Streaming: A Sneak Preview of 2018 Netflix Films and a Canine Secret Weapon


But let’s peek at the bright side for now. Netflix recently shared with The New York Times its slate of original films scheduled from January until April. I can’t watch any of them yet, so I’m ill-equipped to assess them, but here are some titles that have potential.

“The Polka King,” directed by Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky, arrives Jan. 12. As it stars Jack Black, one’s first surmise might be that it’s Mr. Black’s patch on John Candy and Eugene Levy’s Schmenge Brothers, polka-musician characters first seen on “SCTV.” It is not. Rather, it’s a fact-based comedy-drama about Jan Lewan, already the subject of a 2009 documentary, who combined music with a Ponzi scheme to realize his ambition to rule polka and make more money than anyone who’d previously ruled polka had ever dreamed of. The movie was well received when it played at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

On Jan. 19, there’s “Step Sisters,” a collegiate drama directed by Charles Stone III. Its plot linchpin is, yes, step dancing. Mr. Stone did a pretty good job with the 2002 Nick Cannon film “Drumline,” which was about, yes, a marching band, so he might do the trick similarly here.

“A Futile and Stupid Gesture” is a movie title born of a phrase well known to devotees of the 1978 comedy milestone “National Lampoon’s Animal House.” It was coined by Doug Kenney, a comedy wunderkind with a genuinely unusual personality who was one of the movie’s screenwriters and a founding editor at National Lampoon. Fittingly the phrase serves as the title of Kenney’s biopic, directed by the comedy stalwart David Wain. Based on the book by Josh Karp, it stars Will Forte and features a bevy of contemporary comedy figures playing the real-life performers who went on to fame with “Animal House” and “Saturday Night Live.” Joel McHale plays Chevy Chase, Natasha Lyonne is Anne Beatts, Thomas Lennon portrays Michael O’Donoghue and Seth Green is Christopher Guest. The movie has its premiere on Jan. 26.

“When We First Met” (Feb. 9), directed by Ari Sandel and starring Alexandra Daddario and Robbie Amell, looks quite a bit more ordinary. The plot hook for this rom-com fantasy is that Mr. Amell, after what he considers a perfect first night with Ms. Daddario, is upset that he is relegated to “the friend zone” (official synopsis words, not mine), but he gets to travel back in time to alter the situation.

March brings a revival of the “Benji” franchise, with a brand-new film directed by Brandon Camp, the son of the series originator Joe Camp. It’s produced by Jason Blum, who’s mostly famous for founding Blumhouse Productions, a company best known for horror pictures such as “Get Out,” “Paranormal Activity,” “Sinister,” “Insidious” and the attendant sequels. I doubt the prospects for a cute-dog-horror hybrid, though, and suspect a pre-emptive move to get a good children’s franchise going before Disney establishes its own streaming service.

March and April bring a couple of films with African-American themes and stories. “Roxanne Roxanne,” which played at 2017’s Sundance Film Festival and is scheduled to hit Netflix sometime in March, is about Lolita Gooden, who became a force in hip-hop under the name Roxanne Shanté. Newcomer Chanté Adams plays the rapper, while Nia Long plays her mother. Also featured are Mahershala Ali, who won an Oscar for “Moonlight,” and Adam Horovitz, the Beastie Boy known as Ad-Rock. The writer-director of this movie, Michael Larnell, also directed the well-received but little-seen 2015 film “Cronies.”

“Come Sunday,” debuting on April 13, stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Rev. Carlton Pearson, a graduate of Oral Roberts University whose ministry in the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ was jeopardized by his “Gospel of Inclusion,” which, among other things, cast doubt on the concept of a hell of eternal torture. Adapted from “Heretics,” an episode of “This American Life” (one of the movie’s producers is Ira Glass, the host and executive producer of that radio program), the movie is directed by Joshua Marston, whose earlier pictures include “Maria Full of Grace” (2004) and “The Forgiveness of Blood” (2011), both of which showed a commendable sensitivity to cultural diversity.

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