CHARACTER STUDIES WORTH NOTING, MUSICAL BLACKMAIL, COLD WAR, TECH BILLIONAIRES AND THE UNCIVIL ZEITGEIST RIGHT HERE.
By Anne Brodie
Kyra Sedgwick directs her husband Kevin Bacon and an engaging cast of young actors in the unique romance Space Oddity; it’s a bold twist on the standard romance, with some comedic, heartwarming elements, set against a major life-changing conundrum. Kyle Allen’s Alex is dominated by dreams of living on Mars; instead, he lives in rural Massachusetts on his parents’ (Bacon and Carrie Preston) flower farm. The family’s mourning the death of his elder brother in a car crash – he’s made contact with a company that will take settlers to Mars before the big tech guys get there. He’s thrilled to have passed into the programme’s second phase even as his family is shocked and dismayed. It’s a one-way trip, they will never see or communicate with him again. Father’s plans are dashed to hand the flower farm to Alex to prevent the land from being paved over. But Alex sees climate change, nations fleeing devastation and the diminishing viability of Earth. He’s serious and looks into a life insurance policy, and meets Daisy (Alexandra Shipp); they’re attracted but unwilling to do anything about it because he is leaving. Sounds nutty but the emotional weight of Alex’s decision and the bearing it has on his family is heavy; their elder son has just died. They just suffered the death of his elder brother which may have influenced him. There is a lot riding on the next step. Sedgwick’s direction is supple and authentic, the film could easily be too sweet or unbelievable but it’s not. She effortlessly focuses on the story’s profundity and conversely, has a light touch. Kudos to Bacon’s brother Travis and Scott Hedrick for a suitably beautiful, otherworldly score. TVOD/Digital
Rob Lowe has varied his career in recent years. Usually delegated to the rom-com leading man box, he starred in an enjoyable, moody noirish British police procedural called Wild Bill and jumped to tepid American mainstream action series. Now he’s an amiable man-boy billionaire tech entrepreneur, I would guess, not based on Elon Musk because he has charm and feelings. Netflix series Unstable finds Ellis Dragon (quite the handle) in a difficult place, a few months after the death of his beloved wife. He’s acting out in odd ways, working naked in the office, making friends with the therapist he’s locked in his basement, and dreaming -and acting out – wild dreams. Eccentric? Yes. Brilliant? Yes, his teams invented biomass, a big chunk of green stuff that can absorb endless amounts of carbon, thereby saving the planet. Megalomaniac? Yup. Dragon’s ever-stressed assistant Anna (Shian Clifford) realises his unexpressed grief hurts and calls on his son Jackson (Lowe’s real-life son and series co-creator/writer John Owen Lowe) to fly to LA from NY to be there for him. Jackson doesn’t much respect him but reluctantly goes for 24 hours. and it all starts. Witty, warm, fun, and fascinating to watch Lowe go batsh*t cray cray, never hurt a soul, and live his best, confused life until he can express his grief. Lifted by lots of love – highly recommended. Eight, half-hour-ish episodes.
What The Hell Happened To Blood, Sweat & Tears? Catchy name for a doc, a political thriller like none other. The American band, fronted by Toronto’s David Clayton-Thomas beat Abbey Road as the top album at the 1970 Grammy Awards and the cash register. Their jazz, brass, and rock sound was unlike anything else, and Clayton-Thomas’ energy and charisma went a long way to cement their worldwide reputation. They were sitting in the catbird seat anticipating an equally fruitful career, but then they were advised to participate in a tour sponsored by the US State Department. They were asked, and say in this gripping film they had no choice if they wanted Clayton-Thomas to stay in the band and evade deportation to Canada. They were to go behind the Iron Curtain to Communist Romania, Yugoslavia, and Poland. This hands-across-the-water scheme was to be documented for a movie. 57 people including State Department officials accompanied them with ultra-strict instructions to follow while in the repressive host countries. Armed police with dogs were ever present and in Romania when the young crowd went wild for the music, those dogs were unleashed to disperse them. It was worse in Zagreb in Yugoslavia (now Croatia) when audience members were beaten. The final leg in Warsaw Poland was easy, peaceful, and joyous. Meanwhile, back in the US, leftist protesters spearheaded by the Yippies and Abby Hoffman were making mincemeat of the band for going along with the State Department while the US remained at war in Vietnam. This is one hell of a tale for which there has not been much told. The documentary footage had to be smuggled out to avoid seizure but was never made. This doc’s makers found footage and went down the rabbit hole for this astonishing tale. Select theatres, then on TVOD.
Tetris. Who would have imagined that the story of the launch of a video game and hand-held device would involve international cloak and dagger, murder, billionaires, espionage, nerve-shredding chases, escapes, hits and threats, and the inhumane policies of the Cold War era Soviet Union? Not me. Director Jon S. Baird has created a dynamic version of this incredible true story with the lightning pace and feel of Tetris itself. It’s the mid-1980s, the tech boom is on, and Asia’s miles ahead of everyone else. Taron Egerton plays Dutch tech programmer/ entrepreneur Henk Rogers; he’s a game creator and entrepreneur who lives in Tokyo with his wife and daughter, who happens to catch newcomer “tetrominoes” game Tetris at a conference and determines to grab worldwide rights. It was love at first sight. Soviet software engineer Alexey Pajitnov invented the game in 1984 but under Communism wasn’t allowed to profit from it. Powerful global forces vied for rights and which was problematic as foreigners were not welcome in the USSR and an international war erupted over licensing rights. Now disgraced media billionaire Robert Maxwell (father of Ghislaine) and his son Kevin, insufferable snobs and vicious business operators hired Robert Stein (Toby Jones) to take the risks. Rogers, Stein, Nintendo, Atari, and others went into battle. Rogers had no money, the others, endless amounts, but he had charm and easy warmth and became friends with Pajitnov. Spy versus spy antics, political intrigues, and bad deeds as the Communist era collapses, are illuminating. This is strong stuff. Don’t miss it. Apple TV+.
Talk about capturing the uncivil zeitgeist! Beef on Netflix on April 6 asks what’s wrong with us? Are we blaming lockdown or Trump for this worrying era in a society wherein people feel free, nay entitled, to express their inner demons out loud and in public? Danny (Steven Yeun) and Amy (Ali Wong) join the depraved when a simple vehicle near-miss sends them spiralling in this intense ten-episode anthology of devolution. He’s a single contractor who can’t catch a break and she’s a successful gallery owner, wife, and mother. He nearly backs into her van and she overreacts, honking endlessly and flipping the bird. His frustrations leap out in full fury, he chases her across town launching his revenge intimidation campaign – she’s just as bad.