Jessica Jones: yet another superb Netflix Original
Video-streaming service Netflix launched last week in 130 new countries, including the Middle East, giving you a vast number of films, TV shows and documentaries to choose from – and that can be a problem.
More often than not, you find yourself spending your entire evening shuffling through the selection trying to pick something to watch – before realising that you no longer have time to actually watch a film.
It's important to note that because of region specific licensing laws not all content that graces the US, UK and other versions of Netflix is available locally, but we've been assured that they are working on bringing parity between regions and we'll be updating this list as and when that happens.
Never fear; we've rifled through the UAE's Netflix catalogue to bring you our top picks, from chucklesome comedies to action-packed adventures. Let Stuff be your guide on your cinematic odyssey.
Picking up where Daredevil (keep reading) left off, Jessica Jones is Marvel’s dangerously bingeable new series. After a short stint as a superhero, private detective Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) moves to NYC and opens up Alias Investigations out of her own apartment.
Unfortunately, her escape from the clutches of obsessive, abusive and mind-controlling sadist Zebediah Kilgrave (David Tennant) is short lived. But Jessica's strife is our gain: you'll be hard pushed to find a better TV baddie from the last year.
Strong performances from a brilliant cast make this a dark thriller for comic book fans and the uninitiated alike.
Beasts Of No Nation
Netflix’s first foray into feature film-making is not for the faint hearted. This is the story of a young boy, horribly orphaned as the result of a militia attack on his village, who falls into the retinue of a brutal, yet also charming commander of a band of child soldiers.
It’s violent, visceral and sobering, and features Idris Elba in his most impressive performance to date. But it’s newcomer Abraham Attah who shines brightest of all as the boy at the centre of the drama.
The most critically acclaimed Netflix original series of 2015 tells the bloody story of Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar and the man tasked with taking him down. Sounds like a laugh riot, right?
While Narcos lacks much in the way of light-relief, watching American DEA agent Steve Murphy submerge himself in a viciously amoral cesspit is a constant thrill. What could well be a high-minded exercise in true crime melodrama is elevated to nerve-shredding nirvana via some classy performances and the disturbing use of archive footage. Escobar’s brutal legacy lives on through your telebox, and the horror of it all will make you wince in anguish.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1
Was Kill Bill really made 12 years ago? While that makes us feel incredibly decrepit and past-it, it also means we’ve forgotten enough of it to revisit it now via the medium of streaming video. Sadly, Netflix only carries the first half of Quentin Tarantino’s early-noughties pet project – but in our opinion it’s the best half anyway.
If Jackie Brown had left you thinking QT might be getting all restrained on us, Kill Bill dispels those notions in its opening massacre – and only ups the OTT factor later on, particularly in The Bride’s epic sword battle against the Crazy 88.
The plot? Well, while it serves to stitch the various scenes together, it really isn’t all that interesting, and despite being stretched over two feature-length movies there’s still a lot that feels rushed and barely sketched-out about Kill Bill. But, if you like snappy dialogue, massive dollops of tension and the best action scenes of any Tarantino film, it’s well worth a stream.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Paul Newman and Robert Redford star as the titular outlaws in this classic Western caper, on the run from a faceless posse of lawmen that relentlessly pursues them to Bolivia.
While the likes of Sam Peckinpah were taking the Western genre in an unrelentingly grim direction, screenwriter William Goldman (later to script the equally quirky The Princess Bride) opted for a jovial, lighthearted tone.
Newman and Redford’s easy charm and chemistry sell us on their antics - attempting bank robberies with the aid of a phrasebook, and accidentally blowing up their booty when they’re trying to crack a safe. Katharine Ross’ Etta Place, meanwhile, is no mere 60s love interest; she’s a complex, nuanced member of their outlaw gang.
The film’s wit and whimsy - exemplified by the infamous “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” sequence - make its denoument all the more shocking.
A James Bond-esque secret agent with the womanising, drinking and love of casual violence turned right up to 11, Archer is one of the greatest anti-heroes we’ve seen in an animated show. He's in good company at private spy agency ISIS (in hindsight, an unfortunate choice of name) staffed as it is with a collection of selfish, bungling agents and perverts.
Perfect for Netflix binge-watching, thanks to its 20-minute episodes, it's generously packed with snappy one-liners and Arrested Development-esque in-jokes. It’s just as good as it sounds.
What, did you think we'd forgotten? Breaking Bad has been praised to the heavens by critics and those members of the public who clap their hands over their ears and shriek "spoilers!" when you start talking about it. Of course we were going to put it in this list.
Bryan Cranston's Walter White is one of the great characters of modern fiction; a mild-mannered chemistry teacher whose cancer diagnosis prompts him to turn his skills to creating crystal meth – with the help of his former student Jesse. Series creator Vince Gilligan claims that he pitched the show as being the story of "a man who transforms himself from Mr Chips into Scarface." And where the early episodes play up White's hilariously incompetent attempts to enter the drugs trade, as the series progresses he develops into a genuinely chilling character.
Watch it. Now. If only so that you don't have to keep clapping your hands over your ears and shrieking "spoilers!" whenever anyone mentions it.
