The best (and worst) streaming TV shows & films right now

June 17, 2024
10 mins read

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.

Atlanta’s Missing And Murdered: The Lost Children (Neon) 7/10

This 5-part documentary series from 2020 is timed with the re-opening of the investigation into the murder of 30 children and young men in Atlanta in 1979 and 1980, and tells the whole sorry story in sometimes mind-boggling detail. In fact, the story can at times get bogged down in endless footage from the trial and time-locked interviews mixed with contemporary viewpoints, but that only increases the shock and horror that come in the later episodes as the shocking cover-ups at the original trial are revealed.


One young black man was put to trial and incarcerated for the killings, but the documentary alleges that there was a directive from the president’s office and an FBI cover-up that saw the wrong man imprisoned, when it’s quite likely that the killings were carried out by the Ku Klux Klan. It’s outrageous stuff and the chap convicted of the murder still languishes in prison 40 years later, despite copious evidence that the trial was intentionally stacked against him. Despite our feeling of familiarity with the USA through our exposure to its products and entertainment media, America in the late ‘70s was a strange place, and remains so today, as Atlanta’s Missing And Murdered makes abundantly clear.

A Whisker Away (Netflix) 6/10

Although it’s billed as a romance, A Whisker Away is much more than typical anime fare as it becomes a rather dark fantasy along the way. Its main character, a young girl called Miyo Sasaki, has a huge crush on a fellow student, Kento Hinode, and when a mysterious character gives her a Noh mask, she finds that she can change herself into a cute kitty at will in order to spend as much time as she wants with him. But of course, it’s always more complicated than that, and when the mask seller snatches back the mask she can’t change back into a human, and needs to follow him to the invisible Island Of Cats to get her human self back. It’s this section of the film that’s most fascinating and resembles the kind of wayward creativity found in Miyazaki’s genius Spirited Away.

Although it’s not in totality a patch on any of Miyazaki’s work, A Whisker Away is a touching film that captures the yearning of teen obsession, but isn’t afraid to examine the less-than-perfect lives of its characters. It turns out that Kento is an emotional wreck and very depressed over the imminent liquidation of his grandfather’s pottery business but doesn’t know how to express himself, either the way he feels about Miyo or his family’s financial strife. Consequently, the movie works on several perfectly functional levels and is a worthwhile watch.

Battle Royale (Mubi) 8/10

Mubi may specialise in so-called art films but its curated selection includes the odd exploitation shocker as well as some foreign-language hits like Battle Royale, the turn-of-the-century Japanese sensation that inevitably inspired the likes of the Hunger Games series and ultimately, the likes of Squid Game many years later. Surprisingly, it holds up well 24 years later and still seems fresh, because of both the novel scenario and the disciplined way the film is structured. What could so easily have been an American-style movie showing a predictable parade of teen killings is elevated by the disciplined and creative way the film is structured and edited (not to mention the reliably shocking deaths).

The scenario is that society has broken down and teachers are being bullied and injured. A new totalitarian government comes up with the idea of sending classrooms of troublesome students to a remote island where they must engage in a battle to the death with their classmates. Only one will survive. The gruff-voiced Japanese acting legend Takeshi Kitano (Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence) stars as a teacher who runs the island death show, which runs for a couple of days. Each of the students is wearing a collar that, interfered with, will blow their head off. There’s no filler in a film that gets down to business and keeps its relentless death toll (often in unexpected ways) right up to its last frames. Absolutely brilliant, and a fitting monument to director Kinji Fukasaku, who died not long after its release.

Battle In Outer Space (Plex/Tubi) 6/10

From Ishiro Honda (the chap who brought us the original Godzilla movies) comes this 1959 stinker. Unfortunately, there’s so much footage of committees of balding men making decisions about the future of mankind that the film gets bogged down, but at the very least, it’s worth fast-forwarding to the “action” scenes, most of which involve very obvious plastic miniature replicas that are as ludicrous and unbelievable as they are intrinsically charming.

