Entertainment

New Movies to Watch This Week: ‘Barb and Star,’ ‘Judas and the Black Messiah,’ ‘Minari’ and ‘The Mauritanian’

With the Super Bowl behind us and the Oscars looming (and a pandemic-dampened Valentine’s Day as a marketing peg), American distributors are releasing their most robust slate of new releases in months this weekend.

Awards contenders “Judas and the Black Messiah” (about the FBI-sanctioned murder of Fred Hampton) and “Land” (starring and directed by Robin Wright) arrive in theaters, hot off their premieres at this year’s virtual Sundance Film Festival. Also on the awards-worthy indie front, A24 releases last year’s Sundance winner “Minari” on demand. Steven Yuen stars in this immigrant story with universal appeal. And if theaters are open (and safe) near you, consider catching Michelle Pfeiffer in the wickedly funny “French Exit.”

Targeting teens with Valentine’s offerings, Amazon delivers the “Groundhog Day”-esque romance “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” to Prime subscribers, while Netflix completes its “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” trilogy with “Always and Forever.” For those who’ve aged out of the YA genre, “Bridesmaids” co-writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo deliver best-friends comedy (in which vacation sex with Jamie Dornan threatens to disrupt the gabby twosome’s bond) in “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.”

Here’s a rundown of those films opening this week that Variety has reviewed, along with information on where you can watch them. Find more movies and TV shows to stream here.

Available in Theaters and on HBO Max

Judas and the Black Messiah (Shaka King) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Where to Find It: In select theaters and HBO Max
An intense, infuriating and indisputably timely big-screen retelling of the circumstances under which Illinois BPP chapter chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) was assassinated by the establishment. At the center of the operation was William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), the former Black Panther security captain who sabotaged the movement by serving as an undercover informant for the FBI. Presented here as a crisis of conscience, O’Neal’s experience … puts the current moment into fresh historical context and suggests that ambivalence can its own form of betrayal. — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

French Exit
Courtesy of Tobias Datumas/Sony Pictures Classics

New Releases Only in Theaters

St. Maud (Rose Glass)
Distributor: A24
Where to Find It: In select theaters
Glass is sparing with her shocks, but knows how to make them count, like sudden voltage surges in the fritzed, volatile machinery of her narrative, each one leaving the protagonist a little more anxiously damaged than before. A meek, devoutly Christian palliative nurse, with an open wound of a past and what she believes is a higher calling for the future, Maud is like Carrie White and her mother Margaret rolled into one unholy holy terror; as played with brilliant, blood-freezing intensity by Morfydd Clark, she’s a genre anti-heroine to cherish, protect and recoil from, sometimes all at once. — Guy Lodge
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French Exit (Azazel Jacobs) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Where to Find It: In select theaters
“My plan was to die before the money ran out,” Frances (Michelle Pfeiffer) says with a nihilistic sigh. She has outlived her means, and now she must sell her things and take her cash and her son (Lucas Hedges) and her cat to Paris. “French Exit” blisters amid the rarefied air of Tom Wolfe or Whit Stillman, but it’s nicely cut with the schadenfreude of “Schitt’s Creek.” Frances is nothing if not a perfect Dorothy Parker character, and in Pfeiffer’s clutches, privilege has seldom seemed so delectable, even as it attempts to make some necessary economies. — Peter Debruge
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Land (Robin Wright) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: Focus Features
Where to Find It: In select theaters
Robin Wright spends most of “Land” alone, but that’s not how her character Edee sees it. Newly widowed and raw with sorrow for reasons left (mostly) unsaid, Edee abandons nearly everything about her old life and buys a cabin on the side of a mountain in Wyoming. Isolation serves a specific purpose for Edee, one that Wright, in a directorial debut so pure and simple it speaks to enormous self-confidence, has better instincts than to reveal outright. Bless Wright for paring it down to a beautiful haiku, and for delivering a performance that’s ambiguous and understated in all the right ways. — Peter Debruge
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The Mauritanian (Kevin Macdonald)
Distributor: STXFilms
Where to Find It: In select theaters
Defense attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) braved insult and scorn when she took up the case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim), who was arrested in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. At the time (and likely to this day), many in the U.S. military believed Slahi to be involved in aiding and perhaps even recruiting the hijackers who flew the planes into the World Trade Center. For Hollander, taking Slahi’s side was an extremely unpopular position, and one that Macdonald (“One Day in September,” “The Last King of Scotland”) embraces with a righteous fervor. — Peter Debruge
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The World to Come (Mona Fastvold) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: Bleecker Street
Where to Find It: In select theaters, followed by digital March 2
As played by Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby, Abigail and Tallie are women ahead of their confined, frustrated time. But “The World to Come” doesn’t stress the point with modish anachronisms or film-pausing speeches. Instead, Fastvold’s film leans into the measured vernacular and daily routine of the mud-stained 19th-century lives it depicts, finding a satisfying kinship between the hard, gradual blossoming of its chosen landscape and the formal, subtly expressive language of writer Jim Shepard, who has gracefully adapted his own 2017 short story with Ron Hansen. — Guy Lodge
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Barb and Star Go to Visa Del Mar
©Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Co

