What to Watch During a Quarantine

With everyone contained at home for the foreseeable future, we asked our staff to offer suggestions as to what to watch in these unpredictable times. Print it out, put it on the wall, and mark them off one by one. And stay healthy, friends. “Babylon Berlin” It’s comforting to re-watch things, but sometimes hard to find the time with all the new stuff coming out. In my stay-at-home isolation, I am binge-watching “Babylon Berlin” (a series on Netflix, based on the smash-hit best-selling book series by Volker Kutscher), I saw the first two seasons last year and was addicted to the often-thrilling plot and the complex characters, most especially the central character, a PTSD-rattled homicide detective named Gereon (Volker Bruch) who uncovers a sinister plot to re-arm Germany (in violation of the Treaty of Versailles). The series evokes the giddy uneasy atmosphere in Germany’s Weimar Republic between the World Wars. I figured a re-watch was in order since the third season just aired on Netflix.  I am also going to re-watch “Twin Peaks: The Return,” which I have wanted to do ever since it aired in 2017. What a rich enthralling experience that series was. I have many film noir box sets, so I am going to re-watch those: “Force of Evil.” “Sudden Fear” (which I wrote about for this site). “Out of the Past.” “The Big Combo.” “Laura.” “Nightmare Alley” (I’m excited for the upcoming remake directed by Guillermo del Toro, with screenplay by del Toro and Kim Morgan). There’s something about the paranoid neurotic atmosphere of noir–the Edward-Hopper-esque emotional isolation of its obsessive characters, the pitch-black shadows they cast on the walls, which is, if not comforting then reflective of current day anxieties, i.e. “No, you’re not over-reacting. The world really is that scary.” In lieu of my piece on this site for Women Writers Week on the long-running CW series “Supernatural,” about to close up shop after 15 seasons, just FYI: If you’ve never seen the show, there are a luxurious 14 seasons streaming on Netflix. (Sheila O’Malley) “Right at Your Door” If you’re in the mood for a good scare, try “Right at Your Door,” an unnerving psychodrama about two Los Angelans who try to self-quarantine in light of a nearby dirty bomb explosion. “Try” being the keyword: musician and wannabe doomsday-prepper Brad (Rory Cochrane) who barricades himself into his house (alone), and his desperate wife Lexi (Mary McCormack) is coughing an awful lot … and begging to be let in. The bleak finale of “Right at Your Door” makes it one of the only recent horror movies to give me the same overwhelming feeling of dread that “Night of the Living Dead” did when I first saw it as a pre-teen. What ever happened to writer/director Chris Gorak? He made “Right at Your Door” in 2006, then the underwhelming post-apocalyptic alien invasion flick “The Darkest Hour” in 2011, then … nothing. Hope he’s got a new one in the works; “Right at Your Door” is a keeper. It’s on Amazon and iTunes for $3.99. (Simon Abrams) “The Barbara Stanwyck Show” The 27 surviving episodes of “The Barbara Stanwyck Show” are now streaming on Amazon Prime. This little-known anthology series only lasted for one season, and the best episodes give Stanwyck some meaty roles. The stand-outs include “Confession,” a noir story directed by Jacques Tourneur where Stanwyck plays opposite Lee Marvin, “High Tension,” a nerve-wracking and upsetting thriller very well directed by Robert Florey, “The Hitch-Hiker,” another study in tension, and “The Assassin,” where Stanwyck gets to play a comic nerd opposite a young Peter Falk. (Dan Callahan) “The Blues Brothers” Musicals have always made me feel better, and if they were good enough for Depression-era audiences, they’re good enough for us in these trying times. So, I suggest the outrageous and fun musical/demolition derby hybrid that is 1980’s “The Blues Brothers.” In addition to being the best movie based on a “Saturday Night Live” spin-off, it’s also a relentlessly entertaining contraption that aims to distract with every weapon in its arsenal. It has indestructible heroes, an implausible yet noble plot, magnificent car chases and unforgettable musical numbers by great soul singers like Ray Charles, James Brown and the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin. Modeled after their mentor Curtis (the legendary Cab Calloway), Jake and Elwood Blues (John Belushi and Dan Akyroyd) use their love of music to save the Penguin-led Catholic orphanage