The best (and worst) streaming TV shows & films this month

January 11, 2023
26 mins read
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A regular column in which GARY STEEL sifts through the mountain of available streaming TV and brings your attention to great new and old shows as well as those to avoid.

A scene from Wednesday: see review below.

All Quiet On The Western Front (Netflix) 9/10

Misplaced patriotism and pro-war propaganda are always in danger of swallowing logic, and the 1929 anti-war book All Quiet On The Western Front (or the 1930 movie) have long been a welcome antidote to the bullshit around pointless and unnecessary armed combat. This new version is an epic 147-minute film that can’t be classed as “enjoyable” or even “entertainment”, but is required viewing nevertheless. The story follows Paul (played by Felix Kammerer), a naïve German teenage recruit in the last throes of World War 1 who is really still just a boy and has no idea of the horrors that await him as he’s (literally) thrown into the deep end of trench warfare.

 

The sets are incredibly believable and the action sequences are so real-looking that the viewer is grateful it’s not in 3D. It’s hard not to flinch or look away from the charred and misshapen bodies or the other grisly sights that follow as Paul and his new pals deal with one calamity after another. The film differs from the book in that, at certain intervals, it features officers from both sides debating a ceasefire. This detour briefly gets the action out of the trenches, but slightly dilutes the impact. Not the sort of film to watch with a hot date, it should nevertheless be a rite of passage for all teenagers, or anyone else contemplating “the glory of war”.

Ancient Apocalypse (Netflix) 6/10

In the 1970s the public was wowed by Eric Von Daniken’s Chariots Of The Gods film, which made the preposterous proposition that aliens must be responsible for the seemingly superhuman achievements of early human civilization. It seemed to make sense at the time. The 2022 equivalent of Von Daniken appears to be Graham Hancock, a controversial investigative journalist whose eight-part series proposes that there was an advanced civilization prior to the ice-age; one that lived through the big freeze but was annihilated by the subsequent cataclysmic events. Hancock’s mission seems to be to overturn the view held by mainstream archaeologists and geologists that the pyramids and other amazing structures were built much later. After watching each of the bite-sized (half-hour) episodes his pitch seems plausible. He comes across as intelligent and – unlike the archaeologists he spends so much time criticising – unfazed by the peer pressure and ridicule that would surely meet any “expert” that broke ranks with accepted ideology.

But as a species one of our weaknesses is our suggestibility to an idea, regardless of how flawed it may be. Sadly, this series only presents Hancock’s view (and those of handpicked researchers whose views appear to align with his) so we only get one side of the story. There’s value in Hancock being given the space to make his pitch, but how easily could his arguments be debunked? The series is being heavily criticised (one headline accused it of being the most dangerous show on Netflix and asked why it had been greenlighted at all) and I can see why. Would Netflix allow an anti-vax “researcher” to make a whole series? I don’t think so. Still, the footage of ancient monuments – mounds, pyramids, ancient tunnels – is spectacular, and regardless of his (most likely flawed) hypothesis, I learnt a lot.

Becoming Cousteau (Disney+)

To a generation of television viewers Jacques Cousteau is a legend. The Undersea World Of Jacques Cousteau screened on primetime TV in the 1970s and was responsible for introducing many to the wonders of the ocean depths. But as this incredible feature documentary explains, Cousteau was so much more than the captain of the Calypso exploring the world’s oceans. Way back in the 1930s, Cousteau, a French naval officer, became obsessed with the vast unknown ocean and – driven by a need to know more – invented both the scuba and aqualung so he could dive down and uncover its secrets. Then, wanting to share his discoveries, he invented a waterproof camera casing and started filming his underwater escapades.

 

His 1956 feature film The Silent World was a sensation, for the first time introducing audiences worldwide to the spectacular colours, patterns, formations and creatures under the sea. This lead on to the wildly successful TV series, which made Cousteau an international celebrity. John Denver even wrote a hit song about Cousteau’s research vessel, ‘Calypso’. Becoming Cousteau doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff – Cousteau’s heartbreak and descent into bitterness over his son Phillipe’s tragic death, and his regrettable neglect of family life – but it also paints a picture of a man before his time. Cousteau started out diving and hunting but ended up an ardent ecologist, setting up the Cousteau Foundation to educate about the pressing need to stop squandering our precious ocean resources. Inspirational viewing.

