Ten New Movies You Can Watch in May That Have Been Fast-Tracked from Cinemas to Streaming
Including an exceptional horror movie, multiple Oscar-winners, big blockbusters and Nicolas Cage's latest.
Under normal circumstances, when a new-release movie starts playing in cinemas, audiences can't watch it on streaming, video on demand, DVD or blu-ray for a few months. But with the pandemic forcing film industry to make quite a few changes over the past year — widespread movie theatre closures will do that — that's no longer always the case.
Perhaps you haven't had time to make it to your local cinema lately. Given the hefty amount of films now releasing each week, maybe you missed something. Or, you could be under lockdown — again. Whichever applies, that doesn't mean we aren't eager to see the latest flicks.
Film distributors have been fast-tracking some of their recent releases from cinemas to streaming lately — movies that might still be playing in theatres in some parts of the country, too. In preparation for your next couch session, here's ten you can watch right now at home.
If humanity ever managed to cure or circumvent death — or even just stop being despairingly afraid of our own mortality — the horror genre would immediately feel the difference. Lives are frequently in peril in films that are meant to spook and frighten. Fears of dying underscore everything from serial killer thrillers and body horror flicks to stories of zombies, ghosts and vampires, too. Indeed, if a scary movie isn't pondering the fact that our days are inescapably finite, it's often contemplating our easily damaged and destroyed anatomy. Or, it's recognising that our species' darkest urges can bring about brutal and fatal repercussions, or noting that the desperation to avoid our expiration dates can even spark our demise. Accordingly, Saint Maud's obsession with death isn't a rarity in an ever-growing genre that routinely serves it up, muses on it and makes audiences do the same whether they always realise it or not. In an immensely crowded realm, this striking, instantly unsettling feature debut by British writer/director Rose Glass definitely stands out, though.
Bumps, jumps, shocks and scares come in all manner of shapes and sizes, as do worries and anxieties about the end that awaits us all. In Saint Maud, they're a matter of faith. The eponymous in-home nurse (Dracula and His Dark Materials' Morfydd Clark) has it. She has enough to share, actually, which she's keen to do daily. Maud is devoted to three things: Christianity, helping those in her care physically and saving them spiritually. Alas, her latest cancer-stricken patient doesn't hold the same convictions, or appreciate them. Amanda (Jennifer Ehle, Vox Lux) isn't fond of Maud's fixation on her salvation or her strict judgements about her lifestyle. She knows her time is waning, her body is failing and that she needs Maud's help, but the celebrated ex-dancer and choreographer does not want to go gently or faithfully in that good night. Instead, she'd much prefer the solace that sex and alcohol brings over her palliative care nurse's intensely devout zeal.
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH
The last time that Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield appeared in the same film, Get Out was the end result. Their shared scene in Jordan Peele's Oscar-winning horror movie isn't easily forgotten (if you've seen the feature, it will have instantly popped into your head while you're reading this), and neither is Judas and the Black Messiah, their next exceptional collaboration. With Kaluuya starring as the Black Panther Party's Illinois Chairman Fred Hampton and Stanfield playing William O'Neal, the man who infiltrated his inner circle as an informant for the FBI, the pair is still tackling race relations. Here, though, the duo does so in a ferocious historical drama set in the late 60s. The fact that O'Neal betrays Hampton isn't a spoiler; it's a matter of fact, and the lens through which writer/director Shaka King (Newlyweeds) and his co-scribes Kenneth Lucas, Keith Lucas (actors on Lady Dynamite) and Will Berson (Scrubs) view the last period of Hampton's life. The magnetic Kaluuya has already won a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe for his performance, and is bound to be nominated for and likely win an Oscar as well — and if he wants to keep acting opposite Stanfield in movies this invigorating, ardent, resonant and essential, audiences won't complain.
