The superiority of what streaming services provide for home entertainment is more obvious when cinemas can only rustle up second-class fare.
This has been the case for several months, thanks to Hollywood studios falling behind on their usual blockbuster attractions, known as tentpoles, and other factors that may not all be Covid-related.
Netflix and its competitors have been subjected to a budget squeeze, after years of a seemingly bottomless pit of money to lure big name stars and directors away from the big screen with pledges of more artistic freedom and less box office pressure.
But rather than follow a quantity over quality formula, as many have suggested, Netflix and others have responded positively whenever a show has gained larger than expected public or critical acclaim.
An example is The White Lotus, a surprising lockdown hit from Warner Bros Discovery’s HBO, and available here on Sky’s Neon and Soho channel. The sequel, which moves the action from a resort in Hawaii to one in Sicily, retains only one couple from the original and replaces the others with a fresh set of faces.
The formula remains the same, with a death at the start of episode one, a set of guests with built-in conflicts, a blustering hotel staff, and a couple of young women out to better themselves. After two episodes at time of writing, the second series is better than the original.
Two other major series had less certain outcomes. House of Dragons, also from HBO, was well up to the standard of The Games of Thrones, if not superior, while The Power of the Rings (Amazon Prime) fell short of Peter Jackson’s big screen versions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
While making spectacular use of New Zealand scenery, Rings was pitched at a sub-adult audience, and is unlikely to achieve the cult status of its predecessors.
Reports from Hollywood say Warner Bros junked some productions on grounds of quality, as streaming subscribers turn out to be just as discerning as those who pay in cinemas.
Enola Holmes 2 (Netflix) is superior to the original (and a good deal longer). The spunky Millie Bobby Brown as Sherlock’s younger sister was a surprise hit, as a young female who was less analytical, more empathetic, not afraid of a fight, had greater knowledge and showed more courage than her brother, while also retaining his deductive powers.
The lush Victorian era settings, costumes, and use of direct-to-audience comment, helped lift its appeal from the dour conventional depictions of other Holmes adventures.
In her second case, Enola helps the “match girls” – the first real examples of women factory workers striking for better pay and conditions, which included banning the use of deadly phosphorus.
Her eccentric mother, played by Helena Bonham Carter, explains some of Enola’s gifts from her upbringing, while Henry Cavill as Sherlock has little to do but tidy up some of the loose ends. Enola’s comrade in arms, the reformer politician Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) also makes a welcome return.
Netflix rating: R13. 129 minutes.
All Quiet on the Western Front/Im Westen nichts Neues
Few books had a bigger impact on attitudes to war than German author Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, published in 1928. American director Lewis Milestone made a famous movie adaptation in 1930. While it didn’t prevent World War II, it became the touchstone for many other anti-war movies that followed, including a 1979 version by Hollywood director Delmer Daves, and most recently examples such as 1917. This is a first German rendering, by Edward Berger (Deutschland 83), which is true to the graphic horrors of the novel, but is likely to be considered too familiar for jaded audiences who have seen it all before. This version tries to overcome that by adding a new element, peace approaches by the Germans to the French, that is not in the novel. English-speaking audiences may approach it as just another ‘war as hell’ story, though it should be appreciated as an authentic German counterpoint to a disastrous episode in history.
The Good Nurse
This compelling drama, based on the case of Charles Cullen, who was responsible for possibly hundreds of deaths in private hospitals in the north-eastern states of America in the 1980s and 1990s, rests on two fine actors, Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain. They both play nightshift, intensive care nurses, with Chastain as Amy Loughren, who is entranced by Cullen (Redmayne), but finally exposes him as a serial killer. Police start to investigate one death, forcing Chastain into a dilemma between protecting her own job and health, and her sympathy for Redmayne’s unexplained motives in a profit-driven health system that couldn’t admit wrongdoing and encouraged cover-ups. Directed by Denmark’s Tobias Lindholm (Another Round) and scripted by Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917).
Netflix rating: Mature audiences. 123 minutes.
Ali & Ava
One of the crowd-pleasers from the NZ International Film Festival may not have hit the cinemas, but is available for rental. Set in multicultural Bradford, it tracks the relationship between Ali, a disc jockey and landlord of Bangladeshi parents (Adeel Akhtar, who plays a copper in Enola Holmes 1 and 2), and Ava, a stressed Irish housewife played by Claire Rushbrook. She is a teacher aide at the local school where they cross paths through a girl who is one of Ali’s tenants. Music plays a critical role as the couple become attracted to each other and upset conventions in their respective households. These involve Ava’s racist son (Shaun Thomas) and his girlfriend with a new-born, and Ali’s estranged Muslim wife, with whom he still shares quarters. Writer director Clio Barnard (The Selfish Giant) balances their chaotic lives with the occasional opportunities for them to share each other’s problems rather than escape them.
Rating: Mature audiences. 94 minutes.
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