Ever feel like there’s too much to watch, and you don’t know where to start? Well don’t worry. Our Film & TV editor Hidzir Junaini will be rounding up only the very best things to hit your screens at the end of every month! Skip the mediocre and delve right into the good stuff.
Despite it being blockbuster season, there are plenty of outstanding smaller-scale films hitting cinemas and streaming this month that deserve your attention. From charming stories about gay teen romance and abandoned dogs, to intimate tales of grief and love – there’s more out there than superheroes and space outlaws. Meanwhile, TV land is practically brimming with great shows over the past few weeks, tapping on everything from 80s’ nostalgia and survivalist horror, to globetrotting espionage intrigue and a burgeoning robot rebellion.
The Disaster Artist
For the uninitiated, 2003’s The Room is a terrible movie that’s achieved cult classic status, thanks to it’s so bad it’s good nature. Tommy Wiseau’s absurd cinematic project has become a phenomenon, inspiring memes and joyously communal theatrical experiences around the world. And thanks to Dave and James Franco, The Room’s legacy continues to live on with their surprisingly sincere love letter to the tragicomic true story of the movie’s insane production. The Disaster Artist is indeed hilarious, but it’s greatest strength is in how heartfelt it is. It would have been easy to mock Wiseau’s eccentricities, but instead, this film chooses to paint a poignant picture of complicated friendship and uncompromising outsider art.
Isle of Dogs is meticulously crafted, wondrously imaginative and charmingly stylized in ways that make you feel like Wes Anderson has reached his apex of tone and texture here. But there’s also a lot to love outside of its exquisitely-detailed production. The film functions as a sweet story about a boy and a pack of abandoned but still loyal dogs, while still being a potent parable about political hysteria. Admittedly, Anderson’s use of Japanese culture has more to do superficial decor than storytelling necessity – but it’s problematic elements rarely detract from this delightfully heartwarming tale about man’s best friend.
Long before he created the Arrowverse, Greg Berlanti was probably best known for his outstanding work on shows such as Dawson’s Creek and Everwood. Now returning to his teen drama roots, Berlanti has managed to craft one of the loveliest romantic comedies of 2018 with his latest film – Love, Simon. This endearing coming-of-age tale about a closeted gay teen infuses new life into the John Hughes high-school formula, by also being a wonderfully uplifting coming out story. Sure the YA tropes are fairly predictable, but they’re executed so well that you’d have to be dead inside not to be won over by it’s charm.
Based on Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling’s award-winning short film, Cargo is the rare post-apocalyptic zombie movie that’s absolutely heartbreaking, but also hopeful. Set in the Australian outback, this story of a father desperately trying to get his infant daughter to safety before he turns into a zombie (he has 48 hours) is a stirringly humanist journey, anchored by it’s grounded character-based approach and Martin Freeman’s stunning performance. But the film’s greatest triumph is it’s biting commentary on themes such as environmentalism and colonialism – especially when it comes to it’s inspired Aboriginal arc.
Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, End Game is a powerful short documentary about the terminally ill, and the compassionate hospice professionals who provide comfort to patients and loved ones at the very end. While the focus on facing death may sound morbid, this film is actually more about helping people find acceptance and peace in the last days of their lives. As we meet a variety of patients across two renowned palliative care facilities, we find that while pain is ever present, it can be overcome with humour and hope. End Game’s sensitive and graceful handling of it’s heavy subject matter is to be applauded.
Based on Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura’s acclaimed graphic novel, I Kill Giants tells the moving story of Barbara Thorson, a teenage girl who escapes the realities of school and a troubled family life by retreating into her magical world of fighting evil giants. Although difficult and unlikeable, young actress Madison Wolfe does a wonderful job of bringing Barbara’s inner turmoil to bear. Similarly, the film’s depiction of how a child processes grief, and how fears can manifest through fantasy, is extraordinarily touching. I Kill Giants is the kind of sensitive and magical story that A Wrinkle in Time wanted to be.
Deadpool 2 doubles down on everything that made the original such a left-field success – it’s bigger, raunchier, more meta and more gleefully violent. Ryan Reynolds’ fourth-wall-breaking anti-hero is still the self-aware centre of attention, but this time he’s bolstered by a bigger ensemble. From the introduction of X-Force (whose big moment is undercut hilariously), to Josh Brolin franchise jumping from Thanos to Cable, to Atlanta’s Zazie Beetz stealing the show as Domino – this sequel is overflowing with highlights. And be sure to stay for what is probably the best post-credits sequence in comic-book movie history as well.
While season one of Westworld was astonishing, season two dramatically improves upon HBO’s lavish series by crutching less on non-chronological mysteries (though those puzzles are still key), and focusing more on character growth and genuine consequences. It’s metaphysical themes and exploration of morality and sentience becomes darker and far more violent this season, as the robot rebellion, introduction of new parks (Raj World and Shogun World), and Delos’ hidden agenda emerge as compelling new plot points. The show continues to impress with it’s acting, production value, music and storytelling finesse, but Evan Rachel Wood is far and away the greatest thing about this season, reveling in her transformation from frightened victim Dolores to frightening villain Wyatt.
