BY Richard Austen

Streaming Suggestions is a month-by-month series of recommendations for film lovers and those interested in expanding their horizons.

While I assume most readers will have at least one of the popular streaming services, I understand that some don’t, so I have also included the excellent free service, SBS on Demand.


Claire’s Knee – available as of 4 September 2020

Claire’s Knee’ is the penultimate of Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales series of films, and only his second shot in colour. The transition is clear, so many directors take colour as a tool in their arsenal for granted, but with directors who transition from black-and-white to colour film, there is a real precision and purpose in how they interpret the colour through the lens. Especially in this film, the hues of green are on display, the appearance of the mountains and the lake are essential to the setting of the film. Claire’s Knee follows a handsome, middle-aged man who visits an old friend, ‘Aurora’ and her landlady at Lake Annecy. Whilst there, Aurora finds that the landlady’s teenage daughter has a crush on the man, Jerome. From here, the machinations of the plot are unpredictable, and I wouldn’t want to spoil how it unfolds. This is a film that is deceptively simple, but forces the viewer to engage meaningfully and critically with the narrative. Are Jerome’s motivations of flirting with the teenager truly what he says? Is he fooling himself and Aurora in his actions or are they real? It’s an excellent exploration of self-deception and has some of the most fantastic dialogue I’ve ever heard. This should be a film everyone sees.

“I don't really have a type. Looks don't matter to me. That is, beyond a certain level of acceptability. All women are equal. It's the character alone that counts.”

Rocco and His Brothers – available as of 4 September 2020

Luchino Visconti is known as one of the Italian masters. Back-to-back, he directed two of the greatest films ever made, The Leopard and Rocco and His Brothers. Rocco and His Brothers is about four immigrant brothers from the south of Italy, who have recently moved into an industrial society in the North. Their relationships quickly deteriorate in this alien society. Within this film, you can see the seeds of Coppola’s Godfather trilogy, and Scorsese’s Raging Bull. In the relationship between the dysfunctional brothers, and the stylisations of the boxing matches, I can imagine Scorsese, De Palma, Spielberg and Coppola sitting in a theatre, drooling over the beautiful images of this film. Legendary cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno made his masterpiece with this film, if you carefully watch the framing, the composition and the style, it is truly an astonishing feat. Nothing like you’ve ever seen. With this new restoration, its especially beautiful. Visconti’s film isn’t one you will immediately fall in love with, but no doubt, in time, fall for it you will.

“Rocco's a saint, but what can he do in this world? He won't defend himself. He's so forgiving. But one mustn't always forgive.”

Tokyo Drifter – available as of 4 September 2020

A stylistic predecessor to Nicholas Winding Refn’s works, Tokyo Drifter is a classic example of ‘style-over-substance’. It’s a completely nonsensical and juvenile narrative that’s hard to follow and has no discernible characters. There’s the protagonist (it even takes quite a while to figure out who that is!) and then there’s the bad guys. That’s all you need to know, because this film is really just eye-candy, but glorious eye-candy at that. Beautiful colours, exquisite composition and amazing set-pieces. The film is pop-art for the masses, but like most pop-art, its meaninglessness is both its greatest strength, and its greatest weakness.

“A drifter needs no woman”

Stroszek – available as of 4 September 2020

Werner Herzog’s first (partial) foray into American filmmaking, Stroszek is the strangest work he’s ever done; an oddity, an amalgam of everything not-Hollywood, and a journey with literally the most unlikely of characters. A feeble elderly man, a battered prostitute, and a mentally-challenged ex-convict escape from Germany and try to find a new life in America; believing the ‘American Dream’ to be real and something tangible. Of course nothing goes the way they want it to, and the film ends with an elderly man robbing a hairdresser and a rabbit in a fire-truck. Wikipedia says it’s a ‘tragicomedy’, I don’t agree with that, but I can’t think of a possible genre that this film could feasibly fit into. It’s a peculiarity, an oddity, but that’s what makes it worth seeing.

“We have a 10-80 out here, a truck on fire, we have a man on the lift. We are unable to find the switch to turn the lift off, can't stop the dancing chickens. Send an electrician, we're standing by.”

Prime Video

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin – available as of 4 September 2020

Quintessential kung-fu delivered to you by the iconic Shaw Brothers. A favourite of the Wu-Tang Clan, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is a full-fledged action-epic, with a strong concept, great choreography, and memorable lines. Of course, this is a B-movie through and through: badly dubbed dialogue, terrible sound effects and atrocious acting, but what it has over every other kung-fu movie is an awesome premise. A young student is driven from his town after helping a failed rebellion against the Manchu government, his family and friends are dead, and so he flees to a Shaolin monastery to learn kung-fu; there, he faces 35 chambers of grueling labour and intensive training until he becomes the ultimate warrior. Sure, the film is a bit too long and the extreme build-up isn’t quite paid off at the end, but it’s a proper kung-fu movie.

“I should have learned Kung-fu instead of ethics.”


Naked Lunch – available as of 4 September 2020

David Cronenberg’s uneven but masterful adaptation of William S. Burrough’s writings, Naked Lunch has fallen by the wayside in the canon of great films, but a retrospective viewing of it reveals that it may just be Cronenberg’s magnum opus. The film follows William Lee, an exterminator whose wife has been stealing his supply of insecticide and using it as a recreational drug. Yeah, that’s about it. I can’t really explain the rest of the movie because it makes no sense and feels like a fever dream. It’s an amalgam of Burrough’s writings and life. Reality bleeds in constantly, and fantasy’s hold loosens. A typewriter turns into a beetle, or was it always a beetle? The abstraction of the film is a lot like Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but feels like it's not trying so hard. Looking superficially at the film, of course it has amazing set design, costumes, and animatronics (Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters fame worked on them!), but more than anything, it feels like a complete vision by Cronenberg; his kind of Eraserhead. Its an astonishing film, a little hard to love, but nonetheless excellent.

