You can read the 2018 IPCC report or you can watch Leonardo DiCaprio’s dry, portentous narration of “Ice on Fire,” superbly scripted and unfolded by Leila Conners. Or you should do both. The formal report encapsulates the most formidable, global scientific enterprise the world has ever known, iterated over thirty years. The documentary puts flesh onto the horrifying downsides and the obstacles ahead, while offering encouragement through stories of technologies and ventures that can, right now, reduce carbon emissions or mitigate consequences of climate change. Cycling round dozens of persuasive scientists and commentators, focusing (per the title) on ice melt and water rise, and including brilliant cinematography, “Ice on Fire” treads a fine line between frightening and reassuring, and it does it so well. Go see this.
If a more boring and tawdry movie than “Hustlers” has come out in the last half decade, I’m unaware of it. After a passably dramatic opening scene in which super-lithe Ramona (played with a body-built physical presence by Jennifer Lopez that never offers any nuance or empathy) wows customers at a strip club and entrances rookie stripper Destiny (a clueless performance from Constance Wu), the movie devolves into a tension-free half-doco about sex workers scamming Wall Street morons. No central villain emerges as antagonist, so if you think the trailer presages a thriller, you are dead wrong. As for emancipating American sex workers by portraying them as swearing, materialistic “winners,” I can’t see any vestige of realism or sympathy in the heavy directorial hand. To sum: barely a plot; veneer-thin acting; semi-exploitative subject matter while pretending to honor; clunky transitions; excruciating dialogue . . . nada.
“Barry” smacked of Dexter-lite from the outset but it has carved out a following because in this case, Barry, the hitman with a life, is idiosyncratically portrayed by Bill Hader with such verve that you overlook the fundamental plot clichés. And other core characters, such as Noho Hank (a glowing performance by Anthony Carrigan), glow just as brightly. In Episode 1 of the series’ second season, the chaos of Barry’s fledgling acting career spirals out of control when he is forced to direct a show, just as gangster machinations spur Noho to reel Barry into further wet work. The script unravels tightly. I did not watch Season 1 but there was plenty enough in this Season 2 opener to seduce me onwards.
“Trang: The More You Give” is an unassuming biography of the sort that shouts “fascinating person I’ve known,” normally only of interest to those who actually are friends of the subject. And I do know Trang Thomas, the Vietnamese-born Australian covered in this book, though my acquaintanceship is recent and not especially deep. But appearances deceive, a cliché that applies equally to this bio and to Professor Trang Thomas herself, because this book is an engrossing tour through both a life and her times. Most unexpectedly, the gentle, intelligent academic I thought I knew was in fact a trailblazer through my era. A pioneering psychology academic, Trang was way ahead of the curve in Australia, tackling issues of aging and multiculturalism long before they became mainstream. She headed up government commissions, served on landmark boards, and was called to duty by a revolving roster of senior politicians. Consistently, she stood up unswervingly for the principles of multicultural richness and equality, as well as feminism, that are close to my heart. The number of times she was accorded a “first” (first woman, first Asian, etc., etc.) amazed me. Of course an interesting life often a boring book makes, but Peter Nolan, in his second book, is a smooth, logical writer with strong narrative control. In short, “Trang” is a superbly crafted biography that should be read by all Australians.
Mega Bog is eclectic, subversive, playful Erin Birgy and “Dolphine” is her fifth flitting release. Talk about all over the shop! Songs leap from bouncy folk to glistening jazz to jagged guitar-led pop. Sounding life a refugee from the early 70s prog-folk interface, Mega Bog is, nonetheless, a cohesive marriage of pop trippery and avant music flourishes, and I thoroughly enjoy letting it wash over me while working. Standout tracks include the wonderful, rolling, pulsing title track of yearning, the short duet “Spit in the eye of the fire king,” and the shapely musical odyssey of “Fwee again.” Much recommended, this musical outflowing.
Saturated with portent and gloom, and lurking in and around Oxfordshire river folk country, “Everything Under” is a most unusual novel, a gothic tale blended with modern transgressiveness and family schisms. Gretel, a humdrum lexicographer, tracks down the mother who walked out a decade and a half earlier, and then Daisy Johnson deftly (but deliberately obscurely, the strands are indeed murky) ducks in and out of the past with tales of transgender waifs and role models, and generational ills. Johnson pens evocative, mystery-saturated prose that grips from scene to scene, but to this reader, the overall narrative glides with little laid-out purpose. By the time of the climax, I found myself both engrossed and over it, so my judgement is this: a memorable novel that offers no easy closure.
“The Anthropocene Reviewed” is neither book nor film nor album but deserves a review because in a real sense, this podcast is a book, an elegant, intelligent collection of essays wrought by a fine writer. Listening to the podcast, you can almost see John Green reading out the words, each episode immaculately conveyed. The conceit is that in each episode he rates, out of five, like a movie reviewer, a couple of aspects of humans in the Anthropocene Era in which humanity is remaking the planet Earth. Green intermingles the profound recollection underlying “Googling strangers” with an environmental reflection on lawn grass in “Kentucky Bluegrass” and quirkiness such as in “Piggly Wiggly.” Wise, humorous, and literary.
“Money Heist Season 3” represents a bet on plotting imagination, for who could possibly match the sheer exuberance of the underlying plot of the first two seasons, the takeover of the Spanish mint? Episode 1, then, is a test: can it make the cut or will it straightaway fizzle? Well, the news is good. We kick off the action with snippets of the triumphant band at their various celebratory hideaways in nooks and crannies of the world, then bang: Rio (still played superbly by Miguel Herran), after a lapse of judgment, falls into the hands of the thuggish cops, and Tokio (another wow from Ursula Corbero) tracks down the Professor, played with incandescent cool by Alvaro Morte, for help. Soon enough, the band of thieves is reunited, with some new, interesting-looking thieves, and assembled for another grand coup attempt back in Spain. The first episode is all setup but it’s done with great verve, narrative flair (dodging back in time as needs be) and humor. There’s no reason to suppose the next seven episodes won’t be any less spectacular and intelligent than the earlier seasons.