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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream This Month

Get stuck into an unsettling true-crime series, a Kate Winslet-starring drama and this year's Best Picture prize winner.
By Sarah Ward
May 03, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
May 03, 2021
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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 April's haul of newbies.

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BRAND NEW STUFF YOU CAN WATCH IN FULL RIGHT NOW

CONCRETE COWBOY

Like many titles that grace Netflix's catalogue, Concrete Cowboy sounds like the type of movie that the streaming platform's algorithm could've easily cooked up. It might've gleaned that its subscribers like Idris Elba, and that they're keen on horses. It already knows that viewers love Stranger Things, obviously, which is where Caleb McLaughlin comes in. Combine all of the above with a coming-of-age tale that also doubles as a story of redemption, and this movie could be the end result. That's not how Concrete Cowboy came about, though. It's based on Greg Neri's novel Ghetto Cowboy, and it has both a classic and a vibrant air — befitting a film about a teenager who finds his life forever changed by an animal, and a movie about an urban riding community in Detroit as well. As the trouble-prone 15-year-old at the centre of the story, McLaughlin puts in a stirring performance. As his initially estranged father, and the man that introduces him to the stables, Elba (Cats) is magnetic, but his work here doesn't coast by on charm alone. First-time feature writer/director Ricky Staub guides stellar portrayals out of both his stars, and also works with cinematographer Minka Farthing-Kohl (The Nowhere Inn) to ensure that every second of Concrete Cowboy looks and feels as if it's galloping thoughtfully and perceptively through an oft-seen subculture.

Concrete Cowboy is available to stream via Netflix.

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THE SERPENT

One day, Tahar Rahim will likely win an Oscar. He's that phenomenal an actor, as he has shown in everything from A Prophet, The Past and Daguerreotype to The Eddy and The Mauritanian. In The Serpent, however, he's never been more unsettling — but given that he's playing Charles Sobhraj, that comes with the territory. If the real-life French serial killer's name doesn't ring a bell, then this eight-part series will make sure you'll never forget it. The instantly riveting drama tells a grim true tale, and an unnerving one. With his girlfriend Marie-Andrée Leclerc (Jenna Coleman, The Cry) and accomplice Ajay Chowdhury (TV first-timer Amesh Edireweera), Sobhraj targeted young travellers in Bangkok and south Asia in the 70s — usually luring them in with a scam first, or trying to flat-out steal their money, then drugging them, killing them and stealing their passports. Ripper Street writers Richard Warlow and Toby Finlay intertwine Sobhraj, Leclerc and Chowdhury's murderous exploits with the efforts of Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle, Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker) to find two missing tourists. After being tipped off about two bodies by a loud-mouthed Australian in Thailand (Damon Herriman, Judy & Punch), Knippenberg begins to piece together the broader story. It's easy to feel just as he does while watching The Serpent, actually, because getting swept up in its distressing details is simply inevitable.

The Serpent is available to stream via Netflix.

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I USED TO GO HERE

With I Used to Go Here, writer/director Kris Rey (Unexpected) tackles an experience that everyone goes through once they've spent a decade or so being an adult. You might've achieved everything you'd ever hoped for when you were in university — and you might be well-aware that your teenage self would be gobsmacked by what you've conquered — but few dreams are ever as glittering in reality. For Kate Conklin (Gillian Jacobs, Love), things should've been perfect. But while the 35-year-old's first novel is new on bookshelves, it isn't selling. Her book tour has been cancelled as a result. And, although a wedding was in her near future, she soon finds herself single, confused, angry, alone and hurting. So, Kate accepts an offer to step back into the past. Asked to speak at her alma mater by a professor (Jemaine Clement, Legion) she looked up to, she jumps at the chance to revisit her old haunts, to feel like a big deal in her old college town and to get nostalgic with familiar faces. But, she primarily ends up hanging out with the students who now live in her old house, and regressing emotionally. In in its narrative, I Used to Go Here delivers few surprises. And yet, this keenly observed film knows how it feels to walk in Kate's shoes, and how to make those emotions drip from the screen as well. It helps that both Rey and Jacobs invest depth and emotion into every frame; indeed, this would've been half the movie it is otherwise.

I Used to Go Here is available to stream via Google Play.

