Tag Archives: Mystery

Young Wallander

[3.5 stars]

This continues a trend of reinventing and revisiting established mystery icons and tracing their genesis. Young Montalbano or Endeavour come immediately to mind, and they are both good touchstones for considering this latest entry into the “Young” phase.

There are some interesting and unique aspects to this series. First, much like Casino Royale, it is a contemporary prequel to its original. And, like Casino Royale, it somehow works. Honestly, an approach which tackled similar character issues, but made them time period appropriate, would have been fine too. But I can see the beauty of setting it now and tackling the issues in more familiar terms.

Adam Pålsson (Before We Die) takes on the title character well… he even has two Wallenders to draw from, Krister Henriksson and Kenneth Branagh, which is another unique aspect to this series. It isn’t entirely clear which he focused on, though I think it leans more heavily to the Swedish version. Certainly the initial season arc is very Wallander in its structure and resolution. You know that from very early on in the first episode.

However, the show is less about drawing the early years for the later man than it is about just setting up some good mysteries, at least so far; but that’s OK too as long as they keep up the quality. Which isn’t to say we don’t see the initial threads of his rumination and dark sensibility. It’s there, as are some of the threads of his family issues.

There are a number of good roles around Pålsson. The standouts are primarily the women in his life: Leanne Best and Ellise Chappell (Yesterday). They are very different from one another and yet both buffet Wallander through his leap to detective-hood. Of the men in the cast, the standouts are Richard Dillane and Charles Mnene. Again two very different influences, and both essential to Wallander now and the Wallander to come. How they go forward from this initial foray is going to be interesting to see, assuming it’s renewed.

I really should have gotten to this sooner, but I didn’t realize it was in English and not Swedish. I was in the midst of three other subtitled shows; I just couldn’t add another at the time. But now that I have, I can definitely recommend it to lovers of the original series and those just looking for something new to feed the beast.

The Burnt Orange Heresy

[4 stars]

Unreliable narrators can be brilliant or frustrating. Having one is risky enough, but when you’ve four of them driving a movie, you’re really pressing your luck. But Scott B. Smith’s (Siberia) script adaptation is smart, crisp, and a delight in its story-telling.

Claes Bang (Dracula) is the main focus of the story, and from near the top we know there’s something off with him. He’s charismatic, smarmy, and quite full of himself, while being obviously desperate and damaged. Elizabeth Debicki (Widows) provides a wonderful foil and secondary locus as she dives into his orbit. The two are slowly revealed and challenged by Donald Sutherland  (Ad Astra) and Mick Jagger while the story takes shape.

And that is one of the wonderful aspects that sets this film apart: it is more than a third in before you’re even sure what the story is. For his first feature, director Giuseppe Capotondi took on some serious challenges, but he knocked it out of the park.

Burnt Orange Heresy is a deeply engrossing film that has as much to say about art and the artist as it does about human frailty and desire. To get a sense of the delivery of that message, imagine a Mamet play, without the cursing (think House of Games) or even Hitchcock with an elevated sense of philosophy.

If you enjoy intense, clever, and verbally dexterous tales, make time for this one. It isn’t a talk-fest, but practically all of the dialogue is a sparring match between the characters involved. It’s a dark joy of a movie.

The Burnt Orange Heresy Poster

An odd assortment for many tastes

Here’s a potpourri of material for all kinds of tastes. Though, admittedly, not all are easy to get your hands on.

Mysteries:

Ultraviolet
Not the movie (which isn’t so good), nor the vampire series (which isn’t so bad), but a Polish mystery series. It’s not quite a cozy series, but it isn’t a deeply effective procedural. The mysteries drive it along, but it’s just as much about the band of misfits solving crimes as it is the criminals. They also take a nice sharp left at the end of first season and into the second that shows they were working hard to keep it going. And while the second series isn’t a complete cliff-hanger, we’re still waiting to hear if it is renewed to continue the tale. Even so, there is enough closure that it is entertaining and gets better as it goes along.

