Four must-see new streaming gems

JULY 26 — With major new movies still not arriving in Malaysian cinemas — thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic that hasn't shown signs of slowing down in most countries — it is still up to horror flicks (mostly Asian or from the more indie/low budget end of the spectrum) to fill up the cinemas here this week.

This is continuing the pattern that has been developing since cinemas here started reopening on July 1, 2020.

If you're a horror hound like me, then choosing something to watch in the cinema won't be much of a big deal, but if you're not much of a horror fan, then the reopening of cinemas won't be as exciting simply for the lack of variety of films available so far. 

Thankfully, the streaming giants have held up their end of the bargain with a whole bunch of new releases that wouldn't be out of place in cinemas (where they probably would've played, I suspect, if not for Covid-19), supplying us with some sparkling comedies, excellent genre stuff and even an Oscar calibre movie all in the space of just one week. 

I took my time to catch these films, since they were all released on the same day on July 10, but now that I've finally seen them, here's what I think:

The Old Guard

First with Atomic Blonde and now this, it's starting to look like Charlize Theron is slowly carving herself a niche as a female action hero a la John Wick (which is not a made up connection, seeing that Atomic Blonde was directed by David Leitch, who co-directed the first John Wick movie), which is definitely a career move I'd be 100 behind behind on. 

Directed by Gina-Prince Bythewood (famous for Love And Baseketball and The Secret Life Of Bees, but who's mostly been working in TV), the film benefits greatly from her experience making sensitive indie films as it gives what could have been another run-of-the-mill superhero story involving immortals a thoughtful, introspective beating heart.

Yes, the movie definitely does not skimp on the action, with plenty of impressively (if not exactly jaw-dropping) choreographed and shot action scenes, from hand to hand combat to shoot-'em-ups, but it's in between these, the character bits as some people like to call it, that the movie excels, with plenty of tender moments as the characters deal with the often unexplored side effects of immortality — the loneliness, the pain of watching your loved ones die, the endless wondering of why this "gift" was given to you and lots more. 

Finally, a good blockbuster movie from Netflix!

Palm Springs

These days, films using Groundhog Day as a springboard for its premise are almost a dime a dozen. It takes something special to take that by now well-worn premise to produce something surprising and worthwhile, like what Christopher Landon did with his Happy Death Day 2U sequel. 

So when news emerged that there's a new rom-com coming out with a Groundhog Day-esque premise starring Andy Samberg, I did not have high hopes, because, you know, it's a Lonely Island production.

Thankfully everyone here passed with flying colours with this one — from stars Samberg and Cristin Milioti to supporting cast J.K. Simmons and Meredith Hagner to debuting director Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siara — making Palm Springs one of the most wildly entertaining rom-coms you'll see this year. 

I don't want to ruin the film's many surprises for you, plus I think the words Groundhog Day and rom-com should already be enough enticement. 

So just walk in cold, sit back and enjoy one of the funniest and stealthily warmest films you'll have the pleasure of watching in the comforts of your own home (courtesy of Hulu) this year.

Relic

One of the great things about genre cinema, especially horror films, is how cleverly a filmmaker can make use of the genre's audience expectations to slip in themes or subjects that he or she wants to explore. 

In short, genre is a stealthy way to make personal films with a commercial/pop coating. 

While Relic is not exactly a surefire commercial home run, thanks to its outrageously slow burn approach during its first 50 to 60 or so minutes, once it hits its outstanding home stretch, you will be gripping your seat and feeling thankful that you sat through this film, about a mother and daughter pair returning home after the grandma character (who “forgets things”, they said) was reported missing. 

The grandma returns home a few days later, with bruises on her body, not remembering anything about where she was and what she did.

To anyone who's ever encountered, or had the experience of having a loved one or relative experiencing dementia, this film is going to hit really, really close to home. 

In fact, the climax almost made me cry, as it addresses issues that not many movies (outside of cheesy and melodramatic Malay TV movies, that is) dare to tackle — what we as children (and as a society) do with the elderly as they approach the inevitable. This one will haunt you long after viewing it.

Greyhound

A US$50 million (RM213 million) production that has now become an Apple Original Film, most probably thanks to Covid-19 torpedo-ing its chances of sailing into cinemas near you, this lean and mean war movie starring Tom Hanks, about an Allied convoy of ships that must try to survive two days without air support in a dangerous patch of water called the Black Pit, where German submarines often make their deadliest attacks, is as humble and unassuming as Hanks' character Ernie himself.

A concise and tightly paced 80 minute-ride (90 minutes if you count the end credits) of nothing more than tactical battles in the Allied battleships' game of cat and mouse with the German submarines, with a few minutes of character and emotional breathers in between, Greyhound is a far more satisfying experience than a lot of other recent big budget Oscar-bait war movies like Midway.

Yes, it's a bit light on emotions and character depth since it's more concerned with tactical details and military jargon, which makes it more of a B-movie thriller rather than the sweeping Hollywood A-list prestige film route that most films of this ilk take, but if you admire the value of solid craftsmanship and brevity, this one will leave you with much to admire.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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