As the internet will have no doubt reminded you, staying at home and catching up on some Netflix is now officially *heroic*. Here’s an eclectic mix of streaming recommendations from our contributors.
Looking for a way to wind down from a long day of work (from home)? Already exhausted the list of movies you wanted to watch (and consumed the snacks to go with them)? While we can’t help you with the snacks, we can offer a list of content available for streaming hand-picked by our contributors. Here’s a list that will keep you distracted from another anxiety-fueled news binge. As the internet will have no doubt reminded you, there has never been a better time for saving the world by staying at home and catching up on some Netflix.
Long Shot (2019)
I know what you’re thinking. A competent woman and a man who refuses to grow up, this is going to be just another Knocked-Up stoner comedy cliche. But director Jonathan Levine, who is best known for cancer comedy 50/50 (2011)), has some tricks up his sleeve. Long Shot is an unexpectedly smart and endearing comedy that wins hearts with witty dialogue, legitimate political concerns and the just-sentimental-enough notes of 80s hit “It Must Have Been Love”. And the chemistry between Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen? Don’t just take my word for it but it really works. Part of the film’s appeal is that Theron’s Charlotte Field is an extremely believable career diplomat. She’s accomplished, focused, just idealistic enough and constantly pressed for time. Her five-minute standing naps and habit of keeping up with Game of Thrones wikipedia summaries instead of watching the shows provide both comic relief and a reason for the audience to feel for her despite all her larger-than-life perfection. Meanwhile, Rogen’s Fred Flarsky works because though he may be more laid-back, he is no slacker. Fred is a talented, hard-working journalist whose Achilles’ heel is his uncompromising idealism and judgement (something that the film interrogates and puts to the test on a number of occasions). For these and many other reasons that I won’t spoil now, Long Shot needs to be in your Netflix queue.
Besides, this might be your only shot at seeing a woman in the White House for a while.
La Frequenza Fantasma or The Ghost Frequency (2014)
Berger wrote, “Images were first made to conjure up the appearances of something that was absent,” stressing that visual art is a way of reckoning with entropy and loss. Le Frequenza Fantasma, The Ghost Frequency is an oneiric portrait, a documentary film-poem of a semi-abandoned village perched in the mountains of Calabria in Southern Italy. Interweaving images of black-clad women, narrow empty streets, crumbling houses, back alleys, verdant green montagna, field sound recordings, whispered prayers, and snatches of conversation with former inhabitants, film-maker and artist Chiara Ambrosio describes her immersive film as an “attempt to uncover the layers of historical sediment.” The village, and the land are a palimpsest. In this empty shell of tumbling ruins, memories have been etched. Life has left a haunting trace.
Watching The Ghost Frequency, I was reminded of the metaphysical, contemplative trilogy Egg, Milk and Honey, made by award-winning Turkish director Semih Kaplanoglu. Time is suspended like a drop of mercury, a slither of quicksilver. There is a slow, gentle unfurling, yet something obstinate remains: a handprint, an echo, a song. Both filmmakers delve into the limbic, navigating between the present and the past. We plunge into Bachelard’s dream space, swimming beneath the surface, in water that “knows all my secrets. And the same memory issues from every spring.”
Chiara Ambrosio made this film over five years, following the death of her grandparents, at a moment in her life when she was seeking her roots, in a quest to understand the villagers, “placid and unquestionable sense of belonging,” what makes a home? The exquisite original soundtrack to the film, created by BirdSong, is a collage of distant TVs, bells calling the few inhabitants to mass, dripping fountains, and traditional Calabrese folk songs. The film concludes with a mountain vista, shot on a winding road, the sound of the engine mingles with a guitar, an Italian voice sings,
“The wind blows this way, the wind sings, It’s not too late for you, It’s not too late to return to me…”
The film, Le Frequenza Fantasma, The Ghost Frequency has kindly been made available on Vimeo during lockdown. Watch it now!