It's 1966 when O'Neal falls afoul of the law for trying to impersonate an FBI agent to steal a vehicle. With J Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen, Grace and Frankie) directing his employees to "prevent the rise of a 'messiah' who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement" — his real-life words — the car thief is offered a deal by actual FBI Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons, I'm Thinking of Ending Things). If O'Neal cosies up to Hampton, then reports back on his comings, goings, political moves and general plans, he'll avoid jail. Initially apprehensive, he acquiesces to keep his freedom. With Hampton's raging speeches earning him a firm following, and his charisma and canny strategies broadening the crowds hanging on his words, O'Neal's task isn't minor. And the further he ingratiates himself into Hampton's confidence, becoming his head of security, the more he's torn about keeping tabs and doing the government's increasingly nefarious bidding. This isn't just a story about one young Black man coerced into bringing down a rising leader and revolutionary, however. It's also a tale about the figure who mobilised the masses as Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X had, until he was shot while he slept at the age of just 21. And, it's an account of the powers-that-be's abject fear of progress, equality, and the crusaders willing to put their lives on the line to fight for justice and a better world.
GODZILLA VS KONG
Given that neither of Godzilla vs Kong's towering titans are truly terrors, and therefore neither should really emerge victorious over the other, getting them to face off seems pointless. "They're both big, so they can't get along" is the simplistic concept. This isn't a new train of thought, or new to the American-made Monsterverse that's been nudging the beasts closer together for seven years. Thankfully, in the hands of You're Next and The Guest director Adam Wingard, Godzilla vs Kong has as much in common with its superior Japanese predecessors as it does with 2019's terrible Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The follow-up to 2017's Kong: Skull Island, too, this new battle of the behemoths doesn't remake the duo's first screen showdown in 1962's King Kong vs Godzilla. And, sadly, it hasn't ditched the current Hollywood flicks' love of unexciting human characters. But it crucially recognises that watching its titular creatures go claw-to-paw should be entertaining. It should be a spectacle, in fact. The film also realises that if you're not going to make a movie about this pair with much in the way of substance, then you should go all out on the action and fantasy fronts. In other words, Godzilla vs Kong feels like the product of a filmmaker who loves the Japanese Godzilla flicks and Kong's maiden appearance, knows he can't do them justice thematically, but is determined to get what he can right.
Wingard is still saddled with a flimsy script with a tin ear for dialogue by screenwriters Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok) and Max Borenstein (Kong: Skull Island), but his massive monster melees are a delight. Also welcome: Godzilla vs Kong's eagerness to lean into its genre. When it surrenders to its pixels, and to a tale that involves a journey to the centre of the earth, subterranean asteroids, altercations with giant flying lizards and an underground tunnel from Florida to Hong Kong, it's equal parts loopy and fun. That trip to the planet's interior is guided by Kong. Now kept in a dome that simulates the jungle, the jumbo primate is under the watch of researcher Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall, Tales from the Loop), and bonds with Jia (newcomer Kaylee Hottle), the orphan also in the doctor's care. But, after Godzilla surfaces for the first time in three years to attack tech corporation Apex's Miami base, CEO Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir, Chaos Walking) enlists geologist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård, The Stand) on a mission. Testing the latter's hollow earth theory, they plan to track down an energy source that could be linked to both Zilly and Kong's existence — if Kong will lead them there. In a plot inclusion that'd do Scooby Doo proud, teenager Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown, returning from King of the Monsters) and her classmate Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) are certain that Apex is up to no good and — with podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry, Superintelligence) — start meddling.
Frances McDormand is a gift of an actor. Point a camera her way, and a performance so rich that it feels not just believable but tangible floats across the screen. That's true whether she's playing overt or understated characters, or balancing those two extremes. In Fargo, the first film that earned her an Oscar, McDormand is distinctive but grounded, spouting midwestern phrases like "you betcha" but inhabiting her part with texture and sincerity. In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, her next Academy Award-winning role, she's an impassioned mother crusading for justice and vengeance, and she ripples with deep-seated sorrow mixed with anger so fiery that it may as well be burning away her insides. Now, in Nomadland, McDormand feels stripped bare and still a commanding force to be reckoned with. She's tasked with a plucky but struggling part — defiant and determined, too; knocked around by life's ups and downs, noticeably; and, crucially, cognisant that valuing the small pleasures is the hardest but most rewarding feat. It earned her another Oscar nomination. It saw her nab a third shiny statuette just three years after her last, too. Along with the attention the movie received at the Golden Globes, both are highly deserved outcomes because hers is an exceptional performance, and this was easily 2020's best film.
