Normally, The A.V. Club uses this space to preview all the major films coming to a theater near you. But with the world in the grips of a pandemic, nothing’s coming to a theater near you; theaters have closed their doors, and studios have pushed back their releases. So for the time being, we’ll instead be previewing movies going straight to VOD and streaming services. We’ll also note the films that definitely won’t be, as they’ve been officially postponed. These days, we’re all watching movies at home. Consider this now a source of the new releases coming to a living room near you.
Virtual theaters May 1
Jean Dujardin, Oscar-winning star of The Artist, slips into a deranged and deadpan new comic register as French oddball Georges, singularly focused on his most prized possession: a 100% deerskin jacket. Eventually, this obsession leads him into both an amateur filmmaking career and a disturbing crime spree. Like a lot of the previous films by musician- turned-director Quentin Dupieux (Rubber, Wrong), Deerskin rides a single absurdist joke to feature length. But the joke, in this particular case, is funny and also pretty pointed, making this more than just a weird-for-weird’s-sake exercise. And Dujardin is a hoot—the homicidal maniac as bumbling accidental artist.
Virtual theaters May 1
The Catalan director Albert Serra has spent most of the last decade making ironically monotonous and decayed films about 18th-century libertines. Having tackled the Sun King in The Death Of Louis XIV and Casanova in Story Of My Death, he now offers up his own fetish fantasy with this pastiche about a German duke (Helmut Berger) who gathers with a group of French exiles for a night of debauchery in the woods. The film, which won a competition prize at last year’s Cannes, has been described as pornographic, though it’s more monotonous than shocking, even with sex scenes involving rimming and a severed limb.
Rob Morgan, who’s delivered sturdy supporting performances in everything from Mudbound to Stranger Things to this spring’s The Photograph, lands a much-deserved starring role as an alcoholic, pill-popping, past-his-prime rodeo clown who befriends a troubled, drug-dealing Texas teen (Amber Havard). If this Cannes competitor sounds like a generic miserablist indie, that’s because it mostly is, right down to the unenticing handheld camerawork and purely observational plotting. Nonetheless, Annie Silverstein directs with enough patience to maintain interest in what might happen to the characters, even after you start to suspect that the answer is nothing at all.
Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders (he played the teenage incarnation of Chiron) stars in another drama about a young man following in the footsteps of a mentor figure on the wrong side of the law. His character here is an aspiring rapper who gets caught up in an Oakland gang war and ends up incarcerated alongside his father (Jeffrey Wright). Can he help his own son break the cycle? All Day And A Night is the second feature from Joe Robert Cole, who co-wrote Black Panther and worked on the first season of American Crime Story.
Cyrano de Bergerac goes to high school in the latest in what’s becoming a cottage industry of Netflix original rom-coms. This time around, our Cyrano takes the form of Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), an insecure overachiever who agrees to help popular jock Paul (Daniel Diemer) woo their gorgeous, brilliant classmate (Alexxis Lemire). But while this story has been told many times over—including on Netflix—writer-director Alice Wu (Saving Face) offers a fresh, queer-oriented take on the material by having Ellie and Paul both fall for the same girl. Like plenty of the streaming giant’s teen romances, it’s flawed but charming.
Horror runs in the family for brothers Drew and Brett Pierce, who grew up around the production of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (their father worked on the effects for that splatter classic) and later wrote and directed a zombie comedy called Deadheads. Their latest is an apropos mixture of domestic tensions and supernatural frights, pitting a teenage child of divorce against the ancient, croaking witch stalking a seaside tourist town. The effects look inspired—in that respect, at least, the Pierce boys will make their dad proud.
Virtual theaters May 1
French economist Thomas Piketty’s unlikely bestseller gets the flashy explainer treatment in this documentary. Unlike most popular works on the dismal science, Piketty’s book is concerned with income inequality, positing that exponentially concentrated wealth and economic instability are part of the equation of capitalism, rather than bugs—and that the future of a capitalist world will look an awful lot like its past. Assorted academics, journalists, and chief economists are on hand to explain Piketty’s ideas and possible solutions.
Virtual theaters May 1
A young anthropologist begins investigating the disappearance of his father during the Guatemalan civil war of the 1970s and ’80s in this drama from writer-director César Díaz. The film started as a documentary about the military massacres during that period but changed shape once the filmmaker met some of the survivors. Reviews from Cannes were mixed, though Our Mothers did pick up a coveted award at the festival: the Camera d’Or, or Best First Feature.
