While Quentin Tarantino’s wistful trip through 1969 Hollywood might inspire the most think-pieces this month, there are also smaller movies we’d like to highlight – ranging from scary stories for kids and adults to existentially avant-garde sci-fi. Meanwhile, the small screen is overflowing with must-see TV – highlighted by fantastic animated series (both new and old), a socially conscious dramedy, a riveting exploration of serial killer psychology, revived California noir, character studies of 80s’ female professional wrestlers, and much more.
Dear White People
Like many third year college students, Justin Simien’s politically potent show following the lives of black students in a white Ivy League enters its third season by redefining itself. If the first two volumes of Dear White People rallied outward righteous fury around social injustice, this third chapter is self-reflexive – looking inwardly for growth and progress. The show still explores cultural divides through thoughtful stories, but it’s foregrounded by personal blindspots this season. From the fallibility of heroes to #MeToo, the commentary here is sharp and sensitive.
Created by Owen Dennis (Regular Show), Infinity Train follows a 12-year-old girl named Tulip who runs away from home to attend a video game design camp. On the way, she finds herself aboard a seemingly endless train, where each car contains a separate universe! Her quest to escape takes her through imaginatively surreal worlds – each a familiar yet warped dreamland of astounding characters and bizarre landscapes, filled with both joy and danger. Infinity Train is a fun ride, anchored by surprisingly mature themes, making this one of 2019’s best new cartoons.
David Fincher’s riveting drama about serial killer psychology takes us to the infancy of the FBI’s understanding of behavioral science. While the agents and researchers who pioneered this field of profiling were once looked upon as law enforcement outcasts, this second season sees their unit’s methods finding acceptance. Now called to consult on infamous cases like the BTK strangler and the Atlanta child murders – alongside their interviews with figures like Son of Sam and Charles Manson – Mindhunter continues to be a riveting dive into the heart of darkness.
12 years after it’s cancellation, Hulu has revived beloved cult series Veronica Mars for a belated (but fantastic) fourth season! While it’s initial run was a hardboiled detective neo-noir disguised as a high school drama, this follow-up finds our quick-witted teen private investigator all grown up, and not particularly well adjusted. Adult Veronica is broke and distrustful, and her life doesn’t get any easier when a series of bombings rocks her hometown during Spring Break. Though still just as quippy, Veronica Mars has matured to be seedier and grittier. Read our full review here.
The series that kicked off the streaming era comes to an end with it’s most focused season in years, a steady reminder of how smartly political, energetically funny and devastatingly dramatic this show could be. Part of what propels season seven is it’s newfound thematic focus on America’s newest disenfranchised population – undocumented immigrants. A good portion of the action takes place at an ICE detention center, where women from a variety of countries languish without civil rights. This is a powerful and poignant farewell season that shouldn’t be missed.
Based on Garth Ennis’ graphic novel, The Boys is a darkly cynical and morbidly funny deconstruction of superhero worship. Set in a world where superpowered crime fighters are owned by corporations, the heroes here are more concerned about publicity tours, social media engagement and movie deals than saving lives. Their immense power and reckless behaviour often leads to collateral damage, which is when our anti-heroes come in to teach them a lesson. This perverse, obscene and violent subversion of superhero mass media is pretty refreshing.
As the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling take the colourful camp of their 80s’ pro wrestling production from the TV studios of L.A. to the live stage of Las Vegas, the series itself undergoes a dramatic narrative departure from previous seasons. No longer as focused on the athletic artistry of in-ring action and an overarching plot, GLOW’s third season utilizes it’s amazing ensemble to explore poignant character studies. Themes of identity and acceptance permeate as delicate issues of race, sexuality and gender are grappled with through layered storytelling.
Based on a manga by Makoto Yukimura, Vinland Saga is an epic anime set a thousand years ago in Viking-occupied England. This grand tale of historical fiction is a bloody and violent story about coming-of-age in a harsh world. Although it does vividly depict the horrors of war through brutal sequences, but this lavishly animated series doesn’t glorify it. Instead, it balances battles with rich character development and poignant philosophy. Masterful writing, accurate period details and exquisite artwork makes this a sweeping spectacle that’s both intriguing and thrilling.
If She-Ra’s truncated second season felt insubstantial, this propulsive and game-changing third season goes a long way towards satiating fans. The new season not only continues to give She-Ra’s sizable cast space to evolve and explore complex relationship dynamics, it also introduces fascinating new revelations about the nature of She-Ra’s magic and her connection to Etheria. By becoming more serialized, the show’s focused momentum adds a level of urgency and opens up a world of storytelling possibilities, making this She-Ra’s strongest arc to date.
