Sunday 21 January 2018

New on netflix: Capturing that halcyon romance

Girlfriend's Day (2017), Available from Tuesday

Bob Odenkirk and Amber Tamblyn star in 'Girlfriend's Day'
Bob Odenkirk and Amber Tamblyn star in 'Girlfriend's Day'
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

Anyone who loved Breaking Bad will be fascinated by what the stars did next. Aaron Paul appears to be largely enjoying his fame with unchallenging multiplex fodder.

Bryan Cranston is making up for that awful rom-com with his upcoming run in the West End adaptation of the Oscar-winning movie Network (tickets will be like gold dust). But perhaps the strongest post-Breaking Bad offerings so far have come from Bob Odenkirk, who wowed audiences with his nuanced and brilliantly funny performance in Better Call Saul. Odenkirk is multi-talented - he's a Saturday Night Live alumnus - and he co-wrote the script for Girlfriend's Day, in which he also stars as a man who was once 'the greatest romance card writer in history'. Ray is divorced, isn't able to pay his rent and likes to watch vagrant fights to make him feel better about himself. Also, he gets kidnapped by rednecks at some point and threatened with paper cuts. But redemption is still possible - in trying to recapture the feelings that once made him the greatest spinner of Hallmark truisms, he gets entangled in a web of murder and deceit, as writers vie to create the perfect card for a new holiday. It's a typically great offering from Odenkirk.

American Crime Story: The People v OJ Simpson

10 episodes, available now

You might think that OJ's is one of those stories that has been re-told so often it has lost its impact, especially since many of us read about and saw it in real time. Yet the ideas explored in this series are as relevant today as they were 20 years ago. When Brad Simpson, who executive produced this, said: "I hope what people will take away from it is that we're in this endless conversation that's important to have, which is basically [that] your experience of the criminal justice system and policing is very different based on the colour of your skin - and also based on where you are economically", he could have been talking about Making A Murderer just as much as he could OJ Simpson. And this is really very good, belying the slightly 'TV movie-ish' title. John Travolta morphs into defence attorney Robert Shapiro and has drawn attention for his physical transformation as well as his unique accent. Courtney B Vance is startlingly good as the famous defence attorney Johnnie Cochran. There's nothing stunt-like in their casting, and both men bring a gripping degree of humanity to their characters. David Schwimmer escapes from the Friends typecasting with his emotional portrayal of Robert Kardashian. Definitely worth diving into if you haven't already.

The Fear Of 13 (2015)

Available now

Nick Yarris, a prisoner on death row in the US, who asked that his appeals process be terminated and his execution carried out, tells his own story in this documentary portrait. With his gorgeous cheekbones and pensive demeanour, it's initially not clear if this is an interview or an acting performance, as British documentarian David Sington's cleverly structured film unfolds a personal history where tragic circumstances, bitter injustice and unyielding tenacity all have their part to play. The enigmatic title refers to Yarris's pride in developing his reading skills during his decades behind bars, to the point where he can now use words like "triskaidekaphobia" (fear of the number 13), but this is but one of the many mysteries that unfold throughout this haunting film.

Burton and Taylor (2013)

Available now

Like OJ, the story of Liz and Dick feels a tad done to death at this stage, and the actual film Liz and Dick didn't offer much unless you were curious about what Lindsay Lohan (who played Liz) looks like now. Burton and Taylor is a much classier treatment of the whole story. The film wisely avoids getting lost in chronicling the couple's entire relationship, instead opting to ground itself in a single point in time, late in their history. As it focuses on their preparation for the 1983 Broadway revival of Noel Coward's Private Lives, seven years after their second divorce, this film trusts its audience to have a knowledge of the earlier, tawdry days in the lives of the movie stars. Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter, dripping in jewels and furs, are great as the couple and, while this didn't make good on its Oscar promise, it is still very watchable.

Podcasts: Listen at your leisure

Emily Hourican

A Neuroscientist Explains

Half the world seems to be an amateur neuroscientist these days, as we all pronounce knowledgeably on things to do with the frontal cortex, the emotional response of the amygdala and so on.

Most of us, obviously, have no idea what we're on about. Which is why it is a joy to come across someone who does, and who explains this succinctly and clearly. The Guardian's weekly podcast, A Neuroscientist Explains, does exactly that. Presented by Daniel Glaser, the director of Science Gallery at King's College London, the podcasts are roughly half an hour, and recent topics include the neuroscience behind empathy and when children develop it, how music affects the brain, why we hate certain foods, and - perhaps most useful - how to use your brain power to fight off a cold. At the risk of sounding like Donald Trump, this is terrific stuff.


This is weird, but very endearing, and often fascinating. The idea is that host Davy Rothbart collects scraps of paper with notes, lists, doodles, anything handwritten, that he finds, then tries to figure out the story behind them - and even track down the people who wrote them, often with the help of listeners, as a kind of "global community art project".

Each episode documents some of Rothbart's favourite investigations, sometimes with guest appearances from pals including Nick Nolte and David Cross. The piece-by-piece reconstruction of stories of love, loss, hope, transformation and aspiration, through the lens of nothing more than lost and found notes, is an absorbing demonstration of clever detective work, but also, often, delivers something memorable and touching.

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