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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream This Month

Cancel your plans to get stuck into Andy Samberg's latest comedy, the new SpongeBob movie and a documentary about a horror masterpiece.
By Sarah Ward
November 30, 2020
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Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream This Month

Cancel your plans to get stuck into Andy Samberg's latest comedy, the new SpongeBob movie and a documentary about a horror masterpiece.
By Sarah Ward
November 30, 2020
  shares

Not all that long ago, the idea of getting cosy on your couch, clicking a few buttons, and having thousands of films and television shows at your fingertips seemed like something out of science fiction. Now, it's just an ordinary night — whether you're virtually gathering the gang to text along, cuddling up to your significant other or shutting the world out for some much needed me-time.

Of course, given the wealth of options to choose from, there's nothing ordinary about making a date with your chosen streaming platform. The question isn't "should I watch something?" — it's "what on earth should I choose?". Hundreds of titles are added to New Zealand's online viewing services each and every month, all vying for a spot on your must-see list. And, so you don't spend 45 minutes scrolling and then being too tired to actually commit to watching anything, we're here to help. From the latest and greatest to old favourites, here are our picks for your streaming queue for November.

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NEW STUFF TO WATCH NOW

PALM SPRINGS

It wasn't the first movie to play with temporal trickery; however, Groundhog Day has a lot to answer for. Films about folks stuck in a loop, repeating the same day or events over and over, now almost comprise their own genre — but, wearing its allegiance to the aforementioned Bill Murray-starring comedy on its sleeves, Palm Springs is one of the best of them. Here, Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Andy Samberg plays Nyles, who has ventured to the titular location with his girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner, Brightburn) to attend a friend's nuptials. He gets drunk, makes a speech and a scene, befriends fellow wedding guest Sarah (Cristin Milioti, Modern Love) and disappears into a cave, warning the latter not to follow. When dawn breaks, it's the same day again. Then variations on the same events happen once more, and they just keep repeating over and over. Also featuring an initially intense JK Simmons (21 Bridges) as another ceremony attendee, Palm Springs has a wealth of fun with its concept, and becomes one of the year's most enjoyable movies in the process. Produced by Samberg alongside his Lonely Island colleagues Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, directed by feature first-timer Max Barbakow and written by Lodge 49's Andy Siara, it  also finds its own way to grapple with the time-loop genre's usual elements — the repetition that feels like being stuck in purgatory, and the existential malaise that comes with it — in a smart and funny rom-com that boasts particularly great performances from Samberg and Milioti.

Palm Springs is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.

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AUNTY DONNA'S BIG OL' HOUSE OF FUN

2019's I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson was the best sketch comedy of that year. In 2020, the equivalent title goes to Aunty Donna's Big Ol' House of Fun. If you're familiar with Australian comedy troupe Aunty Donna, then you'll know what to expect. Writers and performers Mark Samual Bonanno, Broden Kelly and Zachary Ruane, director and writer Sam Lingham, filmmaker Max Miller and composer Tom Armstrong have been treating audiences to absurdist gags, satire, wordplay and songs since forming in 2011  — but now the group has channelled all of its silliness and surreal gags, and its astute ability to make fun of daily life in a smart yet ridiculous way, into a six-part Netflix series. Bonanno, Kelly and Ruane star as themselves, and housemates. Each episode revolves around a theme, starting with the search for a fourth member of their household when they decide to turf their annoying talking dishwasher (voiced by Flight of the Conchords' Kristen Schaal). There's nothing too over-the-top for Aunty Donna, or too trivial, including treasure hunts, an out-there recreation of Ellen DeGeneres' talk show, a pitch-perfect takedown of trendy barber shops to a parody of male posturing when the guys turn their house into a bar. And there's little on offer in the extremely binge-able show that doesn't deliver just the dose of side-splitting absurdity that this hectic year needs.

Aunty Donna's Big Ol' House of Fun is available to stream via Netflix. Read our full review.

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LEAP OF FAITH: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON THE EXORCIST

First, a word to the wise: if you haven't already seen The Exorcist, you'll want to give it a whirl before checking out this new Shudder documentary. And even if you've watched the iconic horror movie so many times that you've memorised every crucifix and spinning head, revisiting it is never a bad idea; this in-depth examination of the 1973 hit by the filmmaker behind it will certainly make you want to as soon as possible. Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist is as straightforward as its title intimates. For the movie's 104-minute running time, the director also responsible for The French Connection, Sorcerer and Killer Joe chats through the feature he's best known for, explaining both behind-the-scenes and on-screen details. Expect an insight into the battles to even get The Exorcist to the screen, anecdotes about the quest to find the exact right stars for this unsettling tale of demon possession and insider recollections about the now-85-year-old Friedkin's wide-ranging career in general. Indeed, it's impressive just how wide a range of topics and themes this doco covers, proving absolute catnip for cinephiles. Leap of Faith's own filmmaker Alexandre O Philippe is known for diving deep into great screen works, as seen in 78/52 (about Psycho) and Memory: The Origins of Alien (about, well, Alien), after all.

Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist is available to stream via Shudder.

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GANGS OF LONDON

When crime kingpin Finn Wallace (Colm Meaney, Seberg) is killed unexpectedly after a 20-year reign over London's illicit dealings, the city's underworld is forced to react. The first order of business: find out who ordered the assassination, which is Finn's brooding, grieving and quick-to-react son Sean's (Joe Cole, One of These Days) only priority, and one he's determined to pursue at any cost. At first, it seems as if Gangs of London's nine-episode debut season is simply charting familiar territory — because many a movie and TV show about mobsters has focused on shock hits, succession scrambles and bloody fights over turf. But this British series has a particular strength that none of its genre compatriots can boast, aka filmmaker Gareth Evans. He's the director behind The Raid and its 2014 sequel The Raid 2: Berandal. If you've seen those two movies, that should be all you need to know. Here, Evans' penchant for balletic brutality and exquisitely shot and choreographed action scenes is on full display once again. He doesn't just rely upon intense, ultra-violent fights to keep viewers interested in this contemporary-set gang epic, though, plotting out an intricate world filled with meaningful, memorable and menacing characters (and just as impressive performances).

Gangs of London's first season is available to stream via Neon.

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THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT

In much of The Queen's Gambit, Beth Harmon sits at a chessboard. As a child (Isla Johnston), she demands that orphanage janitor Mr Shaibel (Bill Camp, The Outsider) teach her the game. As a teenager (Anya Taylor-Joy, Radioactive), she earns a reputation as a chess prodigy. As her confidence and fame grows, she demonstrates her prowess at tournaments around America and the globe, while also spending her spare time hunched over knights, rooks, bishops and pawns studying moves and tactics. None of the above sounds like innately thrilling television unless you're a chess grandmaster, but this seven-part miniseries proves that you should never judge a show by its brief description. Based on the novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, written and directed by Oscar-nominee Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Logan), and dripping with lavish 50s and 60s decor and costuming to reflect its period setting, The Queen's Gambit doesn't expect that all its viewers will be chess aficionados; however, it's made with a canny awareness that anything can be tense, suspenseful and involving — and that every different type of game there is says much about its players and devotees. The series doesn't lack in creative and inventive ways to depict chess on-screen. It knows when to hang on every single move of a pivotal game, and when to focus on the bigger story surrounding a particular match or Beth path through the chess world in general. And it's especially astute at illustrating how a pastime based on precision and strategy offers an orphaned girl a way to control one lone aspect of her tumultuous and constantly changing life.

The Queen's Gambit is available to stream via Netflix. Read our full review.

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FIREBALL: VISITORS FROM DARKER WORLDS

Werner Herzog could make a documentary about absolutely any topic and, as long as the great filmmaker narrated it himself in his inimitable tones and with his lyrical, observational prose, it'd be worth checking out. As his on-screen acting roles in the likes of Jack Reacher, Parks and Recreation and The Mandalorian have shown, listening to his voice is one of life's purest joys — and, in Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds, he spends his time talking about a riveting topic. Reuniting with University of Cambridge professor Clive Oppenheimer, who he worked with on the volcano-focused Into the Inferno, Herzog turns his attention to meteors. As well as searching for sites where they've fallen from the sky and made a literal impact, his new doco surveys experts from around the world, explores meteors in both ancient and recent times, and looks at the subject from a scientific, historical, archaeological and anthropological basis as well. From the Norwegian jazz musician who collects micrometeorites to the way that rocks descending from the heavens have played a part in Indigenous Australian culture, Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds is never anything less than fascinating. And, it also sees Herzog describe one part of the globe as "so godforsaken it makes you want to cry", which just might be one of his best turns of phrase yet.

Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds is available to stream via Apple TV+.