Biohackers (Netflix) 7/10

Luna Wedler plays first-year med student Mia in this German “techno-thriller”, which explores ethical issues around gene therapies and molecular interference. What at first might seem an odd subject is skilfully woven into a very modern type of revenge story, as it turns out that Mia’s professor (played by Jessica Schwarz) is a gene scientist without ethics who murdered her parents when she was just a tiny tot. Not only that, she’s responsible for the deaths of hundreds of designer-babies.

 

Probably designed for a teen/young adult audience, Biohackers is actually a ripping watch for all ages. Wedler is excellent as the gregarious and courageous Mia, and the friendships she strikes up amongst her flatmates – who are all quirky characters – ring true.

Each episode of the 12-part series (across two seasons) comes in at somewhere between 41 and 45 minutes, which makes it easily digestible and moreish. I liked it a lot, because it somehow manages to weave excellent characters and personal dramas in with a thrilling plot that develops at a cracking pace, and never really slackens. And its German location gives it that extra whiff of difference that it wouldn’t have had it been yet another show set in an American town.

Bound By Flesh (Prime Video) 7/10

Proof that fact is way, way stranger than fiction, this 2012 documentary tells the story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who were forced into a life of circus freak shows but ultimately rose to superstardom as the singing, dancing, multi-talented “Siamese-twin” entertainers. We learn that at one stage the sisters were earning phenomenal sums, but that unscrupulous managers ceaselessly ripped them off, and that by the end of their lives they were virtually homeless. Born on 5 February 1908 to an unmarried barmaid who rejected them, they were raised by her employer, Mary Hilton, who exploited them to the max without ever showing them any love or affection. Ultimately, they were “sold” to other unscrupulous entrepreneurs and kept captive until finally winning their freedom. Sadly, however, they had none of the skills needed to survive on their own.

Bound By Flesh is marred by rather tacky editing, effects and voiceover, but the story itself is so compelling that it’s easy to forgive its flaws. Luckily, there’s enough surviving footage, photos and audio of the sisters to keep the viewer enthralled as the inevitably tragic conclusion looms. We see the sisters singing beautifully and performing in the several exploitation films in which they starred, including Todd Browning’s super-weird Freaks (1932). Ultimately, like The Elephant Man, their story is a sobering look at the way society views difference, but also of human resilience. It’s sad to think that had they lived in this century, doctors could have easily snipped them apart and they could have lived more fulfilling lives.

Dead To Me  (Netflix) 9/10

The third and final season of this wonderful dramedy is imbued with the sadness of Christina Applegate’s real-life diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, which came halfway through filming the show. Ironically, a major thread in the story this time round is the way Applegate’s character Jen reacts to her best friend’s cancer diagnosis. But if you haven’t yet sampled Dead To Me, don’t go thinking it’s all morbid. The brilliance of this show is the seamless way it combines howlingly hilarious humour with genuine emotional resonance. And that’s made possible by a combination of sharp writing and the surprisingly great acting chops of Applegate – previously known mostly for being the hot blonde daughter on 1980s situation comedy Married With Children – and her bestie-in-crime, Linda Cardellini (Judy).

 

Applegate plays a tough LA real estate agent who commits an accidental homicide, and through a series of unlikely events, bonds with Judy, who sees the positives in everyone and everything. They’re complete opposites, but good for each other: Jen brings Judy down to earth, and Judy brings out Jen’s soft centre. Much of the drama (and some of the humour) is built on the constant threat of their crimes being uncovered, and of course every new plan to create subterfuge brings more calamitous events. Full of wilting sarcasm and ribald humour and rather potty-mouthed, Dead To Me makes for a brisk watch across its three seasons as each episode is a mere 30 minutes long.

The Devil’s Hour (Prime Video) 7/10

If you like the idea of a tense drama that combines elements of Silence Of The Lambs and Doctor Who, then The Devil’s Hour may be just your thing. Actually, I tell a (small) lie: while it does feature a form of time travel and it was created for a former producer of Doctor Who and stars an actual former Doctor Who in Peter Capaldi, this is really nothing like that rather childish franchise. And while they get Capaldi shackled in a police cell under a single bulb trying really hard to look scary (but totally overdoing it), it turns out that he’s not really a bad guy. Jessica Raine (Call The Midwife, and ta-da… Doctor Who) is terrific in the lead role as Lucy, a 30-something social worker with a weak husband and a young boy (Benjamin Chivers as Isaac) who is incapable of expressing any emotion. Nikesh Patel (Indian Summers and ta-da… Doctor Who!) is always good and he plays the detective with a phobia of blood with the usual elan.