Van Der Walk
A 2020 reboot of the 1970’s series, with Marc Warren (Revengers Tragedy, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell) in the title role. The mysteries are interesting, but not brilliant. It’s the characters and the interplay that keep it intriguing.

McDonald & Dodds
Another amusing detective odd couple story, with a few overwrought characters thrown in. Dodds, played by the wonderful character actor Jason Watkins, is the absolute center of these stories…all by being quiet and steady in the midst of chaos. Paired with relative newcomer Tala Gouveia, the two navigate a strained relationship into something quite a bit more interesting. Were it not for their Super, James Murray (6 Underground), being written like an outright fool, the show could really fly. As it is, the two episode inaugural series is fun, and I look forward to its return, but I hope they get the writing more under control.

YA Science Fiction: 

The Cul de Sac
This is a far from perfect Kiwi YA fantasy/sci-fi adventure, but with a nicely evolving mystery and characters. It’s still written for tweens, so don’t expect brilliant plotting and complex emotions, but do expect some amusing dialogue. The first two series built on each other nicely. I’m hoping the third series will wrap it all up nicely, though I suspect it won’t entirely. It will likely be a year before it is available to stream or buy as they seem to be being trickled out after their wrap in NZ a couple of years back. As a short distraction, at 6 ep. seasons/22 min. each, it’s entertaining.

Documentary:

We Are Freestyle Love Supreme
Do you know who Freestyle Love Supreme are? Well, this will tell you something of them, but not really showcase their talents. It’s a docu best seen by fans of the improvisational rap group or, individually, like Lin Mañuel Miranda (Mary Poppins Returns). It is really more a tale of how  show comes into being, with some insights into what it’s like to be a performing theatre creative in NYC.

The Go-Go’s
On the other hand, this music documentary is really very good and engaging. I wouldn’t have thought that the rise, and fall, and rise of the Go-Go’s would be able to keep my attention. But Alison Ellwood’s documentary is cleverly edited, and and the band are very open about their journey. In addition, Ellwood puts it all in great, historical context, following these young women and their influences and influence. This is a story about young women as well as about the music industry. It also is surprisingly reflective of Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains–or, perhaps, not so surprising, though that movie was completed before The Go-Go’s even hit their peak.

Dripping in Chocolate

[3 stars]

Yes, I had to see this, or at least try it, just for the name. As it turned out, I stayed for the full meal. It’s TV mystery vibe aside, David Wenham (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) and Louise Lombard (Grimm) make it worth the watch. Well, that and the wonderful sequences of Lombard making chocolate.

Imagine Lewis meets My Life is Murder and you have a sense of this (what I suspect) was a pilot for an unpicked-up series set in Sydney. A shame, really, as the main characters are fun, though it would be hard to sustain the formula. Another way to think of this is to focus on Lombard’s desire to heal the world with word and cocoa, which makes it oddly reminiscent of Chocolat…if that had included murder as part of its theme.

Wenham and Lombard have a great chemistry and say volumes with silence as they spar. And each has a rich backstory, of which we get at least some of during this movie. And there are other folks you may recognize, depending the amount of Aussie and Kiwi productions in your diet. Rick Donald (Dr. Blake Mysteries), Caroline Brazier (Rake), and Geoff Morrell (The Code), for instance.

Overall, this is an entertaining, and even somewhat well constructed mystery that will keep you re-evaluating suspects from beginning through to near the end.

Dripping in Chocolate Poster

 

Loveless (Nelyubov)

[4 stars]

When I finally had a chance to see Andrey Zvyagintsev’s (Leviathan) latest movie, albeit late, I wasn’t disappointed. I was, however, left drained. While Leviathan was harsh, it was also darkly funny. Loveless is completely upfront, from title and opening credits to the the story itself, about the emptiness and harsh, sad reality the characters share.

