As this handsomely retro drama series begins, the reaction of the astronauts of NASA’s Apollo space program is one of shock and anger as they sit at their local bar in Houston, watching video of a Soviet cosmonaut beamed live from the moon. The devastation is most keenly felt by Edward Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman), the commander of the Apollo 10 mission, which had orbited the moon just a few miles above the lunar surface in a “dress rehearsal” for Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11. Baldwin could have gone off-mission and attempted a landing, but he didn’t, so the Soviets slipped through to win by a nose and immediately begin crowing about the superiority of their Marxist-Leninist system.
For All Mankind deftly blends fictional and historical characters, but wisely decides not to show us a new Nixon. Instead it falls back on that device so familiar from countless documentaries: audio of Nixon – and “Nixon” – playing over footage of reel-to-reel tape recorders and still photographs of the president and his cronies. As for that other most pertinent historical figure, Wernher von Braun (Colm Feore), if it looks as though he’s going to get a free pass as some kindly, avuncular sweetheart, well, that doesn’t last all that long.
The series also does a good job of portraying outdated attitudes and environments while viewing them through a modern lens, imbuing things with abundant contemporary resonances – right down to a politically charged congressional inquiry putting some big names in the hot seat. Though the space program is very much a men’s club, the Soviets’ follow-up triumph in putting a woman on the moon, results in a sudden influx of women into the foreground. These include talented engineer and von Braun protege Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt) and photogenic pilot and astronout’s wife Tracy (Sarah Jones), a particular favourite of the distant Nixon. Series creator Ronald D. Moore (developer of Outlander and the rebooted Battlestar Galactica) looks like he has another winner.
Tell Me Who I Am
If it was the plot of a movie you wouldn’t buy it for a second. A teenager has a motorbike accident and wakes up in hospital recognising his twin brother but nothing else. He doesn’t recognise his mother or father, he no longer knows that he lives in England, he doesn’t know what a bicycle is, and he doesn’t even know how to make toast. But that’s exactly what happened to 18-year-old Alex Lewis in 1982, and it fell to his brother, Marcus, to teach him everything he needed to learn about himself, his life and how to live.
What Marcus chose not to tell him was that their mother had sexually abused them both for years. That, though, was a secret that couldn’t stay hidden. It’s tragic but utterly compelling viewing as director Ed Perkins allows the two men to share their stories – and their lifelong anguish – direct to camera before they sit down face-to-face for a final, painful catharsis.
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Prank shows always seem cruel, especially when they set out to terrify the people they’re pranking. Prank Encounters is even crueller because it takes Gaten Matarazzo, the adorable kid from Stranger Things, and makes him the face of the cruelty, and makes him a fibber for pretending that he’s calling every shot from inside a blacked-out van parked outside. The first episode, which involves a scarily good child actor feeding an unwitting babysitter a story about a killer teddy bear, will be more than enough for most.
The Satanic Temple is an organisation formed in 2013 to promote the separation of church and state in the US – typically by making legal demands for “satanic” monuments to be placed alongside Christian ones already erected on the grounds of courthouses and government buildings across the country. This has made the temple widely hated, but at the same time it has become a kind of family for the culturally disaffected. This engrossing documentary illuminates numerous facets of an outre circus with a serious purpose.
American sports dramas are a dime a dozen, but this one benefits from being loosely based on the story of Spencer Paysinger, who made it from the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles to the giddy heights of the NFL Super Bowl via a “multicultural” program at the affluent Beverly Hills High School. It benefits from strong performances by the likes of Chad L. Coleman, Karimah Westbrook and Bre-Z, and a portrayal of South Central as a community that’s much more than just drugs and violence.
Dennis Hopper: Uneasy Rider
Amazon Prime Video
To think of Dennis Hopper merely as the wild-man character actor from films like Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet is to do him a great disservice. Not only did he direct Easy Rider and several other ambitious, thoughtful films, but he was also a keen-eyed photographer whose work has won wide acclaim. Hermann Vaske’s documentary enlists friends and colleagues of Hopper to recount his extraordinary career and paint a portrait of a complex, sensitive man who was deeply uncomfortable with his fame.
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