Perhaps in honor of the 29th day of this February's leap year, Amazon's list of new shows and movies is especially long. The biggest arrival is Amazon's own film Chi-Raq, Spike Lee's allegory of how women might end Chicago's plague of violence. Amazon also has an exclusive on Amy, the homespun-feeling documentary of late singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. The online network presents the second season of millennial hit Girls (teasing you just enough to want to subscribe to HBO for the latest seasons) and the final episode of Aaron Sorkin's journalism drama The Newsroom. All is not serious, though, with classic spoofs including Men in Black and The Fifth Element.
Girls, Season 2 (Feb. 11)
What Sex and the City was for Gen X women, Girls is for the current generation. Lena Dunham's HBO dramedy about broke twentysomes in New York City has a clever, in-your-face realism for the post-bubble reality. The characters who don't do much work also don't make much money, and they can't afford shoes like Carrie Bradshaw's. Treat for Star Wars fans: See actor Adam Driver as creepy, emo ex-boyfriend Adam, before he became creepy, emo über-villain Kylo Ren. Season 5 is about to debut. So if you get hooked, you may need to pony up for HBO Now to keep up.
The Newsroom, Season 3 (Feb. 15)
Not everyone likes show creator Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing). His characters tend to be very self-righteous, with a propensity to speechify. But they also show a sense of genuine enthusiasm and passion that's scarce nowadays. In any case, Jeff Daniels (the Martian) is solid in this HBO drama as the cantankerous anchorman Will McAvoy, a disillusioned front man, re-energized by indignation about at the poor state of public debate in America. He's also goaded into action by ex-girlfriend and new producer MacKenzie McHale, played by Emily Mortimer (Shutter Island). Season 3 wraps up the story.
Poldark 2015, Season 1 (Feb. 16)
Based on the series of novels, this late-18th century BBC drama is the story of Ross Poldark, a nobleman who returns to Cornwall after fighting in the American Revolutionary War to find his family's tin-mining business in jeopardy and his love, Elizabeth. engaged to another man. This is a sexier take on your typical historical drama — with vivacious, gorgeous women and the title character, played by Aidan Turner (The Hobbit), often shirtless and showing off his insane abs.
The Americans, Season 3 (Feb. 15)
If only all spies were as good-looking as they are onscreen.... In this drama, created by a real-life ex-CIA officer, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play two deep-cover Soviet agents living as a regular American couple in the D.C. suburbs during the early Reagan years. Even their two kids have no idea what mom and dad really do. True to FX network style, the dialogue is sharp and the action crisp. Though the background is one of international espionage, The Americans is ultimately the story of two people holding together a marriage and family.
Amy (Feb. 1)
This documentary about the late music diva Amy Winehouse would have been impossible to make just a few years earlier. Director Asif Kapadia draws heavily on Handycam and cellphone footage to show an unadorned Winehouse, pimples and all. Against so much press about the personal antics of the blues/jazz/soul singer-songwriter, Kapadia's movie offers a refreshingly undramatic look at a real person's life.
Batman 1989 (Feb. 1)
Comic book stories are rather like Shakespearian plays — with each generation of director and actor reinterpreting the story for their time. Tim Burton's tale of the Dark Knight is predictably campy and creepy, especially in Jack Nicholson's take on The Joker. In contrast, Michael Keaton's Bruce Wayne/Batman is a darker soul — a forerunner to Christian Bale's portrayal two decades later.
Chi-Raq (Feb. 5)
Spike Lee modeled this Amazon original movie about the warlike carnage in Chicago on the satirical critique of war in Lysistrata, by ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. Like the women fed up with the slaughter of the Peloponnesian War, the women of Englewood, a neighborhood in Chicago, try to bring the men to their senses by withholding the one thing they can't do without — sex. After a short theatrical run that began in December, Chi-Raq comes to Amazon viewers with a packed cast, including Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Samuel L. Jackson and John Cusack, with Nick Cannon as Chi-Raq and Teyonah Parris as Lysistrata.
Lost in Translation (Feb. 1)
Superstar Scarlett Johansson might have remained a quirky indie-film actress without her breakout role in this platonic love story about a young woman and cynical older man (played by Bill Murray) suffering the culture shock of downtown Tokyo. Lost in Translation is one of those films that have minimal plot but wonderful dialogue and character dynamics — with two people, at very different stages in their lives, looking for a sense of meaning.
Men in Black (Feb. 1)
This goofball comedy about aliens living on Earth in secret was a hit, thanks to the deliberately mismatched lead characters. Tommy Lee Jones plays Agent K, an extremely straight-laced agent in a secret organization charged with monitoring aliens living on Earth. Will Smith portrays Agent J, his loud-mouthed new recruit. The plot is predictably ridiculous, but the dynamic between Jones and Smith is brilliant. MiB III may be the best of the series (IMO), but the original is a great place to start.
The Fifth Element (Feb. 1)
Don't worry too much about the "logic" behind this story; just enjoy the crazy antics and gorgeous visuals in director Luc Besson's interstellar farce. A young Milla Jovovich plays supreme being Leeloo, who can save the Earth from destruction — but only if cabbie (and former military agent) Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) can keep her alive. Chris Tucker steals much of the film as hypersexual, androgynous radio host Ruby Rhod.