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Theaters have been closed long enough now due to COVID-19 that distributors are starting to figure out how to launch their limited-release movies via streaming services instead. May 8 brings more than two dozen new releases, including a handful that can be seen on drive-in screens, and a high-profile Netflix original in the form of Michelle Obama documentary “Becoming.” Here are the week’s new releases, with excerpts from reviews and links to where you can watch them.

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How to Build a Girl Toronto Film Festival

Playing in extremely limited release, and widely on demand:

How to Build a Girl (Coky Giedroyc)
Distributor: IFC Films
Where to Find It:
Select drive-in theaters, or rent via digital and on-demand platforms.
Playing a budding rock critic, today’s go-to cannonball Beanie Feldstein rampages through high school hallways and nightclubs like she’s terrified that if she stops moving, she’ll be stuck. The film races at her pace, leaving the audience frantic to keep up. The final product feels like if the greatest musician in the world tried to write a classic in 15 minutes. Yet, “How to a Build a Girl” dares to argue that reinventing yourself doesn’t make you a poseur – the lowest of all insults, especially in the mid-’90s, when the film is set. — Amy Nicholson
Read the full review

The Legion (José Magán)
Distributor:
Saban Films
Where to Find It:
“In select theaters,” or rent it via digital and on-demand platforms.
More or less to battles-of-antiquity epics like “300” and “Troy” what cheap 1980s Italian knockoffs like the “Ator” movies were to “Conan the Barbarian” — substituting the proverbial “cast of thousands” with casts of, well, several — this uninspired adventure tracks a lone soldier across arduous country in an attempt to save his imperiled first-century A.D. cavalry. Clearly a means here of approaching a particular action genre while drastically reducing its scale, this conceit yields an exercise too turgid to offer much guilty pleasure, though the tin-eared dialogue does cough up a few unintentional laughs. — Dennis Harvey
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Popular on Variety

Valley Girl (Rachel Lee Goldenberg)
Distributor: Orion Classics
Where to Find It:
Select drive-in theaters, or rent on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube.
A musical remake of the 1983 film seems fitting, except the update — a sparkling but unwanted bauble directed by Goldenberg, who wasn’t born until two years after the 1983 film opened — is so steeped in nostalgia that it’s an entirely different animal, “a million miles away” from the cult classic that only just found its way to VOD for the first time last month. Instead of feeling ahead of the zeitgeist, as “Valley Girl” was, this “High School Musical”-style cover version is stuck in the past, a strange pastel-colored, big-haired, thrift-store tribute to one of America’s tackiest decades, hitched to a retro roster of vintage pop tunes. — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

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Blue Story Nick Wall

Independent films, directly on demand:

