by Sam Allard
To ease your anxiety and to pass the time, instant TV works like hot cocoa and a mother's fireside embrace. We've put in some non-negligible man hours sifting through a number of the Netflix Instant New Arrivals and we've assembled some recommendations for you below.
For Pete's sake stay warm.
If you like GRITTY DOCUMENTARIES BASED ON RECENT POLITICAL UPHEAVAL watch: The Square. Director Jehane Noujaim, who grew up only 10 minutes from Tahrir Square, chronicles the revolutions, counter-revolutions and infighting which have rocked Egypt and its government from 2011 to 2013 and latches on to key personalities within the revolution to show its tensions and complexities. Beautifully shot.
If you like ISSUE-BASED DOCUMENTARIES AND ALSO FREE WILLY watch: Blackfish. This one cracked Scene's top 10 films of 2013, and with good reason. It's a captivating tour of operations at Sea World and its horrifying treatment of Orca whales. Using an attack on a trainer in 2010 as a launch point, the doc crew reveals how and why killer whales are incited to violence and the misconceptions about the breed at large. Tillikum, the massive Orca at the film's center, is as compelling a star as Maximus in Gladiator. Other than tapping into our deep emotional connection to animals, the film is anchored by two prominent elements that make all documentaries so vital to cinema — haunting never-before-seen footage and powerful interviews with sources intimate with the subject on both sides of the issue.
If you like TWISTY PHARMACEUTICAL THRILLERS AND ALSO CHANNING TATUM watch: Side Effects. This one sort of came and went back in early 2013, but was better — I argued — than most critics gave it credit for. Here's a little synopsis-plus-analysis: Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) is a sleek Manhattan psychiatrist who's working consulting gigs on the side to fund his big-city lifestyle. Emily (Rooney Mara) is a gloomy graphic artist whose husband (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison for insider trading. When Emily attempts to hurt herself, and an involved history of depression resurfaces, Banks takes her on as a client and gets embroiled in the "side effects" of the pills he prescribes. Mara is nothing if not Natalie Portman's pouty analog, and she's adept in the role of young, wounded wife. Law is weirdly phenomenal, and despite the script's best efforts to twist and undermine your allegiances, he's impossible not to root for throughout, what with that off-handed British charm and new paternal impulse (of which Martin Scorcese gave us only a taste in Hugo.) The story is appealing in its intricacies and medical lexicons — elaborate enough to keep you engaged, but not so far-fetched that the twists seem unearned. It's shot and designed with the sterile crispness of hospitals as guides, and on the whole it's just a welcome breather from the lesser trash we're inundated with until blockbuster season.
If you like INCREDIBLE, AWARD-WINNING TV DRAMAS watch House of Cards and/or Breaking Bad. Just do it. Don't ask questions.
If you like BRITISH PEOPLE AND THEIR ACCENTS/MANNERISMS watch Sherlock and/or Derek. Much has been written about the addictive thrill of the BBC's Sherlock Holmes update starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, but we'll co-sign the enthusiasm of other endorsements. It's clever and fun and chock-full of burbling British homoeroticism. Derek was more of a mixed bag, in terms of critical reception, but this mockumentary-style miniseries about a simple man working in a nursing home yanks at the heartstrings in all the right ways. At times, it's almost too sugary and sentimental, but the lack of irony in the warmth and the sweetness is somehow really touching. Gervais continues to show his comic depth. Though it's not British, the Australian murder-mystery miniseries Top of the Lake is worth a watch if you've got a few hours. It's a slow-mover — we confess to having seen only the first three episodes — but it's picking up steam and supposedly ends with a bang. Terrific performances and a landscape and premise like nothing you've probably seen before.
If you like BAD MOVIES watch Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. A short step up from the likes of the 2011's Red Riding Hood and Netflix Original Series Hemlock Grove — itself the stuff of your worst and most Clockwork-Orange-torture-scenario nightmares. Even an earnest Jeremy Renner can't do much with this 2nd-grade-reading-level script and some of the worst intro and makeup effects since the dawn of CGI. Also, we hear Olympus Has Fallen sucks really really hard.