 

There’s a lot to like about The Devil’s Hour, which is at times genuinely edge-of-seat thriller and at others a surprisingly good study of its main characters, but I can’t unreservedly recommend it. While Lucy’s unexplained visions are cleverly executed and Isaac’s seeming merging between parallel existences quite spooky at times, the way it predictably returns to Capaldi’s police cell interrogation ends up being somewhat grating. And the ending is so sudden, and leaves so many unanswered questions, that the viewer is left with a big, unquenched “WTF?!” emoji in their head.

1899 (Netflix) 6/10

Here’s one for the contingent who really liked Dark, that weird and uh… dark German mystery drama about missing children and dark tunnels and parallel existences. I found Dark hard going but had it recommended to me, so slogged through all slow-going eight episodes of 1899 anyway. For those who enjoy lashings of gloom and doom and a complete absence of levity, 1899 is sure to appeal. The set design is quite astonishing and each of the very well made-up characters manages to keep their stony-faced demeanour throughout.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7OUQ9U2qIw

 

Supposedly set on a cruise ship travelling from Europe to America in 1899, the first few episodes are especially claustrophobic as the ship diverts its course when it receives a message from another liner that has been missing en-route for four months. Luckily, the inertia of the early episodes is followed by a bit of action and increasingly strange goings-on that in some ways resemble a Teutonic take on David Lynch. Telling the story risks ruining it, because all it really has is the surprises up its sleeve. I’m always up for the unusual, but despite the oddness, after a while I got bored with the sheer repetition involved in its set-bound carryon, and the pervasive monochromatic gloom made me really, really sleepy. I did like the classic rock song that ended each episode, though.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Prime Video) 7/10

In 1982 when E.T. debuted it was a sensation. I got so tired of friends telling me I must see it that I ignored it for some years so that I could watch it without expectations, and predictably, I was underwhelmed. The mega-movies of cinema titans like Spielberg never really appealed to my quirky sensibilities. Running short of child-friendly options the other night, however, we showed it to the kids. They loved it, and I found myself warming to it as well. Time has been kind to this film about a rather funny wee alien who gets stranded on earth and adopted by a young boy, who conceals it from his mum. The cinematography is lush (although there are a tad too many dark and gloomy scenes for my liking) and much of the entertainment value is derived from the humour of the boy and his siblings getting to know the alien, together with its reactions to human stuff.

 

You can’t watch it without being reminded of the popular TV show Stranger Things, which was clearly inspired by 1980s films with unlikely plots featuring children like E.T., Stand By Me and The Goonies. Stranger Things, however, is so knowing that the comparative innocence of E.T. is quite fetching. It’s interesting that the head of the family is a solo mum, decades before the depiction of single parents became a televisual cliche. While the comparative slowness of the plot and the length of the film meant that the kids lost their focus from time to time, I always think that providing them with a challenge is a good thing, and they did manage to sit through the one hour and 45 minutes running time. Our kids did learn the expression “penis breath”, however, which I’m not sure is an entirely good thing!

Fireheart (Neon) 8/10

There are so many kids’ shows that seem to be missing a genuine sense of human values that it’s refreshing to come across Fireheart from Canadian animators L’Atelier, a new film that really has a heart. Georgia Nolan is a 16-year-old girl who has seemingly doused her desire to be a fireman by following her Dad (voiced by Kenneth Bramagh) into a career in tailoring. But when almost all of the New York firemen mysteriously disappear while fighting very strange fires, her Dad is coaxed by the slimy mayor (voiced by William Shatner) back to the job he’d given up when he’d become a father.

 

Georgia is determined to join her father and poses as a young man to prove herself worthy of the job. The 1930s New York setting provides a charming backdrop and the hair-raising (and often high-rise) rescues and adventures provide plenty of thrills to keep the wee ones engaged. While the animation doesn’t aspire to Pixar levels, it’s nevertheless colourful and inventive, and the backstory will bring a tear to the eye to all but the hardest individuals. It’s wonderful for a change to see the pure expression of self-sacrificing love between a father and his daughter. The idea that a young woman in 1930s New York could become a fireman might be far-fetched (we learn on the end credits that the first female fireman wasn’t until 1987) it’s an intriguing premise. Recommended.

