Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream in January
Get stuck into an eerie found-footage horror series, a hilarious new murder-mystery comedy and one of Aubrey Plaza's best films.
January 31, 2022
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 from January's haul of newbies.
BRAND NEW STUFF YOU CAN WATCH IN FULL RIGHT NOW
Australian Malignant, The Conjuring and Saw filmmaker James Wan doesn't direct any episodes of Netflix's new sci-fi/horror series Archive 81, but he does lend his executive producing skills to the podcast-to-screen show — and it's easy to see why. The immediately creepy found-footage effort slots in seamlessly among the fright-inducing fare that's helped make his career, all while taking its time to dole out its scares, shocks and eeriness. It's also plain to see why Resolution, The Endless and Synchronic directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead helm two episodes, too, thanks to their already-demonstrated affection for mind-bending, genre-twisting tales that play with space and time. That pedigree alone makes Archive 81 a must-see for movie buffs, and so does the fact that the series also doubles a love letter to everything strange and out-there that's ever been captured on celluloid.
Usually devoting his time to unearthing lost gems or just trawling through old video tapes looking for recorded treasure, film archivist Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie, Black Box) gets an unexpectedly lucrative job offer: restoring Hi8 footage shot by college student Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi, Altered Carbon) back in 1994. He has to agree to live in a remote compound, under video surveillance, to take the gig — and he'll be sifting through material that Melody filmed in the Visser, an odd New York apartment building where she was looking for her mother but started to notice otherworldly things afoot. Much of the thrill of the impeccably made Archive 81 stems from its multi-layered mysteries, including what's actually happening back in the 90s, the real motives behind Dan's well-paying position and why the two time periods seem to start bleeding together. Developed, produced and mostly penned by The Boys alum Rebecca Sonnenshine, it makes for tense, trippy and often daring viewing, even when things get a tad silly in the supernatural department.
The first season of Archive 81 is available to stream via Netflix.
If making TV shows and movies bubbles down to a formula, it doesn't take much to glean how The Tourist came about. Starring Jamie Dornan as a man caught up in a mystery in Australia's sprawling outback, this six-part series jumps on several popular trends — saddling a famous face with battling the Aussie elements chief among them (see also: the film Gold, which plonks Zac Efron amid the nation's dusty, yellow-hued expanse). Dornan's trip Down Under also plunges into a familiar thriller setup, with memory loss playing a key role. Memento famously did it. The Flight Attendant did as well. Combine the two, throw in all that striking scenery that constantly defines Australia on-screen, and that's the template beneath this well-greased, cleverly plotted, easy-to-binge newcomer.
Adding another TV role to his resume alongside The Fall, Death and Nightingales, New Worlds and Once Upon a Time — and another part to his eclectic filmography, given that he's been in the vastly dissimilar Synchronic and Wild Mountain Thyme in the past year, and looks set to get an Oscar nomination for Belfast — Dornan plays an Irish traveller in Australia. The character's name doesn't matter at first, when he's using the bathroom at a petrol station in the middle of nowhere. But after he's run off the road by a steamrolling long-haul truck, he desperately wishes he could remember his own moniker, plus everything else about his past. Local Constable Helen Chalmers (Danielle Macdonald, French Exit) takes a shine to him anyway; however, piecing together his history is far from straightforward. His other immediate questions: why is he in the middle of Australia, why does a bomb go off in his vicinity and why is he getting calls from a man trapped in an underground barrel?
Not to be confused with well-cast but decidedly unfunny Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler-starring comedy of the same name, The House dedicates its weird and wonderful stop-motion animated frames to three tales all set in the same abode. In the anthology film's first chapter, a poverty-stricken family mocked by richer relatives luck into a deal with an architect, which results in the movie's central dwelling being built — and its new inhabitants getting more than they bargained for. In the second part, a developer, who also happens to be a rat, finalises his renovations and readies the place for sale; however, two odd prospective buyers won't leave after the first viewing. And in the third section, the home towers above an apocalyptic future flooded with water, with its owner, a cat, struggling with her fellow feline tenants.
