NETFLIX GEMS: Revolutionary

TFR’s writers on revolutions that deserve a place on your watchlist.

Paris is Burning - Jessica Egan


Revolution comes in many forms, revolting against the government, against your family, against society. Paris is Burning encompasses all of these forms of revolution. Paris is Burning is a documentary film which Netflix describes as “an intimate portrait of 1980s Harlem drag balls; a world of fierce competition, sustenance, and survival.” The documentary explores the extremely competitive drag balls of the 1980s, which featured several specific categories or themes including, walking (as if on a runway), beauty, clothing, dancing abilities, and overall drag ‘realness’. Many critics believe the documentary to be set at the end of the “Golden Age” of New York’s drag ball scene. Through gripping interviews and testimonials, viewers are given a unique view of drag culture and the LGBTQ community.  Not only are we provided with an insight into the drag balls, through the interviews with members of the LGBTQ community we are also shown the devastating consequences that AIDS, sex work, and homophobia had on members of the community. Through an exploration of the African American, Latino, gay, and transgender communities within the Drag Ball scene, Paris is Burning provides interesting (and at the time, revolutionary) observations regarding gender, sexuality, class and race in New York during the 1980s.

love and mercy - ellen pentony


In the midst of the cultural pandemonium surrounding The Beatles, the fascinating story of The Beach Boys can often be overlooked. Bill Pohlad’s superb biopic charts the rise and fall of a truly innovative musical talent, showing the darker side of a band most renowned for their catchy singles “I Get Around”, “Surfin U.S.A”, and “Good Vibrations”. The film features two parallel narratives, the first follows a young Brian Wilson, played to perfection by the doe eyed Paul Dano. The second takes place in the 1980s, and sees an older Wilson (John Cusack) battle with his mental health under the guidance of his controlling 24/7 therapist Eugene Landy, whose emotional manipulation of Wilson is played to malevolent perfection by Paul Giamatti. Cusack and Dano deliver memorable and convincing performances, capturing Wilson’s deterioration from ineffable, excited innovator to tortured existentialist. Pohlad uses sound to great effect throughout the film, blending the band’s catalogue with moments of cinematic silence, and overlapping voices meant to represent Wilson’s paranoia and schizophrenia. Despite its darker revelations, the film is thoroughly enjoyable. It is difficult not to get swept along with Wilson’s euphoria as he delights in his remarkable creation. This is an excellent biopic and an engrossing piece of narrative filmmaking. While you do not need to be a fan to enjoy it, you undoubtedly will be after.

Penelope - Rebecca wynne-Walsh


Penelope begins as all great fairy tale films do, with the wistful expository narration of its heroine. The beautiful princess at the centre, ready and waiting for her prince to rescue her. Penelope presents each of these classic but well-worn tropes only to subvert them. This makes the film a heartwarming fairy tale with good production value and good actors that refreshingly plays with the fairy tale romance structure with a subtle but nonetheless feminist take on the genre. First we have the standard trope of the princess cursed by an evil witch. However, Penelope is not cursed with the passivity of other heroines, she is not sent asleep awaiting rescue. She is given the face of a pig, snout and all. Our princess character however remains beautiful, not least because she is played by Christina Ricci but because she is charming, funny and intelligent. This film appreciates its female lead at a level deeper than skin. When it comes to the rescuing, Penelope is presented with countless suitors who are simply not up to the task at hand. It transpires that Penelope must look within, the only way she can be happy is if she finds contentment and confidence within, not relying on those around her to qualify her value based on her appearance. In this way Penelope learns to be beautiful because of her imperfections rather than in spite of them, a simple but powerful message. Of course, with James McAvoy floating around, Penelope is tempted by love, but romance in this film is just a byproduct of making friends and reconciling with family. Any romantic union is less of an end goal here and more of a stop along the way as Penelope dives in, experiencing everything she missed out on. This is a truly heartwarming film that carries an important message of self worth that is all too easily overlooked.

lo and behold - Samantha mooney


Werner Herzog’s 2016 documentary begins at the University of California, Berkeley, a place he describes as, “Ground Zero of one of the biggest revolutions we as humans are experiencing.” Following computer scientist and internet pioneer, Leonard Kleinrock, into the room where the first internet message was communicated between his Berkeley colleagues and the Stanford Research Institute. Kleinrock enthusiastically retells the story of how the system crashed mid-way through the word “login” simply delivering the letters “lo”. “As in lo and behold, we couldn’t have asked for a more succinct, more powerful, more prophetic message than ‘lo’”, exclaims Kleinrock. This documentary is more an impressionistic exploration of the internet’s revolution rather than being entirely comprehensive. Divided into ten segments, such as, “The Glory of the Net,” The Dark Side,” and “The Future,” Herzog meets scientists, hackers, robot designers, futurologists, internet addicts, Elon Musk and modern day hermits who want nothing more than to escape online radiation. The revolution of the internet is equally celebrated for its ever-evolving contribution to the world and society and lamented for its erosion of privacy and critical-thinking skills. This talking-head style documentary favours no side. The ten-segment structure merely scratches the surface of each topic raised, which has the ability to whet your appetite to seek more information and to find your own stance on the moral and critical revolution that is to come with the future of the internet.