that raised them from the greedy Chicago government represented by Steven Spielberg. Director John Landis’ frames are as wide as the comedy is broad. As an added bonus, Carrie Fisher shows up wielding enough firepower to singlehandedly take down the Death Star. As Gene Kelly once sang in a lesser musical, “who could ask for anything more?” On Starz On Demand, or $3.99 on Amazon and iTunes. (Odie Henderson) “16 Days of Glory,” “Human Condition,” “War and Peace” While most people I currently follow on social media seem to resort to the comforting vastness of multiple-season TV series for quarantine viewing, I would suggest a different approach: try watching some really (really) long feature films instead. The recent success of “The Irishman” reminded us of what a wonderful timeframe can a 209-minute screening provide. Why not dig up some of the other mammoth classics to make you feel the giddy, deep immersion of epic storytelling … ? My suggestions would center around the current line-up at Criterion Channel, where some marvelous big four-hour-plus works can be found and savored: the stunning 285-minute documentary “16 Days of Glory,” in which Bud Greenspan poetically chronicles the pathos of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games; the shattering 575-minute “Human Condition” by Masaki Kobayaski, in which horrors of 20th century are filtered by a deeply humane sentiment; and finally the shockingly lavish, 423-minute adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” in which actor/director Sergei Bondarchuk pulls out all the stops and stages the most spectacular battle scene ever filmed, with a literal cast of thousands. (Michal Oleszczyk) “Split Screen” I feel pleasantly overwhelmed by cinema right now. For work, there’s the daily grind of watching, processing and writing—that’s the top priority, of course. But in quiet moments, it’s crucial to decompress and kick back, to be reminded about the fundamentals. So, for me, I’m constantly thinking about what I can learn from the Criterion Channel’s bonus features. I’m immediately drawn to “Observations on Film Art” and “Adventures in Moviegoing,” along with all the supplementary materials for each film. Right now, however—in March 2020—I suggest going back in time via the “Split Screen” series (created by John and Janet Pierson), described as “Your wild ride through the indie film world.” As someone who lived the first 17 years of my life without the internet (1980-1997), there’s tremendous value in experiencing an indie-themed episodic film series that takes place between 1997 to 2001, a time when my cinematic tastes changed significantly; a time before social media changed everything. (Quinn Hough) “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” My recommendation is not the most sophisticated option, nor the most profound (though it is far more thoughtful and elegantly constructed than a glace would indicate). It is, however, a most fervent endorsement: Give yourself the gift of “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.” What began as the afterthought series of The CW’s Arrowverse, “Legends” lumped together a bunch of recurring players from its more self-serious titles and wound up with something relentlessly fun, surprisingly affecting, and slyly subversive, with a giddy streak of “oh, what the hell” running straight through the center. The first season doesn’t totally work, though there are a few gems, but spend a few minutes on Wikipedia and you’ll be all set to start at the top of season two. In an era in which great television is everywhere, there is no show I look forward to more than this one. Every week, I thank Beebo—a Tickle Me Elmo knock-off that’s also a Norse god and a giant demon-slayer—that “Legends” exists at all, even—nay, especially—when it’s pure dumb fun. Seasons 1-4 are streaming on Netflix, with most episodes of the current ongoing season available through CW Seed. (Allison Shoemaker) “The Great British Baking Show” Ostensibly, “The Great British Baking Show” is a competition, but rarely do malicious things happen in this long-running British series that brings a group of bakers together in a gigantic white tent in the countryside over 12 increasingly difficult weekends of baking. The bakers are all friendly and supportive; the challenges bounce between charmingly comforting (biscuits! trifle!) and extremely difficult (how do you make Moroccan warka pastry?!); the hosts and judges are mostly fairly encouraging (even the steely-eyed, difficult-to-please