Generation Wealth  (Prime Video) 6/10

Lauren Greenfield is a photographer and documentary filmmaker who – having spent 15 years documenting America’s obsession with material wealth – eventually decided that she was fated to make a film about it. The subtext of Generation Wealth (2018) is that societies where money, beauty and power have replaced basic human values are essentially headed for oblivion; that the “money is everything” focus is a sad reflection on their state of mental health, and ultimately exposes a fathomless emptiness in people’s lives. The film provides a fascinating glimpse of a variety of individuals whose lives are (or have been) dominated by the pursuit of money and/or glamour. Having documented so many lives over such a span of time, Greenfield was able to go back to these same people years later to see how their dreams panned out, and the truth is often shocking.

 

But while there’s something compelling about watching rich fucks go to the dogs, there’s a sense here that we’ve seen it already with the massive television and internet exposure of celebrities like the Kardashians. Greenfield spends so much time on analysing her own upbringing that Generation Wealth starts to spiral away from its tight focus. The story on a woman’s disastrous dalliance with plastic surgery, for instance, feels rather out of place. Sure, trying to attain the perfect body is often a response to socially aspirational ambitions, but somehow this and a few of the other stories feel too diffuse. And oddly, she completely leaves out another symbol of the dissolution of American values: the money-obsessed modern evangelist. Ultimately, the subject matter is hardly new and the film desperately needs more hard-hitting quotes from hard-hitting critics of rampant capitalism. Instead, we get titillatingly short soundbites from the likes of author Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho). Worth a watch, however, if you still don’t quite understand how Trump ever made it to the Whitehouse.

Ghislaine Maxwell: Filthy Rich (Netflix) 6/10

A sort-of sequel to Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, this feature-length documentary – released in November 2022 – takes a sober, non-tabloid approach to telling Ghislaine Maxwell’s story. The only reason to watch a film about a person who did such monstrous things is to try and understand how they came to do so, but even at 101 minutes, Ghislaine Maxwell: Filthy Rich can’t really explain what we want to know. Was it her privileged but perverse upbringing that made her susceptible to “harvesting” young women for Epstein’s insatiable sexual desires, or was she simply a woman with no moral compass?

 

While the Epstein documentary was long on interviewing his victims and somewhat short on really getting to the bottom of his history and overall personality, the fact that Ghislaine grew up as the daughter of a wealthy media magnate meant that there’s fascinating footage of her early years and former friends of the family to be interviewed. It’s this context that makes the film more intriguing, though the big questions still remain unanswered. Was she ultimately one of Epstein’s victims, too? We may never know, but it seems that in this rare instance, no amount of riches or privilege will keep her from paying the price for her actions.

Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues (Apple+) 9/10

One tragic aspect of the forever onwards march of popular culture is the inevitable neglect of the real trailblazers. In a world that classifies Kanye West as a “legend”, how do we classify a real genius like Louis Armstrong? Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues devotes a meagre 104 minutes to the man who not only more or less invented jazz, but who took it to the masses, popularising it and crossing strictly divided racial lines with the new art form. Sacha Jenkins’ film grapples with the criticisms sometimes made of Armstrong’s unwillingness to associate himself with the black rights movement, and eloquently explains his point of view that to raise consciousness and dissipate racial prejudice overt activism isn’t always the best way forward.

 

There are so many multi-part documentaries that are needlessly elongated, but Louis Armstrong is a figure that could easily have stood the extended treatment. Instead, his life and achievements are squeezed into a little more than an hour-and-a-half, which necessarily means that certain aspects of his life are missing, including the drug use and a detailed examination of his musical brilliance. What we do get, however, is incredible insights into his life through the journals he methodically kept, which are read by rapper Nas, along with copious amounts of rare footage. What’s easily forgotten is that Armstrong wasn’t just a musical innovator, or an incredible trumpeter, or a populariser, or a boundary-hopping entertainer, but a much-loved public figure whose humanity was at the heart of everything he did. Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues is a must-watch.

My Father’s Dragon (Netflix) 7/10

From the Irish company that brought us the exceptional children’s animated movie Wolfwalkers comes this new adaptation of a 1948 book about a boy whose mother has fallen on hard times, but meets a magic cat who offers him the opportunity to sail to a sinking island on a friendly whale to rescue a dragon. There are so many dragon movies now that it’s hard to get too excited about a new one, and yet there’s a humanistic (and morally uplifting) streak running through My Father’s Dragon that lifts it above standard fare.

