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New Movies, Direct to You

Hope Madden Hope Madden New Movies, Direct to YouPhoto via IMDb
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What are you watching with all your new spare time? Because the cinematic landscape is shifting sand underfoot right now. Some independent films slated for release this spring have opted to skip theatrical and move directly to streaming, like one really solid biopic you can catch Friday.

Other studio films—the ones with truncated theatrical releases due to the epidemic—will jump straight to your screens for an elevated price rather than queuing up behind all those other movies that had their time on the big screen. Some of them are even worth the money. And then there are those movies we already knew were supposed to be made available this week, and a lot of those are exceptional.

So, in cases you’ve tired of The Office reruns and are looking to catch something new, here’s a rundown.

Resistance

by George Wolf

New independent feature skipping its theatrical run and streaming Friday.

In the opening minutes of Resistance, a young Jewish girl asks her parents, “Why do they hate us?”

Then, just before the end credits, stark onscreen text reminds us of the magnitude of Nazi atrocities, and just how much of that was inflicted on children.

And during the nearly two hours in between, writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz tells an incredible story you probably don’t know about an iconic figure you most likely do.

Legendary mime Marcel Marceau was born Marcel Mangel. And while taking a stage name is hardly unusual, Mangel’s motivation was: joining the French Resistance and helping save thousands of children orphaned by the Nazis in WWII.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as Marceau, and it’s a perfect vehicle for his offbeat strengths as an actor. Though Eisenberg’s French accent is shaky (he’s not alone), he nails the layers most important to making Marceau’s astonishing arc an authentic one.

Early on, Marceau is afraid of his father’s reaction to his ambitions on the stage, and seems most interested in entertaining children as a way to impress the lovely Emma (Clemence Poesy).

Eisenberg may never be an action hero, but his delicate, appeasing nature is a valuable tool for Jakubowicz to subtly reinforce how the Nazi threat was (and still is?) underestimated. Marceau’s hardening edges are never overplayed by Eisenberg, just as Jakubowicz wisely steers clear of any overt, Life is Beautiful sentimentality between Marceau and the children he is trying to shield from the horrors of war.

Indeed, the film is at its most gripping when juxtaposing the touching and the profane. Gentle moments appear and are quickly countered, never betraying the ever-present threat often personified by the sadistic Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighofer). Marceau and Barbie’s face-to-face meeting – historically accurate or not – is played with fine cinematic tension, demonstrating a passion and assured vision often lacking in Jakubowicz’s 2016 feature debut, Hands of Stone.

Marceau ultimately gave his first major performance in front of thousands of WWII troops. And although framing his story around a speech from General George S. Patton (Ed Harris) seems a bit misplaced, it also feels born of the sincere desire to convey the depth of Marceau’s heroism.

Resistance is a film built with passion and sincerity, employing a story that will be new for most of us to deliver a timely reminder meant for all of us.

Grade: B+

Birds of Prey

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Direct from theaters to home entertainment for about $20.

Here is a film that inexplicably bombed at the box office, which means you probably didn’t see it. Now is your chance to remedy that situation.

Harley (Margot Robbie, positively electric) tells us she and the Joker are done, and she didn’t take it well. What’s worse, Harley’s new relationship status means anyone in Gotham who’d like her dead (and there’s plenty) doesn’t have to worry about payback from “Mr. J.”

But Gotham has no shortage of talented women fed up with being kept down, and Harley tends to attract them. The vocally gifted Black Canary (June Smollett-Bell), the deadly mysterious Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, scene-stealingly deadpan) and the conveniently suspended Detective Montoya (Rosie Perez, nice to see you) all find themselves on the wrong end of a sizable bounty, and things get messy.

The badass girl power isn’t limited to the cast. Director Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs) serves up an irresistible cocktail of Scott Pilgrim visual flair and Tarantino continuity clash. Yan seems to relish the freedom of an R-rating, crafting memorable set pieces bursting with slick fight choreography, cartoonishly satisfying violence and wonderfully stylish pandemonium.

Grade: B+

Also direct from theaters at $20(ish)

  • Bloodshot: C-
  • The Gentlemen: C+
  • The Way Back (not reviewed)
  • I Still Believe: D+

1917

by George Wolf

Making its normally timed, normally priced jump to home entertainment.

Taking inspiration from the past, director Sam Mendes has crafted an immaculate exercise in technical wonder, passionate vision and suddenly vital reminders.

The inherent gamble in crafting a film via one extended take – or the illusion of it – lies in the final cut existing as little more than a gimmick, spurring a ‘spot the edit’ challenge that eclipses the narrative.

1917 clears that hurdle in the first five minutes. Mendes dedicates the film to the stories told by his grandfather, and it stands thick with the humanity of bravery and sacrifice that ultimately prevailed through the most hellish of circumstances.

It’s an unforgettable and exhausting trip, immediately joining the ranks of the finest war movies ever made.

Grade: A

Clemency

by Hope Madden

Also making its normally timed, normally priced jump to home entertainment.

Here is another film woefully underseen during its theatrical run. Alfre Woodard delivers an astonishing lead turn as a prison warden dealing with inmates on death row.

The thing writer/director Chinonye Chukwu gets most right in this film is an overwhelming sense of responsibility and grief, and it’s a tough line to toe. If Chukwu hits the right notes here, it’s Woodard who sings. This journeyman has played just about everything across her four decades in the business, and she brings a palpable sense of hard-won wisdom to this role.

The film is essentially a character study, and one of a character determined not to discuss or betray her feelings. That’s a tough nut to crack because you have to let the audience know what’s going on without telling us anything at all. More than that, what Woodard has to convey is far beyond the scope of what anyone in the audience can really understand. And yet, she succeeds poignantly.

Grade: A-

Also in traditionally priced new home entertainment:

  • The Grudge: D+
  • The Song of Names: D

Read more from George and Hope at MADDWOLF and listen to their horror movie podcast, FRIGHT CLUB.

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