As Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, et al. add more content, it can be difficult to know what to look for amidst all of the newly added titles. Every month, I compile a list of particularly noteworthy and interesting movies and TV shows to add to your streaming queues.
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This Netflix original stars Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer as two former childhood best friends who become superheroes after taking part in a special treatment developed by Spencer’s character. Which comes in handy because their city is overrun by supervillains. I’m a sucker for Melissa McCarthy, and the film also stars Jason Bateman, Bobby Cannavale, and Pom Klementieff.
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s bona fides as indie sci-fi/horror filmmakers have been well-established thanks to films like Resolution, Spring, and The Endless. For Synchronic, they team up with Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan, who play a pair of paramedics confronting a series of cases involving a powerful new designer drug. But the paramedics soon discover that the drug is no simple narcotic, and as evidenced by the trailer, find themselves in increasingly strange and trippy circumstances.
This Netflix original stars Toni Collette, Daniel Dae Kim, and Anna Kendrick as a trio of astronauts on a two-year mission to Mars who discover an unintentional stowaway on their vessel. When he accidentally damages their life support systems, the crew find themselves facing an impossible situation. Stowaway is directed by Joe Penna, who previously directed the Mads Mikkelsen-starring thriller Arctic.
Set in a fantasy world modeled after 19th century Russia, Shadow and Bone stars Jessie Mei Li as a young woman who discovers that she possesses a mysterious power — a power that might save her world from an encroaching darkness. Shadow and Bone is adapted from the best-selling YA fantasy novel by Leigh Bardugo, which was originally published back in 2012.
Here’s everything arriving on and leaving Netflix in April 2021.
A man wakes up in a hospital after a zombie plague has decimated England. Together with a ragtag group of survivors, he must find a way to safety even as they discover that human beings can be worse than zombies. On paper, 28 Days Later’s story doesn’t deviate too much from zombie movie tropes, but the vibrancy and immediacy of director Danny Boyle’s visuals elevate the material — and having Godspeed You Black Emperor! on the soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.
James Cameron is best known for the Terminator and Avatar movies, but of all his movies, I’ve probably watched The Abyss the most. This movie about deep sea workers who find themselves trapped at the bottom of the ocean between the military and an amazing discovery is filled with groundbreaking special effects, amazing attention to detail, intense disaster sequences, and some excellent performances from an ensemble cast. It’s also infamous for its grueling production, which found cast and crew coming to blows and suffering mental breakdowns from the stress.
One of the greatest action movies of all time, period. Bruce Willis stars as John McClane, a sardonic detective from New York who’s visiting his estranged wife in Los Angeles for a Christmas party at her office. And then, wouldn’t you know it, a bunch of terrorists break up the party and hold everyone hostage. It’s up to McClane to take on the terrorists — who are lead by Alan Rickman at his most suave — armed with little more than some one-liners. Suffice to say, the terrorists don’t stand a chance.
Adapted from Tracy Chevalier’s best-selling novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring follows a young servant who becomes a member of Johannes Vermeer’s household, and later, the inspiration for his famous painting. The movie was a critical and commercial success, and rightfully so: the story is compelling, buoyed by wonderful cinematography, design, and costumes, and it boasts an amazing cast that includes Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson, Cillian Murphy, and Scarlett Johansson as the titular girl.
It’s easy to dismiss The Replacement Killers as a second-tier Chow Yun-fat movie when compared to classic action titles like The Killer and Hard Boiled. But here’s the thing: second-tier Chow Yun-fat is still pretty darn great. Chow plays John Lee, a hitman whose conscience prevents him from completing his last job. Forced to go on the run with a skilled forger (Mira Sorvino), the two of them find themselves pursued by both the cops and Lee’s former comrades. Trivia note: The Replacement Killer set a record for the most bullets fired in an American film.
One of the very best sci-fi films in recent years, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is a thought-provoking film unlike any alien invasion film you’ve seen. When strange alien ships appear around the globe, the military asks a linguist (Amy Adams) to help decipher the alien’s strange language. But as she begins to understand it, the language starts affecting her in mysterious ways. Arrival’s slow pace may frustrate some, but Villeneuve’s direction is masterful, the cinematography is gorgeous, the concepts are fascinating, and the soundtrack by Jóhann Jóhannsson is incredible.
Here’s everything arriving on Hulu in April 2021.
Before his Spider-Man movies helped launch our current fascination with big screen superheroes, Sam Raimi — who also established his cult cred with the Evil Dead movies — directed this excellent slow-burning noir about a some friends who stumble across a plane crash and a bunch of money. Of course, things soon go horribly wrong as suspicion and distrust mount, with disastrous consequences looming over everyone.
Christopher Nolan’s Inception is about as trippy as big budget Hollywood spectacles get, featuring a group of dream hackers who hire a new recruit to infiltrate the subconscious of an executive. Filled with mind-blowing visuals and some incredibly clever action set pieces — and a hotly debated ending — Inception is proof that Hollywood action movies can be plenty cerebral.
Released in 2012, Moonrise Kingdom is a sweet coming-of-age drama about two young children who fall in love and decide to run away together. And because it’s a Wes Anderson film, it’s hyper-stylized with a skewed ’60s-inspired look — which only adds to the film’s dreaminess. Oh, and because it’s a Wes Anderson film, it’s also hilarious, with his inimitably dry, deadpan dialog delivered by a star-studded cast (e.g., Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray).
