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The Best Stuff on Netflix in April

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Will April bring rain to this drought-threatened state? Whatever happens with the weather, it’s a certainty that April brings a crop of new movies and series (and even one or two old film classics) to Netflix viewers’ screens.

Viewers can look forward to a fantasy-adventure series set in an Imperial Russia-inspired world, a dramatization of the crime spree of the world’s most elusive international criminal, an animated comedy about a yakuza who brings his passion to doing household chores, and even tales from people talking about the personally special, if unfashionable, clothes they cherish.

Also, take this month as a second chance to catch Paul Thomas Anderson’s critically-acclaimed tale of a cult leader and the troubled vet who becomes his key acolyte, Guillermo del Toro’s atmospheric dive into period Gothic romance, and a documentary looking at the problems of racially biased facial recognition technology.    

Coded Bias

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Searching For Sheela–Ever seen the Netflix docuseries “Wild Wild Country?” If so, you’ll remember Ma Anand Sheela as the official spokesperson of the notorious Rajneesh commune.  Now see what happens when Sheela returns to India after a decades-long absence for an interview tour.  But can she escape a criminal past that includes illegal wiretapping, immigration fraud, and bioterrorism via salmonella outbreak?

April 1

My Fair Lady–On one hand, this musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s satire “Pygmalion” features some classic show tunes and a great performance by Audrey Hepburn.  On the other hand, Shaw’s more barbed commentary has been sanded away and the amount of sexism involved is of the YMMV level.  In 1912 London, pompous phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) claims his talents are so great he can transform Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) into someone whose speech patterns will allow her to easily mingle in high society.  Higgins’ claim gets put to the test.  But what will happen to Eliza once the experiment ends?

The Platform (Season 2)–Think techno-thrillers are only products of the Western movie industry?  The return of this incredibly popular series made in Abu Dhabi might change your mind.  The title refers to an open source website dedicated to exposing worldwide religious extremist networks around the world.  Karam, founder of the website and son of an imprisoned Muslim Brotherhood terrorist, is soon joined by UAE entrepeneur Nasser, Emirati social media star Sheikha, and a Syrian fashionista.  Their investigations have included a Syrian Daesh cell which has imprisoned Karam’s brother and a cosmetics company that’s a front for a Turkish mafia gun running operation.  Trump-loving actor Dean Cain appears in the show so YMMV. 

White Boy–This offbeat true crime documentary recounts the story of Richard Wershe Jr.  Richard Sr. was a hustler and FBI informant.  During the War On (Some) Drugs, Father Richard Sr. started introducing Richard Jr. into the family business.  By the time Wershe Jr. was 14, he was treated by the FBI as a source of inside information on Detroit’s notorious drug gangs.  But did some of the more powerful gangs Wershe Jr. knew use the cops on their payroll to eventually get the teen imprisoned for decades? 

Worn Stories (Season 1)–Why do we keep certain garments in our closets forever?  That question forms the basis for this docuseries based on Emily Spivack’s best-selling book.  Episode interviewees talk about the special clothes in their closet that form part of their personal identity.  Fashion doesn’t necessarily play a role.  The interviewees talk about their love for anything from a university T-shirt to a supervisor’s uniform.  But it’s the stories these clothes evoke that matter.

April 2

Concrete Cowboy

Concrete Cowboy–Rebellious teen Cole feels he’s being punished when his mother sends him to live with his estranged father Harp (Idris Elba) in North Philadelphia.  But the boy’s attitude slowly changes when he learns Harp is an urban horseback rider, part of a long but slowly dying Philadelphia tradition. 

Madame Claude–This French biopic tells the story of prostitute Fernande Grudet.  When Grudet reinvents herself in 1960s Paris as brothel owner Madame Claude, her exclusive establishment caters to the wealthy and powerful.  Besides the heads of state and famous film actors served by her brothel, members of French intelligence visit Madame Claude’s establishment for both sexual services and information.   However, an affluent young woman will soon upend this status quo.  

