That feeling you get when you have been scrolling through films and TV for 2 hours without making a decision. Here I’ll try and help with that.
February looks like it is going to be a huge month for the streaming giants, particularly after a very quiet showing in Sundance. It would appear that for both Amazon and Netflix at least, business was mostly done before the festival. Gone were the seven-figure deals that saw Mudbound and The Big Sick sell to the young upstart film companies. Vulture even went as far as referring to this year’s festival as BNA; before Netflix and Amazon, due to the complete lack of purchasing from them both. Instead, they premiered some of their own projects. A Futile and Stupid Gesture premiered at Sundance and then only a few days later opened on Netflix. Amazon might not be as bolshy with its strategy, but they premiered both; Don’t worry, he Won’t Get Far on Foot by Gus Van Sant and Lynn Ramsay’s: You Were Never Really Here. They’re both likely to receive theatrical releases with a streaming strategy down the line, but these were both productions that Amazon ‘took’ to Sundance, not what they took from Sundance. It would appear that both are now using film festivals in the more traditional sense; to gain hype.
As Ian Bricke, director of content acquisition at Netflix said, when asked about the role of Sundance for the company,
“There are strong cases to be made for all models of release, but that’s the thing we are uniquely suited to and do uniquely well. Taking the rocket fuel of excitement around a festival launch and delivering on it right away, not waiting, but leaning into that.”
It would appear that this strategy is a key component going forward, even if it is at odds with releasing a film less than a week after a festival premiere. That’s like stopping a kettle mid-boil. Anyway, both of the companies still have a streaming business to run, and February looks like a key month for them all.
Mute – Duncan Jones, 2018
Available on Netflix from February 23rd
As discussed briefly here, Duncan Jones a.k.a Son of Bowie will finally bring his long-gestating sci-fi Mute to the
big small screen. Over 10 years in the making, this is what Jones has described as his spiritual sequel to his brilliant debut Moon, and to call it his passion project would be quite the understatement. His own blog and Twitter account have kept us constantly updated with news on the production, or lack of for many years. It is hard not to compare it to the sci-fi classic Blade Runner. Firstly there’s the neon-lit noir feeling that was first teased in 2009 and then confirmed just over a year ago. Then you have our protagonist, played by the imposing Scandi Alexander Skarsgård, on the search for someone (that sounds familiar). That someone isn’t a Replicant but instead, it is his girlfriend who has mysteriously disappeared. Considering he is a mute bartender, finding her won’t be easy, and with a suspicious looking Paul Rudd (Great tache’) his only clue in the dangerous underbelly of a futuristic Berlin.
Jones himself has been extremely honest on Blade Runner being his inspiration but also described it as a sci-fi version of Casablanca. An extremely alluring prospect indeed, and given the disappointing performance of the over bloated World of Warcraft, is much needed to reboot a career that showed a lot of promise with his debut. It is quite disappointing that this won’t go theatrical, but on the flip side, it is a massive coup for Netflix. This coupled with their new Joel Kinnaman led sci-f Altered Carbon shows that the streaming giant is making a big play for the sci-fi market (and pretty much every other market). Lest we forget that they also have the rights to a pretty popular Star Trek series outside the US as well.
The Looming Tower – Craig Zisk, 2018
Available on Hulu February 28th (Distribution for UK unconfirmed)
This one snuck up on me, and I am still scratching my head as to why. It stars Jeff Daniels (fuck, he was good in Godless), the underused Bill Camp and Tahar Rahim from A Prophet fame. Oh and I nearly forgot, much like the Academy, Michael Stuhlbarg. Based on Lawrence Wright’s detailed look at the beginnings of Al-Quaeda, the rise of Osama Bin Laden and a rivalry between the FBI and CIA. With all of that in mind, I feel embarrassed that two months ago I had no idea this even existed. There is currently an embargo on reviews following three episodes being sent out to critics, but without breaking any laws, there is a lot of buzz out there in the Twitterverse.
Yet even with all of the elements above there is another name that should elevate the level of excitement: Alex Gibney. The highly regarded documentarian is onboard as an executive producer, and for a subject matter such as this, his presence is as important as Daniels. At the moment there is no confirmed distribution for the UK as Hulu is unavailable to Blighty. I imagine it might end up on Sky Atlantic, or perhaps the BBC might be bold enough to make a move.
