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Film and TV


We have the internet to thank for this “sleazy-fun joyride”, says Constance Grady in Vox. Zola is based on a madcap “what the f*** did I just read?” Twitter thread by A’Ziah “Zola” King that went viral in 2015. Zola (Taylour Paige) is a waitress at “the kind of chain restaurant that makes all its female staff wear miniskirts”, and moonlights as a stripper. She meets a dancer called Stefani (Riley Keough), who invites her to go stripping in Florida, “where easy money is guaranteed” – but is promptly betrayed by her new buddy and catapulted into a waking nightmare of sex, money and violence. It’s a rough subject, but Paige’s deadpan narration and “dubiously arched eyebrows” give it a joyous “loopy verve”.

“I’m not sure the social media age has ever been better captured by cinema,” says Robbie Collin in the Telegraph. One hilarious, slang-laced WhatsApp conversation between Zola and Stefani is performed as dialogue, including emojis. A montage of full-frontal male nudity floats by as if the film itself is “scrolling detachedly” through a raunchy Instagram feed. And its stars are brilliant. Keough plays Stefani with “spellbinding vapidity” and the ripple of menace her nameless pimp (Colman Domingo) brings to words such as piña colada “has to be heard to be believed”. It’s a bit of everything, jumbled up judiciously and served all at once, just like the manic Twitterverse that spawned it. Is this a raunchy Hangover-style comedy or a polemic about modern America? Try both, or neither, but drink it in.

Zola is in cinemas now. Watch the trailer here.

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World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West 

Back on the BBC iPlayer more than a decade after it first aired, this is a “riveting, revelatory and at times unsettling exploration” of Second World War politicking, says Mary McNamara in the Los Angeles Times. We now take it for granted that Stalin was as bad a beast as Hitler, but over six hours we’re reminded how cosy “Uncle Joe” was with Roosevelt and Churchill. The Big Three carved up the planet together, thanks to Stalin’s military might. That he was also in the habit of murdering anyone he considered even vaguely a threat was something the British and American leaders were prepared to ignore, at least until the war was won.

Some vignettes stand up particularly well, says Neil Genzlinger in The New York Times. Stalin helped the Nazi cause early on by having his icebreakers clear a path for a German warship to head across the top of the Soviet Union to the Pacific, attacking allied ships there. And the story of the Soviets’ attempt to cover up their massacre of thousands of Polish officers in the forests of Katyn in 1940 “still holds a grim fascination”. The series leans heavily on actors to bring Soviet archives, notes from old meetings and interviews with people who lived through it to life, and could do with a few more talking heads. But “it’s a commendable effort to make history less dry”, and well worth several evenings.

World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West is on iPlayer. Watch a trailer here.