Arkansas (Clark Duke)
Distributor: Lionsgate
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms.
Adapting a distinctive literary voice probably isn’t the easiest task a first-time director can choose, so credit is due actor Clark Duke for heading very much thataway with his feature debut behind the camera. “Arkansas” has an idiosyncratic, novelistic feel in large part because it’s based on an idiosyncratic novel. The screenplay isn’t strictly faithful to that source material, but retains enough of the author’s droll detachment from a nihilistic story to lend this tale of deadly intrigue among Southern drug runners an off-kilter, non-formulaic appeal. — Dennis Harvey
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Blue Story (Rapman)
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms.
In its elegant grit and volatile vibe, “Blue Story” recalls the powerful inner-city tales that dotted the American film landscape of the early ’90s: “Boyz n the Hood,” “Juice,” “Menace II Society” and “Clockers.” “Blue Story” owes a debt to all of them, and at times that makes it feel like a rap-cinema version of the British Invasion, a kind of 21st-century “Teddy Boyz n the Hood.” Yet “Blue Story” is very much a blast of something present tense. Rapman’s scenes boil over with life, as he crafts an opera of innocence infected by gangsta pathology. — Owen Gleiberman
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Clementine (Lara Jean Gallagher)
Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories
Where to Find It: Choose a virtual cinema to support.
Writer-director Gallagher’s debut resides willfully (and more often than not, skillfully) in the spaces between loss and desire, anger and reckoning, trust and suspicion, often to unnerving effect. A viewer would be right to wonder, is this visually canny story of a young woman who heads to her ex-lover’s empty lake house a coming-of-age meditation or a psychosexual thriller? Breakup drama or simmering horror flick outing? “Clementine” rebuffs easy answers. — Lisa Kennedy
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Driveways (Andrew Ahn) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: FilmRise
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms.
In the sensitive, suburbia-set indie “Driveways,” a single mother drags her 8-year-old son cross-country to empty out the house of her packrat older sister, newly deceased. It’s a chore for her, but an opportunity for the kid to do a bit of growing up, courtesy of the Korean War veteran living next door (Brian Dennehy). In time, the initially standoffish man reaches out in a gesture of neighborly goodwill, revealing “Driveways” to be that uncommon and all-too-welcome gift — like some kind of fragile wildflower, emerging tentatively through cracks in the concrete: a film about kindness. — Peter Debruge
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On a Magical Night (Christophe Honoré)
Distributor: Strand Releasing
Where to Find It: Choose a virtual cinema to support.
Most of us, in our romantic lives, meditate here and there on the other roads we might have traveled, and movies are uniquely equipped to channel those alternate-universe-of-love possibilities. The fantasy of getting to see the turns your life didn’t take underlies such disparate movies as “Sliding Doors,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “La La Land.” “On a Magical Night” treats that fantasy in a way that’s original but oddly familiar, turning it into a gentle surrealist bedroom farce. — Owen Gleiberman
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The Plagiarists (Peter Parlow)
Distributor: KimStim
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube.
Perhaps the last thing one would expect, in a film that, among other things, playfully weighs the artistic expressiveness of cinema against that of literature, is for the film to come down pretty definitively on the side of the written word. But that is just one of the mischiefs that Parlow’s 76-minute lower-than-lo-fi project works on us. Wilfully student-video amateurish in form, but impishly sophisticated in content, a gleeful cultural curiosity fairly crackles off “The Plagiarists,” and it is highly contagious. — Jessica Kiang
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Porno (Keola Racela)
Distributor: Fangoria
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms.
A comedy horror that despite its XXX moniker (and some gore) mostly plays like a retro teen mall-flick fantasy in the spirit of “The Lost Boys” or “Gremlins.” Though there’s a fair amount of nudity here, “Porno” is fairly juvenile in its “ewww” attitude towards sex, leaning more toward crude humor than anything overtly arousing. Performances are competent, though Robbie Tann is given perhaps a little too much leeway for a turn less comically inspired than the director or actor seem to think. — Dennis Harvey
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Rewind (Sasha Joseph Neulinger)
Distributor: PBS Independent Lens
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms.
This darkly compelling documentary about the abuse that deformed the filmmaker’s family is a movie made in the voyeuristic spirit of “Capturing the Friedmans.” Neulinger plays the detective-interviewer excavating his own past, and with his shaved head, shadow of a beard, and polite becalmed millennial manner, he’s an earnest and at times nearly ghostly presence. He’s chasing the ghosts that won’t let go of him. — Owen Gleiberman
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South Mountain (Hilary Brougher)
Distributor: Breaking Glass Pictures
Where to Find It: Rent on Google Play, YouTube and other on-demand platforms.
Intimately attuned to the literal and emotional plight of a middle-aged woman, Brougher’s incisive feature reveals Lila (Talia Balsam), whose quiet life in upstate New York is destabilized by a continuing series of abandonments. A snapshot of major and minor upheavals, and the rocky means by which people move forward from them, it’s a showcase for Balsam’s superb lead turn, and an accomplished if minor indie facing a tough marketplace. — Nick Schager
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Spaceship Earth (Matt Wolf)
Distributor: PBS Independent Lens
Where to Find It: On Hulu, Alamo on Demand, or choose a virtual cinema to support.
“Spaceship Earth” reclaims Biosphere 2 from the pop-culture-footnote dustbin, capturing the spirit of genuine idealism and earnest scientific inquiry with which it was launched. This unexpectedly lovely documentary duly chronicles the two-year period in which eight carefully vetted experts shared a vast, airtight Arizona desert vivarium meant to be entirely self-sustaining, a sort of dry run for a projected future of such human habitats in outer space. — Dennis Harvey
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Sweetness in the Belly (Zeresenay Berhane Mehari)
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms.
If this polite melodrama — adapted from Camilla Gibbs’ 2006 novel about a white Muslim refugee of the Ethiopian Civil War, caught between the opposing cultures of her roots and her upbringing as she resettles in a London council estate — winds up feeling more empathetic than it is moving, the problem lies largely with its protagonist Lilly (Dakota Fanning), a young woman swept up in complex, fascinating social turmoil who never quite emerges as complex or fascinating herself. — Guy Lodge
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Becoming Netflix