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NOMADLAND

Days after winning this year's Best Picture prize at the 2021 Academy Awards, Nomadland is available to stream via Star on Disney+. The Chloé Zhao-directed and Frances McDormand-starring film follows the widowed, van-dwelling Fern — a woman who takes to the road, and to the nomad life, after the small middle-America spot she spent her married life in turns into a ghost town when the local mine is shuttered due to the global financial crisis. Charting her travels over the course of more than a year, this humanist drama serves up an observational portrait of those that society happily overlooks. It also won Zhao the Best Director gong, making her the first woman of colour and only second woman ever to nab the prize. McDormand won the Best Actress Oscar, too, and the feature was our best film of 2020 as well. Disney+ viewers can watch Nomadland as part of their regular subscription, with the movie available part of its new Star brand — a just-added new section of the streaming platform that joined the service back in February.

Nomadland is available to stream via Star on Disney+.

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NEW SHOWS TO CHECK OUT WEEK BY WEEK

MARE OF EASTTOWN

Kate Winslet doesn't make the leap to the small screen often, but when she does, it's a must-see event. 2011's Mildred Pierce was simply astonishing, a description that both Winslet and her co-star Guy Pearce also earned — alongside an Emmy each, plus three more for the HBO limited series itself. The two actors and the acclaimed US cable network all reteam for Mare of Easttown, and it too is excellent. Set on the outskirts of Philadelphia, it follows detective Mare Sheehan. As the 25th anniversary of her high-school basketball championship arrives, and after a year of trying to solve a missing person's case linked to one of her former teammates, a new murder upends her existence. Mare's life overflows with complications anyway, with her ex-husband (David Denman, Brightburn) getting remarried, and her mother (Jean Smart, Watchmen), teenage daughter (Angourie Rice, Spider-Man: Far From Home) and four-year-old grandson all under her roof. With town newcomer Richard Ryan (Pearce, The Last Vermeer), she snatches what boozy and physical solace she can. As compelling and textured as she always is, including in this year's Ammonite, Winslet turns Mare of Easttown into a commanding character study. That said, it's firmly an engrossing crime drama as well. Although yet again pondering the adult life of an ex-school sports star, The Way Back's Brad Ingelsby isn't just repeating himself by creating and writing this seven-part series, while The Leftovers and The Hunt's Craig Zobel takes to his directing gig with a probing eye.

The first two episodes of Mare of Easttown are available to stream via Neon, with new episodes available weekly.

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THE HANDMAID'S TALE

Fans of The Handmaid's Tale have had to wait longer than expected for its fourth season, with the dystopian series' next batch of episodes among the many things that were postponed due to the pandemic. But, now it's here — and yes, the word you're looking for is 'finally'. Basically, it's time to trade one source of anxiety and tension for another. Watching the series has never been a stress-free experience, and that continues this time around. Given that the show is all about toppling a totalitarian society that's taken over the former United States, tearing down its oppression of women under the guise of 'traditional values', and fighting for freedom and equality, sending your blood pressure soaring is to be expected (and reading Margaret Atwood's 1985 book wasn't a calm experience, either). After season three's cliffhanger, June (Elisabeth Moss, The Invisible Man) is still battling against Gilead. In fact, after everything that the oppressive regime has done to her and her loved ones — and the ways in which it has changed life for women in general — she's firmly out for justice and revenge. That involves taking new risks, but that's what a rebel leader has to do. And we all know that stress and tension is only going to keep building as The Handmaid's Tale drops its new episodes week by week.

The first three episodes of The Handmaid's Tale season four are available to stream via Neon, with new episodes available weekly.

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RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE DOWN UNDER

It has been 12 years since RuPaul's Drag Race first premiered in the US, and its mission to unearth the next drag superstars shows no signs of stopping. Currently, the original series is reaching the pointy end of its 13th season, while international versions also exist in the UK — also hosted by RuPaul — plus Thailand, Holland, Chile and Canada. RuPaul's Drag Race already airs locally, but now it's being made here as well. The eight-part RuPaul's Drag Race Down Under will focus on Aussie and NZ drag queens battling for supremacy. Ten contenders will strut their stuff for drag supremacy, spanning seven Australians and three New Zealanders. Fans already know the format, which features fashion challenges, workroom dramas and lip sync battles aplenty. If you're a newcomer to all things Drag Race, you'll watch these Australian and NZ competitors work through a series of contests to emerge victorious, and join the likes of US contenders Jinkx Monsoon, Sasha Velour and Sharon Needles in being crowned the series' winner.

