An over-the-top sub-Tarrantino crime thriller, Copshop is violently explosive as an on-the-run conman (Frank Grillo – Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Boss Level) avoids the hit placed on him by getting himself arrested and holed up in a smalltown Nevada police station. Only the hired assassin (Gerard Butler – 300, Greenland) is wise to that particular move. But neither account for the tough, by-the-book rookie cop, Alexis Louder (Harriet, The Tomorrow War). Nor the arrival of a second assassin looking to finish off the job quickly.
The tongue-in-cheek violence eventually wears thin as director Joe Carnahan (Boss Level, The A-Team) trowels the carnage on to the screen: subtle he’s not. Yet for a while Copshop is perversely engaging.
Six related narratives dramatise the human impact of the 2019/20 Australian bushfires as lives, homes and livelihoods are destroyed by the worst fires in living memory.
As new volunteer firefighter Mott (Hunter Page-Lochard) is shown the ropes by Tash (Eliza Scanlen), a close relationship between the two develops – particularly after they find themselves stranded with fires on all sides. They survive and become the link between the separate narratives as they travel the remote, burning landscapes of New South Wales.
Five of the dramas are centred around a fictional area of NSW, the stand-alone sixth located on coastal Victoria (a fictionalised holiday destination based on Mallacoota). Inevitably, some of the narratives are stronger than others as the dramas focus on the people affected – those who lost everything (Richard Roxburgh and Miranda Otto – episode two and the strongest in the miniseries) through to the trauma of loss and survival. Anger and resentment, frustration and sheer unadulterated terror percolate throughout.
Fires is a humane, understated drama series that looks to the resilience of the everyday as long term residents, casual workers and tourists alike (mostly) come together in an attempt to overcome tragedy – and survive.
Gender is somewhat flipped for Terminator: Dark Fate as Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton – Missing in America, The Terminator) teams up with Grace (Mackenzie Davis – Tully, Bladerunner 2049), an augmented human. With the help of a retired Arnold Schwarzenegger, they must protect a young Mexican woman (Natalia Reyes – Birds of Passage, Pickpockets) from the most advanced liquid Terminator yet seen.
It’s all predictable stuff but director Tim Miller (Deadpool) manages to introduce a level of humanity and snatches of humour into proceedings, along with the knowledge that Arnie will not be back….
Inventing Anna is a truth-stranger-than-fiction narrative based on the extraordinary story of Russian-born, German-educated Anna Delvey who inveigled herself into New York society – and defrauded them of their money.
An instagram and social media sensation, Delvey (Julia Garner) claimed to have a wealthy family and a €60 million trust fund lodged in Europe. But a few (small) unpaid debts led her to a court hearing – and the ears of investigative journalist, Vivian Kent (Anna Chumskly). A seemingly minor story becomes, in the hands of Kent, something significantly bigger as more and bigger frauds are revealed as Delvey looked for funding for her proposed Arts Foundation.
With a love-hate relationship between Delvey and Kent unfolding on screen (Delvey craves attention: Kent needs the scoop), Inventing Anna is a litany of culpability as the Manhattan elite threw weight and dollars behind the entrepreneur. Already monied, there was the perceived ‘need’ to be part of this elite, uptown project: an arrogant and exceptionally confident Davey knows the value of blinding people by thinking big.
Inventing Anna is a tale of greed. But not restricted simply to Anna (the irony is that her planned arts foundation, whilst targetting an elite market, could have had a massive impact on the art world). It’s a greed of status, recognition, gratification: the American Dream. Hundreds of thousands of dollars may have been charged by Anna to AmEx cards not her own, but the cardholders preferred to remain in embarassed silence. Even Kent is driven by the need to clear her name from an erroneous article that has tarnished her reputation.
It’s an extraordinary tale rivetingly told – even if the frauds do become a little too repetitive for the viewer (how many times can we hear that Anna’s father is witholding money or there’s a problem wiring the money? This may be the first time for the victim but for the presentation of a television drama, repeat, repeat, repeat is not always structurally advantageous). Garner herself is splendid in her cold arrogance and playful judgement but surprisingly fails to convince when she needs charm. Charm is to be found in Scriberia – the outpost corner of the magazine offices where Kent has been stationed with the older journalists. And charm is to be found in the interactions between Kent and Delvey’s lawyer, Todd (Arian Moayed) as the two try to get a handle on Anna and her story.
A three day Christmas period in 1991 as Princess Diana, struggling with mental health and an eating disorder, finds herself at Sandringham with the in-laws.
An extraordinary tense three days as Diana (a rarely off-screen Kristen Stewart – Twilight, Seberg) is forced to deal with the traditions of royalty whilst barely speaking to a philandering Prince Charles (Jack Farthing – The Lost Daughter, Official Secrets) or the rest of the family. Whilst her children and staff below stairs (particularly Diana’s dresser, Maggie – Sally Hawkins, Maudie, The Shape of Water) provide a semblance of stability, it’s the haunting presence of the executed Anne Boleyn foremost in her mind.
A strident soundtrack, a vast impersonal Sandringham (Schloss Nordkirchen in Westphalia) and an oppressive, bullying Royal Equiry (Timothy Spall – Mr Turner, Denial) add to Diana’s sense of dislocation. This is not the Windsors of The Crown – director Pablo Larrain (Jackie, Neruda) returns the narrative firmly back to the cold, impersonal, tradition-oriented territory of Stephen Frears’ The Queen.
Nominated for the 2022 best actress Oscar.
