Online streaming is bigger than ever, and with so many streaming services adding new shows and movies every week, it can be nearly impossible to sort through the good and the bad. If you need something to watch and don’t want to wade through the digital muck that washes up on the internet’s shores, follow our picks below for the best new shows and movies worth a watch.
This week: a strange new comedy, a maligned Western, and the adventures of Superman’s cousin.
Atlanta series premiere
Donald Glover once joked that his new show, Atlanta, would be “Twin Peaks with rappers,” and going by the first episode, that is not an entirely inaccurate description. Frequently depicting the titular city as dreamlike (and occasionally nightmarish), Atlanta is a surreal comedy; fitting, given how its protagonists want so much to change the reality of their lives. The show centers on “Earn” Marks (Glover), a guy with not much going for him. He sells credit plans at an airport. He crashes with the mother of his daughter, Van (Zazie Beetz), who is actively dating other people. So when his cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) becomes an up-and-coming rapper, Earn decides to hitch his wagon to him. Atlanta is certainly funny, but often in tragic ways, exploring the struggles of poverty, making music in the age of piracy, and the black experience in America. It is a bold, experimental work, and it reinforces Glover’s reputation as one of the sharpest minds in comedy today.
The film that not only launched Steven Spielberg’s career, but also the very concept of the summer blockbuster, Jaws is a tense and often terrifying thriller, pitting its protagonists against an unseen, unstoppable force of nature. The film opens with a young woman being killed by something in the waters near Amity Island. When the authorities determine the culprit to be a shark, Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) attempts to close the beaches. When the Mayor shoots down Brody’s idea to preserve Fourth of July, the determined chief teams up with oceanographer Mathew Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and ruthless shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) to seek out and kill the beast. Spielberg wisely keeps the shark offscreen for much of the film, one of many techniques that keep the film tense. Although it was the first blockbuster, Jaws is a surprisingly restrained film, keeping the focus on its core characters and their motivations, like a more succinct Moby Dick.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Steven Sondheim’s acclaimed (and gruesome) musical makes a shockingly good transition to film courtesy of Tim Burton, whose eye for nightmarish imagery is a perfect match for this twisted tale of revenge. The film opens in 19th century London, where barber Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp), now going by the alias Sweeney Todd, returns to seek revenge on Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), who sent Barker to jail so that he could claim his wife, Johanna. Todd’s only goal for returning is revenge. He sets up shop on fleet street, where he gets a taste for blood, with the help of Mrs. Lovett (Helen Bonham Carter), who disposes of the bodies by baking them into pies. It is a ghoulish story, accompanied by dark, operatic musical numbers. Depp embodies Todd’s barely-concealed menace, all snarls and hungry looks, and the cast, including Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen, perform Sondheim’s music well.
Infamous for prematurely killing the career of director Michael Cimino, who was coming on the heels of the highly successful film The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate has seen a lot of critical reappraisal in recent years. Set in late 19th century Wyoming, the film is a highly fictionalized take on the Johnson County War, in which cattle barons employed armed gangs to wipe out lower class settlers. At the center of the conflict are Jim Averill (Kris Kristofferson) and Nate Champion (Christopher Walken) — a Marshal and an enforcer, respectively. The friendship between the two is complicated — both by the blossoming conflict as well as their romantic connections to Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert), a madam whose connections to cattle rustlers make her a target. Heaven’s Gate is vast in scope, and at points, a bit overstuffed. It’s one of the most ambitious Westerns ever made, however, presenting an unflinching look at literal class warfare in American history.
While DC Comics’ recent film outings have been thrashed by critics, the publisher’s characters have found surprising success on television. Joining the pantheon sparked by Arrow and The Flash is Supergirl, which follows the exploits of Superman’s cousin, Kara (Melissa Benoist). Raised by the Danvers, friends of Superman, Kara is forced to step up and protect the planet when an alien threat emerges. Although it may not be as epic in scope as the recent Superman films, Supergirl has a charming optimism to it, much like the comic books it draws inspiration from. Layered in Greg Berlanti’s ever present teen-drama aesthetic, Supergirl’s best feature is its heroine. Benoist is perfect as the confident, effervescent super being, and the show’s serialized nature gives the stories plenty of breathing room.