“Exterminate all rational thought. That is the conclusion I have come to.”

A Bronx Tale – available as of 4 September 2020

A toned-down counterpart to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Robert De Niro’s 1993 film, A Bronx Tale has all the familiar trappings of the gangster genre, inhabits its many clichés but it’s got a hell of a lot of heart. Goodfellas, for me, will never reach the heights of The Godfather because of this. It doesn’t ever achieve the heart that the scenes of young Vito do in The Godfather Part II, so De Niro’s film acts as a tonic of heart-felt nostalgia to counteract the drug-filled mania of Goodfellas. A Bronx Tale follows a young Italian-American boy’s upbringing in The Bronx, being effectively brought up by two fathers, one, a proud working-class bus driver, and the other, a mafia boss. His friends are no good for him, racism is rife in the locale and he’s falling in love with a young African-American girl. It’s a beautiful if a little clichéd movie that any lover of film will enjoy.

“I was getting two educations: One from the street and one from school. That way I'd be twice as smart as everybody.”


Boogie Nights – available as of 4 September 2020

Boogie Nights is the best film that Quentin Tarantino never made. Paul Thomas Anderson directed this film after his wonderful debut Hard Eight, and it's clear that in both cases, he was hugely influenced by Tarantino’s style (as was just about everybody in the late 90s). It follows a young nobody who is discovered by Jack Horner and becomes one of the greatest porn stars ever. How does this happen? He has the biggest schlong on earth of course (and yes, you get to see it too). This film is fun as hell to watch and is incredibly entertaining, but what it's best at is showing the goings-on of the porn industry in such a matter-of-fact way, instead of a Hollywood-ised, faux-sexy manner. It’s a hell of a movie, and if you like Tarantino, you’ll love this film.

“I like simple pleasures, like butter in my ass, lollipops in my mouth. That's just me. That's just something that I enjoy.”

Joe vs The Volcano – available as of 4 September 2020

Joe vs The Volcano is a weird, anomaly of a film, not quite a completely successful rom-com, and not really an adventure film either. The premise begins with Tom Hanks’ character working in perhaps the dourest place on earth, and lo and behold, he is diagnosed by a not-so-spiffy doctor with a ‘brain cloud’; there are no symptoms, but he will die within six months. Conveniently, a wealthy industrialist comes to visit Hanks the next day and offers him as much money as he wants, in exchange for throwing himself into a volcano. Yes, the movie is quirky, but it's original and has something to say. The ending of the film suffers a bit from trying too hard and it’s a bit too long, but it’s still a loveable little bit, with great payoffs. Meg Ryan is really wonderful in this film, and its good that we essentially get three performances from her, and Tom Hanks is as affable as ever. A great, lazy watch!

“My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake, and they live in a state of constant total amazement.”

I’m Thinking of Ending Things – available as of 4 September 2020

Charlie Kaufman’s new film is a lot of things, but one thing it's not is conventional. Kaufman, since the very beginning of his career, has eschewed conventionality and pursued strange, metaphorical narratives that tend to put off many. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is another of his films that does this, and explores familiar ideas of his about relationships (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), mental illness (Anomalisa), and reality itself (Synecdoche, New York). The story of this film follows a couple, Jake and Cindy (?), driving to visit one of their parents’ houses, but not everything is what it seems. In fact, essentially nothing is what it seems, and the film stretches so wholly into the realm of the metaphorical it never even bothers coming back. Undoubtedly some will be confused by the film, but trust in Kaufman’s concepts and narrative, he knows what he’s doing, and this is an exceptionally rewarding viewing experience. Just a single glance at someone can create life in and of itself; you have no idea the impact you can have on others.

“Everything is the same when you look close enough at it”

SBS on Demand

The Red Balloon – available until 30 April 2021

Quite simply the best short-film ever made. It’s a condensation of something beautiful and lovely. A journey of a little boy who finds a friend in a balloon. There isn’t much to say except watch it!

“Could you hold my balloon while I'm in school?”

Das Boot – available until 31 December 2020

One of the most expensive German movies produced at the time, Das Boot essentially created the ‘submarine’ genre of film, and is known as one of the great war epics. It follows a German U-Boat as its out on a patrol in the Battle of the Atlantic. A simple premise yes, but its one in which some of the most fantastically tense and suspenseful sequences are strung upon. This is the kind of foreign film that pleases everyone, it has a distinctly German setting to it, and its ending is a fantastic subversion on Hollywood expectations.

Note: the version available on SBS on Demand is the 144 minute version, which seems to be an earlier theatrical cut instead of the later directors release of over 3 hours. It doesn’t matter too much, the theatrical version is quite good anyway!

“Dearest Françoise, this is my fourteenth letter to you, but you have yet to see one.”

Serpico – available until 17 March 2021

An essential crime-film with one of Al Pacino’s greatest performances, Serpico is another of Sidney Lumet’s many masterpieces. Frank Serpico is a recently-graduated officer, who comes to realise, as he moves from one police department to the next, that they don’t wash their own laundry, in fact, it only gets dirtier. Al Pacino, hot off the heels of ‘The Godfather’, didn’t just cruise on formulaic movies for a quick buck, but chose intelligent and challenging roles that would separate him from his magnificent Michael Corleone performance. If you just watch Al Pacino’s catalogue of movies throughout the 1970’s, you’ll see the varied and brilliant performances he was able to deliver. Serpico is one of his best, and most memorable.

“You stupid fuck! You didn't know me? You fired without a warning, without a fucking brain in your head? Oh, shit. If I buy one, motherfucker, I ain't buying it from you.”

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