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New Movies to Watch This Week: ‘The Half of It,’ ‘All Day and a Night,’ ‘Ema’

The Half of It
Netflix / KC Bailey

While drive-in theaters remain virtually the only theaters still open in the U.S. (and a good place to see a new release like haunted-tree horror “The Wretched”), distributors are getting creative about how to release indie and foreign films.

“Jackie” director Pablo Larraín’s latest, “Ema,” debuts for free on Mubi for one day, teasing a future fall theatrical release planned by Music Box. And Oscilloscope uses the emerging virtual cinema model to debut fiction-doc hybrid “The Infiltrators,” in which undocumented activists find a way to liberate deportation-bound detainees from inside a detention center. Plus, Netflix subscribers get (at least) six original features to justify the subscription.

Here are all the new releases, with excerpts from reviews and links to where you can watch them.

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The Assistant Courtesy of Bleecker Street

Independent films, directly on demand:

The Assistant (Kitty Green)
Distributor: Bleecker Street
Where to Find It:
Rent on Amazon and iTunes
It’s a woefully familiar situation when the dramatic arts try to engage with current events, only to falter because they arrive before audiences are willing to confront the real-deal traumas they seek to explore. “Too soon,” say the critics. But in the case of this exasperatingly low-key look at gender dynamics in the workplace that began as an exposé of sexual misconduct on college campuses and morphed into a commentary on the Harvey Weinstein scandal — the world is more than ready, and it’s more a case of “too little, too late.”
— Peter Debruge
Read the full review

Bull (Annie Silverstein)
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms
Annie Silverstein’s rough-edged debut begins the same way her short film “Skunk” did. But if “Skunk” promised big things to come, then the director’s five-years-later “Bull” is a disappointment, coming off too much like its predecessor, rather than a different kind of animal. Both are shaky, faux-thentic portraits of South Texas teens who don’t have a lot of options, and who could at any moment make a decision that inadvertently derails their future.
— Peter Debruge
Read the full review

Closeness (Tesnota)(Richard Gray)
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Where to Find It: Rent via Anthology Film Archive’s virtual cinema
“Closeness” is a tough-minded, rigorously composed, quite brilliantly acted story of the challenges of everyday religious prejudice and ethnic divides in the bleak heart of Russia’s North Caucasus, and in many ways Balagov’s uncompromising but stylized social realism rewards as much as it punishes. The plot is perhaps overly schematic, but the filmmaking compensates. Leading lady Darya Zhovner is a real discovery: The “closeness” of the title also tells in how close-up-heavy the photography is, but even with nowhere to hide, she makes Ilana a riveting, complex, frequently unlikable but very real character.
— Jessica Kiang
Read the full review

Deerskin (Quentin Dupieux)
Distributor: Greenwich Films
Where to Find It: Choose a virtual cinema to support
“Deerskin,” written and directed by Quentin Dupieux, is a loopy entertaining WTF lark. It’s like a cross between “Barton Fink” and “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” — the study of a desolate loner sunk into obsession, and the more we study him the more out there his obsession becomes. Yet the weirdest element of the movie is, paradoxically, the most normal: The central character (for long stretches, he’s the only character) is played by Jean Dujardin, the blazingly charismatic star of “The Artist,” the “OSS: 117” films, and (in smaller roles) “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Monuments Men.” Dujardin is the sort of leading man who likes to mix it up, and in “Deerskin” he gives an adventurous downbeat performance that tosses vanity — and sanity — right out the window.
— Owen Gleiberman
Read the full review

Ema (Pablo Larraín)
Distributor: Music Box Films
Where to Find It: Available free for one day only (May 1) on Mubi
If you’re looking to meet a shock-of-the-new, beyond-punk vanguard girl who’s so out there and alienated, and maybe liberated, that you’ve never quite seen the likes of her, you could do worse than spend 102 minutes in the company of Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo, like Garbo on mood stabilizers). “Ema” won’t be everyone’s cup of spiked tea. But even as “Ema” parades itself as a prickly art object, one that refuses to invite the viewer in, it has a crucial element in common with “Jackie”: the way that Larraín fixates on his heroine.
— Owen Gleiberman
Read the full review

The Flood (Anthony Woodley)
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms
A relatively modest, low-key tale about global refugee issues that are usually portrayed in a higher dramatic key, “The Flood” arrives at a potent (if still quiet) cumulative impact, bolstered by strong performances from leads Ivanno Jeremiah and Lena Headey. Woodley volunteered in the actual Calais refugee camp “jungle” depicted here, and the decision to fabricate one small narrative rather than drag another directly from screaming headlines may make this one of the less hyperbolic screen treatments of its general subject. Yet there’s a plain integrity to “The Flood” that more histrionic recent handlings of the same themes have lacked.
— Dennis Harvey
Read the full review

