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

September 14, 2023

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.

Scroll down for Witchdoctor’s review of the hot horror movie M3gan!

Autoluminescent (PrimeVideo) 7/10

Autoluminescent is a rather arty but very good 2011 documentary about Rowland S. Howard, the doomed guitarist of The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party and several later bands that made less of an impact. Yet another film about a character who struggled with addiction throughout his career and ultimately met an early death by liver cancer at the age of 50, it does a good job of capturing Howard’s character in a variety of mostly lo-res videos and very good interviews with the people who shared his life – mostly girlfriends, family members and bandmates, including Nick Cave.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpP9iWupUo0

 

Autoluminescent ends up feeling longer than it needs to be and takes its good time, stretching things out with regular intervallic readings of unpublished Howard poems. Still, it made me curious about his later band These Immortal Souls and his brief solo career. Despite his inability to throw off his long-term heroin addiction, Howard appears to have been a much-loved individual with a unique take on the world. What a pity that even when the security of love showed up at his door he couldn’t rise above his demons.

Labyrinth (Netflix) 6/10

Stupidly, we thought the wee varmints might enjoy this 1986 “classic” featuring David Bowie as a goblin king and a non-unionized cast of muppet-type creatures. Being sometime fans of The Muppets, we expected the kids would enjoy the story about a young girl, Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) on a quest to retrieve her baby brother from the goblin king’s clutches. There’s certainly plenty of action, intrigue and mystery as the Sarah makes her way through a tricky labyrinth leading inexorably towards the dark target: the goblin king’s castle. Monty Python man Terry Jones’ story has plenty of panache even if Bowie is rather too handsome to convincingly portray a goblin.

But you know, it’s a product of the ‘80s. There are too many narrative-stalling songs, an uneven pace, and something I had somewhat forgotten about: as fabulous as Jim Henson’s puppet creatures are, it’s hard to feel a sense of engagement, which I put down to their dead puppet eyes. Computer technology has moved things along and now kids expect so much more. Which is sad, because despite its flaws, there’s creativity in spades here and most of the shows kids watch now are streamlined and predictable in the same way that their favourite pop songs are manufactured to formula. Meanwhile, us oldies kind of enjoyed seeing Labyrinth again after all these years, especially the farting stepping stones scene.

M3gan (Neon & PrimeVideo) 8/10

 Ever since I saw the trailer for this film prior to its brief splash on the big screen last year I’d been building a sense of anticipation for its debut on streaming TV. New Zealand director Gerard Johnstone’s previous, NZ-shot comedy slasher Housebound was intriguing enough to suggest there was even better to come, and M3GAN is proof of it. While not completely unique in the universe of doll and robot horrors, the film does have a major point of difference in the performance of Kiwi child dancer Amie Donald as the nasty companion robot girl M3GAN. In fact, it’s the combination of doll design/prosthetics, voice talent (Jenna Davis) and Donald’s bizarre actions that make the film uniquely creepy, and give it an edge that it would otherwise have lacked.

The let-down is that the robot girl’s antics are the only thing about M3GAN that isn’t laced with cliché. Violet McGraw is cute as a button as Cady, a little girl who survives a car crash in which her parents are killed, and is placed with an aunt, Gemma (played by scream queen Allison Williams) who happens to be a cutting-edge AI robotics engineer with a secret up her sleeve. As she’s hopeless with kids and busy with her job, she gives her untested M3GAN creation to Cady, and the relationship quickly blooms, and then escalates into a series of horribly creative murders. With a movie like this you can be sure that the climax will involve a bloodbath, and sure enough, the last 10 minutes make the first hour look like a walk in the park. And of course, there’s always room for a sequel. For horror fans, this is a must.

