Monday 21 August 2017

New on Netflix: Streaming the most staggering woman in rock

Janis: Little Girl Blue - Available now

Janis Joplin in Janis: Little Girl Blue
Janis Joplin in Janis: Little Girl Blue
Glenn Close stars in Damages
One of the characters from Pan's Labyrinth
A scene from the Stephen Fry directed Bright Young Things

Donal Lynch

I can't imagine anyone beginning to watch Amy Berg's Janis: Little Girl Blue and not being instantly moved by the first pictures of Janis Joplin's face and the first tremulous notes of her voice. Immediately you appreciate the affection the director - Amy Berg - holds for her subject.

The film is not really a post mortem, as might have been said of the Amy Winehouse documentary. Death might have burnished Joplin's legend but one of the great things about this film is that nothing seems inevitable about Joplin's demise, and nothing undermines, even for a second, her joyfully transcendent singing. Berg aims to tell the most personal story she can by giving the narrative of Joplin's life over to the family, friends, and bandmates who knew her best. (There is an incredible pile of letters, voiced here by singer and kindred spirit Chan Marshall, a.k.a. Cat Power.) The portrait that emerges is one of a loud, talented girl who grew up an outcast in her small Texas town - local college boys cruelly dubbed her Ugliest Man in an annual poll - but five years later Rolling Stone was calling her "the most staggering leading woman in rock." She developed her pirate queen image as "armour" against a world that would have dismissed her otherwise. It's already been a good year for 'rockumentaries' - also see the brilliant What Happened Miss Simone? - and Janis would have been 73 this year. Time to listen to her again.


5 seasons, available now

Damages Glenn Close.jpg
Glenn Close stars in Damages

Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of Fatal Attraction, a film which despite her wonderful filmography, still features Glenn Close's key work: she won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of an unhinged ex-girlfriend. Her involvement in this series, then, tells you that it is no run-of-the-mill series. In Patty Hewes, a lawyer whose presence could firm up the polar ice cap, Close has made one of the finest television roles of recent times her own. Nobody else could take command of the screen with such quiet intensity; no one else can do scheming and predatory half as well. Damages is part legal drama, part cop procedural and thriller, with a head scratching murder mystery thrown in. It portrays its female characters as corporate sharks, something that has mostly only been the case for male characters in much of television history. This was one of the better reviewed shows of the last few years when it ran on US cable network FX.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Available now

One of the characters from Pan's Labyrinth

In 2006 nobody really saw this piece of genius coming. Guillermo del Toro's earlier films - vampire films and some science fiction - had shown flashes of brilliance and wit but critics' jaws dropped at this one. Pan's Labyrinth is quite simply a transcendent work of art. Del Toro's surreal and fantastical instincts now have an unblinking moral eye on the world. The story takes place in Spain in 1944, five years after the Spanish Civil War, during the early Francoist period. The narrative of the film intertwines this real world with a mythical world centred on an overgrown abandoned labyrinth and a mysterious faun creature, with whom the main character, Ofelia, interacts. Her stepfather, the Falangist Captain Vidal, hunts the Spanish Maquis who fight against the regime in the region, while Ofelia's pregnant mother grows increasingly ill. It's been described as a beautiful film about ugliness, and the director summons his fantastical vision with a grim realism.

Bright Young Things (2003)

Available now

Bright Young Things.jpg
A scene from the Stephen Fry directed Bright Young Things

Before he was just a full-time national treasure and documentarian Stephen Fry tried on many identities: novelist, actor and filmmaker. This screenplay, based on the 1930 novel Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, marked his debut as director. It satirises the London aristocrats and bohemians in the late 1920s to the early 1940s and though it is fairly brutal about journalism, it's also very entertaining. There's probably a reason Fry didn't direct much, but this isn't it.

Catch up now

Emily Hourican


UTV Player, until September 27, episode 1

So many period dramas end up all costume and no content; too much spirited bonnet-tossing and "fiddle-di-di Sir!" This eight-part series manages to stay very much on the right side of the plot-props divide, moving at a smart enough pace to keep attention focussed, without swallowing up whole slices of history in an instant. Beginning with the young Victoria - Alexandrina as she was then - on the day of the old king's death, this follows her attempts to assume the Crown, manage Palace life, escape from the clutches of her mother and Sir John Conroy and the machinations of her uncle, all the while batting off the general determination to see her married. Jenna Coleman is a very good Victoria, the right mix of imperiousness and childishness, and Rufus Sewell is excellent as Lord Melbourne, her first prime minister and closest advisor. Of course some historical accuracy has been sacrificed for a gripping story, but all in all, this is a very good portrait.

Luke Kelly: Prince Of The City

RTE Player, until October 2

Luke Kelly was just 44 when he died of a brain tumour, 32 years ago. There has never been an Irish singer like him, and the recollections of his personality and legacy offered here by Phil Coulter, Imelda May, Glen Hansard and many more, give a clear picture of the remarkable impact he had on Irish music and life. Born in Sheriff Street, Kelly moved to England while still a teenager and started working on building sites, but was fired for asking for higher pay. His musical career began in Leeds, where he started playing the banjo and singing, and he later moved back to Dublin where he was a founding member of The Dubliners, who, at the time, were part of a revival of Irish folk music that mixed with a more general folk revival in England and America. The stories of Kelly's drinking and carousing - many contained here - may be legendary, but are nonetheless eclipsed by his musical legacy. His interpretation of Kavanagh's Raglan Road is still the gold standard.


Emily Hourican

Radio Drama Revival


ONE of the best things about the explosion in podcasting is the return to form of audio drama, an art form that was put on the endangered list 15 years ago, and is now in full revival mode. The creators of this bi-weekly show - begun by Fred Greenhalgh and continued by David Rheinstrom - hunt down the best of contemporary audio drama, with the odd foray into much earlier audio works. This means well over 450 hours of original fiction to listen to, divided by genre, including horror, comedy, mystery, fantasy, holiday, romance, sci-fi and far more. Some are new takes on classics - Shakespeare, or Edgar Allen Poe - but most is fresh-minted, and quality-controlled. Many of the names are well-known within contemporary fiction, here doing what they do best, or experimenting with new forms.

Listen, Money Matters


THE brainchild of Andrew Fiebert, who used to work at an investment bank and began podcasting after he realised that, actually, banks are not the best place for people to learn about personal finance, this calls itself an "uncensored personal finance podcast," and is perfect for anyone planning on taking a bigger, better interest in their money. The show focuses on the main matters of personal finance - budgeting, investing, paying off debt, and income-growth. Hosted by Fiebert and Thomas Frank, with a host of drop-in experts, this manages to work for both the clueless and clued-in alike, and is full of straight-talking, sensible advice. Examples of recent shows include Do I Need Life Insurance? and The Average Investors Commandments.

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