The Good Stuff Coming To Hulu In March
March on Hulu is highlighted by the streaming network’s debut of 2020’s best documentary. It’s a tale of societal corruption that begins with a tragic nightclub fire and reaches some uncomfortably high levels of power. Also worth a look is a documentary about the two Olympic runners whose public black power salute made them the Colin Kaepernicks of their time.
TV series premiering their new seasons include a dark family comedy that raises some uncomfortable truths about parenting, a COVID-era comedy starring a pair of insecure actors trying to negotiate the virtual acting world, and comical aliens having to deal with being stuck on Earth. The last of these series is the creation of the sickos behind “Rick and Morty.”
As Good As It Gets–Jack Nicholson took home an Academy Award for his performance as Melvin Udall, an obnoxious and unsurprisingly reclusive obsessive-compulsive romance novelist. When Udall’s not berating or insulting those unfortunate enough to cross his path, he does such things as throwing his gay neighbor Simon’s dog down the garbage chute. But getting saddled with taking care of the dog he once treated as garbage starts the process of slowly opening him up as a person. Will loving another human being be a bridge too far for Udall?
Attack The Block–Joe Cornish’s funny and thrilling debut feature puts an entertaining spin on the alien invasion story. The film’s cast is headlined by a future “Star Wars” star and a future Doctor Who, with a special appearance by Nick Frost. A South London housing tower block winds up being a magnet for an aggressive alien horde of black gorilla-wolves with glowing eyes and teeth. Defending the block are a group of unusual allies: Moses (John Boyega), the ultimately likable gang of youths led by Moses, and Sam (Jodie Whittaker) who’s a nurse trainee Moses’ gang robbed in the film’s opening minutes. If this motley group of defenders intend to stay alive, they’ll have to rely on their own ingenuity.
The Descent–Long before director Neil Marshall wowed “Game Of Thrones” fans with that series’ “Blackwater” episode, he directed one of the great horror films of the 21st century. Sarah and Juno are best friends who belong to an all-woman extreme sports group. However, a horrible personal tragedy leaves Sarah in a depressive spiral that she’s still stuck in a year later. Juno plans to help Sarah get her adventurer’s mojo back. They and the other members of the sports group will go on a spelunking expedition in the remote Western Appalachians to stir up everyone’s adrenaline. But the expedition unexpectedly goes horribly wrong, and the women must now fight to escape the cave system alive. Some viewers who watch Marshall’s film will lose their desire to watch a “Spider-Man” movie for a week.
Rushmore–Director Wes Anderson’s first major Hollywood movie was this quirky comedy. Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman in his film debut) makes up for his lousy academic performance at the exclusive Rushmore Academy by being an activity nerd. Among other things, he edits the school magazine, runs the beekeeping club, and is the creative force behind the Max Fischer Players theatrical troupe. When Max encounters the incredibly beautiful first grade teacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams), he’s determined to win her heart. The overachieving high school student approaches the depressed steel tycoon Blume (Bill Murray in the first of many collaborations with Anderson) as part of a scheme to gain the teacher’s attention. But Blume winds up falling in love with Miss Cross himself…and earning Max’s enmity as his romantic rival.
Beirut–Brad Anderson (“The Machinist”) directs this political thriller written by Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”). It’s 1982, and Lebanon is engulfed in civil war. Former U.S. diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) once worked in the country until a devastating personal tragedy caused him to leave a decade ago. Now he’s called back to help negotiate the release of a CIA operative taken hostage by one of the country’s militant factions. But Skiles’ hopes of making a deal collides with the extremely divergent agendas of over half-a-dozen different political interests operating in the titular city.
Proxima–Alice Winocur’s film may have the science fiction setting of a mission to Mars. But its emotional heart lies in seeing a mother and daughter move beyond their different causes for their individual senses of alienation. Astronaut Sarah (Eva Green) gets called up to be a last-minute addition to a mission crew heading to Mars. The call up means her daughter Stella must upend her life until her mother’s return. Now the girl lives with her estranged father Thomas and works to make new friends. Though mother and daughter are physically separated, they’re emotionally connected by their individual need for emancipation.
Cake Season 4–The FXX cult live-action and adult animated short-film anthology series returns for a new season. Previous seasons have featured such tales as an extreme sports enthusiast attempting to screw a shark, trees talking about psychedelic drugs and cross-dressing, and a film about the irrational connections between humans and nature. Episodes for the new season will be anchored by Peter Huang’s series “Nine Films About Technology.” These are live-action short comedies looking at human relationships in the age of smartphones and online connectivity. No word on what else will appear this season.
Farewell Amor–After 17 years of separation, Walter has finally been reunited with his wife Esther and his daughter Sylvia. Separated by both the Angolan civil war and immigration regulations, the trio is now together again. But as each of the film’s three sections show, can Walter, Esther, and Sylvia truly call themselves a family when they’ve each been separated long enough to develop independent lives of their own? This month’s sleeper choice on Hulu.
Kid 90–Thanks to the mid-1980s TV series “Punky Brewster,” Soleil Moon Frye became a child star. But Frye was just one of many such stars in that period facing the challenges of both trying to live life as a kid and being burdened with major adult decisions. By the 1990s, Frye and her child star peers would face the challenge of growing up as a teen in the public eye. The “Punky Brewster” actress wound up using a video camera during this decade to create home movies of her life and that of her friends before locking the footage away. Now, decades later, that video footage becomes the basis for this cinematic time capsule showing the joys and difficulties of a celebrity’s fishbowl life. Appearing in the film are such people as Danny Boy O’Connor, David Arquette, Stephen Dorff, and Harold Hunter.