New to Netflix

Becoming (Nadia Hallgren)
Where to Find It: Netflix
Accompanying Michelle Obama on the 34-city book tour that followed the publication of her memoir, this documentary was initiated and overseen by the Obamas’ own production company and is being distributed by Netflix, which has a business arrangement with the Obamas. As such, it won’t surprise anyone that it plays like an extended promotional video, a cross between close-contact hero worship and inspirational infomercial. There are no big revelations here, no gotcha moments or intimate scenes in which Hallgren’s subject lets down her guard, but the target audience hardly expects anything tougher. — Peter Debruge
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18 Presents (Francesco Amato)
Where to Find It: Netflix
One would assume this melodrama about a self-destructive young woman coping with the death of her mother would place its emphasis on the special gifts the protagonist receives each year until adulthood. Not exactly. While this Italian-language weepie blessedly sidesteps schmaltz and saccharine, it disappointingly fails to capitalize on its promised premise. Neither emotional enough to pay proper tribute to the true story it captures, nor hokey enough to qualify as “so bad, it’s good,” this is a flaccid, failed attempt at heart-tugging poignancy. — Courtney Howard
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Working Man

Other releases debuting on streaming this week

Accommodations (Amy Miller Gross)
Distributor: Distribution Solutions/Alliance Entertainment, GVN Distribution
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms
A woman sick of making concessions to everybody else in her life decides to stand up for herself in this female-made indie drama.

Back Water (Jon Cohrs)
Distributor: Giant
Where to Find It: Rent on Apple TV and other on-demand platforms
Join seven big-city residents as they canoe through industrial wetlands threatened by pollution and modern development in this environmental doc.

Batsh*t Bride (Jonathan Smith)
Distributor: Vile Henchmen
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon, AppleTV and other on-demand platforms
An April Fool’s joke seriously backfires when a bride-to-be tells her fiancé they should call off the wedding, prompting him to agree with her.

CRSHD (Emily Cohn)
Distributor: Lightyear
Where to Find It: Choose a virtual cinema to support
A female-directed take on the familiar (among male directors) story of trying to lose one’s virginity, this indie comedy debuted at 2019’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Cry Havoc (Rene Perez)
Distributor: Midnight Releasing
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms
Robert Bronson lookalike Robert Bronzi returns in another straight-to-streaming “Death Wish” knockoff for fans of the late action star.

The Delicacy (Jason Wise)
Distributor: Somm TV
Where to Find It: Rent on Somm TV
The team behind the “Somm” series deliver a feature-length foodie doc about that rare and dangerous specialty, the sea urchin, including how it is harvested.

A Good Woman Is Hard to Find (Abner Pastoll)
Distributor: Film Movement
Where to Find It: Choose a virtual cinema to support
Irish actor Sarah Bolger plays a widow who takes extreme measures to solve the mystery of her husband’s murder.

Human Zoo (John E Seymore)
Distributor: Wild Eye Releasing
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms
Contestants at the mercy of a sadistic reality TV producer subject themselves to all kinds of torture-porn challenges in this low-budget horror film.

Intrigo: Death of an Author, Intrigo: Dear Agnes and Intrigo: Samaria (Daniel Alfredson)
Distributor: Lionsgate
Where to Find It: Find all three films via digital and on demand
The director of the last two installments in Sweden’s hit “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” series helmed a second trilogy, which debuted online this week.

Lancaster Skies (Callum Burn)
Distributor: Shout! Factory
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms
A throwback to they heyday of heroic World War 2 stories, this bomber drama focuses on team building under duress.

Mossville: When Great Trees Fall (Alexander Glustrom)
Distributor: Passion River Films
Where to Find It:
The film’s theatrical tour has gone virtual
One man stands up for an African American community in Louisiana where toxic pollution from petrochemical plants threatens residents in this activist project.

Once Is Enough (Jeffrey James Binney)
Distributor: Indie Rights
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon
Timed to Mother’s Day, this hybrid doc follows a comedian as he aims to lose weight and tackle a 100-mile marathon following his mom’s obesity-related death.

Walkaway Joe (Tom Wright)
Distributor: Quiver Distribution
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms
Jeffrey Dean Morgan and David Strathairn star in this redemption-themed drama about a young man who finds a father figure in a drifter.

Working Man (Robert Jury)
Distributor: Brainstorm Media
Where to Find It: Rent on Amazon and other on-demand platforms
After losing his job at a small-town factory, an unemployed laborer keeps the routine of going to work, hoping to revive the career to which he dedicated his life.

Your Bones and Your Eyes (Caetano Gotardo)
Distributor: Cinema Tropical
Where to Find It: Rent via Tropical on Demand
Director Gotardo plays a São Paulo-based filmmaker interacting with various characters in the last of three recent(ish) Brazilian movies packaged for streaming.