Edited by: Ross Harrison
The pandemic saw millions of cinema-goers all around the world confined to their homes and in need of cinematic and televisual entertainment during the often lonely and isolating time away from theatres and public entertainment. Streaming services provided such a comfort during this time, and here we have compiled our recommendations for film and TV top picks available on a variety of streaming services now.
A Review of Disney+’s Star Wars: Visions (2021), by Luke Brown
Released in September 2021 on Disney+, Star Wars: Visions is Disney’s latest attempt to bring new Star Wars content to the small screen, and yet it stands out amongst the likes of The Mandalorian, The Bad Batch, and the upcoming Book of Boba Fett. Visions is an anthology series; each of the nine episodes is entirely unique, in both narrative and art style. Visions is a collection of short, non-canonical stories set in the Star Wars universe, each created by a different Japanese animation studio, which lends a fantastical sense of exploration – not only of the galaxy, but of art – to the show.
From the gritty black and white of the first episode, ‘The Duel’, to the cartoonish, childlike wonder of the sixth episode, ‘T0-B1’, I firmly believe there is an episode of Visions for everyone. In a similar way to the recent series, Marvel’s What If…? (another amazing show released on Disney+), Star Wars: Visions brings something entirely new with each episode, be that old beloved characters or completely new ones, which is an overall refreshing and exciting experience. Disney is even supposedly offering up one of the episodes (Episode 4: ‘The Village Bride’) as their submission for Best Animated Short Film at the 2021/2022 Academy Awards, showing just how successful the show has been.
Ultimately, while the show may not appeal to all fans of the live-action Star Wars franchise, there is currently no better way for fans, both old and new, to expand their exploration of a galaxy far, far away.
A Review of Marvel’s Black Widow (2021), by Ben Barnett
You’ve likely heard about the controversy surrounding the release of Black Widow (2021). The lead actress, Scarlett Johansson, sued Disney over her alleged loss in box office income because the film was available on Disney+ at the same time as its release in theatres. This overshadows conversations about the film in different viewing contexts. Can we be sure that the film was intended for the big screen only? Or did Disney optimise it for home viewing? I would argue that the style of the film caters to both modes of viewing; though I, along with two million others, watched the film from a sofa.
Myself, my parents, and my aunt and uncle all sat down to watch Black Widow in August this year. People came and went while I watched the film, a freedom frowned upon in the cinema. Arguably, with a streaming service, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like one film, because you’re paying the price of two tickets per month for access to hundreds of films and TV shows. My aunt had seen the film before, and several people were on their phones (helpful for ‘I recognise him! What’s he been in?’ moments). And, yes, being able to pause was a godsend.
However, this was a Marvel movie, packed with action and spectacle best viewed in a hushed theatre on a large cinema screen. Despite my aunt’s high-quality television, there were some moments which felt disappointingly small. A giant CGI aircraft crashing into the ground, or a long and elaborate car chase, just don’t feel the same when seen on a smaller scale. Additionally, being able to pause was a blessing and a curse, as it cut away the tension of the film, something integral to its themes of espionage and infiltration.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed the film, and some scenes stood out to me as perfectly suited for home viewing. A moment of quiet reflection between the ‘father’ and sister character in the middle of the narrative worked especially well on the small screen, and the film did seem to have less high-action, high-spectacle scenes than other Marvel movies such as Doctor Strange (2016) or Spiderman: Far From Home (2019), which would have really suffered from streaming releases.
Overall, it was an interesting experience to view a ‘superhero’ movie in this context. Some parts of the cinema I missed, but some, I felt, were improved upon by viewing in the comfort of the home. However, when I view the next Marvel movie, I won’t feel as though I’m missing out!
A Review of HBO’s The White Locus (2021-present), by Emily Page
We’ve seen countless TV shows based on the scandalous lives of rich, white people over the years. However, HBO’s newest limited series, The White Lotus (2021-present), is as surprisingly refreshing and unique as it is hilarious. The show takes place at a luxury Hawaiian resort and follows the lives of its guests and workers. With a cast packed full of stars (Jennifer Coolidge is particularly great), the show does a great job of portraying what white privilege looks like in modern-day America in a way that is both light-hearted and satirical, yet also disturbing. The show is reminiscent of Big Little Lies (2017-present) in some sense; both open by informing the audience that someone has been murdered and proceed to go back and follow the events that led up to the death. I was left hooked from the very beginning and couldn’t wait for more. The show’s short length and addictive narrative make for great binge-watching. The White Lotus not only explores white privilege, but also other important and relevant topics, such as feminism, class differences and toxic masculinity, as well as many others, in a way that isn’t boring or disengaging. This show is the perfect zeitgeist comedy-drama; it’s both informative and entertaining, and provides an accurate representation of today’s America. A must watch!
‘Friends that Kill Together, Stay Together’: A Review of Netflix’s Dead to Me (2019-present), by Ross Harrison
Netflix’s original series Dead to Me (2019-present) combines dark comedy with touching family drama through the tale of a dysfunctional friendship between sardonic widow, Jen, and optimistic free-spirit, Judy; performances that are delivered masterfully by Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, respectively.
While the show’s depiction of an unconventional gal-pal duo is one streamers have seen before, Applegate and Cardellini each bring unique and entertaining layers to their characters and the shared plot-lines. The show demonstrates a distinct turning point in the serial comedy genre that many streaming services have taken to since the rise of the web series. Shows such as these have evolved from conventions of sitcoms by incorporating longer runtimes, fewer episodes and a more significant narrative strand connecting episodes throughout any given season.
While the first season of Dead to Me follows the secrets each female lead hides from one another and their loved ones, the second season enables the pair to join forces when their darkest misgivings reveal themselves, proving problematic in the development of their relationship. Whilst viewers couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel for this friendship in the show’s first season run, the second season opens doors to new opportunities for the scales of karmic justice to rebalance.
Creator Liz Feldman doesn’t hold back on the themes of family trauma and the pursuit of comfort in the most unusual of places, which play out eloquently through the course of the series so far. While viewers will have to wait to see what route this disastrous duo’s path will take, the first and second seasons prove to be full of endless opportunities for the narrative to evolve going forward.