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 legendary boxer trains the next generation, a lawyer sings her way through emotional crises, and more.
The announcement of yet another sequel to Rocky may have raised some groans. After six films that saw everyman boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) conquer his rivals, his demons, and even the Soviet Union, what story could be left to tell? Another underdog tale, as it turns out, but with some meaningful twists to the formula. Creed is the story of Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of Rocky’s late friend and rival, Apollo Creed. Raised by Apollo’s widow, Donnie makes a living working a white collar job, but the gravity of his father’s legacy pulls him toward the world of boxing. Arriving in Philadelphia, he seeks out the long-retired Rocky, who agrees to train him.
While the framework of Creed will be familiar to fans of sports movies, director Ryan Coogler injects enough fresh blood to give the story vigor. The film explores the weight of legacies, and how the cruel hand of time brings even the mightiest men down. Jordan is excellent as Donnie, torn between a desire to make his own name and live up to his father’s. Stallone gives one of his greatest performances as the elderly Balboa, a man whose grit is all the more noticeable after the ravages of time.
Roman Empire: Reign of Blood
Reign of Blood may be a schlocky title, reminiscent of third-rate fantasy novels, but look past it and you will find an entertaining and informative documentary series that delves into one of Rome’s more intriguing and least known emperors. The subject is Commodus, who inherited the empire from his renowned father, Marcus Aurelius, whose accomplishments make Commodus’ failings all the more perplexing. While his father was a philosopher-king renowned for his learning, Commodus fashioned himself a heroic warrior, fighting in gladiatorial battles and commissioning statues of himself throughout the empire. He was the first man in generations to inherit the throne by birthright, rather than being appointed, and his reign saw numerous conspiracies and attempts on his life.
The series recognizes how lurid Roman life could be, using dramatic reenactments of the violence, sex, and drama to give viewers a visceral look into the era. There is more than titillation here, however. The dramatic segments are interspersed with commentary from experts on Roman history and culture, and actor Sean Bean provides soothing, scholarly narration.
Burn After Reading
For the Coen Brothers, there seems to be nothing funnier than human stupidity — except maybe the indifferent, chaotic nature of the universe. Their spy-film Burn After Reading distills these concepts into a fast-paced, hilariously nihilistic comedy. The film’s absurdly tangle plot begins when CIA analyst Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) quits his job rather than be demoted, and begins writing a tell-all memoir about his time with the agency. A series of events leaves his files in the hands of a pair of bumbling gym employees, Linda (Frances McDormand) and Chad (Brad Pitt), who, thinking they have important government documents, try to blackmail Cox. Their scheme quickly explodes.
Despite some tragic underpinnings, Burn After Reading is a madcap comedy with a cast of eccentric characters. The writing is sharp — witness the scene where the airheaded Chad’s first phone call to Cox falls apart — and while nearly everyone in the film is either an idiot, a narcissist, or some combination thereof, they are all strangely charming. The cast is a murderer’s row of talented actors, including George Clooney and Tilda Swinton, and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki gives the film a slick look, perfect for spy-themed hijinks.
An aging warlord, hoping to live out the remainder of his life in leisure, divides his kingdom between his three sons. He assumes they will accept the distribution of land; instead, they cast him out and run on each other, leaving the old man to wander his former lands, crazed with grief. So begins Ran, Akira Kurosawa’s masterful adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Kurosawa, who had already successfully adapted Macbeth in Throne of Blood, retains the core elements of the tragedy, but molds it to fit the traditions of Japanese drama.
Ran was the most expensive film in Japanese history at the time of its production, and that extravagance shows. The costumes are striking, drawing upon the aesthetics of Noh theater. The set pieces are grandiose; soldiers march and arrows fly by the thousands. One of Kurosawa’s last films, Ran shows the worldview of a weary artist. The film moves like a storm, approaching slowly, dreadfully, before the fury is upon you.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend season 1
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s jaunty theme song, in which the chorus cheerfully accuses protagonist Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) of being crazy and broken while she meekly protests, is a great illustration of the show’s sensibilities. The musical comedy opens on Rebecca working at a New York City law firm. She is a rising star who is nonetheless depressed. After a run-in with her childhood crush, Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), she moves out to West Covina, California to be with him, unaware that he currently has a girlfriend.
The show embraces the trappings of romantic comedies, but it also recognizes that Rebecca is a flawed character. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend finds humor in all-too-human foibles. This bubbly examination of romantic problems is bolstered by the show’s many eclectic musical numbers. The soundtrack branches out into show tunes, pop ballads, and even Irish drinking songs, and the lyrics are both funny and emotive. One fine example is Love Kernels, a song which mocks overreaching imagery in ballads, using popcorn kernels as a metaphor for Rebecca’s tendency to grab on to Josh’s most innocuous statements.