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Checking In on Netflix’s Original Movies: March 2023 Edition

Idris Elba in Luther: The Fallen Sun. Photo: John Wilson/Netflix

Early March posed a curious challenge to Netflix’s movie-programming team. With all firepower channeled toward All Quiet on the Western Front and the Oscars race, the higher-ups likely wanted to avoid any potentially splashy release that might distract from the Best International Feature Film winner, so they’ve stoked the content fires with releases meant to glide under the public’s radar. But they can’t escape Vulture’s gaze — we’ve got a freestanding feature spinoff from a beloved British TV series, a Mexican comedy catering to the Book Club crowd, and a Turkish mystery that wears its Raymond Chandler influence on its sleeve. All that plus an Italian Click, a German Eat Pray Love, and a Spanish Good Luck Chuck. Heed the words of Bong Joon Ho, scale the inch-high barrier of subtitles, and take a gander at Netflix’s original-movie offerings for the month:

Essential Streaming

Luther: The Fallen Sun

What’s past is prologue in this feature continuation of Luther, the long-running British police-procedural series, which reintroduces DCI John Luther (Idris Elba, back in the role that first hinted at his action-hero bona fides) in terms that newcomers can easily grasp: He’s a loose-cannon cop on the edge who doesn’t play by the rules, but damn it, he gets results! The familiarity of the character template allows this exceptionally nasty serial-killer thriller to get off and running without much throat-clearing, and there’s no time to waste as a vainglorious psycho (Andy Serkis) picks off innocents with vividly sadistic schemes. Throw in a crackerjack prison-break sequence and Cynthia Erivo as Luther’s no-nonsense partner, and the assorted pleasures bolster the humble appeal of a crime picture with no intention of reinventing the wheel. Just as the dependable formula of Law & Order: SVU can be a source of soothing comfort, it’s oddly reassuring how the rule-breaker Luther goes by the book in adhering to the tropes of his genre.

Also Showing

Have a Nice Day!

America doesn’t have a monopoly on oatmeal-soft, politely uncouth comedies about and for the elderly, as proven by this Mexican flick that translates the customary Viagra jokes into Spanish. As we learned from 80 for Brady, middling material can still get a movie pretty far when delivered by a suitably watchable star, and Álvaro Guerrero fits the bill as the washed-up former radio DJ known as Queque (short for Enrique). He’s been reduced to bagging groceries just so he can scrape together enough money to attend an anniversary gala (in his honor), where he hopes to run into his onetime co-host and lost love. He’s hung up on the past, and with time he’ll see that the friendly faces all around him — the checkout boy (Eduardo Minett) occupying the obligatory surrogate-son role, the chirpy register girl (Andrea Chaparro) chuckling at his cootish antics — have enriched his life as is. It’s the same takeaway as always, but Guerrero’s sandpapery charm enlivens the well-trod journey to an uninspired destination.


While Netflix offers a diverse array of Eat Pray Love bastardizations to choose from, none match the tonal wonkiness that places this German variety — Essen Betten Lieben, I guess? — in its own weird dimension. We know the drill: A put-upon woman (Naomi Krauss) breaks out of her funk with a getaway that promises a new love interest and reoriented perspective, in this instance via an inherited parcel of land in tax-friendly Croatia, but every piece of the schematic has a miscalculation to it. Our gal Zey has a hilariously contemptible family, their pathological, inconsiderate behavior trying a little too hard to engender sympathy for unsung moms and wives. And as for the country fella (Goran Bogdan) who melts her heart, their playful schoolyard bickering comes off more like the actual animosity of incompatibility, starting with his mockery of Zey for her body-contouring shapewear. In aggressively servicing this particular fantasy of self-actualization, screenwriters Jane Ainscough and Alex Kendall lose touch with the breezy atmosphere that first made this brand of escapism so irresistible.