Shot 10 years before man actually made it to the moon, the rocket scenes are, frankly, side-splittingly funny. Like the American edit of Godzilla (1954) many of the scenes seem to have transplanted Americans and the whole thing feels a bit like a post-production editing botch-up. Sadly, watching it on Plex is a trial, because there are so many ads which are repeated so incessantly that after a while, I vowed never to endure the streaming service again. If only I’d known that it was also on Tubi, another free service that seems to have no ads at all.

Blue Beetle (Neon) 7/10

It’s easy to understand why this great superhero film didn’t do too well at the box office. I mean, the main characters, including our hero, are immigrant Mexicans. Avid Trump fans probably actively discouraged people from attending screenings. And – shock horror! – they sometimes speak in Spanish, which requires the reading of subtitles. Not too many, mind, but I can’t imagine Trump fans in general do a lot of reading. Well, for me, Blue Beetle is a film that even those with a mild distaste for superhero films can enjoy. Jaime Reyes (played with ease by Xolo Mariduena) is a recent university graduate who visits an all-powerful corporation looking for a job and instead, accidentally becomes an incredible weapon when a stolen alien Scarab is absorbed into his body.


Blue Beetle could have been just another cliched David and Goliath scenario with a nice kid forced to fight a seemingly insurmountable evil. But it’s so much more than that. The awful Kord Industries somehow represents the totalitarian aesthetic behind so many governments/corporates in the world at large in 2024, and Susan Sarandon as its matriarch Victoria Kord does a wonderful job of portraying someone shorn of values. Jaime’s impoverished Mexican family are full of character and there’s so much love to go around that even the lonely daughter of the Kord Industries founder wants to be part of it. Like the Transformer movie Bumblebee, Blue Beetle is that rare thing in all the CGI flash of action-packed superhero movies: it’s got heart.

Eric (Netflix) 8/10

Easily one of the best shows new shows on Netflix for quite some time, on one level Eric is simply a police procedural, but this multi-dimensional experience confounds expectations by giving the viewer so much more. Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, The Power Of The Dog) convincingly plays Vincent, an alcoholic, unhinged TV puppet show creative whose young son goes missing in the festering, frightening madness of 1980s New York. During its six intense episodes, the show explores Vincent’s crumbling relationship with his wife, Cassie (played by former child actress Gaby Hoffmann), but importantly, it also focuses on detective Michael Ledroit (powerfully played by McKinley Belcher III of Ozark fame).


Ledroit has to somehow navigate his way through a corrupt police department but also challenge the pernicious racism and uncover the truth about more than one missing child, but also avoid persecution for being gay. To top it off, the detective is secretly nursing his partner at home – who is dying of AIDS – while having to put up with attempts to match-make him with women. As you can see, the threads running through Eric are unusual and each one of them has tremendous emotional impact. The evocation of New York in the ‘80s is extraordinary, and then there’s Eric, a creature creation of Vincent’s missing son, who the mentally unstable dad imagines as a kind of grumpy companion. While this may sound silly, it’s a bright idea that actually works and provides a little levity at times from an often grim story. I loved every minute of it.

Eric Clapton: Life In 12 Bars (DocPlay) 7/10

It’s easy to take Eric “Slow Hand” Clapton for granted or even paint him as a figure of fun for his alarmist Covid vaccine stance or his much-quoted anti-immigration quotes from the 1970s. Many view him as the music equivalent of the colonists, stealing the blues from African-Americans and taking the glory. One thing that this compelling 2017 documentary does is put Clapton in context, and while he doesn’t come out exactly smelling like roses, it’s an education even for those – like me – who have enjoyed his work from time to time. Director Lili Zanuck takes an almost unbearably intimate, personal approach at times that can seem a little bit heavy-handed as the film keeps on flashing back to Clapton’s lonely upbring and the rejection of his birth mother to explain the guitar icon’s later drug and alcohol issues.

