From When We Rise to Big Little Lies: the best of film and TV streaming in Australia in March

David Bowie cult classics, Korean arthouse thrillers, and Aussie soap opera favourites, here’s what’s coming to streaming services in Australia this month

Netflix Australia

Film: 13th (US, 2016) directed by Ava DuVernay – out now

It’s not brand new, but given its recent Oscar nomination, now is a really good time to take a look at this Netflix Original. Ava DuVernay is a filmmaker of genuine political and emotional intelligence, and after 2014’s Selma she turned her eyes to the USA’s contemporary race disaster: the prison system. The result goes far beyond most film or television talking-heads docos, in the sensitivity of both its aesthetics and its message: that the privatised prison system criminalises blackness, not behaviour.

Film: Girlfriend’s Day (US, 2017) directed by Michael Stephenson – out now

Once greeting-card writer of the year, Ray Wentworth (Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk) has lost his touch since his divorce. His professional luck is lifted by a government effort to stimulate the failing, hopelessly analogue greeting-card industry: a new national holiday, called Girlfriend’s Day.

Ray’s the kind of guy who believes novelists are just writers like him but with a brevity problem. His proud quest to regain his revered stature among his peers leads him into crime and lies, when what he really needs to do is be able to feel again. This Netflix Original, which Odenkirk co-wrote, is too dour and protracted in its comedic beats to be called offbeat. Really, Girlfriend’s Day is a sad-boy comedy, a strange creation of bitter middle-aged awkwardness and denial – but Odenkirk and his long funny miserable face carry it through.

TV: Love (US, 2017), created by Judd Apatow – out now

Beyond the stoner-fratboy fare for which he is perhaps most well-known, the emotional range of Judd Apatow’s films (This is 40, Funny People) rarely covers more than a slender spectrum of resignation, bitterness and disappointment. What a lovely thing to find that his Netflix program, Love, offers something a little sweeter and sadder. Perhaps television, in its bite-sized, meandering way, is Apatow’s saving grace: he’s hit a perfect balance of bittersweet laughs.

Where Love’s first season saw Mickey, a tough, lovable addict, and Gus, an innocent mid-west nerd, circle each other romantically, the second season explores what a relationship between them might look like. Whether they’re perfectly paired or deadly mismatched, the untangling of their relationship is one of the most satisfying, true-to-life things onscreen right now.

Honourable mentions: American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson (TV, 6 March), Grace and Frankie (TV, season three, 14 March); Selma (film, 18 March).


Film: The Man Who Fell To Earth (UK, 1976) by Nicolas Roeg – 18 March

The Man Who Fell to Earth: watch David Bowie’s extraterrestrial turn – exclusive video

What a rich, strange, cult classic. The film’s shining quality is, of course, David Bowie’s performance as an alien on earth looking for water for his home planet. Lithe and graceful, Bowie goes beyond most extra-terrestrial film cliches. Swaying towards the slow-burn, arthouse end of the genre rather than action-packed thriller, The Man Who Fell to Earth shows us that one of the key objectives of good alien film is to defamiliarise us to the absurdities of life as we know it.

Director Nicolas Roeg uses Bowie’s character to satirise the materialism and unchecked industrial insanity of capitalism: seeing our man/alien Bowie begin a tech start-up (really – the film was seriously prescient) and subsequently fall into a narcotised life of alcoholism and riches is really something.

Honourable mentions: Adventure Time, seasons 4 – 7 (TV, out now); Summertime (film, out now); The 400 Blows (film, 28 March), Jules and Jim (film, 28 March).

Dendy Direct

Film: The Rehearsal (NZ/Australia, 2016) by Alison McClean – out now

This New Zealand-shot, Australian coproduced film didn’t get a theatrical release, but plays beautifully on your big screen at home.

A film about theatre, based on the novel by Eleanor Catton, The Rehearsal reintroduces James Rolleston, the beautiful young actor from Taika Waititi’s Boy (2010). Rolleston plays Stanley: a fresh-faced first-year acting school student who falls for younger student Isolde, whose elder sister was involved in a scandalous affair with her much-older tennis tutor. Stanley can’t help but plumb his new love’s family’s secrets to fuel his major drama project, as film begins to play with the idea that people don’t know their boundaries until they step over them.

Australian director Alison McClean is one of the lesser-known voices of Antipodean cinema, having made several very personal films throughout the decades. The Rehearsal is sensitively attuned to the psychologies of its characters: an honest, finely crafted film of minutely shifting character loyalties.

Honourable mentions: Hacksaw Ridge (film, 15 March); I, Daniel Blake (film, 22 March).