Virtual theaters May 1; VOD and digital platforms June 2
Winner of a jury and audience award at the Sundance Film Festival in January, this mixed-modes documentary chronicles a highly risky operation: the exploits of a group of undocumented DREAMers who deliberately get themselves apprehended by immigration authorities to gain access to a Florida detention center and orchestrate the defense of the detainees. Directors Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera employ a mix of interviews and reenactments, prompting some to describe The Infiltrators as a “hybrid film” rather than a straight documentary, though its subject matter couldn’t be further from fiction.
Originally set for a SXSW premiere, Clark Duke’s directorial debut sees him co-star with Liam Hemsworth and a whole host of ringers—Vince Vaughn, Vivica A. Fox, and John Malkovich, all rocking their best deep-fried accents—for a quirky crime thriller based on the novel by John Brandon. Hemsworth and Duke play Southern drug runners who manage to bumble their way into the bad graces of their boss, Vaughn’s politely vicious Frog, who quickly decides it’s time to definitively cross these latest problems off his to-do list.
This first film from Andrew “Rapman” Onwubolo traffics in many of the same tropes as his hit YouTube series, Shiro’s Story: love, betrayal, and loyalties divided on the streets of London. Onwubolo features his own Greek chorus, rapping over the conflict between childhood friends Stephen Odubola and Michael Ward, as conflicting gang affiliations drag them into bloody strife. Now set for a VOD debut Stateside, Blue Story opened to strong reviews—and controversial cancellations—in the U.K. last year, with critics praising the energy Onwubolo infused into a somewhat familiar story.
The reliably scene-stealing Hong Chau (Downsizing) takes a starring role as a single mom who brings her young son (Lucas Jaye) to a small town for the summer; the boy ends up forging a friendship with the gruff veteran next door, played by the late Brian Dennehy. While this might sound like the basic outline of any number of low-key indie dramas, director Andrew Ahn proved himself to be a sensitive filmmaker with his previous film, the micro-budgeted Spa Night.
Just this once, Z is not for zombie. Three years after making his feature debut with the infant-themed horror of Still/Born, director Brandon Christensen kicks the age of his threat up to grade school. This hard-to-Google effort, about an 8-year-old boy with a homicidal imaginary friend, teams Christensen with co-writer Colin Minihan, who worked on the above-average found footage thriller Grave Encounters. That, coupled with the awards Z picked up at genre film festivals last year, bodes well for the film, which is going directly to the horror-themed streaming service Shudder.
British journalist Caitlin Moran adapts her own semi-autobiographical novel about a highly imaginative, deeply uncool teen in ’90s England who reinvents herself as a sarcastic, sexually aggressive music writer. The role seems custom made for its lead, Beanie Feldstein, though it does present new challenges for the Booksmart star, including an English accent and dyed red hair. (It’s a horribly difficult color to grow out.) She’s on her own with the dye job, but Feldstein is supported on screen by an ensemble cast that includes Chris O’Dowd, Alfie Allen, and Emma Thompson. Reviews from Toronto, where the film premiered last autumn, were generally rosy.
Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s musical remake of the 1983 teen-movie romance between a Southern California girl and a punk boy was shot almost three years ago and originally scheduled for release in June 2018. The initial reason for its delay was the tedious antics of professional insufferable shit and co-star Logan Paul. But why focus on one YouTube dummy in a cast that includes Happy Death Day’s Jessica Rothe, as well as Chloe Bennet, Mae Whitman, Alicia Silverstone (presumably to provide valley cred), and Judy Greer? The delightful original Valley Girl didn’t need remaking, but the prospect of seeing a well-soundtracked comedy done up as a proper musical remains enticing.
Virtual theaters May 8
With her marriage falling apart, a middle-aged college professor (Chiara Mastroianni) moves into the hotel across the street from her Paris apartment—only to discover a twentysomething version of her husband living in her suite. Before long, the hotel room starts filling up with more and more Ghost Of Indiscretions Past. Writer-director Christophe Honoré (Sorry Angel, Love Songs) has built his career in part on making the kind of blasé bed-hopping relationship movies that are supposedly a specialty of the French. He seems to have stumbled on a whimsically inspired idea here; whether he manages to take it anywhere is another question.