Paul Hollywood); and the rhythm of the show is easy to absorb. For a particular season, I would recommend the 2015 season, which featured some of the most inventive bakers who have competed yet, including full-time mom Nadiya Hussain, photographer Ian Cumming, and trainee anesthetist Tamal Ray. You can find eight seasons of “GBBO” streaming on Netflix, as well as separate holiday-themed competitions, and four seasons of “Masterclass,” in which Hollywood and former co-judge Mary Berry walk viewers through how to bake various challenges featured on the show. (Roxana Hadadi) “Moone Boy” The premise of Hulu’s “Moone Boy” will seem familiar. It’s about a 12-year-old boy in Ireland who has a sarcastic imaginary adult friend (although, in this case, that friend is not responsible for mass genocide). He’s played by Chris O’Dowd (“Bridesmaids”), who also wrote it. “Moone Boy” was a huge hit overseas with a great cast of young actors, full of wonderful absurdist humor, and it’s a breeze to get through. Three seasons, six half-hour episodes each. It’s for those who loved “Jojo Rabbit” and for those who hated it. When you’re done with that, check out “PEN15,” also on Hulu. (Collin Souter) “Local Hero” My first instinct is to recommend a comedy because quarantine. “His Girl Friday” is great company: fast, funny, never a dull moment. (Available on Amazon Prime.) But on further thought, I think it should be a film that appeals to our better selves and unites us—even if we are social distancing. As Robert De Niro says in “Brazil”: “We’re all in this together.” Not that I recommend watching “Brazil” at this juncture, unless it’s the notorious studio-imposed happy ending. (Available on Starz On Demand or $3.99 on iTunes.)  A Frank Capra movie with its celebration of the common man would seem to fit the bill, but I’d like to keep politics, evil capitalists and media barons out of it, so no “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” or “Meet John Doe.” “It Happened One Night” has some unfortunate sexual politics (“Someone needs to take a sock at her whether she has it coming to her or not”), but it’s very egalitarian in spirit, especially when Gable’s reporter and Colbert’s heiress are on the road. (Available for $2.99 on Amazon or $3.99 on iTunes.) But finally (boy, I’m overthinking this, aren’t I?), I would recommend “Local Hero,” an off-center gem (highly recommended by Roger) starring Peter Reigert as an oil man who grows attached to the Scottish fishing village that corporate wants him to purchase as the site for an oil refinery. The ending is sublime, albeit bittersweet. It’s a lovely escape. (Available on the Criterion Channel.) (Donald Liebenson) “A French Village” I suggest watching all seven seasons of the French series “A French Village,” available on Amazon Prime. It’s an absolutely gripping, expansive, detailed portrait of a village over the years of the Nazi occupation. The series includes scores of superbly-developed characters, from all social strata and of divergent political and religious beliefs, whose lives are thoroughly interwoven for better and for worse. It’s really one of the best series I’ve seen. I highly recommend it for long-term binge watching. (Barbara Scharres) Antonioni’s Trilogy of Isolation As we grapple with imposed solitude, the films of Michaelangelo Antonioni are a keen reminder that loneliness is not a condition exclusive to isolation. Throughout his trilogy of isolation, which includes “L’Avventura,” “La Notte,” and “L’Eclisse,” Antonioni explores the decadent world of post-boom Rome. Beautiful, lethargic people yearn for connection amidst the unsettling depersonalization of contemporary life. Questions of loneliness emerge not as a condition of isolation, but as a reality of living in a world that values capital above all else. The eerie, apocalyptic ending of “L’Eclisse,” in particular, doesn’t hint at a life post-humanity in the sense of total annihilation as much as it suggests the crippling dehumanization of life without spiritual direction or meaning. Three masterpieces for the price of one. All of the films are available on the Criterion Channel. (Justine Smith) “The Great British Baking Show” In the midst of these anxiety-inducing times, my girlfriend and I have found ourselves consistently prone to accompanying our cooking each evening with BBC’s delightful reality competition series, “The Great British Baking Show.” Unlike similarly structured programs that rely on back-stabbing and bitter rivalries