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HIS HOUSE

Stories about fleeing persecution are innately horrifying, but His House makes viewers confront the scenario in a visceral and purposefully confronting way. That's what happens when you pair an unsettling real-world situation that's distressingly common with the horror genre — using the latter to augment and emphasise the terror of the former, as His House does commandingly. The first feature from writer/director Remi Weekes, this British-set movie follows Bol (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, the aforementioned Gangs of London) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku, Lovecraft Country) from war-torn South Sudan, across the Mediterranean by boat, into detention in the UK and finally to a home on the edge of London. They're thrilled to have made the journey safely, albeit at a significant personal cost that neither can shake, and they're initially excited to have a place to call their own. But, after their case worker Mark (Matt Smith, Official Secrets) gives them the keys, the couple's new abode turns into a nightmare. It doesn't help that Bol is certain that they need to farewell everything about their own culture to show the government that they deserve to stay, while Rial is rightly resistant to that idea. The pair are quite literally haunted, though, as Weekes manifests in eerie detail in a movie that cleverly and compellingly (and creepily, too) interrogates the refugee experience.

His House is available to stream via Netflix.

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THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE ON THE RUN

Never let anyone tell you that SpongeBob SquarePants is just for kids. The long-running show about the absorbent, yellow and porous sea critter has always proved otherwise, but his big-screen adventures wholeheartedly make the case — because when you have Keanu Reeves playing a talking sage tumbleweed that's also a sage that dispenses wisdom, that pitch-perfect piece of casting is 100-percent aimed at adults. Yes, that's something that happens in The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, and more often than you might expect. Yes, it's delightful. There are more surreal and absurd gags where that came from, too, which has always been SpongeBob's appeal for older viewers. Story-wise, the movie — SpongeBob's third, after 2004's The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and 2015's The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water — sees everyone's favourite Bikini Bottom resident leave his pineapple under the sea in search of his kidnapped pet snail Gary, with the vain King Poseidon (as voiced by What We Do in the Shadows star and Sponge Out of Water alum Matt Berry) the culprit. It's silly, it's sweet, it's chaotic and, although the flashbacks to SpongeBob's childhood are just a blatant way to promote a new TV spinoff, it's supremely entertaining.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is available to stream via Netflix.

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WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR LATER IN THE MONTH

MANK

In 2010's The Social Network, David Fincher surveyed the story of an outsider and upstart who would become a business magnate, wield significant influence and have an immense impact upon the world. The applauded and astute film tells the tale of Mark Zuckerberg and of Facebook's development — but it's also the perfect precursor to Fincher's latest movie, Mank. This time around, the filmmaker focuses on a man who once spun a similar narrative. A drama critic turned screenwriter, Herman J Mankiewicz scored the gig of his lifetime when he was hired to pen Orson Welles' first feature, and he drew upon someone from his own life to do so. Citizen Kane is famous for many things, but its central character of Charles Foster Kane is also famously partially based on US media mogul William Randolph Hearst, who Mankiewicz knew personally. Accordingly, Mank sees Fincher step behind the scenes of an iconic movie that his own work has already paralleled — to ponder how fact influences fiction, how stories that blaze across screens silver and small respond to the world around them, and how one man's best-known achievement speaks volumes about both in a plethora of ways. Mank is a slice-of-life biopic about Mankiewicz's (Gary Oldman) time writing Citizen Kane's screenplay, as well as his career around it. It's visually ravishing and textured, and tonally cutting and icy. Its shadowy monochrome images dance across the screen. The Jazz Age score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is just as delightful. Oldman's certain-to-be-Oscar-nominated portrayal demands attention, and Seyfried's luminous efforts prove the best kind of surprise.

Mank will be available to stream via Netflix from 4 December.

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CULT CLASSICS TO REVISIT AND REDISCOVER

THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR

Add this show about a west Philadelphia teen's life-changing move to Los Angeles to the list of classic series making a comeback in 2020. The Will Smith-starring sitcom hasn't returned in the proper sense. It is actually getting a reboot, in a darker, more dramatic form, because everything old is new again, but that was just announced a few months back and hasn't arrived just yet. Still, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's surviving original cast members have all come together for a brand new reunion special — which Stan now has available to stream alongside each and every one of the 148 episodes that initially aired between 1990–96. Accordingly, if you'd like to while away more than a few hours, days and weeks seeing where Smith's on-screen career kicked off, laughing at The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's fish-out-of-water premise and feeling mighty nostalgic for times gone by, now you can. You'll obviously be treated to a hefty array of 90s fashions, because that comes with the territory. And, you'll be certain to get the series' famed theme tune stuck in your head (if you haven't already while reading this paragraph, that is).

Every season of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air is available to stream via TVNZ ONDemand.

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Top images: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, Paramount Animation; The Queen's Gambit, Phil Bray/Netflix; His House, Aidan Monaghan/Netflix.

Published on November 30, 2020 by Sarah Ward

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