A Soviet version of Martin Parr: Adam Curtis’s Russia 1985-1999 –TraumaZone reviewed

Russia 1985-1999: TraumaZone – even the title makes you want to scream – is Adam Curtis’s Metal Machine Music: the one where he frightens off his fans by abandoning the trademark flourishes that made him so entertaining and instead goes all pared-down and raw and grim. If you don’t know or remember what those trademark flourishes were, let me refer you to a cruelly funny pastiche which you can easily find on YouTube called The Loving Trap. This sends up poor Adam as a pioneer of the collage-umentary, a genre resembling ‘a drunken late-night Wikipedia binge with pretence to narrative coherence’ which ‘vomits grainy library footage onto the screen to

Touchingly free of cynicism: C4’s Somewhere Boy reviewed

At the start of Somewhere Boy, an 18-year-old boy is rescued from an isolated house by his aunt Sue following his father’s suicide – and what she, the police and social services regard as a lifetime of abuse. Since he was small, Danny’s father, Sam, had forbidden him from going outside, telling him the world was full of monsters who’d kill him if he did. He’d therefore grown up listening to old songs and watching old films – all the while believing that his beloved dad was keeping him safe. Yet once Danny was installed in Sue’s house, sharing a bedroom with his cousin Aaron, it soon became clear that

Watch white women being shamed while they dine: CBC’s Deconstructing Karen reviewed

Nothing heightens the sense of the unpalatable better than a dinner scene. Think of the violence meted out at the dining table in Pasolini’s Salò (1975). Think of André Gregory lecturing Wallace Shawn on his solipsism – much to our discomfort – in Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre (1981). CBC’s documentary Deconstructing Karen accidentally borrows from the form. Eight white women are chided ceaselessly at dinner by two activists – failed Congressional candidate Saira Rao (who is Indian-American) and hitherto unknown Regina Jackson (who is African-American) – until the white women admit that they are racist. Rao and Jackson are co-founders of Race2Dinner, an events company specialising in coming

An enjoyable new Ageing Dad drama: Disney+’s The Old Man reviewed

We men all think we’ve still got it, even when we’re well past 50 and young women look straight through us and every time we get up or sit down or lift something off a shelf we sigh or grunt with the effort. But sure, if push came to shove and we had to defend our loved ones, we’d definitely be able to fight off our attackers with our bare hands, no problem. It’s for people like us that The Old Man was created. It belongs to that venerable tradition of Ageing Dad movies which stretches from Taken (featuring Liam Neeson and his particular set of skills) through to James

The makers of Fauda have another hit on their hands: Sky Atlantic’s Munich Games reviewed

You’d have to pay me an awful lot more than I get for this column to review Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. As I write, it’s the number one trending show on Netflix, but the most I’m prepared to stomach is that snatch of footage you get forced to watch (because of Netflix’s impertinent and intrusive automatic play function) if you linger over the title image for too long. It shows two cops at an interview desk gradually revealing to Dahmer’s increasingly aghast dad (Richard Jenkins) that his son Jeffrey might not be quite the straight upstanding citizen he imagined. Dahmer murdered – and often dismembered and sometimes ate –

The political cunning of Elizabeth II: BBC1’s The Longest Reign – The Queen and Her People reviewed

In all the tributes to Her late Majesty’s constancy, dignity, wisdom and devotion to duty, not enough has been said about her political cunning. But BBC1’s The Longest Reign: The Queen and Her People made a compelling case that Elizabeth II knew just how to tilt the balance. When she toured the new towns of the 1950s (see image), waving at the crowds with their little Union Flags and taking tea with the young families on the just-built housing estates, she was giving her wordless blessing to the welfare state. When she wanted to bolster the No side in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, her intervention – commenting to a

Will you be able to get through the ponderous aphorisms without giggling? The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power reviewed

Amazon’s much-heralded Tolkien prequel The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power began by answering a question that has puzzled humankind – and possibly elves – these many millennia. Why is it that a ship floats and a stone doesn’t? The reason apparently is because ‘a stone sees only downward’, whereas a ship has ‘her gaze fixed upon the light that guides her’. And this, I’m afraid, set the tone for much of the dialogue that followed in the two episodes released so far – as, to their credit, the characters managed to exchange an endless series of ponderous aphorisms without giggling. So it was that we learned how

