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.
So far it has been quite a polarising year for streaming. Most people were probably surprised to see the Eagles win the Superbowl, but more were probably bemused by one of the primetime slots of halftime being bought by Netflix to announce they will premiere The Cloverfield Paradox straight after the game finishes. The film ended up being terrible, undoing the good work of 10 Cloverfield Lane by making us wish for a quick death to one of the more bizarre franchises out there. We are also still reeling from Paramount’s pessimistic decision to sell the international rights of Alex Garland’s next film; Annihilation to the streaming giant. The larger conclusion to come out of this decision is that Netflix may have become Hollywood’s dumping ground. At once a place that studios feared, they are now the ‘sunken place’ for studios who lack confidence. A place to regain budgets theoretically lost and a stark reminder that it is still the studios who have the power, not its talent. So far so good it seems for Netflix. Not even critics could take down Bright, a film that garnered some pretty scathing reviews but was watched by over 11m people in its first few days, enough for them to immediately greenlight a sequel and fire back with the age-old ‘this is for the fans, not the critics’ spiel. Given Netflix and Amazon’s low profile role at Sundance, this looks to be a new and intriguing branch of their strategy. Time will tell what role Netflix will play for the studio system, and ultimately how critic-proof its streaming acquisitions can be.
This may seem depressing for the avid cinemagoer, but these streaming companies are now part of our day to day lives in consuming media. And with every The Cloverfield Paradox there is The 13th and for every Mute there is Mudbound. That is the beauty of this distribution model, the choice is placed in our hands, in our homes, if you don’t like it you can swiftly move onto another choice before finding gold. This month is a great example of that choice, with highly anticipated releases around every corner. A reminder that these companies play an important role in the cultural landscape. So here they are.
Love Season 3 – Judd Apatow, Leslie Arfin
Available on Netflix from March 9th
It is ironic that Love is the Netflix original that I have the most love/hate relationship with. On the one hand, it manages to convey a realistic look at the complexities of a burgeoning relationship, but one which sometimes does so with the subtlety of a Nic Cage movie. Love feels like a constant cycle of one half of the couple fucking up, a consequential fiery argument which leads to some form of reconciliation. This is an attempt to recreate the authenticity of a real relationship, everybody fucks up sometimes, everybody fights and most of the time everybody makes up. The problem for Love is the way we watch it, an issue which is in some ways out of their control. As we know binge-watching is more or less a Netflix creation and to binge watch their relationship makes each episodes cycle grow tiresome and frustrating. So why do I still watch it, and more to the point why should you?
The answer to this is that its writers and creators, Judd Apatow and Leslie Arfin, have sprinkled so much charm and empathy over its main (Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs) and supporting characters (the brilliant Claudia O’Doherty) that with every fuck up and makeup we feel both angry that they messed it up and smile when they reunite. Without sounding too saccharine, their relationship becomes ours and whilst not all scenes will resonate with your own relationships, most do. This is Love’ final season and I am gearing up for the same frustrations I felt during its first and second season, but I’ve ridden the storms of their relationship, and I’ll be damned if I don’t see it through to its (fingers crossed) bitter end. What can I say, I’m a cynic.
Atlanta Season 2 – Donald Glover
Available on FX in March (UK airdate to be confirmed)
Donald Glover is about to have a huge year. Soon to take his bow in the Star Wars universe in Solo, Glover is going from strength to strength, in fact, people were so enamored by him in the films latest trailer that even his sartorial choice gained positive word of mouth. It’s weird that in a film revolving around Han Solo, the buzz surrounds Glover’s performance as Lando Calrissian. But before that comes the second season of his hit show Atlanta. Having won awards at the Golden Globes and Emmy’s, the expectations around this season and its creator and star are rightfully high. Glover has even confidently stated that the “ante has been pushed up to 11”. This season will see Earn (Glover) continue to try and get by raising his kid whilst trying to manage his cousin Alfred’s burgeoning career as local rapper Paper Boi. Atlanta may seem straightforward in its plot but the shows real strength is in its subversion and how Glover cleverly navigates his own protagonist through what it means to be Black in America. Take the Black America Network (B.N.A) episode of the first season for example. A surreal take on real-life network B.E.T, which separated the viewer from the strands of the plot to delve into an alternate take on the Atlanta universe, commenting on the role the media plays in the indictment of Black culture. For a half-hour TV show to take such a step is an indicator of the talent in front of, and behind the camera.
It’s confident and unpredictable television from an already prominent yet still rising star at the top of his game. I expect Season 2 will continue his rise, and Atlanta will remain one of the most important television shows in a congested viewing field.
