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.
April was so chock full of great film and television that we legitimately had a tough time narrowing this month’s recommendations down to just 18 choices. In film, we have everything from Chinese animation and Japanese-Singaporean drama, to a massive comic-book blockbuster and a couple of innovative horror flicks. Meanwhile, the world of TV kicks into high gear with the return of several acclaimed prestige dramas, intelligent sci-fi series, young adult anime, hilarious comedies and even some exquisite food porn.
Avengers: Infinity War
After 18 movies of build-up, the Marvel Cinematic Universe crescendos with their most ambitious undertaking yet. Combining together 50 plus characters from nearly a dozen franchises is a gargantuan feat, and Kevin Feige and the Russo brothers should be applauded for accomplishing the impossible with such dazzling flourish. Sometimes more really is more, because Avengers: Infinity War is everything a 10 year pay-off should be – overwhelmingly emotional, incredibly entertaining, and filled with dreadful stakes. Big bad Thanos is everything he’s cracked up to be, and then some. In a movie billed as the biggest superhero crossover of all-time, it’s the film’s terrifying and tragic villain that holds it all together.
Directed, co-written and starring John Krasinski, A Quiet Place is such a simple yet expertly constructed exercise in tension building. Sound design always plays a crucial role in horror, but this movie’s use of utter silence to evoke discomfort and accentuate nervous alertness is exceptional. Continuous, ominous dread is maintained with such minimalism. So much of the acting here relies on facial expression or body language, and Emily Blunt’s physicality is particularly terrific (she would’ve made a great silent movie actress). The set-pieces are masterful, the creature design is awesome, it’s internal logic makes sense, and even the family drama is painfully affecting. A Quiet Place succeeds on nearly every level.
This richly textured, interconnected tale of small-time crooks chasing a bag of money (one million renminbi stolen from mob boss Uncle Liu) is greatly elevated by big-time themes of capitalism and materialism in modern China. Liu Jian’s animated noir is gorgeous, laconic and darkly comedic – functioning both as a twisty crime noir and as a subversive critique of socioeconomic pressures. A bit like Quentin Tarantino’s early convoluted capers and Takeshi Kitano’s hard boiled style thrown into a graphic novel blender – Have A Nice Day is a violent, leisurely and wryly entertaining yarn about greed in urban decay.
Back in the 1970s’ – 1980s’, Andre The Giant was the biggest icon (figuratively and literally) of professional wrestling’s territorial heyday. Now the subject of a HBO special by Bill Simmons (the brains behind ESPN’s 30 For 30 series), this documentary is an emotional and eye-opening look at the life of the enormous Frenchman. Equal parts celebratory and somber, the film details Andre’s achievements, alongside his personal issues dealing with the grind of the industry, and the painful deterioration of his body due to gigantism. But beyond Andre’s contributions to the wrestling business (WrestleMania 3’s main event is covered extensively), this movie’s greatest achievement is it’s humanizing focus on the man behind the myth.
Ramen Teh is a Japanese-Singaporean fusion, based upon a heartwarming family recipe of love, healing and reconciliation. Eric Khoo’s latest film can be overly sentimental at times at times, but it hits it’s intended emotional beats so compellingly and convincingly that you’ll forgive the side of schmaltz. Indeed, Ramen Teh’s romantic sincerity largely succeeds on the strength of Eric Khoo’s gorgeous and patient direction. Besides just capturing incredible food porn shots (a requisite), his restrained sense of pace and commitment to authenticity deftly simmers his audience in this tale of estrangement and forgiveness just long enough to ensure that the film’s saccharine elements remain grounded. Read our full review here.
Written and directed by Michael Larnell, Netflix’s Roxanne Roxanne follows the real-life story of Lolita “Roxanne Shanté” Gooden, one of New York City’s most feared and revered battle rappers in the 1980s. From her days as a street hustler, to her rise as a hip-hop urban legend at the tender age of 14, to her harsh yet inspiring experiences as mother – this biopic is grittily vivid, unsparingly honest and exceptionally well-acted. In particular, lead actress Chanté Adams does an extraordinary job embodying the troubled spitfire through the years, offering a nuanced portrait of the pain and bravado behind her biting rhymes.
Shot entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus, Steven Soderbergh’s latest movie is an unnerving psychological horror-thriller that succeeds beyond it’s gimmick. Following the tale of Sawyer Valentini (played smashingly by The Crown’s Claire Foy) who is pursued by a stalker and involuntarily admitted into a psychiatric ward, Unsane plays creepy head games with it’s protagonist and its audience, making us question Sawyer’s perspective at every turn. This lean and low-budget film uses the unvarnished nature of it’s footage as an effective tool, inducing a sense of immediacy and intimacy to it’s harrowingly creepy scenario.
One of the greatest prestige dramas of the modern era enters its sixth and final season by painfully honing in on the show’s central theme. The Americans has never argued for a political point of view because its essential perspective has always been a humanist one. It’s pitched as a Soviet spy thriller, but it’s really a family drama about communication, and how governments can corrupt genuine human connection. As Perestroika and Mikhail Gorbachev’spolicies force Philip and Elizabeth Jennings into opposing ideologies, the Cold War’s impending conclusion pushes the show’s forward momentum to it’s inevitably tragic apex.