Here, leading a cast that also includes real people experiencing the existence that's fictionalised within the narrative, she plays the widowed, van-dwelling Fern — a woman who takes to the road, and to the nomad life, after the small middle-America spot where she spent her married years turns into a ghost town when the local mine is shuttered due to the global financial crisis. A slab of on-screen text explains her predicament, with the film then jumping into the aftermath. Following her travels over the course of more than a year, this humanist drama serves up an observational portrait of those that society happily overlooks. It's both deeply intimate and almost disarmingly empathetic in the process, as every movie made by Chloe Zhao is. This is only the writer/director's third, slotting in after 2015's Songs My Brothers Taught Me and 2017's The Rider but before 2021's Marvel flick Eternals, but it's a feature of contemplative and authentic insights into the concepts of home, identity and community. Meticulously crafted, shot and performed, it truly sees everyone in its frames, be they fictional or real. Nomandland understands their plights, and ensures its audience understands them as well. It's exquisitely layered, because its protagonist, those around her and their lives earn the same term — and Zhao never forgets that, or lets her viewers either.
If you've ever wondered how Nicolas Cage might've fared during cinema's silent era, Willy's Wonderland has the answer. A horror film about killer animatronic restaurant mascots, it's firmly a 2021 feature. It wasn't made a century ago, before synchronised sound forever changed the movie business, so it's definitely a talkie as well. Cage doesn't do any chattering, however. He groans and growls, and often, but doesn't utter a single word. The actor's many devotees already know that he's a talent with presence; whether he's cavorting in the streets under the delusion that he's a bloodsucker in Vampire's Kiss, grinning with his locks flowing in the wind in Con Air, dousing himself with vodka and grunting in Mandy or staring at a vibrant light in Color Out of Space, he repeatedly makes an imprint without dialogue. So, the inimitable star needn't speak to command attention — which is exactly the notion that Willy's Wonderland filmmaker Kevin Lewis (The Third Nail) put to the test.
First, the great and obvious news: Cage doesn't seem to put in much effort, but he's a joy to watch. Playing a man simply known as The Janitor, he glowers like he couldn't care less that furry robots are trying to kill him. He swaggers around while cleaning the titular long-abandoned Chuck E Cheese-esque establishment, dances while hitting the pinball machine on his breaks, swigs soft drink as if it's the only beverage in the world and proves mighty handy with a mop handle when it comes to dispensing with his supernaturally demonic foes. Somehow, though, he's never as OTT as he could be. Cage plays a character who doesn't deem it necessary to convey his emotions, and that results in more restraint on his part than the film demonstrates with its undeniably silly premise. Accordingly, cue the bad news: as entertaining as Cage's wordless performance is — even without completely going for broke as only he can — Willy's Wonderland is often a ridiculous yet routine slog.
THE LAST VERMEER
Dutch artists Johannes Vermeer and Han van Meegeren picked up their brushes more than two centuries apart. Mention the latter, though, and you need to mention the former. Just why that's the case makes for a fascinating tale, as The Last Vermeer tells — one filled with twists, subterfuge, investigations, a trial and post-World War II efforts to punish anyone who conspired with the Nazis. Directed by producer turned first-time helmer Dan Friedkin (All the Money in the World, The Mule), and adapted from Jonathan Lopez's 2008 book The Man Who Made Vermeers, The Last Vermeer relays the Hollywood version of the story, of course. Big speeches and massaged details consequently abound. Attention-grabbing performances jump across this cinematic canvas, too, with Guy Pearce (Bloodshot) resembling Geoffrey Rush as van Meegeren and Claes Bang (Dracula) adding his third recent art-centric feature to his resume after The Square and The Burnt Orange Heresy. There's enough here to keep viewers interested, as there should be given the real-life basis, cast and handsome staging, but this is the type of film that's nicer to look at than to dive into. Its subject: art forgery, a topic that leaves an imprint beyond the movie's narrative. The Last Vermeer doesn't steal from elsewhere, but it also sinks into a well-populated list of other dramas about art and the war (see also: The Monuments Men and Woman in Gold ) far too easily and generically than a feature about this specific tale should.
