Let’s be honest here, the days of scheduled TV programming are numbered. With media streaming services like Hulu and Netflix and the rise of the on-the-go espresso, few now have the patience or time to sit around flipping channels until they saddle for the most tolerable option. These days, the modern consumer creates his or her own erratic viewing schedule through video-on-demand (VOD). Gone are their shackles of big network, now you have the power to decide when and what you want to watch! But there’s just one problem, now that you’ve got Netflix and access to a crap ton of content, you just haven’t the faintest clue of what exactly to watch.
How many times have you googled “what to watch on Netflix?” only to find that the suggested films aren’t available in the Malaysian Netflix library. Don’t worry friend, we’re gonna make life easier for you. Every week, we’ll be providing three recommendations for you to watch on Netflix. One originally produced Netflix movie/special. One film that’s not a Netflix original production. And finally, one TV series or foreign language film. That way, you’ll be sure to make full use of your Netflix, without scrolling through bajillion different movies only to end up selecting a crappy Adam Sandler movie.
Grab your microwave popcorn and pop open a screen cause here comes your first weekly prescription of movie goodness!
Netflix Original- Beasts Of No Nation (2015)
Though criminally underrated with box office sales that is just as tragic as its subject matter. Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation is a film that demands your attention. Set in an unnamed war torn region of West Africa, a young boy named Agu and how his peaceful village life is shattered when he witnesses his family become victims of the many skirmishes between the local loyalist and rebel faction. On the run and with nothing left to live for, Agu finds himself in the hands of the charismatic and cruel leader of the rebel Native Defence Force (NDF) known only as Commandant. Agu finds himself recruited in a war he does not understand in a world that is not meant for the likes of children.
Adapted from acclaimed writer Uzodinma Iweala, director/writer Fukunaga weaves a complex and painful tale of innocence lost and tragedy. He isn’t afraid to explore the darker subject matters of the African power struggle through the eyes of a child. Agu here isn’t framed as a saviour or a freedom fighter that glorifies the idea of noble violence, he is a victim through and through. His powerlessness to choose peace juxtaposed with his violent duties of war slowly but surely numbs Agu to the horrors around him. In fact, his various internal monologues read like a stanza of a simple yet powerful poem.
All this is made possible through stellar performances all around. Newcomer Abraham Attah brilliantly captures the trauma and hollowness of his character’s station in life with nuance and heartfelt sincerity. His transition from confusion to despair to hope is a story arc for the ages. And let’s forget Idris Elba as the proxy father figure and general to young Agu, Commandant. I mean I always knew that the man had screen presence but this right here, is something else. Like a pimp that keeps his ladies in line, Alba’s Commandant projects an image of careless charm and destructive masculinity that makes him both role model and a tyrant to the boys under his command. His ego only grows from there with him constantly reminding his troops of his false benevolence with his iconic “I save your life…I save your life” line.
In spite of a relatively low budget, Beasts of No Nations has some truly gorgeous imagery on display here, most notably how Fukunaga uses colour to connote the film’s grimmer themes with muted, washed out palettes that baths every scene in the film. It paints the atrocities and vibrancy of the African jungle on screen in a duller tone (not a dull experience though), making the abnormal and horrifying seem almost mundane. Reflective of Agu’s normalization of violence. One particular scene that breaks away from this gritty spectrum is when Agu and his fellow soldiers are running across a field of tall grass. As they hastily navigate through the area, we see the grass start to literally bleed into a pinkish blood hue.
This visual flair is nothing new to Cary. One only needs to look at his work in True Detective to get a feel of the man’s eye. His penchant for transitioning between the grounded and the fantastical found in his award-winning crime drama is too reflected here in all of its glorious gore and sickening splendour. Not forgetting the man who made his vision possible, Richard Mosse who did incredible work on this scene. It’s films like Beasts of No Nation that put the fear of God in audiences, media conglomerate cronies and critics. A strong reminder that Netflix is more than your favourite second-hand film peddler, it is a force to be reckoned with!
Classic- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
While quality television networks like HBO and Showtime offer a plethora of films, most of their list consists of blockbuster rehashes, half-year-old theatrical releases and the occasional Oscar bait. Simply put there are just things, you can’t find on your regularly scheduled program. Therefore Netflix’s curation of obscure and indie films makes for some pretty good treasure hunting. After hours of digging, I think I’ve found the rarest of all jewels: Kubrick’s groundbreaking 1968 space epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. As Da Vinci unto the world of art, Stanley Kubrick is a seminal member of the cinematic landscape. A source of influence and inspiration to the greats of today the likes of Spielberg, Ridley Scott and Nolan. Men who pay homage to Kubrick’s masterpiece through films like Interstellar, A.I. and Alien.
