Tenet, Mulan, Robin’s Wish: New Movies to Watch on Labor Day Weekend

This is the weekend American film fans have been waiting for with the release of a pair of the year’s biggest movies — Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” and Disney’s live-action version of “Mulan” — after considerable delay.

The fact that the two strategies for sharing these two movies with the public are so wildly different — Nolan insisted on releasing “Tenet” in theaters, while “Mulan” will test Disney Plus’ pricey new “Prime Access” model — shows the degree of turmoil and ingenuity within the industry, as studios do their best to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic. Will audiences find these options safe (or affordable) enough at a time of social distancing and belt-tightening?

Meanwhile, independent distributors have more or less figured out how to deliver their titles — movies that didn’t cost hundreds of millions and therefore don’t rely on grabbing as many viewers as possible over a short span of time — directly to consumers, via various on demand platforms. This week’s new offerings include actor-comedian John Leguizamo’s directorial debut, competitive chess movie “Critical Thinking,” as well as a pair of documentaries from this year’s Sundance film festival: “Feels Good Man” and “The Mole Agent.”

Netflix offers up a Sundance prize winner in the form of “Cuties,” which caused controversy for its marketing before even being released, as well as the latest from writer-director Charlie Kaufman, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” Kaufman joins the ever-expanding list of auteurs who’ve embraced the creative freedom Netflix offers — but is that a good thing? The film is dividing critics, and will almost certainly polarize audiences as well.

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

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Melinda Sue Gordon

New Releases in Theaters

Tenet (Christopher Nolan)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Where to Find It: Available exclusively in theaters
That the film turns out to be more straightforward — however ornately presented — than our wildest speculation about it is quite disarming. Like “Inception,” which used the essential language of the heist film as an organizing structure for Nolan’s peculiar fixations of chronology and consciousness, “Tenet” tricks out the spy thriller with expanded science-fiction parameters to return to those pet themes. It plays best when it stops showing us its work and morphs into the fanciest James Bond romp you ever did see, complete with dizzy global location-hopping, car chases that slip and loop like spaghetti, and bespoke tailoring you actually want to reach into the screen and stroke. — Guy Lodge
Read the full review

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Courtesy of Disney

Exclusive to Disney Plus

Mulan (Niki Caro)
Where to Find It: Available for $29.99 via Disney Plus Prime Access
“Mulan” is no mere remake. It’s simultaneously an homage to and an overhaul of the 1998 animated feature, a robust reimagining of that film’s original source, Yuefu folk song “The Ballad of Mulan,” and the somewhat dated cartoon it spawned. Every single shot of Caro’s “Mulan” is designed to impress, so much so that the film can be overwhelming to absorb — particularly on home screens. Storyboarded to within an inch of its life, then translated to screen with stunning energy and attention to detail, the film represents Hollywood’s most enthusiastic embrace of blockbuster Asian cinema tropes since “The Matrix” trilogy. — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

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Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment/YouTube

New Releases on Demand and in Select Theaters

The Argument (Robert Schwartzman)
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Where to Find It: Available via Amazon and video-on-demand services
The thing that might bring Stanford’s broken-record comedy too close to home is also its defining feature: Jack (Dan Fogler) and Lisa (Emma Bell) have a squabble, and rather than letting it go, or discussing it like adults, they both “wish we could redo this whole night so that you could see how wrong you are!” And so they proceed to re-create the conditions of their dispute, repeating the night ad nauseam until catharsis arrives. No, “The Argument” isn’t another mystical time-loop movie à la “Groundhog Day” or “Palm Springs” — no one’s trapped by supernatural forces, infinitely resetting until they get things right — but it’s not far off. — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

Children of the Sea (Ayumu Watanabe) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: Gkids
Where to Find It: Available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD platforms, including Amazon
At age 14, Ruka feels adrift in the world. This wide-eyed loner may be “just” an anime character, but she’s as relatable as any live-action teenager you might meet on screen this year, thanks to the splendid attention to detail and seemingly boundless imagination that characterizes Watanabe’s stunning adaptation of the prize-winning manga by Daisuke Igarashi. This latest feat from Studio 4°C uses the medium in surprising ways, beginning intimate and modest before giving Ruka the answers to all the universe’s questions in a psychedelic finale that’s every bit as trippy as the “Star Child” sequence from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

