Gripping climate activist thriller is a must-see

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How to Blow Up a Pipeline ★★★★

There are two must-see movies released this year about the logistical and philosophical difficulties of building a bomb in the American desert. The first is Christopher Nolan’s nuclear weapon epic Oppenheimer, and the second is this gripping, resonant thriller about a group of young American climate activists planning to sabotage an oil pipeline. The Academy Awards-bound hit is set in the past, but Daniel Goldhaber’s acclaimed independent film speaks to a looming future.

Eight environmental activists decide on an act of sabotage in How To Blow Up A Pipeline.Credit: Madman

Inspired by the arguments about non-violence and climate activism in Swedish academic Andreas Malm’s non-fiction book of the same name, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is too urgent for debate and there is no audience proxy brought around to the idea of direct action. Built like a heist film, the eight participants have already made their choice, assembling through the opening scenes in the sparse backblocks of west Texas to target the pipeline. You see the bags of ammonium nitrate before flashbacks sketch the individual backstories.

The film is seen through the eyes of its 20-something characters, who view carbon-fuelled global warming as a destructive force growing more unchecked. “We’re all gonna die LOL,” rides a comment on a video watched by Shawn (Marcus Scribner), while Theo (Sasha Lane) tries to comfort Xochitl (Ariela Barer) at the funeral of her mother by noting “it was a freak heatwave”. Whatever your personal response, the film incisively depicts a despairing generation turning away from incremental systemic change. Being labelled terrorists doesn’t bother them in the least.

Goldhaber, following up his unhinged Netflix horror film Cam, makes the story’s momentum unbearably tight. He cuts into scenes without pause and wrings enormous tension out of Michael (Forrest Goodluck), an embittered Native American, translating his online lessons from “BoomTok” into building the deadly devices. The milieu is 21st century, but the sweaty faces and shaking hands are timeless: as in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1953 classic, The Wages of Fear, transporting explosives over dirt roads makes you fear for a simple pothole.

Jayme Lawson and Sasha Lane in How to Blow Up a Pipeline.

There are other risks including betrayal and punishment that wend their way through the narrative. Goldhaber keeps the full plan obscured even as setbacks threaten it, but what he makes clear is the emotional commitment of his protagonists, whatever their individual motivation. How to Blow Up a Pipeline is as immersive as it is concise – the group’s hunger to effect change by criminal means is illustrative of a mindset that is already a reality for some. Making such profound shifts engaging and entertaining is impressive.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians ★★★

What I like most about this adaptation of the first novel in Rick Riordan’s best-selling fantasy series is that it speaks to the audience the books were written for: younger primary school students. The previous Hollywood films, starting with 2010’s The Lightning Thief, deliberately aged upwards for a supernatural teen adventure. They were trying to be cool. The new series is awkward at times but authentic – it’s made for seven, eight, and nine-year-olds.

Walker Scobell is teenage demigod Percy Jackson in Percy Jackson and the Olympians.Credit: Disney+

A scrappy 12-year-old, Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell) swiftly learns that he’s a demigod, the child of an unknown Greek deity and a human mother. Pursued by monsters and surrounded by mythical wonder, he finds his way to a camp for demigods before receiving a quest: Zeus’s lightning bolt is missing, which has Olympus fractured. With new comrades in tow, there is adversity, riddles and irreverence (along with Harry Potter echoes).

Created by Riordan and Jonathan E Steinberg (The Old Man), the episodes have a childish directness both in terms of plot and emotion. “I definitely trust my mum,” Percy tells his allies, but the adaptation teases out questions the book’s breakneck plot barely addressed. How does a child handle an absent parent? When does longing become sacrificial? Parents of children in the target audience take note: this is worthwhile family viewing.

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget.Credit: Netflix via AP

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget

After the failure of 2018’s Early Man, Aardman Animation – home of the beloved Wallace & Gromit – remains in sequel mode. With Thandiwe Newton and Zachary Levi replacing Julia Sawalha and Mel Gibson in the lead roles of Ginger and Rocky, this successor to their breezy 2000 stop-motion hit turns the direction around: what was a Great Escape-inspired prison break tribute with poultry is now a heist flick as the chickens break into a processing plant to rescue their sheltered daughter, Molly (Bella Ramsey). It’s pleasingly daft, very British and not exactly memorable.

Unlikely mates: Jon Pointing as Danny and Dylan Llewellyn as Jack in Big Boys.Credit: Chris Harris

Big Boys

So often the baffled foil in Derry Girls, Dylan Llewellyn gets out a breakout role in this bittersweet British comedy about a young, closeted introvert trying to deal with grief and campus life at university. Jack Rooke’s autobiographical series, which has been renewed for a second season, has antics and irresponsibility, but there’s also genuine friendships and nuanced connections – Llewellyn’s Jack finds a pal in Jon Pointing’s extroverted lad Danny. The show is funny, but it never mocks, and it shows that listening to a friend is a virtue that even young men are capable of.

Brett Gelman in Entitled.Credit: Binge


Whether in Fleabag or Stranger Things, American actor Brett Gelman has served as a comic accelerant – he turns up and goes off. This brittle, blackly comic British series flips that around, making him anchor the story of Gabe Stark, a newly widowed plastic surgeon who discovers that his late British wife secretly had an ancestral home and an extremely eccentric family. When Gabe takes her body back for burial, he walks into a combination of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop and Ari Aster’s Midsommar. Everything teeters on the unhinged, including my interest in the show.

Rebecca Gilling in Return to Eden.Credit:

Return to Eden
Amazon Prime

It’s 40 years since this Australian mini-series screened over a three consecutive nights on Network Ten: a soapy thriller about Australia’s wealthiest woman, 40-year-old Stephanie Harper, whose third marriage to tennis pro and lothario Greg Marsden (James Reyne, nailing the look) abruptly ends when he pushes her into crocodile-infested waters. Stephanie survives, gets plastic surgery and returns as budding supermodel Tara Welles, who Greg romantically pursues. The production values are dated and the dialogue is sometimes listless, but the outrageous plotting feels contemporary. You could easily remake this as a K-drama.

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