Tonight You’re Sleeping With Me

The Fifty Shades–caliber success of the 365 Days movies has evidently convinced Netflix programmers that the market demands more lithe Poles going to town on one another, a niche serviced here as amply as undersexed family woman Nina (Roma Gasiorowska). With her carnally negligent husband away on a convenient monthlong hiking expedition, she’s freed up to reignite passions with attentive old flame Janek (Maciej Musial), in every way a superior alpha male. It’s not hard to see what she sees in Mister Perfect, but their supposed atomic-level connection isn’t borne out by the lukewarm sex scenes that stop way short of 365 Days’ pervy inventiveness. On top of that, the stakes of this infidelity lack any emotional bite, all involved parties comporting themselves with collected composure. (Hey, maybe that’s just Europe for you.) Although director Robert Wichrowski wants us to feel the rush of undammed desire, he does little more to accomplish this than place two telegenic people in the same frame.

Love at First Kiss

Javier (Álvaro Cervantes) possesses the type of superpower seen only in high-concept rom-coms not so far removed from Good Luck Chuck: When he plants a smooch on a woman, he immediately sees a vision of how their relationship will play out. For the most part, this means a dispassionate love-’em-and-leave-’em treatment for prospects he knows won’t pan out, until one errant kiss on his best friend’s girl (Silvia Alonso) foretells a future of marriage, kids, and happiness. The resultant messiness fails to pick a direction and commit to it, making a half-hearted feint toward comedy, raw desire, and bro-to-bro understanding without following through on any of them. The very real predicament of what to do when you realize you’d be a better match for a friend’s girlfriend cops out on itself with a pat lesson about determining our own romantic destiny, a right that no one outside this harebrained premise would consider at risk in the first place.

10 Days of a Good Man

This Turkish mystery puts itself in good stead early on by introducing the profoundly relatable character Sadik (Nejat Isler), a wannabe private eye obsessed with Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye. Who among us? He falls into his own Marlowe-style web of intrigue and deception as he tracks down his lawyer’s nanny’s son, a winding path that leads him to gangsters, killers, and a whole bunch of femmes fatales. Sadik’s multifarious, often contradictory relationships with women turn into a more compelling question mark than his missing-person search, outlining a conflicted man who beholds the opposite gender with a mix of worship, contempt, affection, and fear. In true Chandlerian fashion, following the plot’s many red herrings and dead ends enables us to share in the disorienting effects of Sadik’s compromised world. The rare Netflick purposeful about its convolution sticks the landing, not quite living up to Robert Altman’s idolized example but still in the correct zone of existential drift.

Still Time

A workaholic bored by family stuff discovers that he can skip through the duller periods of his time, only to lose control of this ability and realize he’s missing the little unremarkable moments that make up this grand adventure we call life. If the setup for this Italian comedy steeped in the Hollywood-native Magical Realism for Dummies tradition sounds a bit like that of the Adam Sandler vehicle Click — perhaps the nakedest expression of anxiety from a middle-aged screenwriter that he’s smoking too much weed to appreciate the growth of his child — that’s because they’re pretty much the same. Instead of an enchanted remote, our man Dante repeatedly jumps a year ahead without doing anything, and, more crucially, lead actor Edoardo Leo lacks the dumpy-yet-lovable Everyman quality that makes a viewer care about his ennui. He wakes up to how precious his loved ones are, but the matter of what they get out of having such a nothingburger of a guy in their life remains unaddressed.

February Originals

Your Place or Mine

This fluffy vehicle for Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher borrows liberally from the rom-com classics, combining the geographical-separation device of Sleepless in Seattle, a house swap out of The Holiday, the platonic-in-denial friend chemistry of When Harry Met Sally …, and About a Boy’s pairing of a development-arrested bachelor with a precocious youngster who prompts him to grow up. But this stew of familiar tropes is refreshed by the off-kilter wit of writer-director Aline Brosh McKenna, creator of the superb Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (the cast of which fills out many of this film’s supporting roles). Through well-worn beats tied together by hoary contrivances, the indomitable charm of the leads rises to the top with help from jokes both daffier and more sturdily constructed than the average Netflick can muster. It’s all obvious, but as rom-com acolyte McKenna understands too well, that can be made into a virtue.