The script, also by Zvyagintsev and his Leviathan collaborator Oleg Negin, is generally minimalist. A joy for a subtitled movie (I could actually concentrate on the visuals). But the spare dialogue doesn’t reduce the information provided. Zvyagintsev crafts his moments with great care. They are dense with detail, subtext, and implication. But the interesting aspect of the family is that while the story revolves around the parents, Maryana Spivak and Aleksey Rozin (Leviathan), it is the outsider, Aleksey Fateev (Proxima), who has the most interesting character. Fateev, without ever having an “emotional” scene manages to impart a world of understanding and response. But to give him his due, Matvey Novikov, as the son, has some wonderful and intense moments as well…and they’ll tear you apart.

Loveless isn’t a fun film. I’m sure that’s not a surprise. But it is honest and directed in such a way as to pull you through. There are parts of every character that you can identify with, even if, in their entirety, you just want to slap them. But, much like Leviathan, while there is a surface story to engage in, Zvyagintsev and Negin are telling you another story of their country as well. It is nested in their choice of era and in the background news that suffuses the film, as well as the metaphor of the plot itself. It isn’t heavy-handed, but it is there ready to fizz to the surface as you think about it all later.

Zvyagintsev continues to impress me. I hope, like Leviathan, Loveless continues to find an audience. It certainly found awards joy when it released, though it somehow lost to The Square in its Oscar bid that year. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get to it; it’s a powerful film, and a very well crafted one. Definitely worth your time when you’re feeling resilient.

A series of series…

What is the collective noun for a bunch of series? A fiction? A stream? A numbing? A time-suck? A profit? There must be one. In any event, there has been a number of series I’ve plowed through, but haven’t felt they needed a separate write-up, so I’ve collected them here. It is a broad range of subjects and providers in no particular order.

Warrior Nun – An imperfect, but engaging fantasy series that got me to check it out through its title alone. But, as it turns out, they hit the jackpot with some of their casting (though not all). Alba Baptista drives the series, coming across, in a positive way, as a young Ellen Page and very credible American. She’s joined by a few solid, and relatively unknown, supporting actors like Kristina Tonteri-Young, Toya Turner, and Olivia Delcán. The plotting is often weak or ill-researched, but the effects and some of the battles are pretty well executed. And the dialogue is often amusing. I’m actually looking forward to seeing what comes next…even if I curse them for a massive and cheap cliff-hanger ending to the season.

[Addendum: They’ve been renewed, so it’s safe to invest!]

Warrior Nun Poster

Perry Mason – overlaps heavily (and unfavorably) with City of Angels. It covers the same period of time and with similar nods, but it simply doesn’t manage to capture the era in the same scope. Oh, and yeah, it is only Perry Mason in title… this show just didn’t know what it wanted or needed to be. Couldn’t stick with it despite the cast and my love of murder mysteries.

Perry Mason Poster

Crossing Swords – South Park meets Lego. Almost enough said, but I was surprised to see the silly antics and crazy storylines actually form a seasonal arc. For all the insanity, there is a purpose…well, OK, at least a shape. I couldn’t really binge this show, but it was a fun distraction to fill in 22 minutes when needed. And the voice talent is pretty surprising.

Crossing Swords Poster

Love, Victor – There are a number of solid moments and concepts in this series that make it a sweet and clever spin-off of Love, Simon. But, honestly, it doesn’t earn its stripes, but I’ll get to that. If you haven’t heard of this story, it explores the struggles of Michael Cinimo in the title role coming to terms with himself, similar to Simon in the source material, but with more challenges. Rachel Hilson (This is Us), George Sear (Alex Rider), and the somewhat over-the-top Anthony Turpel (The Bold and the Beautiful) fill out Cimino’s inner circle and focus.

To its credit, the show isn’t quite all rainbows and butterflies…Cinimo’s family is a bit screwed up and the world isn’t a perfect place. It’s simplified, to be sure, but it keeps it from being ridiculous. It also provides it some grist to grind on for the series length with multiple layers on the subject of relationships and love. And the easier resolutions provide hope to their target audience.

