March 2020 will forever be remembered for the coronavirus and in many countries for differing levels of enforced lockdowns, which invariably meant that we were more dependent than ever on our streaming services.
During the month of March, Netflix released 15 original films and Christopher Meir from Netflix Original Movies Reviewed is here with an overview of which you should check out and which you should avoid.
New Netflix Original English Movies Added in March 2020
Netflix’s Anglophone fiction film slate was dominated by two releases: the blockbuster action film Spenser Confidential and the true-crime/miscarriage of justice story Lost Girls. Both films featured A-list stars (Mark Wahlberg and Winston Duke in the former, Amy Ryan in the latter), accomplished directors and high production values, but both also proved pretty disappointing in artistic terms.
Granted that the two were aimed at different audience demographics (male and female respectively), they were somehow equally bad examples of their respective genres. Spenser was a lame buddy action film with lots of explosions and violence but little in the way of plot or buddy chemistry. Lost Girls for its part somehow took a serial killer story that was full of righteous indignation at police indifference to vulnerable women and turned into a drab and boring movie. While Netflix has not released any data on either of these marquee releases, if Nielsen data is anything to go by Spenser at least drew quite a large audience, so we may be in for more of this kind of film in the future; let’s hope it improves as it goes on.
Another relatively high-profile English-language original this month was Uncorked, a family drama aimed squarely at the African-American demographic. The film tells the story of a young man intent on pursuing a career as a sommelier against the wishes of his father who runs a Memphis barbecue restaurant. While it is clearly formulaic in terms of narrative and themes, the film was lifted somewhat by snappy dialogue, a likable cast and a genuine feel-good factor that was sorely needed this month.
The only other Anglophone fiction original was an absolutely dire family-oriented film from Australia entitled Go Karts. If Netflix hopes to go toe-to-toe with Disney+, it will have to do far better than this cheaply made, woefully acted festival of sports movie clichés.
Every New Netflix Original International Movie in March 2020
As is often the case with Netflix’s fiction films, the international releases were much better in March than their English-language counterparts. Though it should also be noted that they were distinctly grim and gloomy in tone for the most part, which didn’t exactly help to lift the self-isolation blues.
Reflecting on their increasing investment in the country’s film industry, Netflix released three films from Spain this month and all three were very dark. Twin Murders on the surface seemed really interesting, boasting a stellar cast of Netflix favorites (e.g. Javier Rey and Belén Rueda) and a serial killer in a small town premise familiar to fans of European noir. But the execution, in this case, was poor and made for a boring and at times baffling movie (That’s how he kills his victims? Seriously?). The Occupant was equally starry – former teen idol Mario Casas and the venerable Javier Gutiérrez in the leads – but much better made. The result was a tense thriller that was purposefully very dark in tone, which wasn’t ideal for quarantine viewing but very good nevertheless.
The most interesting Spanish movie from March and most interesting original film overall was The Platform. Films don’t come much darker than this dystopian, absurdist critique of capitalism and human nature; they also don’t come much more vivid or imaginative. It is a film full of visionary tableaus and moments that shock and unnerve and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a cult classic. That said, I personally will not want to watch it again until the world outside gets a little better.
The Decline was yet another great film that was perhaps a little too close to our current situation for easy escapism. Hailing from Quebec, the film tells the story of a group of doomsday preppers who are awaiting a range of end-of-days scenarios including, as it happens, a global pandemic. Things go spectacularly wrong for them during a training retreat and the result is an unbearably tense action thriller that also provides no small amount of social commentary. As such, the film is well worth watching providing you don’t see yourself in this exact situation in the near future.
Besides all these films, Netflix released yet another gloomy but very good movie from Italy entitled Ultras. Football/soccer fans may be jonesing for any kind of depictions of the sport, but be warned this is an intentional and important deglamorizing of hooligan culture. Other releases included I Am Jonas, a queer coming of age film/thriller from France and a poorly acted but interestingly scripted Hungarian biopic of Hollywood legend and Hungarian expat Michael Curtiz.
Netflix also released three films from Asia, one of which was the Japanese/American anime Altered Carbon Re-Sleeved. While the film’s story doesn’t connect directly to the narrative of the Netflix series, this is still one strictly for the fans of that franchise. Not being one myself, I felt a little lost even if the animation and the violence were pretty cool to look at.
Finally, Netflix released two fully original films from India, neither of which were anything to write home about. Using the sensibilities of Bollywood popular cinema, Guilty attempts to take on the “#MeToo” zeitgeist as seen on Indian campuses. The results are pretty disappointing, despite the film having been produced by Karan Johar, a one-time master of the idiom. Maska, the other major release, is equally forgettable. The film features a plot that is remarkably similar to Uncorked, but swapping BBQ for Parsi cuisine and fine wines for Bollywood acting. The execution in this case is nowhere near as good as its American counterpart, however.
Every New Netflix Original Documentary Added in March
Like many, I spent a considerable chunk of March watching Tiger King in mystified horror at the show’s subjects, but Netflix also released a pair of interesting documentary features as well. One of these came from Argentina in the form of biopic A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Frangio Story. Those who are missing live sports will get their fix of F1 racing in this film, which lovingly tells of the sporting achievements of its trailblazing hero. If you’re not a fan, though, there is little else in the film that will be of interest.
Crip Camp, the newest feature released by Netflix under the auspices of its deal with the Obamas, is a film with much more social import and broad appeal. The film uses a summer camp for physically and mentally challenged teens in the 1960s to tell the highly moving story of the birth of the disabled rights movement which would change the American political landscape forever. Netflix and the Obamas have already won an Oscar together for their first film and I suspect they will at the very least be nominated for this one as well.
Netflix Original Movie Awards for March 2020
Best Overall Film: The Platform
Worst Overall Film: Go Karts
Best Documentary: Crip Camp
Hidden Gem of the Month: The Decline
Biggest Disappointments (tie): Spenser Confidential and Lost Girls