This week, Disney and Marvel finally release Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung. Unlike Black Widow, the film will play exclusively in theaters and unavailable to rent and watch on Disney Plus — welcome to the new new world order. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other great new offerings on VOD and streaming available to watch this weekend.
After a brief stint on Disney Plus Premier Access, Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt’s Jungle Cruise heads to digital, and Blockers director Kay Cannon’s modernized take on Cinderella waltzes on to Amazon Prime Video. Plus there’s Netflix’s supernatural comedy Afterlife of the Party and a bunch of funny, dramatic, soulful, action-packed movies now available for rent.
To help you get a handle on what’s new and available, here our guide to the movies you can watch on video on demand and streaming this weekend.
The latest effort in Disney’s ongoing effort to spin every one of its notable theme-park rides into a sustainable theatrical franchise, Jungle Cruise stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Frank “Skipper” Wolff, a riverboat captain hired to transport Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) into the heart of the exotic jungle in search of the Tree of Life. It’s not exactly Fitzcarraldo or The Lost City of Z, but it does have zombie snake-men and CG-animated leopards, plus Jesse Plemons as a German aristocrat in a submarine. From our review,
Jungle Cruise is beholden not just to the antiquated tropes of archaeological adventure movies, but also the ride’s own problematic legacy. To their credit, the filmmakers do their best to subvert that legacy. The choice to have the coveted treasure be part of the natural world, instead of the ruins of an ancient civilization already helps. But the best adaptation is that the indigenous people of the jungle are civilized, and they’re Frank’s buddies — they only attack the tourists because they have an agreement where he pays them to scare the travelers for extra thrills. The leader of the tribe — the infamous Trader Sam, originally an outdated park character — is a woman in the movie. She doesn’t get a lot of screen time, and is more of an Easter Egg than a woman of color with a story of her own, but at least the filmmakers are acknowledging the ride’s past and considering how to modernize their thinking.
Where to watch: Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video
Not to be confused with the 2015 adaptation of Disney’s 1950 animated fantasy film, Kay Cannon’s Cinderella is a modernized version of the original fairytale by Charles Perrault starring singer Camila Cabello as a young orphan who lives with her abusive stepmother and stepsisters who murdered her father for his fortune. While a few of us around Polygon enjoyed this rewired take, our reviewer wasn’t as keen on it. From our review:
Lip service about feminism abounds in Cannon’s script, with speeches about self-love, social justice, and standing up to men in power. But the narrative undercuts these platitudes. Cinderella’s success as a dressmaker comes because of her proximity to wealth. Even her “Fabulous Godmother” (Billy Porter) recognizes that, declaring, “Rich people… will change your life!” He also insists she wear uncomfortable high-heeled glass slippers, because “Women’s shoes are as they are. Even magic has its limits.”
Afterlife of the Party
Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix
Filmed during the pandemic, director Stephen Herek’s Afterlife of the Party stars Victoria Justice (Victorious) as Cassie, a self-obsessed social butterfly who throws a week-long party to celebrate her birthday … only to end up accidentally dying. Granted a second chance, Cassie must reconnect with her loved ones and right her wrongs if she’s to have any hopes at a better afterlife.
Shea Whigham (Take Shelter) stars in The Gateway as Parker, a down on his luck social worker trying to do right by the daughter of a single mother (Olivia Munn). When the child’s father (Zach Avery) returns home from prison and resumes his criminal dealings, jeopardizing the lives of his child and partner, Parker must intervene to deliver them both from a life of crime. Featuring supporting performances by Frank Grillo (The Purge: Anarchy) and Bruce Dern (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), The Gateway looks like an explosive crime thriller anchored by stylish cinematography and reputable talent.
We Need to Do Something
Sean King O’Grady’s horror-thriller We Need to Do Something stars Sierra McCormick (The Vast of Night, American Horror Stories), Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills), John James Cronin (NOS4A2), and Vinessa Shaw (3:10 to Yuma) as a family that seeks shelter in their home in the wake of an apocalyptic storm. As hours turn to days and with seemingly no-one coming to help, the family find themselves trapped and assailed by a cadre of horrors. What’s going on, and why is this happening to them? The answers may lie in a terrible secret buried in the past.
