Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream in November
Get stuck into the wittily great new season of 'The Great', a chilling and compelling new mystery series and a Tom Hanks-starring sci-fi film.
November 30, 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 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 the past month's haul of newbies.
NEW STUFF YOU CAN WATCH IN FULL RIGHT NOW
Huzzah! The best satirical comedy about Russian history there is has returned for another run, and proves as much of a delight this time around as it did in its first batch of episodes. The concept was already there — following the rise and reign of Catherine the Great, including her marriage to and overthrowing of Emperor Peter III, with only the slightest regard for the actual facts — but The Great definitely doesn't suffer from second-season syndrome. Indeed, while the series has always been supremely confident in its blend of handsome period staging, the loosest of historical realities and that savage sense of humour (it does spring from Oscar-nominated The Favourite screenwriter Tony McNamara, after all), this season it feels even more comfortable in its skin. Smoother, too, yet just as biting. In fact, its ability to seesaw tonally is as sharp as a shot of vodka — or several.
Following the events of the first season, Catherine (Elle Fanning, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) is still waging war with Peter (Nicholas Hoult, Those Who Wish Me Dead) — via soldiers on the battlefield to begin with, and then in the royal court in the aftermath of her bloody coup. Her pregnancy is also ticking along, the couple's various hangers-on have chosen sides, and changing Russia into a progressive nation isn't going to be an easy task. This time around, Gillian Anderson (The Crown) joins the cast as Catherine's acid-tongued mother, but both Fanning and Hoult continue to turn in the performances of their careers. Devastatingly witty and entertaining — and addictive — The Great has lived up to its name for two seasons now.
Season two of The Great is available to stream via Neon.
"This could be the new normal," a snippet from a news report comments early in Burning. The reason for the statement: Black Summer, the Australian bushfire season of 2019–20 that decimated large swathes of the country, sent smoke floating around the world and attracted international media attention. The world doesn't need a documentary to confirm how horrific the situation was, and this is now the second in months — after the gripping first-person accounts in A Fire Inside — but this powerful film from Chasing Asylum's Eva Orner also lays bare all the factors that coalesced in the tragic events of just two years ago. Accordingly, this is a doco about inaction, government indifference to the point of failure, and the valuing of fossil fuels over their destruction of the environment. It's a movie about climate change as well, clearly, because any film telling this tale has to be.
Orner, an Oscar-winner for producing 2007's Taxi to the Dark Side and an Emmy-winner for 2016's Out of Iraq, takes a three-pronged approach: providing context to the bushfires, including charting the Australian government's choices before and after; amassing expert and experienced testimonies, spanning activists and those on the ground alike; and bearing witness. Facts — such as the three billion animals killed — sit side by side with personal recollections and devastating images. The latter includes not only the fires and their ashy aftermath, but political arguing and Aussie PM Scott Morrison's Hawaiian holiday; all hit like a punch to the gut. The result is urgent, important and stunning — and absolutely essential viewing.
Burning is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
There's a sweetness to Finch that transcends its easy-sell concept — because tasking the always-likeable Tom Hanks with navigating a solar flare-ravaged earth was always going to be inherently watchable. Perhaps Turner and Hooch meets Cast Away meets Chappie meets The Road was the elevator pitch? Maybe seeing not just America's on-screen dad, but the world's, play father to a cute pooch and a teenager-like robot was the key selling point? Either way, filmmaker Miguel Sapochnik (Game of Thrones) and first-time feature screenwriters Craig Luck and Ivor Powell tap into a tender and selfless existential quest in their post-apocalyptic drama. The titular Finch isn't attempting to survive, but trying to ensure that the dog that's been his only flesh-and-blood companion for a decade or so can live on after he's gone.
In Hanks' second protective father-figure role in as many features, following News of the World, he also plays Geppetto to a robot Pinocchio or Victor Frankenstein to a new mechanical life, too. Jeff, the wiry being born of his labour, is far from perfect — and Finch's slow, initially begrudging acceptance that he can't mould and control everything about his creation ranks chief among the movie's touching emotional journeys. The film's musings on mortality, leaving a legacy and being a better person are also layered and thoughtful, and never feel well-worn even though science-fiction can't stop pondering such ideas. In an excellent motion-capture performance, Caleb Landry Jones (Nitram) also leaves an imprint as Jeff. Unsurprisingly, however, Hanks is always Finch's key source of texture and empathy.
Finch is available to stream via Apple TV+.
A TV show can live or die based on its casting alone. With Netflix's live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop, it frequently seems as if it only exists because some immensely clever person had the stroke of genius to cast John Cho (The Grudge) as Spike Spiegel. While being the best thing about a series or a movie isn't always a good thing — on the big screen, both Jungle Cruise and Venom: Let There Be Carnage haven't managed to match their ace lead casting in recent months — Cho always makes Cowboy Bebop much more than watchable. Well, Cho, his effortless swagger, sleek costumes, and the film's overt eagerness to look and feel as much like anime come to life as it possibly can. It isn't on the same level as its source material, and it doesn't even try to improve it, but it's still an exuberant, stylish and frequently engaging piece of sci-fi television.