Props to director Eiichiro Hasumi. Just when it seemed like the life had been fully ground out of the infinite-time-loop premise with all the bastard offspring of Groundhog Day arriving at the same Buddhist conclusion about “presence in the present,” he managed to find a new angle by ditching the philosophy. It’s all a game to him, with the repeating-day concept no more symbolically profound than a reset button for the eight Japanese prep-school students tasked with locating the severed body parts of a child murdered decades earlier. The ensemble has all the depth and humanity of Monopoly pieces, their movement around the board (pursued by a void-eyed wraith called the Red Person) being the full extent of their purpose. There’s no personal undercurrent here, but despite the alienating lack of interiority in this cat-and-mouse nightmare, Hasumi’s evident fascination with the cold, hard mechanics of J-horror is its own pleasure.

Viking Wolf

Fun fact: Werewolves have roots in ancient Norse myth, as made clear by the prologue that opens Stig Svendsen’s mossy horror picture with a crew of berserks unwittingly releasing a lycanthrope into the Scandinavian woods. In the present, the beast targets Thale (Elli Müller Osborne), the new girl in the suburb of Nybo, who would rather ogle her crush and avoid embarrassment from her cop mother, Liv (Liv Mjönes). Her transformation puts her at odds with Mom, who’s hot on the case of whatever has been leaving mangled corpses around town, though Svendsen doesn’t seem too invested in this setup as a metaphor for how the unruliness of adolescence tests the bond between parent and child. He takes this tension a bit more literally, fixating instead on Liv’s simpler inner conflict between her professional obligation to protect her community and her maternal instincts to protect her daughter. The film aims for the feral rage coursing through an animalistic consciousness, but its slightness gives the impression of domestication.

Dear David

Libidinous young Laras (Shenina Cinnamon) is like the Tina Belcher of her tony Filipino prep school, channeling her vivid erotic imagination into friend fiction that casts her and crush David (Emir Mahira) in a variety of steamy — yet tamely played — fantasy scenarios. But when she accidentally leaves her hot-bloggin’ account logged in on a class computer, the fallout goes beyond mere humiliation as her socially conservative community is scandalized by the mystery writer’s smut. What could have been a simple comedy of teenage mortification aspires to Spring Awakening–adjacent commentary about the paramount importance of letting kids be their weird, horny selves despite a repressive culture that would have them deny their natural tendencies. Director Lucky Kuswandi embraces the awkward, sticky humor of these formative years while drawing focus to how it fits into a hostile adult world, the stakes of harshly censorious moral watchdoggery higher than a little red-facedness. Like so many things, the state’s sex negativity is revealed as one more means of controlling women.

A Sunday Affair

For a while, this Nollywood romance hums along without much out of the ordinary: A pair of gal pals (Nse Ikpe-Etim, Dakore Akande) are unaware that they’re both playing side piece to the married smooth operator Sunday (Oris Erhuero). Director Walter Taylaur never stops to consider what a cad this guy is and takes his selfish notion of love for three women at face value, perhaps in an early warning sign of the catastrophic miscalculations to come in the film’s second half. The lightweight relationship business gives way to wildly uncalibrated melodrama once Sunday has to pick his woman, the choice made impossible by a pair of bluntly tragic plot twists that obliterate any emotional coherence along with our suspension of disbelief. The lifelike female camaraderie between Ikpe-Etim and Akande carries the film before it falls apart, which only makes these ungraceful lunges for pathos feel like an even greater letdown.

All the Places

Following the death of their father, estranged adult siblings Gabriela (Ana Serradilla) and Fernando (Mauricio Ochmann) embark upon a road trip in search of nothing and everything. This Mexican dramedy detailing their mishap-strewn odyssey of mutual self-discovery exhibits a jarring disconnect between its adeptness in crafting character and the moldy platitudes of the rest of the writing. The leads capture the intricate dynamic between grown brothers and sisters, their constant bickering and inscrutable inside jokes a vernacular through which they express a love so deep and abiding that they can afford to, often, hate each other. But the circumstances into which they’ve been inserted ring false over and over, whether it’s the broad druggie high jinks at a hippie be-in or the joint introspection that overshoots “soulful” to land in “hollow.” The prescriptive, clumsy plotting only worsens in the wheels-off-the-wagon third act, with the endearing plausibility of the leads no match for the fakery surrounding them.


