As more and more people are compelled to practice social distancing and encouraged to stay home, as movie theaters remain largely shuttered, and as studios continue to get creative about their release strategies, we’ve decided to reformat the Critics Consensus column to include titles that are newly available on the home entertainment market, as well as any that are opening in theaters, even in limited capacity. With that in mind, our list of new releases this week includes Christopher Nolan’s latest mind-bender, a live-action Disney remake, and a unique thriller from the mind of Charlie Kaufman. Plus, we’ll also take a brief look at two other recent releases. See below for details.
After months of uncertainty, with lots of cineplexes across the U.S. still closed, we finally had our first “major” new theatrical releases last week, with The New Mutants and Bill & Ted Face the Music, the latter of which, it should be noted, also premiered on VOD. But this week, we have arguably the most anticipated film of the year, from one of the most popular, most celebrated directors of the new millennium, and you can only see it in theaters. That film is, of course, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, a heady sci-fi thriller that stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, and Elizabeth Debicki and, like a number of Nolan’s previous films, plays with the concept of time. If you’re fan of Nolan’s work, you don’t need to know any more than that; you’re already in. If you’re not a fan, though, or you aren’t as familiar with his narrative and thematic proclivities, well, you’re in for a doozy, as critics say Tenet is ambitious, extravagant, and a little difficult to decipher. If you don’t mind a smidge of puzzlement — and if you’re willing to brave the movie theater experience — you’ll likely find yourself sufficiently intrigued and entertained, even if some of the more spectacular stuff here feels like a remix of Nolan’s greatest hits.
Christopher Nolan stuck to his guns and insisted that Tenet would play in theaters, and Warner Bros. had a hell of a time trying to figure out the best way to respect Nolan’s wishes. Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan, however, chose not to follow suit, opting instead to premiere on the Disney+ streaming service… for a premium fee. This is, of course, the latest in the Mouse House’s efforts to reimagine some of their most beloved animated classics as live-action films, and unlike some of their recent attempts, Mulan is impressing the critics so far. Liu Yifei stars in the title role as a young woman who dresses as a man in order to represent her family in the Chinese imperial army, and the reviews say she offers a charismatic performance that holds the film together. They also say the action choreography is fantastic, the visuals are stunning, and the choice to eschew the original film’s musical elements in favor of a more grounded action-drama results in a more mature film. The youngest viewers may not find Niki Caro’s film as compelling, but you can always throw on the colorful animated original for them.
Available on Disney+ for $29.99 on September 4; available to all Disney+ subscribers on December 4.
I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020)
It’s true that Netflix has poured unspeakable amounts of money into crafting and curating genre fare for its binge-hungry subscribers, but they’ve also gone out of their way to court some unique voices. Sometimes those two goals are achieved in a single film, which is what we have this week in I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a psychological horror drama written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, the man who thought up Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Anomalisa. Unlike his best-known projects, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is actually an adaptation of a novel by Iain Reid, in which a young man (here played by Jesse Plemons) takes his girlfriend (Jessie Buckley) home to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis), unaware that she is, well, thinking of ending things. What begins as a relatively somber relationship drama devolves into mind-bending terror as nothing is quite as it seems, and while critics concede that this isn’t likely to win any new converts to the Church of Kaufman, those who appreciate his style will note his signature touches and his peculiar flair for the weird and inscrutable. You’ll get plenty of twists and turns, some dark, existential discomfort, and probably a bit of confusion, but that’s kind of par for the course when it comes to Kaufman’s work. At the end of the day, you can always find something a little sunnier to chase it with.
Available on Netflix on September 4.
Also currently released and available:
82% Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020) , in which Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter return as the titular duo of naively optimistic, well-meaning buffoons who must now write a most excellent song to save the world with the help of their teenage daughters. Currently available on VOD and playing in select theaters.
36% The New Mutants (2020) , starring Charlie Heaton, Anya Taylor-Joy, Maisie Williams, and a young cast of would-be X-Men who are confined to an institution in this famously delayed horror-themed interpretation of the titular comic book series. Currently playing in theaters.
Thumbnail image by Jasin Boland/© 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc., Sue Gordon / © Warner Bros.