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Netflix January 2021 Releases

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A new year means it’s Resolution Time!  In the case of Netflix, it might be time to finally catch that film classic that people have been talking about since forever, such as “Bonnie & Clyde,” “Cool Hand Luke,” or “Enter The Dragon.”  Alternatively, there are the cult films that first bombed in the theaters before finding their audience with age, such as “Can’t Hardly Wait” or “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.”

Spring Breakers

Viewers in the mood for something new can drink a toast to George Carlin as they see Nicolas Cage host a series about the stories behind some of the bad words you used to be unable to say on TV.  Or they can hang out with Fran Lebowitz as she tours New York City and hilariously disses people and things.  Finally, they can have their blinkered nostalgia for the 1980s cured by looking at a history of the crack cocaine epidemic, which comes with a hip hop accompaniment.  

Now Available

Bonnie & Clyde–Admittedly, Arthur Penn’s film about the lives of notorious 1930s bank robbers Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow played loose with historical accuracy.  Bonnie likely never smoked cigars and ex-Texas Ranger Frank Hamer wasn’t a real life doofus.  However, the performances of Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty as the titular duo secured their place in cinema history.  Penn’s groundbreaking use of cinematic violence would so impress Quentin Tarantino that you will find a nod to “Bonnie & Clyde” in “Pulp Fiction.”

Can’t Hardly Wait–This teen comedy cult classic doesn’t hide the fact that it’s a movie-length party scene.  But for writers Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, the set-up offered a way to make their directing debut cheaply.  Take a house party thrown on high school graduation night.  Add among the attendees a group of high school archetypes who are strangers to each other.  They include the nerd, the prettiest girl in school, and the guy struggling to get laid.  Then watch as all these characters’ lives change in sometimes unexpected ways as the night wears on.  The cast includes such future stars as Jennifer Love Hewitt, Seth Green, and Lauren Ambrose.   

Catch Me If You Can–One of Steven Spielberg’s best films is based on a real-life cat-and-mouse chase.  The “mouse” is Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo di Caprio), gifted con artist and forger.   Not only did the younger Abagnale impersonate a doctor, an airline copilot, and a lawyer, he also became a successful bank robber.  Amazingly, this multi-talented crook did all this by age 18.  The “cat” is FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), who makes it his life mission to capture Abagnale.  Unfortunately for Hanratty, Abagnale, Jr. has a gift for slipping through his fingers.

Cool Hand Luke

Cobra Kai Season 3–This sequel series to “The Karate Kid” returns with a new season.  It follows the aftermath of the high school karate brawl that capped Season 2.  Can Miguel recover from the fall that left him in a coma?  Will Johnny Lawrence escape his slide into self-hatred?  Can Miyagi-Do redeem its reputation?  And will somebody stop the evil influence of John Kreese?

Cool Hand Luke–Laid back petty criminal Luke Jackson (Paul Newman in one of his memorable roles) gets sentenced to two years in a Florida work camp.  But for Luke, being in prison doesn’t mean submitting to either the prison authorities or the convicts’ pecking order.  If he can’t win, he can at least survive what gets thrown at him.  This is the film that spawned the famous line “What we have here is–failure to communicate.”

The Departed–Martin Scorsese’s remake of the HK suspense film “Infernal Affairs” is the rare Hollywood adaptation of an Asian film that avoids suckage.  Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) gets picked by mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) to be a mole inside the police department.  Police cadet Billy Costigan (Leonardo di Caprio) is selected by Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen) to infiltrate and spy on Costello’s mob.  But how can either man both maintain the approval of people in the organization they’re embedded in and stay true to their true employer? 

Enter The Dragon

Enter The Dragon–What began as a Hollywood attempt to cash in on Bruce Lee’s popularity wound up becoming one of the greatest martial arts movies ever made.  Shaolin master Lee (Lee) accepts an invitation to a kung fu fighting competition held on an island owned by Han.  But Lee’s acceptance is less about testing his fighting skills than helping British intelligence.  For Han has built a drugs and prostitution empire which needs to be shut down.  The room of mirrors finale offers one of Lee’s greatest fight sequences.

Goodfellas–Another Martin Scorsese classic appearing this month looks at life in the Mafia.  Irish-Italian Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) had wanted to be a wiseguy since he was a teenager.   When he eventually gets his wish and becomes a Mafioso, the film shows how three decades in the Mob changes both Hill and his wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco).

Headspace Guide To Meditation–Start 2021 off with this new series based on the popular meditation app Headspace.  Ex-Buddhist monk and Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe will lead viewers through short sessions focusing on various mindfulness techniques.

Into The Wild–Sean Penn directs this moving adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s account of  Christopher McCandless’ eventually tragic efforts to find spiritual purity among nature.  McCandless (Emile Hirsch) gives up a predestined life as a lawyer to renounce civilization.  His wanderings eventually lead him to Alaska, but he doesn’t realize that living among nature and surviving among nature are not necessarily the same thing.  

Monarca Season 2–Actress Salma Hayek produced this drama set in the world of Mexico’s corrupt business elites.  At the end of Season 1, central character Ana Maria Carranza Davila has been made CEO of Monarca Industries, her family’s tequila empire, in an effort to save the company’s implosion from corruption.  But as Season 2 will show, getting to the top and staying there are two separate things especially when your older brother actively schemes against you.

