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A full cultural life on your sofa: hidden TV and movie gems and where to find them

With so much choice across so many platforms, it can be hard to find what you want to watch. Aine O'Connor and Hilary A White suggest a few hidden gems and where you can find them

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Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, and Taron Egerton in Rocketman. Egerton gave Elton John a birthday present of the glasses used in this scene in the movie (when Elton John composes the music to 'Your Song')

Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, and Taron Egerton in Rocketman. Egerton gave Elton John a birthday present of the glasses used in this scene in the movie (when Elton John composes the music to 'Your Song')

Renee Zellweger in Judy

Renee Zellweger in Judy

Emilia Clarke and Alden Ehrenreich in Solo: A Star Wars Story

Emilia Clarke and Alden Ehrenreich in Solo: A Star Wars Story

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Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, and Taron Egerton in Rocketman. Egerton gave Elton John a birthday present of the glasses used in this scene in the movie (when Elton John composes the music to 'Your Song')

Yet another by-product of these strange times is the very real possibility that there will be few if any cinema releases for some time. Fortunately there are lots of wonderful films and series already out there on TV and on the various digital platforms, and now is the perfect time to catch up.

There are many ways to access movies and TV series online; the best-known and most popular is Netflix. There is also Now TV, through which you can buy passes to the likes of Sky Cinema, where you can see the likes of the Mary Poppins remake and Avengers: Endgame (the climactic Marvel superhero fest), and Fox Drama, which has the new War of the Worlds series.

The new Disney subscription service begins on March 24, and Disney+ will offer the films and shows from the entire Disney house including Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic.

You can also buy films as a once-off on YouTube, Google Play and Apple iTunes; iTunes has brand-new releases like Rocketman (the Elton John biopic) and Judy (the Judy Garland biopic). Among Netflix's newest are A Quiet Place (horror) and Lost Girls (true story), It (more horror) and Spenser Confidential (a Mark Wahlberg film).

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Renee Zellweger in Judy

Renee Zellweger in Judy

Renee Zellweger in Judy

It is worth noting that while Netflix's original content remains on their site for ever, other films and series are licensed for a time. There is no list available of what is soon to expire, so the best advice is that if there is something you have been meaning to watch for a while, now is the time.

KIDS

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Cert PG; Now TV

Wonky title aside, this 2018 animated superhero instalment simply has to be seen to be believed, such is the new territory that it traversed en route to Oscar glory (Best Animated Feature).

A three-man directing team of Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, a whip-smart script and a team of dazzlingly talented animators combined spectacularly to ensure this stand-alone Sony release trumped anything put out by Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe that year.

Thrilling, hilarious, beautiful and dizzying, this tale of a would-be hero taking the mantle from a washed-up web-slinger is sheer excellence. HAW

Babe

Cert U; Now TV / Sky Cinema / iTunes / Universal Pictures

For a time in the late 1990s I watched this film about 85 times a day, and the music - Camille Saint-Saëns's Symphony No 3 in C Minor - transports me straight back.

It's just under 90 minutes of sweet, funny live-action fare about a piglet, Babe (Christine Cavanaugh), who goes to live on a farm, where he becomes a favourite of all the other animals, and, sneakily, the farmer (James Cromwell). Then Babe wants to become a sheepdog. It's got a little lesson about belonging and being who you are, and it is a super-enjoyable watch for all the family. That'll do Pig, that'll do. AO'C


DRAMA/THRILLER

Misery

Cert 18; Netflix

1990's Misery was the first time most of us saw Kathy Bates. She plays Annie Wilkes, a lonely nurse who lives through fiction.

When she rescues her favourite author, Paul Sheldon (James Caan) from a car accident, he thinks he's been saved. Oh no he's not!

