4 Contributions by: Farah Cheded On Netflix Brazil

Staff & contributors

The visceral pain at the center of this adaptation from period drama powerhouse Merchant-Ivory comes not from fading or unrequited love but unrealized affection. Try as he might to repress his feelings, devoted butler Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) can’t stifle the blossoming attachment he shares with housemaid Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). And yet, at every opportunity she gives him to do something about it, he balks, squandering the potential for something truly beautiful — something that actually belongs to them, not their aristocratic employer.

The Remains is partly told in flashbacks to the period leading up to the Second World War. From his stately home, Stevens’ master Lord Darlington and his peers play at international relations and try to avoid another war by pandering to the Nazis, but find they’re woefully under-equipped to decide the fate of Europe in this changing world. One of the many brilliant things about The Remains is the way this political drama doubles the devastation of Stevens’ die-hard commitment to his job — because now, he’s sacrificing his one chance at love for something that won’t even survive the decade. Sublime filmmaking and performances turn Stevens’ every minute choice into a pillar of profound tragedy, giving us a maddeningly heartwrenching life lesson for the ages.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Anthony Hopkins, Ben Chaplin, Brigitte Kahn, Caroline Hunt, Christopher Brown, Christopher Reeve, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Ian Redford, James Fox, Jeffry Wickham, Jo Kendall, John Haycraft, John Savident, Lena Headey, Michael Lonsdale, Miles Richardson, Patrick Godfrey, Paul Copley, Paula Jacobs, Peter Cellier, Peter Eyre, Peter Halliday, Peter Vaughan, Pip Torrens, Rupert Vansittart, Steven Beard, Terence Bayler, Tim Pigott-Smith, Tony Aitken, Wolf Kahler

Director: James Ivory

Rating: PG

This adaptation of a tragedy by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson might retain the mostly minimal setting of its source material — two rooms in a Chicago recording studio — but the searing performances at its heart more than warrant the translation to the big screen. A ferocious Viola Davis plays the titular ‘Mother of the Blues’, a fiery artist whose diva-ness is powerfully revealed to be a matching of the same transactional energy with which she’s treated by her white managers. 

On a steamy day in the roaring 1920s, one of Ma’s recording sessions morphs into a tinderbox of debate on art, race, and these exploitative power dynamics that exist at their intersection. As her band awaits her characteristically late arrival, its members tease, and then bicker, and finally erupt at one another. The youngest musician, Levee (Chadwick Boseman), is the most hot-headed — in his older band-mates’ eyes, he’s an arrogant young upstart with delusions of grandeur, but Levee’s ambitions are powered by real pain, as revealed in a blistering monologue. The film is unabashedly stagy in many respects, a quality that can work both ways — but, ultimately, the crackling current that runs through Davis and Boseman’s acting gives the movie all the blazing, goosebump-inducing immediacy of a live performance.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Daniel Johnson, Dusan Brown, Glynn Turman, Jeremy Shamos, Jonny Coyne, Joshua Harto, Michael Potts, Quinn VanAntwerp, Taylour Paige, Viola Davis

Director: George C. Wolfe

Rating: R

A classic text of English literature classes is handsomely brought to life in this screen translation of the still-radical play An Inspector Calls. The Birlings, a wealthy industrialist family thriving in 1912 England, have a cozy family celebration shattered by the arrival of a police inspector investigating the suicide of a young working-class woman. But that’s not the only bubble that’s burst: as Inspector Goole (David Thewlis) interviews the family — gradually revealing the part each played in forcing the woman to such a desperate state — he holds a mirror up to the casual cruelty and entitlement with which the Birlings move through the world. Part of what makes JB Priestley’s original play so enduring is how these characters are used as a wider metaphor for their social classes, and that translates with delicate but undeniable force here. A damning indictment of individualism and blind privilege on original publication in 1945, this is a story that retains the same relevance and power today.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller, TV Movie

Actor: Chloe Pirrie, Chrissie Chow, David Thewlis, Donnie Yen, Eric Tsang, Finn Cole, Flora Nicholson, Hans Zhang, Herman Yau, Karena Ng, Ken Stott, Kyle Soller, Lam Ka-tung, Liu Yan, Louis Koo, Lucy Chappell, Miranda Richardson, Raymond Wong, Sophie Rundle, Teresa Mo, Wanda Opalinska

Director: Aisling Walsh, Herman Yau, Raymond Wong

Rating: TV-PG

Six years after blowing box-office records out of the water with Titanic, director James Cameron once again plunged into the deep for Ghosts of the Abyss. This documentary charts several 12500-foot-deep trips that Cameron, actor Bill Paxton (who played a treasure-hunter in the 1997 movie), and others took in submersibles down to the ship’s wreckage on the pitch-black bed of the Atlantic. The images they captured there are eerie and awe-inspiring: the camera floats through the skeleton of the once-grand ship, now colonised by sea life but still bearing haunting reminders of the people who perished with it. Digital superimpositions of the original layout help to bring the rusted interiors back to life, while ghostly, translucent images of actors are overlaid to recreate the panic and tragedy of the Titanic’s last night.

Granted, it isn’t the romantic epic the 1997 movie was, but Ghosts of the Abyss is an absorbing opportunity for Titanic fans to geek out and a window into the plucky logistics of these undersea trips (which have themselves become an object of great interest, given more recent, ill-fated journeys). Stripping back the Hollywood glamor and diving more deeply into the tragic reality of the Titanic, this is a companion piece that works just as compellingly on its own.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bill Paxton, Charles Pellegrino, Don Lynch, James Cameron, John Broadwater, Ken Marschall, Lewis Abernathy, Lori Johnston, Mike Cameron, Tava Smiley

Director: James Cameron

Rating: G, PG