Under normal circumstances, when a new-release movie starts playing in cinemas, audiences can’t watch it on streaming, video on demand, DVD or blu-ray for a few months. But with the pandemic forcing film industry to make quite a few changes over the past year — widespread movie theatre closures will do that — that’s no longer always the case.
Maybe you’re in lockdown. Perhaps you haven’t had time to make it to your local cinema lately. Given the hefty amount of films now releasing each week, maybe you missed something. Film distributors have been fast-tracking some of their new releases from cinemas to streaming recently — movies that might still be playing in theatres in some parts of the country, too. In preparation for your next couch session, here’s nine you can watch right now at home.
Take two charming actors, then couple them up for a feature-length volley of fast-paced banter: that’s the screwball rom-com formula. Place this pleasing pair in a scenic but challenging setting — one that’ll highlight their individual strengths, see them turn seeming weaknesses into new skills, and will obviously bring them closer together — and that’s exactly how plenty of action-adventure movies have unfurled. Sending the always personable and likeable Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt to the Amazon, Jungle Cruise stitches together these two well-established formulas. It traverses its cinematic rapids in the slipstream of 80s fare like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Romancing the Stone (and their respective sequels), and even rollicks along in the footsteps of The Mummy franchise of the late 90s and early 00s (a series which actually gave Johnson his first big-screen roles). But, as anyone with even a passing knowledge of Disney’s theme parks knows, Jungle Cruise also falls from the attraction-to-film mould that the Mouse House clearly loves. Pirates of the Caribbean is an overt influence, right down to the way that some of this new flick’s villains look, and thrusting all these blatant templates to the fore — and together — doesn’t quite result in movie magic. Indeed, despite Johnson and Blunt’s charismatic and capable pairing, as well as the movie’s visually boisterous imagery, the film’s modest pleasures all fade oh-so-quickly, as happens with every amusement ride.
Directed by Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night and The Commuter‘s Jaume Collet-Serra, who makes a workmanlike but hardly memorable jump from unleashing Liam Neeson’s special set of skills, Jungle Cruise wants to whisk viewers off on a spirited ride. That’s the experiential aim of most theme park-based films: these flicks want audiences to feel like they’ve stepped inside the attraction from their cinema seat. So, before the movie’s title card graces the screen, two sequences endeavour to set this tone. It’s 1916, and Dr Lily Houghton (Blunt, A Quiet Place Part II) sneaks into an all-male science society to look for a treasured arrowhead from the Amazon. She’s tasked her fussy brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall, Good Omens) with deflecting the organisation’s members by telling them her theories about a fabled South American tree, called the Tears of the Moon, that can cure any illness or break any curse. The men are dismissive, but she knows they will be. She’s there to steal the trinket so it can lead her to the mythical plant, all while Prince Joachim of Germany (Jesse Plemons, Judas and the Black Messiah) tries to get his hands on it as well. When Lily comes out on top, the Houghtons are off to Brazil to hit the river, but they’ll need a captain to guide their watery jaunt. In his introductory scene, the roguish Frank Wolff (Johnson, Jumanji: The Next Level) is spied conducting tourist trips down the Amazon, every step choreographed like an amusement park ride, and with his own pun-heavy showman patter narrating the journey. He’s corny, and he has a jaguar in on the act, too. Accordingly, there are zero surprises when Lily enlists his services reluctantly and after some subterfuge on his side, or when he keeps trying to trick her into giving up her quest.
Jungle Cruise is available to stream via Disney+ with Premier Access. Read our full review.