Critical Thinking (John Leguizamo)
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Where to Find It: Available in theaters and on demand, including Amazon
“Critical Thinking” is one of those up-from-the-streets high-school competition movies where just mentioning the true story it’s based on kind of gives the game away. Set in 1998, it’s about the five chess wizards from Miami Jackson High who became the first inner-city chess team to win the National Championship. Boom! But, of course, it’s how they got there that matters. “Critical Thinking” has some appealing young actors, and it’s been directed in a way that gives them the space to clown around and then get serious. It’s still, in the end, a bit of a connect-the-inspirational-dots movie, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be inspired. — Owen Gleiberman
Read the full review

Feels Good Man (Arthur Jones) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: Self-distributed
Where to Find It: Available on demand and in Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas
When is a cartoon frog not just a cartoon frog? When he’s Pepe, the brainchild of artist Matt Furie, who in 2005 created the laid-back anthropomorphic amphibian for a comic about post-collegiate slacker life, only to subsequently watch as the character was adopted as a symbol of white nationalist hate by the alt-right and Donald Trump. Named after its subject’s catchphrase, “Feels Good Man” is Jones’ nonfiction portrait of Pepe’s ignominious transformation, a strange and terrifying odyssey that says much about intellectual property, fringe groups and the power of online imagery — and culture — to alter the national landscape. — Nick Schager
Read the full review

The Mole Agent (Maite Alberdi)
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Where to Find It: Available via Amazon and video-on-demand services
Investigator Rómulo Aitken has a fresh recruit. In the opening sequence of this flimsy, genre-stretching documentary “The Mole Agent,” Aitken schools first-time undercover spy Sergio on the secret cameras embedded in his glasses and a pen. It’s a scene from a hundred thrillers, given one new twist: 83-year-old Sergio can barely work his cellphone. Can this grandfather of five handle his assignment? “The Mole Agent’s” shtick is that Aitken’s off-screen client wants to know if her grandmother’s nursing home is abusive. — Amy Nicholson
Read the full review

Robin’s Wish (Tylor Norwood)
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Where to Find It: Available via Amazon and video-on-demand services
“Robin’s Wish,” which deals with the slow creep of Williams’ deterioration during the final months of his life, is a documentary that’s honest and scary, wrenching and moving. It’s a portrait of the artist as a brave, joyous, wounded soul. It’s also a diary of Robin Williams slowly losing his mind. If “Robin’s Wish” has an agenda, it’s to clear the air of innuendo and to capture the devastation a disease like Lewy body dementia can cause. It’s beyond cruel that the disease cut down Robin Williams the way it did. In that sense the film is a warning, in the form of a testament to what a glorious blinding light of a human being he was. — Owen Gleiberman
Read the full review

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I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Netflix

Exclusive to Netflix

Cuties (Maïmouna Doucouré)
Where to Find It: Netflix
“Cuties” is an extension of Doucouré’s 2016 César- and Sundance-winning short “Maman(s)”, about an 8-year-old child furious when her polygamous dad invites his new bride into their Parisian apartment. The betrayal — a word Amy and her mother never use, but the emotion Doucouré clearly feels — happened to Doucouré herself, she’s still tapped into her youthful resentment, shame and proto-feminist fury. Amy never explains the root of why she’s acting out, not even when her domineering Aunty attempts to disinfect her soul with a Muslim spiritual ritual. But Doucouré remembers. — Amy Nicholson
Read the full review

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman)
Where to Find It: Netflix
Going into a new Charlie Kaufman film, our own hopes as moviegoers are always raised, because at his best he’s a wizard of the imagination, and a uniquely grounded anti-romantic romantic. But “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” suggests a joyless couple out of a mediocre Woody Allen film crossed with “Barton Fink.” It’s not just a quirky, morose downer of a movie — it’s didactically morose. Kaufman seems to be saying that love is an illusion and that people, if they’re true to who they are, have no possibility of connecting. But he seems trapped in the blinkered point-of-view of a socially arrested high-school loser. — Owen Gleiberman
Read the full review

Love, Guaranteed (Mark Steven Johnson)
Where to Find It: Netflix
There’s little false advertising to “Love, Guaranteed,” a romantic comedy about true love and the seemingly overblown promises of online dating. The shared fate of Susan Whitaker and Nick Evans — played by Rachel Leigh Cook and Damon Wayans Jr. — is all but assured by director Johnson’s pretty much by-the-numbers take. The question isn’t “Will they wind up together?” It’s more of a “how they will wind up together” proposition. Even with some nicely understated moments from the leads, the Netflix film is decidedly slight, easy-on-the-noggin entertainment. — Lisa Kennedy
Read the full review

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