A three-part docuseries, Trainwreck: Woodstock 99 bares the horrors of a music festival that looked to recreate the iconic ‘peace and love’ fest of 1969. But with profit the focus and an ex-military base in upstate New York the locale, Woodstock 99 bore no resemblance to its predecessor.
Interweaving a current commentary of interviews with promoters Michael Lang and John Scher, former employees, journalists, musicians and attendees with archival footage and news broadcasts, an extraordinary tale of denial and mayhem is presented.
As costs were cut and services contracted out to increase profits, by the end of the three days sewage was mixed with freshwater, food vendors were fleecing the fans ($US11 for a 200 ml bottle of water that normally cost 65c), enormous amounts of uncollected garbage covered the vast site attended by some 250,000 people. Temperatures soared with little available shade. People were angry – stoked by the programming of some of the biggest acts of the day including rockbands Korn, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Limp Bizkit. Untapped aggression and ready access to alcohol led to extraordinary scenes of sexual assault, riots and arson as, at festival close, the festival resembled a war zone.
Artists such as Fatboy Slim talk of fleeing, former staff talk of decisions made that placed lives at stake, journalists remain to today stunned, attendees remain angry. Yet in interview, Lang and Scher talk of the success of the festival. Director Jamie Crawford (The Hunt for Ted Bundy, TV’s The Interrogator) presents a fascinating docuseries that, whilst leaving little doubt who it blames for the failings of Profit$tock, there remains enough to question any black and white assumptions.
An unexpectedly muscular adventurer role for Allison Janney (Spy, I Tonya) as the kidnapping of a child on the isolated Orcas Island off the Pacific coast of Washington State results in Lou teaming up with the kid’s mother.
A grumpy-old-man style reclusive, Lou enjoys her relative solitude living alone with dog, Jax. But that’s seriously tested during an intense storm when her neighbour and tenant, Hannah (Jurnee Smollett – Spiderhead, One Last Thing) needs her help: daughter Vee has disappeared, kidnapped by her assumed-dead father, Philip (Logan Marshall-Green – Prometheus, Upgrade). Secrets come tumbling out as the two join forces across the wilds of a storm-damaged island to rescue the girl.
It’s a fun if unmemorable ride as a committed Janney plays completely against type. Directed by Anna Foerster (Underworld: Blood Wars, TV’s Criminal Minds), Lou is an ideal ‘kill time’ type of entertainment.
Entertaining if somewhat unlikely, Anatomy of a Scandal interweaves sex, politics, privilege and a courtroom melodrama into its five episodes as Conservative minister James Whitehouse (Rupert Friend) fights for his reputation as well as family and career.
Admitting to an affair with a member of his staff is difficult enough for Whitehouse as the story hits the press. His wife of fifteen years, Sophie (Sienna Miller) chooses to support him, even when the staffer, Olivia Lytton (Naomi Scott) accuses the politican of rape. All hell breaks loose as prosecuting barrister Kate Woodcroft (Michelle Dockery) sets out to prove that the privileged Oxford graduate ignored sexual consent.
Weaving past Oxford events with trial revelations, Anatomy of a Scandal is a light, breezy unravelling with lots of hidden secrets to add impetus to the story. It is guilty of dealing with the more serious aspects of the issues it raises somewhat superficially (Olivia is relegated too readily to a secondary role). Entertainment comes defiantly first even if the wooden Friend is miscast and few of the characters are given time to develop – the exception being Sophie who initially stands by her husband but slowly starts to question him.
When Gorr looks to make the gods extinct, Thor enlists the help of Valkyrie, Korg and ex-lover, the dying Jane Foster (Natalie Portman – Black Swan, Thor) with her newly found superpowers.
After the irreverant humour of director Taika Waititi’s first foray into the world of Thor (Thor: Ragnarok), this latest episode somewhat overeggs the pudding with many of the jokes falling flat. As Hemsworth and Portman rekindle their love, so a splenetic Gorr (Christian Bale – The Dark Knight, Exodus) looks to total annhilation.
It’s a Marvel Cinematic Universe outing, so it’s inevitably all things visual with plenty of destructive battles. But Waikiki teeters on adventure versus comedy with a smattering of romance resulting in a somewhat juvenile hotchpotch (what’s with the two goats?).
A confident debut novel from the then 21 year old Tim Winton, An Open Swimmer, in its West Australian coastal setting, lays the foundations of many themes Winton continued to explore in his later books with his remarkable descriptive style and sense of place readily apparent.
Best mates Jerra and Sean hit the road in the beat-up old VW Combi van as they take time out off the beaten track surfing, diving and fishing. Friends since schooldays, the two are like brothers. But, having finished university, expectations are different as Sean looks to return to respectability and a well paid corporate position with his dad. Jerra is more of a drifter, uncertain about futures – and confused about a past (so typical of future Winton characters) which includes a questionable relationship with his Aunt Jewel.
Time-frame drifting sees past and present interwoven into a tightly-knit narrative as Winton beautifully, and seemingly inexhaustibly going by future writings, immerses the reader in the oceanside world of the two as they celebrate this apparent carefree freedom. But, as with the ocean they find themselves beside, surface appearance masks the depths of the deep. Jerra struggles with his disappointments in Sean and his ‘selling-out’ – but he has his own concerns, his own futures and expectations to deal with. Bad weather compounds the uncertainties of this seeming idyll along with the meeting of an old man living rough in a decrepit beach shack.
