Wednesday 21 August 2019

New on netflix: Hip hop nostalgia and a young Mr Obama

Barry, Available from Friday

Anya Taylor-Joy and Devon Terrell in Barry
Anya Taylor-Joy and Devon Terrell in Barry
Aksel Hennie in Nobel
Ice Cube in Hip Hop Evolution
Kelly Overton in Van Helsing
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

There has already been some Oscar buzz around this hotly anticipated biopic of Barack Obama. The film is set in the early 1980s, when Obama first arrived in New York City.

In a crime-ridden and racially charged environment, 'Barry' (played by Devon Terrell, who looks like he was carved from marble) finds himself pulled between various social spheres and struggles to maintain a series of increasingly strained relationships with his Kansas-born mother, his estranged Kenyan father, and his classmates. He is portrayed as too white for black people and too black for white people. For instance, there is a noted scene when a well-dressed Barry is in a public restroom and he's mistaken for a toilet attendant at a party with a predominantly white crowd.

On the other side of that coin, is when Barry is spending time in Harlem with his white girlfriend, Charlotte (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) and is the victim of the side-eye treatment from local pedestrians and residents scrutinising the couple walking down the street arm-in-arm. The pacing might be a little slow for some, and there isn't much levity here (which, given Obama's personality and sometimes mischievous sense of humour, seems a little strange), but the performances are top notch and the soundtrack alone makes it very watchable. And let's face it; we already miss Obama.

Nobel, Season 1

Available from Tuesday

Continuing Netflix's strong recent form of uncovering televisual gems from non-English speaking countries, the streaming service brings us this Norwegian drama, which proves that Scandinavia is not just good at police procedurals. Nobel focuses on Erling Riiser (Aksel Hennie), a Norwegian soldier in the Special Forces (FSK). He and his platoon are in action in Afghanistan and orders given by NATO and the Norwegian Foreign Office. Then Erling and his soldier-friends are suddenly involved in a tricky political conspiracy. This has a profound impact on his life, his family and also in the end, Norway as a nation. It was shot in Oslo, Prague and Morocco and is one of the more gripping pieces on the tragic impact of war that you'll see.

Van Helsing

Available from Wednesday

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Kelly Overton in Van Helsing

Not to be confused with the (fairly awful) movie of a few years back, this series, which started life on the American SyFy channel is also a far cry from the teenage vampire stories which were all the rage a few years ago. Gone is the coquettishness we've come to associate with the highly attractive creatures of the night, and in its place a gritty, grimy, visceral appearance that gives this more the feel of a dystopian horror than a teenage romance.

The heroine of the piece is a young woman (played by Kelly Overton from True Blood) who wakes from a coma having missed the volcanic eruption that led to the vampire pandemic and the post-apocalyptic survival tale that she's now immersed in. Comparisons to The Walking Dead are probably somewhat inevitable but this series may stake out its own fanbase.

Hip Hop Evolution, Season 1

Available now

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Ice Cube in Hip Hop Evolution

Following hot on the heels of the well received The Get Down, this series travels back to 1970s Bronx and Harlem, showing how hip-hop evolved from its beginnings as a New York house-party experiment, to the global phenomenon it is today, and more importantly, how it created a voice for the disenfranchised.

It's a power-house of a documentary, hosted by MC Shad Kabango and features interviews with the pioneers who started it all: hip-hop's "Holy Trinity" of Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, as well musical legends like LL Cool J (who has hardly aged a day). The soundtrack is a time warp back to our youths of mix tapes and Smash Hits posters. Some might wish it focussed less on the excesses of the rappers and the beefs that killed some of them and more on the forces that caused hip hop to fizzle as a vehicle for social change but these seem like quibbles when measured against the overall power of the series.

Catch up now

Emily Hourican


Channel4 OnDemand, until January 2017, Series 2, episode 1

The conscious Synthetics are back, as are the humans who mostly misunderstand and mistreat them. Channel4's biggest drama hit of the last 20 years, written by Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley, Humans is now well into its second season, so stop trailing behind. Niska (Emily Barrington left), always the most militant and least predictable of David Elster's free-thinking Synths, has uploaded the secret code that confers consciousness, and one by one around the world, Synths are waking from their programmed lives into full awareness. Meanwhile, the Hawkins family are getting along better, despite dad Joe losing his job - although the youngest, Sophie seems to be showing disturbing signs of Synth-style behaviour. Then Niska crashes back into their lives, while Leo Elster and Max set up a receiving group for the escaped newly-conscious Synths. Carrie-Anne Moss appears as Dr Morrow, a brilliant A1 scientist interested in artificial consciousness for her own reasons.

Michael, They've Shot Them

RTE Player, until December 23

This explores the effect of the 1916 Easter Rising in faraway Australia. The executions, in the middle of World War 1, caused the Cork-born Archbishop of Melbourne, David Mannix, to take a public stance against conscription, then a big issue for Australians. As a result, a sectarian divide opened within Australian society, with the emergence of an Irish-Australian Catholic force, that would shape the political and social trajectory of the country. This documentary, made by a Melbourne-based Irish production company, traces the cause and effect of the conscription stance.

The Kennedys' Irish Mafia

TV3 Player, until December 24

Award-winning documentary delving into the largely untold story of the Irish who surrounded JFK, their unswerving loyalty and devotion, and how it played out.


Emily Hourican

Stoneface Films Podcast

Created by Rob O'Sullivan, with the guys behind Stoneface Films - a creative collaboration of dynamic filmmakers who have produced a range of work including short films and music videos - this is a weekly round-table discussion, often steered and prompted by audience input via Twitter, and ranging very far and wide indeed. Journalist Emer Sugrue pops in for the regular Everybody's Stupid But Me slot, where she murders a few sacred cows, including presenting arguments for why the Harry Potter films are no good. Smart, lively, original.

Making Oprah

Hard to imagine a time when Oprah had to spell out her name, or indeed give a surname, but this goes right back to the beginning of one of the most stellar careers ever, the woman who changed the face of daytime TV. This three-parter, from NPR, has plenty of contributions from Oprah herself, as well as people who worked with her. Asked about her very first show, Oprah says: "I had no fear. I knew I was stepping into destiny." How right she was.

Alan Moore Talks To Stewart Lee

This is part of the Guardian Books podcast series. The legendary comic book artist, creator of V for Vendetta and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, talks about his latest project, Jerusalem, a regular novel set in a small midlands town, and longer than the Bible.

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