Set in fictional future, the film chronicles the lives of the crew members of the US spacecraft, Discovery One as they are sent on a mysterious journey to Jupiter after an object was discovered on Lunar Moon Base. It is the Tycho Monolith, an enigmatic and powerful artefact that is possibly responsible for the evolution of mankind. The crew, however, find themselves in deep trouble when the A.I. system of the ship, HAL-9000 malfunctions and turns on the crew. Man is pitted against machine for the sake of human discovery. Ultimately it is the story of Man, from its humble hominid beginnings to its eventual ascension to godhood. It is the logical conclusion to the idea of human exceptionalism and progress. Suffering no compromise, writer /director /producer Stanley Kubrick paints a surreal, grand and even spiritual portrait of the human spirit. Its capacity for knowledge and change. Its bravery in the face of the unknown. A celebration and contemplation of our place in the universe in the most entertaining and wondrous of presentation.
While everyone here gives a competent performance, props to Keir Duella as astronaut David Bowman and Gary Lockwood as Floyd, the true star of this film is Douglas Rain as the ship’s red-eyed A.I. run amok, HAL-9000. Rain as the cold, calculating sentient intelligence is a chilling performance. Far from the stoic, meathead personality of the T-800, HAL comes off as witty, condescending and even humorous at times. On the surface, his monotonous voice tricks you into thinking that he is merely a blind, unthinking automaton. Listen close enough however and you can hear how Rain weaves human-speech patterns and idiosyncrasies into HAL, making him sound almost human but at the same time not. Who knew pauses could do so much for dialogue!
Even 50 years later, the gorgeous aesthetics of the film still holds up incredibly. This was an age before the advent of CGI or motion capture. Everything on set was painstakingly done by practical effects from the sanitized, from the savage savanna of ancient Africa to the futuristic surroundings of the Discovery One. Even without the luxuries of modern filmmaking methods, Kubrick managed to capture to Zero-G feel of space through wiring and careful camera work. It was as if the man had dreamt the entire world to life. Then there is the Stargate scene in which Bowman is pulled into a swirling vortex of light and colour as the camera switches over the astronaut’s POV. The entire scene is a play on op art and negative image effects, creating the illusion motion and travel through the cosmic landscape. It is trippy as all hell.
I could literally spend all day talking about this film and how phenomenal it is but believe me when I say, some things are better off shown and told. If you have a Netflix account and haven’t watched 2001: A Space Odyssey then please for the love of all that is good and pure go watch it!
Foreign Language Film – Veronica (2017)
For the last 5 years or so, the horror genre has undergone a recent renaissance of sorts. Moving away from its uninventive and truly nauseating stint with handheld jumpscare films and into the realm of a more contemplative and psychological realm. And in the leagues of the modern exemplars of this new wave such as 2017’s IT, The Babadook, The Witch and Get Out joins a little, Spanish film name Veronica. The film follows the life and times of the eponymous Veronica, a 15-year-old girl dealin with the recent death of her father and the greater responsibility of taking her siblings thrusts upon her due to this tragic incident. Unfortunately, life for this young down-on-her-luck highschooler is about to get a whole lot worse. Upon hearing in class about how solar eclipses in ancient cultures are seen as a way to summon spirits through human sacrifice, Veronica and her friends hold a seance below the school, in hopes of communicating with her father. And then from here you on out, you get the gist of what’s going on.
I’ll be honest here, I’m not a big fan of possession horror films and personally, I thought the subgenre peaked at 1973’s The Exorcist. That being said, Veronica really did reinvigorate my interests into how modern day films are once again tackling the subject matter with interesting new twists. The demon here isn’t some random, ghoulish, evil puppet master that’s pulling the poor girl’s strings. In fact, for most of the film, it is unseen. In many ways, it is a darker reflection of the young lady’s anxieties and frustrations. While she certainly cares for her siblings, the sudden rush of responsibilities triggered by a loved one’s death is weighing her down. This haunting feels both supernaturally creepy as it is psychologically traumatizing. And its this mixture of family drama, character exploration and supernatural terror that makes Veronica more than the average spookfest.
Jungian psychology aside, the film delivers in the scares department here. Beyond a few cheap jumpscares at the beginning, the film mostly relies on tension and a creepy atmosphere to build momentum before the truly demonic shit goes down. By far one of the most talked about scenes in the film is when Veronica’s mouth stretches way beyond human capacity and lets out one hell of a scream. Not going to lie man, I jumped back in my seat when that happened. Playing no small part in bringing that blood-curdling scene to life is Sandra Escanena’s performance. The amount of visible stress and emotional strain in Veronica’s face clearly shows that the actress gave it her all during that scene and throughout the film. Take a bow, dear. Not quite Regan levels of unsettling but still one damn good scare.
Veronica is proof that horror transcends cultures and languages. Loss and fear are universal emotions and concepts that need little explanation for us to empathize with, and this film speaks (or screams) volumes on the subject matter. Is the “possession through seance” angle the most original out there? Probably not. Nonetheless, scary is scary and that’s all you really need to know.
So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and pop any of these films into your big screen TV on a lazy Saturday afternoon, maybe heat up some microwave-popcorn, and get ready to gawk, cry or/and scream all the way till the late evening. Regardless of which of three you pick, rest assured that it will time well spent.