TALL POPPY — A SKATER’S STORY
When skateboarding makes its debut as an Olympic sport in Tokyo this winter, it’ll do so with Poppy Starr Olsen flying the flag for Australia. A world champion since her teens, she first hit the Bondi Skate Park at the age of eight, and proclaimed at the time that she’d like to spend her adult life carving, ollieing, flipping and grinding — one of those childhood wishes that, in this case, has proven more than just a kid’s outlandish fantasy. Audiences know about this youthful exclamation because it was caught on camera. Yes, Tall Poppy — A Skater’s Story belongs in the camp of documentaries that are inescapably blessed by the constant lens through which many of our lives have been captured since video cameras became a household gadget and then a standard mobile phone feature. Accordingly, making her first feature-length doco, filmmaker Justine Moyle has ample material to draw upon as she weaves together a portrait of Olsen’s life from pint-sized bowl-rider to Australia’s best female skater, the fourth best woman on a board in the world and an Olympian, all by the age of 21. This isn’t just a film compiled from home videos, though, although the feature. In front of Dane Howell’s (Without a Tracey) lens as she has grown up, Olsen is candid, open and relaxed as she literally comes of age before the camera, and her skateboarding skills are just as riveting to watch.
You can tell much about Olsen by just seeing her in the bowl or on the park, no matter her age, wherever she happens to be at the time, or if she’s competing, practicing or just skating for fun. It hardly comes as a surprise that she takes to the pastime because it feels so freeing; as she rolls up and down in Bondi after first giving skateboarding a try, she may as well be flying. Tall Poppy — A Skater’s Story captures the rollercoaster ride from there, as she’s eager and enthusiastic at both local and international competitions, visibly nervous at her first X Games, and also a little disillusioned once she’s put on an Olympic path. She’s a teenager, in other words, and her emotional ups and downs mirror those on the board. This is a film about resilience, perseverance and taking on the world on your own terms, however, as Olsen works out who she wants to be and how that ripples through in her skateboarding. She’s already a role model, whether or not you want to follow in her footsteps. Here, she’s doubly so for her personal ebbs and flows, including through COVID-19, as much as her professional achievements. Tall Poppy — A Skater’s Story is an affectionate movie, of course. Its release is also impeccably timed, it’s as deservedly loving towards female skaters as the fictional Skate Kitchen and its TV spinoff Betty, and it shows the beauty in every commonplace and exceptional skateboarding trick. But Olsen’s presence, passion and prowess drive this rousing documentary above all else.
Tall Poppy — A Skater’s Story is available to stream via ABC iView, Google Play, YouTube Movies, iTunes and Amazon Prime Video.
FAST AND FURIOUS 9
Fast cars, furious action stars, a love of family and oh-so-many Coronas: across ten movies over 20 years, that’s the Fast and Furious franchise. It might’ve started out as a high-octane spin on Point Break, but this long-running series has kept motoring across nine flicks in its main storyline, and also via a 2019 spinoff. The latter, Hobbs & Shaw, actually casts a shadow over the saga’s latest instalment. Because Dwayne Johnson was part of that sidestep, he doesn’t show up in Fast and Furious 9. He’s missed, regardless of whether you’re usually a diehard fan of the wrestler-turned-actor, because he’s managed to perfect the F&F tone. Over his decade-long involvement to-date, Johnson always seems amused in his Fast and Furious performances. He’s always sweaty, too, but that’s another matter. Entering the F&F realm in Fast Five, he instantly oozed the kind of attitude the franchise needs. He knows that by taking the outlandish stunts, eye-catching setpieces and penchant for family with the utmost seriousness, these films border on comedic — and by navigating five flicks with that mood, he’s been the saga’s playful and entertaining barometer. Without Johnson, Fast and Furious 9 isn’t as willing to admit that it’s often downright silly. It’s nowhere near as fun, either. Hobbs & Shaw wasn’t a franchise standout, but Fast and Furious 9 mainly revs in one gear, even in a movie that features a high-speed car chase through Central American jungles, a plane with a magnet that can scoop up fast-driving vehicles and a trip to space in a rocket car.
