Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream in January 2021
Cancel your plans to get stuck into thrilling French heist series, an Indonesian horror flick, Marvel's latest and a likely Oscar contender.
January 29, 2021
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 Australia'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 from January's haul of newbies.
BRAND NEW STUFF YOU CAN WATCH IN FULL RIGHT NOW
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI
Pondering the conversations that might've occurred between four pivotal historical figures on one very real evening they spent in each other's company, One Night in Miami boasts the kind of talk-heavy concept that'd clearly work well on the stage. That's where it first began back in 2013 — but adapting theatre pieces for the cinema doesn't always end in success, especially when they primarily involve large swathes of dialogue exchanged in one setting. If Beale Street Could Talk Oscar-winner and Watchmen Emmy-winner Regina King doesn't make a single wrong move here, however. The actor's feature directorial debut proves a film not only of exceptional power and feeling, but of abundant texture and detail as well. It's a movie about people and ideas, including the role the former can play in both bolstering and counteracting the latter, and the Florida-set picture takes as much care with its quartet of protagonists as it does with the matters of race, politics and oppression they talk about. Given the folks involved, there's much to discuss. The film takes place on February 25, 1964, which has become immortalised in history as the night that Cassius Clay (Eli Goree, Riverdale) won his first title fight. Before and after the bout, the future Muhammad Ali hangs out with his equally important pals — activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir, High Fidelity), footballer Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge, The Invisible Man) and musician Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr, Hamilton) — with this equally meticulous and moving certain future Oscar-nominee ficitionalising their time together.
One Night in Miami is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
Few actors are as charming on-screen as Omar Sy. Ever since the French talent started making a big-screen splash in films such as Micmacs and The Intouchables, he has been a delight to watch. Consequently, the Mood Indigo, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Jurassic World star couldn't be better cast in Lupin — the Paris-set mystery-thriller series inspired by Maurice Leblanc's 1907–36 novels and novellas about the fictional gentleman thief of the same name. Sy plays Assane Diop, who is first introduced as a cleaner working at the Louvre. In flashbacks to recent events and to the character's childhood, viewers learn just why he's at the famous museum, and what has inspired his life of crime as well. The son of a Senegalese immigrant (Fargass Assandé, Eye of the Storm) who once worked for the wealthy Pellegrini family, Assane has a complicated history, plus a mystery to solve, Marie Antoinette's diamond necklace to steal and vengeance to exact. Each chapter of his on-screen tale is slick, engrossing and swiftly-paced, as all heist and espionage affairs should be. Based on his engaging performance, they should probably all star Sy, too. Also influential here, though, is filmmaker Louis Leterrier. His resume has more misses than hits, spanning the first two Transporter movies, The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans, Now You See Me and Grimsby, but he brings a deft touch to this series — as he did to the vastly dissimilar The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.
Lupin's first five episodes — which comprise the first of the series' two parts — are available to stream via Netflix.
THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC
Remaking the 1981 film of the same name, Indonesian horror movie The Queen of Black Magic takes three men back to the remote orphanage they grew up in. Naturally given the setup and the genre, more than just memories await. Friends Hanif (Ario Bayu, The Bridge), Anton (Tanta Ginting, Hit & Run) and Jefri (Miller Khan, Foxtrot Six) all return to pay their respects to the man who raised them, the ailing Mr Bani (Yayu AW Unru, Brata), and they've each brought their families and spouses along — but when they arrive at the facility, there's no mistaking the eerie feeling that permeates. Hanif, his wife Nadya (Hannah Al Rashid, The Night Comes for Us) and their three children are already a little rattled after an incident during their drive. Soon, the kids are exploring the property and unearthing secrets that have long haunted their father and his pals. Just as swiftly, filmmaker Kimo Stamboel demonstrates that he isn't going to hold back on the bumps, jumps or gore, although fans of his work as part of the Mo Brothers — including Macabre, Killers and Headshot — won't be surprised by his unflinching approach. The writer/director of Satan's Slaves and Impetigore, screenwriter Joko Anwar also helps shape a picture that leans on more than a few horror tropes, but never feels like a by-the-numbers haunted house movie. And, if you'd like to compare it to the original, that's joining this new version on Shudder as well (with the current flick available now, and the initial film arriving on the platform in February).
The Queen of Black Magic is available to stream via Shudder.
HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY: THE REN & STIMPY STORY
When August 2021 rolls around, it'll mark 30 years since a psychotic chihuahua and a kindly cat first brought their chaos to the small screen and changed the way people think about Nickelodeon's animated shows. At the time, there was simply nothing like The Ren & Stimpy Show — and that applies to its dark humour, willingness to shock and often grotesquely detailed visuals, as well as its characters, storylines and jokes. The 52-episode show also proved immensely influential. Without it, SpongeBob SquarePants probably wouldn't exist, in fact. But the history of Ren & Stimpy is filled with both highs and lows, as documentary Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story explores. More than just a nostalgic look back, this chronicle by first-time directors Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood covers the series' origins, evolution and success, as well as its behind-the-scenes struggles and eventual demise. It chats with the folks who made it happen to examine why it struck such a chord, and to also make plain the reality of making such a hit. And, it doesn't shy away from the accusations levelled at John Kricfalusi, Ren & Stimpy's creator and the voice of Ren, including not only the difficult working environment that sprang under his watch, but the allegations of sexual abuse and grooming that came to light in 2018. Indeed, the latter could fuel its documentary, but here it adds another layer to the tale of a TV show unlike anything else, and the ego that both made it happen and caused its downfall.
Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story is available to stream via Docplay.
THE HISTORY OF SWEAR WORDS
Listening to Nicolas Cage utter profanity is a beautiful thing. Witnessing him on-screen always earns that description, of course. Whether he's running maniacally through the streets because his character is convinced he's a vampire, or he's flirting with subtlety while also playing identical siblings, he's a pleasure to behold — which is why Netflix's decision to task cinema's undeniable king of the unhinged with hosting The History of Swear Words is a smart moves. He opens and closes each episode, and pops up intermittently as an array of comedians and language experts offer their thoughts. He doesn't appear as often everyone watching would like, but he's the comedy series' best feature. He screams "fuck" like no one else, makes jokes about his career, and paints in front of a picture of a peach that nods to Face/Off and one of the most outlandish scenes he's ever been in, too. Without him, The History of Swear Words would've been interesting, rather than entertaining. The fact that it sticks to a very brief exploration of its selected curse words (fuck, shit, bitch, dick, pussy and damn) would've been more obvious. But Cage makes the show as delightful as it can be in its chosen form, even as viewers are left wanting more not only from him, but from the series' examination of profane terms. Of course, deploying The Wire and Da 5 Bloods' Isiah Whitlock Jr. on one specific episode is a pitch-perfect move as well.
The first season of The History of Swear Words is available to stream via Netflix.
Thanks to The Secret Life of Us, Love My Way, Spirited, Puberty Blues and The Time of Our Lives, Australian TV hasn't lacked Claudia Karvan's presence over the past two decades. Bump joins them, with Karvan co-creating, co-producing and also co-starring as schoolteacher Angie Davis. The narrative focuses on Angie's teenage daughter Oly (Nathalie Morris, Black Christmas), though. An overachiever attacking Year 11 with gusto and dreaming of a career working for the United Nations, Oly isn't sure what's going on when she starts feeling pangs of pain one morning; however, after throwing up in the school toilets and being taken to hospital via ambulance, she's soon a mother to the baby she didn't even know she was expecting. That all happens in Bump's first episode, with the Stan series' ten-part first season then charting the aftermath — including the massive changes to Oly's life, to Angie and her estranged husband Dom's (Angus Sampson, No Activity), and to Oly's brooding classmate Santi Hernandez's (Carlos Sanson, Little Monsters) as well. Set in Sydney's inner west, filled with characters who actually act and talk like teens, and offering a refreshingly multicultural view of Australia, Bump finds time for both big and small moments. It doesn't shy away from melodramatic plot developments, but it's also filled with complex, well-written and excellently performed characters, Oly and Angie especially. And, it'll fill the Heartbreak High-sized hole in your life before the new version hits. Karvan did star in The Heartbreak Kid, the movie that series was spun off from, after all.
The first season of Bump is available to stream via Stan.
If you've ever felt a little unsettled upon checking into a holiday property, Dave Franco and Joe Swanberg understand. The Bad Neighbours, Nerve and The Disaster Artist actor turns filmmaker for the first time with The Rental, co-writing the script with Drinking Buddies, Win It All and Easy director Swanberg — and the horror-thriller that results preys upon the uneasy suspicion that we could be under surveillance when we pay to stay in someone else's house. Charlie (Dan Stevens, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga), his wife Michelle (Alison Brie, Happiest Season), his brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White, Shameless), and his business parter and Josh's girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand, Snowpiercer) all decide to head to a picturesque seaside spot for a weekend getaway. Searching online, they find what seems like the perfect place; however, upon arrival, Mina is quickly creeped out by Taylor (Toby Huss, Halloween), the house's caretaker. The vacation goes downhill from there, not only due to Mina's lingering anxiety about their remote abode, but because the two couples' underlying struggles are thrust out into the open. Unpacking the situation, Franco doesn't always find the best balance between the narrative's horror story and its relationship dramas, but he could've focused the film on either element and it still would've proven engaging. The excellent cast help immensely, and so does the commitment all-round to ensuring this isn't just a cookie-cutter cabin-in-the-woods effort.
