Streaming shows and films to watch right now (in NZ)

July 10, 2024
9 mins read
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A regular column in which GARY STEEL sifts through the mountain of available streaming TV and brings your attention to great new and old shows as well as those to avoid.

City Hunter (Netflix) 6/10

If you miss the combination of thrills and spills and comedic fun of Jackie Chan films from the ‘80s, then check out City Hunter, a filmic adaptation of the popular manga-turned-anime TV series. This is as slick as you get and the action never flags as hero Ryo Saeba (Ryohei Suzuki) wins every fight against unspeakable odds and still finds time for some very silly laughs. Ryo is a rough kind of hero who is looking for the evil bastards behind the senseless killing of his best friend, Hideyuki, whose gutsy young sister, Tsukino (Ayame Misaki) insists on joining his quest.

The film features legions of goons with machine guns trying to prevent our sex-obsessed hero from getting to the truth and uncovering the great conspiracy – which involves kidnapping victims and injecting them with a drug that gives them almost magical abilities but ultimately kills them – so when he’s not getting fresh with the ladies he’s hot on the trail of the corporate nasties. Almost perfectly paced and with one acrobatic set piece quickly following another, City Hunter is a fun entertainment that’s about as deep and meaningful as a mouth full of candyfloss.

Mysteries Of The Terracotta Warriors (Netflix) 7/10

The 2000-year-old Terracotta warriors are one of the most astounding (relatively) recent discoveries, and once seen, these figures – each one modelled on an individual soldier – are impossible to forget. This 77-minute documentary probably won’t reveal much that those who have followed the story of the slowly excavated and pieced-together army don’t know already, but for those of us who only have a vague idea about them, it’s a revelation. We learn that these warriors were made by craftsmen in celebration of the first Chinese emperor’s ascendance to power, but were destroyed when the brutal Qing dynasty fell apart soon after the emperor’s death.

It turns out that experts have had to rebuild each of the warriors, because they had been both smashed and burned and of course, left deep underground. We learn that only 800 of the 3000 or so warriors have so far been reconstructed and that new evidence is still being dug up in the burial grounds. It’s fascinating that a contemporaneous book exists explaining the story of the Qing dynasty – including the shocking treatment of prisoners conscripted to construct the tombs – and the disarray that occurred after Emperor Qing’s demise. While there’s much that’s not known about what happened and even why the terracotta warriors were made in the first place, this film will prove insightful to those of us who like a good dig into history.

One More Time With Feeling (Mubi) 5/10

Nick Cave seems to attract a following more interested in words than music, and for that reason, One More Time With Feeling will be of much more interest to dedicated fans than to the merely curious who, like me, will be bored shitless by the glacial pace and the endless introspection and – frankly – miserableness of it all. This film captures Cave pontificating endlessly about the impossibility of conveying in art the loss of his 15-year-old son, Arthur, who fell off a cliff in 2015, and in between the understandably fairly incoherent interviews, there are performances of songs “inspired” by said event that resulted in the album Skeleton Tree.

Apparently, the film had been planned and locked in before the death, but personally, I think with respect to Cave’s circumstances at the time, they should have shelved it. Those in awe of the songs associated with that soul-destroying event will enjoy the performance/recording footage, most shot in black and white and featuring his long-time musical co-conspirator Warren Ellis. The best thing about the project is Cave’s own thought-out ruminations dubbed onto the existing footage, and that’s where he’s able to express himself in poetic terms because when he puts his mind to it, his words carry real resonance. If you want to soak in misery for 113 minutes, then be my guest. It doesn’t help that the music is as dull as ditchwater.

Sympathy For The Devil (DocPlay) 5/10

Originally titled 1 + 1, Sympathy For The Devil (1968) captures The Rolling Stones endlessly toiling away in the studio on that very song. But Godard was an avant-garde film director, so it’s not quite a music documentary. About half the time, he sets up scenes in different parts of London where characters are reading loudly from political tracts and carrying out minor acts of espionage. I guess the idea was to comment on then-current issues, the importance of which are perhaps lost to time, except the obvious Marxist philosophy and the Black Panthers orating their black rights ideology.

Unfortunately, the film is excruciatingly dull and at a mere 110 minutes it feels much, much longer. One point of interest is getting a look at Swinging London in 1968, and Stones fans will no doubt revel in the interminable sequences of the group performing and overdubbing their Beggars Banquet masterpiece; the (rather melancholy) bonus being that a rather sad-looking Brian Jones is featured not long before he was ousted from the group. But there’s a reason few like to hang out with bands at recording sessions, and if Sympathy For The Devil proves one thing it’s that even the greatest rock’n’roll band ever comes across as tedious when stuck creating in the studio.

The Sandman (Netflix) 7/10

Enjoying the popular Netflix series The Deadboy Detectives? Whether or not you’ve already done so, it’s worth checking out the really rather entertaining 11 episodes of the show that it’s a spin-off from, The Sandman. Originally a well-regarded comic book by Neil Gaiman, it was for years considered impossible to adapt convincingly to the television screen. Thanks to clever computer effects and an imaginative approach, however, the series manages to turn its somewhat preposterous story into an outstanding viewing experience.

Morpheus (played by Tom Sturridge), who is the personification of dreams and one of seven so-called Endless, is captured during an occult ritual and held prisoner for 106 years, during which his dream realm goes to rack and ruin, threatening life on earth. Meanwhile, Rose Walker (played by Kyo Ra) is a young woman searching for her lost brother who, unbeknownst to her, is a Vortex, which endangers life by breaking down the barriers between the Dreaming and the waking world. I know, it sounds nuts, but this rather gothic show is full of unexpected things, like the entertaining appearance of the comedic Stephen Fry and whole episode diversions into different realities.