Mrs Davis (Neon) 8/10

It feels like the spirit of Quentin Tarantino at his peak (Pulp Fiction) spills into this wonderful self-contained 8-part series about a nun seeking the holy grail to save the world from being controlled by an AI program. Yes, that’s right! There’s little about Mrs Davis that makes sense until you start to figure it out towards the end, but this surreal show will leave you gasping with surprise as it constantly pulls the ground from under your feet.

 

Created by Damon Lindelof (Lost, Watchmen) it’s a good deal weirder than either. Betty Gilpin (Glow, The Grudge) is superb and transformative as Sister Simone, who marries Jesus (an AI barman) to aid her quest to find the missing grail, an artefact that turns out to be literally head-exploding. Actually, the story is so bonkers that it’s literally impossible to explain, but fortunately, what could have been an insufferable arty torture-fest is consistent at least in always being engaging and surprising, and as such, is one of the best-rating shows of 2023 so far on audience aggregator sites.

Music, Money, Madness… Jimi Hendrix In Maui (PrimeVideo) 7/10

Jimi Hendrix fans and those fascinated by the sheer insanity of the hippies and the psychedelic era will find this feature-length 2020 documentary absorbing and occasionally revelatory. It tells the bizarre tale of former Warhol associate and hippy “magic man” Chuck Wein and his 1970 Rainbow Bridge film, an unscripted mess shot in Hawaii. The idea was to convey the viewpoint of the hippies and take in all sorts of quasi-mystical junk that Wein supposedly believed. What a pity that the original four-hour version was sliced up and cut down to a mere 125 minutes, all the footage believed to have been thrown away. It would have been great for a few laughs.

Music, Money, Madness… interviews all the major players in the story, including Wein (using old footage, as he died in 2008) and Hendrix’s two musical sidemen, Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell, former groupie Pamela Des Barre, Eddie Kramer of Electric Ladyland studio, and a few of the film’s cast and crew. Wein seems to have been more charlatan than genuine New Age guru, a view backed up by his sneaky and exploitative inclusion of Jimi Hendrix in his grand project. Unsurprisingly, while the film tells how Hendrix was tricked into being involved and subsequently died before the film’s release, easily the best moments belong to his performance on the side of a volcano on the island of Maui, where the guitarist’s incredible musicianship is on full display even in this casual, almost impromptu setting. Guitar heroes have come and gone ever since, but hearing (and seeing) Hendrix’s genius on a less-than-ideal windblown day in 1970 makes for a real blast from the past.

My Husband Won’t Fit (Netflix) 7/10

With a title like that, I just had to check this out! My Husband Won’t Fit (chortle-chortle!) is a 10-part 2017 Japanese series about a quiet, mousey, naïve young woman Kumiko (played by Natsumi Ishibashi) who meets a somewhat eccentric young man Kenichi (Aoi Nakamura) the day her parents drop her off at the crappy apartment in which she will live while studying at university. They instantly become besties and then boyfriend and girlfriend and ultimately, get married. But during all this, penetrative sex proves impossible. Ridiculous idea, huh? Sort of. It does take a stretch of the imagination to credit that she never thinks to visit a gynaecologist during the years that follow, but despite that, it’s a very watchable drama with some excellent performances (snigger, snigger) and a relaxed pace that lets the viewer relish in the Japanese locales and characters.

 

As the story progresses, Kumiko discovers that Kenichi is using up their savings on regular trips to big busty brothels, and Kumiko ends up offering her body to a miscellany of sad losers via online ads, one of which hilariously only orgasms on hiking trips where he jacks off from mountaintops! It’s certainly an unusual show and I wouldn’t describe it as top-drawer stuff, but the combination of bizarre storyline and the show’s depiction of mostly village life in Japan make it worth a look-see. Ultimately, My Husband Won’t Fit is a rumination on romantic love and whether sex is a prerequisite to keeping it alive, and that’s something worth pondering.

Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets Live At The Roundhouse (Prime Video) 8/10

Watching a bunch of old buggers reliving past glories isn’t my idea of a good time. So, why watch Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason leading a bunch of nobodies through the repertoire of the group’s first few years, then? I’m so glad I gave it the benefit of doubt. Although it stretches attention spans at nearly two hours’ running time, Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets (2020) turns out to be a wonderful performance of songs that never did quite get the chance to shine quite as vividly at this sonically, and which few saw performed live. Improbably, Mason’s band includes former Spandau Ballet singer/guitarist Gary Kemp, along with bassist Guy Pratt (an actual Pink Floyd muso in the 1980s) and a couple of others, all of them exquisite musicians and less wizened than Mason by at least a decade or two! What’s immediately apparent is that after many years away from music, Mason is revelling in the opportunity to play these trippy early songs, which at the time would have been broadcast through really shitty PA systems, and would have required everyone to be on drugs just to make the sound tolerable.

 

This time round there’s real depth and heft and spark to the sound and the Roundhouse is full of appreciative fans taking in the lightshow. We’re given a non-chronological tour through the early songs with some fabulous renditions of Syd Barrett-penned material (including the legendary ‘Vegetable Man’ and the epic ‘Interstellar Overdrive’) but also well-chosen examples of the post-Barrett, pre-Dark Side Of The Moon band, like the proto-metal ‘The Nile Song’ and the gorgeous ‘Remember A Day’ by the group’s late keyboardist Richard Wright. In other words, this is the version of “the Floyd” that, while critically acclaimed, is sadly much less well-known than their much less good later albums. Yes, there is a bit of post-Syd space rock plodding, and songs like ‘Set Your Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ haven’t worn well. But overall, it’s winner.

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (Netflix) 7/10

After the sad news that Pee-wee Herman’s creator, Paul Reubens, had died, I looked for his films on the various streaming services but could only find his latest/last feature in the role, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016). I wasn’t expecting much from this late-career comeback, and sure enough it lacks the madcap creativity of the original Pee-wee’s Playhouse TV show, but it’s still full of fun and charm and the kids and grownups in our family enjoyed it anyway. I had to laugh when the wife asked if he was an American version of Mr Bean, but actually, Paul Reubens’ character debuted more than a decade before Rowan Atkinson’s malevolent creation, Pee-wee’s man with a boy’s imagination being a much more likeable character.

 

In Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, a New York-based stranger (macho actor Joe Manganiello playing himself) comes to his tiny town and befriends him, ultimately convincing him to attend his birthday in the Big Apple in a few days’ time. As Pee-wee has never ventured from his village, the idea is frightening and – not surprisingly – his epic journey does turn into a hair-raising experience, as (amongst other things) he witnesses a bank robbery and becomes entangled with the all-female criminals. Naturally, he does eventually make it to New York where it’s further confirmed that Manganiello is some kind of unlikely spiritual doppelganger. There’s a lot of slapstick but all of it is G-rated and relatively inoffensive. The wee mites (4 and 8) are now Pee-wee fans.

Sanctuary (Netflix) 6/10

Watching fat, sweaty men slamming into each other isn’t really my idea of a good time, but Sanctuary, an eight-part series binding a story around the various matches, ceremonies and behaviours of life of a Japanese sumo wrestler, makes a fairly good fist of it. Wataru Ichinose stars as Kiyoshi, a troubled young man who joins a low-ranking sumo group but lacks discipline, motivation and a real understanding of the sport. Nevertheless, he possesses a certain spirit and charm that makes us root for him.

 

It’s a bizarre sport and so are the arcane traditions around it, which help to make it a compelling viewing experience. While it’s nowhere near up to the standard of a drama like The Makanai: Cooking For The Maiko House, it is yet another insightful look at a unique aspect of Japanese culture. I’m glad I stuck with it because Sanctuary does get progressively more involving as Kiyoshi (renamed Enno) breaks all the rules and pisses on some of the stifling traditions. Unfortunately, a few acting performances are way over the top and the level of match violence at times less than authentic. Still, for all that, there’s still a certain subtlety of tone – at least some of the time – that would elude Western dramas about sporty things.

