Welcoming a return to Next on Netflix, Liam launches the latest of our next best recommendations with three very assorted yet advisable titles to experience.
This Egyptian-American documentary from director Jehane Noujaim was the first Netflix production to be nominated for an Oscar in 2013, and was robbed of a victory. Quite how though is hard to comprehend; this unflinching, graphically personal look at the Egyptian revolutions of the past three years is arguably the best film of recent time since its release, worthy of all the acclaim heaped upon it.
Netflix original documentaries can be hit and miss (see Mitt) but The Square most definitely hits, and hits hard. Starting not, as one might expect, with the rumblings of uprising but the victory of revolution in 2011, this is not a film about attaining power for the people but the retention of it, in the face of those malevolent forces which swarm into a power vacuum created by the vanquishing of another.
Ingeniously using Tahrir Square in Cairo as a thematic and geographical focal point, the film uses its various states of occupation, evacuation and devastation as a guide to the people’s successes, as the corrupt election of Morsi and the attempted establishment of an Islamic State led the film’s protagonists not to buckle in the face of adversity, but return to the square to fight over and over.
It is truly these protagonists, not the said titular Square, which serve as the film’s beating heart. Those like the Scottish-Egyptian actor Khalid Abdallah, who travelled from London to Cairo to participate in the struggle, or Ahmed Hassan, a remarkably charismatic young Egyptian whose relentless hunger and optimism are in equal parts inspiring and heart-breaking.
One scene which follows a particularly brutal setback where Hassan simply walks down the middle of the road, in spite of the cars racing around him, is especially memorable. One of the most powerful documentaries of the past decade, The Square sheds light on a struggle which, sadly, continues to be relevant.
Him and Her
On a lighter note, Him and Her is a BBC Three comedy broadcast between 2010 and 2013. Perhaps that’s not the most appealing sales pitch of all time, but stay with me, because this is a good one.
While most BBC Three comedies were, like the channel itself as it may transpire, short-lived and mostly tasteless, Him and Her persisted for 4 years, ran for 4 series and won itself a BAFTA nomination and a nice little cult following. Him and Her shares more DNA with The Royle Family than Two Pints of Lager, focusing mostly on one flat shared by two characters, Steve and Becky, a couple of working class lovers who don’t work, don’t want to work, and spend their time instead watching Home Alone box sets, dealing with the woes of their deranged extended family and clipping their toenails.
Subtle in its comedy it is not, but neither is its heart, and writer Stefan Golaszewski (who wrote all 25 episodes) has a unique talent for finding romance and big moments in the tiniest of settings. A little slow at first, it’s in the phenomenal third series that Him and Her hits its stride; moments like an entirely unspoken gay fling and the arrival of Steve’s dad feature little to no explanation, but need none either. Their resolutions are heart-shattered, portrayed with such rich emotion by the perfectly cast leads.
Steve and Becky, two simple couch potatoes, end up as a pair of the most loveable and endearing working class characters in a British sitcom for years. This is helped by the addition of said extended family: Becky’s sister Laura and her husband Paul appearing as cookie-cutter yobs at first, yet are later given a layer of thoughtful depth that makes them loathsome and sympathetic in equal measure. No matter how many comic book films you’ve seen over the years, there are few characters as villainous as Laura at her vile and deluded worst.
It’s is not easy to get into, but once you’re with the characters, they have you for good.
Louis C.K. – Live at the Beacon Theater
It’s hardly a secret that Louis C.K. is one of the best stand-up comedians working today, and the “one of” was only included for the purpose of undue impartiality – because C.K. is clearly top dog. Any of his specials from the past 10 years help contribute to this reputation, but with the recent disappearance of Chewed Up, Beacon Theater remains the only one available on Netflix, and so it’s all we have to work with.
That’s fine though, because while no better or worse than any other set in his repertoire, it’s absolutely sublime. C.K.’s work on his ‘sitcom’ Louie, a four season long series of 20-60 minute episodes exploring just about every avenue of life through every cinematic genre (only occasionally comedy), earnt him a place in the current breed of ‘intelligent’ stand-up comedians, alongside the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Reggie Watts and Marc Maron.
There are no punchlines to his set, nor are there twee observational moments like those you’d find on Michael Mcintyre’s Comedy Roadshow. That’s not to say he’s cracking wise about Voltaire or particle theory though; Live at the Beacon Theater is crude, blunt and shockingly honest.
His charm, as with his idol George Carlin, is that he’ll go places few others would. His opening gambit involves him sizing up the audience and observing that statistically one of them would be dead by the end of the year: “one of you out there is going to just ruin someone’s Christmas” he grins.
C.K. is special as he doesn’t just observe a quirk of a man sat opposite him on the subway, but takes his audience to the darkest places and still makes their sides split with laughter.