New Releases on Demand and in Select Theaters

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (Andrei Konchalovsky)
Distributor: Lionsgate
Where to Find It: In virtual cinemas and on-demand
Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wiig) are enthusiastically twee Midwestern rubes. They’re like chatterbox queens of the coffee klatsch, their conversation a nattering onslaught of maniacally cheerful and almost paralyzing banality. “Barb and Star” is no “Bridesmaids.” That movie was five times funnier, and five times deeper. This one, with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay as two of its producers, has that “Relax, it’s just a frothy cartoon” vibe, with the director, Josh Greenbaum, spanking the jokes along. — Owen Gleiberman
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Breaking News in Yuba County (Tate Taylor)
Distributor: American International Pictures
Where to Find It: In theaters, on demand and digital
Neglected banker’s wife Sue Buttons (Allison Janney) finds all the attention she’s been missing from her marriage in the glow of the local media in this surprisingly violent small-town satire that feels every bit as much a period piece as director Taylor’s 2011 hit “The Help,” despite taking place in the present day. It suggests a cross between such dark comedies as “To Die For” and “Fargo,” minus those films’ pitch-perfect balance between eccentricity and outrageousness. Here, Taylor wrings laughs from weird wigs and even wonkier carnage. — Peter Debruge
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Cowboys (Anna Kerrigan)
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Where to Find It: Available on demand and digital
“Cowboys” taps directly into the myth of the American male, with his leather boots and blue jeans, square jaw and wide stance, as immortalized in the collective imagination by painter Frederick Remington, director John Ford and decades of Marlboro tobacco advertising. But it does so with a twist: This debut feature explores how that tough-guy archetype impresses itself on a gender-nonconforming child. Who says that cowboys have to be boys? And that girls must stay girls? — Peter Debruge
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Fear of Rain (Castille Landon)
Distributor: Lionsgate
Where to Find It: In theaters and virtual cinemas
“Am I crazy or is this really happening?” is by now a fairly familiar hook for thrillers. But “Fear of Rain” gets some fresh mileage from it by embedding us in the perspective of a teenager diagnosed with schizophrenia — and whose worries are thus dismissed as delusional when she decides a next-door neighbor is up to something nefarious. Middling at best in terms of suspense mechanics, and not the most perceptive treatment of mental illness, this nonetheless compels interest as a well-acted drama-cum-mystery whose heroine has some unique challenges to her amateur sleuthing. — Dennis Harvey
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I Blame Society (Gillian Wallace Horvat)
Distributor: Cranked Up
Where to Find It: On demand
On its surface, it’s a bit we’ve seen before. A struggling indie director, facing peer indifference but armed with unshakable self-belief, takes matters into her own hands and makes a movie about a struggling indie director who faces peer indifference, etc. But Horvat is too righteously angry to go as twee as “Living in Oblivion,” and too canny to end up as nihilist as “Man Bites Dog.” (And while the title is perhaps a reference to “Repo Man,” Horvat’s film bears no real resemblance to that cult classic except in its similarly unhinged, escalatingly gonzo vibe). — Jessica Kiang
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Lapsis (Noah Hutton) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: Film Movement
Where to Find It: In virtual cinemas, on demand and digital
As urgent as the issue of economic inequality is, it’s not easily dramatized — not without sticking to the still-sexy malfeasance of high-end wrongdoers in movies like “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “The Big Short.” Noah Hutton’s “Lapsis” manages to meet that challenge in entertainingly original terms, however. This tale of a floundering gig-economy worker straddles both the bleak present-tense reality of Ken Loach’s “Sorry We Missed You” and the subversive near-future political satire of Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You” while arriving at a whimsical critique all its own. surface, it’s a bit we’ve seen before. — Dennis Harvey
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Minari (Lee Isaac Chung) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: A24
Where to Find It: In theaters and virtual cinemas
It took four movies before Chung was ready to tell the kind of story first-timers so often rush to share straight out of the gate. Not a coming-of-age movie so much as a deeply personal and lovingly poetic rendering of his Korean American childhood — specifically, how it felt for his immigrant family to adjust to life in small-town Arkansas — “Minari” benefits from the maturity and perspective Chung brings to the project. Waiting until his early 40s to make sense of memories from when he was 6, Chung transforms the specificity of his upbringing into something warm, tender and universal. — Peter Debruge
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Music (Sia)