Spain’s Patxi Amezcua tries to pull a fast one here, passing off the umpteenth occult-adjacent serial-killer thriller (he’s a professed fan of True Detective) as something new by situating it in the earliest days of COVID-19. But the setting has zero bearing on the plot, which is undeveloped beyond set dressing being constantly and obtrusively pushed to the fore. Masks worn until they can be discarded and tearful Zoom sessions with the kids only slap a superficial coat of paint on the most played-out components of the crime genre’s po-faced side. The eventual revelation of the culprit as some guy performing a vague ritual for even more vague reasons feels disappointing yet altogether appropriate for a movie with only the faintest sense of why it exists. As a document of its moment, it has no insight to offer on the aspects of the pandemic response specific to northern Spain. The nagging question of why Amezcua would touch on the coronavirus if he had no interest in seriously engaging with it invites only the unflattering answer of a cheap attention-grab tactic.

Call Me Chihiro

Chihiro (Kasumi Arimura) — former sex worker and subject of the manga Chihiro-san that director Rikiya Imaizumi adapts here — floats through her corner of suburban Japan with the aimlessness of an existential wanderer, her seemingly unconnected doings organized less by plot than by shifting philosophies. With a gracious gratitude, Chihiro heals and helps the people around her in an effort to understand the randomness of life, a cruel game of chance that can be as mundane as daily errands or as tragic as a lonely man’s death. The tone is meditative and calm, but don’t conflate that with gentle subject matter. Chihiro’s steadfast attitude belies the bruising emotional heft of some scenes — all played without histrionics. What her odyssey without destination amounts to is up to us, any takeaway equally valid: that we must care for one another, that we must advocate for our own wellness, that these two are inseparable.


The hook on actor turned director Kim Tae-joon’s cyber-thriller is sharp enough to draw blood: a serial killer (Im Si-wan) runs a tech-repair shop and installs spyware on his victims’ phones so he can virtually stalk their every move, toying with them before finally striking. Notwithstanding some clever games with screen-POV shots right out of Decision to Leave, the issue lies in Kim’s follow-through — from the idiocy of the imperiled Lee Na-mi (Chun Woo-hee) to the clumsy subplot involving a police detective (Kim Hee-won) who may be the father of the culprit. The mounting of tension that should be agonizingly gradual instead comes out sluggish, not helped by a bland visual palette devoid of any expressionistic intensity to match the psychological extremism. The innovative slant on the cat-and-mouse setup deserves a script that can match its fiendish resourcefulness.

We Have a Ghost

Filmmaker Christopher Landon seemed to have a good grasp of the horror-comedy in the body-swapping slasher picture Freaky, but in casting his lot with Netflix, he has taken on many of the house’s flaws: a bloated run time, a grafted-on murder-mystery plot oriented around late-in-the-game twists, and a deadening visual flatness. The Presleys (led by Anthony Mackie as one of those dads who always need to shape up in family movies) have just moved into an ornate new residence with a spectral squatter (a pallid and combed-over David Harbour inadvisably deprived of dialogue). Naturally, the sons (Jahi Di’Allo Winston and Niles Fitch) spin this haunting into viral superstardom that attracts a government agent (Tig Notaro) and a space-cadet psychic (Jennifer Coolidge, the saving grace in all this), but of course, the boys develop an affinity for the intangible scamp and agree to help sniff out the cause of his death all those years ago. Like the titular apparition, we’re left only with unresolved regrets: if only the humor were fresher, if only the writing adhered to a sturdier internal logic, if only the scary bits were scary, if, if, if …

January Originals

The Kings of the World

Once home to Pablo Escobar, still the epicenter of Colombia’s booming cocaine industry, the city of Medellín provides a rough-and-tumble backdrop to this lyrical look into the lives of five street kids trying to carve out a piece of the world for themselves. As for de facto leader Rá (Carlos Andrés Castañeda), that’s literal; the territory seized from his displaced grandmother by the colonists years ago has been returned to him as part of a government restitution program, and all he needs to do is go to the promised land. The journey there will be fraught with peril as well as small reprieves of humanity provided by the kindly trans hotel clerks and middle-age sex workers they meet along the way, their path a cross section of the various populaces struggling to get by in an environment hostile to young men. The Academy may have overlooked Colombia’s submission while compiling its Best International Feature shortlist, but it exemplifies the combination of artistry and regional identity that rewards global curiosities.

