Theaters are mostly closed. Blockbusters are delayed. Drive-ins are having a moment. And with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic still a clear threat to Americans, streaming is the main way many people are seeing films.
But there are still new movies coming out — and the latest crop is particularly brilliant. Seven great films are premiering this week (one of which had an all-too-brief run before theaters closed in March). There’s an engrossing action movie starring Charlize Theron and an engrossing war movie starring (and written by!) Tom Hanks. Andy Samberg leads an almost too on-the-nose comedy about being stuck in a time loop. Emily Mortimer watches her mother decay in a terrifying horror film. A documentary (of sorts) celebrates dive bars and the end of the world. A cow arrives in a frontier town. And one of the most beloved figures in Latin culture gets his due.
Among them, there’s something to suit most tastes. (But if none of them pique your interest, you can always check out one of the 28 best films from this year so far.)
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
In the extraordinary Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, documentarians and brothers Bill and Turner Ross chronicle the last night of service at a Las Vegas dive bar called Roaring ’20s — as regulars come and go, fight and kiss, and try to face the fact that the place that felt most like it was theirs will no longer exist. For them, it’s the end of the world.
But there’s a catch: The Ross brothers used a real bar in New Orleans as a set and asked people to play characters much like themselves. Is the movie fiction? Yes, technically. Is it nonfiction? Not exactly. Is it “real”? Absolutely. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets reminds us that we’re constantly reinventing and performing ourselves, even in our most comfortable, cherished settings — and cinema does, too.
How to watch it: Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is in virtual theatrical release. A list of participating theaters is available on the film’s website. (You’ll receive a rental link, and profits help support the independent theater you select on the page.)
Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow is set in a 19th-century frontier settlement of tiny houses somewhere in Oregon, near the Columbia River, populated by people who are trying to scratch out a living in the New World, as well as the First Nations people who’ve been living there for generations. Into that settlement, a cow arrives, setting off a chain of events that are both momentous and small. But the film is about much more than just that.
First Cow is also a gentle (and gently devastating) tale about male friendship, about finding someone to share your aspirations and dreams with, and, most deliciously, about cooking. It’s also about the kinds of constructed hierarchies — based on factors like race, class, money, and firepower — that seem to be imposed on the world wherever new civilizations pop up.
How to watch it: After a brief theatrical run in March before theaters closed, First Cow is available to digitally purchase on platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, and on-demand providers. (It will be available to rent on July 21.) First Cow is also playing in select “virtual theatrical” release. See the film’s website for full details.
Tom Hanks both wrote and stars in Greyhound, an old-fashioned nail-biter about heroism inspired by actual events (not unfamiliar territory for Hanks). He plays Captain Ernest Krause, who is tasked with leading an international convoy of ships carrying troops and supplies to Great Britain during World War II. Those ships are vulnerable to German U-boats in an area of the Atlantic called the “Black Pit,” and along the way, they run into trouble.
Krause is a man of faith and quiet valor, and most of Greyhound is spent watching him peer out at the dark waters and give authoritative orders to his trusting men. It’s a simple and straightforward movie — rather than relying on thrills and scares, Greyhound is interested in the intricate work of fighting on the high seas — but if that’s what you’re in the mood for, it’s thoroughly satisfying.
How to watch it: Greyhound is streaming for Apple TV+ subscribers.
Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado
The Puerto Rican psychic and astrologer Walter Mercado, who passed away last November, was more than just a familiar TV personality. For decades, millions of Latinx viewers looked to his flamboyant personality, warm televised horoscopes, and pioneering gender nonconforming persona as a beloved anchor point for life. He was both a guide and a kind of friend. But he disappeared from the public eye in 2007, and despite becoming a touchpoint and even a meme for younger people, many wondered where he’d gone.
In Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado, documentarians Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch let Mercado tell his own story through extensive interviews conducted in his own home, as well as discussions with people who loved him (including performers like Eugenio Derbez and Lin-Manuel Miranda). The film is a fond farewell to Mercado and a celebration of his life, and enlightening both for Mercado newbies and those who grew up at his proverbial knee.
How to watch it: Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado is streaming on Netflix.
The Old Guard
Seemingly custom-made to scratch the summer action movie itch, The Old Guard is a globetrotting thriller with a compelling story at its core. It centers on a small group of people — Andy (Charlize Theron), Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) — who form what seems to be a band of elite assassins and carry out highly secretive missions. But then the movie goes sideways, and that’s when it gets interesting.
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, working from a screenplay by Greg Rucka (based on his own comic book series), deftly handles shoot-em-up set pieces with a skill too rarely seen in action movies. And The Old Guard asks some existential questions that leave the audience wanting more. If Netflix is trying to develop an action franchise (and it seems as if it might be), The Old Guard is a promising start.
How to watch it: The Old Guard is streaming on Netflix.
When Palm Springs premiered at Sundance in January, it was impossible to realize we’d be trapped in its premise by the time it came out in July. Nyles (Andy Samberg) is at a wedding with his girlfriend, whom he doesn’t like very much. After a strange occurrence, he wakes up to realize that today is ... yesterday. And it happens again, and again, and again — an unendingly bleak repeat day until he meets fellow wedding guest Sarah (Cristin Milioti). The same-day-over-again concept seems ripped from Groundhog Day or Russian Doll, but Palm Springs takes it in a different direction, exploring the routes we try to take out of existential despair and the struggle of living through it all. Sound familiar?
How to watch it: Palm Springs is streaming on Hulu and playing at select drive-in theaters.
Relationships between mothers and daughters provide rich fodder for horror films. So does the fear of what you might inherit from your parents. Relic dives into those familiar waters with a creepy, taut story about Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote), who go to Kay’s mother’s house when they get a call that she’s missing. Edna (Robyn Nevin) eventually turns up, though it’s clear her dementia is beginning to advance.
Edna starts to do things that can’t be easily explained by her dementia, and she’s not alone in her odd behavior; Edna’s house itself seems to be haunted by something that nobody can quite figure out, and relationships between the three women become ever more strained. Relic is a slow movie, and a quiet one; director Natalie Erika James is in no hurry to explain to us what’s happening. But that’s what makes it so effective, so chilling, and so unsettling in the end.