New Movies to Watch This Week: ‘Supernova,’ ‘The Little Things,’ ‘Palmer’

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Peter Debruge
·9 min read
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Audiences who feel like their movie options have been a little light on actual movie stars this past month get a boost of A-list energy this weekend, between the Justin Timberblake small-town ex-con drama “Palmer” on Apple TV Plus and Netflix’s feel-good “Penguin Bloom,” in which a disabled woman played by Naomi Watts bonds with a baby magpie.

But the really starry option is Warner Bros.’ “The Little Things,” a big-budget serial-killer thriller starring three Oscar winners: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto. With many theaters still shut, the studio release will debut simultaneously via streaming on HBO Max.

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Those who appreciate such intensity (and don’t mind risking a drive-in or megaplex visit) may also want to consider A24’s buzzy midnight movie “Saint Maud.” Meanwhile, the home-bound crowd can find their frights on demand in Iranian chiller “The Night.”

Smaller distributors continue to push international Oscar submissions, with Russia’s “Dear Comrades!” and Japan’s “True Mothers” now available through virtual cinemas. And as late-arriving Oscar hopefuls go, British drama “Supernova” is a treasure, starring Colin Firth as a gay man who’s planned a road trip with his longtime partner (Stanley Tucci) before dementia makes such a bonding experience too difficult.

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

The Little Things (John Lee Hancock)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Where to Find It: In select theaters and HBO Max
The bug-eyed psycho is always good for a laugh, or a shudder, or something in between. It’s all about underplaying the overstatement. You’ve got to cue the audience to see that he’s cuh-cuh-crazy, but you’ve got to do it with just enough finesse to leave them thinking, “Is it all an act?” Jared Leto knows how to give a state-of-the-art performance as the kind of diabolical screw-loose sleaze you love to loathe. He anchors the best sequence in “The Little Things” (a police interrogation), though another way to put that is that the scene raises the bar to a place that the rest of the movie can’t match. — Owen Gleiberman
Read the full review

New Releases Only in Theaters

Saint 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
Read the full review

Supernova (Harry Macqueen) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: Bleecker Street
Where to Find It: In select theaters, followed by digital on Feb. 16
British writer-director Macqueen pitches [the treatment of dementia] just right in his delicately heart-crushing sophomore feature, thanks in no small part to the ideally matched star duo of Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci: As a longtime couple figuring out how to live — or not — under dementia’s ever-encroaching shadow, their joint thespian grace and reserve take on an undertow of raging, disorganized despair. “Supernova” is beguilingly modest by design: essentially a two-man chamber piece twisted into the winding form of a British road movie, where nothing can move too fast, lest we reach the shore too soon. — Guy Lodge
Read the full review

New Releases on Demand and in Select Theaters

Dear Comrades! (Andrei Konchalovsky)
Distributor: Neon
Where to Find It: In virtual cinemas now, then VOD and Hulu on Feb. 5,
How do you commemorate a shameful history long suppressed? One way is to render it in black and white images so stark there’s nowhere for the shame to hide, a feat achieved with stunning clarity by Konchalovsky’s perversely beautiful and coldly furious “Dear Comrades!” Meticulous and majestic, epic in scope and tattoo-needle intimate in effect, this scrupulous recreation of the lead-up to and aftermath of the Novocherkassk massacre six decades ago is excoriating proof that not all filmmakers are made sloppy or slipshod by anger. Some are made ever more righteously, icily precise. — Jessica Kiang
Read the full review

The Night (Kourosh Ahari)
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Where to Find It: In theaters and on demand
Demons of the mind come alive in a cavernous Los Angeles hotel in “The Night,” a scary and stylish psychological horror thriller by Iranian American director Kourosh Ahari. Featuring excellent performances by Shahab Hosseini and Niousha Jafarian as a married couple with a baby daughter and a frayed relationship, this predominantly Farsi-language production sneaks up on viewers and delivers a knockout final act. Ahari’s impressive feature debut is sure to satisfy genre fans and has the emotional heft and classy production values to attract discerning general audiences. — Richard Kuipers
Read the full review

Savage State (David Perrault)
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Where to Find It: Available on demand and digital
It could be argued that “Savage State” ultimately seems worse than it really is only because the opening scenes of this period drama are so deceptively promising. But, really, writer-director Perrault has no one to blame but himself. Despite any good will he might generate during his intriguingly offbeat first-act set-up, he actively encourages his visually splendid but dramatically fuzzy film to gradually devolve into a gonzo mashup of gothic melodrama, Wild West survival story, and voodoo-flavored supernaturalism, with a side order of slasher-movie tropes and a sprinkling of kinky sex insinuations. — Joe Leydon
Read the full review

