Movie guide: What to stream this week
While cinemas are being forced to make do with mid-strength fare - or are shut altogether - the streaming platforms seemingly have a lock on the most entertaining features on offer.
Leigh Paatsch takes a closer look at some of the most prominent movies to liven up the streaming landscape recently.
THE OLD GUARD (MA15+)
NETFLIX, 123 min
Big-budget, low-calorie action has long been a house specialty for Netflix Original productions. This new Charlize Theron butt-kicker will definitely appease those who thought highly of the platform's recent hit Extraction with Chris Hemsworth. Theron plays Andy, the leader of a band of immortal warriors whose one job is save the world from its self-destructive tendencies. Andy is tired of centuries of dying and resurrecting repeatedly, and seems to want out just as her posse is admitting their first new member (Kiki Layne) in many generations. Plotting can get pedestrian here - the stakes feel a little low for a tale encompassing political hot spots like Afghanistan and South Sudan - but well-designed fight sequences never drop their guard for a moment. Based on the cult graphic novel series by Greg Rucka.
APPLE TV, 87 min
A lean and meaningful war picture which turns out to be everything the similarly-themed recent cinema hit Midway was not. It is the height of WWII, and in a stretch of the North Atlantic known as the Black Pit, a convoy of American naval supply ships is being stalked by a sizeable pack of German U-boats. The only protection the Allied vessels can hope for comes from destroyers such as the USS Keeling, which just happens to be under the command of a rookie skipper on his first assignment in combat conditions. The movie sticks close to the stressed, yet clear-thinking strategic perspective of Commander Ernest Krause (compellingly played by Tom Hanks, for whom this is a longstanding passion project). This gripping production will definitely appeal to military buffs, but its ability to grip a viewer and not let go is deceptively wide-ranging. Sequences where Krause is on the attack against an enemy he literally never sees are what really stick in the mind here. Another big plus: it's all over inside 90 minutes (a rarity these days!).
DISNEY+, 162 min
This is not a feature movie adaptation of the mega-hit stage musical that has been selling out houses around the world for several years. That will happen later this decade, for sure. No, this is a live recording of the spectacular stage show featuring the A-list company (headed by creator and chief composer Lin-Manuel Miranda) that put this epic endeavour on the map in the first place. This is the version for which a ticket often changed hands for thousands of dollars. So a look-see up close from the comfort of your lounge room just has to be a bargain, right? Kind of. An ambitious biopic of American founding father Alexander Hamilton can easily get the better of those not totally up to speed with their US history. Don't be afraid to press pause and take a breather.
ALI & CAVETT: THE TALE OF THE TAPES (PG)
BINGE, FOXTEL, 95 min
It is almost impossible to make a bad documentary about legendary heavyweight boxing champ and standout human being Muhammad Ali. While this new one is hardly the most essential of an extensive array of Ali docos, it also cannot fail to entertain or enlighten. Such is the boundless charisma and vitality of the man. The set-up is very simple here. The doco sifts through Ali's 12 appearances on the US TV talk program The Dick Cavett Show, and finds gold just about everywhere. Footage spans the late 1960s through to the 1990s, and while Cavett is not that well known here in Australia, rest assured he is an intelligent and sharp interviewer who got the best out of the bloke they called "The Greatest" time and time again.
DA 5 BLOODS (MA15+)
NETFLIX, 154 min
Just like with his previous movie, 2018's BlacKkKlansman, decorated filmmaker Spike Lee sneaks in a hard-hitting history lesson behind a seemingly conventional adventure yarn. Delroy Lindo spearheads a quartet of African-American ex-soldiers who return to Vietnam to sort out some unfinished business. While out to honour the memory of a fallen comrade (Chadwick Boseman), the fellas also have a heads-up on some missing treasure that just might make up for the many missed chances in their respective lives. Be patient during a plodding midsection, because the exciting finale is well worth sticking around for.
THE DEAD DON'T DIE (MA15+)
BINGE, FOXTEL, 104 min
Welcome to Centerville, where some newly zombie-fied former residents have returned, looking to pick up where they left off while still alive. Oh, and they're rather hungry after taking that dirt nap, too. So begins a deliriously deadpan zom-com looking to have some smart fun at the expense of how dumb a zombie movie thing can be. It doesn't exactly hurt that director Jim Jarmusch has attracted an A-grade cast to this goofy B-movie, led by Bill Murray and Star Wars regular Adam Driver as Centerville's best cops on the case. Co-stars set to chow down or be chomped include Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Tilda Swinton, Tom Waits and Selena Gomez.
LAUREL CANYON (M)
DOCPLAY, 160 min
This exquisite study of a singular place and time in popular music history is one of the finest music documentaries of recent years. Laurel Canyon is a rustic, idyllic hideaway just kilometres away from downtown Los Angeles. It is here, in the mid-1960s, that an incredibly influential community of singer-songwriters evolved, including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and various members of The Eagles. The roll call does not end there. The use of previously unseen home movies and photographs is spellbinding. Highly recommended.
THE VAST OF NIGHT (M)
AMAZON, 82 min
What this bargain-basement American indie lacks in polish, it more than compensates for with ideas, intelligence and a determination to deliver. The setting is a small country town in the 1950s, where unexplained electrical interference could be signalling an imminent visit by strangers from parts unknown. If this sounds a little science-fictiony, let's just say this clever tale passes through that realm on the way to something of its own making. Some virtuoso camera shots and the accomplished work of an unknown cast combine for something truly special: close to exactly what a Steven Spielberg might have done if he was just starting out today.
Originally published as Movie guide: What to stream this week