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The Best Stuff on Netflix Right Now

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Netflix’s bounty of TV and cinematic riches can be an entertainment godsend in these sheltering in place times. For those having acute cases of FOMO, though, catching the new season of “Riverdale” might mean missing out on something equally good because it’s outside their comfort zone. In hopes of directing readers to a new film or TV series that might have escaped their notice, this list gathers together what looks intriguing to this writer from the first half of the May 2020 Netflix releases.

May 1

All Day And A Night — A desperate criminal act gone badly wrong lands an aspiring Oakland teen rapper (played by “Moonlight”’s Ashton Sanders) in prison.  His situation worsens when he realizes the hardened criminal father (played by “Westworld”’s Jeffrey Wright) he despises happens to be a fellow prisoner.  Will the estranged teen’s prison stay lead him to be a full-blown criminal?  Or could this experience teach him the true meaning of manhood?

All Day And A Night

Back To The Future — Now’s a good time to catch this 1980s pop culture landmark.  This film is the one with the time-traveling De Lorean.  It also has the Huey Lewis and the News hit song “The Power Of Love.”  Most importantly, it features great turns by Michael J. Fox as teenager Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as scientist friend Doc Brown.  For those who haven’t seen the film: young McFly takes a trip into the past and meets his parents when they were teenagers.  But when the teen from the future becomes romantically entangled with the girl who’s supposed to become his mother, things get spectacularly messy very quickly.  Assuming you like the first movie, Netflix is also showing the second “Back To The Future” movie this month as well.

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory — It’s dueling Roald Dahl adaptations at Netflix!  This month, see two different versions of the story of poor Charlie Bucket’s magical visit to the Wonka Chocolate Factory.  First up is Tim Burton’s adaptation, which boasts Danny Elfman’s music.  The songs sung when the more obnoxious children get rightly punished are mean-spiritedly funny in the best way.  Also, Deep Roy plays all the Oompa-Loompas.  OTOH, Johnny Depp plays Willy Wonka, so YMMV. 

Half Of It, The — Alice Wu, who directed the seminal lesbian comedy romance “Saving Face,” presents a YA lesbian take on “Cyrano de Bergerac.”  In the backwater town of Squahamish, introverted bookish high school student Ellie Chu has a side hustle writing her classmates’ papers.  Then one day jock Paul Munsky asks Ellie to write love notes for him.  The jock’s object of desire: the smart and popular Aster Flores…who’s also Ellie’s secret crush.  But the deep friendship that unexpectedly forms between Ellie and Paul soon turns into a love triangle.  

Hollywood

Hollywood — One of Netflix’s most hotly anticipated May releases can be described as “an alternate history of Golden Age Hollywood.”   Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “Feud: Bette & Joan”) helms this series.  It follows the lives and fortunes of a group of characters in an alternate post-World War II Hollywood.  Here, movie heartthrob Rock Hudson is openly gay, a black actress is cast as the lead in a major studio drama, and a major film studio is headed by a woman.  Expect half a dozen sex scenes in the first episode as well as later references to Scotty Bowers’ special gas station and George Cukor’s pool parties.

I Am Divine — Jeffrey Schwartz’ entertaining documentary connects viewers to the life of the 1960s and 1970s counterculture icon born Harris Glenn Milstead.  In the drag persona of Divine, Milstead became in John Waters’ films the symbol of disdain for all of society’s norms.  (In the finale of Waters’ “Pink Flamingos,” Divine’s character ate real dog feces.)  However, you don’t need to have seen any of Waters’ films with Divine to enjoy this documentary.  The more fascinating aspects of Milstead’s life turn out to be the struggles of this women’s clothing wearing pothead to make it in the worlds of Hollywood and techno.        

Sinister — Before director Scott Derrickson made the Marvel movie “Doctor Strange,” he directed and co-wrote this horror film.  It’s inspired by a nightmare Derrickson’s co-writer had after watching “The Ring.”  As part of his research for a new book, true crime writer Ellison Oswalt moves his family into the same home where the Stevenson family (except for daughter Stephanie Stevenson) had been murdered.  When Oswalt sees what’s on the Super 8 mm “home movies” he finds in the house’s attic, he’ll eventually learn too late that the cause behind the Stevenson murders lies in the supernatural.    

Song Of The Sea — In this hand-drawn animated feature based on Irish mythology, 10-year-old Ben blames his mute 6-year-old sister Saoirse for the mysterious disappearance of their mother.  But Saoirse turns out to be a selkie, one of the seal folk who can change to human form.  The boy soon finds himself on a quest to save his sister’s life.  Ben’s quest will lead to encounters with such mythical figures as Macha the Owl Witch as well as his learning the truth about his mother’s disappearance. 

Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory — The earlier adaptation of Dahl’s classic children’s tale stars Gene Wilder in the role of Wonka and features Wilder singing the unforgettable “Pure Imagination.”  This version can be described as more genial and whimsical than Burton’s darkly funny adaptation.  The awful children visiting the Wonka factory still get their just desserts, though.    

May 8

The Eddy

The Eddy — Damien Chazelle’s (“La La Land”) first television series takes viewers to modern day Paris.  The title refers to a struggling club co-owned by former jazz pianist Elliott Udo (Andre Holland, “Moonlight”).  Udo also manages the house band and has an on/off relationship with band lead singer Maja (Joanna Kulig, “Cold War”).  But his business and personal lives begin to unravel thanks to a combination of club co-owner Farid’s very dubious business practices and the arrival of Udo’s troubled teen daughter Julie (Amandla Stenberg, “The Hate U Give”).

Valeria — This Spanish TV series is based on a series of books by Elisabet Benavent.  The title character is a writer whose existential emergency regarding the value of her writing is worsened by her separation from her husband Adrian.  Turning to the support of best friends Lola, Carmen, and Nerea, Valeria sets out to solve her emotional crisis and winds up caught in a whirlwind of love, disaffection, secrets, work, and dreams of the future.

May 11

Have A Good Trip: Adventures In Psychedelics — Have After School Special-type nightmares about what hallucinogens are and what they can do?  Then take a trip (yuk yuk) with this comedic documentary on the benefits, history, and spiritual potential of hallucinogens.  Livening things up are stars such as Nick Offerman, Rosie Perez, A$AP Rocky, Rob Corddry, and Sarah Silverman recounting their real-life psychedelic experiences.

Have A Good Trip

Trial By Media — How has televised coverage of court trials impacted the workings of America’s legal system?  In this docuseries executive produced in part by journalist Jeffrey Toobin and Court TV founder Steven Brill, six real-life trials across different areas of law get examined, including the Jenny Jones murder trials, Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial, and the fatal police shooting of Amadou Diallo.  Has news coverage shaped public perceptions of a defendant’s guilt or innocence for the worse? 

May 15

District 9 — In the skies over Johannesburg, South Africa, a spaceship containing poor alien refugees arrives and stays hovering above the city for years.  Humans’ welcoming arms have given way to hatred, exemplified by the aliens now being insultingly referred to as “prawns.”  (The insectoid aliens’ resemblance to a common South African insect pest doesn’t help matters either.)  A hapless paper-pushing bureaucrat (Sharlto Copley) has been tasked with shifting the prawns from their crappy refugee camp to an equally crappy refugee camp a lot further away from Johannesburg.  However, when the bureaucrat gets transformed into a human-prawn hybrid thanks to exposure to a mysterious fluid, his life badly goes tits up.     

Inhuman Resources — In this French TV thriller series, after six years of unemployment, 57-year-old ex-senior executive Alain Delambre feels humiliated and emotionally drained.  Opportunity seems to arrive when a prestigious company tells Delambre they’re considering him for a position in the firm.  But what price is Delambre willing to pay to finally be employed again?  Will he betray his wife, steal from his daughters, punch out his son-in-law, and even participate in a hostage-taking “RPG”?    

Magic For Humans Season 3 — Comedian/magician Justin Willman returns with a new season of his reality show.  He performs sleight-of-hand and other magic tricks for unsuspecting passersby.  These performances are captured without the benefit of camera tricks.  Once again, viewers are challenged to figure out how Willman pulls off his tricks before his victims do.

She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power Season 5 — Noelle Stevenson’s highly praised reboot of the 1980s animated fantasy adventure series returns for its final season.   The Rebellion is still ongoing, and its biggest challenge appears with the arrival of the ruthless Horde Prime.  However, that fight looks like it’s going to happen without The Rebellion having She-Ra and the Sword of Protection, aka The Rebellion’s biggest guns.

White Lines

White Lines–”Money Heist” creator Alex Pina returns with a new TV series set in the Ibiza party scene.  20 years ago on the Spanish island,, a club DJ disappeared and a police investigation failed to find him.  Now the DJ’s remains have finally turned up.  The DJ’s sister leaves her Manchester home to live on Ibiza and discover the truth about what happened to her brother all those years ago. 

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.

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