By Anne Brodie Benedict Cumberbatch stars in The Courier, a fact-based Cold War story bringing together in dramatic fashion/spy the US, UK and the Soviet Union. London-based family man-and spy – Greville Wynne has the weight of the free world on his shoulders but he doesn’t know it yet. It’s August 1960 and Nikita Khrushchev runs the USSR; he’s keen to launch a nuclear strike against the UK and possibly America from the Communist island of Cuba. Wynn is recruited against his will by the CIA agent Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) and MI6’s Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) assure him it will be safe. He’s taught “tradecraft”, to assume everyone is KGB, and that he will be bugged, and to lipread and he asks that his family be provided for if anything happens to him. Wynne’s lack of knowledge of espionage and politics, and his real business affairs provide some protection for him and he manages to provide a steady stream of intel, 5000 pieces in all. He’s captured, imprisoned in Russia and tortured. His sacrifice for the good of his country robs him of everything when his recruiters are arrested. It’s a high-stakes game that would not have succeeded without Cumberbatch’ convincing innocence and fear and diminishment as someone who meant well but was fell into a political war. Amazon and Hulu
Let’s go further back to the summer of 1939 to Augusta – Victoria College in Bexhill-on-Sea, in southwest England, for another fact-based war thriller. An elite finishing school where high-ranking Nazis sent their daughters had a strange badge featuring a swastika and a Union Jack. Nazi Germany sought to infiltrate English society and stave off war through the girls. Six Minutes to Midnight lifts the lid off this little-known reality, thanks to Eddie Izzard who co-wrote, stars and executive produces. He grew up in the coastal town and heard stories about the school and what he learned is shocking. Judi Dench is headmistress Rocholl, and Izzard is the newly hired teacher Thomas Miller, replacing a teacher who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Hitler’s storming Eastern Europe as England and the world look on in horror. The headmistress’ assistant and avid Nazi Ilsa (Carla Juri) keeps an eye on Miller while leading the Nazi salutes and propaganda. The missing teacher’s body washes up on shore; he was murdered because he was discovered to be surreptitiously filming events at the school for British intelligence. The girls never go beyond school property due to anti-German bias, and instead listen to Hitler’s radio speeches, beatific Aryan acolytes; they seem mesmerized by the Führer. Miller overhears a conversation that the girls are to be taken away by plane to avoid capture by the British and time is of the essence. He’s arrested by Nazi sympathiser and plant Cpt. Drey (James D-Arcy) but makes a daring escape with the help of a local bus driver (James Broadbent) who cottons on to what’s happening. It’s a thriller, so no spoilers. Izzard’s passion is admirable and the story he brings to light, rather mindbending. TVOD.
Amazon‘s unveiled Invincible a snazzy new animated series, an eight-part origins story of a teenager Mark Grayson’s (Oscar nominee Steven Yeun) journey into transformation. His dad Nolan (J.K. Simmons) is a superhero, so Mark’s grown up with all that entails in a parent and warrior. His mother Debbie (Sandra Oh) keeps a tight hold on the family, knowing its significance in the world order. It’s absolutely jammed with well-known faces that of course, we don’t see! Jon Hamm, Mark Hamill, Seth Rogen, Zazie Beets, even Oscar winner Mahershala Ali creating memorable characters. Weig – you’ll spend a good deal of time looking up characters to find the actor, which kind of adds to the fun. it opens with an attack on the White House, and escalates neatly; it’s well written and the animation style is retro-cool. Invincible is definitely an adult offering, in themes, visuals and content, directed by Jeff Allen. Amazon has asked that we don’t reveal plot details, so take it from me and dive in.
William Shatner as you’ve never seen him! He’s a retired NASA test pilot and comic stooge with feelings! He and Jean Smart ponder love in Giorgio Serafini’s Senior Moment with its misunderstandings, a court date and other hurdles to clear. Bakery owner Caroline appears to be in a relationship with a young fella, a feminist artist (Esai Morales) and Shatner’s main squeeze is his vintage Porsche convertible which he shows off whipping through the streets of Palm Springs. One fateful day, he goes too far drag racing his sworn street racing enemy: his license is revoked and his beloved impounded. Barfly buddies keep him going as they ogle the waitresses (!) but he meets Caroline and drops the macho façade; we see his warm and fuzzy side. This isn’t Shakespeare or S.J. Perelman but it’s an OK time-waster with likeable characters, the beauty of Palm Springs and the easy-going story of elder love and baked goods. I like seeing Shatner, the thunderous Shakespearean actor and boss of Star Trek Enterprise relaxing, enjoying himself and putting in some endearing comic moments. In Select Theaters & TVOD.
