Looking For Something Different on the Streaming Services?
We round up six titles that fly under the radar, but in most cases, are really worth watching
From modern romance, to socio-political satires and a broad horror/comedy, plus two musical treats—here’s something for everyone who’s avoiding all the holiday-themed shows that proliferate this time of the year.
On the Rocks (Apple TV+)
You don’t realize how much you miss Director Sofia Coppola’s more personal films until something like On the Rocks pops up on the radar. And when you get the bonus of the film reuniting her with Lost in Translation’s Bill Murray, there are now two reasons to break out the champagne. Touted as a possible frontrunner for awards-consideration in this compromised pandemic year of releases, this film examines what fidelity, marriage, managing careers, and family are all about in contemporary society.
Laura and Dean (Rashida Jones and Marlon Wayans) are a modern couple blessed with two daughters; and Jones’ character has Felix (Murray) as her irascible, forever-flirting-with-the-women father. In a creative slump, Laura has too much time on her hands and begins to suspect Dean of infidelity. As an incorrigible philander, Felix dispenses crazy advice, while being highly protective of his daughter. It’s one hilarious scenario after another as Murray turns on the charm and humor. And you’ll wonder if some scenes are inspired by Sofia’s father, the legendary Francis Ford Coppola.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Amazon Prime)
Love him or hate him, Borat is back, and if you’re looking for a film that best depicts Trump America and is up to date enough to take on this year's pandemic, as it’s currently being handled in the USofA, this is the film. It starts off with a recap of what has happened to our intrepid journalist since the 2006 film, and how the powers that be in Kazakhstan are now sending him back to America, and why. It’s a ridiculous premise, and made only funnier because of the hidden-cameras method of bringing this film to life.
Sacha Baron Cohen is out to offend everyone, and thankfully, he succeeds. There’s also a star turn by Maria Bakalova as Borat’s daughter. American politics, sexual politics, politicizing the use of masks during the ongoing pandemic, abortion, and women-empowerment—they’re all fodder for the caustic eye of Borat. It may not be as spontaneous and outrageous as the first film, but this is still satire of an intelligent level, despite the silliness that’s on display.
Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine (Netflix)
Cooper is a Jamaican comedienne who became a YouTube sensation on the strength of lip-syncing to President Trump. This special is directed by Natasha Lyonne and produced by Maya Rudolph; and the Hollywood influence of the two will be apparent as you watch this special. The framework is Cooper is the anchor of a morning newscast; and against that premise, the show acts like a time capsule of everything that’s happening in America today. From the Coronavirus to Mr. Pillow, to the Karens and QAnon, there are skits and potshots taken on how ridiculous America has become.
My problem with the special is that there are more cameos than one needs—probably their way of keeping the audience’s attention; and that as a result, Cooper herself becomes relegated to the one sewing the different skits together, and is far from being the funniest person on the show. Sure it tackles most of what’s happening now, but is the commentary or observations really worth watching? At times, it seems more like a procession of skits that SNL would have left on the cutting floor. ‘Babaw’ to a fault and just a waste of so much star power.
Truth Seekers (Amazon Prime)
With Simon Pegg and Nick Frost heading the cast of this limited series, one might have been hopeful that this would be in the spirit of such modern comedy classics as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Frost plays a 6G service repairman, for an Internet service provider called SmYle. Part Ghostbusters, part Dawn of the Living Dead, this series tries hard to operate in the genre of horror/comedy, and to be fair, it does know how to build up the suspense, and scary bits.
It’s in the comedy department that this series, surprisingly, falls flat. There’s no Edgar Wright, who directed and wrote Shaun and Fuzz; and that might be one strong reason this one just fails to deliver the goods. In fact, this is really Frost’s vehicle, as Pegg just does an extended cameo along with an awful wig. The kindest thing I can say about this is that it’s as funny as Dawn of the Living Dead, and as scary as Ghostbusters, which unfortunately, doesn’t amount to much. Watchable, but you’ll wish it was better.
David Bryne’s American Utopia (HBO Max)
We can count ourselves very lucky that when David Byrne had his limited Broadway engagement of American Utopia back in October 2019, Spike Lee was asked to create a TV special of this rock show on Broadway. I understand there are plans to re-stage this in September of 2021, presuming New York theater is back; but in the meantime, this is as good as it gets for those pining for live theater, music concerts, and 80’s Talking Heads music.
While most of the music production are fresh compositions by Byrne, there are points when he shuffles out such hits as “Burning Down the House.” Rather than perform this as a lead singer fronting a band, Byrne has liberated the instrumentalists and they perform wonderful choreography along with him. It’s fascinating, riveting theater; and if you like your David B., you’ll know how he’s dabbled in World Music, and has always been reliable for coming up with intelligent, social commentary-lyrics. Great showcase of his very individual talent and musicality.
Song Exploder (Netflix)
The second music show reviewed here is four episodes that really dissect individual songs, to help us understand and appreciate the song-writing process, and the creativity and inspiration behind the tunes. It’s for serious music-lovers as the detail and trivia that could be manna for some watchers, would seem tedious and too detailed for the casual music fan. It’s the depth and intelligence with which these songs, and the artists who performed them, are teased out that made this compelling viewing as far as I was concerned.
Alicia Keys, Lin-Manuel Miranda, R.E.M., and Ty Dolla $ign are each given a full episode (they run for under 30 minutes), and I loved the progression of the series, as even the artist I didn’t know that much about or didn’t really think too highly off, came out interesting and elucidating as they spoke about their ‘process’ for creating the specific songs highlighted per episode. With Keys, it was “3 Hour Drive,” while Miranda talked about his Aaron Burr song in Hamilton. R.E.M. looked back on the improbability of “Losing My Religion” becoming the hit it was, while $ign gave us the lowdown on his ode to a city, the song “LA.” Beautiful series.
Lead photos from IMdB