Each of The House's films-within-a-film hail from a different creative team, boast different voice casts and splash around their own aesthetics — and they're all a delight. The constants: the titular structure, the fabric-style look to the animation (even as each director comes up with their own take) that makes you want to reach out and touch it, and mix of creativity and emotion in its dark-skewing stories. This is a movie that questions the comfortable mindset that bricks and mortar are expected to bring, and where where just trying to get by is recognised as the struggle it is in a variety of wild and inventive ways. And as for that vocal talent, Matthew Goode (The King's Man), Mia Goth (Emma.), Helena Bonham Carter (The Crown), Susan Wokoma (Truth Seekers) and Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker all do ace work.
The House is available to stream via Netflix.
THE TENDER BAR
Playing Batman has rarely been about smiles and laughs, but spending time in the cape and the cowl was particularly grim for Ben Affleck. He wasn't the best Bruce Wayne or Dark Knight, and he couldn't have looked more miserable. He hasn't seemed to have had a great time on-screen for a while, in fact, other than his OTT recent performance in The Last Duel. He's a charismatic dream in The Tender Bar, though, with coming-of-age drama enlisting him as the supportive uncle and surrogate dad to the film's lead character and still giving him top billing. With the Sad Affleck memes and the chaos frequently surrounding his personal life, it can be easy to forget how charming an actor the elder Affleck brother can be — and this is also his best performance since 2014's Gone Girl, and by far.
That uncle, Charlie, tends bar and helps his sister (Lily Rabe, The Undoing) bring up her son JR (debutant Daniel Ranieri) given that the boy's radio DJ dad (Max Martini, The Purge) is happily and drunkenly mostly absent from their lives. It's the self-taught Charlie that sparks JR's desire to become a writer, too, with The Tender Bar based on real-life novelist and journalist JR Moehringer's memoir. There's much that's familiar about the overall narrative, but George Clooney — in filmmaker mode, but without also appearing on-screen as he did with The Midnight Sky — recognises that a comfortable story told well, and with warmth, affection and thoughtfulness, can still strike a chord. The performances he gets out of Affleck, the engaging young Ranieri, plus Tye Sheridan (The Card Counter) as the college-aged JR, also help considerably, as do the moments between the former and his two main co-stars that firmly fit the film's title: tender.
The Tender Bar is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
NEW AND RETURNING SHOWS TO CHECK OUT WEEK BY WEEK
Only Murders in the Building isn't the only new comic murder-mystery series worth streaming from the past few months. Joining it is The Afterparty, which also sports a killer cast — this time Sam Richardson (Detroiters), Ben Schwartz (Space Force), Zoe Chao (Love Life), Ilana Glazer (Broad City), Ike Barinholtz (The Mindy Project), Dave Franco (If Beale Street Could Talk) and Tiffany Haddish (The Card Counter) — and a savvy spin on an oft-used gimmick. Rather than skewering true-crime podcasting, this quickly addictive comedy from writer/director Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie) toys with the reality that every tale differs depending on the perspective. Whodunnits always hinge upon that fact, and Miller has also clearly seen iconic Japanese film Rashomon. And, considering that its big murder takes place after a school function, there's a touch of Big Little Lies at play, too. With his directing partner Phil Lord, Miller has made a career out of getting smart and funny with familiar parts, however, and that doesn't change here.
The setup: at the afterparty following his 15-year high-school reunion, obnoxious autotune-abusing pop star Xavier (Franco) winds up dead on the rocks beneath his lavish mansion. Enter the determined Detective Danner (Haddish), who starts grilling his former classmates one by one to find out who's responsible. Her interrogations start with the sensible Aniq (the always-great Richardson), who was hoping to finally make a move on his schoolyard crush Zoe (Chao) — and after his version of events, Danner hears from Zoe's macho ex Brett (Barinholtz) in The Afterparty's second episode, then from Aniq's best bud Yasper (Schwartz, riffing on Parks and Recreation's Jean-Ralphio without being quite as ridiculous). The cast is top-notch, the writing is clever, there's much fun to be had with its genre- and perspective-bending premise, and the throwaway gags are simply glorious.
