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.
The Young Pope Season 1
Although its title may seem a bit silly, The Young Pope is a remarkably intelligent show, and one of the most bizarre projects on television. The series follows Lenny Belardo (Jude Law), an American bishop chosen as the next Pope. Although the leaders of the Catholic Church expect him to be a friendly face for the pop-culture era, Lenny has other ideas. Deeply conservative, Lenny — adopting the name Pius XIII — seeks to return the Church to its glory days, pushing a message of of spiritual struggle and exclusivity.
Directed by Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino, The Young Pope is a beautiful, polished series. Sorrentino takes a formal approach, carefully composing every detail on screen for maximum effect. Like many of the great television dramas, the show is largely a character study, a meditation on faith and God’s absence through the lens of a man who claims to be closer to God than anyone. Fitting for a story about the divine, the show is appropriately weird. The show employs surreal — sometimes nightmarish — imagery throughout, giving the impression that we are witnessing a world with a touch of the supernatural.
From the opening moments of It Follows, director David Robert Mitchell establishes a tone of creeping dread, as a young woman flees an unseen pursuer, the camera crawling behind her. Like many great horror films, It Follows takes relatable emotions — the creepy feeling of someone watching you from afar, and the anxieties surrounding sex — and expounds on them. After the gruesome opening, the film centers on Jay (Maika Monroe), a high school student in Detroit who sleeps with her boyfriend, Hugh (Jake Weary), for the first time. Teenage lust quickly gives way to fear when Hugh reveals that he was cursed, and has passed his demonic problem on to her; she will be stalked by a shape-shifting creature that is always moving toward her, and the only way to get rid of the curse is to pass it on through sex.
It Follows is an intensely creepy film, not just due to the premise, but also Mitchell’s adept filmmaking. The creature can look like anyone, and Mitchell offers glimpses at figures moving in the background throughout scenes, such that any passerby seem like they could be the creature. Like Jay, the viewer develops a sense of paranoia that never lets up. That feeling is accentuated by a relentless electronica soundtrack, full of pulsing, fuzzy synths and pounding drums.
The Investigator: A British Crime Story
The true crime genre has undergone a mighty resurgence lately, with podcasts like Serial and shows like Making a Murderer developing huge followings. True to its name, The Investigator examines a crime that took place in Britain, the disappearance of Carol Packman in 1985. Packman’s husband, Russell Causley, was eventually convicted of her murder. However, her body was ever found, and the series follows former police officer Mark Williams-Thomas as he investigates the circumstances surrounding Packman’s disappearance and tries to bring some closure to her daughter, Samantha Gillingham.
In addition to historical footage and interviews, The Investigator also features reenactments of events, and along with some dramatic music, the presentation occasionally takes on the air of a tabloid story; as Williams-Thomas explains in the opening minutes, this is a case involving murder, sex, and even fraud, a perfect recipe for drama. Williams-Thomas never loses sight of the grief at the heart of the case, though, and comes across as genuinely concerned for Gillingham and the answers that have eluded her. Although not as earth-shattering as something like The Jinx, The Investigator is still a gripping crime story.
After a long streak of critical failures, director M. Night Shyamalan had become somewhat of a joke among filmgoers. For those who remember the promise of his early films, The Visit may be a welcome return to form, a tense and mostly restrained thriller. The Visit follows teens Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), who are visiting their grandparents, whom they have never met, for the first time while their mother is on vacation. Their grandparents instruct them to stay in bed after 9:30 p.m., and to never go into the basement, and very soon the children start to notice some strange behavior.
Framed as a documentary filmed by the kids, The Visit falls into the oft-maligned (and rightly so) genre of “found footage” films. Thankfully, Shyamalan plays to the genre’s strengths, keeping the horror off screen or in the shadows to maximize the tension. While the film does involve the perfunctory Shyamalan twist, the plot is much more grounded than his usual works, relying on simple but effective scares rather than surprising, convoluted revelations.
A masterless samurai (Toshiro Mifune) strolls into a town overrun with violence; two rival gangs have been fighting for control. A local man offers the samurai — who calls himself Kuwabatake Sanjuro, or “30-year-old mulberry field” — a job as bodyguard. Sanjuro decides to stick around, but not for altruistic reasons; as he muses, “I’ll get paid for killing. And this town is full of people who deserve to die.” That line sums up Yojimbo’s outlook, a film in which there are no heroes, only unscrupulous men hoping to come out on top. Sanjuro’s plan is to offer his services as a swordsman to both sides, playing them off each other and eventually walking away a wealthy man.
The premise for Yojimbo may seem familiar to fans of Westerns; indeed, Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, one of the most influential Westerns ever made, was virtually a remake of this film. Director Akira Kurosawa was himself influenced by the noir novels of Dashiell Hammett, and that shows in the film’s ethical morass. Mifune is excellent as the vagabond antihero; he prowls through scenes, shoulders raised, head lowered, like a dog waiting to strike. Yojimbo may not be as fast-paced as more modern samurai films, but it maintains a terrifying power even in its quietest moments.