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Five shows to stream this week: Westerns, romances, and more

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 new sci-fi series, a classic Western, and two European vacations.

Westworld

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There is a dearth of high-minded science-fiction on screens these days, where ideas, not CGI slugfests, are the primary attraction. HBO’s Westworld, loosely adapted from a film by Michael Crichton, aspires to be a serious sci-fi series, asking big questions about ethics and the nature of consciousness; whether it can do these subjects justice remains to be seen, but the first episode showed impressive ambition, introducing viewers to a world that jumps between genres and tones. It is a classic Western nestled within a sci-fi story, a show willing to throw in a player-piano cover of Black Hole Sun, regardless of how bizarre it sounds. Awkward as it can be, this is a show with moxie.

The primary setting is one giant, Western-theme amusement park. The cowboys, prostitutes, lawmen, and other locals are all androids, programmed to think they are human and designed to serve the whims of the flesh-and-blood tourists who visit. Those whims can be violent, but as their memories are wiped with the passing of each day, the machines do not seem to mind. At least, until some of them start to dredge up old feelings. With a massive cast and gorgeous visuals, Westworld is being setup as the sci-fi successor to Game of Thrones, kicking off a sci-fi renaissance. It could also be another high-concept show that simply could not stick the landing. At the very least, it is one of the most interesting things on television right now.

Available on:

HBO

I Saw the Devil

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South Korea has produced a slew of revenge films (most famously Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy), but few reach the extremes of I Saw the Devil, which follows a government agent’s extended plan to punish a monster. The agent in question is Kim Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun), a member of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. After serial killer Jang Kyung-chul murders his wife, Soo-hyun tracks Jang down, beats him unconscious, and plants a tracking device in his body. This is only the beginning of Jang’s punishment, as Soo-hyun lets him escape, using the transmitter to follow him wherever he goes.

It is the type of premise that could easily veer into schlock, but director Kim Jee-woon puts great care into the composition of the film. Making great use of light and shadow and often keeping the characters in confined spaces, I Saw the Devil feels like a horror film inverted, the hero stalking and dominating his vile prey at every turn. Restraint is perhaps the wrong word to use, but Kim is very careful with the pacing, even as the film veers into stranger territory. A slow march to damnation, I Saw the Devil is essential viewing for fans of thrillers, provided they can stomach some truly gruesome moments.

Available on:

Amazon

Midnight in Paris

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As he did in Manhattan, Woody Allen opens Midnight in Paris with a montage of scenes from the titular city. Where Manhattan’s prologue was bombastic, Rhapsody in Blue climaxing over scenes of fireworks and neon signs, Midnight in Paris begins leisurely, as a languid saxophone strolls over iconic images from the City of Lights: the pyramid of The Louvre reclining against a golden sunset, the Eiffel Tower blazing in the night. Paris is a city of poets and adventurers, protagonist Gil (Owen Wilson) explains to his unamused fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), who prefers their home in Malibu.

Gil is a dreamer, tired of churning out dull (if profitable) screenplays for Hollywood. Writing his first novel, he wants to steep himself in the tradition of expatriates like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, writers whom he actually meets, miraculously enough, over the course of the film. Leaving Inez and her insufferable friends one night to wander Paris after dark, Gil finds a city of magic and inspiration, and a chance to reflect on what is missing in his life.

Available on:

Amazon Hulu

Once Upon a Time in the West

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Three men wait at a train station for an almost painfully tense amount of time. At last, the man they are meant to kill appears, a harmonica heralding his arrival. The Man with the Harmonica (Charles Bronson) asks if they brought a horse for him. “Looks like we’re shy one horse,” comes the reply with a laugh. Harmonica shakes his head. “You brought two too many.” Their smiles drop, and soon their bodies follow. A grueling buildup to a lightning climax, and among the most memorable opening scenes in the history of the Western. Sergio Leone may have made his name with the Eastwood-starring Dollars Trilogy, but he made his magnum opus with Once Upon a Time in the West, which carries on from that brilliant opening to tell a story of revenge and the encroachment of the modern world on the Wild West.

The film follows various intersecting storylines, all drawn together around the town of Flagstone. Eager to own the Sweetwater property, a railroad tycoon (Gabriele Ferzetti) uses hired gun Frank (Henry Fonda) to kill the current tenants. The deceased landowner’s new wife, Jill (Claudia Cardinale), arrives in town to take over the estate, putting her in Frank’s crosshairs. For protection, she turns to an unlikely duo: the Man with the Harmonica, who has a grudge against Frank. Once Upon a Time in the West is a slow-burn, with long stretches of the film as sparsely flecked with dialog as the plains around Flagstone, but it’s well worth the watch.

Available on:

Amazon Netflix

Before Sunrise

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If there is a common theme that runs through Richard Linklater’s films, it is time, and how the passage of time impacts people. In the case of Before Sunrise, he follows two young strangers through a single day, watching as their relationship blossoms. The film opens with two travelers, American man Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French woman Céline (Julie Delpy), meeting on a train to Vienna. They talk: about themselves, relationships, studies they’ve read and books they are reading. When they reach Vienna, where Jesse is to wait for a plane back to America, he proposes that Céline get off with him, to spend a day together rather than doing nothing in particular.

Ironically, nothing in particular is what they end up doing, wandering Vienna and conversing at length about various topics. There is romance, but the film does not rush it. Linklater is interested in the wondrous connections people form in mundane circumstances. There is no real conflict, no love triangle or life-threatening peril, just two people exploring a new city and each other. The camerawork is naturalistic and without flair, letting dialog and acting drive the film rather than technical sorcery. The movie, which spawned a trilogy, is truly one of the most honest romances ever put on film.

Available on:

Amazon