The Serpent–In 1975 and 1976, Charles Sobhraj (Tahar Rahim) and Marie-Andree Leclerc (Jenna Coleman, “Doctor Who”) were the chief suspects in a crime spree along the Asian “Hippie Trail.”  Traveling along Thailand, Nepal, and India, the couple murdered young Western travellers yet managed to constantly elude police.  Sobhraj would eventually be nicknamed The Serpent for his ability to both avoid police capture or even stay imprisoned.  Based on a true story.

April 5

Coded Bias–If you slept on catching Shalini Kantayya’s important documentary during its long run at the Roxie Virtual Cinema, don’t make the same mistake again.  MIT’s Joy Buolamwini discovers a problem in facial recognition technology.  It would not recognize her face until she put on a white mask.  Her discovery meant the technology was only accurate in identifying white faces while also producing inaccurate information identifying non-white faces.  Given that facial recognition technology is being more prevalent, this flaw has huge negative implications for American communities of color. 

April 7

Snabba Cash (Easy Money) Season 1–This series is a quasi-sequel to the Swedish film trilogy that launched the career of actor Joel Kinnaman.  It may be set in Stockholm ten years after the events of the films.  Yet people have gotten more ruthless about acquiring status and money.  Into this world steps young single mom Leya.  Her involvement in the startup world soon leads to her unwelcome entanglement in the criminal underworld.

This Is A Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist–This new docuseries re-tells the story of the world’s biggest art theft.  On March 18, 1990, two men scammed their way into Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum by posing as cops responding to a disturbance call.  Overpowering the guards, the robbers then proceeded over the next hour to steal 13 works of art.  To date, the crime remains unsolved. 

April 8

Way Of The Househusband

The Way Of The Househusband Season 1–The popular Yakuza comedy manga by Kousuke Oono now gets an anime adaptation.  Once upon a time, there was a highly feared yakuza known as the Immortal Dragon.  One day, he disappeared without a word, leaving his formerly underlings adrift.  What happened to Tatsu (the Immortal Dragon’s real name) is simple: he left the yakuza life to become a house husband to his career woman wife Miku.  Tatsu may no longer kill people.  But that doesn’t mean he can’t bring a yakuza’s passion to fighting for bargains at the department store or keeping the house clean!

April 9

Have You Ever Seen Fireflies?–In this Turkish dramedy, Gulseren looks back on her childhood in Istanbul.  She may have been rebellious in a period filled with political turmoil and social change.  Yet she was still able to find things that spoke to her irreverent spirit.

April 15

Dark City Beneath The Beat–If you’ve never heard Baltimore club music before, prepare to have your mind blown and your feet yearning for the dance floor.  This survey of the city’s local club artists, djs, and producers shows how this music subculture creates a close-knit arts community in a city which has a less than salutary national reputation.  

The Master–Director Paul Thomas Anderson called this critically-acclaimed film his favorite of the ones he’s made so far.  Scientology provided the basis for the film’s fictional The Cause, which promises its followers an opportunity to return to a lost state of grace.  The late Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, the titular character who leads The Cause.  Stumbling into Dodd’s world is alcoholic and violent World War II veteran (and life failure) Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix).  As the viewer sees Quell becoming Dodd’s chief acolyte, what difference is there between him and the type of men fanatically devoted to a certain president recently evicted from the White House this past November?  

Ride Or Die–In this adaptation of the acclaimed manga “Gunjo (She),” a woman seduces another woman in a plot to murder her abusive husband.  The killing is accomplished and the lovers go on the run together.  But should they really stick together or kill each other?  For that matter, do they truly love each other?  The only certain thing is that killing the guy may have been the easy part.

