Best TV Streaming

(Welcome to Small-Screen Stream, a feature where we share the best television shows streaming and where you can watch them.)

The year is winding to an end, the “best of” lists are pouring in, and chances are you’re up to your neck in content you’d like to catch up on before the month is through. Plenty of those lists are filled with big-name series everyone knows – Westworld, Atlanta, The Americans, The Handmaid’s Tale – but what about the more underrated gems sneaking in? Have you heard of those, too? Did you know you can watch most of them at home right now?

For this week’s Small-Screen Stream – the last of the year – I’ve curated a list of many critical darlings that you might have missed in the cavalcade of content that’s come out this year. Some are recently announced Golden Globe nominees, some are criminally under-seen, some were recently canceled, but all were must-watch TV anyway.

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aquaman review

Aquaman is a movie that shouldn’t work. You’ve got Nicole Kidman eating a live goldfish in one scene, and an octopus playing the bongos in another — plus an absurd number of men sticking their heads down toilets (actually it’s just once, but it feels like a bit that goes on forever). And yet James Wan’s aquatic comic book movie is a total blast to watch.

On the heels of his scene-stealing introduction in last year’s Justice League, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman finally gets his own solo outing in an epic, sprawling adventure that is more than a match for his wild surfer bro superhero that spawned so many memes. Wan has managed to build an entire movie around Momoa’s laid-back hyper-masculine persona and uses it as a launchpad to create a staggeringly ambitious, visually overwhelming movie that crashes into you like a tidal wave.

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When movie fans think of Sam Raimi, they most likely think of Evil Dead or Spider-Man. Raimi’s name has become inextricably linked with these two franchises, the former of which he created and which launched his career as a feature filmmaker. As it progressed, the original Evil Dead trilogy leaned from splatter into slapstick horror. From Darkman onward, even Raimi’s superhero films toggled between moments of horror and comedy. Think of the “horror hospital” scene in Spider-Man 2, where an operating room turns into a scene of shrieking terror as the sentient, serpentine arms of Doctor Octopus come to life and kill the surgical staff (including one doctor who utilizes a bone saw as a weapon in a callback to Ash Williams). It’s pure Raimi: funny but scary all at the same time.

The mid-to-late 1990s marked a transitional phase in Raimi’s career. As the cult director went mainstream, he ventured outside his usual genre wheelhouse and made a series of films that were less distinguishably Raimi-like than their predecessors. Sandwiched between a western and a baseball drama was a neo-noir thriller set in the snowy fields of Minnesota. More than just a foray into Coen Brothers territory, that thriller — A Simple Plan — is perhaps Raimi’s most mature, meaningful film to date.

On December 11, 1998, A Simple Plan went into limited release theatrically, allowing it to qualify for the Academy Awards. Of all the titles in Raimi’s filmography, this is the one that’s the most straight-faced, the most grounded in some semblance of pseudo-reality. It’s a character-driven, small-town crime drama that zeroes in on the human horror lying beneath the veneer of seemingly good people. What would you do if you and your friends found a bag full of money? Who would you kill to protect it?

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mortal engines extended trailer

Mortal Engines — a bombastic film produced by Peter Jackson and coming to a theater near you on December 14 — is not only full of roving cities, fantastic airships and a killer cyborg, but is also based on the eponymous book by Philip Reeve.

“Uh oh!” you might be thinking. “Another film based on a movie! Do I have to read the book before I see it?”

You’ll likely get contrary answers depending on who you ask; some, for example, might say you should read the book before seeing the movie, while others might urge you to go into the film with fresh eyes. I’m here to offer you another option: instead of reading Mortal Engines, read something else in the steampunk genre. That way, you’ll get into the mood for the movie without spoiling the story itself. Genius, right? I know! But before we get to my recommendations, let’s talk about what’s considered steampunk.

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Daredevil Season 3

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: let’s read between the lines of Marvel’s statement about Daredevil and learn how to speak publicist.)

Every few years, something happens in the world of superhero entertainment that requires…massaging. Maybe a rumor crops up about casting or a character’s fate. Maybe a director or a writer drops out of a project. Maybe an entire series implodes unexpectedly. But the very nature of superhero films being based on decades of source material that is easily accessible means studios have had to thread a very small needle to keep their secrets.

