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.
In a month of underwhelming big-budget Hollywood blockbusters like Tomb Raider, A Wrinkle in Time and Pacific Rim: Uprising (besides one notable exception) – Popwire looked to indie cinema, European documentaries, and Netflix to satiate our film needs. In contrast, TV land delivered an embarrassment of riches – highlighted by a lavish German period drama, surreal comedies about Southern trap and failed clowns, and even a thoughtful culinary travelogue.
Annihilation is a gorgeous, frightening, hypnotic, cosmic mind-trip. Part eco-horror and part philosophical sci-fi, Alex Garland crafts visceral yet ambiguous existential dread amidst dream-like kaleidoscopic wonder. Besides it’s breathtakingly surreal visuals and clever cinematic language, the film’s eerie tone is greatly by aided by an unsettling score from Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. Too bad we couldn’t experience this in a theater.
A humane, playful and life-affirming documentary – Faces Places follows legendary French New Wave director Agnès Varda and French street artist JR as they travel across rural France to create enormous photographic murals of everyday townspeople. Although separated by 55 years in age, the odd couple feel like kindred artistic spirits. But more than just a chronicle of their friendship and collaborative project, this film is also a celebration of how people and architecture intertwine to create the meaning and memory of place.
By following the mischief of children, The Florida Project‘s sobering slice-of-life depiction of America’s impoverished fringes is given surprising joy and optimism. Set in a shabby, motel tucked just a few miles away from Disney World, Sean Baker’s warm and compassionate film offers a vivid child’s-eye-view of a marginalized community trying to get by in the garish shadow of the American Dream. Read our full review here.
Watch in: Cinemas (Shaw Theatres and The Projector)
City of Ghosts is a horrifying and inspiring documentary following a brave group of Syrian citizen journalists (RBSS) who risk their lives to shed light on ISIS’ atrocities in Raqqa. More than just a chronicle of bloodshed, personal loss and the power of information, this film also illustrates why the media might be the most crucial battleground of all. Michael Heineman’s urgent film is harrowing to watch and even harder to think about, but it’s story is powerful and pressing.
While Steven Spielberg has found great success with serious films over the last decade (Munich, Lincoln, The Post) those who have been craving a return to his crowd pleasing roots will get their wish with this one. Ready Player One is a pure nostalgic sugar rush – a celebration of pop culture and shared experiences that is thrilling, engrossing and dynamic. Book fans may notice that the adaptation alters, adds or condenses details, but on the whole, this rollicking adventure definitely stays true to the spirit and magic of Ernest Cline’s bestseller.
Playing out like a farcical version of David Fincher’s The Game – Game Night is by far the funniest comedy in cinemas right now. It’s balance of smart, slapstick and awkward humour is astonishing, but what’s truly impressive is that it manages to pull off genuine moments of action and suspense as well. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams have amazing chemistry (it’s good to see her return to her comedy roots), but Jesse Plemons’ creepiness steals the whole show.
Set in 1920s’ Weimar Germany, Babylon Berlin is a dazzling, lavish and gritty portrait of an era in German history that’s rarely been dramatized. Exploring a complex web that interconnects the city’s seedy criminal underbelly, ugly political machinations (corrupt social democrats battle communist agitators, as populist fascists sneak into power) and flourishing underground nightlife – the show’s plot can be dense at times, but it’s always thrilling to watch. Superb acting, a killer jazz soundtrack, soaring cabaret sequences and unpredictable twists will keep you riveted.
Subtitled “Robbin Season”, Donald Glover’s second foray into Atlanta has been certainly worth the wait. Continuing to find humour in unexpected and uncomfortable places, this show’s compelling combination of social commentary, incisive comedy and trippy surrealism is a must watch. This time, Earn’s journey through Atlanta’s trap scene is backdropped by a citywide crime spree, leading to situations that can be awkwardly hilarious or shockingly violent.
Sneaky Pete is back for season two and it’s just as addictive and propulsive as it ever was. Created by Bryan Cranston, David Shore (House) and Graham Yost (Justified) – this crime drama about clever con men once again weaves you through an evolving labyrinth of nimble lies and elaborate swindles without ever leaving you confused or bored. Giovanni Ribisi is stellar as our con artist protagonist who is frequently in over his head, but it’s character actress Margo Martindale who wows as a grandma who’s savvier than she lets on.