April 16

Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak–Guillermo del Toro’s gothic romance draws inspiration from a well-known dark fairy tale.  In 19th century America, bookish heiress Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) has wanted to write a ghost story ever since she saw her dead mother’s ghost as a child.  The arrival of mysterious Englishman Thomas Sharp (Tom Hiddleston) enchants Edith enough that she eventually marries him, even if Thomas’ sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) seems cool towards her.  Returning to the decrepit Sharp family mansion Allerdale Hall, Edith slowly realizes that the Sharps are keeping some secrets they don’t want her to discover.

Rush–Ron Howard’s film takes viewers into the world of 1970s Formula One racing to chart the antagonistic relationship between rival racers Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and Englishman James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth).  But this is much more than a “who will eventually come out on top” story.  It examines the off-track life of the bluntly in-your-face champion, his rock star-like opposite number, and even the perils of loving someone who might die tomorrow.  

April 19

Miss Sloane–Jessica Chastain shines as the titular ruthless Washington D.C. lobbyist.  Madeleine Elizabeth Sloane (Chastain) demonstrates in her lobbying work that she can bend laws just this side of the breaking point to influence politicians her way.  However, an offer to lobby for the pro-gun side against an upcoming gun control bill causes her to jump ship to work for a gun control lobby.  The fight for the gun control bill will be tough.  But that’s nothing compared to the threat of a Senate ethics committee determined to clean the system of unethical operators like her.  Also, Sloane’s former colleagues are more than willing to help the Senators destroy her. 

April 22

Life In Color With David Attenborough–David Attenborough’s new nature documentary series does look at how animals use color to survive in the wild.  But what takes this series to the next level is its use of new technology to show how animals literally view the world.

April 23

Shadow And Bone

Shadow And Bone–April’s most hotly anticipated Netflix offering is this adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s popular Grishaverse novels.  The series is set in a fantasy realm modeled on Imperial Russia.  But the Shadow Fold, an area of nearly impenetrable darkness that’s home to various horrors, blights the land.  On a trip into the Shadow Fold, orphaned soldier Alina Starkov accidentally reveals she has the power to generate a light powerful enough to penetrate the Fold’s darkness.  General Kirigan recruits Starkov for training with the Grisha, the kingdom’s militia of magical soldiers.  The new recruit’s training will teach her the hard way who’s friend and who’s foe. 

April 29

Things Heard And Seen–Writer-directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman (“American Splendor”) adapt Elizabeth Brundage’s novel All Things Cease To Appear.  Amanda Seyfried and James Norton play a young Manhattan couple who move to a historic Hudson Valley village.  It soon turns out that something is seriously off about their new life.  But is the cause of this problem the history of their new home…or their marriage?  

Yasuke Season 1–Netflix’s newest anime series is set in an alternate fantastical feudal era Japan.  The title character is an African samurai (voice of LaKeith Stanfield) who thought he had left his violent past behind him.  However, to protect a mysterious girl threatened by evil forces, he must re-embrace that past.  Series created by LaSean Thomas (“The Boondocks”).  Incidentally, Yasuke actually existed in the real world.

April 30

The Innocent–This new Harlan Coben adaptation comes from Spain.  Mateo spent nine years in prison after his intervention in a fight accidentally turned to murder.  With his pregnant wife Olivia, they expect their lives to take a turn for the better once they land the house of their dreams.  But a shocking phone call to Olivia’s cell phone will soon force the couple to rebuild their lives again… 

The Mitchells vs. The Machines–Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse”) produced this computer animated tale written and directed by Michael Rianda (“Gravity Falls”) and Jeff Rowe.  Katie Mitchell (voice of Abbi Jacobson) has been accepted to her dream film school.  Father Rick Mitchell (Danny McBride) proposes turning the drive to Abbi’s school into a family road trip.  Any plans for family bonding, however, soon fall by the wayside when the world’s electronic devices suddenly come to life and decide to stage an uprising.  Now it’s up to this ordinary if dysfunctional Mitchells to figure out how to save the world. 

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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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