 

As with other films from the Cartoon Saloon stable, the cartoon resists the typical computer animation angle, and while the characters might lack the perfectly smooth motion of a Pixar release, the animation is consistently and sometimes jaw-droppingly creative and colourful. Our 4-year-old found it a bit too scary at times, but overall the kids enjoyed this heart-warming tale. There’s a trend to paint dragons as friendly, rather comedic characters and that’s true here too. While grownups might find this a bit tiresome, the wee ones seem to appreciate that Boris the dragon is cute and approachable.

One Child Nation (Prime Video) 9/10

If you’ve read about China’s one-child policy and think you know it all, then watch One Child Nation and weep. This 2019 documentary is devastating. Nanfu Wang – who moved to America as a young adult and is raising her young family there – grew up in China during the 30-year, strictly enforced one-child policy, and goes back there mainly to quiz her extended family and various former officials, midwives and journalists about those years. What she learns is almost beyond comprehension. We’re told that 180,000 unwanted young girls were abducted and handed over to orphanages, who then sold them at great profit to Americans. But that’s mild compared to what happened to most babies/young children who were unlucky to be surplus to requirements. Baby girls were routinely killed at birth by midwives because society demanded boys. Parents often simply abandoned young girls at markets where typically no one would adopt them. We hear about one toddler who literally starved to death.

 

If that’s not heart-breaking enough, there’s the photographer who made it his project to take pictures of babies discarded with the trash, their perfect wee limbs protruding from rubbish bags. A male who ended up selling abandoned kids to orphanages describes how he would ride his bike around the streets where every day he would find dead babies and the odd doomed and homeless child. The awful perversion and sheer evil of this government policy meant that everyone had to capitulate, and no deviation from the policy was tolerated. You can tell that deep down, members of Wang’s own family feel complicit in the evil, but the Chinese government propaganda was (and is) so pervasive that even now, most of them maintain that the one-child policy was a good thing. The policy was finally dismantled in 2015, but the deeply flawed thinking behind it continues in a country where individuality and freedom of speech is a foreign concept. (Awarded the Sundance Festival US Grand Jury Prize).

Red Rocket (Prime Video) 7/10

If you want to see an actor portraying a faded porno star running around starkers in the mean streets of Texas with his oversized man-meat flapping around like mad, then this is the movie for you! Described as a “black comedy-drama”, Red Rocket (2021) is an edgy two-hour feature starring Simon Rex (Scary Movie) as a washed-up LA porn actor who returns to Texas City’s Gulf Coast hometown. We follow him throughout as he sucks up to various down-on-their-luck individuals including his estranged wife (Bree Elrod), and seduces an underage girl (Suzanna Son) working at the local donut shop. The style of the film and the acting performances are so convincing that it could almost be a cinema verité feature, and it’s the incredibly convincing acting performances that make it so standout.

 

The semi-industrial, semi-rural and very flat setting makes America seem almost Third World, and there’s a kind of exhaustion on display – the exhaustion of financial and emotional struggle and boredom and addiction – that perfectly sums up the downside of rampant capitalism. As for the story itself, I’m not so sure. Rex’s character has a certain charm but is singularly self-obsessed and careless in the way he treats others, so it’s hard to care about what happens to him. Still, I would have watched it for the supporting role of first-time actor (and former NASA secretary) Brenda Deiss as the crotchety mum, whose presence reminded me of some of the extraordinary characters in John Waters’ movies. (Sadly, she died at 60 in 2022).

Shantaram (Apple+) 9/10

Based on a novel which was itself adapted from the real-life story of an Australian junkie bank robber who escaped prison, procured a false passport (of a dead New Zealander!) and hightailed it to Bombay, India, the eight-part Shantaram makes for a cracking watch. Charlie Hunnam (Sons Of Anarchy) plays Lindsay, the kind-hearted criminal, who inevitably becomes enmeshed in Bombay’s seething criminal underworld while becoming a hero to the city’s slum-dwellers. Lindsay’s tragic Aussie backstory is played out in brief flashbacks, but the majority of screen time is devoted to the bizarre and exotic locale of 1980s Bombay, where our sullied hero is catapulted from one dangerous situation to another.

