In Movies & TV

It's not TV. It's HBO - and now a whole bunch of it is free.

HBO made a bunch of its movies and TV shows free; here's seven you should watch

Thanks to the coronavirus, we're all stuck inside and desperate for entertainment. Luckily, Milwaukee Film has started up a virtual cinema for us Brew City cinema fans, and of course there's Netflix – but they can only carry the weight of our easily distracted attention spans for so long. And sure, there's other streaming services out there, but you don't want to cough up $150 a month on all 473 platforms and counting. That's why we ditched cable in the first place!

HBO thankfully rose to the occasion this week and pulled several of its movies, TV shows and documentaries out from behind its paywall and made them free for everyone for a limited time on its streaming apps, HBO GO and HBO NOW. Obviously, they couldn't make everything free – but there's now almost 500 more hours of ad-free entertainment to watch, including some of HBO's most popular series like "Succession," "The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under," "Veep," "Barry and "The Wire."

Now, you don't need me to tell you to check out those all-time classic TV shows, old and new. (Especially "The Wire," because if you're a person living on planet Earth, you've had a friend or fifteen exclaim, "Wait, you haven't seen 'The Wire?!'") There's no sneaky picks amongst HBO's selections – essentially just gems. But in case you need some guidance through the more sporadic movie and documentary selections, here are the seven picks you should stream while it's not just TV and it's not just HBO – it's free HBO.

1. "The Apollo"

The theaters may be closed right now, but you can take a mesmerizing and lovely tour through one of the nation's most historic and important artistic institutions thanks to "The Apollo." Oscar-winner Roger Ross Williams' warm and inviting documentary – the very deserving closing night selection to the 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival – takes the audience through the halls and the history of the grand Harlem theater, through its struggles and its successes both on and off the stage, through its past, present and its future aspirations as a hub for black culture and community. It's an entertaining and informative doc – as well as an all-too-timely reminder of the power and importance of experiencing art together.

2. "Blinded By the Light"

A warning: Your brain is going to spend at least a little bit of "Blinded By the Light" hating you. Your brain will tell you that this musical coming-of-age story, about a Pakistani immigrant in the '80s who rebels against his conservative family and society by becoming obsessed with Bruce Springsteen, is so cheesy, the Swiss want to melt it down and dunk slices of meat and bread into it. Your heart, however, will love this enthusiastically and unrepentantly joyful journey from the director of "Bend It Like Beckham." And eventually, your brain will fall in line and fall in love as well with its heart-on-its-sleeve endearing sincerity, sweetness and, yes, even its aggressively cornball glee. Even if you're not a fan of The Boss, you'll probably cry – and sloppily.

3. "Detective Pikachu"

There's no reason for "Detective Pikachu" to be good. It's a movie about Pikachu ... in a detective hat ... voiced by Deadpool, for some reason. Your brain immediately wants to shut it down. AND YET, this video game adaptation is somehow a lot of neon noir fun, following everyone's favorite electrocuted yellow rodent (Ryan Reynolds) as he helps a sad teen (Justice Smith) solve the mystery of his missing detective dad, along the way discovering a seedy underworld of rage-infected (yet still adorable) pocket monsters and ominous testing facilities. It's funnier than it needs to be – Ryan Reynolds: funny guy, even as a yellow electro-rat! – and certainly looks better than it needs to, from the adorably realistic Pokemon to the richly neon-drenched future world that feels more "Blade Runner" than kids movie. The ending kinda falls apart, but by that time, you'll be too busy trying to figure out how to get yourself a Psyduck.

4. "McMillion$"

Need another stranger-than-fiction true-crime docu-series to binge during this lockdown? Order yourself a "McMillion$" with a large fries and a medium Coke. (Or whatever food you may have in the pantry for snacking; that works too.) The mini-series goes deep into the '90s criminal case involving, yes, the McDonald's Monopoly game, which one insider rigged to give certain people winning pieces. Watch it, be entertained by a weird untold chapter of fast food history and then be frustrated that you bought all those hash browns and McFlurrys for nothing back in the day! (Well, because they were delicious, too.)

5. "Midnight Special"

"Midnight Special" was supposed to be the big breakout for writer-director Jeff Nichols after the excellent indie hits "Take Shelter" and "Mud." Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way for the movie's box office – but it did for movie fans, as his hypnotic sci-fi movie is indeed something special, following regular collaborator Michael Shannon as a father trying to get his uniquely gifted son (Jaeden Martell, "It" and "Knives Out") away from the government and a strange cult, both interested in the youngster's special abilities for dubious reasons. Don't expect laser guns and nifty gadgets; "Midnight Special" is an elusive but intense slow burn of sci-fi thriller, more about feeling and relationships than fiery action scenes – but if you like your sci-fi grounded, mysterious and without easy answers, there's been no better time for "Midnight Special." (I mean, when it was out in theaters would've been nice too, but oh well.)

6. "Storks"

Not every animated movie needs to grapple with massive complex emotional themes and make everyone cry in the audience. Sometimes, it's just enough to be a madcap collection of colorfully animated and hilariously concocted gags and goofs. "Storks" falls into the latter, 90 minutes of bright and blissful goofiness following a clumsy stork (Andy Samberg) having to deliver a baby – despite the fact that storks don't deliver babies anymore but just normal packages. And yeah, sure, you might cry near the end during a touching animated tribute to families, but more realistically you'll cry from laughing at the movie's insanely high joke-per-second clip and commitment to Pixy Stix-fueled jet-speed silliness. Plus: It's got Key and Peele reunited to play wolf buddies!

7. "United Skates"

I have cherished memories as a child of going to the local roller rink and speeding around the oval (or, more realistically, clumsily collapsing all over it) bathed in neon light and energetic music. Unfortunately, those memories are fading away – and so are the roller rinks across the nation, these places for people young and old, especially in the black community, to gather in joy now shuttering in solemn silence. Directed by Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler, this excellent and energetic Milwaukee Film Festival alum travels across the country and pays loving tribute to these shrinking community havens, the people struggling but striving to keep the tradition of roller skating alive and the thrillingly dynamic moves they bring to the rink.

For the rest of the free HBO shows and movies available during this #StayHomeBoxOffice deal, here's the full list:

Movies

  • "Arthur"
  • "Arthur 2: On the Rocks"
  • "Blinded By the Light"
  • "The Bridges of Madison County"
  • "Crazy, Stupid, Love"
  • "Detective Pikachu"
  • "Empire of the Sun"
  • "Forget Paris"
  • "Happy Feet Two"
  • "Isn't It Romantic"
  • "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part"
  • "Midnight Special"
  • "My Dog Skip"
  • "Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase"
  • "Pan"
  • "Red Riding Hood"
  • "Smallfoot"
  • "Storks"
  • "Sucker Punch"
  • "Unknown"

TV Shows

  • "Ballers" (five seasons)
  • "Barry" (two seasons)
  • "Silicon Valley" (six seasons)
  • "Six Feet Under" (five seasons)
  • "The Sopranos" (seven seasons)
  • "Succession" (two seasons)
  • "True Blood" (seven seasons)
  • "Veep" (seven seasons)
  • "The Wire" (five seasons)

Documentaries

  • "The Apollo"
  • "The Case Against Adnan Syed"
  • "Elvis Presley: The Searcher"
  • "I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter"
  • "The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley"
  • "Jane Fonda in Five Acts"
  • "McMillion$"
  • "True Justice: Bryan Stevenson's Fight for Equality"
  • "United Skates"
  • "We Are the Dream: The Kids of MLK Oakland Oratorical Fest"

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