As anyone familiar with the 90s anime will know, Spike is just one of Cowboy Bebop's bounty hunters on the spaceship Bebop. After a disaster has scattered humanity across the solar system, chasing down criminals is Spike and Jet Black's (Mustafa Shakir, The Deuce) way of making a living. That's true both before and after they cross paths with Fay Valentine (Daniella Pineda, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), with the series as concerned with the sitcom-esque odd-threesome vibe between its key figures as it is with their quests. Everyone has their complications, but almost everything is madcap and manic here — and when it works it works, with particular thanks to Cho, naturally, as well as Shakir and Pineda.
Season one of Cowboy Bebop is available to stream via Netflix.
THE MAD WOMEN'S BALL
The Mad Women's Ball marks the latest thoughtful and enthralling stint behind the camera for Mélanie Laurent. The French actor who'll forever be known for Inglourious Basterds features on-screen in this, too, and turns in a layered and textured performance. But, behind the lens for the sixth time — and the first since 2018's Galveston — she transforms an already-gripping tale into a film that's vivid, passionate, empathetic and resonant. You could compare The Mad Women's Ball to One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, although that's oversimplifying things. Both are primarily set within comparable facilities, with the Salpêtrière neurological clinic the key location here, and both hone in on the power imbalance between those admitted and those running the show. But the Salpêtrière's patients are all women, most have been checked in against their will, the word 'hysteria' is thrown around too often by the male doctors, and 19th-century Paris treats anyone who doesn't conform to to the placid, dutiful female norm with contempt.
That's what Eugénie Cléry (Lou de Laâge, who also starred in Laurent's 2014 film Breathe) learns after she starts hearing spirits. When her wealthy family find out about her new ability to communicate with the dead, she's packed away despite her pleas and protests, and confined to a place where she's little more than an inmate for men to torture with ice baths and other supposed cures. Laurent plays a nurse who becomes sympathetic to Eugénie's cause, but the film has just as much time for the sense of camaraderie that springs between the facility's wrongly institutionalised charges. It also offers space for other on-screen women to make an imprint, and serves up not just a potent but a handsomely staged adaptation of Victoria Mas' novel Le bal des folles.
The Mad Women's Ball is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE
In the initial two episodes of Scenes From a Marriage, Mira (Jessica Chastain, IT: Chapter Two) and Jonathan (Oscar Isaac, Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker) brush their teeth in front of their ensuite mirror. It's an everyday task in a familiar place, spanning something we all do in a space we all use, but this five-part HBO miniseries turns these two scenes into a complex snapshot of its central couple. It takes not just skill but feeling and understanding to turn such a mundane activity into a must-see; however, that's this weighty show's remit. Scenes From a Marriage gets viewers engrossed in cleaning teeth because it's ordinary, and because everything within its frames fits the same description.
Its central relationship careens from happy to heartbroken, comfortable to distraught, and assured to messy, but it also charts a path that countless others have. Accordingly, Mira and Jonathan start the series cemented in their routine, but with each of its five episodes dedicated to a significant day over the course of several years, much changes. The ambitious tech industry executive to his ex-Orthodox Jewish philosophy professor, Mira drops a bombshell, their lives shift over and over, and yet plenty stays the same as well. As penned and helmed by The Affair's Hagai Levi — remaking the 1973 Swedish TV miniseries by iconic film director Ingmar Bergman — Scenes From a Marriage is a show about patterns, cycles and echoes, in fact. It ponders how they ripple through relationships and, when broken or changed, how their absence is felt. The result is devastating and powerful, shot and scored with intensity, and home to exceptional performances from Chastain and Isaac, who prove just as irresistible in their second collaboration in a stormy union as they did in 2014 also-stellar A Most Violent Year.
KEVIN CAN F**K HIMSELF
There's never been a show on TV quite like Kevin Can F**k Himself, but there have been too many series that resemble half of this clever and cutting dark comedy. Whenever Allison Devine-McRoberts (Annie Murphy, Schitt's Creek) is around her manchild of a husband Kevin (Eric Petersen, Sydney to the Max), she's clearly in a sitcom. The lights glow brightly, her home looks like every other cosy abode in every other apparently amusing show about an obnoxious man and his put-upon wife — including all the ones starring Kevin James — and multiple cameras capture their lives. Also, canned laughter chuckles whenever something supposedly funny (but usually just cringeworthy) occurs between Kevin, his ever dimwitted best pal and neighbour Neil (Alex Bonifer, Superstore), Neil's one-of-the-guys sister Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden, The Righteous Gemstones) and Kevin's ever-present dad (Brian Howe, Chicago Fire).