Full of charm, wit and oddball characters, Amelie is a delight as the innocent and naive yet big-hearted Amelie (Audrey Tatou – Coco Before Chanel, The Da Vinci Code) looks to help others – and unexpectedly finds love.
Shot through with a warm, painterly palette (cinematographer – Bruno Delbonnel, The Tragedy of Macbeth, A Very Long Engagement), director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, Bigbug) creates a whimsical Gallic world where Amelie, working as a waitress in central Paris, helps others around her. But as the hypochondriac, artist, annoying customer, even her own father, are helped, so Amelie recognises her own needs are being ignored. Until she comes into contact with Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz – La haine, Happy End), collector of discarded photobooth photos.
Joyful and warm-hearted joie de vivre, Amelie is an eccentric delight.
Nominated for 5 Oscars in 2002 including best foreign language film, original script, cinematography.
Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski has provided plenty of source material for The Witcher series as season two picks up moments after Yennefer of Vanderberg (Anya Chalotra) has helped defeat the warring Nilfgaardians that ended season one. But as a result, Yennefer has lost all her powers – and will do anything to retrieve them.
Season two of The Witcher struggles somewhat with its focus, a season which finds, for some reason, Gerait of Rivia (Henry Cavill) less central. Instead, along with Yennefer of Vanderberg and her quest, season two follows Cirilla (Freya Allen) and her self-awareness of potentially the most powerful of them all. But this awareness takes time – and whilst Gerait is there to help and protect, the magic it not quite there.
Politics is at full throttle as Nilfgaardia, through sourcerer Fringilla (Mimi Ndiweni), host the Dwarfs and support their rise to power – but not all in the State approve and mutterings are certainly undermining Fringilla’s authority in the absence of the King. His arrival in the last seconds of the season send shock waves through what has been, until then, a predictable narrative.
Inevitably, there is a full menu of adventure, murder, lust and earthy profanity as per season one (if it works, why fix it?) but the second season is not as engaging as its predecessor.
Eighty years on and the Wannsee Conference of 20 January 1942 continues to chill to the core of humanity. Senior Nazi officials, chaired by SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh), gather in luxurious surrounds on the outskirts of Berlin to discuss arrangements for The Final Solution – and convince the few within the room who are opposed – or at least concerned.
It’s a confronting claustrophobe of a feature, contained almost entirely within two rooms. As Heydrich’s second-in-command, SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann (Stanley Tucci), organises refreshments and the smooth-running of arrangements, casual conversations and discussions abound in shocking alacrity of the elimination of Jews in Germany and occupied territories. Director Frank Pierson introduces few distractions, creating an intensity of meaning and understanding to the words spoken.
Based on a surviving record of the meeting (instructions were obviously not followed to the letter), Conspiracy is powerful and terrifying as Heydrich cajoles and bullies sceptics and supporters alike – Aryan supremacists, fascists, petty tyrants, schoolyard bullies – into genocide as a cold and calculating Eichmann simply ‘hovers’.
(Heydrich was assassinated in Prague a few months later – see Killing Heydrich: he was replaced by Eichmann, who was tracked down to Argentina in 1960 – Operation Finale)
Published in 1954 (Murdoch’s first), Under the Net is a contemporary picaresque novel of a struggling writer and translator, Jake Donaghue, as he psychologically, philosophically and literally deals with the oddball world he inhabits.
A social drifter with few roots, Jake spends time, in contemporary parlance, couch surfing between London and Paris. It’s a wry narrative with more than a hint of slapstick as Jake finds himself in a series of inexplicable situations, most of them of his own making, accompanied on most occasions by best mate and partner in crime, Finn, a man of few words.
Under the Net is a deceptively light narrative of a novel but which sees Murdoch using the opportunity to vocalise elements of current philosophies and political thoughts – in part through the actions of Donaghue himself, in part through successful businessman Hugo Belfounder, an old acquaintance, and Lefty Todd, a political activist. Many of the characters within Murdoch’s novel are based loosely on actual friends, acquaitances and public figures, written as it was in a post-war England and a time of enormous upheaval and change. She herself lectured, at the age of just 28, in philosophy at Oxford University. So Under the Net was never going to be a simple roman de gare.
It’s a frustrating read that has moments of sublime prose, and moments of sheer slapstick idiocy that go nowhere, including the stealing of an Alsatian dog and the following of a former lover (Anna) through the streets of Paris. For a pragmatist, ironically Jake always seems to make the wrong decision, leaving him unlucky in love and empty of pocket. Like Donaghue himself, Under the Net outstays its welcome.
The fifth and final Bond film with Daniel Craig has been a long time coming (seven years since Spectre hit the big screen). And as one would expect, it’s a big, bold, adventure playground of a narrative (x10 for Craig’s finale) traversing the globe.
Licking his wounds from a sense of betrayal by love interest Madeleine (Léa Seydoux – Spectre, Blue is the Warmest Colour), Bond is comfortably settled in island Jamaica. But not for long as both British and American operatives seek him out for help – it’s that man Blofeld (Christoph Waltz – Spectre, The French Dispatch) causing problems in spite of being held in isolation in maximum security. Only there’s an even bigger threat from Russian poisonous substance expert, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody, The Little Things).
Everything about No Time to Die is, as one would expect, expansive – the characters, the threats, the storylines, the locations. But director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation, Jane Eyre) has introduced a higher level of wry humour and personal narratives to proceedings. It does not always work – an overlong, dragged out No Time to Die fails to reach the dizzy heights of Skyfall. But it remains, nevertheless, an archetypal Bond entertainment.
Nominated for 3 Oscars in 2022 – sound, visual effects, won 1 for original song (Billie Eilish).