At last, a rebuttal to the inaccuracies of Bio-Dome! This Sundance-approved documentary looks back on the Biosphere 2 project, in which eight scientists spent two years in a giant, enclosed replica of Earth’s ecosystem; the experiment made headlines the world over, in part because of rumors the participants were engaging in cult-like behavior. Of course, current events have probably thrown a new lens over its portrait of self-imposed isolation. Certainly, they’ve affected how you can watch Spaceship Earth, which Neon is making available through a wide array of viewing platforms, including the websites of local businesses and also “select pop-up city-scape projections.”
Virtual theaters now; VOD and digital platforms May 8
Like many low-budget horror movies, Porno revolves around a group of teenagers confined to a single location. Here, it’s a movie theater in an unnamed small town. But these teens aren’t the hard-partying horndogs seen in most films of its type. Instead, they’re clean-cut Christians (plus one straight-edge projectionist) who accidentally unleash a sexually voracious demon when they play a mysterious reel of film found in the theater’s basement. The juvenile chaos that ensues is a letdown compared to the diabolically clever premise. If you like your thrills cheap and silly, however, those are available in abundance—just watch out for the graphic genital mutilation.
Clementine was obviously completed long before this time of social distancing, but it does feature a quarantine of sorts: Karen (Otmara Marrero) leaves Los Angeles and holes up in the Pacific Northwest lakehouse of her ex-girlfriend. There she crosses paths with a mysterious younger woman (Sydney Sweeney), and the question of what their tentative relationship will become hangs over the whole film. Writer-director Lara Gallagher’s feature debut is a little slight, but fans of slow-burning psychological duels like Queen Of Earth and Always Shine might want to check it out.
The ideal movie for anyone who’s ever wanted to hear Nick Offerman talk about tripping balls, this Netflix doc from Parks And Recreation writer Donick Cary combines animation and live reenactments to bring its celebrity interviewees’ stories of trips, both good and bad, to life. Offerman, Adam Scott, A$AP Rocky, the late Carrie Fisher, Rosie Perez, and more discuss the legal, physical, and spiritual ramifications of using psychedelics; it’s an open attempt to demystify a class of substances often feared and scorned by the public.
Five years after the disastrous Fantastic Four all but demolished his filmmaking career, Chronicle’s Josh Trank returns, now with a heavily made-up Tom Hardy in tow. Ostensibly a biopic, Trank’s Capone situates the infamous gangster at the very end of his life and career, paranoia over the ongoing attentions of the FBI enhanced by syphilis and dementia. Linda Cardellini, Matt Dillon, and Kyle MacLachlan co-star, but the obvious attraction here is Hardy, descending once again into his favored spot as one of cinema’s go-to monstrous men.
Rithy Panh has spent most of his career looking back on the atrocity that shaped his childhood: the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s, in which millions died in the work camps they were relocated to by the Khmer Rouge government. Like his superb, harrowing The Missing Picture, Panh’s Graves Without A Name explores that dark chapter of personal and national history through nonfiction; having already laid out the horrifying specifics of life in the camps, the director now turns to the testimonials of survivors, all while embarking on a journey to uncover the remains of the family he lost.
Hollywood’s latest attempt to find a proper outlet for formidable Comedy Bang! Bang! favorite Lauren Lapkus comes courtesy of Netflix’s Happy Madison movie pipeline, with David Spade playing the improbably disinterested object of Lapkus’ screwball affections. Co-starring Nick Swardson and Geoff Pierson (all doing their best, presumably, to distract from the 21-year age difference between their film’s ostensible romantic leads), The Wrong Missy sees Spade playing the straight man role for once, forced to cope with Lapkus’ semi-deranged Missy after he accidentally invites her to a Hawaiian work retreat.
Scooby-Doo is one of the most relentlessly rebooted animated franchises in history, with dozens of TV series and direct-to-video movies over the past 50 years. The newest iteration involves Shaggy (Will Forte), Velma (Gina Rodriguez), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), and Fred (Zac Efron) getting mixed up in a further-reaching mystery than usual, featuring several other less immediately recognizable Hanna-Barbera characters—and supposedly intended to jumpstart an animated cinematic universe. It’s a little bittersweet, then, that the character’s first fully animated movie intended for the big screen (there were two live-action/animated hybrids in the early 2000s) is now heading straight to VOD, thanks to that meddling coronavirus. At least stir-crazy families can enjoy the kid’s-first-horror-thriller adventure at home—and, fingers crossed, maybe a few spooky drive-ins that aren’t really being haunted by a popcorn zombie.
