In what’s shaping up to be the strangest weekend yet since the coronavirus outbreak forced American theaters to close, the biggest release is Beyoncé’s visual album, “Black Is King,” a visionary feature-length companion to her 2019 album, in the tradition of “Lemonade.”
A number of studio movies — including Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” — had tentatively planted their flag on July 31, only to delay amid the latest spike of infections. But the strategy is changing lately, as Russell Crowe road-rage thriller “Unhinged” moves forward with its release … abroad. (Read the review of the movie, which opened in the U.K. today, here. If all goes well, the movie will open Aug. 21 in the States.) Now “Tenet” and other titles are weighing a similar international-first strategy.
That leaves U.S. audiences with two very different options: Buy a ticket and fly abroad to see the tentpoles you’re missing (assuming foreign nations let Americans enter the country), or make do with the virtual releases that remain. In some cases, films are still pushing for limited theatrical releases among the few available screens — mostly drive-ins. Neon is opening Amy Seimetz’s psychological thriller “She Dies Tomorrow” on outdoor screens this week, with on-demand to follow on Aug. 7.
Incidentally, it’s a good week for documentaries. You can learn about the late civil rights legend with “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” which came out earlier this month, or choose from films about how the small town of Paradise, Calif., is recovering from a devastating wildfire (“Rebuilding Paradise”); Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot; or how Lewis’ legacy continues today, via ACLU lawyers in “The Fight.”
Here’s a rundown of those films opening this week that Variety has covered, along with links to where you can watch them. Find more movies and TV shows to stream here.
Black Is King (Beyoncé) Where to Find It: Streaming on Disney Plus Despite its racially charged title, “King” is not just for Black people. It’s also for a society of non-Blacks who have been conditioned to think of people of African descent as being less-than, without their own history and with limited futures. Written and directed by Beyoncé with various collaborators, “Black Is King” reminds us that Black lives didn’t begin in chains. Those came relatively late, but they couldn’t erase a rich and complex past in the motherland. “History is your future,” Beyoncé announces toward the beginning. “One day you will meet yourself back where you started, but stronger.” — Jeremy Helligar Read the full review
The Cuban (Sergio Navarretta) Distributor: Brainstorm Media Where to Find It: Select a virtual cinema to support There are several very mildly cautionary notes sounded in this pleasant, plangent hybrid of culture-clash drama, odd-couple formula and late-life Bucket List bromide. There’s the gentle exhortation not to follow someone else’s dream at the expense of your own. There’s a subtle finger-wag at ageism. And there’s a whole lot about the healing power of music. But the real learning here ought to be that if you cast two such charismatic performers as Louis Gossett Jr. and Shohreh Aghdashloo in your movie, it would be better to clear all the Life Lesson clutter away and just let them get on with it. — Jessica Kiang Read the full review
The Fight (Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli Despres) Distributor: Magnolia Pictures, Topic Studios Where to Find It: Available via an array of video-on-demand services There’s a documentary or 12 to be made about the public being led to believe that their protectors are the problem, or the long history of sticky political smears. Yet “The Fight” is tightly focused on the present day, briefcase-carrying employees of the ACLU prosecuting four pivotal cases against the Trump Administration, during which they’ve filed no fewer than 147 lawsuits. As documentaries go, “The Fight” is a stack of evidence files, not an argument that might sway an audience member’s pre-formed opinion (a struggle many docs face in these polarized days). — Amy Nicholson Read the full review
A Girl Missing (Kôji Fukada) Distributor: Film Movement Where to Find It: Select a virtual cinema to support The intriguing ambiguity suffusing “Harmonium” returns to a certain degree in “A Girl Missing,” but this time the writer-director neglects to reinforce onscreen relationships, resulting in a disappointing and unmoving drama of how a good woman’s life is shattered by keeping quiet. Thankfully, actress Mariko Tsutsui exudes an intriguing off-kilter combination of sympathy and mystery as a visiting nurse whose world is changed drastically when her nephew abducts a girl she’s been mentoring. — Jay Weissberg Read the full review
Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind (Martha Kehoe, Joan Tosoni) Distributor: Greenwich Entertainment Where to Find It: Select a virtual cinema to support In this companionable and highly entertaining documentary about the folk-pop troubadour of Canada, Lightfoot looks like a different person than the wavy-haired preppie cowboy he was in his heyday. He’s a survivor of excess — battles with the bottle, three marriages, plus two other relationships in which he had children (he has six kids in all). Yet he was the kind of obsessive songwriter who turned that trauma into incandescence. — Owen Gleiberman Read the full review