 

In many ways this is a classic international intrigue, the likes of which once captivated cinema audiences. But Shantaram makes deft use of its talented cast and even the irredeemable, murderous criminals are given characterisations that expose the complexity of their personalities and cultural affiliations, and the difficulty of their situations. Of course, a series like this would be nothing without a love interest, and Lindsay inevitably falls head over heels for Karla (played by French actor Antonia Desplat), a mysterious Swiss woman who is tied to the criminal underworld. Bombay is teeming with foreigners and there’s a delicate veneer of civility between them and the locals. Shantaram is a ripping yarn but also a valuable cultural study of a particular moment in India’s history.

Slumberland (Netflix) 7/10

Adapted from the comic book Little Nemo In Slumberland, this is a long (117 minutes) feature film that nevertheless held our kids’ (4 and 8) interest right up to the end credits. Grownup critics have been quick to condemn the film, but I felt that the only really weak point was Flip (played by Jason Momoa of Game Of Thrones and DC Extended Universe), whose horned, magic map-hunting in-dream character is like a freaky and rather annoying reboot of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. Outside of the “comic relief” provided by Momoa, Slumberland is a visually trippy and emotionally compelling story about coming to terms with death and moving on.

 

Marlow Barkely is excellent as the young girl Nemo who has grown up with her dad in a remote lighthouse. When he dies, she’s sent to live with her boring uncle Philip (played by Chris O’Dowd of State Of The Union fame), a doorknob salesman who knows nothing about children, and she has to go to school for the first time. In real life, we experience Nemo’s difficulty adjusting to a completely alien environment, but most of the action takes place in a world between dreams where she’s joined by a magic pig and searches for magic pearls while evading the scary fog monster. Slumberland may not be perfect, but it’s a step up from typical kids’ fare and it kept both the real kids and the big grownup kids in our family enraptured for much of its running time.

Sophie: A Murder In West Cork (Netflix) 5/10

If ever there was a three-part documentary that could have benefited from trimming down to a single episode, it’s the 2021 series Sophie: A Murder In West Cork. Exploring the 1996 murder of French woman Sophie Toscan du Plantier in County Cork, a remote seaside location in Ireland, the series keeps on giving us tantalizing clues to her brutal murder, few of which seemingly lead to the obvious perpetrator. The location and its quirky inhabitants are the real characters here, and it feels as though Sophie is something of a ghostly apparition whose own story was something of a mystery. Why did she spend part of the year in this spooky old house in a rugged coastal area of Ireland, anyway? What lured her out of the house the night she was brutally murdered? We never really get to find out.

 

There’s copious news footage from the time and loads of interviews with the locals, most of whom seem to think that the police – who were inexperienced with serious crime – fucked everything up, and point the finger squarely at English freelance journalist Ian Bailey. A local news “stringer” who actually wrote stories about the case in its early days, Bailey is eventually arrested and let go and arrested again and unsuccessfully tried for the murder. We see Bailey interviewed at various periods from soon after the murder right up to today, and he still denies that he did it. But the clear inference of the documentary is that he’s the guilty party. By the end, I found it hard to care. As a documentary whodunnit, however, the series barely rates.

The Sound Of 007 (Prime Video) 7/10

This 2022 feature-length documentary takes an obvious but intriguing concept, and gets it right (sort of). The Sound Of 007 is literally a look at the incredible history of the theme songs and music of the James Bond films, and it’s a pacey journey with almost an excess of rare footage, scenes from the movies and interviews with the singers, writers and sometimes even the actors. With fast slice-and-dice editing, the film explains John Barry’s original musical concepts and how the main theme was incorporated in the films to create both a sense of continuity and a kind of 007 signifier. It takes us on a kaleidoscopic voyage through all the manifestations of Bond over the years and many of its songs. In doing so, unfortunately, The Sound Of 007 comes across as a glorified promo, almost like one of those “Extras” they once provided on DVDs and Blu-ray discs. I wanted interviews that were more than simply soundbites of a few seconds’ length, and longer excerpts from the songs themselves.

 

While we do get a decent sampling of the songs, we don’t get to hear all of them, which is a shame. For instance, they interview Nancy Sinatra about her hair-raising experience singing ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967) but don’t actually play the song. Things are moved along so briskly that while the viewer never gets bored, it also stops short of being able to provide the kind of genuine insight many fans will require. Ironically, one highlights is a short section on Bond songs that were really quite naff, and another is a sad note about the collaborations that didn’t come off, notably with Radiohead and Amy Winehouse. Ultimately too titillating to fully satisfy, it’s still a mildly entertaining watch. Its companion piece, The Sound Of 007 Live From The Royal Albert Hall, is frankly dire. While the orchestra does a decent job, the star vocalists are either hopeless nobodies or embarrassingly past-it.