The Day The Sun Fell (DocPlay) 6/10

At least 70,000 people died in the 1945 atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Most of us have the images of the scarred landscape and the outlines of bodies burnt into the ground seared into our mind’s eye but less is known about what happened subsequently. Swiss-Japanese director Aya Domenig set out to make this very personal documentary about her grandfather, who worked as a doctor at a Red Cross hospital in the city immediately after the war, and in his lifetime never spoke of his experiences in the aftermath of the tragedy. Domenig does meet surviving medical personnel who are willing to speak out, however, and they explain the extent of post-bomb deaths and the massive cover-up that occurred.

 

The Day The Sun Fell (2015) focuses mostly on personal remembrances and details rather than the wider picture, and is all the better for it, in the way it shows her family members and the wider community still in some way feeling its impact all these years later. One interviewee also casts light on the attitude of the average Japanese person in the World War II era, which was propagandised by the government to believe that Japan was the natural ruler of the world. Unfortunately, the film, shot shortly after the 2010 earthquake and subsequent Tsunami and Fukushima power plant explosion, gets a little bogged down in the activism that followed those events.

The Righteous Gemstones (Neon) 8/10

Who hasn’t contemplated the potential for modern, money-obsessed, super-rich televangelists to be satirised in a black farce? But then again, American televangelists and even our own Destiny Church and the Tamaki dynasty are already so much like a parody of themselves that it might seem like a pointless exercise. Well, comedian Danny McBride actually went and did it with The Righteous Gemstones, a brilliant dramedy that must have struck a chord with sceptics and disaffected former churchgoers around the world, as it’s already three seasons long with a fourth on the way. McBride stars also, as the moronic but somehow loveable Elvis Presley-like son of megachurch owner Eli Gemstone (John Goodman of Roseanne and The Big Lebowski). In fact, the show is crammed with great character actors like Edi Patterson as the psychotic daughter Judy, and Adam Devine as baby-faced son Kelvin, whose platonic relationship with damaged ex-devil worshipper Keefe (Tony Cavalero of The Dirt and School Of Rock) is bursting with sexual tension.

This isn’t a laugh-a-minute show but does feature at least a couple of utterly hilarious (and usually disgusting) scenes in each episode. Otherwise, it’s a mad caper with plenty of action and intrigue as various disaffected parties (usually disowned members of the extended family) try to unseat the dynasty’s hold with attempts at blackmail, extortion, kidnapping and TNT. The real genius of The Righteous Gemstones is the knife-edge it walks between making fun of these really rather horrible people and making you like them enough to care. A word of advice: If you watch only one episode and you’re on the fence like I was, it’s worth watching a couple more. I promise you’ll get hooked! (Oh, it’s full of bad language, very bad taste scenes – along with the most outrageous vomiting scene I’ve ever witnessed – and the occasional bit of gore. So grow some balls!

The Sinner (Netflix) 7/10

Murder mysteries aren’t exactly the flavour of the month in streaming TV-land, but The Sinner refreshes the concept while trying – and succeeding, for the most part – to stage an elaborate American take on Nordic noir police procedurals. Tormented and obsessive detective Harry Ambrose is played with aplomb by Bill Pullman (Lost Highway) in all four series of this intense, very dark and sometimes gruesome drama. Each series is pretty much self-contained as Harry moves on to a new town or a completely new scenario, and inevitably finds that he can’t stop himself from digging down into cases that the police force either can’t or won’t investigate fully. At times, it’s excruciating to watch Harry place himself in situations with clear and present danger, but that’s all part of the sometimes nail-biting experience.