Enter the publicist. Ostensibly a job that is half herding cats and half schmoozer, the true core of being a great publicist is to be an accomplished liar. This is a compliment. The words publicists put forth are in the public forever and will be parsed immediately by fans and journalists alike. Good PR hugs the wall of truth as it slides past a chasm of bald-faced lies.

Marvel, in particular, in all of their various forms and studios and divisions, is a master of lies. They lied about the title of Avengers: Endgame for months. They even went so far as to put a whole fake Hulk in the trailer for Infinity War rather than let on that Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) would be in the Hulkbuster suit. So when they released a statement about the cancellation of Netflix’s Daredevil, it helps to have a Publicist-Whisperer on deck to explain what they really mean.

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(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. In this edition, we go digging for leftover Christmas spirit the sequel to the Arnold Schwarzenegger-led holiday hit Jingle All the Way!)

It’s December, and you know what that means. Nothing. Absolutely nothing, as the calendar is an arbitrary construct meant solely to make us think we matter in the universe. It also means regular movie columns sometimes shift their attention towards a focus on holiday films, and we here at DTV Descent aren’t about to buck tradition. (And by we, I mean me.) So this week I’m stoking the fire, sipping some hot chocolate, and checking out the direct to video sequel to 1996’s Jingle All the Way.

The way it usually works here is that a good to great movie gets a poor to abysmal DTV sequel, but what Jingle All the Way 2 (2014) suggests is… what if the original is pretty bad too? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a complete Christmas comedy dud like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) and instead actually delivers a couple fun sequences. It has a major weakness, especially with its lead character, and that’s an element that’s actually improved in the sequel. What I’m saying is, all things considered, the DTV sequel starring Larry the Cable Guy might just be on par with the big-screen Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Honest.

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avatar sequels villain

Pop quiz: without any hints, can you recall the name of the villain in Avatar, the highest-grossing movie of all time? You may not remember his name – it’s Colonel Miles Quaritch, in case you were wondering – but you probably remember Stephen Lang‘s grizzled performance as the ruthless military man. Lang is coming back to reprise the role in James Cameron‘s Avatar sequels, and in a new interview, the actor told us about what we can expect from his character as the story continues. Read More »

die hard story

/Film has been following the development of McClane, formerly titled Die Hard: Year One closely. Originally, rumor had it that Bruce Willis would only appear in the beginning and end, to pass the torch to the younger McClane in flashbacks. In 2016, weeks after posting the title Die Hard: Year One on social media, director Len Wiseman told /Film that Willis would be in the whole movie. This year, Wiseman told us that a younger Holly McClane is in the script, with a present day reunion between the older characters possibly in the cards.

Producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura was especially surprised Wiseman had talked about Holly when we spoke with him about the Transformers spin-off Bumblebee. Di Bonaventura wanted to keep the Holly details close to the vest. However, he would discuss another aspect that has been a sticking point for Die Hard fans.

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pooka review

(Blumhouse Television and Hulu have partnered for a monthly horror anthology series titled Into The Dark, set to release a full holiday-themed feature the first Friday of every month. Horror anthology expert Matt Donato will be tackling the series one-by-one, stacking up the entries as they become streamable.)

As /Film’s resident Christmas Horror nutcase, is it any surprise that Into The Dark’s December chapter would be my most anticipated? Enter Nacho Vigalondo’s Pooka!, a consumerism purgatory where struggling actor Wilson Clowes (Nyasha Hatendi) finds himself inexplicably connected to his latest gig’s oversized costume. No psycho Santa, no Krampus lashings, no murder-obsessed snowmen. Gerald Olson’s script is one of scorched innocence and the idea that children’s toys can be impossibly terrifying when seasonal corporate greed is the only thing driving motivation. An obvious holiday theme, yet one that barely scratches the surface on Pooka!.

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wayne's world 2 defense

(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: the sequel to Wayne’s World is actually better than the beloved original.)

In 1993, just one short year after Wayne’s World transitioned from SNL favorite to box office hit, Paramount unleashed the sequel. Despite the fact that Wayne’s World 2 received mixed reviews and couldn’t seem to attract as many fans as the first film, it remains a hilarious and highly-underrated sequel – a delightfully silly follow-up that ups the ante while wryly (or obnoxiously, given the behind-the-scenes drama) delivering a formulaic sequel; a sort of self-aware cinematic Mad Libs. In my mind, Wayne’s World 2 belongs to the small group of comedy sequels that are better than their predecessors, like Problem Child 2 and Gremlins 2. At the very least, it should be considered just as great as the first film.

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