Theaters are still closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but film releases haven’t slowed down. Each weekend, on streaming services and through “virtual theatrical” releases, new and newly available movies arrive to delight cinephiles of all stripes.
This weekend has not one, not two, but three movies that draw on and reinvent tropes from Westerns. There’s also a fantastic comedic drama about embezzlement and bureaucracy (really), a slow-moving coming-of-age story, and two documentaries about ordinary people living ordinary lives. (And most of the films that were newly released in recent weeks are also still available to watch.)
Here are seven of the best movies, from a range of genres, that are available to watch at home for the weekend of April 24 — some for a few bucks on digital services, some through virtual theatrical engagements, and some to subscribers on streaming platforms.
Bad Education is a tale of intrigue and larceny in the most drab of locations: a Long Island public school district. And it’s terrific. Based on a true story from the early aughts and directed by Cory Finley (Thoroughbreds), the film stars Hugh Jackman as Frank Tassone, superintendent of the fourth-best school district in the state of New York. Tassone soon finds himself at the center of a massive fraud investigation, thanks in part to reporting by a student journalist (Geraldine Viswanathan). Bad Education expertly traces the effects of the complex pressures placed on administrators and faculty, suggesting that this scandal is unlikely to be the last of its kind.
How to watch it: Bad Education premieres on HBO at 8 pm Eastern on Saturday, April 25, and will be streaming for subscribers on HBO Now and HBO Go.
Quentin Tarantino loves a good revision of history in service of revenge, and in the 2012 film Django Unchained, he delivers it. Jamie Foxx stars as Django, a brutally treated slave who ends up freed by and apprenticed to a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz). The pair are searching for Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), from whom he was separated; they track her down at a Mississippi plantation belonging to Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), where they hatch a plan to free her. Django Unchained is Tarantino’s tribute to spaghetti Westerns, as well as an act of cinematic vengeance on the cruel institution of slavery in the antebellum American south.
Pahokee is a small town on the shores of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, and there’s a waning number of jobs and resources available to the people who live there. But Pahokee High School is a beehive of activity, and that’s where filmmakers Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan turned their focus to four seniors, all of whom hope to get out of town once they graduate. Following the students through their daily lives as they participate in sports and other extracurricular activities, navigate personal relationships, and work toward future aspirations, Pahokee is a somewhat familiar high-school tale. But it’s also a story of a vibrant town told through the eyes of its young people, and it explores — often with humor and grace — the forces that shape how Americans live today.
How to watch it: Pahokee is in virtual theaters this week, and a list of participating theaters is available on the Monument Releasing website. (You’ll receive a rental link, and profits help support the independent theater you select on the page.)
One of the most celebrated documentaries of all time is Salesman, directed by brothers Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin. It follows four door-to-door Bible salesmen peddling their expensive wares in mostly low-income neighborhoods in New England and Florida. Salesman particularly focuses on Paul Brennan, an Irish Catholic from Boston. The film caused a sensation when it was released in 1969; some critics found it hopelessly bleak, while others were fascinated by the directors’ “direct cinema” approach. Now, more than 50 years later, it’s a classic of the genre.
To the Stars
Set in 1960s Oklahoma, Martha Stephens’s film To the Stars is a simple coming-of-age drama that feels as if it’s from a bygone era. Iris (Kara Hayward), whose unhappy home life leaves her feeling as if she’s an outsider at school, has her world upended when a new girl named Maggie (Liana Liberato) comes to town. Maggie is vivacious and friendly, despite the rumors the other girls whisper about her, and she and Iris become unlikely friends. To the Stars lags a bit in spots — some of the performances are uneven, while others (including those from Malin Ackerman and Tony Hale) are warm and intriguing — but as a story of growing up and finding out what it is you truly desire, it’s a solid effort.
How to watch it: To the Stars is available to digitally rent or purchase on digital services such as iTunes.
The True History of the Kelly Gang
In True History of the Kelly Gang, director Justin Kurzel tells the bloody story of his homeland’s most famous outlaw: Ned Kelly, who’s either a folk hero in Australia or a villainous marauder, depending on whom you ask. Kelly (played by 1917 star George MacKay) retells his own story, a harrowing tale of abuse — from the English soldiers who took advantage of the family, to other thieves and robbers, to men sniffing around his mother’s door. Kelly learned to fight back and fight hard. Kurzel favors stylized images and the occasional anachronistic metal track to provoke a mood more than faithfully recreate history. And his approach works well in this film, bolstered by a strong cast featuring MacKay, Russell Crowe, Nicholas Hoult, Charlie Hunnam, Thomasin McKenzie, and Essie Davis. It’s a brutal watch from beginning to end, but one that shows how violence begets violence.
How to watch it: True History of the Kelly Gang is available on a wide variety of digital and on-demand platforms. See the film’s website for more details and links.
Thousand Pieces of Gold
Nancy Kelly’s recently restored feminist Western from 1990, Thousand Pieces of Gold, is a lush melodrama about a Chinese woman named Lalu (Rosalind Chao) whose poverty-stricken family sells her as a bride. She’s brought to America, where Hong King (Michael Paul Chan), an unscrupulous tavern manager, wants to sell her services as a prostitute to the lonely men in their frontier town. But through gumption and her willingness to learn and work — as well as Charlie (Chris Cooper), who helps her when she needs it most — Lalu starts a successful business and, eventually, regains her own agency.
How to watch it: Thousand Pieces of Gold is in virtual theaters this week, and a list of participating theaters is available on the Kino Marquee website. (You’ll receive a rental link, and profits help support the independent theater you select on the page.)