New Movies to Watch This Week: ‘Honest Thief,’ ‘American Utopia’ and Venice Fest Winner ‘Martin Eden’

The sheer range of genres represented by this week’s new releases — from Liam Neeson thriller “Honest Thief” to romantic weepie “2 Hearts” — suggests that distributors of all kinds are doing their best to give audiences the kind of selection they enjoyed before the lockdown.

Well, nearly all kinds of distributors.

The major studios are still playing it safe and holding their tentpoles for a time when they can pack the megaplexes, although Paramount has stepped in with a fun post-apocalyptic adventure, “Love and Monsters,” which goes straight to PVOD, and Sony picked up an unconventional neo-noir called “The Kid Detective” out of the Toronto Film Festival that sneaks into theaters today. Pre-Halloween horror offerings continue, as Amazon Prime releases two more titles in its Welcome to the Blumhouse series: “Evil Eye” and “Nocturne.”

Art-houses land a major title in 2019 Venice Film Festival winner “Martin Eden,” an Italian adaptation of the Jack London novel. Comedy fans can laugh along with Jimmy O. Yang in “The Opening Act,” in which the “Silicon Valley” star plays a standup struggling to find his feet. And Edward James Olmos makes his directorial debut — an ambitious if wildly overreaching satire about oil-company malfeasance — with “The Devil Has a Name.”

As much as some audiences miss the cinema experience, the feeling’s even more acute for live theater. Broadway has gone entirely dark during the shutdown, so it’s a special kind of thrill that this week brings filmed versions of two hit shows. Debuting on HBO Saturday night, Spike Lee directs “David Byrne’s American Utopia,” an ebullient, immersive concert in the vein of the Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense,” while “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” helmer Marielle Heller brings Heidi Schreck’s Tony-nominated “What the Constitution Means to Me” to Amazon.

The latter seems perfectly timed to the looming election, which continues to motivate various doc makers to weigh in with politically engaged offerings — such as The Atlantic’s “White Noise,” which profiles three alt-right influencers, and “White Riot,” about Eric Clapton’s late-’70s Rock Against Racism initiative, a music-driven response to National Front marches and anti-immigrant sentiment. It’s a concert movie with conscience. Likewise, musical bio “Harry Chapin: When In Doubt” celebrates the late folk singer’s career, as well as his dedication to ending world hunger.

On the less serious musical front, Netflix offers some cotton-candy diversion in the form of K-pop doc “Blackpink: Light Up the Sky,” while Disney Plus delivers “Clouds,” an emotional tribute to the late Zach Sobiech, adapted from his mom’s memoir, “Fly a Little Higher: How God Answered a Mom’s Small Prayer in a Big Way.”

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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The Kid Detective Courtesy of Stage 6 Films

New Releases in Theaters

2 Hearts (Lance Hool)
Distributor: Freestyle Releasing
Where to Find It: In theaters now
“2 Hearst” is a softheaded piece of morbid romantic treacle — two parallel cloying love stories for the price of one. But it all builds to them merging together, and the film tips its hand within 10 minutes that its spiritual linchpin will be a cataclysmic medical trauma. It takes no great deduction to look at these couples, put two and two together, and realize that what we’re watching is going to turn into a faith-based organ-transplant movie. “2 Hearts” is based on a true story, but what it’s selling is sanctimonious charity disaster porn. The big message is: Even the most devastating trauma is all part of God’s plan. — Owen Gleiberman
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Honest Thief (Mark Williams)
Distributor: Open Road
Where to Find It: In theaters now
Directed by the co-creator of “Ozark,” this is a serviceably energized and routine action crime movie, with a few slammin’ fistfights and gun battles, and it proves once again that Liam Neeson is an actor who will take a paycheck gig without treating it like one. The idea of a super-criminal turning himself in is intriguing, but once the plan gets blown apart, “Honest Thief” becomes a glumly standard piece of B-movie Tinkertoy, with no surprises. And yet the corniest thing about it — Tom’s drive to save his love for Annie (Kate Walsh) — is also the most convincing. — Owen Gleiberman
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The Kid Detective (Evan Morgan)
Distributor: Sony Pictures, Stage 6 Films
Where to Find It: In theaters now
Don’t be fooled by the cheery ring of the Disney-esque title “The Kid Detective.” Splendidly summoning film noir-esque vibes, classically ghastly bad guys and femme fatale types out of a whimsical small town full of grotesque mysteries, this bold and often surprisingly humorous film — think of it as a more mainstream version of Rian Johnson’s “Brick” — grapples with themes related to murder and abuse, as well as the existential dread of its central recluse, who fell grossly short of the promising life he thought he was meant to have in his younger days. — Tomris Laffly
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Martin Eden Venice Film Festival

New Releases on Demand and in Select Theaters

Love and Monsters (Michael Matthews)
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Where to Find It: Available for $19.99 via premium video on demand
It’s the end of the world as Joel (Dylan O’Brien) knows it and, despite living in an underground bunker for seven years to evade the gigantic mutant reptiles, insects and amphibians that now roam the earth’s surface, he feels surprisingly fine. Michael Matthews’ cheerfully PG-13 adventure comedy quickly dispenses with any notional topicality threatened by its premise, but that’s all for the best. It leaves “Love and Monsters” free to get on with its splattery creature effects and silly but satisfying hero’s journey entirely unencumbered by importance. — Jessica Kiang
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Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello)
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Where to Find It: In select theaters and virtual cinemas
Though best known in the States for his wilderness novels, Jack London’s key novel is “Martin Eden,” a semi-autobiographical work tracing his background from unschooled sailor to celebrated writer, encompassing all his class anger, political musings and intense dissatisfaction with the life he created. Now Marcello (“The Mouth of the Wolf”) has made it the subject of his sprawling first full-fiction film, sticking close to the narrative while setting it in an undefinable 20th-century moment to make his own statements about the creative process, class hypocrisy and the disappointment of most political theories. — Jay Weissberg
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S---house (Cooper Raiff)
Distributor: IFC Films
Where to Find It: In select theaters and on demand
Raiff plays Alex Malmquist, an college freshman who’s been having trouble adjusting to the idea of being a self-sufficient 19-year-old so far away from his family back in Texas. Alex can’t stand his roommate (Logan Miller), isn’t serious about classes and has no idea where to find the parties … or the girls, for that matter. Then he meets Maggie (Dylan Gelula), a sophomore with a much more casual idea of hooking up. Cooper brings enough honesty to this different-pages dynamic — she rushes into sex, he’s looking for romance — that one can easily imagine him going on to write projects that connect with his generation. — Peter Debruge
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White Noise (Daniel Lombroso)
Distributor: The Atlantic
Where to Find It: Available via Laemmle virtual cinemas, expanding to VOD on Oct. 23
The subject of “White Noise” is racist white nationalism and the people in America who believe in it, but the characters at the film’s center aren’t neo-Klan knuckle-draggers from the heartland. They’re hip, attractive, relatively young social-media-friendly self-promoters who have turned their hate into a brand. They are also, as the film reveals, deeply shallow and self-deluded hypocrites. In addition to Richard Spencer, this lively and disturbing documentary portrait also follows the activities of Lauren Southern and Mike Cernovich. — Owen Gleiberman
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