On Netflix Now: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Netflix Benedict Cumberbatch

(Don’t worry. No spoilers.)

In the world of international espionage where ulterior motives abound, your deepest desires are your greatest weaknesses. To love is to expose oneself to exploitation. To trust is to be vulnerable to betrayal.

As such a heavy atmosphere of unhappiness pervades Thomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, on Netflix now. The elite spies of MI6 are very lonely indeed…

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On Netflix Now: The West

On Netflix Now The West

From the Spanish conquistadors of the early 17th century to the Gold Rush of the 1800s and the Ghost Dance religion of the 1890s, director Ken Burns and PBS take us on an epic journey through the mystic West, in this eight-part series on Netflix.

Through extensive archival footage and narration by various expert historians, it explores the changing mythologies of the American West over a 200-year period, as it was settled by many different types of seekers, who have both cherished and bitterly fought over this coveted dreamscape…

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Remembrance Week: Films about War on Netflix

films about war on netflix
With an atmosphere of remembrance solemnity around us, we take a moment to consider cinema’s contribution to bringing home the reality and horror of war and the collective sacrifice of those who have taken part in it.

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Hotel Rwanda (2004) Director: Terry George 

The most famous film about the devastating Rwandan genocide of the 1990s (among other worthy examples). This terrible act is still fresh in the minds of those of us who were alive to witness it, even from the safe distance of a television screen. The failure (or refusal) of the international community to take action is an unforgiveable stain on our recent history as a species. This film should stand as a cry for a common humanity and a shrieking repudiation to those who would say, “it’s none of our business”. A crime against any group of humans is a crime against all of humanity.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008) Directed by Mark Herman

I was not prepared for what awaited me when I first saw this film. The juxtaposition of innocence and malevolent evil, as a result of the events being portrayed through the eyes of a child is truly disturbing. Although Schindler’s List is famous for its gas chamber scenes, similar ones in this make the former look positively sanitised. This film pulls no punches and the final scene will have you reeling for some time after seeing it. 

Virunga (2014) Director: Orlando von Einsiedel

This newly released documentary takes a closer look at the most important battle of our time: the fight to save our natural environment and the unique animals that inhabit it. While this film focuses on a specific park and a particular species under threat (gorillas), it serves as a microcosm of a war that is taking place across Africa and the world, and one that we must win at all costs. We have spent so long fighting against each other, it is high time we turn our attention to fighting FOR something – our planet.

Steal a Pencil for Me (2007)

A heart-breaking documentary about a couple who fall in love under the most unlikely of circumstances, while imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. Not much more needs to be said, the premise is so devastatingly poignant to begin with, suffice it to say, even the most horrifying of circumstances cannot conquer the greatest gift of humanity: the capacity to love.

Aces High (1976) Directed by Jack Gold

Don’t let the stirring title fool you. This is a truly upsetting portrayal of the pointless futility of war and the senseless sacrifice of young helpless lives for the whims of powerful old men. An alternate telling of the play Journey’s End, Aces High takes the drama from the trenches below to the skies above, lulling us into a false sense that we might be in for a swashbuckling tale of glory and honour; instead, through the main characters, we are introduced to a series of archetypes representing the different reactions to the very real possibility of imminent death. The dashing pilot who hides behind a veneer of jollity; the traumatised soul on the edge of his sanity; the cynical embittered superior officer; and the foolhardy young recruit who believes the lies that led him to this horror. The opening scene of a headmaster giving a rousing speech encouraging his boys to join up and fight in the name of “playing the game for the game’s sake” never fails to boil the blood. 

Das Boot (1991) Director: Wolfgang Petersen

Focusing more on the tedium and drudgery of war than the shocking brutality of it, this bleak film takes us inside the claustrophobic corridors of a German U-Boat during the Battle of the Atlantic. It conveys a real sense of the sheer unpleasantness and hopeless resignation that comes from being taken from your home and forced to fight people you have never met in the name of others who you must unquestionably serve.

Defiance (2008) Directed by Edward Zwick

In contrast to the fatalistic and victimised tone of films like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Defiance shows the downtrodden and oppressed fighting back against the genocidal war machine that persecutes them. A group of Belarussian Jews, having lost too many loved ones and family members, form an autonomous band and make alliances with the Russians to fight, elude and ultimately outlast their persecutors. Shocking and inspiring in equal measure.

Hunt for Red October (1990) (Director: John McTiernan)

This film gives a frightening insight into how easily the Cold War could have become hot in the blink of an eye, particularly with the proliferation of long range intercontinental ballistic technology and near-undetectable submarines to deliver them.

Honourable mentions: Sophie’s Choice , Life is Beautiful, Good Morning Vietnam, Emperor, Black Hawk Down , Rescue Dawn

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On Netflix Now: Mitt (2014)

On Netflix Now Mitt

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Continued from Caucus.

Director, Greg Whiteley got very close to the Romney family whilst they were on the punishing campaign trial in 2008 and 2012. It was perhaps the first real introduction to Mitt Romney “the man”, which could not have contrasted more sharply with his austere public image. In Mitt he comes across as warm, personable and dutiful. Though that may not have been a surprise to his supporters, for others it was. In an interview about the film, Whiteley describes how taken aback his producers were at how much they liked Romney, they had assumed he was as cold, brittle and out of touch as he has been depicted in the presidential campaign.

The film does not really get to grips with the nitty gritty of Romney’s politics and it wouldn’t be unfair to surmise that perhaps Whiteley might have gotten too close to the Romney family and not been as critical as he could have been.

That is certainly something to bear in mind, but, even so, both Mitt and Caucus engage on a refreshing and human level with some of the most important political figures of our time.

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