We’re weeks into pandemic lockdowns, and movie theaters remain closed for the foreseeable future. So film lovers have to look toward streaming services and “virtual theatrical” releases to see what’s new.
But each weekend, there have been plenty of choices. (And most of these recently added movies still remain available, too.) This weekend boasts rom-coms and thrillers, dramas and horror, and a certain jukebox musical featuring animated trolls.
Here are nine of the best movies, from all kinds of genres, that have become newly available to watch at home during the weekend of April 10 — some for a few bucks on digital services, some through “virtual theatrical” engagements, and some to subscribers on streaming platforms.
In Beanpole, from Russian director Kantemir Balagov, the struggle never ceases. The Russian films that play at Cannes tend to be very bleak (consider 2018’s Leto, or Loveless in 2016), but Beanpole may take the (gravel-filled) cake for sheer misery. It’s a period piece about two young women living in Leningrad just after the war. They met in combat and now work in a hospital, and both bear the physical and mental scars of their young, troubled lives. Beanpole tells the story of their stormy relationship as it’s crunched and crushed by life, much like the patients in the hospital. The film — which won Balagov the Best Director Prize in the festival’s Un Certain Regard competition — is not easy to watch. But it’s achingly beautiful, with unnerving performances.
How to watch it: Beanpole is opening in virtual theaters this week, and a list of participating theaters is available on the Kino Lorber website. (You’ll receive a rental link, and profits help support the independent theater you select on the page.)
The hit TV series Fleabag, which ran for two seasons, started as a one-woman show written and first performed by the virtuosic Phoebe Waller-Bridge in 2013. That show has toured off and on for years, and was also recorded and broadcast in cinemas through National Theatre Live. Now, for the next two weeks, that theatrical production of Fleabag is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in the US and UK (as well as on Soho Theatre’s website). The $5 rental fee will go toward charities that support people affected by the pandemic. So it’s a great time to indulge a little in Waller-Bridge’s caustic wit and raw vulnerability — and contribute to a good cause, too.
How to watch it: The National Theatre Live version of the Fleabag theatrical production is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
I Am Not a Witch
Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) is a Zambian girl who’s banished from her village after a weird incident and winds up living with a traveling camp of witches that takes her in. An uneasy and often exploitative deal has been struck between the area government official and the witches, and the official sees in Shula an opportunity to exploit others. I Am Not a Witch — which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, and is in English, Bemba, and Nyanja — feels like a remarkable discovery: part comedy, part social critique, part tragedy, and all bracingly original.
Les Misérables, the Oscar-nominated first film from French director Ladj Ly, isn’t based on the famous Victor Hugo novel whose title it shares. But that’s where it takes its cues, concluding with a quotation from the book: “Remember this, my friends, there are no such things as bad plants or bad men. Only bad cultivators.” Ly, who is of Malian descent, sets his story in Bosquets, an ethnically diverse suburb of Paris. It’s an ambitious movie about the challenge (for both residents and authorities) of keeping a neighborhood peaceful when tensions run high. At times, it even recalls both HBO’s The Wire and Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing in how it illustrates the interlocking factors and factions at play. But Les Misérables ends with a clear statement: When the police, through brutality, have lost the trust of the neighborhood, it doesn’t matter who’s really in charge; violence is inevitable. The curtain between uneasy peace and outright war is gauzy indeed.
How to watch it: Les Misérables is newly streaming on Amazon Prime.
Love Wedding Repeat
Love Wedding Repeat is exactly what you’d want out of a straight-to-Netflix rom-com, tailor-made for watching while snuggled into the couch with a glass of wine from your pandemic stash and a pan of fudgy brownies. It is charming comfort food at its absolute finest. Directed and written by Dean Craig, who wrote both the British (2007) and American (2010) versions of Death at a Funeral, the film is mostly the tale of a hapless and amiable fellow named Jack (Sam Claflin) and his attempts to keep a lot of plates spinning at the wedding of his sister, Hayley (Eleanor Tomlinson). With a cast that also includes Olivia Munn and Freida Pinto, Love Wedding Repeat is fluffy and clever, the kind of low-stakes story where mishaps and mayhem abound and you know everything will get sorted in the end.
How to watch it: Love Wedding Repeat is streaming on Netflix.
It’s difficult to categorize any film by Parasite director Bong Joon-ho. The Oscar winner excels at making movies that explode boundaries. His darkly comedic monster films, like The Host and Okja, double as biting social commentaries, often aiming barbs at inequality in his native South Korea. Parasite returns to those themes with superb control. It’s a bleakly comic film about two families, one wealthy and one not-so-wealthy, and a caustic tale of class conflict. At Cannes in 2019, Parasite won Bong the Palme d’Or in a unanimous decision by the jury, becoming the first Korean film to take home the festival’s top prize. And this past February, it made history again by becoming both South Korea’s first Oscar winner and the first non-English-language film to win Best Picture.
Tigertail writer and director Alan Yang is perhaps best known for co-creating the acclaimed Netflix series Master of None. Yang also co-wrote most of the dramedy’s episodes with Aziz Ansari. With Tigertail, Yang shifts from comedy to family melodrama, crafting a wistful meditation on family, regret, and what makes for a good life in a tale based on his own father’s experience. The story centers on Pin-Jui (played at different ages by Lee Hong-Chi and Tzi Ma), whose impoverished upbringing in Taiwan leads him to yearn for a better, more exciting life. Tigertail feels like an empathetic attempt on Yang’s part to understand a parent who has always seemed aloof — and the result is a pensive exploration of regret and recovering lost time through one family’s eyes.
How to watch it: Tigertail is streaming on Netflix.
Trolls World Tour
Trolls World Tour may become historically significant as the first major blockbuster studio movie to skip theatrical release altogether during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic (since most US theaters are shut down) and premiere on digital services. A sequel to the 2016 film, Trolls World Tour is a jukebox musical that’s received mildly positive reviews from critics so far. At Indiewire, Eric Kohn writes that the movie “musters a savvy treatise on the history of modern music, and a serviceable message about the cultural differences that make its diverse traditions worthy of celebration on their own terms. It’s a stupid movie with deep ambitions, energized by that trippy neon palette, and the occasional hot beat.”
How to watch it: Trolls World Tour is available to digitally rent on various VOD platforms. Check the movie’s website for details.
Sea Fever is the tale of Siobhán (Hermione Corfield), who studies marine biology at an Irish university and prefers the animals she is studying to humans. When she joins the crew of a fishing boat to study the creatures they pull out of the deep, she finds herself in a horror film — particularly once a mysterious creature begins attacking the crew. Sea Fever won accolades for its intimate take on the horror genre after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019. At the Playlist, Kimber Myers writes that “the initial draw of ‘Sea Fever’ might be as a monster movie, but this is a profoundly humane and humanist film whose ideas stays with you longer than the nightmares.”
How to watch it: Sea Fever is available to digitally purchase through on-demand and digital services like iTunes.