Naughty Books–Thanks to the insane success of the “50 Shades Of Gray” series, a wave of self-published romance authors attempted to make their mark in the genre known in the mass market publishing business as a cash cow. This film introduces the viewer to three such authors: C.J. Roberts, who went from living in a strict Catholic household to creating novels whose dark sexual themes make “50 Shades Of Gray” look like a Girl Scout handbook; Kristen Proby, whose success with self-publishing leads her to make the leap to mainstream publishing; and Kelli Maine, a mainstream YA fiction author who decides to dabble under a pseudonym in self-published novels.
Pink Wall–Leon (Jay Duplass) is an unambitious guy living alone in London. His life mainly consists of enjoying cooking and smoking weed. One day, he meets and falls in love with ambitious TV producer Jenna (Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”). Her returned affection, though, could be her way of avoiding dealing with her strong feelings for her best female friend. The film follows Leon and Jenna’s relationship by deliberately zigging and zagging backwards and forwards along the timeline. But how often can their break-up and make-up cycle continue before the relationship falls apart?
The Relationtrip–Think indie romantic comedies are played out as a genre? Then try this genre trope-upending comedy written and directed by C.A. Gabriel and Renee Felice Smith. Beck (Smith) and Liam (Matt Bush) are prototypical L.A. hipsters. A meet-cute at a “salon de music” leads to a getting to know you date at a taco truck. A bout of ridiculing other couples in their lives leads to a mutual decision to take a weekend road trip together. The ground rules are: 1) no sex and 2) no deep conversations about their pasts. Despite these rules, the trip proves far from uneventful. The not-a-couple’s individual insecurities soon manifest themselves as a talking puppet named Chippy and a giant mother…both of which become unwelcome travel companions.
Sister Aimee–In 1926, famed evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson disappeared for five weeks. Queer filmmakers Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann offer a “mostly made up” account of what happened to the evangelist during that time period. In the directors’ reckoning, McPherson got burned out by her success. Writer-lover Kenny’s dreams of reporting on Mexican revolutionary heroism intrigues the evangelist enough to join him on a road trip heading south of the border. But the mysterious tough-as-nails Mexican guide Rey soon offers McPherson a more personal connection to the world of revolutionary heroism and legend…in more ways than one.
The Stand: How One Gesture Shook The World–Decades before Colin Kaepernick famously took the knee to protest police brutality, runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos earned public opprobrium for their act of protest at a sporting event. The duo created one of the 1968 Olympics’ most indelible images by publicly raising their fists and bowing their heads in support of the then-controversial Black Power movement. Tom Ratcliffe and Becky Paige’s documentary recounts the events leading up to those two athletes’ act of moral courage and the price they paid for their unforgettable gesture.
Staged Season 2–It’s the return of this British COVID-era comedy, starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen playing themselves only heightened. Both actors deal with the question of whether they can hack virtual Hollywood despite their personal insecurities. In the new series, Tennant and Sheen think the success of “Staged” means it’s time to move on to bigger and better things. But their hopes for returning to real acting work soon collide with the government imposition of COVID travel restrictions. The duo soon hatch a plan to remake “Staged” for American audiences. However, between satisfying American tastes and the smarting from a savagely funny put-down, can the two actors still make their new iteration of “Staged” a professional success?
Breeders Season 2–In this somewhat dark British comedy, Paul (Martin Freeman) and Ally (Daisy Haggard) are parents who have an ambivalent attitude towards their kids. As Paul says, “I would die for these kids – but often, I also want to kill them.” For Paul in particular, that attitude translates to his frequently cursing out his kids and giving more successful parents the stink eye. There are no details about the new season, but it’s likely there will be conflict with Paul’s parents and their entirely different ideas about child rearing. The series’ rueful honesty regarding parenting may make you either laugh in recognition or seriously offend you.
Collective–Your must-see Hulu premiere of the month is Alexander Nanau’s documentary portrait of real-life corruption in Romania. The title refers to the name of a Bucharest nightclub that was the scene of a tragic fire. Thanks to a lack of fire exits or even ceiling sprinklers, a pyrotechnics display that went wrong turned into a fire that killed 27 clubgoers and injured 180 other people. The popular outrage from that tragedy led to the resignation of the existing government and the installation of a caretaker government to fix what went wrong. But when 37 Collective fire burn victims die despite allegedly receiving top quality medical care, the reason for those needless deaths show corruption in Romanian society goes far deeper than expected. Nanau’s film follows the efforts of both a group of investigative journalists and a reform-minded health minister to get to the bottom of the burn victims’ deaths. Whether a recurrence of those deaths can be prevented turns out to be a far more difficult question.
Into The Dark: Blood Moon–The second season of the Blumhouse horror series wraps up with this tale directed by Emma Tammi, who previously helmed the “Delivered” episode. Here, Esme and her ten-year-old son Luna have moved to a desert town to have a fresh start in life. However, the locals’ suspicion of the newcomers gets worsened by some very inconvenient questions regarding the new mother and son. Not only must Esme protect her son, she must also keep a lid on a very scary secret…which threatens to come out at the next full moon.
Solar Opposites Season 2–It’s the return of the hit animated science fiction comedy executive produced by and starring Justin Rolland (creator of “Rick And Morty”). Four aliens escape their exploding home world and land in suburban America. However, they’re split on how they feel about Earthlings. Korvo (Rolland) and Yumyulack can’t stand humans’ willingness to pollute and their crass consumerism. Terry (Thomas Middleditch) and Jesse think humans are awesome and love their fun stuff like TV and junk food. The aliens’ conflict won’t get resolved until the living supercomputer known as the Pupa evolves into its true form. Then again, once the Pupa reaches that stage, it’ll consume the aliens and then terraform the Earth. But will the aliens reach some sense of agreement by then?