The new year is in full swing, ArtsHub and Screenhub are settling back into our offices (or home offices), and our excitement for the small and silver screens is renewed. Over the break, we each relaxed in our own way; by diving into some of the stunning titles we missed on first release, or caught up with promising new films. Some of us lost hours to artistic videogames, or went down the YouTube rabbit hole until we hit gold. Let’s take a look at what the office has been watching in January.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Stan
It took me far too long to get around to this instant classic from Celine Sciamma, but from the first minute, I was spellbound. The film is a hypnotic historical romance drama between two women: a painter and her subject, the latter of whom is engaged to be married to a man in Milan.
The hypnotic, painterly art direction and pared back script are spellbinding, and the narrative itself, while an affecting love story, is also so much more. The film explores the complex and powerful communities that form between women, and offers a brief but precious meditation on what these relationships can look like when they’re not limited by the strictures of patriarchy.
Teenage Kicks, Netflix
ArtsHub Staff Writer Sabine Brix has been enjoying gay coming of age tale Teenage Kicks on Netflix. The Australian indie feature follows the story of teenager Miklos Varga, who is navigating family, adolescence, and sexuality in the wake of his brother’s death.
Sabine describes it as ‘very intense and emotional,’ warning that it might not be for everyone – but if a tumultuous, emotional story of queer adolescence sounds appealing, this hard-hitting film might be perfect for you.
Screenhub editor David Tiley has been enjoying the small screen offerings of TwoSetViolin, a Youtube channel run by Australian musicians Brett Yang and Eddy Chen. The pair of dedicated classical violinists have a wonderfully anarchic sense of humour, and 3.2 million subscribers.
David says, ‘My favourite episode is about the remarkable similarities between key bits of Star Wars music and some beloved classical pieces, which the pair compare, sometimes by playing them side by side. The pick-the-difference game is close to a prosecution, which raises its own interesting questions of descent and attribution.
‘I know nothing about music, beyond the fact that it is made of air molecules vibrating in a managed way according to some strange rules called “pitch” and “tuning”. Millions of people around the world collaborate in a comic conspiracy to pretend that something called “melody” not only exists but can be repeated and preserved on paper covered in doodles. So, I just adore the way they delve into the musical experience, showing us the depth of minute intricacies that make film music work. Their delight and dedication is completely infectious.’
Worzel Gummidge, ABC iview
Richard Watts, ArtsHub’s performing arts editor, went on a folk-horror bender in January, revisiting classics like The Wicker Man (1973) and Witchfinder General (1968) as well as listening to the compilation album, Sumer Is Icumen In: The Pagan Sound of British & Irish Folk 1966-1975. By a round-about route, this led him to the new children’s television series, Worzel Gummidge, based on the books by Barbara Euphan Todd and now available on ABC iview.
‘Better described as a mini-series rather than a series, as there are just three hour-long episodes to date, Worzel Gummidge is written and directed by Mackenzie Crook (The Detectorists) who also stars as the titular character – a walking talking scarecrow,’ Richard said.
‘Older readers will doubtless recall an earlier series of the same name starring Jon Pertwee, made by ITV and originally screening between 1979-1981. Unlike the creepy character played by Pertwee, this Worzel Gummidge is a delight – eccentric, compassionate, daft and engaging – while the program as a whole blends humour, drama, environmental themes and a hint of folk magic just beautifully. The soundtrack by English folk band The Unthanks adds an extra touch of enchantment to proceedings.
‘I’ve been recommending Worzel Gummidge to everyone since I watched it on my break – in all sincerity, it’s utterly charming, and perfect viewing for the whole family (or for your inner child). Better hurry though, as it’s only available on iview until 24 January,’ Richard urged.
Wolfwalkers, Apple TV+
Richard also recommends Wolfwalkers, the latest animated feature from Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon.
‘This exquisite animation – every frame is a work of art – builds on the success of the Kilkenny-based studio’s previous features, including The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014). Like those earlier films, its animation style blends contemporary design with references to traditional Irish art, while the story balances historic events (Oliver Cromwell’s invasion and subjugation of Ireland in 1649–1653) with marvellous flights of fantasy,’ he said.
‘A story about shapeshifting, family and old magic, Wolfwalkers also explores colonialism and feminist and environmental themes without ever feeling heavy handed. It’s the perfect family film in so many ways, with subtexts which parents will enjoy while the children are swept up its passionate evocation of myth and friendship. Highly recommended.’
If Found… Dreamfeel
Finally, I’ve been playing If Found…, a narrative-based game for PC and Switch. The game is set in 90s Ireland, as Kasio, a trans woman, comes home during university break to visit her family for Christmas. What follows is a complex, sensitively told story about queer and trans identities, culture, friendship, and family. The special thing for me about If Found… is that it’s not a story about coming out — it’s a story about staying out. Rather than the drama of a confession, the game gets its emotional power from its realistic, and sometimes painful, depictions of people trying to understand each other, and the social and cultural factors that colour their relationships.
This narrative is intimately relayed through conversations, daydreams, and journal entries, depicted in lead artist Llaura McGees signature sketchy, soft style.