The Rental is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
NEW AND RETURNING SHOWS TO CHECK OUT WEEK BY WEEK
From Iron Man to Spider-Man: Far From Home, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has notched up 23 big-screen instalments in its 13 years so far, firmly establishing a franchise template in the process. The characters in the spotlight change from film to film, but a clear formula is at work — which is why the mould-breaking goofiness of the Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy movies (Thor: Ragnarok especially) has stood out. New Disney+ series WandaVision also sits apart from the crowd. It's Marvel's biggest swing so far, in fact. It's also the company's first TV show from a hefty upcoming roster of series about characters already established in the MCU (including Loki, Falcon, the Winter Soldier and Hawkeye), and it relies upon viewers knowing Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen, Sorry for Your Loss) and Vision's (Paul Bettany, Solo: A Star Wars Story) history; however, its eagerness to do something different is worth applauding. Set after the events of Avengers: Endgame, it follows its titular couple in their home life. Just how it's able to do that given details already established in the MCU is one of its mysteries. So is the reason behind its approach, with the show aping classic sitcoms such as Leave It to Beaver, Bewitched and The Brady Bunch, as well as the involvement of Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris, If Beale Street Could Talk), daughter of Captain Marvel's Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau. So far, WandaVision doesn't always hit its marks — in fact, despite Olsen, Bettany and Kathryn Hahn's (I Know This Much Is True) comic performances, it can be inescapably clunky — but it keeps its audience not only intrigued and invested, but guessing.
The first four episodes of WandaVision's first season are available to stream via Disney+, with new episodes releasing each Friday.
In its first season, which debuted in 2019, psychological horror series Servant introduced a distinctively disquieting scenario. Philadelphia newsreader Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose, Six Feet Under) and her chef husband Sean (Toby Kebbell, Bloodshot) hire teenage nanny Leanne Grayson (Nell Tiger Free, Game of Thrones) to move in and care for their baby son Jericho — but she's really looking after a doll that Sean has been using to replace the infant, after the boy died at 13 weeks old and Dorothy couldn't cope. That's just Servant's setup, too. Initially, it gets its tension from the efforts by Sean, Leanne and Dorothy's brother Julian (Harry Potter's Rupert Grint) to maintain their ruse, and it makes ample use of the concept. Then Leanne's past comes into play, and the show shifts in different narrative directions while also maintaining its focus on grief, secrets, unhealthy family bonds and the way that darkness can fester in close quarters. M Night Shyamalan is the show's executive producer and has directed multiple episodes, but the series takes far more time to explore its creepy tale — and its sprawling claustrophobic brownstone setting — than Shyamalan's twist-heavy features. Servant's just-started second season picks up where it first left off and continues in the same engrossing fashion, all while investigating mysteries old and new. Its first two episodes also benefit from the work of Raw filmmaker Julia Ducournau behind the lens, while Ishana Night Shyamalan keeps things in the family by following her dad into the director's chair on a couple of episodes as well.
The first three episodes of Servant's second season are available to stream via Apple TV+, with new episodes releasing each Friday.
CULT CLASSICS TO REVISIT AND REDISCOVER
Sometimes, sitcoms about families unfurl their tales via animation, as seen in everything from The Flintstones and The Jetsons to The Simpsons and Bob's Burgers. More frequently, they fall into the live-action category, which the likes of Family Ties, Full House, Fresh Off the Boat and Modern Family can all attest. But only one family-focused TV sitcom in the television history has focused on animatronic dinosaurs. That'd be Dinosaurs, of course. The big early-90s hit is set 60,000,003 years BCE, when earth was home to the supercontinent Pangaea, and it follows the day-to-day lives of the Sinclair family. Patriarch Earl works as a tree pusher for the Wesayso Corporation, which gives you an idea of the show's satirical leanings. His youngest son Baby spouts catchphrases like "not the mama" and "I'm the baby, gotta love me", which is indicative of the series' broad humour and easy gags. The whole concept was conceived by Jim Henson, his company also produced it, and it was as kooky when it first hit screens as it now sounds. It's also a show that everyone who was a kid in the 90s has strong memories of, and it has quite the finale. And, although your much-younger self couldn't have known all that time ago, Dinosaurs also sees Jessica Walter voice one of her many TV matriarchs — before fellow family-focused sitcom Arrested Development and spy spoof Archer, that is.
All four seasons of Dinosaurs are available to stream via Disney+.
Images: The History of Swear Words, Adam Rose/Netflix; Lupin, Emmanuel Guimier/Netflix.
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