L.A. Weekly’s Movie Guide is your look at the hottest films available on your TV sets, electronic devices — and as coronavirus restrictions continue to change — in select theaters and drive-ins throughout Southern California. At press time, theaters and multiplexes such as AMC chains indicate that previously planned re-openings in mid-July have been postponed to the end of July. This too, may be adjusted, at least in California, as Governor Gavin Newsom assesses COVID-19 spikes and moves reopenings accordingly.
The good news is that there’s no shortage of diverse and engaging films to see. And as always, we let you know what’s worth the watchtime — from indie art house gems to popcorn-perfect blockbusters to new movies garnering buzz, indicating where you can catch them whether it be digital Video on Demand (VOD), streaming subscription services or in the comfort of your car at local drive-ins.
Irresistible | VOD
If you miss Jon Stewart’s biting political banter and satirical badassery, his latest serves up the zesty helping you’d expect — but that doesn’t mean it’s as satisfying as it could be. Set sometime after the 2016 presidential election, it brings us into the wicked world of political strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell), who finds himself in smalltown Wisconsin trying to groom retired Marine colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) to run for mayor, a move toward gaining Democratic party power over an important swing state.
Of course, there is a roadblock; Republican political strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) is also in town, and yes, the sexual tension between them is part of what makes the story interesting. The targets here are all easy otherwise — the media, the fat pocketed big wigs and the parties themselves — and it’s easy to see where most of the film is going throughout. And while Stewart’s perspective is smart and merciless as ever, even he couldn’t have predicted what the world might be like when this film got released (digitally at home due to coronavirus theater closures and amid protest, historical reckoning and a fervent fight for racial justice and equality).
The film’s timing was obviously meant to skewer and highlight what we’ve all come to know and loathe after four years of Trump, but like Carell’s recent Netflix vehicle Space Force, the treachery and truth of the premise makes us too weary for the message. Even when it’s funny, it kinda hurts to laugh.
Also playing at Mission Tiki Drive-In, 10798 Ramona Ave., Montclair; (909) 628-0511.
My Spy | Amazon Prime, VOD
Set to open in theaters just as COVID-19 exploded and everything involving crowds of any kind closed — including, of course, movie theaters — My Spy understandably fell through the cracks. But the contrived feeling cop-meets-kid comedy feels like a good fit now in the streaming space, as family fare with flair is a hot ticket. JJ (Dave Bautista) is a gruff CIA operative that has been tasked with surveilling a family, a mission he accepts begrudgingly. Things don’t go smoothly, and the family’s precocious 9-year-old daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman) discovers the hidden CIA cameras in her home.
In exchange for not blowing JJ’s cover and sinking the whole operation, Sophie brokers a deal with him to spend his time training her to be a spy. Charming and determined, JJ finds he has a soft spot for his new pint-sized protégé in this sure to popular Prime Video offering.
Also playing at Vineland Drive-in, 443 Vineland Ave., City of Industry. (626) 961-9262; and Mission Tiki Drive-in, 10798 Ramona Ave., Montclair. (909) 628-0511.
Miss Juneteenth | VOD
The holiday marking the day when slaves in Texas learned they were actually free may have seen its biggest recognition and celebration last month, but many still don’t know a lot about how it’s been celebrated in certain parts of the country. For Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie), the day also represents her beauty queen past, when she took the crown during an annual pageant marking the event and had her entire life ahead of her, filled with dreams for bigger successes and a perfect life.
Things didn’t turn out as she’d hoped, and the struggling single mom sees the pageant providing another chance now that her daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) is old enough to compete, even if that doesn’t seem to be what her teen wants. Grappling with familiar parental struggle, not to mention the race and class disparities that can make the decisions and dynamics involved all that much harder for black families, Miss Juneteenth presents an honest and hopeful slice of life and the kind of nuanced portrayal that we want and need to see more of when it comes to people of color on film.
Also playing at Vineland Drive-in, 443 Vineland Ave., City of Industry. (626) 961-9262.
Beats | VOD
Exploring the friendship between two young Scots during the height of the ’90s rave scene, Beats has plenty of pumping electro sounds (The Prodigy, Orbital) to energize and make anyone who dabbled in the underground party world feel nostalgic. The stark black-and-white period piece was adapted from a one-man play by co-writer Kieran Hurley but it feels like a much grander production thanks to visceral music moments and likely, the input of producer Steven Soderberg. Like most of his films, this one makes the most of atmospheric contrasts and character connections, building excitement and an engaging groove that we don’t want to end, but does in spectacular fashion, with a dizzying and defiant warehouse bash
Run with the Hunted | VOD
Ron Perlman, William Forsythe and Dree Hemingway offer engaging turns in this gritty thriller concerning disenfranchised kids and the pseudo family that takes them in.They are in fact, a street gang of adolescents taught to commit crimes to survive, and it seems to work for them, ’til it doesn’t. When one of their sprees goes violently wrong, the protagonist flees with unsettled connections, and you know the kid will be back with scores to settle. Michael Pitt makes for a brooding and believable all grown up lead and Perlman is always great, but the screenplay by director John Swab feels too unfocused and it’s hard to care — much less root — for anyone here.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga | Netflix
If you’re a Will Ferrell fan, he can almost do no wrong. But don’t go into this strange music-filled new Netflix comedy expecting the all-out rib-tickling absurdity of Anchorman, Talladega Nights or Step Brothers. It has those kinds of moments of course, but the tone is probably closer to Elf (minus the clever take on heart-warming holiday fare). It also brings to mind that ice skating parody Blades of Glory, right down to the hairdo’s (don’ts). Unlike Jon Heder in that one, who mostly tried to match Farrell’s wide-eyed wackiness, Rachel McAdams plays it straight here as Farrell’s partner and love interest, bringing a sincerity to an otherwise ridiculous tale of an Icelandic singing duo called — called Fire Saga — hoping to win the global music competition referenced in the title.
Since most Americans probably aren’t familiar with the contest in question, the premise lacks some resonance, but that almost doesn’t matter once things get going. There’s plenty of eye candy to complement Farrell’s patent audaciousness and musical numbers too. Marking a reunion of director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) with Farrell and McAdams, Eurovision shows audiences a world they probably don’t know a lot about, gently mocking it but also paying it respect in a weird way, and that’s not an easy balance. It’s hard to know what to take seriously at times, but trying to figure it out ultimately becomes part of the fun.