Bang plays Dutch Jewish officer Captain Joseph Piller, who is tasked with hunting down artworks illegally sold to the Nazis during the war and bringing everyone responsible to justice. That leads him to Christ and the Adulteress, a piece credited to Vermeer but found after his death — and to van Meegeren, the man who is suspected of selling it to key Nazi figure Hermann Göring in the world's biggest art sale at the time. Turning on the rakish charisma even when he's being interrogated by Piller and his offsider (Roland Møller, The Commuter), van Meegeren denies the accusation. Piller isn't convinced, but then police detective Alex De Klerks (August Diehl, A Hidden Life) tries to take over the case. Soon, van Meegeren has been secreted away, is painting while in hiding and, when eventually charged and brought to court, offers an astonishing theory. Also arising in The Last Vermeer: an exploration of the costs of and sacrifices involved in surviving wartime, although Friedkin and screenwriters John Orloff (Anonymous), Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (The Expanse) happily stick to the surface as they do elsewhere. As a mystery, the film suitably zigs and zags. As a courtroom drama, it boasts stirring moments. But, as well as wasting Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) in a thankless part, The Last Vermeer is never more than passable.
If there are any words that absolutely no one wants to see when they're watching a COVID-19-inspired movie, it's these: produced by Michael Bay. The filmmaker who gave cinema the Bad Boys franchise and five Transformers flicks isn't behind the lens of Songbird, but writer/director Adam Mason and his frequent co-scribe Simon Boyes (Hangman) have clearly mainlined Bay's work, then decided to use its worst traits as a how-to manual. Set in 2024, when a virulent mutation of the coronavirus known as COVID-23 is on the loose, their tactless thriller is gimmicky and misguided at best. It's derivative, dull and has a plot that's so stale it really should also feature a tornado full of sharks, too. Wondering what might happen if the pandemic was even more horrendous and tragic than it is — and if America's handling of it, as based on 2020's response at least, was skewed even further towards corporate interests and the rich — the film decides to opt for quarantine concentration camps and a gestapo-like sanitation department. When it's not tastelessly taking cues from the holocaust to supposedly turn a shattering event the world is still experiencing into entertainment, it also attempts to tell a Romeo and Juliet-style love story about a couple separated by lockdown. And, if you've ever wondered what might happen if a Bay wannabe remade David Lynch's Blue Velvet, Bradley Whitford's (The Handmaid's Tale) role as an oxygen-huffing record executive preying on a young singer (Alexandra Daddario, Baywatch) answers that question as well.
Bicycle courier Nico (KJ Apa, Riverdale) is resistant to COVID-23, and has an immunity bracelet to prove it; however, his girlfriend Sara (Sofia Carson, Feel the Beat) and her grandmother (Elpidia Carrillo, Euphoria) aren't so lucky. The coveted wristwear can be bought on the black market, though, which is why Nico is trying to make as much cash as he can working for delivery kingpin Lester (Craig Robinson, Dolemite Is My Name). The obvious happens, of course, sending unhinged sanitation head Emmett Harland (Peter Stormare, John Wick: Chapter 2) to Sara's building — and putting a deadline on Nico's quest, which wealthy couple William (Whitfield) and Piper Griffin (Demi Moore, Rough Night) might be able to assist with. The latter are also meant to be a picture of stay-at-home disharmony, all while trying to protect their immunocompromised daughter Emma (Lia McHugh, The Lodge) from anything outside their sprawling mansion. A PTSD-afflicted ex-veteran (Paul Walter Hauser, Richard Jewell) who flies drones to experience life beyond his walls also forms part of the story, although not a single character is given enough flesh to make viewers care about their plight. Even only clocking in at 84 minutes, this thoroughly unsubtle and exploitative film overstays its welcome — and the fact that it's shot and edited like Bay's glossiest and most bombastic action fare doesn't help.