Virtual theaters May 15
There’s no shortage of films about waning twentysomething friendships. But this drama from NYC filmmaker and critic Dan Sallitt (The Unspeakable Act) approaches that familiar subject matter with intelligence and ambition, chronicling roughly a decade in the life of a self-destructive social worker (Norma Kuhling) and the middle-school bestie (Tallie Medel) starting to wonder how healthy their long-term relationship really is. The lead performances are superb; the nuances of both will come through clearly on the small screen.
Like Our Mothers, here’s a festival favorite about a young person on a journey and the dad they never knew. In this first feature from writer-director Ena Sendijarevic, the character is a Dutch teenager (Sara Luna Zoric) of Bosnian descent, traveling to meet her father on his deathbed. The film won a special award at last year’s Rotterdam International Film Festival, where The Hollywood Reporter called it “a distinctive and ultimately quite promising debut.”
Originally set to premiere at SXSW, Paramount’s Issa Rae-Kumail Nanjiani vehicle The Lovebirds was unceremoniously pushed out of the nest by the festival’s cancellation in early March. Now the film has found a safe place to nest at Netflix; it joins a growing subgenre of action-comedies, à la Date Night and Keeping Up With The Joneses, about ordinary, bored couples suddenly thrust into extraordinary life-and-death circumstances.
Despite the rather fatalistic ending to their last bickering jaunt across a picturesque European country, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back for more wining, dining, and celebrity impressions in the fourth installment of their improbable Trip franchise. The destination this time is Greece, as the two comedians—playing themselves, as always—retrace the steps of Odysseus, presumably while gorging on the most lovingly prepared and filmed regional cuisine this side of a Travel Channel special. Spain largely exhausted the novelty of The Trip’s comic premise, but maybe there’s extra vicarious pleasure to be had watching two old friends sit next each other, eat at restaurants, and enjoy the splendor of the outdoors on vacation.
This spirited blend of food porn and quirky biography was received at last year’s SXSW like a bowl of homemade guacamole and a basket of freshly fried chips. Not that it’s necessarily to the taste of its 97-year-old subject: Kennedy, a self-proclaimed “gastro-anthropologist” who reinvented herself as an expert on Mexican cuisine after moving to Mexico City in 1957, is known for her hard-nosed approach to both cooking and life. Kennedy’s love for traditional foodways and environmental causes inform what early reviews describe as a cheerful portrait—and, perhaps predictably, one that’s reluctant to engage with questions of cultural appropriation that have emerged since her heyday.
When you think 1950s New Mexico, what comes to mind? The obvious answer is the correct one for director Andrew Patterson’s debut feature, which plays off of the midcentury fascination with both analog technology and unidentified flying objects for an innovative take on a classic sci-fi setup that’s indebted to old-fashioned radio plays. Emerging out of nowhere at last year’s ultra-indie Slamdance Film Festival, The Vast Of Night is a very auspicious genre debut; even if aliens aren’t really your thing, it’s worth a watch, just so you can say you were hip to Patterson before he hit the big leagues.
May almost always begins with a Marvel movie, but not this year—the Scar-Jo-starring prequel Black Widow has moved to November, effectively pushing back all other titles in the latest phase of the MCU. F9, the other guaranteed blockbuster originally slated to open this month, has moved even further out; the Fast & Furious family won’t reconvene until April 2 of next year. While Scoob! has moved from the big screen to the small one with a digital release, kids will have to wait on the latest feature-length adventure of a different cartoon hero, as The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge On The Run has been rescheduled to hit theaters (assuming they’re open) on August 7. The Saw series will not continue in May, as its latest entry, Spiral, starring Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson, has vacated its slot on the calendar, with no word yet on when it will now open. Likewise, Joe Wright’s psychological thriller The Woman In The Window, as well as two prestige English-class adaptations: the Noël Coward comedy Blithe Spirit (starring Isla Fisher, Dan Stevens, and Judi Dench) and Armando Iannucci’s warp-speed rendition of Dickens’ The Personal History Of David Copperfield, with Dev Patel in the title role. (Another Patel project, David Lowery’s King Arthur gloss The Green Knight, is still on the calendar for May 29, though that seems like wishful thinking at this point.)