Winton’s command of language along with the presence of heavy symbolism creates an intensity and richness of place and time in this coming-of-age, relatively brief, tale. An Open Swimmer is far from perfect, however, with the storyline itself occasionally and unnecessarily obscure along with language guilty occasionally of being too sparse and eliptical. But for a first novel, it’s a extraordinary foundation for a novelist that, to date, has won the Miles Franklin Award a record four times and been shortlisted on two occasions for the Booker Prize.
An unexpected Oscar winning documentary, Icarus is a two hour expose of a major international sports doping scandal initiated by Russia – with more than a hint the final decision of the reach of the program lying with Vladimir Putin.
What began as American documentary filmmaker Bryan Fogel exploring the opportunities of doping to win an amateur cycling race evolved into something considerably bigger through a chance meeting with Grigory Rodchenkov, director of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory. As their friendship grows, Rodchenkov reveals to the filmmaker details of the Russian state-sponsored Olympic doping program. Evolving into something of a thriller with Rodchenkov fearing for his life, the level of deception astounds as world sporting authorities respond to the revelations.
It’s an extraordinary tale with the fate of Rodchenkov balancing on a knife edge. But sadly, Fogel cannot resist looking to upstage the Russian scientist as far as screen time is concerned, resulting in an overlong and repititive Icarus where its impact is seriously diluted.
Winner of the 2018 Oscar for best documentary.
Beautifully shot in a mood-enducing black and white, Good Night, and Good Luck reflects on American radio journalist Edward R Murrow’s stand against Senator McCarthy’s anti-communist witch-hunts in the early 1950s.
Contained almost exclusively within the studios of the radio station, Murrow (David Strathairn – Nomadland, The Whistleblower) voices concern of McCarthy’s unconstitutional tactics both on air and within the production team meetings, headed by Fred Friendly (George Clooney – Money Monster, Syriana).
A claustrophobic anxiety pervades this tight-knit elegant feature both written (with Grant Heslov) and directed by Clooney that is simultaneously low-key and expansive. Archival television footage and a superb performed-live jazz vocal score (Dianne Reeves) adds to the mood.
Nominated for 6 Oscars in 2006 – best film, director, actor, original screenplay, cinematography (Robert Elswit – There Will Be Blood, Nightcrawler), art direction.
Set some three years after the murder trial that ended season two, Broadchurch continues where it left off, with many familiar faces populating the small seaside town.
Part of the success of the earlier seasons was undoubtedly the chemistry between Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman): both are back to continue their bickering spar of a professional partnership underscored by reluctant mutual respect. A rape following a 50th birthday celebration is the procedural case the two investigate – the solving of which is made doubly difficult by the fact Trish (Julie Hesmondhalgh) reports it on Tuesday morning – four days after the party.
A tight script with empathic characters underscored seasons one and two – and the latest installment is no different as the two officers are confronted with numerous suspects (a private event in an isolated location has helped narrow the search) and a wider narrative than that confined to the case. Sexual violence and misogyny; teenage schoolboys’ sharing of internet pornography; a rehoused sex offender all form part of that wider narrative. And, bubbling below the surface, is the fallout from the earlier murder of Danny in season one as parents Beth (Jodie Whittaker) and Mark (Andrew Buchan) look for closure.
The orignal season one storyline benefitted from a slow unfolding over 16 episodes. Season three, with its wider concerns, needed a similiar treatment. Sadly, whilst still engaging as a police prodecure, season three feels a little rushed, a little truncated in its social commentary. Even as a secondary narrative, Beth and Mark (in particular) dealing with their grief remains visceral in its power.
Regarded as one of the best films of 2021, Flee is a harrowing tale humanely told through its richly animated visualisation as Afghani refugee Amin unburdens his past.
Having been granted Danish asylum as a teenage boy on the basis of having lost all his family fleeing Kabul, Amin has never revealed the full truth. Having fled the Afghan capital, he and his family initially settled in Moscow. Overstaying their visa, they lived in fear and isolation. With the help of a considerably older brother already living in Stockholm, many attempts to leave failed. Eventually, an alone Amin was able to find a way out. It’s this Amin needs, on the eve of his marriage to Kaspar, to reveal.
Making history in becoming the first film to be nominated for best documentary, best foreign language film and best animation,Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee is powerful yet poetic, visceral yet matter-of-fact.
Nominated for 3 Oscars in 2022.
A reboot of the immensely popular 1990s Australian TV series, Heartbreak High follows a group of Gen Z students navigating love, sex, friendship and life in general whilst attending the same Sydney school.
It’s a fluid, light melting pot of a tale of sex and sexuality, gender and cultural identity, race and disability flowing side by side with the understanding of friendship, love and loyalty. As Year 11 starts, best friends from pre-school Amarie (Ayesha Madon) and Harper (Asher Yasbincek) have had a serious falling-out. Amarie has no idea why and Harper refuses to talk to her. The situation is further compounded by the discovery of the huge ‘love map’ and the interconnected sexual exploits of the Year 11 students. The authors are Amarie and Harper – with Amarie choosing to carry the blame alone.
As with the love map, over its eight episodes, Heartbreak High follows those interconnected relationships between the students. Adults are generally secondary as friendships and attractions shift, love wanes, dynamics change. Social commentary is ever present but the series avoids agit prop, presenting ‘as is’ the gender fluid Darren (the immensely likeable James Majoos), the autistic Quinni (Chloe Hayden), the indigenous new boy, Malakai (Thomas Weatherall).
An Australian Sex Education, Heartbreak High is readily enjoyable that is likely to grow in terms of depth of characterisation should a second series (deservedly) be commissioned. Not everything works – the presentation of the school Principal, Woodsy (Rachel House) is mind-bogglingly bad – but, as seen principally from the perspective of Amarie, the gentle humour in complex situations results in an immensely accessible eight part series.