The latest F&F is as ridiculous as ever, and it’s the least-eager F&F film to acknowledge that fact. It’s also mostly a soap opera. It leans heavily on its favourite theme — yes, family — by not only swapping in a different wrestler-turned-actor as Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel, Bloodshot) long-lost sibling, but also by fleshing out the warring brothers’ backstory through flashbacks to their tragic past. Fast and Furious 9 starts with an 80s-era Universal logo, because that’s the time period it heads to first — to introduce a teen Dom (Vinnie Bennett, Ghost in the Shell), his never-before-mentioned younger brother Jakob (Finn Cole, Dreamland) and their dad Jack (JD Pardo, Mayans MC). It’s 1989, the elder Toretto is behind the wheel on the racetrack, and his sons are part of his pit crew. Then tragedy strikes, tearing the Toretto family apart. In the present day, Dom and Jakob (John Cena, Playing with Fire) definitely don’t get along. Indeed, when Roman (Tyrese Gibson, The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two), Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Show Dogs) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel, Four Weddings and a Funeral) drive up to the rural hideout that Dom has been calling home with wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, Crisis) and toddler son Brian (first-timers Isaac and Immanuel Holtane) since the events of 2017’s The Fate of the Furious, he doesn’t even want to hear about the latest mission that demands their help. The only thing that changes his mind: realising that Jakob is involved and up to no good.
Fast and Furious 9 is available to stream via Google Play, YouTube Movies, iTunes and Amazon Prime Video. Read our full review.
Cutesy name, likeable stars, stylised brutality, a familiar revenge scenario: blend them all together, and that’s Gunpowder Milkshake. There’s one particular ingredient that’s missing from this action-thriller’s recipe, though, and its absence is surprising — because much about the film feels like it has jumped from the pages of a comic book. That’s one of the movie’s best traits, in fact. The world already has too many comics-to-cinema adaptations, but although Gunpowder Milkshake doesn’t stem from a graphic novel, it actually looks the part. Its precise framing and camera placement, hyper-vibrant colours and love of neon could’ve easily been printed in inky hues on paper, then splattered across the screen like the blood and bullets the feature sprays again and again. Writer/director Navot Papushado (Big Bad Wolves) and cinematographer Michael Seresin (War for the Planet of the Apes) have made a visually appealing film, and a movie with evident aesthetic flair. All that gloss is paired with a generic assassin storyline, however, and a half-baked feminist thrust. It’s Sin City meets John Wick but gender-flipped, except that the Kill Bill movies and Atomic Blonde have been there and done that.
Crafting a film that’s entertaining enough, but largely in a mechanical way, Papushado and co-scribe Ehud Lavski (a feature first-timer) attempt to complicate their narrative. The basics are hardly complex, though. As skilled killer Sam (Karen Gillan, Avengers: Endgame) notes in the movie’s opening narration, she works for a group of men called The Firm, cleaning up its messes with her deadly prowess. It’s an inherited gig, in a way. Fifteen years earlier, she was a fresh-faced teen (Freya Allan, The Witcher) with a mum, Scarlet (Lena Headey, Game of Thrones), who did the same thing. Then her mother abandoned her after a diner shootout, leaving Sam to fend herself — and, to ultimately get her jobs from Nathan (Paul Giamatti, Billions), one of The Firm’s flunkies. It’s on just that kind of gig that Sam kills the son of a rival crime hotshot (Ralph Ineson, Chernobyl), and he wants revenge. Soon, her employers are also on her trail, after she takes another assignment in an attempt to sort out her first problem, then ends up trying to save eight-year-old Emily (Chloe Coleman, Big Little Lies) from violent kidnappers. The cast also spans the impressive trio of Angela Bassett (Black Panther), Michelle Yeoh (Last Christmas) and Carla Gugino (a Sin City alum), albeit sparingly, with all of Gunpowder Milkshake‘s female figures solely tasked with navigating an inescapably clear-cut scenario.
Gunpowder Milkshake is available to stream via Google Play, YouTube Movies, iTunes and Amazon Prime Video. Read our full review.
SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY
In the misfire that’s always been 1996’s Space Jam, basketball superstar-turned-unconvincing actor Michael Jordan is asked to hurry up. “C’mon Michael, it’s game time! Get your Hanes on, lace up your Nikes, grab your Wheaties and your Gatorade, and we’ll pick up a Big Mac on the way to the ballpark,” he’s told. Spoken by go-to 90s schemester Wayne Knight (aka Seinfeld’s Newman), this line couldn’t better sum up the film or the franchise it has now spawned. The Space Jam movies aren’t really about the comedic chaos that springs when a famous sportsperson pals around with cartoons. That’s the plot, complicated in the original flick and now 25-years-later sequel Space Jam: A New Legacy by evil forces that turn a basketball game into a battle ground; however, it’s also just a means to an end. These features are truly about bringing brands together in a case of mutual leveraging, as product placement always is. Connect Looney Tunes with the NBA, and audiences will think of both when they think of either, the strategy aims. It has worked, of course — and with A New Legacy, the approach is put to even broader and more shameless use.
Everyone who has ever even just heard of Space Jam in passing knows its central equation: Looney Tunes + hoop dreams. The first Space Jam‘s viewers mightn’t also remember the aforementioned product name-drops, but Warner Bros, the studio behind this saga, hopes A New Legacy’s audience will forever recall its new references. All the brands shoehorned in here are WB’s own, with its other pop culture franchises and properties mentioned repeatedly. The company also has Harry Potter, The Matrix, the DC Extended Universe flicks such as Wonder Woman, and Mad Max: Fury Road in its stable. Its catalogue includes Game of Thrones, Rick and Morty, The Lord of the Rings, and Hanna-Barbera cartoons like The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo, too. And, it holds the rights to everything from The Wizard of Oz, Metropolis and Casablanca to A Clockwork Orange and IT. A New Legacy wants to forcefully and brazenly impress these titles into viewers’ minds so that they’ll always equate them with the studio. In other words, this is just a Warner Bros ad with LeBron James and Looney Tunes as its spokespeople. You don’t need to be a cynic or have zero nostalgia for the OG Space Jam to see A New Legacy as purely a marketing exercise, though, because corporate synergy is literally what the movie’s villain, an algorithm named Al G Rhythm (Don Cheadle, Avengers: Endgame) that runs the on-screen Warner Bros, aims to achieve in this shambles of a film.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is available to stream via Google Play, YouTube Movies, iTunes and Amazon Prime Video. Read our full review.
Life-changing conversations can happen in bars — as Jan Vokes well and truly knows. Played in Dream Horse by Toni Collette (I’m Thinking of Ending Things), the Welsh supermarket employee and pub barmaid overheard Howard Davies (Damian Lewis, Billions) chatting about his past success as a racehorse owner. In his beer-fuelled boasting, he doesn’t discuss how it almost left him bankrupt and divorced, but Jan is still inspired to both follow his lead and enlist his help. Having bred whippets and racing pigeons before, and won prizes for doing so, she decides she’ll turn her attention to horses. Husband Brian (Owen Teale, Game of Thrones) isn’t initially convinced, but soon she’s studying guides, finding a mare and then a stallion, and convincing her friends and neighbours to put away a tenner a week to pay for this little endeavour. The syndicate’s focus: a foal they name Dream Alliance, who spends his early days being raised on the Vokes’ allotment, and eventually ends up with racing hotshot Philip Hobbs (Nicholas Farrell, The Nevers) as its trainer. Dream Horse wouldn’t exist if success didn’t follow, and it leaves no doubt that that’s the case; however, director Euros Lyn (The Library Suicides) and screenwriter Neil McKay (Mad Money) chart lows as well as highs, and always ensure their characters are their primary focus.
Dream Alliance was always going to gallop into cinemas, of course — and not just via 2015 documentary Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance. His is a story too crowd-pleasing for filmmakers to ignore, especially given the UK’s penchant for against-the-odds tales about motley crews of struggling salt-of-the-earth characters who band together over an unusual but swiftly shared interest that ends up revitalising their lives in more ways than one. That’s the template Dream Horse plays to, even though it’s based on a true tale and an actual horse. The Full Monty, Calendar Girls and similar feel-good flicks provide as much inspiration here as the actual real-life details, in fact. Accordingly, this is a movie that’s easy to get caught up in. It’s almost impossible not to, really. That said, it’s also a film that wears its warmth, sentimentality and shameless heartstring-pulling as a badge of honour. As a result, it’s also impossible to ignore the buttons the movie keeps gleefully pushing, and the parts of the tale that must’ve been smoothed out to elicit the desired cheer-inducing response — even around Collette’s committed performance. But this happily mawkish feature and its characters are all doing it for the “hwyl”, a Welsh term that means “emotional motivation and energy”, and neither is willing to let that mission dwindle even for a second.
