This month’s line-up is crammed with “Netflix originals,” including compelling imports and documentaries.
In 480 BC, the Greek warrior king Leonidas led an army of 7,000—including 300 Spartans—against invading Persian forces numbered between 70,000 and 300,000: The Spartans fought a heroic rearguard action as the Greek army retreated. Based on Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s comic series, which the 2006 film’s look meticulously replicated, Zach Snyder’s epic starring Gerard Butler skimped on the facts and was also controversially racist. It’s a treat, though, if you like watching musclebound men brutally murder each other.
Having added Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990) to its film list in February, Netflix this month adds Scorsese’s likeminded Casino; Nicholas Pileggi’s screenplays for both were based on his books. In his eighth outing with Scorsese, Robert De Niro plays Sam Rothstein, hired by the Mob to run the Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas; Sharon Stone is his unstable wife and Joe Pesci is the volatile Mob enforcer and casino profits “skimmer.” It’s one of the wittiest of Scorsese’s kinetic crime thrillers.
Cruel Intentions (1999)
A guilty pleasure if ever there was one, Roger Kumble’s 1999 update of Les Liaisons Dangereuses unfolds in an elite New York high school and stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Philippe, Reese Witherspoon, and Selma Blair. Gellar’s wily, sexy performance in the Madame de Merteuil role suggests she should have had a much bigger film career.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
The stars of this dumb, crude, and entertaining vacation-in-Hawaii romcom are Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Russell Brand, Mila Kunis, Bill Hader, and—especially funny—Jonah Hill. Segel wrote it, Judd Apatow nurtured it, and Nicholas Stoller directed it.
Who ya gonna…well, you know the rest. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson play the eponymous parapsychologists charged with ridding Manhattan of its ghosts. Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis co-star. Ivan Reitman directed the comedy classic.
Revolutionary Road (2008)
The re-teaming of Titanic pair Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in Sam Mendes’s Revolutionary Road was only partially successful, but no one can say the performances lack emotional commitment. Based on Richard Yates’s 1961 novel, it tells the story of a frustrated couple and their unfolding marriage in post-war suburban Connecticut. Kathy Bates, Michael Shannon, and Zoe Kazan co-star.
Girls Incarcerated: Season 1
This Netflix documentary takes an intimate look at the lives of inmates in juvenile women’s prisons. If the premise sounds slightly exploitative—these girls are 16 and 17, after all—that doesn’t mean the series itself will be.
Michael Moore’s Roger & Me (1989) put de-industrialized Flint, Michigan, on the map cinematically. Now this Netflix documentary scrutinizes the crime-ridden city, still in free fall and plagued by a water pollution crisis, from the perspective of its overworked police force. The gripping, handsomely filmed series should prove a binge-watch in many households.
This 39-minute short profiles Deepika Kumari, who at the age of 18 in 2012 became the world’s top woman archer. Born into poverty in the village of Ratu, India, Kumari had to overcome the institionalized social repression of women to fulfil her dream.
Also known as Ravenous, this melancholy, slow-moving horror film is set in rural Quebec, where an infestation of flesh-eating zombies has left a few hardy souls struggling for survival. Robin Aubert’s genre entry is said to be more ruminative and transcendent than most films of its kind, but there are plenty of of onscreen and offscreen atrocities.
Marvel’s Jessica Jones: Season 2
“I’m angry and I’m not sure there’s anything I won’t do any more,” Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) drily remarks in the new series. Another moody heroine created by Twilight screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, whisky-steeped, abuse-avenging New York private eye Jessica is a superhero for the #MeToo moment—and men who step out of line in season two will reap the whirlwind. All 13 episodes were directed by women. Watch the sparks fly.
Written by David Hare and starring Carey Mulligan, the British state-of-the-nation miniseries Collateral looks like one of the month’s best imports. Investigating the murder of a Syrian pizza delivery boy in South London, Mulligan’s gritty Detective Inspector Kip Glaspie turns up a nest of worms that have burrowed deep into Britain’s social and political fabric. John Simm plays a compromised Labour Party MP and Billie Piper the single mother who ordered the pizza.