However, I do have one, not so little, issue with the story. Our hero Victor, while really capturing the confusing nature of growing up, is depicted as falling for Hilson’s character by getting to know her while really only lusting for Sear’s Benji without much sense of who he is. Realistic? To a degree, but it cheapens the inner struggle and diminishes the message that both attractions are real and equal. And it also costs them any credibility in the season one, inevitable, finale. Which was truly a shame as it could have really had a solid season with a little more effort on the writer’s part.

Love, Victor Poster

Killing Eve (1-3) – I never wrote up this series as, frankly, it was getting more than enough press. My thoughts were completely unnecessary. However, having recently completed the third series, I was struck by how the plot has evolved each year. I was impressed with the evolutions of Fiona Shaw (Mrs. Wilson) and the addition  of Harriet Walter (Black Earth Rising) in particular. Not that the rest aren’t great and fun, Ken Bodnia (The Bridge) has some particularly wonderful moments, but I’m doing this as a drive by. The third outing is definitely a shift in presentation and tone, but I still find the story pulls me in and the disintegration and remaking of Sandra Oh’s (Last Night) Eve and Jodie Comer’s (Doctor Foster) Villanelle fascinating. I’m very curious to see what comes next and if they can sustain it; but I’m also hopeful that they’ll wrap it up soon and let it enjoy a completion. It can only be milked for so long without completely devolving or getting boring.

Killing Eve Poster

Upstart Crow – Such great, silly, and very clever fun. In fact, the series only improved as it went along. From one of the minds that helped birth Black Adder, comes this great social satire through the lens of Shakespeare’s life. With a solid cast and tight writing (and wonderful nods to the canon itself) this is one of the better half-hour concept comedies I’ve seen…if nothing else for the impressive scripts.

Upstart Crow Poster

Cardinal (series 4) – This could well be the end of the series, though they’ve left a nice trapdoor to keep it going. Previous series were good and interesting, but not brilliant. With this fourth outing, the writing has suddenly gelled even as they wrap up some long arcs that began with the first episode. This is, by far, the best written and delivered tale so far. I’m hoping they get to continue with the stories and these characters, but I wouldn’t feel left hanging if this was the end.

Cardinal Poster

Before We Die – Another Scandinavian police procedural, yes, but definitely with its own unique set of characters and the dark malaise that hangs over all that genre. It starts with a strong statement and quickly knots up the characters into an intriguing tangle that unspools through the series.

 

Dark (series 3 – finale)

[5 stars]

I’ve been talking up Dark for a while now. And having rewatched it from front to back again, I plan on continuing.

The series starts as a fairly standard mystery and then rapidly evolves. By episode 1.3 you have some sense of the complexity. By the end of the first series your brain is likely bleeding. In the second series it only gets more complex and convoluted and yet…. either it was all planned brilliantly or retcon’d seamlessly because on every major point it holds together. There are some minor bits and pieces that are left hanging or glossed (and yes, I look at you episode 2.4). And I admit there is one choice in the series 2 finale that makes me grind my teeth as it wasn’t necessary for plot, but simply contrived to get a visual and then they got stuck with it. Then, at the end of series 2, you’ve taken a hard left turn.

But the big events, the important confluences, all work as one.

And here we are at the completion of the tale, series 3; it makes the first two runs look simple…in fact, the penultimate episode left me exhausted. More importantly, the finale brings it all together in a fair way, given the story that’s been laid out before us–the clues are all there. Even the title finally gets an explanation.

Ultimately, this is one of the best attempts to both philosophically attack and support a deterministic universe. There are characters on both sides fighting to defend and break it. And not a one of them is telling the truth. We know that early on, but never actually find solid ground till the end, when their intentions are truly revealed. Sure the science is, at best, fantastical at times, but not all of it. Some is well-established theory, and the mix of the two allows you to swallow the conceits in full; even when they get it horribly wrong.

