What to watch at home this week? Which is the best series to watch? What about the movies to watch this weekend? Which are the best TV shows to binge? NOW STREAMING makes your search simpler.
What: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Who: Never shy of trying something new, the Coen Brothers pad up for some stream game for Netflix, but play strictly by their own rules. Joel and Ethan write, produce and direct this two-hour-long film which is very much a big screen experience for the small screen. The title is, in fact, just the first story and there are five more of them in this anthology of shorts all set in the Wild West.
Returning to their True Grit time and turf, the brothers assemble an eclectic cast for the six stories comprising James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tim Blake Nelson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan and Brendan Gleeson among others. No Roger Deakins behind the lens this time, though; the Coens go back to their Inside Llewyn Davis cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel for this one. The music – the characters often break into songs – is by Coens’ regular Carter Burwell.
Why: You don’t need a reason to watch a new film by the Coens; for the last three decades, the brothers have engaged and enthralled us like no other. Barring their segments in Paris, I Love You and the Cannes tribute film To Each His Own Cinema, Joel and Ethan have not served up shorts before. In their characteristically macabre style of storytelling, the six short films turn into fables about fate and destiny, life and death. And while we are witness to a particular time and period, the Coens are (again) able to transcend what’s on screen and pose uncomfortable questions about humanity at large.
The way it kicks off with the story of the much-wanted Buster Scruggs (Blake Nelson), the singing and gun-slinging San Saba Songbird, the film initially seems to be shot from the same goofy pistol as O Brother, Where Art Thou? But the Coens can jump genres as smoothly as taxis jump lanes in this country. A bullet boring through the head is funny in one story, thrilling in the next and tragic in another. I’m not sure how they decided to line up the stories but things definitely get more and more heavy as the film trudges along. While there’s a lot to love in almost all the stories, my two favourites are Meal Ticket – where an impresario (Neeson) travels from town to town with a limbless orator before he stumbles across a mathematically blessed hen! – and All Gold Canyon – where a prospector (Waits) takes on mother nature to dig out a gold pocket for days.
Why Not: The last couple of stories can really try your patience. Despite picking up the tempo towards the end, The Gal Who Got Rattled segment struggles throughout its extended length and never really gets going. And the final story The Mortal Remains is just a lot of talk that doesn’t really build up to the end. Perhaps both of the segments suffer because the preceding four stories are so good.
Whee: The Coens have been editing their own films for a long time under the name Roderick Jaynes. And The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is no exception!
What: Making a Murderer
Who: Of the many good viewing habits that Netflix has brought about with its bottomless library tops the joy of watching a documentary. But much before Wild Wild Country boggled minds, the one film that really changed the documentary game was Making a Murderer in 2015. Directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, it chronicled the story of Wisconsin man Steven Avery, who had to serve 18 years in prison before DNA mapping proved that he had been wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder.
But that was just peeling the first layer of the onion. What got Ricciardi and Demos to rent a car and borrow a camera and start filming was when they found out that Avery had again been charged in 2005 by the same Manitowoc County for the murder of another woman, Teresa Halbach. And this time, his nephew Brendan Dassey has confessed to being an accessory in the murder.
Why: Only when you look at Avery’s life through the eyes of Ricciardi and Demos will you actually take to the saying that truth is stranger than fiction. The first season in those 10 hours will not only keep you riveted right through, with the back-to-back twists and turns, but it will enrage you and pain you and disturb you. While on the surface it’s a gripping true-crime courtroom drama, what surfaces in all its viciousness is the tribal politics of small-town policing in America.
While the first season explored both of Avery’s cases and how the two could have been related, the second season, which came out recently, zooms into the post-conviction trials and tribulations of Avery and Dassey and their families. The very-willing hero of the new season is Avery’s new attorney Kathleen Zellner, who has her own theories about what exactly happened to Halbach and she lines up experts to corroborate those theories. But it is only when we get to hear Avery and Dassey speak on the phone to their families from their respective prisons do we get pulled back to the impact of the injustice.
