As more and more people are compelled to practice social distancing and encouraged to stay home, as movie theaters temporarily shutter their doors, and as studios continue to pull their scheduled 2020 films off the release calendar, we’ve decided to reformat this weekly Critics Consensus column to focus on titles that are newly available on the home entertainment market. With that in mind, our list of digital new releases this week includes the premiere of an animated sequel and the home entertainment debuts of a pair of horror films, a comedy misfire, and a martial arts franchise finale, not to mention the free streaming premiere of the most recent Best Picture winner. See below for the full list.
It may have initially been a little hopeful for Universal to announce a so-called “day-and-date” release for Trolls World Tour, meaning that the film would be available both in theaters and on VOD simultatneously, if only because that release date is here, and none of us is going to any movie theaters this weekend. So, for all intents and purposes, TWT is the first major release of 2020 that is only getting a VOD release, which will be an interesting experiment to track as more studios figure out what they want to do with all the films they’ve postponed. (Some have decided to go straight to streaming; The Lovebirds will debut on Netflix, and My Spy will stream on Amazon Prime.) That said, Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake are back to provide their voices for trolls Poppy and Branch, who discover that there are other tribes dedicated to different genres of music and must unite them all against the one queen who wants to destroy all the others. Critics so far say this follow-up admittedly feels a little familiar, but it’s got plenty of laughs, plenty of heart, and plenty of music to keep the entire family entertained. It may not be playing in theaters, but that just means you can sing along with your kids at home when they inevitably ask to watch it over and over again.
We saw a slew of new horror movies debut in the first several weeks of 2020, but the vast majority of them were not well-received by critics. Gretel & Hansel was one of the few exceptions, even as it didn’t exactly earn rave reviews. IT star Sophia Lillis takes center stage as the titular young woman in this dark reimagining of the classic fairy tale, in which a brother and sister are duped into taking part in a lavish feast provided to them by an evil witch living in the forest who has sinister plans for them. Whether or not they felt the liberties taken with the source material worked, most critics nevertheless agreed that the film’s cinematography and visual aesthetic were its greatest strengths, and Alice Krige is properly creepy as the woman who just wants to snack on some children. This one debuted at the tail end of January, and it’s available digitally now.
Martial arts movie fans have known about Donnie Yen for a long time, and though he’s appeared in a few classics of the genre (Iron Monkey, Hero) and some Hollywood productions (Shanghai Knights, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), he’s probably best known for his films about legendary Wing Chun master Ip Man, which began with 2010’s appropriately titled Ip Man. Almost a full decade later, we got the final chapter to the saga, also appropriately titled, in Ip Man 4: The Finale. Yen again portrays the mild-mannered icon, who travels to San Francisco to help deescalate a simmering feud between local kung fu masters and Ip Man’s most famous student, Bruce Lee. Critics say it doesn’t quite measure up to the best of Donnie Yen’s output, but it’s a satisfying conclusion to a surprisingly consistent franchise with plenty of fun, top-tier action and a suitably bittersweet tone.
If you told us that pairing up Rose Byrne with Tiffany Haddish and pitting them against a scenery-chewing Salma Hayek would make for a pretty solid comedy, we wouldn’t disagree with that. But just because something makes sense on paper, that doesn’t mean it’ll translate well from page to screen, and that seems to be what happened with Like A Boss. Haddish and Byrne play a pair of besties running a small cosmetics company together who must work through their very different business styles in order to claw their way out of debt and prevent a hostile takeover by an unsavory make-up mogul (Hayek). Critics felt that the cast was fine, doing the best they could with the material they were given, but the writing unfortunately just sharp enough to match their talents. The hit-or-miss jokes mostly miss, the storytelling is paper thin, and there’s no wit underlying its crass veneer. For better or worse, though, it’s available to rent now.
Remember what we said above about terrible horror films in 2020? Well, this is one of them. To be frank, with a Tomatometer score of 12% and an Audience Score of 15%, we’re not sure many of you are going to like it, but it takes all kinds, and if there’s someone out there who’s just been waiting for The Turning to hit the digital home market, then far be it from us to deprive them of it. Mackenzie Davis and Finn Wolfhard star in this new take on the classic Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw that updates the setting to the 1990s and places a young nanny at the mercy of two creepy rich kids. Of course, spooky things begin to happen at their sprawling estate, and it’s unclear if supernatural things are actually happening, or if the nanny is simply going nuts. The source material is famously open-ended, but critics say The Turning takes that to frustrating new lows, blurring the lines between “psychological thriller” and “ghost story” so much that the narrative ceases to make sense. Still, if you’re just super into haunted house movies or you’re a Brooklynn Prince competionist, have at it.
Lastly, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s genre-bending, history-making, Oscar-winning film Parasite is available to stream for anyone with a Hulu account. It has been available for digital rental and purchase for a little while, but now that it’s free, it should be even easier for anyone who was curious to check it out. The story revolves around a family of grifters who weasel their way into the home of a much wealthier family before their lies eventually spin things out of control, but beyond that, it’s best you go into it knowing as little as possible, if it somehow hasn’t been spoiled for you already. The film did win four Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Director), and it has earned the acclaim of both critics and audiences alike, so there’s a pretty good chance you’ll enjoy what you see here. And if you’re interested in more of Bong’s work, Hulu has also added three of his previous films: Mother, The Host, and Barking Dogs Never Bite.
Thumbnail image by Universal Pictures