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 portrait of a sushi chef, a dark British comedy, and two violent thrillers.
Roughly seven miles from El Paso sits the city of Juárez, a border town that has been called the most dangerous city on Earth. The site of a turf war between cartels, the city saw thousands of murders each year. How did violence flourish so, right on America’s doorstep? Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario offers no clear answers, but it does examine the U.S. government’s role, following FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), who joins a covert mission to crack down on the cartel responsible for a massacre in Arizona. Leading the operation is Department of Defense agent Matt (Josh Brolin), accompanied by Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), an enigma with a philosophical bent.
Sicario is a thriller first and foremost, and Villeneuve expertly wrings his characters (and by extension the audience), beginning with the ominous discovery of bodies in a house followed by a slow escalation of violence over the course of the film. The cautious cinematography raises the tension, aided by the thunderous score. It would be easy for a film like this to slide into mere shock, but Macer provides a moral dimension to the nightmare, trying to stick to her moral code as the mission and her superiors grind her down.
Fleabag season 1
“Fleabag” is a grotesque name for a character, but oddly fitting for the titular protagonist of this series from British writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Struggling to run a cafe after the death of her friend and business partner, Fleabag (Waller-Bridge) has a strained relationship with her sister Claire (Sian Clifford), a tightly-wound and upwardly-mobile woman, and their father (Bill Paterson), an aloof man who has married their godmother. Adrift and unable to connect with anyone in her life, she has an almost bestial appetite for booze and sex, seeking them out simply to scratch an itch, rather than for any actual pleasure. Slouching in the back of a cab, shirt ripped open as she fondles a stolen statuette, she fits in with the pantheon of antihero train-wrecks — Don Draper in mascara.
While Fleabag’s life may seem depressing, the show itself is not. At least, not entirely. Like many of the great comedies of recent years (think Louie), Fleabag finds humor in its protagonist’s many mistakes. Waller-Bridge has a knack for snappy dialogue, imbuing her character with enough wit to keep her charming even when she is self-destructing. The show maintains an intimate focus on its lead; so intimate, that she often breaks the fourth wall, relaying her thoughts to the audience. These interior monologues reveal such a distinct thought process — she opens the first episode with a seemingly romantic meditation culminating in a dirty joke — that they never come across as superfluous.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
To master any art form takes thousands of hours of practice. To perfect it, a lifetime? That seems to be the case for Jiro Ono, the subject of David Gelb’s documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Operating the sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro — the first sushi restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars — since 1965, Ono is considered one the greatest sushi chefs alive, perhaps even the greatest. Yet in his mind, he has not achieved perfection, and his obsession with that is at the heart of Gelb’s film.
Gelb originally wanted to make a documentary touring many sushi restaurants, but was drawn to Ono and his particular story. Ono’s son, in his fifties at the time of filming, is a secondary figure, still working for a father whose work may never be done. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a fascinating and poignant examination of a beautiful craft and the men who work to master it. The human element ensures that, even if you don’t care for cuisine, you’ll be moved nonetheless.
New Girl season 5
While the title and marketing may push New Girl as a Zooey Deschanel solo project, it’s one of the best ensemble comedies on TV these days, following a group of eccentric roommates who try to navigate the realms of business and romance in the 21st century. The first season begins with effervescent schoolteacher Jess (Deschanel) looking for a place to live after breaking up with an unfaithful boyfriend. She settles on an apartment with three men who are already living together: Nick (Jake Johnson), a smart but lazy bartender; Schmidt (Max Greenfield), a neurotic ladies’ man; and Winston (Lamorne Morris), a hapless former basketball-player.
New Girl works quickly to establish the characters. Their personalities and relationships are the core of the show, and while their antics often veer toward the absurd (such as a ridiculously complicated drinking game called “True American”), the show also presents surprisingly honest and intimate views on relationships. Deschanel does fine work as the bubbly, occasionally manic Jess, but the rest of the cast get plenty to work with. Greenfield’s Schmidt is particularly entertaining; like Kramer on Seinfeld, he is the type of character that can steal a show through energy alone.
Based loosely on the story of a 19th century mountain man, Alejandro Iñárritu’s take on the Western genre shows off the director’s visual flair and spirituality, a tale of revenge and survival set against the primal frosts of the old West. The film opens with Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), guiding a band of trappers through Arikara territory, opening with a grueling attack by an Arikara war party. When Glass is mauled by a grizzly (the film’s most famous and savage scene), trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) kills Hawk and steals their possessions, leaving Glass in a shallow grave. Clinging to life, Glass crawls out of the ground and pursues Fitzgerald across miles of cruel terrain.
Iñárritu and his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, are renowned for their camerawork, using lengthy single takes to capture frantic scenes. Their style is on display here, particularly during the bear attack, but one of the most remarkable things about the film is its appreciation for nature. The camera takes in the breadth of the Dakota wilderness, revealing expanses that are truly awe-inspiring in the classic sense: beautiful, but terrifying. DiCaprio won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Glass, but Tom Hardy’s performance is perhaps the most impressive, his marbled-mouthed, wild-eyed trapper always perched on the edge of treachery.