COVID-19’s effect on the movie theater industry was already palpable last weekend, when cases of the virus were comparatively minimal. While most movie theaters were open for business, audiences nationwide were exercising caution: Box office numbers were their lowest in 20 years. Major releases like “A Quiet Place II,” scheduled for March 20, were withdrawn and, like virtually every form of discretionary entertainment, most theaters have now shuttered. Rotten Tomatoes quickly modified its homepage to remove its “In Theaters” listings, another sign of these surreal times.
Instead, visitors to the movie-review aggregator are instead invited to check out the top streaming titles. In a similar vein, we’re adapting our own movie coverage to reflect a region, and a nation, of home shelterers. The gold standard of movie-watching may be on pause for the foreseeable future, but with thousands of films available at the touch of a button, we are living in an unprecedented land of cinematic plenty. Periodically here on bocamag.com, I’ll explore the limitless potential of the streaming-verse—starting today with previews of the newest titles on Netflix and Amazon for this month.
True-crime docudrama is Netflix’s bread and butter, and this adaptation of Robert Kolker’s award-winning book is sure to be one of the platform’s biggest hits this month. Amy Ryan stars as a mom on a relentless quest to find her missing prostitute daughter, in the process discovering a serial killer who preys on Craigslist escorts. Gabriel Byrne and Thomasin McKenzie co-star; the movie also features a new Lucinda Williams song. Director Liz Garbus comes from the documentary world, so the story’s authenticity is in good hands.
Want more of the stratified class warfare of “Parasite?” How about the dietary horror of “The Human Centipede” and the prison politics of “Oz?” This latest genre flick about food insecurity amid the haves and have-nots imagines a dystopian penitentiary where only the highest floors have their fill of a limitless bounty of food—and only the lower floors can live off their scraps. A Spanish-language import (Netflix dubs it into English as the default), this one’s not for the faint of heart.
Hungarian-born director Michael Curtiz was a fixture of the old Hollywood studio system, directing no less than 102 films. The His crown jewel remains “Casablanca,” widely acknowledged as one of the greatest films of all-time. Sadly, it’s not on Netflix, but inquiring viewers can learn a good deal about its making by screening “Cutiz,” a sleek black-and-white biopic about the director’s struggles to make this politically charged movie in the midst of World War II. To be honest, I’ve always considered Curtiz’s style to be anonymous—he was more director-for-hire than artist—but perhaps this picture well shed new light on his contributions and passions.
A film for anyone who has risked disappointing his or her family by choosing a different path than the one envisioned for them, “Uncorked” follows the unlikely journey of a young African-American man, destined to take over his father’s thriving middle-class barbecue restaurant, who endeavors instead to become a master sommelier, as part of an elite and overwhelmingly white cohort. Not since “Sideways” and “Bottle Shock” will wine nerds have this much fun at the movies. Mamoudou Athie, Courtney B. Vance and Niecy Nash star.
Blow the Man Down
Women run the show in this Prime original about sisters whose involvement in the death of an unsavory man makes waves in a Maine fishing village. “Blow the Man Down,” which takes its name from a sea shanty, is rife with quirky accents and local color; this, along with its unsparing violence, has earned laudatory comparisons to another chilly neo-noir, “Fargo.” Cast with delectable characters actors—June Squibb and Margo Martindale among them—it currently stands proud at 100 percent on RT.
The second remake of Stephen King’s seminal 1983 horror novel modernizes the details but keeps the general conceit: A doctor and his family move to a picturesque property in the Maine woods that just happens to abut a pet cemetery where deceased canines and creepily masked children are just the beginning of their troubles. Don’t expect a masterpiece—the cheap jump-scares in the trailer tell you what kind of horror film this is—but it’s got John Lithgow, and it’ll introduce new viewers to the original novel.
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot
One of the foul-mouthed darlings of American independent cinema in the ‘90s, Kevin Smith returns to his niche, reprising his role of Silent Bob alongside Jay, the perennially adolescent stoner played by Jason Mewes. This self-referential riff is written and directed almost exclusively for Kevin Smith cultists; its plot consists of the title characters trekking to Hollywood to prevent a reboot of Smith’s 2011 feature “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” which is exactly what this new movie is. But the supporting cast, full of characters from Smith’s View Askewniverse and beyond, is breathtaking, and is not limited to Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Craig Robinson, Val Kilmer, Tommy Chong, Fred Armisen, Molly Shannon, Rosario Dawson and Adam Brody.