Set at the end of World War II, The Outsider stars Jared Leto as Nick Lowell, an imprisoned GI whose Yakuza cellmate secures his release. Lowell must join a Japanese crime syndicate himself to repay the debt. Netflix faces a “whitewashing” backlash over this action thriller since there’s no precedent for an American becoming a Yakuza. The cast includes Tadanobu Asano, Shiori Kutsuna, Rory Cochrane, and Emile Hirsch.
Ricky Gervais: Humanity
The British comic’s first standup special in seven years—from his fifth UK tour—was recorded at London’s Apollo Hammersmith. The topics for his vicious wit include ageing and having kids. Maybe Gervais is popular because he says the spiteful things other people think and feel but seldom remark upon. His grin—the most insincere in the world—is another factor in his success.
Veerle Baetens (the Belgian actress and singer from The Broken Circle Breakdown) co-wrote the script of this psychological thriller. She plays an amnesiac incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital who must piece together her memories to determine if she was involved in a man’s disappearance. A Dutch-language, Belgian nine-parter, Tabula Rasa has spectacular visual imagery—a touch of Ken Russell—and the look of a winner.
Wild Wild Country
Chapman and Maclain Way’s six-hour documentary explores the growth of a semi-religious cult—big on meditation and free love—built by Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in a valley in Wasco County, Oregon, in 1981. The arrival of the cultists was not amicably greeted by the ranchers and retirees of neighboring small town Antelope. Conflict was inevitable, and state and national figures eventually got involved.
Buenos Aires fashion designer and single mom Edha (Juana Viale) finds creative inspiration in her torrid affair with an immigrant menswear model (Andrés Velencoso). He has great cheekbones, but she reckons without the dark side of his personality. The first original series Netflix has commissioned from Argentina, Edha has the emotional pitch of a telenovela but looks classy enough. It was directed in 13 parts by Daniel Burman (Lost Embrace), one of the country’s hottest directors.
In Search of Fellini
Lucy (Ksenia Solo), a naive girl from small-town Ohio, falls in love with Federico Fellini’s dark fantasies and is encouraged by her (dying) mom (Maria Bello) to seek the Maestro himself in Italy. Her eventful road trip introduces her to a range of Felliniesque characters and equips her with enough experience to suggest she’ll be able to survive alone. Solo does a nice job of channeling Federico Fellini’s wife and star Giulietta Masina. Director Taro Lexton’s film was based on the real-life adventure of co-writer Nancy Cartwright, who voices Bart on The Simpsons.
100 Years: One Woman’s Fight for Justice
Director Melina Janko documents how Elouise Cobell (1945-2011), a Blackfoot activist and the Montana tribe’s treasurer, brought a class-action suit against the U.S. Department of the Interior for the mismanagement of funds worth billions of dollars to individual Native Americans for oil drilled on reservations. In 2010, Cobell prevailed, securing a settlement of $3.4 billion. This David vs. Goliath story is a must-watch, not least for the ways it shows politicians and capitalists trying to cheat impoverished people of their rights.
Don’t Look Now was one of the influences on this Netflix/BBC supernatural chiller. It stars Lydia Wilson as a concert hall-headlining cellist who, following the suicide of her mother in front of her, is drawn to investigate the 24-year-old mystery of a missing Welsh girl. The British reviews were lukewarm, though they heaped praise on Wilson and rural Wales, where most of the six-parter was shot.
Broadcast on the BBC in three parts last Christmas, Heidi Thomas’s adaptation of Louisa M. Alcott’s 1868 novel, sumptuously directed by Vanessa Caswill in Ireland, is not the least notable for 92-year-old Angela Lansbury’s appearance as Aunt March. Up-and-comers Willa Fitzgerald, Maya Hawke, Annes Elwy, and Kathryn Newton play Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy respectively, while Emily Watson and Dylan Baker are Marmee and Mr. March. Look out for Michael Gambon as Mr. Laurence. Has it really been 24 years since Winona Ryder played Jo?
Rapture: Season 1
The contemporary stars featuring in Netflix’s eight-part rap documentary include Nas, Logic, Dave East, T.I., Rapsody, G-Eazy, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, 2 Chainz, and Just Blaze. Produced by Mass Appeal, the series delves into the rappers’ personal and professional lives and explores how hip-hop has impacted global culture.