It’s 2021, and we started off the week by surveying the Polygon staff to see what people have been watching — whether they’re on top of the latest cultural controversy about a virally popular Netflix series, discovering an animated gem ahead of the latest season, or educating themselves in older genre classics.
And as usual, the answers range widely, as some people check out what’s new and popular on streaming services, and some return to past favorites. Here are some thoughts on what we’re enjoying watching right now, and what you might enjoy watching as well.
Another Round / Sound of Metal
I spent a lot of my holiday break getting caught up on acclaimed 2020 movies I hadn’t seen yet, largely so I could put together my personal best films of 2020 list for the podcast I co-host and for my annual guest stint on the Filmspotting podcast. Two of the best movies I watched that didn’t make my top 10, but were very close: Thomas Vinterberg’s wandering, wonderful Another Round, and the unexpectedly kind movie Sound of Metal. Both are conventional dramas — Another Round has Mads Mikkelsen and a group of co-workers at a high school experimenting with nonstop drunkenness as a way to improve their teaching, while Sound of Metal stars Riz Ahmed as a heavy metal drummer who abruptly goes deaf.
Both of these films are riveting. Another Round is a kind of slow-motion train wreck: Mikkelsen’s character Martin is struggling in his job and marriage, and he’s dangerously checked out and looking for a way to bring energy back into his dull life. But it’s clear from the beginning that the group experiment in perpetual intoxication is going to end poorly — it’s just a question of exactly how it’s all going to fall apart. The film features its share of trauma and tragedy, and the final sequence is bittersweet, but it’s also one of the most purely entertaining, magnificent moments on film in 2020.
Sound of Metal, meanwhile, starts with the tragedy, as Ahmed’s character Ruben loses his hearing. The film is startlingly artful for a directorial debut, and endlessly surprising: As a former addict and full-time road musician, Ruben doesn’t seem to have any of the financial or support resources he’d need to deal with such a devastating loss. The ways he navigates the new state of his world are touching and occasionally tragic, but the film is more bent on hope and mutual caring than on disaster, and it wound up being a warm and supportive watch rather than the ugly disintegration it initially seemed to be headed for. —Tasha Robinson
Cradle 2 the Grave
Romeo Must Die and Exit Wounds director Andrzej Bartkowiak’s 2003 action movie asks an essential question: What if a ripoff of The Fast and the Furious starred DMX, Jet Li, Anthony Anderson, Tom Arnold, and Gabrielle Union? The answer involves an opening montage set to “Go to Sleep” by Eminem, an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist, loads of wacky banter, an ATV chase staged across several nondescript Los Angeles rooftops, a relentless amount of male gaze, an underground cage fight that turns a Mini Me Austin Powers 2 gag into an actual combat tactic, and one of the all-time great MacGuffins: a set of synthetic plutonium jewels with the power of “Hiroshima … no, two Hiroshimas.”
Cradle 2 the Grave does not stand up against the great action movies of today, especially direct-to-video action movies that prioritize brutal fights from some of the world’s best martial artists. But it does scratch a nostalgic itch for the early-2000s era of middle-tier, low-stakes fluff. DMX is surprisingly charming as the lead thief, who eventually needs to put his skills to use retrieving his kidnapped daughter. For some reason, Jet Li barely lifts a finger in a vehicle that one assumes would put his might to the test — but he does tango with Mark Dacascos in an arbitrary ring of fire. Tom Arnold plays essentially the same role he did in True Lies, which is to say, he’s having a blast and eventually shoots down a helicopter with a tank. (And because it’s the early 2000s, it’s a practical effect.) Gabrielle Union steers clear of most of the movie’s dirtbag energy by being a genuine movie star — the film does not need to default to slow motion every time she enters the screen, but so it is.
No one cared for Cradle 2 the Grave in 2003 and its born-for-cable trash instincts. But nearly 20 years later, the breezy, no-stakes filmmaking is a welcome diversion from movies with too much budget, too many cooks, and too much pressure to be Truly Great. There’s too much at stake for today’s movies to be this pure and goofy. —Matt Patches
Cradle 2 the Grave is available to rent on digital platforms.
Escape to the Chateau
A couple of months ago, YouTube’s recommendation algorithm surfaced a video to my wife that seemed immediately interesting to both of us: the first episode of a series about a young British lad and his family, and their efforts to revitalize a dilapidated century-old French chateau. We found it appealing because we had previously fallen in love with HGTV’s Love It or List It, a house hunting/renovation series that I wrote about at the start of the pandemic last spring as our go-to comfort-food show.
The YouTube series didn’t really deliver what we were looking for, but HGTV, in a way, came to the rescue. Over the holidays, we were watching a Love It or List It marathon when we saw a commercial for what the network branded as an “all-new series” called Escape to the Chateau. The show follows a delightful British couple, Dick Strawbridge and Angel Adoree, as they restore a crumbling 19th-century French chateau to make it habitable for their family and support a fledgling events business.
My wife and I are in it more for the renovations — like retrofitting the 45-room chateau with bespoke heating and septic systems, or turning the stables on the 12-acre grounds into an apartment for Angel’s parents — than the reality-TV elements of the show, such as the respective first days of French preschool for the couple’s two young children. Either way, we really appreciated being able to … Escape to the Chateau (sorry) during a holiday vacation where we barely left our apartment.
