Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun
TV, USA, 2020 – out 11 November
It ain’t easy for YouTube comedians to stand out from the pack – but few are as outrageously funny as Australia’s own Aunty Donna. The absurdist comedy troupe – actor/comedians Mark Samual Bonanno, Broden Kelly and Zachary Ruane, plus, behind the scenes, Sam Lingham, Max Miller and Thomas Armstrong – has its own Netflix series, executive produced by Ed Helms.
If you’re not familiar with the group, its YouTube page has a tonne of videos to make your way through, with this playlist being a good starting point. The group is wild and weird and rambunctiously entertaining. If the great surrealistic Luis Buñuel were still alive, one gets the sense he would be tumbling down the Aunty Donna vortex very happily – just like the rest of us.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run
Film, USA, 2020 – out 5 November
Like Aunty Donna’s sketches, the SpongeBob Squarepants movies are full of colour and life, never take the audience for granted, work hard for their laughs and switch realities with cunning ease. I enjoyed the first two SpongeBob Squarepants movies (particularly the second, Sponge Out of Water) and happily anticipate the third, which is titled Sponge on the Run – even though Bob was on the run in the other movies too.
Four Indigenous Australian films
Toomelah – out 7 November
Satellite Boy – out 7 November
Sweet Country – out 7 November
Goldstone – out 8 November
Netflix will expand its pitifully small collection of Australian films with four features from Indigenous Australian directors, all very much worth your time. Toomelah and Satellite Boy are coming-of-age films focused on young pre-teen boys facing challenges unique to Indigenous youth – the former captured in an observational documentary style and the latter with a sweeter, softer, cinematic touch. Sweet Country (2017) and Goldstone (2016) are more hard-hitting, bullet-punctured stories about bruised hard-bitten men.
Honourable mentions: The Minions of Midas (TV, 13 November), The Crown season four (TV, 15 November), Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square (film, 22 November), Hillbilly Elegy (film, 24 November), How I Met Your Mother season 1-9 (TV, 25 November)
TV, USA, 2020 – out 8 November
The stakes seem very small – almost absurdly so – in this sort-of space comedy, starring and co-written by John C. Reilly, Tim Heidecker and Fred Armisen. I say “sort-of” because the series is based in a Nasa moon base simulator in the desert, the aforementioned trio playing astronauts-in-training who hope they’ll be chosen one day for the real deal.
Thus none of the situations (such as troubles with the water supply and various potential and actual breaking of protocol) are of any real consequence. The show is like a reasonably pleasant conversation that doesn’t go anywhere: not unamusing but far from hilarious; not uneventful but not at all dramatic. Three episodes in, I’m in two minds about it – but I appreciate its devotion to nothingness. Sort of.
Killing Them Softly
Film, USA, 2012 – out 8 November
It’s obvious from its earliest moments that Andrew Dominik’s metaphorical GFC-themed gangster drama doesn’t buy into the dream of a prosperous America for all. Brad Pitt’s ice cool hitman memorably crystallises the film’s subtext with his observation: “This is not a country, this is a business.” His character has to clean up a mess caused by a couple of small time crims – one played with feisty perfection by Ben Mendelsohn in glorious Bad Mendo mode – in a story set in front of the 2008 US presidential election.
Various entangled plot lines serve a simple, stinging polemical message: there is essentially no difference between gangster business, Wall Street and the White House. Dominik’s execution is thrilling, with splashes of visual and atmospheric aplomb – including a point-of-view heroin scene fused with a dialogue exchange fused with a flashback. Guess which grotty-looking Australian actor stars in it?
Honourable mentions: A History of Violence (film, 4 November), Gangs of London (TV, 6 November), Last Tango in Paris (film, 9 November), Three Kings (film, 11 November), The Blair Witch Project (film, 13 November), The Reagans (16 November), Basic Instinct (film, 19 November), Chicken Run, Deepwater Horizon (film, 20 November), Ted (film, 22 November), Tremors (film, 23 November), Saved by the Bell (TV, 26 November), Mommy (film, 26 November)
USA, 2020, film – out 18 November
Director Richard Linklater’s 2014 drama Boyhood – one of the great films of the 2010s – was shot over 12 years, capturing the titular period in the life of a fictitious character played by the same actor. In a review of Sharon Liese’s documentary Transhood, a Variety critic noted that its evocation of the title of Boyhood “can’t be accidental” given the film also charts a large course of time – five years – in the lives of four trans children enduring the trials and challenges of trans adolescence.
All of them belong to families living in Kansas City and are of different ages – four, nine, 12 and 15 – giving the film a compellingly wide scope. The project came about after Liese observed trans support groups where, as she reflected on during a recent Q&A, she was struck by how the kids “spoke their truth at such an early age and were learning to find their voice and affirm their identity”.