Our Mothers (Nuestras Madres) (César Díaz)
Distributor: Outsider Pictures
Where to Find It: Choose a virtual cinema to support
A forensic anthropologist recovering the bones of people killed during Guatemala’s dark civil war believes he may have found his father’s remains in this heartfelt though slight drama. Díaz’s debut may be one of the few fiction features to look at the horrors of the genocide perpetrated by the U.S.-backed military against the indigenous population, but his rudimentary screenplay is so overly didactic that the good intentions are diluted by the formulaic structure and writing. Notwithstanding a few genuinely affecting moments, “Our Mothers” never breaks free from being a standard social-issue movie mostly invested in preaching the cause.
— Jay Weissberg
Read the full review

Tammy’s Always Dying (Amy Jo Johnson)
Distributor: Quiver Distribution
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon, iTunes and other on-demand platforms
“Tammy’s Always Dying” belongs to that peculiarly Canadian school of depressing sad-sack comedies about dysfunctional relationships between generally annoying people whom we’re nonetheless meant to somehow feel warm and fuzzy about. Neither better or worse than most of a generally meh subgenre, this competently crafted feature may attract a tad more attention due to top-billed Felicity Huffman, who sees her first notable big-screen lead in some time coincide with the high-profile college bribery scandal. — Dennis Harvey
Read the full review

The Wretched (Brett Pierce, Drew T. Pierce)
Distributor: IFC Films
Where to Find It: Rent on iTunes and other on-demand platforms
While vampires and zombies are evergreen horror movie favorites, the motion picture arts have not been particularly kind to that bush-league cousin, the killer tree-spirit. Good fun in a vaguely retro, “Lost Boys”-type teen horror way, this polished, well-paced middleweight nightmare will please most genre fans, while announcing the writer-directors as ready for major-studio assignments. With likable performances keeping us emotionally grounded in a fat-free narrative progress, this may not be terribly scary, but it has nary a dull moment. — Dennis Harvey
Read the full review

15 Years (Yuval Hadadi)
Distributor: Breaking Glass Pictures
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms
Fifteen years into a relationship, a gay architect must confront his partner’s desire to have children in this Israeli drama.

Hot Water (Larry Rippenkroeger)
Distributor: Self-released
Where to Find It: Rent on Vimeo and other on-demand platforms
A look at the issue of infertility from a male perspective, dealing with issues such as in vitro fertilization and mental health.

The Incoherents (Jared Barel)
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms
A group of aging rockers who had a band back in the ’90s reassemble, only to discover that they’ve lost touch with live-music zeitgeist.

In the Heart of the World (Gabriel Martins, Maurílio Martins)
Distributor: Cinema Tropical
Where to Find It: Rent via Tropical on Demand
One of three recent(ish) Brazilian movies launching on VOD this week, this Contagem-set drama focuses on poor residents looking for a way up.

Liberté (Albert Serra)
Distributor: Cinema Guild
Where to Find It: Rent via Film at Lincoln Center’s virtual cinema
Libertines expelled from polite French society gather for a night of competitive decadence in this controversial period piece.

Until the Birds Return (Karim Moussaoui)
Distributor: 1091 Media
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms
This Algerian drama, which debuted in Un Certain Regard at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, interweaves three different stories.

Vanilla (Will Dennis)
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms
A mismatched couple make a long first date out of a road trip to New Orleans in this romantic comedy starring writer-director Will Dennis.

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New to Netflix

All Day and a Night (Joe Robert Cole)
Where to Find It: Netflix
The film’s implicit premise is that when raw young inner-city criminals become onscreen characters, even when they’re treated sympathetically they’re almost always mythologized. And that’s a way of tamping down on their humanity. Joe Robert Cole, the writer-director of “All Day and a Night,” is the co-screenwriter of “Black Panther,” and with this movie he becomes a filmmaker to watch. His staging is so no-frills that at first you may think it’s too neutral. Yet there’s a dramatic potency to this kind of scruffy, lived-in authenticity. Cole lays bare the operations of a world that’s been milked, too often, for gangsta kicks. — Owen Gleiberman
Read the full review