After watching an episode about the painstaking task of installing a vacuum-powered elevator in one of the chateau’s narrow turrets, we discovered that the show has been airing for six seasons on the U.K.’s Channel 4, with more than 25 episodes that HGTV is repackaging for the U.S. market … and broadcasting out of order, because of course. Luckily for purists like us, all the episodes are currently available — in their original sequence — on the ad-supported free tier of Peacock. (If you’re not already familiar with Peacock, the streaming service that NBCUniversal launched in 2020, you probably won’t be able to miss the ads for it this week, as the company promotes Peacock as the new, exclusive streaming home of The Office.)
As 2021 begins, with multiple COVID-19 vaccines rolling out — albeit slowly — my wife and I are starting to entertain the thought of being able to travel again … eventually … at some point. Perhaps we’ll plan a visit to the French countryside. —Samit Sarkar
Escape to the Chateau is streaming on Peacock.
I binged Mando season 1 over the Christmas/New Year’s break in 2019, so I saved season 2 for the same time this year. Now I see what all the fuss is about. A Google thought-you’d-be-interested alert on my mobile spoiled the big (CGI-assisted) cameo in the finale, which robbed that episode of some of the impact that led my friends to rave about it on social media. Even if I hadn’t known who was walking through that (crumpled) blast door, episode 8 would have ended as hurriedly for me as last year’s finale did. Except this time, I don’t know what Din’s next job is.
Overall, The Mandalorian is still the most enjoyable Star Wars cinema we’ve had since … well, I still insist Solo was pretty good. The big bonus was getting guest stars from two of the shows that Mom and I binged over a summer of quarantine/furlough: Katee Sackhoff (Deputy Vic Moretti, from Longmire) and Timothy Olyphant (Justified’s Raylan Givens, apparently the Marshal of Everything now). Also enjoyed Ahsoka’s Devil-Went-Down-to-Georgia fight with the Magistrate for the fiddle — er, spear of beskar. —Owen S. Good
The Mandalorian is streaming on Disney Plus.
The Right Stuff (2020)
My wife and I have been stumped for good appointment television, something we can chill out with together after the kids go to bed. We need to go back and finish up Ozark, but it feels like very stressful viewing at the moment. So we tried out Schitt’s Creek, but that may have been a bit of an overcorrection. Also, that first season is rough.
Luckily, we stumbled onto The Right Stuff from National Geographic. It made for very comfortable viewing over the holidays.
The Right Stuff tells the story of the seven astronauts in the Mercury program — Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton — and their race against the Russians to put an American into orbit. As a space nerd, I know the story well. But the technical bits play only a small part in the first season of this television drama.
The Right Stuff is a more holistic, modern take on the story. It dwells on economic and social themes, and spends lots of time exploring the experience of the wives and children of these deeply flawed men. My favorite actor by far is Eloise Mumford, whose portrayal of Trudy Cooper feels equal parts tragic and inspirational. The stars of this first season, however, are Patrick Adams and Jake McDorman, whose rivalry as John Glenn and Alan Shepard, respectively, keeps the whole plot line moving forward until the very end. Overall, I get the sense that the entire ensemble cast is just finding its footing in this first season, and I’m eager to see where it goes in season 2. —Charlie Hall
The Right Stuff (2020) is streaming on Disney Plus.
War Dogs is a 2016 film that follows the Scarface/Wolf of Wall Street formula of showing how everything involved with a life of crime is good and fun … until it isn’t. You know the type: The audience is introduced to our scrappy but undervalued “hero,” who somehow falls into a world of likely illegal antics, gets rich, parties … and then realizes they’re in way over their head, and the only way out is prison or a body bag.
Miles Teller and Jonah Hill have great chemistry together as the bro-tastic arms dealers that make a (figurative, arguably) killing fulfilling government arms procurement contracts through questionable sources, but this isn’t high art.
There are multiple references to War Dogs’ pop culture antecedents in the script, and the whole thing has a breezy, surprisingly low-stakes “isn’t the system really at fault here?” feel to it. Which makes War Dogs an enjoyably goofy, if rote, look at the banality of war profiteering and the shocking amounts of money that keep the world awash in guns and bullets. No one seems to know how much this stuff is worth — there is one funny scene where the military informs the pair that their bid came in $50 million or so under the next lowest offer for a job — which makes the story’s ending even more ironic. The only thing that took the duo down was a failure to pay their subcontractors; everyone else was happy to pay up and “look the other way.” —Ben Kuchera
War Dogs is available to stream on HBO Max.
Wynonna Earp is a lore-deep, monster-of-the-week, rootin’ tootin’ Wild West shoot-’em-up that’s long on attitude and short on whiskey (because Wynonna drank it all). As the heir to the Earp name, Wynonna returns to her hometown of Purgatory to break the curse on her family, by killing the 77 revenants that her great-great-granddad Wyatt previously put down. That naturally gets complicated by witches, demons, magic, and shadowy government organizations, and a host of great characters with shifting allegiances that turn enemies into unlikely allies and then back again.
There are plenty of prestige TV shows, with big ideas and experimental styles (like my other favorite holiday break watch, The Flight Attendant). This show is not that; it’s classic straightforward evening TV, well crafted and well paced, with strong characters and well-defined arcs. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel; it just makes a very, very good wheel. —Jenna Stoeber
Seasons 1 -3 of Wynonna Earp are streaming on Netflix. Season 4 episodes stream on the SyFy app.