You People

Co-writers Jonah Hill and Kenya Barris skewer Black-Jewish race relations with a button-pushing culture-clash comedy that marries the cringeworthy discomfort of Meet the Parents with an inversion of the social commentary in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Barris directs and Hill stars as Ezra, a generally with-it podcaster who collects sneakers and processes his love life through the discography of Drake, his coolness crumbling once he gets a Black girlfriend (Lauren London) and must impress her militant Muslim father, Akbar (Eddie Murphy, reserved). He stammers his way into every booby trap laid for him — in his first meetup with Akbar, he refers to Malcolm X as “our guy” and “the GOAT” — but the script strikes some realer, tender nerves in Akbar’s casual mention of his anti-vaxx leanings, or his invocation of Louis Farrakhan’s greatness in front of Ezra’s Jewish parents (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and David Duchovny). The home stretch falls back on plotting clichés as it shifts focus from societal relationships to a single romantic one, but arrives at the sturdy and increasingly uncontroversial conclusion that while white people can never know what it’s like to be Black, accepting that much is the first step to everyone getting along.


Netflix’s unofficial series of Obscure World War II Subplot Films (including Operation Mincemeat and Munich: The Edge of War, among many others) gains a new entry with this recounting of the German army’s invasion of Norway, a neutral yet strategically significant country, during World War II. Gunnar (Carl Martin Eggesbo) serves in the “neutrality guard” protecting the peaceful border, only to be taken prisoner by the Nazis; his wife, Ingrid (Kristine Hartgen), is given the Hobson’s choice between serving as an interpreter for the enemy occupants or facing certain death. The film jumps between their respective hardships, its organizing motivating being a tribute to the suffering and resilience of the Norwegian people, who can’t even catch a break when the “liberating” U.S. military storms in and starts shooting without distinguishing civilians from soldiers. While edifying about the reach of WWII’s devastation, the film’s action on the front and at home tends to plod along like so many frostbitten troops tromping through the crunchy snow.


With this resourceful techno-thriller set in the 22nd century, South Korean genre maverick Yeon Sang-ho (director of Train to Busan and Netflix’s own Psychokinesis) takes an empathetic stance on the subject of AI, usually recognized as a dangerous concept if not molded into an outright villain in dystopian sci-fi like this. In the midst of a space war, a roboticist (the tragically departed Kang Soo-yeon) transplants the consciousness of her comatose mercenary mom (Kim Hyun-joo) into a buggy yet curiously human android. The noble work of inventing new life, here a trial-and-error refining process that sees a child returning the favor of being raised by their parent, is the highest calling; the real baddie is the oversight board trying to shut down the robotics program, and the film saves its heaviest note of lament for one particularly grotesque form of mistreatment to the JUNG_E model. For all its novel ideas, however, Yeon’s steel-paneled, glow-stick-lit vision of the world of tomorrow resembles too many others too closely.

The Pale Blue Eye

As durable as rawhide in the role of a detective pursuing an occult murderer circa 1830, Christian Bale proves an invaluable asset to this sometimes-shakily-plotted period thriller. Bale, along with the accomplished ensemble cast, which includes Gillian Anderson, Timothy Spall, Toby Jones, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Robert Duvall, classes up the joint while the bodies with missing hearts accumulate. Detective Augustus Landor’s investigation is most significantly aided by a young cadet named Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling, bringing a grounded fragility to a concept once used as a punchline on Party Down). They all have their secrets, the biggest of which indulges the ongoing Netflix fetish for dicey twists in the 11th hour, though it’s all in service of giving Bale more meat to gnaw on. His gaunt stare is suffused with resignation that slowly turns to vengeance; he’s one of few actors with the gravitas required to sell the utter self-seriousness of po-faced director Scott Cooper.

How I Became a Gangster

Detractors of Martin Scorsese levy a lot of charges against him — he has no interest in his female characters, he romanticizes criminal sadists, he’s all style with little substance — but this Polish knockoff of Goodfellas actually is the film that player haters accuse the genuine article of being. Stretching a modest budget across more than two hours, this rinky-dink epic charts a hungry upstart’s rise through the ranks of the gang world, borrowing the wall-to-wall music, swooping camera dollies, and rangy, coked-out energy of Henry Hill’s wiseguy memoir. But there’s no imitating the master, evident in the carelessness of the fine strokes: that our unnamed man (Marcin Kowalczyk) adheres to a moral code so we don’t have to have any complicated feelings about him, that his wife (Natalia Szroeder) offers limpid smiles of support and little more, that the cinematography revels in the degraded hedonism without exposing the sickened emptiness beneath it. Everyone wants to be Marty, but he walks a treacherous tonal tightrope off of which his imitators faceplant.