Not a load of laughs, Series 4 finds our hero retired after the horrors of the previous season and heading for a remote fishing island with his new partner to recover. Instead, he meets a mysterious young woman, watches as she jumps off a cliff, and spends the eight episodes digging the dirt. It’s a slow reveal during which he gets on everyone’s tits, but the gratifying thing about shows like The Sinner is the surprise factor as more tricky facts come to light. Frances Fisher (Unforgiven, Watchmen) is especially impressive as the elderly matriarch of the fishing village, as is Alice Kremelberg (Fringe, Iris) as the tragic cliff-jumper.

Small Small Thing (Prime Video) 8/10

I’m really torn about whether to recommend this harrowing, yet extraordinary, documentary. Personally, it brought me down for days, and it somewhat confirmed my misanthropic view of humanity. Small Small Thing is an incredible fly-on-the-wall documentary by Jessica Vale, who travels to Liberia to follow the story of a 9-year-old victim of gang rape, who has been left (stop reading now if you haven’t got a strong stomach) so damaged by the men of her village that she needs a colostomy bag. Alarmingly, she’s still not safe, and the girl, Olivia, has been rejected by her family for “telling lies”.

 

Vale must be a gutsy person to have followed through on this story, which involves traveling into the jungle with the girl’s mother to face her family, who are in denial. The documentary outlines the tragic history of Liberia, which began with slaves and then revolution and many years of despotic leaders and social chaos. In this 2013 film, it’s projected as a dangerous place for women, where men think nothing of raping females of any age, and where many still believe in hexes and witchdoctors. Olivia is a bright and lovely girl who faces up to her uncertain future with optimism, which makes the awful outcome even more unbearable.

Suspiria (Prime Video) 5/10

I love Dario Argento films, and the original Suspiria is one of his more memorable outings. So, why do a remake? I had to check it out. I wish I hadn’t. It’s not that this new version slavishly copies the original and therefore is instantly irrelevant. The problem is that its director Luca Guadagnino has used the original film as only a basis, and then added a whole heap of extraneous bollocks that simply dilutes the plot. Like the first version, this Suspiria is set in a dance academy but instead of focusing on a new recruit’s descent into what could be madness or could really be the workings of a witches’ coven, this 2018 version seems to think it necessary to keep on diverting the storyline by focusing on political events of the time. It’s also desperately slow-moving and ultimately boring, despite some florid dancing scenes and very sporadic gore.

Starring Tilda Swinton in no less than three roles, but mostly as Madame Blanc the dance teacher, hers is the only notable performance. Radiohead fans might want to see it to catch Thom Yorke’s soundtrack, but personally, I found its nearly three-hour run-time vastly excessive. There’s some rather interesting cinematography and the colour palette is novel – very bleached-out in contrast to the lurid colours of the original – but the whole thing comes across as needlessly arty and unbearably pretentious. Oh, and because it flips between English and German, the audio/subtitling isn’t up to scratch. Yet another reason to either give this a miss, or if you’re a dance fan, flip to the bits you’re interested in.

Sweet Micky For President (DocPlay) 8/10

This eye-opening 2015 documentary is so bizarre that it’s tempting to think that it’s all made up, a bullshit musical/political fantasy. Except that it’s all real. Sweet Micky (aka Michel Martely) is a musical superstar in Haiti who, in 2011, with the help of former Fugees Pras Michel and Jean Wyclif, was elected president of the troubled nation. The film begins in 2010 with Michel encouraging Martely to launch a campaign, a strategy that works. The visually and aurally dynamic film gives us a potted history of Haiti; its escape from slavery, decades of brutal military and political chaos. With a pressing need to escape the stranglehold of political oppression and corruption, Michel, for a reason that’s never clearly explained, feels that Martely is the man to sort out Haiti’s woes once and for all.

 

But just as he’s building up support, Michel’s former sparring partner in The Fugees, Jean Wyclif, announces his bid for the presidency! What follows is so unreal that you couldn’t make it up if you tried. Suffice to say that the film is full of surprises and amazingly, Martely is finally elected in a second election after the first is declared to have been botched. Viewing the film from this distance it’s a salutary lesson in politics. Martely was eventually kicked out with all kinds of allegations kicking at his credibility, including corruption and encouraging the re-creation of a violent military. Watching him in this film, who would have thought?