Shaping up nicely for some truly epic bloodletting: House of the Dragon reviewed

House of the Dragon got off to a pretty uninspirational start, I thought: no major characters brought to a shocking and premature end; no bone-chilling spookiness like that White Walker opening scene in the frozen woods; far too much dreary, half-inaudible talking round long tables in ill-lit halls. If this hadn’t been the long-awaited prequel to Game of Thrones, I doubt I would have bothered watching the second episode. But I did and guess what? More dank, chiaroscuro interiors; more old men out of Shakespeare history plays mumbling into their beards; more complicated, almost-impossible-to-follow-unless-you’ve-read-the-books disquisition on inheritance, lineage and succession. The difference is, though, that by this point you’ve had

Martin Vander Weyer

‘Good’s never going to triumph’: the makers of BBC show Industry on bad bankers

Finance in screen fiction is a realm of monsters. From Gordon Gekko in Wall Street and Patrick Bateman in American Psycho to the crazed party animals of The Wolf of Wall Street, the arena of deal-making is portrayed – particularly in America – as winner-take-all without trace of empathy or redemption. Industry – the British-made television drama that follows a group of young bankers competing on a City trading floor whose second series airs on BBC1 later this month – is a more subtle example of the genre. Its characters are not monstrous but they are all flawed, ruthlessly transactional in their dealings with each other, and frankly hard to

The fiasco of Operation Yewtree: C4’s The Accused – National Treasures on Trial reviewed

At 4.38 a.m., one morning in October 2013, the radio presenter Paul Gambaccini was understandably asleep when the doorbell rang. He was then arrested for sexually assaulting a minor on what proved to be the word of a drug addict with a history of making false accusations. The trouble for Gambaccini, though, was that this wasn’t proved for another 11 months. In the meantime, the allegations were all over the news, he was dropped by the BBC, lost around £100,000 in earnings and started having panic attacks. And Gambaccini, of course, wasn’t alone in being arrested and publicly named like this – not merely without being charged, but before any

House of the Dragon: So far, so unexciting

About halfway through the first episode of House of the Dragon I found myself squirming in my chair, covering my eyes and muttering ‘Why the hell am I watching this vile schlock?’ I think this is probably a good sign. One of the main attractions of its predecessor Game of Thrones was that it kept taking you to places you didn’t want to go – incest, crippled children, mass murders at weddings, sacrificial daughters, lead characters culled long before their time – and on this score at least, House of the Dragon looks unlikely to disappoint. But I’m less sure, so far, about the court intrigue. Everyone is saying that

Identity politics is in retreat in Hollywood

‘Diversity is woven into the very soul of the story.’ If those words of praise from a rave review in a left-leaning journal sound to you about as inviting as a cup of cold sick, then my advice would be to stay well clear of The Sandman. Neil Gaiman’s epic graphic novel series (launched in 1989), set in the world of dreams, was relentlessly inclusive long before it became the norm. ‘I wanted to change hearts and minds,’ Gaiman has said in an interview. ‘I had trans friends and still do, and it seemed to me that no one was putting trans characters into comics. And I had a comic.’

Fascinating but flat: Amazon Prime’s Thirteen Lives reviewed

About ten minutes in to Thirteen Lives, Boy came in and asked me whether it was any good. I said: ‘Well, it’s quite interesting, actually. I think they’ve got the actual cave divers playing themselves, so the acting is really dull and uncharismatic and a bit unconvincing but at the same time it gives the drama a sort of echt documentary feel…’ Boy, peering at screen: ‘But that’s Viggo Mortensen. You know, Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. And Colin Farrell, who you liked in In Bruges.’ Me: ‘Oh.’ Does your main duty lie with the drama or with the truth? Director Ron Howard has opted for the latter What

The making of The Godfather was almost as dramatic as the film: Paramount+’s The Offer reviewed