Foxtel Play

TV: Big Little Lies (US, 2017) directed by Jean-Marc Vallée out Mondays

Conjured in Pinterest pastels, a hallucinatory quality haunts HBO’s new murder-mystery drama, written by David E Kelley (Boston Legal) and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club) based on the book by Australian author Liane Moriarty. The title credits are all Lonely Planet California beach slo-mo until a hand holding a gun floats into view. Shots of waves roll in reverse motion, scenes slide seamlessly in and out of each other and the camera hovers restlessly around the characters. Amid all this, flashes of satire come up fast and funny.

The set-up is akin to The Slap – a rift between parents cuts apart an upper-middle-class community of alpha mothers and gives rise to a murder, the victim and culprit of which is unknown to us. Reese Witherspoon plays the peroxide-blonde lead (the kind of dominant friend who orders for you at a cafe), Laura Dern her competitor and Nicole Kidman her ally, with Shailene Woodley as the new-to-town, lower-class single parent outsider. These are uber-Moms and this is their universe. They’re all immersed in varying depths of self-rationalisation and denial. And their small children, who are their parents’ projects, have no idea of their own affluence.

A disturbingly clear-sighted satire of aspiration, competitive parenting and social perfectionism.

Honourable mentions: Divorce (TV, out now); Six Feet Under (TV, out now).

SBS On Demand

TV: Atlanta (US, 2016) by Donald Glover out Tuesdays throughout March

Television comedy continues to evolve in unexpected ways. Like Seinfeld, Donald Glover’s Atlanta has none of the end-of-scene punchlines like the sitcoms we grew up with. Like Curb Your Enthusiasm, it leaves us stranded in missed moments and petered-out conversations. Like Arrested Development, it centres on a perplexed guy trying to keep the chaos at bay (Glover’s Earn is broke, shut out by his parents, on the perpetual brink of break-up with his partner and trying to support his daughter by acting as manager to his rapper cousin, who is in fact a drug dealer). Like Search Party, it beautifully communicates the malaise of today. And like Transparent, it has its characters confront pain often to reel back into delusion.

Atlanta offers perspective on everything: the music industry, the justice system, the family, the intersection between wealth and race, the feeling of being down and out. Glover has made a comedy, but a challenging one – its sly jokes are sometimes laugh-out-loud and always wryly observed from a world that is as difficult as ever to understand. It’s even better than you’ve heard.

Film: Mustang (Turkey/France, 2015) by Deniz Gamze Ergüven out now

Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut film took festival audiences by surprise, and not just because some reviewers called it a Turkish Virgin Suicides, but because it exposed what the director sees as the medieval conditions experienced by many women in Turkey.

After an innocent interaction with some schoolboys on a beach, five orphaned girls are beaten, in order of age, by their grandmother, before being pulled from school and imprisoned in their isolated country house. “The house became a wife factory, which we never came out of,” says the narrator, Lale, who watches with increasing despair and powerlessness as her four elder siblings get married off one by one.

Though it sounds harrowing, Ergüven plays with the film’s mood: the first part unfolds like a dream, and as the girls’ innocence is degraded and their sense of horror unfolds, the tone becomes increasingly suspenseful. Beyond the guarding of chastity and the stripping of girls’ and women’s rights, the film is a vivid portrait of sibling relationships and children’s secret lives – their inner worlds beyond the reach of reproachful adults.

Film: The Handmaiden (South Korea, 2016) by Park Chan-Wook – out now

Korean arthouse auteur Park Chan-Wook knows about revenge – the long, determined game played by his protagonist in Old Boy and the underclass heroes of Snowpiercer. But in The Handmaiden, an erotic psychological thriller about an heiress who falls in love with her maid in Japanese-occupied Korea, he shows what he knows about the female psyche.

This is a wild film of blood and secrets, of women who love women, who must kill men to liberate themselves, and who long for respite and a sense of belonging in a brutal world. It’s a story of sex as spirituality and class as oppression; it’s funny, freaky, and one of the most grand, original things I’ve seen at the cinema.

When We Rise (US, 2016) by Dustin Lance Black – out now

In today’s golden age of television, who knew an old-school miniseries could be so satisfying?

When We Rise’s dramatisation of the gay liberation movement’s rise in 1973 in San Francisco has a fist-pumping, rah-rah tone to it, helped out by some mastermind casting (Whoopi freaking Goldberg! Rosie O’Donnell!). The generosity of the performances of the Australians in the cast, Guy Pearce and Rachel Griffiths, are as stellar as you’d expect, belying their A-list status.

The show is most illuminating when its writers go for the thorny stuff as well as the movement’s contradictions: archival footage of a doctor orating on the impossibility of gay people’s happiness; a young queer man’s father (a psychiatrist) telling him a lobotomy isn’t out of the question to cure his illness; Goldberg’s character recalling the creation of a Lesbian Mothers’ Unit “to keep the state from snatching our kids”; gender divides between the lesbian and gay wings of the movement. In these adventurous moments, this often feel-good series hits its dramatic peaks. Created by Milk writer Dustin Lance Black, with director Gus Van Sant.