One of the aspects that makes this series work is their, mostly, amazing casting. Only This is Us has come close to the need and quality of finding actors to portray characters at different ages. And, honestly, Dark has done it better. Some of the actors you will swear are the same person, just aged. It helps tremendously with keeping track of the story and the credibility of the plot. They also weren’t afraid to try new ways to work with the audience visually. Each series experiments with new visual cues and approaches to help you navigate the insanity. Series 3 even uses more than one approach over the eight episodes.

Dark lives comfortably with some of the great time-travel tales of the last few decades, including Timecrimes, Primer, Edge of Tomorrow, Predestination, Doctor Who (Blink), Looper, Safety Not GuaranteedWatchmen, The Magicians (ep 5.6: Oops..I did it Again), Babylon 5, and even (despite its flaws) Terminator: Genisys. If you haven’t tackled it yet, make the time…and watch it from start to finish in a straight go (no more than two episodes a night). There are so many subtle and wonderful moments and echos that will get missed if you stretch it out too long.

Dark PSA

Just a friendly reminder that the third (and final) series of Dark drops on 27 June. Start rewatching now if you want to be ready and don’t want your head to explode while trying to watch it all.

If you haven’t discovered it yet, Dark is one of, if not the most, complicated plot I’ve ever seen on a TV serial. Possibly the most complicated I’ve seen in any visual media. So far it has managed to stay consistent through two series, but following it is a Herculean task of names, time-frames, and story threads. And yet it is worth every bit of struggle and pain because it all pays off.

The 18 previous episodes that lead to the final round can only be ingested at a moderate pace (one or two episodes a night at most). If you don’t have the time, find your favorite online resource for tracking all the characters… trust me, without one, the other, or both, you will be utterly lost.

Frankly, I can’t wait to see if they can pay this all off.

Homecoming (series 2)

[3.5 stars]

The first season of Homecoming was a twisted tale of mind-bending fragments that coalesced into something more pedestrian and down-to-earth. That wasn’t a bad thing…it was honest and logical. The perspective was from inside the mystery and it added great suspense and confusion. But now we know the truth.

What we get with the second series is a look at some of the peripheral aspects and the extension of the fallout as we follow the thread left by Stephan James’s (21 Bridges) character. And there are some interesting paths and aspects to explore.

But the best reason to see this second round is Janelle Monáe (Welcome to Marwen) and Hong Chau (Watchmen). They are natural and unforced as a couple. They also each have their own stories and arcs to travel. Chau’s starts in the first season, but this provides another angle on the wonderful final moments she is part of. And Monáe fits seamlessly into the twisted world we traversed as if she’s always been there.

Like the first round, there is a mystery to unravel, though with fewer surprises. And it is full of suspense with bursts of activity. I was with the story completely (despite some willful stupid moments) until the final 10 minutes or so.

The ending didn’t ruin the ride for me; I can understand the decisions that were made. However, it left me very conflicted. To my mind it was out of proportion in scope and depth for the plot. Basically, it violated my sense of balance and left me without sympathy for the characters we probably should have had some sympathy for. Was it a fair choice by the writers? Maybe, but it wasn’t the satisfying punch I think they were hoping for. More importantly, it makes me question whether the third round, assuming it happens, is something I want to see.

Homecoming Poster

 

Silk (Gui si)

[3 stars]

While this is decidedly horror, writer/director Chao-Bin Su (Reign of Assassins) bridged multiple genre when he created Silk. The result is an intriguing mix of science fiction, horror, mystery, and romance in his Sophomore directing outing. Because of the odd mix, it has surprises at almost every turn, and the resolution is more metaphysical than it is splatter-fest.

That doesn’t make it a great film, but I found it entertaining and different in a way that was both familiar and satisfying. The story is primarily driven by the tension between Chang Chen (The Assassin) and Yôsuke Eguchi (Bleach), two men with differing agendas and temperaments. Chen is, by far, the more believable, with the help of  Kar Yan Lam to help drive his story.

When you want something in the Asian horror vein, but don’t want it quite so bloody or capricious in its driving plot, this will suit nicely.

Silk