October has somehow slid into November and pretty soon, the silly season will be upon us.
Before the madness hits, however, there’s still time to get some serious streaming study under your belt, so you’ll be completely up to date if anyone at an end-of-year party asks if you’ve watched anything good lately.
Here are our authors’ picks of the best of November streaming.
Wes Anderson’s Roald Dahl short films
Wes Anderson’s latest work involves four short films based on Roald Dahl stories, in some of the most literal and faithful Dahl adaptations ever put on screen.
Dahl (played by Ralph Fiennes) becomes an onscreen character and narrator. The sight of Dahl talking directly to camera in his famous writing chair is somewhat uneasy. Which Dahl will we see? The bigot? Beloved children’s author?
In truth we see neither in the character – but rather manifestations of both in the films themselves.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is the most joyous in both style and story. From the altruistic Henry Sugar things significantly go darker. The Swan is about a boy victimised to merciless bullying; The Rat Catcher involves a man who kills a rat with his teeth.
The final and most confronting is Poison. Englishman Harry Pope in British-ruled India believes he has a poisonous krait snake asleep with him in his bed. When this is proven incorrect, local physician Dr Ganderbai is subjected to Harry’s racial slurs. It is an ugly and unexpected moment provoking the doctor to leave in stunned silence.
From the first film of its vivid colours and altruistic themes to the bleak finale of Poison, it feels as if Anderson is making a statement about the difficulties regarding Dahl and his cultural legacy.
In the process he has produced some of his most challenging, complex and intriguing films to date.
– Stephen Gaunson
Stan from November 16 (Australia), NZ TV3 (New Zealand)
Sunday morning service has drawn to a close and the congregation mill around in the sunshine. Many talk glowingly of Father Swift’s charity work, while others on the perimeter of the gathering, bearded and barrel chested, glower from beneath peak caps.
Father Swift emerges from the weatherboard church in his vestments, raises an assault rifle to his shoulder and calmly shoots dead five of his flock. They are all men.
Journalist Martin Scarsden (Luke Arnold), stuck for words and shielding his own tragedy, is sent to the bush town, Riversend. He’s there to write a piece 12 months on from the mysterious random slaying by the priest.
Here, Scarsden sets about unravelling the murder mystery in search of the truth. The tale takes us from international war crime investigation to local drug manufacturing and distribution, a love child, more murders and implosion of the colonial patriarch.
Landscape is a less dominant theme in Scrublands than more recent bush town crime dramas, such as Mystery Road. Racism and colonial history is covered but is not a leading theme.
Based on the novel by Chris Hammer, the limited series (four episodes) is well worth watching. Scrublands is an Easy Tiger production co-commissioned by Stan and the 9Network, in association with VicScreen and stars Luke Arnold, Bella Heathcote and Jay Ryan.
- Heidi Norman
Australian Theatre Live, australiantheatre.live
Orange Thrower is a powerful exploration of the experience of “otherness” and what it’s like to exist on the margins.
This play, staged by Griffin Theatre Company and the National Theatre of Parramatta, is set in a fictional suburb called Paradise filled with nosy, prying neighbours.
Zadie (Gabriela Van Wyk) is a young South African woman growing up in Australia. The sudden arrival of troubled and energetic cousin Stekkie (Zindzi Okenyo) from Johannesberg disrupts Zadie’s carefully controlled world, where she attempts to walk unnoticed among the community. Despite her attempts to assimilate, Zadie’s home is being regularly pelted by oranges by some unknown vandal.
The exploration of young love, of gender, of joy and resistance makes for a visceral performance work by Kirsty Marillier – an exciting new Australian voice in theatre.
The storytelling form of Orange Thrower and the spatial realisation of the work are complex and compelling choices. As an audience member watching a digital rendering of live performance, it takes time to sit with this work and understand its nuance and intention.
The performances, especially by Van Wyk, are exceptional. Throughout the work, Marillier exploits the tensions between simplicity and its potential to obscure profound complexities and challenges.
This digital release marks the start of a staggered release of six Griffin Theatre Company productions from Australian Theatre Live, allowing an international audience to experience the magic of Australian stories from the comfort of their homes.
– Sarah Austin
The premise of Bodies is extraordinary. The body of a naked man, shot through the eye, is discovered in London’s East End. The same body is discovered over 160 years by four detectives, who are caught in an increasingly complex plot to destroy the world as we know it.
Bodies is based on a graphic novel by Si Spencer and the filming recalls its origins in the use of split screens and constant jumps across time periods.
Unsurprisingly the contemporary detective, Shahara Hasan (Amaka Okafor) does most to hold the story together, but over the eight episodes all four have striking, if somewhat didactic, backstories.
1890s detective, Alfred Hillinghead, is a closeted homosexual, caught between family and lover; in the 1940s Charles Whiteman is a Jew surrounded by anti-Semitic colleagues.
The scenes in 2053 are the least convincing, positing as they do a post-apocalyptic regime under the rule of Elias Mannix, whom we first encounter as a teenager who detonates the bomb which makes his future rule possible.
Bodies is melodramatic, absurd, beautifully acted and strangely compelling. The motto of the new world, Know you are loved, becomes both trite but surprisingly touching. Suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride.
– Dennis Altman
Our Flag Means Death (Season 2)
Binge (Australia), Neon (New Zealand)
The deliciously queer pirate comedy Our Flag Means Death dropped its entire second season in October.
Where parts of season one felt a bit like a convoluted gag, this season confidently balances emotional depth with hilarity and deadpan absurdity.
We ended on a breakup when dandy Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby), the self-styled Gentleman Pirate, failed to make a rendezvous with Ed (Taika Waititi), aka Blackbeard, after they had finally declared their love.
Here, Ed descends into abject villainy and must then seek redemption, and Stede must atone for his betrayal, while also becoming, perhaps, a halfway decent pirate.
This season, filmed in and around Auckland, is much bigger in scope. The cinematography is lush and spacious. The production design is impressive. The already large ensemble cast expands further into a motley, (mostly) lovable found family; local audiences also can play “spot the Kiwi”.
Across eight episodes full of unexpected, absurd highlights – not least a dream sequence in which Rhys Darby appears as a merman – Con O’Neill offers an Emmy-worthy turn as ferocious first mate Izzy, becoming the season’s unexpected heart.
Through the crew’s various escapades, dalliances, failures, and victories, a clear theme emerges: how do you have good relationships? How do you live authentically when the structures around you are toxic?
The answer, and it’s no spoiler, is kindness.
– Erin Harrington