Toys Are Not For Children (Prime Video) 8/10

Old b-movies and exploitation films are hard to find on the major streaming services, though if you search with the word “exploitation” on Prime Video, there’s a decent slab of them available on the streaming service. While the general quality of contemporary productions is good, I find really badly made, on-the-cheap movies from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s much more gratifying than a “just okay” film from the 21st century. I was very happy to chance across this really terrible 1972 exploitation film, and found that despite several genuinely icky scenes it was relatively entertaining. Marcia Forbes stars as Jamie Godard, a lovely young woman who it turns out has had her mind warped by her man-hating mother. With the emotional sophistication of a child, she obsesses over her errant dad who she hasn’t seen since she was six years old, and her only hobby is playing with her toys (no, not naughty toys!)

The unlikely plotline sees her get married when her mother throws her out, but she refuses sex and ends up following leads to find her long-lost father, along the way becoming a call-girl who treats every “John” as her daddy. There’s rampant over-acting, an interior design and props budget of about $5, and some really dubious paedophiliac connotations that make for uncomfortable viewing at times. There’s also a really hilarious dancing scene in a nightclub, astonishing early ‘70s clothes and hairdos, and at the end we even get to see Jami’s perfect breasts. What more could you possibly want from a motion picture? While the acting and script are generally dire, Marcia Forbes is pretty good, and it’s surprising that this is the only film she ever acted in. The cinematography is pretty creative for such a cheapie. It’s a hoot!

The Watcher (Netflix) 4/10

The Watcher is another collaboration between Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan of American Horror Story and Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story infamy, and it shows. Based on a true story of a family who are harassed (and more!) by a mystery stalker, the seven-episode series relies on the creation of often outlandish and unrealistic plot twists to keep the shocks coming. Feeding into the sense of insecurity that lies behind every safe suburban home, The Watcher sees a New York family buy a gorgeous 100-year-old mansion in a salubrious suburb, only to find that some creep is sending them weird, threatening letters. And on top of that, the neighbours are nuts.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HDkw100sXQ

 

Bobby Cannavale (Mr Robot, Vinyl) over-acts/over-reacts to just about everything as the financially troubled dad, leaving it up to Naomi Watts (Diana, King Kong) to add a sense of grace as the mum. Hot sauce is applied by Isabel Gravitt as the jailbait teenage daughter while the ragtag assortment of oddball neighbours includes veteran Mia Farrow as the pesky Pearl Winslow. As the main characters make obvious blunder after obvious blunder the whole thing gets too ridiculous and excruciating, and by the halfway mark it’s all sagging under the weight of its stupidity. I’ve got a feeling that the true story it’s based on is mundane by comparison, and the screenplay often feels heavy handed in its attempts to up the shock value. It’s actually boring.

Wednesday (Netflix) 7/10

 Unlike The Addams Family cartoon caper, the eight-episode Wednesday is geared towards a slightly older audience – adolescents and up – and it’s a live-action series focusing on the macabre, gothic daughter. Having now grown into teenage-hood and been sent off to a school for “special” kids, the perpetually unsmiling Wednesday  (played by Jenna Ortega of Stuck In The Middle and Scream) is a kind of character study-cum-adventure comedy that makes for a fun, undemanding watch.

Ortega is so sensational in the lead role that the show is worth watching for her performance alone, but it’s Tim Burton’s involvement that makes the series as a whole a must-watch. While it lacks the visual flair of Burton’s best work, it’s also lacking the indulgence that often mars his films. The casting is inspired, with Christina Ricci (who played Wednesday in the original 1990s The Addams Family movie) as a school librarian with a secret or two up her sleeve, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Wednesday’s Mum, Morticia, and the best supporting role ever, “Thing”, a disembodied hand that follows Wednesday around and helps her out when needed. With a touch of Harry Potter about it, this series succeeds in turning a typically disaffected teen into a real hero, and it makes for consistently entertaining viewing.

Watch This is a regular column in which Gary Steel assesses the worth – or otherwise – of the vast trove available to stream. Unlike other media, our policy is to dig deep and go further than just Netflix or what’s new this week.

 

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Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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