Annihilation – Alex Garland
Available on Netflix from March 12th
When Alex Garland made his directorial debut with Ex Machina the world came to see that the talent Garland has at writing was equally as transferable to directing. It was a film that in some ways is overlooked, a slow and gestating thriller which works its way under the skin through an incredibly strong performance from every member of its small and talented cast. Which makes it all the more disappointing that Paramount made the decision to sell overseas distribution rights to Netflix, a decision which was derided by Garland himself. For Netflix however, it is a win/win situation, they get the opportunity to release a high budget film from a blossoming director with an all-star cast and at the same time they look like the good guys, saving the day from a fatalistic studio who did not want to take the risk. Annihilation stars a strong female cast led by Natalie Portman as a biologist and former Soldier Lena whose husband (Oscar Isaacs) goes into a coma after coming back from a quarantined zone referred to as The Shimmer. As a consequence Lena volunteers to re-enter the quarantined area alongside psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), paramedic Anya (Gina Rodriguez) and physicist Josie (Tessa Thompson). Upon entering The Shimmer, nothing appears as it seems.
Annihilation has been released in the States to mixed critical response, but the consensus is that films such as this kind of film must be made, we certainly don’t want studios to shy away from making intellectual and challenging films with talents such as Garland at the helm. But Paramount’s decision may have actually been the right one. On release in the States, the film has struggled to make a significant portion of its budget back, so by selling the rights, Paramount may actually make back its money. As a consequence of taking the sting out of theoretical theatrical loss, the studio may still continue to make these type of films. But without this deal maybe they would think twice before giving talent like Garland a budget. Without being too cynical, I look at the image above and wonder if Paramount would have made the same decision if it was an all-male cast that led the expedition into The Shimmer? Probably not.
Flint Town – Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper
Available on Netflix from March 2nd
Netflix may be making a name for itself for all the wrong reasons with its acquisitions of feature films, but it is the polar opposite when it comes to their documentary catalog. Ever expanding, Netflix has gradually become a haven for high-quality documentaries. Robbed of Best Documentary at The Oscars last year with Ava DuVernay’s brilliant 13th, they walked away with statuette this year with the superb Icarus. This month they add to their documentary library again with the brilliant fly on the wall series Flint Town. Flint, Michigan may be known for the awful water poisoning it has faced since 2014. However, that is not the focus here. Instead, Flint Town chooses to focus on the cities law enforcement and the many challenges it faces both on the beat and politically behind the scenes. Filmed over a two year period, the series takes an unflinching look at the police department, allowing them and the cities citizens to voice their unfiltered opinions over lack of funding, police shootings, drugs, the water problem, and rather importantly, the presidential election.
At times incredibly bleak, Flint Town becomes yet another important and extremely imperative lens to view American society through. Without Netflix flying the flag for documentaries, it is hard to see how series such as this would be seen by the masses.
Fireworks (Hana-bi) – Takeshi Kitano
20th Anniversary available to buy from Amazon
Japanese cinema has no shortage of icons. Whether it be Kurosawa, Ozu or Mizoguchi who oversaw post-war Japans cinematic renaissance, or be it, Imamura, Miyazaki, Kurosawa (again) and the prolific Takashi Miike who honorably took the baton from their predecessors; there are a plethora of iconic directors to choose from. All are part of Japan’s continued eminence in cinematic history. But one person whose work has always drawn my attention has been the intense and idiosyncratic filmography of Takeshi Kitano. An actor, writer, director, and stand up comedian? Kitano has become synonymous with 90s Japanese cinema, an auteur in the strictest sense, his fast-paced straightforward patchwork editing is as distinctive as his near silent protagonists. His films can be cold, emotionless and extremely violent. His strength is in his unpredictability, cranking scenes up to haute tension before abruptly exploding. His career has often been seen as an introspective attack on his well known comedic persona, and with his camerawork he never really lets the audience in, always keeping them at a distance, the feeling of detachment is what he seeks out from his audience and more often than not he succeeds. None more so than what is widely considered to be his best film: Hana-Bi.
Released 20 years ago this month, Hana-Bi or Fireworks as it is known in the West is one of Japan’s quintessential gangster films. Not only does Kitano direct, write and edit the film he also takes the role as its protagonist, Yoshitaka Nishi, a retired police officer who runs afoul of the Yakuza having borrowed money from them to help look after his ill wife. Prior to making Hana-Bi, Kitano was involved in a serious motorcycle accident which left half of his face paralyzed. It was after this that his cinematic output underwent a change from searingly paced violent films to more methodical and poignant works, where the output of violence was hidden between the frames of his editing. Kitano has said that after the accident he took up painting as a therapeutic escape, and often believes that the crash was his moment to die, a moment that he was ultimately spared from. Perhaps this is why his films, whilst extremely violent at times, are poignant existential tales that often end in death. Having recently completed his first romantic novel (go figure), Kitano’s next film will be adapting his own work via anime which is due out later this year. For now, I recommend you either become acquantied with Takeshi Kitano, or revisit a film which is on parity with some of the best Japanese cinema has to offer.