While it’s sad that we live in an era where comedy shows can provide better reporting and more in-depth journalism than legitimate news outlets, we sure are glad that a program like Last Week Tonight exists. Back for a fifth season, John Oliver and his crack team of writers have already done deep dives into topics such as the Italian elections, cryptocurrencies and the NRA. Crackling wit and sharp humour punctuate these thoroughly researched pieces, even as Oliver’s discoveries continue to offer grim insight into today’s political landscape.
Jonathan Krisel’s black comedy has quietly become one of the best televisions shows of the modern era. Now wrapping up its third season, Baskets’ blend of the odd, tragic and ridiculous remains marvelously dark and deadpan. Guided by indie film sensibilities and dry absurdist humour, this tale of failed professional clown Chip Baskets and his twin brother Dale (Zack Galifianakis’ nuanced dual performance continues to be sublime), is so sincere and affecting that you’re often either crying from pathos or crying from it’s understated goofiness.
Season five finds the rag-tag spy team transported to a dystopian future where the Earth has been obliterated, and the remnants of humanity are subjugated under Kree rule in a space station. Interstellar chaos and time travel loopiness present a new set of sci-fi challenges for Coulson’s crew, even as forces from their present seek to bring them down. This show’s awesome roller-coaster of action and emotion continues to prove that it’s far better and more satisfying than any of the MCU’s other TV offerings on Netflix or Hulu.
Ugly Delicious follows chef David Chang and culinary critic Peter Meehan as they visit restaurants all over the world. More than just another food and travel documentary series, this show is interested in discussing culture just as much as cuisine. Each uniquely stylized episode explores the history, politics and sociology behind a popular food item, challenging us to reconsider our preconceived notions of each dish. Humorous, informative and constantly entertaining, Ugly Delicious will keep you you thinking even as it stokes your cravings.
After it’s game-changing season three finale, iZombie returns with a fresh status quo and fascinating narrative possibilities. Season four pulls off an impressive feat of world building, dealing with tenuous zombie-human relations in an experimental society with new power structures, new economic needs, new laws, and of course, new crimes for Liv to solve. While it still retains its detective show DNA, iZombie also doesn’t shy away from tackling the rich political allegories (xenophobia, discrimination, class warfare) it’s new landscape provides.
What started out as a funhouse mirror lampoon of the city’s hipster culture has grown up over the years, and this last stretch finds Portlandia milking just as many laughs from middle-age as they previously did the with alt-leaning middle class. Hilariously precise sketches about Spyke trying to reform his old punk band (played by guest stars Krist Novoselic, Henry Rollins and Brendan Canty)and a parody of true crime podcasts (complete with a commercial for Blue Apron) prove that Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s (Sleater-Kinney) cult favourite show still retains it’s sharp and playful satirical wit, even as it prepares to say farewell.
Unlike other Marvel Netflix shows that start off hot but whimper out by the end, Jessica Jones season two actually gets better as it goes along – culminating with one hell of an emotional wallop. The show’s willingness to slow-burn it’s dark themes (psychological trauma, addiction and mother-daughter relationships) and difficult protagonists makes those first few episodes an endurance test, but trust that your investment is these arcs will be rewarded handsomely.
Netflix’s ambitious slate of original animes (30 new series are set to premiere this year) have been hit or miss, but B: The Beginning is certainly one of their better efforts. Part investigative crime drama and part supernatural mystery, this dual-track narrative follows the RIS cops who are tracking the mysterious Killer B, as well as the aforementioned superhuman vigilante who is himself hunting a terrorist cabal. This anime is chock full of stunning visuals, memorable characters, thrilling action sequences and a twisty mystery that will keep you addicted.
Whether they’re saving Elvis Presley from poltergeists or fighting a giant psychic gorilla in the Vietnam War – this time-travelling superhero caper is acutely aware of its own silliness, and excels because it never takes itself too seriously. Legends’ huge cast of supporting characters from other shows are given a chance to shine here (including new additions Wally West and John Constantine), but season three’s most intriguing development centers around a blossoming lesbian romance between captain Sarah Lance and her Time Bureau frenemy Ava.