From Studio Ghibli classics to gripping documentaries: five things to stream in Australia this weekend | Television & radio
For a long time I thought the expression “may you live in interesting times” sounded rather ideal – before realising that “interesting times” meant chaos and uncertainty. Perhaps I speak on behalf of all humanity when I say: may we live in uninteresting times; in times of unity and stability.
With the coronavirus spreading across the world and upending day-to-day life that is, of course, not an option. But as more and more people self-isolate and practice social distancing, it seems inevitable that in coming weeks and months streaming platforms will reach new levels of popularity, turning us all into square-eyed binge watchers on a constant hunt for quality films and TV shows – even more than we are now.
With that in mind, grab a quarantini and check out these five highly recommended productions – spanning old and new, TV and film – during your downtime.
1. Woman at War (film, SBS on Demand)
The director Benedikt Erlingsson’s Icelandic film about a choir conductor who lives a double life as a hardcore environmental activist arrives well timed in the era of ‘direct action’ protesting, a la Stop Adani and Extinction Rebellion. Waging war against a Rio Tinto aluminium plant, Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) is an almost Batman-like figure, viewing arguably extreme measures – such as sabotaging transmission towers and disrupting power lines – as a moral obligation.
The Foucauldian elements of the script (co-written by Erlingsson and Ólafur Egilsson) explore the pervasiveness and fragmentation of power, with the suggestion that average citizens have a responsibility to rise up against authorities when they fail to act in the best interests of the people. These are meaty ideas but the film has a fun and bouncy tone, often veering into the realm of offbeat comedy – complete with a fourth-wall-breaking band who regularly pop up and deliver daffy tunes.
For a long time the extraordinary catalogue of the beloved Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli was virtually impossible to access online. But most Ghibli films have now arrived on Netflix, with the last of three batches landing on 1 April. I’ve highlighted Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind not because it’s the best (my favourites are Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro and Pom Poko) but because this awe-inspiring film tends to be overlooked, existing in the shadows of so many other magnificent productions.
Directed by the great Hayao Miyazaki, it is set 1,000 years after the collapse of industrial civilisation. An awful “toxic jungle” has spread across the earth, which is roamed by huge mutant slug-like creatures. The titular character is a princess determined to find ways for humans and hideous mutant thingamajigs to co-exist. Miyazaki contrasts great beauty with extreme danger, taking to the skies to match visions of grand, picturesque horizons with kooky contraptions and flying machines.
3. Devs (TV, Foxtel)
The novelist-cum-film-maker Alex Garland’s previous feature, the highly ambitious sci-fi Annihilation, was famously described as “too intellectual” by a producer at Paramount – before the studio sold it to Netflix. Wait until they get a load of the auteur’s new and intensely cerebral eight-part TV series: a slow-burning mind-boggler revolving around a highly secretive new technology developed by a company led by Forest (a meditatively gloomy Nick Offerman).
The company has created something that, to borrow the words of one of the developers, “literally changes everything”. What exactly is it? Well. Well… Well! That would be telling. Despite no shortage of techie-philosophical waffle the show builds a deeply compelling atmosphere, with some very weird and trippy visions. Three episodes in, I think I’m hooked.
Watching the director Tim Wardle’s acclaimed documentary was an unusual experience for me, in that my mother insisted I see it and then literally drove me to the cinema and sat next to me. Usually it’s the other way around. My mother, by the way, is a twin – and so are the subjects of this film, a stranger-than-fiction story spanning a wide gamut of emotions.
Separated at birth, triplets David Kellman, Eddy Galland and Bobby Shafran discovered each other’s existence by happenstance when they were 18 and became a media sensation in America. However, the happy glow of their reunited selves did not last forever. Their story begins very personally, then ultimately goes to places that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of The X-Files. It is truly gripping viewing.
Now into its fifth season, You Can’t Ask That – from co-directors and co-producers Kirk Docker and Aaron Smith – is one of ABC TV’s great success stories of the past few years. Turning inappropriate publicly sourced questions into an opportunity for marginalised and misunderstood people to speak for themselves, the show’s simple format (comprised entirely of subjects speaking direct to camera) has proven to be sustainable and thoroughly moreish.
The new season’s first episode explores firefighters. “I just say what I think, and if they get upset, stiff shit!” says one particularly entertaining character in the introductory moments. As usual, the show oscillates from laugh-out-loud comedy to moments of inspiration and pathos.