Photo: Ivan Sardi/Netflix/Ivan Sardi/Netflix
As the seasons change outside our windows, so too do they shift on Netflix. With the post-holiday winter stupor having finally abated and Oscar campaigning nearly at an end, business as usual can return to the Big Red N following a couple quiet months. March a threefer of mid-size entertainments, one of them head-and-shoulders above the others — an Amblin-ish time-travel featuring adventure Ryan Reynolds, a potboiler thriller placing Leighton Meester in harm’s way during a Croatian vacation, and an Arctic tooth-and-nail survival tale pitting Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Joe Cole against an irate polar bear. And the lower-profile foreign imports ain’t half bad either, in particular a Dutch WWII drama acquainting America with one of the country’s darkest hours. A handy digest of this month’s offerings is below, so read on for recommendations and caveats to help find your movie-night selection:
As starting points for movies go, we could all do a lot worse than “the Amanda Knox affair, reimagined as a tawdry airport paperback novel of furtive passion and deadly intrigue.” Trash is rarely so piquant as in Kim Farrant’s goofy, generously amusing account of a girl’s weekend to Croatia gone awry. The unfun Beth (one-time Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester, dowdied up in vain) and freer-spirited gal pal Kate (Christina Wolfe) take off for a few days of sun and sozzlement, only for Beth to wake up after a night of blacked-out partying and find her companion dead . Through a post-roofie haze, the distressed tourist must get to the bottom of what appears to be a frame-up, finding that it’s no coincidence this misfortune has befallen her. Chockablock with red herrings and twists that make up for what they lack in surprise with sheer aplomb, it’s the rare netflick that makes the canon’s defining qualities — narrative illogic, cheapo slapdash production, a compulsive need to keep viewers hooked with plotting trickery — look good .
There’s a stark raving madness to the historical episode of Danish explorer Captain Ejnar Mikkelsen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) — the guy who charted a course for the north side of Greenland with engineer Iver Iversen (Joe Cole), resulting in a two-year stranding on the frigid Shannon Island — absent from many superficially similar survivalist thrillers. It’s all there in the content, as the desperate pair go toe-to-toe with an irate CGI polar bear and gradually surrender their sanity to the solitude, but Peter Flinth’s pedestrian directing never puts us in their cabin-feverish mindset. Seems like most of his attention was commanded by the involved location shooting in the forbidding tundras of Greenland and Iceland, which does yield some breathtaking footage in its eschewing of chroma-key fakery. But that means this film’s merit tops out at that of a good nature doc, leaving us with admiration for the landscape’s beauty rather than terror at its cruelty.
In Moroccan culture, the word “meskina” refers to a pitiful person, a term of anti-endearment that the family of Leyla (Maryam Hassouni) uses for the 30-year-old singleton and self-proclaimed agoraphobe. This meandering rom-com charts her irregular path to love, structured as a series of incidents that deposit her at a happy conclusion disconnected from the film preceding it. She finds love pretty quickly in an incorrigible-flirt musician (Olaf Ait Tami) who steps out on her after a four-year time jump. Then, she wears off men forever — late second-act business, resolved up front and then reiterated later on in this overlong run time — only to come around and set up a dating profile. Cue a string of calamitous bad dates, the comic value of which ranges from “mild chuckle” to “long, deep breath of reckoning with one’s choices.” Hassouni’s affable enough, but this platform for her talents has come out misshapen.
There’s a conundrum gumming up the works on Shawn Levy’s stultifying time-travel action picture — no, not the complexities of hopping around the temporal continuum, its contradictions repeatedly waved away by a script that can’t be bothered to make sense. The issue is how to ensure the audience’s belief that the 12-year-old Adam Reed (Walker Scobell) could grow up into a future-self played by Ryan Reynolds, a problem solved by forcing the actor’s trademark smarm into the mouth of an innocent child. The insufferable-and-insufferabler Adams prevent an evil tech magnate (Catherine Keener) from bringing about an unspecified dystopia with help from their dead dad (Mark Ruffalo), but Levy’s evident disinterest in the appeal of this genre — the pocket-precision watch with which it’s all supposed to fit together — harshes the good time. From its half-baked mechanics to the slapdash action sequences to the lumpen pathos of the final act, it’s an apt illustration of why some still look down on Netflix films as sketchy and fake.
In making a movie about mentally ill characters, there are a few pitfalls to watch out for: aestheticizing neurodivergence as quirkiness, playing anguish for condescending laughs, suggesting that just finding the right person will make you whole and fix everything. This Italian calamity cannonballs into one after the other, pairing post-breakdown chef Diego (Stefano Accorsi) and unstable Clara (Miriam Leone) as they convalesce in the upbeat mental hospital from It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Convinced that a sense of purpose will help them along on the road to wellness, they set out to start a restaurant together, an unlikely enterprise that will bring them closer together and challenge their bond in all the ways you might anticipate. Bereft of anything jagged or truthful in its depiction of losing your marbles as a high-concept lark, at least it supplies us with a few cumulative minutes of serviceable food porn.
As of late, the algorithm has gotten into European World War II pictures drawing attention to little-known subplots in the grander battle, judging by this respectful Danish period piece to be filed alongside The Forgotten Battle and Munich: The Edge of War. In German-occupied Copenhagen, a Royal Air Force strike on a Gestapo base goes awry and results in the fiery destruction of a schoolhouse filled with civilians. Director Ole Bornedal (whose daughter Fanny appears in the film as a nun in spiritual crisis) gives meaning to the consequence by giving a handful of them interiority, a technique most poignant in its application to young Henry (Bertram Bisgaard Enevoldsen). Rendered mute by a bombing in his country hometown before coming to the city for further horrors, he offers an analog for today’s youth living in fear of ground-level violence at school, his worst nightmare made real by a world that can’t keep him safe.
Beneath the premise of a good-natured teen (Francesco Gheghi) sticking by his two dads (Francesco Scianna and Flilppo Timi) as an act of infidelity threatens to dissolve their union, there’s a more mean-spirited schtick. “What if guys acted as hysterical and vindictive as the most uncharitable stereotype of a jilted woman?” asks director and cowriter Marco Simon Puccioni as he undercuts the tenderness of the first act’s montage recounting the labor and ardor required for two men to be joint fathers in Italy. The film takes their marriage seriously, spending many of its 110 minutes exploring the legal tangle that ensues when they both pursue custody of their son despite biological parentage being unknown. But it takes potshots at the men themselves, their suit-shredding antics in keeping with a sensibility more retrograde than the espoused pro-LGBT messaging.