My Dog Stupid (Yvan Attal) Distributor: Distrib Films US Where to Find It: Select a virtual cinema to support “My Dog Stupid” makes the third film through which Attal and wife Charlotte Gainsbourg have shared some version of their offscreen relationship with audiences, and with each, they sand away still more of the mystique that surrounds celebrity couples. Movies about couples so often focus on the moment the two parties fall in love, or else much later, when tragedy or infidelity splits them apart. Here’s an exception that looks in on a married couple when things have grown familiar, and finds truth there. — Peter Debruge Read the full review
Rebuilding Paradise (Ron Howard) Distributor: National Geographic Where to Find It: Available in select theaters and via video-on-demand services In this movie, Howard more or less abandons the classical mode of nonfiction storytelling for a style that’s more loose and random and vérité. We used to refer to fires like this one as “natural disasters,” but the taking-off point for “Rebuilding Paradise” is the perception that they have become, in our time, unnatural disasters. Climate change helped to turn the landscape where Paradise was built into a dry-woods tinderbox. So the fulcrum of the movie is its environmental message: the notion that this kind of community-gutting catastrophe is now happening, all over the world, to a far greater degree than it ever has before. — Owen Gleiberman Read the full review
The Secret: Dare to Dream (Andy Tennant) Distributor: Lionsgate Where to Find It: Available to rent for $19.99 on iTunes and other PVOD services This fictionalized adaptation of author Rhonda Byrne’s popular self-help book “The Secret” traipses through familiar territory without enhancing anyone’s insight. This story, about a financially and emotionally taxed family learning to find light in the darkness and love in chance encounters, is a blundering attempt to hawk books while aping another famous author’s patented style. Littered with confounding clichés and hokey devices, it’s the exact inverse of what a passionate romance should aspire to be, let alone one preaching the power of positivity. — Courtney Howard Read the full review
The Shadow of Violence (Nick Rowland) Distributor: Saban Films Where to Find It: Available in select theaters, with virtual release to follow Sept. 1 While perhaps not distinctive thematically or stylistically enough to score much theatrical export interest, this is a gritty crime drama whose protagonists’ small-town lives are full of woes more typically associated with urbia, and whose hero is a dim-bulb bruiser whose redemption, if any, is going to come hard. Cosmo Jarvis’ performance creates a sympathetic Neanderthal. Likewise, co-stars Barry Keoghan and Ned Dennehy are vividly credible as two bottom-dwellers of the gene pool. — Dennis Harvey Read the full review
She Dies Tomorrow (Amy Seimetz) Distributor: Neon Rated Where to Find It: Now playing in drive-ins, followed by PVOD release Aug. 7 Even if you haven’t experienced one, you might be familiar with the sensation of a panic attack or a supposedly irrational fear like claustrophobia, both of which can suffocate their victims with a feeling of impending death. Once triggered, those internal alarms present a lonely state of being — an alternate plane of existence with its own set of survival rules, hard to describe, even harder to reason with. In this lean, lurid and slow-burning psychodrama, Seimetz ingeniously expresses the feeling of being stuck in such a fugue. — Tomris Laffly Read the full review
Summerland (Jessica Swale) Distributor: IFC Films Where to Find It: Available in select theaters and via video-on-demand services “Summerland” has the well-meaning simplicity of a kids classic, as wholesome as “The Railway Children” given a very light dusting of progressive values. Race is never once mentioned or even alluded to, and the depiction of same-sex passion tops out at a giggly afternoon swim and a very chastely shot kiss in which the mouths are artfully obscured. “Summerland” could not possibly offend anyone, except those expecting a more forthright evocation of the joys and challenges of being a woman in love with another woman in early 20th century Britain. — Jessica Kiang Read the full review
Hater (Jan Komasa) Where to Find It: Streaming on Netflix “The Hater” is a sequel to Oscar nominee Komasa’s 2011 button-pusher “Suicide Room.” In that film, a game of truth or dare inspires a popular high school kid to kiss another guy, an act that’s caught on camera and shared online, driving its emotionally fragile protagonist into a desperate spiral. Something similar happens here, only this time, we experience things from the point of view of the virtual manipulator, Tomasz (Maciej Musiałowski), who uses social media and an ultraviolent role-playing game to carry out his sinister agenda. — Peter Debruge Read the full review
Shine Your eyes (Matias Mariani) Where to Find It: Streaming on Netflix The ragged modernist maze of São Paulo serves as a character in “Shine Your Eyes,” a heady, enveloping narrative debut from Brazilian docmaker Matias Mariani: It’s shown as a place where immigrants come to lose themselves and find themselves in one fell swoop, planting new roots in its geometric concrete cracks. Ostensibly a missing-person drama, following a Nigerian visitor’s winding search for his estranged older brother, “Shine Your Eyes” morphs into something far more elusive and esoteric as the stakes of its central mystery shift. — Guy Lodge Read the full review
Seriously Single (Katleho Ramaphakela, Rethabile Ramaphakela) Where to Find It: Streaming on Netflix