You see, Paul's plans for Annie's favourite character do not best please Annie - a woman not to be trifled with. Rob Reiner directs William Goldman's script of Stephen King's short story, and Bates and Caan are both excellent. It's tense and scary. The 18 cert is outdated perhaps: this is simply a very well made film which has absolutely stood the test of time. And it may not be available for much longer. AO'C

The Little Stranger

Now TV

After the Oscar success of Room (2015), this 2018 follow-up from Lenny Abrahamson received little of the same fanfare despite being arguably the director's most arresting work to date.

A gothic chiller based on Sarah Waters's novel, it was also a career high for Domhnall Gleeson, who is stunning as the newly arrived village doctor called out to a crumbling pile in post-war England. Will Poulter and Ruth Wilson are the gentrified siblings residing there alongside musty skeletons in the cupboard and a mysterious creak through the hallways.

It's a familiar set-up reimagined by the brilliant Dublin filmmaker. HAW

The Theory of Everything

Cert 12A, Netflix

This 2014 biopic of Stephen Hawking (played to award-winning effect by Eddie Redmayne) is based on the memoir of his first wife Jane Wilde Hawking (played really well by Felicity Jones).

It uses their relationship as its focus and goes from courtship and marriage through his diagnosis with motor neuron disease. Director James Marsh does a good if slightly uninspired job telling the story of this couple's life.

There are holes you could pick but overall this is a thoroughly engaging, enjoyable and light enough watch suitable for a broad audience of any age. AO'C


COMEDY

Extra Ordinary (2019)

Cert 15; Netflix

Exorcism, midlands humour and junk food align in cosy fashion in this homegrown comedy from the writer-director team of Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman. Maeve Higgins is the hapless driving instructor who has inherited paranormal abilities from her late father (Risteárd Cooper).

She is forced to ditch the L-plates when a local man (Barry Ward) needs help with hauntings close to home. Across town, a diabolical musician (Will Forte) is dabbling with the occult from his castle abode. There's enough titters and giggles here to get it over the line. HAW


Steel Magnolias

Cert PG; Netflix, iTunes

This 1989 romcom-dram-tearjerker is full of holes but it has an energy that makes it hard not to love.

Based on a true story, this shamelessly emotional saga centres around the Louisiana beauty salon of Truvy (Dolly Parton) on the wedding day of Shelby (a young Julia Roberts), a diabetic who has been warned not to have children. Her mother (Sally Field) is worried but the women all pull together.

A stellar cast also includes Darryl Hannah and Shirley MacLaine.

There are lots of laughs and tears, and if you halfway like an oestrogen-laden emotional rollercoaster, this should please you. AO'C


ACTION

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Cert PG; Now TV

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Emilia Clarke and Alden Ehrenreich in Solo: A Star Wars Story

Emilia Clarke and Alden Ehrenreich in Solo: A Star Wars Story

Emilia Clarke and Alden Ehrenreich in Solo: A Star Wars Story

A meagre box office by Star Wars standards - just the $400m - means Solo is regarded as something of an also-ran in the gigantic space opera franchise.

Ignore the figures, however, and instead revisit this undervalued instalment for its old-fashioned charm (enjoy its Western flavours) and gorgeous romantic sweep.

Alden Ehrenreich ably fills Harrison Ford's boots as the young space smuggler who gets in over his head when he crosses paths with an ambitious criminal outfit and a childhood amour (Emilia Clarke) who holds all the cards.

Woody Harrelson and Donald Glover feature, but you'll be too busy swooning at Clarke and Ehrenreich to notice. HAW


DOCUMENTARY

Mountain (2017)

Cert PG; Netflix

Cabin fever getting to you? If so, go straight in the direction of this sky-scraping film essay about mountains and our relationship with them.

With epic scope, award-winning documentary filmmaker Jennifer Peedom arranges Willem Dafoe's husky voiceover (written by Mountains of the Mind author Robert Macfarlane), vertiginous cinematography and a suitably dramatic score. Mountain transcends mere natural history or travel cinema. This is a wide-screen event that soars through jaw-dropping natural splendour but also difficult psychological terrain in order to transport us wholesale. Poetic, stirring, unforgettable. HAW

Apollo 11

Cert U; Netflix

Made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing last year, Todd Douglas Miller's documentary is a feast. Especially but not uniquely for space technology enthusiasts, this compilation of largely unseen and excellent-quality footage gives insight into both the space mission and the era.

