David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet
Film, UK, 2020 – out 4 October
Appearing to have moved on from his disappointing and problematic opinion that acknowledging the scale of the world’s ecological destruction can be a “turn-off” for viewers, David Attenborough’s latest film – his self-professed “witness statement” – tells it straight: our ecosystem is “headed for disaster”, he says, and “we are facing nothing less than the collapse of the living world”.
Attenborough and co-directors Alastair Fothergill and Jonathan Hughes retain soft and touching qualities in their approach, folding together the 94-year-old’s life story with the story of the planet. Will A Life on Our Planet find an audience and make an impact in a chaotic and fractured media landscape? I certainly hope so.
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Film, US, 2020 – out 16 October
When Aaron Sorkin’s verbal wit and conversational flair are firing on all cylinders – and his smug, swollen-headed tendencies are kept in check – the veteran word slinger and West Wing showrunner can turn potentially dry subjects, such as politics and legal matters, into irresistible confection. This is definitely the case with his very entertaining 60s-set courtroom drama focused on the famous titular trial, in which the American government charged seven anti-Vietnam war protestors with (among other things) conspiracy and inciting to riot.
The question of who started the riot is teased throughout the film, and the day in question slowly unravelled via flashbacks – often in hot-blooded scenes interspersed with testimonies and grandstanding speeches. All the performances hit the spot, including Sacha Baron Cohen as Flower Power activist Abbie Hoffman, and a love-to-hate Frank Langella as the conservative Judge Julius Hoffman.
The Queen’s Gambit
TV, US, 2020 – out 23 October
A psychological thriller about drug addiction, alcoholism, obsession, feminism and ... chess! Author Walter Tevis’ novel charting the life of an orphan who discovers an ability to play chess at a young age and grows into a brilliant albeit troubled check-mate machine was previously set to be adapted by Heath Ledger, which would have made it the late star’s directorial debut. Netflix has given it a crack, with Anya Taylor-Joy (who was terrific in The Witch) in the lead role.
Honourable mentions: Magnolia (film, 1 October), Emily in Paris (TV, 2 October), The Haunt of Bly Manor (TV, 9 October), Rebecca (film, 21 October), The Alienist (TV, 22 October), The Queen’s Gamit (TV, 23 October), Bridesmaids (film, 23 October) Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine (film, 27 October)
Harlots seasons 1-3
TV, UK/US, 2017-2019 – out now
Revolving around the stories of sex workers circa 18th century Georgian London, this bold and playfully in-your-face series has a cracking pace and various captivating performances – including Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville as duel brothel owners. There’s no shortage of beautiful women and bonking but, written and directed by an all-female team, Harlots presents a frank and fresh take on the world’s oldest profession, maintaining a feminist perspective even when deploying mischievously inelegant turns of phrase such as “can’t get a cockless leper”.
Brave New World
TV, US, 2020 – out 16 October
Moving on from bonking in the past, Stan also accommodates shows involving bonking in the future: a dystopian future, no less, loosely adapted from Aldous Huxley’s great 1932 novel. In this world cities are clean (I was reminded of the superior 1997 science fiction film Gattaca), privacy and monogamy are things of the past, orgies are in vogue and the population is hooked on a mood-enhancing drug called “soma”.
The story involves two citizens of this elite society, Bernard Marx (Harry Lloyd) and Lenina (Jessica Brown Findlay), heading off to a distant place called Savage Lands, which is in effect a satire of present-day America. The series is visually uninteresting and fails to create a consistently engaging atmosphere, though there are splashes of intrigue. Including when Bernard and Lenina partake in a bus tour of the aforementioned Lands, the humans living here treated like animals in zoo enclosures.
Film, various – out 21 October
To get a sense of how piddly the selection of older movies is on most streaming platforms, head to Netflix and check out how despairingly empty its “classics” section is. Stan doesn’t even have one – but is taking baby steps in the right direction with five key titles from old mate Hitchcock, the inimitable “master of suspense” and without question one of the greatest film directors of all time. Psycho and Rear Window are masterpieces; The Birds is a wild and unorthodox disaster movie; Rope is a terrific example of a single-setting film; and Saboteur is a solid cross-country thriller that feels, in the context of Hitchcock’s oeuvre, like a proto North by Northwest.
