From Riverdale to The Social Network: what’s streaming in Australia in March
Plus Evan Rachel Wood escapes Westworld, Yvonne Strahovski finds herself in detention, and Reese Witherspoon’s on the campaign trail
By Luke Buckmaster
Riverdale season four
TV, US, 2020 – out 4 March
As somebody who loved Archie comics as a kid, my jaw fell to the floor when I first watched the TV reimagining. Reggie is gay? Miss Grundy is young and hot? Riverdale is full of murder and mystery? Gone were the days when the most bad-arse thing a teenage rapscallion could do was take their date to the diner for a milkshake.
The show’s creators threw every notion of fidelity to the source material out the window, creating a highly interesting example of contemporary sensibility profoundly altering the original. Season four continues the cheerfulness of the rest of the show, spanning topics including the death of Archie’s father, Veronica’s struggle with the paparazzi, and Betty’s experiences waking up tied to a chair in a hotel room. My inner child remains morbidly intrigued.
Film, US, 2009 – out 15 March
Director Zack Snyder’s terrific adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel – considered a piece de resistance in superhero literature – contains the best scene from any superhero movie or TV show ever made. I am referring to its opening credits: an exhilarating five-and-a-half-minute montage of slow-mo vignettes set to the tune of The Times They Are A-Changin’. Key historical moments, such as the moon landing and the JKF assassination, are revisited to reveal how they unfolded in this alternate, superhero-populated universe.
The core plot is triggered by the murder of a retired caped crusader who once belonged to the titular group. Masked grumble-guts Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) believes somebody is hunting down former superheroes. Their deaths are, naturally, linked to a diabolical plot to take over the world.
Honourable mentions: Arrested Development season five (TV, 16 March); 100 Humans (TV, 13 March); Ozark season three (TV, 27 March); School of Rock, The Hateful Eight, The Big Sick, Any Given Sunday, Unforgiven, Moneyball, Where the Wild Things Are (films, 1 March); Paddington 2 (film, 22 March).
TV, US, 2019 – out 26 March
To say that the true crime genre has flourished in recent years is to put it very lightly – as a society we are totally obsessed with gnarly stranger-than-fiction stories. The auteur Steven Soderbergh produces this five-part, five-hour investigation into the military justice system in general, and the case of Clint Lorance in particular, who was serving a 19-year sentence for giving an order to open fire on three locals in Afghanistan. He was pardoned by Donald Trump in November last year.
Film, Ireland/UK, 2014 – out 25 March
The opening scene of writer/director John Michael McDonagh’s theologically themed thriller and black comedy is set inside a confessional box. While a man recounts sexual abused he suffered as a child, McDonagh shows us the priest – Father James (a sombre and powerful Brendan Gleeson) – but obscures the face of the confessor: a reversal of the standard technique.
The confession ends with Father James being told he will be killed in exactly one week. The ensuing film plays out like a reverse character study, the protagonist walking around and absorbing the stories of others in County Sligo, Ireland, trying to maintain his faith in a fraught world full of secrets – as well as, of course, trying to answer that niggling question of who wants him dead and why.
Honourable mentions: The Kingmaker (film, 1 March); The Trade season two (TV, 6 March); First Wives Club (TV, 20 March); Hidden series two (TV, 27 March); The Machinist (film, 13 March); Silence (film, 21 March); Mousehunt (film, 22 March).
SBS on Demand
Film, US, 1999 – out 13 March
Director Alexander Payne connects students politicking for a high school election with the state of American democracy in this very witty and enjoyable satire. Reese Witherspoon plays Tracy, an overachiever who assumes she is a cert to be elected as student body president. Matthew Broderick is Jim, a well-respected civics teacher who recruits a popular jock (Chris Klein) to run against the perky do-gooder, unwittingly ushering in a period of personal and professional turmoil.
Nobody could play Tracy better than Witherspoon: you love her; you hate her; you cannot watch her; you cannot look away. As the battle for student body prez heats up, with warring factions and various kinds of mud-slinging, Payne makes a point about how any kind of competitive election inevitably involves such things, challenging people to maintain moral integrity when pursuing political outcomes.
Film, Germany/Italy/Austria, 2004 – out 22 March
If you haven’t seen the film, you’ve seen the memes. Set in the last 10 days of the life of Adolf Hitler (Bruno Ganz), with Nazi Germany on the brink of defeat during the Battle of Berlin, Downfall transpires almost entirely in bunkers under the city with the Fuhrer and his inner circle scrambling for power.
