Words by Jason Best
If you’re looking for excellent movies to keep you busy during lockdown, some great new releases have been added to Amazon Prime, iTunes, Sky Cinema and more.
So grab a cuppa, get comfy and settle down with one of these epic stories…
The Perfect Candidate
Saudi Arabia’s first female director, Haifaa Al Mansour, deploys sly charm and winning humour as she tackles her country’s endemic sexism in this surprisingly feelgood tale of a young woman who becomes an unexpected electoral candidate. Highly proficient doctor Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani) only takes this step because of her determination to get the muddy road to her emergency clinic repaired. But mounting a political campaign in a deeply patriarchal society is more than a challenge. Al Mansour portrayed the everyday slights and struggles faced by Saudi women in her first film, 2012’s Wadjda, the tale of a spunky 10-year-old tomboy entering a Qu’ran recitation competition in her bid to buy a bicycle. Maryam’s battles are even bigger, but Al Mansour ensures you will be amused and uplifted as well as outraged as her heroine seeks to make her mark.
This sassy, sharp and riotously entertaining comedy-drama takes us back to the 1970 Miss World contest, where Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Miss Grenada bids to make history while women’s libbers Keira Knightley and Jessie Buckley plot to disrupt the ceremony in London. With juicy roles, too, for Rhys Ifans and Keeley Hawes as the contest’s canny organisers, Eric and Julia Morley, and Greg Kinnear as smarmy host Bob Hope, the movie captures the era’s dodgy fashions and even dodgier sexual politics with vivid gusto. And it pulls off its mix of comedy, satire and underdog drama brilliantly.
Available on iTunes
Like a Boss
Lifelong besties Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne find their friendship and business partnership at risk after Salma Hayek’s predatory tycoon takes an interest in their fledgling cosmetics company. Anyone in the mood for an old-school workplace comedy need look no further. But this one also supplies a timely and enduring celebration of female empowerment and sisterhood. The stars are perfectly cast, with Haddish typically brassy as the raunchy Mia and Byrne’s Mel ideal as her more cautious foil, while Hayek lets rip as their haughty, unscrupulous, golf-club-swinging nemesis. It is co-star Billy Porter, playing the start-up company’s male beautician, however, who very nearly steals the film. His ‘tragic moment’ after getting fired is priceless. Along the way, there are jabs and jibes at everything from Botox to toxic men, but Mia and Mel’s mission statement – and the movie’s ultimate message – couldn’t be more heartening. ‘We want women to shine from the inside out.’
Available on iTunes
The Rhythm Section
Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively gets tough in this globetrotting action thriller as a woman seeking payback for the deaths of her whole family in a terrorist airplane bombing. Mired in survivor guilt, she crawls out of junkie depression and gets on the path of vengeance with help from Jude Law’s rogue ex-MI6 agent, who whips her into shape at his hideaway in the Scottish Highlands. Refreshingly, Lively’s heroine doesn’t immediately turn into an ultra-cool, kick-ass ninja. She’s fumbling and petrified when she goes into action – which instantly sets the movie apart from the Bourne-style thrillers it might otherwise resemble as it hops between Madrid, Tangier, Marseille, New York and Marseille. The plot doesn’t stack up, but Lively is superb as the tenacious but vulnerable heroine and director Reed Morano gives the action scenes a real sense of sweat and adrenaline, including a terrific, white-knuckle car chase through the streets of Tangier that we witness entirely through Lively’s blurry panic.
Available on iTunes
Indecently charismatic, Jennifer Lopez swaggers, struts and pole-dances her way through this sizzling comedy-drama inspired by the true story of a band of strippers who got even with their unscrupulous Wall Street clients in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. These men scammed the country and got away with it, reasons Lopez’s veteran pole dancer Ramona, having taken callow newbie Destiny (Crazy Rich Asians star Constance Wu) under her wing. Now it’s the strip-club sisters’ turn to play a hustle of their own. Hopping back and forth between the late-2000s and 2014, when Julia Stiles’ journalist interviews Destiny about the women’s scheme, Lorene Scafaria’s film is sharp, savvy and surprisingly feminist. Lopez is terrific (and amazingly limber), but she isn’t the whole show. Co-star Wu proves her worthy foil, and there are arresting cameos from music stars Cardi B, Lizzo and Usher.
Now available on Amazon Prime
Selah and the Spades
Dead Poets Society meets All About Eve in this stylishly offbeat addition to the boarding school genre. The setting is an elite Pennsylvania academy where aloof 17-year-old perfectionist Selah (Lovie Simone) rules the most dominant of the school’s five student factions with a ruthlessness that would win the admiration of a Mafia boss. Her self-possession begins to slip, however, after she takes on besotted younger student Paloma (Celeste O’Connor) as her protégée. First-time director Tayarisha Poe, herself an alumnus of a prestigious East Coast prep school, dissects her fictional school’s cliques and claques with the finicky precision of Wes Anderson, but her film’s more off-kilter touches are all her own. Don’t look for an inspirational teacher in the Robin Williams mould: studying barely gets a look in here. Poe’s focus is the weird hothouse atmosphere generated by the students themselves. And her portrayal of boarding school culture is odd enough to be authentic.
Available on Amazon Prime
Mickey and the Bear
Mickey, the heroine of this thoughtful coming-of-age drama, is not your usual Midwest teenager. When she surreptitiously dips into her father’s wallet, it’s to put money in rather than take it out. Just turning 18, she is the carer for her PTSD-damaged, Iraq War veteran dad, Hank (James Badge Dale), with whom she lives in a battered trailer in a small, former mining town in Montana called Anaconda. Her mother is dead and she’s saddled with a swaggering, selfish jerk of a boyfriend (Ben Rosenfield) who thinks nothing of swiping Hank’s last pills of OxyContin and whose height of ambition is to marry Mickey and get her pregnant as quickly as possible. Mickey’s dream is to enrol in college in San Diego. But is she able to sever the ties that bind? Anchored by a superb, richly nuanced performance in the lead by Camila Morrone (Leonardo DiCaprio’s current girlfriend), this quietly absorbing film marks an assured debut for actress turned writer-director Annabelle Attanasio.
Available on Sky Cinema Premiere from 30 April