The Half of It (Alice Wu)
Where to Find It: Netflix
Ellie Chu is a small-town Cyrano, with a twist, in Netflix original “The Half of It,” which could well be the most literary high school movie to come along in the short lives of its adolescent audience — and not just because writer-director Alice Wu was loosely inspired by a late-19th-century French play that most teens won’t have read (although they might have seen “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser,” which also drew from Edmond Rostand). “The Half of It” qualifies as literary because it loves language; it relishes reading, respects writing and believes in the power of words to make skeptics fall in love. — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story (Daniel H. Birman)
Where to Find It: Netflix
Tracing the contours and reversals of an ugly legal affair that initially saw underage sex worker Cyntoia Brown sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of an adult predator, Daniel H. Birman’s documentary is most rewarding when it focuses on messy human complexities over chilly courtroom process. What begins as seemingly another lurid Netflix true-crime excavation emerges as a considerably more affecting testament to the damage wrought by generation upon generation of sexual abuse.
— Guy Lodge
Read the full review

A Secret Love (Chris Bolan)
Where to Find It: Netflix
Doris Day’s Oscar-winning chart-topper “Secret Love” billows wistfully through the opening credits of Chris Bolan’s adoring documentary portrait of a lesbian partnership entering its twilight years, and it’s an apt choice. Just as the song’s lyrical subtext didn’t prevent it being heard by the mainstream as a standard heterosexual love song, so did Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel pass for decades in general society as “friends” or “cousins,” the supposedly platonic nature of their relationship unquestioned even by some close family members. — Guy Lodge
Read the full review

Dangerous Lies (Michael Scott)
Where to Find It: Netflix
A below-the-radar thriller whose logline — about a caregiver caught up in a murder plot — sounds like “Knives Out,” even if nothing else about it does.

Mrs. Serial Killer (Shirish Kunder)
Where to Find It: Netflix
Who knows? This movie wasn’t on Netflix’s release calendar, but this Indian thriller launched May 1 and has a catchy title.

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The Infiltrators Courtesy of Chicago Media Project

Documentaries On Demand

The Infiltrators (Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra)
Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories
Where to Find It: Choose a virtual cinema to support
This hybrid “prison” documentary tracks a courageous undercover operation involving Dreamers who turn themselves over to Border Patrol officers in order to assist their fellow undocumented immigrants from inside a federal detention center, relying on a mix of talking heads and reenactment footage to dramatize a mission for which principal coverage was limited to a few audio recordings. “The Infiltrators” is an important tool in reframing the conversation around immigration rights.
— Peter Debruge
Read the full review

The Easy Bit (Tom Webb)
Distributor: Self-released
Where to Find It: Rent on Vimeo and other on-demand platforms
A look at the issue of infertility from a male perspective, dealing with issues such as in vitro fertilization and mental health.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Justin Pemberton)
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Where to Find It: Rent via Film Forum’s virtual cinema
Taken from the best-selling book by Thomas Piketty, this nimble and eye-opening documentary puts you in the revelatory position of looking back over the last 300 years — where we’ve been and where we’re going — from a God’s-eye economic view. That may sound dry as dust, but trust me this is a movie that provokes a consistent sense of “Whoa!” By the end, you’ll know with greater clarity than you did before why we’re in the mess we’re in.
— Owen Gleiberman
Read the full review

CrazyHot (Eric Raine)
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon
Everything you wanted to know about chilis, and then some. The director travels the world, talking to enthusiasts about the spicy veggie.

An Engineer Imagines (Marcus Robinson)
Distributor: Music Box
Where to Find It: Choose a virtual cinema to support
Structural engineer Peter Rice helped pull off the Sydney Opera House and Paris’ Pompidou Centre. This film explores his iconic work.

The New Breed (Pete Williams)
Distributor: Self-distributed
Where to Find It: Streams for free this week
Representative of an emerging trend of socially conscious entrepreneurs, a trio of young business leaders steer companies with something other than profit as their raison d’être.

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Le Choc du Futur

Virtual film festivals:

Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Virtual Showcase
Dates:
May 1-29
Where to Find It: https://watch.eventive.org/laapffvirtual/
Although it’s bookended by TV series — two episodes of “Asian Americans” kick things off, and POV’s upcoming “And She Could Be Next” closes the program — the LAAPFF will run all month long online, in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Screenings of “First Vote” and “A Thousand Cuts” are among the highlights available online in May.

SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection
Dates:
April 27-May 6
Where to Find It: Free to stream via Amazon Prime
The Austin-based SXSW Film Festival was the first such event to cancel in early March, as threats of the coronavirus swept the country, leaving more than 100 filmmakers without a place to share their work. SXSW festival director Janet Pierson partnered with Amazon to offer a handful of those films online, along with dozens of shorts and several TV pilots. Among the titles are hot-potato incel portrait “TFW No GF,” Johnny Cash doc “My Darling Vivian” and a French film about the rise of electronic music called “Le Choc du Futur.”