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Where to Find It: Available on demand
There’s a conventional truism about musicals that basically says: If they’re constructed so that you could take all the songs out and nothing about the narrative or emotional impact of the rest of the show would be at all affected, maybe you’re doing it wrong. That brings us to “Music,” the first feature film from the pop star Sia, which was conceived as a drama about romance, addiction, redemption and, yes, autism that just happens to have more than a dozen musical fantasy numbers pop up for the ride, in sometimes arbitrary spots. — Chris Willman
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Paradise Cove (Martin Guigui)
Distributor: Quiver Distribution
Where to Find It: Available on demand and digital
A throwback to all the B-grade knockoffs that followed such thrillers as “The Stepfather,” “Pacific Heights,” and “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” “Paradise Cove” will be nobody’s idea of an original movie, let alone a good one. Still, it provides a degree of schlock entertainment value, as a young couple discover their Malibu fixer-upper comes with a crazy homeless woman squatting on the premises, itching to turn homicidal … again. Low on suspense and plausibility but high on tasteless and absurd ideas, Martin Guigui’s film does offer undiscriminating viewers some fun. — Dennis Harvey
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Ruth – Justice Ginsberg in Her Own Words (Freida Lee Mock)
Distributor: Kino Lorber, Virgil Films
Where to Find It: Select a virtual cinema to support
Few types of films are more awkward to sit through than listless and unremarkable biographical documentaries that fall short of their inspiring subjects. Touring the film festival circuit since 2019 and finally available to the general public via virtual cinemas, “Ruth” unfortunately yields one such bumpy viewing experience. On one hand, it is tough not to adore the central figure, who passed away last September. On the other, it’s curiously difficult to stay engaged with Mock’s film that merely puts forth a paint-by-numbers assembly of the wealth of material it has at its disposal. — Tomris Laffly
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Twilight’s Kiss (Suk Suk) (Ray Yeung)
Distributor: Strand Releasing
Where to Find It: Available via Film Forum virtual cinema, then VOD Feb. 19
Two older working-class men, both secretly gay, meet by chance and a hidden relationship develops in this poignant film. Inspired by a sociology professor’s oral history of older gay men in Hong Kong, the drama incorporates documentary-like elements about end-of-life issues for gay elders. Mainly, however, it asks if it is possible for men who have been raised with strict traditional values and led hetero-normative lives with wives and children to put that aside and find happiness and fulfillment with a man. Strong performances by veterans Tai Bo and Ben Yuen make the protagonists’ struggle concrete and affecting. — Alissa Simon
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A Writer’s Odyssey (Lu Yang)
Distributor: CMC Pictures
Where to Find It: Available on demand
Parallel worlds commingle with initially intriguing but progressively less invigorating results in “A Writer’s Odyssey,” a handsomely produced action-fantasy directed by Chinese hitmaker Lu Yang (“Brotherhood of Blades”). Centered on a desperate father whose search for his missing daughter draws him into a plot to assassinate the author of an online fantasy novel, “Odyssey” is packed with stunning sights including a 50-ft., four-armed CGI villain but is let down by a script that fails to fashion promising story elements into a consistently compelling whole. — Richard Kuipers
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May of Tiny Perfect Things
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Exclusive to Amazon Prime

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (Ian Samuels)
Where to Find It: Amazon Prime
Before we’re even out of the opening credits, director Samuels and screenwriter Lev Grossman waste no time clueing us into its premise revolving around a time loop that will teach its teen protagonists to accept life’s little gifts and major detours. This John Green-lite fantasy for the young-adult crowd holds many sequences that sparkle and shine, but a few that stumble and sag as well. Yet the feature’s genteel, sweet spirit and radiant lead performances rescue it from forgettable mediocrity and genre familiarity. — Courtney Howard
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Exclusive to Netflix

To All the Boys: Always and Forever (Michael Fimognari)
Where to Find It: Netflix
With “To All the Boys: Always and Forever,” Netflix wraps its epistolary teen-angst trilogy in such a way that those who’ve been following along since the beginning should appreciate: with a letter. What began as a high-concept high school rom-com has gently matured over two and a half years into a surprisingly low-drama look at the questions 21st-century teens ask themselves about love: How does a couple resolve simple differences? What if they don’t both get accepted to the same university? And when is the right time for the first time? — Peter Debruge
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