Guess which hero has arrived to save the 2020 summer movie season? Nope, not Wonder Woman or Black Widow. Their respective movies got bumped to the fall. The Ghostbusters won’t come calling until 2021; same with the Fast and Furious crew and Dwayne Johnson in Jungle Cruise. The answer is . . . Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father who died in 1804 and provided inspiration for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-award-winning musical phenomenon. Now, in honor of Independence Day, Hamilton: An American Musical — a filmed version of the original Broadway production — will rise up on Friday, July 3 on the Disney+ streaming service. No pesky ticket processing fees necessary.
Here’s more good news: Your at-home movie options for the holiday weekend don’t have to end with Hamilton and the epic duel against Aaron Burr. Indeed, though the summer movie season biggies have all been pushed to later dates, many of the would-be sleeper films have moved directly to the expanding world of video on-demand. Others have premiered on streaming services. But they’re all just begging to be seen. And they should be, as they offer some form of smart and intriguing entertainment — and, in many cases, make for ideal fun-out-of-the-sun escapism. That’s exactly how the Founding Fathers would have wanted it, no? Here are eight picks, which range from another Spike Lee masterpiece to a goofy Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams pop music confection.
Da Five Bloods
A Spike Lee Joint equals a deep exploration of race relations, media, urban crime and politics at the highest levels. Indeed, Lee isn’t just a magnificent original filmmaker, he’s a master at using the medium as an instrument for social change. His dynamic and timely new film, which manages to be both an intimate drama and a big-picture take on the evolving race relations in America, is once again worthy of evoking brutally important conversations. The story focuses on “da Bloods,” i.e. four Vietnam veterans and friends (Delroy Lindo, Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr.) returning to the jungles — ostensibly to claim the remains of their beloved captain (Chadwick Boseman) and claim the bars of gold they buried near him. The searing drama kicks in once they find what they’re looking for. Turns out that nothing about the jungle, including the headless snakes and landmines and violence Vietnamese officers who want their hands on the money, can compare with the torment ravaging inside the minds of these band of brothers. This movie isn’t so much about doing the right thing as it is about doing the thing that can keep your conscience clear in the thick of the night. (Now streaming on Netflix)
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams play a budding musical duo from a small town in Iceland who get a chance to fulfill their dream of competing in the world’s biggest song contest. That sentence alone should sell you on a humid summer day. Nope? How about this: Demi Lovato is a Katiana, a superstar Icelandic singer who belts out an original number and later appears as a one-armed ghost Still nothing? Last shot: A few scenes from this Zoolander-meets-Blades of Glory comedy are so outrageously dumb-yet-hysterical that you’ll be Googling “history of Eurovision” and “Will Ferrell hamster wheel” before the credits roll. You’ve got to love that Ferrell and McAdams take the silliness seriously: They fearlessly go all-out with their elaborate performances — not to mention their costumes that practically require 3D glasses. They deserve that applause. P.S. This was filmed on location in beautiful Iceland. (Now streaming on Netflix)
Ever since Jon Stewart stopped hosting The Daily Show in 2015, political (and comedy) junkies have been clamoring for his unbridled take on the news. This sharp-but-slight satire — which the Emmy-winner wrote and directed — only provides minimal satisfaction. Daily Show alum Steve Carell stars as a high-wattage Democratic political consultant who uproots his team to a tiny town in Wisconsin so he can help a retired, liberal-leaning Marine colonel (Chris Cooper) run for mayor. His rationale: If a traditional conservative area can flip to the other side, then the red state may follow. Enter his crafty Republican rival (Rose Byrne) to make sure the incumbent stays put. What follows is the typical (albeit highly amusing) display of mudslinging, from over-the-top commercials and to rallying stump speeches. What’s frustrating is that Stewart never goes full throttle on the madness, and the antics pale in comparison to what’s been going on in real-life 24/7 during this fraught election year. Even the third-act shake-up is surprisingly sweet and sentimental. Which, come to think of it, may be exactly what we need right now. (Now streaming on demand)