The Amazing Maurice  (Neon) 5/10

This 2022, UK-originated animated feature joins a long list of “just okay” entertainment for kids, and despite a surprising cast of voice talent (including Hugh Laurie as Maurice, Emilia Clarke as Malicia and Hugh Bonneville as the mayor) it fails to pull the proverbial rabbit from a hat. One of the core problems is that the lead character, a ginger fat cat named (you guessed it) Maurice, is just not very likeable. And the mischief of rats that follow him around and with whom he has a business arrangement are similarly too stereotypical, reminding the viewer of many other similar cartoon rodents.

 

Yes, it makes for passable entertainment: the story is passable, the animation is passable, and the two wee monsters in my house seemed to enjoy it okay, but never mentioned it again afterwards. And that’s the rub: the best films stay with you, create a fanbase, the kids want more. Not so with The Amazing Maurice, a perfectly competent film made largely during the pandemic that just doesn’t have the X-factor. Of course, there is a moral to the story. Maurice is egging the rats on with the belief that he’s (eventually) taking them to a fantastic new town where they can live happily side by side with humans, but of course, it’s a lie. Eventually, he sees the error of his ways, of course. Just don’t tell fibs and exploit others, kiddies, even if they are nasty rats!

The Little Mermaid (Disney+) 1/10

My goodness, could they have fucked this up any worse if they tried? Just about everything is wrong with this 2023 live-action turkey. It’s easy to understand why an update of the archaic 1989 cartoon was required, but instead of simply using really great computer animation they’ve made a film featuring actual actors that’s so computer-processed and obviously fake that they might as well have taken the easier route and not had actor’s salaries to pay. There’s so much wrong with this new version that I really don’t know where to start. Even the kids hated it. The pacing’s off, the actors look all adrift (especially Javier Bardem as King Triton) and Halle Bailey as Ariel is just wrong.

Accuse me of racism if you will, but this film marks a triumph for pretend-a-Woke, where each of Triton’s daughters has to represent a different racial profile and Ariel herself is African-American. I get that folklore morphs over time but writer Hans Christian Anderson (who was Danish) would be turning in his grave at the pointless tokenism of this version and how it just feels wrong plastering it over with a Caribbean vibe and a mixed-race cast. But that’s just one jarring aspect of this misjudged abortion of a movie. Another is the way Sebastian the crab and Flounder have been rendered with such tiny mouths you just know they wouldn’t be capable of talking let alone throwing their voices enough for a human to hear them. It’s a lot of seemingly little things like that which mount up to make The Little Mermaid 2023 a stunning example of Disney’s lack of imagination. Maybe rather than telling the story in such a boringly straightforward way (complete with songs from the original movie) they could have written a mermaid update that got with the programme and had Ariel getting it on with a peasant rather than a prince and did away with all the other colonial stereotypes.

The Monkey King (Netflix) 2/10

There are the typical pitfalls of kid-oriented animated movies, and then the incomprehensible pitfalls that really make you wonder. The Monkey King fails on both counts. This dizzyingly frenetic retelling of the 16th-century Chinese classic about a monk on his search for enlightenment has been gutted of anything remotely meaningful in its latest iteration. The 2023 version finds a monkey who is spoiling for a fight with the gods and – with a little help from a human girl – achieves immortality. But at what cost? We never really find out.

Deeply unlikeable, completely lacking in soul or even a sliver of philosophy, The Monkey King is an empty shell of a movie with a fair amount of visual empty pyrotechnics. The little girl could easily be transposed with any other animated child, so lacking is she in quirk or individuality, and while the animation itself is serviceable, the whole enterprise is full of empty bluster to cover up the fact that the story has been eviscerated of anything meaningful, leaving the enterprise flailing in a narrative sense. When the giant Buddha appeared at the end I could almost literally see a giant “WTF?!” in my kids’ eyes. My advice? Avoid this product of modern-day China.

