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New Movies to Watch This Week: Disney’s ‘Raya,’ Amy Poehler’s ‘Moxie’ and Eddie Murphy’s Return

Peter Debruge
·15 min read

It’s a very different landscape this week than it was a year ago, just before the pandemic forced cinemas to close around the country. Still, with New York cinemas cautiously reopening this week and many other markets determined to bring moviegoing back, the studios and indie distributors alike are bringing many of their long-delayed releases onto screens, albeit in an entirely new way.

For contrasting examples, look at how two of the majors are handling what were intended to be family film tentpoles: Paramount decided to bypass theaters entirely with “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run,” using the title to launch its new subscription service, Paramount Plus (audiences can also rent it, at a price of $19.99, for a limited time via PVOD platforms). Disney tested a similar approach with “Mulan” late last summer, and now unveils its latest animated princess movie, “Raya and the Last Dragon” — though that label disguises the many ways in which this one advances the formula — both in theaters and via Disney Plus (where it can be rented for a premium surcharge).

More from Variety

Lionsgate hoped to kick off another “Hunger Games”-style YA franchise with “Chaos Walking,” which they press-screened on Imax — the first time some critics had been back in theaters since the shut-down. But the movie isn’t quite fresh enough to become a blockbuster, even if it will give some a taste of the kind of spectacle they used to crave on the biggest of screens. More narrow in scope, Eddie Huang’s teen-centric “Boogie” — about an Asian American high-school basketball player with NBA dreams — is also counting on audiences to come out to cinemas.

Nearly all the rest of this week’s new releases are coming out via various forms of streaming and subscription-based models. But that’s not the only big change one can extrapolate from these movies: Just look at how many of these films are directed by or focus primarily on women (from Amy Poehler’s Netflix offering “Moxie” to New York-set literary world memoir “My Salinger Year”) — far more than audiences had to choose from just a few years ago. And there are other big advances in representation nearly every week (like Golden Globe winner “Minari,” now on streaming), suggesting that Hollywood’s taking the criticism of its lack of diversity to heart.

Eddie Murphy broke barriers all the way back in 1988 with “Coming to America,” which offered the most celebratory depiction of African culture ever seen in a studio movie until that time. For the sequel, now streaming on Amazon, Murphy and on-screen son Jermaine Fowler spend more time in fictional Zamunda than they do in New York, replaying many of the original’s most beloved jokes — with a few new surprises and guest appearances.

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 Disney Plus

Raya and the Last Dragon (Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada)
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Where to Find It: In wide theatrical release and on Disney Plus
The first major animated feature for a post-Trump era, “Raya” is as leftie a toon as Disney has ever made, though its core message of unity and come-togetherness should hardly seem political at all. Notably, it’s a movie with no villain, no love interest, no musical numbers and no talking animals — unless you count Awkwafina’s loquacious water dragon Sisu. Progressive as this formula-bending family movie may be, “Raya” still feels every bit a Disney offering — one whose proactive princess (technically, she’s the brave daughter of an incapacitated chieftain) ought to entertain and inspire kids to do more than passively await true love’s kiss. — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

New Releases Only in Theaters

Boogie (Eddie Huang)
Distributor: Focus Features
Where to Find It: In theaters now
In Flushing, Queens, Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi) strives to realize his dream of making it to the NBA. To facilitate this goal, Boogie — at the behest of his demanding father (Perry Yung) — transfers to City Prep, where he thinks he’ll have the best shot at beating top NYC prospect Monk (Bashar “Pop Smoke” Jackson) and impressing scouts enough to secure a scholarship to a premiere college. Boogie’s ambition is a familiar one, but Huang’s film couches it within a unique Asian-American context. The film compensates for its narrative shortcomings by conveying a strong sense of its milieu’s culture and customs. — Nick Schager
Read the full review

Chaos Walking (Doug Liman)
Distributor: Lionsgate
Where to Find It: In theaters now
In sci-fi Western “Chaos Walking,” the mud-crusted colonists of New World have a tricky job of keeping secrets. That’s because something about the atmosphere on this far-flung planet — which otherwise looks a lot like the incentive-friendly Peach State of Georgia — interacts with the human brain, resulting in a curious phenomenon known as “the Noise,” a swirly CG effect whereby every little thing that goes through people’s heads can be heard by those around. Liman makes easy work of the cross-country portion of the story, wherein Todd and “space girl” Viola (Daisy Ridley) loosen up in one another’s presence while navigating various conflicts. — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

The Truffle Hunters (Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Where to Find It: In L.A. and N.Y. theaters now
Like the gastronomic delicacy that can neither be replaced nor cultivated, the film oozes a cinematic perfume both delightful and distinctive. Think of “The Truffle Hunters” this year’s “Honeyland.” After all, Dweck and Kershaw’s intimate portrait also supplies an adoring lens into the process and long-standing tradition of gathering one of nature’s greatest culinary gifts. Through a luxuriant palette that demands to be savored on the big screen, the movie also honors the workings of an eccentric pastoral community, entrenched with the goodness of nature and animals. However, “The Truffle Hunters” goes for a studious and staccato method. — Tomris Laffly
Read the full review