Emilio Esteves is back with The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers on Disney+, but he’s a little worse for wear. Years after Gordon Bombay’s triumphs with the team he formed, he’s tired and bored. He owns the Ice Palace, a dump that an enterprising mother (Lauren Graham) rents for a team she’s just formed called the Do Nothings. Her son and his buddies were embarrassingly rejected by the Mighty Ducks, so they formed a kind of loser’s club. Some of the kids haven’t skated before, but the will is there and they work at it. Estevez really doesn’t care – he hates hockey, he hates kids, but the money’s ok, so… Graham’s over her head as coach but no one else will take the job. It would be a comedy of errors if it weren’t for the boy’s tremendous enthusiasm and grasp of reality. They know they’re not good but they’re taking a stand against the win-at-all-costs mentality of youth sports. They believe kids should have fun in sports. Totally heartwarming, non-sugary and entertaining, shot in Vancouver and starring Canadian Kiefer O’Reilly and one of the funniest kids in the biz, Maxwell Simkins, Estevez’ old magic returns and it’s just a warm hug.
Arnold Schwarzenegger executive produces and stars in Iron Mask, a China- Russia co-pro that will appeal to kids with its mythical and fantasy elements. Jason Flemyng is Jonathan Green, an English cartographer, currently sharing a prison cell in Tower Grey Prison (Tower of London to you) with Jackie Chan the Master, of the long white hair and wisdom, and Russia’s Peter the Great (Yuri Kolokolnikov) who may have lost his mind. Schwarzenegger is James Hook, a giant of a uniformed Prison Boss with alpha fighting skills; he collects military artifacts, King Arthur’s sword, Charlemagne’s mask, etc. and has a great sense of humour. In fact, the opening chapters are pretty funny, with these masters of action battling it out in the Tower and dropping bon mots. But TBH I’m lost for the late chapters. Plot themes include the protection of the international tea trade (in the early 1700s) and the Great Dragon whose eyelashes provide the world with tea and the prisoners’ fate. TVOD.
Eric Andre, Lil Rel Howery, Michaela Conlin and Tiffany Haddish take us on a Bad Trip on Netflix. Partly scripted and part hidden camera real-time punking, it’s extremely uncomfortable and painfully hilarious. An LA car mechanic/smoothie jerk (Andre) is stunned to see his high school crush Maria (Conlin) in his juice bar. She’s on her way to the airport for an art show in New York Friday and invites him to drop by if he’s ever in the city. He decides to go immediately and marry her. He and his long-suffering buddy (Howery) “borrow” his sister (Haddish) Bad Bitch’s car; little do they know she escaped prison, she’s mad and on their tail. Bad Trip wins the most jolts-per-second per film in living memory, a dense catalogue of unfortunate occurrences that take place in front of horrified onlookers who don’t know it’s a setup. Taking over a deep south cowboy bar, mock rape at the hands of a zoo ape, running through people’s houses via glass doors, and beating a blind man. It’s intense, shocking, and exhausting, and only works because of Andre’s engaging personality. Directed by Kitao Sakurai. Leave a note below to let me know how far you get.
CBC Gem‘s documentary Big News looks at the causes and lasting legacy of the news business in terms of the polarisation of the American landscape and finds its roots go a long way back. Canadian journalists Daniel Dale and Ali Velshi, and industry veterans Matt Taibbi, Gretchen Carlson and Andrew Sullivan plus archival footage of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Donald Trump break down the mess that the US is in now. As Velshi states “people will polarise about absolutely anything”. And one result was the January 6th MAGA siege on the Capitol building. We learn that mass media is in the tank for reasons including its “elitism” and agendas. Learn why right ring conservatives came out of the shadows when the Fairness Doctrine sought to level the playing field. Examples of news language at Fox decades back still rings forth from Trump’s mouth today, the underrepresented conservative MidWest, the advantaged left and right coasts, and more. So Trump steamrolled his “win” through inflammatory actions and words and alliance with the “people”. Ariana Pekart, a senior news producer at MSNBC quit and released a withering statement that news is routinely manipulated its news coverage for ratings and profit. Dale, who covered Rob Ford and calls himself a “fact-checker” relates his experiences in Canadian and American news that will curl your hair. And of course, the polarisation of the pandemic and, well, face masks.