The first three episodes of The Afterparty are available to stream via Apple TV+, with new instalments dropping weekly.
Simply being better than its terrible predecessor couldn't make The Suicide Squad a great movie; however, the DC Extended Universe is still betting big on James Gunn's over-the-top vision for its supervillains. Yes, just like Marvel, the comic-book company has its own sprawling big-screen franchise filled with interconnected films — and now, thanks to spinoff streaming series Peacemaker, that caped crusader-focused world also extends to the small screen, too. John Cena (Fast and Furious 9) returns as the titular character, and feels more comfortable in the role this time around. Gunn is back as the show's creator, writer and main director, helming all but three of the first season's eight episodes. And the tone is still devil-may-care with irreverence and flair, aka the filmmaker's usual mode, complete with rampant helpings of raunch and gore.
If you loved The Suicide Squad, this is all clearly great news. Even better: if you weren't fussed overly or at all about Gunn's sequel-slash-do-over and now understandably approach the idea of a TV offshoot with caution, Peacemaker still proves plenty of fun. It follows its central figure after the events of the film, where he's spared from going back to prison by being dragged into another black-ops government squad on a super-secret mission — and while Gunn isn't doing anything new here, he's found a better balance for his brash and raucous approach in this entertaining series than in the flick that preceded it. Casting the radiant Danielle Brooks (Orange Is the New Black) as one of the agents overseeing the egotistical, frequently dancing, often half-naked, always-comic Peacemaker is also a masterstroke.
The first five episodes of Peacemaker's first season are available to stream via Neon, with new instalments dropping weekly.
Ted Lasso is the Apple TV+ series that's been scoring all the praise and love for the past few years, and rightfully so — but the platform's M Night Shyamalan-produced Servant is also one of its winners. Perched at the complete opposite end of the spectrum to the warm-hearted soccer comedy, this eerie horror effort spends the bulk of its time in a well-appointed Philadelphia brownstone where TV news reporter Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose, The X-Files) and her chef husband Sean (Toby Kebbell, Bloodshot) appear the picture of wealthy happiness, complete with a newborn son, Jericho, to fulfil their perfect family portrait. But as 18-year-old nanny Leanne Grayson (Nell Tiger Free, Too Old to Die Young) quickly learned in Servant's first season, there's nothing normal about their baby — which, after the tot's death, has been replaced by a lookalike doll to calm the otherwise-catatonic Dorothy's grief.
That's how the series began back in 2019, with its second season deepening its mysteries — and Leanne's place with the Turners, even as her own unconventional background with cult ties keeps bringing up questions. With the just-started third season, the household is once again attempting to pretend that everything is normal and to also keep Dorothy unaware of the real Jericho's fate, even with a flesh-and-blood infant now back in her arms. But in a slowly paced series that's perfected its unsettling and insidious tone from episode one, serves up a clever blend of atmospheric and claustrophobic thrills mixed with gripping performances, makes exceptional use of its setting and also features Rupert Grint in his best post-Harry Potter role yet, there's always more engrossing twists to rock the status quo.
The first two episodes of Servant's third season are available to stream via Apple TV+, with new instalments dropping weekly.
EXCELLENT FILMS FROM THE PAST FEW YEARS TO CATCH UP ON
Aubrey Plaza's resume isn't short on highlights, but Black Bear sits right at the top alongside her instantly iconic turn as Parks and Recreation's April Ludgate and her also-excellent performance in Ingrid Goes West. She does deadpan like few other actors currently working, and can convey more with her eyes and otherwise expressionless face than most of her colleagues can with their entire bodies — but she's asked to use every acting tool in her arsenal in this two-part affair. She always plays a woman called Allison, but her character is initially introduced as a former actress-turned-filmmaker decamping to a scenic lake house in upstate New York's Adirondack Mountains, with getting some writing done (and finding the inspiration to do so) her aim. She's easily distracted by her hosts, though, with Gabe (Christopher Abbott, Possessor) showing Allison a little too much attention amid his bickering with his pregnant partner Blair (Sarah Gadon, True Detective).