Coming from the unfettered minds of four dynamic women – Ashley Nicole Black, Quinta Brunson, Gabrielle Dennis, and show creator, Robin Thede – A Black Lady Sketch Show is inventive, fun and consistently hilarious. A lot of ABLSS’ comedy explores where gender intersects with the black experience, but the way it approaches these topics and the punchlines it draws are strikingly novel. These sketches are swift and witty, managing to be both specific and universal, joyfully presenting as many different depictions of black womanhood as possible.
23 years after it’s cancellation, cult favourite Nickelodeon cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life returns for a new animated feature called Static Cling. Seeing as Rocko (the titular anthropomorphic Australian wallaby) and his friends have been stranded in space for the last two decades, their return to Earth proves to be a big culture shock. The world is very different from the one they left and Static Cling explores the many ways technology, new media and political correctness have changed our way of life. The clash between nostalgia and growth frames this revival perfectly.
Straddling history and horror, The Terror was one of 2018’s best shows. This year, the anthology series switches from a descent into madness on the Arctic tundra, to the Japanese-American internment camps of WWII. Following the plight of Terminal Island’s Japanese immigrant community, our new characters are not only haunted by a malevolent spirit, but also persecuted by the rising tide of xenophobia and state-sanctioned human rights violations in the wake of Pearl Harbour. Gorgeously shot, tonally rich and politically potent, The Terror remains gripping.
This revealing and unsettling documentary directed by Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim is a timely examination of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The Great Hack doesn’t just explain the specifics about what the company did and why it mattered, it also illustrates how the misuse of personal data has influenced past elections (and why it might continue to do so). Framed around the compelling personal journeys of the whistleblowers, investigative reporters and analysts involved, this story personalizes a complex situation and offers an urgent wake-up call.
Besides Rocko’s Modern Life, Netflix has has revived yet another decades-old cult Nickelodeon cartoon with Invader Zim! This new animated feature is a darkly hilarious return to form, imbuing an all-new narrative with a surprising sense of emotional pathos. As a result, Enter the Florpus! easily takes its position as one of the best modern revivals of a classic property. Creator Jhonen Vasquez recaptures the original series’ filthy style and morbid misanthropy perfectly, without relying on nostalgia. If anything, this film shows just how potential remains in the franchise.
This wickedly funny and gruesomely gonzo horror-comedy is a deliciously pitch-black revenge fantasy and a scathing skewering of the 1%. Following everywoman Grace (Samara Weaving is a charming scream queen) who marries into an absurdly wealthy family, the bride’s joy turns into terror on her wedding night when her bluebood in-laws attempt to murder her in a ritualistic game of hide and seek. Brimming with taut thrills, hyper-violent sequences and big laughs – Ready or Not mixes scares and satire to deliver a massively fun, blood-soaked crowd-pleaser.
Peter Strickland’s exceedingly bizarre tale about a cursed red dress is lurid, sumptuous and entirely uncategorizable. In Fabric combines an Italian giallo horror aesthetic with some very British deadpan comedy to create this ravishing dream logic kaleidoscope. It’s disorientingly experimental, sensually fetishistic, and playful in its consumerist commentary – making for a willfully weird but totally intoxicating viewing experience. From a strange department store run by witches to the absurd mundanities of each victim’s inner lives, In Fabric revels in surrealism.
Based on Alvin Schwartz’s series of short horror stories for children, this film is a fun and frightful way to introduce a new generation to thrills of the genre. Guillermo del Toro’s Scary Stories is the rare horror movie for kids that doesn’t feel kiddie. The film cleverly weaves in a number of the anthology’s most memorable ghouls into a single tale that carries gruesome scares, emotional weight and sneaky social subtext. Buoyed by fantastic recreations of Stephen Gammell’s nightmarish illustrations, this is a movie that will resonate with audiences of all ages.
Quentin Tarantino’s star-studded ninth film is a languid and wistful journey through a nostalgic Tinseltown fairy tale, framed as a buddy comedy. Ambitious yet ambiguous, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood eschews structure and story in favour of a scenic tale of backlot Hollywood in 1969. Relying almost entirely on the easy chemistry between Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, this is an expressionistic rendering of a fabled time in American pop culture. While some may find Tarantino’s indulgence esoteric, others will find it mesmerizing. Read our full review here.
Legendary French auteur Claire Denis makes her English-language debut with this chilly, enigmatic, and ruminative tale. Structured elliptically, High Life follows a crew of death row inmates, forced to serve out their sentence by carrying out experiments within a science vessel in deep space. Repressed urges and hopelessness slowly unravels the group psyches. Though largely abstract and poetic, this film is often punctuated by brutal violence and bodily fluids, showing us that the messiness and tenderness of humanity can pervade, even in a vacuum.