‘Hollywood,’ ‘Extraction,’ ‘Upload,’ and More: May Pickings on the Streaming Services
Here’s a rundown of some of the latest films and series that dropped on our favorite streaming services
Apparently, all around the world, Netflix audiences peaked during the end-March period, and began slipping mid-April. The logic being that as the quarantine extended beyond a month in most countries, people started searching for other options than sitting in front of a home screen or device. So it’s quality and choice selections that drive the audiences to stick to the streaming services. Do the latest selections provide that?
The latest from Ryan Murphy (The Politician, Glee, Nip/Tuck, Pose, etc), is an alternate history look at post-World War II Hollywood, through the eyes of aspiring actors, and racially diverse filmmakers. It boasts of an ensemble cast that includes David Corenswet, Darren Criss (proudly proclaiming he’s half-Filipino in one scene), Laura Harrier, Jim Parsons, and Samara Weaving. From the get go, it’s bitchy and vicious, describing a casting-couch Hollywood that has as much to do with aspiring actors being bedded by unhappy wives and gay studio heads; as it does with the traditional conceit of ingenues putting it all on the line for that lucky casting call.
The beefcake element is notably strong; and carries much of the narrative at the onset. Then it tries to become all-idealistic, ruminating on what could have been if Hollywood had been more daring on racial diversity, and even gender issues and gay rights. It’s this shift in tonality that doesn’t quite succeed. But you have to hand it to Murphy, even when conflicted and/or falling short, he knows how to create watchable television, and we stick with this to the end.
All Day and a Night (Netflix)
If you loved films like Moonlight, then this father-son crime drama is your cup of tea. It’s the directorial debut of Joe Robert Cole who co-wrote Black Panther, and it stars Ashton Sanders of Moonlight as Jahkor, and Jeffrey Wright as his father. It’s a remorseless look at ghetto life, and how the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, no matter what the father does to try and keep that from happening. At times, it feels like a news report, or documentary—two generations of criminality. It’s the cinematography that, at times, lifts this into something more stylized (a la Moonlight).
There are basically three timelines explored in the course of the film: Jahkor as a child growing up with his criminal father, Jahkor as young adult and mediocre rapper ending up in criminal activities, and Jahkor in the same prison where his father is incarcerated. With each, there are grim life lessons being explored and dissected. This is strong cinema; my only concern is that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may make for too depressing a subject matter.
Selah and the Spades (Amazon Prime)
Haldwell School, a prestigious East Coast boarding school has five student factions running the underground life of the institution, and the most powerful is the Spades, led by Selah (Lovie Simone), head cheerleader and campus alpha—female or male. It’s Clueless meets Booksmart, with Cheerleader Confidential, and Gang Wars all thrown into the mix. The set-up is precious as the factions really operate like crime syndicates, but they’re all students!
The plot revolves around Selah looking for her successor, as she’s in her senior year, and how a new student, Paloma (Celeste O’ Connor) has caught her eye. It’s writer-director Tayarisha Poe flexing her muscles in her directorial debut, also influenced by such films and shows as Rushmore, Brick, and Dear White People. At times, there’s seems to be too many balls spinning in the air; and we’re afraid they may all come crashing down. But anchoring this film, is Simone as Selah, with an interesting character arc. Worth the look-see.
Upload (Amazon Prime)
Here is a science-fiction comedy satire series that premiered May 1. It’s created by Greg Daniels, known for his work on The Office and Parks & Recreation. This one is set in the near-future, where humans can avail of a service where they can be ‘uploaded’ into their preferred choice of afterlife. The lead characters in the series are Nathan (Robbie Amell), a newly deceased computer programmer who’s been uploaded to the digital afterlife service Lake View; and Nora (Andy Alio), a living woman who acts as the Lake View rep handling Nathan.
As a comedy series dwelling on the afterlife, the obvious comparison that will be made is with The Good Place. That’s inevitable, but Upload does have a lot to say about 1) our digital age, and our over-dependence on it - how it’s become our lifestyle crutch; and 2) on income inequality. There’s witty writing, and a cast that’s out to please; you just wish at times that they’d display more bite, and less bark. I loved how when one character was talking about her grandmother in Heaven, the reply from the other character was ‘Which one?’
Dangerous Lies (Netflix)
Here’s one of those original films on Netflix that make you scratch your head and wonder how this ever got the production green light—and yet, it’s right up there tracking in the top 5 viewed Netflix shows, so who are we to second guess them, right? All I can say is it’s a mystery thriller that is neither that mysterious, nor thrilling. It’s like we’ve seen this all before; and we know, thanks to its apparent success, it won’t be the last time.
There’s a premise that owes something to Knives Out, the caretaker is the sole beneficiary of her deceased patient’s estate—but here, you won’t find the wit, the humor, the potent Trump-era social commentary, or the outstanding performances of the Rian Johnson film. Dangerous Lies earns points for being racially inclusive; but anything beyond that is your call, and not mine. This one I’d stay away from.
This one has the pedigree of the Russo Brothers and Chris Hemsworth stamped on it; so is it any surprise it’s been holding on to the #1 position on Netflix for over a week now? For those in the dark, the Russo Brothers were behind Avengers: End Game. One Russo wrote the original material, the other brother produced this and wrote the screenplay, and turned over the directing chores to Sam Hargrove, one of the Russo’s stunt unit coordinators. And of course, there’s Chris, our Thor, now turned into a fighting-machine Aussie mercenary.
The mission is quite simple, rescue the kidnapped child of a drug lord who is languishing in prison. A rival drug kingpin, who has the police and military in his pocket, is behind the kidnapping. With no semblance of character arc or development, this is really an all-out action film, and on that count, from about the 18-minute mark of the film, it promises the action, and delivers in non-stop fashion.
Lead photos from IMDb