It feels especially wrong trying to do that in the case of The Devil Next Door, an utterly riveting documentary series following the trials of Ivan “John” Demjanjuk, the Ukrainian-American factory worker accused of being the sadistic Nazi death-camp guard known as “Ivan the Terrible”. And in any case, there’s no big twist or moment of catharsis in the end.
It’s one of those stories that has no real resolution, but this particular telling combines television footage from Demjanjuk’s arrests and trials – including harrowing testimony from death-camp survivors – with new interviews with key figures in later events to make one of the most powerful things you’ll see this year.
Amazon Prime Video
John Krasinski doesn’t look like your typical action hero. There’s something quite cuddly about him, and that cuddliness certainly wasn’t dispelled by all those seasons playing the mild-mannered Jim on the American version of The Office. And in playing Jack Ryan – the Tom Clancy tough guy who’s equally at home analysing intelligence or putting a bullet between a baddie’s eyes – Krasinski has picked up a baton previously carried by the likes of Harrison Ford and Chris Pine. But while Krasinski’s casting might be counter-intuitive, the result is perfect.
When Ryan is at any of his white-collar day jobs, you can absolutely buy him as an academically minded international-relations wonk. And when the rubber meets the road, the bullets meet flesh, skulls meet stone benchtops and so on, it’s a reminder that all such work carried out on our behalf is done by real and frequently frightened people, not bulletproof, lantern-jawed automatons.
As the new second season begins, it looks as though we’re going to get a retread of the Cuban Missile Crisis as the Venezuelan Missile Crisis. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. The Russians might indeed be putting nuclear missiles into Venezuela, but there’s also huge concern about an unknown actor sticking a satellite into orbit. Soon enough, Ryan is headed to Caracas with his new boss, Senator Jim Moreno (The Shield‘s Benito Martinez), and his old boss, James Greer (Wendell Pierce) is about to fly in too.
What they’re flying into is quite a mess. The policies of Venezuelan president Nicolas Reyes (Jordi Molla) have been a disaster, and even his childhood friend and right-hand general, Miguel Ubarri (Francisco Denis), thinks they could lose the upcoming election to popular opposition leader Gloria Bonalde (Narcos‘ Cristina Umana). Naturally enough, a sudden explosion of violence soon complicates things immensely.
Series creators Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland have their expensive, globe-trotting series humming like a well-oiled machine – one that keeps revealing ever broader vistas. They quickly fill us in on the geostrategic importance of Venezuela (it has more oil and gold than any other country in the world) and introduce us to the Venezuelan characters’ nearest and dearest – it doesn’t seem as though families are going to be off-limits. As more and more characters pile in – a German contract killer (Game of Thrones‘ Tom Wlaschiha), a CIA station chief (House of Cards‘ Michael Kelly) – it only gets better.
Mother Is Wrong
iTunes, Xbox, GooglePlay
A terrifically involving French miniseries revolving around a four-year-old boy named Malone (Tom d’Ornano) who keeps telling people that his parents are not his real parents. Hunky school psychiatrist Vasile (Samuel Theis) brings the case the to the attention of seasoned detective Marianne (the estimable Anne Charrier), who is more focused on a jewellery-store heist in which a policeman was killed. The plot thickens quickly, and some terrific characterisation and performances make it increasingly compelling viewing.
This chilling documentary follows the ordeal endured by Chinese human rights activist Ye Haiyan after she began a campaign to seek justice for six schoolgirls subjected to sexual abuse by their school principal. While the principal looked likely to escape any sort of punishment, the girls – aged 11 to 14 – faced prison sentences of up to 15 years for prostitution. Director Nanfu Wang bravely documents the government-directed persecution and harassment that followed, and uncovers a horrific conclusion about the motive behind it.
New York’s Fire Island is a gay holiday destination synonymous with crowds of fit, young men partying in little more than a pair of barely-there Speedos. And there’s certainly plenty of that in this surprisingly intriguing reality series. But there’s also a real element of emotional vulnerability and insecurity as a group of six very different friends arrive at a beach house that they’ve rented out as a weekend party pad for the whole summer. It’s all quite grown-up by reality-TV standards, but grown-ups have their issues too.
Jewish folks might be few and far between across the Australian Outback, but rabbis Ari Rubin and Yossi Rodal are determined to minister them all. This documentary makes absorbing viewing as the rabbis and their families pile into their camper-van “synagogues on wheels” and set out looking for fellow Jews everywhere from Innisfail to Alice Springs. While they meet with a certain amount of bemusement and even suspicion they succeed in engaging with locals of Jewish descent who have never had a chance to engage with their heritage.
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