Theatrical exhibitors reportedly cried tears of joy after Paramount's Cinemacon screening of Top Gun: Maverick in Las Vegas a month back. The theatrical experience, losing ground to Snapchat, Spotify, Netflix and other innumerable digital habits even before COVID, will be back this Memorial Day weekend. Or so they joyfully expect, based on Paramount's boffo screening of the sequel, which features a 60-year-old Tom Cruise reprising a Navy F-18 pilot role he first made famous back in the first term of the Reagan Administration. Quietly being overlooked, however, are some other big "tentpole" releases in streaming this year, also coming on Friday. Disney Plus has slated its most anticipated series premiere yet, Star Wars prequel series Obi-Wan Kenobi, with the Jedi Master thespian himself, Ewan McGregor, reprising the titular role ... and Hayden Christensen back for more heavy breathing, too. And Netflix is bowing the final season of one of its most popular original series ever, Stranger Things, the same day. Granted, these shows will be ready to stream when consumers get back from the multiplex this weekend. But if they go, er, maverick and stay home to stream, look for exhibitors to be cry different kinds of tears. Here's what's upstream this week:
Navalny (HBO Max, May 26)
As a challenger to Vladimir Putin's presidential throne, Alexi Navalny was poisoned with nerve gas in 2020. And although Putin denied it, the poisoning was later linked to the Kremlin. In this fly-on-the-wall documentary, director Daniel Roher follows the Russian dissident from fall 2020 until he was detained in Russia in January 2021. It’s an eye opening look at the anti-corruption activist and his inner circle. In January, the doc won the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award in the U.S. Documentary Competition section as well as the Festival Favorite Award. The film scored an aggregated 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. “The attitude of Mr. Navalny and his colleagues is fearless, in a country governed by fear. Thrillers are rarely so inspiring,” wrote The Wall Street Journal’s John Anderson.
That Damn Michael Che – Season 2 (HBO Max, May 26)
This sketch comedy series starring Saturday Night Live's Michael Che tackles timely themes such as like religion, race, cancel culture and reproductive rights. This second six-episode season's guests include Wayne Brady, Reggie Conquest, Ziwe Fumudoh, Heidi Gardner, Charlamagne tha God, David Alan Grier, Sam Jay, Colin Jost, Lori Laing, Tim Meadows, Questlove, Sam Richardson, Amy Schumer and Kenan Thompson. The first season of thean aggregated 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Chicago Sun Times Richard Roeper wrote that the series was “smart, insightful, topical and intended to make you uncomfortable from time to time — which it succeeds in doing, and that’s just the kind of comedy we could use right about now.”
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Disney Plus, May 27)
The latest -- and certainly most anticipated -- Disney Plus Star Wars Universe series features Ewan McGregor reprising his titular role. Also back from the Star Wars prequel films is the erstwhile Anakin Skywalker himself, Hayden Christensen. This six-episode series is set 10 years after Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, when Obi-Wan Kenobi faced his greatest defeat— the downfall and corruption of his best friend and Jedi apprentice, young Skywalker, now Sith Lord Darth Vader -- and was subsequently cast into exile on desert plant Tatooine. It's a pivotal premiere for Disney Plus, which initially built its brand on the strength of The Mandalorian, but faltered in December with the awkwardly similar Book of Boba Fett.
Stranger Things - Season 4, Volume 1 (Netflix, May 27)
It’s been almost three years since Upside Down has threatened the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, but now the supernatural phenom is back. Although the Byers family and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) have moved to California, they team up with the Hawkins crew to fight back –--yet again. The first seven of Season Four will be released Friday. The remaining two episodes of the season -- and the series -- will be released July 1. The Stranger Things finale will get super-sized as it goes. Episodes average approximately 75 minutes, with Episode 7 running for 98 minutes and Episode 8 running 85 minutes. The past three seasons of the sci-fi horror show have garnered six Primetime Emmy awards and 39 nominations. Season three of the series scored an aggregated score of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. “If I went into Season 3 wondering how long Stranger Things can possibly keep this up, I left it assured that as long as the series keeps pushing beyond what initially made it work, it will have more story left in the tank yet,” wrote Variety’s Caroline Framke.
We Feed People (Disney Plus, May 27)
From Director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer, this documentary examines the 10-year evolution of Michelin-starred celebrity chef José Andrés and his nonprofit organization World Central Kitchen, which makes and delivers food to people in need around the world following disasters, natural and otherwise. Andres’ fight to feed people in need doesn’t involve political red tape and bureaucracy, which has often allowed World Health Kitchen to respond to catastrophes more rapidly than government run agencies delivering aid. To date, the nonprofit has served over 60 million people in crisis. So far the film, which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March, has scored an aggregated 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. “This divided country desperately needs someone to play the hero, and José Andrés is the right man for the job,” wrote The Washington Post’s Tim Carman.
Kick Like Tayla (Amazon Prime Video, May 27)
This one-hour documentary about Australian star athlete Tayla Harris follows the football player and boxing champion as she navigates her career. Issues explored are Harris’s success in junior football, her relocation to the state of Victoria to play for Carlton and then Melbourne, and the off-field scrutiny she has faced along the way including the aftermath of a 2019 photo of her infamous kick for goal that drew sexist and sexually violent abuse online after the image was published. At 25, Harris is not only a force to be reckoned with, she is also the definition of trailblazer.
Pistol (Hulu, May 31)
Based on Sex Pistols’ founding member and guitarist Steve Jones’ memoir Lonely Boy: Tales From a Sex Pistol, this six-episode series stars Toby Wallace as Jones, Anson Boon as John Lyndon, Christian Lees as Glen Matlock, Louis Partridge as Sid Vicious, and Jacob Slater as Paul Cook. Academy Award-winner Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) directed the series, which follows the 1970s British punk band’s brief but influential career. A story about working-class kids with "no future" who ended up changing music and culture is hard to resist.
The Greatest Mixtape Ever (ESPN Plus, May 31)
This latest installment of ESPN’s 30 For 30 docuseries is a behind-the-scenes look at the origins of the And1 mixtape, a traveling basketball competition and exhibition tour. The doc explains how the tour, which began in 1998, along with the rise of streetball, transformed basketball culture as a whole. The film features interviews and conversations with Fat Joe, Funk Master Flex, Iman Shumpert, Isiah Thomas, Kemba Walker, Lou Williams, Rafer Alston and Scoop Jackson. The doc’s co-director Chris Robinson knows a thing or two about basketball. He is currently directing the LeBron James biopic Shooting Stars, a film based on James' early life and high school career at St. Vincent–St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio.
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