In an era when there is such a healthy abundance of film and TV, selecting your evening viewing should be luxuriously easy. However, we have such an overload of choice that sifting through the options can be exhausting. And then when you finally make a decision, it is with more apathy than eager anticipation. I’ve vowed to be more ambitious and adventurous with my movie and TV watching and thought I’d share my discoveries. I’ll be trying to avoid most mainstream pop culture in favour of reaching into the digital black hole on the hunt for some hidden gems.
Eye in the Sky (2015), Netflix ****
A tense and immersive account of the complexities of modern warfare which is oddly well-suited to the modern platform-agnostic audience sitting behind their laptop screens. Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman are gutsy and stubborn executive officers from a bygone era, butting heads with a bureaucratic modern political system, while Aaron Paul is a remote drone pilot controlling his ‘eye in the sky’ over Somalia from Las Vegas. I found the emotional and moral turmoil experienced appropriately (I thought) via computer screen, seated at my desk, very affecting.
The film examines moral and ethical questions and puts the violent contrast between Western comfort and the innocent cost of war into sharp relief. When Aaron Paul and his co-pilot step out of their dark, windowless control room into the white light of Nevada’s desert sun, they leave behind a far-removed warzone, so distant and impersonal that it’s as if it had never happened.
I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore (2017), Netflix *****
I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore is a goofy and vengeful small-town farce; a well-written dark comedy of carnage, wacky characters, Coen-esque violence, and persistently great dialogue. Edgar Wright meets the Coen brothers. It’s completely nuts, but highly entertaining.
Two weeks after viewing, the characters are still in my head, most certainly standing the test of time, and I want to show it to everyone I talk to. I love this quirky, weird and wacky movie.
Patriots Day (2016), Netflix ****
In what could have been an overplayed action movie headlined by a Hollywood heavy, Patriots Day is a sensitively told account of the Boston marathon bombings which avoids sensationalizing with blockbuster clichés. The multi-character narrative is powerful in its rendering of the widespread effect it had on all sorts of different – and very real – humans. Wahlberg and the younger bomber give particularly good performances in a strong ensemble cast.
A combination of actual CCTV footage, still photography and first-person accounts were enough to get the eyes watering freely.
Yes, I’m behind, but I’ve just watched season 2 of Fargo on Netflix and man, that show is so satisfying. I love the characterisation, the deadpan delivery of a great script and actors excelling in unfamiliar roles. Visually exquisite in its noir vintage aesthetic and the soundtrack served a dual purpose of raising tension and enhancing the dark comedy.
McMafia (BBC) on the other hand, is failing to grab me. I’m four episodes in and I don’t buy it. If the women had been better written, they might better complement the mafia don stereotypes, although there’s little hope for James Norton’s charisma vacuum. In an age when strong female characters are top of the bill, why is every woman in McMafia a simpering bystander or pale cheek-boned puppet of a cruel (male) mobster?
What else did I watch?
Mudbound (2017), Netflix ****
A bit of a slow-burner but a devastating visual treat. A story of brutality, stubbornness, emotion, discontent and survival delivered by an excellent cast.
Alone in Berlin (2016), Netflix **
I loved the book, but even though Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson were as compelling as you’d rightly expect, the film gave only a thin retelling of their hopeless plight. Had I not been aware of the context, I might have been lost.
Good Time (2017), Netflix ****
Pattinson is brilliant as a young man trying to do good by his brother, only to fall deeper and deeper into New York’s (neon) criminal underworld. Chaotic, wild and urgently fast-paced.
Bright (2017), Netflix *
I’m sorry, but no. End of Watch (same director) meets The Lord of the Rings. I know it’s poor form to pass judgment if you fail to watch to the end, but I couldn’t abide such a badly written script with so much redundant dialogue and poor pacing. No publicity is bad publicity, I guess…
A Dog’s Purpose (2017), Amazon Prime *
Predictable, boring, tedious and a script so bad that it makes its reasonable ensemble (Dennis Quaid, Josh Gad, KJ Apa) look like your local small town AmDram society.
Before We Go (2015), Netflix **
A modest, aimless and surprisingly dull directorial debut for Captain America, Chris Evans, who also stars. Obviously.
Mystic River (2003), Amazon Prime ****
Director Clint Eastwood and his all-star cast (Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne) deliver a tale of conflicted morals and family tension in desaturated suburban Boston where all the residents are victims of their own pasts.
Cider House Rules (1999), Amazon Prime ***
Although it was visually striking with a nice vintage palette, the film was a bit muddled and some big themes were underdeveloped leaving the general feeling pretty flat. Michael Caine’s benevolent doctor was a highlight, swinging between selflessly loving and questionable morals.
Coco (2017), cinema ***
I’m going to throw a cat amongst the pigeons and say that Coco did not do it for me. I can’t deny it was very beautiful, but the formula was so religiously stuck to that I was bored and unstimulated by the plot’s progression; my reaction flat.