Everything Sucks! – Ben York Jones & Michael Mohan, 2018
Available on Netflix from February 16th
Although Stranger Things may have brought 80s nostalgia to the forefront once more, it came at a time when millennials were busy looking back at the 90s. Look at fashion and you’ll see that the 90s have its dirty sportswear fingerprints all over the runways and high streets. But in 2018, the 90s may be about to have their moment. Alongside Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid ’90s and the fact that Friends is now available, Netflix will release Everything Sucks! a quirky coming of age dramedy which its creators have compared to the great Freaks and Geeks.
Set in Boring, Oregon, the show will be a ten episode run of 30-minute episodes revolving around two group of misfits who clash in high school: the A.V club and the drama club. The cast mostly formed of unknowns must be looking at the success of Stranger Things and wondering if this is their own opportunity to become cult figures in pop culture. I’m expecting we’ll see Breakfast Club levels of 90s stereotypes, but considering this is my era, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Then there is the soundtrack, I expect nothing but grunge, west vs east coast hip-hop and boy bands and girl groups. Nothing less and nothing more.
Wonderstruck – Todd Haynes, 2017
Available on Amazon Prime now (Limited release in the UK)
Given a three-minute standing ovation at Cannes, Todd Haynes has gone from delivering a superb 1950s lesbian love story in Carol, to what is essentially a kids movie, a brilliant audacious kids movie. If you missed the presence of Julianne Moore, Hayne’s muse, she returns here in superb form alongside two child protagonists which are nothing short of flawless. Interlacing two timelines, 1920s New York and for the most part its 1970s equivalent (alongside a short stint in Minnesota), and weaves between the two before bringing the two parts together in the most beautiful of conclusions. Our protagonists are both on a quest. We are introduced to Ben (Oakes Fegley) in 1970s Minnesota, who has recently lost his mum in a car crash. After an accident leaves him deaf he leaves for New York to find his absent father. Meanwhile, we are introduced to Rose (Millicent Simmonds) a young deaf girl struggling with her condition, who after an argument with her stern father, runs away to Manhattan to find her actress mother (Julianne Moore)
Haynes has always been extremely tender in his direction, and here he challenges himself by filming the whole 1920s plot strand as a silent film, allowing his audience to enter the body of our protagonist: Rose. If this is considered out of his comfort zone, you would not believe it given the performance of Millicent Simmonds who does not seem daunted by the prospect of acting opposite Hall of Famer Moore. The fact that Simmonds is deaf in real life makes the experience of filming this all the more impressive. His ability to direct Simmonds and Fegley alongside recreating two eras of New York which went as far as researching the camera equipment used to film 1970s classic The French Connection (with the help of frequent collaborator Ed Lachman), is a rare and splendid feat. It is easy when watching to continually question what kind of magical plot device will eventually bring the two strands together. I completely disagree with Peter Bradshaw’s cynical feelings on it, for me, by its end, I felt ashamed to have ever doubted Haynes; it’s a beautiful film with a perfectly touching end.
First Team: Juventus is available from February 16th and Coach Snoop is available from 2nd February on Netflix
Two extremely odd sport documentaries, for extremely different reasons, will come to Netflix in February. Ever since Last Chance U aired on Netflix I have been all in on any sports documentary they put out there, and the more time we get to spend with the subjects the better. So when it was announced late last year that Netflix would be releasing a 4 part series on The Old Lady a.k.a Juventus I was pleasantly surprised. Mainly because First Team: Juventus, is coming at a time when Italian football is probably at it’s lowest ebb. They can barely get fans to come to guys to watch a Serie A game, Juventus being one of the teams which does not struggle as much as others, but we are still a long way from the popularity of Italian football in the 90s. The series will follow the club through the 2017-2018 season, spending time with the players on and off the field and explore the beautiful city of Turin. It may be odd, but I have been begging for a 30 for 30 style series on football, the history is there, as are the stories. I can only presume that the notorious money-driven industry of football holds back a lot of potential projects. Arriving February 16th, hopefully, this is the beginning of many a football documentary.
We also have Coach Snoop coming to Netflix. Starring, you guessed it, Snoop Dogg as an American Football coach for his own Snoop Youth Football League. The SYFL was created by Snoop to help support young kids from South Central who may have lost family members or are struggling in tough situations at home. It is an inspiring story, and from the trailer, it is clear that this will dutifully tug at the heartstrings. Snoop has always been an entertaining figure and his love of sports knows no bounds. Best friends with David Beckham, he has even collaborated with Adidas on his own signature football (English) boot. The fact that he released an album last year alongside shooting this show, is an inspiration in itself, chuck in the fact that he is probably the most functioning stoner out there and I bow wow down to him. Sorry, that’s paw from me. I’ll stop now.