No one enjoys watching someone else mash buttons. While it's a passable way to spend a few minutes, losing interest quickly simply comes with the territory. That's how viewing Mortal Kombat feels as well, except that watching your friends play any of the martial arts video game franchise's 22 different arcade and console titles since 1992 (or any game at all) would be far more entertaining. Shot in South Australia and marking the feature debut of filmmaker Simon McQuoid, the latest attempt to bring the popular series to the big screen — following a first try in 1995 and a sequel in 1997 — feels like watching cosplay, too. The movie's cast literally dresses up in the outfits needed to recreate the game's characters, of course, but the film shouldn't so overtly resemble fans donning costumes at a pop culture convention. And yet, Mortal Kombat evokes this situation from the moment its 17th century Japan-set prologue, which is also its best scene, comes to an end. After establishing a mythic and bloody backstory for the movie's narrative as a whole, the character that'll become an undead ninja ghost called Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada, Westworld) and his prophecised descendants, this B-grade flick is happy to, in fact. It's not just the violence that's cartoonish here; it's every glare exchanged and word uttered, with much of the script trading in cliches, dramatic pauses and catchphrases.
Mortal Kombat's gaming fanbase may be eager to see their beloved characters given flesh and blood, face off against each other and spout lines that usually emanate from a much smaller screen, but that doesn't make a movie engaging. Nor can a flimsy screenplay by first-timer Greg Russo and Wonder Woman 1984's Dave Callaham, which follows the battle between Earthrealm and Outworld — one that'll be lost by the former if an MMA fighter named Cole Young (Lewis Tan, Wu Assassins), who bears a dragon birthmark, doesn't team up with the other figures with the same marking to stop humanity from losing for the tenth time. That's where the no-nonsense Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee, Black Water: Abyss) comes in, and also the grating, wisecracking Kano (Josh Lawson, Long Story Short). The villainous Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim, Warrior) might be threatening to freeze all of earth's champions so that Outworld's Shang Tsung (Chin Han, Skyscraper) can rig the tournament before it even happens, but Mortal Kombat still has time — and far too much of it — to spend pondering supernatural destinies and letting an over-acting, always grating Lawson mug for attempted laughs. The end result is intentionally ridiculous, and presumably unintentionally dull, all while setting up an unearned sequel. And although brutal enough amidst the silliness for an R rating, even the film's fight scenes merely go through the motions, especially given the heights that films like The Raid and John Wick have scaled in with their eye-popping action choreography over the past decade.
Adapted from the book series of the same name, Chaos Walking has weathered a difficult path to cinemas. The tedious and generic space western releases ten years after the rights to turn Patrick Ness' novels into films were first acquired, four years since the movie was originally shot and two years after major reshoots following unfavourable test screenings. It went through a plethora of rewrites, too, with I'm Thinking of Ending Things' Charlie Kaufman on scripting duties at one point, and Ness (A Monster Calls) and Spider-Man: Homecoming's Christopher Ford getting the final credit. Navigating such a mess rarely bodes well for a movie, so the fact that Chaos Walking proves dull and derivative shouldn't come as a surprise. Even with its cast filled with impressive talent, and with Edge of Tomorrow filmmaker Doug Liman begin the lens, it's hard to see how it might've fared better, with its premise an instant struggle. Set in 2257, the film follows colonists from earth on a planet called New World, who are plagued by a strange phenomenon. A multi-coloured haze hovers around men's heads — and only men — showing their every thought. The sensation has been dubbed 'the noise', and experiencing it while watching sure is rackety. Indeed, 'noise' is the absolute right word for the entire movie.
