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 chilling sci-fi series is back on Netflix, a great director investigates the life and death of a bear enthusiast, and two of cinema’s great lovers get a little older.
Black Mirror season 3
The Information Age has brought so many revolutions in the way people think, work, and communicate, it is hard to see how one can be pessimistic without being a luddite. Watch a few episodes of Black Mirror though, and you may find yourself tempted to throw your electronics on the bonfire. The show is an anthology series in the vein of The Twilight Zone, with most episodes falling into science-fiction territory. Many episodes are set in a not-too-distant future, exploring issues related to technology and societal changes, and they are often terrifyingly prescient.
True to its name, Black Mirror offers up horrific reflections of current trends, such as the rampages of social media mobs or the dangers of gamification. Even at its most satirical, it is a bleak show. Black Mirror never falls into nihilism, however; even in its ugliest depictions of the world, it keeps an eye on the human elements, and the emotional impact that emerging technologies can have. As with all anthologies, the quality varies with each episode, but even the weakest episodes are some of the most provocative sci-fi on television. Season 3, from BBC’s Charlie Brooker, premieres on Netflix with six more episodes of awesome.
Few filmmaking techniques have worn out their welcome as quickly as “found-footage.” Once an effective tool for horror films to unsettle audiences through first-person perspective and the power of suggestion, the technique has become a way for studios to crank out low-risk, high-reward projects with little thought for artistry. Occasionally, however, a film comes along that breathes new life into tired tropes. For found-footage, that film is Trollhunter, a Norwegian movie that reimagines classic folktales in a modern setting.
The film begins with three students, Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørck), and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen), investigating an alleged poacher. After a long search, they find their target, Hans (Otto Jespersen), as well as the creature he is actually hunting: a troll. Astounded by the existence of a mythological creature, they join Hans on his patrols, hoping to document more of the beasts. However absurd the premise may sound, Trollhunter is anchored by impressive creature designs; rooted in folklore, the trolls are bizarre and fearsome, and they are animated well. This is a singular film, blending fantasy, horror, and even some political satire.
“Is it gonna happen, that one day we read a news article about you being eaten by one of these bears?” That is the question David Letterman laughingly put to naturalist Timothy Treadwell, who spent more than a decade documenting and interacting with bears in Katmai National Park. A dark moment in hindsight, as a bear ultimately killed and ate Treadwell and his girlfriend. Treadwell is the subject of Werner Herzog’s documentary Grizzly Man, in which the director examines hundreds of hours of the man’s footage and interviewing those close to and critical of him, trying to gain an understanding of his motives and man’s relationship with nature.
The portrait that emerges is one of a man destroyed by his tragic passion; some would reasonably call him mentally ill. For Herzog, whose films like Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo followed protagonists driven by fanatical desires, Treadwell is a fitting subject. While Herzog is consistent in his apt criticism that Treadwell foolishly crossed the boundaries separating man from beasts, there is an undercurrent of admiration; here was a young filmmaker with an eye for beauty, one who occasionally captured the sublime. Grizzly Man is tragically compelling documentary, and a sobering warning to viewers that nature is not friendly, but ravenous and indifferent.
Venus in Fur
Adapted from a stage play by David Ives (which, in turn, is inspired by a 19th century novel), Venus in Fur examines power dynamics between men and women through lengthy conversations between two people. Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) is a playwright, preparing a stage adaption of the novel Venus in Furs, in which a man convinces a woman he is smitten with to engage in some sadomasochistic role play. One night, as he is lamenting the terrible auditions he saw that day for the role of Wanda von Dunayev, a woman named Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) appears, eager to audition. They do a reading, her as the dominatrix, him as the infatuated submissive.
It becomes clear very soon that the attraction is more than show, as the two slip into their characters with a little too much gusto. The power struggle goes beyond the page; Thomas views the play as a story of love, Vanda sees it as a misogynistic fantasy, and their clash of ideas manifests physically. Nearly the entirety of the film takes place in a cramped theater, the camera trapping them in frame. Given its roots as a stage play, Venus in Fur leans heavily on its cast to deliver stunning performances, and Amalric and Seigner rise to the occasion. The film is titillating, to be sure, but has enough going on beneath the surface to stimulate the mind as well.
Released and set nine years after Before Sunrise, this film by Richard Linklater reunites the star-crossed lovers from that film, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), for the first time since they parted ways in Vienna. Jesse, having turned their story into a successful novel, is in Paris for his book tour; Celine drops in to see him. With only an hour before Jesse must leave to catch his plane, the two of them walk the streets of Paris, talking and taking in the sights.
Whereas Before Sunrise captured the ephemeral beauty of youth and lust, Before Sunset evokes the sweet pangs of running into an old friend. As in the first film, this outing is largely driven by dialogue; Jesse and Celine about their time in Vienna, why they never returned, how their lives have changed since then. The midday sun hangs overhead, bathing the city in a warm glow. Linklater films them in long, uninterrupted takes as they stroll, giving the film a natural look. The interactions feel authentic, with dialogue interrupted by pauses and filler. Before Sunset, like its protagonists, is a more mature version of its younger self: recognizably the same, but a little wearier, a little wiser.