As a Confederate soldier (Jude Law) struggles home toward the end of the Civil War, his lazy Southern belle of a girlfriend (Nicole Kidman) is stirred into life by her tough new friend (Renee Zellweger). Anthony Minghella’s period-perfect 2003 drama, which was based on Charles Frazier’s novel, plays like a revisionist Gone With the Wind. It is ageing well—and the climax is haunting. Natalie Portman, Jena Malone, and Philip Seymour Hoffman are memorable in small roles. Zellweger won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance.
Al Pacino has starred in much better films than 1983’s Scarface—three of them are The Godfather Part II, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon. But Brian De Palma’s sleek, violent remake of Howard Hawks’s 1932 gangster classic is the thriller that consecrated Pacino’s image as a bad boy fantasy figure. The film remains especially popular with English blokes, who warm to Pacino’s insolence as they once did to the inscrutability of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name. Scarface‘s materialistic cred is meanwhile boosted by Michelle Pfeiffer’s ice princess trophy wife, mountains of coke, and the Miami setting.
The grisliest of mainstream serial-killer films, David Fincher’s Se7en (1995) is also a masterful L.A. noir—brooding, dank, and apocalyptic. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman star as the detective partners—the brash idealist and the weary veteran—desperately searching for Kevin Spacey’s satanic, game-playing murderer; Gwyneth Paltrow is Pitt’s pregnant wife. Only Fincher’s Zodiac (2007) is in the same league.
Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller co-directed this highly stylized, very violent 2005 neo-noir based on the first, third, and fourth books in Miller’s graphic novel series. Much of the fun comes from the cranked up performances by Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Benicio del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Elijah Wood, Alexis Bledel, and others.
Everyone interested in Princess Diana should see Saul Dibb’s opulent drama about the marital entrapment of her great-great-great-great aunt, Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806). Georgiana (Keira Knightley) suffered similar humiliation at the hands of her husband the Duke (Ralph Fiennes), as did Diana with Prince Charles. Hayley Atwell co-stars as the Duke’s live-in mistress, formerly Georgiana’s best friend.
Despicable Me 3
DM3 is the 26th highest-grossing film of all time. That doesn’t mean it’s actually watchable, but thousands of Netflixters who missed it in theaters will no doubt check it out. Lovey-dovey secret agents Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristin Wiig) are ousted from the Anti-Villain League after they let villainous Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) escape. Gru’s rich, cheerful blond bro Dru (also Carell) teams up with the pair to take on mulleted and moustachioed ‘8os throwback Balthazar when he and his giant robot attack Hollywood. The Minions meanwhile do their Munchkin-y thing. In the casting coup of the century so far, Julie Andrews voices Gru and Dru’s mom.
Broad City‘s Abbi Jacobson and Dave Franco give powerhouse performances in this single drama about a woman struggling to help her brother deal with heroin withdrawal after he fails to gain admission to a rehab facility; it doesn’t help that that he’s minding his toddler daughter at the time. Directed by Marja-Lewis Ryan, 6 Balloons was based on the experiences of co-producer Samantha Housman.
Terron Forte (Michael Rainey, Jr.) is a 14-year-old basketball prodigy with high hopes of making it to the NBL. After he’s recruited for an elite prep school, his new teammates give him a tough baptism and the sharks sink their teeth in. Written and directed by Ryan Koo, this feature film about corruption and greed in amateur sports looks like a winner. Judging by the kinetic trailer, it might have been extended to a full-length series.
In series one, eight skilled mercenaries penetrate the Royal Mint of Spain, take 67 hostages, and attempt to print 2.4 billion euros over 11 days. The Spanish series about the biggest fictional heist ever became the longest series ever about a heist. It has been compared with Narcos, Prison Break, and even Breaking Bad. Season two promises more white-knuckle thrills.
Helena (Clara Lago) has been flying in deep space for 7,409 days—just over 20 years. She was a tot when her parents sacrificed themselves knowing that their robot-controlled ship would only provide for one of them before it reached its destination. The sudden arrival of a hunky male robotics engineer (Áles Gonzáles) shakes up Helena’s cloistered world to say the least. The influences on this Spanish sci-fi drama, written and directed by Hatem Khraiche, must include Robinson Crusoe—and perhaps Awakenings.
Ram Dass, Going Home
Born Richard Alpert, Ram Dass is the spiritual leader, former psychedelics warrior, and a counter-cultural icon of the 1960s and ’70s. He turns 88 this April 6, but is in poor health and believes his time is drawing near. Set on Maui, where Ram Dass lives, Derek Peck’s 31-minute documentary is a poetic meditation on life and conscious dying. It has the dreamily lyrical quality of a Terrence Malick movie.
Troy: Fall of a City
This eight-episode British miniseries, co-produced by Netflix and BBC 1, is a test case for how expansive television drama can be. It depicts the mythological Trojan War: the Greeks’ 10-year siege of Troy, which resulted from Paris (Louis Hunter) seizing the highly responsive Helen (Bella Dayne) from her husband Menelaus (Jonas Armstrong), the Spartan king. Creator David Farr tells the tale from the Trojan rather than the Homeric perspective. Casting was happily color blind: black actors David Gyasi and Hakeem Kae-Kazim play Achilles and Zeus respectively.
