What to stream: ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ on Netflix, ‘The Expanse’ returns on Amazon, ‘Tenet’ comes to VOD

Here’s what’s new and ready to stream now on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Now, video-on-demand, and other streaming services …  

Viola Davis plays Ma Rainey, the mother of the blues, and Chadwick Boseman (in his final screen performance) is the fiery trumpeter in her band in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (2020, R), a drama of music, power, ambition, and race in America set at Chicago recording studio in 1927. Tony Award-winning Broadway director George C. Wolfe helms the screen adaptation of the August Wilson play and Colman Domingo and Glynn Turman costar. Davis and Boseman are favored to get Oscar nominations. (Netflix)

Tenet” (2020, PG-13), Christopher Nolan’s high-concept thriller starring John David Washington as a nameless agent whose mission to save the world involves the unraveling of time, is a puzzle box of a mystery with spectacular set pieces. Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, and Kenneth Branagh costar. Nolan insisted that it get a theatrical release when major theaters were closed during the Covid lockdown, where it made back a fraction of its cost. Months later, it now debuts at home. (VOD and Cable On Demand, also on DVD and Blu-ray and at Redbox)

Currently the most ambitious science fiction series streaming or on TV, “The Expanse” (TV-14) enters its fifth season with a storyline that starts to draw all of the narrative threads, from the political tensions between Earth and the settlers in Mars and elsewhere fighting for autonomy to the battle over the newly-accessible alien worlds, together. Once again, the crew of the Rocinante (Steven Strait, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, and Cas Anvar) is at the center of the drama. The series ends with sixth season next year. Three episodes available, new episodes arrive each Wednesday. (Amazon Prime)

The documentary “Homeschool Musical Class of 2020” (TV-14), inspired by the online movement #SunshineSongs launched by Tony Award-winning actress Laura Benanti, showcases students from around the country performing songs and dances from the safety of their homes. (HBO Max)

International Pick: the quirky love story “Amelie” (France, 2001, R, with subtitles) won four Cesar Awards in France, earned five Oscar nominations, and made Audrey Tatou an international star.

Finales: the second season of “The Mandalorian” on Disney+ and the limited series “The Flight Attendant” on HBO Max both conclude this week, just in case you’re waiting to binge them all at once.

News: Netflix raises prices by $1 a month starting this week.

More new: HBO Max is now available through Roku and to Xfinity X1 and Flex customers. HBO Now subscribers can upgrade at no charge and get the expanded catalog. My advice: do it!

Pay-Per-View / Video-On-Demand

The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone” (1990/2020, R) is Francis Ford Coppola’s re-edit of the final film in his “Godfather” trilogy starring Al Pacino as Michael Corleone, now in his 60s, as he seeks to free his family from crime and find a suitable successor to his empire.

Jim Caviezel is an American engineer in Cairo who is kidnapped and imprisoned in Iran as a spy in the thriller “Infidel” (2019, R).

International Passport: a group of high school teachers embrace alcohol as a way to unleash their creative potential in “Another Round” (Denmark, 2020, not rated, with subtitles), a comedy from director Thomas Vinterberg. It’s Denmark’s official entry for the Academy Awards.

True stories: “Audrey” (2020, not rated) explores the life, art, and humanitarian work of actress Audrey Hepburn.

Premium VOD: Set in 1840s England, the love story “Ammonite” (2020, R) stars Kate Winslet as real life fossil hunter Marry Anning and Saoirse Ronan as a young woman sent to sea for her health.


Lee Daniels’ The Butler” (2013, PG-13) chronicles decades of American social politics through the life of a White House butler (Forest Whitaker). The star-studded cast includes Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, and Robin Williams.

The Canadian drama “The Grizzlies” (2018, R) is an underdog sports drama based on the true story from an Alaskan Inuit community that struggles with the highest suicide rate in North America.

Jason Momoa stars in “Braven” (2018, R) as a logger in rural Canada who goes up against drug runners threatening his family.

Streaming TV: a young ballet student (Kylie Jefferson) joins an elite dance academy in “Tiny Pretty Things: Season 1” (TV-MA), a young adult melodrama about ruthlessly ambitious students. Also new:

  • Wolverine” (Japan, 2011, TV-14) and “X-Men” (Japan, 2011, TV-14), a pair of animated limited series produced in Japan;
  • new collections of “Jeopardy!” (TV-G) tournaments.

True stories: the limited series “The Ripper” (not rated) revists the British police search for the serial killer dubbed The Yorkshire Ripper in late 1970s England. Also new:

Holiday trimmings: in “A California Christmas” (2020, TV-14), a spoiled rich kid who poses as a ranch hand to get a farmer to sell her family’s land. Also new:

Comedy specials: “Vir Das: Outside In – The Lockdown Special” (not rated), with the comedian performing online shows to homebound viewers, and “Schulz Saves America: Pandemics, Predators, Protests & Presidents” (not rated).

Amazon Prime Video

Susan Sarandon plays a dying matriarch who brings estranged family members and friends together in emotionally turbulent “Blackbird” (2020, R), directed by Roger Michell and costarring Kate Winslet, Mia Wasikowska, and Sam Neill.

The Grand Tour Presents: A Massive Hunt” (2020, TV-14) is this year’s revved up holiday special featuring Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson, and James May hitting the road on the exotic island of Reunion and in Madagascar.

True stories: “King Cohen” (2017, not rated) surveys the career of independent filmmaker Larry Cohen and “The Aristocrats” (2009, not rated) looks into the legacy of a filthy joke shared privately by comedians for decades.


Sam Elliott is an aging, ailing movie star coming to terms with his legacy and his mistakes in “The Hero” (2017, R), costarring Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, and Krysten Ritter.

HBO Max / HBO Now

True Stories: “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (2020, TV-MA) surveys the career of the three Gibb Brothers, who reinvented themselves throughout their decades-long career as pop superstars. (All HBO platforms)

Streaming TV: the family sitcom “The Middle: Complete Series” (2009-2018, TV-PG) with Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn is now streaming exclusively on HBO Max.


The six-part documentary series “On Pointe: Season 1” (not rated) follows students ages 8 through 18 through a season in the School of American Ballet in New York City.

Also newly arrived is Oscar-nominated animated sequel “Ralph Breaks the Internet” (2018, PG) and “Into the Woods” (2014, PG), the feature adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical starring Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, James Corden, and Meryl Streep.


The limited series mystery “Limetown” (not rated) with Jessica Biel and Stanley Tucci, based on the hit podcast and originally produced for Facebook, and the prank series “Kevin Hart: Lyft Legend” (TV-MA), originally made for the LOL network, are now streaming.


Elizabeth Debicki and Claes Bang star in “The Burnt Orange Heresy” (2020, R), a sun-dappled thriller set in the world of high art costarring Mick Jagger and Donald Sutherland.

Sundance Now

Rachel Griffiths plays the Prime Minister of Australia and Deborah Mailman is an Indigenous woman who begins a political career as the newest member of her team in “Total Control: Season 1” (2019, not rated). New episodes each Thursday.

The Criterion Channel

The Silent Partner (1978, R) with Elliot Gould and Christopher Plummer is a wily crime thriller with a cat-and-mouse battle of wits and a Christmas setting.

Much sweeter is the double feature “Bell, Book and Candle” (1958) with James Stewart and Kim Novak and “I Married a Witch” (1942) with Veronica Lake and Fredric March, a pair of romantic comedies with a touch of witchcraft. Also new:

The weekly column is featured in The Seattle Times, The Spokesman-Review, and other newspapers.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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