In this fictionalized companion to the filmmaker’s 2019 documentary on the same subject, Nosotras, director Natalia Beristain maintains her attention to the Mexican epidemic of kidnappings at the hands of organized criminals. She trains her focus on the gendered aspect of this widespread violence by singling out the case of the missing Gertrudis, doggedly sought by her indefatigable parents, Julia (Julieta Egurrola) and Arturo (Arturo Beristain, father of Natalia), if only so they might have the closure of her death. Their discouraging hunt for the truth takes us through not just their crushing grief but an entire social ecosystem that’s sprung up around this community of the affected, from the disinterested authorities under the thumb of local gangs to the citizen action groups putting in the work that the cops won’t. Informative without didacticism, moving without exploitation, the film uses strokes of real life (a handful of nonprofessional actors bare their emotional scars for Beristain’s compassionate camera) to underscore the urgency of the wider crisis it outlines.

Disconnect: The Wedding Planner

Netflix nabbed the rights for this sequel to a romcom popular in Kenya, the second installment in a Yoruba riff on the Love, Actually–styled mosaic of couplings. An ensemble of lonelyhearts come together around a traditional destination wedding in Mombasa: the commitmentphobe who doesn’t realize he needs to settle down, the couple working through a rocky patch, the jilted woman trying to rebound from her cheating ex. Sharing space with a few other narrative strands, they’re all crowded in a film that hustles them through plot points without giving anyone room to breathe; as in any given wedding, everything seems rushed and hectic until the actual ceremony, when the opportunity to stop and reflect activates the sentimental triggers. The twanging of heartstrings is low effort, but those hitting “play” for the same reason one attends a destination wedding — lush scenery, the potential for a hookup, a bit of fun in an unfamiliar locale —will find their expectations met.

Dog Gone

While hiking the Appalachians in the mid-’90s, college kid Fielding Marshall (Johnny Berchtold) loses his angelic dog Gonker, and the ensuing search brings the Gen Xer closer to his workaholic dad (Rob Lowe) in a dynamic easily re-mapped onto today’s intergenerational tensions. The pure pathos of the love between boy and his loyal companion can get a movie pretty far, but director Stephen Herek forces the rest of the world to be as wholesome and earnest as sweet, reliable mark-hitter Gonker (so named because once he bonked whippersnapper Fielding on the head). No one acts like an actual person, not the biker gang with mushy feelings nor the mom (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) just trying to figure out this newfangled “internet” she keeps hearing about, all of them two-dimensionally upbeat. Strangest of all is how this unremarkable true story is presumed to have the notability that merits feature-film treatment, with one dog’s disappearance treated as a viral phenomenon in a pre-online world.

A Night at the Kindergarten

Eryk (Piotr Witkowski), the walking snare of selective morality at the center of this demented Polish black comedy, isn’t a stepdad — he’s the dad who stepped up to raise young Tytus, his girlfriend’s terror of a child at risk of expulsion from school. With the ringing of Christmas bells in the air, he storms into a nativity play in progress to filibuster on little Tytus’s behalf to the cliquey PTA, arguing that the child deserves the chance to grow and improve that’s arguably the whole point of formal education. (That the child may truly be evil doesn’t give Eryk or the film around him much pause; what 6-year-old isn’t?) As in Yasmina Reza’s uproarious play God of Carnage, the grown-ups start acting like overgrown brats as they hash out their offspring’s conflicts for them, the tyrannical queen bee Justyna (Lena Gora) moving to the fore as Eryk’s nemesis to be toppled. As a self-styled perfect mom, she’s the real pleasure to hate, her holier-than-thou approach to parenting nowhere near as bad as Eryk’s honest dirtbaggery.

Checking In on Netflix’s Original Movies: March Edition