Honourable mentions: Sample People (film, out now).

ABC iView

TV: Art Bites, Home: The Art of Ian Strange (Australia, 2017) out now

Australian artist Ian Strange started his interrogation of home by drawing black holes and crosses over old photos of suburban houses. Then he started to draw and paint directly on actual houses. Then he started destroying the symbols of his West Australian suburban upbringing – exploding Holden commodores, painting a giant skull on a replica of his childhood house – making the most familiar thing of all, the home, aberrant.

This fascinating series of six tea-break-sized episodes takes us from Strange’s Australian beginnings to the houses of Ohio, his current canvasses. His internationally renowned work, according to David Hurlston, the senior curator of Australian art at the National Gallery of Victoria, says something important “about dislocation or disenfranchisement from community and society.” A slick, watchable series that breaks down the ideas of contemporary art for a broad audience.


TV: Neighbours (Australia, 1985-forever) every weekday, with episodes expiring after a fortnight

If you stepped off Ramsay Street ages ago, now’s the time to come back. They may have lost Australia’s finest soapie actress, Ashleigh Brewer, to The Bold and the Beautiful in 2014, but the producers of Neighbours have ramped up all the classic soapie tropes: people coming back from the dead, blackmail by minors, spying from bushes, secret babies, sexually deviant priests – you name it.

Is recently reincarnated Dee an evil gold-digger or does a fresh plot twist await us? Does her reappearance make Toadie a bigamist? Who is their grown-up daughter? Things are sudsier than ever in Erinsborough, with manipulations and conspiracies going beyond even the glory days of evil Izzy (Natalie Bassingthwaighte).

If, like me, you believe the soapie is a glorious, overlooked artform, you’ll appreciate Neighbours’ new levels of creativity. If they push even further towards the low-budget kitsch of US soap Bold and the Beautiful’s classic “Taylor’s alive!” moment, we’re in for fun times on traditional broadcast television.


Lauren Carroll Harris

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
From The Americans to Drunk History: the best film and TV streaming in Australia this month
Eccentric artists, lethal weapons and drunk histories: we’ve scoured the local streaming services and picked out the best offerings

Lauren Carroll Harris

03, Feb, 2017 @9:36 PM

Article image
From House of Cards to Master of None: the best of film and TV streaming in Australia in June
A riot in Litchfield prison, a Quentin Tarantino marathon and the return of Agent Dale Cooper – here’s what to watch on streaming services this month

Lauren Carroll Harris

03, Jun, 2017 @10:02 PM

Article image
From Glow to The Handmaid's Tale: the best of July's film and TV streaming in Australia
A Harrison Ford classic, an insiders look at US politics and Jane Campion’s first foray into long-form – here are our top picks for streaming services this month

Lauren Carroll Harris

01, Jul, 2017 @12:04 AM

Article image
David Attenborough, Chewing Gum, Hitchcock and more: what's streaming in Australia in October
Aaron Sorkin, Sofia Coppola and Michaela Coel lead new work coming this month, along with new seasons of the Mandalorian and Fargo and a whole bunch of horror

Luke Buckmaster

01, Oct, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
From La La Land to Veep: the best of film and TV streaming in Australia in May
Prince’s breakout act, millennial ennui, and a John Clarke classic reissued – we’ve scoured the local streaming services to bring you this list of highlights

Lauren Carroll Harris

29, Apr, 2017 @11:34 PM

Article image
From Gilmore Girls to Please Like Me: the best of film and TV streaming in Australia this month
An Obama biopic, George Clooney’s take on journalism, and vampires both creepy and comical are all coming to local streaming services in December

Lauren Carroll Harris

01, Dec, 2016 @1:39 AM

Article image
Big Little Lies, The Handmaid's Tale and Black Mirror: what to stream in Australia in June
Plus: the 1990 classic The Witches, the second season of Vida, and the best Australian documentary of the year

Lauren Carroll Harris

07, Jun, 2019 @10:34 PM

Article image
From Carol to First Reformed: what to stream in Australia in April
Plus: Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled, Hong Kong horror film Dumplings and the ABC’s innovative Oddlands

Lauren Carroll Harris

03, Apr, 2019 @8:00 PM

Article image
From The Dry to The Lighthouse: what’s new to streaming in Australia in September
Plus the critically acclaimed Minari, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal dramatised, and the adventures of the last man on earth (and his pet monkey)

Luke Buckmaster

03, Sep, 2021 @4:00 AM

Article image
From Hannah Gadsby's Douglas to The Great: what's new to streaming in Australia in May
Plus the Rise of Skywalker, Sweet Country and a new show from the team behind Fleabag and Killing Eve

Luke Buckmaster

02, May, 2020 @8:00 PM