We've all seen this setup before, and Kevin Can F**k Himself's creator Valerie Armstrong (Lodge 49) definitely knows it. But, whenever Allison is blissfully free from her horrible hubby, murkier tones and a much more realistic vibe kick in. Just one camera films her struggles, and she's clearly in a premium cable drama. This is when Allison starts trying to do something about her terrible marriage, including a plot not just to leave Kevin, but to ensure that she'll be free of him forever. On paper, the creative decisions behind Kevin Can F**k Himself's two halves are a high-concept gimmick, and purposefully so. They're deployed devastatingly on-screen, however, in what proves one of the best new shows of 2021. Thankfully, Kevin Can F**k Himself has just been renewed for a second season, too, so more of its savvy charms and astute social commentary — and Murphy and Inboden's memorable performances — await.
NEW AND RETURNING SHOWS TO CHECK OUT WEEK BY WEEK
When Yellowjackets begins, it's with an intriguing mystery, a killer cast — led by the compulsively watchable Melanie Lynskey (Mrs America), Juliette Lewis (Breaking News in Yuba County) and Christina Ricci (Percy vs Goliath) — and a deep valley full of trauma. In their high-school years, Shauna Sheridan (Lynskey, and also The Kid Detective's Sophie Nélisse as a teenager) and Natalie (Lewis, plus The Tomorrow Man's Sophie Thatcher) were key players on the titular high-achieving New Jersey soccer team, while Misty (Ricci, as well as Shameless' Samantha Hanratty) was the squad's frequently bullied student manager. Then, en route to a big match in Seattle on a private plane in 1996, they entered Lost territory. That crash saw the survivors stranded in the wilderness for 19 months, and living their worst Lord of the Flies lives, too.
As established in a tremendous first episode directed with the utmost precision by Destroyer's Karyn Kusama, Yellowjackets isn't simply interested in an inherently disturbing experience that'd change anyone's life. It's just as obsessed with that transformation itself — with how, after falling from the sky, learning to endure in such remote surroundings and plummeting into a horror movie, someone copes when normality supposedly comes calling afterwards. Flitting between the two 25-years-apart time periods, it's about tragedies endured, paths taken, necessities accepted and the echoes that linger from all three. Even just a handful of episodes in, this instant must-see is chilling, perceptive, resonant and potent.
Yellowjackets is streaming via Neon, with new episodes dropping weekly.
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM
Larry David is a singular creature. Famously, the Seinfeld creator was the inspiration for George Constanza, but that comparison will never do justice to the on-screen version of David himself. The writer and comedian has played that fictionalised, satirised version in Curb Your Enthusiasm for 11 seasons over the course of more than two decades now, and he's a character that overflows with complexities and contradictions. He's notoriously and excruciatingly petty. He has zero tact or sensitivity. He's constantly in everyday situations that seem him forced to navigate social codes and conventions, and he's always putting them to the test. When he's wrong, he's the king of cringe comedy. When he's right, he's the champion of everyday grievances. In this HBO comedy, they don't just get aired at Festivus around a pole.
Setting up a spite store — opening a coffee shop next door to an identical cafe purely for malicious reasons — anchored Curb Your Enthusiasm's tenth series. In season 11, David is trying to make TV again. He has an idea for a Young Rock/Everybody Hates Chris-style show called Young Larry which he's shopping around to streaming platforms but, as always, he's his own worst enemy. The episode featuring the great Albert Brooks as himself is one of the show's best ever, and also a delightful tribute to the late Bob Einstein, a former CYE regular and Brooks' real-life brother. Watching David at his best and worst is always this discomfort-courting series' core, though, and he's as stellar as he's ever been.
Season 11 of Curb Your Enthusiasm is streaming via Neon, with new episodes dropping weekly.
Another month, another reason to direct your eyeballs towards Marvel. 2021 hasn't quite played out like that, but only just — there's been three MCU movies so far (Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals), three streaming series before now (WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki), and there's still Spider-Man: No Way Home to come. And, Hawkeye has just started bringing the franchise's arrow-slinging hero to the small-screen. Jeremy Renner (Mayor of Kingstown) returns to the eponymous character, aka Clint Barton, but he isn't actually the main attraction in this miniseries. That'd be Hailee Steinfeld (Dickinson) as Kate Bishop, who has taken inspiration from from Barton, is just as handy with a bow and arrow, and finds herself becoming his protege.
There's a lot of scene-setting in the series' first episodes — establishing Bishop's story, including links back to The Avengers in 2012, and also stepping inside Barton's ordinary life with his family (the presence of which, even as just a background detail, has always made the character stand out). Nonetheless, Steinfeld's addition to Marvel's ever-growing on-screen realm provides just the spark that Hawkeye needs, and that the broader MCU could use as well. The fact that Florence Pugh is set to reprise her Black Widow favourite Yelena Belova in the show, too, firmly thrusts it towards the future — and hopefully, finally and welcomely sets the scene for a different generation of heroes.
Hawkeye is streaming via Disney+, with new episodes dropping weekly.
Need a few more streaming recommendations? Check out our picks from October this year, too.
Published on November 30, 2021 by Sarah Ward