Stay home. As the coronavirus spreads, that’s the sentiment stressed by epidemiologists racing to combat the virus, who have implored Americans to avoid all nonessential travel and limit all person-to-person interactions. “Social distancing,” it seems, is our new normal—at least for now.
Though it can be challenging to look for silver linings in times as tumultuous as this, those sheltering indoors can at least rest assured that there’s now little reason to put off catching up on Netflix. And particularly with movie theaters shuttering across the country in response to the growing pandemic, Americans are looking to VOD and streaming platforms in search of their next binge-watch.
Fortune’s (still) here to help you navigate the week’s latest offerings, boiling down all the entertainment out there to a few distinct recommendations: Put more simply, should you stream it or skip it? Find out below.
STREAM IT: ‘Crip Camp’ (Netflix)
Camp Jened started as a place, before it became a movement.
Crip Camp, an illuminating and frequently electrifying new documentary on Netflix, charts how a Catskills summer retreat for disabled youth, operated by hippies from the ’50s through the late ’70s, bred a generation of activists empowered to fight for social change by the community of understanding and acceptance they had built there.
In doing so, this documentary—a sheer miracle of editing, with its mixture of archival footage and more recent interviews overseen with impressively tight focus by directors Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht—succinctly conveys the importance of shared spaces for creating solidarity, the value of areas in which people pushed unjustly to the margins of society can recognize, rally against, and ultimately push back to reform a system resistant to codifying their rights.
That Camp Jened was one of those spaces is indisputable; Crip Camp, with a breezily laconic flow, regales its audiences with inspiring and often humorous tales of what went on at the camp, where attendees felt so liberated by the camp’s accommodation of their different needs that they could act, thrillingly, like kids at camp, unfettered from restrictive social narratives that had previously defined them based on the visibility of their varying disabilities. Campers could play baseball (an altered version, but one with the same fist-pumping spirit), lounge by the campfire, act on furtive crushes, and in many ways simply be the teenagers the outside world refused to acknowledge them as. It was bliss, worthy to its regulars of the same fogged-out, broad-grinning nostalgia Woodstock connotes in the wider cultural consciousness.
But Crip Camp’s framing of those summer days as halcyon is wholly intentional, even before it walks viewers through its depressing modern state. The doc is concerned principally with following campers who left their bunks to occupy political offices, in support of change, speaking forcefully through microphones and organizing through hunger strikes and sit-in protests to advocate for the passage of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act.
Activists fight for disabled rights today, but Section 504 marked a sea change in visibility for those lobbying on behalf of people with disabilities. Broadly speaking, it ensured that any institutions receiving federal funding could not discriminate against people with disabilities and was required to make new accommodations for them; 504 set the stage for the Americans With Disabilities Act while providing countless opportunities both in terms of education and everyday accessibility. It deserves to be hailed as a landmark victory. And for those who grew up at Camp Jened, a place that has since vanished into history despite echoing through it, the passage of such a bill is framed rightly as a very personal victory and validation, a hard-won moment that Crip Camp moves to make visible as a civic landmark.
STREAM IT: ‘Uncorked’ (Netflix)
Piquant, precise, and charming from top to bottom, Uncorked instantly enters the pantheon of great wine movies—not that, Bottle Shock and Sideways aside, there have been all that many entries in this very specific subgenre flavorful enough to impress oenophilically inclined cinephiles (or cinematically inclined oenophiles, just as appropriately).
This one, a winning debut feature by the Insecure executive-producer/writer Prentice Penny, announces its difference almost right off the bat, with a scene in which budding sommelier Elijah (Mamoudou Athie) helps a young woman (Sasha Compère) pick out a bottle of wine. His technique for doing so, making use of her love of hip-hop, involves detailing wine varieties in terms of the rappers they most resemble. (“Pinot Grigio is white wine with a bit of spice to it. Like, ‘Oh, you thought I was just a white wine? I’m about to get stupid.’ It’s like a Kanye West.”)
Elijah’s poised to take over the Memphis barbecue joint that his no-nonsense father, Louis (Courtney B. Vance), previously inherited from his own father. And yet Elijah’s drawn in a different direction; he wants to become a master sommelier, a dream achieved by fewer than 300 people worldwide given the infamously difficult nature of a test mandated by the examining body that bestows such a designation. Though his mother (Niecy Nash) is tentatively supportive, Elijah struggles to connect with his father, who can’t understand why his son would break away from the family business for something so elite and seemingly incompatible.
