If you’re like me, you spend a lot of your time during your Coronavirus pandemic self-isolation by watching a truckload of films and shows. In this edition of Special Features, I have listed several films and television shows that I have watched recently. Also, I obviously recommend that my readers watch both Westworld and Better Call Saul, but since I am reviewing — or plan to review — these shows, I won’t be discussing them in this article. In fact, I don’t currently plan to write lengthy reviews of most of the shows or films that I am specifically writing about in this article. However, that does not mean that I don’t have plenty of shows or films that I want to recommend. Let’s dive in.
I recommend: Joyous movies that brighten your day
Look, I’m going to suggest and recommend some films and shows that require heavy discussion or that deal with topic matters that you may not be in the right headspace to handle right now. Let me make it absolutely clear that it is always totally acceptable to refrain from watching something if you suspect it will make you depressed. With that in mind, I wanted to suggest and recommend a handful of films that may make you smile and think of happier days.
Singin’ in the Rain is a true classic that should lift your spirits, so if you’ve somehow never seen it, then watch it post-haste. Ratatouille is a wonderfully warm Pixar film that I love more and more the more I watch it. If you live outside of North America, a large number of Studio Ghibli films have been added to the Netflix library. While I am not yet a Studio Ghibli expert, I know that these movies have a reputation of being comfort food for cinephiles. I also think it is a great time to watch a movie like Sing Street, which deserves so many more eyes on it than it has already gotten. That is an outstanding, feel-good musical coming-of-age film that I think people of all ages will enjoy. So, sit back, relax, and get your mind on other things.
And, well, if you don’t want that then…
I, sort of, recommend: Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion and select other films about pandemics or deadly diseases
I recommend Contagion, and films like it, only to those people who can stomach that kind of information and ‘entertainment.’ Right now, I suspect that there are many people who absolutely should not watch films like this as they may make you even more panicky. But if you still want to potentially torture yourself with your entertainment, then Contagion is as relevant and interesting as you have been told. This is a great Soderbergh film, and, I also think, that it is very scary to watch in times like these. It just so happens that the scariest movie of 2020 was released in 2011.
Now, there are, of course, many films about viruses or diseases or even pandemics. There are even a lot of films about self-isolation. While I don’t intend to list all of these films, I would like to mention just a few other films that may pique your interest and which are all worth your time, while you are stuck at home. I recently rewatched Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, which I think is one of the great recent studio releases featuring isolation. If you want to watch recent zombie films, then I would recommend films like Train to Busan, World War Z, and 28 Hours Later. Also, if you’ve never seen the films, I also highly recommend the recent Planet of the Apes-trilogy, which features one sequence in particular that I thought about immediately when the coronavirus started to spread in countries all over the world.
I recommend: Netflix’s Tiger King
It’s crazy. It really is. Believe the hype. Tiger King is a docuseries about a larger-than-life former zoo operator, ‘Joe Exotic,’ who allegedly hired someone to kill a prominent animal rights activist. It is a seven-episode-long docuseries wherein which every episode tells us something unbelievable about Joe Exotic and other tiger enthusiasts. I ended up watching it all in one sitting, and I have thought about it almost every day since then.
Is it perhaps an episode or two too long? Yeah, I do think so, but, then again, I also wish the docuseries would’ve had time to actually investigate and criticize select individuals more. So, sure, there are things that might’ve made Tiger King a better documentary. Specifically, it could’ve been tighter and more scolding, but, as it is, it is still a must-see docuseries. Tiger King is this year’s The Jinx.
I recommend: HBO’s The Outsider
If you miss True Detective and also really like supernatural series, then The Outsider is right up your alley. It is a horror crime series based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. The series follows Detective Ralph Anderson (played by Ben Mendelsohn) who, after having arrested a family friend for the vicious murder of a young boy, struggles to accept the theory that a murder suspect has been in two places at once. Soon Holly Gibney (played by Cynthia Erivo), a private investigator, presents Ralph with another theory that is both scary and unbelievable.
This is, on the whole, an amazing show. I think it can be really scary and that it is sometimes very tense. Mendelsohn and Erivo are terrific in the series, and supporting actor Jason Bateman is very good as well. While I really like the show, it is true that it does peak in the second episode. The first episodes are outstanding, and thereafter it becomes a much slower series. But, frankly, the only major problem that I have with the series is that I think the ending was a little bit underwhelming. However, the journey towards the ending was very good, and I don’t think you’ll experience pacing issues with the series if you binge-watch it during the pandemic.
I recommend: Netflix’s Locke & Key
If you are in the mood for Stranger Things but have watched that series over and over again, then I do recommend that you give Locke & Key, which was released on Netflix in February, a chance. It is based on the Joe Hill comic book series of the same name, and it is a fairly entertaining young adult supernatural series. Did it eventually run out of steam, in my opinion? Yeah, it did, but I think this is a solid spooky show for parents to watch with their teenagers during the pandemic. I am very much looking forward to the second season.