According to Life In 12 Bars, between 1970 and the early ‘90s, when he finally successfully rehabilitated, Clapton’s life was just a drug-induced alcoholic blur, and he’s quoted as saying that he barely remembers making/playing on his successful ‘70s albums. A lot of time is spent dwelling on his years-long tormented obsession with George Harrison’s then-wife, Patti Boyd, and inevitably, the terrible tragedy of Clapton’s 4-year-old son falling to his death from the 53rd-floor window of a New York apartment, inspiring the sappy Grammy-winner ‘Tears In Heaven’ in the process. Personally, I could have stood a little more music, and the highlight for me was the story of his early years learning guitar as a kid, joining The Yardbirds and then his discovery of a certain amplifier that defined the classic fat Clapton guitar sound first heard on the legendary Bluesbreakers album with John Mayall (1966). And yes, the film does deal with those early ‘70s racist comments, and pointedly includes footage of black blues great BB King saying what a great friend Clapton was to him. While the film tries just a little bit too hard at times, it’s never less than a fascinating portrait.

Secrets Of The Neanderthals (Netflix) 7/10

This feature-length documentary on our extinct kissing cousins threatens to tell us a lot that we don’t already know, but comes up a little short on any big reveal. The primary focus is on a few different sites – mainly caves – around the world where fragments of Neanderthal bones have been found, and the conclusions the experts, through the use of 21st-century technology, have come to. A bit like the recent Beach Boys documentary, it doesn’t really add much to what fans of pre-history already know, but it will be fascinating to anyone with a general interest in human evolution.

I’ll certainly never call anyone a Neanderthal again after learning that in all probability, they were intelligent and maybe… just maybe… had their own art and religion. The sequence that’s most fascinating is the French cave deep within the earth – and very, very difficult to access – where a bunch of Neanderthal’s lived long ago. The thought of the peril of entering a cave with just some kind of fire stick to light the way gives me the jitters, but there’s clear evidence of their habitation of the environment. Ultimately, it’s not the so-called extinction of the Neanderthals that intrigues, but the certainty of their mating with humans and the fact that there’s a little bit of the species in many of us even today.

Suzume (Netflix) 9/10

I’m not easily impressed by anime and tend to find fantasy films hard to stomach, but Suzume is that rare exception to the rule. This 2022 film isn’t from the Ghibli stable but bears many of its hallmarks, folding layers of meaning into an exciting story about a young girl who discovers that a supernatural worm is opening up secret doors and causing colossal earthquakes, and must travel around Japan seeking to seal them up. In other words, it follows a recent stream of Japanese animated films focused on apocalyptic scenarios.

It’s when you realise that the film is referring specifically to the shocking earthquake and resultant tsunami in 2011, which killed approximately 20,000, that it takes on more significance. Suzume was the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time, and that’s not surprising, as it gets all the elements right: the animation is splendid, the action gripping and sometimes terrifying (but my kids handled it okay) and there’s also a deep (but unrealised) romance between Suzume and the handsome lad whose job it is to locate and lock these dangerous doors. Not to forget the element of cuteness introduced by a mysterious and seemingly mischievous cat which always heads towards yet another fissure through which the worm can get through to wreak havoc. It all sounds quite silly in print but believe me, it’s a trip, and one of the few truly essential anime films.

The Sympathizer (Neon) 5/10

This seven-part so-called miniseries should be really great. It’s from a Pulitzer prize-winning novel, there’s an abundance of acting talent and it’s about a Vietnamese spy in America just after the US has pulled out of the intractable war. I mean, it should be fascinating. But somehow, as with so many black comedies, the tone just isn’t right. Hoa Xuande (Cowboy Bebop) plays a Saigon police captain who sides with the Americans but is secretly a Communist spy. When the Americans (along with South Vietnamese supporters) are evacuated to Los Angeles, he washes up there for some years, sending secret messages home to his comrades.


A film about the mixture of fascination and cultural dislocation of the new Los Angeles Viet communities would have been interesting, but The Sympathizer focuses on the captain’s schizophrenic lifestyle as he cleverly covers up his true leanings. The show is never boring as he’s catapulted from one excruciating situation to another, but the viewer never feels involved, either. One reason for this is Robert Downey Jr, who plays no fewer than five different roles. Downey’s crazy characters keep popping up, and as brilliant as he is, this becomes tiresome when all you want is to be able to feel some connection to the story. The last episode is especially miserable, with the captain back in North Vietnam and being tortured by the people he spent the previous six episodes supporting. Clever, but it’s a miss.

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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