New Releases on Demand and in Select Theaters

Adam (Maryam Touzani)
Distributor: Strand Releasing
Where to Find It: In Laemmle virtual cinemas and premium VOD
With her debut feature, graced by two exceptional leads given every opportunity to shine, Touzani allows her audience to sit back and relax comfortably into a beautifully made, character-driven little gem that knows when and how to touch all the right buttons. Taking the stories of two women, both frozen in existential stasis, and bringing them together in a predictable yet deeply satisfying manner, the writer-director ensures this scrupulously even two-hander about grief, shame, and the redemption of motherhood doles out emotional comfort food that’s neither too sweet nor too heavy. — Jay Weissberg
Read the full review

The Affair (Maryam Touzani)
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Where to Find It: Available on demand
Despite a fine Continental cast and gleaming production values, Czech helmer Julius Ševčík has made a muddled, maudlin hash of what ought to have been a sure thing. Limping to a U.S. release two years after its European premiere, it’s a film best enjoyed as a series of chic production stills. Even with Carice van Houten, Hanna Alström and Claes Bang holding down their respective corners of a low-temperature love triangle in very sharp shoes, it’s a house that emerges as the main attraction of “The Affair,” rather as it does in the characters’ tumultuous yet strangely inert lives. — Guy Lodge
Read the full review

Keep an Eye Out (Quentin Dupieux)
Distributor: Dekanalog
Where to Find It: In Laemmle virtual cinemas

My Salinger Year (Philippe Falardeau)
Distributor: IFC Films
Where to Find It: In select theaters, on demand and digital
A writer writes, but there’s no evidence that Joanna Rakoff (Margaret Qualley) can even type when she takes the job as an assistant working for literary agent Phyllis Westberg (Sigourney Weaver). Because Rakoff went on to pen a book-length memoir about her time working for Westberg, who represented reclusive writer J.D. Salinger, we can rest assured that she eventually achieved her goal, but her story is less like “The Devil Wears Prada” than “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which is to say, it’s not about the frustrations of unrequited ambition so much as it is about a kind of ill-defined yearning on the part of a bewildered young dilettante new to New York. — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

Pixie (Barnaby Thompson)
Distributor: Saban Films
Where to Find It: In select theaters, on demand and digital
“Pixie” is an Irish tale, recalling the screen work of the McDonaugh brothers in their more Tarantino-esque modes. But this collaboration between veteran producer Barnaby Thompson and his writer son Preston goes beyond homage or aspirational imitation, into the realm of pale, shameless mimicry. Worse, this bullet-riddled comedy caper set among equally lethal gangsters and priests in Ireland’s picturesque rural West seems absolutely delighted with its own cleverness, in inverse proportion to the amount of actual cleverness to be found. A decent cast and fast pace make “Pixie” easy enough to take as disposable entertainment. — Dennis Harvey
Read the full review

Quo Vadis, Aida? (Jasmila Žbanić)
Distributor: Super LTD
Where to Find It: At the Angelika and virtual cinemas, coming to VOD March 15
To communicate the extent of a war crime like the Srebrenica massacre, which saw 8,372 civilian residents of the Bosnian town, mostly men and boys, murdered by units of the Bosnian Serb Army in July of 1995, the canvas needs to be broad. But often, that scope can mean lower resolution when you zoom in, the individual human impact getting lost in the grain. But this is a perilous balance director Žbanić (“Grbavica”) achieves strikingly well in her deeply compelling, harrowing and heartbreaking “Quo Vadis, Aida?,” which reminds us that each of those 8,372 deaths is an individual, exponential multiplication of horror. — Jessica Kiang
Read the full review

Son (Ivan Kavanagh)
Distributor: RLJE Films
Where to Find It: In select theaters, on demand and digital
“Son” is twisty, violent, well-crafted and cast enough to easily hold viewer attention. At the same time, a story this baroque, involving a child possibly “fathered” by a literal demon, ought to make a stronger overall impression than Kavanagh’s poker-faced yet uneven treatment manages. He’s made a horror movie that isn’t terribly scary because it plays more like a drama, and isn’t terribly powerful as a drama because the central conflicts aren’t fully convincing. “Son” is a cut above genre average, but it frustrates in that its skillful and serious-minded aspects do not finally lift it any higher than that moderate level of success. — Dennis Harvey
Read the full review

Sophie Jones (Jessie Barr)
Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories
Where to Find It: In select theaters, on demand and digital
Navigating the precarious aspects of growing up while simultaneously buried deep in the throes of grief is one young woman’s struggle in “Sophie Jones.” This meaningful drama taps into the immediacy of being a teenager and the intimacy of sorrow, yielding astute insights. The pair set their story during the fertile period in a maturing teen’s life when hormones and complex emotions run roughshod. With Nicole Holofcener on board as executive producer, it’s a poignant exploration of this arduous age, rooted in staggering authenticity. Sophie’s journey toward healing is deeply felt and enriching for those who may be going through similar traumatic losses. — Courtney Howard
Read the full review