Honourable mentions: Good Lord Bird (TV, 4 October), Evil Dead II (film, 4 October), Vampire’s Kiss (film, 6 October), Bran Nue Dae (film, 7 October), Blood Simple (film, 20 October), This is Spinal Tap (film, 22 October), Blow Out (film, 23 October) Gran Torino (film, 24 October), Mr Accident (film, 28 October), Condor season 2 (TV, 31 October).
Chewing Gum seasons 1 and 2
TV, UK, 2015-2017 – out 2 October
Writer, director, actor and showrunner Michaela Coel received a stackload of plaudits for her excellent I May Destroy You, which follows a bestselling novelist (Coel) as she recovers from sexual assault. Chewing Gum was her previous series, which also accrued substantial praise – including a suggestion it may herald nothing less than “the future of comedy”.
This London-set sitcom follows a devoted 20-something Pentecostal virgin who longs to have sex. Few things are out of bounds in a Coel production. She has a way of candidly speaking truth through a disarming mix of comedy and drama.
TV, US, 2020 – out 26 October
Director Susanne Bier’s previous production, Bird Box, was a cut-rate high-concept horror movie; fingers crossed The Undoing fares better. Led by “Our Nicole” and created by former attorney-cum-showrunner David E Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, Big Little Lies), the series follows a relationship counsellor (Kidman) whose oncologist husband (Hugh Grant) is implicated in a brutal murder.
Honourable mentions: The West Wing season 1 -7 (TV, 1 October), The Firm season 1 (TV, 5 October), Agents of Chaos (TV, 7 October), Captain Phillips (film, 16 October), The Invisible Man (film, 17 October) Equal (TV, 22 October), Somersault (TV, 24 October), Sweeney Todd (TV, 24 October), Wild Things (film, 30 October)
The Invisible Man
Film, US/Australia, 2020 – out 17 October
A strange and interesting thing occurs in Australian writer/director Leigh Whannell’s gripping and socially conscious monster movie: you begin to see – or at least imagine – the villain when he is entirely absent from the screen. This is partly because he is, indeed, an invisible man, stalking and tormenting his distraught ex-girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss).
The fear in this film works on multiple levels, evolving an old series that was always about toxic men (beginning with the 1933 midnight movie starring Claude Rains) into a meaningful exploration of domestic abuse. One aspect of the horror is not the cretinous titular character per se, but the fear of not being believed.
Welcome to the Blumhouse
Film series, US, 2020 – out 6 and 13 October
Hotshot producer Jason Blum has made a name for himself by spearheading highly successful small and mid-budget horror movies, demonstrating the kind of penny-pinching abilities that will become increasingly sought-after in Hollywood as blockbuster tentpole releases (relying on huge cinema attendance) flounder.
Welcome to the Blumhouse comprises eight separate gnarly movies, four of which arrive this month: Black Box, Evil Eye, The Lie and Nocturne. Each film appears to revolve around characters living on different floors of the same apartment building. I like that concept: storeys tell stories, with one central setting providing a narrative and spatial context.
Honourable mentions: The Walking Dead: World Beyond (TV, 2 October), Emma (film, 3 October) Black Box (film, 6 October), Bombshell (film, 15 October), Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (film, 17 October), Truth Seekers (TV, 30 October)
SBS on Demand
Fargo season 4
TV, US, 2020 – out 8 October
The latest season of the anthology crime series that originated with the Coen brothers’ classic 1996 black comedy begins with the same childish pranksterism as the previous three, as well as the Coens’ film: the false and meaningless assertion that it is based on a true story. Every Fargo iteration, however, has made impressive viewing, the latest taking place in Kansas circa the 1950s and revolving around a war between rival crime syndicates.