Trances (YouTube) 10/10

It took me so long to get around to watching Trances that it was in its last week on art-movie streaming platform Mubi when I finally sat down and submitted to its charms. I had no idea how incredible this 1981 documentary about the Moroccan band Nass el Ghiwane was, or how extraordinary the group. Ahmed El Maanouni’s film captures the incredible vitality of the group in performance along with the volcanic reception the group received. There’s a grittiness and sheer aliveness about their presentation that feels a world away from the packaged slickness of Western popular music. Apparently, Nass el Ghiwane (essentially an acoustic ensemble) have been likened to a Moroccan Rolling Stones, and I can understand the comparison, no matter how ultimately nefarious it is.

The truth is that the group know how to hit on a riff and beat it into submission to the point that the audience is literally in a collective trance, but their poetry and philosophy and activism go much deeper and is much more authentic, than their supposed Western counterparts. The film itself is edited as if in a kind of trance: there’s a sense of movement and unease as it cuts from concert footage to interviews with the band to disturbing footage of colonial-era Morocco. Restored in 2007, Trances looks great, the music is incredible and the film is a great exposition of a band at a brief moment in time. It has now left Mubi but the full movie is available on YouTube.

Who Is Erin Carter? (Netflix) 7/10

This 7-part mini-series is a frequently nail-biting thriller about a British school teacher in Spain who has seemingly successfully hidden her previous life and identity. Kurdish-Swedish actor Evin Ahmad (The Rain) is astonishingly great in the lead role, even more so given the fact that it’s her first English-speaking role. It takes a few episodes for the big reveal about her past as a kind of secret agent with a predilection towards violence, and the reason she’s on the run and assuming a new identity in a foreign country. Unfortunately for her, she gets caught up in action against a local crime syndicate and her life in Spain with her new husband and young daughter starts to unravel.

Who Is Erin Carter? is such a quality production that I expected it to be mostly drama with a bit of action, but it’s actually closer to a Bond-type experience with one crazy action/fighting scene quickly following another, plenty of thrilling (if unlikely) sequences and an air of constant danger that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat for the duration. Denise Gough is also excellent as the imprisoned mother of Erin’s so-called daughter, as is Douglas Henshall as the exceedingly nasty crime boss. If there’s a weakness it’s a slight feeling of credulity about the likelihood of her survival through the whole series, but you just have to suspend your disbelief and give it up for a wild ride.

Woody Woodpecker (Netflix) 5/10

I made the mistake of teaching my kids the famous Woody Woodpecker signature tune, remembered from a boyhood watching the original shows on TV. The next thing I knew, they wanted to see this 2017 filmic reinvention of the character. Hmm. It wasn’t well-liked or particularly popular on its release and five years hasn’t improved it, but the wee monsters gave it a thumbs up, so who am I to judge? The big problem for me was the decision to make this a live-action film over which to superimpose the cartoon Woody and his various antics. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? invented this technique in the ‘80s and while that movie has its fans, on Woody Woodpecker it never quite works, especially on the small screen where its origins as a 3D movie are obvious.

The film does have something of a moral message to tell, which I guess is good. Timothy Omundson (Xena: Warrior Princess) plays a really stupid, money-obsessed lawyer who gets fired and comes up with a scheme to raze some virgin forest to build a fancy mansion and quickly flick it off at a huge profit. His adolescent son Tommy (Graham Verchere of Fargo) is the sympathetic character and inevitably, he ends up good friends with Woody. Much of the film is a running battle between the clever woodpecker and his adversaries at the building site, and the whole thing is just so obvious and silly that there’s very little entertainment value for grownups.

The Best & Worst Streaming TV 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.

 

 

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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