The first episode of RuPaul's Drag Race Down Under is available to stream via TVNZ OnDemand, with new episodes available weekly. 

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INSTANT AND OLD-SCHOOL CLASSICS TO WATCH AND REWATCH

ZAMA

Nine years is a rather long time to wait for a filmmaker to make a new movie. But, for fans of Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel, that's exactly the period that passed between her 2008 thriller The Headless Woman and 2017's exceptional Zama. Although there was never really any doubt that the latter would be something special when it finally surfaced, the acclaimed auteur well and truly made her comeback with an effort that matches her reputation: mythic. Here, Martel takes on Antonio di Benedetto's 1956 Argentinean novel Zama to explore the story of an 18th-century Spanish magistrate — the Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho, The Promise) of the movie's title. He's stuck in a small South American town, desperately hoping for a transfer and, as he waits and his patience slips, he's also quickly losing his grip on everything. Narrative-wise, Zama has plenty to say about colonialism and class, and uses drama, comedy and tragedy to do so; however, it's how Martel conveys the film's tale and dives into its themes that sears this inimitable movie into viewers' brains. As its protagonist's ideas of his own grandeur are chipped away moment by moment, Zama, the feature, charts the opposite trajectory with its exquisite imagery, hypnotic rhythm and distinctive logic.

Zama is available to screen via TVNZ OnDemand, Academy OnDemand and Prime Video.

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SNOWPIERCER

Whenever Bong Joon-ho makes a movie, the entire world should take notice. It did with Parasite, with the masterful thriller nabbing Cannes' Palme d'Or, Sydney Film Festival's prize and four Oscars to prove it (and a slew of other awards as well). But, arriving two titles and six years earlier on his filmography, Snowpiercer didn't initially get the same amount of attention. Yes, it sparked an immensely watchable TV remake; however, it didn't attract eyeballs en masse. It should've, but that's the thing about movies once they're out there in the world: if you've missed them, you can always hunt them down. When it premiered in Australia, also at SFF, more than a few folks in the audience walked out. They robbed themselves of a smart, savage and supremely entertaining dystopian action-thriller, all set on the perpetually moving train that gives the film its title. Adapted from the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Bong and co-screenwriter Kelly Masterson (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead), the film transports the world's class, social and economic struggles into the locomotive's stratified carriages, and charts the inevitable uprising that follows when those left at the back of the train decide to rebel. Bong's first English-language feature, it boasts a killer cast, too, including Chris Evans (Knives Out), Song Kang-ho (Parasite), Tilda Swinton (The Personal History of David Copperfield), Jamie Bell (Rocketman), Octavia Spencer (The Witches) and John Hurt (Jackie).

Snowpiercer is available to stream via Netflix and Neon.

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AVAILABLE TO STREAM IN THE COMING WEEKS

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose. If those six words already mean something to you, you're clearly a fan of Friday Night Lights — which, although it only spanned five seasons and 76 episodes, is one of the very best dramas of the 00s. It wasn't guaranteed to be a hit, or to even be any good, though. Initially, Friday Night Lights was a 1990 non-fiction book about small-town high-school football. Then, it became a grim sports film, starring Billy Bob Thornton when he was fresh off of Bad Santa. Both the text and the movie still exist, of course, but it's the TV series that everyone now thinks of when the Friday Night Lights name comes up. It's the show that made everyone think of Kyle Chandler (Godzilla vs Kong) as their coach and their dad, too, because they're the roles he plays to absolute perfection here. The general premise remains the same, this time following the Dillon Panthers. Chandler's Eric Taylor steps into the head coach role just as the team's star quarterback is injured, which sets up the storyline for the first season. Not just centred on sport, the series also dives deep into the everyday lives of its players in its fictional Texas community, and their loved ones as well — which is where everyone from Connie Britton (Promising Young Woman), Taylor Kitsch (21 Bridges) and Jesse Plemons (Judas and the Black Messiah) to Michael B Jordan (Just Mercy) and Jurnee Smollet (Lovecraft Country) pop up.

All five seasons of Friday Night Lights will be available to stream via Neon from 17 May, 2021.

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Top images: The Serpent, Mammoth Screen Ltd, photographer: Roland Neveu.

Published on May 03, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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