The film is of the control room, the actual landing and people gathering to watch; the only sound is Walter Kronkite's reports from the time and recordings from the space mission communications. It captures the sense of adventure and hope, and it's interesting that that kind of public access to a mission would never happen now. AO'C


BINGE WATCHING

Ozark

Cert 18; Netflix

By the end of the second episode I was hooked on this dark, atmospheric crime series.

The plot is very good but what really works for me are the characters.

Laura Linney is an actor who always makes me watch; she plays Wendy Byrde who, like her teenage children, finds her comfortable urban life swiftly and radically upended.

husband, mild-mannered Marty (Jason Bateman playing against type to great effect), has crossed the wrong people and offers escape to the Ozarks as their only option. But the quiet backwood has plenty of complications of its own. The Byrdes mustn't have seen Deliverance…

Ozark, created by Bill Dubuque, is essentially about money-laundering, what people will do to survive and how few people are what they seem. It's dark, violent, slightly ridiculous and totally engrossing.

Catch up on series one and two before three begins on March 27. AO'C


An idiot's guide to streaming your favourite movies

Movie theatres have closed down around the world, with no indication of when they will reopen. Your front room is now your cinema, and there is a wide range of material available.

Disney+ will launch here next week; for more specialised tastes, MUBI offers a curated list of 30 films from around the globe; there are even apps that stream by genre, like Shudder for horror.

It can be daunting but you don't have to just watch purchased content on your phone or laptop screen. Home cinema has come a long way, and there's no reason why you can't enjoy digital media in the comfort of your front room on the biggest screen you have. It just requires some technical set-up and planning.

The most obvious challenge with streaming is that many companies, such as iTunes, operate within their own ecosystems. It is possible to watch a film or television series purchased on iTunes on your phone or laptop, but to get it to play on a home media system, you need an Apple TV. It will not broadcast to other companies' hardware, like a Google Chromecast or an Amazon Firestick.

Things are slowly improving. Some providers have grudgingly allowed their content to broadcast to others' devices. Google and Amazon now allow content from their platforms to stream to their rivals' hardware. While this is commendable, I have found this process to be unreliable, and neither company offers particularly enthusiastic technical support for the other.

If you have to pick a single provider from which to buy or rent content, Google is probably the safest bet. Google owns YouTube, and YouTube integrates pretty well with most systems. If you have bought a TV or blu-ray player in the last decade, the odds are good that it already has YouTube integration. Many smart TVs and networked home media devices (such as Sky boxes) come packaged with YouTube and Netflix apps.

On most systems, you can access those apps directly via the remote control. You can also control it via phones or tablets on the home wi-fi network.

When in the YouTube app on a personal device, the broadcast icon will pick up any compatible devices on the network. This allows you to send (cast) content from the personal device to the big screen. In most cases, you'll need to connect the app to your personal Google account. Because YouTube is owned by Google, any film that you buy in the Google store will automatically sync across to the 'library' or 'purchases' tab in YouTube.

If you do not have a smart TV, you can jury-rig one. An Amazon Firestick, a Google Chromecast or an Apple TV will smarten up your TV through a HDMI port. In fact, purchasing one of these devices might be of benefit of itself. Many speciality streaming apps integrate with these devices.

Wi-fi is generally strong enough to support streaming. However, to ensure the highest-quality experience, consider wired connections where possible. Directly connecting your smart TV or your Sky box to your router with a network cable will minimise the risk of interference from your neighbours' wi-fi - doubtless getting its own workout at the moment.

All you have to do is decide what you want to watch.

Darren Mooney

Sunday Indo Living