The Christmas Streaming Times
Best of Netflix, NOW TV and Amazon Movies and TV this Xmas
Christmas is all well and good but sometimes you just want to escape it all and what better way to do so than by putting your feet up in front of the TV?
These days you’re not at the mercies of the broadcast schedules when it comes to finding something to watch and it’s never been easier to kick back with a quality TV boxset or movie. The only problem is that there is so much to choose from that it can be difficult to decide.
So, the AVForums Editorial team have been putting their heads together and comparing watchlists from their Netflix, NOW TV and Amazon Prime Instant Video subscriptions to bring you some suggestions for worthwhile festive viewing. We’ll stress this is in no particular order of favouritism, just how it came out.
I’m ashamed to say this one has been on my Netflix list almost since I started subscribing but with the first 3 seasons now on Netflix UK, it seems the ideal time to catch-up. It’s a very well regarded American political thriller television series developed by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa. The story begins by centring on a U.S. soldier who was thought to have been killed in Iraq more than 10 years ago, who is now suspected of being part of a sleeper cell sent to cause a terrorist attack. Carrie Anderson is the CIA agent - with bipolar disorder - who comes to suspect that Afghanistan war hero, Scott Brody, has returned home with bad intentions. The cast includes Damian Lewis, Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, among others, and if its half as good as people say, it’s well worth a watch.
This has been one of the finds of 2014, for me. Irreverent and often unscripted, this comedy series provides genuine laugh out loud moments. The story centres around a group of friends involved in a Fantasy (American) Football league but don’t be put off by the subject matter as no prior knowledge of the sport is needed. Most of them will stop at nothing to get their hands on ‘The Shiva’ - the bizarre award given to the league winners – and the ensuing banter rating is reference status. It’s not one for the kids, or the easily offended, as both subject matter and language are frequently adult. It’s the funniest TV series I’ve seen in 2014 and with five Seasons to go at, several barrels full of festive laughs.
The League is laugh-out-loud funny!
Something of a guilty pleasure, perhaps, this Netflix original just has something charming about it. Perhaps it’s the beautifully shot Nordic landscape or the quirky blend of Scandinavian humour and gangster story but I have to say it’s really enjoyable. The show stars Steven Van Zandt, of Sopranos and member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band fame, who more or less reprises his role of Silvio Dante but it works nonetheless and the end of the second series is pure homage to HBO’s ground-breaking mobster classic. It’s mostly light hearted, with occasional moments of dark humour but most of all it’s an easy and engaging watch – perfect for when you’re stuffed full of Christmas goodies and don’t want to have to think too hard. There’s three Seasons available on Netflix and we’re hoping a fourth will be confirmed soon.
Dallas Buyers Club
This movie has just appeared in the Netflix UK catalogue and it’s a must-see for film fans. Boasting an incredible star turn from Matthew McConaughey, possibly reaching the pinnacle of his recent career resurgence, Dallas Buyers Club champions the true story of the ultimate underdog with passion and prescience. Raw and unflinchingly powerful, this movie deserves to be seen for McConaughey's performance alone, not to mention the compelling true story. Dallas cowboy Ron Woodroof, finds himself HIV-positive and given just 30 days to live, the film explores the alternative path Woodroof takes when he finds that the FDA-approved medication offered Stateside just isn’t doing him any good – and it’s nothing legal. Again, it’s adult content but it’s worth seeing for the performances, alone, and it’s not just McConaughey who shines, the supporting cast is also excellent.
Best of the rest
Netflix can also keep your kids entertained these Xmas holidays, with its ever-growing catalogue of child friendly movies and TV. Most devices with Netflix apps will now allow you to set up Kids profiles so they don’t get to choose from anything above a 12 rating. There’s a load of Christmas movies, of course, in addition to the likes of Brave, Monsters Inc and the Toy Story Series. Those slightly older might appreciate the first two instalments of the Hunger Games and Hobbit movies being available, plus a smattering of other decent movies. It’s more with TV boxsets where we find Netflix comes in to its own though and if you’ve not already done so, there are some bona fide classics available including the incomparable Breaking Bad and the engrossing House of Cards. There’s an incredible amount of content to look through and for those with 4K TVs, it’s currently just about the only show in town.
For those that like to keep up with the latest US dramas, previously exclusive to Sky TV subscribers, there really is nothing quite like NOW TV. You have to be fast to see the most recent series, as episodes only stay around for a few weeks but there are plenty of regularly refreshed boxsets to watch as well. We’re only dealing with the £6.99/month Entertainment package here but there are some quite up-to-date titles available through the Movies wing of the service, which can be subscribed to for £9.99. New customers can even get a 30 day free trial and various incentives when buying a NOW TV Box, so it might be worth taking advantage.
By popular demand (after we left it out of our previous picks) this series, based on Elmore Leonard's short story "Fire in the Hole," follows US Marshal Raylan Givens as he is transferred from Miami back to his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky, after causing trouble for his superiors with a high-profile shooting of a suspect. Givens acts as something of a 19th-century–style, Old West lawman living in the present age, whose unconventional enforcement methods make him a target of criminals as well as his bosses. The first four seasons are available as a boxset on NOW TV and they are well worthy of your time.
Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
Despite being an extremely hot property, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. got off to shaky start, losing many of its viewers within the first few episodes. Then something changed. Episode 6 saw developments in plots and an expansion of the characterisations which made enduring what went before worth the effort. But when events start to interact with the events in Captain America: Winter Soldier is when it got really interesting. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is dramatically affected by how things unfold in Winter Soldier and therefore becomes practically unmissable, viewing for Marvel fans. NOW TV isn’t the only place you can see it but, while you’re there, it’s definitely one to check out.
Game of Thrones
This blockbusting series was arguably the compelling reason for many to check out Sky’s new service. As things stand, there’s only Season One up on NOW TV but knowing how they work, we think they’ll be drip-feeding the subsequent three seasons in the build up to Season 5. For many, the HBO/Sky Atlantic exclusive will need no introduction and it’s one of the success stories of recent times for a reason so we urge you to get in fast while it’s still available. If political machinations, epic battles, diabolical characters and real sense of a World unfolding before you aren’t enough, you must be pretty hard to please but maybe some of the best eye-candy on television can draw you in.
All those Sky Atlantic goodies available through NOW TV
Best of the rest
A quick glance through the recent Sky schedules will give you a good idea of what NOW TV has to offer and, don’t forget’, you can watch all their entertainment channels ‘live’ through the service too. Current offerings include the likes of Hannibal, Da Vinci’s Demons and Corleone but there’s plenty more besides. It doesn’t have anywhere near the volume of box-sets as some of the competition but NOW TV can boast being more up-to-date and the Entertainment pack is certainly cheaper than taking out a TV subscription – plus you’re only tied in for 30 days at a time.
Amazon Prime Instant Video
Like Netflix, Amazon has been bolstering its catalogue of exclusive content; perhaps not quite to the same degree but they are showing real intent in challenging Netflix, even to the extent where their own Ultra HD service is begin to start rolling out soon. We’re going to concentrate on what’s available to stream to Prime members at no extra charge but there’s a ton of newer titles available to rent and ‘own’ too. Currently the best way to enjoy Amazon streaming is via their Fire TV box but its widely available on other platforms too.
Due back for series three early in 2015, the first two seasons are available exclusively in the UK to Amazon Instant users. This is another with ‘adult themes’ so if sex, drugs, violence, gore and profanity aren’t you’re thing, then it’s probably not one for you. The dark and moody cinematography blends with impressive historical authenticity to deliver a very compelling programme. Mixed in with that are portrayals of Norse superstitions, mythology and ceremonial practices and it all comes together in to a dark and brooding piece. It’s definitely one of the jewels of the Amazon catalogue and we can’t wait for more.
This Halle Berry fronted and Steven Speilberg executive production Sci-fi series focusses on an astronaut returning from space after more than a year spent conducting mysterious experiments. Molly Woods (Berry) tries to reconnect with her husband John and their android son, Ethan, but returns home staggered to find she is with (real) child. It’s a nice mix of Sci-fi and drama with some excellent visuals and an assured performance from Ms Berry. It stumbles for its own identity, at times, but it’s still enjoyable fare and we’ll definitely be checking out the, now commissioned, second series – maybe even in 4K!
Another UK exclusive for Amazon, this Starz Network produced Pirate flavoured drama was created as a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and set 20 years prior to the novel, Black Sails has all you could want from a buccaneering romp in terms of bawdiness, booty and brawling. The story takes some time to get going but once in full sail, it affords you a gloriously over-the-top mini epic with some really impressive CGI and some genuinely exciting action sequences. Some of the performances might be a bit dodgy, at times, but if you’re a fan of the likes of Spartacus, you’ll no doubt enjoy this.
Amazon Instant Video is definitely improving
This movie is a streaming exclusive for Amazon Prime members and a very believable recreation of the merciless rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the infamous 1976 season. Director Ron Howard shows his usual attention to detail and the results are as if he’s managed to take a camera crew back in time. The leading actors are both very well cast, with Daniel Bruhl in Lauda’s role especially convincing. I’m not particularly a fan of Formula One but I still really enjoyed this one but, of course, if you are a F1 nut, you simply have to watch this movie!
Best of the rest
Amazon has some interesting documentaries currently available to Prime customers, including Milius, the life story of one of the most influential and controversial film directors in the history of Hollywood, John Milius. There’s also Searching for Sugar Man, an absolutely fantastic true story about Rodriguez, the greatest '70s rock icon who never actually made it. The kids are also very well catered for under the Prime banner, with several seasons of Peppa Pig, Ben and Holly, loads of Disney movies and plenty more besides.
There are tens of thousands of titles available to stream as part of a subscription in the UK right now so we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the surface so we’d love to hear your recommendations – and where you can watch them – in the comments section below.
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