Seemingly, because Uncorked cleverly finds ways to break down the barriers that would seem to separate wine and barbecue, some cultural and others linked to class. Wisely, without making it the point, the film nods to how white-dominated the field of somms is. In particular, scenes Louis spends at a woodyard, selecting the specific types of wood he wants for his smoker, are filmed as lovingly as moments like one in which Elijah savors a Chateau Abelyce at the dinner table, gracefully pointing to the craftsmanship and passion needed to become experts in either field.
As a story of sons and fathers overcoming the gulfs that open between them, and more largely about the hidden ties that bind family together, Uncorked is remarkably affecting. But it’s also thoroughly, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, especially when it allows Elijah’s family to weigh in with exactly what they think, and don’t quite grasp, about his interest in tannins and taste palates. The film’s stacked, silken soundtrack, featuring performers from Yo Gotti to Marco Pavé, further accentuates the sense Uncorked is something fresh and helps it all go down that much smoother.
SKIP IT: ‘Making the Cut’ (Amazon Prime)
Former Project Runway host Heidi Klum and mentor Tim Gunn head to streaming for another, larger-scale reality-television competition set in the world of fashion, but Making the Cut quickly moves to bring itself out of the long shadow of that cable-channel behemoth.
Fair enough. Though it has pilfered the two Project Runway personalities and is eager enough to mimic its technical trimmings, any reality-TV series entering such a crowded arena in 2020 needs to set itself apart— even, and maybe especially, one operating with Amazon’s virtually unlimited resources.
That’s why it’s important to be direct in stating that the first episodes of Making the Cut (each of which clock in at a far too elongated hour-plus) land as a surprisingly mixed bag, never transcending the appearance of a conceptual hand-me-down despite the pumped-up budget and accordingly globe-trotting flavor, wherein contestants are whisked from New York to Paris to Tokyo.
Part of the problem is its premise: The 12 designers in competition are no longer focused on haute couture, instead setting their sights on making accessible fashion items. The show’s ultimate prize, in addition to $1 million, is that the winning designer will get their own line of clothes on Amazon, ready to be mass-produced and shipped out globally. Audiences can even log on to the retail giant after each episode and immediately buy whatever accessible design just earned top marks, right after the episode airs. It’s corporate synergy on a scale only Amazon or to a lesser degree Disney are really capable of pulling off.
This gimmick leaves a weird aftertaste, as if Making the Cut was designed to move inventory first and viewers a distant second. (This, of course, has long been part of Amazon’s business plan for its original series, the idea being in part that the more time people spend on its site, the more likely they are to toss something in the cart—but rarely this nakedly.) But it’s par for the course in this aggressively all-business series, which makes it harder than Runway ever did to really invest in individual contestants and dispenses with them in a way degrees more brutal than Project Runway ever did. Nothing matters more than the bottom line, which may well be the state of things in our consumer-capitalist hellscape, but this colder Cut trades in pipe dreams for pragmatism, and it’s an ill-fitting alteration.
The best of the rest:
On Hulu, Neon has made available for streaming Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which it not inaccurately has marketed as “cinema’s greatest love story.” Set in 1770 France, in bracingly windswept Brittany, the film follows the forbidden affair that erupts between a painter (Noémie Merlant) and the young woman (Adèle Haenel) whose portrait she’s commissioned to complete before an arranged marriage can proceed. Exquisitely framed and elegantly written by French director Céline Sciamma, it’s a masterpiece of composition on all levels, a deeply thoughtful and achingly sensual look at love, passion, and memory from a distinctly queer, female perspective that lingers long after its perfect final act.
Bacurau, from Brazilian directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, arrives hot off the festival circuit with a virtual release rollout from Kino Lorber coordinated in league with independent theaters across the country. A weird Western that finds townspeople in a small Brazilian village taking up arms against a band of heavily armed mercenaries, the movie’s hallucinatory atmosphere and buckets of blood recall Alejandro Jodorowsky and John Carpenter in equal measure. It’s an early genre standout in this most weird of years and well worth the price of a virtual ticket—especially at a time when most independent movie houses are badly hurting.
Shudder, meanwhile, is making available to stream Daniel Isn’t Real, a full-body freak-out of a possession thriller from writer-director Adam Egypt Mortimer. Splicing a more traditional doppelgänger narrative together with strange, colorful splashes of cosmic horror, it’s audacious in tone and almost cruelly well-crafted, with a particular standout performance from Miles Robbins as the troubled New Yorker whose childhood imaginary friend (Patrick Schwarzenegger) reemerges with dark intentions.
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