Arts & Culture » Movies

It's the end of the world as we know it and I have Netflix (and other streaming services)

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Social distancing and self-quarantine. Scary but necessary. Admit it, though: Some of you are kind of excited at having a ready excuse to just stay home and gorge yourself on movies, TV, and beans eaten cold from the can (until you find out your GrubHub guy or gal is no longer delivering; by the way you can still Venmo those folks some tips). Of course, you could hunker down with all those shows you're behind on or that you've been meaning to start watching (Better Call Saul or The Great British Baking Show or Homeland or Bojack Horseman). But shouldn't you use this downtime to avail yourself of the many plague- and pandemic-themed offerings out there? There are quite a few! This guide will help you choose what to watch first, but don't worry — you should have time to watch all of them eventually. If you don't have Netflix, they're offering a month's free service to new subscribers now; other streaming services will be featured in my recommendations, too, and they're offering similar specials. And remember, Tubi is free.

The pandemic viewing theme could include some genres like zombie apocalypse movies, post-apocalyptic movies, disaster movies, urban flight movies, survivalist movies, cult movies (as in movies about actual cults), and other themes of social collapse. Here are some of my favorites:

Let's start by honoring the memory of the recently departed great Swedish actor Max von Sydow, who died last month at the age of 90, and who starred as a young Crusade knight in Ingmar Bergman's 1957 medieval plague story, The Seventh Seal (Prime, iTunes, Criterion Channel). The knight, Antonius Block, tries to cheat Death by challenging him to a game of chess, and as the two play out their game, Block encounters various potential plague victims, including carnival performers and a young witch sentenced to be burned at the stake. Yeah, it's dark, and it's also in black-and-white! But it's also beautiful and ultimately redemptive. For something much more uplifting with similar themes, Monty Python riffs on the Black Plague and The Seventh Seal in two of their films: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Netflix, Prime), and The Meaning of Life (Prime, Hulu, Vudu).

Another fine medieval plague film: Roger Corman's fabulous, colorful 1964 adaptation of Poe's story The Masque of the Red Death (Prime, Vudu) starring Vincent Price. There's the wonderful and criminally underseen 1988 Australian film The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (Tubi, Prime), about a boy on a mission to protect his family from the plague. There are modern plagues, most notably the Spanish flu epidemic of the early 20th century (films about World War I will most certainly touch on this), and the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Many great films touch on the AIDs crisis, including Parting Glances (1986, Tubi), Longtime Companion (1989, Prime), Torch Song Trilogy (1988 (Netflix, Prime), and two excellent indie films by Thom Fitzgerald, The Event (2003, Prime, Tubi) and 3 Needles (2005, Prime). Then there's Contagion, Steven Soderbergh's modern-day pandemic procedural, which recently catapulted to the top of the iTunes charts due to renewed interest (2011, iTunes).

Some random post-apocalyptic/social collapse treats: Ana Lily Amirpour's The Bad Batch starring an often-shirtless Jason Momoa (2016, Netflix, Prime); The Road (2009, Netflix) with Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron; 1991's The Rapture starring David Duchovny and Mimi Rogers (Prime, Vudu), and, just because, Martha Marcy May Marlene because you really need to just see it already. (2011, Prime, Hulu)

Then, ya got yer zombie apocalypse genre! There are just so many here; I'll just give you my personal must-sees. Perhaps start with George Romero's visionary franchise, beginning with a very low-budget 1968 black-and-white film Night of the Living Dead and culminating in 2009 with his last film, Survival of the Dead. Romero's evolving metaphorical commentaries on social ills were so spot on, it's downright scary. Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002, Prime, Hulu) with screenplay by Alex Garland, who also goes full on dystopia with Ex Machina (2014, Prime, Netflix, Hulu). Garland's Annihilation (2018, Prime, Hulu) is one of my favorite films of the 21st century. It's an insane and brilliant story of zombie infection in modern-day London, with a great all-star British cast. The sequel 28 Weeks Later (2007, Prime, Vudu) is also very good. I'm several seasons behind on The Walking Dead (AMC, Netflix), the excellent and seemingly endless AMC series — but, heck, now's a good time to catch up. As this excellent show has hinted from the beginning, we — yes, we — are the walking dead, whether we know it or not.

Be safe out there, folks.

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