Created by TV’s first all-Latinx writers’ room, Vida’s representation of Latino and queer stories is remarkable for its sensitivity and sense of authenticity. Centered around two estranged sisters who return to their East L.A. neighbourhood after the sudden passing of their mother, tragedy takes a turn when they learn that their mom’s housemate has been her wife all along. Through grief and shock and the emergence of old relationships, the sisters’ journey organically tackles issues of race, gentrification, class status and sexual identity in a variety of nuanced and compelling ways. Featuring great acting, sharp social issues and vibrant Spanglish dialogue, Vida might be the most important new show to emerge in 2018.
Based on Luke Jennings’ series of Villanelle novels, Killing Eve is smart and spellbinding in very offbeat ways. It’s a cat-and-mouse spy story between a clever MI5 analyst and a seductive international assassin that draws you in with oddball British humour, and then ratchets up to white-knuckle tension when you least expect it. You’ll be hooked by Sandra Oh’s incredible lead performance as Eve Polastri and Jodie Comer’s playfully psychopathic turn as Villanelle, but you’ll stay for their uniquely feminist Batman-Joker dynamic. Killing Eve’s propulsive blend of creative murder and globetrotting intrigue is instantly addictive.
Michael K. Williams’ documentary for VICE on HBO, about children lost to America’s prison system, is outstanding. Unlike other pieces that simply critique Clinton’s draconian crime policies (which favour long-term incarceration instead of rehabilitation or education, thus perpetuating repeat offences), Williams actually attempts to find practical solutions. He investigates progressive programs all around the country that have had encouraging results in various local communities. His interviews are thoughtful and his investigation is holistic, which makes this less harrowing and more hopeful.
A slow-burning and sophisticated exercise in dread and misery, The Terror is a nerve-wracking expedition into the icy heart of darkness. Centering around the Royal Navy’s HMS Erebus and HMS Terror which become stuck in the polar wilderness, both ships’ crews must survive frigid weather, each other, and the unimaginable horrors beyond. The series’ beautifully shot landscape is gorgeous but also ominous, enveloping you into it’s ever-white abyss immediately. Less concerned with monsters than with the shifting power dynamics of desperate men, The Terror does a terrific job of intermingling the factual with the fantastical.
Who could have thought that such a subversive, feminist gem could come from a cute anime based on a Sanrio character? Ostensibly a workplace comedy centering around the struggles of a red panda, Aggretsuko quickly transcends it’s adorably kiddy veneer to address some very grown-up issues. Dealing with misogyny, harassment, gossipy colleagues and overwork – our main character Retsuko hates her job so much that the only way she can deal with her rage is by screaming death metal songs during karaoke. From office politics to dead-end romances, this show is entirely too relatable for millenials caught up in the capitalist grind.
Allow us to wax on about how Cobra Kai is so much better than it has any right to be. What many thought was going to be nostalgia pandering instead turned out to be a savvy story about the cycle of bullying, and how perceptions of stereotypes can change as society evolves. Set 30 plus years after The Karate Kid, this YouTube Red series swept us off our feet by sharply turning the tables, and making an adult Johnny Lawrence it’s unlikely hero. The world isn’t as black and white as 80s’ movies would have you believe, and a lot of Cobra Kai‘s humour and emotion comes from your old Karate Kid archetypes discovering that.
Adapted by Sera Gamble and John McNamara from the trilogy of fantasy novels by Lev Grossman, The Magicians is the story of a group of grad students at a school for magic called Brakebills. While the premise is reminiscent of Harry Potter, the show’s laser focus on character and themes over plot is more spiritually akin to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While The Magicians had a bumpy beginning, it’s since grown into one of the most brilliant and confident YA genre shows on TV in subsequent seasons. After killing a literal god in the season two finale, magic has been erased from their world, and season three bravely uses that as an opportunity to explore our damaged protagonists in a more grounded environment.
Of the many true crime documentaries to have captivated pop culture in in recent memory, Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Heist is certainly the most bizarre. This tale of a pizza delivery guy – who was abducted, attached with a collar bomb, and forced to rob a bank before time ran out – is something out of a movie. Things only get more sensational from there, leading to the discovery of several murder cover-ups and a plot that’s deceptively simple in it’s sadism. Evil Genius lacks the social commentary that elevates Making a Murderer or The Keepers, but the case itself is bonkers enough to keep you riveted.
While Legends of Tomorrow has taken over the mantle as the CW’s most fun DC superhero show, Supergirl has easily become their smartest and most emotionally affecting (sorry Black Lightning, Flash and Arrow, your seasons this year have been rough). Introducing the fearsome World Killers and the time-travelling Legion of Superheroes has been a creative boone these past few episodes. Additionally, this season’s thematic arcs, covering religious fanaticism, LGBTQ relationships, racism, and good old betrayal, has burdened Supergirl with weighty ethical dilemmas that can’t be easily solved by punching a bad guy.
The combination of post-apocalyptic fiction and young adult drama is certainly nothing new, but Danish series The Rain might be one of the best in recent memory to function within those familiar tropes. Set after a deadly disease has wiped out most of the population, spread through hazardous downpours, The Rain is a surprisingly dynamic survivalist tale, elevated by a complex ensemble of fascinating characters. It’s enticing mysteries, swift pace and willingness to subvert archetypal dystopian roles, makes for one of the most engaging and fast-moving binges anywhere.