Serious dramas about conflicts within the Christian community are so rare that Netflix deserves kudos for financing Come Sunday. Based on a 2005 episode of NPR’s This American Life, director Joshua Marston’s vigorous fact-based drama depicts Tulsa evangelical minister Carlton Pearson’s soul-searching struggle with his faith, and his “heretical” renunciation of the biblical idea of damnation. Chiwetel Ejiofor reportedly gives one of the finest performances of his career as the inclusivity-driven Pearson. Condola Rashad plays Pearson’s supportive wife, and the cast also includes Danny Glover, Jason Segal, and Lakeith Stanfield.
Lost in Space
Never mind the amazing special effects and epic scope of this 10-parter, the real news about Netflix’s reboot of CBS’s ace 1965-1968 sci-fi series is the casting of Parker Posey. She has the pivotal role of Dr. Smith, whom Jonathan Harris made the acidly camp villain and central figure of the original. It remains to be seen if Posey will play Smith more benignly than Harris or turn on her full snark. Either way, her presence guarantees this show will be terrific. Toby Stephens and Molly Parker co-star.
Beginning in 1888, this first-class German six-parter depicts life at the Berlin hospital that became the most important university medical research center in Europe. The story, which encompasses the successes and failures of the hospital’s brilliant physicians, is seen from the viewpoint of Ida Lenze (Alicia von Rittberg), who takes a job at Charité to pay off her debts after her life is saved there. As a nurse, she discovers her passion for medicine.
Spanning several American cities and reaching south of the border, this five-episode documentary series look at both sides of the drug wars. It features interviewers with dealers, users, and law enforcement officials—and features some footage that makes you wonder how the makers got access. It’s to be hoped they didn’t shoot and cut the footage to hyperbolize the whole sordid, lethal business. That said, Dope looks like essential viewing.
In Olivia Milch’s comedy-drama, four best friends (Lucy Hale, Kathryn Prescott, Alexandra Shipp, and Awkwafina) ride an emotional rollercoaster: namely, the last two weeks of high school. Anyone who has staggered across that life-changing threshold will know how these young women feel.
Struggling A&R man Matt (Jason Sudeikis) will lose his job unless he snags a hot Sony band for his label. His estranged father Ben (Ed Harris) is a terminally ill famous photographer and a terminal curmudgeon—perhaps inspired by Robert Frank—who wants to develop four old rolls of film before he shuffles off this mortal coil. Together with Ben’s nurse Zoe, drily played by Elizabeth Olsen, they take a road trip to the Kansas lab that’s the last in the country capable of developing Kodachrome film. Expect some father-son healing, a slow-burning romance, and a cool soundtrack that doesn’t apparently include Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome.”
Gender discrimination is a major part of this documentary about the non-NASA-funded First Lady Astronaut Trainees: the 13 women pilots who, in the early 1960s, were physiologically screened as candidates for space flight as part of the 1958-63 Mercury program. They were, of course, denied the opportunities given to Mercury’s seven male choices, but their legacy as pioneers is stronger than ever.
Devised and written by Sarah Scheller and Audrey Bell, this sharp Aussie comedy series follows Audrey (played by Bell) as she negotiates the early stages of motherhood, which she hopes will define her new approach to life. Her careerist husband and self-obsessed mother do not make it easy for her. The title refers to a breastfeeding sensation, experienced by some women as a tingling or warmth, by others as a burning pain.
The second season of the impressive futuristic thriller from Brazil: “The Inland” is a dystopian hell and “the Offshore” is an earthly paradise. Each year, 3% of 20-year-olds from the Inland are chosen for the Offshore via a rigorous series of tests called the Process. Season one left off with the torture victim protagonist Michele (Bianca Comparato) being eliminated and joining up with Ezequiel (João Miguel), whose leadership of The Process is a guise for his role in a revolutionary group called the Cause.
Bobby Kennedy for President
Is it any coincidence that the current Kennedy “moment” should have arrived at a time when we are led by the most illiberal and coarse President in recent history? Netflix’s Bobby Kennedy for President follows CNN’s compelling American Dynasties: The Kennedys and John Curran’s cautionary Chappaquiddick. Fifty years after RFK’s bid for the Democratic nomination and his June ’68 assassination, Netflix launches a four-hour documentary series about his 83-day run for the Presidency. Directed by Dawn Porter, it will beg an enormous question: How many thousands of lives would have been saved had Bobby, not Richard Nixon, entered the White House?
The Week Of
Since Chris Rock’s screen persona has softened and Adam Sandler’s has become more sober, it’ll be fascinating to see how this plays out in the one-off comedy The Week Of. They play men with different values and temperaments who are thrown together as the fathers in a wedding party. What’s the betting there’s some kind of rapprochement? Rachel Dratch, Steve Buscemi, and Rob Morgan co-star.