Michael Greyeyes (I Know This Much Is True) stars in Wild Indian as Makwa, anglicized as “Micheal,” a man who years ago as a teenager killed another boy and covered up the murder with his friend Teddo (Chaske Spencer). After years of separation, the two men are reunited and the shared offense threatens to topple the carefully cultivated life that Makwa has built. The movie premiered out of this year’s virtual Sundance to muted acclaim, likely because the movie is intimate, brooding, and specific. For anyone looking for more indigenous perspective in their thrillers, this is one to seek out.
Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix
Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, and Amy Ryan star in this taut, easily overlooked procedural from Sara Colangelo (The Kindergarten Teacher). In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Congress appoints attorney Kenneth Feinberg (Keaton) to allocate the compensation fund resources for the families of the victims. Together with his firm’s head of operations (Ryan), Feinberg must do the impossible: assign monetary worth to the human lives lost in the tragedy. After being confronted by Charles Wolf (Stanely Tucci), a community organizer whose wife died in the World Trade Center, Feinberg faces a moral crisis as he works on the behalf of the victim’s families to do right by their incalculable loss. If that sounds heavy and Spotlight-esque … it is. But Keaton and Tucci make a dynamic pair, and the intricacies of the moral math problem make the fact-driven drama hit hard. In the lead up to the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Colangelo’s emphasis on the human element of the tragedy — and the families who had to make sense of it in the days, weeks, months, and years after — is vital.
In Vicente Amorim’s Brazilian action thriller Yakuza Princess, Japanese pop star-turned-actress Masumi stars as Akemi, an orphan who discovers that she is in fact the heiress of a Yakuza crime organization. Bound to a mystery stranger (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and an ancient sword, Akemi must fight to reclaim her birthright from those within the Yakuza who would rather see her dead.
Andrew Baird’s sci-fi thriller Zone 414 stars Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential) as David Carmichael, a private detective hired by an eccentric and unscrupulous businessman to track down his missing daughter Melissa (Holly Demaine). In order to find her David will have to enlist the aid of Jane (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz), an advanced artificial human created by his employer. But, as with any movie about a missing person, there’s more to Melissa’s disappearance — and Jane — than meets the eye. Honestly, this looks like a not so subtle Blade Runner ripoff but the set design and lighting looks intriguing enough to give it a shot.
And here’s what dropped last Friday:
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprise their roles as paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, the third installment in the successful Conjuring horror franchise. Based on the trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson — one of the most sensational and terrifying cases involving the real-life Warrens — Ed and Lorraine are pitted in a fight for the soul of a young boy that will bring the pair face to face with evil incarnate itself. From our review,
On paper, The Conjuring movies are pretty old hat when it comes to horror, to the point where they almost sound boring. In the least-generous reading, they return to the same “based on a true haunting” fodder that gave us The Amityville Horror and its many imitators. But watch them, and they make a great case for why originality isn’t nearly as important as execution. James Wan, who directed the first two films, is largely responsible for the franchise’s signature look. He brought a decades-long career in horror and a knack for understated imagery to the series’ portrayal of supernatural investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). His talent created a horror franchise that manages to feel richer than most of them, even as it’s continually being mined for spinoffs. Unfortunately, the latest installment, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, lacks both Wan’s direction and the richness that make the first two Conjuring films so enjoyable.
District 9 and Chappie director Neil Blomkamp returns with the supernatural horror thriller Demonic starring Carly Pope (Elysium) as Carly, a young woman who ventures into the mind of her imprisoned mother using an experimental virtual reality therapy and inadvertently unleashes terrifying demons hidden deep within her subconscious. Despite their being black-ops soldiers fighting in the name of God, the movie is an acquired taste. From our review,
Demonic is a frustrating movie, because in spite of all the problems, the world Blomkamp sets up is exciting and original. The idea of near-future exorcisms in a militant sci-fi world, where even the church has a SWAT team, and demons can use virtual reality as a bridge to physical space, is fascinating. The idea of a person being stuck in a coma and forced into a VR nightmare in the name of science is terrifying. But instead of those great ideas, Blomkamp grafts an uninteresting family drama over the top, and then makes the entirety of Demonic about that skin instead of digging into the meat.
