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.
February may be the shortest month of the year, but it certainly has no shortage of quality entertainment. On the big screen, we pick out Oscar favourites, indie darlings and a blockbuster cultural phenomenon. Over on the small screen, we select sharp comedy specials, smart genre fiction, insightful reality television, innovative murder mysteries, and a rewarding teen dramedy.
Black Panther isn’t just the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best, it’s the new gold standard for superhero movies. Ryan Coogler doesn’t just delve into the cultural and scientific richness of Wakanda, a nation of black excellence uninterrupted by colonialism. His film’s greatest achievement is it’s exploration of what a country like this might mean sociopolitically. Black Panther is about identity, strength and heritage. It has the deepest bench of female badasses we’ve ever seen, and a truly tragic villain (Michael B Jordan steals the show) whose motivation and heartbreaking story almost makes you root for him. From narrative to acting to costuming to visuals to action to music, this film is a stunning triumph on all levels.
Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical Lady Bird is absolutely wonderful. It’s a story of adolescence that’s so genuinely truthful, funny and moving that it makes other coming-of-age films feel like exercises in cliche. Saoirse Ronan is irresistible, testy and spirited, imbuing even her foibles with warmth and charm. Laurie Metcalf is similarly exceptional, portraying Christine’s frustrated mother with a subtle mix of hostility and generosity that elevates her beyond a parental obstacle into a complex secondary protagonist in her own right.
I,Tonya is like Scorsese on Ice. This is an electric biopic that depicts Tonya Harding’s life the way she skated – dizzying, kinetic, and with a punk rock edge. Director Craig Gillispie handles the most painful aspects of her story with the kind of dark humour, raw adrenaline and unblinking defiance that made her such a figure of scorn and admiration. It’s unreliable narrators and sensationalism very much resemble the tabloid coverage around her defining scandal, except this time, it’s the ridiculous circus and rigged systems around her that’s being mocked.
A wondrous storyline of transformative love, overflowing with understanding and compassion. Part creature feature, part silent movie, part spy noir, part musical and part sensual fable – The Shape of Water might be genre-fluid, but it’s homages all coalesce into a vivid patchwork that is breathtakingly beautiful and exuberantly romantic. This love aquatic is probably Guillermo Del Toro’s finest work since Pan’s Labyrinth.
Loving Vincent is such an immersive, dreamlike experience that you’d think you were magically transported into a van Gogh. Every frame of this movie is gorgeously hand-painted (oil paintings on canvas, no less), and the result is stunning. The story itself is a Citizen Kane-esque investigation into the circumstances surrounding the artist’s death, but the narrative is secondary to Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s staggering visual achievement.
Kevin Phillips’ feature film directorial debut is assured and incredibly vivid. Super Dark Times is an atmospheric 90s’-set teen thriller that’s filled with paranoia, tension and potent themes of innocence lost. It purposefully avoids nostalgia, dark humour or quirk to set an unnerving mood that just doesn’t relent. The film’s ending is a little pat, but it more than makes up for that with it’s naturalistic tone, authentic psychology and inspired eye.
Screened at: Singapore Cult & Underground Film Festival (SCUFF) 2018, but also available on Netflix.
Last Flag Flying, like all Richard Linklater films, is languid and conversational. But the heavy subject matter of his latest effort – a somber reflection on war, regret and grief – is a departure. As usual, his dialogue-driven character beats are superb, especially with actors the calibre of Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne communicating complicated camaraderie and shared shame, not so much with what they say, but with how they say it.
A wonderfully enigmatic, a Kafkaesque espionage thriller that evokes the Cold War, just with added interdimensional political intrigue. JK Simmons gives an acting masterclass as spies from alternate universes – delivering subtle yet precise nuances in each personality. The world-building is gradual, the atmosphere is unbelievably tense, and questions of nurture versus nature are fascinating. This is a slow-burn mystery that we’re glad to puzzle over.
The popular podcast featuring Jessica Williams (formerly of The Daily Show) and Phoebe Robinson comes to HBO as a series of four comedy specials – and it’s absolutely winsome! Basically playing as a big budget, visual version of their audio formula – 2 Dope Queens retains all the wit and charm that made listeners fall in love with them in the first place. Besides the pair’s wisecracks and easy chemistry, also expect lots of special guest comedians (including Williams’ old boss Jon Stewart!).