It’s hard to imagine in the wake of GoodFellas, The Sopranos and Gomorrah but there was a time, not so long ago, when the very existence of the Mafia was widely dismissed as an urban myth. What changed was Mario Puzo’s 1969 bestselling novel The Godfather, which sold nine million copies in two years. You might assume, not unreasonably, that the 1972 movie version – now acknowledged as one of the greatest films of all time – was one of the most obvious commissions in Hollywood history. But it was dogged by so much controversy and plagued by so many disasters that it was very nearly stillborn. Every stage in

Alienatingly sweet and warm: BBC2’s The Newsreader reviewed

When TV makes shows about TV, it rarely has a good word to say for itself. In the likes of W1A, The Day Today and, savagest of all, Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV, the industry has looked in the mirror and ripped itself to shreds. What all these comedies say, in their own way, is that most TV is bombastic, brain-dead, two-star crap put together in a blind panic and a moral vacuum by idiots and monsters. Second only to politics, it’s the satirists’ biggest sitting duck, the gift that can’t stop giving. The Newsreader, a new newsroom drama, turns out to be cut from different cloth. It’s set

Who are these pathologically liberal rozzers? Channel 4’s Night Coppers reviewed

Grizzled police officers of the old school should probably avoid Channel 4’s Night Coppers for reasons of blood pressure. Like most documentary series with close access to the police, this one paints them in a light so favourable as to be almost comically sycophantic. The trouble for those grizzled types is that – the times being as they are – what’s now considered favourable is to make the rozzers who patrol Brighton after dark all seem like that pathologically liberal Dutch cop played by Paul Whitehouse in the late 1990s. Not that this is a reference which most of the officers featured in Wednesday’s opening episode would get – largely

A thrilling, pacy, well-acted drama: Amazon Prime’s The Terminal List reviewed

‘The Terminal List is… a dated and drably made eight-part military thriller that offers little intrigue or excitement,’ says the Guardian’s ‘east coast arts editor’ in a corrosive one-star review. Eh? Can we have been watching the same series? Let me give you an example of this ‘little intrigue or excitement’ and allow you to judge for yourself. Navy Seal Lt Commander James Reece (Chris Pratt) is having an MRI scan to determine whether he has suffered brain damage during a disastrous combat mission in Syria in which almost his entire platoon was wiped out. All his colleagues, superiors and family think he’s going mad because his memories of the

A very classy thriller indeed: C4’s The Undeclared War reviewed

The Undeclared War has many of the traditional signifiers of a classy thriller: the assiduous letter-by-letter captioning of every location; the weirdly precise time-checks (‘Sunday 09.47’); above all, the frankly baffling opening scene. In it, a young woman walked around a deserted fairground, broke into a beach hut that turned into a gym and spotted a door in the ceiling which led into a stately home. Gradually, the fact that the first episode interspersed this with the same woman typing computer code made it clear what was going on: writer/director Peter Kosminsky was making a plucky attempt to solve his main challenge here. Never afraid of a big issue, Kosminsky

What to watch on Paramount+ and will it rival Netflix?

Wednesday saw a new entrant into the streaming world with the UK debut of Paramount+. The launch event in London on Tuesday didn’t hold back on star power, with Kevin Costner, Sylvester Stallone, Gillian Anderson, Viola Davis, David Oyelowo, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bill Nighy, Naomie Harris and Jessica Chastain all in attendance. Unlike BritBox and Apple TV, who have built up content slowly, Paramount+ have decided to come out all guns blazing with their programming. Apple TV+ boasted a limited slate of big-name originals when it kicked off in November 2019, but the likes of The Morning Show, See and For All Mankind were starry but not especially enthralling,

On the brink of delivering something special: Sky’s The Midwich Cuckoos reviewed

A youngish couple leave London and drive off excitedly to make a fresh start in more rural surroundings. They demonstrate their happiness by laughing all the way to their new town, where a cheery sign on the outskirts reads: ‘Welcome to Midwich’. So what could possibly go wrong? In fact, even for viewers unfamiliar with John Wyndham’s famously spooky 1957 novel, from which Sky Max’s modern-day version of The Midwich Cuckoos has been adapted, it’s clear that something soon will. After all, a pre-credit sequence, set five years later, had shown the same couple cowering in fear before their five-year-old daughter. For now, though, while they marvelled at the idyllic