Chosen by our writer Susanna Crossman. Follow Susanna @crossmansusanna
The Theory of Everything (2014)
The Theory of Everything is a biographical drama about the life of the brilliant theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. The magical story is loosely based on Jane Hawking’s memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.Set at the University of Cambridge, it covers a brief period of time before the physicist was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), as well as numerous significant moments of his life afterwards. It also delves into the struggles that Stephen faced due to his illness and the inspiring ways in which he overcame them. The film especially focuses on his and Jane’s complicated, tender yet struggling relationship and highlights the physicist’s dreams, aspirations and cosmological theories. The award-winning movie succeeds in giving an all-encompassing view of Hawking’s life and success, while it beautifully portrays him as the playful, hopeful and inquisitive dreamer that he was. Overall, The Theory of Everything is a film graced with visceral performances, spectacular cinematography, and a breath-taking soundtrack that elevates the movie even higher. Specifically, in the final scene when “The Arrival of Birds” plays over a reverse-flashback, the heartening, dulcet melody paints a striking mental picture that instantly imprints itself on the viewer’s mind and soul. The final striking image is of a bird (or, Stephen Hawking) that is finally free to return to its one true home: the sky, after having successfully completed its long journey.
The other day I finally got around to watching a movie that I’d been hoping to see for years: Wall-E. The timing couldn’t be more appropriate as the world around me seemed so dim and hopeless. And as I signed into Disney+ I could already feel my mind easing into the familiarity of the app and its cozy selection, which proved to be just the ticket during these trying times.
Wall-E took me to a seemingly far away future where despite every advancement portrayed, there was no replacement for companionship. As a lone robot whose job it was to rid a decaying earth of hundreds of years of accumulated trash, Wall-E nurtures this goal and finds company with a decoy robot and inadvertently reminds the space-floating humans of their lost home planet. You soon forgot, though, that humans were even in the movie because the robots commanded so much more emotion. I finished with newfound hope that the world would be okay as long as we worked together and more importantly, had one another’s company – even if it was virtual.
Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India is the Bollywood film for people who think they won’t like Bollywood films. Set at the end of the 19th Century in British-controlled India, it follows the true story of a village ruled by a vile captain in the British Raj who threatens to double tax (“lagaan”) unless the king breaks from his vegetarianism and eats meat. The king refuses. The captain then challenges a local farmer to a bet: the villagers are to play a game of cricket against the British in three months and if they win, the tax will be cancelled for the entire province for the next three years. If they lose, however, they must pay triple the tax, something that is impossible given the drought they have suffered. (If some of the plot sounds vaguely familiar, it’s likely you’re remembering the Disney-Pixar film A Bug’s Life.)
Aamir Khan plays the farmer Bhuvan who leads the men learning to play cricket, a variation on their own ball game, gilli-danda. There’s a love triangle too as villager Gauri and the captain’s sister Elizabeth both seek Bhuvan’s affection. Bhuvan, meanwhile, also faces the anger of villagers who believe his bet has sentenced them to starvation.
There are song-and-dance numbers which you will enjoy if you like Bollywood dancing and A. R. Rahman’s music. If not, the engaging story and the gorgeous cinematography make Lagaan more than worth it. A cross between a David Lean epic and a sports film rather than a traditional musical, Lagaan has something for everyone.
Four Weddings & a Funeral (2019)
Do you enjoy ensemble comedies about twenty-somethings living in a big city? Think Friends or How I Met Your Mother. Then you might want to check out this mini-series based on the 1994 film of the same name which describes itself as the story of “four American friends [who] reunite for a fabulous London wedding, but after a bombshell at the altar throws their lives into turmoil, [are forced to] weather a tumultuous year of romance and heartbreak”. Short and sweet, the series is a vibrant splash of colour complete with stunning views, luxurious interiors and enviable fashion moments (interior designer Ainsley is the one to watch for this with her wardrobe giving audiences major Gossip Girl flashbacks).
While fans of the original film didn’t quite take to this remake which takes plenty of creative license, it is an enjoyable watch on its own. What’s especially notable about it is that while the original film had a somewhat provincial and quintessentially English charm, this retelling has its feet firmly planted in the 21st century. For younger and more diverse audiences, it offers a version of Four Weddings in which we can see ourselves.