to keep the viewer hooked, the prevailing spirit here is one of warmth and unity. Each contestant is celebrated for their own merits, while the hosts provide cheerfully irreverent humor with a dash of innuendo, the kind Maggie Smith would have favored on “Downton Abbey.” Judges Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry and Prue Leith are uncompromising in their critiques, yet they also illuminate the value of each baker in the tent. Eight seasons are currently streamable on Netflix, along with four seasons worth of master classes and four holiday specials featuring past contestants, my favorite being the hilarious Flo Atkins, who boldly stuck an entire bottle of mulled wine into her audacious cheesecake entitled, Very Merry Pressie. I wouldn’t mind a slice of that right about now. (Matt Fagerholm) “Madam Satan” For whatever reason, I had somehow never gotten around to seeing Cecil B. DeMille’s infamous 1930 pre-Code oddity “Madam Satan” until it popped up on TCM a few days ago (it remains on their streaming service until April 11) and now that I have, I cannot believe that I have gone this long in life without basking in its total and heedless insanity. The film’s first half is a sparky romantic farce, one more suggestive of the touch of assistant director Mitchell Leisen (“Easy Living,” “Midnight”) than of DeMille, in which the marriage of socialite couple Bob (Reginald Denny) and Angela (Kay Johnson) is threatened by his affair with showgirl Trixie (Lillian Roth in full spitfire mode), despite the efforts by him and best pal Jimmy (Roland Young) to cover it up. This part of the film is slick, stylish and entertaining as can be but it is in the second half that it makes its grand leap towards genius/insanity. Determined to win back her husband’s love, the sweet and virtuous Angela shows up at an elaborate masquerade ball being held upon a giant zeppelin moored above New York City in the guise of the mysterious and seductive Madam Satan, where she wins the attention of every man on board, especially the unknowing Bob. Just when you think that shifting from straightforward bedroom farce to a work like “Eyes Wide Shut” and “Southland Tales” could not possibly get any stranger (I seem to have neglected that the whole thing is also a musical), the hand of God—okay, the hand of DeMille—comes in to transform it into a full-on disaster film as lightning hits the zeppelin and sends it spinning out of control.  Not surprisingly, the film was a notorious flop in its day, and it still comes across like a folly of the highest order. And yet, while few would consider it to be a “good” movie by most dictionary definitions, it is nonetheless an insanely entertaining one with delightfully risqué dialogue (“She has to sleep on the piano, on account of the … vibrations.”), sparkling performances from the cast (especially Roth, whose turn here should open the eyes of those who know her only for her appearance as the ingenue in “Animal Crackers” and for her off-screen troubles) and a sumptuous visual style throughout. You have almost certainly never seen a film even remotely like “Madam Satan” before in your life. (Peter Sobczynski) “What a Way to Go!” Shirley MacLaine stars in a film that is really five movies in one, with a once-in-a-lifetime roster of leading men: Dick Van Dyke, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, and Dean Martin. It’s the story of a young woman who longs for the simple life, but has the misfortune of marrying a series of men who each become fabulously wealthy and then die, leaving her all their money. Each of the marriages is depicted in the style of a different movie genre, from a silent film to an international indie to a lush, big-budget romantic drama, to an even bigger-budget musical extravaganza. The Edith Head costumes are eye-popping, the Comden and Green screenplay is a hoot, and the shipboard dance number is dazzling. All of that was very expensive, so the movie was considered a flop because there was no way for it to make a profit. But it is enormous fun and, as long as you’re home for a while anyway, let it inspire you to explore some of the films it pays tribute to and other performances by these stars. Available for $3.99 on Vudu and YouTube. (Nell Minow) George A. Romero’s “Dead” Movies No one was better at pulling back the curtain on how people respond in a crisis situation than George A. Romero, who did so across multiple films. Of course, the most famous of all is the original zombie classic, “Night of