Stray (Ivan Kavanagh) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Where to Find It: In select theaters and on demand
The Turkish word zeytin, which means “olive,” sometimes doubles as a complimentary adjective used to define a pair of deeply expressive, dark-colored eyes. With that context in mind, the Istanbul street dog much of “Stray” tracks couldn’t have been more appropriately named. From the first moment director Lo graces the screen with a closeup of Zeytin, it’s the canine’s eyes that register. Possessing a dramatic screen quality with her striking gaze, elegant lashes and playfully twitching and raising eyebrows, Zeytin steadily lends the film a piece of her incorruptible purity that at once enchants and strengthens spirits. — Tomris Laffly
Read the full review

Available on Paramount Plus and PVOD

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run (Tim Hill)
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Where to Find It: In wide theatrical release and on Disney Plus
Written and directed by Tim Hill, gamely carrying on the legacy of “SpongeBob” creator Stephen Hillenberg, this is the first “SpongeBob” movie made entirely with CGI. I’m pleased to say that the film’s sculpted and tactile art-directed quality, which recalls the look of “Ratatouille,” works terrifically well. It stays true to the sketchy spirit of the original cartoon even as it injects it with a bright new visual appeal. For a while, “Sponge on the Run” is a buddy movie in which SpongeBob and his love-hate doofus pal, Patrick Star (Bill Fagerbakke), jump into a vehicle driven by Otto (Awkwafina), a robot who’s like Wall-E as a programmed efficiency expert. — Owen Gleiberman
Read the full review

Exclusive to Amazon Prime

Coming 2 America (Craig Brewer)
Where to Find It: Amazon Prime
The world has changed a great deal since Akeem first came to America, but as far as Amazon Studios’ 21st-century sequel is concerned, Zamunda has remained more or less frozen in time — to the extent that half the jokes are simply repeats of beloved gags from the original film. That’s by far the easiest path that Murphy and company could have taken, and while fans may appreciate that director Brewer (“Dolemite Is My Name”) hasn’t messed with the formula, the movie feels downright lazy on the heels of, say, the take-no-prisoners satire of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” which Amazon released last year. — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

Exclusive to Hulu

Boss Level (Joe Carnahan)
Where to Find It: Hulu
In “Boss Level,” Frank Grillo kicks ass all over the place, because he’s playing a man who keeps living the same insanely violent day over and over again. The movie, directed by the stylish genre trickster Carnahan (“The A-Team”), is “Groundhog Day” redone as an action revenge movie, and by the time you’re a quarter of the way into it you’re thinking, “Why hasn’t anyone done this before?” Grillo, whose roots are in TV, doesn’t have the danger of a star like Jason Statham; he’s quick and smooth and breezy to watch. But that makes him the perfect actor to play a Delta Force agent stuck in a repeated loop of heavy-duty brutality that’s also lighter than air. — Owen Gleiberman
Read the full review

Exclusive to Mubi

Epicentro (Hubert Sauper)
Where to Find It: Mubi
A leisurely, somewhat hazy travelogue compared to the piercing political indictments of his acclaimed prior “We Come as Friends” and Oscar-nominated “Darwin’s Nightmare,” Austrian documentarian Sauper’s new “Epicentro” looks at Cuba on the brink of colossal transition, as the old Communist system is in its apparent death throes, and free-market capitalism waits in the wings. It’s a fascinating moment for cultural stock-taking. Yet despite the filmmaker’s evident fondness for the people and nation, this impressionistic feature feels frustratingly obtuse, unfocused and unstructured. — Dennis Harvey
Read the full review

Exclusive to Netflix

Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell (Emmett Malloy)
Where to Find It: Netflix
Some of the producers behind 2009’s forgettable “Notorious” have joined with new collaborators for another, much better try at burnishing the hip-hop titan’s legacy. Nearly every creative decision represents some kind of reversal of what was done with the prior biopic. No longer is there the inexorable, ominous pull toward beefing with Tupac Shakur and the still mysterious but by now exhausted murder that took Wallace’s life on the streets of L.A. in 1997. That’s still part of the saga, but here it’s packed, along with the triumphs of Biggie’s last couple of years, into what nearly feels like an extended epilogue. — Chris Willman
Read the full review

Moxie (Amy Poehler)
Where to Find It: Netflix
Marking the multi-hyphenate Poehler’s return to the director’s chair after her casually comforting “Wine Country,” this good-natured dramedy isn’t nearly as sharp as “Mean Girls,” lacking its hilarious wit and unwavering bite, often erring on the side of didacticism and broadness in similarly charting a fed-up young woman’s awakening against her high school’s hostile, victimizing culture. Still, it’s a welcome entry into a familiar genre that will resonate with young audiences, and that’s thanks in large part to an immensely likable ensemble cast guided by Poehler’s sure-handed energy behind the camera. — Courtney Howard
Read the full review

Sentinelle (Julien Leclercq)
Where to Find It: Netflix

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