In the movie's second half, everything changes, including all that the audience knows about the characters, their jobs and their relationships with each other. Now the film takes place in the same spot, but in the middle of a movie shoot that's proving as chaotic as the initial Allison's attempt at a relaxing stay. Helming his third feature, writer/director Lawrence Michael Levine (Wild Canaries) leans heavily upon his cast — especially Plaza; Allison is told she's hard to read, and that's a key part to the twisty narrative — but he's also trusted himself with an astute, insightful and playful deconstruction of art and authenticity. There are no weak links at any moment, including in the feature's seesawing between dark comedy and dramatic thrills, and the distinctive aesthetic he applies to the film's two parts. Plaza is astonishing, unsurprisingly, but Abbott and Gadon are similarly impressive in a movie that isn't easily forgotten.
Black Bear is available to stream via Netflix.
The past two years have been nothing short of spectacular for filmmaker Chloé Zhao. She directed the best feature of 2020, aka Nomadland, then became only the second woman ever — and first woman of colour — to win the Best Director Oscar. And, mere months after achieving that historic feat, she gave the Marvel Cinematic Universe its most ambitious movie yet (and its most gorgeously and naturalistically shot) courtesy of Eternals. But the writer/director's career didn't start here, and also didn't start being phenomenal with Nomadland. A hit on the festival circuit in 2017 and 2018 (the latter in Australia), The Rider wasn't her first excellent film either (that'd be 2015's Songs My Brothers Taught Me), but the empathetic modern-day take on the western genre instantly cemented her as a talent to watch
In this rodeo drama, Brady Blackburn (real-life cowboy Brady Jandreau, playing a version of himself) just wants to hop back onto a horse. He's also a gifted trainer, and this line of work is what he's compelled to do. Watching him struggle with life without his only passion makes for soulful and heart-wrenching viewing, as Brady wades through the aftermath of an in-ring incident that almost killed him. Shot with lyrical images that find tenderness in the story, suffering and situation, The Rider proves a case of art imitating life after Jandreau went through the same scenario himself after meeting Zhao back in 2015 — and she turns the results into a feature that's partly a specific character study and partly a universal tale of chasing and losing a dream, then trying to come out of the other side. Also starring members of Jandreau's family, and told with devastating intimacy, the end result boasts a heart as big as America's sweeping plains.
The Rider is available to stream via Netflix.
A BELOVED SITCOM TO BINGE — AND CHECK OUT ITS NEW SEASON
IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA
Since 2005, one sitcom has devoted 162 episodes to the world's worst bar owners, spanning their attempts to run a watering hole, their constant bickering with each other and everything else that life has thrown their way. That show is It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, of course. As well as now being the longest-running live-action sitcom ever made, it's a gem filled with the devious, darkly amusing and downright odd antics of the Paddy's Pub gang. Those pals — as played by Charlie Day (Pacific Rim: Uprising), Glenn Howerton (AP Bio), Rob McElhenney (Mythic Quest), Kaitlin Olson (Hacks) and Danny DeVito (Jumanji: The Next Level) — usually fail at everything they attempt, and the show never pretends otherwise. Indeed, with a nihilistic and irreverent sense of humour that's all its own, it's one of the least sensible yet also savagely smart shows currently airing.
Season 15, which is now on Disney+ alongside the 14 seasons before it — bringing its eight-episode run our way quite swiftly after it aired in America in December last year — sees Charlie, Dennis, Mac, Dee and Frank keep doing what they've always done, and keep pouring out comedy gold in the process. It's the show's first season since COVID-19, so it finds ways to work the pandemic into its always-outrageous setups. Given the American political landscape since 2019, when the previous season aired, It's Always Sunny has much to mine there as well. And, a trip to Ireland, aka hallowed ground for the longterm owners of an Irish pub, also fills half of its episodes. Even this far in, the show never stops surprising, pushing every boundary it can and being sidesplittingly hilarious — and long may it continue, with another three seasons already greenlit.
All 15 seasons to-date of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia are available to stream via Disney+.
Top image: Quantrell D Colbert/Netflix.
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