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 darkly funny sci-fi story, a couple of macho action movies, and a classic tale beautifully retold.
To be single is to be, if not a pariah, at least an object of pity. The pressure from society to find a partner is immense, and only made worse by the proliferation of dating apps, which seem to breed like bacteria. The Lobster, directed by Yorgos Lorthimos, dives into the anxiety of dating and builds a world around it, portraying a society in which single people are given 45 days to find a partner. If they cannot find a human to fall in love with, they are stripped of their humanity altogether, turned into an animal of their choosing.
The film follows one recently divorced man, David (Colin Farell), who arrives at a hotel designed for singles to mingle. The hotel’s various activities take the awkwardness of dating rituals to the extreme. In keeping with the theme of the film, the characters speak in nervous, stilted sentences — to be expected on a blind date where one’s life hangs in the balance. If this all sounds absurd, it is meant to be. This is satirical sci-fi of the darkest order, and The Lobster uses the ridiculously bleak aspects of its world to drive home criticisms of ours. The cruelty of The Lobster is just tough love; this is a movie that wants the best for humanity.
Although it was his first feature film, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs displays all the confidence of a master. The film revolves around a group of men who pull off a heist, but the film never shows it. Instead, we see only the events leading up to the heist and the fallout afterward. In doing so, Reservoir Dogs keeps the focus on the characters, how their relationships grow and how they fall apart.
Tarantino has always been known for his stylish direction, and that is apparent here. The crew is decked out in sleek black suits, and speak in pointed quips. After an extended opening comes a late credits sequence, in which the robbers all walk out of a restaurant to the sound of funky ’70s pop song Little Green Bag. As the credits fade to black, we hear the men panicking in the wake of their botched robbery, a slick moment of emotional whiplash. Tarantino’s script is also clever — take the opening scene, which uses an argument about tipping to establish the distinct personalities of the robbers — and the cast, including Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, and Michael Madsen, delivers memorable performances.
Michael Bay’s first film is also his best — the director’s taste for unyielding, explosive action, and badass heroism reined in by a relatively simple script. The Rock opens with rogue General Frank Hummel (Ed Harris) and his squad of marines stealing a cache of chemical weapons and taking over Alcatraz Island. Armed with nerve gas and hostages, the soldiers demand a large ransom, prompting the government to plan a rescue operation. Along with a Navy SEAL team, the FBI sends in its chemical weapons expert, Stanley Goodspeed (Nic Cage) and a former British spy, John Mason (Sean Connery), who happens to be the one man to escape Alcatraz.
Goodspeed and Mason have a caustic partnership, with plenty of harsh one-liners that range from witty to ridiculous. Cage’s neurotic performance contrasts well with Connery’s gruff, yet charming, spy. Of course, this being a Bay film, characters are second to action, and The Rock delivers with tense gunfights in the claustrophobic halls of the prison. While it may not be the smartest action film, The Rock’s manic action sequences and memorable performances make for a wild ride.
The Neon Demon
Whatever else one might say about Nicolas Winding Refn, there is no denying he has a clear vision for how he wants his films to look. His stories and characters teeter between minimalist and simply vapid, but his style is always gorgeous. Refn’s latest film, The Neon Demon, builds on the aesthetics of his other recent outings, Drive and Only God Forgives: he presents a world of monsters cloaked in brilliant colors, a place where violence and beauty are bound together.
With The Neon Demon, Refn moves away from the criminal elements of his previous films to a culture that is perhaps equally cutthroat: the fashion industry. Protagonist Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a recent arrival to Los Angeles, the glittering mecca for small-town girls eager to make it big. She quickly catches the attention of a photographer and embarks on a modeling career, and her youthful ambitions rub other models the wrong way. The Neon Demon is an eye-catching film, all bright lights and deep shadows, and the sparkling score by Cliff Martinez suits the glamorous but ultimately soulless setting. Although it is no masterpiece, the film is worth watching for its gorgeous craftsmanship. Refn’s views on the fashion industry may be old hat, but his approach is haute couture.
The Jungle Book
At first, the 2016 adaptation of The Jungle Book may have seemed like a hollow attempt by Disney to cash in on the reputation of one of its legendary titles. Directed by Jon Favreau, the new film manages to stand on its own, thanks in large part to stunning computer-generated imagery. Adapted from stories by Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book is the tale of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), an orphan boy adopted by a pack of wolves. When the man-eating tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) threatens to kill him, Mowgli must leave the jungle, meeting exotic creatures and escaping perils along the way.
Save for a couple scenes, this new version of The Jungle Book is not a musical like the 1967 film, but it does retain its predecessor’s spirit of adventure. The jungle depicted here is fiercer, and a palpable danger lurks. The environments are not the only impressive sights; the animal characters are rendered with great detail, and are made more lively through terrific voice performances, particularly Christopher Walken’s mafioso take on the orangutan King Louie. Gorgeous and well-paced, The Jungle Book is a timeless story with a fresh look.