The darkest dramas are often found in comedies these days, and Bill Hader’s Barry might be the best at straddling both tones. Half the show is a horrifying look at an emotionally broken hitman, while the other half is a hilariously outlandish tale of Barry pursuing an acting career by joining a local theater troupe. The beauty is that both sides of this show inform one another (e.g. a workshop involving the “out, damned spot” scene from Macbeth forces him consider the consequences of murder from a non-sociopathic perspective) – helping to develop one of the rawest, most complex character arcs on screen right now.
Our best show of 2017 is back! And amazingly, this second season is so outrageously imaginative that it makes season one’s acid trip look restrained in comparison. Legion has always been an visual and aural rapture, but Noah Hawley has somehow stylized it to a point beyond arthouse indulgence this time. Every single shot and sequence is so unique and so breathtaking that we struggle to find anything else on TV (or cinema) that even comes close to this kind of inventiveness. It may be a comic-book show on paper, but in practice, Legion is a superheroic hallucinogenic experience, delighting in unrestrained experimentation.
Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy (the duo behind Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours) get into the prestige TV game with Trust. Strangely enough, the series is also based on the same real-life event behind Ridley Scott’s All The Money In The World – the Getty kidnapping. It’s essentially the same story, just told in very different ways. While Scott presented a gripping thriller, Boyle’s approach is more stylish and darkly comedic. We’re unsure which version is better yet, but Trust is off to an outstanding start. One thing’s certain though, Brendan Fraser’s gloriously oddball portrayal of Fletcher Chance is infinitely more delightful than Mark Wahlberg’s.
Season two of The Handmaid’s Tale is still one of television’s most brilliant and brutal experiences. And the show only gets stronger as it expands beyond its source novel to develop other aspects of Margaret Atwood’s shockingly horrific world (like the irradiated concentration camps within “The Colonies”). Gilead’s misogynist theocracy remains a potent cautionary tale, elevated by stunning cinematography and incredible acting – especially Elisabeth Moss’ transcendent and infinitely expressive performance. But this season’s standout looks to be Alexis Bledel, whose vulnerability and venom is miles away from Rory Gilmore.
Still going strong in it’s 13th season, this long-running brotherly tale of demon-hunters Sam and Dean Winchester (alongside their literal angel Castiel) has only kept growing more creative. Known for fourth-wall breaking, meta episodes, the series recently attempted their most daringly outlandish premise yet – by magically transporting the live action duo into an animated episode of Scooby-Doo! The duo teaming-up with the Scooby Gang (while navigating cartoon tropes) to defeat a ghost is certainly a sight to behold. The risk paid off big-time by setting ratings records, and delivering one the coolest and funniest episodes in the show’s history.
Unlike most other food shows on the air right now, Netflix’s non-fiction series Chef’s Table always focused more on the chef than the restaurant or cuisine. More than just exquisite culinary cinematography and romantic sequences about kitchen processes, the show’s secret ingredient was always it’s compelling profiles of the cooks behind the food. This season though, savoury makes way for sweet as Chef’s Table shines a light on renowned pastry chefs all over the world, ranging from Christina Tosi to Jordi Roca. The result is a gorgeously poetic look at the passions that inspired some of the world’s most famous desserts.
Dan Goor and Michael Schur’s cop show comedy might be the most consistently funny show on TV today. Now back from it’s winter hiatus, Brooklyn Nine-Nine continues its strong season five run with a batch of absolutely uproarious episodes this month. From a clever parody of Andre Braugher’s Emmy-winning performance from Homicide: Life on the Streets (“The Box”), to a hilarious crossword puzzle arson mystery, to the return of Jake Peralta’s annual friend/nemesis The Pontiac Bandit – the hijinks at the 99th precinct keeps delighting by digging deeper into the quirks of a rich ensemble that we’ve come to love over many years.
The second season of Riverdale has failed to live up to it’s first in many ways, but once in a while, you get a glimpse of what made you fall in love with show in the first place. Most recently, their heavily-hyped musical episode “A Night To Remember” was just the spark fans needed. By having RHS throw a stage production based on Carrie, the show managed to pull off a transcendent experience where the show’s best aspects could be highlighted in glorious song and dance! Dramatic character beats unfolded perfectly in verse and choreography as reconciliations and revelations abounded. This one was spectacular.
My Hero Academia’s dual thrust as a coming-of-age high school drama and as a subversive superhero series generates a ton of fun action, resonant conflicts and breezy comedy – making it one of the best examples of the Shonen Jump formula out there. And if you’re a newbie intimidated by two seasons worth of catch-up, not to worry. Season three begins with a flashback-heavy premiere, helpfully laying out all the major plot points and character dynamics you need to know. The pace goes into overdrive from then on though, as the League of Villains finally makes their move on U.A. during Summer training camp. This looks set to be yet another excellent season.
As far as sci-fi space dramas, The Expanse blows it’s competition out of the water. The fantastic series returns for a third season to a galaxy at war, as the conflicts between Earth, Mars, and the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) reach a boiling point after the emergence of the alien protomolecule. But even as the show’s incendiary and intelligent interplanetary politics overtakes it’s main narrative drive, The Expanse is careful not to forget the story’s more human elements. It’s that combination of rich characters and compelling personal dynamics that continues to sustain the show’s multitude of moving parts.