These days, we’re all spending much more time at home than usual. I know my normal routine of reviewing new movie releases has been severely impacted by movie theaters closing nationwide, and most films slated for spring release being postponed until later in the year. But that means there’s no better time to check out what’s new to streaming. I’ve reviewed some of March’s new streaming releases below—check them out, and be sure to share what you’ve been watching during this strange time.
Thanks as always for reading, and be safe and be well.
“STARGIRL” (Disney Plus)
Based on the popular young adult novel by Jerry Spinelli, this teen movie directed by Julia Hart is all about embracing your true identity—unfortunately, the film itself doesn’t do enough to distinguish it from all the other films that tout the same message and center around a young man who is suddenly taken with a quirky new girl. High schooler Leo Borlock (Graham Verchere) started suppressing some of his interests when he was bullied for him in order to fit in. But when a new girl—who calls herself Stargirl (Grace VanderWaal)—shows up one day wearing colorful clothes and strumming a ukulele, Leo becomes fascinated with her, and she starts trying to get him to come out of his shell. VanderWaal already has an impressive music career, but she really shines here in her first film role. Her talents are perfect for the character, and the music throughout the film—including the big, almost movie musical style numbers—is joyous. Some changes from the book to the movie, however, are not beneficial to the story. It’s baffling that a student body that was so immediately accepting of this quirky girl suddenly shuns her for doing a nice thing. And while the ending doesn’t need to be exactly neat, it feels like a lot is left unresolved. The characters are interesting and the message is sincere, but so much of the plot is indistinguishable from other teen movies. Instead of daring to be different, “Stargirl” is just another one of the crowd. Also featuring Giancarlo Esposito as Leo’s mentor, Archie. Runtime: 107 minutes. Rated PG. 2 out of 5 stars.
“LOST GIRLS” (Netflix)
“Lost Girls” is a far from satisfying film—but I don’t think it’s supposed to be. Directed by Liz Garbus, the drama is based on the true story of the Long Island serial killer, who 10-16 murder victims, mostly prostitutes (and most of their remains recovered in the same general area between 2010 and 2011) have been attributed to. The film centers around Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan), the mother of Shannon Gilbert, a young woman who went missing. As law enforcement officials downplay her case, Mari brings together the mothers and sisters of other young women who went missing, refusing to let their voices go unheard. Garbus is primarily a documentary filmmaker, and watching “Lost Girls,” you can’t help but wonder if this story would have made a more compelling documentary. To this day, there are no suspects in the case, and this movie doesn’t have the sort of satisfying conclusion you’d expect from a narrative feature; it hews much closer to reality in that respect. Ryan as Mari is perfect casting; her raw anger sets the tone for the film, which strives to show the struggles women face in being heard. The pacing isn’t always on point to make for as compelling viewing as most crime thrillers do, but “Lost Girls” is still very well worth a watch. Also starring Thomasin McKenzie and Oona Laurence as Mari’s other daughters Sherre and Sarra, Gabriel Byrne as police commissioner Richard Dormer, and Dean Winters, Lola Kirke, Miriam Shor, and Reed Birney. Runtime: 95 minutes. Rated R. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
“SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL” (Netflix)
Directed by Peter Berg and based on a book series, “Spenser Confidential” reunites Berg with Mark Wahlberg for a cop comedy action thriller that somehow manages to be none of those things. Set in Boston, Wahlberg plays the titular Spenser, an ex-cop who spent five years in prison for assaulting negligent police captain Boylan (Michael Gaston). But when two of his former colleagues are killed under mysterious circumstances the day he gets out of jail, Spenser starts investigating. He is assisted by his friend Henry (Alan Arkin), reluctant new roommate Hawk (Winston Duke), and his brassy on again/off again girlfriend Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger), and some amusing scenes do come from this motley crew from time to time. But for the most part, “Spenser Confidential” waffles between wanting to be a gritty, violent, and profound exploration of police corruption, and an over-the-top action comedy. Instead of doing one of those things really well, it just sort of half commits, resulting in a testosterone-fueled adventure that is mildly engaging at best, groan-inducingly predictable at worst, right down to the implication at the end that there could be a sequel. Let’s hope not. Runtime: 111 minutes. Rated R. 2 out of 5 stars.
“CRIP CAMP: A DISABILITY REVOLUTION” (Netflix)
In the 1970s, New York’s Camp Jened was a refuge for disabled teenagers. Encouraged by their counselors and fellow campers, the teens were able to be themselves in a way that they often felt like they couldn’t in the outside world. But while the documentary “Crip Camp” starts off as a sweet portrait of kids at a hippie summer camp, it transitions about halfway through into something much greater. As the Camp Jened kids grow older and move west to California, they become a major part of the movement to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act, stemming from their camp bonding over the injustice they faced. The film, which is directed by Nicole Newnham and James Lebrecht (a Camp Jened camper himself) and produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, utilizes archival footage of key moments in the disability rights movement, candid video of the campers shot at Camp Jened, and new interviews to tell their story. We get to know many different characters over the course of the film, like Judy Heumann, a former counselor who becomes a key leader in the movement. As sad as it is to listen to them recount the discrimination they faced in the lives, it’s also amazing to trace their journey from camp to now and see how far they’ve come. Newnham and Lebrecht map out a clear narrative for their film, and like any great underdog story, it has an emotional climax in the 1990 Capitol Crawl, when disabled activists abandoned their wheelchairs to climb the steps of the U.S. Capitol in favor of passing the ADA. Their perseverance and bravery is inspiring, and moreover, we see them use that determination to create real change. At a time when it’s easy to feel lousy about humanity, “Crip Camp” restores some of that faith. Runtime: 106 minutes. Rated R. 5 out of 5 stars.