Theaters start carefully reopen in some placesand drive-ins making a comeback. But since most theaters are still closed due to the new coronavirus pandemic, this year’s movie season is still up in the air.
Still, movie releases have not been delayed. Every weekend, on streaming services and through “virtual theatrical” releases, new and newly available movies arrive for cinephiles of all levels.
The offer for this Memorial Day weekend is uniform and brings joy. There is a documentary about a snappy, brilliant chef. There is a rom-com caper and an intimate non-fiction portrait of a painter and a thief. One of last year’s most joyful musicals is now available to stream. And a journey of ten ten-year-old comedians is drawing to a close, with a wonderful trip to Greece. (Most movies newly released in the past few weeks are also still available to watch.)
Here are the top five films from different genres that premiered this week and can be watched at home – for a few dollars on digital services, through virtual theatrical engagements, or for subscribers on streaming platforms.
Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy
Diana Kennedy is 97 years old, but you never know about it Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy, fully showing the insatiable appetite of the famous cookbook author, both for good food and for learning about her adopted homeland Mexico. Kennedy, who is British, moved to Mexico with her husband as a young woman and lived there for most of her adult life. She has become so fascinated with the native Mexican cuisine – with its ingredients, its traditional methods, the way different regions of Mexico deal with all kinds of flavors and textures – that she is widely regarded as an authority in the field of cuisine, even by native chefs, and has also been referred to as the “Julia Child of Mexico.” (Kennedy prefers to be called the “Mick Jagger of Mexican cuisine.”) “To give Mexican cuisine the place it deserves, she is an adoptive daughter in Mexico,” said Abigail Mendoza, chef and owner of Tlamanalli restaurant and a friend of Kennedy for over 35 years.
Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy, which derives its subtitle one of Kennedy’s books, is an unusually captivating portrait of a chef who is primarily interested in preserving traditional ways, rather than adapting them to modern taste. Director Elizabeth Carroll spends time with Kennedy on her travels and at home so she can tell her own story in her own way, interspersed with interviews with famous chefs (such as José Andrés and Alice Waters) and the people Kennedy has befriended . Kennedy is largely responsible for introducing Mexican cuisine to the English-speaking culinary world, and her stubborn enthusiasm is infectious.
How to view it: Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy is in virtual theaters this week and a list of participating theaters is available at the movie website. (You will receive a rental link and the winnings will help support the independent theater you select on the page.)
Really, The lovebirds is an excuse to get Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani in the same spot and bounce each other. The pair play Leilani (Rae) and Jibran (Nanjiani), who have been together for four years but are getting on each other’s nerves. They are on their way to a fork when they hit a motorcyclist on the way home from a very unpleasant dinner date, who only looks at them wildly and continues. Then a police officer (Paul Sparks) orders the car, with them inside, to chase the motorcyclist and mow him down an alley and then disappear himself. Suddenly it seems that Leilani and Jibran are the killers. Their attempts to clear their name give them a strange thrill ride.
Directed by the great comedy director Michael Showalter (The Big Sick), The lovebirds is a bag with sets, some of which work better than others. You can guess where the story is going – of course you can; The lovebirds is a romantic comedy, the formula of which almost always ensures that you know what will happen in the end. But the joy of any numbered genre is to see how it is performed. Rae and Nanjiani are great comedians whose jokes and antics are fun to watch, so even if you know how The lovebirds rounding things up, it’s very nice to see how they get to that point.
How to view it: The lovebirds is streaming on Netflix.
The painter and the thief
The painter and the thief is a beautiful film about the young Czech painter Barbora Kysilkova and Karl-Bertil Nordland, the thief who stole two of her paintings from a gallery in Oslo. He says he was so high that he can’t remember why he did it – or what he did with the paintings. Barbora is less interested in the thief himself than in where he took her paintings, but eventually she meets him and decides to paint his portrait, forming a kind of friendship and creative partnership.
The painter and the thief, which won an award for creative stories at Sundance, actively challenges what we think we understand about the characters based on their looks, class markings or behavior. It highlights the way in which all kinds of artists, from painters to filmmakers, turn reality into something at least a little fictionalized to make their work and how everyone hides the truth a bit.
How to view it: The painter and the thief opens on May 22 virtual cinemas and digital platforms including iTunes, Fandango Now and Google Play. Some virtual screenings during opening weekend also involve Q & As with filmmakers and subjects (one moderated by me). See the film’s website for full details.
Any valuable movie about Elton John must be much, much larger than life. But Rocketman, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, is smart enough not to try to top the subject. It is flashy because the singer is a spectacular light source. The film explodes with energy because Elton John is the pulse. It stumbles a few times – just like John – but overall it’s a consistently good biopic and jukebox musical from start to finish, a film rooted in a real story that nevertheless doesn’t stick too close to the ground.
What a relief. You don’t have to be a fan of Elton John’s music to know his music; even the most pop-ignorant person knows “Your song, ‘And’Little dancer, ‘And’Rocket Man. And it’s easy to see Taron Egerton play Elton John slapping a crowd in a frenzy, to understand the artist’s genius. Rocketman is a solid introduction to the singer who is also guaranteed to please his fans.
The trip to Greece
The trip to Greece is the fourth (and perhaps last) in a series of films in which actors and comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon go out for a week somewhere to eat extravagantly, explore the countryside and have fun. Ostensibly, the couple are there to ‘overhaul’ the restaurants, but the food and wine and comedic bits are really part of a story of discovery and sometimes disturbing reflections on life, love and regret.
Although comparing the past and future of the couple is always part of the trip series, The trip to Greece is more interested in mortality than its predecessors. Brydon and Coogan follow in the footsteps of Odysseus, from Troy to Ithaca, spoke Greek mythological trivia alongside jokes about “The Poetics, by Ari Stottle” and duel impressions from everyone from Marlon Brando and Dustin Hoffman to Werner Herzog. Of all four terms, The trip to Greece – although it does sniff funny in some places – it plays most like a drama. The entire series, taken together, is a meditation on middle age and mortality, on how our irrevocable life choices, even if they are the right ones, will haunt us all our lives.