As Hollywood adjusts to movie theater closures mandated by stay-at-home orders, distributors, exhibitors and streamers have found some creative solutions to deliver new movies to audiences hungry for fresh entertainment. Drive-in movie theaters have seen a resurgence in popularity, with IFC Pictures releasing many of their new titles, like “The True History of the Kelly Gang,” on drive-in screens. This week, IFC drops the witchy horror flick “The Wretched,” directed by brothers Brett and Drew Pierce, on all digital platforms and at seven different drive-in theaters around the country So for stir-crazy movie fans, perhaps now’s the time to try the drive-in.
Many distributors are also supporting movie theaters during this tough time by partnering with them for “virtual releases.” Proceeds from the virtual “ticket price” to stream the film supports theaters that have been impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown, often the theaters that were initially planning to screen the films, usually arthouse or independent theaters. This week, Greenwich Films releases the 2019 Cannes Film Festival selection “Deerskin,” by French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux, through virtual release. This weirdo French-language dramedy starring Jean Dujardin and Adele Haenel is an odd bit of VHS-inspired ephemera about a mysterious but hapless man (Dujardin) who stumbles into a whole new identity when he purchases a used Western-style deerskin jacket. The jacket soon takes on a life of its own while our hero bumbles about a small village, pretending to be an independent filmmaker, befriending a local bartender and aspiring film editor (Haenel). It’s a strange, dry-as-a-bone, one-joke film, but Dujardin and Haenel play well together on screen, and it knows not to overstay its welcome.
Netflix, which has a seeming never-ending well of true crime content to get us through these times, launches “Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story” on Wednesday. Brown, whose case went viral in 2017, was not involved with the making of the documentary, which is comprised largely of footage shot throughout the 15-year process of her arrest, trial, appeals process and parole hearings. Directed by Dan Birman, who made a film about Brown for PBS Independent Lens in 2011, “Murder to Mercy” seems to be repackaging of old footage plus an update about Brown’s clemency, granted in 2019. What’s remarkable about “Murder to Mercy,” a fairly standard criminal justice doc, is Brown herself, who is astonishingly self-possessed, genuine and forthright, even as a 16-year-old in pigtails, facing trial in adult court for shooting a man who solicited her for sex. Birman also explores the generational trauma of Brown’s story, through her biological mother and grandmother. It’s a riveting film because of Brown herself, and it will be fascinating to see her story in her own words when the time comes.
Netflix also launches a new film on Friday in their other wheelhouse: teen romance. “The Half of It,” written and directed by Alice Wu, is an updated twist on the Cyrano de Bergerac tale, wherein a teenage girl, Ellie Chu, serves as the tortured scribe for a popular boy who enlists her services to write letters to his crush.
Also new to streaming is the acclaimed Canadian zombie flick “Blood Quantum,” available on horror/genre specialty streaming service Shudder. Directed by Canadian First Nations filmmaker Jeff Barnaby, this gory zombie movie is all too timely, following an undead outbreak on an isolated Red Crow reserve, where the indigenous inhabitants prove to be immune to the contagion.
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