Steven Wilson: Home Invasion In Concert At The Royal Albert Hall (Prime Video) 6/10

This is a very, very long (nearly three hours!) video of Steven Wilson’s 2018 concert at the famed Royal Albert Hall. Wilson had by this point cut all the quills off his group Porcupine Tree and gone solo, though the gig does feature a backing band and a sound not unlike his former group. The line-up features former Kajagoogoo (!) bassist Nick Beggs, sometime Steve Hackett drummer Craig Blundell and most interestingly, storied jazz keyboardist Adam Holzman, who has performed with Miles Davis and is the son of Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman. The inclusion of Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb on some tracks is bemusing, as her voice detracts rather than adds to the pieces.

Some variety is achieved by the documentarists by giving us a history lesson on the venue, but the whole enterprise really stands or falls on the music and presentation thereof. It’s nicely recorded (though you’d hear that much better on Blu-ray) and competently filmed and the show itself is well produced, with appropriately moody lighting that’s responsive enough to capture Wilson’s dynamic musical shifts. But I’ve been watching this for oh… four months now? And every time I get in my comfy chair and attempt to soak up Steven Wilson’s take on progressive rock my eyelids get heavy and I get really, really sleepy. Fans as always will enjoy his 21st-century take on Pink Floyd, while others might feel betrayed by his brief detours into electro-pop, but personally, I’d rather listen with my eyes closed.

Swamp Thing (Prime Video) 5/10

I’m a bit of a Wes Craven fan, having thoroughly enjoyed his warped take on the horror genre in The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare On Elm Street and The People Under The Stairs. Swamp Thing (1982), however, is a crushing disappointment. This comic book adaptation is so low-budget that nearly everything about it except for the action scenes is clunky. The setting near and in a swamp feels like a set and the actors might as well be reading their awful lines for the first time.

Ray Wise (Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks) is a scientist who gets to taste his own radical new formula and turns into the swamp monster. Bad guys want his formula but of course, the monster ultimately puts paid to that. There are some serviceable mutilations as the bad guys get picked off one by one, but it’s not quite enough to rescue Swamp Thing from being perhaps the least essential entry in Craven’s filmography.

The Imaginary (Netflix) 8/10

It seems that imaginary friends are suddenly piquing the interest of filmmakers, with American animated film If screening around the traps at the moment and this 2023 Japanese anime hitting Netflix earlier this month. This trippy Ghibli-style film is about imaginary boy Rudger and his creator, a little girl called Amanda. When she is run over by a car, and clings to life in a coma, Rudger starts to disappear, but is saved by a weird cat, who leads him to a parallel existence populated by forgotten “imaginaries”. When Rudger realises that Amanda isn’t dead he risks his own demise by returning to reality, but must also contend with the evil Mr Bunting who swallows imaginaries whole and is accompanied by a scary grim reaper-style girl imaginary.

There’s some of the cuteness and humanity of Miyazaki’s movies in the depiction of the bizarre creatures that live in the sanctuary but as with the great Spirited Away, some of the scenes with Bunting and his ghostly imaginary are quite scary and might prove too much for younger kids. There’s a lot for young minds to figure out as well. Even I felt baffled at times as to who was real or not (hey, I’m easily confused, it’s true!) and I could sense that our 5-year-old was having trouble following the action at times. Having said that, it’s a wonderful film and comes enthusiastically recommended.

The Other One: The Long Strange Trip Of Bob Weir (Netflix) 7/10

This feature-length documentary has been kicking around since 2014, but I had successfully avoided it due to my aversion to The Grateful Dead, the group in which Weir played second fiddle (well, guitar actually) to the late celebrated axe mangler Jerry Garcia. Silly boy, it’s actually a good watch, especially for anyone getting their head around the history of the San Francisco psychedelic scene of the 1960s, and the way the Grateful Dead ultimately became idols to a generation of recalcitrant hippies who would follow the band around on its never-ending tours.

Whether you accept the contention that the Dead were America’s greatest rock band (I don’t) there’s much that’s of interest in this portrayal of Weir, one of the few who have survived to tell the story, possibly because he was more interested in sex and music than drugs or alcohol. The film explains his crucial role in the group; the way his rhythm guitar did more than simply add ballast to Garcia’s improvisations together with his singing and songs. Weir comes across as an intelligent and perceptive individual who has a good grip on reality, even if the samples of his post-Dead performances sound fairly humdrum.

Uproar (Neon) 7/10

It’s comparatively rare to find a movie that gets a 100 per cent rating on aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, so I just had to check out Uproar, a 2023 film set in Dunedin during the riotous 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand. Josh (played by Julian Dennison of Hunt For The Wilderpeople fame) is a portly high school student who doesn’t fit into the hardline macho rugby ethos of the boy’s school but discovers, through drama teacher Brother Madigan (Rhys Darby) that he has a real flair for acting, and has a chance to audition for drama school in Wellington. This doesn’t go down at all well with his long-suffering mum, who has struggled to raise her two boys after their dad died of cancer seven years earlier.

Full of wonderfully understated performances by characters that already feel familiar, Uproar captures the tumultuous societal rift that occurred between supporters of the Springbok tour who felt that politics shouldn’t get in the way of sport and those who protested against Apartheid. Josh inevitably gets dragged into the anti-tour protests and begins to find himself as he learns about his own Maori culture along the way. It’s a lovely character study and a piece of history that always stands revisiting.

The Best & Worst Streaming TV is a regular column in which Gary Steel assesses the worth – or otherwise – of the vast trove available to stream. Unlike other media, our policy is to dig deep and go further than just Netflix or what’s new this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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