Ben Edlund has done several versions of The Tick ever since he invented the character in high school over 30 years ago, and each incarnation (from comic to cartoon to live action) has always brilliantly reflected the zeitgeist of the time. His newest take on Amazon is still a savvy spoof and hilarious meta-commentary on superheroes in pop culture (this one focuses on today’s trend of gritty reboots), but its also so much deeper than it’s ever been. As great as the first half of season one was (Amazon made the unusual decision to split up its first season over two years), this latest batch of episodes is much funnier and much more exciting.
Everything Sucks! might start out as nostalgia-porn, but it quickly evolves past cute 90s’ references and needle drops to become truly, emotionally rewarding. It’s a joy to watch caricatures develop into characters, fleshed out as hidden depths and well-articulated vulnerabilities are poignantly revealed. Everything Sucks! isn’t reinventing the wheel with themes of longing, loneliness and self-discovery – but it’s done in such a sweet, funny and honest way that you can’t help but fall in love.
A reboot of Bravo’s reality show from the early 2000s, this new revival on Netflix introduces a new Fab Five. Much like the original show, the gleeful new crew travel around helping various subjects become not just stylish, but confident. More than just a makeover show, the Queer Eye shows us a better world where cultural or societal differences can be overcome with humour, mutual respect and a positive outlook. The transformation endings are predictable, but they’re guaranteed to make you cry everytime.
Happy! is prime, pure, unfiltered Image Comics insanity. Based on Grant Morrison’s graphic novel (we emphasize graphic), this show is hyper-violent, high-octane and gleefully perverse. From gratuitous murders, a mob war, and a deranged Santa Claus, to an insect EDM orgy, reality TV scum and a blue unicorn – Happy! is too unhinged for everybody, but if you’re into over-the-top action that offsets its brutality with cartoon goofiness, this one’s for you.
Mosaic is an experimental and exhausting puzzle, but parsing together it’s deconstruction of storytelling convention is very addictive. Steven Soderbergh’s new show plays out through a HBO miniseries and a mobile app. The series is more linear but the app allows you to view key moments from different perspectives, showing you how different camerawork can totally change the viewer’s prejudices, judgement and understanding of a particular scene. Even without its structural gimmick though, this murder mystery should be seen for Sharon Stone’s splashy comeback performance (her best since 1995’s Casino).
Going on for five seasons now, Drunk History has consistently been both an irreverent riot and surprisingly educational. This latest season has been especially hilarious, with inebriated comedians like Tiffany Haddish telling the story how Rose Valland recovered thousands of art pieces stolen by Nazis during World War II, Questlove recounting the origins of hip-hop, and Ashley Nicole Black describing the time Martin Luther King Jr. convinced Nichelle Nichols not to quit Star Trek because her presence on the show would serve as inspiration to African-Americans (and because he was a big fan himself).
Created by revered playwright and screenwriter David Hare (The Hours, The Reader), BBC’s riveting new miniseries is the most promising new British show of 2018. It may be disguised as a police procedural, but the murder mystery driving this miniseries only serves to open up interconnected stories about the UK government’s uncompassionate treatment of refugees and immigrant communities. The entire cast is brilliant, but Carey Mulligan shines in particular.
Altered Carbon doesn’t have much meat underneath it’s flash and flesh, but it sure is damn good pulpy fun. It uses every sci-fi trope in existence to world-build, but isn’t totally interested in exploring the themes that come with them. They’re just stylistic flourishes in a visually astonishing and violently kinetic gumshoe murder-mystery, and that’s more than enough to keep you hooked. A cyberpunk, neo-noir detective story that’s worth seeing for it’s blockbuster production value alone.
Chris Rock takes no prisoners in his first stand-up special in 10 years. This comeback wasn’t entirely perfect, but it sure was welcome. Tamborine’s first half felt like quintessential Chris Rock, topical and shocking. But interestingly enough, it was his less political, second half confessional that felt more compelling. He rips himself instead of headlines to address everything from his messy divorce to his shameful infidelity to his porn addiction. It was honest, heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time.