In his pioneer village, teenager Todd (Tom Holland, The Devil All the Time) can rarely control his noise. While the Mayor (Mads Mikkelsen, Another Round) is able to filter the words and images that project from his mind — and also rock a furry red coat and wide-brimmed hat far better than anyone should — few others have the same ability. Seeing what everyone is thinking is a tricky way to live at the best of times, and it applies to the entire population, because women have been wiped out in a war attributed to the planet's original inhabitants. But Todd's troubles multiply when he discovers a spaceship, as well as Viola (Daisy Ridley, Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker), its sole surviving occupant. The mayor and his followers don't take kindly to the first female in their midst for years; however, supported by his adoptive fathers Ben (Demian Bichir, The Midnight Sky) and Cillian (Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter), Todd isn't willing to surrender the only girl he's ever seen to an angry mob. Cue a tale of toxic masculinity that dates back to 2008, when first instalment The Knife of Never Letting Go hit bookshelves, and feels timely in the current social, political and cultural climate. That said, this isn't a complex, layered or thoughtful film. Instead, it's content to stress its themes in such a broad and easy manner that getting Holland to hold up a sign saying "the patriarchy is bad" would've been more subtle. Indeed, Chaos Walking really just uses these notions as a backdrop for a predictable and formulaic dystopian story, and as a handy reason to motivate its conflicts, in a movie that plays like a hodgepodge of far better sci-fi and western fare.
TOM & JERRY
Before Itchy and Scratchy started terrorising each other well beyond the bounds of normal cat and mouse antagonism, another feline and rodent pair got there first. Of course, The Simpsons' adversarial four-legged critters were designed to parody the characters created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera more than 80 years ago, but they've long since supplanted Tom and Jerry as popular culture's go-to fighting animal duo. Perhaps the new Tom & Jerry movie is an attempt to push its titular creatures back to prominence. Perhaps it's just the latest effort to cash in on nostalgia while hoping that a new generation of children will be interested enough to warrant more big-screen outings, and therefore more chances to make some cash. Watching this all-ages-friendly hybrid of cartoon and live-action, it doesn't seem as if anyone involved knows quite why the film exists — not director Tom Story (Ride Along and Ride Along 2), who cares more about stressing the feature's hip hop soundtrack than paying much attention to its eponymous figures; not screenwriter Kevin Costello (Brigsby Bear), who pens a dull and derivative script about celebrity wedding chaos; and definitely not a cast that spans Chloë Grace Moretz (Shadow in the Cloud), Michael Peña (Fantasy Island), Rob Delaney (Catastrophe), Ken Jeong (Boss Level), Colin Jost (Saturday Night Live) and Pallavi Sharda (Retrograde), all of whom will forever have this misfire on their resumes.
The animated animal action starts with Tom's latest vendetta against his long-time rival Jerry, after the latter destroys the former's keyboard and his music stardom dreams along with it. In his quest for revenge, the cat follows the house-hunting mouse to his newest abode at Manhattan's upmarket Royal Gate hotel, where the pair soon wreak havoc. Story and Costello prefer to focus on the resourceful and human Kayla (Moretz) at almost every turn, though. After talking her way into a job onsite, she's soon given two important tasks. The first: help ensure that the nuptials of two nondescript celebs (Jost and Sharda) go smoothly, which of course doesn't happen. The second: track down Jerry, which involves hiring Tom to assist. Somehow, Tom & Jerry is both lazy and overcomplicated. It does the bare minimum with its flesh-and-blood and pixel characters alike, all while completely forgetting that viewers have always loved Tom and Jerry for its fast, smart and entertaining slapstick antics (and definitely not because one day the duo might become bit-players in yet another flick about bland wedding dramas). When the film starts with pigeons rapping A Tribe Called Quest's 'Can I Kick It?' in its entirety, it begs an obvious question: who is this for? No one that's brought this movie to fruition seems to know the answer there, either — and they certainly haven't expended any energy on trying to make the feature funny, because laughs are absent from start to finish.
Published on May 27, 2021 by Sarah Ward