I’m not yet sure if I can actually recommend: Prime Video’s Hunters
What is it with Amazon Prime Video and World War II? One of its first streaming hit series was The Man in the High Castle about an alternate history in which the Axis powers won the second world war. And now we have Hunters, from producer Jordan Peele, a show about a team of American Nazi hunters with a cast consisting of actors such as Al Pacino, Logan Lerman, and Saul Rubinek. As you may have noticed, this isn’t a complete recommendation and there is a simple reason why.
The 90-minute pilot from director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon does a good job of presenting the show. It is a terrific, albeit predictable and profanity-laden, curtain-raiser complete with character reveals, grizzly killings, and mystery. The first scene in the series is a violence-filled and attention-grabbing shocker. Though there is profanity to be found here as well as some over-the-top humor, it is nothing compared to the humor and tone of the second episode. Episode two was made by a different director and it shows. There is a completely different tone, and style, to the series in episode two, which is a little bit jarring. It almost felt, to me, like the show transformed into something different. It feels more like comedic exploitation fiction. The second episode has multiple almost fourth-wall-breaking and daydreaming sequences where B-movie caricatures are introduced and heightened. In one sequence, we see how they could’ve easily been B-movie characters in a film from Orion Pictures. In an early sequence, the main character imagines that each hunter was introduced to him by a girl at her Bat Mitzvah. It is very odd, pretty funny, and much less serious and tension-filled than the aforementioned pilot.
It is a mixture of Inglourious Basterds and X-Men: First Class, and though it kept my attention for a long time, I don’t think the show works as well as it should. Ultimately, while I, on the whole, liked watching the show, I still haven’t finished the first season, and I don’t know when I’ll get back to it. That said, I do think this is an entertaining show to binge-watch.
I recommend: Alex Garland’s Devs (Hulu/FX)
I believe in Alex Garland’s ability as a writer and a director of science-fiction content. Garland is the writer of films such as Sunshine and 28 Days Later, and the director of films like Ex Machina and Annihilation. His latest project is Devs, a science-fiction thriller mini-series about the sudden disappearance of a talented Russian-born programmer. The programmer disappeared on his first day in his new position in a secretive tech company led by Forest (played by Nick Offerman), a sullen CEO. It is a fascinating series that is surprisingly relaxing. I’ve only seen the first couple of episodes of the series, but I like what I’m seeing thus far. In Denmark, Devs is currently available to watch on HBO Nordic.
I recommend: FXX’s Dave
I do want to recommend a comedy, as well. Dave is a sitcom that has taken me by surprise. It is a sitcom about a fictionalized version of the real-life rapper Dave ‘Lil Dicky’ Burd’s rise to popularity starring Dave Burd himself. You may know him from his popular charity single “Earth,” or his many popular music videos. Burd is talented and has a comedic style to his music, and I’ve listened to his songs for a couple of years now. His stage name ‘Lil Dicky,’ which he also uses in the show, is obviously a great source of comedy, and, although there may be better sitcoms out there, I think this is a solid new option if you’ve watched great sitcoms like The Office, Scrubs, or Community over and over again. Like Devs, Dave, of which I have also only seen a small handful of episodes, is currently available on HBO Nordic in Denmark.
I recommend: Netflix’s Sunderland ‘Til I Die
Netflix just released the second and likely final season of Sunderland ‘Til I Die a few days ago, and if you miss sports and sport entertainment during the pandemic, then I think this docuseries will scratch your itch. The first season documents the experiences of a once major association football club following a nasty relegation from arguably the best league in the world — The Premier League. In the first season, we see the local community, the players, and the management come together in an attempt to save the club from insignificance and turmoil.
Sunderland A.F.C. need to secure automatic promotion, but that project quickly becomes even more difficult than anyone ever imagined. I, like many other football fans, really miss the sport right now, and I’m really happy that Netflix released the second season at this very moment. I highly recommend this docuseries for the very reason that both seasons actually pull you behind the curtain and give you insight into the way modern football works.
I can’t recommend: Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply
Here at the very end of the article, I want to mention a film that I decided to watch on a whim, but which turned out to be a pretty sizable disappointment. While I don’t necessarily recommend that you watch this film, it might be an interesting film to watch back-to-back with Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator to see how different filmmakers treat the story of Howard Hughes. Frankly, Beatty’s film pales in comparison to Martin Scorsese’s aforementioned near-masterpiece, which almost seems relevant right now considering its scenes wherein DiCaprio is washing his hands aggressively. Warren Beatty’s film, however, is clumsily edited, generally superficial, repetitive, and unfocused. I thought that the conclusion to the romance plot was unconvincing, even though rising stars Alden Ehrenreich and Lily Collins were perfectly fine in the film.
This was just a small selection of the kinds of entertainment content that you could watch right now. One of the most obvious solutions to an empty watchlist is to rent or buy the films that have now been released on VOD as a direct result of the pandemic, which is keeping plenty of notable films out of theaters. As I may end up reviewing those films in the future, I decided against including them in the article. However, since I have already reviewed them on the site, I highly recommend both Birds of Prey and The Invisible Man, both of which should be available on VOD in most territories.
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.