Hidden Gems of Netflix
Since COVID , you’ve probably spent more time on Netflix looking for the next thing to binge to replace the lack of anything coming out. Now, you’ve either watched everything on Netflix…or rewatched either Friends, The Office, Avatar: The Last Airbender or Parks and Rec for the 27th time in your life just to release even a sliver of endorphins.
While you’ve been doing that, you may have bypassed a number of original TV series and movies on the streaming giant. It would be hard to outline all the obscure movies/shows across all 200+ unique variations of Netflix for each country. Instead, here are just a handful of ‘Netflix Original’ content which is available pretty well everywhere.
Netflix’s limited series Western is from Scott Frank, the writer of Logan, and focuses on a evangelic band of outlaws who search for one of their own who has run off with the loot of their latest job. They track the runaway to the town of LaBelle, which is populated only by women following a mining accident.
This series is a cinematic, sweeping character driven story with an amazing score by Carlos Rafael Rivera that is moving regardless of having seen the series. The series deals with themes related to regret, grief, family and moving on, with great performances by Michelle Dockery, Merritt Wever, Scoot McNairy and a chilling performance from Jeff Daniels as the leader of the religious gang, Frank Griffin. The series gives a modern twist on a presumed tired genre with the inclusion of groups, like women and African-Americans, long absent from the Western genre.
The Little Prince
Netflix’s answer to Pixar, The Little Prince is about a girl whose life is completely regimented by her mother. Every second of her life is planned out, with the mother's dream of her daughter attending a prestigious school. Then the little girl becomes fascinated by her neighbour who has a house filled with wonder and excitement including an old, rusted plane in his backyard. Together, they learn about The Little Prince who fights against a corporation that plan to steal all the stars.
It is a beautifully animated and told film about the importance of imagination and maturing. The animation style switches between the Pixar-like style of the real world to a paper-mâché, stop-motion format when following the story of the Little Prince, giving his story a childlike quality. With a warm vocal performance by Jeff Bridges as the kindly neighbour, the film matches some of Pixar’s greats including Up and Coco and delivers a gut punch of an emotional ending.
And now for something, completely different. It is hard to describe The Perfection as anything but completely fucked. It is a psychological-thriller where it is almost impossible to predict what is about to happen next. The film follows a former star-cellist who attends her former teacher’s concert and meets his new star pupil, the one who replaced her. Let the insanity ensue.
The film is a very timely movie with its wildness carried by the two leads, Logan Browning and Allison Williams, as it shifts from something like Jordan Peele’s Get Out, to Whiplash and then into a Quentin Tarantino revenge film. I'm trying to be vague so you can go and experience this ride for yourself.
Love Death + Robots
From David Fincher (Se7en, Gone Girl, Fight Club) and Tim Miller (Deadpool), this animated, anthology series plays like Black Mirror on crack. Comprised of 18 episodes, from 18 different animation teams, the show swings between any kind of story. From World War 2 Russian soldiers fighting demon-monsters, to three robots exploring the world without humans and the various scenarios of killing Hitler, there is nothing off limits here.
The only thread between all the episodes is: violent, dark in tone and sci-fi genre. Yes, even the episode about alien yogurt that takes over the world is grim. Even the dull episodes, narratively, are breathtaking to watch.
Santa’s origin story might send up red flags of studios cashing in on the festive season (see, or don’t: Arthur Christmas, Fred Claus and Noelle). Instead, Netflix deliver a relevant story about kindness, loss, family and conservatism. Everything you need in a Christmas movie. The film uses the 2D animation style of a bygone era, drawing up memories of films like Atlantisa: The Lost Empire. It’s a nostalgic looking movie about the nostalgia of childhood Christmases.
The film is about a privileged son who is forced to become a mailman in a faraway town that is literally at war with itself. Two halves fight against each other in a long-held, misremembered feud. When the mailman works with an isolated carpenter to deliver toys to the disheartened children, the elders of the town work against the change and joy the two bring to the town. While best seen around the holiday period, the film’s message about selfless acts and story of coded boomers ruining a bright future for younger generations is relevant and important.
The Two Popes
Not exactly a laugh-a-minute or an easy watch, The Two Popes offers stellar lead performances and sharp writing. It follows the lead up to Pop Benedict XVI’s shock resignation as Pope and Pope Francis’ election. It is seen through the brief period where Francis travels to the Vatican to resign as a bishop before Benedict refuses due to his wish to see Francis elected as his successor.
Benedict and Francis are polar opposites in their views on Catholicism with Benedict the conservative one and Francis more liberal. Through them, the film explores the various issues ongoing within the Catholic church including LGBTQ members, female priests, and they touch upon the handling of the systemic pedophilia. While a 2 hour film about the inner perspectives on Catholicism may not sound the most engrossing movie, the directing, writing and performances by Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce draw you in as you watch two intelligent men go back and forth on very serious topics. One you’ll have to give your attention to (so no looking away at your phone, the world isn’t gonna end), but an informative experience.
Dolemite is My Name
Eddie Murphy bursts back onto the screen with Dolemite is My Name, a true story of a blaxploitation actor who goes by the character of Dolemite, in a series of unintentionally funny cult movies. This film looks at his rise to fame, as we see him try every entertainment career under the sun from stand-up comedian, to making a comedy-music album before seeing the impact of movies.
It is a story about perseverance and realising your creative dreams, regardless of those who laugh in your face. Murphy was robbed of awards recognition when this was released, delivering one of his funniest, energetic and layered performances in a while. With a stellar supporting cast including Wesley Snipes and Keegan Michael-Key, this is a great movie about movies, in particular black movies and black artists.
High Flying Bird
Finally, comes Steven Soderbergh’s exploration into the NBA as a form of modern-day slavery. High Flying Bird is set during a basketball ‘lockout’, which is when management refuse work for their labourers or, in this case, players. One sports agent tries to settle the disputes and pitch a new rookie player to the league, with a risky business deal.
The film gets deep into the behind-the-scenes goings on of the NBA and the racial issues prevalent in the league, one made up of 81% black players. Soderbergh and writer Tarell Alvin McCraney present the idea of how these players are treated like the modern-day slaves, with their lives and income dependent on the white people in power, dictating their contracts of ownership. A unique take on the sports genre that is expertly filmed you won’t realise that the whole thing was filmed on an iPhone.