Monday 18 December 2017

New on Netflix: Bolly, sweetie, and Bowie in brilliant free flow

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender (centre) and Domhnall Gleeson on the set of 'Frank'.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender (centre) and Domhnall Gleeson on the set of 'Frank'.
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

What to watch on Netflix and what podcasts catch up now.

Frank (2014)

Available now

In a fairly scant week for new Netflix releases, it's worth having a look at this quirky tale about the power of artistic expression. It stars Michael Fassbender who wears a large papier mache head to play the title character, who's based on the now-deceased, real-life cult entertainer Frank Sidebottom, the comic persona of musician and comic Chris Sievey. Writer Jon Ronson tapped into his own experiences as a member of Sievey's band to tell the fictional story of a young keyboardist (Domhnall Gleeson, in an excellent performance) who falls in with a group of offbeat alt-rockers led by the artistic genius who refuses to show his face. Gleeson's character builds a strong following for the band on social media, despite the misanthropic streak of one member, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Director Lenny Abrahamson generates plenty of laughs from the set-up, but wisely keeps the comedy muted.

Absolutely Fabulous

6 seasons, available now

The movie is coming later this year, so now is a good time to look back on a show that has endured through the 20 years - bet you feel old - since it first ran. Some aspects of it look incredibly hokey now - the laugh track seems badly outdated and often incongruously frequent, given the rather thin jokes. But there are some incredible scenes - Patsy waking up (in a dumpster, in a smoking kitchen which she burned down with her cigarette) is always good. It has some terrific one-liners (Eddie: "I don't want more choice, I just want nicer things") and incredible performances from Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders. It was also the first English show to harness the power of the big name guest star: Minnie Driver, Lulu and Germaine Greer all appear.

David Bowie: Five Years

Available now

This has been described as "more celebration than investigation", but maybe, such a short period after the great man's death, that might be a good thing. The documentary, which first aired on the BBC last year, focuses on five key years for Bowie - 1971, 1975, 1977, 1980 and 1983 - as well as his comeback efforts for his forthcoming album The Next Day. It features archival footage and interviews with collaborators and fellow musicians. The structure of Five Years makes it a lot more interesting than your usual pop-related documentary. Rather than try to deal with about 50 years of superstardom in two hours, the film gives us five year-long snapshots. Year One: 1971-1972 (Hunky Dory to Ziggy Stardust), Year Two: 1974-1975 (Young Americans to Station to Station), Year Three: 1976-1977 (Low to Heroes), Year Four: 1979-1980 (Scary Monsters) and Year Five: 1982-1983 (Let's Dance). The only thing that could make it more perfect would be a chapter on Labyrinth, but tights and goblins were still a couple of the years in the future.

My Beautiful Broken Brain

Available now

This is one of those indie jewels that Netflix has promised us they'll have more of. It's the story of stroke patient Lotje Sodderland. The then 34-year-old suffered a devastating brain haemorrhage in 2011; an incredible eight days later she contacted filmmaker Sophie Robinson to ask her to help document the aftermath. The pair initially filmed 150 hours of footage, which was edited to create this documentary piecing together Sodderland's recovery. Through a brilliantly edited combination of iPhone selfie video footage and deeply personal documentary film-making, we see Sodderland discover an entirely new perspective as she learns to appreciate the nuances of an intricately changed brain. Aphasia is the problematic focal point: a book lover, she cannot read; a writer, she cannot write; an artist, her thoughts melt like Dali's clocks. This documentary, which was produced by the incomparable David Lynch, is a moving and artful study of how close we all are to losing our own essential selves and shows how little understanding there is of the workings of the human mind. It is definitely one of the better offerings on Netflix at the moment.

Catch up now

Emily Hourican

Arne Dahl

TG4 Player, until April 20

The second series of the cult Scandi-noir drama is well under way on TG4, so if you haven't succumbed yet, this is the last chance to watch from the start.

Based on the crime novels of Jan Arnald, otherwise known as Arne Dahl, the first series aired in Sweden in 2011, and was then snapped up by much of the rest of the world, thanks to the winning combination of hardboiled detectives, sex and violence - all with the requisite bleached-out Scandi colours. The action picks up two years after the end of the first series, and a fresh spate of murders.

Prison in Peru: Michaella's First Interview

RTE Player, April 25

This, Michaella McCollum's first post-prison interview, was controversial for various reasons - had money exchanged hands? Was Michaella sufficiently repentant and aware of the implications of her crime?

Did RTE ask enough of the hard questions or was this just too soft a soap? Was Michaella simply too blonde and soignee for someone who has spent the last years in a Peruvian prison for drug smuggling?

If you missed it first time round, here's a chance to make up your own mind.

Thicker Than Water

Channel4 On Demand

More Swedish drama here, as part of Channel4's excellent, and growing, repertoire of online programming.

Walter Presents is a new strand for the channel, pulling together the best of international drama. In this case, a family saga in which a mother summons her grown-up children back to the seemingly-idyllic island of their childhood, where they find themselves confronted with more than a few dark secrets.

This is beautifully shot and carefully plotted. For fans of Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, as well as of Scandi thrillers.

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