This weekend, instead of giving my recommendations of all the films you could look out for, I’m pointing out the directions in which you can undertake your own viewing expeditions. For all the downsides of technological advancement, the global and transnational connectivity and accessibility it has supplied is one of the greatest of its advantages. There are now more movies available to you than ever before, even after the growth over decades of television screenings and home video distribution; the problem now is to sort through the myriad of newly handy offerings to properly allocate your resources (chiefly, those of your time and your money) to those that you think you could gain the most from. Readers of this blog will know that I believe there is far more than mere entertainment to be gained from a good movie, and I find the hour-and-a-half spent watching The Darjeeling Limited or Good Time plus the two hours afterwards spent discussing it with your companions are well worth the energies and assets you’ll have invested in finding them, getting yourself to the right place to see them, and paying to see the screening.
Obviously, as before, the preferred option of many who wish to see a film at home over the weekend is to watch in on DVD. The range of films available is vast (though not as broad as many of us would like) and the options for where to get it are very widely varied. Nobody needs me to tell them that renting is cheaper nor that owning yields far greater returns (and I aim to own as many of my favourite films on DVD as possible, which offer inordinate value in repeat viewings and social screenings with various groups of friends). Most of you won’t need to be told where to go to get them, either (and may have better knowledge than mine on where to buy cheaper secondhand copies or where to rent), but I’ve found online stores such as Takealot and Loot to be competitively priced and to have the thankfully much wider range of products available (through international third-party sellers) than what you are able to find on shelves. For those conscious of bargains and price disparities, the site Price Check compares the price of a product offered by different sellers, including these online stores.
The real intention of this post is to point out to you all the online options for viewing from which I suspect some of you may gain something of real value. Like buying imported DVDs online, streaming also provides many opportunities for seeing work not otherwise available to you, and even if you elide illegal online platforms from your choices, a rich and steadily increasing supply of titles is accessible to South African consumers. Subscription services have very quickly become very popular, and I move to point out the advantages to readers: for a fixed monthly cost, you can see as many of the available films and television series as you’d like, without any more effort than is required to open your browser and select the title. There are no extra costs for any features or services, and programmers work to obtain more titles for the platform each week. Unlike a DVD you may own, the films are not guaranteed to be available to you permanently (and I had the sorry experience last month of realising a movie I had hoped to watch one weekend had been removed), but they also won’t cost you extra per title, clutter up space, or require a trip to some outlet or website to first acquire a copy.
The two main subscription services in South Africa that I’m aware of are the South African service Showmax and the American one Netflix. There are unique benefits to both (and, for the record, I subscribe to both): Showmax is pretty much the only place online — illegal sites included — where many South African movies and shows can be found, and has special dedicated sections (laughably named “KykNet” and “Mzansi”) for the South African works it uniquely has on offer; Netflix is famous for now commissioning and producing a significant amount of its own content, and some Netflix original series, like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, have become some of the most popular in mainstream television viewing — all of this content is available on the platform in all territories, and, being a wide international platform, has the leverage to acquire many more obscure and niche titles and distribute them here.
The movies I’ve noticed of interest on Showmax include the renowned award-winning fare, such renowned titles as 12 Years a Slave, The Aviator, Changeling, The Hours, and Saving Private Ryan; there’re the highly entertaining popular hits such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Mean Girls, School of Rock, and Transformers; they have such older classics available as Annie Hall and The Godfather; I’m not at all attuned to children and their preferences, but I see at least one childhood favourite that I still enjoy: Babe, based on the Dick King-Smith novel; and it even offers some of the higher and finer works of art that I myself appreciate as among the best of the form, like The Break-Up and Shutter Island, as well as others I highly anticipate seeing, like James Gray’s early work The Yards and two Spike Lee favourites, Oldboy and Do the Right Thing. The premium monthly subscription, which includes access to all these and all the many television shows as well (which I have avoided, with the exceptions of The Office and Nommer asseblief), costs R99 per month. Some deal is available to DStv subscribers, but, since I’m not one of them, I haven’t looked up the details on it.
Another popular streaming service, especially among DStv subscribers who haven’t picked up Showmax yet, is BoxOffice, which only shows movies in the short time after their theatrical run has ended and before they’re widely available on home video. Therefore, there aren’t many choices available at one time, but most new movies are accessible, and it’s constantly updated, sometimes even with titles that weren’t theatrically distributed here (Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is currently showing on BoxOffice). The three films that you can go watch on BoxOffice right now, and which I heartily recommend now as I have before, are among this year’s best: Silence, Get Out, and Hidden Figures.
An international platform available here (and widely used for its music offering) is iTunes, which is not a subscription service, but which charges per movie you watch. The films available there in South Africa are, like on Showmax, mostly very popular ones with guaranteed mass appeal, but that doesn’t preclude the inclusion of a few favourite beauties: All About Eve, The Color Purple, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, A Passage to India, The Seven-Year Itch, Sex, Lies and Videotape, Singin’ in the Rain, and Sleeping Beauty are among the pleasures I found on a quick look through available titles.
A similar (and larger) service, and one preferable to consumers like me, who prefer to give as small a concession or quarter to Apple as possible, is Google Play, where I like to buy my music, and from which I myself have rented a few delightful movies. I searched for a number of the titles on my list of my favourite movies, which is now close to 150 titles, and found that many of them are available there, some for as little as R10 (you get access to it for 48 hours after you begin initial playback).
The most interesting of all these to me is Netflix, and that’s probably because of the very diverse variety of movies on offer (they keep suggesting very obscure independent films to me that I’ve never heard of, some of which turned out to be real treasures), and because of the engaged efforts they’ve made to produce their own content to offer on their platform. Of conventionally produced, outside offerings available, there choice is also gratifyingly large (I note, with delight, the inclusion of Ant-Man, Casablanca, Contagion, Fantastic Mr Fox, Fifty Shades of Grey, Full Metal Jacket, GoodFellas, Gran Torino, Kill Bill: Volume 1, Kill Bill: Volume 2, Lawrence of Arabia, Little Sister, Love and Other Drugs, The Notebook, Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, Pulp Fiction, Shrek, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Wizard of Oz. The original Netflix titles grow in number every year and increase in the exciting artistic quality of their output: television series like Master of None and Bojack Horseman are better than nearly any others I’ve sat through for entire seasons, and the filmmakers they’ve commissioned work from include greats like Sofia Coppola (A Very Murray Christmas), Angelina Jolie (First They Killed My Father), Noah Baumbach (The Meyerowitz Stories), Joe Swanberg (Win It All), Ava DuVernay (13th), David Fincher (House of Cards), and Martin Scorsese (The Irishman). The service costs $8 per month for South African users.
I plan to spend the next few weeks picking at the large selections I’ve set out for you, and reporting back here on ones that you should see for yourself as well. I hope you make a few of your own intrepid explorations into the offerings, too, and let us know of what you may find there. Human enthusiasms are made to be heightened when shared.