American life has drastically changed, thanks to the drastic spread of and efforts to contain the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. With movie theaters, bars, restaurants and gyms shut down in major cities, and a government-issued directive to stay home and practice social distancing, now, more than ever, we need streaming movies and TV to keep us entertained in the comfort of our own homes in hopes of flattening the coronavirus curve.
Hollywood had the brakes thrown on their release schedule, and at least one major studio is taking steps to steer into the skid. Comcast NBC Universal has made their films available for home viewing the same day as the theatrical release date. The first major release to get this treatment will be “Trolls World Tour” on April 10, and in the meantime, they’ve made recent theatrical releases “The Hunt,” “The Invisible Man” and “Emma” available for rent “on a wide variety of the most popular on-demand services.” A $19.99 rental fee will get you a 48-hour rental window to watch the films at home, so if you missed them in theaters, now is a great time to catch up. Considering the cost of movie tickets these days, it’s a deal for the whole family.
But if you’re all caught up on new releases or looking for something else, now is the time to dive into older series you may have missed out on in the original airing, or curate a few themed film retrospectives to run in your home. Perhaps you’ve already exhausted “Contagion” and “Outbreak” and need something to soothe or distract from the fear and paranoia, but upbeat comedies just aren’t the right vibe. What we’re all craving right now is a steady leader, calm, level-headed, moral and dedicated to justice. If that sounds up your alley, the streaming movie marathon for you is what I’m calling “Mark Ruffalo Investigates.”
Start with David Fincher’s compulsively watchable 2007 film “Zodiac” (streaming on Netflix, also available for rent on iTunes and Amazon), in which Ruffalo plays real-life San Francisco cop Inspector David Toschi, widely considered to be the inspiration for both “Bullitt” and “Dirty Harry.” This late-’60s-set investigative procedural following the reporters and cops on the tail of the Zodiac Killer makes “Zodiac” a precursor to “Mindhunter,” and Ruffalo’s swaggering presence as Toschi is a comforting element in the excellent ensemble, which also includes Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr.
Next up: Tom McCarthy’s Best Picture-winning 2015 movie “Spotlight” (streaming on Hulu and available on Showtime, also for rent on iTunes and Amazon), about the Boston Globe reporting team that uncovered the child abuse scandal and cover-up with the Catholic Archdiocese. Another great ensemble cast includes Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber. Ruffalo earned an Oscar nomination for his performance of dogged reporter Mike Rezendes, who is determined to root out the truth and bring justice to the victims.
Finally, finish up with Todd Haynes’ overlooked 2019 film “Dark Waters,” which is now available for rent on Amazon. In this chilly and chilling legal investigation, Ruffalo plays lawyer Rob Bilott, an Ohio corporate defense attorney who took on the powerful DuPont corporation and exposed decades of willful poison and pollution, especially through their popular Teflon products. In the vein of films like “Erin Brockovich,” “Dark Waters” demonstrates that shoe-leather investigation, interpersonal connection, and patient determination can bring justice against corporate malfeasance. Those are comforting themes in times like these.
And if you need to add more films to your “Ruffalo Investigates” marathon, here are a few titles where he doesn’t play real people, but does do some excellent detective work. Try Jane Campion’s “In The Cut” (Crackle, Amazon, Criterion Channel), Michael Mann’s absolutely perfect LA noir “Collateral” (Amazon), or Martin Scorsese’s 1950s insane asylum mystery “Shutter Island” (Hulu, Amazon, iTunes).
Don’t forget to get up off the couch, too! While many yoga and fitness studios are offering free or cheap online classes, can I suggest firing up “The Grind Hip Hop Aerobics” on YouTube, featuring Eric Nies of “The Real World”? The ’90s house and hip-hop jams are a blast, the “club-inspired” routine incredibly fun, and you’ll break a sweat and get your heart rate up for what feels like the first time in days. Happy quarantining!