The more things change, the more they stay the same. Ava DuVernay received an Academy Award nod for her powerful documentary, which traces the prison-industrial complex in general and the rate at which African-Americans are incarcerated in particular back to slavery. Necessary viewing, it’s also compelling throughout.
The actual movie may not entirely live up to that ultra-evocative title — really, how could it? — but Oz Perkins’ follow-up to “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” (fka “February”) is a worthy entry in the haunted-house genre. Perkins (son of Anthony, aka Norman Bates from “Psycho”) works in a literary mode that owes much to Shirley Jackson, with “I Am the Pretty Thing…” carrying an appropriately old-school vibe.
Speaking of living up to titles, Chapman and Maclain Way’s documentary about their grandfather’s minor-league baseball team actually does. It’s another talking-head doc about a heretofore unsung group of people, yes, but these proto–Bad News Bears are such a genuinely motley crew that their recollections enliven the tired format.
Robert Redford discovers definitive proof of the afterlife in this Sundance selection, one of many picked up by Netflix at the festival this year. That world-altering revelation leads to a rather unintended consequence: a marked increase in suicides worldwide. Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Jesse Plemons and Riley Keough co-star in the film, Charlie McDowell’s follow-up to “The One I Love.”
If you don’t drop whatever you’re doing and watch “Virunga” right now, the only conclusion to be drawn from your (in)action is that you hate mountain gorillas and want them to go extinct. Sorry, them’s the rules. Orlando von Einsiedel’s Oscar-nominated documentary follows four people working to protect the primate inhabitants of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is home to great beauty — and under siege by poachers.
Macon Blair’s directorial debut won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and premiered on Netflix just a month later, which rubbed some the wrong way but still provided the film with a prominent platform (a theatrical release would have been nice, though). Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood violently fight back against society, which isn’t to say that their attacks are always well placed.
Christopher Guest’s latest mockumentary doesn’t do anything that “Best in Show” didn’t do 16 years earlier, but it’s frequently hilarious nevertheless. The ensemble cast — a mix of frequent Guest collaborators and newcomers including Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Ed Begley Jr., Zach Woods, Chris O’Dowd and the director himself — descend on a competition for sports mascots, which goes about as well as you’d expect it to.
Before helping breathe new life into “The Force Awakens,” John Boyega starred in this low-key Sundance drama directed by Malik Vitthal. It didn’t make its way to Netflix until three years after premiering in Park City, but the film — about a 21-year-old’s return to Watts after a stint in prison — will prove worth the wait to fans of the “Star Wars” standout.
Cary Fukunaga’s first project after “True Detective” didn’t set the world on fire the way Netflix wanted it to — the streaming giant’s first original film was intended as a major awards-season contender — but it remains an interesting experiment all the same. Idris Elba (who won a SAG Award for his performance) compels as a warlord who uses child soldiers to further his nefarious aims.
If you can resist the prospect of Werner Herzog waxing philosophical about volcanoes for 107 minutes, you either have more discipline or less interest in what the German auteur calls “ecstatic truth.” Though volcanic activity in Iceland, North Korea and Indonesia is fascinating in and of itself, the real draw here is once again Herzog, whose one-of-a-kind insights could make any subject interesting.
In case you were wondering, Paul Rudd’s charm still hasn’t diminished. He plays a writer-turned-caregiver in this adaptation of Jonathan Evison’s novel, gradually befriending an 18-year-old living with muscular dystrophy. That’s a very familiar setup, but Rudd, Craig Roberts and Selena Gomez have such an engaging dynamic that it really doesn’t matter much.
This being the age of revivals and returns, another “Pee-wee” movie was probably inevitable. What wasn’t inevitable was how fun it ended up being: Paul Reubens hasn’t lost his step in portraying his childish alter ego, who who encounters the likes of Joe Manganiello, Ali Shawkat and Stephanie Beatriz in his latest go-round.
It’s not a movie and it’s hardly one of the streaming service’s most acclaimed offerings, but “Lilyhammer” does have the distinction of being the first-ever Netflix Original. It’s also a dramedy about a former mobster (Steven Van Zandt, playing a slight variation on his “Sopranos” character) absconding to Norway after turning state’s evidence. As fish-out-of-water tales go, you could do worse than one in which snitches sleep with the lutefisk.