The first thing you need to know about this indie is that the heroine is a 16-year-old Australian high school girl sick with cancer. The second thing? This is more eloquent, coming-of-age comedy than mawkish tearjerker. Milla (Eliza Scanlen, Little Women) is minding her own business on a subway platform in Sydney when a guy (Toby Wallace) with a rat’s tail mullet and facial tats lurches out of nowhere and almost knocks her in front of an oncoming train. He’s a 23-year-old small-time drug dealer named Moses, and the two instantly form an oddball friendship — much to her parents’ horror. (A family dinner Does. Not. Go. Well.) From there, the film wiggles loose as Milla starts showing a joie-de-vivre spirit that extends beyond her physical limits. Indeed, to the film’s credit, the story doesn’t downward spiral to a devastating rock bottom involving drugs or disease. We’re just along for the lovely little journey, which culminates in a deeply moving epilogue. (Now streaming on demand)
If a film were rated just on the courage of its characters, this military thriller would be golden. Based on a true story, it focuses on a small unit of U.S. soldiers stuck at a remote combat outpost in Afghanistan as they battle 300 Taliban fighters in a coordinated attack. (The battle of Kamdesh in 2009 is considered the war’s bloodiest American engagement.) Scott Eastwood and Caleb Landry Jones play a few of the heroes in action, while a brawny Orlando Bloom is their captain. Alas, the narrative is strictly boilerplate: The testosterone-fueled soldiers bark about their plans in the first hour, then fight for the lives until the closing credits. There will be blood — as well too many characters to keep track of and genre clichés galore. (When a guy is told early on that he’s going to be a great pilot someday, assume his days are numbered.) Similar war films, including American Sniper (directed by Eastwood’s dad, Clint) and Zero Dark Thirty are more engaging and powerful. But this one is still an important history lesson. (In select theaters and available to stream on demand on July 3)
You Should Have Left
It’s not like we’ve been starved for a good old-fashioned haunted house flick featuring an adorable, freaked-out child. Hello, this is exactly why all those Conjuring films have made a killing at the box office. The concept works for a reason! In this edition, Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried are a couple on the rocks and, fear not, the startling nearly 30-year age difference is addressed at the start. To reset their marriage, they take a vacation with their daughter to a beautiful mansion in a remote part of Wales. That’s when the creepiness sets it. (Secret passageways! A path to nowhere! A mysterious hand-scrawled message ordering Bacon to leave the premises immediately!) Writer-director David Koepp (Panic Room, Stir of Echoes, Jurassic Park) doesn’t bother connecting all the logic dots in the story; it’s best for the viewers to follow suit. Simply enjoy the scares — plus the super-sleek architecture — and know that the little girl is going to be OK. (Now streaming on demand)
For his first movie in four years, Joseph Gordon-Levitt chose a tightly woven thriller with a high degree of acting difficulty. The one-line plot is that his co-pilot character fights to maintain control of a commercial airliner after terrorists storm the cockpit somewhere between Berlin and Paris. The strength is in the execution. The film plays out almost entirely within the cockpit of the Airbus in close to real-time, so audiences are trapped in this claustrophobic-inducing confined space along with a terrified Levitt. (He manages to push the terrorists out, but one of them remains injured and unconscious on the floor.) Instead of a musical score to accompany the white-knuckle drama, we hear ambient noises and muffled scuffles and screams. And the most alarming sound of all is the pilots’ cabin door upon which the attackers pound with a fire extinguisher. It’s all relentlessly tense, with absolutely zero time wasted. Just buckle in and prepare for a rough landing in the third act. (Now streaming on Amazon Prime)
Bonus early heads-up for one of the most delightful movies of the year — which, fittingly, focuses on something we’ve all become accustomed to of late: That dreaded sensation of waking up in the same place every morning and realizing nothing has changed. Only this iteration is sunnier in every regard. When we meet Andy Samberg’s Nyles, he’s aimlessly chugging beers in a pool on the morning of a destination wedding in Palm Springs, California. He’s dating a bridesmaid but couldn’t seem less interested in her. Turns out he’s stuck in a time loop — and very soon, the maid of honor (Cristin Milioti) will unwittingly join him. As the two bandits experience their daily drudgeries, they meditate on their shortcomings as well as topics of loneliness, pain and commitment. Still, this Sundance Film Festival fave is ultimately an optimistic romantic comedy, and a funny one at that. The stars share an endearing and authentic chemistry, even when creatively trying to find escape hatches for death. If you’re going to watch a movie repeatedly this summer, make it this one. (Available to stream on Hulu on Friday, July 10)