Ken Burns: Prohibition
Ken Burns' documentaries for PBS are amongst the finest factual programming out there, and this three-part series on Prohibition is one of his best efforts.
Kicking off with an examination of the rise of the temperance movement in the 19th century, the show explores how the draconian Eighteenth Amendment and Volstead Act came into being – and its unintended consequences. It turned ordinary Americans into criminals, and fuelled the growth of organised crime in the country. A hopelessly outnumbered force of Prohibition Agents struggled to enforce laws that were vastly more far-reaching than even the politicians drafting them had imagined.
Burns uses a familiar set of tools to tell the story; his characteristic panning shots over photographs appear in full force, supplemented with film footage from the period and voiceovers from the likes of John Lithgow and Samuel L Jackson. It's a fascinating look at a period of history that still has lessons for us in the present day.
So slow it’d lose a 50-metre sprint to a sloth riding a glacier, don’t sit down to The Master expecting a whizz-bang chuckle riot. Its narrative ebbs and flows, propelled by incredible, force-of-nature performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as the leader of a religious cult in post-war America.
It peters out a little rather than exploding like There Will Be Blood, and an online stream is pretty much the antithesis of a film shot largely on rarely used 65mm film, but as one of the best film-makers of the last 20 years PT Anderson’s latest is a must-watch for any cinema fan.
– Tom Wiggins
More after the break...
Netflix has – at last – filled in all the gaps in its Doctor Who collection, so now's the time to start watching.
The venerable sci-fi series was revived in 2005, shedding the wobbly sets and rubber monsters of the 1970s. In their place were slick visuals and more character-driven drama – clearly inspired by US shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The genius of the show lies in its ability to periodically renew itself; the time travelling Doctor can regenerate into a new body when the lead actor moves on to pastures new. As the lead actor changes, the tone of the show changes too – and if viewers fall out of favour with its new direction, it'll cheerfully pick up new ones.
Since the show's revival, there have been four new Doctors; Christopher Eccleston's stripped-back, understated take on the character gave way to David Tennant's more emotional Doctor. Matt Smith added eccentric flourishes, even as the show's plots grew more intricate and layered – and John Hurt delivered a star turn as a short-lived guest Doctor for the recent 50th anniversary special.
Hop aboard the TARDIS – who knows where it'll take you next?
House of Cards
Despite being inspired by the 1990s BBC series of the same name, House of Cards feels every bit the American megabucks TV show: it has the big name stars and executive producers; the superb writing, direction and cinematography; not to mention the necessary amount of scheming and backstabbery.
What’s all the more interesting is that it’s not technically a TV show at all, since it was made by Netflix for Netflix and rather than being broadcast over a couple of months each season is released in its entirety, allowing viewers to binge on it like a DVD box set. And believe us, you will binge, because once this tale of Capitol Hill intrigue and the lust for power gets its hooks into you. That’ll generally happen about three episodes in.
– Sam Kieldsen
A stylish documentary about Brazil’s best known sportsman, Senna weaves a compelling, inspiring and moving tale of a mercurial driver whose untimely death – seen by 300 million people live on television – shocked the world. Focussing on Ayrton Senna’s rivalry with fellow Formula One driver Alain Prost was a smart move on the part of director Asif Kapadia and writer Manish Pandey, as it means you don’t have to be interested in motor racing to be drawn straight into the story.
Made mainly with archival footage, watching it is guaranteed to convert you into a Senna fan – and it might leave you feeling very emotional indeed.
– Sam Kieldsen