Why Not: The second season is nowhere near as good as the first one. This one clearly is like one of those sequels which had to be made because the first part was huge and the story hadn’t ended. Zellner’s larger-than-life presence and her all-knowing demeanour hurt the honesty of the documentary at places. Her theories are fascinating yes but after a point, without ever making it to court, they remain just that… theories. When you’re watching the first season, you do not want to spoil the experience by googling what happened to Avery but with the second season you’re like, just tell me how this is all going to end!
Whee: Ricciardi and Demos, who shifted from New York to Wisconsin to film the documentary, worked on the first season for 10 years! They had over 700 hours of footage, of which around 180 hours were trial footage and rest were interviews and other visuals.
What: Room 104
Who: The Duplass Brothers, Jay and Mark, the indie masters of the game, bring their smart filmmaking skills to the small screen by doing an entire series – Season 2 has just taken off! – in one room. That’s right, Room 104 is an anthology series where every episode is a new short story popping up in a shady (almost timeless) motel room, somewhere near New York. The actors checking in are largely unknown barring a few familiar faces like Philip Baker Hall (Magnolia), Orlando Jones (MADtv) and Melonie Diaz (Fruitvale Station). And, of course, there’s our Deadpool cabbie, Karan Soni in one of the stories.
Why: The inventiveness of placing a dozen different stories in one small motel room – and some times its attached bathroom – is unquestionable. Even on paper. But what the Duplass Brothers do with the stories – Mark wrote seven episodes in the first season – is mad. Although we are witness to a very brief time in the lives of the protagonists, mostly one evening, the writing makes us peek into their entire lives. How the history of their pain surfaces in those few moments in the motel room is what makes this HBO series fascinating.
As with all anthology sagas, you are sure to like a few more than the others. I loved the episode (Boris) about the alcoholic Croatian tennis player reliving his childhood, the one (Red Tent) about the young terrorist planning to blow up a political convention and the one (Pizza Boy) where a pizza delivery guy finds himself in the middle of a couple’s fight. And just for the incredible visceral trip, you must check out the episode (Voyeurs) where a housekeeping maid time-travels to her younger self through dance and the one (The Fight) where two MMA fighters decide to throw an upcoming fight.
Why Not: Since the filmmaking rule is to never leave that room, some times that one 10 by 10 space can get to you, especially if you are binge-watching the series. And there are episodes which are way too verbose for comfort. And while most of the stories have unthinkable twists at their tails, a couple of the endings are a little predictable.
Whee: Remember Poorna Jagannathan from Delhi Belly and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani? Well, she’s in the episode called The Internet. But you only get to hear her voice, as she plays the computer-challenged Indian mother taking orders from her son (Soni) on the phone.
What: Seinfeld (1989 to 1998)
Where: Amazon Prime
Who: Oddly enough there are lots of millennials in this country who have not even heard about Seinfeld. Then there are those who have heard about the show but never bothered to check it out. And, of course, there are the Friends freaks who’ve always looked at Seinfeld as the other show. Created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, this “show about nothing” has Jerry himself as a stand-up comedian in New York while Jason Alexander plays his unproductive friend George Costanza, Julia Louis-Dreyfus his vain ex-girlfriend Elaine Benes and Michael Richards his nutty neighbour Cosmo Kramer.
Why: You’ll fall in love with the four of them and their crazy antics. The magic secret of Seinfeld is that it’s all character and no plot. While every episode has some little incident that acts as a trigger point, it’s ultimately about how the four guys handle the situations in their own inimitable ways. Get into their world and soon all you’ll talk about are Shiksappeal, Festivus, Shmoopie, Shrinkage, Mansier, Yada yada yada. So… giddyup!
Did You Know
Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is now streaming on Hotstar.
Many of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpieces like 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Dr Strangelove, Full Metal Jacket and The Shining are now streaming on Netflix.
The 2014 miniseries Houdini, starring Oscar winner Adrien Brody as the world-renowned master of escape, is now streaming on SonyLIV.
If you can’t have enough of Narcos, the first season of the 2012 Colombian TV series Pablo Escobar: The Drug Lord is now streaming on Zee5.