Dream Horse is available to stream via Google Play, YouTube Movies, iTunes and Amazon Prime Video.
SNAKE EYES: GI JOE ORIGINS
Every film doesn’t have to spawn a franchise, and most shouldn’t; however, when a Hollywood studio teams up with a toy manufacturer to turn action figures into a movie, and then wants to keep using the latter to sell the former, apparently that stops being the case. That’s why cinema audiences have been forced to suffer through the Transformers movies over the years, and why we also now have Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins, the latest addition that no one wanted to a dull saga that started with 2009’s GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra and then continued via 2013’s GI Joe: Retaliation. Channing Tatum isn’t part of the story this time around, with the focus shifting to the eponymous Snakes Eyes (Henry Golding, Monsoon). Before the character becomes a member of the GI Joe team, he’s a man out to avenge the murder of his father (Steven Allerick, Westworld) from back when he was a kid. That quest first leads him into the employ of yakuza kingpin Kenta (Takehiro Hira, Girl/Haji), where he helps smuggle guns in giant dead fish. From there, he gets his shot with the Arashikage clan — a family-run enclave of Japanese powerbrokers that the ambitious Tommy (Andrew Koji, Warrior) thinks he’ll lead next, is unsurprisingly wary of outsiders, but eventually and after much suspicion from head of security Akiko (Haruka Abe, Cruella) lets Snake Eyes undertake its secretive testing process to become a member.
It’s a credit to director Robert Schwentke (Insurgent and Allegiant), and to writers Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Unholy), Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse (Rebecca), that Snake Eyes isn’t obsessed with obnoxiously stressing its franchise ties. It does all lead up to uttering a well-known GI Joe adversary’s name, other recognisable characters such as Scarlett (Samara Weaving, Bill & Ted Face the Music) and Baroness (Úrsula Corberó, Money Heist) pop up, and nefarious terrorist organisation Cobra plays a part, but none of these links ever feel like the movie’s primary purpose. Still, that half-heartedness speaks volumes about a movie that displays that trait again and again, is fine with remaining a generic Tokyo-set ninja revenge movie — complete with gratingly obvious shots of Mount Fuji, the Shibuya scramble crossing and Tokyo Tower — and also works giant snakes rendered in visually abhorrent CGI into the mix. The best element: Golding, who has never been less than charismatic in any of his on-screen roles (see also: Last Christmas, A Simple Favour and Crazy Rich Asians). He can’t lift this formulaic franchise-extending slog, though, and neither can his rapport with both Koji and Abe, Schwentke’s eye for his settings or the movie’s often eye-catching costuming. The film’s unenthused action scenes prove an apt weathervane, because they’re by-the-numbers at best, even when The Raid‘s Iko Uwais is involved.
Snake Eyes is available to stream via Google Play, YouTube Movies and Amazon Prime Video.
SIR ALEX FERGUSON: NEVER GIVE IN
Even among sports agnostics who know next to nothing about football of any code, and don’t want to, Sir Alex Ferguson’s name still likely rings a bell. The prodigiously successful soccer manager was synonymous with equally prosperous English Premier League team Manchester United for almost three decades between 1986–2013, leading them to 38 different trophies — including 13 EPL titles. He oversaw an era that featured star players such as David Beckham, Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, all famous names that are also known beyond sports fans. Accordingly, Ferguson is a highly obvious candidate for a documentary, particularly an authorised film directed by his own son Jason. But the best docos don’t just preach to the already celebratory and converted. A piece of non-fiction cinema has the potential to turn any viewer into an aficionado, and to get everyone watching not only paying attention, but wholly invested. As the vastly dissimilar, not-at-all sports-related The Sparks Brothers also does, that’s what Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In achieves. It steps through its eponymous subject’s life story, all with the man himself narrating the details, sharing his memories and musings, and looking back on an extraordinary career.