Trolls are real, as a group of college students soon discover, much to their chagrin. Their only hope is a bitter old man contracted by the Norwegian government to hunt down the monsters and keep their existence a secret. Trollhunter was a massive hit in its native Norway when it was released in 2010, and the mockumentary went on to garner widespread acclaim around the world.
Black Panther’s Michael B. Jordan stars in this action thriller based on the 1993 Tom Clancy novel. Jordan plays a Navy SEAL who’s on a rampage to avenge his pregnant wife’s murder and finds himself caught up in a bigger conspiracy. Without Remorse has had a long, convoluted development history that spans nearly three decades, with production finally beginning in 2019. Originally planned as a theatrical release, Amazon acquired it due to the pandemic. A sequel based on Clancy’s Rainbow Six is reportedly in the works.
Here’s everything arriving on and leaving Amazon in April 2021. As usual, there’s a lot of overlap between Hulu and Amazon’s offerings.
Ben Stiller stars as a hapless museum security guard who discovers an amazing secret: at night, all of the museum’s exhibits — which include dinosaurs, miniature soldiers, and a model of Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams) — come to life. The film also stars Carla Gugino, Ricky Gervais, and Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs as a trio of veteran guards who may or may not have their own agenda for the museum.
I’m adding this one solely out of nostalgia, because as we all know, the Ewoks are kind of annoying. But this does star Wilford Brimley, so it’s got that going for it. When a young girl’s family is killed by a group of Marauders, she’s forced to survive with the help of the local Ewoks, lead by Wicket. And she’ll need all the help she can get, because the Marauders also happen to have a shape-shifting sorceress on their side.
The Clone Wars have been a wild success for the Star Wars universe, but did you know there was another Clone Wars series that was directed by Genndy Tartakovsky of Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack fame? Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars was a critical success due to its expressive animation and storytelling, and though it was eventually considered non-canonical, some of its elements (like General Grievous and Asajj Ventress) eventually made their way into Star Wars canon.
Following 2011’s excellent Attack the Block, writer/director Joe Cornish released The Kid Who Would Be King, an Arthurian-inspired adventure film. When a young boy accidentally discovers the sword Excalibur, he must save the world from the evil sorceress Morgana. That, and deal with his school’s bullies, too. The Kid Who Would Be King feels very much like a throwback to the kid-centric action/adventure films of the ’80s. The film was a critical success but failed at the box office. However, I suspect it’ll develop a cult following in the coming years.
Disney’s modern reboot of its classic DuckTales cartoon — which was a major part of my childhood — has been an incredible success, and now it comes to an end with its third and final season. DuckTales follows the world’s richest duck, Scrooge McDuck, as he seeks fame and fortune all over the world with his family and friends in tow. The series is worth watching for the voice cast alone, which includes Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jameela Jamil, Martin Freeman, Catherine Tate, Ben Schwartz, Danny Pudi, and David Tennant as Scrooge himself.
Here’s everything arriving on Disney+ in April 2021.
In this hilarious parody/homage to classic blaxploitation films, Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) is the baddest mofo in the hood. But in order to defeat The Man who killed his brother, the dealers pumping heroin into the streets, and the fiendish Dr. Wu’s kung fu treachery, Black Dynamite will have to unleash his full martial arts fury… and show the ladies some love, too.
I consider my first viewing of Caddyshack a foundational experience. Granted, I didn’t understand everything that went on — I just thought it was funny when Bill Murray tried to blow up the golf course — but I’ve since come to appreciate Chevy Chase’s screwball humor, the endless sight gags and puns, and of course, that sweet, smooth Kenny Loggins soundtrack.
Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic is based on the true story of Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta), a mob associate who eventually became an FBI informant. The film follows Hill’s introduction to the mob life, and his rise and fall in the gang through the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. The film was nominated for multiple Oscars, eventually winning “Best Supporting Actor” for Joe Pesci’s performance as the unhinged Tommy DeVito.
Jimmy Stewart gives one of his all-time great performances as Jefferson Smith, a hapless young senator whose idealism and naïveté make him the laughingstock of Washington D.C. However, that same idealism and naïveté may be what allows him to stand up to a corrupt political boss and his minions. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is classic Frank Capra, a movie about the difference that one simple, decent man can make.
After they’re falsely accused of murdering the leader of the city’s most powerful gang, the Warriors must make the long journey back to their home base while fending off the rest of New York’s gangs. This simple premise makes for one of the great cult movies, as the Warriors make their way through a nightmarish, dystopic New York as imagined by director Walter Hill (The Driver, Streets of Fire).
Get over here! Depending on how you look at it, the original Mortal Kombat is one of the greatest or worst video game movies of all time (and maybe both). But it’s 2021 now, and time for a new Mortal Kombat, replete with over-the-top violence and gore as a group of warriors try to protect Earth from an otherworldly threat. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about the plot. I just want to see Tadanobu Asano, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Joe Taslim in action as Raiden, Scorpion, and Sub-Zero (respectively).
Here’s everything arriving on and leaving HBO Max in April 2021.