Softie (Sam Soko)
Distributor: Icarus Films
Where to Find It: At BAM virtual cinema
“Where are you going?” asks the young son of Boniface Mwangi. “I’m going to topple the government,” Mwangi says with a twinkle, though he’s not joking: A liberal-minded photojournalist turned activist turned independent candidate in the violent quagmire of Kenyan politics, he’s decided to tell his children straight, in case he never gets to tell them at all. As death threats mount from opposing forces, he isn’t ashamed to admit that he puts politics before family. In principle, it’s noble. In practice, it’s impossible for all concerned, as this smart, attention-seizing documentary shows in even-handed detail. — Guy Lodge
Read the full review

True Mothers (Naomi Kawase)
Distributor: Film Movement
Where to Find It: Select a virtual cinema to support
There are cinephiles who are transported to aesthetic nirvana by Kawase’s eco-spiritualism, and there are critics who flee her cinematic ashram. Neither will be wholly satisfied with “True Mothers,” the director’s contemplation of motherhood and adoption, which is her most plot-driven but least visually lustrous film yet. Adapting Mizuki Tsujimura’s novel helps impose more of a narrative framework than is typically found in Kawase’s oeuvre, although the film’s mix of genres — from marital drama to teen romance to social commentary — don’t gel. — Maggie Lee
Read the full review

A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem (Yu Gu)
Distributor: 1091
Where to Find It: Available on demand
If you do a job, you should be fairly compensated for it. That’s a straightforward and uncontroversial statement, and yet as proven by “A Woman’s Work,” the National Football League believes it doesn’t hold true for team dancers, who have toiled for decades as de facto volunteers. Director Yu Guy’s documentary concerns two of the women who, beginning in 2014, filed class-action suits to challenge this situation which, especially in the age of #MeToo, stands out as egregiously nasty and discriminatory. — Nick Schager
Read the full review

Exclusive to Apple TV Plus

Palmer (Fisher Stevens)
Where to Find It: Apple TV Plus
Justin Timberlake doesn’t make movies very often, so when he does, there’s usually a good reason. In the case of this feel-good unconventional-family drama, it was almost certainly the themes of redemption and acceptance that moved him, and gosh darn if “Palmer” won’t have the same effect on that part of the country hesitant to embrace liberal message movies. Cheryl Guerriero’s script depicts how residents of a conservative, predominantly Christian town react to a 7-year-old boy (Ryder Allen) who wears girls’ clothes, plays with dolls and loves nothing in the world more than a TV show called “Sky Princesses.” — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

Exclusive to Netflix

The Dig (Simon Stone)
Where to Find It: Netflix
An homage to such films as “Howards End,” this gentle and almost painfully polite British drama unfolds in 1939 on the cusp of World War II, and it rather poetically places the turbulence of the then-present conflict within the perspective of the millennia of human experience that came before. The characters can feel the looming threat of war, and they surely remember the cost of the previous one, and yet they are humbled by the discovery of a remarkably intact seventh-century Anglo-Saxon ship. At the center of this unhurried yet engaging project are two meticulously calibrated performances from Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes. — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

Finding ‘Ohana (Jude Weng)
Where to Find It: Netflix
Weng’s “Finding ‘Ohana” starts on a good note and continues that feeling through most of its story, which focuses on a tween girl and her family searching for buried treasure while reconnecting with each other and their Hawaiian heritage. Paying homage to adventure movies like “The Goonies,” “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” and “Tomb Raider” without blatantly mimeographing them, this family-friendly, character-forward feature from Netflix charms as well as entertains. Yet by the time the first hour has ended, a slight fatigue encroaches on the effervescent fun and it begins to lose its way. — Courtney Howard
Read the full review

Penguin Bloom (Glendyn Ivn)
Where to Find It: Netflix
There is a world in which the wistfully expressive Naomi Watts would be among the boldest actors working today, like her contemporaries Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman. But for every daring “Luce” or “While We’re Young,” Watts seems to have a tame “Penguin Bloom” on her résumé: middling projects with predictable beats. Still, it’s thanks to Watts’ measured performance that Glendyn Ivin’s based-on-a-true-story film — about a recently disabled Australian woman learning to navigate her new reality — mostly avoids the pitfalls of dated and offensive inspiration-porn movies of yore that supply nothing but uplifting fodder to the able-bodied. — Tomris Laffly
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Below Zero (Bajocero) (Lluís Quílez)
Where to Find It: Netflix

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