It has a handsome and high-end nostalgic look, with a bunch of captivating performances – especially Chris Rock and Jason Schwartzman as gangsters, and Emyri Crutchfield as the daughter of mixed-race parents who own a funeral home. The show’s discordant structure is wandering at times, but the tone is consistent and production values impressive across the board.
Film, Indonesia, 2011 – out 5 October
Martial arts films are rarely even half as good as writer/director Gareth Evans’ sensationally choreographed 2011 knucklebuster. The narrative is slight: a group of 20 elite cops storm an apartment building in the slums of Jakarta and fight their way up to the top level, where a singlet-clad mob boss is calling the shots.
Thus: a very video game-esque structure, story-wise and spatially, involving the characters literally moving up and down levels. With a thick film of blood and sweat smeared across the lens, it ain’t for the faint-hearted – though there’s no denying the cast/stunt people’s dazzlingly balletic physical achievements and the film’s frenetic, bone-crunching artistry.
Honourable mentions: Spooks seasons 1 to 10 (TV, 8 October), Gomorrah seasons 1 to 3 (TV, 16 October), Riviera season 3 (TV, 16 October), The Killing season 1 to 3 (TV, 28 October)
Big Weather (and how to survive it)
TV, Australia, 2020 – out 27 October
Following The Fight for Planet A: The Climate Challenge, which arrived on ABC in August, presenter Craig Reucassel fronts another interesting series about the climate crisis, this time addressing Australia’s changing weather. Reucassel and director Daniel Marsden acknowledge the need for climate action while exploring measures necessary for the near future, particularly for people living in areas prone to extreme weather.
Like the previous series, potentially dry subject matter is loosened up and gamified; in the first episode, for instance, a Mythbusters-esque stunt involves a car being set on fire to replicate what it would be like to be caught up in a bushfire. “Airbags don’t quite save you in this situation,” says Reucassel. Fair call.
Friday on My Mind
TV, Australia, 2017 – out 9 October
The musical biopic genre is sparsely populated in Australian film and TV, one recent exception being Stan’s entertaining film about the late Helen Reddy: I am Woman. Even better is director Matt Saville’s two-part band biopic about the rise of the Easybeasts in the 1960s, a rollickingly paced production framed by screenwriter Christopher Lee as a story fundamentally about immigration. It all hangs together beautifully, including and especially the moment those immortal words are first uttered: “Monday mornin’ is so bad … ”
Honourable mentions: Louis Theroux: The Night in Question (TV, 6 October) Outback Ringer (TV, 20 October), Gruen season 12 (TV, 28 October), Reputation Rehab (TV, 28 October).
The Mandalorian season two
TV, US, 2020 – out 30 October
Yeah, more bloody Star Wars. At least the first season of the bounty hunter spin-off series The Mandalorian had a leaner, more muscular structure than the typically bloated movies – not enough to keep me watching through all of it, but certainly enough to pique my interest. Season two promises the continuation of the space western narrative, involving various assignments undertaken by Mando (Pedro Pascal) and the irritatingly memeable Baby Yoda. Who wants to use Baby Yoda like a football and kick him sky high? I do.
Honourable mentions: Ford V Ferrari (film, 2 October), The Right Stuff (TV, 9 October).
On the Rocks
Film, US, 2020 – out 23 October
Following a small theatrical release, director Sofia Coppola’s latest film will find a home on Apple TV+. It marks her third collaboration with Bill Murray, following her great 2003 drama Lost in Translation and the dispensable 2015 TV special A Very Murray Christmas.
The cute and craggy-looking Murray (talk about memeable!) plays the father of a woman (Rashida Jones) who worries her husband is cheating. Parent and sibling team up to try and best him in the act. The premise sounds caper-ish, but the film (which I’m yet to see) might offer something deeper: films that meaningfully explore father-daughter relationships are surprisingly rare.
Honourable mentions: Tiny World (TV, 2 October), Ghostwriter season 2 (TV, 9 October), Helpsters season 2 (TV, 16 October)