THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
Originally intended to be a series of six individual episodes, the Coen brothers instead combined this collection of tales from the Wild West into a single anthology, so over two hours we meet characters including the singing cowboy of the title, a bank robber who meets his match, and a very determined prospector played by Tom Waits.
It certainly comes with its fair share of quirky Coen brothers charm, but the format means The Ballad of Buster Scruggs can never fully get going, and just as it looks like it might, with the tale of a blossoming romance on a wagon train journey to Oregon, it feels like it’s over too soon. And while its depiction of America’s indigenous people might be authentic to the genre, it feels very archaic for the eve of 2019.
NARCOS: MEXICO (S1)
After three seasons concerned with the Colombian cocaine cartels, Netflix’s lavish drama series hits the reset button and heads a couple of thousand miles northwest, relocating to Mexico with a brand new cast and a brand new story.
Covering the origins and creation of today’s powerful Mexican cartels – responsible for half a million deaths and counting – the series stars John Peña as a fledgling DEA agent eager to make his mark in the War on Drugs and Diego Luna as an equally ambitious ex-cop turned drug baron.
The all-new setting gives Narcos a much-needed refresh, and even those who’ve never watched the show before can dive straight in.
THE FINAL TABLE (S1)
Netflix takes on Masterchef with this nine-part culinary competition, a globe-trotting journey around different cuisines. Each episode, the two-handed teams of top chefs are tasked with offering their take on the national dish of a particular country, with one team eliminated at the end of proceedings.
Even if the series’ glitzy production style goes a little too heavy on the fromage at times, watching this collection of pioneering cooks doing their thing under pressure is something that every gastronomy fan will savour.
If Braveheart’s myriad inaccuracies left the historian in you fuming even as it satisfied your inner sweeping epic movie fan, Netflix’s take on the Scottish rebellion that followed William Wallace’s death might be more your speed.
Star Trek’s Chris Pine plays Robert the Bruce as a dutiful man, somewhat reluctantly forced into breaking his vows and taking up arms against Stephen Dillane’s arrogant English monarch Edward Longshanks. There’s less blood and thunder in his quietly driven Robert than you might expect from such a towering, mythic national hero, but Outlaw King isn’t short on gory battle scenes, dismemberment and other staples of medieval war movies.
As with many Netflix-made movies, the film never quite lives up to its initial promise, but as two hours of mud, blood and beards go, it’s well-crafted, entertaining – and yes, far more convincing than Braveheart.
THE SINNER (S2)
The first season of The Sinner wrapped up its twisty, turny tale of murder, mayhem and trauma in a beautifully neat bow, which made the announcement of this followup season somewhat puzzling. But fear not: it transpires that this is a completely separate story in which Bill Pullman’s unconventional cop from the initial season is called back to his small hometown to help local police with a bizarre new case: a double murder in which a married couple were apparently poisoned by their young son.
If you enjoyed the first round of episodes, this new batch – which comes with the same brand of gradually unfolding mystery, tension and traumatic pasts – should provide you with plenty of thrills.
Denzel Washington earned a well-deserved Best Actor Academy Award for his searing, unforgettable performance as wayward narcotics cop Alonzo Harris in this tense thriller, in which (the also Oscar-nominated) Ethan Hawke’s rookie detective Jake Hoyt must endure a fraught 24 hours under the grizzled veteran’s tutelage.
Harris’ law enforcement methods, naturally, can’t be found in any dusty old rulebook, and Hoyt quickly finds himself dragged not only into LA’s terrifying criminal underworld but a wide-ranging conspiracy among the police charged with keeping the city safe.