A hilarious plotline takes one character on a Love Island-esque reality show while the series lead Maya (Nathalie Emannuel), a political speechwriter, has her political idealism and pre-conceived notions tested. This Mindy-Kaling-series is a fun ten-episode-long run that does diversity right i.e. naturally and not just to check off certain boxes. Male lead Kash Khan (Nikesh Patel), for instance, is a British-Pakistani Muslim character whose central conflicts have nothing to do with his Muslim-ness at all. His Lagaan-obsessed father Haroon and brother Asif are similarly fleshed-out characters. Kash’s unexpectedly lovable friend Basheer, more connected to his Muslim community than Kash, serves as another very realistic model of a well-written character. Finally, Fatima, a woman Kash is set up with through the mosque, defies many stereotypes and assumptions about Muslim women, becoming the kind of realistic character The Big Sick and Master of None were unable to create. All the while, classic Mindy Kaling quips pepper the series lightening the gravity of the four funerals. If you want to distract yourself with a beautiful dramatic sweet romantic comedy, Four Weddings and a Funeral may just be what you’re looking for.
Mad Men (2007-2015)
The foreboding strings and drums of Mad Men’s opening credits are as much a part of my adulthood as She-Ra’s glam rock-pop theme is a mainstay of my childhood. While Mad Men begins each episode with the silhouette of a besuited man falling from a skyscraper, the drama series is notable for its detailed characterisations of women. From the secretaries in the Madison Avenue advertising agency to the stay-at-home wives of the executives, the women are fleshed out as much as the men. Sometimes even more. While the series follows the creative director of the advertising agency, Don Draper, and the other men working in the office, it also follows the life of Don’s new secretary, Peggy Olsen, and the office manager, Joan Holloway.
The show is set in the 1960s and one of the pleasures of Mad Men is watching the fashions change year by year. The first season begins with sumptuous “new look” dresses, sharply-tailored suits, neat and tidy hairstyles while the last season ends with hippie-chic maxi dresses, smart mini dresses, sports jackets, beards and pornstar moustaches.
The story of advertising itself is fascinating. But when Mad Men first aired, the parts that chimed for many women were the shocking (and not so shocking) gender, sexual and racial politics, and the devastatingly authentic relationships that played out at work and home. Mad Men has some terrific dialogue, but often it’s the subtext that gives the series its longevity and its claim to being the perfect TV show.
Seeing the real events of the 1960s unfold on screen will resonate for many. The characters are seen living through monumental historical events from the deaths of Martin Luther King, Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald to the Cold War and Chicago riots. The episode where they witness the magic of the moon landing is a particular highlight. Perhaps now as we find ourselves living through a terrible historical event, we need reminding that after the horror, we will experience happy events again.
Anne with an E (2017-2019)
Anne with an E is a recent rendition of the classic children’s series Anne of Green Gables. Many of us might have grown up reading the books while others might see this as a chance to relive the innocence of a childhood when it is at its purest. Anne, the protagonist is an orphan who has very little knowledge of her parents. To comfort herself, she starts imagining the possibilities of who they might have been. She paints in her mind elaborate scenarios as a technique to dissociate from her reality of living in a miserable orphanage. Accidentally, and fortuitously, she encounters Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, two middle-aged siblings who live a simple life on a farm in a small scenic town. The Cuthberts end up adopting Anne and that is where the ordinary, extraordinary adventure of her life really begins. While we’re quarantined at home, this beautifully shot and intricate series holds the potential to take us away from our everyday despair to Green Gables, where everything is possible and hope and persistence are the only survival techniques. Anne with an E offers audiences a shot at exploring nature in all its magnanimity from the comfort of their homes as Anne rides through forests and past lakes on her beloved horse. This emotionally charged drama will have you in tears before you know it.
Chosen by our writer Manal Khan. Follow Manal on Twitter @manalkhan07
Streaming in the Time of Covid-19 – a continuation
Do you have a recommendation we can add to this feature? Have you been inspired to write a mini-review, similar to the ones above, by a recent programme on Netflix, Prime or Hulu? Then why not write to our Film & Media Editor, Sauleha Kamal, with your mini-review or suggestion on the email address below, or DM via Twitter @Sauliloquy1.
Send your ideas and submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay safe and keep streaming!