the Living Dead,” but its follow-up, “Dawn of the Dead,” is even better (it’s probably the only zombie movie that could be in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies). There’s something soothing about people banding together to survive a nightmare, but Romero’s films often comment on the broken system that led us to disaster in the first place, as in his underrated “Land of the Dead.” Just watch ‘em all. (Brian Tallerico) “Night of the Living Dead” – Amazon Prime or $3.99 on iTunes“Dawn of the Dead” – $3.99 on Amazon and iTunes“Day of the Dead” – Kanopy or $3.99 on iTunes“Land of the Dead” – Starz On Demand or $3.99 on iTunes“Diary of the Dead” – $3.99 on iTunes“Survival of the Dead” – $3.99 on iTunes “On Cinema at the Cinema” Movie buffs hungry for brilliant comedy and chaotic film discourse should dive into the online series “On Cinema” (all of which is available on either Adult Swim or YouTube). Designed to be the most revealing show about two film critic personalities since “At the Movies,” “On Cinema” gradually builds its character-based comedy on reviews of real films, with host Tim Heidecker (Tim Heidecker) and perpetual guest Gregg Turkington (Gregg Turkington) feuding over what purpose “On Cinema” should serve. As a classic duo of comedic opposites, Tim thinks that “film critic” is just the first job on his path to financial grandeur, and Gregg wants to make the review show even more about the forgettable movies in his boundless VHS archive. Their relationship quickly grows contentious, as Tim strong-arms “On Cinema” to promote his latest schemes, whether it’s his tacky metal band DEKKAR, his gauche theater chain, or a germ-killing supplement straight out of Info Wars. As a freewheeling narrative, “On Cinema” eventually includes a mass murder trial, a feature film (“Mister America,” available on Hulu), and spin-offs like “Decker vs. Dracula” (as directed by Gregg, co-starring none other than Joe Estevez). For those in need of big laughs, and even a sense of community, “On Cinema” satirizes film lovers of all breeds and welcomes viewers into its expansive world one ten-minute episode at a time. (Nick Allen) “Ken Burns’ Baseball” With no baseball for the foreseeable future, Ken Burn’s 20-hour, 10-part docuseries “Baseball” is a perfect substitute, and available to stream for free on PBS. Stretching with events occurring from 1755 to 1999, the individual parts (called innings) recollects the expanse of the game’s history. With an assemblage of interviews consisting of Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robert Creamer, Gerald Early, Billy Crystal, Buck O’Neil, etc. it perfectly captures the romanticism and apocryphal history present in every fabric of a perfect sport operating on the same level of imperfection as the American society it was made to entertain. (Robert Daniels)”Blazing Saddles”When I was ill in my twenties and stuck in my apartment for about two weeks, a friend and his wife sent me a care package of books and movies, including “Blazing Saddles.” That film still never fails to make me laugh (although a certain campfire scene usually is the first thing that springs to mind). Other recommendations? I’ve watched “Aliens” to kick stress to the curb, as well as “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Charade.” I also have a stable of what I call “dumb fun movies,” those goofy enough for a mental vacation but not so inane that they’re frustrating. “Point Break” (1991). “Blue Crush.” “Independence Day.” “Deep Blue Sea.” And “Sahara,” with Matthew McConaughey dyeing his hair dark to play Dirk Pitt, author Clive Cussler’s underwater explorer, historian, and all-around hero. I read a lot of Pitt stories in high school, and “Sahara” is like a breezier James Bond adventure. It doesn’t obviously wink at the camera so much as smile on the sly, confident in just what kind of movie it is: one full of explosions, narrow escapes, a menacing dictator, and a mysterious “plague” (although from a pollutant easily stopped once it’s discovered). A Confederate Ironclad ship somehow figures into this, along with the “MacGyver”-like antics to turn a cigar into a fuse and a crashed plane into a land yacht across the West African desert. The camaraderie among McConaughey, Steve Zahn as Pitt’s pal Al Giordino, and Penelope Cruz as a WHO doctor feels genuine, and the light touch fits. “There’s no way that should’ve worked,” Pitt and Giordino say after one maneuver. Somehow it does. (Valerie Kalfrin)
Source: RogerEbert.com