Tim Fehlbaum’s sci-fi drama The Colony stars Nora Arnezeder as Blake, the sole survivor of an interstellar expedition tasked with seeding life on a distant planet. Shipwrecked on the long-decimated Earth, she’ll have to decide the fate of the planet’s remaining populace and weigh the very survival of the human race.
VFX artist-turned-director Peter Sefchik’s feature debut Behemoth stars Josh Eisenberg as Joshua Riverton, a biochemist who blows the whistle on his former employer after his daughter develops a mysterious illness presumably related to his work. Confronting his old boss, Dr. Woeland (Paul Statman), Joshua ends up holding him hostage after being near-fatally shot. Now on the run from malevolent forces that seem to hound him at every turn, Joshua’s desperation leads him to increasingly more fraught situations in order to save his daughters life … even at the cost of his own sanity. From our review:
Remember those ’90s B-movies that used to air on UPN in the early-morning hours, in that gap of time perfect for stoned college students and kids staying up too late? Behemoth has the best and worst elements of those movies, with a skimpy script and thin characters, but also with an urgently conspiratorial tone and a creatively rendered visual world, packed with rotting faces, insect/human hybrids, and blood spilling out of orifices. There’s a monster extending tentacles of barbed wire, animals covered in sores and rotting flesh, wilting plants and withering flowers. Behemoth intermittently reveals its low $65,000 budget with CGI work that’s a little clunky around the edges, and with production design that feels constrained to empty locations and scant extras. But as the sum of its parts, it has a blunt impact.
He’s All That
Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix
Mean Girls director Mark Waters takes on what might sound like sacrilege on paper: A remake of the 1999 teen comedy She’s All That. With TikTok celebrity Addison Rae in the role of the cool kid who needs to remake an “ugly duckling” for her school prom, the movie is just about what you expect — but maybe a little better. From our review:
Waters puts less emphasis on objectifying women’s bodies, a problem that really plagued the original, where the boys talked repeatedly about the quality of the female students’ “tits,” and Laney proved her worth to the popular kids by donning a tight-fitting swimsuit. Instead, He’s All That is centered in Padgett’s taste: The idea of making Cameron hot has less to do with augmenting his physical appearance (though he does get a haircut to spruce up his disheveled look), and more about tapping into the parts of his personality that he keeps buried under his gruff exterior.
Where to watch: Available to stream on Hulu
Shot over the pandemic, and shifted from a theatrical 20th Century Studios release to a Hulu debut, Vacation Friends is one of those cast-in-a-mold kooky neighbor comedies transplanted to an island resort. Lil Rel Howery and Yvonne Orji star as Ron and Emily, a newly engaged couple who befriend a party-hard couple Marcus and Kyla (John Cena and Search Party’s Meredith Hagner) who cliff dive, sip cocaine-rimmed margaritas, and are totally down to swing. When the trip ends, Ron and Emily think that’s the last time they’ll the pair — for the purposes of their own sanity. But on their wedding day, Marcus and Kyla roll up in deranged style, and hijinks ensue. But the kind of hijinks that are pretty comforting and well executed? While not a revelation like Palm Springs was last year, Vacation Friends’ jokes land and every one is doing the (comedic) work. A dumb Adam-Sandler-brings-his-pals-on-vacation-and-films-a-movie-on-the-side vehicle this is not.
No Man of God
Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring) stars in No Man of God as Bill Hagmaier, an FBI analyst sent to interrogate an incarcerated Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) in hopes of unraveling the psychological origins of the killer’s motivations and provide closure for his victim’s families. Over time, a strange and complicated relationship develops between the two that threatens to endanger any hope of Hagmaier’s goals. Based on actual transcripts of interviews between the real-life Hagmaier and Bundy, No Man of God is sure to pique the interest of anyone still sullen over the fact that Netflix never picked up Mindhunter for a third season.
The Last Matinee
Director Maxi Contenti’s retro-slasher The Last Matinee follows a small group of theatergoers who find themselves stalked by a vicious hooded killer during an otherwise innocuous screening of a horror film. Packed with gratuitous blood splatter, gore, and frenetic cinematography, The Last Matinee might be the closest thing to a cross between Goodbye Dragon Inn and Scream ever conceived.