Helpfully when it comes to standing out from the crowded sports doco crowd, Never Give In has an angle: in 2018, Sir Alex was rushed to hospital and into surgery due to a brain haemorrhage. At the time, his biggest fear was losing his memories, which the younger Ferguson uses as an entry point — and as a touchstone throughout the birth-to-now recollections that fill the film otherwise. This approach helps reinforce exactly what Sir Alex has to recall, and what it all means to him. It also makes his plight relatable, a feat his footballing achievements were never going to muster (we can all understand the terror of having our lives’ best moments ripped from our consciousness, but few people can claim to know what his level of professional success feels like). In his Scottish brogue, the elder Ferguson proves a lively storyteller, talking through his upbringing in Glasgow, his childhood adoration of Rangers Football Club, his ups and downs as a player — including taking to the pitch for Rangers and against them — and the path that led him to coaching first in Scotland, then for Manchester United. A wealth of archival footage assists in fleshing out the tale, as do interviews with players such as Cantona and Ryan Griggs. The result: an easy win of a film, but a nonetheless compelling and skilful one, too.
Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In is available to stream via Google Play, YouTube Movies, iTunes and Amazon Prime Video.
The first time that a Kiger Mustang named Spirit cantered across the silver screen, it was in 2002’s Oscar-nominated Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Back then, the film marked just the sixth theatrical feature that Dreamworks Animation had brought to cinemas — following Antz, The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, Chicken Run and Shrek — and if anything stood out, it was the movie’s hand-drawn animation. Almost two decades later, Spirit Untamed returns the energetic and determined horse back to theatres. The movie he’s in still looks gorgeous, even if computers have replaced pencils in bringing him to life. That said, this isn’t actually the franchise’s second step, with Netflix series Spirit Riding Free also telling the apple-loving animal’s story across 78 episodes since 2017. In both look and feel, Spirit Untamed has more in common with its streaming counterpart than its big-screen predecessor, unsurprisingly. It’s happy to primarily court the show’s young audience, too. Indeed, while voice work by Jake Gyllenhaal (Spider-Man: Far From Home), Julianne Moore (Lisey’s Story), Walton Goggins (Fatman), Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and Eiza González (Godzilla vs Kong) is designed to appeal to adults, there’s little else but scant traces of nostalgia and pastel-hued imagery to keep anyone past their teens interested.
Her vocals stem from a different actor — with Isabela Merced (Dora and the Lost City of Gold) doing the honours — but Fortuna Esperanza “Lucky” Prescott still sits at the heart of Spirit Untamed. Like Spirit Riding Free, the new film tells of Lucky’s arrival in the frontier town of Miradero, her connection with Spirit and her efforts to save him from wranglers (led by Goggins). Also covered: her budding friendship with fellow horse-lovers Pru (voiced here by Little’s Marsai Martin) and Abigail (Mckenna Grace, Annabelle Comes Home). They’re the pals she needs when Spirit and his wild companions are snatched up by the nefarious rustlers, who plan to ship the horses off and sell them. Together, the pre-teen trio then sets off across the dangerous plains, determined to save the galloping animals and do the right thing. There’s an obvious but still welcome and powerful message in Lucky’s story, as she ignores her worried dad’s (Gyllenhaal) warnings and her doting aunt’s (Moore) fussing, choosing to follow her own heart and path instead. (Her father frets because her mother, voiced by González, worked as a horse-riding stunt performer and died during a show.) Similarly pleasing, even if the movie basically just remakes the TV show’s first episode: that this all-ages wild west tale heroes women, although it pales in comparison to the recent Calamity, a Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary.
Spirit Untamed is available to stream via Google Play, YouTube Movies, iTunes and Amazon Prime Video.
Looking for more at-home viewing options? Check out our lists of movies fast-tracked from cinemas to streaming back in May, June and July. You can also take a look at our monthly streaming recommendations across new straight-to-digital films and TV shows.
Published on August 27, 2021 by Sarah Ward