The summer’s a time for event movies like the new Avengers and Mad Max, but they all tend to keep their distance from each other. Like terribly nervous dancers, they don’t want to cut in on anyone else or step on any toes. This means we can have a big weekend one week, and nothing new the next, as every other movie runs away from getting squashed underfoot.
It’s OK – theaters aren’t the only way we watch new movies anymore. I’m going to tell you about 6 new movies accessible via Redbox, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and other streaming and rental services. They’re all very different, but they’re all very good, and chances are you haven’t seen a one:
In The Voices, Ryan Reynolds accidentally turns into a serial killer. He doesn’t mean to, but his cat won’t take no for an answer. You see, Reynolds plays Jerry, who thinks he can speak to animals. While his faithful dog Bosco attempts to keep Jerry on the straight-and-narrow, his cat Mr. Whiskers keeps telling him things like, “The only time I’ve ever felt truly alive is when I’m killing.” Clearly, this film has rare insight into the minds of cats everywhere.
It’s a wacky approach to a comedy about mental illness, but if you can make it past an awkward introduction, The Voices delivers some of the best dark humor in recent years.
Though always funny, it’s also touching and dramatic. In an odd way, the film constructs a metaphor for the voices we each fight in our head – voices that tell us we’re not beautiful or strong or smart enough. We live in a society where everyone is constantly failing because of the doubts that well up inside us. The Voices is a vicious (and very R-rated) comedy, but it digs deeper thanks to a surprisingly nuanced performance by Reynolds and supporting turns by Anna Kendrick and Gemma Arterton.
Predestination is a near-perfect adaptation of a short story that’s long been viewed as impossible to film: Robert Heinlein’s “All You Zombies.” It’s the time travel movie to end all time travel movies, one simultaneously massive and incredibly intimate paradox.
To describe it in detail is to ruin any of a number of mind-bending plot twists, but suffice to say that this is Ethan Hawke’s finest performance since Gattaca. Predestination belongs in the same class of science-fiction brain-benders. The emotional core of the film lies with Sarah Snook’s performance, though. It’s one I’m sure I’ll be championing at the end of the year.
Predestination was nominated for nine Australian Academy Awards and won four (including best actress for Snook). That warrants a straight-to-DVD release here, but trust me – it deserves all those nominations.
And now for the quietest Avenger himself, Jeremy Renner, who stars in Kill the Messenger. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration supported a regime change in Nicaragua referred to as the Contras. In 1996, reporter Gary Webb wrote that the CIA had begun funding the rebellion by allying with Nicaraguan drug dealers and allowing billions in crack cocaine to freely flow into American neighborhoods.
The first half of Kill the Messenger is a procedural that expertly guides us through the connections Webb (Renner) discovered. Its second half follows the fallout Webb faced from the government and other papers that published CIA rebuttals. This is one of Renner’s best roles. He’s often quiet and reserved as an action hero because he’s too real of a performer. I want to buy him some coffee and tell him everything’s going to be OK, not watch him risk life and limb. We connect with him more in Kill the Messenger because his emotional well-being and his beliefs are at stake as much as his life is.
The CIA would eventually acknowledge in 1998 that Webb’s theory was largely correct, long after his career had been destroyed. The Reagan administration had allowed the free flow of drugs into our country as a way of financing war against Communists in a third-world country. We ignored it in favor of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. One scandal involved funneling billions in drugs into our streets. The other focused on a dress. Kill the Messenger is a film that reminds us we’re too often willing to sell out our freedoms, ideals, and the well-being of our own citizens to fight shadow wars. It is a movie that will make you angry, but you’ll feel it’s earned it.
In I Origins, a biologist (Michael Pitt) is dead-set on disproving the existence of God. He begins a relationship with an extremely spiritual woman. It’s not meant to last and – without spoiling anything – he’s later set on a path that leads him to explore his own need for and distrust in belief. It is a profoundly moving drama that manages to marry together the logic of religion and science in a way that is respectful to both and shows how they can co-exist together.
In an age when we often feel forced to choose either/or, what I Origins accomplishes is that much more important. I’ll also let you in on this: I’ve cried at movies before. Everyone has. I Origins is one of two films in my life that’s made me weep. It has rare moments of beauty and one of the best endings to a movie I’ve ever witnessed.
Few movies are as unsparing as The Homesman, Tommy Lee Jones’s second film as director. In the 1850s, a pioneer woman (Hillary Swank) and a drifter (Jones) must transport three women who have gone mad to a church in Iowa. They are faced with a lonely, 5-week journey through dangerous land. Swank’s Mary is equal parts strong and desperate, and Jones plays a cross between jester and con man.
The film’s shot in long shadows and pale sunsets, across empty plains backed by choruses of wind that never quite reach you. It’s a beautiful moment in time that could only exist in cinema, a movie that descends toward madness without making judgments. It is as stark and unpredictable as movies come, more like McCabe and Mrs. Miller or Unforgiven in its quiet power than the John Wayne and Gregory Peck Westerns of yore.
It’s a film I missed when it passed through a handful of theaters late last year. Had I seen it then, it would have easily landed in my top ten. Sorry for the French subtitles in the trailer, but the U.S. trailer gives the entire movie away.
Finally, there’s Under the Dome. Think of it as China’s An Inconvenient Truth, but better. Documentaries can be a hard sell, but investigative journalist Chai Jing undertakes one of the most staggering and audacious reports that’s ever been put to film.
We live in a country that thinks interviewing and reporting boils down to Wolf Blitzer, Don Lemon, and Sean Hannity bloviating in baffled tones and making the news themselves when they ask idiotic questions, but journalism is supposed to entail taking risks to earn new knowledge. This is exactly what Chai does, framing a nightmarish and studied perspective of China’s deadly, corporate-driven pollution against her own personal story of raising a family and being a reporter. At points, she goes undercover at a steel plant and partners in sting operations, and she’s brutally honest that she’s driven by a fear of the world her daughter will grow up in. China was surprised at how the film exploded across the internet days after launch, taking steps to suppress and then ban it themselves. When you watch it, you can get a sense of just how dangerous it is, in China and here.
Best of all, it’s free on YouTube – it’s informative, deeply emotional, and will teach you something new. In fact, I’ll post the entire video right here:
Are you going to fill the summer blockbuster gaps with any of these movies? Which movie are you most likely to watch?