Film, USA, 1997 – out 1 November
One of my favourite scenes from 90s cinema takes place in writer/director Andrew Niccol’s exquisite science fiction film, based in a genetics-obsessed not-too-distant future where anybody born the good old-fashioned way is considered an “in-valid” and relegated to the lower rungs of society. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is one such person, who must pretend to be somebody else in order to realise his dream of being an astronaut.
When an adult Vincent challenges his genetically superior brother (Loren Dean) to a game of “chicken”, involving swimming out as far as they can into the ocean – a game he has always lost since they started playing as children – he does it one more time, with nothing to lose, and ... well ... what is this salty discharge coming out of my eyes? Michael Nyman’s magnificent score swells before Hawke delivers that great line: “I never saved anything for the swim back.”
Honourable mentions: Happy Gilmore (film, 1 November), Betty (TV, 6 November), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Machete Kills (film, 8 November), Almost Famous (film, 14 November), Hulk (film, 22 November), The Flight Attendant (TV, 26 November), United Skates (film, 27 November),
SBS On Demand
We Are Who We Are
TV, Italy/USA, 2020 – out 3 November
For his first television series, Italian director Luca Guadagnino returns to the coming-of-age genre, for which he will always be celebrated, having directed the sumptuous gay romance Call Me By Your Name. Except instead of setting his story in sun-soaked rustic houses in gorgeous Italian locations, where characters eat al fresco and lounge about in the sun, the central setting is a fictitious American military base.
It isn’t quite as ... military as it sounds – the base is still in a seaside town. And yet Guadagnino appears to be setting himself the challenge of finding beauty in less obvious places. The first episode focuses on the arrival of 14-year-old Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer) and the second shows the same day again from the perspective of Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón), before the series broadens out to explore their growing friendship and several other teenagers on the base. All the elements of the drama (especially the performances) come across as genuine and Guadagnino moves between lives and circumstances with rhythmic ease.
The Up series
TV, UK, 1964-2019 – out 1 November
This long-running British series has one of the most interesting concepts in television documentary history, examining the lives of a group of subjects from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and returning to them every seven years to see how their circumstances and personalities have changed. Some drop out; some relish the camera; all, of course, get older.
The title and the premise corresponds to the Jesuit maxim “Give me a boy until he is seven and I will give you the man” – meaning the show explores the extent to which our formative years define the people we become. SBS On Demand will have all nine films in the series so far.
Honourable mentions: I Am Not Your Negro (film, 1 November), The Fall season one to three (TV, 1 November), Do the Right Thing (film, 2 November), Precious (film, 3 November), Selma (film, 6 November), On Death Row: The Pablo Ibar Story (TV, 12 November), Amsterdam Vice (TV, 26 November)
Special sports collection
Brock: Over the Top – 3 November
Walkabout Wickets – 10 November
Capturing Cricket: Steve Waugh in India – 17 November
Wayne – 24 November
I personally find cricket absolutely fascinating, in that it blows my mind how anybody could find it even remotely interesting. I don’t care for car racing either. I can concede, though, that some people for some reason find these things compelling – and they will be well served by a special sports collection coming to iView.
It includes car racing doco Brock: Over the Top, motorcycle racing doco Wayne, and two productions about the slower-than-paint-drying sport known as cricket: Walkabout Wickets (charting the national Indigenous cricket team’s tour of the UK in 2018) and Capturing Cricket: Steve Waugh in India (about Waugh’s first international tour in 1986).
Honourable mentions: Roadkill (TV, 1 November), Mum season two (TV, 13 November), Ghosts season two (TV, 17 November)
Amazon Prime Video
Sequin in a Blue Room
Film, Australia, 2019 – out 27 November
Not a lot’s happening on Prime Video this month. Perhaps the platform is still reeling in a post-Borat stupor having premiered the Subsequent Moviefilm on 23 October. I will, however, recommend taking a look at director Samuel Van Grinsven’s feature film debut: a queer coming-of-age story that explores hook-up culture, following a 16-year-old who is addicted to online apps and fleeting sexual encounters.
Honourable mentions: Ferro (TV, 6 November), The Peanut Butter Falcon (film, 13 November), Uncle Frank (film, 25 November)
Call of the Wild
Film, USA, 2019 – out 13 November
Jack London’s 1903 novel The Call of the Wild – which is set in the 1890s during the Klondike gold rush and revolves around the life of a sled dog named Buck – has been adapted for the screen many times, the latest featuring Harrison Ford (and his deliciously distinctive growl) opposite a CGI-animated pooch.
Unlike Disney’s awful The Lion King remake, which embraced photorealism yet feels terminally lifeless, the artifice of the technological process doesn’t restrict this big-hearted and big-minded film’s appreciation of nature, or its capacity for wonder. Director Chris Sanders rejects the egocentric view of humans as the centre of the natural universe, showing great respect for all kinds of life on the planet – even if that life is presented through CGI trickery.
Honourable mentions: Spread the Word (TV, 6 November) Inside Pixar (TV, 13 November), Ever After (film, 13 November), Marvel’s 616 (TV, 20 November), Black Beauty (film, 27 November)