New streaming movies are coming to entertain you and your family during socially distanced times.
This weekend, Netflix has not one but two holiday entries, with Vanessa Hudgens playing three different roles in a royal romantic-comedy sequel and bona fide national treasure Dolly Parton playing an angel in a feel-good musical. Hulu unleashes a thriller with Sarah Paulson as a creepily overprotective mom, Amazon debuts the first film in Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” anthology, Shudder revisits the origins of “The Exorcist,” and Margot Robbie is an old-school bank robber in a Depression-era crime drama.
If you’re feeling the itch to get back to the movies in person, and there’s a drive-in or it’s safe enough to return to your local theater, the innovative drama “Sound of Metal” stars Riz Ahmed as a rock drummer who gradually loses his hearing, and the action movie “Vanguard” features Jackie Chan as the head of a Chinese special-forces unit protecting an accountant from bad guys.
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But if you’d rather stick closer to home, here’s a rundown of new movies hitting streaming and on-demand platforms this week, for every cinematic taste:
If you’re in need of a social justice drama: ‘Mangrove’
McQueen’s anthology, revolving around London’s West Indian community through several decades, starts strong in the late 1960s. The gripping story centers on Trinidad-born restauranteur Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), who runs a haven for Black intellectuals raided constantly by police, leading to a demonstration, arrests and ultimately a high-profile trial. Parkes is great, as is Letitia Wright, who has an award-worthy performance as British Black Panther Altheia Jones-LeCointe.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime
If you want a well-told, taut thriller: ‘Run’
The first major thriller since 1948’s “The Sign of the Ram” to star an actual wheelchair user is a tight, effective and tensely harrowing tale with Kiera Allen as Chloe, a clever and inventive teen with an abundance of health issues. Her overprotective single mom (Paulson) keeps her isolated in their house, but as Chloe begins to figure out that Mommy’s good intentions maybe aren’t all that, the youngster proves incredibly capable as truths are revealed and things get messy.
Where to watch: Hulu
If two Vanessa Hudgenses aren’t enough for you: ‘The Princess Switch: Switched Again’
The holiday-set sequel has more predictable switching shenanigans but with a new twist. Hudgens reprises her roles as Stacy, the Chicago baker turned princess of Belgravia, and Duchess Margaret of Montenaro. Margaret is in line to become queen of her kingdom, and she and Stacy change places again so the duchess can reconnect with her ex Kevin (Nick Sagar). The follow-up at least gets a villain this time with third lookalike Fiona (also Hudgens), Margaret’s cousin with plans to disrupt the coronation.
Where to watch: Netflix
If you could use the musical equivalent of a big hug: ‘Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square’
Debbie Allen directs and choreographs this sugar-coated, song- and dance-filled confection that stars Christine Baranski as Scrooge-y, entitled Regina, who plans to sell her quaint small town to mall developers, thereby evicting her neighbors – including her childhood love (Treat Williams). She’s visited by Angel (Parton), a heavenly, uplifting songstress who steps in to help Regina get her holiday spirit back. It’s familiar, for sure, but it does go to some interesting thematic places with Regina’s backstory.
Where to watch: Netflix (starting Sunday)
If you’re a Margot Robbie completist: ‘Dreamland’
Set in 1935 Texas, the crime story stars Finn Cole as a young man who finds an attractive fugitive (Robbie) in the family barn. The female half of a doomed Bonnie and Clyde-type duo, she’s wounded in the aftermath of a bank robbery gone wrong that ended with a little girl murdered, and he weighs cashing in on the bounty vs. going on the lam together. Robbie’s charm and the visually arresting Dust Bowl setting balance out the many heist movie aspects you’ve seen before.
If you want to know more about the origins of ‘The Exorcist’: ‘Leap of Faith’
William Friedkin’s Oscar-nominated demonic chiller will still scare the pants off you, yet this documentary focuses less on the frightening stuff and more on Friedkin discussing the making of the movie as well as the deep religious and human themes contained within. The director intriguingly boils films down to mysteries of faith and fate – “Exorcist” being the former, “Citizen Kane” an example of the latter – and gives a thoughtful talk that illuminates one of Hollywood’s most infamous stories.
Where to watch: Shudder
If you’re dying to see Nicolas Cage vs. aliens: ‘Jiu Jitsu’
When Cage isn’t one of the five most bonkers things in a movie, someone’s seriously wrong. This action film is like “Predator” with ancient martial arts warriors, with a secret order of kung fu masters who every six years have to throw down with an armored foe arriving from another world. Cage wears a paper hat during some cool fight moves, but his is ultimately a rather reserved role – for him at least – as the strange old sage helping the lead good guy (Alain Moussi).
If you’re curious about the psychology of serial killers: ‘Crazy, Not Insane’
Oscar-winning documentary director Alex Gibney has had a busy fall, from the COVID-19 expose “Totally Under Control” to this fascinating film that explores the internal workings of serial killers and the effectiveness of the death penalty. “Crazy” chronicles the efforts of psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis, whose work with juvenile offenders led her to exploring dissociative identity disorder in high-profile murderers like Ted Bundy and Mark David Chapman and questioning if their deeds were born out of evil or abuse.
Where to watch: HBO Max