Having conquered cinemas with its ever-growing roster of superheroes, Marvel Studios has turned its attention to the small screen with Daredevil. Blind lawyer Matt Murdock (Boardwalk Empire’s Charlie Cox) turns crime-fighter by night, taking on the slum lords and gangsters that populate Hell’s Kitchen – but where the Avengers sketches in its four-colour heroics with a broad brush, Daredevil’s vigilantism is painted in shades of grey.
Murdock’s nocturnal outings sit uneasily alongside his legal profession, while the show’s big villain (Vincent D'Onofrio) wants to raise Hell’s Kitchen out of the dirt by any means necessary.
Making the most of its extended running time, the show’s able to show the wider consequences of its hero’s actions – not all of which are positive.
A Netflix exclusive, this animated series features Arrested Development’s Will Arnett as the titular Horseman, a, er, “horse man” who enjoyed success while in a popular 1990s sitcom but now lives in a haze of booze and self-loathing as a washed-up former star.
Set in a skewed version of Hollywood in which humans live alongside anthropomorphic animals, BoJack Horseman features a strong cast (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul plays BoJack’s best friend Todd) and strong writing, and the 13 episodes available now will be supplemented with a further season, probably later in 2015.
The Shawshank Redemption
Banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sent down for two life sentences for a crime he didn’t commit - and in the grim confines of Shawshank Penitentiary, he’d be forgiven for giving in to despair. But a series of small victories against the soul-crushing bureaucracy, the mentorship of old lag Red (a never-better Morgan Freeman) and his interest in geology help to chip away at the walls that threaten to engulf him.
Frank Darabont’s adaptation of a lesser-known Stephen King short story failed to set the box office alight on its initial release, but - appropriately, given its theme of persevering against the odds - it’s since found a strong following on home video. Its story of hope in the face of impossible odds - and a slow-burning style that recalls the classics of the ‘30s and ‘40s - has won it a place at the top of countless best films lists. You owe it to yourself to watch this one.
Nothing much happens in Clerks. Some disaffected slackers go to work in their dead-end jobs. They argue with girlfriends, chat with mates, swear a lot. It all happens at a glacial pace, in black and white, on a budget of less than $30,000.
Yet somehow, it’s one of the funniest films of the ’90s, a textbook example of how good writing counts for far more than glitzy special effects or big-name stars.
Beverly Hills Cop
The 80s were rife with comedy action films, and Beverly Hills Cop was the funniest, most action-packed of the lot. And it still stands up now.
A huge part of it is Eddie Murphy's cheeky charm as Axel Foley, a reckless Detroit detective who goes off the books to investigate the death of his friend. His enquiries take him to Beverley Hills, where he's very much a fish out of water, butting heads with the local police and aristocratic criminals.
If you haven't already seen it (seriously?!) you must rectify that immediately. If you have, Beverly Hills Cop really is every bit a brilliant as you remember.
KEN BURNS: PROHIBITION
Ken Burns' documentaries for PBS are amongst the finest factual programming out there, and this three-part series on Prohibition is one of his best efforts.
Kicking off with an examination of the rise of the temperance movement in the 19th century, the show explores how the draconian Eighteenth Amendment and Volstead Act came into being – and its unintended consequences. It turned ordinary Americans into criminals, and fuelled the growth of organised crime in the country. A hopelessly outnumbered force of Prohibition Agents struggled to enforce laws that were vastly more far-reaching than even the politicians drafting them had imagined.
Burns uses a familiar set of tools to tell the story; his characteristic panning shots over photographs appear in full force, supplemented with film footage from the period and voiceovers from the likes of John Lithgow and Samuel L Jackson. It's a fascinating look at a period of history that still has lessons for us in the present day.
Private eye Jake Gittes gets more than he bargained for when a wandering-husband case gets him tangled up in the shady business of the Los Angeles water grab. Roman Polanski’s neo-noir is painted in dusty shades of brown, rather than the crisp black and white of the original film noirs – and it’s similarly murky in its outlook. Jack Nicholson’s Gittes finds himself quickly out of his depth as his efforts to pursue justice run up against the entrenched interests of the corrupt elite – personified with lip-smacking relish by John Huston. It all builds to a devastating conclusion, in which the darkness underpinning the city – and Huston’s tyrannical Noah Cross – is laid bare. One of the greats.
THE BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL
When organised baseball decided to move its AAA club out of Portland, actor and baseball fan Bing Russell decided to fill the void with a totally independent team – the aptly-named Mavericks. This Netflix-produced documentary charts the Mavericks' fortunes over their short-lived career. Although they only lasted from 1973 to 1977, they shook up the game with their antics; a ball-dog that ran onto the field, broom-waving spectators – and a string of victories that shook up the baseball establishment.
"I wanted it to go back to the straw hat and beer days when 250 towns had minor league teams and most of them were not supported by a major franchise,” explains Russell; and from the outset, it's clear where the documentary's sympathies lie. The Mavericks are the scrappy underdogs, made up of outcasts from professional baseball and amateurs who never got the big break they were hoping for. The baseball establishment are the villains, humiliated on the field and resorting to dirty tricks in search of victory.
The truth is probably more nuanced, but it's a rousing story, told with panache by Russell's grandsons – and his son, actor Kurt Russell, who took to the field with the Mavericks.