On Screens for January: Meet the crook and Cablinasian trying to save our January

I had to delay this column until the last minute due to the latest extension of the restrictions, which means the nation’s cinemas will remain shut for the foreseeable future. But if you think you’re feeling awful, spare a thought for Wonder Woman 1984 (which had been due to come out on January 21 – I know, as fanciful as a superpowered woman with a magic lasso), which has set a new world record for postponements at the cinema.

Let’s face it, the coronavirus has succeeded where the Nazis failed: bringing global cinema to a standstill. And it’s come during the cruellest of time periods: the dark months when our only consolation is that most of the major studios are unrolling their film award contenders. You probably know by now that the Oscars have also been postponed – from February 28 until April 25 – and incidentally this isn’t the first time this has happened, but the fourth, although the Nazis weren’t involved in any of them.

In 1938 it was a flood in Los Angeles (kudos if you guessed earthquake, but no star on this occasion), in 1968 the murder of Martin Luther King, and in 1981 the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan – ironically, in the mind of the deranged gunman, with the blessing of one of the stars of a four-time Oscar nominee in 1977 that caught its taxi home empty-handed.

Intouchable force
Had we called Omar Sy the Tiger Woods of French cinema a decade ago, nobody would have batted an eyelid. He’s tall, black (Tiger begs to differ, of course, as he is actually Cablinasian – a blend of Caucasian, black, American Indian and Asian – he explained to a surprised Oprah back in the day), handsome and successful. But say it today, and your first reaction is to ask whether he has drug, alcohol and sex addiction problems … and whether he’s any good at golf.

His rags to riches story has been anything but simple. His big break came in the 2011 film The Intouchables in which he played a welfare recipient who reluctantly accepts a job to care for a wealthy quadriplegic. While the film was most panned by critics (57 on Metacritic) falling over one another in their eagerness to unfavourably compare the “third-rate buddy movie” to Driving Miss Daisy, the public loved it (8.5 on IMDB). Today, he’s France’s answer to Idris Elba, but at 42, he’s got time on his side and his latest turn in Lupin (85 on Metacritic), the most watched show on Netflix as of Tuesday, suggests he has the goods to become one of the world’s biggest stars, or at least pinch all of the roles that Elba has been grabbing for a decade. 

After watching the first two episodes of Lupin, I concur it is very watchable, albeit rather predictable at times. The show hangs on Omar Sy’s charisma, and he wears it as effortlessly as he does the various outfits he needs to carry out his gentlemanly thievery. But every so often there is a quintessentially French rough edge that completely throws you (the toothbrush moment in episode 2, for example) – an extra element of charm that will gain it many fans.

He saw skirt chased
I mentioned Tiger Woods for a good reason as a two-part, three-hour documentary about his life (72 on Metacritic; episode 2 out on Jan 18) is our second recommendation of what is a pretty bare month. Episode one, viewable since Monday, is compelling because Tiger’s story is an amazing one. Footage of him aged just two playing golf with Bob Hope is just one of many ‘home movies’ that shows the youngster at various ages during his upbringing under the watchful eye of father Earl, whose death in 2006 neatly frames the first episode.

An interview with his first serious girlfriend – the Tiger in a bed revelations courtesy of the lover who broke up his marriage are coming in part 2 – yields fascinating insights into his upbringing and the closed world he lived in. Because there’s the rub: Tiger pretty much grew up on a golf course, and while a junior pro does his best to excuse his future behaviour by confessing how the young boy used to witness his father and him “chasing skirt” on the greens and fairways, it’s not like he grew up in the slums of west Baltimore. No, he grew up on fresh air among manicured lawns, foliage-free trees, sandpits, lakes and sprinklers.

At one point, an interviewee touches on how incredulous he was that Tiger denied he was black on ‘Oprah’, because he has also revealed in interviews how he and his father were kicked off several golf courses. But more likely it was because his father had used his Vietnam deep ops training to bypass the clubhouse and navigate his way through the woods to the third green.

Miss Snowden, missing Snowfall
Talking of the Oscars, British actress Vanessa Kirby (Princess Margaret in the first two seasons of The Crown) is the third favourite to win the Best Actress award for Pieces of a Woman (on Netflix since Jan 7), the story of a woman who takes legal action after medics botch up the birth of her baby.

Slightly more upbeat is The Dig (Jan 29 on Netflix) starring Carey Mulligan as a landowner in 1930s Britain who gives a humble amateur archaeologist (Ralph Fiennes) permission to dig up her mysterious mounds. He only ends up discovering a Viking longboat. The film is inspired by similar events in Sutton Hoo in Suffolk in 1939.

Gawd knows why somebody thought Outside the Wire (48; Jan 15 on Netflix) was a good idea. Androids, drones, most of the action is CGI and most of the dialogue DOA.  Damson Idris – the main star of Snowfall who is actually British, but no relation to Idris Elba – does his best, while Danish actor Pilou Asbæk should know better. His Game of Thrones ‘get me out of cinematic jail’ card won’t last forever. 

Talking of Snowfall, the documentary Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy (Netflix) is a good companion piece. 

Serial killer movie nights
Also on TV land, we’ve got a host of returning series. On HBO Nordic we’ve got A Discovery of Witches (S2), Batwoman (S2; Jan 19), All American (S32; Jan 19), Legacies (S3; Jan 22), Euphoria (S2; Jan 25), and on Netflix, Cobra Kai (S3), Riverdale (S5; Jan 21), Snowpiercer (S2; Jan 26) and Call my Agent (S4; Jan 21).

There are two promising serial killer documentary series that might take care of a few long winter evenings – The Ripper (62) and Nightstalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer (72) – but make sure your front door is securely locked before you settle down. Respectively set in Yorkshire, England and Los Angeles just a few years apart, both series evoke the eras as much as the fear many people felt when these individuals were on their streets.

Firefly Lane (Netflix on Feb 3) with Katherine Heigl is a little too gooey for our liking, but I’m not sure the same can be said of the 1980s London-set dramedy series It’s a Sin, which might have feel-good intentions but delivers quite a punch with its alternative AIDS-dominated storyline. Angels in America this ain’t. 

We bet Tiger’s been called Angel a few times, but Monday night might change that impression forever.