-winning comedy didn’t get nearly the love from the press that Parasite (2019) and other surprise films did last year. But The Farewell is a true accomplishment and likely the best film of 2019 that you didn’t see. It stars one of Hollywood’s funniest young comedians, actress Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians), who glows in the lead role. The movie concerns a Chinese family gathering under the false pretences of a wedding so they all can spend time with their mother/grandmother before she dies.
Amelia Harvey praised The Farewell for being true to its story and not trying to “Americanize” the film to pander to western audiences. While the film relies heavily on English subtitles and on customs that might seem strange to the western world, it’s the film’s undertone and themes that resonant with audiences everywhere.
Every scene is charged with an undercurrent of unspoken tension; they love each other dearly but don’t always like one another. They don’t exactly bicker over dinner, but they’re a family usually separated by countries and continents who are still figuring out who they’ve become as adults.— Amelia Harvey, Frame Rated.
The Farewell is exactly the kind of film so many people put on their “to-watch” list and swear they will get around to it when they have more time. Now seems to be the perfect time to give a great film like The Farwell its due.