Mud–Jeff Nichols takes the boys’ adventure story into far different territory.  Ellis and his best friend Neckbone sneak out of their homes to take a trip down the Mississippi River in their small skiff.  During the trip, the two teens discover a small blue and white cruiser stuck in a tree.  Living inside the stranded boat is Mud (Matthew Mc Conaughey), a man with a murky and possibly violent past.  Mud gives the boys the advice and attention missing from their lives.  But what does he want in return?

Superbad

Superbad–This is the seminal film that made “DTF (down to f**k)” part of the pop vernacular and made stars out of Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, and Emma Stone.  For those who haven’t seen it, Seth (Hill) and Evan (Cera) are graduating high school seniors who simply want to get laid before they go off to college.  The key is getting enough booze to supply a gigantic house party…and get two particular girls drunk.  Things don’t go according to plan especially after a couple of inept cops enter the picture.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape–Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) is a grocery clerk working in the really sleepy small town of Endora, Iowa.  Not only does he hate the boring sameness of his town, he chafes at caring for his shut-in mother and his neurodivergent brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio).  What might shake Gilbert out of his funk could be the unexpected arrival of the beautiful Becky (Juliette Lewis), who’s temporarily stranded in Endora thanks to the breakdown of her grandmother’s silver Airstream trailer.  A failure on initial release, this film eventually became a cult classic.

January 5

The History Of Swear Words

The History Of Swear Words (Season 1)—Who says etymology has to be dry and boring?  Nicolas Cage hosts this look into the origins and cultural impact of six well-known swear words, including “f**k,” “s**t,” and “pu**y.”  Such comedians as Nick Offerman and Sarah Silverman will pop in as guests.  Fun fact: For the time taken to watch a 2-hour feature film, you can binge this series’ entire first season.

Nailed It! Mexico Season 3–It’s the return of the Mexican version of everyone’s favorite terrible home baker competition.  Expect the return of the previous seasons’ hosts, dessert chef Anna Ruiz and comedian Omar Chaparro.  Even if the final results are visually less than perfect, the show celebrates the journey taken by its bakers to do their best.

January 6

Ratones Paranoicos (Paranoid Mice): The Band That Rocked Argentina–Meet the Ratones Paranoicos, an Argentine rock band that went from being a Rolling Stones imitator to developing an individual sound influenced by the Stones.  Along the course of their career, they’ve had an album produced by Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham and recorded with Stones guitarist Mick Taylor.

Surviving Death–Filmmaker Ricki Stern adapts Leslie Kean’s best-selling book on the possibility of an afterlife.  Over six episodes, the big questions about mortality will be discussed.  There will be interviews with everyone from scientists who have studied these questions to folks who have returned from near-death experiences.

Tony Parker: The Final Shot–Fan of San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker?  This biography traces Parker’s life to show how he eventually became one of the greatest French basketball players in the NBA.

January 7

Pieces Of A Woman–When high-achieving Martha (Vanessa Kirby) has a home birth, the last thing she and husband Sean (Shia LeBoeuf) wanted was for their newborn to die shortly after birth.  Now she’s left adrift trying to find a way to process her grief.  Martha’s overbearing mother (Ellen Burstyn) doesn’t help matters by treating the baby’s death as a personal failure on her daughter’s part.   

January 8

Lupin (Season 1)—Maurice Leblanc’s classic gentleman thief and master of disguise Arsene Lupin gets a French modern day update.  25 years ago, Assane Diop’s father died after being falsely accused of a crime.  Now, inspired by Leblanc’s character, Diop sets out to clear his father’s name.  (Note: Classic anime/manga character Lupin III was said to be the grandson of Arsene Lupin…until highly unamused representatives of Leblanc’s literary estate made their displeasure known.)

Pretend It’s A City

Pretend It’s A City (Season 1)–In this sort-of-sequel to his documentary “Public Speaking,” director Martin Scorsese gets film subject humorist Fran Lebowitz to do a series where she walks around New York City and tartly comments on her love-hate relationship with the city and its people.

January 10

Spring Breakers–”Spring break foreverrrr.”  Director Harmony Korine cinematically gooses the allegedly hallowed annual bacchanalia known as Spring Break.  A quartet of low-on-cash college girls decide to finance their Spring Break trip by robbing a local restaurant.  But what began as a one-time thing soon turns into an immersion in the local criminal underbelly.  Korine earned the undying hate of quite a few Disney Network fans by having the criminal students be played by such former Disney Network stars as Selena Gomez.

January 11

Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy–The new documentary from veteran filmmaker Stanley Nelson looks at the history of the crack era and the War On (Some) Drugs.  It shows the devastation wrought particularly on Black and Latinx communities by the pervasive presence of crack cocaine.  Nelson doesn’t hesitate to show the role multi-level government failures had in worsening the crack epidemic.  Even the premise behind Gary Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series gets discussed.  For those sickened by the blinkered nostalgia of “Wonder Woman 84,” this film will remind viewers of one of the big bad things that made the ‘80s hell.

January 12

Al Acecho (Furtive)–In this Argentine thriller, Silva (Rodrigo de la Serna, “Money Heist”) is a Pereyra Park Ranger.  He’s a loner whose only friend seems to be a caged fox.  Silva’s aloofness could be due to the shady past he wants to leave behind.  But his running into a poaching ring soon raises questions about whether he’s truly a white hat.

 

 

 

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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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