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.
On the list this week: Five unique films spanning a variety of genres.
What We Do in the Shadows
After years of cinema portraying vampires as either gruesome monsters or sparkly, angst-ridden teens, it’s time for the creatures of the night to set the record straight. That’s the exact desire of the subjects of What We do in the Shadows, a mockumentary directed by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement. In the Spinal Tap-esque film, a camera crew follows a group of vampires who share a flat together in New Zealand. The four vampires — Viago (Waititi), Vladislav (Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Petyr (Ben Fransham) — are out of touch with the modern world, until they bring newcomer Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into the fold to teach them how to function.
Although What We Do in the Shadows could quickly run its premise into the ground, it manages to stay fresh throughout thanks to a focus on the characters, all of whom have unique personalities and quirks. The film is well-paced, giving each gag room to breathe. Despite that, the film is not overly long, clocking in at about 85 minutes, What We Do in the Shadows is a snappy comedy that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Although many know director Christopher Nolan’s name from big-budget spectacles like Inception and The Dark Knight, his career took off thanks to smaller-scale, mind-bending thrillers like Memento. The film follows Leonard Shelby, a man with a neurological condition that leaves him unable to store short-term memories. Leonard is seeking the man who injured him and murdered his wife, but because of his amnesia, he relies on notes tattooed on his body that offer only cryptic clues.
Memento’s plot offers a unique twist on a classic noir formula, and Nolan twists the narrative structure to match — most of the film is shown in reverse chronological order. The audience thus sees Leonard piece together clues, knowing the consequences that will result. There is more to Memento than just a novel premise. The film is arguably Nolan’s tightest movie, with no wasted scenes, and the actors deliver excellent performances, revealing new layers to each character as the film progresses.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
This ’80s cult classic stars Peter Weller (RoboCop) as the world-famous neurosurgeon/physicist/rock star/race car driver Buckaroo Banzai who, after driving an experimental supercar that can plow through matter, finds an alien creature attached to the car. Soon, Banzai and his companions uncover a government conspiracy, and learn that Earth is caught in the middle of an intergalactic war.
In case you haven’t noticed, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is a supremely ridiculous film. Banzai is accompanied by a team of genius rock musicians played by a dream team of actors, including Rawhide (Clancy Brown), Reno Nevada (Pepe Serna), and New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum). The plot is absurd and the special effects are primitive by today’s standards, but for those who enjoy over-the-top 1980s action films, Buckaroo Banzai has plenty of ambition and charm.
Musical films have been out of vogue for a while now — although the success of La La Land may change that. One of the few musicals to achieve great success in the 21st century is 2002’s Chicago, a glamorous adaptation of the classic stage show. The film opens on Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), a housewife with dreams of becoming a vaudeville star like her idol, Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones). When Roxie kills a man who tricked her into sleeping with him by claiming to have showbiz connections, she ends up in prison alongside Velma (who killed her husband and sister after finding them in bed together).
The two women use the same lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), whose plan is to turn them into celebrities to garner public sympathy. Unfortunately, the public only has the attention span for one tragic starlet, and the two struggle to be the only one in the spotlight. Full of jazzy musical numbers and striking set pieces, Chicago is a sharp, exciting musical that viciously skewers celebrity culture and media circuses.
Fans of the Coen Brothers who have not seen Blood Simple, their first feature film, would do well to address that mistake. Few debuts display the confidence and command of narrative that this film does. It’s a bloody, tightly scripted thriller that established many of the themes the brothers would expound on in their later works. Blood Simple opens on an affair between between Abby (Frances McDormand) and Ray (John Getz). The two drive to a hotel and spend the night, unaware that they are being photographed by a slimy P.I. named Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh). After he sees the photos, Abby’s husband (and Ray’s boss), Marty (Dan Hedaya), hires Visser to kill them, the first in a chain of disastrous choices.
As in many of the Coen’s great works (Miller’s Crossing, Burn After Reading, No Country for Old Men), Blood Simple does not wring its suspense from mystery — indeed, the audience has a clear view of everything happening. Like classic tragedies, the film keeps the characters in the dark. The mistakes they make, and the information they withhold, drive them all into trouble. Beyond the compelling story, the film is gorgeous, full of deep shadows and expertly composed shots.