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Streaming movies: ‘Greenland’ & Chadwick Boseman’s last movie are best bets

Mercury News logo Mercury News 12/16/2020 Randy Myers, Correspondent
Chadwick Boseman standing in front of a piano: MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (2020) Chadwick Boseman as Levee. Cr. David Lee/NETFLIX © Provided by Mercury News MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (2020) Chadwick Boseman as Levee. Cr. David Lee/NETFLIX

In any other year, a goofy disaster film such as “Greenland” might only be worth late-night viewing. But 2020 is hardly a normal year, and this is the kind of guilty pleasure we all need right now.

It tops our streaming picks this week along with “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which features two outstanding performances (one from the late Chadwick Boseman) as well as the final entry in Steve McQueen’s brilliant Amazon Prime “Small Axe” series.

“Greenland”: Who doesn’t need a silly apocalyptic flick to make us feel like maybe, just maybe, things could get a heck of a lot worse? I know I do. For the first half of this film, director Ric Roman Waugh and his enthusiastic cast — Gerald Butler, Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Ford — have a smashing action/comedy on their hands. But then this adrenaline dash about a comet poised to knock Earth off its axis blubbers into gooey, overdone sentimentality. With just a few editing nips and tucks, this could have been so much better. But it’s still a decent bit mindless escapism that invites you to laugh at it while enjoying a roller coaster ride. Details: 2½ stars out of 4; available on demand Dec. 18.

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“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”: Electrifying performances from Oscar winner Viola Davis and “Black Panther’s” Chadwick Boseman add sizzle to Netflix’s classy adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson’s 1986 award-winning play. Boseman’s final performance (colon cancer took his life at 43 this year) was one of his best. He plays a hot-shot, hot-headed trumpeter with such mercurial energy it’s hard to imagine he was terribly ill at the time. As ‘20s blues diva Ma Rainey, a nearly unrecognizable Davis is a formidable force, too. Theater director George C. Wolfe knows the material through and through and his awareness shows in every detail here. But like Denzel Washington’s cinematic version of Wilson’s  “Fences,” this feels just a bit like it was really meant for the stage. After opening in a limited theatrical run last month, “Ma Rainey” comes to Netflix this week. Details: 3 stars; available Dec. 18.

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“Education”: Expect to fall hopelessly in love with 12-year-old Kingsley (Kenyah Sandy — a major discovery), the inquisitive, bespectacled protagonist in Steve McQueen’s final, touching entry in his five-part Amazon Prime “Small Axe” film series. Bullied and labeled a “special needs” kid, Kingsley learns more about his heritage once he’s booted from his mostly white school and eventually becomes a student in a grassroots “classroom” that’s spearheaded by West Indian women. McQueen’s film, like the others in the series, focuses on the West Indian immigrant experience and reflects how racism is embedded in the fabric of society. Details: 3½ stars; available Dec. 18 on Amazon Prime.

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“Wander Darkly”: A car accident alters the realities of an unhappy Los Angeles couple (Sienna Miller and Diego Luna) in writer/director Tara Miele’s moody reminder that life is too short to spend your time arguing and being miserable. That’s not a revelatory notion by any means, but how Miele goes about it is laudable if a bit sad. What makes you stick with this is the presence of Miller and Luna. They keep us rooting for them even when the film strays too far. Details: 2½ stars; now available for streaming on several platforms.

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“Songbird”: This Michael Bay-produced travesty exploits the coronavirus epidemic for thrills. That’s right, for thrills. You might well ask why attempt this when the pandemic has killed thousands of people. Shame on everyone associated with this. KJ Apa of “Riverdale” plays a busy bike messenger whose girlfriend’s grandma is snatched by Sanitation Department goons and interned at a quarantine camp. Bradley Whitford and Demi Moore co-star and help this pile of dreck not one bit. Details: No stars; streaming now on various platforms.

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“Another Round”: Four high school teachers in Denmark find themselves caught in an existential midlife spiral and decide — after a boozy dinner — to drink their cares away after learning of a report that suggests this is actually a good idea. When bored-with-his-life Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) belts one back before work, he transforms into a cool cat. But soon he and his best buds discover one drink is never enough. Thomas Vinterberg’s comedy/drama is a unique warts-and-all look at midlife dissatisfaction and how maturity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There are no easy answers here, even in the resolution. Mikkelsen is magnificent. Details: 3 stars, begins streaming Dec. 18, also available at part of the Virtual Cinema series at the Smith Rafael Film Center, rafaelfilm.cafilm.org.

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“Anything for Jackson”: If you’re done with hordes of holiday rom-coms, here’s something macabre to tickle your inner Grinch. Grieving grandparents Audrey (Sheila McCarthy) and Henry (Julian Richings) harbor a rotten little secret: They’ve nabbed a pregnant woman and have her tucked away in their haunted house. Their devious deed bugs some hostile spirits. Director Justin G. Dyck takes a break from his holiday rom-com gig — he’s made an insane amount — and slays it. Details: 3 stars; available to stream on Shudder!

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“Max Cloud”: Why isn’t martial arts star Scott Adkins a bigger deal? He’s handsome and is a good actor and has a decent batch of action films. In this kooky ‘90s video game sendup, he shows an ease with comedy, playing a Captain America-like hero of a game that pulls a teen girl into the body of his male sidekick. Writer/director Martin Owen’s cheesy romp never takes itself seriously and that — besides Adkins — is why it works. Details: 3 stars; available on demand Dec. 18.

Contact Randy Myers at soitsrandy@gmail.com.

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