What to stream: an ‘Unfortunate’ Netflix original and ‘Sneaky Pete’ on Amazon

Neil Patrick Harris, Malina Weissman, and Louis Hynes in "A Series of Unfortunate Events."

Neil Patrick Harris is Count Olaf, master of disguise and scheming uncle of the orphaned Baudelaire children, in the darkly comic Netflix original series A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the books by Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler). If you don’t know them, or haven’t seen the disappointing 2004 movie version with Jim Carrey, it’s the story of three orphaned children whose parents died in a fire and are pursued by a villainous uncle who seems to be knocking off the rest of the family tree. It’s got a gallows humor and a delightful flourish to the language, but the film never captured the playful spirit of the books.

The series, according to Atlantic Monthly TV critic Lenika Cruz, “makes an impressive effort to stay true to the spirit and idiosyncrasies of the books without being overly reverential. (It helps that the series’s real author, Daniel Handler, is an executive producer and the show’s writer.) The result is a show that’s likely to appeal to both adults and children with its layers of mystery, a weird sense of humor, and hyper-self-awareness—as long as viewers can accept the misery that lies ahead.” Barry Sonnenfeld, director of Get Shorty and the Men In Black movies, sets the tone with the first couple of episodes.

The first season of eight episodes now streaming. Queue it up!

Giovanni Ribisi is Sneaky Pete, a con man who takes the identity of his dead cell mate when he leaves prison and ends up “reuniting” with the man’s estranged, dysfunctional family, in the new Amazon original series.

It is “a show with the enjoyment potential of something like Justified, with which it shares a creator,” writes Brian Tallerico for RogerEbert.com. “It’s clever, quick-paced and, well, fun. Interestingly, it starts as a slightly different show than it ends up being, a product of Amazon’s unique pilot system and a tumultuous behind-the-scenes shake-up that essentially altered the tone and trajectory of the program.” Graham Yost is the producer and show runner who took over the production.

All 10 episodes available. Add to watchlist.

Pay-Per-View / Video-On-Demand

Nate Parker writes, directs, and stars in The Birth of a Nation, a passionate drama about Nat Turner’s slave uprising in antebellum South. It began the year as an awards favorite but got tangled in a personal controversy and the ardor for the incendiary drama cooled. It’s still a provocative film with a mix of passion and mythic tropes, and it has a brutal edge. Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Boone Junior, Colman Domingo, and Aunjanue Ellis co-star. Rated R.

Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell star in the action thriller Deepwater Horizon, about the workers trying to survive the oil rig disaster (PG-13), and Ben Affleck is The Accountant, a math savant with the skills of a professional assassin who goes on the run with Anna Kendrick (R).

Also new: the concert film Kevin Hart: What Now? (R), the teen superhero movie Max Steel, and Sold, a drama about child sex trafficking starring Gillian Anderson (not rated).

Available same day as select theaters nationwide is Claire in Motion, a drama starring Betsy Brandt as woman struggling to move on when her husband goes missing (not rated), and the World War II thriller Alone in Berlin starring Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson as grieving German parents who become Nazi resisters (R).

Also new: the drama The Book of Love with Jason Sudeikis and Maisie Williams (PG-13), the cyber-thriller The Crash with Minnie Driver and Frank Grillo (R), the British drama 100 Streets with Idris Elba and Gemma Arterton (not rated), and the black comedy Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy (a sequel to “Bad Kids Go to Hell”) (R).

Netflix

Little Men (2016) is a small, intimate film about two adolescent best friends caught between a fight between their parents. Ira Sachs directs this marvelous indie drama that got lost in the shuffle in theaters (PG). Reviewed on Stream On Demand here.

The family-friendly fantasy Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016) brings back Alice (Mia Wasikowska) and the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) back for time-travelling adventure (PG) and It Follows (2014) is a startlingly unnerving American independent horror film (R). Reviewed on Stream On Demand here.

Clinical is a Netflix original thriller starring Vinessa Shaw as a psychiatrist recovering from her own trauma while treating a patient with his own terrifying history. William Atherton and Aaron Stanford co-star (not rated).

True stories: Miss Sharon Jones! (2015) profiles the celebrated soul singer (who passed away in 2016) whose success came late in her career (not rated)

Kid stuff: Best Friends Whenever: Season 2 for teens and tweens, the animated We’re Lalaloopsy: Season 1 for the wee ones, and the animated feature Ratchet and Clank (2016) for those in between (PG).

More streaming TV: the documentary series The Investigator: A British Crime Story, which looks into a 30-year-old murder, and the crime drama Historia de un clan: Season 1 from Argentina (with subtitles).

Amazon Prime

The Infiltrator (2016) stars Bryan Cranston as real-life federal agent Robert Mazur, who went deep undercover into Pablo Escobar’s drug trafficking business in the 1980s. John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Benjamin Bratt, and Amy Ryan costar (R).

The Monster (2016) is an American indie horror picture (R) and Neither Heaven Nor Earth (2016) is a platoon movie turned horror film from France (not rated, with subtitles).

Kid stuff: the live-action Just Add Magic: Season 2 about three teenage girls with a book of spells and the animated short We’re Going on a Bear Hunt adapted from the children’s picture book.

Streaming TV: Endeavour: Season 3 (2016) follows the crisis in faith of DC Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) as he comes out of prison for a crime he didn’t commit and contemplates a future where he’s not a detective. Four feature-length mysteries.

Vintage TV: Craig Stevens is Peter Gunn in the first season 1950s private eye drama with film noir style and cool jazz accompaniment.

Hulu

Amazing World of Gumball: Complete Season 4 arrives from the Cartoon Network.

HBO Now

Bright Lights, a portrait of the rocky but loving relationship between show business legend Debbie Reynolds and actress/author daughter Carrie Fisher, is a fitting tribute to both.

Season 47 of Sesame Street is now underway with new episodes arriving every Saturday morning.

Also new: the drama Demolition (2015) with Jake Gyllenhaal as a grieving widower (R) and Genius (2016) with Jude Law as author Thomas Wolfe and Colin Firth as his literary editor (PG-13) and M. Night Shyamalan’s horror film The Visit (2015) (PG-13).

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About Sean Axmaker

Sean Axmaker is a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, The Seattle Weekly, Keyframe, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org). He was a film critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for nine years and a longtime home video columnist for IMDb and MSN Movies, and his work has appeared in Indiewire, Today.com, The Stranger, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, Filmfax, Psychotronic Video, and "The Scarecrow Video Guide." You can find links to all of this and more on his shamelessly self-promoting blog at http://www.seanax.com/

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