No portrayal of Hitler in film or TV history has matched Ganz’s gooseflesh-raising performance: a portrayal of shouty, sweaty, sepulchral authenticity. By humanising Hitler, Ganz moves the character away from caricature and gives him three fully realised, horrifying dimensions.
Honourable mentions: DNA (TV, out now); 52 Tuesdays (film, 5 March); Amour, Bloody Sunday (film, 13 March); Train to Busan (film, 28 March); Scientology and the Aftermath season two (TV, 3 March); How to Rob a Bank (TV, 5 March); Team Chocolate (TV, 13 March); Future Man (TV, 19 March).
Westworld season three
TV, US, 2020 – out 16 March
In today’s world more and more we are seeingprimitive versions of emerging technologies that are likely to play a highly significant role in popular culture going forward – such as AI and augmented, virtual and mixed realities. Why, then, would somebody remake a 1973 sci-fi movie and keep it merely about robots?
That was always my beef with Westworld – its indifference to how times have changed. But I suppose I’ll keep watching. The series began in a wild west-themed amusement park where people live out their wildest fantasies without repatriation (because the other “people” there are machines). The second season didn’t have the snappiness and intrigue of the intermittently entertaining first, and the third stretches the premise further – with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) having escaped and taken up residence in Los Angeles.
The Social Network
Film, US, 2010 – out 31 March
Ten years after it was released, director David Fincher’s taut, gripping and whiplash-witty Mark Zuckerberg biopic The Social Network (written by Aaron Sorkin and co-scored by Trent Reznor) has evolved from being a drama about a fratboy-cum-accidental-billionaire into a portrait of the early years of a dictator, a status sometimes bestowed upon him.
The film’s famous final line (“You’re not an asshole, Mark, you just try so hard to be”) now seems almost absurdly accommodating given Facebook’s many controversies – from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to its secret mood experiments. The film is still electrifying viewing, Sorkin’s motormouth screenplay and Fincher’s atmospheric flair making a rousing combination.
Honourable mentions: The Thing, Inglourious Basterds, Killing Them Softly, Thank You For Smoking, The Silence of the Lambs (films, 1 March); Precious (film, 2 March); Minority Report (film, 13 March); The Nightingale (film, 31 March); Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (film, 27 March).
TV, Australia – out now
Co-created and co-produced by Cate Blanchett, who also appears in a small role as the co-leader of a cult, ABC’s gripping six-part series oscillates between four key characters, all of whom are connected to the central location: the Barton immigration detention centre. Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi) and Sofie (Yvonne Strahovski) are detainees and Cam Sandford (Jai Courtney) and Clare Kowitz (Asher Keddie) are new employees.
Co-directors Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse tease out plot and character information over the show’s entire arc, keeping some details close to their chest and others shockingly apparent from the start. This pedigree production looks set to receive a significant international audience; its global rights outside Australia have recently been acquired by Netflix.
Bluey season two
TV, Australia – out 17 March
The beloved blue canine is back! Parents of young children know what it’s like to watch episodes of Bluey (about an anthropomorphic six-year-old blue heeler puppy) for the second, third, fourth, 30th time. The second season delivers an epic injection of new episodes: 52 in total.
Honourable mentions: Tea With the Dames (TV, 1 March);A Very English Scandal (TV, 8 March); The Heights season 2 (TV, 12 March); Revelation (TV, 17 March); You Can’t Ask That season five (TV, 18 March); The Capture (TV, 20 March).
The Lion King
The purpose of this column has always been to highlight the best titles arriving on streaming platforms. In this instance, however, I am breaking convention to remind audiences in the spirit of a public health announcement (and also because Disney+’s line-up is looking particularly thin this month) how utterly awful Disney’s The Lion King remake is.
Director Jon Favreau combines photorealism with talking animal characters to create a lifeless simulacrum which, instead of saying anything remotely interesting about the natural world, rehashes a couple of old words of Swahili (Hakuna Matata!) in the hope of overpowering us with the sweet smell of nostalgia. It doesn’t work. This film is boring and banal, with outdated sentiments.
Honourable mentions: The Art of Racing in the Rain (film, 6 March); Stargirl (film, 13 March); Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (film, 20 March).
Last year, only weeks after speaking out against Netflix’s supposed negative effect on the film industry, Steven Spielberg was revealed as a public backer of Apple TV+ and the executive producer of its rebooted anthology series Amazing Stories. Not. Suss. At. All. Like the original show (which premiered in 1985) the Amazing Stories revival will feature a series of self-contained narratives. One of them focuses on a grandpa who discovers he has super powers.
First published at Guardian Australia Wednesday 4 March 2020. See; https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2020/mar/04/from-riverdale-to-the-social-network-whats-streaming-in-australia-in-march